by M. B. Barlow
Joey Garden stared at the box in their storage bay wondering what it was. It looked odd, such a small box in the very large and totally empty storage bay. What was odder was the idea of someone hiring a ship the size of hers to simply transport a box, but she wasn't complaining; it was easy money for a person's over-indulgence.
She nudged it slightly with her foot.
Joey Garden was the woman who ran the relatively large ship but she never called herself captain. She just owned the thing and used it for her work -- the kind of work that doesn't have an official title. The Fleming Steel was her name; to people used to better things, and few weren't, the ship appeared to be a run-down piece of junk but it was cheap to rent and it worked which was all that would ever be asked of it.
"Maybe it's an animal," Rob Deever pitched, scratching his chin and staring at the box. "I mean, it's the right size and all."
"If it is then it's dead now," replied Garden standing beside him.
"Do snakes live for a while without food?"
"I have no idea ... but I bet they don't without air," she said, sliding her hand along the side of the white wood. "And this doesn't seem to have any air holes."
Deever contemplated this and shrugged. "Oh well, we are getting paid a lot to take this aren't we?"
Yes, they were. Joey Garden, Rob Deever and Carrie Flow were three people who were going to be rolling in cash very easily.
Garden and Deever were sitting in the kitchen, watching the empty space outside their observation window that covered the entire wall. It wasn't very exciting, staring out of that window but somehow it would always draw your attention, like it was the light and you were the fly.
"Attention crew," the noise over the speaker system said. "We have company, and it ain't nice company, so get your asses ready."
Garden and Deever scrambled, discarding their lunches and made their way to the bridge. There were no weapons so trouble was not a good thing to have, and might be something that the Fleming Steel couldn't handle. Definitely not a good thing.
"What we got?" asked Garden, resting her hand against the back of Carrie's chair.
"We've got another ship," she said. "And it looks like they're pirates."
They weren't common pirates, they were Galaxy Insurrectionists. "Oh crap," muttered Garden. A galaxy-spanning empire of rebels and thieves who believed in improving the human population of the galaxy through theft and debauchery. They had unusual ways of getting their political views heard, and often tried to reverse situations to their ideal view through force.
Some of the GI also liked to steal ships, either way a visit from them was not wanted.
"No way we can get away, is there?" Garden asked.
"Nope, not really. We'll just have to sit back and wait for them to arrive. Hey, in the meantime, does anyone want tea?"
It can be difficult, having afternoon tea when you're waiting for something that might decide to destroy you. Garden had her mug sat in front of her but she couldn't bring herself to drink. Her thoughts were of the GI, wondering just what they would do. Most likely they would just steal the ship; they had nothing to take from inside as there really wasn't anything of real value. Why they would want this ship was a mystery to her, the GI didn't bother about these kinds of ships, they were left alone and ignored, but now they had to find out what they wanted.
What she was afraid of was two women and a teenage boy left alone with a band of ruthless men. She didn't want to have to deal with that, but she would have to; for all of them.
Her tea went cold as all she could do was stare at it, watching the wisp of steam shrink and then vanish.
They stood at the docking station, waiting for the ship to connect with the Steel. They would have fought back if they could have, but now they just had to wait with nothing to protect them but hope.
The GI ship docked and they waited while GI members walked through the tunnel towards the hatch on their end. Garden watched through the small window on their hatch as they strode down the tunnel, walking with a swagger, grins on their rough, scarred faces. These were pirates alright, not the GI with the suits and the dignified manners who only dealt in criminal matters through cloak and dagger. These were pirates who worked for the GI and they didn't bother trying to disguise it.
The first one knocked and waited, staring at Garden through the window. He was wearing a hat with the GI emblem on it but everything else he was wearing was worn and dirty. These guys didn't do uniforms.
Garden's hand wavered over the button to open the hatch door; she was hesitating and she tried to calm herself down, make her mind clear and just try not to panic. Ah hell, she though, and pressed the button.
The hatch opened and the man in front smiled at them. Deever was standing behind Garden out of their sight while Carrie stood beside Garden trying to make herself look intense.
"Greetings ladies," he said. "My name is Winnibar Hess, and I and my colleagues," he waved at the three other men behind him, all similarly dressed, "are representatives of the Galactic Insurrectionists. Do you wish to see our GI cards?"
"There's no need." Garden told them, her arms crossed.
"Right. Now, as GI members and general representatives we have been given the task of collecting an item from you. Some kind of parcel."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I'm sure you really do but you'd rather not tell us. You do know that stopping a GI member from doing his job will result in don't you?"
"Well, wouldn't you just like do what I have asked of you?"
"You haven't asked me anything."
"We want the parcel."
"We don't have one."
"Yes you do."
"No we don't."
Hess's face began to turn an alarming shade of purple, but he managed to smile, his colour fading back to its original bright white.
"Lying to a GI representative can bring you into a whole world of problems and situations that, I would think, you'd rather not be involved with."
"And it really wouldn't matter what I say because you won't believe me any way, right?"
"Let's not be so harsh now, okay? Although you say you do not have anything on the ship and, of course, I do believe you, I should like to have a look around anyway, okay?"
She shrugged and stepped aside, revealing Deever who stood in place like a frightened chicken before being pushed away. They watched the GIs walked into their ship and Garden especially could feel the awkwardness of it. This was their ship and it was being used, it was being assaulted by a bunch of men whose only interest was in taking things that they did not earn. She gripped her hand tightly but relaxed when Carrie put her hand on her shoulder. "I'm going to go back, keep a lookout on this ship of theirs. I get the feeling that they might try something."
"Don't know. Maybe nothing but I'm going to anyway."
Garden nodded and Carrie walked past her and up the steel stairs to the bridge. Deever was looking at her, apparently wondering what to do.
"Rob, I don't want you going anywhere near these guys, alright? I'll keep an eye on them and you can just go to your room."
"Can't I come with you?"
"No. Stay out of it and it'll be over soon."
"I'll be in my room," he said as he walked away.
Good lad, she thought.
She went looking for the GI.
The Galaxy Insurrectionists had spread out, trying to find what they were looking for in the littlest amount of time. It became clear that there was very little in this ship that could be mentioned. It was near enough empty. The only thing that he found was a white box in the cargo hold and that didn't look like it was important in any way. Still, best to check it out.
"Guys," Hess shouted. "Open this crate. If there isn't anything in this then it looks like we've just wasted our time."
"We ain't just going to leave are we?" asked one of them.
"Yeah, we are."
"But, it's women! We ain't just going to leave women here are we?"
"You can have the boy if you want but you are not -- I repeat -- not going to touch the women. Got it?" They nodded, many of them reluctant to keep their hands to themselves. "Now open the damn crate."
They did as he said. They had no equipment so there was no way for them to open it easily but after a while, and losing his patience, Hess booted the box. It slid across the floor a few feet. The other GI got the idea and joined in, using their elbows as well as their feet until they knocked out one of the wooden planks. When the gap was created they grabbed the other planks and started to tear them off.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
Hess turned round to face Garden. She was striding up to him; he crossed his arms. "What are you doing?" she repeated.
"I think we have found our package."
"You're opening it here?"
"Well, we won't know if it's truly our package until we see what it is."
Garden found him repulsive. He talked with a golden-educated tongue but looked like he'd lived his life in a gutter, he had a heavy amount of stubble and when he grinned he showed his ancient, degraded teeth. And he grinned a lot.
"That is the property of our client. We don't know what's inside and we can't allow you to open it or damage it."
"Neither can you stop us," he said as they finally ripped the last panel off, throwing it roughly to the side.
Joey Garden stood beside the men, watching them clear the box to reveal what was inside. They all moved in closer to see what was there. They were silent for a few seconds, taking in what they could see. Hess was confused then angry, switching between the two in a flash. "What the hell is this?"
The others crowded around what was left of the box. Lying amongst the pieces of broken wood were hay and grass, as well as bits of paper. And in the middle of it all was a brown rabbit, sleeping peacefully.
"This can't be what we've to collect."
"It's the only thing here."
"I noticed that, but it's a rabbit. A rabbit. What am I going to do with a rabbit, huh? Do you think they'll be happy with that? I don't and I'm not going to be the one to bring a cute bunny rabbit back."
"So we ain't taking it?"
"We are certainly not taking it," he said, his voice bubbling with rage. He snapped his head to Garden. "You better not be keeping anything else from me."
"I told you, there's nothing here," she replied.
His expression was of one who would snap, hurting people in the process. She wanted him to go, to just leave them alone and bother them no more. They needed to go, or she, Carrie and Deever might be on the wrong end of his anger; she couldn't handle it if they were hurt, she would believe it was her fault and no one else's.
She watched them, waited to see what they did while she sweated and felt herself becoming increasingly terrified. She watched Winnibar Hess whose face held many expressions. The eyes would change from closed to wide open to mid-open and his mouth would do the same while his mind computed whatever it was computing, all the while never moving his feet.
Go away, she was shouting in her head.
He grunted and pointed his finger at her. "I'm going to ignore that you talked back to me." He waved at the rest of them to go with him; they followed as he stormed off to the docking station. Relief flooded Garden as she saw them leave. It still flooded her as she, Rob Deever and Carrie Flow watched the GI ship disappear. They all felt like they had diverted disaster.
They stood around the destroyed crate and watched the rabbit sleep. It made no sense. They were getting paid an incredible amount of money and for what? A rabbit? A rabbit could be transported for the furthest reaches of the known galaxy for a lot less than they were getting paid.
"Do you know who our client is?" asked Carrie.
Garden shook her head. It had remained undisclosed and that was fine by her. She only knew where to pick up the crate and where to drop it off, as well as where and how to pick up the money. That's all she needed to know, anything else didn't matter in her eyes.
It just seemed a lot of trouble for a rabbit.
"Told you it was an animal," Deever said, smiling.
"It doesn't make sense," Carrie said. "It should have died. It shouldn't have been able to breathe; I mean there isn't even any food in there."
Garden saw that she was right. There was no food in the crate and she had felt it before for air holes and there were none. "This rabbit should be dead."
The rabbit's breathing could be heard in the silence, slow, steady.
"Why didn't it wake up?" asked Deever.
"This entire crate was flung to pieces, right? Well there must have been a lot of noise, so why didn't the rabbit wake up?"
Garden wondered, stroking her hair with one hand, her eyes glossy with thought. That rabbit never moved once, it just slept peacefully while its whole surroundings were torn apart. She stepped onto the bottom of the crate and bent her knees to look at the rabbit closely. The eyes were closed and its nose would wiggle occasionally but apart from that it wasn't doing anything.
"What will we do with it?" asked Carrie.
"I suppose we could just take it and feed it, maybe give it a bed."
"We're keeping it as a pet?" laughed Deever, shaking his head. "Can we do that?"
"There's no reason why not. We can't just let the little thing starve."
"Well it looks like it's doing okay to me," Carrie told Garden.
They all smiled at the little brown rabbit. Garden picked it up and brought it into the kitchen. They didn't have a bed for it, so she cleared one of their cupboards and put the hay and other bits inside it. They laid out a bowl of water and a plate of celery and other vegetables they'd cut up. They placed the rabbit on the table so they could have a proper look at him before sticking him in the cupboard but the rabbit didn't move and neither did it wake up.
"Maybe it's in a coma," Deever said, sitting at the table, his head up close to its face.
"It isn't in a coma," said Garden. "It is obviously just sleeping."
"Right," he whispered, as if he were talking to the animal. "Sound asleep, eh? There's got to be something up with this thing, something that made the GI want it."
"They left; they didn't find what they wanted."
"Unless it was this rabbit."
The two women looked at him but he wasn't casting his eyes away from the rabbit.
"What would they want with a rabbit?" asked Carrie.
"Everyone likes rabbits."
"Yes, but not everyone tries to board a ship to steal one do they?"
"So what is so bloody special about this bunny?"
Deever didn't answer and his expression showed nothing as he kept watching the rabbit, seemingly waiting for it to do something -- anything. It didn't look like it was going to do anything anytime soon but he was in a patient mood.
They had dinner with the rabbit sleeping in the middle of the table; they watched it with wonder and then put it in the cupboard into its makeshift bed.
Carrie was exercising in the corridor, stretching with small dumbbells in her hands. There was only a small amount of room for exercise but she always managed to make space. She was used to the small confines, which was all of the ship except the loading bay. She didn't like the loading bay; she didn't like the large space, so empty and so dusty. It was the same as outside, in space. Large and empty, no humanity, nothing to keep her calm. In the small corridors she felt safer, she felt like she could exercise quite happily without having to worry about the large space. She would never admit a fear, but she would admit the GI scared her and with their "visit" earlier she was feeling just a little edgy. She thought that the squats would alleviate her somewhat.
She jogged past Deever's room but stopped and jogged back. She dropped the dumbbells to the floor and listened into his room. She could hear him talking but she couldn't make out the words. It sounded garbled but she could tell the uneasy tone of his voice.
"Rob?" she asked the door.
Rob Deever was saying something else but it was still garbled to her ears. Then he said, "Yeah?"
"Are you okay in there?"
A pause. "Yeah."
"Oh. Okay. Just checking."
She picked up the dumbbells and jogged away.
"I'm starting to think that it's a robot of some kind."
"Why's that?" Carrie questioned Garden.
"It's been sleeping constantly and it hasn't eaten any of the food that I've left it so it has to be some kind of robot. Maybe on standby mode or something."
"That's what it looks like to me."
"Have you ever heard anything like that?"
"Nope. I don't go into modern technology too much but it seems possible to me."
"Do you think that a robotic rabbit would cost enough for us to ship it someplace?"
"I don't know. As I said, I haven't a clue about this technology and I don't know how much it costs," Garden sighed. The rabbit was placed back on the kitchen table where it was starting to resemble an ornament like the bowl garden used to have before it was smashed. A rabbit didn't feel quite right as a fitting substitute for it.
"We'll be delivering this without packaging so we'll have to think up a good excuse."
"I think the truth will be the best excuse."
Garden mused. "Yeah, I think you're right."
Winnibar Hess didn't have a good meeting with his superiors, not that he ever had good meetings with them, but this one was particularly nasty. He had almost lost his job over his stupid decision not to pick up the only package there just because it didn't look like the right one so he had believed for several minutes that they might just want to get rid of him. Hopefully that contract hadn't been signed and he was still in a job and still had a life to live.
Now he had to get that rabbit or else his job would be terminated.
When they were approaching the planet they were given clear instructions from the planet operational system on how to enter and where. They would have to sign at a sky-dock called Shylock.
"The sky-dock Shylock," Carrie said, grinning.
The Fleming Steel boarded the sky-dock without troubles as it usually did at stations such as these. Fleming Steel was just one of many courier ships that had to go through the legal checks before they could enter the planet's atmosphere.
The ship would have to stay there for several hours as it went through all the checks and this always proved mind-numbingly boring so they would have to spend a good deal of time in the dock, but this was no bad thing. There was such a huge amount of shops and entertainment venues there that boredom wasn't really an option. And while they had fun their ship stayed in dock, empty and unwatched.
It wasn't known what they were to pick up, not one of the GI knew and when Hess told them about there being a rabbit on-board they assumed that's what they were looking for and he was given a serious talking to; so serious he feared his life was in jeopardy.
The GI were known for this. Not knowing what they wanted beyond knowing that they just wanted it. They were spoiled children in the guise of important adults but they never bothered even pretending to be the latter. There was no such thing as dignity for the GI.
Winnibar Hess approached the ship and found it easy to get into. There was no security around or on the ship itself apparently, and his gang went with him as he entered it through a side-hatch. They searched the ship by spreading out, some of them went one way and Hess went where he wanted to. He searched through drawers and he looked through as many personal possessions as he could see. He wasn't just looking for the rabbit, he was looking for anything of value, what was classed as GI extractions. In a search they could take whatever they saw fit and Hess had used that rule for a long while, it was one of the perks of the job.
"Mr Hess, I found the rabbit," one of the men said.
They had come together in the kitchen, which was where the rabbit was. It was in its cupboard-bed. Hess stared at it and smiled. "It's sleeping."
"It is not cute. You will never describe anything as cute while you are on duty with me again, do you understand?"
"Yes Mr Hess."
Hess rubbed his hands excitedly and then lowered his arms towards the rabbit.
"Get away from there!"
Hess spun round to see the woman he had seen before, the woman who ran the ship. He smiled at her and raised his arms in official GI greeting. "Ah, hello again."
"What do you think you are doing?" Garden asked.
"The GI has decided that they would like to possess this creature and that is what we are doing."
"You can't have it."
"Yes we can, I am afraid."
"You didn't want it last time."
"That is because I was unaware that this was what we were to pick up, and it has come to my attention that this is exactly what we are meant to pick up."
"So you're going to take it?"
Hess grinned and bowed ceremonially with his back bent and his arms stretched to his sides. He rose back up. "If I may, ma"am?"
She knew there was no use saying no and trying to stop him or any other members of the GI, but she wasn't a person who backed down very often, even if being brave equalled being stupid she usually liked to give it a shot.
"You can't have it."
The look on Winnibar Hess's face was a mix of anger and surprise, with just a hint of hatred. "Excuse me?""
"Let him have it," Rob Deever put in.
They all swerved round to look at him. Deever was looking down so all they could see was his unkempt hair. "Just let them have it and let them leave."
Garden had her mouth near his ear when she said, "Don't do this boy. You don't know what you're getting yourself into."
"Yes I do," he whispered.
"No you don't, but I do. So just let me deal with this okay?"
"I know what this is about," he said and turned his head to look at her, their faces very close. "Please trust me."
She looked into his eyes that sparkled with the truth and. She hated the thought of giving in but said, "Okay. You can have the damn rabbit."
Hess smiled and went to the rabbit, his demeanour oozing arrogant victory. It still slept peacefully as he wrapped it into his arms and, with a final bow to Carrie and Deever, he strutted away, content with his victory. His minions followed him like trained dogs.
Garden watched them leave and closed all access to their ship.
"Are you okay?" Carrie asked her, putting her hand into Garden's, squeezing it reassuringly. Garden squeezed back but said nothing.
Deever was watching them closely. Carrie and Garden both wondered at the boy they had picked up not long ago, when he came on his first delivery for this rabbit.
"Why were you so sure?" Garden asked him.
"Because I know what the rabbit is and I know what I am."
"I don't get you."
"They didn't know what they wanted, they only knew that they were to pick up something and the rabbit was the only thing that we had. That wasn't what they were really to get, it was me. They should have taken me."
They were standing at the doorstep of Mr Origati with no order to give him. The house was enormous, dwarfing the crew of the Fleming Steel. They felt like children.
The door opened and they were greeted by a butler. "Can I help you?"
"Yeah, we came to deliver a package but I'm afraid to say it was stolen from us in the process."
"Yeah, I know," Garden agreed, "but I think I have what he really ordered."
He sat behind a desk that was larger than what most people would consider too big. Mr Origati was nearly as large as the desk. He looked up when the door opened and smiled. He got out of his chair, walked past his desk and grabbed Deever around his shoulders. Deever patted him on the back.
"I thought I may never get you here in one piece," he said, hugging him tighter.
Deever was finding it hard to breathe. "Hi."
Origati let him go and looked him up and down, appraising him. He shook his head in wonderment. "It really is you. The most advanced piece of technology in the world, standing in front of me at this minute."
Garden and Carrie looked from Origati to Deever, then back to Origati. "What's going on?"
He looked at Garden for the first time. "I am sorry. My name is Nobuo Origati and I hired you to deliver something for me, yes?"
"Yeah, a rabbit."
"Do you have it with you?" he asked.
She shook her head." I'm afraid not. It was stolen from us by a group of GI thugs."
"Ah, no worry. It was just a toy."
"Then why would you pay such a large sum if you didn't care about it."
"It wasn't that I was paying you to deliver." He beamed at Deever.
Garden looked at Deever, who was being held tightly by Mr Origati. "What are you?" she asked him.
"I don't know," he said genuinely, trying to move himself out of Origati's frequent crushing hugs.
"I will explain," Origati said, walking back to his desk. He sat down, his chair creaking loudly under the pressure, and the others crowded around the front. "The rabbit was just a decoy, a trick of sorts. I knew that the GI had been informed about a transport vessel taking a package to me and I knew they would try to intercept it. But if they found nothing then they would no doubt have destroyed your ship or worse. I figured if they went away with something, anything, then they would be happy. That way they would leave you alone, Rob."
Rob Deever shook his head. "I can't remember anything. I don't know what happened before that, when I joined the ship."
"We got you a job with that ship just to get you here. And now you are here it is finished." He turned to the women. "My butler will give you your money up-front. No questions asked."
Garden shook her head as it was darting about between everyone who was in the room. "So when this guy asks to work on the ship, that was just to get him here?"
"So why did you want him?"
"I needed him."
"He is a wonderful piece of technology. State-of-the-art."
"Is he an android?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Because then I would have to kill you."
Garden had heard people say that many times and she had learned how to measure a person to able to tell whether they were bluffing. He wasn't. "Is it that important?"
"It is very important."
"Even though I helped you to get him, you still won't tell me?"
Deever looked confused and just a little frightened.
"Deever, did you know anything about all this?"
"A little bit. Not much. But I think I've forgotten a lot."
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"They told me not to."
"Alright, that is enough," Origati interrupted. "Do not tell them anything you know, Rob. Nothing."
Garden was trying to take all of this in but she was finding it difficult. She had been approached by a man saying that the boy, Deever, would like to work on her ship. She never asked questions and the boy would work for cheap she was told, so she accepted it. And now she was hearing about this story, about the boy being some sort of thing, something to buy.
"Why are you going to accept this, Rob?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Rob, this man is buying you. You are a human being; I know that because I have lived with you for several weeks."
"I'm not human."
"Yes you are. Damn it, you are; listen to me when I tell you that because I tell the truth. I don't care what this guy," she waved her hand at Origati, "says about you. You are not something to be bought and shipped around the galaxy."
"Excuse me," Origati interrupted her. Garden had been waving her arms around erratically while the tone of her voice became louder and more angry. Origati's voice was gentle, but there was just a small hint of menace to what he was saying. "I have never, as you claim, bought Mr Rob Deever. I can't tell you the full details of Mr Deever but what I can tell you is he is very important to us and we will give him our full care."
"If he was so damn important why did you feel it was okay to shove him on a rundown ship for several weeks?"
"He can take care of himself."
"He's just a boy."
"If you say so."
"Would you please leave now? My butler has your money in a briefcase that he is carrying. If you could just take that and leave I would be most thankful."
She was going to protest, it was going to come out in a barrage of words -- many of them profanities -- but she didn't. She sighed, muttered something, and took Carrie's hand. The feel of her hand felt good in her own.
They left. Garden tried not to look at Deever but she couldn't help it. He had a face that was impossible to read but she could tell that there was something, a small something, that wasn't happy. She felt that he should be livid or in grief for what was happening to him, not just blank like he was now. She wanted to help him, but she couldn't.
They left his house hand in hand, with the briefcase in Garden's free hand.
Hess was in a room, bare but for the chair and table that he was sitting at, staring at a door. He was waiting for the inevitable, what people like him call the inevitable; no one knew what it, or he, looked like. He was just a number in a long line of numbers who were unfortunate to see for themselves.
Hess had tried to compose himself but he failed miserably. Sweat pored from his head as he paced from wall to wall. He couldn't sit down any more; it just made him more nervous.
They liked to make people wait. No one likes to rush their own demise but the tension was killing him inside and he wanted it all just to end. Get it over with so he wouldn't have to deal with waiting any longer.
It was a toy. He would have laughed if he wasn't so terrified. A damn toy and now he had to accept the punishment for failure.
They made him wait for it.
Once that waiting was over he never had enough time to wish for anything before he was no more.
They left the planet and they left Deever. As a couple, Garden and Carrie were happy and they brought the boy into their ship to work for them. They trusted him and they believed he trusted them, and now they left him on a planet and they didn't know what his future would be.
"But we didn't know anything about him."
"I know that. But he worked for us and we should have taken care of him."
"We just sold him off, Carrie."
Carrie shook her head sadly. "That was our job."
"I have to know what I'm getting into."
"But you never ask for details."
"Well, maybe I should start."
They sat in the kitchen as the Fleming Steel drifted through space, feeling alone despite each other.
© 2007 M. B. Barlow
Bio: Mr. Barlow is a resident of Glasgow, Scotland, and has been writing for a number of years. His story The Pathetic Motley Clown appeared in the June 2007 edition of Aphelion. His myspace page can be found at M. B. Barlow.
E-mail: M. B. Barlow
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