Some people are just more open about it.
WARDOGS INCORPORATED is one of the largest and most professional mercenary corporations operating in the Kantillon subsector. If you need a bodyguard, an assassination team, or an armored cavalry regiment complete with air support, Wardogs Inc. can provide it for you… for a very steep price.
The Stratocracy of Sfodria has ruled over its people with a very large steel fist for centuries. The giant mechs piloted by their nobles are all but invulnerable and have long served as the aristocratic shield against Sfodria’s enemies. But recently, their indestructible knights have been falling in battle at an unprecedented rate, and no one knows why. Desperate to reverse the fortunes of war before their nation falls to their hereditary enemy, the Stratocracy turns to Wardogs Inc. to train their ineffective and long-ignored militia.
Tommy Falkland and his fellow Wardogs aren’t on the job long before they begin to realize that they may be in well over their pay grade, as they are not dealing with a conventional human threat.
I’d been sitting in a cafe in the outer rim of the spaceport, about ten gates from where we were going to pick up our ship for the next leg of the trip. Our ultimate destination was the Dom Sevru system, but we had to go through Feymanus, then jump through to Rhysalan, then to Terentulus, over to Merovinge and up through Mosva. Like Park said, it was a pissant planet. Just look up the sector map—you’ll see what I mean.
Anyhow, I was sitting outside this cafe, eating a stale pastry and drinking a coffee that wasn’t quite as terrible as I expected, when this guy caught my eye in a bad way. You know how it is when you just feel that someone is off. It’s usually in the eyes, and you can sense it once you’ve dealt with enough bad guys. But I’ve learned to trust my gut over the years, and this thick guy with fleshy lips and a stubbly head was triggering my radar.
He was sitting there poking around on a little tablet, pretending not to be watching Cole and Waterose where they sat at a table inside the cafe. I keyed my com jack to Ward’s channel. “Ward, it’s Falkland. Come to the cafe in Sector 18,” I said, glancing up at the signage. “Be cool and ignore the guys inside. I’m at the outside table.”
“Roger,” he replied. “Be there in five.”
Before he arrived, the thick guy got up and walked past Cole and Waterose, glancing at them again as he passed. He stepped out into the concourse and started walking towards the rest rooms. Once I was sure of his destination, I relaxed. Ward showed up a moment later and I swigged my coffee and chucked the rest of the lackluster pastry into a chute. “Ward—I think we got a spook. He was eyeing the boys over there.”
“Where is he now?” Ward said, looking around.
“Restrooms. Let’s corner him.”
“You got it,” he said. “Want to let Cole and Waterose know?”
I looked over at the two of them, engrossed in a gun site they’d pulled up on the table display. “Nah, you and me are better at this. Change your shirt,” I said, pointing to his purple polo. I was already wearing a regular T-shirt. Ward nodded and pulled a less conspicuous shirt out of his backpack.
We headed to the restroom and stepped inside. Our target was in a stall and another guy was washing his hands. In the corner was a utility closet. I opened it like I belonged there and pulled out a mop, a bucket and a “CAUTION” cone, then nodded to the guy who was now drying his hands. When he left I splashed water all over the floor outside the entrance and put up the cone, then wedged the door shut with the mop.
Ward grinned at me, then knocked on the stall door. “Hey buddy, you gonna be in there all day?” he said.
“What’s your problem?” came an angry voice, followed by the sound of the toilet’s incinerator turning on.
“Maybe you,” Ward said. “Come out of there.”
The door latch clicked and the door opened slightly. Ward pulled it open, then came flying backwards as the man caught him unexpectedly with a hard punch to the face. Ward staggered backward, blood welling from a split lip. “You bastard,” he yelled, spitting blood. As the guy exited the stall, I saw he had an object clenched in his fist. He’d hit Ward with something.
“Back off!” he snarled at us and making a move for the main door.
“Stand down,” I said, blocking him. “You’re a little on edge for a civilian, aren’t you?”
“Screw you,” he said, trying to shove past me. Ward grabbed his shoulder and nailed him in the side of the head with his fist, knocking him into the doorjamb. The guy thrashed about but I hit him in the stomach with a rear hand, doubling him over.
“I saw you watching my crew,” I hissed. “Who are you working for?”
The guy grabbed at one of my legs and punched upwards into my crotch. It was only a glancing blow, so it didn’t slow me down any, but it did piss me off. I grabbed behind his head and kneed him hard in the face, then pulled him into another rear hand that knocked him out on his feet. He collapsed backwards onto the tile and hit so hard I heard his skull crack. He jerked and twitched for a second, then lay still. Blood began to spill from the back of his head.
“Geez, Tommy, I think you killed him,” Ward said.
“You think?” I said, a little surprised. I leaned in and put my hand on his neck. At first his pulse was pumping like a machine gun but as I felt his throat, it slowed down, and came to a full stop.
“He pissed me off. And it isn’t like we had the time or the space to interrogate him properly.” I pried open the dead man’s fingers to see what had cut Ward’s lip. It was small metal cylinder. I looked at it close. It was some sort of recording device. Ward went to the sink and washed out his mouth, then dabbed some wet paper towels on the bleeding cut. When he was done fixing his face, I handed him the cylinder. “What do you think?”
“Probably a full-spectrum environmental recorder. Audio, video, etc. Holographic capture. Looks like you made him right.”
“Good thing, too,” I said. “Considering I killed him and all that.”
“Yeah,” Ward said, going over to take a look at the dead man. “I’ll take pics with my retinal cam and we’ll see if we can dig up any details on him.”
“Get a chunk of something for a DNA scan, too.” I said.