A/N: First Chapter, Please R & R
1734, July 28, 2321
Jack Benson ran out of the house, putting his hands in his red vest as he went. He stalked over to the small motorsled that was his method of transportation. He scanned his finger, but paused a second before authorizing ignition. He left the sled and walked over to the empty coffee can on his father's workbench. He picked it up, and popped off the slitted lid, dumping the paltry 7 Epsilons it contained into his hand. He pocketed the money, and then mounted his open-air motorsled. He ignited the small engine, and backed out onto the street. With the sled straightened, he floored the accelerator, just soon enough to get out of earshot of his father's yelling.
As he sped down the unpaved ice track, his runners biting into the slick surface, he thought back over the fight that had embroiled his home. His dad wanted him to join the steel mining trade, and spend his life going as deep as possible into the ocean in search of the pure steel that could be found at the greater depths. Jack wanted to do anything but that, anything but becoming a mole of the sea, and living for nothing but his piddling wages or the next "Mother Lode". That wasn't the life for him.
He was at the end of Glenn's End, and ripped by the city limit sign at a good 90 miles an hour. There was no one else on the road, the mines were open. Life on this planet was irretrievably lost to the mines. They ate, breathed, and slept steel. His father earned spare money over his miserable wages by crafting small or substandard pieces of steel into sculptures for the townsfolk. Jack's thoughts flashed to the seven coins he had taken from the tin, and felt a hint of remorse. His father had put extra time into earning those seven, maybe to buy a new piece of clothing for his mother, or to purchase Jack something. Oh well, he shouldn't have given me reason to take it. Thus was the reasoning in Jack's mind.
He considered the possible uses he had for the money...I could maybe rent a room in Epsilon City for a week, he thought. That might give me the time to find a job and get some more money…or I could just hitch myself off this miserable rock. That's what I'll do. His mind made up, Jack entered the highway that led to the world's capital city, and sped off.
Five miles away, Jack's father was looking at the lid on the floor of the garage. He held back the tears, and simply whispered that ultimate rhetorical: "Why, Jack? Why?"
0230, July 29, 2321
Jack sped into the industrial district that surrounded the outskirts of Epsilon Centauri, essentially a layer of prostitution, petty crime, and rampant gang activity that kept most foot/ground traffic out of the city. But Jack didn't know that. He sped on his merry way, trying to forget that just hours earlier, he had stolen money from his parents, and left on his makeshift motersled, without so much as a "goodbye" note. He'd be sure to leave them a message when he left the planet.
Little did he know, however, he was not going to get very close at all to leaving the planet. At least not that night. Two miles farther into the district, a pair of shady looking figures pulled the firing cords on multiple flares, and left them strewn in the roadway. They then settled down well out of the light to wait for any prey that may wander along the road. One pulled out a vintage pistol and loaded it, the other pulled a new flechette gun, and both waited in complete stillness as the sound of a two-stroke engine grew louder.
Jack slowed down as the flares grew brighter. He knew there had to have been an accident, so he prepared himself to administer first aid. Then, the unmistakeable sound of a gunshot rang out, followed by a tinny "fwip". What he could only guess was the bullet rang off of the metal side of the vehicle, and he swerved. At the same instant, what felt like hundreds of bees stung his left side. This, combined with the swerve, unbalanced him, and he fell off of his motorsled, rolling to a very painful stop on the ground. He heard running footsteps, and two voices above him.
"Score! You like that shot, man!"
"Yeah, yeah, I admit, the flechette is easier in the dark."
"Ok, so I get this haul, right?"
"Sure. You took him down, didn't you? Just hurry up. I don't like working this neighborhood…something about it gives me the creeps."
"Alright, alright." A hand snaked down out of the blurred darkness, and searched Jack's vest. "Holy shit, man! This guy's got a lot of tools down here!"
"Just get the wallet. We need to get on the move. We've been in one place too long." As if to drive home the silhouette's point, a door creaked open, then slammed shut.
"He don't got one…wait, here's a few coins." The hand held up the precious epsilons to the light. "Seven, huh? That's barely enough for a decent whore."
"That's fine," the silhouette said, "now lets get out of here."
Suddenly, a voice came in from the side, accompanied by the sound of a shotgun being cocked. "Hey, what are you doing?"
The bent silhouette straightened, money in hand, and took off running. The other silhouette was right behind the first. The newcomer fired a shot into the air for good measure, then walked over to Jack's prone form.
He rolled Jack over with the barrel of his firearm, and shook his head. "My my my, they did screw you up good, didn't they?" he asked. Jack just rolled over and moaned.
0417, July 29, 2321
The first thing he felt was warmth. He slowly opened his eyes, and the small room came into focus. He was lying on a worn but soft couch, a cup of strong coffee resting on an ancient TV tray at his elbow. Jack tried to sit up, but it immediately brought complaint from his left side, and he let out a sharp gasp. He sank back onto his pillow, and took stock. He had lost the money he had stolen from his parents, but that was an almost inconsequential amount. With all the tools he had with him, he could make that much at tinkering fairly quickly.
But where was his vest? That was his most prized possession, his bright red vest that he had obtained at a thrift store on the one trip he took into a major city before this. He had been sixteen at the time, the excursion was a "sweet sixteen" affair. He had seen it, and immediately knew that it was what he wanted. He was already an accomplished mechanic at the time, and decided nothing could be better than to take all his tools with him wherever he went. As he had gotten the money for the vest by robbery, he was also an accomplished lockpick, and his pick also resided in the vest.
But where was the vest? Jack looked around frantically, then grimaced again as his side twinged. At least he had found it. It was resting on the coffee table in front of him. He sighed, and slipped slowly back into oblivion.
0730, July 29, 2321
"Hello there. Anyone home?" A voice was calling to him from a thick fog. "You took quite the shot back there. You're only lucky that you were already swerving. Otherwise you woulda taken some of those to the head." Jack's eyes fluttered open, and the room slowly came into focus. He started at the man in front of him, then immediately moaned as pain tripped through his left side lightly.
"What…happened…?" he got out, hesitating slightly because of the pain.
The stranger smiled. "You took a full load from a flechette pistol. It just about ripped your left half off. It's lucky you had that vest on, your tools protected all the vitals."
"My vest? How bad is it?" Jack was learning quite quickly how to talk without angering his wound.
"Oh, I wouldn't be too worried. It's a good material, Kevlar Nylon. It's got a few tears in it, but nothing a bit of sewing won't fix."
"Alright…but I can't sew."
"You won't have to. I'll take care of it, don't worry. You won't have to worry about a thing, so long as I'm onplanet."
"You go offplanet?" Jack was amazed. He had never met a spacer before. "Where have you been?"
"Perhaps another time," the stranger replied. "For now, I think you should rest some more." Jack nodded, and sank back into a deep stupor.
1235, July 29 2321
The next time Jack awoke, there was light streaming in from a skylight mounted in the sealing. He looked around, and noticed a clock. Already 12:35? He thought to himself. I've already been gone almost a day. He was then seized by a slight sense of urgency, as running away was a misdemeanor. He had to get offplanet, and soon.
He looked down, and carefully moved the blanket he was covered with off of his body. It revealed a bandaged area on his left side, as well as some laceration of his pants. Apparently, he had been grazed by a few flechettes. Even more carefully, he pushed himself up, using only his arms. He soon was in a sitting, then a standing position.
Now to regain his affects. He walked slowly and stiffly over to the table that had his freshly sewn vest on it, covering his quite torn shirt. He first put the shirt on, taking note of the large rips in the lower left side, and then placed his vest on his shoulders over the shirt. He continued on past the table, exploring the house that he was in.
He quickly realized, however, that he was in a warehouse, rather than a proper house. The room he had been in was formed by a large stack of crates; the skylight was a monstrous fan in the roof of the building. The only way out of this room was a locked door, an old design with a double-sided lock. It would be no match for Jack's picking abilities. He slid the long, delicate picks from their hiding place within his vest, kissed them, and slid them into the key slot.
Less than a minute later, he swung the door open, and walked into the warehouse proper. He now realized quite how huge it really was. At the far corner was a massive door, at least twenty meters in height, and nearly three quarters of that in girth. Just in front of the door, however, was something that truly took his breath away. A spaceship.
It was beautiful to him. It stood upon one end, and was nearly the height of the building's interior, which Jack took to be about twenty-five meters. It consisted of an oblong central portion, ringed by what appeared to be three atmospheric engines, mounted on pivots. From markings around the base of the center, Jack could assume that the middle of the vessel housed an interplanetary drive. He just stood there, for a few minutes, admiring the smooth lines of the ship, wondering what it would be like to pilot it, especially what landing it would entail. It was then that he noticed panels in the upper spacecraft marked "Danger!" He could only assume, from the many books he had read, that those panels extended in the event of a quick or forced landing. At this point, his observations were interrupted by the cough of a small engine.
The noise was originating from behind him. He quickly spun, just in time to catch his rescuer slow to a halt on Jack's sled. The spacer was momentarily abashed at seeing Jack up and about, but quickly regained his composure.
"Feeling alright, are you?" he ventured.
"Fair enough," Jack replied. He paused, then continued. "That's a helluva ship you got yourself, sir."
The stranger smiled. "Why thank you. She's been all around this system. I've had 'er since before you were born, I'd reckon. Since the start of the war."
"What did she do?"
"Medevac short transport shuttle. Designed to get a lot of wounded quickly, then take 'em all up into orbit, where they would be treated. Faster than hell in atmosphere, and just as maneuverable."
"What engines do you have in it?"
"Well, I've got three Mitsubishi M395As for the outboards, and the central is a GM Fusion mark X3. She can haul."
"What class was it to start with?"
"Light trans-atmospheric craft. Now she's a light interplanetary. At least that's what I've got her listed at for the conventions."
"You mean you have interstellar capability?" Jack's eyes grew wide. Not only had this man seen other planets, he had seen whole other systems.
"Yeah, but don't go spreading it around. If anyone found out how…but that's a topic for another time. I think right now it's best that we decide what I'm to do with you. You sure you don't want to go back to your home?"
"Yeah, there ain't nothing for me…" Jack trailed off. "Wait, how'd you even know I ran away?"
"You talk in your sleep. Please continue."
"Well, I've got no reason to go back. Live for the mines, always the mines. I need some good adventure, I need to get clear of this whole thing. I was gonna try to get passage somewhere else in system, but now I've got no money."
"Well, in system is out. The war is everywhere. You would be safer just staying here. However, I do occasionally go to visit the New Harmarkand States, if you wanted to try your luck in the reaches beyond Centauri."
"You mean there's more out there?"
The spacer chuckled. "Oh yes. There is much more. A whole world that all of the ex-Sol overlords are missing, simply because they are too wrapped up in their own power struggles to notice. They completely disregard the reports that supply cruisers in the Second and Third circuits send in, reports of piracy. If only they knew what resided in the systems nearby. If only."
"What does?" Jack queried, his curiosity aroused.
"Advanced star nations, already the size of each of the great bidders for Centauri domination. Harmarkand, that alleged traitor that started this war, has his own state, almost one hundred light years away. There are these other people, they call themselves 'Olmecs', who have discovered travel that is faster than light. They claim they come from Terra, but with minds such as theirs, it seems to be nigh impossible."
"Wait! Faster than light? Is that why your ship can…"
"Yes. I was halfway between here and Harmarkand Prime when I ran across an Olmec cruiser. They allowed me to dock, and took me to their nearest base, where I worked for nearly a year to get my ship outfitted with a FTL drive. Now, once a year, I return here for a rest and recreation session, as well as to unload any surplus goods I may have. The rest of the time I spend pirating off of lone supply runners and scavengers in the Third Circuit, or running and stealing supplies in other systems."
"Is there any war out there?"
"It still escapes me, this fascination you Centaurians have with war. There isn't anything open out there…but they all allow the preying on convoys, if they can't prevent it. Everyone steals from everyone else, and as of right now, everything gets spread around just fine. Theft on the planets isn't that common, except on the Cusp Worlds.
"The four or five nations out there all join at one point. Everything within five lightyears is a cusp world. Theft is incredibly high on New Terra, which is owned by all five nations. Each holds a part of it, but all the people have been homogenized, except the Olmecs. They have closed the borders to their portion of New Terra, so there isn't much theft there. Everywhere else though, you're not gonna hold on to anything for more than a week. The cusp worlds are a little better, but not much."
"Not in the least, which is the surprising part. They view it all as some huge game, where you wager possessions. No person ever kills another in defense of their property, but none insist on burglary if they are outplayed. They have but one law enforcement agency: the populace. Were someone to 'break the rules', they would find themselves offplanet sooner than they could say 'I stole that ship'."
"Is that how it is in all the nations?"
"Nope. Once you get too far outside of the cusp worlds, planets are still being developed. They're far too harsh to let your resources be squandered. The murder rate almost triples once you're about five lightyears outside of the Cusp Worlds."
"Wow. Now that you've told me all this, I think that's where I want to go. Is there any way I could go with you?"
"I dunno…what can you offer me in payment for transport?" Jack started getting a hurt look, and the spacer cut him off before he could object. "In many ways, this universe can kill the unprepared. I'd be doing you a great disservice by giving you a free ticket to the cusp worlds. Now what do you have to offer?"
"Well," Jack began, "I'm a fair pick, and as I believe you may have noticed, I enjoy tinkering. I built that sled you borrowed."
"Built?" the stranger was clearly impressed. "If you managed to build something that runs as smoothly as this by yourself, I think I could probably take you on as a mechanic. It would certainly give me time to worry about other things, after you were trained up for a little bit."
"So I can go with you?"
"I think that's a definite possibility. We should immediately start your training, so that we can get offplanet as soon as you're well enough."
Jack was jubilated. Then, something intruded on his joy. "Wait, I'm a runaway. How am I gonna avoid getting busted for it?"
The spacer simply smiled. "I've hidden stranger and more illegal things than an escapee teenager in this hangar. The gangs run this part of town, no law enforcement agency sets foot here, and I pay off the gangs. You've nothing to worry about."
"Awesome. When do we start?"
"Well, the rest of today, I think, should be spent immersed in the manual. Tomorrow, we start the practical lessons. If you will proceed back inside?"
"Yes, sir." Jack made his way back to the door, and walked over to the couch, where he proceeded to sit and wait for his study material.
Outside, the grizzled spacer rubbed his jaw. What am I getting myself into, he wondered. If it all happens for a reason, why is he here? He soon dismissed these thoughts, and resumed searching for the engine manuals for his ship.
A/N: Hope it was enjoyable thus far. Please Review me.