The adventure continues as the crew of the cargo ship Icarus narrowly escape a deadly collision.
1800hrs. 14th Oct. 413P.C. On the surface of Bronos, the island of Baro-Lii.
“Get that damn light out of my face!”
Captain Vizirov sat up slowly, cringing from the sharp pain in his forehead. He touched a hand to his head and quickly drew back three fingertips covered in blood. Everything was spinning. It looked like someone had covered his eyes with film, a thick grey haze that he could not blink away at first, try as he might. A tall figure stood over him, shining a light in his eyes. It was Jaime – the ship’s medical officer.
“Sir, you need to lay back,” Jaime said, flicking the flashlight down at her feet. “You may have a concussion.”
The Captain ignored her. “Dullard, status report.” He blinked hard and got to his feet, the haze finally beginning to recede. “Dullard!”
“He’s below deck checking the ship with the rest of the crew. You took a pretty nasty blow to the head when we– um, landed, sir.”
“I’m fine.” The Captain swayed and almost toppled over, grabbing the back of his chair for support. He glanced up at her and quickly averted his gaze, not wanting to make eye contact. He cleared his throat, “what happened?”
“Well, we made it here in one piece,” Jaime looked worried, like a mother that wanted to care for her child. She flicked the flashlight on again and moved it back and forth in front of his eyes. “Hold still, dammit. I need to check and see if you’re concussed.”
“I said, I’m fine.” The Captain pushed past her and shook his head, staggering across the bridge like a drunken sailor, running his hands along the walls for support as he went. He turned and looked back over his shoulder as he made it to the doorway. “That’ll be all, Jaime.” His face was stern, but he almost let a smile flicker across his lips. He touched his hand to his head again; his head was still bleeding.
“You know, sometimes I’m not sure why you even bother to keep me around,” she said, picking up her touchscreen clipboard as she moved to follow him into the hallway. “You’re too damn stubborn to let me do my job.”
“You do plenty. Plus, it keeps the younger crewman on their toes having a woman on board.”
“If you say so, sir.” She emphasized the word “sir” with a heavy coat of sarcasm. It was no secret that the two of them had worked together for a very long time, but none of the crew really knew the history between them.
On a long-run cargo vessel like Icarus, there was a lot of free time between stops. The men liked to gossip while they drank in the messdeck at night. Some speculated that at one time – long, long ago – when the Captain actually had a heart, he’d given it to Jaime. But then she broke it off, for whatever reason. Maybe he was just too much of a hard ass, even in his younger years. Maybe he was no good in bed. Benjy always liked to throw that one in there – he was notorious for hitting on the good doctor every chance he got. She shrugged off these advances, of course. Being the only woman on a crew with nine men, she was used to ignoring all sorts of pathetic attempts to get in her pants. The only time her gaze ever lingered more than a couple seconds for the casual conversation was when she looked up at the Captain… and although he tried very hard to hide it, he gazed right back.
• • •
In the cargo bay, Ruben and Benjy stood watching the three younger crewman prep the cargo for transport. Aran, Tex, and Z were busy loading the mysterious metal crates onto hover dollies, which they used to carry the containers down the long ramp running from the back of the ship and into the massive loading bay outside. The Captain and Jaime walked up behind the two slackers; the Captain glanced around the cargo hold, inspecting it for any obvious signs of damage.
“Look alive, you two. Make yourselves useful,” the Captain pointed toward Tex and Z, who were struggling with a heavy crate. Benjy grumbled and mouthed a quiet string of cockney swears under his breath, as he and Ruben moved to help the two younger men with the container. A moment later, Dullard poked his head up from the top of the stairwell in the corner.
“Captain! You’re looking sprightly,” he said with a smug grin. “How’s the head?”
The Captain frowned. “I’m fine,” he answered, his brow furrowed into a stoic expression of stubborn resilience. It was the first time he could remember having been knocked out in a very long time; he absolutely hated the idea of showing any weakness. “What’s the status report on the engine?”
“We’re all good, sir. Or at least, we will be – once we get a few spare parts from the local shipyard. Got a couple hoses that need replacing, maybe a fuel valve. Still not exactly sure what caused the right drive to die out like it did.”
Evidently this was not an adequate report. The Captain frowned harder and grunted to show that he was not entirely pleased. “Tell Chibbers I want a full diagnostic sweep of the ship’s systems before we set out in the morning. I expect a thorough report.” After a thoughtful moment, he added, “and tell him I want it in writing.”
Dullard disappeared down the stairwell again, and Captain Vizirov turned to face Jaime. She was studying a screen on the wall, her fingers tapping furiously against the glass as she called up information from the ship’s cargo manifest.
“It says here there was an electrical disturbance in the engine room just before we made entry,” she said, not looking away from the screen. “Could’ve been some kind of interference from the atmosphere, or…” She cocked her head slightly to the side, her eyes squinting as she saw something she didn’t much like. “Or, we could have been harpooned.”
The Captain stepped closer beside her, his shoulder coming into her peripheral vision as he leaned in to look at the screen. She didn’t move away from him, but he could feel her shy away a little in his presence. They stared at the screen together, looking at a blurry image of a vessel much smaller than Icarus. The time stamp on the bottom of the image read 17:04–10.14.413. The small spacecraft had been within 40 meters of their ship’s entry vector at the time of the malfunction.
The Captain’s eyes narrowed, his face more dour than usual. He clenched his jaw tight and crossed his arms over his powerful chest. “Son of a bitch.”
It wasn’t entirely uncommon on the outer-rim colonies for pirate ships to hover in low orbit above a planet’s surface, waiting to attack a large carrier or cargo vessel coming in on approach – while they were preoccupied with navigating and therefore most vulnerable to assault. And because most cargo ships like Icarus weren’t equipped with defense weaponry, they made for perfect targets. The most popular method of sabotage was to “shoot” a targeted electronic pulse, similar to the EMP shockwave that followed a nuclear blast, by firing an electronic frequency cannon (EFC) aimed at a ship’s engine bay. In common vernacular aboard interstellar spacecraft, this was known as “harpooning” another ship.
An EFC was a device that transmitted a low-frequency blast of energy that could cause a destructive surge of electricity – usually enough to fry a ship’s navigational computers or, in the event the weapon was aimed just right, temporarily disable part or all of the fusion engine. Generally speaking, such an attack would be untraceable, since it typically sent the victim vessel careening off-course on a collision trajectory with the surface of the planet. Then the pirate ship would simply follow the smoke trail, and retrieve whatever cargo or supplies remained intact from the wreckage.
They’d been fortunate enough not to cross paths with any pirate ships – until now, apparently. Luckily for them, whoever was shooting the EFC either didn’t know what they were doing, or they couldn’t get a good shot at the ship’s engine bay. Or they were unfamiliar with the internal layout of standard-protocol NGU cargo vessels. Either way, someone “up there” was looking out for them, as the Captain sometimes said.
Jaime put a hand on the Captain’s shoulder. “We got lucky,” she said. “But next time, maybe we won’t be so lucky. We should look into installing something, for – protection.”
The Captain shot her a sideways glance, and returned his eyes to the viewscreen, jaw still clenched. He felt his pants pockets with his hands, probably looking for his pipe. After a long moment he said, “Aren’t you supposed to worry about saving lives, Doctor?” Jaime ignored him.
“Look, I’m all for peace and harmony, but if we run into something like this again, we may not come out so fortunate.”
The Captain turned and glanced around the room. The crewmen were almost finished packing the crates down the ramp on the hover dollies, and he could see the dark orange light of the setting sun pouring onto the edge of the cargo bay. Somewhere below him, he heard a loud hiss coming from the engine room, and without acknowledging the Doctor he turned and headed in the direction of the stairwell to investigate.
“Some fighting spirit,” Jaime muttered as soon as he was out of earshot. She turned back to look at the image on the viewscreen again. On the hull of the tiny vessel was a symbol… an oblong-circular shape with two criss-crossed lines underneath. It looked familiar, but she couldn’t make it out in the blurry picture. She breathed in and out, then tapped the screen with two fingers and the image went away.
“Doctor Howell!” a voice called out softly from behind her. She turned to see Z, the youngest “man” on the crew, approaching her from the loading ramp. Z was from the Lyra star system. He was short and lanky, his long arms reaching almost halfway between his waist and knees. His skin and hair were dark; so dark that at night it was often difficult to see him at all. His eyes were solid black, and he often had a vague look of mystery about him. He might have been almost frightening – in the dark, at least – if it weren’t for his voice. Whenever he spoke it was like hearing a small, curious child who was almost too shy to ask questions in class. Most of the time no one heard him at all, and he didn’t seem to mind being overlooked.
“Doctor Howell,” he said nervously, straightening up and clearing his throat as if he was about to give a very official report to his fourth grade teacher. “Um, ma’am – they need you in the loading bay. Something about a– uh… nano-scope.” He hesitated on the last word, obviously unfamiliar with the human technology.
Jaime smiled at him, thinking to herself that he was cute – in a childish sort of way. “Okay Z, tell them I’ll be right down. Thank you!” He nodded and turned quickly on his heels, marching off down the ramp toward the loading bay outside. She watched him until he stepped off the ramp then glanced over at Benjy and Ruben, who were pushing a hover dolly carrying the last of the metal crates over toward the loading ramp.
“Is this really a two-man job, boys?” She jeered, walking over and sitting her clipboard on top of the crates as they pushed.
Benjy flashed a flirtatious smile back at her, “Oi love, indeed. If you like, me and Ruben ‘ere can give you a ride. We can always finish this later.”
Jaime scrunched up her nose and shook her head. “Not even in your wildest dreams, gentlemen.”
Ruben looked slightly offended. “Hey, don’t throw me in with this asshole. I’m perfectly fine with paying for sex once we get all this unloaded. And you, ma’am, are distracting him. He’s supposed to be holding the crate so it doesn’t–” Before he could finish the sentence, the edge of the hover dolly lurched forward, sending the crate scattering down the ramp with a loud scraping noise and knocking Benjy onto the floor. Ruben frowned and watched the crate sliding down the ramp. “See there? See what happens when a woman gets involved with a man’s work?”
Jaime grinned and stuck her hand out to help Benjy off the floor. He was still pouting, but he took it and got to his feet. “Come on, boys. I’ll help you get it back on the dolly.” Benjy looked as though he might make some witty remark, but he could not find the right words. He closed his mouth and grabbed hold of the dolly with Ruben, and the three of them made their way down the ramp after the runaway crate.
• • •
Lark Il-Hazra stood at the entrance of the A-Zone loading bay, waiting patiently to receive the last crate from the cargo ship so he could cross the container off his list. He watched with slight amusement as three humans struggled to lift the heavy metal box onto the hover dolly at the bottom of the ship’s loading ramp.
Humans were generally a weak species, in his opinion. Even the tallest among the ship’s crew, the young man they called Aran, was a foot and a half shorter than the large Bronosian, who could’ve easily lifted the crate by himself. One of the humans – a medical doctor, by the look of her uniform – saw him watching and motioned for him to come over and help. He quickly strode over towards them, his long legs carrying him swiftly across the dry brown dirt.
“Hey, could you give us a hand with this? Damn thing weighs a ton,” she said with a polite smile.
“Certainly,” he replied. He bent down and grabbed both edges of the box, lifting it onto the dolly with ease.
“Thank you!” She stared up at him for a moment then looked away, trying not to gawk. He was a bit intimidating to look at, easily making two of any of them.
“My pleasure, ma’am. Allow me.” He quietly stepped around the male humans and took the handle of the dolly, and began pushing it toward the loading bay doors. One of the males looked him up and down as they walked, sizing him up.
“Oi mate, how much they paying you to move boxes all day? We could do with some extra muscle on the ship.”
Lark turned his head, intrigued. He couldn’t tell if the offer was sincere, or if the male human was merely being polite. Human social nuances were always difficult to decipher, and even though he’d spent his whole life interacting with the species they still managed to surprise him, from time to time. “I am paid standard wages, the same as every common laborer.”
The human wiped sweat from his forehead. “Well, sounds like it pays about the same.”
The four of them entered the loading bay with the dolly and the automatic doors slid closed behind them with a loud hiss. Lark took the list from his clipboard and crossed off the last container, then slid the paper into a slot below a small computer screen on the wall next to the door. The screen turned red as the computer scanned the document, then changed to green when it was satisfied that the data was sufficient. Another slip of paper printed out from the same slot, which Lark took and placed on his clipboard. His job was done for the day, and he would be able to clock out soon and return home.
Just as the humans were turning to go out the sliding doors, an alarm sounded inside the structure. Small flashing lights appeared around the ceiling of the room, and the emergency lights turned on, flooding the floor of the bay with bright white light. The loading bay doors slid shut again, this time locking with an audible click. Everyone in the room froze as three very large Bronosians in official-looking uniforms marched single file toward the back of the room – toward Lark and the humans.
These uniformed officers were not loading bay workers. They were not supervisors, either. They were the authority; security officers, in charge of overseeing operational security for the A-Zone facility. It was unheard of for them to ever leave their command station and be seen on the loading bay floor. Unlike the supervisors, who were very strict and would sometimes physically punish the workers at a moment’s notice, these officers were not to be spoken to directly. If they ever addressed you, you were simply to nod your head and obey whatever command they gave, without question.
“Lark Il-Hazra!” the first officer barked, with a look that could shatter glass. “You signed for these containers, correct?”
Lark nodded slowly.
“Then you are responsible for allowing these humans to import an unknown substance into this facility!”
Lark stared straight ahead, standing perfectly still. His body could not flinch, or the other two officers would swiftly remove his upper limbs before he had a chance to argue his case. The first officer stepped forward, coming very close to him, his face inches away. He snarled, displaying a row of sharp brown teeth.
“You fool,” he said, motioning for the other two officers, “take him away. He will serve as an example – of how generously we reward incompetence!”
Lark’s gaze fell to the floor in shame. To challenge a supervisor meant immediate dismissal from one’s duties; to challenge a command from one of these officers would surely mean life-long imprisonment, if not immediate death for insubordination. He would be punished; beaten severely, perhaps even have an arm removed for this oversight. But at least if he lived he would be able to remain with his family, find work at one of the markets or… he shuddered to think of what his life would become.
“Excuse me,” said a gruff voice from behind him. Lark looked over to see a very muscular human in a captain’s uniform standing beside him. The man was much smaller than the security officers, but his presence was imposing, nonetheless. “What the hell is going on here?”
“This doesn’t concern you yet, human.” The first officer nodded and the other two grabbed Lark’s arms, dragging him off his feet and around behind their leader. “Who are you to address me, in my facility?” His voice rose with intense anger, and his stance became increasingly threatening.
“My name is Captain Isa Vizirov,” the human said. “I am the commanding officer aboard the Icarus. Whatever offense you believe this man has committed, the blame is mine. I am responsible for bringing this cargo into your facility.”
The officer stepped forward, craning his neck slightly so that his face was closer to the Captain’s height. He growled deeply, once again showing a row of awful brown teeth. “Then you are coming with us, Captain,” he said. “You can answer for this crime, by paying with your life!”
The Captain did not move. He did not blink. He just stared back at the officer, his face hardening with a look of intense hatred as his eyes filled with emptiness.
“I don’t think so.”
Lark Il-Hazra stood between the two officers, watching in silent shock with the rest of the workers as the two of them locked eyes. The security officer loomed a foot over the Captain, snarling wildly. “This disrespect will not be tolerated!” He raised his arm high above his head, drawing back to strike the Captain down with one blow of his mighty fist.
But then, something else happened.
For years to come, the people of Baro-Lii would speak of what happened next, whispering the tale in shadows and around fires at night – as legend.
The Captain seemed to move faster than the eye could see. In one motion, he dropped to his knees and pulled a blade from behind his back, thrusting it high above his head – just as the officer’s hand came down to strike across the space where the man’s head had been a moment before.
The officer’s arm fell to the floor with a loud thud. A second later the officer fell, clutching the stump where his arm had been, screaming. The Captain looked directly at Lark. As their eyes met, Lark knew what he must do. Summoning all his strength, he threw his arms out to the side, knocking the stunned officers off balance. He reached down and pulled the security card from the belt of one of the guards, then delivered a swift downward kick – crushing the officer’s head. The second officer was already on his feet, ready to fight.
Lark looked at the Captain and tossed the security card at his feet. “Go, now!”
For a brief moment, the man did not move; instead, he stared straight at Lark, who was already squaring up to the officer. The Captain pulled a gun from his side holster. He fired a single shot and the second officer hit the ground, his head splattering dark brown blood across the floor as he fell. “I’m not going anywhere,” the Captain said. He returned the gun to its holster and turned toward his human companions. “Get everyone back on the ship,” he said. “The cargo, too.”
Lark was still staring at the security officers in disbelief, along with the rest of the loading bay workers. The floor was now covered in the dark brown blood, oozing around the corners of the shipping containers nearby. What had he done? He would be put to death in the street, for all his family and friends to see. He had brought shame on himself, on his family, on all of Baro-Lii. How would they do it, he wondered. How would they kill him? Would it be quick and clean, by removing his head? Or would they tie him down and tear him limb from limb, like a murderous criminal, like an animal…
He looked up at the Captain, who was still holding the blade firmly in his hand. No one moved to oppose him – this mighty human, slayer of the authority. Everyone remained frozen, still; staring at the bodies on the ground in utter horror. And just then, as Lark looked at him, an idea came to him. His great revelation: this man was his only means of survival. Surely he owed this man his life, and there was nothing left for him here – not now.
“Captain Vizirov,” he said, stepping slowly toward the man, “I owe you my life. I would like to come with you, as your slave. Please accept this offer, as my only means to repay this debt.”
The Captain narrowed his eyes and slid the blade back into the hidden sheath on his back, beneath his coat. He thought for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder at one of the other humans.
“Benjy,” he said, motioning for the man to come over, “we have a new crew member. Get him squared away with the cargo and the rest of the crew. See to it that he’s given a uniform and a hot meal.”
The Captain turned back to face Lark. “I don’t keep slaves,” he said. “But I could use another strong pair of hands on the ship. What are your skills?”
Lark beamed at him, trying hard to keep his composure. He was actually going to leave this planet… on a starship. It was really happening. He straightened to his full height,
“I’ve had extensive training in both navigation and engineering, sir.”
“Good, we’re in need of a new navigator. The last one got picked up on assault charges while we were docked for supplies on Durin.”
The Captain held out his hand; Lark understood this to be a human sign of companionship, or for making a deal. He thought perhaps in this case it meant a little of both. He extended his hand, and they shook.