Jet stared through the rising smoke from his cigarette at Spike who had reclaimed his couch when Ellen abandoned it. "Back it up, pard. Are you seriously suggesting the government operates like a syndicate?"
Reclined with his legs crossed on the table, Spike took a long drag off his own cigarette. "I'm saying the government is a syndicate. At the very least it's been highly infiltrated. Every damn branch of it straight to the truck."
Sitting on the platform to the main door, Faye hugged one leg to her chest listening intently. Ed and Ein were spread on the floor playing some computer game. Daniel sat in the chair reviewing his research trying unsuccessfully to figure out a way to start making batches of the vaccine with what Jet had on hand. Meanwhile Ellen took a shower.
Jet opened his mouth to interrupt Spike, but he raised a hand. "You have no idea how many officials Mao Yenrai sat down to dinner with on a regular basis."
"How do you know?"
Spike scoffed. "You have to ask? Because I was one of his most frequently chosen body guards. I wasn't supposed to listen, but I had nothing better to do. They spanned every branch from judges to police chiefs all the way up to governors, so a president is hardly out of the question. I was right there standing over his shoulder. If they weren't straight up ranked syndicate members, they were allied or secretly turned through extortion. There were whole branches dedicated to concealing involvement. Hell, Julia's uncle was a lawyer, and he's the reason I never got collared."
Jet palmed his face. "Shit. That means … "
"Exactly what you think, there is no reason our sentencing wasn't part of a larger plot."
Looking up from his computer screen, Daniel looked a bit flush. "Uhhh, excuse me for asking this … but how does he know so much about crime syndicates?"
Looking through his fingers, Jet answered, "Yenrai was a syndicate capo. Spike used to be a Red Dragon."
The color drained all the way from Daniel's face to the point where he wobbled.
Flicking the ashes from his cigarette, Spike locked half lidded eyes with him. "Key words being 'used to'. I'm decidedly retired from that outfit."
That only seemed to mildly settle Daniel, he squirmed a bit in his seat.
"But," Jet waved a hand, "that does give us an advantage. If he's right, we'll know how they'll be approaching this."
Faye scratched her head. "So you think this is linked to your days in the syndicate?"
Spike leaned his head back. "That it's personal? No. Those days are thoroughly burned history. There's nothing to gain from going after me now. What we know is that someone connected with the Bruusikhov's on that cruise ship knew we stumbled on the Europa pox vaccine formula and fed that intel up the chain. That someone was Gunter Keller, and he has clear syndicate connections who used him to rig the bounties that landed us out of their way. Dr. Adenine himself had clearly became the target after their initial effort failed. They knew the moment he vanished, we'd leap to the conclusion. They had to scramble for a plan B and make sure we wouldn't be around to figure out the greater scheme. What would be more horrendous than the president of Io weaponizing a virus so he can take over another colony to produce something his can't?"
"Why not make a deal with Europa?"
Spike heaved a sigh. He leaned forward and stubbed out the spent cigarette. "It's how a syndicate works, Faye. Cooperation is costly. Why barter a deal when you can just cripple the man who has what you want and steal it from him while he's sobbing on the floor."
"That seems a little too detailed a scenario." She eyed him.
Spike shrugged, lighting another cigarette. That cold-fire burned in his eyes again. "Call it first hand experiences, on the delivery end. Everything about this smacks of a by-the-book operation, right down to sacrificial pawns. We know Whitecoff is behind this."
"The hard part is getting him exposed." Jet pointed to Daniel. "We have no tangible proof and his testimony won't be enough. Not when we're talking about a president."
"There's proof." Spike reclined again, leaning his head back he closed his eyes. "But there's no way it's where Ed can get at it."
She tugged her goggles down and looked at them. "Nyuh?"
From out of nowhere, a red poker chip appeared in Spike's fingers. He flicked the chip absently with his thumb and caught it. As if noticing the object for the first time, he eyed it sideways where it landed in position to be flicked again, blank side up. "We're gonna have to do this the old fashioned way."
Jet and Faye exchanged worried glances. "Uhhh, pard? Just what do you mean by that?"
"First thing we need to know is where Whitecoff is pulling his charade. Then … leave it me. I'll get you your proof."
Jet rumbles, "If that's how you want it now. Hope if we can prove this whole thing it'll change our conviction status."
Spike cracked an eye open and sourly remarked, "Still have that much faith in the system?"
"I'll put a wager on it."
Faye snapped upright and pointed. "Hey, I thought betting wasn't allowed anymore! Why is it alright for you guys, but not for me?
Jet smirked. "Because neither one of us have lost our shirts."
"Actually pard," Spike cocked an eyebrow, "that goes for only one of us."
"Uuuuhhh ugh!" Jet buried his face in his hands.
"Ed found the government sleaze!" She tugged down her goggles and pointed to the screen.
Laying on the couch, Spike cracked open one eye as everyone else, except Jet who was up on the bridge, seemed to lean in the way. Well, every one but Ellen, she sat as far away as she could, huddled in Daniel's suit jacket stealing glances at the crew that did nothing to conceal her fear of them. She probably thought Spike had been sound asleep on the couch when she'd whispered to Daniel her concern that they were being held hostage yet again—but by a more dangerous group this time. Daniel's reassurance seemed to do little good. Some people were awfully stubborn.
Faye murmured, "Looks like he's staying at Sapphire Bay Executive Suites. Way to go Ed! She even got the room number."
"Penthouse." Spike didn't even look.
"Alright … how did you know?"
"The guy's a president. Where else would he be?" He shut his eyes. "Security's gonna be tight. We're looking at restricted access to the elevator that leads there. Heavy guards, some obvious, others not. Probably a mix of hotel security and the official lot. He'll probably have a group of personal assistants and advisers."
"That's a lot in the midst of a contagious epidemic."
"Government officials always are exceptions to the rules. Logic or not."
Faye rolled her eyes, cocking a hip. "Really. They make the rules and then chose to break them?"
"So … we gonna land our crafts in the penthouse?"
"You wanna get shot down in closed air space?" He chuckled, the back of his head cradled in his hands. "Not hardly. There are usually protocols to prevent that."
"Spike, that's a lot of floors to get through and not get caught. We can't just walk up there."
His eyes opened staring at the fan lazily turning. "Hey, you still got those fancy dresses from the contest?"
Hand on her hip, Faye smirked, "Me? Throw finely tailored outfits away? I'm not like you!"
Swinging up into a seated position, Spike rubbed his chin, quirking an eyebrow. "Do you think you could kick some ass in one?"
Faye lifted her chin. "Who do you think you're talking to, buster? Of course I can. But why does that matter? We can't exactly kill Whitecoff."
"I'm not talking about him. It's to get through security. Well, for you at least." He nodded his head. "Long gloves should cover that one, and I know you have a couple wide necklaces … if I remember correctly you have a stack of choker pearls or that wide gold collar, either should cover the neck one. No one will ever know."
Faye narrowed her eyes. "You're going to have me play the femme fatale hand, aren't you."
Spike cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, but you do it so well."
"Asshole. And just what will you be up to?"
"Doing what I do best." That cocky grin of his spread all the way to his eyes.
She grumbled, "Why does that worry me."
"Hey, you and Jet are the ones who wanted me in on this. You get what you ask for. Everything will be fine so long as the good doctor is able to pull off his end in time."
Daniel nodded. "Unfortunately I'll have no way of verifying it. But the bio-synthesizer Jet loaned me appears to be handling the formula. I'll only have enough for two, though."
"Good." Faye crossed her arms. "The last time we went after a nasty plague, despite us having the damn vaccine someone neglected to take it before rushing in."
Spike rolled his eyes. Instead of replying, he turned and whistled into the recesses of the ship. "Yo, Shuĭ."
The tink of metallic feet against the deck plates echoed before the small robotic compy dashed in front of Daniel. The compys had been scarce, keeping to the recesses of the ship. His first reaction to them was to yelp and jerk backward. Ellen scrambled up the stairs as though the thing had been a rat.
Shuĭ scaled Spike and perched on his left shoulder, his gears whirring in a sound reminiscent of a cat purr. "Come on, time to teach you a new trick." Flicking his tail, Shuĭ peeped as he clung to his perch.
"Spike?" Jet's voice rumbled from the top of the stair case halting Spike in his tracks. "There are beers missing."
"Yeah, so? I didn't take them."
"Clever turn of phrase, but I'm not buying it. I'm on to you even if I haven't found the stash of empty bottles. Just because you had an accomplice to actually take them doesn't change the deed."
Shuĭ wrapped around behind Spike's neck and hissed at Jet. Reaching up, Spike touched a finger to the compy's crest, calming him in a single stroke. But his eyes remained fixed on Jet. "Why do you keep going on about this? We met in a bar—drinking. It's not like this is a revelation."
"I'm an adult. I can make my own decisions."
Jet gripped the railing. "Not when it impacts the rest of us."
He huffed a breath. "Spare me the lectures, we don't have time for this."
"What we don't have time for—"
"I've got it under control! Now lay off me!" Spike's shout echoed through the ship. In the silence his harsh breathing was the only sound. He spun on his heel. "I'll be in the workshop if anyone gives a shit."
See You Space Cowboy