Barrett's Privateers (Part 1)
Posted by overmortal, Sep 13, 2012. 914 views. ID = 5856
This post was written in 1 minutes.
|This is NOT the final version of the story. I think the dialogue needs work, and some scenes need tweaking. That said, PLEASE leave comments and help me out where things don't seem to fit right. Some scenes, while seemingly random, serve to introduce elements of the series as a whole, so familiarity with other stories becomes a pre-requisite.|
I decided that I wanted to go back and explain how the boss came to be a space-faring privateer. With that in mind, telling his story comes with many challenges. First, avoiding his name has proven difficult, so a story-driven device was required. Second, there are a lot of details scattered about in other stories about the boss, and fitting them in requires a lot of detailed planning.
I chose to break the story up into three parts, each being its own short story. That said, Barrett's Privateers doesn't carry much conflict on its own, but rather sets the stage for the rest of the series.
|This post has been awarded 5 stars by 1 reader.|
|This post is Part 9 of a writing series titled The Privateer Stories.|
My bedroom door opened, sans knock, and my father stepped in. I glanced up from my periodical computer, made eye contact, and went back to my article. "Hey, old man. What's up?"
"I need to talk to you, son.", as he walked to my bed, where I was seated. I knew that tone in his voice. Something had gone wrong. "I just got the report. Your combat performance stats are fantastic. You scored seventh. You passed everything . . . except Manual Control 302 . . ." he trailed off, both sympathy and disappointment detectable in his expression.
"And Manual Control is one of the mandatory cores. I flunked out.", I finished.
"Yes, son. You've been turned away."
I slammed down my periodical computer on the matress. "Dang it, dad, I tried! I really tried!"
"I know you did, son.", his patience overlooking the outburst of his sixteen year old son.
"No you don't! You don't know how hard I tried! I can't take this! Not again! Not right now!" I flopped over onto my pillow, threatening a tantrum of frustrated tears. "I'm sick of waiting around!"
"Look, son, I've talked with the commandant. He's impressed with your abilities. You just need to improve in one area. He's willing to re-enroll you for next year."
"Next year? NEXT YEAR?! Do you know how far away that is?!"
"Frankly, boy, it's a year. It's an opportunity to-"
"I can't wait a whole year! I need to be out there flying NOW! I can't wait a whole year just to start over from the beginning! We're just wasting my time!"
"I know it's disappointing son. But there's always next year. You can return to the civil academy until then; maybe get a tutor in the meantime . . ."
"It's hopeless, dad. HOPELESS! I'm horrible at math, and I'll never figure out that stupid manual jump equation! I should just give up now, get a job flying for a common carrier, and spare myself the trouble."
"Now, that's not the attitude to have, boy, and you know it. " I was starting to wear through his patience. My old man, for what it's worth, did his best to be a good father to me. But I suppose I didn't appreciate all that the man had on his plate. "Life is full of setbacks. You've seen me come in second far too many times. But what have I always taught you, son? Get up, shake it off, and keep going."
"Yeah, yeah, you're a real hero, dad. A real hero. Second term in office as Council Chairman of Mars; everyone knows how hard you struggled. Well, I'm glad you have such fortitude, but maybe I'm young and fragile, huh? Maybe I don't have your well-worn grit. Ever think of that?" My teenage rage now coming up to a healthy, self-loathing boil. "I'm sorry I can't be as strong as you, dad. I'm sorry! But I've poured myself into this and it's just too much for me! Sorry to disappoint you and ruin your good name!"
I knew I was acting out of line, but I was a teenager, dang it, and I wanted him to know just how upset I was. I think he realized I was intent on being unreasonably upset. Instead of rising to my taunts and self-pitty, he simply regained his patient composure with a sigh.
"Alright, have it your way, boy. We'll talk again after you've had some time to calm down. There are still opportunities here."
I wasn't having any of his sympathy. I threw my pillow at him in rage, which he deftly caught and tossed back, turning on his heel and leaving my room, closing the door behind him.
I'm a rich man's only child. There you have it. I'm the leftovers from a failed first marriage and the byproduct of political fame. My father, as I just mentioned, is the Council Chairman of Mars (second term, no less!) and a very famous and distinguished man. At sixteen, I'd lived in luxury my entire life. My childhood dream had always been to join the Confederated Military as a pilot of some kind. Maybe a fighter pilot, or even fly for the United Cartography along the Outter Rim. What you've just witnessed is the day I learned I'd flunked out of the Junior Aviator program for the second time.
It took me a couple days to even attempt to look up from my pit of despair. But, instead of trying the Military Academy again next year as my father had suggested, I came up with my own plan. An irresponsible, half-baked, childish plan. One that would ruin my future. One that would make an indellible mark on my life, my family, and my father's career. One that succeeded.
SHERBROOKE SPACEPORT, SHERBROOKE, MARS
I stepped from the tram onto the bustling sidewalk. It felt so surreal. I'd been to this spaceport more times than I could remember, but never with intentions like the ones I had today. I slung my duffle bag across my back and stepped inside. The security personel inside waved me through the scanner and into the main concourse. I knew every terminal of this place like the back of my hand, so I walked towards the bar, doing my best attempt at non-chalance. The legal drinking age on Mars is 19, but I figured I could slip inside easily enough, as long as I didn't try to order anything I wasn't supposed to.
I'd never actually even been into the bar. My dad had always said it was a place where the salty sort would self-medicate before and after their flights, and that a family such as ours had best not be seen there. My father's public image would have been ruined if he'd been seen rubbing elbows with the middle and lower classes. The elite and the rich had private parlours in which to indulge, after all.
I selected a booth as close to the corner as I could, hoping to stay out of sight, and did my best impression of what I'd seen in all of the vids; I calmly surveyed the scene through squinted eyes, not daring to turn my head for fear of ruining the camera angle. I felt so adventurous! It was as if I were some seedy gun runner, watching for the under cover agents to spring at any moment.
In reality, all I "surveyed" was a room full of what appeared to be normal people. Some were dressed in business suits, some were dressed in normal, everyday clothes. Most were either reading an article while sipping on something, or some were chatting in twos and threes. Nothing looked exciting or adventurous. Nothing looked dangerous. It just looked like a bar full of people killing time before their flights.
I sighed, inwardly. This was a stupid plan, and my father was going to kill me when he found out where I'd been. I left my link at the house so that I couldn't be tracked here, but the security cameras had all had a good look at my face. Someone was probably on the link with him right now, telling him that his wayward son was at this seedy dive. I put my face in my hands, feeling deeply humiliated, and started preparing the lie that I would tell my father.
"You gonna order something, or just take up a booth?"
I looked up to see what I assumed was either the bartender or a waiter.
"I'll be honest. I'm not hungry. What I need is to get out of here."
"The door's over there, kid. You look too young to be in here anyway."
"No, you don't understand. I need work."
"Well I'm not hiring. Cops'll throw me under the tram for hiring a minor."
"Not here. I need work on a ship or something. I need to get off-world."
"Off-world? What's a kid like you need off-world for? You in trouble or somethin'?"
I opened my mouth to tell the man my situation, but suddenly remembered what my situation was. I was a runaway. I might as well have been running off to join the circus. There was nothing that I could say to this man that wouldn't cause any responsible adult to call security, so I closed my mouth and looked away, completely unsure of what to do now.
The man took a good long look at me; his face betraying a look of pity, or maybe it was understanding.
"What?" I inquired, unnerved by his gaze.
"You see that guy over there?", gesturing towards a small group of men sitting at a table along the opposite wall.
"That guy announced about an hour ago that he was looking for crew to sign up. He'll probably turn a pup like you away, but who knows. You can either talk to him, or go take up a booth in someone else's bar."
I looked long and hard at the group of men, not even knowing which one the bartender was referring to, and something welled up inside of me. This is what I had come here for. To find some way off of this red rock. I fished an orange Confederate bill from my pocket and handed it to the barkeep. "Thanks for the tip."
I stood and slowly began to make my way to the table where the men sat. My nerve began to wane, and I felt the sickening, embarrassed urge to turn and walk out the door instead. I closed my eyes, swallowed hard, and kept moving.
"I'm looking for work." I said to the group, doing my best not to sound as scared as I was. They all looked like regular guys. They didn't look like pirates or roughians. They weren't dressed like folks in the vids. They all looked like guys that might have factory jobs somewhere. I think that's what made me so nervous. This didn't resemble the vids. This wasn't what I was expecting. The mundane clothing and appearance made these men too real. They didn't resemble my fantasy of space-faring folk. They looked like normal men who did normal work, and that scared me.
As I eyed the men, all three of them, they eyed me, and I realized that my age was very apparent to them. None of them looked to be younger than thirty. The man sitting on the right had an air about him; like a quiet authority, though over what I wasn't sure. He was the one who responded to me.
"What kind of work are you looking for, kid?"
"The kind that gets me off-world and flying."
"Not interested. Go back to school and finish your law degree, or whatever it is your family does. You're not cut out for space work."
The men went back to their conversation without another word to me. I stood, fuming at the insult, until I found the courage to speak again.
"I placed seventh out of two hundred in the combat program at the Military Academy. I can probably fly better than you, sir." The man cut his gaze towards me, and I swear I saw the faintest smile cross his lips.
"The military academy, is it? Well, I can tell you that, even if I did hire you, you wouldn't be seeing much combat. Or piloting the ship. So, tell me, what other skills do you have to offer?"
I swelled up just a bit. "I minored in engineering. I'm good with a wrench."
"I have an engineer. His name is Ranald.", and he pointed across the table to a man with a bald head, bushy red beard, and rosy cheeks. "What else do you do?"
"I . . . I can find something to do. I just need work."
"Fine, kid. I'm Eric Barrett, captain of the Antelope and I do need one more hand. I was hoping for someone with experience, but I'm in a pinch for time, so your academy training will have to do. We leave in an hour."
I felt like someone zapped me with a cattle prod. I had just been hired! I was running away from home with a bunch of salty space men! Even though this looked nothing like the vids, in my mind it just became exactly like the vids. Except for one detail . . .
"Shouldn't we discuss my pay?"
"You'll get a greenhorn's share until you've been on for a while."
"What's your name kid? I'll add your account to the docket."
I hesitated. I didn't want this Barrett guy knowing who I was, or who my father was. My wonderful situation could easily devolve into me being a hostage or something.
"If I don't know your name, how am I supposed to know what account to pay?"
"I . . . I dunno. I guess you'll have to pay me in cash. Either way, I can't give out my name."
"Do you know how hard it is to get cash? It's not like they hand it out these days."
"I'll make it worth your while, Mr. Barrett. You won't regret it."
He sighed. "Fine. I'll pay you in cash. But know that you may have to wait for your pay when I can't get cash."
"That's fine, sir."
Barrett stuck out his hand to shake, and I accepted. Barrett explained where I'd find the Antelope when it came time to board, and I left the bar with my head practically swimming. I had just been hired onto the Antelope as a "greenhorn", whatever that meant, and in one little hour I was going to be my own man. Free. Free from the pressures of being a rich man's son. Free from academy rules and regulations. Free from my father and step-mother. Just free. Simply that. I wandered the concourse for the next hour, wondering what I had just gotten myself into and fantasizing about my new life aboard the Antelope.
AN HOUR LATER
The lift to C deck halted smoothly and the safety gate receeded into the railing. I stood at the back of the lift and waited as the crowd before me poured forth like sand. Again I looked at the people around me. Mostly middle and lower class flight crews. C deck was primarily for common carriers, physical mail, and low cost transportation. Turning right, I nervously navigated towards terminal 7, still contemplating the decision I had made and the consequences that would follow. As I rounded the final corner, there is was. Terminal 7, like a portal to another world!
I approached the loading dock and peered through the window, excited for my first glimpse of the Antelope. And there she was. And she was a sickening sight.
I couldn't quite pick out what she was, but she was small, dirty, and ugly. She looked like a glorified cargo container with a utility shed attached. If she had ever been painted, the paint was long gone, and I couldn't tell if the red on her hull was rust or the reflection of Mars' landscape through the clear dome of the loading zone. She rested on extended landing gear; the type with wheels. That meant no vertical takeoff. I could see behind her that Barrett was overseeing the loading of several pallets of whatever it was that we would be hauling. Part of the ship's rear actually folded downwards into a loading ramp/dock plate, and the space port's loading crew were guiding the pallets up and into the cargo bay. The bay itself looked pretty small, as far as I could tell. Probably only enough space for one standard load volume.
Three engines were set about Antelope's center of gravity, one protruding from the curved top of the ship's body, and one nestled under each of the ship's stubby, ugly wings and recessed into the frame of the fuselage.
In the front, the "utility shed" must have been the cabin. Suspended awkwardly from the main body, it poked out like the head of a turtle from its shell, neck extended. And, almost as an afterthought, an ill-fitting ball turret bulged from underneath the floor of the cabin, like an Adam's apple, just clearing the ground by a few feet.
Needless to say, my heart sank. This, without a doubt, was the ugliest, most ill-conceived monstrosity I had ever laid eyes upon. Swallowing my pride, and probably a half-ounce of bile, I worked my way down the scaffolding to the tarmac. Noticing my arrival, Barrett jaunted down the ramp to, I assumed, welcome me aboard.
"Well, if it isn't my new greenhorn. I'm glad to see you came. I didn't think you'd go through with it." and he extended to shake my hand again. There was something about his joviality that seemed both in and out of character for the ship he captained. I shifted my duffle from my right to my left shoulder and accepted his hand, coming up with nothing more clever than "I'm here." in response to his greeting. "Good!" he exuberated, with a cheeriness that betrayed a sadistic glee, as if he was giddily welcoming me into my worst nightmare for his own amusement. My heart sank a little further.
"We're just cramming the last of it in now," he explained, "and then we'll be off. Got everything you need?", as he led me towards the ramp into the ship.
"I think so. I have enough clothing and supplies to last several days. I picked up some rations on the way here. How long will we be in space?"
We ascended the ramp into the cargo bay. The crates and pallets were being strapped down to the floor. Strewn about on either side were tools and equipment; some of it I recognized and some I didn't.
"Oh crap! Should I run and pick up more? I didn't know we'd be out that long."
"Oh, we'll be at our first stop in a week or so. You won't starve by then. You can re-stock there."
"Our first stop? Where are we headed?"
"Diis." Barrett opened the airlock hatch connecting the cargo bay and the cabin.
"Diis Superstation? Like, last federal outpost Diis?"
"That'll be our last stop, yes. We've got several deliveries along the way. Probably ninety days before we hit Diis. Might pick up a few extra runs along the way."
The cabin was somewhat larger that it appeared to be from the outside, possibly because of how it was laid out. The space was relatively well arranged. The hatch was situated between two cabinets of electronics and computers. To the right, running along the wall, was one long, dirty couch, with storage cabinets underneath and overhead. To the left was the emergency hatch, leading directly outside without an airlock. On either side of the hatch were single seats, with more storage underneath and overhead.
About a step and a half into the cabin, there was an open circular hole in the floor. I peered down into what must have been the interior of the turret. Various panels and hatches littered the floor and ceiling, each concealing some vital compartment or access. At the front of the cabin, the space narrowed considerably, and one single pilot's seat was surrounded on three sides by controls, displays, readouts, you name it.
"What happens when we hit Diis? Where do we go then?"
"Who knows. Shipments come in and out of Diis all day, every day. We'll find more runs when we get there, and we'll keep hauling."
"Back this way?"
"Maybe. Probably not. Why, are you homesick already?"
"No! No. I just figured knowing the agenda may be a good idea."
Barrett pointed towards the couch on the right. "Stow your things in one of the lockers here. Laundry and personal effects. Rations can go here.", and he opened one of the recesses in the floor to reveal a refrigerator.
"Where's the bathroom?" I asked, noticing the distinct lack of running water, toilet, and shower.
"There's a lav in the airlock." He stepped inside and pulled open a panel at knee-level which folded out into a crude but functional toilet. "Sanitize here." and he revealed a bin of Sani-Sand waterless hand cleaner. I was starting to get the idea. "No shower?", I ventured. Barrett reached into another hidden cubby and produced a packet of Dry Scrub. "You're starting to catch on, kid."
"So where are the bunks?"
"That couch and those two seats. There are four of us now, so we'll sleep in shifts by twos. Can you operate a gun turret?"
"I guess so. Why?"
"I don't let greenhorns pilot, but if you can keep your thumbs off the triggers, I assume I can trust you to keep watch in the turret on your shift."
"Yeah, sure. I can do that."
Barrett reached over the pilot's seat and activated a display. I couldn't see what he was checking on, but he seemed satisfied. "Good. Looks like we're ready to takeoff. Get your gear secured, kid. We'll be taking off in a few minutes." He keyed the ship's intercom, "Ranald, Dolan, get things sealed up. Let's get ready."
I checked under the couch for an empty locker and stuffed my duffle bag inside. Barrett was already sitting in the pilot's seat, flipping switches and pressing buttons. I peered over his shoulder to see if I could recognize any of the warm-ups and checks that he was performing. I caught most of them, but some were alien to me. My academy training had been in small, one-man fighters. I had never had to think about air recirculation filters, compartment pressurization, or even cargo mass offset calibrations. I was about to set in with a round of questions when I heard the airlock behind me close.
"Gentlemen," began Barrett, without looking away from his routine, "let's all say hello to our new greenhorn. He has deprived us of the pleasure of his real name, so we'll be assigning him a nickname in the near future." I recognized the man with red beard and bald head as Ranald, the engineer. He was the first to shake my hand. "Welcome aboard, son. I'm Ranald."
The second man was a tad taller with dark hair and a bronze complexion. Both men looked to be in either their late thirties or maybe even in their forties. The dark-haired man took my hand next, but kept his thumb firmly curled into his palm and used all four fingers to grab my hand. "Dolan." He must have noticed my quizzical glare at this bizzare handshake.
"He's a Ciprian." Ranald explained as he took one of the seats by the hatch and strapped himself in.
"A Ciprian?", my confused response. Dolan expounded, taking the other seat.
"It's is my religion. That's is how Ciprians greet new friends."
My curiosity was piqued, and even as I fumbled with one of the safety harnesses on the couch, I couldn't help but inquire further. "Religion? I thought most folks were beyond that these days." Dolan smiled politely while Ranald spit out one good, hard genuine laugh, even as the engines of the ship rumbled to life.
"What, you don't believe in God, kid?"
"Of course not. Everyone knows there's no such thing as a god."
We began to taxi out of the loading dome and onto the runway outside. Ranald's playful grin stretched from ear to ear; his eyes twinkling with amusement.
"You ever been in a tight spot, kid?"
"Tight spot? Like what? Like about to die?"
"Yeah. You ever had your back against the wall?"
"I dunno. Is that supposed to turn me religious?"
"You'll discover, son, there's no atheists in space!"
As if to punctuate his statement, the engines roared to full power and I was jerked to my left by the acceleration.Copyright 2012 overmortal. All rights reserved. FifteenMinutesOfFiction.com has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.
|This post has been awarded 5 stars by 1 reader.|
|This post is Part 9 of a writing series titled The Privateer Stories. The next part of this series can be found here: Barrett's Privateers (Part 2).|
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