Message Received

Continued from…

Jenckque appeared in Dayzee’s bar the following afternoon. He stood there in the doorway looking around the room in a shifty way like he was a criminal expecting the ISS to be hiding in an alcove.    I couldn’t believe the change since I’d last seen him – his hair was lank and he had grown a beard that straggled its way down to his chest. Gone was the sharp dressed man with a gaggle of ladies at every station!  He was in overalls that were a couple of sizes too big… I guessed that he’d come in on a freighter working as a Loadmaster. He also looked as tired as he was dishevelled. He spotted me and made his way over to my table by the bar – eyes checking every person on the way.   I waved a hand to Daisy but I needn’t have bothered because she was there almost before Jenckque sat down to take our order. I knew Daisy was probably ears for Jaxon Border but I didn’t have any problems with that. With drinks served, I turned my attention to Jenckque – “What’s going on?”

Jenckque’s story began with some light transport and courier work near Sol. The jobs had taken him towards Empire space. In the systems along the ill-defined boundary between Empire and Federation, escorting minor Senators and business leaders became a regular job. Pay was good and the risks small – Politicians often have an inflated sense of threat to their person. Normally he’d have expanded into tales of dogfighting with pirates but he pressed on – the urgency of his tale evident in his hushed voice.   Regular work arrived in protection escort duties for Senator Marcus and Jenckque travelled for a long time in his retinue. The Senator was a lover of business and political functions at which he played the extravagant host, seeking to boost the standing of the Empire and his own Imperial standing at the same time. Military tales were a favourite with him and he invited his escort pilots to a lot of the functions. At one of these around a year ago, Jenckque had been introduced to Heron.

“Heron?” I exclaimed… “The singer?” “Sssh!” – Jenckque blinked nervously around the room before continuing his tale. “Yes, the singer. I couldn’t believe it when she showed up at one of his shabby political events.” A few days later Jenckque had been offered the opportunity to join the singer’s escort team. “I couldn’t refuse that!” he said “Chance of a lifetime with good credits to boot.”   Heron was a Galactic star and very popular. She was a great singer always performing with some of the best musicians, doing a mix of styles from old Sol music of a type that I believe was known as Jazz back a long time past, to modern Galaxart. Her popularity was all the greater because she was always happy to perform even at the small mining stations. She was quite a looker by all accounts with a slender elegant neck from which she gained her stage name. I’d never seen her myself.

After a couple of months on the road Jenckque found himself called to her quarters after a show on a quiet planet. Not sure what to expect, he wondered if he was about to be released from his escort role. Instead he was given a small package and asked to deliver it discretely. It was the first of many – each one accompanied by a cash remuneration for himself. Initially, it seemed that he was delivering gifts to well-wishers and fans but slowly he became suspicious of the contents. When the opportunity arose he got a package scanned – drugs, cash and some unidentified electronics. And that was where it all went west…

Returning to take up escort he was interdicted in LHS 1599 by a squad of Vipers with another larger ship that he didn’t have time to identify. Caught unawares and on his own there was only one outcome – they shredded his ship. They sifted the wreckage too… “They were out to kill me!” “You’re here” I responded – “how?” “I camouflaged the escape pod to appear like wreckage and turned life support off… Got close to dying – God! I thought they would never leave!” The rest of Jenckque’s story was as I had already surmised – He left the LHS 1599 system on a transport initially as a ‘slave’ consignment. Reaching Tlapana the freighter captain dropped him in an escape pod programed for Melchiodi Base.  Hooking up with Solly King, a mutual friend, he sent the message to me from King Port. After receiving my reply, he picked up a role as a loadmaster on a transporter that was coming this way – the captain was good enough to divert to complete the drop off at Axon Station.

“They’re here waiting for you – you know?” “Shit… I thought I’d slip them doing the freight route.” “They must’ve intercepted your message to me… Who are they?” “I don’t know… Shit they’re everywhere!” “We need to move” I said – “My ship is ready to go but I need a couple of things from my cabin.” We hurried out of Dayzee’s. There was no sign of the watchers as we left the bar and no sign of security either. I hoped we were in the clear as we headed for the nether regions of the station.

We turned into the corridor outside my quarters and were almost at the door when the two pilots who had been watching me turned in from the other end. They immediately drew weapons and I leapt forward to the door. Punching in the door code happened in slow motion and with a blaze of light from their pistols. We were cowering against the bulkhead as the door started to slide back with the screams of the laser pistols tearing our ears. Then Jenckque gasped and leaned heavily against me pinning me to the door. My arm with my pistol was trapped between us – I couldn’t shoot back and I could hear them running towards us.

Then the door opened. We fell inwards and I found myself on the floor with Jenckque across my legs and my laser pistol sliding away from me as I dropped it. I was scrabbling to reach it as I heard their footsteps approaching but I couldn’t get there. Then I heard a loud flat crack – grenades… “They’re using grenades!” I thought through the fog of it all… I heard a second crack and a scream of pain… and then a shadow appeared in the doorway. Then Jenckque was being lifted off my legs and I was being sat up.

It took what seemed like an age for me to realise that Border was holding me… “Jaxon… What the?” He holstered his projectile weapon. “I’m sorry Anson – I was a little too late… Your friend is dead.” He indicated Jenckque’s body on the floor. I could see a large hole in his right side.  Moving towards him, I crouched down but there was no longer any breath – I’d missed his passing. Then I felt sudden pain in my right shoulder – as I clasped it Border put his hand over mine – “It’s a minor laser burn – you’ll be fine – ISS are coming – they’ll be here in a minute or so!”

Continued here…

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