As the first rays of morning sun began to fall over Exeter Prime, songbird was breaking through the atmosphere. Her crew was pampered and well-rested, her larder was full, and her cargo bay was empty.
Mari looked over her new sickbay, seriously impressed. Every shelf – including a couple that weren’t there before – was stocked full with bandages, ointments, tools and other such things. And every surface had been scrubbed until it sparkled. There was even a mint on the examination table.
“These people do not half-ass it,” she said, nodding in approval.
“We like contracting through Martens,” said Ash as he leaned against the door. “He’s good people and for the most part a good boss. Sometimes he requires a little shaking down, but, y’know. That’s business.”
“No kidding,” said Mari, turning to face him. “That business withn Zane…”
“Zane has a great many layers,” said Ash. “And he doesn’t get bored. He reads everything he can get his hands on, too.”
“How many of those layers can potentially kill me?” asked Mari. She knelt down and pulled out the one thing she’d had to special order–a book on pharmacology.
“Probably just the bottom few,” said Ash. “You know, the night after his last episode, he came to me and asked for tougher straps on his bed? He worries a lot.”
“Seems like it,” said Mari. “But hey, I guess it’s my job to help keep him together now.”
Ash smirked at her. “Does that mean you’re officially part of the crew now?”
“For now. Although that may change if I wake up with a gun trained on me by the same guy who asks for hot cocoa in the morning,” Mari said, and settled herself down on the examination table with a bag of licorice she’d also specifically requested. “Let me know when we hit Thompson’s Vale?”
“It’s only a few hours to Bismarck,” said Ash, as he took his leave. “Don’t get too comfy.”
“So, the details of this are pretty simple. we go to the bank, use this card to verify our access to the safety deposit boxes, and then grab the goods and drop them off at the nearest location. Easy,” Ash said, handing Zane the card to put in his jacket pocket. “Who’s coming?”
“Mari should come,” said Zane, as he stowed the card away. “Let her see what a typical, low-fuss job is like.”
“Should Mari come?” said Mari. “Mari is not sure if Mari should come.”
“Mari will be just fine,” said Ash. “Zane’s right, this’ll be a cakewalk.”
“Then why are you two going armed?” said Mari, her eyes trailing over the shoulder holsters that Zane and Ash were wearing.
Zane shrugged. “The sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky,” he said. “But if it starts raining, I’ll be glad I brought my umbrella.”
“It’s more a precaution than anything. I doubt we’ll use them,” Ash said.
“I’m staying here,” Jayna said, looking at the other three. “No offense, but banks mean nervous people, and I don’t do much to put people at ease.”
“Martens did say ‘discreetly’,” said Zane. “And you’ve got, like, twice as much creet as any of us.”
“Maybe even three times,” Jayna said. “Besides–the larders need reorganization now that we’ve got a short person aboard.”
“Are the short jokes going to be a thing?” said Mari. “Because bear in mind, I’m at the perfect height to headbutt you someplace exceedingly painful.”
Jayna shrugged. “I’ve got four years of ‘you’re really tall’ jokes to burn off. I figure I can spread some of that wealth around,” she said.
Zane and Ash shared a look.
“Those long voyages are going to get a lot more interesting,” said Ash.
The bank they were picking up Martens’ package from wasn’t a particular fancy one. Which was the trick, one supposed. Your average would-be robber wouldn’t expect to find some of the most valuable items in the sector to be in such a place.
Zane sat in a chair before a manager, flanked by Mari and Ash, as their documentation was examined.
“Alright then,” she said. “Mister Smith, Miss Jones, and Mister… Ramsbottom.”
Zane nodded at the mention of the name he was allowed to choose, possibly for the last time. “Yes?” he said.
“Everything seems to be in order,” said the manager, signing the touch-screen embedded into her desk with a flourish. “I’ll have the item you requested brought out in a moment. If you wouldn’t mind waiting in the lobby?”
“Sure thing,” Ash said, getting to his feet. The three of them sat down in the cushy chairs in the lobby, and Ash smacked Mari lightly on her arm. “See, no sweat.”
Mari looked like she was about to say something, but was cut off by the sound of a plasma weapon discharging
The three of them had their attention drawn over to the door. Five men in black masks had pushed in, toting various weapons. One of them got to work barricading the door.
“Anybody moves, their head gets turned into a scorch mark!” shouted the one with the plasma rifle.
Mari looked back at Ash, giving him a dirty look.
Ash frowned, as he turned around–another five or six of them had come in from the back, locking the doors and pushing the bankers into the middle of the room.
“No heroes today! FIrst guy that tries to run gets his legs blown off! We just want what we came for! If you’ve got a device that can get to the outside world, it goes in this sack!”
Zane, out of the corner of his mouth, hissed “Should we-”
“Just do what they say,” Ash replied. “We’re supposed to keep a low profile, remember?”
One of them went around with a bag, collecting communication devices of all sorts, even earpieces. Zane and Ash relinquished theirs without argument.
Mari dropped hers into bag, and huddled closer to the other three.
The small group of professionals huddled everyone into the middle of the bank as they began to move from one side of the bank to the other, shutting down any communication towers and then proceeding to push the bank tellers out of their bullpens, all except for one scared teller who had been cowering by a bigger console.
“So just give them what they want and hope the banker still gives us the stuff?” Mari whispered, keeping an eye on the teller the goons had isolated.
“That’s the plan. They’re probably just here for money or some random box. All we want is some papers. Let them do their thing and we’ll be fine,” Ash said, sitting on the floor next to the rest of his crew mates.
“Boss, dispatchers are cut–we’ve got twenty minutes before the secondary backs up.”
The boss nodded, and approached the teller. “You,” he said. “Access codes for your chit-stick registry.”
The teller swallowed heavily. “I- I can’t just-”
The plasma rifle discharged, disintegrating a nearby wastebasket.
“I mean it!” he said, levelling his rifle at her.
She started and pulled towards her touch screen trying to go through the menu as quickly as possible.
Ash frowned. There were no security guards anywhere to be found and the cops weren’t coming. If things started going bad, they would go bad quickly.
“I… I can’t–I have to have two people to open up anything!” she stammered and the boss began to grunt, calling one of the bigger masked men over.
“We got problems,” said the big guy.
“You don’t say,” said the boss, annoyed.
“Bigger problems,” came the reply. Big guy tapped his earpiece. “Didn’t get all devices. Somebody got a call out. Police on their way.”
The boss let out a snarl, brandishing his rifle. Everyone cowered. “Which one of you was it?” he said. “Speak up and you might get out of here with your life intact, if not all your parts!”
No one seemed to be coming forwards, and, in the tense silence, the sirens began to sound. The boss’ shoulders tensed. “Alpha, move into Plan 72–We’re going to have to burn this plan!”
The big guy nodded, and he whistled. Somewhere the lights got killed. Ash tensed. “Uh oh,” he whispered.
The boss pointed the barrel of his rifle toward a man who was kneeling on the ground, the point mere centimeters from the man’s flesh.
“Looks like we’re going to have to start negotiating,” he said, with a nasty sneer. “Best to show them that we mean business first.”
Zane looked over at Ash. Ash simply nodded. Zane looked back, his eyes scanning over the room. As subtly as he could manage, he pointed at the big guy, who was standing by the door, apart from everyone else. Ash nodded again.
“Mari,” whispered Zane. “Don’t move.”
Mari would remember the events that transpired next running in slow motion. Zane stood up and, in the same motion, withdrew his firearm from its holster. The sound of the shot made Mari’s ears ring as he squeezed one off. Zane’s hands moved like a blur, and three more shots followed the first in quick succession.
The ringleader started to fall, downed by a perfect headshot. Three of the others followed suit in the next second. And just as the last one started to react, Ash pulled out his own gun and let off three shots. Two of them struck the man’s chest, which was armored, but the third slug found its mark.
Everything was silent once again. Five bodies were on the floor. Calmly, Zane re-holstered his weapon.
“M… Mister Ramsbottom?”
Zane looked up at the bank manager who was still holding onto a small folder. “Oh, is that ours?”
The manager nodded. “You… what did… you saved us!” she said. “How can we ever-”
“Um, pretend we were never here, please,” said Zane. “If anyone asks, these dudes turned on each-other, alright?”
Another nod. Her hands still shaking, she held the folder out, and it quickly vanished into Zane’s jacket.
Within the next few minutes, the cops entered the building. As the chaos ensued, the three of them quickly made their exit and crossed a few blocks of traffic before they headed to their ship. The last thing they wanted to be asked was their purposes for being there, after all.
“We’ll have to get on the line with Martens,” said Ash. “Hopefully he’ll be able to pull some strings and keep the local cops from asking too many complicated questions.”
“We did just stop a bank that he probably has a stake in from being robbed,” said Zane, shrugging.
“Right–I’m sure he’ll be more curious who’d be dumb enough to try and rip him off so close to his home planet anyway. He might actually tip us for this one,” Ash said with a shrug.
“I doubt he’d be that quick to give us his money. Considering how we shook him–”
“Guys. What the fuck was that?” Mari asked breathlessly. They both stopped to realize the petite nurse had stopped a couple meters back.
Zane turned to look at her. She was shaking like a leaf. “Are you okay, Mari?” he asked.
“You just killed,” Mari took a deep breath, and her fists unclenched, knuckles white. “You just took out four guys faster than I could react to the first one. Four headshots in two seconds. How is that even possible?”
Zane frowned. “I know,” he said. “I don’t like doing it, but did you see the way those guys were moving? Professionals. They weren’t planning on leaving witnesses. I won’t lose any sleep. Well, no more than usual.”
Mari’s eyes darted between the two of them, and shook her head. “But you didn’t miss once. You didn’t even take time to aim… was that just luck?”
Zane seemed confused by the question. He scratched his head. “Wouldn’t have helped much if I missed them, right?” he said. “I mean, if you’re not going to hit what you’re aiming at, then there’s no point in pulling the trigger.”
Mari didn’t have a good response to that. She stood there, dumbstruck for a moment.
Zane shrugged. “I don’t like doing it,” he repeated. “But, gotta take care of the crew, y’know? Nothing’s more important.” he smiled at her. It wasn’t entirely reassuring.
“Let’s get back on the ship. You’ll feel better after that,” Ash said, moving a couple steps back. Mari hesitated for a moment, before moving forwards to catch up with them.
When Zane was a few paces ahead of them, Mari tugged on Ash’s arm.
“Yeah, I know,” said Ash, before she could ask. “I almost shat myself the first time I saw Zane do his thing. There’s a lot going on in that head of his. And I don’t envy him for it.”
“He’s dangerous,” Mari said softly.
“Yeah, but he’s not a psychopath. Last resorts only. And I don’t think he’s ever done that if there was a better solution.”
Mari watched her ‘captain’ lead them towards the ship, and fell into a thoughtful silence. She would need to be on her game about these new prescriptions. The last thing she wanted to do was to flip the wrong switch inside of his complicated noggin.