Jake had a weasley voice, making his words hard to hear. I had to read his lips at some places. He was talking to H squared. “You see, Mr Fixit man, I don’t really need you. I just need you to not fix any converters, you see? So tell me why I shouldn’t just have Eddie here put some holes in you and dump your corpse out in the middle of the street?”
Mumbling from H squared. It made Jake’s face turn red in annoyance.
“Any ideas for a rescue?” Estella whispered in my ear. “My best idea is we start shooting from the shadows and surprise them, then try to flee with Hue in the chaos? I’m more of a pilot that a brawler.” She added the last sentence in an uncertain note.
I was thinking aloud to myself. “Can we distract some of them away somehow? But these tunnels are too tight.”
Estella supplied the solution in the next beat. Trust that girl’s brains to work so fast. “If we fill the glow stick with sugar and throw it, it’ll spray everywhere and the glow flies will form into a cloud trying to eat up all the sugar.”
I gave her my verbal thumbs up. A minute later, she passed me her glow stick to throw. I tossed it down below. The makeshift grenade flew into the cavern and exploded in a puff of blue mist and buzzing, flying things.
I descended into the cavern, hurrying towards the spot where I last saw H squared.
“Get me out, quick, before they grab me!” “Shoot something!” Jake was telling his lackeys.
“I’ll save Hue, you put the hurt on Jake?” Estella suggested as we moved amidst the fray of bodies. My eyes scanned around and saw him quickly. He was down on his knees cowering. I gave Estella brief directions before taking an aim at the pathetic sight on the ground.
The shot flew true but at the last moment, someone stumbled in the way of the energy bolt and took it in the knee, going down with a scream that reverberated in the cavern.
A shot came at me. I ducked out of the way. Looking around for Jake, I saw him trying to hide behind a pile of trash but his crown was a dead give-away. I took a last shot at his direction and ran towards Estella and H squared.
I made a big stretch once I climbed out of the trash pile back onto the surface. Estella breathed a sigh of relief next to me. “Remind me to scratch cramped tunnels off my list of vacation spots.” She said with a grin. H squared was panting on my other side and looked white as flour.
“How’d it go?” Aurora asked us.
“Cramped but otherwise okay. H squared, you need more exercise. Now you go and sit down and rewind yourself.”
Estella briefed Aurora on what transpired down in the tunnel, then glanced around curiously. “Where’s Guppy? She gives you the slip?”
“I strung her up in the garden,” Aurora said with a wink. “I’ll fill you in on the details later over a drink.” She gave H squared a friendly grasp on the shoulder in greeting. “I’m glad you’re okay, I can finish up here if you want some time to recover, or you can get back at making this converter purr if you’d rather, your call.”
I pulled a sour face as I reflected on how I did. “Didn’t hit any of them that I intended to. But I was mostly shooting to buy us time.”
H-squared and Aurora exchanged some technical jargon over Aurora’s work on the converter and then he moved off.
“Unless anyone objects I’m of a mind to move the ship, land us on the other side of town, maybe near Roland’s place of business.” Estella decided. “I’m not super comfy with a tunnel to Jake’s lair being on our doorstep, and him knowing right where we’re parked.”
Roland looked confused. “Who’s this Jake fellow?”
“Jake Comdon, he’s a thug, uses his brawn to force people to pay for protection from him and whoever he browbeats into working for him. He’s the kind of man that values life about as much as you value an empty beer can.”
His face brightened with recognition. “Well, I dunno if he’s called Jake, but sounds a lot like the feller we was talking about earlier. Never really used his name.”
“Yeah, that’s him all right, not using his name is probably his idea of keeping a low profile.” Aurora shook her head.
“Them gutter rats does jobs fer him a lot.”
“Used to, I think we broke up his rat ring when we rescued Hue.” Estella corrected him and looked over at me, “Any objections to relocating the ship?”
“I’ll be on the bridge then prepping for dust off.”
Roland looked a little thoughtful. “Ya know, that feller does a lot more harm and just tryin ta get money off us. He busted up this here converter and I don think he’s done causin trouble. You want some extra cash, I think my boss’d be more’n happy ta pay ya fer haulin in that Jake feller. I dunno, he got papers on him somewhere, ya might just be able ta make some takin him in all legal like too.”
Aurora gave me a sly smile, “Sam, how do you feel about a little hunting trip before we resupply and head back out into the black? Maybe set Jake up with a nice little prison cell suite and deliver him to Scorsby?”
“Sure, I would love that.”
“Count me in too, putting that guy behind bars, or penning him in the dead book, would make the entire fringe a better place.” Estella said before heading back into the ship, humming a cheerful tune.
“Sounds like your boss just found himself a willing group of head hunters, let’s get this converter back to him and then Sam can suss out the details for the job?” Aurora told Roland.
Roland rubbed his hands. “Yeah, let’s get this converter back in. Boss man’ll be real happy ta know yer a bunch what does what they say.”
Aurora and Roland worked out a deal to be settled tomorrow. He drove back happily.
“How did you and the kid get along? I think we need her to get to Jake, you know how slippery he is.” I asked Aurora, leaning back against the wall. I was planning to go straight to shower but the two gals called a little meeting so here we all were on the bridge.
“She’s a little rough around the edges, but warmed up once she found out we weren’t slavers and my promise of cake was more than an empty offer. She’s plenty scared of Jake though, and some kid called knife boy, getting her to help might take some doing. But you’re not wrong, she might know how to find him.” She paused. “I don’t want her put in any danger if we can help it though, she’s been through enough.”
“Strung her up in the garden huh?” Estella teased Aurora with a chuckle.
“I was more thinking get her to tell us where to find him.” I assured Aurora.
“Your hammock turned out to be a nice sleeping spot for her, when she wakes up later I’ll see about finding her an actual room, and maybe a bath.” Aurora told Estella with a wink. “Yeah, I think pancakes and bacon for breakfast will help show our good intentions, and help her open up to us.”
“Actual room? Did she sign up as part of the crew while we were gone?” Estella shot me a grin. I told you, it said. I groaned.
“Can’t bring myself to send her back to that pack of ferals, she’ll come to a bad end or turn into a mini Jake in a few years if I did.” Aurora gave me her Virgin Mary smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep her from pestering you, she gets on your nerves you can just threaten her with a bar of soap.”
I was feeling all clammy by then. I told them I needed a bath right away. I could hear the girls still talking as I walked off.
“There’s some left over cake and stew in the galley if you’re hungry.” Aurora called after me. I gave a little finger-wave over my back to signify I had heard.
I sat myself down next to Aurora in the lounge and grabbed a piece of cake. There were small fingerprints on it in the frosting. “Hmm… Guppy saved herself another piece, it seems.” I put the piece back down and chose another with no fingerprint on it.
“While you two were playing tunnel rat and rescuing Hue, I managed to get some useful intel out of Roland after putting Guppy to bed.” Aurora slid a rewritten copy of her notes across the table for me to look at.
Estella joined us. “Hey, cake!” She said cheerfully, helping herself to the piece I set aside, oblivious to the finger prints.
“It’s the last of it until we get the rest of our pay from Roland’s boss and restock the pantry.” Aurora reminded us. “Though if we secure a good contract for bringing Jake in, we should be able to stockpile a nice reserve of quality foods for the road ahead.”
“You okay?” Estella asked me, “You seem lost in thought.”
“I just feel lazy after a nice hot bath.”
“It is one of life’s best luxuries.” Aurora agreed with me, “So how many thugs did Jake have working for him? Besides the pack of ferals.”
Estella looked over at me. “Three? Maybe four? I didn’t get a real good look, Sam was in the lead on our way in.”
“I got one down and besides the boss, perhaps five more. I couldn’t be sure with the distraction we made going in.” I praised Estella on her glowstick distraction trick.
Estella smiled at the compliment and filled Aurora in on our adventure. “You should of been there! Sam threw the vial perfectly and pow!” She slapped the counter for emphasis. “Complete and utter chaos!”
“You both seemed to do just fine without me.” Aurora said with a note of approval in her voice. “The one you took down, how bad was he hit? If he survived he might go somewhere to get patched up, we find the guy and lean on him a bit, we might get some extra intel beyond what Guppy knows.”
“I heard a scream but he could be a big baby for all we knew.” I shrugged.
“Big babies run to the doctor over the smallest scratches too, don’t they?” Estella asked around a mouthful of cake.
“Depends on the baby, and how charitable the local saw bones is.” Aurora shrugged, looking over her notes from her talk with Roland about the mention of any local doctors. “Roland mentioned a company doc, he might be moonlighting at the local doc while in the area too, when Sam speaks with his boss tomorrow I’ll press Roland for the guy’s location, if nothing else he’ll know about any other healers in the local area.”
“Right, we might also want to find out if the Boss has anyone within his ring that mends his thugs up. I guess we hit up Old Scorby for that.” The Boss was the local mafia boss, the Frontier might be a busy hub but it was a surprisingly small world where the law and lawless co-resided.
Aurora nodded. “Any objections to me stringing a second hammock in the garden tonight, Estella? I don’t want the Guppy waking up in the morning and giving us the slip.”
Estella shrugged. “Go for it if you want, but string it across the door way, kids her age are awfully quiet.”
After that, we bid each other good night. I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow. The next thing I knew was the sensation of lift up. “What on earth?” I jumped up out of my bed.