Get in, do the job, get out, and get paid. That was the plan, but what he swam into on Aquiem was not what he expected. His mind reeled as his hands worked, formulating a new plan to escape this watery planet. Sneaking in here had been tough but getting out was turning out to be tougher. This couldn’t be a one-man takedown anymore.
Standing thigh deep in the scented oil pool, his naked human skin was softer than a baby’s bum. He counted the scales as he worked his way up the customer’s front, the white and blue scaly skin shimmering. Alternating slowly between massaging circles and spooning new oil from the surrounding bath, the oil dripped from her heaving chest and down each crease and divot between the overlapping scales. She sucked in pleasure, a film forming between her lips. He rubbed the oil around each fin, pressing his opposable thumbs in strokes, working the customer into a blissful climax. He mounted her then, straddling her with his back blocking her view as he helped her finish with long, full length caressing strokes from her stomach to her tail. As the fish woman lay there, Sergei was quick to perform the second part of this shady job: milking. Gingerly, from a lip under the table he drew a long silver rod, a sharp barb on one end like those used for ear piercing. He inserted the rod into her, a painless and discrete incision between two scales on her side. Then he pressed against her bulging belly in long full-length strokes, causing caviar to pile out. The eggs slid into the channel that was built into the massage table that they were on, bouncing in the oil, and floating down to the corner. They disappeared through the opening into the hidden net under the table. The customer, in a state of euphoric bliss was ingenuous. She had millions of eggs and losing a few hundred to these predators would be no different than losing them later in the vast ocean of Aquiem. She was only here for a good time.
Sergei stood and waited until the fish woman sat up, her domed eyes smiling. A few pounds lighter, she would feel slim and pretty. Her fin arms smoothed her scaly skin as she primed herself, relaxed and ready to face another day on Aquiem. The table tilted, and she slid to submerge herself into the oily chamber. Like a seal, she gently maneuvered to the door as Sergei pretended not to watch. Without hands like a biped, she paid using her ocular implant at the kiosk before a flick of her tail propelled her through the door and into the circulating river that was the way in and out of the floating brothel and into the open sea.
Sergei sighed. This undercover prostitution was not something he should add to his resume. He really wanted to kill something to balance out how dirty he felt. Blood on his hands was easier to clean than fish goo. He collected his clothing, silky shorts and a billowing shirt, and as he was buttoning it up, Erik came into the room.
“Nice job on that regular,” he quipped. “Boss wants to see us.”
Sergei simply nodded. It was better to stay quiet than worry about what came out of his mouth. He sloshed down the watery hallway, the shelves on either side of the floor higher than the center channel. The water flowed lazily throughout the entire ship. Sergei met a few other downtrodden men, and they moved methodically downstream towards the front of the water ship. At the end of the deck, the water made a loop like a moat around the end room before gushing with suction to the lowest level of the ship. Giving a whole new meaning to the belly of a ship, the bottom deck was fully submerged and was where the water exited and paying customers entered.
One by one, they entered the room. Inessa was waiting for them, standing with one hand on her hip, and she looked irritatingly at every man as they stood inside the door in a line. She was dressed in a dark grey romper; the top was ruffled, and the legs cinched with elastic just below her knees. A gold necklace hung from her delicate neck but like the other gilded treasures in her room, she ignored its beauty, interested only in its value. Wealth was something she flaunted at those without it. Behind her was the true masterpiece, the only window that didn’t face down on this underwater ship. The city of Aquiem accentuated the flecks of plankton and sunlight reflecting in the open ocean with air pockets of floating houses and shops bubbling like smokestacks.
“Prices have gone down,” she said matter-of-factly through thin lips. “Your worth has gone down because of it. If you want to buy your ticket off this world, then you need to step up.”
He tried not to scowl. He knew the real price of caviar. She was milking these idiots worse than the customers! An ounce was over $7,000 credits back on Terrenian. He really needed to take down this evil fishmonger before he drowned from these lies.
Inessa turned her back on them, dismissively. That was it? Then a body, a human body, floated dead past the window toward the surface. Oh, Sergei realized. No, she was demonstrating her dominance. The fear tactic worked; the eyes of the other men bulged, and they averted their gaze to the floor. She waved her hand at them, and they shuffled away. Disgusting, Sergei thought.
In their shared bunked rooms, the men traded sorrows. Several retold their stories of how they got here, each chiming in on their misfortune.
“I’ve got a family somewhere back on Terrenian. I’m never going to get back to see my boy turn thirteen now,” one commiserated.
“A family? How in the hell?” one of the newer recruits replied.
“He’s like me,” explained another. “I thought I was lucky when her ship picked up my escape pod. I’ve been here nine years I think.”
“I thought it was a good gig, a well-paying temporary gig.”
“We’ve gotta get outta here,” said another.
“Well you aren’t swimming I can tell you that.”
“Ya, you need a ship.”
“And not a water ship, a spaceship.”
“I’ve got one of those,” Sergei spoke up without making eye contact.
“I haven’t seen a spaceship in a year!”
“I said I’ve got one of those.” The second time he said it, they heard him.
“What?” The men said in unison.
“I’ve got a spaceship,” Sergei said to the open-mouthed group.
“Then what in the hell are you doing here?”
“I can’t get to it,” Sergei said. It was true. Sort of.
The group looked around at each other, the feasibility of escape itching at their brains.
“What do we need to do? To get to your ship?”
And this was why he hadn’t brought it up before. This was never a rescue mission; it was an assassination. But he needed a new plan and he rolled with the punches. “Well like you said, it’s not a water ship so we gotta get to the surface first.”
Commotion was in every room and hallway on the ship. Rooms were closed and flooded. Confused customers pressed against doors, their fins useless against knobs and latches. Coordinating their attack, Sergei and the others had locked their customer behind, leaving the hallways open. Jointly they could taste the freedom and their tunnel vision of escape spurred violence deck by deck, room by room. The bare torsos of blue, beige, and black of the human and alien men glistened with water, sweat, and hope. Together, the band surprised the first android guards, tripping and pushing them into the hallway canals, their parts swept away with or without legs. Now, they searched for anything that could be used as a weapon. Certainly, Inessa would hear of the uprising and the next androids would be prepared for violence. They would be ready too.
Hanging behind the group, Sergei snuck into the caviar collection room alone. No androids here. They must have been called away already. Inside there were two giant calcium tanks. The water swirled gently, mixing the millions of illegally collected delicious jewels. The globules bumping against each other, the shiny membranes reflecting the overhead lights like spider eyes. He needed to focus on the job first, but those little eggs looked like dollar signs to him. He’d have to come back here before leaving and score him a bonus. He deserved it.
Sergei tapped a wall panel, unhinging it and accessing his hidden possessions. He had snuck on for this job a couple weeks ago, and when he learned of how naked he’d be, he had to stash his gun and remote control. His ship was waiting for him in orbit, and now he activated the homing beacon. He longed to put boots on his feet again and be done with this watery hell hole. Checking his plasma gun, it had been too long since he had charged it and it was dangerously low. Well, if it didn’t misfire it would probably do the job. Sergei hurried to the door again, his next stop the engine room. He checked both directions, then splashed upstream.
At the end of the deck, a waterfall poured over the ladder leading to the next floor. The engine would be that way, at the top where the water started. He held his breath, gripped the rungs and worked up the ladder, the water pounding his shoulder blades. His head poked above and into the pump room.
“Stop.” Sergei didn’t wait to think. He pulled the trigger and blasted the android. Another one down, he thought. He didn’t keep count of the number of living or artificial kills he had in this line of work. Lifting himself the rest of the way up, Sergei watched the hydraulic fluid of the android pool like blood into the six inches of water that covered the entire engine room. “Stop stop stop stop,” the android stuttered as his last command repeated until he buckled with a splash. Sergei kicked the android down the ladder.
Now he turned to the controls. I’m so ready to be dry again, he thought, and flicked the switches that controlled the inlet valves. The lock doors above his head slowly closed, and the water slowed to a stream, then a trickle, and then stopped. At his feet, the water kept flowing down the opening he came through, but the waterline started to recede. Soon enough, with no new water coming in, their buoyancy would rise.
Satisfied, Sergei went to join the rest of the men. He followed the last of the flowing water; a drip-drip was all that was left between floors. The canals were drying up and outside Inessa’s locked room, the sound of the moat gurgled like it was drowning from the air. Almost twenty men waited, the remains of dismantled androids with arms pulled from torsos flanked the door.
“I’ll do the shooting in here,” he instructed. “I don’t want any of you trigger happy and accidentally shooting the window and sending us all to our deaths.”
They nodded at him. It was good advice. Sergei nodded to the group and shot the hinges off the door. They mobbed through to confront their warden.
Inessa sat at her table, spoon in hand, her eyes closed. Relishing her bounty, Sergei could see her throat contract as her tongue caused the caviar to pop as she savored the illicit flavors. She wanted them to wait. She expected them to ask her to beg for her life. But Sergei knew better. He was not going to endure her deceit for one zeptosecond longer. So, he simply raised his arm, aimed carefully and pulled the trigger.
Fizzle, the gun had nothing left. Shit! Now he needed to stall for time while he figured out how to charge his gun. He was about to open his mouth, incite her to dive into the lecture she wanted to give when, ZAP! Behind him, a bolt from another came streaking by.
Sergei, stunned, turned to look at the shooter who was holding an android arm still attached to a gun like a bottle of wine. It wasn’t his gun that would register the kill now. He was not going to get paid for this one.
“What the hell?” Sergei spun around to interrogate the man with his uncharged plasma gun. The man dropped the android arm like it was filling with fire ants, stepping backwards.
“I… I…” he stammered.
“You what? Thought you’d show us your nice shooting skills?” Sergei mocked. The other men flinched, the vehemence in his trained voice bringing them back to their scary new reality. They watched as Inessa’s chin slumped to her chest.
As if on cue, the waves of the surface crested into view. The blue was of the sky now, and through a spattering of clouds, they could see the sun itself. Sensing the air, the ballasts of the water ship triggered and deployed to stabilize against the waves. Sergei heard the familiar sound of his spaceship as it hovered to land on the topside, ready to take him off this damned planet. He turned to his hopeful brethren.
“Don’t think it’s a free ride to Terrenian,” Sergei said, stomping off. “Every last one of those caviar eggs are coming with me.” He sighed exasperatedly as he passed the crowd of hopeful faces that were turning to faces of despair. “And if you help, maybe, just maybe, we’ll call it even.”
Written for NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge Jan 2020