Wednesday, July 29, 2009


by John Shirley

Most of the Kastillian overseers were in hiding from the Veln. There was only one guard at the armory: Blust was just inside, when the escaped slaves arrived, their overseer standing with his back to the door, talking into a headset communicator and hefting a hand cannon as he told the other guards: "If you fools don't come out of the forest and meet me at the armory I'll see to it that you're all jailed for treasonous insubordination! I don't care if the Veln are still patrolling the area--what do you think you're going to do in the forest, live on grubs? We need to regroup and for that you'll need ammunition! Now meet me at…"

He broke off as he turned toward the door--and saw Jann standing there, smiling faintly, staring unblinkingly at him. "Careful, Jann!" Ivan said. "He's got a hand cannon!"

"He hasn't put a clip into it," Jann said casually. "It's not loaded."

Blust looked down in horror at the gun--then looked around desperately at the racks of weapons for something ready to use. Jann chose that moment to lunge, slamming his right shoulder into Blust's solar plexus. Blust grunted and staggered backward, falling with Jann atop him. Jann fastened his hands on Blust's throat and squeezed. Blust tried to batter at him with the butt of the weapon but Ivan, chuckling, wrestled it away from him.

"How well I remember the time he 'lashed me until I was out cold!" Ivan said. "Let me at him for awhile, Jann!"

But pent-up rage was taut in Jann's fingers. He couldn't let go until long after Blust ceased to move.

As he stood, he noticed that he didn't feel much better, seeing Blust dead. He could only think, He's just the first one. There's Drumm…there are others…There is a whole planet that must pay...


The raid on the armory had yielded more weapons than the escaped slaves needed. Twenty-four hours rest in a secluded spot in the woods had restored most of Jann's strength, and he was sitting cross-legged in late afternoon sun, in a small clearing with Moss, Ivan, and Dribney. Twenty-two others lolled in the shade nearby; a few stood sentry; all of them awaited his orders. Rallying the slaves had come easily now that word of the coming collars had gotten around. But he found himself wondering, again, how he had become their leader.

Could he live up to it? Jann had serious doubts--he'd lost a lot of confidence in himself after what had happened on Paradine. He had let Vonn down--and by extension, his mother. And they'd died because of the decisions he'd made. How could he make decisions for these men?

He had no clear idea what to do next. The Veln were still looting the planet, the Kastillians were still a danger--for their survivors had gone to ground, too, and once the Veln had gone the Kastillians would come looking for the slaves. Perhaps any minute now.

There were navigators and technicians, amongst his men--if they could but steal a starcraft, there might be a way to organize a series of strikes at the Kastillians. If he released slaves--he could also recruit slaves.

But he could do nothing until he found out what had become of Delphine. Foolish or not, it was how he felt. Was she still alive? That explosion…A servant from Gangtofen's estate who'd escaped the Veln had told Moss that Delphine was away, with Gangtofen, at the time of the explosion…But the Veln were raiding across the planet…Anything might've happened to her. Foolish to obsess on a woman he didn't really know. And yet…

"Jann!" hissed one of the sentries. "Someone's coming!"

Jann signaled for silence and the rebels slipped into the forest, hiding to either side of the thin trail. A tall, broad shouldered, bushy haired figure came swaggering up the trail, unarmed. The little green primate Jann had seen in the forest was riding, like a pet, on the Centauran's shoulder. "You fools can come out of hiding!" Derv called. "It's just me!"

Jann stepped out onto the trail, smiling. "Derv--you got away from Oraclis?"

"There's a surprising story in that..."

"How'd you find us?"

"Easy for a Centauran--you clumsy oafs leave a trail a Centauran infant could follow!"

"Ha!" said the little primate. "Fools! And I could smell them much afar! How could we miss them, with such a smell!"

"Not much chance for bathing hereabouts," said Moss. "What became of you, Derv? And who's your, ah, little friend?"

"This fellow? This is Remple…Well, let me sit in the shade, and I'll tell you...after that day they nailed me with the trank gun..."


Derv had awakened in a comfortable room, in bed. A small creature was crouched on the end of the bed--Remple. The little green tentacled primate advised Derv to eat the food set out beside him. At first he was afraid to eat, so Remple ate some, showing it wasn't drugged or poisoned.

"Boss will be here, soon," Remple told him, as Derv ate.

"Boss? Who's that?"

"Why, the one who saved you from the plantation! Oraclis! My boss!" The primate thumped his small chest. "He raise me! I am his number one spy!" He had been raised from earliest infancy and trained by Oraclis.

"Are you the result of one of his…his experiments--perhaps a brain transplant?" Derv had asked fearfully, thinking of Oraclis' reputation. Remple was insulted by this.

"There are no experiments," Oraclis had said, coming in. Without his lens-eyes, his ridiculous makeup and supercilious expression, Oraclis looked quite different. And talked differently--because he was not now "in character," as he put it. He explained to Derv that the experiments were a myth he himself had spread to create a fearful image for himself; to discourage snooping. The stories of terrifying scientific experiments kept the Kastillians at bay.

"But--what of me?" Derv had asked.

"We will help you escape…which brings me to my real project. A secret project--of quite another sort."

He told Derv of his true agenda, swearing him to secrecy. Oraclis was in fact a spy for a group of Kastillians opposed to slavery. Like Delphine, he was secretly a Kastillian abolitionist. He maintained a certain effete veneer to deceive the Kastillian high command.


...Listening to Derv in the forest, Jann sat up straight and stared at him. "About Delphine--did you say she's against slavery? She works with Oraclis?"

"So Oraclis says," Derv said, nodding. "She always did seem to find a way to help us, you remember, talking rings around that dolt Gangtofen. Then on the sly, she and Oraclis smuggled out half a dozen escaped slaves over the last few years."

The men crowded around Derv gasped and shook their heads in wonder. Dribney said it for them: "Oraclis--that weird old goggle-eye…helping slaves to escape!"

Derv nodded ruefully. "Oraclis took a chance telling me--but it was so that I could work with him. Because of the slave collars he thought there had to be a mass escape, and I might help arrange it--but then came the attack of the Veln, and chaos! He sent me to find you, and he went to find Delphine…I guess he took some kind of transport with her and Gangtofen, to escape the Veln! I went back to the camp to find you--and followed your tracks here. I had to dodge a patrol of Kastillians--I was hiding from them…but they were hiding from the Veln!"

The escaped slaves guffawed at that.

"But there's bleak news, Jann," Derv went on earnestly. "I heard the Kastillians talking as they passed, while I hid in the brush. Gangtofen, Oraclis and Lady Delphine have been the Veln! Their transport was intercepted, and the Veln have take it over. Delphine and Oraclis are being held hostage in the captured Kastillian ship." He smiled crookedly. "The patrol was concerned about it--because after paying a ransom Gangtofen might not be able to pay their salaries."

"They're in a Kastillian starcraft?" Jann asked, his pulse racing. "Is it in orbit?"

"From what I could make out, it landed about seven miles south of here. The Veln are waiting for a ransom to come through. If they don't get it, and soon--they'll kill Delphine and Oraclis." After a moment he added, "Oh--and Gangtofen."

Jann stood up and looked at the escaped slaves. "A Kastillian ship, boys, is just what we need--to get out of this wretched paradise…"

Click Here for Part 16, the final installment of SKY PIRATES, by John Shirley

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