“Tuck, you need to come home,” Lena pleaded. “You’re burning up all your stake for the big one.”
This was the third time she had contacted him to beg him to come back since he left over a month ago. Tuck looked exhausted. His eyes were red, his hair uncombed, his clothing a mess. He was a man obsessed. He wasn’t coming home until he found this elusive Watts character.
Shattuck was following the last lead he showed her of a recording he found in Watts’ N.E.T. history. It had no delivery site that you could follow, but it was a conversation between Watts and someone named Arr about the release of William Braden.
“You don’t understand,” Shattuck said. “This is the big one, and I am so close, Sis,” Shattuck said. “I can feel it.”
They were both hooked up with Ethinn in the N.E.T. This was where Lena always found him lately.
“Where are we?” she asked. The room they were standing in was a shambles. It had obviously been tossed by someone.
“In Watts’ home on Rigil 4’s second moon,” Shattuck answered. “I physically just left Outpost #68. I found another lead.”
Before her brother left he confessed to her that he found his way in through the backdoor of the Braden brother’s trial records. They were accused and convicted of murdering innocents on a mercenary mission. They had abused Azar root, a substance used sparingly by the military to stay awake on long shifts of duty, but when used in access could lead to irrational actions.
Five of their fellow mercenary team witnessed against the Bradens, Tim O’Malley (deceased), Jake Harcourt (deceased), Daniel Douglas (now deceased), Arr of the Henu (whereabouts unknown) and Ezekiel Watts. Shattuck formulated the theory that Braden was tracking down the men who accused him and murdering them one by one. He wasn’t able to get a lead on Arr of the Henu, but he knew where Watts lived. Watts was the man to follow if you wanted to catch Braden and Watts was way out of Wade’s jurisdiction.
“Watch this vid. It was one of many I found under the bed at Watts’. Whoever tossed the room thought they weren’t important enough to bother with. They were wrong. I’ve studied these until my eyes are bleeding,” he exaggerated and rubbed his red eyes for emphasis. “They are full of information.”
Shattuck started the recording which showed a man in a kilt playing a ukulele. He was singing the Earther version of Happy Birthday with a backup chorus of no less than a dozen very drunk grown men.
“That’s Tim O’Malley in the kilt. The time stamp on the recording is years ago. Each of the recordings I found were of Jake Harcourt’s birthday parties. Seems the guys all got together each year to celebrate.” Shattuck explained. “Wait…Wait…” Shattuck flipped to a bookmark he’d placed in the recording. “This is the part I want you to see.”
Shattuck narrated as the recording started of a group of drunken guys sitting around a room littered with limp party decorations and half eaten plates of birthday cake with runny, melted ice cream.
“That’s Jake on the right of Tim, Douglas is in the big armchair, Arr there at Jake’s feet on the floor and you recognize Watts. Listen….Jake is telling them about a mission he and Arr were on during the past year.”
Jake told the story of a mission that had turned into a nightmare. A whole colony of miners and their families had died on Galnon Station #41. When he was finished, Tim checked the bottle on the coffee table in front of him. It was empty. He stood up and retrieved a fresh one from the bar at the back of the room. He came back and walked around the room filling all their glasses. He filled his last and raised it.
“To the families of Galnon Station #41,” he toasted.
Everyone raised their glasses and drank.
Shattuck stopped the recording.
“I am running with a hunch here,” Shattuck explained. “I think when Watts told Arr he was going to hide in the ‘deepest, darkest hole’ he could find, he was being literal. I think he has gone to Galnon Station #41. I have been researching it and it is being independently mined.”
“Where in the verse is Galnon Station #41?” Lena asked.
“It’s out a ways. I’m headed to Trade Post A8767 on the outer rim.”
“Jez Tuck, that’s half way across the galaxy. You have to use a window to get there,” Lena said in a worried tone. “Tell me you’re not thinking of using a window. That’s downright stupid.”
“I’m not going to use a window,” Shattuck repeated obligingly.
“You’re lying. You have to.” Lena cursed under her breath. “You idiot! Haven’t I taught you anything? You could get yourself killed hurtling through windows.”
“I love you too, Sis. Don’t worry. I’m fine. I am picking up some really good stuff out here,” Shattuck assured her. “Have you been reading it?”
“Of course,” she replied with a sigh. It was good stuff. Probably the best her little brother had ever written. He seemed to be feeding off the danger. He had a mission. He was going to get to the end of this story.
“Promise me you’ll be careful,” she begged him. “Promise me if you catch the slightest glimpse of this maniac Braden guy that you’ll call the officials. No playing like you know what you’re doing in a fight. Promise me,” she reiterated.
“I promise.” Shattuck crossed his heart with his fingers.
“Tuck..I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you,” Lena confessed.
“You’d have a lot more money to spend on yourself,” Shattuck replied with a grin. “Don’t worry, Sis. I’ll be the bane of your existence until the day you die.”