The shuttle craft drifted slowly towards the Earth; behind it the huge metallic globe of Orbit Eight hovered like another moon. There were other stations orbiting the planet, communications, leisure and a host of other uses. Some, like Orbit Eight, were prison stations.

The shuttle banked and changed its attitude for re-entry. The hull glowed a searing orange as the shuttle cut through the stratosphere like a blunt knife.

Then; it was through, and plummeting through the thick white blanket of clouds. Once below the craft was once again subject to terran weather, and the high winds made the flight far more bumpy than the cruise through space. The shuttle banked sharply and aligned itself with the runway below. It descended, and the nose lifted just as they were coming to runway. The undercarriage was lowered and the craft dropped, the tyres hitting the tarmac with a squeal. They ran down the runway before the brakes came on with a high pitched squeal. They slowed down, and then taxied off of the runway onto a small area outside the hanger where the shuttle came to a halt.

Karen Richards watched the shuttle as it stopped, she turned back to the cameraman next to her and he nodded. They shifted so that the shuttle was in shot behind her.

Karen brushed a hand through her short black hair, trying to keep it from blowing around in the rising winds. She was wearing a dark blue jacket and the matching skirt was perhaps a little too short for such a cold day. The cameraman signalled that he was ready, and Karen looked into the camera lens, "Behind me the shuttle carrying Jonathan Woodsley has just landed. Woodsley the infamous American crime boss was finally arrested in Australia six years ago. Woodsley has just completed a five year sentence for arson; the jury failing to come to any decision over the other thirty two charges.

"Woodsley is the first prisoner ever to be released from an orbiting prison; both the Justice department and the human rights groups are interested to find out exactly what the effects of orbital incarceration are.

"This is Karen Richards reporting for New Zealand News."

The black Rolls Royce pulled up outside the warehouse. The street was empty, and dark despite the street lamps. The back door of the car opened, the man that climbed out was dressed in black, black hat, black coat, black trousers and in his hand a black briefcase, in fact he was almost invisible, the only part of him you could see were the highly polished black shoes that reflected the light from the dull street lamps. Two other men got out of the car; one had also been sitting in the back, the other had been driving. They walked down the street towards what appeared to be a dead end, but just between the edge of the building and the wall was a narrow alleyway concealed in the shadows. The man in black was Eddie Duney, Woodsley's right hand man. The other two were Eddie's bodyguards. Eddie and the first bodyguard turned into the alley; the driver stopped by the corner, watching the street.

"Hello Eddie!" said a voice from the dark.


"Boss is inside."

There was a grating sound as a door opened, light flooded the alley as the man went in followed by Eddie and his bodyguard then the door closed and the light was gone.

Outside on the street was Bobby Sampson. He had been Eddie's bodyguard and driver for about four years. He knew Eddie, they were friends, good friends, but now Woodsley was back and Bob wasn't too sure how he would fit into the new scheme of things. He did know that Woodsley wasn't just a criminal like Eddie, he was a psychopath, or was it a psychotic? He was definitely not a safe person to be around. He had seen Eddie's face when Woodsley had called just a few hours ago, Woodsley had only been back a few hours when he had called this meeting, and Eddie had been scared, really scared, and that worried Bob.

He strolled across the street, it was quiet which Bob liked, but it was dark which he didn't. Too many shadows, too many places for people to hide, in fact he didn't like any of this.

There was a sound behind him and he whirled around pulling the gun from his shoulder holster, he waved the handgun around looking for a target, he heard another noise, it seemed to come from above him, he looked up at the top of the wall which ran across the street.

The black cat leapt down from its place on top of the wall and scampered off down the road.

"Damn flea bag, scared the shit out of me!" muttered Bob replacing the gun in his holster. A black cat, shit that's bad luck isn't it? thought Bob annoyed, or was it good luck?

He had only half turned when he saw the woman step out from the shadows, she raised her gun, the silencer hissed twice and Bobby Sampson dropped down dead.

"Hello Eddie!" smiled Woodsley.

"Hello sir, good to have you back."

"Good to be back Eddie, good to be back." Woodsley sighed, the odd little man sat in a comfortable chair behind a large wooden desk, it seemed oddly out of place in the cold, dusty, deserted warehouse. "So how's it been?"

"Fine sir, I mean it's been good."

"Business been good?"

"Yeah quite good, but I bet it'll be better now you're back."

"You must have done okay," said Woodsley leaning forwards, "because I agreed before I left that I'd give you twenty percent on every deal we made."

"Yes sir, we did," Eddie shifted his weight from one leg to the other, feeling a little self conscious, aware of where this was leading.

"And you must have done very well, to afford this rather exotic lifestyle you are currently enjoying."


"That is of course, if you aren't cheating me!"

"No! No sir, I didn't, I wouldn't, I mean, shit, No!"

"Don't lie!" screamed Woodsley in a high pitched squeal.

"I swear, I only borrowed a couple of hundred thousand to set up a deal in Europe, I put it straight back, I only kept what I made, I swear."

"If it's my money," Woodsley continued screeching, "it's my profit!"

Eddie was scared, his bodyguard who stood just behind him shuffled back a few steps, beads of sweat glistening on his forehead. The two men who had been standing in the shadows of the back of the room stepped forward.

"I'm sorry sir," stammered Eddie, "it won't happen again."

"That's right," said Woodsley with a malicious grin, he snapped his fingers and the men pulled out sub-machine guns.

"No! No!" screamed Eddie, but they weren't aiming at him. Eddie's bodyguard went down under a volley of shots, his chest was rocked by scores of bullets thudding into his torso, spraying the wall

behind him with blood.

"Don't worry Eddie, I don't want to kill you, not yet."

A woman entered through the door from the alley. The room was poorly lit so it was hard to see her well. She was tall, around six feet tall, and athletically built. Her legs were long, typical for such a height. She wore tight fitting black trousers that gave her total freedom of movement, her jacket was black, she wore her black hair short, and neat, impenetrable black sunglasses hid her eyes. She wore black boots with stiletto heels, but they didn't impede her movement in any way; she was still agile, fast, deadly. She was attractive, but nevertheless an assassin, and looked the part.

"This is Crystal," said Woodsley smugly, "I met her brother while on Orbit Eight, she is very good at what she does."

Crystal aimed a swift kick at Eddie's groin and he sank to his knees clutching the wounded area. She lashed out again catching him across the face and he toppled over. He rolled and tried to stand, he was up on one knee when Crystal grabbed him by the hair, pulling his head back she delivered an accurate chop to his windpipe and Eddie collapsed coughing and choking. Woodsley's men set in kicking and punching.

After a few minutes, Woodsley snapped his fingers and the two men stepped back. "Bye bye Eddie, I don't think we'll meet again." Woodsley left followed by the two men, leaving Crystal alone with

Eddie. Eddie had crawled to the wall and had lifted himself up, leaning against it, his nose bleeding, a swelling already appearing over his right eye.

Crystal moved over to him, pulling the handgun from inside her jacket. She ran the barrel of the gun down Eddie's blood-soaked face, pressing the gun to his lips. "Why not beg me Eddie? I still might let you live, you've obviously learnt your lesson."

Eddie dropped to his knees, he could barely stand anyway. Crystal stepped back a few paces, "Now beg me, beg me not to kill you."

Eddie laughed; a laugh full of bravado, and fear, "Beg yourself you psycho fucking bitch!"

She raised the handgun and fired, again and again. His shoulder was hit and it erupted in a fountain of blood, another shot ripped into his chest. A third tore into his left knee his patella shattering and with its last support gone his body collapsed to the floor. Crystal gave a short laugh as he fell back into the pool of his own blood. She took a few steps towards the door and laughed again, and before walking out into the still night, she fired one last shot, putting a bullet in the middle of Eddie Duney's forehead.

The building was almost empty, almost.

A night-watchman strolled along the dark corridors.

And John Lancaster sat quietly in his office finishing the last of the paperwork. He found it nearly impossible to read, at the end of every sentence his eyes would half close, his eyelids waging an unwinnable war against the combined forces of tiredness and gravity.

He hated paperwork, but he had to admit it was preferable to no work at all.

The office lay in semi-darkness the desk lamp illuminated the desk but the rest of the windowless office was in either darkness or near darkness. The office was nearly empty, a lone filing cabinet stood in the corner, it had three draws, the second, the middle one was slightly open, and was practically empty. The desk behind which John was seated was little more than a table, there was a small draw just under the desk, it also lay open and inside were various items of stationary, pens, highlighters, rulers, pencils and a massive amount of paper clips. On the desk were a telephone, a lamp and two plastic trays, presumably one was designated 'IN' and one 'OUT' but it was impossible to tell which was which, not that it mattered since both were empty. In fact the office seemed to John to reflect his own personality, it was almost empty, there was a nice, warm, brown carpet which added some colour to the otherwise dreary room, but the walls and ceiling were cracked and discoloured and looked as if they were keeping the whole world out. Something had to be.

If it wasn't for the release of Woodsley he wouldn't even have this paperwork to do. Normally if he had some work he would stretch it out for as long as possible, but not this case, he didn't like to be reminded of his failure.

The trial of Jonathan Woodsley had been impossible to win, and almost everybody knew that, apart from him and so they, whoever 'they' were had given him the job. He had been young, his confidence in the judicial system had been foolishly high. He had lost the case and the man the media had built up into a huge monster, (not that it took much building), had only received five years, there had to be a scapegoat, but did it have to be him?

Anyway, he had only the barest minimum of cases, usually the least interesting and least publicised. The department would have been happier if he had resigned, but he had hung on, because he was too young, too stupid, too hurt or too angry to let go. 'Young'? Funny, but he had grown up so much in five years, it seemed almost a lifetime.

The door burst open, "Mister Lancaster," said the young man, slightly out of breath.


"You know who Eddie Duney is?"

"He's Jonathan Woodsley's right hand man, he's been running things in Woodsley's absence."

"He was Woodsley's right hand man, seems they had a financial disagreement, he was beaten up pretty badly, took three shots from a shotgun at close range and one from a handgun between the eyes."

Lancaster sat back and exhaled, "Shit!" in a low whistle, "any proof?"

"Plenty," said the young man with a slight smile, "he's not dead."

"What?!" Lancaster asked finally.

"He's critical, probably loose an arm, but the bullet meant to finish him off struck his skull at a strange angle and somehow, don't ask me how, it deflected around the skull without even fracturing it."

"Who else knows about this?" asked Lancaster, his breath shortening in excitement, realising the enormity of the situation.

"Just a few cops, and a few doctors know who he is, and now you."

"Right, keep it that way, don't let too many people in on it, I'll organise police protection, don't let the media in on this they'll tip off Woodsley, and he'll want to finish the job."

"He's over at Black's hospital it's over-"

"I know where it is," Lancaster interjected, "let's keep this quiet."

Karen stood on the courthouse steps, she hopped and shuffled in the cold as the cameraman tuned in their equipment. It had been a long day and an even longer trial. Finally the cameraman signalled they were ready.

"Well that's it. Just moments ago the jury gave the unanimous verdict of guilty to over thirty charges ranging from drug smuggling, to armed robbery, to murder. The testimony that finally allowed the conviction of Jonathan Woodsley was that of his former assistant Edward Duney, who just over four months ago was attacked by Woodsley and his gang. After an almost miraculous recovery, Duney appeared in court just a few days ago to produce undeniable evidence that has led to the sentence given today, that sentence is four hundred and twenty seven years. He won't be going back to Orbit eight the Australian prison, and the surprise is he won't be going to the American orbital prison either, instead he will be going to the internationally run Orbit Seventeen. Which is home to some of the most dangerous criminals in the world."

John Lancaster came out of the courthouse, Karen turned to speak to him and the cameraman turned the camera on the young lawyer.

"Mister Lancaster, I'm Karen Richards, New Zealand News can you give us your thoughts on today's verdict."

Lancaster could barely suppress the smile, "It is the verdict that should have been returned five years ago, justice has finally been done."

"You were the prosecutor then also I believe, and I believe you got a very raw deal from the public." said Karen more to the camera than to Lancaster.

Actually it was the media that gave me the raw deal, thought Lancaster, but only smiled and said obligingly "Well..."

"Mister Lancaster, apart from the testimony of Duney, was there any other difference between this and the first trial?"

"Yes," replied Lancaster unhesitantley, "this time Woodsley couldn't threaten or bribe the jury."

"One last thing, this hit woman 'Crystal' what is being done about her, she is the one who carried out the attempt on Duney's life isn't she?"

"Yes, she appears to be some sort of assassin, a 'hit woman' I believe the media has labelled her. Woodsley told Duney he met her brother on Orbit Eight and we are checking the backgrounds of all

Orbit eight prisoners, though unfortunately with only a description and one name it is going to be difficult to trace her."

"Isn't it possible that 'Crystal' is merely an alias or even a codename?"

"There is that possibility, it is likely she is a contract killer, and so it could be a codename or a simple alias."

"Thankyou for your time." said Karen politely.

"My pleasure."