Every Undertaker’s Friend
by Trek Journeyman © 2017
Chapter seven Start at Chapter 1.1
Joseph fled for over an hour, to get far enough that when Esparza looked for his body he would be too far away. It was late and Joseph didn’t know how long night would last on this planet. Two moons glowed bright, one full, the other gibbous.
Joseph Sanford knelt to catch his breath. Of all the planets one could get separated from his crew on, a tropical island on a warm planet was ideal. Still, he needed light and he only had a small lamp hanging from his utility belt. A fire would do him good. A few sticks later, he had himself the beginnings of a small blaze.
Joseph had fled a fair distance from the ships. He might have been over a kilometer from the camp, so he felt safe enough his fire nor its smoke would give him away. Staring into the flames, Joseph thought about his predicament. At this late hour there was little he could do for himself or his daughter.
Erica and her roommates would be locked safely inside their dorm. No doubt Marco or Franco would be compelled to attempt entry, but they would fail. The thought that concerned him the most was if Erica would make a run for the armory. Another thing on his mind was what the three thugs had planned for the crew.
A terrible thought occurred to Joseph. Slavery.
Joseph had left his blaster on the ship. He didn’t even have a knife. He had his comm implant, but when Esparza realized Joseph’s body was missing, the implant would be useless. Esparza would set the ship’s scanner to notify him of any communication attempts.
Joseph’s longtime friend Doc Hessel was dead, dead because of his own negligence. Doc had tried to make a difference, but he missed. Now he was dead. One of the two brothers was wounded, but it made no difference. The man would still be able to fight.
When morning arrives the three pirates will recover from being hung over. At that point they will tear the ship apart. They might find the gold, but not the credit chit. Joseph felt it in his pocket. The gold was in his quarters, stuffed inside a strong-box built into a set of drawers under his float-bunk. Though functional, the false drawer was not as deep as the others and it was removable.
They would also have access to the armory, not that it had any great weapons. They were mostly older weapons bought at flea markets from questionable merchants. On the frontier, one settled for what one got. If he could get to the armory unseen, Joseph was confident he could turn this around. His chances were slim at best, but his daughter and crew depended on him.
Doubt began to set in. He wasn’t a gunman, and he had very little experience with weapons. All the years on the frontier, and he wasted them on what, showmanship? Nothing useful for protecting those he cared for anyway. Vids were the only source of knowledge he had for situations like this. A fat lot of good fictional vids would do him. Still, if he could get into the ship, he might fix this.
Joseph was certain Esparza and his goons would be celebrating. He would wait for them to have enough time to get drunk and fall asleep. As he searched for more wood to feed his fire, he found a nice club. He swung it through the air hitting dead branches on nearby trees. Not much use against blasters, but it made him feel better.
A couple of hours passed, and Joseph felt comfortable in the glow of his fire. He had a plan and he felt less nervous than before. It was time to go back. It would take over an hour to make his way through the woods without giving himself away.
When Joseph reached the edge of the trees near camp, he saw Marco laying on a pile of blankets near a campfire. He wasn’t exactly asleep, but he was dozing in and out of a slight stupor from drinking. Joseph waited another half hour, hoping Marco would drift off into more solid sleep.
There was no sign of Esparza or Franco. One would be in their own ship, the other was likely on the freighter, maybe on the bridge. Marco still hadn’t fallen asleep and soon it would be morning. It was now or never. Joseph knew he would have to sneak by Marco quietly, then he would be in the ship. The hatch was still open, so he wouldn’t make any noise when entering the ship. But, if someone was on the bridge they would see him in the viewer. But only if they were watching.
Deep in thought, Joseph rehearsed his plan. He pictured himself sneaking past Marco. Then softly stepping up the gangway and through the main hatch. He could make it to the armory if nobody saw him from the bridge. There he could get an older pump shotgun. He saw himself opening the nearby cabinet holding the old gunpowder shells. He would have to use one hand to free the shotgun as he used the other to grab and load a few shells. this was in case if he were closely followed. The shotgun would be good enough if he aimed towards the head.
If nobody was aware of his presence, he would grab a few blasters, tuck them in his belt, and find his daughter. He would then find out if any of the dirt bags were on board. If so, they would be disarmed and locked in one of the lion cages. Empty of the lion of course. Or maybe not. That thought put a short-lived smile on his face.
After that he would go out and capture Marco. Whoever was on Esparza’s ship, if they were there, would have to be dealt with in an ambush when they came out. That was the plan. Hopefully he wouldn’t get himself killed somewhere along the line. Or anyone else for that matter.
His heart pounding, Joseph crept past Marco without attracting from the dozing pirate. To him, his heart was loud enough to wake the dead. So far so good. He stepped on the ramp. From the darkness within he heard Franco speak.
“Stop right there Sanford!” Joseph froze in place inches from the hatch. He swore under his breath. “Hands up where I can see them.”
For a moment Joseph fought the temptation to charge and knock Franco over. But if the man was armed – it was too dark to tell – it would be a short charge.
Instead… “Franco,” he said into the darkness. “You can have what little we’ve got. Ditch Esparza. You and your brother will make off with a good haul.”
“No! Get back down the ramp. Franco stepped into the light put off by the two moons. No chance for Joseph to get inside now. Franco was armed after all, and held Joseph in sight.
“Do you really think that you’ll get away with this. Nate Alluisi is out there and he knows where we are.”
“He has his own problems wherever he’s at. Esparza made sure of it.” Franco grinned.
“Huh? What do you mean his own troubles?” Joseph, puzzled by the new information frowned.
“Get on the ground face down. Arms stretched above your head.” Franco kicked Joseph as he knelt. The sounds of talking had finally brought Marco out of his half sleep. “The boss hired a man to kill Alluisi,” Franco added.
The good news caused Joseph to smile. “One man? He sent one solitary man to kill Nate Alluisi. Well, that won’t get the job done.” he chuckled into the sand he lay on.
“He’ll get him.” Franco’s voice lacked confidence.
“Listen man, Take the credits.” There is 30,000 on my chit. You and Marco can hog-tie Esparza and take his ship. Leave him with us and we’ll take care of him. You and your brother will get away and when Alluisi comes, you won’t have to deal with him.”
“We could take the creds,” Marco chimed in. “if you were the only one we had to consider. But the crew, and especially the women, changes things. I want one of those women for myself and I know my brother want’s one too. No chance we’ll run out on them, right Franco?”
Franco grinned like a predator. A fox in a hen-house so to speak. Joseph couldn’t think of anything to counter their perverse desires. He then heard the sound of a hatch opening. It came from the direction of Esparza’s ship.
He felt helpless.
Inside the ship, Erica slept in fitful bursts. She worried about her father and mourned the Doctor’s death. Curious about what might be going on outside, she slipped on a pair of slippers and opened the hatch. She held her breath as the door shushed open. Nobody was on the other side waiting. She cat-stepped down the passage and heard her father’s voice as she neared the main hatch.
Erica eased closer to the hatch to get a view of who her father was talking to. Marco and Franco were standing above her father, who was laying on the ground. She turned back to go retrieve her hold-out blaster. But Kenya stood in her way, arm stretched out with the blaster in her hand. In her other hand she held a pry-bar. Jessica was there too, but she wasn’t armed.
Now armed, Erica turned back to the hatch. Her plan was to step out into the moon light and shoot Marco, who stood facing her. Then she would shoot Franco.
Her father was speaking again as she worked up the nerve to put her thoughts into action. “The man sent after Alluisi will die. He’ll know who sent the killer, and he’ll come after Esparza with a vengeance.”
“Maybe,” said Franco. “But I’d rather not buck Esparza. Him I know. And I won’t cross him. Alluisi is alone out here, other than his bartender friend and that old tech. Esparza has lots of friends out this way. Pirates and slavers.”
“I wondered,” Joseph muttered.
“They run with complete abandon out here. Nobody left to stop them. Anyone who tried, died,” claimed Marco.
Erica was on the verge of leaping through the hatch shooting when she heard Esparza. “What are you two doing?” Then he saw a figure laying on the ground. He realized it was Joseph and a wide smile creased his face. “Good work boys. So, Sanford. Where’s the gold?”
He kicked Joseph in the waist causing him to grunt. “Well?” he yelled.
Joseph didn’t answer, he didn’t know what say.
“I should kill you now.” Esparza drew his blaster.
“Boss?” Franco said. “We need him to herd his crew and daughter. Since we have his daughter he’ll play nice I’d bet.”
Esparza stood still for a full minute, staring down at Joseph. “Oh all right. Tie him up. arms behind him and hands secured to his elbows.”
“Yes sir.” Franco left to get some rope and Marco stood guard as Esparza turned toward the freighter. Erica drew in a deep breath as she realized Esparza would soon come through the hatch. She motioned the other two women back to their dorm. She felt bad. This was the low point of the trip. She hoped. If not, considering the talk of slavers, she needed to come up with a plan. A fast plan.
She could see the same desperate feelings in Jessica’s eyes. Nothing could have been done since Esparza showed up. And there was nothing to be done in the immediate future.
“What are we going to do?” whispered Kenya.
Her whisper faded into the silence of the women’s dorm.
Overnight, Marco and Franco slept in the circus ship, taking turns keeping watch on the crew. Esparza slept in the comfort of his own ship, while Joseph was locked in the hold. Joseph’s sleep would be pitiful. With all known threats eliminated, Esparza and his men figured it would be a safe bet to skip keeping a watch outside.
Though it wasn’t a mistake, it was unwise.
Late into the night, a series of crackles came from every direction except the beach itself. Large bodies were moving on the edges of the camp, stepping on the leaves. Some of the visitors walked on four legs while others walked on two. An occasional grunt came from one or another. They worked their way throughout the space between the ships. Suddenly, a large crash echoed between the ships and trees as a cargo box was dumped to the ground. Nobody on the ships heard it.
Several more crashes sounded, followed by a cacophony of items getting tossed about. They were searching the boxes, dumping the contents all over. There was nothing of value in the boxes, but even if there were, the beings wouldn’t know what they found. They claimed items made of metal or plastic. Typical of primitives not capable of more than smelting basic ores. They pretty much had their way for the rest of the night, leaving an hour before sunrise. Before the last of the beings stepped into the trees, it drew something out of the bag thing on its back. It lifted its arm, holding a long, thin object, then jabbed it into the nearest tree trunk. It looked back at the camp and grunted what might be its thanks. Or maybe it was a defiant warning.
Marco was the first to step into the warm light of the morning sun. The first thing he noticed after a long yawn and stretch, was the mess.
He commed his brother and Esparza.
“Get the hell out here! We had visitors over night!”
“What do you mean visitors?” Franco said from the bridge. “Everyone’s locked up and there aren’t any other ships on the island.”
“Marco. You better not be messing with us. You just woke me from my best night of sleep in a month.” Esparza sounded ticked. If this was a joke, Marco was about to get a foot in the rear.
“No joke, boss. Somebody made a huge mess of things out here.” Marco walked about, stepping over the items thrown about. There was so much clutter he couldn’t help stepping on some stuff.
Franco came out of the freighter. “Whoa! This is a mess.”
Another three minutes passed before Esparza came along. Marco and Franco could hear him cussing the second he stepped out of his ship. At the base of the ramp he stood still, his face a mixture of puzzlement and angry shock.
“What the…?” he said.
“Look at the tracks, boss. They’re not Human.” Franco pointed to one of several at Esparza’s feet. “I can’t tell what’s missing, but they tore through everything pretty heavily.”
“Great,” Esparza’ said with a flat tone. Nobody moved for two, long minutes. “Okay, clean up only what we need when we take the ship out of here. Leave the rest for our neighbors. Apparently, we aren’t alone on this island; on this planet.”
The brothers set to work and Esparza pitched in for about five minutes, until he got bored and went back to his ship to clean up. An hour later they had gone through the portion of the mess between the ships. On the edge of camp, where there was little to clean up, Franco noticed something sticking out of a tree that hadn’t been there the day before.
Up close he realized it was an arrow, stuck in the tree as though someone had jabbed it. Franco reached out and stroked the shaft. It was wood, rough as though made from a stick. He wiggled it a little and it felt as stiff as a titanium arrow shaft. “Odd wood,” he said aloud. He brushed the fletching with his fingertips. Though it looked like feather fletching, it wasn’t made of feather, but felt more like hair.
His brother was walking behind him when he called out. “Hey Marco. Get a load of this.”
“What now?” Marco stood beside Franco and noticed what had attracted his attention. “An arrow?”
“Well, yeah you moron.”
“This wasn’t here yesterday was it?” Marco asked.
“Better call the boss,” Marco suggested.
They did so and when Esparza arrived, madder yet at being disturbed he settled down after noticing the arrow. “Primitives. That makes sense.” He pulled the arrow and took it back inside his ship and went to sleep for another couple of hours.