Earl “Butcher” Davis.
Crime boss of Undercity.
Wanted for murder, pimping, and racketeering, among other things. His rise to power had been a blight on the underprivileged people beneath the surface plate of Tyrosh City for years.
Valen Cleric, a third generation bounty hunter, and respected member of the guild, heard vicious stories about how he earned his title, Butcher. The son-of-a-bitch was notorious for cutting off the limbs of people who didn’t pay what they owed, and when that wasn’t enough, he resorted to the finality of murder, in order to send a message to anyone else thinking about crossing him. He had been linked to a dozen murders in the media lately, as the gang wars in Undercity reached an apex, although the authorities couldn’t prove a damn thing.
Nobody would stand in court against the Butcher – except their witness. Tobin Gershon.
Valen, along with his apprentice, picked Tobin up in an outlying colony, a few light-years back. The guy had guts, although it wasn’t obvious to see when looking at him. Medium height, thin, balding, mid-forties, and broke as a vermant, Tobin didn’t seem to have much going for him at all. A better way to look at it, Valen thought, was that the guy didn’t have much to lose. Except his life, of course.
It was Valen’s job to keep Tobin safe until he handed him over to the authorities, and he was determined to do just that. Like his father always taught him, it didn’t matter what the job was, so long as it got finished. His reputation in he guild drew in a lot of profitable contracts. He was dependable, and skilled, having spent almost twenty years in the same business as his father and grandfather.
They were aboard his ship, the ship handed down to him by his father, Chaos Noon, and quickly returning to the Delria system. Valen was in his quarters, trying to get a little shut-eye while his apprentice manned the helm. Just when he felt like he was about to slip into sleep, the ship took a hit, and he almost fell out of bed.
“Luciana, what the hell was that?” he cried over his wrist link, the personal computer he wore everywhere, like most people.
“I don’t know, Captain,” she responded, distress in her voice. Valen was already out of his quarters and hurrying to the pilot’s cabin.
“Is it pirates?’ he demanded.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “They haven’t hailed us. They dropped out of hyperspace, and opened fire.”
Someone leaked their whereabouts to the Butcher, he guessed. Either from the Tyrosh authorities, or the bounty hunter guild, although he could only really consider the former.
Right now, it didn’t matter. Survival had to be the only thing on his mind.
The ship took another hit, and Valen was knocked off balance, almost falling on his head, as he ran for the elevator to bring him to the pilot’s cabin. It was a detachable part from the main body of the ship that could serve as their lifeboat, if need be, although he hoped the need for it wouldn’t arise. It only took a few seconds to arrive up top in the cabin
Valen hurried to take the main seat, while Luciana got out of his way and went to a co-pilot station next to him.
“They won’t respond to my hails,” she appraised him. “Shields are holding.”
Valen consulted his scans while steering the ship away from an incoming blaster bolt. It seared over the canopy, as he counted three enemy ships. They were far from any friendly security forces; in the outlying colonies they were few and far between. That meant they were on their own, and outnumbered. Once the shields dropped, the enemy would most likely target their engines to leave them dead in the water before they boarded and retrieved Tobin. Either that, or they would just blow them to bits. Neither outcome was acceptable.
“This is not good,” said Luciana, as their shields were reduced to forty percent.
Nearby was a grey planet with a harsh atmosphere. It was his only play. He saw another shot coming for them with the sensor computer, and he veered hard, just narrowly avoiding it.
“Set a course for that planet, Luciana,” he instructed.
His co-pilot hurried to comply, as he steered them in the right direction. She plotted an approach vector so they could quickly soar through the atmosphere.
One thing Valen had always been good at was flying. It came naturally to him, as a lifetime spacer. He was also renowned for his judgement in tight situations. Entering the planet’s atmosphere tested his key attributes to their maximum.
Sweat trickled his brow, as he held the stick, smoothly angling the ship to maintain its speed and dip only when the sensors told him the enemy weapon systems had been temporarily compromised, as their hulls burned brightly. The sight before him was of hellfire, Chaos Noon was lit up like a candle.
They heard a thundering concussion as they broke through, and then plunged toward the rocky surface. Valen diverted from sub-light engines to thrusters. His sensors warned him they had been targeted by enemy weapon systems’ once more.
“Valen, those cliffs,” cried Luciana. Ahead of them was a meandering myriad of mountainous peaks. He flew directly for them. An enemy blast hit, and their shields dropped. It would take some time for the generator to reboot, and he decided to divert power, making the thrusters their primary focus. It gave them more speed, and the largest enemy ship was starting to fall behind.
Valen soared between the cliffs, taking a sharp left turn, he forced an enemy fighter’s wing to collide with a spiky rock formation – the ship crashed, tumbled and burned.
“One down,” Valen counted aloud. He took them up and over the next mountain before plunging down the other side, keeping a low altitude that caused a rockslide from the power of his ship’s engines. It was time to show them a little more of what his ship could do.
“Luciana, man the rear gun.”
She didn’t have to move from her station, as the gun’s computer was fed to her station. She used a mouse pad to aim it, and the gun spooled when she right-clicked. A hail of gun fire pelted their nearest enemy ship. The fighter took a few hits before taking evasive manoeuvrers.
Valen swooped under a natural bridge of rock and they spilled into a narrow gap between two mountains, and Luciana saved her ammunition. He turned the ship sidewards to make it through the slender gap the other side. The enemy fighter made it through easily, although the bigger ship, it pulled up and went over, losing a few seconds on them.
Luciana pelted the fighter with fire from the rear Gatling gun when it was directly behind them. The pilot had nowhere to go, and the entire hull around his cockpit was shredded before the glass broke with a cloud of blood blasting out. The fighter went down and exploded on the surface.
“Yes! Well done!” the Captain applauded her decision making.
“We might just make it out of this,” she sounded hopeful. Valen had never been one for voicing what he thought his chances of survival were in a bad situation. He bit down, and made sure they kept gaining speed.
A few moments later, and they were starting to put some real space between themselves and the larger enemy ship. “Let’s try talking to these assholes again,” said Valen, sending a hail.
This time, his request was accepted.
“It’s no use running,” said a gruff voice.
“I disagree,” said Valen. “Who is this?”
“My name doesn’t matter,” said the man. “Your cargo is all we want. Let’s discuss an exchange. It’s your only way out of this.”
Valen had dedicated his life to putting scumbags away. He might not have been a representative of any government, but he was a member of the bounty hunter guild. That meant something to him, just like it had meant something to his father, and grandfather, before him.
Valen looked to his co-pilot and was assured of her strength by her tight grimace. Luciana, like him, had a strong sense of right and wrong. It was what had endeared him to her in the first place, when he was deciding which candidate to take under his wing for guild training.
“Not going to happen.”
“Valen Cleric. ID 48921,” said the man, and Valen sneered at the obvious attempt at intimidation.
“So, you know my name.”
“I also know, you are doing this for money. You’re nothing but a bounty hunter, Mr Cleric. My employer has been kind enough to offer to pay you double for the exchange, as well as letting you live.”
“Double, isn’t enough for my honour,” said Valen.
“Triple, then?” the man replied quickly, business-like.
Valen bit down and shook his head. The psycho his mark was testifying against was obviously this man’s employer, and he was a real piece of work. The son of a bitch was the kingpin of the UnderCity beneath Tyrosh. He was suspected of a whole lot of crimes, but his witness was finally going to put the bastard away for a double murder.
“Listen, I’m going to give you the chance to fly away. Tell your boss you lost us,” said Valen.
The man laughed. “Very well, Mr Cleric. Have it your way.”
The transmission cut out. “What an asshole,” said Luciana.
Valen looked back over his shoulder and gave the sound of a smirk. Then he focused on keeping up their speed. At this rate, they could be out of visual range in a few minutes. The problem was getting off this planet. Up in space, that bigger ship would catch up to them in no time once they reverted to sub-light engines.
“What’s our play?” she asked after a moment.
He was considering hiding. But then, that could backfire. They didn’t have the firepower to take that ship on. He ran a simulation with his battle computer, the odds were stacked against them. “Only a five percent chance of beating them in a gunfight,” he relayed to his co-pilot, hoping she would have a suggestion.
“We could prep the warp drive the second we leave the atmosphere,” she said.
“No good. We will still be caught in the planet’s gravity. They would blast us out of the sky before we could break free.”
Valen was struck with a thought and brought up the his map of the planet that was constantly being updated by the ship’s sensors as they went. “Rocks like these, they usually have some sort of mining facility,” he said out loud, while checking the map for any sort of man-made structure.
The galaxies were teeming with life, and the federation they came from was home to a seemingly innumerable amount of corporations and businesses. They were plundering the known Universe for every resource imaginable. The sensors were detecting huge deposits of natural resources north of their location.
“Vantage, a family owned mining corporation operate in this sector, according to the galactic database,” said Luciana. The girl was quick. She knew what he was thinking right away, and quickly provided him with some relevant information. He knew she was a pass before today, but this cemented it.
Before that, they were going to have to survive.
Luciana sent him the relevant information concerning Vantage, along with contact details. He got in touch with them right away. One of the perks of being associated with the guild was the fact that it put respect to his name, especially when dealing with professionals.
Valen sent his credentials as he submitted a request to travel through their airspace, correcting their course to head directly for the companies nearest outpost. When they got near to the restricted airspace, an automatic transmission was sent to their computer, warning them that they were approaching restricted airspace. Instead of going through, Valen travelled along the edges, with the enemy ship appearing ahead of them. It came right for them.
“Valen, what are you doing?” asked Luciana, her gut clenching, as the veteran bounty hunter grinned.
He followed his map of the surface, and led them through a narrow canyon,. The enemy followed, as Valen purposely lost some speed. Just as they entered weapon’s range, their ship passed through into the red-zone. A few seconds later, and the enemy followed.
The red-zone turned green on his sensors, as their asylum had been granted, and their identification verified.
Massive cannons lined the mountains next to the canyon’s exit. They targeted the enemy ship and opened fire. Three fiery blaster bolts seared through the hull, reducing the enemy ship to detritus, and it vanished from their sensors.
Valen and Luciana were up and hugging each other in a second. They cheered and jumped up and down.
“Shit! I thought we were goners,” she admitted, as they broke apart.
“Never give up,” he said.
They were out of the woods for now. But they still had a job to do. Valen returned to his chair, and they sent a very grateful thank you to the Vantage mining company for granting their asylum request.
“Let’s get our witness back home,” he said. “Plot a more indirect course. I don’t want to run into anymore assholes. Send an appraisal to the Tyrosh Police, too, they’ll send help.”
Once they were back out to space and they had engaged their FTL engines, Valen went to the deck below to see their witness. The man was weeping in his quarters. He practically jumped out of his seat at the table when Valen came inside.
“What’s happening?” he demanded.
“It’s all right,” said Valen, pushing down his hands to show him how relaxed he was. “We took care of it.”
“Who were they? Was it his men?” he asked, terrified.
“Whoever they were, they are goners now,” said Valen confidently. “What about you, are you okay?”
He took the man by the face, and turned his head so he could look at the cut. It would need a few stitches.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “When it all started I must have hit my head. Didn’t even feel it.”
“That’s the adrenaline. We’ll have you fixed up in no time,” said Valen, and he led him to the infirmary. He took out needle and threat and stitched him up while retelling the events.
“That’s some quick thinking,” he complimented, as Valen got to the part about contacting the mining corporation for help.
When he got back to the pilot cabin, he saw Luciana stiffen. The woman had no doubt been dealing with the after effects of going through a traumatic ordeal, although she tried to hide it from her Captain, the man grading her performance.
“Captain, how is he?” she asked, wiping her eyes in a hurry.
“He’s fine,” said Valen. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” she assured him with some vigorous nodding.
Valen pretended to take no notice. He walked to his chair and took the controls. The ship was in good condition, all things considered. His employers, the Tyrosh Police Department, had a contract with the guild which promised to cover the cost of any damages or injuries incurred while transporting their important witness.
At this rate, their payday, and delivery point, were just twenty four hours away. They could have gotten there a lot faster, although the course plotted by Luciana was deliberately direct. They were passing through sectors with the heaviest security, and they only dropped out of FTL in the most populated areas of space, near to space stations or colonies with federal forces in the vicinity who constantly patrolled to deter piracy among other things.
“Butcher, he earns his name, I see,” commented Luciana.
“Murderous asshole is going straight to the executioner,” said Valen, gritting his teeth with a sense of pride that they would have a hand in his demise.
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