Children of Darkness: Chapter 8
Do you need to get caught up? Read Chapter 1 here
“Iaka, I believe you were about to explain why everyone seems so angry with us,” Marcus said. The three of them sat around the small table in the ship’s galley. After hearing Vlad’s message they retreated there to discuss their options.
“My last assignment was to infiltrate Omni Corp. Earth Force received an anonymous tip saying they were involved in illegal research. Our first undercover agent got caught sending an unauthorized message and they fired him. The head of Mars branch chose me to replace him since I had a degree in Xenobiology.”
“How much experience did you have?” Solomon asked.
“It was my first assignment in the field. Before that I’d worked for two years in the research lab.”
“Your first field assignment was an undercover job. Were they out of their minds?” Marcus asked.
“No, they were desperate. I was the only agent on Mars with the training to go undercover as a scientist. My boss in the lab was eighty-three. I guess they figured spying on a bunch of scientists wouldn’t be too dangerous.”
“Yeah, good call on that one,” Marcus said. “So what happened?”
“It started out smoothly enough. I spent a couple months studying plants for potential medicinal value. I worked hard and impressed my supervisors, one of whom was Miles O’Hare. He invited me to join his team.”
“Miles O’Hare, why do I know that name?” Marcus asked.
“He found the cure to the gray plague that infected Europa colony a few years back,” Solomon said.
“That’s right.” Iaka took a sip of water. “He won a humanitarian award for it.”
“Why’s a guy like that working for Omni?” Solomon asked.
Marcus grinned. “Probably found being a humanitarian didn’t pay very well.”
“You got that right,” Iaka said. “Omni offered him ten percent of any new pharmaceuticals found on the planet.”
“Holy shit! If they had any success he could have become a billionaire.” Marcus couldn’t even imagine that much money.
“Yes, but they didn’t have any success. We ran tests for months on every weed, flower, and leaf the scouts brought in. They weren’t worth the time we spent analyzing them. Dr. O’Hare got desperate. He had the workers start trapping the local wildlife. They captured a few specimens, reptile for the most part. One day they caught something bigger, humanoid, extremely light sensitive. Whenever anyone approached its cage it bowed its head and rubbed a small stone inscribed with crude pictographs.”
“It was praying,” Solomon said.
“That’s right. We knew then it was sentient. Things got more complicated when we sequenced its DNA. The creature was only three chromosomes from being an exact match for the Vencar. When he saw the results Dr. O’Hare made up his mind.”
“He’s trying to find a cure for the Vencar disease,” Marcus said. He couldn’t believe it. Many believed the Vencar achieved sentience over a million years ago, making them the oldest race in the galaxy. Hundreds of years ago they contracted a disease that killed them between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. They promised access to their advanced technology to anyone that found a cure.
“That’s right. He ordered more of the natives captured and began infecting them with the disease. They died after a few weeks in captivity so he could only try one or two potential cures before moving on to a new native. It was horrible what he did to those poor creatures. I contacted my superiors and they told me to continue to gather evidence. A week later a security team burst into my tent and stunned me. I woke up naked as they sealed me into the cryochamber. The next thing I remember was you two waking me.”
“Sounds like your boss sold you out,” Marcus said. “How much do you want to bet Earth Force made a deal with Omni to get a piece of the Vencar reward? Their technology would make Earth Force a great power in the galaxy.”
“But the Vencar don’t believe in exploiting less advanced species,” Solomon said. “They’d never reward Omni.”
“Only if they found out,” Marcus said. “Once Omni found the cure, they could nuke the planet, and present their findings however they chose. How close do you think the Vencar’d look if someone found a cure?”
“Anyway,” Iaka said. “I don’t know who I can trust at Earth Force. I think my next move will be a visit to the Galactic Council. They’ll at least give my evidence a fair look.”
“Sounds good to me,” Marcus said. “As soon as we finish Vlad’s errand we can head to the council.”
“Vlad’s errand?” Iaka’s voice rose. “Didn’t you hear what I said? They’re experimenting on innocent creatures. Every day we waste they’re suffering.”
Marcus took a breath and counted backward from ten. According to a book he read this would calm you down before you spoke. “The old man saved our lives. I promised him I’d see this done and I intend to. If you’d prefer to walk to the council the airlock is in the back.”
“You think keeping your promise to a gangster is more important than my mission?”
“I think,” Marcus said, “that it’s been five years since the experiments started and five more days won’t make much difference. I also think that just because Vlad and I are close it won’t stop him for having me killed if I don’t get this job done.”
Without another word Marcus got up and left the galley.
* * *
Solomon didn’t speak for a minute after Marcus left. Iaka seethed without comment. He decided not to point out they didn’t have enough fuel to get to New Vegas, much less the council. Iaka turned to him. “What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he know how important this is?”
“Yeah, he knows. You must admit that after five years a few more days really doesn’t matter.”
She got up, paced around the small room a couple times, and then sat back down. “It doesn’t feel like five years to me. It feels like a week ago. I’m completely dependent on someone else to get where I need to go and I hate it.”
“I understand, but will antagonizing Marcus help you get where you need to go any faster? I’ve been flying with him three years now and he’s always done the right thing. He bitched, complained and dug his heels in but he did it. But he’s got a stubborn streak and if you push him too hard he’ll stun you and put you back in the cryochamber.”
She stared at him, seeming at a loss for words. Solomon grinned.
“Okay, he probably wouldn’t stun you but he might leave you at the first space station we come to. If you’re patient he’ll get you where you need to go.”
“Why do you have so much faith in him?” She asked.
Solomon closed his eyes and sighed. He didn’t like to remember, but she might understand if he told her. “He saved my life, same as you. Three years ago on New Vegas I was running from some nasty people I had robbed. Marcus was arguing with a corporate rep and the defenses on the ship were down. I snuck aboard a few minutes ahead of the people chasing me.”
“How much did you steal?”
“Seventy million credits.”
“Wow, no wonder they were after you. What happened to it?”
“I used it to pay off the gambling debts of about ten thousand people. I didn’t keep any for myself. Anyway, when the thugs chasing me arrived they demanded Marcus let them search his ship. Marcus being Marcus he invited them to perform an anatomically dubious act and activated the ship’s guns. They took the hint and left. He came on board and told me to show myself. I did and told him my story. When he stopped laughing he offered me a ride. We got to know each other and became friends. The men I robbed put a twenty-five thousand credit bounty on my head. We’ve gone through stretches where we didn’t have two credits to rub together, but he never turned me in. No matter how big an argument we had he never threatened me with it either. That’s why I have faith in him.”
* * *
They reached the refueling station without incident. When Marcus had calmed down Solomon told him about the fuel situation. It didn’t take long to find a fueling station they’d never visited before. It had a bar so Marcus hoped to sell some of the liquor in the trailer, at least enough to buy the fuel they needed.
At one minute to reversion to real space the cockpit door slid open and Iaka and Solomon entered. Iaka didn’t speak for which she earned his gratitude. Solomon handed him a data slate with an inventory of the booze. A quick glance through the list showed some high-end stuff. Maybe too high end for a bar on a refueling station. No matter, it’s what they had so he’d just have to make do.
“How’s our fuel holding up?” Marcus asked.
“She’s running on fumes,” Solomon said. “If there are ships waiting for us we’re screwed.”
“Great. With that happy thought everyone strap in for the return to real space.” Marcus typed a short command and activated one of their alternate transponder signals. The Star was of a common style so he hoped they’d pass a casual inspection if they had a different transponder.
A shudder ran through the hull as they left hyperspace. The refueling station dead ahead made a welcome sight. It looked like a doughnut but instead of a hole in the center it had a huge fuel tank. Half a dozen claw-tipped arms marked the docking stations. The station didn’t have any other customers and that made him nervous. They didn’t need to stand out, not now.
At about a thousand yards out the station hailed them. “State your name and business,” a bored voice said. This must really be a small operation if they didn’t have a computerized welcome system.
“This is the Lucky Strike. We need to stretch our legs and refuel.”
“Okay, find an arm and make yourself at home. I’ll send the tech to fuel you up.”
“No rush, thanks.”
“What do you mean no rush?” Iaka said. “I thought we were in a hurry.”
Keep calm. Deep breath. “We need to sell some of our cargo to pay for the fuel.”
“That’s ridiculous.” She got shrill when she was upset. “What about the money you got for the delivery on Mars?”
Nice legs or not Marcus liked her better when she didn’t talk. “Well, with the running for our lives and hiding out, we didn’t get around to depositing it. Of course, Earth Force has certainly put a watch on my accounts so even if I had the money I couldn’t spend it without letting them know where we are. Didn’t they teach you this stuff in spy school?”
She didn’t seem inclined to speak again, thank the universe. Marcus guided the ship beside the nearest arm and lowered their shields. Right on cue the claw clamped onto the ship and drew them over beside the station. A tube extended and sealed tight to their airlock.
“All right, I’ve got to try and sell some booze.” Marcus got up and headed toward the door.
“I’ll run diagnostics while we’re here,” Solomon said. “I’m worried about that scrape when we escaped.”
“Can I come with you?” Iaka asked. She sounded more subdued which suited Marcus fine. Besides, having a hot woman along might help with the sale.
“Sure, but let me do the talking. Okay?”
She nodded and Marcus grabbed the data slate with the inventory, and they went out the airlock, down the tube, and into the station. On the wall opposite the door Marcus spotted a small computer terminal. He went over and tapped the activation switch.
“Where’s the bar?”
A map appeared on the screen which Marcus memorized.
“How did you know there’d be a bar on this station?” Iaka asked.
“Easy, I’ve been on about a hundred of these little refueling stations and they all have a bar. They make almost as much selling drinks to spacers like me as they do selling fuel.”
They turned down the dull, gray hall and headed toward the bar. It gave Marcus the creeps, walking through the empty station. It reminded him of the destroyer where they’d found Iaka.
“I never intended to do field work,” Iaka said.
“When I joined Earth Force, I thought I’d just be working in the lab. They paid my college tuition in exchange for a ten-year commitment. After graduation they installed the cybernetic implant and I went through the standard six weeks of basic training. After that two years in the lab then I’m drafted to do undercover work. I barely even remember half the training they gave me.”
Marcus looked at her and smiled. “You did a hell of a job getting off Mars in one piece. You can take pride in that.”
“I got lucky. If you hadn’t rescued me, again, they would have had me for sure.”
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky. Anyway, if you could power down a little I’ll do my best to get you where you need to go as fast as I can. Deal?”
They stopped outside a door that said “bar” above it. Marcus looked at Iaka. “How about you unbutton your shirt halfway?”
“You’re playing the part of a liquor rep’s assistant, remember? That job requires a certain look.”
She undid the top two buttons. “Take it or leave it.”
He grinned and tapped the button to open the doors. Inside, ten tables filled the room. The bar sat at the rear. Marcus spotted the bartender sitting in a tall chair in front of the bottle rack. They stopped beside the stools. A small trickle of drool ran down the snoring bartender’s chin.
Marcus cleared his throat. The bartender sat up sputtering. He wiped the drool off with the back of his arm. “What can I getcha?”
“Nothing, thanks. I was just—”
“If you don’t want nothing to drink why the hell’d you wake me up?”
“I’ve got liquor to sell. I thought you might need something.”
“Oh, that’s ok. What you got?” The bartender gave Iaka a visual grope.
Marcus massaged the bridge of his nose. Clearly he didn’t have the good fortune of dealing with the galaxy’s greatest intellect. He called up his cargo list and handed the slate to the bartender. He studied it, brow furrowed.
“Pretty fancy stuff. Don’t get much call for these sorts of drinks.”
Marcus took the data slate back and looked at Iaka. Time to see how well she thought on her feet. “Told you we wouldn’t sell anything here.”
She looked startled for a moment then he caught a half smile. Turning to the bartender she pouted and leaned forward. “You’re not going to buy anything? I was sure at a nice place like this we’d sell a bunch of drinks. Now we won’t have any reason to come back.”
“Well, let me look again.” The bartender grabbed the slate. “Might be I could use some better stuff.”
Iaka beamed at him, clapped her hands, and bounced up and down, jiggling pleasantly. While the bartender studied the inventory Iaka glanced at Marcus and he winked back.
“You hear about the excitement on Mars yesterday?” the bartender asked.
Iaka gasped and Marcus stepped in. “No, what happened?”
“Some smugglers vaped a bunch of Earth Force’s boys, then blasted out of the spaceport. I hear they’re pretty worked up.”
Iaka gnawed her lip but the bartender seemed oblivious. “Did you hear where they were headed?” Marcus asked. “I’d hate to run into that bunch.”
“’Fraid not, but they put up a galaxy-wide alert. I’d sure hate to have all those guns looking for me.”
“Me too,” Marcus said. “So what’ll it be?”
“Guess I’ll take two cases of the fancy whiskey, and one of the fungus squeezings.”
Marcus forced a smile. Those fungus squeezings could peel the paint off a star ship. “Excellent choices. That’ll be two thousand credits.”
The bartender dug a steel box out from under the bar and fished out the coins. “I’ll send a crawler for the booze.”
“All right, we’re docked at arm five.”
The bartender nodded and they left him to return to his nap. They hadn’t gone far when Marcus said, “Well, I guess they didn’t forget about us.”
“You didn’t tell me you killed them.” Iaka stopped in the middle of the hall.
Marcus turned to face her. “What?”
“The Earth Force agents back on Mars. You didn’t tell me you killed them.” Marcus didn’t know what she was getting at but she seemed serious.
“I blasted their skiffs with the ship’s cannons. What did you think happened?”
“I know.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “It’s just, I worked with those people. I can’t just flip a switch and think of them as my enemies.”
“Well, you’d better work on it because they don’t seem to have the same problem.” Marcus started back down the hall.
They walked a couple hundred yards when the comm on his gauntlet beeped. “What is it, Solomon?”
“The tech just arrived to fuel up the ship. What should I tell her?”
“Tell her to put in two thousand credits’ worth. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“You got it, out.”
The tech had just finished refueling when Marcus and Iaka got back. She was a cute little thing, nineteen or so, with short blond hair and a grease-smudged face. When she spotted them she smiled, revealing a crooked set of teeth. “All done, sir.”
“Great.” Marcus gave her the coins he got from the bartender.
She gaped at the pile of money then hurried off to deposit it. She’d probably never seen that many hard credits in her life. He remembered the first time he saw that many credits, Vlad had handed them to a dome patrol officer.
Solomon met them at the airlock. “Diagnostics look good, we’re at ninety percent efficiency.”
“Good,” Marcus said. “We couldn’t have bought parts anyway. How about fuel?”
“Little over half full. Plenty to get to New Vegas,” he said with a decided lack of enthusiasm.
Marcus nodded. They were in decent shape, considering. “Iaka, please keep an eye out for the bartender’s crawler. We’ll go get the crates.”
When they got back to the cargo hold Solomon asked, “What did you want to tell me?”
Marcus sat down on the back of the trailer. “They’ve got a galaxy-wide alert out for us. Even if we make it to New Vegas I don’t know how we’ll get to the council’s space station. There’s bound to be several Earth Force ships there.”
“We got a three-day jump to New Vegas, a day on the planet, then another five days to the council. Anything could happen between now and then. Let’s just take one thing at a time.”
“Yeah, you’re right. No sense worrying about the dragon at the top of the mountain when the ogre guarding the pass might kill you.”
“If you say so, about New Vegas…”
“Relax, you just stay on the ship. Keep the weapons on. Anybody tries to bust in fry them. It’ll be fine.”
I hope you enjoyed Chapter 8. To read Chapter 9 click here
Prefer to read the whole thing on your favorite e-reader?
You can buy Children of Darkness from my Payhip store here. https://payhip.com/b/wUCS