Webisode 3 by Tom Tinney
She was swimming for her life, the long snouted reptile turning and twisting as it pursued her. The jaws that snapped at her were triangular and full of sharp teeth. She’d been born in this swamp and spent the last year swimming about, foraging and growing. She swam through tangles of roots, reaching out to grab one, using it to sharpen her turn. The giant reptile shot by her, its long tail pumping to increase its speed and steer into a tight turn. It was coming back on her.
She and her siblings came from all directions to this part of the swamp, where a sandy island rose from the middle of a large open expanse of water. The pond, formed by the gap in the trees, called them like a beacon.
The reptile completed its turn and came for her again. She was too large to hide deep in the tall, hard roots that supported the forest over her head. Her long finned tail was gone. Slowly absorbed by her body, it was now just a nub. Her front and rear pectoral fins had become distinct limbs with webbed hands and feet, not made for fast swimming. She could grip things, but that didn’t aid in her flight from danger.
Some of her brothers and sisters had succumb to their urges and made mad dashes for the island, digging into the sloping sandy bottom as they crawled up on the exposed sandbar. There were others there. The big ones. They would move over to her siblings and toss them back into the swamp. Some made it back to the trees, others were taken by the waiting reptiles.
Two more reptiles moved toward her, one on either side. She knew that safety lie on the island, but didn’t want to be tossed back in the water by the big ones. She swam for the island, pumping as fast as she could with her legs and arms. She didn’t look back, but felt the pressure wave building behind her. It was growing and coming from three directions. She broke the surface, breathing air into her newly formed lungs and then dove under, continuing her flight.
Her hand struck the bottom, swimming and digging rapidly up the gentle slope leading to the island. Hands and webbed feet kicked up mud and sand, obscuring the vision of her pursuers. Her head popped above the surface and she saw the big ones gathered on the shore. They simply watched her. She needed to survive, she needed to escape, she needed to do something that her siblings had not.
She did. She stood and walked out of the water. The big ones rushed toward her, but ran by, seemingly ignoring her. She turned and saw a reptile burst from the water, lunging for her, twisting in mid-air to grab her body with its jaws. The big ones placed their spear butts in the sand and holding the tips toward the reptile, its own forward force impaling it multiple times.
“Welcome to the world, young one,” said a big one in ornate armor,”Thahithir has filled you and you will be our light.”
“Please, help them! Save my brothers and sisters,” she said.
“It is as it should be,” the big one replied, his armor sparkling as he walked into the water. “A male cannot come ashore until Thahithir has chosen a worthy female. All unworthy females get another chance, which is why we throw them back. That is why you were not.”
A female, much larger than she, approached. “I am your matron. I will guide you, daughter.”
She turned and saw most of the big ones had walked out into the water, facing outward with weapons in hand. The path they formed allowed her surviving siblings to reach the shore. They were shaken up and somewhat dazed. All bowed to her as they passed.
“I don’t usually take this kind of case,” I told the man in the 10,000 cred suit sitting behind the exotic wood desk. “I choose my clients as much as they choose me.”
Of course, as an ex-GISI, I have a cop mentality. I don’t like the bad guys to win, so working for them is not usually in the cards. The sign on my door would read “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, especially low-life criminals”.
Well, it would be the sign if we had a door. My old door, along with the rest of my office, was in pieces, having been blown up during the last case we worked.
“Money doesn’t have a conscience and the fees you’ll earn will go a long way toward putting your agency back together,” Mr. Peroni said, leaning back while puffing a very expensive cigar. The fee, in this case, was substantial.
“Conditions are non-negotiable,” I said. “You mooks agree that everybody, including the man I’m trying to find, gets to continue breathing. You don’t touch him and neither do any of your proxies. No exceptions.”
“Agreed,” Mr. Peroni said. “And I’m a man of my word.”
“Sure, but just in case, you’re gonna park 2,500,000 creds in a Farkan bank’s conditional escrow account, as an added incentive to behave,” I said, reading over the contract my gal had drawn up. “You’ll get it back in six months, if everybody is still living.”
If not, the money went to some charities and the family of those that got whacked. Hopefully, my relatives wouldn’t be seeing that check anytime soon.
Who, some might ask, would be worth all of this time, effort and money? Mr. Eglin Holdsworth. His name is the first clue that he wasn’t a star athlete in school. He was never a star of anything that required effort or legality. Ever. His appearance was also a giveaway. Pudgy, balding and barely five feet tall; Hollywood hadn’t beaten a path to his door.
He’d barely passed his college exams and lost his CPA license five years in. According to his data file, Eglin had a gambling problem. Actually, he had a card counting problem that got him nixed from just about every casino this side of the Sagittarius cluster. He could roll numbers quickly, had an eidetic memory and a “flexible” moral compass. He knew just enough about tax law and money laundering to get him a job working for Mr. Peroni and his organization. I didn’t like working with questionable characters.
Peroni’s people gave me his complete folder. It was full of personal records and information that was definitely privileged and shouldn’t have been accessible. No point in asking where they got it. There are crooked cops and bureaucrats that’ll take a few creds to pass along a little info or copies of private documents. No harm, no foul, right? It’s one of the reasons I got out. The irony is that I count on those same people to help me solve cases. Not being a Law Enforcement officer anymore, made it okay. At least that’s what I told myself.
This time, instead of getting worked up about how they got the info, I’d smiled. My Comm dinged and I looked at the screen.
“Money is in escrow” was the message. Good girl. I was just going to sign the contract and split. Instead, I added a “PS” and had him initial it. “No tails”. If they thought this gig was about leading them to Eglin, they were wrong and I was off the case. I left the office and headed to the orbital transfer terminal.