Aurora took one of the tubes out of the case, holding it up to light to better see what’s inside it. “Yeah, I think it does.”
I looked over at it. “Isn’t that the same colour as the blood sample?”
Aurora nodded. “I believe so.”
“Interesting, I wonder where they got it from?” Estella said.
“Or who.” Aurora added.
“Well, it might be the black building is the same company as that one I remembered. Sounded in the same field, anyway.”
Guppy said, “Does this mean people are going to start turning into those… things?”
“Possibly, or it’s some kind of vaccine maybe?” Aurora shrugged, “Let’s get it back to Jessica, she can do a proper analysis and tell us.” Guppy nodded but didn’t look convinced.
“I doubt they’d want to turn people into monsters, it would make it hard to work here safely.” Estella noted.
“Well, experiments are iffy stuff. One thing goes wrong and you get the opposite of what you want.” I said. Guppy got a wild-eyed look upon hearing that.
“I’m sure if you ask nicely, Jessica will let you assist her in the lab?” Aurora told her with a grin. Maybe it was excitement, I figured she knew the kiddo better.
“For now let’s dump these two sleaze balls in the jail and let the locals know we finished the job.” Estella pushed our bound captive towards the sled.
“I’m not sure that I wanna look at that stuff in the lab Aurora. Gives me the creeps.” Apparently my first hunch was right.
“No ones going to make you Guppy,” Aurora spoke to her gently. “You can always go play if you’d rather, or help me out in engineering with some ship maintenance.”
“Or come on up to the bridge and I’ll start showing you the basics of how to fly the sweet girl.” Estella offered.
Guppy looked torn. “Can I sometimes be in engineering and sometimes on the bridge? Those are both really cool. Then she looked over at me. “And, uh, maybe Sam could keep showing me how to shoot things? I could be the gutter of evil spacecraft!”
Aurora chunkled with a nod, “If that’s what you want,” She tossed Guppy the keys to the sled. “For now however, you need to drive us back to town.”
I took that as the cue to climb in.
“But aren’t we gonna burn those things?” Guppy pointed at the crates. “I’m gonna have nightmares ’bout mutants, Aurora, if we leave them.”
“I was thinking we’d just fly the ship over here and turn this factory into a smoking crater?” Aurora looked over at me.
“Yeah, why not?” I said.
Guppy jumped into the driver’s seat.
“Good thinking, that way if there’s any left over hidden supplies they’ll be trashed too.” Estella wrapped up.
“Come on everybody, we’re gonna blow it up!” Guppy shook her little fists at the boxes.
“Sam, could you maybe set these ones on fire before we leave? Just in case anyone heard all the commotion out here and comes poking around they won’t accidentally get infected?” Aurora asked me. “We can finish the job with the ship after we dump our prisoners.” I did as she said with my bow-gun.
A few energy bolts into the pile of crates and they blew apart, flaming pieces flying everywhere. Some of the vines twitched as they burned. And I didn’t realise how much spores there were until I saw the quantity of them burning.
Estella congratulated me as she threw the captive into the back of the sled and took a seat next to him and the unconscious man. “You decide to leap out and run for it, Sam here will set you on fire too, just to make sure you can’t spread any infections.” She told him with a glare. The gal caught on fast; apparently intimidation was the only way to stop that brain of his thinking.
He nodded vigorously, sweat pouring down his face.
Guppy gunned it without a shout of joy. “Aurora, let me show you what I was practicing when you those mean guys found me.” And she fishtailed out into the street, zipping down one street before she suddenly slowed down. “Umm… where are we going, anyway?”
“Back to the bar I guess?” Aurora shrugged. “Bartender should be able to point us towards the jail.” She gave Guppy the instructions to get there.
We nearly got whiplash as Guppy stepped on the accelerator, then again when she slammed to a halt outside the bar.
“We need to work on your finesse,” Aurora told her, “Anticipate when you need to speed up and slow down and then ease the pedals, don’t yank them like they’re a stuck door.”
She grinned. “But it’s fun.”
“It’s also hard on the machine, if we break it you won’t be able to drive it anymore.” She pointed out.
Her grin vanished. “Oh.”
“Sam? Do you want to go inside and ask about the jail and let them know you finished the job? You were the one they first approached.” Estella asked me.
“Sure.” I walked in to the counter and hailed the Sammy the bartender. “Where’s the jail? And we’ve got your culprit.”
He turned from the somber group gathered to confer with him. He looked tense. “Hi, Sam, right? Sorry, I missed that. What did you find?”
“We found the sabotageurs. And we were going to drop the sleazeballs at the local jail. So coming in to ask directions.”
He blinked a couple of times. “That was fast. How long ago did you find them?”
“Well, just then. They were at that factory.”
“The one you were asking about before?” Apparently Julie was among the group. She walked towards me.
“Yep. So we killed two birds with one stone.”
Sammy looked over at Julie. “They found them.”
Julie’s mouth was a thin line. “We can pay you now if you can just hand them over to us and let us take care of it” Her eyes were a store of anger.
That never boded well in my experience. “And what are you going to do with them?”
“Let me talk to the other two gals about this. Or do you want to come out and talk with us?”
“I’ll go, you stay with the others.” Julie told Sammy as she followed me outside. I brought her over to the sled.
“So what’d these two do anyway?” Estella asked her, casually shifting her shotgun so it’s pointed towards the ground, but also in the general direction of the bar.
“These are the ones sabotaging our hard work?”
“Two of ’em, “The rest are dead.” Aurora told her with a nod. “We got enough evidence they’ll swing at the trial, at least baldy here, this other guy is just some hired guard, seems pretty clueless he was doing anything wrong other than guarding a building from vandals.”
“You can just hand baldy there over to us and we’ll take care of it. Don’t worry. We’ve got your pay together, we can do the exchange now.”
“Take care of it?” Aurora gave her a questioning look. “You hired us to see justice done, not turn a man over for a lynch mob to have their way with.”
“Just let her have him, the sleaze tried to screw us over how many times after we took him prisoner?” Estella told Aurora. “Besides, we give him to the sheriff, this lady and her pals will probably storm the jail, and make the local law dog the same offer, no point putting him in a bad spot.”
Aurora sighed, looking over at me and Guppy. “You two got an equal say in this too.”
Guppy looked back and forth between everyone. “I don’t understand.”
Aurora looked back at Julie, “Like I said, take care of it? What do you plan to do exactly?”
“Make him pay for Suzanne.” Some droplets of tear rolled down her face. “I hated that woman like nobody else. Always arguing with me over where property lines were or who should get the latest equipment. But, goddammit, I’ve been fighting with her for more than thirty years. And today we found her cut in half by her own machinery. Looks like she’d been there for a day or two. Somebody,” and she looked pointedly at baldy, “sabotaged the machine to blast into shrapnel when turned on.”
“Pay how? He goes to trial, he’ll hang, or be shot for what he did, not seeing any reason that won’t settle the score?” Aurora pressed her.
“She means to do to him what happened to Suzanne,” Estella said quietly. “One of those eye-for-an-eye things frontier places are famous for, make an example out of him. It’s ugly, brutal, but it gives folks closure, and sends a pretty clear message to other would be criminals what’ll happen if they make trouble in the area.”
Julie looked at Estella and nods.
“Sam? Still waiting for your input.” Then Aurora looked over at Guppy. “You don’t need to weigh in if you don’t want to, but if you got strong feelings one way or another, you can speak your piece.”
Guppy’s eyes went wide but she did not speak.
“Isn’t she a little young to be involved in this?” Estella asked Aurora doubtfully.
“She’s old enough to carry a gun, fire torpedoes and be kidnapped, she’s old enough to have a voice in what happens to the man who took her prisoner and roughed her up, wouldn’t be right to deny her the option if she has something to say.”
I frowned and shifted my feet. “I’m happy to let you hang Baldy but seems excessive to hang the other guy who just thinks he’s got guard duty.”
Estella nodded, not sure whether to me or Aurora.
“You say the other guy wasn’t involved. I don’t care what you do with him. I just want baldy there.”
“Can’t say as I disagree with Sam on that part.” Aurora looked straight at me. “To be clear here, Sam, they’re not talking about a noose, they’re talking about killing him with farm machinery, real painful and messy like, he goes to the jail he gets a rope.”
“Or he gets dragged out of there by a mob once we’re gone and maybe the sheriff gets hurt in the process, they want him, they can have him, I say, it’s awful, but so is what they did to that woman, they knew what’d happen when they messed with her machinery.” Estella said.
Aurora leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Third option, one of us just shoots him now, spare the man a painful passing, but I doubt we’ll get paid much if we go that route.”
“Either way, I’m fine with giving this other guy a lesser sentence, in fact I got some ideas on what he can do to atone for his part in this.” She said so everyone could hear.
Estella shrugged. “He didn’t even shoot at any of us, or hurt Guppy, so I’m inclined to go easy on him too.”
I sighed and shot Baldy right between the eyes. He died with a shocked look on his face. Julie’s mouth dropped open. But her eyes shone with satisfaction.
“Now you don’t need to dirty your hands with him.” I told her.
“My sincerest apologies for my friend’s actions, she can be a bit strongly opinionated sometimes.” Aurora said in a relaxed, deliberately drawn out manner. Great, now we were playing the good cop, bad cop trick from movies of decades ago.
I saw Estella trying to hide her smirk. “She did you a favor, if you’d followed through on what you planned, it would of made you no better than him, and probably given you folks nightmares.” She pointed out, straight-faced.
Aurora nodded towards Estella. “There’s that too.” Then she took the opportunity to educate her caree, “Justice is swift and harsh sometimes, but he made his choice when he decided to traffic in bio weapons, sabotage innocent folks livelihoods, and start kidnapping people.”
Guppy seemed to be thinking, kept silent.
Aurora pushes baldy’s body off the sled with her foot. “You can prop him up in a coffin next to the bar or whatever, not our business really, but we would like to be paid now, given we held up our end of the contract.”
Amid the silence that reigned, Guppy said very quietly but everyone heard, “The other kids woulda done what the lady wanted to do.”
Julie nodded, not sure to Aurora or Guppy or both, and went back inside.
Aurora nodded and took Guppy’s hand, squeezing it gently.
“What about the other guy, we still dumping him at the local jail house?” Estella asked us.
Julie came back with two other locals. She handed a bag over as those two grabbed the body and hauled it inside.
“Nah, he wouldn’t get a fair trial, or sentencing here, I’m of the mind we bring him back to the ship, put him to work cleaning floors, maybe giving the outside a nice new coat of paint while we’re in town handling our business, then set him free with a reminder to pick his jobs with a might more care.”
“Hue and Jess could probably keep an eye on him easily enough,” Estella shrugged. “I’m fine with that.”
“Free labour, why not?” I commented.
“Guppy?” Aurora asked her. “You got a say in his sentence too if you want.”
She nodded. “I’m ok with it. I never saw him before you came and saved me.”
“Let’s get on back to the ship then, Jess can treat his head injury and we’ll explain to him the terms of his sentence when he wakes up.”
“Works for me.” Estella nodded to me. “Good solution by the way.”
Guppy was gentler with the driving this time, a little bit.
When we got back on board, Aurora helped me carry the man in to Jessica, and we filled her in on what happened while we were out in town. She nodded as she listened, “Sounds like I missed a party.”
Then she gave us a status update. “I’ve been pretty busy here, getting things set up. Not 100% done, but I’m making progress. Should be able to fix up that bump at least. And I’ve got enough lab equipment to do at least a little better testing than I could before.”
Estella gave Guppy a slight smile. “Want to learn how the Xing’s lift off procedures work? Come on up to the cockpit and I’ll let you handle the pre flight checklist.” Guppy took the bait and ran off towards the cockpit. I followed, since there was nothing for me to do at the lab.
“If that obelisk wasn’t in the center of town I’d be half tempted to blow that place to rubble.” Estella was telling Guppy. “You don’t traffic in stuff like those spores, it’s the kind of thing that could wipe out an entire planet, or numerous ones.”
“I’m sure Sam would let me use it for target practice.”
“We could do an infiltration and destroy under false identity now that we know what it does, you know, like in spy movies.” I said the first idea that dropped into my head. I do this, among friends. Relaxation, you know?
“I like the way you think.” Estella smiled at the notion. “Do we want to do it before or after we talk to Scorsby?”
“Huh, we are doing this for real? I was just saying things, you know. Well, first things first, I guess.”
“Turning the factory into a parking lot, right.” Estella nodded to Guppy, “First power up the lift thrusters, gently it’s the lever over there in red, slide it up wards slowly until you feel us start to rise into the air.”
“I meant Scorby but I didn’t know you are that excitable.” I explained to Estella.
Estella kitted the intercom. “This is your pilot, our co pilot Guppy is taking us into low orbit, stand by for lift off.” The kiddo concentrated hard, interacting with the lever as if it was made of porcelain.
“I like your style, what can I say?” Estella looked back at me with a grin. “Aurora report to the bridge.” She said into the intercom before focusing her attention on Guppy and guiding her through lift off procedure.
“What’s up?” Aurora asked us.
“Sam here just came up with a daring, but brilliant idea.” Then she signalled me to take over.
I coughed, embarrassed. “Well, Estella was saying how she wanted to bomb that black monolith thingy in the middle of town and that reminded me of spy movies. So I said we could infiltrate the building with false identity now that we know what it does. You know, you’ve got that blood sample that we could use. Pretend to be someone from headquarters maybe. Demanding why that has now leaked out.”
“Devious, I like it.” Aurora smiled in approval. “Small problem, though, they saw your faces already when you paid the place a visit the first time, didn’t they?”
“Well, they haven’t seen you and Jessica.” I said.
“The guy at the front desk did at least, but we could come by in the late evening once he’s off shift.” Estella added.
“Yeah, Jessica and me could be in the front, you two in the back, maybe with a bit of hair dye, all of us wearing uniforms similar to theirs.” Aurora looked at Guppy. “We could hide you in a crate, have them wheeling it in, you crouched inside ready to spring out and surprise people if need be.”
“I’m really good at crawling through vents. Tunnels, anywhere. They always had me do that before.”
“No vent crawling. You don’t know they haven’t set vines all around as guards.” I cautioned.
“Sam has a good point. Though we could put her in fake cuffs, pretend we caught her snooping around if she doesn’t like the crate.” Estella suggested.
“Nah, I can be in a crate. I’m just sayin I can be useful in other ways too.”