What have I done? Gerard stared at his communicator. After the destroyed cruiser was hauled onto the ship, he had stepped into the vessel and helped override the ship’s computer by patching through the engine room.
The records stated that the ship’s name was Epoch and thirteen people were on the cruiser until Gerard had fired upon the ship. Although he knew the projectiles and explosions killed the Epoch’s crew, he was certain that several of them suffered in the void.
“You did all right,” said Bahaul. He examined engines and petted the machinery as if it pure bred were a fine pure animal. “If you followed my orders without question, I would’ve given you a bonus. But you can have this for the good work.”
Bahaul put a gold lathe into Gerard’s hands and continued to inspect the machinery.
I’m not doing this for the shiny metal. Home is waiting. I’ll do good things… Gerard put the gold in his pocket and walked toward the gaping hole to exit the cruiser. Before he could decide to jump three meters down or take the ladder, someone shouted from inside the cruiser and the crew were calling for Dr. Swog.
Gerard ran into the Epoch’s cargo hold and followed the men into a freezer crate. An assortment of raw frozen meats lined the shelves. Real chicken, beef, and fish were a valuable commodity outside of Earth’s solar system, but the crew ignored the valuables and ran through a hidden door in the back of the crate.
Five crew members were standing and whispering to one another. Three over-sized cryo-pods against the wall of the narrow room. Gerard shoved past the gawking men, and used his communicator to scan the pods.
The pods were bulkier than previous models Gerard had seen. He checked the pods and found rocket thrusters built into the devices.
Are these escape pods? Gerard read the data on his communicator while he physically inspected the machines. The thrusters were spent, but the computers were running hibernation programs and the occupants had pulses.
“They’re alive!” Gerard tried to hack the pod’s electronic lock. When he couldn’t, he pulled on the exterior latch, and said, “These things are going to run out of power. Do you want the captain to claim their lives?”
Although the crew didn’t have a close relationship with Gerard, the men snapped out of their hesitant stupor and helped him open the pods. Gerard pulled and carried out a young girl from the pod, and rushed her out of the Epoch’s cargo hold. The crew did the same for an elderly balding man and a woman with braided hair.
Swog and several nurses arrived, and treated the survivors. Gerard stood beside while Swog checked on the girl.
After Swog used his scanners and injected the survivors with medicine, he reassuringly nodded to his attendants. Gerard got the cargo car and drove them to the recovery room.
The survivors had minor scratches and bruises. Gerard sat beside the young girl’s bed and was happy to see her sleeping peacefully.
Then Swog stepped next to Gerard, and whispered, “I couldn’t find an identification. We saved them from death, but the captain has to make the final judgment.”
It was a reality that caused Gerard to shiver—the Federation wasn’t lenient with pirates, and Bahaul wasn’t a fair judge. Gerard pulled out his communicator and searched the Epoch’s records. There had never been any children on that ship, and the manifest mentioned nothing about the other survivors.
“I know they’re not crew members.” Gerard searched the records and formed a cover story. “Swog, use your scanner. Look for unique marks on the survivors.”
“You’re hoping that they’re slaves?” said Bahaul.
“No, sir.” Gerard shot up from his chair and slipped his communicator into his pocket. “I wanted to be sure that these people were well taken care of.”
“Don’t worry. I promise that the girl won’t be harmed.” Bahaul looked at the girl’s vitals on the nearby monitor. “Doctor, wake the child. I need answers.”
Dammit! Gerard glared at Swog for a second. Swog met Gerard’s eyes, but Bahaul’s presence restricted their actions.
“Bahaul, don’t push her too hard.” Swog pulled out a vial from the medicine cabinet next to girl’s bed. He opened the vial and held it beneath the girl’s nose. It smelled like rotting onions and burning oil.
The girl rubbed and she looked around the room. “Where am I? Where’s Mommy?”
“Dear child, is this your mother?” Bahaul leaned over and put his communicator close to her face. A picture of the braided woman was on his screen. It was a high quality hologram, and yet he stood in such a way that the girl couldn’t see the woman was sleeping behind him.
“Yeah, where is she?” asked the girl. “Did the pirates get her?”
“No, we saved her. Were you running from the pirates?”
“Uncle said his ship was faster. But something went boom, and we had to take the tiny ships.” The girl sat upright and tears streaked down her face. “I saw a giant angel…I thought we were dead. I want my Mommy!”
“It’s all right,” said Swog. “Captain, we should—”
“Is this a medically relevant opinion? If not, I’ll let you know when I’m done.” Bahaul pulled a chocolate bar from his pocket and unwrapped the bar, and gave it to the girl. “Young missy, what is your uncle’s job? What did his ship look like?”
While the girl chewed the chocolate through her emotional carnage, Bahaul had a crewman deliver a pen and notebook for the girl. She stated how her uncle would travel a lot and buy stuff. As she began to calm down, she drew a long rectangle with a square that shot fire from the end.
“Captain,” said Gerard. “The girl is a wreck. What can you learn from her that you can’t get from the others?”
“An honest answer.” Bahaul studied the drawing and handed the girl another piece of chocolate. “Now, little miss, what is your name—”
“Her name is Milly,” said the woman with the braided hair. She stood from her bed and pushed aside the captain as she scooped up her child and hugged her. “My name is Sela Firan. Thank you for saving us, but don’t you dare question or bribe my child again.”
After Bahaul offered his apologies and gave Sela several lathes of gold, they moved to the captain’s quarters. Gerard and Swog made sure to make Sela and Milly comfortable at the captain’s expense. Bahaul was cordial and patient, though he did quote regulations to get everyone to cooperate with him.
Sela sat with Milly in her lap, and stated that she was an employee for Bez’s trade company. She was a sales person and liaison. It wasn’t a high paying job, but Bez agreed to help her move to a newly colonized planet. They were traveling to fulfill their deal, but pirates had caught them by surprise and the cargo runner was destroyed.
Once Bahaul heard Sela’s story, he escorted them back to the recovery room where Swog could do a deeper check up to guarantee their health.
“Well, Captain, where will you drop off Sela and Milly?” Gerard projected a holo-map of their current route through the star system. “The closest colony is D-75, but if we want to continue our—”
“I’m not doing anything else until I’ve talked with Bez.” Bahaul marched to the bed of the old man, and put the smelly vial up to the man’s nose. Bez stirred, yet he didn’t swat or turn away from the smell—layer of sweat coated his face and lips whispered something they couldn’t understand.
Gerard was about to fetch Swog, but Bahaul punched Bez in the stomach before he could.
Bez coughed and held his gut as he struggled to rise from the bed. Bahaul lit one of his cigars and blew smoke into Bez’s gaping mouth.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that I have such an honored guest on my ship.” Bahaul jabbed his cigar into Bez’s arm, and the old man howled. Gerard and Swog stood at attention and anxiously closed in on the captain.
“What’s happening? Who are you? Did we escape?” Bez tried to leave the bed, but Bahaul stood too close to the bed. “We can’t stay here. It’s dangerous!”
“Calm yourself, Mr. Bez. Your business… No. Your smuggling operation is no more,” said Bahaul.
“I’m sorry, but I think you’re wrong. I’m a victim—”
“Like your valuable target, Sela? A cargo runner is meant for inter-planet travel.” Bahaul grabbed Gerard’s communicator and expanded the map of their current location. “We’re far away from any civilization. You’re going to prison unless you can convince me otherwise.”
“Fine, have it your way! I’m a criminal. Just get me out of this sector.” Bez threw a punch, and Gerard grabbed his arm.
Swog held Bez’s other arm, and offered a sedative. When Bez refused, Swog said, “The pirates are dead, and there were no other ships nearby. If people are trying to kill you, they’re not going to attack a Federation ship.”
“I’m not afraid of pirates or prison!” Bez rolled off the bed and scampered onto his feet. He faced the captain and raised his chin high. “Death scares me, and that monster doesn’t care about Feds, pirates, or morals!”
Bahaul ran around the bed and slammed Bez to the floor. Bez tried to squirm, and Bahaul placed his foot on Bez’s throat. The captain flicked his cigar ashes over the old man’s nose. “Sela doesn’t know about it, and Milly doesn’t understand what she had seen. But you’ve survived, and it’s still there—in your head, and waking dreams.”
Bez grew quiet and his eyes watered. Bahaul moved his shoe and placed his ear close to Bez’s lips. Gerard and Swog stepped closer to listen, but Bahaul stood and ordered a crewman to strap Bez onto a bed.
Then Bahaul commanded Gerard and Swog to follow him to the launching bay. The captain used Gerard’s communicator and ordered the crew to take their battle stations. A low siren echoed and men ran through the halls.
“Captain, why the sudden alert?” asked Gerard. “Did Bez see more pirates? Or did he—”
“No, it’s nothing of the sort,” said Swog. “Bahaul, you have to stop this. I can allow many things to pass, but I can’t let you bring the whole crew into this madness.”
“Which is why, doctor, I’m changing your duties. You’ll be piloting the Sky Breaker elsewhere while the crew does their job.” Bahaul walked through the double doors and the two men struggled to keep up.
A cargo hauler sat before them. It was a near duplicate of the Sky Breaker except the vessel was a medium sized ship.
“Doctor, this is the “Sky Breaker,” that the Federation recognizes. It’s fully automated. You just have to add the human element.” Bahaul ordered Swog to get on the smaller ship. Swog refused and tried to speak, but two men grabbed the doctor and shoved him onto the ship.
The cargo hauler closed its hatch and everyone evacuated the launching bay. Once the air lock was engaged, the hauler fired its thrusters and rocketed into the far reaches of space.
Why would…? If that was the Sky Breaker, does this ship have no identification? Gerard held his mouth shut and walked into a closet. He searched his pockets and realized he lost his communicator. Without an approved device, he would have to borrow one or go directly to the command deck.
Gerard left the closet, but Bahaul and two crewman were waiting for him.
“Your duties aren’t done.” Bahaul nodded his chin and the men grabbed Gerard. “My men will help you finish the weapon systems. This is your purpose. Nothing else matters.”