Episode 2: Crab Meat Beach Party
Ever the diplomat and unable to shoot from the back of the column, Hunter Maelstrom climbed up the nearest tree to get a clear shot as well as yell, “Don’t shoot! It might be friendly.” Annie brandished her talons and attempted to perform an acrobatic leap over Weapon-X and Ssssawar to get to Aden. Unfortunately, she slipped and fell face down in the dirt.
Weapon-X was still trying to bear his blaster rifle on the creature, but Aden’s military skills prevailed. His DC-15 rifle was up and he fired, but the bolt slightly grazed the side of the creature’s head.
Sharp, slimy teeth centimetres away from the clone’s throat, Ssssawar stepped in and swiftly punched the beast hard at the side of its head. It fell into a heap on the carpet of rotten leaves and twigs on the ground. It didn’t move again.
Aden cleared his throat and told the grinning Ssssawar, “I softened its head for you.”
“Incoming!” Hunter exclaimed from the trees and pointing at a direction. “We’ve got incoming!” Something in the bushes was approaching, displacing foliage as it travelled closer. In less than a heartbeat, everyone disappeared from view except for Hunter who belatedly told himself, “Okay, I’ll be bait from up here on this tree.”
It was a human, clad in black leather hunting gear with a brown studded leather jacket. His face was lined with age and bristled with several days worth of facial hair. The hair on his head was short and gray. He bore a large hunting blaster carbine that looked somewhat unfriendly. A bandoleer of extra ammo packs and grenades hung over a padded shoulder. He looked directly at Hunter for a second or two, then looked down at the fallen creature. He said out loud, “Who is the person who killed this vanx?”
There was silence in the jungle, except for chirping crickets – literally.
“I would like to shake the hand of the man who killed this vanx.”
A bloodied reptilian arm appeared out of the bushes to the man’s right.
Everyone came out of hiding and greeted the man. Hunter climbed down the tree and asked him, “Are you Hobb Kersil?”
“Who wants to know?”
“We are pirate hunters and we understand you escaped from the Five Skulls Brigands before. If you’d come with us, we have prepared a banq-”
“Why didn’t you say so? You want to know how to find their base?”
“Yes, but we have a fine menu prepared, as well as a waiter standing by for-”
“I am Hobb Kersil and I could tell you how to find it. I discovered a hidden, faster-than-light signal emitting from the base, with a frequency that changes every five milliseconds to a certain looping algorithm.”
“That’s fantastic. Listen, do you want to take a rest at our fine, luxury yacht before you tell us how-”
“I have a business to run, a long list of animals to catch and deliver to various customers. I don’t have time to go to your ship.”
Hunter looked at the list of creature names on his large datapad and an idea popped up. He lifted a finger and said, “Maybe if we help you find all the creatures on your list-”
“Or maybe I could just give you the algorithm I discovered and we can both be on our ways.” Kersil fished a datacard out of his pocket and slid it into the datapad. He started pressing on the keypad.
Hunter, his finger still lifted up, paused and then muttered with a grin, “Or… you could give us the algorithm and we can be on our way. Thanks.”
Five minutes later, the party from the Bad Example and the intrepid jungle hunter Hobb Kersil parted ways.
An hour later, they realised that they should have been back at the beach thirty minutes ago. After Aden on point almost led them over the side of a gorge, Hunter used his rocket pack to fly up to the canopy where he spotted the beach not three kilometres to the west. Soon after, the party burst out of the wall of foliage onto fine beach sand. The local sun was less than a hour away from the horizon. The Bad Example was still parked where they left it 200 meters away to the north.
In a single column, they strode proudly to their luxury yacht. “Everyone!” Weapon-X suddenly exclaimed. “My motion detector tells me that a large moving mass is pacing us just past the tree-line. Like it’s hunting us”
Everyone tightened their grip on their weapons. A second later, a large six-limbed creature with large, sharp foreclaws exploded out of the tree-line in a veritable orgy of branches and leaves. Scuttling with a crab-like gait, it emitted an alien shriek from its sharp-toothed mandibles. Three eyes on its armoured, frilled head blinked at Ssssawar and it attempted to skewer the Trandoshan with its deadly foreclaws.
“Acklay!” Aden yelled as Ssssawar sprinted and then slid under the attacking behemoth, its claws missing the reptile. Annie immediately leapt and struck its head with her claws, but the frill was sufficiently armoured to glance off the blow. The Trianii held on tight as the savage acklay tried to shake her off.
Aden had been silently standing still and aiming carefully amidst the chaos of claws, sand and leaves. He fired a single blaster shot that struck the acklay’s right forelimb joint, blowing off the limb. Shrieking in pain, it attempted to bite Annie off its head. As it widened its maw, a single grenade flew into it from Weapon-X’s hand.
The beast’s head exploded in a cloud of bone, flesh and blood. A single felinoid figure somersaulted through the air and safely fell on her two feet in a crouch. Several heartbeats later, even acklay’s the death-throes had stopped.
“You know what this meanssss,” said Ssssawar to Annie.
They group spent the early part of the evening having a barbecue on the beach. Everyone, even R4-T61 joined in, flipping acklay-meat patties on the hibachi that Ssssawar produced seemingly out of nowhere. They also liberated a cache of drinks from the pantry. Everyone went to bed with bellies filled with acklay meat or went into stand-by mode happy and satisfied with the Bad Example secured and closed up for the night.
They awoke the next morning fresh and ready to track the Five Skulls. Annie took the ship up into orbit around Vendaxa as they attempted to use the algorithm Hobb Kersil provided them to isolate the signal that would lead them to Irontooth Station. It took them more than a hour. Everyone had a go at it. Even Arfour was unable to crack it. Finally, it was Hunter who successfully used the algorithm to isolate the hidden signal.
According to the navicomputer, Irontooth Station was presently located in interstellar space between the Iotra system and the Pirek system.
Returning to Port Barrow on Sriluur, the crew of the Bad Example discovered that two more freighters had been attacked and taken by the Five Skulls Brigands in their absence. Gromer hoped that the raids could end soon. It was getting bad for business.
Hunter calmed him by informing him that they had the coordinates of the pirate base and would attempt to infiltrate them after everyone was prepared.
Later, the crew of the Bad Example had a conference. They decided they could not sneak aboard the pirate base since there it was in deep space. So, they would take the Raspberry Beret and broadcast the Rapscallion Ragamuffin transponder signal, then spoke the all-clear code. If they were allowed to land, they would try to infiltrate by bluffing their way in somehow.
Before they left, Weapon-X purchased a Plex-4 missile launcher and got four free missiles with standard warheads out of it. He wanted to shoot at attacking ships in space from the balcony at the back of the Bad Example‘s observation deck. Annie bought a light blast vest that did not hamper her movements while giving her some manner of protection. Ssssawar was happy with his new vibroaxe. Hunter spent four thousand credits purchasing parts to upgrade the shields on the Raspberry Beret.
Finally, for the well-being of the crew, Hunter also purchased a brand-new shiny, grey-green medical droid named 2-1B-ER.
At dawn, they said their farewells to Tickley, Tam Gromer, the technicians, droids and landing field personnel who worked with them to repair the landing field equipment and upgrade their shipboard systems. The Raspberry Beret was soon climbing up the early Sriluur sky and headed into orbit. R4-T61 and 2-1B-ER were along for the ride.
Arfour set course for Irontooth Station and jumped the ship into hyperspace.
Hunter showed Ee-Ar, the medical droid, the way to the lounge where he could use the fold down bunks as medical stations. Hunter noticed that the droid was not paying attention well and asked him, “Ee-Ar, have you fixed anyone up before?”
“No,” Ee-Ar said sadly.
“Have you been purchased before?”
“Is this your first job… ever?”
“Okay, any question?”
“Can I sit?”
“Can I sit?”
Great, thought Hunter resting his face in his palm. I just bought a brand new droid with acute depression.
“I’ll go sit over there,” Ee-Ar said. The rest of the voyage, Annie was threatening the droid with her claws to get it to be more enthusiastic about medicine and first aid.
Some hours later, the ship dropped out of hyperspace. The scopes were flashing their alert. There was something in the interstellar space before them. It was a large asteroid twelve hundred metres in diameter. A bank of ion engines could be see clustered at one end of the asteroid. There were small structures which emerged from the rock in a random pattern. They could make out pinpoints of light which could only be rows of windows.
Irontooth Station was a mobile asteroid base.
Ssssawar, who was asleep in the cockpit, promptly woke up, caught a glance of the station and asked, “Is that our new ship?”
Hunter pressed on the intership comlink button and announced, “The rose is red, but the snow is white.”
Seconds went by like days. There was a burst of static from the speaker. Then a voice spoke, “We don’t need the code between us now do we? Transmitting our landing beacon frequency now. Please follow it in quickly.”
The Raspberry Beret accelerated toward Irontooth Station following the beacon signal and entered a hangar bay through open doors. A semi-permeable forcefield kept air in. The Beret descended and settled down on a landing pad. The landing bay dimly lit and relatively empty. Only the blast door entrance was brightly lit. Do they fight? Do they surrender? Do they bluff their way through?
The blast door slid up, and four tough-looking guards each bearing a blaster pistol strode into the landing bay, escorting a man in full pirate regalia. The man walked up to the Beret‘s closed entry ramp and started knocking hard on it. They were preparing for a fight when the man loudly spoke. The external microphone conveyed the words, “Captain Hunter Maelstrom. If you are aboard this vessel, Lord Irontooth demands your presence at his throne room.”
Everyone looked at Hunter, who frowned and assured them, “I have no idea who Lord Irontooth is.”
The ramp was lowered. Leaving Arfour and Ee-Ar aboard, everyone else descended onto the hangar deck to meet their welcoming committee. The man was short and wore a sash and bright medals. He studied Hunter very carefully, then told him, “Lord Irontooth awaits you at the throne room.”
Escorted by the man, they all marched to their meeting with the infamous Lord Irontooth, turning left down a corridor here and turning right into an empty hallway. Then a short ride up an elevator brought them to a long room with a solid wall with metal panels on their left and a clear trasparisteel panel which showcased the stars outside beautifully to their right. At the far end of the room was a throne fixed upon a dais. It was also dimly lit. Their guide disappeared with the elevator, leaving them alone in the throne room.
Weapon-X scanned the room with his motion detector and informed his team-mates that someone was approaching from behind the wall behind the throne. Hunter ignored the warning and bounded up the dais to sit in the chair. It felt comfortable.
Suddenly, a shadow crossed Hunter. A dark, ominous silhouette revealed itself to Hunter. Everyone drew their weapons, but Hunter issued a hand signal and everyone stood down. The figure moved into the light. The face was familiar, a spitting image of Hunter Maelstrom except that he was at least ten years older and wore a full beard.
“Hunter!” the pirate lord boomed. “It is I, your elder brother Slaughter Maelstrom!”
“S-S-Slaughter,” Hunter was unable to complete his sentence. “How did you…”
“It is a long story brother,” Slaughter said. “I shall tell it later. But for the moment I have a proposal for you.”
Everyone was still dumbstruck to speak, so Slaughter continued cheerfully.
“I want you and your crew to join us.”
TO BE CONTINUED… here.