As Gale moved to the table he noticed the two pistols hanging from Dev’s belt. The military training of a bortalli kicked in and several scenarios played through his head if for some reason he had to take the captain down. He didn’t feel like he was in danger, but Bortali were taught from the time they could hold a rifle to evaluate everyone in the event they had to exterminate them. As a bounty hunter this skill had served him well, but he allowed his thoughts to quickly finish and smiled politely at his hosts. “I appreciate you speaking to me, Captain.” said Gale, holding out a hand to the captain. Dev shrugged, ignoring the gesture.
“Sure thing. It’s not like we still need to take off or-” Dev started before Gale saw Stella’s arm move and the captain flinch. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
Gale’s smile widened at the small exchange between the two. “I simply wanted to explain the situation I’m in before we took off. It won’t take long.” he assured him. After Dev had nodded, Gale began to explain. “My associate and I are without a ship, and lack the funds at present to purchase one. What I would like to commision you for, Captain Carthage, is the ability to use your ship as a sort of,” he paused, searching for the right words, “Mobile base, as it were. I’m happy to assist in any work you have on board the ship, so long as you will assist me by transporting myself and MRK-4 to our various acquisitions.”
Dev looked down at the little Zerri beside him, “I don’t see that being a problem,” he said. “Do you?” Stella shook her head, and Dev gave a curt nod before turning back to Gale, “That sounds fine. So long as you pull your weight, I don’t see that being a problem.”
“Excellent.” said Gale, polite smile vanishing. He became serious, and more business like, nodding to the droid to come forward. MRK-4 stepped closer, pulling out a small disk from a compartment on his hip and set it on the table. A small beep came from it before a hologram image of a large serpent like creature with the torso and arms of a man appeared and Stella gasped. It was a Corri slave master, and the look on Stella’s face told Gale that she had been hunted by the Corri before. The Corri found joy in hunting the Zeri for both food and sport and often used them as slaves, if they didn’t kill them before that. But unfortunately for this Corri, he was the prey in this hunt. “This is our current target. Tiss’Oric Vassis, he has a good sized bounty on his head. He is wanted for drug trafficking and murder.”
“You’re not bringing that thing on board!” Stella snapped at Gale.
“Stella,” Dev started “I’m sure Gale isn’t going to bring a large monstrous lizard man into the ship.” He paused, and looked at Gale. “You weren’t going to bring it on here were you?” he asked hopefully.
“That was never the plan.” Gale said trying to calm Stella, who eyed him suspiciously.
“Then what is your plan, Mr Arcturus?” Stella asked, crossing her arms and almost glaring up at the bounty hunter. MRK-4 reached out and grabbed the disk shutting it off.
“We exterminate the acquisition.” MRK-4 said putting the disk away. “That is our plan.”
Brayden walked into his bunk room followed by Tyco. “So, why do you think the captain made that Zeri his first mate?” Tyco asked throwing his pack on the bed and pulling out cleaning rag. Brayden shrugged, but didn’t say anything. He was ex military and knew better than to talk about a superior in an atmosphere that they might hear him. “Whatever it is, I bet they like to keep it between the two of them.” Tyco continued with a drunken laugh. Brayden looked at the sorry excuse for a soldier, a glare fixed on his face. He’d served with people like this before, and fortunately never for long. But who knew how long these two would be stuck together? Not wanting to think about it, he busied himself with unpacking what little he had, and stowing it away in the drawers under his bunk.
After about half an hour of silence they heard a voice come over the intercom. “Were going to be taking off in about 5 minutes. Brayden, please activate the inner airlock. Before we hit the outer atmosphere. Tyco, monitor the grav-generator as we exit atmosphere for any errors” Dev’s voice came through with a slight crackle of the system. Brayden stood up and heard a sudden snore. He looked at Tyco, who lay prone on his bunk, another bottle cradled in his arms. He walked over to the drunk, and shook him. But to no avail. That was when he knew, Tyco wasn’t going to last long on the ship.
Brayden groaned and walked out of the bunk room, dreading the running he was going to have to do in order to be sure both tasks were completed. As he entered the lounge, his eyes fell on two of the passengers, sitting quietly on the couch; the bounty hunter and his droid. The bounty hunter and taken the heavy armor he was wearing off and instead wore a grey shirt sleeve, black, military issue pants, and combat boots. Gale looked up at him and Brayden felt like he was being examined.
“Mind helping me out with something?” Brayden asked him. He stood up and nodded before following Brayden toward the inner airlock seal. Cargo ships like this one had an inner and outer airlock to protect against breaches, but the inner airlock had to be manually closed. The inner airlock closed automatically on some of the newest models of ships and capital ships, but it was considered a luxury.
“So where’s the other crew member?” Gale asked. Brayden only let out an exasperated sigh in response. He heard a slight chuckle from Gale who had a knowing smirk on his face.
“Since he’s otherwise... engaged. Would you go watch the grav-generator?” Brayden asked. Gale nodded quickly, before turning around and making his way toward the back. It was then that Brayden noticed something about Gale. He had the walk of a trained soldier. But he didn’t seem empirical in the slightest. Brayden figured he’d just ask him later and began to close and lock the inner airlock as he did he felt the unmistakable feeling of the ship raising into the air. Followed by the sound of the landing gear being pulled in. He walked back into the lounge, sat down, and felt the ship shake as it passed through the last layers of the atmosphere smoothing out. Gale walked in and nodded to Brayden before taking his old seat next to the droid. “So, you ex military?” Brayden asked after a minute of silence.
“You could say that.” Gale chuckled. He pulled on his sleeve showing two small Tattoos. “Born and raised Bortalli. So born into the Bortalli military and trained till I was seventeen.” Gale explained. He pointed to one of the tattoos, which Brayden recognized as the Bortali military emblem. “Every baby born into the Bortali Military is given this tattoo and trained for a number of years depending on their station.” he pointed to the next symbol, a marksman’s scope. “I was trained as an infiltrator at the age of seven till I was Seventeen.” he rolled his sleeve down and looked at Brayden. “What about you? You have the walk of a soldier.” Gale said. Brayden felt that same feeling of being measured that he’d felt earlier.
“I’m ex-military. Trained for two years before being stationed. But the work didn’t suit me so I started freelancing.” Brayden replied. He noticed the corner of Gale’s mouth twitch, before the bounty hunter nodded.
“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, but I think I’m going to hit the sack.” said Gale as he stood up, a yawn escaping him before he could stop it. “long trip ahead of us.”
Brayden chuckled as Gale walked out, but still felt someone watching him. He turned and noticed the droid was still there, unmoving. He felt its gaze on him like a predator watching its prey and planning on the strikes to make. He backed out of the room, watching the droid until he got to the hall and quickly went to his bunk. Tyco was still passed out, leaving him with his thoughts. Questions about the hunter and droid popped into his head. ‘Did they know about his past?’ ‘Were they here for him?’ ‘What would he do if they were?’ The answer to that question was simple. Fight.
Nearly a week into their flight, they had dropped off the two wealthy Yemmalians, and were now making a jump to a mining planet in the mid-rim by the name of Borgalla.
Stella sat on the bridge, which she had made her bunk. The entrance was a larger, more open space, usually intended for a table or other seats, but Dev had helped her turn it into a suitable living space. A large overstuffed pillow lay in one corner of the space, a large gauzy canopy above it, and several smaller pillows scattered along the wall. This served as a traditional Zerri bed, and Stella was very pleased to have been allowed it. A storage closet had been turned into her wardrobe, and a couple of minor trinkets were placed around. The console, pilot, and co-pilot’s seats were separated from the rest of the room by a beaded curtain that matched the many glittering beads in Stella’s hair. All in all, it was a charming little space.
She didn’t have many sentimental things from home. A necklace her mother had made for her, a rock from the surface of Roarchac, and a picture of her and her master at the speeder races were her favorites. She had been taken from her family when she was very young, and purchased by the best Gartalli pilot of his time, Galesar Orion. At first she had the same duties that normally come with being a slave, cleaning, and cooking. But after a while the man took a special interest in her. He began to teach her about ships and speeders. She had even been able to meet a few famous speed racers because of him. She had grown to care for the old man as a mentor. It had been easy some days to forget that she was his slave. But he had died when she was eighteen. Only about a year ago.
The bounty hunters on board said they were hunting a Corri slaver. Stella had never seen this particular one but she had seen her fair share. A Corri mafia boss had offered to buy her from her master. ‘You look absolutely delicious.’ he had hissed to her after making the offer. The look in it’s yellow, slitted eyes made her feel small and helpless, but her master had put his arm around her and walked off. Every Zeri is raised with the fear of the Corri coming out of the sand to snatch them. It was just Stella’s luck that it had actually happened. She had told Gale and MRK-4 that they were crazy for going after a Corri, but they had both shrugged it off. A knock on the wall pulled her from her thoughts and back to the bridge. Dev stood there, leaning against the open door frame.
“Off in space again Stella?” A smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Obviously.” she muttered looking out at the window at the endless terrain. He gave a slight cough and looked at the readings on the dashboards.
“The crew is awake and Gale is making coffee in the lounge. Why don’t you go get a cup, I’ll watch this for a while.” Dev said. Coffee sounded really good right now. Stella nodded slowly, stood up, and walked into the lounge where Tyco was pouring something from a bottle into his cup of coffee. She shook her head as she grabbed her favorite mug and poured the brown liquid into it. She heard someone walk into the room and turned to see Gale. Armor removed, and in his shirtsleeves.
“Thanks for the coffee.” Stella said, her usually rich, almost singsong, voice very monotone.
Gale walked up and grabbed a mug. “Don’t mention it.” he said in his usual smooth tone. Stella looked at him and thought ‘how does someone who kills and hunts for a living, sound so-’ she stopped herself before she thought ‘sexy’ but it didn’t help. She still felt a small heat in her cheeks
“Hey Zeri.” She heard Tyco call out to her. Immediately, she was on edge, narrowing her eyes to a glare as she looked towards him. He sat there, mug held out and grinning drunkenly. “Fill me up, would you?“, she would have been glad to help, if it hadn’t been an order, and if he had addressed her as Stella, but instead he had chosen to call her by her race. One thing she would not condone. She was about to open her mouth to retort, when Gale spoke instead.
“Didn’t you learn anything in the military? Or is that why you got kicked out, Tyco?” he growled. He knew Tyco was empirical military through and through. Just like the soldiers who attacked on the Bortali Day of Beginning, one of their few days of peace. Tyco looked shocked at first but than his face went stern.
“Watch what you say boy, or your gonna bite off more than you can chew.” he warned, but Gale just rolled his eyes.
“All I’m saying Tyco, is that I learned how to treat my superiors with respect. It seems all you learned was how to drink yourself into a stupor.” Tyco reached for his gun but the sound of an ion carbine charging stopped him. MRK-4 stood in the doorway to the passenger bunk, holding the gun at the ready.
“Please halt your actions. I would hate to have to pull the trigger and viciously exterminate you.” MRK-4 said. His voice was cold and metallic. “That was a lie. Please reach for your gun.” MRK-4 said. Stella heard Gale sigh at his companions choice of words. Tyco pulled his hand back and glared at Gale, who motioned for MRK-4 to lower the carbine. An order that the droid, reluctantly, followed.
“Now then.” Gale said calmly. “Would you like some Coffee, Tyco?” he asked taking the pot from Stella. Tyco shook his head. Gale shrugged, put the pot down, and took his mug back to his bunk. MRK-4 following close behind.
“Damned Bortalli. Should’ve purged the whole planet while we had the chance.” Tyco muttered.
“What was that Tyco?” Stella snapped at him. Tyco looked up at her and saw her glaring at him.
“Nothing.” he said standing up walking to his bunk room leaving Stella alone. Stella was about to go yell at Dev for hiring an asshole like Tyco, but she knew it wouldn’t change anything at that moment. She thought about Gale, who had shut Tyco up for treating her poorly. She slowly walked to the passengers bunk room and saw the door open. She knocked on the wall right outside.
“Intrude.” the synthetic voice of MRK-4 called out. She walked in on the droid still holding the Carbine. He lowered it when he saw her. She looked around the room but Gale was not in here.
“Where’d Gale go?” she asked MRK-4.
“He went to the lavatory.” MRK-4 replied. “He said something about a shave.” the droid finished. Stella nodded. She turned around and bumped into Gale.
“Excuse me Stella, I didn’t realize you were in here.” he laughed. Looking up at him she felt a wave of heat rush up her face.
“Oh, um. N-no worries. I-I just wanted to come in here and, you weren’t here, and-” Stella stammered. Gales hands gripped her shoulders.
“Stella.” He interrupted. She looked into his eyes. The steel color capturing her attention. “Breathe.” he ordered. She took a long breath in and closed her eyes as she exhaled. When she opened her eyes again she saw that the look on Gale’s face was one of concern. He did like the young Zeri. Even if she was slightly erratic. “You ok?” he asked once he was sure she had gained some composer. She nodded and she felt his hands move off of her shoulders and he straightened up.
“Thank you.” Stella said after taking another deep breath, her eyes slightly down. “I’m not used to people standing up for me. I usually have to practically threaten someone or be totally indispensable before I get any sort of respect from them.” she looked back up at Gale’s face and saw that his eyes, which were usually hard and calculative, were soft and compassionate.
“No person deserves to be treated like a slave. Even the people who are one.” Gale said. He walked past Stella and pulled out a combat knife. “Is this knife the master of its actions, or is it the slave?” he asked.
“The Slave, I guess.” Stella answered. She was confused by Gale’s sudden shift of topic. He nodded his head and held the knife flat in his hand.
“This knife, as it were, is subject to my will. I can cut with, stab with it. But if I don’t treat this knife with the respect it deserves, what might happen?” Gale asked.
“You might get hurt.” Stella said. Gale took her wrist and placed the knife in her hand before closing her fingers around the hilt.
“And that is why you treat all people with respect. Because one day, that person may be in a position to help or harm you. And if you didn’t respect the abilities they possess, you may end up being hurt.” he explained, he looked from her face to the knife in her hand, “That’s yours now. I hope it keeps you safe.”
“Gale...” Stella was speechless, a Bortalli didn’t just give away a knife. This was a gesture of highest respect, and trust. This meant something.
“Go put it somewhere safe. I don’t think Tyco will be bothering you much anymore.” His smile was warm and genuine, and Stella couldn’t help but smile back. Without another word, she made her way back to her bridge, and placed the knife next to her mother’s necklace, her rock, and her favorite picture.