Destyn Wu hurled a half-filled ashtray across his bedroom, into the red-flashing alarm currently taking up the entirety of the vidscreen on the opposite wall. Contact with the dog ends and ashes seemed to do the trick, and the alarm went silent, the room returning to its nocturnal darkness once more. Groaning, Destyn sat up among a clatter of empty cans competing to see which could make the most noise on the way to the junk-littered floor.
“Ship,” he said, voice as bleary as his eyes, “incident report.”
“Good morning, sir!” This chirp of a reply came from all corners at once, causing Destyn to wince and let off a string of well-worn profanity. “As per sir’s request, your morning alarum has sounded.”
“It sounded like the end of the world, Ship.” He rubbed his face with both hands, fingertips pressing into his eyes. “What’s the time?”
“Martian Standard Time has us at three in the afternoon, sir.” If a computer could sound reproachful, this one came very close. “Shall I automat some coffee?”
“Yeah, do that.”
Destyn grunted as he pulled himself out of bed, back and knees cracking. A parallel row of pale blue lights, here and there interrupted by debris, flashed on as his bare feet touched the floor. He followed them out of the room, only occasionally stepping on something sharp enough to get him swearing again. Halfway down the dimly lit hallway adjacent to his bedroom he stopped and thumped the steel wall with the side of his right hand. A panel clicked and pulled away, revealing a small, tiled closet.
Destyn stepped inside and the panel closed behind him. A soft blue light came on overhead, and with it a rushing stream of warm, sterile water. He grunted appreciatively as the cascade ran over his naked body, some of the heat seeming to pull away the accumulated aches and pains of wounds old and new. Destyn ran his fingers through his shoulder-length black hair, carefully working out the knots. With his right hand he pumped the shampoo dispenser, nothing special, just a clean smelling soap, and with his left he scooped the gel and massaged it slowly into his scalp. If he had to be up, he reasoned, he may as well get rid of the smell of stale smoke and beer gas. Destyn placed both hands against the wall and leaned under the shower, the warm water sloughing away the soap and grime, sending it whirling down his fit body and into the drain below.
He righted himself and took a washcloth from the rack to his left, and loaded it down with bathing gel. It had what he could best describe as a manly scent, spices he could not place from some exotic market he could almost imagine. Hands on autopilot, he let his mind roam as he soaped up his hairy chest and arms, paying careful attention to avoid an almost healed gash running from his left armpit to just above his groin. That had been one hell of a fight, just him and the bounty. What was his name? Didn’t matter. Some self-styled punk that had come up in money and never faced any consequences outside the slaps on the wrist society had thought deterrent enough for a burgeoning psychopath. This kid, he was something special, something dark. Destyn learned the hard way that afternoon why it wasn’t always the man who brought the gun to the knife fight that came away clean.
They had squared off in a recently emptied bar. People tended to run when he started shooting wildly in the air, and this time was no different. It was just him, this punk kid, and some automaton playing at the piano, too dumb to have any sense of self-preservation. There were sirens starting somewhere off in the distant night, but Destyn didn’t plan on this taking all that long. Besides, the bounty had very clearly specified that “dead” was solid option, so why beat around the bush? It was just the way the kid stared at him, his eyes cold and empty, but a grin splitting his face near ear to ear. Destyn shuddered to remember, bending down and scrubbing his legs. The kid hadn’t made a noise, not a damn sound, as Destyn levelled his rifle and shot a hole through the boy’s right knee, dropping him without so much as a fight. Still, he was grinning, blood or no blood, pain or no pain. It was unnerving, but Destyn wasn’t one to back down from strange shit. That was his bread and butter, dealing with the weirdos on the fringes. Sometimes they just get a little too weird, a little too fringe, and start biting at all the nice, decent people that Destyn absolutely did not include himself as a member of. He patrolled the edges, neither deviant nor citizen. Not an outlaw, he very much exploited the law for his paycheck, but something beside the law, the dark arm that cleaned up shit that the boys in their shiny new uniforms couldn’t bother to handle.
Destyn had walked over to the kid, rifle level, ready to fire again if he made a move. But the kid had just sat there, grinning that damn grin. It was infuriating. He had lowered the barrel and swung it around, planning to knock the freak out with the butt of the gun, and that’s when he saw the knife, gleaming white hot in the bar light, and knew that he was well and truly fucked. He lunged backward as the kid lunged forward and caught him just inside his armpit before feeling his injured leg and dragging them both to the ground. The pain had been intense. It wasn’t the first time Destyn had been stabbed, far from it, but it was the first time one of those new heated blade gadgets had gone to work on him. And lord but it cut deep. He had the good sense to throw the kid off him, and put two rounds in his chest. Still, that didn’t wipe the grin off his face, just the light from his dark, unsettling eyes. The authorities arrived eventually and the bounty ended up almost paying for the hospital bills. Almost.
Destyn killed the water and toweled off, pushing the memory to the back of his mind with the dozens of other bounties he’d dealt with over the years. It wasn’t the safest work, but it kept his ship, Honeybadger, stocked and fueled, and him as well. Besides, who in their right mind would want to live their entire life behind a desk, pushing papers and filling out forms? Where was the point, when all of the System was open to anyone with a ship and the wherewithal to use it? Destyn left the shower stall and went back into the hallway, following the lights to the kitchenette just off from the main living area. Ship had prepared his coffee, black, and his toast, almost just as black. As he mulled over his late early dinner, he flipped casually through his log book, getting to the calendar date for today. Circled in red with a number of arrows were the words, “The Butcher”.
“He’s gonna show up here again soon, Ship.”
“It’s his M.O. He can’t stay away from killin’ any length of time. Especially not someplace crowded like this.”
Destyn looked out the port window to the planet below. Mars. He hadn’t been back here in years. Left some good money with some bad people, and that had set him off to the further reaches of the System. With any luck, they’d forgotten all about his debts. But, with any reality, it was the Mob. Those fuckers kept however many different sets of books, and not one of them ever turned up in your favour. He had best keep a low profile, he thought, scalding his tongue on the overhot coffee.
“Have you crunched the figures yet, Ship?”
“Yes, sir.” It sounded almost chiding. “I can process commands at speeds of upwards-“
“Sir. Based on population density and distances from Martian forces, your numbers put his attack at somewhere in the Warrens. I’m afraid we can’t be more precise than that, even given my superior-“
“Right. The Warrens. Place is a hellhole.” He scratched his crotch, a thoughtful look on his face. “Ain’t that the place with them choice empanada’s though?”
“Sir, you’re thinking of the Sub-Ward on Europa, I believe.”
“Shit, you’re right.” He took another pull of coffee, staring at the clouded landscape slowly turning below them. It was night on this side of Mars, but he’d be heading out into the sun soon enough. “Set a course, would you?”
“Of course, sir. And just to let you know, I’ve laid out today’s clothes in the mainroom for you, should sir wish to appoint himself in a more dignified manner.”
Destyn laughed and waggled his prick at one of the vidscreen monitors the Honeybadger used to keep tabs on the comings and goings in the ship. “You’re just jealous you ain’t packin’ one of these.”
“I assure you, sir,” said a very non-plussed machine, “that what I may lack in fleshy appendages, I more than make up for in being a bloody spaceship.”
Destyn nodded thoughtfully, picking his towel off the floor. “You’re right, you’re right. Ain’t nobody keeps out the deadly vacuum of the great unknown quite like you, Ship.” Damp towel slung over his shoulder, he made the short trek to the living area where he tossed it over the back of the nearest high-backed leather chair. For a glorified boat, Destyn had to admit that the Honeybadger did a fine job taking care of him. His only real regret was never being able to figure out how to program the voice controls to get a more personal feel. Stuck with the default snooty butler wasn’t the worst possible outcome, but would it have killed the designers to have maybe defaulted to something a little more manly and a little less foppish? He shrugged his shoulders at one of the great injustices of the universe and got ready for the day, making doubly sure that this time he was wearing his protective underarmour. As butch as the scars and burns were that covered his body, he could do without another protracted stay at one of the areas many fine hospital and recovery centres.
Destyn walked to the large bay window as he heard the Honeybadger’s engines start their warm-up proceedure, and pulled a packet of unfiltered cigarettes and a packet of matches from his breast pocket. Tearing a blue-headed match free, he struck it to life with his right thumbnail, and held it up to one end of the cigarette. Drawing deeply, he closed his smoke-grey eyes, and let the nicotine go to work waking up the parts of him that still hadn’t gotten the memo. He exhaled a white, fragrant cloud that smelled something like cherries, but mostly like burning tobacco. Overhead, a fan kicked on, sucking away the offending smoke. It was, he reflected not for the first time, a damn fine ship. Probably the best thing he’d ever gotten for a bounty. He looked out the window a moment longer before turning and heading to the pilot’s seat, just a short flight of stairs up from where he stood. He collapsed into his padded seat with a satisfied grunt. Cigarette perched at the left corner of his mouth, he punched in the co-ordinates that he’d left himself on an adhesive notecard tacked to the control stick in front of him. In a few short minutes he’d be at the Warrens, and then, well, all he’d have to do was wait until the bastard showed himself and he’d be that much richer of a man. With a grin, he pulled back on the stick, switching to manual control, and the ship shot off to the other side of the world.