The Falcon Banner - 3. Chapter 3
Every man is the hero of his own story.
Truer words were never spoken.
The Dragonfly shivered as it dropped back to normal space, jump pods powering down as it unfurled its twin boosters. The boosters shuddering as they roared to life and catapulting the strangely-shaped ship deeper into the system. It was a blind jump, always risky, without the proper calculations the ship had simply defaulted to its last set of co-ordinates in the navigation computer, and for all Darien knew they could have ended up anywhere.
He sat buckled into the pilot's seat staring out of the thick-paned windows at the front of the cockpit gondola checking the nonsensical readouts as he struggled to figure out where they had ended up. He squinted a bit, tapping the navigational readout that was written in some alien script he couldn't decipher, so he pivoted his chair, released his seat belts and got up to take a look for himself.
The nose of the cockpit was shaped to allow an unobstructed view of the space outside; it was like seeing through the turtle's head. The great space turtle... Wasn't there a myth about that? He stopped his musing as he focused on the dull white star trying to guess where they had ended up.
"What's up, Detective?" Sarge came down the metal run ladder and into the cockpit gondola. He was thankfully looking none the worse for wear after his close brush with death in Jorten's scrap yard.
Darien looked back at him, framed in the light of the white dwarf star. "I have no idea where we are," he said truthfully. In fact they could be literally anywhere in known space. Well, not anywhere, he reasoned; there were limits to how far a jump drive could carry a ship, and any further would require a jump gate.
Elias slid down the ladder, his worn boots clanging on the deck as he pulled a cloth to wipe engine fluid from his hands. "Well, I guess that's that then..." he said, smearing some of the grease onto his cheek as he tried to brush it away. "I patched the damage and the jump engines should recharge in about an hour..." The young techie looked up and out of the window and frowned, "Hephastian? Why did you want to come here?"
"Hephastian?" Darien asked blankly continuing to stare out of the cockpit window at the darkness.
"Yeah," Elias sat down at one of the rear consoles, accessing the ships limited computer and calling up a map of the Hephastian system on the chart table. The antiquated system spluttered to life with a holographic map depicting the known information about the system, "We do runs out here occasionally..." he stopped himself looking at the two Terran security officers. "I mean, Jorten used to..."
"Is there a station or something?" Braddock asked glancing over the map.
"There's a couple, both Taïrian mining outposts," Elias replied. "The system's rich in natural resources."
Darien looked up at Braddock, both of them thinking the same thing-it was an ideal place to stop in, Braddock could head back for Earth and they could hopefully re-supply. A Taïrian outpost was about as close to neutral as they were going to get inside the Amsus sphere of influence.
"That good for you?" Darien asked looking over at Braddock.
Braddock nodded, "Hey, I didn't expect to come this far, and I am going to have a hell of a time explaining where my patrol shuttle is..." and he stopped with a broad grin, "but it was fun."
"You're insane," Darien observed, already buckling back into the pilot's seat, firing up the thrust engines and charting a course for the closer of the two stations. The blockade-runner responded to the controls nimbly. It was a surprise, considering her appearance, that the ship could manoeuvre so well, but she navigated the system without a problem, sweeping closer to the dark asteroid base that had been converted into a Taïrian mining colony.
The Taïrians had once been a loyal part of the Empire, the industrious species had built up a reputation for feats of industrial engineering that amazed and astounded so many that crossed their paths. They maintained a loose participation with the Amsus Hegemony, feeding their fuel and natural resource demands while at the same time possessing a limited form of autonomy. Autonomy bought at the expense of significant profits.
"Unidentified vessel, this is Hephastian Two's flight control, please advise us of your identity and destination." A bored-sounding Taïrian accent came through the comm.
Darien looked at the headset on the console beside him and he pulled it on, wondering blankly how he was going to respond to them. He didn't even know if that ship had a registry code, or shipping papers.
"Uh...Hephastian control, this is the thrust lifter Dragonfly, bound for Hephastian Two; we're transporting..." he glanced around desperately and his eyes settled on Braddock, "We're inbound from a search and rescue mission of a Terran security officer, we're requesting permission to dock."
Standing at Elias's shoulder, Braddock rolled his eyes. "Great, now I'm salvage cargo," he murmured.
Darien smirked, "I'm transmitting the Terran Security authorisation codes." He punched a set of numbers into the numeric keypad and waited for Hephastian Control to verify them as valid. That should waive the docking fees and allow them onboard the station, but what they did once they were there...
"Confirmed, Dragonfly, you are cleared for approach; welcome to Hephastian." The controller concluded as the comm. channel faded to background chatter. Obediently Darien navigated the ship into its approach pattern. As they closed he saw there were a few ships heading into and out of the busy commercial station, mostly tankers and freighters on their routine runs.
When finally it was their turn to dock, the agile blockade runner slipped into the cavernous docking back, its boosters folding back against its body as it manoeuvred itself into a set of mooring clamps that held it secure while the docking tube was extended.
And as simple as that they arrived at Hephastian Two.
* * *
Hephastian was a dark and dreary place; it reeked of grease, sweat and stale air, perfect for the Taïrians. It was kept dark. Natural miners, the Taïrians never seemed to like the light preferring their outposts to have the cold dank feel about them. Darien stared about him at the tons of rock that had been hollowed out to form the station and marvelled at the places some aliens would call home.
He was shivering and thought about stopping for a jacket, but then that was the key problem with being on the run-he didn't have any money. The Inquisition no doubt had seized his accounts by now.
This was his life now. That's what it amounted to, running ahead of the law until he could escape the Amsus sphere of influence and then it was a matter of settling down, and making a life for himself. But getting there would be a feat.
He walked into one of the dingy bars, found a seat for himself and ordered a drink. He had a couple of Hegemony credits in his pocket, enough for a single drink to help him clear his head.
The Taïrian bartender looked up at him and shook its head, its long whiskers moving from side to side. "Your money's no good here, Terran." He poured the drink and slid it across the bar, "For the memory of a better time." He gwuffed, pouring himself one and raising the glass.
"Thanks," Darien said, accepting the drink and sitting down at the bar, adjusting the unfamiliar pistol belt so he could sit down properly. "I appreciate it."
The Taïrian waved him off, slowly moving up the bar to clean more glasses. Sometimes old debts were never forgotten. The friendship between the two species, going back to the dawn of the Empire, endured even when both people had been ruthlessly ground beneath Amsus jack-boots.
Darien turned the dirty glass between his hands as he stared at the liquid, downing it in a rush. He'd made it off-world, he'd escaped the Terran system and was en route to slip the Amsus entirely; with a little luck he could find a backwater system that had the resources to fund its own jump gate and escape them entirely.
But that was a slim hope at best, the Amsus Fleet kept a tight rein over the jump gates within its borders. The spoils of war, they had been incapable of building their own network, the Terran Empire being the ones who had set up the network. They viewed them as property and were fiercely territorial, taxing mercilessly any who sought passage through it.
He pushed his hat back and yawned, realizing how long it had been since he had last slept. Scrubbing his eyes and stumbling to his feet he decided to head back to the ship. They still had another day's leave to remain moored at the station, after that they would be expected to pay docking fees and even on a remote place like Hephastian that was still too high.
Braddock was gone, taking the first freighter out of the system and heading back home. A good man, Darien hoped he wouldn't find too much trouble waiting for him when he got back there.
The ship was brightly lit when he came back to it, music spilling out of the upper compartment where the young grease monkey was sitting on a hammock he had strung between two bulkheads in an effort to make the ship seem homier. He sat swinging back and forth, working with a micro-soldering iron to repair some circuitry.
"Still here?" Darien asked, unbuttoning his shirt and tossing it onto the end of his berth recessed into the wall. "I would have thought you would have left the second we docked."
"Where would I go?" Elias said, looking up from his work, and for the first time Darien noticed those sharp sapphire eyes buried beneath the mop of dirty-blond hair.
"I just figured you would've gone," Darien admitted. Kicking off his boots and unbuckling his weapon, he flipped open the storage locker and set the PKD down in it, the only weapon in their arsenal it seemed. Yet another potential problem.
"Nah," Elias said flopping back so he was laying down in his hammock, "You need someone like me around to keep this bucket of bolts together." He flashed a brilliant grin, "Besides, admit it, you like my stunning personality."
"Cocky little son of a bitch, aren't you?" Darien murmured, climbing into his bunk and wrapping himself up into the knitted afghan blanket and falling asleep as soon as his eyes closed.
* * *
His dreams were troubled-they always were. He tossed and turned, eventually just giving up on sleep all together as he sat up in the hammock. Darien was still asleep, not surprising given how tired the guy had been.
Elias clambered out of the hammock and wandered back to the cargo bay, closing the door behind him so that he wouldn't wake his new skipper. The ship they were on was small, just the two main compartments and the cockpit gondola slung beneath them between the two jump pods and rotating drive engines. It had never been designed for long-term living; in fact it seemed downright inhospitable at times.
How many times had he been stuck aboard this crate making a run-trying to keep the thing together while being shot at by a customs patrol, or worse an Amsus Raptor?
He didn't know much about his new boss, but he got the impression the man was running as well. There was something about the way he always checked behind him, looking for something that wasn't there, searching for signs of a pursuit. But Elias had been right when he said he had nowhere else to go.
He didn't have a family, constructs seldom did. Sure he had a biological set of parents, but their DNA had been overwritten in favour of a custom code, designed to make him...what-a clone? No, clones were exact duplicates, he wasn't exact, he'd been tampered with... made better... specifically to fit the tastes of someone with entirely too much money and a twisted taste.
He hated it, what he was. Mars had been an oppressive place; the Amsus controlling its precious mining operations with a draconian system of enforcement that made Earth seem like a paradise. That had been Elias's intent, run there, find a ship, stow away on it and get to Earth. It hadn't quite worked out that way.
He'd stowed away aboard one of Jorten's ships and by the time it reached its destination it was nowhere near Earth. He'd been easily found, and Jorten's original intent was to sell him off-there was always a market for a construct with his talents. It was luck that saw Jorten change his mind, give him a job in the tech bays and that was history.
He glanced about him as he opened the cargo hatch, slipping out into the large warehouse cargo bays that were all interconnected in the docking area. He wasn't supposed to be back there, but then he could improvise almost anything he needed in a pinch, including a lock-slicer. He popped the gadget back into his pocket and looked about him at the massive cargo containers surrounded by smaller crates-time to go shopping.
His first stop was the cargo manifest. Ships deposited their cargos into storage while they were waiting to be picked up; what he needed was something that wouldn't be missed for a month or two, long enough for them to be well clear of the station. He found what he was looking for and proceeded to change the cargo manifest to have the appropriate crates loaded aboard the Dragonfly. The robotic system lifted the containers with ease and ran them along on hover rails and slid them gently into the Dragonfly.
Well, that would be the answer to their money problem once they reached a place where they could sell it off. A little padding money never hurt. It would ensure them docking fees and whatever; and on top of that it would ensure they could eat.
Food was his next stop. He needed something more palatable than the Taïrian slop that was a delicacy on the station which reminded Elias of bland oatmeal, if oatmeal could be any blander and still manage to taste like chicken.
There wasn't much in that cargo bay, mostly ration packs on their way to various Amsus military outposts. He requisitioned a crate. And of course there were the obligatory luxury items on their way to various colonies. He chuckled as he found a crate destined for the governor of Centauri. He decided to add that as well-you never know what goodies might be tucked away in there.
His work done, he shut down the cargo manifest after reconfiguring it to show the cargo had been loaded into an Orion freighter bound for the far reaches. When they did notice it was missing, the authorities would have fun chasing the freighter out to the middle of nowhere, and with a little luck the Dragonfly would be long gone.
The fact that he was committing a crime didn't enter his mind as he gathered up his gear and walked back into the ship, closing the cargo hatch behind him. In the grand scheme of things it wasn't much cargo-it would fetch at most forty or fifty grand. The Dragonfly wasn't designed to haul cargo in her hold. There really was little choice in Elias's mind, it was a matter of survival.
He returned to the cramped crew compartment with its berths and small galley kitchen; it wasn't much but it would become home, at least as long as the skipper let him stay on board.
Elias glanced again at the former cop sprawled on the narrow bunk, one arm up behind his head, the other clutching the afghan as he slept. Darien was a handsome man in his mid- to late-twenties, a day's worth of stubble on his chin that only shadowed his features and accented his cheekbones and dark eyes. He obviously kept in shape, but he had a lean small frame, about five foot seven and athletic. Elias supposed that came with being in Terran security.
The red ball cap on his head made him vaguely resemble one of the kids that worked the plantations on Mars. Young, fit and not afraid of a bit of work. That was a good thing in Elias's mind, because at the rate they were going...
He sat down on the edge of the skipper's bunk and curled up there careful not to wake the guy, settling in. He was a light sleeper and would be awake long before Darien was. There were downsides to being a construct, ones that made them act irrationally, and Elias wondered how much his actions were dictated by his 'conditioning'.
It wasn't anything more than a need for company, of closeness. Supposedly it was done to make the constructs more affectionate. To Elias it was like an addiction pre-programmed into him, driving him to spend the nights he slept alone tossing and turning.
Bastards, he thought to himself; even though he had escaped he was still a prisoner to their designs...
Darien adjusted his position a little; with the proximity of warmth in the cold ship he wrapped his arms around it, still not waking. And Elias wondered again about the young man. Everyone he met was running from something, something dark. It was the nature of the human race, persecuted and beaten, to try to escape, to find some form of freedom amidst so much oppression.
* * *
Darien awoke the next morning finally feeling somewhat refreshed. He hadn't realized how tired he had been but after a good night's sleep he was feeling fresh and invigorated. He got up, still wrapped in the heavy afghan, and thrust his feet into his boots to avoid stepping on the cold deck plates. The ship wasn't designed around creature comforts, he could see that.
"Morning skipper," the grease-monkey said sticking his cheerful head out of one of the engine crawlspaces, fumbling around for another tool. "I made coffee, I figured you could use a cup."
"You're entirely too chipper this morning," Darien murmured, returning the smile as he fumbled around the galley finding the cloudy pot with its murky looking coffee. He fished in the small fridge pulling out some cream that thankfully didn't smell too bad. He stirred the liquids together into a battered thermal travel mug, clipping a lid on it. He'd learned that lesson the hard way on his first time out in a patrol shuttle; you never knew when the cup would get knocked over.
"What're you doing?" Darien asked, tasting the coffee that wasn't too bad, considering.
Elias lifted his head up out of the crawl space again. "I'm just checking the jump engines, making sure they're fully charged," he gestured above him. "The ram scoop'll keep us fuelled for the conventional drives, and they in turn charge the jump engines," he gestured about him with a wrench.
"So how do they look?" Darien asked anxiously. The engines were their only ticket out of the Hephastian system.
"I dunno yet," Elias replied with a smile as he ducked back down. "Give me ten and I'll tell you."
"Ok," Darien said, deciding it was probably best for him to get out of the way. He wandered down into the cockpit gondola and sat down in the pilot's chair staring out of the large windows at the station's docking bays.
So many ships going so many different places. A massive super transport was making its way heavily towards space, out to make a run of its cargo to some exotic destination. And it made him wonder where he was going to go next. It was all well and good to run, but running aimlessly wouldn't help him escape the Amsus. They would be on the lookout for him, of that he was certain.
He sat chewing his lip for a while contemplating his options. His ship wasn't equipped to fight anything-by all rights that should be his next priority, finding somewhere to outfit the ship so they at least stood a fighting chance. Against what? A Raptor would swat them out of the sky in no time flat.
His advantage was that his vessel was small and manoeuvrable-speed and agility as opposed to any kind of brute strength. But put him in a dogfight with so much as a single Amsus assault fighter and he was as good as dead.
He got up and went to the chart table, activating the spluttering hologram and scrolling through its contents looking for something, anything that would give him an idea.
There were several options, the first was to find an illicit arms dealer; but that would require money he just didn't have. The second was to find a wreck somewhere and salvage the systems they needed, but that was hit or miss; finding a wrecked starship was like finding a needle in a haystack, and even if they did there was no guarantee that what they would find would be usable. The last option was to steal some, an Amsus outpost would have what he needed, but breaking into and out of one of those, especially in an unarmed ship, was complete suicide.
He sipped his coffee, scrolling through the ship's navigational database, and came across Jorten's private navigational charts. He sat upright in the small chair. It contained everything from Jorten's customers, drop zones, through to his recent operations. It would have been a bonanza for Terran security to get their hands on. But for the time being it made Darien smile as he made a few notes, more specifically of the wrecks Jorten had marked for his salvage operations, and the schedules. He double-checked, selecting ones that wouldn't be salvaged for a while and called up the jump data.
Content that he had what he needed he set about making the jump calculations.
You probably have a crazy and hectic schedule and find it hard to keep up with everything going on. We get it, because we feel it too. Signing up here is a great way to keep in touch and find something relaxing to read when you get a few moments to spare.
Create an account or sign in to comment
You need to be a member in order to leave a comment
Create an account
Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!Register a new account
Already have an account? Sign in here.Sign In Now