In a far corner of Federation space, between the inner and outer planets lay a small hunk of rock known as Slater’s Run. Who Slater was and why he ran was long since lost to antiquity, but some said he was a smuggler who founded the original waypoint on the small asteroid moon. In any case, Slater’s Run was a central hub of trade in that part of the galaxy, a place for spacefarers of all kinds to stop and reload supplies, gamble away their hard earned money, and maybe even start a fight if they were lucky. It was a haven for smugglers, scavengers looking for their next job, and criminals fleeing the core planets for the relative safety of the outer rim.
Corbyn Eralis stood out like a sore thumb on Slater’s Run, and he knew it. The spaceport and gambling den was crawling with spacefarers and ne’er do wells of all kinds, and Federation Agents were both unknown here and unwanted. It didn’t help that he was wearing street clothes instead of his uniform. Smugglers have a saying, ‘You don’t know a Fed by their suit, you know them by their hair,’ and Eralis’ perfectly styled head of brown hair, well maintained clothing, and obviously uncomfortable demeanor drew the visible ire of every rough around the edges patron of the bar he now found himself sitting in.
The Federation Agent was keenly aware of the glances and whispers being thrown his direction, and he desperately wished he could be anywhere else. He detested the clientele of this seedy joint as much as they detested him and would gladly have found a new hangout if it weren’t for the small group huddled around a table in the middle of the bar; his targets.
I’m beginning to question this decision already, Eralis thought as he watched one of the group lunge across the table, yanking a drink away from one of their companions and pulling back quickly to avoid a retaliatory punch. A minor scuffle broke out, but was quickly subdued by a dark-haired man in a long duster. The man was clearly the leader of the bunch. His confident bearing and the way the others deferred to him marked him as a man who was not to be trifled with, as did the scar running down the left side of his face and twin pair of laz-pistols strapped to his sides. He was the one Eralis had to win over. He was the one who would set the tone for the rest of the group.
Well…most of the group. The Fed’s trained eyes had picked out the one dissenter almost as soon as he arrived. The man was lounging opposite the leader, his long coat a near mirror image of the other man, but more tattered and worn, stained in several places with something Eralis felt uncomfortably sure was blood. His blond hair was shoulder length, ratty, and matted, and there was a wild look in his eyes that made Eralis very uncomfortable.
As did the duo seated next to him. Eralis shifted uncomfortably as he watched the tall, willowy figure and the hulking monster currently engaged in conversation. I didn’t realize there would be aliens involved.
The two non-human members of the group were somehow less out of place on this midway stop between planets than Eralis was, despite aliens being few and far between in human controlled areas. The hulking monster was a Gath, a rocklike creature with broad shoulders and a round head perched atop them without any visible neck. His skin was sandstone red and cracked like an ancient stone monolith. His movements were slow and deliberate, and his traditional gathian tunic that seemed so out of place to the Federation Agent merely blended in to the rough aesthetic of the bar. There was a large rocket launcher leaning against the table next to him and a giant knife on his belt.
Gaths were at least known to be generally sociable creatures. The motives of the creature sitting next to him though…..well, good luck finding that out. Steeleyes were neither trusting nor forthright, and so were viewed with mistrust themselves. The fact that this didn’t seem to bother them only served to unnerve the Federation more. Eralis spent several minutes observing the tall form, taller and thinner than a human, with catlike ears perked up and swiveling to catch any nearby sounds. Her movements were slow and graceful, limbs almost seeming to float through the air in slow motion. He hadn’t met any Steeleyes, but Eralis had heard this was an illusion. That they actually had super-human reflexes and could move faster than human sight. Unsettling. Downright unsettling.
The final human member of the group didn’t seem to mind though. He was the youngest of the group, barely in his twenties, if Eralis had to guess. The pilot, obviously, as even from this distance Eralis could see the acute starvision that came from prolonged use of Space-eye technology. He was the smallest of the group, with a sturdy leather vest over his shirt and a leather gauntlet on his left hand, but no visible weaponry in contrast to the rest of the group.
Eralis was sitting a few tables away from the group, close enough to get a good look at each member, but hopefully far enough to keep them from noticing he was watching them. Unfortunately the noise in the bar meant he could not hear what they were talking about, and thus would be going into this meeting completely blind. Which was not a comfortable place for any Federation Agent to be.
Well, no point in prolonging the inevitable. Eralis choked down the remains of his synth-ale, wishing desperately for some decent Laurelian wine. He stood up, took a deep breath, and began making his way towards his targets.
The chatter died down at each table as he walked past and he could feel the judging eyes following him as he went, but he tried not to let it get to him. As a Fed Agent he was used to distrust, just not used to standing out this much. It was a lot easier to blend in on Tranquility, or even Blix, backwater world that it was, than on this little moon. He had not adequately prepped for this job at all.
The group fell silent for a moment as Eralis approached, glancing sideways at him before returning to their card game, leaving the Federation Agent standing awkwardly behind the Steeleyes’ chair. He paused for a moment, not entirely sure how to handle this reaction. After a few uncomfortable moments he cleared his throat. “Excuse me?”
“Something caught in your throat, Fed?” the blond man asked roughly, sliding a card across the table without even looking at him.
Eralis paused, caught off guard and not certain how to respond. “Eh….”
“I’ll take that as a no.” The man continued playing cards and Eralis suddenly realized most of the group had casually placed a hand on their weapons. He wasn’t unarmed himself, but he didn’t like the odds.
“You got something to say, you’d best say it and be on your way,” the leader said casually, but Eralis could hear the underlying tension in his voice.
Better just get it over with. He took a moment to gather his thoughts then forged ahead. “Am I right in assuming that I am addressing Darryn Sureshot, Captain of the Viper?”
“Depends on who’s asking,” Darryn gave him a keen look, grey eyes glinting dangerously. Eralis noticed the rest of the group’s grip tighten on their weapons and the pilot leaning forward in his chair, eyes fixed intently on him.
“I’m told you are the best crew of scavengers in the outer territories. That you have never lost a contract.”
“So they say.” The captain leaned back, giving Eralis his full attention.
“My name is Corbyn Eralis and I….” Eralis took a deep breath and spit it out before he could think about the words. “I want to hire you for a job.”
“Yes!” Eralis jumped as the pilot slammed his hand down on the table. “You owe me four stars, Jax! Pay up.”
The blond man grumbled and begrudgingly tossed a coin across the table. The pilot snatched it out of the air and leaned back in his chair, grinning and putting his boots on the table.
“And what would a Fed need with a bunch of scavs?” Darryn asked. “Don’t you have people you can order around without paying extra for whatever needs doing?”
“This isn’t Federation business.”
“Everything a Fed does is Federation business.” Jax spat on the floor. “We don’t deal with your kind.”
“I have money.”
“Federation money?” The pilot smirked. “I thought this wasn’t official business.”
“My own money.” Eralis took another deep breath. He was finding the pilot’s constantly jumping pupils very distracting. “I can assure you it’s clean.”
“And what do we have for that? Your word?” Jax growled. “A Fed’s word is about as good as a Backwater Viper’s.”
“Viper at least be good for stew,” the Gath rumbled in a deep, gravelly tone. “Fed not even useful for that.”
Eralis reached into his pocket and pulled out a bank chip holding it out to the captain. “You can see for yourself.”
Darryn took the chip and placed it in the center of the table. “Mik?”
“Give me one minute, boss.” The pilot pulled a strap on his leather glove, revealing a small computer screen. He plugged the chip into the side and tapped a few buttons, muttering quietly to himself. “Looks like it belongs to a new account, created two days ago on Pleasance. Name on the chip is Verdon Saffire.” He whistled. “Account contains twelve hundred credits, Captain. He does have money."
Eralis nodded. “I’m prepared to offer more. An equal amount to be transferred into the account once the job is done.”
“Starfire,” Jax muttered under his breath. The Gath drummed his large fingers on the table and the Steeleyes turned to look directly at the Federation Agent. He shuddered slightly under the unblinking, amber gaze. Only the Captain appeared unrattled.
“That’s a lot of money for one job.”
“It should be more than enough compensation for what I’m asking.”
“That remains to be seen,” Darryn said slowly.
“I take it I have your attention then.” Eralis gestured to the table. “Might I sit down?”
Darryn nodded and the Gath reached behind Eralis, pulling a chair away from another table and placing it between himself and the Steeleyes. “Sit down. Make comfortable.”
Eralis did not want to sit between the two aliens, but didn’t see that he had much choice. “I need some data,” he said as he sat down. “Top secret, in a hard to reach location.”
Mik asked, “What kind of data?” at the same time that Jax suspiciously said, “What kind of location?”
There was complete silence for a few moments broken only by another whistle from Mik. “I see.” Darryn finally responded. “Now the money makes sense.”
“You want us to break into Ventura?” Jax stared at the agent. “Are you insane?”
“I know the layout and I have access to their security protocols.” Eralis looked each of them in the eye, except for the Steeleyes whom he quickly passed over. “I can get you inside.”
“Which begs the question.” Darryn leaned forward, meeting his gaze. “Since you have access to the place, why can’t you just collect the data yourself?”
“I don’t know the exact file I’m looking for. It would take far too much time for me to search the database, and the computer logs all users. If I collect the data my superiors will be all over me in a heartbeat. I need it to be stolen.”
“If you don’t know the file, how are we supposed to find it?” Mik piped up. “I’m good, but I”m not that good.”
“I know the area it will be in. All you have to do is make a copy of that section of the database. With enough time, I’ll be able to locate it myself.”
“Exactly what kind of data are we talking about here?” Mik leaned forward. “Secret experiments, latest tech, military secrets?”
“Names. I need the names and current whereabouts of everyone who’s worked for Ventura for the last fifty years.”
“That’s gotta be a large chunk of the hard drive, mate. Gonna take a while to download.”
“I’ve made it worth your while. And with knowledge of the guard routines there should be minimal danger involved.”
“There is no such thing as minimal danger.” Eralis started a bit as the Steeleyes finally spoke up, her voice clear and quiet, almost a purr. “Especially when breaking into the main research facility of the Galactic Federation.”
“For once, I agree with the cat,” Jax growled. “This whole affair stinks to the galaxy’s edge and back.”
“I can get you the codes needed to bypass the doors, the routes of the guards, and the layout of the lab as well as any mechanical security measures,” Eralis insisted. “There shouldn’t be any trouble.”
“No offense, but if experience has taught me anything it is that the jobs that seem foolproof are usually the first to go wrong,” Darryn pointed out.
“I can’t speak from experience,” Eralis admitted. “But I give you my word, this intel is rock solid.” He glanced at the Gath. “No offense.”
The Gath waved it off. “Rocoram does not mind this saying. Rock is solid. Is fact.”
“Yes. Well,” Eralis turned back to the group. “I am prepared to double my offer, if the compensation is not enough. And I can give you access to all of the research in the laboratories. All I need is the data. Anything else you grab is yours.”
“That sounds appealing to me.” Mik’s eyes lit up and almost managed to focus on one thing for a split moment. “I for one would love to take a look at what the government hacks are up to.”
“Assuming we agreed to this job,” Darryn said thoughtfully. “How soon would you need this data?”
Eralis nearly let out a sigh of relief. He had a feeling the hardest part was nearly over. “As soon as possible.”
Darryn turned to Mik. “How soon will the work be done on the ship?”
“I could have her up and running by tomorrow noon, Captain.”
“There is one more thing.” Eralis looked at each of the crew members. “I’m coming with you.”