Chapter 22: Pirate Hub
“Here we are,” said Obiah as they neared a space station in a remote area of space.
A dwarf star shone in the distance, forming a pinprick of light and illuminating the edges of the spinning mass of tubes connecting metal spheres. What looked like a single pole rested in the center of the station. A flashing neon orange sign, displaying the words “Eddie’s Bar: The Best Drinks in the Outlying Sector”, stood out amongst the blackness.
“Eddie’s Bar?” asked Brie.
“We all need a place to unwind,” said Obiah as he steered the ship to a docking bay.
Red lights flashed on the edges of his parking space. Obiah lined up. The lights flashed green. He eased his craft into the docking port. A series of rapid thumps sounded around them as the clamps hooked around the ship, holding it in place. The four earthlings watched enthralled as a metallic tube, covered in grime and years of fuel exhaust, stretched out for them, attaching itself to the hatch. A hissing noise rose in volume before fizzling out.
“All right,” Obiah beamed, “we are here.”
Rynah opened the hatch. Another hiss of air was released as the pressure equalized. A long, dark hallway stretched before them, with only a single bulb of light that flickered before spitting and going out.
Brie peered through the doorway. “Are you sure this place is safe?”
“It’s anything but,” answered Obiah.
Rynah nudged him with her elbow.
“Well, it attracts a less savory sort of people, but anyone is welcome here, so long as they don’t ask a lot of questions, and are willing to part with their money. Though you three”—he pointed at Brie, Alfric, and Solon— “might stick out a bit with your pale skin.”
Rynah stepped over to a storage closet and pulled out two cloaks. “Here”—she tossed them to Brie and Solon—“put these on.” She glanced at Alfric. “Not sure what to do for you.”
Alfric bent down and scooped up a glob of black sludge on the floor of the hallway and smeared it over his arms and face, turning his skin brown.
“I guess that will do,” Obiah clapped him on the back. “We should go.”
Sticking close together, they walked down the tunnel (a luminescent, sticky substance oozed down the sides of the wall) and to the main part of the station. Upon turning a jagged corner, the eerie silence of the corridor vanished, having been replaced by the chaos of the bustling crowd. People, if one could call them that, hurried from one end to another underneath paper lanterns, going in and out of stores with their bundles. A sign for Eddie’s Bar glittered above them. Brie had no desire to go there. She and Solon kept their hoods closed, hoping that no one paid much attention to them.
She glanced around and noticed what looked like two pale blue women covered in silky fur. They glowed bright and waved at her chuckling. Before she knew it, the strange women walked toward her.
Rynah stepped between them. “Sorry ladies. Find someone else.” She turned towards Brie. “You shouldn’t stare at them like that. They thought you wanted their company for the night.”
Brie’s face contorted when she realized what Rynah had meant.
“They are from the planet Felz. Their species is born gender neutral, so they tend to be a bit cavalier, so to say, in their love life.”
Tom’s face lit up. “Hey ladies,” he called.
Rynah gripped his arm and yanked him back from his advances. “We’re not here to draw attention to ourselves.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t had a date in a while,” whined Tom, who just wanted some down time.
“You’ll never go on another date again if you don’t keep a low profile,” Rynah hissed.
“Fine,” agreed Tom. He had hoped for some actual R and R when they docked.
“Relax, Rynah,” said Obiah. “Here.” He led them to a vendor who sold what looked like chicken fajitas with a red sauce. After paying the man for six, Obiah turned back to them. “Eat up.”
They took a small bite. Suddenly, Brie, Solon, and Tom spat theirs back out as the spices burned their mouths, turning them into infernos. Alfric continued chewing his and swallowed, refusing to let the food best him.
“What’s wrong?” asked Obiah as he munched on his treat.
“It’s super spicy,” choked Tom.
“Oh.” Obiah’s jubilant face fell.
Rynah watched as the three fanned their tongues to ease the pain. It had never occurred to her, or Obiah, that they could not eat such spicy food. She found a vendor who sold some form of milk and purchased four glasses. “This should calm it.”
While they ate their food and guzzled the milk, they watched the crowd. Rynah’s eyes studied every person that passed by, every detail, every ounce of body language. She knew that the pirates would try to sell pieces of Solaris here, but she wasn’t sure where. Three men caught her attention. Their dress indicated pirates, though they were not the same ones who had attacked Solaris.
She nudged Obiah. “There. We should follow them.”
They shoved the remaining bites of food in their mouths and swallowed, with Rynah holding them back so they wouldn’t attract attention. The pirates stopped in front of a dingy store window. They glanced around and went inside.
“You two,” Rynah said to Solon and Brie, “go over to that window there and pretend to be interested in the items on display. Obiah, you and Tom go to the one there. Alfric, you’re with me.”
They split up, following Rynah’s orders. Each loitered in front of their assigned window, studying the items.
Rynah and Alfric followed the pirates, and judging by the smeared grease on their faces, she guessed they were mechanics who worked in the engine room of their ship. She motioned for him to hide. Rynah peeked through the grime-coated glass. She watched as the pirates pulled out a data core from their pocket. The clerk behind the counter took it in his grease encrusted fingers, holding it in the light and twirling it.
Rynah’s eyes narrowed as she saw currency being exchanged. Whatever it was, the clerk wanted it. One of the pirates took it and counted it. She noted the scar on his right cheek.
Rynah pulled away from the window. “Alfric, we want to question them.”
As the pirates walked out of the shop, Rynah confronted them. “We need to talk.”
One shoved her away, forcing her to land on her rear end. She scrambled to her feet and reached for him, wrapping her arms around his legs. One of the other pirates pulled out a pistol and aimed at her. Alfric pounced on him, knocking his weapon from his smudged hands. The irate pirate whirled on Alfric and raised his fist. Upon seeing the Viking, with black sludge smeared on his face, he dropped his hand, fear filling him.
The third pirate rounded on Alfric. The Viking raised his arm and jabbed the man with his elbow before snatching his collar. Rynah quickly subdued the one she had challenged as passersby gave them a wide berth, not wanting to get involved.
“What did you sell in there?” she demanded.
The pirate spat in her face. Infuriated, Rynah threw him to the floor, placing her foot in the center of his back. She snatched his stringy hair and reared his head up, placing the point of her laser pistol near his temple. “I won’t ask you again,” she hissed in his ear.
“It was just the data core of some ship,” yelled the man.
“What ship?” Rynah’s grip tightened.
Tom, Solon, Obiah, and Brie gathered around.
“I don’t know, just some ship. It was old though, That I do know.”
“Did you get it from the Fragmyr Pirates?”
“No—no—no!” The pirate thrashed around, trying to get free. “We don’t deal with them. We are with the Grigsuir Pirates. That data core came from a ship we had captured.”
Rynah released him. “I hope for your sake that you are telling the truth.” She lifted her foot from his back.
The man jumped to his feet and ran off with his friends.
From the corner of his eye, Tom noticed the shop owner sneaking away. He had crept through a back door and headed for a group of onlookers. Tom tackled him.
“Get off!” groaned the shop owner.
Tom wrestled the man to the ground, pinning his arms to the floor.
“I said get off!”
Rynah pointed her weapon at the shop owner. The man ceased his struggling. “I want to know if any of the Fragmyr Pirates have stopped by your place recently.”
The clerk glared at her, red bags under his eyes.
The onlookers left. It wasn’t unusual for a dissatisfied customer to demand a refund in such a way from a dishonest store owner. Conflict was a constant on this space station. The residents there made their own laws.
“Answer me!” Rynah’s harsh voice chilled Brie.
“I don’t deal with them,” whined the clerk. “They always want too much money and kill anyone who doesn’t give in to their demands.”
Rynah released an exasperated sigh.
“But I know someone who does.”
Rynah’s eyes lit up. “Tell me.”
“Down that way,” the store owner pointed. “You can’t miss him. He has skulls in the window.”
“Let him go,” said Rynah.
Tom loosened his hold.
The clerk shot to his feet and ran away, staggering slightly, rounding a corner, and disappeared.
Rynah holstered her weapon. She glanced around, but no one watched, having grown weary of another confrontation on the space station. Such things were a daily occurrence. “Come on.”
She marched through a crowd strolling past. The others chased after her. They followed the direction the shop clerk had given them, trotting down the gangway past rows of similar stores, searching for the one with the skulls. Rynah stopped. The others bumped into her.
“There it is,” she said.
They looked where she pointed. A window with skulls, of species none recognized, with a black drape hanging behind them stood a few feet away. Rynah glanced around. She didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. “Obiah, I need you and Tom to stand watch. We don’t want any unexpected surprises.”
Obiah nodded. He and Tom walked over to a neighboring shop window with its wares displayed outside. Obiah picked one up, pretending to be a customer.
Rynah waved her hand. “Let’s go.”
They strode to the closed door. Rynah turned the knob. It opened. She stepped inside with the others, shutting the grungy door behind her.
Incense attacked their nostrils with its putrid fumes, reminding them of raw sewage and overpowering their senses. Brie brought the material of her cloak to her mouth and nose. She wanted out of there. The dismal area had only two lights turned on, one by the door and another at the counter, displaying black smudges and fingerprints.
“I don’t trust the shadows,” Rynah said.
Alfric understood her meaning. He didn’t trust them either. He moved away from the group and paced the room, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Rynah strolled to the counter. A small bell was upon it. She rang it. The ding echoed around them, filling the silent room with its eerie song.
“I don’t like this place,” whispered Brie.
Rynah said nothing. Though she shared Brie’s sentiments, she refused to show fear. She rang the bell again.
A man appeared. His scaly skin snaked around his body. He reached out with claw-like hands and scooted the bell away from Rynah. “Once was enough.”
“I am here about a ship matching these specifications.” Rynah pushed a piece of paper across the counter.
The owner picked it up and studied it with his yellow slits for eyes. “I don’t know this ship.” He slid the paper back to Rynah.
“I think you do.” Rynah glanced up and snatched an item hanging from the wall. She waved it in front of the man’s reptilian face. “This came from it.”
“Look, you might…” the man reached from a laser pistol he kept hidden behind the wall of the counter.
Rynah already had hers aimed at him. Brie never even saw her move. “Don’t even think of it.”
The man backed away from his weapon, holding his hands up.
“A man who deals with pirates,” said Solon, “inevitably ends up on a pirate’s hook.”
“I don’t deal with pirates,” snarled the store owner.
“The evidence suggests otherwise,” Solon replied. “Please tell my friend here what she wishes to know. She is likely to become angry if you don’t.”
Brie looked at Solon. Where did his calm demeanor come from? she wondered. She had never known him to act in such a way. But he and Rynah played off one another quite well.
“We know that you deal with the Fragmyr Pirates,” Rynah cocked her pistol, “and I want to know where they are.”
“No one knows their location,” said the man. “They keep it a secret.”
“I am certain they buy supplies from you.”
The store clerk frowned. “Sometimes.”
“Where do you deliver them?” demanded Rynah.
The clerk’s eyes darted to the right. He noticed Alfric’s prowling for the first time. “The Meser System. It is a cluster of nebulas not far from here. That is where I deliver what supplies they order. I never take them myself; I hire someone.”
“I want you to give me the time of your next delivery,” Rynah said.
“Tomorrow. Go to the Meser System and wait. They’ll find you.”
“Good.” Rynah lowered her weapon. “We’re taking this with us,” she said, referring to the bit of the ship she had snatched.
Brie and Solon rushed to the exit, welcoming the fresh air (if you could call circulated air fresh) and glad to be out of the dismal place. Rynah and Alfric moved more. She kept her weapon pointed at the store owner as she walked backwards, never taking her eyes off him. Once at the door, they turned and left, shutting the steel door behind them.
The store owner breathed a sigh of relief.
“I assume you told them everything,” said a silky voice from the murky shadows.
“Yes,” replied the man.
“Good.” Gloved hands reached out and snapped the man’s neck. Stein stepped into the light. He picked through a few items of interest before leaving, not caring when the body was found, if it ever was.