Sorry for the lateness of this update, dear readers. John forgot what day it was. Oopsie. >_>
Exeter Prime was not quite a city. It was more an extension of the huge, flat complex that dominated the landscape. It could be seen from the air, an enormous rectangular sprawl, with occasional gaps for courtyards or swimming pools. Things grew less dense the further you got from the complex, until, past a certain point, things changed into lush countryside.
“Like I said, it’s a pretty small moon,” said Zane, as they came in for a landing. “Like ninety percent of the people who live here live in Prime, and pretty much all of them work for Martens one way or another.”
“One day, my dream is to own an entire freaking moon of people working for me,” Ash sighed, and flipped on the landing protocols. “Pull us in soft–the landing pads are going a little flat.”
“I know, I know,” said Zane, as he clicked the communications rig on. “This is Songbird coming in for a landing, are we clear?”
The rig buzzed and the reply came in. “Songbird, this is Exeter Prime. Bring her down.”
A few minutes later they had officially touched down. Mari felt a feeling of pressure for a moment–it had been the first time she’d been planetside since leaving Raulin and the gravity simulators on board were close, but it was still different than being on-world.
“You’ll get used to the heavy feeling,” Ash said watching as she gathered her balance. “Most terraformed worlds have Earth-Standard gravity, but there’s enough of a margin of error that you’ll notice little differences after awhile.”
“The joys of the spacer lifestyle,” said Mari, rubbing her head. “So, should I just wait on the ship, or-”
“Nuh-uh,” said Jayna. “Martens is going to want to meet you.”
She didn’t know why she was nervous all of a sudden. “Me? Why?”
“Well, you’re his newest employee, so to speak. He likes meeting his people personally. He’s really not that bad,” Ash said. “Besides, the ship needs to run a few diagnostics reports. It gets loud. You’re not going to want to stay on the ship. Pack an overnight bag.”
“I just unpacked,” she muttered, as she darted back onto the ship.
Outside of the spaceport, there was, indeed, a car waiting for them, a sleek black hoverlimo. A woman in a suit was outside of it, holding a sign that said ‘SONGBIRD’.
“Good evening, Zane, Jayna, Ash, I see you have a new member among your crew,” she said, giving Mari a pleasant smile.
“You see right, Marla. This is Mari, she’s our new ship’s medic… will we be seeing Martens today, or?”
“Martens insisted that I take you straight to his office,” said Marla. “That means no stopping for tacos, Mr. Forde.”
Zane grumbled as he climbed into the limo.
Jayna did the same, putting on a pair of sunglasses and leaning back. “Marla, did I get a package in from Theodorapolis?”
“Yeah–I did you the favor of sorting it for you… the maxi dress is quite stunning,” Marla said with a smile. Jayna grinned a bit, before settling in and looking out the window.
The ride eventually took them through a large gate, separating the complex proper from the rest of Exeter Prime. Mari watched out the window. All around, people were moving things around from one place to another.
“A lot of the complex is warehouses,” said Zane, who was leaning back and staring at the ceiling. “Martens buys and sells a lot of items, and this place is his hub.”
Mari nodded, and watched as the front of the complex came into view. This building stood out from the rest of the compound–where everything other building was comprised of squatter concrete or steel buildings, the main hub was comprised of glass and chrome, shining in the midday sun. They drove into an underground parking garage.
“We’re here,” said Marla. “You can go on up to the office.”
They had parked not far from an elevator, which they all loaded into. Soft music played as the four of them went up.
“Don’t be nervous,” said Zane.
“Who said I was nervous?” said Mari.
“Me,” said Zane, shrugging. “Sorry, I thought that was clear. Seriously, whatever your picture of Martens is, it’s wrong.”
“I’m picturing an imposing figure behind a huge desk,” she muttered.
“He does have a pretty big desk,” said Jayna, absently.
Finally they landed on the top floor. As the elevator opened, they were greeted with a… rather boring office set up. It was pretty at the height though–the large, unobstructed glass windows made for picturesque views of the countryside that encroached on the complex, but inside it was mostly white and chrome again, with greenery dotted about to give a little bit of a human element.
An identical twin of Marla was sitting behind the desk at the far end, head down as she focused on paperwork. As she heard footsteps, she looked up with a smile.
“Good afternoon, would any of you like something to drink?”
“We’re good,” said Ash. “Thanks, Karla. So should we just-”
“Martens is expecting you,” she said. “Go on in.”
Further back in the room was, indeed, the largest desk that any of them had ever seen. And, as decorum would demand, there was a large, high-backed chair, behind it, facing away from them.
“Really, Martens?” said Ash. “You’re doing the chair thing?”
There was a laugh as the chair spun around. Intentionally or not, Mari had been forming a mental picture of Martens. The figure in the chair, currently putting his feet up on the desk, did not match it… at least, not at a casual glance.
Rather than a bespoke business suit that probably cost more than Songbird did, Martens was clad in a salmon golf shirt, khaki slacks and brown loafers, as well as a pair of mirror-polished sunglasses. His complexion was a deep tan color, and it was uncertain whether this was a result of genetics or just a love of being out in the sun. He shot them a smile, and his teeth were so white that he gleamed.
“Oh, let me have my fun,” he said, waving a hand. “I heard you were bringing a newbie up and I couldn’t resist.”
“Mari, this is Martens. If his hands are sweaty it’s probably because he was just out golfing,” Jayna said, taking a seat in one of the cushier chairs by the window.
Martens stood up and walked around the desk, regarding Mari. He pushed down his sunglasses, looking her up and down with steely grey eyes. He let out a long ‘hmmmmm’.
“I bet,” he said, “that you’re thinking ‘I don’t care how much this bozo thinks he’s worth, if he tries something funny he’ll be singing soprano’.”
Mari narrowed her eyes at him, but elected not to respond.
“You should fit right in with this crew,” he said, pushing his glasses back up. “Permit me to formally introduce myself. It’s Martens. Just Martens. No ‘mister’, no ‘sir’. I’ll accept ‘boss’ if you must. I am… an entrepeneur.”
Silence hung in the air.
“How many times have you practiced that little spiel?” Mari deadpanned.
Martens let out a snort. “Oh, I like her,” he said.
“Oh good, I guess I can stay then,” Mari said, turning to face the windows. “So… were you born rich or do you have some sort of ‘scraped through the mud to get my first million chits’ story?”
Martens considered the question for a moment. “Little from column A, little from column B,” he said. “But you’re not here for my life story, you’re here for my money.”
“I mean, can I have some money?” Ash asked. “Or is this a new person only thing?”
Martens snorted. “Mari, I’m sure you’ll be fine. I think a medic is something that these three are going to need. Do you have any questions for me?”
“None that I feel comfortable asking out loud,” said Mari.
Martens shrugged. “Jayna, I believe has my link-to. If you really do have something to share with me you don’t feel like you can share with them, that’s probably the best way to get in contact with me. Marla checks everything for me because otherwise I’d have thousands of messages to check.”
He smiled again. “If you’re going to work for me, in any capacity, there needs to be a measure of trust here. Trust that I will do right by you. And if I can trust the same in you, you’ll find that my generosity knows no bounds.”
“Speaking of generosity…” said Ash, hands in pockets.
“Indeed,” said Martens. “Now, I imagine that you’re in need of a serious restock. It’s been at least four sol-weeks since you’ve been back here in person.”
Ash nodded. “I run Songbird as efficiently as possible, but we have to get a break with the restock costs–she needs some serious parts to keep doing these intragalactic runs you’ve had us on.”
Martens looked over Ash for a moment. Then he paced around his desk and took a seat again.
“I suppose such is the cost of doing business,” he said, steepling his fingers. “Alright, then, since I’m in a good mood today, get whatever you need. But since we’re talking, there is a little errand I need run. Far below a crew of your caliber, to be sure, but as long as you’re right here.”
“Well, honestly, that might be a good opportunity for Mari to get her feet wet,” Jayna said, getting up. “What is the job?”
“And what’s the likelihood someone will get shot?” Mari asked warily.
“Always a prudent question,” said Martens. “Extremely slim. In the city of Thompson’s Vale, on the neighboring planet of Bismarck, there is a certain bank. I need an item retrieved discreetly from a safe-deposit box there and quietly dropped off at an assosiate’s place.” He raised one finger. “I won’t insult you by offering you money for what amounts to a simple courier job, you aren’t the postal service. Just think of it as a little favor. A bit of good karma, if you will.”
Ash gave a bit of a chuckle, before addressing the job. “Sure–give us the details and we’ll be the mailman.”
Marten clapped his hands together and grinned ear to ear. “Fantastic!” he said. He reached into an unseen compartment and pulled out a tablet, tapping it a few times. “Karla will give you the details, and you can just give her a list of everything you want for your ship. I’ll put the lot on your tab.”
“So… can I get some medical supplies from the sme stash? These losers aren’t… super great at keeping inventory in the ship that I can use to help duct tape someone together.” Mari said, looking at the list Ash pulled out from his pocket.
“My resources are considerable and my warehouses are very, very large,” said Martens. “If you can think of it, I have probably got some somewhere.”Mari nodded, and found a pen and paper to start writing out her list.
Martens turned to Zane who had been relatively quiet. “What about you? You’ve been pretty quiet today.”
Zane, who had been looking out the window for most of the conversation, suddenly snapped to attention. “What?” he said. “Oh, I’m just…” He blinked a few times. “When did you get here?”
“Just now,” said Martens, nodding.
“Oh. Hi there,” said Zane, nodding. “So favors are all well and good, but we’re between hauls at the moment and we’re going to need something reliable. Got any real work for us?”
Martens looked at his tablet. “I do… and you’ll be glad for the stock up… I’ve got like, three or four jobs that are all interconnected, but they take place on two different sides of the Ishtarian sector. Think you can handle doing that run? Should take you about a month all things considered, but it pays very very well.”
“Zap me the details,” said Zane, pulling a micro-tablet from his pocket. Martens tapped the screen and did so. Zane cocked an eyebrow as his device went ding.
“I can’t help but notice that this run includes a stopover at Foxtail City on Yuhwa,” he said. “You wouldn’t be trying to to slip a few cases of silvergrain liquor out of the system, would you? You know as well as we do that the pokers are going to be all over the wormgate traffic until the trade disputes are settled.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing you can’t handle,” said Martens, shrugging.
“Probably not,” said Zane. “But it’s also nothing you’ll be hurting from if we get pinched, whereas we’ll get our entire ship turned inside-out. If you want that liquor moved by us, it’s going to cost you a little extra.”
Martens sighed, running a hand over his temple. “I’ll add in another fifteen thousand chits,” he said, leaning back. “You guys are good, but not the best who’s ever done it–you turn that offer down I’ll find someone else to take it.”
“You could, but you’d be sad about it,” said Zane. “And we’re here right now. Make it eighteen thousand.”
Martens grumbled, his smile fading for a moment. “Sixteen and five, you fiend, and not a single penny more.”
“Deal,” said Zane, nodding happily. “That should get me some serious tacos.”
Ash grinned. “Well, I’m glad we’ve all come to terms. Once we’re done with the diagnostics check and get some sleep we’ll be off in the morning–anything else you want from us?”
“Unless you’d like to grab me by the ankles and shake a bit, I think we’re good,” said Martens, now smiling again. He looked over to Mari, and added, “And you, miss, have an interesting career ahead of you. Karla will see you out.”
With that, the chair spun around again, and they were dismissed.
“He’s a bit of a drama queen, huh,” said Mari.
“You have no idea,” said Karla, approaching them from behind. She was holding a large white tablet. “Go ahead and put in your orders for anything and everything your ship needs, and we’ll have it loaded overnight.”
The four of them sat in the lounge for about twenty minutes. Martens’ warehouses were indeed massive. And soon enough, they managed to get everything they were looking for ordered up, and without having too steep of an overhead for getting it shipped in.
Mari had never seen supplies come so easily–even at her clinic, they normally had to fight and fuss with the suppliers to get what they’d needed.
“Songbird’s sickbay is going to be better-stocked than the entire clinic I worked at,” she said, staring down at the catalogue. “I don’t know how I feel about having this much power.”
“I mean, we do still have to pay for it–so don’t go too crazy,” Jayna said with a smile. “That normally keeps us in check. And stops Ash from turning Songbird into a yacht instead of a runner ship.”
“Don’t tempt me,” said Ash, not looking up. “But seriously, get whatever you need. Get whatever you think you might possibly need in any hypothetical you can dream up. It’s an investment in our future.”
“Which is to say, an investment in having one,” said Zane. “Which we won’t if we die. Except for a future where we’re dead. Which would be boring.”
Mari considered Zane for a moment. After their little talk, Mari had looked over the rainbow of medications that Zane irregularly took to keep his… whatever it was in check. She was no pharmacologist, but it seemed to her that there had been a whole lot of guesswork involved.
Her attention was turned back to the catalogue. So much at her fingertips…
There had to be a better way. She made a mental note to look into that.
She looked up to Karla. “Um, do we have access to these systems at all times?”
Karla nodded. “Yes, there is a program within your ship’s functions that allows you to restock from here, and it would be waiting for you at the outpost of your choosing.”
Mari nodded. “Then I’m good, for now.”
“Excellent,” she said, taking the tablet back. “I’m having the relevant information sent over to you for your upcoming jobs, and you’ve been granted the use of two guest suites for the night.”
“Please tell me we got one with a hot tub,” said Jayna, her face lighting up.
“You would insult Martens by thinking otherwise?”
Jayna and Ash shared a high five.