Chapter 1: The Crimson Falcon
The sun was rising on the empire’s capital planet, Yemmal, when the black and red Sparrow-z3 touched down in port. It sat quietly for a short while before its ramp lowered, revealing the captain. He was a tall man, standing at 6’4”, and thin with wirey, well defined muscles. His blonde hair was kept short, and spiked on the top emphasizing the pointed features of his face, which he kept clean shaven. Looking at him you wouldn’t think he was anymore than 22 years old. All in all he was a friendly, trustworthy looking man, except for his eyes. They were grey. Shrewd and calculating, seeming to X-ray everything they rested on and constantly looking for the best angle in any situation.
As he came down the ramp his old military trench coat billowed behind him revealing the two ion pistols he kept holstered to his hips along with a couple of molecular grenades. When he reached the bottom he called over his shoulder to his pilot, still inside, “Stella, I’m going to go see if I can’t find us a couple of hired guns for when we’re in the outer rim! See if you can get us passengers for some honest credits would you!?”
“More crew?!” a voice bellowed from inside, followed by the appearance of a very small, and very angry young woman with raven black hair and metallic-bronze skin. Her turquoise eyes were fixed on her captain, and she muttered insults at him in Zeri, the language of her people on the planet Roarchac “What do you mean more crew?!” she finally yelled, “Devaro Carthage, you can barely remember to pay me!”
“Stella, I’m not taking you back to Gratalli without a guard. The last thing I need is to have to find another pilot.” He continued walking and yelled back “Get it done Stella! I’ll see you in a few hours!” Dev pulled out a data pad as he walked, winding his way down into the more shady parts of the city. He began searching for someone that fit his criteria.
Several hours later, Stella had set up shop at bottom of the ramp, with a sign in front of her ′Now accepting passengers’. She reclined in a collapsible chair while the Yemmalian sun beat down on her and the ship warming the metal beneath her. She watched as the crowds wandered through between the hulls of various starships, impressed as always by the sheer variety of species that came through here. Despite the obvious and bigoted imperial presence. The upper levels of the city planet were almost beautiful, when you took the time to look. Towering chrome buildings, interconnected with bridges of steel, and bronze. The constant hum of both foot and air traffic filled the air, creating an almost rhythmic hum that if you focused hard enough could lull you to sleep.
She leaned back in her seat and allowed herself to drift off slightly in the pleasant glow of the sunlight when suddenly, almost rudely, a shadow blocked her light. She opened an eye to see two figures standing near her, in hushed conversation. The first figure, the one blocking her sunlight, was a tall man with a strong jaw and a helmet in the crook of his arm. Due to the position of the sun, she was finding it difficult to see the detail in his face, but the rest of him was in sharp relief. Heavy plated armor of black and silver gleamed in the sun, despite scratches from frequent use and an ion rifle dangled off one of his shoulders and swung lazily in the heat as he gestured to his partner. An even taller figure, hunched and brooding underneath a large, hooded, cloak. The only details she could discern from it, were the two pairs of glowing orange eyes that occasionally peeked out from under the hood.
She waited for them to address her, quickly losing her patience and about to speak up, when finally the first figure asked her; “Is this scrapheap headed for the outer rim?”
Stella raised an eyebrow and sighed, standing up to be more at level with the man. Though this didn’t help, she was over a foot shorter than him “It’s headed wherever you are.” She replied. Already having managed to acquire two previous passengers, she had a general idea of the drill; though they had both asked if the ship’s services included her. The Zeri people, particularly women, were widely viewed by the rest of the galaxy as play things. Their ritual dances could be described by many as erotic, almost hypnotising and because of the desert terrain of their planet their clothing choices were light and airy. All of this coupled with exotic metallic skin-tones ranging from rosegolds, to platinum silver and everything in between, and jewel colored eyes that seemed to sparkle like the precious stones that made up the sands of Roarchac, made the Zerri as erotic to look at standing still as they were dancing. Thus, the galaxy’s wealthy favored them as… personal slaves.
The man smiled, looking down at the small woman in front of him and chuckled lightly.“Excellent. My associate and I are in need of transport to Borgala. How much?”
“’Bout 400 cred a week, extra if the airspace is particularly dangerous.”
“Sounds fair. When can we board?”
Stella pulled out a data-pad and looked up at him, a bored expression on her face “I’ll have to get some information from you first, just so we know who we have on our ship. Name?”
“Race..“she was about to put down human when he interrupted.
This caught Stella’s attention. The Bortali people had all but been wiped out during the great purge of the Valha sector. A strong willed and war like people, the Bortali had refused to yield to the Empire, thus causing them to be slaughtered, aside from a small few who agreed to comply in order to save what remained of their once proud race. They were a rarity to see off of Bortali in the now days, and had a deep seeded hatred for the empire. “Ok...” She said, surprise creeping into her voice as she continued, “Occupation?”
“Bounty hunter.” He said with a smirk. The little Zeri girl was quite amusing, and not half bad looking either. Stella took no notice of his gawking, and nodded distractedly, still jotting things down on her data pad. She turned to the cloaked figure.
“Same questions to you.” Rather than the figure answering Gale took the liberty instead.
“This is MRK-4 it’s an assassin droid.” Stella’s eyes widened for a moment, but she nodded and took down the information.
“You’re free to board when you please. We’ll take off by morning.” She said, before gathering up her chair and making her way back up the ramp. She turned slightly at the top so she was looking down at the two of them a wry smile on her lips. “Welcome aboard the Falcon.”
“Brayden Strider” Dev muttered to himself. It had been a few hours, and he was now sitting in a bar, drink in hand, and reading off the same data-pad when he heard a voice behind him.
“Looking for me?” He turned to find a man about the same age as himself. His hair was blue-black and kept just a little longer than Dev’s, so that it hung slightly in his icy blue eyes. The man was armed to the teeth with both a heavy ion pistol and a light ion pistol, a chain sword, and several molecular grenades and a couple of stunners. Dev eyed the man, up and down with a wary gaze before falling back to his data pad. Without looking up he asked, “Do you have much experience with that thing?”
“What, this?” Asked Brayden, tapping the hilt of his sword, the hilt was polished and showed little wear, “Of course I do.... Why wouldn’t I?”
“Just checkin is all. Now it says here you’ve had experience in the outer rim before. Have you had any business on Gratalli?”
Brayden’s eyes seemed to search the ceiling for an answer before finally replying, “Yeah I’ve been out there before, that’s in Corri space isn’t it?”
Dev heaved an exasperated sigh at the man’s answer; not only was Gratalli in Corri space, it was the moon of the Corri homeworld, Cortana. Corri were a large, snake like race of people with a taste of the more.. forbidden fruits. They were largely slavers, primarily of the Zerri, and drug dealers. They often employed large amounts of unsavory folks, and were not the type of people you wanted to cross paths with if it was at all avoidable. After a moment of silence, Dev rubbed his eyes, and looked up at the young gun, “Alright,” he growled, “you’ll get a share of all profits the crew makes as whole, you’ll be answering to my pilot and myself, and no lollygagging on my ship. Clear?” without waiting for any form of reply, he continued “You’ll find her on docking pad IL-15.” He stood up and drained the rest of his drink before making his way to the cantina exit.
“What’s your ship called anyways?” Came Brayden’s voice from over his shoulder.
The captain paused at the threshold and said, almost embarrassed, “The Crimson Falcon.” and ducked out before the new crew mate could ask more questions. The ship had been a hand-me-down from his uncle, from whom he had also inherited the smuggling business. The name was not his favorite, but to avoid hurting his uncle’s pride he had kept it.
He spent the rest of the day searching for another gun, finally coming across a man by the name of Arthur Tyco . An ex-imperial trooper who rarely removed his helmet if he wasn’t trying to forget himself in a bottle of whatever alcohol he could get his hands onto. He gave him the same rundown he had given Strider and made his way back to The Falcon.
Walking up to the ship, Dev found Stella sitting at the bottom of the ramp looking as if she were about to shoot him. Not that she didn’t frequently look as though she were considering it, but in that moment she looked like she meant it. “What’s wrong?” He asked, tentatively, on approach. Her eyes narrowed at him, and he could hear the Zeri curses she muttered, once again. She had spent the last hour and a half fighting off the advances of two of the passengers, who seemed to be under the distinct impression that she was a slave; there for their amusement.
Dev couldn’t help but stare at the little woman standing before him. Despite her current anger, she was a very pretty little thing. Small in stature, standing only 5’, with long, and elegant limbs, a lean body, and soft curves. Big, sweet, turquoise eyes, framed in thick dark lashes, were set neatly in the nicely rounded face of the average 19 year old, with a perfect cupid’s bow mouth, a little button nose and high cheekbones. Metallic-bronze skin seemed to shimmer in the evening sun, and even with no makeup her skin gave her an almost impossible beauty. Her jet black hair fell nearly to her waist, and was decorated, like every Zerri, with braided in beads that sparkled every time she moved. She was a kind soul, most of the time, but had a temper to rival a vella dragon, and that temper had obviously been lit today.
“What’s wrong?” She snarled at him, “What’s wrong is that you forced me to find passengers on a planet full of imperial supporters, who are dominated by racist bastards that think I’m some kind of toy for them to play with! The only decent beings on this ship are a Bortali bounty-hunter and his damned assassin bot!”
“So you found passengers then?” Dev regretted his question as soon as he asked it. Stella gave him a sickeningly sweet smile before taking two, very slow, steps towards him so that she could beckon him down to her level.
“No,” she said, sweetly at first “I just enjoy ranting about the nonexistent beings on the ship that make passes at me!” Her voice gained volume as she spoke so that by the end of her sentence Dev felt as though he may need to start telling people he was deaf in one ear. “Now, would you please get in there and explain to these” she turned and yelled over her shoulder; ”Buffoons! That I am not a slave on this ship!”
Normally, Dev would not have condoned a tone like this from any other employee. But Stella, was not someone that he could lose. Once the favorite slave of the greatest Gartallian pilot of his time, Stella had lived six years under his careful teachings. Before his death one year earlier, he had honed her into one of the best pilots in the galaxy, which made her indispensable to Dev.
It was at that point that the new crewmen chose to show their faces. Tyco, who had a travel bag in one hand and a bottle of some kind of spirit in the other, also seemed to find that this was the perfect moment to make his assumptions known. “You should really think about trading her for a more docile one. If I owned a slave, which I don’t, I would never let her talk to me like that.” The glare Stella gave him was enough to make any sober man cower, but Tyco simply stared back drunkenly.
Brayden, who was standing, mouth wide open at the audacity of the man next to him, quickly backed away. Stella turned to Dev, and gestured towards the new crewman. “Do you see what I mean now?”
Dev nodded and turned to the two men, “I think we need to discuss something, if you would kindly step into the ship, I will meet you in the main room.” The two of them nodded and moved past the captain and Stella.
A few moments later, the captain and pilot stood in front of the crew and passengers who were looking at Dev expectantly. “Gentlemen, welcome aboard the Falcon.” He said slightly shakily, “We will be on this ship for a few weeks,and in close quarters like these it is important to establish a few rules. Starting with the fact that my pilot and first-mate,” he glanced down at Stella who straightened up and looked the men in front of her straight on, “is not a slave, but a vital member of this crew, and in your cases,” his eyes fell on Tyco and Brayden, “your superior. I expect her to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity whilst you reside in my ship. Am I understood?” There was a murmur of consent, before Dev continued. “Excellent. Other than that, I simply ask that you please stay out off the crew’s’ bunks, and don’t do anything to damage my ship. I’m Captain Carthage, by the way. You are dismissed.” The men shuffled off to their various pursuits, except for Gale and MRK-4, who made their way towards Dev and Stella.
The closer they got, the more Stella noticed that the bounty hunter was a nice looking man. He had a shaved head and stern blonde eyebrows. His jaw was strong and had a shadow of stubble outlining the structure. His long nose complemented the sharp angles of his jaw, and she noticed, if he were to smile, he had dimples on either cheek. Once he had stopped in front of them, Stella noticed his eyes. They were a steel grey color with silver flecks to them that she found fascinating. She had to force herself not to stare and could feel her cheeks flush when she realized he was watching her.
“Captain Carthage,” he said, his voice deep and smooth as silk, “could I have a word with you and your... Charming first-mate?”