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1. A salty trickle of perspiration fell from along Marty's upper lip and into his mouth; he quickly wiped a forefinger across to rid the distaste. Mopping the rest away with a sleeve only to find the cause of the saltiness chafe against him, he glanced to the sand he knelt upon and noticed how a breeze began to coalesce it around him. "Yep..." He quipped to himself, thinking how the next three days could potentially be the most tedious he'd ever endured. Three, and his message for collection would have been received and executed. Now it was only a matter of who would turn up in that time. The canopy attached to his ejected pilot seat began to flap around. Reaching to the chair's top, satisfied that the system he tinkered with was transmitting as the box bleeped, he pushed himself up. Moments later, Special Agent Marty Bewn was back on his knees shovelling a shallow dugout, with a fine, deep blue suit jacket set to one side. ... For a long moment, anyone would be forgiven for thinking Marty Bewn had succumbed to the dry hot touch of dehydration and the afternoon sun; laid with eyes glazed within a shallow grave, under a respectful canopy. Until that is, when Bewn began making trumpeting sounds using his lips and tapping out a marching beat with his feet. Dotted around him was a small canister with a note inside; some scrap put together to form a face, with crossed-out eyes and thick straw-like grass for hair; the obvious husk of a small fire, with some less obvious tribal dance-move footprints imprinted around it, and the rocky formation of the letters: H, E, L and P placed somewhat ceremoniously. The marching rendition cut and Bewn leant around to immediately catch the distinctly human-made sand swirls billowing from an outcrop. He dipped his head briefly before checking himself and taking a controlling breath. Marty then drank the last of his water quickly, rose even more quickly, and began waving his arms left and right towards the incomers. A ship followed them overhead, coming to land a few hundred metres out, and in short time these unlikely rescuers were now disembarking from their own rides, pointing guns and noticeably speaking through transmitting headgear. Leaning over with his hands on his knees and exaggerating his breathing, the agent started his rescued enactment and was soon interrupted: "You are a strange looking state-of-the-art Origin," scoffed the shorter man of three ragtag, low-life scavengers that were suitably at home here in this system. "Huh, oh. See that's-" again Bewn was interrupted, which only made it easier for him. "Shot down by criminals lookin' to pilfer, yeah, yadda yadda? We don't usually come findin' people, least lively ones, right boys?" the short one grinned and spat. The rest followed with some approximation of their own, with one giving their weapon arm a flex. The short one moved his head back slightly and peered at Agent Bewn, and it was here he knew that his moment of lies in this pivotal moment of truth, was waiting to be told. "I...yeah pirates. Came out of nowhere almost and caught me in atmos. I must have panicked some, right, as I don't have a clue where I ended up... I'm so glad you're here...you, you are saving my-" "You yuppie fools, comin' 'ere to touch down on firma an' get a piece of the grime. Tourists, an' everyone just smiles at ya 'cause they know you gonna pay 'em to do some easy everyday shit like show you around or tell ya stories-" short stuff weaned his disgruntled speech and cocked his head away to listen into his COMM. He nodded in the direction of his ship and continued with saying, "Well, has it we got a ride for ya which I'm sure you can help...oblige? For our expenses, like." "Oh, oh sure I can pay whatever you need. Refuelling, time anything." He had them. They wouldn't care to ask many questions as long as credits were changing hands, and Agent Bewn would make certain to trickle in all the credits he would require. "Let's get you on back to the civil world then my friend," the short man smiled broadly with a hint of sincerity and a gesture stretching out towards the rides they had come in on. And upon Bewn collecting his deep blue jacket, scrambling to his duped rescuers and boarding a spare seating on their vessel, the short one had unclamped Bewn's bleeping box from the seating, stuffed it into a satchel compartment and lead the troupe to rumbled, whirr and throttle away. The journey took no more than a burn from the atmosphere and a quantum leap to a near region on the same terra firma. The ship made sounds that it shouldn't. As did the crew. Most of whom were within the ship's front, no doubt discussing their dastardly doing. One remained in the main section toting a rifle as they flashed glances Bewn's way. Bewn faked dehydration, sunstroke and relief. Although some of that was truth. A door opened and the short man strode through, "Gettin' ya landing in town presently. Couple a bars 'ere; thinking my crew could unwind, and you being all gratifying and such wouldn't mind buying a round. After the refuel." "It'll be my gratitude," he had to reel back any show of smugness he really had, which proved easy as the ship juddered to one side throwing Bewn off balance; the other two merely shuffled. The short one rubbed over an eye with all four fingers of his hand, waiting. The ship found the ground. It was darker this side of the planet; an approach of early sundown. Swirls continued to emanate out from the parked vessel's rear before Bewn understood that it came from one of the crew disembarking. Short stuff slapped him around the shoulder, "Kids...man's got kids back home," he clarified. Bewn hadn't need for an elaborate reply, "Oh, right...course, mans got-" "Get your sig on that and we can let this run why we sort ya a trip home." Agent Bewn slid his jacket's sleeve away and angled his mobiGlas to a refuelling panel's sensor, tapped a button and pressed a thumb into a display. Satisfied, the short man ambled away to a very mechanical lift that lowered to the dusty dirt street below. Cheeks had begun to redden; voices raised and beverages spilt. Far into the third round, Agent Bewn had been fleeced for fuel, alcohol and what his ravaged hosts affectionately called ticket money, for his return home. Bewn had played them square by square. "Really," Bewn blurted out towards his table in a slur, "it's obvious right..." He tapped a fist to his chest, faking the passing of wind. "These...pirates, knew exactly where I was and what it is that I been doing there why..." Either some of the group dismissed him entirely, or jeered at him. "...data running," Bewn winked, "job from Covalex...needed a regular guy, someone less suspicious..." "Or expendable," short stuff flung an arm across the table to quell his crew before continuing, "But we s'pose to believe they hired you?" "Needed a regular!" He blurted and slurred once more before sliding down in towards the table with a loud whisper, "Apparently they've been having many security thingies happening going on...kept the job local; pretty much came to me for help...knew my shipping schedule see...when I planned to head out of the system going." "And the data module now?" The short man asked. "Huh...?" "The d..a..t..a, where is it now?" "Oh, nobody getting that. Auto deletes without this," Bewn slid back the sleeve to his jacket, "...and my retina scan." Shorty pretended to loosen a little, taking time with a gulp of liquor, "They take it when they shot you down, or it's in the wreckage hidden...or what?" With his hand ran into his hair and a sorry look on his face, Bewn replied, "I'm a klutz. Left it behind, probably covered by a sand storm now...it got linked into the flight recorder...I left it behind...ah fuck it, right!" With that Agent Marty Bewn stood quickly upright, swayed, downed his drink, sat back with a thud, gave a look of blurry unintelligence and pretended to pass out over the table. Seconds passed where everyone looked to each other, with one pushing on Bewn's arm. With eyes fixed, the short man spoke to his people, "Get in contact with Cyrus and let him know we got some prices we be wanting to negotiate for shipping routes out of Stanton. Day just got very profitable." ... Despite theatrics, slipping into from the grace of respite, and being induced by injection, Agent Bewn came into consciousness tired as ever. He groaned, sat, and rubbed his eyes long enough to understand he was sitting on the short hard surface of a cramped ship's hold. "You're awake," came the vocals of the man piloting, as he spoke through the COMM. "Good. I'll give you three minutes to get yourself together and unlock the data on that cache." Bewn peered around his confines to see nothing more than himself and his baited bleeping box. Without adjourn he rose, collected it and flashed his mobiGlas across. Looking through the window of the only door that separated them, Bewn saw the pilot strike out a finger from behind his seat; it was clear he was monitoring from a screen at his dashboard and the door was secured. Bewn stretched slightly, rolled his head around his neck and blinked. Moving the box closer, a cable came to dangle over his hand; the device was readily connected to retrieve its spoils. Bewn put his eye to a sensor and the bleeping stopped. He then removed himself and waited. "Well, well. Mister compliant over there, eh? Guess you like things just as easy as I do..." The man trailed off, punched a button on the dashboard and began sliding blank view screens over and over, "Wha-. What the fuck is this?! There's nothing here...there's nothing here you little shit!" And with that he pushed back his seat and leaped up, opening the door immediately. Standing there for an angry moment before a frightful realisation that his draw on his sidearm was seconds too slow as Marty Bewn's concealed bionic opened up to reveal a stun of light and hurt. "You're awake," grinned the agent widely from the seat of the cockpit. The previous pilot found their feet and hands tied tightly to some cargo rigging together with Bewn's deep blue jacket. The agent continued, "I've had more than one neat trick on this operation, but this..." Bewn raised his biotic forearm, "...this is always the most fun by far." "Advocacy." The tied man spoke. "Special Agent Marty Bewn here to help cut you a deal, Cyrus. Been through your navigation recordings already; certainly more going on in that belt than just rocks." He placed his legs up to rest on some piping as the vessel snapped into quantum, "Things have been expanding rapidly and we needed a way in, although I thought perhaps the involvement of the Advocacy at Gundo may have spooked too much, it turns out coming in from this angle was more than adequate." Cyrus said nothing. Agent Bewn rested his head into his seating and let out a long breath, "Taking you in Cyrus." 2. 2945-10-08_07:34 SET TO: 05 FROM: 01 SUBJECT: 9T-RedSand ATTC: CASEFILE #ES8593-DHC 3 years ago this (attached) was wrapped up a tad hastily after it was merged with another case...among other things. I think there is a greater conviction to be had and I'm betting on the subject matter to be closer to a tie with who is heading up the influx of contraband being smuggled through Stanton. Anyway, this is not yet our concern but I want you to follow Agent Bewn closely, he single-handedly conceived and executed a mission that saw to the acquirement of information regarding a location to a large hub of undesirables. Almost originating from petty scavengers in Stanton if you didn't count the case file. Talented guy. Keep him on this. His confidence and slight moral skew makes him an ideal candidate for our future endeavours. 2945-10-08_08:03 SET TO: 01 FROM: 05 RE: 9T-RedSand I understand how valuable it is to have the right kind of badge getting the job done. I'll make arrangements for monitoring, and persuasion. There's the matter of Jose Silliani I'm still waiting on. 2945-10-08_14:59 SET TO: 05 FROM: 01 RE: 9T-RedSand Eliminate. Higher someone. 3. A morning had slipped unnoticeably away as its time was worked into shifting screens, pondering perspectives and evaluating evidence. With a read through a recent report from a local private investigator having left, at this point in time, nothing but loose ends, it was fitting to do some field investigation of their own. A wave and tap later and any information needed was sent to mobiGlas. Upon undressing a uniform and replacing it with a flight suit, an app was opened on a desk computer and a message was voiced noting of intent and departure, which upon completion was sent to both Selma Hoss, the managing director to where they'd been stationed these last weeks, and Sashi Michaels, the chief security officer for the shipping company, Covalex. Suited, they finalised the message: "Special Agent-in-Charge Samantha Harrington," and took water from a dispenser, before leaving. The terminals were a familiarly busy part of any large port, with a short wait being no exception to Samantha this time around, although one patron took light of the Advocacy insignia she wore and allowed her early access. In the bottom corner of the terminal's screen read: version 2.0.0; she wondered what updates may be in store for the future. Her ship called from storage in the usual manner, awaiting its pilot long before they would reach their departure zone. Stepping out from depressurisation with condensation dissipating from her helmet, Agent Harrington traversed the walkways behind the docking pads to arrive at her own. She circled around to view markings it had along a nacelle, before climbing inside, where she reviewed each cockpit display, twice. She paused with eyes falling onto nothing in particular for a moment before they refocused towards the only view of the port there was from this angle. "Advocacy you are clear for departure," voiced a politely casual, yet instructive flight controller through her helmet's audio. Understanding the necessity to move along, the agent placed energy into her upward thrust and pivoted the nose around for an easy exit, "Flight control, Advocacy vessel Harrington two-niner-four-bravo all okay, departing strut." The station fell far below. Samantha dipped her nose and peered at the smallness of the walkway exit she had emerged from minutes ago. Activating a function, she realigned and peered once more, this time out into the growing expanse of black beyond. Her HUD altered and a sound chimed; in the shortness thereafter she arrived at her destination. With her ship left quiet and stationary behind, Samantha floated passed debris and eased herself through a cramped opening to move inside the wreck of a disabled shipping hub. Flickers of warnings came from destroyed dark corners, but some passageways and workstations stayed sufficiently accessible. A handprint scanner denied access to an employee quarter; Samantha leant her fingertips to the door and eyed around its edges. Turning away, she activated luminosity from her helm and pushed off to shed light into the darkness of a corridor and the approaching shaft of an open elevator. The agent's mobiGlas pulsed colour into rooms and sounded various tones. Each room's deposition was translated and its indications explored; no bodies remained since an initial removal of the deceased had occurred from the premises; no dubious signatures of foreign materials uncovered; no signs of missing evidence from previously depicted records surfaced. An hour of investigation turned up nothing noteworthy. Samantha gave her mobiGlas a wide swipe, where its projected blue screens zipped off and a red indicator showed in their stead. She floated motionless, quietly, with her eyes narrow. Thereafter, any single object that wasn't firmly in place to floor, ceiling or wall, Samantha systematically examined, rotated and set aside. Room by room, corridor by corridor, shaft by shaft...and then something: a green glow from a hand-sized tablet prised away from behind a simple racking. She had discovered a data pad. Missed from initial inspection and belonging to, as standard to all personnel present here before the incident, an employee of Covalex. Agent Harrington triggered the pad and ran a program of authenticity from her mobiGlas. Seconds later security on the pad had been lifted, making the data accessible to her. What she found within its recordings caused Samantha's visor to mist briefly as she breathed a small smile out onto her face. ... Samantha sat upon the seating of one of the port's lounges and closed an image from her mobiGlas of her young daughter, as she blew out candles on a cake for a birthday wish. Moving a lock of hair behind her ear, she then cupped her hands together within her lap and looked upwards in time to meet the beholden eyes and pursed smile of a woman coming to greet her. Sam stood and reached out, "First let me tell you how deeply sorry I am."