Hey there, loyal readers! I hope you all have been enjoying Apex of the Songbird. The conclusion of this episode comes with a bit of an announcement.
Going forward, we’re going to be taking a bit of a break to work on some other projects, including both of us having a go at Camp Nanowrimo! Which means, unfortunately, that there will be no new AotS updates for awhile. However, unlike when we buggered off to get married (very rude of us, we know), we’re not going to leave our fans in the lurch! Drop by on the usual days for thoughts on writing, book reviews, or just whatever’s on our mind at the time!
Zane sighed, looking over the groups of huddling bystanders. He really, really hated Plan B.
“What’s taking them so long?” he shouted, gesturing theatrically with the remote in his hand. “My grievances will not go unaired much longer!”
The terse silence was broken when Mari came running out, looking determined.
“Hey! You can’t do this! These people didn’t do anything to you!” she said, and started running for him, winding up to swing at his face wildly.
Zane turned around, much more slowly than he knew he was capable of, and let
Mari get a couple of firm hits in. He heard the onlookers gasping, then, at the appropriate moment, grabbed Mari’s wrist and pulled her to him, pressing his gun against her temple.
“I didn’t want to have to do this!” he shouted. “I told you not to try and be a hero!”
Mari squirmed uncomfortably as the muzzle of the gun was pressed to her forehead. Idly, he wondered how much of that was acting. “If I don’t get what I want, this second, not only does she die in front of you, but the whole lobby is going down!” he shouted hoarsely.
If the crowd wasn’t worked up before, they really were now.
“I don’t get it,” said Zane, dropping his voice. “I was threatening to kill all of them this whole time, but now that I’m directly threatening you, now they’re really scared.”
“You put a face on it,” Mari whispered. The she struggled. “Let go of me!”
A voice amplified by a megaphone rang out.
“THIS IS THE POLICE!” came the voice. “WE ARE PATCHING A NEGOTIATOR INTO THE COMM LINES! WE JUST WANT TO RESOLVE THIS PEACEFULLY!”
“Negotiator?” hissed Zane.
“Play along,” said Mari.
After a moment one of the security guards placed a big intercom system next to them, and then backed away slowly.
“Good morning… my name is Detective Argent and I hear you have a few… grievances to address. We’re willing to help you, if you’re willing to help us.”
Zane looked puzzled for a moment.
“How did she–” Zane started.
“Not the time,” Mari hissed back.
Zane cleared his throat. “This company took everything from me!” he shouted. “I lost my home! My family! My car! My dog! I demand reparations!”
“So… of course, we want to be able to provide you some closure. Your home, your family, your dog… those things I’m not sure we can get back. But if you remand the hostage and leave the area, we will make sure a car is provided for you.”
Zane nodded. “Y-yeah!” he said. “I want a car! A-and a clear path, you better not try and follow me!” He pulled Mari closer. “And she’s coming with me, just to make sure you don’t try anything funny!”
The crowd erupted in gasps.
“Sir, with all due respect. The life of that young woman is not part of this bargain. If you do not release her, we won’t be able to–”
Zane snarled. “No! This is the deal if you don’t want me to kill everyone! I get the car, I take the girl. I’ll drop her off somewhere safe once I’m sure you’re not following me!”
There was a moment of hesitation. The air grew tense.
“…alright,” said the negotiator. “The car will be brought around to the side entrance. We don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Zane frowned. “But what about the rest of my demands? Where is the CEO?!”
“He’s not even here! He’s on some beach two planets over!” Mari said, struggling.
Zane pressed the gun a little harder into her. “Quiet!” he said, starting to back toward the side entrance. “This isn’t over!”
“Don’t worry guys! I won’t let him get away with this!” Mari said, fighting the whole way out. When they got outside, Zane ripped his explosive vest off and strapped Mari into it. “You try and get out of here or do anything stupid, I’ll blow both of us to kingdom come!”
There was, indeed, a car waiting for them, and a clear path ahead, even though they were flanked by police vehicles. Zane quickly herded Mari into the car and sped off as fast as he could.
“You know they’re going to follow us anyway,” said Zane. “I hope this plan has a part two.”
Sure enough, they were already being trailed. They were keeping their distance for now.
“It does. Ash apparently had a back up back up plan in place. This might get a little hairy but… we should be fine.”
Mari looked back. “Do you think they can see us?” she said.
“Probably,” said Zane. “Why, what do you-“
That was when she grabbed the wheel and jerked it hard to the side.
They had just moved past the heavily populated metropolis and out into the city. As Mari wheeled them into the drainage ditch and hit the guard rails, the front of the car exploded.
“…the hostage situation at the offices of Saikyou Unlimited, soon to be subsumed into Hyeseong Enterprises, came to an end with the loss of only two lives; the disgruntled employee, and the brave intern who gave her life to stop him.”
The image of the smoldering husk of the car was displayed on the screen from a bird’s-eye view camera.
“While we will never know for certain the identity of the hostage-taker, as the force of the blast was so great that no genetic information was able to be recovered, you can rest assured that nobody here will ever forget the name of Amelia Ramsbottom.”
Three-quarters of Songbird’s crew burst out into fits of laughter as the ship began to take off.
Mari squinted as she looked closer. “This looks nothing like me!” she said with a firm shake of her head. “They didn’t even get my eyes right!”
There was an image of Mari on the screen. Or at least, an image of what was supposed to be Mari, since nobody at the company could find a picture of her. There was a caption under it that said ARTIST’S IMPRESSION.
“It’s a good thing it doesn’t look like you! That means we got away clean as a whistle,” Ash said. “Relax, sheepbutt. That’s extra money in our pocket.”
Mari grumbled. “Money definitely soothes the burn a little,” she said. “So would you call that a typical run?”
“I’d call it an above-average run,” said Zane. “Could have been a lot worse if Ash hadn’t thought to pack some extra explosives.”
“Always better to have and not need than to need and not have, I always say,” said Ash. “I think we also need a round of applause for our ‘negotiator’.”
Jayna gave a little half bow. “Thanks. That was a close call… but they were on their way calling out and the police were calling in at the same time, I was able to hop on before Ash’s scrambler disconnected the police negotiator.”
“So, now that I’m a hardened criminal, tell me,” said Mari. “What do you lot do after a successful haul?”
“Sleep,” said Zane.
“Eat,” said Jayna.
“Get back to work making sure the old girl doesn’t fall apart on us,” said Ash.
Mari frowned. “What, no partying? No spending? No fun?”
“Most of the paycheck goes right back into the ship,” said Ash. “Food, supplies, parts, repairs, transit fees… plus what we spent to cover the equipment for the job, a few bribes…”
“Welcome to being a hardened criminal,” said Jayna, patting Mari on the head.
Mari shook her head. “Nope, not with my cut. I mean, yes, I’ve had my eyes on a suturing wand. But, look. Here’s…100 chits. Why don’t we all go touch down at the best restaurant in the sector that still sells cheeseburgers, have a nice dinner, and then go back to toiling?”
“Can’t say no to food that somebody else is paying for,” said Ash.
“Now that you mention it, there’s this place I’ve been meaning to check out on Fujin Two,” said Zane. “Let’s roll!”
“Atta boy,” Mari said, and then got up and stretched. “In the meantime, sleep sounds like a fantastic idea,” she grinned.
Ash looked up. “Do you… uh, you sure you wanna sleep?”
“This time? Yeah,” said Mari. “Next time… we’ll see.” She shot him a wink as she sauntered out of the cockpit.
Ash laughed as he stood up himself, heading towards the engine room..
“Playing with fire, kid,” Jayna said before he stepped out of earshot. .
Ash shrugged. “Call it a low sense of self-preservation,” he said. “You know where I’ll be.”
He knelt over his work, still holding the pair of tweezers in his hand as he waited for the glue to set… it was nearly perfect.
“Um, brother? We’ve got a few problems,” he heard one of the other acolytes call from the hallway.
“Sir, it can’t wait.”
He sighed as he set the work aside. “Make it fast,” he said. “If the adhesive sets before I’m done, I’m going to have to scrap this whole rig and start over.”
“The ten grams of Cesium-237 catalyst aren’t coming. Apparently our dealer sold out of it before our delivery was confirmed,” he said, standing by the door.
“What?” came the snarled reply. “I thought we had a deal locked down! What happened to–“
“We were outbid,” the other said. “The buyer didn’t provide a name, obviously, but a few chits jogged the dealer’s memory a little. We got a description from the drop zone.” A tablet was passed over and hastily scanned.
His eyes narrowed as he got to his feet. “Where was the dealer?”
“Near the Teikoku system… last I heard we had a pod out there doing some reconnaissance on a few corporations.”
The tablet was set down.
“Pull the plug on the Kamatis job,” he said.
“Are you sure? All of our–“
“Pull the plug,” he repeated. “And start sending some feelers out. This is our new number one priority. We need to show the whole universe what happens to traitors.”