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Roberts Space Industries ®

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories






August 28th 2019

One Last Job: Part Four
By: Amanda McCarter
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.

They had been so close. Pietro had agreed to turn on Mickey, knowing it would eventually mean his death. They just didn’t count on it being so soon.

Ardoss looked down at Pietro. It was a waste. Pietro was a good man, or at least he tried to be. If only Ardoss had known sooner what was going on, maybe his partner would still be alive.

He peeked out of his cover, trying again to see where the shots had come from. Who else knew they were here? There was no way anyone could. Pietro had waited until Jonah contacted him to give him the coordinates. Not even Mickey could know.

That left only one other possibility. There was a spy on board Jonah’s ship.

His vantage point was lousy. He couldn’t see much of anything from where he was. Cautiously, he left his cover, gun drawn, and began to creep across the old cargo bay.

But before Ardoss could investigate further, another shot rang out and he staggered backwards. It felt as though a man twice his size had just punched him in the chest. He looked down to see red blossom down his suit from his left shoulder.

Another shot rang out, ricocheting off a bulkhead. Shaking off his momentary daze, Ardoss managed to duck behind some old crates. They stank of rotting food.

“It’s higher up,” said Jonah, crouching beside him.

Ardoss had forgotten he was there.

“How can you tell?” said Ardoss. Jonah was a coward. Ardoss couldn’t imagine him looking for the shooter.

“There’s an energy burn on the floor, just there,” said Jonah, pointing.

Ardoss blinked and followed Jonah’s finger. Sure enough, there was a burn mark on the floor. If the shot had come straight across, the burn would be behind them or further back on the floor. The shooter was most certainly up higher.

“I don’t get it,” said Ardoss. “That sniper got Pietro in one clean shot. Then he misses? Is he playing with us?”

“It’s more likely he’s under fire,” said Jonah.

“Char?” said Ardoss.

Jonah nodded. “I asked her to keep lookout in case Pietro lied. She’s a crack shot. ”

“Then why is that sniper still firing?” said Ardoss as another blast rang out.

Jonah shrugged, “You assume it’s the sniper.”

The gunshots stopped. Jonah cautiously peeked his head above the crate and Ardoss pulled him back down.

“Char, did you get him?” said Ardoss. “Char?”

“No,” she said. Her voice bitter. “She’s still in here. Stay on your toes.”

“Wait,” said Ardoss, “she?”

“Yes,” said Char, “now keep your eyes open.”

Ardoss felt the adrenaline pumping. Pietro was dead and this woman was still hunting them. How many did she plan to kill? Just Ardoss? The whole crew? What about the other passengers?

That’s when he realized it had to be the businesswoman. She was so quiet and unassuming, the perfect cover for an assassin. It made him sick to think about the time he had spent in close quarters with her. He crept out from the crates, gun still drawn, his left arm useless.

Jonah grabbed his good shoulder. “You’ll be shot.”

“Already been shot,” said Ardoss. “We have to find her. She’s not going to just leave us be. We know too much.”

Jonah worked his jaw, but didn’t say anything else.

Ardoss stuck his head out. He needed to know where she was, what her options were.

Then, movement.

Ardoss leveled his gun. It was not as high up as he expected, not in the ducts or on a crosswalk. She was on top of some crates. Maybe.

He didn’t think a trained gun would be so sloppy.

Char’s head poked out from behind the crates. She pointed to Ardoss then behind him. He turned on his heels, still crouched. His shoulder throbbed, but thankfully the intense pain he knew was coming was still being kept at bay. Too much adrenaline, he figured.

He glanced back to Char, but she was gone, creeping among the abandoned cargo. He moved behind the stack of moldy food where Jonah still hid. Jonah just looked at him as he passed, eyes wide.

There was another stack of crates further along, and some old tanks. A perfect place for her to hide.

How many shots had she fired? How many rounds did she have? Enough to take down one or two people? More?

Ardoss knew he would be the main target, then Char. Jonah would be last, if she didn’t just go ahead and kill the teen and Thrumm after that, to remove any witnesses.

The stack was shadowy and stank. There were too many dark corners for someone to hide. Ardoss scooted along the edge of one crate and around a fuel tank.

There he found himself face to face with his partner’s killer.

Her business suit was torn and bloody in places. Sweat matted her short hair to her forehead. Her skin was flushed and her chest pumped heavily.

“Drop the gun,” she said. She aimed the pistol Jonah had tried to use on him earlier.

“Not likely,” Ardoss said.

“I’ll shoot,” the woman said.

Ardoss smiled. “If you had any more rounds, you would have killed me already.”

The woman grinned, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by a snarl. She dropped the gun, and lunged.

She put all her effort into impacting his left shoulder.

There was the pain.

He cried out and crumpled to the deck. She scrabbled over him and went for his gun. Ardoss rolled over and grabbed her leg with his good hand, yanking hard.

The woman cursed and kicked at him. The first kick hit his forearm, but he held fast. The next connected with his knuckles and his grip loosened. She shook free and crawled to the gun.

Ardoss started to crawl towards her, but the gun was in her hand. She flopped over on her back and fired.

The shot went wild and Ardoss used the moment to roll for cover. He glanced behind him.

The woman was on her feet.

“I’ll make this quick,” she said, “I promise.”

He crouched to pounce on her, but he never got the chance.

There was a scream, primal and terrified as a dark blur collided with the assassin. Two forms fell to the ground and the gun skittered across the deck.

Ardoss went after the gun, all but throwing himself after it. His fingers closed on the grip and he spun around.

Jonah lay on top of the woman, knees straddling her hips, hands on her shoulders.

Jonah punched her and immediately grabbed his hand, rubbing the knuckles.

“Feel better?” said Ardoss.

“No,” said Jonah, “my hand hurts.”

Ardoss laughed.

Jonah glared at him and then he began to laugh.

“Did I miss something funny?” said Char.

Ardoss looked. She stood behind Jonah and the assassin, gun slack in her hands, eyes wide.

“Pietro?” said Char.

“He didn’t make it,” said Ardoss, his laughter gone. Jonah stopped as well.

“She got you,” said Char.

Ardoss glanced down. “At least it wasn’t a few inches over.”

“Small consolation,” she said.

“So how did we miss an assassin on the ship?” said Jonah. He rolled off the woman.

Char crossed the few feet between them. She pointed her rifle at the woman’s head. “Start talking.”

The woman licked her lips, smearing blood across them.

“None of your business,” she said.

Char cocked the gun. “That’s not a good answer.”

The woman glared.

“If you kill her, we won’t get our answers,” said Ardoss.

“Who said anything about killing her?” said Char. She swung the butt of her gun around and slammed it against the woman’s knee.

The assassin screamed and clutched her leg.

“Pietro was never meant to leave alive,” she said, panting.

“What?” said Jonah.

Char nudged the woman’s knee with the barrel of her gun. “Go on.”

The woman winced. “The drop-off was a farce,” she said. “It was a setup. Mickey knew Pietro would only trust you, so he set the whole thing up, arranged for passengers, made sure I could book passage.”

Jonah slumped. “Why?” said Jonah. “Why all of this?”

The woman shrugged. “I do what I’m paid to do. Mickey’s going to kill you when finds out you’re working with an Agent.”

“Don’t count on it,” said Char. “What do you want to do with her?”

“I’ll need to take her back to the Advocacy,” said Ardoss.

“I want a deal,” the woman said. “I gave you information. You have to protect me.”

“Why?” said Ardoss. “You did your job.”

“And when Black finds out you’re still alive, I’m dead,” the woman said.

“I’ll think about it,” said Ardoss.

“You’ve as good as killed me, then,” she said.

“You should have thought about that before you signed on with Mickey Black.”

Char nodded and kicked her.

Local authorities collected the politician Thrumm at the next port. Advocacy Agents took Ardoss’ statement. He advised them the assassin was a material witness and should be protected. The Agents also took custody of Pietro’s body. Ardoss had started working on the request for his partner to be given full honors on the flight back. He had just sent it off when his new orders from Junior Director Vami arrived on his mobi.

Return. Immediately.

Not likely, he thought.

Ardoss wanted to warn the Advocacy that Black had some-thing planned against the Senate, but he had no evidence. He couldn’t follow Vami’s orders until he found it.

The three of them sat in the cockpit, drinking a bottle of Sky whiskey from Croshaw.

“What will you do now?” said Jonah.

“I’m supposed to go back to my office and quietly retire,” said Ardoss, “but I don’t think I can do that.”

“You want to go after Mickey Black,” said Jonah.

Ardoss nodded. Mickey had destroyed one of the best men he’d ever known, and he wasn’t going to let the bastard walk away from that.

“Pietro said he had plans,” said Ardoss. “Something to do with the Senate. But without evidence to back up the story . . .”

“You want to find that proof,” said Char.

“And nail him to the wall with it,” said Ardoss. “I want to make sure he can never hurt another living soul.”

Just then, the ship’s comm started to beep. Jonah held up a finger and Ardoss stepped out of the way of the vid.

Jonah hit a button and Mickey’s ruined face filled the screen.

“Jonah, my boy, I heard the mission was done,” said Mickey.

The pilot clenched his jaw. “You killed Pietro.”

“Yes, sorry about that, had to be done,” said Mickey. “Terrible business, but I couldn’t risk him blabbing.”

“I don’t like being used,” said Jonah.

“I’ll use you however I see fit,” said Mickey. His voice was dangerous. “What did you do with my assassin?”

“I had to turn her in to local authorities,” said Jonah. “Pietro is dead and so is his partner. The Advocacy wanted answers.”

Mickey’s eyes went wide. “I didn’t actually think you’d do it.”

“I didn’t,” said Jonah. “Your woman did that.”

Char glanced at Ardoss. He felt pretty good for a dead man, but he stayed silent. He hoped the Agents would keep the assassin safe.

Mickey looked impressed. “I had hoped to get my hitwoman back. She was rather good, but I suppose you can’t win all the time. I’ll have to take care of her, of course, but that’s my problem, not yours.”

“I did what you asked and nearly died in the process,” said Jonah. “I want my money.”

“It’s coming lad, it’s coming,” said Mickey, “but see, you didn’t do exactly as I asked. My woman killed the Agent, not you.”

Jonah stared, his eyes full of rage.

Mickey shrugged. “Hey, a deal’s a deal. I asked you to do something and you didn’t. You still owe me.”

“You knew I wouldn’t,” said Jonah.

“Every man has to make that choice,” said Mickey. “You made yours.”

“What do you want?” asked Jonah.

“Go to these coordinates for further instruction,” said Mickey. “And Jonah, I really am expecting you to see it through this time. All of it. Screw it up, and you’ll be so deep in debt with me, your kids will be paying it off long after you die.”

The screen went blank before Jonah had a chance to argue. He turned and looked at Ardoss.

“That’s what he wanted,” said Char, “to hold something over you.”

“Well, Ardoss,” said Jonah, “looks like you’ll get your chance to get even. I’ll do whatever I can to help you end this bastard.”

“Great,” said Ardoss, tossing back the last dregs of whiskey in his glass. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

The End

End Transmission



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