October 29th 2012
The cold sea of space. Some people love it. Thrive in it. It weirds me out. They think of it as freedom. To me it’s a prison, worse actually, it’s an executioner standing above you, just waiting for that crack in the hull to take you out.
For some reason, I always get a little morbid when I’m about to land. The Covalex Shipping Hub was coming up. A voice crackled over my squawkbox.
“Ready for ID check.” I sifted through my tags until I found a clean one and sent it. They chewed on it for a couple seconds.
“Thanks Mrs. Bally-wa. Wing 2, Hangar Four, Bay 32.” The dispatcher clicked off.
Several Shipping Consortiums had banded together to open a bunch of these Hubs as layover points to transfer cargo and for traders and haulers who didn’t want to deal with the hassle and physics of landing on a planet. In short, it’s where I make my bread and butter.
“Hey Ethan.” Oh come on. I just got here.
I slowly turned. Raj Benny. I don’t think he’s got a reason to be mad at me.
“Hey Raj, here on a scope?”
“Yeah, you know, seeing how things tumble.”
As far as thugs go, Raj wasn’t too bad. He had a mean streak though. While that’s generally the case with Tevarin, I’ve seen that temper take him places that are unnecessary. Been the cause of some tension between us in the past but clearly not today. That being said, one of these days, we’re probably going to kill each other. But until then, no reason we can’t be civil.
“Anything promising?” I asked as I turned back to the crowd. Raj shrugged and took a sip of HydroFroz.
“Not really.” His pitch black eyes then locked on something and he gave a quick nod. It was an Advocacy Agent. Didn’t recognize her. She wasn’t trying to hide either.
“Later.” Raj broke away and disappeared into the crowd. I did the same.
The Door was a dive for haulers, shippers, traders to grab a drink and a bite, maybe an hour or two of sleep in the single-occupant file cabinet bunk-bays in the back. It was fun to watch. See when you get a bunch of drifters with cash in one place it’s like a magnet for opportunists, which unfortunately includes people like me.
I got some RealWater and posted up in the corner to get a good view of the room.
Three nursed glasses later and things weren’t looking too good. Then a glass shattered. A couple heads turned, mine included. A hauler lurched to his feet, wasted six ways sideways. Veins in his forehead pulsed like they were trying to break free. It was a game of Trigger gone foul.
“I called you a cheat! You ask me to say it again, I’ll carve it in your face, see if you hear me then.” Security started circling. The other players stayed still, afraid the slightest move or reaction would incite him further.
“Take it outside.” The bartender yelled.
“Eat it, dreg. Unless you wanna dance too.” Security snatched the drunk by the arms and dragged him to the entrance. He kicked a couple tables along the way, spilling the drinks. He giggled, enjoying being a disturbance.
This guy had promise. They poured him outside. He swung up to his feet and vented a steady stream of obscenities for about five minutes straight before he stumbled off.
I followed him as if he wasn’t barely conscious, just in case any other vultures had caught the show. He eventually wandered his way back to the ship bays. He climbed into a beat-up MISC Fiera, slipping twice on the ladder. There was a detachable cargo hold underneath. Its engines slowly started to rev up.
Repeating the ship’s reg number over and over, I jogged back to my bay and took off.
I caught up to him just outside the launch-bay. The Fiera’s main thrusters finally kicked in and the ship slowly accelerated. I kept my distance, again more concerned with any potential competitors than this idiot noticing me.
It took three hours to clear traffic. I don’t know where he was heading but it was obvious he wanted to keep a low profile. Fine by me. Made my job a hundred times easier. I let him drift for a little while longer. Made sure it was nice and quiet. Then made my move.
I swooped in front of the Fiera’s cockpit, flicking the electroskin as I heated up my main guns. The paint on the body of my ship shifted to the blood splattered design by which I was known.
I could see him in the cockpit, mouth dropped, in total shock. I hailed his comms.
“Judging by the look on your face, I can tell you know who I am.” He was barely able to force out a nod. “Okay, here’s the rule. You run, you die. Can we agree on that point?”
He nodded again. I quickly gave him a rundown of the rest of my rules. They all pretty much ended the same as the first rule. By the time I told him to release his cargo, he was completely docile. He disengaged the cargo and backed away.
I maneuvered around and the cargo locked into place.
“Now drift.” He blasted the hell out of there. I wasn’t going to do a full-check in case he went for cops but I had to at least peek. It took a little bit for my ship’s system to accept the cargo’s computing protocol and then I’d get access to visuals inside.
“Come on, payday…”
It popped up on my screen. I had to ramp up the gain to see. I finally saw what was inside…
People. Starving. Withered. Some humans, a few Banu, Tevarin, and a couple I didn’t recognize. I saw red. He was a Sentient-Trafficker. Biggest scumsucking parasite bastards in the-
I kicked the thrusters full and swung around. I could barely see the glow of his thrusters in the distance. He wasn’t getting away. Hell with that.
He was getting closer. I’ll take my time with this one. Cut on him so slow and for so long he won’t remember a life without agony. First I’m gonna-
Two missiles soared past me toward the trafficker. The first blasted his thruster, the other just behind the cockpit. The antimatter explosion flared up, incinerating the Fiera. My polarizing compensators kicked in. When they receded, the ship was gone. So was whoever did the shooting. There wasn’t a trace of them on the scanners.
So there I was. Alone with a cargo full of slaves. My blood still boiling.
Raj wasn’t the only one with a temper problem.