I skidded around the corner of an intersection, narrowly missing a cargo mover in the process. The driver yelled something in Dagrene at me, but as I don't speak Dagrene and I'd left my translator back on the Wanderlust I had no idea what it was. I assumed that it was an obscenity, so I made the appropriate gestural reply as the distance between our vehicles rapidly increased.
Ten minutes later, I slid to a stop in front of the Mare Inebrium. Ordinarily, I would have liked a visit here; the Inebrium was one of my favorite bars, on any planet. The variety and quality of the entertainment was a legend five systems away; and the taste of Max's Zombie Cocktail was worth flying through a black hole for. But this wasn't a pleasure visit.
I entered the Mare Inebrium through the North street entrance. I was in such a hurry my feet never touched the steps leading down to the floor. I rushed past the Anteroom and entered the Main Room. Several of the patrons were startled by the suddenness of my entrance, and a catcall or two flew from the booths lining the walls. I ignored them, and continued winding my way past all the floating tables as I made my way to the bar.
Halfway through the tables, I met up with Trixie, Max's girlfriend and one of the Main Room's waitresses. She grabbed by shoulder and pulled me to a halt.
"Whoa, there, Adric. What's the rush?"
"Hi, Trixie. Seen Larrye around?"
"Not since this morning. He's supposed to be back around two...Max sent him out for some supplies."
"Damn. I guess I'll just have to wait for him."
"Is there a problem?" she asked, her keen blue eyes studying me intensely. I knew that she meant well, so I didn't give her a hard time. Besides, I'd seen her use that little dagger she kept hidden on her body several times, and I didn't care to loose a hand just yet.
"Only for Larrye," I sighed. The anxiety of the past few days seemed to drain out of me just then, and I felt immensely tired. My legs suddenly felt funny and then everything went a little hazy.
When my vision cleared, Trixie and Max had managed to get me to a stool at the bar. It was one of the larger ones, probably adjusted out for one of the larger species that come in here.
"You all right?" asked Max. "Here, drink this. You look like you could use a drink."
I felt a glass at my lips and I sipped, the warm liquor sliding softly down my throat. I suddenly felt much steadier, and I reached for the glass. As I thought, it was a Zombie Cocktail. Good old Max, I thought to myself, just what I needed.
"Thanks," I managed to say between gulps. I finished the Zombie and Max made me another as my head cleared.
"No problem," said Max, wiping his hands on his apron. "Care to talk about it?"
That's the thing about bartenders. Even the bad ones can get you to talk. Max was one of the best bartenders I'd ever seen, and he was no exception.
"I guess. You remember the last time I was in here?"
"Yeah, about two weeks ago. You and Larrye were at the bar, and you two were having a deep discussion about opening up new markets for independent trader ships."
"Yeah, that was it," I said, grimacing. "Well, Larrye told me about this little planet out on one of the spiral arms. He said it was a Class II world, with a developing civilization that might be ready for trade."
"Yeah, I remember," said Max. "He really went on about it."
"Well, he sold me on it," I said. "The next morning I lifted my ship and hypered out to it. It took me about four days to reach there, and all the time I was in hyper I spent working on my trade contract I would offer the people.
"I came out of Hyper as I approached their system. I counted at least six planets on the way in, but I was looking for the third planet. Larrye had told me it was a rather pretty little water world, with lots of white clouds. I had no trouble picking it out from its' neighbors.
"I scanned it on the way in. I was a bit surprised at their level of technology, and I noticed that they were apparently in a nuclear age. There was a noticeable radiation count on my lateral sensor array, and the atmosphere had an alarmingly high concentration of hydrocarbons and various other ozone-depleting compounds. I remember thinking that the first thing I would try to sell them would be some atmosphere reclamation filters.
"I looked for a city to land in, but before I could pick a good landing site, several small atmospheric maneuvering craft locked on to my ship and began tracking me. The Comm system was blaring a barrage of messages, music, and what was apparently some sort of coded signals as well. Everything was all garbled, and I couldn't make any sense of it.
"About that time those little atmosphere craft fired of several air-to-air missiles of some kind at my ship. They impacted the hull, and I discovered that they packed quite a punch. The hull was intact, though, so I just decided to set down and let them come to me.
"As I dropped lower, missiles suddenly began to come at me from the ground. Hundreds of missiles. All those impacts on the hull knocked my gyro stabilizers off-line, and the ship began to fall like a rock.
"I managed to get the stabilizers back on line and headed away from the cities into the interior of the continent. The atmospheric craft followed...it seemed like they were shepherding me towards someplace. Every time I tried changing course, they'd shoot more missiles at me. And as I really didn't want to anger them, I went the direction they wanted me to.
"We flew out over a large desert. The atmospheric craft suddenly turned and flew off, and before I could figure out why something hit the ship hard. It was apparently some sort of energy pulse or something, because every major control system on the ship suddenly overloaded and shut down. I lost control of her and spiraled in to an impact on the desert.
"I must have blacked out in the crash. I don't remember much of what followed, but I remember waking up naked in some sort of a holding area. There was some clothing that had been left for me, so I dressed and waited for something to happen.
"I didn't have long to wait. A few minutes later, several humanoids in white clothing came to the holding area. They attempted to communicate with me, but as I didn't have my translator, it was hopeless. We did, however, manage to communicate after a fashion; by hand gestures I was able to ask them to open the holding area and let me out, and they refused. They indicated that I would be fed soon, and then they left.
"The meal that they promised me soon came. I ate it cautiously, wondering if some strange microbes in the food would make me sick. That gave me an idea, however, so I finished the meal and waited for nightfall.
"I noticed a surveillance device in the corner of my holding area. As soon as it got dark, I began moaning and holding my stomach. Several times I staggered to the side of the holding area, where there was a basin and water. I retched into the basin, and rinsed my face with the water, and then I'd sit back down. After several times doing this, I collapsed onto the floor and lay there.
"It worked like a charm. Immediately, a med team showed up and loaded me onto a cart. They took me down a long hallway and into a strange room that appeared to move. As soon as the doors closed, I lept from the cart and struck the medicos from behind. They went down, and when the doors of the room opened I ran.
"It seemed like I ran forever. As soon as they figured out that I had escaped they began to chase me, and it was back and forth all night. I rand up and down stairs, hid in darkened rooms, and dodged their search teams for hours.
"I eventually found a room that contained my own clothing and my Comm bracelet. I grabbed the suit and the Comm, and keyed in the location transponder code for the ship. I followed the signal until I found the ship. It was in a large open bay , with guards everywhere.
"I needed a diversion to distract the guards from the ship. so I took my Comm bracelet and set it to build up to an overload. I dropped it in a nearby room and got into position. As soon as the Comm bracelet exploded all but one of the guards went to check on it.
"I slipped up behind the other guard and hit him on the head with a wrench I picked up during the search. with him out of the way, I opened the hatch and entered the ship. I sealed the hatch and encoded the lock to keep the humanoids out.
"The inside of the ship was a mess. They had apparently been disassembling the ship's subsystems to study them, and parts were laying around everywhere.
"I managed to get the ship's external security field up just in time. The guards had returned and were trying to open the hatch with some sort of flame device. I tried the weapons systems, but they were all dead. I had to settle for venting the plasma conduits to scare them back.
"I began to check the extent of the damage they'd done. Fortunately, they hadn't had time to disassemble any of the thruster components or the main FTL drive, but the control systems were still off-line from the earlier crash. I managed to reset the controls, and I charged the thrusters for a quick burst of maximum speed.
"The next few hours were spent getting the maneuvering controls back together and working. They had been pretty well taken apart, and it took me a while to get them back together and reliable.
"The humanoids had not given up on me. Every once and a while I looked at the viewscreen to see what they were up to. They brought in several wicked looking heavy weapons and locked them on the ship.
"I was just putting the last couple of fasteners back into the cover on the maneuvering control when they opened fire. The ship shook hard, but the hull held together. I decided it was time to leave.
"The thruster power reserve was reading fully charged. I strapped myself in, rotated the ship and aligned it with the portal. As soon as I was in position I tapped the thrusters, and broke through the portal. As soon as I was through, I maxed out the thrusters and pulled the nose up...the ship screamed from the strain, but I didn't let up.
"The viewscreen showed several missiles fired at me. I managed to dodge them and continued to streak upwards, away from that damned planet.
"I left the missiles behind as I cleared the atmosphere. I set the course to take me out of the system at the best possible speed, locked on the autopilot, and then began to put the ship back together.
"The rest of the flight back to Bethdish I spent repairing the ship. All the time, I thought about what I was going to do when I got my hands on Larrye."
"Somebody talking about me?" said a voice from behind me. I turned and there was Larrye.
"There you are," I said to him. "I've a bone to pick with you!"
"With me? What did I do?" asked Larrye. I just glared at him.
"Well?" he demanded. "You going to tell me about it or not?"
"You remember that 'interesting little planet' you told me about?" I asked him.
"What, you mean Earth?"
"That's the one."
"Oh, yeah, I remember. Frightening little planet, isn't it?"
And that's when I hit him.
R.R. Bennett is a writer and life-long lover of Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is also the Owner/Publisher/Editor of The Dragon's Lair Webzine. His writing includes the popular Weary Wyrm series, several short stories, and the SF Novella "Starshock". His work has appeared in The Dragon's Lair, and also here in Aphelion Webzine. He resides in Bel Air, Maryland with his wife and children. He is employed full-time as a Sheet Metal Work Leader for the U.S. Government at Aberdeen Test Center, located at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.
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