Roberts Space Industries

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17134

Comments:

12

Date:

June 26th 2019

One Last Job: Part Two
By: Amanda McCarter
Writer’s Note: One Last Job: Part Two was published originally in Jump Point 3.10. Read Part one here.

Jonah, for the second time that day, broke into a cold sweat. They were already at the jump point, on their way to drop off supplies to a known criminal with a ship full of passengers that weren’t supposed to be there, and one of them was an Advocacy Agent. Added to that, the Agent was the criminal’s former partner.

Things were not going well.

“Char, I need you to check the cargo,” said Jonah.

She raised a thin black eyebrow. He knew how odd it must’ve sounded. They’d just taken off.

“Just make sure nothing shifted and no one’s been messing with it,” he said.

She pursed her lips and nodded. He could tell by the look in her eyes she didn’t buy it, but she would do as he asked. She gave him a final glance before she left the cockpit. The door clanged shut and Jonah punched the comms.

He’d only used this code a handful of times. It was only for emergencies and this was an emergency.

“This better be important,” a voice growled.

“I need to talk to Mickey,” said Jonah.

Silence.

“If you’re backing out,” the voice said. It must’ve been Mickey’s second, a man known only as The Second. No one knew his name except Mickey.

“No,” said Jonah. “I have a problem and I need to talk to Mickey.”

Truth was, he wanted to back out, more now than ever. Before, it was the fear of Mickey that kept him going. He owed him money and he was behind on payment. Now, there was an Agent. He was an old fella, but Pietro used to talk about him with awe in his voice, like the man was part god. He’d caught or ghosted so many bad guys, Jonah was surprised he hadn’t known what Pietro was up to.

Silence crackled over the comms and sweat poured down Jonah’s face. His scalp itched and his mouth was dry.

Finally, Mickey came on.

“How big a problem we talkin’, Jonah my boy?” There was an edge to his voice. He wasn’t happy.

“Oh, about six feet tall, goes by the name of Ardoss.”

Mickey sniffed. “Name sounds familiar.”

“It’s Pietro’s partner,” said Jonah.

“Ah, yes, that’d be it,” said Mickey. “Why do you have a passenger, Jonah? I checked your schedule. You had no passengers. It was cargo only.”

He didn’t yell. He never did. He was always calm and even toned. He liked to make you feel like everything was fine. Jonah couldn’t help but remember the bartender’s ruined face.

“Passengers, plural,” said Jonah, trying to keep his voice from shaking. “I have a full flight. Haru changed it on me, last minute. I thought some politician pulled some strings, but now I think it was this Ardoss guy.”

“You think he’s after his partner?” said Mickey.

“I can’t think of anything else,” said Jonah.

Mickey took a slow breath. “I need the job done and Pietro taken care of. We can’t have this Ardoss fella causing trouble.”

“That’s why I called,” said Jonah. “Can we postpone?”

Jonah could practically hear Mickey’s teeth grind.

“Postpone?” he said, his voice still even, but a pitch higher.

“Kick Ardoss off at the next station,” said Jonah. “He’s got to be here for Pietro. He blew up a shopping mall to get him. I don’t want that kind of trouble. When he’s off, I’ll go back and give Pietro his cargo.”

“That’s not what we agreed to, Jonah,” said Mickey. “You deliver your cargo when I say you deliver it. You show up late, Pietro will bolt. He knows things about my organization. I need to make sure he’s happy. Stick to the schedule. Do you understand?”

Jonah’s heart sank. “Yes, I understand. What do you want me to do about Ardoss?”

“Kill him,” said Mickey.

The sweat on Jonah’s face and back went cold and he thought he’d be sick.

“I’ve never killed anyone,” said Jonah.

“The first one’s tough, sure,” said Mickey, his voice softer. “But if he lives, you put the entire job at risk. If you drop him off somewhere, he’ll be back and you’ll go to jail. And if you think sitting in an Advocacy prison will keep you safe from me, I have people everywhere, Jonah. I will get what’s owed me, one way or another.”

“The Advocacy will be after me if I kill him,” said Jonah. “I’ll be a wanted man.”

“You let me worry about that,” said Mickey. “You just think about your family, my boy. They need their father. They need the money.”

Jonah swallowed. Talking to Mickey didn’t make it any better. He was still caught between two impossible choices.

“And how do you propose I go about killing an Advocacy Agent?” said Jonah. “It’s not like I can shove him out an airlock.”

“You could,” said Mickey. Jonah could hear the smile on his lips.

“But I’ve got a much simpler solution for you,” said Mickey. “There’s a gun in the crate for Pietro. It’s in a hidden compartment, no code, just a special latch. It’s loaded, so be careful. Have you ever fired a gun?”

“No,” said Jonah, shaking his head. He’d seen them fired, and heard the awful sound they made. His ears hurt just to think about it.

“It’s real simple,” said Mickey. “Just point it at the fella you want dead and squeeze the trigger. It’s like magic. Hit ’em in the right spot and they’re just gone.”

Jonah’s stomach twisted.

“Anything else?” asked Mickey after a moment.

“No,” said Jonah, “that’s it, I guess.”

“Good,” said Mickey. “I know you’ll do the right thing. Call me when it’s done.”

The comm disconnected.

Jonah stared at his console. Ten years of working for Mickey and he’d never been asked to kill anyone.

But then, he’d never had an Agent on board before.

A knock came at the door and Jonah jerked his head up. Char was back from the cargo hold.

He let her in.

“Jesus, Jo, you look pale as a sheet,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” he said, pushing away from his station. “I need to go check the cargo.”

“What’s going on?” she said.

“Nothing,” he said as he waved her off. “I forgot something. I won’t be long.”

He could feel her eyes on him as he exited the cockpit. She knew something was up. He just hoped he could keep her away from it. This wasn’t her burden to bear.

He spotted the Agent in the passenger area and gritted his teeth. Time to get it over with.

Ardoss shifted in his seat. He’d never had any dealings with Jonah Ruskella; they’d never once crossed paths. The pilot would not have recognized him. The last thing Ardoss needed was some pompous blowhard blowing his cover. He hadn’t wanted to spook Ruskella, but it was too late now.

The co-pilot came back from the cargo hold. Something was going on. He ignored most of what the politician was saying and watched the cockpit.

The door was open and he could hear urgent whispers filter through to the passengers. A moment later, Ruskella appeared at the doorway and looked directly at Ardoss.

Ruskella was pale, much paler than when everyone boarded, and his hands shook. He looked at the deck as he passed Ardoss.

He was up to something.

Ardoss unhooked from his seat and followed Ruskella to the cargo hold. He crept along the corridor and found a gun in his face as soon as he rounded the corner.

“Let’s not do anything we’re going to regret, Ruskella,” said Ardoss.

“I regret too much already,” Ruskella said. “This was supposed to be an easy drop-off. That’s it, but you had to go and make it harder. You should have stayed out of it and let Pietro get away.”

“So you are meeting with Marquez,” said Ardoss.

“Like you didn’t know?” said Ruskella. “You pushed to get booking on my ship. You took a fake name. You know who Pietro and I work for.” The pilot was near hysterics. This man wasn’t a killer, Ardoss could see that. He didn’t even hold the gun right.

“You don’t have to shoot me,” said Ardoss, raising his hands, slowly. The gun made Ruskella off-balanced. He was nervous and the slightest move could cause him to fire. The bullet would pierce the hull or ricochet. Either way, it would end badly.

“I do,” said Ruskella.

Ardoss shook his head and took a step forward. Ruskella put both hands on the gun. It still shook, but not as badly. He might actually hit Ardoss if he pulled the trigger.

“You don’t have it in you,” said Ardoss. “You’re a smuggler, a courier. That’s it. You’re not a murderer. You never will be. This isn’t you.”

“You think I want to kill you? I just want to get through this job and see my family again,” said Ruskella.

“My concern is Pietro,” Ardoss soothed. “He’s the only one I’m after. Help me and you won’t see the inside of a jail cell. You’ll go home to your family, you have my word.”

“If I give you Pietro, I’m a dead man,” said Ruskella.

“It doesn’t have to go down that way. I protect my informants, but if you kill me, you’re done,” said Ardoss. “Maybe not immediately, but it will happen.”

Ruskella’s nostrils flared. Ardoss’ arms were getting tired. Something needed to happen, and soon.

“Get in the locker,” said Ruskella.

“What?” said Ardoss.

“There’s a tool locker right behind you,” said Ruskella. It locks from the outside and it’s just big enough for you. Now get in.”

Ardoss creased his brow. “I’m not getting in a locker.”

“Get in or I’ll shoot you,” said Ruskella.

“You’re not shooting me, either,” said Ardoss.

Ruskella raised the gun and took a step forward. Ruskella’s hands must have been sweating because the gun slipped and he struggled to get a grip on it. Ardoss took the momentary distraction to rush the pilot. He collided with Ruskella’s midsection and the two men plowed into the shipping crates.

The gun flew out of Ruskella’s hand and skittered across the floor. Ruskella reared back and punched Ardoss in the shoulder. No doubt, he was aiming for the face, but it was still a hard blow. The man might not know his way around a gun, but he knew how to swing.

Ardoss stumbled back and Ruskella rushed him. Ardoss braced and grabbed him under the arms. He shoved the man backwards. Ruskella stumbled a bit and then charged again.

Ardoss had spent some time on a farm as a child, a cattle ranch to be exact. The farmer had a bull with a legendary temper. He charged any person who came near him. That’s what Ruskella was. A bull. He had no focus in his fight. Just a deep-down desperation to win. Ardoss couldn’t blame him.

All the same, he had a job to do.

Ardoss side-stepped Ruskella and clasped both his fists together. He brought them down on Ruskella’s back and the man crumpled like a stack of cards.

“I don’t have time for this,” said Ardoss. “Tell me where you’re meeting Pietro Marquez.”

“No,” said Ruskella, panting, “not a chance.” He pushed up on wobbly arms.

“If you give me his location, we can protect you,” said Ardoss.

Ruskella rolled over, laughing. Tears rolled down his face. “Don’t you get it? Pietro knows too much. He knows way more than I do. I turn him over, there’s nothing that can protect me. Mickey Black has people everywhere. Everywhere. Do you understand? There’s no safe place for me if I help you. And there’s no safe place for Pietro. Just let him go.”

“I can’t,” said Ardoss.

“Then kill me,” said Ruskella. “I’m dead either way.”

Ardoss shook his head. “Not what I’m here to do. I’m going to arrest Pietro Marquez, then I’ll take you both into an Advocacy station and you’ll stand trial for your crimes. Now you get in the locker.”

“My co-pilot won’t stand for this,” said Ruskella.

“I can handle her.”

A smile spread across Ruskella’s face. “I very much doubt that.”

Pain blossomed across the back of Ardoss’ head and he fell to his knees.

“You okay, Jo?”

“Yeah, Char,” said Ruskella. “Thanks for that.”

“So this was the cargo you wanted to check?” she said. “Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place?”

Ardoss’ vision blurred and their conversation was somewhat muted. She’d hit him hard. Not hard enough to knock him unconscious, obviously, but hard enough to make him think really good and long about standing up.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” said Ruskella. “I didn’t want to involve you.”

She gave an exasperated sigh. “This ship is my home, too. Whatever happens here involves me.”

“I’ll remember that,” said Ruskella.

“What do you want to do with him?” said the co-pilot. She tapped him with her boot.

“I won’t kill him,” said Ruskella.

“I wouldn’t even suggest such a thing, Jo,” she said. “But he’s interfering with your job for Mickey, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” said Ruskella. “Wait, how did you know about Mickey?”

She laughed. “Jo, I’ve known you for sixteen years. Be worried if I don’t know what’s going on in your life.”

Ardoss’ vision started to clear and he managed to turn just enough to look over his shoulder.
The co-pilot had the gun pointed at his face.

“Please,” she said. “Unlike my friend, I know how to shoot a gun.”

He blinked. She wasn’t kidding. The way she held her gun, the crispness of her flight suit, they were dead giveaways. Former military by the look of it. He should have noticed earlier. Would have if he wasn’t so focused on catching his partner.

Ardoss let out a sigh. “What will you do with me, then?”

The co-pilot didn’t take her eyes off him. Ardoss turned his head back to Ruskella who thinned his lips.

“I . . .” he started, but the ship shuddered.

Ardoss almost lost his balance. “What the hell?”

Anger flashed across Ruskella’s face.

“Someone’s flying my ship.”

Things were not going at all as planned. Ardoss wanted to slip on the ship, Open Sky, undetected, get to the rendezvous with Pietro Marquez, and arrest the lot of them.

Now, some stuffy politician too big for his very expensive suit had ruined Ardoss’ cover, leading to a showdown in the cargo bay. And now it looked like the situation was about to go from bad to even worse.

“Someone’s hijacked your ship?” asked Ardoss.

“No idea,” said Ruskella, “but I have a schedule to keep. Mickey will have my head if I’m late.”

“What do you want to do about him?” asked the co-pilot, jerking her head in Ardoss’ direction.

“I can’t let him loose on the ship,” said Ruskella. “We’ll have to put him in the locker.”

“I can help,” said Ardoss.

“Not a chance,” said Ruskella.

“You forget,” said Ardoss, “if you miss your meeting with Pietro, so do I. We both have a vested interest in what happens on this ship and where it goes.”

“And when we get there,” said Ruskella, “you’re going to arrest Pietro Marquez and I’m going to die. I see it as a conflict of interest rather than a mutual goal.”

“I could arrest him after you drop off your package,” said Ardoss.

Ruskella creased his brow.

“Go on,” said the co-pilot.

“You’re only supposed to drop it off, right?” said Ardoss. “Mickey never said anything about seeing him off safely?”

“He didn’t,” said Ruskella, “but he also told me to kill you.”

“And you didn’t,” said Ardoss. “Either way, you’re defying your boss. Drop off your package, then let me have Pietro. That way, we both get what we want.”

“He’s got a point, Jo,” the co-pilot said.

“And if I don’t?” said Ruskella.

“You’ll be arrested for aiding and abetting,” said Ardoss. “What do you think Mickey will do with you then? Help me and I can protect you.”

Ruskella’s nostrils flared and his jaws clenched.

“I’ll think about it,” he said. “You help us and you don’t stab me in the back and I just might do as you ask. First, we get the ship back.”

“That’s fair,” said Ardoss. “So how do you want to handle it?”

“We kick them out of the cockpit,” said Ruskella.

Ardoss raised an eyebrow. “Really? You don’t strike me as the violent type.”

Ruskella’s face reddened. “It’s my ship. I want it back.”

“Okay,” said Ardoss. “Let’s say you storm up there and pull whoever it is from your seat. Or try to. Then what?”

Ruskella looked at the floor. “I don’t know. Lock them up?”

“And if they put up a fight?”

“I fought you.”

“And lost.”

Ruskella glared at him, but the co-pilot stepped forward.

“I’ll handle it,” she said.

Ardoss shook his head. “Let me handle it.”

Both pilot and co looked at him, eyebrows raised.

“I’m an Agent,” said Ardoss. “I’m trained for this.” Ruskella shot the co-pilot a look.

She shrugged, “He’s got a point.”

“You’re not getting the gun,” warned Ruskella.

“I don’t need it,” Ardross returned.

“Fine,” the pilot conceded, “what’s the plan?”

“First, we see what the hell is going on out there.”

“After you,” said the co-pilot, gesturing to the door. Ardoss nodded. His plan, he’d go first.

He reached for the door and turned the wheel.

It didn’t budge.

He put his weight on it, but still it wouldn’t move. “It’s stuck.”

The co-pilot pushed him out of the way, and she shoved her own weight against the door, her face turning red from the exertion. “No way in hell it’s stuck,” she said and pushed again. “We keep this ship in tip-top condition.” The door’s inability to move was a personal affront to her.

She tried the door one last time before finally accepting the reality of their situation. She peered through the window.

“I see the woman and the kid,” said Ardoss, “but no sign of the politician. I guess we know who’s behind this.”

“He didn’t seem like the hijacking type,” said Ruskella. She shrugged. “We’re assuming this is a hijacking.”

“The door’s locked,” said Ardoss.

“Point,” she said. She knocked on the door and peered through the glass. She pounded on the door. Nothing.

“It’s too thick,” she said. “I would try the comms, but it would alert Thrumm or whoever took over.”

“The emergency hatch,” said Ruskella.

The co-pilot looked at him and narrowed her eyes.

“If we go that way, one of us has to operate the airlock and one of us has to go out there,” she said. “Someone will have to be alone with the Agent.”

“I can retake the cockpit,” Ardoss said.

Ruskella shook his head. “I can’t risk you taking over the ship and leaving us back here. One of us needs to go too.”

“I’ll go,” said the co-pilot. “I have more zero-g training and you’d be in the locker as soon as I leave.”

“Fine,” said Ruskella. “We’re getting farther off course the longer we stand here arguing. Char, take the Agent and get me my ship back.”

Ardoss could see in the man’s face he’d rather be the one going. He must have had a lot of trust in this woman. Ardoss knew what that was like, to trust someone to do what needed to be done.

But that was gone now, ripped away when he found out about Pietro’s dealings. Twenty years they were together and never a word, not a hint.

The three of them made quick work to strap down the cargo hold. Ruskella helped Ardoss and the co-pilot into the evac suits.

“Wait. What about you?” asked Ardoss, “There’s no airshield on this ship’s hold.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Ruskella.

Ardoss raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve got it rigged,” said Ruskella. He pointed to a small seat with straps and an O2 tank right by the control panel. It had a small enclosure with a door around it, barely big enough for a person.

“You two have done this before,” said Ardoss. “Must be interesting working for Mickey.”

The co-pilot stole a hard look at Ruskella. “Couldn’t say.”

Ruskella turned bright red, something unspoken passing between the two. Changing the subject the pilot said, “We need to hurry.”

Ardoss nodded and, with help, donned his helmet. It snapped into place. His breath warmed the dome and the visor fogged a little. The familiar hissing started, followed by the clinical, yet somewhat musty odor of oxygen filtered into the suit. He coughed once as it filled his lungs.

“Can you hear me?” the co-pilot asked over the suit comms.

“Loud and clear,” replied Ardoss. “It’s Char, right?”

She took a moment to respond.

“Yeah,” she said. “Now grab the railing. We’ve only got one really good chance at doing this.”

He nodded, aware as soon as he did it that the suit swallowed simple gestures.

Char grabbed the rail and gave a thumbs up to Ruskella. Ardoss followed her example. Ruskella had an O2 mask strapped to his face and returned the gesture, punching a button on the console.

Vacuum yanked at Ardoss. He lost his footing, but kept his hand tight on the rail. Just as his fingers started to slip, the pressure equalized and the pull lessened.

“Ready?” asked Char.

“Yes.”

She reached outside the ship and grabbed a hold on the hull. Ardoss followed.

Once they were outside, the door closed. He could only imagine what kind of discomfort Ruskella must be in. It was gutsy for sure. And downright dangerous.

He suddenly thought better of the man.

“You guys are pretty close,” said Ardoss.

Char didn’t say anything.

“You get that way, I suppose,” he continued, “out here alone, just the two of you.”

Silence.

“That’s how Pietro and I were,” he said. “Or I thought we were. Twenty years together and I never had a clue he was working for Mickey. Betrayal like that makes you question everything.”

“I wouldn’t do that to Jonah,” she said.

“What about him screwing you over?” he said. “It’s clear that he ran with Mickey and didn’t tell you about it.”

“He didn’t have to,” she said. “I wouldn’t be a good partner if I didn’t notice the little things. He didn’t bring it up, so I didn’t mention it. We’ve known each other for sixteen years, he’s worked for Mickey for ten. I knew the day Mickey approached him.”

“Are you two . . .?” said Ardoss.

She laughed. “Of course not. Jonah is married with three children. I introduced him to his wife.”

“That doesn’t keep people from enjoying the company of each other,” he said.

He could almost feel the scowl she must have given him.

“I owe him more than you could understand,” she said. “Jonah’s a good man. He wouldn’t work for Mickey if he had a choice.”

“Are you saying he was coerced?” he said.

“Of course he was,” she said. “That’s the way Mickey Black works. He finds something on you, a way to squeeze you. He manipulates you into doing what he needs done.”

Ardoss wanted to ask more, but they had reached the cockpit.

“This will be just like the cargo hold,” she said. “When I open the door, the cabin will decompress. Grab onto something or you may be blasted out into space.”

“Understood,” said Ardoss.

She reached for the latch and Ardoss looked around for a hook or a bar or something to hold onto. There was a small ledge and he dug his fingers in.

“Ready,” he said.

Without another word, she twisted the handle and the door popped open. Air whooshed past them, knocking Ardoss’ hands loose from his hold. He tried to grab back onto something, anything, but he’d already drifted away from the ship. Food wrappers expelled from the cockpit whirled around him.

He stared for a moment as the ship grew smaller. The hiss of air pumping into his suit was the only sound. Gradually, the panic built as he realized the ship wasn’t coming back. The pounding of his own heart and his rapid breathing smothered the sound of the oxygen.

A red light blinked on his display. His O2 was low. These suits weren’t meant for long excursions. He had minutes. Ardoss steadied his breathing. He needed to conserve. If he was going to survive, he needed to be calm.

The ship dwindled smaller and Ardoss couldn’t help but feeling he was about to die.

To be continued

End Transmission

Comments
012.0

Feedback

Loading Additional Feedback