Breaking Bad in Outer Space
Jack expected many things to go amiss during their expedition, but a space pirate raid wasn't on his list. He had made sure before setting sail that the space area they navigated would be clean of pirates and mercenaries. How had they managed to remain undetected by his radars which were among the most high tech of the entire galaxy?
"Captain?" came Enkel's sleepy voice. "Should I alert the scientists?"
"Tell them to put all their stuff in the safety vault and then to meet us here," Jack instructed. "And don't forget to call the space patrol."
The space engineer nodded and left the cockpit with a yawn. Enkel was always sleepy. If he could, he would spend all his days in bed. Fortunately for everyone, he had never fallen asleep on work, but when he slumbered, not even a meteorite storm could wake him up.
"Captain?" said Filks on Jack's right, his grip on the steering handles so tight that his knuckles had turned white.
"Yes?" Jack answered in a placid tone. He could see through the viewport the pirate spaceship steadily approaching, its skull-and-crossbones flags floating ominously in the windless intersidereal vacuum. Very old-fashioned, Jack remarked. At the alarmingly speed it was coming, there was no use fleeing as their vessel would be caught up sooner or later.
"We're screwed, aren't we?" his navigator asked, his shoulders falling down.
"I've always admired your unwavering optimism, Filks," Jack said, removing his laser pistol from the holster strapped to his belt. "We're not going down without a fight," he added, checking that his weapon was properly loaded.
"I'm not sure if you're being overconfident or suicidal, Captain," Filks replied. "There are only five of us, three of whom can't tell their laser guns from their feet, against I-don't-know-how-many of them. We're doomed."
"O ye of little faith," Jack bemoaned, clicking his tongue.
Filks shook his head and left his seat. He came to stand next to his captain, his hands firmly clenched around the grip of his gun. Enkel, Dr Leiss and Dr Prim joined them a moment later and gathered behind them, their pupils dilated with fear.
It turned out that they were, as expected, outnumbered and defeated in a matter of minutes. It was the sort of embarrassing failures that kicked Jack straight in the ego.
"Well, well, well," chanted the pirate who seemed to be the captain of his crew, slowly circling his new captives whose hands had been carefully tied behind their backs. He was in his early thirties, tall and broad-shouldered with a strong nose and a square stubbled jaw. His dark skin enhanced the moonlight hue of his eyes which were currently shining with amusement. Jack mentally flogged himself for finding the other man attractive. Not the time, dammit.
"What have we here?" the pirate asked in a deep singsong voice. He was enjoying this way too much for Jack's liking.
As only a haughty silence answered him, the pirate came closer to Jack and gave him a full once-over before an approving grin appeared on his lips. "What's your name, love?" he asked with a surprisingly affable smile. Jack squinted in suspicion as he heard the other pirates snicker behind their captain.
"Jack Flinders, Captain of this spaceship," Jack gritted between his teeth. His name triggered a few other snorts, as he would have expected. He glared at the other pirates, but the dozen of gun barrels pointed at his head suggested that he look away.
"Jack?" the pirate captain repeated, arching a bushy eyebrow. "How... traditional," he remarked, his smile still pleasant as if he were talking to an old friend. Jack knew his name was horribly obsolete, all right, but he was used to it and some people did find a certain antique charm to it. The fact that those people were his mom and dad was of little importance, and he wasn't going to mention it anyway.
"I'm Nevik Holden, Captain of the great Lucy the Third," the pirate introduced himself. "And this is my crew," he added, gesturing proudly to his men.
Wait a minute, that name rang a bell in Jack's head.
"Nevik Holden, as in 'The Most Wanted Criminal of the Entire Intergalactic Confederation'?" Jack gasped out. Colours drained from his face as he realized that he was most likely living the last minutes of his short life. Up until now, he had still been clinging to the hope that the pirates might have let them live after they stripped their spaceship to its last bolt. However, rumour had it that no one survived an encounter with Nevik Holden, for he was notorious for being a ruthless, blood-thirsty psychopath.
"I must admit that I'm quite pleased with that title, although it remains a little unimaginative," Nevik said, puffing out his chest, a smug expression spread across his face. Conceited bastard, Jack thought.
"What were you lot doing, navigating these uncertain spaces?" Nevik asked, his arms spread wide to emphasize his words.
"Weren't supposed to be uncertain," Filks muttered under his breath. Nevik somehow picked that up and his smile broadened, revealing a pair of creepily pointy canines.
"Thanks to our latest acquisition," the pirate captain revealed with a wink, "we are practically inexistent to any current detection device. Isn't that marvelous?" As if on cue, his crew broke into enthusiastic cheers. "Soon, they might even start referring to Lucy as the Phantom Ship," added Nevik. Once again, his men loudly expressed their approval and raised their fists toward the ceiling.
"What is it that you want?" Jack demanded.
"Oh no, dear. I asked you a question first," Nevik said. "You are clearly not piloting a merchant vessel, nor a pleasure craft. Do you happen to work for the Confederation, by any chance?"
"We were only driving these two scientists to the Helix station," revealed Jack, gesturing to Dr Leiss and Dr Prim with his chin. The two scientists nodded in unison, their expression as innocent and defenceless as newborns, while Enkel was dozing off on Dr Prim's shoulder.
"The logo on your ship is quite uncommon," Nevik noticed.
"Local company. Cheaper, but equally efficient," Jack explained.
"Do you know what I dislike the most, Jack?" Nevik suddenly asked, totally off topic. He didn't wait for an answer before going on, "Lemon tart, it is. I just can't stand the taste of it; it reminds me of forlorn childhoods and crazy citrus-obsessed stepmothers."
He then moved his face so close to Jack's that their noses were almost touching. "Other than lemon tart, I also dislike liars," he said and any last traces of joviality vanished from his face. Jack gulped nervously, unsure of what to say. Quick, he needed to find another tactic.
"What tells you that I'm lying?" he asked, making sure to keep his voice cool and neutral.
"Please, darling," scoffed Nevik. "I can smell it."
"Really? Is that your superpower or something?" Jack couldn't help but sneer as well.
"Oh, believe me, my superpower is quite something different and only manifests itself in pleasant company," Nevik said with a lopsided smile. "Perhaps I could show it to you, but only if you stop withholding certain information." Jack could feel a stupid blush creeping up his neck. Filks bit his lower lip to stifle the smile that was forming on his face. Jack knew Filks had no sense of solidarity.
"I'm afraid I don't understand your accusation. I have nothing to hide." Jack tried really hard to look convincing. He knew he should have taken those acting classes back in high school. They would have helped him so much right now.
"Is that so?" Nevik said in a voice that was so soft it actually gave Jack goose bumps. The pirate motioned to one of his men to come. The latter handed an all too familiar duffel bag to his captain with a smug smile that he specially dedicated to Jack. Jack swallowed back the curse that was about to spurt out of his lips.
Nevik zipped the bag open, took out a plastic sachet containing a greenish powder and put it under Jack's nose. "Could you explain to all of us what this is?"
"That's matcha," Jack improvised, "from the planet Earth, an essential ingredient in green tea pastry recipes."
He could see from the corner of his eye Filk's head falling down in mortification.
"Tsk, tsk, Jack," said Nevik disapprovingly. "What did I tell you about liars?"
"It's the truth," Jack insisted desperately. "If you let us go, I'll bake you some green tea cupcakes as a sign of my deepest gratitude."
"Captain," Filks intervened, "with all due respect, your acting is crap." That prompted a few snickers from the audience, Nevik included.
Before Jack could defend himself, Filks added, "That powder is exactly what you think it is." He was looking at Nevik straight in the eyes, his expression fearless and resolute. Jack couldn't help but admire his navigator's bravado.
"And you are—?" Nevik asked, eyeing Filks attentively.
"Not interested," Filks answerer defiantly. Jack rolled his eyes while Nevik merely grinned.
"You are not my type, anyway," Nevik said, winking suggestively at Jack. Once again, Jack rolled his eyes.
"I know you think my captain is playing dumb, but the truth is, he just really is," Filks continued, earning a glare from the aforementioned captain. "When it comes to social interaction, he can be a real asshat—"
"Ahem," Jack coughed indignantly. He knew Filks was overplaying it to draw Nevik's attention away from Jack, but he wasn't compelled to do so at Jack's expense, dammit.
"Sorry, Captain, but the gentleman has asked for the truth. I'm simply complying." To Nevik, Filks added, "If we handed you over all of our stock of viridamethamine, would you let us go in one piece? It's the purest stuff you can find in the entire Alpha Centauri district."
Dr Leiss and Dr Prim shifted uncomfortably. Enkel was long gone in dreamland. Jack held his breath and waited.
"How much do you have?" Nevik asked in a businesslike tone.
"About fifteen kiloboks," Filks said, which earned him an impressed whistle from the pirate captain. "All homemade with no additives or preservatives."
"So that's how you lot make a living, cooking illegal drugs in the middle of nowhere?" Nevik's eyes were shining with amusement again.
"You picked piracy, we chose chemistry. To each his own, I suppose." Filks shrugged nonchalantly and Jack held back a smirk.
"Such a pity, you would have made a decent enough pirate," Nevik sighed.
"Again, not interested," Filks said before adding, "But thanks for the offer, I guess."
"Captain?" said one of Nevik's men with a tablet in his hands. "There's a squad of space patrol approaching from Proxima Centauri, first quadrant, 54 degrees."
"It was to be expected," Nevik said calmly. "Well, gentlemen, it was a pleasure doing business with you."
"Wait, you're not going to kill us?" Jack enquired, incredulity spread across his face.
"Murder has become so overrated," Nevik said with a dismissive shrug, "not to mention messy and tiresome."
"Don't tell me that you've become a softie with age," Jack blurted out before he realized that Nevik could change his mind anytime.
The pirate captain narrowed his eyes menacingly, but his eternal smirk didn't fade. He leaned forward and whispered in Jack's ear, "If you dare ruin my reputation, I shall come after you and show you another side of my superpower that you might not want to see." Jack cleared his throat to hide his embarrassment.
Five minutes later, Nevik was gone with his crew and fifteen kiloboks of what was in reality powdered green tea, just as Jack had claimed. The thing with viridamethamine that only very few people knew about was that to the layman's senses, it looked, smelled and even tasted like green tea, something that was still consumed by only a handful of Earth citizens. However, the only way to ascertain its nature was to boil it up with a special instrument and then inhale the fumes. If it sent you instantly to cloud nine and kept you there for at least two hours, then it was definitely viridamethamine. This drug was still very recent on the market, but already immensely popular among young middle-class college students.
Once they managed to untie themselves and awaken Enkel who had been drooling merrily on Dr Prim's shirt, Filks waggled his eyebrows mockingly at Jack.
"Oh, shut up," Jack hissed, looking away in embarrassment.
"I wasn't going to say anything," his navigator replied, "except that I didn't know you'd fall for tall, dark and douchey."
"You're an ass, you know that, Filks?"
Filks simply snorted and resumed his seat behind the steering handles. What he didn't know was that he filled those criteria quite well, especially the douchey part.
"We'd better get going before the space patrol comes," Jack suggested, his mouth twisting in a fond smile that Filks didn't see.