The Pirates of Clew, страница 1
The Pirates of Clew
By Taylor L. Smith
Copyright © 2015 Taylor L. Smith
For my treasures, Melissa and Tyler.
Special thanks to Denise and Matthew.
And, of course, to Debra.
Cover art inspired by Blue Lightning TV
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
From the author:
Dorian Cade… he signed at the bottom of the tablet, and then placed his thumb on top of the signature to make it official. The pad chirped in success. “There,” he said with a proud nod and handed the small screen back to Captain Kova.
The pirate swiped the tablet away from him with a laugh and a shake of his bald head. “Ya are as dumb as they say, aren’t ya boy...” he drawled out with a sneer.
Cade flinched in confusion. It obviously wasn’t a question. “Captain?” He took a tentative step back as he looked around and noticed the others in the small mess hall, the crew of the Pirate Vessel Grim Shoals all wore sinister smirks that made his spine shudder. “I signed it… I’m… I’m part of the crew now,” he managed to stammer out. This must be some sort of joke, he thought.
A hideous laughter erupted, echoing against the metal walls and into the corridors of the ship. Cade felt a bead of sweat inch its way down his brow as he searched the crowd for allies, any kind face. He’d worked with these men and women for ten years, and most of them had had a hand in raising him. He knew each and every one of them to some degree and most he considered his friends. But he found no friends in the tiny galley today.
Through the fear he somehow scrounged a small semblance of courage, took a step forward and locked eyes with the Captain. “I work this lousy tub for ten years, and the moment I’m free you cheat me?” The laughter stopped so suddenly that he regretted his moment of daring.
Cade had never heard the ship so quiet. Even on the quietest nights the Grim Shoals carried sounds of work or conversation throughout its hallways. Now, however, it was dead quiet which resonated through him to amplify his dread.
True anger radiated from the pirate captain’s face, then suddenly dissipated into a smile that seemed to scream murder. With his eyes locked on the young man in front of him, Captain Kova stalked slowly forward, his muscled arms rippling and tensing over and over like they were wound to burst. “I’ll teach ya swindling, boy!”
Before he knew it, Cade was spun around as a black cloth bag was thrown over his head and pulled tightly at the neck. He struggled blindly against more than one set of hands as they drove him forward in the midst of the loudest taunts and mocking laughter he’d ever heard. In the back of his mind he wondered what had changed, why was this happening? He’d never heard of a dent being killed just as his contract was up. Maybe his parents had done something wrong again? Maybe there was something he missed in the contract he had just signed? But the roughness of the man-handling and the fear of what was to come overrode any further logical thought.
“Open the airlock!” came the Captains voice through the clamor and chaos.
At those dreadful words, adrenaline shot through his system, and his fight against his restrainers became wild. He flailed madly about as he tried to free himself, scrabbled blindly for a handhold and threw untargeted fists about, but it was no use. No matter how hard he struggled, the iron grips only tightened.
The grips constricted painfully at some point, and he was heaved backward. Then he was suddenly free, flying forward to meet the cold, hard floor of the airlock. Cade jumped up and dashed, still sightless by the bag over his head, back the way he thought he’d come, only to slam into the door just as it hissed closed. Claxons he’d heard every time he disembarked the ship roared all around him. He could still hear the muffled taunts and laughter coming from the other side as he banged the door with his fists and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Ten seconds until airlock decompression,” the familiar, indifferent voice of the ships computer reported over the alarms.
His throat was so sore and the noise so loud he wasn’t even sure if he was still shouting. His panic surged as he clawed at the bag over his head so he could see. If he could only see, maybe he could get to the panel. Maybe it was a test, and he was supposed to get the hood off and save himself.
He couldn’t get the bag loose. His heart pounded in his chest.
The air seemed to explode around him. His muscles tensed painfully in fear. He closed his eyes and grit his teeth so hard he thought they would shatter. He tasted… fire extinguisher powder?
The claxons died and laughter erupted from all around him. The door hissed open and the bag over his head loosened to reveal the bridge of the Grim Shoals and the rest of the crew. The laughter remained, but their faces were no longer filled with scorn but cheer. He couldn’t move, still in shock and shaking furiously. His body fought to process the rush of adrenaline, and he didn’t quite comprehend the fact that he was still alive.
“Mr. Cade! I have to say I’m impressed, boy,” came the voice of Captain Kova, his heavy hand slamming down on Cade’s shoulder. A wide smile had replaced that terrifying scowl he’d worn in the galley just moments ago. “Ya didn’t piss yer pants!”
“I told ya! I’d been drinkin that day!” came a quick retort from someone in the crowd, which drew even more laughter from the gathered crew.
The Captain threw his head back and laughed with them. “Aye, Cade. You’re part of the Grim Shoals now. It was a long time comin’ but ya earned this.” He thrust a black long coat to Cade that held the Clew standard on the left breast: a silver Jolly Roger. The ship’s name ‘Grim Shoals’ stood out just beneath the skull and crossed swords. Kova leaned close to Cade’s ear and said, “and best you be rememberin’ that, the next time you decide to call my ship a lousy tub!”
Cade was still stunned, slowly grasping he’d just been hazed. He looked about and took in the scene. He was on the small frigate’s bridge, the view screens that lined the forward half displaying images of the stars outside the ship. No dent was ever allowed into the forward sections of the ship, and surely never the bridge. The other indentured workers must have been locked in the bunk for this because, as he looked around, it seemed the entire crew of twenty five was in attendance, with no one left for guard duty.
A hand shook his shoulder, urging him to focus. “Come on Cade, say somethin’!” came the crotchety voice of Victor Keely, XO of the Grim Shoals. “At least let us know we didn’t break that brainpan of yours!”
Cade now held a bottle of ale and didn’t know how he had gotten it, but his head was beginning to clear. He still couldn’t see the humor in it all though. A lull between the laughter, congratulatory jeering and random bursts of air from those who still held fire extinguishers became apparent, and he realized the crew waited for him to say something.
He donned his new long coat. It wasn’t as heavy as he thought and it breathed well, even lined with as many inside pockets as it had. He uncorked the bottle, took
The laughter and celebration recommenced with gusto.
Cade proudly adjusted his new coat as he made his way toward the rear of the ship. It flowed around his calves as he walked, something he would have to get used to. He felt the raised silver skull on his coat with his fingers, still contemplating the change in his status aboard the pirate ship. It was a big change, moving from indentured deckhand to official crewman, and he knew he would have a lot of adjusting ahead of him.
The party in the forward sections was unlike anything he’d ever witnessed in the ten years of his service aboard the Grim Shoals. In fact, he’d never even been beyond the forward bulkhead in all that time. No dent had. Today was different, though. Today he was no longer aboard in servitude. He had become a helmsman of a starship of Clew. Cade was a pirate.
He wasn’t sure if he was comfortable with that label. The pirates of Clew were celebrated back home and not only for bringing in goods that served the populace of the space station, but for their courage and the danger they faced. He knew he didn’t have the chops or the courage to do some things they were asked to do, but it was only for a year; only until he could work off Asaya’s contract and free her, too.
He had boarded the pirate ship when he was nine, after his parents had been caught selling a multitude of items on the black market. Clew Station had a very strict policy against black marketing, which was understandable as it was hard enough to keep the delicate market balanced and fair. When hard times hit, and his parents found themselves in danger of losing the business they’d worked so hard to build, they desperately turned to selling on the black market and had been caught.
Cade loved his parents, and didn’t blame them for the twists and turns of their lives. They were good people who’d just made a mistake. Punishments on Clew were usually hard though, no matter the crime. There were a lot of jobs that no one wanted to take, and the council had always used sentencing to fill empty roles.
The sentence was thirty years hard labor aboard a Clew Vessel. Since Cade was almost ten and able to help a little in the business, his father had hoped to take the entire sentence himself aboard a freighter or mining ship. That hope was shattered, when he drew the P.V. Grim Shoals. The family opted to split the term between the three of them, and all boarded the ship to serve an indenture contract of ten years each.
They’d given Cade a choice. His parents knew it would be hard and dangerous onboard, but even at his age he refused to be separated from them. The alternative was the Clew children’s shelter which he wanted no part of and was adamant that he help his family through the contract.
Today marked the end of that contract.
After he signed the contract, and after the dreadful hazing, of course, the crew had been congratulatory, friendly and oddly enough, more human than he’d ever known them to be. He knew that was mostly in part of his growing up on the ship as a dent. Most of those ruffians had helped raise him, or at least looked out for him as he grew up aboard, even if they kept him at a slight distance due to his status. He and the others thought the indenture program more akin to slavery or prison, but no one liked to use those terms; being a dent wasn’t a proud title, either, but it was better than slave or prisoner. There were true slavers out there, though. His best friend had been rescued from the foul industry. Clew had no part in that vile business.
The door to the bunk opened as he approached, and he entered as quietly as he could, hoping not to trip on anything in the darkness. He soundlessly made his way past the first few rows of bunk beds and lockers where the dents slept, and crouched next to Asaya’s bed. “Hey. Get up.”
Asaya stirred fitfully, then rolled over to face him. Her dark green eyes seemed to shine slightly in the gloom as they fluttered open. “Wha-“
“Shhh,” he whispered, cutting her off and stifling a laugh. “Come on, let’s go,” he prodded.
He waited while she shook the sleep off and pulled her coveralls on. She shot annoyed glances at him between donning her boots that he hoped would dissipate as soon as they were out of the room and could talk. When she was ready, he led her out of the bunk as quietly as possible.
“What’s going on?” Asaya whispered when they were out in the corridor, as she fruitlessly tried to smooth her ruffled blonde hair. “Oh. You look good in that,” she said and motioned sleepily to his new apparel.
“Does it make me look like a real pirate?” he asked jokingly, and then pointed down the hall. “Come on.” As they walked toward the engineering sections of the ship, he slipped an unopened bottle of ale from his coat and wagged it in front of his best friend. “Deep pockets, too,” he said with a grin.
Asaya’s eyes brightened at the sight of the ale, but then she looked to him in thought. “When was the last time we snuck out?”
He shrugged. It had been a long time; several months perhaps. “It’s been a while, but today’s a celebration. It was fun up front, but it’s not right unless I get to share it with you. Sorry for waking you up so late.”
Asaya smiled as she walked beside him and said, “Not quite like old times though, Cade. Isn’t there some rule about fraternization between crew and dents?”
She was right. They were no longer dents working side by side. There were heavy penalties for relations on any Clew ship, whether it was between crew members or crew and dents. Lines had been crossed early in the program, and it became clear there needed to be some protection for the dents from their overlords.
Cade wasn’t worried, though. They’d never technically passed the friendship barrier, even though they both wanted to. Their plans for the future however, went way past friendship, and the crew knew that. “Please,” he guffawed. “Everyone knows why I signed on. The contract even states it.”
They reached a small section in the aft of the ship and sat down with their backs against the reactor room wall. The low grumbling of the core behind them had always soothed any aches or stresses they had. They’d snuck out many times over the years to sit and talk here, but only when the ship was anchored, the reactor in low power mode and the area desolate. It was their place.
“So are they going to let you fly the ship tomorrow?” she asked.
He shook his head and opened his loot from the party. He eyed it for a moment in hopes it was a good one and took a sip. It was definitely not one of the few duds he’s tasted. “Not until I get my implant.” He was excited and scared about getting an implant. They were common on Clew and in the non-aligned systems, but he’d missed the age of option concerning the small machines. Normally, if it’s wanted, and if you could afford it, it was installed at the age of fourteen. The implants could assist with a multitude of tasks including communications, mathematics and even data storage.
As a dent, he wasn’t allowed one, but now that he was about to begin his stint on board as a helmsman, the implant was needed to help calculate courses quickly, not to mention the grappling system.
“I’m not sure if I’d want an implant,” Asaya said as if weighing the positives and negatives right there. She shrugged and quickly changed the subject. “Your parents are upset, Dorian,” she said as she accepted the freshly opened ale. “You know they wanted you to come back to Clew with them to help re-open the restaurant.”
Cade leaned his head back with a sigh. For some reason, Asaya was the only person outside his family who called him by his first name. He liked it. It made him feel that this was a special thing only for her. “I know,” he whispered in answer. It wasn’t a tough decision to stay on after his sentence ended, but he knew it would be hard on his parents. They would be taken back to Clew and were now considered passengers aboard instead of deck crew. “But in a year, we will go back together,” he said as he accepted the ale back and took a draft from it. His demeanor lightened at another thought. “Then you finally get to see Clew Station.”
Asaya wasn’t born on Clew as Cade
After a tense firefight, their ship had lost five crew and recovered only the meager provisions the trader’s crew was stocked with… plus one scared thirteen year old girl bound for the slave pens of Deshi. Asaya had been rescued, and now worked for her Clew citizenship instead of going back home to the guardians that had sold her to the slavers. Only being a year apart, she and Cade had hit it off right at the start. They became inseparable, so it wasn’t a great surprise to the crew when he opted to work the rest of her contract off after he completed his own.
Asaya shook her head saying “I still can’t believe you did that. You’re finally free and you sign back up for me.” She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. “You shouldn’t have done it. It’s going to be dangerous, and it would only be another six years and my term would be up. I’d finally have a home and be headed back to you.”
Cade turned to look at her with an incredulous expression. “You think I can wait six years? Please,” he laughed. “In six years I’d be married to a hot waitress and have ten kids that look- Ow!” he exclaimed at the shoulder punch Asaya had awarded him with. “Kidding, kidding,” he said rubbing his shoulder. “We promised we’d stick together, remember? But me working your contact off in a year is better than waiting six. For both of us.”
“Jerk,” she said with a wry grin and took a sip. “Maybe easier,” she replied as she looked down. “As long as we don’t get sent to the front again, or run into the Alliance.”
An unwanted darkness crept into Cade’s mind and threatened his good mood. “The Grim Shoals isn’t expected back there for another three years,” he said with weak conviction. He knew the war with the Deshi Pirate faction was easing but ongoing, and it was certainly possible they would be called to offensive duty before their expected timeframe if the Deshi stepped up operations again. And then there were the Alliance patrol ships, who constantly hunted pirates in the systems on the fringe of their territory. Yes, it would be dangerous, but no more dangerous than the years they’d already spent together.