KZ2101. Jack Full-on thought Moonbeam was talking about a radio station the first time he heard her mention KZ2101. He was on the bridge of the Cyster Judy, the best pirate vessel from Mars outward. He and his crew were discussing exactly how they were going to get their WaterMarks back. A man named Rankor Shim stole them all. Jack very much wanted to speak with him about that. That was when First Mate Moonbeam had mentioned KZ2101, the asteroid.
“Come on, Jack, you’ve never heard of KZ? You’re a pirate, for criminy’s sake,” chided Violet from the comm console, “How am I ever going to live this down?”
“She’s right, Jack, that’s pretty lame. I’ve known about KZ since grade school. They have the finest brothel in the solar system,” said Schwag, looking up from his porno mag.
“Who asked you?” Jack retorted. “Don’t you have work to do?”
“I’m top gunner, Jack. Are we in a battle? No? All right, then,” Schwag said lazily before turning the page.
“It’s okay, Jack, a lot of us used to live sheltered lives,” Nigel said in an attempt to bolster the captain’s dwindling self-confidence. The slight edge of sarcasm hinted the comment wasn't entirely genuine.
“It’s not my fault my parents raised me Catholic. Blast! That’s why I became a pirate in the first place,” Jack lamented.
“We all have faith in you, Jack. You’re a real man’s man,” said Nigel soothingly.
“We all know about your sexual orientation, Nigel. Leave the captain out of it,” warned Moonbeam before she continued, “Seriously, Jack, from the last coordinates we have of Rankor’s ship he had to have been heading for KZ.”
“What can you tell me about KZ?”
“KZ2101 is the last place in the solar system a decent, honest, law abiding person would go. It’s home base for a wide assortment of outlaws and degenerates. You know the type. Drug runners, gun runners…”
“Pirates,” chimed in Schwag.
“Shut up, Schwag!” the entire crew shouted as one.
“… prostitutes, junkies. Basically people with no other place to run or hide,” Moonbeam finished.
Jack weighed the information before continuing, “That sounds like a good place to find him. We’re going to need a plan.”
“None of this would have happened if you hadn’t bought his story about the lost alien city in Candor Chasm,” Schwag whined.
No one told him to be quiet. Everyone knew it was true, Jack more so than anyone else. Rankor had contacted them wanting to make a deal. He had told them about a newly discovered alien city in Candor Chasm on Mars, supposedly filled with previously undreamed of technology. He claimed that he would have taken it all for himself. In truth Rankor needed their backup to overcome the token security team that had been stationed to guard the ruins until a larger force could arrive. Rankor piloted a one man Planet Hopper, so his explanation seemed plausible enough.
The best way to get past pirate defenses has always been to appeal to their greed. The whole crew fell for the story, hook, line and sinker. The two ships rendezvoused at Io, and proceeded to shuttle down to the moon’s surface, or so it had seemed. When the crew of Cyster Judy reached the coordinates they found nothing, and when Rankor’s tiny shuttle was opened he wasn’t in it.
They all hightailed it back to the ship, only to find Violet unconscious, slumped over the communications console. Because of the radio silence on the way up everyone was afraid she was dead. After the WaterMarks were found to be missing Schwag tried to kill her, screaming like a lunatic. Schwag understood the value of a WaterMark.
It took Jack, Nigel and Moonbeam to pry Schwag’s hands from Violet's throat. After that they all sank to the deck in a vast sea of melancholy. Rankor’s planet hopper had taken advantage of a window to use Phobos as a parabolic slingshot, and he was long gone before any pursuit could be mounted.
The stolen WaterMarks had come at a high price. Nigel had an old friend, Mannie, who worked at an underground casino in the Aphrodite Terran highlands on Venus. They kept in touch over the years. One day Mannie got in touch with Nigel about a business proposition. He claimed to have detailed plans for a big heist at a casino, but he could never act on them so he wanted to sell them. The plans cost a fortune, but the crew of Cyster Judy saw it as a worthy investment. The return would be in the area of one thousand percent.
The plans worked perfectly, except that their bottom gunner, Hoover, died of a heart attack before he could make it back to the ship. Nigel had sneezed, and Hoover thought the jig was up. Everyone missed the way he inhaled his chewing gum while they were making their escape, being as how he was the last in line. That didn’t make the crews current situation any easier to take. Hoover was gone, and the entire crew was flat broke.
It wasn’t until after Rankor ripped them off that they discovered he was Mannie’s cousin. No one bothered to mention the revenge they would exact on Mannie if they found him. He had set them up to do the dirty work of the heist, and then stolen the proceeds (making the payment for the plan a theft as well). They wanted to hurt Mannie so bad they could taste it, but first they had to find Rankor. Water doesn't grow on trees, at least not in that part of the galaxy.
“I take full responsibility for the events that led up to this disaster, Schwag, but I need you to back me up so we can make it right,” Jack said levelly.
“Oh, it’s not all your fault, Captain. I wanted to get my hands on those artifacts as bad as the rest of you. I’ll lay off,” Schwag offered as he tossed his magazine aside.
“Like I said, Jack, my best guess is that he’s headed for KZ,” Moonbeam insisted one more time.
“Nigel, set a course for KZ2101,” ordered Full-on.
“Aye-aye, Cap’n,” Nigel responded as he deftly directed the bat (3d pen) suspended from three wires in front of him, “Eugenia it is.” He drew a line from their current psition to Ceres in the holo astrogation chart hovering above his station.
“Ceres? You mean to tell me that KZ2101 is Eugenia?”
“The one and only.”
Jack shook his head slowly. “Why me, lord? A crew of astronomy snobs… we’re all doomed.”
“Don’t be so glum, Jack, we’re on our way, and we have plenty of time before we get there,” Moonbeam said with a wink.
“Oh, no, there they go again,” Violet teased.
“Have you considered having her spayed, Captain?” asked Schwag with a grin.
“That’s enough out of you people. I’ll have you know that Moonbeam and I are very much in love,” Full-on said seriously. The bridge erupted in laughter.
Red faced and fuming, Jack led Moonbeam to the pleasure cabin in the low grav section of the ship. He was always amazed at all of the original things two lovers could do in low gravity that could not be done at 1G. This session was no exception, that is to say, exceptional as usual. No matter whether Moonbeam loved him, after fifteen minutes he was certain he loved her, all of her.
Moonbeam whispered, “Is this where you got your name, Full-on?”
“Shh. Don’t talk,” he said, and then they no longer needed to use words.
It would be less than considerate at this point to neglect describing Jack’s ship, Cyster Judy. Cyster Judy was a four ring combat vessel designed by the MoonClipper Corporation. She was equipped with 16 sets of guns, 8 fore and 8 aft, 4 on the top and bottom of each end of her. The guns only required two people, but against numerous opponents having only two gunners would be a hindrance.
The Cyster Judy was equipped with a state of the art field resonance propulsion drive. Nobody thought of her drive that way, however. The crew all called it Judy’s Mojo. Jack had never met anyone who knew anything about her Mojo. All he knew was that she was sleek, fast and sexy, and she never got tired or complained. Cyster Judy had a fine Mojo.
Cyster Judy’s Mojo classed her as one of the fastest non-military combat ships in the solar system. Of course that speed rating only applied to her capabilities for straight-line velocity. In close quarters combat maneuvers she ranked in the top twenty fastest vessels, of all time.
Cyster Judy was designed for an obscenely wealthy client in the private sector. Not only was she made to be hell-on-wheels, she was like a pleasure yacht by combat vessel standards. Cyster Judy came equipped with both a bar and an elegantly decked out mess hall. The captain’s quarters were luxurious, but nothing compared to the owner's suite. Jack of course took the owner’s suite and gave Moonbeam the second best. The crew couldn’t complain, though. Every person had a private cabin with, of all things, a private shower. Despite the fact that the shower water was recycled thousands of times it was still an obscene luxury. And the privacy gave everyone enough space to be relaxed. Jack would never have to worry about a mutiny.
MoonClipper only produced one ship of Judy’s kind before the nukes destroyed their production facilities, their research and, indeed, every person in the corporation. Unless a large corporation could get their hands on her there would never be another like her, and Jack wasn’t about to let that happen. He had commandeered her fair and square, after all, but that is a story for another day.
Despite all of her amenities and features Cyster Judy still suffered from the same Achilles heel that all spacecraft had. Major portions of her had been constructed with inflatable polymers filled with water, because hauling the heavy metals into space to build spacecraft had long been abandoned as financially ludicrous. Any battle she engaged in would be dangerously like épée fencing. The first hit landed upon her could mean victory for the opponent. With that in mind the close quarters maneuverability seemed all the more important.
Cyster Judy glided on angel’s breath for the renegade outpost on KZ2101, the asteroid once known as Eugenia. As seductive as her Mojo was, it still took Judy five days to get the crew to the giant rock. By the time they arrived Jack and Moonbeam looked positively athletic and radiant, but the rest of the crew looked like they were ready to chew holes in the floor. Schwag was the first one out of the hatch when they air locked at Eugenia’s only spaceport.
Eugenia’s version of customs stopped all of them in their tracks. “Customs” was a giant black man with a full auto .45-caliber grease gun. He was wearing case hardened combat armor, but from the looks of him nothing could penetrate his muscle without the armor. Jack promptly strode forward to shake his hand. The man just looked at his outstretched palm and growled.
“Good day, sir. I am the captain of this vessel, and we have arrived here on beautiful Eugenia for a little r-and-r before we tackle the long trip home. Could you please direct us to the nearest pub?’
“If you want to live you need to start putting WaterMarks in my hand in the next three seconds. One…”
“Well, we don’t have any WaterMarks, as such --“
“Let me talk to him, Captain,” said Violet as she pushed her way to the front. “A big, strong man like you must need a little affection sometime. What do you think? Can we work something out?”
“Well, er, uh… You people can go through. The lady and I have a little business to tend to,” said the giant.
“Again? She does this at every port,” muttered Schwag.
“Be quiet, Schwag. She saves us a lot of money. Besides, she loves doing it,” Moonbeam put in.
Every member of Cyster Judy’s crew displayed more than their fair share of attractive traits, but in Violet those traits had more to do with physical beauty than anything else. Violet was a voluptuous, long legged creature with soft curves and sleek bone structure. Her waist length blonde hair turned heads everywhere she went, but the rest of her body caused men to gawk rudely. The incredible part is that she loved to share herself. Jack often wondered if that were because of something in her childhood.
Captain Jack appeared to be average in every way, at least every visible way. There actually was something to the rumors about his name, but he was far too good a pirate to allow his reputation to hinge solely on his crotch. What would never be visible in a physical inspection was that he displayed absolute calm and control in any combat situation. He just did not have it in him to become nervous or frazzled. Jack Full-on was a born space captain. He could accurately assess the odds of any situation, and he almost never lost those bets. Unfortunately, Rankor had been one of those few cases.
Moonbeam could probably best be described as an earth mother. She wasn’t stunningly beautiful, but there was that about her which seemed to speak of comfort and nurturing. She also maintained a level head in the tensest of situations. Moonbeam was the person who would most often offer up a diplomatic solution to difficult situations. That was why she was so good with the crew whenever Jack needed mediation. She had a small batch of bobbed black hair, and her small petal shaped lips always seemed to be in a half smile if she wasn’t angry. She rarely became angry, but if she did everyone would acquiesce to her demands. She was a woman who should not be trifled with.
Schwag went far to carrying on the tradition of the ancient pirates who rode the wind across the oceans of Earth. He had no respect for tradition, laws or morals. He was one hell of a melee fighter, and he armed himself accordingly. He never went anywhere without several throwing knives, a palm pistol, a full sized pistol and a katana strapped to his back. He always wore an olive drab trench coat to better conceal his arsenal, and military style clothes underneath. He walked with fluid grace. An experienced fighter would recognize his own in Schwag from a mile away. The only people he would ever defer to were people from his crew. They he respected, for he had seen many reasons to.
Nigel, the astrogation officer, had a brilliant mind. He also had boyish good looks. Nigel sometimes came across as extremely flamboyant. He went everywhere outrageously overdressed, and his entire wardrobe consisted of satins and silks with screaming bright colors. He cultivated the pretty boy image intentionally. Underneath the soft exterior he was a hardened veteran, and it lent him a distinct advantage to be underestimated before a fight. The rest of the crew knew all about this, and gave him his due respect.
In fact, for pirates they were some of the most principled people around. They just decided at some point that wealth was there for the taking. No one on the ship wanted to slave for a pittance, and because of their collective talents, and Jack’s ship, they didn’t have to.
“Does anyone have any idea what we are doing here?” Jack asked honestly.
“Relax, Captain, I came through here a number of times back in the bad old days before Cyster Judy. We’re going to Two-faced Charlie’s. Everyone who comes through here goes through there, “ Schwag told him.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Nigel affirmed.
“If anyone says anything about Sunday school I’m leaving you here on this rock when Judy takes off,” Jack warned, and then he laughed along with his people.
Two-faced Charlie’s was the most violent place Jack had ever seen. Before the group could even get through the door someone was flung bodily out from the other side. Inside there were several fights going on simultaneously. In eerie contrast there were portions of the bar that were deathly still. One look at the people gathered around the tables in those areas supplied the answer. Scary people frequented Two-faced Charlie’s.
Two faced Charlie himself was called that because he got half his face cut off in a brawl twenty years earlier. He had recovered, killed the man who did it and had half of that man’s face attached to his. It didn’t take too well, and Charlie presented an unappetizing spectacle. Schwag headed directly for him.
“How ya doin’, Charlie? Long time no see,” Schwag drawled out.
“Schwag? That’s really you? I heard you was dead. They said Nueauxvo Kaine’s men got you for that thing you pulled over on Ceres,” Charlie said as he leaned over the bar and embraced Schwag.
“You know that numbskull couldn’t find his own ass with toilet paper,” Schwag explained.
“Ha! Same old Schwag as ever. What you doing back here on this rock?”
“The shoes on the other foot now. This is my captain,” he gestured to Jack, “And this is the rest of the crew. We feel a strong need to have a talk with somebody.”
“Well, I’ll do what I can to help you, Schwag. You always played it straight with me,” Charlie admitted. “Who is it?”
“Yeah, he was here. I didn’t talk to him, but I heard about it. You might want to talk to Captain Morgan. He’s over there in the quiet part of the bar.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I owe you one,” Schwag told him.
“Then you best come back one day so’s I can collect,” Charlie insisted.
“I’ll do that, dad,” Schwag told him.
They both shook hands in mutual respect, and then Schwag led the crew over to Captain Morgan’s table. The looks they got as they approached weren’t the most welcoming. Captain Morgan looked like a very sinister businessman, but the men on either side of him were dressed like bikers. They just glared until Jack spoke.
“Captain Morgan, I’m Captain Jack Full-on. I believe we may have something, or someone, in common.”
“I’ve heard of you. What exactly are you talking about?” Morgan asked him.
“Rankor Shim,” replied Jack.
“If you’ve got something to do with him there’s about to be a killing in Charlie’s place,” Morgan said confidently.
“The only thing we have to do with him is a desire to have his hide,” Jack responded.
“Then perhaps we do have something in common,” Morgan conceded.
“Captain Morgan --“
“Call me Bruce,” said the other captain.
“Bruce, if you have any idea where to find Shim we would be forever grateful,” Jack explained.
“Find him? Hell, we’re going after him as soon as my ship is repaired. He promised me a share in a newly discovered alien city. I agreed to invest to hire a team of mercenaries. That night he snuck onto my ship, drugged Lenin here, and stole the money. On his way out he sabotaged my girl. Banshee is getting too old to be abused. She’s a hell of a honey, and she deserves to be treated with respect,” Bruce explained.
“You command the Banshee?” Jack asked. Suddenly the area around them was silent for a few seconds. Everyone knew about the Banshee. She was one of the few starships faster in close quarters than Cyster Judy.
Jack recovered quickly and went on, “Captain Bruce Morgan, I would be honored if you would allow us to accompany you on your quest for retribution. Shim pulled almost the same stunt on us, but he didn’t harm Cyster Judy. If he had, well, if he had…”
Bruce’s breath quickened for a moment. “Ah. The Cyster Judy is your ship? Now there’s a match made in hell. Aye! Banshee and Cyster Judy. I like the sound of that. Well, I’m for it,” Bruce agreed whole heartedly.
“Please allow me to introduce a couple of lads from my crew, Lenin and Marx, Bruce introduced his companions, and introductions were made all around.
Schwag couldn’t pass up the opportunity, “You know your aliases refer to leaders of a failed socio-political movement, don’t you?”
Marx eyed him before responding, “They failed, yes, but not before ten million people went to the grave.”
“Right, just checking,” Schwag threw out in retreat.
“Bruce, do you have any idea where Rankor is heading?” Jack asked.
“We know exactly where he is going. The scorched lands on Earth,” Bruce told them calmly.