With their stolen sonic blaster to help them, the trip to the far-off town of Walshak takes about six hours. After both of them change out of their prison clothing into more appropriate attire, Nick spends most of those six hours idly reading magazines. As for Lex, she pilots for a few minutes, but finally gives up in frustration, sets their course, and puts the ship on autopilot before stomping to the back room.
"What's the matter?" Nick calls after her.
"I want to check on the baby." Her voice is clear through the open door.
"With what? They took all our equipment when they seized our ship, I imagine."
"Psh, no. I asked Matthias to restore everything before we escaped."
"Kind of useful, isn't he, that Matthias?" Nick pretends to be casual and disinterested, flipping to the next page of the magazine.
"Yup." Sounds of rooting through metal object after metal object come through the open door. "This is an absolute pile of junk, Nick. We need to get rid of like ninety-five percent of this nonsense."
"Like what, for example?" he demands indignantly, putting down his magazine. "I hand-picked all of that so-called junk."
"Like this thingy, for instance." She emerges from the room bearing two large metal objects held together with a cord. "What the hell is this, anyway?"
"That's a defibrillator, Lex. It saves your goddamn life when your heart stops."
"Psh. When are we ever gonna need that?"
"If one of our hearts ever stops, we'll be glad we had it."
She goes back into the room and emerges with another object. "And this. What the hell is this?"
"That's a microwave."
She pees at it suspiciously. "It is? Then where's the hatch to put food in?"
"Uh… somewhere. It has to be somewhere. Just put it back, okay? I know what I'm doing. Don't mess with my stuff."
She goes back into the room. More sounds of sorting, then finally silence.
"What've you gotten into back there?" asks Nick suspiciously.
"The ultrasound machine. I think."
"Oh. So how does it look?"
"Uh… I have no idea. I'm looking at a bunch of grey and black blobs. I'm not a doctor, Nick."
"Well, I had some training in that field. Can I take a look?"
A shocked laugh. "Veterinary medicine? What am I, a dog?"
"I'm your only option right now, Lex, so I wouldn't be getting snarky with me if I was you."
"Right. Okay. So can you read an ultrasound?"
"Uh. Kind of."
"Kind of. Well, that's good enough. Get in here."
He does. There's Lex, her shirt pulled up over her stomach, sitting in a creaky wooden chair next to the pile of junk. Beside her rests a large, tarnished metal object. There's a screen on it which shows exactly what Lex said it does—a bunch of grey and black blobs. They move back and forth as Lex moves the little sensor across her belly.
"It keeps kicking," she says in a low voice. "That must be good."
"You should have gone to a doctor. I'll never understand why you never went for a pre-natal checkup or anything. For all you know, you could be carrying a mutant baby." He sounds sarcastic, which is how he sounds when he's worried.
"Easy, Nick. You sound just like Matthias."
"And for good reason! He's a smart guy!"
"Please. Please just check the grey and black blobs to see if you can make out a baby in all that goo."
Nick approaches, and stands by her side, staring at the monitor. He doesn't want to admit it makes no sense to him whatsoever, so instead, he says, "Uh… yeah. Yeah. Looks fine."
She looks up at him. "Really?"
"Yeah. There's a baby. See…" He traces some vague outlines. "That's your kid. Healthy as anything, from the looks of it. Ten fingers, ten toes, the works."
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Well gods," he says uncomfortably, "I don't know."
"Nick, if you can tell it has ten fingers and ten toes, you should be able to see its sex." She sounds disappointed now. "Are you just lying to make me feel better?"
"No! Gods, no. It's just been a while." He pretends to stare closer. "Uh… girl."
"If you're lying, I'll tear your head off," she says calmly.
"I am totally, completely not lying. It's a girl."
"A baby girl." Lex's voice has some wonder in it, and Nick knows she believes him. "Gods be praised, I have a baby girl."
"What would you have done if it was a boy? Prayed to the underworld?"
"Probably." She gets up from her seat and pulls her shirt down again. "Right, now that's over with."
She goes back to her seat and resumes manual control. Nick goes back to his own seat and picks up his magazine again.
After a few minutes of quiet, Nick speaks up again. "Do you miss it?"
"Being normal. Having a normal life. Not being a con woman or a sky pilot."
"That's a weird question. Where did that even come from?"
He lifts his shoulders and lets them fall again. "Just making conversation."
She sighs. "I don't even remember what normalcy is like. I've been in the skies since I was sixteen, conning people since even before that. This is normal for me."
"Where were you as a kid, though? Were you on the ground, or were your parents pilots too?"
"No. They were ground people." She doesn't say any more, just keeps her eyes on the desert ahead.
Finally Nick ventures another question. "Any siblings?"
She laughs a little. "We've been partners for how long now? Two years, two and a half? And you're only just now asking me all this?"
It doesn't escape him that she didn't answer the question.
She turns the tables. "What about you? You remember what it's like to be normal?"
He chuckles. "I was raised in a family of con artists and thieves, actually. I've had crime in my blood since before I was even a gleam in my parents' eyes."
"Remember that time we scammed that family out of forty thousand dollars? Mother, father, three little kids? We told them we were vacuum salespeople?"
The sudden resurgence of the memory takes the laughter out of Nick's eyes. "Yes. And?"
"Did your parents ever do anything like that, or did they have a code of ethics?"
"I doubt they even knew what the word ethics meant. They stole from and scammed anything with a pulse."
Silence. Nick flips pages in his magazine, finishes it, and picks up another. Lex keeps her eyes on her monitor, on the path ahead. Finally, the desert begins to fade away, replaced with a forest landscape.
"What kind of place is this Walshak, anyway?" she asks after a long silence. "Any information on it?"
"I can't really find anything, no. Just that it's a town with about eight hundred inhabitants. It's on the tundra, so that means cold."
"Cold. Great. I don't exactly have any winter clothing."
"It shouldn't be winter cold, just autumn cold. At least, I think."
"When was the last time we delivered anything? Right before we set up shop in Marinth? I don't even remember."
"I don't remember, either. It's been a long time."
More magazine flipping. After he's done with all the magazines, Nick reads them again. He falls asleep, bent over in his chair and drooling, over a piece of political propaganda.
He's awakened by a shaking of his shoulder, and the realization that the rushing sounds of flight have stopped. "Wake up," comes Lex's voice. "We're in Walshak."
They step out of the landed airship together, onto flat, hard ground with barely anything growing out of it. All around them, there's sporadic snow on the ground, a few trees, but otherwise it's a barren wasteland. And there's a cluster of houses a bit to the west of them.
"That's Walshak? It's pathetic."
"Yeah, you don't say. And it's cold."
"Cold as hell."
Lex starts walking towards the houses. Nick follows her, grumbling. "I hate small towns like this."
"I don't know. Just feels creepy, somehow."
The houses are ramshackle, thrown together. When Lex and Nick walk among them, people begin to come out onto their porches and stare down at the pair, saying nothing. Men, women, and children alike—all are silent and watchful.
"This is creepy as hell," Nick says quietly.
Lex does not reply, but her expression would indicate agreement.
They head to their location—a large, empty warehouse on the other edge of the town. "The other side of town", as it turns out, is a two-minute walk. People come out and watch them, but no one follows them.
"You have your gun, right?" Nick mutters quietly to Lex.
"Yeah. It's in my waistband. You?"
"I've got mine tucked away on my person. We might need 'em."
They're at the warehouse doors, which are large and intimidating. Lex pulls them open with a grunt, ignoring Nick's attempts to help, and they both walk into the darkness, which is pierced only by the light from the open door.
"You'd think they'd turn on some lights in here," says Nick. "You know, so people can see and all."
"Well, gosh, why would they install lights when the crushing blackness of the room instills some healthy fear and despair in all who visit?"
A sudden noise from the far corner of the room. Both Lex and Nick whirl toward the sound, hands going toward their guns.
"No need for urgency," comes a voice. They cannot yet see who it belongs to, only a vague outline of a man. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Prove it," says Lex.
The lights snap on in an instant, bathing the warehouse in harsh white glow. They can now clearly see the man. He's short in stature, wearing dark clothing, and looks completely ordinary.
"I can't prove it," he says. "All I can do is offer you the twenty thousand dollars I promised you in my earlier message, and hope that's enough to persuade you."
Reluctantly, Lex's hand drops from her side. Nick does the same after glancing at her.
"Now, can we discuss the delivery in a civilized manner?" asks the man, approaching them with palms raised. "Or are you going to point your weapons at me?'
"We'll be peaceful if you are," says Lex. "Let's discuss the delivery. What is it exactly that you want us to deliver?"
"A package. Small, brown, square-shaped. Easy to carry, easy to conceal, and not in the least bit dangerous. You'll be taking it to one of my colleagues in Ralston. It's perhaps a longer trip than you're used to, but I'm making it worth your while."
"It's a twelve-hour trip," says Lex, "if we leave the ship on autopilot even when we sleep, and that's assuming we don't stop for fuel, which we'll probably need to. We charge by the hour, you know. Two thousand dollars an hour. That's twenty-two thousand dollars, two thousand more than your original offered price. Take it or leave it."
Nick tries not to look surprised at her lie.
"I've offered you a very good deal," says the man. "I won't pay any more than that."
"No payment? Then no deal."
"I can easily find someone to replace you," says the man. "I can, and I will. Take my offer now, as it stands, or leave it."
"Can you find someone like me who won't pry into your business, ask your name, ask what's in your sketchy little package, look into your affairs, or report you if I somehow find out you're doing something illegal? I doubt it."
The man opens his mouth. She interrupts, dropping her trump card. "Plus, you waited by your monitor for a month to see if I'd reply, which tells me you wanted me specifically. I don't know why, and I won't ask. I just want two thousand more than the original price. You take it or leave it."
The man says nothing for a moment. He seems to be considering. Then: "We can compromise. Twenty-one thousand."
"Twenty-one thousand, five hundred."
"Twenty-one thousand is my final offer."
"Then we have a deal."
"Right, that's settled," piped up Nick. "So where exactly in Ralston do you want your package delivered to?"
"A hotel known as the Binan Inn. Room 107. Simply drop the package through the slot in the door."
"Does it matter what time, or anything?"
"No. Simply deliver it promptly, and it doesn't matter whether it arrives at noon or midnight."
"Fine," said Lex. "So where's this package?"
"Here." He reaches behind him and picks up a small brown package from a chair. He hands it to Lex, who takes it and holds it under her arm, hardly even looking at it.
"Is there anything else we need to discuss?" asks Lex.
"No. Just deliver the package. Once my colleague sends me confirmation that he's got it, I'll wire the money to you."
"If you know about my services, you know that I require a deposit before I make a delivery."
The man frowns. "A deposit? Of how much?"
For a moment, the man looks like he's going to refuse. Then he checks himself. "Fine. Half. I'll wire it to you now." He goes over to the very back of the room, where a large object hums to life and reveals itself as a monitor. He taps a few buttons while Lex and Nick stand waiting.
Then, the man returns. "Check your account. You should find ten thousand five hundred has been added."
"Perfect," says Lex smoothly. "We'll be on our way. Thanks for your business." She and Nick turn and walk away. Behind them, the man is silent.
They exit the warehouse and walk the streets. Once again, people emerge from their houses to stare at the newcomers. This time, Lex and Nick ignore then completely.