"So what's your cargo, stretch?"
"You think I'm going to fall for that a second time, Myra?"
She spreads her hands on the table innocently, but the effect is somewhat ruined by her impish grin. I answer her unspoken question.
"You know what I mean. Three weeks ago I told you what I was carrying in my ship, and before I left port you had figured out who was my client, who his enemies were, which route I was taking and how much you could get paid to hijack it from me. I'm not telling you anything."
"Oh, come on Mason, it's no fun if you don't play too."
I folded my arms and sat back from the table, glaring at Myra until she left, pouting. Successful smugglers are not made on friendly rivalry. I am learning this the hard way.
Later, when I am loading my cargo - exotic spices for some off world merchant - I notice Myra hiding badly among the crates.
"Myra, come on! What exactly do you think you're doing?"
She answers as she comes out, "I need you to get me off this rock and somewhere into the outer systems."
About six questions and two alarm bells go off in my head. I leave the big one for last.
"Why can't you do it yourself? You're a smuggler like me. This is what we do."
"I'm using my ship as a decoy. Tonight I've paid some local kid to steal it for a distracting joy ride."
So it's that serious. Myra would never abandon her ship - her livelihood - unless her life depended on it.
"Why me? I know you know other smugglers back in that bar."
"Because you don't work like they do. Cutthroat and highest bidder only. You're honest. It's a weakness in the business, but right now I'm glad you have it."
I know it's half an insult, but it's half compliment too, so I'll take it. I've always been an optimist.
"Okay," I say, "I'll do it." Her eyes light up, then get minutely suspicious.
"Why haven't you asked what happened or how much I can pay?"
"Because knowing what happened is my price. I'll take you if and only if you tell me why, and you spare no details. I think you're telling the truth, your bill is paid in full. I think you're lying, I leave you here at the mercy of whatever thugs you've double-crossed."
The way her mouth starts forming, then abandoning words, I can tell she had a fake cover story ready. I wait for her to gather her thoughts properly.
"I lost a shipment."
"For someone important and dangerous, I assume."
"You know Renburg?"
"Is that one of the big asteroids they're mining?"
She nods, and adds "And the company that's mining it. They've branched out, though, and they take a bit of a ... hostile approach to acquiring new ground."
"Well, there was a bit of a dispute over a moon owned by a small monarchy. They couldn't defend themselves, so they paid me to smuggle out their son."
I chuckle. "So, what, you lost His Royal Highness' matched luggage?" Sad, pleading eyes. "Oh, no. You didn't."
"I lost the boy."
"Dang, Myra! ... So the royals are after you?"
"Renburg too. It's a mess."
I pinched my nose. I had one of those Myra headaches coming on. But what else could I do?
"Okay, you'd better keep your head down. We still have to get out of here, then you can tell me exactly where we're going."
She raced ahead to the passenger bunk, simultaneously relieved and gleeful. Somehow I'm pretty sure I still haven't heard the half of it.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - I'm not sure what kind of history Mason and Myra have, but it's not all positive.
PPS - And, technically, there's nothing about this story that has to be sci-fi. I just like those settings.