June 27th, Wy594, Skyward, Whistler.
You’re not sure why you have an office. You suppose it’s because someone in your line of work should have an office. An office with a sign and a bar and someone cute at reception who can put potential clients at ease and maybe make them a little horny.
Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess.
There’s a knock at your door that the imaginary receptionist fails to answer, so you yell at whoever it is to come in. Jack drifts into the room and closes the door quietly behind him.
You’re not yet accustomed to the civilian version of Jack Cartwright. This version in an impeccably-tailored business suit, a wry smile, and a soft step. Military-issue Jack was a goddamned force of nature. Ten times bigger and a thousand times louder and a holy terror who used to intimidate the shit out of you when he’d visit your father when you were a kid. Quiet Jack is scarier. He smiles at you warmly.
“Jack!” you exclaim, “To what do I owe the pleasure?” He walks over and reaches across the desk to shake your hand, but he doesn’t sit. Instead he wanders over and looks out the 100th-floor window across the skyline towards the Elevator.
“The Bureau is investigating me for arms smuggling,” he says distractedly. “They’ve sent one of their young hotshot agents to look into things. The same woman who broke the case at Eriksson, in fact.”
You look around briefly to make sure nothing in the office could be recording anything before leaning back in your chair. “Are you?”
Jack turns and raises an eyebrow. “Hm?”
“Smuggling arms, Jack.”
He waves his hand through the air dismissively. “Yes, but not what they’re looking for or to whom. They’re after someone else.”
Too easy. You sigh. “My father goes yachting with the sub-chair for the Bureau oversight committee, I’ll have her scrubbing toilets before the end of the month.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Could you?”
“Could I what?”
“Have her scrubbing toilets?”
“I was being metaphorical, Jack.”
He nods solemnly. “Have her sent to Grove instead.”
“Because that’s where the guns are going,” he whispers conspiratorially. Jack walks over to the bar and takes two glasses out. You notice with some chagrin that he pours two large drams of the ‘22 Glenn Fairwaithe. He stands there with his hands resting on the glasses, staring at the wall.
“Is there something else?”
Jack sighs deeply before turning and walking over to the desk. You can’t help but notice his eyes flit around the room to things that could be recording. He sets one of the glasses in front of you and finally sits down.
“I need a legal opinion. Or rather I might need.”
“I got tons of those.”
He smiles distractedly, then takes a sip of the scotch. “What would happen if I found a derelict Navy ship?”
“There’s no such thing.”
“But what would happen?”
You take a veritable gulp in defiance of all logic and convention. “Well, I imagine they’d want it back.”
Jack nods thoughtfully. “What if I didn’t want to give it back?”
Something about his tone sends a chill up your spine. “What do you mean? We’re talking about tens of millions-” Jack points towards the ceiling. “Okay, hundreds of mill-” Point, point. You gulp and take another sip to keep from sputtering. “Billions?” He nods. “Billions of credits in state military hardware. They’re going to want it back.”
Jack nods again, infuriatingly serious. “But what if?”
You shrug and type a few keywords into a Lexis AI search and send it on its way. “You know who your ex-wife is right?”
“No dummy, the other one.”
Jack’s eyes widen slightly and he grimaces. “Yes well. Maybe we’re not friends after.”
The AI comes back with some results and you spend a moment delving a bit deeper to make sure it’s right.
“Okay well… I’ll need to look a little more closely but… You’ll definitely run into the Arms Proliferation Act of 280. You’d have to give the guns back.”
“I can hardly remove a launcher or rail gun,” he says warily.
“No, just the stuff outside the frame. Turrets, PDCs, and the like. The rest is considered part of the hull based on how Hadean Drive Yards wrote the original agreements with the Navy.”
“Okay. I give the guns back.”
“I’ll need to check this out…like…seriously…but…as far as I can tell…after that you’re back at old Earth salvage laws.”
Jack smiles, takes a drink, and leans back in his seat. “That’s what I thought as well.”
You sit quietly watching him happily nurse his drink until you can’t stand it anymore. “Jack,” you start, “did you find something?”
The older man grins devilishly, finishes his drink and sets the glass down on the desk between you. “Why don’t you come work for me and find out.”
A nervous laugh bursts out of you before you can stop it. “I…no! I can’t, the network is putting a show together with my name on it. I can’t just…I really can’t go full-time dealing with your shipping contracts.”
He shrugs and nods, standing. “Well…maybe later then.” He smiles and gives you a little nod, then starts for the door.
You catch another chill. “Jack? Did you just tell me something that’s going to get me killed?”
His hand stops inches from the door control. “I just need a bloodhound off my trail and a good scotch, son,” he says quietly before letting himself out.
Eight years later, you’re sitting in the jump seat on the flight deck of A Series of Unlikely Explanations watching on the external camera as four brand new Maxim Arms capital-class naval quad autocannons go drifting off into the dark. You remember that old Foxglove scotch so clearly you can taste it.
“Fuuuuck…” you whisper to no one in particular.