This is the third story in a series started with Aphelion’s Demise and continued with Altair’s Acquisition. It will take two or three posts to get it all up here. If you enjoy these they are available at Smashwords and Amazon for purchase.
First Bounty part 1
Keri’s head popped up in surprise as the music thumping through the ship stopped and a metallic voice came over the com in its place. “Altair, you are cleared for docking. Please follow the homing beacon in to loading dock F.”
Pushing off from the bulkhead she floated across the cargo hold to the flight control room. Landing on the catwalk, she stepped through into the control room and sat in the center chair, sinking into the cushions as the suction automatically kicked in. Reaching out and punching at the screen with her index finger, she turned down her music and then turned on the receiver for the docking beacon. She felt the steering drives kick in and line the ship up with the dock and then automatically slow the Altair down to docking speed. Knowing it would take an hour to make the approach on auto, Keri left the control room and went back to her work.
Floating back across the hold she looked down at the cargo stacked below her. This was the third load for her since taking control of the ship on Phelon. All her spare time while hauling had been spent fixing all the little things the previous owners had let go. Lubing moving parts, replacing seals, and just cleaning everything that had been left filthy. It was starting to shape up and turn into a real cargo ship.
“Patera to Altair,” broke in a voice over the com. “What took you so long?”
Pulling the ships remote from the cargo pocket of her military style pants Keri tapped the screen and answered, “Hey, Derek. Don’t give me a hard time; I’m still trying to get her in shape. How long have you been here?”
“Only two days,” came the reply, “See you when you get docked. Patera out.”
“Two days,” the woman muttered, “And you’re giving me grief. You left a week before I did.” Picking up the tools she had been using to adjust the motors on the cargo door she reconnected the linkage and packed her tools in their bag. She decided to walk back to the tool box mounted on the bulkhead next to her quarters. Coming across the hold the last time she could feel gravity starting to pull at her. She didn’t need to get pulled into a container of cargo or a railing and break a rib. Putting the tools away, she checked progress to the loading dock and then hurried off to take a quick shower.
Twenty minutes later wearing clean clothes, she was back at the controls to watch the ship land and link up with the seals around the loading dock. She completed her post flight checklist and shut down the drives. Crossing the hold, she lifted the safety cover and hit the button to activate the cargo door. She stepped back and mentally crossed her fingers as she waited to see if everything worked properly. After spending three days overhauling the motors and linkage she wanted to make sure she hadn’t wasted her time.
She needn’t have worried. The door functioned perfectly and locked into the open position. Stepping through the door into the Mars station she saw her partners waiting for her. Beech was ex military and it showed in his manner and his dress. Derek was a cargo hauler who had been gaining too much weight, although from the looks of things he had lost a lot of it since she had seen him last. They were both just under 180 cm tall and with the weight Derek had lost it looked like they both were about 90 kilos.
“What happened?” Keri asked with a smile, “Wouldn’t Beech let you eat on the trip in?” She gave him a jab in the stomach and was surprised to feel how solid he was.
“He eats plenty,” Beech told her, laughing. “He’s been working out every day. He might be ready to take you on now.”
“Speaking of eating,” Derek broke in, “I’m hungry. Let’s go grab some grub.”
“You guys can eat, but I think I better just watch. If I don’t get used to the gravity first I might hurl.” Keri followed the pair out of the cargo area and into the hallway on somewhat unsteady legs. She wasn’t about to give these two something to ride her about. They did enough of that already.
Entering the cafeteria the two filled their plates, paid, and joined her at a table. After the usual questions about the flight, ship handling, and such, Beech looked serious for a minute and then told his partners, “I got a long range com from Dobson this morning.”
“Dobson!” exclaimed Keri. “What did that idiot want?”
“He had a proposition for us. He said it would fit right in with our next scheduled delivery,” Beech answered, and then after a pause, “I think we should think about it.”
Derek and Keri looked at each other in confusion, then back at Beech. “What, is he proposing to blackmail us again?” Derek asked, with sarcasm heavy in his voice.
“No,” the ex soldier said. “He has a job he would like us to do.” A short pause and then, “A job that pays really well.”
“Who do we have to kill?” Keri asked with a snort.
“Hopefully no one, but it might come to that if we take the job. He wants us to bring him back alive if possible,” Beech told them.
“Bounty hunting?” Derek asked in surprise. “We aren’t bounty hunters, we’re cargo haulers. I don’t want to kill people for money,” he finished shaking his head.
“We only have to kill if we’re forced to, and it’s as much money as a full cargo delivery for both ships would pay. Plus we can make our next scheduled delivery at the same time,” Beech replied.
“It sounds good to me,” Keri responded. “Is it another pirate?”
“No,” Beech told her. “This guy is a murderer. He killed two military guards here on Mars, stole a small ship and left on a course for Targus.”
“Why doesn’t the military go after him?” Derek asked. He still wasn’t crazy about the idea, but the money sounded good.
“The only ships they have in the area are battleships and they have other duties. They really want this guy bad though so they are willing to pay to get him. And they have him on vid killing the two guards so they don’t have a problem with him coming back dead if it comes to it,” Beech explained.
“How did he kill them?” Keri queried.
“He slit their throats,” Beech said. “Apparently he likes knives. He has been arrested on Earth three times for assault and each time it was with a knife.”
“How did he manage to get from Earth to Mars then?” Derek asked. “Normally with that kind of record they won’t let you leave the planet.”
“Somehow he convinced a judge that he had changed and was being treated unfairly on Earth due to his record. He told him he couldn’t get a job anywhere because of the background checks so he wanted to come to Mars to get a job on a freighter. Some of them are a little less caring about a person’s background.”
“So now he has a ship and the whole galaxy to play in,” Keri commented.
“Right, but he has to refuel and get provisions and without money he can’t get either. On Targus he might be able to get a job or steal what he needs. My bet would be on stealing it,” Derek stated.
“The ship he stole is a Mercury class, set up for taking VIP’s around to check on their subs so he can get there fast. I don’t think he’ll steal anything when he gets there though,” Beech told his partners. “The military has known for a while that a group of smugglers is headquartered on Targus. They just haven’t been able to pinpoint who it is. I would bet Jackson, that’s this guy’s name, will try to get in touch with them and maybe join them. With the ship he stole, he could move a small amount of high dollar goods quickly.”
“Great, so now we’ll be going up against a group of smugglers, too. Not just one man,” Derek groaned, shaking his head. “That money doesn’t sound as good now.”
“It’ll be fine,” Keri told him giving him a playful slap on the back. “And if we can’t find him we still make are delivery and get paid.”
This seemed to make the man feel better and he finished his food. The trio then left the cafeteria and spent a little time wandering around the station. It was the first station that Earth built on another planet. Much of the station was old and in the process of being updated, but the newer parts showed the latest technology in use. The unloading of cargo was done by wireless control of the automated cargo movers and could unload and load a ship in half the time. Scanners logged in cargo as it passed through the loading doors without it being necessary to stop the loaders.
Leaving the warehouse section of the station, they moved through into the everyday living areas. Passing corridors marked as living apartments, they came to the shopping and supply area. This was the last chance to purchase many items before heading into deep space so everyone at least came here to look before leaving. They walked through clothing stores, tool shops, music and vid stores, shops with crates of space rations, and almost anything a person might want. Keri lingered for a while in one of the music shops and searched the selection screen for her metal bands. Finding several she filled a memory chip and purchased it. Derek picked up an updated galaxy atlas for the Patera. He would make a copy and give it to Keri for the Altair. Beech found a shop that sold body armor and he picked up three sets, one for each of them.
After spending an hour or two shopping the three headed back to their ships. On board the Patera they sat together and planned for their search of Targus. The new atlas had detailed maps of each of the stations Earth had set up on other planets. Targus was one of the most distant and isolated planets that had been colonized. It had a large supply of titanium on it which made it worth traveling so far. Their cargo was to be spare parts for mining equipment on the Patera and basic medical and food supplies on the Altair. After such a long trip spending a few days before leaving wouldn’t be unusual for cargo haulers. They would spend the time searching the colony for Jackson. Starting with the landing fields and then moving on to the restaurants and other communal gathering places.
Finishing off the orange soda she was drinking, Keri said, “If we split up we should find him in a couple of days. The Targus station isn’t all that big.”
Beech nodded and told them, “We should be loaded later today. I think we should spend the night here and leave tomorrow.” He looked at the other two waiting for them to say yes or no. They both nodded and stood. Keri told them, “I’m going to take a real shower, not one with recycled water, and find myself a good meal. Something not in a tube.” She turned and left before the two men could comment.
“What about you?” Beech asked the other man.
“Go ahead,” Derek answered. “I think I’ll stay here and watch the loading.”
“Ok,” Beech said over his shoulder as he walked away. “I’ll see you later.”
A month after leaving the Mars station, the Patera and the Altair came into orbit around Targus. While waiting for clearance to land, the three prepared for their search. Carrying as many arms as possible without attracting attention they also put on the body armor Beech had picked up for them. Looking like a thermal suit it wouldn’t be noticed without close inspection, it would however keep a bullet or knife from penetrating. They all carried a suppressed automatic in a shoulder holster, and at least one belt knife. Beech carried an extra automatic under his other arm as did Keri, but she also had several other knives hidden under her baggy clothing. When the mechanical voice came over the com both ships locked on to the docking beacon and headed in.
After landing on the tarmac outside a large warehouse, the three checked in with the cargo manager and then walked out to start their search. Looking at their surroundings, they saw that the atlas had been right and this was a dry, sandy planet. Luckily the climate was also cool and their body armor wouldn’t make them overheat unless they were very active. They stood for a moment admiring the huge moon that was visible over almost half the pale yellow sky. From what they had read it was always visible, day or night.
“Well let’s get started,” Beech said looking at his partners.
“Hold on a second,” Keri told him as she reached into the small pack she always carried pulling out a small container. “I picked us up something on Mars.” She handed them both a small com headset. They were two piece and when worn were almost invisible. One part fit inside the ear and the other attached behind the ear. A slight pressure on the rear section activated it and picked up the wearers voice even if it was a quiet whisper.
“These are on the same frequency and scrambled so no one else can hear us on them,” Keri informed the men. “If one of us finds Jackson or has any trouble we can communicate with the others.”
“Good idea,” Beech told her smiling and attaching the com to his ear. “These could save us a lot of time. Just be careful using them; if the wrong person sees it could be a problem.”