The Joneses #14




The Payback


Wolf and Luna were still sound asleep. They had been since they returned to their present. As it turns out, time travel takes a lot out of you. Holly, however, could not sleep. Her computers had been behaving oddly since they arrived home, seemingly possessing a mind of their own. One moment they would operate normally, the next, the CPU usage would spike and an encrypted, digital pastiche would flicker over the monitors. The flashing displays seemed to be showing obscured images and baffled documents. Any attempts she made to lock down the flood of information resulted in the computers returning to normal functionality. Any trace of the information that had shuttled across her screens was nowhere to be found. Where coding failed, engineering would have to take over.

She crawled through the narrow space behind the banks of computers, checking wires and connections. With a clang and a pop, she pulled the access panels off and examined the wiring. Everything checked out. She resorted to swearing.

“Son of a gun,” she shouted.

“Holly, hon,” Wolf’s groggy voice creaked out from behind her, “Your mother and I are very hungover and you’re being very noisy.”

“Time travel took a lot out of you, huh?” she said, poking her head out from under a computer, smirking.

“Tequila took a lot out of us. What are you doing?”

“My computers are acting funny.”

“Does it require so much banging?”

“You’ve been asleep for thirteen hours, maybe if you got up and did something you wouldn’t be so groggy.”

“We haven’t been asleep that long. We were doing some banging of our own.”

“For crying out loud, dad.”

“Did some of that too.”

“Dad, really? I don’t need to hear that. I never need to hear that.”

Wolf giggled, “Whatever’s going on here, do you really need to work it out now?”

“What else am I going to do? The only people I ever get to see are you, Mom, and your weird bounty hunter buddies. The only friends I’ve ever had have been dead for 300 years. At least my work helps keep my mind off the crushing loneliness.”

Wolf crouched beside her and put his hand on her head, stroking her hair, “I know it sucks, kid, but the alternative would suck a whole lot more. If the GA had proof you were alive, even Ray wouldn’t be able to cover for us.”

“Like if they looked through Earth’s historical records? Maybe around 300 years ago?”

“Couldn’t you wipe that clean?”

“That’s what I was doing when my equipment went bonkers.” The tool Holly was working with slipped and she cut her finger. “Damn it.”

“You’ve moved on to the heavy swearing? Here, let me see that.” He looked at her wound, “That’s nothing. You won’t even need a stitch.”

She yanked her finger away, threw the tool and pulled her knees to her chest, burying her head. “It’s not that.”

Wolf sat down beside her and rubbed her back “Maybe the time travel has you out of sorts?”

She shook her head, “I’m worried. What if they do find me?”

“We’ll figure something out like we always do.”

“Are you going to slice and shoot your way through the entire GA?”

“That wouldn’t be ideal. But your mother and I would do anything for you. You know that. Even if it means becoming fugitives again.”

Holly leaned on Wolf, tears streaming, “I’m a liability. I always have been.”

“Knock it off. You’re not.”

“I’m the mistake you’ll always be paying for.”

“The best mistake I ever made. And you know, I make a lot.”

Holly continued to weep.

“Look, take a breather. Get some sleep, something to eat, shit, shower and shave, whatever you gotta do. Come back with a rested mind.”

“I won’t be able to sleep. I’m too anxious, right now, for that.”

“I could give you a pinch from our personal stash. It’s the good stuff. It knocks your mommy and me on our asses.”

Holly snorted a laugh and wiped her eyes, “No thanks. I just need to breathe.”

The monitors began flashing their confounding message, again.

“Is this what you’re talking about?” Wolf said.

“Exactly,” Holly sprung to her feet and began hammering her fingers on the interface, the screens became still, “And every time I try to lock it down, it goes back to normal like nothing was ever happening. No trace of anything foreign in the system. It doesn’t even generate a log.”

“I’ll get on the horn to Ray and see if he knows anything. In the meantime, your mother and I will keep our eyes and ears open. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

***

A woman sat at a computer terminal and giggled to herself. Her flesh was etched with tattoos resembling circuit diagrams. As she placed her hands on the computer the tattoos glowed. A thick pulse of violet light coursed through the elaborate, branching paths. She giggled to herself.

“What are you doing, Lovelace?” said a frowning Seraph, “We don’t have time for play.”

“Poor little Holly Jones doesn’t know what to do without her toys,” she spun in her chair, laughing, “And mommy and daddy are next to useless without her. Burnouts.”

“Just stick with what I paid you to do.”

“I like watching her squirm, the precocious little twat. The child genius act is wearing thin. She needs to be taken down a few pegs.”

“Technically, she’s in her forties.”

“Filthy hybrid.”

“Just focus on the plan.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Azazel, sir.”

Azazel made frustrated gestures at the computer. Lovelace stood and holstered the pistol that was sitting by the terminal.

“Did you think I was going to do it from here? I’m just messing with her. This is something I want to do in person.”

“The Joneses foil one robbery attempt and all of the sudden it’s personal?”

“I always hated that smug rug rat. You just paid me enough to want to do something about it.”

“Don’t make this more a production than it needs to be. I just need you to hamstring the Joneses, by taking care of Holly. Wolf and Luna are mine.”

“They kill your old boyfriend and all of the sudden it’s personal?” Lovelace stuck her bottom lip out.

“He’s not dead, he’s a vegetable and he wasn’t my...just...go do whatever you’re going to do and quickly.”

“Pfft,” she blew a raspberry and turned to go.

“And just Holly. Leave Wolf and Luna for me. That’s the deal.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.”

***

Holly fretted over the computer system as Wolf and Luna prepared to go after a bounty. She could always tell her parents were getting ready to hunt down a bounty because they kept running into each other in the hallway between the their room and the bathroom.

“Lu, where’s my pulse grenades?” Wolf said.

“I don’t know I. I don’t use them,” Luna said, giving her standard reply.

“Holly,” he shouted from the bathroom.

“I don’t know, Dad.”

“Well, where the hell did I leave them?” he said, swaggering into Holly’s lab.

“What did I just say?”

“How is she supposed to know where you threw your grenades when you were shit faced?” Luna said.

“I don’t know. I thought she was the responsible one,” he said.

Wolf stormed from the room. Moments later, clanging and swearing emerged from the kitchen. Wolf returned carrying a bandolier full of pulse grenades, holding like he had just caught a fish.

“They were in the crisper,” he said, strapping it on, “Where are we on the computer situation, kid?”

“Well, I am exactly where I was this morning,” Holly said from behind a server rack. “You guys are going to be on your own on this one.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“Just be careful, okay?”

“Of course, Holly,” Luna said. “Don’t worry about us, just focus on what you’re doing.”

“It’s an easy one,” Wolf said, “This guy’s a piker. Trafficking controlled animals from Ceti Alpha 6. You’ll have this done by the time we’re back, right?”

“I have no idea, Dad. What have I been saying?”

“I don’t understand half the shit you say.”

“Would you just get out of here?”

“We’ll be back soon, Holly,” Luna brushed her hair and kissed her on the cheek, “Just ignore your father.”

“Bye, Mom.”

Holly waited until they were out of earshot, “Holly fix this, Holly fix that...I’ll...fix...you.”

“There’s a guy working on that right now,” Lovelace said from behind her.

“Shit,” she peeped.

“Did you just kiss your mom with that mouth?”

***

The Starcrossed approached a dead vessel being pulled into the gravity well of the local star. A stellar flare erupted and looped around it.

“Is that the ship we’re looking for?” Wolf asked. “Looks like another derelict left to fall into the sun.”

“Registry checks out,” she replied, “Scans are showing negative.”

“Holly, are you useful yet?” Wolf said.

“Well, if the comms are still down…”

“I guess not.”

“Locking on tractor beam before our bounty gets atomized.”

“Can we get paid per atom?”

“We’re locked. I’m wrapping our shields around it,” she stood and put her helmet on, “I’m promoting you to Holly. I’ll secure the bounty.”

“Am I best the best choice for a Holly?”

“Let your Dunning-Kruger kick in. Just keep your eyes open.”

***

Luna crept through the dark corridors of the derelict freighter. She checked a readout display on her wrist and removed her helmet. She took a breath.

“The air in here is fresh,” she said into the comms, “I don’t think this ship is derelict.”

“Are the circulators still running?” Wolf crackled back.

“There’s no power whatsoever.”

She made her way down the hall and came to the canteen. The room was spotless and organized. She pulled open the door of a refrigerator and found it well stocked. She grabbed an apple and squeezed it, sniffed it and took at small bite.

“There’s fresh fruit in the canteen,” she said, “The fridge is stocked and still cold.”

“This is a set up.”

“By who?”

“No idea. You want me to come over?”

“No. The place seems vacant. Still not getting any life readings.”

“They could be camouflaged.”

“Possibly. I’m going to make my way to the flight cabin and see if the power still works.”

She continued on down the winding corridors and arrived in the flight cabin. She flipped a few switches and turned a lever and the vessel hummed to life. She could hear the low vibrations of the engines coming online.

“Not only is ship operational, it’s brand new. The sticker is still in the window,” she said.

“Did someone buy a freighter just to bait us?”

“Why?”

“To distract us.”

“From wha…? Holly.”

“What do you mean?”

“Holly’s computers go down leaving us without backup and out of contact, skulking around an empty ship while she’s home alone.”

“Who do you think would know about her?”

“Anyone with half a mind and the access to review the historical records from 2016,” she slipped her helmet on, “I'm coming back.”

“Welcome, Mrs. Jones,” she heard from the entrance to flight cabin, “Leaving so soon?”

“Azazel,” She said, turning. “Where’ve you been? You missed Yalda’s big show. Were busy arming another pre-civilized society?”

“I caught it in reruns. You have a lovely daughter. It’s shame she had to be cut down in her prime all because of her irresponsible parents.”

“What have you done with her?” Luna pulled her pistol and aimed at Azazel’s head.

“Me? Not a thing. But I found someone who was delighted to take that assignment.”

“You glorified storeroom clerk. If you hurt my daughter...”

“Didn’t I just say I outsourced that job?”

Luna walked towards him pistol aimed. He clasped his hands in front him, arms outstretched. His arms tore open and bone and sinew began twisting and weaving around each other knitting together into the form of a blood drenched cannon of bone.

“I take no pleasure in this, Mrs. Jones. Getting brains all over my brand new ship.”

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