The after-party was delightful, full of flights of beer, a bit of dancing, and the adulation of adoring fans. The only thing that could improve this unbelievable experience was a paycheck in their pockets. For that, the members of Ezekiel’s Flight needed to pay another visit to Izzit.
When they arrived, he was at his usual place behind his dilapidated desk. Stephan opened the door so they could come in.
“Wow, that was really something, team…”
The band entered into the room, which was almost too small for everyone to fit in. Old newspaper clippings, holo-disks, maps, knickknacks, and pictures from the theater’s glory days littered almost every available space of the office. Through all that mess, it was Stephan who first noticed that Izzit was suspiciously tied to his chair.
“Kinky. I see you were throwing your own soft of after-party while we were gone. Can’t blame you though. I meant, we had fun, but this… oh boy… Well, let me get you untied.”
Stephan hurried over and started working at Izzit’s ropes.
“Thank you sir, I got a bit carried away, I admit, but we will get everything sorted out now.”
It was then that Stephan noticed the dagger, which had become a sort of macabre centerpiece of the room.
“Weird. Too bad we already signed the contract. We could have done it in blood.”
ART leaned forward to give the dagger a closer look.
“This dagger bears the marks of the Maestro Clan. I hope you are not in trouble with this disreputable organization, Sir Izzit. Word has it that they are not a party to be trifled with.”
“Out of the mouth of drones…” remarked Vincenzo, from behind. “And, yes, there will be blood, all right. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of such an experience, that’s for sure.”
“Izzit, who is this?” said Jerry.
Stephan turned pale.
“This is Mr. Pirelli. I believe he has some outstanding business with you.”
“Buzz off! We don’t owe anybody anything,” said Q.
“That’s not quite correct. You see, Mr. Gear here owes quite a bit of money to my employers.”
All eyes turned to Stephan, who reflexively shrugged.
“I was going to pay it back. Honestly. Besides I had our best interests in mind at the time..”
“This? This is with our best interests in mind?” said Q.
“Well, not this exactly.”
“Man, and I thought I was dumb,” said Jerry.
“Hey, that’s taking a little too far, don’t you think?”
“I would agree that accruing a debt with an extralegal institution is typically not considered intelligent, in the traditional sense of the word.”
“Thanks, Sunshine. You always have a way of brightening up the situation with ironclad logic.”
Vincenzo cracked his neck, not distracted by the band’s bickering in the least.
“Now, Mr. Izzit here has been kind enough to hand over the proceeds from your performance to pay off your debt. Your take was quite substantial… congratulations.”
“So, we’re clear?” said Jerry.
“Not quite. You see, money is a horrifically boring asset. It has no real value in it. Most of the time, it exchanges hands without a second glance. But my investors want to make it apparent to everyone they do business with that people who fall behind on their payments do not go unnoticed or unpunished. More traditional organizations charge late fees to serve this purpose, we at the Maestro Clan prefer more extreme measures to ensure that business proceeds without a fault.”
Vincenzo pulled out a gun.
“That said, Mr. Gear, who do you consider your most expendable bandmate?”
“You just going to let him stand here and gun us down?” said Stephan, eying the Stardust’s owner.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gear, but my hands are tied. Literally.”
“Cute. Remind me to bring that up when we discuss this later.”
“My patience grows thin. Make your choice.”
ART stepped forward.
The gun went off. ART’s headed exploded into a thousand shimmering bits of wires and gears. Vincenzo returned his gun to the remainder of the company as the robot’s decapitated form his the floor.
“Robots don’t count.”
“You son of a-” said Stephan.
The gun was immediately leveled at the lead singer’s chest.
“Perhaps you’d like make a go of it. ’Captain sacrifices himself for the sake of his friends’… very romantic.”
Stephan stared down the barrel of the gun, and sighed.
“I’m sorry I got you into this mess, guys.
“We’ve gotten out of worse.
“Not this time, Jer. Not this time.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Gear.”
As the goon began to pulled the trigger, a knife flew through the air, into his skull. The impact moved the barrel of his gun upwards, and the blast merely grazed Stephan’s arm, rather than taking out his entire chest. Both of the men fell. Q and Jerry immediately rushed to Stephan’s side. Stephan, however, had his attention focused elsewhere, specifically to Izzit, who now stood with the ropes dangling at his feet.
“Nice throw,” said Stephan, between strained breaths.
“Thank you. We Ziljainians are no strangers to violence, thanks to the war. Sorry about the trouble. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You did what you had to. You’re still an asshole, though.”
“I’ll concede to that. Thank you for loosening my binds, physically and otherwise. I am in your debt.”
“In that case, I’m going to need a beer.”
Stephan’s focus moved over to his downed friend.
“And a fixed robot. Any of you guys need anything?”
Q shook her head.
“Naw. Let’s just get out of here. I remember now why I have a hard time trusting men.”
“All men?” said Jerry.
“Most,” said Q, cutely.
“If everyone’s all well and good let’s get me doctored up, and Izzie?”
“Throw a little extra on top of our returns for the performance, would you?”
“Consider it done. I’ll have the money transferred over immediately.”
Q and Jerry helped Stephan get gingerly to his feet.
“He’s gonna wake up with one nasty headache,” Stephan joked darkly.
Then, the band made a b-line for the door. As they did so, Izzit closed in behind them.
“Oh, sirs! I nearly forgot. Shortly before Mr. Pirelli’s arrival here, we picked up a Stardrive signature in the outer atmosphere. The scout ship he arrived on here would scarcely be able to travel this far alone. Perhaps he brought company.”
“Oh really? Perhaps we ought to pay our respects,” said Q.
“It would only be good manners to do so,” said Izzit
“All right, team. Let’s get the welcome wagon ready.”
For the first time in their recent memories, the members of Ezekiel’s Flight set forth into the future with optimistic expectancy.