After a short pit stop, the crew of Songbird touched down at their destination. Ash elected to stay on board. “In case we need to take off quickly, I want us to be ready,” he said.
“Good plan,” said Mari. “Let’s move, the sooner we have this thing out of our possession, the happier about life I’ll be.”
The trio walked quickly towards the drop off point. It was in a seedier spot in town, but the drop off was clean enough. Despite a couple of overflowing dumpsters, the office in question seemed clean, neat, and most of all, not well trodden.
As soon as they stepped into the complex proper, however, something seemed immediately… off.
“You guys smell something?” said Zane, curiously.
Jayna sighed. “Blood,” she said simply, her eyes narrowing. “We need to get out of here. Something’s wrong. We gotta go.”
She stepped in front of Mari as the first bullet sailed over her head.
A figure dressed all in white stepped out into the room. And he did not look happy.
“Do you have any idea,” he said, as he fiddled absentmindedly with his handgun, “how long it took me to get the stains from that rustbucket you call a ship out of my suit? I have to have these custom-made, you know.”
Jayna’s hands clenched.
“No one told you you have to dress in special suits,” Mari piped up from behind her.
Jayna sighed. “We’re leaving. Now. Do not follow us.”
“I don’t think you are,” said Johnny, taking a step closer. “Listen, amazon, do you know what it took to get to where I am?” He let out a bark of laughter. “You have no idea. I carved my own path and paved it with blood and bullets. And now, people know when they hire Johnny Deuce, Johnny Deuce gets results. And if one of those results needs to be your beautiful skull being turned inside out by twenty grams of hardened steel, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen here if you don’t give me the goddamned package.“
Though he was clearly trying his hardest to stay cool and composed, one of Johnny’s eyes was starting to twitch.
Zane stepped forward before Jayna could retort.
“Johnny,” he said. “Please. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Johnny looked down. “Zane. I know we have history,” he said. “And I’d be lying if I said that part of me wasn’t fond of you. But it was a long time ago and I have money and my reputation on the line. I will shoot you if I have to and I will be sad about it for a little while, but I’ll get over it.” He gestured harder with his gun. “The package. Now.” And when he said the words, they came out almost as a snarl.
There was a tension in the air. Neither Zane nor Johnny looked away from each-other. In a flash, Zane had his own sidearm out, and had it trained on Johnny. There was no change in his demeanor.
“Your reflexes are better than mine,” said Johnny softly. “But mine are still pretty good. And the difference between you and me is that you probably won’t shoot me to kill. So you’ll probably get a shot off first, but I swear, Zane, if I’m still capable of pulling a trigger, I’ll kill all of them. So go ahead. Take the shot. I could use the entertainment.”
Zane swallowed audibly. His hand was starting to shake.
Johnny laughed. “I knew it. You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still so we-”
He was cut off by a huge fist to the face. Before he could let off a shot Jayna had taken the gun, emptied the clip and shot off the bullet in the barrel.
“Zane,” said Jayna. “Take Mari. Get back to the ship. Now.”
“But-” began Zane.
“Zane!” shouted Jayna. “Mari! Ship! Now!”
Zane’s face went white. He took Mari by the hand and ran off.
Johnny started to laugh as they ran off. “I knew there was a reason I always liked you best,” he said, as he looked up at Jayna. “But you must know that I won’t stop until-“
There was a sharp crack as Jayna grabbed two of the heavy metal chairs, one in each hand, ripping them off of the bolting on the floor.
She threw one at Johnny. When he dodged it, she ran straight for him and sent the other one swinging.
This one found its mark, hitting Johnny square in the ribs and knocking him to the ground. He got up, bruised and furious.
“You,” he snarled, “You overgrown bitch-“
She replied with a kick straight to his sternum, knocking him back over the cheap particle board desk and into the reception bullpen.
He tried to sit up, a bit more slowly this time, bleeding from his nose. before he could say anything else, Jayna picked him up by his neck and brought him up to face level.
“You have no idea how badly I just want to squeeze until your head pops off,” she said, tightening her grip slightly. “The only reason I’m not going to kill you right now is because Zane wouldn’t want me to. He thinks I’m better than this.” She let out a laugh. “But I swear to God and the universe, Johnny, if I ever clap eyes on you again, no matter what the circumstances, you had better put those twenty grams of hardened steel right between my eyes, because I will not hesitate to end you, right where you stand.”
Johnny wheezed and Jayna rolled her eyes loosening her grip a bit. Johnny immediately moved, and Jayna twisted him just as he pulled the trigger on a backup weapon. As it was, he grazed her ear, and she felt the warm stream of blood on her neck. She grabbed this gun too, ejecting the clip and tossing it over her shoulder.
And then she tossed Johnny through the window. Hard.
As rundown as this neighborhood was, they could still afford high-grade plasti-glass for the windows, and so it did not shatter. That was no comfort to Johnny. Jayna had thrown him so hard that the entire frame seperated from the wall. She strode through the hole in the wall as Johnny grunted, trying and failing to get up before Jayna literally sat on top of him, pressing a knee into his gut and pinning him down with one hand. She placed the other hand over his neck again.
“God, I didn’t want to do this tonight, Johnny. I was hoping one day this fight would be a ‘fair’ one, but I hate fair, and right now, I hate you.”
The only sound Johnny produced was a pained wheeze. “I’m going to let you go now,” she said. “And you’re going to leave us alone. If someone offers you a job that includes the possibility of you being in so much as the same sector as Songbird, you will politely decline. And if the next words out of your mouth are not ‘Yes, Miss Jayna’, I’m going to start breaking fingers.”
She heard another pained wheeze and shook her head. “Fine. How about your trigger finger first, hmm?”
Jayna looked up to see Zane in the alley entrance, panting. “Please, you can’t kill him!”
Jayna sighed, shaking her head. “Zane, he’s just going to keep going. What happens if he really hurts someone? What if he hurts Ash? or Mari?”
Zane sighed. “Jayna, please,” he said, his wide eyes wild. “If he… if he wanted to really hurt you he, could’ve already shot you three times!”
Johnny looked up at her. He let out a little laugh that rapidly turned into a bloody cough.
“Missed the ankle holster,” he managed.
Jayna closed her eyes, her broad shoulders slumping. Then she lifted her fist and clobbered Johnny, knocking him out cold. “Let’s go,” she said, wiping her hands off. “Mari safe?”
“Locked herself in her bunk,” said Zane. “She’ll be fine.”
Jayna looked back at the prone Johnny. “And him?”
“I don’t think he’ll bother us for awhile,” said Zane.
“Zane. What are we doing here?” Jayna said, walking with him towards the ship. “Johnny was out for blood.”
Zane was silent. Normally this would mean that his mind had wandered off, which was just something that one dealt with. But this was a silence with a bit more to say.
They were silent all the way to Songbird.
When they got to hthe ship, they saw that Ash and Mari were talking at the table,. Mari’s eyes were wide, her body language expressive. And Ash just looked defeated. When they both looked up Ash swore.
“I was hoping I could talk her down before you got back,” Ash said.
Mari turned and looked at Zane… and she immediately relaxed.
“So, look,” she started.
“Is this really the best time?” said Ash.
“If not now, then when?” said Mari. “Look, one hypercompenent heterochromatic weirdo is interresting. Two is an odd coincidence. But three?”
Zane looked sheepish. Jayna sighed and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Listen, Zane,” said Ash. “Normally, Ash and I give you your privacy. We’re all out here for our own reasons You don’t pry and we try to do the same. But Johnny wasn’t fucking around this time. I need to know, if this package and… and all these people are going to keep showing up.”
“And being a danger to our crew,” Ash added.
Zane looked paler than usual. And much, much more tired. Then he smiled.
“It’s… been nice,” he said. “Not… having a lot of stuff follow me. But… you’re absolutely right. You deserve to know.” He swallowed heavily. “I’m going to go sleep. Ash, would you please get us off-world? And… and in the morning… I’ll tell you everything.” He took a shallow breath. “And… after that… well, I guess we’ll see.”
“Right,” said Ash. “Do you need Jayna to, um, get you into bed?”
Zane smiled. “No… I think I’m right on the edge of exhaustion anyway. I shouldn’t need straps. But… tomorrow will be better. Ask Martens what we need to do about the package. I don’t want it in our hands any longer than it has to be.”
The rest of the crew watched Zane walk off.
“Today’s been heavy,” said Mari, rubbing her temples. “The hell did I sign up for.”
Ash looked at her. “Not too late to let you off,” he said. “Not like you signed anything.”
“Not getting rid of me that easy, greasy,” said Mari, smirking a bit. “I’m going back to bed. Assuming I can sleep.”
Ash rolled his eyes. “Greasy so I can keep your cute little butt in the air,” he muttered. “I’ll get you a sleeping aid,” he said.
“You mean Jayna’s engine whiskey?” said Mari.
“You know it,” said Jayna.
She had been right, Jayna mused as Ash led Mari off. Heavy day today.
And tomorrow would be even heavier.
Johnny Deuce was not having a good day. He had gotten the shit beaten out of him, which did not in and of itself preclude a day being good. But he was also going to have to renege on a job. And he hated having to do that.
In his line of work, he traveled a lot, but even hitmen needed to put their feet up every once in awhile. He therefore maintained a small penthouse on a remote but very exclusive moon in the far edge of Ishtar sector.
It was into this penthouse he currently dragged himself, trailing blood and profanities up to the door, which he opened by means of a twelve-digit passcode and a thumbprint scanner.
As the door opened he looked, bleary eyed, to the surroundings. His gaze made its way over to the kitchenette. On the other side of the counter, a man was preparring something and humming. He turned after he felt eyes on him.
The man was of average height and narrow shoulders, pale-toned and pale-haired. He looked Johnny up and down, and whistled. “Sir, you told me you got your ass kicked, but you didn’t tell me it was by an elephant.”
Johnny let out a chuckle. “You’re a real wit, Stanley,” he said, as he limped over to a large, plush chair and plopped down onto it. “I need a tall glass of horrifyingly potent.”
Johnny Deuce could not be said to really like anyone who was not named Johnny Deuce. But Stanley was… unique.
Stanley nodded and started to reach upwards for the bottle. Johnny shook his head. “Not the good stuff,” he said. “ I don’t need to taste it, I just need to feel it.”
Stanley chuckled. And leaned down to retrieve a plastic bottle. There may or may not have been things floating in it. He poured a glass and walked towards the plush chair. “Already have a doctor on the way… standard bribe in place,” he murmured, offering Johnny the bottle instead.
“Good man,” said Johnny, as accepted the bottle and took a long pull. “I assume the client’s made a check-in call or two? Block the number and never speak of this day again.”
“Unfortunately, sir, I can’t let you do that,” he said, putting the glass of swill back in the refrigerated liquor cabinet. “We can’t just return the money and hope for the best.”
“Well, I don’t see any other option,” said Johnny. He took another drink and groaned as it burned its way down his gullet. “Well, alright, one other option, but someone’s bound to take notice if I kill that many people.”
“Oh, sir, you have a lot of options. You just don’t like any of them,” Stanley said, and looked back at the kitchen. “You’d originally asked for a hearts of romaine salad with fresh salmon… but I’m guessing now you want something for a palette… a little less refined?”
“Something like that,” said Johnny, sighing. “Alright, spit it out. I promise not to shoot at you again.”
Stanley shrugged. “I mean, I’ve had my eye on a new car, if you’re feeling a little trigger happy, sir,” he said with a smile. “And you did amend my contract to up the price if it’s a multi-bullet barrage–”
The bottle slammed against the side table.
“Get on with it,” Johnny growled.
Stanley didn’t jump. He barely looked fazed at all. “You could apologize, sir, for losing the deal, and then inform the client that you will do the next two deals free of charge to make up for it.”
Johnny’s hand twitched, and if the bottle in his hand had been glass, it would have cracked.
“Johnny Deuce does not beg for forgiveness,” he said icily. “And he does not apologize.”
Stanley pulled out a bag of tortilla chips. “Johnny Deuce also lives and dies by his reputation, sir. If word starts getting around that Johnny Deuce ditches his clients after a job not well done… well. I think that’s worse.”
Johnny said nothing for a moment, simply staring off into space.
“I absolutely detest you when you’re right,” said Johnny.
“I’m aware. Nachos, sir?” he said, setting a heaping plate down in front of him, and then sitting in the chair across from him.
Johnny looked down. Extra peppers, too. Just the way he liked it when he was stressed out.
“Once the doctor gets here, show yourself out,” said Johnny with a sigh. “Then in about an hour, give Madam Desdemona a call. Tell her to send up Rochelle and… hmm, let’s say Allejandro.”
“Of course, sir. Is there anything else you’ll need of me tonight?” he said, hearing the chime that implied the elevator was heading to their floor.
“That will be all,” said Johnny, as he sighed and looked down at his chest. There was probably no saving this suit. “Take one of my chit-sticks and blow a few hundred on something frivolous for yourself, would you?”
“…are you sure that’s not just the low-grade liquor talking, sir?” he asked.
“I’m sure, Stanley,” he said.
Before Stanley could object, they both heard someone knock on the door. Stanley shrugged. “As you wish sir,” he said, and grabbed his coat. “Leave the dishes in the sink, I’ll deal with them tomorrow morning after I take out your trash.” He flashed Johnny a knowing smile as he opened the door, and motioned for the doctor to come in.
“Fantastic timing, doctor,” he said, guiding the doctor in. Out of the doctor’s pocket, he snatched a chit stick and docked it briefly at Johnny’s desk. He casually flipped an amount of money into it, and then deposited it back where it belonged. “Please make sure our patient is in excellent health by the time I return. Help yourself to a tipple on the way out.”
Johnny relaxed a bit as the doctor got to work on him. This job had gone south in a way that none had done so in a very, very long time. And the only things that could go that spectacularly wrong so quickly were… family matters.
This would merit some digging into.