William Zellmann

The Privateer

Chapter 1

'Goin' somewhere, Captain?'

John Smith, alias Captain Emo Arror, alias 'The Terror,' started as the voice came from the shadows of the darkened boat bay. He suppressed an urge to spin around, instead turning casually to face Bob Smiley, his second- in-command. His hand slowly crept toward the butt of the stunner he carried.

'As a matter of fact, Bob, I am,' He replied in a casual tone. 'I've had enough. I'm retiring. Consider yourself promoted to head Terror and admiral of the pirate fleet.'

Smiley resembled his name, though the smile was rarely genuine. John had seen the same smile on the big man's face as he tortured victims to reveal the hiding places of their valuables, and as he casually sank a knife blade into a woman's chest. Smiley was a heavyworlder, short and wide. On his squat frame, his large arms looked almost simian, reaching nearly to his knees. Since they had escaped slavery on Peltir IV together five years ago, Smiley had put on weight and added a paunch, but he was still a fast and deadly fighter, as John well knew.

This time, though, the smile faded slightly as Smiley shook his head. 'Now, that's real nice of ya, Captain, and I know I'll do the name proud. I figgered somethin' was goin' on when you insisted on grabbin' that fast yacht an' even its papers durin' the Atlantea raid.

'But y'see, Captain, there's a problem. You're the one took a stolen freighter and two dozen escaped slaves and grew it into six armed ships and the biggest, toughest pirate fleet in known space. Ever'body in this part of space knows and fears the Terror.

'And the crews, they're real proud to be part of the Terror's fleet.' The smile widened again as Smiley edged closer to John, his hand moving casually toward the knife in its sheath behind his hip. John forced himself not to tense.

'The problem is, Captain, we can't have the crews wonderin' if maybe you'll be comin' back someday. Sheol, I'd be wonderin' myself. So…'

John dodged as Smiley drew the knife and stabbed it toward his belly in one swift move. Smiley kept coming, changing the stabbing lunge into a charge, the knife slashing wildly. John backpedaled as he grabbed for his own knife. He slipped smoothly aside, drawing with a lightning motion, his blade leaving a red line on Smiley's brawny arm.

Smiley paused, his eerie smile widening even more. 'I'm really kinda sorry about this, Captain. I always liked ya, an' ya done real good for alla us. But if I'm gonna take over, I gotta take over clean. The crews haveta know you're dead.' he kept edging closer as he spoke.

John smiled back, his eyes never leaving Smiley's. 'I won't be coming back, Bob. I've had my revenge, and then some. Atlantea finished it for me. The things I've done, the things done by my crews, now make me sick. I can't plan another raid. It's time for me to retire. I'm sorry to have to do one more killing before I go'

Smiley's smile didn't falter as he circled to John's left, opposite his knife hand. 'I knew you was soft, even back on Peltir. Always whinin' about 'injustice' and crap like that. Sheol, I was all that kep' you alive the first year. You're a fool to think ya c'n just retire and settle down among the groundhogs.' He shrugged. 'Oh, well.' He lunged again, this time aiming slightly to John's left, hoping to intercept John's dodge to the left.

John feinted left, but dodged low and right, twisting to leave another red mark, this time across Smiley's left chest and nipple. The big man roared with pain and staggered slightly before regaining his balance. Smiley was immensely strong, and fast as a snake. John had to keep the fight moving, keep mobile. If Smiley ever got his hands on him, there would be no hope.

'Yeah,' he temporized, as he tried to maneuver the big man toward a more open area of the boat deck, 'I always wondered why you kept me alive all that time. I never would have survived without your help.'

Smiley put his left hand to his chest without taking his eyes from John. It came away bloody, and he flicked a glance at it before replying. He snorted. 'You lightworlders think we're stupid just 'cause we're strong. I knew as soon as I saw ya that you was the one was smart enough to break us outta that hole. So, I played the dumb sidekick, an' sure enough, you was able to bust us out. An' ya made us rich, too! But we're set now; we don't need ya no more.'

'That's right, you don't. So why kill me? Why not just let me go?' Smiley was slowly edging closer, and John knew the attack was coming.

Smiley put his left hand to his chest again, as though to relieve the pain, but suddenly he flicked his wrist in an attempt to flip some droplets of blood in John's face. He instantly followed this with a roar and a lunge.

This time, though, John did not dodge. He dropped, deflecting Smiley's knife arm and slashing his knife upward across the lunging man's throat. The roar ended in a gurgle, as the big man crashed to the deck, arterial blood spraying from his neck. Smiley placed futile hands over the fatal wound, and tried to rise. However, the blood loss was weakening him. He struggled to his knees and tried to speak, but his eyes glazed over and he toppled to the deck.

John walked over to the corpse. 'Sorry, Smiley. You were a good friend, until you tried to kill me.'

He wiped his knife on the dead man's shirt and returned it to its sheath. He sighed. Another face to join in his parade of nightmares. He had liked Smiley. He rather wished he had been able to use his stunner instead of the knife. However, he could not be sure the stun beam would work fast enough on the heavyworlder, and besides, the energy discharge would have shown up on the bridge sensors. He had to admit it was a relief that the man was dead, though. Associating with Smiley had always been like living with a deadly wild animal. You always knew you were only one small step from death. Maybe the fact Smiley had been a multiple murderer and a sociopath would lessen the guilty nightmares. Maybe.

He returned to his packing, what there was of it. He swung only two bags into the shuttle's small cockpit. One contained a few pairs of underwear and some hygiene articles. The other, much smaller one contained one of the largest collections of sunstones in known space, though he was the only one who knew it existed. He had accumulated the stones over five years of piracy, kidnapping, rape, and murder. He rarely looked at the stones. The memories they raised haunted and sickened him.

He climbed hurriedly into a waiting space suit. Once secure, he clumped over to the boat bay door controls. Carefully, he disconnected the bridge indicators and the depressurization alarm. Then he used the manual controls to decompress the hold and open the boat bay doors. Smiley's corpse stirred in the outrush of atmosphere, but it became entangled in a cutter's landing gear, and was not swept out the bay doors. John smiled as he operated the hand pump to open the doors. Tomorrow would be an interesting day aboard Revenge. With any luck, by the time they got it all sorted out, he would be long gone.

The tiny two-man shuttle clamped onto Azure Sky 's small airlock and John kicked it free as he entered the yacht's airlock. When pressurization was complete, he removed the suit's helmet. 'Good morning, Tess.'

'Good morning, sir.' the yacht's AI replied in a pleasant contralto. 'Is your business complete?' The seductive tones conjured up visions of a beautiful woman

John smiled. 'Yes, it is. Are you prepared for immediate departure?'

'Yes, sir. Inertial drive is on standby and course to the jump point has been computed.'

'Good. You understand you are not to use the main jump point?'

'Of course, sir. The course is computed for the newly discovered jump point in the asteroid belt. May I remind you, sir, that the location of this jump point renders it some 19.238 percent more hazardous than the main point?'

John's smile faded. 'I know, Tess. But I am concerned about my business associates here. I suspect possible duplicity. It is important that we get out of here as inconspicuously as possible. How long to the jump point?'

'Thirty-nine point one two hours, sir.'

John nodded. 'That's what I thought. Okay. I don't want to be chased and possibly caught by them. Recompute your course to accommodate max boost for six hours, and then coasting the rest of the way. Will that

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