Best Laid Plans
Nightfall 12th, fifteen years earlier
Jonah Frisse dripped with blood that was not his own. The lights of the port were dimmed by fog, sinking this pocket of the ramshackle wooden jetty deeper into night. Jonah shuddered; it was so like a cell.
He sank to his knees as the memories flooded back, stifling a scream. A supplicant to some charnel god, bathed in blood, his muffled cry gave way to sobs. He tried to wipe his hands on his overalls, staring as he realized the futility of it.
He picked up the box with a trembling hand. Not a drop of blood on the thing. Half-slipping in viscera, he staggered onto the island and was swallowed by the murk.
Out here in the ‘sea, a scrap dealer could be king. An engineer was worth their weight in Gems. Jonah preferred to remain the reclusive junk merchant, doing enough trade to survive. Thankfully, Willem’s Folly was long since hollowed; a barren little rock only good for taking on water, spare parts, and headaches. Moonbend was miles Outward with no other habitable island between here and there. Beyond were uncharted depths of the ‘sea and enough rumours to fill it: the treasure of Pirate King Mandalthraxus; the secret route to the Black Rose; the Sealed Gates of Paradise.
Jonah stood upon the rocky promontory on the Folly’s Inward slopes, hardly noticing the revolutions now. He’d been sick for weeks, staggering and vomiting with every attempt to walk across the island. Now he could turn with it, and be at peace.
It hadn’t been as easy as waiting, of course.
He turned from the hazy red vista, and strode into the hollow shell of the island. Cilant’s garden kept him from falling, the growth of vines and flowers indicating the places where gravity shifted and forming clear paths around the inside of the crude sphere. Jonah had seen the crossing near Hatt’s shop kill a man, once, who wasn’t paying attention; hurled against the opposite wall with a cacophony of breaking bones.
He navigated the reaching fronds of the garden with habitual suspicion, returning to his home and workplace – the wreckage of a ship fused to the lower face of the island.
The tripwire on his door – a repurposed deck hatch – had been cut. Jonah tensed, drew a heavy pistol from his toolbelt, and twitched the door open. Nothing but the faint glow of the generator and feeble sunlight through the far portholes. No one visible, but Jonah was sure they were still there. Nothing broken, nothing moved.
He stepped inside, closed the door behind his back. He flicked a switch, and assorted second-hand lights illuminated his grubby worktables and piles of junk.
“It would be ill-advised to pull the trigger before you hear my proposition,” she said; a person sitting behind what he generously considered his desk. Practical black clothing – silk perhaps – with a hood that hid everything but her mouth, her livid purple lips. “Though even then, pulling the trigger may be the last bad decision you make.”
“Who are you?” He tried to ignore the trembling in his hand, the weight of the weapon he kept trained on her.
“No one. Jonah Frisse. I am no one.”
“I don’t know any assassins by that name, no mercenaries. At least you’re not Infernal.” He tried to sound calm, casual, but was sure of his failure, a slight crack in his voice on the last word.
“No,” she replied, cold. “I am not. You have something I want, and I am willing to pay you for it.”
“We’re closed,” he said, smiling like a man condemned.
“The box, Frisse. That’s all. I’m sure it still haunts you.”
Jonah glanced at the hiding place, prayed she didn’t catch it.
“A simple trade. You give me the box, I give you revenge. You tell me what I want to know, and I’ll tell you what you need.”
Jonah swallowed hard. “Revenge against the Guild?”
“The box, first.”
He clenched his teeth. “It’s not as simple as revenge. I want reform. I want a new Guild, one that isn’t so limited, one that does as it was always meant to.”
“That can also be arranged.”
“As truly as I stand here.”
He kept the gun on her, and pointed to his safe. Told her the combination.
She rose and collected it, and Jonah suspected she had been military once. Walking like someone learning to relax again.
“Alright. So you have it.” He said, finger itching. “What now?”
She drew a fine wrench from a satchel, and set it down on his desk. “With this.”
Jonah laughed for nearly a full minute, while she stood mute and watchful.
He wiped tear from his eye, didn’t raise the gun again. He might shoot her this time.
“Exposure to the device has given you the sight, I know. Take this wrench, work on every Nethership that comes into a port you’re in. Every day is a step closer.”
Jonah nodded. “So you’ve tricked me. I’d care more if I wasn’t so happy to see the box go.”
“No trick. Patience, Mr. Frisse. For the second transaction – where is Smoke Jaguar being held?”
Jonah raised the pistol again, blood draining from his face.
“How do you know about that? How do you fucking know?” His voice was growing shrill. “Everyone but me died because of that fucking thing. You can’t know!”
She smiled, and he noted her teeth were sharpened to points.
“No one knows everything, Jonah.”
She’d told the truth. With every new commission Jonah took, every renewal of contracts, he heard some news of Guild that filled him with dark glee. A monster in the coolant pipes, a schism between the main Guild and Bootstrappers, an explosion in District 01 – always something that felt a step closer to paying them back.
But now, years later, he’d been staying in a room over Shockies for two weeks without work. Bluenose had been sold after the captain was arrested for treason, and the new owners wanted their own engineer, never mind Jonah’s years of experience. They’d get theirs, too.
“Now hiring for the escort of the Olimak Herald via the Nethership The Celebrant, Captain Nell Lightfoot.” Bellowed the Olimak Jonah had watched enter not ten minutes earlier.
He smiled grimly over his pint.
They’d get theirs, too.