FIFTEEN DREANS LATER . . .
Bacon Finnegan firmly gripped the rapier, then swung it backwards and forwards as he found its balance. He lifted the sword in front of his face, eyed his foe, then stepped sideways and steadied the blade in front of his body. Pointing the tip at his opponent, he positioned his feet in his fighting stance and prepared himself for battle. Bacon breathed deeply to calm his nerves, and to relax his muscles. Regardless of his efforts, every muscle in his body was tense as he went through his mental checklist as he prepared himself for the fight.
The android stood before Bacon, swinging his blade in the same fashion. However, the robot did it merely from programming, with no thoughts of preparing for combat. The android stood a good foot and a half taller than Bacon and was at least ten times stronger. He wore a one-piece grey bodysuit that blended into the surrounding stacks of carbon fiber cargo pods, making him look larger and more menacing than he really was.
Bacon stared at the android’s face. In their past sparring, he learned to focus on the white synthetic skin that stretched over its mechanical body. His head and hands contrasted against the dark background. That technique made it easier for Bacon to follow him during maneuvers.
They posed in their positions about fifteen kleet apart. Each held the hilt of the sword up near his face. The thin steel blades towered above their heads, waiting for the clashing of metal to begin. Bacon’s heart raced.
“Are you ready to do this?” the android asked.
“I have never been more ready,” Bacon said. “En garde!”
“En garde,” the android repeated. “Does this dress make me look fat?”
Bacon shook his head. Frasecs later, they sprang towards each other. Bacon and IQ32 engaged swords in the center of the arena marked by the stacked cargo pods. IQ32 set the tempo as the metal blades rang with the repeated slaps. For an android, he was very dexterous. He did not move like a stiff robot, and swordplay elevated his fluidity.
They took turns on the offense, beating with diagonal and horizontal cuts and then parrying, in defense of the other. As the fight drew on, the maneuvers became more complicated and intense. With spinning twists, overhead chops, and behind the back blocks, the tempered steel whizzed around their bodies without a single touch to the flesh.
With great skill and precision, Bacon used every move he knew to parry the android’s attacks and dodge his thrusts. This continued as Bacon moved from defender to attacker and back to defender again as each tried to de-sword the other.
Privately, Bacon had been working on his stamina. He used an old pod in the corner to practice hitting and increase his endurance. IQ32 could go on for rons without tiring, so Bacon had to last as long as he could. In the ten dreans of fencing lessons, he had never removed IQ32’s sword from his hand. Bacon was determined to change that toron.
Sweat beaded on his brow, below his almost-white spiky hair, and the slight perspiration caused his crimson, long-sleeved shirt to stick to his back. Already tiring, Bacon tried as hard as he could to remove IQ32’s sword. He accessed his photographic memory to hit his opponent with every move he was taught, but he just could not get the right positioning.
“Is that all you have—monkey brains?” IQ32 said, effortlessly fending off his attacks.
“No,” Bacon replied between breaths. “I have more!” He turned with the android, the tips of their swords locked together as they circled and measured each other.
“Show me what you have—boy!” IQ32 said, his head twitching to the side.
With that comment, Bacon’s frustration mounted and a deep anger welled up in his gut. Bacon stepped forward struck like a coiled snake. He slapped IQ32’s sword, hitting the blade high and inside. Then he had a revelation. In spite of the android’s nanotechnology and circuitry, he realized it was just an algorithm.
Why didn’t I think of this before?
Bacon had memorized the thousands of offensive and defensive moves. He was now seeing some of the same ones from the android.
This combination is familiar, Bacon thought. I know what’s coming next.
Do it—Do it now! the voice inside his head urged.
Yes . . . now! he thought and steadied himself.
IQ32 would come from Bacon’s left, slap his sword twice then thrust. Bacon slid the tip of his sword down as the android slapped at him. IQ32’s blade slashed at nothing but air. Bacon twirled his tip around and up, launching IQ32’s sword into the air. He stood for a frasec in disbelief as the sword flew overhead and landed with a loud clink on the metal floor of the cargo hold, sliding across to the base of a pod.
Bacon lunged into the air and pumped his fist violently, still holding the sword.
“YES—YES—YES—YES!” Bacon shouted, as he wildly leaped around his table. He savored the moment he became a “true swordsman” and reveled in the triumph. Ten long dreans he had wanted to do that . . . and now he had.
“Bacon!” a voice shouted from his right.
Bacon’s father stood between two cargo pods. His large hulking body filled the space. Every muscle in Bacon’s body tensed up.
“Bacon, let’s go!” John Finnegan barked. His sharp words bounded off the metal rafters. “We’re in orbit. A supply ship is about to dock and we have to accept and load her—that’s more important than your foolish sword fighting—get a move on!” John kicked the sword, sliding it towards IQ32.
As usual, his father’s words stung Bacon’s soul. All that was good turned to poison. With sulking eyes, Bacon watched his father turn and disappear around the corner.
Bacon turned from IQ32 and shuffled toward his wardrobe. He strapped on his utility belt as IQ32 put the swords back in their place on the wall. The android sat down with his back firmly against a cargo pod. He stretched his legs straight out and placed his arms at his sides as he reduced his functions to power save mode.
Choking back the mixture of emotion, Bacon kicked the door of the wardrobe shut. The corner of the steel door caught his shin.
“Blorking door!” he said, cursing.
As he rubbed the sting away, he looked around at his meager surroundings. The corner of the cargo hold was not the typical starship room. Two of his four walls consisted of the backs of supply pods stacked up to the ceiling. His green, military-issue cot was jammed into the corner. At the foot of the thin bed, a desk was wedged against the wall. The giant wardrobe stood against the pods and a round, metallic table that sat solitarily in the center of the room.
His father would be angry with him if he dawdled. Rubbing the intense pain away, Bacon limped across the makeshift room, through the maze of pods and machinery, and met his father in the pressurized cabin of the docking chamber.
“What took you so long?” asked his father.
“Well, don’t let nuttin’ hold you up next time!”
He could tell it was going to be a horrible ron by his father’s bad attitude. Bacon needed his father to be in a good mood so he could ask him about having his fifteenth birthron party tomorrow.
Bacon stood at ease, his legs spread apart with his feet planted on the metal grate. He had pulled his arms behind his back, his right hand clenched into a fist held in the palm of his left hand. Bacon kept his back straight and his stomach pulled in, his chest slightly pushed out. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves. He did not like the confined spaces, especially that of the small pressure cabin. If he did not control himself, a panic attack would ensue.
Bacon focused on his father’s back. John stood straight and stiff in his dark blue military uniform. He looked like a toy soldier standing at attention, arms held tight against his body and hands pressed against his trousers just below his utility belt. Bacon tried to get his mind off of thinking about the closed in space they were in while the ship docked.
“Where’s the ship from?” he asked his father.
“Penal planet P347,” answered John.
“What’s the name of the prison there?”
Bacon always asked the name of the prisons on the penal planets that they supplied. He liked hearing their different names.
“Zartacla,” answered his father.
“What kind of prison is it?”
“It is a maximum security prison,” John replied, giving him a crusty look.
“Who do they keep there?”
“Some of the galaxies most notorious and dangerous criminals are there,” answered John, stoutly.
Bacon waited for the supply ship to complete her lengthy docking procedures. He had been through them a thousand times at various ports with his father. However, with his phobia of enclosed and tight places, the process never went fast enough for him. Bacon stood at attention, waiting for the steel door to open. Large claws would clamp the ship into place in order for them to begin loading or unloading the cargo through the breezeway.
Waiting behind his father, Bacon’s palms began to sweat. His heart pounded in his chest, and his breathed more rapidly. The anticipation of thinking about asking his father for the party compounded his claustrophobia.
Finally, the large thud came from the other side of the door, the spaceship rocked, and the lights in the breezeway flickered for a moment. Then a second smaller ship flew in through the open bay doors and pulled up and docked next to the larger supply ship.
What is this ship doing here? There isn’t another ship on the docking schedule.
John punched in a code on the computer pad in front of him and the large hull doors closed. After a few dromels, pressurized air blew down from hundreds of vents and they were ready to unload the ship.
John stepped through the door and held it open, “Secure the smaller vessel first.” he ordered.
“Affirmative.” he replied in his father’s military lingo. He knew that his father wanted him to act like one of the crew when he was working with him.
Bacon double-timed it over to the smaller ship. The exterior was rough, scarred from what looked like hundreds of plasma bursts. There were several larger, charred, dents from what looked like encounters with small asteroids.
Bacon crouched, grabbed the electrical umbilical from the power port, and connected it to the ship. The external door to the ship slid open and a massive, burly man stepped onto the dock. His thick-soled, black leather boots thundered down onto the concrete. Bacon gazed at the Space Pirate towering over him. The pirate wore an oil-stained, red velvet coat that hung down past his waist, covering his sturdy canvas trousers. A velvet black, tricorn hat, adorned with a flamboyant bird’s feather stuck out over his forehead, shadowing his scraggly mono-brow and his sunken eyes. His tangled, black hair flowed nonstop into a mangy, braided beard that hung past the middle of his chest and covered the red sash he wore over his shoulder. The hilt of a dagger peeked over the top of his belt. By the looks of the brute, Bacon suspected the pirate had a small plasma pistol hidden in the sash.
Droogs. Space Pirates. Miners. Smugglers. Some of them had even taken up the old-fashioned name of Buccaneers. Whatever you called them, they were not good, and trouble always followed.
Bacon stood up and looked into the figure’s menacing, brown eyes. The man looked as if he had just stepped off the Jolly Roger. (The ship from one of his favorite Earth books.)
The only thing missing is a skull and crossbones flag, a beach, and a treasure chest.
The Droog, who was at least a kleet taller than Bacon and twice as big, hunched over until they were eye to eye. “What’r you looking at, boy?” Spittle sprayed from his mouth, hitting Bacon in the face.
“Er, nuttin’,” said Bacon, trying not to vomit from the stench of fermented apples, onions and rotten meat.
“Didn’t your father tell you, it ain’t polite to stare?”
“Didn’t your father tell you . . . don’t spray it, when you say it?” Bacon said wiping his face with his sleeve.
Just then, John walked up. “Dampier, it’s been a while. What brings you to this part of the galaxy?”
The Droog stared at Bacon another moment, shook his head, then turned and grabbed forearms with John. “I’m here to get supplies. You are a supply ship—right?” They pounded their chests in unison, as some kind of greeting. “By the way, you need to train your dog not to stare. I’d be happy to teach it a lesson for ya.”
John and the man laughed.
“Maybe later . . . it might do him good. Let’s get down to business first.” John looked back at Bacon disapprovingly.
Four more Space Pirates, dressed in similar fashion with black coats, canvas trousers, chunky boots, and mangy hair stepped off the ship. Bacon made a sour face as they neared, and he held his breath. They smelled as if they hadn’t showered in months. As they exited the ship, they each spit on Bacon’s boots before they followed their captain. Bacon stared at the Space Pirates and John with contempt. What he wouldn’t give to teach them a lesson or two.
Finally, the last two stepped onto the dock. They carried a large chest between them. Bacon imagined what was inside. Electronics. Treasure. Jewels. Weapons.
“Okay, time’s a wasting,” John said as the doors to the larger supply ship slid open, revealing rows of stacked UIF cargo pods. “Get busy. You have to load 2000 units.” His father pointed to the stacks on his left. “Check your manifest, do a cargo sweep, load them, and I’ll be back to check it when you’re done.”
John turned and placed an arm around Dampier’s shoulder. Bacon heard him talking into Dampier’s ear, “I have rooms ready for you and your men. You can wash up, get some rest, and then we can pick up where we left off last time—if you know what I mean.”
“Good,” Dampier said and walked off with John.
Bacon watched John and the Droogs disappear through the doorway. Getting to work, he took out the thermoplastic TNAv buroprocessor out of the holster on his utility belt. He scanned the pods, matched them to the manifest, and activated the antigravity lifters. When he was done, Bacon climbed into the cockpit of the Hortog. The top half of the electric machine was a giant robot with arms. The bottom half was designed with triangular tank tracks that allowed him to move in any direction, while giving him the stability to tow the cargo.
In the miniature cockpit, Bacon put on the Virtual Reality helmet and slid his thumb over the print scanner that initiated the electric motor, and released the machine from its clamps on the wall. An initial rundown of the schematics of the machine confirmed power levels and balancers were in order. Next, he slid his hands into the VR gloves, moved his hands up and down and in an arching pattern and watched the arms of the unit follow the exact movements of the gloves. Satisfied, Bacon tilted his head forward and the machine sprung into action.
With the slight movement of the VR helmet, Bacon directed the Hortog towards the first set of pods. He grabbed the floating stack with the robotic arms, backed it out of the cargo hold crossed the concrete dock, guided it up the ramp into the supply ship’s hull, released the cases and returned for another load.
It took over five worlys to move and process 2000 units. Bacon returned the Hortog to the cargo hold, parked it in place, turned off the machine, and removed the VR gloves and helmet. As the clamps from the wall extended and secured the Hortog in place, John re-appeared.
“Yes, I just finished.”
“Just finished what?”
“Just finished . . . SIR.” Bacon said between gritted teeth.
John checked his work. “Right—let’s get this ship back to its planet.”
Bacon followed John to the small chamber and the door closed with a giant thud sealing them from the docking bay. Bacon looked out the small porthole window into the cargo hold. His claustrophobia took hold off him again. He suppressed his urge to scream and drop to the ground in a ball. He strained as hard as he could to keep his thoughts off his early childhood nightmare.
Bacon was having fun playing in an empty cargo pod. When he pulled the lid closed he didn’t realize it would lock him in. He felt around for an escape handle in the faint green glow-in-the-dark light. He searched and searched but he could not find it anywhere. Several worlys went by—it seemed like an eternity. Then, panic set in when he realized he was trapped. He screamed and banged at the underside of the trunk lid hoping that IQ32 or John would hear, but no one came. As the faint glow of green light got dimmer, he curled up into a ball and sang himself to sleep. Finally, the lid opened and IQ32 pulled him out of the pod.
After that, IQ32 showed him the escape handle and explained that it would glow green in the darkness so he could find it. How was he to know that the glow-in-the-dark light was the escape handle to the trunk lid? He was only six!
It was from that ron onward that he had developed a fear of closed-in places. Since then he got panic attacks whenever he was in a small confined space. The chamber classified as one of those spaces.
Bacon stood up straight, took in a few deep breaths, and pressed his chest out. He mustered up his strength and choked back his anxiety as John went through his procedures.
The giant bay doors opened and a few dromels later the supply ship was released. Bacon watched through the window as the vessel slowly flew out of the docking bay doors and descended towards the penal planet they were orbiting.
John completed the shut down process and the doors came together tightly. Satisfied, John pulled his left hand up near his face. With his right hand, he tapped his watch.
“Captain St. Clair, this is Cargo Master Finnegan.”
“Cargo Master Finnegan, go ahead.”
“Supply ship has deported, bay is sealed, and we’re ready to leave orbit.”
“Roger!” replied the Captain.
With clenched teeth, Bacon stood behind his father as the air pressure changed in the bay as it was brought back to the pressure of the ship. Knowing he was almost out, Bacon fought back his fears and focused his thoughts on asking about his birthron.
Now it was the anticipation of asking that was about to cause him to explode. He was just waiting for the right time to ask.
With John, there was never a right time.