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Episode 5 Part 16

By:  Wynn

“Landing procedure complete.  Releasing air containment seals.  Would you like the exit hatch unlocked?”

     Bullet checked the tightness of his sword belt as he peered out of the main viewport into the dim hangar bay of the pirate ship.  He was somewhat disconcerted to see that it was mostly emptied of crewmen or technicians, its only occupants a light transport shuttle and couple of small fighter craft that definitely seen better days… and worse ones.  Pirates rarely bothered overmuch with the cosmetic appeal of their craft, but from what he had seen thus far of the Fickle Fate, its crew barely managed to keep it and its support vessels space-worthy.  From what little he had been able to see of the other vessels, they had looked to be in similar condition, with laser scoring and missile craters scattered across their hulls.  ‘No wonder they took the Decadence by threats; they would be lucky to survive a direct confrontation.’ Briefly he regretted agreeing to dock inside the ship, but even if the pirate’s vessels were patchwork, they had the advantage of numbers.

     “Yes, unlock the hatch and prepare anti-personnel deterrents; only fire upon detecting aggressive behavior or my command.  Prime all missiles and keep the engines 10% power, and keep a wide scan running for an Ibanus Command.  If you don’t receive communication from me within two hours, execute it anyways.” Bullet ordered his ship’s computer, smiling grimly down as he spoke.  Those weren’t orders many Guardsman ever had to make, commands that would prepare the ship for a self-destruct order, but this was the second time he had made such preparations in the past couple of months.

     Outside, a couple of pirates were making their way towards the Silverfang, exiting a lift on the far end of the docking bay.  Bullet noticed the conspicuous pistols they wore at their sides, but despite their obvious uncertainty they had refrained from keeping them drawn. “A nicer welcome than last time, eh, Silverfang?” Bullet quipped, not expecting the computer to answer.  His eyes closed as he fought off the memories of his last confrontation with a pirate vessel.  It had been the last combat he had seen at Colony 96, and the last time he had fought alongside his partner. ‘After that, Dirk, you said I was determined to get myself killed.  Maybe you were right.’

     Unconsciously checking to see that his sword was loose enough in its scabbard, he turned towards the stairs leading down to the lower level of his ship.  He exited into the holding area, and made his way past the four cramped cells to the low door at the fore end of the hall.  He glanced at the small monitor beside the door, which showed the two pirates standing outside, uncomfortably shifting their weight and glancing around the docking bay. “Open the hatch, Silverfang, and keep an eye open for trouble.  I’ll be back soon, I hope.”

     In response to his command, the door slid open and a short ramp extended from the opening down to the metallic surface of the docking bay.  Bullet stepped onto the ramp, meeting the eyes of both pirates in turn. “You’re the welcoming committee, I presume?”

     “The captain welcomes you to his vessel and asks that you please accompany us to the bridge,” one of the burly men offered, his coarse voice mangling the attempt at a cultured greeting.

     “I suppose I have no choice but to accept.  Lead the way, gentlemen.”

     Following the pair back towards the lift, Bullet rested his hand upon the hilt of his weapon, struggling to understand what was happening.  If the pirates intended to ambush him, the docking bay would have been an obvious if unfortunate choice; his previous battle inside a pirate ship had proven that the Silverfang’s anti-personnel ‘deterrents’ could wreak havoc on those who threatened Bullet within range of his ship.  If they had taken him into one of the corridors leading out of the bay, he would have been pinned in enough to make him an easy target, assuming his escorts could get safely away.  Instead, they were taking him onto the lift, and, as one pushed a button on the lift’s control panel and they began to move upward, he realized his next stop would be on the vessel’s bridge, quite possibly the worst place for an ambush.  And something about the pirates’ manner, the lack of bravado or veiled threats, suggested that they were afraid of something.  Was it him… their captain?

     ‘Derek Vonter, a man capable of scaring an entire cruise ship into surrendering its wealth without firing a shot… he must be some pirate, indeed.’

     The lift jerked to a stop, staggering all three men forward, and after a grudging pause the doors opened onto the bridge of the Fickle Fate.  Bullet quickly scanned the bridge, noting that the captain’s chair was on a central raised platform that would allow its occupant to see over the shoulders of the crewmembers onto their monitors, and would also be harder to reach from the elevator, the only notable entrance, without passing some of crew.  Currently the chair, which looked designed to rotate at least partially, was turned completely away from his position, allowing him no glance of its inhabitant.

     As he was led around the platform, however, he did examine the stations he passed.  Most of the crewmembers stared at him openly, some meeting his eyes in sullen challenge, others flinching away from his gaze.  He noticed that several of them wore bandages, and even one of the monitors bore a jagged crack across its surface.  Bullet’s eyes hardened as he came before the captain’s seat.  Though these pirates had taken the Decadence without any violence, it was clear that their previous victims had suffered far worse.

     Bullet noted with annoyance that the captain’s chair was now swiveled entirely away from him, depriving him of a clear view of its occupant.  While Bullet had made his way before the platform, the captain had obviously turned his seat to keep himself hidden.  ‘He’s trying to keep me off balance, to make me anxious.  It won’t work.’ Bullet straightened his spine, ready to wait as long as it would take for the dread pirate captain to show himself.

     “WELCOME ABOARD!” Smoothly, the captain’s seat spun around to face Bullet, its inhabitant spreading his arms wide in a gesture of greeting.  The first impression Bullet had was of the color purple, as almost everything about the pirate captain was tinged with it, from his brilliantly violet attire to his slightly oversized eyes, and even his pale skin and his silver hair had a lavender hue.  The pirate’s eye-catching clothes showed no sign of the disrepair that plagued his ship.  These were likely what he had worn aboard the Decadence, as he would have had no trouble fitting in amongst that opulent crowd.  The next thing that Bullet noted was the man’s size: Bullet estimated that if he stood before the Guardsman, he would only come up to the Nathian’s chest, and the rest of his form was similarly proportioned, erring only on the lean side.  What he lacked in stature, however, he obviously compensated in sheer presence, as Bullet could tell that the crewmembers were just as awe-struck, for whatever reason, as he.     

     “Please, forgive the mess; we were hardly expecting company, but we could hardly turn down the opportunity to entertain a Nathian Guardsman.  I would take the opportunity to introduce you to the rest of the crew, should time allow… but first, a beverage?  Something to eat, perhaps?  Anything at all, please let me know.” The man smiled broadly at Bullet, extending his hand in invitation. 

     Head tilted to the side, Bullet stared at him.  This… this was the dread pirate captain Vonter?         


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