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Serren Tan: "The Last Job"


Alleran Tan
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The Last Job

The very tail end of the Dominion War

"Looks like we lost ‘em, boss."

Every muscle in my body ached. I leaned back in the pilot's seat of our cramped, rusty Ferengi ship, my antenna sagging with relief. The nervousness, the fear, fled my system, leaving my blue skin chilled and goose-fleshed.

At least, I was pretty sure we had lost them.

“Well done, Mikki,” said DaiMon Xhard, the loathsome Ferengi in charge of us. He leaned forward in his throne-seat like he was about to fall off, mouth parting to reveal a row of jagged, perfectly sharp teeth. “Now that the Federation dogs have lost the scent… resume previous course. We have a very special pick-up to make today, and I don’t want to be late. Got a hot tip.”

Special? Our pickups were far from special. If anything, Ketracel-White smuggling was a remarkably simple job. Go to where the White was stored, take it to the Dominion forces in the Alpha quadrant, go to another pickup for more. Don’t get caught.

That was the job. Had been ever since I left Andoria.

Andoria. The cold winds that whipped around its surface would burn the skins of most Federation citizens, but we Andorians were blessed with tolerances far exceeding most (except the Breen).

For me an average day on my home moon was bikini weather. How I missed the pleasant, cool air on my blue skin.

Almost as though remembering the cold, my fingers trembled against the helm console. Quick as I could, I clasped my left hand within my right, eyes darting furtively from side to side. If the crew saw that momentary display of weakness, it would come back and bite me. I had to dose, but I couldn’t while I was flying

 Soon, though. Soon I’d have relief.

Andorians had an old saying: don’t get addicted to drugs while dealing drugs, but I had learned that lesson a little too late. Andorians had another saying, too, that was more appropriate for my circumstances: Oops. My bad.

“Resuming previous course,” I said, hoping my confidence would cover up the momentary display of weakness. I tapped out the commands on the console, guiding our useless rust bucket of a ship toward our pickup location, the only moon of some nameless planet that started with T.

---

The “3” in the world’s name suggested whateverworld was the third blasted rock from its sun. Normally those kinds of worlds in the “Goldilocks zone” were teaming with hosts of andorianoid life, and sometimes their moons too, but not this one; our ship’s puny sensors showed that the moon was a dry, barren, sandy planetoid with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, large numbers of vast subterranean lakes with algae (that produced the aforementioned atmosphere), and a scattering of large, probably dangerous life forms on the surface.

Okay. I plotted a landing vector, taking the ship in low and slow. We didn’t know what damage the ship might have taken in the chase with our Federation pursuers, and I didn’t want to tax the old boy any more than I had to.

Fortunately, though, we didn’t skip off the atmosphere and fly off into space, nor did we plunge toward the surface and burn up. Instead, thanks to some careful flying on my part, our rust bucket made a perfect re-entry and we touched down on the southern hemisphere, just a few short kilometres from the pickup zone.

The crew assembled in the main cargo hold and I was given the dubious honour of opening the door. Taking in a deep breath of recycled air, tinged with the scent of metal and grease, I thumped my fist on the switch to lower the loading ramp.

The hull cracked open with a hiss, the rusty loading ramp shuddering as it descended, dropping down to the sandy, desert floor and settling, groaning like an old man settling into a chair. Fresh air rushed in, blowing through my hair, my antenna perking up as they sensed the change in pressure and temperature.

This air was not the cold, refreshing Andorian wind of my home moon. This moon’s air was a dry and hot blast like opening an oven, the heat and sand-choked gusts sucking the moisture out of my skin. My lips cracked almost instantly and I held my hands up to protect my face.

“Ugh, blech! Sand!”

“You’ll get used to it,” cackled Damon Xhard, moving up beside me, the Ferengi laying a hand on my head and rubbing between my antenna. An affectionate gesture from most, but one I despised from him. The heat of his hands glowing like lamps in the 'eyes' of my twitching sensors.

I had told him, repeatedly and using the wonderful library of Ferengi obscenities that I picked up living on the Geesh-class ship for as long as I had, that if he ever actually touched my antenna, I would slice off whatever skin met mine. Yet he always managed to avoid actually making contact by a few millimetres. Dexterous when he wanted to be, knowing his fingers were on the line.

“Don’t touch me,” I reiterated for the tenth time, brushing his hand away.

“You’ll get used to it,” he said again.

---

The distance to the pickup was close but the terrain was treacherous. We walked for what seemed like hours over hilly, rocky terrain covered in sand. I dosed myself about half way, and the shaking in my hands stopped.

Almost all the crew (mostly Ferengi excluding myself and a few others) were not overly well suited for the journey. Everyone else was complaining by the time my tricorder finally said that we were close, but with fresh powdered White in my lungs and the prospect of more on the horizon, my spirits were high and my energy boundless.

Perhaps it was the heightened sense of alertness the drug brought, but I seemed to be the only one concerned about the ominous signs we were seeing on the way. A large rock with a dark scorch mark on it. A piece of starship debris carrying the insignia of the Starfleet Marine Corps. A discarded plasma pistol of a make and configuration I did not recognise, but one Remi said was Jem’Hadar.

She was usually right about these things.

Had the Federation found the stash before we arrived? I worried on my lower lip as we walked (a not-uncommon symptom of being high, or so I justified it). Anxiety spiked and my heart thumped a staccato beat in my chest, the wind blowing sand into our clothes and ears and eyes, DaiMon Xhard’s voice echoed in my mind. A very special pickup

I hoped it was worth it.

As we crested the last dune, one dotted with sharp rocks and shifting sand, a strange smell drifted to my nose carried on the hot, whipping wind. Rich, pungent like spoiled meat, mixed in with other strange scents I struggled to identify; some kind of burning plastic, scorched electronics, a whiff of discharged plasma.

The normal setup for a Ketracel pickup was a set of hidden crates containing vials of White, hidden under bushes or water, sometimes broken up in to individual vials and stashed in cracks or buried. Hidden in a variety of ways, all trying to avoid Federation sensors.

This particular pickup wasn’t anything like that. It was a war zone. Or rather... it had been, months ago.

Bodies lay everywhere, Jem’Hadar and Starfleet Marines alike, some practically linked together as though they had fallen in the midst of hand-to-hand combat; some laying in improvised fox-holes, some spread out in the open. All dead.

Half a Type 9 shuttle jutted out of the sand, its hull blown open and inside exposed, full of sand and slowly succumbing to rust.  My antenna swung from left to right, taking in whatever information they could.

The only mercy to my nose was that the dry heat had preserved the bodies. The odour wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

“Where’s the pickup?” I gasped, my hand pinched over my nostrils, trying in vain to keep the stink out.

“You’re looking at it,” grunted Xhard, his face uncharacteristically grim, dark eyes scanning over the battle site. “The Jem’Hadar bodies will have plenty of White on them. Have the crew collect as much as they can carry.” Almost as an afterthought he added, “And strip the Federation dead too. Weapons. Personal effects. Anything valuable. There’ll be a bonus for everyone out of that half of the haul.”

A bonus. That’s what the dignity of the dead was worth. Just a pocketful of latinum.

“You can’t be serious,” I whispered, my antenna drooping. “You want us to desecrate the dead? Starfleet dead?”

“What does it matter?” Xhard picked at a crooked tooth. “They’re dead. They have top-of-the-line weapons, tricorders and sensors, and enough rations to feed our crew for months. Make sure you strip the shuttle, too, who knows what treasures might be still working there.”

No. This was wrong and I knew it. Despite the heat, my blood ran colder than the deepest glacier on Andoria. “Stealing from dead Jem’Hadar is one thing, but Starfleet too? You want us to defile the bodies of those who are fighting to stop the Dominion from taking the whole quadrant?”

“I want you to do your job,” said Xhard, making a dismissive, shooing, ‘go forth’ gesture. “All of you. So do it. Your pay comes out of the Starfleet half, and you do want to refill your inhaler next month, don’t you?”

Every part of me wanted to protest, to fight and struggle and kick and bite and scream at the injustice of it, but the fading dose in my lungs made a compelling argument. If I didn’t get more, within a month what I had would be out. And then withdrawal. The coughing. Running nose and eyes, like the galaxy’s worst flu. Shaking. Puking. Crying.

I’d tried to get clean once. It had nearly killed me. Never again.

I had no choice. Dejectedly, I adjusted my backpack and got to work.

---

Six hours.

It took six hours to loot everything we could get our grubby hands on. We stripped the power cells and atmosphere processor out of the shuttle (we were running on backups, so this would be a welcome addition), and each of the crew had an armful of rifles and pistols to carry back. Along with almost a thousand vials of White between us, each plucked from the mummified Jem’Hadar bodies.

And... stuff.

A Vulcan children’s toy. A Tellerite prayer charm. A Human gold watch. A Benzite breathing apparatus. Several strips of latinum. Stuff that didn’t belong to us.

Stuff we had looted.

The sun was starting to go down, and we couldn’t do our vulture’s work in the dark. Everyone started to get ready to camp for the night in preparation for heading back tomorrow morning. We had gotten the most valuable stuff and didn’t know who else would be showing up here, angry and spoiling for a fight.

But I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I didn’t even set up my tent, just marched around our desert camp muttering to myself, until I finally did something very stupid indeed.

I double checked my disruptor pistol was charged and marched into Xhard’s expansive, expensive, luxurious tent and pointed it straight at him as he was settling in to his giant puffy bed.

Xhard barely looked up as I came in, casually pulling the blankets up against his chest. “Well, well, well,” he said, casually clicking his tongue. “My Mikki has decided to pay me a visit right as I’m getting into bed. This really is a very special pickup.”

The weapon twitched in my hand. Almost to draw attention to it, just so he could see. “In your bloated pathetic dreams,” I spat. “I’m here because I am not okay with what happened today.”

“You’re not okay with seeing your pocket full of latinum and your lungs full of product?” Xhard smiled disarmingly (for a Ferengi). “Well, then, you’re right. Let’s put everything back just like it was. We’ll go back to the ship, lift off, and you can just go ahead and explain to the Dominion why we failed to meet their quota this month. I’m sure they’ll be very understanding.” His voice took on a sinister edge. “Maybe you can point that little thing at them when they complain too. I’m sure they’ll be terrified.”

My upper lip curled back. Xhard, as terrible as he was, had a point. We had thrown in our lot with the Dominion (for now), but we all knew they had no love for us. They would just as soon shoot us all if we failed them.

“The stuff stays,” I said. “The dead aren’t using it anymore. But we are going to bury those bodies before we leave tomorrow.”

“Bury them?” Xhard narrowed his eyes in confusion. “Do you think they’ll turn into zombies, Mikki?”

Xhard knew I was afraid of the dark, but it wasn’t that. “No,” I said. “But I want them buried regardless. The Dominion soldiers and the Starfleet personnel both. Decent graves. Got it?”

“Why? It won’t make them any less dead.”

“It’s what they deserve.”

The corner of Xhard’s mouth turned up in amusement. “Even the Jem’Hadar?”

I waved the disruptor around like a lunatic. “Both of them!” I shouted. “Starfleet! Dominion! It doesn’t matter to me; nobody deserves to just rot out in the open like that, no matter what side they’re on! We’re profiting from this war, the least we could do is show the victims of it a little common decency!”

Xhard locked eyes with me, and I sensed a battle of wills happening at this very moment. He was testing me. Would I actually shoot?

“Very well,” he said, stifling a broad yawn and nestling down into his overly comfortable bed. “First thing tomorrow morning.” He ever-so-casually patted the side of his bed. “Want to be warmer tonight?”

I sheathed my disruptor in disgust and marched out.

---

I stayed up all night, tossing and turning. No sleep.

In the morning, everyone dug in the blazing sun for a full day making graves.  Then we had a service. Even Xhard attended, something I genuinely did not expect.

As the moon’s sun dipped below the dunes and cast its light on the bodies for the last time, we lowered each down into its impromptu grave we’d dug. Each grave had a headstone, a rock with the symbol of Starfleet or the Dominion as appropriate.

At the foot of the graveyard I planted a stone onto which I burned a small inscription with my disruptor.

STARFLEET MARINES AND JEM’HADAR SOLDIERS FELL HERE

THERE WAS NO WINNER

Some of us said words. Not much. We were drug smugglers, not poets, but we did our best. Then we packed up our tents and equipment and marched back to the ship.

And that was that.

---

I took the rust bucket out of the moon’s atmosphere, the ship shuddering briefly as it crossed the threshold into space, our cargo hold full of our ill-gotten gains. We were free and clear.

When I was certain the ship’s autopilot was engaged and my job was done, I turned about in my helmsman’s chair.

“DaiMon,” I asked, “may I see you in private?”

Xhard merely nodded, and together we stepped into his Parlor, the equivalent of his Ready Room. It resembled the inside of his tent; pink clothes everywhere and a luxurious, fluffy bed, with only a curtain separating it from the bridge. So much for ‘in private’.

A moment of silence hung between us, neither of us knowing what to say, until finally I spoke up with dry, cracked lips scoured by the wind.

“I'm done with this, boss. I won't do it anymore. Shipping drugs is one thing, picking from the dead is another. This was my last job. Let me off at our next stop in Federation territory.”

“You'll forfeit that bonus you worked so hard for,” he said, like it had even the slightest chance in Greth’or of convincing me. “And ten percent of your signing bonus, plus a handling fee on top of the breaking-contract fee, plus relevant dues and deductions.” He raised his voice and spoke over his shoulder to the rest of the crew. “Read your contracts, folks. It's all there.”

“I don't care. Take whatever you want.”

An eager grin spread over his face. “I’ll need that in writing,” he said. “That last bit. About me having whatever—”

I reached down for my disruptor and he, wisely, didn’t complete that sentence.

“Fly the ship to delivery,” he said. “And when we get to Bajor I’ll consider your request.”

Consider? No. “You will drop me off at Bajor.”

“Should have read the fine print, Mikki,” said Xhard, condescendingly. “It’s not that simple.”

“Make it simple,” I said. “Leave me on Bajor.”

Xhard put his hands on his hips. “I’ll consider it. Now get back to your post.”

We wandered back out to the bridge. I once again sat at the helmsman’s console, staring out the main viewer of the Geesh-class ship that had been my home for the last five years, absently tapping at my console.

Was there a better life out there for me? There had to be. Anything was better than this.

What would I do? I’d have to get clean and stay clean this time. Really try, no matter how sick I got. And I’d need to find somewhere to live. Hopefully somewhere where the wind was nice and cold and gusting at fifty kilometres an hour, and where every day was -3°C or lower.

Bikini weather would be a fitting holiday after my last job, but as the ship drifted through the stars, I reconsidered.

Maybe somewhere quieter. Peaceful.

Somewhere without a breath of wind.

fin

Edited by Alleran Tan
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