Roberts Space Industries

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17165

Comments:

12

Date:

July 23rd 2019

One Last Job: Part Three
By: Amanda McCarter
Writer’s Note: One Last Job: Part Three was published originally in Jump Point 3.11. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

Jonah paced in the hold. It felt like hours since Char and the Agent went out the airlock. The Agent could have killed her for all he knew. He doubted it. Char was too much of a fighter.

But alone and trapped in his own cargo hold, his imagination ran wild. He thought up all kinds of horrible scenarios.

He tried every which way he knew of to open that door. It still wouldn’t budge. The creep politician must have jammed something in the lock. Just the thought of someone vandalizing his ship made his blood boil.

Finally, after Jonah’s umpteenth attempt to open the door, he saw Char’s face appear on the other side. She opened it with a grin.

“Where’s Thrumm?” said Jonah.

“Taking a nap.” She turned and walked to the passenger area, waving for him to follow.

Jonah glanced around, following her. He spotted the politician right before the door to the cockpit. A large bruise was blossoming on the right side of his face. His eyelids twitched in his sleep, but, otherwise, he didn’t move.

“And the Agent?” said Jonah. “He didn’t give you any trouble?”

“I told you I could handle myself,” she said, “but there’s a problem.”

“What problem?” said Jonah.

“He got blown into space,” she said. “We can leave him there or go get him.”

Jonah stared at her.

“Only thing is,” she said, looking at the politician, “this little turd took us off course and cost us time.” She kicked him. The man groaned but did not wake. “We’re gonna be late.”

Jonah’s stomach fell. He glanced down at the unconscious man on the deck then back up at Char. “We can’t leave Ardoss floating out there.”

“Are you sure?” said Char.

Jonah nodded. “He helped us.”

She nodded and changed the ship’s direction. “So you’re going through with it then? Helping him take down Mickey?”

“It’s a way out,” he said.

She smiled. “Good, it’s about time.”

“I’ve got to know, Char. After all these years, why didn’t you say anything?”

Char turned to look at him. “You never brought it up, so I assumed you didn’t want to talk about it. I appreciate the fact you didn’t want to drag me into it, but I’ve always been looking out for you. So far, the work has been good and steady, and it hasn’t been terribly dangerous. You’re my friend. I hated to see you work for slime like Mickey Black, but I understood. This time though? Asking you to kill someone? That’s not okay.”

Jonah didn’t know what to say. He could have gotten her killed, destroyed her life, and she was still loyal. He needed to find a way to make it up to her.

Eventually Ardoss came into view. Jonah knew his O2 had to be low. Suits didn’t have much.

“I’ll get him,” said Char, grabbing her helmet.

Jonah followed and she shook her head.

“I can handle the controls and the rescue,” she said. “Stay here and keep an eye on him.”

Jonah looked down at Thrumm.

“Why’d he do it?”

She shrugged, her back to him. “Dunno. I punched him before he had a chance to make excuses. We were in vacuum, so I don’t think I would have heard it anyways. We’re close enough. I’m going to go reel Ardoss in.”

Jonah took her spot at the controls and watched as she swam out from the cargo hold into the void. She wrapped her arms around Ardoss and fired the retrothrusters to push back toward the ship. Just watching it made Jonah’s stomach flip. Being lost out there was terrifying. He hoped Ardoss was all right. It was a terrible way to die.

When the sensors told him both Char and Ardoss were back in the ship and pressure had returned, Jonah turned his attention to the politician.

He crouched down by the would-be hijacker and examined him. Thrumm smelled of expensive oil and wore a fine suit made out of something smooth and light. Silk? Or some synthetic? Either way, it was expensive.

He turned to look at the man’s shoes. Leather. Real leather.

Jonah rubbed his chin. This guy was into the expensive stuff, the finer things in life. Even demanded a private room on a ship that couldn’t even afford privacy for its crew.

He slapped the politician.

Thrumm groaned.

Jonah shook the bureaucrat. “Hey, pal, wake up.”

Thrumm’s eyes creaked open and he mumbled something.

“What was that?” said Jonah. “I didn’t hear you.” He pulled Thrumm up by his shirt.

“Don’t kill me,” said Thrumm. His voice was choked.

“That depends on what you say next,” said Jonah.

He wouldn’t kill him, of course, but the bureaucratic SOB didn’t need to know that. He felt a rush of adrenaline and his hands shook, but not from fear. It felt good being in control for a change. The feeling shocked him so much he almost dropped the man.

“It was just a little at first,” said Thrumm. “Then it got to be more and more. I couldn’t help myself. I got away with it for so long, I didn’t think anyone would find out. I got careless.”

“What are you talking about?” said Jonah.

“The money,” said Thrumm. “I took it. I’m sorry.”

Jonah released the man and sighed. Thrumm whimpered. “Are you gonna turn me in?”

Jonah raised an eyebrow. “For stealing? I’m not a cop.”

“But that man,” said Thrumm, “he’s Advocacy.”

Jonah stared at the politician for a moment, then blinked, and then began to laugh. He laughed so hard he fell back on his hind end. It was so absurd.

“Did I miss a joke?” the Agent said. His voice was wispy. Jonah looked up and saw his face was pale.

“You lived,” said Jonah.

“I appreciate you coming back for me,” the Agent said.

Jonah stood. “We had an agreement.”

“So it was the politician,” the Agent said, looking down.

“Embezzler,” said Jonah. “He thought you were going to take him away in chains.”

“Wait,” said Thrumm, “you’re not here to arrest me?”

The Agent’s eyes went wide and he raised his eyebrows.

“Not hardly,” he said. “Embezzlement? Your own government will have to deal with that. You could have gotten off the ship without a single issue and I wouldn’t have even looked at you twice.”

Thrumm seemed to collapse into himself and a look of relief passed over his face. “So you’ll let me go?”

The Agent snorted. “Don’t count on it. You really shouldn’t endanger the life of an Advocacy Agent. I’ll send local authorities a message as soon as everything’s sorted out with the ship. Provided, of course, the pilot lets me use his comm system.”

“Go right ahead,” said Jonah. He wanted to see this sorry bastard locked away for good.

“I’ll go lock him up in the cabin,” said Char. “We’re back on course. We should be at the jump point within the hour.”

Jonah nodded to her.

“Just think, Mr. Thrumm,” she said as she pushed him out of the cockpit, “you finally get that private room you wanted.”

Thrumm paled. Char drug him past the other two passengers. The businesswoman stared in terror and the teen leaned forward in his seat.

“Hey, lady,” the boy said, “can I fly next?”

Char snorted. “Get a license.”

“So, have you thought over my offer?” the Agent said, closing the cockpit door.

“I want out,” said Jonah, “and I don’t think Mickey will just let me go. You’re the best chance I’ve got. If I fail to meet Pietro at the drop, Mickey will certainly kill me. Besides, you saved my ship, and probably my life. I owe you more than I can repay.”

“Help me get Pietro and that will be enough for me,” said Ardoss.

Jonah smiled.

“So what do I call you?” he said.

“Ardoss is fine,” he said.

“So Pietro was your partner?” asked Jonah.

“More. He was my friend,” said Ardoss.

“And that’s why you’re hunting him down?”

“Yeah. Seems like it should be me who brings him in,” said Ardoss. “And if what Char said is true and Mickey forced him into all this, than maybe there’s something I can do to help him.”
Jonah nodded.

“How did Mickey get you?” said Ardoss.

Jonah held out his hands and looked up. “This ship. I couldn’t afford it, couldn’t get a loan. Ever since I was a boy, all I wanted was to own my own spaceship. But my family’s poor. My father was a machinist, my mother was ill.”

“So why not fly for a commercial company?” said Ardoss. “They always need pilots.”

“I did, at first,” said Jonah. “My first job was as a co-pilot on a cargo run.”

“Didn’t like it?” said Ardoss.

Jonah shook his head. “I got fired. We were boarded by pirates. One of the crew members tried to fight them off. There were too many for her to handle alone though, so I decided to help. During the struggle some of the rest of the crew got hurt. The company said it was our fault. They said it wouldn’t have happened if we had just kept cooperating. Next thing I know I’m out on my ass. After that, I had trouble finding work, couldn’t hold anything down for long, so I decided to go into business for myself, but I couldn’t buy a ship and no one would let me lease one until I got on my feet. Everyone but one person, that is.”

“Mickey Black,” said Ardoss.

Jonah nodded. “He offered to buy the ship for me if I agreed to work with him,” said Jonah. “I refused at first, wanted to be my own man. He told me that wasn’t a problem. I’d simply do him a favor from time to time and I could run the ship how I wanted. That wasn’t true though. Even with a ship, I couldn’t find work until Mickey set me up with Master Haru, and between the debt and Haru skimming, I don’t make anywhere near what I could if I ran my own business. Funny thing is, I’ve got enough contacts and knowhow now. I could make it on my own if Mickey was out of the picture.”

“And the woman from the pirate attack,” said Ardoss, “that was Char?”

Jonah nodded. “She’s worked with me ever since.”

“No wonder she’s so loyal,” said Ardoss.

“I don’t regret it,” said Jonah. “I did the right thing.”

“Of course you did,” said Ardoss.

“Regardless of how I got in the position I’m in,” said Jonah, “he knows how to use a bad situation to his advantage. I bet Pietro got into similar trouble and Mickey came to the rescue. It’s what he does. And from that moment on, he owns you.”

“Even if that’s the case, I still need to bring Pietro in,” said Ardoss. “If Pietro was blackmailed or strong armed into spying, then Black is a much bigger problem than anyone realized and the Advocacy needs to know. There could be other Agents working for him. There’s no telling how deep he’s into everything.”

Jonah sighed and leaned into the console. He closed his eyes for a moment. He listened to the whir of the ship’s engine, felt it vibrate beneath him. It spoke to him. He loved flying, would do anything to keep going.

“So when we do this,” said Jonah, “I’ve got a couple of rules.”

Ardoss pursed his lips. “What kind of rules?”

“I won’t hurt Pietro,” said Jonah. “That’s first and foremost. We weren’t close, but he got dragged into this just like I did.”

Ardoss crossed his arms. ”He was my friend too, but if he shoots at any of us, I’m going to shoot back.”

“Fine,” said Jonah, “he shoots first, I won’t stop you, but that leads me to my second rule,” said Jonah. “I do the drop. I give him his package and walk away. He won’t shoot if I’m giving him what he needs.”

Ardoss’ forehead creased. “I don’t like it. You might warn him I’m there.”

“I won’t,” said Jonah. “I gave you my word. This way, I’m still good with Mickey. Anything that happens afterwards can’t land on me. Besides, if I wanted to tell him to run, I’d tell him when I contact him for the meeting coordinates.”

“Wait, you don’t know where to meet him?” said Ardoss.

Jonah smiled. “You’ve gotta know Pietro better than that. He’s careful. The plan is to reach a nav point and contact him. From there, he gives me the final coordinates.”

“So, if I had locked you in the locker?” said Ardoss.

“You wouldn’t have gotten very far,” said Jonah. “Pietro would have to hear my voice.”

“Well, I guess it was meant to be this way,” said Ardoss. “We’ll try it your way. But if you warn him, the deal is off.”

“I understand,” said Jonah.

“Then let’s go meet Pietro.”

They made the next jump point without incident. The other two passengers, the teenage boy and the young business-woman, didn’t bother them. Jonah figured they were just happy to be back en route. He told them there would be a brief detour and neither said a word.

Jonah was still on edge, though. He could dress it up however he liked, but there was no denying that he was betraying Mickey Black.

Jonah remembered an incident when he first started working for Mickey. They had met in another grimy bar in a defunct mining hab known as Grim HEX. He and Mickey were working out the details of a job when one of Mickey’s goons brought someone in.

It was a man a little older than Jonah. His face was bloody and he was begging for mercy. Mickey asked him one question. Why?

The man looked at the floor and wouldn’t lift his head until Mickey demanded it. When he did, Mickey said it was a shame. The next thing Jonah knew, the man was dead, a shot to the brain courtesy of Mickey. All Mickey would tell Jonah was that was what happened to people who double-crossed him.

But Jonah couldn’t keep living like this. He didn’t want to die, but to go on while people he cared about were threatened wasn’t an option either. Jonah wanted a fresh start. Pietro deserved the same.

He brought up the secure frequency Mickey gave him.

“You’re late,” said Pietro.

“We had a mechanical issue,” said Jonah. It wasn’t a total lie. Some idiot took over the mechanics of the ship and sent them off course.

“If I didn’t need these supplies . . .” said Pietro.

“I know,” said Jonah. “I’m sorry. I’ll make up for it on my end. Send me the coordinates and we’ll get you on your way.”

Pietro grunted. A text feed went across Jonah’s console.

Jonah raised an eyebrow, but before he could say anything else, the line went dead.

“So where is it?” asked Ardoss, who had been listening from a corner of the cockpit.

“It’s an old fueling station,” he said. “No one’s there, low power, and it’s beyond the Advocacy’s normal reach.”

“Smart,” said Ardoss. “I take it you’ve never met him here before?”

Jonah shook his head. “No. Pietro and I didn’t run a lot of jobs together. We would cross paths on various assignments, but that was it.”

“Assignments,” said Ardoss, “you make it sound like some sort of well-run organization.”

“There’s a reason you don’t know much about Mickey,” said Jonah.

“But I know Pietro and I’ve been thinking,” said Ardoss, “it’s a mistake for you to go in alone and unarmed. When he gets in a corner like this, he’s dangerous. You should take Char to watch your back.”

She shook her head. “Jonah always does the drops solo. If I come along, he’ll know something’s up.”

“I’ll do the drop,” said Jonah. “By myself. No gun. That was the deal.”

Ardoss frowned and nodded. “Fine. As soon as the drop is done, get clear of the fuel station. If he opens fire when I arrest him, I don’t want to risk you getting caught in the crossfire.”

“Fine,” said Jonah.

Jonah’s heart lumped in his throat. This was it. They were really doing it. He had one last chance to put an end to it.

Ardoss turned to look at him, and put a hand on Jonah’s shoulder.

“Don’t have second thoughts on me,” he said. “We have a plan. Let’s stick to it.”

Jonah nodded. This was the right thing to do.

Char entered the coordinates for the drop. They passed a fueling station that serviced the jump point. It was nice, clean, had good food. They served veggie burgers with protein paste and had a good supply of beer.

The place they were going did not. It was out of commission and abandoned. It might still have some fuel, if scavengers hadn’t picked it clean. It certainly had power. Not much, but something. Enough to meet and make the drop.

Half an hour later they landed and Jonah went to the two remaining passengers.

“We have to stop here,” he said. “Once our business is done, we’ll be putting this place behind us as fast as possible. There is very little power and the location is abandoned, so for your own safety, please stay on board.”

The teenager opened his mouth, most likely to ask if he could come along, but Char squashed the question with a glare. He paled and went back to his mobi. The business-woman just shrank into her chair. Jonah didn’t think he’d have a problem out of either of them.

Jonah went to the cargo bay and opened the airlock. From there, he moved Pietro’s package off the ship.

“What kept you,” a voice asked.

Jonah turned to see Pietro standing just a few feet away.

He looked older than Jonah remembered. His black hair was limp and dull. He had circles around his eyes and his face was gaunt. His normally tanned skin was pale and clammy. Life on the run did not sit well with him.

“I told you, I had some unexpected delays,” said Jonah.

“Those delays have anything to do with that shiner on your face?” said Pietro.

“Shiner?” said Jonah. He touched his face and found it tender. Of course, the fight in the cargo hold. Ardoss must have hit him harder than he realized.

“Mickey thought I needed some extra convincing to do the job,” said Jonah. “Let’s do this quick and we can both be on our way.”

“I’m sorry,” said Pietro. “I knew you wouldn’t try to screw me.”

Jonah almost winced. That hurt. Pietro trusted him, or at least trusted he would be too much of a coward to do anything. He was done letting people walk all over him.

Pietro knelt before the crate and thumbed his code. The lid popped and he peered in. He made a face as he pulled a heavy cloth aside.

“Is this some kind of joke, Jonah?” he said.

Jonah felt the blood leave his face. “What joke?”

“There’s nothing in here but a pile of bricks.”

Jonah stepped to it and looked inside. His stomach knotted.

Bricks. Big gray ones. No supplies, no transmitters, no cash. Just a big stack of rock and clay.

He looked up to find himself staring down the barrel of Pietro’s gun. He put his hands up and backed away a step.

“Easy, Pietro,” said Jonah.

Pietro cocked his gun. “You’ve got about sixty seconds to start talking.”

“You have half that to put the gun down, Pete,” said Ardoss.

To be continued

End Transmission

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