During the Zagvirth period, in which this book is set, power in the Inter-Galactic Federation in the three known galaxies was split between the federation officials commonly known as feds, and the crime lords.
The feds controlled the governance of the Federation, the laws by which it operated, its military and security forces, and, most important of all, the money.
The crime lords controlled everything else. They ran the slavers that supplied cheap labor across the known worlds. They ran the supply lines that serviced the federation’s military. They controlled the drugs, the gambling rings, the smuggling of valuable artifacts, the extortion gangs, and, most important of all, the illegal money.
There was a third group. These were the pirates, who operated outside the areas controlled by the feds and the crime lords.
They ran their ships, they took their loot where they could find it, quite often from the feds, and they usually stayed out of sight.
The feds hated the pirates, because they couldn’t control them.
The pirates hated the feds, who came after them every chance they got. They also hated the feds for allowing the crime lords to run the slavers, and for profiting from people’s misery and the crime lords’ corruption.
The crime lords simply killed anyone who got in their way.
CHAPTER 1 THE TIME BEFORE
My name’s Kap Vanderbroost. I’m the son of the legendary pirate, Cap’n Vanderbroost the Heartless. That summer when everything changed, I was sixteen years old, and the virt in school was ‘Fedkill.’ You played it on the stak, the wearable virter that an enterprising merchant had shipped out to Kamiroun in its thousands from one of the firstworlds. He’d had ‘Fedkill’ and other banned virts put on the staks somewhere in the Xalapagos, before bringing them in to the starport town of Skaed, which was where I lived with my parents.
The stak ran on solpower, like almost everything else in the firstworlds in the Inter-galactic federation. Kamiroun, where I lived with my parents, was a fourthworld, but it got solpower, holovirt and skyriders, the fast, soldrive vehicles that could run on land and fly, just after the firstworlds got them. A trading world, Kamiroun was the hub connecting the Xalapagian archipelago with the Qaestounian Spiral, where the Inter-Galactic Federation had its headquarters, and Octacross, the junction of the major shipping lanes in the galaxy. Most of the firstworlds and secondworlds in our galaxy were in the Qaestounian Spiral. Kamiroun, as I’d learnt in Galactic Geography in school, though just a fourthworld, had what our teacher called ‘unique strategic advantage by location,’ which meant it ranked above a lot of thirdworlds, and secondworlds.
Anyway, if you had the stak, you had a virter with mind-sync and multidimensional virtholo, which meant that you were there, in the middle of the action. You didn’t play the stak; it played you. I’d almost a hundred virts on the stak I’d bought myself, but that summer ‘Fedkill’ was the favorite.
To play ‘Fedkill’ you first created your virt id. You could holo yourself into the stak, and use your personal holo-avatar, (holo-avs were the most popular) or make one up yourself. Next you chose your pirate ship, and the voyage you were going to sail. It was your job to successfully sail your pirateering voyage, get the treasure ship or loot you were after, and evade and destroy as many fed ships as you could while you were at it. If you were bad, you stayed stuck on the beginner level. That summer I’d made it up to level 132, and had killed about a thousand feds, without really trying. ‘Fedkill’ was banned it in school, of course. It encouraged violent behavior, and made us anti-social, so the teachers said. We played it all the more.
“It’s not fair,” grumbled my best friend Fijjiro, who’d not made it past level 31, and who’d killed about two dozen feds; “you’ve got an advantage, your father being who he is and everything.”
I’d known Fijjiro for so long I couldn’t remember when I’d not known him.
“What’s my father being a pirate got to do with it, Fij?”
“It’s in your blood, isn’t it?”
“What, pirating? Like a disease?” I punched him on the arm.
“Yes, like a disease, the sort that makes your woofer curl up and drop off.”
We were at Kasgaars, Skaed town’s first virtport. Kasgaars was where everyone our age spent their free time. They’d got a huge startrack, with life-size starracers. There were rides of every description, virtvoyages you could sail on, and virtworlds you could visit. The biggest draw at Kasgaars that summer, aside from the girls and the startrack, was the ZeroG dome, and the DimenZone. The DimenZone had an array of multidimensional virtholos that made the Stak’s virts look like they’d been made up by a ten year old. I’d met Fijjiro at Kasgaars, like I usually did. Since Kasgaars was in the new part of Skaed, at the other end of town, I’d flown there in my skyrider when I’d finished helping out at the Starfarer, the inn my parents owned. Fij was there with a noisy group of friends from school. Quiet, tall Andor, the Xalapagian, loud, funny Qast, the Caladroonian, handsome, charming Hajor the Iskendrounian. There was Kisk, the Offirian, whom everyone called ZeroG because he was a genius, Zak, who could imitate anyone effortlessly, and ugly Althor, with whom all the girls fell in love, nobody knew why. “It’s because I’m irresistible,” Althor would drawl, infuriatingly, when yet another beautiful girl sent him desperate, lovelorn holos. “I’m the sex god.”
“Kap! We were just about to hit the virtracers. You coming?” Hajor was yelling above the music and laughter and sounds of the holos all around, that rose up in the huge domed space of Kasgaars. Virtglass walls separated the starracer arena from the voyage ports and the ZeroG arena, the wall-to-wall virtgaming consoles and the other holovirts in the DimenZone, so you could see what was going on inside the different areas. It was crowded and noisy, yet still Kasgaars seemed to hold within it more space than we’d ever seen.
“I’ve got to go home soon,” I yelled back to Hajor.
“Just one race. Come on, Kap!”
The starracer arena had a long snaking line of kids waiting their turn. Twenty hologates gave you entry to the arena’s twenty starracer circuits that radiated from a central hub. They gave us our racer suits, and turned us loose in the changing area. Race gates opened out onto the circuit beyond.
Each starracer took two people. I got in one with Fijjiro, the attendant at the gate helping us with our harnesses.
“You take the controls,” said Fijjiro.
“If you hit an obstacle or if you crash, mind you don’t get out on the track yourselves,” said the attendant, a Caladroonian, not very much older than us, dressed in Kasgaar’s very smart black and silver starracer suit. “Pull over to the side of the track, press this button here, and a rescue crew will be there in a few minutes.”
“We won’t. I mean, we will,” I replied.
“When your race is done, make your way to the exit. If you don’t, your racer will pull you over to the side of the circuit, and you’ll have to wait until someone comes to get you.” He smiled. “I take it you know the rules. You can go up to a speed of 400 virtmachs. If you’re sucked into a blackhole, or get lost in a star bank and can’t get out, press your alarm button.”
The transparent hood came down over our heads. I took the controls, and we were off, coasting to the track.
“You all right?” Fijjiro looked over at me, his golden skin glowing bluish in the light from the racer’s console. “You’ve been quiet today.”
“My father’s off on another voyage in a few days’ time.”
Fij nodded understandingly. Everyone knew that the feds had been cracking down on pirates operating in the Xalapagos recently. There were rumors that they had paid informers giving them insider information on pirates and their movements and details of the voyages they were planning.
“The feds took out Cap’n Zaint and his crew over near Octacross,” I told him. “They killed every one of them, and destroyed his ship.” Cap’n Zaint’s ship, Kalligan, had been one of the fastest, most formidably armed pirateers sailing in the Xalapagos.
“Didn’t they capture Cap’n Moyar, a few months ago?” Fijjiro asked.
“They captured his ship, and took him alive. He’d only just docked at Iskendroun. From what my father heard the feds tortured him terribly, Fij. They kept him alive and tortured him for over two weeks, before letting him go. He’s crippled. They mashed his arms and legs in a vice. They cut out his tongue with a lightrazor. They did something to his head, too, so now he can’t talk, nor think. He just sits there and gibbers, and drools.”
“I saw the holos of him on the newsvirts. Kap. That’s not going to happen to Cap’n Vanderbroost.”
“No, it isn’t. But that doesn’t stop me worrying.”
They were already lining up for the next race on our track. Each of Kasgaars’s twenty racetracks was separated from the others by virtglass. Each track took twelve racers. Over to the left of us was the racer with Hajor and Zak, beyond them were Kisk and Althor; to our right Andor and Qast. There were about eight other racers lined up with us, waiting for the signal to begin.
Outside it was black, the starracer dome arcing high above us, sprinkled with holovirt stars.
Inside the racer the virtcontrol console glowed, its display counting down to the start of the race. A green flare arced in front of us.
“Go!” yelled Fijjiro, as I powered the racer with a snarling roar, taking it from 0 to 100 virtmachs in a few seconds; the acceleration shooting us into a high arcing trajectory.
We’d got off to a good start, pulling ahead of the rest in the first few minutes with about five other racers. Kasgaars startracks had obstacles, with a different set each time, so every race was different. You got bonus points for every obstacle you overcame. Drivers with enough bonus points won free race time on the track.
I leant back in my seat. We were doing about 120 virtmachs, enough to power us to the next level, into the starracer’s racing mode.
“Anything up ahead Fij?” I asked Fijjiro.
“Nothing so far.” His eyes moved constantly from the startrack’s virtdisplay on the console to the view outside the hood. Obstacles would show up first on the console’s virtdisplay, giving the starracer an extra few seconds to avoid them.
I took the racer up to 150 virtmachs.
Outside the virtstars blurred as we picked up speed. Fijjiro was checking the console display.
“Two racers just behind!”
I boosted the power. Up ahead of us the four leading racers soared, neck and neck, zigzagging as they jockeyed for position, each trying to overtake the other. To our right was another racer, keeping up with us, only just.
The trick about starracing was getting the fastest start on the track, and then whipping your speed up until your racer automatically took its speed controls to the next level.
Glowing blackness whirled by, virtstars blurred overhead, up ahead of us the four leading starracers seemed to slow fractionally.
“Kap! Blackhole ahead!” shouted Fijjiro. He was fast, I’d not spotted it. Neither had the racer just in front of us, which suddenly was swallowed up in blackness.
I boosted the racer’s speed to 200 virtmachs and whipped it in a high curve well above the horizon of the blackhole. For a moment we felt it, pulling us sharply backwards. The racer began to stall. If it stalled, we’d fall back into the blackhole. There was only one thing to do.
“Hold on!” I shouted, as I ramped the speed up to 300 virtmachs. For an agonizing half-second nothing happened, then the acceleration lifted the racer and flung it clear.
Whooooom! Up we soared, up and up, in a wild spinning whirl. I cut the speed back down to 200 virtmachs trying to keep the racer stable.
“Starbank to the left, meteorites ahead!” Fijjiro yelled, just as I got things back to normal.
There were four racers ahead of us. Two were struggling through the meteorites, There was an exploding flare of blue light, and one of them veered away to the right.
“He’s hit!” shouted Fijjiro. The virtholo showered burning debris from the racer. If we stayed on track, we’d get hit too and go into virtburn. Virt accidents were part of every starracer track. The trick was to avoid them. Fast. I swerved sharply to the left, pushing the starracer to 250 virtmachs, flipping it on its side.
“Look out for meteorites!” I yelled, as the racer whipped through the edge of the virt star bank.
“Left a bit! Steeadddyyyy! Weaveweaveweave!! yelled Fijjiro. Virtholo meteorites rained all round us, as I flipped the racer now on its left side, now on the right. Then we were clear. I drew a deep breath. No virtburn, not this time. We’d been lucky.
“Racers up ahead! We’re catching up with them!” yelled Fijjiro.
Up ahead I could see the three racers, close together, glowing against the black of the track.
I took the speed up another 30 virtmachs.
Now we were running on a different level of speed, the rush of it shoving us back our seats. Fijjiro pumped his arms above his head as we pulled abreast of the first of the three leading starracers, a silver and black one, with Comet holoed on the side.
I glanced at the two figures seated in it. They were Hajor, and Zak, so I made a rude gesture with my finger as we flashed past them, and then we were clear, and drawing up toward the two leaders.
I checked the display showing the track behind us. Behind Hajor and Zak, two racers were accelerating towards us, but we still were a few seconds ahead. I smoothly moved the speed controls up another 10 virtmachs. That would take us right beside the racer just in front of us.
He saw us coming, and ramped up his speed, the light from his racer’s exhausts pulsing blue as we roared abreast. Then we were racing neck and neck, the virtstars whizzing vertiginously off on both sides of us as we banked in the steep diving turn that took us speeding down the home stretch, yelling with the sheer exhilaration of it.
“Look out!” yelled Fijjiro.
I saw him too late. He’d come up very, very fast, on our left, so close that the side of his red racer had glanced off ours, almost throwing us off course. Blue sparks flashed, as our racer spun wildly out of control.
The rule of the starracer track was that you got bonus points if you put another racer out of action, as long as you didn’t foul him by hitting him front-on, or as long as you didn’t cause a virtcrash on the track. Fouling someone meant you got blocked out of the race; your racer pulled automatically off the track.
The racer beside us hadn’t fouled us. I hung grimly onto the controls, fighting to get the racer back in the race. We’d lost a few precious seconds, which meant he’d got well ahead of us by the time we’d pulled out of the spin.
“Hang on!” I yelled to Fijjiro. “We’re going after him!”
I took the speed up to 325 virtmachs. Our racer was now going so fast I could just about keep it under control. If anyone got too near, we’d probably have a nasty virtcrash, across every lane on the track. Outside the blackness and the virtstars had blurred into one vertiginously whirling rush.
“There he is!” Fijjiro yelled, as we drew abreast. I veered deliberately towards him, scraping the side of his racer, whipping our racer away so fast, he’d no time to recover, or retaliate. Then we were away, as his racer, trailing sparks like a comet tail, shot up in a huge flaring, spinning arc that flung him high up in the virttrack’s dome.
“Will he be all right, do you think?” Fijjiro asked as we whipped over the finish line.
“Nobody gets hurt virtracing,” I reminded him.
We got off at the virttrack exit, breathless with exhilaration.
“Not bad, Kap. We got in third.”
“Ahead of Hajor and Zak, and the rest.”
“Don’t look now,” said Fijjiro, “but there’s Soolie.”
“Where?” my stomach did a back flip when I caught sight of her. Soolie was with Kastor, the tall, handsome Caladroonian captain of the slamball team at school. She hung on Kastor’s arm, laughing up into his face. I looked at her, aching to touch her, and run my hands through her midnight blue hair, aching to hold her. Soolie Neevas and I’d been together much of the year before, until she’d moved on. I remembered how it felt when Soolie kissed me. I remembered the shape of her body and how it fit into mine, the fragrance of her, the way her skin felt when we lay together, up in my room, late in the evening. I thought of her with Kastor, the way she’d been with me, and longed to put my fist through Kastor’s smug, handsome, smiling face. Soolie glanced up, and stared straight at me. I looked away, my breath ragged. Even now, a glimpse of her across the huge arena of Kasgaars messed my head up completely.
“Girls,” said Fijjiro.
“You’re lucky.” I thought of Fijjiro’s girl, Emmilyne. She was small and soft and sweet, and she adored Fij.
“Yes. I am.”
Fijjiro was probably going to marry Emmilyne. If he didn’t, he’d find someone else very like her. He’d go into his father’s business of managing a fleet of merchantmen, move into one of the large, luxurious houses being built in the new part of town. I was probably going to be a pirate, just like my father, living a dangerous, adventurous life that spanned the galaxies, being chased and hunted by the feds. For a moment I wondered what it would be like to look forward to living my life on one world, and gave up. Fij was right. Pirating was in my blood. Somehow seeing Soolie had made my mind up about something that had been niggling at me for a while.
“Listen Fij. I’ve got to go.”
“Tell you later.” I pushed my way through the crowd, out to the relative quiet of Kasgaar’s skyrider port, and climbed into my red skyrider.
I’m going to ask him to let me go on this voyage with him, I thought, as the rider lifted high above Skaed town. Far below the lights in the port glimmered in the deepening dusk. High in the sky the riding lights of ships glowed as they came in to dock. I need to get out of Skaed, get off the world of Kamiroun, just for a while.
I docked my skyrider in the Starfarer’s small port, and climbed out.
Kasgaars was in the new area of Skaed. That bit of town was the other end of the scale from the old neighborhoods and business districts of Skaed, but was just as much a part of Skaed as the taverns and inns down by the docks, which was the neighborhood in which I’d been born and raised.
Like I said, Kamiroun was one of the *fourthworlds in the Inter-Galactic Federation, which meant that the feds didn’t bother with us. Since it was a trading world, set right at the point where the Qaestounian Spiral meets the tail-end of the Xalapagian archipelago, with shipping ports across its length and breadth, it enjoyed all the conveniences and luxuries of the first and second worlds in the Inter-Galactic Federation. As a fourthworld, it had no real political importance, and so was largely ignored by the feds, and the crime lords. Until that summer when I was sixteen.
In the days before the Inter-Galactic Federation was set up, everyone got along, more or less. Worlds made alliances, signed treaties, went to war, made peace. The potentates had the power, and they ruled, justly or unjustly. Then the Inter-Galactic Federation was set up, and the trouble started. The problem was, they’d got an organization, with centralized power. Which would be fine, as long as the centralized power wasn’t corrupt. The problem was that it was.
We’d had to learn about the Inter-Galactic Federation in school, and the way they made it sound in our holotexts was like we were living in a golden age. They didn’t mention the feds’ dirty dealing in the texts. Nor did they mention the crime lords, and the way the feds made money with payoffs from the crime lords, and way the crime lords made money off the rest of us through slavery, prostitution and extortion.
I was luckier than anyone else I knew, for my father was Vanderbroost the Heartless, one of the most famous pirates to sail the galaxies. The pirates ran independent of the feds, and the crime lords, and were hunted by the feds, who hated anyone or anything not being under their direct control. To ordinary folk, the pirates were rebel heroes. Nobody mentioned what my father did for a living to my face, though everyone knew who he was. A lot of the kids in my school had fathers who were sailors. Some sailed on merchantmen and the smaller trading-ships. A few sailed aboard the pirate-ships that put in unobtrusively at Skaed, like my father’s ship, the Sinisterre, did.
I’d lived my life on Kamiroun, in the port town of Skaed, which was the right place to live on if you came from a pirating family like mine. My parents had bought an inn called The Starfarer after they got married, which my mother ran with Zawthor, my father’s old shipmate.
Now I got out of my skyrider and looked at the place I’d known as home.
The Starfarer looked, at first glance, like an old sailor who’d sailed one voyage too many, and who’d returned to his homeport tired, worn and patched up, but with the stars still burning in his eyes. It sat in a large semicircular garden, fragrant with calkiss, moonflower and perinthyim, lush with soft bluegrass and strako bushes; overhung with pergolas of redberry vines, shaded with clumps of purple pear and peach trees, all heavy with fruit, at the end of a lane lined with old houses that ran parallel to the docks.
From what we’d heard and read, the Starfarer had always been a part of Skaed, for as long as Skaed had been Skaed, which was a good few hundred years. For a few hundred years before that, the Starfarer had been a part of the ancient, nameless towns that had stood where Skaed stood now.
Bits of the Starfarer were built of ancient greenstone. Other bits were built from Kamirounian blackbrick, which wasn’t black, and wasn’t brick; deep blotchy, red blocks, smoothed by centuries of wear. Still other bits, tacked on here and there at the whim of successive owners, were built of what was called kyver, a sand colored rough-hewn stone.
There were the roofs, which ranged from the old Kamirounian gabled sort, with diamond shaped red-tile, laid in overlapping layers on the older parts of the inn, rising suddenly to steep, eaved roofs, in the later style.
There were the windows. The oldest parts of the Starfarer had high-arched windows, with thin old Kamirounian glass, that was almost unbreakable; glass that washed everything you looked at through it with the hint of palest gold. There were long, shuttered windows, with diamond-shaped panes of greenish glass, and round, porthole-shaped windows in the newer bits.
It should have looked strange and misshapen, but it didn’t. Somehow all the mismatched bits fit together seamlessly.
The front of the Starfarer was the original inn, with a massive door, blackened with age, that opened into a circular anteroom. To the right was the taproom, and behind it, the dining room and kitchens. To the left, in the newer part of the inn, were the two dozen guest rooms. Stairs opposite the front door led upstairs, to the inn’s old wing, where we lived. A separate staircase led from a corridor near the dining room to the newer wing upstairs, where the help lived.
We had a whole wing to ourselves, my parents and I, in what was the older part of the inn. This was down a paneled corridor, that opened out on one side into a huge room, with a steep sloping ceiling, and a spread of windows fronting the docks. The floor was polished satinwood, on which my mother had laid soft woven rugs with patterns in deep jewel colors. Some of the inn’s original furniture was here, as well. There were small painted tables, tall bookshelves stuffed with books and scrolls that had belonged to every previous owner of the inn, carved upholstered chairs, and an old desk which my father used. To the right of the living room was a large old-fashioned kitchen. My parents’ bedroom was across the corridor. Further down the corridor were a couple of guest bedrooms. A spiral stairway from the corridor led up to the highest point of the roof, and my attic bedroom. From here I could see Skaed port spread below, with its bustle of sailors and ships. I’d my starscope set up in the window overlooking the docks, and my bed arranged against the wall opposite. I’d a shelf, piled high with scrolls, starmaps, model starships, my starscroller and stak. At night, with the lamps turned off and the windows open, I would lie in bed and imagine I was aboard a starship, on a voyage to some exotic world.
I walked up to the Starfarer’s front door and let myself in. At this time of the evening the taproom would be crowded. My mother and Zawthor would be there. I pushed the heavy door open and slipped inside.
The taproom ran half the length of the inn. It had a beautiful arcing ceiling, and walls built of blocks of ancient greenstone. Arched windows set with the old Kamirounian glass ran down one side of it. It was furnished with an assortment of tables, and heavy high-backed chairs. At one end was the bar, made of Kamirounian cedarwood, carved to look like the prow of a starship. High above the bar was its figurehead, the sailor, from which the inn had got its name. He was a real figurehead, taken from an old galleon, and was almost as ancient as the inn itself. The starfarer figurehead, who the regulars had named Cap’n Kraybor, was forged from a metal unknown on Kamiroun. He was unmistakable Kamirounian in appearance, however, and was dressed in the old Kamirounian sailor gear. He had been holopainted, and holo-lacquered centuries ago; the paint still glowing under its coat of lacquer. He wore his red hair in a sailors’ braid down his back, and held a drinking horn, raised high in a toast, in one hand. An earring gleamed gold in one ear. People visited the inn to see Cap’n Kraybor, if only to bet on how he came to be suspended in mid-air above the bar with no visible means of support.
When I was little, I’d been sure he could fly. My father had a more interesting explanation.
“It’s the metal he’s made of,” he said. “It generates its own field, that keeps him suspended in midair. I’ve seen ships made from that metal, ancient ships, that came from civilizations now long dead, kept by people who collect these things. They used to sail from a group of worlds beyond the Otherworlds, a long time ago. Folk said they came from Kaarthij.”
A high shelf ran the length of the wall behind the bar. Arranged on it was an assortment of ships in bottles, culled from everywhere you could think of in the galaxy. There were galleons, in long curly-stoppered bottles from the Otherworlds, and sinuous stalkios in bottles that looked like they’d been blown from silver, not glass. There were flatships - circular ones, from the far worlds, in small round, flat-bottomed bottles, and longships in smooth crescent-shaped bottles made from green glass. I loved looking at those ships, and wondering about the worlds from which they came.
Further down the wall was another shelf, on which were arrayed the inn’s collection of drinking horns. Some of these must have belonged to the very earliest days of the Starfarer, horns of a dull golden glass, horns that gleamed a deep emerald green, horns carved from a rich blue stone. We’d drinking horns that came, like our customers, from the length and breadth of the galaxy. There were wide-mouthed, Xalapagian fallooshin horns, and narrow, fluted, Offirian ware, large jug-like, Caladroonian horns, called twisters, and the curving, lipped drinking horns from the Qaestounian Circle.
And everywhere, were the lamps, on the walls, hanging from the ceilings, set in sconces on the stairways. The old Kamirounian lamps, with shades of many colored glass blown in fantastic shapes; lamps glowing in rich colors that pooled and washed the inn with their many-hued radiance.
The taproom was full, as usual. There was a loud crowd of young sailors out for the evening with their girls, and a sprinkling of the old regulars, sat in little groups, talking or playing oddbones and sawteeth, or on their own. I went across to help Zawthor carry jugs of fallooshin and wine to a new group of customers, cleared away yet another lot of drinking horns and carried them back to my mother behind the bar.
“You’re back early,” she said as she hugged me. “I wasn’t expecting you back for hours. Don’t tell me Kasgaars has run out of pretty girls!”
My mother was tall and slim and graceful. Her skin was a rich bronze, and her eyes a deep green. She wore her blue-black hair curling down her back, the way my father liked it. She was striking rather than beautiful, with a quality that made people’s eyes follow her wherever she went.
“None of them’s as pretty as you, Mimmé.” I used the old Kamirounian word for mother, like I always had.
“You’ve got your father’s charm.” She looked up at me. That summer I’d grown, and was a head taller than she. “And you look more and more like him every day.”
“I saw Soolie at Kasgaars,” I said, arranging a trayful of clean drinking horns on the shelf behind the bar.
“She spoke to you?”
“No. She was all over that Caladroonian. Kastor. She’s seeing him now.”
“Kastor Draak? Nestor and Annwyn’s son?”
My mother touched my cheek lightly. “Love is never easy, Kap.”
“Nobody told me it’d hurt this much.” I struggled for the words to describe how I felt. Soolie could virtually disembowel me with a look, leaving my guts all over the floor. “There’s your father!” my mother exclaimed. “He’s early.”
My father dwarfed everything around him with his presence. He was tall, and broad, and handsome. He’d dark red hair that he wore tied back, and skin the color of burnt gold. His eyes were such a deep red they looked almost black, except when he laughed, or was angry or excited about something. Then a red light burned within them. When I was younger I’d been sure he had fire dragons looking out of his eyes. My father’s voice was warm and deep, with a hint of laughter round the edges and a deep well of it in the centre, just like his eyes.
“Good evening to yer, Cap’n!”
“Cap’n! Will yer join us for a drink?”
I watched him as he crossed the room, laughing and joking with the young sailors and their girls, pausing to talk to the regulars. He seemed to know everyone by name.
“Kap!” He waved for me to join him at a table in the corner where a group of older sailors were playing oddbones and sawteeth. There were four of them, a couple of Caladroonians, a Xalapagian and a Zylesian. I took over a jug of fallooshin and a couple of extra drinking horns.
“You know my son Kap,” my father said as I joined them. “Kap, these are Cap’ns Salos, Haayn, Forsk and Krainer.”
“Good evening Cap’ns,” I said.
“Evening, son.” They nodded to me and went back to talking.
“It’s them feds, Cap’n Vanderbroost,” the Zylesian, Cap’n Salos, was saying. “There’s trouble coming from them’s what I hear. They’re deliberately attacking the
“And the crime lords go free,” said the Xalapagian, Cap’n Haayn.
“We all know what happened to Cap’n Zaint up Octacross way,” said Cap’n Krainer, one of the Caladroonians.
“Aye,” grimly echoed the other Caladroonians, Cap’n Forsk.
“And what they did to Cap’n Moyar was downright barbaric.”
“We’ve decided to keep a low profile for a while, Cap’n,” continued the Zylesian, “but for how long?”
“If we don’t do anything them feds’ll get the upper hand,” muttered the other Caladroonian.
“Like the time they blockaded Qurm port, and took out Cap’n Qaast and his crew.”
Everybody had heard about the bloody horror that had happened at Qurm port some years ago, when the feds got Cap’n Qaast penned up there. They’d run a blockade for months, laying siege to every port on the world of Qurm. They’d only agreed to lift the blockade if Cap’n Qaast and his crew gave themselves up. When they did, the feds burnt them all alive in their ship. Thousands of people living in cities across Qurm had also been killed, many tortured and mutilated. The Inter Galactic Federation had expressed no regret, and had offered no reparation.
“So we’re asking yer, Cap’n. What’s the Pirates’ Council planning to do about this?”
My father laughed.
“The Pirates’ Council will hold a meeting and make a resolution, and draw up a plan. Then they’ll do nothing, same’s they’ve always done.”
“And Cap’n Vanderbroost?”
“Cap’n Vanderbroost will keep his own counsel like he’s always done, and take the feds on at their own game in his own way.” My father’s voice was soft but there was an edge to it that I’d seldom heard, a note that said he was very angry. I looked over at him, at his eyes, burning red.
“I know there are injustices being done in the name of the law,” said my father, “and we all know that it’s the innocent and vulnerable who pay in the end. The feds are being fought, believe me, by as many of us who can.” He laid his hand on the Caladroonian’s arm. “Cap’n Haayn, I know your son was aboard Cap’n Zaint’s ship at Octacross.” He nodded across at the Zylesian. “And I know what happened to your brother at Qurm port, Cap’n Salos. I offer their families help and support for as long as they need it, and help to anyone else who needs it as well. What I do ask all of you to do is to listen for any information that we can use against the feds, and pass it on to me. And to be very careful with whom you discuss matters like this.”
“We’ve heard they’ve got informants everywhere,” nodded Cap’n Salos.
“If you suspect someone of being a fed informant, don’t tell him your suspicions. Make sure you keep his trust, and give him false information. Once you’re sure he’s informing, tell me. I’ll see he’s dealt with.”
“Thank you, Cap’n.”
“Don’t worry,” said my father. “There are too many of us for the feds to control.”
He’d reassured them. They began to talk of other things after that, and soon he’d got them laughing at his jokes. Before long he’d joined them in a riotous game of oddbones and sawteeth, I watched from my corner, and laughed with them, but inside I was deeply worried.
By the time we’d cleared away and closed up for the night it was late. My father wouldn’t hear of the four sailors leaving just then.
“Stay and have supper with us,” he urged. “Cap’n Salos, Cap’n Haayn, Cap’ns Forsk and Krainer. I insist.”
“We’d be honored if you’d join us,” said my mother, smiling.
“If ye’d sit by me, I will, Missus Kappleton,” said Cap’n Salos. He spoke in the lilting Old Kamirounian, as he drew out her chair with an old-fashioned flourish, and sat down beside her, beaming.
My father sat down opposite. “That’s my wife ye’re charming, Cap’n Salos. I might have to call you out!”
“I’d fight a duel for ye any day, my dear,” said Cap’n Salos to my mother. He kissed her wrist. “Just say the word. Mind,” he said to my father, “If I were thirty year younger, and if I’d not carried yer mother around ever since she were three years old,” he winked at me, “there would be trouble.”
“Yer see, Kap?” joked my father, “marry a beautiful lady, and every handsome Cap’n who happens by tries his luck.”
“You knew my mother when she was little?” I asked Cap’n Salos.
“My wife and her mother were friends. She were always round our house. I remember my wife telling me, ‘that one’s too beautiful and smart to settle for just anyone.’ And sure enough, when she turned eighteen she met yer father, and fell in love.”
“Romance was romance in our day,” sighed Cap’n Haayn soulfully into his fallooshin.
“Yes,” said my mother, prosaically passing round the flatbread, “it was.” I watched as she smiled at my father across the table.
“Nowadays they’re all off at Kasgaars, playing the holos,” Cap’n Haayn was saying, as he helped himself to roast sixleg, “Or they’re virting each other all the time.”
“I remember when your father met your beautiful mother well,” Cap’n Salos said to me, as he passed me a dish of fried scarops*. “It was the time he were holed up here on Kamiroun, the feds having got a little too close for comfort.”
“They’d damaged his ship, Antorres, and had managed to wound him into the bargain,” put in Cap’n Haayn.
“Broke his leg,” nodded Cap’n Krainer. “ And his arm. This roast sixleg is delicious, Missus Kappleton.”
“So there he was,” continued Cap’n Salos, “stuck on Kamiroun, right here in Skaed. That were the summer Jinnaleen Plaistow, daughter of Cap’n Plaistow of the merchantman Skaarod, got married. Cap’n Vanderbroost was invited to the wedding.”
“It wasn’t Jinny Plaistow’s wedding,” said my mother. “It was Madrianne Kirsk’s.”
“The three of yer were best friends weren’t yer?”
“We were,” smiled my mother.
“Jinny Plaistow. Her father were a friend of mine. Didn’t she marry Akstorr Rinskyaer?” asked Cap’n Krainer.
“Eventually,” snorted my father. “Akstorr thought he was going to marry my Esnae.”
“Now I remember,” said Cap’n Salos. “Akstorr was engaged to our Essie.”
“Not for long,” growled my father. “I soon saw him off at that wedding.”
“Iaiathor challenged Akstorr to a duel,” put in my mother apologetically. “He’d had a bit too much to drink, as I told him when he asked me to dance.”
“’Her exact words,” my father said, “being: ‘Ye’ve got a broken leg and a broken arm, ye’re drunk, and I’m engaged, so pardon me if I don’t dance with ye.’
‘Engaged? To whom?’ I asked.
‘Him over there,’ she said.
‘Who’s he when he’s home?’ I asked when I’d finished laughing.
‘Akstorr Rinskyaer,’ she told me.
So I said, ‘Why’re you wasting your time with him when you’re going to marry me?’”
“Then he called Akstorr out,” said Cap’n Salos. “It took three of us to stop him running Akstorr through.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt him,” said my father, unapologetic. “I’d never do that. I was just showing off a bit. Girls like that. I thought I’d give Akstorr a scratch or two, just to teach him a little lesson. He was such a smug bore. I looked at him and thought he’d already done everything he’d ever do with his life. He needed a bit of drama and excitement at the very least, if I was taking his girl away from him.” He grinned at my mother. “That’s when ye fell in love with me, admit it!”
“Will ye listen to yourself?” my mother said.
“Yes. Romance. It were different back in our day,” said Cap’n Salos. He turned to me. “So what are you going to do lad, now you’ve done with school?”
“You going to be a pirate like yer father?” asked Cap’n Haayn.
“No,” said my mother.
“Yes,” I said.
“You what?” asked my father from across the table.
“I’m going to be a pirate. Like you,” I told him.