Jako sat in a dark little room, only accompanied by Syldies big pink backpack and by the rusty swinging light that undulated overhead. The Captain had shoved her in there twenty minutes ago and told her to wait for Tular, whatever that meant.

Every time the light swung by, it made an awful rusty creaking noise. She wasn sure how much more she could take. Syldie would have told her to grin and bear it. Therefore- if only for now- she would grin and bear it.

After a few more minutes of waiting, a person- Jako couldn tell their race or gender because they were wearing a horrendously oversized military jacket- entered the room and sat down at the opposite end of the table, brandishing a hefty ray machine gun towards Jako.

”Are you Tular? ” Jako asked, hoping that her reprieve was coming soon.

”The one and only. Hey- you might wanna take your hand out of the backpack. ”

Jako looked over. She was still gripping the ray gun in the backpack, but to an onlooker it seemed like she just had her hand stuck in there.

”I don want to do that, but thank you anyways, ” Jako chirped with a ditzy smile on her face.

”Fine, whatever. This is your employment contract. Once you sign it, wait outside, and don even think of running for it- there will be guards at every exit. ”

”Oh, boy- I thought you guys were a big gang of illegal pirates! How come you need employment forms? I figured youd put me in shackles and make me turn a mill wheel, or something like that. ”

Tular raised one eyebrow.

”So, tell me about the pay for this job. Does it pay kind of a lot or does it pay a whole lot? ”

”Captain Nanobeard handles that stuff. ”

”Nanobeard? Wow, is that his real name? ”

”Look, just sign the contract, okay? ”

Jako feigned innocence as best she could. It would be best if the pirates underestimated her. Sure, she was stupid, but shed make them think she was mega-stupid.

”Where do I sign? ” Jako flipped the paper upside down, paying no mind to the giant red SIGN HERE box.

”You sign where it says SIGN HERE. ”

”Oh, silly me, ” said Jako, slapping her forehead with her free hand and sticking her tongue out. ”Ah, hold on a minute, let me just read this thing! ”

It had taken Jako about a minute to become annoyed by the sound of the swinging light when she first entered the room. While she read the contract, she hoped Tular would slowly begin to break down. Syldies voice egged her on in the back of her head.

”This contract pertains to, and only to, the- ”

Jakos attempt to read the contract out loud and drag Tular further insanity was foiled by the swinging light, which passed the table and decided to illuminate the wall instead.

”Look, you don have to read the whole thing! ”

Normally, Jako would agree, but she had a mission, and so she feigned surprise.

”But how am I supposed to enter into a legally binding contract if I don know what it says? ”

A growl escaped Tulars throat, but they didn object.

When the light swung back over the table, Jako picked up where she left off- ”and only to, the one who signs it in the designated box. The conditions therein shall remain active until- ”

The light swung past again. Tular clutched their skull and fire swelled inside their eyes. Jako suspected that steam would pour out of their ears soon- or maybe that was something that just happened in cartoons.

”My, my, ” said Jako, ”Im having a mighty hard time reading this thing with the light going back and forth like that. Would you care to read it out loud for me? ”

As soon as those fateful words left her lips, Tular snatched the contract out of Jakos hands, dropped their gun, and began to rattle off each term with starling accuracy.

”The conditions therein shall remain active until the signers employment is terminated by a Crossbone Galleons L.L.C. executive with the power to terminate said employment…. ”

”…signing below, the signer forfeits all personal rights granted by the Interglactic Right-Granting Treaty, including but not limited to the right to an attorney, the right to free warp travel, the right to work, the right to consume, and the right to… ”

”…purpose of the signature will be to demonstrate, with no additional required proof, that the signer has read and understood the contents of the above document and the ramifications of said contents… ”

”…your signature can and will be used against you. To confirm that you understand the contents of the above document, please sign in the box below. ”

The captive and the captors eyes met across the table. One pair of eyes was about to boil over- the other pair was as placid as a mountain pond on Arythia. She was either a zen master or someone with nothing behind her eyes… or both. Tular was hopelessly intimidated.

”Ill sign. Do you have a pencil? ”

The pencil was already there. It sat on the table right in front of Jako.

”It- its rrrright there! ”

”Ah, silly me. ”

Jako gripped the pencil in a firm fist as if shed never held one before in her life. Then, making sure to cover up the paper as Syldie had told her to long ago, she scribbled something down.

”Why are you covering it up? ”

”If I tell you what Im writing, the contract won come true! ”

Tulars hands grasped wildly towards Jakos neck, but they stopped themselves before doing something theyd definitely regret.

e supposed to write your name! Not anything else, not something secret, your name! ”

”I know, I know. Im just yanking your chain. Calm down- here it is. ”

Tular took one glance at the signature and swung their red-hot eyes back at Jako.

”What language is this written in? ”

”Russet Beltish. I come from the Russet Belt, yknow. Can really write in any other script. ”

That was only partially a lie- Jakos handwriting in standard scripts was nigh-unreadable, so Syldie generally did anything that wasn typeable. She was occupied at the moment, though.

”Fine, and this smiley face next to the signature box? ”

”Its to brighten up your day since you seem so down in the dumps. ” Jako offered up a flirtatious wink that put Tular one camels-back-breaking-straw away from total hysterics. Before their fuse ran out entirely, they got up and stormed out of the room, contract in hand. Jako reached for their ray gun, which they had left on the floor, but they swooped back in to retrieve it- the green elf pretended to be leaning down to tie her shoes, but realized too late that she had worn slip-ons.

”Im keeping an eye on you, ” hissed Tular.

”Likewise, ” said Jako, winking the other eye. The door slammed shut so fast it almost broke the sound barrier. Loud footsteps stomped down the hallway, and then there was silence, save for the creaky light.

Minutes later, the Captain himself opened the door.

”Tular must have liked ye, ” he said. ”She didn even fire off any warning shots. ”

”I think she liked me a lot too. ”

”Then youll ave a peachy time working under her. Remember: the second you step out o line, that contract makes it perfectly legal for us to zap you long as you
e on our turf. ”

”Good thing Ill stay in line, then! ”

”Thats what I like to hear. Ye know, back at the exit, I certainly wa
t expecting ye to give in so easy. Ye value yer own life, aye? ”

”For sure. Whats my first assignment, boss-man? ”

”Call me Captain. ”

”Aw, but do I have to? ”

”Ye said ye value yer life, right? ” Captain Nanobeards robotic hand suddenly turned into a robotic claw.

”Its just a real bummer. Say, do you come in and talk to every new recruit one-on-one like this? ”

e a special case. Not every day we capture a ship and get a new scullery maid out of it! ”

Jako rested her chin on her hands and batted her eyelashes, giving off a perfect aura of naiveté.

”A scullery maid? I do hope the work isn strenuous. ”

The laugh that escaped the Captains throat in response was cruel and almost sadistic, When he finished, he wiped false tears from his good eye with his good hand.

”I can promise anything, greenie. ”

”My name is Jacqueline Langston. ”

”I thought it was Jako Langst. ” Nanobeard scowled and scratched the side of his chin, deep in thought, straining to remember what he had read earlier.

”Just a little nickname, ” said Jako, lying with all the finesse she could muster. ”What was it you said? Greenie? I like it. ”

”Fine, en. Greenie it is. Greenie, come this way and let me show ye yer quarters. ”

She got up and folded one hand in front of her waist- she wouldve looked like the perfect demure lady if it weren for her scrappy outfit and her other hand, which was still in the backpack behind her.

In every room Jako was led through- the crusty dining hall full of rowdy crewmembers, a treasure cache stacked high with odds and ends from around the galaxy, and even an onboard water park with swimming pools shaped like skulls- she heard whispering, and she felt the eyes of hundreds of pirates staring up at her. She struck confident poses and her demure walk turned into a strut- maybe she could use their admiration to her favor.

Finally, they arrived in a rickety wooden hallway. A flotation ring hung on the wall, as did a rusty anchor- neither of much use in space.

”Yer room is at the end there. And yer uniform is on the bed- might be too small, though. We meant it for the short pink one. ”

There was no way Jako would fit into any clothes meant for Syldie, but she clasped her hands by her chin and tried to exude glee at the prospect of wearing a uniform. Then, left to her own devices as Captain Nanobeard retreated down the hall, she entered her room and found that it exceeded her expectations in every way- she expected it to be kind of bad, but it was the worst-looking bedroom shed ever seen, even with her many years of experience as a courier.

The pillow was a square piece of memory foam with holes worn right through it, mold coated the edges of the mattress, and the seams between the walls and the ceiling bursted with what looked to her untrained eye like an undiscovered species of fungus. The only clean thing in the whole room- which, mind you, was slightly smaller than her personal chambers back on the SyKo- was the uniform that sat, folded messily, on the bed. She made sure her hands never came into contact with the mattress while picking it up.

It resembled the stereotypical uniform of an old-timey tavern wench, but it was far too small for her- the skirt wouldn even reach her crotch if she were to put it on. She noticed a headband below the outfit and slid it on over her bandana to prove she had made an effort, then left the disgusting room- which was slovenly, even by her lax standards.

The bathroom down the hall didn fare much better in terms of cleanliness, but it was larger than the bedroom and had no fungus growing on the roof. Jako sat on the toilet, pants still up, and finally took the massive backpack off, letting go of the ray gun that she really thought shed have used by now.

”The coast is clear, ” she said in the loudest whisper one could imagine.

The backpack wriggled and jiggled, and then the zipper slid open with a loud zzzzzip!

Syldie writhed, splayed out on the floor, taking enormous deep breaths.

”Good to see you- ”

Suddenly, the pink elf sprung up and begun to shake Jako by her collar, which was now within reach because the taller elf was sitting down.

”Hey, and what was that back there, huh? I even kicked you to let you know to jump, and you just went with the pirate captain? And became his servant? This has gotta be a new low! ”

Jako thought back to the kick shed received near the exit.

”Oh, so that was you? I thought it was my imagination! Plus, I thought it meant to go with the captain and avoid getting killed. Don worry, I didn really sign the- ”

”You thought… it was your IMAGINATION? ”

Syldie collapsed back onto the floor in the fetal position, whimpering. Both of the elves had given up trying to be quiet.

”Look: On the bright side, my half of the mission went off without a hitch. According to Find-My-Ship, the SyKo is auto-warping its way to Polyluna, and the pirates think Im on board. Now we just have to alter phase two of the plan… hey, did you say you didn really sign the contract? But I heard your conversation back there, and it sounded like- ”

”Don worry, ” Jako assured Syldie. ”Youll see very soon. ”

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