Part 2 The Other Bounty Hunter
The ship was cramped and stale smelling from the sacks of bounty that filled every hold and seat. What Oldman didn’t get, Shar hauled to another Junker. One that paid more for certain items, like blown electronics and insulation. Shar buckled into the pilot’s chair, flipped the auto-mode switch and sat back for the long ride. The destination was a planet in the Gallo quadrant. A dry world with underground cities and caverns carved out of desert rock. An ancient place of strange rules and customs she’d rather not partake, such as spitting in your hand and wiping it on your own face, things like that. And slavery was still acceptable, if done on the sly. She couldn’t pronounce the name of the planet. It started with a Z sound and ended with a few clucking noises. Desert squawk. A language only the Hulli people could speak.
Shar was starving. It had been hours since her last meal, a small cut of a plant called hebo, a green succulent that held every mineral and most vitamins a human needs. Although mostly carbs, it also had a few grams of protein. You could live on it for weeks. She reached for a stash from the sack on the co-pilot’s chair, and rummaged around for a large chunk of the meaty plant. The sting was quick, sharp and hit with a wallop. She pulled her hand away and immediately spotted the barb. It was deep in the meaty flesh of her right palm. A calling card from the stinging fistuka. A nasty insect that scavenged hebo. It embedded one of three barbs it had on its large tail. Luckily it was the middle sized barb. She heard the smallest one would kill you in minutes. She was angry at himself for making such a rookie mistake, having checked the bag before loading it into the ship, but apparently not thoroughly enough. They were known to hide under the husk of the hebo plant, but they’d always leave a tell-tall hole.
She held her hand up to inspect the wound. A bright red ring encircled the barb still stuck in her flesh. Pulling it out would release more toxins and could mean instant death. She needed to wrap it in ice and head to the nearest outpost. Her body was reacting quickly to the poison. Her face felt flushed and she was dizzy. They say some of the tribal people on the unpronounceable planet are immune. But the swelling had already started, and she’d be delirious before reaching her current destination. It would have to be a pit stop. At least a five hour delay.
Sahr wrapped a cold pack around her aching hand and punched in a coordinate that pointed her toward the nearest outpost. It’d be less than an hour before reaching fueling station seventeen-twenty. They’d have emergency medicine there. She hoped. Something on her right leg moved, she flinched and flicked it off with the back of her ailing hand. It was a fituka all right. A big one. Black, with red rings on its abdomen, large claws and two more stingers on its ass end. She didn’t want to kill it, just in case they needed it for further examination or to divine some serum from its rancid bowels. She searched the cabin and spotted a large hat she’d worn on a visit to the desert on Frakus. It was floppy and heavy. A loud hiss rang out as she gently placed it over the gnarly insect.
She sat back in the pilot’s seat and began to doze. The proximity alarm startled her awake. It took a few seconds for Shar to realize there was a marauder on her port side, and closing fast.
“Suzie, shields at max.”
The ship’s AI voice rang out. “Shields at maximum.”
“Quadruple flux evasion pattern.”
“Q.F.E.P. in effect.”
Her head pounded. Fatigue sapped her strength. Her hand was swollen to almost twice its normal size. A dark ring was forming around the wound. She stared at the visual heads-up display. Black space lay ahead, distant stars barley readable in the flux of hyper-speed. She fumbled for the controls, trying to get a visual on the intruder.
“Suzie, who’s out there?” Her voice was low and hoarse. “Get a fix on their hull.”
The display illuminated an oblong oval object with three small fins on the either side, like and old fashioned jet. It glowed orange as it ripped though space. And it was gaining fast.
“Hull is comprised of titanium alloy, composite V plastic and Gallium minerals.”
“Gallium, huh? Those damn pirate trog herders.”
After spending six months on Gallium, serving mining interests, chasing down company loan jumpers, she’d had enough of their ruthless ways. Unlike the unpronounceable planet that started with Z, Gallium was completely uncivilized and chaotic. Bands of pirates roamed the sky above the planet, waiting to cash in on anything that moved near their space. They were either professional miners or pirates, mostly. The poor mine workers lived in shabby huts along the base of the rugged mountains, and subsisted on company store wages. All things led back to the mine owners. They owned the planet. Sure they had a system of government, but that had devolved into a bribe-taking theocracy, based on the worship of minerals and wealth. The powerful gave nothing to the people. And the people did nothing to stop them. The rich held the poor workers by the throat and never let go. She’d been naïve when taking the job there, not realizing how bad things actually were. But it only took Shar a week to figure it all out and the whole remainder of her six month contract as a bounty hunter to get the hell out. She chased down criminals, not runaway mine workers. But it made her tougher, more wary, and a better fighter.
She was wanted by the authorities on Gallium for what they called, “Abomination,” a term Galliumites used for those who criticized their ways, or the elite, and for absconding with one of their semi-slaves. She was a dark haired beauty named, Kelsiana. A house worker for a rich slob by the name of Gran, a wealthy mine owner from the southern district mines. Brought to the house at only seven years old, Kelsiana was sold by her parents and had known nothing but servitude, until Shar taught her of other worlds, and opened her eyes to new possibilities on other planets where she might be given a fair shake. Maybe even take advantage of her natural intelligence and beauty.
So, now a scout ship from Gallium was on her tail.
The heads up display flashed red.
“Warning, proximity alert.”
The microfilm in Shar’s collar weighed heavy now. If found by a Gallium bounty hunter, she’d be killed and they’d get rich in the process, selling it to the highest bidder. For the film held a secret only a few people knew. A secret that could change worlds. And not many possessed the knowledge to read the ancient script in which it was written.
The AI voice rang out. “Warning, docking of unauthorized vehicle in process.”
A loud bang, and the ship momentarily turned off course before righting itself. Shar, woozy from the poison, turned and pointed her disrupter at the cockpit hatch, as the large metallic latch slowly turned.
To Be Continued…
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