Disclaimer: Due to my discovery that there is a Disney character named “Captain Wraith” I have changed the name of Nate’s pirate alter ego to “Captain Scarheart” since I like long walks on the beach and not getting sued. If you are a new reader and have never heard the name ‘Captain Wraith” then this disclaimer is not for you.
Nate had watched the fight from the top of a nearby pile of trash. Even ignoring the rotten stench, this was one of the least dignified stages he’d ever performed on.
Oh, the things we do for fame.
The trash girl was being carried away now, but the remaining rioters continued the struggle. He was quite amazed at the talent of these fighters, especially the one-armed girl and the king. He was certain he would lose any single fight he would ever find himself in. But that simply reaffirmed his belief that he should avoid them at all costs.
Still, he had a job to do and couldn’t leave until he had scared the daylights out of everyone.
Nate did his best not to be seen as he approached, which wasn’t hard since there was a revolution going on. The gates were wide open and no one stopped him from entering. It took him a surprising amount of time to find a structure he was willing to climb, most looked unstable, or simply too filthy to be worth risking his boots, which were made of fine Rimward leather. He chose a large stone pedestal that seemed quite solid. The ugly fallen statue nearby suggested the slab was built for a far heavier object than Nate.
Still, he hadn’t been noticed yet. A few men with taser spears were futility attempting to hold off the gigantic scrap king. He figured he had time to consider his speech. Milah had written tons of these for him, and he decided to use an old one he hadn’t delivered in a while.
“Gravity and entropy.” he remarked in a booming and controlled voice. All eyes fell upon him, staring in confusion. Even the king ceased his assault to look at the disturbance.
He was glad that they heard him. It always ruined the mood when he had to repeat himself.
“Opposing forces, constantly in conflict. Gravity pulls things together, binds them in place, whereas entropy scatters things apart, spreading everything across the void.”
Or was it the other way around? H really didn’t have a clue what any of that meant. No, he must have gotten it right, they looked scared, which was probably a good thing.
“You have spent your lives in gravity; clustered close with your friends, your family, your sad little lives and your pathetic wealth. No more. I am entropy. Here to scatter your worthless souls to the wind.”
Why on earth was his face so itchy? Did he not clean his mask? Wasn’t that Milah’s job? There was no way he could scratch with the crowd watching him so intently, plus he’d need to take off the mask, and that wasn’t an option. He decided to try not to think about it.
“You have one chance only to escape your fate. Give me the treasure that fell from the clouds, it’s wasted on you pitiful scavengers. Give it to me or you will be annihilated.” He was thinking of the itch again. It was maddening. Also, did he need to pee now? He should have gone on the ship. “I swear there will be nothing left by the time I’m done with you deplorable wretches, for I am Captain Scarheart, and I leave every destitute piece of space rock a less crowded place than when I entered.” Yep. He definitely needed to pee. But at least the crowd seemed as shaken as he hoped. Especially the king, he noted, while trying to think of anything that wasn’t bladder or itch related.
“C-captain Scarheart?” The King asked, his words catching in his throat from fear. There was a moment of stunned silence before a man in the crowd finally piped up:
“I been down here twenty years. Captain who?” The rest of the crowd nodded. Evidently, none of them had any clue who he was, but that didn’t stop the King, who fled as quickly as his bionic assisted limbs could carry him towards his palace, his remaining royal guard following him closely.
“I’m not going to ask again. Who has the treasure?” He lied. He absolutely would ask again if needed, there wasn’t a lot else that he could do.
An old woman stepped through the crowd and Nate began to feel like his day was going to get a lot worse.
“We’ve given away everything for years. No more. I don’t care who you are, you’ll take nothing from us.” Nate was happy to see that no one else was stepping forwards. Maybe he could still salvage this? He felt a heavy object hit him in the shoulder painfully. It looked like a small piece of piping as it clattered to the floor. Where had that come from? A second object hit him, bouncing off his mask and leaving a large crack in the fake skull. Was he just hit with an old doll? He realized with a great deal of terror that the crowd had found its courage, and were now searching for any object they could possibly throw at him, regardless of how implausible. One man was dead set on throwing a ruined bicycle at him. He retreated backward as a wrench hit him in the stomach, causing him to fall back first off the pedestal. He landed badly and twisted his ankle on the pile of condensed scrap that passed for a floor down here. He heard the crowd roaring and cheering as they rounded the stone slab in his direction.
Nate forced himself to his feet and found himself fleeing an angry mob.
But at least he didn’t need to pee anymore.
The little Nepth bot was in her element. Ashur had led her to a big door inside the castle. The biggest door in the castle. Maybe the biggest door anywhere for all she knew.
And she was given the honor of breaking through the lock.
She didn’t exactly know why they needed to get through the door, but she did know she was the right scrapbot for the job. The lock was a large and chunky iron sort of thing, maybe steel. She took a few moments to scan. Definitely iron. It sat in the center of an iron bar, or was it steel? No, that one was steel. She scanned it to be sure.
Ashur was nearby, tapping his foot impatiently.
“Stop wasting time.” He ordered bluntly.
Didn’t he know you couldn’t rush art? Still, she was forced to obey and canceled her scan of the material that the door hinges were made of. They were probably brass. Maybe bronze. She turned her attention to the keyhole at the center of the lock. It was old fashioned, her memory banks told her that this particular type of lock was a [MODEL NUMBER NOT FOUND] dating back all the way back to [DATA SET NOT FOUND]. As far as she knew, that was a very good year. She was certain there was a trick to this type of lock, so she consulted her data once again. [DATA SET NOT FOUND]. Ah, so that was the trick. It wouldn’t be easy, but she was certain she could pull it off.
“Can you get it?” Ashur asked after her five minutes of processing the information was complete.
She nodded eagerly. Of course, she could get it. She was the finest piece of scrap engineering anyone had ever put together! She held practically infinite knowledge in her processors!
She took a hard look at the lock and prepared herself mentally for the difficult task of cracking this lock.
She slammed her head into the iron lock three times in rapid succession.
Ashur looked on with his eyes and mouth incredibly wide. The Nepth supposed he was shocked at her cunning strategy, so she smashed her cranium into the door several more times until she heard a loud bell ringing across the building. Her logic processor determined that it must be an alarm, but she couldn’t imagine what it would be for? It was likely the alarm to inform her that it was working, it was simply not possible that it could be anything else.
“What are you doing! You were programmed to be able to do this!” Ashure yelled, seeming oddly panicked. She thought she understood. His exclamation must be a metaphor, but she wasn’t programmed to understand metaphors so she just kept going. Cracks were appearing in the lenses on her eye cameras. Or were they cracks in the lock? Probably in the lock. She was indestructible.
She tuned her panicked master out. She didn’t have time to acknowledge his shouts of “Why aren’t you working correctly?!” and “Stop doing that and pick the lock!”, she was far too busy bashing the lock with her rusty metal skull.
A large man in a metal suit came rushing around the corner, he looked angry. It was probably fine, so she continued her stratagem of assaulting her iron foe with her noggin.
It was with some surprise that she realized she had been bashing against empty air for several minutes. That was odd. She reassessed. The man in the armor appeared to be dragging both her and her master somewhere down a hall. That was inconvenient. Still, though, she had done her job, she couldn’t possibly imagine what had gone wrong.
Annie finally took her gaze off the computer monitor. It seemed that the others had made quite a mess of things. She felt she had made her decision, but in the name of being thorough, she consulted the Navigator.
“First Mate Nav.” She stated, turning towards the uniformed droid. “What’s your assessment of the situation?”
Nav puffed out his chest.
“A complete mess ma’am. This ‘scrap king’ appears to be nearly unbeatable in that armor. From that alarm, it sounds like simply sneaking in didn’t work for Mister Ashur either. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there’s also an anarcho-communist revolution compromising the grounds around the palace. Bad business ma’am.”
“Bad business indeed.” she repeated, turning her gaze back to her very large guns. “I think the Halbardier is right out. The laser can’t get through this petty king’s armor and it just won’t fire fast enough to help with the revolutionaries.”
“As you say, Captain.”
“The Behemoth could quickly and harmlessly knock the crowd out of action and have them cemented against the ground for later retrieval. But on the other hand it will be utterly useless against Zaiah.” She scowled “On the other hand I have the Fuerza. It’s the only thing I have with even a chance of breaking through that scrap suit Zaiah wears, and even then I’m not confident that it could do it. I also can’t use it on the crowd without seriously hurting or maiming them.”
“It seems to me then that it’s no choice at all. We can deal with the anarchists in many ways, but the Fuerza is the only weapon we have that can beat Zaiah.”
“Quite right Mister Navigator. Good to see you can still keep up.” She hefted the large varnished wood and metal gun onto her shoulder and packed three gigantic canon balls into her bag. It was a great deal of work for the little girl to maintain her balance with the ammunition pulling on her back, but she was used to it. She marched her way past the Navigator.
“You have a plan, Miss Annabelle?”
“I have the first half of a plan, and I plan to have the second half of that plan when the time comes.”
The droid looked uncomfortable.
“Forgive my insubordination, but I hope your plan isn’t simply to bring ‘a really big gun.’”
“Of course not Mister Nav. I’m going to try something none of those three fools thought of.”
“Working together.” Stated the little captain as she left the room, giant gun in tow.
Any good actor maintained their bodies, it helped them look good, maintain a stage presence and gave them the required energy and stamina they needed for long days of recital, rehearsal and filming. Nate was not just a good actor, he was an incredible actor and so he was in incredible shape. It therefore surprised him then that he was having trouble keeping ahead of the pursuing scavengers. Perhaps it was the uneven ground? He could barely stay upright running on all this trash, but his pursuers were clearly used to it. His ankle was likely part of the problem too. It was probably sprained, but he felt he was limping at a reasonable pace. He couldn’t believe how much it hurt and desperately wished Milah was here to make it all better. If she were here she’d be icing it and telling him how well he did, and probably serving him some cucumber water or something. He really wanted some cucumber water. Actually, he mostly just wanted to stop being chased by the mob! Cucumber water was probably at the number two spot on his list though. He threw off his mask and lifted his communicator up to his mouth.
“Milah! Come on! I need help! Where have you been?!”
“You simply must stay calm Nathan, we’ve discussed this, don’t stress or you’ll get wrinkles. Makeup can only do so much darling!”
“Milah!” He shouted. He would feel bad about it later though. He really didn’t want wrinkles.
“Yes yes, I told you before, I’m nearly there. I’ll only need a few more minutes, you simply can’t rush a lady like that.”
He wasn’t sure he had a few more minutes, but he put his communicator away. Talking and running at the same time was horrifically tiring.
Nate dared a glance over his shoulder. They were getting closer. They chased him with various improvised weapons, but one of them had a taser pike hybrid of some sort. If he didn’t increase his speed then he was moments away from being in the range of the pike.
He kept his eyes ahead of him. If he spent his time thinking of what would happen to him in around thirty seconds then he was absolutely going to get wrinkles. Best to die beautiful.
When he turned though, he saw something in the sky that gave him far more hope. A ship. He thought for a moment that it might be his ship, but as it loomed close his hopes were dashed. It was less than a quarter second of hope, but he was crushed nonetheless. It was one of the ships he had attempted to steal from earlier, the pretty one from Alpha Centauri. It seemed like such a good idea a few hours ago.
Just as the ship reached him it changed course, keeping pace just ahead of him. He felt the warm blast of the ships jets warming the air he sprinted through. A small loading ramp lowered and two figures stepped out, one very small, the other much larger. They threw down a long rope ladder, which dangled just in front of him.
Nate guessed that Milah wasn’t going to be able to save him, and the strangers were certainly offering him a nicer alternative than the scavengers behind him, so he didn’t hesitate to take to the ladder. The ship began to lift and Nate was taken with it, flying away to safety. Or at least he hoped it was to safety. Best not to think about it. Wrinkles after all.
Annie kept the Fuerza aimed at the top of the ladder while she waited for Scarheart to reach the top. She had observed this captain in action now, and she wasn’t impressed, but it seemed prudent to be ready in case he had any tricks up her sleeve. A finely made, if a little tattered, glove was the first thing aboard her ship. The hand clutched the edge of the loading bay as Scarheart pulled himself up. He seemed to have lost his mask, revealing him to be a dark-skinned and incredibly well put together young man. Were Annie a few years older, she might have thought him handsome. Fortunately, the nine-year-old captain still professed the opinion that boys were icky and would be immune to any charms that Scarheart might possess.
Upon seeing the gun, Scarheart paused. Eventually, he thought to see who was actually holding the gun, causing him to pause for even longer.
“Rest of the way Scarheart. No sudden moves.” The pirate sighed and climbed up onto the ship. He put his hands into the air.
“You seem a little young to be using a gun like that, little girl.” He still spoke with that dreadful voice that sent shivers down her spine earlier. It didn’t have the same effect now that she could see it didn’t match the pirate at all.
“And you seem a little young for a voice like that.”
His eyes went wide as he put his hand to his face, only now realizing that he wasn’t wearing his mask.
“Th-this is bad.” He stuttered in a pleasant and far more natural sounding voice.
“Well, it’s certainly not good.” She scowled. It was an act, of course, Annie had no intention of harming the boy, but he would likely be more pliable if he was scared.
“I-is your captain around? I can explain everything! I saw there was a big person up here earlier. Can I speak to them?”
Annie said nothing but tipped her captain’s hat to Scarheart.
“S-sorry, uh, Captain. I’m sure we can talk this through.”
“I agree. What’s your name?”
“Natha- erm, Captain Nathan Regal of the Void Knave.”
She lowered her gun. He was clearly ready to negotiate, with any luck the others were too.
“I’m Captain Annabelle Constantine. Welcome to the Nightingale.”
Nathan seemed hesitant at that.
“Annabelle Constantine? Like, the pirate?”
She scowled at him.
“No. Not like the pirate.”
Nate was still making up his mind about his savior, but he knew he liked the Nightingale immediately. It was beautiful, not cutting edge, but certainly, a luxury craft back in it’s day, which didn’t seem to be long in the past. It didn’t have quite the same decorative qualities that he had back on the Void Knave of course, but few ships could really match Milah’s instinct for interior design. The actual walls and flooring of the Nightingale where remarkably well maintained and artfully designed however and offset the rather spartan furniture spread throughout. He was jealous of the size, with his own ship being a cramped affair of only a few rooms, while the Nightingale seemed to be big enough to fit dozens of crew members and a sizeable amount of cargo.
She led him into a simple round meeting room with a polished wood table in the center. The walls were mostly unadorned, being taken up primarily by several doors. Only a trio of short wall segments were in use. The first held a small writing area with a few papers and fine looking quills, likely for contracts. The second hosted a large and high tech looking screen, which Nate supposed was for video calls. He’d love to watch a movie on that beautiful high definition device, maybe Casablanca? But he doubted the serious young girl would give him the chance. Upon the final wall was an ornate painting of a dashing looking captain in an old-fashioned uniform that he recognized as belonging to the old Terran Star Armada, back when it still existed. He was an intrepid looking fellow, with long but well kept blond hair and a short beard which was finely trimmed. Nate recognized his dangerous blue eyes, the new captain had them too.
His host took a seat and pulled a small lever, which raised her chair up to a level that allowed her to sit eye to eye with any at the table. Nate took it as his cue to sit down, so he chose one of the identical looking leather conference chairs and sat.
“Did you know what you were looking for when you attacked my ship?” Annie said, not betraying any emotion whatsoever.
He swallowed and simply did what he always did during negotiations. What he did during most situations actually. He handed the problem over to someone more qualified.
“I’m contractually bound not to negotiate without my manager, sorry.”
She stared at him, not angrily, but like she was trying to get a good read on him. Nate liked kids, and kids tended to like him, but this little captain was the farthest thing from a child. Looking at her while she judged him was like staring at the sun and he had to look away.
Eventually, she made up her mind and slid an electronic keyboard from the top of the table over to him.
Nate was happy to do so. Milah would work this whole thing out and then he’d be safe. He’d still be broke, but that was a problem for later. He was bad with numbers as a general rule but he ensured that the fifteen-digit code that could put him in contact with Milah was well memorized. Fifteen digits that seemed to solve all his problems.
The video screen flashed to life and Milah’s main drone faced the camera. The image quality was everything Nate had hoped it would be and somehow Milah looked more real than real.
“It’s not polite to stand people up, Nate darling, it’s simply gruesome. I found those dreadful people shaking their fists at the sky, but there was no handsome young man for me to rescue.” It was hard to tell where Milah was looking, being that she hadn’t any eyes, but Nate was certain that she could see Captain Annabelle and was simply playing coy.
“Uh, yeah, sorry Milah, I ended up getting a ride elsewhere. This is-”
“I see. Well, you seem like a delightful little girl. You can call me Auntie Milah.”
Nate winced, but the captain maintained her composure.
“I’ll be brief, Miss Milah the manager. I need Nate for a task. There will be treasure at the end of said task. You both will receive a share of the profits. Speak down to me again and you’ll get nothing. You and your amatuer captain need me a lot more than I need you. I won’t ask again.”
It was hard to intimidate an artificial intelligence, but Captain Annabelle clearly knew how to do it.
It was a decent deal too, they hadn’t had a good haul in months and had barely a penny to their names. He didn’t know what it was that the captain had in mind, but they simply couldn’t afford to refuse.
“What kind of job?” Asked Milah, slipping for just a moment out of her sophisticated voice routine. Milah wasn’t usually keen on sharing any form of authority position with someone else and it showed.
“One that’s well suited to his talents.” the captain smiled.
Ashur was livid. How in Orion had that stupid Nepth-bot managed to mess up this badly? It was the one he had ordered specifically to pick locks! He resolved to wring the neck of the scav-mechanic who built it next time he saw them.
He thought Zaiah was a little rougher than necessary when the time came to throw him in a prison cell, but he imagined that the King didn’t have much control over his strength in that suit. Still, that didn’t stop him from shouting expletives after the King in his native language as Zaiah lumbered away.
“Emeru Biza d’gila!” He yelled angrily at the back of the King’s mullet.
He slumped into the cell beside the Nepth which had been thrown in with him. He could see one of the massive royal guard bots outside the cell standing guard, so there was clearly not going to be a way out for the foreseeable future. How had it gone so badly? He was so close to the map to the elder crown only a few minutes ago and now he was locked in a damp and moldy cell block. He was stuck here alone with his terrible little scrapbot.
Except he wasn’t really alone at all, he only noticed then, but that odd scavenger girl was trapped there with him. She clutched a metal object as she sobbed quietly. Ashur quickly realized that it was her arm. Her fate was his fault of course, but he couldn’t really bring himself to feel bad about it, that just wasn’t his way.
“I take it the revolution went well?” He remarked snidely as he slumped back against the wall.
To his surprise, the girl responded immediately.
“Shut up.” She snapped.
Ashur saw no benefit to pushing her any further, so he stayed his tongue, glaring instead at his faulty scrapbot.
“What went wrong with you? You’re supposed to be able to do things like this!”
Kaori looked up, seeming interested, despite her tears.
Well, that was interesting. The girl seemed to be eager to be distracted from her current armless predicament. Perhaps he could still wring a little more use out of her yet.
“The little creature decided the best way to pick a lock was to bash her stupid head against it until the alarm went off.” He snorted.
She perked up a little more.
“Can I see?”
Ashur motioned the little robot to go to her and the Nepth’s awkwardly shaped legs tapped along the metal floor towards her.
Ashur was surprised at how adeptly the girl handled the robot with only her right arm, but he didn’t let it show. After a typical amount of silence, Kaori simply stated.
“It’s too stupid.”
The Nepth squirmed indignantly.
“Thanks, that’s a real revelation.” The girl scrunched her brows and tried again a few moments later.
“It’s using a blank memory drive. It doesn’t know anything. Did you not upload any information?”
Ashur frowned, he didn’t even know that was a thing he was supposed to have done, nor would he have known how even if he had.
“I did, but I think it walked too close to a magnet or something.”
Before he knew it, Kaori had pulled a small digital tablet from a pocket and had plugged it into the head of the furious little robot.
“I’ll upload my old research notes on the locks I found during my early scavenging days.”
The Nepth twitched before scurrying back to Ashur, tablet, and cord still in tow. Kaori quickly grabbed her tablet before it got out of reach. She yanked the cord out of the Nepth and stuffed it back into her coat.
The Nepth chirped with delight as it returned to Ashur and pointed at the lock on the cage.
“Thanks, but it’s no use with the guard still there.” He muttered to both the Nepth and the girl.
The royal guard ignored the comment and remained still.
They sat there in silence for what seemed like hours. The Nepth in power saving mode, Kaori in quiet melancholy, and Ashur ignoring his shame and frustration, like he always did.
In time the second royal guard entered the room.
“H-i-i-i-is maje-ZZZZZ-ty wants you to-to-to-to-to charge.”
The royal guard didn’t move as it responded to the newcomer.
“Ba-ZZZZZZ-terries remain at seventy-eight-eight-eight-eight percent.”
“His Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-jestey w-an-an-ants us at f-ZZZZZZ-ull in case of ZZZZZZZZ further attacks.”
The first royal guard seemed to consider this for a moment, before wordlessly making its way down the hallway. The replacement took a nearly identical guard position to the old one.
Ashur shook his head at the silent figure.
“You seem like better company than the last guard.”
The robot turned to the cage, and to Ashur’s surprise, yanked off its own head, revealing it to be a mask. Underneath was a black skinned human boy with sparkling brown eyes and a bright white smile.
“Thanks.” The boy said simply. He didn’t need to say anymore. Ashur knew he had been rescued, even if he couldn’t figure out why.
“Go.” He said simply to the Nepth, who had the lock open in no time at all. “Where are we going?” he asked his rescuer.
“Off to make a better plan, just us captains.” he waved a hand over to the huddled shape of Kaori in the corner. “And whoever she is, if they want.” Kaori made no move to join Ashur as he left the cell.
Ashur hardly cared if the girl wasted away here in her misery, but it seemed a waste to leave a skilled mechanic down here.
“You’re more than just your arm you know.” He stated kindly. It was a calculated compliment.
She looked at him, teary-eyed, but said nothing.
Ashur followed his rescuer down the hall and was glad to hear the sound of Kaori catching up behind him a minute later.