On a mining colony planet a long way from Earth, bandit Jedd Lightning dreams of making enough money to get off the planet for good. When a robbery at a high-class brothel goes wrong, he meets gorgeous rentboy Storm and is instantly smitten. But Storm has a few surprises up his sleeve, and when Jedd helps him escape, he realises he might have taken on more than he can handle…
But now, on with the story:
“Now Lightning, I know you’re not the sharpest knife in the armoury, but what part of ‘get the fucking passcode’ was it that confused you?”
Jedd stretched his spine even straighter but like Marty, kept his gaze fixed on a spot on the carpet as Cheerful Charlie paced around them. “I’m sorry Mr. Stubbs, but he wouldn’t talk. Refused outright.”
“Then you should’ve made him talk.” Charlie stopped in front of them and jabbed a ring-encrusted finger at Marty. “You. You know how it’s done, don’t you? Tell your dimwit captain what you need to cut off to make someone blab.”
Jedd heard Marty gulp, the sound loud and wet in the hush of Charlie’s office. He glanced over, guilt slicing through him at the sight of Marty’s exhausted, bloodshot eyes. The poor guy had been working on it all night, but hadn’t managed to get past the third level passcode. “It might still be possible to hack into the unit, Mr. Stubbs.”
“Oh, it might now, might it? You trying to tell me how to do my job now, are you?”
“No sir! Absolutely not sir. But I’m working on it and given time, I should be able to access the datapod for you.”
Jedd thanked the Suns above when Charlie paused, cocking his head to one side and fixing Marty with his beady black eyes. In that pose he looked even more like a Dune-Wagtail than usual, especially with that shot silk outfit shimmering blue and purple. That’s where the resemblance ended, however. Charlie might be light on his feet and deceptively fragile looking, but you underestimated him at your peril.
“You might, might you? Well might’s no good to me. Either you do or you find yourself a new career feeding your entrails to the foxes out in the desert. You’ll stay here while you crack it.”
Marty’s face fell, but Charlie continued, turning to Jedd. “Lightning, Lightning, Lightning… Whatever are we going to do with you?” Charlie pulled a flick knife out of his pocket and whirled it around, the blade glinting as it danced in his fingers. “You ever keep a Dune Fox in captivity, Lightning?”
“No. I value my fingers too much.” They were vicious, snappy bastards, and the apex predator out in the T’almak deserts. Where the hell was this line of questioning going?
“I keep seven of them,” Charlie continued. “Beautiful creatures with insatiable appetites. Have you ever seen what happens to a man who gets into a cage with seven hungry foxes, Lightning?”
Jedd gulped, his eyes following the hypnotic dance of the blade.
“Well, have you?” Charlie demanded.
“Uh, no, Mr Stubbs, sir. I haven’t.”
“I have. I like to cut them first,” Charlie said, in a creepy, sing-song voice. “The scent of blood makes the foxes so much more frenzied. It’s one of nature’s most majestic sights. And the sounds. Oh, you should hear the sounds those poor men make, Lightning. It’s like music to my ears. Of course, there are certain organs my dear pets enjoy more than others. I don’t always let them take the whole carcass. Better to keep them lean and keen, wouldn’t you say?”
Jedd had the horrible feeling he was about to piss himself with fear. He’d heard the stories, of course. That was how Charlie had earned his name, people whispered, as it certainly wasn’t any reflection on his less-than-delightful personality. People who crossed him were later found face down in the sand, certain intimate parts of their anatomy missing and a bloody smile etched into their face.
Those that were ever found, that was.
Charlie was studying him intently. “I think it’s time you came to meet my pets, Lightning. Just as your friend will, if he doesn’t come up with the goods.”
“Please Mr. Stubbs, I’ll get that passcode for you.” Jedd didn’t know how, but he’d save Marty somehow.
Charlie paused, his chin resting on his steepled fingers. He tutted once, the sharp sound making Jedd jump. “I suppose I could make an exception, just this once,” Charlie said, with a blood-curdling smile. “You’ll be working on your own from now on. I need this data, so I want you to have another go at getting that T’almaki bastard to talk, and this time do it properly. Make sure you take something a little more persuasive with you.”
Jedd met Marty’s terrified gaze. He could see it all there in Marty’s eyes: the way he’d warned Jedd he was an idiot taking jobs from a vicious thug like Charlie Stubbs. Well shit, Jedd knew that, but there weren’t many other options open to them if they wanted to raise money to get Bluebird space-worthy again.
Compared to a friend’s life, though, that dream wasn’t worth a damn.
“Marty, I’ll do it. Don’t worry. You’ll be okay.”
“That’s a matter of some debate,” Charlie sneered.
Jedd shivered, bracing himself for Marty’s abuse. He deserved it, he knew. Guilt grabbed hold of his innards and tied them into painful knots, pushing bile up his throat. How had things gone this bad, this quickly? They were meant to be moving up in the world, not being dragged down to the sand at Charlie’s whim.
But when Marty spoke his voice was husky, choked.
“Tell Lena I love her, and I’ll… I’ll be back.”
Jedd nodded. “I’ll do it.” And damn if his voice wasn’t sounding as choked up as Marty’s. He pulled Marty into a hug, only to discover the man was trembling. “I’ll miss you, mate.”
Charlie seemed to find the whole spectacle amusing, if the wheezing laugh was anything to go by. “If you two homos have finished pawing each other, Mr. Martin here has a job to be getting on with. I’ll have my men show you to your cell. Sorry, did I say cell? I meant office, of course.” That gleaming white grin was going to give Jedd nightmares, he could tell.
Jedd watched as Marty was marched off between two T’almaki goons. As they left the room, Marty threw a brave smile over his shoulder.
Jedd did his best to smile back, but it felt bleak and forced.
A threatening motion at his side drew his attention back to Charlie. Jedd might tower over the man by a clear foot, but that was scant comfort when faced with such a cunning, cold-hearted bastard.
“What data do you need, Mr. Stubbs? I might be able to get hold of it some other way.”
“Don’t you think I’d have tried it if there were? No, it’s all on that unit. Or at least, I hope it is. I won’t know for sure until we hack it, one way or another. Your Mr. Martin, is he really as good as he says he is?”
“With machines? He’s a whizz. Best you’ll find on the whole of T’almak, I reckon.”
“He’d better be for his sake. You’re his only other chance.”
“Right, got you.”
“Oh, and Lightning? Don’t even think about leaving town. If you’re not back here in a week, your friend is going to start losing weight, and I don’t think he’s going to enjoy that very much. You get my drift?”
“Yes,” Jedd croaked, his throat suddenly drier than the desert wind. “I understand.”
“Good. Then you’re dismissed. I don’t want to see you until next Nineday.”
Jedd left the sumptuous office as fast as he could without breaking into a sprint. A week. Just ten days to come up with and execute a plan to get that code from Senator Artaxico, one of the most powerful and well-guarded men on the planet.
He couldn’t do this on his own. He needed help. He needed someone who knew the Senator.
And he knew just where to find him.
Just who does Jedd have in mind? And will he be able to avoid him and Marty becoming fox food? Tune in next Friday for another thrilling installment of Storm and Lightning!Storm and Lightning – © Josephine Myles, 2012. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced elsewhere without prior permission of the author. Thank you!