[1429.091.2045(PCT)] High Port, Saorsa

He vectored to her off-side, an easy shot. She smiled.

She had her papers in for Level Three status. Level Two allowed off-duty weapons carry, but there would still be legal trouble if she killed anyone. Maybe less once she was approved for Level Three. Still, she knew not to draw and fire without a legally clear and good cause. Had he come in from an angle that made it harder to shoot him, legally clear and good cause would be easier to prove.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do that thing. The High Port was a bustling space station, hundreds of tourists within sight. A laser pistol shot wouldn't be heard over the din, but a dead body would draw attention. While High Port was a hundred thousand kilometers above planetary surface, it was still under local jurisdiction. Saorsa law enforcement didn't mess around. Most of them were former mercenaries enjoying the rural life-style. They were able and willing to blow up anything that threatened their peace and quiet.

Her sensors marked four of his team spread out and in good position. She pushed herself to breathe deeply. He was the only Level Five Protector in the entire system. Guild data hadn’t marked him as going rogue. Maybe this was a good deal.

Maybe.

The week in jump space had given her time to evaluate the Saorsa job opportunities. Their pastoral scene marketing brochures didn't fool her. Saorsa was agricultural as a planet, but the High Port never shutdown. People with money who wanted a few quiet weeks away, went away to Saorsa. They mingled with the Atrean magnates whose large carriers docked at Far Port, way out system. Or they worked contracts at Mil Port; one of the few safe places for three different navies to meet and work out differences. She knew who was rich, the threats against them, and who the real power players were. Level Three Protector contracts often required taking a hit for their Primes. Level Ones were simply hired meat to bolster the crowd around the Prime. Level Twos did the real work. She could represent herself as finishing Level Three qualifications and worth Level Three pay. That meant Level Three risk, which sometimes included laser shots and the occasional bullet. Two years ago Janoweski had been killed by a grenade. Who uses grenades these days?

She had sent her qualifications to the guild office as soon as they broke into realspace. Saorsa had a fantastic comm system, an encrypted contact invite hit her comms an hour before the ship docked. She would have turned the invite down as coming too soon if it hadn't been from him.

Jerome.

The offer to meet surprised her. A Level Five could afford the best the planet had. It had cost her eight grand to get here. She could not rebuff the star system’s only Level Five and ever hope to find a job that paid more than shoveling blagy stalls.

Eight grand, or eight million, wasn't much to him. His Prime could afford entire mercenary units and had hundreds of ships in dozens of corporations. Jerome was all business--married to his job, a little gray on the sides, no family. He was okay with that. A decade older than her but still fit to ride the plates.

She let her eyes wander back to the display screen as he approached. Her fair skin reflected the vid advertisements' high-energy colors.

Youth was important on Saorsa. Every other ad featured fifteen-year-old Milda Lyons, the favored Sangrean Games team captain. Milda had perfect teeth and perfect hair, all paid for by sponsors. Formal evening gowns, high-end target rifles, swimwear...the girl was everywhere. The rest of the team got stuck selling riding gear for the eight-legged lizards they called ponies or various other things teens would buy. One guy hawked fencing gear while another girl pushed weight-lifting equipment. Slick ads. Expensive.

Jerome stood next to her. She could draw, fire, and then use his body as a shield.

One of his team would still nail her, though. She didn’t know what they carried but they could do a head shot at a hundred meters and not really impress themselves.

Or she could talk.

“I was surprised to hear from you,” she whispered. The flood of travellers and din of loudspeaker announcements drowned out her words. She turned ten degrees towards him. They acted like normal tourists checking out the sights.

"It's nice to see you." His smile was real and they shook hands. Then the subtle turn and second movement. Both were in good standing with the guild.

"And you. I will admit to being interested in your comment about possible contracts. Your team is plussed a bit. Who's hiring that would be worth working for?"

"Always direct and to the point. That's something few people admire." He grinned. "I take it your former Prime did not?"

"You know the rules, and you know me well enough to understand that I don't walk without a reason. The Prime wanted someone else. That's it."

"Good. We know there are no guild sanctions against you. We also know that you're able to fend for yourself financially for a bit. This isn't a charity handout, trust me." Jerome paused. "But it won't be an easy job. You can trust me on that, too. You in?"

She froze. He smiled.

Guild members researched their clients before accepting a job. Level Ones did just enough research to make sure they weren't in violation of local laws or personal morals. Usually. Sometimes research was classified, depending on the Prime. A full staff quietly adding crew would say there was a credible threat. Some teams were vanity. The Primes felt a larger staff made them look more important.

Jerome had been clear. Just knowing the identity of the Prime was classified. Certainly not something to discuss in an open highport walkway. She reverted to guild slang.

"Does he take vacations?" she asked. It meant, Does the prime do illegal or immoral things they don't want people to know about?

Jerome chuckled. "He's a workaholic who reads the newsie comms before breakfast."

Her eyes narrowed. Famous people with no real substance, like vid stars and socialites, were always wanting to be on the first news comm. Those who really did the dirty work, behind the scenes, were never mentioned until their obituary. Someone famous who actually did serious work was rare. If they were honest, that was even rarer.

"The only people that fit that bill have a full crew and you lead the team. You ready to retire?"

Jerome wasn't looking at her. His mind was elsewhere, for a moment. Then he was back. His voice lowered. "Do you mind a personal question?"

Someone called out to someone else across the gallery. She acted like the distant voice was for her, turned, and scanned the area. Jerome's people were observant but not on alert. Not obvious threats. She turned back to him, a centimeter and a half further away. "Maybe."

"Saorsa is an agricultural planet. The system doesn't support many of the usual clients. There's money here, but fewer opportunities. There are less than half a dozen planets in the Free Trade League. The Atrean League is an order of magnitude larger and two orders more clients. The Confeds have twenty-seven systems with better job markets. Why are you here?"

His question caught her off guard. It was a simple question, really. What stumped her was that she didn't have an answer. A year's worth of savings to go some place new, and she wasn't sure why.

She said nothing.

Jerome nodded at the image of Milda on the screen. “Wealthy family; her Prime pays for a decent team. She earns a few million a year and does lots of travel. You’d look good on the team.” He faced her directly and lowered his voice. “Until they realized you do the right thing even if it hurts. That morals don’t have a price tag. She’s not the Prime.”

He leaned closer, "Are you in?"

She paused. He was asking her to commit to something that she knew nothing about, except that he thought it was a good idea. Her lips were dry. "Sure."

Jerome leaned back. "Thank you."

She sucked in a deep breath. Jerome hadn't said good. If he said good it meant the deal was going to be good for her and for the Prime. No one said thank you. Almost no one. It meant something different. Special. Whoever the Prime was, Jerome felt either love or duty. In guild speak thank you meant "I'd take a hit for this person."

"Why does this scare me more than a dozen Path fanatics with grenades?" she said quietly.

"It's top shelf. But strange, I'll grant you that. I've seen things. Heard things. I've come to believe things..." his voice drifted off. He took a deep breath and stood straight. "Here's the offer: Level Three pay with decent room and board. Normally you'd be housed with the Prime or the Principal. That's where this gets a little odd. That's why you're the one I'm looking for."

"Go on."

"My Prime will cover your costs until it's time to shift. You'll be doing a lot of studying and training. When the job starts you must already be in control."

"When the job starts?"

"That's the trick. The Prime doesn't realize he needs you.” Jerome looked at the vid screen. His voice dropped to a whisper. “His friends aren't going to let him lose everything just because he thought the war was over."




The Domici War novels are easy reading level science-fiction Coming of Age stories with a Christian Warrior ethos.

The characters struggle with their imperfections and the challenges of an unknowable future.

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