Apex of the Songbird, Episode 9 – The [Insert Location Here] Job, Part 1

It had been another few days at Jayna’s hometown. It didn’t take long for Ash and Zane to get a little bit claustrophobic. And honestly, Mari was surprised how little time it took for her to feel the same way. They said their goodbyes and made their way back to port.

 

“So, the only problem with taking an extended vacation… is that the coffers are getting a little low. And the last few jobs, while they’ve paid well to an extent, aren’t quite at our normal rates,” Jayna said, still fiddling with the amber necklace she’d been given by her two sisters.

 

Zane nodded. “Life’s been… complicated, lately,” he said. “We really need to get back to work. I’ll call up Martens and ask if he has any A-level jobs for us to take.”

 

Jayna nodded, pulling up her navigation systems. “Yeah, just let him know we’re willing to travel for it if we need to. A little bit of distance from here would be nice… sorry.”

 

“It’ll be nice to get back to work,” said Ash, smiling. “I’ll be sure to–“

 

“I want in on this one.”

 

Everyone turned to look at Mari.

 

Jayna raised an eyebrow. “You want… in? But I thought you didn’t want to do the messy stuff, that you just wanted to duct tape us together?”

 

“Yes, well, the messy stuff keeps finding me,” said Mari. “And all I’ve been able to do is go find something to hide behind while the rest of you clean up. And I’m tired of it. I want to actually feel like part of the crew.”

 

Ash and Jayna shared a look. Jayna shrugged.

 

“… Okay.”

“I mean it, I think I can be–” started Mari. Then she stopped. “…huh. I was expecting that to take more convincing. Had a whole tirade planned.”

 

Zane shrugged. “I mean, if you want to rant some more, I’m sure none of us would mind–”

 

“No no,” Mari said with a blush.

 

“Well, we can always use extra hands into the mess,” said Ash. “So, if you’re willing, go ahead. We’ll give you the full cut of the paycheck. But we’re going to need you to be able to handle yourself, too. Have you ever fired a gun before?”

 

“Nope,” said Mari, folding her arms. “Guess you’ve got some work to do, then.”

 

Ash looked at Zane with a smile. “That’s your jurisdiction, captain.”

 

Zane’s face immediately lit up. “Meet me in the cargo hold in… an hour,” he said, before dashing off.

 

Ash smiled. “Just relax. A lot of this stuff is instinctual for him. You will not do that well your first time. It’ll take us a few hours to hit the wormhole network anyway.”

 

“Works for me,” said Mari. “I’m determined to do this. The way I see it, preventative medicine is the best kind. And if I can prevent you from getting shot in the first place, I can save my duct tape for when we really need it.”

 

Ash nodded. “Fair enough. But you know your duct tape supplies are limitless,” he said. “Oh, and Mari– don’t be late,” he said, heading back towards the engine room.

 

~*~

 

Zane had used his time to turn the cargo bay into a shooting range, of sorts.

 

Humanlike figures were crudely painted onto the bay doors. Ash would probably grumble about it, but as long as the paint didn’t abrade Songbird, he was sure Ash would understand.

 

Mari walked in. She had changed from her scrubs into a pair of jeans and a tank top, and pulled her hair back into a bun. Her eyes drifted to the dummy humans on the doors. “I figured we’d start with, um, hay bales or something,” she said.

 

Zane looked puzzled. “Why would we have to shoot hay? It doesn’t move.”?” he said.

 

Mari blushed. “Never mind. Um… do I have a practice gun or something?”

 

Zane nodded, handing her a handgun. “The gun is real, but I loaded it with sim rounds,” he said. “No danger of giving anything more than a bruise. We’ll get you a handgun that’s better for you once we touch down somewhere.”

 

Mari nodded. She held the gun in her hands as if he’d put a dangerous creature into it. “One better suited for me?”

 

He nodded. “You’re tiny. Which is great! Um, but that means that my gun is going to be a bit heavy for you. It’s balanced for someone bigger, and no two guns are the same. But for learning, it’s a good weapon, and well-balanced. There will be more kickback, but you need to learn how to steady a shot anyway.”

 

She nodded, and walked towards the ‘X’ he’d drawn on the ground.

 

Zane followed. “Now, the first thing to understand that shooting should always be your last resort. Only when it’s them or you. But when you have to do it…”

 

He took the gun from her for a moment, and flicked off the safety. A few moments later, there was a dent in the heads of each target.

 

“Don’t miss.”

 

Mari looked at him for a moment. “How long did this take you to get?” she asked, taking the gun from him.

 

“I have no idea,” said Zane with a shrug.. “Don’t feel like you have to shoot as well as me or Ash can. Both of us have been doing it for a while. Jayna doesn’t like guns as much because we all know she’s her own best weapon, but she’s getting better. But it’s not an all the time thing. Despite evidence suggesting otherwise, we do a lot of jobs where nobody gets shot at all. But if you’re going to do a job with us, you should know how.”

 

She nodded, and settled in front of one of the targets, settling into a stance with her feet shoulder length apart, levelling the gun as she could. “Pointers on this?”

 

Zane gently repositioned her. “Hold it with both hands,” he said. “Squeeze, don’t pull. And take your time.”

 

Mari nodded, and took a deep breath. She focused on one target, lined up, and shot. Zane already knew it was wide, but the dent confirmed it.

 

“Not a bad first attempt,” said Zane, nodding. “t You have good hand-eye coordination. Hit the right general area. Like I said, the gun is going to work against you a bit, but your target would definitely know you’re aiming at them.”

 

“Except I would only maybe deafen them instead of incapacitate them.”

 

“It’s a start,” said Zane. “Remember… this is your last resort, after all.”

 

Mari nodded. “Again?”

 

About an hour later, Mari had found a position that seemed to work for her most of the time. She wasn’t sure if it’d ever feel natural, but at least she would make someone think twice about messing with her.

 

Jayna’s voice came in through the intercom. “Hey, Martens is on the horn. He has a job for us.”

 

“We’ll be right up,” said Zane. He turned back to Mari. “Keep practicing. You’ll be fine.”

 

“I guess all those days off wasted playing mindless shooty games paid off,” she said, smirking.

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