Deception Is Our Stock in Trade
by Richard Pearson
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
John Nutt had just returned to his cabin on the Adventure Galleon to get some rest when his communicator sounded. The text said he was requested in Captain Kidd’s cabin. John floated weightlessly along the companionway to the Captain’s cabin. He knocked on the frame of the open hatchway.
Kidd motioned for him to come in and pointed to a pair of foot straps. John hooked his feet into the straps so he and Kidd were oriented in the same direction.
“Drink?” Kidd asked. He reached into a cooler and tossed a squeeze pack of sports drink to John.
John popped open the valve and took a long gulp. Dehydrated by his long EVA, he found the sweet, sour, salty liquid delicious. He smiled. “Thanks, Will. I needed that. How is Rin doing?”
“Her back is broken. She’ll live, but she’ll never be able to ship out with us again.”
John looked down. “Rin’s the second crew member we’ve lost. This piracy game is getting serious.”
“Well, the first two intercepts were easy,” Kidd said. “The freighters answered our fake distress calls, and we captured the crews and cargo without a fight.”
John looked down. “Yes, but the third freighter crew resisted, and I had to kill one of them.”
“That crew member broke Rafael’s helmet faceplate with a crowbar. If you hadn’t killed him before he got a second swing, he would have broken Rafael’s skull. You did what you had to do.”
John crossed his arms. “The last time I had to kill one person, and this time we ended up massacring everyone aboard.”
“Well, they’re all dead.”
Kidd looked John in the eye. “That freighter’s captain was responsible for the death of his crew. His situation was hopeless, but he still refused to surrender. The captain’s last action, spinning his ship, was futile. Throwing Chris off the hull caused her to fire the shaped charges.”
“No! Not really! Christine fired the charges because that’s what she does. She likes to blowing things up and killing people.”
“You’re a little quick to reach that conclusion. She’s new to the crew after all.”
John frowned. “When she volunteered for my EVA crew, you sent me her psych profile. It basically says she is a sociopath. She has no empathy for anyone else and a thirst for power. I read the evaluation, because it’s odd for an Electronic Officer to do EVA. Most EO’s like to stay nice and warm in the ship with their electronics. Christine gets off on danger.”
Kidd looked away a little. “Yes, Chris is a little weird, but she is a brilliant EO. It looks like she’ll be able to get the freighter’s drone control system going. That means less EVA time and less radiation exposure for your crew. The Galleon needs someone with Chris’s talents.”
“Couldn’t you find another EO for the Galleon?” John asked.
Kidd looked back at John. “No, I couldn’t. Unlike other space crew, EO’s can readily find other jobs. When the ice freighters, like our old ship, were put out of business, hundreds of us were stranded on Mars. I can find replacements for any other type of space crew, but not EO’s.
“I tried recruiting straight out of tech schools. There was surprisingly little interest in piracy as a profession. Long monotonous space voyages, being branded as a criminal and the risk of sudden death don’t seem to be career pluses.”
“What about the rebellion?” John asked. “Isn’t anyone else motivated to strike back at those idiots on Earth?”
Kidd sighed. “There is no open rebellion yet. When Earth Gov. shut down the Martian terraforming effort, they crushed our hope for the future. Almost everyone knows the Green Party’s claim that they found a native Martian microbe that needed environmental protection was bogus. Still, despite the anger Martians feel, they haven’t formed much of a rebellion yet.“
“But there will be a rebellion, right? We’re risking everything for that rebellion,” John said.
Kidd look away again. “I have faith that there will be. We’re sending these cargo drones to the Jupiter’s Lagrange points to hide them. The nuclear fuel rods in the cargo drones will be available to power a rebel fleet when it’s needed. However, until there is a rebel fleet, we’re on our own. We can’t openly advertise why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
John was exasperated. “So, we can’t recruit for the rebellion. We’re stuck shipping out with self-centered psychopaths like Christine. Great!”
Kidd looked down and frowned. “I’ll keep an eye on Christine and keep her in check.”
“You know she’s schizophrenic?” John said.
“Well she was born a Senator’s daughter. She had an upper-class upbringing. Later she ran away to live with in the mountains with a backwoods survivalist group. Her accent does seem to flip back and forth between those two groups.”
John looked disgusted. “She ran away to live with the survivalist because the authorities were hunting her. She’d been torturing street people for fun. When the authorities caught up with the survivalist group, they mind-wiped all of them except her. Christine’s father got her shipped out here instead.”
Kidd tilted his head to one side. “She has had a complicated life.”
“Really! It’s not just Chris. Marty’s changing too,” John said.
Kidd was surprised. “Marty? Marty was always a joker, even back when we were the honest crew of an ice freighter. What do you mean he’s changing?”
John crossed his arms. “His jokes are taking on a hard edge, becoming sadistic. I’m not sure how much of his bloodthirsty pirate routine is an act anymore.”
“John, this business was bound to change us.”
John rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought by highjacking fuel rods I would be helping liberate the people of Mars. I didn’t know I’d have to work with moral monsters like Christine.”
Kidd sighed. “John, I know it’s been a hard day. We only need to highjack one or two more nuclear fuel freighters before we can retire from the pirate business. Just hang in there a little longer. We’ll soon be out of this dirty and dangerous life. Go get some rest.”
* * *
A day later John knocked on the frame of Captain Kidd’s hatch. “Come in,” Kidd said.
“You wanted to see me, Captain?”
Kidd motioned for John to come in. “I found something I thought you should know about. Those people on that last freighter weren’t innocent spacefarers after all. They were government security personnel; that’s why they fought so hard.”
John frowned. “How do you know that?”
Kidd raise his eyebrows. “I finally got into their file system and recovered the ship’s log. Christine said it was lost, but I found a backup copy.”
“Why would Earth Gov. use a decoy freighter?” John asked.
Kidd lifted his chin a little. “They wanted to take pirate vessels intact to find out where they were sending the cargo drones. The decoy ship was supposed surrender quietly when it was captured. Posing as part of the boarding party a government spy on board the pirate vessel would then deliver the data to the decoy ship. A bomb planted aboard the pirate ship would destroy it as the security personnel overpowered the boarding party. The decoy ship would then take the spy and data home.”
“Why not take us while in port?”
“Well, for one thing they weren’t sure who we were. Besides, they wanted to catch the pirates in the act to avoid any legal questions and make sure they got the location of the fuel rods. They tried to place spies on the crews of all the Martian freighters they suspected of being pirates. They arrested or injured crew freighter crew members to make openings for their spies.”
“Was our ship on the list of suspected pirates?” John asked.
Kidd tilted his head to one side. “Yes, but not on the list of ships with a confirmed spy aboard. I guess that’s why the decoy’s captain tried to do it ‘old school’ and take us directly. He was a bureaucratic enforcer and wasn’t used to dealing with people who fight back. Obviously, the direct approach didn’t work out so well for him.”
* * *
The next intercept appeared to go smoothly. This time, stealth drones were used to take out both the ship’s high-gain antennas and its propulsion system. The crew surrendered without resistance. John and Martin started the process of adding reaction mass to each cargo drone.
John was fueling his third cargo drone when he saw a flash at the edge of his vision. At the same time, he heard a burst of static on his suit radio. He quickly looked back to assure himself that the Adventure Galleon was OK. It wasn’t. Where the ship had been there was nothing but rapidly expanding debris cloud.
John looked back towards Martin to tell him about the Galleon. John found Martin aiming his rifle at him. Reacting on instinct, John punched the controls on his spacesuit’s maneuvering unit and sprang out of the line of fire. The rest of the fight was a blur, with Martin and John both maneuvering and firing wildly.
Finally, John backed into a cargo drone, steadied himself and managed to put his last three rounds into Martin. Exhausted, John let go of his empty gun and it float away.
When he looked around, he saw another figure in a Galleon spacesuit coming towards him from the direction of the freighter. It was Christine. “Chris, what happened to the Galleon?”
“I blew it up, John.” Christine replied calmly and sadly behind her helmet’s faceplate. “A shame really. I enjoyed being a pirate. Still, destroying the Adventure Galleon was an essential part of the deal I made with authorities. In return, I get a new identity and a pardon for all my sins.”
“Were we that easy to fool?”
Christine smirked. “Please! You told the last freighter’s crew that ‘Lies and deceptions are a pirate’s stock in trade.’ You were pathetic amateurs. A government doesn’t rule an entire solar system without mastering all forms of treachery.”
“I still don’t understand. You fought as hard as I did against the crew of the last freighter,” John said.
Christine cocked her head to one side. “Apparently, they didn’t know I made it aboard the Adventure Galleon. Once they started trying to kill all of us, I had to fight back. Besides, I didn’t want any of them to live and blow my cover.”
John moved closer to Christine. “So, self-preservation first, Chris?”
Christine dropped into her backwoods accent. “First, last and away, bro! I paid Marty to kill you, but that stupid clown fracked it up. Now, I gotta clean up the mess my own self. Move back a little and stop foolin’ with that shape charge. You’re making ol’ Christine nervous.”
“You’ve got a gun. I’ve got no place to go with my ship destroyed. Kidd and the rest of the crew are all dead. Still you’re afraid of me, you warped psycho whore!”
Christine jammed her rifle barrel at his chest. “I ain’t afraid of nothin’!”
John grabbed the barrel and yanked it towards him. Christine emptied her gun into his chest. Her rounds shredded John’s heart, but his brain lived on a few precious seconds more. His dying body obeyed the brain’s final commands. He drew Christine into a bear hug and fired the shaped charge wedged between them.
The explosion’s shock wave shattered their bodies into an intermingled cloud of ice crystals and organic particles. Together forever now, John’s and Christine’s remains drifted off into the eternal night between the planets.
Millions of miles away, a pirate’s treasure drifted safely in the void, awaiting a Martian rebellion. As in the days of sail, the secret of the treasure’s location had been paid for by human sacrifice.
Then, as now, dead men and women told no tales.
Copyright © 2017 by Richard Pearson