So much for being quiet. What’s the purpose of having a back end of the night flight if you’re going to make that much racket. Hell of a way to end up with an audience. If we were anywhere else, that’s exactly what we’d have right now, an audience. But they are on time, whoever the hell they are. Oh three hundred. Lots of laughing and backslapping going on out there. Adrenaline and testosterone. Great. Makes me wish this was a cryo flight. Almost. I hate cryo. Maybe I’d be willing to make an exception.
Stand just inside the hatch, so I can keep an eye out for what I’m going to be flying with. Shotgun’s just on the side of the door, in case I decide at the last minute that it might not be a flight I want to make afterall. Watch as they come out from around the side of the ship.
There are three of them, dragging another man in chains. I was to deliver four passengers and 230 pounds of ‘cargo’. Dufresne didn’t say anything about what the cargo happened to be. He’s been beat to hell, and, coming from me, that’s really saying something. The shackles at his ankles have just enough play to make sure he’s continually struggling to stay on his feet.
Especially difficult for such a large man, and this guy’s massive. Cuffed at the wrists, and at the waist. Two of the men on either side of him, holding the chains, making a point of keeping him off balance. I’m guessing that even beat to hell, he could still put up one hell of a fight. His mouth is cut to pieces, they’ve hit him so many times, with a bit in his mouth no less. Must hurt like hell.
Heavy welders goggles. Shorn head. His cargoes and tank must have been black at some point. Don’t know where the hell they were keeping him, but it must have been somewhere pretty goddamned dirty. He’s covered in grime and dried blood. I can smell him from here. I could complain about it, but I doubt he had a hell of a lot of say in how he was kept.
The glint of a badge, as a vest swings out slowly in the exhaust. Mercs. Fuck, I hate mercs. Going to have to have a word with Dufresne, when I get back, about what sort of jobs he’s sending me on. They’re armed too. Not that that’s unexpected, or too much of a problem. These guys are jumpy though. Nerved up and edgy, and that’s something to be worried about. Must be one hell of a payday.
Two of the mercs look like your basic big shirt, small hat types. Not quite as big as the prisoner, and leaning more towards the fat big, than the muscle big. They’re the ones pulling on those chains, keeping the prisoner both perpetually off balance, while keeping him from actually falling. They have the mark of sadists, and I’m sure this guy took most of his beating from these two. The third is another matter altogether. A very dangerous man, I’m guessing. He’s laughing and joking with the other two, but it never hits his eyes. Cold and calculating. The sheer size of the other two is nothing compared to how dangerous this man is likely to be. Definitely have to have a word with Dufresne.
“You boys look like you’re one short.” The prisoners’ head comes up, just a bit, at the voice. Not looking, just listening.
“Don’t matter none, three passengers or four, we brought our cargo, and we’re on time.”
“Yes, I did say that, didn’t I, to be on time. And here you all are.” I step back, just a bit from the door of the hatch. Not so much an open invitation, as simply getting out of the way so that they can get the prisoner aboard. The dangerous merc gets on first, moving to a spot near the side where he can watch the other two bring the prisoner in. Something they seem to take great glee in. Pulling him up the ramp, difficult for him, chained the way he is. One last pull on the chain, when everybody’s entered the ship, and the man is down. His teeth bared, grimacing, as he lands hard on his right side.
Watching the hatch slowly closing behind the last of them, as I map out the distances in my head. One last look outside, to make sure the slip outside is still empty.
“The arrangement was for four passengers and cargo.”
“So now it’s three and cargo, what’s the problem, lady?”
“Wrong, sweetheart. Now it’s four, and no cargo. Consider it your lucky day, I charge more for delivering cargo than I do for delivering passengers. Cargo’s worth more. He’s not cargo.” Pointing to the prisoner, still lying on the ground, breathing hard, with a big merc on the ground next to him. I doubt he’s down there to tuck him in. “Now, he’s a passenger, just like the rest of you. Considering he doesn’t look in any shape to actually get himself seated comfortably, perhaps one of you gentlemen might want to do the honours.”
“For fuck’s sake, lady, this piece…….”
“I don’t like mercs, sweetheart. If I knew I was delivering mercs, I would have left your sorry asses on the slip. I don’t see you getting off this rock alive come sun up, if you’re transporting a prisoner, not here, not on this rock. You’re not going to find another pilot. So. It’s your fucking choice. He travels as a passenger, treated like a passenger, or you get the fuck off my ship. What’ll it be boys?”
The two big mercs are pulling the prisoner to his feet, after a fashion. One slams him against the wall. That ought to keep his hands busy, the prisoner is no lightweight, no matter how much of a beating he’s taken. The second merc is struggling with the chains. It’s the dangerous merc I’m watching, the other two are just window dressing. He’s completely calm, his cold face unreadable.
“That’s all right, Ms Adams. I have no problem with calling my prisoner a passenger. I suppose all that’s left is to divulge our destination, and then we’ll be off without further delay?” He’s looking at his watch, a mask of order. “We’re taking the prisoner to Epsilon 4. Now, that’s not going to be a problem, is it Lt Col Adams?”
All right. So he knows who his pilot is. Which means it’s entirely likely that he knows I don’t like the idea of being anywhere near a prison ship. A subtle threat. Cause trouble with his payday, and he’ll drop my name where I don’t want it dropped.
“We’re not going to have any problems at all.”
The hatch is up now. Whatever happens from this point on, happens out of sight of whatever meager security a heap like this has. I still have to work here after all. The dock steward doesn’t take kindly to having to clean up bloody messes on the slip. What happens here, however, is a whole other matter. Old Earth law, ain’t it a bitch? Seems that, no matter what, I’m still the captain on this ship, criminal or no criminal. My word is the law, here, once that hatch closes.
You could cut the tension in the air with a knife, which doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I can feel the skinning blade nestled against the small of my back. I know I have a gun in easy reach, I always do, but, there are times, I tell you, when nothing but the personal touch will do. Ah well, how a girl’s mind will wander on the sweet things of life.
You know when you kind of have an idea of how a thing will play out? I knew this particular dance was going to end in dying, a regular assassination tango, just a matter of who dipped who.
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