FREELANCERS #2 - 03/15/23
Here's a fun Freelancer news report that's diegetic (something that exists within the Aesteria galaxy) to flesh out the setting a bit more, and a cool short story to follow it up.
Lina Ro'Shaer here giving you this month's Bullet Points.
Exciting developments of profit and betrayal in Aesteria's War of Faith. The three-way conflict between the Validian Church, Sundered Pact and Karanorian Coalition has raged for two decades now. The battle lines across the stars have ebbed and flowed over the years, and the recent dissipation of a Fay nebula revealed even more contested holy sites from ancient times. Though each faction is too proud to openly endorse hiring mercenaries, the grinding gears of war turn even the devout into pragmatists.
One such freelancer made waves this month when she flipped sides. Hailing from a sorcerer's conclave out in Liber space where they research and train mages without oversight or restriction, the Nysandian sorceress, Kelvyra Nath, signed a contract with the Validian Church to oversee a dig site searching for magically charged ore called aetheryte. The vivacious mage distinguished herself when she almost single-handedly held off an assault by Karanorian forces. Her Validian officers were confused when she later used a teleportation circle to infiltrate a squad of Karanorian PAX warriors behind Validian lines. The dig site she'd been charged by the Validians to oversee struck a rich vein of aethercyte, but now the watchtowers fly Karanorian flags.
Speculation runs wild as to why the sorceress switched sides. Freelancers live and die by their reputation, which makes turning on your employer a swift path to infamy. Nonetheless, there are extenuating circumstances which could justify a freelancer taking extreme steps to look out for themselves. Kelvyra was unavailable for questions, but our panel of experts and a special guest speaker will discuss the issue in our next broadcast.
Let us know why you think Kelvyra flipped and stay tuned for more exciting developments next month!
In other news, guests at the Violet Springs Casino and Resort were shocked last week when their vice filled vacation turned into a bloodbath. A daring robbery by a band known as the Silk Devils turned violent, leaving dozens of casino staff and residents dead or wounded. Good news for you freelancers out there as the casino owners have posted a sizable bounty on the Devils' heads. Wanted dead or alive.
“Hey, easy! Don’t shoot!”
The demon-like Daemar narrowed his vision down the holographic sights of his flechette pistol. The starship mechanic on the business end froze in place with her hands up. Her life flashed before her eyes as she stared beyond the sights into the infernal coals of the man’s eyes.
After a moment, the Daemar flicked the safety on his deadly weapon and spun it back into its holster under his coat. He smirked and offered a small bow. “Sorry about that. Didn’t see you there, and you gave me a fright.” He tapped the pistol at his side. “Galaxy’s a rough place. Can’t be too careful.”
As he winked and flicked her a rinn coin for her trouble, she reached to the floor with shaky hands to pick up the wrench she dropped. “Gave him a fright, he says. Stupid, jumpy spacers.”
The Daemar flicked some loose hair behind one of the horns on his head and exhaled deeply. He was accustomed to travelling through seedy places, but this stop wasn’t part of the plan. He checked the time on his holopad, then jogged passed a large transport vessel plastered with decals for the Trucker’s Guild on the edge of the space station’s hangar.
Above the sounds of cranes, lifts and plasma torches, he could hear one of his crew arguing with the dockmaster. Tensions ran high after their sublight path through the system ran afoul of mines. The Daemar counted his blessings that this rundown depot was close enough to get their ship repaired. After everything they’d been through, it’d be a damn shame if they died derelict in the cold blackness of space because of some unexploded ordnance from some long forgotten conflict.
Dim lights flickered in the hallway to the port’s habitation module. He lit his last cigstick and took a drag. The stale, recycled air in this dump enhanced the feeling of claustrophobia. He swore he saw movement in the deep shadows surrounding him. The Daemar cursed in his ancestral tongue and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had to get out of here.
Hopefully, his crew could get everything sorted with the dockmaster and they could leave this grimy place. As he entered Portia’s Pit Stop to get some grub, he offered a silent prayer to both Vishtara, the matron of the stars, and Akao’Hulach, the Infernal domina of greed, that this would be his final meal here.
The door hissed open with an off-key chime and he strode into the diner. Behind the counter, the porcine humanoid, Portia, squinted in his direction. “Bugger the devils. We’re busy today. Oh, it’s you again. Be with you in a moment.”
The Daemar took another drag of his cigstick and took a seat at the bar. A short, hairy, monkey-like fyraugh in the next seat over sneered at him, took his food, then hopped off the stool.
“Bad news, Portia. This should be my last visit to your… fine establishment. I’ll have five of the usual to go. And chop chop, we’re in a hurry,” said the man as he put out his cigstick on the counter.
Portia wiped her greasy mitts on an even greasier apron and poured him a drink. “Aw, muffin. Will be a shame to see you go. I was just thinking that for someone who’s been singing songs about how rich and prosperous he is, you really don’t tip well.”
The Daemar chortled, then flicked through his holopad. Some rough-looking, red-skinned orks to his left changed the channel on the diner’s spotty holoprojector to a news show for mercenaries. A plant-like Zyldari woman with orange skin and fiery red hair delivered a report about a casino robbery gone bad.
Sensationalist media, the man thought as he reluctantly sipped the swill Portia gave him. There were only a few dozen dead and wounded. Calling it a bloodbath was a little extreme. Why didn’t they focus on all the brilliant maneuvers the daring band executed to pull off the brilliant heist? These bleeding hearts wouldn’t know a good story if you clubbed them over the head with one.
As the Daemar flicked some hair out of his eyes, he noticed the two orks giving him side eye. As she jostled the contents of the deep fryer, Portia squinted at him extra hard. The Zyldari news anchor gave a description of the group members suspected to have pulled off the robbery and mentioned the large bounty put out for them. The man’s hand slipped under his coat to the pistol at his side.
The door behind him slid open with a hiss and an off-key chime. His line of sight to the rough orks broke as another figure moved between them.
A scarred, wolf-like Sarakem man wearing an armoured vest placed something on a ledge near the ceiling, put something else on the floor, and took the seat next to him. He sniffed the air and spoke in a gruff voice. “Is that Anjali spice? Never knew you to change your recipes, Portia.”
A smile creased across the old Bosvin cook’s face. “Bless my belly, is that you, Bael? Well, if it hasn’t been a doggo’s arse since I’ve seen you last. Times are changing, my boy. Some traders from Jahluwan left barrels of the stuff almost a year ago. What can I say? I was feeling adventurous. Lovely to see you. What’ll you have?”
Bael leaned forward and said, “Whatever you make with that new spice.”
Portia hustled about the kitchen with renewed vigour. “Coming right up. Will be nice to serve customers with some better manners for a change.” She huffed toward the Daemar.
His hand drifted away from his pistol as Portia went back to her cooking. Even the two orks grumbled and left after the newcomer arrived. The Daemar chuckled to himself. His fortunes really were turning around.
Beside him, Bael said, “Might not look like much, but the food’s great here. You should savour it while you can.”
The Daemar smirked. “Oh, I’ve had the pleasure, if you can call it that. Not quite rich enough for my taste.” As the orks exited the diner, he leaned in. “Good thing you arrived when you did, friend. Some locals were getting a little too nosey for their own good.”
Keeping his eyes forward, Bael said, “I get the sense you’re someone who prefers subtlety too.”
The Daemar smiled wide and turned toward Bael. “Ahaa, finally someone who gets it. I may not look it, but I prefer being subtle and understated. Attention seekers who are all flash strut around like they’ve got something to prove. Real pros know to fly under the radar. Though it is nice to be recognized for doing something special sometimes.”
Bael scratched a scar along his collar with a clawed hand. “Recognition is one, but best be careful. Infamy is overrated. Making a splash in someone else’s pond is usually more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve seen enough people chase their 15 minutes of fame. Most don’t realize that they’ll be forgotten 15 seconds afterwards.”
The devilish man laughed. “The trick is, if you do it often enough and survive, you become a legend. You speak like you have experience with this. Are you a celebrity or something? I feel like I should know you.”
Bael took a drink and said, “Tell you what. Come quietly and I’ll tell you all about it.” The Daemar cocked his head in confusion.
The doors hissed open with the off-key chime once more. The rest of the Daemar’s crew poured into the diner. A shark-like Vashtai Quali man stepped forward. “Hey, we’re out of time. We just spotted that big shot bounty hunter ship in the hangar. We’ve got to…”
They froze in place as Bael swivelled around to face them. He didn’t budge as the four robbers trained their weapons on him.
Portia arrived at the counter with two plates of food. “Even more customers? Whew, no rest for the wicked today.” She squinted in their direction until her old eyes noticed what they carried. “Oh, shite!” The Bosvin cook dove for cover and slammed a button under the table. Heavy metal shutters dropped from the ceiling and slammed into the counter. The other patrons screamed and cowered under what cover they could find.
The Quali robber bore his shark teeth at Bael. “Nice try, Bael. We’re not going down so easy.”
Bael spoke in an even tone. “How easy or hard this goes is up to you, bub. Put down the hardware, return the goods, and maybe you get to see daylight again. I don’t think I need to explain the alternative.”
The Daemar stood up and backed away, still not quite sure what’s happening. The Quali robber sneered. “You cocky mutt. Think we’re just gonna fold like the weaklings you usually pick on?”
Bael scratched his furry chin. “You’ve got five seconds.”
A third member of their crew tugged on the shark man’s arm. “Come on, let’s just leave!”
“Four.” He placed something in his ears.
The Quali swatted away the third robber’s hand. “Screw that noise. He’s pissed off so many people. There’s got to be underworld bounties on his head.”
“Three.” Bael reached a clawed thumb up to lower a pair of goggles over his eyes.
The fourth robber who started to sweat said, “What are you waiting for? Just shoot him!”
The Daemar looked down and finally noticed the revolver strapped to the bounty hunter’s thigh. His eye followed the path down to his boot, where Bael stepped on a device he placed there earlier.
Blinding light engulfed the diner. A numbing, high-pitched whine replaced all sound. The Daemar lost all sense of where he was. First, he felt the cold, grimy ground on his back. He gained some modicum of equilibrium as he turned over and felt the tiles on his hands and face. Slowly, the light faded, and the world came back into view.
To his left lay the bodies of his crew, the rest of the Silk Devils. Their blood pooled in the grimy grout of the diner floor. He looked up to see a trail of smoke wisping out of the barrel of the legendary gunslinger’s revolver. The Daemar’s hand bumped into the flechette pistol that fell out of its holster when he fell.
The instant he reached for it, Bael had another revolver in his left hand pointed down at the devilish robber. “15 seconds, bub. Your pals didn’t even get five. Don’t make me start counting again.”
The Daemar moved his hands away from his weapon and raised them into the air.
Portia spoke up from behind the shutters, “Bael? What in the Infernal is going on out there?”
The bounty hunter replied, “We’ll take our food to go.”
Hope you enjoyed that. Please let me know if you'd prefer the short story as a downloadable PDF or ePUB instead of reading it in the body of an email. Below is a link to the archive of newsletters in case you missed any.
Talk to you next month! Have a good one.