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Episode 8 Part 3

By:  Wynn

Bullet drummed his fingers on the command console, staring out the viewport at the man solely responsible for his continued presence aboard a pirate vessel.  The pirate captain was, as he had been for better part of an hour, talking to his crew, the surly pirates that had loaded all of the loot from the Decadence onto Bullet cruiser.  While Vonter had changed into, amazingly, another outfit of comparable gaudiness, the pirates had lounged around the landing deck and scowled in the Nathian’s general direction until he had ducked back into the Silverfang to fiddle uselessly with the various consoles, most of the preparations for departure already automatically completed.  Since Guardsman Cruisers were typically intended to be controlled by a single pilot, the standard AI that ran them was fully capable of handling most tasks involving its operation, including simple combat operations, if the AI was provided with its primary targets.  So, Bullet sat and waited, his patience quickly fraying.

     His ire diminished as he watched Vonter.  While his initial impression of the pirate captain was that the man was a fop, or at least wore an overly-genteel mask, he was surprised to note the effect that Vonter effortlessly projected onto his crewmembers.  Outside, the surly pirates that had watched their loot be loaded onto his ship were still burning holes in the Silverfangs hull with their stares, but as the Guardsman watched their leader spoke to each in turn, just a few words, a light comment or jest.  It was obvious, even afterwards, that they were still not pleased, but the air of barely-restrained mutiny was cleared in his wake.  It was as if their captain’s over-the-top antics bled the resentment from them, and when he turned to make his way towards the Silverfang’s entry ramp the salute his men offered him was genuine and sharp.  It was obvious to Bullet that it would not pay to underestimate Derek Vonter, but that didn’t keep him from rolling his eyes as the pirate swept his arm before him in a deep bow of farewell to his assembled subordinates.

     Moments later, footsteps clanged on the stairwell that led up from the lower level of the cruiser, and Vonter stepped into the hallway that led to the ship’s cockpit.  Bullet nodded to him in greeting, and Vonter made his way down the hall, glancing at the doors along its length nervously, as if he expected someone to leap from them and slap handcuffs on his wrists.  Safe from such unexpected incarceration, the pirate captain accepted Bullet’s motioned invitation to the other seat before the console.  As he sat down, carefully tugging on his pants to save them from wrinkling, he cooed appreciatively at the expanse of buttons and levers on the command panels, reaching out a questing hand for its shining surface.

     “Don’t touch anything,” Bullet ordered dryly without glancing towards Vonter, busily engaging the various controls that would begin the cruiser’s take-off procedure.  The pirate retracted his hand and held it against his chest as if it had been stung.

     “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

     A growing hum announced that the cruiser’s engines were prepared, and Bullet deftly engaged the directional thrusters, lifting the ship from the deck and rotating it to face the opened exit portal as the landing gear retracted into the Silverfang’s belly.  A moment later the Guardsman’s cruiser sailed out of the landing bay and into open space, drifting a safe distance away from the Fickle Fate before the primary engines roared to life.  Vonter watched mutely as Bullet adjusted the ship’s heading to return back the way it had originally came, not speaking until the Nathian leaned back into his seat, dropping his hands away from the ship’s controls as its AI took over. “Fancy piece of work, this ship.  Mind if I ask…?”

     “Standard issue Nathian Guardsman Cruiser, designation Silverfang, designed by the Military Academy of Midgard, manufactured at the spacedocks of Colony 52.  Do you want in-depth specs?” Bullet responded wearily.  He knew well that information was a weapon, but the schematics for cruisers like his were hardly a secret, especially considering they had been in use for nearly two decades and were widely disseminated for Council usage.  Surely even a pirate like his passenger would be able to obtain all the information he wanted about them; no, it was the materials that went into their construction that kept them from being used against the Nathians.  Even though they had a reputation as a workforce for the Guardsmen, rugged but less than subtle, the royal government did not spare much when it came to their expenses.

     “I think I’ll pass.  I saw the guns, and I imagine those are the most important parts,” Vonter murmured. “Although, I could see how it would be useful if you taught me how to fly it… just in case something happens, you see, and I need to return it to your authorities.” The pirate’s wide smile failed to convince his temporary companion.

     “Sorry, no such luck,” Bullet declined, smiling sharply. “Silverfang has orders to self-destruct if the proper response code isn’t given periodically.  And no,” he added hastily, raising a finger to ward off Vonter’s epiphanical smile, “I won’t be teaching you the code, either.”  Vonter sank back into his seat, visibly sulking, and Bullet allowed himself a chuckle at the pirate’s petulance.  Relaxing somewhat, he nodded appraisingly to the violet-haired man. “Since we have some time, why don’t you tell me a little about the people who are chasing you?  The Red Death’s dastardly minions?”

     Vonter thought this over, unconsciously mouthing the word ‘dastardly’ as if tasting it.  After a long moment, he nodded in acquiescence. “I suppose it’s the least I can do, really.  The more you know about them, the more effective you will be against them.” He frowned, stroking his chin. “Although, I will admit that my information is perhaps a tad limited; our encounters were somewhat limited, though I have had the displeasure of conversing with their leader several times.  Perhaps it would be best to start with him.”

     Bullet waved him on, turning to type at the console before him.  Discomfited by his companion’s inability to focus, Vonter sighed before continuing. “Jaime Donacon, the White Rose of Sheeb, he styles himself.” Vonter paused as Bullet continuing typing, and blinked as a holographic panel appeared above the console between them.  A second later, the image of a man’s face and profile flickered onto it, and the pirate nodded, impressed. “It’s hardly surprising that he is in your database; as important as subtlety is to those in our line of work, he is fond of grand entrances and exits that feature, shall we say, excessive pyrotechnics?  I have always been of the school of thought that suggests murder is an unnecessary component of piracy, while he considers it a flourish.” Vonter’s tone dulled as he stared at the portrait before him, drawing a quick glance from the Nathian before he, too, examined the picture.  Jaime Donacon’s portrait suggested that he was a member of one of the many humanoid races that populated Council space, though there were several distinguishing characteristics: his cheekbones were exceptionally high and pointed, drawing the skin tight across his face, while his narrow blue eyes lacked pupils.  His hair looked to be straight and long, from what Bullet could judge from the small image, and he wore a slight smile, as if gloating over the men studying his image.

     “Arrogant boot-kisser,” Vonter hissed through his teeth, drawing a curious glance from the Nathian.  Continuing without intending to repeat himself, the pirate motioned towards Bullet’s console. “The next you will need to know about is Thyrg Krle.” Bullet’s fingers danced over the keyboard, and Jaime’s image was replaced by that of Vonter’s next topic.  This pirate was a far cry from the clean haughtiness of his leader, with a thick jaw that sported several wide, stubby fangs, and wide eyes that were positioned too high on his squat head.  This pirate’s skin was a mottled orange, and despite the insubstantiality of the holograph Vonter shivered slightly. “If his commander considers killing to be art, then this brute would liken it to eating; something to be done frequently, and with great enthusiasm.  He is in charge of their fleet’s rearguard, the ships that arrive just in time to shoot at anything that shows any sign of pursuit or resistance… or, for that matter, doesn’t.  If he weren’t so brutal, he would be expendable, no doubt, but something tells me Jaime finds him amusing.” Vonter’s lips twisted in a delicate sneer, and he glanced away from the holograph.

     “Next is Morris Hamelin,” Vonter instructed, and Bullet dutifully input the name into the system.  When the image appeared, the Guardsman quickly scrutinized it, obviously surprised by what he saw, as Vonter continued. “He is a human-”

     “From Earth?” Bullet interjected, glancing in shock at Vonter.

     “Why, yes; I’m surprised you know about it.  Or should I not be?  It’s under Council protection, under the Undeveloped Native Species Act, so typically it is fairly rare to see humans out and about in space, but there are always those who break the rules when it comes to that.” He paused, noting Bullet’s guilty blush and swift glance aside. “Considering that, it’s no surprise some visitors have returned with… souvenirs, shall we say?”  This also drew a reaction from the Guardsman, and this time the blood in his cheeks came on account of his anger.  The girl that the Red Death had abducted…

     Forcing his attention to the task at hand, Bullet inspected the portrait of Morris Hamelin.  The man had a narrow face and thin lips, with messy brown hair matched by the sprinkled wisps along his chin-line and above his lip; calling it a beard and mustache would be unparalleled generosity.  The holograph’s flickering made his dark eyes seem to twitch, and Bullet was reminded of the rodents he had seen depicted on Earth television during his short stay on that planet. “Morris is Jaime’s information broker, promoted to the command of his own ships somewhat recently.  He tends to shy away from the fighting, but he will sell out anyone to impress his commander.  Since he joined up, I’ve heard their profits have all but doubled,” Vonter admitted with something akin to grudging respect, “though I consider it worth the price not to have him around.”

      Bullet glanced at Vonter, raising an eyebrow. “You sound pretty acquainted with these people,” he mused.

     “Ah heh, yes, well, it pays to learn about your pursuers, so I did some research,” he suggested.  When Bullet stared at him, unconvinced, he pressed on. “You’ll find the final one interesting.  They called him General Arq Dane, though the rank is more of a reference to his military background and his position as Jaime’s head of security, rather than any real prestige.” Vonter watched as Bullet typed in the information, watching the Nathian’s face for the coming reaction.

     A portrait glowed to life, but before he could look at it a flashing light on the screen he was using for his search caught his attention.  His face paling, Bullet clicked once more, and the portrait reappeared, this time with surrounding panels featuring further information.  Vonter glanced at the familiar picture, noting the canine ears that topped the pirate’s head, the slightly-stubbed nose amidst the scars that crisscrossed the face.  The matching ears atop the Guardsman’s head twitched, and his growl was clearly audible. “A Nathian, formerly of the NMD.  A traitor,” he spoke, the precise calm of his words failing to conceal the tension beneath.

     “NMD?  Forgive me, I have never really gotten the chance to investigate your peoples’ organizations, despite our occasional… encounters.”

     Bullet glanced to the pirate, frowning. “So much for ‘learning about your pursuers,’ hm?” When Vonter blanched, the Guardsman shook his head. “The Nathian Military Division is the true armed forces of Nathia, while Guardsmen like myself are more like… a combination of police and peacekeepers.  We receive more training than they do, and typically better equipment, unless you count the number of capital-class ships that they crew.” Bullet shook his head, glaring at the holograph. “Still, it’s hard to believe that someone who had made it through one of our academies would turn against Nathia.”

     Vonter smiled slightly, his taciturn partner’s naïve reaction not coming as a surprise. “Money can do interesting things to people, no matter who they might have been.  So can dishonor,” he added obliquely.  At the last phrase, all emotion fled Bullet’s face, and he stared ahead without focusing.

     After a long moment, he shook his head. “I’ll do some further research on these names, and see what I can find out.  It’ll be a short while before we reach the Decadence’s last known coordinates.  If you want, you can use the facilities; there’s a lavatory behind on the right side of the hall, and my chamber on the left.  If you want, you can use the bunk.” The faintest trace of a smile reappeared on the Nathian’s face. “Normally passengers have to use the bunks in the cells below, but-”

     “Thank you, you are too kind.” Vonter quickly stood from his seat and turned to walk down the short hall.  As he walked away, however, he glanced back at where the Nathian sat, watching as Bullet stared introspectively at the flickering portrait of the traitorous member of his race.  He hadn’t moved when Vonter turned away to enter his chambers, and even as the pirate made himself comfortable the Guardsman sat in silence and stillness.

 

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