“Him again?” said Mari, covering her head as she ran. “Was it too much to hope for that we’d seen the last of him after that incident on Annwyn?”
“Apparently,” Ash sighed. “Jayna, can you reach Zane? We need to be off this planet yesterday. We’ll have to hold off on the drop and make sure we get away clean, may have to cylce out of the galaxy and back in-”
He was interrupted by the sound of a door being kicked open.
“Shit,” he swore again, and moved towards the outer door. “We gotta go!”
There was a screeching sound, and the group saw a bright flash and felt a wave of heat blow over their heads. Following that, there was a smoldering hole in the wall behind them. They turned to look and saw Johnny Deuce approaching them, a still-smoking plasma rifle clutched in his perfectly-manicured hands.
“So nice to see you all again,” he said, grinning ear to ear. “No hard feelings about how our last meeting went, just so you all know. Never let it be said that I’m one to hold a grudge.”
Ash returned the witty banter with a gunshot from his pistol. Johnny Deuce sidestepped the bullet and kept walking. “We can do the talk over coffee later, I guess. I need that package.”
“We really need to stop meeting like this,” said Ash, keeping his gun trained on Johnny. “The whole you-show-up-and-try-to-steal-our-stuff thing is getting old. In fact, given my druthers, I’d prefer we stop meeting period, but I like to have realistic goals.”
Johnny shrugged. “You know I steal from everyone. I really wouldn’t take it personally,” he said. “But today? I got paid handsomely to steal this package from you. So, y’know, I will.”
He moved quickly. Ash took two quick shots and Johnny lined up a shot with his plasma cannon. Ash ducked as Johnny blew out the wall behind them. He then swept in, grabbing Ash and pulling him into a headlock. He switched from the plasma rifle to a pistol and set it against Ash’s temple, before looking to Jayna. “Give me the package. Now.”
Jayna hesitated for a moment, narrowing her eyes at Johnny.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You’re thinking I won’t do it, because despite everything, you lot are fun. And I like fun.” Before Jayna could respond, he moved the pistol and pulled the trigger, caushing Ash to cry out as Johnny shot him in the foot. “But I have a reputation to maintain, and while I’d be a bit sad to have to kill you, I’d get over it. The package, please.”
“Alright, alright!” Jayna said, her gaze hard as she opened up her jacket.
Ash recovered before she finished, and slammed his head backwards into Johnny’s, hard enough to produce an agonizing crunch as skull met face. He cried out and let go for just long enough for Ash to follow through with a haymaker.
“Move it!” said Ash, limping as fast as he could until Jayna lifted him up and dashed off. “We need to get back to Songbird yesterday!”
Mari ran alongside Jayna, as fast as her legs could carry her. “What is that guy’s problem!”
“He’s a mercenary! He gets paid to be our problem,” Ash said, grunting. “Jesus, why did it have to be the foot!”
“I’ll take care of it if we don’t die!” said Mari, as the group of them went as fast as they could back to the spaceport, where Songbird was already heated up and ready to take off.
As they moved towards the ship, Johnny had stood between the group and the ship. Jayna stepped back just in time to avoid getting shot as well.
“You lot think you’re so special,” called out Johnny, shaking his head. Ash had given him a rather spectacular shiner. “You’re not. The universe is big, cold and uncaring, and so am I. The package, please.”
Jayna looked at him, her fists clenching. “I swear to god, Johnny, if I see you again I’m going to put you in the ground.”
“You’re not the first one to try and you will not be the first one to succeed,” he sneered, “although it may be fun to try later. Package. Now. If I have to ask again I’ll start the demand with a bullet.”
Ash was the first one to act, shooting behind Johnny. “You’re a terrible shot!” Johnny said, lining up his own.
That’s when the hatch door fell open, slamming into the back of Johnny’s legs and pinning him to the ground.
“I wasn’t aiming at you, asshole,” Ash muttered, kicking the plasma rifle out of his reach before stepping onboard the ship.
They could hear Johnny swearing even as the hatch was shut behind them. They darted up to the cockpit, where Zane was already behind the wheel.
“Where the hell were you when I called?” snapped Ash.
“Sorry about that,” said Zane. “I was busy leaving a surprise aboard the Double Deuce. Johnny’s going to be angry when he tries to take off.”
“Angrier,” corrected Mari.
“We need to get off world and out of the system. Soon. We can circle back in a week or so to drop it off,” Jayna said sighing as they took off. They heard Johnny take a couple of potshots. In the background, a plume of smoke began to rise from the spaceport.
“Well… fuck that,” Ash said. They all turned to see him pouring himself a drink, his hand shaking. “Open it.”
Jayna and Zane almost got whiplash as they turned their heads to look at Ash.
“Mari, take him to the sick bay immediately,” said Jayna. “He’s going crazy from blood loss.”
“We can’t do that!” said Zane. “That’s like, rule one of the business! Maybe even rule zero!”
“I’m not going crazy. Maybe a little faint, but not crazy,” he said, getting to his feet. “Who in their right minds would hire Johnny Deuce to steal a bit of stationary? Who knows what could be in there?” Ash said. “The last job made sense. It was an assassination. But this? Nothing more than a courier run!”
Mari, who was carefully wedging Ash’s boot off, looked up. “Looks like it went straight through,” she said. “You’ll be fine.” She looked back at Jayna. “I may not be a seasoned spacer like you lot,” she said. “But I have to admit, I’m kind of curious what’s in that little box that’s worth hiring a psychopath like him to fetch it.”
Zane and Jayna looked at each other. “What do you think?” Jayna asked.
A pained expression spread over Zane’s face. “Johnny didn’t toy with you at all this time,” he said. “He was being serious. That means smeone was offering him some serious chits.”
“Exactly. I don’t feel comfortable flying around–with a hole in my foot, I might add–without at least knowing what Johnny’s willing to put a bullet in me for,” Ash said.
Zane looked back at Jayna. Jayna bit her lip, then nodded. “Open it,” she said.
Jayna has the package
Oh, I meant to write her passing it over, mah b.
Zane looked at the package in his hands, then rapidly passed it over to Ash. Ash sighed and, very carefully, peeled the brown paper off of the package. It contained a lock-box of some kind, encoded with a digital keypad.”
“Don’t suppose you know how to get into one of those?” said Jayna.
“Actually, yeah,” said Ash, looking it over. “It’s a pretty old brand. They were recalled because of a security flaw. Zane, go grab me my toolkit.”
Ash settled in, and when Zane retrieved his tool kit, he pulled a small device out of it, slipping it against the side of the glass pane and lifting it up with a bit of effort, he tinkered for a few moments until the light came on and flashed green. He held down three of the keys in the middle row, and it flashed red twice, and then turned off completely as the box clicked open.
“Won’t the recipient know it’s been tampered with?” said Mari.
“Probably,” said Ash, as he looked inside. Within the box was a rather ordinary-looking tablet. It was an older model, not in wide circulation these days.
Ash pushed it on, and was met by… well, met by nothing except for a blank screen. It had a flashing cursor on it, and that was about it. “I… think this is more your strong suit, Zane.”
Zane looked at it. He gave it a cursory tap.
“I’m no expert,” he said. “But if I had to guess, this thing is, like, super-encrypted. The kind of encryption that the super-paranoid crackers think is a tad excessive.”
“Well, if it is this heavily encrypted, then I’m even more curious as to who decided to cash this in. Whoever called in Johnny knows what’s on here.” Ash said. “We gotta get into this tablet. We’ve got some money in the coffers, maybe we can hire someone to decrypt it?”
“Hire who?” said Jayna. “If Martens hears that we did this, there’s going to be capital-T Trouble. Assuming we could even find someone.”
Zane cleared his throat. He was looking at his shoes thoughtfully.
“I… might know someone,” he said. “She’d… she’d do it as a favor to me and Martens would never know.”
Jayna, Ash, and Mari all looked at him. “He’s got eyes everywhere. How can you be so sure?” Jayna said.
Zane looked up. “She’s probably got more eyes. Trust me. No one will know we’re there,”
“How sure are you?” said Ash. “Because if-“
“I’m sure,” said Zane, with a bit more force than they had come to expect from Zane. “If you trust me, then you can trust her.”
“Okay,” Ash said, hands raised. “Okay. You set the heading, we’ll get you there,” he said, and then winced as he got to his feet. “I’m going to find a bottle to crawl into while Mari fixes the case of hole in the foot I seem to have acquired.
Zane nodded. “It’s not that far,” he said. “We’ll be there in less than a day.”