He sat in the darkest booth, listening. Every word, every foot step, every breath failed to slip past his acute senses, diminished though they were. He had been here for near two hours, just sitting and listening. He wasn't even hungry, in spite of what he had undergone the night before. Even when the young and petite waitress asked for his order again and again, always recieving the same emotionless reply "Inryousui." And she would still stomp off. Not quite a stomp but a frustrated gait. Showing that the cruel entity of life had once again gotten to her, dragged her down and forced her to serve a man bleeding at the side. He gave no money, never said thanks. Yet each time she returned, setting the clear glass down beside him.
The cold liquid was refreshing, letting him know he was still alive since he had long ago forgotten. A waft of cigarette smoke passed his way. It disgusted him. Still, he managed to hold back from gagging, choosing to remain as one of the shadows and not draw attention to himself.
Loud foot steps preceeded a heavy set man dressed in a rather posh blue suit with thin grey stripes. He had short black hair which was combed back and a small pencil thin mustache. He was accompanied by two men. Both were slim and muscular. Each stood to a side of the large man, ready to grab the threatening bulges in their jackets at his command.
He approached the small waitress. "Madam Yumiko." he said in a soft voice. "My boys tell me you don't wanna make your rent payment. You know what happens when you refuse to pay." He ran his thick hand through his greasey hair.
"I will pay no more." she said sternly. The man in the shadows admired her. Three men, one of them three times her size, had just threatened her, yet she wasn't intimidated.
A light chuckle escaped his large throat. "Come on Madam Yumiko." he encouraged. "It's not that bad. Your grandfather paid it while he owned this bar. Did you ever hear him complain?"
"You must leave now." she commanded. "I'll call the cops if you don't."
All three men laughed this time. "Don Marco owns the cops lady." one of his associates said. The other one walked behind the bar and took up position next to Yumiko.
"Now, now. That ain't no way to treat your customers. Bobby." He motioned to the man at his side, who immediatly started encouraging the few customers there were to leave. The second man grabbed Yumiko around the neck, pointing his gun at her temple.
"We've talked about this Yumiko." Don Marco said softly. "I don't wanna have to do to you what I did to Tommy Brennes. Did you hear about that?"
"Hey you." Bobby said to the man sitting in the shadows. "Time to leave. Get it?" The other patrons had left with out question. In this town, it was best to remain silent. None of them would speak of what was taking place.
Don Marco paid no attention. He moved closer to Yumiko, maintaining his calm composer. "You put me in a tough position Yumiko." he breathed.
"I said get up buddy!" Bobby yelled at the silent stranger. "You either walk outta here, or you don't. Understand?"
"Show him the door Bobby." Don Marco said with out looking but not before a loud crash sounded, followed by Bobby flying into a nearby table with blood all over his face.
The man who had been sitting for the past two hours stood up and walked towards the others, revealing his appearence. He was older and below average height. His thinning hair was the darkest black with a tinge of blue. He had a dark complection and firey yellow eyes. His sleek, black robes were stained red where something had penetrated his left side. He stood motionless, a few feet from the surprised Don.
"Kill him Jimmy." Marco ordered.
His man pushed Yumiko out of the way and aimed his large gun. Before he could fire, however, a small piece of the chair that had broken over Bobby colided with it and sent it spinning clear across the room. He barely had time to see where it went before a flurry of fists smashed him in the face, knocking him to the floor.
Don Marco backed off slowly. "You don't wanna do this." he told the man. "You're a dead man if you do."
The stranger stared with a blank face, as if he were unable to hear the large man's words. He moved in quickly and connected his right fist with Marco's throat, crushing his windpipe. He fell noisily into a table, yet not even uttering a sound.
He walked towards the door, covering the wound on his side. Yumiko rushed around the bar and stopped in front of him.
"Who are you?" she asked.
He moved past her and opened the wooden door. "Mouko." he said. With no further words, he left the bar and walked into the dirty streets of Europa's largest city.
Crooked Space - Episode 2: Voodoo Chile
11 months, 6 days to conjunction
The bright lights forced their way into him, even borring through his closed eyes. A phone rang somewhere, sounding ten times louder than it was in actuality. Foot steps behind him, a door closing to his right...In short, Michael Arkin thought he was in hell and for the most part he was pretty close. He was in the Inner System Defense Agency's headquarters, slowly making his way to James Lesko's office.
His black suit and shoes were dirty and scuffed. His grey shirt was unbuttoned at the top and untucked at the bottom. His tie hung loosely from his neck, barely holding itself together. His brown hair was uncombed and in a mess, hanging in front of his eyes. Some dried blood showed on the corner of his mouth and under his nose. Adding to the disheveled look, a stench of alcohol and garbage. Lesko's secratary couldn't resist a smart comment as he walked by.
"God's gift to humankind. Late night last night?" she remarked. Her ample brown hair was pulled up into a french braid, the thin glasses accenting her bright blue eyes.
He acknowledged her with a grunt, not bothering to make eye contact as he pushed open the door. Lesko looked up immediately as Michael walked in, took a seat, and deposited a disk on the other man's desk.
"I assume that's it?" Lesko asked.
Michael put his hand up, cringing visibly. "Speak...slower...please...and softer." he pleaded.
"What the hell happened?" Lesko took the small cd that he had been given.
Michael let out a small, quiet laugh. "That, is a long story." He sat up, wipping some of the blood from his face. "Well...I'll start at the begining I guess.
"That might help." Lesko said with an unusual trace of sarcasm.
"You sent me to investigate that drug trafficing ring that involved the ice freighters."
"Yeah, you were to gather all information on them and report back. This is your report I take it?" he waved the disk.
"I really thought this was going to be an easy one for you, compared to the last one you had. You must be rustier than I thought."
"No! Didn't you get any of the data I sent?" he tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice.
"Oh...that's another story in itself." Lesko said, rather dismissively.
"Anyway, I went to Europa as ordered." he cringed again as a door slammed across the hall. "When I got there, something had already set it all off..."
Six Days Earlier
Steam poured out of the ship's exhaust vents, causing many of the over eager passengers that had gathered at the dock to move back. Yellow lights flashed in warning above a large hatch, while a ramp emerged from under it to meet with the metal grates of the boarding deck.
"Please wait to board until all passengers have exited." a calm voice announced. Several of those waiting disregarded it, pushing up to the air lock.
The man in front was shouting angrily at the craft. "We've already been through a four hour delay!" he yelled, not intending to be delayed any longer. He began to beat on the metal door.
"Please sir." the intercom began again. "We apologize for any inconv..."
"Can it! I'm not listening to another word." some spit flew from his mouth. "I paid a good amount of coin for a seat in coach, and I'm not about to let some corporate flunkie who sits on his ass all day long to keep me from my vacation in Port Diablo!" Some of the other passengers wagged their heads and jeered at his outburst. He responded by flipping them off.
The door slid open with a hiss, also adding a contribution of steam to the dock. He turned around to start another barrage of curses when a fist flew out of the steam and connected with his jaw. He tumbled to the bottom of the ramp, stupidly unaware of what had happened. The rest of the crowd applauded as Michael walked down the ramp and towards the spaceport.
St. Claire, Europa's largest city, was buildings on top of buildings, as was any planet's capital. Air traffic was unusually heavy, due to the holidays. A short cab ride took him to the south district. At which the driver comented in disbelief, "The south district at this time a night? Man, you got a death wish?"
"Bad neighborhood?" Michael asked as they passed a prominent penthouse that had been utterly destroyed. Several police cars were parked around it, along with an ambulance. It looked as though it had exploded from the inside out.
"Well, it has it's moments, like any other rat hole." as they descended into the city. Michael shook his head, pulling out a wad of bills and exiting the car. The driver wasted no time in flying off, leaving Michael on a five story sidewalk outside of an old and dilapidated building. The uppermost level, outside which he was currently standing, was obviously a cheap addition, being made entirely out of wood. He walked in, ignoring the closed sign. It hung at the bottom of a window, identifying the place as the office of a private investigator. Several of the letters, though, were missing.
Inside, the office was a mess with stacks of papers and boxes lying unpacked. The man sleeping at the front desk didn't even budge as Michael entered. He was, however, not as his condition betrayed.
"We're closed." he announced without looking up. "Come back tomorrow."
"Tomorrow might never come." Michael stated.
The man looked up slowly in shock. "Mike?" he squinted at the other man. "Mike Arkin? Where the hell have you been?" He promptly rose and rushed over, grabbing his hand and shaking it firmly. "Been a long time." he added. He was a little shorter than Michael, with short hair that was turning prematurely gray.
"Almost four years." Michael said, following his friend back to his desk and taking a seat. "Still on Europa, huh Jay?"
Jay shrugged. "It's a living." he said skeptically. "What about you? Still a freelancer?"
"Nah, Lesko pulled me back in, about a month ago."
"Sheeze, back in the ISDA."
"It's a livin'." Michael repeated with a smile. "But I came here on business."
"Business?" the other questioned.
"Ice freighters haulin' more than ice: what do you know Jay?"
"How about we talk over a drink." Jay suggested after a short pause.
"There's a cartel, run by a pretty powerful family." Jay stated, looking at the remaining liquid in his shot glass. "The name's Carlotti. Big time stuff."
"How big?" Michael asked. He had already finished off his drink. The bar they sat in, the Sushi and Bullets Diner, was dimly lit with several booths and tables surrounding a low stage. An old time jazz band played softly, forcing out slow melodies that seemed to fill the room.
"Everything organized crime does, you name it. Drugs, prostitution, money laundering...the question is, what don't they do? Are you still carryin' that .45?" he asked.
"Kimber Custom II." Michael replied proudly.
"You're gonna need it." Jay informed him. "Those people are ruthless. They've got all manner of guards, assassins, soldiers...gonna be a lot a hell."
"Who wants to live forever?" Michael laughed. "So where are they?"
"Well..." he thought for minute. "They got a bunch of fronts around town. Good luck gettin' close though. They can see an agent a mile away."
"That good, huh?"
"No, that cautious. In fact, you came at a bad time." he ordered another shot. The bartender responded without hesitation pouring until a few drops spilled on to the counter.
"The cartel is officialy under new management. The new head isn't even fully italian, he's half." he explained. "He pulled some coup outta nowhere, takin' out all the loose ends to ensure they don't cause any problems. They call him Blood, but that's not his real name of course."
"Did it have anything to do with that top floor apartment?"
"Oh, you noticed? Yeah, one of Blood's clean up jobs." he forced more alcohol, wincing as it burned his mouth. "The guy was their top assasin, a master of martial arts and all that jazz. A group of hitmen dropped down on the place just last night. I'd be surpised if anyone got out alive. Except Mouko of course."
"My Japanese is a little rusty, but doesn't mouko mean tiger?" Michael asked.
"A fierce tiger." Jay corrected. "I'm serious Mike. This guy's dangerous. He could kill you 30 ways without usin' his hands, no joke. He's even more dangerous when he's cornered."
Michael smiled broadly. "Which is exactly why he's gonna help me with Blood."
"Oh God." Jay groaned. "And I was just startin' to like this city. Listen Mike, if I were you, I'd get back on that fancy ship the ISDA gave you and head home."
"That reminds me." Michael broke off. "When am I gonna get that ship you promised me?" he was holding a napkin to his nose, in an attempt to stop the bleeding that had again started. A logo on it proudly announced "The Sushi and Bullets Diner - Okay company, even better food."
"There were a few problems with the drive engines, but it'll come soon." Lesko assured. "Just get back to the story."
"Alright." Michael agreed, wiping some more blood away. "Well, Jay and I went back to his office. Of course, on the way there..."