Chapter 21: A Man in Shadow
Stein stood in the shadows of the room (its taupe, paneled walls giving no indication that they were on a spaceship), watching Klanor as he pored over more of the ancient tales in the browned pages of the book on his desk in the dim lamplight. He didn’t know what value the archaic scrolls offered other than a faint promise of power. Power—the allure gnawed at him.
Stein didn’t know if he had made the right choice in trusting Klanor, but the man had saved his life. Months ago, when life had taken everything from him and all seemed lost, Stein decided to end it. He had chosen the perfect location: The Eflquir Lake, deep within the wooded area of Lanyr. The lake was so deep that many had drowned in it and their bodies never discovered. That was where he had decided to stop living.
But, then came Klanor. Stein had no idea why the man was there, only that he was. Klanor had seen him jump into the water from his boat in the middle of the lake. Without hesitation, he flew his flying craft over the water and used a transporter beam to snatch the despondent man.
At first, Stein had been infuriated, but then he learned about the crystals and the power many believed they held. Perhaps such a power could bring his family back, or give him just compensation. Stein didn’t care which. The quest for control over his life, and the desire to have his family returned to him, drove him, and won him, to Klanor’s side—for now.
“I can hear you breathing,” Klanor’s voice trailed over to him from the pages of the book.
“I apologize, sir,” Stein stepped out of the shadows and into the darkened room, his dark clothing making him almost invisible.
“Why do you hang in the shadows, my friend?”
Stein studied Klanor. Friend? Yes, he supposed they were. “They are my ally. One can learn a lot by remaining unseen.”
“And what have you learned?” Klanor looked up at him.
“That we have two of the crystals, Rynah has one, and there are three more we have yet to find.”
“Seems that I know the same information,” Klanor turned back to his work.
“But what you don’t know is that Rynah and her party of misfits have had a run-in with the Fragmyr Pirates.”
“Have they now?”
“They have lost their ship and no doubt have been killed.”
“Do not be so certain,” Klanor warned. “Rynah has a way of eluding death. The pirates may have kept her and the others for sport.”
“And how long do you expect them to live as such?” Stein’s lip curled. He liked this new phase in his life and accepted it.
“How long indeed,” Klanor mused. “Do you know where their ship was taken?”
“To one of the pirates’ strongholds, I suspect.”
“It would be nice to have that ship,” Klanor said.
Stein understood Klanor’s meaning. “It would have valuable information on it.”
“And the crystal.”
Stein’s lip curled again in a knowing grin. “I’ll get right on it.”
“Have you read any of the ancient stories?” Klanor’s question caught the man off guard.
“You might one day,” Klanor said. “It could prove illuminating.”
Stein thought about the man’s words. Illuminating perhaps. “I will consider it.”
Stein stalked out of the chamber and strode down the metallic and uninviting corridor of the ship as he headed for the shuttle bay. He decided to search for the pirates himself, having never been one to trust others with important tasks. Besides, he thought, it takes a man of stealth for this kind of mission.
On the way to the shuttle area, Stein stopped at an alcove in a corner (they were spaced throughout the vessel) computer console. With a few taps on the screen, he pulled up the digital files of the ancient texts, something he had ignored as a child, but now they held new meaning. He downloaded them onto a quartz data crystal and pocketed it.
“Thanks for the advice,” he whispered to himself.
A flash of rose-colored hair made him pause. Turning, Stein looked at the woman it belonged to, her oval chin reminding him of his beloved wife. Soon the memory faded, and the woman disappeared, leaving Stein alone in the corridor.
Stein whisked his way down the hall, forcing the painful memory from his mind, before strolling through sliding doors to the shuttle bay; his average form created a black silhouette in the doorway.
“Stein, sir,” saluted a young recruit in an overeager effort to please, “I did not know you were coming.”
“At ease, private.” Stein glowered at the young man before him. Most of the men on the ship were mercenaries, but Klanor insisted on running it as though it were a military vessel. None of them cared so long as they were well paid, which Klanor never failed to do.
“I need a shuttle, now,” Stein said.
“Yes, sir,” the young private ran off. He pulled a lever and a small craft glided forward on a conveyor belt. “Will this do, sir?”
“Perfect. Is it stocked?”
“Yes, sir, I just finished loading it with provisions myself. It is fueled as well.”
“Very well, you may go about your duties.”
“Aren’t you going to file a flight…”
Stein’s cold eyes stopped the lad midsentence.
“I’ll be on my way, sir.” He darted off, hoping to get away from this steel-hearted man as fast as possible.
Stein sighed. He didn’t know why Klanor put up with such incompetence, other than the fact he needed enough hands to run the ship. He boarded the tiny shuttle craft and sat in the pilot’s seat. Within minutes, the engines started and Stein set a course. He knew exactly where to go to find pirates. They always frequented a space hub not far from his current location. With any luck, they hadn’t discarded the ship yet.
Fire jetted from the back rockets as the ship launched into space and disappeared.