Another Flash Fiction Challenge
from Terrible Minds. From a list of 13 interesting titles, I chose Three Miles Left to Regret, but somehow my mind wandered and I ended up with Grave Deeds. 1248 words.
“How bad is it?” Arla asked her mechanic. Tag lounged at the entrance to the engine room, a place he would never fully understand. Fueling, basic maintenance, fuse replacement, those he could handle, but anything else and he’d need a rescue tow.
“Engine’s slagged, most of the electronics are fried… catering unit works… looking at 40 thou just to get her running again.” Mitch held up a blackened cable. “Given that it’s nine years out of date… I’d call it totaled, Captain.”
“Thanks, Mitch. Dismissed.” Mitch slapped Tag’s shoulder as he left.
“Bad luck, man.”
Arla watched him leave before turning to her brother.
“Why didn’t you listen to me, Tag? The one station in this entire system that’s crazy prejudiced against non-believers, and you land there for fuel? What were you thinking?” Tag rubbed his hand on the back of his neck.
“It was the closest station, Arla. I didn’t have the credit to call out a travel tanker. What do you want me to say?”
“Face it, you’re screwed right now. Your ship is busted, you have no money, and staying in this system won’t be good for your long term health. I’m asking you- are you ready to start listening to me?”
“Maybe.” She folded her arms across her chest and took a deep breath.
“I’m willing to offer you a job. You can crew for me, store the Athy as you earn money to fix her and get your ass out of this system. We’ll be taking the Tunnels to the Reliance system in a day or so.”
“Damn it, Arla, you know I can’t do that. You’re my baby sister, not a captain.” Too short to be a captain, he thought.
“Fine. And I am a Captain, even if I’m not yours.”
Arla stalked out.
“You have 36 hours to get that wreck off my ship!” she yelled before exiting the cargo bay with an anticlimactic whoosh. Tag chuckled. She never could make a decent exit.
Dorien Station was more typical of the breed than Obsidian, thought Tag. Though for all I know Obsidian’s perfectly normal when you aren’t a heathen.
Always money to be made, in the right places. Easy enough to find too, with the right programs.
Tag tracked down ten potential jobs as he walked from the Farseeing Carl’s berth to a lower level of Dorien, thick with the scents of taverns and smoking lounges: vomit, stale beer and incense. Nine were taken before he could get to the contact.
“That place is haunted, you stupid bitch. No one will take this task,” a large man loomed over a woman swathed in bright pink scarves, shaking his fist.
“If you are too much a coward, then leave. I will find another.”
“How ‘bout I see what you’re hiding under all that instead?”
A small, hooded figure stepped between them and deftly snatched the large man’s arm in a submission hold, walking him out the door. Tag sat down across from the woman in pink.
A slit in the scarves revealed azure eyes. Too bright to be her real eyes.
“What’s the job?” She folded her hands in her lap.
“My father is recently deceased. He is interred in the Floating Grave, asteroid OS.29.1. He was mistakenly placed there with an object of great sentimental value to me, and I need it retrieved, immediately.” She pulled a slim device out of a sleeve and proffered it to Tag. “This tracker will lead you to my grandmother’s necklace, and you will find your compensation on its account once I receive it. Understood?”
Tag took the tracker and bit his lip. 50 thousand credits and everyone else had turned it down out of superstition. He might not believe in ghosts, but his gut still didn’t like it. She definitely wasn’t telling him everything, but for that kind of money…
“I’ll need half up front.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I am afraid that will not be possible. Payment is contingent upon receipt of the necklace. If this is not to your satisfaction, I can surely find someone else to perform this simple task.”
“Not so simple when the location is a haunted grave yard that doesn’t allow visitors. Why not have him get it?” He jerked his head at the hooded figure now returned to her side.
“She is my sworn companion and cannot go so far from my side.” She plucked at her sleeve and sighed. “And I cannot leave the station without that necklace. I do not expect or desire you to understand. Will you do it or not?”
Tag glided in to land on asteroid OS.29.1 in Arla’s number two cutter.
He sealed his faceplate and popped the canopy, drifting out into the airless darkness of the Floating Grave, populated with the bodies of the superstitious who hadn’t wanted their bodies disturbed once laid to rest. Almost everyone had either too much fear or too much respect to bother, especially since these weren’t exactly kingly tombs. Whatever the grandmother’s necklace was, it couldn’t be worth more than 100 credits or it wouldn’t be here.
The device gave him a 3D display of its location relative to the necklace, but it didn’t give him a map through the honeycombed asteroid. Three dead-ends and one hour later, Tag found the necklace stuck around the neck of a freshly vacuum-frozen corpse.
It was made of yarn, beads and plaster. Didn’t look like it was worth 10 credits, let alone 50,000. Tag melted it off the corpse with a utility laser and placed it in a sack at his belt before heading back to the cutter.
He glided out cleanly. Tag began to relax when an alert flashed on the screen. By instinct, he leaned hard on the joystick, expecting the steering to resist like the Athy’s always did. The cutter spun wildly away.
One second later a defense laser sliced through the cutter’s left side.
Maybe Arla won’t notice, thought Tag as he eased the cutter (most of it anyway) back to the Carl.
He found pink scarves in the same place as before. She clutched at the bag he held out, taking a deep breath of its contents before waving him off.
“You will find your money in the tracker’s account.” He stood there, watching her almost quivering with tension. “You may go.” She said, and the hooded girl began to shoo him. He sighed and headed back to the Farseeing Carl.
Arla was waiting at the door to the cargo bay where the Athy languished. She hit him in the chest with a clipboard, chopping hard enough to bruise.
“Oof. What’s that for?”
“That’s the bill for my cutter, brother. I’m keeping the Atheist as collateral.”
Tag used the touchpad on the cliboard to flip through the schematics of the cutter, illustrations of exactly how much damage he’d managed to inflict, reasons her insurance wouldn’t cover it…
“40,000? How much does that thing go for new anyhow?”
“It’s all there. Try learning to read.”
Tag’s hand went to the back of his neck. Then he pulled out the device and keyed 10,000 to his personal account.
“Here you go. Now we’re even.”
Arla laughed. “We are nowhere near even.”
“We’re even and I’m asking for a favor.”
“Is that so?”
“About that job…”
She shook her head. “Fine. Janitorial. Minimum wage. And you’re paying rent on the cargo space the Athy is taking up.”
Tag gritted his teeth.