Writer’s Note: One Last Job: Part Four was published originally in Jump Point 3.12. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
Ardoss’ finger rested on the trigger of his gun. He always knew it would go down like this. Well, maybe not exactly like this.
He’d finally tracked down his partner, Pietro Marquez, with the help of ship pilot Jonah Ruskella. Jonah was a delivery boy for the pirate Mickey Black who chose to turn on his employer.
But everything had gone wrong. Ardoss’ cover was blown, the ship had been temporarily hijacked, and now that they were finally here, it turned out that Mickey had double-crossed Pietro and the promised cargo was missing.
Now, they stood in an old, abandoned fueling station, guns drawn on one another, Jonah caught in between. After everything Ruskella had risked for Ardoss, he couldn’t let Pietro shoot him.
As Ardoss watched a bead of sweat trickle down his ex-partner’s face, he couldn’t help but think to when the Advocacy had first assigned him as his partner. Pietro had been a fresh-faced rookie.
That young man was gone. Ardoss hadn’t really noticed until this moment. His black hair was graying and thin. Lines surrounded his mouth and eyes and the youthful exuberance was gone. Now all that was left was an older man, tired and scared.
“I remember this place,” said Ardoss. “It was held by a pack of contraband runners.”
“Slave traders,” said Pietro.
“Contraband’s contraband,” said Ardoss.
“You always did simplify everything, Ardoss,” Pietro said. “Things don’t fall into neat little piles of good guy and bad guy, contraband and not contraband. It’s so much messier than that.”
“I’m beginning to see that,” said Ardoss. His hand began to tense. They couldn’t do this forever. Eventually, someone was going to shoot.
“I don’t think you do,” said Pietro. “If you can’t see what Mickey Black is doing, you’re blind.”
Ardoss realized the man was tired. He wasn’t some master spy who had betrayed his principles. He was trapped. Ardoss didn’t want to kill him any more than he wanted to kill Jonah. It wasn’t their fault.
“I’ve had my eyes opened,” said Ardoss. “Mickey Black is a monster. I want to help you any way I can. You don’t have to run. We can take him down.”
Pietro laughed. “You don’t take down a man like Mickey Black. Do you know how big his organization is? Thousands of people. Everything from couriers like Jonah, to spies like me, to hitmen you don’t even want to think about. He’s a nightmare. A walking, talking, breathing nightmare. There’s something coming. It’s big, bigger than big. It’s going to change everything. I’m just a small piece of it.”
“You don’t have to live in fear,” said Ardoss. “Just talk to me. Tell me why.”
“I don’t even remember anymore,” said Pietro. “It doesn’t matter. My life is over. I have to get away from here.”
“You had to know someone was going to find out,” said Ardoss. “Things like this don’t stay secret. And the Advocacy won’t stop. Even if you go into Banu territory, they’ll keep searching.”
“It beats being dead,” said Pietro.
“A life of fear?” said Ardoss. “Sleepless nights? Always on the move? Looking over your shoulder? You and I have both seen those guys. Eventually, they take their own lives or isolate themselves so far from the known universe they lose their mind, don’t know what’s real anymore. That’s not a life, Pietro. That’s its own prison. Let me take you in. Give the Advocacy everything you have on Mickey Black and we can take him down.”
“There will always be someone to take his place,” said Pietro.
“Sure there will,” said Ardoss. “But he’ll be one less. We can make it harder for them. Look for people they’ve forced into their service. We can help, Pietro. You know we can.”
“Seeing as I’m stuck between a couple of gun barrels right now,” said Jonah, “I’d like to chime in.”
Pietro glanced at Jonah.
“I’m in the same place as you,” Jonah said. “Constantly afraid of what Mickey Black might have me do next. Scared I’ll get arrested or my family will be hurt. But I’m standing up. I want to stop living in fear. I know you feel the same way. You have to. This is not a life, not one worth having anyway. We have to at least try.”
“Listen to him, Pietro,” said Ardoss. “He’s got a wife and kids at home. He’s thinking about them. You need to think about your own family. Do you want them worrying about you, never knowing where you are? Or do you want to protect them?”
“I want to keep them safe,” said Pietro.
“Of course you do,” said Jonah. “That’s all you’ve ever wanted. What any of us want.”
“You’ll put them in protective custody, won’t you?” said Pietro, lowering his gun. Jonah took the gun and pocketed it. Ardoss lowered his own.
“Yes,” said Ardoss. “Mickey won’t find them.”
“I’ll tell you everything,” said Pietro. “Pickups, info drops, who I met with and where. You should know he’s planning —”
But what he was planning, Ardoss would never find out from Pietro. A shot rang out across the docking bay and Pietro dropped like a puppet with its strings cut.
Jonah dove for a stack of crates as Ardoss dropped to the floor.
Ardoss crawled under cover and scanned the area, looking for a shooter. There were too many vantage points here. He should have surveyed the station first, but there wasn’t time. Now he saw several crannies. Old ducts, abandoned crates, elevated crosswalks, doors into adjacent rooms. And worse, it echoed. It made finding the source difficult.
Another shot rang out and ricocheted. The shooter was good, having hit Pietro in one shot. But wherever the shooter was perched, there wasn’t a line of sight to Ardoss. He made a choice.
He rushed forward, crouching, and knelt by his old partner.
Blood soaked through Pietro’s clothes and his skin was pale. They were out in the open here. He lifted him by the shoulders and quickly dragged him back to his cover.
Pietro spoke barely above a whisper and Ardoss had to crouch low to hear it.
“The Senate,” said Pietro. “The Senate.”
Then he was gone. Ardoss stared at him, unsure what to make of what his old partner had said. Mickey Black was planning something and it had to do with the Senate.