Dragonstar – Part 06
Bolts glanced around the room, analysing everything he saw. They were in the forward lounge, sitting on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs. A mixed-species group of men armed with blaster rifles standing guard over them. The intruders had surprised him in the corridor near the stairs to the upper deck. He had been on his way to the engineering room next to the cockpit to check on why they had just lost power when they had burst from around the corner and opened fire. The stun blasts had hit him first but the intruders had quickly moved to stun the others. Within minutes, they had been over powered. Tsukiko was lying on her side, still groggy from the stun blasts. Korodo was awake and alert, his larger body mass helping him to overcome the stun effects. Barak should have been awake to, but the orc had fought with the intruders and he had taken a particularly vicious blow the head. He was unconscious, blood dribbling from the head wound onto the floor.
A burst of static washed over his vision, his optical sensors still a little frazzled from the stun blast. Despite his human appearance, Bolts’ nickname was a reference to more than just his chosen profession. He was a Soulmech. A living soul contained within a cybernetic chassis. Although advanced robotics had been in use since before the founding of the Dragon Empire, artificial intelligence continued to elude imperial scientists. Theologians claimed that the reason for this was that for something to be sentient, it must have a soul and the creation of souls was the province of the Gods alone. Whether it was true or not, it meant that self-aware robots and computers were still the stuff of science fiction. However, like many such limitations, a way around it had been found using magic. At the heart of each Soulmech was the Soul Matrix. An enchanted crystal into which the soul of a, sometimes unwilling, volunteer is placed. In their new body, they are effectively immortal and immune from the daily needs of an organic body. All they need to do is replace the power cell for their robotic chassis every five years. Most Soulmech’s had an artificial appearance with pale plastic like skin and hairless bodies. Bolts’ chassis was different. Covered in a biosynthetic skin substitute, his “flesh” was warm to the touch with hair and imperfections designed to give a realistic human appearance. The stun blast had barely affected him but he chosen to act like it had when he realised how outnumbered they were. If the intruders had found out that he was a Soulmech, they would have used an EMP to disable him. As long as his systems still functioned, he could be off use. As it was, the electrical energy of the stun blast had knocked some of his systems offline but his self-repair routines had quickly repaired them.
“Don’t play games with me,” Dorga growled holding a bloodstained hooded top, “we got this from your sick bay and it has his DNA all over it. Where is he?”
“The kid?” Korodo said, “When he wouldn’t talk, my associate here got a little too rough with him.” The half-dragon shrugged, “we flushed his body out of the airlock hours ago.”
Tsukiko’s empathic abilities picked up a stab of anger from Dorga. However, beneath that anger, only barely suppressed, was an emotion that surprised her, concern. For a brief second, she felt the guildmaster actually concerned for the boy before he got his emotions under control again. Given what she had picked up from Trace and what the boy had told her, she found it surprising that the man who had spent more than half the boy’s life making it a living hell might actually care for him.
Suddenly, the lights flickered back to life intermittently. At the same time, computer screens around the room filled with static and garbled text. A siren started wailing, spluttering and stuttering before quickly dying. “Intruder Alert,” an electronic voice announced, “Warning: Computer Core at 45 percent.” The message repeated in draconic. “Athilal Aralath, Valathath: Kathar Kela ath kalathath 45.”
“What the hell is that racket?” Dorga barked at one of his men.
“I think the main computer is trying to reboot itself, probably some sort of disaster recovery system,” the gnome replied uncertainly.
“You think?” Dorga said pointedly. “Don’t you think you should find out? After all, this is what I pay you for.” The gnome began tapping away at a forearm-mounted computer, walking over to the console by the wall and plugging in a few leads. “Well, I’m waiting?”
“This isn’t right,” the gnome said nervously, “the access protocols have been scrambled; someone’s locked everyone else out of the system and activated the emergency systems. We’re broadcasting an automated distress beacon.”
“Well,” Dorga said coming up behind him, “fix it.” The gnome nodded and left the lounge heading for the upper deck.
The guildmaster sneered at Korodo. “You might be a red, scale face, but I somehow I don’t think that torturing a kid for information is your style.”
“Apparently you do it for fun,” muttered Tsukiko in retort.
Dorga heard her and he pulled his fist back and punched her. She grunted with the impact but looked back up at him defiantly. Snarling, he prepared to punch her again. Before he could do so, there was a noise from behind him followed by a grunt of pain.
“Hey boss,” one of his men said, a muscular dwarf carrying an assault blaster, “look what he found crawling through the ventilation ducts.” In front of the man, on his knees with his hands on his head, was Trace.
The guildmaster took a step away from Tsukiko, aiming his blaster at Trace. The red dot from the gun’s laser sight hovered over the boy’s head. “Well if it isn’t my favourite mongrel.”
“Screw you Dorga,” Trace spat.
“After everything I’ve done for you over the years,” Dorga said ignoring him, “this is how you repay me? By betraying the Guild to this noble scum.”
“Oh my gods,” Trace laughing out loud, “are you high or are you really that stupid? Is that what you think happened? They way I hear it you sold me out to the snakeheads so they could whack the scale face over there.” Ignoring the fact that he had a gun pointed at his head, Trace stood up and glared at Dorga. “I’ve a had a real bad day,” he said through gritted teeth, “I’ve been shot, tortured and nearly killed by a snakehead, and to top it off, been set up to take the fall for a murder. Right now, the Guild can go to hell for all I care.” To Tsukiko, Trace’s mind was a storm of conflicting emotions. She could sense the anger and hatred that the boy felt for Dorga. At the same time, there was fear and reluctance. She could tell that it had been some time since Trace had openly defied the man in such a way and he was scared of the consequences. In his mind, he was still a slave to guildmaster, a mentality that he was struggling to break. That was when she picked up something else, something beneath all the raging emotions. “49 dragon scales, 48 dragon scales, 47 dragon scales.” It was almost as if Trace was counting down to something in his head. “You killed my mum, my grandparents, my cousins, my aunts and uncles; you butchered my entire family in front of me. For ten years, you’ve made my life hell, beating and starving me to force me to become a thief. Well, I’m through working for you!”
The Guildmaster strode over to Trace and struck the boy’s face with his gun. Trace was knocked to the floor by the force of the blow, spitting a glob of blood on to the deck plates. Dorga bent down and picked Trace up by the collar of his top, shoving him against the wall. “And I’ve just about had it with you,” Dorga said jamming the blaster under Trace’s chin and switching off the stun mode. “It’s been fun watching you squirm and suffer, but I’m beginning to think you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”
“Leave him alone,” Korodo yelled from the other side of the room.
“Any last words,” said Dorga, “before I put you out of my misery”
Trace looked down at the floor. “Why did you do it? Why did you kill everyone and leave me alive? What did we do to deserve that?”
Releasing his grip on Trace and pushing him into the arms of one of his men, Dorga stepped back from him, a sly smirk on his face. “How many times have I told you I own you? You’ve been the property of the guild since before you were even born. Your mother knew that when she fled. It may have taken five years to track her down, but no one steals from me and gets away with it.”
“I’m not your property,” Trace muttered under his breath before looking up. “I was never your property, I was your son!” He yelled the last part at Dorga, his eyes red with tears.
Tsukiko gasped, she knew that there had been something between Trace and Dorga beyond a simple Guildmaster to Guild member relationship. However, the idea that Dorga had been the boy’s father and had still done all those things to him made her sick. Judging by the shocked looks passing between Dorga’s men, the fact that Trace was the Guildmaster’s son obviously wasn’t common knowledge in the Guild either.
“And that’s the only thing that’s kept you alive until now,” Dorga yelled back, “that witch fled because she didn’t want her child growing up to be a thief like its father. That and she knew I would’ve had a half breed like you killed at birth.”
Trace wiped the tears from his eyes and in his mind, Tsukiko could hear the same countdown continuing. “22 dragon scales, 21 dragon scales, 20 dragon scales.” This time however, she pushed a little too hard and Trace felt the psychic intrusion. The only sign he gave that he had noticed were his eyes flicking towards her and a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “If that’s how you felt, then why didn’t you kill me when you found us?” Trace said focusing his attention on Dorga. It was at this point that Tsukiko realised that Trace was stalling, buying time and waiting for something.
“When I found you hiding under your bed I was going to do just that. But then I thought, what better revenge than to turn her darling little boy into the thing she hated the most, a thief.” An unfriendly smile came across Dorga’s face. He stepped in front of Trace and roughly grabbed his chin, forcing the boy to look up at him as Dorga looked down. “And you know what, despite how hard you tried to resist it, it came to you naturally. It’s like you were born to be a thief. Your mother would be so disappointed.”
“Shut up!” Trace yelled half-heartedly.
Dorga jammed the blaster into Traces gut, dialling up the power to its highest setting. The blaster emitted a high-pitched whine as it charged and upon hearing it, the man holding Trace’s arms let go and stepped aside. Suddenly the siren started wailing, this time strong and steady. Red emergency lights on the ceiling began to flash and they were accompanied by an announcement spoken in both common and draconic. “Alert, integrity of reactor controls compromised, magnetic containment field failing. Core breech in two minutes. All hands abandon ship.” Everyone looked around for a second in confusion. Everyone that is, except for Dorga who was studying Trace’s face intently. The boy was muttering “crap” repeatedly and as well as looking extremely nervous, he also looked slightly guilty. His eyes narrowed, Dorga unclipped a communicator from his belt. “Is that alert genuine.”
“I think so,” said the voice of the gnome, “I found something attached to the main computer, looks like a shuttlecraft power module. The whole setup looks like an improvised power source and they’ve used it to screw up all the safeties. There’s no way I can fix this in two minutes.”
“What did you do?” Dorga hissed at Trace.
The boy smiled mischievously. “I kinda set the reactor to explode.” Bolts and Korodo looked at each other. The half-dragon mouthing the word “What?” while the engineer shrugged in return. “I figured,” Trace continued, “in the chaos I could boost the shuttle from the launch bay and make a run for it.”
“Leaving these people here to die,” Dorga said waving a hand towards Korodo and the others.
“It’s not like I owe scale face and his lackeys anything.”
“Hey boss,” one of Dorga’s men said nervously, “shouldn’t we be getting out of here?” The guildmaster looked around and reluctantly realised that the man was right.
“Pack and pull out,” Dorga said to his men as he took out a pair of handcuffs and turned to Trace. He dragged the boy over to the wall and yanked one of his arms up, cuffing it to an overhead pipe.
“Hey,” Trace said pulling at the cuff as Dorga walked towards the exit, “you’re leaving me here? You can’t!”
“For once,” Dorga said standing at the door, “I’m a believer divine justice. You set the reactor to blow up; it’s only fair that you stick around for the fireworks.”
“90 seconds to reach minimum safe distance,” the computer announced.
“Say hi to your mother for me.” The door slid shut behind him. Trace yelled after him, pleading for mercy and one last chance. However, the smile on his face didn’t match the desperate panic in his voice. As soon as the door closed, he began to fiddle with the cuff.
“All right, what’s going on?” Korodo asked.
“Yeah,” Bolts agreed, “the Chimera doesn’t have a ‘reactor’, she’s powered by a mana tap.”
Trace looked over as he slipped his wrist out of the unlocked handcuffs. “But they didn’t know that.” He ran over to where they were sitting and started unlocking their cuffs with the key he had lifted from Dorga’s pocket.
“30 seconds to reach minimum safe distance.”
“I hoped that the alert would send Dorga and his goons running,” Trace had unlocked Tsukiko’s handcuffs first and she was already checking on Barak. “Of course, getting caught in the vents wasn’t exactly part of the plan.”
Korodo looked at the boy, a small measure of respect on his face. “You used the shuttle’s power module to jump start the main computer?” Trace nodded as he freed Bolts, “but you could’ve used the shuttle to escape. Why did you stay and help?”
“You saved my life, consider the favour returned.” Trace finished up by freeing Korodo.
Dorga’s shuttle streaked away from the noble’s ship, the guildmaster keeping watch on the rear scanners. The cramped cabin was silent; no one spoke as the pilot attempted to put as much distance as possible between the ship and the shuttle. Dorga’s reputation as a ruthless man was well deserved, but the fact that he had left his own son to die unnerved them.
“Boss,” the pilot said hesitantly, by my calcs, the Chimera’s reactor should have gone up by now.”
“Suki, take Barak to the medbay and get that head wound checked out,” Korodo said helping the orc to his feet. “Bolt’s see if you can get the starcaster up and running.” Everyone hurried out of the forward lounge leaving Trace standing there by himself feeling slightly out of place. A twinge of pain shot up his leg and he slumped down onto a chair. He concentrated again, trying to summon his healing energy but all he got was a weak flicker. As he sat back in the chair, he thought of the shuttle in the launch bay. It still had two out of its three power modules and that was more enough to get back to Jurrika. But, did he really want to go back to that planet. Dorga would find him again, no matter where he went and there was nothing left for him there anyway. He had no family, and his friends Tobs and Sammy would be halfway across the sector by now.
He was still trying to decide what to do when the ship bucked to the side, rocked by a sudden impact. Alarms sounded, this time real, as weapons fire struck the ship. Trace was knocked to the floor by a particularly violent impact. A blur sped past the window. In the split second it was visible, Trace recognised it was one of Dorga’s shuttles. “Not good,” he muttered under his breath.
Trace picked himself up off the floor and shuffled across the floor, holding on to the wall for stability. The stairs up to the upper deck were hard on his injured leg, but he gritted his teeth and forced his way up, stumbling onto the cockpit. Korodo was sat in the pilot’s seat. The cockpit was rather cramped with only two other seats. Hearing him enter, the half-dragon turned around. “What are you doing up here?”
“Let’s see,” he said smiling tiredly as he leaned against one of the vacant seats, “I’m where I shouldn’t be, we’re being shot at by bad guys, and by the way you’re looking at the controls, you can’t fly. Anyone else feeling déjà vu right now?”
The half-dragon scowled at Trace. “And I suppose you know how to fly a starship?” Korodo asked sarcastically.
Trace shrugged. “My grandpa taught me how to fly an old Kelenbaum dropship. It’s a bit smaller than a Kestral-Class but all of Kenelbaum’s ships have identical controls. That’s why they get all the big imperial contracts.”
Against his better judgement, Korodo slid of out the pilot’s seat and let Trace sit down. The kid was a reckless pilot, wild and undisciplined. Right now though, that recklessness is precisely what they needed. However, he wasn’t exactly confident about entrusting a 15-year-old with the controls of a two and a half thousand tonne starship. “So,” he said nervously, “your grandfather let you fly.”
“Are you kidding,” Trace said laughing, “what sort of person let’s a five year old kid fly a spaceship. But I watched him operate the controls.” Korodo stared at him in horror as he brought the engines online. The half-dragon was thrown back into one of the seats by a thrust of acceleration and he quickly buckled himself in as he realised that his life, and the lives of the others, were now in the hands of a kid who had never flown a starship in his life.
Posted on Sunday, April 19, 2009, in Dragonstar, Fiction and tagged assassin, dragon, dragons, Dragonstar, dungeons, fantasy, half elf, noble, science fiction, space, street kid, thief, warrior, young. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.