Jnk-HP07, better known as Junkheap, was a small space station that drifted along in the outer bounds of shallow space. Originally, it’d been built as a refueling station for some long-bankrupt shipping company –parts of its faded logo could still be seen on the beams on the station’s underside – but it was long abandoned and now served as a sort of home for traders, mercenaries, star chasers, and all sorts of other drifters. Most people didn’t stay for more than a few days, but there were a few lifelong residents that kept the comms and artificial atmosphere working.
After receiving permission to dock, Chevalier landed the Spitfire, disembarked with Selene on his shoulder and got busy surveying the damage. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad. A few holes here and there, and the right wing would need some panels replaced, but it could have been much worse. The thrusters could also probably stand to be replaced, scored as they were by his prolonged use of full power. Added to the cost of replacing his shields as well, Chevalier could already see his salvage profits dwindling in his mind’s eye. Oh well. There was nothing for it. When it came to absolute necessities out in the vast expanse of the Empty as a freelancer, a functional ship was absolutely at the top of the list.
Satisfied that he knew the extent of the damage, Chevalier opened the door to the jump dock and took a look at his reduced payday. At first glance, he figured that he’d lost just under half of his total haul, and some of what remained had been damaged or destroyed by the haphazard nature of the escape. That was a shame, because some of the things that would now only have value as scrap would have probably fetched a decent price on the black market. Selene jumped down from Chevalier’s shoulder and loudly –for her size that is – bemoaned the fact that so much had been lost, but Chevalier paid her no mind. He’d made peace with his decision as soon as he’d made it, and had no interest in wasting time or energy wondering about what could have been. Sometimes things worked out well, and sometimes you got chased down by a recovery crew. That was life out in space.
Walking among the loot, Chevalier captured images of each piece with his camera and saved them to a memstick. As far as almost-lawless space stations went, Junkheap was pretty safe, but he wasn’t going to go and test fate by hauling expensive pieces of machinery to Bartholomew’s shop. Plus, he then wouldn’t have to carry back any of the stuff his friend didn’t want.
“Ready to go, Selene? I’ve got everything imaged and stored so that Bartholomew can take a look at it.”
The little dragon muttered something that was surely not flattering but scurried back out of the jump dock and crawled up Chevalier’s leg to perch inside the small bag Chevalier had slung over his shoulder. She’d stay in there for as long as they were walking out and about on Junkheap. Space dragons weren’t quite considered extinct out in the wider universe, but they were damn rare and Chevalier had never heard of any like Selene before. Once again, he didn’t want any members of the Junkheap underbelly to get any ideas.
With Selene secured and comfortable, Chevalier moved to the elevator at the far end of the docking bay and inserted his key into the security panel. Anonymity was one of the perks of docking on Junkheap, as an opaque orb of purple energy surrounded his ship and completely obscured it from vision. There were a half dozen other such orbs on the dock, all of uniform size even if the ships inside probably weren’t. If the Plagtos scouts had somehow managed to follow him to Junkheap, they wouldn’t be able to tell which ship was his, and Chevalier knew for a fact that Layla, the station master, wouldn’t let any outside force other than the Empire’s turn off the orbs to conduct a search. With a smile, Chevalier pressed the ascent button on the lift and there was a hydraulic hiss as he shot up to the surface.
Outside the elevator, Chevalier took a deep breath of the filtered air and took a second to appreciate how fresh it was. The scent of oil and other chemicals that had been heavy down on the dock were not present here, nor was there any hint of staleness like he lived with aboard the Spitfire.
Despite its name, Junkheap’s surface was actually pretty. Evenly-spaced trees lined the roads and sidewalks, and there were plenty of small parks and gardens full of flowers of every color and grasses from nearby planets. There were even a few small ponds, lakes and rivers, all installed and maintained by Layla and her crew. Chevalier made his way down to the part of the station known as “little junkheap”, which had originally all been scrapyards and now had been turned into the stations industrial district. He nodded at and exchanged pleasantries with the people he came across. Junkheap attracted all sorts of living creatures. Layla herself and all of her crew were Onkell – hexapodes with translucent skin and tentacle-like mouths—and so there were plenty of Onkell out and about, but there were also lots of humans and other alien races wandering freely. Chevalier even saw a few droidkin chattering to each other in their rigid, mechanical language.
He stopped at a small stall near the mechanic’s district and purchased some troofles. The brightly colored cubes of sugar and candied nuts about the size of Chevalier’s fingertip were sweet and a little sticky, so at the stall-owners recommendation he also bought some fizzy lemonade to help wash them down. The sourness of the drink complemented the fruity and crunchy flavor of the snacks well. When he was done, Chevalier dropped a handful of the remaining troofles into his bag and heard a muffled but aggressive crunching inside as Selene eagerly devoured them. The little dragon had quite the sweet tooth, and Chevalier hoped that they’d keep her occupied while he talked to Bartholomew about the goods aboard his ship. The last thing he needed during a negotiation with the black-market-dealer-posing-as-an-honest-mechanic was a small, excitable dragon getting in his way.
He started to head down the alley towards the red and white sign above Bartholomew’s shop when a voice behind him called out his name and got his attention. When he turned towards it, he smiled.
“Ah, Rivi! Fancy meeting you here! How have you been?”
Rivi returned his grin as she sauntered over to him. She wore a simple outfit of black pants and a cream-colored shirt which had had one of its sleeves removed to allow her prosthetic left arm complete freedom to move. The metal was socketed into her muscular shoulder, and the contrast between the silver of the arm’s plating and the black of her skin was striking. Her well-used laser trident hung from a sling strapped across her back, and holstered tightly to her hip was a blaster that had just been polished. She had an imposing prosthetic eye too, but on the whole didn’t look much more than a bit older than Chevalier’s own twenty-eight standard years. Unfortunately, in her case that didn’t mean much. Rivi was a star-chaser, a dreamer who’d soared across the cosmos for gods-knew-how-long looking for undiscovered stars and planets. Star chasers had a saying: Time’s more than a little soft out in the Empty. That meant, that for all Chevalier knew, she could have been hundreds or maybe even thousands of years old.
But she was his friend and Chevalier was firmly of the mind that one could never have too many friends. It was good to see a friendly face.
“How long has it been since I last saw you?” she asked as she crushed him in a hug that would have made any bear blush. As he wheezed out an answer, Rivi laughed and tousled his hair. “It’s good to see you again, Chev. Let me think. It couldn’t have been that long ago, but I’m pretty sure I heard you’d gotten into some trouble with one of the library-stations out near Vrok. Something about stealing a book that could eat stars? That can’t be right, right?”
Suddenly embarrassed, Chevalier looked down at the ground and Rivi laughed again. “I can’t believe you! Honestly, Chev, that’s hardly a proper adventure for a knight like yourself. You and I both know that the librarians of Vrok are a stuffy old bunch but that doesn’t justify stealing from them. Besides, I would have thought you’d prefer to spend your time slaying monsters in deep space or rescuing damsels in distress.”
“There were extenuating circumstances,” Chevalier said sheepishly. “I went to Vrok for an unrelated matter and got into a bit of a spat with this guy who also claimed to be a knight despite the fact that he – you know what, it’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it some other time. The important bit is that yes, while I technically stole said star-eating book from the library and may or may not have also destroyed an entire library wing as part of the related chase and shootout, I did not get in any trouble. Whoever you got that from must not have heard the whole thing.”
“That’s how it usually goes,” Rivi said. “So what brings you out to Junkheap?”
“I’m going to see if Bartholomew wants to buy any of the stuff I salvaged from a Plagtos wreckage. You know how it is. How about you? Guard duty?”
Rivi whistled and shrugged. “Yeah.Small merchant vessel. Spices, mostly, and a few other exotics. They’re meeting up with some other caravan here in a few days and I didn’t sign up to protect them after they did, so I’m just kind of hanging out for a while until I figure out what I want to do next. Say, why don’t we get a drink once you finish hawking your illicit gains to Bartholomew? How about it? Say, around nine at The Gray Cat? We can actually catch up, and you can bring Selene. I’d like to see her again. It’s been too long.”
At the sound of her name, Selene ceased crunching on the troofles and popped her head up out of the bag. All wariness and caution was gone, chased away by the chance to preen and be complimented by Rivi. The star chaser bent down to scratch the scales beneath Selene’s chin and the small dragon basically purred.
“Why, you’re even more lovely than the last time I saw you, Selene. But still so small! What happened? I thought you told me that you were going to grow and grow until you were big enough for me to chase stars on your back. It doesn’t look like you’ve grown an inch!”
Selene glared up at Chevalier. “It’s all his fault. He wastes his time dillydallying around with nonsense like hunting for rare books or ancient artifacts and would rather salvage trash from wrecks and sell it for chump change instead of taking on a proper adventure. He’d rather be locked in jail than try and kill a monster. You know, Rivi, I wish you’d been the one to find the ring of Blue Moon. You’d be a much better Chevalier than this idiot.”
“I”ll have you know that hunting monsters and rescuing damsels is dangerous,” Chevalier said. “And usually the rewards aren’t worth it in the slightest.”
“That’s because you’re a coward, Chevalier.”
“Ah-hah, but you’re too harsh on him,” Rivi said with a shake of her head. She looked at the silver ring with a big blue stone Chevalier wore on his right index finger. “Was it not his dillydallying around looking for ancient artifacts that led to him finding the ring and freeing you from it in the first place? You told me how you two met, and I assure you that I would not have borne half the trials he did to secure the ring from the sulfurous depths of Thoevis. Besides, I think that you and I would not get along nearly so well as you two do. He is a fine Chevalier. Just needs a good kick in the ass once in a while. Well Chev, I should let you get to Bartholomew’s. Good seeing you. Hope you decide to come for that drink later.”
Rivi straightened back up and smiled. With another wave of her prosthetic arm, the star chaser turned around and walked down the street from whence she’d come before turning around a corner and disappearing from view.
“Good to see her, “ Selene said as she retreated back into Chevalier’s bag. “I like Rivi.”
“Mhm, I do too,” Chevalier said as he turned back towards Bartholomew’s shop. “I’ll probably go get that drink with her later. It’d be good to catch up and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of money once we get the Spitfire unloaded.”
Selene popped back up out of the bag. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
“I can’t explain it,” the space dragon said. “I just got a bad feeling about it. I don’t think you should go. Catch up with her some other time, or at least at some other place. The Gray Cat sounds kind of sketchy and thinking about it makes my scales crawl.”
Her entire body trembled and she shook her head. When she opened her eyes, she looked up at Chevalier, who was watching her with a wry eyebrow raised. “I’m serious, Chevalier! Taking her up on her offer is a bad, bad, bad idea! Remember what happened the last time you ignored one of my bad feelings?”
Chevalier didn’t answer, as he was opening the door to Bartholomew’s shop. Hearing the dull ring of the entry bell, Selene ducked back into the comforting darkness and relative safety of the bag.
“Even if you don’t, I do. It wasn’t much fun either,” she muttered to herself. “Not much fun at all.”