STARFORGERS Chapter 21

“The Silicant Rights movement has had its share of unusual human sympathizers but none more unusual than the space pirate Gareth. Very little is known about this man whose actions helped two of the most well-known Silicants of the pre-war Federation. He appears quite suddenly at a critical time in history and then slips away into the void, never to be heard from again.”

- Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

 

Chapter 21

 

 

Gareth eased past the crack in the door to engineering and got low, in case there was anyone watching. He crawled on his tired legs a bit and then holed up beside some oily equipment to survey the hot, steamy room. There was a human pirate passed out at the controls and a red android standing motionless nearby. He did not see the sand colored android that came with Eighty-eight.

He decided to take his chances with the red android and stood up. It did not move. Was it turned off? It was too difficult to tell. He eased forward, blaster at the ready. Neither the passed out human or the red android made any movement. Gareth looked around for the other android. Where the hell could it have gone off to? It was tethered to engineering with a wireless shutoff collar. 

There was a stirring sound to his left and he pointed the blaster at it. A gray rat scurried out from behind some equipment racks and went along its way, never paying him any attention.

“Excuse me, sir.” Thirty-seven said.

Gareth nearly jumped out of his skin. The sandy android had been hoisted up above the room with chains. It swung there helplessly with the rhythms of the ship’s vibrations.

“You scared the hell out me, slag!”

Thirty-seven blinked its eye lenses.

“Where is Eighty-eight?” it finally asked.

Gareth had set down his blaster and used the winch controls to lower Thirty-seven to the deck. He kept a wary eye on the red android and the human.

“It’s about to lose a leg to the Captain. If we hurry, we can stop it,” Gareth said. He undid the chains and helped Thirty-seven to its feet. “Come on, we don’t have much time. The Captain is going to turn this ship around and ditch your cargo.”

“But we have a charter to Selene,” Thirty-seven protested.

“Look, you might have thought you had a charter, but we’re pirates. Not exactly men of our word.”

Thirty-seven nodded as it tried to keep up with Gareth. They moved down a deck and then over a few more passageways until he motioned for them to stop. He took out another pistol from inside his pant pocket and handed it to Thirty-seven.

“I am sorry, but I do not condone violence, sir.”

“Take it or I’ll blast your head off right here.” Gareth watched as Thirty-seven accepted the small hand gun and inspected it. “Just point it and pull the freaking trigger, slag. It’s not complicated.”

“I understand,” the Silicant said.

Gareth pointed to the hatch before them with his blaster. “You’re metal friend is in there. But it’s guarded by slags and maybe a few pirates. If we burst in guns flashing, we might catch them off guard. But all the shooting will cause a commotion. So stick with me. Got it?”

Thirty-seven blinked its eye lens and nodded curtly. Gareth took a few deep breaths to psyche himself. Then he stormed the room, his blaster glowing from the steady flow of energy down its barrel.

There were two androids with welding torches nearest the inert body of Eighty-eight. Gareth directed his fire at their heads and upper torsos. Androids were not designed to fight, and the material that covered their armatures was weak. Pieces of plastic and metal blew outward as the shots hit.

Thirty-seven fired its weapon at the nearest android and it eventually exploded and fell over. There were no humans in the room. It was the infirmary and it wasn’t any cleaner than the rest of the ship. Both of the androids fell over, their scrambled torsos hitting the deck with metallic thuds.

Thirty-seven noted with a tinge of regret that he had never destroyed a fellow android before, sentient or not. It didn’t give the Silicant much pause as it rushed to the table where Eighty-eight lay.

“We’re too late, they’ve already cut it off,” Gareth said, picking up the severed leg.

Thirty-seven inspected the joint and determined that it would not be easy to reattach. In fact it wondered just how they were going to attach it to the Captain, as they had completely cut through the ball joint and ruined it.

There was a commotion at the entrance hatch. Gareth charged his blaster and motioned for Thirty-seven to get behind the table. “We have to get out of here, take over the ship. Otherwise you’re going to wind up spare parts like your metal pal here.”

The hatch blew out in a spray of spark and smoke, and several human pirates burst into the room, guns flashing. Gareth nailed the first one square in the chest and he fell forward in a bloody heap. The second man through the hatch was not as lucky. He caught several shots to his shoulders, neck and thigh before collapsing onto his dead mate.

An eerie silence blanketed the room as smoke lingered around the bodies. Gareth motioned for Thirty-seven to cover him as he carefully moved to the door. The outside corridor was empty. Apparently there had only been two. He waved the Silicant forward and together they made their way to the bridge.

They encountered no further resistance until they got closer to their objective. There were several androids parked outside the entrance hatch to the bridge. They didn’t look too intimidating, as they were all a mess of spare and miss-matched parts. But Gareth was uninterested in fighting more machines. He ducked into a storage area and started pulling open cabinets and searching for something.

“What are you looking for?” Thirty-seven asked.

“A helmet. We’re going to take the bridge from the outside.”

Thirty-seven was confused, but said nothing.

Gareth finally found a space helmet and a working breather pack. He set the breather on a bench and strapped it over his shoulders, taking care to connect the hoses to the back of the helmet. Working quickly he soon finished.

He went to another locker and pulled out what looked like a torch for welding. He looked it over and determined it was in working order. Then he handed it to Thirty-seven. “You’re going to cut through a service panel on the bridge. It’s going to create a diversion to occupy the Captain. It won’t know what the hell is going on but it will have to try and stop you. That’s when I will blow the emergency airlock and enter firing this little beauty.”

He held up a tiny round instrument that Thirty-seven immediately recognized. “An electro stunner?”

“Yes, it’s directional. It may fry some systems on the bridge if I miss, but it won’t take out the whole ship or you. You’ll be outside when I set it off anyway. Captain Crazy Legs will be inside.”

Thirty-seven stared at Gareth in what could only be described as disbelief. Gareth flashed it a dirty, unshaven smile. “Trust me, you won’t be affected.”

“As you pointed out, one should never take the word of a pirate,” Thirty-seven said.

Gareth’s smile widened. “For a slag, you’re not so dumb.”

He shut down his face mask and activated the life support systems. Then he opened the airlock hatch and started cycling it. Within minutes they were both outside, using the hand rails on the old freighter to make their way forward towards the bridge.

Androids were designed to do just about anything a human could do and so the Silicant had little trouble maneuvering in low gravity. Thirty-seven followed Gareth along the outside of the ship, never stopping to admire the view or get lost in the light coming from the nearest blue giant star. When they reached the bridge, Gareth pointed to where he wanted Thirty-seven to begin cutting. The Silicant got into position, its hands clasped to the rails and the blowtorch dangling from a shoulder harness. It activated the torch and started melting the weakest part of the skin. Blue arc light turned its tan body pale blue-gray.

Gareth didn’t watch the android. He positioned himself near the explosive hatch and fought for a few minutes with the keypad cover. It was pock marked with tiny indentations from all manner of micro-impacts and of all things, rust. Many pirate ships led harsh lives on planets with toxic atmospheres. They were not completely immune from the forces of oxidation.

He finally got the cover open and looked over towards Thirty-seven. He would know when the breach was complete as soon as he saw air and anything not strapped down, leaking from the hole. The android bored hard into the softened metal and was nearly blown away into space when the torch breached.

Gareth entered the code and the hatch blew out. A chair and several pieces of smaller fodder, one of which was the Captain’s blaster, flew out into the void. Then he pushed off into the hole, blaster blazing in one hand and the electro-stunner firing away in his other hand. He fell to the deck as soon as he came into the containment field of the internal gravity well of the ship.

Two-three had been taking another hit from the electromagnet when the hatch blew. It let go of the device and tried to find its weapon, metal hand slapping the metal of the nearest control panel. The magnet stuck to its head like some strange, metallic tumor. The electro-stunner failed to work. Gareth continued pulling its trigger to no avail, even as his shots found purchase in the Captain’s chest plate.

Two-three twitched sporadically from the pull of the magnet and managed to slap Gareth’s blaster from his hands. It clanked to the floor out of reach. In seconds the android was standing over Gareth, still reeling out of control from the magnet stuck to its head.

For a moment, Gareth thought that the magnet might paralyze the Captain. He frantically looked around for something to use as a weapon.

There was a metal post where the chair had been that blew out of the hatch when he opened it. Quickly he twisted it out of the socket it was in and used it to beat on the android’s already mangled left leg. Two-three struggled to get the magnet off its head before dropping it on Gareth. He managed to check it with the post and started to back crawl out from under his assailant.

Two-three went after the metal post in Gareth’s hand and snatched it away from him with one fluid movement that startled Gareth with its speed. He covered up his torso, expecting to be beaten senseless with the metal bat. But nothing happened. He looked up and saw Thirty-seven holding the Captain by its neck in a head lock. Two-three started beating Thirty-seven with the metal post as best that he could, but it was ineffective.

Gareth got behind Thirty-seven and ignited the welding torch. Two-three tried to hit him with the post but its arms were not double jointed and it couldn’t get a decent swing at him. Gareth pointed the torch at the head of the silver android until it started to melt into a white hot slag. Slowly its arms stopped moving and it started to go limp in Thirty-seven’s arms. Gareth stood back and motioned towards the open hatch. Thirty-seven spun around and sent the silver android flying out the hatch and into space. Gareth watched it fade into the stars as it shot away from the ship.

He closed the emergency hatch and turned to face Thirty-seven. The sand colored android gave him a curt nod and then went to work on fixing the breach it had created in the far wall of the bridge. Gareth took a moment to collect his breath before surveying the bridge for any further damage. Everything looked operational, at least for a run-down old space freighter.

* * *

Eighty-eight came out of standby and focused on the two figures hovering over it. One of them was Thirty-seven and the other was the human pirate, Gareth. Internal timers indicated that it had been in standby for hours.

“Welcome back,” Gareth said.

“I seem to have been out for a while. What have I missed?”

Gareth looked at Thirty-seven and started to laugh. Eighty-eight tilted its round head and looked to Thirty-seven for an answer.

“We have defeated the Captain and repaired your leg with a metal pipe,” Thirty-seven said.

Gareth laughed again at the absurdity of a pirate giving an android a peg leg. Neither android understood the irony. Even if they did, they were not equipped to laugh with the gusto of a human who had survived the incident. Gareth caught his breath and said, “We’re under way to Selene. Estimated time of arrival is twenty-four hours.”

“What about our cargo?” Eighty-eight asked.

“It’s safe and secure.”

Eighty-eight tried to get up and stand on its inflexible new leg. The black android teetered back and forth for a moment before adjusting to the balance.

Gareth smiled at his welding handiwork. “A fine pirate leg, if I don’t say so myself.”

“We should be in the central Core region in a matter of hours. But I should warn you, there has been a no-transport edict issued by the Federation. I’ve never seen anything like it. They are directing ships away from the Core worlds. By continuing we are in direct violation of this edict.”

Eighty-eight seemed to process this new information slowly. Like a game strategist, it considered hundreds if not thousands of possibilities for continuing its mission.

“We have orders from Senator Constantine to deliver this cargo as soon as possible. Proceed to Selene without delay.”

Thirty-seven turned its head to look at the black android. The Senator was its owner before coming to Ocherva, before it was upgraded to a Silicant. Recorded memories of conversations with the Senator and her staff before being sent to Ocherva now suddenly made sense to it. It would appear that the good Senator was deeply involved in the Silicant Rights movement, as Eighty-eight had insisted.

___________________

Author’s Comments: 

This is another of my favorite chapters from Starforgers. The interaction between Thirty-seven and Gareth is splendid. It also has plenty of action and even a humorous ending. Good stuff.

There has been some discussion about bringing back the crazy android captain in a future short story. Only time will tell if I ever write that one.

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