The Exterminator Part 2 of 2
John slipped from shadow to shadow until he was across the aisle from habicube A19. To prevent the security system from locking them out of the room, the delinquent guests had placed a metal object at the base of the sliding door to keep it open. His pistol locked and loaded, he crossed to the other side, flattening himself against the wall to the left of the door. He heard an argument brewing inside.
There were two distinct voices. The man’s voice was agitated and traveled from side to side as if he was pacing. The woman’s voice was hushed and seemed nearer to the door. Her responses were clipped and defiant.
The man, “We need to find a ride outta this rat trap. That bitch is starting to smell.”
“We need a plan before you get us killed,” the woman replied.
“Don’t have much time. Room money’s run out. Someone might be on the way already even in this dump of a station. Need to get moving.” Resolved he said, “Yeah, let’s get moving.”
“Pass. Rather take my own chances.”
“Suit yourself. I’m better alone. You’ve been useless anyhow,” he replied.
She laughed at him with a hint of loathing. “Too bad you can’t fly a ship even if you manage to steal one,” she said smugly.
“There is that. Guess that means you’re coming with me.”
“No, I’m not,” she replied mutinously.
“That’s not sounding friendly,” John thought to himself. Sensing that the scene he was hearing play out was about to escalate, he leaned forward to peeked through the door opening.
The room was steeped in filth. Empty food and beverage containers littered the floor. The woman had her back facing the door. She was in stained and perspiration soaked halter top and jeans. Her brown hair was cut short and plastered to her scalp. The man was tall, lanky, bald and wore what looked like a prisoner’s uniform. He was standing in the far right corner next to the bed inset into the wall. Blood soaked sheets covered a lump on the bed.
“You wouldn’t have made it this far without me. I’m calling the shots.” The man raised a pistol toward the woman, a broken handcuff swinging from his wrist.
John had a clean shot if he could quickly thrust his hand in the opening. He hesitated for a moment considering his options. As though the man’s sixth sense of being watched had kicked in, he turned his head in John’s direction and their eyes locked.
The man pivoted his weapon in John’s direction and leaped toward the door. Whether to close it or grab the woman as shield John couldn’t know. What he did know was he couldn’t let this door close. John thrust his hand through the door opening while simultaneously dropping to the ground and began firing. The muzzle of the Gemini flared and smoked with each recoil. The woman who’d been standing fell to her knees screaming. Had she been hit? Couldn’t worry about that now. John pulled back using the door as cover.
Continuing to advance, the man screamed obscenities as he was hit. “Not taking me. Fuck you. You’re gonna die!”
John kept firing. Inside the room, blood splatters rained like confetti. Inches away from him, the man’s body finally fell forward, his skull hitting the slab floor with a sickening crack.
John vaulted to a standing position. He pressed his shoulder through the door forcing it open while reloading his pistol. “Station security,” he said with authority. Training his pistol on the women he shouted, “Don’t move.” Looking down at her, he doubted she’d move. She was in a ball sobbing hysterically.
When the woman calmed down enough to speak, John asked her name. She didn’t answer immediately. Leaning against the wall opposite here, he waited patiently for her to respond.
Trying to regain her composure and pointedly looking away from the corpse on the floor she said, “Diane. Diane Shea.”
“What happened here? This guy kidnap you?”
Diane’s pupils were dilated. Black orbs in a milky white sky. It never occurred to her to lie. Her voice was unsteady as she spoke. “No. Not really.” She wiped at the mascara-stained tears leaving black tracks down her face. “We were on a slave ship headed to Kins.”
Incredulous, John replied. “Wait. What? Nah, not legal in UEE space. Not even to transport. Going to have to sell me something else sister. Tell me straight and I’ll be straight, that’s my motto.”
“I was in Yulin with… Guess you’d call him my boyfriend. Guess I knew he was running a scam. He was taking bets on Sataball. Things didn’t work out. We ran up a bill at the hotel we were staying at and he skipped out on it and me.” Her voice trailed off.
“He left me there sleeping. I couldn’t pay it. No one to call to ask to pay it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Sentenced to three months indentured service.” She inhaled deeply and shook her head back and forth. “Like that shit wasn’t bad enough the assholes transporting us decided they could get more for the women if they sold us on the black market instead of transporting.”
The pain in her voice was too authentic to doubt. John eased up and prodded her gently to continue. “Kins huh. How’d you get here?”
“Ronnie,” she glanced at the corpse on the floor then averted her eyes again. “Hatched a plan to get us all out if someone could fly the ship.” She paused, transfixed by the blood on her hands. Suddenly revolted, she began scrubbing her palms up and down the front of her jeans.
John’s voice broke her out of her trance. “And?”
“And I can…fly a little. Enough to get us in the air anyway. Autopilot somewhere safe.”
Diane took it as disbelief. She briefly looked up at him. “I’m a dropout of many things. One of those being civ flight training.”
Diane explained that when they realized the ship was stopping for fuel in Stanton, they hatched a plan to lure one of their two captures into the female holding cell. Lara, an unlicensed prostitute who’d been snatched, volunteered to be the bait since she was dressed for the part.
Things hadn’t gone to plan. The guard was small but put up a huge struggle. After someone had grabbed his key and let Ronnie out of his cell, he’d killed the guard. Things went from bad to worse after rushing the cockpit ended in a standoff. Hoishee was hit and died instantly. The pilot bio-locked the controls while returning fire and quantum jumped to here.
Diane’s voice was steadier. “We think he also called for back up. Ronnie said we needed to run and take our chances so we did. He grabbed what he could on the way out – anything we might be able to sell quickly. Lara was hurt. I found the medkit and a coat to throw over her to hide the injury.”
“How many of you were there?” John interrupted.
“Four. Me, Ronnie, Lara, and Hoishee.” Diane cupped her face in her hands. “No one was supposed to die. Just wanted to get out of there.”
John looked at the bloody bundle on the bed. “That Lara?”
“Yes. Ronnie sold what he’d grabbed to rent this room and get some food. I tried… did what I could but I’m no medic. When we couldn’t stop the bleeding I gave her all the pain meds to — to stop her screaming. It was making Ronnie crazy. He started shouting and threatening to drag her off and dump her.” A shudder ran through Diane from head to toe. “I gave her all the pain meds in the kit and held her hand ‘til she was quiet.”
“You mean until she was dead.”
“Yes.” Diane’s legs were starting to cramp. She stood cautiously, raising her hands up when she saw John put his hand on the pistol protruding from his waistband. “What happens now?”
“There are dead people here. Someone has to answer for that. The ship you arrived on could still be here. More dead bodies.” He shook his head in disgust. “When you’re looking for trouble, you find it, I always say.” John looked Diane up and down seeing if she had any pockets. “You armed?”
“No. Never had a weapon. Was lookout in the cargo hold. I saw what happened in the cockpit on the remote camera.” Pleading in her voice she said, “I just wanna go home. Can’t you just let me go? They were going to…” Bile rose in her throat. She clamped both hands over her mouth and swallowed it back down. Wrapping her arms around herself she said, “It’s not right what they were going to do.”
“No, it’s not right. Fucking scum.” He spat. “Delinquent checkout for this room was logged for a security check. There are bodies here that have to be accounted for.”
“Do they what?” John asked.
“Have to be accounted for?” Diane asked meekly.
John rounded on her. “You were looking for trouble and found it. Don’t you think Lara’s family deserves to know she’s dead? What about this Hoishee person. I don’t know what Ronnie’s story was but he might have someone who’d like to know the same.”
“He was a drifter and a thief. This was his third stint doing time he said. Got no tears for him.” Deflated, she exhaled a sigh that completely emptied her lungs.
“Look, under the circumstances, you’ll probably be set free after the investigation.”
“After this kinda scared to take my chances. Know what I mean?”
John knew exactly what she meant. Everything would be hearsay about who’d done what. A lawyer friend once told him that if there’s a body, there’s a trial. People feel safer if someone’s feet are held to the flame when there’s a corpse. In this case, though, the ship logs could validate the story of being picked up in Yulin and a destination set for Kins that was later altered, diverting them to Stanton. But the deaths within the Stanton jurisdiction – they’d want someone’s hide for those. Right or wrong, examples were often made to make the next person think twice.
“I feel for ya kid. Having fun-n-games turn to this.” He flipped open his mobiGlas and set the status of the eviction request to completed. He’d finish the official report later. For now, he wanted to prevent anyone else from being assigned the case since he was already on site. John turned his thoughts to the unpleasantness ahead. He’d have to secure the prisoner and take her planetside for processing. Turning to Diane he said, “I’m going to have to cuff you.” He saw panic in her eyes. “I am NOT going to hurt you.”
“Don’t do this.” she pleaded. “It’s not right. Not my fault,” she said her voice rising. “Fuck those guys. If we hadn’t stopped them, they were going to sell us!”
“You’re right. Absolutely right but it’s not my job to make those judgments,” he said moving forward cautiously. “Live right and it’ll be alright. Just doing my part of the job. Local authorities will do the rest.”
Diane dropped her head and her shoulders sagged, resigned to her fate. When John was in front of her and about to ask her to turn around so he could cuff her, a thought occurred him. Where was he taking her? Grim Hex was in the Crusader vicinity but not managed or policed by that corporation. His official contracted work on Grim Hex was to evict delinquent guests and prevent damage to the functional habicubes. This situation no longer fits that scenario. Diane was certainly willing to leave and wasn’t that always his first course of action? Mutually beneficial agreement to vacate? He couldn’t imagine the ream of paperwork associated with reporting this situation. Damn it, he’d be planetside for hours and that’s after figuring out where to take her.
He reached to pull handcuffs out of his back pocket but paused mid-action. “Can you get out of here if I let you go?”
“What?” Diane looked up in confusion.
“If I cut you loose can you get off this station? Anyone you can call for transport?”
Diane brought a hand up to her mouth. Thinking, her eyes darted back and forth. Finally, she said, “No — not really,” dejection in her voice.
“Shit.” Exasperated, John said, “Can’t leave you here. Will end up in more trouble or worse.”
Grasping at straws Diane offered, “I can find work real quick or work for a seat on a ship out of here.”
“This isn’t that kind of station. Little to no work here but lots of trouble. Is only a few steps away from anarchy.”
“Oh. Should have guessed. Little we saw, the place is a dump.” An idea occurred her. A small ray of hope. “Could you maybe help me? I’d find a way to pay you back. I swear.”
“Not really my thing. I like to keep things simple. Don’t ask favors. Don’t do ‘em. Keeps everything on a level playing field.”
“Oh. I see. Well then so just let me go. I’m not your problem.”
John considered this option. He wondered how he’d feel if the next he heard of her, she was a corpse on Grim. Or worse. He did believe there were things worse than death out in the cold black of space. “Even if you find work, you wouldn’t earn enough to pay for a place to stay while saving to get out of here.” He didn’t mean to direct it at her but there was a bit of agitation in his voice. This was becoming the opposite of keeping it simple. And he had other work requests to process.
“That’s not your problem. You think I was headed to a luxury hotel? Sleeping in a stairwell is better than that.” Diane flinched when John suddenly took two strides and was suddenly next to her. When she realized that she wasn’t his target, she moved out of his way.
John entered his authorization code into a keypad on the door. A small panel slid open revealing an LCD display. He accessed the room’s status sheet and set the occupancy rating to “non-functional” | cause “Safety hazard. Air purification unit irregularities” | access permissions “security and maintenance only”. He closed the panel and turned to Diane.
“I’ve set the room to inoperable until it’s been repaired. I’ll call the local Search and Rescue Authority to collect the bodies. After that, you can stay here while you work on getting off the station.”
Diane’s mouth fell open. “Really? How much time does that give me? How long til a repair crew shows up?”
“Forever. Nothing gets repaired on Grim Hex. The company that owns these Habicubes collects revenue that’s readily collectible and that’s it. No maintenance crews. Shops are locally owned and maintained. But I don’t advise overstaying your welcome. Lots of trouble to be had, especially on this strutt.”
A small bit of relief came over Diane’s face. She closed her eyes and inhaled. When she opened them, she looked into John’s eyes and tentatively reached for his hands. John let her grab his hand and give it a shake. “Thank you. I won’t be trouble. Will be out of here as fast as I can.” She crossed her right hand over her heart. “Trust me. I’ve learned a scary lesson. Outta here as soon as I’m able.”
To her, he said, “Sure thing. Do right and it’ll be alright. Remember that okay?”
She nodded her head in agreement. “How will I get in and out?”
“Going to take you to a friend of mine. Nice woman. Get you a meal and maybe she has…” He looked at her blood and dirt stained clothes. “Something you can wear for now. In the meantime, I’ll get you a keycard that will access this habicube. With any luck, the bodies will be clear before you come back. Hopefully, an acquaintance of mine is working Search and Rescue today. I’ll slip her their names. Corpse retrieval team will clean up biofluids. That’s a public health hazard. For the rest this mess, you’re on your own.” John opened his mobi. “You know Lara’s full name or anything that might help ID her?”
“Lara Billingsley. Think she was a runaway from way back. She mentioned earth several times.”
“Sorry. No. Hoishee was pretty quiet the whole time. Calm compared to me and Lara. She didn’t say much. Got the impression this wasn’t her first run-in with being detained by the Banu.”
“What about the ship you were on? Need to see if it’s still here.”
“Was a rigged up Cutlass Black. Had the name Vipers Den painted on the outside. I heard them mention holding up in Spider after they’d collected on us.” The horror of the past events washed over her, raising goose pimples on her flesh. Hugging herself Diane said, “Sorry, that’s all I know.”
“It’s a start. C’mon lets get you out of here for a while. I’ll flag the bodies for emergency pick-up to move things along.”
Maggie looked up from wiping down the bar to see John walking through the door with a bedraggled young woman at his side. Maggie recognized the jacket the woman was in, as the one she’d seen John wearing earlier. “This looks interesting,” she mused to herself. When the pair reached the bar she said, “Didn’t expect to see you back here today.”
“Wasn’t part of my day’s plan either, Maggs. This here’s Diane.” Turning to Diane he said, “This is Maggs. The friend I was telling you about.”
“Rated a friend already?” Maggs said. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You are and it’s meant to be one.”
Maggie smiled. She was instantly charmed – again, even though she felt a request for a favor coming. “Nice to meet you, Diane.”
“Same,” Diane said in a low voice.
“I kind of need a favor, Maggs.”
“Happy to help if I can.”
John relayed the events that had happened since they’d last spoken. He hoped the retelling of it and the choices he’d made wouldn’t offend her. He was glad not to see any condemnation in her expression as she listened. Unbeknownst to John, Maggie would never have reacted that way. She’d been around too long and had seen too much to be shocked by what he’d told her. In fact, she was happily surprised that he’d decided to help Diane. It didn’t seem in character for him to skirt the law, being the man of specific values and dictums. She was glad he’d bent his rules this time.
Maggie showed Diane into the employee restroom to clean up and change into a pair of overalls she kept in her office. She made her a plate of food to eat now and an extra to take with her. She suggested Diane eat and rest a bit in her office while the rest was being worked out.
John and Maggie were sitting at the far end of the bar having a drink. “You did the right thing, I think,” Maggie offered. “I can give her couple hours a day of work in exchange for food or credits. Whichever she prefers. Will also put the word out with folks I trust.”
“You’re the best, Maggs.”
“You’re a good guy, John. People told me you were and they were right.”
“You mean good guy as in violating my contract by falsifying the condition of the habicube? Getting a stranger a keycode to live there free? Lying about how I know the dead girl’s name?” He shook his head thinking about what he’d done.
“Life’s not always black and white, John.” She interrupted his ready reply. “I know. I know. You have your way of doing things. That’s all well and good when it’s possible.” She put her hand on his shoulder and waited until she had his full attention. “You are a good man, JJ. In this situation, it was the right thing to do.”
John smiled and shrugged his shoulders in acquiescence. “If you say so, Maggs.”
“I do. ‘Cuz even good people paint outside the lines sometimes.”