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Episode 5 Part 20

By:  Wynn

During the brief elevator ride down from the bridge, neither Bullet nor Vonter chose to speak, both preparing themselves for the negotiations to come.  Bullet was still trying to digest what the pirate captain had revealed to him, the involvement of the Red Death and her minions.  As Vonter led him down a hall towards a pair of doors that would not have looked out of place on the cruise ship, Bullet frowned as he was forced to reconsider his course of action.  He had been focused upon hunting the Red Death, the master of those who had destroyed Colony 96 and those under his protection who had called it home.  However, his single-mindedness had led him to ignore those who had participated in the assault under the Norian’s command, her crew of cutthroats and murderers.  Destroying the Red Death would mostly likely be the end of her band of pirates, but most of them would likely scatter so far that it would be all but impossible to hunt them all down and bring them to justice.

     And justice had to be served, one way or another.

     Still, there was the matter of the Norian’s hostage, the girl she had abducted from Earth.  He would not be able to forgive himself, as dubious of a prospect as that already was considering his failure in protecting the colony, should any harm befall the girl, who was undoubtedly an innocent bystander captured by the Red Death to ward off a confrontation in space.  He winced at that notion; while he and many Nathians would be unwilling to risk the life of a hostage, many other Council forces had proven less hesitant in the past.

     However, the tracer he had smuggled into her hostage’s bag had yet to offer any results, which meant he was without any means of tracking her down.  Capturing some of her lackeys may serve just as well, and would also give him information on the numbers and capabilities of the pirates loyal to her.  With that knowledge, he would be able to hunt the Red Death and rescue her captive, and still have a lead on the others who attacked Colony 96.

     Vonter lightly touched the doors, and they swung open slowly, revealing an opulent room with several tables, smaller ones encircling a larger one, each table sporting several thickly-padded chairs.  On the central table waited a pair of wine classes and a full bottle, the cork lying beside it.  Bullet tensed at the level of preparedness that the room displayed, since he had heard Vonter give no orders and they were alone in the room.

     “Wine?” Vonter held up the bottle and a glass.  When Bullet shook his head, Vonter replaced them on the table before snapping his fingers.  All but instantly, Bullet heard the doors behind them open and turned to see one of the unkempt pirates walk into the room, gingerly carrying a pitcher of ice water with a good attempt at the aloof grace of the waiters aboard the cruise ship.  Setting it beside the wineglasses, the pirate turned and left the room without a word.  Vonter poured Bullet a glass of the water before reaching for the bottle.

     “Your crew and accommodations seem surprisingly… cultured,” Bullet noted.

     “For pirates, you mean?  Ah, yes, well, one must try to maintain a certain level of civility, even in one profession.  What are we but bipedal animals, should we not take care with our behavior and surroundings?” Vonter sipped his wine, closing his eyes and pausing to examine the flavor.

     “Civility, yes.” Bullet restrained the urge to roll his eyes, settling instead on taking a drink from the water.  The fact that the room’s expensive furnishings were almost certainly stolen had not escaped him.

     “And in the spirit of civility, let us negotiate our mutual course of action.  As I previously noted, I would be willing to return everything stolen from the Decadence and give you a solemn oath to, when the opportunity emerges, turn myself in to the proper authorities.  In exchange, I merely ask that you allow us to go on our way, unhindered.”

     “I apologize, but I couldn’t help but notice your crew’s reticence at the notion of returning the loot you took from the Decadence.”

     “Ah, yes, that is to be expected.” Vonter smiled broadly at the Nathian, replacing the wineglass on the table. “Which is why I will be reimbursing all of them from my own funds.”

     “I see.” Bullet was certainly caught off guard by that declaration; Vonter would give up a fortune in order to avoid capture?  Or, more specifically, capture by those loyal to the Red Death. “Well, then, my next question is this: How do I know that I can trust you?  For that matter, how do I know that it isn’t you who is loyal to the Red Death?”

     Vonter shuddered visibly, and snatched up his wineglass for another drink before answering. “On the matter of us returning the wealth to our previous victims, I suggest that I turn it over to you, and accompany you back to the Decadence in order to return it, thus avoiding any undue panic from having my ships show up on their radar once again.  On the other point,” Vonter frowned, looking into his wine, “I suppose you’ll have to take my word on the matter.  Unless…”

     “Unless?”

     Vonter met Bullet’s eyes, and the Nathian could see the gleam of something not quite pleasant in the pirate’s gaze. “Unless we could come to a further agreement.  You probably noticed that my ships are not, shall we say, in the best state of repair.”

     “It was impossible to miss.”

     “Yes.  And this is due to the last time we encountered the Red Death’s crew.  We barely escaped at all, but considering the state of our armament at this point we wouldn’t likely be so lucky a second time.  As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that your light cruiser, at this point, boasts a more impressive arsenal than my entire formation.”

     Bullet caught the hint. “So, you’re suggesting that, if I protect your ships from those who are pursuing you, you’ll serve as bait for the Red Death’s lackeys.”

     “I would perhaps term it as ‘supporting’ my ships rather than ‘protecting’ them, but yes.  This may even offer you the chance to see me safely in the hands of the proper authorities, should we be so lucky as to see the end of my pursuers.” Vonter chuckled, but his grin was decidedly cold as he stared at Bullet. “Of course, your superiors may not appreciate our arrangement…”

     Bullet was forced to glance away, clenching his jaws. “It may be some time before I would be reporting to them in any case, but yes, they would not approve.” Merely another item on the long list of things he may have to answer for, Bullet thought. Failing to protect the colony and taking his cruiser on an unsanctioned vigilante pursuit of those responsible would have earned him enough shame, so aiding an admitted pirate in order to defeat the Red Death would not add that much more to his crimes.  And, considering the risks inherent in hunting the Norian and her forces, he knew that it was possible he would never have to face the judgement of his superiors, and instead merely be counted among the dead of Colony 96.

     “Ah.  I take it from your tone that you are, shall we say, acting on your own initiative in this matter?” When Bullet nodded tersely, Vonter offered him a grim smile of acknowledgement. “Then let me add something that may help you make up your mind.” Vonter turned away, reaching again for the bottle. “As I pointed out, my ships were considerably outgunned in our last meeting with the Red Death’s followers.  However,” the wine glass paused in its rise to his mouth, “our armor and weapons were not the only casualties we suffered.  Not by far.”

    Now Bullet understood.  Vonter wanted something besides protection.  He was asking for vengeance.    

     “Now that we fully understand each other…” Vonter turned, facing Bullet with his wineglass held up, “Shall we have a toast to seal our agreement?”  As Bullet silently raised his glass of water to match Vonter’s, the pirate considered his words carefully. “Ah.  To my chances for escape, and our enemies’ failure for the same.”

     Bullet shook his head, offering another suggestion. “To justice.”

    Vonter stared at the Nathian Guardsman for a moment, his glass shaking for just a moment, before grinning widely at Bullet. “Yes.  To justice!”

    And the two drank deeply. 

 

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