Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Star Traveler Update - On the Trail of Ezekiel Watts: The Buy

To say the trip to Galla II was miserable did not even come close. Lucky for them hydra were the speed demons of the verse. The trip was thankfully short compared to what it could have been on the ship of any sane species. If it hadn’t been for the driller danger, the captives would have almost been glad they were confined in such a small space.
The hydra jumped through windows with abandon. They rocketed through planet rings like a bearing in an antique pinball machine. They rode space waves like dexterous dust surfers in Trident’s cloud nebula - all of this, with no regard to how they threw their passenger/cargo around in the hold of the ship.
Watts explained what a driller was to Lucas. They took turns watching out for each other in alternate sleep shifts. Luckily the worm did not make an appearance.
By the time they arrived on Galla II not an inch of Watts’ body wasn’t bruised or aching from the jolting and shifting of the ship. He and Lucas held each other up in the empty square of the slave market as the hydra pelted their aching bodies with a high pressure hose. The lizards knew that clean merchandise always sold better than filthy.
            Afterward, they were all shepherded to cells encircling the square. Watts grabbed Lucas when they started to separate them. The hydra guard yanked the boy back away from the mercenary and started to close the cell door between them.
            “Watts!” Lucas wailed. He fought the hydra holding him.
            Watts pushed at the door to keep it from locking.
            The large hydra from the ship stepped forward. He said something to the one holding Lucas. The hydra released the boy who came running to Watts. There was no mistaking it this time, the two lizards smiled at him. Whatever that meant, it couldn’t be good.

            “Okay,” Watts whispered to Lucas as they sat huddled in the back corner of the cell. “Repeat it for me.”
            “We’re looking for someone decent to buy us. Someone well dressed. Female if possible,” Lucas parroted Watts’ instructions.
            “And?” Watts prompted.
            “And someone who speaks English, or has a UT so we can understand them.”
            “That’s the most important,” Watts emphasized. “We don’t have a chance of escaping if we can’t blend in. We can’t blend in if we don’t speak the language or have a translator.”
            “Right,” Lucas agreed.
            “And if they try to separate us again?” Watts asked.
            “I throw a holy fit,” Lucas said with a smile. “That part won’t be hard.”
            The kid was scared earlier. Watts figured there was a reason the boss lizard was keeping them together. He didn’t know why, but he hoped the beast would see that they were kept together until they sold. He certainly couldn’t help the kid escape if they were sold off separately.


            Watts and Lucas stood on the sidelines as one after another of the other miner captives were pushed on the stage, bid upon and sold. Their complement was interspersed with the captives of the other hydra raiding parties - men, women and children.
            Watts noticed that any child offered alone was bid upon by a tall, slender, well dressed, middle aged man in the back with skin the color of coffee with a generous amount of cream mixed in. He was gathering young stock for something.
When it came their turn, Watts and Lucas were pushed out on the stage together just as Watts’ had hoped. There was a good selection of well-heeled buyers in the crowd with a smattering of females.
            Watts stepped forward. He was going to do his best to encourage the wealthy buyers.
            “My name is Ezekiel Watts. I’m strong and healthy,” he started as introduction. “I used to own my own ship and can fly anything you give me. I know how to read charts and…”
            The boss lizard yanked on the chain around Watts’ neck pulling him backward. Watts turned to fight, but the hydra had a threatening grasp around Lucas’ throat.
            “This lot will be sold as a pair,” the hydra hissed through the UT it wore for the proceedings. “The black has not been touched. As you can see he is fight ready. He would be a fine purchase for any gaming planet. You can also see he is emotionally attached to the white I hold. He will cooperate if the white is threatened.”
            Oh, this was not good. In fact, this was really bad for both of them. The kid had just become Watts’ whipping boy. Watts’ hands were tied. What had he done?
            The bidding started immediately. It was fast and furious. It appeared as though there were several in the crowd who wanted them. As the bids gained momentum, Watts watched them ricocheted between three buyers. One was obviously a master from the gladiator planet of Nom. He was dressed like a trainer and had two large guards with him that looked like they could take on several of the hydra in a hand-to-hand combat and win. The second bidder was a woman of questionable profession. No doubt she didn’t want Watts for his fighting skills. The third was an aging, small, wiry man dressed conservatively in a gray gown edged in silver.
            The woman was the first to drop out of the bidding.
            “I won’t fight,” Watts yelled over the bidding.
            The hydra threw Lucas to the ground and planted his massive clawed foot in the boy’s stomach. He flexed his claws, scrapping the boy’s belly. Lucas cried out in pain.
            “No!” Watts shouted.
            The lizard took his foot off Lucas who rolled away and into Watts’ outstretched hands. The lizard smiled at his audience in affirmation. The two men continued to bid.
The coffee colored man in the back tossed in a bid with the flick of his wrist.  
The new bidder moved forward slowly in the crowd as the bidding went even higher. The group around the stage parted for him as though he were royalty. He exuded the air of someone who should not be crossed. When the wiry little man caught sight of who he was bidding against, he immediately dropped out. They obviously knew each other.
            There were a couple more bid passes.
The hydra yanked on Lucas’ and Watts chains. He dragged them to the edge of the stage.
            “You wish to inspect the merchandise?” he asked.
            The two remaining bidders stepped up to the edge of the stage. Unexpectedly, the new bidder reached for Watts. He struck out at Watts. Watts ducked the blow, but felt a sting to his bicep.    
“Hey!” Watts exclaimed.
He caught a glimpse of some sort of instrument in the hand of the newcomer.
The man looked down in his hand and smiled. He placed the instrument in his pocket and removed a purse as big as a bitter/sweet melon from under his cloak. He tossed it effortlessly up on the stage at the foot of the hydra. It exploded when it hit the floor spilling out hands full of golden ingots.
“Sold,” the hydra shouted, “to Lord Usov.”
The winning bidder’s men gathered up his young purchases and Watts. They were moved to a waiting cruiser to be transported. Watts hammered down his instinct to fight. He chose to bide his time until he could figure a way out of this mess.

            They started to separate Lucas and Watts as soon as they were brought on board. Watts wasn’t about to let that happen. He certainly wasn’t going to let Lucas out of his sight. He decked the guard that had a hold on the boy, grabbed the kid and shoved him behind him. He took a threatening stance between the guards and Lucas.
            “He’s staying with me,” Watts proclaimed in defiance.
            The man the hydra had called Lord Usov came up behind his guard.
            “The boy can stay with Watts,” he ordered.
            Even if he hadn’t been one of the early bidders, Watts noted that he was listening when he gave his speal in the slave market. The Lord remembered his name.
“There are clean clothes which I believe will fit you in there,” the Lord pointed to the room with the open door behind Watts. “There are also facilities for you to clean and shave. I will have clothing brought for the boy.”
He turned and walked away – not waiting to see if his instructions were carried out. He knew he was alpha male in this pack. He naturally assumed his orders would be followed. It pissed Watts off royally that he had to obey without question.
But, he had managed to keep Lucas – that was something.
            There were no windows in their room. No way to gauge where they were. Watts just knew from the sound of the engines that they were pulling into dock somewhere.
            “You stay close,” he told Lucas. “Let me do the talking.”
            “Okay.” Lucas agreed in a hushed voice.
            The engines stopped. There was the sound of children talking as they were ushered past their door. The noise receded and it grew very quiet aboard the ship.
            The door to their room swished open. Lord Usov stood outside.
            “I need you to come with me,” he said indicating that Watts should follow.
            The mercenary moved forward with Lucas in tow.
            “The boy must stay here,” Usov instructed.
            Watts stopped. “I’m not leaving him.”
            “He won’t be harmed,” Usov assured him. “I promise.”
            “And on what fly-by would you think your promise assures me?” Watts asked.
            “It wouldn’t,” Usov answered. “But the fact that you have made it very clear that the boy is leverage for us, and the fact that I am not threatening him at this moment with bodily harm, should allow you to be somewhat reassured.”
Usov motioned again for Watts to follow him.
“Please,” he asked politely.
Watts wrestled with the choice. What Usov said made sense, but he had no way of knowing if he would keep his word. What Watts did know was that he needed to get out of this room. See the lay of the land around them so he could form a plan of escape.
The mercenary turned to the boy.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he promised. “If they hurt you I promise I won’t leave here until I’ve killed this lying bastard,” he said grinning as he pointed over his shoulder at Usov.
Usov’s reaction was a sly smile. There was no reason for Usov to believe Watts could carry out his threat, but then again, he didn’t know Watts’ reputation.
            Usov escorted Watts out of the docking bay and down a series of endless hallways. He did not appear to be concerned that Watts might try to escape. They passed what must have been the Lord’s men. Each one they passed nodded in recognition to the man and greeted him with ‘Sir.’ No salutes. No snapping to attention. The man was respected, but not revered.
            “Where are we going?” Watts asked.
“The Empress has asked to see you.”
 Watts made a slight detour to look out a window. Jez! They were in a floating palace. He knew where they were. They were on Karakas. He had seen this place in vids on the U.N.
            Things started to fall into place. He was on the party planet; the home-away-from-home for the rich and famous. The place had only one Empress in residence, Empress Minu.
            “You bought kids for some rich bitch.” It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation. “Training them young for sex or combat slaves?”
            Usov turned on Watts so quickly that the mercenary would have thought he was part snake. He stuck out and knocked Watts to the floor before he could even duck. He was getting slow in his old age.
            The lord stood over him seething with fury.
            “You have a filthy mind,” he growled at Watts.
            “At least it’s just my mind,” Watts said rubbing his jaw. “How do you feel peddling children for some rich whore?”
            “Guard!” Usov called.
            Two men came barreling around the corner and practically tripped over Watts before they could screech to a halt.
            “Take him back to his room aboard ship,” the lord ordered.
            Each of the guards grabbed one of Watts’ arms and pulled him to his feet.
            “I guess her highness can wait,” Watts said. “I’m probably too old for her tastes anyway.”
            Usov wanted to strike him again, but Watts saw he was restraining himself.
“Take him away,” he hissed under his breath.
Watts had learned a number of valuable things on his short walk around the palace. He ticked them off in his head as the guards escorted him back to his room. They were on Karakas in the floating palace of Empress Minu. There was a docking bay and numerous ships that appeared space ready. All the guards were armed. And last, but not least, the lord was in love with his mistress. If Watts could get close enough to take her hostage, he could write a ticket home for him and Lucas. It was a sketchy plan, but he would color it in before the Empress asked for him again. He’d be ready next time the Lord took him for a walk.

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