Julian pulled up the message center on the datapad and stared at it with a sigh. Six angry messages from his mother, four from his father, nine from his sister, and even one from his grandmother. At least they hadn’t gotten his brother in on… The unit chimed to signal an incoming communication. He briefly considered knocking himself unconscious via banging his head against the wall. Then he accepted the call.
“You’re boycotting the symposium.” Captain Leon Vendral starred daggers through the screen.
“News travels fast.” Julian shrugged. Not that attending that farce had interested him in the first place. Dress up and be shown off as though he were still a toddler, while the upper crust congratulated each other on their foresight to have been born into the right families.
“Oh, the press is having a field day.” Leon shook his head and held up another datapad. “The Prime Minister’s own namesake has refused to attend, citing protests against hew restrictions imposed upon —”
“They arrested medics, Leon.” Julian ran a hand through his hair. Crossing into the quarantine zones without proper authorization was illegal, but getting ‘proper authorization’ for anything resembling humanitarian work was all but impossible. He was giving serious consideration to heading out to join one of the protest groups and cross over himself. Let his grandfather’s public relations team spin that story. “They arrested medics for treating the sick and injured.”
“For violating safety protocols.” Leon took a deep breath. “It’s not like they are going to do much time. It’s just a slap on the wrist and they’ll be…”
“That’s not the point and you know it. There are millions of innocent civilians trapped inside the zones and —”
“Innocent people don’t harbor terrorists, Jules.”
“It’s not that black and white.” Julian glared. The zones had gone up so quickly some of those trapped inside were guilty of no more than doing their afternoon shopping. Entire districts walled off with force-fields, no one allowed in or out without being properly vetted. Which translated more often than not to knowing the right people or able to afford bribes. “You’ve sat at the same dinner table I have, so don’t pull that crap on me. Half those zones are pure retaliatory poli —” The communication winked out. For a moment, he thought his brother had broken off the call.
Then the ship shuddered and rocked hard enough to knock him out of the chair.
Kyle helped himself to a piece of fruit from the tray. “First class.”
Next to him, Padar chuckled. “Only way to travel.” He poked the end of his rifle into the belly of the luxury liner’s steward. “Start loading the fancy booze into the bag here.”
The man scurried to do what he was told. The passengers that weren’t locked into their rooms were huddled together on the floor, faces pale and eyes wide. The one among them who’d had any backbone was laying on the carpet, making gasping sounds as he bled out from the holes Padar had put into him. Padar had claimed the man’s holdout gun, a quality piece. Just not much use against armored pirates.
He looked around. The ship was a marvel of comforts. Thick carpet on the floor, plush seats, individual entertainment centers, and attendants to cater to virtually any whim. It was exactly the sort of place that would ordinarily never allow the likes of him to set foot within. Even now, some of the passengers were managing to give them distasteful looks.
Unfortunately, they didn’t really have time to ‘educate’ the pampered little shits on how the real world worked. The captain had given orders that they not kill unless necessary. She wanted demoralized witnesses, wanted these people to go back and report just how easily they’d been taken. He smiled. How easily they’d waltzed right into Alliance space and taken the Prime Minister.
Palindor had cut ties with the Alliance three years ago when the zones had gone up. On the border planets, they’d been able to recover their citizens, but those unfortunate enough to be deeper in Alliance space were still trapped. And yet the government still insisted on a peaceful solution through diplomacy. That time had passed. Of course, if the Alliance hadn’t loved pushing their weight around so much, the zones wouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Alliance. As if they’d given half their systems any choice in joining. Palindor had been the only ones with enough of a military force that the Alliance had bothered with the pretext of asking nicely. Of course, after the protests had turned violent, the Alliance had stopped asking.
It wasn’t war.
Of course, that was what they were here to change.
He looked up when someone opened the door to his quarters. A woman, a heavy-worlder by the look of her, stood in the doorway, gun aimed at him. She gave him a confused look, then took a small step back to look at the door. She frowned. “You, stand up and keep your hands where I can see them.”
Julian obeyed, spreading his hands to keep them in plain view. The woman wore body armor, but no visible insignia. For a moment, he found himself wondering if his grandfather was angry enough to send an incognito unit to drag him to the symposium. “Ma’am, I…”
“Shut it.” She lifted the barrel of her gun just a bit, and he told himself not to be stupid. Nobody sent by his grandfather would risk pointing a gun at him. She glanced at the man next to her. “This is the wrong room. Check the manifest again.”
“I’ve checked it three times, this is the right room.” The man shook his head. They weren’t wearing uniforms of any kind, nor did he happen to recognize any of their accents. The tensions of late, as well as the zones themselves, had led to an increase in piracy and smuggling.
“Then who the fuck is this?” She glared, then stepped into the room. “ID, now, and don’t try anything stupid.” Slowly, he retrieved his wallet that contained the ident card. She snatched it out of his hand, looked at it, and then turned and flung it into the face of the man with her. “Stelin, you fucking moron.”
“What?” The man stared.
“Look at it.” Her face was furious, as though she were personally insulted by the wallet’s contents. He was starting to be slightly concerned about his odds of getting through this altercation without getting shot. Considering they were focused on each other, maybe he’d get lucky and they’d simply forget he was in the room.
Stelin bent and picked up the wallet. He took one look at it, then started cursing. “Shit fuck fuck shit fuck shit.” He tossed the wallet to the second man who stood in the doorway.
The second man started rummaging through his wallet, pocketing his credit chit while the other two sniped at each other. Then the second man tilted his head and started to smile. “Well now, what have we here?”
“Jakes, I’m not exactly going to be impressed that he’s carrying…” She trailed off as the man held up the photo unit and tapped it. Her eyes widened and she took it from him. She looked at the photo, then at Julian, then back at the photo. Then she held it up. It was a photo a year old, taken at the ceremony when Leon had been awarded his ship. He and Leon stood next to each other, with their grandfather a step behind, a hand on each of their shoulders.
A chill went through his blood. If they were terrorists, then having them realize exactly what family he belonged to was not going to end well. “I don’t know who you people…”
“You’re his grandson.” The woman started laughing. “You’re his fucking grandson.”
“There’s an issue, Captain.”
“I can see that.” Laria narrowed her eyes at where two of her men were holding a third. Thera had her gun pressed against the back of the young man’s head. “Where is Prime Minister Vendral?”
“That’s the issue, Captain.” Stelin gestured at the prisoner. “This is Julian Vendral…” He glanced back at her. “The third. Seems that uh…” He sighed. “There was a miscommunication. This is the Prime Minister’s grandson.”
Laria walked up to the prisoner. There was some resemblance between the young man and his grandfather, mostly around the eyes. “A miscommunication?” She turned towards her first officer.
He hung his head, and sighed. “The transport used the Prime Minister’s authorization, and was set up by his people. The name was clearly…”
“You have any idea how much time and money we’ve just wasted?” She glared, and waved a hand at the prisoner. “We had one chance to get our hands on the Prime Minister.”
“Maybe he’s fond of the kid?” Stelin raised an eyebrow.
“You know the Accords. They won’t negotiate for him.” She caught the young man’s chin and made him look at her. “Fuck, situation as it is, I doubt the Prime Minister will even risk ransoming you.”
“But he will send out the guard.” The young man met her eyes. “The penalty for…”
She backhanded him contemptuously. “Boy, we’ve already got markers.” She glanced at her crew. “Bring him on board. Execute any that took arms against us, and let the others go. I want word to get to the Prime Minister that we have him.”
“Captain…” Stelin gave her a confused look. “I thought you said he wouldn’t negotiate.”
“He won’t. He can’t.” She smirked. “Bring the kid anyway.”
He fired a blast into the security officer’s head, then headed to rejoin his crew. Kyle stopped and frowned briefly. The man they were taking off the ship was not the Prime Minister. For starters, he was at least fifty years too young. He was slender and of average height, making him almost dwarfed by the men holding him as Stelin shackled his hands behind his back.
The black hair and blue eyes matched the Prime Minister though, and after a few moments Kyle noted other resemblances between the old warhawk and the handsome youth. A family member then. The young man kept his head up, managing an air of dignity even as he was dragged off the ship.
Kyle shrugged, grabbed his back of loot, and followed.
Julian stumbled, and then was shoved roughly in another direction. The man he’d been shoved against laughed, and shoved him again, sending him stumbling into yet another member of the crew. His hands being secured behind his back made it difficult to recover his balance, and the disorientation was starting to make him dizzy. There was a shrill whistle, and then one of the men caught him and dragged him towards where the captain was standing. The man grabbed his hair, forcing his head up to look at the captain.
She looked him over. Her left eye was blue, and the other glowed a cybernetic red. The effect was rather chilling, which was probably intentional. “Julian Vendral III. Age twenty-two. Graduate of Welsmath Academy, with honors.” She looked down at the datapad in her hand, then back up at the crew. “Says here he’s spent the last five years at the prestigious Polinga Medical Institute.” Her tone was mocking.
“Well, at least he ain’t a lawyer.” One of the crew snickered.
“True.” She tucked the datapad away. “So, Julian, do you know who we are?”
“Dead men?” He raised an eyebrow.
“He’s feisty.” Another of the crew laughed.
“I’m Captain Melinda Laria, and these are the crew of the Silverfish. We are…” She smiled. “All wanted by your government for crimes ranging from…” She touched her chest. “Murder.” She started gesturing towards other members of the crew. “Arson. Murder. Murder. More murder. Arson. Murder. Still more murder. Theft. And medical malpractice.” She shrugged. “We’re the folks that are tired of your people pushing us around. Except for Frank over there, he really is a shitty doctor.”
“Which is why I’m your janitor.” The man shrugged.
“According to your news sources, we’re what you call terrorists.” She spread her hands. “And you…” She twitched a shoulder. “Have the misfortune to be the grandson of the guy that started most of us down this path. We were going to do this big public execution of the Prime Minister thing, strike terror into the hearts of the populace, so on, so forth, but…” She folded her arms. “Unfortunately for you, Stelin sucks at intel gathering.”
“Instead of killing my grandfather to send a message to the galaxy…” He nodded. “You’re stuck killing me to send a message to my grandfather.”
“No.” She patted his head. “We’re not going to kill you. We are, however, going to send a message to your grandfather.” She gestured to where one of the crew was holding a video unit. She smirked. “Strip him.”
He fought, kicking and thrashing as his clothes were roughly torn from him. The rest of the crew laughed and jeered as he was dragged to a low table. The crewman with the video unit moved to get a better angle as he was thrown across the piece of furniture. He kicked out as his limbs were grabbed, and heard someone curse as he connected. Hands caught hold of his legs and two other crewmen caught his shoulders, holding him down. He felt his legs forced apart, and started thrashing harder. Laughter answered as he cursed at the people holding him down.
Hands caught either side of his waist as someone positioned themselves behind him. Despite being barely able to move, he kept trying to struggle. A cry of pain escape him as whoever was behind him began to push inside. The onlookers cheered his rapist on as the thrusts continued, fast and deep. It felt like he was being torn apart. He cursed and struggled, trying to get away from his assailant.
Someone caught his head, and yanked it back. Something was thrust between his teeth, forcing his jaw open almost painfully. Another of the crew took up a position in front of him, grabbing him by the hair. His eyes widened when he realized what was about to happen, and then he was choking as the crewman shoved a cock into his mouth.