The SJ Chronicles – New Beginnings.

It had been a very long day... and it was about to get longer. Exercising and practising on the sniper range in the hot sun with little cover had been brutal. Now back inside his quarters, SJ studied the sealed package waiting on his table. The few markings on it and the lack of official markings indicated to him it was another job instruction, and lethally booby trapped. Opening his wall safe, he pulled out a small device. Placing it next to the package, SJ spoke a series of pass phrases then carefully opened the package. Identity cards, data crystals, and a briefing package. Buried in the middle where it would have immolated the package and the unwise person attempting to snoop, was a small demolition charge. Setting the charge that was cradled in the middle to one side, he finished opening the package.

SJ nursed a scotch as he read his briefing again. Someone was either pulling his leg, this was the best piece of fantasy ever, or someone wanted him dead, which was very likely. The mission was assassination. Not really unusual for black ops. The target however? A totally different affair.

His cover life as a commando on Suroken IX had run its course. It was time for the serious part to come to fruition. Just as well, really. The base commander had just found out about his daughter not being as innocent as she used to be. Apparently, he was rather upset about it. Oh well, more important things to worry about for now.

Tapping a sequence out, he queried the computer. "Verify and encrypt. Send pass phrase Howling Moon."

"Working... Connecting." spat the terminal.

The screen fuzzed and then cleared. A primly suited Caldari official answered.

"Sir, This is Madcat. Requesting final briefing and confirmation." said SJ.

"Wait one. I'll connect you. Authentication is Delta Five dash Epsilon Zeta. Confirm?"

SJ flicked to the top sheet. "Confirmed. Counter code Raven's Nest."

Confirming SJ's code, the official raised an eyebrow.

"Madcat. The Admiral is unavailable at present. However, final instructions are sending now. Your equipment is ready and waiting. Your insertion will be covert. Understand, this is Black Omega and hence, you will be disavowed if captured. Extraction is available only if not compromised. You are required to scout and request evacuation as part of insertion. You have 48hrs to rendezvous with Transport Lights Edge in Motsu. Final transfer to insertion craft will be in Kassigainen. From then on, you are on your own. You will be dropped on Villore. The rest of the target package is included for your reading. Good luck Madcat." With that, the terminal faded and flickered off.

Taking one of the data crystals, SJ inserted it into the console. The data stream sent during the conversation dumped to the crystal, and a hard copy purred from the printer.

Flicking through the copy, SJ paused. Laying the sheet on the table, he reached and poured another scotch.

"Now why do they want you dead?" he mused. "You are only mid level. Guess the Templis Dragonaurs haven't forgotten your atrocities, I certainly haven't. Ironic how the universe gives you a chance for revenge." SJ's face hardened. The massacre had been brutal. He'd seen the transports' shattered wrecks in holos. Bodies spilling out from blackened blaster holes. He shuddered. Of course, the Templis Dragonaurs had bayed for blood and stirred up the Caldari people to demand retribution. Fanatics and Extremists. Reason and rhyme be damned. On either side of the war, the shadowy groups circled, striking out as they could. Extending the war further and pushing the hatred on both sides into another generation of hate. The politicians had settled it in the end. Officially marked as a tragedy and accident, it was buried and life moved on. Not for those killed. Their souls still adrift. Including one of his friends. He hadn't even realised she had been there. Not until the final lists were posted. She had been helping the refugees there when the Navy arrived and blew the transports out of the sky.

Taking the second crystal, he inserted it into the console and connected to the base computer.

"Access records and amend as per data crystal. Confirm and print final orders."

The terminal quickly patched his records and confirmed new orders. Transport codes and transfer requests printed off and his life here was closed.

The next few hours passed quickly. Packing up his belongings, he stacked them by the door. The package was repacked and the data crystals hidden away. Summoning a transport and a quick booking of an off world shuttle done, SJ strode back out to the sand dunes. A small fire quickly disposed of the hard copy and other oddities not required. Returning to the barracks he showered, changed, and waited for the transport.

The door beeped.

SJ looked at the time. 10:40. The rest of the troopers would be in the bar.

"Come," he said, and the door slid open.

Inside slipped a girl. Slim, black hair, with a fetching slip of a dress.

"Lisa. You should not have come. Your father is already on the warpath."

She looked at him angrily. Gesturing to the piled belongings she said, "Yes... and you run away?"

SJ sighed. "I was deployed this afternoon. In 48 hours, I will be on another base somewhere."

"And us? What about us? Was it just words and a ploy to make me yours? I thought you cared. You are just as bad as the rest of them here. Military. Selfish and uncaring. My mother was right!" she strode forward arm raised to slap.

Raising an eyebrow, SJ grasped the hand and pulled her to him. "Now, now, my little hot tempered one, I am not "running away", as you put it. I will return and we shall speak to your father. I'm sure he will see sense after he cools off. I should be back in a week."

Her demeanour cooled. "Just a week. I thought it would be longer." She pouted. "I suppose I could wait that long."

Outside a loader pulled up. The private stuck his head round the door. "Transport for shuttle port?"

SJ gestured to the pile near the door. "That lot," he said as he prised Lisa off him as he went to help.

The privates eyes widened seeing Lisa, but said nothing. SJ sighed and loaded his belongings onto the transport. This would be round the base in minutes. So much for a discreet exit.

Grasping his pack and the printed orders, he pulled Lisa to him. After kissing her, he smiled.

"I'm sure your father will approve in the end."

She pouted again. "You don't know father. He wanted to know who but I wouldn't tell him."

"Well, you best go. Let's not have him finding you here." SJ shooed her out the door. Jumping into the transport, he smiled at her again.

"Shuttle port. And quick," he told the private.

"Sharp exit time, eh, Jack?" the private replied, as he gunned the transport for the yard gates.

"I'll be back in a week. I'm sure it will blow over. He can't be that bad." SJ mused.

The private raised an eyebrow. "The last man to touch his daughter... never resurfaced. Can't prove it was him, but you know the rumours. Whatever possessed you to try?"

SJ slumped back in the seat and grinned. "Never say never?" he chuckled. "Besides, she is a very nice young lady. Noisy... and tasty. No wonder dad's annoyed." He laughed. The private grinned and gunned the engine, flicking the transport out the gates and into the night.

* * *

The shuttle ride to Motsu was quiet, barring the interchanges. Waiting in a bar on Motsu, a soft chime on his data pad let him know the transport had docked. SJ strode quickly down to the docking bays and collected his gear. Out on the far end of the docking corridor, he found the bay. A battered looking Badger class transport squatted in the bay, the cargo lift was already down and offloading. The load master yelling as the dock crew crashed barrels together carelessly.

Seeing SJ, he gestured with his thumb and pointed to the upper ramp. Lights Edge was barely visible against the grime and rust by the hatch. SJ nodded and entered the hatchway. Rounding the corner, he was stopped as he bumped into a crew man.

"Where do you think you're going, sunshine?" barked the man.

"Going for a ride." SJ eyed the man. Minmatar, big, brutish and covered with scars. A pistol hung off his hip and a rather more used looking knife on a chest strap.

"Oh, you're our hitch-hiker, eh? Captain is upstairs. You better see him."

SJ headed for the lift and looked back to see the man staring at him before turning away to yell down at the dockers.

Upstairs, the lift opened to a battered and abused looking bridge. Slumped in a chair with a sour look on his face was the captain.

Seeing SJ, he grunted. "So you are the hitch-hiker, eh? Your gear is loaded in the aft bay. Cabin is one deck up from it. We leave in an hour so if you want anything, grab it now."

"And in Kassigainen?" prompted SJ.

"You better be loaded and ready. We drop you and cargo as a sealed courier for delivery. A Gallenteen transport called the Wandering Rose will collect you and drop you on Villore. They will have an... "accident" and you will be jettisoned. After that its up to you."

SJ threw him a crystal from his pack. "Payment details are on there. And I was never here."

The captain laughed bitterly. "As long as isk is paid, I don't care." He slipped the crystal into his terminal. Tapping a query, he waited as it churned through the data. Finally, it delivered a series of numbers and more data.

"Well your isk is good. Guess I won't be leaving you in a belt after all," he chuckled darkly.

SJ narrowed his eyes. "That would be very bad for business. Plus those codes need to be cleared via me"

The captain laughed again, "Don't you worry. We'll get you there. I'm not like those dodgy rim traders. You will be there on time. She isn't much to look at, but she's mine and she's solid. Come on. Let's get you stowed and I'll show you the cargo."

* * *

Buried in the aft hold was the cargo. Five meters high and the same again long, it was an unassuming box. Inside, however, was a very different affair. A tear-drop shaped insertion pod sat in a cradle with random junk packing out the box to add to the debris when the crate was jettisoned. Small charges were in the corners to shatter the crate before it hit the atmosphere. Stealth coated, it was, to all intents and purposes, invisible to sensors.

SJ unpacked his gear and checked it carefully. Assembling the sniper rifle, he sighted it and then checked the charge. Breaking it down again, he tucked it into the cargo pod along with a pack. A pair of hand blasters, he tucked into the side pockets of the pod. The crystal that he had handed the captain, he inserted into the pod's console. Powering up the pod, SJ ran diagnostics and checked the data and navigation points. Shutting it down again, he closed the pod and finished packing the extra gear. A small grav cycle was in the forward cargo of the pod. SJ checked the charge and then hooked it up to the cargo power conduits and left it charging. Satisfied, he returned to the cabin and showered before collapsing onto the tiny bunk.

He awakened to a banging on the door. It opened to the scarred and tattooed crew member. He grinned wolfishly at SJ. "Captain says it's time to put you in your box."

SJ nodded and grabbed his data pad. Following him down to the cargo decks, SJ eyed the activity. Crew were lashing and securing gear. Tools and other loose items were being carried to the forward bay.

"What's up?" SJ asked the crewman.

"Guess you don't listen too good, boy," he said. "When the captain said "dropped off"... He meant it. You getting dumped at a safe spot then recovered by the Wandering Rose."

SJ raised an eyebrow and unhooked the power to the pod. Powering it up, it flashed green. He slid underneath and unhooked the power feed to the grav cycle. Passing them both to the crewman, he said, "Well, next time, make sure they check all the equipment."

The crewman shrugged. "That's how it got delivered. Not my problem." He checked his watch. "Better get suited up. You got 15 minutes."

SJ slipped back inside the crate and grabbed the other pack. An atmospheric suit and O2 supply. Change of clothes after landing and thermite charge for the pod.

Suiting up, he slipped inside the pod and closed the lid. It was peaceful in the darkness. A warning bleep caught his attention. The captain was evacuating the bay of air already. SJ tapped out a query and waited. A timer ticked down and then a view from outside appeared. At two minutes to go, the view shifted. The rear doors opened silently in the vacuum and the loading ramp extended into the airlock. The pod vibrated as it was shunted around.

A voice boomed in his ear, "Hope you are holding on, boyo... 'Cos its about to get bumpy," the captain chuckled.

SJ quipped, "Thank you for flying in the Light?"

The captain laughed more. "Boy, you got a sense of humour there. Shame you went military. I know some clubs that would pay good isk for a comedy routine. Now hold tight."

With a bang and thump, the rear outer doors opened and the pod crate was ejected into the void. The camera view changed again to a small camera on the outside of the crate. It was a beautiful view, although dizzying, as the crate spun slowly end over end.

The Badger turned slowly and then flashed into warp.

"And now... the waiting begins," mused SJ. Tapping another command in, he checked the orders again. In theory, he should be picked up in an hour and then taken to Villore. He scanned the area and waited.

Nearly an hour and a half later, a gallente Iteron IV snapped out of warp 5km away from him. A quick scan confirmed it was the Wandering Rose.

A tractor beam flashed out and snagged the crate, jolting the pod as it dragged it towards the transport. Towed inside, it wasn't long before SJ felt the snap as the ship leapt into warp and headed for the gate. Bringing up a navigation chart on another console showed it was just 6 jumps to Villore. SJ tapped into the communications of the ship and settled back for the ride.

The last gut wrenching spasm indicated they had gated into Villore. SJ eyed the navigation readout and prepared the charges. As the transport exited warp at the planet, he triggered the first one. The flames jetted out from the crate very satisfyingly and started licking up the sides and over the other crates next to his.

At first, he thought the crew hadn't noticed. The communication channel just droned with course changes and landing permissions. Then, a klaxon and urgent chatter took over.

"Landing control, this is Wandering Rose. We have a fire in cargo bay. Requesting permission to jettison cargo. We have flammable cargo on board and cannot contain if fire spreads."

"Wandering Rose. Landing control. Evacuate your cargo bay and stand by."

SJ watched in amusement as the flames flickered as the air was evacuated. Flicking another button, two more charges were set off. A calculated risk, this one. Liquid fuel and oxidiser spilled out from the crate and sprayed the cargo bay. The flames burst back into life.

"Landing Control. Wandering Rose. Bay is evacuated. Fire is NOT suppressed. It is spreading. Forward hold contains rocket fuel and is highly explosive."

SJ's eyes widened. "Oh great," he muttered. "Pack me on a floating bomb, why don't they"

"Wandering Rose. Landing Control. Jettison permission confirmed. You are cleared for emergency landing pad 14. Emergency crews are being scrambled."

With a bang and thump, the airlock doors opened and SJ's crate was thrown violently out and tumbled towards the planet. More crates, along with balls of flames and debris, were sucked out with him.

The navigation computer overlaid a projected course and adjusted the detonation sequence. After a brief check, SJ OKed the sequence and waited. More explosions and then the pod tumbled free, the planet spinning above it. The stricken transport was already out of sight. Just its trail of debris left, plunging for the atmosphere.

SJ gritted his teeth as the pod started vibrating, then rattling, as it plunged deeper into the atmosphere. Just another blazing meteor plummeting downwards. The display changed and numbers flashed rapidly downwards as the pod symbol arced towards a very solid looking ground. As the timer approached zero, SJ braced hard. The pod's retros fired and the pod rapidly decelerated. A thump and jerk, as the para-drogue deployed and slowed the pod further. Still, it was with a substantial impact that the pod slammed into the ground, skittering and ploughing a furrow.

SJ caught his breath and waited for the dizziness in his head to calm down.

"Note to self," he muttered. "NEVER do this again."

Popping the pod, he scanned the area. No one in sight. Good. He slid out of the pod and unpacked the gear swiftly. Assembling the grav cycle took only a few minutes. Packing the gear, fewer still.

Rolling the chute up, he stuffed it into the pod lid before setting the timer and tossing in the thermite charge. Changing into Gallente clothes and a jacket, he threw the atmospheric suit into the pod as well.

Checking his data pad, he headed north along the field side looking for a road. Behind him, the pod thumped and started burning away. Just another piece of the debris from orbit.

Ten minutes later, a narrow road appeared. Banking the cycle, SJ headed east and towards his target with the afternoon sun warming his back in the chill air.

Forty minutes later, a city appeared over the skyline and traffic grew denser. Weaving in and out of the traffic, SJ made good time and set down by a charging station. Hooking up the grav cycle, he inserted his id card and waited for the bleep as it accepted it. Checking that it was charging, he grunted and headed deeper into the city. Not long after, he stood outside a murky collection of buildings. Golgotha Tenements. Lovely.

Checking his data pad, he scanned the area and spotted a narrow entrance. Slipping the pad into his jacket and pulling it closed, he strode for the entrance and into the building.

The lobby was dark and dank. Somewhere in the back, water dripped. The lift had one door prised open and was filled with rubbish. SJ headed for the stairs. Fourteen flights later and a long walk towards the back of the building complex, he found his target. Knocking on the door, he waited.

"Piss off. She's not in!" shouted a gruff voice.

"But the fedos still must dance around the oldest star," replied SJ.

There was a pause, then a shuffling. Locks clicked open and the door slid open a crack. Just enough for a single eye to be seen, and a wicked looking pocket blaster.

"You better not have been followed," remarked the gruff voice.

"Pass phrase, please?" SJ asked.

"Oh, I dunno. Something about the emperors mooning or something." The door swung open. "Come in. I'm Lazio Chen."

SJ sighed. Amateurs, he thought. Stepping into the dark room, he scanned it carefully. Lazio was a fat man with no visible signs of hygiene nor charisma. Rubbish was piled haphazardly around the room. Dirty clothes and plates thrown or stacked in piles had mould and other vaguely recognizable things on them. A holo viewer dimly glowed in the corner. Some holoporn actress with infeasibly large breasts spun slowly above the viewer.

Lazio fumbled at the back of the room. "I got a crystal for you, a blaster, and a map. Only doing this 'cos they said they would pay my debts."

SJ took the crystal and slipped it into his pad. It bleeped and pulsed a warning.

"You read this?" he asked.

Lazio shrugged. "Couldn't read all of it. Wanted to know what was so important. Buncha numbers and rubbish. Worth nothing to me."

"I see," said SJ. "Well, consider your debts paid."

"Oh? Already?" Lazio scrabbled for his pad in the mess around his chair. Turning back, he tapped away with pudgy fingers.

SJ slipped his hand behind his jacket.

"Hey! My account is still empty!" Lazio said.

"Really?" asked SJ, and shot Lazio right between the eyes with the blaster.

The pad slipped from between nerveless fingers and rattled off the floor. Lazio stood in shock and then toppled over, crashing among the rubbish on the floor.

SJ quickly searched the flat. Lazio had few hiding places, and was sloppy at covering them. In a statue, on the side, two data crystals were secreted underneath. Slipping them in his pocket, SJ picked up Lazio's data pad and checked it. Unlocking it took moments. Dumping the contents to a crystal, barely longer. Taking one of Lazio's less grimy jackets, SJ slid the data pad into his outer pocket and then slipped out the door. Walking swiftly, he headed for the stairs. Flipping the hood up, SJ peered down the stair well. A gang of youths were coming up. Passing them carefully, SJ smiled as they expertly pick-pocketed the datapad. Exiting the complex, SJ dropped the jacket into a burning barrel and surveyed the area. No one in sight. He returned to the cycle and tapped in the new destination. The cycle rose into the air and headed south. Setting the cycle on autopilot, he loaded Lazio's data.

After a short while, SJ paused reading and loaded the other 2 crystals.

"Well, well, Lazio, my son. You just earned your little sentence," he mused. The first crystal was just Lazio's personal credit stash and account numbers. The second, however, was a crude dump of a holo recording. Grainy, but still damning. A certain high profile Gallenteen senator with a young lady that was definitely not his wife. A quick check showed that it was the original recording too. Not a copy. No wonder Lazio was still out of trouble with the law. Definitely handy to hang on to. Tucking the crystals away, SJ checked the pad and map. He was making good time and it wasn't far now. Slipping the pad away, he disengaged the autopilot and opened the throttle. Time for some good old fashioned fun. He grinned as he flicked the bike between traffic and zipped up the highway.

* * *

An hour later, SJ lay just below the ridge crest and peered over with binoculars. A Gallente Naval base sprawled against the shoreline. A housing complex further inland and, to the west, a floating space port. Poking at his data pad, SJ peered over the base and towards the housing complex. There. That one. Just on the side of the hill with a balcony.

Even away from the base, it was not going to be easy. Security was still tight. Around the base, it was almost suicidal. Fortunately, the target was in the housing complex rather than the main base. Foolish, in SJ's eyes.

Scanning the area carefully, he noted emplacements, shield generators, bunkers, and sensor arrays. Uplinking to his pad, he overlaid the data. Panning across slowly, he paused, brow furrowed. Turning again, he re-scanned the complex. There. A hall? Grabbing binoculars SJ peered closer. No. Not a hall. A hanger. Semi concealed. And the equipment shed was a shield generator. Quickly adding the data to the pad, he checked the plans again. That made more sense. Silly of them. The gap in the emplacements and other shield generators hadn't made sense. Now with the hanger and the clear route out over the seaport, everything tied in.

Going to have to be a land escape. Any attempt to sneak across to the space port and steal a ship there would be suicide. The land batteries would tear him apart before he got high atmospheric. The sea, no doubt, mined and definitely cold this time of year.

Setting up the hide, SJ settled in to study the flow and ebb of human traffic. Digging out the first of the crystals from his briefing pack, he loaded it up and watched its summaries. Lines and figures scrolled as paths laid over his plan of the base.

"Well at least they are consistent," he murmured as the video clips flashed past. "Regular as clockwork."

Flicking through the data, he paused it and scanned a clip closer. Cross checking the data stream, he smiled. Calling up the other streams of the same time, the smile became a grin. Checking the time, SJ set a alarm and pushed a thermal scanner just outside the hide. Wrapping up, he dozed, waiting the alarm... blaster in hand.

* * *

The alarm buzzed at him. Shaking him to consciousness. Reaching out he grabbed a flask and sipped. The Java was cold. So much for finest engineering, he thought. Peering outside, night was falling. After checking the time, he scanned the base and surrounds. Guards in place. Activity dying down as the day closed. He grinned wolfishly and scooted back down the ridge again. Sitting up, he scanned the road back to town carefully. Nothing. He frowned. Checking the time again, he did another scan. Still nothing. Wait. There... weaving up nearer the coast. He panned back up the road and selected a point. Rapidly gathering his gear and dismantling the hide, he packed up and jogged down the ridge heading for the road.

Near the base of the ridge, he uncovered the grav cycle and zipped it over the rough path towards the road, the ridge blocking him from the base. Dipping into the stream bed, he slowed as he came close to the road. A low bridge rose above him. Stashing the grav cycle on the far side of the bridge in a bush, he climbed up to the road using the tree. The road bent in from the coast here, following part of the ridges that had formed millennia ago. Kneeling by the bridge, he scanned back up the road. Right on time. A very much worse for wear land vehicle rattled up the road. SJ scaled the tree quickly and inched out over the road. Grasping the branch above him, he knelt and waited.

The truck had been some kind of logistics vehicle at one time. Now, painted in faded lettering, it had the logo of the town's fresh produce market. Smoke billowed as the driver slowed for the sharp corner and bridge. SJ tensed and watched. The truck slowed and swung across the corner. The driver struggling as the rear dragged round. The engine revved as the truck shifted to lower gear again and climbed the slope towards the bridge. Cresting, the driver slowed for the bridge, drifting to the middle. Gears crunched and the driver reached for a pack on the dash. The truck slowed further as he lit a cig. SJ smiled. Thank you, indeed, he murmured... and silently dropped onto the trailer roof. Rolling, he grabbed at the side and scooted forward. The truck jolted as it hit the bridge and SJ grabbed at the edge again. To his surprise, it partly came away in his hand. The truck bounced again as it headed off the bridge and down into the floodplain towards the base. As it did, the seam parted, separating the side and roof section near the front.

Examining the roof more carefully revealed why. The forward section had been replaced but not properly sealed. Whatever logistics use it had previously been used for, had obviously required a further roof section here. Decommissioned, it was replaced, and age had not been kind. Slipping his knife out, SJ prised at the roof seam and lifted it. Abit more work opened the seam further, so the panel lifted up further... enough to allow the pack to be lowered inside onto crates.

The truck rounded another ridge and the lights of the base became visible as the truck weaved out of the hills. SJ took one last look and slipped inside the truck. Placing a small spy-eye on the ceiling, SJ dropped to the floor. A quick scout confirmed his suspicions of the contents and layout. Fresh food at the back. Long term storage up front. Army rations. SJ grimaced. Chained to the side were some gas canisters and barrels. Top left hand side of the truck, a gap between the canisters and a tall box labelled as replacement gym supplies, held blankets and other straps. Climbing over, SJ dug into the pile and slipped underneath. He wrinkled his nose. The dust and smell told him these hadn't been moved since being thrown into the corner. Thumbing his pad, he activated the spy eye and waited.

The truck bounced and rattled its way closer until the machinery of the base could be heard. Grinding to a halt, the truck paused. Yelling, then more yelling. Bangs and thumps, then the truck lurched forward again. Five minutes passed as the truck wove deeper into the base before crashing to a halt. The trailer lurching and banging. Then motion again as the truck reversed before slamming against something hard. SJ winced as his head bounced off the end wall. Guess that's why the truck is in such great shape, he thought as he rubbed his head. Voices came closer, and then rattling, as the rear was opened. Light flooded in, allowing the spy eye to see.

A grey loading dock beyond the doors. A gaggle of soldiers milled about. The driver arguing with a man in a suit. A warehouse loomed in the gloom beyond.

"... well its not my problem. You can call him in the morning. You lot unload this. I'm going to see the quartermaster." The driver flicked his cig away and strode off with the suited man following him, gesturing animatedly.

The soldiers started unloading unenthusiastically. Piling the fresh food near the side of the dock. Crates headed into the warehouse on trolleys. After about 15 minutes, a chef appeared. Bellowing at the soldiers, he motioned at the fresh food and rounded them up to move it. Verbal abuse and threats delivered, the chef stormed off. With the trolleys back from warehouse, the soldiers loaded the fresh food and dragged it out of sight to the left of the dock where the chef had gone.

SJ wriggled out of the corner and slipped silently towards the back of truck. A quick peek confirmed they had all gone. The truck left three-quarters empty and unguarded. Grabbing his pack, SJ slipped into the warehouse's darkness and headed for the side door. Peering at his pad, his suspicions confirmed. He was between the base and housing complex. Inside the outer fences but not inside the main base. Most importantly, an open route to the housing complex. Opening the door, he found himself in a office corridor. A goods incoming office sign pointed up the hall. The lights dim, and silence indicating the unlikelyness of anyone being actually in. SJ strode up the hall and peered in the door.

A emblazoned jacket was slung over a chair. Desk piled with paperwork and trays behind him. Terminal glowed softly in the dark. SJ slipped inside and donned the jacket. Sitting at the terminal, he tapped out quick queries. Copying the answers to his pad, he smiled as he worked.

Past the main security of the gate, there were little checkpoints around but nothing that couldn't be avoided. His route plotted, SJ erased his traces from the terminal. One final query caught his attention. Reading it carefully, the smile became a grin. It seems the owner of the jacket had slipped off for lunch and never come back with it being a Friday. Unfortunately for him, waiting in the next room was some urgent dispatches for the housing complex and aides for the commodore. Be interesting to see what was in them.

Suddenly the terminal pinged, and a call popped up. SJ sat up as it auto answered.

"Where the bloody hell have you been?!" snapped a young blond woman. "I've been ringing the office for the past 2 hours!"

Startled, SJ tried to think.

"Oh, don't bother!" she snapped. "Just get the rush traffic, and get up here fast before the commodore gets back. Oh, and smarten yourself up. You've obviously been sleeping it off there!" and with that, she snapped off her terminal.

SJ breathed a sigh of relief. Scrolling back to the flash traffic, he copied the data to his pad and noted the address. So much for sneaking in the front door, he mused. Standing up, he spotted a hat hung on back of the door. Grabbing it, he vaulted the desk and headed next door.

The sealed package was bundled with data sheets and various other items. Grabbing a bag from the pile, SJ scooped it all up and dropped it in. Grabbing a second bag, he dropped his pack in that. Looking around, his eyes fell on the secretary's terminal, and just beyond it, the keys for grav bikes. Grabbing a set, he openned the outer door and strode out. Just to the side was a small lean-to. Tucked up against the wall plugged into chargers, were 3 bikes. A quick check showed the middle one to belong to the keys he had. Tapping the address into the bike, SJ studied the route and set off, jacket flapping in the wind, hat set jauntily on his head.

Flitting past a couple of guard stations with barely a nod, SJ climbed the hill deeper into the housing complex until, out of the gloom, a brick administration building rose up. Slowing, he surveyed the building and turned round the side of it, breaking sharply as a guard stepped out.

"WATCH IT!" shouted the guard. "What's your rush?"

"Rush traffic. The cute blond one just tore my arse off about it having been waiting," SJ spluttered.

"Ah, so she finally got hold of you, eh? Bad luck to be you, mate. She's been driving the staff nuts all afternoon. Most have left. You'll have to go in the side entrance. She's in the top floor office, preparing some conference or something," the guard shook his head and grinned. "You better move it. You're for it anyway." He pointed up the side. "You must be new here."

SJ fumbled at his jacket, one hand slipping behind into a pocket for a blaster, the other fumbling inside. To his surprise, he found an id card and pulled it out. The guard glanced at it.

"Yeah, thought so. You want in the side door. Straight to the end and up the stairs. First left, and she's in there. Good luck." The guard waved as SJ drove up to the door.

Grabbing both bags off the back of the grav cycle, SJ bounced up the steps and headed inside. Dim lighting lit the hall, confirming the guards words about everyone else leaving. Striding down the hall, he found the stairs and ran up them quickly. Slamming open the door at the top, there was a shriek and a thud. SJ groaned. Peering round the door, he winced as a pair of very angry eyes met his gaze. It was the blond. Her mood had not improved, and he'd just knocked her on her ass.

"Well, don't just stand there you great idiot! Help me up. And then you can gather up all these papers!" she glowered at him as he helped her up.

"The Commodore is due in twenty minutes for this meeting, and YOU! have the orders waiting down at the office. Can not any of you read? Are they hiring Minmatar meat heads? URGENT!" she shrieked.

SJ looked suitably abashed, and debated if killing her would be a mercy, but with the staff meeting soon, decided that it would be a liability. Gathering the papers, he meekly followed her into the office, handing back the papers and the new rush traffic.

The next fifteen minutes were pure hell as she continued her rant before yelling at him to get out of her hair before the staff arrived. Dashing out of the office, he heard voices coming up the stairs, and doubled back down the corridor. Finding an office unlocked, he slipped inside and hid. Checking the time and his map, SJ pondered his rapidly changing plan. With the staff here, it would be too public to try anything. 9pm. Remembering the girls rant about long meetings and how she should be out on a Friday night instead of pandering to staff for two hour meetings, he studied the surrounding area. The administration block was on a rise to the left of the commodore's house. A guard post was on both sides of the house and the administration block was the only other building in the area. According to the map, there was a tunnel beneath the building that led into the base, and up to the house. Assuming she was right, it would be 11pm before the meeting finished. Give it a hour or two for things to settle, then hit him in bed and escape out in the morning truck. Tucking his pad back into his pocket, he paused as it hit something. Taking it out, it pulled with it the id from the jacket. Examining it and flipping it over, SJ grinned. The idiot had written his logon the back. Sitting at the desk, SJ tapped in the details and examined the clearances. Five minutes later, SJ had a internal base map and confirmation of the tunnel. The main tunnel was open. A checkpoint was manned beneath the house but automated overnight. Nothing his countermeasures couldn't handle. Settling back in the chair, SJ waited patiently.

23:15. The meeting broke up noisily. The blond's shrill voice shouting at someone to give her an update. Ten minutes later, silence reigned. SJ dropped the hat and jacket into the bag and swapped clothes for tight fitting combat gear. Swinging the pack onto his back, he slipped silently out of the office and padded down the stairs. Night-vision made the darkness as day. Following the stairs to the lower levels, he found a security gate. Using the id pass got him into the tunnel. A quick check of the map indicated a left. Jogging quietly up the tunnel, SJ paused as a bleep warned him of the checkpoint. Pressing himself against the wall, SJ tugged two cylinders from his webbing and pressed them high up against the wall. Bonding quickly, the mini-jammers locked on to the security checkpoint and quickly re-wrote the rules to SJ's favour. A soft tone from his pad indicated that it was safe to proceed. Beyond the checkpoint, a flight of stairs and an elevator marked the end of the tunnel, and the base of the Commodores house. A maintenance door to the side of the elevator yielded to jiggery-pokery and electronic lock-picks. Once inside, SJ wriggled into the shaft and started climbing up.

Reaching the top, he slithered round the elevator and climbed on top of it. Resting, he examined the map. The elevator was at the east side of the house. A short corridor lead to the hall and front door.

SJ examined the area and pondered. The easiest route in was the doors. Difficult with the elevator upstairs. Standing on the roof, he reached up and traced wires back to the control box. Starting to open the cover, he paused as voices carried his way.

"... and thank you. I'll see you in the morning. Our shuttle leaves at 10am I believe?"

"Yes. Cheers for the drink. Those meeting are so dry and boring. And with that dreadful girl. I must see the base commander about her."

A chuckle. "I think she had a long day. Still at least it makes the drink more pleasurable."

"Yes, it does. Well, goodnight, Alexander."

"Goodnight, Sebastian. Sleep well."

The lift doors whisked open. SJ barely had time to pop the cover back on before the elevator slipped down the shaft. As it did so, SJ grabbed the top of the lift doors and swung into the door recess. Waiting poised, he listened as shoes clicked on stone floor, fading away. Glancing at his pad, SJ worked at the control panel and overrode it. Cracking the doors slightly, he peered into the hall. Nothing seen, he slipped in and quickly up the hall. Peering round the corner showed empty corridor. Taking another cylinder from his belt, a almost silent puff of air launched a eye-spy into the ceiling. Slipping back down the hall, SJ opened the door half way down. A musky smelling coat room. Perfect. Nipping inside, SJ hid at the back and waited. His pad showed 23:56. Settling back, he waited.

01:30. The house silent as a grave. SJ flexed and tiptoed up the hall. Reaching the top of the corridor, he peered around corner and scanned the area. The hall empted out into the living room. Further back appeared to be a kitchen. Three doors leading off from the sides, and a corridor leading back into the house. Sneaking up the corridor, SJ listened to each door he came to. The corridor bent 90 degree left, and at the end, a double set of doors were closed.

Teasing the door open slowly, SJ leaned in and scanned the room. A large bed against the back wall. Sideboards. The right one lit with softly glowing holos. A door to the right partially open. A bathroom beyond. Slipping inside, SJ looked at the bed. Blaster at hand, he slipped up the left side of the bed. Creeping midway up the bedside, SJ took aim and stepped closer. Hair on pillow. Another step. Long black hair. Wait... long?

Stepping closer, SJ's eyes widened. A girl with long black hair in a nightdress was on this side of the bed. A pale white face, eyes puffy and ringed, tear tracks down her face still showing. SJ tightened his grip on the blaster, and his face set harder. Obviously used for pleasure and hurt. Well, the commodore would not be doing that much longer.

Backing up, SJ tiptoed round the right side of bed. Holos shining and flickering in the darkness as they cycled. There. That was him. A male head was on the other pillow. His arm under the girl. SJ shook his head. Dirty old man. The holo to the side flicked and changed again. Long black hair. SJ paused. He looked and watched the holo. The girl sat on the Commodores knee, eyes bright. The holo flickered again. This time, her at some music concert. Performing on stage. SJ scanned the holos. There. Another. Her and him and what could be her parents. Family? Noise from the bed snapped his head round, blaster coming up. The girl had rolled and pulled the covers. SJ looked across at her. Took aim again at the commodore. The holos flickered again. Her again. Sitting on a wall outside the house, sad and looking out to sea.

Dammit. SJ stepped closer. The girl sighed in her sleep and moaned. SJ froze. The commodore rolled and murmured something. The girl settled. Barely daring to breathe, SJ waited. The commodore rolled again, eyes opening. Quick as a flash, SJ pressed the blaster against the commodores temple, other hand over his mouth. The commodore froze and eyes snapped open. Registering SJ, his eyes widened and mouth snapped shut. SJ let go of the mouth and raised his finger to his lips. Motioning with the blaster, he indicated towards the door, waving his blaster at the girl and slicing finger over his throat. The commodore nodded weakly and slowly, cautiously, swung out of bed. Grabbing a robe, he stood up. Backing away, SJ let him get up and walked him out of the bedroom. "Kitchen" mouthed SJ, as he shut the door. Marching the commodore in front of him, they walked through the house. The commodore sitting down at the kitchen table. SJ leaning against the side.

"Thank you for not hurting her."

"I still may. Still abit of a shock to find you dead in bed and rather embarrassing too," SJ muttered.

The commodore flushed. "She's my niece. Her parents died last year in a shuttle wreck"

"She is rather beautiful. Maybe I'll have some fun before I leave. After I've left your rotting carcass with a few holes," SJ drawled.

"Do, and I'll kill you bare handed," hissed the commodore

"That would be impressive considering I hold the blaster and could have blown your head off in bed before you woke. Besides. You deserve nothing. Not after Rutheren IV," SJ said coldly.

The commodore looked surprised. "What has that got to do with this?"

"Nothing from my masters. It's just personal to me. I lost friends there to your attack." SJ glared.

"It was suppose to be terrorists. Templis Dragonaurs. A cell of them evacuating in civilian transports," snapped the commodore, "responsible for thousands of atrocities."

"It was evacuee's all right. Innocent civilians. And your fleet blew them all away!" snarled SJ. "And now I get the pleasure of doing the same to you. And under orders too. It's a small universe isn't it?"

"Would it convince you to see the proof?" asked the commodore

"Truth? From the lying mouth of Alexander Noir himself?" SJ laughed. "That will be a good one."

Noir stood shaking, "I'll prove it." He turned and reached for a terminal.

"Easy Alexander, my trigger finger is itchy," warned SJ.

Alexander turned back, hands open. "Just a terminal." He turned it on and tapped a query. SJ leaned closer to check.

The screen scrolled. Dates, times, intel, pictures, the horrific outcome. SJ read more. Alexander stood to one side as the terminal scrolled more.

SJ's hand wavered as he read more. It was true. High level discussions over how to cover up the incident. Blaming radicals. Silencing of sources.

Alexander moved, quick as a flash. Dipping behind the terminal, his hand came back with a stubby hand blaster.

"Now we have a stand-off. I want to know why and who," he barked.

SJ laughed, "I can still kill you. I'm disposable."

"Yes, but you are curious... and you won't. If you really wanted that, I'd have been dead in the bedroom," said Alexander.

SJ's eyes flashed. "I'm not evil like you. Leaving your blaster ridden carcass in her arms is repugnant. You are the butcher. Not I."

"And for that, I thank you. But it was a dreadful mistake. We were lied to. Much like you have been. There is more. If you want to see." Noir's blaster drooped towards the side.

SJ looked at Alexander. The butcher... but yet. "Show me." His blaster still in hand and pointed at Noir's heart.

Alex turned around and added queries. "I wish you would at least lower it. It is... disconcerting to work knowing it is there."

SJ grunted and dipped the blaster a touch. He waved Noir to the other side of the kitchen. "Move over to that side." SJ moved closer to read the terminal.

It painted a grim story. Lots of dead ends, but a common theme. Lies and twisted truth.

"Who did it?" asked SJ quietly, leaning on the side, fingers gripping the blaster white and pale.

"We don't know for sure. The only possible name we have come across is someone they call The Broker," said Alexander. "We don't know his motives, nor his goals. He profits from war and chaos. It was his directions that led to the massacre. I am sorry. We were angry. We wanted the terrorists. Not civilian evacuees. We should have scanned them first. We didn't, and paid the price." He sighed, paused, then laid down the blaster.

"No, you didn't. They did," SJ said quietly and put the blaster down.

Opening his jacket, he took out the first crystal. Tossing it to Alexander, he motioned to the terminal. "You wanted to know who and why. Passcode is Raven's Nest"

Alexander raised an eyebrow. Plugging the crystal into the terminal, he loaded the data quickly and read quietly. Half way through, he stopped. "What's your name son?"

"They call me Jack. Why?" SJ queried as he stepped closer.

"Because they are lying to you again. Or rather... whoever is pulling strings again." Alexander pointed. "That meeting they said is about invasion? It was about aiding colonists on the outer rim. Pirates are rife and the Navy must take action. That was earlier tonight. The papers are in my study."

"Along with another blaster?" SJ asked.

"Yes, but I was thinking more of a nice bottle in there instead," Alexander said. "I need a drink. It's not just us being lied to. We are both being played for fools. Caldari and Gallente. And I hate being made the fool." He strode angrily for the far door beyond.

Slipping the blasters in his pockets, SJ followed. Noir opened the door and disappeared to the far cupboard. SJ following slowly, hand ready.

"Catch," Noir said, throwing a glass at SJ. Turning back before SJ caught it, Alexander poured a large shot and drank it down. Turning, he offered the bottle. SJ raised the glass and waited. Pouring out two measures, Alexander sat and slumped in an armchair. "Shut the door. Cerise needs not to hear this."

Nodding, SJ pushed the door shut. Perching on the other chair, he sipped the drink.

"What were your other instructions? Afterwards?" Alexander swallowed his drink angrily.

"Execute you. Tight beam a coded message out that it was done so a strike group could hit you while fleet was headless. Extract myself and meet a informant for a shuttle out," SJ said.

"Given what I suspect, I'd say your chances of getting out of here alive are slim. I believe you are about to be double-crossed or disposed of," Alexander said, pouring another drink.

SJ looked thoughtful. "Lets find out." Taking his pad out, he slid in the second crystal. Tapping into the terminal on the desk, he fired up a link, waving at Noir to be silent.

"This is Madcat. The troublesome songbird was poached by hunters. The nest is empty. Awaiting extraction final route. Land extraction. Sea route and air too hostile."

The terminal sat quietly... then a voice. "Well done, Madcat. The fleet will move shortly." A pause, then video feeds started. A road scene. The bridge where the grav bike was. A short flare of light as the bike exploded. The other feed flickered pictures, and then a notice. The pictures were SJ and Lisa, the base commander's daughter. The notice. SJ's AWOL notice and dishonourable discharge. "Sadly, we no longer require your services. The Navy appreciates your service, however in light of certain indiscretions, you never arrived at your proper post and were summarily dismissed. The base commander will be receiving those pictures of you and his daughter in his morning debrief. In fifteen minutes, the base alarms will sound. I suggest you run... " the voice laughed and faded. The terminal snapped off.

Noir laughed bitterly. SJ sat stunned. Noir stood and poured SJ another drink.

"Aren't you glad you didn't kill me now?" he said.

SJ looked at him, "I nearly did. I couldn't because of her. It wasn't right. She wasn't involved."

"Well, my son, what are we going to do now? I should be dead. You will be shortly." Noir put his glass down.

SJ finished his drink. "Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Here. The second crystal. Same passphrase. It doesn't have a lot but it does cover where they want to strike." He grinned wryly. "I killed off my other contact here earlier today." Flicking the senator's holo vid at Noir, "He had that on him. I think it will give you some leverage."

Noir raised an eyebrow but quickly skimmed it, "My god! That's the chairman's daughter! He'll go ape!"

SJ laughed. "Well, at least some good will come of it. You got him in your pocket now."

Noir checked the other crystal. Puzzled, he looked up, "Why on earth there?"

SJ shrugged. "I was just told to pop you. What fleet does is up to them." Standing, he reached into his pockets. Pulling out the blasters, he handed them to Noir. "Guess you going to get a promotion for catching your own assassin. It might make them think twice if they think I've squealed."

Noir looked at him curiously, "Why?"

SJ thought, then shrugged. "Because you didn't lie. Maybe because I'm tired of all this. I have no where to go now. The Navy is dead to me. My life has been a lie, and I'm on a hostile planet with no support in a base that is about to go to red alert."

Noir pondered. "One last question. Would you have hurt her?"

SJ looked into the bottom of his glass. Swallowing the last of the drink, he looked up at Noir. "No. She had done nothing. It's why I took you to the kitchen."

Noir nodded thoughtfully, turned away, and opened a cupboard. Reaching in, he opened a safe. Withdrawing two datacards, he closed the safe, and sat at the desk. Tapping rapidly at the terminal, screens scrolled and flashed. SJ watched in silence and waited. Noir finally finished and stood. "Come with me."

The two men padded softly back to the bedroom. Motioning SJ to wait, Noir slipped inside and dressed quickly. Leaning over Cerise, he kissed her forehead lightly and slipped back outside. The men walked towards the lift. Stopping by the cupboard, Noir rummaged and found a long coat with insignia.

"Put that on and find a bag for your pack."

Nodding, but not understanding, SJ changed and shortly looked more like a Gallente navy officer. A flight bag took care of the pack. Noir raising an eyebrow as SJ transferred items. "You better leave the weapons. Security will ask questions and we don't have much time." Nodding, SJ piled the guns and knives in the pack and tucked it in the cupboard.

Calling the lift, Noir explained. "I cancelled the alarm. They used my codes, somehow, to order a readiness drill. I guess I will have to change them again and make discrete inquiries into how they got them. We're going to my hanger. I was suppose to shuttle up later today, but I think I'm going to have a pilot friend take me to the station. Once on the station, do you think you can get out?"

SJ looked thoughtful. "Difficult, but manageable. Certainly better odds than down here. Why?"

Noir looked at him. "Because sometimes a leap of faith is required. Because it is time we brought this hatred to an end. And most importantly, because of Cerise. She has a future. I want it to be a long one." Reaching out his hand, he waited for SJ.

Looking into Noir's eyes, SJ pondered, then reaching out himself, he shook Noir's hand.

"One last thing. If you make it out, see if you can find out who is doing all this. I'd like to know. Once we reach the station, though, you are on your own. I cannot help further." Noir looked grim. "If it is this Broker person, I fear this will not be the last from him."

SJ nodded. "I'll do what I can. I have a few people I know. First things is to get away."

Noir stepped into the lift. SJ followed. The lift purred down to the tunnel below. The pair strode down the tunnel quickly. SJ, stopping briefly to recover the jammers. Noir watched intently.

"Remind me to sort that little issue out. I don't want a repeat of tonight," he said, as the pair continued down the tunnel.

SJ chuckled. "Not your fault. The outer base and housing is soft. Infiltration was easy."

Noir raised an eyebrow. "Explain?"

As they walked down the tunnel, SJ explained the route in, and the ease of slipping in as the dispatch delivery. "... two last things. The girl at the meeting. She saw me. She could be an issue. Also, the guy whose id and job I stole, he needs following up."

Noir reached for his pad and typed in queries. After a few, he laughed and showed SJ the screen. "The young man is in the brig. He decided that hand to hand was a good idea with the soldiers in the bar. He won't be an issue. As for the girl? I believe she just got transferred due to requests from staff." Noir winked. "Now I just have to smuggle your body out of here for the perfect cover-up."

Reaching the end of the tunnel, Noir used his pass on a elevator. Shortly after, they were in a dark hanger. Shuttles and frigates were parked neatly in rows. Striding towards the closest, Noir opened the hatch and stepped inside. As SJ followed, Noir muttered, "I hope you can fly Gallente."

Shutting the hatch, SJ grinned. "You'd be surprised what I can fly, Alexander. I'm a pod pilot."

Noir looked at him in astonishment. "A capsuleer? How? And why?"

SJ's grin broadened. "I conned the Navy into expanding my training. Pod training was more effective and they wanted some volunteers. Still working out all the bugs, I guess. My training made it more likely I was to survive. Some admiral decided it would make a good experiment. With extra training, I can fly most things out there. Right now, the bulk of my skills are fighters and interceptors. Fun toys. Better than flying a desk."

Noir shook his head. "You continue to surprise me. However, I suggest we get out of here." Motioning to the pilot's seat, Noir settled into the main cabin.

SJ slipped into the Atron's seat and studied the controls. Nothing too difficult. The console was live from Noir's access codes. Running through the preflight was simple. Noir's voice came over the communications.

"Navicomp has the location and docking codes. Hanger 7 is my personal hanger. Local control has us cleared. Take it easy. The fleet is on alert already," Noir warned.

"I gather you didn't just cancel the alarm then?" SJ queried.

Noir chuckled. "Give an old man his due. Things are about to get very warm. It also covers your escape. You have about two hours before the fleet arrives to go intercept your friends."

"They aren't my friends. I'm not sure I have many left any more. Not after tonight," SJ muttered. Firing up the engines, he lifted the frigate from the hanger floor and towards the opening door.

"Jack? I'd like to consider you a friend," Noir said flatly. "You could have killed me as directed. You used your own head to decide. I could do with more friends like you. Maybe then, Caldari and Gallente could learn to live in peace."

"Alexander, you're a very optimistic man for someone who should be dead. Guess it changes your views, eh?" SJ quipped as he directed the Atron skyward.

"No. After Cerise's parents died, I decided something needed to be done. The Templars killed them in some silly reprisal that is just another tit for tat. It needs to be brought under control and soon. If it continues, it will be open war in years, otherwise. And neither race can endure that again. Billions lost and home worlds scorched bare again? What kind of legacy will we leave our children?" Noir finished sadly.

SJ's hands guided the Atron into orbit, working almost as a machine. Silent for a while, he pondered. Is this why this mission was planned? To stop the peace? Drive the races back into war again? If so, why? And who? Finally he spoke again, "Alexander? I hope you do succeed. Give Cerise her future... while we still have one."

"Thank you for allowing her to have one, Jack. I am sure someone else sent would have ensured neither of us survived." Noir fell silent.

SJ swallowed and softly said, "I'm no murderer, Alexander. Too many innocents have already died. I will not add to it."

SJ swung the Atron towards the giant station above the moon, thoughts churning and tumbling in his head. There was no return from this. He was out of the Navy. Disgraced and dishonoured. Powerful enemies would ensure he was silenced if he surfaced. The only good thing is they expect him dead soon. Sunlight spilled across the cockpit as the Atron popped out from the planets shadow as it made orbit.

"Going to be a beautiful day, Alexander. Guess I better figure out plan B," SJ said.

"First day of the rest of my life, Jack," murmured Noir, from behind his ear.

SJ started. "Damn, you can move quiet."

Noir smiled. "Old dog has tricks yet. Give me your pad. And besides, I believe you are long past plan B, Jack."

SJ handed it over and watched as Noir quickly uploaded station maps, security checkpoints, shuttle schedules, and transport details.

Handing it back. Noir looked apologetic. "I can't fake you a Gal navy identity. It would raise too many questions. You will have to get off the station alone."

SJ looked quickly at the details. Wheels turning rapidly in his head, he scanned the maps and times.

"Alexander, how do you feel about doing me one last favour?" asked SJ.

"I owe you my life. What is it?" Noir asked.

"Kill me," SJ replied, smiling.

Noir looked shocked, then puzzled. "Why?"

"Solves unpleasant questions. Leaves a neat little dead-end for someone to run into. And means I have more chance of escaping." SJ started looking in lockers.

Understanding flowed across Noir's face. "Ah... 'Kill' you. Not actually. How?"

"Got a spacesuit on this boat? There is a transport coming leaving from bay 10 in thirty-five minutes. She is heading for Kemerk. In thirty minutes time, I'm going to steal this Atron, and you are going to escape to the station claiming I held you hostage and then used your codes to escape and make a run for it."

"Fourth locker towards the back. They are only maintenance suits. You have thirty minutes of oxygen. They have an emergency transponder." Noir looked puzzled. "The station defences will destroy you before you go to warp and they will see you abandon ship if you do so beforehand."

"That's where timing and lady luck come into hand. And, I'm counting on the defenses. Drones and blasters. No torpedoes. The blast from a torp would kill me instantly. I need some armour plates too." SJ started getting into the space suit. "The blasters will make swiss cheese out of this, and the drones will clutter sensors enough that I'll look like debris. I suggest you ensure the Atron is properly exploded however."

Noir shook his head. "You are absolutely crazy. I'll get the plates. Should be a few in the engine room. Navy likes to keep spares."

Noir returned shortly with a grav trolley and the heavy plates.

"Help me get them into the airlock. I am going to be in there when this goes bye-bye. I'm going to jettison the cargo bay to as chaff to soak the blasters. With luck, I can drift back to the station, break into the bay, and leave with the transport after slipping on board. She's only refuelling and should be cleared soon," SJ explained, as he started loading the airlock.

"You are still crazy, Jack. There is a very good chance you will be killed," he shook his head again as he helped SJ load the airlock.

"Dead man walking. I don't exactly have much to lose, do I?" replied SJ.

A short time later, a haphazardly lashed box of plates took up most of the airlock. A little jet thrust pack spot welded to the rear most panel. Usually used for construction work and aiding moving heavy mass objects, it was about to become a primitive ejector seat for SJ.

Leaning on the hatch, Alexander shook his head. "You are still totally nuts, you know?"

"Sorry, Alexander," SJ stood and turned.

A moment of confusion swept over Alexander's face, then shock as SJ's right hook caught him on the side of the face, and launched him into the corridor.

Shaking his head, dazed, Alexander looked up at SJ. "What the blue blazes was that for?"

"Convincing people." Helping Alexander up, SJ examined his face. "That's going to bruise nicely. Just the proof you need."

Noir thumped him in the ribs. "Next time... more warning. You do this often?" Ruefully, he rubbed his cheek.

SJ looked thoughtful. "Hmm... not really. Most times, my targets are ruthlessly executed. I think you are one of the few that lived."

Noir looked at him oddly, "Guess I'm lucky then?"

SJ shook his head. "No. It's time for a change." He reached into his collar and pulled out a necklace. A simple silver ring hung on it. Eyeing the ring, SJ reached and placed it in Alexander's hand.

"Give this to your niece. It was... a friend of mine's. She is no longer here. It's time I moved on and stopped using her for my actions. Call it a truce between myself and the Gallente people. If I live through this... Things will change."

Alexander studied the ring, then slipped it into his pocket. "What was her name?" he asked simply.

SJ fiddled with the plates and rocket. Finally, he said quietly, "Claire"

Noir looked at him strangely. "I know that name. She was on the transports, wasn't she."

SJ looked startled.

Noir patted SJ's shoulder. "After we learned we were duped, I insisted on knowing the history of everyone that died. We had personal effects shipped to loved ones. Your name, however... was not on those lists."

SJ looked off into space then spoke softly, "Her sister sent it back to me. It took months to reach me. The Navy held it while I was on assignment. No-one bothered telling me." Shrugging, SJ shut the hatch and headed for the cockpit. "It's getting near time."

Alexander stared after SJ. "What on earth have I got entangled in..." he murmured and followed SJ.

Entering the cockpit, the view had changed. The station hung over them now, looming darkly and ominously. Sitting in the pilot seat, SJ's fingers flashed over the console as he queried the station docking computer. Autopilot taking over seamlessly as it accepted his authentication code.

The cockpit darkened as the stations bulk blotted out the sun. The Atron slowing as it approached the hanger.

"I'm going to refuel and during that time you are going to 'escape'. My escape from the station will be hurried and mistakes will be made. Your base commander is competent enough to corner me, I hope? Assuming all goes to plan, I should escape the destruction of your Atron and, thus, from the system. If all goes to plan, I'll be 'dead' and living a new life."

"And if not?" asked Noir.

"Well... I guess then my sins are paid for and this episode truly does end," SJ answered.

Noir gripped SJ's shoulder. "Then, I hope that Lady Luck rolls well for you today."

SJ nodded. "So do I."

Outside, the hanger doors closed behind the Atron as it coasted into the hanger and nuzzled the docking frame.

Noir leaned across to another console, and entered codes. A series of prompts and then final authentication queried back.

"Ok. Ten minutes. We're being refuelled. They are a bit curious as to why I don't just take another ship. I put a 'do not disturb' on for now, but the base commander will be wondering." Noir headed back for the main cabin.

Following him, SJ pondered his plan. Risky. High chance of death or serious injury, but no other way to escape without backup. All things considered? This was not quite the craziest thing he had ever done. Coming close. But not quite there.

Cycling the hatch, Alexander looked out. "It's clear." Ducking back inside, he stood in front of SJ. He held out his hand. "If this is the last time, I want to say goodbye."

SJ grinned and shook his hand. "This isn't goodbye. Merely good riddance."

Noir laughed and shook his head. "You are a special brand of crazy."

SJ looked thoughtful. "Wonder if we could bottle it... Quafe Ultra?" His face changed. In more serious tone he said, "Just make sure you are clear and your niece is ok. They might try again."

Noir nodded. "I think it's time she went to live with her aunt. She's a little old for me now. Teenage tantrums are getting abit much. She wants to go and join the Sisters of Eve. I'd prefer she finishes her schooling first."

SJ nodded. "She will find her own dreams. One last thing." He pulled some packing ties out and fastened them around Alexander's wrists. The final one binding them to each other. Grabbing his arms, SJ rubbed the final band against the rough plating till it snapped.

Noir raised an eyebrow. "Something tells me covering up things is also in your repertoire."

SJ shrugged. "No point telling a story if it does not all add up. It's always the little things that spoil the illusion."

"Goodbye, Jack, and good luck." With that, Noir turned and ran down the docking ramp.

SJ eyed the monitors as he reached the main lock and cycled it. Sighing, he shut the outer hatch and ran to the cockpit.

Firing up the controls, he deployed the drone. A quick burst of commands and the drone rapidly took out the docking clamps. Engine firing, he spun the Atron on its length and headed for the doors.

Tapping a sequence out on the pad caused the communications array to start rapidly querying the docking computer. Overloaded and confused, it reset and cycled the locked doors. SJ breathed a sigh of relief and gunned the Atron out the opening doors. The drone followed trying to keep up.

The Atron cleared the doors as SJ engaged the autopilot and prayed the pattern would work. Sending additional commands to the drone took seconds more. Then, grabbing his pad, he sprinted for the main lock, banging off the corridor walls as the Atron gathered speed.

Seconds counted in his head as he strapped on gloves and helmet. 30 seconds. He grabbed at the lock and hauled himself inside, shutting the inner hatch. Alarms must be sounding now. Strapping into the crude seat now done, he looked at the pad feed. 40 seconds gone. There. A sensor sweep. The station probing and worried. The Atron jinked left and down... ducking from the top turrets. The seat slid against the outer hatch and banged to a halt.

Inside the station, Noir leaned against a terminal, yelling at command staff, "Yes I told you! Some renegade. Kidnapped me and he's in the ship. BLAST HIM!"

55 seconds gone. The Atron dove under a strut and pealed across the face of the station.

Sirens started sounding. Tracking computers started locking. Blasters charging. Drone hangers opening and deploying swarms of deadly little hobgoblins.

Inside the airlock, SJ watched timers tick. Smiling grimly, he watched target locks acquire. Tapping out a code, he sent the drone after part of the station. Its blaster opened up eating into armour and starting to eat into hull. The Atron's blasters opened up and aided it. A few volleys and the conduit was slag. A violent explosion followed as the drone ploughed into the hole and detonated.

Noir gripped the terminal as the station shook. "What on earth was that?"

"Urm... He's attacking the station! He's taken out the external feeds and power for that section," answered the worried officer.

Noir smashed his hand on the terminal and raised it to cover his face and smiled. Regaining his composure, he yelled again at the officer, "Will someone kindly kill him before he does something worse?!"

1 minute and 10. The Atron swooped around the pylon and banked heading for space. The pylons lights flickering and stuttering as the power conduit feedbacks rippled through systems. The Atron ducked a powerless turret and headed for the main docking ring. Transports and ships slowing as station-wide emergency was declared.

"Sir, he's disabled some of the turrets and he is heading for the main docking area."

"Get fire-control to use the dock guns now before he gets into the transports cover, and where the hell are the drones?!" Noir barked.

1 minute and 20. The drones were shooting now. The Atron was jinking and trying to follow the station edge, but the little drones were faster and eating into the shields. Suddenly, the feed went white as a blaster bolt crackled by. The dock guns were firing now. The first few shots missed. One took out one of the following drones. More took its place. The Atron volleyed another drone. The pad warbled as the next station shots hit home and stripped the remaining shields. 5Km to the nearest transport. It was going to be close. SJ tapped adjustments and took the Atron closer to the hull. Engine flat out. The dock guns over shot their next volley, helpfully taking out more pursuing drones. SJ smiled. The next volley promptly wiped the smile from his face. 1/3 armour left. The remaining drones firing was eating at the engine armour. The shield generators were heavily damaged. They weren't designed for soaking heavy blaster fire. The Atron jinked again avoiding a sensor cluster. The dock guns just clipped the fleeing craft. Shield generators exploded and more armour vaporised. The pad warbled more warnings.

"He's nearly dead sir, still running. He's definitely heading for the transports."

"He will use them as cover, you idiot. He's already blinded you partially. If he gets into them then we will have to cease fire or risk hitting the transports." Noir shook his head exasperatedly. Jack was truly insane. Question was, could he make it?

That very question is what was running through his mind. Through the hull of the Atron, he could feel the strain. The drones were into hull and eating into critical systems. The pad was a mass of warnings and critical hits. Tapping commands furiously, SJ sweated. The Atron pulled up sharply, losing its pursuing drones briefly before they banked and closed again. SJ blew the cargo bay. Debris and cargo pods littered behind the Atron before it jinked again towards the transports. Pods exploded as blaster bolts hit them. Then suddenly, the Atron shuddered and shook. One of the pylon guns had scored a direct hit on the vulnerable engine section. Already holed badly by the drones, the blaster tore deep into the hull slagging one engine completely. The Atron spun wildly.

"Direct hit sir!"

"About time. Has he stopped?" Noir asked.

"No, sir."

"Well keep shooting then!" Noir shook his head again. Jack was not going to make this. He studied the readouts from the command centre. The Atron was flying barely. Another volley flashed out. The Atron's cockpit took a direct hit and was vaporised. Noir sucked his breath in.

Red lights all over the pad. SJ tried to see as the world spun. He punched a final command and waited. The Atron was dying. Shedding parts and plating, it spun wildly. Debris was spreading in a cloud. The drones closed as the engines died. Another volley from the drones wrecked the other engine.

It was nearly over. Noir watched helplessly as the drones closed in and started to tear what was left of the ship apart. The Atron spun lazily and more of the engineering exploded. Debris scattered widely. One piece shattering a drone and adding to the spreading cloud.

The outer hatch opened. SJ gripped the plating. The station spun above him. The plates kicked him in the back as the motor fired. He closed his eyes and waited.

Noir watched silently as the drones tore into the Atron Debris was everywhere. Sensors were struggling to track the multitude of parts. Another explosion rocked the Atron. Tumbling wildly up out of the docking path, the dock guns finished it. A brilliant flash of light and then shredded debris as the Atron's reactor went critical and detonated.

"Get rescue out there to pick up the bits. Clear that docking path and get someone down here to me pronto." Noir snapped off the terminal and then half collapsed on it. "I hope you weren't still on that, Jack," he murmured.

A short time later, the clattering of feet on deck plating announced the arrival of a medical team and detachment of guards. Refusing attention but for the bands on his wrists, Noir was taken briskly to the main command.

Snapping to attention, the base commander reported his findings. "Sir, we swept the debris. life signs. We are collecting what we can and operations reports station operations returning to normal. We're clearing the transport backlog now."

"And the damage to the station?" Noir inquired.

"Regrettable. He was inside the shields and it was a weak spot. Repair crews are diverting and replacing conduit as we speak."

"I want a full investigation into the power failure. The fleet will be here shortly. You can update me when I return." Noir stood up.

"Sir? Who was he?"

"Some radical. Kept babbling about stopping us from deploying. Someone has blabbed about the meeting we had last night. There will be a review of security on the base as well. For now, place them on high alert." Noir paused. "And send a detachment of guards to watch the house. My niece is still there alone. She is to be kept safe or heads will roll."

The commander barked orders and the centre became a hive of activity.

"How long before the fleet arrives?" Noir asked as he watched.

"Another 50 minutes, Sir. They were delayed in Reyne for 20 minutes."

"Very good. Where is your ready room? I need to clean up before they arrive." Noir tugged at his clothes.

The commander lead him to the room and sent an ensign to get new shirt and uniform to replace Noir's worse for wear ones.

As he changed, Noir looked in the mirror. The bruise was already purple and showing. He shook his head ruefully. Dressing, he pondered if Jack had survived. Nothing more could be done now. Rescue had not found anything but had yet to find a definite body. It could have been vaporised, however, with the final blast of the Atron. He shook his head sadly. He would probably never know.

* * *

The motor thrusting at his back shook the ramshackle contraption. Silently it shot towards the station. Gripping the edge of the plates, SJ counted the seconds. The motor cut out after 5 seconds. Debris flashed passed him as the Atron was hit again. A bright flash hurt his eyes as the dock guns fired. Suit visor darkening to save his vision, it faded to black as a even brighter flash shone out. The plates rattled as bits struck it. More seconds passed. Then, the motor fired again as the station wall loomed. SJ slashed at binding straps with a knife. The extra plating fell away and carried on till it slammed into the station. The motor brought him to a halt a few feet away from the station. He exhaled slowly, barely realising he'd be holding his breath. Slashing the final bands, he kicked off the plate and grasped at the station hull. Boots latched onto the hull. Studying the pad, SJ spotted the maintenance hatch and slid along the hull making for it. Tucked in the shadow of an antenna array, the hatch looked unused in a long time. Scraping at the cover yielded a data port and a bigger cover. Curious, SJ dug the knife under one edge and prised. Initially resisting, it finally popped up. Inside, a lever sat. Manual emergency release the inscription read. SJ grinned and yanked at the lever. So much for having to hack back in. The hatch groaned and hissed, then slid open. Diving , SJ dragged the hatch shut and turned on the suit lights. According to his pad, he was in the antenna array for the docking tractor beams. Bay 10 was three stories below him through a tangle of ducts. He had 2 minutes. This was going to be very close.

It wasn't enough time. It was 4 minutes later before he was in ducting above the hanger. Another minute before slipping out of a access panel on the side wall. Peering out, he breathed a sigh of relief as the transport loomed above him. Delayed and waiting for the debris to be cleared, it hung on the docking arm awaiting clearance. Clambering up the docking arm, he sweated in the suit as the exertion took its toll. Hanging from the arm, he connected the pad to an access hatch on the transport. The pad sat silent for a while then a bleep and the hatch whisked open. Hauling himself inside, he shut the hatch and breathed a sigh of relief. Sipping some water, he studied the pad. According to the diagrams, he was in the lower part of the ship. Water reclamation and waste tanks were above him. Ahead was crawl ducts leading to the cargo bays. SJ sighed and started crawling forward. Three quarters of the way to the cargo bay, a rumbling in the plating alerted him to the engines coming to thrust. Wedging himself, SJ waited for the docking thrusters to stop and main engines to take over. Minutes passed as the transport manoeuvred, then rumbling acceleration as it picked up speed and prepared to go to warp. The feeling of queasiness and then lightness. Warp. He was away. He grinned. The pad bleeped. He had 5mins of oxygen. He growled, "You really know how to spoil a good day don't you?" Glaring at the pad, he thrust it into a pocket and started crawling again.

4 minutes later, he lay in a cargo bay airlock sucking in the air, helmet on the floor. Oil and lubricants hung stale in the air. After a few minutes, he sat up and started to replace the panel he'd crashed through. Voices carried down the decking. Feet clattering. Standing, SJ scooped the helmet and dove for cover behind crates.

"... its probably something loose again."

"In this crate and the way he slams it into the docking arm, I'm not surprised."

The voices halted as they entered the airlock.

"See told you. Access panel off its hinges."

"Sigh, ok. You wanna tell him?"

"Nope. Your turn."

A brief conversation as the damage was reported. Then, muttering as temporary repairs put in place.

"Come on, hurry up. We're gating to Arant in a few minutes. We still have forward cargo to check before we reach Kemerk."

"Alright. Keep your hair on!"

With final clangs, the repairs were finished and the pair headed for the forward cargo deck. SJ relaxed behind the cargo crates. Finally, he stood and stripped the suit off. Rolling it up, he stuffed it in a locker in the airlock. Looking up and down the cargo deck, he scouted around and found a crew room. Raiding lockers, he found a oil-stained pair of coveralls and a hat. Donning the disguise, he sat and waited for the disorientation signifying gating. It was not long coming. Gripping the table, he paled as the ship lurched and then jolted.

"Someone needs driving lessons.," he growled as his stomach called to him from light-years back. Inertia pulled at him as engines threw the ship into warp.

The rest of the journey was relatively peaceful. Listening out for crew returning, SJ relaxed in the crew room. Casually hunting around the room, SJ found some useful bits. A tool belt added to the coveralls. Finally, the clang of a docking arm announced the sound of arrival.

Nipping out of the crew room, SJ ducked back to his hiding spot near the main airlock. Peering out, he watched as it hissed open and half a dozen dockers strode up the ramp. Feet clattered from the forward hold as the crew came down. SJ waited till the dockers turned to face the arriving crew and slipped out from behind the boxes. He leaned against the top box and waited.

"Oi. Over here. Not those." A crew member waved him and the other dockers forward. Crew and dockers grabbed crates and barked numbers. Grabbing a crate from the pile, SJ staggered for the ramp. As he passed the airlock a hand grabbed for him.

"Oi, wait up!"

SJ froze and shifted the crate, trying to pull the wrench off his tool belt.

"Ok. Go on. I got the number now. Bloody scanner never works properly."

Sighing under his breath, SJ skidded down the ramp with the crate. Following the other men, he dumped the box off and slipped off deeper into the station. Ducking into a side corridor, he checked his pad. If correct, there was a crossover access into the main station concourse from a corridor up ahead. Once inside there he could vanish among the stations many employees and visitors.

Tucking pad in pocket, he jogged up the corridor and turned into the connecting corridor. His eyes widened and he ducked back around the corner.

"GET BACK HERE!" bellowed a voice. "I've been waiting 20 minutes for one of you lazy assholes. Now get back here and open this damned door!"

SJ took a deep breath, set his shoulders and strode back around the corner. Stood near the door was a red faced Concord customs agent.

"Come on. I don't have all day. I paged Maintenance over half a hour ago!" he tapped his foot impatiently. Gesturing at the lock, the customs agent waved his access card. "Its not reading again. I told you lot last week it was faulty!"

SJ peered at the lock. Grime covered and filthy it had been well abused. Grabbing a power-driver, he started removing the lock cover. Soon, the inners were exposed and the card reader in bits. Grabbing a rag from his pocket, SJ cleaned it carefully. Sniffing the residue, he paused and looked at the agents card. Grabbing the card, he waved it at the agent.

"If you stop spilling your damn Java on it, then maybe you'll stop gunking up the lock!" SJ growled. Handing back the card, he re-assembled the lock. "There. Try it now!"

The agent flushed red and carefully tried his card. The door hissed open and the busy inner concourse showed beyond.

"After you," SJ waved the agent through.

"Yeah. Thanks and sorry," the agent muttered and disappeared into the crowd. Ducking after him, SJ sighed with relief and headed for a bar.

* * *

A few hours later, SJ was sprawled in a booth. The last of his remaining credits from his pockets near spent. A bottle of scotch lay empty on the table. Glass nearly empty. Relative safety in the crowded station bar. He poked at his pad idly. No way to claim his pay and no way to tap Navy accounts without leaving a trace. Scrolling through, his eye caught on a data dump. Lazio's files. Eyes widening, he sat up. A quick query made him chuckle. Digging in his pocket, he slipped Lazio's data crystal into the bar terminal. A few transfers later, all of Lazio's money was moved and the hidden identity as well. The identity made him raise his eyebrow.

"So now, I'm a rich playboy pilot," he muttered. "5 mil isk. Well, it will get me a frigate and some equipment. Guess its better than nothing. Mr Jack Bernard. Oh well, could have been a worse name."

He tucked his pad and crystal away. Sipping his drink, his eyes caught a disturbance. A flash suit guy was in the middle of 4 men. He was being shoved between them all until one shoved too hard and the suit crashed into his table. The bottle and glass crashed to the ground as the table tipped. SJ stood and tapped the nearest thug on the shoulder.

"Excuse me. I hope you don't mind paying for my drink," he drawled.

"Push off, wise guy," replied the thug.

SJ sighed, reached, grabbed, twisted and slammed the thug's head off the wall. He slid silently down the wall into a heap. The other two thugs turned on Jack. The third grabbed the suit. Snarling, the second thug dove at Jack. Neatly sidestepping him, Jack chopped at his neck as he sailed past and crumpled into a heap beneath a table.

Nodding at the man holding the suit, the third thug pulled a vibroblade. "Man, you gonna regret messing with us. I'm gonna cut you up good." He settled into a fighting stance and slowly advanced. SJ stood silently, awaiting his approach. The thug lunged at SJ and slashed at him. Dropping to one side, SJ hit the floor. Arm reaching, he snagged the fallen scotch bottle. Rolling he sat up, pulling at the thug's arm, other arm arcing round and connecting with the thug's head. The impact shattered the bottle. Confusion swam across the thug's face, followed by eyes rolling as he crashed to the floor. Collecting the knife, SJ stood again and turned to the final thug, who was going whiter by the second.

"I think it's time you left, don't you," snapped SJ coolly.

Nodding shakerly, he let go of the suit and ran for the exit.

Straightening his suit, the flash man eyed Jack. "Thanks bud!" Thrusting out a hand, he spoke rapidly. "My name's Ishkur. I'm hunting for some good pilots. The corporation is hiring and I think you would be a perfect fit."

SJ stared after the fleeing man and scanned the bar. "I think its time to go. Trouble is coming back soon."

Ishkur stared around, "I think you are right."

SJ grabbed him and dragged him out of the bar. "What the hell were you doing in a scum hole like that?"

Ishkur explained breathlessly as Jack dragged him through the crowds heading for the upper levels. By the time they came to a halt at one of the more upmarket bars, Ishkur had explained about Celestial Horizons' need for new pilots, their expanding into production, and thus, need for protection.

Half listening and half scanning the crowd, SJ humoured Iskhur by asking questions, untill finally saying, "Well it sounds ok. Just I was looking for something a bit different. Gallente space isn't really that fun. I was going to go exploring."

Ishkur spluttered, "But we're not in Gal space!"

SJ turned and raised an eyebrow.

Seeing a chance, Ishkur carried on, "We're in Heorah. Amarr space. We have production and research labs in the region as well."

SJ pondered. Amarr space and a job. 5 Mil isk wouldn't take him too far. A job and pay however. Legitimate pay as well. Smiling, he offered his hand to Ishkur. "Ok, then. You got a deal."

Ishkur beamed and shook his hand. Dipping inside his suit, he passed a holo card to SJ. "I'll be at departure gate 6 at 21:00 hrs. The shuttle for Heorah leaves then. It's a corporation shuttle. Have to have the perks you see. I'll see you there tonight! Oh, and you might want to get some new clothes. I know you pilots like to work on your ships, but really could do with some tidying up, old boy." With that, he disappeared off into the crowd.

SJ shook his head ruefully. What on earth had I just got myself into, he pondered. He sniffed and wrinkled his nose. Ishkur was right. He did need a change. Whistling, he strode up the concourse looking for shops.

* * *

Feeling fresher in a new suit and after a shower in the steam rooms nearby, SJ wandered up and down the station promenade killing time. He stopped as a shop caught his eye. Looking into the window, he smiled. Perfect. Direct contact was impossible, but this? This would do nicely. Stepping inside, he bought a few things and added a shipping address. Smiling, he paid for it with the stolen credits. It was going to make an interesting message.

Back on the promenade, he watched from the bar. Finally, his shuttle was called. A short walk later, he waited in the departure lounge. Ishkur arrived soon, bustling in with advisers.

"Jack! Come. I have a cabin. We can talk there," waving, Ishkur swept him aboard and shortly SJ was sat at the cabin table relaxing.

Pouring a drink, Ishkur raised it, "To profit and success."

SJ shook his head. "No... New beginnings."

Ishkur looked bemused. "Ok." He clinked glasses. "Now. About your combat skills. We need more training and some formal structure..."

The shuttle undocked and flashed into warp leaving the station behind, and an old life best forgotten.

* * *

A week later, Commodore Alexander Noir was settled in his study. The fleet had intercepted the Caldari task-force and a tense stand off had occurred. Subsequent negotiations forced the Caldari into withdrawing. Angry and very upset. Scope news was splashing the headlines even now.

The rescue teams had combed the entire area around the station and collected all the debris. No identifiable human remains were found. The station was repaired and substantial armour plating being added over the exposed conduits. The base had been drilling all week and the additional security exposed the other leak. A administrator in the postal section had been leaking information and security details to Caldari sympathisers. Noir's own personal codes had been leaked as his access was updated by the Navy. He hoped that things would now start to calm down. Maybe time to speak to Cerise about going to stay with her aunt instead.

A tapping at his study door roused Alexander from his reports. "Come!"

His niece slipped inside.

"Uncle? Thank you for my dress!" spinning, Cerise showed off the dress.

Alexander looked bemused. Looking Cerise up and down he pondered. A mid length, black silk dress with holo playing cards all over it. They flickered. Standing, he hugged her.

"I'm glad you like it darling," caressing her face, he smiled. Suddenly, he laughed.

"What's the matter uncle?" she asked.

"Nothing poppet. Just an old man and his silly moments," Alexander grinned broadly. He had spotted it. Just above her breast was a Jack of Spades. It was winking. He sat on the desk and tucked hands in pockets, watching her dance around. His fingers brushed something in his pocket. Curious, he pulled it out. Jack's necklace. The ring sparkled in the light.

"What's that uncle?" Cerise asked.

"A present, my child." Noir slipped the ring off the necklace and slid it onto her finger. "It was from a friend of mine. He wanted you to have it."

She studied the silver ring. It was bare but for a jumping dolphin with a little blue polished isogen jewel for an eye. "It's lovely, uncle. Now please come dance with me!"

Shaking his head, he sat back down. "I must finish these reports, Cerise, dear. I'll be out for dinner, ok?"

Pouting, she sighed and skipped out, closing the door softly.

As she left, he poured a drink, raising it to the ceiling, he toasted, "Jack. You slippery fool."

Swigging the drink, he shook his head again, smiling. "And of all the ways to send a message. Stay alive, you madman."

Putting down the drink, he turned back to the reports, chuckling softly.

* * *