Chapter 1

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Chevalier eyed the wreckage around his ship. Crates of cargo and blasted bits of rubble both floated aimlessly though space. Some of the pieces bore signs of the battle that had left them in this state – blaster marks or explosion damage – but others were as fresh and pristine as the day they’d been made. It was this latter group of salvage that most interested Chevalier, to say nothing of his draconic assistant Selene. The tiny blue dragon, no bigger than Chevalier’s forearm arched her back like a cat, let her forked tongue flap like a dog and poked his stomach with her tiny but sharp index talon.

“Treasure! All mine! Get to work, you lazy bum! There’s money to be made out there!”

Chevalier stood up and plucked the dragon from her perch on his control console. She shrieked and breathed fire towards him, but due to her size no more than a lighter’s spark came out and it was harmless.  Chevalier brushed it away and smiled.

“You’re going to need to do better than that if you want to boss me around, Selene.”

This prompted another set of jabs from the dragons talons. “That’s because you’re weak, human! If you would only take your job seriously, I would be large enough to conquer this galaxy by myself. Instead, since you waste your time and talent drinking, gambling, and womanizing I’m trapped in this pathetic form! Now stop yapping and get to salvaging! After all, you’re hungry too, right?”

Chevalier couldn’t argue with that. While he disputed his assistant’s claims about how he spent his time, he couldn’t deny that he was starting to run low on funds and by extension, food. Setting his ship’s computer to keep the vessel in approximately the same place, Chevalier activated his lifekeeping suit, pulled down his visor and walked to his ship’s jump dock. A press of the button released the air lock door and it hissed shut after Chevalier went through.

The jump dock was big for the size of Chevalier’s ship, but that wasn’t saying much. He had enough space to pack up a few hundred pounds of stuff, depending on how bulky it was. Most of the really valuable debris, like consoles and bulk cargo, would be too big to fit on his ship. Instead, he’d have to settle himself for smaller components like power cells, appliances and drives of computer data that could be sold easily.

In addition to his own storage concerns, there was also a time component to what Selene so diplomatically called “salvaging.” Technically speaking, the wreckage of the vessel in question still belonged to the company that had chartered the ship and Chevalier was sure that they were sending a recovery crew to the site soon if they hadn’t already. He had no way of knowing how fast they’d learned about the pirate attack, and so didn’t know if he had minutes, hours, or days to peruse the wreckage.

No time to waste then. Pushing another button, Chevalier opened the outspace door and floated into the empty with a tether firmly in his grasp. He checked his suit’s vital signs and let go of the tether once he was sure that everything was working as it was supposed to be. Selene floated next to him, equally at home in the void as she’d been aboard the ship. The only difference was that her scales were a different color out in space, taking on an almost purple hue. They also sparkled from time to time, giving Selene the appearance of being made of crystal.

She darted off towards a floating box and Chevalier swam after her. Normally, humans who wanted to move around in the empty needed thrusters and jetpacks and all sorts of fancy gadgetry, but the magic of the ring Chevalier wore – which bound him to Selene – let him move through it as if it were water. It was a strange sensation, but Chevalier had grown used to it and did not let it bother him. Much.

The box that Selene had found was slightly battle scarred, with one of the corners bearing the telltale char of laser fire. However, the damage was minor and Chevalier quickly got to work “opening it up” with his omni-tool. Alternating blows from the tool’s hooked end to jar pieces loose with judicious use of the straight end’s plasma cutter, Chevalier ripped and tore the box apart until he saw the treasure that awaited him inside.

“I think it’s a blender,” Selene said. “One of those big ones, like you see on the gourmet galleys.”

It certainly looked like a blender, but Chevalier wasn’t particularly good with machines and he was pretty sure Selene wasn’t either. Regardless of what it was though, it definitely looked *expensive* and that was ultimately far more important. He hacked away the rest of the box it was in and started floating it over to his ship. When he’d first started salvaging, he would have kept it in its box for easier packing and unpacking, but in recent months the shipping companies had wised up to the work of unregistered salvagers like himself and had started putting trackers on the boxes that were automatically scanned at shipyards. After one particularly blaster-filled experience, Chevalier had vowed to never take cargo boxes onto his ship ever again.

He swam back to the rubble a few more times and opened some more boxes. As usual, the ones that Selene identified for him – normally by crawling all over them and scratching the hell out of the container in an attempt to break inside –tended to have more valuable stuff inside than the ones he picked out by himself. As such, she made a great deal of noise about that fact and crowed in his ear as he broke open another box that she wanted nothing to do with only to find that it contained bulk packages of flour and sugar.

“You just don’t have a dragon’s instincts,” she said. “After all, we’re dignified hoarding creatures, so we can smell value. That’s one reason, though far from the only one, that dragons are superior to humans! Your sense for treasure lacks our refined approach to procurement.”

She had rolled over so that she was floating along upside down, and Chevalier glared at her for a moment before giving her a poke with the plasma cutter of his omni-tool. It didn’t do any real damage. Small as she was, Selene was still a space dragon and her scales were every bit as hard as those that had been forged into the weapons and armors of legend eons ago.

If only she was a bit bigger and willing to let Chevalier take a few scales as she shed them, he thought. Then he’d have some real money.

And some real problems too, his annoying “responsible citizen” voice hummed in the back of his mind. People would start asking questions pretty fast. Like, where did you get space dragon scales? And then if you told them you’d have to tango with kings or emperors or merchant guild leaders or heads of organized crime syndicates who all wanted them for their own purposes. Let’s face it: that’d be a pain in the ass.

All in all, it was probably for the best that Selene was too small to have usable scales and would have killed him before letting him harvest any, he decided. Too much trouble.

Chevalier returned to the remains of the ruined ship. He was starting to get tired and his oxygen was less than half full. The jump dock wasn’t as full as he would have liked, but in addition to the blender he’d found first, Chevalier and Selene had found a bunch of other knickknacks that were bound to be worth some coin. Having grown bored of doing actual work, Selene had already returned to the jump dock and was gleefully zipping around the goods, excitedly speaking to herself in draconic and trying to rub her body over every inch of her new “hoard”. Such dignity and refined treasure accrual. Shaking his head, Chevalier abandoned the piece of debris he’d been holding and started swimming back to his ship when a small sparkle some distance away caught his eye. He pulled himself towards it and scooped it up.

It had looked like a cluster of purple crystals at first, but once Chevalier had it in his hands he could see that it was a box. A glowing bracelet sat inside, pulsing weakly now and again. The bracelet didn’t seem particularly fancy, but Chevalier had a strict pick-up-potential-magical-artifacts policy and so decided that it was worth taking back to the ship. He traced his finger along the edge of the seam, but no matter how he pulled or pried the cluster refused to separate. He took that as a good sign, as it was probably no regular box and figured that if the closure was magical Selene would be able to get it open. She was generally pretty good at that sort of thing.

What she was not good at, Chevalier realized when he got back inside onto the jump dock, was preserving any remote amount of sanity when faced with shiny new pieces of treasure.

“Mine! Mine! All…mine! Oh, how I’ve missed this feeling! So many beautiful pieces of treasure and they all belong to me!”

Chevalier closed the outspace door to the jump dock and waited until his suit’s sensors assured him that it was safe inside to remove his helmet. He did so and ran his fingers through his hair. He felt more than saw the sweat fly off in every direction and vanish, absorbed back into the ship’s systems for later.

“You know that we’re not keeping any of this crap, right? As soon as we get to Junkheap we’re going to get in touch with Bartholomew and offload as much to him as he’s willing to buy. If we have anything left after that we’re going to take it to the scrapyard and get wholesale value for it. You probably shouldn’t be getting so attached.”

Selene arched her back with a hiss before skittering across the floor towards him. “Don’t speak such nonsense,” she cried, her voice syrupy with greed. “This is my hoard and you won’t be getting rid of a single piece!”

Chevalier squatted down so that he was looking directly into Selene’s eyes. Her sapphire irises had gone dull and the sclera was hazy, giving her eyes the appearance of a glazed donut. “We go through this every time we go and salvage, Selene. We’re not building a hoard, we’re trying to make enough money to not have to worry about food for a while. Remember the big picture. Aren’t you dragons supposed to be excellent at that?”

His companion’s eyes snapped back to normal and she spun around so that she was no longer looking at Chevalier. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he had a feeling that if she had arms, she’d be crossing them.  “Psh. We are better macro thinkers than you humans could ever hope to be. Of course we’re going to be selling this trash. I was just saying as much.”

She made a big show of walking away normally, but when she reached the shadows beneath the first blender they’d recovered and thought Chevalier was no longer looking, she slunk underneath. As he passed by it on his way back to the cockpit to start the return trip, Chevalier heard a distinct –albeit quiet –shooshing sound that he recognized as the little dragon’s tears. He smiled. Dragons were strange. Or at least, Selene was and she was the only dragon he’d ever met.

Grabbing a meal bottle from the mini fridge next to his controls, Chevalier slumped down in front of his monitor and took a big swig. The liquid was foul and he grimaced as he swallowed, but it took the edge off his hunger and he knew from experience that by the time it was empty he wouldn’t be hungry any more. Though, he wouldn’t be able to say if it was from satiety or disgust. Those maybe worked out to the same thing, in the long run. That knowledge would have to sustain him through the rest of vile concoction.

His physical needs seen to, Chevalier surveyed the wreckage one last time before firing up his thrusters and heading for Junkheap. All in all, it had been a pretty good salvage. The jump dock was full enough that he wouldn’t have to worry about money for a while but still had enough space left that he could pick up a few more things if he happened along another small wreck on his return trip.

Whoever had demolished the cargo ship had been pretty surgical about the whole thing; there were no floating corpses anywhere the Chevalier could see. That was pretty fortunate. Not having to deal with the dead’s unseeing, yet judging, eyes was a blessing and Chevalier threw up a belated thanks to his lucky stars. He hated salvaging among bodies, because every time he did it he’d see their faces in his dreams for weeks afterwards.

Come to think of it, the fact that there were no bodies was also pretty strange. Given the size of the wreckage site, the destroyed cargo ship must have been pretty big. A whale-class, probably, at least five waves long, maybe even seven. Ships like that normally had at least a hundred crewmembers. Sometimes they had as many as three hundred. Yet as he scanned the area, he didn’t see a single body. How had that happened?

His mind racing, Chevalier scooted his ship around the debris, taking care to avoid the biggest pieces and letting his ship’s shields vaporize the smaller stuff that would have hit it. Now and then, he saw something that would have probably been worth a nice little bit of cash, but he was worn out and had no desire to go through the process of gearing up and doing another salvage jump. There would always be other salvages to pilfer.

Before he could really satisfy his curiosity, his scanners flashed red and started beeping. He angled his auxiliary camera towards the region in question and saw to his immense chagrin a pair of scout minnows heading for the wreckage. They were painted with the red and black insignias of Plagtos, a large shipping conglomerate, and everything Chevalier had ever heard about them was pretty clear that the bosses didn’t take kindly to salvagers like himself.

A voice crackled into the cockpit over the public frequency. “Unidentified ship, halt. You are in a sector that belongs to Plagtos. All of the debris in this region are our rightful property. Remain where you are and we will send an agent to your vessel to ensure that none of our goods are aboard your ship. If you do not comply we will treat you as hostile. Please respond.”

He hadn’t seen her do it, but Selene had returned to the cockpit at some point and was perched on his control panel.

“You’re not going to comply with them, right?”

Chevalier smiled. Checking his instruments and chugging the rest of his meal bottle, he settled into position on the controls and looked at the approaching minnows. His targeting computer settled on the rightmost scout and once he was sure that he had the line calculated properly, he pulled the trigger on his ship’s cannon and kicked the thruster pedal as hard as he could. The Spitfire jerked to life as the lasers ripped toward the minnows.

Unfortunately, the scouts were better than he’d hoped they were and the rightmost minnow easily dodged his underhanded alpha strike.

“You’ll pay for that, you bastard!”

Selene took flight once more as the minnows started their counter-attack. As the vessel rocked back and forth from the first of what was sure to be many explosions bursting on either side, she pointed at the monitor and started chattering. “Get them, get them! Or at least, get away! I don’t want to get blown up with all this treasure aboard!”

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