"Game's over!" shouted Winston, at the advancing figures, as his finger finally brought pressure to bear on the shotgun trigger.
Winston looked down in disbelief at his gun. That should have been a loud 'bang' followed by the collapse of the man in front of him, but nothing happened! He looked up. The lead man had his weapon raised. Suddenly, Winston felt searing pain burst through his chest! He collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath, dropping the shotgun. The gun hit the floor of the flight deck with a loud clattering sound. The lead man now had a QuickLock restraint ready, and was moving on Winston's writhing body!
The man moved into the flight deck, holding the QuickLock in front of him. Winston flailed around on the floor, trying to move, but somehow the messages weren't reaching his limbs in any coherent manner. He could see Albright out of the corner of his left eye.
Albright watched the space-suited figure move into the flight deck. He swung the bat he was holding back - holding it edge-on so as to inflict the most pain. The bat made a swooshing noise as it cut through the air, impacting the lead assailant just below the ribcage. Albright head the man yell "Oooyah!" through the material of his helmet. The man lurched back, and cannoned into the man behind him, knocking him over! Spurred on by his success, he moved out into the corridor.
He deliberately trampled on the lead man as he moved out. Whack! Albright smacked the third man, whose look of surprise was clearly visible through his tinted visor. But Albright was on borrowed time. He looked up to take on the fourth man, only to see the muzzle of a hand pistol. He didn't hesitate, and swung the bat! Suddenly, pain coursed through his body. The momentum of the bat carried it through the air, striking the final man hard just below his chest...but Albright collapsed to the floor in blinding agony.
Winston could feel control coming back to his limbs. He struggled into a crawl, and grabbed his shotgun. He could see a couple of their attackers getting up. Time was not on his side. There was only one thing for it - he reached for his shotgun, and held it by the barrel. The assailants seemed to be more intent on capturing Albright for the moment. Winston finally struggled to his feet, using the door frame of the flight deck to help himself up. He staggered down towards the now standing figures who were working on Albright. He raised the gun high above his head, and brought it down in a gravity-assisted swing! The attacker in front of him was bending down...about to QuickLock Albright, but not for long.
The butt of Winston's gun struck the man squarely in the back, making a loud, hollow sound. Winston heard the man's shout through his space suit as he fell down once again!
Suddenly, Winston felt a pressure in his back. There was a loud "crack" as he was suddenly wrapped in a tough polymer. He had just enough time to think "Damn!" before passing into unconsciousness, as the QuickLock's sedative moved through his body...
Winston groaned and dared to open his eyes. He looked around his new surroundings. He was in a large, square room. The walls were all painted a matt green. There was a door at the end of the room, opposite the wall he was propped up against. The door had no handle or obvious way of being opened. There were beams and hooks hanging from the ceiling high above him. Finally, he realised he was in a cargo bay.
However, this cargo bay wasn't full of cargo, it was full of people! There must have been thirty people in there, all of whom looked sullen and depressed. Winston could almost smell fear in the room. He looked at his fellow captives. Most of them looked like they worked on trade ships. They all looked as if they had been beaten up, too. Some were apparently sleeping on the cold, hard floor of the cargo bay. Nobody was speaking. He looked at the person to his left - a rather attractive woman in her mid-twenties. Her dark complexion made him think about the waitress at the restaurant in Zearla, but she was wearing a flight suit with the logo of a trading ship on the shoulder. An embroidered Harris Trader. She had a painful looking bruise on her neck. She stared straight ahead. He looked around to see if he could see Albright anywhere. At the opposite end of the room, he saw an inert figure lying on the ground that was at least dressed like him.
He turned to the woman beside him.
"What's happening?" he asked.
The woman didn't even acknowledge his presence. She just sat, staring straight ahead like a rabbit caught in a Viper's landing lights.
"Ma'am?" he prompted.
Suddenly, he heard a movement from above and behind. He looked around to see a metal catwalk running across the wall behind him. A uniformed man was moving towards his position.
"SILENCE!" bellowed the man. He pointed a pistol down at Winston, and pulled the trigger.
Winston yelped in agony as the bolt struck him. It felt like the same kind of thing they had done to him on the ship. He slumped back down onto the floor, writhing in exquisite pain. As he squirmed uncontrollably on the ground, he knew he would have to get revenge. These people were going to pay dearly for this...
The chaos of the battle had finally quietened. The Panther Clipper and the two remaining Osprey-X attack craft acellerated in formation for their destination, Denver Station. Andceeth was a disputed system, with Denver Station being controlled by the Empire, and Diamond, controlled by the Federation in the broiling humidity of the world Capitol, a few hundred kays below.
"Is that definitely him?" asked Max Vega, looking over at his first officer.
Vega walked across the bridge to the comms station, his hulking, muscular form throwing shadows across the bridge from the dim lighting. Scott was controlling the security camera at the comms station. He grunted with satisfaction when he saw the man, sitting sullenly with his back against the wall.
"Swing the camera around. Find the other one," Vega said quietly, leaning over the comms station.
Scott started pointing the camera at the different people in the bay.
"Stop there, zoom in," said Vega, as the camera fell on a young man who was
apparently just regaining consciousness.
Vega shook his head slightly. These two would net seventy five kay on top of whatever he got for selling them. Why did Bunn want them so badly? There must have been a story to this. He bitterly thought about the cost of replacing two Osprey X fighters. He was glad he had hull auto repair. The Clipper had taken some serious damage in the fight. He looked at the image...the way these two looked different from the normal unfortunate traders he picked up and sold.
"James Winston and Charles Albright," he said.
Vega surveyed the bridge for a few moments, thinking of plans to get vengeance for the unfortunate destruction of the two Osprey X fighers and the deaths of their pilots.
"Busch, go to the cargo bay. Get two other security officers, and bring these
two to me," said Vega, coming to a decision.
Vega sat back down in his commander's chair. He drummed his fingers irritably on the armrest, and looked out at the majesty of the universe on the viewscreen. The light of Andceeth shone in through the windows, casting patterns of bright light and shadows on the floor of the bridge. Even at 9 AU distance, the ordinary Class G star appeared as a blinding light ahead.
"We might have a problem later," said Alice Gubbins, the weapons officer.
Great. On top of losing two of his ships, he might now have to jump out. This could mean a long time before he got to trade his newly acquired slaves. Still...if the ships making the intercept turned out to be poor combateers...it could mean a few more slaves in the bag. Or at least some cargo to scoop up, at the very least.
Minutes passed on the bridge. Nobody spoke, and the only sound was the muffled hum of the drive at full power. Displays glowed dimly, silhouetting the cremembers sitting in front of the various consoles. The rest of the crew could feel Vega's extreme annoyance radiating from him. It generally wasn't a good thing when the Captain got angry. People tended to get hurt, or thrown in the brig at least. Vega had a short temper, and was a natural bully. The crew had to concede at least he paid well. You had to keep the crew happy if you were a slaver. If the crew mutinied and turned him over to the Fed or Alliance police, a life sentence without parole was guaranteed. Paying well typically kept the crew from being disloyal, even if you were a nasty bugger.
After what seemed like aeons, the bridge door finally opened. In walked five men - three security guards, and between them, James Winston and Chuck Albright. The guards had their guns pointed at the two captives. They weren't going to repeat the mistakes they had made during the capture...
"Bring them to me," said Vega quietly.
In the universal language of brutality, one of the guards cruelly shoved the barrel of the gun into Winston's back. The other guard just pushed Albright forward. They silently walked towards the slaver captain.
"So, James Winston. Charles Albright. I need some answers," said Vega menacingly.
In the dim light of the bridge, Winston's eyes looked as black as interstellar space. He was staring penetratingly at Vega. Vega couldn't quite shake the feeling that Winston's stare was boring into his skull. Damn those insolent eyes! He looked over at Albright, who was slightly to the left. Albright wasn't even looking at him.
"Well?" promped Vega.
Winston continued to stare at him. Vega moved towards Albright to try and get his attention. He noticed that Winston kept tracking him. It unnerved him. Usually people answered him, at least. These two seemed to have a stronger nerve than most. Vega knew he could soften them up, given five minutes...
"You do realise where we are taking you...you're to be slaves for the rest of your lives, and we are going to make sure that the assignments are especially unpleasant to pay for the damage you did to my ships?" asked Vega, in his most practised hatred-filled voice.
Neither of them said a word. Winston's dark eyes continued to stare unemotionally at Vega. Vega decided he needed to take a new tack.
"Are you a robot or something? Let me see if you are," said Vega, approaching Winston.
The crew watched on. They knew what was likely to happen next - Vega always did the same thing to any prisoner he brought to the bridge - he'd humiliate them by slamming his fist into their abdomen to watch them writhe in agony on the floor. Vega practised for his sadistic beatings. He spent an hour a day working out to ensure he could hit hard. He approached Winston, and brought his fist back. The rest of the crew winced slightly, as his fist impacted the prisoner's abdomen with tremendous force. Winston shot back, gasping, and fell on the floor in agony. He writhed about clutching his stomach.
"So, Mr. Albright, do you want to be next?" said Vega. He noticed Albright fidget slightly. He was beginning to crack...
Vega walked up to Albright, who began to wince, waiting for the fist to come. Winston continued to groan on the floor. One of the guards kicked him for good measure. What they didn't realise that Winston was now making a histrionic show as the pain subsided. Masking what he was retrieving from just under his belt buckle...something they had not detected when they brought him and Albright on board.
Vega brought back his fist, ready to strike.
"So, do you want to suffer like your friend Mr. Winston? Or will you answer my questions?" asked Vega, grinning nastily at Albright.
One of the guards prodded Winston with his gun, prompting him to get to his feet. Winston began to stand up. He resumed his position. To Vega's disbelief, Winston just continued to stare penetratingly at him. Vega relaxed his fist and walked back towards Winston. He barely noticed that Winston had his hands clasped together as he approached.
"What's up with you, Winston? Do you have a cat in your ancestry? Do you want more pain?" he almost shouted, getting inches away from Winston's implacable stare.
He brought his fist back again, this time to slam Winston in the stomach with all his strength. However, the next few seconds were a whirlwind blur of frantic activity. He stood unbelievably in his new position...
Winston was now behind him. He was stunned by how fast the rather thin man had moved. He now found his arms being held by one of Winston's wiry arms. It was the position of Winston's other arm that worried him most. Something was pulling his head back, and he could feel a sharp object just touching his Adam's apple.
"Drop your weapons, or your captain dies," said Winston.
Beads of sweat began to emerge on Vega's forehead. He wasn't liking the way things were turning out.
"Give your weapons to Albright," ordered Winston.
The guards stood still. They all were aiming at Winston. Vega's eyes bulged with fury.
"Shoot him, goddammit!" yelled Vega.
Winston pushed the knife in a bit. Vega was trying to maintain his composure, but he'd never been subjected to this kind of thing before. He was embarrassed when he let out an involuntary whimper as he felt a needle of red-hot pain in his throat, as the slightly corroded blade cut through a little more skin.
"You'd never dare kill!" shouted Vega, trying to regain the upper hand
at least psychologically.
Vega felt he was rapidly losing control. Winston was obviously as barmy as they come. It must have been true about Elite combateers - people kept saying half of them were insane, and the other half were psychotic. He'd have to think of something quickly. Or his crew would have to come up with something...
"OK, this is getting boring," announced Winston. "You've got twenty seconds
to hand your weapons over, or I slit his throat."
Winston looked over at First Officer Scott, and flashed her a mirthless smile. Scott was transfixed. She had of course witnessed the deaths of many commanders at the end of a laser beam, but she'd never seen someone knifed to death...
Meanwhile, Vega thought of a new tack.
"Right, well, I'll have my guards shoot your friend Albright here," said
Vega, breaking into a nasty grin.
Mad, totally mad! thought Vega, frantically. He was fresh out of ideas, and he could feel the blade scraping over the shallow cut it had already made in his throat. A trickle of blood started to run down his neck, and collect in his shirt.
Winston looked over Vega's shoulder at Albright. He was just in time to see Albright's eyes subtly widen. He turned his head a little to try and see if he could detect the source of Albright's signal. His peripheral vision caught a vague shape moving closer. He lifted his leg and kicked hard in the direction of the shape. With satisfaction, he felt his steel-capped boot hit something soft and fleshy, followed by a thud and a groan, as the crewmember who was creeping up on Winston with a Quick-Lock collapsed, clutching his groin...
"You've got ten seconds," said Winston.
He pushed the blade a little bit just to make sure Vega realised he wasn't joking.
"No!" yelled Vega, as one of the guards lowered his weapon. He started
to walk towards Albright, the gun lowered.
The guard, who was a slightly overweight looking man, continued to walk towards Albright with the gun lowered. He handed the gun to Albright, and then removed his helmet, revealing a face bearing a particularly evil grin, framed by shoulder-length black hair. Winston lurched with surprise, almost causing Vega a fatal injury in the process! That was an evil grin he recognised very well! It was the grin of...the grin of... of...
"Phil?" he asked in shock!
The guard looked at him and nodded. Winston gaped, still holding Vega tightly, with the knife pressed to his enemy's neck. The other two guards lowered their weapons, and handed them to Albright. Vega screamed in frustration.
"Chuck, get the quick-lock and lock this asshole," said Winston.
Winston's head spun. He hadn't seen Phil for years! Phil Landis had been a buddy of his from Phekda when he was a teenager. Of course, his friend looked a bit older now. However, this wasn't quite the time and place to talk about old times. Or how Phil had ended up working for a slaver...
Albright stepped up with the QuickLock. He pushed it into Vega's back. Vega finally felt the pressure on the knife decrease. There was a short, sharp crack as Vega was wrapped in the QuickLock's polymer restraint film. The sedative quickly flowed through his bloodstream. He tried to fight it, but quickly collapsed, just as they all do.
"OK, let's lock the rest of them," said Winston, regarding Vega's inert
body without emotion.
The crew had been so surprised by their captain's downfall that they hardly resisted as the three started QuickLocking them. Soon, the entire bridge crew was unconscious. Winston had taken care to grin nastily around the bridge. The crew, just like Vega, were convinced he was insane and were in no mood to argue. In fact, Scott had felt relief when the cool blanket of sedation had washed over her body. She might have wiped out hundreds of ships in combat, but the thought of Vega having his throat sliced had frozen her in fear. Especially as she suspected that she would be next...
"So, Phil - how come you're working for a slaver?" asked Winston, almost
not wanting to hear the answer.
It had a crest on it, and a checkered stripe under the crest. Underneath the logo were the words "Federal Police Special Branch".
"You work for the Feds?" asked Winston, shocked.
Winston handed the ident back to Landis, who tucked it away. Phil! Working for the Feds! thought Winston, rapidly. Winston remembered the last time he had seen his friend, just before he left Nirvana when he was 17. Landis was a couple of years older than him, and his only interest seemed to be hacking the GIN. Not police work! And Federal at that. Not many people from Phekda ended up working for the Feds. Then again, not many people from Phekda ended up working for the Alliance Joint Navy Intelligence Bureau, he had to concede.
"OK, Phil, meet Charles Albright. Or Chuck. Chuck, meet Phil Landis, errr...
Federal Police. He's a friend of mine from my hometown in Phekda," said
Winston slightly awkwardly.
© 2000 Dylan Smith.