With the treasure divided and vacuum suits patched, the crew made their way to Beylix, treasure trove of the Rim.
Worth, who was twitchy and paranoid at the best of times, was growing more and more agitated at the prospect of setting foot on his home planet, where he knew he was in for a cold reception.
A few years back, Worth Evans had been set up as a patsy during a joint Alliance-Unified Reclamation investigation that exposed the notorious Beylix Ring, a lucrative illegal salvage and scavenging operation that thrived even as Unified Reclamation tightened its security and began licensing scrap dealers instead of letting them just freely pick over Beylix’s bones.
The planet’s newsnets screamed the name “Wentworth Evans” far and wide as the insider who turned on his companions in exchange for immunity and he earned a planet-wide negative reputation as the “betrayer of Beylix” before the first news cycle came to a close. It got personal – a few of Evans’ cousins were implicated in the ring, and the tabloid press picked up on him as a homewrecker who would sell out his own family for a pat on the head from the Alliance. He fled Beylix a branded man.
“Has anyone ever been to Beylix?” YJ asked. Jonah said that the Shenzhou colonists sometimes dropped by when supplies and parts were getting low, and that he’d seen the inside of a jail cell at Newhouse one time. Worth said he’d never been planetside and declined to give any input whatsoever as the rest of the crew puzzled over which job to tackle first. They had a hold of questionable goods to unload at the Taros Settlement, and a cargo of spare parts to pick up at Newhouse. McKittrick had told them to avoid contact with the Alliance while his cargo was sitting in their secondary hold, so they decided to travel to Taros first.
As YJ gingerly brought Shenmue into Beylix’s atmosphere, wary of the port engine and its missing intake manifold, the Doc pulled up information from the planetary database. “Taros is a methane reclamation facility and it seems like they’ve only got three rules – no starships, no smoking, and no firearms due to the risk of fire.” Worth and Jonah groaned at the prospect of leaving firearms and cigarettes behind.
McKittrick had given YJ a recording to play for their contact, Prentice, when they arrived at Taros. Jonah suggested the crew listen to it ahead of time, just to be sure that there weren’t any potentially fatal instructions given concerning the fate of the crew. The Doc retrieved the handheld device and pressed play.
“Prentice, this is McKittrick. After that bit of unpleasantness on Whitefall you said you owed me one, and so I’m calling in my chit. The boys in front of you are solid, so don’t worry. The hold of their ship contains some materials I’d like kept from the prying eyes of the Alliance, and given your ability to hide just about anything in the ‘Verse, I figure you’ll know what to do with them. Set up a drop with these fellows and make sure you give them the coordinates afterward so they can relay the location back to me. It’s not that I don’t trust you Prentice, but I just don’t trust you. Treat my boys square and they’ll return the favour.”
The crew was duly satisfied that they weren’t walking into some sort of setup, which seemed to happen often enough.
With no landing facilities at Taros, the crew had to improvise, and using the terrain remote sensors, YJ picked out a likely landing spot about fifteen klicks outside of town, outside of the no-fly zone around the methane facility. Worth volunteered to stay behind to keep watch on the ship, and the Doc also suggested he’d stay as well. Jonah was surprised. “What is wrong with this place that nobody wants to leave the ship?”
YJ replied, “We can’t just leave Shenmue, especially with McKittrick’s cargo inside, and we can’t just take the goods with us until we know what the situation is in Taros. Besides, if anyone should stay with the ship, it’s me, except that means I have to let you out of my sight, Jonah, which doesn’t appeal to me in the least.”
Jonah affected mock indignation at YJ’s remark. “Fine, but we need a bus driver. If it doesn’t have wheels, I’m not much good with it.” Worth sighed. “Fine, I’ll go.” Ultimately, the Doc decided to tag along. The three of them climbed aboard the utility hover mule, and Worth drove off towards Taros, slouching as far down in the driver’s seat as he could.
Taros Settlement was nestled at the foot of what the crew initially took to be a majestic mountain range, until they got close enough to see (and more importantly, smell) that the mountains were actually massive heaps of rotting garbage. To put it charitably, Taros stank. The Doc and Jonah were almost overcome by the offensive stench, but to their surprise, Worth took it all in stride. The primary local life form seemed to be a species of sea gull noted for its earsplitting scream and deadly aim. Hundreds of the screeching white birds wheeled overhead above the methane collection fields and the mountains of trash at the outskirts of town.
“Place hasn’t changed,” Worth muttered to himself, but Jonah heard the comment and filed it away mentally.
The main industry in Taros involved siphoning methane and other biogas from the generous deposits of waste dumped nearby by an unending airlift of garbage scows. The methane was collected in thousands of balloon-like containers, which lay on the flat expanse surrounding the town as if a massive balloon regatta was getting underway, with half-inflated bladders the size of starships flapping in the breeze and jostling one another. The bags were connected to one another by a gridwork of pipes raised up on concrete pylons.
Other than the methane processing facility and a bare-bones train station, there wasn’t much to Taros Settlement, save for half a dozen squat concrete shacks along a narrow dirt road. Worth knew better – most of the settlement was in fact underground.
Here and there swaggered the UR rentacops – burly security guards swinging shock sticks and heavy batons instead of firearms. Not exactly the kind of cops that could be trusted to help an old lady cross the street. One of the cops gave Worth a long, hard look as he steered the bus towards the nearest shack.
“Why are we stopping here?” Jonah said. Worth sheepishly said, “uh, I’m just guessing this is the place.” The shack had a flickering sign that said “FIGHT TONIGHT” in green neon. The three disembarked and felt a rhythmic rumbling beneath their feet, Jonah, breathing through the sleeve of his jacket, gagged and said, “Let’s find this Prentice and get the hell out of here.”
Worth hauled on the door and there was a hiss of a gasket releasing. The trio was buffeted by a wave of sound and fresh air, and they ducked inside before the heavy door could swing shut and seal again. They descended a steep staircase enclosed in a safety cage into a hazy den of iniquity.
Jonah and the Doc took the sound of smashing machinery to be some kind of local musical genre, but it turned out to be coming from a pair of robots who were literally scrapping on the floor of a deep, sandy pit in the middle of the room. The walls of the pit were smooth and at least fifteen feet high, with a reinforced transparent shield protecting the dozens of rowdy spectators who were sloshing their booze around liberally while egging on the machines below. The two robots appeared hell-bent on dismantling one another in the most violent way possible.
One was a robotic approximation of a scorpion, with a segmented armored carapace, nimble legs and an articulated tail, which terminated not in a stinger but in a white-hot blowtorch. The other robot moved on tank treads instead of legs, and had a cylindrical main body to which a number of hammers, flails and diamond-tipped chain saws were attached. The two mechanical monsters were tearing and flailing at on another with the kind of relentless ferocity that only robots and reavers could claim as their own.
The smoke from the wounded machines cleared slightly, and the crew noticed that this pit was only one of five, with four other attracting similar crowds and emitting more electronic noises. An explosion erupted from one of them, with debris striking the spectator shield, and the crowd went wild. Clusters of video recording equipment were positioned over each pit, relaying the goings-on to the many, many Corvue screens bolted to every available surface.
The Doc drifted off in search of their contact, and never one to miss an opportunity, Jonah decided that it was time to dust off his pick-pocketing skills, seeing that the crowd, made up mostly of off-duty Taros BioReclamation workers and UR scrapyard drudges, were sufficiently distracted by the mechanical mayhem of the robot fights.
Sidling up to a likely mark, Jonah took note of the beer cup held in the man’s hand. The red plastic cup was emblazoned with a man’s face overlaid with the universal “no” symbol, a red circle with a diagonal line running through it. The man’s face looked awfully familiar.
Taking a closer look, Jonah was stunned to discover that the face belonged to none other than Worth Evans. A little thinner and younger perhaps, but definitely Worth Evans.
He quickly shot a glance at Worth, who was doing his best to look inconspicuous, with a hood drawn up over his head.
Jonah made his way over to the bar and ordered a drink, which was handed to him in another plastic cup with Worth’s face on it atop a coaster that also featured the anti-Worth logo. He nodded to the bartender and tossed her a tip, asking, “who is this son of a bitch?”
“You must be new around here,” the bartender said. “That’s Worthless Evans, the Betrayer of Beylix!”
“No kidding,” Jonah replied. “What did he do to deserve this infamy?” He pointed to the logo.
“A few years back he sold out a lot of good people, hard working people trying to survive under UR’s bootheel,” the bartender said as if reciting a verse from memory. “Put some of his own flesh and blood in lockdown while he walked away scot free.”
“That chiang-bao hoe-tze duh bastard!” Jonah exclaimed, passing the bartender another coin. “So is there a reward out for him, or what?”
”No, nothing like that, he got a suspended sentence and was exiled.” The bartender replied. “Of course, if he ever showed up planetside again there are a whole mess of people who’d like to see him fed into the trash incinerator, that’s for damn sure.”
“Yeah, and anyone he was with too I’ll wager!” Jonah laughed nervously. Taking his drink, he spun about on his heel and bought a pair of sunglasses from the first person who’d take ten platinum for them.
He strode directly to Worth, who was trying not to look at a nearby flydart board that had his mug shot imprinted on it. Tossing him the sunglasses, he said, “You owe me twenty plat, ‘Worthless,’ Now put those on.” Sheepishly, Worth added the shades to his improvised disguise.
Just as Jonah was about to tear into Worth about his sins of omission concerning his familiarity with Beylix, the Doc appeared as if from nowhere. “Okay, I’ve greased the right palms and I’ve got five minutes with Mr. Prentice. You guys coming?” He looked at the hooded and bespectacled Worth Evans. “What’s with the shades?”
“Shut up and show us the way,” Worth said as the trio made their way through the crowd. He and Jonah got into a serious whisper-argument while the Doc led them to a nondescript-looking door at the rear of the fighting den. The door was guarded by six feet of solid muscle who wore an earbud transmitter and a grim expression. The Doc whispered something in the thug’s ear, and he opened the door.
The difference between the fighting den and the offices beyond was greater than night and day. Wood-paneled walls gleamed under a glaze of honeyed varnish, leather furniture was arranged just so, and there was the largest Corvue screen any of the crew had ever seen dominating one wall. Seated in front of it were three well-dressed drones working a complex array of computer workstations, watching all five robot fights simultaneously on screen and tabulating a flood of electronic wagers.
Then they were ushered past the gambling operation into an even more opulently decorated antechamber, where a white-haired man in a bespoke suit was exchanging pleasantries with a very fancy lady on an overstuffed settee upholstered in material that was probably worth more than their ship. The man nodded to the Doc, but then his eyes narrowed as he realized who had just walked in with him.
“Now I don’t normally open up my operation to just anyone, and especially not the Betrayer of Beylix.” Prentice snarled.
Just as his guards were about to forcibly usher Worth and company out, the Doc wriggled free and said, “Mr. Prentice, we’re here on behalf of Sai McKittrick. He gave us a message to relay to you.” The Doc held out the recording device, which YJ had given him before he left the ship.
“You’ve got five seconds, or else the next scheduled fight’s gonna have a warm-blooded twist to it.” Prentice scowled and took the recording stick, pressing play. McKittrick’s message then played out, and Prentice’s scowl deepened at its conclusion. “Guess we can do business after all.”
“Okay, here’s how it’s going to go. The methane collection field is a great haystack if you’re looking to hide a needle. I’ve got storage units buried all over the place out there. All you have to do is fly overhead, winch down your cargo and we’ll tuck it into one of the units just as nice as you please. Your pilot got a steady hand?” Jonah nodded. “Then you’re good to go,” Prentice replied.
Prentice gave the crew a beacon frequency and the drop location and wished them good luck, all the while giving Worth the stink eye. The trio hustled out of the fight den and back out onto the surface, Worth once again taking no notice of the sense-crushing stench of the rotting trash.
They made their way back aboard the Firefly to find YJ waiting for them. “You know they run droid fights here? They got a whole channel dedicated to it on the Cortex.”
“Yeah, we know.” Jonah said.
“Any trouble?” YJ inquired.
“Nope, not at all.” Worth said, a little too quickly.
Jonah kept his mouth shut, waiting until he could gather his thoughts.
“Well, it went pretty well, except Prentice didn’t seem to like Worth all that much for some reason.” The Doc said, mystified.