November 12th 2012
Three systems away from where I ditched the Advocacy Agent. If I kept going I would start hitting more populated systems. The Arshop Mining Installation drifted among the titanic rocks of the Magnus System. What was an entirely automated operation near fifty years ago was now a run-down shell of its former technological glory, operated by a skeleton crew of excavators and deep-space miners.
I knew Klay from way back in my days as a debt collector (i.e. thug) for a wretched little piece of work on Armitage. Klay had been a Citizen but after some bad decisions and a mean heartbreak, he started doing laps down the drain. By the time I came calling, his Citizenship had been stripped, his family and life were gone. When I kicked in the door to his hotel, he told me flat out to hurt him. See he’d hit that wall, not the bottom, but an even more dangerous checkpoint. That point where you know the bottom is coming and you’d rather check out then be there when it hits. Well, I didn’t end up collecting and, over the years, did what I could to help him out. Now he was working as a (untrained) geologist on this little island paradise where he managed to clear me a docking bay.
“You’re not gonna stay long, right? I’m not sure how long I can keep this bay offline.” Klay said. He glanced around nervously.
“Easy, Klay. Only long enough to get my head straight and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Thanks. Chief has been on me all week.” Klay relaxed a little.
“Don’t worry, buddy. It’ll be fine.” I said as I opened the cargo hold, revealing the stacks of comatose slaves. Klay nearly had a heart attack.
“What the… are you crazy?” He rushed forward and tried to shut the doors.
“Klay! Ease up.” I stared at him until he finally released the door. I went inside and started defrosting a human one. It took about twenty minutes for him to wake up, another ten of bodyshock adjustment, then fifteen where he passed out again. By the time he was conscious and moving, Klay was more than a little antsy.
The human was probably in his late teens. The local tattoos and processing code from a youth detention center placed him near Terra. I could see the tagging stud had already been implanted in his wrist. Used mostly as a locator it was also a universal sign to mark someone as property. He was shivering when I gave him the broad strokes of what happened. He was taking the news pretty well.
“Well, I did want to see the systems some day.” He said finally. Klay and I looked at each other. Joking. This kid narrowly dodged a life cracking rock on some distant moon or worse and he was joking.
“What was the last thing you remember?”
“Uh… a club on Prime. I was talking to this incredible piece of fine. Man, she had-“
“Please stay on topic.” Klay blurted out.
“We was dancing and suddenly she started talking about trying to find some Neon. Did I have some? Did I know anyone who had any? You know, the standard score.” He looked at us, not finding the validation he was looking for, continued.
“So I went to see this guy Kendrick I bought from in the past. He said he was out but said he might know a guy.” Klay’s foot tapped faster and faster. He was losing patience by the nanosecond. I wanted to let the kid ramble. Sometimes the best details are found in seemingly off-topic facts. But Klay did have a point, things could get real ugly should the wrong person come through that door.
“So we went to the landing yard. There…”
“Where was it?” I needed the kid to start dropping specifics.
“East side, I think. By a bridge.” I think I knew the one. “So we get there and the girl starts… wait, is she here? Did you wake her up too?”
The kid starts to get up to look in the cargo. I didn’t see a human female in the list. They must have sold her to someone else. I motioned for him to continue. He got the idea and slowly sat down.
“Yeah, well that’s when it gets creepy because there are already like six guys waiting. One of them grabs her. I start to move and then… then things went black. Next thing I know I’m here.”
“Was there anything about the guys who jumped you, anything specific?”
“I don’t know, alright?” He started getting flustered. His body started heaving again, his system’s still fighting off the effects of the drugs. Klay ran a bucket over to him. I gave him a second. Klay wandered over to me.
“What are you gonna do with him?” He whispered.
“Him? I got fourteen more in there.” I thought for a few seconds. If he doesn’t remember anything, I have nothing. Something resembling an idea waved down my attention. “Hey Klay.”
“You guys wouldn’t be hiring, would you?” Klay glared at me.
The rest of the slaves came out of sleep much like the kid. Confused, terrified. Klay spoke to the foreman and they figured out a way for the slaves to work off passage back home. I didn’t trust the foreman as far as I could throw him but I was pretty sure Klay would be on the level. If he said they could make it work, I’d trust that… because he knows I’d crash this station into the nearest star.
I climbed back into the pilot seat, ready to call this whole thing a wash when the kid jogged up, a bowl of soup in his hand.
“Hey, mister. I wanted to thank you for what you done and all.”
“I’m sorry for losing my cool but I think there was something else. Before I went under, someone else showed up. Someone all the guys seemed to know.”
“Oh yeah? They drop a name?”“Yeah. They called him Kid Crimson.”