Chapter 4: John

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"Your orders were clear." Valeri paced around the table, fixing her gaze on the barrel chested man. His eyes were fierce, a hard amber that hinted of fire. But hers blazed as well. "You opened fire on an unarmed vessel. You were to retrieve the ship and the pilot."

He held up a gloved hand. "Relax, sweetheart." Valeri visibly flinched at the name. Of the four factions in space, none were as undisciplined as the pirates. Some clans were easier to deal with than others, and the White Wolves were right in the middle. They didn't ask questions, they were dependable, and they held to an odd sense of honor. They also spoke a bit too liberally for her taste. OnyxCorps had rules about discrimination. To openly direct a term of endearment to an employee, whether they be pilot or pig farmer, would result in disciplinary action. The pirate smiled at her obvious distress. "Sorry. I forget my manners." His apology seemed earnest. She banked her anger back a few degrees. "The job was a bust. Simple as that. We expect no payment."

"Very well. I will rely on other methods to find the Lazarus."

"There's no need for that. The Lazarus is in dry dock at Pandora. She's cordoned off and guarded by my men. You won't be needing her or the pilot."

"Is that so?" Valeri could not help but like the man, despite her irritation. His voice was deep and smooth, his words a testament to his education, the gleam of childish mischief forever embeded in his deep blue eyes. He wore his hair long, in the tradition of the White Wolves. Streaks of white were bleached out at the temples and the hair braided back to surround the long locks at the rear. His natural color was stark black, so the combination of that contrast with the deep blue trouble-making eyes was startling on first look. Few people could get past the sheer size of him, much less look into his eyes.

"Yes. There were no blueprints on board. The pilot abandoned ship and was lost to us. There were no traces of your precious weapons schematics." The pirate emphasized the last word, indicating the Wolves had done their research and knew what the blueprints were for. She made a mental note to visit security before the day was out. Every time she had dealings with pirates, she wound up having to have a handful of people fired.

"This could have been communicated over comms. Why the personal visit?"

"Because I find that I am drawn to you like a river to the sea." His blue eyes twinkled. Valeri smiled in spite of herself. "Dinner." He added. "Tonight. Meet me at the Last Glass. Wear something..." he gestured to her OnyxCorps uniform, black with silver trim and edging. "Not this." Her smile broadened.

"Perhaps. Now the truth from you. Why the meeting?" He returned her smile. From within his short black beard, his teeth were like ivory.

"Because I have information I believe all of the factions would like to get their hands on." He leaned back and pulled an old-fashioned time piece from a pocket of his leather vest. "And the party is about to begin."

"All of the heads?"

"All of them, sweetheart." He paused and gave her an exaggerated look of appraisal. She didn't flinch when he used the word this time. He nodded his approval. "Envera, Demos, and Robertson."

That would be the direct heads of all three factions: Envera, the Chancellor of Earth; Demos, the Patron of Pandora; and Jessica Robertson, the Chief Executive Officer of OnyxCorps. There were many other factions in Terran space, but these three plus the pirate represented the four largest. The fact that all three had agreed to the meeting was a testament to the pirate's influence. The man was known for dealing in the one commodity all of the factions needed. Information. Whatever happened with the attempted capture of the Lazarus was big.

There was a soft commotion in the entryway to the conference room. After a short pause, OnyxCorps' Ceo walked through the door. Valeri had never seen Jessica Robertson in person. In the holos, she always seemed tall and regal. Valeri supposed that image was intentional. The woman was short, barely standing over five feet tall, thin, but with an air of power generated by her sure movements.

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