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It began, like so many other misadventures, with a call.
After the rather interesting time on Kanaloa, Songbird’s crew had more or less gotten back to its routine. Cargo was hauled across the galaxy, and nobody had tried to shoot at them, unless a water balloon counted. But Ash had forbidden anyone from speaking of that again.
About one solar month after Kanaloa, the crew had just finished dropping off a cargo of what the client had referred to as “artisanal bricks” (the crew didn’t ask) to a small moon in the middle of nowhere, when their communications rig started to buzz with Martens’ frequency.
Zane, who had been in the middle of describing a surreal dream which involved giant talking bagel slicers, put him on the screen. “What’s the word, boss man?” said Zane, as Martens came up on the screen.
“I need a favor,” he said. He seemed to be in less good humor than usual, and he looked tired. “You’re in the Enki sector now, right?”
Zane looked to Jayna who gave a nod. “Uh, yeah, I guess we are,” he said, tilting his head. “You’re not looking so hot. Everything okay?”
“Is it flu season on your resort island already?” Ash asked.
“Just stress, I’m afraid,” said Martens. “I have a job for you. One that is well beneath your capabilities, but it needs to be done on a rather urgent timetable.”
“Um, wel,l we’re between jobs right now,” said Jayna, settling down with their books. “What would we be doing?”
“Meeting with an associate of mine in the vicinity of Baridi Prime,” said Martens. “He’ll give you a small object to be safely and quietly delivered to a location that he will inform you of. And I do mean quietly. Discretion is more important than haste for this one.”
“Anything we need to know about as far as security?” Ash asked.
Martens shook his head. “No. I’d normally just have it shipped through a courier, but… I need to absolutely ensure its safety. Your team is the closest to the location that I would trust to act with the utmost discretion. You will be paid at your typical rate, despite the lowliness of the work. Are you interested?” After a brief pause, he added, “I’d consider it a personal favor.”
“Well, let it never be said that we don’t owe you a good turn,” said Ash, nodding. “And a paycheck’s a paycheck. Consider it done.”
Martens gave a half-smile that accentuated the seldom-seen lines on his face. “I knew I could count on you,” he said. “I’m sending the details your way. Contact me when it’s done.” And the screen winked out.
Jayna looked up the information, “Guess we’re heading to Biridi then,” she said. “The delivery is on planet–should be done within a couple hours.”
“Oh, goodie,” said Zane, nodding. “Means I have plenty of time to finish telling you. So, the lead bagel slicer, his name was Brad…”
Biridi was a moon right on the borderline of what was considered the minimal distance for a terraformed world to be away from its designated star. As such, it tended to be a bit brisk. Mari shivered even as she wrapped herself up in the thick coat of synthetic fur she had been provided with.
“You know, normally I like being petite, but times like this I wish I was built like a mammoth,” she huffed, walking behind Jayna as they headed towards the designated outpost.
“Yeah, I have to say, it’s pretty great,” said Jayna, smiling as she stretched out. “Don’t worry, we won’t be here long. I think this is where Martens’ man is going to meet us.”
Mari buried herself deeper in Jayna’s old coat and sunk into the corner. “I’ll be on the lookout then for someone sketchy with a briefcase for no reason, then,” she said.
“I hate the cold too,” Ash said. For the first time in a while, Mari had seen him change out of his thin coveralls and into a thick pair of denim jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. He’d added a thick leather jacket to the mix. He joined Mari in the corner, except facing the opposite direction.
“So does Zane,” said Jayna. “But he won the coin toss so quit your yapping.”
There wasn’t much in the way of civilization on this side of the moon. Mostly it was office buildings, observatories and various scientific centers. This was a world that had been colonized mainly for its mineral wealth, and thus was less ‘cushy’ overall.
“There,” Mari said, pointing to a guy who looked around. He was wearing a bright red tie, which was the signal. Jayna strode up to meet him. There was a brief exchange of code words, and then Jayna walked back. “Easy as that. Told you!”
“Huh,” said Mari, looking at the object in Jayna’s hands. “So that’s the… package?”
It was… a package. Literally, a parcel wrapped in brown paper, a little smaller than a shoe box.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so literal,” she added. “I mean, usually when people in our line of work are referring to ‘the package’, it’s some kind of euphemism.”
“Sometimes, it’s just a package,” she said, tucking it into her jacket. By the time she looked back up, she saw a bright red light darting off the tip of her nose.
“Son of a bitch,” she gasped, and jumped to the side as two bullets embedded themselves at roughly nose height in the wall behind her.
They looked up, and saw that Red Tie had vanished. “Son of a bitch,” muttered Jayna.
“Why are we getting shot at?!” said Mari. “We were having such a nice run of not getting shot at!”
“Stop complaining and start running!” Ash said, pulling his own gun out and pushing Mari into the office building nearby. It was late, after hours, so the building was empty. “There’s a back way that I saw on the way in. We can probably hole up and lose whoever’s out there,” Ash said.
Jayna shut the door behind her and with a grunt of effort she warped the lock, and cracked the automatic door mechanism off the hinges. “Let’s hope so,” Jayna said. “I didn’t like how cleanly that shot would have lined up.”
“What do you-” said Mari, before another shot shattered a nearby window.
Jayna looked out the broken window, and then groaned. “Of course,” she said. “Of fucking course.”
Ash didn’t even have to look too closely. He saw the stark white against the darkness. “Shit,” he swore. “We’re going to need a new exit strategy.”