Even His footsteps sounded ominous, echoing throughout the corridors of the vessel, alerting the crew to his presence. Playing cards, gaming dice and other indicators to their lack of work, were stuffed hastily into pockets and robes as the clanging of the footsteps grew ever louder. Each member of the crew knew how He would react were they found slacking in their duties. Although they were all felons and criminals of various degrees, each of them knew it would be suicide to disobey or anger Him. It didn’t matter who you’d killed or what you’d done in the past, on the Quaestus Questus you did what you were told or you died. There was no alternative. And the man purposefully making his way down the narrow walkway was the man giving the orders.
Captain Xotuxo paced the corridors at this time every night cycle. It had become second nature, a habit which now sat firmly within his Spartan routine. A utilitarian to the extreme, the Captain only saw the practical use of something, its beauty eluding him. In his line of work there was no place for sentiment, no place for emotion. A man with these things in his life would have caved into the nightmares long ago; would have lost his mind. The grilled decking below his boots carried the metallic clang of his footsteps down the passage, fracturing the deadly silence of the early morning hours. The intimidating confidence of the man created a mixed aura of respect and fear around him.
Xotuxo knew perfectly well that his hefty footsteps would alert the Corsair crew to his arrival, a tactic which he had picked up from his predecessor. If the crew fear you enough then you need not say a word to them. The Captain expected the men to be unfocussed in their work; after all he wasn’t commanding a Navy Frigate. Xotuxo could still hear the words of his former commander in his ear. Deep and gravely, the voice was unforgettable.
“You see lad, if you go about sneakin’ up on ya men, only to find ‘em gamblin’ and smokin’, then there’s only two things you can do. You either eject the lot of ‘em into the void, or you let ‘em get away with it.
You go with option number one, and by the end of the week you won’t have a bloody crew left. And of course if you go with option two, then they lose the respect for ya, and before you can blink you got a mutiny on your hands.
So, why find them at all? Make it clear you’re on ya way, they’ll stop what they’re doing and the fear is still there. See?”
The Captain grinned to himself, recalling his old mentor’s words of advice. Maybe if the fool had stuck to them a bit better himself, he wouldn’t have woken up with a dagger between his shoulder blades. First Mate Xotuxo had led the mutiny himself, usurping the leader of the Corsairs with the murderous efficiency he had become infamous for.
That had been seven years ago, and Xotuxo had ruled the bridge of the Quaestus Questus with an iron fist ever since.
With all incriminating evidence stowed away, the deckhands scrabbled back to their labouring. By the time He had reached their position, every crew-man in the vicinity was hard at work, cleaning and maintaining the ship they served.
As He walked amongst them, none dared to meet his gaze. Only a fool would stare into the eyes of the Captain and hope to remain unnoticed; and last thing any of them wanted was to get noticed.
The clunking footsteps grew fainter and a sigh of relief escaped from mouths of several less experienced corsairs. As usual, smirks from more aged pirates soon followed. Those who had been crew members for a reasonable duration knew too well that they were unlikely to get caught for shirking their duties. The Captain was too easy to detect.
Every night the crew believed themselves to be steps ahead of Xotuxo. Some were even starting to doubt his capabilities as a commander. On the lower decks, there were whispers of mutiny.
Onesimus Kir de-activated the laser-cutter with the press of a well-oiled stud on the grip. The finesse of the tool, combined with his steady hand had allowed him to finish his work in half the time it would have taken one of his lackeys. The highly focussed energy beam emitted by the device could serve not only as a cutting tool but also as a welding instrument. Down on the lower decks, energy-couplets and cryo-cells were often in need of repair.
Although the Quaestus Questus was an efficient and feared vessel, its venerable age meant that repair crews were constantly put to use across the entire ship. The gloom of the lower decks was where Kir’s repair detail found themselves assigned most of the time. A duty Kir resented.
When he joined the Corsairs six years ago, Kir had great aspirations for himself. He believed this would be a fresh start to his stagnant life; a way to acquire prosperity. He assumed that it wouldn’t take him long to work his way up the ranks to a position of power.
As a Commercia Trader on Cerebra, he had made a decent living, dealing in agricultural technologies. Educated at the Scholum Prodegia Primaris, he had been well schooled in economic trade and application. He had intended to use this knowledge to make a name for himself on Cerebra.
However, not long after founding his business, Kir came to realise that his theoretical studies and the practical application were worlds apart, and that it was exhausting work merely to make even a marginal profit. Soon, the young trader came to hate his work, his surroundings and ultimately his life. He had needed an escape. The Quaestus Questus had offered it.
As part of the infamous crew of criminals and desperados, six years flew by. Six years in which Kir achieved little headway in his aspirations. His dreams of power and riches remained unfulfilled.
Kir re-activated the void-shield surrounding the cryo-cells he had been repairing, the monotonous humming replacing the silence. With a grunt he hoisted himself up from the meshed decking, using the gantry running above as a handhold. Kir had an athlete’s body, developed over the years of dutiful labouring aboard the Corsair vessel. His dagger like features revealed little emotion, and hard eyes, accustomed to the darkness of the lower decks, sat sunken into his skull.
Straightening himself up, Kir checked over both shoulders, ensuring that he was alone in the corridor. He had endured enough on this god-forsaken ship. It was time for him to formulate his own destiny. With a final sigh, Onesimus Kir slipped the laser-cutter into his robes and disappeared into the shadowy depths of the lower decks.
Of all the Quaestus Questus’ sections, from the illustrious Command Bridge to the ancient workings of Engineering, Xotuxo loathed the lower decks the most. The dank and murky air was saturated with the stench of promethium and sweating bodies. This part of the vessel housed several major power couplets and power cells but little else resulting in filth and grime caking most surfaces. But regardless of its aesthetic appeal, it was part of His ship and therefore in need of perambulation.
Heavy steps brought Xotuxo through the stiflingly narrow corridors, his eyes still adjusting to the darkness that enveloped him. As usual, He made no effort to muffle his deliberated boot steps.
Steadying his nerves, Onesimus Kir heard the menacing footsteps echo down the corridor. Concealed in the recesses of a maintenance alcove, Kir was cloaked in darkness, nearly invisible in the unlit passage. Looking down at the laser-cutter he now clutched, Kir grimaced. With little warning his hand began to shake uncontrollably, the device rattling in the dark.
Checking his wrist chronometer as he went, Xotuxo turned the corridor corner. Ahead lay Maintenance Alcove 7R.
Seeing the intimidating figure pass by his sanctuary, Kir activated the cutting tool, sending a shrill hum out across the corridor. With a clumsy leap he jumped at the Corsair Commander with a yell.
Decades of bar fights and conflicts with the authorities had given Xotuxo a sixth sense. On hearing the humming shriek coupled with the primal shout, Xotuxo’s immediate reaction saved his life.
Doubling himself over, the Captain felt the heat of the laser singe the hairs on the back of his neck. The assailant, carried by his own momentum, was thrown over Xotuxo’s crouched body, landing sprawled on the deck. Without hesitation, the Captain straightened up, towering over the prone crew member.
His boot crushed every bone in the assassin’s hand, extracting a blood curdling scream from the man. The same boot then moved itself to the assailant’s face, breaking bone, cartilage and everything in-between. The man’s screaming ceased abruptly, his jaw smashed beyond repair. After a placed kick to the ribs for good measure, the Captain, barely out of breath, knelt next to the broken man before him, grinning. He spoke with a hacksaw voice.
“Nice try lad. Shame you don’t get a second chance.”
Onesimus Kir’s face melted like candle wax, his skull mutilated. De-activating the laser-cutter, Xotuxo stood up, straightening his jacket. Touching a button on his collar, he spoke to unseen servants.
“Hotham. Get a clean-up crew down here. Someone’s made a right mess.”
Turning on his heel, Captain Xotuxo stalked away into the darkness, his attention needed elsewhere.