1

Each time you do it, you tell yourself, Never again, I'm never doing that again – but they know all about that. They stick you in a room with a ton of paperwork, and they leave you alone and after a month or two or more you're just about ripe for a change of scene.

His office was somewhere on the outside ring; you know those rooms up there... No? Doesn't matter, they're just like everywhere else. When I went in and we got the saluting over and done with, he said, "I've got a little job for you, off-station," and winked and started the brief. The aircon was broken and there was a steady drip of water coming down the wall, just on the edge of my hearing, drip drop, drip drop, drop drop drop... An hour or two of that and I was up for anything – you really can't tell these days where the red tape stops and the torture starts. Anyway, didn't I sign up to see the stars?

2

Arlen – the real Arlen – was one of those pieces of shit you always find floating round sewers. Shipped guns in past the blockade. Had a sideline in shadow – that never wins you friends – and was playing all the sides off against each other. By the time I landed, everyone was out baying for blood; the only question was who'd get there first. I offered extraction, but it was the ID I was after, so we took a little stroll down a side street and only one of us came out the other end. That's death for you. Fast and furtive; my speciality. Thanks, but, really – no need for applause.

It took a day or two to attract the right attention, but soon enough I had him all hot and panting at my heels. Christ, though, he took his time with that bounty hunter routine. Fucking amateurs; fucking melodrama. And I was shitting myself all the way back down to his base that my cover wasn't good enough. Arlen, you see – the real Arlen – was forty-three and a man. They still managed to miss it. You plan for competence. Fuck knows why.

3

Well I got to see stars all right. When I came round it was all over, and didn't the squad think that was fucking funny?

Frankly I just wanted to get out of there because by that time the place stank – blood, sweat and tears – and I had the mother of all headaches from where that bastard had hit me... But, duty calls and I stayed on till they were all lined up with their toes tagged, nice and tidy, and then I emptied a blaster right into the face of that pathetic fucker who'd knocked me out. Squad wasn't laughing so much after that. Got to secure the chain of command.

So that was that, and if you're looking to define 'sordid', I think we've just about covered it. Stupidity with a side order of mistrust. Five little heroes, all in a row – and that poor bastard, carted off stuck in his own personal hell. There's some talk of a medal, but I've never been one for jewellery and, besides, when would I get to wear it? Because here I am, folks, stuck in one of those rooms, and thinking, Never again, I'm never doing that again, and knowing that I will, and I have to ask you, what exactly is the fucking point?