The Space Pirate
Drezar Noutyiff didn’t look that much different from those he traveled with. If he stood a bit taller than most, or his shoulders set a tad too wide, or that his eyes would often flash a shade too blue, no one noticed. Synthetic-fiber muscle enhancers, installed at a distant and unlawful starport, made Drezar quicker and stronger than the others. No one knew this about him, and he liked that.
He trudged to the front of the rag-tag caravan that he had journeyed with for days on foot along a wide dirt road. The crowd had stopped, and Drezar wanted to know why. “Peasants!” Drezar muttered to himself. Bloody peasants! They were all the same unwashed, shuffling, dispossessed rabble you’d find on many a world. There were plenty of them back home too, but Drezar did not like to think of home, nor of the fact that he was as greasy and ill-garbed as they were.
The road was bordered by thick forest on either side, but Drezar’s Retinalink vision-enhancing implants were able to penetrate the gloom among the trees. These implants, paired with the Audiomes installed in Drezar’s ears, fed visual and aural data into a Mainstem Processing Unit (or MPU) for various kinds of computational analysis which was then interpreted and piped back to his brain. It was standard equipment used by different species for various purposes throughout the Galactic Empire. They were most commonly used as personal computers and universal translators but Drezar had made many additions and illegal modifications to Babs, the AI that ran his MPU.
He arrived at the head of the caravan and beheld, so suddenly that he almost couldn’t believe he didn’t see it coming, a vast timber wall with sharpened ends cutting off the forest east to west and disappearing into the trees at either end. Massive gates made of thick interlocking logs reinforced with riveted steel belts loomed at the end of the dirt road. A gatehouse stood to the left of the gates, occupied by several guardsmen armed with primitive steel plate, halberds, and short swords. They engaged in raucous soldier conversation while their grizzled leader eyed everyone who passed, including Drezar.
An even larger crowd of peasants than the one Drezar traveled with stood in a ragged line in front of a sally port built into the wall next to the closed gates. A simple purple pennant, emblazoned with a golden circle enclosing three tall spires, fluttered from the gatehouse. A couple of guardsmen stood by the sally port, frisking each peasant and examining their belongings before allowing admittance beyond the wall. Wagons and other large carts were ordered aside by the guards, and their conveyors busied themselves setting up camp. There would be no admittance of those today.
The city was on alert, but as a matter of routine.
Babs fed Drezar the compositions, measurements and other statistical data on everything and everyone he saw via a dizzying series of diagrams, text and images that crawled and flashed across their subjects, unseen by all save the pirate. Military-grade software showed more information; angles of attack, countermeasures, success probabilities. It also gave Drezar a transparent, solid circle with cross-hairs that indicated the cardinal directions in the upper left quadrant of his field of vision, represented by a translucent swiveling cone with range and elevation bars. Multicolored dots representing various lifeforms and threat levels spotted the circle, clustering here and there.
Because of Babs, Drezar was never surprised. Because of Babs, Drezar survived a mutiny on his starship, the Nagelfar. Because of Babs, Drezar was able to maneuver his lifepod to follow his former crew as they piloted the Nagelfar through the voids of space to land somewhere on this world. Because of Babs, Drezar survived his crash landing. Because of Babs, Drezar was able to track the ship and the crew thus far. His ship. His Nagelfar. They will pay, he swore to himself. They will all pay.
Babs, the space pirate thought, Identify that symbol. Magnify map. Display terrain.
Drezar eyed the pennant as he shuffled with the others into the line at the sally port, looking as inconspicuous as possible. He did not want to draw attention to himself. Not just yet, even though there was no possible way that these guardsmen knew who or what he was. Drezar needed to know where he was first.
Everything except the flapping pennant faded to gray-scale. Next to the pennant appeared a window in sharp focus, scrolling through a considerable amount of data on everything Babs could find out through the Universal Record, cross-referenced with locally streamed data. His map expanded twice its size, showing a perfectly rendered topographical map showing terrain for a thousand yards around Drezar. His downed lifepod’s scanners were top of the line and the terrain was detailed to the building.
He gave a start. There was the forest, the road, the wall, and hundreds of dots teeming among the outskirts of a city behind the wall that Babs neatly labeled, “Far Spires”. Drezar Noutyiff had arrived at last!
“Papers, sir.” The guardsman, appearing not twenty cycles young, who had spoken held out his hand to Drezar. “Where are you from and what’s your business here?”
The pennant’s window vanished and the world faded back into full color as Drezar smiled at the guardsman. Babs gave Drezar several options ranging from peaceful to fatal. He had no papers and he wasn’t feeling particularly peaceful. Not when he was so close and with no time to spare. And besides, according to Babs, Drezar could afford to play.
“Papers?” the pirate asked. He cleared his throat noisily, glanced around and raised his hands, “Why? You can’t read them when you’re dead.”
“Huh?” The guardsman, to his credit, quickly lowered his halberd and suspiciously asked, “What did you say?” The peasants nearby, much to their credit, started to shuffle away, sensing an odd turn of events. That gave Drezar more room to maneuver, Babs gleefully pointed out. The guardsmen lounging around the gatehouse, five in all, started to edge towards Drezar. They, too, sensed something was amiss with this ragged, dark stranger. Grizzled Leader pointed at Drezar and drew a breath to bellow an order to his men.
Babs’ proximity sensor auto-zoomed to three yards showing six red dots, threat level 3, glowing resolute among the now rapidly dissipating dark green dots, threat level 0. There were a few lingering yellows, threat level 1, that Drezar would have to watch. Armed thieves, Drezar assumed, waiting for an opportunity.
Drezar shrugged. It was pointless to answer a dead man’s question. Within the space of a few seconds, Drezar choose a scenario at random and reached out, almost nonchalantly, to simply take the halberd from the stunned guardsman’s hands. Before the guardsman could even flinch, Drezar had spun the halberd around and impaled him just under the breastplate. Blood spilled from his mouth. Drezar spun about, whipping the halberd out and around to sling it low across the ground. The halberd spun like a top, spraying blood and tripping the two other guardsmen who were running towards the aid of their doomed companion.
Both fell and Babs verified that one had snapped his C4 vertebrae, dying instantly, and the other broke his right femur. Drezar was strong. Really strong. Broken Leg screamed in pain while he writhed on the ground. His screams joined the terrified yells of the last fleeing peasants. The yellow dots had also wisely vanished from among the scurrying dark green dots. Faint pulsating circles radiating from the dots represented the sounds they made, and Drezar noted that the forest and even the wall were effectively muting the screaming, preventing it from carrying too far.
Good. All of Babs’ mods were working so far. The crash had Drezar a little worried.
Two other guardsmen stood quaking at what they thought was a safe distance away with their pathetic, quivering halberds leveled at Drezar. The pirate laughed as he tracked Grizzled Leader legging towards a large bell hanging beside the sally port. “Not happening, buddy,” Drezar said as he casually pointed at the running guardsman in a mock gun-slinging gesture.
“Pew,” the space pirate whispered.
A narrow, bright beam of iridescent light shot out from Drezar’s fingertip and struck Grizzled Leader just before he reached the bell. There was a flash, and the guardsman’s body and clothes became dust blown apart by the biologically rupturing force. Grizzled Leader’s non-organic armaments and gear clattered noisily to the ground underneath the un-rung bell. Drezar smiled again. There will be no alarm! He laughed some more.
“There will be no alarm!” he bellowed, hopping gleefully on his feet and swinging his arms. “What a rush!” He felt like Feyd-Rautha fighting Paul Atredies in Dune. A random thought that Babs gently buzzed away.
His dysprosium-cored Finger-Bioater still worked! Babs swore it did, but he needed to be certain. Drezar called it his Fingerator. His most favorite toy. Next to Babs, of course. But Babs was not a toy.
The remaining two guardsmen dropped their halberds and tried to run away, but Drezar fingerated them, too. He fingerated them all, including Broken Leg and the two corpses. “Pew, pew, pew, pew, pew!” Feyd-Rautha would have been proud. Too bad he didn’t have a Fingerator. Paul would have shit his stillsuit then.
Drezar looked around. The area was emptied. Dust swirled in the gentle breeze, heavy with the ionizing scent of ozone. The scene reminded Drezar of an Old Earth western flick he caught on GalaTee. He loved those movies. Babs buzzed again. There were still a few dots in his near proximity, all dark-green. Peasants cowering, no doubt. Babs informed him that he was at the North Gate and he was hours yet from his destination, which was deep in the city. A timer appeared showing the estimated local authority response time. Another working program. Forty-two minutes. He was really out in the sticks.
As he headed to the sally port, Drezar noticed a peasant woman and boy huddled behind an overturned cart. A dirty child’s face looked at him with wide eyes full of wonder. Drezar was struck by a memory of his own childhood on Morr, his homeworld. An exhausted, drained mother. A father he never saw. A brother he hated and a sister he feared. Friends betrayed and loves lost. A legacy stolen and a name draped with shame. S’zima…
Babs buzzed insistently, and less gently. No memories! Bad pirate! Drezar Noutyiff mentally shook himself, thanked Babs, and leaned in close to the boy. His mother held him tighter though there was nothing she could have done to save his life had Drezar decided to end it. “Boy,” Drezar sneered.
Behind the sneer and the travel grime, and under the long, thick, greasy unkempt hair and full beard, black as the blackest night, the boy could see that Drezar was about thirty cycles and actually quite fatherly looking. Something like a hero in a scroll. Or like a disgraced king. The ugly sneer did the pirate no favors, though, full of loathing and old pain.
The kid couldn’t help it, he was absolutely enamored by the space pirate.
“Boy,” Drezar repeated. “The Space Pirate Drezar Noutyiff kills anyone who asks him for papers. Tell everyone you know.”
“That first guy was the only one who asked you for papers. Why’d you kill the other five?” The boy unflinchingly replied. His mother gasped and clasped her hand over his mouth, but the boy defiantly wrenched his face free and stuck his lower lip out at Drezar.
“Calon didn’t mean it, Lord Space Pirate Drezar Noutyiff!” the mother pleaded, “He’s being stupid, please spare him!”
“Shut up!” Drezar growled and the mother cringed. “This boy is actually being very smart.”
“So why’d you do it,” demanded the boy. “Why’d you kill the other five?”
“Because dead men tell no tales, that’s why!” Drezar snapped back, then mentally kicked himself for coming up with such an old cliché. He considered the child for a moment. “Do you know this city?”
“Know it? I was born here! I know the streets and where they all go. My daddy used to drive a schoomer and I rode with him all over!”
“Your daddy, huh? Where’s he now?”
The boy finally escaped his mother’s clutching hands and said, “My daddy got planted. It’s just me and mum now.” The lower lip trembled.
“Well,” Drezar said unconcernedly, ignoring the mother who had started to cry, “Boy… What would you say to guiding me through these streets for the rest of the day, and the day after, and for however long I’m in this damned city? I’ll give you a silver mark for each day in my service.”
“A mark and a half, and you won’t find no better guide!”
Drezar smiled. He liked this little scrapling. “A mark and quarter, no more.”
“Up front, no backsies!”
“Deal.” Drezar spat into his hand and reached out to Calon who eyed his hand with a mixture of fascination and wariness.
“You’re strange, but deal!” He did not touch Drezar’s hand, though.
“Ah!” Drezar said. “My bad.” He offered his other hand, but decided not to tell the boy that the finger on this one was just as deadly. The pirate had two dysprosium-cored Finger-Bioaters installed, just in case. He’d need to test the other one later.
Calon shook the hand then told his mother in his most adult manner to go home, that he’d send word after he was done with his client. She did as she was bid, crying all the while, yet shuffling away as quickly as her shaking legs could take her. Calon watched her go and quietly said, “Sometimes she’s a clinger, but since daddy plugged the ground she’s like that a lot now.” His voice caught a bit and he coughed.
Drezar shook his head. This kid couldn’t have been more than seven or eight cycles old. He didn’t care. “Listen, Calon. I’m looking for somebody who looks a little like me. A member of my crew, or I should say a former member. He’s planetside, in this city, and I need to find him. He likes cheap booze, loose dice and dirty whores.”
Calon nodded sagely. “Let’s start at The Sailing Balls by the harbor.”
Drezar smiled broadly and pulled a small purse out of his tunic. Babs could give him all the data he needed for the hunt, but nothing beats a hardened urchin in the street on a world like this. They also made for good crew, and the pirate had a few positions to fill. If all went well, Calon’s mother would likely never see him again.
The pirate felt no twinge of guilt at that.
He counted some sliver pieces out and handed them to the kid. “I made the right choice, it seems! But…” He grabbed the boy’s shirt and leaned into his face with a nasty leer. “Don’t screw with me, boy, or I’ll vapo you like I did these soldiers!” Calon gasped and nodded quickly. Drezar, after a meaningful moment, let him go. “Go on now, kid,” he said roughly, pointing at the scattered remnants. “Loot these leavings and then lead the way.”