The latest journey of Songbird took her to the Avalon system, located in the Ishtar sector. Having recently completed an errand or two on the behalf of Martens, the crew was between jobs and taking a breather.
Currently, they were engaged in a card game together. Boredom could be a real problem in space; group activities kept things interesting, which is why a ship without several sets of dice and/or decks of playing cards somewhere on board were a rarity indeed.
Currently they were playing a game that Zane had invented some years ago. He called it Cosmic Drift. Originally, Ash and Jayna had only gone along with it to help him relax after a particularly difficult episode, but after a few games, they discovered that it had a surprising amount of depth. There were a lot of rules, and Zane always kept them perfectly straight.
They had since had a set of cards custom-made for it. Mari looked at one of them dubiously.
“…Okay, so,” she said. “Let me get this straight… the Star cards trump every other kind of card, unless…”
“Unless you play them at the same time as a Satellite card,” said Zane, as he placed two cards down. “Satellite cards don’t do anything on your own, but any other card or set that’s paired with a Satellite can’t be taken off the table until the round ends.”
“Oooh,” said Mari, as comprehension dawned. “Now I get it. So if I play three different-colored Moon cards here, plus this Satellite…”
“Then you score five points and the round is over,” said Jayna, nodding. “And you get to make the first play for the next round. Now, in order to-”
Play was momentarily interrupted as something went ding over the intercom. Zane looked up, puzzled. “Someone’s hailing us,” he said, standing up. “I don’t think we were expecting a call?”
“Well, it’s a public line. Could be anyone.” Ash said, taking a sip of his drink as he waited for Zane to answer the call.
Zane tapped the wall-mounted screen and saw Martens’ overly tanned face slip into view after a few moments. “Good evening guys–hope you’re all doing well–who’s winning?”
“Jayna, as always,” Zane said cheerfully. “Something y’need, boss?”
“A favor,” said Martens. “Though this is the kind with a paycheck attached. Are you anywhere near Annwyn?”
“Maybe a couple hours’ ride away,” said Zane. “Why?”
“I just got a call from an associate who needs a package picked up rather urgently,” said Martens. “In the town of Morfran. There’s no local spaceport, so you’ll have to come in by land from a neighboring city. Ten thousand chits for the job, plus a bonus upon delivery. Can you make it?”
“I’m assuming you’re arranging local transport, then?” Ash said, getting up and walking into view.
Martens chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Do I have to do everything for you people?” he said. “There should be a rental place attached to most of the spaceports. Improvise.”
The signal cut out. Ash wasted no time in pulling out his tablet and checking the Songbird’s accounts.
“I guess we took the job,” he said.
“That was nice of us,” said Zane.
“So… how long is it to get to Annwyn?” Jayna said, shuffling and dealing the next hand.
“About a twenty minute skip through the wormhole network. And then about two hours or so on either side of it.” Ash responded, pulling up a map.
Annywyn was a small, bitterly cold planet on the outside of the Ishtar quadrant. They wouldn’t have to leave the galaxy, but there was nothing of interest on that side of the system, let alone in tiny little Morfran.
“Not a big detour,” said Ash. “Moderately easy chits. There’s worse ways to kill a day.”
“I can think of at least three off the top of my head,” said Zane, as he settled back down at the card table and picked up his hand.
“And what’s our probability of getting shot at this time?” Mari asked.
“It really doesn’t happen that often!” said Ash, defensively. “It’s been a bad week.” He grunted and hid his face behind his cards.
“Little to none,” Jayna said, patting Mari’s shoulder. “When we get the full specs for the job, we’ll see if you even head out this time around. It should be pretty easy pick up work, but we don’t know who we’re picking it up from. If we have to get a little down and dirty, we’d probably have you run operations on the ship.”
Mari considered this. “And by ‘run operations’ you mean…”
“Wait in the ship and unlock the door for us when we get back,” said Zane. He laid out a number of cards. “Run of Nebulas.”
Jayna sighed as Zane scooped up cards. “So that’s where all the Nebulas went,” she said. “There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it.”
Mari shrugged. “Seems simple enough. A lot nicer than being robbed at gunpoint,” she said, and tossed her hands into the table. “Just… give me a little more warning this time when the worm hole comes up. I’d like to be able to watch it with my eyes open this time.”
“You’ll get used to it,” said Jayna, shuffling the deck. “Spacer life takes some adjusting to, but a lot of this stuff will seem commonplace.”
“Even the getting shot at?” said Mari.
“Not so much the getting shot at,” said Zane. “That’s usually a bit scary.”
“You don’t say,” Mari grumbled as she dropped a card. “Pass.”
“Hey, if you wanted stability in your life, you could have stayed planetside,” said Ash. He smiled as he laid five cards down in front of him. “Galactic flush.”
Jayna’s eye twinkled as she plucked a single card from her hand and placed it on the table. “Black hole,” she said.
The rest of the table erupted into a chorus of groans.