Part III The Final Deceit
  Hans Checkov stood in the freezing morning air - the winter light from Ceedho giving the frosty scene a bluish tint. His silvery hair and and rough skin betrayed his advanced age, despite his athletic body. He sighed, and crunched across the frosty grass to his shed. Ceedho illuminated the distant snow-capped mountains like brilliant jewels. Only the sounds of the planet's native wildlife disturbed the still air.

  Checkov had realised his dreams. After a lifetime of combat and adrenaline, he had finally retired to a planet in the remote reaches of the northern frontier. The planet, aptly named Nirvana, suited him well. He had chosen to retire to a simple life: a cabin in the high plains was his new home. He had traded a life behind the controls of a highly advanced fighter for the basics: electricity and a source of food and water. A simple galactic information network terminal was his sole contact with the rest of the universe. Contentedly, he rooted around in the depths of his tool shed, finally retrieving a heavy axe.

  He walked outside towards the wood pile. He needed to keep the cabin warm, especially as his family were visiting. His daughter kept fussing over him - he could hear her voice saying, "Dad, you have just got to keep warm. You're not getting any younger!"

It didn't matter to him. In his new home, he felt like he was in his early twenties again. The six months he had spent outdoors combined with self-administered anti-ageing therapy had honed his ancient body.

  He smiled to himself, and hefted a log onto the chopping block. "There's life in the old goat yet," he thought to himself, swinging the axe. The axe head hit the log with a loud thump, splitting the wood neatly into two clean slices. He hefted up the log, and split it once more. He then became aware of a presence behind him. He turned around to see his seventeen year old grandson watching.

"Here, Jayce," he said, "let me show you how to do this," he said, handing the axe to his grandson. The young man looked at the axe uncertainly. Hans chuckled to himself.
"Grab a log, take a good swing, and it'll split," he explained.
"Like this?" asked Jayce, taking an experimental swing.
"That's the right idea," said Hans, encouragingly.

  The boy picked up a log, and pulled it onto the chopping block. He took a good swing. The axe head hit at a slight angle, and bounced off uselessly.

"The axe head must be straight on," Hans explained patiently. Yes, I can still teach the kid a thing or two, he thought. "Make sure you swing it straight, or it'll bounce off. Have another go,"

  Jayce took another swing, this time striking the log better. It split into two halves, one of them flying a couple of meters away from the chopping block.

"I think I've got it," said Jayce, retrieving the two halves to split again, just as his grandfather had done.

  Hans contentedly watched his grandson get the hang of splitting logs. He went back to his shed, the sound of his footsteps occasionally punctuated from the thump of the axe splitting a log. His breath condensed in the frigid air as he ferretted away, trying to get his tools into some semblence of order. He had never been a particularly well organized person, but he decided that it was never too late to learn.

"Computer, Frontier News, audio only," he said, as he began searching for a hammer and a bag of nails.

The computer beeped, and played the news broadcast. The usual affairs of the galaxy seemed to be continuing unabated.

"Concern is mounting over an apparent increase in piracy in the Enedlia system. Last week, a well-defended trade ship vanished on a routine journey to the frontier system. Currently, pirate bands from Phekda are being blamed for the rise in piracy..."

Suddenly, Hans stood bolt upright, and aborted his search for the hammer. He listened carefully...

"...have disappeared in the region of Enedlia A,B1c. The disappearances have been termed 'unusual' by the local police..."

Unusual! Of course they are unusual! It sounds like someone's found the NKW and is exploting it!

"...reports from the Alliance indicate an Alliance Science Council exploration ship was found seriously damaged and adrift in the region, all the crew having been killed..."

  Hans felt as if a cold hand was grabbing his heart. Looking through the window of the toolshed, he could see his grandson still trying to master the art of woodsplitting, and beyond, the snow-topped mountains rising high into the deep blue sky. The image of remote serenity contrasted strongly with his sudden sense of inner turmoil! The unthinkable had happened! Pirates had discovered the NKW! A device only known to a small team of dedicated bounty hunters...protecting them from organized piracy as they combatted the very same organized gangs. He realised that his retirement was about to be cut short. If pirates could harness the power of the NKW, he knew they'd eventually come looking for him. They had scores to settle...

  Hans tried to walk back indoors nonchalantly, without letting his grandson see the tremendous fear that gripped his heart. Jayce stopped chopping, and watched his grandfather go back into the cabin. He could tell from the old man's purposeful gait that something was going on. Hans entered and paced quickly towards the kitchen, almost knocking his daughter over in his haste.

"Dad, what's up?" she asked.
"Later. I'll tell you later," he replied hurriedly, bursting into the kitchen.

But he would never tell her later.

The world went white as the small assault missile obliterated the cabin.

© 2001 Dylan Smith.

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