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  • Jordan Keller

Fool's Gold

Jon Neuer tossed his shot of whiskey back. It burned against his throat, and he squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the liquor down. He was only 18, a minor on his home planet but just old enough to drink on the colonized moons of Jupiter. Callisto was the third moon colonized by the Earth Alliance over 200 years ago and even though the goal was in the name of science, everything this side of the Belt reverted back to a lawless time. Jon remembered his father comparing it to the ancient outlaws of Earth. Pirates, cowboys, and bandits who were only loyal to themselves. That was the kind of life Mr. Neuer disgusted.

That was the kind of life Jon was currently living.

Blinking his blue eyes open, Jon scanned the room. Despite the nightclub being built into the side of a crater to avoid the harsh winds on Callisto, cold streams of air still ripped through the walls flipping up napkins and clothing. Loud music pumped through speakers and various bodies roamed the floor, vanishing between thick smoke clouds. The man sitting next to Jon at the bar, the one who bought him the drink, sported a pair of gold teeth in his bottom jaw that caught the light and shined it back at Jon.

Dropped in this crater town two days ago, Jon’s mission was to find this very man and talk business. He had visited two casinos, three bars, and one gentlemen's club before coming here. Jon’s body odor, a noxious mixture of smoke, stale beer, and dust, was beginning to make himself sick These types of missions were normally reserved for Rakosi, but the Saturn-born alien had more wanted posters plastered on the moon than there were inhabits. Jon cursed the self-proclaimed captain for being so careless. He didn’t belong in this… place.

“Where you’d say you were from again, boy?” the man, Mr. Griz, asked a second time.

“Earth,” Jon answered, remembering to drop the sir this time. “Well, Earth originally. I flew in from the Belt a few days ago.”

“And you were wanting a job?”

“Not exactly.” Jon chuckled nervously, he slid his hands off the bar top and wiped them against his pant legs. When would that liquid courage start working? “I was looking to buy, uh I mean trade some information.”

Mr. Griz laughed, his belly bouncing in the process. “There ain’t nothing you’ve got that I need.”

“Maybe if we could talk more on the matter,” Jon pleaded, fumbling for traction as Mr. Griz stood from his seat.

“I should’ve never sent a cadet to do a captain’s job,” hissed a voice in Jon’s in-ear communicator.

Jon heard the impatience in the alien’s voice even from this far away. Rakosi’s use of Jon’s lack of a title only enforced the feeling. Jon inhaled sharply to keep his head clear and focused on his task. He could be mad at Rakosi later, after he was off this moon.

“Give him a minute,” a softer voice spoke inside the communicator. Cara’s human voice settled him quicker than the whiskey. Her Martian accent rushed her words together. “You can do it, Jonny. Just get old Griz talking.”

“We’re screwed.” Rakosi ground his teeth together, the communicator broadcasting the sound straight into Jon’s head. “I’m going down there.”

“No,” Jon answered a question asked by Mr. Griz, but the order was directed to his captain.

Mr. Griz’s laugh filled the com-link. “I like your spunk boy. Alright, we can trade. Come with me.”

Mr. Griz peeled himself off of the bar stool and led Jon to the back of the club where a large man opened a steel door at their approach. The backroom was much quieter. The thickly constructed walls blocked the noise from the club and the raging winds outside. Filling the room was a green felted table surrounded by six seats. On the opposite side of the door was a map of the four colonized Jupiter moons along with a string of wanted posters down the side. They were held in place by short knives Jon knew his mother used to cut cheese.

The second poster from the top was Rakosi. His dorky, lopsided expression stared at Jon. It was an older photo, his dark hair was shorter in the photo, and the crime he committed banning him from Callisto was scribbled underneath.

Jon was too far away to read the accusation, and Rakosi had never told him.

Mr. Griz sat at the head of the table and gestured for Jon to sit across him. He shuffled a deck of cards. They flipped effortlessly between his chubby hands.

“We’ll play for the information,” Mr. Griz explained. “What do you have to offer?”

“I can supply the next two months of Belt log information on what is being shipped outside of the EA zone.” Jon hated himself. He worked at the Belt station to help supply the people of the Jupiter moons with medicine and food that they needed. It was the only Earth Alliance job he could get after his discharge. And now, he was wavering it for Rakosi’s dumb illusions.

“That is a good chip to have,” said Mr. Griz. It wasn’t any secret that Mr. Griz ran a black market in the underground of Callisto. Getting his hands on full shipments of Earth Alliance supplies would boost his sales exponentially. And hurt those who actually needed it like the those in the farming settlements. “And how would a boy like you have access to that?”

“That’s not part of the deal,” Jon stammered out.

Mr. Griz chuckled.

“We’re doomed,” Rakosi groaned inside the com-link. Jon was not the gambler, he was too straight cut, and the righteous attitude of being an Alliance cadet laced his veins too thickly.

Mr. Griz dealt out five cards to each of them. Jon snuck a glance at his cards. His heart hitched; it wasn’t anything good. When Mr. Griz flipped five cards face up on the felt Jon had somehow managed to get a pair of black threes and red aces.

“Make sure you get him talking,” Cara’s voice whispered in his ear. “You’ve got the hand.”

Jon glanced up and saw a security camera suspended in the back corner. It zoomed in on him and he knew she was hacked into Griz’s system, watching them. His cheeks reddened and he hoped it was just the heater kicking on.

“What are you offering?” Jon asked. His mouth drying as he tried to hide his excitement.

Mr. Griz leaned against the table. “What do you want to know?”

“A way around Neptune’s orbit blocker.”

Mr. Griz laughed but then sobered. “That’s a tall order for just two months of Belt logs. What does an Earthling need through an orbit that’s so far from home?”

“That isn’t part of the negotiation.” Jon took a deep breath through his nose, calming his racing heart.

“There’s a reason you don’t belong here, boy.” Mr. Griz gritted his teeth. “All these big words don’t belong on the Jupes. Sounds a lot like Alliance talk, if you ask me.”

“Shit,” Rakosi growled.

“Give him some faith,” Cara demanded. “If you go in there guns blazing then you’ll both get killed.”

“If I don’t, he’ll do that himself.”

“I was discharged,” Jon said.

The augmenting inside his head stopped.

The bodyguard from outside delivered a stack of papers to Mr. Griz, who slid the top page across the green felt to Jon. He frowned at his photocopied acceptance letter into the Earth Alliance Academy. His own younger photo was attached to the top. Griz must’ve done a background check on him, using his face to scan through the digital codes. Jon wanted to get out of this place, get off this moon, and away from this whole situation. This was not what he signed up for.

“I was discharged for having a weak heart,” anger fueled his statement. “They placed me in the Belt to monitor incoming ships instead of being a lead navigator like I should’ve been. Top of my class but that didn’t matter to them. I want to crash down their orbit blockers and be the first Earthling on that blue ball of gas.”

That made Mr. Griz chuckle again. “Well, you’ve come to the right place with that attitude. Seems like you hate the EA almost as much as the rest of us Mooners do. Show ‘em.”

Jon flipped his cards up to reveal his two pairs while Mr. Griz showed a full house and a long smirk over his crooked teeth. “Pay up, boy.”

“He had nothing!” Cara shrieked into the com-link. “Jon, I swear he had nothing.”

“I uh, I uh—Wow.” His words sounded far away as blood started to rush behind his ears. “Bad luck for me. Best two out of three?”

There was no humor on Mr. Griz’s oily face.

Jon held up his hands in defeat. “The logs are on my ship outside.”

“We’re coming down,” Rakosi spoke quickly into the earpiece, the soft roar of the Infinity’s engines was in the background. “Don’t be scared, but I’m going to beam you.”

Cara yelled in Jon’s absence. “You can’t! Beaming humans is too dangerous.”

“Rather him be killed on site?”

“Let’s go,” Jon said to the guard who led him to the front of the club, but the order was for Rakosi. He hated to admit it, but he’d rather take his chances with the unstable technology.

When Jon stepped outside of the club, the cold air of Callisto blasted against him. He scanned the horizon for the Infinity but it was empty except for the slather of stars against the dark purple sky.

“I don’t see any ship,” the guard growled.

Before Jon could think of a new escape route, the massive nose of the Infinity shimmered seven yards in front of them. The ship's small body fit snugly inside the crater. The vanishing trick was from an illegal stealth drive Rakosi had acquired and had Cara outfit for the Fargon class ship.

Jon should’ve known the Saturnian would make a flashy entrance, but he really wished it wasn’t when his life was on the line.

The mouth of the Infinity dropped open and the captain strutted onto the moon’s surface. His black and gold duster jacket caused his silhouette to bellow much cooler than the alien actually was. The mouth of the ship was designed for easy loading and unloading of large cargo, but Rakosi used it for his dramatics. He raised a pistol toward the guard. It matched his duster, the golden details the brightest thing on the moon.

“I’ll be taking my cadet back now,” said Rakosi.

The guard pulled his own gun from his vest and fired at the mouth of the ship. Rakosi rolled to the side, narrowly dodging the attack. A blue light fired from the top of the ship and ripped through the area, scorching the rock between Jon and the guard. Another illegal addition to the once cargo ship.

“Hurry up!” Cara commanded into the link as she fired another laser beam toward the guard.

Jon raced into the mouth of the ship. Rakosi pulled the lever to shut the entrance. Once the lip was halfway up, the engines roared back to life. Jon glared at Rakosi. He examined his pistol before storing it back in his coat. Although Rakosi was 27 in Earth years, the alien had a mental level of 17, if Jon was being generous.

Standing at 6’4, Rakosi was considered short compared to the other Saturnians whose average height brought them over seven feet. The alien race shared similar features to their solar system neighbors, but their skin was tinted orange from the reflection of the sun through the planet’s rings. Their eyes housed larger pupils which Jon still found unnerving when he was stared at for too long. Rakosi’s eyes were a seafoam green which was rare for his people and normally stayed yellow or a dim green.

“Satisfied?” Jon growled, tired of the silence between them. Tired of being watched. “I almost died for your little pet project.”

“No.” Rakosi scratched the back of his head. “We’re nowhere close to the treasure. But your acting sure has improved.” He cracked a smile at Jon, pointed teeth jutting over his lips.

“This isn’t a game to me.” Jon reminded.

Rakosi shrugged and started up the steps that would lead him to the bridge. “At least I didn’t beam you.”

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