Outskirts Industrial District
1900 July 30, 2321
The door slid shut, and Stewart nodded to the obviously nervous workmen. The two had finished replacing the spacer's warehouse door, and were quite anxious to get out of the bad part of town, and back in to the "safe" interior. The spacer pulled two two-inch disks of gold out of his back pocket, and flipped one to each of the men. The two nodded, and quickly jumped into their runner car. As the engine's roar faded into the distance, Stewart walked through the now-functioning door and into the interior of his huge warehouse.
The boy had shown resourcefulness, that was to be sure. He was also a fair asset in combat, having something like eight kills to his name over the course of a day. But can I really take him with me when I leave Centauri? The Olmecs had told him what to expect, but had not said it would occur so soon. Regardless, I must leave here as soon as possible. His supposed "talent" for entropy has revealed itself.
The ship had been running self-diagnostics all day, and checked out in perfect shape. At the drop of a hat, the spacer could be off-planet, leaving Jack to his own devices. However, if any stock at all were to be put into the Olmec "diviner", that would be unwise.
Contrary to the sound of it, there was nothing occult or cabballic about the diviner; there was a Supercomputer the size of Stewart's warehouse on the Olmec homeworld. Based on a humanly incomprehensible system of statistical analysis and extrapolation, it was capable of simulating the entire known universe, based on history and current events. It could carry this simulation at least thirty years into the future, but at that distance it could only reflect large and sweeping events. As branches off of this core mind, there were many smaller computers that could compile a "possibilities list" for any one person based on the simulation. This showed up to three billion five hundred sixty four million eight hundred seventy two thousand four hundred and sixty one possible paths for any individual that was shown in the momentary analysis of the diviner itself.
3,564,872,461 was the number of the largest possibility matrix ever generated. It was the personal possibility matrix of Jack Bennson.
Jack Bennson was sitting inside a small room in the warehouse, amusing himself by looking through the literature for the beautiful spaceship that was parked just outside the door. He had a basic grasp of the mechanical workings of the three outboard motors, and was slowly beginning to wrap his mind around the interstellar drive.
It was really a little frightening. Over the course of a few days, the drive cycles matter in a magnetic chamber to create anti matter. Then, the ship has to be directly aligned with the desired target system. After that was accomplished, a series of mirrors within the body of the craft focus on the specific distance that one wishes to traverse. After the mirrors are properly focused externally, the antimatter is magnetically channeled into a firing chamber, which is constructed of one hundred percent efficiency energy reflective material. This chamber is shaped in a perfect elliptical shape, with the foci of the ellipse extremely close together. When all is prepared, matter would be shot into the anti-matter core, causing an annihilation reaction. The incredible amounts of energy would bounce and rebound inside the small chamber, with approximately .02 percent of the energy escaping through the focusing lenses to the destination point. These lenses intensify the energy to the paradoxical level, the point at which "something's gotta give". This point is also achieved within the reactor core, nearly simultaneously. The something that gives is the fabric of spacetime. At the center of the ship, a tunnel entrance is torn, matching the tunnel exit at the focus of the lenses. The entire ship and everything on it is immediately distorted into pure energy as it travels through the wormhole, and then reverts upon arrival.
There were, of course, inherent dangers with the system. Any manner of proximity to source of intense energy, either on the departure or arrival end could close the tunnel, or distort the energy waves. During the buildup phase before transit, the anti-matter could lose containment and actually have an annihilation reaction with the walls of the chamber. The few missing molecules in the reflective tissue would be all that it would take to allow the energy to escape, traveling into the rest of the ship.
Setting aside such explosive thoughts, Jack Bennson turned to pick up the manual for the ship itself. He had been studying the blueprints on and off for a while, and was quite impressed with the compact nature and ingenuity of the little craft. However, these were but stock diagrams. Stewart had told him to update them by personal survey. Seeing as the grizzled spacer was his only ticket offplanet, he had no choice but do to as he was told. Book under his arm and pencil behind his ear, he walked off to examine the updated interior of the ship.
Middle Inner District
1900 July 30, 2321
Steelskin salmon was the one thing of any worth about Epsilon Centauri besides the steel itself. The huge fish could only be found in a specific band of depth in the ocean. It was prized for it's prodigious size, and the powerful blend of vitamins and anti-oxidants that it carried in its meat. A single fish was sufficient to keep a small family nourished for at least a month. A single fish was also sufficient to feed one crime boss and his minions for a single night.
Christian Taggart carefully, almost delicately brought the forkful of meat to his lips. As he chewed it, he savored the delightful feeling of the tender fish flesh melting away into nothingness. It was the last of this season's stock, and he would be quite sad to see it go. He always enjoyed the salmon more than the diluted earthstock beef that could be found when the fish were out of season. He carefully set his fork down on his plate, careful not to chip the finery. With a gentle clearing of his throat, he quieted the entire table in an instant.
"My friends," he began in his soft voice. "We have gathered here today to discuss a problem that we have had here in our city. I'm sure you all know Stewart Iacoccia. He has been giving us regular payments to act as a security force, to protect his property in the outskirts. He has not been a problem to us, at least not until now.
"Yesterday, two thugs broke into his warehouse. They were killed. They were not mine, nor any of yours; they belonged to Michael. Speaking of our friend, you may notice he is missing from this gathering. His body was discovered in the red branch of the transit system this afternoon." A general murmur ran around the table, before a slight raise of Taggart's hand silenced it. "About half of his men were discovered around him, in various stages of mutilation. We have no clue what happened, as they were sure to disable all the cameras in the area that they were working in. However, I have managed to utilize my connections with our…police, to get the footage from today's transit surveillance. My men have spotted Stewart entering through the typical station, but he was not seen exiting the system at any time today.
"This suggests a couple of possibilities. First, Stewart simply exited the system in a very inconspicuous way. From my dealings with the man, I know it is possible. In this scenario, the deaths of Michael and his gang would be unrelated. Second, Stewart has some powerful friends, and those friends wiped Michael after Michael finished with Stewart, and Stewart's body hasn't been found yet. Finally…" he paused to take another sip of wine. "Finally, Stewart is still alive, he killed Michael and his gang, and exited the transit system. From my knowledge of the man, particularly of the method in which he dispatched the men yesterday, this is the most likely possibility." Another murmur worked around the table, accompanied in some cases by gesticulation, rising to a near spoken voice in others. With a small smile and another wave of his hand, Taggart gripped their attention once more. "Now, the question of the evening, the reason for the fine food and wine, is this: What do we do about our problem with Stewart?"
It was interesting, watching the reactions around the table, as a few whispered to friends, and others remained silent and pensive. He could see the small inter-factions playing across the table. Furious expressions flickered across the faces of Michael's friends. Shane Smith and Piper Epson were two overgrown dealers who had grown up with the man, and held him in a near-worshipful esteem. Down the table a ways was Patrick Geller, "Paddy" amongst pleasant company. He remained composed, simply pulling out a hip flask and taking a hearty swig.
On Christian's right sat his little sister Christy, a capable young woman of about twenty. She had no great love for Michael, and was quietly sharing the fact with the last woman at the gathering, a Bionic known as Minerva. On his left was his connection with the drug trade, Marcus Williams. The small black man simply shifted in his seat, and leaned back with a faint smile on his face.
Taggart's attention then turned to his opposite number. The man sitting opposite of him had been afforded a seat at the foot of the table because of his competence and intelligence. Karl Nisbon was the foremost arms dealer across Epsilon Centauri. Numerous were the times when his equipment or advice had saved Christian's life. However, Karl felt no sorrow for Michael's death. The dead gangster had always had a way of expecting handouts that seemed to belong more in a palace than the underground of a poor world.
Karl was benignly exchanging words now with Paddy, as Shane and Piper broke their conversation to stare across the table at Jason Walker, Chad Burke, and Johnny Giambello. The three were rivals of Michael's since childhood, and the hatred between the two camps had only grown over the years. It had been all that Christian could do to keep bloodshed to a minimum between the factions. Taggart could tell that the boys' smug looks were not doing anything for the chances of a quiet evening. They would doubtless be going to their own, less dignified parties after this gathering. Doubtless, Shane and Piper would be crashing those parties, almost definitely with violence.
The last man was the last person anyone would expect to have fallen in with these sorts. He was of average height, and average build. Every inch of five-foot-ten, every pound of one-eighty-five, and every bit as bland as the cold, frozen world he lived on. His hands shook a little when he sipped his wine; his bald pate glistened under the chandeliers. He was known simply as The Doctor.
A sharp clang from his fork to his glass brought attention back to Taggart. "Well?"
Shane was quick to stand. "We'll take him out." Piper nodded confidently behind her partner.
Jason leaned forward, then started in. "Why? Michael wasn't any particular friend of ours. Karl, what was his tab with you?"
"He owed me a couple hunnerd kilocreds worth of stuff. He never was properly grateful."
"Fookin' ahsshole rraeped coopla me gerrls aes weal," pitched in Paddy. "eye doen't think he desearrves eany'ere hilp."
Chad decided to pitch in. "It's not just about Michael," he protested. "This Stewart guy is getting more and more uppity. We may need to put him in his place."
The Doctor leaned over to speak with Minerva. A moment later she stood. "The doctor makes an excellent point." Taggart motioned for her to continue. "Stewart acted only in self-defense of his person or property."
"Like hell he did!" shouted Piper. "What happened in the Trans? That wasn't just self-defense, that was slaughter!"
"Miss Epson, I need you to please keep your voice at acceptable levels." The command started sharply and loudly; it quickly silenced the table. As he progressed, Taggarts voice softened into a slightly predatory growl. "We are, after all in a public restaurant. I may run it, but I hardly wish to scare any patrons away with talks of 'slaughter' and other…undesirable things." The last two words were spoken with relish.
In hushed tones, Piper continued. "Not only did that bastard Stewart kill my friend, he killed about half of our gang. Mike, Shane and I shared everything we had…"
She was cut off by Chad Burke. "Including a bed." he muttered, causing Johnnie and Jason to erupt into laughter. Paddy smiled and took another swig. Christian shared a hard look with Karl, and nudged Marcus. Karl leaned over to place his hand on Johnnie's shoulder, and began speaking in low tones. The only indication of his embarrassment at the actions of his subordinate was the red tinge to his ears and the white tinge to his knuckles.
Marcus placed himself between his two charges, Jason and Chad. "To misquote a popular saying," he began in tones audible only to the two men he was between, "I brought you into this underworld, and I can take you…" a flick of both wrists "…out of it." He now held two very well concealed knives in his hands. Jason and Chad simply nodded and sobered immediately. Marcus smiled, and nodded at Christian. In turn, Christian spoke up.
"Miss Epson, please continue."
"As I was sayin', we had everything equal. Shane and my drug money, Michael's rackets, and all the boys, we shared all that. When this Stewart took out Mike, he took out ten guys with him. Add that to the two thieves in Mikes employ whose bodies showed up in the landfill this morning, and he's taken us for roughly half of our gang, and a third of our income.
"I say we all take him out. Us today, who next? Paddy, what happens when one of your girls starts husslin' in front of his house? Karl, what happens if you're dealin' next door, and park in front of his place? We need to deal with him right now, before he becomes more of a problem."
Paddy smiled and leaned forward. "The keye proobleme wit yer aerguement, the wey eye seas it, is thet me leddies woen't be gaing inter his plaece, neu wood theh? Yer thugs boosted in."
"Please. Grant us this favor, for Michael's memory. I beg of you. Chris, you owe us. You remember when your special understudy here," she indicated Marcus, "needed some stuff quick. We lent it to him. We're calling that in now."
Marcus placed his hand on top of Christian's, who simply nodded. "I repaid that debt. You got the street value of everything you gave me, plus interest. You have no hold on me, thus no hold on Christian."
"Yes," Karl agreed, "and where do you get off discussing debts? While we're at it, perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me when you will be repaying me for the extra security on that big Jade deal a month ago. Or maybe when you'll be reimbursing me for the 'borrowed' twenty-mil that was lost in the Tran."
The Doctor leaned over yet again into Minerva's ear. The woman stood up, her bionic eye focusing with her real one on Piper's faintly scarred right shoulder and arm. "The Doctor does not usually bring up debts among pleasant company," here, she nodded in a way that encompassed the entire table, "he wishes to remind the honorable," a trace of irony there, "Piper Epson of the cosmetic operation performed on the date of April the twenty-first of last year, payment for which he has still not received."
Piper had been turning progressively darker shades of red as more and more debts were leveled against her. At Minerva's statement, she compulsively rubbed her right arm. Shane pulled her toward him and whispered in her ear. She simply nodded and looked back at the rest of the table. "It seems your minds are made up anyways. I joined this group of fine people because I had heard that they operated in an assisting manner to those who were willing to assist them. I see now that that was a falsehood."
"I would urge you to think for a while before doing anything rash," Christian said quietly. "You are dealing with an extraordinary man."
"I appreciate the warning, and I appreciate the dinner. However, Shane and I need resolution on this matter. The only possible resolution that I can see would be the ending of Stewart. Because you all seem to be afraid of the man, we will take that task into our own hands. Again, Chris, thank you for dinner. Good night." The two stood abruptly, and walked out of the curtained-off room that the table was in. Christian waited for a count of five, and then snapped audibly. A small man entered the room from behind a tapestry on the wall, and quickly walked over to Taggart.
"Follow them, be discreet, figure out what you can." A nod was the man's only response, and he went on his way. Taggart then addressed the table. "As you can see, those two have an irrational and unrealistic expectation to destroy Stewart Iacoccia. A murder in self defense is not enough to warrant a full retribution. Especially when the murder involved Stewart. As you all know, Stewart has contracted with me for the defense of his warehouse. As it is, I owed him a small sum for the oversight that allowed those thugs to break in. Apparently they made a good case to my men on duty. Those men have now been given a graveyard shift, if you'll pardon the bad pun." A smile fitting for a crocodile spread across his face. "And now, I think that we should go our separate ways. We gathered here to discuss a single matter, and we have mulled it over amply. So to all of you, I say: I hope you enjoyed your meal. You may recover any possessions removed from your person at the door. I wish you all good luck, good health, and good business."
At the end of his speech, the table began dispersing. People made their ways to the curtains, chatting with other members of the underground. It was not a very impressive group, but it represented the cream of the Epsilon Centauri crop. Taggart stood, and turned to his sister. "Are you ready?"
A nod was her only reply. She stood, and the two walked out, trailed by Marcus. As they walked through the main dining hall of the luxurious restaurant, a few patrons carefully stood and meandered toward the door as well. Christian nodded at the largest of the people, who happened to be his chief of security. It was impossible to tell by looking at the customers, but every one of them could have cleared the dining room in under ten seconds. He did not take personal safety lightly. His sister leaned in towards him.
"What are you going to do about Epson and Smith?" she asked. "They're likely to kill the boys, and try to kill Stewart if you don't stop them."
Taggart nodded. "I know," he said. "I've got that eye on them. If they try anything big tonight I'll know it. And in that event, I'll have an eye right there to stop it…you don't get to be the eyes of the boss by being weak or unskilled."
His sister nodded. "Good. Just making sure that you have all your bases covered. It is what you pay me for, after all."
Christian smiled. "It certainly is, and I thank you for it. Will you be in tonight, or will you be out on 'business'?"
"I have something set up for later this evening, but it would be a shame to soil such fine clothes. I'll be changing and then leaving."
"Excellent. Marcus, I trust you will be managing our shipments in this evening?"
The black man started a bit at his sudden introduction into the conversation. "Yeah, boss, whatever you say. We've got what looks to be a nice load of Liberation coming in."
"Good, the prices ought to be fantastic right now, particularly in the private military sector."
"Absolutely. I'll keep you posted on it."
"Thanks, Marcus." Taggart continued walking with his sister. They reached the street, and a car pulled up in front of them. Taggart opened the door for Christy, and then shut it behind her.
The window rolled down, and the younger Taggart's head poked out. "Aren't you coming?" she asked.
"No," he said, "I have some more business to take care of upstairs." He indicated the restaurant behind him. "I'll see you when I see you."
She nodded and withdrew her head. The window rolled up, and the car drove off. Christian stood watching for a few moments, and then turned to walk back into his building."
A/N: New chapter with some edits added in, please review.