Signing Bonus: Part One
Written by David Davis
Art by Evo917
All together, it was the largest sum of money Dash had ever received. Growing up in Movari village on the moon of Ocia he had never even entertained so many antecedent zeroes addressed to him and him alone. The rate of 50,000 credits per each professional engineering contract was very much above standard, sure, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The additional 50,000 from signing the contractual agreement for Kimney, however, brought the total up to a solid 100,000 credits. It was more than double the collective net worth of his old village, even today.
Dash hunched over the workbench of the engineering bay, elbows on the table, chin resting on his palms, studying his bank account on his mobile. It was too much. He pored over the options he had, and boy did he have options. 100,000 credits could buy him a lot of information.
Maybe he could finally track down…No.
After Vark, after the incident… he put his father to rest. Life was too short and now too full of opportunities to dwell on the past, to dwell on the non-existent figure that had already screwed up most of his life to begin with. The signing bonus was Kimney’s reward for Dash’s hard work. Kimney had said as much himself. He had earned this, and no, he wouldn’t let the spectre of his father taint this either.
But this was still a lot of money. Too much. Dash continued to stare at the numbers. Weighing options.
What use did he have for so much money?
Dorian stared at Kracker, dumbfounded. “You’re joking.”
“I’d never joke about a good time.”
Dorian took a bite out of a moist but bland sponge cake and went back to cleaning out and re-organizing his medical bag.
“I bet you’re just gonna shove your share of the credits in some savings account,” Kracker chuckled. “Or are you gonna invest?”
Dorian leaned back. “I wish,” he said as he turned to Kracker. “I still have my student loans to pay off. This will cover it, of course, but I’ll have maybe a couple hundred credits left over.”
“Aren’t you still paying off your loans?”
Kracker took a cursory bite of the sponge cake, grimaced, and set the half eaten piece back on the table. “My loans were reduced. Disability scholarship.”
Dorian rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Right…the whole wing thing-”
He noticed Kracker glaring at him. His eyes narrowed before he shifted away from Dorian.
“Yeah, the ‘wing thing.’”
Kracker stood up to stretch. He ran some fingertips against the grain of his feathers on his wing, enjoying the cool air flowing over the bits of skin that were almost never exposed.
“It’s not a big deal. I just do my flying behind a cockpit. I figure that I fly more than anyone back home, does. Even with Skyhaven not being very friendly to non-arial visitors.”
Dorian smiled before returning to his bag. Kracker continued his stretching.
“I gotta say, this place is growing on me,” the Parrack said as he peered around. “I thought this common room was a bit big at first, but there’s a lot of airflow. It feels nice.”
Dorian grunted in response. He was focused on an old-looking diagnostic probe. It made a rattling sound as he rolled it between his fingers. Kracker noticed the sound along with Dorian’s souring expression.
“What the heck is that thing anyway?” Kracker asked.
Dorian grabbed at a small multi-tool and began to disassemble the probe.
“Diagnostic probe,” he said in monotone. “It measures electro-magnetic energy emanating from key anatomical points. Variations from standard readings can serve as quick diagnoses. It’s mostly a triage tool.”
Kracker scratched his head.
“Am I supposed to know what that means?” he asked.
“If you were a medical student, you would.”
“Yeah, okay. So, that thing’s pretty important…right?”
Dorian was now reassembling the probe.
“It’s a big help.”
Kracker grabbed his hat from the seat cushion and pulled it over his head.
“Whatever. While you’re busy being a nerd I’m gonna set up a party.”
Dorian looked up at Kracker.
However Kracker had made his way down the stairs and was just out of earshot.
Mara stood there in disbelief as Marken nodded.
He then shrugged, “well, more like a stipend in the budget to ensure proper maintenance for our artifici friends. Bucketbot… well… I guess it’s “Ship” now-”
An artificial voice crackled over the speaker’s in Marken’s office, “You can still call me Bucketbot, sir. The name is a familiar comfort to me, and it should make it easier for you all to interface with me as the ship’s artificial intelligence.”
Marken looked slightly alarmed, still not used to the ability of Bucketbot to communicate from anywhere on the ship.
“Uh, right, thank you Bucketbot…” Marken shuddered slightly, and then continued, “Well, Bucketbot and Blu each have some money set aside in the general fund.”
Mara laughed a bit. “That’s pretty progressive.”
“Well, it is Kimney we’re talking about.”
Mara slid into the chair across from Marken’s desk as he continued to sort through datachips. He’d pop one into the terminal, verify the contents, pop it out, and toss it into a drawer to be organized later.
“So, how are you planning on spending your 70k, Marken?”
Marken continued sorting through datachips as he considered his options.
“Honestly, I don’t want for much. We’re in such good shape now. I suppose I’ll just buy some nice food-tech and then hoard the rest. Maybe invest in a restaurant one day.”
“Actually, I had an idea I thought might appeal to you.”
Mara continued, “Well, I’ve been talking with Spril after the whole unpleasantness with Vark. Just to make sure he was okay.”
“How is he?”
“He’s doing great actually, he really bounced back, it’s kind of incredible how fast that was.”
She leaned forward.
“Anyway, I’ve been looking into his business, and I was thinking about investing. The guy knows his plants and his ship is perfect for that sort of thing. Do you know that some of his plants sell to colonies for thousands of credits?”
“Yeah, they’re hardy, fully-grown plants already in bloom, so colonists love them. He’s thinking about trading in the Greensleeves for a new ship. Something that would allow him to grow more plants and hire a couple more hands.”
“So you think we should invest?”
“Yeah, I figure at the volume he is looking at, a percentage would net us a very tidy profit. I’m looking to pool together a 30% stake in the ship, but I’d rather not go in alone.”
Marken paused his sorting and scratched at his chin for a few moments. He then smiled, and looked at Mara.
“I’m in, but on one condition…”
Alix saw the Parrack leaning into her room. He smiled cheekily, which had become somewhat endearing to her over the past few days she had known him.
“Is it now? I assume this isn’t an excuse to get me alone?”
“I have you alone now, technically.”
“Well, I am busy at the moment, but I will make sure I finish up in time for the party. Frankly, I thought you’d had enough after the hangover from the other night.”
“I’m not so sure it was a hangover. I think maybe that assassin clocked me in the head as I was trying to pin him down…”
“Yes, you were very brave.”
Alix stood up and made her way to the door. Kracker backed out as she threw on her jacket that was hanging on a wall hook.
He looked puzzled, “where you heading off too?”
“I have a couple of errands to run, but I’ll be back in time. Don’t worry about it.”
“Do you need some help? I was running out for something and-”
“Maybe another time, this is a bit of a… personal issue.”
Alix smiled at the Parrack. “It’s nothing to worry about. Not blowing you off or anything. I am looking forward to tonight. I just have some things I need to get done.”
Kracker seemed to grow a little more chipper.
“Oh, sure, of course. See you tonight!”
The small Terrekin district that surrounded the embassy had some of the familiarity of Ocia, albeit simulated at best. The walkways which were traditionally supposed to be a fusion of metal and concrete like in most cities were instead replaced by sandy paths that were heated from excess energy from various power-lines and cooling systems. Additionally, many of the buildings in the block also had painted murals, or large screens that projected Ocian landscapes. The sight of these and the feeling of the sand between his toes made Dash a little wistful, and the feeling only increased as he passed by a small alcove where a vendor was selling fried strips of fatfish on skewers, drizzled in koba sauce. He immediately found himself stuck in place, absorbing the atmosphere and the delicious and pungent odor. He made his way over and ordered two of the skewers, along with a poca-melon juice. He then took his bounty to a wooden bench that was wrapped around a transplanted frond-tree and devoured his snack.
He observed Terrekin spilling in and out of the embassy, and watching bemused aliens exploring the block, curious about the Terrekin culture and the sandy walkways. He noticed a small party of Grey, huddled together snapping vids and pics. Most of them looked wilted, despite the fact that, to Dash at least, the climate controls were actually a little on the cooler side.
He took in a little bit more of the atmosphere as he sucked the koba-sauce off the skewers and then proceeded to make his way into the embassy. He claimed his ticket and sat down in a traditional woven-reed chair, waiting for his turn to talk to one of the ambassador’s few, overworked representatives. He picked up a complimentary magazine and felt the textured plastic between his finger-tips. He felt a greasy sensation and was disgusted by it, until he realized it was very much the remnants of his snack, still on his fingertips. He peered around, making sure nobody noticed him take the now greasy plastic mag and tuck it under the pile of mags in the center of the table.
“I forgot just how sticky that stuff can be,” he thought to himself.
Guugel felt various eyes upon him as he wandered the wide boulevards that made up Market Row. His bonus of 30,000 credits was burning a hole in his pockets… that is if he wore pants. Instead he had his backpack that carried a few bits and bobs, including some credit chips and some various impulse purchases he had made today. Among them was a small dancing Syrien doll that wiggled on springs. He wasn’t sure why he was compelled to buy it, it just seemed like a curiosity worth keeping with him. How many of the other Wot had dancing Syrien dolls? How many Wot, really, had set foot on Teslovia anyway? These days they weren’t a well-traveled people.
His feet had begun to hurt from the walk, so he decided to go for a rail-ride around the massive super-city to maybe find some new and interesting location to explore. He stepped onto one of the regular trams as the doors opened, and placed himself at a seat opposite a window so he could see the sights as they flew by. Much to his chagrin, though, a rather obese Gaur took the seat directly opposite from him, blocking off the window. Guugel’s brow furrowed in annoyance.
Of course, he thought.
The club scene on Teslovia was quite literally on all day at the major clubs. Kracker hit up spot after spot, weaving in and out of the tangles of bodies and soaking up the mood, hoping to find some DJ who, for a reasonable fee, could be coaxed into doing a private show on the Strike. Unfortunately, with the scene the way it was in the city most DJs were almost entirely booked up, or hesitant to give up what little rest time they had.
This was frustrating, to say the least. A dinky playlist over the ship’s sound system was not the sort of vibe he was looking for. He wanted a real banger, something that’d get even the super-reserved Dorian up and on the dance floor. It had been a pretty crazy year for everyone and the last party ended up being pretty reserved and low-key, at least until someone tried to kill Mr. Kimney. Needless to say, it wasn’t that great of a party afterall…
Of course, by the time he hit his fifth club he had begun to reconsider his whole approach. Maybe a banger wasn’t what was needed? Kracker took a sip from his flask and tucked in back into his pocket. He decided that maybe a smaller, more intimate arrangement would be better. He signalled a scuter and hopped on, instructing the driver to take him to a place where some amateurs played.
Spril looked pretty good, and by his attitude it was impossible to tell that a few months earlier he had been sharing a ship with a complete maniac that had assaulted him. He sat on a pile of bags at the foot of the Greensleeves.
“Thanks so much for coming to see me, friends. I was a little afraid you wouldn’t.”
Mara stepped away toward the underside of the ship, analyzing the condition of it. Marken stepped toward Spril.
“Nonsense,” the Astro-mole said, “you were in no way at fault regarding the unpleasantness a few months ago. You were just as much a victim. I’m glad to see you’re doing so fine.”
Spril laughed airily, “well, we’re pretty hardy. Speaking of which, I have a gift.”
Spril plucked a seed out of a pouch on his hip, flicked it into the air, and caught it, weighing it in his closed palm. “Mara told me about your garden in the ship. I’m incredibly happy to hear that you have one. Please, take this.”
He held out his fist and Marken reach out a tentative palm. Spril dropped the seed into Marken’s paw.
“It’s a pepper I’ve been experimenting with. It takes on characteristics based on the other vegetables it’s cooked with. It’s a good way to stretch your real flavorful veggies.”
“I’m not much of a gardener,” Marken said.
“Me neither,” Mara added.
“Oh, no worries, my plants are guaranteed to grow. Just place it in the soil and you should be fine.”
Marken pocketed the seed as Mara returned to the pair.
Marken shrugged, “thank you Spril, I wish we had brought something for you.”
“Well, if you are interested in my little venture then I am positive we can arrange for something!” Spril laughed, which took on a flutey tone.
Teslovia’s district of “Wastetown” took every opportunity it could to assert its namesake. Wastetown wasn’t the actual, planned name of that section of the city, which was actually originally known as Oldtown, but to everyone on the planet it was simply Wastetown. For the most part, the upper reaches of the city that branched off from Old Teslovia and Cityheart were acceptable for most residents. Most visitors were less likely to be anywhere near the area though, as the lower sections were widely considered to be lawless, dangerous, and were generally sealed off for most residents. If you wanted to get into Wastetown, it was totally possible, but it took some work. Work that Alix had been putting in for the past few hours.
Getting down to the second level from the third level was simply a matter of bribing the right security officer to use a private elevator as the public ones had become too dangerous. It was not unusual for some curious traveler to try to head down to the lower levels using a public elevator only to be immediately mugged or kidnapped when they stepped out. Using the security elevator eliminated that risk. It was a bit disconcerting to step into the second level security station and be completely ignored. As long as the right palms were greased anyone seemed to be able to wander in and out as they pleased.
Getting down to the first level though… that was the real challenge.
“Hey there pretty thing…”
Alix didn’t turn toward the voice. She could smell the drugs wafting off the Gomben. The chemical odors were powerful and allowed her to position him through a simple sniff.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to ya!”
The Gomben reached for her arm, but Alix spun around and drew her knife to his throat. He whimpered as she backed him into an alley.
She looked him over. He was definitely a waster, through and through, and was of no real use for her. She hissed and threw him to the side. He stumbled forward and caught himself on a wall. He peered back at her and then wiped some residue from his trunk before he hurriedly stumbled out of the alley.
Alix slipped the knife back into its sheath behind the small of her back. The only way to get to the first level safely was by buying passage. Thankfully she had a recent cash infusion to get her to where she needed to be.