Some stories, you just go into knowing what your characters look like. I’ve known Simon’s face since day one. The funny thing is I didn’t realize I had modeled him after anyone until recently. His antagonist, Arxon, however, went through at least three different ones before I found his face. It clicked while I was watching Last Days on Mars. Coincidence? I think not.
The following is new material I wrote up today. I have plans to revise Renegade‘s sequel, and this scene may or may not be the bridge that gaps events between the two books. The scene is heavily influenced by nearly every sci-fi movie out there, plus all the hours I spent playing Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3. Got me a fun world to play with. Might as well enjoy it, right?
Yshmar hated Xa’Benth Station. As a native of Aldab Caye, an open, lush planet, the station was an affront to his senses. It was overpopulated, dark, noisy, and always on the brink of civil unrest, or worse, a battleground for warring merc factions. Charxun Sector was no exception. Despite its unpredictability, Charxun was good for one thing, and one thing alone: covert meetings.
Eateries, shops, clubs, and pleasure houses were numerous here. It seemed no matter where one looked, digicreds exchanged hands. As an intel specialist, Yshmar was no stranger to deals of this sort. He’d met plenty of surly characters- and had lived to tell about it thanks to his ability to sniff out a bad bargain. Yshmar’s code was simple: if the reward did not match the risk, make it worth his while, or walk away. Today was no different. Today, he had chosen to wait for his contact inside a dingy, little place that afforded him a nice view of the exits. Should things go awry, he knew the fastest route back to his ship.
Yshmar laid his hands on the triple-enforced steel case on his lap. Rare was it he dealt in physical pieces. He preferred the intangible aspect of information. But between his lackey dying during the retrieval, the secrecy employed by his contact, and the want to dump the piece quickly, Yshmar had set aside his usual caution. Better to cut ties now than let it sit in his private vault. There was no telling what this tech could do.
Someone pressed a pistol to the back of his head. Yshmar, accustomed to receiving greetings worse than this, kept his tone neutral.
“My contact, I presume?”
“Turn off your bioscan, or I shoot.” His aggressor’s voice was muffled, indicating he was either masked, or wore an environmental suit.
Yshmar tapped a code into the wrist communicator on his right arm. Bioscans were a necessary evil in his line of work, particularly if he needed to know how to slow a foe down in the event of a quick escape. The fact his contact had him deactivate this failsafe made Yshmar glad he hired two mercs when he arrived. They waited in the shadows across the way.
After showing him the scan was off, the contact spoke again. “Do you have it?”
Yshmar gestured to his lap. The other retracted the pistol, and joined him at the table. Yshmar studied his contact for a moment. He wore black and red armor, its exterior scuffed and chipping in places. The way the pieces fit together suggested it had been crafted by hand. It wasn’t like any armor he’d seen before. No insignias identified him as part of any gang or faction. His face was hidden beneath the darkened visor of his helmet.
At the other man’s prompt, Yshmar set the steel case on the table, only to slide it just out of reach. The armored figure stiffened in his chair.
“The fee we agreed on is insufficient,” Yshmar said. He caressed the case with idle fingers. “Tech as dangerous as this is worth far more than five thousand. I feel its value is closer to ten. Don’t you agree?”
As he spoke, the two mercs appeared in the entryway. The few patrons sitting at tables quickly fled, much to the owner’s chagrin. However, his demands that the diners pay was cut short when a merc aimed a rifle his way. The owner dove behind the counter.
The armored stranger said nothing for some time, nor did he seem bothered by the mercs. Yshmar waited with the patience born of his profession, and the guarantee that need would be greater than outrage at price.
What happened next, Yshmar had not counted on.
The chair flew from beneath Yshmar, just as the table was swept away. As he crashed to the floor, the steel case launched into the air. The armored stranger snatched it with expert timing. Two pistol shots took out the mercs. Next, Yshmar became intimate with the same gun barrel. Heat blasted him in the face.
He stared up into that black visor, and knew at once he was not only dealing with a Xabeldi, but a Xabeldi unlike any other. Yshmar held up his hands in a pleading gesture. “Did I say ten? I meant three. Three will do.”
The Xabeldi knelt beside him. When he pried open the case, a sector-wide alarm sounded. Yshmar glanced about in fear. Possessing tech of this sort was illegal in all sectors. Xa’Benth Station security would be here any moment. The Xabeldi did not seem the least bit concerned about that, for he upended the contents with measured calm. A single circuit board spilled out to land on Yshmar’s chest. Horrified, he shifted in place to be rid of it. Wild stories of the tech’s capability to embed itself within flesh sent shivers down his spine.
“You wanted ten thousand for this?” the Xabeldi said in a low hiss.
Yshmar’s smile turned nervous. “Please, understand,” he said, trying very hard to ignore the alarms, the gun in his face, and the sense that the Xabeldi would shoot him at the slightest provocation. “Acquiring Nureni tech proved more difficult than I had expected. Even knowing of its existence breaks dozens of interplanetary laws. I had to recoup my losses.”
“Then you chose the wrong way to do it,” the Xabeldi retorted.
“Ah, yes, I did,” Yshmar replied, shrinking as the gun stabbed him between the eyes. The circuit board slid along his chest. The pins poked him, making him more nervous. “Perhaps we can arrange something else? Something equally beneficial. You require more of this tech? I can get it for you.”
The Xabeldi leaned closer. “Why should I believe you?”
At this, Yshmar indicated his need to access his wrist communicator. The Xabeldi gestured he do so with a sharp wave of the gun. Yshmar keyed in information as quickly as possible. A map appeared in the air between them.
“See? A gesture of good faith,” he said, speaking rapidly. “Here are the coordinates. It’s in a secure vault beneath an old mining facility. Let me send—”
The Xabeldi tore the communicator from Yshmar’s wrist, removed the memory core and slipped it into a pocket on his belt. He then let the communicator drop to Yshmar’s chest. It landed close to the circuit board. Yshmar swore he saw the pins stretch outward to connect to the comm. However, when he tried to sit up, the Xabeldi hauled him to his feet. The objects fell to the floor.
“Wait,” Yshmar said, fearful. “Don’t kill me.”
“I’m not going to kill you,” the Xabeldi told him. “You’re taking me to that mining facility. I don’t think you want to stay here with that,” he said, indicating the Nureni circuit board. Yshmar heard the smile in his voice. “Security is already on the way.”
Being caught with the Nureni tech was not on Yshmar’s agenda today. Neither was a forced trip to the same place where his lackey was killed. It was then he knew which Xabeldi he was dealing with. It couldn’t be any other.
“I know who you are,” he said, his fear giving way for desperation. “What if I tell them the tech belongs to the infamous Xargun?”
“They wouldn’t believe you.”
The answer confused him. “Why not?”
The Xabeldi lifted the black visor. Yshmar stared into a smiling face that was definitely not Xabeldi.
Amusement shone in his piercing, blue eyes. “Because Xargun died three years ago.”