Chapter 4 – “Never trust the darkness”
Scratches, dings, dents, abrasions, scorch marks, and the odd hole or two; the Ghost sat on the landing pad looking like a ship-shaped Tevarian Maw breaker candy. “You sure you ain’t want none this fixed? Looks like you went through a metal storm.”
The pirate base chief turned to Max, and his artificial eyes whirred to focus on him. Max stared into the soulless lenses. “No, just the fuel.” Max half turned then spun back, “Actually I’ll need a new ID.”
The chief tilted his head, “Dats ‘spensive.”
“Nothing fancy, I’m not even intending to get ID’d, a spoofed name is all I need, doesn’t need to pass a checkpoint test.” Max winced, his left hand tucked into his belt, “You gotta Doc on this rig?”
The chief nodded, “Section B’s, goldy sector.”
Max turned and waved his right hand, “Thanks, credits on delivery.”
This pirate base was cleaner than most Max had been to. However, that didn’t make it anywhere near tidy. It was still better than Osric’s Idris though. The Doc was nice enough, with a good bedside manner; It didn’t make him any less of a quack though. Max suspected he was just some pirate who stole a medical ship, a doctor’s coat, and set up shop in this crusty place. What gave him away was his diagnosis. When asked what the problem was he replied, “You have a pulmonary enema,” and quickly injected him with medi nanites. Relief came quickly, and Mobility came soon after. He paid the doctor and asked for the bar’s location.
Max came to a standstill after a turn in a corridor noticing all the lights in the center were blown out with light beyond. “You’re careful; most just walk through,“ came a voice in the darkness, “without a care for their lives.”
Max peered into the pitch black, but there was no movement, and not a sound but for the voice. The tension inside Max was growing, he didn’t fear the fight but he didn’t have the credits to patch himself back up because the Doc had all but cleaned him out, “An unarmed man is a dead man,” said the voice.
Max recognized it, who said that, the pirate philosopher? He thought to himself quickly and was drawing a blank for the name but he did remember a quote. “Some men go their whole lives not finding the man they are meant to kill, have you made me lucky?” Said Max to the shadows.
The voice chuckled in the darkness, “You may pass, anyone who quotes Xavos is alright.” Max nodded and walked into the hallway.
A figure leapt onto him, “Never trust the darkness, it will bring you woe!”
With a shadowy left arm lunging forward for his heart, Max let his body slip sideways, the blade hissing under his right armpit, and he clamped down, trapping the wrist. Max’s knife was out of the sheath from the back of his belt and into the shadow’s sternum.
The darkness wheezed in a painful sounding inhale. “Never trust that which you can kill,”Max said, kicking the figure to the other side of the corridor.
It spoke, “That’s not Xavos,” it coughed, “Who said that?”
Max was already walking away, “I did.”
The figure called out choking, “I don’t understand, what does it mean?”
“I’m not sure, it just came to me,” Max said as he rounded the corner.
Max hadn’t been sitting at the bar for five minutes before an older man sat down next to him. “You the guy in the Ghost, right? Looking for credits?”
Max’s interest was peaked he turned to the man. He had sandy blond hair with mostly grey. The old man continued, “Looking to sell her?”
Max gave him a grimace, and turned back. The old man smiled, “A pilot, eh? Well I might have some use for a pilot, too.”
Max took a sip from his drink, “I’m listening.”
“I need a message taken to the Stanton system, know it?”
Max looked at the old man, “Never been.”
The old man waved his hand, “Doesn’t matter. We have chart info for you, and nav jump coords. An easy job, pays fifteen.”
Max took another sip and turned slightly in his chair towards the old man, “Why not send it by Herald?”
The old man shook his head, “Heralds aren’t that useful when they are tracked all the way to the other planet. Sometimes the message isn’t as important as discretion. The mere knowledge that there was a message from here to somewhere is enough to send up red flags. UEE’s got spies all over this system. No, no, boy, we want this message a secret. That means you will have to be near invisible all the way there. Are you my man?”
Max downed his drink, “Two things: half up front, and never ever call me boy again.”
The elevator whirred to a stop and the doors opened. The Ghost sat on the left pad exactly as he left her, save for the attached fuel line and the open panel in the belly. Max discreetly checked his account; a little over seventy five hundred credits. He hoped it’d be enough. The chief slid out from under a heavily oxidized Aurora, and pulled himself up by its wing. “Chief,” Max said walking up to him, “How much for a jump drive?”
“Notin wrong wit da one Mr. Keyes sent over.”
Max looked around, “Who’s Mr. Keyes?” His eyes darted back to the chiefs focusing lenses. “Bussyneess man, old man, said you had an accord, a deal. He said you need it.”
Max’s tension slackened, “Yes.”
“He also say, I take cost of drive out of other half. I know not what it means.”
Max nodded, “I do.”
The chief and Max stood silently for a moment, the chief slowly nodding. “Ah,” the chief said pulling an electro tabulation device from his belt, “payment.”
Max took the tablet and looked it over. “Casper?” he said, looking at the chief—who was smiling—“What the hell kind of name is Casper?”
The Chiefs smile slipped away, “Not fan of oldy things?”
Max depressed the payment button, “I like to live in this century.”
“Old, old, old, drawing, friendly ghost, like the ship, irony yes?”
Max looked at the chief with a burning irritation. “I like to live in this century,” he repeated more forcefully.
Max slipped into the cockpit seat thumbing switches. “Chief?” he called as the chief pulled the fuel line and started dragging it clear.
“Eh?” the chief said, cocking his head to the side to hear better.
“Got an extra helmet laying around here?”
The chief looked over at a bunch of junk boxes. He waddled over to them his toolbelt jingling like windchimes, and he reached in, chuckling to himself. He pulled a nice grey helmet with a wide viewscreen. “Dirty, but okay,” said the chief as he threw it up to Max. “Making sure you wash, wash out well,” the chief said, pointing.
Max smirked, “It’ll do, how much?”
The chief shook his head, “Next time,” he said walking away to his work.
The Ghost’s exit from the asteroid base’s hangar was slow and silent. Once out of the base artificial gravity well, Max switched to cruise and placed his heading. No lights as the Ghost drifted silently out of the field. A UEE listening vessel picked up a sensor echo passing out of the system; It was logged as a micro asteroid.
Max sighed heavily. He had made it out alive. Better than alive: employed. His demeanor was all an act as the images of the visit raced over and over in his mind. He sighed heavily again, which turned into a cough as he breathed out too much air. The flight suit on his chest moved slightly with the cough which wasn’t supposed to happen. His mind began to panic as he repeatedly exhaled into his helmet. “No,” he said grabbing at the neck clasp and pulling off the helmet. Spinning it around to inspect it, he saw the cause a tiny puncture. Max looked inside to his horror, a brown stain surrounding the puncture in the padding. “Son of a bitch!” Max screamed to himself.