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|Second chapter about a guy, a thing and a girl||
The place smelled of lubricants, ozone, and sweat. It was the biggest room on the StarRunner besides the cargo holds. The center of the room was dominated by huge cylinder that was covered with read-outs and controls. It hummed as it released the energy needed to power the ship. The wall on the stern side of the fusion core had three hatches which led to the engines that propelled the ship. But today the usual droning of engines and assorted machinery had been replaced by the shouts and sounds of humans.
"See, you're losing too much energy due to thermal radiation, especially from the plasma conduits and the engine accelerators," Marissa was shouting to Zak who was in one of the access tubes to the engines.
Zak climbed out of the center hatch carrying only a scanner. His pants, under shirt, skin, and hair were covered in grease from examining the engines. He tried to wipe off the grease and grime but soon realized it was a fruitless matter. He looked at Marissa. She too was covered in grease and was also only wore a pair of pants and an under shirt. "Looks like you were right. The shielding on the conduits and accelerators has started to weaken. And...," he continued to address Marissa as he closed the hatch, "the plasma entering the engines has lost so much velocity that the engines are only putting out a max velocity of .70C"
Marissa looked at him as he sealed the last bolt on the hatch. I think he's warming up to me. "Well," she said as she started to look at the core, "you could always up grade the core to one of the new antimatter cores. They do put out more energy than this old...uh... I mean... this core." She smiled. He had calmed down and she didn't want to wound his ego again.
"Yeah I thought about that. But we would have to convert one of the deuterium tanks to hold anti-deuterium. Which is possible, but we'd loose too much of our cargo space because of all the new equipment to generate the containment field." He turned his gaze from the core to her, "We just can't afford to loose that space. It is our lively hood after all."
"Yeah, I guess your right," Marissa said.
"It was a good idea though. The only solution I see would be to put in a smaller core that was dedicated to power the engines. That should be enough to get us to .75C, which is all the speed this old girl can take." Zak was now heading over to the engineering console to restart to power flowing into the engines.
Marissa watched and waited till he was done. "I... want to thank you for letting me help," she said timidly.
"Huh... oh that. No problem. It's good to have a fellow colleague on board." He looked up at her and smiled.
"What do you mean 'colleague'?" she asked.
It caught him off guard, "Uh... you know someone who understands engines." He smiled feebly. Damn it, Zak. Don't give anything away. "You need to clean yourself up. There's a full head near the quarters."
She stared at him quizzically. She was wondering what he had really meant by colleague. "Okay," she said simply as she placed her scanner on the console.
At that moment Nackron walked in. "I'm done," he said.
"What do you mean done?" Marissa asked.
Zak looked at Nackron then her, "He spread some of the grain around the hold and near the boarding ramp."
"Why?" She was puzzled.
"Well," Zak explained, "we're going to Kaylin Tor and the inhabitants there don't like the smell of Terran Grain. They're allergic to it. So with any luck they'll get a good whiff of our cargo and have no desire to search the ship."
"Oh," she said still slightly confused. "I guess I'll go clean up." With that she left. There was obviously something going on here especially with Zak. She just needed more time to figure it out.
Zak turned back to the engineering station to make sure the engine's accelerators had powered up correctly. As he did so Nackron watched Marissa leave and then regarded Zak silently.
"What do you think of her now?" asked Nackron of Zak.
"I don't know," Zak replied. "She's gotta a brain in her head and knows how to use it. But...” He looked down the corridor that Marissa had taken.
"Well, she kinda reminds me of myself," Zak said as he looked at Nackron with a twinge of remorse in his features.
"I thought she would." Nackron considered his friend. "Come on, we're about ready for reversion." Nackron turned and headed to the bridge. His metallic clad feet sounding down the empty corridor.
Zak was caught in a moment of reflection. Thoughts filled his head form what seemed a lifetime ago. Then with one final glance at the engineering read-outs and down the corridor Marissa had taken, he headed towards the bridge.
Kaylin Tor was part of a yellow star system that contained five planets. It was the furthest one out and the only one with an atmosphere. It glowed with an orange-yellow atmosphere, and its land masses, on the night side, had the faint glow of civilization. It was a fairly temperate planet that was well with in the limits required for most of the galaxy's sentient races.
It was the first planet Marissa had seen from orbit. She hadn't even seen Earth like this. From listening to Zak she found out that Kaylin Tor didn't belong to any of the governments of the galaxy like the United Terran Government or they’re sometimes rivals the Terellian Collective. It was a true independent with very lucrative trade agreements. But she also heard Zak comment on their very strict laws. Actually the phrase death penalty escaped his lips. It made her shiver to think that because of the star-shine they could be put to death.
"Hey, kid." Zak's voice woke her out of her thoughts. Zak noticed the frown, smiled and said, "Did you space the containers of star-shine in that open crate?"
"Of course," she said a little annoyed.
"Nackron did you smash the open container and remove the seals on the others?" Nackron nodded. "Good. Now, Marissa, just stay quiet and follow my lead. Okay?" Zak said as he piloted the ship through the open atmosphere to their assigned berth. Marissa just nodded as she watched the deflector shine blue from the atmosphere colliding with it.
It took approximately ten minutes for the ship to leave orbit and land at their berth. For most of that time the cockpit was quiet as each occupant thought about their possible death at alien hands. With a small shudder, and a smile from Zak the ship was down. Zak finished the power down and then they all headed to the boarding ramp. "Here goes nothin'," Zak said under his breath.
As the ramp lowered and the hatch opened, they could see the grains being picked up by the wind. Then through the arid climate they heard several sneezes. As they left the ship, they saw five canine beings cover their nostrils with the sleeves of their customs uniforms. The Kaylins were all about Marissa's height and were starting to sneeze violently. The one closest to them began to speak; or tried to.
"Ss... state," sneeze, "your business and cargo," teary eyed and sneezing he tried to look professional.
Zak looked at him, "We are here to deliver a shipment of Terran grain to a mister Jotell." As Zak finished another chorus of sneezes erupted from the customs officers. "I'm afraid one of the crates ruptured during our voyage." Zak put his hand up to avoid a sneeze from the senior officer. He handed the being the manifest, and doctored crew list.
Through watery eyes the officer looked at the manifest. Choking down a sneeze he said, "Every thing seems to be in order." Sneeze. "But ne... ne," sneeze, "next time be more careful." Sneeze, cough. "That vile stuff doesn't sit well with our people." He sneezed, then said, "Www... we will bbb... be back to inspect yourrr," sniffle, sneeze cough, "cargo when you clean up the mess." He sneezed and then left with his men and a barrage of sneezes.
Zak slowly looked at his companions then sighed. Marissa spoke first, "Is that it?"
"No he kept the manifest which means he'll be back," Zak said as he looked from Nackron to Marissa, then to the door the Kaylins had left through. "Now we wait for this Jotell, and do I have a few questions for him."
After a few hours the three of them had managed to clean up most of the grain. As they finished up cleaning the air ducts their came a knock outside. Zak motioned for Nackron and Marissa to stay in the hold as he went to the hatch to open it. As the door slid open, Zak saw a thin red skinned Veylah standing at the door. His scales started to flush as he saw Zak and his crest of horns stood straight up. This being was very nervous. "Who are you?" Zak asked menacingly.
"Uh... I am Jotell," the being swallowed hard, "and I'm here to assure delivery of the cargo." His eyes darted back and forth.
"Well, then," Zak said with his mischievous grin, "come on in." Jotell did as he was told. Zak shut the hatch before he was barley in the ship. Jotell jumped. "This way," Zak indicated with his hand in a mock grandiose gesture. Jotell followed Zak's hand with Zak following close behind.
When they got to the cargo hold, Marissa opened the door for them and followed inside. As soon as Jotell got into the hold Nackron's energy riffle was at his chest. With one quick move, Zak grabbed Jotell's shoulder and threw him against the wall. With groan and a yelp Jotell hit the wall then slid to the floor. Zak pulled out a laser knife as he and Nackron moved closer to Jotell. Jotell scrambled to his feet with his back against the wall. Zak held the hilt of the knife to Jotell's throat. Nackron leveled the riffle to the traitor’s chest. Marissa didn't know what to make of this. She just stood by the door; waiting.
"Wha...What the hell is going on?" Jotell asked pleadingly.
"We were going to ask you the same thing." Zak press the hilt harder against the being's jugular.
"I don't know?" Jotell said with a gulp.
"Bull. Why were you trying to set us up?"
"Yaa... You found the star-shine?"
"Yes. Now answer the damn question."
Jotell's eyes began to water. He tried to speak but kept having to choke down his words. Finally he managed to croak out, "It's not my fault. I have no choice. He's got my mate. You weren't supposed to live."
"From the top, snake," Zak said.
"Look," Jotell began, "they have been flying me from one back-water world to another. All I'm supposed to do is make sure that the traders die. “His tongue licked the sweat off his lips, "everyone that's been hired has carried contraband to those worlds. Not the normal stuff, but the stuff that gets the death penalty on those worlds likes star-shine." Jotell paused to catch his breath. Zak slacked off a little bit.
"What's your part? What are your orders,” Marissa chimed as she grew more curious.
Everyone glanced at her. Then Jotell, with the knife hilt pressing deeper in his neck, began again, “All I'm supposed to do is make sure they get the death penalty. If they manage to find out what they're carrying, then I'm to ber'ah on them. After their dead I'm to lay claim to the ship with false papers and fly it to the next planet." Anger flared in Zak's eyes. The knife hilt pressed deeper. Jotell's voice was no a hoarse croak as he tried to explain, "Look, I have no choice. They are threatening my mate’s life. They keep sending me pictures of her. Not normal ones; pictures off her in the bathroom; pictures of her in the shower. Close ups off her asleep. And when I moved her, they found her and showed me pictures of her in an accident she barley survived." He gulped for breath, "I ain't doing this for fun. I've always been a broker of trade deals. But, But this has made me very unpopular with my clients."
"Who is doing this?" Zak demanded.
"My... my contact has been a human by the name of... Trev"
Zak cast a back ward glance at Nackron. "What do they want?"
"I don't know," Jotell pleaded. "I've just been following orders."
Zak thought a moment. Nackron stood there quietly contemplating a thousand different ways to slowly kill the scale-skinned being. Marissa just stared in amazement. She hopped on this ship to see the galaxy. Now she was in the middle of a double-cross. One apparently that took her escorts by surprise. My god, what have I gotten myself into? She questioned silently.
"Marissa," Zak said with eyes still planted firmly on Jotell, "go to the cockpit and see if the customs officers have arrived." Marissa left silently. "Now as for you," Zak said to the Veylah after she had gone.
Jotell's eyes watered heavily and his crest of horns laid down in a submissive gesture as he pleaded for his life one more time, "Please. Please don't kill me. I have..."
Zak cut him off, "Oh no. First you are going to help us get past the customs officers. Then we'll deal with you."
They were back in the void again. Soaring away to a place only Zak and Nackron knew, but hadn't told Marissa. She was past out in the seat behind Zak. They had explained to her that, for her sake, she would have to put under so she wouldn't know the location to which they were traveling. No one had spoken much since the left Kaylin Tor. Zak and Nackron just sat quietly thinking about what they had done, and what had been done to them.
After Marissa had gone to the cockpit, the customs officials had returned. This time with breathe masks and filters. They quietly inspected the cargo hold with a degree of skill and instinct that betrayed their canine heritage. Nackron and Zak remained calm. Jotell got anxious every time they opened a different container and did not find the star-shine. Zak had neglected to tell him they had placed it in the engine tubes. They spent several hours of searching the whole ship, but the engines. They appeared to have a fear of the energies inside the tubes so Zak and Marissa just helped to escalate their fear to keep them away from that part of the ship. Eventually they were satisfied that the ship was free of contraband, and handed Zak back his documents. As Zak walked them outside and thanked them for their thoroughness, Marissa sat in the cockpit. Nackron held Jotell in the hold. After Nackron was sure the customs officers were gone and Zak was headed back to the ship, He poured container after container of star-shine down Jotell's throat. After five minutes, Jotell began to convulse in the euphoric bliss of overdose. After ten minutes and half the supply of star-shine, Jotell was dead. Nackron carried the lifeless body to the main hatch and tossed it out along with the remaining star-shine.
It took about twenty minutes to get the ship off the planet. During this whole time Marissa never asked where Jotell was. She knew after what he tried to do to Zak and Nackron, and what he did to their fellow traders and smugglers, no one would see him alive again. It terrified her to think of how brutal her hosts could be. But in a strange way she approved. There is always a choice, she thought to herself.
As they had hit space she asked were they were going, but she was greeted by Zak saying she didn't need to know and Nackron's cold metallic resolve. After Zak had explained to her that knowing could be "hazardous to living", she consented to the injection. At least, she thought to her self as the drug took effect, this way I might live a little longer. Before she completed her thought she was in a deep sleep.
After a couple of hours in the void, Zak tested Marissa's life signs to make sure she was alright. Then he turned back around to check the ships trajectory and make sure everything was going smoothly. Nackron just sat there, cold and metallic like his armor. "I don't like this," Zak said.
"I know," replied Nackron. "But we didn't force her to come with us. She made that choice."
"I know," Zak said wearily as he triple checked the instruments, "But she's just a kid. I mean, it's summer back ho..., back on Earth. She should be enjoying herself instead of being forced to run for her life, and being thrust in to the gray side of life." Zak looked up. "It's not fair for her"
Nackron considered his friend. It wasn't often Zak let himself worry about anything besides them and the ship. This female has really gotten under his skin, thought Nackron. And he knew why. "She made her choice," Nackron said simply.
"You know sometimes your no better to talk to than a dim witted, rusting old 'droid," Zak said bitterly. "I think the only reason you wear that damn armor is to keep what's left of your heart caged."
"Hearts," Nackron corrected.
Zak reined his anger and sat staring out of the view port in to the on coming blue light of false stars. Nackron just closed his eyes under his helmet, and let the moments pass away. Soon enough they would be safe in the confines of their home; a place only known to two living beings in the galaxy, and a dozen odd corpses. Light years slipped away like a thousand old thoughts as somewhere another trader was put to death for a crime he didn't know he had committed.
|Head Hunters, Inc. Epilogue||Head Hunters, Inc Chapter 1|
|Head Hunters, Inc. Chapter 05||Freedom|
|Ad Astra: Prologue||