They are Smol – Badguys, Boxes and Boops, Chapter 13: Bad Neighborhoods all look alike

The 64K monitor glowed terrifyingly perfectly, every single bit of the Jornissian guard on duty standing out in almost painful-to-watch detail. He looked left, then right, then left again; after making sure the coast was clear he pulled out a little notebook and began to write…

“My dearest Esmerelda. Truly how I long for you, and for your incredibly fluffy embrace – but alas! I must stay here and guard the hallway, lest any rogue come upon your chambers~”

Nate stuck a dust-encrusted hand into a bag of orange puff-its, shoveling them into his mouth to quell the mindless boredom as he continued to narrate the security camera footage he was watching. “-But I fear that my prosthetic brain will be a sticking point between us… bah!”

He rolled the top of his bag and let it go, the snack food gently floating to the “ground” of the escape pod as Nate licked his fingers clean, his non-food hand flipping the “channel” to another security camera. Each camera was tied to a few specific vent grates and were meant to be as unobtrusive and impossible to detect; this also meant that sometimes the vent cameras showed absolutely nothing, or (most likely) had some crap stuck in front of them that totally blocked the view. He also didn’t have the luxury of getting a camera in every single vent, as that would increase the potential for the whole system to get detected.

So, Nate had fallen into a rhythm over the past 4 hours: Flip through the channels to see if anything important or new had happened (it didn’t), attempt to hail help on all emergency frequencies (busy signal only), check which snac he wanted to attac (water-flavored nutrient paste was always a go-to), and then sit back and … entertain himself.

Not like that.

“Let’s see. Suitcase, vending machine, boot, – ah.” Nate paused the camera on the medical supply vent, turning up the gain on the included microphone. There was nothing but the indistinct murmur of Dorarizin conversation – Drongo, he assumed – and the soft groans of various xenos species – probably the boarding party, if Nate wanted to hazard a guess. No yelling, no explosions, no alarms, nothing.

Sometimes no news is good news.

He continued flipping the channels until he came to one of the mess hall grates, the camera sitting at knee-height to the crew. There were a few pirates sitting down, discussing something – and it looked like some of the “loot” was being piled up and sorted by some system unknown to Nate’s mind. Clothing here, Electronics there, but personal electronics are over here

Nate pressed a button on the console and his microphone kicked on.

“[-of a whore, right? I’m done after this one, this shit happens with the high-profile gangs, not us-]”      
“[No, I’m still not going to stay here. Fuck this, I’ll take a half-share, I’m done.]”
  “[Sure, but honestly we’re due for a good bloodletting; it’s been at least 4 ops since anyone’s lost a limb, let alone their life-]”
“[-separate the fabrics by type, then by wear, then by color. Let’s put… what is this, a hazard suit? This should be in electronics-]”

Nate listened in for a few minutes, catching nothing but the minutiae of daily living… Nothing of importance. He scanned the piles of loot thoroughly; nothing of true value that couldn’t be replaced by insurance. Nothing of his, at least. With a firm button press he muted the video, and with his unbooted foot gripped the snack bag and flung it back up into his hands.

“Aye, and they say his ghost to this day haunts everyone who doesn’t do their own laundry, arrr-” Nate narrated, unrolling his back of snacks and diving into them again.

= = =

The rumbling of the ship – the ripple of Newtonian physics reasserting themselves on the passengers, crew and steel of The Perfect, was what woke Nate up from his nap. At some point he must have fallen asleep, and with microgravity being a thing his weightless sensory deprivation rest eventually settled him on the floor of the life raft – which is what even allowed him to feel that they had moved out of warp.

This immediately told him two things:

One: In the adrenaline rush of escaping – or due to him spending most of his time just floating around, he must have missed the initial warp jump… it’s not like his life raft was attached to the ship’s systems, after all.
Two: This means that they were not still parked in the travel lane, they were not going to possibly be found on accident, and the pirates were not going to make this quick.

Nate furrowed his brow in thought. It was no secret that there were unscrupulous people out in the cosmos – why did the Senate and their associated allied forces carry such big sticks, after all? But the goal in dealing with those unscrupulous forces was to make it as quick and painless as possible. If you, the human, were to be captured, there were multiple disclosed and undisclosed ways to be tracked, and the general consensus was that nobody was going to be so dumb as to buy such a high-profile slave. You could be abused, maimed, even killed, sure; but you could also be killed by spacing yourself, playing contact sports, choking on your tongue or just suddenly and catastrophically don’t-ing and ceasing to be. The millions of ways that you could die on-planet were multiplied by the complexities of being in space, so that wasn’t really factored into any longevity equation of note when it came to life-threatening situations of the 3rd kind.

Nate idly rubbed his arm as he continued to run through the mental gamut, his free hand cycling through cameras with growing concern. Given the audio he heard, he assumed his crew was still on board and alive – meaning, he wasn’t totally abandoned and up shit creek. However, physically moving the ship, through warp, at this time of the galactic calendar, for a better part of the day, in this part of the spiral arm, localized entirely within the radius of a travel lane…

 

He was certain no one would know where they went.

 

So why? The Codex OnStarties generally assumed pirates would perform a smash-and-grab of valuables and then leave. No fuss, no muss. If they were going to take the ship, life rafts would have been launched and it would’ve taken days to reprogram ship systems to accept a new master; odds are they’d stop jamming signals, his would go through, and then the cavalry would arrive to save the day. If they were going to scuttle the ship, then … well, he’d know. These actions absolutely did not support that M.O., so what could they be after?

He rolled through the cameras lightning-fast until he reached the one parallel to his door; His room had gained some attention from the pirates, but so far no one had broken into it. They didn’t know he existed, so he couldn’t be the prize – not yet, anyway.

Nate floated in silence, arms crossed and frowning, as he watched the pirates begin to disperse from outside his door – their attempt to wedge it open failing.

 

If they weren’t after him, if they didn’t even know he existed, then what was it they were after?

 

= = =

When you drop out of warp it’s less like Star Wars or Star Trek – the dashes of light suddenly focusing into reality – and more like the universe being seen out of a blurry fish-eye lens suddenly come into focus. Usually it’s a welcome sight; a friendly station, a home planet, or even another ship to greet and trade with. There was always a bit of majesty to the whole thing, and it never ceased to be a fun experience.

Sassafras was not so lucky to see or experience any of that, and sighed internally as the pirate camp came into focus. If she was feeling charitable, she’d call it a marvel of making something from nothing.

However, as she decidedly wasn’t, she called it what it actually was: a bunch of fucking asteroids tied together with wire.

“[We worked hard on that, you kn-]” The uppity pirate in question was quieted with a metal mug slamming into his mouth, the Karnakian shaking his head and working his jaw to try to get the feeling back into it.

“[My apologies to the hosts for speaking my mind out loud.]” Sassafras stated, watching with growing concern as the pirate base grew larger and larger. To say it was held together with wire would be an insult to thin strands of metal everywhere; The asteroid cluster was connected by non-reinforced airlock umbilicals, I-beams, and in some places rock heat-welded together. It was, to put it simply, a deathtrap-in-waiting – though Sassafras wouldn’t put it past this hunk of rock and debris to have already claimed multiple lives in it’s construction.

The Perfect received it’s first hail from the trash heap, and Licorice put it through without question.

“[Uh, Hello.]” A bewildered Dorarizin said by a way of greeting, looking at Sassafras with visible confusion. “[How can we… help? You? Wait.]”

Sassafras rubbed her forehead in mute disbelief. If she was going to have to help herself be captured, then what was the fucking point of-

“[OH! You’re the, ah, smuggler ship! Oh wow, for a second I thought we had the most unlucky tourists – yeah uh. You’re a big’un. Thought you’d be crewed by our people, not – anyway. Let’s see here.]” The Dorarizin checked some things on what sounded like an ancient mechanical keyboard, the keys clacking so forcefully as to be picked up by the ambient microphone.

“[You’ll have to swing your starboard side station-side; no turnwise directions, you’re all we got of course. Wow.]” The dockmaster(?) seemed to be in awe at the size of this ship, not closing the comms down for a few awkward seconds of silence before Licorice forcefully shut off the connection.

“[That was certainly something.]” Licorice murmured, attempting once again to cycle through hailing systems and once again not being able to do so.

++++
SUBNET
SHELL 3
ENCRYPT KEY: OK
TEXT: N
AUDIO: Y
VIDEO: N
FILES: N
GEO: N
BIO: N
=-=-=-=-=
ACTIVE CHAT: 3/XXX
->[Licorice]
->[Sassafras]
->[MusicBot][BOT]
[. . .]
– – – – – – – – –

[Licorice]: “[They’re still blocking us. I thought we’d have a window post-warp where we could send something out, but there’s probably a broadcast scrambling net out locally.]”
[Sassafras]: “[Damn. Any chance once we’re on-rock that you can stop that? You’ve put our systems to auto-hail, right?]”
[Licorice]: “[It’s auto-cycle, yeah; and to answer your question, I don’t know. Cases like this, it’s either (1) they scavenged some good shit one time and I have to fight real encryption with no tools on-hand, or (2) there’s a mad genius at the helm and I have to fight no documentation whatsoever.]”
[Sassafras]: “[As VIP would say, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.]”
[Licorice]: “[It’s an apt saying; I’ll let you know once we land. I’m going to be carrying some local communication equipment with me anyway, so we’ll have some sort of network once we’re on that rock.]”
[Sassafras]: “[Good. I’ll leave it all to you, then.]”

++++

= = = = = =

 

The Perfect sat, idling, as makeshift umbilicals and scaffolding slowly connected to their ship. There was a familiar whine and thunk of magnetic clamps, the whirring sound of airlocks connecting to each other and sealing, and the general sense of being pulled closer to the station. The cargo doors connected with a pair of internal doors from the asteroid station, and they slowly – with the hiss of air and the rush of a pressure differential – opened up to show the gleeful Pirate camp their bounty.

That bounty turned out to be a crew of incredibly annoyed, still somehow armed xenos, a group of green pirate recruits who were trying not to publicly ugly cry after taking roughly 18 hours of non-stop abuse (which, to the crew of The Perfect’s credit, they never repeated the same insult twice), a lopsidedly-grinning Karnakian cargo “leader” with a very swollen face and whatever was left of Boots, who looked more like a plucked turkey than anything resembling a pirate commando.

The two groups of aliens stood there, looking at each other, before the PA system pinged to life again.

“[I’m assuming Bones told you the deal, but if not, I’ll reiterate it for you: We are going to peacefully place ourselves in your brig so you can look for crap that doesn’t exist on our ship. We are doing this, because the alternative is you scuttling our ship while we’re inside it, and I’d rather that not happen. We are going to keep our weapons, which are bio-locked to us anyway, on ourselves as insurance. No, I don’t trust you all to stick to whatever creed or code you have to not harm us. Yes, this is us altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.]” Sassafras stated, matter-of-factly. “[Now, if you’ll direct my aft crew to their quarters, we won’t have any problems, and we all certainly won’t die of a supercritical ship explosion happening right next to your base.]”

There was a pregnant pause as the two crews looked at each other again, before the crew of The Perfect began to move, picking up personal belongings, portable weapons and other things and shuffle off of their ship, milling about in the decidedly less polished offloading bay of the Pirate camp.

Maybe it was leaving their homes.

Maybe it was the fact that their hands were collectively tied.

Maybe it was the battle beforehand.

Who knows. But what we do know is that the simple, innocuous comment of “[Ugh, this place is crap – is that a damn footlocker?]” started a multi-hour long roast.

“[Haha, no way, they don’t even have backup generators! Aww, look at this, they’re using combustibles! No wonder, they’re breathing in their own fumes-]”

“[Really? You’re using theta-wave microgravity? You do realize that gives you cancer over prolonged years of use, right? Brain tumors – big ones. Like. You know this, right-]”

“[No way, a MZM-44? Those things are ancient! And you’re using it as a real weapon? Really? It belongs in a museum-]

“[Kahn yush pleesh-]” P“pacheep mumbled painfully, attempting to wave over a few of The Perfect’s crew. “[-Hhhhh. Ah whanh go tuh shelhp.]”

P“pacheep’s complaint was interrupted by a hearty smack of a balled fist against his back, causing him to lose his footing and tumble down the ramp. Before he could stop the room from spinning he was bodily picked up – by the same female Dorarizin as before – he couldn’t tell – and held aloft while she called out to him.

“[Whine louder if we’re going in the right direction!]”

 

There was a hearty jeer, and P“pacheep started to cry.

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  1. I wonder if he’ll be able to get a message out once they think they’ve got everyone confined… Also by his room, did he mean the panic room, or his old room?