Deadly Cargo, Jake Mudd Adventures Book One (ch. 1-2)
He scrambled to his feet and leapt out of the clearing for cover.
The monster halted its charge, but not until it had moved well past the spot where Jake had been.
Jake realized he couldn’t outrun or outmuscle the creature, so he climbed a tree.
All this for some credits and the generous gratitude of a rescued slave girl. Not sure they’re worth it. Well, she was.
The Faklu, barreling through the weaker trees, charged him again. It lowered its shoulders as it neared the tree Jake was on, striking the base of the trunk with its bony hairless forehead. The tree cracked, then shattered. Splintering limbs cast off in all directions, forming thickets of rough-hewn spears on the ground and in the canopy. They lodged into the adjacent trees like arrows.
Jake held part of the upper half of the tree as it fell, separated from its base. The top of the tree, Jake still clinging to it, caught its ends on two adjacent trees, leaving him gripping the branch, suspended ten feet above the Faklu.
The creature grunted and snorted. Jake smelled the noxious mist as it rose to his face. He grew dizzy as the cloud filled the air around him. He gagged at the taste of the discharge, like blood and sewage, if he had to guess. The creature swung its head from side to side, searching for the morsel that had been left for it to eat. With thick tight muscles on the back of its neck, it was unable to raise its gaze to see Jake hanging overhead.
Jake looked to another branch he could jump to, if only he could get a little momentum first. He swung his body back and forth. Before he made the jump, he heard a loud crack. He and the large branch he held plummeted toward the Faklu.
Jake turned his body mid-air, as best he could, guiding the speared tip of the branch to strike the beast. The wood, with his weight bearing down on it, drove into the neck of the creature. He fell onto the Faklu, slamming into its neck beside the planted tree top. The beast dropped to its belly, and its chin crashed to the ground. The thump sent Jake tumbling off his kill and into the dirt.
He lay on his back breathing heavy.
Adrenaline leaked away. Sharp pains took its place.
Broken ribs. A cracked hip bone.
Sarah’s gonna love saying I told you so.
The field drives faded, fixing the distorted ship in space a minute outside the projected orbital distance, and as the soothing hum of the drives ceased Jake woke from his typical in-flight nap. If anyone on the planet’s surface happened to be watching his arrival, they’d see the faded red nine-foot-high lettering on the side of the class 4 Tarian cargo vessel. GDS — Galactic Delivery Service. Twenty-three hundred eighty-two feet in length, his beloved Sarah remained a reliable companion despite the trouble she’d endured on his behalf over the twelve years they’d been together. The blast marks on the outer hull. A few asteroid dings here and there, from the times Jake and Sarah argued over manual versus auto-pilot mode. The new panels crudely welded on in a hurry to get her off the ground and off-planet just before an aerial bombardment. A bombardment which may have had something to do with Jake’s friendliness toward the betrothed of a local warlord on Geida Gamma. Bumps in the road.
Jake felt the lingering aches from his injuries suffered during the run-in with the Faklu. The med bay in his ship had done its job, but his body needed longer to forget the incident.
“Glad to see you were able to sleep.” Sarah turned on the lights directly over Jake’s face. She flipped them on to full brightness, not dim like he always asked her to do.
“Is that really necessary?” He squinted and raised his right hand to shield his brown, blood-shot eyes. The light washed out his tousled brown hair and his tanned, stubble covered jaw, making him look paler than he was.
“I’m just programmed. Remember?” Her voice was normally pleasant, one that might belong to a confident healthy twenty or thirty-something woman, even a little sexy at times. Right then she just sounded pissed.
“That was two days ago,” he said, as he reached with his left hand to press the button, killing the lights she had turned on. “I said I was sorry. Besides, you took it the wrong way. It was supposed to be a compliment.”
He swung his legs off the bed rack and sat up. She turned the bright lights back on. He shook his head.
“So,” Sarah sounded calmer, “we’re here. Daedalon.”
“Great. Thanks for driving,” Jake said. He patted the bed rack with his hand. She felt it, as she felt everything in the interior of the ship. AI-linked meta materials throughout.
“You know you can count on me.” Her tone was soft. It seemed the spat was over.
“Like no other.” He stood and headed to the bridge to get his first direct look at the planet, a new stop on his delivery route. “I trust you’ve already staged the cargo for Daedalon?”
“Of course, Jake. All the documentation has been transmitted to the appropriate systems on the surface too. You’re clear to deploy the surface shuttle with the cargo whenever you’re ready.”
* * *
Though all the logistics and documentation were handled by Sarah and her AI counterparts on the various planetary drop sites, galactic regulations still demanded all cargo deliveries be overseen by whichever person held the cargo delivery license, be they human, like Jake, or any of the other twenty-six races party to the Galactic Shipping Treaty. No AI, ship or otherwise had ever been granted a license, not even one as sophisticated as Sarah. Thanks to his familiarity with a few black-market channels, Jake’s license was anonymized, but valid. He preferred it that way to keep trouble from following him around the galaxy. And so, after taking in the sight of the red planet Daedalon for a moment through the shielded window on the bridge, he went to the prep deck outside the cargo hull to suit up for departure to the surface.
* * *
“Don’t you want to eat something before you head down?” She spoke to him as he dressed.
“I’m sure I can grab a bite once I’m down there. We’ve got what, three days until our next scheduled delivery?”
“Technically,” she said. “So, you’re not coming right back?”
“It’s a new planet, darlin’. You know I’ve got to look around. I won’t be longer than a day or two.”
“And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“I’ll call you,” he said.
He pressed a flat square on the wall beside the bench he sat on. The silver metal opened, folding down. Then a single tray extended, pushed out by some hidden smooth hydraulic action. Jake took the pistol from the form-fitting depression in the tray. He held down a black button on the side of the weapon with his thumb until a green light lit up on the top of the blaster. He let go of the button. The light went off. He stood and holstered the gun on his right hip, zipped up his dark brown leather flight jacket and grabbed his overnight bag before heading into the cargo bay toward the shuttle.
“No sense in saying be careful,” Sarah said. Not a question. She knew better.
“Two days, tops.”
Jake walked across the cargo bay to the shuttle, passing scores of stacked cargo containers, some waist high, others small enough for him to hand carry. As he neared the shuttle door he pressed a transmitter on his belt. The exterior lights around the base of the shuttle switched on, a blue glow. A whirring motor sound built up, not loud but still powerful sounding. Two jets of air shot out a few inches either side of the shuttle door. Then it opened and lowered, again with hydraulics, the tubes visible this time. The door’s top edge moved down until it rested on the floor of the cargo bay, forming a ramp.
He stepped onto the inclined platform, then turned to face the open cargo bay. “By the way, what’s the drop?”
“Couldn’t tell you,” Sarah said, her voice echoing slightly in the cavernous room. “It’s a secure package. The receiver has the code.”
“Great.” He shook his head. “I hate surprises. With luck, they’ll take it and save the cargo inspection until I’m gone. Last sealed package, if you’ll recall, stirred up an uninvited welcoming party.”
“That’s why this one’s bringing in a million marks,” she said. “I negotiated it for you while you were sleeping.”
“Yep,” he said, “probably heading into a party on this one too.”
Still, it’ll go a long way to keep the General away from Sarah.
“Oh, one more thing.”
“They didn’t want to do the credit transfer digitally. They want to give you a marker chip in person upon delivery.”
“You tell me this now?”
“What?” she said. “You’re a tough guy. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“You’re a peach.”
“See you in two days,” she said. “If I don’t hear from you in three, I’ll start interviewing for your replacement.”
“Two days. And you work for me, remember?”
Jake turned back to the shuttle ramp opening and walked into the ship. The platform raised up and sealed. A minute later the large door of the cargo bay opened, revealing the red-orange cloudy atmosphere of the planet, twenty-four thousand miles below. A blue glow built up under the shuttle. Then it lifted, turned, and flew out the opening into space and down toward the rendezvous point on Daedalon.
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