The First Job:
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon…Dammit.
The cigarette was practically smoking itself at this point. The ashen remnants still clung to the rest of its spent body promising to let go just as soon as Hollis Yard realized he was still alive and decided to move. He’d lit it only moments ago, stuck it between his lips as he sat at the forefront of the ship, a small extended prominence of metal jutting out by the windows allowed him to lay there and just stare out into space. Stars skittered by as slowly as dust falling in a stream of sunlight. His eyes had drooped just as the cigarette itself hung limply now on his lower lip, but he hadn’t moved a muscle, nor did he want to, it would only remind him how hungry he truly was.
He felt dead, or as close to it as he’d ever recalled. He briefly remembered the time he’d been shot three times. Two in his chest and one in his thigh. That was pretty bad, he thought. He’d taken up smoking right at that moment. A pack lay there falling out of the front pocket of the dead friend that had just tried to kill him. Three bullets and he couldn’t hit one vital organ. Some friend. He deserved Hollis shooting him and stealing his pack.
His stomach growled and he was recalled to life. His eyes fell down to his thin waist as he bent slightly hoping to dislodge some spare piece of whatever the hell it was he’d eaten two days ago, but nothing fell into his gut. Only the slim crumbled snake of his cigarette fell between his legs and shattered into tiny particles. For the briefest second Hollis thought about eating it.
“Hol?” Came the voice of Yates Barge who was sitting up the stairs at the wheel of the ship. “Hol?!”
Yates was sitting in his captain’s chair centered behind the control panels and wide steering column. He’d modeled the area, his area, after old pictures of pirate ships, but the only part of it that remotely resembled one was the wide wooden wheel he’d had installed before he’d ever even taken the thing into the sky. Had he done so afterward he immediately would have thrown it out into space to burn up in the atmosphere of Moraan where he’d thought he found a steal of a ship.
“I’m starting a business of my own.” He’d told the salesman. “I just need something that will get me to and from where I need to get. Whenever I need to get there.”
Perhaps had he been accustomed to purchasing ships on Moraan he’d have known that ships on Moraan were often stolen and neglected junk heaps. As it was, he hadn’t been aware, and it being his first ship he just accepted the deal, paid far too much for the worst kind, and was now broke, hungry, and desperately in need of completing his first job which he’d accepted just before enlisting Hollis in his company.
“HOL?!” Yates shouted as his only companion turned his head slowly around to look at him with sunken eyes and a vacant expression as the last of the cigarette burnt away and flew up into the metal frame. “Bout time you heard me. I been callin your name for more than a minute.”
“What can I do for you, Yates?” Hollis loosely answered.
“I want to know if you can see where we’re going?”
“That’s great. Well, can you see where we’re going?”
“Dammit, Hol, I’m asking where?!”
“I don’t know. That way.” Hollis answered pointing straight out the window. “Why are you asking me? Don’t you have screens up there that tell you where you’re going?”
“Of course I do…I just haven’t figured them out yet.”
“Well, you should probably figure it out quick because we’re coming up on the station.”
“Dammit! That’s what I was asking! Is it to the right or left?”
“Thank you.” Yates harrumphed as he turned the wheel, the nose of the ship falling into line with a wide floating space station.
“Huh. That it then? I sort of expected more from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.” Yates said.
“They say the place’s beauty is on the inside.”
“I guess they would say that of a station solely for women.”
“Speaking of, how were you expecting to get in there? If you haven’t noticed we’re two chest pieces down and one groin piece too many to set foot in that place. And it’s not like you can just tell them that we’re here to pick up your sister or something. And the truth would probably be an even worse idea.”
“Oh? You think maybe the sister excuse has been used before?”
“Seriously? That was your plan? I’m sure they’ve heard it so many times they’ve probably started making sport out of anyone dumb enough to use it. Man, how did you rope me into this?”
“The way I recall it I asked if you wanted to make some quick money and you were in.”
“After I made you get me coffee. Man, was that really the last thing I had to eat? Coffee?” His stomach growled as if to answer his question.
“Well, to answer your question, no, I was not planning on telling them my sister was in there.”
“Care to tell me what the plan is then?”
“Well, remember when I first met you after buying this here beauty?” Yates said patting the control panel of his ship. “I told you I was looking for someone just like you for a job I had taken.”
“Yep, you noticed the service tag chain around my neck and asked if I knew how to handle a gun. I said I’d used one on occasion, and you said that’d be perfect. I asked if you needed me to shoot someone, and you laughed at me and said ‘Not unless you have to.’ You said this was a simple bail bond thing, someone skipped on their parole, so we were gonna bring them back for a little credits.”
“You remember pretty good. Like I said though, I was looking for someone just like you for this job. I needed someone that looked like you.”
“You’re thin, a lot of guys like that. Your chest is flat but these days most women’s are. And that long hair of yours, put a comb through it and I’m sure it’ll look nice enough. All you need is a little preparation and we’ll get you on board the Gardens Spa.”
“Please tell me this is a joke? You can’t be serious?”
“Oh I’m serious. See here?” Yates said throwing a bag towards Hollis on the lower deck. “I even got you those to wear.”
Hollis reached into the bag and pulled out a bulky purple dress and beneath it a fluffy pink robe and a small makeup kit.
“Now just a damn minute, this was your rodeo. Where’s your dress?”
“Me? I’m a forty year old man whose skin would give him away even if this gruff voice of mine didn’t do it for me. I told you I needed your look, and here you are.”
“Tell me then, how much is this job worth?”
Yates smiled. “That’s the good part. This one’s on the galactic tables, she’s wanted you see. This pays twenty-five grand.”
“That much?” Hollis said eyeing the dress again. “And I get half?”
“You get half, so long as you do your part. I got the ship and the job, I need you to get in there and pull out our quarry.”
“Well. We’re already here. And it’s not like you have anything onboard to eat, so this will be the only chance I have of not starving to death. Guess I’ll go get ready.”
Hollis got up as Yates shouted after him, “Don’t forget to shave.”
The ship docked without issue. Yates had answered the communication when they were within distance. Hollis had readied himself and was standing by his new partner’s side when Yates said he was dropping off the missus for a full treatment. He’d be allowed to stay docked for the day, but men wouldn’t be allowed onboard. He agreed happily and gave Hollis a jovial squish saying he just needed his little lady to come back happy.
Hollis exited the ship and was greeted by a fair dark skinned woman in a bathing suit and heels who handed Hollis a tall water with some cucumbers floating around. Immediately Hollis took the straw and speared the couple rounds and downed them in a quick gulp. He realized how un-ladylike this must have appeared afterward.
“Don’t worry about it.” The girl giggled. “You aren’t the first starving little thing to come in here. Bet that husband of yours thinks you only like eating carrots and crackers for dinner.”
“Oh, yes, that lug is hopeless.” Hollis responded in his best falsetto.
The girl led him through the wide bright corridors to his room, an accommodation offered to all guests. The door slid open and there was a wide bed, velvet comforter pulled back to reveal fluffy white sheets beneath. The walls were draped in dark curtains that shimmered in the pale light.
“Oh I know, it’s beautiful. Here at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon we aim to make every individual feel like a queen, and so we offer anything you could possibly need, even if, like yourself, you will not be staying overnight. Please just let us know if anything is not satisfactory. Oh, and your husband asked that you call him as soon as you got settled. Please, make yourself at home, and when you’re ready I will be outside and can direct you toward your first activity.”
The girl smiled and left Hollis to sit back on the plush bed. After the two days of sleeping on what could be described as a metal futon, this was heavenly. He didn’t want to get up, but the cucumber had already been rabidly digested and he wanted to find some food as soon as possible. He keyed in the code to contact Yates, and soon his partner’s face was stretched on the wide screen above the dresser along the wall.
“You wanted me to call?”
“How’s it going, honey?” Yates laughed.
“I’m half tempted to stay a woman. The bed here is a lot more comfortable than what you’re offering on that heap of yours.”
“I wouldn’t suggest it. I don’t have the money for your stay. That’s why you need to collect our person and get out quick. Understand?”
“What? How’d you get me in then?”
“I have a fake credit line, it won’t go sour for at least an hour or more. Plenty of time for you to get the job done.”
“One hour and you expect me to try and make a break for it? Haven’t you heard the stories about this place? The women here are supposed to be like Amazons. I heard of only one man that got on board this place, and he came back in pieces, shipped to the school buddies that put him up to it.”
“All the more reason to be quick about this job. Don’t waste time getting pampered. And I don’t think I need to remind you not to go anywhere without your robe on.”
“I can’t believe you put me up to this. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”
“Just make sure it isn’t the last. See you soon.”
The communication shut off and the wall went black again. Hollis exited in his robe and saw the woman from before waiting for him.
“Oh, honey. Was that thing a gift? That doesn’t flatter you at all. You are free to use one of our sheer robes in the closet. Your husband doesn’t have to know.”
“Oh, that’s okay. This was my mothers, so I wear it for sentimental reasons.” Hollis answered with a tried giggle.
“We don’t judge here, now what would you like first? Dinner isn’t scheduled for another hour, but I can get you some crackers in the mean time? You can relax in your room, in the spas, or perhaps you’d like to get a massage first?”
“Crackers? Sure, that’ll do for now. And I was curious; I had a friend that was supposed to be staying here. I’m sure she’s off relaxing somewhere and I was just wondering if you knew where Amelia Vancer might be? ”
“Miss Vancer? Why she’s been here almost a full week now.” The girl stated as if trying to hold the smile on her face. “She’s very…strong willed. But you’d find her in the spa of course. She barely leaves except to sleep.”
“Well, I would like to find her. I’ll head to the spa.”
“Well then, the spa is down this hall and through the changing rooms. Please feel free to head on in. I’ll bring you some crackers momentarily.”
Hollis headed down the hallway and through the changing room until the complex opened up completely. Before him was a great sort of constructed steaming lake. Flora and fauna grew up and around the enclosure. Trees with light colorful leaves stood above the waters losing their petals into the heated waters. If Hollis’ attentions hadn’t been averted, even he likely would have found it to be beautiful. As it was though, the hundreds of naked women walking around, lying about, and relaxing in the waters was far more inviting to his eyes at the moment. Hollis suddenly became very aware how hard it would be to maintain this farce. He really felt like a cigarette just now.
Hollis thought back to his short briefing with Yates. He was applying his makeup as best he could while Yates showed him a series of photographs of the woman they were to capture. She was just over six foot, about two inches taller than Hollis and with a build that put his to shame. Not only was her body in peak shape, but her womanly proportions were also at their peak.
Hollis walked around the circumference of the spa. Looking at the many relaxing bodies on lain back chairs, glistening in the heat as moisture bled off of their thighs and chests. Hollis made sure his robe was securely tied in the front. He continued on all the way around but never spotted the woman he’d come here for. He conceded that he’d have to get into the water. He thought of the time he got shot, how each bullet felt, the tear as it entered through his flesh. After a few minutes of this continual thought, he pulled the robe off, and unlike the many women here whom had forgone their clothing entirely, he let the long draping swimsuit cover fall over his body to just the tops of his thighs as he quickly stepped into the near-burning water where he quickly sunk down and felt the burning of his skin where he’d only recently shaved.
He floated for a moment while the sense of feeling came back to him, and then began swimming out toward the center where a monumental structure stood, tiered and flowing with waterfalls. There, atop the great structure beneath trees that hung their follicle-like branches all around in a veiled wall, was the face of Amelia Vancer.
Hollis used a the steps to make his way to the top where another small pool of water sat and only Vancer lounged beneath their bubbling waters. Hollis was almost thankful, for the moment, that her body was hidden beneath the churning waters.
“Hello there.” Hollis flimsily spoke. “Mind if I join you?”
The woman opened her eyes but didn’t smile. With a bothered tone she responded, “Whatever suits you.”
“Oh, why thank you.” Hollis said quickly wading into the water while keeping his lengthy suit just where it needed to be.
“My name is Holly; this is my first time here.” Hollis began. “And you are?”
“Relaxing.” Vancer responded.
“Well, isn’t it though? Relaxing? Why a person could forget all of their troubles.”
“Do you mind? I’m not here to make friends.”
Hollis could feel his stomach again. The heat was only increasing his hunger and depleting what energy he still had. Any moves he was going to make had to be made soon. While he thought about how best to handle this, the water suddenly started to become still as the bubbles died down, and the body of Amelia became vividly clear and Hollis’ eyes fell just below the water line.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Haven’t you ever seen breasts before? Well, never mind I saw you before you jumped in and you probably haven’t. Poor girl. Well, I’m off then. I’ve been bothered long enough.” She stood up and began walking up the steps to head down the side of the small structure.
Hollis didn’t even think before he started after her, his eyes blurring and his body weak from all the heat. Immediately Vancer spun around annoyed at being followed.
“Look, Harlot, I came here to be left alone and not…” Her eyes fell on Hollis as he stepped out of the water onto the declining steps. “WHAT THE FUCK?”
Hollis immediately realized what had alarmed her. The heat had not been the only factor in his light headedness. The short draping swimsuit of his was only short enough to cover him if a person was to look straight at him, not up, and after what he’d just been staring at it was certain she could see he wasn’t a woman. With the last ounce of energy he had he grabbed at the back of his bathing suit under the short number and pulled out a small tranquilizer gun. He pulled the trigger and she fell almost instantaneously down into the water unconscious.
Hollis scrambled down the steps and quickly pulled her face up so she didn’t drown. He could hear people shouting, no doubt having noticed that something was going on. Hollis shoved the small gun back into his waistband just before a number of bodies swam up to them and helped escort the limp body back to shore. Hollis followed closely behind and watched as a team of medics rushed to collect the body and wheeled her out of the spa.
Hollis waited a moment, then found his own way out of the water away from the gathered women. He grabbed his robe, tied it securely, then headed out after where the medics had exited. Once out into the hallway he found himself face to face with the girl who’d welcomed him bringing a small plate of about four crackers.
“Oh my, Holly! Did I just see the medics wheeling Miss Vancer away? What happened?”
“She feinted, poor dear. Where can I find the medical unit?”
“Just down the hall, follow the signs, it will be on the left past the massaging parlor and just before the cafeteria.”
“Thanks.” Hollis said grabbing the crackers and stuffing them into his mouth and nearly swallowed without chewing.
He raced down the hallway until he found the medical unit. Inside two women were checking Vancer’s pulse, her temperature, and plugged her with a small shot of Veradine.
Hollis didn’t know this at the time, but in a week’s time he would never forget it. Veradine was founded on the small moon of Boon outside the planet of Yumair. It was first used as an intensifier for workouts, and for giving soldiers a lasting spark of energy. That was in its heavier and more raw dosage. When the medical field began using it for studies it was an extremely diluted dosage. It proved a most effective drug in countering comas and many fatigue-oriented concerns. But the drug was so isolated with it only being found on a single moon that in common markets it was never used. Only in the more elite circles was such a substance ever found. The only real concern of using Veradine was in the instance of coming into contact with another substance known as Tult. Tult was a very common tranquilizer found in numerous tranquilizing formulas, most often used in subduing wild prey or escaped zoo animals. Although documented in its potential violent reactions, the chance that these two substances would come into contact was so highly improbable that such documentation was only found in medical journals. Of course there were other instances that a person would learn about such things.
Amelia immediately shot up and gripped the throat of the nearest person which happened to be the nurse that was trying to get her blood pressure. Metal trays collided with the ground and shattered the docile environment. Hollis pulled out the gun from his waist band, confused at this sudden turn of events and shot another dart into the chest of Vancer. This did not help.
Vancer became wild, her eyes jaggedly finding their way as they fell on Hollis.
“You!” She seethed behind gritted teeth.
Hollis tried one more time to shoot her with his gun, but he never got to pull the trigger as the nurse suddenly flew into him, knocking him to the ground where his gun slid from his hand. Hollis pushed the nurse off of him but before he could get to his feet the strong body of his victim came pouncing towards him. He had just enough time to react and push his feet up and into her stomach launching her over against the wall behind him.
“What in God’s name…” came a voice from the doorway as Hollis’ attendant entered, her eyes falling on her guest and his exposed lumped bikini. “A man?!”
Vancer came for him again from behind, pulling his arms back hard, trying to dislodge them from his body and screaming like a wild animal. Hollis could hear the attendant yelling down the hallway as alarms began to ring out and stomping feet were quickly approaching down the hall. Hollis grabbed and pulled at Vancer’s nipples and even in her wild haze she let go long enough for him to slip out and kick her back once again just as the doors spread open and four armed women stepped in and trained their guns on Hollis.
He pushed his feet against the cold floor and propelled himself over the gurney they’d wheeled Vancer in on, pulling it down with him as electric bolts sizzled against the bedding. He found the tranq gun that had slid away from him but didn’t need it as the wild Vancer had turned on those nearest to her, the guards that were busy aiming for the male in their midst.
Hollis took his chance of their attentions being occupied and flew over the gurney and pushed at Vancer’s back to bowl over the remaining guards. He only made it a few mad leaps into the hall as another pack of rabid steps clopped down the hallway towards him. He took an immediate left and stopped, the aroma of succulent meats and salted almond-glazed potatoes garnished in something or other permeated the air and his body nearly collapsed at its starvation.
“He went into the cafeteria; a man is on board the Gardens!” a voice shouted from outside just before the deep growl of Vancer bellowed as a few shock blasts sporadically went off and cascaded into another round of more well placed blasts until at last the howling banshee that was Vancer was quiet.
Hollis hadn’t even known his hands were gathering food when he finally came to his senses and flew out the cafeteria door slamming the first face he saw with a roast Quoran the size of a great turkey. The guards, some of them still fazed by the crazed Vancer and the others not knowing the appearance of this man in their midst, were slow to react as the meat flew into the face of their comrade knocking her down, bits of food decorating the surrounding walls as a thin limbed near-woman leaped over the falling guard, his arms curled around a makeshift sack from the lengthy swimsuit number he’d recently been sporting, food flying out in spurts from its haphazardly tied strands. He took off down the adjoining hallway before anyone could bring the muzzle of their weapon to bare. Hollis was on board Yates’ ship plugging the comm to “Go, go, go!” before he even knew what happened.
When Yates came down to check on his new partner, he found the nearly nude slim figure of his Hollis smattered in jellies, juices from meat, and flaking bits of dried potatoes as he lay nearly passed out on the floor, a smile spread wide over his dirtied face.
“Yates. I brought dinner.” Hollis said eyeing his partner through clouding eyes.
“That’s great. Just one question first. What happened to the bounty?”