24 hours later…
When Mr. Zarkaries walked in on Jammie in the workroom, she was just finishing analyzing the detailed modeled image of the food replicator's main compressor and was happy that she finally thought she knew what was wrong with it. Her happy face lost its vibrance when she saw the old man’s frown, but then she lighted up again, seeing a familiar face towering behind the old man.
“I’ve got a job for you,” the old man said, not wasting any time.
“What is it?”
“There’s a freighter, one of ours, that has problems. I’d like you to go with Lion there to tow it back.”
Jammie did not know what to say but waited for more explanations.
Lion provided her with that. “It’s my dad. We just got a message from him. His ship hit some asteroids, got banged up really bad. Their thrusters and engines are down, life support is on minimal, ready to break down at any moment.”
“Well, we better then go fast,” Jammie said right away, seeing the urgency. “Let me just see the equipment I should bring with me.”
“Well, take whatever you need,” the old man said. “And take my personal transporter. You, Lion, flew it before and are also a licensed pilot. I trust you with it.”
“Thank you, Sir. Is it still parked on your private dock?”
“Yes. And don’t worry. Don’t need to overpower the engine. Their ship might not be able to move but they are not dead. They are… just off the station. You should get to them in less than ten hours. And you Jammie, go with him. At least their thrusters need to be working so that we can dock it right. So, try and stabilize that freighter, see if you can fix it up the best you can. If you can’t do anything about it, just use my transporter to bring everyone back in, and tow the freighter to as close to the station as you can.”
“Without the thrusters, we won’t be able to dock it.”
“I know. I’ve already packed two spare ones for you to take. Would you know how to install it, Jammie?”
“I’ve never done it, but…”
“Well, Marv and Rummy can give you a hand. They know around their ship. But most important is for them not to lose their life support. Fix that first. So, you think you can help?”
“Oh, I’m sure I can help with that. I’ll take this atomic analyzer and some other stuff.
“Good,” the old man said and turned around to leave. “Just make sure you bring it all back,” he added without turning around.
“Thank you, Mister…” Lion started to speak, but then stopped himself as the old man put a hand on his shoulder.
“What is it that we agreed on?”
“Thank you, Zark…” Lion said, saying it very uncomfortably.
When the old man left, that was the first question, Jammie had for him.
“He lets you call him Zark?”
“Yeah…” Lion answer. “He actually makes me do it.”
“Ah,’ Jammie smirk, almost feeling jealous.
Jammie did not even think about mentioning the price she would charge the old man for such services. It was the wrong time to haggle. Besides, he probably knew that she would do it for free. For Lion, she would do it for free.
Mr. Zarkeries personal transporter was not a luxurious vessel by any measure. It had two quarters and a big sitting area, all done in a somewhat outdated, cheap finish. But what it lacked in luxury, it made in speed. A trip that should have taken the station's emergency response team twenty hours, they made it in half.
And everyone felt better once the transporter docked on old freighter’s emergency exit.
“I’ve got him, mom.” Lion sent the message to his mother once he got to see his father’s grinning face on the other side of the emergency exit. “I’m bringing him home.”
The towing of the ship was not an easy maneuver by any means.
Hooking it up was not a problem. There was a whole meter in diameter high-powered magnet they attacked to the back of the freighter, and then Lion slowly raised the transporter's speed till they got some nice inertia going. The problem was how much stress the wiring could take. So, Lion did not dare to increase the acceleration over a quarter of 1T, fearing the wires breaking or the possibility of the powerful magnet just taring the back off the freighter and leaving it in pieces to float aimlessly through space.
Going so slowly meant that they would make it to the station in five days, so Jammie did everything possible first to stabilize the ship and then went to work in helping rebuild the engine while Marv and Rummy worked on installing two thrusters.
All that spare time gave Timothy and the other a chance to think things through.
Sornia had a particularly intensive conversation with Timothy regarding Captain Slicky.
"Look, I know what you're trying to say, Sornia," Timothy told her as they retired to his quarters to talk. "I know I can't possibly think to trust him. It's just..."
"I, I just could not bring myself to pull that trigger. I looked at him, and it was almost as if I was looking at myself. I just could not do it, Sornia. I just could not do it. I do not know what it was. But something stopped me."
"It's no time to be sentimental now. You know he's a loose end. You know what the old man would say."
"Fuck the old man. I'm not dumping him out now."
Sornia breathed heavily and said, "Oh, boy. You have a funny moment to start growing conscious."
"I don't know what I'm growing, but, I just, I just don't think it's right me killing a kid."
"I can do it."
"It's the same thing, and you know it. I, I know it feels weird, but I feel completely wrong about it."
Sornia nodded her head repeatedly. "I want to trust you and your judgment. I just hope it does not get us all killed."
That hurt him. Not just because she said it, but because deep down, he knew she might be right. His recent dreams confirmed it.
There was also another matter that he wanted to discuss with Marv and Sornia. He waited almost until the last moment to do so, once they fixed up some power to the engine and could make a decent speed again, cutting down their estimated arrival time to within twenty-four hours.
"I have very mixed emotions about turning over the box to the old man," he told them. "I know we always finish the job we are contracted to do so, but this time it's different."
"What are you saying?" Marv wanted to know. "You want to keep the thing."
"It's not only my call. You both have to make a decision."
"It proved very useful," Sornia said. "It saved your life. And it seems to be very powerful."
"Not only that. If we are to believe our eyes, we had to fight Shadow Men for it. They destroyed our ship, our means of making a living. That was not part of an agreement."
Sornia shook her head. "You're right, but the old man will not increase our payment no matter how you present your case. He will even, most likely, charge us towing fee."
"I know. I know he will. But he is not my god. I do not pray to him. I do not need to take his word as a divine order that should be adhered to no matter what."
Marv sighed. "I agree to that. But, what are you suggesting? You want to go on the black market and see how much that thing is worth?"
"No. That would not be right in my book. But we all know it's worth much more than we are being paid for. Like, did you see how much one connection is worth? Didn't the blue screen say, it was like ten million credits."
"That's what I saw too."
"And now, what you said happened last time, it seems I have ten free connections to it?"
"Well, in my book, that is worth a lot of money."
Both Sornia and Marv nodded their heads. "That's true."
"Look, we need at least five hundred grand to fix this ship up. And that is not talking about arming it again or installing some powerful shield. I'm almost considering throwing the towel in. You know, what it appear to me is that those Shadow Men are going to continue to chase us. I don't see anything good in this game anymore. Maybe we can just sell it all, buy a piece of green on some planet around, raise some sheep."
"And live what? Another twenty, thirty good years. You will never be able to earn enough for rejuve then."
"Maybe that is better than waiting for the Shadow Men to green my ass."
"I just can't do that. I can't retire yet," Marv said, all frustrated. "I can't do that. Not to my wife and to my kids. You know that. I need to give them more."
"Fine. Then, let us see how we can get more out of this box, at least enough to rebuild this piece of space junk to some combat-worthy standard."
Sornia nodded her head and then asked. "And how do you think we can do that?"
"I have no fucken' clue."
Luckily for them, Jammie was listening to the conversation from the corridor. She walked inside the room and just looked them all in the eyes and said. "I think I may have a solution for you."
"Look, you do not need to pretend around me," she said carefully. "I'm not here trying to hurt anyone, just make a credit. Probably for the same reason as all of you. So, I get you and I want in."
They looked at her not really knowing what to make out of it.
In the end, Timoty stepped forward and said, "You were listening to our conversation."
"I had to. I mean, I know you did not get that damage from an asteroid. I don't know what shot you and who, but I plan to stay alive, so I make it my priority to know who I am dealing with. Now, I like how you talk about Slicky and how you did not kill him. that gives me hope that you're rational and decent enough that I can work with you.
"I can help you fix up the ship in a way nobody here can. Nobody is a certified engineer here, but I am. And I'll do it. I'll make your ship the fastest around."
"What do you want?"
"You pay me what you see fit. How about that. If it's a cut from your profit or a decent lump-sum payment. I'll do it."
That sounded like a too good of a deal for Timothy. He was too long in Dark to believe he could ever get that lucky. "What else?"
"I'm interested in the thing you talked about. You see, you may think I'm Mr. Zarkeries employee, but that could not be furthest from the truth. The old Goat tried to stiffen me so many times that I would have to be stupid to turn my back to him. And I've known him only for a few weeks."
Timothy nodded his head. "That sounds about right."
"So, let me look at the thing you are delivering to him, and maybe we can come up with some rational plan, something that will not get us all killed, but will actually put some much-deserved credits in our accounts."