Coba looked over the prospects for pleasant company and decided there weren't any. That didn't really surprise her. The bars and gaming houses on this side of the space dock didn't attract many people who could carry on a reasonable conversation, at least not for long. Techs and officers played on the other side of the port. Since most of them were even more boring than the drunks of lowside, she didn't waste her money on high priced food and drink and once in a while she met someone very interesting. One of the drunks sauntered, staggered, her way. He obviously didn't know who she was.
"Go away. If you'd interested me, I'd have come to your table."
"I am most interesting. Though not now. Now I am most drunk. I have hopes you will be here for a time. I have a few yet bound within. Voices, you know. A wake I'm holding, you see. For voices in my dreams. I hold a wake for every death and every voice which didn't have time to scream when I killed them. That way I know someone says good-bye. My responsibility. Beautiful big lady, I like the way you wear your guns and I want to unwrap that wind of rich brown hair and bury my face in it. I want to read you poetry and quote Lord Byron. My hope is you will be near in a few days, about sixty. It will be a long wake. There are many voices."
Coba just blinked. He was short, thick, scarred and fascinating. Who was he?! She wouldn't be around for sixty days, but it just might be worth another stopover. She looked at the grin on her 'favorite bartender's' face and knew she was going to make her ask.
"Coba, if you can find out, every woman in this port will pay for the information. He even charmed YOU."
"He certainly did. It was the Lord Byron. I'm a sucker for swashbuckling romantics."
"I do the ones who are shy and brilliant."
"You do the sweet young men who are awed by your wisdom and beauty."
"Well, somebody has to keep them out of real trouble on this side of the dock. He's the real thing Coba. He walked in sober, handed me a large cred auth, informed me he would be holding a personal wake for the dead only he knew and got drunk. Nobody moves like that who isn't trained and, damn, he's got pretty eyes,"
"And no one knows who?"
"No, and I'm not the only bar host he handed an auth. Coded cash deposit, no name, no nomer. He hasn't gotten mean. He did stand on a table and propose a toast, but since he bought the round, nobody minded. He asked a blessing."
"Say what? Sooli, not fair. What did the very interesting little man say?"
"Lord, let none cry mercy who are not heard. This is to those whose cry came so late, only you could hear it in time to save them. Bless the souls of the foolish and the driven, and send the evil bastards who led them into sin to hell!"
"Sooli, I'm in love. You memorized it."
"Stick around. He's done it twice. Next time I'm going to record it. Wish I could record the way it makes me feel. I don't recognize the accent either."
"Archaic and... affected?"
"Interesting idea. Where you headed next?"
"Nice little courier run Dupa to Cystalli. Bonded and all. Pure paperwork and not particularly secret."
"Not a healthy highway, Coba."
"True. Which is why the fact it's pure paperwork is NOT a well kept secret. The nest in that area needs exterminating. Those pirates don't just take. They leave nothing alive on a ship."
"Coba, he's staring at you. Here he comes."
"Think well about the term you used. He who kills those adjudged as evil is still a killer of sentients. He is an executioner. Vermin have no choice. They can not be redeemed. They have no motive. They are both parasites, but one has the choice to change. Judgment and retribution are the wages of sin. Some have back pay accumulating."
"You're interesting even when you're drunk. I'll see you when the wake's over. I didn't know them, but I'll lift my glass. I prefer executioner. I'm too damn pissed to be satisfied with the image of misting for roaches."
"Thank you. Good night."
Coba grabbed for him and quickly realized it was a mistake. She just stepped back and let him fall. She'd have strained muscles or even torn ligaments.
"Thud! Second night he's done that. Notice you moved out of the way fast."
"Sooli, I know better than to try to catch collapsed matter. You check the floor after he hits it?"
"Does it a few more times and I'll head for the crawlway with a torch to see if any struts are bent. HEAVY man. The short is probably high grav adaptation. Beautiful, isn't he?"
"He was. Somebody laid fresh scars on old recently. Why doesn't he have them removed?"
"Did you really look at them, Coba? Some of them are from blades, some from beams, and there are some that look... deliberate. I keep wondering if he's... really human."
"Little sister, you're being silly."
"Yes, but I still keep wondering. I keep thinking of ancient mythology and names like Vulcan and Ares."
"Not the ones I usually think of when someone says 'Greek God,' but I do see what you mean."
"You think of Apollo and Zack Morrow. Of course, everyone who's seen him does. Ow?"
"I've missed him."
"But not enough to say yes."
"Sooli, I enjoy men in general too much to say yes to marriage, even to Zack. Seen Jubal lately?"
Coba and her sister talked about old friends. She reminded Sooli that Jubal didn't resent his world calling him back when she steamed a bit about the short visit he and his girls had made a few days before. Sooli noted she looked too disappointed she'd missed him to be convincing. Coba grinned and said she had been thinking of a visit to Caluba, but the man neither of them were going to try to move had changed her plans.
"Do me a favor, Sis. Toss loud-and-thumping-on-the-table out. That would be a bit more subtle than me pulling a blaster."
Coba laughed and sauntered over to remove her little sister's annoyance. She tapped him on the shoulder, slugged him, caught him when he folded, carried him out and leaned him against a wall. She smiled at the fellow who stuck his head out to see and he grinned. She hadn't called station security.
"Get him back aboard for roster."
"We will. You could tell we're mercenary marines."
"Easy to do. Sooli, he's napping outside. Sec asks?"
"He wasn't a problem. Must have been working hard. Couple drinks and he got sleepy. Coba, careful on that run."
"I'm not carrying anything secret or negotiable. I'll be back. Hope he's still here."
"Boys! Would you help move the chunk of collapsed matter who's been buying drinks this evening out from in front of the bar? My sister would be disappointed if he was doing ninety when she gets back in sixty."
"A drunk almost holed the station four days ago. Station Sec said pass 'ninety days' around to see if it'll reduce the number who think weapons and alcohol go together."
The run Coba made wasn't simple. The pirates evidently didn't believe she wasn't carrying anything important. Her ship took damage to a stabilizer and she had to space dock and shuttle down. She got suspicious, then mad. She called an attorney and placed a claim. She'd been carrying something she didn't know about. She was sure of it. She'd been contracted document only.
She got a reply and settlement in minutes. She'd been carrying the marriage contract and property settlement documents that would end a dispute far too many found profitable and someone had 'rumored' she carried gems. She won diplomatic courier pay, a share of a fine against the contractors, and got her ship fixed. She still wasn't pleased. She wasn't going to get back to her sister's within sixty days. She sighed and chided herself. Ending the exploitation of a planet was probably more important than seeing a very interesting man again.
The pirates came out of the shadow of a planet and were on her. She swore and ran. Someone was still rumoring. Her ship had good engines and fair armament. She might be able to squeeze through the globe they were tossing around her. She certainly couldn't fight her way out. Suddenly space lit up. She just cut engines and stared. The pirates had scattered. The ship directly in front of her had put a shot across their bows. One shot, across all their bows. She opened comm.
"Hello, I'm trying to decide if you're a friend."
"I find I am rather conceited. I was fully sure you'd not have missed a tryst by choice. I am opening a docking bay for you. Please don't leave it til I get there. I would hate to spend hours hunting for you."
She saw a small port open, then decided she'd better check her sensor array. She whistled. The huge ship was four times as far away as she'd thought and bigger than many moons. She switched on her thrusters. The interesting man she'd seen in her sister's bar had just gotten even more interesting. Beginning with the scarlet robes he was wearing and ending with a ship so big she should have heard of it. She landed her ship in a dock big enough for six its size and waited.
Lights came on and her sensors registered atmosphere. She left her ship and sat down cross-legged beside its hatch. She'd definitely wait. The ship echoed emptiness. She had no desire to explore it, at least not without a guide. The short scarred man in scarlet robes arrived in under three minutes.
'"Hi. Welcome aboard Solando. Come with me, please."
"Not yet. First, who are you?"
"I'm Solan, lord of all this. Call me Lanny. My mother would have, or so Solando tells me. Solando, full cloaking. Time to disappear."
"It is done, Lord Solan. The person with you is armed, Sir. There are concealed weapons on her person as well as the guns and power belts."
"I expected no less, Solando. I call this one Housefriend. She is Coba Corren."
"The Housefriend is acknowledged. I have scanned her ship and given call reference, Lord Solan. Housefriend status is extended to known clan members. Only one identified. Sooli Corren, host of leased service bar titled Sooli's on Space Dock Rulbora Four, relationship, half-sister."
"Thank you, Solando. Coba, there are more pleasant places to answer questions you will not ask. Since I have chosen you as Housefriend, I will answer many."
"Solando will monitor. At any need, I will come. It is a rather reciprocal arrangement, however. If I am in need, Solando will seek your aid for me. Solando, explain your function."
"I'm the ship of Lord Solan. I guard his life for his task. I am his birthplace and home. I am his trainer and retainer. I aid his task. His task is of his choosing. I had none to give him."
"Solando is this ship. She was built to hold many thousands. The many thousands never came aboard. They changed their minds. I was nurtured in an artificial womb and then cared for by robotics. I chose the task of finding those who slaughtered the many thousands for the gems they wore and the crops they husbanded."
"Lord Solan, they chose to die."
"Yes, Solando, so you've said, but I still hunted their killers. You see, Coba, they were afraid someone would learn I existed, so they sent the great ship and met the raiders unarmed. They allowed themselves to die so no one learned I had been conceived, or that I had been given the three tools."
"I'll bite. What tools?"
"Solando, the sword and the scepter."
"Uh, huh. My sister wondered if you're human. I told her she was being silly, but I'm beginning to wonder a bit myself."
"How many generations of change can there be until a race becomes a species? As human as you are. I want your sister to bear me a child. I want you in my bed."
"You are a warrior. I would not ask you to raise young for me yet, but yours is the only line I found worthy. Therefore, your sister to bear a child. It is your mother whose line I would seek, though both your fathers were worthy men. Solando, open a salon near us. Prepare a meal. We shall come forward later."
"First corridor left. Second hatch on the right, Lord Solan. Roast pheasant under glass?" "No, steak and potatoes. Baked I think. Green salad would be nice. A light vinaigrette dressing. I'm sorry, Solando, I'll let you show off later."
"Yes, Lord Solan. I shall remind you. "
"Solando collects recipes. She'd feed me til I was as wide as I am tall if I'd let her. I suppose you're deciding if I'm dangerously deranged or just deranged. Oh, very nice lounge, Solando. Make a note of it so I can find it again. How many rooms does that leave I've not been in?"
"Forty-two thousand eleven."
"How big is this ship?"
"The size of a large city. Work for me."
"Courier, not documents, or not often. I have things I want returned to their rightful owners without answering how I got them. As a courier, you need answer no questions. You were contracted to return stolen property that had been recovered. The first cargo is a child's toy and a wedding ring. It is all I can give them. The loved wife and mother I cannot. The second is a museum piece which is beyond price and worth a finite amount that staggers the imagination even if only the gems it bears were appraised. Take down your hair."
"Lanny, you are the strangest man I ever met. I don't know whether to run or stick around to see what happens next."
"Next, I serve you dinner, read you poetry, quote Lord Byron and make love to you. It should be interesting. I've never made love before. I hope you like your steak rare."
Coba decided not to run. He was just too interesting. Of course, being told one is the first a fascinating man has chosen to make love... Just too interesting.
"Tell me about your scars."
"They'll fade. All but the designators, the pattern beneath the others. The chevrons on my cheekbones and the crown on my brow will always remain. Do you bear scars on your perfect body? Am I ugly to you? Will you be repelled when you see my body bears many more scars than my face? Do you know what a cat o' nine tails is? Tell me no, Coba, and I will return you to your ship, but still be Housefriend. If you do not, I shall learn."
"I guess we both will. Just leave Sooli out of it."
"Why? Don't you think your sister is worthy to bear the child of the richest man in the universe? I am the emperor of humankind. I am the Solastria."
"You're the... Death Angel."
"Yes. My clan believed one was needed. They were right. They died as proof. It has been eight millennia since an emperor was created. Humankind has spread to new frontiers. Where law cannot follow is the realm of the Death Angel. I'm the executioner. I am the emperor and the last. It is always so. Coba, I am not invulnerable. In that, the legends are wrong. Teach me to kiss."
She decided he was telling the truth, then that he was a very quick study. Several hours later, she stretched and smiled at the man lying beside her. She'd never been more thoroughly loved and she knew exactly how surprising it was. She carefully moved away from him. She just had the feeling peaceful sleep was rare for him and she didn't want to disturb him.
"Solando, tell me a bit more."
"He is all he said, Coba. He has also been lonely. While he sleeps, I will ease his wounds and heal the freshest scars. I believe he knows I cause them to fade. There are few who know the designators. Even clearly seen, they will not identify him to many."
"I didn't really doubt it when he said he was the Solastria, but it was a shock. The Death Angel is a created being, genetically engineered."
"Lord Solan is the child of two who loved deeply. He is fully human, but he is more. He is the emperor of the known universe and, like all his line, its defender. The emperor is created for that one purpose. His clan had thought to escape this time. I was built to that purpose, then they learned he must be the last. If he isn't needed enough all are willing to die to create him, he is not needed at all. He carries their strength into battle. I'm not programmed to understand, but I know he is more because they surrendered their lives. I observed something, which my visual sensors recorded as light, surround and enter the one I carried as fetus when his clan died. He must build a new clan. In millennia to come, there must be many of his heritage so another emperor can be created at need."
"Solando, you're talking about me."
"Lord Solan, the questions were asked by Housefriend."
"Understood. Will you be Death's handmaiden, Coba? Will you serve the executioner? Will you say yes and help me get rid of things which give me bad dreams? There's no point to the deaths if the living are not aided by them. I kill those who prey on those who have done no grave ill to others."
"I'm not enough, Lanny. You need a courier group under contract. I won't carry something worth a planet's ransom. I can't protect it. I'm not fast enough or well armed enough. The work's worthwhile, but I wouldn't be able to keep the job long. I'd be dead. Transship. Drop it at a major terminus and designate a carrier group. Then watch over it when the group moves out. Lanny, it's recovered loot. Nobody has jurisdiction out here. You say who it goes to and it will get there. That's what the mercenary carrier groups do."
"Form one for me. I can't give what I have into the hands of anyone but you. You are Housefriend. Basically, most beautiful woman, you are the only one who I can trust. Your clan and mine are joined. I can trust your sister or I could not have made you Housefriend. I want her out of that bar. I understand why she loves it, but I need her. Solando tells me an emperor usually chooses a clan with a large number of people in it as Housefriend. This is a place beyond all law. It is not a battle between good and evil. It's between civilization and savagery. The savage laziness of the one who will kill to take what another has earned must be stopped. All can get rich out here. It is a place of wealth lying about. Some would rather cut purse from another's waist, than turn the rock to gather gold from beneath it. You and Sooli."
"Mercenary carriers. Lanny, you just can't move it any other way. I have a very vague notion of what we're talking about. Smugglers are getting real honest. They won't handle stolen. Drugs, but not pirate loot."
"You're mine, Coba, and so is Sooli, but only as the emperor. Give Sooli the job. You make the runs. Take other contracts. You'll need people. I'd like a job. I spent a time as marine. I'm a good second. I don't lead. I charge in with a sword in my hands and people follow me. I'm not saying you can stop me every time, but you could keep other people from getting hurt trying to go with me. We get Sooli now. Can't you feel she's in danger? She hears too much. Does she love the life she leads enough to die for it? Competition is brisk. People who MIGHT have information on a competitor are rather a temptation. Solando, fully cloaked. We'll take Coba's ship. You are the guardian at my back. Let's go, Coba."
"To your ship. I told you I want Sooli out of there now. Oh, Solando doesn't require a space gate to move from point to point, but we usually use them because direct transfer takes a great deal of power."
Coba managed not to stumble. It took the power of six stars to form a gate. The fact there weren't many was what made piracy possible. There was no one to guard the gates. A ship was vulnerable just as it came through. A great deal of power was a great deal of understatement. She wasn't doing quite as well as she thought though. Solan noticed she was just sort of trailing him.
"Coba, I am the emperor. My clan conquered all human space, then shocked it when they demanded the right to protect it, but refused to run it. It is mine. This new frontier is mine. I have the right to protect it. The civilization of humankind belongs to ME. My government cannot be overthrown because there is none. When I die, there will be no emperor until the clan I father creates another because one is needed. Hurry, the feeling of danger grows."
Coba docked her ship as close to Sooli's as she could and tried to keep up with Lanny in the crowded station. Once she got close enough, she just 'rode in his wake.' A path opened in front of him. Just before they got to Sooli's hatch, someone stepped in his way. He had a gun. Coba nearly tripped over the someone. She dropped back a bit. Maybe she was following a little too close.
"Sooli, come with us now. Coba, get her between us. You lead. Out. Now."
Sooli didn't hesitate or ask questions. She'd noticed too many of her customers had clean fingernails. They weren't ship and dock labor. They wore gloves when they did their dirty work.
Coba turned on her armor. It would shield Sooli some. Lanny expected trouble to be following. All hell suddenly broke loose. Coba yelled "Damn!" and cleared her shield for weapons use. She heard Lanny howl, or something, but she was too busy to look. She wasn't sure she wanted to look. In front of her were still forms, behind her were screams.
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved