Forced Vengeance, Jake Mudd Adventures Book Two (ch. 1-2)
The drop out of the fold in space was smooth, as usual, but Jake awoke seconds later to his ship’s frustrating sense of humor. His head rose a few inches above the padded roll on his bed shelf before coming back down with a thud. The pillow gave some protection against the solid surface beneath it, but not enough to keep him from experiencing the onset of a slight headache.
He groaned as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of his bed. Before his eyes were ready, the lights came on.
“Good morning, Jake.” His ship Sarah spoke with a cheerfulness Jake took as the perfection of sarcasm.
“Yeah, right. You too.”
“You asked me to wake you when we reached Eon Station.”
“How’d you manage to hit a bump in space? Did you run over something?”
“What? Oh, no. I must’ve made an error when activating the impulse drive. Sorry about that.”
Jake got up and stretched his arms. He rubbed some feeling into his stubbled jaw. Then he reached for his brown leather jacket hanging on the hook nearby. He donned it over his broad shoulders and slipped his feet into his boots. He left his holstered blaster and belt hanging on the other hook.
“How far out are we?”
“Far enough to allow for the fold without drawing attention to ourselves. A few minutes to the space station at this speed.”
“When we get closer, slow down and notify me.”
“Will do, boss. You know…”
“What is it?”
“A shower might be a good idea.”
Jake looked into the camera on the wall above his holster belt. “Funny.”
“You know I have sensors, right?”
Jake took his belt off the hook and put it on. “I’m heading to the bridge. I want to get a look at the station. It’s been a long time.”
“Of course. It’s coming into view now.”
Jake walked over to the door of the elevator to the bridge. He stepped in front of it and caught a glimpse of his tousled brown hair in the reflection before the door slid open. As he entered, he raised his arm, tilted his head toward it, and sniffed. “She’s crazy.”
Coming out of the lift he got his first look at the massive space city of Eon. It had been a couple of years since he’d visited the space station metropolis. He could see it had grown even from the sprawling conglomeration he remembered it to be.
Eon first served as a refueling and trading outpost for those braving the uncertain frontier of this part of the galaxy. Over the years, it drew the wayward and the unseemly with its offer of unbridled opportunities for profit and mischief, and for the absence of interference by the various policing organizations which hampered much of the trading galaxy with law and order.
Word quickly spread through the many networks of ruffians and the unruly. In time, more of those sorts came from across the vastness of space to do business at Eon, and often settled there. The remote space station grew to accommodate those who came.
Now it stood as a gargantuan city, fixed in space, alone in its galactic neighborhood. It played host to the underbelly of the universe, with kingpins and factions carving out their own sleazy pieces of the city. A dangerous place where anything could happen and all could be had for a price, it was just the place Jake needed.
“Are you sure you can get one there?” Sarah asked as Jake walked over to the large viewing window and took in the sight.
“No doubt someone has one. If it’s black market, then you can get it in Eon. An anonymized shipping license will be harder to track down than some things, but I’m sure I can find one.”
“I’m sorry about what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault. I don’t know how Hyde did it. He must’ve paid off the right people. Still, I’ve never heard of a shadow license being cracked.”
“You don’t think he’ll come after us here, do you? I know he can’t trace us on the shipping registry this time, but…”
“Doubtful. As bad a character as he is, this isn’t his neck of the galaxy. He may not even know how to find Eon. It’s not exactly on the official maps.”
“I’m just glad you got back on board from Daedalon before his ships could attack.”
“Me too. You’re a tough lady, but I didn’t want to test his fleet.”
Jake stared at Eon. A ten thousand times larger than his cargo ship, the space station city crawled with activity. Vessels docked and took off at multiple hubs around the perimeter of the station. The glow of lights from the hundreds of buildings created an effect like a sky at sunset. That’s how it always was, Jake remembered, perpetual dusk. The inhabitants of Eon liked it that way. Nothing was ever exposed to the light of day.
“They’re hailing us now,” Sarah said.
Jake stepped over to his captain’s chair and sat, resting his hands on the wide arms of the seat. He swiveled the blocky unit to face the wall-sized display screen off to his right.
“Bring them up.”
An Eon border official appeared on the screen. It was a humanoid creature, with soot black skin which overlapped itself in rolls across its face. Jake couldn’t see the rest of the official, and he couldn’t decide if it was male or female.
“Identity?” the border officer said, though its mouth moved for longer than the time it took for Jake to hear the word.
“You sure you’re giving me the whole translation?” he asked.
“Yes,” Sarah said, “that’s all.”
“Class 4 Tarian Cargo Vessel in need of supplies,” Jake said. “No passengers. Just passing through. Permission to land.”
Everyone was ‘just passing through’ at Eon, or at least that was the answer everybody gave. Jake knew the routine.
The creature turned to look at something off-screen for a moment, then it faced front again. “Denied.”
“What?” Jake shifted in his chair, then leaned forward. “We’re just passing through. We need to refuel and get some basic supplies. Requesting permission to land.”
“Why do you question my seriousness?”
Jake glared at one of Sarah’s cameras. Then he quickly ran through his options in his head. He remembered a name from his last visit. There was a man, using the term loosely, who helped him out of a run-in with one of the officials.
“Actually,” he said, “I’m also here to see Chori Kawf.”
The official once again looked off-screen. Jake saw him mouthing something.
“What’s he saying?” Jake asked Sarah, deciding the alien was male.
“I don’t know. He’s muted the audio.”
The alien officer paused, appearing to listen to someone. Then he turned back to Jake.
“You will dock your ship in the secure holding area where it will undergo inspection. It will remain there in quarantine until you depart Eon.”
“You must be kidding. Don’t translate that.”
“What shall I tell him?” Sarah asked.
Jake considered whether he could talk the official out of having his ship on lockdown. What if he needed to get back to Sarah in a hurry? And inspected? That was just asking for trouble. Especially since he was nearly tapped out of credits. No chance he could offer a respectable bribe if it came up. He could decline and come back in the shuttle to see if they’d let him in that way. But, he realized, coming there in a shuttle would arouse suspicion.
“We’re not carrying anything too illegal, are we?” he asked Sarah.
“Not really,” she said. “Nothing which would be out of place here, anyway.”
“Tell him we’ll dock as advised.”
“You’re just going to leave me there and let them snoop around in me?”
“You’ll be fine. All you need to do is act… try not to piss them off.”
“Fine. But you better not take too long.”
Sarah relayed the edited version of Jake’s response to the Eon Station border official and received the clearance code and directions to the assigned docking point.
The screen went to black.
“If you go down there and get yourself locked up, or worse,” Sarah said, “I’m not hanging around waiting for you.”
“You don’t mean that, darlin’.”
“Well… just be careful. OK?”
“Careful’s my middle name.”
“Oh! Honestly! Why do I put up with you?”
Jake rose from his chair. “Because you couldn’t go on without me.”
He went back to the viewing window and watched as they flew in for the approach and made their way around the perimeter of the station, heading toward the docking port.
Jake felt bad leaving Sarah in the holding area, but he realized he had no choice. At least he knew where to find her if things went sour, though under those circumstances getting through the layers of security to get back to her would be no easy task. He knew he could reach her on the comm link on his belt, but running the streets without drawing too much attention meant not having her on the line providing commentary the whole time.
As he stood holding the identification card he was assigned when he first stepped out of his ship, he nearly laughed at the extent of the security ring he’d passed through.
Somebody’s really taking things seriously around here now.
The man in front of him appeared to be the last one who would need to check his ID card. Jake held it up to the man.
“Reason for your visit?”
The uniformed officer wore a small metal box fixed in front of his throat by a band wrapped around his neck. Jake noticed five red lights flicker out of sync as he heard the man’s words. He also heard a second vocalization from the officer at the same time, but it was more of an undertone. His native language, no doubt, Jake thought.
“Do you want the same answer I gave the other six guys or something new?”
The man had obviously heard that one before. He sighed before speaking again. “Reason for your visit?”
Jake noted the color and style of the officer’s uniform looked remarkably like that of Crassus Kharn, the tyrant he’d faced off against on Daedalon weeks earlier.
“You ever met a Cracian?”
“Are you a Cracian?”
“Not by a long shot. Never mind. I’m here to pick up some supplies. Just routine. Passing through.”
“Right. Passing through. OK, then.” The officer stepped to the side and waved Jake on.
He winked at the man, then walked past him and out the door at the end of the hall.
When he stepped out of the building, Eon looked, sounded, and smelled more like he remembered. Tall buildings blocked out a third of the celestial view, and the blanket of clouds, which he knew to be smog, obscured another third. He noted a few of the flaming spires and pipes on the tops of the buildings belching crap into the space station’s artificial atmosphere. A mist, the settling pollution, drifted down in the warm air to cover everything with a dank odor.
Jake felt it coat his face and hands as he stood, deciding which way to head. He nudged a piece of trash away from his foot, and listened to the clamor of activity—conversations of passers-by, the hum of transport vehicles as they flew between the buildings, the shuffle of feet, the heated voices of confrontations, and the whispers of shady deals.
The street, lit from all around with a play of color and glow, stretched far to his left and right. In front of him, towers of metal and brownish glass formed a wall which rose into the dirty pseudo clouds. Alien signage jutted out the sides of the buildings, offering goods and services a guy would be jailed for in any civilized place. Jake could make out some of the signs. He’d picked up a few alien tongues in his travels. But many of them made their offers clear enough with pictures.
Storefront shacks huddled against the buildings and down into the alleyways between them. They were scraped together collections of castaway materials. Merchants gestured and presented items to potential customers who stepped up to the shops.
He found himself in a busy scene of people headed along the walkways in every direction. People is an easy term. They were aliens. Every shape, size, color, and who-knows-what you could imagine. But then again, so was he.
The dim lighting and long shadows of the tall buildings all around made everyone look like they were up to no good. Or maybe, Jake thought, they were up to no good. But then again, so was he.
Where to start?
Jake appreciated that he could walk the city without drawing attention, at least until he had to punch somebody in the face. And even then, most would mind their own business. Everyone had an agenda. If he didn’t cross their path, and they stayed out of his way, finding a seller for the license would be just a matter of time.
“I would never do that!” A man’s voice cried out.
Jake turned to the source. A thin elderly man working the nearest shop cowered away from two creatures twice his size. Big around the waist, and with a thick matted streak of hair down their shirtless backs, each of the heavies appeared to be a cross between an oversized man and a herd animal, though their legs were normal aside from being large. The heavyset pair leaned in toward the shop owner. One of them bumped the corrugated rusted tin which served as the shack’s roof, knocking it back a foot and tilting one of the two support posts.
Jake kept his distance, observing. He couldn’t understand what the two were saying to the frightened merchant, but they were obviously unhappy with the man.
The one that bumped the roof reached in and took hold of the shopkeeper’s collar, yanking him forward across the counter.
“No. Please don’t,” the man said as he floundered on top of his wares. Electronic devices and parts spilled off the display. The bruiser held the shopkeeper up with one hand and threatened him with the fist of his other.
Jake heard more alien gibberish from the thug. He felt like jumping in and sorting the two goons out, but he knew he needed to move around the city with discretion, given his purpose there. Eon Station officials expected the city’s inhabitants to run on the shady side, but a contraband galactic shipping license bordered on stepping over the line.
Better to let it go. They’re just scaring him. Shame. No respect for the elderly these days.
Then the second one patted his partner on the shoulder. The one holding the merchant shook the trembling man. Then he glanced to his left at his interfering partner. Jake watched a heated exchange between the two bruisers. The one on the left shoved the other. The one on the right released the old man and shoved his partner back. The merchant scrambled off the counter and ducked underneath the display table.
Jake imagined what the two partners screamed at each other for the next few seconds, but it still sounded like gibberish to him. He saw the shopkeeper scurry across the floor of his shop and rush through a door at the back, slamming it shut.
“Good for him,” Jake said. He peered down the street, blindly choosing a path for himself. Might as well start walking.
He made a point of giving the two arguing thugs a wide berth as he passed them. When he crossed in front of the shop, the two men traded punches. Then one of them rammed the other one, knocking him back several feet. Jake tried to get out of the man’s path, but a crowd of people behind him watching the scuffle blocked his path. The beast man slammed into Jake. He stumbled but kept on his feet.
“Easy, big guy,” Jake said.
The thug whipped around toward him. He screamed something which came out with a great deal of spit. Jake figured that little nugget of alien gibberish was a well-chosen profanity. He didn’t fault the man for it, but the nasty-smelling saliva he felt splash across his face wasn’t so easy to ignore.
That’s the problem with cities, you can’t just shoot someone and be done with it.
He wiped his cheek clean and shook his head at the guy. He threw in a pretty decent scowl too. His point must’ve gotten across, because the hairy-backed spitting alien took a swing at him. Jake saw the move coming and stepped in before the punch smacked him in the face. He put his left forearm up and inside to stifle the swing and clocked the man on his chin with a powerful right fist. Jake felt and heard the crack of knuckles to jawbone, and he watched the lights go out in the thug’s eyes. The man fell backward. Then Jake heard the gasp from the crowd behind him.
The other thug stood across from Jake, on the other side of his partner, who lay sprawled out on the pavement. He figured the guy might thank him for settling the dispute, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Jake listened to more alien screaming. He still couldn’t figure what any of it meant, but he was glad the sprays of saliva were falling on the guy’s partner instead of him.
Jake realized this guy was bigger than the other one. And he looked even more pissed off. When the enraged beast man brandished his fists, and hunkered toward him, on the attack, Jake wasted no time taking the guy up on his offer. He stepped onto the chest of the fallen thug before him and, pushing off the man’s gut with his second step, sprung toward the ill-tempered troublemaker. His full body weight hit the man in his chest, and the two flew backward, crashing into the front of the abandoned shop stand. Random pieces of the shop’s offerings scattered across the ground, and the bulk of the displayed wares fell onto the shop floor behind the counter.
Jake pushed himself up with one arm and flexed his brow, trying to clear the blur from his vision. A second later he could see again. The thug’s face loomed a foot in front of him. Jake clenched his hand and chambered his arm to strike, but then realized the man was out cold.
Jake got to his feet. He noticed the cracked support post behind the goon’s head. No blood. He held little sympathy for his attacker, but he was glad he didn’t have a death on his hands. That could complicate matters.
He turned around to work the city’s puzzle once again.
Where to look?
He expected the crowd watching the fight to have fanned out by now, but they stayed huddled. He noticed slips of paper and credit markers circulating around in the group. Half the faces in the crowd wore looks of disappointment. The other half of them seemed pleased with the outcome.
“Nice,” Jake said to himself. “I risk my neck, and they get to profit from it.”
He spotted a couple of city officers, wearing their distinct black hats with the black and white checkered band around the edge of the wide brim. And those shiny black boots, like midnight mirrors. Each officer had a shock stick dangling from the clip which held it to his belt.
Damn, those things sting.
They started across the street, coming toward the scene from behind the crowd of street gamblers.
Since when is a good old-fashioned fist fight illegal in Eon? Maybe it’s the street gambling. But that’d be a new law.
The crowd of onlookers settled their bets and peeled off a few at a time. Jake got a better view of the patrol officers. They had eyes on him through the crowd of the remaining gamblers.
Jake walked, not too fast, and kept watch with his peripheral vision as he headed for an alley.
As the two beat cops moved through the scattering crowd, one of the gamblers stepped in front of the officers. Jake allowed himself to turn his head slightly to see what was going on. The gambler gestured wildly and pointed to another man walking away from the gathering. The patrolman raised his arm and pushed the man aside at the shoulder.
Jake kept walking as he watched. The alley, only twenty feet ahead, offered a heavy cloak of darkness. Just what he needed. No time to get entangled with the local law enforcement, he thought.
Before he reached the turn between the buildings, he saw the desperate gambler make the wrong move. The man lurched back toward the officer who had pushed him aside. He grabbed the patrolman by the collar with both hands. Jake heard the man’s plea, echoing down the street.
Bad bet’s about to become a bad night.
Jake’s prediction came true as the second officer clenched his shock stick, yanked it from the hook on his belt, and brought it down on the gambler. The flicker from the charge was unmistakable. Jake could see it clearly, even half a block away. He shook his head in pity as he ducked into the alley.
His eyes adjusted after taking a few steps blindly into the shadows. He walked the alley and empty shadows revealed their secrets. Most of the dark hideaways weren’t as empty as they seemed.
“Need a place to stay?” The sultry voice breathed out of a recess in the wall to his right. The face it belonged to appeared. The woman leaned forward enough to catch a soft fan of dim light.
She wore a long angelic dress, but Jake knew she would appear any way a man wanted if he paid the going rate.
“I have a place here,” she said, “if you need it, even if it’s only for the hour.”
Jake said nothing and kept walking.
He reached the end of the alley, but found a turn into another and took it.
More shadows. He stepped through a few puddles trying not to think what the liquid might be. The sounds of the busy streets of Eon were muffled by the buildings, blurring the silence, into a steady background murmur.
Somehow the alley felt colder. Maybe the darkness, he thought.
Some of the city light came from the signs and the lights on the buildings, and from within them. But Eon had a sky glow. That’s what they called it. Made the place more like people expected it to be, like a city… on a planet. Not some cluster of stacked and welded buildings and superstructure drifting in uncharted space.
But the alleys didn’t get the sky glow. The towering cityscape created slivers of darkness, black veins running throughout the metropolis. And they ran dirty and cold.
He knew these were the places he needed to look in to get what he came for.
Trouble was, with thousands of such shadowed corridors, knowing which to search proved tricky.
He walked on, taking a few more turns.
“Not your neighborhood, is it?”
Jake stopped and gazed at the filthy man crouched on the ground beside the back wall of a building which, no doubt, appeared much brighter and welcoming on the street side. “Whose neighborhood is it, then?”
The man fidgeted his hands together, giggling in as distasteful a manner as Jake thought possible before answering. “If you don’t know that,” he giggled some more before finishing his response, “then you are in the wrong place.”
“I’m looking to buy something,” Jake said. “Who would I talk to?”
“Women? Juices?” The man pushed his sleeve up and held his arm out for Jake to see. It bore marks, from wrist to elbow.
“No.” Jake turned and moved his hand near his blaster, drawing the man’s attention to the threat.
The man withdrew against the wall. “No trouble. No trouble here.”
Jake relaxed his hand away from his blaster. “I’m looking for some hard-to-get items. Stuff you can’t find on the streets.”
“Oh, I see. You want to talk to Baron Vos.”
“Where can I find him?”
The man raised his arm. It shook as he pointed down the alley. “Keep going. If you make it the next five blocks, then you may find him.”
“If I make it?”
The man shrugged and began giggling again. Then he curled up and ducked his head down. He mumbled and continued to giggle between unintelligible mutterings.
Jake shook his head at the wretched condition of the man. Then he left him to his choices and continued down the dark alley until he could hear the insane giggling no more.
He walked through the alleys for three more blocks without seeing another person. As he passed each adjoining alley the most persistent rays of light from the streets made their way across his path, but only slightly. The signs hanging from the buildings, affixed at the edge of the street-facing sides, blocked much of the light. A dumpster in the first intersecting alley and piles of trash stacked way too high in the next two held back a good bit of the glow from the street. It seemed to Jake that the street dwellers preferred the obstructions between them and the darkness of the back alleys. The fact that so many people busied themselves in the street and hardly anyone ventured where Jake now walked heightened his sense that he was heading into trouble.
He heard a whirring sound overhead and looked up. He let his eyes adjust for a second to peer into the long shadow from the building on his right to the one on his left. Once they did, he spotted the source of the noise. Forty feet off the ground hovered a drone. It was about the size of his hand. He figured it had at least six blades. They were spinning too fast to see them clearly, but he could see the black lines of the framework extending out to six points. He caught a reflection from what he figured to be a lens suspended below the center of the craft. He watched the drone, and it seemed to be watching him.
He stood for several seconds, waiting it out. The drone stayed above him. He placed his hand on his blaster. The drone lifted higher. Then it flew off around the side of the building.
A guy can’t walk dark alleys in a crime-infested city without being spied on. What’s the galaxy coming to?
Read the rest of the story. Get Forced Vengeance now on Amazon. Also in Kindle Unlimited.