Whatever name he had been born under had been lost to history. So far as his crew was concerned, he was only ‘Schiz’. The pirate captain sat in his captain’s chair, shirtless, as was often his custom. His was a light frame, but every inch was packed with taut muscles and obscene tattoos. His hair had been shaven close into a maze of spirals, coming as close to resembling the human brain as what passed for a barber on his ship could manage.
Schiz conducted himself with intensity. The simple act of staring at the unspoiled alien world on his viewscreen radiated quiet malice to the rest of the pirates lurching about his bridge. He was neither the biggest nor the strongest aboard, yet he was the most respected.
He took a quiet sip from a mug fashioned from the polished skull of the last recalcitrant colonist whom had sufficiently irritated him. The crew around him, however, was not so calm. They hurried to and fro, checking and re-checking instruments and convincing incompatible machinery to work together through sheer force of will. Schiz’ bridge stank of grease, body odor, and burned ozone as the pirate engineers, through means known only to them, readied the ship for a raid.
“Bossman?” One of Schiz’ lieutenants approached. The captain did not reply, instead tapping gently on the rim of his drinking vessel. “The fall boys are ready to go.”
“Is that right?” The pirate captain asked. Though his tone was calm, the lieutenant behind him blanched. Whenever Schiz questioned one of his crew, it rarely ended favorably for them.
“Uh… what I mean is… the fall boys are ready for you, cap’n.”
“That’s good.” The captain replied, standing from his chair and resting a hand on his lieutenant’s shoulder. Schiz stared into his counterpart’s eyes; boring into them as if piercing his soul. “Well?” Schiz asked leadingly.
“Where’s my kit?”
“I…I didn’t…” The lieutenant tried his best to keep the panic out of his voice.
“You came on my bridge without my kit?” The tenor of Schiz’ voice never changed, but the other man tensed under every syllable. “Oh bones, ?” Schiz pulled another sip from his skull mug to mark the point.
“I’ll get it right away!” Schiz let him jog off for a few paces as he drained his mug. Once he was finished, he hurled the vessel at the lieutenant; knocking him to the floor and shattering the mug in the process.
“Aw look at that!” Schiz shouted as the entire bridge froze in anxious anticipation. “Curse these butterfingers.” The stricken lieutenant rose from the floor and proceeded about his duties again, albeit bloody and stumbling. “Where’m I going to get another one of those out here?” the captain continued. “Where, where, where?”
Chuckles rippled through the bridge. Schiz clapped his hands together. “Lobes!” he cried. The indicated man turned from his station. “Lobes, buddy. Lobes, oh pallie, pallie. What do you have for me?” the pirate captain clasped both hands on the young man’s shoulders.
“The squib on the ground still wants to talk to us, bossman.”
“Oh riiight. I forgot about that. Put him on.” With that, Schiz released his officer, patting him on the pack in a hollow gesture of friendship. The captain returned to his chair; childishly spinning it on its axis before settling. The then thumbed a switch on the armrest; summoning a small monitor.
“Le Clerk! Yoohoo! Are you there?” The screen flickered to life, resolving the irritated visage of a colonial magistrate in the frame. He was a thin man of fair hair and gaunt features. A wispy attempt at a mustache dusted his upper lip, and his beady green eyes were set in a hateful glare. *We’ve been waiting for two hours.* The magistrate complained.
“Aww,” Schiz cooed, “poor little guy. Am I keeping you from something? Do you find me rude?” The captain called out as he scratched his crotch. “Hey fellas, fellas! Do I need to work on my manners?” He was met with a chorus of guffaws.
The magistrate visibly suppressed a retort, instead opting to keep the conversation neutral. *Are you clear on the agreement?*
“Yeah, yeah, noodleneck. We smash up the emergency transponder at the Yandris colony, and you give us two million denos on top of us taking whatever we want from the Yandees.”
*And you leave our colony alone.* the magistrate added irritably.
“Sure, sure. Whatever you say le Clerk.” Schiz replied, butchering the pronunciation of the magistrate’s name as well as affecting a non-committal demeanor. The pirate could not help but be amused by le Clerk’s obvious aggravation, but the magistrate did not rise to take his bait. *Triblis colony out.* He said before abruptly terminating the transmission.
As soon as Schiz dismissed the monitor, his lieutenant arrived with his ‘jump kit’. The kit in question was not much more than a pair of crossed shoulder straps with a battery pack at the back and a personal shield emitter on the front. A crude message was carved into the metal housing ‘Nothing to fear when UR too dead to care’.
* * *
Schiz fell through the open air. While the ground was still thousands of yards away, it still rose inexorably to greet him. This fact disturbed him not. Instead, he was more interested in selecting a section of ground in particular to meet. His target was a loose collection of prefab domes, surrounded by badly mangled perimeter fence. Even from this height, it was not difficult to surmise that something had gone wrong at the Yandris colony. However, this too did not concern the pirate captain. By his reckoning, whatever had caused the trouble would either be gone; or the bolt gun strapped to his back would make it wish it had.
The alarms on his equipment wailed and blared as it detected him reaching terminal velocity, and Schiz could feel the various mechanisms within the field generator on his chest whir to life. He knew not how, exactly, the field generators worked; all he was certain of was that a ‘terminal jump’ was the ultimate test of the equipment. He cackled, elated and excited as the final seconds arrived. The wind whipped through his fingers, the rush of adrenaline coursed through his veins.
Then there was a great muffling of everything. The outer membrane of his shield bubble connected with the ground well before he did, and although it slowed his descent quickly, it was far slower than if the shield had otherwise failed.
Most of his band who followed saw their equipment function just as favorably. Those few who did not had little time to regret it.
Schiz, of course, spared not even a moment to mark their loss and neither did the survivors. Instead, they whooped in exhilaration and looted the remains of their former comrades without the slightest hesitation. Schiz produced his bolt gun and scanning the remains of the ruined colony. Breaches at the wall had occurred at multiple points. Many of the domed roofs of the prefab structures had been melted inward in places. While the colony exhibited indications of a fight, no bodies littered the ground. There was no scoring on the walls to betray stray bolt rounds. For that matter, there was no evidence of raiding or looting. Plasteel supply crates remained stacked in neat, orderly towers. Rovers sat undisturbed at their charging stations.
All this suited the pirate just fine. He had no interest in investigating the ultimate fate of the colonists. He reckoned that their loss was every bit his gain, and he intended to capitalize upon it. Already, his compatriots were seizing crates and staging them for pickup.
“Yo, Bigelow,” Schiz called.
“Find the emergency transmitter and wreck it up good, huh?”
“Uh… where should I look?”
Schiz rolled his eyes, sighing exhaustedly. “Where do you think, genius?”
The other man paled, his eyes falling on the largest of the domed habs. This structure had seen the worst of whatever had happened. It would have been the final sanctuary for the doomed colonists and whatever power was responsible for their disappearance spared no effort to get inside.
The pirate captain noticed his subordinate’s hesitation. “What’s the matter, Bigs? Need someone to hold your hand?” Schiz extended his palm. “It’s dark and scary in there, after all.”
Bigelow, a lumpy oaf of a man, looked to his captain and grinned. “What do I do if I find someone who wants to hang on to it, bossman?”
Schiz smiled “Whatever you want, buddy. But don’t be selfish now. Ain’t no fun if the boys get none.” Bigelow laughed and set out without further delay. Further, the rest of the crew had already set to looting.
Schiz, however, hesitated. While he was never opposed to an easy raid, he began to wonder why the pompous magistrate of Triblis colony sent a pirate to do the job a rover team could manage. The question began to set him on edge. He narrowed his eyes, carefully searching the jungle canopy as it swayed beneath a green hued sky. The foliage beyond was eerily still. Nothing moved beyond what the breeze pushed.
Suspicions mounting, Schiz departed the safety of the group to examine the exterior of the complex. He felt eyes on him as he strode with confidence for the perimeter. While Schiz would never stint at sending his boys into danger for even the most paltry of gains, he knew that he would have to display some reckless bravado himself on occasion.
He stepped beyond the perimeter wall and paused, surveying the jungle cautiously but not fearfully. Regardless, there was nothing to see. The purplish foliage remained undisturbed and there was no evidence of traffic by humans or vehicles. This struck the pirate as curious, but he paid no further mind to that matter. By day’s end, he intended to be too inebriated to even remember the Yandris colony or its troubles. For now there was no challenge to be faced.
Confident that nothing was amiss, Schiz began to relieve himself upon a nearby tree. A tittering came from his left side, and when he glanced at the disturbance he observed a small owlish avian creature pecking at the ground. It was an unremarkable specimen; no bigger than the pirate’s hand. Its body was settled between a pair of gossamer wings and was covered in translucent fibrous curls.
The thing was far too cuddly for Schiz’ tastes, so he adjusted the aim of his stream to spray the diminutive bird analog which provoked a flurry of alarmed chirps. While the animal was clearly agitated by the unwelcome shower, shifting colors from cream to bright blue, it made no attempt to retaliate.
Schiz chuckled to himself and returned to the complex, finding his vessel now hovering above the structure with cargo lines extended to receive the abandoned supplies and vehicles. Bigelow was waiting as the rest of the crew secured crates to the lines, a mangled titanium canister cradled in his hands.
“Hey! Hey! Lookit you!” Schiz proclaimed. “Did you do that all by yourself?”
“Just wanted to make sure you saw I smashed it good.”
“Anyone try to stop you?”
Bigelow shook his head ruefully.
“Aww, sorry buddy.” Schiz put his foot on a ration crate; forcing the porters to stop. He cracked the lid and inspected the contents before reaching inside and producing a cookie. “It ain’t all bad, though. There you go,” he placed the confection in Bigelow’s mouth, “you enjoy that now.”
In short order, Schiz’ holds were filled with salvage and the cargo lines were now drawing the crew itself back into the ship. The pirate captain didn’t bother with a harness to secure himself to the line; instead wrapping a wrist with the cable and nestling his foot within the cargo net.
The winch above did its work, reeling the man skyward as he hung with reckless aplomb from the line. He could not help but smile, as the wind rushed past him. Though he had only been on this world for a short time, he took great satisfaction in the notion that he was the one in control for every moment he was on it.
That notion quickly dissolved, however, when something caught his eye. Atop the largest dome was a figure that most certainly hadn’t stood there before. He was wrapped in some form of tattered robe that obscured his face and before Schiz could fully understand what he was looking at; he had been enveloped by the ship’s cargo bay.
Schiz wasted no time storming to the bridge. Without a word to his crew, he flicked on a monitor and repositioned the exterior camera to view the top of the hab. To his irritation, there was no longer anything of note to observe. He absentmindedly drummed his fingers against his scalp; suddenly wondering if he had imagined what he saw. He was no stranger to hallucinations, of course, but he was usually never this sober when they manifested themselves.
Fuming, he threw himself into his captain’s chair. He locked his eyes on the monitors, scanning them intently. He could feel his crew staring at him, sensing their hushed commentary. “What are we still doing here!?” he bellowed.
Wordlessly, the other pirates adjusted their instruments to set the ship into motion. As the thrum of the engines kicked, Schiz found himself beginning to calm. He was the master of his domain once again.
They rose high above the canopy and began accelerating to meet the Triblis colony and collect what they were owed.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa… what’s that!?” Someone shouted. Bridge monitors flickered and resolved an image of a cloud against the alien sky. The cloud in question, however, was far darker than the others and something about it set Schiz on edge.
“It’s just a cloud.” Another answered.
“I don’t like it, switching to thermal. Whoa… that is a hot cloud.” Schiz resisted the urge to demand answers, trusting his crew to figure it out for themselves.
“Storm cloud, you think? Built up static?”
“No way… this is… too uh…too solid, not random electrical buildup.”
“Bossman, we’re heading right for it. What do you want us to do?”
The captain made a show of laboriously and exasperatedly turning his head to the speaker. “Move out of the way.” He said, simply.
“Gotcha. Helm, adjust heading by twelve degrees port… okay that’s… wh…what the?”
“A stupid cloud can’t really be that fascinating, can it!?” Schiz spat.
“Bossman… it’s… it’s following us.”
The pirate captain tried to mask his shock. Realizing that he didn’t want to be caught paralyzed by indecision, he issued the only order he could think of “Then shoot it, stupid!”
“Gotcha,” the crewman lifted a hand-held to his mouth, “all guns, all guns: Bossman wants that cloud in front of us lit.” the bridge shuddered as bolt cannons roared to life; ripping into the object with unremitting fury. Schiz examined the resulting damage, quickly noting several objects falling from the cloud. “Zoom in!” He commanded. “What’s that stuff coming off it?”
The monitor stuttered as the optics adjusted. The debris falling from the cloud had a distinct pattern and the onboard computer returned an analysis almost instantaneously. This time Schiz did not attempt to stifle his surprise. “Birds!?”
* * *
Magistrate le Clerk observed the screen silently. Not only were the technicians seated in front of him diligent in giving their updates, but the event on display was fairly obvious in its own right.
“Impact.” The lead tech announced. “Sir, we have confirmed that the main ship has crash landed in the desert biome in grid four-one-tau. Escape pods launched, closest is four kilometers from our complex.”
Le Clerk nodded to indicate that he had heard and understood everything the tech said. Nonetheless, the man shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Magistrate… should we… should we send rescue?”
The man did not reply immediately, simply allowing himself a moment to absorb what had just transpired. “Send nothing. This confirms what we have feared. These attacks are not random and they are cross-species. We send anyone outside the complex and I highly doubt we’ll see them again.”
The tech nodded slowly as he came to grips with the implications. “Besides,” the magistrate continued, “they’re just pirates. Their fate is more than they deserve.” He turned to another tech. “Bautiste, confirm that the distress beacon has been deactivated.”
“Oui, magistrate. No detectable signal.”
“Bon,” le Clerk remarked with satisfaction, “now ours is the only claim to this world. We will discover what is behind these attacks and we will harness it. To that end, what is the status of our next batch of guinea pigs?”
“ColAidCorps confirms receipt of our request and has dispatched a ship. Atlas registry number ending: JL-419, the Cassiopeia.”
To Be Continued
Hey you! Do you want to see Col*Aid*Corp as a graphic novel? Do you want to see Play/Write on Youtube? Then support Ryan on Patreon! You contributions not only fund current projects but makes them even more awesome – which means you’re awesome for contributing!
You can even get one of these posters!
The Adventures of the Colonial Assistance Company, Col*Aid*Corp, its characters, and media are all © Ryan J. Hodge. Published with permission. All rights reserved.