All rights reserved by the author
“Wake up, Navy. You’re going to meet the Cap’n. I said, wake up!” Ezekiel came to with a start when a heavy boot smacked him in the ribs.
“Whaa…?” he slurred.
“Get up, Navy-boy. You’re going to go see the Cap’n.” Ezekiel struggled to comprehend what the man was telling him and so did not move. The burly man hauled him to his feet muttering scathing invective under his breath. Ezekiel swayed from side to side as he tried to remain upright.
“You alright?” the man asked. Ezekiel just stared at him dumbly, wondering what was going on. The man stomped out of the cell for a second and then returned carrying a syringe in his hand.
“This is gonna wake you up, Navy-boy, just you wait.” he said as he injected the contents into Ezekiel’s arm. A second later, Ezekiel screamed and jerked his arm from the man’s grasp. He clawed at the offending arm with his other hand, trying to rid himself of the liquid fire that now ran in his veins. The man looked on with a smug expression on his face.
“I was right.” he said simply. Ezekiel glowered at him silently, still rubbing his arm as the feeling subsided.
“All right, pirate scum, I’m awake now. What was it you wanted?”
“The Cap’n wants to see you, Navy-boy. Start walking.” A dart gun appeared in the pirate’s hand and he gestured down the hall. As Ezekiel passed him, he smacked Ezekiel across the face with his pistol, felling him.
“Never insult your betters, Navy-boy.” he said. “Now get up, keep your hands on your head, and move!” Ezekiel got up off the deck and started walking down the corridor, his captor following a pace behind.
“How could it have come to this?” Ezekiel asked himself as he licked his newly split lip and walked down the corridor. One day he was a naval officer and proud, and the next he was a prisoner; doomed to be a slave in the mines of the Asteroid Belt, or worse.
“Take a left here.” his captor called. Ezekiel took the left and began walking down an identical corridor to the last. As he walked, his mind drifted back, just one day, back to when he had been free and things had been good. It had all started when…
…he was roused from his sleep by the chime of the intercom system. Drowsily, he reached over and hit the switch.
“Crane here.” he said.
“The Captain’s compliments, Lieutenant Crane. He requests your presence in Auditorium 1 at your earliest convenience.” an orderly said.
“Thank the Captain and tell him that I will be there promptly.”
“Crane out.” Ezekiel fairly bounded from the intercom and into the shower. The Captain was not a man to give orders all the time, but it was understood that “at your earliest convenience” meant “right damn now.” Rushing out of his brief shower, Ezekiel put on his uniform and left the cabin at a brisk clip.
The Illustrious was a massive vessel and pride of the Force Group. Fully 500 meters from stem to stern, its gigantic solar sails were 60 square kilometers. Third in her class, Illustrious was one of the largest vessels in the entire Solar System and Ezekiel wondered who deserved her attentions in their new mission.
“I almost pity them, whoever they are.” he thought as he left the rotating hab modules behind him and approached the vessel’s forward section. He passed a sign that said CAUTION: ZERO GRAVITY AHEAD, and was suddenly weightless. He grabbed a transit handle and was swiftly pulled away and up to the command module high in the ship’s nose.
He passed a second sign that said CAUTION: ENTERING GRAVITY and was just as suddenly walking on the deck once more. As he hurried into the auditorium and looked for a seat, he saw that his fellow officers had been waiting for his arrival.
“Ah, Lieutenant Crane, you have arrived. Thank-you for being so prompt. After all, it is your sleep cycle.” the Captain said from his position at the podium.
“You are welcome, sir.” Ezekiel replied. “Thank-you for waiting.”
“It was nothing. I couldn’t begin the briefing with an officer missing, now could I?” The pleasantries were over, and Ezekiel took his seat as the Captain dimmed the lights and addressed his audience.
“As you all well know, since the founding of the first colony in 2085, the Earth-Mars trade has been extremely valuable and lucrative for all those involved. Many would go so far to say that without the asteroid minerals, Earth’s factories would grind to a halt. Also, without food from Earth, Mars would starve.” Ezekiel nodded his head with his fellows. This was basic economic theory.
“Another fact that you all know is that the first act of interplanetary piracy on the Earth-Mars route occurred in 2112, with the looting of the Verdant. The perpetrators were never caught.” Again, this was history that every child learned from the cradle.
“Where is the Captain going with this?” he wondered.
“In the 121 years since that incident, the plague of interplanetary piracy has expanded to cover all the space-ways from the Earth-Mercury to the Mars-Belt. It seems that the only routes they are not interested in robbing are those for Venus.” This won the Captain a few laughs, for who would want to rob a garbage freighter? Uninhabitable Venus had become the pan-solar dumping ground.
“Indeed, piracy has become so prevalent that last year 21.4% of all trade in the Solar Union was stolen by pirates. That is uncounted trillions of dollars lost.” Ezekiel and his fellows were shocked, for piracy was common, but no one knew that common.
“It is because of this shocking new data that the Solar Parliament has resolved to take direct action against the ravages of interplanetary piracy. As such, the Illustrious has been tasked to leave the Force Group and begin searching for pirate bases in this region of the Asteroid Belt.” The lights came up and the Captain stared out at his assembled officers.
“Prepare the ship for N.A.N and ready the missile systems. Undoubtedly the pirates have intercepted the message, so we must be prepared for battle very soon.” The Captain stopped speaking and silence descended for a moment. Then everyone began speaking at once.
“Pirates? Why pirates?”
“More importantly, why now?”
“N.A.N? Is he insane?”
“Ready the missile systems?” After a few seconds of this, the Captain spoke again.
“This was not an invitation for discussion, gentlemen. These are your orders. Now, do your duty!” With that, the officers came back to their senses. They rushed from the room, Ezekiel included. Outside the auditorium, some officers headed through the transit to the stern to their chemical engines, others went up to the sail bay, and yet others went down to the armory to ready their missiles. Ezekiel went forward, to the very tip of the prow. His assignment was in the command chamber. He was Illustrious’s main pilot. As he walked he contemplated the most disturbing thought he had ever encountered.
“How am I supposed to perform Near Asteroid Navigation while in combat?” He shuddered momentarily, for nothing is more dangerous to a vessel with solar sails than N.A.N. Solar sails were incredibly large, so large that it was virtually impossible to avoid an oncoming asteroid if it was sighted too late. The asteroids would rip the sail and often destroy the vessel in the process. N.A.N required the utmost concentration and a fair amount of luck. Maintaining the required course while rocking from missile launches or reeling from missile impacts was unthinkable. But that was what the Captain asked for, and Ezekiel was going to do it.
He arrived at the command center and settled into his jumpseat, never so much as glancing at the huge forward viewport. Ahead of the Illustrious was a beautiful panorama of the Asteroid Belt, the collected space dust reflecting the Sun’s light into a rainbow of colors. However, for navigational purposes, the viewport was all but useless on a vessel of such magnitude. Illustrious’s booms stretched 15 kilometers in all four directions in order to sustain such large amounts of reflective solar sail. As such, it was toward his computer monitors that Ezekiel directed his attention.
“Report.” he ordered the officer he was replacing.
“Nothing out of the ordinary, sir.” the woman said. “A dust cloud entered the light path 2 hours ago, and I made the necessary sail corrections to maintain course and speed.”
“Excellent, Ensign. You stand relieved.”
“I stand relieved, sir.” With that, the back-up pilot left the command center and Ezekiel was alone at his station, and in sole control of the Illustrious’s destiny. The captain may be a ship’s commander, but the pilot was its master. The captain said ‘go there,’ but it was the pilot that decided how. He was soon lost in the light schematics and radar readings on his screen.
“Captain on deck!” the security guard barked.
“As you were.” the Captain said as he settled at his own tower of readouts. He flicked a switch and then his voice echoed throughout the great vessel. “This is the Captain. I’m sure that by now you all have your orders and know your duties. But, I will say again that everyone must be alert and prepared for any eventuality, including combat. We all know that no vessel that has gone hunting pirates has ever survived. However, I know that no other vessel had the crew that I have. Prove me right, like you always have, and we will all be able to return home with fantastic tales to tell our loved ones. Captain out.” He flicked the switch again and in a quiet voice said, “Here we go. Lt. Crane, take us into the Asteroid Belt.”
Ezekiel manipulated his controls and fired the chemical maneuvering rockets. The Illustrious slowly began to turn into that beautiful and deadly mass.
“Captain, the dust clouds are scattering the sunlight.” he said. “The best we can achieve is a slow crawl.”
“As expected, Lieutenant. Begin the search pattern.”
“Aye, sir.” Contrary to popular belief, the Asteroid Belt is not a unified ring of asteroids surrounding the Inner System. Whole sections of it are composed only of space dust. Nonetheless, Ezekiel’s brow was covered with sweat as he gazed at his screens, for even a single asteroid could mean the death of Illustrious and all aboard.
“Sir? Lt. Crane?” Ezekiel looked up from the screens to see the same pilot he had relieved earlier looking at him.
“Yes, Ensign? What is it?” She gave him a concerned look and continued.
“Sir, it’s been 5 hours since we entered the Belt. You need a break from the stress of N.A.N.”
“5 hours?” he asked. She pointed at the chronometer.
“All right. Due to the dust, the sails are gathering minimal sunlight. You need to compensate for the drag with the chemical rockets. Also, I think the dust cycles every hour and a half so, if you stay alert, you can catch some extra sun then. Visibility is virtually nil on radar after 20 kilometers.”
“Aye, sir. You stand…” Before she could continue the ritual, a klaxon went off on the radar console.
“Captain, the radar indicates that a vessel is approaching.” the radar officer reported.
“We are the only naval vessel in this sector.” the Captain replied. “Also, merchants rarely enter the Belt. It must be a pirate. Clear the ship for combat.”
“You can’t be serious! Space combat in N.A.N.” Ezekiel thought to himself. He exchanged a look with his fellow pilot and they both settled into their jumpseats. He looked down at his screens and couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Captain, that vessel is approaching much more rapidly than normal. Something isn’t right, sir.” he said.
“Contact them.” The captain ordered. “We must make sure that they are enemies.”
“No response.” was the radio officer’s answer.
“Fire a warning volley across their bow.”
“Firing…” said the weapons officer. Illustrious rocked slightly as one of her rockets streaked away towards the contact.
“They’re still coming, sir! Their speed is continuing to increase!” the radar officer said.
“Crane, hard about. Get us some maneuvering room!” the Captain ordered.
“Aye, sir!” Ezekiel replied as he strained to move the Illustrious amid the dust cloud.
“Oh my sweet Jesus, it’s too late…” someone murmured in the command center. The chamber was deathly silent. Ezekiel looked up at the viewport for the first time and was suddenly as silent as everyone else. From out of the swirls of dust, a strange vessel was looming. It was long and black and reminded Ezekiel of an extinct animal he had seen in a museum as a child, the ‘shark.’
“My God…they’re going to ram!!!” someone else screamed. Ezekiel fired the chemical rockets in one last final attempt to get away from the attacker. There was a tremendous explosion and screaming that he dimly recognized as his own. A growing darkness pervaded his senses and the last thing he remembered was a glowing red eye…
…that had haunted his dreams until the goon behind him had kicked him awake. He was awaked from his reverie by the voice of the aforementioned goon.
“We’re in the home stretch, Navy-boy. Go to the big doors at the end of the corridor and wait.” Ezekiel followed the pirate’s orders and waited by the doors. The pirate stopped opposite him and ran a critical eye over him. “You look all right. Be polite and answer the Cap’n quickly. I recommend that you don’t try to pull any funny shit with the Cap’n because he isn’t as understanding as me.” The pirate’s grin was twisted and cruel as he opened the doors and gestured inward with his dart pistol.
“Great… a real comedian.” Ezekiel thought. “Still, I don’t think he was lying.” He passed through the doors and entered a chamber that he instantly recognized. It was the auxiliary command chamber located deep within the bowels of the Illustrious and it was filled with pirates.
“Ah, Lieutenant Crane! Welcome!” came a liquid and melodic voice from somewhere in the chamber. He tried to find the leader with his eyes, but they were all the same; dressed in worn clothes and slightly dirty. Then, the pirate at his station turned the jumpseat and rose, spreading his arms wide. “I am Saul Logos, the humble captain of these gentlemen.” Suddenly, Ezekiel began to laugh. The pirates scowled.
“You…? You are…Saul Logos?” he gasped between fits of laughter. The captain waved off his henchmen as they fingered their dart rifles.
“Yes, I am. Is that so hard to believe?” the captain asked. A look of cold reptilian rage crossed his eyes for only a moment, but Ezekiel saw it and shivered involuntarily. His mirth was gone.
“Well…yes, it is. You see, Saul Logos is as much a legend as his ship, the Kraken; a tale told to frighten bad children for at least a century. How am I supposed to believe that you are the same man who supposedly captured the Verdant and founded interstellar piracy? The man who then led his crew on a spree that took 123 ships before they finally disappeared? Would you believe me under those circumstances?”
“You have a valid point. But I tell you still that I am indeed Saul Logos. How I am me is a long story that you will hear eventually, but first, would you like proof?”
“How?” Ezekiel asked warily.
“By showing you this.” The captain pulled a small book from a pocket and tossed it to Ezekiel. “Go ahead…open it and look inside.” he invited. “What do you see?”
“It’s….the logbook of the Verdant.” Ezekiel replied with awe. He flipped through the pages slowly. Then he snapped the book shut and looked carefully at the back cover. “It has the anti-forgery key imprint that Captain Grant was assigned…its real…” Logos reached over and pulled the book from his grasp.
“Indeed, it is genuine, I assure you.”
“That is a tale for another time. What matters at the moment, Lieutenant Ezekiel Crane, is that I want you to get all of us out of this mess that you created.”
“’Mess I created’?” Logos looked quizzically at him for a moment and then understanding dawned in his eyes.
“You were unconscious. I remember now. You fired the chemical rockets in a last ditch attempt to avoid the Kraken. What you may or may not recall is the huge explosion that followed. When you fired those rockets, you ignited a chance hydrogen pocket in the dust cloud. The resulting blast damaged both your precious Illustrious and my Kraken. We still managed to conduct a boarding operation and seize this vessel.”
“That doesn’t explain why you need me. If your ship was big enough to take the Illustrious, the damage should have been minimal.”
“Ah, you have found the crux of our predicament. The fact is that Kraken is not a quarter the size of this leviathan. As such, the damage was quite severe. We need your ship to transport us home.”
“A quarter the size…? Yet you traveled with such speed and then captured one of three of the largest ships in the entire System. How is this possible? The Kraken has to be at least 140 years old.”
“I am not used to answering questions, Lieutenant, but I will indulge you.” Logos resumed his seat and steepled his fingers. “I will answer the easiest question first. I was able to assume control of your vessel because my crew outnumbered yours. Pirate crews have always been much larger than normal for just that reason. Boarding is so much simpler when you hold the advantage. The other questions are harder to answer. So, I must ask, what do you know of laser sails?”
“Laser sails?” Logos sighed heavily at his blank look.
“I would have expected better of a naval officer, a pilot too. You children of the future are so…how can I put it? Backwards. It just proves my theory: technological advancement is virtually impossible without crime. Criminals are forced to develop new ways to enact their schemes. Then, law enforcement is forced to react with new advancements of their own to counter the criminal. It’s a never-ending and necessary cycle. We are not evil men, just misunderstood visionaries.” A chuckle ran around the room. “Laser sails are virtually the same as traditional solar sail technology except for one key difference: the source of the photons that propel the ship forward. Whereas the photons for solar sails come from the light of the sun; we create our own. The laser we carry provides the same amount and more. Thus, our ships and sails can be much smaller while traveling faster. Incidentally, we noticed how once you entered the Belt; you were virtually cut off from sunlight. As we carry our own laser, we can travel at speed in all conditions. The Kraken is indeed very old, but with refits, any vessel can become as new.” Logos leaned back and put his feet up on the console behind him. “I know that was a lot of information to take in, so just nod if you understand.” His face red with anger, Ezekiel nodded.
“Very interesting, Captain Logos, but that still doesn’t explain why you need me.”
“My dear lad, I am surprised at your inability to synthesize information. Very well, I shall tell you plainly: none of us have the skills required to navigate this behemoth. We…need…you…to…pilot…us…home.”
Ezekiel did not answer. He had known the answer long ago, but had kept Logos talking in order to learn more about the man. He appeared to be in his mid-fifties, but well kept and tall. He had the same raven locks as Ezekiel himself, but there the similarities ended. Logos had the long face of a patrician and an aquiline nose. The beauty of this face was marred only by a long red scar that centered itself behind the black patch that covered his left eye. He had the muscled body of a Mercurian miner that was covered by only a black vest, white trousers, and ancient magnetic boots. He carried an exotic looking dart pistol and a curved sword. In fact, all the pirates carried swords. Logos noticed his scrutiny and replied,
“Yes, we all carry swords. Why would we carry such an outdated weapon? Well, Sonny Jim, bullets can pierce the sides of a spaceship and then we all die from explosive decompression. Swords and dart guns can’t do that. Besides, they are quite intimidating. But enough of that. Your choices are join my crew and pilot the ship or we use torture and you pilot anyway. Needless to say, you perish after the latter.”
“Well, my choices do seem quite limited.” Ezekiel forced himself to say. “I think that I will choose the former, for I quite value the quality and duration of my life.” Escape would be much easier this way.
“That’s the spirit, my boy!” Logos broke into a wide smile and hugged Ezekiel openly. Ezekiel carefully kept his hands at his sides, for he felt the watchful eyes of the pirate chieftain’s guards. After a few seconds, Logos broke the embrace and gestured towards the pilot’s jumpseat. “If you would be so kind as to assume your position, we can be hurrying on home.” Ezekiel sank into the jumpseat and began to work the monitors. After a few minutes of rapidly shifting schematics, he frowned.
“What is it?” Logos asked.
“Well, Captain, it appears that the damage to Illustrious was more severe than it originally appeared. The shock of the blast when combined with the force of the Kraken’s ram and boarding has disabled the gyros on the sail booms.”
“Damn. Can you repair it?”
“Probably…but there are engineers much more qualified than me in the crew. Why not ask them?”
“That is an excellent question. The only problem, my boy, is that during the boarding action, we slaughtered all those we encountered. I learned long ago that being a legend was much more conductive to life than being real. The tales told by survivors would ruin our myth, and we can’t have that.” Ezekiel’s blood ran cold to hear of Logos speak of the deaths of over 500 men and women in such a calm voice. He vowed that he would not only escape his captivity, but that he would someday see the murderer of his friends dead.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” he forced himself so say and grin.
“Finally! A man who understands the subtleties of humor! We will go far, you and I!”
“Like hell we will.” Ezekiel thought.
“But, work before pleasure, Master Crane. First you must go and repair the sail gyros. Then, you shall learn the many and varied pleasures of the Black Moon.”
“Just so, Captain. With your permission, I will get started immediately.”
“Permission granted, Ezekiel.” As he turned to go, Logos added, “I will also send two your new shipmates along with you, so more of us can learn about this great vessel.”
“It would be my pleasure to instruct them.”
“Good luck. And do make it quick? I am not sure if a distress call was sent, so more Union ships may be on the way. Also, I am not sure if naval tradition has changed in the last 100 years, but last I knew, the Navy was very upset about any form of desertion.”
“As you wish.” Logos turned his back and thus Ezekiel was dismissed from the presence of one of the most disturbed person he had ever known.
“What do I do now?” Ezekiel asked himself a few hours later as he hovered in space amid the seemingly endless vastness of Illustrious’s solar sails. He had not lied to Logos, the gyros had been disabled. He had spent the last few hours working feverishly with his two new ‘friends’ silently looking on. The work was almost done and he still did not have a plan. He leaned back and gazing into the swirling dust clouds he silently shouted again, “What do I do now?”
“Get back to work.” one of the pirates ordered in a raspy voice. Reluctantly, Ezekiel straightened himself and looked down in order to resume his work. As he did so, his eyes fell upon the sleek black shape of the Kraken.
“That’s it!” he told himself. Nonchalantly he picked up a laser cutter and mimed working with it for a few seconds. Then, he said in a casual manner,
“Yeah?” one of the pirates replied warily.
“Could you come over and help me bend something? This triple titanium alloy is a tough mother.”
“Bend it yourself. Boss’s orders say that we’re to watch you, not be your slaves.”
“Is that so? Well, the Boss told me to get this fixed as soon as possible. If the Navy comes and we aren’t gone, what will he do when I tell him he lost his legend because you weren’t willing to help a guy out?” Ezekiel shrugged. “You’re the one taking the risk, buddy. Not me.” After a few seconds of anxious waiting, one of the pirates jetted over.
“What was it you wanted help with, friend?” His voice oozed false warmth, but Ezekiel didn’t care, he was within reach.
“This right here…the girder seems to be lodged behind the boom and I can’t move it for the life of me.” He bent over to illustrate his point, and the pirate followed. Quick as lightning, he thumbed the laser cutter and gashed the man’s faceplate. The pirate went floating, gagging on blood and gasping for air. Ezekiel grabbed his dart rifle and shot several rounds into the other pirate’s chest from the hip. He went silent as well.
“Stage One complete.” Ezekiel told himself. Then, he jumped off the boom and jetted his pack to maximum. Within a few minutes, he was along the side of the Kraken.
“Where’s the airlock? Where’s the airlock? They had airlocks back then, right?” he thought to himself as he frantically searched for a way in. Finally, he found one. He pulled the handle and hauled the ancient door open. He entered and closed it behind him. He fretted over the length of the repressurization cycle, though it was comparable to that of the Illustrious.
Once inside, he was about to haul off his helmet when he noticed the label on a closet next to him: ARMORY. He cut open the door and saw inside two immaculately maintained ancient pistols. Gunpowder pistols.
“Explosive decompression, Logos said?” So it was that Ezekiel slunk down the deserted corridors of the wounded Kraken, or tried to at least, since he remained in his spacesuit. Human nature is always a constant, so he found the command chamber right where he thought it would be…high in the prow. He opened the doors and surprised the only 2 pirates that stayed on the vessel. He aimed at the viewport and fired. The glass shattered and the pirates were sucked out into the emptiness of space.
Ezekiel clunked to the pilot’s station in his heavy magnetic boots and gazed down at the primitive readout. It said what he expected. Kraken’s lower prow and its sail were shattered. But, the valuable and powerful laser was not damaged. He trudged to the command station and found the laser controls. He was right; Logos was an egomaniac and would not have trusted his crew with the laser controls. He was busily working when Logos’s voice cracked over his suit’s speakers.
“Crane, you traitor, what are you doing? I told you, the Kraken is damaged, you half-wit! You won’t get far in that crate.” Gone were the dulcet tones of the master manipulator. In its place was a harsh and edgy voice that betrayed its owner’s instability with every rise and fall of pitch. Ezekiel ignored him. “No one ignores Saul Logos and lives! You will pay for that, Crane! I will savor your screams for years. Just you wait until my crew arrives!”
“Finally!” Ezekiel thought. With a brief prayer, he threw the switch on the laser. The powerful beam crackled to life throwing photons in a thick red beam.
“What are you doing, fool!? You can’t activate the laser when you have no sail!”
“That’s true. However, you do!” Ezekiel said as the Kraken began to creak. He had pointed the laser at the voluminous sail-mirrors of Illustrious.
Ezekiel thumbed up the laser’s power output. The creaking changed into violent shaking as he kept increasing the power of the laser. By now the beam was thicker than 5 men still growing.
“You’ll damage my laser, you stupid youngling!! Shut it off now and I promise I’ll forgive you.” Ezekiel wouldn’t have trusted the man just for the lack of disguise in the man’s tone, but the shriek it had become was the clincher. He slid the power selector higher. The Kraken had turned into a primitive ‘roller coaster’ like the one Ezekiel had ridden as a child, rocking back and forth on its locked clamps. With another brief prayer, he hit the max on the laser’s power.
“You’re a monster!” Logos screamed at piercing volume. Illustrious’s sails were melting under the sheer power of the laser’s beam. Finally, with a shriek that surpassed even its owner in pitch, Kraken broke free of Illustrious was sent careening backwards through the mire of the Belt. As it shrank smaller and smaller, all Ezekiel could hear was Logos’s demented voice repeating over and over,
“This is not over, Ezekiel Crane, this is not over. I will find you and make you pay!” It remained with him long after Logos had faded from actual contact and Kraken was found drifting by Union ships.
Ezekiel Crane became a lauded hero for escaping the pirates. The new laser sail technology even wiped away their displeasure over the loss of the Illustrious. Naval vessels had returned to the last reported position of Illustrious but found nothing. Logos and his crew had vanished yet again.
As he sat out a year later as captain of his own laser vessel, Ezekiel never doubted that Logos was somewhere out there, plotting his death. No one ever said life was easy. They would meet again.
© Copyright 2003 by the author
All rights reserved