A/N: I edited this chapter 5-5-07. It needed it.
So, it's finished for the nonce. I've been changing bits here and there, mostly minor stuff so far. Someday I'll change major stuff, too.
It's mine, please don't take it or use it.
Warnings: it's slash, love it or leave it.
Note: you DO NOT meet the love-interest in this chapter.
Captain Skyler 'Chase' Knite fumed as he prowled the length of his ship. Which wasn't all that far, considering the ship itself was pretty damn small. The three other occupants of the spaceship were doing their best to stay out of his way as he stormed past them.
Geneen, the ship's pilot and Mallard, the ship's every-thing-else, were dutifully pretending to do their jobs, ignoring their captain's angry pacing.
The last inhabitant of the ship wasn't even pretending to ignore Chase. Instead he was sitting calmly on the sofa in the lounge, watching Chase storm angrily back and forth down the short hallway between the lounge and the tiny bridge. There wasn't anywhere else the man could have gone, even if he'd wanted to, since the sofa was also doubling as his bed for the duration of this trip.
Captain Knite could feel the passenger's eyes on him, and he didn't care for the sensation. The least the other man could do was be uncomfortable while Chase figured out what to do with him.
On one hand this man was a passenger, one who had agreed for passage in exchange for a fee paid upon reaching his destination. On the other hand he was a liar who had tricked the ship into carrying him to Big Vermont, a small inhabited moon orbiting a planet in the Frontier system. Those lies hadn't bothered Chase before, he'd known the man was lying from the moment he opened his mouth asking for passage, but they sure as hell bothered him now.
The passenger, however, still didn't seem to think his lies were a problem, and so he didn't realize how close Chase was to solving all his problems by shoving him out the airlock.
But Chase couldn't do that, no, the man didn't have the money to pay for his ride on him, it was in a bank on Big Vermont, and money was the reason that Chase had agreed to take this man anywhere, even when he'd known he was lying.
His feet carried him onto the bridge again.
"Chase," Geneen said. He could have insisted that she call him Captain, but they all knew that it wouldn't have changed anything. At least Mallard, the ship's cook (among other things), had finally been convinced to stop calling him Sky.
"What!" he snarled at her.
"Calm down a bit, okay? We can't throw him out the airlock."
"Can I shoot him?"
"Just a little?"
"Chase, we need the money."
"Fuck, I don't even know if he has the money. He probably lied about that, too." He ran a hand through his hair.
"Look, we've outrun the ship that was shooting at us-"
"Don't remind me." Chase muttered.
"-And we're nearly at Big Vermont," Geneen continued, ignoring him. "We're low on everything so we'll need to stop anyway. Might as well see if the little shit is good for his money before we kill him."
Chase sighed in defeat and waved his hand in the air. "Fine, let's drop this drug-runner off, and assume he's paying us more than his bounty is worth." He considered what he'd just said briefly. "Y'know I don't think I'll kill him. Just tell the local authorities all we know, point them in the right direction."
The drug-runner himself had appeared at the doorway by then, having heard everything from the other room. "What do you think the local authorities will do to you once you confess to smuggling me across several IPLs?"
Chase wanted to coolly explain everything, and then laugh in his face. But he had a bit of a temper; so he grabbed his insignia pin out of his pocket and shoved it into the other man's face. "See this? This pin? It means we're legit, it means we're the fucking law up here in the middle of nowhere, and if I want to carry druggies across your non-existent InterPlanetary Lines, then I damn well will, and the locals will deal with any shit that I give them, and be happy for it." He ground the pin into the man's forehead, hoping to leave some sort of mark. A brand, of sorts, one stating that here was a man who was fucking dumb enough to cross the Black-Coats and expect to get away with it.
"Shit, you're-shit I- oh shit. Shit." He looked worried now, perhaps finally realizing what trouble he was in, exactly whose laws he'd broken, and that Chase literally could do anything he wanted to the man, out here in the black. Or even on the planets, because, as he'd said, they were the law.
The fact that he hadn't known that they were Black-Coats didn't matter all that much to Chase's rage, although it had been his idea to keep the secret. It wasn't like it mattered. On the inner planets the Black-Coats (and their 'negative' the White-Coats) kept the peace between the skies, and theoretically they did out in the outer planets, too. There was a different philosophy out here, however, and there was even a slightly different set of written laws, coupled with an officially unofficial set of standards; The Corruptions, as everyone they affected called them. The Corruptions gave the parameters for law-bending, bribery and pirating. Hell, it was practically written into his contract that he had to carry one drug-smuggler over IPLs once a year. Especially since IPLs were a bloody stupid idea concocted by several local planets in this area. They pissed Chase off no end, so he did his best to carry anything he could over them; things he wasn't supposed to carry over them were his preference, of course.
He hated drug lords, too. More than IPLs, actually, since most drugs were legal and there was a reason the rest of them weren't. The asswipes who would still sell them to people ought to be strangled in their own IPLs. Except that you couldn't strangle a person in something that didn't exist. Chase would have to work on that idea.
At least the man was scared now, and that made Chase feel a little better. He put the pin away, back out of view. Some Black-Coats wore theirs with pride; Chase was often accused of hiding his in fear. He always told people it was because the surprise would give him a moment when he needed it most, but he never believed that anyone believed him. They probably didn't believe that he believed that they believed him, either.
Chase sighed. He wanted to yell at the man, or chain him down, or something, but the ship was only so big; it wasn't like the man could go anywhere unless he felt suicidal. Instead Chase vanished into his small room, where he sat on the bed and tried to meditate to calm himself down. They'd been on the ship too long. Once they could afford the repairs he'd welcome the chance to be stuck on one planet for as long as they took. And he rather hoped they would take a long, long time.
I could end up like Tristan, who landed his ship on a planet, and then just never left. He was the ruler of said planet now, although unofficially, of course.
Chase gave up on meditation; it never worked anyway, and then lay down for a nap. He almost told them to wake him up when they reached Big Vermont, before realizing that they would anyway.
Once they reached the planet, Chase and his crew followed their drug-smuggling passenger to his bank, where he over-paid them, possibly in hopes of convincing Chase not to report him. It was a vain hope, since that was the very next thing they did.
The local authorities didn't like that Chase had done something wrong in their book, but they couldn't do anything about it. It all had to do with the complicated layers of laws that were used throughout the universe.
At the top there was the Highest Regime, which controlled mainly inter-planet interactions, providing peace and services to any planet that chose to follow InterGalaxtic Law (which was nearly every inhabited planet, since the HR was a terrible thing to have as an enemy). Under that, but also over and equal to, were the Betas, who enforced a set of laws called the Skylaws, (which InterGalaxtic Law was based on), and who patrolled and protected the emptiness of space, planets that asked for them to directly govern them, and planets too newly developed to govern themselves. On the bottom were the planets and any rules that they chose to set up for themselves, although those laws needed to follow InterGalaxtic Law, the Skylaws or both, unless they wanted enemies out of the two most powerful organizations in the universe.
The government of Big Vermont was part of a nine-planet government called the InterPlanetary Agreement. The Agreement, and many of its laws, was right on the borderline of being in conflict with InterGalaxtic Law, and thus the Skylaws. It remained in place because the officials had perfected boot-licking into an art, and refined appearing harmless into a science.
Thus Chase could do anything he wanted. Not only was nearly everything well within the confines of The Corruptions, which meant his own superiors wouldn't do anything about it, but also the local government wanted to avoid attention so much that they wouldn't report anything wrong to the Highest Regime.
Though even the Highest Regime technically didn't tell the Betas what to do.
Ruling the skies was a nice thing, and Chase wasn't sure that he'd ever be able to live on a planet for long, a fact he only ever remembered when he was on a planet, but for now he stretched as he walked out of the police station, reaching his arms up towards the red-gold sunset and breathing deeply of the un-circulated air.
That's when the kid ran into him.
A pickpocket? Chase was briefly surprised at the images thrown into his mind, so he was a moment too slow to grab the kid. He needn't have bothered, though, since the boy ran smack into an officer returning to the building.
He grabbed the kid's arm, the one that held Chase's wallet, and held it up in the air. "What do you think you're doing? Street trash." The kid, in obvious distress at having his arm nearly wrenched off, dropped the wallet. Chase swooped in and picked it up. He'd meant to thank the officer and wander off, never to think of the kid again, but the man was still talking.
"You're not street trash, are you?" he'd been peering at the kid's arm, and now he pushed the sleeve up a bit further. The kid had a small tattoo on his arm; Chase could see it now, too. It was a black upside-down heart with what almost looked like a stem at the bottom, although that didn't mean anything to Chase. "No," the man continued; apparently the tattoo meant something to him, "You're even worse than street trash, you're space trash, trying to run away across IPLs, aren't you? Bartin slave."
That one sentence was packed full of things that Chase hated. IPLs, for one. The inbred hatred planet-dwellers had of people who traveled through space, for two. The third thing was the entire planet of Bartin, which was a long and terrible series of memories that Chase didn't want to get into right now. And the last thing that the man had said was about slaves, and that was the thing that Chase hated the most.
Slaves weren't illegal; they were even protected by both the Skylaws and InterGalaxtic Law though not the moronic 'InterPlanetary Agreement' that came up with IPLs. The main protection that the laws provided for slaves was that, if they ran away, most notably to another planet, they were no longer slaves. Obviously this kid had run away, which meant that there wasn't a single court outside of the closest eight planets that would even think of trying to send him back there. But because these stupid nine planets had their stupid Agreement, and Bartin was one of those damned planets, this bully of a law enforcer was going to lock that kid up, and then they would probably send him back to a place he didn't want to be.
Chase was spitting fire, although the officer didn't notice because he was spitting as well; on the kid, whose arm he still held painfully.
"Let him go." Chase's anger was barely contained.
The officer seemed to notice him for the first time. "Or you'll what?" he sneered.
"Anything I fucking want to!" Chase all but ripped the pin from where he had attached it to his shirt for the foray into the Authority Station.
The startled man dropped the boy, who looked about to run away until Mallard grabbed his arm. The officer regained some of his composure. "If you think I'm scared of a fake black pin-"
But Chase cut him off. "Oh it's real, alright. I'd even let you run it through your little scanner, if I thought you were worth it. But let me tell you that I don't care if you're scared of me, or if you're scared of the Black-Coats, because I know it doesn't fucking matter what you think, what's important is that your planet is fucking scared because they know if you do anything to me, anything at all, the Black-Coats will take it as an excuse to come in here and not only wipe out your sorry hide, but break up your precious, incestuous InterPlanetary Agreement for good." He'd grabbed the man's shirt, although he didn't remember doing so. Now he released the shorter man and stepped away. Captain Chase Knite brushed off his hands, and turned to his small crew. "Come on, let's go home. Bring the kid."
Home, of course, meant the ship, and the four walked back there quietly, although Chase stormed more than walked. The other two exchanged glances when he was safely in front of them; Chase was defiantly in one of his moods, the kind that usually only lengthy stays on a planet could cure. They didn't think he'd want to stay on this one for long, not anymore. Which also meant that they'd have to wait longer for the repairs that they needed.
Plus they couldn't figure out what he wanted with the kid. Mallard and Geneen both knew why he'd flipped like that; they knew his opinion of IPLs, slaves and stalagmites (as popular slang often called people who never left the planet they were born on). More importantly they had been on Bartin with Chase, and so they knew everything that had happened there. But they certainly didn't know what Chase was going to do with the kid. The last pickpocket who'd marked him had gotten laughed at and kicked once in the kidneys after the wallet had been retrieved, so this kid might be in for some form of beating. But, then again, Chase was so pissed at the moment that he probably forgot what the kid's original crime was, which meant Chase might do anything from tell him to leave and be more careful in the future to, say, getting drunk and doing a strip-tease outside the ship when they were in orbit. Yeah, this situation was that far out of the bounds of normal.
The kid went along sulkily, but not with any resistance until they neared the ship. Then he started trying to hang back. "Oh, no, you're not taking me back there."
"Back where?" Mallard asked.
"To Bartin, of course," the kid replied.
"Why the fuck would we do that?!" Chase had evidently been listening.
"The fucking reward, that's fucking why!" the kid could, and did, yell back.
"What are you talking about?" Geneen tried to keep them from killing one another.
"The reward, 10k for returning any escaped slaves from Bartin." The kid was a bit confused now, but at least he wasn't yelling.
Chase stared at him for a moment, his mouth opened and closed. Then he turned around and stormed into the ship. They could hear the sound of him breaking things from outside.
Mallard and Geneen shared another glance; better let him cool off a bit.
"You- you guys don't know about the reward?" the kid was mystified now.
"You ran away from slavery." Geneen tried to explain, "You're now free under InterGalaxtic Law and under the Skylaws. They are Laws that a reward for returning slaves is so far outside of, it will probably bring the entire universe down on Bartin."
"Oh," the kid paused awkwardly and shifted his weight. "So, um, you guys can let me go now, t-thanks for your help and all, and for, um, not bringing me back to Bartin."
"You're not going anywhere," Mallard put in, moving slightly so the kid knew he'd be after him in a flash.
Geneen sighed. "Do you honestly think we'd let you go and bring all that wrath down on our heads?" She gestured at the spaceship, where a sudden thump reminded all of them that Chase was raging within.
The kid said, "Y'all are his friends."
"That man wouldn't pull punches for his own mother," Mallard tried to explain.
"He'd just figure that as his friends we should have known better," Geneen pointed out. "He's been like that all day."
The kid shrugged and moved to sit on the entrance ramp to the ship. "Dude needs to get laid."
Mallard snickered, and Geneen smiled. She had often thought that was the reason he calmed down after long stays in port, although this time she didn't think they would be there long enough.
"You're alright, kid, though I hope you're not volunteering," Mallard said, still snickering a bit.
The kid wrinkled his face in disgust. "Oh yuk! No way!"
"What's your name?" Geneen asked.
"I'Bartin, I suppose." Mallard had used the basic 'from the planet of-' form for his last name. Slaves usually didn't have anything else.
"No! N'Bartin, at least!" the n-apostrophe implied something along the lines of 'yeah, I'm from there, but I'm never fucking going back!' Tyler continued, "Besides, I'm actually I'freidman6."
"But still no last name?"
Tyler looked rather sad. "I don't remember, I was too little when they captured us."
Captured them? Yeah, the captain will have a hissy-fit when he learns this kid's story, Geneen thought. But at least he'll finally be able to do something about the InterPlanetary Agreement, which means we might be able to move to a different part of the skies. I'll never understand why we stay around here when he hates it so much.
"Well," said Mallard, "Tyler I'Freidman6, I'm Mallard Watson, this is my wife Geneen Kuras, and that crabby bastard on the ship is-"
"Our Captain; Chase Knite," Geneen broke in before Mallard could say Chase's name was Skyler. They had enough to deal with without the boy 'accidentally' calling Chase by his real name.
There was a pause. The ship was silent, but Geneen figured they should give Chase a few more minutes to cool down before entering.
"So…" Tyler finally decided to break the silence. "You guys are Black-Coats?"
"Chase is," Geneen said. "We're just auxiliaries."
"I thought they taught them to control their emotions."
"We asked someone about that once. He told us that we should just be glad we didn't meet Chase before training."
"Can he, y'know, read minds?"
The kid's eyes got huge. "Does he?"
Mallard shrugged, while Geneen said, "Dunno."
"Can he read mine?" Tyler's voice was laced with something, but Geneen couldn't tell if it was awe or anger.
"We don't know," she said after a moment.
Mallard said, "He's never really done all that much mind-reading when we've known him. After a while we rather decided that he wasn't very good at it."
"But you don't know for sure?"
"We'd have to be able to read minds ourselves in order to tell."
Geneen decided that the ship had been quiet long enough, and moved up the ramp and inside. She went up the stairs and into the main area, where Chase was sitting in the middle of the floor, legs crossed and breathing deeply. He was trying to meditate, she knew. He always tried it to cool his rage. She wasn't sure if it ever worked, though, because he usually didn't try it until after his rage was spent.
She glanced around the room before moving over to him, taking in the damage. The lamps were all knocked over, and one looked broken. There were several vases that had been smashed, although that was their main purpose, since no one on the ship ever actually put flowers in them. One of the leafy-green plants would need to be repotted, and several chairs had been knocked over. She sighed in relief as she walked across the room. Nothing irreparable, and it didn't seem that Chase had hurt himself. Thankfully they had locked everything precious and breakable away during Chase's nap.
Geneen just wished they hadn't seen this coming.
As she got close to him, Chase took an even deeper breath and opened his eyes, looking at her. "Still got the kid?"
Geneen nodded. "His name is Tyler." She left off the bit about his last name; she wanted Chase to calm down a bit more before he learned about that.
"Bring him on the ship." He noticed her hesitation. "I'm not going to harm him, I just need him to prove what he's said."
Geneen nodded and left the ship to get Mallard and Tyler.
Chase relaxed on the couch while Tyler sat nervously on the edge of a chair across from him. Mallard and Geneen tidied the room quietly in the background.
"So, Tyler," Chase asked, "how old are you?"
"Twelve, how old are you?" His nervousness was making him snappy.
Geneen dropped the lamp she had been in the process of picking up. She hadn't realized Chase was that young. It meant they'd met Chase when he was… she did some quick math; when he was nineteen. She turned to Mallard to see the same shocked expression on his face, they had both thought he was older.
"Really?" the kid asked.
"Yeah, really, well," he paused and ran a hand through his hair, "tomorrow I will be." He couldn't stop the grin from appearing on his face, giddy and surreal after his little temper tantrum. "It's my birthday!"
Geneen and Mallard now shared a look of horror, their captain was twenty-fucking-two?!
"Oh, come off it you two," apparently Chase had noticed their shock. "How old did you think I was?"
"Twenty-six," Mallard squeaked.
Now Chase sounded annoyed. "You think I look that old?"
"We just thought you were older than you look, that's all."
Chase rolled his eyes, then turned back to Tyler. "You're sure they offer a reward for returning slaves to Bartin?"
Tyler was wary now. "Yes…"
"How does one collect this reward?"
"Take the slave to the local Authority Station, anyone will pay."
"And it's 10k for any slave?"
"At least, some they'll pay a bit more for. Why are you asking?" He scooted back farther in his chair, and curled up around his knees, looking defensive.
Chase just smiled maniacally. "Geneen could you set a course for Bartin?"
Geneen put her hands on her hips, "Do you know how far that is? And we still need repairs!"
They boy's eyes got even bigger, and suddenly he lunged out from his chair, or he would have, if Mallard had not grabbed him and pushed him back down. "You're going to take me back, I can't go back! I won't go back!"
Chase's eyes opened a bit in surprise, and he watched the boy as he struggled, still yelling. "You just want the reward, I never should have come on this ship, you're just going to sell me back!" Tyler burst into tears.
Geneen, meanwhile, was still ranting about needing repairs and not having enough money. Chase took a moment to think through the chaos. He often thought better when there were things going on around him. After a moment he snapped his fingers and turned to Geneen. "I have a better idea, take us to Walnut Station."
"That's hardly closer."
"Just do it." He was getting angry again, so she nodded.
The kid had stopped crying, although he still sniffled as he asked, "What are we going to do there?"
"You'll see," Chase responded as he brushed past them all and into his room, slamming the door.