The two prisoners, surrounded by almost a dozen Partherians, walk down the corridor of the battleship. There’s no mistaking its design as Partherian: octagonal halls with harsh white lighting and bare metal grates for the floor, a faint odor of moss. The entire entourage is making their way towards the small prisoner’s galley for the prisoners’ afternoon meal.
“Excuse me,” a voice from behind the group.
As the group turns, prisoners and jailers alike, they come face-to-face with a single biped standing in the corridor. The stranger is wearing a long brown coat over some type of spacesuit with integrated body armor. Their head is completely covered by a form-fitting helmet and face-mask. The entire faceplate is mirrored and outlined in a blue glow.
The intruder raises two pulse pistols into the air—blasts ring out, dropping six of the Partherian guards. As the rest scatter, the two prisoners fall to the floor, the metal grating pressing against them. The stranger is still standing in the center of the corridor, the faint sparkle of a personal energy shield visible. Blaster bolts are striking the shield, causing it to ripple and flicker. The personal shield is absorbing more hits than most off-the-shelf models are capable of—it’s clearly a modified version meant to handle serious abuse.
The mystery figure leaps from one side of the corridor to the other, then runs straight at the remaining guards, leaping up and over them, firing with every step, guards dropping left and right. Within ten seconds, the remaining Partherians are unconscious.
“You know, you could have helped,” the stranger says, moving to stand over the two prisoners, who are still lying prone and partially hidden by an unconscious Partherian.
The prisoners crawl out from under their previously conscious captor. “With what—our shackled hands? A harsh rebuke maybe?” the female prisoner asks, frowning as she helps her companion up. “Who are you? What are you? What do you want?”
Both prisoners are wearing standard Partherian prisoner coveralls: a single jumpsuit with pockets, a zipper up the center; numbers printed on the back and the right breast. Prison jumpsuit designs are apparently universal.
The masked figure looks up and down the corridor, holding up one finger for quiet. “We better go. I didn’t go to the trouble of busting you two out just to get zapped by Partherians. More are coming, and they’ll be more prepared than these goobers.” The stranger turns and walks quickly down the corridor.
“Hey, wait!” the female prisoner shouts. “Where are you going?” She and her companion run after the stranger, following the strange spacesuit around a corner and into a side corridor. Here the deck plating has been lifted up and away, revealing a distinctly fresh burn-hole in the hull. The edges are still faintly red.
The stranger turns to the prisoners. “Lucky the Partherians keep their brig on the lowest decks. Watch the edges here, they’re still hot.” Without another word, the intruder jumps down the hole.
Hearing shouts from down the corridor, the two prisoners exchange a glance and then follow the stranger into the hole, one after the other.
Partherians aren’t known for their intellect, but what they lack in the brains department they make up for in size. Two meters tall and at least a meter wide, their corridors are wide because they are. To most other races, Partherian warships are distinctly ugly. Apparently made with function in mind rather than form, they are angular and blocky, with thickly-armored hulls and weapons everywhere. They resemble a child’s toy block, with engines set into one face and weapons mounted on all the rest.
This particular battleship is in deep space, transiting between a Partherian outpost world, and the home system. Not sure it is good luck or not, that this is the ship tasked with transport, vs a faster courier class ship.
Landing with a soft thud—thanks to the gravity field around the boarding tube—the intruder steps to one side. “Ghost, get ready to go,” they say quietly, deactivating their personal shield and smoothly retracting the face shield on their head gear. He is human: somewhere in his thirties, and about six feet tall.
“Working,” a sterile male voice replies.
The prisoners land softly next to him. The woman looks at him. “Human?” she says, sounding as shocked as if their savior was a goldfish—if she knew what a goldfish was. While she does know what a human is, they’re not exactly commonplace in this sector. Her tall companion looks just as confused.
“Do you want explanations, or do you want to be as far from that Partherian ship as possible?” the human calls over his shoulder, as he heads off, the prisoners hot on his heels. “Our stealth systems will keep them confused for a bit, but the hole in the floor will be a dead give away—more so if we’re still at the other end of the hole.”
From hidden speakers, the same cool male voice says, “Boarding tube retracting; airlock sealed. Ready to depart.”
“Great, thanks!” the stranger says, as the trio arrives at the bridge of the ship. He plops down into the pilot/command station, and begins working the console, “And away we go!”
The ship lurches and tilts to one side as it increases the distance between them and the now fully-alert battleship. The stranger flips a few switches, just before the ship rattles and shakes. “That’s weird, they must have gotten some upgraded sensors from someone. Partherian sensors shouldn’t be able to lock on to us that well. Ghost, deploy weapons and fire aft guns, keep them busy.” The ship lurches as the human pilot twists the ship this way and that, avoiding blazing plasma blasts from the Battleship.
“Acknowledged.” The sound of hull plating moving and mechanical parts adjusting and shifting can be heard throughout the ship, followed by the tell-tale whine of energy weapons firing and recharging. The ship lurches again.
The prisoners are holding on to the railings. “What’s going on? What can we do?” the woman asks. Sparks erupt from a nearby station, and she rushes to it, her training taking over, to check the position and extinguish any fires.
The stranger is whipping the ship back and forth, evading the more powerful weapons fire. “Damn it!” he shouts. “Hold on to something!” He grabs a slide lever and pushes it forward to the stops.
On the main display, the stars that were careening past steady, then stretch out into a flash of light. Their rescuer lets out a whoop and leans back in his chair. “Well,” he says, grinning. “That was exciting!”
Once the ship has stabilized, the stranger/pilot turns to his guests. “Okay, now we can chat. Those big dummies won’t be able to track us at FTL, so even if they’ve got better sensors than I expected, we’re clear.” He stands up and offers his hand. “I’m Wil—Wil Calder. You’re on my ship, the Ghost.” When neither of the prisoners reach for his hand, he holds his arms out expansively, spinning in a slow circle.
The female prisoner, who has been walking from console to console in the crowded space, now turns. “This is an Ankarran ship.” It is less question, and more of a statement.
“You’re good.” Wil smiles broadly, clearly impressed. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t identify it, but yeah, the Ghost is an Ankarran raptor, though modified a bit over the years.”
Ankarran Raptors are essentially pocket warships: small, fast, and agile and with enough firepower to take on ships many times their size. The Ankarran are master shipbuilders, supplying many different races with warships, science vessels, and even commercial ships. Ships of all classes and sizes are made in the Ankarran shipyards. They are expensive, so they’re usually rare outside of militaries—whether corporate or government-run—and well-funded research outposts. The Raptor spaceframe was popular for a time, since it only required a small crew to operate, but could travel for extended periods of time and cover vast distances between supply stops. For years, the Ankarrans sold to anyone with enough credits to pay their fees, until the GC and the Peacekeepers insisted on a more exclusive agreement.
“And you’re Zephyr,” Wil says. “No last name because that’s what you peacekeepers do. And your big friend here is Maxim—also no last name. You’re both Peacekeepers, or were, until recently. Now you’re fugitives of the Partherian Hegemony.”
Maxim finally speaks up. “We were set up. We’re innocent.” His voice is as deep as one might expect from a person as big as he is. His stoic appearance matches his tone. Everything that has happened so far, doesn’t seem to have phased him.
“He’s right, we’re innocent. We were framed.” Zephyr looks Wil up and down. “Are you really human?”
Shrugging Wil glances at the console behind him. “Honestly, I don’t care—and yes, I am.”
“Typical bounty hunter scum.” Maxim takes a step toward Wil.
“I wouldn’t,” Wil warns. “One word and Ghost will send a few thousand volts through you. Won’t kill ya, but you’ll wake up with a killer headache.”
Raising her hands, Zephyr turns from Maxim to Wil. “What can we tell you to make you believe us? Handing us over to Peacekeeper Command is a death sentence for us both, and I assume you’re not going to hand us back to the Partherians. Is there a bounty? How much is it? Maybe we can pay more? Work off the debt or something?” She pauses, before looking at Wil again. “And really, you’re human? Since when are humans out here? I didn’t even know you had space flight—has the GC lifted the ban?”
Wil stands and walks over to another station. “Bounty? There’s no bounty on you, in fact, there’s no record of you, other than a news blurb buried in the feeds about two rogue Peacekeepers captured by the Partherians for trafficking in contraband. The Peacekeepers didn’t even try to negotiate getting you back. Hate to break it to you, but you’ve been disavowed. As for your other question, yes, I am a human, flesh and blood—red blood, in case you were gonna ask. As to how I got out here, it’s a long story; I’m pretty sure I’m the only one, which suits me just fine. And no, the GC hasn’t lifted the ban.” He starts flipping switches and adjusting settings. Zephyr assumes he is getting ready to make a call to Peacekeeper Command.
“Look,” she says, “whether you believe us or not, or even care, it doesn’t matter. We’re trying to stop a war. The Peacekeepers are planning to stir up a few regional brush fires to force unaffiliated systems to join GC. We found out and got set up. I’m guessing the Partherians got an anonymous tip that a Peacekeeper shuttle was carrying contraband through their territory and, what do you know, they found us. Our superiors hid something—we were never told what it was we were accused of carrying.”
Will looks up from what he’s doing. “Go figure, right? Group calls themselves Peacekeepers, works for the hugest galactic government—you’d think they’d consider it a job well done, with the peace and all, but nope, always looking for more reasons to exist and expand your power base. Y’all are a lot like humans, know that? Remind me to tell you about my bank.”
“There’s no need to insult us,” Maxim says, a sour look on his face. So far he has not moved from where he stopped a minute before: arms crossed, eyes scanning the small space.
He’s a big one, Wil thinks.
“What he means, is that greed is universal,” Zephyr says, staring hard at Wil. “So if there’s no bounty, why did you rescue us from the Partherians?”
Turning away from the display, Wil gestures to the nearest seats and walks back to his pilot station. “Tell me the whole story—we’ve got a while before we get there.”
“Where?” Maxim asks, taking a seat.
Zephyr sits, too, and turns to Wil. “It’s not that long a story, but here goes. Maxim and I are… were part of a special operations detail. Our commander was a Centurion named Janus.” At this, Wil makes a face, but Zephyr presses on: “I was working on some signal intercepts from… from non-Peacekeeper sources, when I stumbled across a feed that was Peacekeeper in origin, from the command complex I was in. Somehow it had been collected and bundled in with the intercepts—likely due to its destination. When I opened it, I saw that Janus and several other high-ranking officers in Peacekeeper Command were planning several attacks throughout the frontier… but not attacks by Peacekeepers. They were funding rebel groups to destabilize independent systems, attacks with the goal of creating panic to increase the need for Peacekeeper services, and—more importantly to them—Peacekeeper ships, in these systems. Nearly ten in all—systems, that is. Ten new systems joining the GC would be huge, obviously.
“The data files must have had meta data tracking on them, because no sooner had I read the transcripts than I was summoned to Janus’ office.” The look on her face is pained.
“I take it you didn’t go to his office,” Wil interjects, wryly. “How’s the big guy here fit in?”
Zephyr looks at Maxim. “No, I didn’t. I called Maxim—he’s my partner.”
“Wait, like work partner? Or you two are bumping uglies?” Wil says, looking more interested than he has for the whole conversation, leaning forward. “This is getting interesting.”
“Bumping what?! How dare you!” Maxim leaps out of his seat, and before he can remember Wil’s earlier warning or take the five steps needed to cross the distance between them, Wil utters an unfamiliar word and a bolt of blue current arcs from the ceiling, cutting through Maxim to the deck plates, and dropping the huge Peacekeeper to the ground.
“Maxim!” Zephyr is out of her seat and at his side in the blink of an eye.
Wil barely even reacts. “Okay then, that answers that. Oh, and he’ll be fine—it’s a very mild shock, especially for a Peacekeeper. I did warn him; you were there, you heard me. This isn’t my fault.”
As he speaks, Maxim starts to stir, and Zephyr helps her colleague back to his seat. After a few muttered words—something, something human—she turns to Wil. “Yes, he’s my lover. I told him what we’d found, and we agreed to flee, to take the information to Tarsis. We were en route when the Partherians attacked us.”
Wil looks Zephyr in the eyes. “Cool. I actually don’t care, but it’s good to know as much about your crew as possible.” To say his smile is broad would be an understatement. “Ghost, please show our new crew to the crew quarters, one of the larger births.”
“Acknowledged,” the cool male voice of the ship replies. The door to the bridge opens, and a wall panel lights up. “Please follow the illuminated wall panel.”
Helping Maxim out the door, Zephyr turns back to face Wil. “Thank you. Are all humans as… well, weird, as you?”
“You’ve no idea,” he says, already turning back to the pilot console, as the door to the bridge closes behind them.
The ship’s central crew space is made up of a lounge area, a kitchenette with a table—built into the side of the room—and a few other bits and pieces to make the space somewhat “homey.”
“So… where are we going?” Zephyr asks, from across the table. She and Maxim have been holed up in their quarters since the previous night. Their quarters aboard the ship aren’t half bad, considering the type of ship it is. Wil had the computer keep an eye on them when he finally went to bed, and when he woke up, they were both in the galley, cooking.
“Good morning to you too,” Wil says, punching buttons on a machine. “We’re going to Fury…” he holds up his hand as both of their heads snap around to face him, mouths making what would be in other circumstances a comical ‘o’ shape. “Hey, don’t burn that bacon, it’s the last until I get more.”
“What’s bacon?” Maxim asks, before Zephyr makes a signal to cut him off. “Fury is a hell hole, even the Peacekeepers don’t like to go there,” Maxim mutters, going back to shoving the bacon around in the pan.
“He’s not wrong,” Zephyr says, not taking her eyes off Wil. She is still in her prisoner jumpsuit, just like Maxim, are but at least it looks and smells like they’ve showered.
“No, he’s not,” Wil says calmly, still focusing on the machine. “And I completely agree. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change anything. We’re going to Fury. We’re going because you two need new identities and there aren’t many better places to do that. You also need gear. I’ve got some spare this ‘n’ that, but you’ll need your own stuff too. Especially things that need to fit right, and weapons you like to use.” The machine he’s harassing finally makes some grumpy-sounding beeps and a few thunks, before beginning to dispense coffee. “Now we’re talking,” he sighs.
Sliding bacon onto a plate in the center of the table, Maxim turns to Will. “We have no money.”
Zephyr, who had gotten up, now sits down next to him with a bowl of something Wil doesn’t recognize, and starts scooping steaming piles of it onto her and Maxim’s plates. Where’d that come from? he wonders. She looks over at Wil, eyebrow raised. He nods. Why not? She drops a pile of the steaming something on a third plate.
Maxim grabs some bacon, putting it on his plate. “We have no money,” he repeats. Then he takes a bite, and his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “This is delicious!”
Wil smiles. “I know, right? On behalf of all humanity, you’re welcome. We don’t have much to offer the galactic community, but we do have bacon. As for the money—consider it a loan against future payment, future cuts, whatever. I can’t use you if you’re easily tracked, still running around in Partherian prisoner jumpsuits.” He sniffs the pile of something on his plate and then digs in, shoving a piece of bacon into his mouth with it. “I don’t know what this is,” he says, “or where you found it in my galley, but it’s not bad!” He takes a moment to chew his food, then adds, “There’s a few shops I trust down there, and a hacker I know who can get you new wrist comm and idents.”
They watch as he shovels a few more bites of the mystery stuff and bacon into his mouth. Then he takes a sip of his coffee and continues, “There’s also someone I need to see. We’re gonna need some money—it wasn’t cheap figuring out where you’d be, plus now outfitting you as well. It’s not my first choice for work, but it’ll pay well, whatever it is, and as far as things go, I trust the source.”
Trust might be a strong word to use, Wil reflects ruefully, but he doesn’t have many friends in the sector.
Zephyr grabs another strip of bacon. “This really is quite good. Bacon, you said? What’s it made of?”
Wil grins and stifles a laugh. “Ask me another time.”
“Humans…” Maxim says, watching the display, before turning to his food.
Fury is one of those planets that no one wants to be on, but is still somehow overcrowded. A mix of people are to be found there—some are there to prey on others, some have been left behind for various reasons, and some simply don’t know any better. Then there are those who fall into none of these categories, who tend to be the most dangerous of all.
Each time he comes to Fury, Wil tries to carry himself like he is part of this fourth group. It mostly works—like walking through a tough neighborhood as a kid, trying to look like you belong, like you are tougher than those around you, hoping that everyone buys it. Or in the very worst cases, just acting like the craziest person around.
Wil has had to do both, on Fury.
The Ghost sets down on a landing pad near the outer edge of the spaceport. Even though it is by no means a large ship, its size means that it can’t fit closer to the center, where the smaller personal yachts and mini cargo haulers dock. Also, Wil has noticed that its very nature tends to make spaceport controllers want to keep it tucked away from most foot traffic. Warships—even small ones, even sitting on the ground—make folks nervous, so they usually try to keep them out of sight.
As the cargo ramp hits the surface with a soft thud, Wil walks out, followed by Zephyr and Maxim, who’ve finally changed out of their prisoner jumpsuits. Zephyr has found a pair of maintenance overalls to wear, likely left over from before Wil took ownership of the Ghost, and Maxim is trying to make do with some of Wil’s clothes. This is barely working, Wil realizes, looking the Peacekeeper over.
“Okay, you two. Take this.” He hands them a PADD, or PersonAl Data Device—at least that’s what Wil assumes it means. H’s never actually asked anyone, but everyone he’s ever met knows the name. “It’s a map and list of places to go. It also has your allowed budget. And it’s tied to the Ghost and my wrist comm. Meet me back at the ship in 6 tocks. If you get done early, then when you get to the ship just ask for access—it’ll call me, and I can let you back in. I assume this doesn’t need saying, but I’m saying it anyway: the flight deck and engineering spaces aren’t accessible to you without me around.” He looks at them both. “Also, don’t do anything to draw attention to yourselves. The Peacekeepers here on Fury would rather not deal with issues, but if anyone has been paying attention to the wanted bulletins, you could end up in trouble. Also, don’t get killed.”
“And where will you be?” Zephyr asks, already thumbing through the list on the PADD. “Aren’t you worried we’ll run out on you? Not come back?” She glances up from the list, looking Wil straight in the eyes.
“By all means. I’m still not entirely convinced you’re going to be worth all this effort, but I’m curious, and bored, so…” He shrugs. “Oh and also, where would you go? You’ve only got the funds I gave you, which the PADD will only disperse at the locations assigned, and will lock down if I suspect anything and send it the necessary command. And even if you run out on me, after your shopping spree, where would you go? No ship. No friends. Wanted by the Partherians, and by extension the Peacekeepers. As for where I’ll be? None of your business.”
“He has a point,” Maxim says, before turning and walking away. Zephyr stares at Wil a moment longer, then follows after the large ex-Peacekeeper.
Wil watches them go, turns to his wrist comm and dials up a comm listing. He whistles a tune, singing under his breath, “Walk like an Egyptian. Duh duh dih— Oh! Hi, yeah, is Xarrix there? Tell him it’s Wil Calder. Yeah, he’ll know me—just do it, jeez! Cool, I’ll be there in half a tock.” He closes the connection and whistles a little more: “Blond waitresses take their trays, they spin around, and they cross the floor…” He chooses a different exit out of the spaceport than the two ex-Peacekeepers took.
It’s a fifteen-minute walk from where the Ghost is docked to the nearest pedestrian exit. The spaceport is designed like every other spaceport Wil has ever seen: essentially a massive stadium-shaped hangar, with no roof. The structure itself is a mix of government offices and for-rent commercial space—mostly import/export businesses, some tourist companies, and the like. This spaceport is only about five stories tall, but is at least a kilometer in diameter, with several hundred ships spread out around the interior space.
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