Pariahs and Peacemakers

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Sixteen

The feelings she felt from the revelation her brother was the Pirate Prince of wild space, Dead-eye Jack, couldn’t be easily explained. She was sworn to uphold the law as a glorified bounty hunter to the Senate but the conflicted emotions made her go with the current events. They had been welcomed aboard Adventure’s Fortune much to the dishonour of Keeto who hadn’t spoken a word since the Pariah. He flatly ignored Shayara on the shuttle ride over when she attempted to make conversation and treated her with an air of suspicion. Did he believe she had hidden the truth about her brother’s occupation, she wondered. Jarner had taken to Jack quickly as if welcoming an old friend which was understandable as Jack had given him his life back. He’d freed the Sarcurian from slavery a long time ago but those bonds still held true. Isaac was wary but trusted Shayara so never ventured too far. Doc Crow as per usual had stayed aboard the Pariah. This time Shayara hadn’t minded, someone had to sort out R051E to make sure she was now fully operational and she had asked if he could take stock of what the Sentinels had stolen.

Shayara had assumed the Pirate Prince was just a title but as they moved through the grand halls of Adventures Fortune she realised it was more of a lifestyle. It was grand and looked like it was brand new off dry dock and every member of crew they passed seemed to really respect Jack. Or fear him. That chilled her, she had never regarded her brother as scary but he looked hard bitten now and minus an eye he seemed like he’d seen a lot of harsh action. They reached the bridge and a series of automated drone arms, that appeared from cracks in the floor, removed her brother’s armour as he walked to his throne. It was made up of the armour of fallen Pirate Princes Shayara recognised. She eyeballed the chest plate of Red Band Falser and the flamboyant razor gauntlet of Cutthroat Thratta Da’Rellen. The idea of the Pirate Prince had been around longer than humanity’s existence. It began when a large section of Pirates decided to join and become a huge faction under a single banner. The first had been a Caliterrian, with a certain amount of Robin Hood-ness about him, he had earned the title of Prince of Pirates due to the positive publicity he brought to the trade despite the illegality of his actions. For a fee the Prince’s forces would provide safe passage and protection on trade routes through wild space and seemed to monopolise on the lack of competition and Senate legislation. The title was passed down usually to a trusted lieutenant or whoever toppled the current Prince. Shayara assumed it was difficult to maintain order as surely mutinies would be common place with disloyal degenerates clambering for power.

“I owe you an explanation Shay,” he eventually said as he sat forward in his seat. “When I saved Jarner from the Prince’s clutches it turned out the contract on the man was huge. Enough to get me away from the shitty life I had. I was working as a pretty respected bounty hunter but the average pay wasn’t enough for me. So I took my employer’s money and then took the throne. Turns out he’s pretty bitter about my double cross and is now the Governor of Coroniss.” Keeto didn’t seem impressed as he clenched his right hand so hard his arm shook.

“What made you take the title?” Shayara asked curious at why he would stay after receiving his huge fee. Jack took a pretty big sigh as he relaxed back into the throne that had to be extremely uncomfortable.

“How could I turn down this chance? When you left Coroniss, life was hard. I did what I had to to survive and that led me here.” Keeto allowed a huff which seemed to annoy Jack who cocked his head and looked the alien up and down.

“Did I offend you or something, Caliterrian?” Dead-eye stood up and cast his arms out as he surveyed his bridge. “I have brought law and order to wild space from this very room. Yet you come here and dare judge me. In my own house? Where is your precious Senate out here?” he asked rallying up his men at nearby work stations as he went. Keeto gave an amused low-key chuckle before stepping forward to the obvious challenge.

“You are nothing more than a pirate. A criminal who has been on top of Senate Security’s most wanted list for five standard cycles. You preach providing stability to the region but you pillage company freighters to fund your operations.” Jack clapped his hands in an over-exaggerated manner as he paced the breadth of his seating area. He had a fake smile on his face as he pointed the Guardian’s way. “Gold star for the lapdog with the powers of observation.” A few crewmen sniggered which really got under Keeto’s hide. “I steal from those who won’t miss it.”

“I will be reporting this to the Senate as I doubt you will come willingly.” Keeto seethed very aware that there were far too many combatants to take on himself.

“You do that.” Shayara frowned as Jack signalled to the two closest guards who flicked their energy pikes to full power.

“Please escort Mr Cha’Bin back to my sister’s ship,” he ordered. At first Keeto stood defiantly but it didn’t take long for him to bow out angrily as he was ushered out of the bridge. Jack sat back down and offered an apologetic hand. “I know he has a point but I’m the only one who can stop the Lost Sentinels. Their boss keeps trying to take this throne and if he succeeds and they are allowed to merge with my fleet. They won’t only just be a threat to wild space, they’ll be a direct threat to Senate-controlled space too.” He put his head in his hands. “Enough of my problems. What brings you to this corner of the galaxy? The Sentinels were using you as bait to get to me. They had the audacity of sending me an extortion message on a lightly encrypted channel,” he informed in rapid succession. Shayara hadn’t thought about the Votheen for quite some time now and she didn’t exactly know where to start. Regardless her mouth began to move, “I think the Senate is going to go to war.”

Constant bickering and indecision was the spawn of politics and it had long plagued the Senate yet the impending threat seemed to streamline the process as the High Senators were allowed to explain where the situation was at without interruption. Alexander honestly didn’t know how the gathered collective of systems would take the news of a sentient hostile race on their doorstep. Although there was fear and panic he was pleasantly surprised by the positive undertone in the discussions. The representative from the colony of Azagrad signalled above the noise that he demanded to be heard so the Core AI let out a high-pitched noise and aimed the spotlight in the Caliterrian’s direction. “From the information we have been provided I want to know how you were able to repel the Votheen in the last war in such a short period of time?” he asked brandishing his tablet. He had a point, thought Alexander. The tipping point provided in the data was very peculiar. Once the Senate had the advantage they easily swept the Votheen aside. He wondered what their ace in the hole was. “Operation Aurora,” leapt from High Senator Wilhelm’s mouth before he knew what was happening. His subconscious had connected the dots before his brain could and his amplified voice didn’t save his blushes. That file in the Senate archives he wished he’d read swam about his head. Arkan was looking him over, not in the angry way he’d expected but in more of a defeated way. He stood up and paced, stooped over looking more of a hollow figure than the fierce warrior Alexander knew and loathed. “Operation Aurora was our last hope. Above Caliterria twenty thousand years ago the Senate authorised the production and release of a bioweapon onto the Votheen capital ship as it prepared for its invasion. Several similar strikes were made in major Votheen population centres. It was designed to thin their numbers, to give us a fighting chance. It did. It worked too well. The bioweapon mutated all on its own becoming much more aggressive and almost making the Votheen extinct.” A roar of discontent spread across the congregation. Genocide was not something they’d ever expect from their government regardless of the threat. Alexander sat back not as surprised due to his snooping as he should have been and he didn’t feel like feigning it either. Arkan tried to say something else but he was drowned out by rampant discussion. “Silence!” A crippling wave shattered the minds of everyone present and it took Alexander a while to realise what was going on. 19217-JB was stood and actually looked intimidating, he’d never seen one get agitated let along confrontational. “We are a peaceful people and were largely against the use of such horrific weapons. The Caliterrian wanted them wiped out and maybe in hindsight if they had been made to be we would not be in trouble now. The Votheen forced the hand of the Senate and if we hadn’t taken the action we did the Caliterrian would most certainly be extinct and the rest of our races enslaved or worse.” The Selin took its seat and the dominant force in Alexander’s skull dissipated into nothingness. Arkan nodded in appreciation to his fellow Senator but looked sheepish, Alexander guessed he had never seen a Selin behave in such a manner before either. “It would appear the Votheen raided an Indatech transport ship which was carrying a specimen of the bioweapon for research purposes. We have reasons to suspect they have adapted it at a base level, weaponised it and deployed it on the colony of Atlas. The virus named Shade should not be news to you.” A new wave of discontent ensued. Alexander couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Why the hell was Indatech still messing around with bio-weaponry and especially one they didn’t fully understand? The Senate shared his concerns but another mind grumble settled everyone quickly. No one wished another mental assault from the Selin. As all eyes moved back to the High Senate, Alexander chanced his arm. “How have they managed this without detection?”

“And what of Atlas?” added the now fully stood Chancellor Falkoner from one of the Atlas moons with conviction.

“That investigation is ongoing Senator and as for Atlas...” He paused unnaturally long, so much so that Alexander knew what was coming although he hoped he was wrong. “To prevent the spread of this deadly virus, Atlas is to be placed under quarantine and martial law should be implemented immediately.” Whatever else anyone had to say was irrelevant as congress concluded in a downward spiral of chaos. Alexander made a swift exit before things became too out of hand. He sincerely hoped that wherever Shayara was she was sorting out this mess on the quiet.

Even though without Larik’s aid the navigation data would have never been in their possession, he still hadn’t been given clearance to examine it. Neither had the ship master but that didn’t make it burn any less. Orders were to deliver the data shard ASAP to Engevaal no questions asked. Needless to say Larik would have followed any order to the letter, he was after all a model soldier, but losing most of a platoon made it personal. He needed to know if it had been worth it. During the short period of uncontrolled spacing Larik had made a duplicate of the data and stored it in the operating system of his armour, under system preferences. He’d removed the memory core long before handing the armour over to the techs. Larik inserted it into his personal terminal after jamming the door of his living quarters. He opened a window and moved it to the lower left hand corner, he hoped the pornography would discourage the onboard AI from digging deeper and dismiss the primary window as a Human male’s way of releasing stress after a botched operation. He gave it a moment just to be extra cautious before initialising the program. A star chart dotted the three dimensional space of the office like the light reflected from a disco ball. He moved through the galaxy like some kind of divine being. He passed many recognisable worlds including Engevaal, which had far less of a population than it should have had. He assumed it must have been out of date, understandable given the race’s lengthy absence. Larik moved back through to his terminal and overlapped the Ubiquitous Light’s star chart with the Votheen’s. The data was much more legible now he observed as he retraced his steps. He followed the trail of the blinking red dot from where they had intercepted it. The Votheen ship had made several jumps through the galaxy including an apparent stop on the dark side of Atlas’s main moon. Larik was intrigued at the freedom the cruiser had had especially so close to populated areas. It had avoided every patrol ship in Senate space and moved to remote sections in uncharted space. It moved as if they knew patrol routes which worried Larik. Either they had broken in to the network and everything was compromised or they were being tipped off. Larik was struggling to fathom the ramifications of either possibility as a knock sounded at his cabin door. “One moment,” he called as he collapsed the planets and bundled the memory drive into his cargo trousers.


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