I knew this to be a place for creatures that didn't want to be found, the dregs of worlds far and near that had separated themselves from the rest of civilized life through their own actions and choosing. It was a far away desert world, remote, barely charted, and dangerous, without forgiveness or much charity. It was a place for pirates and smugglers, or desperate peoples fleeing some kind of justice or injustice, and I knew I had to be cautious.
I had landed on the outskirts, in the blue sands, away from the usual sheltered ports and windy dust storms that were probably constant here, but only because it was cheaper. I merely needed fuel but I also needed a cargo, if I could find one, and I wasn't too particular about what it was, either. I was that desperate. After a remote fueler had topped my fuel cells with propulsion grade silicone, I began my long walk into the city, three taelons from the outskirts.
I suppose grasping for any kind of cargo put me in league with all the other inhabitants, transit or not, that frequented this place and places like it, but I was out of almost everything. I had nothing left as far as credits were concerned but what I carried in my pocket and nothing but my wits to lead me to something lucrative enough to get me back into the regular shipping lanes, where I usually earned my living.
How I came to be out here was a long tedious story but basically, I trusted someone I shouldn't have for a nice fee, but ended up almost losing my ship and my life, instead of collecting any kind of money for my service.
I saw a canteen up ahead, browsing the city for someplace halfway respectable, though none were, really. I knew enough about these ports that, that was where most of the negotiations for freight, trade, and passage to other planets took place. There was nothing like a trade organization in these kinds of worlds, so, most all things were done by word of mouth or bulletin boards.
I went in to check the board but there was nothing that looked like a job, so strolled into the depths of the canteen and endured, as I always have, the rude remarks and cat calls of the foul humans and near humans as well as the baser alien customers inside that had acquired a taste for human women. Women everywhere had to put up with it and I was no exception. I am somewhat refined enough in looks that men and alien alike enjoy what they see, so it was inevitable, I knew. I never react unless I'm touched and one creature made that mistake, so I created an example of him. He was a poor fighter and it didn't last very long, in spite of him outweighing me two fold. I stepped over his broken, passed out figure and those four arms and two legs spread wide over the sandy stone floor. He wouldn't be getting up without help when he came to.
Since I had the hole canteen's attention, I took advantage of my instant notoriety.
"I'm a freighter pilot with a ship for hire. Anyone needing passage or cargo shipped back to the Rim, anywhere, I still have room," I told the smoke filled, dark and hidden recesses of the low ceiling joint as well as the illuminated, stand-up bar patrons. Nobody jumped up with questions and offers so I ordered some Chaga, these outer reaches version of fine wine, which it wasn't, but you got a taste for it, if you drank your fair share.
I took the huge serving of Chaga in both hands and put my lower back to the bar's edge to look over the crowd. I wanted to see if I could make eye-contact with anyone vaguely needing something shipped out, but they were all still considering me suspiciously, and for the imagined charter of my craft for their cargo, possibly. But everyone turned away. That happened a lot with me. People didn't like my stare, I had been told, once. "It's too serious," they warned. "Your intelligence comes through and it intimidates them. You should smile more," but it was hard to smile in a man's world, or around bestial aliens, or any people, human or half-humans, like these.
I sipped at my pitcher and walked the perimeter of the bar, leaning again and again with my back against its edge, watching from time to time beside its scratched acrylic/neon surface, making my presence known and available. I was hoping I wouldn't have to smack anyone down, again, or that if I got into another confrontation, that I could win it.
It wasn't until I had almost give up on this canteen, circumnavigating the central bar, that I saw a Floridian staring at me, lightly holding a small but elegant glass of something dark to drink, which he must have paid an enormous price for, in a place like this. He was human, five fingered and all, which I've always thought looked weird when four, like mine, did just fine. But his stare seemed nice enough while I ignored his looking as I strolled almost past him, slow and easy. They were just like us except for the extra digits on their hands -- and feet, also -- those Floridians, I'd been told. That and they had no peaks to their ears. He was very beautiful, though, as far as a Floridian went. Very dramatic and balanced features and even on my world he would have been considered very good looking in the extreme. I looked away at others but when I looked back, noticing his focused attention, he offered me the other spot in his two person booth with his closed fingered hand, like a friend would, though his features remained neutral. I couldn't read his intentions he was so cool, but there seemed to be the slightest smile in his eyes, so I approached. There was only one way to find out what he wanted so I sat down.
"I understand you have a ship for hire," he said.
"Yes. Are you interested?"
"Perhaps. What can you haul, tonnage wise?"
"Forty-two Kelic and then some."
"And your high velocity, empty?"
"I've taken it as high as ninety-two point three Lumars, recently," I said, then thinking to myself, Yeah, running for my life.
"Ninety-two? That's pretty quick for a cargo vessel, isn't it?"
"It's a converted corvette from the Iridin Navy. It's been stripped of most of its armor, and its not armed with military grade weaponry anymore, so its pretty light. It gets around fast enough. They left their engines in it. They're the Sporce versions. Some of the best and easiest engines to modify and soup-up. It's in good shape if you're looking for a fast dependable vessel.
"It may be suitable," he told me, his voice droning like a deep singer's voice. It almost felt like it vibrated something in my chest it was so melodic. It was a unique kind of sound that made you trust him or fear him, I could just imagine. I didn't know quite how I was feeling at the moment but he seemed, almost, on the up and up.
"What kind of cargo do you have?"
"Just myself and one chest," he informed.
"Alkalla-Embank, out in the Habrids."
I was shocked. I knew that planet. That was halfway across the galaxy.
"Have you got the money. That's a long ways from here. I'll want it up front."
"What kind of fee would that take to get me there in thirty days?"
"Yes. I have business there in thirty-one days."
"You're asking a lot."
"I'll pay a lot. How much?"
I figured costs and expenditures, stores and fuel, then told him. It wasn't a small figure.
He thought about it for only a second. "I'll give you three times that amount if you take me there up over the central bulge."
"Over the Massive? Why?"
"I'd like to avoid the usual delays due to customs and tariff ports. I need a straight shot through over the center. Can you do it?"
I thought I knew approximately the distance but wanted to check it. I broke out my mini-comp' and charted a course through the Massive, over its upper fields and came up with a time table, and a new figure.
"I'd have to go all out, at near maximum the entire distance. That would eat up more fuel and its about two-fifths further. How does two-point-seven sound?" That was 2.7 million credits. I didn't believe that statement about three times the fee thing. I'd make a good profit at that and he would get there without a problem, I was certain. There were no pirates out above the Massive, I'd ever heard about, and no one ruled that area of the galaxy. It was wide open and empty of almost any stars or worlds, and peoples. Yeah. I could do that; no problem.
"I'll give you ten if we leave within the hour."
My eyes must have enlarged. That was a small fortune to me. He really wanted to get there. I figured there must be another incentive he wasn't telling me about, maybe some local complications but at that figure, I didn't care.
"I'll have to get more stores..." I began, and as if reading my mind, he reached into his dark black leather jacket and brought out a large flat wallet with all the money in the world in his hand. He counted out ten, fast, and gave me the entire fee, right there and then, in plain view of all the rest of those questionable characters in the canteen, so I knew I'd be leaving real soon. I was going to ask him for an advance right then so I could get the added food stores we'd need, but he knew my mind. And I knew right were to get the stores, from a place I had just passed, coming to the canteen. There would be little if any delay.
"I'll see you ship-side, then, within the hour," he said, and got up and left.
I experienced and remember, now, how wonderful he smelled. But suddenly realized he didn't know where I was docked, out in the blue sands, but maybe he saw me land, somehow. I spun to tell him within a couple of seconds of his passing me, but he was already gone. It was many steps to the exit but he was no where around. Anyway, I figured, finding my ship was his problem. I had my money and if I had to wait, I'd wait.
He came across the distance between the city and myself at a jog. His 'chest', as he called it, was barely a backpack, and he carried the thing on his back like one, via two straps. It wasn't until he passed me again, coming through the hatch, that I noticed his incredibly intoxicating scent, once more, and that the pack was a Sublin designed thing. Hugely expensive. It was the size of a backpack, a thin one, but it could be stored with items ten or twelve times its outer volume. It was one of those strange physics things that no one understood, but the Sublins, but they could make them, and I didn't know where he got his money, but this guy had some, there was no way around it. At least it was a legal jump, taking him on as a passenger, all the way to Alkalla-Embank. Plus, I already had my money. So I didn't care where this man had acquired so much wealth. I could guess, but I didn't want to know. If he was a drug dealer, that was his business. I just hope I lived to deliver him. These people are dangerous, as I said. But as I also said, I was desperate.
We blasted off planet without incident, as I had hoped, with him running to the ship worrying that someone might be after him, and rolled into our spirals, gaining speed with each pass of the planet, then breaking away for altitude beyond that dry world and lifting in light-speed, heading strait up and angled towards the distant Massive, for the time being. I wanted to secure as much momentum as I could for the coast across and over the central part of the galaxy bulge, the Massive. I finally ended the burn and stood, then announced over the ships intercom, "We're through. You can un-strap now. We're safe."
"We were never in any danger in the first place, were we?" a voice said, tongue in cheek, behind me. He hadn't gone to his launch chair. I could hear the smile in his voice.
"Didn't you strap in?" I asked.
"I never do, unless I'm on a liner and it will cause a problem. I don't like being confined."
"You also don't know what kind of a pilot I am. I could have made a mistake and you would have been pulverized against some bulkhead. And I would have had a mess to clean up."
"I suppose that's a possibility," he said, smiling my way. It was a beautiful, beautiful smile.
I stared at him and came to a conclusion. "You like to do things on your own terms, don't you?"
The smile continued. "Don't you?"
I did, but for the sake of my there and now, I wasn't going to admit it and give him the satisfaction. Launches were bad enough and dangerous. "Please just do the normal thing, next time, alright? The safety procedures were set up to help people live, not hurt them. And while you're on my ship, I need you to respect my authority."