It was the fifth time he hit talk on his Eavesdropper, set to frequency #30, that Karpusi finally got through.

"Sadiq Adnan, come in -"

"Finally," Karpusi interrupted. He ducked behind the building - Epsilon a few paces past it - and peered out intermittently. Just walking around like nothing was up! "Adnan, what the hell was going on over there?"

"Petros being a dick, the usual. Anyway, I take it those anti-sleep pills're working if you're this torqued outta shape. What's got your panties in a knot?"

"Oh I dunno," he shot back, "nearly being apprehended at the Border Control might do the trick." Slyly he watched Epsilon continue down the lane and take a left on vicolo Giallo at the corner. So he abandoned his post behind the house and followed down the lane, slowing as he approached to tiptoe up to the corner.

Took a peek around it. Epsilon fifteen paces down. He'd stay here for now.

"Say what? What'd you do to deserve that?"

"I got mugged, remember? Somehow the group of five - six - whatever - got my ID." Maybe they even were the muggers. "Guess what Delta's been having himself a lark of a time forging?"

There was silence on the connection and then Adnan broke out into chuckles.

"Hey! It isn't funny!"

"No," Adnan agreed, still chuckling away, "it's not. I mean, the ease with which someone can duplicate our IDs to the point that they'll log in OK is terrifying. But I've been saying that for years. And would anybody listen to me? Nooo. Anyway, I didn't see you dragged in by here for jail, so you must've managed okay?"

Karpusi sighed. "Yeah." He poked his head around the corner. Epsilon out of sight, but there was only one route out - via Verda about midway down the crescent.

He stepped quickly, and as he moved, replied, "The girl wasn't too happy with me once I got through. Called over security, who tried checking the BSPA registrar where I am obviously there with only my name, didn't help without a picture. Then one of 'em had the brain cells required to say the full name aloud and it turned out all four gates saw the same name, same ID, and different pictures all in a row. Brothers they claimed. Brothers my ass. But that's not everything."

Karpusi vaulted over the gate at the house on the corner of Giallo and Verda and took a quick detour through the backyard.


"Yeah," Karpusi grinned, even if Adnan couldn't see it. "You'll never guess who I'm tailing right now."

"You're joking," was the flat reply. Karpusi heard a low rustle - hopefully the sounds of Adnan getting off his ass and preparing to leave.

"Tino Vey-na-whatever - Epsilon. He's been moving about like he's up to no good since he landed."

"Is he alone?"

Karpusi peered over the fence to spot Epsilon in the middle of the road, looking around - for him, possibly? Karpusi must be a louder tracker than he thought. He'd work on it.

Then Epsilon went back the way he came - yes, sure enough, he was looking for Karpusi.

"Think so," he murmured quietly into the Eavesdropper, "which makes me think the rest of them are probably up to the official side of no good. I'm sure they didn't come all this way to have him fart about in Caput Halleri like it's a hedge maze so that means Alpha through Delta and Zeta are off doing something untoward."

"Oh my, not something untoward. Perish the thought!"

"Just shut your face and get down here."

"I'm pretty sure you can be assured there won't be muggers today when everybody's gonna be at the auction. You won't need me watching your back while you corner Epsilon."

"I meant get off your duff and come downtown, you idiot!"

"'Cause that takes so long for me to do being so far away from the action!" Adnan snapped back. "Where d'you think the others are?"

"My guess? They're at the 'Downs," he said.

He caught the hem of Epsilon's jacket seconds before he appeared. Karpusi zipped behind the closest garden shed. He peeked out to find Epsilon walking right past the house and its backyard, unaware of him hiding out.

With Epsilon now in front, he could strike.

"Sounds about right for their MO. Either one. Purchase a bondsperson with fake money, or purchase with real money and steal it back. Why they've selected the Decennial's beyond me - are they hunting bigger game? Maybe they were dared?"

"No, you're right. And normally they're covert. But recently they've done the bare minimum in hiding themselves - oh, and set your Eavesdropper to monitor op frequency - you got a pen? 134 gigs, Morse callsign niner-seven-Tenickson dash Pioneer Fish Lazuli."

Scritching as Adnan wrote it down. "Just Big Bird?" he asked. "That's a code for a cruiser class."

"I told you already. They didn't bring the stealthship this time. If they fly off, I want us both to know about it."


"Didn't you get my letter?" he asked. He chanced a quick look over the gate - Epsilon had turned back to the main road.

He waited.

Epsilon searched around and then returned the way he'd come, looking concerned. Karpusi ducked back behind the gate, obscured by the ivy.

Another minute before he'd have to shut off the Eavesdropper.

"Hey, I only just got back here like an hour ago. There was rumour of the Delivery hovering outside Halleri airspace so I went to check it out."


"Same old - they're sitting just outside it in interplanetary space so there's no touchin' em. The second they come inside, though, I swear ..."

"So you say." Karpusi took a last look. Perhaps thirty seconds.

"Look, do you want my fuckin' help or not?"

"What I want is for you to do your damn job, Sadiq," he replied sternly.

"Sheesh, I think I liked you better before when you were half asleep all the time, you were way more easy-going."

He had a job to do, he could sleep later. "I didn't put up with your shit then, and I'm not putting up with it now. We'll dance it out later. Get the hell downtown," he growled, "and that is an order from a superior ranking agent, Adnan."

"Okay! God. Listen, I'm just walking out of BSPA HQ right now. I'll be at Tolino in five."

"You'd better," Karpusi muttered, and shut off the device.

Five more seconds. He counted them down slowly in his head, his pulse thrumming in his ears.

And then, as Epsilon passed the gate, he leapt to his feet behind it, grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and pulled him over the gate, throwing him to the ground back-first.

Epsilon gulped for air, winded, and while he was distracted trying to make his chest work right again, Karpusi unclipped the handcuffs from his belt and clapped them around Epsilon's wrists in front. He hauled a coughing, spitting Epsilon to his feet, and marched him back to the main road, yanking him around with the handcuff chain tightly held in his left hand and his right hand free for Epsilon's funny business.

"You let me go!" Epsilon cried once he'd recovered the use of his respiratory system, and began to thrash his legs and arms.

Karpusi put a stop to that by removing his sidearm and cocking it. He pointed it at Epsilon's groin and instantly Epsilon stopped thrashing. "I need you alive for questioning, but I don't need you kicking," he warned. "Don't give me incentive to make this as ball-bustingly awful as you've made my life these past two years."

"Oh, bitch and moan about it, why don't you," Epsilon spat. "Your life has been so truly horrendous! If you had any clue what I'd been doing the past two years you wouldn't dare complain -"

"Please, do go on! Nothing would make me happier than to book you for what you've done. Tell me all about it." He grabbed a hold of Epsilon's belt and held the pistol in the same hand, so the muzzle dug into the small of Epsilon's back while he patted him down.

Nothing on the arms or chest, but there was an Eavesdropper in his pocket and strapped to Epsilon's right ankle was a handy and sharp little six-inch. "Nice toys. Think I'll confiscate them," Karpusi said, getting to his feet and deftly tucking the blade into the back of his belt. "Your days of taking what's not yours for taking and fencing it out to turn a spot of change are over."

"That's what - you idiot, that's exactly what the people we're trying to stop do! They're the thieves, whyn't you go and book them?! We fight the good fight, we're the ones liberating the stolen, helping them reclaim what was taken from them -"

What nonsense! Well, if it were a job for the psych ward, they could settle that later. "You're deluded. Tino Vayna-"

"Oh, don't," Epsilon snarled.

"Whatever the hell your name is," Karpusi continued coolly, "you're under arrest for suspicion of grand larceny and fraud as well as being accomplice to many accounts of the aforementioned. You've got the right to remain silent because anything your flappy gums say, you can bet I'll hold against you as evidence in court of law."

"Screw you and the high horse you rode in on, you ignorant pig. You don't even know what you don't know. We're not done yet, and we never will be, because good always triumphs."

"You know what I think? I think that sounds like terrorist talk. I think maybe we'll add some charges to that happy little list of yours." But Epsilon would say no more than that and was quiet the long trek back to Hallar BSPA HQ.

It was so nice when hard work paid off, Karpusi thought, smirking to himself in triumph and practically vibrating with energy. Because the desperation of recent misses made him a better agent, not a shittier one.