There’s the stealing, there’s the killing, but all that is fun and games. That doesn’t pay the bills or fuel the ships. At the end of the day you better have a buyer or the most priceless prize is just dead weight. When you find yourself neck-deep in some tense negotiations, its always good to have a backup plan.
THERE’S ALWAYS PLAN B
The Claddagh Pub, Brimstone
Vane watched the stranger move through the bar, saw the subtle changes of posture that minimized human contact while slipping through a crowd. Using the back of the hand instead of the palm to move someone out of the way without their feeling they’d been pushed. That was training, and not the kind you get at charm school.
He was average height, nondescript to an extent that could only be by design. No obvious scars, no ink, even his eyes were a lifeless tone that fell somewhere between brown and grey. The kind of guy most people wouldn’t notice; fewer still would remember.
As the stranger reached the back table, Yakov nodded towards a chair. The figure stepped past the offered seat, the one shoved half-out from the table, choosing instead the one that placed more of his back towards solid wall.
Yakov made the introductions. “Captain Vane, this is Halloran. He represents Mr. Smith.” Everyone nodded, knowing that not a single name mentioned was given at birth. The fictions we maintain.
Vane’s living eye never moved, but a blue prosthetic glow burned where the other eye had been. That eye told him a lot of things. While dressed like any other roughneck in the bar, the stranger was one of the only ones sporting a ballistic vest underneath, a high-end gelpack by the looks of it. Compact beamer under the left armpit, two blades pocketed snug against the ribs on either side.
“I’ll give you the name of my tailor if you’re interested.” Halloran’s voice had an edge of intolerance.
A faint smile tugged at Vane’s mouth. Observant as well. The pirate dispensed with the pretense of sociability and settled down to business.
“Cash transaction, four million UEC in platinum or osmium bars. Cargo will be on a non-descript ship bearing registry of your choice, with enough range to get wherever you want to go. We meet, inspect cargos, swap keys and we both go our merry little way.”
Halloran sat quietly, as if waiting for Vane to continue. After several long seconds he spoke, his tone laced with a hint of condescension. “The price is two million, delivery is a warehouse at Idris and nobody is flying a shipload of cash anywhere.”
Looking down, Halloran tapped his fingers on a strip of holo on the table that seemed to have magically appeared an instant before the gesture. “Six interlinked GBA prime bank accounts. The money will be spread between them in uneven distribution. You can withdraw as much or as little from any given account, up to the full balance across all accounts,” his brown furrowed, “but I wouldn’t recommend that, larger withdrawls garner unwanted attention.” He slid the holo across the table. “We verify the cargo, you verify the funds. What you do with it after that is your business.”
Vane glanced down at the strip of holographic plastic. Six blocks of data, usernames, passwords, CORPSEC codes, amounts. At the bottom right a total appeared. Two million.
Hm, Vane gave a small chuckle, the sound a wolf might make when it sniffed a tidbit that could be food. Then his eye rose slowly to meet the pair across the table. “Three five.”
Halloran sat for a moment, then pushed his chair back from the table. “Unfortunate. I suppose you’ll have to find another buyer.” Without a gesture, the balances on the holo strip spun down to zero.
“There are no other buyers,” Vane replied.
Halloran paused, head tilted slightly as his brow narrowed again. Vane suppressed the twinge of amusement. He wasn’t expecting that.
“I don’t see how that works in your favor.” The statement lacked Halloran’s prior confidence.
Vane shrugged. “It doesn’t. In fact the longer I have to keep the cargo in storage, the greater the likelihood that somebody will find it.” The pirate spoke with neither threat nor bravado, but fell into an unusual eloquence. “I never set out to acquire something so… unique, a venture accomplished at considerable cost. And while it would be good business to recover on those expenses, it would not to the point of putting everything else at risk; my ships, my men. This leaves me, however regrettably, with Plan B.”
“Which entails?” Halloran’s attention was rapt.
“Cut my losses, push the cargo into a star and act like it never happened.”
The response came quickly, gut-reflex. “Are you out of your mind? You’re talking an irreplaceable piece of history.”
Vane didn’t blink. “I don’t see how that works in your favor.”
There are times when thermal is a useful spectrum. In infrared you can spot a man in absolute dark, follow footprints on concrete for a brief bit of time. You can also see when a man flushes, no matter what his level of self-control. Blood vessels up the side of the neck dialate and the heat flows. Thats why a very sensitive IR sensor was a part of Vane’s left eye. He watched the dark bolus of spit slither down Halloran’s throat.
“You wouldn’t.” Halloran posed it as a statement, but meant it as a question.
It was Vane’s turn to be impassive. “Without batting an eye. These are green rocks to me. I can sell them or be done with them, but either way, my exposure ends.”
Vane watched as Halloran’s eyes shifted down and left, the barest hint of movement across his brow. Kinesthetic neural response, the kind associated with sensory perception. That and with lying. Vane held back the smile. Halloran wasn’t the only one to have received some very special training.
Listen to your master boy, Vane thought with a passing wish to bare his fangs. He didn’t need thermal vision to know that Halloran was wired, connected by some neural implant to Smith, who had been listening and directing from afar. Their eyes met and held, each trying to scry truth in those round windows to the soul.
Halloran flinched first, speaking aloud, but not to Vane. “Yes sir, I do.” His gaze finally broke away from Vane’s, dropping to the holo on the table.
Vane didn’t bother looking down; Yakov’s intake of breath told him everything he needed to know. Instead, Vane’s stare remained locked on Halloran as he slid his own document across the table. Not a fancy holoprint, but it would do.
Halloran picked up the sheet and read it thoroughly. He flipped it over, confirmed that the back was blank, then folded the sheet twice and slid it into his jacket pocket. “You’re serious.” Another question masked in a statement.
Vane allowed himself a dark smile. “I’m always serious.” Then the smile vanished, replaced with an icy succinctness. “Is that going to be a problem?”
Halloran sat for a long moment, but Vane would bet that it was in private thought and not discussion with the voices in his head. Halloran took a deep breath and exhaled. “No. Do you have a… designee?”
Vane was deadpan. “Working on that. I’ll get back to you.”
Halloran stood, his attention lingering on Vane. “I take it then that our discussion is concluded?”
For the first time Vane grinned as he extended his hand. “If you mean do we have a deal, then yes. We do.”
Halloran took his hand, a firm grasp, and glanced down at the untouched holo, certain that Vane had yet to look at it. He chuffed, shaking his head as he walked away.
Vane watched him go, tossing a nod to Fitz who passed it along to the bouncers at the door. They stepped back, allowing Halloran to pass without impediment.
Yakov stared silently at Vane as the pirate picked the holostrip off the tabletop. The sum of three point five million burned in the bottom right corner. Vane stuffed the strip in his shirt pocket and slapped the Russian on the shoulder. “C’mon. We’ve got work to do.”