Carnwennan – Chapter 2: The Surprise Package

After sixty minutes and a few billion kilometers of slipstream, the Carnwennan shimmered back into the mortal universe, deep in the void between stars. It was a two-fold stop, and one that Deter had ordered every time his merry band of pirates made off with such success. Such a short jump into nowhere allowed the Carnwennan’s main slipstream engine to recharge for the long drive back to civilization, but more importantly, the stop allowed Vexx to pull their plunder into the ship’s main hold. As most every captain, pilot and adolescent was taught; Opening your ship to the slipstream invites madness into your hold. Many have tried, and all have died.

The familiar ‘thump-thump’ of sealing bay doors told Deter that his cargo was now safely in his atmosphere, so the captain tapped his pilot on the skull, “Crates are in, you finish crunching the numbers yet?”

Anon stiffened in shock, even though he knew the question was coming. Shaking the headset from its spot, Deter was treated to the near-deafening screams and wails of some thrashy song. “Whoa! Sorry, boss…yeah, I’ve got the nav computer running the final numbers now. Want a straight shot back to Kranob?”

Deter ran a hand over his mirror-clean head, then nodded, “This far out, we better not risk the extra time. Drop us in their orbital plane and we’ll mingle with the rest of the traffic into New Peiria.”

“You got it, cap’n! Now, what’s say we go look at what we ‘liberated!’” the lankey pilot grinned ear-to-ear. 

“I’ll go wake the sleepy one, Vexx should be in the hold already if he’s coming.”

Anon nodded and bounded out of his seat, up the access stairs into the Canwennan’s main hall and disappeared. The quick moment of silence allowed Deter to check that his pilot was actually running the right numbers to get them back safely, and not right into the jaws of waiting Imperators for arrest, torture, and imprisonment.  The lesson of trust is the lesson hardest learned… Deter reflected, gliding his hand over the pilot’s seat, allowing just a moment to remember who sat there previously.

The Captain shook his head, “No time for that”, he muttered before turning on a heel and making his way to the crew deck. As expected, Wyvorn’s door was warm to the touch, and he could hear the ‘chuff’s and snorts of a sleeping saurian. As a precaution, as soon as Deter rang the room’s alarm bell, he stepped to the side and out of lunging range.

Immediately, he heard the aggravated ‘hiss’ of an irritated crewmember, but it calmed quickly as the door slid open.  “Must you summon me everytime you need a container checked?”

Deter smirked, “The one time I don’t, it’s gonna be filled with det-charges and you’ll be floating home.”

Wyvorn glared at him, then stretched out his body and tail to their longest before the pair made their way to the main cargo hold, “And what do we suppose is in this one? More ‘trinkets’?”

“Supposed to be ration crates. Not the normal ones that are half-filled with parasites and cyanide, but the good ones. Royal-grade ones. That transport was headed to that new colony, Balin Prime, and their founding leader splurged on himself.”

That made the Soromite perk his head up, “Good, it will be a pleasant change to smell something decent. You should upgrade to a finer vintage, that cheap swill you drink is vile.”

The Captain grinned. “We get a good payout, I’ll let you choose my next bottle.”

Vexx had just finished releasing the several magnetic capture arms by the time the two arrived in the Carnwennan’s belly. The stolen container stood at least ten feet tall and still had portions of bulkhead hanging from it, making it look even more like a kill. Anon came around the far side, scanner ‘buzz’ing in his hand and gave his Captain a thumbs-up. “All clear, boss. I’m not seeing any triggers or sensors on the top-level, just your standard pressure lock with a combination randomizer.”

Deter nodded. “Mild security for a mildly worthless Governor, sounds about right. Vexx, pop it.”

From a catwalk above them, the silent cyborg nodded and stepped down onto the container’s lid. For a normal man, this would have been a harrowing jump over sharp edges and splayed metal, but one of Vexx’s many unwanted modifications included long-extending limbs. After a few silent moments, the box rang out with a ‘ping’, and one of its long sides lowered open with a rush of air.

Just like Deter had been told, the crate was stacked top-to-bottom with sweet profit. Glistening packs of quality food and water, the likes of which many worlds would never see. The sight of which made Anon’s jaw drop, “Holy fuck…we’re rich!”

“Not until we get paid, flyboy. Start getting these into the lockboxes. Something this important, you know the Imperators will be hunting for it.” 

At Deter’s command, the rest of the crew started the tedious process of taking the smaller crates out and storing them in the false bulkhead between two of the Carnwennan’s volatile material holds. The Captain had paid a pretty penny to have the space hollowed out, since his jobs normally didn’t require the transport of molten rock or liquid uranium. But to most Trade Quorum scanners, the years of use these chasms endured made most readings a useless mess. Sure, Customs agents would probably board the Carnwennan at Karoub, they always did. But never do they look in the space between spaces.

What Deter had not expected was for Wyvorn to take one sniff and let out an ear-splitting screech. The saurian leapt away from the container, body lowered in a hunting stance and razor-claws ready to tear into whatever he smelled. On instinct, both Anon and Deter drew their pistols  and aimed without guidance at the container.

“What the fuck, lizard-lips?!” Anon howled, shaking the ringing from his ears.

Wyvorn shouted back something in his native tongue, only to realize he wasn’t understood and repeat, “Chemical, un-natural…stings!”

“Alright, back it up! Anon, pull one of those food crates back out make sure the goods aren’t ruined! Vexx, get down here and take a look!”

Silently, the half-metal man simply leapt down and hit the main deck with a light ´thud´, immediately setting to work scanning every inch of the container with augmented eyes. Anon cursed to himself repeatedly as he pulled the massive false panel back open and pulled out one of the crates. When his human eyes and nose didn’t find anything, the pilot pulled the hidden knife from his boot and cut down the package´s seam. Splitting the seal revealed row upon row of colorless foodstuff bricks.

“Not here, boss! Loot is clean.” Anon called out, causing Wyvorn to snarl at him, “No, you chich’tak! There! The crate!”

Deter looked up to Vexx, who was still creeping down the open side of their loot. The captain put his hand on the second layer of ration boxes and frowned. They feel normal…what maniac hides contraband under a fortune of food?

Suddenly, the mechanical man froze, extending his finger into a razor-edge, and jabbing it into a ration-pack. Instead of protein and water spilling out, out spilled neon blue fluid as thick as solvent.

“Coolant?” Anon puzzled, almost sticking a finger in the good before deciding better. “The hell do you need to cool with foodstuffs?”

“You don’t.” Deter muttered flatly, before picking at Vexx’s new puncture hole and ripping it open. On top of more blue ichor leaking into his floor, the captain quickly found wiring and pumps masked within fake food parcels, making him clench his teeth. Great, a fucking false layer…there goes most of the payment for this run! “Vexx, find a control pad and break in!”

The cyborg nodded and went back to scanning. After only a moment, he dug spindly daggers into the false layer and ripped an entire section clean off. Underneath, the glaring display screen of a sealed lock stared back at them.

Even at a distance, Anon whistled in amazement. “Octodecimal encryption, biometric redundancy AND an electronic dampener?! Boss, this is way beyond the Quorum’s budget…”

“Yeah, so you’re down to top-level military or the Royalty…” Deter grimaced. “Can you break it, Vexx?”

The half-man furrowed his brow and looked back at his captain, which Deter understood. “As soon as you can. Anon, you take over recharging the slip drive. Dino-butt, suit up! We don’t know what’s behind that seal!”

Wyvorn snarled a positive response, leaping the twenty feet from the deck up to the access hatch back to crew quarters with ease. The rushed clicking of claw against steel echoed down the corridor grew distant, then back to them as the saurian returned with his biggest rifle at the ready.

For a moment, Deter had to remind himself to breathe while Vexx’s metallic arms split in half up to the shoulder and descended upon the complex lock from multiple angles. He had no doubt that his silent crewman could break into the secret cargo, but Vexx’s expression troubled him. If YOU’VE never seen this before, what the hell is worth keeping so secret?

The shrill beep of the lock changing from red to green almost made Deter jump out of his skin, which was thankfully masked by Anon howling in surprise “Holy sweet Jesus fuck! Never do that again!”

With a much quieter motion, the access panel slid open down the entire length of the crate, more than the captain predicted. To his surprise, the outer thirds of the entire container were just a mass of computers and regulators for the expanding mass of coolant drowning his boots. At the center of that mass of technology and fluid sat a simple finned cylinder nestled in an amber gelatin. At the sight of it, Wyvorn recoiled in agony, cocking a shell into his weapon’s chamber. Vexx also stepped back, eyes wider than Deter had ever seen.

“This is bad, isn’t it?” The captain posed, to which the cyborg nodded. Vexx tapped the still human part of his torso and gestured an explosion with his doubled arms.

“So…it’s a bomb?” Anon asked, cautiously approaching the exposed chamber. “Who the fuck would put a bomb in a food shipment?”

“Someone who doesn’t expect it to be found,” Deter frowned. “This was bound for a Royal, and you’d need that kind of influence to move something like this through Quorum Security.” 

The captain turned back to the warhead spinning slowly in a suspended state. Something about the device made Deter’s stomach seize in his gut. I’ve never seen Wyvorn react that way to just ordinary explosives… “Vexx, what kind of weapon is this, exactly?”

The cyborg re-focused on the weapon, his head tilting to one side, then the other. Deter knew that the spindly engineer was going through the entire band of measurable energy, from radio waves to gamma rays. Whatever it took for the human brain to process such different data, he didn’t want to know. He can do it, and that’s enough…

Then Vexx stopped, his spider-like limbs extending to scan the weapon from multiple angles, as if the engineer still didn’t understand what he was looking at. Wyvorn continued to skulk one from one side of the cargo bay to the other, staying as far from the smell as possible and snarling all the while, distracting Anon from his wrist interface with the Carnwennan’s engine display. “Boss, it looks like the slip engine isn’t charging as fast as it should. Want me to get in there?”

Of course it’s not, our main technician is busy playing bomb-sniffer… Deter cursed to himself. “See what you can do through the software, but don’t open any hatches or valves!”

“And risk Vexx tearing me in half? No thanks…” the pilot retorted, jogging up the main stairset from the hold to the ship’s engine block. 

Suddenly, Vexx’s armatures locked in place and the half-man’s eyes glowed an eerie yellow, a spider-like position he held for a time beyond Deter’s comfort level. “Well? What do you see?”

Slowly, after retracting deliberately into his normal human shape, the cyborg faced his captain, producing two small wires from his palm and weaving them together in a double-helix pattern, which then violently ripped itself apart.

“A…gene bomb?”Deter asked in shock, to which Vexx nodded.

Wyvorn snorted, “Typical mammalian approach, it’s not enough just to kill…”

The captain grumbled at the sting of the surian’s words, before a realization hit him. “Why would a Royal want a weapon that would scramble basic genetic material into soup? You can’t rule over a colony that’s dead.”

Vexx shook his head, then tapped the side of his cranial dome, which caused Deter to mirror the move, fingertips skating across the long surgical scar that ran from his temple to the back of his skull and down to his spine. “An Unitatis Fidei weapon…you’re saying the so-called ‘holy order’ that’s supposed to be the unity for all mankind just built and delivered a world-ending bomb?”

Vexx nodded in confirmation, and Wyvorn hissed at the conclusion. “Then dump this abhorrent toch-thrakka into the nearest star! Be rid of it!”

The cyborg shook his head, waving his arms like a fish skipping along the wavetop of a non-existent pond. “Seriously? The bomb’s shockwave would survive even that?” Deter stammered. To which Vexx nodded again.

“Then just dump it now, and let it wander the infinite void!” Wyvorn countered.

“We can’t take that chance,” Deter responded, “Some dumbass pirate may find it, or it could just float into another world.”

“So what do we do, oh wise Captain?” the Soromite sneered, ticking his longest prehensile foot-claw on the deck. “We cannot be rid of it, nor can we use it.”

“Vexx, can you take it apart? Maybe we can dump all the dangerous components?” Deter asked. 

The engineer sadly shook his head in a negative, pointing towards the device and extending his fingers to the computer bank the weapon was attached to. 

“Natually…fuck.” the captain grit his teeth, burning through every possibility he could think of, until only one was left. “Anon! How’s that recharge coming!”

“Stalled at stage six, boss-man! I dunno what’s wrong with it…” the pilot yelled out from the engine core, adding more woe to Deter’s day. Pointing to Vexx, the captain snapped to the uncooperative drive system, which the cybor understood and swung himself up into the upper level to assist in repairs.

“Wyvorn, get on the long-range comms and see if Willow is open for business, she’s about the only one I know who would touch this merchandise.” the captain ordered, and the saurian compacted his rifle onto his back. “Sure, if you want her to get you arrested again…” came his retort before jumping back up to the command deck catwalk, leaving Deter alone with the stuff of nightmares sitting quietly in his hold. 

He put his hand on the viewport that separated him from the weapon, watching it for a moment as it stared back at him. “I should have known they would finish you eventually…”

*******

The next chapter in a little project I started a very long time ago, but they’ve come back to play lately. And who doesn’t love the idea of a space dino?

I hope you all enjoy