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Roberts Space Industries

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17875

Comments:

12

Date:

November 18th 2020

Drifters (Part Three)
By: Dave Haddock
Writer’s Note: Drifters: Part Three was published originally in Jump Point 5.3. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

“Sorry, table’s taken,” Mags said to the two people that were now looming over them. There was something immediately off-putting about the pair. They were far too calm, too self-assured, to be random people. Her other hand quietly drifted under the table and closed the lockbox with the fortune’s worth of eriesium.

“Hey, you two deaf or just stupid? Drift. Unless you wanna find out what it feels like to get spine-punched from the front.” Trin certainly wasted no time.

The man sighed while the woman watched Trin like a hawk. Trin just stared right back.

“That belongs to us,” he nodded to the lockbox.

“Hell it does,” Trin snapped back.

Mags’ mind raced. She didn’t see any visible weapons on these two, but their heavy layered clothes were perfect for stashing guns.

“I understand that you’re confused,” the man said. His voice was pleasant and calming. Mags got the distinct impression that he was the talker of the two. “You pulled this . . . item . . . from the wreckage of Echo Calling which had been working for our employer. Nearest we can tell, you weren’t the aggressors in the fight that caused its destruction, so by all accounts, you wandered your way into this mess, which is why we’re giving you this chance to turn our property over and walk away. You do that? We’ll call it square. You don’t? There’ll be problems.”

“I don’t know. We’re problem kind of people.” Mags looked past the two to where Ozzy had posted up at the bar. He was gone.

“Four Points kind?” he replied.

That froze everyone at the table. All of them had heard about the Four Points syndicate in some form or another. Mags knew three people who disappeared after botching a heist in Prime. Even Trin seemed fazed by the mention.

“Thief Magdalena,” Soahm finally spoke up. The former Xi’an policeman now security consultant stood from the table. The woman broke her stare on Trin to keep an eye on him. The Xi’an simply looking back to Mags. “I will leave you to your business.”

“How about this.” Trin slammed her hand on the table, attracting everyone’s attention (except Soahm, who kept walking). She’d used the momentary distraction to pull a grenade. “How about I prime this puppy and waste the lot of us?”

“Uh, Trin?” Mags slowly edged away from the device. No one else in Cafe Musain seemed to be paying them any attention. She did clock about eight visible weapons on patrons.

“Well now,” the man said, sounding truly engaged for the first time. He stepped closer to Trin. “That is interesting. You really ready to blow us all up?”

“Sure, figure then nobody gets the eriesium. Think I can die happy knowing that.”

The man looked like he was enjoying this. “Osane here’s fast. Real fast. Could probably put rounds in you before you armed the device.”

“Yeah, you might be right,” Trin said, glancing past the man towards Osane. She turned her hand to show more of the grenade. It was already beeping. “If I waited to arm it.”

Mags pulled a snub pistol from her pocket and put two shots into Osane’s chest. The woman dropped heavily to the floor. The man dashed to grab the grenade in Trin’s hand. Everybody in the bar turned as drinks crashed to the floor. Mags grabbed the lockbox with the eriesium and vaulted out of the booth.

Her feet hit the floor and she was off, pushing her way through the confused onlookers. An energy round zipped past her from behind and caught a guy just ahead of her in the face. His head snapped with a sizzle. Mags risked a look back.

Osane pushed to her feet, her subcompact assault rifle struggling to aim for another shot. Smoke rose from the two holes in her clothes, exposing the armor vest below.

Mags shoved as hard as she could. She thundered up the stairs and burst outside as gunfire erupted behind her.

“Yes, yes. Very nice. And this?” Kel pointed to a small children’s action figure at the bottom of the box. He’d spent the past hour meticulously asking about each item he didn’t recognize. The stall owner, a dirty kid in his early twenties, had his feet up on the counter. He’d clearly lost his patience with the Banu fifty-five minutes ago.

“It’s a Captain Levo action figure,” the stall owner said without even looking up from his mobi.

“Oooh. Captain Levo.” Kel looked over the figure closely, rotating the various joints and studying the chipped paint.

“Explain.”

“I don’t know, man,” the stall owner said with a defeated sigh. “He was a cartoon character from like five years ago. He, like, saved people, went on adventures and shit.”

“I see. I see. So good man. Hero.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Kel nodded and studied the figure for another moment.

“Yes. I buy.”

The stall owner dragged his feet off the counter and brought up the sales program. Kel paid out three credits.

Suddenly alarms went off. Kel looked around, momentarily convinced this was how this stall celebrated sales. He smiled.

Then he saw the people fleeing out of a doorway marked “Cafe Musain.” There were the unmistakable sounds of gunfire.

He saw Captain Mag among those running. She was carrying the eriesium.

“Captain Mag!” Kel waved to try and get her attention. He pointed at the Captain Levo figure, hoping she would look.

Unfortunately, some Humans in uniform appeared around her, aiming some kind of weapon. Mags immediately skidded to a stop. She looked around for a moment, locked eyes with Kel.

He pointed to Captain Levo again. She smiled and winked, then dropped the lockbox and raised her hands.

Kel watched the uniformed Humans take her into custody. He should find out where they were taking her . . .

Then he saw a different stall, surrounded by dirty Human children eating some kind of frozen consumable.

Kel went to investigate.

Cafe Musain was a war zone. Some of the locals were trading shots with Osane, who’d dug in behind a flipped table.

Trin got slammed against the wall. Arno (Osane dropped his name as she opened fire at some of the Musain patrons) didn’t loosen his grip on her hand and subsequently the grenade while they tussled. She could tell he’d had training, been in more than his fair share of scraps, but he was technical, rigid.

“Your friend left you here to die,” he hissed as he leaned in close.

Trin laughed in his face. He headbutted her. Her vision reset with a flash to white. Blood gushed out of her nose.

There we go, she thought. She spit blood in his eyes and punched him in the armpit with her free hand. His grip faltered, at least enough for her to slip free. Trin spun around behind him and drove her elbow into the base of his skull. Then again. He sank to one knee. She clubbed him one more time for good measure.

She saw Osane glance back and raise her rifle, snapping off a couple shots. Trin pulled Arno up as a shield. The shots caught him flush in the chest.

He muttered from the impacts, but didn’t die. Wasn’t even wounded. This was some kind of armor they got. She stuffed the live grenade in Arno’s vest and kicked him towards Osane.

Then she made a break for the door, taking a moment to memorize the exact geography of the place and its current patrons.

Arno quickly dug into his armor to try and fish the grenade out. Each second, a whine from the grenade reached a higher and higher pitch. He was about to throw it when the thing went off.

The lights cut out. Everyone’s electronics went dead.

Trin figured she had maybe twenty seconds before whatever backups this shithole had kicked on. She traced the mental image of Musain’s layout as she ran through the dark. She hit the stairs a little quicker than she expected, but grabbed the rail and pulled herself up without falling.

Her feet thudded up the steps. One more turn and she could hear the acoustics change. She was back in the main bazaar when the backup lights surged back. Shop owners grabbed people who had been ripping off their stalls in the darkness. Trin did her best to blend into the crowd. Some old woman stepped up to her, shocked at the blood that was undoubtedly pouring down Trin’s face.

“Oh my god,” she gasped, full of concern. “You need a doctor —”

Trin shoved past her. All she’d need to do is keep a low profile until she got back to the Harlequin.

A hand grabbed her wrist. She whirled back, fist ready.

It was Ozzy.

“Come on. We aren’t safe.”

Dr. Honan Yao was tucked away somewhere in the tunnels of Levski when the lights cut out. He sat in darkness for a few moments before he realized that they’d actually gone out. The dose of WiDoW in the hypo hadn’t been injected yet. Even though his nerves ached for the shot, for the cool calm to swim through his system, he hadn’t done it. That moment of realization, when the lights cut out and he’d casually accepted that it was probably just another side effect of his new normal, made him catch a glimpse of himself. This time, he cared what he saw.

He’d been on edge ever since they left Kallis. He thought it was just the pangs that came with needing another hit, but seeing his old friend Lev after all this time . . . that hit him harder than he would’ve guessed. Running rampant in those pre-med days . . . hell, university in general felt like a lifetime ago. Certainly before . . .

There it was.

It was always a matter of time before his mind drifted to that place. After all this time . . . he slammed his head back against the wall in frustration and tried to tamp down the memories. They kept flooding back. Images, formerly dulled by booze and drugs, resurfaced with crystal clarity. All those broken faces . . .

No. He couldn’t. Not yet.

Yao put the loaded hypo against his vein. His thumb hovered over the button. He hesitated.

Then he saw a beautiful sun. The rings of Vega II barely visible in the morning sky. And the field of bodies. Torn apart. Scraps of people strewn among the grass. So many pieces you couldn’t tell what belonged to whom. A child screaming.

His thumb hit the button.

The memory went away.

It’d been two hours since Mags had been dumped in this holding cell. At least, she thought it was a holding cell. The last time she was in Levski, this area had been some kind of sorting facility or something.

Guess it was now their police station. The burnouts of Levski had certainly come a long way.

She could still hear alarms echoing through the reinforced metal door. When the EMP went off, she’d tried to grab the lockbox and make a break for it, but the guard had a surprisingly firm grip on it. Fortunately, it was sitting on the table in front of her, so not a total loss.

It was those thugs who approached them in Cafe Musain. That’s what worried her. How long had they been on her trail? Maybe it had been stupid to think that no one would come looking for something as valuable as the eriesium that was sitting in front of her, but this kind of money? It pays to be a little stupid.

The door unlatched from the other side and creaked open. A man entered the room. Older. Human. Short, close-cropped salt and pepper hair trimmed to mismatched lengths that implied he either cut his own hair or he frequented a second-rate barber. He had a heavy jacket and sweater on. All pretty standard fare for a station that was generally as cold as this one. Mags could see the top of a Los Imperators t-shirt peeking out from under the collar of the sweater.

A guard started to follow him in, but stopped after the man whispered a few words. The guard glanced at Mags then stepped back out. She waved.

“I’m Executive Devin,” he said as he flipped open the lockbox to reveal the rock inside. After a quick once-over, he sat down in the seat across from her and looked at her. He cocked his head to the side. “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so.” Mags wracked her brain. She’d definitely spent some time in Levski a few years ago, hooked up with some bad people like —

“You ran with Frank McGarr.”

Shit.

“Maybe?” She really drew out the word, like she was desperately trying to make the connection. Truth was, she had run with Frank. Their crew was boosting freight ships that had parked up at transit stations. Levski was a great place to lay low. “I mean, I only stayed here a couple times over the past few years, but I met some interesting people here. Why I keep coming back, I guess. Did you know Frank?”

“Yeah, I had him exiled. He had been running crimes in UEE space and using us as cover.”

“Ah. I didn’t know. We bonded about music mostly. He wasn’t a Los Imperators fan. I had to school him.”

Devin didn’t respond, just watched her. She decided to take a chance and keep going.

“Haven’t seen him in a bit. I’ve been travelling a lot. You know, looking for work. I never really felt comfortable in UEE space, you know? Always feels like they’re watching you.”

“Well, they probably are.” Devin replied with a shrug. His mobi pinged. He gave it a quick check and looked back at her. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Kristin Breen,” she fired back without hesitation. Kristin was a civilian she met once at a Sataball game. Some guy seated behind them said they looked like sisters. There was definitely a resemblance, so she became Mags’ go-to ‘clean ID’ whenever she was in a pinch.

“So Cafe Musain . . .”

“Crazy, right?” She shook her head. “My mom always said, don’t stick around when people start fighting in a public place. There’s something not right in their head.”

“Did you see who started it?”

Mags thought about it for a second to make it convincing.

“To be honest, I grabbed my stuff and hauled ass the second I heard the first shot.”

“Pretty good reflexes.”

“Sorry?”

“To react so quickly,” Devin responded as he crossed his arms and settled back in the chair. “From the other statements I’ve gotten. There wasn’t much of a buildup to it.”

“Oh, no. I guess not.”

“A witness that said one of the gunmen took a shot at you.”

“Yeah, pretty nuts. I must’ve pissed her off somehow. Like I said, I didn’t stick around to find out.” Mags watched him make some notes on his mobi. “So, any chance I’ll be getting out of here soon? Had a lead on a possible gig I don’t want to miss.”

“We’ve locked everything down. The People’s Alliance has had to become more committed to washing out the harmful influences in our community, so no one’s taking off until we sort this mess out.” Devin stood up. “You might want to get comfortable.”

“Great,” Mags tried to make that sound as enthusiastic as she could.

“Where the hell were you? I was getting my ass kicked back there.”

Ozzy didn’t respond, just cut through the thinning crowds of people towards the old mining tunnels. The further they got away from the central Bazaar, the more the sound of shouts and confusion were replaced with the heavy hum of mining machines that were still trying to hack out profitable ore from the asteroid. The temperature dropped too. Squatters, huddled in dirty blankets, clustered around the few vents in the tunnels that pumped out heat.

Trin wiped the blood from her face with her sleeve while checking to make sure they weren’t being followed. Heavy footsteps echoed down the hall.

“We’re gonna have some company,”

Ozzy ducked towards a door, pulled it open and motioned her inside.

“Come on.”

Trin went in. It was a small store room. All the equipment racks had been cleared out. There was an overturned, rusted chair on the floor. She pulled it up, slumped into it and checked her nose. It didn’t feel broken.

“You see anybody else?” She looked up at him.

“No,” Ozzy slammed another latch closed then turned and stared at her.

“So?”

“What.”

“Where’d you go?”

“I ran into somebody,” he replied. “Blind Jack Sticha.”

Trin tensed up. Her hands naturally clenched into fists.

“He’s here?”

“Yeah,” Ozzy didn’t move. Just watched her stew in rage for a few moments. “You remember when I got pinched?” Trin looked back at him.

“What?”

“When I got snagged by the law. Do you remember it?”

“Yeah.”

“Walk me through it.” Ozzy folded his arms.

“Are you serious?” Trin forced a laugh and kicked back in her seat.

“Walk me through it,” he said a little more emphatically.

Outside the heavy footsteps thudded up to the door. Someone pushed on it from the outside, but it didn’t budge. There was a muffled conversation. Someone tried it again.

“We were knocking over a cargo ship. You clipped their quantum before they could spin up. I crossed over, breached the airlock, swept up the crew and was trying to bring the engines back online when a bunch of local law showed up. You were trying to get me to abandon the ship, but I stayed aboard and finally got her running. We made a break for it. You got nabbed.”

“How?”

“How what?”

“How’d I get nabbed?”

The voices outside moved on. The heavy boots slowly disappeared into the distance. Ozzy watched Trin the whole time, expectantly waiting.

“I don’t know.”

“I got clipped by your ship. I got close so you could jump over. Instead, you got the engines online, swung that piece of shit freighter around, hit me, and lit out. You got away. I got years.”

Trin didn’t say anything.

“Why’d you run?” Ozzy stepped forward. His voice dropping lower, quieter, which made it even more ominous.

“You kidding? You remember how much firepower was headed our way.”

“You’ve never been scared like that before.”

“That ain’t scared. That’s just smart.”

“Did you leave me behind?”

“What? No.”

“Did you leave me?”

“Blind Jack got in your head, brother.” She tried to laugh it off. He kept moving forward.

“Tell me the truth.” Ozzy persisted. He was standing right over her. “Did you leave me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Bullshit. You picked the score over me.”

“I don’t know. All right?” Trin pushed out of the chair to get away from him. “Shit happened fast, man. We needed to get outta there. I didn’t even know you weren’t behind me until they’d already gotten you.”

Ozzy watched his sister weave her way to the door and listen, desperate to do anything but have this conversation.

“We gotta get the hell out of here.” She checked her nose again and winced.

“Yeah,” Ozzy finally said. He walked over and listened at the door. It seemed quiet. He unlatched the bolts and opened it. Trin’s mobiGlas hummed. She quickly checked it.

“Come on,” she said as she hustled out into the halls, back to her old self. Ozzy followed.

The two made their way back through the tunnels. They stepped out on a platform overlooking the Grand Bazaar. Cafe Musain’s entrance was surrounded by curious onlookers and People’s Alliance enforcers.

Kel was waiting, clutching a Captain Levo figure and licking at what looked like ice cream stains around his mouth.

“Very bad. Human Legal People have Captain Mag.”

“Does she have the eriesium?” Trin replied almost immediately. Ozzy glanced at her. It was obvious that the valuable mineral was her prime concern.

“Yes,” Kel nodded more times than necessary.

“Guess we’ll have to get her out then,” Trin flashed a grin at Ozzy.

Arno shoved the body into the vent and adjusted his new, stolen outfit. He’d managed to kill the previous owner without spilling a drop on the clothes. There were times he impressed even himself. He transferred his weapons from his discarded clothes then dumped the clothes in the vent with the corpse.

He stepped out of the side room and made his way back to the public. Thanks to his new threads, he didn’t draw any attention. He still reeked like ozone from the grenade, but with all the other smells lingering in the place he didn’t think anyone would notice. Arno stopped to grab a drink and survey the crowd. He spotted Osane at one of the overlooks doing the same. She was wearing different clothes too.

He paid up and made his way to her.

“Anything?” He asked as he approached.

“No,” she said while still scanning the faces. “This has turned into quite the shitshow.”

“Yeah,” he finished his drink and tossed the plastic bottle into a corner. “They didn’t slip the launch freeze, did they?”

“No, the Harlequin’s still docked. Saw it myself.”

“I hate to play the pessimist, but we should plant a tracker.”

“Already done.”

“See? Synchronicity.” Arno looked at his mobi. “That’s why we’re so effective at what we do.”

Mags rubbed her shoulders. She always hated how cold Levski could get. Well, all stations really. Sure, they could jack the temperature up, but it was always artificial heat. It was never really truly warm. That’s why she always said she’d retire somewhere tropical. Somewhere she could get by with a thin blanket and even that would only be for worst case scenarios. Some place she’d never need to close the windows.

A flurry of muffled, agitated voices drew closer outside the door. Suddenly the door opened. Mags grabbed the lockbox and backed away. Kel came striding into the room, dressed completely differently than the last time she saw him. He had swapped out his “Human clothes” for the traditional Banu clothes he only wore when they drifted into the Protectorate. Executor Devin followed shortly after along with some confused People’s Alliance guards.

Kel took one look at Mags, then whirled to face Devin.

“Unacceptable. Yes. Look. Look!” He waved his hand toward Mags. “She is in completely unacceptable condition. Shocked am I to see property treated in this way.”

“She’s a person. Not property,” Devin tried to intervene, but Kel’s eyes widened in shock and horror.

“Not property?! I buy her from Essosouli Prit direct,” Kel got more and more agitated as he spoke. “She three job away from paying off debt when she took my property.” Pointed to the lockbox. “You dare to say she not mine! Defy all tradition of the Banu. Shame!”

“Look,” Devin started backpedaling. “I’m not trying to denigrate your culture.”

“Yes! Yes, you do!”

“I’m not —”

“Then give her to me. Now. Now I say.”

Devin, completely flustered, finally motioned to one of the guards to uncuff Mags, who was as baffled as the rest. Kel looked at her with disdain.

“Wait outside. Will discuss what this cost.”

Mags looked down, playing into . . . whatever role Kel was trying to push . . . and quietly walked out of the cell. As she passed, Kel turned back to Devin and patted him on the forehead.

Mags followed him as he proceeded outside. She wasn’t sure exactly how the slave dynamic worked in Banu culture, but figured it was a safe bet.

Kel ignored everybody as they walked, playing his role perfectly.

Once they got out of the makeshift station, Kel turned back to make sure they were alone, then looked at Mags. He reached into the folds of his clothes.

And pulled out the Captain Levo figure to show her.

“Captain Mag, look what I found,” he said with unfettered excitement.

“Kel, that was amazing,” Mags hugged him.

“Oh, no. Captain Mag, you needed to be free.” He looked down at the figure and played with it a little bit.

“Holy shit,” a voice said from around the corner. They looked over to see Trin and Ozzy step out. Trin was laughing. “I can’t believe he pulled it off. And you got the box?”

“Glad to see you guys made it out of there,” Mags nodded to both Trin and Ozzy. “Is Levski still on lockdown?”

“Yes, far as we know,” Trin took the lockbox from Mags and draped it across her shoulder. “Do you think you can still make a deal with that Xi’an?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. He might be long gone.” She glanced around at the passing faces in the crowd. “Any sign of those syndicate hitters?”

“Nah, nothing.” Trin started walking back towards the hangar lifts. “We should head back to the ’quin, seal up and get the hell out of here as soon as they let us.” Mags looked around.

“Anyone seen the doc?” Mags asked as she look to Ozzy and Kel. They shook their heads.

“No, but he knows where we’re parked,” Trin said as she locked eyes with some local who had glanced at the lockbox. He quickly averted his gaze and ducked away.

“We can’t leave until we find him,” Mags said as she rushed to catch up with Trin.

“If he ain’t there when we launch, that’s on him. I’m not risking this score for his junkie ass.”

Mags checked her mobi and quickly typed out a message. Kel followed along.

Ozzy stopped and stared after Trin. He typed a message on his mobi too.

The Harlequin waited on the expansive landing pad. A couple local mechanics sat on the far end of the pad by the refueling station, chain-huffing stims and blasting music. A small maze of crates, both new and old, encircled the edges of the landing pad. Tall platforms were positioned near the rock face that led into Levski. A People’s Alliance banner hung from the wall while their Rules of Life, a list of aspirational mantras that the inhabitants lived by, was helpfully displayed by the airlock.

A warning light above the airlock door began to flash, precipitating the airlock doors hissing open. Mags, Kel, Trin and Ozzy stepped out and started walking towards the landing platform.

Mags seemed preoccupied with her mobi.

“Still no word from the Doc.”

“What the hell, Mags, he’s probably tripping the life fantastic somewhere. Leave him be.” Trin responded as she adjusted the lockbox in her hand. “We got bigger fish to fry.”

“I’ll say.” A voice emanated up ahead. The group slowed to a stop.

Blind Jack Sticha, leader of the Souther Titans, stepped out from behind one of the crates as he lit a stim. All around, the rest of the Souther Titans emerged from their hiding places and leveled guns at the group.

“Hey Jack,” Trin said through gritted teeth. “Been a while.”

“Hey Trin.” Jack smiled that warm grandfatherly smile that cleverly obscured the thieving murderer inside. “Why don’t you do us a favor and drop the box?”

“Why don’t you kiss my ass?”

Jack laughed one of those belly laughs that echoed off the cavernous walls.

Trin’s other hand started to reach for her gun when something clocked her hard in the back of the head. She dropped into a heap. The lockbox clattered to the floor. Ozzy stepped around her body and aimed his pistol at her head.

Mags and Kel stared at him in shock. He stared right back and shook his head. Don’t.

Ozzy turned back to Trin and kicked her in the side. The impact slid her across the floor as the breath escaped her body.

“I knew you clipped me on purpose,” he said calmly as he grabbed the lockbox. “You always were in this game for you, sis. I always had a feeling, but now I know.”

“You goddamn traitor,” she hissed between gasps of air.

Ozzy kicked her in the head then turned to join Blind Jack and the other Titans.

“You . . . you think you’re just gonna walk away from this?” Trin wheezed.

Ozzy stopped. Trin slowly pushed herself to her feet. Her head rolled as she tried to maintain her balance.

“I’ll find you,” she muttered as blood drained out of her head into a pool on the floor. “I’ll find all of you.”

“No, Sis,” Ozzy said quietly. “Not this time.”

Ozzy snapped up his pistol and put five rounds through her chest. Her body jolted with each shot and slammed back into the ground. She didn’t move after that.

TO BE CONTINUED

End Transmission

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