Crime and Punishment


By: Dawniel Kupsch

Tiber System
Fringe of Tiber Orbital Space
Midnight Squadron Mercenary Group Command Carrier ‘MSS Parallax Descent’
March 7, 2937
Fall of Tiber

In the centuries past, hunters had tracked quarry in a number of ways; from tracks, scent, scat, or the minor signs that always indicated the hunted had passed on a specific route. Nothing could pass undetected if the hunter was skilled. Over the centuries, this had remained true, and Jaeger was one of the best. If one knew what to look for, had access to the right technology, and possessed the instinct and patience; any quarry could be found. This was what Jaeger had always been best at. Yet it was when this skill was kicked into overdrive by a sense of personal investment, well then the hunter became an unstoppable force- and this quarry had made it personal.

In some ways Jaeger was disappointed. He had been easy to unmask once the transmission files and communications were in hand. It had been so easy that he had dug deeper just in case it was a case of misdirection. Yet there was no mistaking the one of a kind frequency match originating from the man’s implants.

And that man, a spacecraft biosystems engineer newly hired by Midnight Enterprises, was presently secured to a chair in front of Jaeger. He was not particularly good at the game he had played, which presented questions to be answered at another time. Yet he had all the right papers to ensure placement and certain implants intended to maintain communications in as subtle means as possible with his real employers. Unfortunately for him, Xander had known what he was and who he worked for before he even applied for the position with Midnight Squadron.

Jaeger stood in a relaxed pose as he looked down on the man. His expression seemed thoughtful, and his voice was surprisingly soft- almost gentle when he spoke. “And the man whose identity you took? The actual ‘Don MacMannis’?”

The man in the chair licked nervously at his lip and shifted as much as he was able. “Dead.”

“At your hand I assume?”

The agent shrugged. “Of course.”

“And his family?”

The corner of the man’s mouth ticked nervously and sweat slowly dripped from his temple down the side of his face. “Wrong place, wrong time. You know how it is…” Jaeger nodded thoughtfully then glanced over at his companion. Lothar checked the data against the cranial readings and nodded slightly to his boss. Jaeger paced slowly, his hands moving to clasp lightly behind his back. His tone was almost friendly when he spoke. “I must say, you have been most forthcoming about all of this. Very cooperative in fact.”

The man in the chair seemed to relax slightly and even smirked a little. “I know when I’m caught. Just be sure you pass on how helpful I was to the Advocacy.”

Jaeger stopped pacing and turned to face the man again, smiling in kind, though his eyes remained as cold as empty space. “Whatever gave you the idea we were turning you over to the Advocacy?”

The saboteur froze, his eyes widening as his lips parted. He began to speak after a false start, his voice unsteady and fear creeping into his expression for the first time since he had been apprehended trying to tamper with the cargo. “But…you have to…you are a legal representative…a law keeper…an Enforcer attached to the Advocacy! The law says you have to turn me over for the Imperator’s justice…”.

Jaeger’s smile widened until his teeth were visible in a singularly feral grin. His tone was rumbling velvet steeped in wickedness as he responded. “Oh, you are correct. If I had caught you and arrested you, you would certainly have to be turned over to the higher courts for acts of sedition and corporate piracy as well as murder. However…I do not recall notifying you that you were under arrest…” Jaeger arched his brow and glanced over at Lothar. The Turk grinned widely, a gold tooth catching the light as he shook his head.

As if on cue, two security personnel entered carrying a heavy space suit and a small black box which was set down very carefully before they turned and exited.

The prisoner was tense now and he eyed the items nervously. “You can’t do…whatever you are planning to do. I’m valuable…I know things! You won’t have any proof without me!”

Jaeger shrugged broad shoulders. “We have the transmissions you sent after you confirmed the ‘Secret Weapon’ -which by the way never existed, unfortunately- was in the cargo hold. Your friends in the ‘Pirate’ armada have decided not to make a showing after all, and your employers are now identified. Why would we need you as a ‘witness’? Do you think we plan to bring any of this to the courts?” Jaeger snorted contemptuously at the idea. “We have all we need. You, my friend, are disposable and your usefulness is at an end.”

Something shifted across the man’s features, a flicker of expression that gave Jaeger a moment’s pause. His eyes narrowed, his agreeable tone suddenly hard. “You seem to have more to say. I would advise you tell me what it is.”

Sensing an advantage, the man sneered. “I’m not telling you s h it until you call the Advocacy.”

Jaeger looked at the man broodingly. “You have an opportunity to impact the sentence I have devised for you. If I feel you have come clean with me, it will go easy on you. If not….” Jaeger’s long fingered hand lightly caressed the black box.

“F u ck you!” The man spat, a crazed light in his eye. He laughed unsteadily. “You haven’t won this!”

Jaeger shrugged, once more looking composed. He nodded to his assistant who tapped his screen. The interrogation chair gave a soft hiss as the paralytic was injected into the occupant. He slumped almost immediately, everything but his face seeming to go limp. He cursed and screamed invective at the impassive Enforcer as Lothar efficiently suited him up in the heavy spacesuit. After Lothar had secured the helmet, Jaeger stepped closer, slipping an electrical component out of his pocket. He rolled it around in his hand, allowing the spy to get a good look at it. As realization dawned the man gave a choked scream. “You inhuman, black hearted…freak! Don’t you fu c king do it! Just f uc king kill me and get it over with!”

Jaeger leaned in and almost lovingly secured the biohazard beacon to the man’s space suit, ensuring that not a ship in the universe would come anywhere near him once he was launched on his ‘flight’. Jaeger placed his finger on his lips and shushed the man who had lapsed into gibbering as he realized what was in store for him. “Shh….shh, my friend.” Jaeger patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. “There is still a chance it will not be so bad for you, yes? So why not bare your soul and tell me whatever else it is you have on your mind?” The commiserating tone hardened. “Your last chance, I’m afraid.”

The man panted inside the suit despite the perfect temperature controls and fresh oxygen, flecks of foam at the corners of his mouth. He met Jaeger’s eyes and sneered. “How bout I fu ck your sister instead?”

The random, childish retort seemed to trigger something in the big German and he tensed, rage flaring in his eyes as he grabbed the suit by the front with one hand and lifted the paralyzed prisoner until he dangled like a ragdoll. Jaeger took several steps, ramming him against the plasti-steel walls of the interrogation cell. “You make this too easy…” he snarled. The Turk laid a hand on Jaeger’s arm, having quickly stepped in when his boss had given in to the sudden surge of murderous rage. Jaeger’s attention jerked to his companion and muscles clenched in his jaw. The Turk glanced at the black box pointedly. Abruptly, Jaeger released the prisoner from his grasp, allowing him to slide down along the wall and fall to the floor in a heap. In an instant he was calm again and he moved to the table where he carefully opened the box.

“You are right, of course, Lothar.”

Conversationally, as if the show of rage had never happened and they were simply chatting about the weather on Terra, Jaeger spoke to the prisoner. “I have found the idea of men believing that we humans are the apex of evolved life forms quite amusing. Certainly we express dominance over those things we come in contact with…it is true. But it is not so wise to forget how fragile we are, hmm? And as we have expanded our influence into new worlds, we have encountered many wondrous things. And some of these things, we have learned, have also evolved into a perfect form for what it is they do. Take for example, the Xerxes.” Jaeger raised a lab specimen vial from the black box, an inch long, purple, soft bodied creature glistening with secretions swaying inside. It had a series of ridges like an Old Earth Pillbug, and an ever shifting array of pearlescent colors shimmering along the purple exterior. Countless tiny legs covered the underside of the creature and bright red eyes marked the head over a flat line that seemed to be the creature’s mouth.

The panting from the man on the floor seemed to choke off entirely, his eyes going impossibly wide. Then as if a mental breaking point had been reached, he began to beg and plead, promising anything and everything, then alternatively shouting insults at the big German, trying to make him angry enough to simply kill him. He quickly became incoherent as his words had no effect, and finally just started to scream in terror.

Jaeger carefully took the vacuum sealed metaglass lab sampler to the prisoner and crouched next to him, turning the clear jar slowly in front of the man’s helmeted face. Jaeger carefully attached the end of the specimen tube to a seal on the suit, then gently tapped the tube. The Xerxes reared back, mouth opening wide to display a maw lined with razor sharp teeth designed to flense, the agitated hiss muffled by the container. Faster than the clumsy shape of the creature would suggest, it shot out of it’s prison and slid into the space suit. With a twist, the sampler was removed, minus the former occupant and the seal was again closed.

Jaeger set the empty tube on the table and straddled the chair, arms folded on the back, chin resting on his hands. The man continued to scream in a high pitched, mindless manner.

“Ah, I see you are familiar with our little friend. You understand now why it was necessary to attach the biohazard beacon as well. Nasty little creature, the Xerxes. It should have your skin flayed off in a day or so, all the while leaving pain receptors chemically heightened and secreting slime over the muscles beneath to ensure you do not bleed to death. After it has grazed, it will lay its eggs, which will hatch into larvae within an additional day or so.” He continued to speak in a friendly manner, as if lecturing a particularly apt student on a beloved subject. “The larvae will hatch and eat fatty deposits and some large muscle masses, unerringly leaving vital organs intact as they make their way to the brain.” Jaeger grinned at the man whose scream was now no more than a rasp, repeating over and over, his bulging eyes rolling back in his head.

Jaeger continued his lecture despite the fact the prisoner seemed to be past hearing at this point. “Once there, they will feed on the electrical activity created in the pain response synapses…the parent of course ensuring that there is a constant food source.”

Jaeger stood, his smile pleasant as he nodded to Lothar. The security detail returned, securing the saboteur between them. “Launch him into space through the garbage duct. Be certain his beacon is activated and the bio supports are optimal. His new friend would not appreciate him dying of hunger or lack of oxygen in the months ahead.”

The spy was drug out and Jaeger turned to Lothar. His tone was once again brusque and to the point. “Pull all the security footage and ping his location since he boarded. I want to know where he has been and I want a team examining everything he has touched.”

The Turk nodded, fingers flying over the interface. “Already on it. Other than sleeping quarters, his primary stationary time expenditure footprint seems to have been….the fighter deck.” He glanced up at his boss who was already hastening out the portal, and fell in behind him.

“Then we will examine every inch of every fighter and the surroundings,” came the growled reply as his assistant relayed orders for a sweeper team to meet them on deck.


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