Bribes And Promises

I ignore Nick's look of surprise and say, "Harrowven didn't just abandon me down there. Well, he kind of did, but it was deliberate. Okay, so I didn't know that until too late, but still. There was a reason."

"Get to the point. What do you mean, the shipment's still on Trevlia?"

"The patrols -- your lot -- came before he could send it. The whole crew scarpered and it wasn't all packed and ready, so it couldn't go with them. Funny, really. If you'd been a bit more subtle you could have walked right up and got your hands on whatever this rock thing is."

"I know Harrowven enough to be sure he wouldn't sell to me, even if he has no idea what it is he's got."

I don't ask how they met. I don't care. I'm more interested in this rock, and why these gov folks could possibly be interested in it. "I was meant to guard it so the landsmen didn't walk right up and loot the hangar," I say. "But somebody," and here I give a melodramatic roll of my eyes towards the door the Owl went through, "didn't stop to find out whether I had a job to do. It's probably already gone."

"You think the civilians will have taken it?" Civilians. As if the traders are an army. Dunno why he thinks he's too good to call them landsmen like the rest of us do.

"Might've done. Looks like a rock to me, but somebody will twig that it's valuable, and I wouldn't put past them to nick it."

Nicolas considers me for a moment or two. "Why did Harrowven leave you behind?" he asks eventually.

"Someone had to stay."

"You misunderstand me. Why you, specifically?

I look down at my leg. He probably gets the message, but just in case I say, "Patrols move fast. I don't."

"And if you went back to the hangar, you'd know where to find this item?"

"No clue," I begin, and then hesitate. I should be making myself valuable. They're not gonna let me go, sure, but it might stop them killing me, which the Owl seems keen to do. "I could probably figure it out, better than any of your guys. Harrowven's got a system, though it's more a form of organised chaos."

"Then we'll send you down there."

Presumably with a guard, or they wouldn't risk the reentry fuel on me when I might not come back. "What is this thing?" I ask. "Why is it so important?"

"That's not your problem."

They're making it my problem. "Whatever," I say. "I don't care that much. New question: what do I get out of this?"

"You get to live."

"I need more than that. Maybe I know Harrowven's system, but I also know his traps, and I know how to set them off. I could destroy that thing. Give me a reason not to."

He smiles. It's not what I'm expecting and I watch him warily until he says, "And I suppose that's also why he left you behind."

I hate not being able to shrug. Nothing else conveys that same casual disrespect and indifference. "That's part of it."

"Very well. You do this, you get to prove yourself a smuggler worthy of employment. Paid employment." I huff out my breath. A job with these guys isn't worth this jaunt and I mislike the idea of smuggling on gov ships, not least because it probably means fleecing my old friends. "And you get a new leg. A better one, one that moves fast. You know we've got the med teams to do it."

I always thought a proper prosthetic would be out of my reach unless I nicked one and cut it to fit with one of Harrowven's circle cutters. "Fine," I say. It's not like having principles has got me far so far. "You've got a deal. But I want a nice leg. Not some clunky piece of tin: get me something with a bit of style."

"I'm sure our teams would be happy to oblige with whatever you want, be it floral--"

"Don't even go there," I say. "I want black and bronze, something that looks dangerous. Preferably something that'll hurt when I kick people with it."

At that, Nick's smile widens. "Well, Jane, I'll have the pod made ready. You're truly a girl with hidden depths."

"There's one last thing I should have mentioned," I say. He glances up. "I'm not a girl. You know, just so as you're aware."

He regards me for a moment. "I see," he says, and without taking his eyes off me he opens his communicator and says, "Set up Pod 7 for a trip to the surface. And bring our smuggler some new clothes. Something practical. They've got a long journey ahead of them."

His raised eyebrow is a question. He wants to know if he got the words right, if that's what I was asking him. I smile. "Better," I say. "But I swear to you that if any of those clothes--"

"There's no need to worry," he says. "We don't carry clothes designed for teenage girls on this ship. They'll be to your taste."

It's funny. I'm not sure I've got taste, because most of my clothes have been scavenged and scrounged, adjusted roughly with whatever needles and thread I could get my hands on. Sometimes Harrowven gives me bits and pieces of fabric from the stuff he's moving, and I'll have silk patches to mend my dungarees or a bit of leather to tack over the holes worn through the knees of my jeans.

But I smile anyway. "Maybe there's something to be said for selling out," I say. "Never thought I'd find myself a gov agent."

"Oh, that reminds me. We're not feds, Jane."

I stare at him. "But the Owl..."

"Is the only one of us with a gov permit and she mostly doesn't use it the way they're expecting. We're what you might call freelance."

"And that rock?"

"It's not agents who are bidding for it."

I pause a moment to consider this. "Well," I say eventually. "Looks like I'm going from one set of criminals to another."

Nicolas doesn't exactly smile at that, but he looks amused anyway. "We're better paid," he says. "And we'll get you that leg you want."

And really, that's all I can ask for. Like I said, principles. They're not exactly my forte. "Then what are we waiting for?" I say. "Get me out of this chair and into that pod."

The End

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