Destyn took a long draw on his cigarillo, expelling a cloud of smoke that did very little to cover the pervasive smell of the Honeybadger. He threw himself into his captain’s chair, and spun to face Tio.
“Fine then. It all started on Ganymede. I was fourteen. I’d been running drugs for a local gang, making ends meet for my mother, that sort of thing. Nothing too hard, no opiates. Just Soma, mostly. The people that used to buy from me, the rich folks that had the cash to blow on shit like that, they always had this air about them, like they were somethin’ better, somethin’ more refined. But I knew all their dirty little secrets, and I was good about pushing the right buttons when I needed to. Never got violent, not ‘til the Syndicate moved in and took over the business. We’d had some small timer making the stuff, a college guy with access to the chemicals, and they made it more than clear that he needed to go and try to find tenure at some other university, preferably offworld, and A-SAP. So when that dried up, the money went with it, and that was a blow.
I turned petty then, pickpocketing, mudlarking, the sort of shit that the low folks get up to, when one day I guess I picked the wrong damn pocket, some bigshot on a Quadromegan meal ticket, and they gave me a choice. Either I lose my hands, or I start running for them. Naturally, I took the easy route, what with being attached to my hands and all, and I started doing runs for the Syndicate. Nothing big at first. In fact, for a little while, it was like nothing had changed but the colours I was repping. They gave all us kids these scarves, right, bandana things we’d wear around our necks with the company colours, blue and gold, to let folks know not to mess with us. Or I guess, to let them know that if they messed with us, someone bigger and nastier would be on their way to get shit sorted. Anyway, like I said, things were going pretty normally until one day I got offered a chance at getting in deeper with QM.
There was this hot-shot lawyer that had been making things rough on them in our neck of the woods. Some local guy who wanted to ‘clean up the corruption’ or some noble shit like that, and he had this personal crusade going against the Syndicate. Well, here I was, seventeen, and a good driver. My mom had come down with that lung killer that went around a while back, you probably read about it. Colony collapsed from some tainted Atmogen, right? That was us. Anyway, we really needed the money then, so I’m all ‘Sure thing, mister, just point the way’ and off I go driving this hit squad to this dude’s house.
And let me tell you about this house. It was the ritziest fucking place I’d ever seen in my life. There was a front gate, pillars, statues that pissed water, the whole works. I’m like, this is the life I need. I’m out here committing all these little crimes and this fucker, the guy prosecuting my friends, is living it up better than me. I made up my mind then and there that this is the kind of place I was going to have when I made it big in the Syndicate. I’d be on the QM payroll, running hits for the mob, maybe even having my own kids selling drugs for me, and I’d be living this glitz and glamour lifestyle shit. Needless to say, that lawyer didn’t turn back up for work, and nobody could pin it on any of us, but everyone knew. You mess with the Syndicate, you go down, and hard. I went back to check on his house a few weeks later, just remind myself, y’know, what it was I wanted, and the place had been burned to the fucking ground. Just half a chimney left and a bunch of debris.
That kind of pissed me off, y’know? Here I am working for these guys and living out in the slums, and they go and ruin one of the nicest places in town, just to make a point. Well that soured me to them, but when you’re working with a group like that, there’s not really any kind of way out. I mean, there is, they make pine boxes, but I meant there’s no easy way out. So I was stuck working with them another eight years or so before I managed to save up enough for a ticket offworld. My mom had died by that point like so many others, and there wasn’t really anything keeping me there. I’d been saving up enough for the both of us, so I had some to spare, had her a nice funeral, better’n anyone from the slums anyway. She got a headstone, I made sure of that. So many people were going in the mass graves at the time, but I sprang for a little plot for her ashes and a marker. It’s nothing big, in fact I think it was meant for a child it was so small, but it was what I could give her.
I left Ganymede that night, haven’t really been back since.” He looked over his cigarillo, which had burned down considerably by this point. “I only smoke these things because they taste so much like home, y’know? Can’t beat Ganymede for cheap tobacco.” He laughed, a tinge of bitterness to it. “I can’t believe it’s been almost ten years now. I don’t think of it that often.”
Tio was silent for a moment, then he stepped forward and placed a hand gently on Destyn’s left shoulder. “I wish I’d known some of that. The docket didn’t really concern your childhood much. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, no, thanks, whatever. It’s a long time ago.” Destyn spun his chair around, staring out the vidscreen at the Martian surface rolling by beneath them. It was night here, and now and then a spiderweb of lights would come into view, a new town or colony, or, on this hemisphere, probably more like to be a massive mining co-op. It was a sight he’d grown used to over the years. Always in orbit, never one to touch the ground overlong. He was made to travel.
“No, I mean, I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”
There was something in Tio’s voice that made him turn back around. He saw Tio reach into his back pocket, and pull out a small black box. And that’s when the alarms started to sound.
“What did you do?” Destyn asked, fear present in his voice.
“The docket said you were a hit man, a gun for hire. I thought-”
“What did you do, Tio?”
“I thought I was doing the right thing, cleaning up after the mess you and that other cowboy made back at the Sisters’.” Tio didn’t sound very sure of himself. He was looking very upset by the constant alarms. The red, flashing lights weren’t doing his complexion any favours at that.
Destyn turned away again, and saw three ships coming into view on the vidscreen in a tight triangular formation. It was a standard Syndicate approach. “You lousy sonofabitch.” He punched in a hurried series of commands on his console and the ship’s engines began to lurch to life. He knew he wouldn’t be able to outrun them, but if he could put some distance between them, there’d at least be a chance. He lived for chances, on chances. If there was any shot at getting out of it, he was going to take it. Commands entered, he leapt up and charged over to Tio, knocking the receiver from his hand and crushing it under the heel of his left boot. “I trusted you.”
“I know. I know, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry!” Destyn was fuming, his fists clenched. “Sorry doesn’t cut it. What did you think you were fucking doing? Just taking out some random spacetrash cowboy?”
“Yes, I mean, I didn’t know. I just had their word and a couple guns pointed to my head. It makes it hard to think clearly!”
“Well you’ve got three of their fucking warships aimed right at your ass, too, you know. Did you think they were going to pick you up after they came and got me?”
“I, yes. Yes I did.” Tio’s face was a mask of dawning apprehension. “Oh lord, I’ve fucked up.”
“You’re damn right you’ve fucked up. This is a barge, Tio! I’ve outfitted her as best I can for pursuit, but she’s on fumes as it is.”
“What about weapons? Where’s your weapons system?”
“It’s a barge! Where am I supposed to put a weapons array?”
“I don’t know! You’re the bounty hunter! I thought you’d have a ship armed to the teeth or something. I didn’t expect it to be,” he waved his arms around expansively, “this.”
“I hunt on the ground, you moron. This is a glorified mobile home, an RV. The most expensive thing on her is the Interplanetary Drive!”
“I didn’t know!”
“Stop saying that!”
“What are you going to do? What are we going to do?”
“First, I’m going to jettison you out of the airlock for being a backstabbing piece of shit, then, I don’t know what, but that’ll make me feel better.”
“Please, I’m sorry. Just tell me what to do, give me something to do, I can help.”
“I think you’ve helped enough.”Destyn shoved Tio backwards and the other man fell hard on his backside. “You stay the fuck here, don’t fucking touch anything, and I’m going to take the D-GAF out for a fucking stroll.” He charged past the prone Tio and sprinted off toward the hanger. All the while, the alarms kept blaring, the lights kept flashing, at the three ships on the vidscreen kept growing closer.