Scourge of the Deep Space Pirates
Kenneth E. Ingle
Copyright © 2013 by Kenneth E. Ingle, all rights reserved. No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the author.
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.
Wyatt, my great-grandson, just because I wanted to
"Captain Fryman, Emperor Sebastian will see you now." The secretary, a slight man, opened the doors and motioned Buck to enter. This was Buck’s first time in the palace, the first time to meet his Emperor. It all happened so fast he remembered nothing of what any of the rooms looked like and feared making a major screw up, make some colossal blunder, embarrassing everyone.
Admiral Ross Basselrod, naval attaché to the Emperor joined him, nodded, and smiled without a word said. That did nothing to qualm the freighter's fears.
They entered the office and Buck willed himself to take in the grandeur. Family crests dotted the walls interspersed with pieces of old earth knight's armor.
Sebastian stepped through a back door and Buck approached to within three meters of the desk as coached, stopped, and bowed at the waist; Admiral Basselrod and the secretary did so from where they stood.
"Mr. Fryman, thank you for coming." That was gratuitous as no one refused a summons from the Emperor.
"Majesty, I am here to serve." He hoped that didn't sound self-important.
"Thank you." The monarch walked behind the massive elegant hand carved wooden desk and sat, his hands folded across his stomach, his look pleasant. Buck remained standing. The Emperor's secretary and the admiral stood a few steps behind the freighter.
Dark green eyes, penetrating but not menacing, locked on Buck. A superb athlete in his younger days, Sebastian had lost none of the physique gained in his college years.
"Word of your taking on the pirates has preceded you. I understand you captured a number of their ships." Buck didn't tell him how many. "I applaud you. Those scoundrels have plagued spacers far too long. Even with the efforts we have made, there are still too many and they remain a menace to our civilian ships.
Buck nodded and since the Emperor had not asked a question kept quiet. A full head taller and considerably heavier, he slowly released a pent up breath hoping to minimize the size difference.
"Captain Fryman, you must wonder why I've asked you here," Sebastian said, his hands folded, elbows now on the desk.
Buck maintained his silence but nodded.
The Emperor stood, walked to the window, and turned. His manner had changed from what Buck took as benevolent to a menacing appearance, his eyes like sabers. "I want these criminals hunted down." His voice had turned hard—malevolent. "I want you to head this effort."
"Majesty, I'm a freighter," Buck protested despite his gut telling him to keep quiet. Arguing with the Emperor was not a smart move. "Surely a military man, a Navy man would serve you better."
"You speak your mind. I like that. Most people who come in here say what they think I want to hear. Your manner is refreshing." The Emperor paused, and rubbed his chin. "Perhaps you are right, but I am of a different mind and so is Admiral Basselrod. The butchers can spot our Navy, good as it is, at a parsec's distance. Our ships seldom get to engage these murderers. The Admiral says you're the man for the job. You will have a blank check to do what is necessary to put an end to their killing and plundering.
Sebastian, hands on his hips, added, "Continue to ply your trade while you seek out these killers. You should be able to stop a number of them. You will do the empire a great service ridding us of this scourge."
"Majesty, you want me to continue to haul freight but in such a way that the pirates will come after us and then we take them on."
The Emperor's bearing changed; Buck thought like a Maccadian Tiger about to pounce on his prey. "Take them on? Mr., Captain Fryman, you are to kill the bastards. Utterly destroy them. Is that plain enough for you?"
Sebastian's eyes, once pleasant, replaced that with hardness and Buck stifled the shock that swept his body as light from the windows cast ominous shadows across the Emperor's face.
Sebastian returned to his chair.
Buck bowed. Bewildered, he backed from the office believing he'd just received his death warrant.
Buckley Fryman had been in the lock-up long enough to know to obey even the smallest most insignificant rule. Dressed in the standard release khaki shirt and trousers, street clothes instead of the black and white striped coveralls, he stood at attention, hands at his sides, palms turned inward, fingers pointed at the floor in line with the leg seams, eyes straight ahead. He faced the chain link door and waited for it to unlock.
The click echoed off the metal walls but he remained stock still until the jailer called his number. Ten steps, no more, took him to the Dutch door where he stopped with his toes one imaginary centimeter from the yellow line, erect with eyes fixed straight ahead.
The guard was short in stature but as broad as Buck through the chest. His face had seen some rough times but had a grin on it now. He stuck his hand through the opening. "Thanks, Fryman. Glad you were here this time but hope I don't see you again. Good luck." This was the man whose life Buck had saved in a jail brawl.
Buck signed the release papers, nodded, walked from the drab gray colored building, and for the first time in ninety days had his freedom.
He sucked in a breath of fresh air and looked up at the cloudless sky. As a space freighter, he'd experienced months breathing recycled air but the lockup was different. It carried a stench mixed with the more pungent aroma of disinfectants.
A horn blared and he made his way across the parking area to the waiting aircar.
"Tommy, I sure appreciate your picking me up." He climbed into the front seat. The automatic safety restrainers folded around him.
"Glad ta, Buck." Tommy’s voice proclaimed his eagerness to do whatever the big man wanted. He was half the size of Buck with a weathered face that had seen its share of turmoil.
"I was goin' stir crazy,” Tommy said, “waitin' for some freighter ta call an' gimme a job. I guess you'll be lookin' as well. Your last boss won't wantcha back. Not after beatin' the hell out of him."
"He had it coming. I'd taken all the crap off him I could stand. When he called me a son of a bitch that was bad enough but when he said my lady was a pig, well, I hit him."
"Yeah, as I heard it, a number of times—broken nose, cheekbone, jaw and a few ribs. Honest, I'm surprised someone hasn't taken a blaster ta ya by now."
Buck chuckled. He did admit to a bit of a checkered past, particularly where the ladies were concerned.
Quiet settled for a few minutes: a common happening with these two. Some people found Buck's silence upsetting but these two welcomed their quiet moments.
"What's on your feet?" Buck glanced at his friend's boots.
"Them's called cowboy boots. Found an old vid and kinda liked them. Had that leather guy, the one that done the chairs in your house, make 'em for me. Sure are comfortable." Tommy had a penchant for the grandiose, just part of who he was. But the man wasn't haughty, which might be the reason he and Buck got along so well. Buck didn't mention that the two-centimeter high heels made Tommy look a might taller.
"You got somethin' on your mind or ya wouldn't a called me. You're up ta somethin' ain't cha?" Expectation seemed to dominate Tommy’s question. He knew his friend well.
"I'm going to start my own freight business. The big boys want the long hauls so I figure they would welcome someone taking the small loads off their hands, runs to the inner planets, moons, and mining asteroids." All too often, the smaller mining and manufacturing companies had to wait for their equipment or supplies as the big contractors came first. Buck outlined his thinking to go after the ‘local runs’ as most freighters called them.
Tommy didn’t respond to Buck's comment about having his own hauling business, apparently thinking it no more than something he'd come with during idle time while sitting in his jail cell.
"They treatcha okay in there?" Tommy knew the man's disposition and suspected that a story or two deserved telling. "Understand it's kinda like hell."
Having completed the sentence for striking his boss, something that was long overdue in his mind, hitting the man that was, Buck held no malice for the authorities.
"If you behave yourself, the guards leave you alone. I was determined not to cause trouble; just made up my mind to get along. Being locked up is bad enough; no sense in adding to your troubles." He omitted his part in the riot even though he considered it a harrowing but satisfying experience.
"I ain't never been in jail but 'magin' you had it figured right." Tommy steered the aircar to the guardhouse, presented his and Buck's papers, waited as the guard thoroughly checked them, and then eased from the parking lot. "Big as ya are, I ‘magin' the other prisoners pretty much left ya alone?"
Buck smiled but didn't answer. Saving the guard's life, he kept to himself. He never used his size to bully others. But those who tested him soon realized their mistake. Rankling Buck was not a good idea. One blow from his massive fists was all it took to put an end to most antagonists.
"Yeah, they fed me before I left. I guess having a full stomach is like your last meal. Don't want you leaving hungry as well as broke. At least stealing to get food is less apt to happen."
"I ‘magin findin' someone that will give ya a job is goin' ta take some doin'. Ya probably, know, ya gotta reputation and it ain't good. It'll be a man sized problem findin' someone that'll put up with ya."
"I'm going to need a first class engine man." Buck folded his hands over his massive chest and ignored the lecture. "Want the job?" Tommy had worked with him a number of times when Buck was top engineer before he made astrogator and the two had become friends. Moreover, Tommy was one of the best engine men around.
"Ya serious?" Others had tried free-lance hauling but few shippers took them up on it and the newcomers gave it up, most owing a lot of money. It took a great deal of credits and pirates would knock of a lone, small ship and never work up a sweat.
"Damned right I am. I know where there's a small freighter, can carry five hundred thousand metric tons and most important, she's got oversized engines and I happen to know, contrary to most thinking, they won't take much to fix. I've saved enough credits that I can buy her. It'll take some doing but it should work. She needs some fixing up, but a good man can handle the engines and it won't cost much." Engines were the major cost on a spaceship and all too often, many ships spaced with inadequate power. "Hard work but it's doable and you get ten percent of any haul."
"Jist the two of us?"
"I figure it'll take a crew of five or six depending on who I can hire and two deck hands."
"I don't know," Tommy responded with a worried voice. "With them pirates raidin' everthin' that don't travel in convoys, it'll be a big risk." He'd been on ships boarded by pirates and coming out of them alive didn't alter his thoughts. He had no illusions about the risk.
"Shouldn't be a problem. She'll carry cannons. I'm going to beef it up. If one of those damned bandits tries to board me, I'll either blow them to hell or ram the bastards." Buck knew his friend liked a little excitement. In a bar fight, and they'd been in a few together, Tommy was a good man to have at your side. Buck watched the man's reaction, suspecting he knew the answer.
"Ten percent huh?" Tommy rubbed the day's stubble on his square-jawed chin.
"Of the profit; that means after I subtract the costs."
"Damn, I must be crazy but I'll go alone with ya. Maybe yor luck will hold and I kin finally make some big money." Freight hauling could be a real moneymaker if you were good at the business and Buck had proven capable of pulling it off.
"Take me home so I can stow my gear and change clothes. Can't call on people in this get-up." First, Buck had to get his freight haulers certificate.
Tommy stopped the aircar at the front of Buck's house and, with some effort, the big man crawled from the cramped space.
The white marble mansion wasn't that of an ordinary freighter and had everything a person could want. Even though Buck was seldom on the planet, wild parties at the indoor gym and swimming pool made for great tales. When those stories were voiced by friends, denials never came from Buck. Of course, Tommy had partied at more than a few shindigs and knew firsthand the stories were mostly true. He followed Buck inside and waited to drive to the licensing offices.
After the two days it took to satisfy the authorities, Buck, along with Tommy, joined the dealer in his shuttle. Ten hours later, on orbit, Buck surveyed the rows of ships offered for sale.
Above Iona, Tommy and Buck finished the spacesuit safety check and strapped on their grav-boots before stepping among the used ships parked above the planet. The dealer, in a skinsuit donned his helmet and grav-boots. Each strapped on a jet pack and made their way past a number of ships, everything from runabouts to personal luxury craft, arriving at a freighter that had seen better days. Buck knew this ship's history having done his homework, and knew that the engines were salvageable, avoiding the biggest cost.
For a few minutes, his eyes swept the exterior. His interest didn't go unnoticed by the dealer and that worked in Buck's favor.
"This old girl will make you a fine ship. A little work and a few credits should get a space-worthy certificate. I can make you a good price."
Buck knew the dealer's pitch was less than honest. Any experienced spacer would look at the ship and know it had seen better days. The man didn't mention the engines and Buck was sure he knew why. Scuttlebutt had it that the Casimirs were beyond repair and needed replacing. It was caveat emptor, buyer beware, but in this case, Buck knew what the ship had been through, and more particularly that they could repair the engines with little cost.
Buck had spaced on long haul freighters and worked his way up to astrogator. Divorced, and no children, he'd managed to make a very good living. Next to the captain and first mate, the astrogator was the highest paid crewmember on a deep space freighter. A good navigator could save a freight hauler many credits just like a bad or careless one could cost them. Buck was one of the best and knew it.
"I got the time," he said thoughtfully.
They waited as the man opened the main hatch and then followed inside.
Tommy activated his grav-boots and headed for the engine room. Buck made his way forward to the bridge. He didn't spend any time inspecting the navigation or communications layout, their condition wasn't important as he planned to install all new equipment. Instead, he focused on the forward structure where ram would go. When the dealer said the electronic equipment was operable, Buck smiled.
Satisfied with what he saw, they made their way to the electronics cabin. Again, most of this equipment would go. Next, they plodded to the graviton generators. It would take a deep space run to know if they would put the ship into hyperspace.
"Can you power these up?" He pointed to the gravity deck plate generator controls.
The dealer flipped a few switches, bringing life to the panel.
"Activate the grav-plates," Buck said. The two walked bow to stern and port to starboard inspecting every deck plate.
They were salvageable, eliminating another major cost.
Tommy emerged from the engine room and from the corner of his eye, Buck watched the engineer as he approached. His helmet didn't keep him from shaking his head three times side to side, a signal Buck had figured right on the engines.
The three inspected the fusion bottle and graviton generators. Buck tripped the test toggle and waited as Tommy studied the instrument panel. "Okay here, Buck," he said and cut the power.
Offered a price, Buck cut it by half and the haggling began. Tommy stood off to one side with a smile on his face. Every time the dealer tried to close the deal, Buck lowered his bid.
The big man told the dealer to take his offer or leave it.
"I'll take it." From the look on the man's face, he seemed relieved, rid of what he considered a piece of junk. To Buck, it was his chance to be an independent freight hauler.
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