by James Rumpel
Cam Boddog sat in a corner of Lenox’s Space Rendezvous, watching intently for the arrival of his contact. He nervously rubbed his tiny, six-fingered hands together. The establishment was currently packed with hundreds of patrons from at least twenty different planets. Cam didn’t see anyone else from his homeworld, which was just as well. He didn’t need the hassle of someone recognizing from an outstanding arrest warrant.
He nursed his drink, uncertain that he could afford a second one. His contact was late. Cam prayed that the informant would show and that the information would be useful. If Cam didn’t have success soon, he would be forced to try to find legitimate employment.
Finally, he spotted a short, olive-skinned Karsian enter the bar. The pink flower on the stranger’s vest looked completely out of place when contrasted with his drab gray uniform. Quickly making sure his own flower was visible, Cam stood and motioned for the new arrival to join him.
The Exploration Agency custodian removed the pink flower as soon as he saw Cam waving. “You must be Boddog?” he asked as he climbed onto a stool. “You can call me MX3. That’s not my real name, but it sounds pretty cool. I’ll have a Re-entry Booster.”
“Uh... sure,” said Cam. He knew ordering the drink would completely drain his available credits, but he needed the information and didn’t want to jeopardize the exchange. He hit a few buttons on the screen adjacent to his table and crossed his fingers.
Cam breathed a sigh of relief when the words “Drink Ordered” appeared on the monitor. He quickly slid over to position himself between his guest and the screen when it flashed “Credit Balance Zero.”
Cam got right to the point: “So, you have information about a ship carrying valuables?” He had no desire to see this meeting stretch out longer than one drink.
“I have,” replied MX3. “Now, I get fifty percent of the take, right? You said we would split everything evenly.”
“Actually, its thirty-three percent. I can’t do this alone. I will need a partner,” explained Cam.
“What about the extra one percent?”
“If there are three equal shares and each of us gets thirty-three percent, there is going to be one percent left over. Who gets it?
“I really...” Cam began. He stopped when the auto-waiter arrived with the Re-Entry Booster. The robot would not care about their conversation, but it was always possible that it was bugged by someone who would. The waiter placed a cube-shaped container filled with a green- and yellow-striped liquid on the table. After the robot rolled away, Cam continued. “It doesn’t matter. We can split that one percent three ways.”
“So, we each get thirty-three and a third percent. Is that what you are saying?” To Cam’s chagrin, MX3 took a rather large gulp of his drink.
“Sure. It’s really not that important.”
“I think it’s very important.” The little green Karsian began to raise the drink once again.
“Okay, it is. We all get thirty-three and one-third percent to be delivered after the job is completed.”
The informant belched loudly before saying, “I can accept that.”
Cam wanted to hurry the meeting along. At the current rate, his guest would be wanting another drink in seconds. “All you have to do is give me the information, as promised, and I will take care of the rest.” He held out his hand, hoping to be given an envelope or paper of some sort.
“Oh, I don’t have it written down,” explained MX3. “I just saw it on a computer while I was sweeping up. One of the Exploration Agency officers is from Plotorus and she sheds like crazy.”
“Fine, just tell me.”
After another long draught, MX3 looked around nervously before leaning in and saying, “Long-range sensors have picked up a gigantic vessel leaving Earth’s solar system.”
“What’s Earth? I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s a planet on the very edge of known space. Previously, they’ve done very little to try to contact other worlds. They have sent out only a few automated probes. The scuttlebutt around the EA is that they may be sending this ship to make first contact. Many of the officers are speculating that it is filled with tribute. It’s standard procedure for new planets to offer some of their world’s bounty when meeting established, powerful races.” MX3 paused to take another drink.
Cam reached across the table and grabbed the green alien’s arm. He hoped his action would be interpreted as serious focus and not a move to prevent MX3 from finishing his drink. “So, you’re telling me there is a ship filled with some unknown treasure out there? Isn’t EA going to meet it?”
“That’s the thing,” replied MX3 as he switched the drink to his other hand and raised it to his lips. “The Earth vessel is so slow it will take months to get anywhere near. They are just going to wait. They see no reason to rush.”
Cam interrupted. “Which means if I get there first, I can clean it out. Do you know how well protected it is? Do you know anything about its crew?”
“Not really. Earth doesn’t seem to be very advanced, so there probably isn’t much in the way of defenses.”
Cam smiled. It was always a risky endeavor to plan a heist on uncertain info, but he was reaching the point of desperation. “I think I can make this work. Do you have the coordinates of this ship?”
MX3 shook his head, side to side.
“You don’t have the coordinates? How am I supp—”
“I do have the coordinates,” said MX3. “That’s why I shook my head, yes.”
It was Cam’s turn to shake his head, “No, you go up and down for yes.”
MX3 nodded. “Not on my planet.”
Cam remembered that Karsians, used the opposite signals for yes and no. It was confusing but much easier to deal with than the Zimbor, who signified the affirmative by punching you in the gut.
“Never mind,” said Cam. “Just give me the coordinates; I will put things in motion. I will contact you after I get the goods and sell them on the black market.”
“You won’t be able to hold out on me. I know who you are and I will report you to the Exploration Agency if you try.” MX3 shook his elbow in Cam’s face.
“I know that. Don’t worry. You will get your share. Just tell me the coordinates.”
“How about I write them down while you order me another drink?”
“No, I don’t have time.” Cam started to shake his head but then switched in mid-motion to a nod. The end result was a diagonal movement of the head which to a Zimbor would have been an invitation for a romantic encounter. “Just tell me the numbers, and I will get things rolling.”
* * *
The city of Liberon, on the planet Sofra, was very affluent. That does not mean it was devoid of unsavory and impoverished regions. Cam found himself in one such area. The ill-lit street was bordered on each side by one rundown building after another. At one time, these homes had been state-of-the-art prefabricated dwellings. They did not hold up. Many of the dome-shaped buildings were no longer spherical. They tended to lean to one side, resembling half-melted ice cubes. Others had lost many sections of their protective siding, exposing the remaining fiberglass insulation.
Cam glanced at his video display. The building he was looking for was only a few blocks away. He tucked the device back in his pocket. He glanced over his shoulder. He did not wish to fall prey to any of the dubious local residents. He smiled slyly. If anyone did try to rob him, they would simply be wasting their time.
Once he located the correct home, Cam pounded on the front door. “Jumon, I have a proposition for you!” he yelled. He waited a few moments and then pounded again.
Eventually, the automatic door slid open. It squeaked loudly and stuck a few times but managed to open about three-quarters of the way. Cam was surprised to see an elderly female, standing in the doorway. The hair that covered her face, arms, and legs was gray and thinning.
“Jumon can’t see you right now. He has chores to do,” she stated without waiting for an introduction.
“I really need to see him,” began Cam. “I think—”
A booming voice echoed from inside the ramshackle home. “Mother, I will get that stuff done later. Now let me see who’s at the door.” Jumon, a hulking, barrel-chested Sofran emerged from a back room, tossing a dishcloth aside as he did so. Jumon’s body, unlike his mother’s, was covered with a thick, dark brown layer of luxurious fur. Cam could see the outlines of bulging muscles beneath Jumon’s thick pelt.
“Cam Boddog, I haven’t seen you in a while. What brings you here?”
“I have a business proposition.” Cam offered no further explanation as he tilted his head towards Jumon’s mother.
“Is your neck okay?” asked Jumon.
Cam nodded his head, trying to remember which direction meant the affirmative to Jumon’s race. “My neck is fine. I would just like to talk to you in private. Let’s go for a walk.”
“Oh,” bellowed Jumon. “Mother, Cam and I are going to go for a little walk.”
“All right,” responded the giant’s mother, “you go play with your friend, but don’t be gone too long. You still need to get my bath ready.” With that, she retreated into her home.
Jumon squeezed himself through the front door and manually pulled it shut behind him. “Why don’t we walk down to the bar? You could buy me a drink.”
“No, I don’t have that much time,” lied Cam. “Let’s just walk.” The neighborhood no longer intimidated Cam now that he had a seven-foot-tall behemoth at his side. The pair began walking back in the direction from which Cam had come.
“You know, Cam. The last time I went with you, it didn’t work out all that well.” In the dim light, Cam couldn’t tell if Jumon was angry or not. He started to second-guess his decision to ask Jumon to accompany him on his expedition.
“That was just bad luck,” defended Cam. “Who would have ever thought that we’d hit three random checkpoints on one trip. We would have gotten by all of them, too, if the air freshener masking the unrefined hydro-fuel odor hadn’t failed.”
Jumon leaned in close; close enough so that Cam could see the smile on his face. Now if only he could decipher whether that smile was a sneer or not.
“Cam, you’re a good pilot. You’re smart. Me, I’m just a dumb thug. Why don’t you just go straight?”
It was Cam’s turn to smile. “I don’t have time to earn a legitimate wage. Right now, my ship is the only thing I have. Heck, I’m sleeping in it. Dregnar is going to be demanding payment soon. If I don’t make the next installment, he’s going to repossess the ship, and I’ll have nothing.”
“You could always go and live with your mother,” suggested Jumon.
Cam ignored the comment. “I have a lead on a vessel filled with treasure. It’s outside of EA dominion, and if we can raid it and find a black-market buyer there is a fortune to be made.”
“How heavily guarded?”
“That’s just it. The ship is from some backwater planet that barely has space flight. They won’t have any technology that we can’t handle.”
“I don’t know.” Jumon rubbed his chin as he thought over the offer. The pained look on his face emphasizing how difficult thinking was for him. “Do we split the take evenly?”
“Yes,” answered Cam, hopefully. “There is a third party: the informant. But we will divide everything thirty-three and a third, thirty-three and a third, thirty-three and a third.”
“Why don’t we divide it fifty-fifty-fifty? That way we all get more.”
“I never thought of that,” laughed Cam. He examined Jumon’s face for some sign that he was joking. “So, are you in?”
Jumon rubbed his chin once more and then nodded furiously.
Cam smiled. He was almost eighty-five percent certain Jumon was saying, “Yes.”
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by James Rumpel