Dragonstar – Part 8
For the second time in less than a day, Trace awoke in the ship’s medbay. This time however, he wasn’t handcuffed to the bed’s side rail and he didn’t have Tsukiko leaning over him, inadvertently giving the teenage boy a clear view down her top. If she had noticed his embarrassed stammering and red-faced nervousness, she had tactfully decided not to comment on it. At least this time he was fully clothed.
He sat up in the bed, wincing at the grenade-like explosion of pain in his head that the movement caused. The bright overhead lights made the pain worse as he squinted. Trace clutched the side of his head and felt the presence of a bump where his head had struck the cockpit window. He cursed himself over his stupidity. Forgetting to fasten the safety harness, how could he have made such a rookie mistake?
Opposite the bed was a large window running the full length of the medbay. Normally it would provide an impressive view of the space outside the ship, but right now all Trace could see through it was a featureless grey void. “I really hope that’s astral space.” Trace said quietly to himself, referring to the medium that ships using a starcaster travelled through, “and not limbo or something.”
His leg, although no longer broken thanks to his earlier healing attempt, was still sore and a little tender. A twinge would shoot up it every time he moved or shifted his weight. There was probably still a hairline fracture in the bone and running around the ship and crawling through maintenance ducts hadn’t helped it any. Concentrating, Trace was able to summon a little bit of his healing energy, the blue glow repairing the last of the injuries he had suffered in the jumper crash and at the hands of the ISPD agent. There was even a little left to soothe the headache.
Trace slid off the bed and moved over to the window, pressing his face up to the glass. He knew they were only skimming across the “surface” of astral space, rather than entering it completely. The starcaster, like nearly all forms of teleportation magic, converted the ship into a mana stream and transmitted it through astral space much like a radio signal. This way they could take advantage of the astral plane’s tenuous connection with time and space to travel vast distances in the material plane, the plane in which the “real world” existed. Although it would seem to take several hours to travel a few dozen light years, to an outside observer on the material plane it would appear instantaneous. Long ago, mages had believed that all teleportation spells and rituals were instantaneous. However, back then they never travelled more than a few tens of thousands of kilometres across the surface of a planet. As the distance travelled increased, the time delay became more pronounced and noticeable; a few minutes for journeys across a solar system, a few hours for interstellar trips.
Outside the ship, Trace could see nothing. It was as if the ship was enclosed by a sphere of uniform light grey. Ambient light filtered in from all directions casting soft diffused shadows and there was no sense of movement. The lack of anything to focus on out there unnerved him.
Spacer legends had it that astral space was full isolated planetoids and the remains of forgotten, dead gods. Some also said that entire worlds that had been thought destroyed by the release of apocalyptic magical weapons during the Dragon War could be found here. There were rumours that the Imperial Navy and some megacorps had developed astral drives that allowed ships to physically cross the barrier between planes and enter astral space. If any of these experimental ships actually existed, no one was talking about them.
He shivered as he recalled some of the stories about astral marauders he’d heard told at the guild when he was younger. Huge beasts, the size of in Imperial Dreadnaught that inhabited astral space and could attack unwary travellers in mid-starcast. Trace laughed nervously and turned away from the window. He was too old to believe in those sorts of stories, only children were scared of phantom monsters that don’t exist, right?
Thinking about the stories he had heard as a child at the guild brought the recent events back to the front of Trace’s mind. He could barely remember his life before he was brought to Jurrika by Dorga; even remembering the faces of his family had become difficult in the last few years. They only seemed to come to him now in nightmares. Ten years of threats, beatings and worse was finally over, he was free. Dorga had never been much of a father and now he was dead, killed by the son he had abused and mistreated.
Trace still wasn’t sure how he felt about that. That Dorga had been an evil man was without question. In a universe where good and evil, order and chaos were definable and quantifiable aspects instead of vague philosophical concepts, that much was clear to him. His death was certainly deserved; he had caused a great deal of suffering. Not just to Trace either; many other people had had their lives destroyed by Dorga’s pursuit for power and wealth. Innocents like Toby and Samantha. Although again he’d had no choice about it, he had taken another life and the words that his “father” had said to him in that dream were ringing in his ears.
His train of thought was interrupted by a rumbling, this time not from the ship but from his own stomach. Trace became acutely aware at just how long it had been since he’d had a proper meal. “I’m not going to get anywhere on an empty stomach,” he said to himself. Pulling himself together and pushing the images of Dorga’s death from his mind, he left the medbay in search of something to eat.
“This is a noble’s ship, there ought to be some decent scram on board somewhere.” If he remembered the layout of the ship correctly, the galley should be just off the midship foyer. The foyer was a chamber located at the centre of the ship with a number of corridors and doors leading off from it. The stairs to the lower and upper decks also connected to it, making it the hub of the ship’s layout. Forward of the foyer was the ship’s forward lounge and the corridor to the rear lead to the crew quarters, the launch bay and the engine room. There were four doors leading out of the foyer. One led to the medbay he had just left and another opened into the storeroom that had been used as makeshift cell to lock him up in earlier. Of the other two, one had the universal sign for a washroom. Through a process of elimination, that meant that the remaining door must lead to the galley.
The galley door was unlocked and it opened onto a room of gleaming metal work-surfaces, lit by soft overhead lights. Trace looked around with a small amount of awe. The state-of-the-art galley was a far cry from the rusty and ancient appliances in the apartment he had shared with Toby and Sarah, and even further from the filthy kitchen at Dorga’s bar. In the corner of the galley was an autochef nestled in its standby alcove; a robotic cook that hung from a track fixed to the galley’s ceiling; it could prepare any dish whose recipe was programmed into its databanks as long as the ingredients were available. At the far end of the galley was a set of metal roller shutters covering a serving alcove that Trace suspected opened on to the forward lounge.
Eagerly, Trace opened one of the cupboards in search of food. His face fell as he saw that it was full of plain white cardboard boxes containing generic brand ration bars. “Aww come on, there’s gotta be better stuff than this.” After a minute of searching he found what he was looking for, opening up the door to the huge walk-in fridge that was home to a veritable grocery store’s worth of fresh food.
Trace’s eyes lit up and he grinned. He’d never seen so much fresh food in one place before, not at such high quality either. “Jackpot”
Korodo found him ten minutes later, sitting on one of the kitchen counters and stuffing his face with fresh fruit and cold cuts of cooked meat. The half-dragon looked at the boy with a raised eyebrow as he walked into the galley and headed towards the fridge. He took a cold bottle of beer from the fridge and closed to the door, leaning against it and twisting the bottle’s cap off. Trace sat opposite him, a chicken drumstick sticking out of his mouth and looking back with suspicious eyes.
“So,” Korodo said, breaking the awkward silence, “I see you’re feeling better.” He gestured at the bloodstains on Trace’s borrowed t-shirt. “You had us worried there for a while.”
“Meh, I’ve had worse,” Trace said around the drumstick in his mouth.
“And it seems you certainly got your appetite back.”
Trace shrugged. “Dorga threw me out on to the streets when I was eight to ‘toughen me up’. Back then, I’d go without food for days at a time while I tried to beg and steal enough to survive. I nearly died of starvation more than once. I guess because of that I don’t like feeling hungry, it brings back bad memories.” Embarrassed at what he had said, he looked away for a second. He didn’t know what had made him admit to that. “How’s everyone else?” He asked anxious to change the subject.
“Thanks to you, the only other thing that got damaged was the ship.”
“Erm, thanks, I think.” Trace blushed, unused to hearing sincere praise or gratitude directed at him. “How bad was the damage?”
“Well, the hull breach in the port cargo bay has been repaired, but the breach in the launch bay can only be patched. The spaceframe in that area was buckled so we’ll need to get to proper dock facilities to repair it. But, that’s the least of our problems. Apparently, the fuel transfer intermixer was destroyed by the missile blast and without it, both the main drives and the combat drives are out of action; we’re down to just our manoeuvring thrusters. Our only spare was in the port cargo bay.”
“Ah,” Trace said, realising what Korodo was getting at, “the one that got breached.”
“So what happens now?”
“Actually,” Korodo said, smiling a little, “I wanted to have a word with you about that. While you were out, we programmed a jump to the Primogen system where we’re going to put in for some repairs.”
Trace scratched his head. “What’s that got to do with me?”
Korodo finished off the rest of his drink before continuing. “When we land, I want you to stay on board. No ‘going exploring,’ no sneaking out or running off.”
“Even after saving their butts,” Trace thought to himself, “he’s still going to treat me like a prisoner.” Trace narrowed his eyes and glared at the half dragon. “And what if I don’t?” He said aloud, taking the drumstick out of his mouth and using it to point at Korodo.
“Simple, you’ll get arrested for illegally crossing into Domain Noros.”
“No disrespect intended Trace, but commoners like you are not allowed to cross Domain borders without proper transit papers. The Primogen system is in Domain Noros; if you leave the ship, they’ll arrest you. You’ll be charged with illegal entry into Domain Noros and if I remember correctly, that’s at least five years hard labour. That’s assuming that those black dragons don’t make up a few charges just for fun. Afterwards, they’ll send you straight back Mazorgrim where you’ll face similar charges for leaving their Domain illegally plus the fallout for that chaos back on Jurrika.” Korodo walked over to Trace and placed a hand on his shoulder, which the boy quickly shrugged off. “I know you don’t have a reason to trust us, but please, don’t go running off just yet.” He stepped away from Trace and turned to leave.
“After everything I’ve done,” said Trace, “why do you care if I get arrested or not?”
Korodo stopped at the door. “Well,” he said, speaking over his shoulder, “I can’t have my new pilot getting himself thrown in prison now, can I?” With his back to Trace, the confused boy couldn’t see the smirk on the half dragons face as he left.
“Well, that was weird,” Trace thought. One minute the noble was threatening to hand him over to the cops, the next he was trying to keep him out of jail. Not to mention the fact he had actually paid him a compliment; he couldn’t figure the guy out. It was also the first time that Korodo had called him by his name since they had met, instead of just calling him “kid” or “elf boy.” Trace laughed and stuck the drumstick back into his mouth. Crossing Domain borders without transit papers was the least of the things they could charge him with; with his rap sheet, especially after fleeing Jurrika and skipping out on certain legal restrictions, he would be lucky if he got less than twenty years. Trace hopped off the counter and went over to the fridge, searching for one of the bottles of beer he had seen. “Wait a minute,” he said, spitting out the drumstick as his eyes widened in sudden realisation, “what did he mean by ‘new pilot’?”
Standing over the body of the guild member, Caldrin wiped the blood off his knife. It’s clear crystal blade briefly assuming a red hue as it absorbed some of the blood of the victim. The second assassination attempt on the noble had failed. Unfortunately, his ploy to convince the guildmaster that the boy had betrayed him and was working with Lord Korodo to bring down the guild had backfired. He had fundamentally misunderstood the connection between Dorga and Trace; the guildmaster had been more concerned with getting personal revenge on the boy for some reason, than on killing him and the noble by simply destroying the ship as the drow had suggested. It seemed that the intelligence on the Jurrika Thieves Guild was not as complete as the ISPD had believed.
Nonetheless, the damage was already done. The assault on the noble’s apartment, the chase and fire fight through the skies of Jurrika City and the battle in orbit around Seastyl, all of it had attracted too much attention. It was time to burn everything and cover their tracks, literally.
The men under his command had stormed the bar the guildmaster had used as a cover for his activities. At the same time, strike teams had assaulted several other known guild locations. Along with a bombing campaign against guild-affiliated business, the assassination attempt would be masked by the apparent wave of violence sweeping across the city. Already the media was portraying it as a coordinated series of strikes by one underworld organisation against another, a dirty “black-war” spilling out onto the city streets. That another criminal syndicate would undoubtedly move in take advantage of the decimated guild would only add to the believability of the cover story.
“Sir,” his assistant said holding a communicator to his ear, “the probe team has returned from tracking the Chimera’s mana stream.”
“They were able to track the noble’s yacht to a position two light years outside this system,” the assistant said, relaying the report from the probe team on the other end of the communicator, “but there was no sign of the ship… There was a mana stream heading galactic east… but it was too faint to get a fix on their starcast destination.”
Caldrin looked around as his men mopped up the last of the guild members. “Set up a domainwide watch alert for the Chimera, Korodo and his staff. Extend it to the neighbouring Domains of Esmer of Osorus, they have to show up eventually. In the meantime, we’ll evacuate the staff from the office and set the demolition charges. When you’ve finished up here, I’ll meet you onboard the Nodachi.”
“Will the patch hold?” Barak asked Bolts as they studied the ship schematics being displayed by the holographic projector embedded into the centre of the table.
“It should last for one atmospheric re-entry,” the soulmech said, “but I wouldn’t want to chance a second. We really need to get that breach properly sealed when we get to Primogen.”
Tsukiko reached into a pocket and pulled out a small computer chip that she slid into a slot on the table. There was a beep as the built in computer read the data from the chip and a window opened up in the holographic display. The window showed a scrolling list of items, some of which flashed in red. “We’re running low on some supplies, mainly because we left port early but that breach in the cargo bay didn’t help. The ones in red are the ones I’m really worried about though.” She looked at the two men. “If we get into any more trouble, we’ll start running out of critical supplies, especially medical supplies.”
As she spoke, the door opened and Korodo walked in, a smile on his face. The half dragon held up three fingers and slowly began to count down. “Three … two … one …”
On one, Trace ran in through the open doorway. The boy looked at Korodo and then at the three adults sitting around the table. “Just what did you mean by ‘new pilot’?” He asked carefully.
Korodo walked over to the table and pretended to inspect the holographic projection. “Well, we need a pilot. Barak and Bolts both have a license and can handle basic manoeuvres, but if we get in to trouble again, we’re going to need more than just someone with a little training and a piece of paper; we’re going to need someone talented at piloting. Until we’re able to get in touch with our allies, you’re the best candidate.”
“Are. You. Insane?” Trace asked, striding over and turning the half-dragon around to face him, “there’s no way that I can be your pilot!”
Tsukiko smiled and leaned forward. “Are you saying that you can’t do it?”
“Yes … no wait, no … argh! I don’t know.”
Korodo placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. Unlike last time, Trace was too confused to shrug it off. “I saw the way you threw this ship around during combat; and the way you handled that jumper beforehand. We don’t need a ‘by-the-book’ chauffeur, we need someone one can pull off moves that the manual says this ship shouldn’t be capable of doing. That certainly describes you, doesn’t it?”
“Not having a little piece of paper didn’t stop you earlier,” said Bolts.
Trace sighed and took a deep breath before responding. “That was different; people were trying to kill us. Even if I wanted too, and I’m not saying I do or don’t, I can’t be a pilot for you; I’m only fifteen. I’ve got another year before I can get a provisional license and even then, I’m limited to non-commercial shuttles and orbital transfer pods for two years. If I was caught landing this thing at a starport, you’d just get a fine but I’d get arrested. I’ve been in prison enough times because of someone else that I never want to have to go through that again.”
Korodo looked at him for a few seconds before turning to the others. “Guys, do you mind giving us the room for a few minutes?” Once they were alone, he motioned for the boy to sit down. Trace hesitated, torn between staying to hear the man out or storming off. Then he realised that until they landed at Primogen, he couldn’t just keep avoiding him. The ship was small and there were only so many hiding places. Reluctantly, he sat down.
“I don’t need charity if that’s what you’re thinking,” Trace said, “I can take care of myself.”
The half dragon smiled. “I can see that,” he said before his face fell serious. “How are you doing though? It’s been a rough couple of days.”
Trace looked out of the window opposite; but it wasn’t the featureless grey void of astral space that he was seeing but the moment that Dorga’s shuttle had exploded. Korodo didn’t notice his faraway look, or the shudder that passed through his body. Trace blinked his eyes and shook his head, banishing the image from his mind. “I’m doing fine, why shouldn’t I be?” He forced a cocky smile, hiding his unease as he changed the subject. “Look, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m ungrateful or anything. Like I said before, you guys saved my life and if I’d never met you, I’d probably still be working for Dorga. He’s controlled my life for so long but now I’m finally free. Free to do whatever I want, free to decide what my future will be, everything. I might not know what I wanna do with my life now, but I know that I want to be one in control of it from now on.”
“I can respect that,” Korodo said. “I guess if I was in your position, I’d be hesitant too. Although I meant it when I said we could use you, I don’t want you to do it out of a sense of misplaced obligation.” He got up and leant against the table. “How about this? It’s going to be at least a week or two before we get to our final destination. Depending on how long it takes to get repairs on Primogen that is. If you’ll give us a hand with the piloting until then, I promise that if you still want to go your own way after that, none of us will stop you.”
Trace cocked his head for a couple of seconds, thinking it over. “Kinda like a trial run thing?”
“Precisely,” Korodo said, nodding, “for both of us. In addition, the people we’re going to see might be able to help set you up with a place to stay and a legitimate job. Or transit papers to wherever you want to go if that’s what you want.”
“Okay,” Trace said standing up and walking over to Korodo, “I’ll do it on one condition.”
Trace looked Korodo in the eye as he spoke, his expression deadly serious. “Tell me why the snakeheads want you dead.”
Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2009, in Dragonstar, Fiction and tagged dragon, dragons, Dragonstar, dungeons, elf, fantasy, Fiction, half elf, kid, noble, science fiction, scifi, space, street, thief, warrior, young. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.