Rook entered the Rhaudurian-Ithaca’s restaurant; his manner deliberate, his gait loose and relaxed. The delectable smells of breakfast being served filled his feline nostrils, causing his whiskers to twitch. This restaurant was intergalactically renown for its ability to prepare millions of off-world dishes with the ease and speed that it demonstrated with native Nijimeganese dishes. That’s what tourists wanted more than anything else: a large selection of off-world fare and speed of service—if they wanted to wait there was the Harbor-Vanguard Tower a few blocks away or the Nikatus-Imperial Palace more than sixty lightyears away.
“Ah, Mr. Tyndak,” the sharply dressed maitre d’ said to the cheetah. “I trust your stay here is very pleasurable. The comfort of our guest is our number one concern.”
‘Mr. Tyndak’, Rook, smiled thinly. He’d used the cover name for more than four days now and it almost sounded as natural as his real name. “I’m having a rather enjoyable time, yes,” Rook lied. “I shall not forget your service.” He handed the maitre d’ a silver coin—on Nijimegan the custom of voluntary taxation took place before the service, not after.
“Did you see the dawn?”
“Yes, it was most exquisite,” Rook answered pleasantly.
The maitre d’ smiled as if she’d been directly responsible for its creation herself. “Breakfast then, sir? I trust that you’ll want your usual seating arrangement?”
“Is the young woman going to be joining . . .”
“No, I’m afraid not today; perhaps in the evening. We shall see.”
“Oh, a pity.” The maitre d’ smiled politely. The fact didn’t escape her that the woman was Pulsarian and Mr. Tyndak was Aracrayderian, the deadliest of enemies. . .supposedly. She knew, as did everyone on Nijmegan that the war was going badly for the Delrel Federated Republic. Then again, Nijimegan was a Frontier planet and strange alliances formed all the time. The curiosity of it all intrigued her. “Very well. This way please, sir.”
Rook followed her through the large, spacious, brightly lit restaurant. Antiques of Nijimegan and alien design decorated the triple layered dining area. Red, green, and orange Cesstessian ferns spiraled up thick, wood stained spires leading to the transparent ceiling thirty meters above. As usual the restaurant was crowded, bodies shifted in chairs, utensils dug into exotic entrees, the conversation a polite, intimate buzz.
He was seated at a booth that gave him a clear field of fire that covered 90% of the dining area. If trouble arose he needed to be ready to kill and needed to have an unobtrusive view of those he was killing. He gave the outward appearance of the relaxed traveler, enjoying himself; while his senses, stayed alert, ready for any sign of trouble: a sudden movement of a fork, a voice that suddenly rose then lowered to a whisper, anything that could be interpreted as an aggressive act.
Even with his sidearm hidden beneath his black Helen Ridger sport coat (a signed original), Rook knew he could draw, fire, take-cover before an aggressor could bring his weapon to bear.
The maitre d’ handed him a menu datacard and strolled off politely to intercept more arriving guests.
Peering intently at the menu datacard Rook wondered if he should choose something native or an off-world dish. The Greerfleck swordfish immediately caught his eye and was said to be the best in the galaxy. If it’s the best, why not enjoy it for breakfast.
He placed his order to the overly polite waiter and sipped at the complementary wine. Then it happened! Nothing sudden or violent, he was being watched, studied. Rook remained relaxed, calm as if nothing were transpiring—although his insides began to quiver and thrash. The action was subtle, subdued. The watcher wasn’t sure of himself, yet. Rook caught a scent. It wasn’t familiar. But then again it was. It was distant, from his past. He couldn’t place it. In a few seconds he wouldn’t have to.
A human male with thick ropes of blond hair slowly walked in his direction. Blue-grey eyes sharp and intelligent. Instantly Rook was flooded with recognition. Logan Kiasar—Goddamnit!—a wanted criminal within the borders of the Delrel Federation which was probably why he was operating in the Frontier now. He was an ‘operator’, a weapons man, a slave-trader who sold human ‘comfort’ females to the Pulsarians returning from the front lines, he was a pirate who raided merchant shipping in deep space leaving the crews stranded parsecs from the nearest planet. An all around murderous bastard—a twisted, violent snot with all the grace of pubic lice. Before Kiasar’s infamous career began with in the frontier territories, he’d been a student at the Bastian Academy on Minerva. Disgraced, he was, and discharged for a number of violations against the Honor Code. He was even accused of murder but vanished long before official charges could be registered. Oh yes, Rook was acquainted with the dossier on this scum. However, training and professionalism demanded his expression remain impassive.
Recognition was a danger all agents faced while in the field. For his part Rook never lived with the fear of having his cover blown, simply because the galaxy was too damned big to be too concerned about bumping into someone whom might recognize him. He had a better chance of flying into a black hole, or getting ripped apart by an ion storm before he was likely to be recognized by someone while on assignment. There was no need to compute the odds because they were infinitesimal.
If recognition ever occurred he’d simply tell the individual they’d made a mistake and press on with his business. But here he was trapped. Here he was seated, relaxed, had breakfast on the way. He just couldn’t stand up and walk away. Such hasty action would be a sure tip-off. There was no escape.
And Logan’s eyes! It was always in the eyes. The eyes knew. He’d already been made. Should he lie? He couldn’t compromise his cover—but what could he do? Too late to concoct a story now, all he could do was act.
“Rook, my good fellow,” Logan said, standing over the table, a wicked smile extended from ear to ear. “What brings you to this part of the galaxy?”
Rook eyed Logan keenly. Would a lie work?
“I’m afraid that you have me mistaken for someone else, friend,” Rook said, his expression carefully relaxed and confused.
“I don’t think so,” Logan said. “May I have a seat?”
“Now is not a good time, my dear fellow,” Rook said with a charming flourish. “I have a business associate arriving shortly and we have about a dozen things to—I’m afraid that he doesn’t like uninvited guests.”
“Uninvited or unwanted?” Kiasar smirked.
“The choice is yours, my dear fellow.”
“Very well. So, it’s going to be like this.” The smirk disappeared.
“It’s not going to be like anything.”
“Come on, Rook. I know you know who I am. Let’s not trifle here. You and I both know Minerva can no longer train Omnitraus Officers to kill Pulsarians.”
The words ‘Omnitraus Officers’ stung like hot needles through Rook’s heart. But he maintained the mask of confusion.
“No effect, eh? You must commend your teachers of Gladatraus Command. Perhaps they were able to train you after all.”
“Who are you?” Rook leaned forward, all business now—don’t overdo it. “Do you work for Arcadia IBT?”
“You know who I am.”
Rook acted exasperated and exhaled. “All I know about you is the way you’re ruining my appetite with your rude confrontational behavior and accusations centering on suspicious loyalties. Will you please grant me the peace I need for dining or must I notify the authorities.”
“Why the hell would you want to do that, Rook?”
“And stop calling me that. The name’s Tyndak.”
“Tyndak? ‘The name’s Tyndak’—not, my name is Tyndak.”
“I was adopted by humans after my birth,” Rook supplied. Then his eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. “Why am I telling you this? Get out of here. This conversation is terminated. If you don’t leave I will notify the authorities or I’ll take care of the matter myself.” Rook pulled his lapel back to reveal the nasty looking SN-90.
“This isn’t a very private place for a murder, now, is it?”
“The situation can change at any time.”
“Now I know I have the right cheetah. At first I wasn’t sure. But now I am. You see, I know more about you than you realize. I can help you. I can help you get off this planet.”
“I don’t need your help. I already have a starship—”
“The Icarus Dawn,” Logan said. “The Pulsarians have already taken possession of it.”
How did Logan know the name of his starship? My God! What else does he know?
“You’re working with the Crhira Mosxk—”
In a blur Rook grabbed the human by the throat and jerked him down, his face millimeters away from his own. Logan winced as he felt the SN-90 stick into his ribs. Such speed. He knew beyond a doubt that this was indeed his cheetah.
“Look, friend, I don’t know who you are or where you come from. But you are this close to becoming a smoking stain on this table.”
Despite his cool Logan felt his heart rattle around in his chest. “Like I said, Rook. This isn’t a very private place for a murder.”
Rook shoved the human aside like a rag doll and replaced his weapon. Several patrons turned to regard the two. Rook ignored them, his attention on Logan. “I’m leaving now. If you follow me you will be killed,” Rook hissed. “And it will be a private matter.”
Rook whirled and moved rapidly toward the exit. The Maitre d’ intercepted him. Time to play important tourist again. “Mr. Tyndak, is everything okay? Is that individual bothering you? Should I notify the authorities?”
“No, that will not be necessary,” Rook said. “But do have my meal sent to my room please with a bottle of your best Cordon-Adrian.”
“As you wish, sir.”
Rook moved quickly through the lobby and into a waiting elevator.