The First Run

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The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

Die Geschichte Handelt von einem Jungen Kurier. Welcher aus der Gewohnten Heimat entfliehen will.
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Space Marshal
Beiträge: 2793
Registriert: April 24, 2014, 8:39 pm
Wohnort: Basel

Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 1

As I settled onto the olive-gray seat and strapped the malleable plasteel harness around my chest, the last words of my father as I left the Golden Horde, my father’s bar, echoed in my head.

“Nobody ever made a livin’ in space that didn’t regret it. It’s all warmongers and thieves up there. Nobody worth knowing. So when you’ve had your fill of adventure, scurry back home. I’ll keep your spot behind the bar warm for that day you get some sense behind that thick skull of yours, Sorri.”

Even as I tried to get the harness to snug tightly – you could fit two of me inside it – I could still hear the tone in my father’s voice as he said the word adventure. It sounded like he’d just taken a bit of apple crisp and found out it’d really been manure.

Waiting for the last passenger, I shivered and rubbed my arms, trying to get warm. They kept it as cold as the beer locker back home.

I’d pulled on my favorite woolen sweater, the one my Uncle Cab had given me, but even that wasn’t enough to stop the cold from leaking into my bones. The sweater was the color of sunsets, something I knew I’d miss, traveling through the darkness of space as a courier for the FTL Courier Service.

This last passenger better be worth the wait.

But even the cold, or the echoes of my father, or waiting for the last passenger couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

I was in space at last!

After all the arguing with my father, the scraping together of funds from my tips, the entry tests, and sleeping on hard beds as I went through the training at the FTL office here on Castra II — I’d finally made it.

I rubbed my fingertips along the crack that separated two plates in the smooth wall. The Solar Jammer, a modified Caterpillar turned commercial transport, wasn’t exactly a sexy-sleek Idris but like a first kiss, it wasn’t the looks, but the experience itself.

I started to settle into my seat, when a memory goosed me. I’d forgotten that I wanted to record everything I could from my first trip, so I could send back a video to my father, letting him know that everyone wasn’t a thief, and that you didn’t just ‘fall into a space battle as simple as going to the store.’

I clipped the remote camera onto the straps of my backpack and checked my personal MobiGlas to confirm it was recording. When I was finished, I shoved it back into the bottom of the backpack. The FTL Courier Service didn’t really want us to carry our personal units, but they also didn’t like personal software running on company issued hardware. I figured it was a good compromise.

I was checking my company MobiGlas for messages when the last passenger arrived.

He ducked beneath the overhead bin and gave me a smile that would have made the devil proud.

He was handsome, but not the kind you see on the holovids. He had a scar on his lip that made his smile into half-smirk, half-sneer.

Just from his looks and his professional attire, I guessed he was a salesman. I hate salesmen. They always came into the bar with an attitude like they owned the place. Like they were better than us. Probably a Citizen, as well.

It was better this way, I decided. The courier service frowned on striking up conversations while on business. Didn’t look good for potential customers and created security risks.
So I went back to checking my MobiGlas, confirming my transport and connections once I arrived on Oya. I had seven days to get the files on the MobiGlas to the WillsOp Corporation, which was plenty of time, but I thought doing it in a third of the time would leave a good impression on my employer.

Then the co-pilot brought an animal carrier down to the gentleman across from me and strapped it into the seat.

Big brown eyes ringed with gold stared out from the cage.

The words fell out of my mouth before I remembered I wasn’t interested: “Is that a red-tailed lynx?”

The handsome passenger had been adjusting the harness for his longer frame when I asked the question. He glanced up, one eyebrow arched.

Well, I thought to myself, my father always said I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“I had one when I was a kid. I wouldn’t take a picture without Sasha in it,” I told him.

“Sasha?” he asked in a melodic voice. “I assume that’s the name of the lynx?”

I gave him a well-of-course shrug.

“Animal breeder?” I asked.

He looked me right in the eyes. Gray with specks of green. Eyes that had seen things.
“Now why wouldn’t you assume it’s my pet?” he asked, skin crinkling around the corners of his mouth.

“My parent’s own a bar up north on Castra II. I’ve met all kinds of people, all kinds, and you don’t strike me as a red-tailed lynx kinda guy. They’re too active and need space.”
As if it knew it was being discussed, the lynx pushed its furry face against the wires.

I wanted to reach out and rub the little grayish tufts of hair that stuck out from its ears, but the captain announced we’d be leaving the station for the jump point.

“You never answered my question,” I said.

The man gave a short, incredulous laugh. “You’re a bold one. You know, typically people introduce themselves before they start interrogations. I’m Dario Oberon.”

The Solar Jammer lurched as it left the station and I felt the gravity shift to the ship’s system.

“Never been fond of names, myself. Maybe too much time spent as a bar rat. Half the customers never gave their real name and the other half didn’t deserve theirs. I’m Sorri Lyrax, if it matters.”

He had a smile you could hang your heart on.

“Sorri? Given or earned name?” he asked, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Both,” I said, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. “And the answer?”

The Solar Jammer banked and headed out towards the jump point, pressing me into my seat and Dario against the harness.

“A gift.”

He winked.

“Not for a lady friend,” I mused. “A business venture? Something to grease the wheels, I’d say.”

Dario leaned forward, furrowed his brow, and pursed his lips in faux-thought. “And why would you say that, Sorri Lyrax?”

“Pets are terrible gifts for a lady friend, and you seem too smart for such a rookie mistake. As for the business venture, I saw the way you shook the hand of the co-pilot when he brought the lynx down. I’ve seen that smile and firm handshake a million times. My first guess was a salesman, but your confidence is real, not worn like a flabby second skin.”

He gave a tilted nod. “All this from a few minutes’ time?”

“Growing up like I did was like getting an advanced degree in human behavior. If you bothered paying attention,” I said.

Part of me was screaming inside to keep my mouth shut, but the other part liked impressing Dario. My father’d always made me stay in the background, and let the customers talk. It was nice to be in front of the counter for once.

“And I’m guessing since you’re travelling without luggage, you deal in intellectual property,” I said. “Probably something lucrative like ship designs or something like that.”
When the twinkle in his gray-green eyes turned as cold and hard as deep space, I knew I’d said too much, but the look disappeared just as fast as it’d appeared. The roguish smile resumed its seemingly familiar place on his lips.

Dario showed me his teeth. “Now that we’re at cruising speed, would you like to pet the lynx? She’s quite docile.”

“I’d love to,” I said, noting that he’d changed the subject, but I quickly reminded myself that I was on company business and intrigue was the last thing I should be involving myself with.

Dario handed the lynx over, careful not to release the creature. The lynx wrapped its red-tail around my arm and snuggled its face under into my armpit. I’d have lynx fur all over my woolen sweater before we arrived, but I didn’t care.

Before long, with the warm body of the lynx on my lap, and the soft fur soothing my fingertips as I brushed its back, I fell asleep, the excitement of starting a journey faded.

When I awoke, Dario was tugging the lynx from my arms. Outside the Solar Jammer, the orange and blue planet of Oya III was coming into view. A massive, cyclonic sand storm could be seen swirling across the Great Desolation on the northern continent. It was said the storm had been raging for the last three decades. Thankfully, I’d be landing on the green patch in the southern hemisphere, in the metropolitan city of New Alexandria.

Dario was busy on his MobiGlas when we arrived, so I didn’t bother him. I had to confirm my ride down the gravity well to Oya III planetside. I’d gotten a deal by signing on as an overflow passenger, but I had to hurry if I wanted to make the lander before it left. Traveling super-economy left no guarantees for seats.

By the time I made it out of the Solar Jammer, Dario had gone on ahead, which made me a little sad, since given the size of the UEE, I’d likely never see him again.

The antiseptic smell and bright, colorless tiles of the customs gate assaulted my groggy senses. Approaching the gray-green uniformed Security, I adjusted the straps on my backpack as I pulled out my papers, including the FTL Courier Badge, and readied to hand them over.

After stepping through a scanning device that gave off a high-pitched hum I could barely hear except as a vibration on the back of my teeth, I held out my identification to the broad-shouldered guard with a seemingly bored expression.

His MobiGlas gave him a bright beep and his expression went from boredom to annoyance to aggravation. Before I could do anything else, he reached out and grabbed my arm, squeezing hard enough to leave a bruise.

“That’s a security breach alarm,” he said, his ire firmly directed at me. “You’re coming with me.”
to be continued …
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Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 2

The worst part about being stuck in a holding cell wasn’t the interrogation, but the waiting until it got to that point.

Not that I was a hardened criminal or anything, just a bit of a wild child that ran with the wrong crowd for a brief time a few years ago. Racing hovers through the bazaar, painting the hand railing at the casino with a mild contact hallucinogenic, releasing a pack of spitting llamas into an Advocacy convention, that sort of thing.

My history was probably one of the reasons my father had agreed to let me join the courier service. He said, I just had steam to burn, or maybe a little anger that mom had died.
He was wrong on both accounts. Simple boredom, that’s all it was. That and a realization, born from a day when I was sitting in a holding cell just like this one, for one of our petty pranks, that sitting in jail and working in the family bar were just about the same thing.

At least in the bar, though, I could pass the time studying the patrons.

The holding cell was about as featureless as deep space, with a miserably hard chair as its only furniture. They wanted to soften me up, making me so bored I’d be willing to spill my secrets to them willingly. The fact that this actually worked on some criminals boggled my mind. How could they be so dumb?

But I had nothing to worry about. I’d done nothing wrong. I just wish someone would come in so I could tell them that.

After about three hours, a woman entered the cell. She was older, mocha skin, and severe lines around her eyes and mouth. She’d been beautiful once, but now those looks had been suppressed behind duty and a crisply-kept security uniform. Not even one dark hair of her military cut was out of place.

“Sorri Lyrax?”

I gave a thin lipped nod.

“I’m Captain Hennessy. I’m in charge of this facility. I’m sorry about the wait, but I was down the street, on planet,” she said.

The sleepy annoyance was plain as a whistle on her face. They’d disturbed her from her off-time.

“I’m sorry you were bothered,” I said, truly meaning it. “But can you tell me why I’m being held? No one’s said a thing, and while I still have plenty of time to make my courier delivery, I get a bonus for speed. When you need a message delivered, nothing’s faster than FTL!”

I said the last part, the company motto, in a little sing-song voice, which cracked a tiny smile at the corner of Captain Hennessy’s lips. It disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

“A courier, huh? Nobody told me that,” she said, now scowling. She stood there for a moment, arms crossed, biting her lower lip, thinking.

“Nothing like a bureaucracy to gum up the works,” I offered.

She put her hands on her hips. “That’s my bureaucracy you’re talking about.”

I swallowed and pinched my leg. That was a dumb move.

“Look,” she said, “I want to get back down planet, but something on your MobiGlas triggered our new sensors. And we’re also not fond of people recording our security areas. We found a camera button on your backpack.”

I let out a yip of surprise. “Oh, I’d forgotten about that. It’s my first trip for the company, and my first trip off planet. I thought I’d record it all. You know, cause.”

I lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug. Captain Hennessy grumbled in the back of her throat.

“As for the file, I assume that’s my delivery,” I said.

The Captain pulled out her MobiGlas and started reviewing some information. The whole time she was biting her lower lip and sighing. I could practically sense her looking back over her shoulder as if she could see whatever location she was vacationing.

When the Captain frowned at me again, I knew I was in trouble. She might want to get back to her time off, but I could also see how crisp her uniform was, even on this short notice. She was a woman of duty and responsibility.

“The total size of the files on your device far exceed what FTL has approved for your level of security clearance,” she said, tapping her finger on the screen as she talked. “As a wet-nosed courier, you should only be able carry recipes for roast lamb and maybe a bicycle print. This kind of file size is normally only seen with major industrial projects, or complex systems. All that damn physics.”

When I opened my mouth, I planned on telling Captain Hennessy to contact FTL headquarters on Castra II. They would clear it up for me.

But I hesitated.

For two reasons.

The first was that it would take probably take days for the company to get back to Captain Hennessy. Not only would I have to spend the time in a holding cell like this one, I’d miss my delivery due date.

The second was less sure, more speculation. Rumor even. During the few weeks of training and orientation we received, mostly on the intricacies of interstellar travel and a pitifully weak self-defense class, an anecdote got passed around about our upcoming first deliveries.

It was said that the company usually sent new couriers on a fake mission, or “lead sled” in company lingo, for their first go. A way to confirm loyalty and ability. Some people even said they threw obstacles in the way, using actors and real-live officials, to see how the new courier would react.

So I closed my mouth and recalibrated my answer, first clearing my throat to give credence to my delay.

“I’m sure it’s a mistake of some kind,” I said. “Maybe they meant to give it to a different courier, or they didn’t realize my security status.”

Captain Hennessy clasped her hands in front. “Or they thought they could slip these illegal files by my station. Or maybe you’re working for someone else and only joined that service to utilize the security clearance it gave you. We only just installed this new detector, so no one would have known about it.”

Despite my innocence, I felt guilty. Mostly because I knew how it looked, and it didn’t look good.

I was about to go into ‘little girl mode’, a trick I’d used to my advantage more than once back on Castra II. I was only forty-five kilos if I’d eaten a big meal, and had petite, elfin ears. My father liked to claim that my mother, Abigail, was really a faerie queen that he’d stolen away from the fey, and that she hadn’t really died, just gone back home. It was a nice lie, and one I’d told myself more than once.

But then I looked up at Captain Hennessy. Really looked at her. I’d seen her type in the bar. Once, when she was younger, duty had given her a firm hold on a crumbling lifestyle. Maybe she’d had an abusive father, or a bad marriage, but the security service had given her a way to control part of her life.

I didn’t know if it’d work, but I had to take a chance. I let my shoulders slump and chin dip to my chest.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, letting the words dribble out of my lips. “Even if it’s a mistake, I’m still going to miss my delivery and they’ll fire me. It’s just like my dad said, that I’d screw it up somehow. Now I’ll have to go back there.”

When I risked a quick glance up, I saw Captain Hennessy flinch, if only for a moment. It helped that most of what I said was true. I didn’t want to go back. And my father had said I’d screw it up.

But something from the Captain’s past had been triggered by my admission. Her brow was as tight as a drum, almost an overhang of tensed muscles, leaving her eyes drowning in shadow. She was squeezing her lips so tight they were pale as a corpse.

I rested my forehead on my palms, and waited. Captain Hennessy was forcefully tapping on her MobiGlas, and sighing between every fifth tap. She was mumbling something about a beach and never getting any time off under her breath.

“Sorri,” she said to me, more of a command than a question.

I looked at her with upward tilted eyes. “Yes, ma’am?”

“The amount of paperwork an attempted security breach like this generates is staggering,” said the captain, finger on her MobiGlas.

My stomach did a back flip. I could already hear my father lecturing me about my foolishness when I had to return home.

“And the only one that can approve that sort of nonsense is me,” she continued. “But what little I can find on you checks out …” she started shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe she was saying it, “… and I’ve been waiting nearly a year for this time off. If I have to deal with this, I’ll miss the whole damn thing.”

I held my breath, while she blinked and had a brief internal war with herself. I knew I wasn’t out of danger, yet.

Finally, she came to her conclusion, and I could tell it was the piece of the puzzle that tilted the decision my way.

“And I know a little something about a young girl not wanting to return home. So I’m going to clear this breach from the system and let you head down planet.”

“Thank you, Captain Hennessy,” I said as the relief flooded through my limbs.

“Now I need to go,” she said, an unexpected smile on her lips. “But I don’t want to see you again, right?”

I nodded enthusiastically.

After the captain left, one of the security agents came in with my stuff. He was shaking his head the whole time as if he’d just seen ghosts or a talking dog.

The shuttle ride down was brief and terrifying. A cloud layer had formed over New Alexandria, so there wasn’t even a good view on the way down.

When we arrived, I shouldered my backpack on, triggered the remote camera again, and headed for the exits at the starport, dodging around the crowds and keeping watch for signs. My legs were still jittery from the interrogation and the harrowing ride down. At least, Oya III shared a similar gravity with Castra II. I was strong for my size, and being a girl, but the layover in security had left me weak with hunger.

The first thing I planned to do was find a food stall in the bazaars built up around New Alexandria. When the starport had been built, the workers that’d come for the work had stayed in the camps, and eventually those camps became a ring of new constructions and shanty towns. The real wealth of the city lived further south, but I’d be going north to the WillsOp Corp installation.

New Alexandria was known for its spiced lamb kabobs, and I swore I could smell some. I was standing outside next to the hovertaxi lanes trying to get my bearings, using the map functions on the company-issued MobiGlas, almost tasting the hot spicy meat exploding onto my tongue, when I heard the quiet hum of an electrocycle pull aside.

I glanced up and into the face of a towering behemoth, who dwarfed his vehicle, making him look like he was riding a child’s bike. His hair was salty black, and his gristled chin matched the coloring of the hair. He had an overpowering body odor that made me wrinkle my nose.

I thought he was about to ask for directions when I saw the hardness in his eyes. Then his powerful, meaty hand reached out and swiped the MobiGlas from my grip, and as he drove away he gave me a look that said: follow me and die.
to be continued …
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Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 3

When the tears came, I couldn’t hold them back, which only made how I felt even worse.

I don’t cry easily and I certainly don’t cry in public. In fact, the only time I ever remember crying in front of other people was at my mother’s funeral, and then I didn’t care what people thought of me.

Most of the travelers that came through the port were on business, so they were loading into the hovertaxis that would take them to their meetings. When I started sobbing, it was as if I’d developed a very contagious plague and suddenly there was a bubble of space around me.

I buried my face in my elbow, snorting back the snot that threatened to leak out onto the sleeve of my favorite sweater.

When the tears finally dried up, I took a deep and trembling breath.

That man, whoever had taken my MobiGlas, had not been an actor. That much I knew.

I’d seen men like that come into the Golden Horde before, and my father was always quick to point them out and quick to send me into the back to take inventory. There was something visceral about them, like they were predators set loose in a pen of sheep.

I’d been willing to delude myself up in the station, thinking that the captain could be an act, part of the trial mission that I was being sent on. But that delusion was shattered now.

It also made me realize that the company might have sent me with the wrong files, or they were the intended files, and had planned on sneaking them through station security. And this man, clearly a criminal of some kind, had known about them.

Which made retrieving them even more important. I pinched my arm, mad at myself for being so cavalier with the MobiGlas. If I couldn’t get it back, I’d surely be released from FTL, maybe even fined for my carelessness, and then I’d have to go back to my father not only a failure, but also in debt.

But how was I going to get the MobiGlas back?

As Captain Hennessy had said, I was a wet-behind-the-ears newbie. I didn’t know who this man was, or where he was going. And now he had a good ten minute head start on an electrocycle, while I was still on foot.

My stomach growled at that moment, reminding me of another problem. I was starving. Weak with hunger, in fact.

My father like to say that I ate like a bird, if that bird was a condor. I like to think I had the metabolism of a humming bird, but it meant I was always eating.

Giving up meant getting something to eat. It’s not like I had a way to find this guy.
I decided I’d find a spiced lamb kabob vendor first, while I considered my options.

When I grabbed the straps on my backpack, my hand hit the camera button and my face flushed with excitement.

I quickly unshouldered the backpack and rummaged through until I found my other MobiGlas, the personal one. I’d forgotten I had it, with (hopefully) a camera running, but who knew, with my luck?

“Please still be recording, please still be recording,” I muttered as I brought up the camera files.

I let the relief whistle out of my lips when I saw that it was still taking video.

Flashing back to ten minutes ago, I replayed the scene. The camera button was lower down, so it was showing him at an upward angle, looking right into his chest and chin. Then the view bounced around with me when he grabbed the MobiGlas and rode off.

I replayed the scene three times until I saw what I needed. The first was the license plate on the electrocycle, including the rental company sticker on the back. Unless he’d planned the whole theft weeks ago, including an incorrect file, I might be able to uncover his identity through the rental company.

The second clue, but the more worrisome one, was that he was wearing a deep-space jumpsuit under his leather jacket. I’d only seen his face when he grabbed the MobiGlas, but the camera recorded his chest.

It seemed probable that he had a ship hidden on-planet somewhere or in near orbit. Which also meant he wasn’t going to return the electrocycle.

But if I could find out where he rented it, it might tell me where he had touched down. It was a chance, anyway, but only if I was on his trail right away. Which meant I wasn’t going to get to eat.

I sighed.

Then I hailed a taxi, a diesel land cruiser rather than a hover since that’s all I could afford, and when the driver asked me which direction, I paused. I needed to be moving, even if I didn’t know where he was going. So I was going to have to make an educated guess.
South was the wealthier region, so it was doubtful he’d dropped in there. North was more industrial, so lots of security cameras. Which left west or east.

A quick review of the map on my MobiGlas showed me that the west side of New Alexandria was less populated. I found a village along the main roads and told the driver to head there. West also made sense because he was on an electrocycle, which needed roads, which the farms and country folk would still use.

While he drove, I started calling the area rental services, asking if a man too big for a bike had rented one recently. No one wanted to tell me anything until I told them that: one, it was my husband and he was trying to leave me and my new baby, and two, that he wasn’t planning on returning the bike.

I found the right company on the third try. It was out west, about a hundred kilometers from the city. I did the math on the taxi and realized I would barely have enough funds. If I needed to go any further west, I’d be broke.

Once I was settled into the seat, I had massive regrets about what I was trying to do. It would be safer to turn back, conserve my funds, and spend my time until the journey figuring out how I was going to earn the money to pay FTL back.

My other option was to just say the hell with it and stay on planet, finding a job appropriate for my skills, whatever those were.

But a little hard seed in me just didn’t want to let this opportunity go. I’d been planning and saving for years to get to this point. I couldn’t let a little bad luck keep me down. That, and I didn’t want to return to my father empty-handed and in debt.

I slammed my hand on the seat, earning a reproachful glance from the driver. And then my stomach growled, earning a smirk.

And right as a light rain began to sprinkle against the taxi windows, we passed a row of outdoor food stalls at least a kilometer long. Right away, I could hear the callers, yelling out their fare in their spacer’s drawl: fried cheese dumplings, tunnel bird stew, apple pops, quick beer, and the like.

We passed the stalls at a languid pace due to the traffic. If I hadn’t been so hungry, and staring longingly at each passing stall, I might have missed the behemoth, huddled under one of the awnings.

“Pull in here,” I said, and we stopped behind a huge transcontinental delivery truck with wheels as tall as me.

The behemoth was finishing up a pair of kabobs, spiced lamb, I guessed, based on the contented look on his face. Figures. He was still sucking the meat off the stick, so I decide to make a run for one of the stalls. I needed something in my belly, I was downright dizzy.

The rain had picked up, and I dodged through the crowd towards one of the food stalls with the shortest lines, wiping the water from my face. Fried cheese dumplings. I wasn’t a fan, but I wasn’t going to be picky either.

Despite the shortness of the line, it moved slow. I clenched my fists and willed it to go faster, but that only seemed to slow it even more. My stomach added a few grumbles to go along with my muttered swears.

And just as I finally reached the front and the stall vendor, a tan leathery man with numbers tattooed on his neck, asked in his lyrical drawl, “Whatchu want, ladybug?” I saw the behemoth moving to his electrocycle parked nearby.

When he got on and sped away, I cursed and ran back towards the taxi. The vendor called out after me, “I didn’t want cho business, anyway!”

I followed the behemoth in the taxi for another thirty kilometers and the whole time I had fantasies about food. Then the behemoth turned off the main two-lane road and headed down a gravel side path that ran between a couple of farms. It was getting close to dark, and the cloud layer made the light dim and flat.

I had the taxi go past, then circle back around, and go down the gravel road. Past the farms, the landscape turned to forest, though the trees were short and squat and had yellow-green leaves that smelled like eucalyptus through my open window.

When I saw the lander through a gap in the trees, I had the driver drop me off. He asked if he should wait, but I didn’t have the money for the ride back, so I told him to leave. He took my payment through the MobiGlas, which drained my account down to the dregs.

I crept down the path, noting the tire marks in the wet grass. When I made it to the edge of the clearing, I hunched down and looked around. Except for the steel-gray lander, marked with burns on the nose from numerous re-entries, the clearing was empty.

Crouched on my heels, a moment of rationality hit me square in the chest. What in the deep space was I doing here? This man was likely a killer, and at the very least, a criminal.

Closing my eyes, I listened to insects chirping amid the trees. Right at the moment I decided to abandon my foolish quest to get the company MobiGlas back, I heard a twig snap, somewhere behind me.

“Persistent little scrum,” said a voice, from about the location of the broken limb. “It seems Dario found himself an ally.”

The diction of the speaker rightly confused me. It was the smooth dialect of an Earther aristocrat, not a thuggish brute the size of a Vanduul warrior.

But I didn’t get a chance to see the speaker before something stuck me in the back and I went unconscious.
to be continued …
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Wohnort: Basel

Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 4

The hum of a ship’s quantum drive against my cheek woke me. Lying on my side, I pressed my palms against my eye sockets and rubbed until I could see again. Whatever had knocked me out left me groggy, like every thought had to be routed through a bucket of mud.

When I sat up, the restraints rattled against the door panel. Wire loops had been fastened around my wrists. The other ends were screwed to the floor. I had enough play to reach my face, but nothing more.

The pilot seat swiveled around, revealing the brute who’d stolen my MobiGlas. He wore a navy blue pressure suit, minus the gloves and helmet. He steepled his fingertips together, narrowing his gaze at me, and I felt like chicken in a coop being sized up for slaughter.

“You don’t want to kill me,” I blurted out.

His eyebrow raised. “I don’t? Educate me, little scrum.”

I couldn’t help but shake my head in a double-take. That erudite voice coming from that brutish body was a contradiction.

It also occurred to me that it was an error on my part to have spoken before I knew the score. Behind the brute was the black emptiness of space through the view screen, except for a little reddish dot, dead center on the screen. It looked like a planet by the thin nimbus around it. Probably a gas giant.

“What’s your name?” I asked, stalling.

He licked his lips. “Burnett.”

He said the first part of his name like burr and the second part he rolled over his tongue.

“Well, Burnett,” I replied, glancing around the cockpit, “I’m Sorri, but not sorry.”

At my joke, his upper lip curled back, showing his teeth. “I know who you are.”

Right. Which put me at a major disadvantage. I didn’t know who this Burnett was, except that he’d stolen my MobiGlas and kidnapped me.

I craned my neck to see the control panel for the ship, which was no help. I didn’t know the difference between a jump-capable ship and just an in-system flier.

Burnett seemed content to watch me like a cat observing a trapped mouse.

I searched my memory for anything that might help, when I remembered the last thing Burnett had said to me: It seems Dario found himself an ally.

Now what in the deep space did that mean?

My eyes widened when I connected the dots. “Dario, the guy from the Solar Jammer, put something on my MobiGlas. That’s what Security saw. She should have never let me go.”

The words trailed past my lips, half-realization, half- regret.

The corners of Burnett’s eyes creased and the cramped cabin seemed to shrink even further. I was two steps from this erudite beast of a man, and he had a blade on his hip. When I looked at the hard metal flooring, he laughed.

“Don’t worry. I won’t cut your throat. Your blood would seep under the plates and interfere with my electronics. When it’s time to get rid of you, I’ll just throw you out the airlock.”

When. He said when.

“Then what are you waiting for?” I asked, chin raised, looking directly in his green-brown eyes. I bit my lower lip to keep it from trembling.

“You looked like a talker. I hoped you might just spit out whatever plan you and Dario had, saving me the trouble of torturing you.”

“But I don’t know him. I’m just a courier for FTL. You know, when you need a message delivered, nothing’s faster than light?”

The words fell over themselves on the way out of my lips. I could feel my life’s clock ticking down to the final seconds.

He squinted and shifted forward in his seat, which with his bulk, practically bent the steel bottom. “It feels like you’re telling the truth. But I might just need to put the knife to you, to make sure you’re not simply a good liar.”

“What do you want to know? I’ve got nothing to lose, right?”

Burnett seemed to consider my offer.

“You don’t know Dario?” he asked after a time.

“No,” I said. “I spoke to him on the trip out, mostly at the beginning. He must have hacked my MobiGlas when I was asleep. Put that file on it. I guess whatever it is, it’s important?”

“Don’t worry your little head about it.”

I had a moment of insight. “He’s your rival, isn’t he? You figured out what he was going to do. Use me to get the file past local security. So you just waited on planet and grabbed it.”

Burnett nodded in agreement. “No harm in telling you that much. New couriers are never given important files, in fact, usually they’re given fake stuff to test them. So you didn’t have the high class security afforded that kind of data. When I caught Dario sniffing into your background, I took a chance that he’d pull this trick again.”

Then he stood up and the chair groaned beneath his effort. He had to keep his head ducked to keep from hitting the ceiling. When he pressed his lips together and blew a sighing breath out his nose, my stomach twisted into a knot.

“And now it’s time to say goodbye. I’m really sorry Dario used you, but you shouldn’t have followed me,” he said, grabbing a screwdriver from the seat next to his.

When he advanced on me, I thought about scratching and clawing at him like a frenzied cat, but that would only make him mad. I needed to keep my wits about me, but it was hard, really hard.

He leaned down and began unscrewing the cable from the floor without the least bit of concern. I felt like a child next to him. The knife on his belt was only an arm’s reach away, but I knew he’d be faster than me.

I looked out the viewscreen at the front of the ship. The reddish gas giant was now a decent-sized object on the screen, its features beginning to appear.

“You’re going to sell the data to some pirates, huh?”

I smirked and nodded my head towards the front of the ship, but I was afraid it came off as amateur. His right eye twitched.

“Sort of,” he said, stepping on the first cable so I couldn’t move my arm and starting work on the second one.

“I bet they won’t be happy when the UEE shows up,” I said.

He narrowed his gaze as he loosened the second cable, but kept working. He grabbed the ends and yanked me up. He pulled me behind him into the main cabin behind the cockpit.

Dumped out on a table were the contents of my backpack, including the other MobiGlas and my personals. At the back of the room was an airlock. Burnett led me to the door and began putting on his pressure gloves, sealing them tight. Each snap of the glove connecting to his suit hardened my stomach to lead.

Then he pulled his screwdriver out and started undoing the clamps around my wrists. His meaty hand, even with the pressure glove, was a vise around my arms. I would have complained about bruising, but it wasn’t going to matter long.

“You know this isn’t going to work,” I said, but Burnett kept working. “I wouldn’t have come after you if I didn’t have a fail safe.”

He shrugged and tugged the screw out of the first clamp. The metal clattered onto the floor near my foot.

“I’m not dumb,” I said. “I figured out where your lander was pretty quickly, didn’t I?”

He paused with the screw halfway out of the second clamp. The salt and pepper stubble on his chin bunched up as he frowned.

“Talk,” he said.

“FTL. The courier service. They have two fail safes. One in the company issued MobiGlas —” I caught him glancing at his chest pocket, “— the other they inject into us somewhere. It emits a beacon if we die, or if the MobiGlas is destroyed, or any of several other reasons. It might even be transmitting right now.”

Burnett growled and tapped on his MobiGlas with his gloved fingers. When he made a grunt of satisfaction, I knew he’d scanned for communications and it’d come up empty.

Burnett scowled in my direction and finished removing the last screw. When it hit the floor, I twitched.

He released my wrists, so I stood back and rubbed the feeling back into them. Needles ran up my arm, so I shook them until they went away.

The whole time, Burnett was watching me, one hand limply holding the screwdriver, the other on the handle of the knife.

I had the unhealthy feeling that he was thinking about cutting me open to look for the non-existent beacon.

The ship sent an announcement over the speakers, “Approaching destination. Arrival in five minutes.”

At the front of the ship, the gas giant blotted out the screen, but hovering in the middle was a grayish ice moon. Our destination, I assumed.

Burnett reached towards me, and I thought he was going to slam me against the airlock. Instead, he poked me in the chest and growled.

“Fine. I’m not throwing you out the airlock. But you’re going to wish I had before long.”

I wanted to swallow, but couldn’t get the spit down. “Why’s that?”

“Have you ever heard of the Stardevils?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“WiDoW junkies. They make SLAM-heads look like saints. Rather than kill you, I’ll just sell you to them. Make a little profit, and when they accidentally kill you in their special pain orgies, your little beacon, if it’s real, will bring the UEE down on their maggot-infested heads. But that won’t matter to me because I’ll be long gone.”

Much to my shame, my legs weakened and I collapsed against the door, halfway holding myself up against the airlock. My weakness was mostly hunger — I hadn’t eaten in days now — but this new vision of what was to become of me made me even dizzier with worry.

Burnett’s lips stretched back revealing his teeth. “Sure you don’t want to go out the airlock now?”
to be continued …
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Space Marshal
Beiträge: 2793
Registriert: April 24, 2014, 8:39 pm
Wohnort: Basel

Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 5

When the Night Stalker, Burnett’s ship, lurched into the docking station, the sounds of metal coupling together echoed through the ship. Immediately, faint music played against the outer steel.

Looking out the Night Stalker’s port view, the meteor-scarred haven of the Stardevils reflected in the reddish light from the gas giant. The base looked like two or three old Starfarers had been dragged out of mothballs and welded together.

“Home sweet home,” said Burnett from behind me.

He showed me all his teeth and I went back to staring at the Stardevil’s base.

“Why do you do this?” I asked.

“Why do I do what?”

A wrench or some other heavy device banged against the air lock. We were being allowed to enter.

Burnett moved to the door, so I stepped forward. “Why do you steal? Tell me this at least, before you sell me. You owe me that much.”

“No, I don’t,” he replied, gazing at me with half-lidded eyes.

“Well, it won’t cost you anything, either.”

Burnett made a grumbling noise in his throat. “Fine. It’s not like it’ll matter long. The UEE stinks of corruption, every damn corporation cheats, and if you try to do the right thing you get screwed. One day you just get sick of it and take what’s been owed.”

He placed his massive hands on the door panels, both of them, and briefly gripped so tight his knuckles cracked. He shook his head as if some memory was invading it.

When he glared back at me, I tried not to recoil.

“While we’re here, I expect nothing but silence from you. If you’re good, I’ll tell them you have some skills that they can use. If you piss me off, I’ll tell them you’re only good for one thing, and I think you can guess what that is. Got it?”

I nodded.

“Good,” he said and punched the code into the airlock.

Music flooded into the Night Stalker, if you were liberal with your definition of music. A strobing bass sounded like one note stuck on repeat and turned up to brain-melting levels. There were other screeching instruments overtop, but it was hard to distinguish between them. It sounded like the instruments were disintegrating as they were being played. The whole mess could have been mood music for a Robotic Underworld.

Burnett pushed me through first as I held my ears closed with my fingertips. The artificial gravity was set really high and my legs sagged with each step. Burnett seemed to enjoy it.

The innards of the base made the haphazard outside look planned. Tubes and other random shapes of metal had been welded to the walls. In the middle of the floor, a large phallic object made for a giant had been constructed.

I didn’t see the Stardevil greeting committee until the man stepped out of the shadows. He had hair like rubber tubes, an abnormally long face, and inky black streaks in his arms and neck — marks of a heavy WIDoW user.

“Gonna whicha broda sista,” said the tripped-out Stardevil with rubber tube hair, before he grabbed my arm and started dragging me down the hall. I struggled against him, but he was more used to the higher gravity and my boots slid along the metal grating in stunted clanks.

Burnett stepped forward and shoved the Stardevil in the back, making him release my arm.

“Keep your damn hands off,” said Burnett.

I rubbed my arm. “Thank you.”

“They haven’t paid for you, yet,” he said, looking away.

A woman’s voice called out over the music. “Well, Burnett, have you brought us more than a little decryption business?”

The woman was long and lithe, like a dancer, with black and white dreads, wearing a black leather jumpsuit. She wasn’t pretty, but had the confidence of a model.

“Fresh meat, Synthia, if you’d like it,” he said, shrugging. “But if not, I can sell it somewhere else. I just need this file opened. The girl’s a bonus.”

Synthia gave me a considering glance. “Follow me.”

The passage was more of the same, like the twisted dream of an insane artist. At least the music wasn’t as deafening in the next part of the ship.

Synthia brought us to what appeared to be a bar, if you enjoyed sitting on sharp objects. I eyed the stool made of bent rifles and remained standing. Burnett wisely leaned against the bar, while Synthia took position on a lumpy molded chair with sharp nails composing the backstop.

“Let’s see it,” said Synthia, picking at an ebony fingernail.

Burnett pulled the stolen MobiGlas from his breast pocket with two fingers and casually tossed it to Synthia. I must have made a noise in my throat, because Burnett narrowed his gaze in my direction, reminding me to keep my trap shut.

Licking her lips, Synthia expertly tapped on the device for a minute before glancing up.

“So?” he asked.

“It can be done,” she said and her lips curled out, “for double the normal price.”

The vein in Burnett’s neck pulsed to full standing. I’ll give him credit though, he swallowed it back and after stretching his neck gave his answer.

“One-fifty and you get her.” He nodded in my direction.

Synthia’s mouth pinched down to a point. “Her? You’re kidding me, right? She’d better be able to hot-wire an Avenger blindfolded to be worth that.”

The grumble started in Burnett’s chest. When his forehead slumped, I knew he was going to give in.

If you asked me later why I spoke up, I’d tell you it was quick thinking, but I’d be lying. Really it was pride and I didn’t even know how many credits they were talking.

“I’m worth double that,” I said, right as Burnett was about to speak.

Wide-eyed shock registered across Synthia’s face like a seismic event, which was probably the only thing that kept her from noticing Burnett about to reach over and choke me out.

“I’m a trained chemist,” I blurted out. “I can double the efficiency on your WIDoW making. And not cutting it with junk. High quality only. Less side effects and better sell rate.”

“Burnett?” asked Synthia. “Why’re you be so cagey? I’m as interested as a honey doll, but don’t chaw me. If she’s lying and wasting my time, then it’s two-fifty.”

If the vein on Burnett’s neck had burst at that moment, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

I spit the words out before he could ruin it: “My father owned a bar, and we brewed our own beer, and when times got tough, he brewed other stuff.”

“You could be lying, girl,” said Synthia, tapping her lower lip with her black fingernail.

“It’s on my MobiGlas, back on the ship. Brewers certifications, chemistry texts, the whole works. You’ll see. Let me go get it and I’ll show you.”

When I moved toward the door, Burnett grabbed my arm. His fingers dug into the muscle and I had to suppress a cry of pain.

“I’ll. Get. It.” intoning each word with such menace that I could feel my bones snapping already. He wasn’t going to just throw me out the airlock now, he was going to break me piece by piece.

“You stay,” and pointed his meaty finger to the matching stool across from Synthia.

After Burnett left, Synthia crossed her arms, tilted her head, and licked her lips in anticipation.

“You’re lying, aren’t you?”

I’d been making a spacer’s gamble without a plan in sight, but the way she looked at me, the way her eyes creased at the corners and sparkled with a mischievous light, made me realize I had to come up with something really fast.

Rubbing my temples, I tried to think of something. Whatever it was, it had to be quick. Burnett would be back with my MobiGlas soon and then I’d be dead.


My MobiGlas.

“He kidnapped me,” I said. “I’m a courier. The courier that was carrying that MobiGlas. He was going to throw me out the airlock, but I told him about the beacon the company puts on us for safety. So he decided to stick me with you to cover his tracks from what’s on the other MobiGlas.”

“And why should I believe you?” asked Synthia.

“You don’t have to believe me. Believe him. I recorded everything he said.” Or at least I hope I did. “It’s on the MobiGlas. I’ll play it back for you when he gets back.”

Synthia stretched her neck and corralled her dreads to hang over her shoulder. Then she sub-vocalized some commands, I assumed to bring in reinforcements, and gave me a lazy wait-and-see glance.

When Burnett returned, he threw me the MobiGlas. His lips were flat and his nostrils flared in twitches.

“Show her your files.”

I tapped on the glass, silently cheering when I found it was still recording, and handed the MobiGlas over to Synthia. She set the other one onto the table and started watching the playback.

When a half-dozen other members of the Stardevils sauntered in with lead pipes and crowbars, each one looking successively more twisted than Synthia, Burnett backed against the bar and bared his teeth. His eyes flitted around the room. He knew something was going to happen.

“Leave us to the UEE?” asked Synthia. “Not a very nice thing to do to a business partner. Maybe once I get these files off, we’ll shove this MobiGlas up you wide-wise and throw you out the airlock.”

I backed away from Burnett as the others converged. He cracked his knuckles and looked ready for a fight. Despite being outnumbered, he didn’t look intimidated. In fact, he looked downright ready to sling fists.

“I was going to ghost your ass,” said Synthia, “but I decided I’d let the gang have a little fun first. They don’t get these opportunities that often.”

When Burnett made a desperate lunge towards Synthia, the others attacked. The fight quickly devolved into blunt weapons and fists, and Burnett, outnumbered and outarmed, was surprisingly holding his own. I used the distraction to grab the company MobiGlas and dart out of the room, my personal Glas unfortunately left behind.

I wasn’t sure if they saw me, but I kept running as if they had. Thankfully, each corridor was so unique that I easily found my way back to the Night Stalker.

With the airlock closed, I raced to the cockpit and started hammering buttons, hoping that Burnett hadn’t locked his system.

When I hit the right sequence and the Night Stalker disengaged from the Stardevil’s base, I set the ship to head towards Oya III, fast as possible. Locking myself into the harness, I prepared for acceleration, right as an explosion rocked the ship.
to be continued …
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Space Marshal
Beiträge: 2793
Registriert: April 24, 2014, 8:39 pm
Wohnort: Basel

Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 6

Nothing jolts a person like imminent death. I was flat-out exhausted. Running through the high-G pirate base had taken a toll on my shaky and worn-down body. I hadn’t eaten in days. I’d gone from one tense situation to the next since I stepped off the Solar Jammer above Oya III.

But when the Night Stalker lurched to the side and the outer hull screamed like a banshee, I found another reserve.

Scanning the displays, I searched for the information I needed. “Dammit ship, where’s your damage report!”

When I found the right screen and understood what it was telling me, my gut twisted as I imagined a disembodied butler voice floating over me: “Maneuvering thrusters six and eight no longer functioning. Small leak in the cargo bay, but door seal holding. Otherwise, you’re screwed.”

“Tell me about it,” I said, to my imaginary ship voice. The amount of information displayed before me was overwhelming. Lights flickered all over the board, graphs oscillated, numbers bounced unstably. The whole thing was a jittery mess, as if the control console was giving stats on me, rather than the Night Stalker.

My hands hovered over the board, wanting to do something, hit something. Prepare for battle, or just make it go faster. We’d been trained in rudimentary piloting, enough to provide support to a real pilot should we be riding as crew, rather than a customer, but not actually commanding the ship ourselves. Mostly, we’d been taught to stay out of the way.

I threw my hands up.

“Ship! What do I do?”

The answer it gave me was an urgent, blinking red light that made me think something bad was about to happen.

“What are you?” I asked the red light, but it didn’t respond. Stupid light. Why they didn’t give these ships voice command, I didn’t know.

“Are you a weapon lock? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

My fingers searched for the shields display. I found a symbol of a ship with a faint nimbus around it and tapped on it until the semi-circle around the back end filled in.

“Are you shields? By hell, I hope you’re shields —”

The ship shuddered again, this time not as violently. More like someone rocking the bed, rather than a full-on impact.

“Uhm, uhm …” I tapped on my lower lip. “Now how do I figure out if we’re going fast enough?”

Growling, I looked ahead. The view screen was mostly black again, except for the orange sun at the center. To the left was a tiny blue and brown marble, Oya III, I presumed.

After I located the throttle, I gave the ship more power, but the shields faded.

“Great. One or the other. Burnett must have hopped in the closest hunk-a-junk to get here. Why couldn’t I have had a competent thief steal my MobiGlas. I bet Dario has a much better ship. A Freelancer or something.”

But all my complaining didn’t do a thing for my situation. I needed more speed, but to do so would reduce my shields. With a grimace, I reduced the shields so I could increase speed.

The luminosity of the semi-circle shrank, right as another explosion hit. The lights dimmed and the hum of the drive reduced in pitch for a moment.

“What the scrum?!”

I placed my hands against my face and rubbed my eyes with my fingertips. I was doing all the wrong things.

“Dammit, Ship. You have to tell me when I’m making stupid decisions.”

After a bit of consternation, I adjusted the shields until the glow felt bright enough, like I knew what that meant. Then I checked systems for damage.

I muttered to myself as I read the report, “Maneuvering thruster number three no longer functioning. Quantum drive no longer functioning. Cargo hold and section number five have a large breach. Both are contained behind airlocks. Great, I hope I don’t need anything from there.”

I slammed the back of my head into the chair rest repeatedly. It wasn’t bad enough that the quantum drives were down and that I was probably going to die. It was that I’d gotten myself into this mess by fooling that stupid Burnett, even when he told me not to.

“Okay. Don’t panic,” I told myself, but I could feel my stomach trying very much to panic. “Are we outpacing the pursuing ships? That’s what I need to figure out right now.”

I growled and started looking over the displays, pounding random buttons until I found something that resembled a scanner package. It looked like the initial three pursuing ships were falling behind, but two other ships that left after the first three would catch up soon. And then after that grouping, were another five just leaving the pirate base.

“And how long until we reach Oya III?” I asked, grabbing my hair and tugging on it. I didn’t know the exact answer, but going at maneuvering speeds meant I wasn’t going to get there in an hour like it would have taken with the quantum drive. Probably days by my guestimate.

I slumped further into the chair. “I need more speed.”

A red light on the control panel was blinking. I stared at it for a while. Then I held my finger over the acknowledge button.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I know what they want. And I know what he wants.” I paused. “Any other ships nearby? Can I send a distress beacon?”

Looking over the scanner displays, I could see that no other ships were nearby. I was all alone. No one was going to come to my rescue.

Staring at the screen, I ran my hands through my hair again, wondering why the pursuing ships hadn’t activated their quantum drives and caught up to me. But then I remember something from our training at courier school. Quantum drives could move you quickly from one distant point to another, but they were terrible for short hops. So they were stuck with maneuvering drives as well.

I stared at the blinking light. “Well, if they want to talk to me. That’s a good sign. Better than more missiles.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and squeezed, thinking about my father bargaining with pushy vendors. Gotta make ‘em wait. Make ‘em want to do business with you. If you’re desperate, they’ll smell it.

“No. Not yet. It’s a chip on the table. Don’t want to spend it yet.”

What I did want was to eat, and now that we were out of weapons range, I figured I had a little time.

When I stood up, I had to hold onto the chair to keep from collapsing. I was starving. My stomach didn’t even bother rumbling any more. It was a just a continuous ache, as if the whole thing had shrunk down to the size of a shube nut, and my mouth was so dry my tongue kept getting stuck to the roof.

With shaky legs, I moved into the room behind the cockpit and upon seeing my backpack with the camera pin, I lamented my lost MobiGlas. But it was a stupid thought. I was happy to be alive, for now, and it’d gotten me through two tough spots.

The light on the door to the next section on the ship was bright red. The green section was dimmed out.

It took me a moment to realize that the red light meant the hull had been breached in this section. Then I noticed the ‘Section Five’ stencils on the cream colored door.

“Not the kitchen …”

I slumped to the floor and laid there a while on my side, just mutely staring at the center post of the table. Not really staring at all. Even if I could survive the Stardevils, I’d probably die from dehydration before I reached Oya III. I’d already gone two days without food or water. A headache was pounding through my skull and my sides were cramping. Only adrenaline had gotten me through the bad spots, but now that that was over, I felt like a damp rag.

Closing my eyes, I huffed out a breath. “Not giving up. Not giving up. Not giving up.”

I repeated the mantra for a while, but it didn’t help. I could hardly be bothered to move.

Yes, I wasn’t giving up. But what the hell did that mean? The Stardevils would intercept me in a couple of hours, but by then, I’d probably be in a coma right where I was lying.

The thought of composing my last words and sending them, along with a distress beacon, back to Oya III, crossed my mind. But I couldn’t muster the will to do that just yet. That would be giving up.

“Not giving up. Not giving up,” I muttered a few more times.

I sat up from my fetal position, “There’s gotta be food or water in this section, right? Emergency rations or something?”

Sitting made me dizzy, but I didn’t care. Then I saw the red markings on the panel along the side. The little picture of a tray of food was like carnival on my birthday. I was going to eat soon.

“Ship, I love you!”

At first, when I found the panel, I thought I was going to be stymied by a lack of tools to open it, but then I found the clasp on the underside. I barely remember ripping the top off the silvery bag of water, and it was probably stale and tepid, but it tasted better than the 50-year port I had snuck back at the Horde.

I tried not to chug it, knowing that would only lead to cramps, but it was hard. The food bars were pretty tasteless as well, but I didn’t mind. My stomach made a few victorious gurgles as I ate.

When I wandered back to the pilot bay, I noticed a new light blinking.

“I’m not talking to Burnett, or the Stardevils,” I mumbled around my mouth full of chunky food bar.

But then I realized it wasn’t a communications request, but a message. It wouldn’t hurt to listen, would it?

When Dario’s voice came over the speakers, I almost swooned. And then I remembered he was the guy that got me into this mess by hiding the stolen files on my MobiGlas in the first place. Which I still had. Something I’d forgotten in my delirium. Still, his voice put a hint of a smile on my lips.

“Hello, Sorri. This is Dario. Sorry that I got you into this mess. It’s my fault. I should have known about the new sensors at Oya station. I got sloppy and now that’s fallen on you. I’ve been monitoring the situation with Burnett and the Stardevils. Sorry about him, too. I should have seen that coming. He’s been gunning for me for a while.”

He did sound contrite, but I reminded myself he was a thief and a scoundrel and I was only in this mess because of him. But at least he had the decency to apologize.

“I’ve done the calculations; you’re not going to make it to Oya station on your maneuver drive before they intercept you. But there’s another way.”

A certain danger was contained in his voice, as if he regretted having to suggest it.

“You’ll need to reconfigure the power plant. I’m sending the specs and directions on your MobiGlas. Override the safeties if they won’t let you. Oh, and take the shields down to zero. You don’t need them anymore. Or at least, if this goes right you won’t.”

A ping erupted from the MobiGlas in my pocket.

“And lastly, even squeezing out more power won’t get you to Oya Station before they catch you. You’ll have to head for the jump point, which is closer.” He paused. “And as much as I know you’ll want to, don’t send out any distress beacons. With the tags on Burnett’s ship, the UEE will ghost you before you get a chance to hail them. Good luck, and I’m sorry, Sorri.”

The files he promised finished pinging onto the MobiGlas, but I didn’t touch them. I only stared at the device as if it had the plague. Was he trying to give me a way out, as promised, or was he just going to draw me to his location and blast me with my shields down? Whatever I decided, it had to be soon.
to be continued …
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Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 7

My father was a stereotypical bar owner. Gruff, but lovable. Simple, but fiercely intelligent. He had an eye for squeezing profit, but not so his customers lost on the deal.

Once, when a rich businessman had gotten lost and ended up at the Golden Horde, my father struck up a conversation with him. I can still see him leaning against the bar, cleaning glasses with a rag, a sparkle in his eye.

Every time the rich customer, a man from Terra with upgraded eyes glowing with a faint phosphorus, even took a drink from his top-shelf Centaurian vodka, my father filled the rest of the glass with great ceremony, not once adding the drink to the man’s charges.

My father laughed at the businessman’s jokes, rubbed his chin while the man blathered endlessly about socio-primal derivatives — a topic I know my father knew nothing about — and in general ignored every other customer in the Golden Horde.

Later, when I asked my father why he’d doted on that customer and charged him for only a fourth of the drinks, when the bottle of vodka had been worth twenty times a normal bottle, he gave me his patented wait-and-see smile and went back to wiping down the bar.

Two months later, other similarly dressed businessmen showed up and spent a small fortune. When he was tallying up the receipts for the night, he winked at me, and asked if I learned anything.

“Everybody wants something, even when it looks like they want nothing.”

I was mad at my father for about a week after that. But I was young, and the mechanics of business really hadn’t meant anything to me then — that everything was a transaction, everything came at a cost.

I thought about this lesson as I modified the drive based on the instructions that Dario sent me. Even if I didn’t go through the jump point, the extra speed was valuable and gave me more options.

The crux of my decision was this: either the whole business with the files on the MobiGlas had gotten out of hand and Dario was trying to eliminate the source of the problem, or he was actually trying to get them back (and perhaps help me in the process).

I had no delusions that he had any interest in my welfare. Otherwise, he’d never have used me as a mule to sneak the files through Oya Station security.

Sitting in the pilot’s chair with my feet propped up on the control panel, sucking on a water pouch and munching on a tasteless food bar, I watched the little blue and brown marble grow larger, while the red dots on the sensor screen blinked closer.

In the end, I decided to hit the jump point as Dario instructed. However, I was going to make a few changes to his plan. The jump point went to Gurzil. Normal protocol was to enter the jump point at a reasonably low speed to avoid collisions with inbound traffic or nearby control stations.

Instead, I was going to go through at near max speed, with full shields, in case Dario had second thoughts about helping me. I knew my plan was haphazard and without basis in any actual technical ship knowledge, but I hated trusting to fate while doing nothing.

When the Night Stalker finally approached the jump point, I’d consumed all the food and water in the emergency kit, had a good night’s rest, and was strapped into the pilot’s chair with my backpack at my feet.

On the way into the jump point, the computer tried three times to get me to reduce speed, but I overrode it each time. After a frightening journey through Interspace, I blew out the other side of the jump and immediately my shields absorbed heavy hits from a trio of Avengers laying their distortion cannons into me . . . good call on maxing the shields.

I put the Night Stalker through evasive maneuvers, which in this case just meant slamming the controls to one side and the other and hoping for the best. Every alarm on the control panel went off as the contortional physics put more strain on the damaged sections of the ship.

Somehow, Dario’s voice came through my ship speakers: “Stand down! Stand down!”

“What in space are you talking about, I’m getting blasted here!” I shouted back.

“They’ve backed off, they’ve backed off!” he replied.

My pulse was booming through my head, and it took me a moment to find the right panel, but I could see the Avengers were no longer in pursuit. That was a positive, but the Night Stalker had taken additional damage and the maneuvering drive was operating at only fifteen percent. I was mostly drifting now.

“I’m coming to get you, Sorri,” said Dario’s voice, “get your stuff and go to full stop so that I can align for docking with you.”

Looking out the viewscreen, I could see what I assumed was the Fardancer. It looked like a heavily customized Freelancer, or some other model I wasn’t familiar with.

The two ships docked and I made my way through the airlocks into Dario’s ship. He greeted me in his living quarters, wearing a light gray, open-collared shirt and utility pants. He cocked a smile, and his gray-green eyes sparkled at me.

“Sorry, Sorri.”

I noticed movement in a cage next to the table.

“Hey, the lynx!”


I crossed my arms. “I guess you want the MobiGlas.”

“It would help.”

I threw it to him, and he snatched it out of the air. “Thanks, that makes things a lot easier. I can take you back home later, but for now I have a business deal to conclude.”

I joined Dario in the cockpit, and though on a technical level it wasn’t much different than Burnett’s, there were little differences everywhere that showcased Dario’s personality. Hanging from strings on the ceiling were little trinkets: a primitive bone carving, an ancient Banu circle coin, a Vanduul hunting dart. The pilot seats had hand-stitched cushions on them rather than hard metal backings.

“So Juliet,” Dario said to his ship, “what’s the status?”

As he pulled up the scanner reports on the display panel, I imagined the ship’s reply as a raspy woman’s voice. The Silent Sons have positioned themselves in a focus-fire array. They are not patiently waiting, darling.

“Those Avengers, they’re the Silent Sons?” I asked. Dario nodded absentmindedly in reply.
He crossed his leg over his knee and tapped on the hand rest. “Open communication channels with Pushkin, voice only.”

A weasel-faced man with black, greasy hair and bat-like ears appeared on the screen.

“Dario, no visual? This is not like you.”

Dario winked at me. “I’m not looking my best today, I’d prefer not to subject you to such atrocities. Shall we get down to business? This has taken far too long already.”

“You have the weapon designs now?” asked Pushkin, face pinched with thought.

Dario held the MobiGlas up, even though there were no visuals. “Right here.”

“Then I am prepared to offer you one-third of the originally discussed price,” replied Pushkin.

Dario put both his feet down and sat up. “One-third? Are you crazy? Complications and delays, yes, but nothing to justify major discounts.”

Pushkin leaned back into his chair and put his hands behind his head. “We could just disable your ship and board you and take the plans. One-third is a good offer.”

“I thought we had a deal.”

Pushkin showed his teeth. “You missed the deal. Change in plan has cost the Silent Sons and puts us at risk. Next time do your homework.”

Rubbing his temples with his fingertips, Dario closed his eyes and nodded. It looked like he was going to agree to the revised terms, which was fine by me. I just wanted to get to safety. And the faster we gave up the files, the faster we could be leaving.

Dario gave me a half-hearted shrug and opened his mouth when a host of proximity alarms went off. Pushkin winked off the viewscreen.

Suddenly, the area around the jump point was filled with ships. Stardevil ships.

And the worst part was that the Fardancer was smack in the middle, between the array of Silent Sons and Stardevils.

My pulse set to racing immediately, but I didn’t really start to panic until Dario began frantically strapping into the pilot’s chair, his normally swept back hair falling into his face while he muttered, “Not good, not good, not good.”
to be continued …
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Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 8

“Why aren’t you moving?” I murmured under my breath, as if the slightest noise would set off the fireworks between the two pirate packs.

Dario tapped on the controls, one after another, and readouts bloomed and faded across the console. My question seemed to take a moment to register before he stopped, finger hovering over a glowing semi-circle that I thought might be our shield power. His eyebrows drew together as he looked at me.

“Ever seen a mad dog in the street? Well, we’re stuck between two of the meanest, and one move might set them off.”

I opened my mouth, but Pushkin’s voice came over the system, and I could hear the mad dog in his tone.

“You trying to ghost us all? Inviting the Stardevils? I know I push a hard deal, but getting them involved is dumb move. Dumber than I thought you were, Dario.”

Dario glanced around the cockpit before answering. “I didn’t invite them, Pushkin.”

“Then what they doing here!”

Dario licked his lips. “Let me take care of it.”

“You’d better.”

I had the impression that Dario hadn’t told him the Stardevils were on my tail. That explained why he wanted to make a quick deal, except one part confused me.

“They weren’t that close on my tail, were they?”

Dario leaned his head back and forth. “They might have used quantum drives once they realized that you were heading for the jump point. Regardless, they’re here and we’ve got to deal with them.”

A red blinking light bloomed on his controls. Dario frowned. The Stardevils. He tapped the panel.

Synthia’s voice came over the system: “Dario Oberon?”

“That’s me,” said Dario, making a half-shrug.

“You have something that belongs to me,” she said.

Dario smiled at me and made a face like can-you-believe-what-she-just-said? “An invitation? Because I certainly didn’t give you one. This is a private meeting here.”

Synthia made a noise like she was spitting. “Your little witch stole something of mine.”

“All’s fair in love and piracy. I think we —” Dario winked at me, “— just stole it back. I assume ol’ thunder thighs is lurking back there somewhere.”

The comment seemed to thoroughly confuse Synthia, which I guess was Dario’s point. “Thunder thighs?”

“My old friend, Burnett. Or did you jettison him out the air lock as any sensible human being would do?”

“He’s here,” growled Synthia. “And we want the data, and her, back.”

Dario raised an appraising eyebrow and showed me a thumbs-up. My earlier terror at being obliterated wasn’t gone, but I could breathe again.

“And why would I want to do that?” asked Dario.

“Because if you don’t, we’ll open fire on the Silent Sons, and you’ll be space dust within seconds after that.”

The smile faded from Dario’s lips. “And you’ll lose your deal.”

“You win some, you lose some. Like you said, all’s fair in love and piracy. Better that people know we can’t be messed with than take a deal for something we know nothing about. And besides, Burnett says he can do better, that this was a one-off and he has lines on a weapon system that would make me swoon.”

I sprung straight up in my seat and Dario reached over and tapped the screen.

“He’s lying,” I exclaimed, as soon as communications had been silenced.

“How can you know that?” he asked, wrinkling his nose.

“I just know. I can tell,” I said, but truthfully, it was just a hunch from my brief time with him.

My argument was cut short when the panel pinged again. This time, it was Pushkin from the Silent Sons.

“What’s taking so long? Why won’t they leave? I don’t want any triggers pulled. Let’s just do the deal and be done with it. I’m feeling generous at thirty-eight percent of original deal.”

Dario rubbed the back of his neck. I knew what he was thinking. I was thinking it, too. If anyone tried to leave, Synthia and the Stardevils would open fire. Otherwise, he’d probably jump at the deal, just to get out of danger.

“They’re almost gone, Pushkin. Let me just finish,” replied Dario, and the red communications light blinked again. “I’m sure we can work out a deal.”

“You’d better not be two-timing —” Dario tapped the screen.

“He’s lying,” I whispered quickly before Dario answered the Stardevils.

“How about,” began Dario in a wandering sort of way, “I sell you a copy of the weapons plans at half of what I was going to sell them to the Silent Sons.”

I swallowed. I couldn’t believe he was negotiating at a time like this. And if they took it, he’d make more than what the Silent Sons were currently offering.

That’s when Synthia started ranting, spitting out expletives faster than a rotating neutron star. Dario hit the silence and turned to me. “Why do you think he’s lying? Tell me. Give me a reason and I’ll believe you.”

I swallowed a second time. He’ll believe me? “I … uh … I can just tell.”

He bent his neck forward and slowly shook his head. “I need something more than that. I can’t play a dead hand.”

I pressed my fingers against my temples and squeezed my eyes together, trying to get my brain to spit out an answer.

“He’s lying because …,” the answer exploded into my head, “he doesn’t have anything else going on. He said so. And his ship, it was new, not customized. He still called it ‘Ship’ and he hadn’t even bothered to put in voice locks yet. Even when he grabbed my MobiGlas on Oya III, he was riding an electrocycle three sizes too small. It’s as if he caught wind of what you were doing at the last second and dropped everything else. You wouldn’t do that if you had a good deal going, right?”

Dario’s lips parted and he reached over and patted my leg. “That’s all I needed to know. Thank you.”

He stabbed the communication button. “Are you done yet? Look, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll sell it to you at seventy percent, but first you have to back off. Reverse thrusters and put some distance between you and the Sons.”

“Seventy? Are you crazy? I’ll just take the deal with Burnett,” said Synthia.

“I can’t tell whether you or he is lying, but he has no deal. Otherwise, my old friend wouldn’t have bothered messing with mine. He’s out of funds and desperate. Is that really who you want to hook your transport to?”

“Well then, we’ll just open fire and see how you like that,” countered Synthia.

His smile never faltered as he replied, “You won’t do that either. Yes, we might get blown to space dust, but you’ll take losses, and losses aren’t good business. You’re a smart one, Synthia, not like Pushkin and the Silent Sons. You’re playing an empty hand, and playing it well, but you’ve got nothing. Take the deal. Seventy-five percent.”

“Seventy-five? I’ll give you sixty.”


“Fine,” spat Synthia. “Deal. I’ll send you the funds as soon as we get the transmission.”

“Good, good. But for now, just so we don’t start a mini-war here, reverse thrusters please.”


Then Dario called up the Silent Sons, right as the Stardevils began backing away.

“My apologies, Pushkin,” said Dario. “The Stardevils aren’t the smartest pirates in the galaxy. They didn’t understand how easily you’d destroy them until I explained it.”

“They did, eh?” said Pushkin.

“Shall we do the deal then? Fifty-five percent?”

I could almost hear Pushkin nodding. “Only because I want to be rid of this place. This space stinks like Stardevil skag. Forty-five and it’s a deal.”

“You drive a hard bargain,” conceded Dario, as he winked at me.

When communications were down, and the red dots on the screen were moving away, Dario kicked his heels up on the panel and put his hands behind his head.

“Too close, man. Too close.”

My jaw hung open. “You got your original deal and then some.”

He looked ready to give me some witty response when the proximity alarms started blaring again.

“Great. What do we have here, another pirate pack?”

Dario flipped the view screen to visuals the moment the new ships came sliding through the jump point. He leapt into action even before I noticed the silhouette of what was probably a military Hornet.

His stone-eyed glance told me everything I needed to know about how bad it’d just gotten.

And then a similarly tagged bristling Idris frigate blew through the gate and opened fire.
to be continued …
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Re: The First Run

Beitrag von PELCKI »

The First Run Episode 9

A thousand years of literature and holovids have glorified the wonders of space battles. I know I’d eaten up the stuff in my early days, eight years old and curled beneath the blanket when I should have been asleep, watching glittering beams burst through the dark on my MobiGlas.

The two sides would orchestrate themselves through complex maneuvers, spinning and weaving together in a dance punctuated with explosives and flaring drives. The heroes and villains would mock each other across the cold vacuum of space as if they were chatting across a bar table drinking a couple of beers.

My space battle was nothing like that.

If you had stuffed me into an oversized drier, filled it with migraine-inducing flashing lights, set it on hyperspin, and then thrown the whole thing off a mountainside, you might have gotten one tenth of what it felt like.

Gentle artificial gravity had turned to the hard Gs of rapid maneuvering. One second, we were headed right for the side of the Idris, the next, a white-phosphorus flash blinded us and pieces of exploded ship bounced off our shields, flinging us in a completely different direction.

Dario danced us through the space battle, always looking for a way out, but each time, the fighting folded around us and cut off our escape.

Twice, I thought our plant had been knocked out, but it’d either been my heart stopping, or my hearing getting obliterated by the percussions of combat.

Screw the guy that ever said space battles were a silent ballet of death. Klaxons sounded, alarms rang, proximity warnings grew hoarse with overuse.

At last, Dario slung us through a nasty duel between a Silent Son Avenger and two UEE Hornets, and we hit a pocket of empty space, breathing a sigh of relief together.

“Are you okay, Sorri?” he asked me, while checking instrument consoles and damage reports.

“I think so, yes,” I said, my voice unexpectedly hoarse, but I guess I’d been screaming the whole time.

Despite the chilly air, Dario’s forehead was damp with sweat. He wiped his face with his shoulder and tapped on a viewscreen in front of me that brought up port and starboard views from the Fardancer.

“We’re not out of this yet. We’ve got to get back to the jump point and escape back to Oya. Otherwise, those UEE ships will hunt us down after the battle. Tell me if you see anyone gunning for us, and adjust the shields to compensate. You just have to tap on that panel to send power to one side or another.”

Below us I could see a growing ball of explosions and debris.

“You’re going to fly us through that?” I asked.

His normally razor sharp smile had been dulled by the events. “Better than a lifetime in a UEE prison.”

I placed my palms together and set them against my lips. “Okay, I can do this.” And then to Dario, “All right, let’s go.”

I hunched forward, setting my hands over the shield display, while closely watching the dual viewscreens. Dario dropped us back into the maelstrom of ships, giving me a moment of vertigo as the tail-end of a destroyed Freelancer flipped past, narrowly missing the Fardancer.

Our re-entry into the fight brought an immediate response, as two UEE ships broke off to engage. I adjusted power to the port side as small fire sparked across our shields.

Dario spun us in a corkscrew, which slung my neck around as I tried to keep an eye on the viewscreen and my fingers on the shields, dancing them between port and starboard as we twirled. When we came out, I had to shift almost all power to the port as we careened away from a Stardevil ship.

Swallowing back my stomach, my hopes for an escape sank as I saw the Idris frigate bearing down on us. Even I knew our shields weren’t meant to deflect the kind of damage it could inflict.

Right as the Fardancer screamed her alarms, warning us of impending death, we slipped into Interspace.

Relieved by our narrow escape, I sunk back against the chair, while Dario gave instructions to the Fardancer. Once he was finished, the pair of us stayed silent and stared out the vacant viewscreen until we left Interspace.

Back in Oya system, Dario set our flight path to take up orbit around III and turned to me.
His brow carried a heavy, unwanted weight, while he squeezed his clasped hands together. His gray-green eyes were glossy and he could barely look at me.

I shrunk back into my chair as I feared what he was going to say.

“I’m sorry, Sorri.”

I leaned back further. “You’re … sorry?”

He blew out a breath. “I could have rescued you before you hit the jump point, and taken you back to Oya III, but I didn’t want to miss my chance with the Silent Sons.”

“Your deal’s gone now, huh?”

He scrunched up part of his face and lifted the other shoulder. “There are other packs and other deals. Not as lucrative, but they’ll do in a pinch.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“You’re a smart girl, or young lady, I should say. You tell me.”

I pursed my lips and the answer came right away in the voice of my father: Everybody wants something, even when it looks like they want nothing.

“You want me to keep my mouth shut about this,” I said.

“I knew you were smart; keep going.”

I sighed. “It’s not going to be easy. The UEE might come looking for me. And they might want me to talk about what happened.”

“And the UEE can be pretty persuasive when they want to,” he added, leaning back. “But I’ve got another option for you. Ever heard the saying, ‘two heads are better than one’? Well, space gets pretty boring running solo and I could use a quick thinking partner.”


He grinned. “Well, junior partner, but well compensated. You’d make a lot more than you’ll make as a courier, and see the empire at the same time.”

The words caught in my throat. Courier to criminal in just one week? It seemed laughable, if it weren’t true. Or an option, anyway.

Dario placed his hand on my shoulder. “I won’t lie to you, it’s not an easy life. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve got a hunch you’ve got similar feelings, through it might be a bit confusing right now after that last little dust-up.”

“Confusing?” I spit out. “I’ve been used, and robbed, and kidnapped, and tortured, not to mention nearly starved and immolated. That battle, if twelve rabid cats dumped into a barrel counts as something so organized as a battle, probably left me with damaged vertebrae and ulcers from fright.”

His smile deflated as his hand retracted from my shoulder. I put my knuckle against my closed eye and rubbed, not wanting him to see the tear that had formed. Like a little bird, my heart was fluttering in my chest and if we’d been on planet, I’d have walked outside to catch my breath.

“But honest to apples, somewhere in there, I did enjoy it,” I added, to Dario’s amazement.

“So you’d consider it?”

I rubbed my lips. “I can’t tell if I’m honored or horrified that you’ve asked me to join you, and a big part of me wants to join your crew aboard the Fardancer.”

His gaze narrowed and he made a little nod as if he already knew what I was about to say.

“But,” I began, “I signed up to be a courier and I want to do that, at least for a while. Maybe after a few years, if I’ve still got the bug, I might join you, if you were still interested.”

“Two years is a long time in my life. Can’t promise anything.”

I shrugged. “Didn’t think so. So I guess my answer is no. But don’t worry about me saying anything. I won’t.”

Dario tapped on the control panel. “I’ll do my best to get you on planet without being seen.”

After that, we didn’t talk much. It was as if we both knew it was best that way. I didn’t want to get too attached in case I did get picked up by the UEE. For Dario? I’m not sure what he was thinking, but he stayed focused on getting me back to New Alexandria.

I was expecting a tearful goodbye, but Dario went right back up as soon as I’d left, barely giving me time to clear the jets before he ascended. At least he’d given me some spare credits to get back into the city.

A half-hour after he’d dropped me, a UEE hovercraft arrived. I thought it might be a friendly officer stopping to check on a lost tourist, until the door opened and I saw Captain Hennessy staring back, the bags under her eyes giving her dark circles. She stepped out and clamped her hand around my wrist before I could even say ‘hello.’

“As an agent of the UEE, I place you under arrest for crimes against the Empire.”
to be continued …
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