137 \ 329

Raev had asked to be left behind on Hirylien, and for all Verne knew, he might not even be there anymore. The others had gone on their way, minus their coins, via that other shuttle. Verne Trosper had been given leave to be a free agent for now, available to Raev’s call or other pressing need.

Trosper floated leisurely along a tertiary byway some distance from the dark planet, a known but low-usage dead-end route. Out of curious habit, he was doing some long-range scanning. Trosper’s own ship was attuned to a few specific ID alerts with multiple decryptions, enemies of the enemies of the state. One of these showed up in his outer vicinity. This guy. Oh, this guy. Showing up on the trail like usual.

Verne rolled his eyes, and checked his weapons systems. He could actually do this right now, equipped and in a mood to tangle. He wasn’t a popular person; there weren’t many people or things he cared about, anymore. On the special occasions when he did care about something, he did so from a deep, hidden place that could determine everything, and which he didn’t question. Right now, he cared enough to halt this foe. This was it – he’d had enough.

This General had proclaimed loud and long that all who fought for the vindication of Hirylien were vermin, and his minklike malice in pursuit of revenge for his sister and his pride had earned him no tolerance. Whether Hirylien was actually empty now or not, this close brush with a lone pursuant ship carrying General Iparia might be the best opportunity anyone could get for a simple shootout. Verne could use all his Vedani party tricks out here.

He commandeered a comm line in signature style, while still invisible to human readout. “Boy, do I have a bone to pick with you,” he said, reflecting and reversing the expected dynamic between them.

Trosper’s voice was also recognizable to Iparia, and the military man didn’t hesitate to respond. “Perhaps you can do it with the rats while you die like one.”

Verne shook his head. “Nothing’s changed, I see.”

“Nothing that could change my opinion of you.”

“You will not be able to complete your objective along this route, Iparia.”

“Yes, I will.”

“No, you won’t.” Systems ready; target in view.

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