As Daniel sauntered past the pile of crates, he snatched the lone pad sitting atop the stack. Once the screen flared to life, he thumbed through the files. Halfway through the documents, his head fell to his shoulder as he lifted the top from the nearest box. With a sigh, the captain turned toward the massive fellow and poked him with the tablet’s edge. “Robert, is everything on this manifest packed into those containers?”
Laughter bubbled out of Robert and his crew as the jolly mountain thumped the metallic mound with his palm. “Nothing on that list is large enough to require an inordinate number of boxes.”
As the mirth filled the air, a streak of white raced across the night’s sky. Daniel touched his ear while tapping the pile. “Let’s grab the goods and get them loaded into the ship.”
Instantly, the Scythe’s ramp hissed and cracked open, revealing a handful of Daniel’s crew. Once the slab passed the halfway point, Cecil, Harlan, and Franco sauntered down the lowering incline.
“Is there a reason you kept those strapping crewmen on your vessel while you waited for us to unload the cargo?”
The captain wrapped his arm around Robert’s shoulders, easing his head down. With a smirk, Daniel thumped his counterpart’s chest with the tablet. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, my friend.”
“That’s an incredibly insulting thing to say,” Robert said, stepping away from Daniel’s grasp.
“Robert, nothing we’re doing in this desolate patch of earth is what anyone would consider legal.” Daniel twisted his head and pointed at the containers. “Gents, get those crates stowed aboard the Scythe on the double.”
With a series of nods, the three members of Daniel’s crew gathered all but a single box.
As they marched toward the ship, Daniel turned back to Robert, tightening his grasp. “We could land on any world and have those pesky enforcement officers show up and arrest us for this exchange. It’s that simple reason that my pilot is ready to activate our craft and help keep me and mine out of the grasping fingers of the enforcers.”
Robert pushed Daniel off him and scrubbed at the stubble lining his chin, as Daniel’s trio disappeared into the Scythe. With a grunt, Robert pointed at the steam trickling from the rear of the vessel. “If the authorities were to break up this exchange, would you honestly abandon me?”
“If you plan your defeats, all your surprises will be victories,” Daniel said, tapping the holster strapped to his thigh. “It doesn’t matter if they are trivial or significant.”
Robert’s hand drifted under his coat as he whipped toward the unknown sound.
“Robert Duvaine,” a stranger said, leveling a gun at the massive captain. “You and your crew are to stand down for violating the commerce of controlled substances.”
“I can’t believe you’re throwing me to the wolves.”
Daniel shook his head as he slammed his palm into Robert’s back. While the larger man stumbled, Daniel whirled around, grabbing the last box and bolted toward his ship. After a few thundering heartbeats, the captain yanked the radio free, pulling it to his lips. “Lay down covering fire!”
“If we do that, the locals will reply in kind.”
A growl tore itself from Daniel’s throat as he glanced over his shoulder. “Laurie, the enforcers showed up attempting to terminate the exchange. Do you believe they’re planning on letting anyone escape this rock?”
“The law is here to keep us from earning a living, Rachel.” Torrents of energy slammed into the ground, showering Daniel with debris. As the rubble tumbled off the captain, he swallowed a curse. “Come pick me up!”
The Scythe rose from the earth, throwing bolts of light into the fray, forcing the enforcers and Robert’s crew under cover.
“I know you are busy trying not to die, Daniel. But you’re going to have to explain why Robert is attempting to kill you.”
“Not now, Rachel,” Daniel said as more torrents of energy slammed into the ground at his feet.
As the ship neared, Daniel dove through the opening, landing on the floor.
“The captain’s joined us with the last of the goods.” Harlan smashed the button beside the hatch, sealing the cargo hold. Once the hissing stopped, Harlen walked over to his employer and pulled him off the ground. “Could you explain what happened out there?”
Daniel dropped the tablet onto the loose crate and shoved it across the deck with his foot. When it ceased moving, he cracked his neck. “Please tell me we weren’t the reason the authorities surprised us?”
“There’s no way they followed Laurie, boss.”
The captain banged his forehead with his palm and blew out a rough breath. “Robert needs to pay more attention to the wake of his ship.” He hustled to an intercom, activating the line. “Make sure we alternate our signature.”
“We’ve been doing that since you walked off the ship.”
With a nod, Daniel punched the hull. “We have plenty of time before the delivery is due, so ensure our journey is as circuitous as possible.”
“You mean like the trip you already planned?”
“I’ll accept your lip, Laurie, but only if you’re the one out here dodging explosions, debris, and lawmen. Is that a fair deal?”
“If I’m remembering the role you demanded of me, I am never supposed to leave this seat when my fancy flying is required to keep us alive or out of the clutches of any enforcer. However, if you insist, I’d be more than happy to swap places with you at the next available opportunity.”
Harlan chuckled, clapping Daniel’s back. “You know she’s not wrong, boss.”
“We’ll discuss this later.” Daniel’s fingers tightened into a fist as the fury behind his eyes threated to melt through the ship’s wall. “However, right now, I want you to execute the job description you so eloquently provided and keep the law from rounding us up.”
“One step ahead of you, boss.”