Part One of the story can be read here.
Alex leaned over the railing to look down at the sprawling plaza below. Streams of Banu flowed in and around the stalls and shops that crowded the marketplace. The near deafening noise was a constant presence. Sellers shouted proudly about their wares, shrewd traders loudly haggled over sips of sloma, while young runners darted about trying to lure potential customers back to their Souli’s Merchantman where the finest fuel cyclers or crog berries or whatever it was they happened to be selling was waiting for just the right buyer.
And even over all that noise Alex could still hear her stomach rumble.
It seemed the one thing that wasn’t for sale on the Bacchus flotilla was a decent breakfast. After a harrowing experience with a ‘Human Breakfast Special’ that had resulted in a shallow dish filled with sliced hot dogs and popcorn covered in what she could only describe as very thick orange juice, Alex had sworn off eating till she could get back to the few ready meals still safely tucked away inside the Belligerent Duck’s stores.
That would have to wait though. Pushing her hunger aside, Alex searched the crowds below for anything suspicious. Which, when you’re inside a Banu flotilla, is sort of like looking for uptight swegs when on Earth. More specifically, she was looking for any undercover Advocacy Agents or bounty hunters who had the gall to follow them into Banu territory.
Typically, the Advocacy would pursue a thief for a system, maybe two, before they called back their resources and left it to the Bounty Hunting Guild to chase the culprit down. It wasn’t that the Advocacy weren’t eager to see justice done, they just had more important things to spend their time and efforts on (like vicious outlaw gangs and crazed serial killers). It was why the Empire relied so heavily on the bounty system in the first place. Doubly so when the jurisdiction crossed into the Banu Protectorate. With a high enough price, you could have hundreds of bounty hunters searching for free and only have to pay the person who collected. It saved time and credits.
The Advocacy’s focus was on big fish, and Alex had worked hard at staying a medium fish at best.
Yet, her and Mas’ escape from Terra had proven to be anything but typical. Instead of having to deal with the normal gaggle of cocksure guilders fumbling all over themselves to get paid, the Advocacy had mobilized dozens of Agents across multiple systems in one of the biggest dragnets she had ever seen. Every jump point had been swarming. Plus, there had been the daily dispatches encouraging citizens to share information with the authorities. Why was it that law-abiding types were always so bored they couldn’t just mind their own damn business?
The Duck could barely stop to refuel without some good Samaritan recognizing them from the wanted posters plastered all over the spec. Mas had to work overtime blocking or delaying comms until they were away, and even then, they still had to fight their way free more times than was healthy. They had always pulled through, but only by the slimmest of margins. Their Mercury had the scars to prove it.
On top of that, Alex had been forced to call in just about every outstanding favor she had. In Pyro, a crew that owed them for a records wipe had agreed to tangle with the bounty hunters who had cornered them there. Though, to be honest, she suspected they would have done it for free with the amount of joy they seemed to take in the fight. In Tram, Alex not only had to wipe Old Mac’s debt clear to get him to help distract the Advos tailing them, but now they owed him a favor. And knowing the gummer, he was likely to milk it for all its worth. A problem for another day.
All in all, they had been pursued across seven systems and hadn’t been able to rest for a moment. Well, Mas barely slept on a good day so he seemed relatively unperturbed by the whole experience. In fact, having the chance to coordinate an intrusion on the Meridian Transit network in Garron had the hacker humming louder than she had ever heard him. And admittingly, Alex had laughed herself watching the hacked starliner routes stymy their pursuers. But that had been days ago. Now, here she was in Bacchus, tired, hungry, surrounded by a hive of Banu, and she could tell that her brain was far from firing with all thrusters.
Something about this job wasn’t adding up. Being paid to delete files at Behring instead of stealing them was strange enough, but now with the way the law had been after them? Even with a big player like Behring involved the response had been above and beyond. Alex felt like she was staring at a big red warning sign, but she was so exhausted she couldn’t read it.
What she really needed was about a month on Cassel with nothing to do but float, drink, flirt with Navy, and spend all her hard-earned credits.
Speaking of which, Alex brought up her mobi to check the time. Only a half hour until they met with Mr. Grouse and received the rest of their payment. Pushing herself up from the rail, she turned and headed towards the docking tube that connected Donosi Souli to the rest of the flotilla structure. Hopefully, Mas had been able to make progress on untangling the project data they had secretly downloaded from the lab.
A few steps behind, Mr. Grouse quietly followed.