The interior of the building stood up to what was advertised outside. There were machines halfway set up for building something and other machines in another part that looked like they were for tearing things apart. A collision of different minds wanting to build different factories squashed into one.
“This place is a disaster.” Aurora commented.
We were led to an area still under construction and mostly open space, before they were occupied by shipping containers that could be transported on trucks. Our captive pointed at them.
“What’s in them?” Estella asked as she padded over to the crates, not letting down her guards as she did so.
He shrugged. “I get paid enough to not care.” Realising how that sounded, he hastened to elaborate. “I mean, it’s nothing harmful or anything. We wouldn’t get involved in anything like that. You can tell the sheriff that too, yes?”
“Assuming that’s the case, sure.” Aurora nodded at me, “Let’s open’em up and see if they’re worth hauling back?”
I moved over and lifted off the lid of the closest container. It pays to be vigilant, I always say. I dodged the blast of spores that shot out. Our captive turned and tried to run, as much as his limping allowed. Some people just never gave up.
Aurora tripped him and he went sprawling. “You’re really, really burning through the last of our goodwill here.” She told him.Her curled up and covered his head, sobbing again.
I sighed. “There he goes again. Pathetic to tricky back to pathetic.”
Estella told Guppy, “Scum like this is what keep us in business.”
“Anything in the crate besides the trap?” Aurora asked.
“I don’t know. They just said I’d regret it if I ever looked inside. And they wouldn’t even have to find me or lay a finger on me”
“I wonder if they were trafficking in the spores?”
“We did see a bunch of the plants growing outside.” Estella pointed out.
“We should collect a sample for Jessica to analyse.” I figured we should leave it for the specialist.
“Good thinking,” Estella said as she hurried outside.
“Grab some of the spores from the box too.” Aurora called after her. “So, which one was it?” She pressed the captive. “Are they coming in a few weeks? Or are they showing up sooner? Remember if we take care of them they won’t be able to hurt you.”
I looked down into the container whose lid I just prised open, to see whether I could identify its contents without touching anything. There were some coiled up vines insides, with some open flowers that might be the source of the spores. There was a flat, transparent container lying on the bottom. There was some clear fluid inside, which the vines had dipped into via tiny filaments. It looked like some kind of hydroponic setup.
I whistled. “A container full of our viney friends being grown? Estella should come and look at this.”
The man sighed deeply. “There is a message they send when they plan on coming. But it’s not what you think. They send it to me, personally. I’m a telepath of sorts. I can hear thoughts directed at me by anyone I’ve met previously.”
“Okay, then what number am I thinking about right now?” Aurora gave him a test.
“Are you offering me one?” He replied, which made no sense to me. Perhaps that was the point.
“Okay, he’s for real, on that part anyway.” Estella gave her a blank look.
“I was imagining a mug of ale, he picked up on it.”
“So these people deliver these crates to you right? Or were you lying about this being a delivery zone?” Estella asked him.
He waved his hands defensively. “I was telling the truth, about that at least. And I did find the kid while waiting for a new delivery.”
The vines started to uncoil and moved slowly towards me, as if it wanted to touch me. I moved back out of their range. It flopped back into the box.
“We thought the kid was one of…” He stopped and put a hand over his mouth.
“Finish the sentence or I’ll pass the kid a knife and she can fulfill all those promises she’s no doubt been making about gutting you.” Estella threatened him.
Guppy gave him a toothy grin. “Ya know, it’s been awhile since I gutted a body. I could be outta practice.”
He gulped and started talking, without taking his eyes from Guppy.
“You can try multiple times until you get it right, we can just have the doc heal him up in between.” Aurora added her contribution.
“We thought she was one of Camdon’s tunnel rats. They don’t usually come out this way, but… the kid looked familiar. And we don’t get along too well with Camdon.”
“So who do you work for then? Scorsby?” Aurora asked him.
“Scorsby?” He looked confused. “Rupert? I’d rather let Camdon sneak up on my back than do a deal with Scorsby.”
“Let’s hear what dirt you have on both of them, then.” I prodded him.
“Not much to tell. Camdon and us, well, we are what you might call competitors. Except we deliver and he’s always looking for a way to cheat whoever works with him. And Scorsby, well, he’s just someone you don’t mess with. Always got some game going on that’s above and beyond us penny ante players.”
“So who brings you these shipments, and who do you give them to?” Estella asked him.
He shut his mouth into a thin line. After a pause he said, “We’re just middle men who know better than to ask for names when it doesn’t matter.”
“You’re also savvy enough to make sure you’re not working for Scorsby or Comdon by mistake, so either you tell us…” Aurora glanced meaningfully over at Guppy. “Or our girl here will start making herself a new belt from your intestines.”
He mumbled something, then he came forth with the goods. “Star Analytics. I’m not supposed to know that. They work through intermediaries. But, like you said, I’m too savvy not to know who I’m working for.”
“The twits who own the big black building in town?” That was getting to be Estella’s new obsession, after gardening.
“Sounds like we just found our source of local trouble,” Aurora nodded to us.”Now the question is where are they getting the plants from if not the asteroid?”
“Too much knowledge is not to your own good.” I warned him. He took the hint and didn’t say a word more.
“The bigger question is how did they get onboard our ship in the first place?” Estella said.
“We landed near the junkyard originally, we might of picked some up there, or when you two were crawling around the tunnels maybe?”
“Yeah, maybe, still, at least we have a name for the locals, and who is probably been hunting us, they want the plants for themselves.” Estella said.
Guppy starts poking around at the other boxes. Not opening any, just being curious. Aurora cautioned her and she said she was just bored.
“Well it’s pretty obvious where the shipments are being taken anyway.” Estella gestures towards town, “That big black monolith.”
“Now we just need to decide what to do about it all, I mean, taking on an entire corporation like that? I’m not sure we got the numbers, or the firepower to come out on the winning side.” Aurora said.
“Let’s talk about that back on the ship, after we dump tweedle dumb and tweedle dee off at the local sheriffs.” Estella said. Aurora assented.
“You… you’re going to put in a word for me, right?”
“Let’s see, you’ve lied to us, tried to flee, let us open a spore mine, and kidnapped my little girl, anything else I’m missing?” Aurora asked him with a glare.
“I told you all sorts of things that could get me killed! I put a lot of trust in you. You can’t expect me not to test that a little, right?”
“We’ll encourage them not to hang you, don’t worry, we keep our word.” Estella said.
He hung his head in despair. “They’ll come after me if they know I talked.”
“A word?” Aurora gestured to us and stepped off to the side out of ear shot of him. I followed her.
“Let’s hear it. This guy is desperate to save his own skin, we can count on him trying to double cross us if it helps him somehow, I was thinking maybe we could use that to our advantage, let him over hear us talking, feed him some misinformation, and then let him escape from the sled while we stop to buy groceries or something.”
“I’m not sure what misinfo we’d want to spread to that company?” Estella pointed out.
“I had a thought of getting him to rat out Jake but he’s way too smart for his own good.” I admitted.
“That we’re working for Camden maybe? Put them on his ass instead of ours for a while, buy us time to figure out how to handle this mess?” Aurora grinned at me, “We think alike.”
“Problem is, we let him go, we have a lot of nothing to show to the locals for what’s behind this mess, and he might just be the sorts to want payback, and come after us later if we let him run free.” Estella pointed out.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty solid point.” Aurora admitted and glanced over at the captive, thinking I assumed.
“He has me stumped, not worth killing him yet but too tricky to do anything about.” I put up my hands in defeat.
“I say we turn him over to the local sheriff and complete our contract, if we need him later we can always work something out with the locals.” Estella said.
“Fair enough, the locals aren’t in bed with the company at least, or they wouldn’t of hired us to look into things, so they’ll make sure he stays locked up.”
“All right.” I agreed.
Aurora looked at her caree. “You got a say in this too, he did tie you up and whatnot.” She made an evil smile. “Well… He did punch me in the face. See my bruise?”
He started squirming.
“I mean, I still think I need some guttin practice. But…” She dragged out the word as sweat rolled off our captive. “Yeah, send him to be locked up. Sounds like justice to me”
“It’s decided then we take him to the sheriff.” Aurora knelt down and started pulling off the man’s socks and belt.
“What you doing?” Estella raised an eyebrow at this.
“Bound and gag him?” I supplied.
“Gagging him so he can’t scream for help while we drive through town.” Aurora nodded to me.
“With his own socks?” Estella smirked at the notion. “Fitting. Nasty, but fitting.”
He looked defeated and didn’t struggle at all. “Okay, lets deliver the garbage and collect our payday.” Aurora looked at the crates. “We shouldn’t leave these laying around either, might be best to destroy them.”
“Hey, Aurora?” Does this look familiar?” Guppy handed Aurora an open case with some test tubes that contained a blue-green liquid.