My name’s Ralph and I run the Alien Café off station Beta Nine. I know, not very creative, but when you’re the only place to grab a bite between Earth and Alpha Centauri, people don’t care about creative.
Running a diner that caters mainly to freight runners, you get used to seeing a lot of different things, and not much surprises me anymore.
Having a dozen or so atomizing rifles pointed at me is getting annoying, though. Especially when these things always seem to happen during the lunch rush.
Natarri Pirates came barging in about ten minutes ago, demanding their black box. It’s always someone demanding something, and they always want it immediately. No one ever seems to want to sit and talk anymore.
Of course I know exactly what their after, and who has it, but I’m not about to tell them. Not because I feel great joy in keeping things from murderous pirates bent on ripping my diner apart, but because I’m quite fond of the pretty face in possession of said artifact.
May fancies herself an archeologist of sorts. Really, she’s a treasure hunter, but don’t tell her I said that.
She came in yesterday, grinning ear to ear, holding tight to her little knapsack that never parts her side. After she sat down at the counter, I brought her usual caramel something or other coffee. No, I won’t make it for you. Don’t ask. She reached in your knapsack and pulled out her latest find.
“Isn’t it something?” she said. Blue-green eyes danced with excitement. “This is probably the most important piece I’ve found, ever! I mean, this will tell us so much about the Natarri people. I can’t wait to get it to the museum.”
It just looked like a black cube to me, but I loved watching her get so excited over things. It’s hard to find anyone with that kind of passion and excitement anymore, not in a place like this. Freighters are usually just occupied with surviving their runs.
Even other treasure hunters were starting to let the bureaucracy of the Alliance get to them. Not May, though, she was still as vibrant as the day I met her. It was infectious, so I let her bring whatever new artifact she found by for me to look at.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson after the fiasco with the Diconti Imperial guard.
And of course now, it’s Natarri pirates. They have their minds set on extracting their little black box from my hide. The fact that it won’t get them anywhere to destroy my place, or skin me alive, makes little difference to them. They’ll chalk it up to practice for the real perpetrator.
“So tell me, where is it?” The tall one asked me, think his name was Domo, or Donna, not that it matters. I could ask him, but I found it better to let people have their hissy fits without interrupting them. It usually makes them happier.
And happy people don’t kill you.
“Look, Drackie was it?”
“Drakor.” The low guttural growl let me know plain enough he didn’t like pot shots at his name.
“Sure, sure. Look, I know you want your…whatever it is you’re looking for, but as you can see, I’m very busy trying to run a business here.” I tried to point his attention to the dozen or so pairs of eyes fixed on him and his men. Natarri aren’t very popular around these parts. Not sure if they’re popular in many parts since they try to destroy most of those said parts.
By the stark look on his face, I think it worked. For a brief second, it looked like he was going to change his mind and leave.
Only a brief second.
His fist hit my face so hard that I bounced off the counter behind me. I stood back up and wiped the blood off the corner of my mouth.
“You know, I’ve met some dumb pirates before, but you are first class,” I gritted my teeth, and then stopped. My jaw still hurt too much to do that. “You are on Federation territory, and you assaulted a Federation citizen.”
“Check the Treasure Hunter.”
I clenched my jaw and winced at the pain. At the end of the bar, with a mouth full of hamburger, sat Sasha. I call her Sasha for two reasons: One, because I can’t pronounce her real name; and two, it really irritates her.
She was still bitter with May and me about getting her disavowed, or whatever it is they do when they kick you off the Disconti Imperial Guard. Only reason she still comes in the place is for the burgers. And the pie. She loves the pie and makes a point of telling me that it’s the only reason she hasn’t killed me yet, since I’m the only place she can pie without actually having to step foot on Earth.
Drakor smiled his toothy grin, and reminded me of why his people were called the Snaggleteeth. Not to their face. He nodded toward a couple of his minions, and they walked toward May.
“Hey, wait a minute! She says Treasure Hunter, and you automatically assume me? I’m an archeologist, thank you very much!” May clutched her knapsack tighter, pulling away from them.
One growl in response, and she handed it over, muttering under her breath.
“Bobby,” Drakor held out his hand, and the pirate tossed him the knapsack.
I know, it took me by surprise, too. A Natarri pirate named Bobby, but I digress.
Drakor opened the bag and I could see relief wash over his face. I dare say, even a smile. “It’s here.”
“Told you that filthy treasure hunter would have it, can’t keep her hands off of anything that doesn’t belong to her.” Sasha muttered, and was still saying something, but it's hard to understand anyone who insists on talking with half a cow hanging out of their mouth.
“Okay, so you’ve got what you came for, now you’ll be leaving, right?” I kept my eyes on May, I didn’t trust Bobby and his partner.
“Yes, we will leave, but we are taking the treasure hunter with us.” With that, Bobby and the other grabbed May by the arms.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not so fast, Tex.”
“My name is Drakor!”
“Yeah, I caught that. You’re not going anywhere with her. You’ve got what you want, let’s not make this a thing.”
Drakor roared, and the atomizing rifles went back up, all trained on me.
The room rustled, and I was pleased to see that just about every freighter in the room were standing with their blasters pulled and ready to fry the pirates.
“Look, Drakor, as much as I would like to see the tiny one’s frozen body floating in deep space, I’m afraid I can’t let you be the one to do it.”
I don’t know who was more shocked, Drakor or me, when Sasha actually spoke up in defense of May, albeit a very morbid defense, but that’s big coming from her.
“Listen, wench, I thank you for your help before, and for that I won’t kill you where you sit. I advise you to stay out of this.” Drakor sounded tough and intimidating, up until Sasha decided to stand, and her eight feet of pure green, muscled Disconti body brought actual fear to his eyes.
He stuttered for a moment, before finding his confidence again.
“This is against the alliance!” Drakor stomped his foot, and I would have laughed if it were a different situation. Oh, who am I kidding, I let out a chuckle. “You laugh? The alliance must not impede the justice of any race. Our law calls for her death!”
“Your law? You’re Natarri, and as such, you are not recognized by the alliance. The whole declaring war on the Federation kind of made them against it. Now, unless you really feel like dying today, put down your weapons and walk away.” My pulse was quick, and I was getting anxious. If there was one thing a pirate was never afraid of, that was dying for what they believed in.
“I am not afraid to die!”
See what I mean.
“Look, you might not be afraid to die, but how will you get your little black box back to the princess if you’re dead?” That made him stop and think. “All right? She sent you all the way out here to find it, she must want it really bad. I know Mattie, your princess, and she’s not one to disappoint. So, take your, whatever it is...”
“None of your business.”
“Okay. Still, she wants it. You need to get it to her, and you can’t do that if you’re fried. Understand.”
It took him an uncomfortable amount of time to think it over, but it finally sunk in. He looked to his men and nodded, and they lowered their guns. One by one they backed out of the diner. All the freighters still had their guns trained on them.
Drakor was the last to leave, and he didn’t look happy. He kept his eye on me, until he reached the door, then he turned to look at May. “This is not over, treasure hunter! You will answer to our justice, one day!”
He left and everyone relaxed. They returned to their seats, and I could feel the collective sigh of relief sweep over the place.
And then I heard the laughter.
I turned to see Sasha laughing so hard, she almost choked on her burger.
“Glad to see you enjoying yourself, Sasha.”
“How could I not? It’s so nice to find someone else who hates the two of you as much as I do. Can I have another of your Earth fizzy syrup drinks?”
“Even still, thank you for defending May; I know that must have been hard.”
“I did not do it to defend her, but to keep them from stealing what will be my glory one day.”
I turned toward the soda fountain, and quickly glanced at May. She stood, and had her eyes fixed on Sasha.
I remember thinking, as I went to pour Sasha her drink, that May wouldn’t be so foolish to do anything. I know she was rash and all, but not crazy.
I’ve come to realize I’m not that great at judging people.
I grab the mop near the corner of the soda fountain. It just never ends.