“Captain, we’ve arrived at the rendezvous point. Shall I initiate a sweep?”
“Yes Kal. Contact our clients and let them know that the package is en route”
This, more than anything else is what Leila Diallo hated about her job: the hand-off. If anything could ever go wrong it is at that precise moment. It could be a client suddenly getting greedy; a trigger-happy hired gun getting nervous; some local wannabe thugs deciding to hijack the proceedings; or worse yet, those insufferable bounty hunters shooting up the whole place. Yep, it’s all fun and games until someone gets vaporized or riddled with bullets, she though.
Leila wasn’t particularly afraid of a little action, but with age and maturity one learns to become risk-averse. After dodging capture for the past three months by travelling through some of the worst systems this galaxy has to offer, she was more than ready to hand off the package, get paid, and go on her merry way without too much fuss. Knowing her luck however, things will probably go sideways before she can get off this forsaken planet. Good thing I have just the ship for a quick escape, she thought smiling to herself.
Her ship called Kahil—whose artificial intelligence Leila affectionately dubbed Kal—was a relic from the war. The devastating decade-long conflict engulfed the entire galaxy in its path; killing millions across eleven systems, and pitting the most powerful families of the Ruling Assembly against one another in a merciless tit for tat. The feuding oligarchs poured the bulk of their wealth and resources into the development of sophisticated weapons, each group desperately trying to tilt the balance of power in their favor. Out of that frantic arms race emerged a whole new breed of warships. The Tyshen-class starships were built to be fast, highly maneuverable, and came with a deadly array of weaponry. While Leila had served aboard one of the much bigger Sumong-class starships, she had seen first hand the effectiveness of the Tyshen ships like her beloved Kahil.
When the war ended the remaining ships were decommissioned and later destroyed. The Ruling Assembly of the Caliphate declared these war machines obsolete, and an unnecessary reminder of the conflict. In reality, the destruction of the oligarchy’s deadly armadas had little to do with ushering in a new peaceful era, and everything to do with ensuring that no one could break the peace treaty on a whim. However, a few ships escaped that fate, and the Kahil was one of them. Much like the ships, the soldiers who fought in the war became an equally painful memory to erase. There were no elaborate ceremonies, no long-winded speeches about bravery and heroism, and certainly no thanks from a grateful Ummah; just a measly pay for service rendered, trinkets in the form of medals, and a few vouchers for free dinners. Leila and Kahil were both war relics who found solace in each other.
“Sweep completed captain. The area is secured.”
“Shukran Kal. Any answer from our clients?”
“No captain, still awaiting confirmation from their end.”
A client running late to a rendezvous is never a good sign. Better be prepared, she thought as she unlocked Kal’s armory. Her favorite item in her rather impressive arsenal was by far her pulse rifle. It had the advantage of being relatively light and easily concealable under her long coat. Better be safe than sorry, she reminded herself as she slung the weapon’s strap across her body and readjusted her Hijab before putting on her coat. As backup she puts a side arm in her leg holster, and a dagger in the sheath strapped to her belt.
“Are we expecting trouble captain?”
“Possibly Kal. Keep sweeping the area, I have a feeling we’ll have some uninvited guests soon enough. Any sign from our clients yet?”
“Let me know as soon as you hear anything from them.”
Let’s get this show on the road, she though unenthusiastically. Exiting the bridge, she heads towards the living deck, and approaches the only other occupied quarters in the ship. As the door opened, Leila entered the darkened room.
“Lights”, a child’s voice calls out. Leila turns around and smiles at the little boy sitting cross-legged on one of the bunk beds. Before she could say anything Kal’s voice resonates through the ship’s intercom.
“Captain, the clients finally replied. They are running late but they will be at the designated area for the hand-off in 5 minutes. I’m continuing to sweep the area but so far all seems in order.”
“Shukran Kal. All right kiddo we’re here. It is time for you to go home.”
“I’m ready Captain Diallo”, answers the child as he gets up from the bed.
Leila spent the last three months trying to keep this child safe. When she was hired to safely transport a package to the capital, she never thought the package in question would be a kid, nor did she expect things to get as dangerous as they did. The job seemed straightforward at first. A third party had successfully negotiated the release of a kidnapped child, and was looking for someone to take him back to his parents who are willing to pay handsomely for his safe return.
“Captain Diallo, this job will require the utmost discretion. The child comes from a rather well known family, and the parents are keen on avoiding any scandal that may arise from this situation. You are to transport him safely to the capital where you will be paid double your usual fee.”
What should have been essentially a mere milk run for Leila rapidly turned into a dogfight with an assortment of bounty hunters trying to get their hands on the child.
“Captain Diallo, it seems that the kidnappers have changed their mind and are now trying to capture the child anew. We have also been informed that some members of the oligarchy have put a bounty on him, and intend on using him as a bargaining chip to strong arm his family into giving up some of their key assets. Due to the changing circumstances, the parents are willing to pay you three times your usual fee. It is imperative that you succeed Captain.”
That was the last message Leila received from the third party who hired her. To escape detection, she decided to avoid the well-known and more frequented spaceports, and chose instead backwater planets located in the seediest systems she could think of. It has been a long, brutal, and bloody journey but they finally made it to the capital.
As the main cargo bay doors opened, Leila flanked by the little boy emerged from the ship. The coordinates to the rendezvous point brought them to one of the countless old scrapyard scattered across the city of New-Cairo. The place was littered with the remnants of dismantled and wrecked warships, cruise liners, and commercial transport ships. The capital was as always buzzing with an endless stream of activity. Every so often, transport shuttles would fly over the scrapyard on their way to their destination. Leila could see glistening in the distance the towering structures built to house the rich and powerful. These luxurious self-contained buildings were a far cry from the wretchedness of the city sprawled at their feet. Overcrowding, squalor, crime, and poverty were the reality of the average citizen. Even the thick smoky fog of pollution that seemed to constantly choke much of New-Cairo couldn’t dampen the splendor of these daunting arcologies. Walking toward the center of the scrapyard, Leila started taking stock of her surroundings. This is the perfect place for an ambush, she remarked to herself.
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