THE bridge remained dimly lit. In the back corner, chained to a piece of ducting, were the inert, QuickLocked bodies of the bridge crew. In the captain's seat, Landis slouched comfortably with a can of Slice in one hand, the other hand free to gesture as he spoke. Winston sat in the weapons officer's chair, the chair turned on its swivel to face Landis. Albright sat in the First Officer's chair with his feet resting comfortably on a nearby console, drinking a can of unidentified sugary beverage which proudly proclaimed to have "double the caffiene of normal colas".
Over an hour had passed since the tumultous hijack carried out by the three against the bridge crew of the slaver ship, "Vega's Revenge". The huge Panther Clipper laboured on, accelerating through the inky blackness of space. Two Osprey X fighters flew a loose left echelon formation beside the behemoth, unaware of the fate of the Revenge's crew. The hijackers - Phil Landis, James Winston and Charles Albright - had been idly chatting for the last hour. It was mostly between Winston and Landis, catching up on the years since they had last seen each other. Of course, Winston had told Landis a brief story of everything that had happened to him since they last met, suitably embellishing the stories. The only thing he didn't mention was about the AJNIB for whom he now worked.
Phil might have been a good friend, but he now worked for the Federation. Whilst the Federation and Alliance might not have been enemies at present, they were highly suspicious of each other. The last thing that Winston wanted his old friend to know was that he was actively serving with the opposition. Landis had however revealed something stunning about his personal life...something that Winston would have never guessed...
"You? Married?" said Winston, at last.
Winston shook his head in mild disbelief. How things had changed! Not only had Landis given up hacking, he had settled down!
"So when are you gonna get hitched?" asked Landis.
"Besides, I don't think I'm really cut out for all of that settling down
stuff, I've been out here too long. I've sort of grown used to the solitude
of space. I think I've got a terminal case of batchelorhood. Besides,
who'd take a bounty hunter?" added Winston.
Winston couldn't help thinking of Pam. His mind began to wander. His musings were quickly interrupted.
"Jim, I've got a serious question for you. Please give me a straight answer."
It was Albright's voice, and he sounded...different. He hadn't said much over
the last hour, and it sounded like he had taken a fair amount of courage to
speak. His voice was edged by the effect of frayed nerves.
Wow, where did THAT question come from? thought Winston. Albright sounded really stressed out.
"So far - all of them," replied Winston, truthfully.
There was a pause. Albright's stare left Winston, and headed for his boots.
Landis broke the silence. "Besides, I can assure you you'd rather be dead than what Vega had planned for you"
Albright relaxed a little. Winston looked quizzically at Landis, who had just opened a packet of beef jerky, and had begun hunting around the interior for a suitably sized piece of teriyaki seasoned meat.
"And what did he have planned?" asked Winston.
Landis pulled out a slice of jerky, and critically evaluated it in the light of the scanner - turning it this way and that - before chewing it thoughtfully. He finished it.
"Beef jerky, anyone?" he said, offering it around the room. Albright took a piece, but Winston declined.
"Have you heard of Vequess?" asked Landis.
Landis let his question hang in the air. There was a pause more pregnant than a female rabbit in the mating season.
"It ain't donkeys," added Landis. He pulled out another piece of jerky,
and began to chew on it contentedly.
There was another pause.
"Most slaves last about six months before they are permanently disabled from the harsh conditions. Radioactivity is high. Once you're no use, they cast you out into the upper levels where you freeze to death. It's purposefully designed to be as unpleasant as possible as its primary mission is to punish those who are critical of the Emperor," said Landis rather matter-of-factly.
Silence descended back on the bridge. Winston thought about Vequess. Would the AJNIB come and rescue them? Probably not...they probably wouldn't even know what happened to them. Intelligence officers disappear from time to time. It was an accepted fact of espionage. It even said so in the briefing package Saunders had given them.
"Captain Vega was very annoyed with you for damaging his ships. He was going
to make sure you both ended up on Vequess. He just wanted to beat you up
a bit first," added Landis.
It had been a very long day. Much too long and much too exciting...
"Incoming message," chimed the bridge computer of the Revenge.
"Oh crap," hissed Landis, who ran over to the comms console.
Landis began messing with the comm station's controls to put it in text-transmit only. He then got up, and walked over to Winston, who was dozing quietly in the weapons officer's seat.
"Winston, wake up," he hissed, nudging Winston's legs with his boot.
Winston's eyes sprung open in surprise. He then relaxed and rubbed his eyes.
"What's up?" he said at last, sleepily.
Winston looked confused for a second. He had that horrible moment of waking up, not remembering where he was. The events of the last few hours suddenly reasserted themselves in his mind with a sickening thud.
"Oh shit!" he yelled, darting to the comm station, finally realising the
magnitude of the potential problem. "Can we fob them off..."
Landis began to speak to the comms console to record a text message. "Sorry, we are text mode only due to system damage. Pass your message", he said. The computer dutifully turned his voice into plaintext and transmitted it.
There was a pause.
A message began appearing on the console...
"We are getting a good feed from your ship. I think we can turn your comm system to full mode from here. Standby, we'll switch you"
"Oh shit! Where's the camera?" yelled Albright, scurrying around the bridge,
looking for the holocamera to find where it was pointed.
More text appeared on the comm station.
"Your feed is working. Switching to video"
Phil smiled ingratiatingly at the camera.
"Who are you?" asked the ferret-faced man.
Winston realised with creeping horror that Landis had sat down in front of the wrong camera. The comm station's builtin was pointed right at him! The other commander was looking right into Winston's eyes, not at Landis in the captain's chair!
"Errr, I'm communications officer Jones," said Winston, making up a name
on the fly.
The display went blank.
"What do we do now?" asked Albright.
There was an embarrassed silence as the three wondered what to do to prevent the ship being boarded. The silence was suddenly shattered by the sounding of an alarm system. The alarm wailed dismally throughout the ship...
"The rest of the guards will be coming now, I expect," said Landis dismally.
© 2000 Dylan Smith.