The Bloody Dark, Chapter 01

01

Bloody Dark Cover

The Quirinus Corporation returned to the planet of Anesidora almost ten years to the day from when it had abandoned it. Mined out, polluted, almost a wasteland, profits from the colony had continued to decline. The Company’s revenues dropped as the cost of keeping its indentured servants alive increased. Given the financial situation, the Company had abandoned the colony. Given the costs of relocating the 5,000 plus indentured servants on the planet, the Company had abandoned them.

It had, however, marked the assessed market value of the infrastructure and equipment left behind as credit extended to the population. While the equipment would depreciate, the credit never would.

And then, on a Thursday, in the month of Cherries—known elsewhere as Galactic Standard April or just April—a Company ship arrived at the spaceport in Libera, the capital of the Independent Republic of Anesidora (not recognized by any corporate authority). It had ignored hails when it entered the defence identification zone of the planet, so was under escort when it landed. Small assault vessels decades out of service provided the escort, and it might been comical except that the Company vessel had no weapons—neither atmospheric nor exo-atmopsheric.

The Company should have been prepared for this. One of the reasons it had decided to return was that the Republic of Anesidora was becoming a popular trade outpost. The information available was that it had begun an asteroid mining project—something the Company had considered, but had decided against due to a lack of profitability. Apparently, the Company analysis had been flawed. At present, the mining program was minimal, but many corporations and entrepreneurs were looking at the system and considering approaching the Republic for licences to access some of its asteroid field for mining.

And that would mean recognizing the Republic as a sovereign government.

But the Company didn’t like that. Anesidora and its system was the property of the Quirinus Corporation. Its population still owed the Company a hefty amount due to the credit the Quirinus Corporation had advanced it—the infrastructure and equipment abandoned on the planet along with its population.

The Company had come to take control.

Asiah Relling, chief legal counsel for Carmentis Sector had not come to Anesidora to be threatened. He did not appreciate the hostility of the debtors implicit in the armed escort as his vessel had made landfall. Relatively tall, he wore an expensive two-piece suit with a fashionable cravat, a walking stick with a head fashioned of pure exetium, and veslestere sandals. Four armed guards—none wearing armour, all wearing dark suits, but all also carrying high-powered firearms in obvious “concealed” holsters—flanked him.

High walls surrounded the landing pad of the docking port. A single door provided access. Various tools and equipment used in the maintenance of exo-atmospheric vessels lined the walls. Hoses and filaments used to charge and fuel vessels hung in coils. A single data terminal jutted out of the wall near the door. Everywhere was clean but worn. The equipment had been dated a decade ago and had not been replaced. 

The assistant port officer, Tayne McFlower, approached, dressed in wrinkled and stained work overalls and bearing no weapons, though one datapad. She was taller than Asiah and a smile almost formed on her lips, before those lips drew tight.

“Welcome to Libera.” Tayne lifted up the datapad, brandishing it like sign. “We’ve got no paperwork on your ship or your visit.” She then pointed to the four guards, once each in turn. “And I’m not seeing licences for your weapons. You’ll need to lock those up on your ship and we’ll need to get your docking permissions in order before anything else.”

Asiah’s eyes narrowed. “I represent the Quirinus Corporation, and the Quirinus Corporation owns all of this, so I will be telling you what is acceptable and what needs to be done.”

Tayne’s eyebrows raised and she offered a slight, half-grin. “Is that so? Well, that was before my time, but what I heard is that your corporation abandoned this place and these people, so I don’t think your claim’s going to mean much.”

Taking out a much smaller datapad, one that fit in his palm, Asiah’s eyes did not leave Tayne. “It doesn’t matter what you think. That is the reality of the situation. You say you weren’t one of the indentured servants assigned to maintain the planet? Well, you will need to sign a contract if you wish to remain and continued to be employed here. What was your name?”

“She doesn’t need to tell you that.”

The speaker had just entered through the single door. Tanyne turned and raised a hand in greeting. “Hi marshal. You know about this fellow and this corporation stuff?”

“I know enough.” The marshal stood to about Tayne’s chin. She had broader shoulders and a confident stride. The tattoos showing from under her closely shorn hair suggested time in some mercenary company. A heavy pistol hung from her hip. She patted Tayne’s shoulder. “I got this.”

“You are the marshal here?” Asiah tapped something on his datapad, then looked up. “The Quirinus Corporation contracted no law enforcement entity. Should I assume you are part of the criminal conspiracy claiming Anesidora?”

“Assume whatever you want.” The marshal took a step, placing herself between Tayne and the corporate group. “Now, the assistant port officer here has made clear the rules. I’m not here to argue them. I’m here to enforce them. You’ve got four guns against me, so you might think that puts me at a disadvantage. You’d be wrong. This’ll go much smoother if you put your weapons on the floor then step back a ways so I can collect them.”

Asiah sniggered and shook his head. “I admire your confidence. I really do. But you are very mistaken in your belief. We are entirely in the right here, and any violence you perpetrate on us will only leave you open to prosecution, should you survive.”

The marshal’s left hand was on the pistol at her hip. The other was behind her back. While none of the corporate’s could see what might be there, Tayne had a clear view of the even larger pistol the marshal gripped with her right hand.

“I know a little something about the law, and the fact is that abandoning a planetary system for five years leaves it open for other claims.” The marshal never looked to Asiah, but her eyes moved between the four thugs flanking him. “The completion of the oribital platform and the commencement of asteroid mining, by the interstellar laws your own corporation signed on to, means that the Independent Republic of Anesidora is now the corporate authority for this system.”

“The Quirinus Corporation never abandoned Anesidora.” Asiah’s smile could conclusively be categorized as merciless. “It left its indentured servants as a wholly owned subsidiary, answerable to the Quirinus Corporation while its credit remained outstanding. That credit remains outstanding.”

And this led to a very similar smile coming to the marshal’s face. “Where’s the contract?”

“I beg your pardon?” The hand holding Asiah’s datapad dipped slightly.

“For that to stand up in court, you need a contract.” That marshal tapped the pistol on her left hip with her index finger. “If you set up a subsidiary, you also need the incorporation agreement and licence. You’ve got none of those things. I know. First thing I did when I took this job was look for them. I’m afraid your legal branch messed up. Are you part of the legal branch?”

“That depends on the tribunal ruling.” Asiah put away his datapad. “Your little government will be bankrupt long before the case is finished. There are three levels of appeal. And that assumes we just don’t hire a mercenary company to come here and wipe this place out. If you don’t want to play nice, we won’t either.”

“Oh, maybe a mercenary company like Executive Solutions?” The marshal stopped tapping her pistol. She slowly and quietly unbuttoned its strap.

Tayne began to retreat toward the door. No one acknowledged her movement.

“Is that supposed to impress me with your knowledge?” Asiah shook his head. “Executive Solutions has been dissolved. Maybe you are not as smart as you think you are.”

“Dissolved? That’s one way to say it.” The marshal’s grip on the pistol at her back tightened. “It got destroyed by Vanguard. That was before Vanguard dispersed.”

Asiah took a step back. “What are you getting at?”

By this time, Tayne had reached the door, she stepped through it, ducking into the hallway there.

“If you know anything about Vanguard, you might know about Thrace Targe.” The marshal crouched slightly and leaned forward, as if facing heavy winds. “That’s me.” She smiled a wolf’d smile. “Now turn around, get on your ship and get gone. You can also put down your weapons and we can talk, but whatever you do, you don’t get Anesidora.”

Tayne had accessed the communications network. She put a call through to the marshal’s office.

One of the guards, a beefy man who may have once been dangerous but moved slow and telegraphed his every thought, put his hand on his weapon. “She’s just one person.”

Asiah touched his cravat, loosening it only slightly. “Perhaps.”

All four guards went for their weapons. Thrace had both weapons out and firing before any of the guards cleared their holsters. She hit each in the right hand. With another volley, she shot each in the leg, dropping them to the ground.

“Looks like you made your choice.” Thrace approached the group, the four guards on the ground, most groaning, bleeding from wounds to their hands and their legs. Asiah withdrew, moving back up the access ramp to his shuttle. “That was me playing nice.” She kicked away each weapon in turn, then, holstering the weapon on her left hip, covered each guard individually as she searched them for more weapons. “You don’t want to see me when I’m angry.”

As she removed the last secondary weapon from the last guard, three people burst in through the doorway, each bearing a longarm—two with rifles that could be used for hunting, but one with an assault rifle.

Thrace didn’t look to them. “It’s okay. This disagreement has reached it conclusion and these people will be leaving.” She backed away as the guards crawled or limped up the access ramp to their vessel. “See that their ship is escorted to the minimum safe distance for a jump. They try to engage their FTL earlier than that, torpedo it.”

The accessway started to close, and the vessel’s maneuvering systems started to whine and hiss, getting ready for a soft liftoff. Only then did Thrace turn her back. She considered the three people who had agreed to act as her deputies. None of them had her experience or her skills.

“They’ll be back,” Thrace said. “And it’ll be a lot worse. We need to get ready.”

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