This is the third in a three-part series written by Brackstone, a member of the Star Citizen Organization: Republic of Lorell.
Once they are all published, you can read them at Where We Come From.
Natus laughed heartily across the table. “You mean it’s that good?”
I sipped my drink calmly. “That’s the truth. I took one drink, and I was filled with so much euphoria, all other sensations felt dull for a month. I swear to you, I would have lost myself if I had finished that single glass. As such, many in my crew lost themselves looking for more.”
“They died when the ruin collapsed?” Natus cocked an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” I did my best to look suddenly crestfallen. “Maybe if I was a wiser captain, I could have controlled them, but they were lost.” A part of me felt bad for so thoroughly bullshitting the man, but I found myself needing the money. “That’s why you’re getting such a good deal! I won’t touch the stuff, but if you have the resources and willpower, maybe you can synthesize something from it.”
Natus held the empty bottle up against the light to look at the emblem again. Four stars encircled with a gold chain looked back at him. He could not mistake the insignia of the Lorell Republic, even if I had no idea what it was. The price was steep for just any crate of booze, but these were worth much more. They were relics of a very proud people who highly valued their heritage. Natus didn’t feel the need to educate anyone about the bottles history, though. After all, if he could strike a bargain, then maybe he could skim a little from the powers that be for their gratitude.
“you ask a lot, but I can see you are an honest man. Let’s make the deal then!”
Mobiglasses came out, cheers were exchanged, drinks were ordered, and the two of us devolved into simply enjoying a drinking partner. I finally excused myself to the bathroom and Natus took the opportunity for some bragging. He pulled out his mobiglass and keyed in a contact.
“Told ya there was nothing to worry about Pope,” Natus grinned at the redhead on his screen. Despite the good news, her face remained stern. “Me and this fella were just having some celebratory drinks. It’s like I told you, he has no clue what he had. I paid less than a third what you said I could!”
“You have the crate then?” The stern woman said from Natus’s mobiglass.
“He’s parked on a pad not 50 yards from the bar. Once he’s done draining the lizard, we’ll get everything moved over.”
“I told you it would be fine!” I told the brunet staring back at me from my mobiglass. “He didn’t even blink when I quoted him the price. We just need to send him off with his box then we can get ready for tomorrow. We totally got away with this!”
“You should hurry it along instead of partying with your newest victim. Apparently, Playtus has been asking after you. I think your stunt with his merchandise has caused him some trouble.” My smile faltered a little at this news.
“They told me they wouldn’t go to authorities until we were wrapped up.” I wasn’t completely surprised; I had known these guys for a while.
“They’re charity doctors.” She responded rolling her eyes. “They’d launch themselves out of an airlock if they thought it would save some coked out spacer. You shouldn’t be surprised they’d sell you out with what you gave them. Those plants are about the only way they have to unzombify these people. It’s a good thing you have the credits because Playtus could find you at any moment now.”
“We’ll deal with that problem if and when it happens. Do you know if he has his favorite toys on him?”
“That sick freak? I don’t think he goes to the bathroom without them.”
I winced at the image she was implying. I came out of the bathroom and stepped out towards the terminal hall which circled the pads. I looked out the window at a very sad looking Constellation class freighter. It had no turrets or guns of its own, and bits of the outer hull were missing. It also had four guests walking around it wearing white robes. I cursed to myself as I walked through the door onto the pad.
“Playtus!” I grinned as I stretched my arms out in greeting, looking as happy to see him as I could.
“Who are you to smile at me!?” The oldest of the group stormed ahead of the others. They all wore the same robe and kept their heads shaved. Playtus himself was noticeably older than the other three. Behind him was a large man who looked like he could arm wrestle a Reclaimer and come out on top. Behind him were Playtus’s toys. The two women appeared to be in their mid and early 20’s. I knew they were sisters already, but anyone looking at them could have guessed. They had the same raven hair and the same noses. Their eyes were glazed over, and they moved as if not entirely sure where they were. “I’ve had two shipments scanned out this month. Now where I ask you, could the police have found a way to scan out my cargo so easily?” He demanded.
I shrugged. “You’ve been moving a lot of product lately. The fact that you’ve sold enough to draw attention like that should say a lot about your success. I’d still like to buy another shipment if it’s on the table. I can pay up front.” I drafted the transfer on my mobiglass and held it up, showing him the amount.
Playtus glowered back at me, but a twinge of greed worked over and softened his features. “Let’s talk on your ship. You’ve caused enough damage here.” He jerked his head behind him, and the two girls moved to the side of the pad where a cargo container was waiting. They each took a side as it began to hover. They never seemed to be looking at what they were doing. Their eyes creeped me out.
“Nothing keeps friends like commerce!” I smiled broadly as I lowered the cargo lift under the Constellation.
As we all boarded the lift, Playtus wrinkled his nose as he eyed over the ship and it’s interior. “I had no idea you were doing so poorly.”
“Well,” I glanced around, embarrassed. “You can see why I’m eager to do business with you.”
We made our way to the living quarters. “Can I offer you gentlemen some refreshment? I have a rather rare vintage in my cargo.”
“I believe you owe us that much.” Playtus sat on the couch, obviously disapproving of the ship he found himself on.
“Excellent!” I smiled as I made my way back to the cargo area. I listened to the doors hiss shut. I pulled a breathing mask off the wall as I keyed in some changes to the life-support systems. I heard the gas start to filter its way through the vents. I heard some sleepy sounds of panic in the next room, but they were brief.
The redhead on Natus’s mobiglass looked off screen as she read something. “You said your friend was parked in the nearest pad?”
“Yep!” Natus leaned back, contently sipping from his glass, still quite pleased with the days’ success.
“Then it may interest you to know he’s taking off.” She glanced back at Natus through the screen. He spat out his drink as he scrambled to his feet.
By the time he got to the pad, he had found the doors still closing and two men in white robes on their hands and knees, coughing furiously. Natus ran in.
“Where did he go?” He gestured toward where the ship had been as he ran to the robed men.
“The bastard robbed me!” the older of the two spat out.
“This guy seems to have a habit of that.” Natus thought to himself as he brought up his mobiglass. “I’m coming back to the ship Pope. Looks like we’re doing this your way.”
The woman scowled into the screen, but the corner of her mouth betrayed a smile. “You almost sound sorry for him.”
“Well, I’d hate to be the guy who robbed ya.” Natus began to jog back the way he came.
“Get up you damned lummox! Summon the ship!” Natus rounded the corner just after he got to see the old man kick his groaning friend.
“That was some intel!” I screamed into the com as I escaped the planet’s atmosphere.
“I told you to be on the lookout.” My pilot was on the com screen, looking indignant. “But you got them? Their safe?”
“I stuck them in the crate with the plants and tethered them to the floor. It won’t be a comfortable ride, but they’ll get through it. I’m not even sure they can feel it.” I hugged the throttle, never feeling like I was moving quite fast enough.
“So, what’s the plan now?”
“The plan is the same. Get in position and wait for me to ping you. I’m willing to bet he has a small fleet in orbit already so be quick.” I kept an eye on my emission readings as I broke atmosphere.
“What about the gentleman you sold the brandy to?” She asked.
“Oh!” I started in surprise. “Well, with luck he’ll drink himself out, and I’ll get back before anyone is the wiser.”
“Great, now we’ll have two groups of folks shooting you while you fly that piece of garbage.”
“Hey, this piece of garbage has done its job nicely!” I always disliked people bashing on ships. It’s not like they can defend themselves!
“Whatever, just live long enough to pay me.” She blinked off the screen.
I had escaped orbit and was sitting high off one of the moons. I worked hard around the cargo bay, lashing the brandy to Playtus’s container. Gravity was turned off. Well, gravity didn’t would be more accurate, but it was to my advantage as I glided about the cargo area, putting some finishing touches on the pistons that moved the cargo lift. Almost as if on que, an EMP rocked through the hull, overloading the already taxed systems on the old Constellation. The lights blinked out and a loud ‘kerchunk’ announced that someone had latched onto the airlock. Sparks from a cutting torch began to shoot through the lock on the port side, removing all doubt.
“You in position?” I whispered into my helmets coms.
“Stand by…” I heard in response.
“Stand by? Stand by! This is no time for ‘stand by.’ The door is being cut as I speak!” I panicked a little.
“I’m sorry, this is a tricky maneuver. Stay alive.”
I cursed as I turned to face the soon to open door. The door slammed open, and a woman drifted through, crouching low. The first thing I noticed was her gun. The second thing I noticed was a lock of hair drifting down her cheek. I’m ashamed to admit it, but the first thing I said was, “You have hair?”.
Her mouth gaped slightly, and she looked like she was about to respond, but she decided to shoot not one full inch to the right of my head.
“You’ve stolen my property.” She said somberly.
“I thought they belonged to your bald friend. How did you get away with your hair intact?” I desperately tried to keep the concern out of my voice. I just needed time.
“I honestly have no clue what you’re talking about, but if you want to leave this ship with the same number of holes you came in with, I suggest you turn over the brandy.”
“Wait,” It was my turn to sound confused. “You’re here for the booze?”
“Some have said that Pope here has a drinking problem, not while she was armed, though.” Natus floated out from behind her, a pistol extended. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Look, this looks bad, but if we could take a second to work this out without…” As I tried to diplomat my way out of this situation, Popes mobiglass lit as she received a transmission. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I soon heard another ‘kerchunk’ behind me, followed by cutting. I cursed loudly and trained my weapon around at the other airlock.
“Pull back and mobilize the response flight.” She said into her coms. Her eyes trained on mine “Who is that?”
“Someone very pissed off. You should probably find cover.” The door wretched open as the large man from before barreled in. Seeing people armed that he did not know, he immediately started trying to shoot them. Pope fired once before ducking under the rail. The shot caught him in the face plate which shattered. I saw him crouch on the roof behind the missile racks. His cheek was messed up, but he still looked alive and pissed.
“Brackstone! You will give me my children immediately! If I must fire on you and risk them harm, then your death will not be a pleasant one.” Playtus called from beyond the airlock.
“I’ve seen what you do with those girls; they are most certainly not your children,” I called back. This prompted a bellow of rage from the bleeding sasquatch on the roof, which managed to spray blood around the gravity-free compartment.
“You mercenaries, whatever he is paying you, I can double it. Return my property to me, and you’ll see yourselves rewarded and allowed to go.” Playtus called out
“Actually, we’re not with him. We were just finishing up some business of our own.” Natus called back
“You fired on us unprovoked. Surrender your weapons, and we can talk about a peaceful resolution. That’s being generous.” Pope responded to Playtus. I looked at her to see if she was serious. She was a friend of Natus after all. I was alarmed to not see an ounce of humor on her face. This was a special kind of crazy.
Laughter filled in from the air lock. The laughter of many more people than two. “Oh, my child.” Playtus crooned, “Perhaps ignorance might have given you leniency, but you stand between my children and me. None of you shall live!” Carefully, soldiers began to file out of the airlock. They slowly circled the walkway surrounding the cargo and trying to get around our cover. My mobiglass finally pinged.
“Now sir!” My pilot frantically shouted.
“Hang onto the crate!” I said to the people sharing the cover with me. Then I hit the macro I programmed in my mobiglass.
The cargo lift lurched beneath us, then shot us clear of the ship. Had I not been wearing a flight suit, the g-forces would have certainly knocked me out. Hydraulic fluid rained down then danced with the momentum in the vacuum of space. I looked up to see an Avenger, evidently a Warlock, off the port side of the ship. On the starboard side was latched a Polaris. I was satisfied to see Sasquatch frantically trying to cover his face plate with his hands as he and several other soldiers twirled outside of the ship. I was surprised to see that my two unexpected passengers had listened to me and were clinging onto the cables holding the two crates together. It’s not that I was sad that they survived. No one deserves to be at the mercy of an angry Playtus, but considering I had been held at gunpoint by them not two minutes before, I was surprised they had decided to trust me. One of the nearby crates housed a battery that I rigged into the mag plates of the cargo lift. It held the crates and to a certain degree our suits, to what was left of the lift. I had cut the pressure regulators for the hydraulics and the mechanisms that held the main pistons in place. What resulted was this bullet hurtling towards the black.
“Mr. Brackstone, you need to tell me what the fuck you are doing! Now!” Pope yelled into the coms.
“Right now, I’m flying a cargo lift. If I’m paying my pilot enough, we should be getting a pickup.” Engines sprang to life nearby as a Carrack powered up after running into the area on momentum. Playtus’s ship would only just now pick up its existence. Hopefully, that would give us some time. I cut the power to the plates and activated several jamming devices. Hopefully, they were preoccupied with their men, but the garbled information clogging their scanners would prevent them from going back in their logs and identifying the ship. I lifted the crates off the plate with my EVA thrusters. Natus, catching on to what I was doing began to help. Pope saw her rifle now floating off the plate and took the time to sling it on her back before she joined us. As my Carrack, the Baleboste approached, the front-loading ramp lowered, and two hands held tractor beams brought the three of us down with the cargo.
“Welcome aboard cap!” one of the tractor operators clunked the P.A.W. tool against his helmet. The door closed and atmosphere poured into the loading bay.
“Where are they!” A frantic man entered the cargo area and began running down the stairs. “My girls? Did you get them?”
“They’re in the crate.” I knocked the crate with my hand. The adrenaline was starting to wear, I let myself slide down and sit on the floor.
“Open it!” He bellowed as he tried to work the latch himself. The two crew in the area set about undoing the cables and undoing the air tight seal on the crate. I took off my helmet and closed my eyes for a moment. I heard him wailing in the crate.
“Harriet! Martha! It’s me! It’s Dad! Won’t you please look at me girls, won’t you say something?” I’ll never get used to the sound of a grown man crying. I hauled myself back up and rounded to the front of the crate. They were tethered to the floor inside of some heavy padded sleeping bags I had picked for the occasion. Some of the plants had dislodged and now fallen to the floor next to them with gravity restored. They none the less looked completely serene and oblivious.
“They need to flush whatever they used out of their system. They’ll be fine; we just need to get back to the hospital ship, they can use these plants to figure it all out.” I turned to motion for the crewmen to assist but saw that they were quite preoccupied with our new guests, one of which was armed.
“Cap…” one began.
“Max, get Mr. Madrin and his daughters in the med bay. Raul, I want you to get to the bridge and make sure we’re heading to the hospital ship. Signal them and let them know we’re coming.” I tried to sound confident. Max stared at me briefly, then shrugged.
I kept my hands in front of me as I slowly approached Pope and Natus.
“Well, that was fun!” I flashed my most winning smile.
“What happens now?” Pope asked. She held her rifle at rest, but I had just seen her shoot another man in the face with a lot less warning.
“Now,” I replied, “you get your brandy, I drop you off wherever you wish, and we part ways. I’m not interested in any more gun fights for the day, and I hope you believe me when I say I didn’t mean to wrong you.”
Pope and Natus looked at each other for a time, then they both nodded.
“Great! There are too many folks out here that just start shooting. Anyone who doesn’t shoot me immediately I’m happy to call a friend.”
We talked more once things were squared away. I learned about some place called Lorell and discovered how my family had ended up on Rytif. When we met with the Seacole, a Hope class Endeavor ship, we were surprised to find another Carrack already waiting with them. The name ‘Veritas’ marked its hull.
“They said that you had a couple of people for them?” The Seacoles captain asked as we approached. “Thought they were you at first, gave us a little surprise.”
“Their friendly,” I assured him. “Some of their crew ended up with me. Prepare to dock; I have two patients and a fresh batch of zombie flowers for you.”
The Seacole expressed its gratitude for the additional plants. Whatever Playtus had been spreading around the system, it was tricky to develop an anti-toxin for. They needed the plants to synthesize more. I was given a contact and told to keep in touch. Folks who don’t immediately try to shoot me have been growing rare. I was looking forward to seeing them again.
It’s a funny thing learning about your family history. I already knew where I’d come from; I lived my life after all. All I knew before was that my family was not one of the early land owners on Rytif. We had come later and been laborers or technicians. Lower class, but it didn’t seem so bad anymore. I had heard stories about people in my family who had harbored anti-Messer politicians, but in Bremen, that was a common story among the people. It was popular to have been a part of the resistance. I knew we were not among the early colonizers, but I had honestly not given much thought to where the Brackstones had been before that. While I had not been particularly curious, there was comfort in knowing. I remembered a letter I had gotten from my uncle towards the end of my time in the Navy. He had said that I came from a long line of people who died of lost causes, or something like that. No one would accuse him of being a pleasant man, but looking back at the broader scope of my heritage, I could see that he was wrong. We had an affinity for lost causes, that was true, but we also seemed to have a habit of surviving them.