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Chapter 9

A Dirty Pair/ Iria: Zeiram fusion
by DB Sommer

Any and all C+C appreciated. You can contact me at: sommer@3rdm.net

Disclaimer: Dirty Pair created by Hideki Sonoda and Haruka Takachiho. Iria: Zeiram belongs to Crowd, Bandai Visual, Mitsubishi Corp, Banpresto and US Manga Corps.

"I can't believe you slept with my son!"

"I can't believe you didn't tell me he was your son!"

Accusations echoed within the confined space of the Creeper V, fueling the already high level of agitation both Kei and Iria suffered from. Had there been others around, perhaps they would have defused the situation, but only the streaks of stars passing through hyperspace accompanied the two women after their hasty departure from Myce.

Their privacy might have been for the best, since neither woman wanted any other participants involved in their conversation. They had a situation to discuss, a very unexpected one, and resolving it would require no interruptions. That was the main reason Iria had escorted Kei off planet immediately instead of waiting for Mikael to turn the information over to her. Ostensibly she told him it was because she needed Kei on hand if Zeiram should appear again. She suspected her son knew the real reason behind their hurried exit, but luckily he was sensible enough to accept the explanation without protest.

The drive to the spaceport and takeoff that followed had passed in silence. It wasn't until after clearing orbit and a successful transition into hyperspace that the conversation, which was more an exchange of accusations, began.

Iria frowned at Kei. "I didn't say anything because I wanted the two of you to meet without any silly preconceived notions about one another and act awkwardly or something. I thought it would be easier for you to get to know one another solely on the basis of who you are instead of your relationships to me." Iria became somewhat less angry, as though she conceded Kei her point.

"We got to know one another, all right," Kei shot back, her anger not mollified.

There was a pause in the conversation, then Iria said, "I mean, even in my wildest dreams, I didn't think something like this would happen. I figured you'd talk a bit, maybe eventually learn who you were, and then we'd have a good laugh about it later."

"Ha, ha, ha. I am so amused, I'm practically in tears," Kei said dryly.

Iria ignored the sarcasm, locked in on her own thoughts. "Okay, maybe if he was a bit older I could see it happening. Maybe. But I think his age should have slowed things down a bit. He is only eighteen."

You wouldn't know it by how skilled he is in bed, Kei made certain not to say out loud. Iria was taking things well -relatively- but there was no way Kei could mention that little detail and not have her head bitten off. After meeting Mikael, she couldn't believe that was his actual age. Physically he appeared to be at least in his early twenties, and judging by the women's reaction at the bordello, he had been a regular there in more than a casual way for some time. His stamina was that of a horny teenager, though. It was a not altogether unsatisfactory compromise between his apparent and actual age.

Iria's tone became accusatory again. "But it was only three days, Kei. That's awfully fast for two people that just met to hop into bed together. I mean, that's barely enough time to exchange names."

"We knew each other's names," Kei said defensively. Not last names, obviously, but she knew lots of people only by their first name. Of course she didn't sleep with any of them, so it wasn't exactly the same thing.

Iria continued as though Kei had said nothing. "And then he was supposed to slice the information, which would have taken up a lot of time as well. How much did he get done, by the way?"

Kei twitched, as though she the screwdriver she was jamming in a light socket suddenly hit paydirt. Reluctantly she said, "He didn't get a chance to start."

"It took you that long to find him? I thought you said you met him your first day there."

"Yeah, I did" Kei said evasively. Dodging the Mustang had been easier than dodging these questions.

"Then why didn't he get more…" Iria trailed off as her mind began putting Kei's reaction together with what was being said. "Kei, how long was it after you met him that the two of you hopped into bed together?"

"It was after I had been caught in three death defying situations. Four if you count the cab ride though Myce," Kei said defensively.

"How long is that in days?"

Kei remained silent.

"How long?"

"A couple of hours," Kei mumbled.

"You guys were sleeping together just two hours after you met?!"

"It might have been closer to three. I wasn't keeping track of the time with everyone shooting at me," Kei said hopefully.

"You barely came into sight of one another before you were doing it?!"

"What can I say? We clicked as soon as we met."

Iria stared out the viewport, stunned into silence. Kei had never seen her mentor quite like that. Of course, Kei had never slept with any of Iria's children either. It was new ground for both of them.

Not that any of it was Kei's fault, the troubleshooter assured herself. A responsible person would have mentioned at some point in their numerous conversations that the slicer Kei was supposed to rendezvous with happened to be Iria's son. Had she gone in knowing that, she wouldn't have viewed him as a suave, self-confident, handsome guy who it turned was not only skilled and well-endowed, but had great endurance as well. He even wanted to talk and cuddle once things cooled off instead of congratulating himself on his prowess and falling asleep, like most men. Now Kei found him so deeply etched into her mind as someone to keep around for relationship purposes that it was difficult thinking of him in terms of being related to Iria and theoretically off-limits. Very difficult. His tongue was borderline prehensile!

Kei shifted in her seat in discomfort, and not solely at Iria's own tongue-lashing She really needed to stop thinking of Mikael in that way.

Iria came out of her stupor and moaned, "I should have seen this coming. It's so typical."

"Excuse me! I do not usually jump in the sack that quick with most guys!" Probably no more than once or twice at the most. It wasn't like she kept track of the number of her lovers anymore than she did her body counts.

"I meant from Mikael, though I did expect better from you," Iria clarified. "He's always been this way. I never should have let that idiot Fujikuro watch him when I went off-world on hunts!"

"That was pretty stupid." Growing up, Kei had been left in Fujikuro's care several times when Iria had to leave the planet on business and couldn't take Kei along. He was far from an ideal man to help raise one's children. His opinion of girls was that they should not drive fast, shoot guns, bring in criminals, or any other fun stuff, and he had no reservations about lecturing a young Kei concerning his opinion. Of course, given Kei's personality, the bounty hunter's attempts to dissuade her from learning all of those things made her want them even more. The only good thing to come from spending time with Fujikuro was that every now and then he would break down (usually under heavy assault of flattery) and teach her a thing or two about explosives or firearms. It was nowhere near as thorough as Iria's training, but he passed on a bit of his own knowledge to her. But overall, the experiences of being under his tutelage had not been very enjoyable.

Kei's reminisces were cut short as Iria continued on with her own.

"I just thought a male figure in his life would be good for him, even someone as stupid as Fujikuro." Iria explained. "At first, I had no idea that idiot was meeting that madame of his every now and then when I left Mikael with him. And when he was off… doing it, he let all of the girls there watch Mikael. Not that Mikael wasn't being taken care of. He was only about seven or so when Fujikuro first began taking him there, and they all thought he was cute and doted him all the time. Honestly, they spoiled him rotten. I think it's because almost none of them have kids. But that wasn't important. Anyone with an ounce of sense would never think of taking a child to a bordello. Do you know what that bastard Fujikuro said the first time I caught him taking Mikael there?"


"'Most guys would love being raised in a whorehouse'. I punched his lights out for that one, let me tell you." She sighed. "I knew I shouldn't have let Mikael go back, but he loved it there, and they did take good care of him. He kept begging and pleading for me to let him stay when I was off-world, and I broke down and let him. I mean, it was okay in the beginning, until he hit fifteen or so. Then the girls starting taking a different sort of interest in him, and him in them. He's always looked older than he actually was, so that didn't help things. And he just has to look like that piece of shit father of his."

"Killgore's his father?" Things had been so hectic Kei hadn't considered the matter of paternity. Once she did, she realized Killgore and Mikael did look a bit like one another. Mostly in the eyes and definitely with the smile.

"Yes, but don't let him know," Iria said, an edge of panic in her voice. "I told Mikael his father was dead. Even Lance doesn't know. He left before I knew I was pregnant, and I have no intention of letting him ever going near my son. If that bastard tries it, I'll shove the explosives up his ass myself!"

Kei shuddered at the tone Iria was using. She had no doubt the woman probably would at least shoot at him, if such happened. She seemed to become a bit irrational in matters concerning her ex-husband. It would definitely be best to put the whole Killgore-Mikael connection out of her mind.

The rage left Iria's voice as she returned to the matter of her son. "Anyway, growing up in the bordello gave Mikael a certain… way, with girls. He doesn't use them and discard them or anything like that. It's just that he finds it easy to be charming, and he's like that all the time when he's with any girl he finds attractive. It's like a reflex, the same thing as you or me blinking our eyes. I don't think he even knows how not to be charming."

"You got that right," Kei said with a smile, which disappeared when Iria glared at her.

"His charm, combined with his looks, has ended up… well, let's say he has a lot of eager female admirers drop by. It drives me insane having to fend off so many cheap little floozies from trying to hit on him, not that he shows much in the way of standard and tries to resist their advances. I think he's slept with half the eligible girls in Myce. I'm probably lucky I'm not a grandmother a dozen times over," Iria lamented. "He gets it from his father. That bastard couldn't keep away from women either. At least I hammered into Mikael's head that he's to treat women with respect."

"He does," Kei said quickly, then shut up again as she decided this was not territory she wanted to venture into with Iria.

"I just want him to settle down with a good girl," Iria complained. "He's never had a steady girlfriend. I want him to be normal. Is that too much to ask?"

Sensing her mentor needed consoling, Kei put an arm affectionately around her. "Don't worry. I'm sure he will. After all, you helped raise me, and I turned out normal."

Iria gave her a half-lidded stare. "Kei, I said I was proud of you. I didn't say you were normal."

"But I am normal." Mostly. Okay, not many people had destroyed entire planets. But besides her destructive tendencies she was overall normal.

And Kei was surprised to discover she agreed with Iria, in a way. For some odd reason, she didn't approve of Mikael sleeping around either. Those girls at the bordello were way too possessive of him being their personal boy toy when business was slow. He probably ought to look into getting a nice, stable relationship with someone who was mature and available, and who could keep up with him sexually, since he was quite the energetic stud. It would definitely have to be someone older, since a woman's sex drive increased as she got more mature. He should be looking for someone like that

"Kei, is something wrong? You look a little flushed."

That snapped Kei out of the fantasy that had built up around who the ideal woman for Mikael was. "Ah, nothing. I was just thinking about Zeiram. Tell me what happened while I was gone," Kei said, eager to change the subject.

Iria nodded, seemingly just as eager. "Well, we went to this space station, that's no longer there by the way, when-"

Kei tensed slightly, as she always did, when walking through the umbilical that connected the Creeper V to the Lovely Angel. The journey from Myce had taken an hour, which had been more than enough time for Iria to inform her of what had happened during Kei's absence. Already her mind was pondering what Zeiram, and his handler's, latest actions meant. Unfortunately, like Iria, she still hadn't come up with any answers.

Now that Kei was finally returning to the shot up remains of her own ship, she considered a more urgent matter: what to say to Yuri about the trip. Back on Myce, the original plan had been for Kei to brag about how she had landed herself a young stud while Yuri had been left as lonely and frustrated as ever. That plan had gone out the airlock. Since Yuri was bound to find out Mikael was Iria's son, that meant not breathing a word of their illicit affair, which had been really fun and the perfect salve for the wounds her recent birthday had inflicted upon her. It almost hurt, not being able to brag about it to Yuri. But it had to be that way. Kei would claim everything went as planned. She met the guy, dropped off the chip, and got drunk. And she'd be sure to tell Yuri Mikael was gay, since there was no way in Hell Kei would let Yuri even think of having him for herself. It was a secret Kei would be taking to her grave.

The airlock to the Lovely Angel irised open, revealing a waiting Yuri next to the door.

Yuri stopped leaning casually against the wall, uncrossed her arms, and said, "Shame on you, Kei, sleeping with Iria's son. That's almost the same thing as incest. And he's so young, it's practically pedophilia as well."

Kei recoiled in horror. "How-" she gulped out.

Yuri could barely reign in the laughter at seeing her partner in such a flustered state. "Bob told me."

Kei snarled. Bob must have been listening in on their conversation on the way back and let his loose synthesizer spout every deep lurid detail to Yuri. Kei was going to find a few dozen viruses to insert into his system to show what she thought of computer intelligences who couldn't keep their noses out of matters that didn't concern them and felt the need to spew their gossip to the last person in the world who needed to hear it.

Yuri tried to be serious, but her mirth broke through the illusion of disapproval she was trying to project. "Really, Kei, you let your animal impulses get you into so much trouble. You wouldn't see me throwing myself on my back and spreading my legs for some guy I just met."

Kei removed a small holographic projector, one she had purchased during a slow part of her second day on Myce, and held it in the open palm of her hand. She thrust it in Yuri's direction so she could see it clearly. Her finger clicked the side and activated the hologram, letting it show off a picture of Mikael. He standing alone, posing by leaning against a wall and unleashing that smile that Kei had found so intriguing. She had originally taken the picture when she had intended to tell Yuri everything.

"Wow, he's cute!" Yuri whistled appreciatively.

Point proven, Kei shut down the device and returned it to her pocket. There were some other, more risqué pictures in there she had no intention of sharing with Yuri. "And it is not incestuous, I'll have you know. I'm not related to him anymore than I am to you."

"But Iria's like a mother to you," Yuri taunted.

It was Kei's turn to shift uncomfortably at Yuri's point, which was true, unfortunately. "Well, yeah, but he wasn't like a brother to me since I never met him until three days ago," Kei said, trying to retake the initiative.

"And he's what, fifteen?"

"Eighteen and you just whistled at his picture, my fellow 'pedophile'," Kei pointed out. "And he looks older than that. At least early twenties. And you know as well as I do that when it comes to guys 'eighteen' is just another word for 'stamina'."

"And 'inexperience'." Yuri remembered well her encounters with eighteen year olds, back when she was eighteen herself, of course. Unlike Kei she was no pedophile trying to take advantage of poor naive teenagers.

"Actually he was raised in a bordello, and learned lots of neat and interesting things from the professionals there. I learned a new trick or two as well," Kei boasted.

Yuri considered that. "He roll over and play dead afterwards?"

"Cuddled and talked."

Yuri slapped a hand affectionately on Kei's back. "Sounds like he'd be a keeper… if he wasn't your brother."

"He is not my brother!" Kei insisted.

"And to think, if you were to marry him and have kids, he'd have more in common with them than you since he'd be so much closer in age to them."

"He is not that young!" Kei looked angry enough to go for the sidearm Iria had given her to replace the one that had been destroyed in the bar.

"Oh, relax. Let's just forget this whole thing and never bring it up again."

While Yuri's mouth said one thing, the twinkle in her eyes informed Kei that this would never be forgotten, and would actually be brought up repeatedly for a very long time to come, just like every other bad thing Kei had ever done that Yuri had found out about. It was times like these that Kei understood the 3WA's age old axiom about treating one's partner with respect since 'they know where all the corpses are buried'.

The two began to make their way to the bridge. As they walked, Yuri's demeanor became more serious. "I'm worried about that attack on you by the Mustang. That thing with that Ball-less guy was probably coincidence, but I don't think the fighter attack was."

"Two coincidences is one too many," Kei agreed. "The question is who sent it out and how did they know where I was."

"Only a few people knew you'd be out there at that time." Yuri watched Kei closely to gauge her response.

"Which means either a leak on Killgore's side or they tracked me by some sort of unknown means," Kei supplied in answer. "Tormand is a big corporation. They might be able to track us somehow with some weird new device."

"Maybe, but there's something else you should know that complicates things."

"Oh?" Kei came to a stop and arched her eyebrow in curiosity.

"I sent a report to headquarters on the situation and requested backup."

Kei went from curious to angry in the blink of an eye. "I told you we can handle things!"

"Like we have so far?" Yuri retorted. "We've been running after Zeiram for way too long, and end up only picking up after him, when he isn't nearly killing us. He's blazing a trial of destruction of the kind the press usually blames us for, and we aren't any closer to stopping him. Also there seems to be some other player in the game and we don't know who, which really bothers me. As much as I want to trust Killgore and company, I can't, especially after you were nearly killed just after you left here."

Kei wanted to disagree with her, but it was futile. The damage was done, and Yuri's points were valid, even if Kei hated the fact more than anything. "So what did headquarters have to say?"

"Nothing, and they've had plenty of time to respond," Yuri intoned ominously. "I sent the message three times. Even with the distances involved, communications satellites should have relayed the message a dozen times over by now."

"Did you check our communications array? It did take a nasty beating when we went head to head with that battleship."

Yuri nodded. "Everything checked out. I ran diagnostics three times. On the offhand chance the diagnostics is also bad, I had Bob send the message, too. He didn't get a response either. He can't figure anything wrong at our end. It seems like the message is being sent out with no problems."

Kei felt a creeping tension seep into her stomach. While she didn't want headquarters involved at the moment, she did want the option of calling in reinforcements should the situation take a turn for the worse. Or more worse, to be accurate. "So either headquarters can't answer, won't answer, or our communication isn't getting through."

"Bad news, no matter the situation. I kind of doubt it's the first, though. If anything really bad happened at HQ, they would have said something on the news. That's not the sort of publicity that can be locked down"

"Where's the nearest divisional office out here?" Kei asked.

"Fifteen star systems away." The 3WA's main tools were field agents sent out to trouble spots, not setting up expensive, permanent ground facilities on thousands of planets on the offhand chance they'd be needed there someday. With the 3WA's charter, their agents were allowed to go just about everywhere and do nearly everything. Agents could usually requisition whatever specific items they needed for the field from most local planetary governments if it came to that.

"We could try sending out the request using someone else's deep space transceivers," Kei suggested.

Yuri shook her head this time. "There's no guarantee we'd be able to receive a response at our ship since we aren't getting anything from HQ now, and staying in one spot long enough to wait for a response, if there is one, isn't likely due to how fast we've been on the move. Even now Killgore's trying to figure out where Mushroom Head might be heading next."

"Did they figure out what he wanted on the station?"

"From the looks of things, he just trashed another YSC facility, though I think there was something else involved too. Zeiram didn't stick around to kill enough people."

"I thought the space station was destroyed."

"It was, but it was by coincidence, not design. I can't help but feel there was something other than destroying another YSC facility behind this."

"You think Killgore's holding out on us?"

"Or his employers are," Yuri said. "He is just like us, a field agent. You know how our HQ likes giving things out on a need to know basis. I doubt if working for a corporation the size of YSC is any better."

"I bet the pay's better," Kei grumbled.

"Looks like you're going to get your wish about going this alone."

"Only now I'm beginning to think you're right about needing help," Kei lamented, about both possibly wanting help and admitting Yuri had been right. "Maybe Mikael will be able to get us the information we want. He seemed like he knew his stuff."

Yuri became playful. "Yes, tell me all about him. Is it true what they say about incest being the best?"

"Would you knock it off?!" Kei raged.

Yuri turned at an intersection and ran down one of the longer corridors running the length of the ship, shouting over her shoulder. "Wait until I tell everyone back at HQ about this!"

"Don't you dare breathe a word of this to anyone, or by the time I'm done with you, you'll wish Zeiram had chewed you up and used your DNA to crap out Zeiramnoids," Kei promised as she raced after her partner.

Iria finished disconnecting the umbilical linking the two ships and pulled away from the Lovely Angel. She watched the instrument panel carefully until the connector had been retracted and safely stored in its proper place.

Bob's voice suddenly filled the ship. "' I didn't say anything because I wanted the two of you to meet without any silly preconceived notions about one another and act awkwardly or something.' Oh please."

Iria glared at the portable computer on her wrist. "What's that supposed to mean? And what did I tell you about eavesdropping on private conversations?"

"That I should listen to everything, while pretending I'm not, and only interject myself when I feel it's warranted."

"I never said that!"

"I did, and since this is a partnership of two, I do it half the time. And quit trying to change the subject."

Iria's eyes darted around the confines of the ship. "I have no idea what you mean. And I need to clean up around here. It's a mess." Iria began to throw away the assortment of open food containers that Kei had discarded on the floor during their return trip.

"You can't fool me," Bob's voice warned. "You were trying to match them up, weren't you? Only things progressed a lot faster than you wanted."

Iria stopped what she was doing and looked guiltily at her wrist computer. "I just want Mikael to settle down a little. He's more promiscuous than a football team with unlimited access to cheerleaders and booze. And Kei needs to settle down, too. She takes way too many risks and is lucky to still be alive. And it's not like she's getting any younger, and I know for a fact she doesn't have any romantic prospects right now. I just think if the two of them were to become an item one thing might lead to another and everyone would be happier for it." She smiled hopefully at the terminal.

Bob's voice remained disapproving, but with some of the edge lost to it. "But Mikael is your son and Kei was sort of like your daughter. It does sound kind of bad, the idea of you matching them up."

"But she's not my daughter, and I never really though of her in those sorts of terms. I was only eighteen when I picked her up, and she was six. She was more like a little sister than anything, and even then it wasn't exactly like that," Iria pointed out.

"You were certainly a mother figure to her."

Iria chewed her lip. "Just because I didn't view her as a daughter doesn't mean I didn't love her just as much," she said defensively. "In any case, I'm doing what any proper guardian and mother would do in looking out for their collective welfare."

"I guess so," Bob said reluctantly. Despite being electronic, the tone all but said that while he didn't approve of what was happening, he was resigned to letting it happen without further protest.

"And it's not like I'm trying to push them together or anything," Iria said with a touch of pride at being able to beat Bob in an argument. It didn't happen often. He was the more level-headed of the two, and even at her worst, Iria never believed otherwise. "I just let them meet under neutral circumstances. They're doing everything themselves. I'd prefer they take things slower is all. I mean, they should have dated for a while before going that far," Iria grumbled as she remembered the first moment she spotted the pair together in their room at the bordello. Ideally, she wanted them to have a long lasting and permanent relationship, not a quick roll in the hay followed by a shallow, torrid fling. That was the main reason she had warned Kei after catching the two of them in the act (almost). Hopefully her former ward would take the advice to heart. Only time would tell how the two would react the next time they met each other. She hoped it wouldn't be too awkward.

Iria noted Bob had been silent for a while. "You won't tell them my ulterior motives?"

"The damage is already done. Besides, it does make things interesting around here." Bob laughed in amusement.

"Interesting things are not something my life lacks," Iria said dryly. Bounty hunting made for a very interesting life. While there were plenty of dry, dull cases, with bail jumpers, computer hackers, or kids making off with stolen property, Iria's efficiency and reputation meant she had plenty of other, more risky assignments offered to her. Serial killers, mass murders, and gangs of thieves and thugs that would slit a person's throat as often as they had to relieve themselves had all been brought in by her. Interesting things indeed.

Iria wondered if it was time when she should make them less so. She had built up a good bit of money over the years for taking on the most dangerous of cases. Only travel fees, ammo and weapons costs, some medical bills, and replacing destroyed spaceships were her only real expenses. Mikael was already making enough money doing computer work to support himself and his own apartment, and he took pride in that fact. He lived on his own, buying whatever he needed without asking for a credit from his mother. He had even offered to loan her money if she needed it, not that she did. His intelligence and independence was something that filled Iria with motherly pride, even if she felt a touch sad that her son had grown up to the point that he no longer needed her for such things.

By now Iria had a sizable nest egg, one that would allow her an early retirement, or at least to cut back on the number of jobs she had to take. Finances weren't a problem. There was also her health to consider. Her body wasn't what it used to be, and the aches and pains from taking down a difficult bountyhead didn't disappear like they used to. She still had a lingering stiffness in her elbow from taking a bullet several missions ago, and her back grumbled at her when she slept wrong. It reminded her of her own mortality, though she still felt ten years younger than her actual age. But sooner or later time would catch up to her and dull her reflexes. That could mean the difference between life and death, or at least life and a nasty maiming. She still had all of her original body parts, and intended to keep it that way.

With all the elements of the past coming together this way: Kei, Killgore, and Zeiram, Iria could not help looking back and reassessing what her life was actually like. It left her wondering if maybe she should stop merely pondering retirement and take the actual step toward it. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. The timing was too perfect. It would be nice to stop and enjoy life for a change, especially if Mikael and Kei calmed down a bit and she could stop worrying about them as well.

It was something to seriously consider. She'd have to think about it after she put Zeiram down for good. So long as he existed, she could never consider retirement, never consider rest, not even for a second. The abomination had taken her beloved big brother, Gren, from her, made her destroy what remained of him when that monster merged with his body. Gren's face bubbling out from Zeiram's body still haunted her dreams every now and then, and she would wake up bathed in sweat and eyes tearing as she remembered her greatest failure. Her hatred for the inhuman monster was all-consuming, and she would track him to the ends of the universe until she was a hundred if that was what it took to eradicate his vile form for eternity. Twenty-seven years ago she had thought she was successful; this time there would be no chance of a slip up, no matter who she had to kill. This was the last time the name 'Zeiram' would ever pass through anyone's lips.

"Just wait, you bastard. I'm coming," she whispered under her breath.

Lance Eugene Killgore head was tilted upward as he stared in consternation at the communication screen that took up the majority of the wall in front of him. The purloined ship from Farscots had also been designed by them. Their culture seemed to have a fixation on excessively large screens that tilted upward so one had to angle their heads to look at them. It was odd, and hard on the neck when one had to communicate over a long period of time with someone.

Currently the screen depicted the image of a slender woman that appeared to be in her early twenties. She had wavy chestnut-colored hair that stopped in the middle of her shoulder blades and a beauty that would have made men stop in their tracks if it wasn't for the ice that was ever present in her blue eyes. They were as cold as a robot's, and Killgore had a feeling that making love to her would have had all the passion of such. No, it would have been worse, since fooling around with machines was supposed to lack emotion, and to have a person respond similarly would have been wrong on some instinctive level.

The woman known to Killgore only as Springer was his contact with Yurenex-Solivar Corporation. The tight fitting business suit she wore cost more than what 99% of the employees of her company made in a year, though he'd wager she didn't exist anywhere on their payroll. YSC was like anyone in a position of power that liked doing things under the table, and made culpable deniability an art form.

From the information Killgore had gathered, Springer was the company's go-to person for physical solutions to problems that required ignoring legal boundaries, and she had sufficient connections to access many forms of physical solutions. That was about all he had learned of her, despite his extensive check into her background. The woman was as mysterious as she was inhuman. Killgore didn't like not knowing what the people he dealt with were like or what was at stake when was hired to do a job. Many of those seeking out his services were already backstabbers to begin with, and few of them had any compunctions about doing the same to him in the name of expediency. YSC was better about it than most, having paid him well and dealt with him honestly before. They seemed pragmatic about the need to keep Killgore informed on what he needed to know to complete the tasks they assigned him.

Until now.

Zeiram's path (which was actually Anton Scorphius' path) had been straightforward at first, knocking out every YSC holding, legal or otherwise, that stood in his path. Since the destruction of the YSC liner, it had become erratic and unreadable, at least to Killgore's perspective. YSC had been certain the next target would be Station Zionacht and they had been correct, though they hadn't informed Killgore of why that was. When he sent them the information on what had transpired at the station, they had again gone silent until this most recent communiqué.

"I really don't like being kept in the dark about things like this," Killgore growled, letting his displeasure be known. It wouldn't intimidate or scare Springer, he wasn't sure anything did, but she would inform her superiors that their number one mercenary field team was displeased. Killgore was on retainer, not an employee. Beholden to them he was not, and he could pull out on them at any time for only the cost of his retainer. It was in situations like this he was sorely tempted to do just that.

Springer's voice was cool professionalism. While not exactly emotionless, it was closer to analytical than robotic. "It was deemed you didn't need to know, and you didn't. We pointed you in the right direction. You failed to deliver the goods."

"It was hostile territory, and I had to ascertain the target's location if you want me to do what you asked me to. I couldn't exactly just blow the station apart."

"Yet that's what happened in the end,"

"Thanks to your boss's little brother screwing around and that defect in your Bottweilers. Without them running interference, we'd have nailed big mean and green." While that wasn't the unequivocal truth, neither could it be refuted. It never hurt to emphasize how badly misinformation could undercut the ability to achieve one's goals.

Springer displayed no reaction to Killgore's reprimand. "I'll download the data to you. In the meantime, you now know exactly where Zeiram's next target is: our facility on Terrakon 6. This is the only location with the necessary elements to complete the compound. I should warn you, this is only a facility on the planet. We do not control the city or the defense forces, which are considerable. Do not come in with guns blazing. You will act in a discreet manner. You will rendezvous at the location where you will work in the operation with another team."

Another team. That didn't bode well. So far YSC had been content to allow the teams on this hunt to operate independently, giving Killgore and his own a wide berth. "I don't like other guys hanging around. It cramps my style."

"Then you should have acquired the target at its last location. It has been judged you are in need of support."

"I've already got support."

"Yes, an outer rim bounty hunter and the Dirty Pair." Now there was a hint of emotion in Springer's voice. Just the barest hint of anger. It surprised him. He hadn't thought her capable of any emotion. "We do not like the 3WA sticking their noses in matters that would best pass by their notice. They need to be eliminated."

"I've got the situation under control." And he did. The cute little troubleshooters didn't know anything Killgore didn't want them to. Of course, what his employers didn't want them to know might not be the same thing, but Killgore found he could live with that. He was more concerned about Iria than either of the Dirty Pair. She was the loose canon in that mix. A pity he couldn't assuage her anger in some way, but she had made her hatred for him clear. It was rare any of his former lovers could stay mad at him for so long. But then, he had never married any of them, and Iria was one of a kind in everything she did. It was the reason he had married her, and only her, in his lifetime.

Springer's voice reverted to its previous coldness. "The target already has a head start. You'd better move fast in order to catch up. Out."

The signal was terminated at the other end and the image of the attractive woman winked out. Once it was gone, Killgore made an obscene gesture at the blank screen. Ultimately pointless, but personally satisfying. He considered the new information. More teams meant more problems. He'd have to inform the girls to haul their collectively cute asses and follow his lead to the next destination. This time he wanted to nail Zeiram before the destruction began.

The spaceport on Terrakon 6 was crowded with close to thirty thousand people, due to it being the major space hub in the closest ten systems, as well as it being tourist season. Despite the high number of people crammed into such a small space, the quartet of individuals that had recently disembarked from Interstellar Flight 398 had managed the impossible feat of moving about easily. That was due to the unwillingness of anyone in the crowds of people to draw near them. The sea of humanity parted as they moved forward, and it stared at them as they walked past.

The figure in the lead appeared the most normal. He was a male in his early thirties with swarthy skin, a mechanical eye, and a perpetual smile. He was tall at six feet four inches, and in obvious superior physical shape despite wearing a loose overcoat. The only noticeable characteristic about him was the carrying case at his right arm. It was attached to his wrist, not by a chain or some other connecting device, but rather directly at the wrist, taking the place of his hand.

The second and third men stood side-by-side, walking in perfect tandem with one another. While they wore the same outfits, similar to the leader's in that it showed off their healthy forms, they sharply contrasted with one another as the one on the right was a pale albino while his companion's skin was as dark as a coal mine. The albino stood out in even more bizarre fashion. The top of his head was totally flat, as though the first three inches had been taken off and leveled so that tiny planes could use it as a landing strip. Compounding things was a nose akin to a proboscis which pointed far and outward.

The darker of the pair was outwardly normal, like the man in the lead. However he drew attention from the pair of twin sledgehammers that were nearly as tall as he was, slung across his back.

The strangest of all was the individual bringing up the rear. Shrouded in an oversized trench coat with the collar turned up and a wide brimmed hat hung low, every inch of the nine foot tall, five foot wide, frame was concealed from sight. Even the gender of the figure could not be determined through the bulky coat and hat.

The group's passage came to an abrupt halt as an obstruction appeared in the course the quartet were taking. A single person refused to move out of their way.

"Howdy, Springer," the man in the lead said in amused tones.

The woman turned her cold gaze upon the quartet. "It's nice to see you know how to keep from drawing attention to yourselves."

"Some of us know how to avoid being seen," a soft feminine voice whispered in Springer's ear.

Springer didn't react to the arrival of the assassin known as Whisper, who had moved more quietly than her namesake. She turned to see the taller, non-descript woman standing plain as day next to her, as though she had always been there. The assassin wore trousers and a blouse in a man's style. Besides that, she was unremarkable in any way and could have blended in effortlessly with any crowd on a thousand worlds and no one would remember her once she was out of eyesight. It was the perfect camouflage for one of her skills.

Springer returned her attention to the four people before her. 'Big Shot' Dane was the leader, even now beaming at her with his eternal smile. The Winston twins, Harrison 'The Hammer' and his brother, Artus 'The Anvil', came next in the procession. Both were quiet yet intimidating. As their names suggested, getting between them was the same was being caught between their monikers, and no one had yet to withstand the sort of punishment they could deliver. Bringing up the rear was the giant, Stegrax. With Whisper's arrival, Dane's team was all present and accounted for.

Peering down at the case connected to the leader's arm, Springer asked, "How did you get that through customs?"

Dane pulled out his passport with the appendage that still had fingers. He opened it up, allowing her to see what was written inside. "Diplomatic Immunity. After we did a little job for the government on Gaaraa, they let us join their diplomatic corps. Wasn't that sweet of them?" Dane's bemused grin became even wider.

It was at that moment that a child, not paying attention to where she was going as she stared out a window that showed a spaceship taking off, bumped into the back of Stegrax. She looked up at the hulking mass and said, "Sorry, Mister."

The giant turned. As it did so, metal triangular shaped plates sprang out, ripping through the back of the trench coat and shredding it. It turned, the coat opening just enough to show gleaming silver underneath. Bending low, a robotic face with a pointed snout in the shape of a lizard unleashed a low snarl at the child.

She wet herself on the spot.

"No, you can't eat her," Dane said in an authoritative tone.

The animal face turned to the speaker. Red-faceted eyes, that bore more emotion than Springer's natural ones, captured the image of Dane in its many edges. Stegrax snarled an inhuman response to the leader of his team.

The case fell away from Dane's hand, revealing the gun-like projection of a weapon's pod fused to the flesh. There was a click as one of the various barrels moved into firing position. He walked over and pointed his muzzle at Stegrax's, nudging it slightly.

"I know you're cranky after a long flight, but you have to behave yourself. Don't make me splatter that brain of yours all over the place. Remember, you're a cyborg, not a robot. You need the gray matter to get by."

For a moment, the cyborg seemed to consider lunging at the man. Then the artificial crimson fire in the eyes dulled, and Stegrax backed off.

Satisfied the situation was under control for the moment, and unwilling to risk it deteriorating further, Dane removed his weapon from Stegrax's face.

As though the exchange had never happened, Springer said, "We will head toward the Holcomb Building which is Scorphius' target. Since you are here first, the security forces will be placed in your charge."

"First?" Dane asked.

"Killgore and his contingent have also been assigned to the task. Assuming he gets here before the target, you will split the reward two ways, as well as the bonus fee for successful completion of the mission. This is not negotiable or optional."

"No problem, no problem," Dane said casually. "I'm a professional. I'll do what it takes to get the job done, and you guys are paying top dollar for the best there is." He primped himself up with the declaration.

Springer began to turn away and head for the nearest exit, then stopped halfway. "However, there is a pair of 3WA troubleshooters with him. Silencing them is an integral part of the mission. It doesn't matter how you do it, so long as it gets done."

The order made Dane scratch his chin, where just a hint of stubble showed. "Killing 3WA agents can be a bit dicey. They don't take kindly to that. I might need a little extra cash for the hassle." There was an attempt at sincerity in his voice, but the look in his eyes was all greed.

Springer completed her turn and began walking to the exit. "You killed a 3WA agent on Rodial Prime. You will not be in any worse trouble for eliminating these two."

"Uh, right." Dane found himself talking to her back as she continued walking away. He looked at his companions, shrugged, and followed her.

They had caught up to Springer as she made it to the air curtain separating the inside of the terminal from the outside. The wind blew past their faces as she led them into the sweltering heat of Terrakon 6's summer. "A truck will arrive in a moment. It has the gear you requested. You can outfit yourselves as you travel to the site of the operation. The security chief, Milon Sancrest, will meet you there. He has already been instructed to obey you."

Instructions given, Springer continued her relentless gait and headed toward the curb. As she did so sleek hoverlimosine appeared, as if by magic. It arrived at the same instant she did, its rear passenger door opening automatically, allowing her to enter without slowing down in her walk.

Before the door swung closed, Dane called out, "How about a date after this is all done?"

Her eyes locked on him for a second. "We will not be meeting again." The door finished closing, leaving Dane to stare at his reflection in the mirrored surface of windows that could withstand anything short of a missile hitting them.

"You were shot down, Boss," the albino, Artus, informed him.

"Girl's a 'bot underneath all that makeup, I'm sure of it," Harrison said, his voice eerily sounding the same as his brother's.

"Nah, she's human. Just a hard one to figure out. But those are the best ones to fool around with. Just like our dear Whisper." He moved his hand out to fondle the assassin's bottom, but discovered she was no longer there.

"I'm more concerned about the rivals that will be cutting into out cash flow," Whisper said from behind Dane. Her tone was casual, as though she had been there since they had emerged outside.

Dane reacted as though the assassin's movement were commonplace. "Ah yes, our dear Mr. Killgore. He's taken a lot of prime deals in our lifetime, hasn't he, gang?"

"Too many," Harrison agreed, his hand moving up to unconsciously stroke the head of one of his sledgehammers.

Dane's turned his eternal smile on his companions. "Well, you know how things in this business can go. People get killed in crossfires all the time, and with us gunning for Scorphius Zeiram, and a couple of pesky troubleshooters, why, Killgore might end up accidentally having a wad of plasma take his head off." Dane fondled his weapon pod affectionately.

"Such a shame," Artus agreed.

"I've always wanted to tangle with a Samisdat," Whisper said, the only sign of her intense excitement a slight narrowing of her eyes.

"Here comes the truck," Harrison informed the others.

"Then let's get this show on the road," Dane said.


To be continued.

Author's notes: Yeah! More SOABF done. In know this was a set-up chapter, but hey, you got to have them sometimes. Honestly, this story is more than halfway done. I'm pretty sure. Well, we'll find out one way or the other. ^_^

DB Sommer

Chapter 10
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