December 2006
ISBN: 0451459997

One

Jack Stein was fuming.  The anger welled up inside him, bouncing against his powerlessness and washing back from the knowledge that there was absolutely nothing he could do.  Once again, Outreach had managed to make him a pawn in their own game.  At least he assumed it was Outreach.  He knew he couldn’t say anything that would help.  Not to the impassive face that sat across from him on the opposite bunk watching, nor to anyone else.  His new friend wouldn’t have listened anyway.  The guy, all spiky hair and stubble, was nothing more than a hired thug.  The stocky man shifted on the edge of the bunk, his expression unchanging, and the pale eyes devoid of emotion.  Jack ground his teeth together, narrowed his eyes and looked away yet again.

            Why was it that Outreach Industries couldn’t leave him alone?

            Dumb question, Stein.  He knew the answer; they thought he had something they wanted, or at least the key to unlocking the knowledge they wanted.  Whether they were right about that or not, Jack wasn’t exactly sure, but it wasn’t what mattered for now.

            Back behind them, far, far away now, lay Utrecht and Balance City, teetering impossibly on its rock spire, all metal and glass, and somewhere within that urban construction, Jack didn’t know where, was Billie.  A changed Billie, but still Billie.  Maybe by now, she had found Dog McCreedy and discovered what had happened to Jack.  With the thought of McCreedy, Jack’s fingers tensed on the bunk edge and the anger welled up in him anew.  He had trusted McCreedy.  They had a history.  That would teach him.

            Never again.  History counted for nothing.

            He turned back to the guy across from him and broke the silence.

            “Do you have to sit there watching me?  I’m not going anywhere.”

            His companion simply grunted.

            Jack sighed.  “Okay, be like that.  Not much of a conversationalist, are you?”

            The slight narrowing of the man’s eyes was the only acknowledgement that Jack had said anything.  Great company.

            And Jack wasn’t going anywhere.  Not anytime soon.  Here they were on one of Outreach’s ships, heading back to a past he didn’t want to relive.  At least they’d already been through the gut-wrenching sensation that was the jump.  He didn’t think they’d be going through another one.  He hoped not, anyway.  He’d been through a few now, but he wasn’t going to get used to the feeling, the way every cell in his body turned inside out.  Damned jump space. 

            There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say.  He glanced across at the cabin’s other occupant, but knew he was unlikely to get any further information.  They’d be at their destination in a few hours anyway, and there Jack would find out precisely what Outreach wanted from him. 

Continued...