Chapter 9


The Chillsword took another few steps towards Chevalier. Up close, Chevalier could see that the mercenary’s armor was heaving ever so slowly. Though he still could not see through his foe’s helmet, the Chillsword’s posture was resigned and weary. This was not a great triumph, nor a righteous act of punishment. Perhaps it had seemed that way seconds ago, but the moment had passed, and Chevalier saw nothing but grim determination in the way his death approached.

Where the Chillsword’s blade hovered above the ground, a thin layer of frost appeared on the silver of the dock, and the energy around the weapon’s blade hummed with mechanical menace. The orbs of plasma sitting ready in the pockets of the Chillsword’s pauldron cannons crackled and popped, and Chevalier felt as if he was staring down a pair of hungry beasts.

Very hungry beasts.

The currents were dim in his vision, their blue light having faded to almost nothing and he didn’t bother reaching for them. He doubted that he would have been able to control any power he managed to draw, and frankly the entire effort seemed to be a waste of time.

He looked over at the Sword of Blue Moon. Too far to grab, and likely not much use even if he somehow managed it. Would it fade away when he was killed and return to the ring? Or would it be simply remain there to be picked up by the Chillsword and given to Plagtos? It was stupid, but he resented the idea of the conglomerate taking his sword for themselves. What did they need it for? They hadn’t struggled or sacrificed to get it. It didn’t belong to them. It was his, and his alone.

It was a stupid thought, and the knight was glad that it was fleeting.

Chevalier fought back the urge to close his eyes. He stared into the Chillsword’s opaque sockets and grinned. He might be dying soon, but he’d be damned if he was going to go out like a coward.

“Any last words, scum?”

Before Chevalier could answer, there was the telltale zing of a laser blaster and a bolt ricocheted off of the Chillsword’s back. It hadn’t done any damage, but it got the mercenary’s attention and so stayed Chevalier’s execution. For the moment anyways.

Chevalier and the Chillsword both looked at the source of the shot.

Bartholomew, his feathers raised and his four arms shaking, stood on Spitfire’s ramp. He held a weapon in three of his hands, a single blaster and two knives. In his fourth hand was a small communicator with a blinking red light.

“Station master and her security forces are on their way,” the arlai said. “I suspect that she won’t take kindly ta the damage ya’ve caused ta her station dock.”

The Chillsword took a step towards Bartholomew and pointed his sword at the contraband dealer. “Your associate is to blame for that. In addition to being a thief, this man is a murderer and killed a Plagtos employee who—”

“Who attacked him first,” Bartholomew interrupted. “I saw it happen. I am a well-known merchant and mechanic here on Junkheap, sell-sword. The station master will trust my testimony, of that I am certain. Ya should avoid making things worse for yaself and wait for her ta arrive. I’m sure that yar employer would say the same.”

There was a moment as the Chillsword thought through the implications of Bartholomew’s bravado. Plagtos was meticulous when it came to protecting their reputation, as any massive conglomerate could reasonably be expected to be. Especially when doing business in the Aguelot Empire, who were known to be more than a bit prickly when it came to making and abiding by rules. Chevalier didn’t think much of Augustian Aguelot, the Emperor, but the man was undoubtedly a force of good for the average citizen. Under the yoke of Imperial control, regular people didn’t need to fear the whims of shipping conglomerates, crime syndicates, or feudal captains the way that they might have if they’d lived in independent systems. Safety was one of those things you could never have too much of in the vast sea of stars, and whatever taxes they paid to keep Augustian’s fleets in good repair were probably seen as worth their price many times over.

“You make a fair point,” the Chillsword said. He deactivated his shoulder cannons but kept his sword poised to strike. “So long as the blue swordsman remains peaceful, I will cause no more trouble for this station.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Chevalier coughed as he failed to stand up. “I can barely move.”

The Chillsword regarded him coldly. “You murdered my companion, swordsman. You should be conversing with him in the afterlife.”

Chevalier didn’t respond. Partially because he couldn’t think of a proper rejoinder and partially because his chest ached like hell and his breath was coming in quick, ragged gasps. Definitely a few cracked ribs, at the bare minimum. His focus flickered and he saw the light coming from the gem in his sword fading. His scarf fell to his side as the hidden wind faded and almost at the same time the Armor of Blue Moon started melting off his body. Like water, his pauldrons dripped down his arms and splashed onto the ground before fading into the ether. The breastplate followed them, as did his gauntlets and boots. His helmet was the last thing to go, and the world’s colors slowly returned to normal without the visor over his eyes.

The Sword of Blue Moon, however, did not melt. It remained on the floor of the dock, and didn’t seem to be on the verge of vanishing any time soon. With the armor gone, the weapon’s gem regained some of its luster, and Chevalier glanced down at the ring on his finger. It looked the way it always did, but Chevalier didn’t sense the whispering presence at all. Anxiety about the blade wormed its way back into Chevalier’s thoughts.He could not let Plagtos or anyone else possess it.

“Chillsword, would you grant me a favor?”

“What might that be?”

“Would you let me retrieve my blade and return it to its sheath? I fear losing it, and as a swordsman yourself I’m sure that you can understand my apprehension. I assure you that if our positions were reversed I would not prevent you from reclaiming your weapon.”

The mercenary was quiet as he stared into Chevalier’s eyes. “And why should I allow you to do that? What’s to stop you from attacking me with it if you’re allowed to take it back into your possession? Only a fool would let his foe collect his weapon without condition, and I am not a fool.”

Chevalier gestured to his outfit. His clothes were stained and had a few tears that probably hadn’t been there before the battle. Chevalier still wasn’t entirely sure how the Armor of Blue Moon interacted with his clothes, but it wasn’t important enough to really think about. Especially not now. “You have nothing to fear from me. I am wounded, and my power wanes to naught. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I could even swing my sword right now, let alone have the strength to pierce your armor.”

“Your blade doesn’t seem like the type to need much strength to cut through things. I do not like this risk, swordsman.”

With a shrug, Chevalier took a step towards his sword. He took it as a good sign that he wasn’t cut to pieces instantly, and took a few steps more. Walking was harder than he thought it’d be though, and he had to stop to catch his breath twice as he limped along. It was embarrassing to be so winded from such a short distance, but Chevalier did his best to remain dignified.

The Sword of Blue Moon was cold to the touch when he picked it up and it was awkwardly balanced. The grip was too big for his hands and Chevalier found the weapon’s design garish instead of beautiful. A wave of revulsion rushed through him. He’d been such a fool. This is what he’d risked his life for? To pick up this worthless blade? Who cared if Plagtos wanted it – or anyone else for that matter? He should give it to them and thank them for the trouble of taking it away from him.

“’Tis a fine blade,” the Chillsword said, interrupting Chevalier’s thoughts and breaking the sense of wrongness that filled the knight’s hands. With a great deal of effort, Chevalier found the narrow gap in reality that allowed him to return the weapon to it’s sheath, and the blade vanished in his hand. He felt better almost instantly, and wondered if perhaps his aversion to the sword had been the doing of the whispering presence.

“It is indeed,” Chevalier said. “Do you have a name, Chillsword, so that I might thank you properly, one swordsman to another?”

“You may call me Kellen.”

Chevalier bowed, blinking back tears as the movement caused pain to erupt in his torso. “I thank you, Kellen.”

Kellen nodded, but said no more. Chevalier stumbled back to his wall and sank down to the ground. He heard the distant whirring of the lifts all around the dock, and smiled at Bartholomew.

“Looks like the station master is here,” he said.

“Sure does,” the arlai replied. “Fair warning, kid. She’s not going ta be real pleased with ya. I wouldn’t be surprised if ya end up spending a month in the brig while she calms back down.”

There was a hum and a mechanical growl as the elevators opened and Layla and her security staff came onto the dock. The onkell was carrying a heavy rifle and was decked out in a combat vest. The tentacles that made up her mouth were writhing back and forth and her irritation was palpable as the station master approached Chevalier and Kellen.

“What the hell happened here?” She gestured at the holes in the walls, the burn marks on the floor, and the smoldering halves of the ship that had been demolished by Kellen’s plasma cannons. “This is the worst damage that my station has suffered since I became the master, and I will have answers for how it happened.”

She turned to Bartholomew, who inclined his head toward her in an informal bow. “I am not surprised that your sticky feathers are tied up in this, Bartholomew.”

Bartholomew threw his head back and laughed. “Master Layla, I assure you that my reasons for being here are completely legitimate.” He pointed at Chevalier. “My crew repairs this guy’s ship from time to time and I was down here to diagnose a problem with his ship’s shields.”

Layla gwarbled. The onkell expression was a combination of a snort, sneer, and chuckle. She didn’t press the point any further though, which Chevalier was grateful for. It wouldn’t do his cause any favors if the station master of Junkheap accused him of dealing in black market goods.

There were eight members of Layla’s defense force. Three of them were onkells, with varying colors and patterns. All of them carried heavy blasters and wore vests similar to Layla’s. They had the grizzled look of veteran soldiers. Two of them were droidkin, made of silver and black metal and they both had glowing red eyes. They looked like they were specifically designed for close combat, with a dizzying array of blades and saws popping out of their arms and chests. Chevalier thanked his stars that he wasn’t going to be expected to fight them up close.

The last three members of Layla’s crew were humans, and they all carried different weapons. One carried a spear, the second carried a pair of blasters, and the third wore heavy gauntlets that crackled with electricity. They looked like serious, well-trained people, but Chevalier didn’t think they were in the same weight class, threat-wise, as the rest of the security staff. Or Layla herself. The humans walked over to the fallen Chillsword and Chevalier saw Kellen tense up as they inspected the corpse of his deceased comrade.

“I’m taking the two of you into custody,” Layla said. “Our interrogators will listen to both of your stories and figure out exactly what happened. Until we can discern the truth of the matter, you both will be held in the brig so as to prevent further damage to our station. Do either of you object?”

It was clear that the question was rhetorical.

Kellen bowed. “I do not, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my contract with Plagtos requires that I report to them as soon as possible. Should I be detained from doing so, they may send additional members of my order to investigate and that may cause additional damage to your station.”

Layla shook her head. “We will contact them on your behalf. Each of you Chillswords has an identification number, do you not?”

“We do,” said Kellen. “Mine is RK-118.”

“And your companion’s?”

There was a pause. “RK-117”

Onkells did not have eyebrows, but Layla tilted her head and the impression of intrigue was obvious. “I must admit, I am not terribly familiar with your order, but the fact that those two numbers are so similar implies a degree of…closeness…does it not?”

“You are correct. RK-117 was my elder brother.”

Chevalier looked at the crumpled form and felt a twang of regret.

Layla shook her head. “I am sorry for your loss. I will ensure that your employer is aware of your brother’s passing and your own incarceration. Please sheathe your weapon and we will escort you to the brig.”

Kellen did as requested, and without a word the humans led him towards the far elevator. The Chillsword’s footsteps were heavy against the dock – clang, clank, hiss – but they also carried a hint of sadness with them.

Turning towards Chevalier, Layla lowered her blaster and nodded at the droidkin. Without a word, the mechanical creatures sheathed their weapons and hovered over to him.

“You appear to be injured. Do you require assistance to be taken into custody?”

“Yeah. I’m afraid that my legs feel like they’re made of gelatin.”

The droidkin buzzed back and forth to each other for a few seconds and a stretcher appeared between them. Chevalier wasn’t sure where it came from, and frankly he didn’t really care. They lifted him up as if he was a child’s toy and laid him down on it. The stretcher hovered in the air as he was led to a different lift than the one Kellen had ridden up. The lift opened as the last vestiges of Chevalier’s strength faded away and he felt his grip on consciousness slipping away.

However, as he fought to keep his eyes open, Chevalier saw a familiar face driving a cargo bike towards one of the other lifts. He smiled as Hurkwin caught his eye and winked at him.

Good old Bartholomew. Seems like he had a backup plan after all.

Feeling much better, Chevalier drifted off into nothingness.


When Chevalier woke up he was stiff but felt better. He saw the telltale marks of healing on his chest and forearms – he didn’t even know how his forearms had been injured – but there was no pain anywhere and that was a good thing.

His cell in the brig was tiny. It made his quarters on the Spitfire, which were hardly luxurious, seem fit for a king. Gray walls, gray floor, and a tiny porthole above the narrow bed. That was it. Instead of bars, like some brigs Chevalier had spent time in, the cell was sealed off with a light green force field. It didn’t hurt Chevalier’s hand when he reached out to touch it, but it numbed his fingers and sent a tingle up his arm after a few seconds. Pushing was fruitless, and Chevalier sat on his bed to wait for the interrogator. It wasn’t like there was anything else to do.

He looked out the porthole above his bed. His field of vision wasn’t great, but he could see a pair of aquaponic ships out in the stations orbits. The farm vessels were small squares of blue and green, and workers dressed in heavy space suits slowly moved along the pools in sequence, harvesting fish and plants and cleaning and testing water. Chevalier watched them for a few minutes, but they didn’t hold his attention for long and he soon turned his attention to the sea of space that surrounded the station.

It was beautiful in a melancholy sort of way. There were shimmering stars off in the distance, and they almost looked like stairs as Chevalier avoided blinking. He also saw movement near the station, tiny pods of starpisces with brightly colored fins and eyes that glowed. Not for the first time in his life, Chevalier looked both near and far, hoping to see a starwhale’s silver sheen gliding effortlessly through the Empty, but alas, today was not his day. That was fine. There’d be other chances. Hopefully.

The light changed in his cell, and there was a quiet groan as the walls moved ever so slightly closer to one another. Chevalier smiled and shook his head. Layla wasn’t going to crush him, and the movement was simply a play to stress him out enough so that he’d be easier for the interrogator to manipulate. It was a cruel, clever tactic, and it would have probably had the desired effect on most people, but Chevalier was unfazed.

The truth of the matter was that small spaces didn’t bother him. After all, he’d spent the first twenty standard years of his life aboard a scholar’s vessel as a novice, which meant that in addition to the grueling physical labor of carrying and copying ancient texts by hand, he’d also had quarters that were less than half the size of the cell. Whenever he wasn’t transcribing texts or training in combat – another skill that was required of all novices – he was in his room sleeping or studying. Eventually he’d learned that the amount of space surrounding his physical body was less important than the amount of space he occupied within his mind. No walls could impinge on that.

The walls creaked again, but this time Chevalier was pretty sure that they were returning to their original position. If his intuition was correct, this cycle of shrinking and returning to normal would repeat over and over until the interrogator arrived.

Putting his arms behind his head and closing his eyes, Chevalier settled himself for a nap. The walls creaked again.


Back aboard the Spitfire, Selene wrestled with the glowing purple gem box. She knew that it was a foolish waste of time – her Chevalier had been taken into custody and probably needed her help – but she couldn’t stop herself. The dragon sickness was too strong to resist.

The bracelet inside the gem box called to her, and she wriggled her claws into the seam, straining against the seal with all her might. Rolling onto her back, the little dragon pried and pulled, flexing her wings and her legs as hard as she could. She was getting close to opening the gem box, she could feel it. Just one more good pull. Maaaaaybe two.

But first, a break. She’d been struggling for the better part of an hour with the box and she was tired. Kicking at the gemstone with a combination of frustration and playfulness, Selene curled up next to it and drifted off to sleep.

The monochrome sigils appeared in her dreams, like they always did. They squelched and squished together, made of something that was part liquid and part metal. Twisting and contorting, they turned themselves into shapes that Selene could make no sense of, alien things that simultaneously intrigued and terrified her. Eventually, they melted away, replaced by a blue star that she did not recognize.

The dream was always the same, and Selene knew it well enough now to preserve her lucidity as she slept. In a way, she was grateful for the psychedelic paddle-boat ride through the tunnel of her thoughts. It gave her time to plot and plan.

But then, where there was supposed to be a bevy of white noise as the planet disappeared, rain and snow appeared around it instead. A long, dark ship crossed its horizon and Selene watched the light of a nearby star reflect off of its crimson and gold plates. The mystery ship sailed off into the Empty, its engines flaring purple as it picked up speed. Growing smaller and smaller as the distance increased, Selene watched the purple finally wink out amongst the stars as the ship faded from her sight. Then came the white noise she’d been expecting as she returned to consciousness.

Selene tilted her head and yawned. A tiny spark of flame blew into the air.

That was new, she thought. Maybe the dream wasn’t always the same after all.


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Chapter 8


Chillswords. Twin hulking masses of armor bearing frosty blades promising a swift, painful death. Chevalier studied them for a moment. They were both well over eight feet tall, and their purple and black armor was so bulky that they seemed to be at least six feet wide. A thick cape of black velvet hung from their shoulders, giving them an air that was something bordering on the aristocratic.

Complex runes were carved into their chest plates and pauldrons, and these glowed with a silver and blue light. The same light came from the short horns that jutted out of their almost skeletal helmets. Pools of black occupied the space that should have held their eyes, and a series of tubes and grates covered their noses and mouths. Chevalier could not see through the helmets – and he wasn’t entirely sure that they were helmets, to be completely honest – but he suspected that whatever was behind those rigid faces didn’t resemble humans. Or any other life form that he’d ever come across, for that matter.

Their footsteps were heavy on the floor of the dock as they moved towards him. Clank, clang, hiss. Clank, clang, hiss. Chevalier could see small jets of blue fire on the bottoms of their boots and at regular intervals in a straight line along their legs. Since their armor was so heavy, Chillswords relied on a series of small thrusters to help them move around, and the devices could be put to devastating use in combat as well.

He sighed. That was pretty much all of what he knew about the mercenary band. Their origins were shrouded in mystery, and the fact that they worked almost exclusively for Plagtos meant that most folks had virtually no interaction with them. Generally speaking, they were imposing figures that one occasionally saw near ports and at shipping docks, standing vigilant in case someone tried to relieve the shipping conglomerate of their hard earned goods or profits.

Their reputation for recovering lost goods was legendary, as were the consequences for those who had tested their luck.

Selene scurried out from the Spitfire but stayed near enough to the hatch that she could get back inside if things took a turn for the worse. Not that the ship’s doors would do much good against the Chillswords’ namesake if it came to that, but Chevalier didn’t feel like letting any more visitors aboard his ship today. Except for Hurkwin or any of Bartholomew’s other people. Or Rivi. Or really, anyone else who may have wanted to come aboard and wasn’t a Chillsword. Chevalier’s feelings were always somewhat fickle things. The tiny dragon looked at Chevalier and he felt her presence enter his thoughts. Here, she was much larger than he was, and her entire being felt like sapphire-tinted flames. Her voice – if it could even be called that – was scratchy, and it gave Chevalier the distinct sensation of cinnamon.

These two don’t look like they’re the type to stand around and swap gossip, Chevalier. I don’t think you’re going to be able to talk your way out of this one.

Looking at the Chillswords, Chevalier couldn’t help but agree with her. They had stopped about fifteen feet away from where he stood and while they had yet to draw their blades, he was sure that moment wasn’t far away now. He looked down at the Ring of Blue Moon and sighed. Sensing his attention, it started whispering to him. Though he still didn’t understand the words or the sentiment, the image of the ring in his mind’s eye was that of a slithering creature with far too many eyes and razor sharp teeth that sought his flesh. The whispering grew louder and louder in his ears and might have overwhelmed him had Selene not reared up in the back of his mind, crackling with anger and azure flames that seemed as old as the stars themselves. There was nothing diminutive about the dragon now, and though she was on his side, Chevalier still experienced something that was a mix between awe and bone-shaking apprehension at the sensation.

Cease your muttering, shadow.

Each of the words was like the sound of a spaceship’s engine roaring to life, and the scurrying monster of the ring fled in the face of the dragon’s presence. As it disappeared, the nonsensical whispering in Chevalier’s ears and thoughts all but dissipated and the heat of Selene’s flames formed a wall around Chevalier’s thoughts. For the time being, the ring’s whispering wouldn’t be a concern.

“Thanks,” Chevalier said. “Some day soon we really need to have a talk about what exactly that shadow thing is.”

Heh. You need to survive this encounter first. Now, defend yourself! I do not want to be forced back into that damned ring for another epoch until some other treasure hunter finds me by accident.

“It wasn’t an accident,” Chevalier protested. “I spent months tracking down stories and paying good money for damned-near useless tips. I found you through hard work!”

If you say so, my knight.

Chevalier was about to say plenty more, but the Chillswords interrupted him.

“You there, is that your ship?”

Chevalier felt Selene’s presence retreat ever so slightly and turned his attention back to the Chillswords. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the space dragon sag to the ground, looking extremely tired. She was panting and curled up, her tiny wings settling over her sides like a blanket. Her telepathic display of strength had taken more out of her than she’d ever admit, and Chevalier made a mental note to give her some treats later. If he survived, that is.

“Aye, it is. What do you want with it?”

The second Chillsword stepped forward and quick as lightning drew his sword from its sheath. It crackled and chilled the air around its edge. “You are in possession of Plagtos property. We are here to reclaim it, and should you choose to resist we will treat you as hostile. Do you have any affiliations? Any guild or trade company to whom we should send bloodwit?”

Chevalier squared his shoulder and stood up as straight as he could. “I serve no one but myself. This is my ship, and the objects stored inside are my rightful property, per the Aguelot Empire’s salvage laws. I came upon the wreck after your ship was destroyed; I played no part in its destruction, and only took small objects. Your company failed to protect your vessel, which is no fault of mine. You have no legal claim.”

“Be that as it may, scavenger, the goods belong to us and we will reclaim them now. We may not have a legal claim, but we have swords and will not be deterred from our mission. These goods will be returned to Plagtos, even if we have to carry them over your corpse.”

Without a word, the second Chillsword drew his weapon and the two armored soldiers advanced in lockstep. Chevalier shook his head. As expected, talking hadn’t worked and the time had come for the matter to be settled in the most pure way possible. With blades.

Closing his eyes, Chevalier focused on the Ring of Blue Moon and felt the stone in the center grow warm. He didn’t open his eyes, but if he had he would have seen the gem glowing with a vibrant neon blue light. He would have also seen the Chillswords step back, suddenly wary. People who survived for more than a few months as part of mercenary corps didn’t take any potential threat lightly.

Covering his left hand with his right, as if balling his hands together, Chevalier took a deep breath and swung both arms out to his sides as hard as he could.

There was no incantation, no relic of an ancient age where like time in the Empty, power had been a little soft. Instead, the blue light from the ring’s gem enveloped Chevalier’s body and in the span of a few heartbeats, he was draped in the Armor of Blue Moon. Slender and elegant, his clothing had been replaced by a combination of mesh and plate the color of Selene’s scales. The caress of the cosmos, the little dragon had called it the first time he’d ever done it, and the name was a fitting one.

His armor was not extravagant, but it was an impressive sight in its own way. Oversized gauntlets covered his wrists and forearms, and sharply angled boots rose to his calves. His own pauldrons were nowhere near the size of the Chillswords’, but they too were exaggerated and embossed with dragon wing emblems. A thin scarf was wrapped around his neck and shoulders, and it blew in a breeze that no one but Blue Moon Chevalier could feel.

His helmet settled onto his head and his view of the world changed. Tinted gray-blue by the visor that covered his eyes, it was easier to make sense of things. The Chillswords were still daunting, but Chevalier now saw that their bulk was almost as much of a hindrance as it was a benefit. While he was certain that they could move forward and backwards quickly and with ease, he wondered how fast they’d be able to react to an attack from the side.

Looking up, Chevalier confirmed that he could see the faint spiderweb-like strings of energy that he thought of as the currents. They were thin and blue, and thrummed with energy that Chevalier could sense and draw from. Like leylines, they were arranged in patterns and crossed each other regularly, with the breeze near their intersections stronger than elsewhere along their lengths.

Last to appear was Chevalier’s sword, summoned from the final flickers of the gem’s neon light. There was the barest hint of a whoosh as the Sword of Blue Moon left its ethereal scabbard and settled itself in his left hand. Despite its age and its history of other bearers, the weapon’s weight and balance was perfect, and the grip fit as if it had been forged specifically for his hand.

Chevalier’s weapon looked vaguely draconic itself, with a narrow, plated grip of silver and black. The pommel was covered by a plate that housed two bits of metal that looked like a pair of eyes and a thin spike protruding from its bottom looked like an outstretched tongue. The guard was segmented, and looked like a pair of wings in the process of opening for flight. A white gemstone the same size and shape as the one set in the Ring of Blue Moon rested in the space where the guard met the hilt, flickering and glowing with energy.

The blade itself was long and beautiful, with plates along its length that gave it the appearance of sunglight reflecting off water, and at its tip the metal was bare and looked like plasma though it was cold to the touch.

Taking a deep breath, Chevalier gripped his sword with both hands, lifted it in front of his body in a defensive stance and stared at the Chillswords.

“I’ll only warn you once,” he said with a confidence that his rational mind did not feel. “You two are not a match for me. Don’t throw your lives away.”

The first Chillsword made a noise that might have been a snort. The jets on the mercenary’s legs flared to life and he slid towards Chevalier far faster than the knight had expected. Raising his weapon up and over his head, the Chillsword swung down at Chevalier with enough force to cleave the hull of a spaceship in two without much effort.

Chevalier raised the sword of Blue Moon and braced his shoulders as his own blade met his foe’s. Under normal circumstances, the strength of the blow would have been too much for Chevalier to resist, the difference in strength too great, but the boon of his armor made that not the case. In addition to seeing the world differently and possessing better control of his emotions and mental state, the Armor of Blue Moon also enhanced Chevalier’s strength, reflexes, and endurance. He was more than a man, so long as he wore it.

That was going to be important.

Chevalier pushed and the Chillsword was forced back. Chevalier stepped in and launched a flurry of strikes, swinging high and low in an attempt to break the Chillsword’s guard. He was unsuccessful, as the mercenary beat back each and every blow with one of his own and sent Chevalier’s teeth to rattling from the impacts, despite the boon’s best efforts.

The second Chillsword joined the fray and pressed Chevalier with a series of stabs and thrusts that came entirely too close to Chevalier’s torso for comfort. Reaching out with his mind, Chevalier grabbed one of the currents above his head and pulled himself up off the ground as the two hulking monstrosities swung at him from opposite directions. Their blades met with a clang and bounded away from each other but neither lost their grip on their weapon.

Tucking himself into a roll, Chevalier landed behind them both and stabbed for the nearest one. The Chillsword tried to dodge but wasn’t quite fast enough, and Chevalier’s sword found purchase in a plate of armor. Sparks shot out as some of the machinery inside screamed and some of the jets lining the Chillsword’s right leg dimmed and winked out. The Chillsword stumbled and stood off balance.

But before he could capitalize on the opportunity, Chevalier was forced to retreat once again beneath the onslaught of the uninjured Chillsword, who used his weapon’s almost comical range to keep Chevalier from getting close enough to strike back. Each blow was every bit as strong as the last one had been, and the cadence was almost so precise that it seemed mechanical. Despite his enhanced awareness, Chevalier saw no flaws in the Chillsword’s guard, and without a way to get to his foe’s side, he began to feel frustrated. Gritting his teeth, he reached out with his mind once more. However, instead of grabbing one of the currents and pulling himself towards it, he pulled energy from it and spread it around the Chillsword’s body. The cool energy coalesced into something like a soup thickened the atmosphere around his enemy’s weapon. The effect would only last for a moment, and it would be minor, but for that moment the Chillsword would feel like he was swimming and the increased resistance would give Chevalier an opportunity to strike.

There was a light in the air surrounding the Chillsword, and Chevalier rooted himself to another current and slid forward as is flowed to its next intersection. It was as if he’d turned gravity onto a different axis, and he moved as if falling. Slipping his blade past the Chillsword’s, Chevalier aimed his at his foe’s chest, but his target sidestepped just far enough that Chevalier’s blow landed on his arm instead. It was only a glancing hit and the Sword of Blue Moon bounced right off of the purple plate, but Chevalier had the advantage now and pressed it for all he was worth. Sweeping cuts and short, direct stabs pushed the Chillsword back. The hulking titan’s guard was flagging and Chevalier scored a series of light wounds that left scars in the armor. Just before he could land a decisive blow, however, the one-legged Chillsword barreled into him at an incredible speed. The mercenary didn’t need the currents to move forward explosively, and while he probably wouldn’t have been able to maneuver much in normal combat with only one leg’s worth of jets, he was more than capable of accelerating a hell of a lot.

Struggling against the Chillsword’s iron vise grip, Chevalier realized with horror what was quickly approaching in his future.Tangled together in the Chillsword’s acrimonious embrace, the two bodies zoomed toward the wall, where Chevalier was certain that he’d be crushed under the weight of his enemy’s armor. Smashed like a clove of garlic, he thought as he writhed in vain, desperate to break free.

Any ideas, Selene?

They covered a few more feet of floor before the dragon in his mind answered. There weren’t many left now.

Would probably be best if you got out of that guy’s grip.

Fat lot of help you are, Chevalier mentally snarled. His legs were too far from the ground to find purchase, but he’d shifted enough for his right arm to wriggle free. Better yet, he’d gotten his sword free too.

There wasn’t much space left before Chevalier got an intimate acquaintance with the thick walls of Junkheap’s docking bay, so he didn’t have time for anything fancy. Even cutting the Chillsword’s head off would spell his death, as the momentum would be enough to grind Chevalier into paste. Praying that the sword wouldn’t break, Chevalier thrust the blade down into the ground with all of his boon-enhanced strength. It sank half it’s length before stopping and Chevalier held on for dear life as the Chillsword continued rocketing forward.

The sword caught and momentum pulled at him. Chevalier strained to keep his grip on the sword’s handle. His shoulder felt as if it was going to pop out of its socket, his forearm ached and protested and his hand threatened give out, but before any part of his body could fail Chevalier cried out and some of the energy from the currents above and below flowed into his body. Somehow, he managed to hold strong and the Chillsword lost his grip, letting Chevalier swing free.

His enemy cascaded into the wall, alone. There was a muffled whimper, and the mercenary slumped to the ground in a heap of purple armor.

Relief surged through Chevalier as he waded back to the ground, but there was no time for relaxing. It was an unpleasant thing, what had to come next, but he knew that there was no alternative. Gripping the hilt of his weapon with both hands he yanked up as hard as he could. The blade grudgingly came free, leaving a narrow scar in the dock. Turning, Chevalier took a few steps toward the incapacitated Chillsword and thrust the Sword of Blue Moon into his enemy’s chest. There was no light that faded from the helmet’s eyes, nor any cry of agony or dismay. There was just an end, as all life left the mercenary’s body.

The second Chillsword roared in fury and Chevalier turned just in time to see the giant’s pauldrons rolling back to reveal twin plasma cannons.

“Shit,” Chevalier said as the cannons glowed orange with life. He barely jumped out of the way as the Chillsword fired and massive orbs of energy collided with the walls. The corpse of the Chillsword’s companion was virtually obliterated as they orbs exploded into fragments. Even through his armor, Chevalier felt their heat as they landed on his chest and shoulders before dissolving into nothing.

Continuous fire meant he couldn’t close the distance to his foe, and was left scrambling along the ground of the docking bay. Vaguely, he wondered if other Chillswords were on their way. It was true that they tended to travel in pairs, but they also regularly worked in groups as large as eight. I’m pretty sure that I can’t handle six more of these guys, Chevalier thought. Especially if they all start shooting at me like this.

He’d overestimated himself, and swore that if he somehow survived this he’d start taking Selene’s demands to train more seriously.

Thanks to his ability to ride the currents and his boon-enhanced reflexes and speed, Chevalier managed to avoid being hit for a minute or two, but it was only a matter of time until his luck ran out. He was getting tired. The blasts demolished the dock wherever they landed, leaving gaping craters in the walls and floor, and cracking one of the orbs of anonymity in half. The next shot sailed right through the silver ship that it had contained, and there was an explosion that set Chevalier’s ears ringing. Chevalier hoped that no one had been aboard at the time. He hoped that he wouldn’t have the death of an innocent person on his conscience.

Ducking, diving, and skating across walls, he managed to loop around behind the Chillsword and after extending his arm, he tried to increase the resistance of the air again.

Alas, that trick would only work once, it seemed, as the Chillsword was unaffected and aimed another salvo right at Chevalier.

There wasn’t time to dodge and both of the plasma orbs hit Chevalier square in the chest. He was thrown back, tumbling head over heels like a child’s toy until he crashed into the far wall. Chevalier groaned and rolled onto his back. Somehow, his chest plate had staved off the worst of the damage and though he felt like his ribs were probably cracked, he was still breathing.

After a moment, of course. The wind had been definitely been knocked out of him.

Clank. Clang. Hiss. Clank. Clang. Hiss.

Hearing the distinctive cadence of the Chillsword’s footsteps, Chevalier sat up with a wince. The mercenary was approaching him with his cannons readied and his sword held tight. Chevalier was no psionic, but he didn’t have to be to guess what was running through his enemy’s thoughts. Live by, die by, et cetera.

He looked around. His own sword was laying on the ground half a dozen feet away, and Chevalier was sure that if he tried to grab it the Chillsword would give up his notions of poetic justice and simply blast him to smithereens. The Armor of Blue Moon had survived one shot from the plasma cannons, but it was cracked and Chevalier doubted that it would come close to blocking a second one.

Chevalier grinned. He wondered if this would be the moment where Selene would come to his rescue, or if he’d manifest a perfectly timed method of surpassing his limits, or if it was just– as seemed increasingly likely – he was going to meet his end here on Junkheap. If that was the case, he’d do it with a smile on his face, watching his enemy.

The Chillsword raised his blade and pointed it at Chevalier’s face.Chevalier refused to blink.

It had been such a nice day, too.


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Chapter 7


Chevalier took a sip of his drink and smiled at Bartholomew, who was sitting across the table at the Gray Cat with his arm slung around the cosmorc chieftain’s shoulders. If someone who’d never seen them before had walked by just then, they would have probably assumed that the two were old friends. Rivi was sitting next to the arlai and she was laughing hard. She looked much better. The only real lingering injuries she had were the bruises on her cheeks and beneath her non-prosthetic eye. They’d started to turn color and fade though, and in a few more days she’d be completely back to normal. The medical droidkin of Junkheap did good work, and Rivi herself was tough as hell.

His friend’s speedy recovery had done wonders for Chevalier’s nerves, but he still planned to seek the girl with the red ring and ask her some violent questions about why she’d felt the need to beat someone near to death over what had been an absolutely tiny issue in the grand scheme of things. Tomorrow, he promised himself. Tomorrow he’d start his search.

“And then, what do you know?” spluttered the chieftain as he slopped some of his drink into his mouth and more onto the table.  “We were in the vault and it was filling with water faster than we could have ever imagined. All that planning, all that work to dodge the planet’s guardians, all that caution and none of it mattered. There was a crack in the wall! The treasure was going to be destroyed before we could excavate it. Can you believe that?”

Bartholomew burst out into laughter and clapped Durzol – the cosmorc chieftain – hard on the back. Had he not seen it for himself, Chevalier would have never believed that a few days earlier the cosmorc was on death’s door. The wound on his chest had completely healed up since, thanks to the cosmorc’s borderline supernatural healing ability. Apparently, if the wound hadn’t been pseudo-cauterized by the blaster bolt that caused it, Durzol would have healed on his own without any issue. Though Selene had assured him that the sword of Blue Moon would still be more than capable of killing the creatures, Chevalier was glad that the tension between Durzol and Bartholomew had mostly resolved itself, thanks to a stroke of genius from Hurkwin. The mechanic had apparently solved the problem of fixing Durzol’s bike in a dream. Hell of a lucky break.

The drinks had been flowing for the better part of two hours, but Chevalier had limited himself to only a single cup of the strange flavored liquor from the other night, remembering all too well the potency and after-effects. Beyond that, he wanted to make sure that he recalled every word that Durzol said throughout the night.

Because it turned out that the cosmorc chieftain was a treasure hunter, just like Chevalier. He’d grown interested in ancient legends as a youngling, he’d explained, and his insatiable lust for knowledge had led him to usurp his predecessor and turn the tribe into his own treasure hunting crew. They flew around the galaxies with their hoverbikes tethered to one another while they sought out the truth behind all sorts of mysteries. Durzol was full of stories, and Chevalier was grinning at the current one, which was the tale of the cosmorc quest for the Calypso Templar, a long-lost starship that had vanished over a thousand years before. If the rumors could be believed, it’d been carrying enough gold and silver to buy an entire fleet of modern starships. This was ultimately Durzol’s goal, to build up his very own cosmorc shipping company capable of competing with Onyx Starsk, Yos Carriers, and even Plagtos.

“Then people won’t think of us as nothing more than stupid raiders and thieves,” he’d explained.

The chieftain’s treasure hunting experiences mirrored Chevalier’s own. There were dead ruins that weren’t entirely dead – or at least, the inhabitants weren’t – maps that led to the middle of nowhere, informants and information dealers who lied to make a quick buck, and a few maddeningly close hunts that ended in tragedy. Durzol’s methods for surviving such encounters was also similar to Chevaliers: talk as much as possible, and then start chopping your way to the future (though the cosmorc used an alloyed axe instead of an ancient sword).

“So, Chevalier, where did you get that ring?” Durzol asked at the conclusion of yet another tale. He gestured to the Ring of Blue Moon. “It looks fancy.”

Chevalier smiled and took a sip of his drink, though he was a bit concerned about the cosmorc’s emphasis on his name. Technically the ring’s origin wasn’t a secret, and he didn’t generally exert a lot of energy into hiding the fact that he possessed the Ring of Blue Moon, since barely anyone even remembered the body of legends from which the stories about his ring originated. However, every once in a while he met somebody or something that had heard the tales and decided that they wanted the ring’s power for themselves. The first time it had happened, Chevalier had tried to give the ring over to the seeker, only to learn that it had a very specific method of being transferred: the current bearer had to die in order for the ring to take a new servant.  Since Chevalier was pretty sure that he preferred being alive to the alternative, he’d decided to defend his claim jealously.

Durzol seemed like a good enough fellow, and Chevalier wasn’t looking to make a fresh enemy just then, so he chose his words carefully.

“I found it a few years back on an old deserted planet. Place looked like it hadn’t been touched in centuries. Maybe even longer.”

“Now that’s a story I’d quite like to hear,” Durzol said with a grin.

“Me too,” Rivi said with a belch. “I’ve heard it before, but it’s always fun to listen to. Sometimes you change things.”

Chevalier glared at the star chaser who blew him a kiss in return.

“Well, I suppose I don’t have much of a choice,” he said. Taking a deep breath, he launched into his tale, selectively edited and simplified though it may be.


Later that evening, Chevalier and Bartholomew were walking back towards Chevalier’s ship. The arlai had mentioned an interest in taking a closer look at a few of the pieces Chevalier had recovered from the Plagtos wreck. Durzol and Rivi had both headed off on their own after Chevalier finished telling them the abridged version of how he came into possession of the ring and the group finished their last drinks. Rivi had headed off towards the residential quarters, swaying ever so slightly from the effects of the drinks and Durzol had returned to wherever his gang was sleeping. Chevalier noted that the cosmorc didn’t seem to be inebriated in the slightest, despite the fact that he’d drank more alcohol than Chevalier, Rivi, and Bartholomew combined.

Junkheap’s night had been set to a balmy and pleasant warmth that reminded Chevalier of the summers of his childhood. The fresh air caressed Chevalier’s skin as he and Bartholomew took the lift down to where the Spitfire was docked. Chevalier lowered the orb of anonymity and boarded the vessel alongside the Arlai. They went to the jump dock and Bartholomew got to looking at the pieces he wanted to see. Grunting and cursing in his native tongue, Bartholomew picked up the things he could, rotating and examining them with a small magnifying glass. With a small light in both of his top hands, he crawled around and investigated the nooks and crannies of the ones he could not.

While he waited for his friend to finish his professional assessment of the goods, Chevalier and Selene hung out in Chevalier’s small sleeping quarters with the tiny dragon curled into a ball near Chevalier’s legs.

“That Durzol may end up being a problem yet,” Selene yawned. “He seemed really, really interested in the ring. I think you should be careful around him. The last thing we need is another Hampton.”

Hampton had been a friend, long ago, who’d come dangerously close to taking the Ring of Blue Moon for himself. Last Chevalier had seen him, the Singer-turned-gunslinger had been falling into a chasm of molten iron. But getting him to do so had been one of the toughest fights Chevalier had ever experienced, and his hands still shook at the memory.

“I’m always careful, Selene.”

Chevalier’s companion rolled onto her back and breathed sparks at him that he brushed away without issue. “I’m serious, Chevalier. There’s something scary about that cosmorc chieftain. I’ve seen cosmorcs in battle plenty of times, and while they can heal better than any human could ever dream of, there’s no way that the wound you described wouldn’t have been fatal. The fact that it wasn’t and that Durzol was capable of brawling with a giant hole in his chest like it was nothing tells me that he’s got some serious power supporting him.”

Chevalier thought about the way Durzol didn’t stumble after the booze either. Selene may be right.

“What sort of power?”

This earned him a nip on the hand from the dragon’s miniature – but still sharp – teeth. “How should I know that? There are hundreds or even thousands of things that it could be. The Empty is full of secrets that I am as ignorant of as you are. Even the greatest among my kind do not know everything. Unless Durzol chooses to reveal his powers himself or we end up seeing more of what he can do some other way, all we can do is guess.”

Chevalier leaned back and looked up at the ceiling of his quarters. Above his head was an old star chart that he’d inherited from his grandfather. It felt like a lifetime ago that the old man’s tobacco stained hands were tracing the paths through the stars that he’d followed as a young man searching for great treasures. Chevalier smiled.

“That ship he’s looking for sure sounds interesting though. Full of silver and gold. I wonder where it is.”

“We should look for it too! As soon as we get out of here, let’s go hunt it down!”

Feeding off Selene’s excitement, Chevalier spent the next half hour or so pointing at different places on the star chart. The two of them discussed potential theories about how the lost ship could be at each of them, ultimately discarding every theory after a bit due to how unlikely it was to be there. Unfortunately, that was probably true for any theory about the Calypso Templar, since there were thousands of stars and planets along the long, meandering route that it had been following when it vanished. According to Durzol’s tale, the ship disappeared about halfway between Rozaulia and Decrars, two minor planets near the edge of the Aguelot Empire’s third sector, but the cosmorc had admitted –and Chevalier and Selene both agreed—that it was likely the ship had drifted pretty far off course in the thousand years it had been missing.

Their discussion was cut short by Bartholomew.

“Hey, kiddo. Where ya at? I’ve got something ta talk ta ya about.”

Chevalier and Selene hopped up as Bartholomew came in from the jump dock. Clutched in the arlai’s hands was the small purple gem box that Chevalier had rescued from the wreckage of the Plagtos carrier.

Selene let out a cry and darted through the air to land on the gem box.  The blue space dragon clawed at the quartz-like stone, trying to get her claws into the seam in order to pry it open and get her scaly mitts on the bracelet inside.

“Mine! Mine! Mine!”

Bartholomew held up the box-and-dragon-amalgamation. “I don’t remember seeing this on the memstick you gave me. Don’t suppose it’s for sale tah? I know a good number of buyers who’d be more than happy ta pay premium for this little beauty.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“No clue,” Bartholomew admitted. “But it looks downright magical, doesn’t it?”

Chevalier had totally forgotten about the box and the glowing bracelet inside with the events of the past few days, but he agreed. The glowing purple bracelet did look like something out of a wizard’s den, and that was why he knew that he couldn’t sell it. Magic still existed across the galaxies, but it was rare, and in his heart, Chevalier was a collector and couldn’t bear to part with something so special, even if it ultimately had no power. Plus, Selene had already “claimed” it for her “hoard”, and Chevalier felt like the little dragon deserved a little present after having to give up the Plagtos haul.

He explained as much to Bartholomew and the arlai threw back his feathered head and laughed.

“That’s a damned shame, but I understand. Sometimes it’s good ta keep some treasures for yaself.”

He put the gem down on the ground and smirked as Selene purred all over it.

“I’ll take the rest of the cargo off ya hands. It’s all good stuff, and I’m sure I can get it sold without tah much trouble. How does fifty seven hundred sound for the whole haul?”

“I was hoping for a bit more. It wasn’t easy to bring it all here, you know. Spitfire’s got the damage to prove it. Don’t suppose you can do six thousand even?”

“Kid, I’m already clippin’ my wings here. Fifty eight hundred is the top for me. Take it or leave it.”

Chevalier sighed and reached out to shake one of Bartholomew’s top arms.

“Pleasure doin’ business with ya. Mind if I go and take a look at ya ship’s damage? I’ll tell the boys ta get started on the repairs as soon as they unload all the loot. It didn’t look tah bad when I was outside, but I figure that I might as well get a better look while I’m here instead of having ta come back later.”

“That’s fine by me, go ahead.”

Bartholomew left and Chevalier sat in his cockpit doing some mental math as he waited for the arlai’s professional assessment of the damage to his ship. Fifty eight hundred seemed like a lot of money at first glance, but the repairs that Spitfire needed to be space-worthy again would probably eat up at least half of that. Maybe more than that. And that was taking into account the free replacement to the shields that Bartholomew had promised. If only he’d managed to keep the rest of the treasure during his escape, then he could—

No, he’d already made his peace with that decision. If he hadn’t dumped the cargo, he wouldn’t have made it to Junkheap. It was that simple. There was no point in re-litigating it in his mind now.

Outside Chevalier heard some cursing, clanging and Bartholomew’s frantic footsteps as he huffed his way back into the ship’s jumpdock.

“Kid, we’ve got a big problem! A big fuckin’ problem, I tell ya!”

The tone of his friend’s voice made it clear that the arlai wasn’t screwing around and so Chevalier bounded to the jump dock.

“What’s wrong, Bartholomew?”

He’d been expecting some sort of big broken part, and had already adjusted his mental haul down even further. Maybe he wouldn’t end up making any money on this salvage after all. Maybe the minnows had just done too much damage. That sucked, but Chevalier could live with a scrape of a payout. He’d just go back out into the Empty a bit earlier than he’d planned and let his ship carry him to his next adventure. That sort of thought process had always served him well in the past, and Chevalier saw no reason to expect otherwise.

Unfortunately, Bartholomew was not bearing such easily dismissed bad news. In his bottom left hand, he was holding a tiny disc of metal. Chevalier watched it blink with a steady rhythm as his heart jumped into his throat.

“This was latched under yah back flaps,” Bartholomew says. “It’s unmarked, but I’d be willing ta bet my whole shop that it’s a tracking device and it was put there by those Plagtos scouts ya tangled with. Was probably part of a flak or missile.”

Chevalier sucked in a hard breath.

“Now, I don’t think that the signal would have been able ta get out tah well with the bubble ‘round yah ship, but each time ya lowered the bubble to get in or out it could have transmitted the location right ta  Plagtos. If there’s one thing that separates them from all the other shipping companies out there in the Empty it’s that they chase down their goods harder than anyone else. A lot harder.”

Chevalier took a step forward and without any fanfare, yoinked the omni-tool off his belt, activated the plasma cutter and sliced the tracking device in half.

The broken pieces fell sputtering and sparking to the floor. A thin tendril of black smoke rose into the air and Chevalier wrinkled his nose.

“Cute gesture, but I’m sure they already pinpointed ya location based on the transmissions from today alone.”

“How long do you think we’ve got before they send a repo ship?”

Bartholomew shrugged. “It’s already out and on its way, I bet. They could arrive anytime, but I’ll do what I can ta get ya ship all taken care of before they get here. Hurkwin has been complaining ‘bout being bored ever since he fixed that damn cosmorc hoverbike. I’ll give him a call and have him come by right away ta start the repairs. The rest of my boys will be by later ta start unloading the goods. Shouldn’t be tah long of a job.”

“Can I help at all? If I can make the unloading easier, I’d be happy to—”

“Don’t bother, kid. My boys know what they’re doing and they’re stronger than ya. What ya can do though is ya can go track down Layla and let her know that a ship full of angry Plagtos employees are going ta be landing soon so that she’s not caught totally unaware.”

Chevalier grimaced at the prospect. Layla was famous for her temper, and there were few pieces of news that were more rage inducing for a small station master than a massive shipping conglomerate visiting with vengeance on the brain. That sort of trouble tended to spiral out of control right quick.

“Nothing can ever be easy, huh?”

Bartholomew smiled at him and shook his head.

“Kid, this is easy. Ya don’t see any Chillswords running at ya, do ya? Trust me, if there’s one universal truth about things going ta shit, it’s that they can always get worse.”

As if to prove that there was a divine entity that controlled the cosmos, and that it had a bad sense of humor, there was a loud thunk near the lifts and Chevalier turned to see two massive, armored figures walking towards him. Chillswords. He glared at Bartholomew.

“You just had to go and fucking jinx me, didn’t you?”

The arlai threw up all four hands into a shrug at the same time. He was smiling.

“That’s life for ya, kid. Now let’s see if yar all yar cracked up ta be.”


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Chapter 6 [M]


Out in deep space, far away from where Chevalier was now witnessing a full-blown cosmorc brawl – which definitely shouldn’t have been possible, given the chieftain’s wounds – Maerin Haldorf was standing at attention on the command deck of The Heartbreaker. Okay, so technically the ship was known as FC-3 (short for Fleet Command – 3), but she always thought of it as The Heartbreaker. FC-3 was a Kraken-class ship, one of the few deep space command centers operated by the Plagtos conglomerate, and it was so big from end to end that if Maerin had been forced to walk its length, the trip would have taken her days. Thankfully, there were lifts and belts that made the trip much faster. Unfortunately, the engineers hadn’t developed any technology to make the reasons for the trips any more pleasant.

Her commander, Rufus Bluetongue sat in his chair and looked at her over steepled hands. Maerin clenched her jaw and remained still, though she couldn’t stand the way that the froglin’s bulbous eyes swept up and down her body, lingering on her chest and hips.

“Ah, Haldorf. What do you have to say for your recent, guh, failure?” His voice was thick and more than a little wet-sounding. His triple chin and protruding stomach wobbled as he stood up and took a step towards her.

“A failure, boss? I’m not sure its entirely fair to call it that.”

“Oh? Do you deny that CC-17, a ship that you personally handled the routing for, guh, was attacked and destroyed in the deep space fairly close to sector five of the Aguelot Empire less than two weeks ago? Are you aware that the ship was carrying valuable cargo and since it was our responsibility to route it safely to its destination, we are now responsible for collecting sufficient additional, guh, income to pay back the loss?”

Maerin sucked in a breath and shook her head. “No, sir, I don’t deny any of that, but I must push back on calling it my failure. There had been no reports of piranha activity in any of the nearby sectors, and CC-17 had made a similar trip twice before without any issues. I followed the company’s protocol for creating safe voyages to the letter, and it’s not my fault if they failed to defend themselves when attacked.”

“Bah,” Rufus said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Excuses, excuses. It’s always the same with you logistics navigators. Nothing is ever, guh, your fault. You all should be ashamed of your incompetence. We’ve lost four ships in the past two months!”

“I was not involved with the voyages of the other three. CC-17 is the first cargo vessel I routed that fell to piranha attack. I remind you that I’ve solo routed almost seventy voyages, which means that my success rate is still the highest on this ship.”

“Be that as it may, you’re no longer perfect, are you? Beyond that, you failed to anticipate the threat to CC-17 and must be held accountable. How do you propose that you make amends?”

Maerin felt her cheeks redden with anger, but before she could answer there was a hiss at the door to the command deck. Maerin and Rufus both turned to look at the newcomer. It was the Singer, and Rufus mumbled something in his native tongue before dismissing Maerin with a curt gesture.

“We will discuss this more and finalize the details at some future point, Haldorf. It seems that I have other business to attend to at the moment.”

He turned to face the Singer and Maerin took her leave, grateful to be out from beneath the froglin’s scrutiny. As she walked across the thin steel bridge that led back to the lifts, she paused and bowed deeply to the Singer as they walked by.

Draped in a silver robe and wearing a thick starmarble mask that obscured all of their features, the Singer was a mystery given – human? – form. They were tall and willowy, and carried a twisted rod with holes like a flute carved into the side and a red gemstone affixed to the tip. Singers were responsible for helping navigate the deepest sectors of the Empty. Their ethereal songs allowed ships to safely travel through places where no mechanical or computerized navigational tools functioned, and their ritual magics warded off the aggressive, nightmarish monsters that called such places home.

The Singer stopped and turned toward Maerin. Though their mask was a smooth plane with no defining features, Maerin couldn’t help but feel that the Singer’s eyes were burning into her.

“Be at peace, child. Your heart is heavy, and it should not be.”

What a strange, melodious voice, Maerin thought as the door slid closed behind her. She’d never heard the Singer speak before, and wondered if she ever would again. It would be a shame if she didn’t, she decided.

The hallway that led to the lift was a long and narrow corridor of gray panels interspersed with soft lights. Near the end of the hall, a lone cube of blackened metal zipped and zoomed back and forth. It was a cleaning droid, tasked with collecting the random bits of detritus and debris that found their way up the lift shaft and disposing of them. The droidkin beeped and buzzed to itself and occasionally stopped to deploy the small broom and dustpan mounted just above its wheels.

Maerin saw no sign of any mess as she passed the droid and pressed the button for the lift, but she didn’t doubt that the little droid had cleaned something up.

She took the lift down to the main dwelling level of the ship and, ignoring the way her stomach had twisted itself into a knot during the rapid descent, decided to make her way to the nearest mess hall. The stress of being called to report to Captain Bluetongue directly had manifested itself as a ridiculous hunger, and before too long she was sitting at a table scarfing down a bowl of soup. It wasn’t the tastiest thing she’d ever had – the broth was bland and the vegetables were soggy – but it was hot and filling, and that was all she was really interested in just then.

“Maerin! Hey!”

She looked up to see Ballou heading towards her with a tray of his own. Like her, he was a human with brown hair, but he was tall and heavily muscled whereas she was short and skinny. Ballou had worked in the Heartbreaker’s cargo bay for just over six years, where he helped hoist heavy boxes and bags into ships that docked. He was a decent, honest guy and a good friend. And also…maybe something more than just a friend? Maerin had a rule where she tried not to think about it, and took a big bite of soup to help her do so as Ballou sat down across from her.

“So, I heard that you got called up to Bluetongue’s office,” Ballou said as he dug into his heaping plate of pasta. “Everything okay?”

Maerin shrugged. “I’m not sure. One of the ships I plotted a course for was destroyed for piranhas a few weeks ago. We tried to recover as much of the cargo as we could, but there wasn’t much left and scavengers snatched up a good bit of it too.”


“Yeah, piranhas. Pirates. It’s an old nickname for them. I don’t really know where it came from.”

“Huh,” Ballou said through a mouthful of food. “I’ve never heard that before, but some of the guys in the warehouse said there’ve been a lot of pirate attacks recently. One of my buddies over in the repair bay has said that he’s been having to do way more battle damage repairs than usual, too. But, I don’t get it. Where are all these pirates coming from, and why hasn’t the company made a deal with their king or whatever to get our ships safe passage?”

Maerin shrugged. “We don’t know who their king is, or if they even have one. These piranhas, sorry – pirates,  aren’t like the ones Plagtos is used to dealing with. Most of the time, pirates just hang out near shipping lanes and harass slow carriers that pass them by. Our ships don’t really fit that description, and so most of the time they leave Plagtos vessels alone.”

“And these attacks are different than that?”

“Uh-huh. Almost all of them happened in deep space. Pirate activity is pretty uncommon out there; it’s hard to successfully equip and maintain a ship big enough to spend prolonged periods of time out in the Empty like that. Even when piranhas do pop up from time to time, there are usually plenty of signs we can detect that give us some warnings so we can avoid them. Big, stationary energy signatures, thermal images, things like that. These recent attacks don’t fit that mold, though. Reports from the vessels that have escaped say that the pirates just appear next to them. One second everything is fine, the next second you’ve got jumpers crawling all over your hull and trying to cut their way in.”

Ballou shook his head. “Sounds like a nightmare. How do you think they’re appearing out of nowhere like that?”

Maerin took another bite of soup. “No idea. None of us have ever heard of anything like it before. Even small ships are too big for most teleportation technology to work, so that can’t be it. I know some of the other logistics navigators have been combing the company’s logbook and guidelines for any hints, but no one has found anything.”

“Maybe it’s magic of some sort. I mean, the Singer can carry us through space, right?”

“But there are less than a hundred living Singers, and all but three of them work for Plagtos.”

“See? Maybe it’s those three!”

Maerin relaxed and smiled. She could see from Ballou’s expression that he was just winding her up.

“Yeah, I guess that could be it.”

With a burp, Ballou pushed his plate away and started cleaning his teeth with a small pick. He smiled back at her. “Well, I bet the captain is furious. Must have been a rough meeting.”

“It was,” Maerin said as she also finished her meal. “Bastard said that I’m going to be held responsible for recouping the ship’s losses. I’m not sure if that means the ship and its cargo or just the cargo itself, but either way, it’s way more than I’ll ever be able to afford.”

“I’ll say. Heck, you’d have to become a pirate yourself –and a damn successful one at that— to ever get enough money to do that.”

A droidkin ambled over to the table and took the dirty dishes away. Ballou and Maerin thanked it, and left the cafeteria side by side. As they walked, they  left the topic of the pirates and Maerin’s debt behind and chatted about nonsensical things that didn’t matter. Maerin mostly just enjoyed hearing Ballou’s voice. With plenty of things left unspoken, the two parted ways at the workstation lifts, and Maerin headed back to the navigation center. She’d looked back as it was leaving the hub to see Ballou looking back at her, and so she spent the entire trip thinking about the things she didn’t like thinking about that instead of CC-17.

When she got back to her office, Maerin focused. Sh.e’d have plenty of time to figure out what to do about Ballou later, and she’d be damned if that froglin bastard Bluenose was going to make her pay for the lost ship out of her wages. Sitting down with maybe a touch more force than necessary, Maerin started rummaging around the stacks of papers in front of her, looking for her star charts. Maerin’s desk was cluttered, but not messy. She had a system, albeit not a particularly neat one, of keeping things organized, and so the search didn’t take her too long. She pulled the binder onto her lap and opened it up. She flipped through page after page of systems, smiling at the notes and calculations she’d scrawled in the margins over the seven years she’d worked for Plagtos.

“Sector three. Sector four. Ah, here it is. Sector five of the Aguelot Empire. Let’s do some looking.”

She typed the coordinates into her nav computer and watched the holographic projection flicker to life on her planning table. She slid her chair over to it and consulted her chart. Most of her colleagues preferred to only work with the computerized models, but Maerin always felt that the old paper copies offered the best field for analyzing space. She couldn’t explain why. The flattened lines of shipping lines and cosmic weather phenomena just felt right. The computer was better at calculating distances and disaster probabilities, but when it came to just looking nothing compared to the yellowed sheets of paper she had on her lap.

“Now lets see,” she said as she closed her eyes and visualized the expanse of the sector in her mind’s eye. “What could I have missed?”

Maybe it’s magic of some sort?

She mulled the possibility over. Honestly, she couldn’t really think of any other way that the piranhas could have appeared out of space the way they did, but she was going to figure it out. If she couldn’t come up with a solution the normal way, she’d consult the Plagtos company digital archives too. The task was exciting, and part of Maerin was looking forward to it. She was one of the best logistics navigators Plagtos had ever hired, and she wasn’t going to let any more of her routes be ruined by piranhas.

As she scanned her charts and consulted tables of historical and current data, Maerin imagined Captain Bluetongue’s face when she showed him the method the pirates were using to appear out of space. The information would be so valuable that he’d call off her debt, and then she could get back to solving the real problem she was interested in. It was one that she’d been fixated on for the past three years.

Finding a way to get the hell off The Heartbreaker. Forever.


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Chapter 5


The station’s artificial day turned to night as Chevalier made his way towards the Gray Cat. Despite how frequently he visited Junkheap, he wasn’t entirely sure where to find the bar, and had to ask several people for directions along the way. Thankfully their directions were good and Junkheap was small enough that Chevalier found it without too much trouble. It also helped that there was a giant scrap statue atop the bar’s roof that looked like a cat…so long as you squinted and turned your head so much that it was almost touching your shoulder.

He hoped the owner’s drinks were better than their sculpting.

The bar was surprisingly quiet when Chevalier stepped inside. There were no rowdy drunks breaking tables or each other’s skulls, and the trio of droids playing snappy music in the corner were positively dignified. He looked around, didn’t see Rivi or the cosmorcs, and decided to get a drink.

“You want anything, Selene?”

The dragon’s claws appeared just over the edge of the bag. “Maybe a thimble or two of gin, if they have any good bottles.”

“I’ll see what they have.”

He approached the bar and exchanged a smile with the bartender. She was about two heads taller than Chevalier’s own height, and large muscles bulged beneath her tattooed green skin. Her pink hair was braided and hung over her shoulder.

“Haven’t seen you around before. Welcome to the Gray Cat, stranger. What brings you to Junkheap?”

“I’m just passing through,” Chevalier said. “Met a friend earlier by chance, decided to come and catch up over a drink. Talk about the good old days. I’m sure you know how that goes.”

The barkeep threw her head back and laughed. It was a raucous, barking thing that startled everyone around. “Of course, of course,” she said. “There’s a group of old star chasers at that table over there, and that’s all they ever do. Every night they’re in here swapping stories about their adventures through the empty…or accusing each other of cheating at cards.”

Chevalier looked over at the table where she was pointing and saw three people who all looked to be distinctly different ages sitting around it. The apparent oldest was withered and looked brittle, with stringy hair and eyes set deep amidst a face of wrinkles. The apparent youngest looked like a child, and the third was somewhere in the middle. They were playing some sort of card game, and sure enough, he could hear them arguing about who’d won the last hand.

“So what’ll you have?”

Chevalier looked back at the rows of bottles behind the bartender and pointed to a purple spirit in a squat glass bottle. The bartender looked back at it, smiled and poured him a glass. He also requested and received a small glass of gin, from which he could siphon out thimbles for Selene throughout the night. After paying, Chevalier settled down at a table and waited for Rivi while he nursed his drink. His purple liquor was sweet and a little spicy, and he didn’t recognize the flavor. Selene drank two thimbles of gin almost instantly before settling down in the bag with a third. It must have been pretty good, because she didn’t even pretend to complain about it.

A couple hours passed and Chevalier had another few drinks once he’d finished the first. Though he pointed to the same bottle each time, all of the flavors were different. He didn’t recognize any of them. A pleasant warmth tickled the tips of his ears, but he knew himself well enough to know that he still was not truly drunk. His good mood was somewhat soured by the fact that Rivi still had yet to show up. To be late was unlike her, and as the minutes continued to pass – some fast, others slow, due to the rocking in Chevalier’s skull – his anxiety grew.

When the clock struck fourteen, Chevalier decided that Rivi probably wasn’t going to show up after all. He finished his last drink, left a sizeable tip for the bartender and got up to leave. He slowly made his way to the street and felt the cool night air wick the sweat away from his skin as he returned to his ship. The alcohol had turned his thoughts to mush, but he couldn’t stop wondering what had happened to Rivi. Beyond that, he remembered that there was something else he had wanted to do at the bar, but he couldn’t remember what it was just then. It probably wasn’t important, or at least, the booze didn’t think so. He returned to the elevator, rode it down to the dock and after a bit of fumbling around, clambered aboard the Spitfire and promptly fell asleep.


The next morning, Chevalier woke up on the floor with a headache that was far too serious for how little he’d drank the night before. Stuff must have been stronger than it looked, he thought as he sat up and rubbed his head. It felt like someone was drilling a hole through his skull. He looked around the room and was relieved to see that it was clean and free of vomit. Small victories.

Selene was nestled away in her little box-bed in the middle of the ship. She whistled ever so slightly with every exhale, and sleepily nipped at his fingers as Chevalier scooped her up and perched her on his shoulder before heading towards the cockpit.

As he walked, he thought about the night before. What was it that he was supposed to –

The cosmorcs. Duh. He’d wanted to size them up and see if he’d be able to do as Bartholomew had asked, but they’d never shown up to the bar last night. That made the fact that Rivi hadn’t shown up either all the more concerning.

Selene landed hard on the ground and cursed at him as he scurried to his wardrobe and yanked out a clean bodysuit to change into.

“What’s gotten in to you this morning?”

“I think Rivi got tangled up with the cosmorcs last night. I want to go and look around. See if I can figure out why she didn’t show up.”

Selene rolled over and let her eyes fall closed. “Suit yourself, but count me out. I’m going to go ahead and get some more sleep. Come back and get me when it’s time for lunch.Or dinner.”

Before Chevalier could answer, the little dragon was asleep once more. Shaking his head, he pulled his boots back on and hurried to the hatch to leave.


It was a cooler day on Junkheap, with the artificial sky having been set to a slate gray and filled with clouds. Not all space stations put in so much work to ensure that their weather was varied. In fact, most of them had a single “day” and “night”, and never deviated from them. Layla was a huge proponent of the variety though, and the long-term residents of Junkheap seemed to appreciate it.

Chevalier combed the station’s narrow streets and alleys for some sign of his friend. He didn’t find anything, and as the station’s lights shifted to simulate midday, he started to wonder if maybe he was overreacting. After all, Rivi had said that she wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing for work next. It was possible that after he’d seen her she’d gotten an offer to work guard duty or go on a star chasing expedition and had gone off station right away. It wasn’t terribly likely, but it was possible.

He hadn’t found any sign of the cosmorcs either, though he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect to find. Hoverbike exhaust burns on the sides of buildings? Half-eaten animal corpses? His own experience with cosmorcs was limited to what he’d seen and read in dispatches and holograms. Hardly reliable sources. Maybe the reality was that cosmorcs were a species of hoverbike scholars, better versed in long-dead languages than in raising hell.

Shaking his head at the absurdity of a cosmorc reciting a classic poem, Chevalier turned a corner and came to a trash site. Bags of rotting food mixed with broken pieces of all sorts of stuff. The smell was vile, and it made his hangover worse, but before he could turn around and leave, he saw something near one of the dumpsters that caught his eye.

Rivi’s blaster. Cracked into pieces. Suspecting the worst, Chevalier ran to the dumpster and threw up the lid. Nothing. He did the same to the second and it was as he feared. Rivi was laying inside with her eyes closed. She’d been on the wrong side of something nasty; her face was bruised and her prosthetic arm broken off at the wrist.

“This can’t be happening,” Chevalier said as he struggled to lift the star chaser out of the dumpster. She was heavy though and it was not an easy task. Straining, he managed to leverage her up and out, though he fell down onto the ground to do so. Rivi landed face down on the ground next to him.

“Chev? What the hell?”

He jumped back and his heart went to his throat as Rivi groaned and pulled herself up to a sitting position. Her non-prosthetic eye was swollen shut and her other eye’s lens was cracked. Wincing as she braced her weight against the ground, she managed to push herself up to her feet. Chevalier hopped up as well and caught Rivi as her swaying legs almost gave out. She tumbled into him.

“Heh,” she chuckled. “Guess you’re a bit stronger than you look, Chev. This isn’t exactly the way I envisioned ending up in your arms.”

“Me neither, but that’s not important right now. What happened to you, Rivi? Did you get into a fight with the cosmorcs?”

“Cosmorcs? No, though I’m not going to lie, I wish I had. Cosmorcs aren’t too bad. They’re not too bright, so you just have to think a little bit and they won’t give you any problems while you bash their brains in. I got into a bit of a scrap with a girl. Reminded me of you, actually.”

“How so?”

“Well, she had a pet that she seemed really protective of. Carried it around in a bag the way you carry Selene around.”

Rivi coughed hard a few times and gratefully took Chevalier’s canteen when he offered her a sip. “Plus, she had a ring like yours, except it was red instead of blue. After I punched her, it lit up and before I knew it she was wearing armor. Big pauldrons, horns on her helmet, a cape, the works. Kind of looked like your blue moon get up, except that she had a big lance instead of a sword.”

 “Huh. Well, what did you get into a fight with her about?”

Rivi looked up at him and smiled. “We collided in the street, and both thought the other should apologize. Our discussion kind of escalated from there. I threw the first punch. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in years. She was like something out of a storybook. Swatted me around like I was made of paper. I guess I’ve gotten soft with all this easy guard work lately.”

“Dont’ worry about it. Let’s get you to a medbay so you can get patched up. Do you think you can walk?”

“Not on my own, but if you give me a hand I’m sure we can figure it out.”

Throwing one of his friend’s arms over his shoulders, Chevalier helped Rivi “walk” down the alley and back to the main street. The people passing by gave them both a wide berth, and while none of them gawked or seemed alarmed, they didn’t offer to help either. Chevalier hadn’t really expected them to, but it would have been nice. Rivi was heavier than she looked.

“Do you even know where the nearest medbay is?”

Rivi mumbled something, but she seemed to be losing her grip on consciousness because her words were slurred and she was slumping more and more on Chevalier’s shoulder.

Thankfully a droidkin passing by on the next block was able to point Chevalier in the right direction, and even offered to help carry Rivi there. Apparently it felt a sense of camaraderie with her, seeing her prosthetics as a bond between the two of them. Chevalier thought it was a little weird, but didn’t say so. Who was he to turn down free help? Besides, he was getting tired and his head still hurt.

The medbay was a clean, spare space, with boxes of supplies stacked neatly on the far wall and a bevy of machines Chevalier didn’t recognize. He’d been lucky enough to avoid major injuries during his adventures, somehow, and so had never had much reason to visit a medbay.

An onkell doctor, tinted purple, took one look at Rivi and started spouting orders that Chevalier couldn’t understand. The star chaser had basically passed out by that point and her breathing was shallow. A group of onkell nurses appeared almost out of nowhere and gently put Rivi on a floating stretcher. They led her away to an operating room, and Chevalier was left to wait alone in the small lobby near the street. The droidkin, having done its duty in helping carry Rivi, bowed to Chevalier and left without a word. He didn’t bother trying to call it back. Droidkin didn’t make great conversation partners even during the best of times, and he wanted to think.

He wondered what time it was. There were no clocks anywhere inside the medbay and he’d forgotten to put his communications device back on when he’d changed his clothes. It felt like he’d searched for hours. Selene had probably woken up by now and was probably furiously stalking the corridors of the Spitfire while waiting for him to return with/for lunch. Or, maybe dinner.

His gaze wandered down to his right hand and lingered on the ring he wore on his index finger. He idly toyed with the silver band, feeling the warmth emanating from the stone. It whispered to him as it always did when he touched it directly. He couldn’t quite make out the words, but then, he didn’t really want to. Nothing good probably came from listening to the telepathic ramblings of an old ring. Chevalier hastily took his finger away from the blue gem and shook his head. He still didn’t trust the damn thing.

The Ring of Blue Moon, an artifact from an ancient era that possessed powers he  didn’t fully understand. Maybe he never would. Its history was murky; some legends claimed that it was made during a time before humans traveled in space. Others said that it was forged by the greatest smiths to ever wander the empty and tempered in the breath of space dragons. Selene, of course, laughed at both types of legends, but she hadn’t told him the truth of the matter, either. He suspected that despite having lived in the ring for more years than she could count, the little dragon herself didn’t really know how it came into being.

Chevalier looked away from the ring and closed his eyes until the last of its whispers in his thoughts had faded away completely. Though he wore the ring and did as he pleased from day to day, in many ways it was his master. It was the reason he was now and would forever be called Chevalier, instead of going by the name he’d been born with. It was the cornerstone of his bond with Selene, and it was the reason he was shaking with anger now as he hoped that Rivi would be okay.

She had a pet that she seemed really protective of. Carried it around in a bag the way you carry Selene around. Plus, she had a ring like yours, except it was red instead of blue.

He replayed Rivi’s words over and over in his head. Wondering if it had been someone else –someone like him— that had beaten Rivi up so badly.

He knew that the Ring of Blue Moon was not the only artifact of its kind; he’d read other legends and histories that mentioned different artifacts with similar origins, but he couldn’t remember if any of the tales had specified other rings. Ultimately, it didn’t matter if she was like him, he decided. He wanted to talk to her. After he got out of here and retrieved Selene, he’d ask around and see if anyone else had seen the girl with the red ring. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was all he had. Then, once he solved the cosmorc issue for Bartholomew and unloaded the Plagtos goods, he’d spend some time tracking her down. If Rivi didn’t make it then he’d seek his revenge, and if she did…then he could just talk to her. If she did have an artifact ring, they could share experiences and maybe he could learn something about the Ring of Blue Moon’s history.

Just then, there was a loud hum and a crash outside, and Chevalier hopped to his feet. He didn’t dare invoke the ring without Selene nearby, but he grabbed a broom and clutched it ready. The wooden handle was much lighter than what he was used to working with, but he was confident he could do some damage with it if the situation warranted it.

The doors to the medbay screamed open and three cosmorcs rushed inside. They were beaten and burned, and it was obvious that they’d been crying. Clutched between the three of them was the body of a fourth cosmorc, and unless Chevalier was mistaken, all of the ornate jewelry and tattoos adorning his body meant that it was their chieftain.

Talk about a coincidence, but Chevalier had a bad feeling. A really bad feeling. Because, unless he was super mistaken, the cosmorc chieftain was already dead. It was the gaping blaster wound in his chest that gave him away. Chevalier was sure that the chieftain’s companions hadn’t realized it yet, based on the fact that they’d brought him here, but it was only a matter of time until they realized what had happened.Once they did, all hell was sure to break loose.

So much for getting rid of that haul anytime soon. What would a cosmorc rampage even look like, anyways?

“Medic!” the first cosmorc yelled, pulling Chevalier back from his idle thinking. It’s voice was rich and husky, yet distinctly feminine. “Medic come now! Come now or we burn down medbay!”

As another onkell nurse scurried forward to assess the bay’s newest patient, Chevalier’s perception of the situation was turned completely on its head and he was made to feel like a fool.

Because just then, the cosmorc chieftain sat up and growled before punching his underling in the face.    


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Chapter 4


To all outward appearance, Bartholomew’s place looked every bit the legitimate mechanic’s shop. There were ancient trinkets and half-built machines that made all sorts of weird noises if you touched them, or got too close, or got them wet. Next to them were stacks and stacks of dusty boxes, full of packing material and other random things that had never been categorized or sorted. It had probably been the better part of a decade since any of the components they contained had seen the outside of their boxes. Beyond that, the smell of grease was heavy in the air, and the constant clunking and clanging of various tools against bits of metal told tales of tinkering to anyone listening in from outside.

Chevalier smiled at this elaborate deception as he weaved his way through the labyrinthine mess to the back room where Bartholomew sat at a table crunching numbers. The burly Arlai was hunched over his book of figures and his calculator, the feathers on his four arms smudged with oil and dirt and his wings twitching in irritation when a row of numbers didn’t add up.

“I told ya three times already, Hurkwin,” he chirped as Chevalier opened the door. “That hoverbike better be done today or that green-skinned bastard ‘sgunna be pissed. If a rampaging band of cosmorc raiders comes and busts my shop all ta hell because ya couldn’t be bothered ta fix a faulty hover disk in four fuckin’ days I’m going ta open ya skull up with my ten-pound maul. Get me?”

Chevalier coughed. “Sorry friend, I think you’ve got the wrong person.”

Bartholomew jumped up and had a knife in each of his four hands so fast that Chevalier hadn’t even seen him reach for his belts. “Ya want a piece of – Oh, Chevalier. Didn’t anybody ever teach ya ta knock, kid?”

The arlai sat back down and nodded at the other side of the table where Chevalier took a seat.

“Whaddya want? As ya can see I’m busy.”

Now that he was closer, Chevalier could see that his friend was stressed to his limit. There were dark rings beneath his brown, bloodshot eyes, and judging by the wild way in which Bartholomew’s face-feathers were tangled, Chevalier guessed that it had been at least two days since he’d last slept. Maybe even three.

“Well, I happened upon a few things out in deep space. Part of that Plagtos cargo ship raid. I was going to see if any of them tickled your fancy, maybe have you take them off my hands for me?”

“Come back next week. I gots tah much going on right now.”

Chevalier leaned back in his chair. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. See, as I was heading over here to show you what I found I had a run-in with some of Plagtos’ scouts. Spitfire got a bit dinged up, and I’m pretty sure that they’re still looking for their stuff.”

“So what? Yar docked with an orb, right? There’s no way they’ll be able ta tell that yar here. Sorry that ya can’t get back ta yar exciting life of wandering the stars doing fuck-all, but like I said. I’ve got shit and don’t have time ta be making deals. Market is closed, bud.”

See, while Bartholomew was a mechanic, his real profession was in the buying and selling of black market goods. He was one of probably a half-dozen or so that operated out of Junkheap, but he was the only one who was willing to deal with humans, and Chevalier got along well with him. Layla absolutely knew about the scope of his business, but so long as he operated a real mechanic’s shop at least part of the time, she didn’t bother him about it. She had other things on her mind to manage too.

“Like I said, Bartholomew. That doesn’t work for me. See, I ran into Rivi on my way here and mentioned the salvage to her.”

“Rivi? S’what? She’s good with a secret.”

“She said that she’s on leave for a while until she figures out her next job. Wanted to meet me for a drink tonight. You know how she gets when she’s got nothing to do and starts drinking. She’ll tell a couple of her booze buddies and by the end of the week a full company of Chillswords will be crawling up and down every nook, cranny and crack on Junkheap looking for me. That includes yours, bud.”

Bartholomew looked up and glared at Chevalier. Chevalier could see the Arlai imagining the heavily armored soldiers, each wielding a seven foot long energy-tipped sword that froze as they cut. Chillswords were not pleasant to deal with, and Bartholomew knew it.

“Point taken. Look, I feel for ya. Really, I do. Ya know me, Chev. Ya know I’m not just blowin’ smoke here. I gots big problems at the shop.”

“Now see, this is a negotiation,” said Chevalier. “What sort of problems are you having? You know I can handle myself. Maybe I can help you take care of them and then you can help take this stuff off my hands. I scratch your back, et cetera.”

Bartholomew clucked and tilted his head to one side like an owl. “Hmm…that’s not a bad idea, actually….yeah. What’s it hurt ta try, eh? Ya know how ta handle yaself in a scrap, dontcha?”

Chevalier shrugged.

“Alright alright alright alright alright. Here’s what I’ve got goin’ on. There’s a cosmorc gang here on Junkheap. Only about thirty or so. Not tah big. Well, anyways, long story short their chieftain went and got his hoverbike busted in some sort of street race the other night. Hit one of the air generators over by the big lake. Ya shoulda seen Layla. I’ve never seen her so mad as that.”

“And he wants you to fix it for him? What’s so hard about that? I thought you had a bunch of real mechanics working here to keep Layla off your ass with the smuggling. Can’t they get a bike put back together?”

“Not so loud with all that talk about smugglin’,” Bartholomew hissed as a lifetime of being careful about his profession made him bristle. “But yar right. I gots me three real fine mechanics workin’ here to make sure that my business is seen as strictly le-git-i-mate. Normally, fixing a hoverbike wouldn’t be much trouble at all, and I told the guy we’d have it done in a day. Maybe two tops. Problem is that none of my guys know what the hell kind of part they’ve got in there. Ya know how cosmorcs are. Chieftains have probably been riding that same damn bike for two hundred years if not more. Hurkwin, my best guy, has been workin’ on it day in and day out for the past coupla days, but I don’t think he’s going ta be able to get it figured out. I’m ridin’ him as hard as I dare, but if he don’t know how to fix it he don’t know how to fix it. Anyway, chieftain came by yesterday. Got real mad that the bike wasn’t fixed yet. Threatened ta bring his crew around and smash up my place before goin’ on a rampage in the city. Say what ya will about cosmorcs, they’re brazen fuckers. So that’s the deal. Whaddya say? Think ya can help me out?”

“Depends on what that looks like,” Chevalier said after a moment. “Want me to kill them? If it was just one or two cosmorcs, sure no problem. Heck, even five or ten might not be that big of a deal if I had some time to plan and could pick my spot. Thirty though? That’s probably more than I can handle. Now, if you’re not looking for them to die and just want them roughed up a bit, then I might be able to make something work. Bit of flash and theatrics wouldn’t be too hard to pull off.”

Bartholomew grunted. “I don’t really care much what happens ta ‘em so long as they don’t cause me any trouble. Layla has been makin’ it clear lately that there have been some people asking questions about what we do here and that she’s gettin’ tired of coverin’ for us.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Chevalier as he pulled out the memstick and passed it across the table. “In the meantime, care to take a look at this and see if any of it catches your eye? I’ll be honest here, I’m a bit strapped right now money-wise, and this is all good stuff. Should you see anything you like, the Spitfire is on Dock four, spot thirty-five. She took some damage in the salvage too and needs repairs.New shields too. The last ones you sold me weren’t much use against the minnows. You can deduct the repairs against whatever the cargo is worth, minus the shields.”

“Now come on, Chev. Ya know a fellow’s gotta make a bit of profit. If I gives ya free shields, how I’m ‘sposed to feed my family?”

“They’re not free. They’re simply replacing the low-quality crap you got me to pay a premium for the last time we did business, Bartholomew. Want me to take my business elsewhere?”

Bartholomew grunted but pressed the point no further. He picked up the memstick and tucked it away. Chevalier got up. Making eye contact with the arlai and nodding, he went to leave the mechanic’s office.

“Where can I find these cosmorcs?”

“Heard they been stayin’ at that tavern down on the wide side of town. Named after some sort of animal. Gray something, I think.”

“Thanks. I’ll check it out. Make sure you get some sleep, Bartholomew. You look terrible.”

Bartholomew chuckled. “So do ya, my friend, but I wasn’t goin’ ta mention it.”

Winding back through the mess towards the street outside, Chevalier tapped on his bag twice. “What do you think Selene? Figure this is a good idea?”

“A good idea? I think this is a great idea! Weren’t we just talking to Rivi about the fact that you need to do something heroic? Killing a cosmorc gang is pretty high on that list, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, there aren’t any legends about it, but the principle seems sound enough. Maybe I’ll even grow afterwards!”

“I’m really not sure that killing them is in the cards. Cosmorcs can be tough customers. They’re immune to heat, cold and don’t need air to survive. Strong as hell too.”

Selene snorted. “As if any of that matters when you’re getting sliced in half by the Sword of Blue Moon. Let’s go look at these cosmorc bikers and see what’s what. Bartholomew said they were staying at the Gray Cat, right? That means you can get that drink with Rivi.”

“I thought you had a bad feeling about going and doing that. What happened?”

Selene burped and a few small sparks flew out of the bag. “Finished the troofles. I think the nuts might have been a touch rancid.”


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Chapter 3


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.”

“Why not?”

“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.”


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Chapter 2


Chevalier hated to admit it, but the scouts knew what they were doing. He’d lost track of time as he fled, caught up in the rhythm of banking and bobbing to avoid the constant barrage of lasers, flak and small-caliber missiles. His hands were starting to cramp from gripping the controls so tight, but he did his best to ignore that. There’d be plenty of time to rest if he escaped and his hand issues wouldn’t matter if he didn’t.

The scouts worked as a team, with one firing indiscriminately in a wide area on one side of Chevalier’s ship to force him to move to where the other was ready for more precise shots. They’d hit the Spitfire a few times already, but luckily hadn’t caused any real damage. It’s just cosmetic, its just cosmetic, its just cosmetic he told himself through gritted teeth as another laser bolt scorched his right wing thruster but didn’t knock it out.

If I get through this I’m going to have a long talk with Bartholomew about those shields he sold me. Deep space grade, my ass.

Chevalier slapped a button on the console to his right and there was a loud clunk as a half-dozen decoy flares went out behind him and roared to life. He hoped that the sudden flash would disorient the scouts and give him some breathing room to maneuver into the first set of satellites that had just appeared in the distance. He aimed for them and kept his foot firmly on the floor, willing his heavily loaded and improperly packed ship to move a little faster. He really didn’t need much extra speed. Another quarter wave or two would do it.

Selene had grown quiet as the chase went on. Her wings couldn’t sustain flight for long inside the gravity controlled ship and so she’d landed back on the console. Her manic energy had passed, but her thin tail raked back and forth across the gleaming silver and she watched the various monitors around Chevalier with keen interest.

“Look out, Chevalier!” she said, pointing up at the sensor that showed the Spitfire’s left side. “Another pair of minnows is coming towards us!”

Chevalier swore when he saw that she was right. Another two scout ships, no doubt there at the request of the others had appeared out of nowhere on the ship’s left and were speeding towards him. They hadn’t started firing yet, but that was only because they were still too far away to have a reasonable chance of hitting. Once they got in range, he’d be facing down four angry pilots.

Make that six, as Selene noticed and pointed out another two scouts appearing on the right side.

“I don’t think we’re fast enough to make it to the satellites, Selene. We may need to jettison some of the cargo.”

Selene sounded mortified. “Are you crazy? Absolutely not. We almost died to collect all that treasure, we cant let it go to waste by tossing it into space now!”

“Are you crazy? There are six ships out there on our tail, and I’m pretty sure that we’re not fast enough to lose them. If we could make it to the satellites I think I could fly well enough that they’d stop indiscriminately firing at us for fear of hitting those, but they’re probably another five minutes away and I don’t think we have that long.”

“Well, figure out some way to make it work!”

“I’m telling you,” Chevalier yelled as a piece of flak overshot the Spitfire and burst into dozens of pieces. “We have a simple choice. Keep the cargo and die, or dump it and have a chance at living. Where do you come down?”

The dragon’s answer was cut off by the fact that some of the flak debris hit the left-side cameras, causing the corresponding monitor to go dark. That settled the matter in Chevalier’s mind. While he’d be able to “see” the left side attackers on his scanner once they were in range, there was a universe of difference between two glowing dots on a scanner and an image of the vessels. The former was really only good for determining how much time he’d have for a given volley, whereas the latter would let him see both exactly when said volley was fired and the general angle it would follow. A cacophony of explosions and screaming lasers surrounded the Spitfire, causing the small ship to shake and vibrate like a bomb about to explode. The scouts were increasing the cadence of their attacks as the satellites drew near.

Leaning down, he stretched his arm and pulled up on the small black knob that opened the jump dock’s hatch. It was a heavy, sticky thing that was rarely used, and it took quite a bit of strength to get it to move. With a grunt and a glare at Selene – who was no doubt the cause of the lever’s stickiness, though he wasn’t entirely sure how – Chevalier managed to move it up about a third of the way and there was a hiss as the jump dock door opened.

With a series of bumps, cracks and one long screech that made Chevalier wince at the prospect of his upcoming ship repair and detail bill, some of the cargo fell out into space. The gauges at his chest all immediately showed a minor uptick in speed, but before he could get the full benefit of a lighter vessel by dumping the rest Selene had jumped down and bit his hand as hard as she could. He yelped with pain and released the knob. Wrapping her fore and hind legs around the lever, the little dragon closed the jump dock and glared up at Chevalier.

“We’re going plenty fast enough now,” she said. “If we get rid of all the treasure we might as well be dead, since we won’t have enough money to repair the ship and eat. Besides, the satellites are pretty close now.”

She had a point. Chevalier could see the first blinking blue and red rings of the satellites that marked the boundary of shallow space, where law and order were preserved by the spacefaring might of the Aguelot Empire’s vast armada. Chevalier grinned as he noticed that the barrage of projectiles aimed in his direction started to slow down. His hunch about Plagtos not wanting to piss the Empire off had been right. However, he remembered as another small missile exploded just behind him; slow wasn’t the same thing as stopped.

He dodged the last few projectiles and prevented any more from being fired by flying the Spitfire as close to the top of the first satellite’s rings as he dared. The scouts didn’t halt their pursuit, which meant that they were likely planning to catch up with him and capture his vessel in close quarters. Probably with some sort of tether. The tether wasn’t an immediate concern; he was keeping a healthy distance away from all of the scout minnows, but his thrusters had started to whine and their bleating was getting louder every second. If he kept them going at full power for much longer, there was a better than good chance that they’d blow out and he’d be screwed.

The second satellite came quickly after the first, and reaching the third took even less time than that. Soon enough Chevalier was navigating the veritable asteroid field of individual dwelling space stations, non-Empire satellites, and other vessels. This was fortuitous, for as he banked and weaved through the chaos, he saw that the minnows were slowed more than he was. Given their distinct markings and easily recognized ownership, the pilots were forced to slow down and avoid any sort of issue. Plagtos had a reputation to protect.

“I think we’re safe,” Selene said as she watched the scouts shrink on the monitors and since Chevalier agreed with her, he let off the thrusters and relaxed as their bleating slowly ceased. He wiped the sweat from his brow, pulled his space suit down to his waist and started laughing. “I can’t believe we survived that.”

Selene crawled up his arm and perched on his shoulder. “I am glad that we did. We even managed to save some of the treasure, thanks to my quick thinking, of course. I can’t believe that you wanted to dump all of it! For shame!”

With a chuckle, Chevalier plotted a course for the ship’s autopilot to take them to Junkheap and leaned back in his chair. The adrenaline was wearing off now, and it was being replaced by bone-deep fatigue. “Wake me up if anything goes amiss,” he told Selene as he put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.

Selene didn’t answer. She was already asleep on his shoulder.

The Spitfire maneuvered through the sector on its pre-programmed route. It was a little worse for wear, but it wasn’t so damaged that the small blinking device attached to the bottom of the hull via flak explosion earlier was ever at any risk of falling off.


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Chapter 1


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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