Saturday, November 5, 2011

SPARK of Tyranny Part 0: Deal Gone Bad

The commander stood at the front the bridge. Before him, a wide viewport looked down a red and brown planet.  Pockets of green dotted the surface, places where terraforming allowed self-sustaining agricultural settlements to survive. The two largest areas, on the southern continent, had grown to the point where they connected as one large mass. But that mass was bisected by a line of brown, with a large dark circle at the center. From space, it looked calm and serene, but on the surface, that line represented the place where men had fought and died. “Humans,” the commander said to no one in particular, “is there nothing they will not fight over?”
The helmsman, a young ensign, responded. “Mutonium, sir, is quite rare and valuable. At the academy, we were taught that humans are often motivated by economic gain.”
The commander turned to face the young officer. “Are not peace, cooperation, and reasoned discourse more valuable that momentary material gain?”
“For us sir, completely,” the ensign responded, “but we are not human.”
“Truer words were never spoken, carry on,” he said. He turned again to survey the scene beneath him. The east and west settlements were originally formed by competing agricultural conglomerates. As their populations grew, each broke free from their corporate controllers, eventually forming a pair of independent nations on the dusty planet. They were not as advanced as Earth or Mars, with pre industrial technology used by the settlers existing side by side with spaceports exporting their agricultural products. But they had managed something the people of Earth often did not, and that was live in peace with each other.
That peace was shattered when a deposit of mutonium was discovered near the border of the two nations’ largest cities. While the deposit was accessed from a mine opening on the east side, it extended west, and the ore deposit itself was under the western city. Initial cooperation soon gave way to conflict.
The commander lead led a small task force of the Kilon Expeditionary Group. He was not there to assist one side or the other. He had only two tasks. First, to ensure that the conflict did not spread beyond the planet. Second, that outside factions not interfere in order to access the valuable mineral for themselves.
 The commander’s thoughts on the matter at hand were again interrupted, this time from the scanning officer. “Sir, there is an unauthorized cargo vessel entering orbit on the far side of the planet.”
“Acknowledged,” the commander replied, “move to intercept, and request permission to board and inspect.”

Jade tensely watched the panel of instruments in front of her, as she eased the Bucephalus into orbit. “For the record, Cap, I think this is a really stupid idea.”
Lounging in his chair, Alex replied, “Duly noted, but I’m telling you, we’ll be fine.” As soon as the words left his lips the communications console lit up.
“Unauthorized vessel, this is Commander Phalox of the Kilon Expeditionary Group. Please move to the coordinates provided and prepare to be boarded for inspection.”
Jade frowned. “That was the most polite be-prepared-to-be-boarded-or-we’ll-shoot-you-from-the-sky message I’ve ever heard. I have plenty of time to jump out of here, Cap, just say the word.”
Alex grinned. “No worries.” He hit the comm, “John, meet me in the cargo bay.”
“On my way,” came the reply.
“Jade,” Alex stood from his seat, “I’ve got this completely under control. Radio them that we will cooperate with their requests.”
“I always wondered what a Kilon brig looked like,” she said, before turning on the communication console.
Alex was already climbing down the ladder from cockpit, shouting back, “Don’t worry, Jade, I got this!” and disappearing.

John was nervous, but he was also excited. For the first time, he was part of the plan. He heard a door open, and saw Alex coming to join him.
“We all ready here, John?”
“So ready. This is going to be awesome!” He jumped a bit as a loud metallic clang reverberated through the ship.
“Ok, John stay calm, they are about to board. Don’t say anything unless specifically asked, and even then, don’t offer anything more than what you are specifically asked. The key is to be detailed, but not offer too much information. Less information means less potential for contradictions.”
“Got it.”
Across the cargo bay, the bulkhead hatch swung open. A figure crouched to step through it, drawing to his full height as he entered the ship. Jon had never seen a Kilon in person before. He was taller than John expected. He was thin, and moved with a certain grace. He looked similar to a human, but small, fine, blue feathers covered his face, head, and anywhere else not exposed by his uniform. His face was thin, with no nose, and a small, sharp looking beak replacing the mouth. His eyes almost appeared to glow. John shuddered, but regained control.
The commander strode confidently across the cargo bay, looking around, appraising the ship. A stack of boxes stood next to Alex and John, secured to the floor with cargo netting. A crew of more Kilons climbed aboard, and began to examine the cargo, as the first Kilon approached Alex.
The tall Kilon looked down at Alex, staring with his cold, sharp eyes. Alex, for his part, met his gaze, and grinned. The Kilon made a strange sound, like a click, and finally spoke.
“Alex Megálos,” he squawked, “What brings you to this backwater world?”
“It’s good to see you, Phalox,” Alex replied. “How long has it been?” John breathed a sigh of relief.
“The Redipsilon surrender ceremony, in Kilon orbit.”
“That long, huh?”
“Is this your ship?” Phalox asked. “We did not receive an authorization request for any off-world shipment.”
Alex was calm. “You didn’t get an authorization request? Well, this was a last minute deal. You know, moving medical supplies in a conflict zone is just good business. I was offered a sweetheart deal to bring this stuff, so I jumped at the chance.”
“Medical supplies?” Phalox shot a glance over to his scanning team. One of them looked back, and gave a small nod. “Where is your medical attendant?”
Alex looked at John. “Right here, my indentured servant.” John loudly cleared his throat. “Did I say indentured servant? I meant intern, I just get them confused.”
John thrust his hand out at the Kilon. “Third year at Johns Hopkins, back on Earth.” Phalox look at the hand, ignored it, and looked back to Alex.
“I believe everything here checks out.” Phalox let out a low whistle. The scanning crew began to gather their things, and move back to their ship. “Be careful down there, these men can be brutes. They do not listen to reason. We had the leaders aboard to negotiate a cease fire, but I am afraid tensions are growing, and we are no closer to a settlement.”
“You know me, Phalox, I am a cautious man.”
“It is true. You were the most Kilon in spirit human I ever met.” With that, the commander turned to leave. After the hatch closed behind him, Alex tapped his comm.
“Kwame, any chance they found the contraband?”
His comm crackled, “No, Alex, they never came close.”
“Well, alright then. I think Jade owes me an apology.”
The comm crackled again, “I owe you nothing, Cap. You could have told me you knew the commander.”
“That wouldn’t have been as fun. Bring us down, m’lady.”
The Bucephalus thrusters lit up, pulling away from the Kilon ship, and began to move down towards the western side of the thin brown line.

Rustwater Settlement was a place where substance mattered more than style. Before the conflict had begun, it was the planet’s most populous city. In good times, it was a mid-level producer of corn for export. The fighting drove most of the agricultural workers to refugee camps. Those that stayed were self-reliant and tough. A victory would secure access to one of the most valuable resources in the galaxy.
Despite the efforts of the Kilon forces in orbit, mercenaries jumped at the chance to join the fight. Money from off world interests flowed to both sides. Ferrying guns in was not something Alex wanted to be a part of, but the payday was something he could not afford to ignore.
Jade put the ship down in docking bay 93, on the outskirts of town. Waiting for them there was Alex’s contact with the western alliance. Alex fired up the communications console. “Kessel, we got past the birds in orbit, no problem. How do you want to play this?”
“Good to hear. I guess your reputation for getting the job done was accurate. Put her down, and offload. I have payment here with me.” Alex looked out the viewport, and saw a man standing the docking bay, waving a case.
“Roger that, Bucephalus out.” Alex shut down the console, and turned to Jade. “Put us down, but keep the thrusters hot, something doesn’t feel right.”
“We’ve dealt with Kessel before, never been a problem.”
“True, but I have… a bad feeling about this one.” Alex climbed out of the cockpit. “Tell Kwame to get the goods ready.”
It was quiet on the ground. John grumbled as he guided and anti-grav carrying the cargo. Two more alliance members were waiting to take it from him. Alex and Kwame walked over to the entrance of the docking bay. The typical ground crew were nowhere to be seen. On most drops, that would be a good thing, less eyes meant less trouble. But everyone here should have been friendly to idea of a smuggler dropping off guns. Alex shot Kwame a worried glance. Kwame met his gaze, and began to scan their surroundings more carefully.
Kessel was waiting in an alcove, out of the daylight. He was a squat man, with a hat pulled low over his face and a duster concealing who knows what underneath.  In front of him was a table, with the case he’d been waving. “Alex!” he said, arms wide in greeting, “I am glad there were no difficulties in arriving with these goods.”
“None, yet.” Alex replied. He gestured toward the case. “Is it all there?”
“See for yourself,” Kessel grinned.
Alex smirked back. He opened the case and counted. Then he counted again, just to be sure. “This is 35.”
“That’s right.”
“We agreed to 50.”
“Things change. We’re on the verge of victory here, thanks to you! A small discount for a soon to be wealthy client is not too much to ask.”
“If you wanted a discount, we would have negotiated a discount. But a discount was not the deal. I’ll consider this a down payment, and my men will load that cargo back. Maybe we’ll fly east, I am sure there are plenty of people there who’d pay full price for these guns.”
“I don’t think you understand, Alex. You’re on my turf. You are in no position to negotiate. Its 35, or we just take the guns and see how high you can fly with holes in you and your excuse for a ship.”
Alex stared into Kessel’s eyes and remained calm. "I know you, Kessel. You’ve never left this dirtball planet. But you don’t know me. I’m from Earth. Back on earth, we have this place called Africa. In Africa, there is a saying. ‘Speak softly, and carry big stick’."
“What’s that, some sort of threat?”
“What that is, Kessel, is that you are going to pay the 50 you owe us. If not, you’ll meet my associate here.” He nodded towards Kwame. “He’s from Africa. Notice, he hasn’t spoken a word.” With that, Kwame reached to his back, and pulled out an assault rifle. “But he carries a big stick.”
Kessel looked him right in the eye. He ground his teeth. Alex smiled. “I got the rest right here.” Kessel reached into his duster. Alex saw the glint of the gun. This was going to get bad. He instinctively reached for the payment, and before Kessel could get off a shot, Alex smashed him in the face with the case.
Kwame spun around and quickly picked off two snipers. John sprinted back towards the ship as automatic weapons fire sprayed into the docking bay. Alex threw the table out of the way, kicked Kessel one more time for good measure, grabbed the case, and took off in a sprint. Kwame took cover in the cargo bay, laying down covering fire for the escape.
“Something wrong Cap?”
Alex leapt into the ship, bullets ricocheting in the cargo bay. “Get us out of here, now!” As he felt the ship rise, Alex crumpled to the floor. John was bandaging a small wound on Kwame’s shoulder. “Is it bad?”
“He’ll live.” John replied. “Did we get paid?”
“You never get paid, you’re getting valuable life experience.”
Kwame chimed in. “We did not get what we were promised.”
“We owe 40 for those guns.” Alex sighed. He couldn’t afford to take a loss on this trip. “Looks like we need to make a salvage stop.”
Kwame groaned. “I’ll be in the crew cabins, then. Let me know when we find something,’ he said, walking out.
John looked at Kwame leaving, then at Alex. “I’ll… uh, go let Jade know what’s going on.”
Alone in the cargo bay, Alex laid down and put his hands on his head. “it never gets any easier.” 

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