© 2015 Hank Quense
Joris skulked along back streets until he reached the Anthropophagic Inn where he found Alzo. “I need to steal a ship,” Joris told him. “Will you help me?”
“That’s a tough one.” Alzo scratched his stubbly chin, frowned and stared at the wall. After a brief interval, he grinned at Joris. “I can getta ship but ya gotta do somethin’ for me in return.”
“When ya leave, I go wid ya. I hate this damned planet.”
The hair on Joris’s neck crawled. The pirates never accepted outsiders.
The aliens in the crews were descended from those who lived on Veux when the exodus occurred. What if he reached safety and brought Alzo with him? Was the ban on outsiders nothing more than a tradition? Maybe it was time to find out. Joris experienced a delicious thrill at the idea of more deviancy. “Sure. We’ll leave together.”
~ ~ ~
“Ahh. This one don’t have a security system” Alzo said. “I can pick the lock.”
Joris heaved a sigh of relief. This was the eleventh ship they had examined and it was the middle of the night.
“I’m in your debt;
And it will be met.”
Darkness enshrouded the space port. Only feeble light came from lamp poles along the roads and the small torch Joris held for Alzo.
“There.” The door slid open and Alzo stood aside for Joris to enter the small ship.
On the flight deck, Joris examined the control board. It had a standard configuration and offered no problems to him.
“What’s that stink?” Alzo made a face. The ship had a strange odor, something nasty not completely masked by overdoses of flowery scent.
“Smells like something died.” Joris sat down and engaged the automated start-up process. Alzo slumped into the adjacent seat.
“This vessel is not scheduled to depart until the afternoon.” The computer had the snippy voice of an experienced bureaucrat.
“It’s an unscheduled flight,” Joris said. “How long before we can liftoff?”
“The ship does not have permission to liftoff and it has not filed a flight plan.”
“It’s an unplanned flight;
To an unknown site.”
Joris hated quarrelsome computers. After an argument that lasted a few minutes, the computer conceded and activated the controls.
Once the ship finally lifted off its berth, the intercom squawked with an indignant voice. “Return immediately and report to the main space port control room!”
The computer made a rude noise when Joris told it to ignore the command.
Underway, Joris relaxed for the first time since his capture. He was once again in control of his destiny. “Alzo, why don’t you search the ship. See if it has any supplies.”
After Alzo left the flight deck, Joris examined his toe and gawked in surprise. The toe nail displayed a red light. A pirate ship had sent him an acknowledgment! A rescue ship was on its way! He sent another signal, replaced his boot and let his mind play with rhymes and beats, all of them paeans of celebration.
Alzo returned. “No supplies. Is this is gonna be a short trip?”
“You have no idea how short it will be.” Joris grinned at Alzo.
“Har, har.” The new voice on the intercom startled him. “Pirate scum!” A monitor showed a pig-like figure dressed in battle armor. A Porcine bounty-hunter! A glance at the short-range display showed the bounty-hunter’s ship almost within firing range. Joris’s mind switched from paeans to a funeral dirge.
“Uh-oh. That guy is trouble.” Alzo looked at Joris. “You’re a pirate?”
“Computer!” Joris ignored Alzo. “Activate the shields.”
“This is a garbage scow. It doesn’t have shields.”
Joris groaned. “Any weapons?” He knew the answer to that question but asked anyway.
“No one attacks a garbage scow,” the computer responded.
The intercom blared again. “I recognized ya in that bar where ya read a poem. I knew it was only a matter of time until ya stole a ship. I’m gonna blast a hole in it to let the air out. Then I’ll tow the ship to a navy base and collect the reward of a hundred thousand credits.”
“And I hadda hitch a ride wid ya.” Alzo slapped his forehead with the flat of his hand.
Joris gnashed his teeth. The rescue ship was still a long way off. Too far away to save him from the bounty hunter.
The ship’s display showed the bounty-hunter closing fast. Joris chewed his lip. A second ship trailed the first. The Provost? Could he stall the hunter long enough for the Provost to get close? Then he’d have to stall the Provost until the rescue ship arrived.
“Prepare to die.” The Porcine grinned at him.
Desperate, Joris tried to stall.
“I have a last request;
It will be my bequest.”
“Arrggh. I hate last requests. Let’s hear it.”
“I’m going to read you a poem.”
“Make it good one.” Alzo’s voice had a pleading quality to it.
“Here goes.” Joris cleared his throat. Three times.
“When . . . I . . . was . . . a . . . child . . . being . . I . . . oftentimes . . . felt . . . wrothy . . .
Because . . . I . . . wanted . . . a . . . toy . . . thing, That . . . I —”
Joris stopped and smiled at the hunter.
The hunter shook his head and frowned. “What the—”
Flashing lights played along the surface of the bounty-hunter’s ship as its shields absorbed a blast from the second ship. The hunter’s ship broke contact and zoomed away.
Joris sprawled in his seat. Amazing! This poetry was powerful stuff. It had distracted the bounty hunter and allowed the second ship to get into firing range. One problem solved, one to go. He concentrated on the new hazard. It was big and sleek, the kind of ship that was only built with other people’s money.
“Egar here.” The monitor showed a very angry Provost. “Return to the port immediately.”
“Yourself go bugger;
The Madame, go hug her.”
“Put about or we’ll board your ship.”
The University ship launched a small boat.
Joris gulped. He couldn’t fight off a boarding attempt. “Can you delay them,” he asked Alzo. “Help is on the way.”
A strange voice came over the intercom. “Which ship sent a signal?”
“The small one,” Joris replied. “The large one is attempting to kidnap me.”
“Small ship. Identify yourself.”
Joris pulled off his boot and sock and sent the ID message again. Alzo gawked at the toe.
“Received and verified. Stand by, Admiral, while we get rid of your problem.”
The University ship retrieved its boat and fled.
Joris thought about his future. His days of commanding ships were over because of the neural necklace. Still, poetry had to be explored. Just how powerful was it? What were its limits? What if the pirates besieged a stronghold, and, what if, Joris had loudspeakers erected and beamed endless poetry at the defenders. Would they surrender to stop the poetry?
Joris laughed and recited a new poem.
“I have a lifetime of study,
To make poetry less muddy, With Alzo as my new buddy.”