The chime rang, reverberated, rose to a crescendo and slowly died away. It was loud. Jan Olsen hated that chime. Another customer had entered his private place and that could only mean one thing, work. Grudgingly he rose from his disorganised desk, knocking the half-full glass of brandy over with a twitch of his hand. It was only ever half-full; a magical state which money and perseverance ensured.
He had not meant to be rich. Retirement from the Protectorate left him with a modest sum, which he had invested in the facilities here. War carried on; each day the Protectorate expanded its zone of influence and this innocuous rock quietly turned into a gold mine. A jump point had been found nearby, an unusual confluence of physics and impossibility. It was a nexus; warp space folded strangely here, allowing a myriad of connections and it had become depressingly important overnight.
Little men in grey suits tried to buy him out, he had refused. Next followed threats, but Jan was not easily cowed. His aggressive demeanour, backed up by a heavy blaster and too many old friends made them go away. That, of course, and the remains of an overzealous politician whom he nailed to the front entrance.
Eventually he agreed to lease some of his spare land and the Protectorate had installed their research facility nearby. Things ran smoothly for a couple of years until there was no need, militarily speaking, for the nexus point. Battle fronts change, after all; a circumstance which Jan was comfortable with. He was granted the use of the assets now on his land, with only one condition; he must continue providing the service. This time his truculent nature was of no use, the Protectorate reminding him of exactly what they could do to him if they wished. So, he opened his new business, with his less than silent partner and the money just kept rolling in.
Trade was brisk. It was incredible the amount of people who were willing to pay for what, essentially was a one-way trip. They signed over all of their worldly goods to Jan, and his partner, knowing that there was no guarantee. To arrive here, they at least needed a referral and of course to be rich. All were old, many diseased, but with one thing in common; they did not want to die. The Protectorate’s facility gave them an option; die on paper and wait for the possibility of rebirth. No guarantee was given, no refund ever discussed and once you entered the facilitiy’s double doors there was absolutely no way back.
Jan did not ask what went on behind those doors; the staff was Protectorate recruited, as far as he knew military, and he just did not care. He had an unlimited supply of brandy, his own space, with only occasional interruptions. One of course was too many, but he could endure. The chime had signalled just such a disturbance and with bad grace he entered the reception area.
“Welcome. Please be seated. There are just a few formalities...” he began to slur before his brandy-fogged mind recognized the unusualness of the scene before him.
Something hard, metallic, wavered in his vision. He recognised and did not like it. There were too many people, at least six and all dressed the same. Jan recognised their uniforms and facial features and began to sober quickly. He tried again.
The pain resulting from the harsh blow sharpened his senses. This was not how it was supposed to be.
“Be quiet!” This came from their leader, a harsh-faced woman. She was the one who had slapped him.
“Marti,” she continued, “are you sure that the cameras are off?”
“Good,” she returned to Jan, grasping his brandy-stained shirt and pulling him towards her, “now where is it?”
“Here,” he mumbled, his knee slamming up between her legs, as his right hand curled round her throat, “but you’re not going to be happy...”
Her hair was long, tied in a pony-tail which he used to good effect, tearing hair painfully as he dragged her round. Drunk no longer, reactions took over. Changing his grip, his hand dropped to her belt, drawing her pistol in a fluid movement. His first shot took a startled Marti right between the eyes, his second blew a hole in another’s chest. They had begun to move, but shock had given him an edge. Jan booted his angry captive towards the tight clump of his remaining attackers; part of his brain laughing at the stupidity of huddling up so close together, even whilst he killed them.
As quickly as it had started, it was over, Jan standing over his first aggressor whose pitiful cries did not move him.
“You’ll be sorry,” she gasped.
“I already am,” he said, as he calmly squeezed the trigger.
The report had barely died away when the front door exploded inwards, throwing Jan back towards his office. Armour-clad figures raced in, spraying the area liberally with weapons fire. Half-conscious, Jan heard the snapped, “Take him!” just before a rifle-butt slammed into his head, relieving him of all the troublesome questions running through his mind.