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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've got a terrible habit of starting stories and never picking them up again to finish them. This is one I began a while ago and, aside from some minor editing, haven't touched since. I do plan to finish something eventually. Probably after I'm out of school. Anyway, let me know what you think.


“Tell you what I know. Sure won’t be a lot.” Smoke curled around the old man known as Coren Pait as he took another long drag on a lho-stick and let it out slowly. The spiced smoke did little to conceal the cloying scent of dirt, sweat, and alcohol that clung to the man. He sat slumped in a rotting cushioned chair that looked like it had been taken from a waste dump. His voice had a rasping quality as he spoke. “Was ‘bout fifty years back I took transport to this dump of a planet. Heard tell there was good work for them as could lift a hammer or swing a pick.” The man had a tendency to never actually say the first subject of any of his sentences, a curious habit that most people ignored but grated harshly on his listener’s nerves.

In truth, there wasn’t much about this dirty old man that didn’t grate on his listener’s nerves. Everything from his balding pate to his ratty and torn clothes to his worn out boots made his listener like him less. His listener, a much younger man, was sitting in a slightly less rotted chair without cushions. He looked at this small disheveled man with a disdain born of money. Everything about the young man seemed to scream out that he didn’t belong in this dingy back room of an even dingier bar. His dark, oiled hair slicked back and shining even in the low light, his deep red silk vest offset by a jet black leather coat which hung to his knees, his grey pants tucked neatly into high black boots. Even his hands, well-manicured and without callus, spoke of how he did not belong. He held a data slate in his well-manicured hands taking notes on what the old man said.

Coren blew more smoke as he rasped, “Like I told your friend, weren’t a one of us brought over on that ship what knew the truth ‘bout this place. Saw pictures of nice, new habs and clear skies. What a wonder that’d be to see. Anyway, them picts was taken back when this whole minin’ operation was jest gettin’ started so when we got here and foun’ the truth of it, half them workers up and decided they didn’t need to work after all. Jest turned right ‘round and climbed back on the ship.” He paused to take a final drag on the lho-stick before dropping it on the floor and crushing it underfoot. Its ruined remains were surrounded by hundreds of others like it. “Well, the rest of us, we found places to stay and ‘ventually got work in the mines.”

The younger man set his data slate on his crossed legs and fixed Coren with a cold stare that quickly silenced him. “I was led to believe that you would tell me of the incident in question, sir, not your entire life’s story.” The young man’s voice had a deep, rich timbre to it that filled the room. Though now the deep, rich timbre was tinged with and enhanced by the irritation that had been building up since the meeting had begun. His voice not only filled the room but also sounded reminiscent of a coming storm rumbling out from the young man’s throat.

Coren was obviously shaken by the young man’s comment and unsteadily pulled another lho-stick from within his old vest. “Now there’s no need to be gettin’ angry. Jest workin’ up to it is all.” He took a few seconds to light the lho-stick as his shaky hands repeatedly doused the flame before it took. One long breath of smoke seemed to calm him down as he launched back into his story. “Now like I said, this place weren’t at all like they said it was goin’ to be so them of us as stayed to work weren’t none too happy. Was a rare day in the mine when no one cursed the Imperium or their own terrible luck for bein’ stuck in such a place as this.” Another drag, another puff of smoke. “Things stayed like that for a good twenty years. Nothin’ changed aside from the air gettin’ worse and some mines shuttin’ down. Then this feller showed up in the less reputable bars in town talkin’ ‘bout how we was bein’ trod on by the gov’nment and how we deserved better’n what we got.”

The young man picked up his data slate again and resumed taking notes. “Tell me what this man looked like,” he said quietly, the rumble diminished.
“Well, he didn’t look no different from any other poor miner but anyone who looked at him knew there weren’t something right ‘bout him. Weren’t nothin’ ‘bout the way he looked or talked jest something ‘bout him was a might off-puttin’. He was a tall feller, big too. He had brown hair and dark eyes. Maybe it was them eyes what put people off. Strange eyes.” Coren stared at the wall opposite him for a moment, apparently lost in his memory. He started suddenly and took another quick drag on the lho-stick. “Anyway, this feller jest talked up a storm and ‘ventually lot of them miners started agreein’ with him.”

“Did you ever catch the man’s name?” the young man asked without looking up from his data slate.

“No, didn’t want to get mixed up in his business. Seemed like the sort of thing what would get a man in trouble.” He finished the second lho-stick and crunched it underfoot like the first. The small backroom was filled with a haze of smoke emanating from the old man. Coren pulled another lho-stick from his vest but as he lifted it to his lips, the young man deftly snatched it from his fingers.

“I think you’ve had enough for now,” the young man said as he smashed the lho-stick in his fist. Coren was about to object but the look in the young man’s eye kept him silent. “Now then, how is it you came to know about the cult in question if you stayed away from this man?”

The old man shifted in his seat and glanced to the side. “Well, I… um… There was this other man who told me ‘bout it.” Sweat was beginning to form at Coren’s brow despite the cool temperature of the room. “Feller I knew from the mines told me all ‘bout it an’ we went to the law.” He began to fiddle nervously with his fingernails. “This feller I knew was part of this cult and got ‘fraid of it so he left.”

The young man nodded and looked into the older man’s eyes. “So what frightened you enough to leave the cult?” he asked calmly.

Coren was clearly agitated. “It weren’t me! I done told you, was this feller I knew. He-”

The young man cut him off. “Do not lie to me, old man.” The storm was rumbling again. He stood from the chair and bent so that his face was just a hand’s breadth from the older man’s. He could smell the scent of lho-stick smoke strong in the man’s breath but the smell of rot was easily detectable as well. The sound of his voice as he whispered was like distant thunder, “Do not make the mistake of taking me for a fool. If you wish to continue your sad little life on this revolting world, I would strongly advise you to tell the truth.” Coren cowered back into his chair and the young man was disgusted to note the smell of fresh urine in the air. He stood straight and looked down at the old man. “Speak! I will not suffer you much longer.”

Coren nearly started from his chair at the suddenly loud boom of the man’s voice. “It were a sacrifice!” he cried out. Tears began to stream down his face. “They put this poor, young girl on a terr’ble altar an’ cut her to pieces.” He reached for a lho-stick but the young man slapped his hand away. “Please, I-I jest need one to calm my nerves.” He was openly sobbing now.

The young man slid his data slate into a coat pocket and pulled on a pair of black gloves. He looked down at the older man for the first time not in disdain or disgust but in pity. He reached into a deep pocket of his coat and pulled out a small silver flask. He handed the flask to Coren and said, “Drink this. It will help.” The old man took the flask in shaking hands and drank deeply. The young man turned to leave the room but paused at the door. “I’m sorry,” he said softly to the dead man behind him.

Outside the bar, Nathaniel Durran pulled off his dark wig and ran a hand through his short blonde hair. He tucked the wig in his pocket with the data slate and began walking down the muddy street. Lamps illuminated the small mining city even though Durran’s chrono showed that it was midday. The planet’s star was only a small brown circle in the roiling cloud cover that was the sky. Centuries of mining had polluted the atmosphere far beyond saving and the air was almost to the point of being toxic. Durran figured that another decade or so and the people would have to wear respirators at all times.

A shadow loomed up from an alley as Durran passed and his hand shot quickly to a dagger strapped to his waist. He relaxed when the shadow formed into the familiar shape of his companion, Kelly Rorke. She smiled at him, her white teeth flashing in the lamp light. Kelly was a small woman but well built. Her slight frame belied a surprising strength. She moved with a lithe grace as she stepped into the light of the street, her black bodyglove dulled to prevent reflection. Lustrous black hair framed her pale face and bright blue eyes gleamed with mischievous intent.

“Was he as useful as I thought?” she asked, her voice slightly tinged with a clipped accent.

Durran shrugged. “He confirmed that we’re in the right place but I wouldn’t go so far as to call him useful.”

“Well, you weren’t in there for very long. Maybe if you pressed him a bit more and asked more questions he’d give you some good information.” She looked back at the bar up the street; its dirty sign flickered in the gloom.

“Maybe he could have given me more information but we’ll never know and I don’t much want to go back.” He quickened his pace as a shout emanated from within the bar. “We should go.”

She turned back and matched his pace. “Why should we go? What’s the hurry?” Her eyes widened suddenly. “You killed him, didn’t you?” she accused. “Why, Durran? Why kill the old man?”

“They could have gotten to him. He would have told them we’re here.” He looked down at the small woman. “I know it was cold but it was necessary. We can’t afford to give ourselves away this time.”

She looked into his eyes and he was struck as ever by their beauty. They were icy blue except for a ring of very dark blue around the iris and they made Durran feel weak in the knees. “Did he feel any pain?” she asked quietly.

Durran shook his head. “No, he felt nothing.”

She nodded and smiled slightly. “I kind of liked him, you know. He reminded me of my old granddad back home. Was the lho-sticks did my granddad in. If you hadn’t have helped them along, they probably would have done that one too.”

Nathaniel nodded vaguely as he dodged a heap of waste. He was concerned about her display of sympathy for the old man. She had never before shown such emotions during a mission and Nathaniel hoped she would not again. It never helped to get that involved.

Kelly glanced back over her shoulder. “Looks like we’ve got company,” she said.

Nathaniel looked back and saw a group of heavies coming out of the bar, their vat-grown muscles bulging under mud-stained clothes. He swore as he hurriedly pushed Kelly down an alley and out of the meager lighting of the street lamps. A cry rang out from the gang behind them and Nathaniel could hear the pounding of their feet on the cracked rockrete of the roadway. “Run!” he urged as he began doing just that.

The unpaved alleyway was slick with mud and refuse and the two people splashed and slipped in the dark. Beams of light stabbed after them as the pursuing men flicked on portable mining searchlights. “Stop!” one shouted as another cracked off a shot from a drawn autopistol. The bullet whizzed dreadfully close to Nathaniel’s ear and impacted against a waste bin further down the way.

Nathaniel dove to the side of the alley and hid behind the rotted remains of what might once have been a sofa. “Didn’t give me much time to stop,” he muttered as he drew a thin blade and flicked it over his cover. It embedded itself in the gunman’s chest with a wet thump and he dropped, gurgling, onto his face. Nathaniel grinned and looked across the alley at Kelly. She was pressed against the wall, her black bodyglove melded with the shadows so well as to make her nearly invisible.

The three remaining heavies drew their own autopistols and opened fire on full auto. Bullets shredded Nathaniel’s cover, forcing him to lay flat on the mucky ground. Kelly gracefully leapt up onto a low balcony and ran across it before leaping off the end of it into the midst of the heavies. Nathaniel looked up in time to see her bright blade flash from its sheath and dance through the flesh of the surprised heavies. In a matter of seconds, they were silenced and Kelly walked lightly back to where Nathaniel lay.

“You’ve ruined your coat,” she said simply as blood dripped from her bodyglove.
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