Citizens of the Imperium

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Blue Ghost November 7th, 2017 12:39 PM

A Scout's tale
Rewrite 1

The thunderous roar of thousands packed in an open air coliseum reverberated through Aston’s body as the two golden maned bare chested combatants clashed with one another in a flurry of striking and slashing with bloody results. It was like watching two adult male lions on the Serengeti or Sumo wrestlers in Soli space. The Aslan crowd ate it up, cheering and literally roaring in approval the more intense the mayhem became.

Aston wiped his forehead with one of several bandannas he kept in his scout service cargo pants. The official data described Leaiyhoh as a garden world. They failed to mention the extreme heat and humidity that usually came with warm jungle climates. Bare chested with his shirt tied around his waist, nested between two hulking Aslan males, Aston was sure he was the only human in the stands, and no one seemed to mind.

Again, another collision in the designated tournament circle, and another thunderous roar of approval from the mostly male audience. Or so Aston assumed. Sexes between Aslan were pretty distinct, but he didn’t want to assume that this kind of thing was a male only spectating sport, even though he had not seen any Aslan women enjoying the fare.

He wiped more sweat from his brow, then took a sip of the bitter-sweet liquid he had resting next to his knee. The world data said the beverage was non-poisonous, and as usual all the online reviews were mixed between those who loved the native foods and those who hated them. He’d tasted better in his time out in this section of space.

As usual the rest of the crew were away on official business, leaving Aston to sight see by himself. He had wandered the central city which looked like a mixture of stone buildings with electronic signs and ancient Roman architecture, replete with stone worked streets that catered mostly to foot traffic, which is how Aston had found himself in this section of town. A large stone architecture coliseum beckoned to be explored, and so Aston splurged on a ticket for himself to experience the native fare. Bloody and violent, but no deaths so far.

An ornately dressed male, adorned in gold inlaid purple fabric, flanked by an honor guard armed with razor sharp polearms, shouted a command in the native tongue. The two stopped, and slowly back peddled as the honor guard approached with weapons levelled. The well dressed male made some kind of announcement, pointed to one of the two fighters, then said something else. A foul? Aston wasn’t sure, but whatever it was sparked a hushed murmur punctuated with the occasional unintelligible commentary from those seated nearby. Aston hadn’t bothered to get a data burst of the local dialects (though he understood that the Aslan were united in language, unusual for most sophont species), but he could imagine what they were saying.

Aston checked the old fashioned paper pamphlet tour-guide that he’d purchased at one of the starport gift-shops. Apparently, these kinds of bouts were scheduled to settle matter of personal honor—slights, other insults, and whatever constituted a dent in one’s honor—were made a spectacle before the public. What these two were fighting about again Aston hadn’t a clue, but he was sure that by human standards it was probably something petty.

Some kind of loud chime clanged in the upper tiers near the skybox, and the two combatants approached the well dressed individual who pointed them where to stand. Yet another group of individuals came into the tournament circle carrying something covered by ornately gold inlaid cloth. And yet another set of seemingly younger individuals pulled the cloth aside to reveal to large cases, one for each fighter. The cases were opened to reveal long mirror polished scimitars.

Aston quietly shook his head. Didn’t these people believe in small claims’ courts or simply apologizing? He didn’t question it. This was the norm for this society and who was he to comment on something that worked for these people—however barbaric. He shoved the thought aside. Someone was probably going to die. The Aslan on the left, the shorter of the two and seemingly younger, seemed to bear more scars than the slightly taller one to Aston’s right, who was also not as winded.

Blue Ghost November 8th, 2017 03:02 PM

Okay, I'm cringeing. Lots of "Terran this" and "terran that" and blah blah blah. Oh well.

Blue Ghost November 10th, 2017 04:12 AM

Rewrite 2
Each combatant carefully took a weapon and examined it with a warrior’s appraisal. Each stepped back and took practice strokes, dazzling the audience with another flurry of maneuvers that flashed and glinted in the noon day sun, then once again re-appraised their blades. The official shouted something and the small entourages that bore the weapons quickly withdrew as the official and his honor guard stepped forward once more. He called out while pointing to two spots in the tournament area.

The two combatants approached the designated spots, and stood with weapons held flat as if to present them to the official. The referee approached each fighter in turn, asking questions. The taller one to Aston’s right gave a quiet rudimentary response, but the slightly shorter and more winded warrior levelled his blade at the taller when approached. The official’s honor guard quickly levelled their polearms at the younger warrior. The referee was unmoved by the impassioned gesture, and held his ground as he watched the younger warrior spout something in the local dialect. His soliloquy was long and loud, and the young warrior finished his accusatory tirade that garbled the words to even the most fluent speaker of the language, though Aston could imagine what was being said. He didn’t know the entire context of the fight, but there was enough blood and venom to give the gist that one of the two had been slighted, probably the more tired of the two, though Aston couldn’t be sure.

The official quietly ordered the accuser to back off, but the young Aslan warrior didn’t move, daring the official. The official locked eyes with him, arms akimbo, then barked a single command. The young warrior hesitated, but obeyed with a snarl and roar. The official then turned to the tall quiet combatant, and asked the same thing. The response was inaudible and seemed to underscore a larger point. Again, what it was Aston could only guess.

The official stepped back to the middle of the tournament area, then called his honor guard back to his side. He then stepped forward and looked at the crowd with a cool gaze. Again, Aston was tempted to tap into his computer to get a translation, but felt the raw experience was worth forgoing the technological aid. Even if he had a translation he was sure that he wouldn’t have been able to get the full story. Besides, one grudge match was like another. Someone felt wounded, another denied it, meaning one of them was lying, and the only way to settle honor was death or severe injury.

The official delivered a brief speech to the crowd, then stopped. Tails flicked, the hushed murmur quieted down during the soliloquy, after which only the wind flapping of the flags ringing the stadium could be heard. The official shouted a question to the crowd, but no one answered. Aston looked left and right to see the crowd reaction, but all eyes were fixed on the official. Still no one spoke.

Blue Ghost November 12th, 2017 02:32 AM

The younger blood scarred Aslan left his mark to approach the crowd in the stands, then shouted something to plead his case and berate all who would not speak in his behalf. Again, Aston couldn’t understand a word, but the accusing tone coupled with him levelling his sword in a circular fashion at the crowd, told all. The warrior stood there, as if expecting a response. But no one spoke. Again, only the ambience of flapping flags and gentle wind filled the stands. The young warrior’s eyes widened in a moment of shock. It was perhaps the most human thing Aston had witnessed from an Aslan in his entire time he had been in the Hierate. The young warrior turned back to face both official and his opponent, then growled another defiant phrase.

The official glanced at both, stepped back, his guard still flanking him, then shouted a command.

The two combatants circled one another, scimitars held upright. Both yelled and charged one another again. The sabers clanged several times before the two became locked, blades and bodies pressed against one another in a life death struggle. They pushed off from one another, regaining distance. The more tired of the two then cried a roar unlike any Aston had ever heard, and charged with his weapon held high.

The taller took a step back, his scimitar held low at his waist, the blade pointing at an angle at the ground, then quickly stepped back again and slashed with lightning speed, the blade slicing a clean diagonal that sprayed thick vermillion liquid over the tournament circle. The young warrior stood there for a heartbeat as if paralyzed by the fatal blow before dropping into a lifeless mass of flesh. The taller Aslan muttered something, then casually tossed his weapon at the feet of his vanquished enemy, the blade impacting with a grass muted clanging thud. The victor then calmly walked towards one of the arena exits, his fellow clan members in tow until they vanished into one of the shadowed door wells.

The official stepped forward and shouted something, seemingly calling the match. The dead Aslan’s clan members came out and tore off his combat harness. A female Aslan sprayed foam across the slash, but there was no motion. Aston wasn’t sure how good the local health care was, be he was sure that no one could survive that kind of attack, no matter how skilled the paramedics were. The man, or Aslan, was dead. Aston figured the medical aid was merely to show how dedicated the clan was to their fallen member. Aslan were big on that kind of thing, or so it appeared to Aston. For all he knew they had saved him, but he doubted it.

The clan ceremoniously hefted his body onto a stretcher while a female Aslan clapped a respirator over his mouth, then hastily bore him away into an equally dark gate at the opposite end of the arena. The silence was gradually broken by a general low murmur, and eased into full conversations. Aston wasn’t sure what to make of it—the whole spectacle, but it did seem like this was how most matches panned out.

Aston tried to be non-judgmental, but it had been a barbaric spectacle that seemed familiar on a primal level. Aston imagined that this is what it must have been like in ancient times on a world light years away. But then he reminded himself that duels of honor happened in Imperial space, it just depended on the system and people involved—usually the over-privileged and those with way too much money and time on their hands. Aston mused that settling scores between high ranking nobility (or even royalty) was no different than rival low life gang members shooting it out on the streets. It came down to economy and ego, and it didn’t matter who was involved. The Aslan just didn’t make any pretense about it. It was a straightforward system of justice.

Aston found himself with mixed emotions, but reminded himself that he was not in Imperial space. Mugging, robbery, assault, arson, or whatever else, crime wasn’t unheard of in Aslan space, but their system of dealing with it struck Aston as almost being criminal. No hearing, or none that he could see, no evidence, no witnesses, no jury, no over-priced lawyers, just letting the clans decide when and where honor would be satisfied. The young warrior’s diatribe before he was slain spoke volumes for what he thought of the system, and that’s the part that would stick with Aston for years to come.
Maybe there was something more to it than simple combat to the death, though Aston couldn’t be sure, it appeared that this was all there was to justice in Aslan space.

The official and his honor guard stepped back to his dais and sat on something that was almost like a throne, while his honor guard flanked him with their polearms held out at arm’s length.

“You there?” A female voice. Aston briefly looked around, then remembered he left his earpiece on in case of an emergency. He reached for his PDA and hit the talk function.

“Yeah, I ‘m here.” Aston said out loud, which caught a few glances his way from the hulking Aslan males seated next to him.

“Where are you?!” the voice demanded.

Aston chagrined. “Well, if you got my signal, then you know where I am.”

“You’re watching those blood sports, aren’t you.”

“Ah, just taking in the local culture.”

“Do you know how dangerous it is? Did you take someone with you? A guide or one of those robot minders?”

“No, I’m out here by myself, surrounded by thousands … eh, maybe a few ten-thousand natives. I haven’t stepped on anyone’s toes, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Aston took another sip. A hamburger-mango smoothie, or so Aston surmised … that is if anyone could imagine successfully mixing the flavors—maybe with a chicken after-taste. Not good, but interesting all the same.

“Count yourself lucky.”

“Look, no one’s taken offense at me wandering around downtown.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. The captain wanted you to purge the drives before we jumped out system.”

Aston rolled his eye. “We’ve been over this before. I can’t do a decontamination until the tanks are flushed. You’re supposed to get the gear so I can run the routine…”

“Would you just get back here.” An order, not a request. “I don’t want a Scout Service engineer’s mate winding up dead in some Aslan arena. Sharon out.”

Aston heard the buzz of static in his ear signifying the closing of the channel. He shut the thing off while shaking his head, and then uttered some very impolite remarks, hoping that no Aslan within earshot understood what he was saying. Of course, even if they did, his comments were directed at the female of his species, and no Aslan females were within sight.

The official made an announcement, and two more combatants stepped from the doors at opposite ends of the arena. Aston really didn’t have the stomach for another sampling of Aslan arena justice and culture. He was curious to want to see it once, and that being done it was time to leave.

Aston briefly covered his face with his forearms and yawned, then moved down the aisle seemingly without any protest by anyone. Whether it was because he was just another ignorant and inadvertently rude human or they legitimately didn’t mind, Aston wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t about to complain nor dedicate too much thought to it.

He made his way into one of the many corridors leading to the main foyer where a few concession stands were open, manned by mostly females and catering to a small number of off-worlders. Money was exchanged, and noticeably the male Aslan attendees ignored the concession stands.

Aston tossed his drink into a waste receptacle before stepping out onto the common walkway. He looked around. Everywhere he saw mostly Aslan dressed in a variety of ornately colored and inlaid clothes, save for a few. That’s when he noticed some kind of confrontation between two males, one flanked by other males, wearing a fine flowing robe like garment made of a shiny fabric trimmed with gold filigree. The other wore a jump suit, held some kind of tool, and seemed to begrudgingly apologize.

But the other (and obviously insulted) Aslan wasn’t satisfied, and stepped forward intimidatingly, growling something that by its tone sounded like a demand for an apology. The jump-suited Aslan tried to plead his case, or again so it appeared, but the other wasn’t having any of it, and his tone became more challenging, more demanding. The jump suited Aslan bowed with his arms spread, open palmed, so far that he was staring at the ground with his body bent like a jack knife. But it wasn’t enough.

“I am not worth it!” the jump suited Aslan stated clearly in Galanglic. “Pick someone else, I beg you.”

The demanding Aslan wasn’t having any of it, and growled angry dissatisfaction.

“I’m only here temporarily! I am not of your world! Would someone help me?!”

Aston sighed, the muttered to himself, “I’m going to regret this…” before stepping forward. Arms humbly folded, eyes low, trying to put on a display of humility and humbleness that would be recognized by even the most hardened Aslan, Aston stepped forward and asked what the problem was.

Blue Ghost November 14th, 2017 02:22 PM

raw, not proof-red (heh, as if my other installments were) text

Aston sat on the wood bench just inside the arena gate wearing nothing but a human fitted warrior harness, staring at the battery of Aslan guards staring at him, watching him with arms folded seeing that he didn’t try to escape as so many a human had in the past (or so he had been told).

Aston just stared at a patch of stone brick wall behind his personal guards, his arms spread out at his side with his palms open and facing up. The amount of dejection washing over him was counterbalanced with his anger at the ignorance of Aslan society as a whole, resulting in a cool gaze that occasionally met the eyes of one of the Aslan.

He had been stripped clean. There was no contacting Sharon, the captain, the rest of the crew nor the ship itself.

Aston made an attempt to explain himself, but apparently trying to explain himself was worthy of being slain on the spot. Given a choice he opted for the arena, hoping beyond hope that he could think of something in the few brief minutes the respite it would buy him. But nothing came except for a dozen hulking Aslan arena guards. And with them came being guided into the chambers under the arena, having his clothes torn off and being deloused before being thrown a ceremonial battle harness and having traditional liquids tossed onto his body—something about anointing the warrior spirit.

No pep talk other than what a great honor it was for him to offer to fight in the place of the offending party. A few of the guards even tried to mimic what they thought was a human tradition by slapping him on the back. It did nothing for his confidence, and only knocked the wind out of him in addition to getting his ire up more than it already was.

The worst part was that he didn’t even know what the offense was. Maybe the guy in the jump suit had accidentally dropped his tool on the other guy’s foot or something. Did it matter? On any other human world, even a human-Aslan world, it would. But not here.

All Aston could here were the deep grumblings mixed with a kind of purring. Aslan didn’t smile, at least not like humans. If he didn’t know any better they were happy he was here with them, about to get hacked up on some world light years from home, and miles from his cabin back on the ship.

A familiar face, unfortunately it wasn’t from the ship but the official he had seen earlier. He forgot the Aslan terminology, but he was the guy who ran the matches and decided whatever it was that needed deciding during the fight.

“How do I get myself into these things.” Aston muttered.

“Are you ready?!” the official’s voice was deeper than the rest, again Aston really didn’t know how to read Aslan facial expressions, but he seemed delighted like everyone else.

Aston grinned. “No. No, I’m not ready, and I want to go home.”

The official and the guards responded with a grunt that sounded like a laugh to Aston, coupled with a gleeful flickering of tails.

“This day write your history, and you will go into the hollowed halls of the clan memory for your valor.”

“Great.” Aston mocked a friendly reply. Again, the effect was lost on them.

“What needs have you before the match?”

Aston again grinned broadly, “I’d like to go back to my ship.”

More mirthful grunts and flicking of tails. “You’re humor is most amusing. We delight in your mocking of cowardice. This will be a day long remembered, as you are the first of your kind to enter our arena! May the gods of speed and strength grant you victory. And if they deny you this, then may they grant you a painless death. May they favor you, human!”

With that he turned and left with several heavily armed guards flanking him, which didn’t lessen the dozen or so guards still surrounding Aston.

Trumpets sounded, and the thunderous roar of the crowd filled the dark hall shadowed by the closed doors. A second fanfare and the gates opened. That’s when the arena guards pushed Aston to get on his feet and move towards the newly opened doors.

The hall was dark to begin with, but with the light streaming in from the afternoon sun the sides became showed black.

Blue Ghost November 15th, 2017 06:50 AM

More unedited material. I think I need more texture in the second draft. The ending needs a re-write I think, but is still enjoyable.

Aston’s escort flanked out along the arena walls as he stepped out into the afternoon sun to another chorus of trumpeting fanfare and the roar of male Aslan packing the stands. Aston, in his black harness with some kind of gold emblem on the soloplexis part where the various straps met, looked around with his mouth half open, wide eyed like a child but a child also gripped with fear.

He wasn’t on some uncharted world, he wasn’t on a world which had no relations with civilized space, this was civilized foreign, nay alien, space in the raw. There were laws, there was justice, and he was about to be the victim of both. Off to Aston’s left was the official sitting in his throne like chair, looking at him, and then looking back at the crowd.

The official stood, raised his three fingered hands beckoning the crowd to silence. That’s when Aston thought he heard a distant female voice; “Oh my god! Richard!” But whoever it was was drowned out as the official spoke, his voice booming in the acoustically perfect arena, his voice again sounding like a Romance language punctuated with growling, strange inhaling inflections and even a few purrs.

The speech went on for some time and ended with the official pointing at Aston. The crowd went wild. The official silenced them once more, and then went into another speech, again ending in him pointing at the offending party, or so Aston was under the impression. But it wasn’t the Aslan who had made the challenge, a challenge Aston had vehemently protested and denied, but another Aslan. One much larger (if that were possible), wearing a similar harness but also with a blood red sash tied around his waist that bore some kind of crest, or so it appeared to Aston.

Aston couldn’t take it, “You got to be kidding me! This isn’t the guy I’m supposed to fight!”

But whether it was the translator, ignorance, or just plain willful deception, Aston’s speech was translated as something other than what was said and the crowd went wild.

Aston’s shoulders sagged as he looked around. “Oh great.”

The red sashed Aslan, hands on hips, spoke, then gestured to Aston in some kind of gesture. There was a reserved hush from the stands, as if wondering how Aston would react.

“Human, for your valor your opponent has decided to let you use a weapon for the first bout.”

A group of young Aslan males, the same ones Aston had seen when he was in the stands, came and offered another cloth covered wooden case. They too removed the cloth and opened the case to reveal a scimitar with a knobby handle made for an Aslan paw and not for humans.

Aston reached for it and the moment he touched it the young Aslan males withdrew to the officials stand. The thing was heavy. Not impossible to wield, but heavier than any hand to hand weapon Aston had ever held.

The official called both Aston and the other Aslan to the center, the honor guard standing at the official’s side with halberd like weapons at the ready. Similarly the red sashed Aslan also had a polearm, something like a halberd, but with a different shaped blade. Almost like a Japanese naginata, but Aston’s own memory wasn’t in tip top condition to recall ancient melee’ weapons just now. For that matter he didn’t even know how to use a sword, much less some version made by an alien culture.

The official glanced at both, then yelled “Begin” in the foreign dialect. The red sash crouched and flipped the blade from side to side, eyeing Aston, assessing, judging, watching, waiting. Aston held the hilt inverted, then made a flurry of slashing manuvres he had seen done in a martial arts’ holo-vid, hoping beyond hope that it would at least put doubt in his opponent’s mind about how much Aston knew. If nothing else it caused a brief hushed “ah” from the crowd, but Aston was hoping for more of an intimidating effect.

The Red Sash did his own version, but much more expertly, putting his polearm into a kind of helicopter twirl above his head and then doing a similar flurry of slashes towards Aston before finishing in a thrusting movie the Aston parried with the sword.

Maybe using a sword wasn’t so hard afterall? But Aston spoke to seen as the Red Sash pushed his attack. Aston back peddled then ran briefly and turned back to face the Red Sash, tossing the hilt of his sword between his hands. Again, he didn’t have an ounce of fighting skill with a sword, but hoped that the pretense of skill might buy him some time.

But then it dawned on him, this was Aslan chivalry, giving him a relatively inferior weapon. Red Sash was already bigger than him, like the rest of the Aslan males, why in the world did he get the advantage? The notion was fleeting as Aston ducked and quickly stepped back even further, slashing with his weapon as best as he could as Red Sash tried a screw like thrust which Aston batted away.

Aston tried chopping at the shaft, but Red Scarf was too, and caught Aston’s blade with the spearhead, nearly disarming Aston with the axe part. Simply put Aston was outmatched. He only knew what he’d saw in holo-vids, and that was enough to get him killed as Red Scar made a vicious quick slash nicking the harness and carving a micron deep red scratch across Aston’s chest.

Bigger, stronger, relentless, Red Scarf only briefly stopped his attacks to burn a thought or two, like he was taking his time and experimenting on how best to finish off Aston. The crowd grew restless, Aston could hear individuals calling out though he had no idea of what they were saying, still the context was clear.

Astons arms were tiring. He could feel the lactic acid buildup in his shoulders and biceps, and he was already breathing hard. He kept in shape as per regulations, but he was using muscles that hadn’t been used in a long time, or at least not under this kind of duress coupled with a massive adrenaline rush.

He intercepted one blow after another, parrying others and running back when he could. That’s when he unconsciously realized he had been fighting by their rules, their way.

Red scarf did another series of twisting slashes before laying into Aston with a polearm equivalent of a haymaker. Aston again intercepted the blow, but let it knock him to the grass covered arena floor. And with a massively loud and deep roar that would put any feline to shame, Red Scarf, polearm held high in both hands rammed it down hard at Aston’s body spread eagle over the grass.

Somehow Aston managed to twist his body away at the last minute, quickly got to his knees and generated enough torque to sweep Red Sash’s feel out from under him.

The spear had been driven deep into the soil, and Red Sash was cursing up a storm as he rolled to his left to get back on his feet, but Aston was already there, stepped forward while gyrating his body to generate more torque, and like a tornado spun three-hundred and sixty degrees while gaining air to smack the Aslan full force in the side of his head with his left foot.

The warrior stood dazed for half a heartbeat before dropping stone cold. Aston thought he heard a familiar female voice call out from the stands, “Oh my god!”

Aston looked around, but all eyes were on him. The official had not stopped the fight. Aston staggered over his dropped sword, picked it up, walked back to the unconscious Aslan, raised the blade over his head, and brought it down with all his might.

“Richard, no!”

But the blade bit into the turf next to the stricken Aslan’s neck, missing the equivalent of Red Sash’s jugular by no more than a millimeter.

There was a hushed “awe”, then the tumult of Aslan conversation.

“Human. You must finish him.” The official boomed at Aston.

But Aston shook his head. “Your honor, or whatever you’re called, I thought I knew your ways enough to walk around by myself without any help. I was wrong. I am ignorant of your culture, and it almost cost me my life. Even so, I will not take another’s life for my mistake. I hope that’s clear.”

“So be it, human.”

The following afternoon Aston relaxed on the tarmac in a foldout chaise lounge that he kept in the ship’s locker, sunning himself with sunglasses and a tall cold drink from the ship’s galley.

Sharon walked down the ramp, saw Aston with a broad grin on his face, and hardened her own expression. “What do you think the captain’s going to say when he gets back here and finds out?”

Aston, sunglasses and grin all, looked at her, sipped his smoothie, smacked his lips and said “Like I care.”

That’s when Flight Captain Gavin Chavae, marginally overweight, returned with the ship’s engineer and navigator. He approached Aston none too pleased with the scene. Sharon backed off and gave Aston an impish grin. “You said you weren’t going to care.”

Gavin looked at Sharon, then back down at Aston. “Mister, aren’t you supposed to be flushing the tanks and decontaminating the drives?”

Another sip of smoothie, “I got it covered, skipper.”

Gavin wasn’t amused. “You better explain yourself.”

That’s when there was the clanging of dropped tools followed by the low roar and vocal tones of two Aslan males arguing. Gavin looked and took several steps back, “What the heck was that?!”

Another smoothie sip, “One’s my slave for life, the other’s the ship’s new engineer’s mate.”

The two Aslan quieted down, and several beats later the engines were thrumming to life.

The end.

Blue Ghost November 16th, 2017 08:02 AM

not sure what to call this ... eh, A Scout in Vargr space

Second Lieutenant Richard Aston wandered around the open air tent bazars that ringed the “alien” or “international” section of Dhaengae’s “slum port”, so named because of the mass of low income natives who made it their home.

The place stank. It reeked. And no amount of cute puppy Vargr coming up to him with wagging tails and baring fangs for what they thought passed as a smile for humans could change the fact that this was one of the grimiest, filthiest and equally chaotic places Aston had ever visited. It was worse thank his old first assignment aboard a Pukharra class “double decker” fast scout. The team of engineers who designed that thing were either sadists or had a warped sense of humor putting in the specs that low grade seals could be used on the ship’s plumbing. The frequent leakage from fresh water and sewer lines was a nightmare and legendary among IISS fleet personnel. This was far worse.

And the fact that it was open air was no comfort. It only meant that the amount of garbage, sewage and whatever else had to be affecting his health and everyone else around him. On top of that there were several stands that claimed to cook healthy meals over open flames, but more often than not the meat was spoiled and the fuel used for the fire was the same refuse permeating the air.

Nearly everywhere Aston looked there were pointed ears reminding Aston of a kennel back home on Terra, though he’d never mention it here, not in polite company anyway, if he ever came across any.

Aston had seen holo-vids from centuries past about the then modern societies collapsing, and a lone hero usually drove an old fashioned ground car living off of the ruins of leftover technology and fighting irradiate zombies or biker gangs with percussion weapons. There was usually a scene in those vids where the hero braved strolling through one of the shanty bazars where societies leftovers sold and hocked wears to other survivors of the great calamity in a kind of mockery of civilization in ruins. Well, that’s what Aston thought of this place.

Cramped, crowded, disorganized, unsanitary (by human standards anyway) no amount of sanitation engineers could save the place, and no amount of police or military could bring order to a people who seemed to thrive in such chaos.

If the smells weren’t bad enough the sounds were varied and full of discord. Primitive music coupled with a variety of Vargr voices added to the din of the clanging of wears, the sizzleing of cooked meat to be sold to any who would brave the fare and the occasional brawl which rarely lasted more than a few seconds. Assault and battery were the norm, but rarely was any blood drawn, and for a people who otherwise seemed normal in terms of everyday interaction with humans, almost delightful at times, the squaring off was just another alien facet of being in Vargr space.
One stand hard some kind of roasted lizard on a stick, another stand had something similar but wrapped in some kind of dough or bread. Another stand sold blades, another stand sold gaudy colored clothes, another sold music, another just sold any old piece of junk fobbed off as “high tech” from off world. Antiquated gauges and house wares from low tech Imperial worlds were bought, sold, bartered, and sometimes even beat in a fit of rage by the consumer claiming it didn’t work.

Technically this was another update survey commissioned by his majesties IISS. But again, the truth of the matter was that it was another intel sweep, only it wasn’t called that even though everyone on both sides of the border knew otherwise. It was one of those open secrets that neither side would acknowledge that the other knew about. Aston didn’t try to figure it out in his head. He knew the routine like everyone else, and did his job by following directions, taking notes, and letting the higher ups at the local HQ and admiralty figure out what it all meant. “All” meaning whatever data he and the crew gathered from their various excursions.

Aston wasn’t a fan of Vargr space, and this scene proved his point. Vargr were a charismatic people. Soft, curious, freedom loving, a dim reminder of Terran wolves and wolf like canines that served man in ages past. And just like their distant four legged cousins they were as quarrelsome and just as sanitary.

But not all Vargr worlds were like this. Dhaengae was the stereotype of Vargr worlds. Unclean, ruled by some ruthless dictator who always put on the act of being one of the people all the while lining his pockets and filling his belly at the cost of his people’s blood and treasure. And the ships, four-hundred ton corsairs all were battle scared from multiple laser burns and missile impacts. The official story the dictator gave was that the vessels were used in rescue operations, but the truth is nearly all of them had been in scrapes with Imperial navy or armed heavy class scout ships. Even the Imperial Army’s lift fleet had mixed it up with Vargr corsairs.

Corsairs, raiders, Aston simply called them pirates, or more plainly murderers. Running with a pack of intelligent wolves had a certain romanticism for many a human, in particular those who spent a fortune and a couple of years in space jumping from system to system all the way from Terra to the Marches or other border sector, all just so they could live out some fantasy of marauding the space lanes with space wolves; in other words, Vargr criminals. Those people learned the hard truth between fact and fiction, and usually had their delusions cured with a bullet to the skull or being forced out an airlock after whatever usefulness they had to the Vargr crews was done.

Vargr space was free, but treacherous and mercurial when it came to society. Still, Aston had a few Vargr friends, all Imperial subjects who preferred the more stable societies of Imperial worlds than the comparative tumult of Vargr dominated interstellar society.

That’s when he felt the familiar gentle fawning of his hand by older pups, some even fully clothed, wagging their tails and looking up with wide eyes hoping to catch Aston’s attention and either guide him to some stall full of schlock and junk, or to distract him enough so that their friends could try and lift Aston’s wallet.

Aston was too experienced to fall for it, but smiled at the young ones anyway. He had a soft spot for animals, even though these were people, they still reminded him of the more likeable creatures of Earth so many years ago and so many light years distant. Their fur covered small humanoid hands gently tugged and tried to steer his walk, but again Aston was too seasoned to fall for the ploy, but enjoyed the attention for what it was even if the motive was less than honest and far less honorable.

Blue Ghost November 19th, 2017 06:55 AM

Another brawl broke out next to Aston, but the tussle lasted mere seconds. Aston caught one of the small pups trying to unzip his pocket. He grabbed it, towed the child along for several seconds, stopped and looked it directly in its eyes. The young Vargr pup folded back its ears and seem to crouch in submission while wagging its tail. Aston didn’t smile, and pushed it away. The other children backed off, but a few second later another group tried the same thing, but they too backed off when the first group told them what they had experienced. From that moment Aston seemed to be free of Vargr societies version of street urchins.

He also reminded himself that this was the equivalent of a border town, which tended to bring out the worst in society. However, some Vargr cities were no better, or at least no worse. That’s when he noticed other human spacers wandering through the throng, most were veterans and just as cautious and standoffish when it came to the cute pups.

Weapons were sold, and Aston thought he saw some hushed sales with guns being exchanged for hard cash under the cover of a long Vargr version of a trench coat. Strictly speaking this was a dictatorship, and like all dictatorships weapons were forbidden, save for some rudimentary things like daggers which could be argued to have duel use in tool cutting whatever. Aston thought he saw a few long blades. Stuff that was almost the length of a sword, and effectively were swords, but again by the world’s legal definition they were just tools.

Amidst the hordes of Vargr and occasional human, he did see the occasional constable or soldier. Constables were the light weight law givers, while soldiers were the heavy hitters if things got really out of hand. Essentially the world’s army was a political police force—again, like all dictatorships.

But, for a dictatorship there was a surprising amount of freedom, or so it appeared.

That’s when Aston saw a woman arguing with a vendor in very clear and distinct Galanglic. “No, this isn’t what I want and not what I’m looking for. How many times do I have to tell you?!”

To Aston it looked like a bad purchase or a deal gone bad. There were still bodies in the way, so he couldn’t quite see what was going on, but the woman was clearly dressed in a jumpsuit with various patches—a spacer. A traveller.

“This thing is ancient. The cables won’t interface with anything that’s less than a couple centuries old. Your little runt…” she pointed to an older Vargr pup standing at the end of the stand table with a variety of used starship console parts, “…said you had a J-twenty-three. I even showed him a picture!” She held up her personal com to show him a picture.

“And when I talked with you over the net you said you had it! And you don’t! You just wasted my time!”

The Vargr merchant feigned ignorance of Galanlic, as if the communication’s barrier were the cause of her anger.

“Don’t try that crap with me. I’ll take my business someplace else! Thanks!” She wasn’t happy. But the pup tried to hold onto her hand and wag his tail. She yanked it away, almost as if to back hand him. The merchant growled.

“Hey, don’t you start with me!” She shot back. “Everytime I come to this flea market some one tries to rip me off.”

Aston chagrinned as he continued to approach, and then stepped forward. “Ah, do you need help?”

The woman looked at him with her mouth agape, then scanned Aston up and down. “Who are you?”

“Uhm, nobody. Just wondering if I can help.”

The merchant continued to growl, then said something unintelligible before finishing off with a garbled “Your money no good. No good here! No money!” So much for not understanding Galanglic.

“Well, what’s the issue?” Aston was genuinely curious.

An angry sigh, and then, “The guidance suite on our attitude control system finally gave up the ghost. Our local comp-geek says he doesn’t have the right software upgrade to let the ship’s main computer keep us flying straight, so I’m out here trying to scrounge up another one until the next shipment from across the border comes. I think he’s lying and just wants more money to code a small program, but one way or another we need to fix our vessel so we can get off this dog—pound and back into Imperial space.”

Aston winced and grimaced, but whether it was because no one heard her, or no one understood what she was saying, Aston didn’t know, nor did he much care. No harm no foul. If no one took, then he could avoid getting his shoulder or some other part of his body bitten by some irritated local.
Aston knew he was going to regret this, “Well, my first deployment was as an engineer’s mate before I became a pilot. Maybe I can take a look.”

“A real boy scout.” Her tone was less than grateful. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you, but I’ve been trying to find the right part all day in this flea-bitten market. Are you serious about offering a hand?”

Aston shrugged. “Sure. I men I can take a look. I can’t promise anything though.”

She looked him up and down. Aston was appropriately garbed in his fleet issue cargo pants, a sweat stained baseball cap with the Ling Standard corporate emblem, and an equally sweat stained shirt that hadn’t been ironed in a while with rolled up sleeves and two missing buttons. Standard issue.

“Sure, why not.” She replied. “What’s your name?”


“My name’s Lydia. Navigator on the San Anselmo. We’ll have to walk if you don’t mind.”

Aston shrugged and shook his head, then followed her with some small talk about freighters trying to strike it rich outside Imperial space. Apparently, her captain had the same notion, or so she said. Something about bringing cheap Imperial tech and fobbing it off on this world as exotic high tech. The venture didn’t go as planned, and the ship was a flying inspector’s nightmare, again, or so she said, or rather hinted at. Then she added something about supporting her aunt a subsector away with payments from her job.

She was slightly taller than Aston, thin build, somewhat wiry, but otherwise a female. She struck Aston as the type who had spent most of her time in space, and really didn’t care who she dealt with on the ground. A veteran one way or another.

She looked left and right, then spotted one of the more well stocked and well kept tents. “Oh, that reminds me, I should probably grab a coil or two of fiber optic.” Her tone was distant, as if the sight suddenly reminded her of a need. She was genuine.

Aston shrugged, “Do you think they have it?” motioning to the tent.

She didn’t answer merely moving towards the tent and addressing the relatively well groomed employee with a company logo polo shirt. “Two coils.” she finally said. “A-I grade.” She looked apologetically at Aston, “It’s an older ship.”

Aston grinned. “I understand.”

The employee told her the price in a thick accent, his worlds almost a saliva slur.

But Lydia wasn’t having any of it. “How much? Your kidding, right? It’s not even starship grade, how can you get away with charging such prices?!”

“Problem?” Aston again offered help.

Lydia glanced at him, “This guy wants to charge fifteen-hundred for a coil of this junk! Can you believe that?!”

Aston smiled, “Don’t worry about it.” He pulled out his oversized wallet and opened the thick pouch to reveal thousand noted of Imperial Credits as well as high denominations of the local currency. Aston gestured “two” to the employee, and paid the price

Lydia stared at him, “Any more like you at home?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s a hobby of mine, doing good deeds.” But Aston noticed that more than a few of the locals had glanced at him and his wallet. Aston handed Lydia the coils with a broad grin. “Your ship?”

Blue Ghost November 20th, 2017 07:35 AM

more raw unedited text ... I guess I'm lazy

Lydia took a different route back to the landing pads, weaving her way as the led Aston to a somewhat more organized section of the open air market. Fewer Vargr, a few more humans, even some Virushi and others, but overall the population was less dense in this section than in the busy near post-apocalyptic setting Aston found her in.

There were more actual signs and hard shelled booths with actual store hardware, verse the shanty tents from the other section. And the air wasn’t a bit less scented and fresh (if that were possible). But the sun still burned hot overhead, reminding Aston of his summer boyhood days on a world many light years from his current location. The dry air, the unkempt sun blasted asphalt with stones and pebbles that would cook and cut up unprotected feet, brought back memories of summer fairs with rides and scam-games meant to strip a visitor of his hard earned credits.

But there was no cotton candy here, no sodas, although the meals being prepared here smelled far more palatable. Soon they came to the end of the stalls and to a familiarly guarded entrance with four Vargr troopers in a kind of open helmet hard shelled combat gear. Armored chest and torso with armored chaffs for the thighs, but only ballistic cloth below what would be the knee area on a human, stuffed into black Vargr combat boots. Each trooper held a high powered ACR, the kind given to worlds that wanted to splurge on weapons but were still too poor to afford the real splashy energy hardware packed by both Imperials and Zhodanis. Either way the rifles were enough to punch a hole (or several) through an raft.

“He’s with me. A contractor.” Lydia flashed the sergeant her day pass. The guard gave it a once over, then gestured with his weapon to pass. Lydia motioned Aston to follow her onto the tarmac. The thundering roar of starships was more pronounced, but still sporadic. Most of the real traffic happened a couple of miles away at the other end of the port.

The line of starships in the international terminal was like a rogues gallery. Beat up and battle scared vessels of all sorts; freighters, merchants, scout ships, surplus SDBs with their jump harnesses permanently welded on, bounty hunter ships, beat up patrol cruisers (one had the Jolly Roger painted on its tail fins) and others.

Aston’s grin faded sum, but he kept his spirits up as he looked at the vessels. Not all of them had the earmarks of being on the run from the law. In fact a slim majority were clean, with perhaps a few barely noticeable dings here and there, but otherwise clean normal starships with clean painted markings. Again, they were a slim majority.

“Ours’ is over here.” Lydia pointed to another somewhat battered vessel, and Empress Marava class with the name Scarlet Darla stenciled on the side in deep red, followed by the red outline of a woman with a flowing cape.

Aston quietly chagrinned, looked up for something, saw it, then kept following Lydia up the ramp of a vessel that was half the size of a small corporate park. The camp to the main cargo bay was only marginally better than the air at that bazar. Oils, coolants, maybe the scene of gunpowder and possibly the hint of illegal drugs punctuated a cargo vessel that had more than its share of bullet holes, damaged bulkheads and flicker lights. She looked okay on the outside, but her interior told a different story.

Aston continued to grin, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. A large unshaven man with a portly girth, grease stained face came out onto the cargo deck.

“Hi Lydia. Who’s that with you?”

Lydia returned the salutation, and then just realized she hadn’t asked for Aston’s name. “Richard.” Aston volunteered before she could get the question out.

She grinned, winked at the large man and discretely patted her pocket, “He’s the local knight in shining armor come to look at the pilotage.”

The large man smiled, “Through there, just past the galley. Glad to have you aboard.”

Aston grinned and went ahead through the sliding door. He didn’t hear the two close the cargo ramp, but he heard it seal shut through the open doorway. Aston tried to enter the bridge but the door was locked. He knocked, but no one came. He looked around; the crew lounge had seen better days. Food stains on the sofa and counter top, some litter here and there, a few beer cans stuffed in the garbage, and now the cargo ramp was sealed.

Aston glanced back into the cargo area, but no one was there. “Hey!” he called out, but no one answered. He hadn’t been on Marava in years, and looked around for the ship’s intercom. There it was, but there was black flash marks extending from the cover. He tried it anyway, and sure enough it was dead. Aston went back to the bridge door and knocked louder this time.

“No need for that.”

Aston turned around and saw Lydia with the fat captain and one other crewman, all with weapons drawn. Aston’s eyes went wide.

“Wha-, what are you doing?” Aston’s adrenaline was pumping. His laser pistol was still in hidden, but to try and draw it now would result in him being turned into a bullet ridden corpse.

“Just drop your wallet, and we’ll let you the airlock.” Lydia was all business.

“While we’re still on the ground, I hope.” Normally Aston would have been too nervous and pumped full of adrenaline to even think of uttering anything like a retort. But it was a legitimate question, one he wanted to know the answer to, but somehow he already knew what the answer was going to be.

“Maybe.” Said the large man. “Depends on how much longer you want to keep talking.”

Aston raised his hands and slowly and carefully reached for his wallet. The sight of the fat oversized bill fold satchel stuffed with cash widened their eyes. Aston’s gaze was all business as he saw their eyes lock in on the money bulging from the fold.

He opened it, showed the uncounted numbers of thousand notes, and couldn’t resist secretly rolling his tongue inside his mouth as he tossed it at the feet.

The flash from the impact was blinding, and Aston was already leaning to his right just before the bill fold impacted with the ship’s deck. Shots rang out as the field of black encompassed all.

Aston reached for his laser pistol and cut a brilliant red beam across his attackers’ position. Or so he thought. He was also disoriented from the flash bang, but made the best of it as he moved to the bridge door, pulled a small electronic lock hacker, attached it and let the little electronic miracle do its business of opening the door as more shots rang out.

The flood of light from the bridge windows was also blinding, but Aston braved it and more bullets anyway, quickly relocking the door behind him. He hit the tactical channel on his earpiece.
“I’m sealed off in the bridge! Did you get all that?!”

“We’re on it.” The response was immediate, and already a combination of local Vargr police and Imperial Scouts had the ship surrounded, light flashing from heavily armored enclosed law enforcement air rafts and G-carriers. Already he could hear the booming voice of the Vargr police come through the ship’s windows and bulkhead, but it was in the local dialect, though Aston and anybody with any sense knew what was being said.

Just out of amusement Aston checked the attitudinal controls. As expected, they weren’t damaged at all. The Marava class wasn’t a warship, but being designed to withstand the rigors of space and hyper velocity micro meteorite impacts, it could take several direct hits from heavy fire just like any other starship. Aston suddenly questioned the resolve of the local police, and wouldn’t be surprised if the local authorities were in on the scam.

That’s when Aston crawled under the dash board and ripped open the access panel. He looked for the control inputs, found them, and tore out the fiber optics for the ship’s attitudinal jets and exterior grav plates.

The police repeated their demand, but instead of Lydia and her gang surrendering he and everyone else felt and heard the ship’s engines roar to life. They were trying to control the ship from engineering in a desperate attempt to escape. But just as the ship hefted meter off the ground, her gear still extended, she careened like a block of ice on a slippery surface, and crashed into the corsair in the next berth over.

The crunch and high pitched squeal of high density metal clashing and tearing drowned out all over sounds, so much that all activity in the open air market stopped to see the spectacle of one ship trying to take off but instead crashing into its neighbor in a high-tech drunken stupor.

The impact threw Aston across the bridge floor. The vessel’s starboard gear collapsed from the impact, and she sat there like a wounded duck canted and impact welded to one of the native’s own patrol ships. The impact was enough to jar the ramp open, and a host of black and grey armored Vargr SWAT troopers rushed putting the vessel and the crew on lockdown.

The bridge door was forced open, and a half dozen Vargr special police stormed in. One held up a scanner to Aston, said something, and Aston found himself being lifted up, but not cuffed, not apprehended, but carefully guided across the canted deck and outside by way of the sloping cargo ramp, to be met by a half dozen familiar faces.
Captain Larry Richards and the rest of the crew were there to give Aston a big hug for a job well done.

Blue Ghost November 20th, 2017 07:36 AM

The Imperial navy had had enough reports of hijacked ships with Imperial markings, along with a rash of other related crimes. It wasn’t all the doing of Vargr corsairs. They preferred to take their prey in high-space, and then decide whether to kill their victims while still in space. This new crime wave had a distinctly human flavor to it, so much that the local planetary government was willing to allow an Imperial presence to help police and crack down on the new threat.

Everyone knew better. More like it was the local government wanting to get rid of the criminal competition from human pirates. Either way it allowed the Marches sector navy to use the scouts in a kind of pirate sweep as well as intel gathering operation. The Lady Darla was the trophy capture, but the real prize was in cataloging the various ships parked in orbit and at various downports across the planet. Each one would be dealt with in turn, or at least tracked.

And Aston had drawn the lot to play the innocent do-gooder. He gently broke free from his fellow crew enough to turn and see the Vargr police elite take Lydia and the rest of the Marava’s crew into custody. Mentally he sighed. They owned a starship, apparently. it might have been stolen, but even if it was or wasn’t these people could have set themselves up for life outside Imperial space on some remote world. But, for whatever reason, the continued to prey off other people.

Aston looked at the freighter, sitting there like the pile of scrap that she had suddenly become. What was it they said in the old ancient films? The stuff that dreams are made of.

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