Outlaw’s Last Wish

Outlaw’s Last Wish – Raaken Dal is an outlaw who’s made a home for himself amongst the denizens of the deep space mining hub Urdat Gideaan. A Corporate posse from Earth carrying tech-paper warrants from his past have finally caught up to him. But they have a few surprises in store before they can collect their bounty.

The story is available as a PDF here.

Outlaw’s Last Wish

The executive stood on the gangway of the ore hauler Jackson’s Ghost, shoulder height above the angry crowd of mining crews and their families. Her face was scarred in a spider-web pattern, centered around her left eye, which swept over the crowd, milky-white and synthetic. The tarmac of the station dock curved up into the inverted horizon, fluorescent guidelines receding into the distance above the hulking cube of the ship. Two more of the giant ore haulers could be seen further up the horizon, tiny blocks, like children’s toys. Far above, where the sky would have been on a planet, distant docking facilities hung, upside down in the centrifugal gravity.

There were mutters and curses from the gathered thousands. Wails and cries of fear wafted through the hollow dock air. Three captains stood at the front of the miners: gnarled old Feotas of the Woodland Vale, shifty-eyed Karalak of the Naglfar, and tall, bearded Revnavin, of the Jackson’s Ghost. They held shimmering tech-paper warrants, signed by the Board of Directors on Earth.

Joniah Caaden’s gaze settled on them each in turn, one eye a pale blue, the other white as frost. Each of the captains looked away, except the last. Revnavin stared back with a silent fury that bore a hint of the deep with it, as if the cold and the dark of space had seeped into his soul over the years, and now sought release. When she spoke, Caaden’s voice was amplified by her prim red business suit, carrying to the furthest reaches of the crowd.

“These are Company ships.”

“These are our people. Our families.”

Revnavin stalked up the gangplank, long beard swaying with his stride. The company woman grinned as he came to a stop, towering over her. She toggled off her suit’s amplification.

“You should know, Captain, I’ve been invested with wide latitude in the execution of this mission.”

“Is that a threat?”

Her cyclopic gaze did not waver.

“Load up those modules and make your ship ready, Captain.”

“Damn you, Caaden, we have next of kin!”

“Read the warrant. You can litigate, but you can’t refuse me.”

“I’ll show you what we can do.”

Revnavin swung a hard right for Caaden’s jaw, but never connected. The air beside the Company executive seemed to warble and coalesce briefly into the turbulent outlines of a suited trooper, catching the fist and twisting, so Revnavin gasped in pain and flew off the gangplank to land in the crowd.

“I have a squad of chameleons with me, of course. To discourage this sort of thing.”

Her mismatched gaze stared down at Revnavin, who was clutching his sprained wrist and glaring pure murder up the gangplank.

“I see I will have to make an example of you, Captain.”

There was a snub-nosed energy cannon in Caaden’s hands, matte black and ergonomic, a tiny red light winking near the barrel, like the gaze of a devil.

“Any last words for the history vids?”

Revnavin cursed and surged into the crowd, shoving people out of his way. Caaden sighted carefully, focused the distance, and pulled the trigger. An invisible beam of coherent light burned the top off the fleeing Captain’s head and faded to harmless red scatter just beyond. The body toppled, bloodless, and the smell of charred brains wafted over the assembled. People screamed, others vomited. Caaden carefully re-holstered the slim energy cannon in her suit’s inner pocket.

“I am leaving a chameleon on station to see to your families. I hope you understand what will happen if I don’t get your utmost cooperation. I’ll be assuming command of the Jackson’s Ghost. Captains, see to your ships. We have an outlaw to catch.”

*          *          *

The brilliant lights of Urdat Gideaan filled the forward viewing screen. Almost halfway between Sol and the red monster Betelgeuse, the port survived and thrived by playing one side against the other in the eternal war of interstellar commerce. In the ghetto hubs and rarified wheels of the Urdat, everything was for sale, and life was cheaper than air. Agents from Trajan System Holdings slept in cubicles next to lawyers from the Clearsky Mining Consortium, next to CEO’s from Betelgeuse Prime, the lot of them serviced by enterprising underage synth-dealing prostitutes.

Raaken Dal sat at the helm of the Imperial Hubris, foot up on the dashboard, staring at the approaching lights. The rainbow points whirled, a dervish of greens and oranges, reds and blues. The many hubs spun in alternating directions, each with its own counter-spinning wheels, the complex of movement mesmerizing, like the artwork of a child god, at play in the vast emptiness of interstellar space. In a way, Dal thought, humanity was like that, a monstrously powerful child, only recently emerged from the womb of Earth. Capable of blind rage and blunders, yet also capable of the greatest creations.

There was a soft chime, Dal’s eyes pulling back to focus on readouts that flashed amber icons, mass intrusion alerts. He swung his feet off the dash and shifted the screen in time to see his best friend blown to pieces.

He had two escorts on this run; Hool-Apaarth, a taciturn Qolonese native with piercing hazel eyes; and his childhood friend Elez Zamiel, the one man he’d ever really trusted. The pair had been flying their ships in a defensive pattern around his. He carried the contraband, after all, and he was Raaken Dal. It meant that when the first micro-missile volleys streaked in from the void, Elez Zamiel’s ship was right there to intercept them. The explosion knocked the Imperial Hubris into a bad spin for an instant, before Raaken pulled hard on the controls, stabilizing and lancing away under full output. He blinked a comm burst to Hool-Apaarth.

-Burn. Meet back at the Waterfall.

An energy column shredded the vacuum kilometers behind him, blanking out his scopes for a moment’s overload. Raaken cursed. A directed energy cannon that powerful had to be mounted on a battleship, or something the size of a battleship. He spotted the thing an instant later, a huge ore hauler, militarized, its once-plain boxy surface bristling now with turrets and generator modules. He ran the specs through the motherboard, came back with a positive ID. The Jackson’s Ghost.

Revnavin? What the fuck?

Raaken Dal gritted his teeth and burned hard, pushing the exotic fusion engines beyond their design limits, knifing through the void, trying to put some distance between the Imperial Hubris and the militarized beast. Then he saw the sensor flare of another ship coming into range, and he did not need the motherboard to identify the Woodland Vale.

Captain Feotas was a true friend, a partisan. His ship’s signature registered happy tones on the Hubris’ sensor feeds. For a second Raaken allowed himself to relax. Then the Vale opened fire on him as well, micro-missiles and energy columns triangulating. A third ship flared onto the sensors, coming from yet another direction.

Raaken Dal cursed a constant, mindless stream of spit and rage, hard pressed to avoid the multiple attack vectors, even with the ship’s motherboard handling the nastier calculations for him. No time for thought, he made a decision. Said a prayer to his god of Chance, and flicked off his harness; slapped a hand to his pressure alert patch and felt the bubble-helm form over his head. Checked his suit status once and punched in a self destruct code, blasting out the side of the ship an instant before it tore itself apart with an intense flash of heat and radiation that pushed the limits of his suit’s shielding.

By the time the pursuing ships had their sensors back online from the explosion’s overload, he was just one more piece of burnt junk, spinning in the void. They began to methodically collect the pieces, but Raaken Dal was long gone by then.

He’d angled his trajectory so that his suit’s thrusters had just enough juice in them to get him the rest of the way to the port. He coasted in the final nine thousand kilometers on sheer momentum, saving the last of the fuel for final adjustments that proved unnecessary, his aim spot on.  This was a good thing; it left him some juice for braking.

Not enough, he realized, an instant before landing hard on the deck of the port bay and blacking out. His suit brought him back, moments later. Good thing he’d installed a medkit upgrade. No-one had noticed him.  Most people didn’t arrive at Urdat Gideaan in anything smaller than an interstellar yacht. Certainly no one expected a man in a suit to come plonking down from the void. The port was in the middle of nowhere, and prided itself on the fact. Blinded itself by it.

Raaken Dal collected his ruminant wits and kicked off in the zero gee, making for an entrance nodule. The guard at the airlock recognized him, and grinned like an idiot, asking for a part in Dal’s next job. Raaken told him he would look into it, then moved on into the teeming crowds of the port.

Two hours later, Joniah Caaden watched coldly as the Jackson’s Ghost made hard-dock with the mighty spinning station. She turned and nodded at thin air, which suddenly rippled into the turbulent shape of a trooper.

“Go. I’ll send you the coordinates en route.”

The warbling shape saluted, and moved off like a wraith.

Caaden turned back to the dock and frowned. It would not be simple, not here. Dal was said to have a thousand friends on the port, but then, the Company had a few as well. Caaden toggled her neural implant, and put through a comm call.

*          *          *

The Waterfall was a run-down tavern in the lower ghetto hub, owned by Dal and operated by his blind uncle, Jeofex. The old man used an echolocation implant to move as deftly as any sighted man, but complained bitterly of the lack of poetry in his colorless view of the world. Mirrors were to him no more than blank sheets, reflecting nothing; he would never witness the glory of sunlight glittering off a drop of condensation, or feel the electric rush of neon on his retina. Dal had bought him the color upgrade, but the hoary old bastard had just scoffed and said he liked it better in shades of gray, like his soul.

He was behind the bar, wiping at the impeccably polished wood surface with a nanofiber towel. He looked up and grunted in surprise when Raaken strode in. The tall outlaw strode through the crowd of locals, some of whom recognized him and called out his name or clapped him on the back. A lazy grin on his face, he acknowledged a few of these greetings and took a seat at the bar. Locking gazes with his uncle, the smile went brittle.

“Has Apaarth been here?”

The old man shook his head.

“There’s a posse in from Earth. A Company VP, name of Caaden, some deputized mining rigs, and some pissed off miners. The bad kind of trouble.”

Raaken felt a hot line slice from his heart to his throat and stick there, tasting of acid. He cursed.

“You know him? Caaden?”

“Her. Yeah, I know her.”

“..And?”

Dal glanced away from his uncle for a beat.

“Killed her boys. Both of them. Nine years ago. Twins. In one duel, the stupid little shits. She watched it…That was before I was outlawed. It was part of why I was outlawed, I suppose.”

Raaken Dal sniffled loudly and made a sound that reminded Jeofex of a vent-rat he’d once strangled. Raaken’s eyes were golden, the color of honey, bloodshot now. The bar was very quiet.

“I’ll have a dram, Uncle.”

“You shouldn’t be here, now that the Company people are in town. They say your friend brought chameleon troopers with her, to hunt you down like a vent-rat.”

Raaken Dal forced a chuckle.

“She’ll have a hard enough time finding anyone here who gives a shit about Earth or her warrants, eh boys? A drink for everyone, on the house!”

They all roared at that, except for one man, who waited, then slid towards the door. Raaken made a motion with his chin, and the blind bartender stepped away without a word. Dal poured himself a shot of local hydroponic whisky and then another, and then a third, until Jeofex returned, a sour look on his gnarly, space-weathered old face. He used the nanofiber towel to wipe blood from his knuckles.

“Bastard was calling Security Hub. Once they have it, the whole fucking port has it. You had better go.”

Raaken downed another shot and took the bottle with him, licking his lips.

“Damned good vintage, Uncle.”

He was through the crowd, swaying slightly. Outside, there were bloodstains on the tiles, and the outlaw grinned.

“One more step and I’ll burn your head off.”

The voice was cold, utterly devoid of emotion. A woman’s voice, from the alley behind him. Dal stopped, his grin fading like an eclipse.

“Turn around.”

“Are you going to shoot me when I do?”

“It won’t be that easy for you, Raaken Dal.”

The voice had been familiar, but now he was sure.  He felt like dropping his bowels onto the tiles right there, but turned around instead.

Caaden had a prosthetic eye inserted, spiderweb scars hidden by makeup, but it was her. Cold blue eyes stared out of a handsome, heartless face.

Raaken forced his trademark lazy grin.

“You know what I always tell my men when they ask me how I got to where I am?”

“Shut up. Get on your knees.”

“I tell them never to compromise their honor. I tell them never to harm the poor or the helpless, but defend them against the wicked. I tell them to share what they take from your treasure ships. Do this, and they’ll never stand alone against the Company.”

“Yet here you stand, alone.”

“So do you, and that little hand laser doesn’t scare me.”

“I never took you for such a fool, Raaken Dal. Execute.”

The air blurred and strangled the outlaw into submission.

He awoke groggily to the sounds of a whispered argument and the blind awareness of pain.

“…are we supposed to do now? … says he won’t let us back through for less than twenty thousand credits. It’s absurd! That’s more than-”

“I tell you what we do, we wake up Dal and get him to deal with the Dockmaster.”

“Or we just kill him now and have done with it. Carry out the head, maybe. For the bounty.”

“Are you crazy? How do you expect to get off this station alive if we do that? They’re searching the corridors for him, chopping people up with fucking power-axes! Besides, Caaden…”

“Fine. I just want to-”

“Look, he’s coming around.”

Footsteps approached. Raaken tried to move and then tried to scream in pain. His hands were broken, and tied behind his back with thin wires that cut the skin when he moved. He was bleeding freely from countless wounds, but no-one seemed to care. The lights were pitilessly bright, and Raaken made out the thin weasel face of Captain Karalak and the sagging jowls of Captain Feotas. The old man smiled sympathetically.

“It was you or our families Raaken. You understand.”

“Company’s evil, Feotas.”

He was surprised at the strength of his voice, through his broken face.

“They have our families.”

“All the more reason they should be held to justice.”

The old man shook his head sadly.

“That is not the universe we live in. Here, it is Raaken Dal who will face justice. And a harsh justice it will be.”

Raaken spat blood and teeth, coughing up some darker stuff. His words dribbled from crimson lips, his eyes searching the brilliant pain of the lights.

“Did me good, didn’t she, before she left? And then just left, on her own, in a chameleon suit… slipped past my men, just to be safe, no? So now, of course you’re…having trouble with the escape plan. Did you even consider how hard this would be?”

“You’re lucky to be breathing, Raaken.”

He mulled this a moment, tasting blood.

“Was it a lucky when I spared your lives and crews during the last blockade? It used to be us against the Company. Now it’s-”

There was a massive explosion, followed by the howl of rending metal from hubward. The walls began to spin. Emergency klaxons were wailing, hurricane winds rushed down the decompressing corridors, carrying people and things, whistling through the emergency seals as they slid smoothly closed.

It seemed like an age of torn air later, but  the doors sealed, and there was a brief silence, broken by the shriek of metal again, hubwards.  The spinning grew faster, and in the midst of it Feotas and Dal locked gazes.

“Your men?”

“Would they tear apart their own station, with me still inside it?”

“Then what the fuck is going on?”

Dal grinned through the blood.

“Your pal, Caaden. Seems more in her character anyway, don’t you think?”

Feotas looked away and Dal grinned wider.

“Where’s Revnavin anyway? I saw his ship trying to gut me out there.”

Feotas and Karalak shared a long, hard look. The old man leaned down and cut the outlaw’s bonds. There was a third and longer shrieking from hubward, and now the rotation was too fast, pinning them against the walls.  Finally, something gave way and they were weightless, the entire ghetto hub drifting free of the Port.  Feotas was on his comm unit, screaming orders to his men.  Lying at his feet, bleeding freely still, Raaken Dal grinned, mumbling to himself, as the lights slowly faded.  He made a wish.

*          *          *

They killed the Chameleon aboard the Woodland Vale, tricking him into showing himself and then catching him with a gelcap and slitting his throat with a miner’s blade. The ship blasted off from the pad on a pillar of ghostly blue flame and fired a volley of micro-missiles, precision targeted to the various turrets and modules attached to the Jackson’s Ghost and the Naglfar. Those ships began preparations for departure, too late. Their engines were fully disabled in the second volley, and they floated free, unpowered hulks, like dead whales, floating in the deep.

Caaden braced herself against the zero g on the bridge of the Jackson’s Ghost, snarling orders. She stopped cold when she saw the mass of suited figures boiling out of the dock’s airlock nodules. Ordinary miners, traders and portsmen, armed with power-axes and construction tools. Thousands of them. Coming for the defenseless ships. In a flash, Caaden understood what the Company was up against, what Earth itself would be up against. She wished she could change sides. By then, of course, it was far too late.