THE ROYAL STAR
Somewhere between a large bank of glowing stardust and the planet Hailaea, in the Groombridge system, the Scimitar Ship, Sorrento, carrying Captain Anton Du Monde, plodded its way through the galaxy. Two copper colored, Calypso class, fighter drones flanked it's wingtips with weapons ready. Large barreled canons rotated slowly as they swept back and forth beneath the two escort ships.
“Captain Du Monde?” Anton glanced away from his glimmering navigation console, his charting tablet in hand.
“Yes, Mr. Tobin?” Anton put down his charting tablet and gave his first officer his complete attention.
“It seems we are nearing Hailaea and I wanted to advise you of... an item you should be aware of.” Tobin glanced around and fidgeted with his hands.
“Please, unburden yourself, my friend. What's troubling you?”
“Mr. Keith has been acting strangely, Sir. He's ordered a secondary ship to be on standby for the load on Hailaea.” Tobin stammered and swallowed hard before continuing. ”I think he's planning something awful. He gave me clear instructions to tell you the ship is for the extra shipment articles, but...”
“But what?” Anton's brow furrowed.
“When I spoke to him onscreen, he told me that he would also require the forward guns to be supplied with Croaker rounds, and that he needs an extra four cells. It sounds like he's taking a trip that is not on our itinerary.”
For a moment, it settled on Du Monde's brain like a layer of fog over the sunlight, but then the light shined through and it all became very clear. Mr. Keith has always been unscrupulous, but this traitorous act defied even the worst case scenario, especially now. This was no time for Anton to take chances.
“Thank you, Tobin. I appreciate your concern as well as your loyalty.” He patted his friend on the back with genuine appreciation and a smile.
Tobin stood up tall and a sigh of relief issued from his lips.
Du Monde continued. “I will deal with this issue myself. For now, go about your business, and when you make contact with Mr. Keith again, be sure to give him everything he wants, and afterward, tell me what the details are. We wouldn't want Mr. Keith to want for anything, and certainly, we would do well to help him complete his mission for me.”
The captain's office remained quiet as they prepared for entry into the atmosphere of Hailaea. The orbit was established and the entry coordinates for the decent were set into place. Anton punched the copper keys on his keyboard and a vision of Vicente, his closest confidant came up. At first, it was clear that Vicente's wrist com was being thrown about as the image of Vicente's face moved up and down. Then, as Vicente noticed the light on the communications band, he stopped, stood up and held his arm out before him, flipping up the small display so he could see who he was talking to.
“Vicente here. You are on a secure channel. What can I do for you? Sir, it's good to see you about and onboard your ship. “
Vicente's demeanor brought comfort to Anton. ”Vicente, I need a favor.”
“Anything, my friend.”
“I need you to take out the trash for me.”
Vicente's face turned grim. ”Sir?” He became serious. ”And the target?”
“Keith, Sir. And I recommend this stay confidential. I want you to implement all procedures following the Hungarian arachnid protocol. Are you up to speed, Vicente?”
Vicente's face loomed in closely and a smile spread from one side of Anton's video screen to the other, showing only Vicente's bright white teeth in a menacing smile. ”It will be done, Sir.”
“I want every thing to run smoothly. In twenty minutes, I'll be taking care of Mr. Keith's debriefing, and that should give you about forty five minutes. Is that enough time for the arrangements?”
“Plenty.” Vicente stared back. ”Thank you. I have been praying you would get around to cleaning house. Consider it done.”
On the planet Hailaea, the single bright sun slowly rose over the dense jungles of Pnantuk. On the outskirts of this small and vibrant farming community, the largest of Anton Du Monde's estate's stood majestically atop a lush sloping hill. The vineyard covered his farmland with row after row of green hillsides painting the landscape in the most alluring, vibrant setting. This was his Eden, and so he had named it.
The Eden Estate greeted the morning with a multitude of servants busying themselves with the days work. Ranch hands tended the land. Servants readied the living spaces and seven cooks followed the orders of Gieton, the master chef, a dedicated and uniquely civilized Carnke-Hanian male.
Eden's community was made up of mostly human inhabitants, but there were a few non-humans, or GP's, as they were commonly referred to as galactic people. Humans had a way of referring to anything that was not human with this single blanket term. The four legged people, Carnke-Ha, from Geena, and the Maoree, with their long snakelike bodies, were all called GP's by the humans. Both species found their niche among the stars and a few had settled into Anton's Eden. Before Anton had developed this land, only primitive animals without speech or tools roamed this countryside and even now, the remainder of the planet remained wild and untamed, an unexplored wilderness.
The sky rippled with static as the sound of the Scimitar ship, Sorrento broke through the atmosphere, miles from Eden. The sound echoed through the wilds with a momentous boom. It dragged along smoothly despite the excessive steam and smoke that poured off its surface in billowing gray masses, trailing tendrils several miles behind the ship.
Out on the far side of Eden, Mr. Keith checked over the equipment on his ship as it stood near the stables, away from the rest of Du Monde's treasure fleet. The sound of his employers ship returning sent chills up his spine. He clicked away on his keyboard faster, sweat dripping from his brow. His body was wedged into the forward array of his ships cargo hold with his feet dangling below his ship. All of the specialized navigation computers were locked in a small space, hidden away from the ships factory default systems. This small nook was just large enough to compliment his new ship with small special something of his own design. He only hoped he didn't need to use it. The programming was just about complete.
He ran the program in virtual mode. The programming was complete. He stretched. His muscles ached from fatigue. Morning had crept along for hours. Each Hailaea day was 38 hours long and so far Mr. Keith had been awake and working for 6 hours already. He took comfort despite the hard work knowing he was about to be a rich man. However, he was upset to hear that Du Monde was still alive. He thought for sure that those pirates would have killed him. In fact, his informants on the Royal Starr told him they saw him blown to pieces. He'd have to find out for himself, just what had happened.
Outside his ship, the sound of shuffling feet made Mr. Keith's hands stop moving. Then he quietly put down his keyboard and pulled a pistol from his jacket.
“Who's there?” He inquired. But there came no reply. “I said who's there?”
A face appeared beneath him and as fast as he could draw his weapon on him, he recognized Anton's favorite, Tobin. His pistol was mere inches from the man's face when he yanked it back.
“Damn it! Tobin, you were almost fertilizer, bitch!” Mr. Keith put away his weapon and grumbled to himself.
“Your cells are here,” said Tobin. “The fuel cells you asked for are stacked behind your ship.”
“What? You didn't install them?” Mr. Keith was obviously irritated and he jumped down from his workspace. He stood almost a head taller than Tobin. “Just put them in.” Then, he turned his back on Tobin just as Vicente rounded the corner of the stable.
“Mr. Tobin!” exclaimed Vicente. “How are you, Sir?”
”I am well, Vicente, very well. In fact I was just leaving some supplies for our good friend Mr. Keith.”
“You don't say?” Vicente glanced at Keith. Keith tensed up.
”Indeed, Sir.” Tobin replied, while he lifted one of the long cylinders and hefted it up on his shoulders.
“Well don't let me keep you,” said Vicente. “The master has returned and Captain Du Monde has distributed orders. He would like to meet with us all individually before we lift off today. Tobin, he would like to see you last in about two hours, if you would.”
“What about me, Vince?” Keith seemed annoyed that Du Monde wanted to see Tobin last. “Did he say anything about me?”
Vicente nodded. “Of course! That's why I am here now. He wants to see you now. He's excited about the shipment and has asked me to escort you up to his lounge as soon as he arrives.” Reading his chronometer, ”Which would be about now...”
“Well, why didn't you say so? Let's go!” Mr. Keith presented a relaxed smile, feeling proud and arrogant to be the first up to see Du Monde. He closed the hatch he'd come out of and secured it before walking up toward the estate feeling very important.
Vicente patted him on the back. “This way.” He laughed a hearty and friendly laugh as they left.
It took mere minutes to reach the peak and the great arched entryway of the main house of the estate. There was a huge gateway, guarded by two Carnke-Ha soldiers in full armor. They reminded Mr. Keith of big bald ugly dogs walking on their hind legs, but with opposable digits on their forepaws. Indeed, the resemblance was uncanny. The soldiers eyed Keith suspiciously and seemed to be sniffing the air with impunity as he passed them by. The guards did have every freedom to attack anyone suspicious, but whatever suspicions they had, they let go of seeing Vicente, the massive man accompanying Mr. Keith.
“I'll see you in a while, eh, Keith?” Vicente moved back down toward the barracks.
“Alright. Thanks, Vince,” said Keith.
Vicente stopped short of the garden preceding the foyer and lobby. He waved Mr. Keith on as he turned back down the road. Vicente just smiled and walked off. Mr. Keith never saw him make a turn back toward his ship. Vicente detested being called Vince by people he didn't like and especially by people he was about to kill.
The door closed automatically behind Keith as he entered the lobby. Captain Du Monde stood far across the large well furnished room at an immense window that overlooked the valley and the vineyards across Eden and over the community of Pnantuk. The bright sunlight cast a stark shadow of the captain on the stone floor. Anton wore a less formal coat that draped across his shoulders and reached almost to the floor where his tall, shiny black boots suggested that he was about to go riding one of his prized Geadian Horses.
“Captain? You wanted to see me?”
Du Monde turned to face Mr. Keith. His face was blank, but as he met eyes with Mr. Keith, his face lit up and a smile crept onto his expression. “Mr. Keith, what a welcome sight you are!” He walked up to Keith and met him in the middle of the room. “Come, come in, my friend.” Anton picked up a pitcher and poured them both a glass of Eden's best red wine.
“Vicente tells me that he, you and Mr. Tobin have settled in the entire shipment and that we are set for the evening, yes?”
“I wanted to take a minute then, and congratulate you on a job well done.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Keith's face lit up with a smug and victorious smile. It made Anton's skin crawl knowing the truth, but he smiled back nevertheless.
“Drink, my friend.” He hefted a glass and handed it over. “To better days.”
“Of course, better days...” Keith lifted his glass and drank with the Captain. Then Du Monde took him over by the window.
“I expect us to be ready to lift off by 2700 hours. Our rendezvous point is LZ256. Please make a note of it. We will be regrouping in orbit over the landing zone after the jump.”
“Of course, Sir.” Mr. Keith smiled. “It will be done”
“Excellent.” They both drank deeply and gazed out over the sloping, verdant stretch of DuMonde's vineyard.