By Travis Perry
“You seen this man?” The woman asking had a definite no-nonsense presence—titanium patching on her face, a robotic left arm and left leg. The glossy she held in Jax’s face looked familiar.
“Uh, maybe. I see lots of people.”
“There’s a substantial bounty on this one—the biggest I’ve ever seen. If you know something leading to the arrest of Ernsto Mons, that would be worth five thousand credits to you.”
“Ernsto Mons—that’s the guy in the picture?” Jax looked up at the woman’s face. Her non-robotic parts were actually quite attractive. He felt embarrassed to notice, and it formed a painful reminder of his wife separated from him on Avenir, but in fact he hadn’t seen a lot of women of late—other than Maddie, of course, and some old hag who did cleaning. But the blaze in her eye told him she was even more no-nonsense than his first impression would indicate. Her dog eyed him with a tilted head, as if suspicious.
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“What’s he wanted for?”
“About everything—theft, smuggling, murder, human trafficking, insurrection, plotting to assassinate an Avenir government official, plotting to overthrow the Avenir government.”
Jax let out a low whistle. “Whoa. So what’s five thousand credits? Like ten percent?”
The woman nearly smiled at him. The expression sent a chill down his spine. “Why? Are you going to try to haggle for a bigger cut?”
“No—I mean, no, ma’am. Just, er, wondering…” his voice trailed off.
“Look, do you know something or not?”
Jax had already decided what to do. Whatever else he had done, Ernsto had kept a coriander beetle from attacking him from behind while another attacked from the front. Ernsto had also helped move the beetles into the trading camp, yielding a good haul, though he had insisted on staying outside himself. Jax owed him. “Er, sorry. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
“Hmmm,” she replied, studying him. “Well, if you change your mind, ask for me at the trading post. Everyone knows my name there.”
“Which is?” When her fierce eyes met his own, Jax added, “…er, ma’am…”
“Zana. That’s all you need to know.” And then she turned away.