Brimstone was a backwards planet on the wrong side of the Frontier. It was the kind of place where a person could go to get lost, the kind of place where a person could pick up an odd job or two and not always stay on the proverbial right side of the law. In other words it was the perfect place for me. No one knows if the planet was actually called Brimstone or if it was the name of the dust covered city that had been applied to the whole planet a century before when the city had been settled, to be honest though there really aren’t any other cities on the planet. Oh there are a few little towns or villages lost out in the desert wastes and high in the mountains but the names are pretty much only known to the people who live there. It’s not a bad existence though, I suppose, if someone wants to stay out of the eye of the Confederation. In fact its pretty much ideal for that purpose and the main reason I found myself dirt side leaning against the sun warmed hull the Black Domino, an aging sometime decrepit light freighter I liked to call home. I watched several locals loading my cargo hold with supplies I had been hired to transport off world. The two guys were young and threadbare, their hair plastered by sweat and dust. They’d taken on the same look as the town. As I watched I fished a short cigar from the pocket of my brown leather duster. I lit the cigar and turned it slowly to get it going properly. A low roofed truck bounced its way towards us. I inhaled slowly and let the smoke out savoring its sweetness. The truck stopped a few yards from the loading ramp. A short skinny man in a well tailored suit exited the truck. The man in the suit looked so out of place standing there in the hot sun I almost laughed. I didn’t figure he’d get the humor so I kept it to myself. Two men followed, flanking him. They were obviously hired guns; I could see the bulge of ones shoulder rig under the jacket of a blonde headed thug and the low quick draw rig on the right thigh of the other.
Laying in the shade of the ship a forty pound mound of muscle and fur let out a quiet growl.
Tiberius stood and shook out his fur from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. He ambled over to me on four stubby legs. He sat on his haunches next to me and let his tongue hang out of his mouth. He was compact and all muscle. His fur was a mixture of black, gray, white and tan. Someone somewhere once told me the coloring was called blue merle, I’d always just gone with that. He was fiercely loyal. He also didn’t eat much and couldn’t talk, except for the occasional bark, growl, or whine. In my book she made the ideal partner. Was it my fault my closest friend and ally was a dog?
I pushed away from the Domino and took a step forward. I swept my duster open and tucked it away giving me easy access to my own pistol. They stopped a few yards away. Silence drifted between us. I eyed the thugs, the thugs eyed me and Mr. Suit simply watched.
“Mr. Cole, I have a proposition for you.”
“Do I know you?”
“I do not know why you would. My name is Daemon, I am an authority around these parts.”
“Never heard of you.”
“Nor should you have, I help run the quieter side of life here in Brimstone Mr. Cole.”
“Nothin but the quiet life here.”
“True, business is usually quite good.”
I let out a puff of smoke, chewing on the end of the cigar thoughtfully. Mr. Daemon had an air about him that made it known to those around him that he got his way. Whether you liked it or not. He exuded a sense of authority and power that most couldn’t ignore. It was the kind of power one acquired through intimidation. I wasn’t sure but I think he had been trying to intimidate me. I smiled around the cigar and decided I wouldn’t be afraid of him today.
“What kind of proposition?”
Daemon nodded as if making up his mind about something, “Quite right Mr. Cole or should I call you Captain Cole.”
I shrugged. I didn’t much care what he called me.
“Very well Mr. Cole. I have someone that needs transportation off planet.”
“I don’t transport biologicals. Skin trade aint my gig.”
Daemon waved a hand in the air as if shooing away a fly, “No, no Mr. Cole you miss understand me. This is not a biological or a slave. Those are messy ways to make a living. My associates and I do not participate in that line of work.”
“Good to hear.”
I had transported and or smuggled a lot of merchandise over the years, I’d even hunted bounties a time or two but slave trading was the lowest type of slime in the universe. About the only good thing the Confederation did was to put down slave traders, and put them down hard.
“Actually I wish for you to transport someone off planet for their benefit.”
“You running someone off? A business rival?”
“Something along those lines, yes.”
“Is that important Mr. Cole? I’d been led to believe you would only be concerned with the price.”
“Don’t wanna worry about getting shot in the back while I sleep.”
Daemon smiled. It was an odd sickly sort of smile. I figured either description fit him quite well.
“I assure you, your guest will not be planting a knife in your back Mr. Cole. There will be assurances.”
“You will have two passengers, the primary target and a ‘bodyguard’ of sorts.”
“Still two passengers no matter what you wanna call them.”
Daemon nodded, “I understand. I believe the going rate for transportation is around five thousand credits a passenger.”
While we talked my cigar had gone out. I looked at him over the blackened tip as I took a moment to relight it. Tiberius walked around my legs and then went back to the shade and laid down. He kept one eye on the three men in front of me and both ears stayed up as if listening for a cue from me to attack. There was more going on than Daemon was letting onto, that much was a given and we both knew it. My bet was on some sort of political intrigue.
“Ten thousand a passenger.”
He frowned, “That is considerably more than others here might ask for.”
“Then go ask them,” in truth there weren’t really any others. Two other ships occupied the landing field with me and neither of them had a ship nearly as modified as mine.
He nodded, waited a moment and then shrugged, “Very well Mr. Cole twenty thousand it is. Ten now and ten when you drop them off at the arranged location.”
He flicked a hand in the direction of Blondie who in turn stalked back towards the truck. He removed two cases. I raised an eyebrow.
“It is so much better than dealing with electronic transfers wouldn’t you agree?”
“Very astute Captain.”
Blondie set the case next to me, careful to stay away from Tiberius who flashed fang in the mans general direction.
“Easy boy,” I looked at Daemon, “What’s the catch.”
“I am not new to this my friend.”
Daemon smiled, “Of course. There are people here who might be a bit upset if this person disappears. It is entirely possible they will want the person back.”
“Why not kill them?”
“You must think me some sort of monster, but no, that would not work. Fear and threats are easier devices for controlling ones enemy.”
I shook my head, “I’ll never understand planet politics. Who’s the cargo?”
“Who is not as important as to the where? You will take your passengers to Moonshadow. Once there a representative of the appropriate type will approach you for pick-up. I will return in one hour with your passengers.”
I nodded and he left with his goons. Moonshadow was a few weeks out of the way but my current cargo wasn’t perishable. It would hold. I turned towards the locals who had by now finished loading the cargo and stood idly by trying to not look like they were watching us. The foreman approached.
“We’re finished Captain Cole.”
“Everything lashed down?”
“Good, your payment has been deposited as we agreed upon.”
“Very good Captain.” He stood there for a moment looking at me.
“Something on your mind Foreman?”
“Mr. Daemon is not a good man.”
“I gathered that.”
“He has a reputation for violence. Death follows him.”
“Who’s he work for?”
“Brimstone has many people who wish to be in charge. There is much revenue for those who control the landing pads. Mr. Daemon works for those who oppose the current mayor.”
“The current mayor have any kids?”
The Foreman though for a moment, “Yes he does, several actually. He has two young sons with his current wife and a daughter from his first wife who nears an age where she might be able to take over his job when he retires.”
I shook my head, “I think you’re about to have a change in bosses Foreman.”
He sadly shook his head, “It is not uncommon, I have seen many mayors come and go. Money is a great motivator.”
I smiled, “Yes it is.”
The Black Domino had not been new in more decades than I’d been alive. In her heyday she was one of the most sought after freighters on the market. As a result there were many still in service. I had spent far too many creds keeping her up to date and running. She was roughly shaped like a flattened tear drop without the smooth aerodynamic look of a tear drop. The Domino was all angles and armor plating. She was not aesthetically pleasing to the eye. She looked like she wouldn’t fly. In all she was about three hundred feet long and a hundred feet wide. I’d done my best to make it as homey as possible but the starkness and utilitarianism was still very evident inside. I didn’t mind and Tiberius never complained so I wasn’t too worried. I went to the cock-pit which was on the leading edge of the ship jutting out over the loading ramp which I’d raised and sealed a few minutes earlier. I flipped a few switches and felt her come alive with a hum that reverberated through the deck as her main drive began its warm up cycle. The Domino had one large main drive and an FTL, faster than light, drive that allowed her to make an FTL jump. The Domino’s strength lay in her speed and her armor. He armor plating was some of the thickest available and I’d added defensive screens many years earlier. I had also installed a missile tube forward and a top and bottom mounted twin bolter cannon. She packed a punch. By Confederation regulations she was illegal as hell but out on the Frontier there weren’t too many Confederate captains willing to trouble themselves with a small tramp-freighter and her captain, unless perhaps we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That happened to me more than I’d like to admit. Besides, they were all generally on the take in whatever system they happened to be assigned to and my goods generally brought them some sort of revenue so a few guns and overly modded defensive screens were the least of their worries.
Tiberius barked and I glanced out the canopy to see Daemons truck returning.
“Looks like our passengers have arrived. Behave yourself Boy.” I scratched him behind the ears and he glanced at me with what over the years I believed to be his version of a smile, complete with tongue hanging out the corner of his mouth. I shook my head and went to meet my passengers.
“You are leaving now?” Daemon asked when he approached me.
“As soon as the passengers and their gear are stowed.”
He seemed pleased, “They have little gear.”
Blondie opened the rear door on the truck. He stood back as a tall woman dressed in a form fitting leather outfit followed. I could see every curve she had. She stood just a few inches shorter than I. She wore knee high boots that bristled with buckles and looked to be designed purely for combat. She wore a sleeveless black leather duster over the form fitting leather armor. The shoulders were covered with armor plating. She wore two pistols, one on each thigh butt forward, one had a black grip, the other red, and it matched her hair. I thought I saw another pistol in a shoulder rig. I’d bet my cargo she had more hidden away. We eyed each other. Her face was narrow with high cheek bones, blue eyes narrow and almost almond shaped. Her skin was as white as I’d ever seen and set off starkly by the black leather and her red hair. That red hair was straight and pulled back tightly against her scalp. It was tied into a high pony tail that fell down to the middle of her back. She did not return my smile.
“Her name is Sonja Bloodstone.”
I nodded, “Who does she work for?”
Daemon smiled the first genuine smile I’d seen on him, “I don’t think she ever works for anyone except for herself.”
Sonja scanned the landing pad, eyed Blondie and then let her gaze fall on me again.
“Will that pile of bolts make lift-off?”
“No need to be insulting Ma’am.”
“You out did yourself this time Jonah.”
I saw a flicker of anger flash across Jonah Daemon’s face. I just managed to keep a smile from creeping onto mine.
Seemingly satisfied and with a scowl etched onto her features, Sonja turned back to the door and grabbed hold of someone and half dragged, half helped them out of the vehicle. Her companion was nothing more than a child really. I guessed she was no older than twelve, maybe fourteen and she looked scared. She wore tight fitting low ride brown pants and a flimsy white cotton top. She was at that odd in-between stage where she was more child than woman but maturity was beginning to turn on her. Her blonde hair was hanging loose and while she tried to look strong and arrogant, her eyes betrayed the fear she was feeling.
Daemon nodded at Sonja who only barely acknowledged him, she turned to me, “Ready to leave?”
“Whenever you are Red.”
Sonja took the bags Blondie handed her and glared at the child who moved towards the Domino on wooden legs as if silently willing the girl to move faster.
I turned towards Daemon, “Who’s the child?”
“You may call her Faith. You do not need to know more.”
I left him standing there and followed Sonja into the Domino.
I sealed up the Domino and made my way to the cock-pit. Tiberius watched Sonja and Faith as they stowed their gear in the cabins along the port side of the ship. I ignored them and felt Sonja stare daggers in my back. I sat in the pilot’s seat, the main drive had completed its warm-up cycle and flashing a ready status. I brought her on-line. I felt a presence behind me. My skin prickled, I did not like having this heavily armed she-devil standing behind me.
“Take a seat if you’d like.”
Sonja sat in the seat behind me and to my right, Faith sat in the chair directly behind me. Tiberius lay down on the deck between them. I activated the maneuvering thrusters and lifted the Black Domino off her landing skids. I applied forward thrust and moved slowly over the heads of Blondie and Daemon.
"They staying to see us off?”
“Probably making sure we really leave.” Sonja replied.
I gained altitude slowly shooting over a small mountain range. I applied more power to the main drive and clawed up the gravity well. A few moments of the ship straining and then I felt the Domino shudder slightly as we entered the gravity free realm of open space. I went to three quarter power on the drive and shot towards the edges of the sector.
The computer beeped at me.
“What is it?”
“Ship approaching, Scimitar class. Friends of yours?”
“Possibly, will this bucket get us past them?”
“They’re still in orbit around Brimstone but they just scanned us with active scanners.”
I checked even as I began entering the coordinates for an FTL jump. My hands danced over the control console and occasionally I’d reach behind me to flick a switch on the ceiling. I noticed Faith sitting there quietly a small shiver of fear running over her diminutive frame.
“Yep.” I pushed the drive to full power, “They’re on an intercept course.”
“Can you get us out?”
“Let’s hope so.”
An FTL jump required us to get up to speed on the main drive, once optimal speed was achieved you cut in the FTL drive. Most freighters made about one point past the speed of light, a military cruiser might do two points. The problem with those speeds is that tracking another ship was impossible. Modern scanners were designed to work at normal drive speeds but once in FTL things moved to quick for any scans to give you anything adequate. Speed combined with a build up of energy around the hull made scans impossible and it actually took thirty seconds or so for scans to clear once you completed a drop-jump.
The Scimitar was doing its best to cut the angle for a quick intercept before I made the jump but looking at the tactical display I was pretty sure we’d miss an actual engagement by about thirty seconds. They’d try to tag us with a tractor beam but we’d just be clear. One minute dragged into ninety seconds, tension hung in the cock-pit.
A red light on the console in front of me flashed green and I let a small smile settle on my features. We’d be free. The Scimitar was close and I could make out more details on her hull. I read her name on the side of the hull, the Vengeance. The com channel beeped at me. It was the Scimitars captain telling us to heave to. I ignored him.
“You’re cutting it pretty close.”
“I don’t like close.”
I nodded, reached towards a lever on the console and yanked it back. Scans went off line, energy coils loaded up in the drives, power transfer coils came to life and the FTL drive kicked on-line. A second later the pin-points of light that were distant and not so distant stars in space stretched, streaked and then we were encompassed in what looked to be a tunnel of cloud like ice.
“Any chance of them following?” Sonja asked.
“How hot is your ward?”
There was no answer as Sonja got up and escorted Faith from the cock-pit.
I settled back in the pilots chair and scratched Tiberius’ head when he put it in my lap. He panted happily and looked at me with his dark eyes.
“Something feels wrong about this one boy.”
Tiberius licked my hand barked once and trotted back into the ship, presumably to watch over our passengers. I couldn’t help but think that was a pretty good idea.