We landed on a farming community some distance from the Frontier, that looked large enough to have a vehicle seller. Only Jessica had been here before and she couldn’t tell us much except that it was a quiet place. We decided that made it safe enough for us to split up in two teams: me, Estella and Guppy to get a buggy while Aurora went with Jessica to get supplies. Aurora gave Guppy a sly wink before we parted from each other. “If you ask Estella nicely you might even get some driving lessons on the way home.”
Guppy spinned to Estella, her eyes big and making weird sounds.
“No might’s about it,” Estella told her firmly, “We own a buggy, everyone knows how to drive it, no exceptions, too useful a skill not to have.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It’s also damned fun!”
Guppy skipped around, all bubbly.
“I’m not sure if this crew and ship is the best or worst place for her to grow up,” Aurora commented to Jessica, “But I’m pretty sure she’s loving every second of it.”
“You said she came from the, uh, tunnel rats? If that’s the case, she’s much better off with all of you, no doubt about it. Most of them don’t make it to adulthood. And the ones that do… well, it’s not a bright future”
Aurora agreed and sighed, “Real bad lot, her previous crew, we have unfinished business with their leader, he’s not the kind of guy you turn your back on.”
“Oh, I don’t think I ever saw him. I’ve stitched up my share of the kids, but I did my best to never cross paths.”
“We’ll fill you in on him after our shopping trip,” Aurora promised her. “Hopefully he’s moved on to a more lucrative place, or that convoy of mercs that was riding towards our ship last time scared him off, still curious who hired them and why.”
“The way you reacted, I gather they were not your average sort of mercs. Any theories about them?”
“I figure they’re the kind someone with a lot of money to burn would hire to make an example out of someone, or at least they’re not the small time mercs that just intimidate people, they show up to spill blood.” Estella looked uneasy at the admission.
“But, then, who has that kind of money? And why would all of you… I mean all of us be worth it?”
“That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?” Aurora shrugged. “The usual sorts we make enemies off are run of the mill thugs, they don’t have deep enough pockets to hire that kind of muscle, let alone that convoy that rolled on us when we lifted off the other day.”
“My working theory is rivals of that guy we fixed the Atherium converter for, rival mining corp or whatnot, we’re keeping him in business, that makes us someone to take out so they can go back to cutting his profit margins.” Estella said, then looked over to Aurora “Your talent for fixing and making machines out of nothing is a game changer for a major guild, they might just want to capture you and force you to work for them, make them shiny new toys to outdo the competition?”
“It’s not like I go about bragging about my talent. Hue did most of the repair work on that converter anyway, so they’d have no idea I was involved.”
“And why do they want to cut his profit margins? This is the frontier. It’s wide open for people to come in and set up shop. I don’t see much competing out here.”
“Someone sabotaged his converter, apparently there’s a push to turn this planet into a mainstream supplier instead of the quiet backwater it is right now, or at least that’s what we were told.” Aurora explained.
“Sam was the one who cut the deal with the owner,” Now I was the one Estella looked at. “Did he seem shifty to you? Like he was hiding something?”
“You know those businessmen. Always have something up their sleeves.”
“But why would there be money in stopping progress out here?” Jessica looked confused.
“It’s a while ago but I get a gist of mostly resistance from the everyday people, not sure about big money. Maybe there’s something else here that we haven’t been told.”
“I don’t think any of the locals would have the kind of money you’re talking about though.”
“That’s what I’m saying. That converter thing was a done job to me. And then we had that adventure at the asteroid and well, makes everything seem so long ago.” I said.
“Maybe someone wants what we know about the moon,” Aurora paused, “Did either of you tell anyone about our moon adventure?”
“So would anyone come after you for a job you did awhile ago? The more you all tell me about this, the more confused I get.” Jessica said.
“Well, I bragged a little to the old boy.” I said after a pause.
“As in Scorsby?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, we know each other for a while now and that’s what we do together.”
“Hmm, you told him and then these mercs started showing up, I wonder if he’s behind it all then?” Estella glanced towards the horizon in thought.
“But why would he hire mercs instead of just asking us for details or to show him the place? It’s not like we’re trying to keep it a secret.” Aurora scratched her head in confusion.
“Actually, I thought everyone knows how to get to that junk asteroid, it’s so close. But now that I think about it, I think the old boy’s trying to suss out the route to it?”
“Or the way inside?” Estella nodded. “There’s a fortune to be made in salvage alone, let alone being able to take the place over and turn it on, whoever did that would own the entire star systems trade hub if they could control the moon.”
“Assuming that’s his goal,” Aurora nodded in agreement, “There’s also the possibility he knows what’s down there, and wants to make sure we don’t live long enough to tell anyone else what we’ve found, keeping the secret for later exploitation, or just because he thinks it’s too dangerous.”
“He might just want the asteroid for himself.” Then Estella clarified for my benefit. “I confess it wasn’t exactly easy to locate, if not for the ship flying us there on its own I doubt we’d of never found it.”
“Sounds like our friend Scorsby might not be as nice as we originally thought.” Aurora concluded.
I thought about it for a while. “The old boy sure is not all up-and-up. That makes him fun in some ways.”
“Being blackmailed by him surely isn’t fun.” Jessica said grimly.
“True, so when you told him about the asteroid were you two alone? Thinking if someone overheard they might be behind it rather than him.” Estella suggested a different story.
“We were at his office. I went to him to get a reference to black market doctors. It was that day I met Jessica.”
To be fair his office could be bugged, but the more I hear about his shady dealings the less inclined I am to assume his innocence.” Aurora said.
“Well, hopefully you’ll keep an open mind when you interrogate him over drinks later.” Jessia said.
“Life’s no fun. One day you are drinking buddies, the next day you have to cloak and dagger stuff.” I lamented over life’s turns.
Jessica puts her hand on my arm. “I’m sorry, Sam, I really am. I guess I didn’t realize I was putting you in that position. I’ve been thinking too much of my own situation.”
“It’s not you putting us in that position. Jessica, if Scorsby’s the one hiring Mercs to take us out, your involvement is secondary.” Aurora told her.
“Still, I can see that it’s a difficult thing. It sounds like you have a lot of history with him.”
I sighed. “It’s not you. I’m too willing to believe, and go over my head all the time. It’s like I’m always drinking, when I’m not.”
“It’s ok, Sam. We all have our moments. I managed to get blackmailed.”
“It’s time to get to work.” I concluded and walked off in a different direction to Aurora and Jessica. I didn’t really know where I was going, I just wanted to leave the conversation. After a while, Estella caught up with me from behind and pointed out that the town was in the other direction. “Unless you know of a good dealer on the outskirts?” She asked me hopefully.
“Uh? Oh, I was… I thought we were meant to split up. Then seemed a good time to.”
“Oh, um yeah..” She smiled awkwardly. “Well the buggy dealer is that away so…” She gestured towards the town. I turned in the direction indicated and started walking.
“You okay?” Estella asked me after a couple minutes of silence. “I know the whole situation with Scorsby is sketchy, but.. It might still all work out okay?”
“I’m not worried. Sam’ll kick his butt if he’s tryin ta mess with us. Hey Sam, what’s the biggest butt you’ve ever kicked?”
I turned around and showed Guppy a twisted smile. “Too many I’ve kicked, hard to tell which is the biggest.”
She got a big grin on her face. “See Estella, nothin ta worry about.”
“Is it just me, or does that building stick out?” Estella asked me and Guppy, “It looks like it was built by someone other than the original colonists.” I looked at it and couldn’t find anything familiar about it. I did note that it was very defensible and commented so.
“I’m sure you could take it, Sam.” The kiddo had so much confidence in me that I might have been touched if I was that sort of person.
“Now I’m curious,” Estella started walking towards it. “Might as well see what’s going on inside, worst they’ll do it tell me to leave when I walk in the lobby. It’s probably a law firm, it looks like the kind of intimidating structure legal vultures would build.” She muttered to herself.
There was a transparent wall near the entrance but it sort of wavered, which I took to be some kind of shielding mechanism. The door slid open, however, as I followed on the heels of Estella.
We went straight into a small lobby with a couple of uncomfortable chairs and a well-dressed man sitting behind a desk. There was no logo like you would expect in a corporate building.
“And who said I’m the only one who wanders off?” I muttered under my breath. My eyes invariably were drawn to the few holes high on the walls that did not look particularly inviting. “May I help you?” the man asked in a cold voice.
I pretended to cough, signalling for Estella to look up. I saw her glance up and nod slightly.
“Yes, I’m new to town and learning my way around, is this the right place to inquire about hiring mercenary services?” Estella asked the man, playing it cool.
His mouth almost disappeared into a thin, lipless line. He glowered at us for a while but finally said, “I’m sorry, but you have come to the wrong place.” He had an accent that’s hard to place. Not strong but noticeable.
“I see, so what is this place again?”
He sneered in response. “If you don’t know, you have no business here.” He turns away from us as though that’s our cue to leave.
“Yep, they’re second rate, just like we thought,” Estella gave me a nod as she started walking back towards the door,
I shrugged and followed her out of the building. “We’ll send Aurora back there later, I’m betting she can learn more, she’s better at social graces, I prefer the charm of a cockpit.” Estella said.
We proceeded on to our actual task- the buggy buying, which went smoothly. We went for a large hover sled style of craft, which burned through most of our funds.
“That taps us out for savings, time to look for more work once we get this Scorsby business settled.” Estella commented.
I nodded “Time to go back.”
“Okay Guppy, I’ll drive us part way home, get a feel for our new ride, she handles okay, you’ll take us the other half.” Estella offered Guppy, who giggled. “I can’t wait, Estella.”
Estella fired up the sled and nodded to me. “Ready to head back? Or do you want to chill at a local bar for a bit while I pick up Aurora and Jess and haul their stuff back home?” She asked me. I decided to take her up on the offer and climbed back out.