This piece is the prologue to a little project I’m working on, a book of adventures set in my Orion Spur universe, of which you never heard anything because it’s only in my head (at least that’s what the doctor always tells me). It’s called Catharsis and it is about a young fighter pilot from a remote space station called Liam Mari who joins a freelance crew run by Larsius Hawking. This prologue is set about ten years before the actual storyline, so everything you just learned is absolutely irrelevant. You’re welcome. As always, feedback is much appreciated.
Music of the Moment: Jesper Kyd – Interlude Ambient
Thallis III, Thallis System, French Southern Border Sector
It was an awkward ride. As they glided over Theirn MacKays Second-Hand Shipyard aboard the handrailed antigrav platform, neither of his two customers said a word to him. They were twins, Larsius and Venerius Hawking, and looked nearly exactly alike. Both were tall and muscular, with an athletic wiryness to them. Their faces were triangular, with pointy chins and prominent jawlines, long, thin noses and high cheekbones. Both wore their pitch-black hair short, both were clean shaven and both were clad in the same olive-grey military casual apparel. The only thing setting them apart were their eyes: Venerius were acorn brown while Larsius were the colour of sapphires.
Compared to these sporty youths he looked almost like an old man, with his balding hazel hair, the hinted wrinkles and big nose. He was overweight, slow and had to dab the sweat of his forehead constantly so it wouldn’t run into his leaf green eyes.
But did it matter? In the end, he was the one wearing the banana coloured suit about to sell them some old spaceship he could afford to give away, while to them it would be the most valuable of possessions. He didn’t need to be fit, he only needed to be charismatic, and that’s what he considered himself to be.
The shipyard was extensive. Fifteen square kilometres, with some ships towering high into the pastel-yellow sky of Thallis. Nearly five thousand vessels lay around here, some as long as the business was old, and some he would never sell. Nevertheless he had them all catalogued and mapped out by his five employees, who worked long but well paid shifts to keep things up and running.
That is, if you only count the official employees. At the heart of the shipyard there was a large Dandelion-class freighter, which harboured the secret of Theirn MacKays success: a hidden workshop. In there you could get almost any modification for your fighter, shuttle or even corvette. Now, this happened at every street corner, but there you could only install a small, or let’s say boring spectrum of parts. The French Sector was known for both rigid banning of spacecraft-tech and illegal space racing. His workshop offered anything a racer could possibly desire, even pieces of technology that were illegal everywhere in the Orion Spur.
But his regular customers didn’t need to know that. To them he was just Theirn MacKay, the nice and likeable spaceship salesman.
They had just passed over a rack of decomissioned Heracles-fighters he’d bought from the French Navy a few years back when he spotted her. The Titanium Bucket, a ship most likely named by someone who was either mentally handicapped or incredibly funny. It was an armed freighter that used to roll off Makarov Aerospace assembly lines back in the day, but that was even before Theirn was born. A good ship for start-up entrepreneurs and, for a spacecraft it’s age, in very good shape. He wanted to give them a good offer, so they might even have a few extra credits left for a new paint job.
As they landed, the twins looked less and less enthusiastic. A few old shuttles were standing around them and, as the platform hit the ground, grey dust swirled up from the rocky floor. Down here, on the plains, there seldom was much wind during the summer. But the volcanic mountain chain was just a hundred kilometres away and regularly spit out ash clouds that settled around these regions.
He dabbed off the sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief.
“This?” Said Venerius.
“Well, I admit, the colour is flaking off a bit, but all systems go like clockwork.” he assured them.
“’Clockwork’” Larsius asked. It was true, it ways a very old-fashioned proverb, but those had always been his favourites.
“Shall we go inside? You’ll see, it’s really a great ship.”
“No. I don’t think I want to fly this rusty piece of space debris.” Venerius was not impressed. It seemed to him that, of the twins, he was the less grounded one.
“I’m sorry, but it’s the best thing in your price range. After a few jobs you will be able to upgrade it to suit your needs.”
“What about that one?” His brother asked.
He pointed at a frigate about a kilometre away. It was a short, broad ship with white varnish and a layer of ash laying on top like grey icing on a cream cake. It was the Catharsis, a Salamander-class spacecraft. The origin of the name was not entirely clear to him. Yes, the organic-streamlined design might somewhat resemble a salamanders head, but Theirn could think of a hundred things it resembled more than that. Besides, salamanders didn’t have eyes at the front of their heads nor did they have a little finn-like knoll on the top of their heads.
He had gotten that ship from a man called Warwick Coiro, or rather from his lifeless corpse. Coiro had been a freelance pilot with his own crew, just like the Hawking Twins were aspiring to become, only he was a lot older and lacked the necessary skill set for the job. What he was, was someone who quit his well paid desk job in the Core Systems after having saved enough for a brand new (and arguably very good) ship. But his dreams of adventure died in the cold hard hands of reality. He always needed money to pay for food, fuel and crew, so he borrowed it from Theirn. The latter may have been his wisest decision, as MacKay was not the type of guy who just turned on the people who owed him money and increased their debts under the threat of violence. “Make a deal, keep it.” had always been his motto.
Over the course of the five years that Coiro was in business, his crew deserted him one after the other, until, eventually, he was alone on the ship, flying badly paid supply runs to insignificant stations in outer space. He killed himself with a shotgun to the head while conveniently jumping into the Thallis System, making Theirn retrieve his ship and keep it as compensation for the debts he never paid back.
Again, he pulled out the handkerchief and dabbed the sweat of his forehead.
Nevertheless, the Catharsis was not affordable for the twins.
“I’m sorry, but you wont be able to pay for that one.” He felt sorry for them, but not in the same way he’d felt sorry for Coiro. They lacked the funds, but seemed very capable.
“How much is it?”
“At least twenty million credits, and that’s only because I’m so generous. You have twelve million, so do the Math yourselves.”
“No problem, mate. I have money.” The voice came from behind a tall Restoration-shuttle. Around the corner turned a man around the same age as the twins, if not a bit younger. He had a flat, triangular face, big icy eyes with a hint of green and a sheepish smile on his thin lips. His barely tamed dark blond hair was combed over to the left, covering half of the defiant frown on his forehead and his finely trimmed yet somehow wild-looking goatee was a few shades of blond lighter than the hair on his head.
He wore a navy-blue shirt with a coal vest over it and matching cargo pants. Both the vest and the pants had lots of pockets, all of them filled to the edge. But the intruders most remarkable accessories were the three gun holsters he wore. One around his waist, one over his shoulder and one at his ankle, all of them carrying guns.
“How did you get in here?” They were in the middle of the shipyard and he didn’t let anyone roam free without an escort, for obvious reasons.
“No fence is high enough for Bobby van Asch.” he boasted.
“But I have an energy fence!” Theirn complained.
“When I say no fence, I mean no fence, mate.” He spoke with a thick Australian accent, making him seem all the more bizarre.
“Well, uh…” he was speechless. How could this nutjob just jump his six-hundred million energy fence without anyone noticing? “Why are you here?”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve been here for about three days now, looking for a proper spaceship to buy.” He looked over to the twins. Larsius grinned in amusement, while Venerius chuckled lightly. Did they know him?
“You could have just come through the front door and I would have shown you a ship!”
“Meh, didn’t feel like it. So, cobbers,” he was turned to the twins “I got six million credits in my pocket, let’s go and buy this lady.”
Larsius seemed sceptical at first, but Venerius said something to him that made him change his mind. Just like that. What the hell was wrong with young people today?
“Wait, even with your share it’s not enough. I said twenty million, and this is not subject to debate.”
“Aaah, common, mate!” said Bobby, smiling broadly. “There’s gotta be some deal we can work out here. I mean, we’re freelancers, you own an illegal workshop, surely we can help each other.”
How the hell did he find out about the workshop? Was someone pulling a prank on him?
The twins seemed genuinely surprised. Apparently they’d fallen for the whole ‘clean slate businessman’ ploy. Before he could panic, Theirn calmed himself down by dabbing the sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief.
He was right, wasn’t he? It wasn’t a bad deal, considering he essentially got the ship for free. Coiros debts had amounted to a total of five million credits, which was still five times the yearly wage of an average employee, but still not nearly as much as the Catharsis was actually worth. Then again, there was the golden rule of selling ships to freelancers: always get the full money up front. It simply wasn’t a profession that went well with financing plans. But two million? He thought about the Archon wreckage in the nebula. That was worth more than two million, wasn’t it? Could he trust these people? They had no reputation, but which start-up freelancer had a reputation?
“Well, there is actually a little job you could do for me…”