Time is running out. The combined might of police and pirates, of empires and military forces, are set on a collision course. Only the final chess pieces to move in the darkness…
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
Salvage Yard, Brimstone
“Not a good time Doc.” Vane shouted over the pouring rain as he motioned the maglev to cross the open field. It whined forward, hauling two flatbeds piled with scrap to the waiting leviathan. A massive hydraulic arm crumpled the bullet-riddled nose of a Hornet and stuffed it into the gaping maw, the crunch of steel mixed with the rumble of thunder.
“Make the time.” Doc shouted back, taking a decided step into the pirate’s personal space.
Vane looked him up and down, recent events forcing him to check that Doc wasn’t holding a pool cue. The medic was unarmed, but decidedly amped. Vane’s eye slowly rose to look the man in the face, then he turned and walked across the scrapyard to a half-open conex. Doc followed on his heels.
As Vane entered and pulled the metal door shut with a squeal, a dog slipped through the gap. It shook a cloud of water before parking itself next to Doc, eyes fixed on the pirate.
Vane eyed the dog, then Doc. “Didn’t figure you for a pet owner.”
Doc waved it off. “Long story.”
Thankfully, Doc didn’t offer to tell it; Vane didn’t have the time to listen. The growl in his voice was sincere as he prompted, “All right, you have my attention.”
Doc didn’t balk. “Lazlo and his boys had a long chat with me a little while back. The kind of chat that involves wrenches.” He edged forward, seemingly intent on keeping the pirate’s gaze. “He was under the impression that you and I were working together. Any idea where he got that notion?”
Vane’s poker-face flickered with genuine surprise, along with a growing edge of irritation. He was willing to cut Doc a bit of slack for trying on his new-found pair of balls, but this ‘getting in my face’ thing was about to become unhealthy. Vane matched Doc’s forward step with a bigger one of his own, bringing himself nose to nose with the medic. “What did he tell you? Exactly.”
As if feeling left out of the party the dog edged forward as well, her lips twitching to the rumble of a low growl. The tips of perfect new white teeth glimmered against her black snout.
This was the point where Vane’s ill-temper would normally show itself, but looking at the dog, tired amusement somehow pushed its way past his irritation. The pirate slowly shook his head.
Neither one of these knuckleheads have any idea who they are playing tough with.
Vane looked at them both; for the last couple weeks you didn’t see one without the other and judging from his expression, Doc had become rather smug about his new bodyguard. Admittedly, the mutt had made quite a comeback, from a fur-wrapped skeleton to some 40 kilos of recovering muscle and brand new teeth.
Vane stared at the dog for several seconds, then took a knee and reached out his hand. The shepherd eyed him for a heartbeat, then edged foreward and lifted her head under Vane’s fingers. Doc went slack-jawed at the sight of the most dread pirate in half a dozen sectors ruffling a dog’s fur, muttering softly in its ear.
Vane looked up, saw the confusion in Doc’s expression. With a faintly wicked smile he shrugged and said, “It’s a predator thing.”
As he rubbed fingers through her fur Vane looked at the dog, noting some scars that would likely never go away completely. The pirate had plenty of those. A stormcloud passed across his good eye as he thought about a man who would do this to a dog. Vane looked up at Doc’s face, where tinges of purple and green still lingered.
“So what did Lazlo say, exactly?” Vane’s voice wasn’t threatening, but very firm.
Doc swallowed hard, took a slow step back and walked through his memories of that night. Getting jumped by a handful of Lazlo’s goons, hauled to one of the usual warehouse locations. The warm-up beating, just to set the stage. Then the questions. What is Vane up to? He mentioned some news footage showing a very high-profile cargo on a ship here in Brimstone, a ship being worked by men loyal to Vane.
Doc skipped over the questions about Ed, or Lazlo’s belief that the three of them were all somehow in cahoots.
“So what did you tell him?”
Doc’s face turned a shade of red. “Tell him? There is nothing to tell! Hell you tell me what’s going on.”
For a moment Vane appeared angry. There was a simmering in his voice that bordered on violence. “You’re sticking your nose into things Doc, into places it doesn’t belong.” But before Doc could reply the pirate raised his hand, motioning him to silence. “You’ve done right by me in the past Doc, stitched me up, taken care of my crew.”
Vane stepped towards the doorway and stared out into the rain as the giant claw crumpled the severed wing of an Avenger. A growing pile of compressed metal cubes, each about three meters square, surrounded the ship. Workmen with cutting torches labored in the rain.
“I’m sorry you got hurt,” Vane continued, his volume lower but the tone no less feral. “If you’re thinking I had a hand in that, that I set you up, the answer is no. But I promise you this,” Vane turned, visible anger burning just beneath the surface. “I will settle this account.”
Doc gave him a long look. For just an instant Vane thought he would speak but Doc caught hiself, nodded and simply walked out into the rain. The dog dashed after him. Vane watched as the two of them disappeared into the night.
Walking back into the deluge, Vane plodded across the muddy tarmac. He stepped over pieces of scrap, taking a moment to watch Sully spot-weld jagged bits of sheet-metal across a seam that ran up one of the cubes. He slapped the beefy figure on the back as he went by, the only response a brief bob of the welder’s mask.
A swept triangle of white lay angled on a heap of parts. Vane shouted at Breslin to make sure the second wing went into the shredder with the first. Breslin dropped the chainsaw and pulled out a radio, looking up at the windows in the parked Reclaimer. He motioned towards the wing and the big claw reached out with a whine.
The pirate finished his circuit of the yard, mentally adjusting timetables as he punched up a number on the Mobi. Two soft beeps, then the Russian’s dark voice.
Vane growled. “Yeah its me. Call the buyer and tell him we have a name.”