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‘Did we have to meet in this infernally crowded place?’ James says, raising his voice to be heard over the noise.

The man on the barstool next to his shrugs. ‘Hey man, I don't decide that stuff. The client does.’

‘And who might your client be?’

The man smirks, pulling out a pocket communicator. ‘You can see for yourself.’ He thumbs it on, the light from the small screen illuminating his features. It’s not a bad-looking face. ‘You can call me Alex, by the way.’ He hands the device over.

James squints at the screen. ‘Anamaria?’

‘Good to see you, Commander.’ Her voice is hardly audible over the noise in the bar, and James turns to Alex to see that the man’s already anticipated his need, and is holding out a tiny pair of earphones.

He puts them on, holding the device close to his face. ‘Is everything all right? Why the cloak-and-dagger routine?’

She grins. ‘You’re in a very public place, James. Hardly cloak-and-dagger.’

‘Where is he? In trouble again?’

‘Actually,’ Anamaria says, her expression sobering, ‘I was hoping you could tell me. We haven't heard from him in a couple of weeks, and the crew’s getting antsy.’

‘A couple of weeks? That’s not like him, is it?’

‘No, it’s not. You’re kind of my last resort, if you must know. He, uh… he may have ordered me never to contact you, but as acting Captain, I decided to overrule that order.’

‘Where are you?’

‘The Pearl’s at Prometheus. As for Jack, your guess is as good as mine.’ Prometheus is one of the outlying planets, about as far from the Earth as one can get without leaving the populated worlds.

‘Is this going to take much longer?’ Alex says from beside James, poking him in the shoulder to get his attention. ‘I’m on the clock here.’

James bites back an impatient retort. He doesn't know why Anamaria chose to hire this man to contact him, although he has his suspicions. ‘Give me a minute,’ he says, turning back to the screen.

‘What?’ Anamaria says, confused.

‘I was talking to Alex.’


‘The man you sent to contact me.’

‘I don’t actually know his real name. Don’t trust him, all right? He was the best I could find at short notice.’

‘I don’t trust anyone,’ James assures her. ‘I’ll let you know if I hear anything.’

He ends the call and hands the communicator back to Alex. ‘Thanks.’

‘You gonna pay me, or what?’ Alex says with a sharkish grin. ‘This isn't charity work, you know.’ He slides across a piece of paper with an amount and an account number written on it. James raises an eyebrow at the sum, but takes out his own communicator and transfers the credits to the man’s account without argument, his mind already elsewhere.

‘So what was all that about? Bad news or something?’

‘That’s hardly your concern.’

‘It might be.’ Alex downs the rest of his drink. ‘I’m good at finding people.’

‘And at eavesdropping, it would appear.’

Alex laughs. ‘Insulting me won’t help you find him.’

‘Just who the hell are you? And I have no idea whom you're talking about.’

‘Don’t you?’ Alex says. He nods toward the enormous screen behind the counter, which is displaying a news channel on mute.

James turns to look at the screen. It’s been displaying the same major news story all day: another so-called ‘terrorist’ strike against Beckett’s Empire, carried out by swift, black, anonymous craft that appear seemingly out of nowhere, foil the Strike Force’s plans, and disappear before they can be stopped or apprehended.

‘I do keep up with the news,’ James says, turning back to Alex.

Alex leans in close. ‘Maybe you should read between the lines,’ he says with a wink. ‘Consider that a freebee.’

James doesn't watch the man’s retreating back as he turns back to his drink. Alex’s parting words haven't told him anything he doesn't already suspect.