FREELANCERS #4 - 04/16/23
Apologies for this being sent out a day late. Had a last minute switch of the short story and had to watch my daughter while my wife was at a conference all day.
Aj Atherii. Well met, Freelancers.
It is I, Captain Davius Tolvaren, terror of the Kaleeshar Astral Belt, consort to kings, queens, monarchs of all types, and connoisseur of Amhana scorpion wine. I am loath to write this tedious Bullet Points report, but Lina is indisposed behind a bug lockdown on one of the Nexus satellite stations. I do so hope she doesn’t succumb to the Kaeracoid infestation. But let’s be honest, they’re trapped in there with her. Not the other way around.
The only point of news spicy enough to warrant my attention is some delightful bit of intrigue and betrayal developing in that never-ending imperial pissing contest guised as a holy war. That saucy, sorcerous mink, Kelvyra Nath, has outdone herself yet again. After outmaneuvering those Karanorian clods at the behest of her Validian patrons, she double-dipped by inviting Karanorian PAX warriors into the Validian mining site.
With both the Validian and Karanorian forces depleted, she and her compatriots supervised the aethercyte mining efforts. Before her previous two employers could reinforce for another bout, Kelvyra set up a beacon to guide a strike fleet from the Sundered Pact to the hidden dig site. The Validians and Karanorians fled with their tails between their legs to await reinforcements. The smart play would be to cut their losses, but I fully anticipate the slighted zealots will continue bashing their heads together until even an elf like me is ancient and withered.
Nothing says you won’t be played for a fool like doing something foolish.
I know some of you care about things like honour and professional reputation, but I, for one, applaud Kelvyra’s masterful manipulation. What is loyalty but putting someone else’s interests above your own? We freelancers are meant to be free. If someone lets themselves be deceived like that, they deserve to be robbed.
Let us raise a glass to the true corsairs. Those shining stars burning bright and fast, providing light in the endless darkness of the void.
Live free and burn bright, Freelancers.
“Bring in the prisoner!”
A commanding voice echoed through the ferasteel halls of a starship. The Erissian corvette’s style mimicked a spaceborne version of seafaring vessels from long ago that ran on fossil fuels. It skirted the periphery of a debris field surrounding the remnants of a blasted out space station on the edge of the Libers. Frozen bodies floated among the wrecks of starships. Some of which carried markings of a skull and crossed bones.
The corvette’s captain ordered a space be cleared in the ship’s cargo hold for a special event. The long-range patrol craft happened upon a single-seat fighter among the wreckage and moved to intercept. After a brief scuffle, things moved quick to process their captive. The ship’s crew lined up along the periphery of the hold, quietly speculating on what pulled them away from their duties. Closer to the centre of the cleared out space, marines in dress uniform stood armed and at the ready. Anticipation ran high for what seemed to be an emergency trial.
The doors to the cargo hold hissed and slid open as six surly marines escorted the prisoner inside. Their captive wore clothes not too dissimilar from the Erissian uniforms the other officers wore, albeit she wore hers looser and with more flavourful decorations. A decent smattering of official medals hung on the jacket. Despite her shackles, the kimone woman strode in confidently as her three ginger-coloured fox tails swayed in the air behind her. The red tails matched her red hair and furry vulpine ears. Fresh bruises on her freckled, tan cheeks didn’t stop her from flashing the room a devilish smirk.
The lower-level crew lining the catwalks gasped as some recognized who had just entered the room. The prisoner bellowed in a common Erissian accent, “Captain on deck! Let’s hear those heels clap together or I’ll have your hide, ya undisciplined ass-scratchers!”
As the gossipping crew snapped to attention, the ship’s XO stared daggers at the insolent prisoner doing his job for him. The kimone woman cackled as the marines shoved her toward the open space in front of some heavy cargo containers they adorned with Erissian flags.
She said, “Easy with the goods, love. That’s no way to treat a lady or an officer.”
The marine pushed her against the container with his rifle. “Shut your gob. Bloody pirate.”
Before her, a sweating signals technician fiddled with the holocall machinery they rolled into the hold. The room grew uncomfortably quiet as he alternated between calibrating the jury-rigged tech pulled out of the briefing room and the instruments on a holoslate he carried. The corvette’s captain, an Erissian noble, wrang her gloved hands together and kept adjusting the dress uniform her servants had to throw on her in a flash. Her expression carried a mix of nervous energy about this going well, and a bouncy excitement about capturing this prize bounty.
The captain checked an expensive pocket watch and glanced toward her XO. He promptly stomped over to the signals tech to see what’s taking so long.
The tech wiped a hefty amount of sweat from their brow. “Apologies, chief. It all should work, but I’m reading some strange noise on the line. I can’t quite place where it’s coming from, but it’s close.”
Tapping her feet on the grated metal floor, the prisoner said, “Take all the time you need, mate. Not like I’ve got anywhere else to be. Oi, chief, it’s a little sombre in ‘ere, don’t ya think? How’s about we get a little sing song started to raise our spirits? Or is joy still prohibited on Erissian vessels?” She placed her shackled hands behind her head and grinned.
The grimacing XO gave the signals tech a stern directive that made their skin turn pale. The technician closed their holopad and opened the call.
Holographic displays of two figures appeared in the ship’s hold. The captain called for everyone to stand at attention as one of her retinue announced the rank and titles for a Judge Kolu and a Lord Admiral Wainwright.
Seeing the holographic display of the lord admiral, the prisoner’s grin shifted into a sneer, revealing some sharp fangs.
Lord Admiral Wainwright, a humanoid with avian roots and feathers for hair, looked down on the prisoner. “I knew this day would come eventually, Ms. Fabian. I never imagined you’d be speechless, however. If I recall correctly from your brief tenure under my command, you always had something irritating to say that you found terribly witty.”
The prisoner let out a low growl and flicked the tip of her tricorne hat. “That’s Captain Fabian to you, Wainwright. It may not be here, but I still command the ship I spent a lifetime earning. You know, the one you tried to take away from me. I’m not keen on losing that or this hat. Not again, anyway.”
The lord admiral tutted. “You know how this goes, Ms. Fabian. Hand over your ship and the rest of the surviving mutineers you somehow convinced to join you in your madness, and we may show a modicum of leniency.”
She scoffed. “Leniency. So some dark, off-the-books mine forever instead of a firing squad? Get stuffed, you wretched crow. This may be a foreign concept to you, but I actually love and care for my crew. Like they love and care for me. But I suppose that’s why some arsehold made a twat like you an admiral.”
One of the marines near her shot a look to the XO pleading to smack her in the mouth with the butt of his laser rifle. Not wanting to misstep in front of people many times her superiors, the captain shook her head.
Before the admiral could retort, the very sleepy Quali judge ran some finned fingers over the bridge of her nose. “I’m sure this is quite the triumphant moment for you, lord admiral, but I must insist we speed this up. It’s still early in the morning for me here on Qua. If I don’t get enough rest and my daily swim, I fear my scales and my cases today will suffer for it.”
Seeing her cue, the ship’s captain nodded to one of her retinue. They opened a holoslate and cleared their throat. “Ms. Zanna Fabian—“
“Captain Fabian.” She glowered and pointed to her hat.
The crier gave the accused cut-eye and continued rattling off Zanna’s crimes against the Erissian Empire. Beyond what they view as mutiny, stealing a vessel of the empire’s navy, and piracy, there were many other offences. The list included professional misconduct, blackmailing nobility, and defacing a space station with compromising, lewd images of a planetary governor.
That one drew a chortle from the crew up on the catwalks until the XO glowered in their direction.
When asked how does she plea to the laundry list of charges, Zanna laughed. “You missed a few, but it’s a fair cop. I plead insanity on account of my actions being performed while magically hypnotized by the queen’s fat arse. For queen and country, lads! I did it all for her and her meaty cheeks.”
As some crew on the catwalks had to be shuffled out of the room lest they burst out laughing, the amphibious judge rattled off the legalese required to follow protocol as part of these proceedings. There was no emotion as she sentenced Zanna to immediate death by firing squad.
The judge asked if the accused had anything to say. Zanna’s voice caught in her throat as the weight of the situation bore down on her. Some hairs on the back of her neck stood on end in the cold hangar as the marines before her readied their rifles.
She looked at the assembled crew with a sullen expression. “My whole life, all I’ve ever wanted was to be captain of a starship. As a poor, lowborn kid with dirty claws and no shoes, you can imagine no bugger took me seriously. But I fought, and I learned, and I kept at it through all the putdowns and humiliation I endured for three bloody decades until I earned my command.”
She raised her voice and pointed at the stoic holographic figure of the lord admiral. “So anyone with a shred of empathy can imagine how I felt when this unqualified ponce rolled in and tried to take it all away from me. All because we didn’t accomplish our task by the book. According to protocol.
“Let me say this, even after we left, we never fired a shot at Erissian warships, never pillaged Erissian merchants, never even passed through Erissian space. Yet the likes of this arsehole admiral still hunted us. Even after the victories we achieved and the sacrifices we made in defence of the core worlds, they couldn’t even give us some measure of peace with the ship we earned with our blood, sweat and tears. You bastards couldn’t even let me come here all by my lonesome and mourn my fallen crew in peace!”
Off to the side, the sweaty signals tech worked away on their holoslate. They managed to get the XO’s attention and tried to explain that the signal interference came from inside the ship.
Zanna stared down the lord admiral and spoke with an authority that filled the room. “I tried to do the honourable thing and respect the people of the empire that I served all my life. But if you’re going to erase all that and brand me as nothing more than a criminal… a pirate… then I’ll show you what kind of bloody pirate I am!”
The XO waved off the panicking signals tech and ordered the marines to prime and ready their weapons. As they aimed at her, Zanna shouted, “And anyone mindless enough to follow a bunch of tofts who think they’re better than everyone else can burn alongside the uncaring arseholes they handed their freedom over to! So unless you want to get dropped where you stand, you’d best dive for cover!”
The XO signalled the marines to fire. In that moment, Zanna focused her defiant energy and activated one of the innate magical abilities granted by her kimone heritage. Aethereal energy coursed through her eyes and her mind, lighting up the patterns on her tails. The power took hold and burned through her veins. The marines pulled the triggers and beams of light exited the barrel in slow motion. Everything else froze in place as time momentarily slowed to a crawl for her.
Though incredibly draining on her body and soul, the slow down bought her enough time to activate another magical ability. She focused and dissipated into a blue, purple and red mist as the beams of searing light scorched the cargo container behind where she stood. Zanna reappeared a few metres to the side. She only had enough energy to get that far.
With time flowing normally for her, the pirate roared and threw herself at the XO, grabbed his sidearm, then spun him around to use as a human shield before opening fire on her executioners. The others hesitated, but a particularly quick marine adjusted their aim and shot her in the arm. Amid the growing chaos, the cargo bay doors hissed open. A sensor operator ran inside shouting about incoming contacts.
A broadside of EM blasts slammed into the Erissian corvette, stunning the ship’s systems and rocking the boat. As lights flickered inside the ship’s hold, boarding spikes punctured the hull. The sound of tearing metal drowned out the captain’s orders as angry pirates flooded into the ship to save their beloved captain.
She said she wasn’t going to lose her hat again, hence the tracker she installed in the lining with the emergency signal she activated before she was captured.
When the smoke cleared, the corvette’s captain knelt in a pool of blood surrounded by pirates. She didn’t feel so good about her prospects now.
Ignoring the wound in her arm and several others she accrued in the tense fighting, Zanna’s shadow fell over the captain. Breathing heavily, she knelt in the blood and stared at the captain. Her bruised, freckled face bore a smile, but her bloodshot eyes still coursed with veins of magical energy and a vast reservoir of rage.
She placed a pistol under the captain’s chin to look her in the eyes. “This is a nice ship you’ve got, captain. Should we put the kettle on and have a chat? Or should my bosun put on a powdered wig and we carry out some more executions?”
Hope you enjoyed that!
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