Rocks Or Death

It's then that the door opens, which probably saves us from hurling any more abuse at each other. In the doorway is a young man, not much older than me, but his clothes are tailored and better quality than any of the stuff I smuggled on Trevlia, so he's probably not to be underestimated.

"This is Jane, then," he says. He's not the man who brought me here and left me in this room, nor is he anyone I recognise from the gov screens. I've never seen him before in my life. "She's not what I expected."

I scowl, but don't say anything. I'm not exactly in a position to argue about pronouns, given that I'm tied to a chair. The Owl smiles lazily, and turns to the new arrival. "She's feisty," she says. "Got quite the sharp tongue. But she's denied nothing so far."

I'm beginning to think I'm not here because of the smuggling. "What is that you want with me?" I say.

"Just to ask you a few questions," says the young man. "Will that be a problem?"

I want to shrug. It's funny: you don't appreciate how much you rely on gestures and movement until you're tied up and have to rely on shaking your head or speaking. And nothing quite conveys the same feeling as a resentful shrug. I pull a face instead, but I don't think it has the same effect. "You're wasting your time on me," I say. "I'm nobody. I never even smuggled anything important."

"You're useful to us," says the Owl. "What good is a notorious smuggler? Everybody's heard of them. Everybody's looking out for them, and they can't walk through any port without setting off the alarms. And as for never smuggling anything important..."

"Harrowven deals in everyday materials," I say. "Fabrics. Tools. He didn't even handle weapons unless it was strictly necessary."

"Is that what he told you?" the young man asks.

"It's what I know," I snap, and I'm about to carry on but he interrupts me.

"I beg your pardon. I've been terribly rude, and haven't even introduced myself. My name is Nicolas Landsen. You can call me Nick."

"Sure. Nick." I wonder if he notices the slightly dismissive tone of my voice: I don't care what his name is, I just want them to untie me from the chair before I lose all feeling in my hands and feet. Already they're pretty numb. "So let me guess. Harrowven was responsible for transporting something you want, and you figure since I worked for him, I'll know where it went. And then, I don't know, you figure I have a grudge because he left me behind, so I'll turn traitor and get it for you."

"She's a bright one," says Nicolas, glancing up at the Owl. "But no. We figure you'll get it for us because if you don't we'll kill you."

I look at them both. They're not lying. "Charming."

Probably they expect me to scared, or to start begging them for mercy. But I pretty much resigned myself to dying as soon as they picked me up -- I've seen the stories on the gov screens, and I know once the Owl gets you, you probably won't be seen again. So even if she's not here to kill me herself, I knew she also wasn't planning to give me a makeover and maybe a new leg from the moment I saw her. As a result I'm pretty disinterested in this threat: I don't know what they're talking about or where to find it, and since the mission will probably kill me anyway, this way seems a lot quicker and potentially less painful.

They're waiting for me to say something else. I don't. I've got nothing else to say.

The Owl glances once at Nicolas and then presses a button on a screen mounted on the wall. "Think carefully for me," she says. "Would you happen to have seen anything that looks like this?"

"That looks a whole lot like a rock," I say. Because it does. It's kind of shapeless, but vaguely spherical with lumps all over. It's dark grey and doesn't look like it has anything to do with human manufacturing.

"You're right enough there. It's a whole lot like a rock. But it's an important rock."

"Let me think over all the rocks I've seen in my life and tell you if any of them looked like that. Hang on, you'll have to give me a minute. This could take a little while. I've seen a lot of rocks, you know. I mean, I come from Cannavan. Rocks are sort of our business."

The Owl sighs and turns to her colleague. "Nick, you deal with her. I've had enough of her smart mouth."

"Can't keep up?" I say.

She doesn't look at me, just at Nicolas. "Alternatively, you could just let me kill her now."

"You're really convincing me on the whole 'not an assassin' deal, you know."

Though if looks could kill I reckon she'd be a pretty effective assassin, and I'd be a pretty effective corpse. I try not to grin. Winding up your inquisitors is the most fun a teenage smuggler can have while tied to a chair.

"Go," says Nicolas, not looking at me. "I'll talk to the girl."

Seriously? I think to myself. I'm getting bored of this whole misgendering thing now. You could just ask about pronouns. It's not that hard.

The Owl leaves, letting the door slam shut behind her, the rubber seals that keep the oxygen in making a weird sucking noise. It's pretty hard to slam a door on a space station. I'm kind of impressed.

"Jane," says Nicolas. He doesn't sound friendly anymore. I mean, he was never exactly nice, but this definitely isn't a good sign. "This rock is a rare and somewhat dangerous ore that originates from a meteor strike. We know it was in Harrowven's possession and should have formed part of his last shipment. Where was that shipment going?"

"I never saw that rock," I say. "But I know the shipment was going to Aldersey."

"Aldersey? Aldersey's barely even a moon."

"That's where it was going." And I'm not even lying. Why would I lie? I don't care about their stupid rock.

"Well. See how much easier things are when you cooperate?" Is that smile meant to be reassuring? It's really not. "Okay. One more question, Jane, and then we can start making plans. When is it due to arrive on Aldersey?"

"It's not. The last shipment never left Trevlia."

The End

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