THE EXTERMINATOR BY ALYSIANAH NOIRE
Audio version available on YouTube: Star Citizen Nightbus Episode 5
“John James, plain name, simple life,” John introduced himself. Followed by “Or you can call me JJ. I’ve no preference.” He reached across the bar toward Maggie and gave her hand a friendly shake.
Maggie immediately warmed to his disarming smile. Was it a trick of the light or were his eyes sparkling? “On drugs more like,” she thought to herself. Shit! She might have to find someone else. But he’d come so highly recommended. She stepped from behind the bar to join him on the other side.
Maggie was in her late fifties with spiky gray hair she kept long on the top and cut close on the sides and at the back. The lines on her face aged her beyond her years. But the fact that she’d been a beauty in her youth was evident.
Maggie and John were standing at the bar of Maggie’s Red Dragon pub, a popular hangout on Grim Hex. The public space was a large rectangular room divided into distinct quadrants. The decor was a cheap gaudy attempt at the Asian Revival design that had been popular two or more decades ago. Circular black and white rice paper chandeliers with missing panels hung from the ceiling. Scarred wooden dragons acted as vertical beams, the blood red paint chipped and faded. A rumpled threadbare gold and purple lotus patterned carpet was spread across the floor.
Maggie pointed to the areas as she described them. “I’ve got just the one room here as you can see. Pool tables there.” She pointed to the back left corner. “Card tables there.” Back right corner. Pointing to the front half of the room where they were standing,“Up here is all dining.”
John absentmindedly scratched at the three days of stubble on his chin as he listened. He didn’t say anything so Maggie shrugged and continued. Pointing to a door centered on the wall behind the bar she said, “Back there is the kitchen, my office, and restroom.”
“Just staff?” He asked.
“Yeah. Public restrooms too much trouble. Kept finding empty syringes, vials. That Black Widow crap smells like a rotting flesh. Vagrants sleeping, couples fucking — you name it.”
John laughed. He could imagine that and worse. “Hex customers aren’t known for their manners.”
“Drug busts in the men’s room. Last of it for me. Walled it off from this side and renting it out as a commercial stall on the other. Young kid doing tats out of the space. Name’s Ronnie. Seems like a good kid. Pays on time. Customers welcome to eat, drink, ‘n party here. Take care of their other needs elsewhere.”
“I’ve walked through some of those elsewheres,” he joked. “No entrance on this side to the tat place?”
“Nah. Registered as a separate location. This work is only for here.”
“Okay. Cool. It’s really just the one room then. Kitchen looks secure,” he said pointing to the hand scanner on the door. “The glass opening bulletproof?”
“Yep, had that installed last year. So this the kind of job you take? I know you’re bounty but was told you take freelance stuff too. You came highly recommended just wasn’t sure this is your thing.”
As was his custom, John diligently tapped notes into his mobiGlas. He preferred the palm size translucent version. It fit easily into his pockets – pants or a jacket. He especially liked that if necessary the display could be enlarged into an interactive holographic image.
Noticing that Maggie had stopped talking he looked up. His smile was genuine and raised his cherub-like cheeks high on his face. Dark curly hair rested on his forward just above a bushy unibrow that arched gently over gray eyes. “I do most any security work on contract if I can fit it in comfortably. If I can’t, I’ll refer you to someone.” He continued tapping in notes. “No point in stressing to squeeze it.” Looking up he said, “Or stressing you if I can’t be here when needed.” His face back on his mobi, “I like to keep it simple. Works best that way.”
Maggie nodded her head, still uncertain if that meant he was taking the job or not. “Okay…”
“John James, plain name, simple life, is my motto.”
“Uh sure,” was all Maggie could think to say again.
He closed the mobi and gave Maggie his full attention. “Looks like I can fit you in. Friday and Saturday from 10 PM until close which is?
“Right!” He walked away from Maggie to survey the space himself. “I’d like to install security cameras in each section.”
Maggie walked toward the card tables where John had wandered over to. “How much does that cost?”
He chuckled. “My expense if we can agree I can take emergency calls when the place is quiet.” He saw her eyebrows arch up and smiled. “Only local — emergencies. I discount for the time I’m out.” He sauntered back toward the front and leaned on the bar. “Cameras are my eyes and ears. Also, solid evidence if you need if you insist on pressing charges. I prefer to work things out in other ways but here, you’re the boss.”
With concern in her voice, Maggie asked, “You expect that to happen often? Being away during my shift?”
“Never know. Just a precaution. This is side work for me. Filler. Routing pirates and vagrants are my main meal ticket. I’m a senior security and bounty contractor for Hurston, Crusader, and ArcCorp. I get first dibs ‘round here so that’s my priority. If I don’t take a gig, I lose it and eventually, get bumped down the ladder for new work.” His tone was light. His voice even.
Maggie came to stand beside him. “I don’t know. I had trouble a few days. Is why I started asking around.” She wrung her hands. “It got pretty bad. I need those hours covered. Place is rowdiest then. Station’s been seeing more traffic lately. Some looking for work or to shop. Others for trouble.”
He reached out and took one of Maggie’s hands. He patted it like they were old friends. “I hear ya. Totally understand.” Humming quietly to himself he flipped open his mobi. “Let me shoot you a couple names. Either one of these will do just as well.” He returned to humming while he scrolled through his contacts. “Neither are A level cuz they’ll have the same problem as me. Local corp work comes first.” His head bobbed slightly to the tune that only he could hear.
“Oh, I hadn’t realized. I just asked around about who’s best…”
“That’d be me,” he said absentmindedly. “Here we go. Try…”
Maggie cut him off. “Several said you’re the best and actually a good guy. Everyone said that — good guy.”
“I try, Maggie dear, I do try. I keep it simple. Live right. It’ll be alright. That’s my motto.”
“Well if you think it will work…” She hesitated. “I’m up for giving it a try.”
He looked up and graced her with the full force of his penetrating gaze and smiled. “Trust me, it’ll be fine. Wouldn’t steer you wrong. Do no harm is my motto.”
Maggie caught her breath. “Well damn, “ she thought to herself, “His eyes actually do sparkle.” To him, she said, “Send the contract and I’ll authorize it.”
He pointed his mobi at Maggie and swiped his finger from it to her. “There you go.”
“Oh — sorry, don’t have a mobile one. Will pick it up off the one in my office.
“Can you start this week?”
He extended his hand and Maggie accepted it. “Sure can. Will install the cameras on my first shift.”
She hoped she wasn’t blushing. He was too young for her. He wasn’t even particularly handsome. “But there’s something about him,” she decided inwardly.
“Pleasure doing business you with Mags. Off to do my rounds.” John slid his hands into his jacket pockets and sauntered toward the exit. Over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t hesitate if something comes up before then. You’re one of John’s now. I’ll come as quick as I can.”
Maggie patted the sides of her hair and wiped gently at the edges of her eyes as if that could erase the heavy crow’s feet nesting there. “Okay. Sure. Thanks.” Her voice cracked on the last and John gave her a knowing look. She turned away, her cheeks flaming.
“Now for the main event,” John said to himself. He checked the work queue on his mobi to verify the habicube eviction request he’d received earlier was still active. It was. Maggie’s pub was at the back of Hex-D, one of the cleaner struts on the space station. The work request was in Hex-A, the worst area. The quickest way there would be through the tunnels.
The tunnels, as they’re called by locals, are a network of secured maintenance routes burrowed into the giant asteroid turned mining station and housing exchange, now a self-governing powder key. A handful of legit merchants had stayed after the Imperial Green mining operation pulled out. Having invested all their life savings in establishing businesses here, they couldn’t afford to pack up and run when the mines dried up and the criminal element began infiltrating the station, trying to secure a foothold in Stanton.
Industrious opportunists stayed too. They squatted in available spaces, installed personal generators and opened for business. Imperial retained control of the functioning self-service habicubes and continued to collect the revenue. But everything on the station was an “as is” situation. No maintenance or repairs. When things stopped working on Grim Hex, they stopped working forever.
John whistled as he made his way to the closest maintenance tunnel. He unlocked the massive vault-like door with his access code. As the door retracted, he ducked his six-foot-four stocky frame through the opening. It was pitch black inside. He pulled out the flashlight he kept clipped on his belt.
With no maintenance crews on the station, lighting in the tunnels was spotty. A good distance ahead, he could see a pinprick of yellow light flickering. He panned his flashlight around him and forward to get his bearings. The jagged walls of the tunnel glistened with sweat. Rusted pipes overhead lead the way forward. They hissed angry pockets of steam from cracked wounds. John started walking, his boots echoing every footstep.
Although it would be a reduced payout, John hoped the occupants had voluntarily vacated by now. The request was two hours hold. He’d get his 25% fee for swiping in at the location as evidence he’d checked it out. It would be easier for everyone if they were already gone.
Persuading vagrants to depart on their own was his preferred solution. Convincing would-be pirates to vacate the area with words or by force was better than disabling, capturing and hauling them planetside for processing in his book. “Everyday flying free above the rock is a good day,” was his motto.
Seasonal supplies and the mandatory annual physical required by his contract were the only times John went planetside. He was impatient waiting at the medical facility. He fidgeted waiting in line at the surplus warehouse where he bought non-perishable food supplies. He grunted trying to maneuver around the [other customers] picking through clothing haphazardly tossed into “Final Sale” bins. The streets were the worst, especially on ArcCorp. The teeming throngs of yackers brushing by and bumping into you at every turn. It made his skin crawl to be scurrying among them on the anthill.
John was almost at the other end now. He could see the door clearly from here. He pulled his Gemini L86 from the back waistband of his pants and checked the magazine. It was full. He reached down and grabbed a fresh magazine one from the bottom right pocket of his cargo pants. He put away the flashlight. Just before stepping through the exit, he slid the pistol into his right jacket pocket and the fresh mag into his left.
He emerged from the tunnel and waited until the door locked behind him. Strut A was quiet. Fewer people than not normal around. He wondered why but kept moving. He nodded to a group of guys decked out in grunge gear, hunched around a fist-sized glass vial full of red smoke. “Red Alice”, he mused to himself. A popular psychotropic drug that caused temporary paralysis when overdosed. Just beyond the group of men, was the metal grated staircase to the next level. John took the steps two at a time then turned left into Strut A’s shanty town. A dead end of the lowest rate habicubes, fronted by first-come-first-served cardboard sleeping spots and perfumed in urine. With no merchants on this side, there was no one to complain or pay for security to keep the place civil.
The cube he was looking for was second to last on the left. As he approached, he saw a bloody trail leading to the door. Drops of blood on the gray slab floor like bread crumbs. A bloody palm smeared on the door frame. He eased his pistol out of his pocket and moved into the shadows along the opposite wall.
TO BE CONTINUED…