Prologue - Orfin

1050 Standard Union Years, Krankoon.

The cold Krankoon night sky was clear, the sun coloring the sky a soft indigo. It had been a good night for Jack Washington Bridges III. He had found yet another mistress; had successfully "bought" another judge running the corporate circuit; and by now, the bigwig's biggest rival was fertilizing the flowers. Definitely a good night. Just one thing missing – and that could soon be fixed. J.W. (a private joke among his employees was that his initials stood for "Jerk Wad") opened his favorite bottle of Jasher – 1025, the best year – and reached next to the big recliner he currently inhabited for a box of imported cigars. Hmm…not on the usual table. Nothing was on the lamp stand but his glass; the cigar box was gone. "Confound it, where are they? Reeves must have moved them. Where in the three hells are those smokes?"

"Three hells? Someone as important as you shouldn't be dabbling in unsanctioned religion, Mr. Bridges."

J.W. whirled around, his heart skipping a few beats. He hadn't heard him come in, but there he was – over two meters tall, his slim frame wrapped in a dark, unornamented trench coat. Hardly inconspicuous. The huge, lightly armored boots he was wearing didn't make any noise though as he walked calmly and sat in the chair Bridges had leaped out of seconds before. "How did you get in? What business do you have here? I've paid you in full; you were never supposed to come here again! Explain yourself!"

The tall man looked up, almost amused, "Don't like to beat around do you?" His expression became very businesslike now, almost as if he was mocking the man before him. "It's simple really, you lied to me-"

"I did no such-"

"You lied to me, so you die. It's in the contract; you of all people should understand the need to stick to a contract."

"I did no such thing!" J.W. stepped back from the chair, his thoughts flickering to the emergency nine-millimeter semiautomatic in the cabinet. With a seventy-million mark estate, you needed protection. "I told you nothing that was untrue and I paid you everything, I fulfilled all stipulations of the contract!" He was sweating visibly now. You couldn't help but be frightened in this man's presence.

"True, you did." He let out a slight chuckle, "Even the paying for the mini-bar in my hotel. You know how few actually do that? I must say, I'm impressed." Orfin uncrossed the leg that had been resting comfortably on his knee. "Again, that all is true. You didn't really lie per se now that I think about it," Bridges didn't like how the man's hand kept resting on the slight bulge at his hip, "but you told the truth about the wrong person." His hand moved closer and closer still. "You see, I have this awful habit of actually looking up information about who I, uh, deal with. More than what my employer might say." He stood up, towering over the squat executive. "Turns out this Mr. Sanders who you so needed to dispose of doesn't actually discharge chemicals into rivers, doesn't solicit thirteen year-old prostitutes, and doesn't particularly enjoy spicy food, but is rather fond of gelato. He is a rather snappy dresser though, can't argue with that." The killer looked J.W. over, "Much more than I can say about the sex-crazed pedophile and regular customer of 'Inferno Foods' who told me all this."

Bridges couldn't believe this. Not only was that despicable taint on corporate traditions still breathing and the paid gun here and not out doing the job, but the assassin was actually bantering with him. He had even insulted his new suit. "But, I paid, so, I…I…I have nothing you could want."

"You see, this is where you're wrong." The two circled: one calm and smirking, the other sweating like a proverbial pig. Guess which was which. "I had wanted to avoid this you know. I think this is really a shame, professionally and as a person. I am a human being you know. I really do have compassion and other things that your secretary might pretend to have as she drains you and your wallet. You know how it is though; you have to do what's necessary to retain all you have worked for. Besides, I don't think anyway will hear about this." He twisted his wrist and one airship ticket and another for a space transport fell onto the table. He mouthed the word oops. It was almost comical.

J.W. relaxed visibly. Of course he wasn't going to kill him; he had too much money to make otherwise. "Of course, I will stay silent about all of this, you have my word Just name your price." He reached out for the tickets while he was talking. His promise was followed by a yelp of pain as a large metal object slammed into his hand. A handgun of some kind. No, this could be only one kind – this man being who he is. Steppes Designers Claymore Model II combination black powder and magnetic acceleration large bore pistol.

If the acceleration plates on the sides weren't enough of a giveaway, the oversized cooling unit attached below the barrel was. It was outlawed on all the worlds in the Interstellar Union except for a few planets who felt the need to be different (Steppes Designers had its headquarters on one of them, an office complex on another, and factories and warehouses on the rest). It was rumored to have the penetration power to blow a fist sized hole in a tank. And only one man known to the civilized galaxy carried two. "Mr. Krath, sir, I'm sure we can come to an agreement! You said yourself; you don't want to do this!"

"What, you thought I was talking about you? No, I meant the terrible cliché you're forcing me to use." Krath stared Jack Washington Bridges III right in the eye. His frightened, panicking, sweat encircled eye and said, "There is one thing I want from you Mr. Bridges, your life!" He thumbed the hammer on the pistol and pointed it straight at J.W.'s forehead. "Oh yes, one more thing. Don't call me sir, I work for a living."

Dang, I knew I should've turned off the accelerator. The maid is going to have a hard time with that one. Sonnuva…Even on the coat!

Orfin gunned the engine on his R38 Racing motorcycle (racers were faster, more maneuverable and fuel efficient than most military police models oddly enough). He could still hear the blaring rhythm rising through the huge houses. Sirens. It had been less than an hour and already the manor district was crawling with law enforcement. Orfin gave his now holstered gun a dirty look, "You're supposed to be quiet!" The accelerator made a mess of things, but it did muffle some noise from the gunpowder. At least, in theory. "I've gone and gotten myself chased around like this," Krath muttered to himself, "and to top it all off, I had to go and use the damn clichés!" Motion pictures had ruined everything a good assassin might find himself saying. Some of the best moves were also now predictable and almost expected. The worst of it was the movies were now becoming a bit of a fad in the Union worlds; business only got more difficult for it.