"This came yesterday." Watts held the ‘Release Notice’ flyer from the Galactic Forces up to the screen. He gave Arr a moment to read it.
"It hardly looks like Billy," Arr said referring to the scars on his face.
"I checked with I.N.C. this morning, he was hospitalized for Reeves Fever this past year. The disease left him a demented psycho."
"Why would they release him?" Arr never really understood the judicial system.
"He was transferred to a hospital from the penal planet when he came down with Reeves. The hospital was hit with cut-backs and he fell through the cracks and out into society. Seems they thought it was okay seeing as they'd fit him with a sedation cuff." Watts snorted in disgust.
"That's not the worst of it," Watts went on. "This was aired this morning." He turned on the vid-cam recording of Douglas' body being found and the accompanying speculation of the investigative-journalist. "Check out that blade work on the chest," Watts pointed out. "Look familiar?"
"Unsettlingly so," Arr confirmed. His mind pulled up a picture from his memory that he had buried long ago in hopes it could be forgotten. It had not.
"Then it isn't my imagination running wild?" Watts asked.
"I would say, no."
"Then we both can make a better guess of what happened to Douglas than that lame journalist," Watts commented, as the tape finished and went to snow on the screen.
Arr was sitting on the edge of his chair aboard ship; he leaned back and nodded affirmation to Watts when his face reappeared on the screen.
"Braden wanted to know where we all were. I sure as hell would have told him whatever he wanted if he was carving on me like a Christmas turkey." Watts' craggy, old, black face wrinkled into a disgusted expression.
"Tim and Jake are gone. There's just you and me, Arr. I don't know about you, but I'm going to crawl in the deepest, darkest hole I can find and just stay there until Braden's caught. I suggest you do the same."
Ezekiel Watts sat aboard the commuter cruiser that shuttled the miners to a small galnon planet in the Nubula System. The shuttle had the advantage of not requiring any identification for passage – another step to masking any trail Braden could follow. Watts started his disappearing act by closing up his home and Free Riding to a remote Outpost.
If he still had his own ship he could have easily disappeared to parts unknown, but he lived high when he was younger. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved to be treated right. Part of that was buying galnon crystals by the hands full. Good quality crystals were costly and Watts never wanted to look cheap. He always bought the best for his ladies.
What was that old saying O’Malley was always spouting? Oh yah, ‘he spent his youth on wine, women and song.’ Not quite right – Watts had spent it on Tuldavian mud sliders, women and fast games of CUE. It was during one of those games that he lost the title to his ship which had stranded him on the second moon of Rigil Four.
From Outpost #68, he hitched a ride to a Trade Post on the outer rim and then to the Refitting Station where he boarded the shuttle. He formulated this plan years ago just for such an occasion. Little did he know he was going to use it to escape Braden and not the authorities.
Watts didn’t pay any attention to the other passengers around him. He blended in with them easily dressed in the clothing he had picked up off a clothesline at the Outpost. He looked like any other miner. His age gave him the advantage of appearing a bit more experienced, but that just made him a little less approachable, which was fine with him. He wasn’t here to make friends. He was here to disappear.
Watts was deep in thought remembering a conversation he had decades ago with Jake Harcourt, Arr’s human partner.
Jake told him about a mission he and Arr were on as security to Galnon Station #41. It was supposed to be an easy money job – just keep the miners from pilfering the crystals and see that the shipments were loaded and secured properly for transport to The Company.
When Jake and Arr took the security gig the Helavites, an alien race credited with the devastation of numerous civilizations, were still in the verse and doing their pirate thing. They raided any and all ships that came across their path and even invaded some worlds. They left no survivors behind. Little did the inhabitants of Galnon Station #41 know that these bugs had waylaid the supply freighter for the station. All the Super knew was that it was way overdue. They were fast running out of water on a planet with a surface temperature of 120 degrees and no natural water source.
Jake’s ship, the Calpernia, couldn’t evacuate the full complement of the station’s inhabitants, so they opted to make a run to the closest planet for water. Unfortunately, it was found after they left that the crates in the storeroom at the station were mislabeled. They contained flour, not water. Some of the miners became so desperate they tried to drink the water from the slough where they washed and graded the crystals. It was like drinking water laced with ground glass. By the time the partners returned more than half the station’s crew was dead. All the children had perished.
The original complement of miners and their families were evacuated after the incident.
The Company moved in a new crew of miners to finish the last two months of work at Galnon Station #41. A week into the new operation there was an explosion below ground at about the 650 foot level. It killed 63 miners. The mine was getting the reputation of being jinxed. When the slough ruptured eight days later and 16 more miners were drowned at the lower levels, the mine was abandoned by The Company.
The planet didn’t sit empty very long. The word got round that there were still crystals to be had – high quality rocks. The private miners moved in - the little guys with their one or two man operations. They staked their claims and started to dig. All these years later they were still getting decent crystals. They were about 800 feet down now.
It wasn’t that Watts wanted to mine crystal, although it would be a nice side benefit of this trip. It was just that Galnon Station #41 was literally the deepest, darkest hole Watts knew of where a person could hide.