“Check,” Horus said, as he moved his queen to block my king on the holographic chess board.
We had dropped Chumlee off at the Galnon Station and proceeded on our way as soon as the deed was done. I certainly had no desire to linger on a planet where the mean temperature was 120 degrees.
We were finally on our way to Outpost #68 for Jake’s party.
Horus and I were playing chess on the bridge. Most people would play in the vid room or maybe even the mess, but I liked looking at the stars through the view port. That was the reason I was a spacer and not planet bound. Ma-rye-a enhanced the view by throwing up an occasional vid slice of an interstellar nursery with its energetic light and winds from massive newly formed stars evaporating and dispersing amid the dust in which they are formed.
Cassie was playing in one corner of the view port throwing up pictures of outfits she saw on the NET that might interest me. She put a dialogue bubble above the ones she liked most with “Wow!” or “Sexy Lady” or “Frosty” or some other written comment. She was trying to be quiet and not disturb the chess game, but being the program she was she wasn’t being too successful at it.
My eyes wandered from the chess board to the view port, one more move and Horus would have me. Daniel had programmed Horus so occasionally he would let me win. It was very random through. I could tell today was not my day for victory.
I scratched my head. My hair is growing back and it itches all the time. I kinda like it though. It stands up straight at this point. I look like I am wearing a fur cap. Cassie threw up a shot of a selection of several wigs, rainbow spiked, blond curls and a long black braid. Her bubble said “Hair – what a concept”.
I spotted something out the view port. I can’t explain how I see things out of place in an open Verse, but I can. Like a proofreader, my eyes see misplaced objects. “What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a wig,” Cassie answered.
“Not that,” I said, “that,” I pointed at a space outside the port. “Ma-rye-a give me a close up of that area.”
Ma-rye-a pulled Cassie’s picture off the screen and zoomed in on the area of space I indicated. It was two ships, a freighter and a Phoenix Class flyer. They were both stationary in space. I had a really bad feeling about this. It looked really hinky. Phoenix Class flyers are built for speed. I could think of a dozen reasons a freighter and a Phoenix would meet in empty space and none of them were good.
“What are the readings?” I asked.
“The integrity of the freighter’s hull has been compromised,” Ma-rye-a said. “I do not detect any life.”
Just then the Phoenix pulled away from the larger ship. We could see a huge hole in the freighter’s side - a hole that looked like the remnants of an explosion. Out of the hole scurried several beetle-like beings approximately seven to eight feet tall. Helavites! The scourge of the Verse.
“Ma-rye-a, find us a place to hide. Quick!” I ordered.
“There is an asteroid not far…”
“Get us there, now!” I interrupted.
Ma-rye-a banked to the right. I heard her engines kick into hyper-drive. I was glad I was sitting down. She whorled around and landed us in a depression on the back side of a small asteroid.
“Sam,” I said. “Can you give us some camouflage?” I knew even though Sam and Moby had not been on the deck with me, they always monitored the com and were aware of what was happening.
“Gotcha Cap,” he answered. He deployed the scrubbers, which also worked on other tasks outside the ship.
They quickly planted themselves about the ship’s hull and activated their holographic projectors. To anyone passing, we would look like another part of the rock we were sitting on unless they came down and touched us.
“Ma-rye-a, can you keep an eye on them for us?” I asked. “Without attracting any attention, of course,” I added.
“Of course,” she replied. The image of the freighter and the Phoenix came back on the screen. The beetles must have transferred all they wanted from the ship. They were making their way back to the flyer. I marveled at their ability to exist out in space without a suit. No one had ever been able to catch a Helavite, but it was believed that their body’s shell acted like a suit and that they could go without breathing for an inordinately long time. I found them down right creepy, yet fascinating.
The Helavites are the pirates of the Verse. They move in on a ship or a planet and never leave anyone behind to tell the tale. They use other culture’s technology and disguise themselves with it. The beetles sell their plundered goods on a floating black market. Those who buy from it are not the sort to give up its location, so the Galactic Forces have never known where to find them to bring them to justice. We have no idea how many there are or where they make their base camp.
The freighter exploded in a burst of fire almost immediately snuffed by the lack of oxygen in space. There was nothing left except floating debris when the Phoenix pulled away.
“Ma-rye-a? Track them as far as your sensors will allow and see if you can locate MT2424. We need to report this.”