DrKoobie’s Multimedia Quest for the Stars
Costeau Asylum’s hangar’s blood-stained walls spoke of a history of misery. I hooked my Watts-class personal disintegrator to my hip, put on a trench coat over the pilot suit, and left River Volga for the station’s core.
The rapid expansion of humanity with the advent of the Frame Shift Drive left plenty room for crazy; on the frontier, people saw things you wouldn’t believe. And where weakness went, abuse soon followed. A chapter of cyber monks worshipping an ancient mariner named Jacques Costeau took over the station years ago, renaming it to Costeau Asylum: “a bastion of sanity in the universe.”
They usually went about “helping the feeble-minded” by injecting unstable people with experimental drugs pharma companies wanted to test.
When the tests failed, they sold the leftover drugs to the highest bidder.
I was supposed to meet my contact in the Grilled Rat, a bar somewhere in the station’s core. When the elevator doors opened, I realized it was not going to be easy. Rows of man-sized ventilation fans hummed from the endless ceiling. The station’s entire floor was originally designed to be one open area; instead, it was a maze of make-shift tents, shops, and narrow streets, bustling with the life of the destitute. I walked past a beggar, an old woman. Her hair was an uncombed nest, held together with straps of cloth. Two more beggars sat around the corner. They chose to strategically ignore me. I opened a com-link to my ship’s computer.
“Astra, can you give me directions to the Grilled Rat?”
“Gladly, Commander. Turn right at the …”
“Hey, you,” a woman said behind me in a raspy baritone. I turned to face her: she was the beggar I’d passed earlier, with the other two men, just as ragged-looking, standing a couple of meters behind her.
“I don’t have anything you want.”
“You’ve got a ship, pretty boy.”
I reached for the grip of my Watts under the trench coat. Thankfully, I never had to shoot anyone outside of space combat.
Except my knees didn’t tremble when I was in the cockpit.
The woman raised her hand to reach for her backpack, but before she could pull out a weapon, I unholstered my disintegrator and pointed it at her.
“Lady, just walk away awright?”
My hand shook so hard, I wasn’t sure I was going to hit a wall let alone my target. The woman spat on the floor and started pulling something out of the backpack anyway. I fired. A flash of light engulfed the woman, a gasp, the smell of flesh, burning, and the next second she had been transformed into a figure of ash.
The human-shaped ash pillar stood still for a moment before the ceiling fans blew it into a cloud of dust. Both men screamed at the same time and came at me; I screamed too, panicking, tripped over my own foot, and fired –
– one, two, three, four low, deep thump-like sounds –
– five –
– I kept firing until the disintegrator’s battery ran dry.
The room descended into deafening silence.
Ash floated thick as mist in the narrow make-shift street-corridor. I don’t know for how long I lay there. I lost track of time. Finally, I slid the disintegrator back into the holster, pulled a knife from my boot sheath, and cut open my trench coat’s sewed up inside pocket. I took out the extra-extra emergency joint, lit up, and lay where I fell, thinking, as I waited for the ash to settle.
These three were not the first lives I took. Far from it. I remembered the duel by the nameless sun, Alek-somebody his name was. His was a short name on a very long list. I’d destroyed at least forty ships to save up for River Volga‘s upgrades. Once, I’d dismantled an entire Purple Brotherhood pirate wing on my own.
In all that time, I had never seen an escape pod eject.
A retired gangster once told me, “Be quick on the trigger, and one day somebody’ll be quick on the trigger for you.”
To think that only a few hours ago, I wanted to go back to Vasyliev’s Depot and murder Vasilyev before one of his would-be assassins got the job done.
And for what?
The sudden realization that I was no longer alone slapped me back to the present.
A heavy-set figure stood by one of the ash piles. Hoses stretched from his facemask to the hardware belt around his torso. I met enough cyber monks to know one when I saw one. I really hoped this wasn’t where they declared me criminally insane and turned me into a vegetable.
“I’ve been attacked,” I said.
The cyber monk made a few clumsy steps in my direction.
“Look, I can explain.”
“Come with me,” he said through his voice scrambler, and stretched his arm toward me. I took it and he helped me back to my feet.
“It’s not safe here.”
“You reckon? It doesn’t look like you’re arresting me, so where are we …”
“Be quiet and follow me.”
I considered making a run for it, but I figured that if the cyber monks wanted me screwed, they had more straightforward ways of getting it done. Besides, where would I run? Could they have impounded my ship? Maybe this was why the monk was so smug. We stepped into a blind alley.
“What game are you playing at?” I asked.
“Okay, look there. You see that drain? Through there.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The cyber monk removed a square manhole and climbed into the opening. Of all the stupid ideas I’ve had all day, I decided to follow him in.
I climbed down into a cozy round room: there was a furnished double bed, rows of wooden shelves stacked with honest-to-Randomius paper books, and at least four computer screens. The monk turned away, removed his helmet, revealing a bald head with a short-cropped Mohawk, colored blue, and unfastened his hardware belt. He removed his jacket and turned around.
He was a woman. She was a woman.
A black tribal tattoo in the form of a palm print sat across the right side of her face, but even it couldn’t hide her attractiveness … or her youth. She wore a grey T-shirt with the words “Poster Monky” printed above a blue heart.
“Commander DrKoobie,” she said. “Here on business, or just passing through?”
“Who are you?”
“Ever heard of the Kuma Crew?”
Who hadn’t? They were the most notorious anarchy group in the bubble. It was said that their leader, Archon Delaine, used to be a priest before becoming the most dreaded pirate the universe has ever known. It was also said he ate the flesh of his enemies. He was a legend of the underworld; one rumor was as likely to be true as the next.
“And the Kuma Crew has heard of you.”
“You want to take that coat off maybe? I’m more at ease when I can see the guns, if you know my meaning.”
I winced, but removed the trench coat and threw it on her couch.
“Delaine wants to make an offer.”
“An offer? To me?”
“You’ve got problems with that Vasyliev fellow, correct?”
“How do you … yeah. That’s right.”
“And there is a ninety thousand bounty on your head, correct?”
“Well, technically …”
“Technically, you are a criminal. Correct?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m a criminal.”
“No? What are you then?”
I thought for a moment. “I’m an entrepreneur.”
“My ass is a better entrepreneur than you are, space cowboy. If you want that to change, join the Kuma Crew. Listen, when you work for Archon, you work for yourself. I don’t know what he saw in you, but it’s not like he sends me to recruit random Jamesons to fly for us every week of the month.”
Jameson. The legendary rookie pilot, infamous for his ignorance and lack of any flying skills whatsoever. She just called me a Jameson.
“Look, lady, I’m flattered and everything, but I think my days of killing people for money are over. There’s enough shit in the universe as it is.”
“Who’s talking about killing anybody? All you’ll be doing’s moving goods. Maintaining the shadow economy, so to say. Starting with that silver you’ve got in your hold. We’ll take it off you, and give you all the narcotics your precious River Volga can carry. Vasilyev will take his twenty grand, we’ll make sure of that, and then you’re free as a bird. And you know what else?”
“When you’re part of the Kuma Crew, every Federation and Imperial station black market will give you ten percent more on whatever you’re selling. Courtesy of the people.”
“That so? You didn’t answer my question. What does Archon Delaine want with me?”
“I guess you’re just going to live and find out. Make a name for yourself. Honest smugglers are worth their weight in gold.”
Heck, I thought. Why not.
“Just one thing. I’m no Jameson.”
Elite Dangerously was created using assets and imagery from Elite Dangerous, with the permission of Frontier Developments plc, for non-commercial purposes. It is not endorsed by nor reflects the views or opinions of Frontier Developments and no employee of Frontier Developments was involved in the making of it.