Sam’s ship had floated within a days journey of their destination when they picked up a faint distress signal from the planet they were headed to. There were no details, just the most basic SOS a ship could send. Sam took over the controls again, leaving the others to prepare themselves. The latest poker game had been abandoned when the signal reached them and Mark gathered up his cards. He packed them away carefully along with the rest of his stuff, since their rescue mission was almost over. Vortran went to take another nap and Yik took up his usually post in the kitchen, resting his head on the table.
Everyone found their way to the kitchen for one last meal before the night cycle kicked in and the ship grew dark. Sam slept at the controls and Yik woke every few hours as the ship pinged or groaned, only falling properly asleep once Mark started stirring again.
The planet was mostly a dead rock, but had just enough atmosphere from terraforming to let people survive on it for short stays. The only spot with any sign of civilization was a cluster of buildings that the distress signal came from near the equator. Sam tried sending a reply but there was no change to the signal.
“It’s just an automatic signal, nobody’s at the controls.” Vortran said, “Might even be a ghost.”
“There’s somebody alive on this planet, it’s not a ghost.” Sam mumbled, plotting a course for the landing zone Calvin’s ship had occupied previously. The computer started a countdown to landing.
“So what is the plan?” Mark asked finally.
“We’re gonna land and get my daughter back.”
“Well yeah, but if we go running in there they might bolt…”
“Sam maybe Yik and I should get out first, they’re expecting a pascal and a Mr’kana.”
“Fine.” Sam didn’t seem to really be listening and Vortran gestured the others out into the hall.
“So I’ve seen him in action before… just don’t get in his way once he gets started.” Vortran looked back at Sam nervously, but he was focused on the countdown.
“Wait what’s he gonna do? We need to be bringing these people to trial.”
“Yeah, sure, but that’s not gonna happen until he gets his kid.”
“So we get the child fast, and nobody will be hurt… very much.” Yik shrugged. Mark looked ready to respond but just shook his head and ducked into his room again.
The ship detected three lifeforms at the landing zone, all standing at the entrance to their own ship. As they landed Yik and Vortran stood at the front door nervously, eager to disembark before Sam could get off the controls. The door slid open before the dust had settled and Yik had to pause to clear his eyes but Vortran stepped down onto the hot dirt, immediately spotting three men huddled in a doorway.
The men looked miserable and filthy, as if they had sat out in this spot for days.
“Thank the gods, you’re here right on time. I have good news and bad news.” The man who spoke bore a passing resemblance to Matthers, and the way the other two flanked him seemed to confirm he was the boss.
“Where’s our shifters?” Vortran asked, shielding her eyes a little as the wind picked up.
“My ungrateful brat of a son decided to run off with them and the money.” The man scratched his head as if contemplating a minor dent in a ship’s hull.
“I am not hearing any good news.” Yik said, finally joining Vortran.
“The good news is I gave him a lesson in loyalty, and he won’t be getting far. If you find him and finish him off you can have the shifters for half price.” He brandished his weapon as he spoke.
“So he’s injured?”
“May have already bled out honestly. I doubt the other guy is going to help him much, even if they were working together.”
“Other guy?”Sam’s appearance in the doorway of the ship set the guards on alert but the man waved them off.
“The adult shifter, my son made sure he could get back on the ship, so they probably planned this whole thing. He’s a vagrant though, can’t trust ’em not to stab you in your sleep much less save you from bleeding to death.”
“So they’re not here.” Vortran sidestepped out of the way as Sam approached.
“They’re still in the region, but you’ll have to track them down.” The man seemed unphased by Sam’s approach, but his guards clustered on either side of him protectively.
“We didn’t come prepared for a manhunt. This was supposed to be a pickup.” Vortran tried to gain control of the conversation again.
“I’ve got weapons to spare, have them. Tell the brat who sent you.” He flipped his gun around and handed it to Sam, handle first. Yik and Vortran both winced as Sam held it up to look at it.
“I will. Any idea where he was headed?” Sam asked.
“There’s only a few places around here that are habitable, no stations for weeks. Not much tech out here either so you should be able to detect them even with my son’s weird computer stuff. I’ll send you some coords if you have a screen I can use. He locked our ship so we’ve been stuck with what’s in the outbuildings.”
“So you’re trapped here?”
“It’ll wear off tomorrow morning. Calvin was always too soft. We’ll be off as soon as the door opens.”
“Go get a screen.” Sam gestured at Yik, who hustled back into their ship and emerged with a screen as Mark finally came outside to see what was going on. The man marked some coordinates on the map and handed it back, “We’d best get going, get back on board.” Vortran and Yik both turned reluctantly back to the ship, pushing past Mark to get inside.
“Good luck getting off this rock.” Sam grinned a little as he backed toward his ship.
“Just teach that ingrate some manners.” The man waved as Sam stepped inside and Mark backed into the ship last.
“I will!” Sam called out. The shot rang out over Mark’s shoulder and he clutched his ear with a yelp as it deafened him. The man was clutching his arm and cursing as the door closed and the ship began to take off.
“Right next to my ear?!”
“Sorry, I wanted to make sure his guards wouldn’t try to charge.” Sam set the safety on the gun and retreated into his room with it. The door shut and Yik and Vortran both peered out of the kitchen.
“Where’d he get him?” Vortran asked quietly, watching Sam’s door warily.
“Looked like his arm.” Mark rubbed his ear as the ringing slowly subsided.
“He should not have the gun.” Yik hissed at both of them.
“You try taking it from him.” Vortran cuffed Yik a bit harshly and retreated into the kitchen again. Yik disappeared from the hall as well and Mark went into his room, sitting heavily on the bed. Nothing about this trip felt like a rescue to him anymore.