A Matter of TrustBy Steve Lake
Page 2 of 4
Alden was nothing much to look at. Bleak was the best way to describe it; a thin sleaty drizzle leaked from the dark grey sky above, turning the thin layer of grit covering the surface into a sticky slush. Tall outcrops and hills of dark granite studded the landscape, with scattered outcrops of wizened scrubby vegetation here and there. The air was cold and thick with the oily, burnt smell of over-worked and under-maintained machinery. Some of the mining equipment still operated, and Jenna and Gan could feel a distant thud-thud-thud of something beating at the ground beneath their feet.
Jenna shivered, feeling the chill even beneath her heated overcoat. She'd forgot how horrible the planet was. "What a place... Cygnus Alpha couldn't have been any worse than this!"
Gan raised an eyebrow. Jenna had been lucky enough to avoid a trip to the surface of the notorious penal colony. He hadn't been there long, but the place still gave him nightmares. "It was, believe me."
Just beyond the settlement itself was the landing field, where a variety of shuttle craft and planet hoppers sat soaking up the rain. They were mainly battered and scarred old hulks, obsolete by decades, but just looking at them gave Jenna a pang of nostalgia for her old smuggling days.
The settlement was little better than the rest of the planet. Low concrete blockhouses, uniformly ugly, weathered and pitted by the elements. Not many people were in evidence in its streets, and those that were were wrapped heavily against the elements, indistinguishable as individuals beneath their heavy hooded cloaks. Jenna doubted they'd get any trouble here, but all the same, it paid to be careful. There was likely to be a small police presence, and it wasn't inconceivable that word of the Liberator had filtered through even this far out. Better to get what they needed and get out fast before they attracted attention.
She tapped Gan's arm and pointed towards a building at the far end of the street. "That's the trading post... we should be able to get what we need there." She started down the street, and Gan followed.
"Right." Gan fiddled with the weapon in his belt. "Did you say the Federation didn't have much of a presence here?"
"Not last time I was here, no." She noticed his fidgeting and smiled. "Don't worry, I don't think you'll have to use that." She was aware that the limiter implanted in Gan's skull made combat difficult for him, but he seemed capable of reacting well enough in self-defence. As Jenna wasn't looking to pick a fight, that suited her perfectly.
"I hope not! With my limiter, well... perhaps you should have come down with Cally."
She shot him a look. "No... I'd prefer to rely on you. I know you won't let me down."
"Neither would she. You know, Cally's all right really." Gan had spotted the animosity between the two women as well - most of it on Jenna's part.
"Maybe," Jenna muttered. "Let's just drop it for now, shall we?"
Jenna quickened her pace towards the trading post, Gan trailing in her wake, shaking his head slightly.
The trading post was the largest building in the colony, with levels underground as well, mainly for storage. The ground floor was like a large open market, with stalls and booths. It was surprisingly crowded, with a lot of people who clearly weren't inhabitants of the settlement, either traders or long-haul riggers along to stretch their legs and stock up on a few tawdry 'luxury' items to help while away the boredom of hyperspace.
Gan touched Jenna's arm and nodded warningly to a couple of men strolling languidly through the stalls. They were dressed in the standard black coveralls of Federation security troopers, but their heads were bare and their weapons were slung loosely over their shoulders. Both men were heavily bearded and looked shabby and unkempt, their uniforms grimy and badly ordered. Hardly the cream of the security forces. Jenna shook her head.
"I don't think they'll be a problem. But it won't hurt to stay alert."
Jenna began to move from stall to stall, checking the wares on display for what she needed. She'd memorised the list Zen had produced, mainly a few basic chemical compounds that shouldn't be too difficult to pick up anywhere.
She froze suddenly. "Gan..." she breathed.
"What is it?"
She turned away suddenly. "That man over there..." she hissed. "In the red tunic."
Gan glanced nonchalantly over her shoulder at a tall, well-built man in his early thirties who was chatting with someone a few stalls down from where they were. He had close-cropped dark hair and sly, cunning features, the sort you took an instant dislike too.
"Who is he?" he whispered.
"Tye Solmer... he was the security prefect here the last time I paid a visit." She noticed a silver Federation badge pinned to the front of his tunic. "Looks like he still is..."
"Is that bad news?"
"Possibly... he's a slimy sort, would sell his own grandmother out if he thought he'd make a good profit. The smugglers used to pay him off sometimes to look the other way, but even then you couldn't trust him."
"Does he know you?"
Jenna looked uncomfortable. "We had an... agreement, once. I just hope he's forgotten!"
"He's coming over," Gan hissed. Sure enough, the man finished talking and started making his way along the aisle.
"Quick..." Jenna turned to walk away but her passage was impeded by another traveller who stepped into her path, just long enough for the man to catch sight of her. He frowned, and raised a hand.
"Hey!" he called. Jenna froze, Gan stopping beside her. She turned slowly around as he approached.
"Don't I know you?" he asked.
"I don't think so... excuse me."
Jenna moved to go past but the man stepped into her path. "I'm sure I do... I never forget a face," he grinned. "Especially a face like yours!"
"I get mistaken for a lot of people..." she began, desperately thinking what to say. She cursed her ill-fortune. This was the last thing she expected.
He snapped his fingers. "Jenna Stannis!" he declared loudly. "Of course! You were, er, trading out in this sector a year or so back, weren't you?"
"About then, yes."
"Of course... I remember you now." A slow smile spread across his face. "Remember me? Tye Solmer." He held out a hand for her take. She preferred to fold her arms, but forced a smile onto her face.
"Solmer, yes... I remember. The security prefect still?"
Solmer shrugged. "Yeah, afraid so... can't seem to get the right transfer anywhere!" he laughed. "What are you up to?"
Jenna sensed more than just a friendly enquiry behind his words. "Oh, just drifting through... got business in the next sector. Just picking up a few things for the journey."
"Staying long? I mean, if you've time, I'd love to catch up on old times, eh?" he grinned hopefully.
"Sorry, but, things to do, places to visit... you know?"
Solmer nodded knowingly. "Yeah, I know... you liked to keep, er, busy, as I recall! Well, if you do change your mind, my office is on the other side of town. Pay me a visit before you go!"
"If I've time, sure..."
Solmer suddenly raised his wrist to look at his watch. "Talking of time... I must go. See you around, I hope!"
"Yeah... see you."
The prefect hurried away. Jenna frowned.
"That wasn't too bad," remarked Gan.
Jenna shook her head. "No, that was too easy. Come on, the sooner we get what we need and get out, the better - I wouldn't trust Solmer as far as I could throw him."
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