It had been almost four hours since Ash had left. Not that Mari was counting.
Lacking anything better to do, Mari went down and tapped on the door to Jayna’s bunk.
Jayna opened up the door after a moment, clearly midway through a workout.
“Sorry for all of the grunting… and the smell probably,” Jayna said, toweling off a bit. “How can I help you?”
“Nurse, remember?” said Mari. “You’re a perfume factory compared to some things I’ve sniffed. Have you heard from Ash?”
Jayna shrugged. “No, But sometimes he gets lost in the engine room for hours. I would assume that’s why we’re parked here. Maybe something was out of whack. God knows we don’t want to go through another malfunction while we’re flying.”
“He… didn’t tell you?” said Mari. But before Jayna could inquire toward what she may or may not have been told, the intercom buzzed.
“Got Martens on the line,” said Zane.
“Oh good, maybe we could make a little money while the ship is out of commission,” Jayna asked, heading that way.
Before Mari could say anything, Jayna was already gently pushing past her, and all Mari could do was follow in her wake.
Mari watched as a familiar conversation played out.
“Good morning all, I hope you’re doing well. I noticed you guys were in the Nabu sector, and I didn’t know if you wanted to pick up a little work while you were there. I’ve got some little things that could stand to be done.”
Before Zane or Jayna could reply, Mari spoke up. “As much as we love taking your money, now’s not the best time for us,” she said quickly.
Martens looked a bit taken aback, but shrugged. “Happens, I suppose,” he said. “Next time, then.” The image winked out, and both Zane and Jayna shot Mari a confused look.
“Something is seriously screwy,” she said, folding her arms.
Zane cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?” he said.
“Ash told me that he had to go see to something for a job,” said Mari. “What would Martens be doing calling us if we were already working?”
Jayna frowned. “Wait, Ash is gone?”
Mari nodded. “Said he was out getting some paperwork and he’d be back in an hour. That was at 8am. It’s now noon,” Mari said. “He said he was starting us out on a job. Have you guys ever worked two jobs at once?”
“Not unless one of them is a super cakewalk and we’re going to be in the general vicinity anyway,” said Zane. “Not that that’s ever happened, but it’s nice to imagine it could.”
“Then Ash lied to me, left, and has been gone for four hours.” Mari said.
Jayna frowned. “Why would he lie?”
Zane hunched down a bit. “Ash’s never lied to us before,” he murmured. “Why would he do that? H-he shouldn’t do that. Is he okay?”
Jayna walked over to the comm station, pinging his datapad.
Soon they heard a buzzing noise rattling from under a stack of comic books in the living room.
Zane hunched over harder, and his breathing started to quicken. “No,” he said. “Where is he… he… where is he?“
Mari set a hand on his shoulder. “Zane. Calm down. We’re going to find him,”
Jayna pulled Ash’s tablet out of the pile and unlocked it. “It looks like the last thing he had open was the news ticker,” she said. A quick glance at the time stamps later, she set it to replay the news not long before he set off.
“…pattern continues, it appears that the next set of attacks will happen in the city of Renuak, one of the major banking sectors on the planet. According to our analysts, the attacks have been increasing in severity ever since the shipyards on the outer perimeter have closed for ‘maintenance,’” The news ticker droned.
“Renauk?” said Mari. “What’s over there?”
“Lots of things,” said Jayna. “But notably, it’s the home of the only person besides us that Ash will let tune up Songbird.”
Mari gave a sigh of relief. “So the ship is broken. Why would he be ashamed enough about that to lie?” Mari said. “It’s not like he’s a magician. Sometimes things go wrong and you have to get outside help.”
“Ash would have told us if he needed something for the ship,” said Jayna. “He may have his pride, but he wouldn’t put our lives at risk like that. There’s something else afoot here.”
“How far are we from Renauk?” Zane asked, looking up where they had been parked for now.
“Not far… we’re probably in the next city over. The shipyards in Renauk are closed for maintenance,” Jayna said. “We can take transit over and figure out where he went. I think I still remember where the guy’s shop is.”
“What are we waiting for, then?” said Mari. They both looked over at Zane, who was pacing nervously.
Jayna put an arm around him and pulled him close to her.
“Relax,” she said. “I’m sure Ash is fine.”
The obvious question would have been who she was trying to reassure, but nobody wanted to ask it.
After a few moments, all three of them were on their way out, locking up the ship behind them.
Unlike their last few destinations, Renauk was a heavily industrialized city. There was absolutely no fluff to it. Everything in it was in service to production. Factories, places for workers to live, places for them to eat and shop… it was not a place people visited for the sake of pleasure.
Its most well-known industry, and the one that made the planet noteworthy, were its shipyards. And shipyards of a very particular sort. You did not come here if you wanted a sleek luxury vessel. No, the spaceships of Renauk were catered to those who lived and died by the credo “substance over style”.
Jayna sat with her arms crossed, watching as the world passed by below. Zane was right. It wasn’t like Ash to keep secrets. He told her everything. Even stuff she didn’t want to know. She had known about Mari and Ash sleeping together–it had been her house, after all–but she wasn’t going to say anything about it. Ash had been the one to come to her and ask her for advice.
And now he was just… gone. Without his datapad, without a note, without… anything. She shook her head and leaned back a bit in the seat. “Just a couple more stops, guys.”
Zane navigated meticulously, listening carefully to the traffic control broadcast as he went. Not that there was any traffic, but he insisted.
“Here,” said Jayna, holding up her tablet. “This one here. Vankar’s Salvage and Repair. It’s a little further north.”
“Right,” Zane murmured distantly.
What little traffic there was thinned out even more as they headed towards the salvage shop. It was crowded in a commercial park and while it took up a number of bays, still seemed wedged in between other shops with brighter signs and more money.
Despite it being the middle of the day, all of the shops were closed; with the shipyards closed for maintenance, it wasn’t any surprise that no one needed their ship repaired at the moment either. Jayna unfolded out of the car, and took a look around. “It’s strange that there’s no one here…”
The shop looked… like any other similar establishment. Absolutely nothing made it stand out. The display on the door said that they were closed. But when Jayna approached the door and tried the handle, it was unlocked.
Zane’s hand immediately went to his hip.
Jayna held up a hand, seeing the panic already blooming in his face. “We don’t know anything yet,” Jayna said, and, with a sigh, slowly cracked the door open.
It was dark, but she didn’t even need to see it. The smell of blood was almost choking. “…Shit.”
She waited to see if anyone was reacting to the door being opened. When she heard nothing, she pushed it open all the way and reached out for a light switch.
Everything seemed normal, except for the wretched smell. It was a front office with schematics and pricing charts plastered onto the walls, along with the odd pinup that was required by law to be somewhere at any establishment that serviced vehicles.
Zane pushed ahead, weapon out and safety off. He closed his eyes for a moment. “I don’t hear anything,” he said. “If there’s anybody in there, they’re… not moving.” He swallowed heavily, and Jayna knew what he was dreading. But he steeled himself and pushed on.
In the shop proper, the rusty smell of blood was even stronger, overpowering all the usual smells of emissions and lubricants.
Jayna followed him, and over the top of his head, could see that the dead man in the center of the floor was definitely not Ash. She felt some relief at that, but not as much as she’d like.
“Shit,” Jayna repeated, looking at the tacky pool of blood that the guy she’d formerly known as Charles “Chuck” Vankar was laying face down in.
“Holy shit,” said Mari, shuddering. “Somebody really went to town on this guy…”
Whoever had done this to him had taken their time, that much was clear. He was covered with bruises and lacerations, and at least one of his knees bent the wrong way.
Jayna didn’t even bother with the body. She started opening up the bays and looking for clues. Anything that could lead them to Ash. “Zane? Help me look for some clues.”
Zane was frozen in place, staring down at the body.
“Zane!” Jayna repeated, snapping him to attention. He shut his eyes tight.
“We should… see if he has anything on him,” he said.
“I’ll do it,” said Mari. “I’ve seen my fair share of corpses before, I can handle this.”
Zane nodded. “I’ll, um, check the other shops and see if anyone heard anything,” he said, fleeing the room.
Mari knelt down by the guy and shook her head. “Nasty,” she said, rolling him over.
Jayna sighed, looking around the room for anything that was cast aside or out of place. There were a handful of tools missing, but she was rubbish with mechanical things, she wouldn’t know what it meant for which tools to be gone.
“Jayna! He’s still alive!”
“Uh, r-right!” She said, moving to the front room and picking up the contact line, dialing in the universal contact number.
Mari quickly injected the hypo into his arm. His eyelids fluttered briefly open, and he opened his mouth, wheezing painfully.
“Stay calm,” said Mari. “Help is coming.”
“T… trouble…” he managed, with some difficulty. “In… big trouble…”
Jayna came back in. “What happened to him? Where is Ash?”
“A…” he wheezed. “Asht…”
His eyes rolled back.
“We’re losing him!” said Mari. “Jayna, pick him up! Gently!”
Jayna nodded, slipping her hands beneath his back and his knees and picking him up in one motion. He was awkward, but not heavy. “Okay, I’m fine… emergency services are on their way,” she said. “I’ll meet them at the entrance to the shipyard.”
As she made her way out, one question weighed heavily on her mind.
What, exactly, had Ash gotten himself into here?