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Roberts Space Industries ®

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17923

Comments:

13

Date:

December 16th 2020

Drifters (Part Four)
By: Dave Haddock
Writer’s Note: Drifters: Part Four was published originally in Jump Point 5.4. Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three

The gunshots were still echoing around the massive landing bay. That high-pitched whine rang in Mags’ ears, but she was locked on Trin, watching as the blood seeped out of her body into the dirty grate. She felt Kel move beside her. He’d put his hands up, as high as he could reach.

Mags looked up at Ozzy. He still had the pistol aimed. His face was twisted, filled with rage. Moments before he shot Trin, he’d accused her of leaving him behind. Years ago, back when they both ran with the Souther Titans, a job went sideways and Ozzy got pinched. He lost five years of his life in the penal hellhole of Quarterdeck while she got away. Mags couldn’t say it came as a complete surprise. Trin had threatened her more than once, most recently to shoot her and dump her out of an airlock. Hopefully in that order.

“What do you wanna do about them?” asked the guy who looked like a spectrum show grandpa.

Ozzy finally broke away from Trin and looked at Mags and Kel. The rage faded as he holstered his pistol.

“Let ’em go, Jack.”

The old man laughed one of those deep belly laughs.

“You been outta the fold for too long, kiddo. Titans don’t let witnesses walk.”

“Jack.” Ozzy glared at him. “Leave them alone.”

Blind Jack Sticha, she realized. Definitely not what she had imagined based on the rep. Maybe that was his trick. She saw him draw a pistol, out of sight from Ozzy.

“You let people with grudges go, all you’re doing is makin’ headaches down the way,” he said, like he was telling a kid about the facts of life. His thumb silently clicked off the safety.

Mags knew she didn’t have long.

“I can get you out of here,” she blurted out. Blind Jack hesitated. She kept going before he could reconsider. “Levski’s on lockdown. You got a way past that?”

Blind Jack didn’t say anything. Ozzy gave her a quick shake of the head that said you don’t want to do this.

“I know how to get you out.” Mags continued. Her mind was racing. Back in the day when she ran with Frank McGarr, they had to slip past a lockdown or two. Hell knew if the same tricks would work on Delamar. Besides, if she could stick with the eriesium, maybe she’d find a chance to steal it back. “Seems to me like you’d want to get a head start on those Four Point hitters roaming around here.”

She could tell Blind Jack knew what she was talking about. Maybe he was the one who pointed the assassins their direction.

“You let Kel walk,” she said, taking a step towards Blind Jack and Ozzy, “and I’ll get you out of here.”

Blind Jack looked at Kel, who hadn’t moved. His hands still reached for the sky.

“Your lucky day, Banu,” he said and motioned to the other Titans. They lowered their weapons and started to leave. Ozzy gave Trin a last look then lifted the lockbox with the eriesium.

“After you,” Blind Jack motioned for Mags to start walking. She looked back at Kel.

“Captain Mags . . .” he stammered as he lowered his hands.

“I’ll see you again.” She squeezed his arm then backed away and joined the Titans in the airlock.

She gave him one last reassuring smile as the airlock sealed shut.

Kel stood there for a few moments, unsure what to do. He looked around. The mechanics who had been hanging out must have run when the shooting started. They’d left their music playing. Strange Human whines droned on, providing a bizarre soundtrack to the scene.

He finally acted, going to Trin’s body, but there was so much blood. He didn’t even know where to start, so he just pressed on the wounds.

“Holy shit.”

Kel jumped at the new voice. He looked over to the airlock to see Honan Yao clutching a bag of takeaway food. He might’ve still been high — the black drug stains in his arm now ran all the way down through his hand — but he didn’t act like it.

“She is badly broken,” Kel asked helplessly. “What do I do?”

Yao raced over to Trin and began examining her, checking her pulse, looking at her pupils.

“She’s alive, but barely.” He said with a matter of factness that Kel had never heard from him. “We need to get her inside the ship. Now.”

Kel grabbed Trin’s legs and they quickly moved her into the Harlequin. Once inside, they cleaned off the table in the communal table and put her down. Yao took off for his bunk.

“Put pressure on the wounds,” he yelled as he rooted around his sleeping berth, tossing bags, empty cans of beer and food wrappers onto the floor. He reappeared moments later carrying one of his duffel bags.

He tossed it down on the bench and rooted through clothing until he found a case buried all the way at the bottom. He unzipped it to reveal a basic field medic’s kit, and quickly hooked up a handheld biometer which quietly beeped a subtle heartbeat.

Kel stepped back as Yao went to work. The Banu washed the blood off his hands.

Yao hooked her up to some oxygen and ran through a series of quick injections. Trin’s vitals fluttered while he laid out some pristine surgical equipment.

Kel approached cautiously and fidgeted with the Captain Levo figure he’d bought from a stall in the Grand Bazaar.

Yao moved precisely and expertly. Kel was impressed; he hardly seemed like the same Human who had fallen asleep while patching up laser wounds. He carefully extracted three of the rounds that were still inside her, then set about repairing the internal damage.

Kel stayed until he realized that he wasn’t contributing anything to this. He drifted into the adjoining room and began looking up information about the Captain Levo character, anything to take his mind off the fact that Trin’s life hung in the balance. More so, he was worried about Mags and her brave sacrifice to save him.

Hours passed. Kel had read everything he could get his hands on and was a few episodes into the first season of Voyage Beyond, the show that first introduced the character. He needed to get through two seasons of this before Captain Levo would get his own series.

Finally, Yao shuffled into the room and slumped down on the bench next to Kel. He dragged a can of beer over, popped it open and took a long drink.

“Is she fixed?” Kel finally mustered up the courage to ask.

Yao took another drink and leaned forward.

“Yeah, all good,” he replied.

Kel nodded and patted Yao on the forehead, a Human sign of affection he had learned a few months ago.

“Thanks, buddy.” Yao finished off the drink. “I’ll keep an eye on her, but vitals are strong and she’s responding well to the meds. She’ll probably be up soon.”

“That’s great to hear,” another voice said from the side airlock. Kel and Yao looked over.

Arno and Osane, assassins of the Four Points criminal syndicate, stepped forward. Their weapons were aimed at the two of them. Kel put his hands up again.

This was getting to be a habit.

Executive Devin carefully stepped through the crime scene. He could smell traces of ozone in the air from the EMP grenade. From what he could piece together, there were anywhere from three to five combatants, but that was all he could get. Vague descriptions. No one willing to offer anything substantial.

All this chaos because some deal went wrong. Six dead. Eight wounded.

Because some deal went wrong. He shook his head and looked over the scene again. This was the kind of aggro nonsense that drove him out of ‘civilized’ space all those years ago.

One of his local administrators (the People’s Alliance didn’t like to use the term ‘police’) named Riegert stepped into the bar and waved. Devin beckoned him in. The young administrator quietly made his way down the stairs, carefully navigating around the bodies and pools of blood to approach Devin.

“Executive,” he said with a deferential nod. He was clearly uncomfortable around the corpses. Devin wished he could remember back when they would have bothered him.

“What is it, Riegert?”

“Got reports of gunfire on one of the landing platforms.”

Devin muttered to himself.

“Any witnesses?” he finally asked.

“No, sir.”

“Course not,” he said with another shake of the head.

“That it?”

Riegert hesitated.

“What.”

“Some of the maintenance engineers were looking into a clogged vent in subsection two,” Riegert shifted uncomfortably. “They found Phillip Desmond inside. Dead.”

Devin pulled out one of the nearby barstools and sat down. He sipped from an abandoned drink at the bar while he thought. Phil was a longtime local. Didn’t even drink, so there’s no way he’d have been in here when the fight broke out. This is getting out of hand.

He pushed off the stool and headed for the exit. Riegert followed.

“I want you to seal up the Residencies. Call for volunteers to reinforce the peace.”

“Yes, sir.” Riegert rushed to keep up without stepping in any blood.

Devin slowed to a stop as a realization hit him.

“All the hangars are routed through the emergency system, right?”

“I think so.”

“Take the backup generators offline. Just in case.” Devin started walking again.

“Okay.”

They stepped out of Cafe Musain and walked to the rail overlooking the Grand Bazaar which had almost resumed its usual hustle. Executive Devin scanned the faces.

“Pull together whatever administrators we have left. Whoever’s done this is still here. Since they can’t slip our lockdown, I want to go into the tunnels to make sure they don’t have any other ways out.”

“Got it.”

“And break out the guns,” Executive Devin added quietly. “I have a feeling we’ll need them.”

The Souther Titans had taken over a large landing bay and packed it with a handful of smaller fighters, speedrunners and cargo boosters. Turns out the Harlequin ambush was just a small percentage of them. Mags counted about ten more.

They were all lounging outside of their ships when Blind Jack returned with their prize. He’d already taken Mags’ mobiGlas and gun. Ozzy hadn’t said a word to Mags the whole walk back, just carried the lockbox with the priceless haul of eriesium. She could tell that he didn’t entirely trust the Titans either.

Once inside, Blind Jack turned back to Mags.

“So, how about it, little lady?” he said with that trademark grin. “It’s your show now.”

“It’d be easier with my mobi,” she said flatly and held out her hand.

“Nah, I think I’ll hold onto that.”

Mags shot a glance to Ozzy then back at Jack. A couple of the other Titans got up as she started to cross the landing pad. On the far side, there was an old office originally used for this particular landing pad’s flight operations. The inside had been completely stripped, wires dangled from open panels like rusted guts.

Back in the early days of Levski, each of the landing pads had a dedicated flight control system, probably so they could keep a steady stream of cargo ships hauling away the minerals the station was extracting from the asteroid. When the People’s Alliance took over, they consolidated all the separate flight control to a single terminal.

Mags trudged through the scattered trash, broken machines and spent bottles towards the gaping hole where the control center once stood. A couple Titans posted up at the window to keep an eye on her. They were watching her with the kind of look she’d had to deal with in the past. She clocked a couple makeshift weapons if things turned south, then rooted through the wires in the wall.

This was an old trick they used to pull back when she was running scams out of here. In her early days here, the People’s Alliance were just getting wise to the fact that any criminal with half a brain could take advantage of their hospitality and use Levski as a perfect hideout. When they’d catch wind that someone was up to no good, they’d do the same lockdown trick to try and identify the criminal element to ‘exile’ them.

Frank had come up with a way to bypass the lockdown. Even though they had rerouted all the controls from the various landing bays into a single, central terminal, they didn’t realize part of those wires were connected to backup generators with automatic overrides to open or close in the event of a catastrophic power failure. You just needed to tap into them, you could bypass the lockdown.

She checked one of the old hiding spots for the handheld terminal they’d used to control. To her surprise, it was still there and even had fresh batteries. There must be some locals still using the same trick. She set the terminal aside and started sifting through the handfuls of wires for the ones that were going to flight control.

Ozzy walked into the room. He glanced at the Titans keeping guard, then put the eriesium lockbox down beside Mags and sat on it.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Getting your new friends out of here,” she replied without looking back. “Isn’t that what you want?”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“He was going to kill us both,” she snapped back. “Besides, why the hell do you care?”

“I did you a favor,” Ozzy said after a long pause.

“She was your sister,” she said as she looked back at him.

Ozzy was quiet for a few moments, like he was trying to form the words. Mags turned back to what she was doing.

“When I was down on QuarterDeck . . .” he drifted off, lost in thought, then tried shifting direction. “The two of us, Trin and I, came up in juvie centers all over the ‘verse. Worst of the worst. We’d land in one, start dusting it up and they’d cart us off to another. So I been in prisons my whole life. But after one month down on QuarterDeck, one. . . I did this.”

He showed Mags his forearms. Two long jagged scars were hidden among the mess of tattoos.

“The things I had to do to survive down there . . . I can’t ever forget them.” Ozzy stood and paced around the lockbox. “She put me there. She fed me to those agents and didn’t even have the balls to own up to it. See, Trin’s a survivor, always has been, but she didn’t extend that shit to include other people. She’d do what she has to do to make her way. Other people are useful when they’re useful. Disposable when they’re not. I know you’ve seen that turn in her.”

Mags was quiet. She had. The first time was when she convinced Trin that the Harlequin was better off without the previous captain. The second was when Trin was about to throw her out of the airlock.

“She would’ve turned on you eventually, Mags. And if you think she was going to let you have a single credit from this eriesium . . . you’re crazier than she is.”

Mags mulled it over for a second then turned back to the wiring. In the next cluster, she found the right ones. She separated the hangar control wires from the rest and plugged the connection points into the handheld terminal.

“Well,” she said as she powered up the terminal. It ran through its bootup sequence while negotiating with the hangar data flow. “Guess it won’t matter now.”

“Yeah?”

“Cause we’re about to be free,” she said and executed the command to open the hangar.

Nothing happened.

“Well, shit.”

Blobs of sounds pierced the darkness. There seemed to be nothing else. No feeling. The sound slowly began to crystallize and soon Trin could pick out single words. Her eyes still felt heavy, like she was slowly waking from a deep sleep, but her body wasn’t ready to get up yet.

Finally, she opened her eyes. The light flooded in, overwhelming her senses at first as she struggled to focus. That’s when the pain hit too. Searing pain in her chest.

Aches everywhere else. Her limbs were mostly unresponsive.

A form stepped into view. It was Arno, the syndicate hitter from Café Musain.

“Hey, sunshine,” he said with a smirk.

Trin looked around. She was on the Harlequin. Kel and Yao were seated nearby. Osane, the other hitter, was guarding them. Kel waved.

“The hell’s going on?” Trin tried to sit up.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Yao tried to move forward, but Osane kept him in place with her pistol.

Pain exploded throughout Trin’s body, but she wasn’t about to wince in front of these Four Point assholes, so she just took it. Her throat was dry as hell too. The rest came flooding back as she grabbed a nearby can of beer: Ozzy, Blind Jack and the Titans, the eriesium . . .

Trin finally looked down at herself. Five shots, cleaned and stitched up, dotted her chest. Her clothes were soaked in blood.

“Damn, doc,” she said, poking at the wounds. She felt remarkably good. “Guess you ain’t so useless after all. I hardly feel a thing.”

“That’s just the drugs,” Yao replied. “When they wear off, it’ll be agony.”

“Whatever,” Trin finished the beer and looked at Arno. “You know we haven’t got the eriesium, right?”

“We know,” Arno paced around, inspecting the faded and stained paneling on the walls. “We want to know where she took them.”

“Who?”

“Captain Mags went with them,” Kel chimed in as he nervously rocked back and forth. “She protect us.”

Trin nodded and swung her legs off the table, spilling some spent bloody bandages onto the floor. She tested out her feet. They felt like jelly. When she felt stable enough, she shuffled over to her bunk and started arming up.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Arno rested his hand on his weapon.

“To kill ‘em all.” Trin checked the round count on her shotgun. “You’re welcome to help.”

“I’m telling you, it should’ve worked,” Mags said as she backed up from Blind Jack.

“If you can’t get us outta here, we ain’t got much use for you then,” he said as he kept pace with her.

“Give me a second,” Mags wracked her brain, trying to think of the other ways her crew used to slink out of here. Trouble was, all the other tricks required much more technical knowhow than she had. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blind Jack draw his pistol. “Okay.”

“Okay, what,” Jack replied and hesitated with the gun.

“I think I got something,” she said, still intently focused in thought. In truth, she didn’t have anything, but every second she was alive was another opportunity to try and get out of this, so she had to stall.

“I’m gonna need more than that,” Blind Jack said with a chuckle. “And choose your words careful.”

“You got any ships that didn’t land?”

Blind Jack glanced at Ozzy as he thought.

“Sure, we got a couple.”

“There are old storage bays in the tunnels. They were used to offload extracted ore from utility vehicles. They’re on a completely separate line from the hangar bays. If we can get down there, it’s easy to trip the wires and open the doors. We’ll just need suits and then you can float out, get picked up and be on your way. The rest of you can leave when the lockdown lets up.”

Again, she was making it all up. Sounded logical though. There were a bunch of large sealed doors down in the old tunnels. There was one in particular that she was thinking of. She’d never been through it, but it would certainly sell the lie. There was just one thing she needed to do.

“We’ll need to separate though. It’ll be obvious if we move in a big group.” Mags went back to the handheld terminal she tried to hack the door with. She changed the connection wires from data to localized comm network. “Let me double-check to make sure the area’s still getting power.”

On the terminal screen, she brought up the local network and found the name she needed to complete her plan and typed out a hasty message.

She hoped this worked . . .

Then she hit send.

Trin knew Blind Jack always wanted to have options when it came to escape routes. It was one of the tenets he drilled into his ‘family.’ Plan was to sweep the other landing pads first, then head back into the Grand Bazaar. She hit the crowd eager to find the walking dead in question.

Both Arno and Osane moved quiet. So quiet, she would occasionally forget they was there. Whoever these two were, they had serious training. She knew that from their tussle back in Musain. She couldn’t take any chances when the time came to kill them. Unfortunately, she knew the Titans had traveled in force, so she needed them both for the moment.

Trin cut her way through the crowd, studying the faces as she went. All of them, clusters of dirty pilots, annoyed by the launch freeze, had gathered in the halls to collectively complain to each other. Up ahead, someone hooked down a hallway.

Something about him caught Trin’s eye.

She hustled forward and peeked around the corner to get a better look.

He was dressed in a ratty old patchwork flight suit and was still fidgeting with his helmet. He glanced around before pulling the helmet on, but that was all Trin needed.

He had Souther Titan tattoos.

She glanced back at Arno who was keeping an eye out.

“We’re in business.”

Mags tried to draw out their path down to the storage doors as much as possible without making it look like she was trying to. While most of the Titans had separated to look less conspicuous, Mags was stuck with Blind Jack, Ozzy and one other Titan. They passed remnants of mining endeavors, some of which dated back to the original owners of the base. After thirty minutes of descending through the winding tunnels, she could tell Blind Jack was getting impatient, so she headed for the rendezvous.

The hallway turned and then opened up into a large room. Two massive double doors occupied one of the walls. They were thankfully still closed. Empty crates were stacked throughout the room. Rocks and pebbles from extracted minerals littered the floor. There was an elevated sealed catwalk that ringed the space. This last feature was the reason why Mags choose this room.

Most of the other Titans had already arrived, presumably having taken a more direct route. Mags glanced up at the catwalk as she made her way towards the control panel beside the door. She opened the panel to find the terminal ripped out. She stepped back like she was assessing the damage. In reality, she had no clue how to hotwire a door, much less this one.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long.

“All right, everybody!” a voice boomed from the catwalk. “Let’s see those hands.”

The Souther Titans all turned to see Executive Devin and a small army of PA administrators aiming weapons from the catwalk.

Mags tried to look as surprised as everybody else. On the inside though, she was glad her message got through. She wasn’t entirely sure how she was going to wiggle out of Devin’s custody again, but one thing at a time. Especially since none of the Titans made a move to drop their weapons.

Blind Jack Sticha stepped into the center of the room and looked over the faces of the administrators.

“Gotta be honest,” he slowly drew his pistol and kept it aimed at the ground. “I don’t see a killer among you. Now us . . .” he motioned to his crew who started getting emboldened. “Killin’s our stock and trade.”

This is not good, she thought to herself.

A tense pause hung in the air. Weapon sights sought out targets. Every movement felt like it was going to be the one that kicked everything off.

She noticed one of the TItans slowly edge their way towards Ozzy. Dressed in an ill-fitted patchwork space suit, there was something weird about their walk. As they passed Mags, she noticed fresh blood on the collar of the suit and, more importantly, recognized the face inside.

“Trin?!” she shouted without even thinking.

Trin whipped up her shotgun and leveled it at Ozzy. Mags’ shout gave him enough of a warning to yank up the eriesium lockbox right as the shotgun went off. The shot caught the lockbox flush and knocked Ozzy off balance.

That’s when everything went to hell.

Ballistic and laser fire erupted from every direction. Titans scampered for cover as they opened up on the People’s Alliance.

Mags dove behind the nearest crate. She could see the lockbox with the eriesium had landed between Ozzy and Trin, who was pinning him down with shotgun blasts.

The Titans and People’s Alliance were each taking casualties at an even clip. Gunfire blasted apart cover.

Mags tried to time a dash to go for the eriesium. Right as she started to move, bolts from rapidfire energy weapons opened up on both groups, cutting down Titans and PA forces alike. Mags scurried back behind cover and looked at the source of the shots.

Arno and Osane had jumped into the fray. They were loaded with tac-vests, body armor and grenades, surgically firing at their targets with what looked like milspec assault rifles. Osane advanced quickly through the Titans, firing shots from her assault rifle until it ran out of charge. Without missing a step, she slung the rifle and drew a knife. The Titan she was approaching unleashed a desperate flurry of shots. She wove around the shots as she closed and finally dashed past him, slashing his throat in the process.

Osane slid behind cover a short distance from the eriesium.

“Go for it, I got your back.” Trin shouted.

Mags couldn’t believe it. She’d teamed up with the Four Points?

Osane sprinted for the eriesium as Trin raised her shotgun towards Ozzy. At the last second, she turned the barrel on Osane and fired. The shotgun blast caught her flush in the midsection. Blood exploded out her back and her body slammed heavily into the ground.

Trin grinned and racked another charge in the chamber.

Blind Jack charged towards Executive Devin’s positioned, two grenades cooking in his hands. Jack cackled as he puffed to get within throwing range. He flung one grenade.

Devin tagged him in the shoulder before he could toss the other. The grenade landed with a thud by Jack’s feet. One of the PA administrators dove to shield Devin right as the first grenade went off.

The second detonation marked the end of Blind Jack Sticha.

“Osane?” Arno shouted from his firing position. “Osane! Talk to me!”

He must not have seen what happened, Mags thought and looked back at the lockbox. It was just sitting there, in the middle of a war zone, and she didn’t have a gun. She could barely see Ozzy, but it looked like he had run out of ammo.

Trin sensed it too and started to advance on his position. Most of the other gun battles had subsided. Moans of the wounded started to fill the space.

Mags took her chance. She raced out of hiding and slid to the lockbox near Osane’s body. Trin realized too late. She turned her shotgun towards Mags. It took a moment for Trin to recognize her, but it didn’t change anything. She had that same look in her eye she had when she almost threw Mags out of the airlock. She raised the shotgun.

Ozzy tackled Trin right as the shotgun went off. The blast went wide. Mags could feel the crackle of energy singe her head as it passed.

Trin and Ozzy rolled on the ground. He fought to wrestle the shotgun from her. She went for the kill. She punched him in the kidney once. Twice. Three times. Rolled on top of him and rammed her forehead into his nose. It broke with a wet crack. His grip weakened on the shotgun and she took full advantage, ripping the weapon out of his grasp and rising.

“Couldn’t even kill me, right, could you?” she said as she paced around him and pumped another charge. “What the hell happened to you? We used to be a team. You remember? What happened to that guy? That guy who was hard as nails. Who pushed me to get tougher? Nah, my brother died on QuarterDeck.”

She spit out some blood and snapped up the shotgun to execute him.

“Wait!” Mags yelled.

Trin stopped and looked over. Mags was standing, holding out the lockbox.

“You want the eriesium? Take it.”

Mags tossed the lockbox at Trin’s feet.

“What?”

“You heard me.” Mags stepped back.

“What is this?” Trin asked as she looked around suspiciously. “You’d just give it over . . .”

“Sure,” Mags said with a shrug. “Between you, the goddamn Four Points, the Titans and the cops. I don’t think I’ll be walking out of here with it anyway.”

Trin studied Mags for a second, searching her face for signs of deception. She turned the shotgun from Ozzy to Mags as she walked over to the lockbox.

“So I got to thinking,” Mags stepped further back, hands still raised. Trin reached down, weapon still trained on Mags, and flipped it open. “Like you said earlier, I can live with no one having it.”

Trin looked into the lockbox. One of Osane’s grenades sat next to the lump of eriesium. The pin was out and it was whining to a high pitch. Trin flung the lockbox away at the last second. The thermal blast turned the eriesium, the lockbox and even part of the floor into molten slag.

Trin’s shock quickly turned into white hot homicidal rage as she whirled to face Mags. She raised the shotgun when a bullet punched through the side of her head. A fine mist puffed out the other side. Trin stood there for a second, like she had suddenly been unplugged. Then crumpled to the ground.

Executive Devin, charred and smoldering from Blind Jack’s grenade attack, lowered his rifle.

Silence settled over the room. A few Titans who were still mobile fled out into the tunnels while the remaining People’s Alliance administrators moved in to secure the prisoners and treat the survivors.

Mags went over and helped Ozzy to his feet. He clutched his nose to try and stop the bleeding.

“You okay?” She asked, wincing at the still steady flow of blood.

“No, but I’ll be fine.”

None of the administrators seemed that interested in them, so Mags started to ease her way out of the room. She then came face to face with Devin.

“Hey, thanks for the save,” she offered up.

“Sure. Thanks for the tip-off, Kristin,” he replied. “Oh wait, it’s actually Magdalene, right?”

“Um . . . yeah.” She looked around for a moment. “So . . .”

“Get out of here,” he walked past her to rejoin his team.

“Do me a favor and don’t come back?”

“You got it.”

Mags motioned for Ozzy to follow and the two walked out.

Arno rushed through the tunnels of Levski towards the landing deck where his ship was waiting.

He broke out the second he saw the eriesium go up. This is not good. That was Four Points property and he knew his boss, much less the other Points, weren’t going to accept ‘a shitty turn of events’ as an excuse for losing a fortune, so he had to disappear. Now.

He worked out a route to get to one of his safe houses, one of his personal failsafes in case he ever needed to get out. He had half a dozen similar ones spread around the ‘verse, each stocked with credits, a clean ship and a new identity.

Arno climbed into his ship, stowed his gear and slipped into the pilot’s seat to start his takeoff. The lockdown should end any time now and he wanted to be the first to bust out of here.

That’s when his mobi pinged with an incoming comm.

Arno ignored it, but something caught his eye in front of his ship.

A Xi’an was standing just outside the airlock to the landing pad. It was the same one from Cafe Musain . . .

He could see the alien key a command into his mobi.

Arno’s ship exploded right there on the pad.

Soahm watched the wreckage burn for a few moments. Automatic Fire Suppression Systems activated as extinguishers targeted the flames.

He turned and stepped back into the airlock, already planning what he would say in the report to his bosses.

Back aboard the Harlequin, their engines heated up the second the lockdown was lifted. Mags couldn’t wait to get off this rock.

Kel was sitting in the back, calm now that she explained Ozzy was on their side again, working his way through some spectrum show and constantly giving updates to Yao. She hadn’t seen the doc take a hit in a while. Something seemed different about him. She’d figure out what.

As the dust and rocks above Levski gave way to the yawning blackness of space, all the madness, stress and pressure of the past few days started to fade and she was left with a single thought:

Holy shit, that was fun.

True, they were barely better financially than when they started this, and in the long term, she desperately wanted the kind of financial security that meant that she’d never need to stress about money, but honestly, she realized she wasn’t in a hurry. She’d found a crew of people she finally trusted. Who had her back and she had theirs. They were young and they’d have plenty of opportunities to hit that big score.

They just needed to keep hustling until they did.

For the first time, she was actually okay with that.

The End

End Transmission

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