Chapter 2: The Scoundrel
By Derek Hawkins
Hayden walked out of the Chambers and down to the hangar bay. Lousy, no good, pushy, arrogant Malstrom, he growled to himself as he waited for the turbolift to take him down to the hangar at the bottom level of Xenra’s mountain palace. The palace was built on, and into the side of a mountain overlooking Denebula City, the capital of Deneb II.
Why did I ever even approach that thieving Kanous for a loan of enough credits to buy my ship? He knew that the answer, of course, was so that he could buy that ship. Hayden had put himself in debt to the Crimelord for forty-thousand credits.... enough to buy the ship of his dreams and then to modify that same ship to perform like a dream. Now, I’m being forced into half-baked “missions” like this one that Malstrom has planed.... all because I still own Xenra some credits.
Hayden had been a free trader all his adult life. As soon as he was old enough, he signed on to the merchant fleet academy, much to the dislike of his parents, who were both officers in their home star system’s security forces. They had envisioned a career in law enforcement for their oldest son. Hayden had other plans.
After graduation from the academy; as one of the five highest students in his class; Hayden took on the first job that came his way. He worked his way up through the ranks in a fairly short time, starting as the junior-most officer on a freighter. From there, he went on to comm/sensors and then to Navigation, all the way to being executive officer... the second highest ranking on the ship, only under the captain himself. Granted, there was a reason for his rapid advance thru the ranks. Not long after Hayden joined the crew, the ship’s captain decided to turn renegade and fled from the company while on a run. He had decided that there was more credits to be made on his own as an independent trader than with the salary that the company was paying him.
The crew, young Hayden included, went along with the captain’s decision. For the first few months, things went well, the ship made several profitable runs, and everyone made money. Then the bottom fell out. The ship was posted on the major capture and detain lists along with the captain himself. Hayden and his crewmates had several run-ins with scummy bounty hunters and ship-capture teams in one port after the next. Several of these run-ins resulted in a lost crew mate or two, and that helped Hayden advance up the line.
By the time the ship reached Deneb II, it was a hot item. The captain could not take them anywhere near the civilized main systems for work, relegating the ship and its crew to the wilds of the fringes, where times were tougher for a “hot” working freighter. The fringes also attracted the criminal element, and Deneb II was home to a member of one of the largest crime families in the galaxy. The Kanous Crimelord Xenra had her base of operations here on planet, and Hayden decided now was as good a time as any to get out, while he still had his skin intact.
Hayden’s timing seemed prophetic. Just hours after his departure from the ship and its crew, her captain was captured and the ship seized. All crew aboard were detained as well. Airic was the only one to escape the swift retribution the company brought down upon the captain and the remaining mutineers in the crew. By the time the heavy end of the hammer fell on the captain and crew, Hayden was already in the employment of Xenra.
The time spent as a independent free trader really agreed with Hayden. He often went to sleep in his bunk dreaming of finding the perfect ship and going in to business for himself. Xenra seemed the easiest road to those dreams. She was more than willing to “loan” him the credits necessary to buy a ship and outfit it to his tastes, all for a significant amount of interest on her investment of course.
I knew this deal was too good to be true, Hayden groused as he walked up the boarding ramp into “his” ship. His boots were a soft sole style, and made very little or no noise when he walked across metal surfaces. He picked up the idea to wear them after fighting off a ship thief that was posing as a passenger on a run once. Since then, he had taken to wearing them and even considered them “fashionable”. Plus, he though, they let me sneak up on the Kid.
“Hey Kid, look alive!” he shouted from the top of the boarding ramp, then he headed for the cockpit. He sat down and propped his feet up on the control panel and pulled out the nav package that Malstorm had just handed him in the meeting. Hayden had just started a star chart update when the Kid walked into the cockpit. The Kid was a willowy blonde teenaged girl of about 18 or 19 standard years. And she was wiping what looked like hydraulic fluid from her hands.
Hayden “met” the Kid a little over 6 years ago, when he found her as a stow away on his ship.
He listened to her story, about how her parents had been killed by the Dictator’s forces, and she been forced into the life of street orphan. She was mechanically inclined, Hayden had discovered, and good with her hands. She’d sharpened her mechanical skills on the streets, working on airspeeders that the gang she ran around with stole, sometimes souping them up for resale on the black market and sometimes tearing them down for parts. Something about her got to him, and he found that he just couldn’t make himself kick her off at his next stop. He took her on as a ship’s hand, and the two became fast friends.
“What is it Airic? This better be good, you know I’m trying to fix the actuators on the cargo lift, and standing here, flapping my gums with you is not getting it done,” the blonde poured out in a rapid fire buzz. She stood there in a dirty coverall, with equal parts of dirt and grease on her face and her hair haphazardly pulled back in a clasp.
Airic looked at her for an instant, and smiled a lopsided smile at her. “We got a job in the morning.”
She looked at the opened package in his lap. “A pre-planned Nav package this time?”
“Yeah,” Hayden answered. “ID module too.”
“Where’s Xenra shipping us off to now?”
He shook his head. “Not Xenra, Malstrom. This is his run we’re on.”
“Oh no,” she griped. “Malstrom set this up? Shit. This is probably a half-cocked run if he planned this. I may just call in sick tomorrow.”
Hayden just grinned at the Kid’s appraisal of Malstrom’s planning abilities. He often shared the same thoughts with her. Now was one of those times where they were mentally in-synch with each other. “It may not be that bad this time. Malstrom laid out the entire mission to us in the meeting. It looks like a simple stroll in, load up, and stroll right back out.”
The Kid just shrugged. “Let me know when we have to leave. I’m going back to the cargo actuators.” She turned and left the cockpit.
Hayden watched her leave and thought. The Kid will make this one a bit tricky. The Kid had a burning hatred for the Dictator and his forces past and present. Before the civil war began, her family had been wiped out by the Dictator’s forces in a battle on her home planet, forcing her out into the streets a poor orphaned eight year old girl.
Come to think of it, Hayden didn’t much like the Dictator’s rabble much either. Too often they had harassed shipments both when he was a junior officer on board the freighter and once he had become captain of his own ship. Snap cargo inspections, customs delays, anything and everything that was in the book they had pulled it. Hayden had endured it all, and suffered lost profits, missed early delivery bonuses and generally despised the Dictator’s troops the entire time. Airic knew how to grit his teeth and suffer thru it. The Kid, on the the other hand, was know to fly into a violent rage when ever she got near Dictator forces.
I’ll just have to think of a way to keep her on the ship, he decided. Besides, he told himself while rummaging thru the rest of the package, there’s no ID for her in here. He smiled. He’d dodged a blaster bolt on that one. Thank you, Flynn.
* * *
A wedge shaped vessel dived towards the darkened half of a blue-green-tan planet. The ship shattered the stillness of the night as it blasted over the salt marshes and shallow seas of this largely uninhabited planet. No one was there to witness the ship’s black and gray hull as it flew towards the sunset.
The black ship left the shallow seas and entered a volcanic mountain range, twisting and turning thru the valley following an ancient river course. The river eventually cut into a large canyon, 300 meters wide and over 700 meters deep. Onward the ship flew.
As the sun was setting, a speeder scout sat on his speeder along side the edge of a cliff, overlooking a deep river canyon. A voice crackled over the scout’s comlink.
“Base to 3216, over.”
The scout opened his comlink. “3216, Go ahead, Base.”
“All other patrols have reported back to base. Are you planning on staying out all night?”
The scout laughed. “Negative, Base. I’m just making one more sensor sweep over the river and then I’m calling it a day.”
“Your devotion to duty is inspiring, 3216, but most of the officers are away with that Admiral’s fleet that was here for resupply a month ago. Save all your bootlicking efforts for when they return. If they return.”
“Well we are short-staffed right now.” The scout held up the visual scanner unit to his face and started his sweep. “How’s this resupply going?”
“It’s nearly finished. Every available man that could be spared is involved.”
“Glad to hear it, Base. Let me know when it’s finished and I’ll be in shortly there after.” The scout said as a huge gray-black mass suddenly rose up out of the canyon and filled his handheld visual scanner unit. “What in the Fire Rings of Formax is that?” he cursed as the image snapped into focus resolving itself into turret mounted double laser cannons.
“3216 to Base!” he shouted, “We’ve got troub-” The scout’s transmission died in a burst of static as crimson death spewed from the laser cannons.
On the black ship poised over the edge of the canyon, a gunner smiled. The comm officer at the base had kept the fourth and last patrol talking long enough for the ship’s crew to locate him. Now no one would know they were coming.
On To Chapter 3