Agnes sighed happily as she reclined and stretched her stocking-covered toes in front of the fireplace in the Andromeda Lounge while listening to the ship’s welcome announcement.
“Welcome aboard the Wayfarer, en route to Europa. I’m AI Wayfarer, co-pilot of this ship, working with Captain Vanderbilt. We’re tracking well for arrival in 6 days, with a smooth journey ahead of us. Sit back, relax, and enjoy everything the Wayfarer has to offer, including the newest rejuvenation pods in the galaxy…”
I wonder what a rejuvenation pod would do for 80 years’ worth of wrinkles, she chuckled to herself. Agnes relaxed as the AI continued to list all the features available on the luxury cruise liner, but before she could open her book, she noticed an arrogant looking man with oily hair, wearing a business suit sitting on the other side of the fireplace. He was wrinkling his nose in disgust when he saw Agnes had taken her shoes off.
Agnes sniffed and patted her neatly coiffed grey curls, dismissing him. One of the many bonuses she liked about growing older was that you stopped caring about what other people thought of you.
The businessman turned around as another man joined him near the fireplace. This man had baggy, dark clothes, a bald head and huge scruffy beard that looked like it had never seen a shaver in its life. What an odd pair, Agnes thought.
“Nathaniel, I told you, I secured it downstairs after the luggage was loaded. No one saw a thing.” The scruffy bearded man said and took a slurp of his beer.
Agnes pretended to keep reading and sunk further into her chair while she listened.
“Fine Derick, but it better be well hidden. The AI better not have caught you either.” Nathaniel muttered, straightening his suit sleeves, his gold cuff links shining brightly in the warm lighting of the lounge.
Derick scoffed, “No one knows we’ve got it on board.”
“Good.” Nathaniel stood up and brushed invisible flecks of dust from his suit. “Now piss off and don’t bother me for the rest of the trip.” He strode from the room without looking back.
Derick muttered something under his breath as he downed the last of his beer and stalked from the room.
“AI Wayfarer?” she said quietly.
“Yes Agnes?” responded a soft, feminine voice, from speakers concealed behind the mantelpiece.
“I have something for you to investigate.” She replied. Maybe this trip wasn’t going to be the peaceful journey she had expected.
– – –
The next morning AI Wayfarer woke the Captain. “It’s 0600 and we’re progressing on course as expected. However, I was informed late last night that we are transporting illegal cargo.”
Harris Vanderbilt ran his hands through his dark hair and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
“What is it?” he sighed, “And do you know who brought it on board?”
He thought he’d seen the last of illegal cargo and space pirates when he left the transportation business and moved into luxury cruise liners. Flying millionaires and retirees around for holidays was supposed to be easier than dealing with the black-market criminals involved in the transport industry.
“In the cargo hold there is large shipping crate, reinforced with tungsten. Which can only mean one thing – someone is transporting raw deodynium.” The AI responded.
Harris swore. He was definitely awake now.
He stood up and began pacing. “Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to hide an unprocessed batch of deodynium on a bloody cruise liner? The whole thing could blow at any minute.”
“Well it’s the essential component for nearly all energy reactors and the current black-market price for deodynium is eight million credit per kilo. My scans show it is currently stable. There is a high chance that it will have started to degrade by the time we reach port though, creating a volatile mineral waiting to expand the moment oxygen touches it.” AI Wayfarer said calmly.
Harris swore again. “I’m going down to the cargo hold. Hold our current course until I decide what to do about this. We’re going to have 500 unhappy passengers if we have to dock early.”
“Yes sir. Although they’ll be more than unhappy if the deodynium explodes while we’re en route.” The AI said. “At least, momentarily anyway, before the rapidly expanding – “
“Okay, okay,” Harris interrupted not wanting to imagine the deadly explosion and everyone’s fiery demise.
He quickly got dressed, left his cabin and stalked down to the crew stairs that wound directly down into the bowels of the ship.
– – –
Harris entered the cargo bay and looked around before noticing the bulky crate of deodynium nestled in the back corner. He ran over and was inspecting it when he heard loud footsteps behind him. He turned around and his eyes went wide as a bald man with a scruffy beard walked towards him holding a crow bar.
“I’d step away from the crate if I were you.” the bald man said as he swung the crow bar back and forth.
“AI Way-“Harris started to call out but was cut off as the crow bar smashed into his chest, winding him and flinging him against the shipping container. A moment later he started struggling to get back up, wheezing and grabbing his chest.
Harris gasped as the man raised the crow bar again, then knocked him on the side of the head. He slumped to the ground at an awkward angle, his chest only barely rising and falling as he lay unconscious and bleeding.
– – –
Agnes was sitting on a lounge next to the breakfast buffet with a steaming mug of coffee on her table, wearing a tartan skirt and cream sweater. Long knitting needles clacked together loudly as she pulled thick green wool from a large ball that fell on the floor and started to unravel.
She looked up as the scruffy, bearded man, Derick ran into the lounge looking dishevelled. His eyes darted around until they landed on the sleazy businessman Nathaniel, who was eating breakfast, and looked annoyed as soon as he saw Derick.
“What?” Nathaniel said tersely.
“The Captain has discovered the cargo.” Derick said, breathless from his run.
“I’ve knocked him out, he’s down in the cargo hold.” Derick said, eyeing Nathaniel warily.
Nathaniel swore again and pushed the table away from him, his cutlery and coffee mug clattering loudly on the glass. “People are going to realise pretty quickly the Captain is missing.”
He grabbed Derick’s arm and looked around the room to see if anyone was watching them. Agnes studiously continued knitting, not showing any interest in the two frantic men. All the other passengers continued eating their breakfast and taking photos in front of the huge glass viewing windows.
“Let’s go pay the Captain a visit and see if he’s awake yet.” Nathaniel muttered.
Agnes waited only a moment after they left, before she stuffed her knitting needles into her handbag and ran from the room.
She raced to the crew-only stairs, hoping she could beat the two men. Her shoes clattered loudly as she ran down the stairs.
Cold air blasted her face as she entered the cavernous cargo hold. Her eyes frantically scanned the room and landed on the Captain’s slumped form next to the heavily reinforced shipping crate that she assumed held the illegal cargo.
She ran to him and checked his pulse and felt her heart unclench when she found a steady pulse. His eyes moved under his eyelids as she shifted him into the recovery position.
– – –
A minute later Derick and Nathaniel burst into the cargo hold and ran down the stairs and straight towards Agnes.
“Who the hell are you? Why do I keep seeing you everywhere?” Nathaniel said.
Agnes ignored him as she made Harris comfortable and checked his head wound.
Nathaniel turned to Derick and let out a short bark of laughter, “Get rid of the old bat.”
He waved his hand dismissively in Agnes’s general direction, then walked around her and crouched down in front of the shipping crate, checking the data panel on the side, which was monitoring the stability of the deodynium in the tungsten crate.
Loud thumps and a strangled gurgle ensued, and Nathaniel stood up and smiled as he wiped his hands on a handkerchief.
His eyes widened as he took in the scene in front of him.
Derick was lying unconscious on the floor, his face bright red, and Agnes’s chain-link handbag strap was wrapped around his neck. Derick’s chest was rising and falling slowly as Nathaniel staggered back, dropping his handkerchief.
“Wait, let’s just calm down…” he started to say but Agnes advanced forwards, pulling a long sharp object from her handbag that lay on top of Derick as she stalked towards him.
As Nathaniel staggered back and bumped into the hard, cold wall of the cargo hold Harris woke up. He pushed himself up groggily, leaning against the shipping crate and took in the sight, then said “Mum? Are you okay?”
Agnes smiled, “Everything is fine, darling.”
Nathaniel’s eyes were darting around the cargo hold, looking for a weapon, an exit, anything to help him. Nothing was close by, just the cold steel wall biting his back as Agnes approached, determined and angry.
“We can cut a deal, I won’t hurt the Captain or yourself if you just calm down.” He stammered. “I feel like we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.”
“No one tries to kill my son and gets away with it.” Agnes growled, “Especially not after you smuggled illegal cargo onto his ship that could have ended up with him in jail or killed us all!”
She whipped out the large knitting needle from behind her and held it sharply against Nathaniel’s neck. He jerked back, a trickle of blood running down his neck where the sharpened end of the needle cut his skin. He raised his hands.
“AI Wayfarer, alert the guards and arrest these two men.” Agnes called over her shoulder, as she stood her ground in front of Nathaniel.
“Guards are en route, Agnes.” AI Wayfarer responded, and a moment later four guards burst into the cargo hold with their Tasers drawn.
– – –
Agnes pressed a hand to Harris’s forehead as he lay in the medical cabin recovering. AI Wayfarer was reading aloud his vital signs and monitoring the drips connected to him.
“I’m fine Mum, you can stop fussing now.” He said, pushing himself up on his elbows on the crisp white linen sheeted bed in the barely used medical cabin. “I need to speak to the crew and also report the raw deodynium to United Galaxy Command so they can arrange to meet us and collect it.”
“You had a concussion and three broken ribs, not to mention the blood loss from your head wound.” Agnes said, smoothing the sheets down over him. “Now get some rest. AI Wayfarer and I have a meeting with the rest of the flight crew to go to. We’ll take care of everything.”
“What about our two prisoners?” he said.
AI Wayfarer spoke, “Not to worry Captain, they’ve been locked in the holding bay and I’ve notified United Galaxy Command of their arrests. They will be awaiting the two prisoners and the illegal deodynium as soon as we dock.”
Harris started to protest again but Agnes simply walked out of the room and heard the doors lock shut with a satisfying click. He wasn’t going anywhere until he was fully recovered, she was going to make sure of that.
“Don’t let him out of the medical bay until he’s had another hour in the rejuvenation pod.” She said to AI Wayfarer and she walked along the corridor to the flight deck.
“Yes, Agnes.” AI Wayfarer responded, her voice following Agnes down the ship.
Agnes introduced herself to a surprised looking crew, who hadn’t realised Captain Vanderbilt even had a mother, let alone that she was on board, or was now issuing orders and changing their flight plans. She told them that due to an urgent medical issue they would be docking briefly on Titan before continuing to their final destination of Jupiter’s interstellar space station. And no, they could not speak to the Captain about it. Nor could they bother her.
She left AI Wayfarer in the flight deck re-routing their ship and making the purposefully vague and un-alarming announcement to the passengers about an unavoidable stop over, and promising extended bar hours and free dinner for everyone as an apology for the slight delay.
Agnes went down to her cabin to make a call in private to an old friend who owed her favour. A particularly big favour in fact.
“Hello Davey, I have a proposition for you. What would you say if I told you I had access to a rather large amount of raw deodynium?”
– – –
That night The Wayfarer eased its way gently into the dock on Titan in the huge shuttle hub that saw tens of thousands of ships pass through its docks every month. Harris was feeling better after his forced time in the rejuvenation pod and had convinced Agnes to let him disembark to see the deodynium handed over to United Galaxy Command officers.
He hurried down the gangway with Agnes and a few members of the flight crew. A motorized trolley carrying the tungsten shipping crate followed behind them, humming softly.
The size and smell of the Titan hub was overwhelming. Thousands of faces swarmed in front of them as they disembarked.
“I’ll take the crate through to the UGC loading dock, while you greet these ladies and gentlemen and sign your life away on all of the paperwork they’ll try to drown you in.” Agnes said to Harris, nodding at the two men and three women in United Galaxy Command uniforms that were striding towards them. But before she could tell the motorised trolley to follow her the uniformed officers descended upon the shipping crate, checking the data panel on the side and scanning every inch of it with handheld devices. Two other officers had boarded the ship to collect the prisoners.
Agnes waited until they had finished checking the shipping crate and were busy ID’ing Captain Vanderbilt, before striding towards the loading dock on the other side of the swarming masses of people, the tungsten crate wheeling itself merrily along beside her.
The over-excited officers were gesturing dramatically with their clipboards and datapads, talking over the top of each other as they questioned who precisely had found and mined this deodynium and how such a huge amount had ended up on a luxury cruise liner. Datapads and paperwork were flying everywhere and Harris already looked overwhelmed.
Agnes entered the loading bay and looked around for her old friend, Davey.
– – –
Many hours and signatures later Harris and Agnes were back on The Wayfarer, which was back on route to Jupiter. They sat in Harris’s cabin, and Agnes poured them each a glass of port before sitting down near the fireplace.
“Cheers to a successful handover to the officers, without anyone trying to arrest us.” She chuckled, holding up her glass to cheers Harris.
“Hmm,” he said, pausing with his glass up in the air. “Why are you so cheerful? Tell me it doesn’t have anything to do with why you slipped away with the deodynium while I was busy fending off the paper-pushers?”
Agnes smiled back, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She said as she sipped her port.
“You gave me and the officers the slip as soon as you could, and you were gone for far longer than you need to be.” He said, looking at her shrewdly over his glass.
“And here I was thinking that you hadn’t noticed.” She said slyly.
“You don’t grow up with a private investigator for a mother and not pick up a thing or two.” He said.
She chuckled. “Okay, fine. I was going to tell you anyway…” she paused, took a sip then continued. “Let’s just say that I was ensuring that the rest of your life will be as comfortable as it can be, and my retirement fund would be a little bit fatter than before.”
Harris’s eyes widened. “Mum, what did you do?”
“Don’t worry about it, you don’t need to know. What’s done is done, and you’ll have a nice sum deposited in your account in the near future.” Agnes replied.
“Mum!” Harris groaned, “How much did you take? How did the officers not notice? How did you- “
Agnes cut him off. “It’s fine, don’t worry, no one will ever know. 500 grams of deodynium will not be missed from that shipping crate. My friend has taken care of everything and the UGC will never know. They have been provided with hundreds of kilos of free raw deodynium so I hardly see any issue with letting 500 grams slip through their fingers.”
Harris just shook his head and drained his port.
Agnes settled into her chair, kicked her shoes off her feet, and stretched her toes in front of the fire. She smiled. There was no sleazy businessman to shame her over her bare toes, and she and Harris were now significantly more well off then at the beginning of this trip.
Harris smiled at her.
“Thanks Mum,” he said softly, holding his port glass up to her. “For everything.”
Agnes swallowed the last of her port. Maybe this means I’m not getting too old for PI work after all, she thought with a grin.
Maybe retirement can wait just a little bit longer.