NORTH QUADRANT
RHONU PLATFORM
MARI MARI DINER

"Homen Tau."

The lanky Mehrite smiled at the sound of his name, showing off his sharp white canines with delight. His tiny pupils dilated slightly in the presence of such dim light, but it was the manner of many such faux-ancient diners and it didn't bother him. His name had been the first words to break the silence that had persisted for more than 10 minutes. The two figures, a Mehrite and a Dåi-ori, sat across from one another — eating runny eggs and doing nothing respectively. An odd sight, but then, what isn't odd about the North Quadrant?

"I see you like the sound of your name," the Dåi-ori said. He was old and his hair had long turned white but he retained the size and muscular shape of his youth. Scars crisscrossed his face and exposed skin, but seemed to have left him more patient. "What does it mean, if I might ask?"

"It means 'He that Praises' in Minouri, and I do so, every chance I get. If I can gain the blessings of the Divine, what reasons have I to worry?"

"I see. And you think you are indeed blessed then?"

"I think," Homen said slurping up some yolk quickly and getting some on his chin, "the message you sent me didn't include what you're called. Before we go on, it's only fair we both possess the other's name, yes?"

"Kalin Hanshi." The Dåi-ori said it quietly.

The Mehrite stopped eating his eggs as his ears moved to the interrogative mood.

"Not of the Hanshi shipping family?"

"Would it change anything if I was?" the Dåi-ori asked.

Homen considered a moment.

"No, I suppose not."

The Mehrite reached for something with his left hand.

"You're left handed?" Kalin asked.

"Yes. It's not so uncommon for my people, though I fail to see how it has anything to do with matters of death and slaughter."

"Everything is important in such matters."

"I don't mean to rush you," Homen interrupted, leaning forward slightly, "but perhaps you could get to the point sometime soon, eh? There's a very pretty, very slutty human woman I have to meet in an hour and all signs point to me getting lucky in the very near future so I'd like this to be over by then."

The Dåi-ori didn't flinch and another uncomfortable silence settled before he finally spoke again.

"Is it any wonder we despise your people?" he muttered. Homen pretended not to hear, and Kalin continued. "We need you to kill a certain man on a certain date in a very certain way. We need you to do it because one of us could never get close enough, and you are probably the only Mehrite willing to kill such a target."

"Oh, there's more than you think, master troll. Every lapdog wants to snap the fingers petting it, at least from time to time. Even when it's our own fault that we're lapdogs."

"What I need to know is, do you accept this contract?"

"Of course not. You haven't even given me a good idea of what it's about, and when someone contracts a bounty hunter for something like this, it sounds like he's more interested in an assassination than retrieval. Which I absolutely refuse to do, unless," Homen slurped yolk, "there are more credit digits coming my way than the initial offer suggested."

"This is not something to be talked about flippantly," Kalin said. "Can we trust that should you not accept this job, you'll stay quiet about it, not a word to anyone?"

"Of course, of course," Homen said, pantomiming the act of brushing the question off.

The answer was quick, but spoken far beneath the Dåi-ori's breath.

"We need you to kill Rai-Dal at the convening of the next Inter-terrestrial Senate."

The Mehrite's smile suddenly dropped, along with his fork. He leaned forward.

"You want me to kill a Supreme Councilman, but not just any Councilman, the speaker of the Inter-Terrestrial Senate!?" he whispered back vehemently, looking around as a wave of paranoia swept over him.

"That's right," Kalin said, nodding slightly.

"You're crazy. You're fucking crazy and that's all there is to it," Homen said. "Even I heard the rumors of an attack going down against the Senators at their next assembly. The place'll be crawling with guards and security will be heightened more than normal, which is already insane, Rai-Dal even more so. He's surrounded by personal bodyguards and scanners all the time. The last person to try an assassination attempt on a senator of any kind didn't even make it within 50 meters and they've increased the standard level of security even more since then."

Homen Tau started laughing.

"Is that a no?" Kalin asked.

"That's just a reasonable reaction to an obviously difficult situation." He thought for a moment. "How much will I be compensated?"

"Five million credits."

"Five million? These are Federation credits we're talking about, right?"

"Correct."

"If I'd known you people had that kind of money, I would have started working for you a long time ago. I can use whatever weapon I want, yes?"

"How the job gets done, doesn't matter. It just needs to be obvious his death wasn't of natural causes so others will know."

"Oh believe me, they'll know. Tell me, do they need to know that it was the Dåi-ori or you in particular behind the murder?"

"No."

Both sat for a few minutes, each mulling their own part in the endeavor.

"I must ask though, why Rai-Dal?" the Mehrite asked.

"So you accept the assignment?"

"Until I get all of the information, no. Obviously, I don't want to find anything unexpected while doing the job or for you to try and kill me after I'm done, especially for a job on this scale. Tell me what I need to know. Then, I'll put my divine blessings to the test. But I honestly don't see how it will work."

"On your life, your mother's life, your honor and—?"

"I swear on my cock, yes. Get on with it."

"A few weeks ago on Zeta Platform one of my most loyal men was suspected of being a traitor. He was dragged out of a bar and killed by Federation peacekeepers before we could discover whether the rumors were true or not. Combine that with the destruction of the Dostan District and chaos that occurred less than a week after that, and we have no clue where the leak really came from so we have no idea whether it still exists or not. We know it came from Zeta Platform and, as you said, we know that the Federation received word of our plans. We don't think they know specifics, only that the general idea and when it was planned. If Valadhi was a turncoat, anyone could be. The attempt to destroy the Senate is common knowledge. However, only two people, you and I, know of what you are going to do.

"I fully expect the original attack to fail but because it will, you can succeed. Their target is Senator Stone of the South Quadrant, not an especially important senator in his own right. Once they are stopped and apprehended, that heightened security will relax. There will be tension and then when it seems to be there no longer they will breathe a sigh of relief and during that breath, we can strike. This may be the best opportunity we'll ever have to get rid of Rai-Dal."

"You said the word 'we' quite a bit, but it is I who'll be doing all of the work. Again I ask, why Rai-Dal?"

"Other than the fact that he's such a recognizable symbol of the Federation, Rai-Dal has committed countless additional crimes against Dåi-ority and it is high time he received his justice. It was he that ordered the massacre of NT-5,45,639."

"I see," Homen purred with reflection. "I remember hearing about that. A large-scale revolt of gangsters and guns-for-hire, wasn't it? They showed us some of the aftermath for Galactic Policemen urban pacification training. I found it hard to believe toddlers and old women could be criminals or mercenaries. Luckily I'm a bounty hunter now. Better hours and pay, too." Homen flashed a mirthless grin. "I accept. The money's in the right number of digits, after all."

AMMON-HÖTA
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER

Homen Tau and his assistants walked to Rai-Dal's home calmly. Of course the assistants were calm. They didn't know what was about to happen.

The Mehrite had dressed well, much better than usual, to fit his role. His black robes and white collar showed he was in touch with the fashion pulse of the day, though an upper-class citizen because he had opted out of the usual coat and pants look that marked the lower classes. The double-edged blade strapped to his right leg rubbed against his thigh slightly but the discomfort was slight.

The Senator's home wasn't really a house. It was a palace. It had been built far outside the boundaries of the urban megalopolises and the white pillars of the front rose out of a grove of trees like colossal white citadels.

Rich bastard.

They were overpaying these guys if they could afford something like this. No wonder the military was getting strapped for funding these days. Of course the Federations wasn't providing all of the senator's income as the packages his assistants were holding could attest. Too bad it was taking a cut out of Homen's five mil.

The Inter-Terrestrial Senate had been postponed for the rest of the say following the failed terrorist attack on Senator Stone and discovery of explosives that were on their way to be placed around the Senate building. "Interrogation" had confirmed that they were all part of a Dåi-ori revolutionary organization but that was the only attack planned. Still, the Federation had thought it in bad taste to continue so the senators had been sent back to their quarters until the next day. Rai-Dal had had his main home built on Ammon-höta so he had decided to get some of his other business done on that day. Homen Tau had been one of the first to make an appointment for the "unexpected" opportunity. Most had to wait months to get a chance to meet with Rai-Dal, especially within his home.

Rumors were the palace was a place more secure than most military installations. Nonsense. The senator was a politician if nothing else. Some of his more sensitive visitors wouldn't dream of appearing if a scan of their persons was a prerequisite. Besides the matter of dignity and pride, he might find some things he didn't want to see. No, no. Rai-Dal and his security detail would like visitors to believe that scanners are hidden behind every wall but it just wasn't true. They didn't exist. Visual recorders either. Considering the types of people that senators saw and the kind of things that went on in their households, that was a liability. The metal detectors were another story. They existed, but just for show. More trouble than they're worth and someone could easily use an undetectable material. It was manually controlled to go off as an excuse to pat down and strip search anyone that looked suspicious, i.e. Dåi-ori, rough or bitter-looking colonists, etc.

Homen, however, obviously won't have that problem.

He'd brought no other weapons than his sword on the off chance he was searched, though even that was carefully disguised. The penalty for non-military personnel carrying guns on Ammon-höta was several years in prison and a temporary revocation of personal status after getting out of prison. Ceremonial or traditional weapons weren't included in this.

He arrived at the gates and indeed his name was on the list. He was let right in, of course. Campaign contributions? Certainly, certainly. Come right this way sirs, come right this way.

His assistants delivered their credits to proper location and Homen received a smile, a handshake, and some token joking conversation from the Supreme Councilman. Then he moved on to some of his other guests and Homen began to mingle with the others at the party. He could mimic the social graces of many classes and it came into play here. Unfortunately, this was a slightly more formal occasion than the drunken orgies some senators had, but with enough wine, who knew? Homen Tau needed to stay sober anyway so it was all for the best. He sent his assistants home and waited for things to start to wind down. There were less than two dozen people left now. Rai-Dal stood up and apologized but he'd been through a lot, you see. Of course. Not traumatized, but worn out. Perfectly understandable under the circumstances. Best he get his rest. The senator retired to his private room and made it clear he was not to be disturbed.

That, of course, was Homen Tau's opportunity.

He began to speak with one of the councilman's guards. Homen needed to deliver a message to Rai-Dal, one that could only be delivered in person. Couldn't wait, sir? Couldn't wait. Even this late is risking things but wouldn't want to upset the senator for the whole party. Bad news you mean? Yes, very bad news, but it must be given to him personally. Pronto. Matters of utmost importance, after all. We'll see what we can do, sir.

Homen waited but knew he'd be allowed up. The guard came back down and told him so. A spiraled stairwell lied between him and his target, humorous considering the owner was such a large, unhealthy man. Homen bounded up the steps easily, used to physical exertion. Rai-Dal probably had a back way up, automated and certainly not labor intensive. Something might have to be done about that. He came to two very large closed doors and he knocked on them loudly as he called out, "I have a secret message for you, Senator."

"Quiet!" Rai-Dal shouted. Everyone in the room fell silent and left, mostly young women, but all still fully clothed, if a little too bubbly, whether from wine or natural stupidity he couldn't determine. From where Homen was looking, Rai-Dal was definitely not "traumatized." As the last person shut the door behind herself, Rai-Dal began walking to his bathroom. He had more than one private quarters like most rich, but just like the poor he still needed a place to take care of personal matters.

Homen stood back from the door but from the sound coming from the bathroom, he knew Rai-Dal to be relieving himself, if only for a little while.

"So I hear you have a 'message' for me. I admit I don't recognize you, Homen is it?"

"I'm honored you remember my name, great legislator."

"Bull crap you are. You're a businessman. We know how to recognize one another, after al. Now: what's this message you have for me? I assume that they had to get someone else what with all of this terrorist business today."

"Yes, you could say that.."

"Well? What was so dammed important that you had to interrupt me?"

"I think it would be best if you just saw it for yourself."

He heard Rai-Dal beginning to finish up and he walked toward the bathroom.

"While I still remember it, is there another way back down there that won't take my breath away?" Homen asked.

"Yes, there's a lift by the balcony on the other side of this room. Of course a man your age should be out doing as much as he can so he doesn't turn out like me someday," said the Senator. Homen heard a sound he assumed to be Rai-Dal slapping his large gut.

Homen turned the corner and saw Rai-Dal was splashing a little water on his face. He couldn't see and Homen handed him a towel to dry himself off with.

"Now about that message, Homen," the senator began.

Homen smiled.

"Yes. I have a message for you from God."

The senator finished drying off his face and with puzzled eyes that could finally see clearly, caught a glimpse of his death. Homen reached with his left hand and drew the sword from his right thigh in a fluid motion. Before the man could react, he plunged the sword deep into the senator's belly. Rai-Dal's eyes went wide with surprise and looked down at the blade, then back at Homen. His mouth began to fill with blood and bile and he coughed but other than that he made no sound. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Homen did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed over it.

The Mehrite went back to the doors of Rai-Dal's room and checked to make sure no one had seen what had happened or was coming. No one had. He shut the doors and locked them securely.

Homen Tau walked over to the porch and found that again, he was unnoticed. He disabled the lift, but nothing too obvious. Didn't want anyone coming up from behind. He made his way down the side of the building and began to move quickly toward the spot in the woods his employers guaranteed him a space-worthy vessel was hiding. It'd better be.

After he'd gone, the servants came in and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said to one another, "Oh, he's probably relieving himself in the back room," and they waited until the point of embarrassment. Finally, they called out to him, but when he failed to respond or open the doors, they went and took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to floor, dead.

While they had waited, the senator's assassin had gotten away and the killer was never identified although it was reported that a Mehrite was the last to be in the company of Rai-Dal. Unfortunately, no one knew the name. Upon investigating the body, they discovered no bullet hole, or energy burn, but a sword insidethe senator's body.

The sword itself was incredibly well crafted. It was a foot and a half long, double edged and covered in the ancient markings Mehrites had once used on their weapons of old, adding to the theory that a Mehrite was responsible. Obviously humans and Mehrites weren't on such good terms, people began to say. Maybe they didn't deserve the privileges and lax security they were given everywhere. Even dogs lie at their master's feet right before they bare their teeth and bite, after all.

The Dåi-ori smith Homen had contracted to make the sword had had to rush to finish it fast enough for Homen to make it to Ammon-höta on time but it was still high quality and a good counterfeit, all things considered. If anyone investigated it, it would look like it came from the Mehrite homeworld itself. Killing Rai-Dal was merely his job. Driving a wedge between the trust of the humans and their greatest allies was a bonus, and Homen's idea at that. Whether he got paid a bonus or not remained to be seen.

"Homen Tau," he said, speaking his own name aloud. He smiled and showed off his sharp canines to his reflection in the glass of his starship's front shield. All had gone well, better than well in fact. Perhaps he could get more contracts. Perhaps he'd found his calling, and a very well paying one at that.

To each his own.