Dune jerked her head after she pulled her naked body as far back as it could go. She was covered in profuse sweat and breathed as if every exhale was her last. Her legs straddled the waist of Burr, as he laid naked on the bed. His arms raised, hands and fingers open as if he still held a vase that had long fallen to the ground. Burr’s breath was quiet, controlled. His eyes locked on the woman on top, his face with barely an expression of pleasure.
He moved his hands together, palms pressed with fingers pointed in opposite directions. Then Burr slapped his palms, and Dune rolled off his body and fell to the floor.
Burr swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and wrapped a towel around him as he stood up. He stepped to Dune, who was still lost in her own heavy breath, and towered over his lover. Burr held out his right hand, fingers in a talon position.
“You are quite formidable, my dear,” he said. “I’ve faced women who would have told me their deepest, darkest secrets by now. Yet, I sense you are still holding back. There’s something you’re not telling me.”
He quickly flicked his wrist, and Dune let loose a primal scream of ecstasy. Tears fell out of her eyes as she tried to breath again.
“I was told to send the kids after you,” she mumbled out between wheezes. “Distract you.”
“You told me that already. Not that I hadn’t figured it out. Who ordered it?”
“The Shadow Network Commission.”
Burr chuckled, and moved his hand again. Dune curled up and moaned.
“Come on, darlin’,” Burr said. “The Commission would never get directly involved in a hit. Especially such a trivial one.. It’s not the way. There has to be a representative here who speaks for it.”
“He’ll kill me.”
“I’ll kill you now. And the smile the coroner finds on your face will scare the shit out of him.”
Burr knelt down by Dune’s trembling body. “I’d rather scare the shit out of him in person.”
Dune looked into Burr’s eyes, and said, “D.C. Hontan. He was The Watchman of Eco.”
Burr remained frozen for a moment while Dune tried to roll onto her stomach. He sighed, then reached out his arms and picked her up. Held her like a rag doll as he stepped out of the bedroom. The sweat on her body dulled the shine of the metal veins on his arms.
“How do you know this?” Burr asked as he carried her to the large bathroom. There a bubbling hot tub was ready. Steam floated off the water’s surface. He stopped at the edge.
“Moon told me,” she replied. “Days before they died. She found out he was The Watchman, suspected Hontan knew she found out, and that he was planning to make a power grab to take over all operations on Eco.”
“But that’s against the rules. The Watchman isn’t supposed to get involved. Just ensure the Shadow’s interests are being fulfilled. They should have killed him once they found out.”
“Igor had them by the balls. If the Network kills the chief of planetary police, the Assembly would be all over them. The Disco would send every top agent to take the Shadow Network apart on every known planet. The destruction of The Commission would trigger an interplanetary turf war that could tear the entire Terran Assembly to shreds.”
Burr lowered Dune into the hot tub until she was up to her shoulders in water. He reached over to the cold cabinet on the wall, opened it, and pulled out a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
“Why would she entrust you with such information, my dear?” Burr asked as he opened the bottle. “I mean, you were just a distributer. A major one, yes. But still just an easily replaceable worker.”
He placed the glasses on the ledge of the tub and filled them. Handed her a sparkling glass.
“I was her brother’s lover. Actually, his girlfriend. The first real girlfriend he ever had, according to Moon. So she liked me. Hontan likes me too. Been after me since he killed Moon and Barty. I just prefer my men to be, you know, real.”
“That explains why you weren’t killed too,” Burr said, then took a sip from his glass. Burr suddenly sensed something close by. Movement out in the quiet night air. He put his glass down, and placed his hand on Dune’s wet hair.
“I’ll be right back.”
“I love you,” Dune said. Burr kissed her on the forehead, and walked out of the bathroom.
Burr entered the main part of his hotel room. It was completely dark, except for the occasional flash of light from the outside street below. He turned toward the glass doors to the room’s balcony. He went over and slid the doors open, stepped out into the warm night air. It was dry, the air was always dry. Eco only had one major body of water located on the other side of the planet. So storms were rare, and the temperature barely changed between the blue daylight and night. He looked around at the other balconies on the side of the ten-story hotel, then to the street populated by a few transports, drunks, and hookers.
“Damn! The least you can do is get dressed before coming out, Master.”
Burr looked toward the voice, and saw a Free Runner, the girl named Arie, as she hung upside down off the balcony above.
“Not that I’m really complaining, sir,” she added.
“You are too young for such thoughts,” Burr said. “And I am too old to be included when you enviably have such thoughts. Where are your wingers?”
Two rows away, a teenage boy popped up from the shadow. Burr then heard a finger snap, and looked below at another older girl on the edge of the balcony below.
“Good,” Burr said, as he turned his attention back to Arie. “Unseen. Quiet. You all are learning. Why are you here?”
“A rumour,” Arie said. “You know the cops think we’re dead because we suddenly vanished, and that you killed us. There are already plans in the works to have you shipped off-world to avoid a messy investigation before the public finds out.”
“Except, as you once said to us: that’s not going to happen. Melos has a friend in the outer colony.”
Melos jumped off the balcony two rows over and dropped to the balcony rail below him. With quick use of his hands and weight, Melos swung himself up to grab the next railing over. Then hooked himself onto Burr’s balcony railing.
“Master,” he said, barely out of breath. “Base 31 is the pyroclastic flow collector complex. It’s the worse place on the planet, nicknamed Hell on Eco. No one goes out there, not even the cops. A friend works there. He once told me that the Ghosters run everything from behind a puppet local council. From Blue Neb to food distribution. No one ever asks questions because people die all the time there, and the quota is always met. Those who survive by the grace of the Ghosters make enough to retire after just a few cycles. Problem is, no one know who the Ghosters are or what they look like. It’s said they can float on the air, walk through walls, and even move through the center of the flow reactor.”
“I can’t believe I never heard of them. Are they part of The Network?”
“No,” Melos replied. “They hate The Network. Been a cold war between them for over a dozen cycles. But the word is someone from the Network contacted them. About you and your girlfriend.”
“Lure you both out to Base 31,” Arie added. “Kill you. Kill Dune, the only surviving member of Eco’s Kinichi operations. Solve everyone’s problem, and even possibly create a new alliance that ends the cold war. Everyone wins, everyone profits. Everything stays the same.”
Burr put his right hand on his jaw. Ran his finger across the metal plate near his ear.
“It’s called a Mirror Maneuver.” He said quietly. “The Network gets a stranglehold on the planet, and Hontan’s plans get crushed without having to kill him. No one from the Assembly will even take notice, or will care as long as quotas are still met. Clean, classic strategy.”
“You mean someone has done this enough to give it a name?” Melos asked.
“When is this to happen?”
“No one knows,” Melos replied. “The Ghosters never leave the colony. So they won’t come after you. But they’ll be waiting.”
“Okay,” Burr stated. “Here’s what I want you to do: stay hidden, but have someone always tail D.C. Hontan day and night. I want to know every move he makes. I’ll try to find out more about the Ghosters. But if you hear anything else, tell me immediately. Good work. Now go.”
The three Free Runners swung off the balconies onto other balconies. Burr watched as threw themselves from building to building until they disappeared onto the rooftops surrounded by the night. He returned to his room and went to the bar to light up a ‘gar.
“Headquarters,” he announced as he poured a drink. “Direct to Officer Quentin Knowls. Connect.”
Within seconds a screen appeared in front of Burr. The image of a half-asleep Knowls in bed floated while Burr took a sip from his glass.
“Hello? Yeah…what’s up?”
“Yeah Quentin, get over here. We need to talk.”
* * *
Burr stood by the only desk in the cluttered warehouse as the half-dozen officers of the EPPF put several people in electronic restraints. He wore the usual street clothes, badge hung from his neck and Bat-Hattori strapped to his back, as he inspected the bubble crystal between his fingers. This was the first time since he arrived that Burr was at a colony outside of Logo City. A small settlement next to a quarry that produced celestial marble, one of the most valuable decorative stones in The Assembly. Every person who lived in the settlement was technically rich, yet they still let the Network set up a multi-use distribution hub in their town. Burr had spent the past several days locating the warehouse. And it was well hidden too. Right underneath the town and only accessible through a fake storage shed at the edge of the quarry.
As Burr rolled the crystal in his fingers, then placed it into the data reader on the desk, Quentin walked over from the rounded up prisoners.
“They work in shifts Burr,” Quentin said. “We’ll get the rest of the crew once these people start naming names.”
A screen appeared above the desk, and filled up with numbers and dates and destinations.
“The funny thing is why,” Burr said, almost as if to himself. “Most of this stuff is legal on Eco. So why risk everything to traffic in it?”
“Most of it’s legal here,” Quentin replied. “But do you know what the tax is on this stuff if you buy it legally? Besides, it may be legal to own here, but not legal to ship. And my guess is most of this stuff was about to head off-world. On some planets it’s worth ten times the price here. Shadow makes a profit on both ends: black market on Eco, and smuggling to restrictive planets.”
“Everybody makes out I guess. Except…”
Burr stopped his sentence when he heard six quick electrical pops in the air. He and Quentin turned and saw the six police officers on the floor. From behind a stack of crate came a figured dressed in a sand-colored body suit. The boots and gloves matched, and a hood was drawn over the head. The attacker had a white gas mask-like devise that covered the face, and the person held a rifle that was of unfamiliar design to Burr.
Quentin inched his hand to he weapon on his side as the figure slowly stepped forward.
“Don’t,” Burr said. “No guns, or you’re dead.”
Burr stepped forward in front of Quentin, and the person stopped. Rifle still aimed forward.
“I heard you’ve been waiting for me,” Burr announced. “Hello.”
“Then you know there’s no point in resisting,” the person said, voice muffled by the mask. “Come with me, and your partner can live to tell the story.”
“Hell no,” Quentin exclaimed. The person immediately aimed his rifle at the prisoners on the floor and shot off six more rounds in seconds. Then aimed the weapon back at Burr.
“I guess he’s serious,” Burr said.
“And don’t think that Bat-Hattori is going to help you,” the person stated. “You’ll never get it out of the case in time.”
“You know my weapon of choice, I’m impressed. Okay, now I know that you know almost everything about me. And I know you know that I know almost nothing about you. Almost. See, you don’t know that I know you weren’t ordered to kill me. Or we wouldn’t be talking. Ergo, surely you must know that I know you alone cannot beat me.”
“Fine. I knew you did not know this is true.” Burr turned to Quentin and said, “Get behind the desk. And don’t come out until I tell you.”
Burr began to move forward, then suddenly loosened the tie on his hair, pivoted his feet and twisted like a top. The assailant fired, but the particle bullets bounced off Burr’s dreads and exploded on the walls around the room. Burr dropped low, swept his legs under him and projected his body at the person. In a split second Burr had the barrel of the rifle in one hand, and the neck of the attacker in the other.
“You have it set on stun bitch,” Burr growled, and broke the rifle in his hand. “I so hate someone who’s not fully committed!”
Burr quickly took his hand off the neck, balled it into a fist, and slammed the assailant’s mask. He opened his fingers and caused the mask to shatter into pieces. He then cracked the person across the chest with two quick hand chops, and the attacker fell to the floor. As he turned to Quentin, seven more Ghosters appeared to walk out from the walls. Their weapons raised.
Burr exhaled, and said, “Now that is much better!”
All seven fired at once.