Every Undertaker’s Friend
by Trek Journeyman © 2016
Chapter Eight Start at Chapter 1.1
Nate Alluisi and his companion Gary had arrived and landed on the same island as the other two ships, but it was the day before. It was a coincidence. He had landed in a deep canyon located more than thirty miles from the beach Esparza would choose.
Nate powered his ship down. It was enough to prevent his being detected by the low-definition scanners on the freighter when it would fly over. That and the deep canyon hid his ship from the prying scanner on Esparza’s ship, if they would even bother to search.
He and Gary spent part of that first day fishing. The other part of the day Nate took time to look for sign of kimberlites in the volcanic rock the island was made up of. Gary spent the rest of the day running diagnostics of the contramatter power plant. When evening came Nate chose to sleep on the bank of the stream in the canyon. Gary preferred the modern comforts of a float bunk Seventy plus years of life will do that to someone.
The night air was pleasant and Nate slept well as the stream flow eased him into a deep sleep. A morning breeze coming from the shore a mile downstream of his camp stirred him from his slumber. The sunlight played down on him, shining through the length of the canyon on the horizon. A lucky location, the canyon was situated such that the sun would shine down in it all day, from horizon to horizon.
The feeling of the light was as pleasant as the night air had been. Nate delayed crawling out of his bedroll. Eventually his desire for breakfast motivated him enough to get up. He was camping old style, without modern cook gear. His Caff had been boiled in an antique percolator made of aluminum. This particular morning was a perfect opportunity for him to fry fresh bacon and eggs. He had purchased a small supply a week ago from a homesteader on one of the few worlds in this sector. After a filling breakfast he set out for another day of exploring the island.
It was around 1500 local time when Nate saw the pair of ships flying over. One looked familiar. Using his ocular implants he dialed up the magnification and recognized the image of a clown. He had finally found Joseph Sanford and his small convoy, or maybe they had found him. He dropped a sample of platinum bearing ore he found and headed back to his ship. Gary sent a burst message informing him of the same.
“Don’t contact them, I have a bad feeling,” Nate messaged back.
Nate had strayed several miles from his ship. Over the course the five hour hike, Nate thought about how he would contact Sanford. Taking into account his suspicions of Esparza, Nate decided to travel by drift cycle. He would approach slowly, to see if Esparza had pulled any shenanigans. If so he would deal with it at the time.
It was dark when Nate walked up to his ship. Gary came out, holding a scan tool. “DO you plan on visiting them now?” Nate thought about his answer. It would be best if he set out to see Sanford in the morning.
“No, I’ll wait until morning.”
Again, Nate camped outside, looking forward to another pleasant wake-up call from the warm dawn light. Even more so he looked forward to a repeat of his campfire breakfast. The journey to the landing site would take a couple of hours. Gary would not be joining him, but instead would go fishing again, or run more system checks.
The trip would require Nate to circumnavigate the island along its beaches to reach Sanford. The AI recorded the flight path, showing the ships had landed opposite from him. They had landed on the extreme west end of the island.
When morning came Nate was quicker to get up and cook. He took time to savor his breakfast, but cleaned up faster and tore down his camp. Soon after he was cruising above the surf as he followed the beach around the island. He arrived an hour faster than he predicted. The island lacked rocky outcroppings he luckily didn’t need to work around.
As he pulled in close to the freighter, Nate chose to stash his cycle and approach unseen on foot. He turned onto shore and glided into a copse of trees. There he left his cycle hidden in a hedge of thick bushes. His ship AI commed him that another ship was coming in to land on the island. His implants displayed a projected path of the incoming ship. It would land a mile east of the circus camp. This is getting to be a busy planet all of a sudden.
Nate eased his way along the shore through more trees and toward the camp beyond the freighter. He noticed some strange tracks crisscrossing Human tracks. They were vaguely pig-like. They seemed to be headed to and headed away from the camp. As he moved closer to the camp he noticed it was empty of any circus crew. The tracks continued into and out of the camp. Only Marco was sitting near a smoldering fire. No sign of Sanford, Erica, or even Esparza.
Closer, he could see all the tents and bedrolls hadn’t been slept in. What he saw didn’t sit well with him. Esparza had made his move after all. The others had to be on the freighter, possibly locked in their quarters. He hunkered down to wait for an opportunity to learn what was happening.
Closer to dusk, Sanford came into view, carrying a large duffel hung over his shoulder. It looked heavy as Sanford staggered under its weight. Franco followed close behind, also carrying a duffel, though his was smaller. It looked as though he were favoring his left arm. It was bandaged, with a trace of blood seeping through. Then Esparza came into sight, holding a blast rifle. Though the freighter’s hatch was not within view, Nate knew that was where they had come from.
Franco was wounded, but not bad enough to keep him from carrying a duffel full of gold. That’s what had to be in both duffel bags. Nate wondered if he had been shot during the takeover. Did anyone else get shot?
Marco stirred, restless and impatient. “Are we just going to sit out here?” he grumbled. “We should cut through the door and drag those women out.”
“They can sit tight for now. I don’t believe they have much for food in there,” said Esparza.
Little did he realize the women had a full service kitchen and a stocked pantry in their dorm. He had never been inside the dorms, men or women’s.
“The daughter claims she has a blaster,” said Marco.
“We can cut a hole in the door and pump in some sort of gas or smoke to flush them out,” added Franco.
“Maybe later we’ll smoke them out,” Esparza relented. “But first let’s see how much gold we’ve got here.” He turned to Sanford. “Get moving old man, I want that gold on my ship now.”
Sanford sat on the ground, slumped against the duffel he carried. “I can’t carry this any further without help.”
Franco stared at Sanford for a moment and then said, “Marco, go get a gravity plate. I’d rather not carry this bag either.” His brother got up and walked into the freighter, presumably to find a gravity plate to carry the bags on. Esparza followed Marco inside.
Nate could hear Sanford’s heavy breathing. Sanford looked up at Franco. “What’s Esparza going to do next?” he asked.
Franco shrugged, looking away towards the surf. Apparently he had no concern for Sanford’s question.
“Kill me? Kill my crew? The men he could get away with, but not the women. The whole frontier will come gunning for the man who kills a ship full of women.” Sanford was trying to talk some sense into Franco. On the High Frontier, women killers were looked down upon more than any other. Disliked by fellow criminals, those who killed women and kids were despised and hunted down. The most notorious gunmen have been known to kill members of their own gang for killing a woman or kid. Raping one got the perp killed in some of the most gruesome manners.
“Not your problem what happens with us,” Franco sneered. “Get that bag ready to load.”
Nate eased back deeper into the trees. From his current angle he could see the hatch to Esparza’s ship, but mot that of the freighter. Since both men were inside the freighter, Nate moved around the camp to gain a better vantage of the hatch. He carried his beam rifle with him and thought it was better to shoot from a short distance than to charge in with blasters blazing. He didn’t want to risk any of the circus crew.
From his new position, Nate could now watch all activity between both ships. He could see both hatches of the ships and all the camp. The freighter hatch popped open and Esparza stood on the gangway. Nate eased his beam rifle in place, his implants showing a target lock on Esparza’s chest. All three men were in sight and only Sanford was at risk. His finger rested on the trigger.
Out of the trees behind Nate came a loud concussive sound. Then a bright flash filled his vision and searing pain washed over his head. Immediately after that, everything went black and he knew no more.
Falling rain tickled Nate’s face. He took a deep breath through his nose and sucked in a small amount of water. He laid on his back, facing into the sky with his head tilted enough to allow the rain to trickle into his nose. He coughed, and that triggered a fireball of pain in his head. A spasm shot through his body from the sudden pain and he retched, coughing more, thus making his head hurt even more.
Nate gripped his head. The pain was coming from the back and left. He didn’t have his helmet on because it was sitting on the seat of his cycle. Soft probing with his fingers found a goose egg the size of a golf ball. Something had hit him, and hit him hard. He was nauseated and too dizzy to stand. He looked at his fingers, they were bloody. He looked at where his head had rested. There was a large amount of blood covering leaves and sticks. There was even more blood caked in his hair.
Nobody had moved him, so whoever had done this must have figured him to be dead. If it were a beam rifle or a blaster he wouldn’t have a head. He remembered the loud sound he heard an instant before the pain. A slug thrower. Only gunpowder weapons made such a sound. So a lead slug was what had knocked him into Neverland. But instead of killing him, the slug had grazed him. Only enough to bloody him up the right amount to fool whoever had ambushed him. “Thank you, Jesus,” he whispered aloud.
A Bible verse popped into mind. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. It was as though he heard it in his head and not thought of it. He always believed he was watched over and had a purpose in life more than trying to live each day one at a time. He lay in the trees and held a conversation within his head with, who? God? He was convinced he was, even though it was all in his head. Again it was like he heard a voice, but without sound. It was more like an intuition coming to light.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, for I am with you.
“Okay, I did get hit too hard on the head,” Nate whispered. It was all in his head, yet somehow it felt as though it wasn’t. There was something to this. He felt too right in knowing he wasn’t going to fail in his mission to help Sanford. It was like he was born for just this time. His injury was a setback, but that was all he would allow it to be.
Another half hour passed before he steeled himself with enough motivation to stand. It was darker, but not quite night. He had been out cold for maybe an hour. He made his way back to the cycle and set it to fly him back to his ship. He strapped himself into the seat as his AI piloted the cycle. Somewhere along the beach he blacked out again.
His vitals triggered an alarm that the AI registered. It informed Gary it was activating the autodoc. Gary went down to wait for Nate’s arrival, knowing Nate was unconscious and would need to be helped into the autodoc. It was a long wait, or so it seemed.
Meanwhile, Esparza didn’t have any plans to leave. He was too comfortable on the tropical island with his gold to admire. He had a nice prize ship to sell, and a nice round number of people to sell to slavers. He had no intention of leaving yet. He learned of Alluisi’s death before Nate ever woke up.