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Barrett's Privateers (Part 2): Sci-fi short story
Posted by overmortal, Sep 13, 2012. 935 views. ID = 5857

Barrett's Privateers (Part 2)

Posted by overmortal, Sep 13, 2012. 935 views. ID = 5857
This post was written in 0 minutes.
Again, this is not the final version of this story. If something seems as though it doesn't flow or make sense, please post comments.
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This post is Part 10 of a writing series titled The Privateer Stories.

"So, then, you engage the offset over here, right?" I asked, pointing to the little box on the screen. The screen needed replaced, and so the text label for the offset option was an incomprehensible blur. "Yes" Dolan answered. "That's is right. And to disengage the offset upon re-entry, you touch it again. The thrust adjusts gradually, over the course of fifteen seconds." To demonstrate, he disengaged the cargo mass offset. I felt the slight change in inertia for the next fifteen seconds, and then a warning popped up on the navigation screen. "See? Now the thrusters are not compensating for the mass of the cargo, and the thrust is uneven. The autopilot has detected that we're drifting off course."
There was another chime and the maintenance screen displayed an error code, which was promptly followed by another, and then three more. Dolan cued the intercom. "Ranald, the relay on 4720 has gone out again." "Crap." came his reply from the turret hatch. Up he scrambled, and into the airlock he stomped. "Come on, kid. I'm gonna show you how to deal with this stupid piece of crap."
"I'm not on duty." I argued, hoping to ask Dolan more questions about the calibrations. "Dangit, get your runaway butt in here!" On the couch, Barrett's snore faltered slightly. I scurried into the airlock, chin practically tucked into my clavicle, and Ranald slammed the hatch shut and punched the life support for the cargo bay. There was a roaring whoosh on the other side of the airlock, and soft chime before the bay hatch slid open.
Ranald, shoulders bowed up in frustration, crossed the cargo bay in what seemed like three steps, knelt down by the number two engine housing, and yanked open an access panel. Eyes glaring, he looked back at me and stabbed a finger towards something inside. "You see this?" he shouted over the roar of the exposed machinery. I peered inside to see the relay he was identifying. I nodded. It was hard to miss; it was the one dangling freely from the electrical cables it was meant to connect.
"See how it's disconnected over here? The coupler is worn out. Here's what you do." He grabbed the relay in one bare hand and the cable in the other. "Hook it back up . . ." and he fitted the cable back into the worn out coupler. He then picked up a hammer from somewhere deeper in the housing. " . . . tighten it up . . . " and he bashed the coupler with the hammer to pinch the wires in place. " . . . and tie it up." He reached down into the housing again and pulled up a bit of rag, which he used to tie the relay to an adjacent hose. "If the pinch in the coupler is good, this will last about a week. If not, we, and by 'we' I mean 'you', will be back in here in an hour." I nodded my understanding.
"Shouldn't we have disengaged the power first for lock-out-tag-out?", I asked, remembering my academy training. Ranald glared at me. "The power source is the engine, son! These relays feed directly from the power plant. You can't turn that off while we're flying. We don't have the luxury of a top-notch safety program, boy. Just don't grab any exposed metal, and don't stick your hand in the moving parts, and you'll be alright!" With that, he slammed the housing closed again, pulled a rag from his pocket, and wiped a bit of grease from his hand.
"Why don't we have another coupler?"
"Because it's built into the relay, and those relays cost an arm and a leg."
Dolan's voice squawked hollowly over the intercom. "Alright, it's is green again. Thanks, Ranald."
Ranald headed towards the hatch, motioning for me to follow. "Aight, kid. Go get some sleep. Your shift starts in seven hours." Stepping inside with him, I closed the hatch and started the atmospheric recycle of the cargo bay.
DAY 16
I came scrambling up the turret ladder again and plunged into the airlock, just reaching that wretched hidden toilet in time. I was sick of throwing up. I was sick of the diarrhea. Very simply, I was sick.
Ranald, from his reclining relaxation on the couch, burst into laughter again.
"Once more into the breach!"
I emerged from my wretching a few moments later and gave him my moodiest "go to hell" glare. This only resulted in more laughter. For his part, I'm sure there was a deep humor in seeing a spoiled, rich, tough-acting runaway having such a difficult time adjusting to the cuisine of the common folk.
And, sadly, that was exactly the case. I had never eaten anything that wasn't gourmet and expensive. As a consequence, when I had to eat the greasy, chemical laden staples of the working-class diet, my body was completely unable to cope. Ranald, for his part, didn't strike me as a mean person at all, but his decision to take me under his learn-by-ridicule wing was hard on my pride. Even then I understood, deep down, that he meant the best for me, but the not-so-deep part of my mind jumped to the conclusion that I would eventually have to confront him about his constant jibes.
Dolan passed me a few more tablets from his medicine bag and smiled sympathetically. "It's will be alright, kid. Your body'll get used to it in time."
"I sure hope so." Barrett chimed in from the pilot's seat. "At this rate we're gonna have to purge the waste tank before we make Zeta-2 Scorpii."
I chewed the pills and once again descended the ladder into the turret. Aside from the sickness, and the occassional conversations between the other three, space life had turned out to be mind-numbingly boring. Since we'd left Sherbrooke sixteen days ago, we had trundled along in a loose line of traffic from jump point to jump point. Instead of pirates and excitement, our adventure had been filled with cargo scans and traffic jams. Jump points, especially, had proven to be a real snore. One would think that forcing every spare quark of yourself and your spaceship through a one-dimensional string and emerging instantaneously lightyears away would be a thrilling rush. Instead, the God-awful sensation of jump was precluded by hours of sitting in line, waiting your turn, and followed by more cargo scans and tolls.
And, speaking of the God-awful sensation of jump, we were next in line.
"Okay, Squirt, you buckled in?" Barrett's voice crackled over the intercom.
Oh yeah, the nickname that they had given me in lieu of my real name? Yeah, it was "Squirt"; at least, when they weren't calling me "kid", "junior", or "rookie". I finished buckling the safety straps and swivelled the turret a bit to make sure they were holding me securely. "Yeah, I'm good."
"Dolan, Ranald?"
"We're good, boss.", came Dolan's reply from above the turret hatch.
"Alright. Looks like the jump monitor is about- okay, there it is. Here we go. Jumping."
And with that, the universe began to stretch and melt away, even as another universe stretched and melted into its place. In reality, it was me that was being stretched, and even though the illusion gave the visual effect of the world outside doing the changing, my body told me the true story in vivid, graphic detail. My stomach lurched again, but I didn't bother going back up to puke; there was nothing left in my stomach to come out, and I was content to dry-heave without Ranald's laughter egging it on. As soon as the few seconds of wretching were done, I got back to my job.
And the boredom of the past few days shattered like a pane of glass.
Lasers filled the space to our port side. Several hundred meters out, I could see what appeared to be a large cargo vessel engaged in a shootout with two Federal gunboats. I couldn't contain my surprise and excitement.
"Holy cow! Look!"
Barrett shot back without a second's hesitation. "Keep your finger off the trigger, kid!"
"What's going on?"
"Looks like that Kunoon failed his cargo scan."
"What? Like drugs?"
"Drugs, slaves, weapons, who knows."
I watched intently as it played out like something from the holos. The patrol gunboats had pulled up on either flank of the Kunoon and were pounding it mercilessly as the Kunoon attempted to accelerate away. The fireworks display lasted less than a minute and ended rather anti-climactically. The gunboats seemed to simply cease fire, and closed in for the boarding process.
"What happened? Why did they stop shooting?"
"You that eager to watch someone die, squirt?"
"No, no" I declared, somewhat lying. "But why did they stop?"
"You didn't see her engines blow out? She's disabled. Probably never fly again."
"They shot the engines out? I guess I missed it."
Barrett accessed my gun camera and played back the footage. "See there? That debris is from the second engine. And there's debris from the first."
I was shocked. I had never seen actual real space combat. I seen the vids, and I had done the simulations at the academy, but they all showed big explosions for this kind of thing. The real thing seemed, somehow, less interesting. Barrett must have read my mind in the silence.
"This ain't the holos. Big explosions do happen sometimes, but only when conditions are just right. Death out here is usually understated and instant."
"Are those folks dead?"
"Dunno, kid. Maybe. Probably. All it takes is an uncontained hull breach. Your atmosphere is all gone in an instant; if you aren't sucked out of the breach or pulled apart by the decompression, you'll simply die a few seconds later from exposure to the vacuum. Either way, from the time the trigger is pulled to the time you're a corpse is often less than a few seconds."
I sat in sober silence. The thought suddenly became very real to me that my choice to run away could very well kill me. If life in the far-stretching lanes of space was so precarious, what was to keep me from being "pulled apart by the decompression"? Again, Barrett must have read my mind.
"Don't think about it, squirt. You worry about it, you'll either die or go crazy from the stress. Nobody gets to choose when, where, or how they'll take that last flight. You're not going anywhere till it's time to get your ticket punched."
I continued to watch solemnly as the scene shrank behind us in the vacuum, deeply drinking in the stark reality of the situation. Above, I heard Ranald's pained grunt as he stretched back out on the couch to finish his sleep, and Dolan's quiet humming of a Ciprian hymn. Even through the boredom of long shifts in this turret, I took some comfort in the peace and quiet which, sometimes thankfully and sometimes uncomfortably, gave me time to think on things I'd learned. For the first time since takeoff, this whole affair seemed like a bad idea, and I found myself wishing that I was back in Sherbrooke.
DAY 65
"Okay, here's your cut from what we've run so far." Barrett fanned out the bills for me to see, and then counted them into my hand. I was glad. The money I had brought with me had run out two weeks ago, and I'd been living on handouts from everyone else. Of course, I didn't each a whole lot, anyway. The food out this way still sat heavy on my stomach. I stuffed the bills into my pocket. It wasn't a lot, but it was something, and that, I had learned, was far better than nothing. "Now, let's get back to the depot and finish stocking up. They should be done offloading by now."
Barrett and I turned from the cashier booth and headed back down the sidewalk towards the depot where the Antelope was parked. The sky was darker than most planetside nights I had seen, and the public lighting along the street was sparse, but the innocent kid in me had never been given a reason, outisde of the holos and vids, to distrust dark streets on far-off worlds.
That is, until the man stepped out in front of us.
"Give me the cash, boy." the shadowed figure demanded, putting his hand into his jacket. Barrett and I stopped in our tracks. I completely froze. "Now, kid! The cash I just saw you tuck into your pocket. Throw it on the ground!" I looked over at Barrett, whose expression was stone cold. "Do it, squirt. Give him the money." My eyes darted back and forth between Barrett and the man before us. "Go on. It's just money."
I pulled my precious bills from my pocket and tossed them on the ground. The man's attention turned to Barrett. "Alright, now you. Throw your money on the ground!" Barrett calmly raised his hands, palms open. "Alright, alright" he soothed. "My wallet is in my breast pocket, right here." he pointed with his right hand to his left breast. "I'm going to reach inside my jacket and get it out, okay?"
"Just do it!" the man replied.
Barrett gripped the jacket with his left hand and held it slightly open, then reached in with his right. Just as his hand passed over the breast pocket of his shirt, his arm lunched into his armpit, his left hand flung the jacked wide open, and his right arm stretched out towards the man with an odd "click click". The motion took a scant fraction of a second, and startled me. That's when I noticed the object in his hand.
Barrett had just pulled a gun on our mugger. But it wasn't like any gun I had seen before. It was white. Or, well, maybe silver. It was massive, and styled strangely. Our mugger also startled slightly before reaching his hand back into his jacket and fumbling madly. Before the man could produce whatever his jacket held, Barrett squeezed the trigger, and the shot struck the man in the stomach. Barrett's second shot took the man in the ribs, and he collapsed to the ground in a heap, oozing blood.
The ringing in my ears prevented me from hearing, but I could plainly see the man, now clutching his wounds, gasping for breath and writhing in pain. Barrett pointed with the gun down at my money. "Get your cash, squirt. We gotta go." He knelt down by our mugger, and opened the man's jacket. "You gotta help me!" the man wheezed as Barrett pulled the man's gun and holster from their hiding spot. The mugger reached up and grabbed Barrett's arm with both bloody hands. "Please! I'm sorry! Please! Oh God, please!" Barrett's only response was to take his hand away from the man and pistol whip him across the cranium. "Shut up."
I watched, even as my shaking hands gathered up one bill at a time, while Barrett searched the dying man's jacket and pants for his credit chip and cash. The cash he stuffed in his pocket. He pulled his link from his pocket and swiped the credit chip across, accessing the account and transferring the mugger's few credits into his own account. With that, he dropped the chip on the ground, stood, and stomped it with the heel of his boot, crushing it. "Okay, kid, let's go."
I stood, cash in hand, watching our mugger wheezing and moaning. "Please, please!" he beseached again. Barrett handed me the man's gun and holster.
"Aren't we gonna call the police?" I nearly begged, feeling sorry for the man.
"Why not?"
Barrett took me by the arm and wrested me onwards, even as the man reached out after us, now crying.
"He would have killed us, kid. I'm not going to jail for him. He can pay his debt to society a lot quicker lying right where he is."
"Are we gonna be arrested?"
"Not if you shut the heck up and keep moving!" he barked. I cringed under the rebuke. After a few seconds of silent striding, he softened his tone. "Once we get back to the ship, we'll get off-world. We'll be fine, then."
I had to struggle to keep up Barrett's pace back to the depot.
Barrett rapped his knuckles against the metal bulkhead behind me, drawing my attention away from my musing. "You okay, kid?"
"Yeah. Why?" I lied, not even bothering to look up from the dead mugger's handgun, which I had been cleaning Barrett's gun cleaning kit.
"Haven't seen you in an hour. And, in the two months I've known you, you've never once hidden yourself away in the cargo bay. What's bothering you kid?" He looked down at the gun in my hands. "The dead guy?"
I looked down at the gun in embarrassed silence, deeply ashamed that I was having such an emotional reaction to the day's episode.
"It's alright, kid. Everybody handles it differently."
"Handles what?"
I nodded, still looking down. "Why?"
"Why what?"
"I dunno. Why everything? Why is this so different? I've seen it on the news more times than I can remember. I've known people who've died. Why is this different?"
Barrett sat down next to me, leaning against the same crate, and pulled his gun from its holster.
"It's personal, that's why. You saw me shoot the man, and you saw him dying. Even though we didn't watch his last breath, you were there in his final moments." He paused, looking over at me. I was staring at his gun. "It's called a revolver. It's a .45 caliber." He handed it to me, and I felt the hefty weight of it. It seemed to have its own personality; its own personal feel in your hand.
"You pull back on the hammer here to cock it. You have to do that for each round. It's not automatic. Go ahead." I pulled back the hammer with both thumbs. "Now, to uncock it without firing, hold the hammer back while you squeeze the trigger, and let it down gently." I did like he said, returning the hammer to its resting place without firing the weapon.
"I guess this is something I'll just have to get used to, yeah?", I ventured, handing the revolver back to Barrett.
"What? Death? Yeah. It's a part of space. It's a part of life. You stay in this line of work, eventually you find yourself in harm's way. Most of the time you can find your way out. Sometimes . . ." he trailed off, cocking the revolver, and then letting the hammer down gently.
"When was the first time you had to kill someone?"
"I wasn't much older than you. I had just bought the Antelope and thought I was hot stuff. Hired a crew, worked 'em like dogs, tried to cheat 'em on their pay. We put in at Suffa after a string of deliveries, and they mutinied while we were docked. Tried to corner me and push me out of the airlock."
"What did you do?"
"Locked myself in the turret, used my security code to disable all other control consoles, and purged the atmosphere from the cabin. I waited till I knew they were dead, then I repressurized and came out."
"Get in trouble?"
"Nope. Mutiny's a capital offense."
"So what happened then?"
"Well, nothing. I hired a new crew, and I learned my lesson about treating people fairly."
"Did it bother you?"
"Of course. It brings on some sort of existential crisis, unless you're some sort of born hard killer."
Barrett re-holstered his gun and began to stand. "After time, you'll come to grips with the reality of life, death, and the universe. Some people become nihilists, some people find God, some harden themselves and learn to enjoy the killing. Look at Ranald and Dolan. Dolan thinks there's a forgiving god somewhere, and he feels peaceful. Ranald also thinks there's some sort of god, and he'd push you out of the airlock just because he didn't like you."
At this, I cringed. "Would he really?"
Barrett's wide-eyed expression scared me. "Yeah. He would." My mind suddenly flashed back to all of the times I'd smarted off to him, and a lump of fear filled my throat.
"Don't sweat it, kid. He likes you." Barrett reached down, took my hand, and helped me to my feet. "C'mon. Our shift starts in half an hour. Let's go get ready."
I put the dead man's gun back in its holster, and tucked the holster into my waistband. I still didn't understand the issues that were pressing on my mind, but I understood that I didn't have to have it all figured out yet, so I shelved the issue for later rumification and followed Barret back to the airlock.
DAY 97
"Another one, barkeep!" and I gulped down the last of the mug. This would make four, and with a pocket full of confederate currency, legal drinking ages didn't seem to matter as much. Barret and Ranald sat at the bar with me, and Dolan would be in shortly. Before the next beer arrived, I slurped and gulped away at the excess toppings of my sandwich. This, I had firmly decided, was the life!
Diis superstation marked the end of our three month run, and with my stomach having well adjusted to the rigors of poor man's food, I had learned to savor the unhealthy flavors that came with it. Cheap beer, greasy bar food, and loose women were the pleasures of the day, and now that I had recieved my cut of the profits, I was feeling much better about my new career.
"Maybe you need to slow down, squirt. You don't want a hangover.", Ranald advised over his couple ounces of aged liquor. "Are you kidding me?" I retorted. "I'm a machine, good sir! I can handle my beer!" and I finished with an embarrassing and cliche'd hiccup. "That's just from the volume, not the alcohol!" He rolled his eyes. "I'm sure."
Meanwhile, I had been eyeballing the brunette a few seats over. A mere boy of sixteen would have no business talking to her, but I, now seventeen and full of liquid courage, felt that it was my duty to approach this woman who was clearly old enough to understand a man with needs.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Do you know what time it is?"
"No." her curt answer, attempting to brush me off.
"Well, in that case, allow me to inform you." I pulled back my sleeve to reveal my brand new watch. Or, I suppose I should say, my brand new watch implant. I had seen the adverts and programs as we approached the Outter Rim, and these things seemed to be quite fashionable, so I had decided to spend some of my hard-earned credits as a kind of reward for my newfound life of bravery and ambition.
The brunette, however, wasn't impressed.
"Nice."; her sarcasm evident as she returned the news report she was watching. Ah, but I wasn't so easily shaken off.
"So, what's in the news?"
She finally turned her eyes towards me, ready to spew venom (or vodka), but instead her eyes surveyed my handsome face . . . and grew as wide as dinner plates. At long last, she answered.
"Y-you are!"
Ah, there was the in-road I had hoped for. "So, then, how about I buy you another-"
"No! Look! Isn't that you?"
I looked at the screen, and my heart stopped cold as it splashed into my intestines and my stomach lurched into my throat. There, on the screen, was my face, my father's face, and my step-mother's face with the words "SEARCH FOR CHAIRMAN AND FAMILY CONTINUES". I felt lightheaded.
She turned up the volume and replayed the article, and I sat in silent horror as it told the story of my kidnapping, which was nearly simultaneous with the abduction of my father and step-mother. I fished a bill out of my pocket and slid it towards her. "Look, let's just say you didn't see me here, okay?"
She looked down at the purple bill, up at me, over to the screen with my face still displayed, and back at me. "N-no. I don't need your money! Whatever it is that's going on, I don't want any part of it!" And with that, she flew away, fear driving the swaying hips from her now hurried gait.
"You really know how to sweet-talk 'em, kid." Barret chided with a sarcastic pat on my shoulder. "Better luck next time." Oh crap. I thought to myself. If these guys see the news, I'm screwed. I deftly switched off the screen next to me and tried to swallow my panic with another bite of sandwich. My beer arrived as I chewed, and I washed the bite down with half of the pint.
"Dang, kid. It's not that bad! She's just some random bimbo. Don't let it get to you like that."
Ranald, that lovable brute, was always trying to keep my head on straight. Neither he nor Barret knew about my family's abduction, so I played along with the idea that the woman had caused my change in demeanor. "Sure thing, baldy. I'll be sure and take note of all the other fish in the sea." He reached across Barret and rustled my hair. "You'll be fine, kid."
I decided to change the subject, hoping that I could find a way to get away from these newscasts. "What's our plan now, boss? Barret wiped his mouth and attempted to dig a bit of meat from his teeth while talking.
"Well, we'll head along the border of the Outter Rim, I guess, until we find another run. The net here is pretty devoid of anything significant. We'll probably take a small load to-"
"Hey, Barret!" It was Dolan. "Did you hear the news? It's is all over the network! Terrorists have taken hostages on Mars! Pirate activity is going crazy in the inner systems. They've reinstated letters of marque!"
Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap! I screamed inside my head. They're gonna see my face on the news! What can I do?
"Letters of marque? What's that?" I asked, hoping to keep the topic away from the newscasts, and also because I had no idea what a letter of marque was. Barret ignored me.
"Yeah, but what kind of incentive?"
"One thousand credits per confirmed terrorist kill or capture!"
"Not bad, not bad. Dunno if it's worth the risk, though. Everyone and their brother will be there inside of a month to mop things up."
"That's is the thing, boss! It's is the Titan Tigers! The letters of marque extend across all Confederate space!"
Ranald nearly did a spit take. "The Titan Tigers? Are you kidding me?"
"No, brother, they kidnapped some official on Mars; no one knows there they're hiding him. The Inner Worlds are going crazy, but they don't know if maybe he's been transported to the Outter Rim."
I needed to find out just how bad of a situation I was in. A sector-wide search was bound to carry some kind of bounty or reward. If Barret found out that turning me in would net him some easy cash, supposing he could avoid being arrested just for having me on his ship, then I could be in serious trouble. The best way to find out, I decided, was to play it straight.
"Is there a reward for finding the guy?"
"Whoa whoa whoa, squirt! Nobody said anything about us becoming privateers. A thousand credits per kill isn't really all that much when you consider that you have to risk being killed. If we were in some sort of corvette, maybe, but the Antelope ain't built for that kind of action."
Dolan grinned from ear to ear. "I haven't told you the best part, boss. You get to keep what you catch!"
Ranald leaned in closer. "Cargo or vessel?"
Barret broke in again. "There's no guarantee we're going to find Titan Tigers all the way out here, though."
"Doesn't matter. There are lots of groups along the Outter Rim that would support them, so they've left the target clause wide open to include all pirates, smugglers, illegal craft, you name it!" My jaw hung slack. My family had somehow just caused the largest governing body in human existence to flop over on its ear and declare open season.
"Think, Barret; the bounty hunters out here are going to be hiring now that capture is legal. We can join an outfit and pick over what they don't keep."
Barret rubbed the stubble on his chin. "So, you mean to tell me that, all the way out here at Diis, I can get permission to capture any vessel that commits a crime, without being charged with piracy, and I get to keep the cargo and the vessel, and all of this is because some empty-headed politician on Mars went missing?"
I bristled at "empty-headed". That's my father you're talking about, dude.
Dolan nodded his head excitedly. "This is the real thing, Barret. Open season! We can go from one vessel to several in no time if we play our cards right." Barret leaned back against the bar in stunned silence.
"Okay.", at length. "Let's do it. This is a once in a life-time opportunity; let's make some money!"
Dolan and Ranald cheered enthusiastically, and Ranald gulped down his liquor with a flourish. Barret clapped Ranald on the shoulder. "Alright, let's go make it happen, shall we?", and he turned around to the bar and swiped his credit chip across the surface before leaving the rest of his meal and heading for the liason's office. Ranald followed hot on his heels, the excitement of the moment quickening his step. I took one last swig of beer before starting after them. Dolan called after me quietly.
"Don't worry, boy. We'll find your father."
I felt my shoulders draw up and my neck recede, as if someone had dropped a cube of ice down my collar, and my arms shriveled with goosebumps. I slowly and dreadfully turned my head to face Dolan, who leaned against the bar with an evil smile. He stepped forward and took me firmly by the arm, his face uncomfortably close to mine, and spoke just above a whisper.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to share your secret with Barret and Ranald. I would not visit that evil upon you." and in this his expression showed sincerity, maybe even sympathy. His grip, however, was as strong as steel. "But" he continued, "you are going to help me in return for my silence."
"Wh-wh-whadda ya want?" I stammered, feeling utterly helpless and weak in the knees.
"It's is nothing bad, my friend. You and I must convince Barret to take us towards Titan. That's is my home, and now I must attend to things there."
"Why not just tell that to Barret?"
Dolan unzipped his shirt to the navel. There, tattooed on his ribs, was some sort of glyph. He allowed me to see it, then quickly zipped his shirt again.
"My business concerns the Titan Tigers, but Barret must not know that I was once associated with them."
My eyes bulged out of my head. "You- you're a . . ."
"No! No. I distanced myself from the group. The Titan Tigers began sixty years ago as a splinter of the Ciprian Brothers of Peace. Missionaries. In my youth, I was involved with missionary work. It's is how I became involved in space travel." His grip loosened, just a little, and I began to relax just a bit, though still very much aware of the situation that I was in.
"When politics became more important than faith, I left; long before the violence began. I am no terrorist. But I must go to Titan now, to help disarm this situation. Barret and Ranald know that I was once a missionary, but they would no longer trust me if they knew that I had been involved with the Titan Tigers. Indeed, it's is not widely known that the Titan Tigers were once Ciprian missionaries, before they were nationalists. This is why you must help me convince Barret to go there." He let go of my arm; a sign of trust.
I breathed heavily, head swimming from the life-altering events of the past five minutes.
"How could I convince Barret to do that? I don't have any reason to go there."
"I will instruct you on what to say, and when to say it. Together, we can persuade him to do it."
I looked away, pretending to survey my surroundings, mostly trying to give my brain a few seconds to process all that was going on. The alcohol in my system was preventing most of this from making sense. I pinched my eyes shut and focused my concentration.
"If I help you, is there any way we can find my father?"
"I cannot promise that, but I can promise that, if it is indeed possible, I will give you my help."
I nodded, slowly. "Okay . . . okay. I'll help you. I don't have much choice, anyway."
Dolan smiled warmly and genuinely. "No, you do not." He extended his hand towards me, and I took it without much thought. It was only afterwards that I noticed that he had given me a normal handshake, not the Ciprian "new friend" handshake. He motioned towards the door. "Let's go catch up to them. Our jobs are about to change significantly."
He was right. When we got to the liason's office, Ranald stood waiting by the door. "You two get lost?"
"Stopped for a chat." Dolan answered truthfully. The office door opened and Barret stepped out; a physical sheet of paper in his hand. "Take a look." We each perused it in turn. Nearly the entire page full of paragraphs of legal jargon, with Antelope underlined, followed by Barret's signature.
"This is it, fellas. We're officially in business! Let's go make some upgrades and see what kind of trouble we can cause!" Ranald let out another whoop, Dolan smiled, and I did my best to force any sort of happy face that I could muster. The truth was that I felt as though I was in over my head. In three months, I had gone from being a spoiled brat living in the lap of luxury to being a nameless fugitive who couldn't even fully trust his closest friends.
My life had changed, and though I didn't know it, that piece of paper I had just touched marked a turning point in my career that would eventually overshaddow the drama of my family and the Titan Tigers.
From that moment forward, I would forever be a privateer.

Copyright 2012 overmortal. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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This post is Part 10 of a writing series titled The Privateer Stories.

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