I rushed back to Old Scorby for help, knowing that Aurora’s medical skills while a little superior to mine would still be insufficient. Of course, I secured the door as best as I was able while at it. Which was to say lean it in a way that made it look like closed. If someone did not look too closely at the hinges.
The old boy blinked at me. “Weren’t you just here?”
“Old Terry is terribly injured. Is there by any chance another doc around who will keep things hush hush? No idea what that attack was about so better not chance anything.”
His eyes almost popped out of their sockets and then he seemed to ponder for a while before saying that he could make a call with someone who owed him a favor.
“Right, you do that and I will go back to Old Terry’s place to wait for him. And let’s make a little code word between us to be safe.”
He looked shaken by my caution. “Yeah, that’s wise. Wh- what happened? I take it by the look on your face that it wasn’t an accident?”
“Someone busted the door off its hinges. When I came in, one guy was dead on the floor blocking the door. Old Terry was slumped against the wall, barely slurring out Help Me.”
He stood up. “I’ll make the call, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to go with you. Terry and I go way back.”
“Okay, then. Let’s go, old boy.” We rushed back to Terry’s place and it was not long at all before a woman in an overworn but diligently scrubbed overcoat came in. She brought a med-kit with her and asked for the patient with a worried expression.
I looked across Old Scorby to confirm that this is who he called in.
He nodded. “This is Jessica. She’s trustworthy.”
I led the way to the back. Jessica rushed over and checked on Terry. “You patch him up like this?”
“Best I could. I’m not a doc.”
“Well, I think you saved his life. Give me a hand here?”
“Right.” I said as I stepped forward. She put to work straight away, asking me to move Terry to a better position, hold things for her etc. She’s a fast, focused worker. I tried to keep up to her pace.
Then the woman cussed at him, saying something about how he has to live so he can make good his old debt to her. I didn’t see that coming, to be honest. But it wasn’t a good time to ask about anything so I just focused on what’s at hand. At some time, I realised the old boy had left.
The woman leaned back and took a deep breath. Old Terry looked much better even though he was still out. “You did good,” Jessica told me. “You ever think about becoming a surgeon?”
“I’m an action girl. Being surgeon is too tame a life for me.”
She laughed and gave me a pointed look. “If you think being a surgeon is tame, I’d hate to see what you consider wild. Ok, I’d say he needs a place to recuperate. It’s going to take awhile for that wound to fully heal.”
“Can he be moved? I don’t think this place is quite safe.”
Jessica stood up and walked over to the dead guy. “You know where this guy came from? Looks like someone really didn’t like him.”
“Nope, already dead by the time I got here and was blocking the door.”
“You see these holes? Some kind of nasty blade did that. And there are a lot of holes.”
I looked at the holes thoughtfully, wondering if I had seen them before. I decided that I wasn’t sure.
Scorsby comes wandering back in then. “Oh, you’re done.”
“Yep, where did you disappear off to? Ever seen blades that can make these?” I asked him.
“I was calling in a few guys to come help me take Terry to my place.”
“Right. What about those blade marks, make you remember anything?”
“No, not exactly.” He said after taking a look.
I shrugged. “Thought that might be a pretty unique lead but…”
“I can ask around.”
“Do that. When should I check back in with Old Terry?” I switched my gaze from Scorby to Jessica.
“He’s going to be awhile.” “Anything Jessica might be able answer?”
“Great minds think alike.” I winked at the old boy before asking Jessica.”What do you think about coming to a girls’ only BBQ with my household specials?”
Her eyes brightened. “That’d be nice after today”
“Then come with me, let’s walk together back to the Xing.” I said as I waved goodbye to the old boy.
We got to the Xing after the girls who had gone shopping. Aurora gave me a wave in greeting, “We got everything on the list, and Guppy some new clothes.”
“Sounds like the shopping went well. This is Jessica. Aurora here, Estella with the green hair and little Guppy.”
“A pleasure, welcome to the Chen Xing.” Estella beamed at Jessica. Which somehow made her feel intimidated, it seemed. “I’m sorry, I’m a little tired. Tough surgery.” She said.
“Surgery?” Aurora looked over at me in mild concern.
“Go relax at the lounge or if you want a shower and rest, feel free to use my room.” I told Jessica.
“Well… if you don’t mind, maybe a shower and a little rest.”
“Yeah, make yourself at home. We’ll help you get your stuff loaded later this evening, if you have more than a bag or two.” Then Estella started showering Jessica with a list of services rivalling a hotel as she led her away. I was taken aback.
“She seems nice,” Aurora told me with an approving smile. “So, she’s a surgeon?”
I quickly summarised the entire sequence at Old Terry’s, chuckling at how Jessica tried to talk me into being a surgeon.
“Nice job getting her to sign on, we could really use a medic given the scrapes we sometimes wind up in, my skill at patching people up is nothing to write home about. Yet.” Aurora said with an approving nod. “Maybe she can show me a thing or two in the coming weeks, did you tell her about the moon yet and our plans for a return trip?”
I thought about signing Jessica on, that surely was not my intention. “I just brought her here because the BBQ seemed a good chance to get her talking. I didn’t really think of signing her up onboard but.. well, she seems nice enough. Old Scorby thinks she’s trustworthy.”
“Oh, we saw you arrive with her and invite her to share your quarters and I naturally assumed she was someone you asked to join the group.” Aurora shrugged, “Talking about what? Is she the one that treated the guy you shot back in the tunnels?”
“Didn’t get a chance to ask her anything, she was busy patching up Old Terry.”
“Who’s Old Terry?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.
“That other doc that Old Scorby pointed me to first, that I found nearly dead. Apparently, him and Old Scorby go way back.”
“Ah, and she saved him?” She nodded in understanding, “Least we can do is roll out the red carpet for her for a bit, it would be great if you could convince her to sign on though, we could really use a medic out there in the black, especially now we have Guppy on board.”
“You have a point there. She laughed when I told her that I’m an action girl and I think being a surgeon is too tame. So she could fit in.”
“She nodded when I offered to help bring her things on board tomorrow,” Estella told us when she came back.
“Looks like we have a chance to draft her onboard at least.” I said.
“Oh, I thought she was related to you or an old girlfriend with how casual you two seemed and the way you offered your quarters.” Estella shrugged. “We’ll make a sales pitch after the BBQ tomorrow, we got all kinds of tasty stuff.” She quickly rattled off the shopping list of spices and meats. “And a bunch of extra spices for trade once we put this place behind us.”
“The offer was because space was limited on board and I didn’t feel like clearing out extra space for her quick shower and nap. Your mind works funny, gal.”
Estella grinned sheepishly. “Hey I’m not one to judge, but when someone comes homes with a cute girl and immediately invites them to spend the night in their room, one does tend to draw certain conclusions.” She looked slightly embarrassed at the too hastily drawn conclusion.
Aurora chuckled and shook her head. “Either way, she’s the one that saved the doc that worked on the guy Sam shot, so she’s earned some bbq at the very least.”
“So the guy tried to kill the doc after he patched him up eh?” Estella sighed “Awfully short sighted of him trying to chill the only saw bones willing to patch up him and his criminal pals.”
“If they were smart they probably wouldn’t be working for Jake.” Aurora replied.
“Well, no, that guy was dead with multiple blade holes in him. So perhaps the doc was just victim in the crossfire? Dunno. Old Scorby’s on the hunt for those special blade marks.”
“Funny thing, those blade marks, I thought I’ve known it somewhere but couldn’t remember.” I added after a pause.
“Blade marks? What did they look like? Can you describe them?” Estella leaned forward curiously.
“Cake after you eat your steak and potatoes, not before.” Aurora told Guppy with a laugh, “You can balance the cake when you get it, not before.”
“Humph” “Opens a lot of wicked holes.Something about them I cannot quite pin down though.” Guppy and I replied at the same time.
“Could of been something else,” Aurora said thoughtfully. “Could the guy have had some kind of nasty parasite in him that tore out making the holes?”
Estella shuddered at the notion and then went back to her previous train of thought, “I was thinking if its holes it could of been gun shots?”
“Aurora? What’s that? On your skirt?” Guppy pointed at the hem of Aurora’s skirt.
“Jesscia thinks it’s a blade.” I finished my reply before looking over at Aurora’s skirt and there was a pale dot near the hem on one side.
“We can ask her tomorrow over breakfast.” Estella said before following my gaze.
“Hmm,” Aurora prised the thing off and looked it over.
“That’s nothing, something you will know when you are a bit older, kiddo.” I tried to smooth over the incident while Aurora examined the device, in case it’s a listening bug.
“Estella, get us airborne on the double.” Aurora ordered, “This is a tracker.” Then she hurried outside and yelled for Roland.
“On it!” Estella turned and ran to the bridge. She nodded to me as she ran past, complimenting me on my quick thinking.
I decided I had better check in with Jessica.
Estella’s voice boomed from the intercom, “We got company in bound, take a gander out the view ports and see you recognize any of them?”
I had arrived at my quarters. There was no outside view in the corridor so I continued with what I came to do. Not wanting to startle Jessica, I knocked on the door. But there was just silence. So I assumed she was too sound asleep and rejoined the others.
“Did our new guest recognize the trucks?” Aurora asked me.
“She’s sound asleep, I think. Knocked on the door, silence. And what trucks?”
“Make sure please,” Aurora nudged me, “And wake her up to let her know we’ve lifted off, she wakes up and finds herself in deep space she might think we’ve kidnapped her and react badly, we don’t want her freaking out and trying to take poor Hue hostage, he’s been through enough with the plants.”
Speak of the devil. H squared wandered onto the bridge and looked questioningly at Estella. Vines was trailing behind him.
“Load of trucks down there.” She gestured to the window. “They were riding for us when we took off, guess they folllowed the tracker, apparently we’ve got some powerful enemies to muster than kind of assault force.”
“Right.” I walked back to my quarters where upon hearing silence again, I opened the door and entered. Sure enough, Jessica was deep asleep. I tapped her on the shoulder. She didn’t move. But as in something-wrong-not-moving, just fast asleep. I took her right hand and shook it. “Wake up, Jessica.” Her eyelids fluttered a bit but she seemed stuck to sleep. I bent closer to her ears and said I needed to talk to her. That earned a bit more eye movement and she
Jessica’s eyes fluttered a little more and she moved just a tiny fraction.
This was really a beauty sleep. I rolled my eyes. “Fire!”
She stumbled up, took a step, and fell down on the bed again. Her eyes looked like they were trying to open but then snapped close again. Did my bed have a sleeping enchantment on it? Aurora said something to Estella on the intercom about our tail. I didn’t pay too much attention, figuring that was a problem for later. I put my hand around Jessica’s waist, picked her up and plomped her down on a chair.
“Need rest… power too draining…” She mumbled.
“I just need to tell you that someone put a tracker on Aurora and now we are being chased so we hightailed to space. We didn’t want you to think we had kidnapped you.”
She looked confused but nodded.
“Do you need help getting back to bed?” She was all slumped down with jelly-like limbs.
She nodded so I picked her up, carried her back to the bed and pulled the blanket back over her.
“Looks like we’ll make a clean get away for now,” Estealla briefed us over the intercom, “Come join me when you all get a chance so we can sort out what to do next.”
“On the way.”
“That girl sleeps like the dead.” I complained when I arrived on the bridge. “I barely managed to keep her awake enough to hear me.”
“Could she have been drugged?” Estella asked me with mild concern. .
“She says too drained. I assumed that was the surgery. Aurora, you want to check her over?”
“Let her sleep for now, if she says she’s drained then sleep will help, if she’s been drugged sleeping it off will help, either way, rest seems good, my current theory is a rival company of Roland’s boss’s hired the mercs to run us off, they don’t want Rolands group muscling in on whatever business they have going on the surface.”
Guppy piped up “I could watch her, maybe draw some extra eyebrows…”
Aurora giggled, “Sure, go keep an eye on her, but don’t use her as a canvas, it’s rude.”
I wagged a finger at her. “No, Guppy, no drawing extra eyebrows on potential recruits. Well, not until they become official crew.”
Guppy rolled her eyes. “Aww, yer no fun.” She said and wandered off.
“Once they’re crew you can do it, but don’t be surprised if they get you back by short sheeting your bed or something.” Estella called out to her.
“Let her try…” Guppy sang and giggled as she walked away.
“You don’t think they’re after us because someone thinks we kidnapped Guppy, do you?” Estella asked quietly about a minute later.
“Doubtful?” Aurora shrugged, “Anyone watching would see us buying her loads of clothes and letting her carry that wicked knife of hers, pretty obvious she’s not here against her will being treated like that.”
“From what Guppy said before, I can’t see they miss her that much.” I said.
“Good point,” Estella kept an eye on the ether-scope to track the other ships’ movements as she spoke. “Unless our new guest is wanted for something, but with Scorsby vouching for her I doubt it?”
“They wouldn’t know she was invited back to our ship,” Aurora pointed out, “We didn’t even know she was coming until Sam showed up with her.”
“So what happened during the shopping trip? Where did you acquire that tracker thing?” I asked.
Aurora filled me in on the trip and the mousey man with a spice packet. “Guessing he stuck it on my skirt when he was holding out the spice packet with his other hand.”
“I was behind him so didn’t have a good angle to see,” Estella added. “They seem determined to be rid of us, and apparently don’t think we’d just sell out if they offered us more money to work for them instead.”
“That was a deft move, the sneaky bastard.”
“Only other thought I have is Jake, he got pinched by someone, and made up some crazy story about us sitting on a treasure map or a hold full of diamonds or something to save his skin, and now they’re after us for the payout?” Aurora our resident theorist veered off on another train of thought.
“We could turn and fight the mercs, cripple their ship, question survivors on who hired them?” Estella offered with her eye on the scope. “We got enough of a lead to set an ambush.”
“Go for it.”
After thinking a while, Aurora told us her knowledge of the merc ship. “They’re ex military types, so I wouldn’t like the odds on a boarding action, we’d be out numbered several to one, but we might be able to cripple them in a surprise ambush, but there’s a fair chance we could wind up crashing and be back where we started last time, just on the alien plant moon instead of a scrapyard.”
“Okay scratch that idea,” Estella started to nod but then paused with a devious smile. “Unless.. you still got some of that plant from before in the converter? We can rig up a few spore mines of plants, let them blow and overrun the enemy ship, then board it and mop up the survivors.”
“You’re devious,” Aurora showed her an approving grin, “Let me go check if there’s enough left to make some kind of bio-mines.”
“They might have a score of mercs, but if we can get a score of plant soldiers, we’ll have the edge.” Estella added.
“The converter turned it all into fuel, but the moon is near by, easiest option is just to land there, pick up some more of the red ones since we have a lead on the ship and make mines out of them?” Aurora came in after a few minutes.
Estella looked at me. Right, let’s have everyone’s input. I kept forgetting that. “Yeah, and the plants would probably do most of our work for us.” I said, which was like not saying anything.
Estella skipped right over what I said. “Sure it sounds like a plan, assuming we want to stick around anyway? Aside from the moon and its secrets, is there any reason we want to mess around with whoever is hiring the mercs?” She asked. “I mean yeah there’s Jake and the bounty on his head, but other than that?”
“I’d like to know if they’re after us because of our working for Roland’s boss, or because of some other reason, we leave now and it’s something else, they’ll be still hunting us, and could show up later when we’re not in a position to handle them as readily.”
“Ditto.” I said.
“Good point,” Estella nodded, “I’ll put us on a looping course through the rocks and set us down on the surface where we were last time, once we land we should have a couple hours to harvest plants and take off before the ship closes the distance.”
“Perfect, I’ll rig up some mines from a few spare barrels in the mean time, and see about rigging up a couple torpedoes with spore warheads. It was a 2 day journey to get there last time, wasn’t it?” Aurora asked.
“About a day with the new fuel,” Estella said, “Enough time for our new guest to rest up and be ready to help out at least.”
“So much for the BBQ, ah well, after we deal with this merc ship.” I lamented.
“We got a day, plenty of time for the BBQ.” Aurora said.
“It would be a day if I set a straight course, playing asteroid hide’n seek like we are now, closer to a day and a half honestly, so yeah, we can still have a feast with time to spare.”
“Right. I will go do the marinades.”
“Sounds good to me,” Aurora said, “The meat’s fresh so we might as well have the barbecue as planned.”