The large, young bodybuilder was pleased with himself for a mission accomplished... He had retrieved the gems, and yet a small part of him that was clinging to some sort of ethic and was saddened by the way the he had handled the interaction with Hacksaw. Stryker tried to assuage his conscious. I did give him an out. A way to escape…
but he knew that it was an almost impossible situation for Hacksaw to escape from. Even if he did manage to disarm the bomb, chances of making it back so some space dock with little to no air would be….
Stryker had just finished a brutal workout. The physical exertion done under normal planetary gravity added to his satisfaction. In his quarters on the Swamp Donkey
the muscular man stood in front of a mirror wearing striped board shorts, flexing through various poses. Stryker scrutinized the size and symmetry of his body, making mental notes on what areas needed work. Afterward, he pulled a small metal lock box off a shelf and entered a code. The box opened to reveal three vials and a syringe with a needle. He inserted the needle in the first vial and drew up a measure of the clear liquid and repeated the process with the other two, mixing the contents in the glass barrel between draws. Stryker swapped out the dull needle for a sharp one.
Holding the assembly between his teeth as he swabbed a patch of skin on his the upper right pectoral with an alcohol swab. Then with a quick smooth jab, he inserted the needle and injected the solution which caused him to grit his teeth. Once the solution was fully administered, large man removed the needle and disposed of it. He slipped on some flip-flops and pulled on a tank top before his hand wrapped around a large bag. Stryker then walked out of his down the ramp of his ship and into the starport.
It was a busy place, ships were coming and going over head. The low murmuring drone of conversation as various people went about their business. The little coffee shop he was passing was cheery and bright. He was taking it all in. So much more organic and alive then what he was accustomed to in ships and space stations. Breathable natural air made all the difference. He felt free and alive.
He waited on a platform for a tram and was anxious to visit the beach. He hadn’t been on an Earth-like world for some time and thought that it was a fitting treat for the work he had done. The incoming tram glided to a stop on its glowing track and the door slid up, allowing Stryker to board it. He took a quick glance around and decided to take a seat next to a window. The interior was white, and thankfully, well kept. He watched the city skyline zip past him as his mind went back to earlier that day: when he returned the gems to the “contact” here on the planet…
* * * * * *
The storefront was bright and well lit with various articles of jewelry on display; and not the cheap stuff. Stryker felt out of place. Everyone here were well dressed. Formal, or at the very least, semi-formal and here he stood wearing a jaggedy cut tank top and some worn jeans. A snobby woman approached him. She “acted” polite, but he could plainly see the judgment oozing from every pour from her body.
“And what brings you
in here today?” She asked. The holographic name tag pinned to her dark suit indicated that her name was Lucille.
“Well, Lucy,” Stryker started with, “I’d like to speak with the owner.”
“What for?” She folded her arms indignantly. “She’s quite busy….”
“I have a return.” Stryker interrupted.
She looked him over. “Well, returns can be handled through me. Though, I can’t imagine what you could possibly be
returning.” Lucille raised a brow.
Stryker just looked down at her, keeping his cool exterior. “The owner, please.”
The dreadfully skinny woman turned on her heel with a huff, waved her hand, and walked off.
Stryker turned his attention to a necklace in a display case. It was interesting, but only just enough. On the whole, jewelry was uninteresting. It wasn’t long before he heard a woman clearing her throat. He turned. She was tall, with platinum blond hair, and well dressed in slim tight fitting dinner gown. Large hoops and baubles of gold and silver hung from her neck, and wrists. The name tag indicated her name was Sarai. She offered a well manicured hand out to the man. Stryker took it and gave it a firm shake.
“My office is just this way.” She said in a smooth voice. Stryker winked at the haughty saleswoman and Lucy glared.
The office was fine furnished with dark woods, and intricate trims. Stryker sat in a neat leather chair on one side of the desk as Sarai closed the door behind them. She walked around the large man tracing a finger along his broad back and then sat in the high backed leather chair opposite to him.
“I am assuming that you retrieve what I had asked for?” She said with a smile. Here eyes were wandering over his large body.
Stryker ignored it. “Yes.” He said as he reached into a pocket and a moment later pulled it out. In his large calloused hand was five swirling blue gems He placed them on the counter. She picked one up, and pulled a small box out of sliding drawer.
Opening the box, she pulled out jeweler's loupe and held it up to her eye. “Mmm, very nice….” She set the gem down. “Though not nearly as nice as what I was previously looking at…” Sarai set the gem down and reached across the table taking his hand in hers. “I have an eye for the pleasing…” She stood suddenly, and walked around the desk. A long and well manicured finger traced along the man’s massive trap and along the clavicle. He sat there, quiet. “Payment is due...” She turned and picked up a slate. Her fingers tapping the holographic display. “The agreed upon 5 million credits….”
Stryker would only see, at most, 15%.
“If you want a bonus,” She said, “Come by for dinner.” She pulled out a card and placed it face down on the table.
“Thanks,” He said, taking the card and pocketing it before he stood. “But I have other matters to attend to…”
“Give me a call if you change your mind.” Sarai cooed as she opened the office door for Stryker.
* * * * * *
There was a soft electronic ding and It grabbed Stryker’s attention. “Tokay Beachfront” came the voice from the speakers in the tram and Stryker looked up at the holographic display. It indicated where the tram was along it’s track and it was close to the indicated destination. As the tram slowly came to a stop he gathered his bag and slipped out as the doors slid open onto the platform and blinked his eyes. Two suns...and the silhouette of the rings around the planet extending high into the sky. The smell of salt and the warm suns on his skin. Stryker was happy. For the first time in a long time. He walked along the busy promenade taking in the sights and sounds. He turned into the sandy beach and trundled his way to an open stretch. The beefy man pulled off his shirt and applied sunscreen before spreading out a towel and laying on it. He could hear children, being children and the sound of the waves lapping on the sands adding to his sense of well being.
Stryker wondered if he should take Sarai on her offer for dinner. He knew it wouldn’t end there. She acted, and thus he suspected, that she would expect more from him. Evy had been gone for a short time, but the idea of moving on so quickly, made him feel like he was defiling her memory. No. He didn’t want to go there. Then his memory shifted to Hacksaw. In his mind's eye, he saw his ship, go up in a bright fiery explosion. In -that- flash he hated himself. What was he doing? Was that no better than the Imperial Enforcers that indiscriminately opened fire in that night club? No,
he tried to reason at least I gave him an opportunity…….
But then the stark reality hit him again. The truth,that he was trying to ignore, No, I didn’t. He had no chance to disarm that bomb. And in the time it took for him to disarm it, he would waste valuable oxygen….
Hacksaw was dead, and Stryker knew it.
The warm golden sand turned to cold grey granite. The sound of the laughing children echoed in his mind. What if he did have a family?
....Stryker got up. He hated himself for what he had done. The value of a man’s life was what, 750 thousand credits?…
The large man didn’t recall how he had gotten there, but found himself back on the tram. An attendant in a black and blue uniform spoke at him. “You must wear a shirt…” He said. Stryker gave him the middle finger. The attendant decided it was in his best interest to not press the matter….
Stryker made his way up to the landing pad his ship was docked at and tilted his head to look up at it. It was an ugly ship. It had an ugly name. And it was fitting for an ugly man. He walked up the boarding ramp to the interior. He didn’t linger long changing his clothes. He had to get out of here. Get out of his head. He didn’t have much of an issue leaving the star-port. Stryker made his destination back to the Pegasi region. Clair Dock. He reasoned that he could keep himself busy with modifications and repairs to some of the ships in the Black Omega fleet.
* * * * * *
It was only some 14 jumps, but Stryker didn’t linger. Star after star flew by. Only once did he drop the ship into a star’s corona to scoop hydrogen. He made his last jump.
No sooner than he completed it, the Swamp Donkey
gave a violent lurch. The man was thrown forward, then left, then right as the metal groaned and sighed. He was being interdicted. Whatever caught him was big. And the pilot was no pushover. He swore as he tried to make his escape.
Twisting, yawing, pitching, made no difference; the Swamp Donkey
couldn’t shake the assailant. There was another violent lurch, and Stryker found himself spinning in normal space and almost immediately there was a loud pop as a python appeared out of nowhere, almost on top of him.
“Fuck!” Stryker swore. He was going to try and run. He turned the ship and punched it.
Without so much of a word, the other ship opened fired. He watched his shields drain rather quickly and deftly rerouted power, but it wasn’t enough. “Shields offline...” There was an explosion. A missile had made contact. He was rocked forward and his neck whipped. Sparks flew around him as equipment dropped from the roof, floating in space. There was another explosion and the ship was thrown forward.
“Module malfunction…” Came the cool voice of the A.I. The thrusters were offline, and the canopy cracked. He watched in horror as his ship listed chaotically about, bringing the python into his field of vision. There was a brilliant flash, the sound of breaking glass, followed by the sound of rushing air, and then nothing. Nothing but the empty expanse of black.
Special Thanks to Jubei Himura
and Jemine Ceasar
for their edits and suggestions.
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