Chapter One

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Gaylen put a hand on his pistol as the elevator began its downward plunge.

His index finger worked by instinct, making certain that the plasma was set to maximum power. It really wouldn't be of much help to him if this went poorly, but the weapon at least helped him feel a little better.

The holster was firmly in its place, and the gun slid out of it as smoothly as ever as the elevator's indicator light reached the halfway point.

Gaylen breathed in quickly, held it for a few moments, then let it out at a slow, calming speed. Fear had its uses, but showing it rarely did.

The light neared the bottom and a faint mechanical whine marked the start of the elevator slowing down.

He tucked the green coat a bit tighter around himself but left it unfastened. Then he stuck his hands into the front pockets and steeled himself.

The doors opened.

"Right."

Gaylen stepped out. This certainly was an interesting spot. To his left lay the massive hull of an ancient space hulk, long since turned into cheap tenement housing. Above him was a raised section of the city. And in between the two was a narrow strip of the night sky, all glittering stars and city lights and the occasional passing ship.

The lighting was quite limited but he still looked every which way before walking away from the only nearby cover. He supposed it was the same as with touching the gun.

Fifth pillar, straight ahead, he repeated in his thoughts, then strode off.

There was nothing of interest to see as he walked, and no one to witness his passing. The tenement-hulk was without windows, and at the base of the pillars were just generators, antiquated piping, and everything else people wanted kept out of sight. Such as this meeting.

He made his footsteps more audible as he neared the fifth pillar. They came around it and into the meagre light cast from overhead; a well-dressed fellow flanked by plainly-dressed bodyguards.

"Gaylen Qin," said the one in the middle through a dishonest smile, and stroked his closely buzzed head. "And what brings you here?"

Oh, no. Not banter. Anything but banter.

"Your invitation, Lanson," Gaylen stated plainly and factually. "I want the job."

"You want the ship," Lanson replied.

They stopped a few steps away from each other. The two bodyguards separated from their boss, moving out to almost fully on either side of Gaylen.

He kept his face and breathing calm, and with Lanson silent for a few breaths he took the two men in. The one on the left was doing nothing to hide the bulge under his jacket, and bore the marks of a recent, cheap skin graft to his face. The other one had the broad face and monstrously powerful body of a native Nihunian, and a look that actively defied his people's reputation for kindness.

Still smiling like the smug bastard that he was Lanson pointed at Gaylen's hip, hidden by the coat.

"You're armed," he stated.

"I've been in the game for a while."

"Yes, yes. Long enough for a bit of a reputation. But not enough to become too famous."

"Which is what you need," Gaylen said, quietly wishing the man would just get to it.

"Yes, yes," Lanson said again. "Going independent, are you?"

"Well, I was always independent," Gaylen said. "Others just haven't always seen it that way. But let's talk business."

"So you're taking the job?"

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