Family. A simple word that holds so much weight and obligations. Slade enters the hover limo in the back of Vesta Corporation’s main office skyline. It has been quite some time since he has visited his family and frankly that was a pretty beneficial relationship to the both of them. Slade sits back and feels the contours of the seat adjust to the shape of his body as he gathers some champagne from a nearby fridge. The times might be changing, but a nice drink when off to do something stupid is never a bad call in his experience.
The limo lifts and merges onto the laneway at high speeds. Slade can admit, he always enjoys the adrenaline of flight. He glances out across the city and sees joyous couples together, shoppers conversing with storekeepers, people making important calls over their cyber-implants… the city seems so full of life and perfect. When he looks up through the sunroof and sees the darkening clouds continue to move overhead, he knows that a storm is coming, and not just a literal one. There is a sickness in the city, and it is spreading. All this joyous perfection is only an interlude to the madness that will settle in the longer things stay the same. You see, for large corporations to succeed they have to be driven, and usually that dedication to success is driven on the back of peoples’ lives. The farther the limo drives, the more he sees homeless citizens distributing themselves throughout the streets, not to mention the sick and starving. Corporations and governments should do more to help their citizens, but they sit back and enjoy the success that they feel, not the harmful acts they demand.
The city flies by in a blur, but one thing can be seen through all the skylines, a vast facility going miles into the sky: Illiyun’s main spaceport. A wondrous accomplishment of man that let them do what man has dreamed since waking under the caves millennium’s past… Travel the stars and find out what is out there. Ships can be seen taking off and landing at the port, vast and smaller craft, traders and smugglers, military and civilians, 24/7. Even as the limo zooms by in hover lanes, seeing the port always gives Slade such pride for where mankind has risen. He has contracted many jobs that have gone through that spaceport; a big difference between himself and his family is that Slade thinks ahead. The family is mostly working to establish themselves as the dominant party in the city, and maybe the entire planet, but I know that there is more out there than just this lonesome world. So, I invest a lot of money and time establishing an off-the-books business outside Delta Pavonis. That means investing in people, not just what their profession may be, but also the kind of people they are, which is more demanding than you may think.
Slade gulps down the rest of the champagne and lays back as the driver takes him through the city to the inevitable meeting with his family. Despite his best efforts to clear his mind, he can’t help but think to himself. I am not necessarily a man with the most reputable background, but there is one thing that I value above all else: life. Don’t get me wrong, I have had to kill, I have employed people in which killing was both necessary and avoidable, but one doesn’t just throw a life away if he has any choice. There can be many benefits, favors, contacts, or even human decency to strive to be a better man. No one probably knows better than I what taking a life does to one’s soul even if it wasn’t you pulling that trigger. Life should be preserved at all costs, but I will do everything in my power to make sure the job gets done, regardless of cost.
The limo starts to slow and a familiar-looking few acres enter his view in the backseat as what can only be described as a mansion lies ahead, surrounded by the city skyline just on the edge of the land. “Who says power has no privileges,” Slade mutters to himself. The limo hovers to a stop in the the circling driveway and Slade waits for his driver to get the door, and his feet settle on the brick driveway that is rarely seen now.
“Would that be all, sir?” an older, severe looking gentleman says as he closes the door that Slade just set foot from.
“No, thank you , you are as efficient and a lively conversationalist as ever,” Slade replies with a hint of a smile to his longtime friend. Arnold has long since been my driver but most would be surprised to find that he is a retired Navy officer with specialties in marksmanship and tactics. He was hired after my Navy days were done and he needed some kind of activity to spend in his free time… retired life was too boring, and this way he has flexible hours, gets to carry a gun, and most importantly dental ’cause my were those teeth bad before he signed on.
There was no hint of a reaction to the old sea-dog but his eyes told another story as the two of them got along quite well and he made a good bodyguard as well. They were not alone, however, as there was a beautiful woman of delicate features standing in front of the archway leading into the main building. She was on the short side but she more than made up for it with excellent physique and figure, though she could more than make up for that figure with a flattering personality… before she gutted you with lead, that is. Also we haven’t had the best of pasts since she took after mother in the family business and was mother’s favorite.
“Lexy, didn’t see you there, just having a flattering conversation with Arnold here on the wonders of something called “sea bass fishing.” Slade gives his sister the most charming smile he can, which gets a hint of a smile on her end but she of course could see through that act many, many years ago. “Where’s mother Lexy, got a bone to pick with her on Skyline."
“Mother cannot attend to you this moment, she is having a delicate business arrangement at the moment, " Alexis replied with an air of smugness. Most likely, that meeting is being handled at the end of a gun. “She asked me to tell you that she is most disappointed with your not-so-casual distaste with the Family, and she wanted you to take on a special job to prove your loyalty. All the details are on the datapad.” She gathers it from the ripped stylish jeans she wore and tossed the datapad to Slade, which he catches one-handed and briefly skims the contents.
“Son of a bitch, she can’t be serious. You know how much trouble I went through just to get these people off my back and now this. You would think in her elder years she would be less ambitious to cause mayhem, but I’m wrong yet again.” Slade briefly glances up to see Alexis’ reaction, and from the smugness and beaming smile she presented, she already read the orders.
“Alright, Lexy. Just tell mother I’ll handle it… somehow and clean up the mess that will undoubtedly ensue on yours truly. Just keep her off my back in the meantime, Lord knows how she can be without death, violence, and her oatmeal. Oh, and by the way, you look as lovely as always.” Alexis shows a genuine smile at that and heads back inside. “Arnold! Get your raggedy old ass in gear, off to the spaceport!”
Slade quickly gets inside and punches up on his ledger all of his past contacts and finds a rather interesting one. Did a bit of bump-and-run coverage in his early years, father last time he checked, and has proved to be a man of discretion and a talent for mischief if his memory served. He would need that. Slade checks the local spaceport and sees that his contact’s old heap of bolts is in port, the Urania’s Mirror. Lord only knows what brought him to call it that after he helped him get that ship in the first place.
He grabs his earpiece and places a call to Charles Maeka. No response, but he leaves a voice recording. “Hey Charlie, its Slade, why don’t you get your cheerful self down to the spaceport commons will ya, be there within the hour, if of course you’re up for a job that has high risk, high reward, and chance of death… you know, the usual. Get back at me when you can, but if memory serves we are both not going to like it. Slade out.”
Slade arrives at the spaceport commons and immediately begins looking for Charles but finds no one waiting. “Geez, the guy is almost 7 feet tall, where’s he hiding?” Slade wonders aloud. Well, maybe he’s meeting with someone else at the moment, I can wait a bit.
A sparkle from above catches Slade’s eye, and he looks up to one of the docks above. There he sees the corvette-class ship he and Charles acquired so long ago, Urania’s Mirror, glistening brightly all over in the sunlight. Okay, I can see why he calls it a mirror, damn that thing is reflective. A stray bit of cloud rolls in from the oncoming storm, however, and blocks out the sun beams and a different scene is revealed. As the shine of the ship fades, Slade sees the ship almost transform from the pristine appearance of before to a damaged and scarred exterior, patched enough to make it hold and work but not enough to hide the battle the ship had clearly been in. “What the..?” Slade uttered aloud. He also thought at that moment Charlie would never let his precious ship go like that. Something big happened to that vessel, and I’m going to find out what.
“Arnold, stay with the car, I’m going up to see if Charlie’s in. I’ll call if I need anything.” Slade then ascends the tower that is the spaceport to the level of the Mirror. As he exits the lift, his face registers a feeling of shock at the vessel; it looked bad below, but up close it’s even worse. Still, if she can still take on the void of space, she mustn’t be in that bad of shape. As Slade approaches the bay doors, he begins to overhear voices coming from behind the door. He stops to listen to the pair of voices argue:
“…the guy knew Charles, I’m not taking a deal from someone I don’t know! Especially one from a guy who talks about ‘a high chance of death’ like it’s a Tuesday afternoon!”
“It IS Tuesday afternoon, and besides, if he knew Dad then I want to meet him. I don’t know much about him from before he adopted me, he was always hush-hush about that stuff. And we could use the money, I couldn’t tell you the last time we went out and just enjoyed ourselves lately. And we kinda need a new fridge…”
“What’s wrong with the fridge? Oh, never mind. I’m going out to check for jobs NOT from this Slade guy. It sounds way too seedy to be anything legit.”
“Hey, wait up!”
At this point the door slides open and two men come walking out at a hurried pace, though they stop the moment the see Slade standing there. The younger-looking brunette boy chimes in first, “Oh hey, are you a client? Welcome to the Urani —” “Can I help you with something, or are you just lost?” interrupted the platinum-haired man.
“Actually, I believe you can. Slade Wilson, CEO of Vesta Corporation’s Operations Directorate. And yes, I am a client.” Slade gave only the slightest hint of a smirk at the stunned faces the two were wearing. “I’m assuming you two work for Charles Maeka, and one of you is also his boy, right? Where is the old bolter, out trading for some old-Earth trinkets again?”
The duo took on solemn expressions, and the platinum-hair said in a flat tone, “Please, come inside. You should hear the story.”
“…I’m sorry about Charlie, Raize. I’m sorry, Zhair. I hadn’t spoken with him in years, last I knew was still alive and kicking. Look, forget about the job I mentioned on the message. You two seem like good boys, and I don’t want to drag you into something you don’t understand.”
Raize shook his head. “No, we’ll do it. One extra condition, though: you tell us all you know about Charles, especially the early stuff. Zhair knows so little about his past, even though he is his son, and I know even less.”
“You boys have a deal. I’ll send you a copy of the full details of the job right away.” Slade began to walk out, but before he left, he turned and said to the two, “Charles would be proud, you two are so much like him.” Slade then exited the Urania’s Mirror and headed back down to the limo.
Slade made his way back to his limo, his brow furrowed with thought as his brain parsed all the data he’d just received. Though it had not turned out quite the way he had hoped, this new arrangement could very well work out just as well or better. Charlie was an old friend, but sometimes difficult to deal with. Perhaps these youngsters would prove more . . . mold-able. Still, Charlie’s death was a blow to Slade, and the circumstances that lead to it were somewhat disconcerting.
So deep in thought was Slade that he stood by his door for five minutes before he realized Arnold hadn’t yet opened it.
“Arnold?” Slade asked cautiously, peering at the driver’s side door. Strange. The man never leaves his post. Slade approached the front of the limo and glanced in the window to find his bodyguard propped up in his seat, but clearly unconscious. A short burst of adrenaline shot through Slade as he started to think about the implications.
“Mr. Wilson,” came a low, somewhat sultry, female voice from behind him.
What the hell? Slade instantly pulled the small hold-out weapon he kept holstered at his lower back, raising it as he spun to face this sudden threat. He needn’t have bothered. The Vesta CEO glimpsed a lithe feminine form and a flash of black hair before his wrist was grasped, inverted and the gun was knocked from his hand. She twisted his arm, forcing him to spin, then slammed him against the side of the limo. The high-pitched whine of a charging ROPE gun ended his resistance as the cold barrel pressed firmly against the base of his skull.
“I understand your trepidation, Mr. Wilson, but let me assure you that I mean you no harm. I am Agent Alda Vitrionne,” Alda released Slade’s wrist and stepped back, keeping him in her sights, but lowering the gun to a more subtle position near her waist. She gestured to the rear door of the limo, “Please, let us move to more private surroundings. After you.”
Slade faced Alda with a stare that was equal parts anger and respect, straightened his jacket and tie, then opened the limo door and slid in across the expensive leather seats to the far right of the vehicle. Alda followed a moment later and sat across from him holding his Enyo Gauss Needler, the weapon he had tried to pull on her earlier. Her own gun was nowhere to be seen, but no doubt within easy reach.
“Cute,” she said, tossing the Needler to him before lounging against the plush seat opposite him, “I apologize for the state of your bodyguard. I required a private meeting with you, and he was… uncooperative. Mr. Wilson, I know you are a busy man, so let me get right to it. We are well aware of the assignment you are currently undertaking for your family. And before you ask, we are not here to stop it. On the contrary, we’d like to help.”
“Help? And who are ‘we’?” Slade asked with a raised eyebrow. He was definitely intrigued.
“All in due time. Yes, help. Those on your list to eliminate are on our list, too. Although, we’d prefer them alive and incarcerated. What we are offering is a way for you to maintain your standing with your family while retaining your upstanding status at Vesta. We’ll provide the theatrics and support for your operation, and you deliver us the men we require. Everyone wins. What do you say?”