The Unity Chronicles


Retirement

Unity Standard Time: 01:23, 12th of January, U79. Tiw, third moon of Unimanus V.

It's a cliché to say that the galaxy's a big place, but then, it's a bigger cliché to say it's a small world. I guess that's why I stay the hell away from clichés and all related forms of bullshit. Big galaxy or small world, though, it's easy to get yourself lost, but almost impossible to hide. I learned that much pretty early on. That's not a cliché, by the way. That's experience talking.

Professionally speaking, I find people who don't want to be found. Or I did, before the Creator -- or whatever senile or malevolently whimsical power controls the fates of we mere pathetic mortals -- decided that I should take a blade to the spine. Ended up with a permanent limp and almost no feeling in my right leg, not to mention a delightfully chronic pain problem. Guess it could have been worse.

So what, you may well ask, was I doing out here on yet another piece-of-shit moon a good three jumps from the nearest soft-furnished, high-end hotel with fully appointed bar? The only thing I was ever good at -- aside from drinking, cursing, and fucking up. I was there to find someone who didn't want to be found.

Or so I thought. I should have smelled the setup from the second the message landed blithely in my PDA, but that's what soft living, a shitload of prescribed painkillers, and a shitload more unprescribed alcohol will do to once-finely honed instincts such as mine. So of course I sailed right in.

The settlement was the same as every other backwater shitburg I'd visited in my illustrious and well-travelled career: an unimaginative spatter of ugly buildings arranged around a slab of a spaceport like pus around a lanced boil. Though that might be lending the whole affair rather more colour and character than it deserved. It was a grey nowhere, and I was glad to not notice it as I passed through on my way to the local watering hole.

I was supposed to meet someone there who had a lead on a mark -- a nice easy contract to ease me back into that life. What I found was a empty bar selling something they called ale but which actually resembled engine oil. I mentally ran through a few choice curses as I sat to wait for the contact, and looked about the place.

The barman was an archetype who could have been the template from which all provincial barmen had been copied: fat and surly, with a shirt slightly stained from ale or sweat or both. His establishment was hardly more edifying, with grey unicrete walls and blocky furniture bolted to the floor. The streetlights filtered in through grubby windows and added their melancholic glow to the dim ambience of the small room.

As I turned my head to take in my grim surroundings, I was aware of someone sitting down at my table. I hadn't seen anyone else enter, and the barman was still busying himself wiping the dirty glasses with a dirty cloth. I slid my hand around to my hip holster and gripped the handle of my faithful sidearm, a Godsforge 49 Marinen. I'd had the holster modified so I didn't have to draw the weapon to fire it: a mod that had saved my life more than once.

As I faced the new arrival, I saw he had his hands on the table in plain sight. A careful one, then, and one who understood the dangers of sneaking up on someone like me. He was younger than me by a fair way, still in his forties, but his short-cropped hair was almost entirely grey. His dark suit was neat, and had the look of money about it. He smiled confidently. I almost shot him out of sheer bloody-mindedness; I preferred strangers to remain intimidated until I decided to put them at their ease.

"Good evening" he said. I snorted a derisive laugh.

"Sure, why not. So you have a lead for me?" I'd come across plenty of folk looking to play secret agent with the big bad bounty hunter, and had never once had a second's patience for that bullshit. There were places you could pay to make believe you were part of this world -- part of my goddamn world -- but it's not in my job description. I should know, I wrote it.

"I'm afraid my proposition is of a different sort," he said, fingers steepling together. I admit, that piqued my curiosity, almost as much as it annoyed me. A brief internal struggle ensued, during which I very nearly walked away from the table there and then. But curiosity won out over pride, and I let him continue.

"You're past your prime," he began. Bad start. My trigger finger itched and I almost lunged for him with my bare hands just to show him what I could do while past my prime. He must have seen my reaction to his words because he continued hastily. "Of course, you are still far more capable than most. But you must ask yourself where to go from here. I mean, do you really want to take easy contract after easy contract until someone with a grudge realises you're not at your old strength and tries to take advantage? You're not the young wolf you were. Now you're an old bear, with the wolf pack circling." He paused, probably for what he felt was dramatic effect. Then he smiled.

"Personally, I would rather your unique skillset were not wasted in such a way. There are few if any hunters in the galaxy who could compete with you." Flattery had never had a significant effect on me, but I was curious to know what he was driving at.

"Still sounding like you have a job you want me to do," I told him. "Why don't you just skip the preamble skata and tell me who you want found."

"I don't want you to find anyone. I want you to found something. A school." I stared at him. This man, well-spoken and smartly dressed though he was, was clearly mad. An involuntary laugh rippled up from my stomach.

"You want me to teach?" I asked, incredulous. He nodded.

"Found a bounty-hunters guild. The first of its kind, where people can be assured of hiring the best, because they were trained by the best."

"And what do you get out of this?" I asked.

"A little more stability in the galaxy, and a resource I could call on if and when I need it."

"I'm not a fucking resource," I snarled.

"Not you, dear fellow. Just those you will train."

"If I do this -- and I'm not saying I will -- we'll be beholden to no-one. Not Unity, not the New Order, not you."

The stranger smiled that confident smile, and I saw that somehow he knew he had convinced me before I was sure of it myself.

"I would have it no other way."

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