The Antares Run.


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Post The Antares Run.

#1  Nik 15 Aug 2018 00:17

Captain Horwathi was not a nice sapient. Smuggler, poacher, pirate, slaver, opportunistic thief and swindler, heth was wanted for more crimes in more jurisdictions than even heth cared to remember.

Then, heth got a tip. Out Antares way, budget cuts had gradually reduced the guard on a pre-space culture to one (1) obsolete picket ship, currently stood down for long-deferred maintenance. With that docked, the system's few, ageing surveillance buoys went un-watched.

Captain Horwathi's ship, the Horwath, was in better condition than usual. Delivering a large consignment of torpid Mollin grubs had paid very well. In fact, that run cleared several growing debts, paid for more than essential repairs. True, the shipyard demanded payment in advance but, given heth paid for their previous work with a hacked credit chip, that was due care.

So, Captain Horwathi trawled the dock zone bars and cantinas for heth ruffian crew, set off to make a fortune.

Evading those ageing buoys' scans was easy. Avoiding detection by the locals' primitive sensors was trivial. The Horwath eased into atmosphere above a wide ocean, sought victims.

A small water craft presented itself. Observation suggested the few crew were catching sea creatures by net and line. Such numbers could offer scant resistance, pose no threat. They, their catch, even their quaint property should have a high rarity value. After stripping the crude craft bare, it could be scuttled, removing evidence. Win, win, win.

Captain Horwathi brought heth ship to a skilful hover off the water craft's stern, fired the neural scrambler on 'stun'. The primitive bipeds who'd begun running about and gesticulating, continued to do so.

Captain Horwathi increased the scrambler's setting, tried again. Another increase. Another. Full power. Heth ignored power system warnings, red-lined the weapon. This time, the primitives all fell. Hissing with relief, heth turned the Horwath about, lowered, positioned its tail ramp on the water craft's deck. Heth crew opened the cargo hatch, clambered down and set to work.

Within a few breaths, Chi-Chi the [voder glitch] reported back. "Honourable Captain, the primitives are non-viable."

Captain Horwathi hissed with fury. Poison spurs extended, heth would have lashed out at any crew on the small bridge. Thwarted, heth took a moment to regret the financial loss, then ordered, "Take what you can."

Quietly, efficiently, the boarding party emptied the small water craft of portable loot. The fishing gear, the catch, personal ornaments and tools, even the spare drums of crude hydrocarbon fuel were hoisted aboard the Horwath.

Leaving the ghost craft to the mercy of the sea, Captain Horwathi raised the tail ramp, gained altitude, sought more victims.

In the hold, Sergu the Serg, a tentacular decapod, began to secure and document the cargo. On the bridge, Captain Horwathi idly studied his main display's passive scans, began to tally the growing list's potential profits.

The downside of running 'dark' suddenly appeared when the proximity alert sounded. A large, fast moving aircraft was on a converging course. An innocuous Cathay Pacific wide-body, it would pass many, many lengths above. Captain Howarthi did not know that. Given heth occupation, paranoia was a way of life. Heth grabbed for the controls, made a sharp turn away.

With the ship's oft-repaired power system strained by red-lining the scrambler, the inertial damper's circuit breaker popped. The crew were thrown to the side, then back as Captain Horwathi hastily centred heth controls. Unsecured cargo flew across the hold. Serg vanished under a sliding mass of netting that then cushioned a low flying fuel drum which had broken its restraints. Chirping furiously, Serg wriggled clear. Heth did not dare criticise Captain Horwathi, but that near-silent rage may have impaired subsequent cognition.

Recovering the implement heth had been studying, Serg tentatively categorised it as a portable hull-plate repair tool, a powered rivet driver. How heth then managed to turn this thus and pull these so, Murphy only knows.

The old AK47 emptied its curved magazine on full auto. That wrongly held weapon's muzzle climbed with each round. Bullets flew everywhere. Some riccocheted from decking or hull frames. One such returned to impact the unfortunate Serg's primary ganglion cluster. Others pierced the fuel drums. Fortunately, these did not contain gasoline, but their leaks began to spread an oily slick across the deck. Some bullets tore through the thin bulkhead, found sub-systems and cable runs beyond. Two flew clear up the open central passage to the Bridge.

One bullet went through the pilot's couch, struck Captain Horwathi in the lower back. Heth kind could survive far worse than that tumbling round's physical damage. The lead alloy content was a different matter. Like silver to a werewolf, heth acid blood promptly dissolved enough toxic heavy metals to be fatal thrice over.

Captain Howarthi howled, went into spasm, began to die.

The other bullet clipped heth crest, struck the main display. That crazed, froze.

Alwel the 'Wella wasn't really the co-pilot, more Captain Horwathi's enforcer. Sure, heth had flown air-cars, usually stolen, had even done some hasty un-docking. Heth was certainly not qualified to handle the damaged Horwath in atmosphere by 'Visual Flight Rules'. Heth lost a moment gawping at Captain Horwathi's demise then grabbed for the secondary controls. Alwel tried to stabilise their roller-coaster flight, kept over-correcting. What few instruments showed on the secondary displays blinked furious dismay. Ship systems were failing left and right. Unsecured cargo still slid to and fro.

An acrid stench of acid blood and fluid hydrocarbons filled the air, forcing Alwel to narrow heth nostrils, close heth third eyelids. That this reduced heth visual acuity was unfortunate, but it beat going blind.

Claws and hooves skittered at the Bridge entrance. Alwel barked orders in pidgin GaLingua Four, "Chi-Chi, Weng, Peng, find what is wrong and begin repairs !"

Sliding, splashing and crashing noises continued as the crippled Horwath wobbled its way onwards.

The insectile Chi-Chi eventually returned, reported, "Honourable Second to Captain, Serg is non-viable due penetrating trauma. Weng is non-viable due ingestion of toxic solvent following fall. Peng is non-viable due blunt trauma following fall. Critical damage to ship systems exceeds probable in-flight repair capacity."

"Sterile Mating !" Alwel swore.

Around the secondary displays, more warnings blinked, faster and faster. As they watched, several turned from blinking to constant. The axial propulsors groaned. The hull shuddered. The Horwath lurched. Alwel tried to remember what heth had seen of the planet's scans, of the view from orbit. Though the nav-gear was erratic, an eighth-turn to their left should bring them to land.

Failures mounting, altitude falling, cabin air increasingly fouled, the Horwath staggered from day to dusk, reached night. Though not the smartest of sapients, Alwel had the sense to avoid the huge clusters of lights rising on the horizon. The ship wobbled over some isolated settlements along the coastal strip, reached dark wilderness beyond.

Thanking heth thrice-damned ancestors, Alwel eased back on the axial propulsors, looked for some-where to land. A new problem arose. All around, great vegetables grew, many taller than the Horwath's length. There were no gaps. Heth was starting to despair when, in the distance, one lonely light shone. The limited sensor suite suggested a possible clearing.

Barking at Chi-Chi to secure heth-self, Alwel steered towards the light. Their overflight confirmed a clearing, but the landing would be tight. Very tight. Not trusting the retro-propulsors, Alwel did a series of wary S-turns to shed speed. Heth allowed their altitude to drop until the Horwath was smacking vegetable tops aside, then hauled on the controls. As the nose rose, heth doused the axial propulsors, woke the ventrals.

One failed. Another. A third. Somehow, heth kept the Horwath steady, and the other five sufficed.

The Horwath slowed to a near-halt almost touching the clearing. Alwel doused the ventral propulsors. The ship scrunched down skew. It slid some-what, stopped.

"Brood Mother !" Chi-Chi clicked. "Songs will be sung of your skill !"

Alwel made no reply, hith manipulators death-locked on the controls. Finally, daring to believe hith lived, Alwel rose from the secondary controls' couch, limped towards the cargo hold. After hastily surveying the strew, Alwel warily traversed the slick, operated the cargo hatch, deployed the ramp. Strange, unfamiliar scents met heth nostrils. Some were unpleasant, some not, but all were better than the foul reek behind.

Alwel staggered down the ramp. A few paces beyond, heth knelt, clutched at the short vegetation. Captain Horwathi was dead. Serg was dead. Weng and Peng were dead. Alwel flung back heth head and howled.

Chi-Chi was not given to such displays. Heth tip-toed down the ramp, looked around, found the light that had drawn them. That was pole-mounted below an inclined panel, perhaps a solar energy collector. And, in the shadows beyond, there was a large, pale, boxy, wheeled land-vehicle.

Its door opened, spilling light. A silhouetted biped peered out. Heth piercing yell brought another to the door. This native brandished, levelled a long, tubular instrument.

Chi-Chi noted unsettling similarities between this and Serg's deadly 'rivet driver'.

An ominous 'snick-snick' suggested that heth very, very bad day-cycle was about to become even worse...

==
"Heth"
Given a lot of species and languages, there will be many, many ways to mortally insult by accident. Never mind 'political correctness', such a neutral term simplifies translation, averts unplanned mayhem...

 



 
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