Slam stepped out of the fresh, fragranced air of the spaceport on Nu-Vegas into the heavy, humid air of the pleasure planet’s central city. The air here had a metallic taste to it, as if it had been through the atmospheric filters a few thousand times too many. Which is exactly what had happened. No-one stayed on the planet long enough for the loose consortium of businessmen, crooks and gangsters which made up the government to feel motivated enough to invest in a costly shipment of fresh air from one of the planets on the outer rim. Still, it beat the recycled air on the Mary J and, as much as he loved the old freighter he called home, it felt good to get his boots planet side for a change. He scratched his unshaven chin and tugged on his goatee beard as he took a long deep breath of the local air. He was a rugged man, not unattractive, with unkempt hair and a crooked grin. Some would say he was a scoundrel, but he liked to think he was a nice man.
“Sir, might I suggest you refrain from sniffing the air too deeply,” his companion Dan spoke in an urgent, clipped tone. At first glance Dan looked like a young, well kept man, with a slightly yellowing complexion, something that wasn’t all that unusual amongst those who spent months on end crewing starships, far from the rays of any natural suns. Closer inspection, however, revealed a faintly metallic sheen to him, showed his hair to be a little too perfect, and the faint glow given off by his eyes finally revealed his true nature. Dan wasn’t a man at all, he was a robot, albeit the most sophisticated robot the galaxy had ever seen. What he was doing with a small time merchant come smuggler like Slam Ridley was anyone’s guess. “Analysis of the atmosphere shows it to contain trace elements of several toxins, most of which are extremely damaging to the human race, so I would recommend breathing as little as possible until we can find shelter.”
“You know your problem, Dan, you worry too much!” Slam chided his artificial companion with a lop sided grin. “Here we are on the pleasure capital of the galaxy and you’re worried about me catching a cold!”
“I’m more worried about you catching Albraxian Mandlsnot again, you remember what happened last time…” Dan looked worried, but then he usually did.
“Well sure,” replied Slam, “but I apologized to the midget and he agreed not to sue, so all’s well that ends well.”
Slam stepped out from the busy street, which was full of all manner of exotic life forms, either offering or looking for any number of outlandish and often downright dangerous pleasures, and hailed them a hover cab.
As they both climbed into the back of the cab Slam gave directions to the driver, “The corner of third and two hundred and sixty thousand, please…and I know my way around, so no shortcuts…”
“Sure things, boss, “ replied the gruff, four armed Tellonian in the driver’s seat.
“Now, when we get to Hroav’s, just let me do the talking,” Slam said to Dan, looking very serious for once. “I know how you like to prove how smart you are all the time, but Threshlev Hroav is not known for his sense of humour. He’s known for having people killed, and I don’t intend to be one of them.”
“Of course, sir, I wouldn’t dream of saying anything,” Dan protested, a little unconvincingly for Slam’s liking. “We’ll just pick up the package, as we’ve been contracted to do, and leave.”
The cab pulled up and the door slid open onto the street.
“The Intergalactic Federation of Commercial Findsmen?” the driver mused. “You don’t strike me as the kind of guys to be hiring bounty hunters…”
“And you don’t strike me as the kind of guy stupid enough to be asking questions, “ Slam grumbled as he handed the driver a handful of credits. “Come on, Dan, we’re here.”
“You do have a gift for stating the obvious, sir,” Dan observed.
“Not one more word until we’re back out here, you hear me?” Slam ordered through gritted teeth, jabbing his index finger into Dan’s chest. “You hear me?”
“You…uh….told me not speak…” Dan sheepishly pointed out.
“Nobody likes a wise guy, Dan, nobody likes a wise guy.” Slam purposefully strode through the doors of the Intergalactic Federation of Commercial Findsmen, better known colloquially as the Galactic Bounty Hunter’s Guild, with a slightly bemused Dan in tow. They entered the building’s spacious lobby, a mildly tasteless cacophony of marble and gold, at the centre of which stood a large reception desk, with a lone attractive but overly made up receptionist sitting behind it. “Slam Ridley, I’m picking up a package from Threshlev Hroav, Ethal Nuargi sent me.”
“You want to see Threshlev Hroav?” the receptionist looked at him as if he was a piece of dirt. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No, I don’t have an appointment, I’m picking up a package, as I just told you, we’re expected, Ethal Nuargi sent us.” Slam bristled at being spoken down to by a receptionist.
“So you’re a courier…” the receptionist started to tap details into the computer system in front of her.
“I’m not a courier, I’m an independent freelance trader, Slam Ridley, and this is my associate, Dan.” Slam jabbed a thumb in Slam’s direction.
The receptionist stopped what she was doing for a moment and looked directly at him, “You’re picking up a package, right?”
“Then you’re a courier,” she replied with a contemptuous stare, as Slam realised that she must have this exchange a dozen times every day. “Wait over there,” she indicated a small row of hard, plastic seats, “someone will be out shortly with your package.”
They sat down in the chairs and waited for about an hour before a pair of burly, thuggish looking men appeared carrying a heavy, metallic crate with a keypad lock on the side.
“Here’s ya’ package, boss,” grunted one of the men, “Nuargi’s got da’ code. Jus’ make sure it gets ta’ him in one piece.”
“Uh…sir…” stammered Dan.
Slam whirled to face him, his index finger held high, “I said no talking…”
“No….talking…” Slam turned back to the two men and smiled. “Do, uh, I need to sign for this at all?”
“Sure, palm print and retinal scan here, initial here, it’s all yours now, boss, your complete responsibility.”
Slam hefted one end of the heavy crate, while Dan lifted the other with ease and they carried it out through the door.
“Sir, I thought Mr Nuargi wanted us to pick up medical supplies?” queried Dan.
“That’s right, Dan, medical supplies, that’s what he asked us to pick up and that’s what we have, says it right here on the electro-docket.” Slam nodded towards the data chip in his jacket pocket.
“But, sir…” Dan began.
“I don’t want to hear it, Dan,” Slam interrupted, stubbornly, “we’ve got a job to do, let’s just get it done.”
As Slam hailed another hover cab to take them back to the spaceport, and the comfortable familiarity of the tramp freighter they called home, Dan wondered if his systems had developed a slight glitch. He couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was about to go horribly, terribly wrong…