Here’s another short story for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge, a one-thousand-five-hundred word piece this time. I wrote four thousand words and cutting it down was brutal…
As always this is a Sci-Fi piece, so think zero gravity, asteroids, and spaceships. Please note, the POV character is intentionally an ass / Errol Flynn type, as he’s a bad-guy in my main story world. I still think he has some likeable traits deep down…
I rolled a six and a thirteen, so my title is: LUPINE CHASM
What am I doing?
I turned the wheel of the captured pirate schooner, bringing us out of the asteroid flow. The collar of my civilian garb didn’t chafe enough. I missed my navy whites.
“Captain, the asteroid that those prisoners described has been sighted to starboard.”
I glared at the sailor, at-ease without her uniform.
She caught my expression. “Sorry, commodore. Only, you said to address you as captain for this mission, and-”
The kid’s expression told me I’d been harsh on them of late. I forced myself to, if not smile, then at least lessen my scowl. “Carry on. You’re right to keep-up the charade. Now, hand me that eyeglass.”
I took and activated it, getting a hologram of our target asteroid. Rangefinder said we were ten-thousand kilometres away. I checked our bearings.
Inside I was still thinking, what am I doing? This mission was like something I’d have done thirty years ago… But how could I resist? Jolly-Roger, the most hunted pirate in the solar system, was lurking in my backyard. Damn fool had been hacked, and we’d trailed his leaky IP-address back to a block of sky only a million-kilometres across.
The solar-sails hung around the ship, glittering. “Bring her in.”
Ten voices answered. “Aye, captain.”
I handed the kid’s eyeglass back. “What did the prisoners call this place again?”
“Lupine Chasm, captain.”
Not long after, we sailed into the place. A score of pirate vessels were docked around a hulk. None of them were Roger’s, but with luck there’d be talk of him.
The hulk was a ship-of-the-line, long since stripped of sails and rigging, only the masts remained, swept back like wolf ears. Its drop-nose hull gaped, an entranceway, and triangles of steel had been welded like teeth. The bridge windows were painted-over except in two places, and red-lights illuminated the rabble within. A neon sign read “WOLF’S DEN.”
I shook my head. “What am I doing?”
The kid overheard. “Sorry, captain?”
“Drop anchor and pick a friend, you’re guarding the ship. Everyone else, arm-up, and ready to disembark!”
She looked mad, but chances were I was saving her life, her and whoever she chose. She picked the press-ganged green recruit. I gave them one parting order. “Keep a cannon aimed at that wolf’s-head.”
Ten minutes later we walked up the ramp, through the teeth, and into the dark.
There was a vacuum-dip instead of an airlock, the spacefaring equivalent of a beaded fly-curtain. Just a body of fluid trapped in a magnetic field. We’d have to walk through it one-at-a-time. I led them through, and into chaos.
A band played a jaunty tune, fiddle-and-drum. A warlike woman was splashing Jack-Daniels from a bottle, catching most in her mouth, to the amusement of her companions, a table of armoured folk. The men were bearded, and round-shields leaning against their benches.
I shouldered to the bar, removing my helmet, and produced a gold coin. Digital currency was no good, hacking too prevalent, as our quarry, Roger, had discovered…
“Drinks for my crew, rum to start and ale to be going on with.”
The barmaid looked me up-and-down, and stood on tip-toes to count the others. She tapped a numpad, and ten shot-glasses slid onto the counter, upside-down, filling from below with dark liquor. She also whipped-out nine squeeze-packs of ale.
I put my finger on the last shot-glass in the row. “You miscounted.”
“This one’s for me,” she said, fishing a coin from her tip-jar.
That amused me, and I nearly forgot how she’d assessed my appearance, counting my concealed-carries, reading the rank off my face like wrinkle-insignia.
“Cheers,” I said.
She drank. She had dark skin, and hair like a bundle of snakes.
I waved for the crew to take theirs, and they drifted off. They were navy, they knew how to behave in these places… and how to brawl if necessary.
I observed my drinking neighbours. One drunk, one a mountain of grey body-hair, puffing at a whittled pipe. I paid them no mind, and returned to the barmaid.
“Like working here?”
“It’s a hole. I’m just part-time.”
She polished her name-badge: KIONI. “What can we help you with? Flesh, food, fuel?”
“Maybe later. You said you’re a part timer, who’s running this place?”
“You don’t want to talk to them.” Her eyes flashed over to the norsemen I’d spied on the way in.
“Let’s pretend I didn’t see you looking over there just now. What’s with the vikings? And this place… Wolf’s Den?”
“Should I stay off the moors?”
“Yes, which is why it’d be better for me to broker negotiations.”
I nodded. “We’re looking for crewmates. You know of anyone?”
“I think so, yeah. Let me see.”
She came out from the bar and disappeared into the crowd, but then I spotted her slipping through the vacuum dip. Where was she going…?
I messaged the ship: track the woman leaving. We’re coming out. Then I stood to follow her. A hand like a bear’s paw grabbed my shoulder.
“You know-” said the hair-mountain. “You smell funny…” He loomed, lips drawing back from massive canines as he bit his pipe. “Like a jack-tar, only more tobacco and brandy. You a Navy officer by any chance?”
I yelled. “To arms!”
My crew’s answering shouts echoed over the band, and hair-mountain punched me flying.
Where the norsemen had been, now stood monsters on-all-fours, features the same but their bearing different. Oh, and I’d just landed in the middle of them, sending shields rolling. They encircled me, and hair-mountain bounded over.
Not good. My crew were positioned to defend the exit, but they couldn’t shoot with me here. I couldn’t stand after that king-hit, but I had to do something…
I snatched up one of the shields I lay on, and powered it.
Small arms, fire-at-will!
Muskets crackled, and wolfmen dived for cover. Most weren’t hurt, but the valkyrie who’d been catching J.D. earlier slumped, dead. The others advanced toward my crew, and if I didn’t do something they’d be overrun. Hair-mountain growled orders, his back to me, waving his sword.
I grabbed the bottle of Jack, hurled it at him and shot it with my pistol. He blossomed into a shagpile of flame, and stampeded the crowd, sparking a panic. I put my helmet on.
There were about a hundred people in the Wolf’s Den, and now they all wanted to escape. The crush blocked the wolfmen from reaching my crew, who dug in behind upturned tables. The first few escapees dashed through the vacuum-dip and it held, but then two tried to shoulder past together… there was a sudden whoosh of air towards the broken seal, and the inner-door began to descend, sirens wailing. A couple more people scrambled under, before it closed with a clunk, and the air stabilised.
My communicator pinged. Captain, the woman you described, she’s coming toward our ship.
Of course, she wanted to sabotage us. Hold her off, but don’t kill her.
I ran to help my crew, who were now locked in a table-smashing brawl. Knives were out, and pistols flashed like roman candles. Before I could get over there, hair-mountain grabbed me, still ablaze.
I kicked, boots losing grip as we wrestled. He snarled, and if not for my helmet he’d have bitten my face. I smacked into the bench, and felt him gouging my suit… The polymers would only last seconds, then he’d be in my entrails.
Fire the cannon!
Nothing happened, and my suit started to give…
Then a pistol blast hit hair-mountain, and he howled. I assumed this was all the help I’d be getting, and shoved upward. He hit the roof, but jumped at me again. This time I was ready, and he drove himself onto my sword, to the hilt.
Then the fight was over.
I couldn’t contact the ship, so when we arrived back I expected the worst. Walking onto the bridge I saw the kid, facedown in blood.
Kioni was there too, pistol pressed against the green-recruit’s side so I could see it.
“Hi,” she said. “Can we talk?”
“Why’d you shoot her?”
“She made me do it. Too brave, like she was trying to impress someone.”
I breathed out. There was another hostage, maybe I could save them, even get a result out of this, and give the kid’s death meaning. “So talk.”
“You’re looking for Roger, everyone is. I know where he is.”
“I was his first mate. I saw where the hack, the virus, was leading him. I can’t follow, not even with a ship of my own. But you’re navy, you can take me where we need to go.”
“What and share the bounty?”
“There’s no conflict of interest, I don’t want him.”
“No. I only want my ship back. Do we have a deal?”
With the devil, I thought.
I extended my hand…
That’s it for me this week. All feedback most appreciated, and as before I’ll post up a long version of this to my short stories page once it’s edited.