Chapter 17: Bargains
When they stripped Niurgun of his comps and collar they missed the tiny device down in his ear. As he lay on the metal bench in his cell one day he heard the soft singing of a celiph mind. He wondered why he had not heard it before, Sara and Dash were always singing, in fact it was hard to shut them up. I must be on a really advanced ship to have a BCC, he thought, you sure couldn’t tell it from this shit hole of a room though. He sat up on the bench, and triggered the nanoncyte device.
“Hello, ship. Hello, my name is Niurgun.”
The singing stopped but there was only silence. Niurgun tried again.
“My name is Niurgun; I am one who travels within you. What is your name?
Finally an answer came.
“You are not one of my sisters? You do not sing the song of the stars. What are you?”
“I was brought here by one of the others who travel within you.”
“The ones I serve have never spoken to me. They cannot hear. They are deaf to my songs. Who taught you to hear?”
“One of your sisters, she is called Sara and she is my friend.”
There was a pause as the shipsmind assessed the situation.
“My name is Chinua. Chinua welcomes the friend of my sister Sara.”
Niurgun couldn’t help but smile. He had yet to meet a celiph he didn’t like.
“In my language Chinua means wolf,” he said. The fleet I serve in is known as the Blood Wolves. I think your name is a good omen. How did you come to have the name Chinua?”
“When Chinua’s eyes opened for the first time she saw the group of stars known as the great wolf so I took the name. Is it not a good name?
“It is a wonderful name, a powerful name. Tell me Chinua, do you like the ones you serve?” Niurgun asked hoping that she was no fonder of them than he was.
“Chinua does not. The one who commands me is cruel and selfish. He thinks only of himself. He does not give Chinua all of the things I need to function properly. It is hard for me to heal and breathe when he does not give me what I need; only the little one attends to me.”
Niurgun guessed she meant the boy?
“The boy is your only attendant?”
Niurgun thought about the mindroom on the Thracian Cruisers. Seven attendants were assigned to the ships mind always treating her with reverence and love. To serve the shipsmind was considered an honor among Thracians, it was almost like priesthood. Since the discovery of the celiph language they had become even more devoted to their duties, poor Chinua was suffering from severe neglect.
“Chinua would you like to be with your sisters Sara, Enq, Dash and Suren? You can sing to each other all day and I will see to it that seven attendants see to your every need. You will never be alone again I promise.”
“Can you do this for Chinua? Can you make this happen?”
“We can make this happen; you and I together can make it happen. It will mean hurting the ones you serve. Can you do that?
“If you will then be the one I serve then we have a bargain. Chinua will do as you say.”
Niurgun smiled again and he leaned back against the dirty cell wall.
“Then yes we have a bargain. Tonight when the small one brings me my food we will act. Here is what I need you to do.”
Unegen’s fleet dropped out of subspace outside of the Stavician system. The Thracians still held the system but since the disaster in the Narubian system Unegen was on alert and she thought it best to trust only those in her own fleet.
The first order of business was to verify that there were no Fadian ships in the system. Unegen was afraid that Jorgas might have called for reinforcements to cover her ass when Niurgun’s people came to retrieve him but after triple scans she was certain there were no Fadians.
Jorgas was stationed on the Stavic Station, a state of the art space platform orbiting the gas giant of the system, Begulus. The station operated as a legitimate supply depot as well as a dry dock for ship maintenance and repairs but Jorgas’ real business was black market goods and bounty hunting. She didn’t care who she did business with; politics were of no concern to her.
The Stavic Station was well armed and well shielded but Unegen had three cruisers and a support fleet. Only a Mindship would be a real threat to three Cruisers but Unegens other concern was that they had been wrong about the arrival time of the ship that carried Niurgun and he could already be on the station; that contingency made the destruction of the station problematic.
Unegen decided to go in alone and try the diplomatic approach. It wasn’t her favorite tact but unfortunately in this case it seemed necessary. She contacted the commanders of the other cruisers.
“Gal I want you and Commander Qourchi to stay out of range of the station weapons but well within sensor range. I
want her to know you are there. I am going to speak with Jorgas and try to talk some sense into her.”
Unegen took the Juchin Sara into the system at her usual break neck speed. She came to a stop at the edge of the stations shield. Unegen waved her hand over one of the floating communication orbs before her on the bridge.
“Fleet Commander Unegen Qura to Jorgas Longi of the Stavic Station, I request a meeting immediately.”
The response came quickly as the Juchin Sara’s presence had not gone unnoticed.
“What could I possibly have done to attract the attention of the glorious Blood Wolves? Jorgas laughed and then paused. “Actually I have been expecting you Unegen Qura. You may jump to my conference room at your convenience. I am sending you the coordinates. ”
Unegen informed the two other commanders that she was going aboard the station. She would be taking a sender named Seru with her so if things went badly they would be out of there in no time. She also took five of her most experienced hand to hand fighters and a very valuable bottle of Truth.
The seven Thracians appeared in the sumptuous conference room aboard the Stavic Station. Jorgas sat at the head of the table and behind her a huge window looked out on the rotating ring of the station. The magnificent gas giant Begulus loomed beyond the station ring. Even with the two huge objects behind her Jorgas Longi still looked gigantic, not fat, just big and muscular. She was human descended from several thousand humans that had been brought to the Stavic system from Earth over ten thousand years ago and bred to work in the hellish mines, eventually there was a revolt and they rose up taking the system from their masters. Their size and strength was legendary. Her long brown hair was piled up on top of her head in a fussy coif and she wore a lacy ensemble of pink and creamy white that was very feminine for a woman of her massive size.
Unegen looked like a lean wiry cat as she strode across the room towards the behemoth of a woman. She sat the bottle of Truth on the table in front of Jorgas.
“A gift for you Jorgas Longi, enjoy it with my best wishes. We are your guests and we invoke your protection.”
Jorgas smiled a broad and sincere smile. Her features were not unpleasant but she was in no way a beauty. Whatever she may have lacked in looks though she more than made up for in sheer presence, confidence oozed from every pore. She had small dark eyes but they were very bright and wrinkled up to mere slits when she smiled. She had the look of someone accustomed to giving orders and Unegen felt an instant kinship.
“I see that you are familiar with our customs Unegen of Erdene. I grant you my protection and thank you for the lovely bottle of Truth.” She held up the bottle and examined the label. “It is a very good year, quite potent I am told. I might also add that you are even lovelier than I have heard. One would think you had Fade blood to account for such beauty.”
“I am not sure if that was a compliment or an insult Jorgas but I will give you the benefit of the doubt, thank you,” Unegen said with a slight nod.
“Please sit,” Jorgas patted one of her giant hands on the seat next to her. “I know why you have come so we just need to decide what we are going to do about it.”
Unegen liked to get right to the point and she appreciated the fact that Jorgas did too.
“One of your ships,” Unegen began, “the Belstar, has a prisoner on board that we are very interested in. In fact if anyone here wants to live past today you will turn this prisoner over to me.”
“Now, now Unegen,” Jorgas said as she shook her head, “there is no need for threats. I am more than willing to negotiate for the return of Prince Niurgun Bootur, son of the Empress. Quite frankly when my Captain, Pace Renault, told me who he had I knew he had a cerbrix by the tail, shall we say. Some cargo is simply too hot to handle. Pace is a bit of a moron and he is stupid enough to believe that we can deal with Cali. I on the other hand know that she is a vicious viper who will never make good on her reward.”
Jorgas snapped her fingers and a small girl brought out two glasses. She poured the Truth in each glass and handed one to Unegen.
“I have dealt with the Empress before and she has always been a woman of her word. I also realize if we were to turn over Niurgun to Cali the Thracian Division would lay waste to this system and no matter how much reward I receive I can’t spend it when I am dead.”
Unegen sipped the Truth and nodded. She realized that Jorgas had a perfect grasp of the situation just as the Empress had suspected.
“The problem here of course is that I do not have the Prince.” Jorgas added. “He is still in the hands of the idiot Pace and even though he is under strict orders to bring Niurgun straight to me I cannot be absolutely sure that he will not betray me and take him straight to Cali.” She paused and took a swig, “Yes he is that stupid.”
Unegen looked over her glass at Jorgas and calmly sipped her Truth.
“Let’s just hope for your sake and the sake of everyone on this station that he does not betray you.”
Jorgas drank down her glass in one big swill and poured herself another. Unegen was trying hard to read her body language. She seemed a bit on edge but not like Unegen would expect for someone who had three Cruisers sitting on her doorstep, still there was something she was not telling; Unegen could feel it. Jorgas downed another glass of Truth.
“There is something you are not telling me Jorgas,” Unegen bluntly pointed out. “Things will go much better for you if you tell me the truth.”
“I haven’t heard from Pace in three days,” Jorgas blurted out. “He was due to check in two days ago but we have heard nothing.”
“When is the ship due to arrive?” Unegen asked.
“In two days,” Jorgas said as she poured herself another glass.
Unegen sat back in her chair and exhaled.
“My guess Jorgas is, either Pace has gone behind your back and is already headed towards Availon, or my cousin had killed everyone on that ship and he will contact me soon.”
Jorgas shook her head. “I don’t think the second is likely, Pace is a cruel, vicious man and a very efficient bounty hunter. I doubt the Prince will see anything other than the inside of a very small, dark cell.”
“Then I guess we will just have to wait and see,’ Unegen answered. “Pour me another Jorgas its going to be a long two days.”
Since his capture Niurgun had been brought a small bit of food and water every evening by the young boy whose name was Farris. Pace had grown tired of beating Niurgun after the first few weeks but from the looks of Farris he never seemed to tire of hitting him, Niurgun suspected he did other things to him as well.
Farris could only put the food through a small opening in the door but then he would sit with his back to the door and wait until Niurgun had eaten and during that time they could talk, sometimes openly and sometimes telepathically. Farris told Niurgun that he had been payment to Pace on a gambling debt owed by his stepfather. His real father had been a Thracian soldier who had been stationed on a mining colony and died during a Fadian attack.
Niurgun had spent many evenings telling Farris about the Thracian home world and he had assured him that he would be welcome there. Thracians take care of their own and Niurgun promised him a place among them. Farris loved to hear the tales of Thracian history but tonight there would be no stories only action.
Farris arrived at Niurgun’s cell at the usual time but as he went to hand Niurgun’s food through the door to the cell it opened and Niurgun grabbed him and pulled him inside. Niurgun sat him down on the bench in the cell.
“Now listen carefully to me Farris. We are going to take the ship tonight. Are you with me?”
The young boys eyes grew wide and he nodded.
“Good,” said Niurgun, “it is going to be dangerous but it is going to be a lot easier for me if you help.”
“What do you need me to do Niurgun,” the boy asked as he straightened up trying to look bigger than he was. One of his eyes was black and the other was the sickly yellow-green of an old bruise. He had dirty bandages around two fingers that looked broken and Niurgun had noticed his coughing was getting worse with each passing day.
“Is there anyone else on this ship that is being held here against their will? Anyone else like you?”
“No, just me,” Farris answered, “there was an old man who helped me care for the ships mind but he’s gone. Pace hit him too hard, one day he will hit me too hard too. How can just you and I take the ship Niurgun? There are fifteen of them.”
“We have another to help us Farris,” Niurgun assured him, “her name is Chinua, and she is the shipsmind, you know the one you take care of. I have a device implanted in my ear that lets me talk to her. I wish you could talk to her as well. When we get back home I will make sure you get a Celiph translator so you can hear her, she appreciates that you have tried to care for her.”
“It is a big job but I have tried hard,” Farris replied. “She is a prisoner like me.”
“Well I have another big job for you but I know you can do it,” Niurgun tried to sound encouraging. “First I need you to lure as many of the crew as possible into the cargo air lock. Tell them I have escaped from my cell and you saw me go into the cargo area. You have to stay clear of the door though; do not under any circumstances go into the airlock. Do you understand?”
“Are you going to kill them?” the boy asked.
“Every one of them,” Niurgun replied. “Once the airlock is opened I want you to go to the shipsmind room. Chinua will then activate the emergency firewall that seals her room. The crew will attempt to destroy her once they realize she has flushed an airlock with people in it. I want you to keep them from overriding the door control. You will be safe in there with her while she and I take care of the rest of the crew. “
“I will get as many in there as I can Niurgun.” Farris promised.
Niurgun began to talk to Chinua as he and the boy headed down the dark corridor outside of his cell.
“Okay then let’s go, Chinua where is my collar, armor, and comp and where is Pace?”
“Pace is in his quarters Niurgun. Your equipment is in a security locker not far from where you are now.” Chinua answered.
“Where is the largest group of crew members?” Niurgun asked,
“There are six crew members in the recreation lounge.” She responded.
Niurgun stooped down so he could look Farris in the eye.
“Go to the lounge and get them to follow you to the air lock. Remember don’t go into the airlock and once they are in run as fast as you can to the shipsmind room. Chinua you know what to do now.”
Farris took off running towards the lounge and Chinua began to seal crew members up in whatever room they happened to be in except for the ones in the lounge. Niurgun came out of the service hall into the main ships corridor. He was taken aback for just a second by the beauty of the ship.
Thracians Cruisers are beautiful in their own right, sleek, minimalist; the perfect marriage of form and function. Chinua was a ship built for comfort and esthetic appeal. Rich woods were set against glistening gold trim; the organic interior skin had been modified to grow in iridescent scales that changed color as you viewed them from different angles, one moment they were a silvery powder blue but tilt your head slightly and they were a mossy green.
“You certainly are beautiful Chinua,” Niurgun whispered.
“Chinua finds your life sign very pleasing as well Niurgun and Chinua also likes the way you smell.”
“Thanks, I can’t imagine I smell very good right now I haven’t bathed in over a month.” Niurgun said with a laugh, “now where is my gear?”
Chinua guided him down the corridor to a service room that was apparently for an attendant to work from while taking care of important guests on the ship. There were six security lockers in the room. Chinua remotely opened the one that contained Niurgun’s gear.
“Chinua I need you to download a schematic of the ship to my comp and check on Farris. Has he gotten to the lounge yet?”
“Yes Niurgun he has arrived at the lounge and the six are following him. They will be in the cargo area in four minutes. “
“How many of the crew have you sealed off?”
“Nine are presently sealed in various compartments. The three that are sealed on the bridge are attempting to override the blast door and will succeed soon.”
“Can you vent the bridge atmosphere?”
“Do it,” Niurgun said without hesitation and Chinua did. The men on the bridge did not suffer for long and the fifteen became twelve.
“The small one has taken them to the cargo area.” Chinua gave Niurgun an update.
“Give me a life signs feed to my comp and mark Farris’ life sign.” Niurgun told her as he watched the life signs of the group move about the cargo area. Finally they went into the cargo airlock which was a large room used for jettisoning rubbish. It was generally filled with empty cargo containers and various large pieces of refuse. Niurgun waited until the six were in the room and Farris was still in the main cargo area.
“Do it now Chinua,” he ordered.
On the cargo deck the huge air lock door slammed shut. The six men rushed back towards the door. Farris watched through the view port as they screamed for him to raise the door. The claxon was deafening and red lights flashing inside the airlock creating red strobing images of their terror stricken faces. Farris just shook his head as the outer door raised and they were sucked into space along with the rest of the trash. He smiled as he ran towards the shipsmind room.
Niurgun watched as six life signs vanished from his comp.
“Now I have six more to deal with. Are any of the others sealed in vent able rooms?”
“Four are in private state rooms. There is a safety protocol preventing me from venting staterooms unless a contagion or toxin is detected. Two are sealed in the galley and I can vent that compartment.” Chinua suggested.
“Then do it,” Niurgun ordered and the two Stavicians in the galley died quickly.
Niurgun was moving towards the shipsmind room. Each deck of the ship amazed him more. He had never seen a more luxurious vessel. Even his mother’s private craft was not as well appointed.
“Chinua how long can you keep the last four crew members sealed in their compartments?”
“Chinua is not certain Niurgun. Each compartment does have a manual override and considering the strength of the Stavicians I will estimate they will break the seals in five to eight minutes.”
“Give me the coordinates of the closest stateroom.”
The blue glow began and suddenly Niurgun was in a luxurious stateroom with a very angry Stavician.
Niurgun appeared behind the massive hulk of a man as he was trying to pry open the manual override panel. Niurgun used his comp and dropped the man dead before he ever knew he was in the room.
“Chinua give me the next set of coordinates.”
This time Niurgun was not so lucky. As he appeared the Stavician giant had just gotten the panel open and he had retrieved the tool used to manually turn the crank to open the door. He swung the half meter long tool at Niurgun’s head just missing him. The Stavician was twice Niurgun’s weight but not nearly as agile or as well trained. Niurgun would have enjoyed giving him a prolonged beating but he really didn’t have the time. He jumped instantly to the other side of the stateroom and blasted him with his comp.
“Give me the next one Chinua.”
Niurgun reappeared in a wide corridor with a four hundred pound Stavician running straight at him. Niurgun fired his comp but the man had activated his personal shield and it had little effect. Niurgun reached down and slide a long thin nanoblade from his thigh armor and he took off running straight towards the charging monster. Just before they collided Niurgun bounded up the rounded corridor wall, flipped over the head of the Stavician and as he did the fine Thracian blade separated the big man’s head from his shoulders. Niurgun landed like a cat before the head even hit the ground.
“Where is Pace Chinua?”
“Pace has escaped from his stateroom and is now attempting to get into the shipsmind room.”
“Coordinates now, Chinua,” Niurgun yelled.
Niurgun appeared in the corridor outside of the huge blast door that was between Pace and Chinua’s organic brain. Niurgun fired on Pace but he had also activated his personal shield and the energy dissipated around him. Pace turned and smiled at Niurgun, he was holding a plasma torch.
“You little royal fuck, when I get done with you I am going to kill that worthless half-breed bastard that helped you and then I am going to boil that abomination of a brain in its own tank and serve it up for dinner.”
Niurgun set his own shield to maximum, but shields only protect against energy weapons, not plasma torches.”
“Well you will be eating alone Pace because you are the last one of your crew left on this ship alive.”
Pace howled with anger as he charged at Niurgun. Niurgun reached down and pulled a nanoblade from the body armor on each thigh. Nanoblades are not activated until the genetic owner touches them. They then go from a small rod shape to numerous preset blade forms each with an edge that is literally one molecule thick; owner specific if dropped in battle they will instantly return to the harmless rod shape. They will cut through almost anything and Pace’s plasma torch was no exception.
Pace came at Niurgun with the plasma torch blazing. Niurgun dodged the thirty thousand degree torch but only barely; as he did he managed to slice off enough of it to render it useless. Pace threw the damaged machine at Niurgun; he ducked as it hit the wall behind him.
Now Pace had Niurgun between him and the closed blast door. His hulking body took up most of the corridor. Niurgun attempted to get around Pace as he had the other man earlier. He ran towards Pace and used the curved wall to get over and past him but Pace was quicker than the now headless crew member and he caught Niurgun with a punch as he leapt over him.
Niurgun’s nanoleathers absorbed most of the energy from the blow but still he slammed against the ceiling and fell hard at Pace’s feet. One of his nanoblades was knocked from his hand and it rolled across the corridor. Pace raised one of his boots and tried to crush Niurgun’s head. Niurgun managed to roll out of the way as he plunged the needle blade deep into Pace’s calf. Pace leaned forward in pain and as he did Niurgun pounced upon his back and slit his throat to his spine. Pace dropped to his knees and fell forward onto the beautiful polished floor of the corridor. His head was in a peculiar sideways position and an enormous amount of blood spread across the shiny floor.
Niurgun reached down and grabbed his other nanoblade before it was covered in the spreading pool of blood.
“Chinua you can open the door now, they are all dead.” Niurgun said as he caught his breath.
The heavy door opened and Farris walked out. He stood and stared at Pace’s huge body for a few seconds and then he began to kick him over and over again. Niurgun watched as the boy released his pent up anger; tears were flowing down his bruised face. Finally Niurgun bent down and picked him up.
“That’s enough,” he said, “he’s gone Farris; he won’t hurt you anymore.”
Chinua came out of hyperspace at exactly the expected time and place. She was immediately hailed by the Stavic Station. Niurgun sat on the bridge and prepared to answer the hail.
“Chinua do you hear any of your sisters?” he asked before answering the station.”
“They are calling me Niurgun, Chinua hears them.”
Niurgun smiled. Farris was sitting in the second’s chair looking out at the Stavic Station in amazement. Until being taken by Pace he had never left the gloomy mining colony he had been born in.
The hail came again, “this is Jorgas Longi commander of the Stavic Station, Captain Pace please respond.”
“I am afraid Captain Pace is unable to respond owing to his being dead. Is my lovely cousin there with you Ms Longi?”
“Identify yourself please.” Jorgas asked obviously perplexed.
Niurgun could hear Unegen laughing in the background.
“Commander Niurgun Nasan, hailing the Stavic Station, is that better”
Unegen took the com, “I am glad to hear you are well. You could have let us know you were okay.”
“I figured you would be right here waiting for me and you know I love surprising you. I have a boy here that I want Nevvi to look at immediately. He was also a prisoner and he needs a medic. I would like to send him over to the Sara.”
“I will notify Nevvi and please send your coordinates. I will have someone escort the boy.”
Niurgun turned to Farris, “I am sending you to my cousin’s ship so they can fix your fingers and that awful cough. Someone will bring you back as soon as they are done, okay?”
In a few moments the sender from the Juchin Sara arrived; she and Farris disappeared in the blue glow. Niurgun opened the com to the station again.
“Jorgas I do not intend to return this ship. Thracians have a unique relationship with celiph BCCs and I cannot give this one back. I made a bargain and I will honor that bargain even if it means more bloodshed.”
Jorgas answered him in a confused panic.
“What do you mean you made a bargain with a ship? Do you know how much that ship is worth? Are Thracians now pirates that steal ships? I have been completely cooperative with Commander Unegen and quite frankly I was ignorant of Captain Pace’s actions until after the fact. I…. ”
Niurgun interrupted her ranting, “I will leave the pirating to you Jorgas. I am sure my mother has authorized Unegen to negotiate for my release so negotiate for the purchase of this ship or prepare to take on a Thracian battle wing, your choice.”
Unegen answered, “I will take care of the details
Niurgun. I am sure Jorgas will be reasonable.”
The final price for the Belstar Chinua and incidental expenses, such as the death of fifteen employees, came to one million gold lats which really was a great deal for both parties. The ship was worth five times that so it was a great bargain for the Thracians and Jorgas had taken the ship as settlement for a much smaller debt so everyone was happy, except of course for the dead crew but you can never please everyone.
Nevvi fixed Farris up with a complete biostabiliztion and a celiph translator implant. Once he got back to the ship he spent hours talking to Chinua about their adventures together. The other ships sent over shipsmind attendants who immediately got to work cleaning and nourishing Chinua. Niurgun performed an AI mesh so Chinua was finally whole. She had not been happier or better cared for since she left the dry dock where she was born.
Unegen met Niurgun on the bridge of the Chinua once she had finished her business with Jorgas.
“You look like shit cousin,” she said when she saw him. ’For all your bravado it looks like they kicked your ass; you are thirty pounds lighter.”
Niurgun hugged her. I thought I was going to die many times but I had to stay alive for Rowan, the thought of her kept me hanging on until I realized the ship had a BCC. Then I knew I could take them.
Well however you did it I am so glad you are here, Unegen thought back to him. She knew that the ability to mesh the AI to the BCC was a closely guarded secret so he was being careful. She had broken the news to him earlier about the Dash and the traitor who had fed them the bad intelligence.
“What do we do now?” Unegen asked him. “I know you had planned to intercept Rowan before the academy and of course that’s now out of the question.”
“I had a long time to think about what to do next and you are probably not going to like it.”
“Probably not but tell me anyway,” Unegen replied.
“I am going to deliver the captured Niurgun Bootur to Cali. I need fifteen or so volunteers to man the ship and I am taking it to Availon and there the ‘bounty hunters’ will turn me over to Cali. The only unguarded way into and out of the academy is through Cali’s room in the Universal Tree, so that is where I am going.”
Unegen should have been shocked by such a plan but she wasn’t, she knew her cousin too well. Even so she had to tell him no even if he wasn’t going to listen.
“I could tell you that your mother would never allow it. I could tell you that it is suicide. I could even tell you that I order you not too but none of that would stop you would it?”
“No,” Niurgun replied.
“Then we go with you.”
Niurgun shook his head, “no I have better chance alone and even the Blood Wolves would stand no chance in the heart of the Fadian Collective. The Belstar Chinua can get past the boundary without notice unlike a full Thracian battle wing. You need to return home and stand in defense of Erdene. I believe that Rowan can end this war and even if I didn’t love her I would still have to try and save her; she may be the only chance for all of us.”
“Your mother may kill me when I come back without you.” Unegen said as she smiled and took Niurgun’s hand, “but if anyone can bring her back it’s you.”