A backwater even when the megacorps of the Core Realms paid it heed, it had remained stagnant and remote for nearly four centuries by the time the Farsight’s meandering across the stars had brought it there. A haven for pirates, smugglers, and worse, it had seemed like the perfect place to disappear from the Confederacy at large – something Cai, fleeing the retribution of the House Manache, sought greatly.
Now, eight years later, he wasn’t so sure he’d have ever made the same mistake, given another chance.
Tev was a frontier town at best – cobbled together from repurposed starship parts and scrap brought in from offworld. It stood stark against the steppe it sprouted from like a hardy metallic shrub, all pale yellow chemlights and empty warehouses awash with rust and rainwater. A flashstorm had swept in from the steppes a few minutes earlier, bathing the weathered buildings in blinding rain and whipping wind. Luckily, he’d managed to tug his hood up in time – the hard patter of rain against it drowning out the voice in his earpiece he’d been idly chatting with.
It was just as well, really – he’d found not a single trace of the person he’d been after, yet.
Sighing, the rabbit spotted something blinking through the rain – a sign, of some description. While within the Core most signage was either holographic or AR enhanced, out here on the Rim neon signs were cheaper and easier to acquire – and this one was no different. A flickering, barely-working sign for a bar, shining like a beacon through the stormy night.
Pushing the door open, he was surprised to find it was rather nice inside – a wood finish, hardwood floors, and even a clean bartop, a sleepy bartender polishing a glass as thunder roared outside. It was one of those “throwback” taverns – one meant to resemble the early 23rd century, if he had to guess.
A few patrons were seated here and there, asleep at tables or busying themselves with their own matters. Discrete ID scans showed none were even present within the registry – though, curiously, someone here was. Unfortunately, it was impossible to tell exactly who without a direct scan – which he didn’t have time for.
“You’re not from ’round here, huh?”
The rabbit blinked. The bartender had stopped rubbing the glass with the cloth, his augmetic eyes looking him over with an almost appraising glance. “Let me guess. Spacer?”
“Bah. Not many new faces in Tev, kid. You get used to the same clientele pretty quickly.”
Shrugging, the rabbit slid onto a barstool. “Just a beer works, for now.”
The bartender busied himself with putting away the glass and fetching a bottle of beer, before wandering back over. “So what brings a spacer to our little slice of rust and dirt?”
“Looking for someone.”
“Oh?” The bartender asked slowly, choosing his words carefully. Interesting.
“I pursued a starship from Callephon, over in Directorate space. The last buoy ping was here, at Tal Rethrin – and, seeing as Tev’s the only settlement, I’d imagine he came through here.”
The bartender raised an eyebrow.
“Danik Tulley. Former,” The rabbit placed emphasis on the word, “chairman of the now-defunct Teller Hypercomms.”
“Haven’t seen any chairmen come through,” The bartender shrugged, suddenly very focused on the glass he was cleaning again. “Same six clients, day in, day out.”
“Not chairmen. Chairman.”
“The only chairs I’ve seen are the ones you’re currently sitting in.”
“Well that’s funny.”
The rabbit snapped his fingers, the zero-field projectors in his gloves sparking to life in glittering fractals of AR light.
“Unlike most of your patrons, Tulley has a registered biometric ID – a legacy of living his high life in the Core. And, funnily enough, I’m the only person here who should have a registered ID… yet,”
Twirling his hand slightly, the local infonet was parsed and filtered, the mystery tag in question displaying in fuzzy white.
“This should be clear, but it’s scrambled. Why, on a world so far from the heart of the Confederacy lacking proper biometric scanning and logkeeping, would someone need to scramble their ID?”
The bartender had stopped smiling, staring the rabbit straight in the eyes. Cai, ever cautious, cast a glance over his shoulder.
The bar was empty.
The patrons had long gone, knowing damn well when to get out to avoid any trouble.
“I’ll give you until the count of ten to get the hell out of my bar.”
“Now,” Cai shrugged, taking a sip from his bottle. “That’s no way to treat a customer.”
The next few moments were a blur; the bartender’s hands darted for something under the bar, and Cai whipped the bottle across his face – shattering it in a glittering shower of glass and spilt beer, spinning the man backwards as the handgun he’d been going for loudly clattered to the floor. Vaulting the bar, he sent a clenched fist into the stunned man’s nose, feeling it crunch slightly beneath his blow – broken, at the very least. The man’s eyes rolled back, his arms going limp as he sunk into unconsciousness. Once assured the man wouldn’t be shooting him in the back, Cai pocketed the bartender’s weapon and drew his own sidearm, idly tapping his earpiece twice.
One click came in reply – Rembrandt was now watching from far, far above.
Kicking the door to the back open, Cai swept the small hallway with his sidearm’s flashlight. Two rooms, both closed – and silent. The ever-present sound of rain hammered against the roof, overpowering even his own footsteps as he crept over to the first door, keying the access pad and pressing his back to the wall as the door slowly slid open.
Fortunately, it was merely a storage room – alcohol, various supplies, and a deactivated cleaning droid. Curiously, a small cot was set up in the back, along with an empty plate and a bottle. Someone had been here – and recently. The bartender obviously didn’t live in his business, so that crossed him off… but a bed and food wasn’t enough to go on. He needed a face. The second door slid open much slower – the roar of the storm growing much, much louder as it was revealed to be not a room, but an exit. Beyond the door, a small alleyway ran – bisecting this small block in an expanse of rain-soaked, dingy metal.
“Already on it. Heat sig’s moving down the alley to your right, and fast. Looks like whoever’s running has the Devil on his heels.”
Cai closed the channel without another word, sprinting into the storm. The rain and wind tore at his clothes and his face, but he caught a glimpse of his quarry exiting the alley into the street – the silhouette of a boar, outlined against the ever-present yellow indirect glow of chemlights. Danik Tulley.
“Overlay his route with my fastest intercept, Rembrandt. I’ve chased him far enough already.”
In the upper right corner of his vision, a local map appeared – Tulley’s path outlined in red, and his suggested route in a bright blue. A circle was marked a short distance away, presumably the intercept.
“He’s fast. I’d suggest hurrying.”
Cai nodded, hanging a left and splashing up a waterlogged alleyway.
Tev was a warren of darkened paths – a mess of crisscrossed alleys and streets, haphazard buildings and nonstandard construction. Wires ran overhead, darkening the already grey sky, as rusted gutters overflowed with the pounding rain. Waterfalls of dirty water poured over the rabbit as he sprinted, eyes focused almost entirely on the map, before he shoulder-rammed his way through a chain-link gate and skidded to a stop in the middle of a wider, covered pathway. To his left, rounding the corner, the man he’d been chasing skidded to a stop, eyes darting wildly for another way out – and, finding none, hardened with resolve.
“You’re not the first fucker to hunt me down!” Danik spat, extending both arms as he spread his stance. Strength augments in his wrists lit up a bright yellow as his palms flickered to glowing electrical life, and he brought both fists up. “And you won’t be the last!”
With that, the boar charged – crossing the distance between the two far faster than Cai had thought possible. His sidearm was only barely up when Tulley’s multi-augment amplified fist slammed into his unarmoured stomach, sending the rabbit doubling over as white-hot fire shot through him. Being soaked to the bone was an absolute detriment – amplifying the punch the shock implants packed tenfold. He was knocked backwards, sidearm skidding away into the darkness.
Danik laughed, augments steaming slightly as they vented heat. “You fuckers all think you’re the biggest kid on the block, huh? Don’t look so damn tough to me.”
Gritting his teeth, Cai pulled himself together enough to spit – and rolled away from his assailant, coming up unarmed and at a definite disadvantage.
“Hah! Perhaps I was too hasty,” the boar grinned, lifting his fists a second time.
“Come on, bounty hunter! Make my god-damned day!”
The rabbit’s gaze darted right and left, trying to find anything he could use to his advantage. Unfortunately, this pathway seemed to be a disused industrial corridor – clear, and empty. There was no way he’d be able to take the boar in a fistfight, but…
A flash of gold caught his attention – Rembrandt had overlayed his sidearm with a marker. He’d have to thank him later.
Unfortunately, the weapon had slid backwards, resting much closer to Tulley than was comfortable. He might be able to just barely make it, though…
Figuring he’d be dead either way, the rabbit pushed off with his right foot, footfalls echoing down the corridor as he propelled himself with reckless abandon towards the discarded sidearm, barely registering the boar’s surprise at being charged. The momentary pause was all that saved him – he hit the ground just as a blow that would’ve cut him in half sailed past his nose, skidding across the bumpy and broken duracrete. He madly grabbed at his pistol as he slid by it, bringing it up as Danik’s face twisted into a mask of fury, a roar of hatred tearing at his ears.
The shot rang out like a clap of thunder, Cai’s trusty Ikolos plasma/ballistic handgun propelling an infused round into the boar’s shoulder – but he just kept coming, screaming obscenities even with a hole through him.
“I’m gonna rip you limb from limb, you little bastard! You hear me?!” The boar’s supercharged punch slammed into the ground just as Cai rolled out of the way, sending spiderweb cracks spiraling off from the impact and flecks of duracrete flying into the air.
“I’m gonna shove that gun so far up your-“
In his panic, Cai squeezed the trigger a second time, this time punching right through the boar’s stomach – staggering him backwards and halting his second blow, even as he panted, breath heavy with anger and pain.
“You… motherfucker…” Tulley rasped, dropping to a knee as both hands cupped his stomach, blood pooling around his feet.
Cai, for once, had no reply – the pistol rattling in his grasp as he pulled the trigger a final time.
The round caught the boar just above his right eyebrow – and, as he faltered, Cai for a moment thought the monster might keep coming. This wasn’t to be however, as his eyes rolled back and he fell to the ground, face-first.
Cai allowed himself to exhale, the adrenaline rush he was in starting to abate as the pain from his likely-broken ribs began to make itself known, his whole midsection sore.
“Fuck! Motherfucking augmetic!”
He pushed himself to his feet, giving the corpse a kick for good measure, before tapping his earpiece. “He’s history.”
“You killed him?” Rembrandt asked, shocked. “The bounty said alive!”
“No choice!” Cai replied, gritting his teeth as he fumbled with his first aid tool, injecting a cocktail of biorepair nanites and painkillers to stop the worst of his injuries from being disturbed on the way back to the ship. “You neglected to mention Danik Tulley having military grade augmetics, Rembrandt! I wouldn’t have brought just a pistol if I knew he could punch a hole in a starship hull!”
“That… was not part of his record.”
“Where did a man like Danik Tulley get those…?”
“Where do these bastards get ANY of their stuff?” The rabbit grunted, idly glancing at the map of Tev. Long walk back.
“Well, bring him back as best you’re able. An autopsy might tell us more.”
Cai glanced over his shoulder at the mountain of a boar, before frowning.
“…I’m gonna need a drone to help.”