Author note: The protest post continues! A little later than intended. Whoops?
Anyway, I hope you enjoy! New readers and old. You're all awesome.
Chapter Four – Of Deals, Darlings and Darling Deals
Weak, watery sunshine flooded the tiny living room, and Jonathan Holster winced. "I need a drink," he said.
"You can't have a hangover," said Jacobyte from the kitchen. "You didn't have anything to drink last night."
"This is a hang-under. I need alcohol to get the blood pumping."
"There's only this place's equivalent of coffee, I'm afraid." Jacobyte appeared behind where Jonathan sat on the neon sofa chairs. Jonathan sighed and took the battered, chipped mug that Jacobyte offered. He paused, sniffed the air and shot Jacobyte a curious look.
"Why do you seem so surprised by that?"
"Oh nothing, it's just..." Jonathan looked him up and down. "Well, you know."
"Nothing," Jonathan said sweetly. Jacobyte raised an eyebrow, waiting. "You don't seem the type," explained Jonathan.
"Type?" Jacobyte repeated.
"Yeah, the do-it-yourself type."
"Darling," said Jacobyte. He folded his arms on the back of the sofa chair, leaning over Jonathan's shoulder. "If I weren't the do-it-yourself type, you'd know about it."
"I'm a darling now, am I?"
"On whether or not you like what I've cooked."
"What have you cooked?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," Jacobyte said with a masterful grin.
"Well yes," said Jonathan. "Hence the asking."
Jacobyte pushed himself back up again and sauntered along the right-side corridor and back into the kitchen, whistling cheerfully to Jonathan's protesting ears.
Jonathan put down his plate on the cluttered surface. The two men were sat opposite each other at the simple table and two chairs set up beside the neon sofa in the living area, and the contents of the folders they had been given now lay strewn across between them, a paperwork ocean intermixed with the odd continent of a serving plate or coffee mug iceberg.
"Well?" said Jacobyte meaningfully.
"I'm a darling. I am a very full and very satisfied darling."
"Good." Jacobyte moved to clear up the dirty plates and crockery, but Jonathan's hand came up to stop him.
"You cooked," he said. "I'll clean. We might as well get a rota in place since we're going to be here for a while." To Jacobyte's nonplussed expression he said, "Read the small print on page five."
Jonathan picked up the serving plates and walked into the kitchen, the sound of rustling paper accompanying his padded footsteps across the carpet. He'd just put the plates into the washing machine (back on Glariyo he'd had a sonic washer, but this planet was only just branching into blue chip industries and so sonic technology most likely wouldn't be commercialised for quite some time) when he heard Jacobyte groan.
"A month?" Jacobyte said what Jonathan padded back into the living room. "A month of tailing?"
"The Agency must really want to nail this guy," said Jonathan.
Jacobyte peered at his face. "Say that again."
"They must really want to nail this guy?" Jonathan returned Jacobyte's inquisitive stare with a more bewildered one of his own. "What?"
"Yeah, I thought I saw you smirk..."
"Well, anyway," continued Jacobyte, "they do. I've heard about this one. He went rogue a few years back and has been screwing agents—" Jacobyte paused. "Jonathan. Stop it."
"What? I'm innocent."
"You make a valid point." Jonathan somehow managed to combine a grin and a leer on his face and he turned it on Jacobyte: Jacobyte recoiled.
"What the hell's that meant to be?"
"A grileer," said Jonathan.
"Never mind," he said. "Do continue with your tale."
"So he's been screwing agents over—" Jacobyte was careful to enunciate the word "—for ages now. Managed to swindle several million."
"In what currency?"
Jacobyte flicked through his file. "All of them, apparently."
"Make you want to quit?" At Jacobyte's thoughtful expression, Jonathan added, "Quit and get away before they wipe you, I mean."
Jacobyte laughed. There wasn't much humour in the sound. "Not worth the hassle," said Jacobyte. "Would you want the Agency's finest chasing after you across half the galaxy?"
"Hold up," said Jonathan. "We're the best they had to send? That, my friend, says a lot about the Time Agency and all associated establishments."
This time Jacobyte's chuckle held some warmth. "Sure does."
Jonathan smiled. He sat down again and poked at a few of the pages. "We got a name for this guy?"
"Nope," said Jacobyte, popping the p.
Jonathan blinked. "What?"
"Oh, come on, like any name would stick? He could have dozens!" Jacobyte riffled through his file until he found what he was looking for. He held up the smell square and said, "We do have a picture, though."
"That's all we have to go on? Seriously? Some long distance shot, fuzzy thumbnail?"
Jacobyte regarded the photograph. "It's more of a hangnail, really. Too small for a thumbnail. Maybe a thumbnail-ette?"
"I think you're getting off topic here."
"Yes, right, sorry."
Jonathan leaned back in his chair and picked at his teeth. "What's the plan then, Captain?"
Jacobyte considered this. And considered. And considered.
"I'll get back to you on that," he said, frowning at some more of the paperwork, brows furrowed enough that a master ploughman would have broken down in tears of jealousy upon witnessing them. Jonathan left him to it.
Jacobyte got back to his lieutenant companion within a few hours, during which Jonathan had spent the time attempting to complete a jigsaw puzzle he'd found under one of the low coffee tables. The picture of a poodle, marred by jigsaw lines as each intricate shape was placed down, stared up at him mournfully, and Jonathan said, "I know. I'm sorry, but I can't make him hurry up anymore than you can."
Jonathan stood up from his crouch, dusting himself down. "Yeah?"
"Should I ask?" Jacobyte raised an eyebrow down at the mournful poodle puzzle.
"I have a plan, by the way."
"And you can't go wrong with a plan," Jonathan quoted. "Unless it's a bad plan, in which case?"
"Get another plan," finished Jacobyte. "I didn't realise you were familiar with Earth literature, least not from three millennia back."
"Be prepared," Jonathan quoted again, this time wiggling his fingers in the air for quotation marks.
"Stop it," Jacobyte told him.
"Fine," said Jonathan, and pulled his lips into a perturbed pout. "Will you carry on with your master plan, then?"
"Okay," said Jacobyte, "here's how it's going to work..."
"I don't appreciate this," said Jonathan.
Jacobyte straightened his overalls. "Shut up and look like bait."
"I really don't appreciate this."
Jacobyte sighed and said, "It's the only way."
"Why can't you be the mole?"
"I'm not adorkable enough."
"Jonathan, we're been through this enough. Now yu're just complaining for complaint's sake." They both looked at Jonathan's reflection. The plan was simple, in theory. Looking like one of the workers who was down on his luck, Jonathan would get himself lapped up by the Sophola Trite, which was Dringis's main shady and highly organised group of dubious legality (as opposed to the Dringisian Government who were a shady, highly unorganised group of legal dubiousness). His cover story was that he had been hitching his way across the constellation only to fall foul of a drunken bet and end up on Dringis with no money and only bruises to his name, which he hadn't even been able to remember, or so the story went.
"Jo Henson?" repeated Jonathan as Jacobyte reached this point of the plan.
"Similar enough to different," was all Jacobyte said before diving back into his explanation.
And the Sophola Trite would believe Jonathan, or indeed Jo Henson. How could they not? Look at him there with his puppy eyed plea and a smile that never seems to be as happy as he intends...
Jacobyte coughed. "Anyway, they'll believe you," he said as Jonathan stared. "We've got all the papers you need, which is not a lot. Factory workers here don't need much, just their hands and an ability to, if not work, then at least work for the workers."
Jonathan was still staring at him, but then he blinked and the moment seemed to pass. "Oh, fine. And once accepted I begin to scope around?"
"Pretty much." Jacobyte pushed a button on his wrist strap, bringing up some of the digital information he'd brought with them. "If you see or hear anything relating to this, you tell me straight off."
"What is it?"
"You don't know chronon cells when you see them?"
Jonathan blinked. "That's what they look like?"
"In their rawest form," said Jacobyte, his tone almost reverential. Jonathan laughed at him. "Shut up, dungaree boy."
"Oh, you did not."
"Oh, I so did."
"You so did not."
"I so did."
"Okay, stop, this could go on for a while," said Jonathan. "How do I look?" He gave a spin. "Once drunken hitch hiker, now down on my luck, stone-broke and forced to beat rocks at the bottom of mine shafts to survive?"
"Surprisingly enough it's a good look for you."
"Bite me," Jonathan said affectionately.
"Maybe later." Jacobyte gathered up the sparse documents from Jonathan's bed and put them into a ratted satchel before slinging it across the young lieutenant's shoulders. "As a reward."
After a long moment, Jonathan said, "You're messing with me, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Jacobyte, his expression carefully blank. "Now go, go and get drunk and land in the Sophola Trite's laps, and be a good little pathetic piece of shit."
Jonathan blinked, a little taken aback. "Sir, yes sir," he said, meeting Jacobyte's eyes and holding them to ransom, huskily continuing, "As my Captain commands."
To Lieutenant Jonathan Holster's insatiable delight, Captain Jacobyte Hasphane blushed near beetroot red. Jonathan smiled a slow, cool smile and said, "I'll be back later, if at all."
Jacobyte just nodded. He started to say something but had to clear his throat. "Fine. See you then."
Jonathan left without looking back, eyes twinkling at the mouldy corridors ahead of him.
"But Sheila, I said, I said, Sheila, you can't do this to me, baby! Or was it Shelly? Might have been Shelly... I know it was a shh name... Shh. Hehe. Shh."
The barman looked at the young curly-haired man sat across from him. From his grease stained work clothes to the cuts on his knuckles, the desperate look in his paled blue eyes and the shadows underneath them: it was a story Murthan had seen and heard far too many times. It was going to be a long night. Murthan, at the wave of the man's hand, slid him another full glass.
"Thanks," slurred the young man. He stared at the drink. He drained the drink. Murthan poured him another. "And, and you know what?"
"What?" said Murthan, not really paying attention – there were no new stories, no new tales of pain and suffering on Dringis. The cycle of squalor looped in on itself over and over, forming the perfect knot of rope for the next desperado seeking a way out to hang himself with.
"You're a fish."
"Very observant, kid."
"Are all barmen blowfishes? Seems like everywhere I go there's— wha?" The boy stopped as Murthan hissed; stopped at the sharp shake of Murthan's spine-covered head. "Wha' is it?"
"You want to be careful, boy." Murthan looked him over again, pity in his maroon eyes. "Watch what you say. People listen a lot round here."
The boy just laughed and ever so slowly slid off his seat... straight into the path of one Nicrax Trixon. Murthan paled, his skin turning from burgundy red to a sickly looking scarlet.
"What," said Nicrax Trixon, his head-spines fanning upward, "is that?"
"Mr Trixon, sir, ignore the boy, he's drunk, he didn't mean to—" One of Trixon's goons stepped forward and Murthan fell silent.
"Drunk, is he?" Trixon regarded the silently giggling young man at his feet. His nostril slits flapped as he breathed in, scenting. "Oh, yes, quite inebriated. How careless of you, Mr Murthan. You're meant to serve them not preserve them."
"Did I say I was finished?"
Murthan's spines flattened. "No, Mr Trixon."
Nicrax Trixon jerked his emerald head to one side, a twitching motion accompanied by a sickening crunch-click sound. "No, I didn't," he said, voice soft, then he turned to the heavy set, bald headed, goggle wearing lackey by his side and waved a hand at the boy. "Bring him with us. We're going to have some fun with this one."