Cramped spaces gave him the heebie jeebies! Of course, he would never admit to being uncomfortable. A man in his line of work couldn’t afford to show weakness. Despite his every effort, his shoulders wiggled of their own accord, trying to release the tension. He glared at the walls, as if by sheer force of his will they could retreat and grant him more breathing space. Unfortunately, he had yet to develop any telekinetic ability. He was practicing though. One could acquire just about any skill, if one practiced enough, right?
“Breathe, Paxton,” G-323’s voice soothed in his ear piece, “we are on schedule. The shuttle is en route to port, estimated time of arrival 23h25.”
Pax grinned and checked his watch. “Did I ever tell you how wonderfully efficient you are, Gene?”
“always,” came the blunt reply, “There are no flaws in my programming.”
“and so modest,” Pax added sardonically, “I think I’m in love…”
As expected, G-323 did not respond to his quip, but instead furnished him with the stats of his team. In less than ten minutes they would culminate several months’ worth of investigations by apprehending the notorious Bahmi Ferengi. The man was wanted for several criminal acts, from manslaughter to arsen. However, upon further investigation Ferengi was found to be the mastermind behind an interplanetary Rogue-Bot cartel called GAIA. It was pure luck that one of his cleanskins managed to get an interview with him. Granted, it had all seemed suspiciously easy to convince Ferengi to meet a prospective investor, but Pax wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. This was the break he was hoping for, the big fish, the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a name for himself and get that promotion he’d been dreaming of. Victory was so close he could almost taste it!
Sure, if one was technical, this mission was unauthorized. There was the slightest possibility that he could get into trouble, but the ends justified the means. Once he and his team had successfully captured Ferengi, the fact that Pax was breaking half a dozen rules and bending Metagalactic Alliance Laws rather ruthlessly would cancel each other out. How could he get into trouble if his mission was a sounding success?
“five minutes, and counting-“ G-323’s voice was dubbed as the emergency comm system overrode her channel.
“Flash to Paragon, come in please,” Weaver’s voice sounded pinched, and panicked, “Flash to Paragon, do you copy?!”
“Affirmative, this is Paragon,” Pax replied, a tingling in the base of his skull filling him with anxious foreboding, “Report.”
“Sir! The- san–tho-dip-“ the static suddenly filling his ear had him wincing and twisting his face away as if that could save his eardrum, “ – epeat! –sa-ortho-ship-anded -a-go -ay! – ort!- ”
“10-1, Flash, please repeat,” his voice was steady, surprisingly, even as the walls felt as though they were closing in on him. Breathe, he reminded himself, everything would be all right. There were contingency plans in place. They had prepared well and hashed and rehashed out every scenario they could think of to cover all possibilities. Everything would go according to plan. But still there was no reply from Weaver, and time was ticking.
“Gene,” Pax muttered, glancing at his watch, “Give me a direct line to Flash, please.”
“Gene?! There’re three mintues left until Ferengi docks! Connect me to Wren then, so we can-“
“I’m afraid G-323 is currently offline,” a voice purred into his ear, a hint of an accent Pax couldn’t quite place.
Who the hell was that? Pax was silent for a moment, his gun already in hand, palms sweaty. If it wasn’t so damn claustrophobic he would be able to think!
“You’re wasting your time, Mr Paxton,” the man replied flatly, “How about you-“
“How about you tell me who the fuck you are and what you’ve done with Gene?!”
“I don’t think you are in any position to make demands, Mr Paxton, though I’m going to be generous and give you a hint: Ring of, ring of Roses, a pocket of explosives…”
Swearing, Pax stripped himself of every conceivable tracking device and discarded it at his feet.. Something had gone wrong, someone had ratted him out. And Gene… his chest tightened. This was no time to get sentimental. If she had been shut down, it could only mean one thing: Quinn was dead and Ferengi was on to him. That would not sit well with chief commissioner…
His career would be over…
His life too, if he didn’t make a move!
The corridor was eerily empty, his footfalls thudding heavily and echoing in every direction.
He rounded a corner and nearly collided with Evelyn, another member of his team.
“Pax!” she panted, swiping her hair out of her eyes as she righted herself, “we have to abort! Weaver and Kyle aren’t responding. Quinn is already at Zone 5, awaiting rendezvous.”
Quinn was alive? That meant…
“Why are you beeping?” Evie asked, eying him suspiciously as they jogged towards exit 309. He frowned and glanced down at himself, for the first time realizing the sound was coming from him.
“I don’t know…” he murmured absently as he paid more attention to his gear, but that tingling in the base of his skull intensified. Quinn had handled the gear…
“well, this is not good…”
“No shit!” Evie muttered, grappling with her skirt just long enough to pull out her pistol. She bounced impatiently on her heels, awaiting instruction.
“Go ahead to zone 2, and keep trying Weaver,” he ordered, his movements choppy as he commenced stripping.
“Zone 2? But what about Quinn-“
“he sold us out,” Pax muttered, “Zone 2, soldier.”
“Oh, and Evie?” he called after her retreating form.
“Sir?” she asked, turning and jogging backwards.
“Whatever you do, don’t look back…”
Pax suppressed a shudder. It was cold in his holding cell and he was pretty sure he was going to catch pneumonia. There he was, having survived an explosion, friendly fire, and a back-stabbing team member only to die at the ripe old age of 36, in jail, from hypothermia. Go figure.
“hey, Officer,” Pax called, “can I get a coffee?”
His request was met with silence.
“whiskey, then?” he amended, “With some lightly salted peanuts on the side. You could just slide it to me on my tray, really. Im not fussy…”
His thoughts drifted to Gene. She’d been positioned with Quinn at zone 5, in their transport.
“Damn you, Quinn…” he ground his teeth together almost painfully.
Pax shifted his gaze towards the door and braced himself. His commanding officer sounded quite put out, livid one could even say. While this was the man’s natural disposition for the most part, there was a certain edge to the way he belted out Paxton’s name that gave his true thunderous mood away. Not to mention the fact that his rank had been omitted, purposefully. Things would not be pretty. He banged the back of his head against the wall a couple of times and took a fortifying breath, filling his lungs with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. He supposed the only caffeine he’d get this morning was through osmosis.
“oh boy…” he murmured as the door slid open and he met the older man’s steely gaze. There was a poignant silence only broken by the uncomfortable shuffles of the warden’s feet.
“I’d stand, Sir, but…” he shrugged at last, his hands resolutely folded to strategically cover his bits.
“You blew up the Spaceport!” his father accused.
“Ah… about that…“ he amended with a semi-smile-part-grimace.
“You blew up,” his the chief commissioner, who also happened to be his father, insisted, “the most expensive and technically advanced spaceport in the Indigoferan hemisphere!”
“I can explain-“
Pax shut his mouth then, his eyes glazing over in momentary resignation while his father ranted on.
“hundreds, of millions of bitCredits!” his face was an unhealthy shade of purple now, “the place wasn’t even open to the public yet, Paxton! What do you have to say to that?!”
“Well, since you ask,” Pax replied with a polite smile, “it wasn’t me.”
“wasn’t you?” his father said after an incredulous, and dangerously quite pause.
“Who was it then, Paxton?” his father asked, eyebrows raised, his tone taking on a mocking edge that Paxton didn’t quite appreciate.
Another heavy silence followed, the warden too nervous even to shuffle.
“let me get this straight,” the old man said, “my personal AI assistant and three of my most promising operatives are DEAD, several safehouses compromised and two official shuttles written off, not to mention a multi-million bitCredit intergalactic space port reduced to a crater and YOU incarcerated in nothing but your BIRTHDAY SUIT… no thanks to Bahmi Ferengi?”
“Yes,” Pax replied with another tight lipped smile, his expression belying the pain tightening his chest. His team was dead because of his ill-placed trust in Quinnal Tate.
“I’m stripping you of your license, and your rank and deporting you to Gelid for the remainder of your sorry existence!”
“You are lucky I don’t send you to Prison!” his father continued, “Your mother is utterly ashamed!”
That was a low blow…
“You’re no son of mine,” his commanding officer muttered as he glared at him from the doorway, “I never want to see your face again.”
They say that the effect of any given drug is 50% what one thinks it will be. He looked at the tumbler in front of him, condensation beading the glass, and mused if that held true for all things. If so, then perhaps if he concentrated hard enough he could get half drunk on water. It was worth the try.
“Can I get you something?”
Pax turned his head somewhat to the side and glanced at the woman. She was leaning on the counter next to him, her heady perfume accosting his nostrils. He absently wondered whether a person could get high on perfume, while his gaze drifted over her artfully exposed décolletage. Clearly, she wanted something from him.
“Nah, I’m good,” he dismissed her and took a sip of icy water, content at staring at the bar ahead.
“Well, then, perhaps you could get something for me, instead,” she said, undeterred, and took a seat.
He bowed his head slightly in acquiescence and with a flippant flourish of his free hand told the attendant, “she’ll have whatever I’m having.”
“thank you,” she purred and fingered the paper coaster, crossing her legs so that the slit in her skirt offered him a few extra inches of her thigh.
He didn’t take the bait.
“I never expected Gelid to be so…”
“balmy?” he proffered cheerfully, “You should see the summers here!”
Gelid was possibly the coldest planet in the Galaxy, known for mining of ores and several precious metals deep within its mantel. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her take a sip of her drink. If she was surprised, she hid it well. He was begrudgingly impressed, until her forefinger began tracing circles on the counter. Oh boy…
“Actually… I meant to say exciting,” she replied, “I saw your fight last night…”
Ah, yes, the cage fighting. He suppressed the urge to study her again. Judging from the few moments he’d been sitting beside her, she didn’t seem the type to delve into the underbelly of fringe society. Then again, he reminded himself bitterly, he wasn’t the best judge of character it seemed. After all, Quinn hadn’t seemed like the kind to stab him in the back. Looks could be deceiving. He stared at the water in front of him and wished he could convince himself of its ability to get him knackered. It wasn’t working… yet.
“Did you, now?” he arched a brow, “I hope you didn’t lose too many credits.”
“On the contrary,” she purred, “you made me a very lucky woman. I thought I’d return the favour.”
He chuckled and shook his head, astutely keeping his eyes everywhere but on her. The last thing he needed now – or ever – was another attachment. People like him, died young or died trying. Besides, he wasn’t one for random hook-ups. He had standards… she had to at least cook him something first.
“Lady, we just met,” he huffed with an incredulous smirk.
“I thought you never looked a gift horse in the mouth…” she countered.
Surprised, he looked at her; Really looked at her for the first time.
“Hello, Carl,” she smiled.
“you look…. good,” he said, his eyes roving over her, searching for any hint at the injury she had suffered at his poor judgment. He found nothing. Granted, it had been five years already – not that he had been counting.
“I’m sorry I can’t say the same for you,” she teased, then added with a touch of concern, “you look like shit.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, downing the last of his water, “So, what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“I thought I’d take a holiday, travel a bit,” she shrugged craftily.
He nodded in response. She was undercover, then, which explained why he hadn’t recognized her at a glance. She really was one of the best undercover agents the PSD had. Unfortunately, if she was working, it meant she wasn’t able to talk freely with him. He’d have to bide his time, something he’d become rather good at these days.
“Maybe we can have dinner sometime?” he offered, “I can show you around…”
“That would be nice,” she gave a sultry smile, then made to leave, “Thanks for the drink.”
“Wait,” he stood, his fingers closing around her wrist, “I didn’t even get your name…”
“Aurora Celeste,” she murmured before pulling free from his grasp and disappearing into the throng.
He slowly sank back down as he mulled over her words. There were several new ships docked at port, and the only one closest to the name she had given was the Opal Star. He smirked, his eyes catching on the lipstick stain she had left on her glass. Beside it, glittering atop the counter were the watery digits, 2100. He glanced at his watch, a slow and somewhat menacing grin spreading across his face. Thirty seven minutes and counting.
Soon, he’d be off this hunk of ice! And in but a few months, he’d be that much closer to his good ol’ buddy Quinnal Tate. They had some unfinished business…