The Meeting

This week I have the story The Meeting. It’s a Sci-Fi tale (about 10,000 words) involving a bounty hunter and a prospective client on a mining platform in a distant star system. This story probably isn’t going to unfold how you might expect it. That’s all I’m going to say. Hope you enjoy it!

Vigo Klein steps onto one of the many elevators on Boron Station. The name is befitting of the stations purpose as it is a mining platform used to extract Boron from any and all deposits in the area that is the Caedus IV system. The system is comprised of seven spheres of dead star burnt rock, five times as many moons and three asteroid belts. Vigo, a bounty hunter, couldn’t care less about any of that. He’s heading to a meeting. His hope is that it’ll lead to the securing of a contract from the ‘boss’ of the lower section of Boron Station. They aren’t the duly elected head of the mining platform. No that right is reserved for… Vigo hasn’t a clue and doesn’t give a damn if he’s honest. It’ll be some company aligned pleb or another who is undoubtedly taking backroom bribes to line his pockets. All so when he loses his cushy position he’ll be set for life. It’s corruption, plain and simple. Everything on Boron Station is based around and on it. Hell, it’s not just Boron Station but the entire universe that works like this. It’s who you know not what you know, they say. Vigo chuckles to himself at thinking that. After all, he is proof that knowing people isn’t always the way to get a head. He knew no one when he started out, and he’s come a long way.

The elevator begins to move now that the doors have noisily slid into their closed position. Vigo takes in the sight of the two by two metre box he’s alone in. The decayed discoloured metal of this box creaks as the rail motors, all eight of them, whir and propel the car downwards.

There’s a long way to go to get to the lower half of the mining platform and the bounty hunter can honestly say that he never enjoys riding a single level let alone the ninety plus he’s going to have to get to his goal. He can’t remember how many levels exactly to be truthful.

He lets out a sigh but keeps his eyes otherwise facing forward. A strange flicker covers his eyes which are entirely out of focus as if staring at something, and that’s because they are. He’s reading the latest of his mails. They’re being projected across the surface of his eyes. He doesn’t have fancy retina implants like others. That’s why the text is projected and in theory that means it’s less secure. But if anyone wanted to read what he is reviewing they would have to get incredibly close and then be able to read backwards. Except for when images come up. Then it’s much easier to get a glimpse. One does just that a couple seconds later as a result of him having condemned the previous mail to the deletion bin.

The image in question is that of a half naked body with a devilish smile, one green eye and one brown. The shape of the body looks female with ample curves and thick jaw length red hair that clearly isn’t natural but dyed to a brilliant flame red. She isn’t Vigo’s type. That is why he hasn’t really paid attention to her even though she is front, centre and the majority of what is filling his vision. Instead, he’s skimmed the mail. His nose wrinkles to inform that he’s unimpressed by what he’s scanned and so a half second later that mail too is condemned to the deletion bin.

The elevator shudders. Vigo’s eyes flit away from the junk mail he’s sifting through. His distraction lasts until he is convinced the elevator isn’t about to tear itself apart, a couple seconds in total. It’s how he’d categorise the sound that filled his ears and coincided with the shudder. A graunching tone with a high pitched squeal at the tail end which disappeared as it continued rising in pitch until it became inaudible to his ears. With the shudder and sound gone however, and Vigo, relatively, sure that he isn’t about to plummet to his death, he turns his attention back to his mailbox.

Four more deletions are performed prior to him giving up entirely. His mailbox is a mess. That’s the only way to define the state it’s in. That never changes; it’s always like that and why he doesn’t use it for business. If he did he’d never find a single contract. Plus, he’d spend most of his time filtering out all the fluff. The kind of work he doesn’t want like, such as finding a missing person not worth finding.

Reality is the missing soul has probably fled to get away from whoever wants them found. Whether that is a loved one or a bookie is irrelevant to Vigo. Those jobs always end the same way, a dead body lying face down in the gutter. Though, the bounty hunter does recall that one time, his second job he thinks it was, where the job became a hunt for a missing person. Low and behold they were dead. Not in the gutter however. No, instead they were dead in some hookers’ bed. She’d fallen asleep while on top of him. She’d been a big girl, really big, like three hundred and fifty pounds big. It seemed that was his thing. Vigo isn’t judging. But as a result she’d suffocated him with her…mass. It’s the politest way he could put it to the… He honestly can’t remember who the man that tasked him with finding the guy was. Father seems unlikely, brother maybe, lover probably. Hell, it doesn’t matter. He paid the hooker. He told her to get a new place. Pay for someone to scrub her name off the lease, which is much easier than you might think. Then just move on with her life. He has no idea if she did or not. That was her problem. He gave her the credchips to do it. That was out on Canary Station where numbers are real different when it comes to cost. What he gave her had been barely five creds in most other places, but on Canary it was a small fortune. Vigo has never understood how credchip value changes so wildly depending on sector. It shouldn’t in his mind. It’s centrally set after all. He shrugs deciding it’s irrelevant.

To be frank the bounty hunter is bored now. This elevator seems even slower than the last time he used one of these things. It’s not surprising given their age, frequent use and lack of proper, as he would define it, maintenance and yet that doesn’t mean it’s any less frustrating to bear.

Vigo looks around himself to assess whether he should risk leaning or sitting. His conclusion is that he should not. The walls are covered in graffiti. To him it says nothing. It just looks like a series of squiggles done by hands without much coordination. He remembers when he did that kind of crap as a young ’un. It feels like a lifetime ago. And it was to be truthful. Back when he’d been running the streets and skipping school on Sauvage Prime. Stupid name for a planet Vigo thinks. He’s never understood it. It means wild or natural in French. He rolls his eyes but quickly moves on. There’s no point in him lingering in his memories. The elevator shudders again. Vigo’s eyes dart about as the dirt and grime that coats the floor of the car bounces. That is why he isn’t inclined to sit. Shortly after that Vigo can feel that all vertical movement has stopped. His first thought is that the elevator has suffered a failure and he’s now trapped. He’s about to grumble to himself when the doors judder apart, scraping noisily as they do. Two burly looking shapes step into the car. They’re covered in filth that is soot black, crusty and flaking off their exposed shoulders. Vigo curls his top lip in disgust. The expression lasts a moment before one of the burly shapes, enhanced by mechanical augments, or mechaugs for short, jabs a fat fleshly little finger at a button on the selection display. It’s the newest, cleanest looking thing in the entire elevator but even it has grime build up around the edges. Due to that build up there is a border of brown-grey muck round the edge of the panel. Vigo had turned his nose up at that when he’d first seen it. He hates filth. Especially when it is in common areas and not contained to the mining, refinery and packing locations like it should be. Still, Boron has some of the best prospective contracts in this half sector. It’s why Vigo came here. He wants to continue moving up in the world and to do that he needs to complete more contracts. Sixty nine are under his belt so far. It sounds impressive but isn’t. It’s middle of the road. But that’s due to Vigo having been picky. He has only taken what he determines as proper contracts, real jobs. Not move this box here or deliver a file there kind of thing. That’s not bounty hunter work, that’s courier work. He gets that some of these items are less than legal or highly confidential, but hiring a bounty hunter is far more attention drawing than using a courier. In fact, it screams: look here this guy has something, aim for him and steal it.

The elevator doors grind shut. Sparks fly as they do, and to be honest they don’t truly meet one another once they’re done. Rather, there is a gap left between them that’s about a fists width. Vigo knows that isn’t a good sign but now he has company he feels obliged to not react.

Both the brutes keep their backs to him. If he wanted to get off he’d have to muscle his way past them. With the mechaugs they have he feels it would be doubtful he’d manage it. After all, he’s all flesh and blood. The same as the day he was born. Not everyone can say the same even if they can say they are all organic. Sure, he has some additions, but no replacements. He doesn’t need them. Well, can’t afford them really. Not the kind of augs he’d want anyway; ones that would actually be beneficial. It’ll take him a good while before he could have the bank for those. He doesn’t even have his own ship yet. He has to catch shuttle transport ferries. That might sound like an issue but it’s pretty common. Only the best bounty hunters have ships to sail across the inky black cherry picking the contracts that will cover their costs plus a healthy profit. From Vigo’s understanding the profit for bounty hunters of that calibre has to be forty percent or they won’t touch it. He’d kill for a margin like that. The best he’s managed is fifteen percent, and that was only once a while back in his early days.

The elevator shudders once more but feels like its moving quicker now instead of grinding to a slower pace. Vigo in some ways is pleased with that. Though, he would be lying if he didn’t admit that it also worries him. Thoughts of the car shearing free from its four corner mounting guides only to then transition into a freefall toward certain death, fire in his head. He ignores them, as best he can. Then realises again how bored he is once the thoughts have subsided. His shoulders drop and begrudgingly he returns to the laborious task of sifting through his mails, sighing as he does.

He gets two mails deep, of an inbox number reading four thousand five hundred and one, before one of the burly forms ahead of him says, “Been a long week. What you got planned when you get back to your bunk?” The voice is gruff, gravelly and monotone. Vigo has to admit it perfectly suits the size of the guy, whichever one it is that is speaking. The head of the guy on the left turns toward his, from this angle, twin. It suggests that the guy on the left is the one that spoke. Vigo would be happier with silence, but it’s not like he’s going to say anything. Even if they weren’t the size of small mountains he’d be inclined not to rock the boat. That is especially the case when he factors in that he is inside a metal cube which could suffer a failure for no real reason other than because it can, and kill him as a result. It isn’t fear either. No, its strategy on his part and comes with the addition of not needing trouble when he’s looking for work. After all, the bounty hunter hasn’t a clue who these two work for. It appears as though they’re miners. There’s no reason for him to believe otherwise. Though, that isn’t his point. His point is that they might work for the very person he’s heading down to meet. If he messes with them, for no reason other than he’s feeling a little grumpy due to boredom, he could screw up his best chance of moving up the pecking order. He can’t afford that. Bounty hunters live off their reputations and if he was to get one that he’s rash, trigger happy and reckless then that could seriously damage his prospects for the future.

“Huh, no idea. Been on a fifty hour. Muscles hurt and I’m sick of stinking like a sewer pipe whenever I open my mouth.” The other guy says in reply. His voice sounds almost identical to the first. So much so that if Vigo wasn’t witnessing this exchange personally he’d swear that the man is talking to himself.

His facial expression does the equivalent of shrug and then he catches a whiff of the stench. He suppresses a gag but feels his face turn green while his stomach flips and his nostrils burn.

The stench is revolting and Vigo isn’t sure the guy ahead of him on the right is being honest enough in regards to just how bad the smell is. It’s far worse than a sewer pipe. At least any sewer pipe Vigo has ever caught a whiff of, and there are a lot broken and belching out their odours on Boron.

“Yeah, you might need to drink disinfectant to get that to stop coming out of your mouth. What’s causing it?” The guy to Vigo’s left asks without showing he is bothered by the stink. The bounty hunter doesn’t see how that’s possible and yet he’s able to see enough of the brutes face to see that it’s true. He’s mortified and disgusted as he struggles with all his might to keep himself from reacting and drawing attention to himself.

“Something to do with the gases these rocks give off when you’re drilling ‘em.” The stinky guy says. The elevator car fills with the smell again making Vigo gag for a second time. Somehow he manages to do it silently even though this second gag is a much stronger one.

He hopes these two get off soon. He won’t be able to stomach this all the way down. Plus, it might cling to his clothes, the moulded plate across his chest, the brown leather jacket over which there are plates down both arms and the heavy metal anti-grav boots that don’t work correctly but which encase and protect his legs. It’s unlikely the smell will cling to his boots, but his jacket and fabric upon which his chest and back plates are mounted it could. If Vigo still had hair it’d undoubtedly cling to that too. But he keeps his scalp shaven for ease of maintenance. Though, there is stubble, short and dark across the crown of his head and under his chin. He never lets it grow long. A couple days at the most is the longest he leaves it before giving it a trim.

“Keep your mouth closed and covered and it won’t happen.” The non-smelly burly mass of a guy retorts.

“Heh, I would if I could get a mouth guard from supplies.”

“You’re still relying on them? Ha!”

“You’re not?” The smelly guy queries revealing that he must be fairly new here as even Vigo knows that what supplies you should get will never be what you will get.

“Nope.”

“So how did you get a mouth guard?”

“Made one. You should too if you don’t want to put up with it.”

“Yeah, think I will. The misses won’t come near me at the moment.”

“Can’t blame her, you stink worse than death. Hahahaa.”

Right then the elevator car shakes twice, which is new and different to the shudders before, and then stops. Vigo is holding his breath now. He can’t bear inhaling the stench any longer. He just hopes the stop is to let these guys off the car. If it’s not; if it’s anything else he’s going to vomit. His stomach is churning; groaning, growling unhappily and he won’t be able to contain it. Of that he is absolutely certain.

The doors open without a sound, though they aren’t at all in time with one another. The two mechaug miners step off the car. Neither turns or seems to remember that Vigo has been in the elevator with them. They simply trudge off, oblivious. Their lumbering frames ambling left and right with every step they take.

With them departed Vigo lets out a gasp for unfettered air. To his relief he finds the stench is gone. He can taste and smell the air and while it isn’t clean it’s a damn sight better than what he’d been forced to suck down into his lungs moments ago. His angry stomach has already drastically abated and subsided. He’s thankful for that, as he is about no longer feeling a desperate urge to vomit. Still, he’s bent almost double sucking down as many gulps of the oxygen mix that keeps everyone on Boron alive as he can.

Thirty eight seconds later, Vigo feels able to stand at his full height once more. Right away he catches the sight of four average looking figures, all male, striding his way. He can tell instantly that they are trouble. Vigo resists the urge to check his weapon, a long nose bolt pistol, is still tucked into the waistband at the small of his back, hidden by his brown jacket. He knows it’s still there, he can feel it.

The four figures file onto the elevator car. The first two eye the bounty hunter as they step on, giving him wary glances. The third has a smirk on his lips, while the fourth is snarling. It strikes Vigo that the snarl isn’t caused by anything that has offended the guy. Rather, it seems to be the result of a particularly nasty scar that keeps his face twisted and angry looking at all times. Not that such a thing changes the fact that they are all incredibly obvious with their upcoming intention of planning to rob Vigo. Clearly they are unaware he’s armed and a bounty hunter. If they knew that…maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. He isn’t of particular renown, at least not yet anyway. Still, they’re hands being hidden and clutching what are likely bladed weapons of some makeshift kind is not going to save them.

One of the glancing pair backhands a button. He didn’t look as he did it. It’s the clearest sign possible that the quartet are uninterested in where it is they will be stopping. For that reason alone he makes sure to keep a cool head and his brown eyes focused on a point ahead of him.

The doors of the car slide shut soon after. Again they are not in time. The bounty hunter wonders how long it’ll be before… They attack suddenly. The glancing pair scream some nonsense in a tongue unknown to Vigo just before raising one of their hands clasping a bladed weapon. Their tools of choice are even more makeshift than the bounty hunter would have considered. In fact, they’re little more than rusty pieces of metal. They don’t even look that sharp, but would offer a real risk of tetanus if they manage to cut Vigo’s flesh. On Boron that could very well prove fatal, not that the bounty hunter has any intention of being cut, if the weapons are capable of such that is.

Vigo pulls his long nosed bolt pistol and fires. The bolt shaped charge of scorching plasma hits one of the glancing pair in the gut. The force of the impact and his proximity see him flung him back into the smirking thug, whose head ricochets off the side of the elevator car. Then a swipe comes in.  Vigo sidesteps it, just, but can’t react fast enough as the gut shot attacker is thrown at him. Vigo raises his arm and the wounded thug bounces off the plates. Sadly, the ricochet of the injured thug does not foul the smirking guy this time. Rather the smirking guy, who is still smirking, slams his wounded ‘friend’ sideways. His head cracks against the thick metal of the car emitting a disgusting smashing sound. Vigo takes the thug is dead. No honour among thieves, he thinks as another swipe comes in. Fortunately for Vigo the swipe is ill timed and glances off the plates on the other arm of his jacket. That fumble affords him an opening to fire at the lunging smirker, which he takes. The bolt catches the smirking thug right between the eyes. A hole is burned through his head creating a tunnel. The plasma bolt then ricochets off the wall of the car behind only to slice through the neck of the only still breathing glancing thug of the pair. He roars and howls in response while his hands shoot up to his neck to cradle the wound. Vigo kicks him in the back of the knee. He screams again and drops. Vigo goes to level and fire only for the snarling thug to elbow Vigo in the gut. The bounty hunter feels the wind knocked out of him in the seconds before he is pinned in place by a hand around his throat. It squeezes, hard, while Vigo struggles. Suddenly his eyes catch the metal limb choking him. His free hand comes up and begins to strike at the limb. It’s useless. The limb is more than a match for his fleshy strikes.

“Gut and go.” The snarling thug who is choking Vigo spits with something that the bounty hunter thinks is supposed to be a smile. If it is it doesn’t really look like one due to him being open mouthed and it appearing more like a gasp. He settles that it must be because of the scar that starts at his top lip and runs to just below his eye. A gurgling sound is next out of the metal armed thugs’ mouth. It’s as if he can’t swallow his spit. Vigo finds it disgusting and wonders where his pistol is as he thrashes about still desperate to break free. His other arm, the one the pistol had been in, fails to respond to his commands. Finally, Vigo looks down to find his shooting arm is folded behind his back, his pistol at his feet. Well, below his feet really as he is being held off the floor of the elevator car. The other thug, one of the pair who had been glancing, cackles and leaps from one foot to the other in what the bounty hunter can only determine is some deranged display of joy. His brow furrows with a mixture of confusion and disbelief as he is forced to admit that he has never met a band of muggers like this dumb crew. He suspects that they must work for someone else, higher up the food chain. He wonders if it could be who he’s going to meet. Unlikely, is his conclusion. He can’t say why.

“Say bye bye.” The guy who isn’t choking Vigo chitters with an eerie tone. His words come just as Vigo finishes using his pinned arm to pull a short knife, which he tosses wide. He hopes it isn’t too wide as the chittering glancer is close now and about to cut the bounty hunter in some way using the rust covered ‘weapon’ in his hand.

Thankfully, his toss isn’t too wide. In fact, the strength put and angle are perfect. It’s why the knife sails up and into view. Both the thugs stare at it in disbelief. They seem mesmerised by it and even watch as Vigo grabs hold of it with his one free arm, slices across the chittering thugs face, sending him into a scream as he spins away, and then severs the exposed fluid tubes of the mechanical arm.

Two seconds later the choking grip around Vigo’s neck not only falters but fails. He slides back to his feet, feeling unstable. Still, he’s pleased to be back on relatively solid ground.

The next moment such thoughts have been cast from his mind in favour of action. He stamps on the end of the barrel of his angled pistol which flips end over end into the air. It lands elegantly in his shooting hand just as the pair of thugs charge him. One gets the blade while the other gets two shots. Both stagger back in reply. Vigo could leave it there but is not inclined to, which is why he fires three more shots into each. Two are put into their chests, in a tight grouping barely a millimetre apart, while the third is shot into their heads. Its overkill but effective, and ensures they will not be getting up every again.

With the danger negated, Vigo holsters his pistol, stows his knife, rolls his head to test how tight his throat feels after the choking it’s endured, which is not as bad as he would have anticipated, and then sighs. The car is now even more of a mess than it had been before the four bodies and yet the bounty hunter is inclined to call it an improvement.

At least the elevator is still moving, Vigo thinks to himself before returning to sifting through his mailbox, whistling a playful tune he was taught as a child called Dead Men Never Sing.

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