I have this rule. Now I know you’re expecting me to say that it’s not really a rule but more of a guideline, but it’s not. It’s a rule and one I try very hard not to break. I always do seem to however. It’s not a very complex rule and most professionals have it. Frankly, I believe that you can see how professional a man is by how much he follows this rule, which says an awful lot about me doesn’t it.
As I said, the rule is simple: “don’t take a job on sentiment. Keep things business-like.” Don’t care how big those puppy eyes get and how much she cries, forget about how long you’ve been friends and how you used ride your bikes to school together. If a job goes from business to personal, things get complicated. And once things get complicated it isn’t long before they get really Wo Hu Chung Long.
There’s just one exception to this rule, and many don’t agree with me on this but… When it concerns you’re crew, you do whatever it takes. There’s few enough people out here in the black you can count on, so you best take care of the few friends you got. If your crew needs help, you give it, aint no discussion ‘bout that.
But with a cliënt you keep things to business.
That’s just what I thought after I recieved a wave from Badger.
“Ello, capn’ Thorn. How’s life been treatin’ ya?”
“Shiny. Although, truth be told. A cloud seems to have turned up on my clear sky today. Wonder if it’s going to give me any trouble.”
“No trouble captain. Best not forget, every cloud has a silver lining. I’ve got a business proposition for you. Lucrative job and all that.”
“I aint on Persephone, as you well know. And my boat aint exactly in working order yet. So I don’t see how…”
“The job’s on Hera. That is where you’re at isn’t it? Job’s not that hard either. Simply find a man and ask him a few questions for me. Couldn’t be simpler. I’ll pay you 500 credits if you get it done before Tuesday next week.”
I frowned. That would give me 4 days.
“What happens on Tuesday?”
“My yearly confession to the fluffy Lord, and I want to get it all out at once. You know how I like to impress member of the ruttin’ clergy.”
His grinned changed in to a scowl.
“Don’t matter what happens on Tuesday. You mind your business and I’ll mind mine, thank you very much. Now will you take the gorram job or won’t ya?”
Now it was my time to grin.
“I don’t think I will Badger. You see, you’ve hurt my feelings by yelling at me. Friends don’t yell you know. Send one of your goons to do your dirty work. Dong mah?”
Badger moved closer to the screen and urged me to do the same, as if he needed to tell me something of great importance. Just another trick.
“It’s about my niece. Remember her? That gorram fool Burrows has gone and lost her. Now the guild thinks I aint keeping my part of our little bargain. There’s a man on Hera, goes by the name of Monster. From what I’ve heard he knows more about what’s going on. Up ‘till now he aint talking. I need you to talk some sense in to him. Show him the way of things. Gorram it, tie him to your ship and break atmo for all I care, just get me what he knows.”
“Hmm, ship aint working so I’ll have to go to plan B.”
“So you’ll take the job than?”
“You already knew I would. I don’t like to be played Badger. I aint no violin. Just wire me the credits and I’ll get you your info”
Badger nodded, backed away from the screen again and tipped his hat.
“You aint no violin captain Thorn, but you wanna know your problem. You’re still carrying your conscience around. Best get rid of that soon. The thing has been known to get ya killed.”
“I bet you can tell me the current market price for a slightly used one too. Have a good one Badger, you’ve ruined my day for far too long already. I’ll send you a wave when I know something.”
I turned off the screen and walked out of my bunk. Yeah I remembered Badger’s niece. A while back I had been paid by Moss, one of Badger’s rivals, to smoke her out of hiding. She had been hold up in a brothel on Persephone. Young girl, pretty too. Not exactly the first word that springs to mind when I remember what she looks like, but true none the less. The job had gone sour, as they tend to do, and I had killed Moss. The girl, Seline I think she was called, was taken by a merc named Burrows. He was to take her to the companion guild. Seems he didn’t deliver.
I could hear the rest of the crew working while I walked over to the shuttle bay. They were busy fixing up Lady. Soon she would be space-worthy again.
It took a while before the girl’s head poked through the door.
“I’m going in to town for a spell. Keep on working. I’ll be back in a few hours. I’ll bring back something to eat maybe. Tell the rest will ya?”
She nodded and disappeared again.
No need to get the crew involved. They’re more needed fixing up the ship anyway.
Besides, why would I need help talking to a fine upstanding gentleman named Monster.
First place I checked was “The yard”. If there was a place on Hera where a man named Monster belonged, it was this dark damp hole that they were passing off as a saloon.
But no kidding, it was, literally, a hole in the ground. The owner of the place, a short, rough lookin’ man named Aemus, had simply hollowed out a small hill in town. The walls and ceiling were hidden behind old, moldy wooden boards. The floor was covered in sawdust. Whiskey and beer was all they served, officially. I walked over to the many tables and chairs, not one of them matched, and started to ask around about Monster.
It seemed he was very well known around these parts. A big fella, ugly as sin and with more than a leaky brainpan. Just my luck though, he wasn’t welcome in “the Yard” any more. Started one too many brawls, broke way too many faces. Nobody seemed to know where he spent his days now. Nobody knew anything about a pretty young companion-in-training.
If you’re looking for someone, and you can’t find them in a bar, you’ll find them in a store. Seems all we folk do is spend our hard-earned cash. It took me a while to track down the place where Monster did his shoppin’. Seemed he had been banned from almost every place in town. Finally I arrived at a derelict ship near the outskirts. The boat would never fly again, but it’s owner had turned her in to a warehouse/ rust collection. I swear I could see the rust stains on the old ship grow as I stood there talking to the shopkeep.
“Monster? Yeah I know him. He’s the kind of fella you don’t want to mess with. Best leave him alone.”
“I have some business with the man. Midn telling me where I can find him.”
“Business eh. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn ya. He rents an old hangar not too far from here. Uses it for all his crazy projects. Oversized nail guns and giant robots and the like. The man can’t read or write but insists on tinkering on his inventions.”
The old man pointed me to Monster’s hangar. It turned out that the hangar was in even worse shape than the derelict ship. A decent shotgun blast and the entire thing would crumble in to a big pile of red dust. From inside the building I could hear the sound of heavy machinery and very loud music. Whoever was in there obviously didn’t care much about his hearing. Knocking would probably be useless, and I was afraid to bring down a wall, so I just entered. I regretted it almost instantly. As I entered a silverback gorilla, no wait, an ugly silverback gorilla in dirty overalls turned around. The moment he saw me he let out a terrifying roar which may have sounded somewhat like “who are you?” and when I didn’t immediately answer he pulled a strange looking weapon from a crate. I raised my hands only to be rewarded with a foot long steel pipe driving itself in to the wall a few inches away from my head. I understood the oversized nail gun remark the shopkeep had made a lot better now.
I calmed myself down and tried to talk some sense in to the…man.
“Whoa there big guy. Hold your fire. I aint here looking for trouble. I just want to talk.”
He looked at me as if trying to decide how to cook me.
“What you want? I aint paying nothing.”
“Off course not. I’m no debt collector. Like I said, just wanna talk.”
He lowered the weapon and sat down on a barrel. He motioned to an empty chest next to him.
“Then sit and talk. If you don’t want money, you want information, yes?”
“I do. I am looking for information on a young woman. A companion in training, very euhm… pretty. She was traveling with a mercenary, Burrows.”
His eyes widened.
“Burrows is dead. I saw him get shot. His ship was broken. He was on his way to Bellerophon when he was attacked by pirates out of Angel. Had to change course. Came here to Hera. Told me he knew some people here.”
“Who shot him?”
“Alliance officers. Turns out he owed them a fugitive or two. Alliance don’t take kindly to men skimping out on jobs.”
“Aint that the truth. The girl?”
“Didn’t see no girl, although it’s possible he brought her to them people he knew here on Hera. Otherwise Alliance got her.”
For once I hoped it was the alliance that had Seline in custody. The guild would find out and she would be brought to the temple safe and sound.
“Any idea who Burrow’s friends are?”
“Yep. Fella named Crinshaw. Some big shot Lao Buhn in a town a few miles out.”
“Thanks. Just one more question. Why do they call you Monster? You seem decent enough”
His grin was downright unsettlin’.
“I call myself that, cause it’s what I am. Don’t much care for other folk but me. the only reason I’m telling you what you wanna know is because I owe Crinshaw 20.000 credits. Maybe you’ll shoot him. Then I won’t have to. Don’t have the time you see. I need to work on my inventions.”
I got up and started walking out of the hangar.
“You do that. See ya Monster.”
I hoped I wouldn’t ever.
“I’m looking for a mister Crinshaw. He’s supposed to be the owner of this mighty fine establishment. Know where I can find him?”
The bartender didn’t put down the glass in his hands but simply nodded to the staircase.
I turned around and saw a handsome man walk down. His clothes probably cost more than the Lady Luck. All the silver gave me the impression that he was either really afraid of werewolves, or seriously overcompensating. I didn’t tell him that off course. The things that told me it was best to keep my mouth shut were the ivory handled pistols that hung from his belt.
He approached me with a smile and sat himself down next to me.
“You must be captain Thorn. I have been waiting for you. Badger told me you would come as soon as possible. I had expected you a mite sooner.”
Badger. I ought to kill that good for nothin’ weasel.
“My sincere apologies. I didn’t realize I had an appointment. I hope I didn’t miss it.”
“Off course not. All that matters is that you made it here. If you would care to join me outside, we can take care of our business.”
I had no idea what he was talking about but a feeling in my gut was telling me to run. Usually I listen to my gut, it has saved me on more than one occasion. This time however I thought about what was at stake. Like I said earlier, if a job gets too personal, you get stupid.
“Might I inquire to the nature of our business?”
Crinshaw froze and slowly turned around.
“Why, bloodshed off course. Badger owes me for a job I did for him. We have a little disagreement on the fact if I finished the job and if he needs to pay me. I say he does, he says he doesn’t.”
“And that automatically leads to bloodshed because…”
“Because I say so Captain Thorn. The only thing I care about more than money is my legend. I am the fastest draw in the outer rim and the border. The only way I can keep my legend alive is by killing people.”
“And what about Seline?”
“What? Oh the girl. I handed her over to the companion-guild about a week ago.”
Gorram it. Badger had set me up. Now I was about to get killed by an expert gunfighter for nothing but 500 credits. No damsel to save or nothing. I really had to change my style. More cold-hearted mercenary, less knight in shining armor.
My doubt must have been clear because Crinshaw’s had stopped grinning.
“There’s no bowing out of this captain. You will fight me.”
“Listen here, all of this is a big mistake. I didn’t…”
“I don’t care. And I aint interested in any deals you might be willing to make. Nothing short of winning this fight will get you back to your ship alive.”
He was being serious, both the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes made that abundantly clear.
I pulled back my coat and readied my pistols. Crinshaw turned around again and walked outside. He stopped in the middle of the town’s main road. I moved in too position as well. I had seen this vid before, it didn’t end well for the handsome young renegade that challenged the town champion.
Crinshaws voice echoed between the old wooden buildings.
“We draw as soon as the bell tower rings for the hour. That’s four minutes from now.”
I was glad I hadn’t arrived ten minutes earlier. Standing still, fully focused is very tiring. The four minutes felt more than forty. I knew there was no chance of winning if I played fair. I’m fast, don’t get me wrong, but not fast enough to outdraw a man like Crinshaw. I would just have to cheat.
The bell in tower rang and I dropped to the ground. Crinshaw had drawn and fired and his shot grazed my shoulder. For a moment I think he thought he had killed me. I prepared to shoot back. I drew my gun as fast as I could, and then the building to my right exploded.
The pressure of the blast threw me to the ground and the fire scorched my hair and the end of my coat. My ears were still ringing as I crawled back on my feet. My gun was laying a few feet away. I looked to the ocean of flames to my right that was rapidly spreading. It was already clear that unless someone intervened, most of the town would burn to the ground. People came out of their houses and started to throw water and sand on the flames. It didn’t take them long to see the futility of their work and they switched to throwing water on other buildings to protect them from the fire. I wondered what had happened and as I looked around the answer came to me. A large piece of the sign that had hung outside of the now wrecked building showed a frog sitting on a large tank of gas. The building had been location of the local gas supplier. Out on the rim most settlements still use fossil fuels as the main power source. Fusion is a core privilege. The bullet that had grazed my shoulder had probably hit one of the storage-tanks.
I drew my second pistol and walked over to Crinshaw who was still on his back. I put the gun to his face and woke him up.
“I think I win mister Crinshaw. Wouldn’t you say? A tough call though, given the explosive nature of our contest. But clear none the less. I would say the better shot is the one who didn’t blow up half the town.”
The hate in Crinshaw’s look could not be described. He bit off every word as he answered me.
“Fine. Captain. You win, although you didn’t fight me fair.”
I holstered my gun and backed away.
“What can I say, I’m not an honest man. That’s what you get when you start dealin’ with criminals.”
I turned around and started to walk away. For a moment I wondered if I should be worried about Crinshaw shooting me in the back, but his sense of honor probably wouldn’t allow it.
Although he didn’t attack, he did retaliate.
“I too can be quite the scoundrel captain Throrn. remember how I said the girl was safe with the Guild. I lied. In truth she is sitting, bound to a pole, in that barn over there”
He pointed towards a large wooden barn that had caught fire and was already fully ablaze.
It was possible the man was lying, but then again…
I uttered some rude, barely audible Chinese syllables, pulled my hat and coat closer to my body and rushed in to the burning building. Not the smartest thing I have ever done.
The smoke and heat hit me like a hammer. A huge, fifty pound hammer swung by one of the legendary giants from earth-that-was. I almost passed out myself. I started to yell Seline’s name and it took a while before I heard any response. Muffled short cries came from a corner of the barn. The corner the farthest away from the fire. I moved through the burning stable, dodging flaming debris as I went. When I finally reached the corner I found the source of the panicked sounds. Sitting in front of me, whimpering, was a large brown bloodhound. Although the animal was panicked it still managed to give me a look that clearly said: “Took you long enough”.
The barn began to collapse around me and I decided that if Seline was still in there, I couldn’t help her any more. I picked up the mut in front of me and ran back outside.
Crinshaw had sat himself down on a comfortable chair in front of his saloon. he wasn’t even helping the other townsfolk trying to put out the fire. He looked disappointed as I exited the burning building. He looked even more so when the stable collapsed only two seconds after I had gotten clear.
I put down the dog and, coughing heavily, stumbled over to the man.
“Was she really in there? Answer me gorram it. If she was in there I swear to whatever God is listening that I will end you right here.”
He had won. I may have won the firefight but he had won the day. He looked at me with obvious amusement and took a sip of iced water before answering.
“She wasn’t. I told the truth when I said she was with the guild. I seemed to have hit a nerve here though. For a dishonest man with no honor you show a remarkable amount of empathy.”
He stood up from his chair, took a long look at me and started to walk inside.
“Leave my town now Captain Thorn. Tell Badger his debt is payed.”
I nodded and made my way back to the shuttle. Oh I would tell badger all right.
The dog followed me back to the shuttle. His fur and my coat showed the same kind of scorch marks.
“Heh, a fellow browncoat eh? Ah what the hell, what’s another mouth to feed.”
I arrived back on the ship a while later. Cheryl came looking as I walked out of the hangar, the dog still in tow.
“What happened captain? Who’s the mut?”
“A new friend. Give him something to eat will ya. And try to think of a name. I don’t think he has one.”
“All right cap’n. Engine’s fixed by the way. She’s ready to go.”
“Good. We’ll leave for Persephone immediately. I’ve got something I want to say to Badger and I don’t think a wave would have the same effect.”