Life had become infinitely more complex since leaving hyperspace. Not that much had changed for the crew of the Tulip - Rudolpho was still Rudolpho, Callista was still Callista - Percy was still weird. It was impossible to deny that things were different, though, and for the most part - no, damn it, thought Marcus with a grimace - for the whole part - it was about Travis. How could it not be? When the Tulip had entered hyperspace - and that had been weird enough in itself, and not an experience that Marcus was especially keen on repeating - Travis Montana had been just plain Travis Montana. He had been a bit odd, certainly - but then he had always been a bit odd. It was probably an after-effect of being kidnapped in infancy and raised by a bloodthirsty gang of space pirates. And, okay, so there had been the inexplicable moments of pseudo time travel, and the way he glowed with flickers of blue-green lightning during moments of extreme psychological pressure. But for the most part he had been approximately normal. And then had come the Divinity Cluster - the talk of genes hidden deep in the human brain, triggered out of their natural dormancy in certain rare cases and leading to - to what? As far as Marcus could see, it was the Divinity Cluster that was at the heart of all of the weirdness. Travis had entered hyperspace a normal man - sporadic glowing and travelling through time aside - and had emerged, it appeared, some kind of superman. Some kind of possibly semi-alien superman. And to Marcus, who had known him for years, lived with him, loved with him, worked with him and nearly died with him; had saved his life and been saved by him in return; that was all decidedly off-putting. On the other hand, of course, it had been remarkably good for business. Able to transport himself anywhere, instantly, Travis could do in a few hours - even minutes - what other bounty hunters would take days to accomplish. It meant more money, which in turn meant a better quality of life all round. But it was still weird. As far as Marcus was concerned, there was no getting around that.
Not that he had much time to consider the situation of late. Since returning from the rigours of hyperspace travel, the young mechanic had been kept constantly busy. The giant spaceship that was their home, their vehicle and their place of business had undergone horrific strains and stresses during the experimental journey, and now it seemed that panels shorted out, wires snapped and pipes overloaded on an almost hourly basis. The result was a constant struggle to keep the ship spaceworthy, to keep even the most basic functions operating effectively, and to make sure that none of the crew suffocated in their sleep or got electrocuted opening a door. Life for a mechanic aboard the Tulip was always busy, but lately it had become hectic to the extreme. Hence their latest destination; Calypso.
It had been on Percy's insistence that they had come to the sprawling, grandiose space station, although needless to say she had no intention of leaving the Tulip and entering the place herself. Percy never went anywhere if she could help it. She had been very clear, though, that the trip was necessary - that a trip somewhere was necessary. Ever since dragging the ship out of hyperspace they had been facing a likely catastrophe, but now the ageing engines and even the hull itself were in serious danger of giving up the ghost completely. She and Marcus could probably continue to patch up the basic systems, as they always did, but eventually there had to come a point beyond which patching was no longer enough. Apparently that time was fast approaching. The order had gone out, then; first as a series of dissatisfied mutters; then as a string of increasingly furious temper tantrums; and, finally, when she had realised that her more subtle hints weren't getting through, as a out and out demand. They were going, whether they liked it or not, to Calypso. Percy had fused the navigation console after setting the course, just to be sure.
It wasn't a bad destination, as destinations went. Or so Rudolpho mused as he sat in the captain's chair and stared at the place through the front screen. After attempts to build a geological outpost on the tiny moon itself had failed, a giant space station had somewhat inexplicably been constructed instead, taking its name from the hunk of rock that shared its orbit of Saturn. One of the biggest space stations ever built, Calypso had suffered when newer, safer stations had been built elsewhere, but it still had more personality than a lot of colonies. It was big enough to have a wider selection of humanity living within it than most space stations; big enough to have its own economy of sorts. From the outside it looked eccentric, from the inside it looked chaotic. In point of fact it was both, and most of its inhabitants celebrated the fact. Calypso, it was said, cared nothing for the rule of Saturn Fed. Calypso cared nothing for anything. It ruled itself, it gathered its own taxes, and it steadfastly refused to pass them on to Saturn. Saturn, for its part, did absolutely nothing to enforce its own authority. One day Calypso would begin to fall apart, beyond its own inhabitants' abilities to patch it up. When that day arrived, it would come back into the fold - or so the theory went. Rudolpho was of the opinion that most of the inhabitants of Calypso would see their home collapse, and drift its way in pieces to the edges of the Solar System, before agreeing to accept Saturn Fed as their ruler. He could sympathise; governmental authority didn't have much going for it anywhere, from what he could see.
"You coming with us?" Walking onto the bridge with his usual steady, confident stride, Travis stopped to look out of the screen at the waiting station. Rudolpho shrugged.
"You need me?"
"Depends on what we run into, doesn't it. Cally is coming. She's interested to see the place." He smiled slightly. "Either that or she doesn't trust me and Marcus down there alone."
"That'd be my bet." Rudolpho heaved himself to his feet. "I would quite like to go down there. It's been a while."
"Great. Grab a gun, meet us at the docking bay doors." Travis glanced up at the nearest speaker, a handy focal point when talking to the computer. "Are we set to go, Car?"
"Affirmative." Caravaggio, the ship's holographic AI system, appeared instantly, flickering rather more than usual. "I'm taking us down now, and we should be docking in a couple of minutes. I must say, it will be nice to have the ship properly overhauled. I feel in need of a little more than the usual unorthodox tinkering."
"Yeah, well I only hope our budget can stretch to a full overhaul." Travis offered the hologram a sympathetic smile. "We'll do our best. Marcus thinks this old friend of his will get us the parts cheap, which should help."
"Why do I get the feeling that I'm to be refitted with stolen accoutrements?" Caravaggio frowned at him. "Try not to come back with anything too distasteful, Travis. I should hate to have my inner workings setting off police alarms every time we dock somewhere."
"Relax. You'll be looking good and feeling fine in no time." Rudolpho patted the nearest console, then went over to the armaments locker to fetch himself a gun. Travis smiled.
"Just keep the ship safe, Car," he said. "And keep an eye on Percy too, okay? She's been a little weird lately."
"Percy is not weird." Caravaggio spoke with the most fondness he ever displayed for anyone. He and Percy had been through a lot together. "She merely reacts to external stimuli in a different fashion to most humans. I will ensure that she is safe. You worry about obtaining these components, so that I have a chance of making it through the next few months without falling apart once and for all."
"Yes sir." Travis left the bridge immediately, the faintest of smiles showing on his face. Caravaggio stared after him.
"It's nice to finally have one's superiority acknowledged," he deadpanned. Rudolpho laughed, and headed off after Travis whilst buckling a holster around his waist.
"Just don't go getting any delusions of grandeur while we're gone," he told the computer. Caravaggio raised one flickering eyebrow, and managed to look disdainful and respectful with one easy stare. You could reprogram the maitre'd, thought Rudolpho ruefully - but damned if you could ever erase the maitre'd program entirely.
"I don't require delusions to appreciate my grandeur, Rudolpho." Caravaggio granted him a small smile. "I'd like to see the human who could do my job."
"Yeah, sure. Whatever." Shaking his head Rudolpho left the bridge, hurrying to join the others. They were all waiting by the docking bay doors - minus Percy, who was likely off buried in a conduit somewhere, engaged in more of her endless compulsive fiddling. Presumably she knew that they were leaving the ship, and at some point might actually notice that they had gone. Whether or not she would notice if they didn't return was a different matter.
"This is great." Marcus, as usual, was excited. "Last time I came to Calypso I was about seventeen. Didn't get to see much of the place at all."
"I haven't been here in some time myself. Last time was on my honeymoon, I think." Rudolpho winced. "Damn. I hate it when things remind me that I used to be married."
"Your ex-wife probably says the same," teased Travis. Rudolpho shot him a mock glare.
"You going to tell us whether you've been here before?" he asked pointedly. "And what it was you were doing, if you have? Or maybe we should check with the local police, and see if they've ever heard of you?"
"They've never heard of Travis Montana." Travis smiled lightly. "Come on. We're wasting time. Where are we meeting your friend, Marcus?"
"Place called the Rainbow Bar. I sort of remember it. Bright colours. Lots of plastic furniture and tacky décor." As the docking bay doors closed behind them, and they found themselves on the station, Marcus gave a deep frown. "Not sure I remember how to get there, though."
"I'm sure somebody can tell us." Cally headed off to interrogate a pair of maintenance men busy checking the Tulip's hook up, and Rudolpho took the time to look over the host of wanted posters running by in a continuous feed on a wall screen. He committed a couple of the names and faces to memory - a bounty hunter always had a mind for the next job - and smiled to see Travis so openly watching Cally. She was heading back towards them now, but if she noticed the look in Montana's eyes, she didn't reciprocate. Great. So they were going through another of their annoying phases, when they ignored each other, and refused to admit that there was anything between them. Momentarily Rudolpho almost regretted coming along on the trip.
"Well?" he asked. She flashed him a smile to indicate success, and pointed off to their left.
"No problem. It's not a short walk, though. So keep up." With that she was off on her way. Marcus rolled his eyes.
"It's always go, go, go with some people," he complained. Rudolpho laughed.
"I think it's called 'efficiency'," he joked. "Or maybe 'conscientiousness', or 'attention to duty'. One of those things I never much got the hang of, anyway."
"We're on Calypso Station!" Being rushed through it in such a fashion was an affront to Marcus's free-spirited sense of fun. "Calypso Station, Rudolpho! You've heard the stories. You must have. Practically nothing is illegal here. Well, your basic Ten Commandments stuff, I guess, but none of the rest of it. There are poker games here that go on for a week at a time. You can win massive fortunes."
"Or lose them," put in Travis, who had had his share in more than one crooked gambling den in the past. Marcus scowled.
"Well yeah. Obviously. But think of everything that's going on here. One of the biggest black markets outside of Callisto; but because it's all open and above board, there's no organised crime links. Here it's all friendly. No danger. The smuggling actually helps maintain the place, and pay for the law enforcement. They say that there are no crooked cops on Calypso, because there's nobody who wants to bribe them. There's no need to."
"Get your head out of the gas swirls, Marcus." Travis had to smile. "There are crooked cops here, just the same as there are elsewhere. If there's one true constant in life, it's that half of the cops are on the take, and that's true wherever you are in the Solar System. Of course people want to bribe them! You think there are no drugs on Calypso? Relaxing the laws might have helped to keep the bigger crime figures off the station, but there'll always be somebody who needs the law to turn a blind eye. I know this place. It's not the fun palace it's made out to be."
"You don't like it here," observed Rudolpho. Travis shrugged.
"It's not that. I like a lot of it, actually. It's friendly, it's colourful. You're less likely to get mugged here than you are almost anywhere else, though watch your valuables anyway. There are more pickpockets per head than on any other station. And that's the point. On the surface it's all welcoming, sure, but look much beneath the surface and it's just like anywhere else. And yeah, I know that's disappointing."
"You only know about the flip side because you were the flip side," put in Marcus. "Most people here probably don't know anything about the stuff going on. Calypso wouldn't have the reputation it has if the underbelly was that clearly visible."
"True." Travis forced a more convincing smile. "I suppose. I just can't look at places with a tourist's eyes, Marcus. I never could."
"I know." Marcus smiled brightly at him, eyes teasing. "But for those of us without the sociopathic personal histories, this is a pretty cool place to be."
"It's a nightmare," shot back Cally, who had heard the tail end of the conversation as they caught her up. "An administrative hellhole. This is practically a breakaway republic. It's a wonder that Saturn has never done anything about it."
"They don't need to. Calypso isn't hurting anybody. It's an interesting experiment, when you think about it." Travis caught her glare, and shrugged. "It is. Alright, so it's not the Eden people want it to be. Still beats the confines of Mars Fed."
"Some of us like a few rules and regulations to keep things running smoothly." She remembered who she was with, and sighed. "Well, one of us does. Honestly, when I'm with you three I feel like I'm with Special Ops again, transporting a trio of crooks to prison."
"Thanks." Rudolpho was looking about him now, paying less attention to the arguments of the others. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the place - whether Marcus was right or Travis - there was a lot to see here. Calypso practically shone with life. His usual haunts were grimy, with a hooker on every corner; most of the more upmarket colonies lacked any sense of individuality; the smaller places were often hopelessly poor or hopelessly corrupt. Calypso, though; Calypso had buskers in place of the hookers - real buskers playing real musical instruments, something that Rudolpho hadn't seen anywhere else in all his many travels. Alright, so the walls were grey, and there was no attempt to hide that, the way that there was in the newer stations. The steps were plain metal, the air pumps rumbled noisily, and by the look of it some of the sliding doors were stuck in a half open position; but as they passed into one of the communal squares they saw market traders hawking their wares, and real plants growing in tubs and hanging baskets. It was a place that one could easily get distracted by - a place of startling colour in unexpected places. Pictures decorated the walls; in the communal square, where the market sprawled in all its chaotic glory, the many pipes lining the walls had been painted different colours. There was even a flooring of types - lino, thought Rudolpho, caught between amazement at seeing it outside of a museum, and amusement at the very idea of anyone using it on the floor of a space station. Somehow one cared less that chunks of the superstructure seemed ready to disintegrate, when there were personal touches like these spread around. Even Travis, for all his earlier comments, seemed appreciative of the place, and he and Marcus pointed things out to each other like schoolchildren on a class day out.
"I recognise this place," piped up Marcus at last, as they left the market area behind them, and reached a cross roads in the corridor ahead. Once again there were flowers in hanging baskets, and a mural had been painted on the ceiling at the place where the corridors converged. It depicted a series of long retired politicians from Saturn Fed, laid out in a mockery of Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling. "I came through here with Andro the last time I was on the station. We were totally wasted, but I remember this place. The Rainbow Bar can't be far away now."
"According to the directions I got, it's not far at all, no." Cally led them onwards, but Marcus was pulling ahead now, pointing out sights that were familiar to him. A statue of some long dead hero of a long forgotten battle back on Earth; a huge dragon painted along one wall; a place where the floor was a mass of black and white squares, like a chequerboard. The corridor was widening out then, into another broad area like the market place, though this time rather less crowded. The flags of Earth's nations hung from the ceiling, and Warhol reproductions glared down from the walls. Plastic furniture in every colour of the rainbow and more besides stood around the floor, and tables covered in plastic cloths that were even more gaudy than the furniture. A clear glass bar took up most of one wall, tended by a man in a rainbow striped shirt and a transparent baseball cap. He nodded a greeting to the newcomers, and welcomed them with a gleamingly white-toothed smile that looked only half false.
"Good day. Whisky?" He was already pouring some into glasses, and it seemed churlish to refuse, so Marcus, Travis and Rudolpho nodded their thanks and drank the stuff down. It was only synth-whisky of course - hardly anybody had the real stuff save on Earth, or in the massively expensive membership-only places on Mars. Cally shot the threesome a despairing glance, then joined them and emptied her own glass. The harshness of it made her blink, but the taste wasn't too bad. She had had worse.
"So are you passing through or looking for work?" The man with the unfortunate uniform refilled their glasses, and accepted Travis's money transfer. The credit reader on his belt bleeped appreciatively. "We could do with a couple of extra staff here in the evenings, but there's not enough work for the four of you. Not unless you want to job share."
"We're not looking for work." Travis took up his re-filled glass, considering it more carefully this time. Rainbow swirls decorated the base, and made patterns on the surface of the bar. "We're here to meet someone."
"Oh." The bartender nodded, his eyes showing a tactful withdrawal. He saw enough in his work to be willing to grant privacy where it might prove necessary. "Take a table, then. Do you want menus?"
"You have menus?" The idea of actually having a real choice of different foods made Marcus's eyes brighter. Travis handed over his drink, for his friend had already emptied his own glass.
"Fill up on that for the time being," he suggested, then looked back to the bartender. "We're looking for a bloke called Andro. We arranged to meet him here."
"Andro Grant," added in Marcus, having finished the drink already. "He's a mechanic. Sort of. Deals in spare parts."
"I know Andro." The bartender pointed to a door marked Private that stood behind the bar. "He rents an office back there. We have more space than we really need, and he was doing most of his business here anyway. We rent out several offices to local businesses."
"Very public spirited," jibed Cally, who was beginning to feel somewhat edgy. It might have been the décor, or something in the synth-whisky, or it might have been her own sixth sense, but she didn't feel that she could relax in this gaudy and unfamiliar place. The bartender frowned, clearly not entirely sure how to respond to the comment. Rudolpho looked exasperated.
"Ignore her," he said pointedly. "Is Andro in then? We were supposed to meet him as soon as we docked."
"He did say earlier that he was expecting customers." The bartender shrugged. "I suppose it can't hurt too much. You want the third door on the right. He didn't say that there would be four of you though."
"Well I'm happy to stay out here and have another drink if Marcus wants to go in alone," offered Rudolpho. Travis smirked.
"That's very good of you, Rudy."
Rudolpho nodded his close-cropped head. "I thought so."
"It's probably best not to crowd the guy anyhow," put in Marcus. "Andro gets nervous easily. Too many dodgy contacts probably."
"Why am I not surprised?" Cally managed not to drop a hand to check on the presence of her gun, though it was clear that she wanted to. "You two go on in. I'll stay here and keep a look out."
"This is Calypso!" Marcus seemed amazed that she should even think it necessary to keep watch. She nodded at him.
"I know. Look, it may be the big cosmopolitan playground to you, Marcus, but to me it's rather less fun. Now hurry up, before your friend gives up and sell our engine parts to somebody else."
"They're not engine parts." Marcus looked sulky. "We could get them anywhere. These are electrical components, and for a ship like the Tulip--"
"Marcus, she's not listening." Travis pointed him towards the door marked Private. "Come on."
"She's a boring sod at times, Travis," complained the young mechanic, as soon as the door was safely shut behind them. "I'm sorry, but she is. I don't know what you see in her some days."
"I know." Travis smiled one of his slight, small smiles. "Maybe that's the point. I've never known anybody like her."
"She disapproves of almost everything we are!"
"Yeah." Travis frowned for a second, then offered his companion a conciliatory grin. "Although sometimes that's probably not a bad thing."
"True." They shared a smile, then turned to the door that they had been directed towards. It was a standard, gunmetal grey affair, with a faded white '3' stamped on it, and a small nameplate alongside reading: Grant And Co. Engineering Consultants. Travis paused before knocking.
"Grant and Co?"
"He used to have a couple of partners. One died in a Raider attack out near the Manheim Belt. I think the other one died in a bar fight on Callisto." Marcus shrugged. "That was all before I knew him. Don't worry. There's only him, and he's trustworthy."
"I hope so." Travis knocked, but there was no answer. "I thought he said he'd be here?"
"He's a heavy sleeper. Probably drank his lunch and conked out at his desk." Marcus took out one of his ever present tools, and tinkered with the supposedly tamperproof door controls. Obligingly the door hissed open. "He won't mind. Much."
"Well I get the top bunk if he does," joked Travis, advancing into the darkened office. After a cursory search for a light switch revealed nothing, he raised his voice for the benefit of the computer. "Lights."
"He wouldn't have us arrested." Marcus looked about as soon as the lights came on. He saw a desk, several chairs, a threadbare rug, and a picture on one wall of a young Andro Grant many years before they had met. He was accompanied by two other men, just as young and respectable looking, all neatly dressed like properly discerning businessmen. Of Andro himself there was no sign.
"This was taken on Mars," commented Travis, eyeing the picture on the wall. Marcus nodded.
"Andro came from there originally. It's where he first set up his business. Those are his two associates. I guess the money was better in illicit dealings than it was back playing safe on Mars, and they wound up on Ganymede. Then he moved here when the others died." Marcus shrugged. "Although at the moment he seems to be hiding. Maybe the past has caught up with him again. It does that sometimes."
"Yeah, well I never really expected things to run that smooth." Travis headed over to the desk, to see if their components were waiting for them. They could always transfer their payment to Andro's computer, with or without his presence, particularly with Marcus's skills to help out. There was nothing in immediate evidence, and he went around to the other side of the desk, thinking of drawers and cupboards. Instead, sprawled on the floor on his back, with a gaping hole where his chest had been, he found a man. He swore.
"What's wrong?" asked Marcus. Travis sighed, and signalled to him to remain where he was.
"Andro about Rudy's age? Dark hair? Not a lot like that old photo of himself?"
"Yeah. Yeah, he's changed a lot since those days. Whatever the opposite of clean living is, that's been Andro." Marcus smiled at the thought. "Why?"
"Because he's completed his last business deal, that's why." Travis sighed. "Sorry Marcus. Looks like he had a meeting with somebody else today."
"What?" His young friend ran over, staring down at the body in chock. "Ah hell. Poor Andro. He was a nice bloke really."
"Someone didn't agree." Travis crouched down beside the body. It was still warm, and close to he could smell the burning residue of the laser blast that had killed the man. Very recent then. "Call Cally. We'd better notify the authorities, and I'd rather she did it than me."
"Right." Marcus took one last look at the body, a regretful glint in his eyes, then went back out to the bar. It was filling up now; the late lunch crowd probably. Most of them seemed to be security types, doubtless just coming off-shift, and he winced at the sight. Too many security men always made him feel nervous, even when he wasn't really up to anything. He signalled to Cally and she frowned, getting off her barstool and going over to meet him. Rudolpho went too, and the bartender glowered in clear suspicion.
"Trouble?" he asked. Marcus managed a confident smile.
"Business," he said importantly. The bartender nodded, his self-preserving respect for a customer's privacy preventing him from asking further questions. He still looked suspicious though, and when four uniformed police officers strode into the bar, he looked up with apparent relief.
"Something I can do for you gentlemen?" he asked. Marcus froze - this, his instincts told him, was big trouble.
"Yeah." The leader of the unit was already pushing past the bar, heading for the door marked Private. "We've had reports of gunfire. You got anything to tell us?"
"Gunfire?" The bartender's eyes drifted over to Marcus and his friends, and then past them to the corridor beyond. The suspicion was bright in his eyes now, and it was all too obvious what he was thinking. Marcus groaned softly. Some days luck seemed a very rare commodity, and he found himself wishing that he could disappear into the floor. He muttered only one word then, but it was one that seemed very apt. Only Rudolpho heard, and he knew at once that they were in trouble. Silently, inwardly, he echoed the word himself. So much for all their plans.
For all its eccentricities, Calypso proved to have a police station just like any other. It was cast largely in grey and white, its furnishings were uniform and uninteresting, and its handcuffs were just as tight. The crew of the Tulip sat in a row on a bench, in a boringly empty squad room, and wondered where the rest of the local criminals were. Possibly there weren't any; Calypso was supposedly a happy place, after all. That didn't make the Tulip gang themselves any more cheerful.
"You should have Jumped out of there," muttered Marcus, trying to keep his voice down to a largely inaudible level. That wasn't especially easy for him. Travis, at whom the comment had been directed, sighed.
"I need a little more warning for that. The first I knew about it was when they burst in, and I don't make a habit of showing off what I can do in front of strangers. That's the last thing I bloody well need!"
"Besides, what good would it have done?" asked Cally, always the one to see sense first. "The bartender would have given his description to the police, and it would hardly have made any of us look innocent. They'd have turned the station and the Tulip upside down looking for Travis, and what would any of that be doing to help us?"
"He could break us out," sulked Marcus, who had already seen that she had a point, but wanted to stick with his anyway. She sighed.
"Yes. I've always wanted to spend my life on the run, with a price on my head."
"It's not so bad," offered Travis. She wanted to roll her eyes, but found that she was smiling at him instead.
"Escaping aside..." Calling their attention back to the issue at hand, Rudolpho shifted awkwardly on the bench so that he could look at them all. "What the hell happened to Andro? We've got to find out, haven't we. Maybe Percy could help?"
"They don't know about Percy yet. If we keep quiet about her they might still search the ship, but they won't find her." Travis shook his head. "I don't want her involved. The last thing she needs is to be brought off the ship, especially if it means her being locked up in here."
"Yeah. She'd really flip then." Marcus caught Travis's glare, and shrugged slightly. "Not that I'm saying she's nuts or anything..."
"The point is," emphasised Rudolpho with a glare, "that somebody killed Andro. And it wasn't us. Was it?"
"Of course it wasn't!" Marcus's voice rose several decibels, and he winced, lowering it immediately. "Although it was recent, I'll give you that much. Whoever it was that did it, they did it just before we got there."
"Yeah." Travis nodded. "But I certainly didn't hear a gunshot. Did any of you?"
"No. Not a thing." Marcus frowned. "But that policeman said that the reason they were on the scene was because somebody had reported gunfire. So somebody must have heard a shot."
"It must have been somebody in the street outside. If it was anybody in one of the other offices, we'd have been able to hear it too." Travis shrugged. "Maybe there's a back door somewhere in Andro's office? That would explain how somebody could have shot him so soon before we arrived, and be gone by the time we got in there ourselves."
Cally raised an eyebrow. "Can't you go back and take a look?"
"A look at what? The murder?" He shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. I don't think I can go back to anywhere where I wasn't present the first time. It has to be my own timeline that I travel along."
"So what we really need is talk to Caravaggio." Cally scowled, the investigator in her frustrated at the lack of available information. "His scanners will have been tuned into our vicinity, so he's bound to have noticed any gunfire. He could tell us where the shot came from. Then maybe we could get the police to listen."
"Your faith in the System's law enforcement agencies is touching, Cally." Rudolpho ignored her glare. "Look, they've got us pegged for this. In case it's escaped your notice, we're the ones sitting in handcuffs in a police station - not some bloke in the street by the back door of Andro's place. Now, I don't like to point fingers, but one of us has a certain... 'past', shall we call it? Once it gets out who you are, Travis - who you were - well I don't hold out much hope of us getting listened to by anybody very important. You can call me pessimistic if you want..."
"No." Travis offered him a small, rueful smile. "No, Rudy. You're right. And they will find out, eventually. I'm not officially wanted by any law enforcement agencies, but it won't take many enquiries before they find out who I am. After that, who knows. They might give us a fair hearing, but I doubt it."
"My father will speak up for us." Cally winced even as she was saying it - the idea of asking her father for help hurt her to the very marrow. Travis smiled faintly, knowing how much she hated having to say something like that.
"That won't prove that we're innocent. We need sensor readings for that, showing that the gunshot came from somewhere where we weren't. And even that won't be convincing proof for many judges. Besides, this is Calypso. Around here they don't think much of Mars. It's a colony that smacks of conformity, and that's the last thing Calypso appreciates. They'd no more look to Mars than they would to Saturn - and they don't go to Saturn for anything."
"But that's unfair," complained Marcus. Travis nodded.
"I did try to warn you about Calypso," he said, somewhat heatedly. "It might be a lot of fun on the surface, but it's not the great safe haven we'd all like to think it is. This is no place to get caught out on a limb, especially if you're not a local."
"Screws our chances of getting character witnesses from that old bloke back on Titan, too, doesn't it," growled Rudolpho. "That bloke who hired us a while back. Friend of your parents. He practically is Saturn Fed, at least in terms of contacts."
"I wouldn't get him involved anyway." Travis looked away, his voice lowering and softening, his eyes getting a guarded and faraway look. "He's not from the same sort of world as we are, Rudy. And besides, short of giving a character testimonial on me as a baby, there's not a lot he can say, is there. No, we're on our own here."
"We can't contact Caravaggio. They've taken away our wrist bands." Cally looked directly at Travis. "What we need is for somebody to go to the ship."
"Somebody to go up there, have a private word with Caravaggio, get the sensor reports..."
"Yeah. The cops are going to listen to us then, sure. With me sneaking off back to the ship, and turning up again with sensor readings that could easily have been faked. Think back to when you were Mars Special Ops. If you'd had a murder suspect who escaped from custody and returned with sensor readings from his ship that he claimed proved him innocent, how seriously would you consider them as evidence?"
"I would have given them a fair hearing." She sighed, remembering her experiences of the police force in general. Whatever they had used to be on Mars, they were no longer - and on most of the other colonies they had never been even that efficient. "So what, then? I still think your powers are our ticket out of here. They're the best weapon we've got."
"They're probably the only weapon we've got." Marcus looked up suddenly. "Travis, if you'd just killed Andro, would you be planning to stick around on the station?"
"Depends on where I come from. If I'm from Calypso, I might stay here and lie low. If I was from one of the other colonies, or a drifter or whatever - I guess I'd leave. Go back home, or just get out into space for a bit."
"Exactly. Supposing Caravaggio was to run a scan, and see who's left the station since the shooting? I mean, this may be a popular place, but it's not exactly teeming with visitors and shipping, is it. They can't have had many ships leave since the murder. It's been, what? Half an hour?"
"More like fifty minutes. But no, departures don't happen very often around here. Three or four ships dock in a normal day, max. If the killer really did go straight to a ship and fly out, chances are it's the last ship that left. That won't be hard to trace."
"If we could speak to Caravaggio," emphasised Cally. Travis sighed.
"It's not a great idea for me to Jump out of here. Aside from the trouble it'll land you lot in, somebody might see. We're in an open room, and that desk sergeant over by the door has had an eye on us all along."
"I'll distract him," offered Rudolpho. Travis eyed him speculatively.
"I don't think you're his type."
"You're our best hope, Travis," cajoled Marcus.
"Probably our only hope," added Cally. Rudolpho grinned.
"Should I flutter my lashes at you as well?" he asked. Travis glared.
"Alright. Pretty soon they'll have to process us, and stick us in the cells. After that we should be alone for a while, and with a bit of luck it'll be longer before they notice that I'm gone. Maybe they won't notice at all."
"Fair enough." Cally smiled contentedly, apparently happy that she had had her way. "In the meantime, they're bound to interrogate us. We all tell the truth, right? It's always possible that they'll listen to us, and then we won't need to go through with the rest of it anyway."
"Yeah." Travis didn't look hopeful. "Just don't mention Caravaggio. If there's any chance of keeping them off the ship, I'd prefer to take it."
"Agreed." Rudolpho nodded briskly. "Although, just to get things clear, if the interrogation gets at all heavy-handed, I don't know you people."
"Thanks Rudolpho." Marcus glanced up towards the door as the familiar figure of their arresting officer loomed out of the murk behind the desk sergeant. "Uh oh. Looks like things are moving at last."
"Just as well." Cally's expression showed that she was joking, but quite probably only in part. "We've been left here, handcuffed, for nearly an hour. That's in direct contravention of several human rights regulations."
"I'm sure they'd be quaking in their boots if you mentioned it." Rudolpho straightened up, trying to look as though he wasn't in the slightest bit worried about whatever might be coming next. "Looks a right sour sod, doesn't he."
"Yeah." Travis watched the approach of the policeman, not remotely surprised when the dour officer stopped directly in front of him. He was, after all, the one who had been alone, crouched over the body, when the police had arrived. "Hello."
"Time for a little chat." The policeman used a remote control unit to release Travis's handcuffs from the electro-clasp that prevented prisoners leaving the bench. "This way."
"See you guys in a bit." Travis flashed the others one of his half smiles as he was led away; neither an expression of merriment or of false cheer. It wasn't himself he was worried about, and it very rarely was.
The interrogation started badly, and only got worse. Never the most talkative of men at the best of times, Travis became ever more taciturn when under pressure to speak. The police demanded answers to unreasonable questions, and steadfastly refused to accept anything as the truth. In their eyes, clearly, the case was already closed. For his part, Travis struggled to remain polite, but the hard-headed, relentless questioning, the discomfort of the handcuffs, the frustration born of the inability to make himself believed, and the sneering contempt of his interrogators, pushed his temperature up and his patience down. In no time his answers grew more rare, his voice more of a growl, and his courtesy a thing of the past. So much for stating his case, and possibly getting the police to accept his line of reasoning. By the time the fraught interview was at an end, the police were threatening violence, Travis had sunk into a furious wordlessness, and any chance of convincing the authorities that there had been a mistake seemed utterly lost. They dragged their uncooperative prisoner to the cells, perhaps an hour later, and that, it seemed, was that. Alone he waited for the others to arrive in their turn, too angry to think of much; and when, one by one, his friends were also brought to the cells, they found him still in a raging fury.
Rudolpho came first, with a façade of cheery indifference for the benefit of his guards, after a short and fruitless interview that had done nothing to improve his opinion of the police force in general. He found Travis pacing ferociously, unresponsive to overtures of friendship, and clearly in no more of a mind to talk to a shipmate than to the police.
Cally came later, struggling indignantly, loudly declaiming the illegalities, the improprieties she had been witness to, her guards clearly delighted to be depositing her in a cell far from where they would be able to hear her. Rudolpho smiled a welcome, but Travis just paced, silent and hostile. Cally wasn't sure whether to sympathise or just to glare. It was only when Marcus arrived, animatedly protesting his innocence, and demanding to speak to everybody from the local police chief to the President of the Associated Colonies, that Travis slowed to a halt and seemed to calm down. Marcus clearly recognised his friend's state of mind, and apparently knew how to handle it, launching into a string of daft jokes and cheerful reminiscences of past misadventures. Travis glared at him, when his friend was finally beginning to run out of steam, and dredged up the thinnest of smiles.
"I always know we're in trouble when you start pulling out those old jokes," he said quietly. Marcus smiled back.
"You just have a lousy sense of humour. And why are you still here, anyway? I thought we had a plan? You were going back to the ship as soon as we got put in the cells."
"I wanted to wait until you were all here. Besides." Travis looked a little sheepish. "I need a clear head. Emotional control. Otherwise it's harder to focus."
"Then get emotional control," said Rudolpho, his attention distracted by an ongoing search for surveillance cameras. His words were clearly meant at least half-jokingly, but Travis nonetheless took them to heart.
"I'm still new at this, you know." He smiled one of his small smiles, and drew in a deep breath. "It's almost embarrassing. I've been trying all the time I've been in here, and in the end it takes Marcus's crap jokes to get my head straight."
"That is pretty embarrassing," conceded Rudolpho. Marcus scowled.
"I like my jokes."
"It's nice that somebody does." Cally looked earnestly at Travis. "Are you okay?"
"I'd be a lot better if they'd taken off the bloody cuffs." He nodded his head. "Yes, I'm okay. Just as good as the rest of you are."
"The rest of us are rather less inclined to be explosive." She sat down on the one of the bunks bolted to the far wall, and looked up at him critically. "You're certain that you're alright?"
"I've made it this far without a mother, Cally." His glare disappeared as suddenly as it had been born, and he sighed. "Are you sure you all want me to do this? I feel terrible about walking out on you."
"You're only going to ask Caravaggio some questions, Travis." Marcus smiled encouragingly. "You're our best chance. It's not like you're really abandoning us."
"And what if Caravaggio throws up a real lead? Do I follow it up?"
"Yeah." Rudolpho shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I don't reckon much on our chances with the local cops, or whoever else makes up the judicial system around here. I'd be more confident of getting a fair hearing after ripping off the Mob on Callisto."
"They're not that bad here." Cally nodded her head. "But I second the sentiment. If Caravaggio comes up with something, and you have to go on somewhere else to investigate further, you should go for it. We'll be okay. It could take days for us to get a hearing, so nobody need know that you're gone. Marcus can amuse himself trying to get these handcuffs off, so we'll be more comfortable then."
"Yeah." Marcus didn't look happy at the idea of being left behind in prison, but he knew that it was the best plan. "And I can tell more of my jokes."
"Then I'm definitely in no hurry to get back." Travis nodded. "Okay. If you're sure. I'm just sorry that I can't take you with me."
"We'll make it look like you're still here," continued Cally, just as though he had never spoken. "They might wonder why you're always in bed, but they won't think that you've gone if the rest of us are still here."
"Yeah. They'd never expect me to run out on my friends." Travis looked even less happy still, but he nodded and moved away from the others, making sure that there was a clear space around him.
"Head for the workshop by the engine room," instructed Marcus. "There'll be tools there to get the cuffs off. I'd offer to do it here, but there's no telling how long it would take. If there are cops searching the ship already, the workshop is a good place to head for anyway. I doubt anyone would bother looking there."
"Right." Travis squared his shoulders, and focused his mind upon the Tulip. "I'll see you all when I see you then. Keep your heads down." With that, the blue-green tendrils of light webbed their way swiftly around him, and he was gone. Cally gave a rueful smile.
"Handy trick," she said, though not with much true envy. Strange genes and alien powers were not really her kind of thing. Marcus nodded.
"Isn't it just. Now who's first for handcuff removal?" And with that they turned their minds from thoughts of Travis, and focused instead upon themselves. Even with a plan in motion, escape could still yet be a long way off.
The lights in the workshop were dim, but they brightened as soon as Travis arrived there. Caravaggio's modulated, slightly superior voice greeted him almost immediately.
"Good evening, Travis. Do I assume from this that we are in trouble again?"
"Hnh." It was a noncommittal noise, but Caravaggio, as usual, was just being observant. Unorthodox boarding aside, the handcuffs were something of a give-away.
"If I might suggest, the work bench laser should do a good job. I can direct it with absolute precision."
"Glad to hear it. Has anybody else come on board recently?"
"By which I take it that you mean the police?" Caravaggio's flickering image appeared nearby, one eyebrow raised in faint, computerised amusement. "They tried to get in, yes, about half an hour ago. Percy fused the doors, and they gave up. I believe that at present she is hiding somewhere in one of the disused areas of the ship. Should the police succeed in breaking in at any point, there's very little chance that they'll find her. She knows the ship particularly well."
"Yes, she does." Travis smiled slightly, with fondness for his eccentric cousin, then manoeuvred himself around so that the laser on the work bench was within reach of his handcuffs. "How long will this take?"
"Do I assume that you'd rather not lose any fingers?" Caravaggio eyed him in a typically supercilious manner. "About three minutes. Are we in a hurry?"
"Sort of. There was a murder."
"And you were arrested for it? I wish I could express my lasting surprise, but even I can see how you might look suspicious."
"Thank you, Car. Look, run a check for me while you cut these things off, could you? Presumably you've had the scanners running while we've been off the ship?"
"Look back through your scanner records to when we were in a place called the Rainbow Bar. It's on C-Deck, towards the centre."
"Certainly." There was a pause. "I have found the relevant scanner records."
"Good. Did you pick up anything like a weapons discharge? It would probably have been just after we arrived at the bar."
"I believe that there was something, yes." Caravaggio frowned slightly in thought, whilst simultaneously checking through his memory banks. "Ah yes. Something very like a handgun, just outside the Rainbow Bar. I now have a nasty suspicion that the murder victim was the man who was going to get me my refit."
"Sorry Car. Alright, now can you trace the person who fired the gun?"
"Not really, no. My scanners at the time were focused upon your location, thanks to the transponders that you carry with you. I wouldn't have had my eyes, so to speak, on any other beings in the area."
"Try, Car. This is important."
"Very well." This time there was a longer silence. "There is a basic heat trail which suggests that the killer may have turned off to the left immediately after firing, but that's all. Travis--"
"Never mind. It was a long shot anyway. Did any ships leave Calypso after the killing?"
There was a sigh. "You wish me to break into the station's records? Very well... Checking... Yes. A ship left the station about ten minutes after the weapon was discharged. Another is scheduled to leave in half an hour."
"Can you tell where the first ship is heading?"
"Travis, aren't there authorities to handle this kind of investigation? It's not that I don't enjoy utilising my skills in this way, but--"
"The authorities won't listen. I just wanted to get some kind of picture of what went on."
"Well if the authorities won't listen, then what do you intend to do?" Caravaggio sounded concerned; he had learnt that when there was trouble, the ship was rather inclined to get shot at. It wasn't in the best shape for gunplay just at the moment. Travis shook his head wearily, then felt the chain snap apart on the handcuffs, and gratefully stretched his arms. They seemed to have been fixed behind his back for countless hours, and their removal now made him feel worse about having abandoned the others. Marcus, without his tools and with his own hands linked behind him, would not be finding it easy to remove their cuffs.
"Can you tell where that ship was going?" he asked again. "Did it file a flight plan?"
There was a second's silence whilst Caravaggio checked. "It did. The pilot claimed to be heading for Mars."
"Mars?" Travis was immediately interested. "Andro was from Mars originally."
"But that is not where the ship is heading. It's still well within my sensor range, and as far as I can tell, it's heading for Callisto."
"Callisto? You're sure?"
"As sure as I can be. It's never easy to project the likely course of a spaceship, Travis, but I believe that I am right."
"Callisto." Travis frowned deeply, then took over control of the laser to remove the last of the cuffs from his wrists. The heat of the laser warmed up the metal to an uncomfortable temperature, and he felt his skin begin to scald. The pain was good for focusing his mind, and helping him to think about what his next step was to be. Callisto was a haven for criminals; a place where organised crime ruled the roost, and orders were often sent out to the other colonies, demanding the deaths of any number of people. Few officials on any colonies, let alone the haphazard, slapdash police of Calypso, would want to investigate a lead that led to Callisto. It was too dangerous. There was no way that he could take this information back to the truculent, unhelpful and downright hostile police that had interrogated him earlier. Even if they did listen - even if they did believe - they wouldn't do anything about it. They would merely lock him up again, cut their losses, and draw a line under the whole affair by proclaiming the Tulip crew guilty. Hardly ideal.
"Is there something wrong, Captain?" asked Caravaggio. There was a slightly mournful tone to his voice, as though he suspected that something was soon to happen of which he was very unlikely to approve. Travis nodded, then turned away from the workbench leaving scattered pieces of handcuff in his wake.
"I have to go, Car."
"Do you plan to transport yourself to the killer's ship?"
"No, I don't think so. It might cause too many awkward questions about how I came to be there. I'd rather the authorities pick him up, once they have a reason to."
"Back to the others then?" There was a silence. "Travis?"
"No. Not back to the others. I don't want to get their hopes up; and besides, they'd only worry. I don't need people fussing over me. I look out for myself."
"Ah. You're going to Callisto, aren't you." This time Caravaggio sounded even more mournful. "Travis, might I remind you that it's a stronghold of the very kind of people with which it's least advisable for you to associate? People who dislike bounty hunters? Raiders who might know who you really are? Every worst kind of pirate, thief, cut-throat and--"
"People like me, Car." Travis offered the hologram a slow, sad smile. "I'll fit right in. And I'll be back as soon as I can."
"That ship probably won't arrive there for at least another two days. There's not really any need for you to go straight away."
"I don't want to wait. The others are counting on me, and I hope to find out what I need before the killer has a chance to reach Callisto. It'll be too easy for him to vanish once he's there. Goodbye, Car."
"Travis, I really must strongly protest--"
"Thank you." Travis squared his shoulders, and drew in a breath. Caravaggio was right, and he was taking a big risk in going to Callisto, but he had to go nonetheless. There was no other choice. "Fill Percy in. I want her kept up to date. And Car?"
"Yes...?" The computer sounded extremely dubious. Travis had to smile.
"Wish me luck." With that he was gone. The hologram stared sadly at the empty place where the unfathomable creature had stood moments before, then shrugged his shoulders and smiled a thin-lipped, unconvincing smile.
"Good luck, Captain," he said sadly, then blinked his image off. The only sound in the workshop now was the hum of the generators. Beyond that, the ship was as quiet as the grave.
It had been years since Travis had visited Callisto. A haven for any and all criminals - as long as they were willing to pay special duties to the organised crime syndicate that ran the colony - it had not been safe for him since his escape from the Clans. There were too many Raiders on Callisto, for it was a good place to stop off for mechanical repairs. The Raiders liked to live out their lives on board their ships, rather than spending any great amount of time on solid ground; but sometimes it was necessary to leave space for a while. And where better to put to shore than a place with no laws, save those of the criminals? With no law enforcement, save force of strength and coercion? The Raiders were as at home on Callisto as they were anywhere save on board their ships, and they had long ago come to an understanding with the ruling gang of the colony. The Raiders were powerful and strong, and could do serious damage both to the moon and to its self-appointed 'rulers'. By turn, the criminal syndicate had many eyes and hands all over the System, and could do considerable damage to the Raiders if they chose. In an all-out battle Travis would choose the Raiders as likely victors without a second thought, but that didn't mean that they were ever likely to openly antagonise the syndicate. An alliance of sorts had been born between them; a form of co-operation which extended only as far as Callisto's designated territorial space. It worked, where it had to. Travis had even been glad of it once upon a time.
And now he was here again, and wasn't very glad of anything to do with the place. There were too many people who were likely to recognise him; too many people he had arrested at some point, or who knew him from his former life, or who knew that he was associated with the last surviving members of the moon's old ruling family. Of all the colonies, all the stations, all the moons, planets and asteroids in the Solar System, Callisto was probably the one that it was least sensible for him to visit; and now here he was, and he couldn't very well leave in a hurry. Since Caravaggio had predicted that the killer's ship wouldn't arrive on Callisto for another two standard days at least, unless it was hiding some serious engine power that hadn't shown up on the sensors, there was plenty of time to check around; to try to ask questions without attracting too much attention, and try to find out who on Callisto might want Andro Grant dead. Presumably he had had business ties to somebody here, which was frequently reason enough for a death warrant. Travis didn't care much for business, or for the murky affairs that tended to accompany it, but when those murky affairs involved his friends he had to take an interest. His primary problem was that he didn't really know where to start. He had to poke and pry, to find the right people to speak to, to re-find his footing in a world he had left behind. In the meantime, the best that he could hope was that he wouldn't be seen by anybody who knew him, for as long as he was forced to remain there. He did at least have the means of a quick getaway. On the other hand, a colony on the alert, clamouring for his head, wouldn't be a great place to try sneaking back into later on if his investigations weren't complete.
He didn't stand out too much - that was a bonus. On the more upmarket colonies and space stations, his ageing black leather outfit made something of a contrast with the brighter, smarter clothing of the upwardly mobile crowds. His almost ever present shadow of stubble, his tendency to glower, and his powerful, alert stride were all assets here, too, rather than beacons to show his singularity; his disparity with the masses. Here on Callisto he seemed to blend right in. That was just as well, given that he had to move around as freely as possible, but he didn't feel inclined to push things too much; not yet. It was unfair to take risks with the freedom of his friends. With that in mind it was not to one of the more popular drinking establishments that he headed first. He could try the bigger bars later, when he had run out of other options. For now it was backwaters only.
He went to Rosie's Place first; a grimy, darkened hovel in a remarkable side alley that seemed to have its own atmosphere, such was the stench of the blocked pipes and ineffectual drainage. Rosie proved to be a large, lanky woman of about fifty, with platinum blonde hair, a profusion of jewellery, and a skin tight, one piece blue outfit that could almost have been body paint rather than material. She glared at Travis as though he had insulted her by merely entering the premises, gave him the synth-beer that he requested, then loudly demanded to know what he was doing there. He flashed her his best hooded glare, and told her to mind her own business, which was clearly what was expected. After that she was almost polite, and even ventured to offer him a bowl of peanuts. Travis had eaten bar snacks in some of the least edifying public houses and bars in the Solar System; food that even Marcus wouldn't touch with a barge pole. But even he couldn't bring himself to eat these ones. He nodded his thanks and glowered into his beer until his hostess seemed to have accustomed herself to his presence somewhat. Then, very cautiously, he asked her about local dealers in engine parts. She shrugged bony shoulders, and peered at him out of the gloom behind the bar.
"You looking for something in particular?"
"My ship got shot up. I need some replacement parts." He gazed into his beer, avoiding her eyes and generally acting as surly as he could. It wasn't difficult. "I can fit them myself. Just need the right bits."
"There's always somebody around that can get you what you want. If you've got the money." She grinned suddenly, revealing gaping holes in her teeth. In an age when hardly anybody seemed to remain unadjusted by the tricks and tucks of plastic surgeons and body sculptors, Rosie's appearance was all the more surprising. If she hadn't set Travis's sixth sense buzzing with suspicion, he might have found her refreshing. Instead he just kept his body tense, his ears strained for the slightest sound, and his concentration focused in six different directions at once.
"My ship's pretty unique," he said, his voice a virtual growl. "It was modified for me by a guy back on Calypso. Might be that not just anybody could help."
"Yeah?" She didn't sound interested. "I know most of the dealers. Done some business on Calypso myself. What's this engineer's name?"
"Andro Grant." He was alert to any possible flicker of interest from her, whilst all the time looking as though he was concerned only with his beer. She merely shrugged.
"Never heard of him. Doubt it matters. You be here tomorrow, though, if you want to do business. Some friends of mine will be here then, and if they can't help you, no one can. Price will be fair, but don't expect it to be cheap."
"Sure." He nodded, not bothering to finish the beer. The chances were that he would have to drink a lot of them, in a lot of bars, before he came across anything useful. "Thanks Rosie."
"Who says I'm Rosie?" she spat back at him. He shrugged.
"You look like a Rosie." Well, no... but then 'You look like a bottle of synth-gin' was somewhat less of a compliment. "See you tomorrow." With that he left. He had no intention of returning the following day, for he had no doubt that Rosie's friends would be anything but dealers in engine parts. They would lie in wait for him and his hopefully loaded credit chip, then jump him as soon as he set foot in the door. He knew types like Rosie. He had known them all of his life.
He went to a more upmarket place next, if it could be called so just by virtue of having an actual airflow through the building, and not being quite such an obvious breeding ground for germs. It was still darkened and grimy, the pipes still smelt suspicious, and the floor was greasy enough to be positively slippery in places. Travis had been to worse bars in his time, but that didn't mean that he liked to make a habit of it. He sat down on a barstool that felt as though it would have collapsed if he had been a few pounds heavier, and growled out an order for a synth-beer. A middle-aged man served him, peering at him through grimy, clearly home-made spectacles, and managing to look even less friendly than Rosie.
"I've not seen you here before," he said, more as an accusation than an observation. Travis shrugged noncommittally.
"Just passing through." He took a swig of the beer, and made his body language as unfriendly as he could. "Looking for engine parts. You get any dealers through here?"
"We get dealers in just about everything through here." The man had a beady look in his eyes, and a very unfriendly sharpness in his stare. "What sort of engine parts are you after?"
"Nothing too ordinary. My ship's had a lot of modifications. It got shot up, and I need the right parts to get it fixed again. Soon as possible." It was the same story that he had told Rosie, but here it seemed to get a different reaction. Rosie had been interested only in stealing his money. This man seemed more inclined to make an actual deal, but he was still making Travis's sixth sense sing out loudly.
"Where you from?" the bartender asked. Travis shot him the darkest glare that he could.
"You always ask so many questions?" he spat, putting just the right amount of a threat into his voice. The bartender shrugged.
"You could be anybody. I don't know you."
"Yeah, and I don't want to know you." Travis stood up. "If you see anybody, ask them if they know an engineer called Grant, from Calypso. He did the modifications on my ship, and I'd like to deal with somebody who knows his work. I'll be back this way tomorrow."
"Grant, you say?" The bartender's hard, cold eyes gleamed suddenly. "I used to know a bloke called Grant. Andro Grant. Dealt in second hand spaceship parts."
"Yeah?" Travis feigned complete disinterest, but the bartender grinned at him unpleasantly.
"Yeah. He had a business partner once. Died right where you're standing, about twenty years ago. Didn't like him, didn't like Grant, don't think I like you."
"That's fine with me." Travis met the man's eyes with just enough of a glare to show that he was not someone to be messed with. He was capable of a more powerful, more off-putting glower than most men, and sure enough the bartender looked momentarily disconcerted. He shrugged his thin shoulders, and scowled.
"Yeah, well. Whatever. Try further on up the street. But I'd keep Grant's name out of the conversation if I was you, Raider. Your kind like him. Not everybody does."
"I'll bear that in mind." Travis didn't bother asking why the bartender thought that he was a Raider. He walked like one, he dressed like one - bar the rings, which remained in his cabin back on the Tulip. He had considered wearing them at first, but had thrown out the idea fairly quickly. Looking vaguely like a member of the Clans, or being mistaken for one, might be to his advantage; but to walk about openly trying to look like a Raider was foolish in the extreme. Any Clan gear he owned marked him out as a Verran, and a member of the Clan Hierarchy at that; and soon enough people would start to ask questions about a man wearing those colours. He really didn't need to attract that kind of attention. He had friends to rescue, after all, and names to clear. For now at least, this trip was supposed to be about not taking the usual risks.
The next bar presented a similar scenario to the previous one, and the conversation went along very similar lines. The next and the next and the next - all saw the same basic exchanges, the same lack of results. In some places he was greeted with good cheer, in others with outright suspicion or even hostility. In some places pretty girls brought him his drinks on trays, in others grimy, sweat-soaked men more or less threw the drinks at him, in dirty, finger-stained glasses, or in endlessly refilled bottles that were rarely washed between uses. In all the bars, in all the clubs and taverns, and in some places that defied categorisation, he glowered and frowned and asked his growling questions about engine parts, Calypso and Andro Grant. And in all the bars and clubs and hundred and one other places, the answers were always the same: You can get what you want on Callisto, if you have the money to pay for it. The slightly less encouraging: Andro Grant is irrelevant; and the rather more predictable, if less sophisticated: It's not always a good idea to mention that name around here. Grant had certainly annoyed certain sections of society on Callisto. The question was, had he annoyed the Mob hierarchy enough to be killed for it? It was going to be hard to find out when everybody that he spoke to seemed determined to steer the conversation away from Grant, and on to any other topic they could think of. Fear was a big part of that - and that certainly suggested that Grant had got himself involved with Callisto's rulers. The organised crime syndicate that nowadays ran the moon did not take kindly to interference, competition or betrayal, and it was easily possible that Grant had managed one of the three. The question now was how to find out for sure, and what to do with the proof if he found it?
In point of fact, the first part was easy. To find out what the Mob's interests were, the simplest thing was just to ask the Mob. Go to them directly, or ask the right questions in the right places, and soon enough you would get your answers. Percy had once explained to Travis how the Divinity Cluster's first true characteristic was the feeling of indestructibility that it inspired when the first gene was activated. He had not taken much notice at the time, although later he had come to realise that that might again be the fault of the gene. If he truly felt indestructible, he probably wouldn't believe that it was just because of a gene. Now, as he stood on Callisto, alone and considering meeting the Mob head on, he thought about it again. He had intended to be careful here; to avoid taking risks for the good of his friends. A nice plan, while it had lasted. But, crucially, it hadn't got him anywhere. He had already been on Callisto for most of a standard day, and whilst that wasn't terribly long in the great scheme of things, to his friends sitting in their prison cell, running the risk of the discovery of his disappearance, it was a very long time indeed. A small voice inside his head told him that he could go back to the cell at any time he chose, in the blink of an eye, so that his disappearance need never be discovered, and so that his friends could stay up to date on his progress - but he ignored the small voice. He had work to do. The best thing was just to get it done.
So he started asking new questions. No more: I have a ship that needs repairing. Now it was: A friend of mine was killed, and I want to know who's responsible. He asked it in bars, in shops, and of passers-by in the street. He asked it of a timid old man trying to go unnoticed in the marketplace, and of the broad-shouldered heavy keeping watch over the same market. He turned up the glower, he let loose the old fires in his eyes, and he demanded answers with force, with threats and with physical intimidation. It wasn't so hard, to let the old Raider tendencies take over once again. Never a man to walk with small steps or a hesitant stride, he had always caught the attention of those nearby. He walked with the confidence of a man who had no reason to doubt his strength, his skill or his power. Now those characteristics were emphasised in every step of his swaggering stride; in every dark glance he gave to those around him; in every flame that sparked up from his aura of smouldering menace. At the start of his investigation, the locals had looked at him with contempt, veiled interest and suspicion. Now they looked with fear, and with greater suspicion still. He heard whisperings as he walked from place to place; knew that people were spreading the word. Suddenly he had a reputation that was preceding him; there were faces looking out of windows, looking up from stalls, to see him pass. The back of his neck prickled at the eyes that followed his progress, and even his powerful confidence wavered as the hours ticked on by. People knew what questions he was going to ask before he opened his mouth, now. People were waiting for him, some with guns unholstered, ready to tell him to go away. Scared people, who didn't want to get mixed up in his affairs. Angry people, who might know something and might not, but didn't want him around anyway. His description was circulating - sooner or later somebody who knew him was going to hear about him, or see him - somebody who knew him as a bounty hunter or even as a Raider. This sort of luck - this semi-anonymity - couldn't last forever. His right hand hovered near the holster of his gun, his shoulders burned with the constant tension of his muscles, his head sang with senses turned to overload. Voices were whispering. News was spreading. Sooner or later those responsible for Andro's death were going to hear of him. The only question then would be whether he would survive to find out who they were.
It was heading into the darker stages of the night when he turned into a street that he recognised - even knew well. Darbour Street, it had been named, probably for some road back on Earth that had meant something to the early colonists. Nobody cared much for old attachments like that anymore; hardly anybody had been to Earth, and few enough spared it a thought. A place of tough, squat buildings, mostly built of metal and plastic - the oldest of the colonial buildings on the moon - Darbour Street was a relic of the early days, when everybody had had nightmares about the overhead domes breaking. Later generations hardly even remembered that the domes were there, and architects no longer bothered to safeguard against such disasters. Newer buildings were lighter and more airy, amd vastly preferred by most people; and Travis sympathised, though his thoughts were not based on aesethetics. He had never liked these older buildings. Their design allowed too many opportunities for ambush, and the streets between them were too narrow. It was a place built into strict parameters, with no thought for comfort or long term accommodation, and certainly no thought for the peace of mind of men who lived in expectation of attack. Still - it was too late to go back now, and this phase of his plan was supposed to be about taking risks. There was a place here that he wanted to go to, as well; a bar run by somebody he knew would talk to him. Jemma Zaid had always had time for him, in the days when he hadn't been called Travis Montana. She had served Dazak Verran, before he had become leader of the Verran Clan; she had celebrated with him the night that he had declared himself commander in chief of the Clan. She had smiled with sad eyes when he had boasted with his friends of shared misdemeanours; and she had told him, one night when he was drunk, and she had thought him incapable of comprehending proper sentences, that he was too good for the Raiders. He had woken the next morning thinking that her words had been nothing more than a dream, but he had remembered them much, much later, when he was close to death after being shot for trying to escape the Clan. Ever since he had wondered what she would think to know that he was no longer one of them; to know that Dazak Verran was no more. Now was the time to find out.
His stride quickened as he walked through the street. There were few people about; Darbour Street had never been the busiest of places. People preferred the newer streets, with their bigger, less solidly built houses, and their better lighting and ventilation. One or two figures moved about in the shadows, though, which made the fingers of his gun hand tingle. He could see the figures only faintly, but it was clear that they were watching him; looking out for signs of trouble, perhaps? Or people sent especially to watch out for him, and report back to somebody else? He passed beneath a street light, a moment of a hot yellow glare that turned him, for one long second, into a perfectly illuminated target. No weapons fired. Nobody attacked. It was almost a disappointment.
Jemma's place was on the corner of an adjoining street; a perfectly framed moment from the past. It was a black building, a little bigger than the small, squat ones that surrounded it, the roof lit by a single red searchlight that harked back to the days when a similar light had been a beacon for approaching spacecraft. A sign, reading King's Inn suggested at some long forgotten colonist trying to recreate a little of the Earth life left behind, but like every other loving nod to an old world it was lost on the people who knew it now. Even schoolchildren learned little of Earth, now; and there were few people left on Callisto who had ever been to formal school.
He pushed open the door of the King's Inn, expecting a voice to hail him immediately. It had been a favourite haunt of the Verran Clan before; why not now? Nobody looked up, though. The people who drank in places like this cared nothing for others, and rarely bothered to take any notice of new arrivals. He let the door swing shut behind him, enjoying the odd familiarity of the unfamiliar action. The King's Inn was one of only a very few places that didn't have automatic doors. It was probably another old touch to a long lost past, but Travis didn't think of it as such; to him it was just one of the characteristics of the place that had always amused him. He looked around at the people that filled the room, sitting at tables, sprawled at the bar, slumped snoring on the floor where they had fallen. It was a scarred floor, made of metal and plastic, but tiled to look like wooden planks. Another touch that meant nothing to the current regulars, most of whom had never seen anything made of real wood. There were fake wooden rafters on the ceiling, and paintings on the walls of landscapes back on Earth; rolling hills, gentle rivers, odd little fluffy animals that seemed to be eating the grass. Travis had once heard somebody say that they were called cows, and that they were still used back on Earth for their wool, but it seemed odd to him that fabric could be made from animals. He had only ever worn synthetic threads. Cally, no doubt, could explain the issue properly, but it always faintly embarrassed him to approach her about the holes in his schooling. Perhaps he could try asking Caravaggio. If he remembered.
He made his way to the bar through crowds gambling noisily, none of whom were willing to take their eyes off each other long enough to worry about him. He kept his head down all the time, purposely avoiding the better lit parts of the room. All the time he expected to be hailed by his old name, or to hear a laser blast burn a path through the air. Cally would be furious to learn that he had taken a risk like this, but as far as he could see it was one that needed to be taken. How else was he supposed to find out what he needed to know? Even Marcus had never seemed to understand that life couldn't always be safe. One or two drunkards sprawled on the floor grunted at him as he passed by, but those that bothered to open their eyes shut them again quickly. They couldn't see him properly through the drunken haze that spoiled their vision, and the darkness only limited their view still further, but they saw enough to know that they should pretend they had seen nothing at all. He still wore the aura of menace that had been such a perfect cloak during the earlier stages of his investigations, and the people of Callisto had learnt as soon as the Mob had taken over their colony that such men should be avoided. Those that hadn't learnt had died quickly, or run away as soon as they could. It was Darwin's Theory Of Colonisation; survival of the adept.
"Can I help you?" The woman behind the bar didn't look at his face. She reached automatically for a whisky glass, ready to fill it with synth-whisky as soon as the inevitable order came. She looked tired from a long shift, and dribbles of synth-alcohol stained her apron, but she still looked beautiful to Travis. He had flirted with her in the old days, without caring whether or not she reciprocated, and it hadn't been until he had left that he had realised the flirting hadn't been just the noisy games of a half drunken gang member. Looking at her now, years later, he knew that it had definitely been something more that had kept bringing him back here. Bringing him back as an all-conquering Raider, a victorious Clan Leader - and, though until now only in his dreams, as a bounty hunter. Jemma Zaid was a very remarkable woman.
"Have a drink with me?" he asked, just as he had asked her in the old days. She had always rolled her eyes then, and told him off for tempting her to break her own house rule. She sighed, ready to launch into a well rehearsed routine of polite and disinterested refusal, but something made the words break off before they had really begun. She looked up, her eyes focusing on the shadowy, black-clad man standing just within the glow of the light that hung above her. A tall man, with an athletic build, half-wavy black hair, and bright, alert blue eyes. He was smiling at her, though it wasn't the smile of a man who had been away for years, and was returning now for a joyful reunion. It was more a slight, though warm smile that spoke of necessary reservations, and more than a few sorrows. She gasped.
"What the hell-? You're dead."
"Not at the moment, no. Check back with me in the morning, and that might have changed." The smile became a little broader, though the reservations were still there. "Hello Jemma."
"Dazak." She set down the glass. "What the hell are you doing here? Surely if the Verrans see you--"
"I don't think there are any of them in here at the moment. I'll make myself scarce if any turn up." He slid onto a bar stool, and rested his hand on his gun. It was always a good idea to be ready for trouble. "But it's not Dazak anymore. It's Travis. Travis Montana."
"Where did that name come from?" She looked suspicious, as though she suspected that he had stolen somebody's identity, and probably not in a bloodless way. He shrugged slightly.
"My parents, presumably. It was their idea."
"Oh." She almost blushed. "It's true, then. You really did leave the Clans?"
"Yeah." Suddenly he didn't meet her eyes. Yes it was true - but it was also true that it had been a long time before he had left; that he wished he had left years before. That he still wasn't sure why he had left when he had, or what had caused that final break. None of it made him feel that there was anything to be proud of in his eventual escape. It was just something that had happened, because the moment had called for it. No particular triumph.
"I'm glad for you." Her eyes were warm. He had forgotten how dark they were. Fathomlessly so, like the deep black of space. "But it can't be safe here. Why the hell did you come?"
"You haven't heard?" He was surprised, but then this was the old city. It was self contained and aloof, and it was always possible that the buzzing rumours hadn't filtered through here properly yet. "The stranger asking questions? The man everybody is telling to disappear?"
"I had heard something. One of the regulars was muttering about it earlier, but he was drunk, so I just put it down to the synth-whisky. You know what that stuff is like. The strength varies so much, some days you can be paralytic after only half a glass."
"Only if you have no head for alcohol." His smile became a slow, lazy grin. "What do you know about Andro Grant, Jem?"
"You know better than to call me that when I have a weapon within reach, Daza--" She smiled, realising her mistake. "Travis. That's going to take some getting used to. You don't look like a Travis."
"I feel like a Travis." His smile became more awkward. "I think. Once I'd found out who I really was... and Dazak had to go, anyway. There's too many people looking for him."
"Something tells me there's probably a fair few looking for Travis Montana, too." She sighed. "Andro Grant. Damn it, Travis. You can certainly pick them, can't you."
"He's a friend of a friend. And my friend is definitely one of the good guys. Grant can't be that bad."
"He's not. Not at all. A few dodgy deals here and there, but then who's one hundred percent on the level? It's a lawless universe."
"Humankind's bit of it is, certainly. So who killed him?"
"I don't know for sure. I can tell you that he was mixed up with Ry Chromos, though, and there are rumours that things have gone sour between them. And Chromos... well, you know what he's like."
"Yeah. Can't say I ever knew him all that well, but everybody knows the reputation. It was him who had Grant killed, then?"
"Look, I didn't even know Grant was dead till that drunk customer I just mentioned mumbled something about it. I can't be expected to know all the details. Bloody hell, Travis. What are you mixed up in? I thought Grant lived on Calypso? Is that where you live now?"
"No." He shook his head slowly, enjoying the fact that she was so concerned about him, despite the years apart and the mere seconds since their reunion. "No, I live on a spaceship. It's a hard habit to break, I guess. I never did like staying in the same place long."
"I can't imagine that it's safe for you to stay in the same place very long." She sighed, then reached for a pair of glasses, and poured them both a shot of synth-whisky. "What happened with Grant? I only met him a couple of times, but he seemed like a nice bloke. Chatty. He'd flirt with anything that moved, and probably with quite a few things that didn't, but he wasn't a creep."
"I don't know." He accepted the drink. "I was supposed to be meeting with him to get some parts for my ship, but he turned up dead."
"And the police thought you were responsible?" She smiled teasingly. "Once upon a time you'd have shot them all and walked out."
"Yeah, well those days are long gone. Now I only shoot when I'm shot at." Most of the time. "I escaped from police custody to try to sort things out, and I have three friends sitting in a cell back on Calypso who are counting on me to get it done."
"If you've come all the way from Calypso, Grant must have been dead several days. I'm surprised I haven't heard of it sooner. Either your ship is very fast, or the grapevine has been shut down much more effectively than usual."
"Grant's been dead less than twenty four hours. And no, I can't explain. Let's just say I have my own methods of transport that are rather more efficient than other people's. I need to find out who's responsible, Jemma. You're better placed than most to find things out, and if you're right about Chromos being involved then I really have come to the right place. The King's Inn still his?"
"He still owns it, yes. And Elliott still gives him a far bigger percentage of the profits than he needs to. Like Chromos is going to notice how well we're doing." She scowled. "But we always had a rule, Travis. You didn't talk about all the people you'd killed, and I didn't talk about my husband."
"Sorry." He drank thoughtfully, for once actually tasting the synth-whisky properly. "Where is he?"
"Elliott? Counting the profits, watering down the drinks, rigging the labels so that he can pretend some of this whisky is the real thing. You know Elliott." She shrugged. "He's not out here, anyway, which is a good thing. If he saw you..."
"I'm even better at avoiding capture now than I used to be." He finished the whisky, and flashed her the warmest smile of which he was capable. Cally might have been jealous, had she seen it; but then the chance of Cally ever being in the King's Inn was next to nothing. If she disapproved of Calypso, she would certainly never set foot upon Callisto. "Thanks, Jem. I appreciate the help."
"You're leaving?" Her eyes widened. "You're going to see Chromos, aren't you. Daz-- Travis... No. Please. Nobody will ever find the pieces of you, or if they do it'll be because the pieces have been strung up as a warning. I don't want that to be the last sight I have of you. You could be a complete bastard, back when I knew you before, but there was still something I liked about you. And now that you're somebody new--"
"Nobody is going to kill me." He stood up. "I'll visit, before I head back to Calypso. Things have changed in my life recently, Jem. I could visit more often now."
"If you live long enough." She was angry with him. "You used me. You came here, being all friendly, but it wasn't to rekindle old flames, was it. It was to find out about Ry Chromos, so you can go off and start another fight. You haven't really changed at all. I suppose you'll kill him?"
"I hope not. I'd like to have him talk to the authorities back on Calypso." Very slowly he put the glass back down on the bar, and pushed it back towards her. "I wasn't just using you, Jemma. I really wanted to see you again. But I did come here looking for information, yes. I need to be able to prove who really killed Grant. I'm free, but it's not that simple for my friends. I owe them. All of them."
"You've swapped one clan for another, haven't you. Not a Raider anymore, but something else instead." She sighed. "Go then, Travis. Do what you need to do. Just make sure that you really do come back here when you've finished, because otherwise I'm going to think that you're dead, and I don't want to spend another whole lot of years thinking that. Promise me."
"I promise." He smiled fondly, and for a second she thought that his eyes were a brighter blue, and that a charge of something very like electricity had flickered through them, but she put it down to a trick of the light. "I'll see you soon."
"You better. Don't underestimate Chromos, Travis. He deserves his reputation."
"Okay." For a second longer he stood there looking at her, confused by a jumble of memories, thoughts and feelings; then he turned around and headed back for the door. Ry Chromos. It was a name at last, but despite the act he had put on for Jemma, it was the last name he had wanted to hear. There were people who wanted the head of Dazak Verran; there were people who wanted the head of Travis Montana. There were even a few people who wanted both - and one of them, perhaps the richest and most ruthless of the lot, was Ry Chromos. He had to hope now for the advantage of surprise. Without that, he could really be heading for trouble.
Ry Chromos held court in a palace built for him shortly after the fall of Callisto's old rule. On the outside it looked like a castle in miniature, on the inside a jumbled mixture of casino, pleasure house and disco disaster. Sparkling silver chandeliers lit the main hall, which was carpeted in thick scarlet pile, and flickering fake fires burned in brackets on the walls. Chromos himself spent his days seated on a giant metal chair at one end of the room; a throne with buttons, switches and dials in place of crystals and jewels. He was a massive man, once huge in stature from the constant working of his muscles; now larger still from endless sitting. Dressed in scarlet and silver to match the decorations of his hall, he sprawled in majestic splendour, governing his enterprises through the electronic throne, and ruling over his gang of underlings like some totalitarian lord. There was only one true commander-in-chief of Callisto, but the Mob was split into deputies and sub divisions beneath him, each ruling their own areas as they saw fit. Such was the province of Ry Chromos, a gangster ruled by gangsters, and ruling others in his turn.
"Who is this man?" Chromos had an authoritative voice, deep and resonant, but with a harshness to it that betrayed his true character. He was a hard man, but his lifestyle had weakened him. The weaker his massive body became, the more remorseless he grew in response. Elliott Zaid, long time husband of Jemma, and equally long time tenant of Chromos, as usual found himself wondering if he shouldn't bow.
"Zaid, sir." An attendant, dressed in gaudy silver, but someow managing to look sinister with it, spoke up from a position to Chromos' right. "He runs one of your bars in the old city." And he's been feeding you information for years, thought Zaid crossly. The least Chromos could do was recognise the name.
"Ah." Chromos nodded slowly, then turned his sharp green eyes back to his guest. "And what do you want?"
"Nothing, sir." Zaid fought the urge to keep his head lowered, but once he had made eye contact, he had to struggle to keep it. His instincts told him to look away. "I have news."
"A man has been asking questions about Andro Grant. He's been all over the place, to every bar in the area and more besides. I can't find out which ship he came in on, but he's making a nuisance of himself, and he won't shut up."
"A man?" Chromos sounded disinterested. It was an act he had perfected over the years. "He's been asking questions about Grant today? That was quick work."
"Then it's true that Grant is dead?" Zaid was surprised, but he lowered his gaze immediately at the spark of displeasure in Chromos' eyes, and didn't press the point. "Yes, sir. He only seems to have appeared at some point during the last standard day. He was asking indirect questions to begin with, but either he's getting more confident or just more frustrated, because the questions aren't indirect anymore. He was at my place earlier, questioning my wife about Grant. He claimed to have been on Calypso when the murder took place, but I thought maybe I was confusing things, with Calypso being on different time to us." He chanced an awkward smile. "You know how complicated it gets, with the different orbits and time zones."
"Not really." Chromos pointed to the far wall, where clocks showed the different time zones on the different colonies, and ticking, clockwork models in exquisite detail marked out the passage of the main colonies around their planets and the sun. "Does this man have a name?"
"I couldn't hear everything." Zaid looked uncomfortable. "I thought I recognised him, though. I might be wrong, as the rumours all said he died some years ago, but my wife seemed to know him, and I've only seen her get that look on her face for one of her customers." His expression changed to one of bitterness and disgust. "Dazak Verran. What the hell he's doing asking questions about a dead second-hand machine parts dealer is anybody's guess. I didn't think he was interested in anything other than the next fight, or the next raid on a trading vessel. He's a Raider."
"He couldn't very well fail to be, could he, with a name like Verran." Chromos nodded slowly. "I know him. Leader of the Verran Clan, with a reputation that even impressed me, once upon a time. But your information is out of date, Mr Zaid. He's not a Raider any longer."
"Once a Raider, always a Raider. You don't leave the Clans." Everybody knew that. Every parent who had lost a child to a Clan kidnapping raid - provided they themselves survived the experience - knew that they would never see that child again. Nobody escaped the Clans.
"Is that so?" Chromos smiled faintly, thinking back over the past few years, and his experience with the name of Dazak Verran. "Well some people, my friend, will always surprise you. Dazak Verran. How very interesting."
"You know the name?" Suddenly Zaid was intrigued, his devious mind at work. There was the potential for money-making here; there had to be. Chromos raised an eybrow.
"Perhaps. And perhaps not. Does it concern you if I do, Mr Zaid?"
"Probably not, no." Zaid had to fight not to scowl, well aware that to do so visibly would not be in the best interests of his health. So much for making money. "I just thought that, if Verran knows you, well he's going to know where to come, isn't he. And maybe I could help. Send him in the wrong direction or something."
"I don't think so." Chromos turned his head slightly, smiling in shark-like fashion at the silver-clad attendant off to his right. "In fact I rather think that I'd like it if Verran did come here. He and I have some unfinished business."
"Really." Quite suddenly Zaid didn't want to know any more, and certainly didn't want to be a part of any of this. Money be damned. "Well... I've done what I came to do, I suppose. I'll, er... I'll be going now. I have a bar to run. Tables to clean."
"Yes." Chromos was as uninterested in Zaid, his life and his comings and goings as it was possible to be. "Yes, you go away now. I'll consider a reduction in the rent for the next quarter, as payment for your information. Just see that you keep your mouth shut."
"Yes sir. Of course." Zaid had been giving tips to Chromos for as long as he had held the tenancy on the King's Inn, and so far he hadn't had a single one of the hinted reductions in rent. All he had won for his spying, his back-stabbing, and his various betrayals was the unconvincing gratitude of a man who didn't even remember his name from one visit to the next. He knew that he would be back again, though. He kept coming back. He had seen enough friends and neighbours disappear from time to time over the years; arrested and never again seen alive for supposed crimes against the Mob rulers; to be very wary of displeasing Ry Chromos. Perhaps he had earned nothing from his endless telling of tales - and perhaps those tales were the reason he and Jemma were still alive. There was no way of knowing without ceasing to pass on the things that he heard; and that was a risk he was not prepared to take.
"Mr Zaid..." Chromos spoke with his usual tones of disinterest, making it sound as though he was about to make some mundane inquiry, or just pass the time of day as a mild formality. Zaid stopped dead, and looked back over his shoulder, just as he reached the door. Every time he came here he expected to be stopped before he could leave; prevented from leaving altogether, and living out the last few hours of his life in an execution cell. Every time he walked towards the door his muscles ached with fear and tension.
"Yes?" he asked, desperate not to sound too afraid. Chromos did not like cowardice and fear. He had killed people in the past for demonstrating too much fear in his presence; but then he had killed just as many for apparently not being afraid enough. "Is there something that I can do for you after all?"
"Your wife. You said that she was a friend of Verran's?"
"She used to be, years ago, when he was one of our regulars. Why?"
"Because I'm interested to know who it was that told him about my involvement with Andro Grant. You did mention that your wife and Verran were talking earlier."
"I did, didn't I." Zaid cared little enough for Jemma, especially when his own safety might rely on his response to this unasked question, but he didn't want to betray her and get her arrested, either. She might say anything about him under torture, and then it would all be over for him, too. "But I don't recall her saying anything about you, Mr Chromos. Just about Grant. I think he was already on his way here."
"Really." Chromos didn't sound remotely convinced, but then neither did he sound remotely interested. Zaid got the uncomfortable feeling that he had only been pressed on the issue to make him more uncomfortable, and perhaps provide Chromos with a little extra entertainment. For a moment his skin burned red with the heat of suppressed anger, then he swallowed what little of the pride his lifestyle had left him, and looked as subservient as he could.
"Will there be anything else, sir?" It was one of the hardest sentences he had ever had to say. Chromos shook his head.
"I don't think so. I may see you again soon, though. It's nice to stay in touch, isn't it."
"Yes sir." The words stuck in his throat. If Chromos hadn't believed him, and thought that Jemma was a traitor, it might well be time to leave Callisto. He wondered whether he should take the time to warn Jemma first, or just leave right away. It probably didn't matter. If Chromos could have Andro Grant killed on Calypso, he could have a scurrying bartender killed wherever he ran himself to ground. And if Dazak Verran could travel from Calypso to Callisto in less than a day, there was no telling how fast the employees of Ry Chromos could travel. It would be impossible to outrun them. Slouching away, desperate not to look too shaken, Zaid left the throne room, and headed back to what might remain of his life.
"Should I increase the guard, sir?" Coming back out of the shadows, the silvery attendant looked ready to issue whatever orders his massive employer cared make. Chromos shook his balding head, a thin smile playing about with the corners of his mouth.
"I don't think so. Clear the local area. I don't want any guards visible within a hundred metre radius of this room, but be ready to come in if I make a summons."
"A hundred metres? Sir..."
"It'll be alright." With his trusted employees, Chromos was a different man to the bully who liked to toy with his visitors. He even flashed his silvery companion an almost true smile. "Dazak Verran - Travis Montana, as he's known now - is a professional. I can assure you that he'd find a way in here if we doubled the guards on the perimeter, and covered every door and window into the building. He's like that. It's not everybody who can lead a Clan like the Verrans, and not everybody who can escape the Raiders when they decide they've had enough. We're not dealing with some downtrodden civilian of Callisto here."
"I didn't think that we were, sir. I know the name. You had some kind of vendetta against Dazak Verran years ago. He blew up one of your narcotics ships, and its entire cargo of Peace was destroyed."
"He blew up one ship, and captured another two. The entire hierarchy of Callisto was ready to have him killed, but some of my rivals seemed to think that it was funny. Either that or the Ruling Four weren't prepared to make a decisive move against a Clan Leader. I was told that if I wanted him, I'd have to deal with it on my own, but I never could get the bastard. And then he disappeared, and popped up later with a new name and a nasty habit of arresting my best men, and turning them in for bounties all over the damned System. Every guard, pusher and tax collector I employ is under orders to kill him if they get the chance, but none of them has managed it yet. He kills them, or he arrests them, or he just disappears. He flies about in the oldest, most rickety disaster of a spaceship that's still in use anywhere, but he still always manages to get away."
"Not this time, sir." The attendant spoke with all the confidence of a man who had never yet seen his employer fail. Chromos smiled distractedly.
"We'll see. Now get the guards out of sight. And Glamis?"
"Be ready. If I give the order, get here immediately. All of you."
"Yes sir. Of course." It had never crossed Glamis' mind to fail his leader. Chromos regularly had people executed on a whim, and could be unpredictable and difficult, but his employees still followed him happily. "Are you sure you want to be alone in here?"
"Oh yes." Chromos settled himself down in his throne, and smiled an unfathomable smile. "Perfectly." He was rather looking forward to seeing what Montana had planned.
The streets seemed more friendly after his trip to the King's Inn, although he knew that that was just his higher spirits playing tricks on him. People still lurked. People still whispered and pointed. Travis went back the way he had come, heading out of Darbour Street, walking as though he had not a care in the world. There were no other places nearby where he could ask questions; no other places that would be open at this time of night. Going in search of Ry Chromos seemed the logical next step, even if it was foolhardy, and there was certainly little point in staying out in the streets. The shadowy figures watching him were increasingly obvious; the suspicion that he had generated was all too clear. He could see that there were Raiders amongst the hostile faces that watched through windows, or from open doorways and dark alleyways. Somebody would recognise Dazak Verran eventually. From the look of some of the faces; from the sound of some of the whisperings, some people already had recognised Travis Montana, the bounty hunter who had arrested people that they knew. He walked on by, but the mutterings were getting louder now. The hostility was more open. There was sure to be trouble, and he didn't want prolonged gun battles distracting him from the work he had to do. Choosing a side street that looked empty, he transported himself away. The people lurking in their chosen dark places would think that he was cornered, and would follow him in hope of violence, which rather appealed to him. They would never know how he had slipped away and avoided them. They might still be looking hours later. In the meantime, unseen and unsuspected, he transported himself past guards, cameras and sophisticated security systems, right into the Chromos centre of operations. It was a quiet room that awaited him, but he was not fool enough to be calmed by that. Drawing his gun, his senses fully on the alert, he crept to the closest door and looked cautiously out. What he saw brought a small but bright smile to his so often impassive face. He knew that Chromos' throne room was at the centre of the building, and with that in mind had intended to materialise as close to it as possible without quite reaching it. Clearly his control had been perfect. Beyond the door of his little room stretched the great hall that housed the powerful gangster. It was more than ten years since Travis had last stood in that impressive but strange place, but it didn't seem to have changed. As far as he could tell it was just as he remembered it.
He was as alert as he knew how to be as he walked out into the throne room, but he could see very little cause for alarm. There were no guards, no attendants - nobody at all save for the massive figure on the metal chair at one end of the room. Travis levelled his gun, worried at the ease with which he had been able to get at Chromos; the emptiness of the throne room; the general quietude of everything. It was unnerving, but as long as he kept Chromos from operating any of the controls on his chair, he was fairly sure that nothing too disastrous could happen.
"Dazak." Chromos spoke pleasantly enough. Travis didn't return the compliment.
"It's Travis. As you very well know."
"I'd heard, certainly. We haven't been introduced, though. Not since your name changed. How have you been?"
"Better than you." Travis's coolly appraising eyes took in the gargantuan body. "Have you even got out of that chair in the last few years?"
"Personal insults, is it?" Chromos raised an eyebrow, staring down at the man standing before him. "I can join in there, you know. But I won't. I never did feel terribly inclined to fall to the level of the Raiders."
"Fall where you like. Just keep your hands away from that chair." Travis moved a little closer. "And talk."
"Talk? Talk about what, my dear boy? It's not as though we have all that many wonderful shared memories to mull over."
"Oh, I don't know. There was a pretty magnificent explosion that I remember. The night when your lost your stock of Peace? I think of that as a particularly enjoyable memory."
"There were five men on that ship. Are they part of your enjoyable memory? They blew up alongside those drugs."
"Yeah." For a second Travis saw the explosion again, this time without the amusement that came from having cheated Chromos out of a great deal of money. He didn't like the things that he had done in the old days; but he had done them, and he never tried to hide from that. All the same, he didn't appreciate it when others reminded him of his deeds.
"So I take it you're not here to talk about the past?" Chromos had seen the spark of self-hatred in Travis's eyes, and smirked at the thought of it. "What can I do for you? A loan? A business deal? I'm a businessman, Travis. That's the sort of thing that I do. I can't imagine that there's anything else we have to discuss."
"Try Andro Grant. You had him killed, and my friends are in prison because of that. I want them freed."
"And you expect me to do what? Own up? Even if I did, nothing would come of it. Nobody is going to try me for murder, Travis. This is Callisto. There's no extradition. Nobody would even bother filing charges. Chances are that the police back on Calypso would ignore everything you told them, and just keep your friends in prison for the crime instead. A bunch of bounty hunters? Hardly the cream of society."
"I could shoot you, and nobody would be able to stop me. I'd be long gone before any of your men could get near." Travis gave the gun a little shake as though to illustrate his point. "I'm not trying to arrest you, Chromos. I'm not fool enough to think that there would be any point in trying. But I do want to get the man who carried out the murder. He's on a shuttle heading this way, and I can get him picked up at any time, once I can prove he was the killer. I have scans that show Grant was killed by somebody outside his office, and if I can get a little more proof to go with that, I can free my friends. That's all I'm interested in."
"You want me to betray one of my men? That's hardly good business, Travis. I rely on the loyalty of my employees. And why should I trust you? Like you say, you could shoot me, and nobody could stop you. You could get me to betray my employee, and then kill me anyway. I've got no reason to co-operate with you. You're a cold blooded killer, and we both know it. A murderer. You have been since you were a child."
"Then you know that I'm serious. You know that I have no problem with actually killing you."
"You won't do it." Chromos smiled, in a self-confident fashion that was distinctly off-putting. "I have a sizeable staff of people who are loyal to me. Loyal above all else. You can't kill all of them."
"I don't intend to." Travis took a step towards the throne, letting his eyes do the threatening for him. "Just you. Like I said, I'll be gone before they know anything about it. Now keep your hands away from that chair."
"Certainly. I'm a reasonable, man, Travis." Chromos raised his arms as much as his dislike of physical strain would allow. One finger touched the concealed remote control unit secreted in his palm. "But that's not what I meant. Certainly, you'll have escaped. I know your reputation, and I always knew that you could get past my guards. And then I'll be dead, and you'll be gone. But what of certain others? I'm told that you have friends here, my boy. The wife of one of my more enthusiastic informants? The name is Zaid, I believe." Travis's eyes narrowed, his face suddenly hard, and the big gangster smiled unpleasantly. "I see that my information is correct. She means something to you? Then you should understand that whatever happens to me happens to her as well."
"You won't be around to give any orders for her death." Travis had a nasty suspicion that the order had already been given, and from the expression on Chromos' face, he could see that he was right. The bright, beady eyes that were watching him did so with a sense of triumph.
"I knew that you were coming, Travis, and I wanted to be prepared. You were right to tell me to keep my hands off this chair. It's full of communication devices, and monitoring devices, and every other kind of device; and I have a man in the old city right now. He should be in the King's Inn as we speak. If my heart stops, he'll know about it. She'll be dead in the blink of an eye."
"But you'll still be dead." Travis took another step closer to the throne, keeping his advance slow to heighten the threat. "And you don't want that."
"I won't be dead." The green eyes gleamed at him, in a glow of self-satisfaction and oily contentment. "But if you don't put down that gun, you might be."
"Oh?" Somewhere behind him, somewhere in the region of the door at the other end of the hall, Travis thought that he heard a footstep. One scratch of a boot on the tiled floor. It didn't sound like much. Not enough to warrant throwing himself to one side, or to begin shooting. Not enough, at first, for him to believe that he had really heard anything at all. Until the step - the ghostly scratch of a step - became a second and a third and a fourth, and he was spinning around, unable to stop himself, facing a sudden inrush of guards. Secrecy lost, they were no longer creeping, no longer trying to be quiet, running instead like the professional unit they were, guns upraised and trained on their target. Travis took a step back out of reflex, and heard Chromos laugh in a low, menacing chuckle.
"Kill him." The order was sharp and hard and spoken without emotion. No pleasure at this chance to finally kill an old adversary. No trace of anything at all, bar the matter of fact business of murder. Guns whirred. Travis looked about; judged the situation; looked down the barrels of six guns all pointed his way, and saw six fingers tighten on their triggers. There was no cover save the throne, no way to shoot all six men before one hit him, no point in dodging, with six guns to try to outmanoeuvre. He scowled, and his eyes glittered with fury at Chromos and his forward thinking, as well as at his own impotence. The guns seemed to be drawing in a breath; a second's charging before they fired, and in that fractional moment of time, Travis gathered himself and vanished. He felt the heat of one of the gun blasts as he dematerialised; thought that with the firing and the glow and his disappearance, it must seem almost as though he had truly been shot, and been incinerated completely in the blast. Then before the thought had had time to fully form in his mind, let alone in the minds of the men who had fired the guns, he was standing behind Chromos, with his gun to his enemy's head.
"What the-?" Half turning, seeing the gun, seeing Travis appear out of nothing but a shimmering light, Chromos goggled stupidly. "Shoot him, damn it! Shoot him!"
"But he--" Clearly stupefied, the lead guard took a step forward, gun levelled. "Throw down your weapon!"
"Just shoot him!" demanded Chromos. Travis, seeing the guards fan out, growled faintly under his breath. There was no sense in killing Chromos. It wouldn't help him. The threat of holding his gun to the other man's head rendered pointless, he disappeared again.
He reappeared this time beside the lead guard, snapping out of nowhere and knocking the weapon from the confused soldier's hand. Somebody shouted; somebody fired - but Travis was disappearing again, and all that the lead guard could see was blue-green light. He fumbled for his gun, saw Travis reappearing again a few feet away, and came up firing. One of his own men fell dead, and he swore.
"Catch him!" Beside himself, Chromos had almost hauled himself up to his feet. "Stop him!" But there was nothing that his men could do save hope to be quick enough in their aim. Travis reappeared again behind one of the guards, knocking him down with an almighty blow to the back of the head, then shooting down a second that was turning to fire at him. He disappeared again, this time feeling the heat of a nearby gun blast even more closely than before. It had made one arm prickle before he had vanished, but he didn't think that there was any damage done. He was growing tired, though - the successive Jumps were clearly taking a lot out of him. He was too new at this. Far too new.
"There he is!" He reappeared off to the left of Chromos' throne, and heard the yell just in time. He threw himself to one side, striking the steps hard, but firing off a sustained burst nonetheless. Even as he was firing, even as he was falling, and landing and gasping with the sudden pain of it, he was dematerialising again, and reappearing this time by the far door. The desire to sag against the door frame was strong, but he pulled himself upright, kept the look of determination on his face. He couldn't show any weakness here. He fired once, fired twice, saw somebody leap aside. But laser fire was hitting the wall beside him, and he ran by instinct, dodging a shot, making the Jump into hyperspace in mid stride. He was running still when he appeared again, running straight into the path of a guard, and bringing his gun up as a club to knock the man solidly to the ground. The moment had been one of confusion, though; of powerful exertion and a near collision. He didn't know where the remaining guards were. He didn't even know how many were left.
They hit him low; two of them, in an impressive tackle that knocked him flying, and slammed him with horrible force into the ground. Too confused to make a Jump, he struggled against the two men, taking one punch, fighting to bring up his gun. A hand caught his wrist, wrestling with it, and for a second his vision danced with the crackle of blue-green light. He still didn't have enough composure to make a Jump, and that light; that crackle that momentarily surrounded him in a halo; was all that his powers could summon - and that involuntarily. One of the guards holding him swore, but they both clung on, and all that Travis could do was fight back; struggle for all he was worth, and listen to Chromos yelling furiously nearby.
"Don't kill him! Don't kill him!" The guards swore at that. Obviously, as far as they were concerned, their first order was the more sensible choice. One of them was already lifting his gun, pressing it to the side of Travis's head.
"You wanted him dead!" he roared, but Chromos, pink in the face, was firm upon this new path.
"The transportation device. He must have a transportation device! Shoot him at close range and it might be damaged. Damn it, the transportation device!"
"There... is no... transportation device!" Struggling violently, Travis managed to knock the gun away from his head. The other guard responded by punching him, hard, and the bounty hunter's head bounced painfully off the floor. His vision swam.
"Get him up. Get him over here. Zaid said he came from Calypso earlier, and I didn't believe a word of it, but maybe... Get him over here!" The massive gangster was almost salivating in his desire to find Travis's means of transporting himself about the room. Travis felt himself dragged upwards, and let the two guards pull him. Upright was where he wanted to be.
"Now search him! Quickly! Don't let him transport himself again!" The two guards were dragging at their prisoner, patting him down, checking his clothing, searching feverishly for something that didn't exist, and all the time Chromos was growing increasingly excited.
"He must have it! He must! Where did you get it, Montana? An alien race? Who built it? How does it work? How many are there?"
"Questions, questions, questions." Travis was exhausted. His head hurt, he could taste blood in his mouth, and his ribs had not appreciated the violent tackle - but he was strong, and he was resilient, and he could withstand far greater abuse than most. He grinned crookedly, and looked up at Chromos on his huge, electronic chair. "Grant's murderer, Chromos. And promise me that you won't hurt Jemma Zaid."
"You're not in any position to make demands." Chromos was reaching for a gun of his own. "Tell me about your transportation device, or I'll shoot you now and to hell with the damage it might cause. My men can find the pieces and analyse them, if they have to."
"The device?" It was impossible to keep the mockery from his voice; the mockery, the scorn, the deep held hatred for the man before him, with his jabbering and his greed and his foolishness. "You'd never manage to control it, Chromos. But how about if I get it for you?"
"What? No! Stop him!" Realising that Travis was about to vanish again, Chromos all but stood up, as though thinking of rushing over to prevent his prisoner from moving. The guards grappled with Travis and with each other, clearly thinking that if they could just hold him, he wouldn't be able to go. Gripping on, they felt him fade away beneath their hands, a crackle of stinging energy surrounding him; surrounding them; until they were left merely snatching at each other. Chromos swore at them, but his men were too busy looking for Travis to pay attention to anything else.
Energy failing him, exertion taking its toll, he rematerialised a second later just behind them. The closest one he knocked down with a sharp blow from his gun, but by then the advantage of surprise was lost. Chromos was shouting a warning; the second guard had seen his friend fall; was turning; was levelling his gun. Travis was doing the same; they were both moving, both ready to leap aside; both aiming and firing at exactly the same moment. A burst of hot laser fire tore a chunk out of Travis's jacket, and he felt his shoulder burn beneath - but that was all. In the same instant his own blast hit the guard in the chest, and the man collapsed. Travis almost wished that he could do the same.
"Throw down your gun!" Chromos was still holding a gun of his own, and it was aimed at Travis now. Montana didn't care. He was desperately tired, but he knew that for the most part it didn't show. Even dishevelled, his face bruised, he looked far more threatening than did Chromos. They stood there, guns pointed at each other in a stand off that might have gone on indefinitely; dead and unconscious guards strewn all about and around. Then Travis suddenly smiled, and gave a short, genuine laugh.
"You really think that you can shoot me before I Jump out of here?"
"Yes. You're fast, but you're not that fast. And I may not be the man I used to be, my boy, but I'm still the best shot you've ever met. I don't walk so well anymore. There's nothing wrong with my trigger finger."
"Then it really is a stand off, isn't it."
"Unless you feel inclined to give me your transportation device."
"And you feel inclined to help me arrest Grant's murderer."
"A deal then?"
"No." Travis was tempted to make the deal anyway, but proof of the murderer's guilt, and an assured quick escape for him, would in no way guarantee Jemma's safety. Lying about some non-existent device was no way to end this. "Sorry. No deal."
"Then throw away your gun. You can't shoot me, or your friend in Darbour Street will die. We've already been through that. So your threat is nothing, whilst mine, on the other hand, is more than convincing. You're not indestructible, Travis, whatever the old stories used to suggest. Far from it."
"I suppose you're right." For a second Travis looked at his gun, a smile that might have been sad - or might have been calculating - curling the corners of his mouth; then he threw the weapon aside. Chromos smiled in satisfaction.
"You've got more brain than I've been giving you credit for. Now put your hands up, and come over here. Sit on the steps beside the chair here, and keep your hands where I can see them." Travis complied, and felt the gun touch the back of his head. "Now. Where's the transportation device?"
"On my ship." It was the first thing that he could think of to say. "It's too big to carry about with me."
"Now that makes sense." The gun tapped against the back of his skull. "Where did it come from?"
"I stole it." Lying was easy. Improvising was easy. It was just a question of biding his time until the moment was right. "From the Orchard. You know about them and their scientific experiments?"
"Oh I know all about the Orchard. Their experiments in hyperspace. So far fruitless, I thought. But maybe this was a sideline of theirs?"
"Maybe. I don't know, I just stole it." He leaned forward slightly, rubbing his shoulder where the last guard's gunfire had caught it. There was a little blood on his hand, but not enough to worry about. Injuries didn't tend to bother Travis unless they were completely incapacitating - and even then he was inclined to think that they were nothing serious. There was no need to let Chromos know that it was a mere scratch, though. He winced, and leaned slightly to one side.
"I told you to keep your hands where I can see them." The gun knocked again against the back of his head. "Sit up straight."
"Sorry. Bit battered." He held up the hand with the blood on it. "I got hit. I don't know... how bad it is. Just a bit... a bit wobbly all of a sudden. I think I've been losing more blood than... than I thought."
"Well don't faint until you've told me what I need to know."
"I'll try." It was hard not to smile. Slowly he began to topple forward. It was going to hurt, falling headlong down those steps, but with luck he could dematerialise before he landed. "I... The device. It's hidden on the... on the ship... I--" Very slowly he began to overbalance. Chromos yelled out, but Travis was already falling, taking the gamble that the other man would not still be pointing the gun. It was a big chance, but it was one that he was willing to take. Taking chances was a part of his profession.
He made the Jump in mid-fall, with the furious voice of Chromos echoing in his head. He had intended at first to rematerialise right behind the throne, but it struck him at the last second that he had tried that trick before. Instead, still in mid tumble, he re-appeared in almost the same place from which he had vanished, falling into a neat roll and coming up right beside his fallen gun. He didn't want to kill Chromos, but to do so was infinitely better than being shot himself. As he fell and rolled and came to his feet, through the last of the blue-green glow and the heat haze of his gunfire, he saw Chromos looking this way and that, gun levelled at shadows. He had been looking everywhere for a sign of his former prisoner, save at the right place. When the gun in his hand exploded into a tangled, melted mess, he screamed in shock and rage.
"I have men all over this palace! You're a dead man!"
"You've never had a big staff on site. They're all off doing your dirty work somewhere else, or they'd have been here a long time ago." Travis smiled thinly. "The murderer. Now."
"Damn you, Montana."
"Damn who you like. I'll leave you alone, Chromos. I'll Jump right out of here, and you needn't see me ever again. You'd have no need to hurt Jemma, and no need to die. Just give me Grant's killer."
"You won't kill me."
"Yes I will." Travis's eyes were hard. "I can't let you keep holding Jemma's life over me. Better she dies now than lives under a threat for years. Forget using that as a lever."
"You're bluffing." For once Chromos didn't look very sure of himself. Travis, on the other hand, did.
"Try me, Chromos. Now give me the killer."
"His name is Craig Lance. He's wanted on Jupiter for the murders of a pair of bankers. Tell Jupiter Fed where he is and they'll take his shuttle, and there'll be data enough in his computer to prove that he was hired to kill Andro. They should be able to prove that he has the murder weapon, too. He uses an ultra heat pulse gun. The burn pattern is very distinctive."
"Yet another thing that the police on Calypso didn't bother to notice." Travis nodded. With that kind of proof in the hands of Jupiter Fed, Calypso would have to listen, or face ridicule. "Thank you."
"How very polite." Chromos' voice dripped with a bitter irony. "Now what?"
"Now I leave. But if anything ever happens to Jemma Zaid, I can be here - or wherever you try to hide - in the blink of an eye. No ship can outrun me, Chromos. There's nowhere I can't go."
"I'm glad to hear it. Because whatever kind of device you're using, I plan to get it one day. I'll find you, Travis. I'll take you and your ship. I might not be able to hide from you, but you won't be able to hide from me either, I promise you that."
"Fine." For a moment he thought about telling the truth about the 'transportation device', but he soon dismissed the idea. If Chromos learned that he couldn't steal Travis's secret for himself, he might do anything in his anger and disappointment - and Travis would have to kill him then. Whatever his threats, he didn't especially want to do that. Aside from the power vacuum it might cause, and the danger it might mean for Jemma, he had long ago lost the taste for death. He had done enough killing today. Instead he let the falsehood stand, whatever dangers it might mean for the future. The Tulip was fast. There was no certainty that Chromos would ever manage to take her, if he did one day try. It was just a shame that he had to expose the rest of the crew to the threat as well. For a second he looked up at Chromos, immobile and sullen on his throne, and for a second both men smiled - for entirely different reasons. Then Travis turned his mind to making a Jump. All that remained now - after his promised visit to Jemma - was to go to Jupiter Fed and make his report, then get back to the cell on Calypso and await release. It had been a hectic day, but a satisfying one, in his eyes at least. His friends might not agree, but they didn't necessarily need to know everything. The authorities couldn't know everything. They couldn't know about Chromos, or about how the case had been investigated, and the police on Calypso couldn't ever know who had done the investigating. Best just to keep the whole thing quiet, as far as he could see, and get it over with as soon as he could. And, happy with the situation, whatever its shortcomings, Travis gathered himself together for the Jump. Time to get things moving. His friends were waiting for him, and it was time to set them free.
It was a decidedly begrudging police officer who unlocked the door of the cell on Calypso, and let the dishevelled band of bounty hunters out. One by one they filed past him, each presenting him with the pair of handcuffs they were supposed to still be wearing, and he smiled thinly and said nothing. Only when all four of them had left the cell did he deign to speak, and then only to tell them, effectively, to get lost. Rudolpho scowled.
"Oh great. That's just great, that is. No mention of compensation, you notice. No 'We're terribly sorry about the inconvenience, have a nice day'. Just a boot up the backside."
"We're free, Rudolpho." Cally was extremely relieved. Prison, she had decided, did not agree with her. It was where she was supposed to put people, not somewhere where she herself was supposed to be put. "Let's just get out of here before somebody changes their mind."
"There's no danger of that. The murderer has been apprehended. You're free to go." The policeman still gave no indication that an apology might be forthcoming. "I'm not going to ask how the report came through from a bounty hunter named Montana. Family thing, maybe?"
"Yeah." Travis didn't smile. "Family thing." The signs of a recent fight were clearly upon him, but the policeman didn't mention that, either. It would complicate things too much, clearly. He could see no way that Travis could have escaped, done anything at all of note, and got back into his cell - so, therefore, that could not be what had happened. The signs of a scuffle, which tellingly were not echoed on any of his recent cellmates, the similarity of name, and the weirdly matching description that had filtered down through the system - all had to be part of a coincidence. A peculiar, unsettling coincidence.
"Right..." He frowned, trying to convince himself that nothing odd had been happening in his prison. "There's some forms that need signing, then you can go."
"And we're sorry about the inconvenience," put in Rudolpho, rather meaningfully. The officer eyed him sourly.
"And some property that needs to be returned to you," he continued, pointedly avoiding the chance to make an apology. Marcus grinned.
"Nice try, Rudolpho."
"Well, it's bloody disgraceful, isn't it." The big man shot the police officer a fierce glower, but didn't seem able to wangle an apology that way, either. "Think they can do what they like..."
"Rudy..." Travis, who didn't want any more fuss than was strictly necessary, in case somebody started asking awkward questions, shot his friend a sharp frown. Rudolpho was in no mood to be quietened. He followed on behind the others, muttering to himself throughout the formalities, and earning himself some very hostile looks from the police officers scattered about in the office. Only when they were out of the police station, and heading back towards the docking bay, did he finally speak up properly.
"You lot are too passive, that's your problem. Ready to accept anything, just because it's the police behind it. I'm telling you, we could press for compensation. Demand retribution. Heads could roll."
"Rudy..." tried Travis, to no avail.
"You read about these things, after all. Wrongful arrest. We were left in that cell for twenty four hours. If Marcus hadn't been able to get the bloody handcuffs off, things would have been even worse. You're not telling me that's proper procedure, leaving prisoners in the cells with cuffs on. People reckon bounty hunters are fly by night types, cutting corners and doing things badly, but I'd never leave anybody in the brig with cuffs still on. Not humane, is it. Compensation, people. We're looking pretty good for a claim. I happen to have a friend who's sort of a lawyer. In a way. And he--"
"Rudy!" Travis kept his voice as quiet as he could, whilst still endeavouring to drown out his companion. "No compensation claims. No apologies. Just be glad you're out of that cell. None of this is exactly above board, you know, and if it was, we'd be waiting another week at least to get all the paperwork sorted. So let's just get back on board the Tulip, get shot of this place, and be glad that we don't have to spend another week in that cell. No compensation."
"Travis..." Suddenly suspicious, Cally fixed him with a sharp look. "What is it that you're not telling us? You said the murderer had been arrested, and that we'd been cleared. Right?"
"Yeah." He steered them all off down a fork in the corridor, keeping them moving on towards the docking bay. "As far as the police are concerned, that's what happened. I was on Callisto, Cally. It's not exactly the above board capital of the Solar System."
"Callisto." Sensing the need to change the subject, Marcus smiled to himself, trying to work out how the mention of the place made him feel. "I wish I'd gone too."
"You'd like it. It's all bars, gambling and hookers." Travis smiled at his young companion. "Like Syn City, only without the clean cut, law-abiding citizens."
"There are clean cut, law-abiding citizens in Syn City?!" That was news to Rudolpho, who had spent much of his life there. Travis laughed.
"Ah." The big man clapped Marcus on the shoulder. "Anyway, you can't go there. Or had you forgotten that whole 'exiled prince of a deposed royal family' thing?"
"Hardly. I'd just like to see the place, that's all. My family home, isn't it."
"Sounds like it's just the place for you." Well aware that the conversation had been neatly steered away from where she had wanted it to go, Cally was feeling pithy. Marcus grinned.
"Does sound like home, yeah."
"Well maybe one day, Marcus." Travis thought about the place - about the King's Inn, and Jemma Zaid, and Ry Chromos lurking in his palace, waiting for his chance at a rematch. Callisto was not going to be any more healthy for him from now on than it was for Marcus. Not that that would stop him going. The world was his oyster now - or, more precisely, the universe was. It was the greatest freedom he had ever known, and the possibilities were endless.
"Penny for them?" asked Rudolpho, slowing down to match Travis's suddenly preoccupied stride. Travis smiled at him, his eyes warm and bright.
"Nothing special. Callisto. Old enemies. Old friends."
"Sounds like you had quite a time there."
"Oh, you know Callisto. Some days are slow, some days are... not so slow."
"Yeah. Travis, is there something we need to worry about now? Is this case really closed? Because I do know Callisto, and I know the sort of people who run it. They're not the sort of people that it's a good idea to have as enemies."
"And." He wondered how much to tell his companion, then decided that it couldn't hurt. Rudolpho wasn't inclined to fly off the handle like Cally, or start suggesting out and out confrontations, like Marcus. He shrugged. "You ever hear of Ry Chromos?"
"Ry Chromos?" Rudolpho boggled. "The Ry Chromos? He had Grant killed?! That's bloody great, that is. So you're telling me that Ry Chromos now knows who we are. There isn't some grudge thing going on, is there? He's not going to be coming after us?"
"Chromos? No. He never leaves his palace. And if it's any consolation, there's no more of a grudge thing going on now than there was before. Chromos and I have a bit of a history. In a way he's always been after us."
"Oh, great. And now he wants us even more, because you just had one of his men arrested? Oh well. At least I can claim I had nothing to do with it."
"Not exactly. I don't think he's all that bothered about the arrest. What he's really interested in is the matter transportation device that he thinks we've perfected. He thinks that there's some pretty impressive technology hidden on board the Tulip."
"Matter transportation...?" Realisation kicked in. "He saw you zipping about the place. So now we have a gangster after us. On top of the Orchard. And Tristan Catchpole. And the Raiders. And all the other people I seem to have inadvertently pissed off since falling in with you. Bloody hell, Travis."
"It's just business as usual. Like I said, in a sense he's been after us all along."
"Yeah, but now he's got added incentive. Plus he wants something we don't even have." Rudolpho sighed. "I think I fancy a change of career. I hear there are some interesting job opportunities out Neptune way."
"You'd never run out on us, Rudy." Travis clapped the bigger man on the back. Rudolpho glowered at him.
"I wouldn't? Why's that?"
"Because without us, where would you get all your fun and excitement?" For a moment he was serious, and his blue eyes were suddenly dark. "Not a word to the others yet, okay? I'll bring it up eventually."
"Before Chromos' men are hammering on the hatchways, demanding the matter transportation device or else, right?"
"Well it's your business, Travis." Rudolpho smiled faintly. "Life is never too uneventful with you, is it."
"Suppose not." Travis's life was as it had always been - he didn't tend to think of it as eventful or not. In his experience it was perfectly normal. But then Travis had never settled down, never had a family, or a home, or even many days when there hadn't been people trying to kill him. Suddenly acquiring new dangers, new threats, new enemies - it was all business as usual to him.
"Are you two coming?!" Standing at the airlock door that led to the waiting Tulip, Marcus yelled back to the dawdling pair. He looked excited, as always. Excited to be free, excited to be ready to go, excited just because he was Marcus, and Marcus was always excited. Just as Rudolpho was always looking for a profit, and Cally was always looking for perfection, and Travis always seemed to be in mortal danger.
"I've been trying to raise Percy." Cally was fiddling with her communications wristband when the others caught up, tapping her jawbone in an attempt to make sure that the implanted transponder was still doing its job. "Where the hell is she?"
"Oh. Yeah." Travis smiled faintly, remembering what Caravaggio had said earlier. "She's hiding. The police tried to get on board. Did get on board in the end, for all I know. She's... well, you know Percy. She'll turn up, once we're underway, and she's realised we're not the enemy. Probably."
"Yeah. Great." Cally opened the doors, and led the way onto the ship that was their massive, rickety home. Even more rickety than usual, since they hadn't been able to get the work done that they had been hoping for. "I'm just glad she's your cousin, Travis. Not mine."
"She's got a point, you know." As Marcus vanished off down the corridor, no doubt heading for the food stores in the galley, Rudolpho glanced over at Travis. The pair followed the others on board, moving rather more slowly, waiting for the doors to close behind them with their familiar shuddering thunk. "Percy is pretty much nuts. And we're going to be needing her a lot more than we have in the past, with the shape this ship is in at the moment. She's clearly getting worse. That can't be good for her or for us."
"It was hyperspace. Being back there. It shook her up a lot." Travis had seen the haunted look in his cousin's eyes, and had seen the shadows there deepen after her latest set of experiences in hyperspace. The first time she had been there she had lost fifteen years of her life, as well as her beloved uncle, the only person in the Solar System she had ever really trusted. This time she had been split off into a sub-reality, and had nearly been blown up. It wasn't the sort of thing many people tended to cope with all that well, and Percy rather less well than most.
"She's barking, Travis. We've got enemies coming out of our bloody ears, and what have we got to fight them? A ship that's falling apart, an engineer who'd rather be hiding in a cupboard, an ex-cop who'd flip if she knew half of what you've told me today..."
"Your point being?"
"My point being..." Rudolpho sighed. "Never mind. But at some point, one of our enemies is going to catch up with us, you know. One of ours or one of yours. Just remember that."
"I think about it every day, Rudy." For a second Travis looked away, and Rudolpho got a glimpse of the weight his friend always carried with him; the burden of a past full of secrets, and a future full of uncertainty. Then abruptly the younger man was smiling, and there was a spark of blue-green fire lighting his eyes like flaming stars. "But for now I'm hungry. Race you to the galley."
"Hey, no fair!" But Travis was already gone, disappeared in a sparkle of the trademark fluid light that was now his. Rudolpho scowled. Sometimes he could almost believe that Travis Montana didn't take their situation seriously enough. He spoke of threats lightly, and he played games when his shipmate was trying to speak of dangers to come. And yet at the same time... Rudolpho thought of the shadows that so frequently hooded those very blue eyes. Who knew what really went on inside the mind of Travis Montana? Especially nowadays. Life was weird, and unpredictable, and fraught with danger; and on the Tulip, and in the shadow of its strange captain, somehow life got weirder and more perilous every day. Rudolpho couldn't help thinking that he should mind rather more than he did; but quite suddenly all that he really cared about what that he was hungry too. And Marcus had got far too much of a head start in the galley. Wishing suddenly for alien powers of his own, Rudolpho hurried off after the others, accelerating as much as his large bulk would allow. Just as he had said, their enemies would catch up with them one day. Old ones, new ones, ones they had never met, ones they had not yet made... Because the alternative was to run away, and that was no alternative at all. Life was like that sometimes. It threw things at you, and didn't let you duck. It was, in Rudolpho's considered opinion, the greatest of foes. And a bloody sneaky foe at that.
Some seven hundred million kilometres away, watching from a distance as Jemma Zaid went about her work, Travis might have agreed; but then Travis didn't know what it meant to be safe. He could make others that way; save their lives even when they didn't know it; but he couldn't save himself. He couldn't put himself somewhere safe. So he stood on a planet full of enemies, and watched a friend live a life she didn't know how close she had come to losing, and he smiled; because she was happy and so was he, even though saving her had put him even more at risk. The consequences for him were irrelevant; it was only danger. And danger was the only thing he knew.