Happy Collateral

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Chapter 4

The shuttle took me to the spaceport, busy even at this early hour. Familiar noises and smells greeted me. The warning wail of cargo cars negotiating ground crews, fuelers and each other. The whine and thrum of engines and the smell of mechanical grease and fuel. For just a moment I took it in, and smiled to myself.

My smile slipped away as I noticed a pair of grim faced planet security guards talking to a greased mechanic. Their dark gray fatigues seemed to suit their temperaments. One pulled a scanner from a compartment on his belt and held it up to the nervous mechanic’s face.

Damned Rarnies, mockingly named after a particularly grumpy and somewhat stupid beast from Riltoon, were always over officious and butting into other people’s business for no reason. A moment passed and predictably they handed back his id and moved along.

I took that as a cue to make myself scarce and ducked around a corner before hurrying off.

The Siren was a non-descript small freighter, this particular model was nicknamed a Snarfle, for no reason I ever understood. I had watched it being loaded from a cosy vantage point in one of the ports bars. A couple of crew had wandered in and out whilst a crisp looking bureaucrat supervised the cargo load, checking it against a manifest as it was being brought on board.

A stumpy Carneel waddled, his long tail swishing as he did, over to the ship. He approached one of the crew and handed him a boarding card. The coveralled crewman checked it and then grabbed his comm, probably hailing the captain that a passenger was ready to board.

It looked perfect. I took a deep breath. I could get off Senteen and start again. I downed my kalian ale and headed to the ship.

“Er, hello?” I called out.

The coveralled crewman turned from the internal grapple controls he was using to stack cargo crates.

He flashed a friendly smile, “Hi there, how can I help?”

“Er, hi, um I think I’m a passenger for your ship?” I said as pretended to fumble for my boarding card.

“Ah, you must be Seevlon. We’ve only got two passengers for this trip and the other one has already arrived.”

“Yeah, that’s me.” I said as I handed over the boarding card with my id.

“Great! Well come on board and get your gear stashed. Just head up those stairs to the gantry and head to the fore. Yintil will show you your berth.”

I looked blankly at him and continued the facade, “Fore?”

He chuckled, “Sorry, I forget a lot of folks don’t travel that much. To the front of the ship, that way.” he said pointing, whilst he reached for his comm.

I gave an embarrassed, shy smile and headed up the stairs. Ahead of me I saw a small Grislack stowing some gear in lockers. He looked up, hearing my boots clank on the metal gantry.

“Er, Mr Yintil?” I said.

“Yintil. You passenger?”

“Er, yeah. Seevlon.”

“Come.” Grislack’s were a species of few words. I assumed it was the facial tentacles. I couldn’t imagine that they would make it easy to speak Standard.

As I went to follow Yintil, a bark from below made me turn. A squad of Rarnies approached the cargo ramp. Sharm!

Yintil stopped and turned too. The squad lead was talking to the bureaucrat who was just finishing off his manifest check with the last load of crates.

Coveralls reached for his comm, but another bark and some firmly gripped snaps was enough for him to drop the comm and slowly raise his hands.

Yintil slipped away down the corridor, ignoring me completely, grabbed his comms and whispered something in it. Standing around wasn’t going to do me any good either, so I slunk off following the Grislack.

Yintil headed to a locker, immediately bent down and pressed the base plate which sprung open. He reached in and groped around for a moment, before standing again, this time with a heavy duty plasma rifle. Things had just taken an unexpected turn.

As he stood he noticed me, “Hide” was all he said as he kicked the base plate closed again and strode back down the corridor. His command was a fine idea in my mind, so I went the other way. There was a sharp crack of gunfire, followed by the unmistakeable sound of snaps responding. I bolted.

I raced around the next corner, stopping suddenly as I found a muzzle in my face.

“So you’re Seevlon. After this is done you had best hope they ain’t here because of you.” said a gruff voice accompanied by the reek of alcohol. I hoped so too, because if I was the target it meant Bolio was onto me.

The pistol dropped and I saw a man in his forties, a scar running across his previous broken nose to the corner of his mouth. He edged around me, “Keep going that way and hide good. Let’s hope..” He fell forward, knocking into me, a blast of plasma tore into him, a wisp smoke coming from scorch mark in his back. His pistol clattered to the floor, but in an instant I dove, scooping it up and rolling to my knees.

A Rarnie charged into view, I squeezed the trigger and a slug smashed into his throat; lucky shot. I stood and tore down the corridor. The Carneel who had boarded before me leaned out of a cabin as I ran past. His eyes were wide with fear and shock, and he ducked back into his room and its door wooshed shut. Hiding didn’t seem like an option for me anymore.

I took a breather and checked the pistol, a full clip, well, sans one bullet. At least there was that much. A moment later I was running again, this time looping around to try and get back to the cargo bay. If I could get off this boat, I might just be ok.

Shots still rang out, although at fewer intervals. I slowed as I approached the bay. At the corner of the corridor I once again took a moment to gather myself, and the quickly peeked around it.

Three Rarnies lay in various states of permanent repose on the bay floor. The cargo ramp was still down, praise be Barsonis! I scuttled off quickly.

Then there was crack, pain, and I was flung forward. I lay there, panting, my left shoulder in agony. I scrambled forward to the stairs. Another shot and I ducked instinctively but a thud behind me caused me to glance back. A Rarnie lay back against a wall, a massive wound in her gut. I looked around and saw Yintil on the opposite gantry. He nodded and I rushed forward.

As I did I felt for my own wound, nothing serious, a clean exit hole. I could patch that later, although it was a pity I had thrown that turlese at the woman in the farmhouse, it would have been perfect. Getting out was the priority so I bounded down the stairs, hurdling coveralls who lay face down at the bottom of them, and ran to the ramp.

As soon as I appeared plasma smashed into the hold and outer hull of the ship. Another squad of Rarnies was running towards the Siren. I flattened myself against the cargo bay wall, no way out. There was only one option now.

I quickly keyed the standard ramp lift sequence into the control pad next to me, more plamsa whizzed into the cargo bay even as the ramp was raising, and then it thudded shut; silence.

“Yintil! Lock code?” I screamed.

The Grislack yelled back and I punched it quickly into the keypad. Then rushed up the staircase to him.

He was breathing heavily as he leant against the wall, his beast of a weapon on his lap. He had taken one in the leg and one in the chest. He looked at me but said nothing. I touched him on the shoulder in way of thanks. Whilst I was unsure of how many Rarnies may still be left on the Siren I did know that there was only one way out and now was not the time for caution.

Scarface’s pistol was grasped firmly in my hand as my echoing footfalls alerted any who still lurked aboard of my movements. I shouldn’t have been surprised when a shot whizzed past my ear and ricocheted off the corridor wall, but I was. There was no obvious cover so I let loose with a couple of random shots and screamed a battle cry as I charged forward hoping to make my assailant scramble away.

As I charged it dawned upon me that my foe may not actually be a Rarnie; they used plasma weapons, yet my attacker had used some sort of projectile firearm. It may be that he was one of the crew, or indeed the Carneel.

I skidded to a halt, crouched against a wall and called out, “Don’t shoot! I’m a friend, not a damn Rarnie!”.

And there it was, round a corner a flash of blonde. “If that’s so, toss your weapon down here and stand in the centre of the corridor.” she, responded.

Reluctantly I did as I was asked. Whilst I could go back, I knew the deckplan of the Snarfle well enough to know that it would circle back to the same junction. My borrowed pistol clattered along the deck.

A petite young woman nervously peeked around the corner, seeing me weaponless and with palms showing she stepped out.

“Who are you? And where is the Captain?”

“Seevlon. Just a passenger. And I don’t know where the Captain is. But we have bigger problems. More Rarnies are trying to get in and they won’t think kindly of anyone in the ship.”

She frowned, puzzling what to do next, and then asked “Where were you running to?”

I grinned, “Cockpit. Was going to get her up and away. So, are you going to let me, shoot me or wait until the Rarnies get in?”

The woman frowned again, obviously unsure of what to do.

“Decide now. Shoot me or let me through. I’m not waiting to get caught.” I said as I dropped my hands and strode forward. I wasn’t going to get recaptured.

Feebly she raised her pistol for an instant, but then let it fall by her side, and allowed me past. I didn’t wait, and broke into a run.

I vaulted into the pilot's chair and quickly tapped into the console. Luck was still with me. Obviously the Siren had been close to launching because the launch codes had already been entered. I scanned the console, yep, she was ready. I strapped myself in.

“Stop! Don’t touch anoth..” Bang! Thud.

I turned slowly, a Rarnie lay sprawled face first in the doorway, his gun on the cold floor in front of him. The young woman stood behind him. Shock plastered over her face, her arm still straight, gun pointing.

“Thanks.” I smiled “Strap in.”

The engines thrummed to life and in an instant I was thrown back into the chair. By Barsonis it felt good; so good to be back in the chair and at the controls.

Authors Note – Well that’s it for my first short story. I hope you enjoyed it, although regardless, I would really appreciate any feedback, good or bad. Thanks.

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