After a week of monitoring the radio waves, Jarik Davin made ready to travel to the trading post to sell his Chintamani tooth. One week was the legally required amount of time to allow someone to make a legitimate claim on a piece of salvage, and if nobody showed up in that time, whatever had been claimed was the legal property of the finder. He was whistling a happy tune, one his mother had taught him, and preparing his food supplies and other necessities. This was going to be the biggest haul in the history of his salvage business, and he was giddy at the thought of all the credits about to fall into his account.
Of course Gilliastrik would try to short him, but she was a businesswoman, and he knew how to talk her into a reasonable price range. With a find like this he’d have little trouble. This was the biggest tooth seen on Eowei in living memory, he knew. She wouldn’t have much choice but to pay him what it was worth. Only an idiot would get suckered into selling this for lower than market rates, and Jarik, despite what some would say, was no idiot.
The depot was a few days away, so he and Wilson would have plenty of time to gloat over their treasure. They loaded up the mech and stomped off into the desert, anxious to offload their cargo. But all of this didn’t sit well with Wilson, who’d begun to voice his concerns, much to Jarik’s annoyance.
“But boss, this was a pirate ship,” Wilson was saying. “Don’t you think they have friends, or at least allies, that are going to want this back?”
“That’s not our concern, Wil,” Jarik scoffed. “If they wanted it, they should’ve tried to claim salvage rights within the week they had.”
“But they’re pirates, boss!” Wilson was adamant, and not a little alarmed at the prospect of fighting off a bunch of space buccaneers. “If they went through legal channels they’d be caught! What if they jump us on the way to Gilliastrik’s?”
“Then we deal with them,” Jarik said smugly. “This mech’s outfitted for combat, and I’m the best pilot in the sector. They won’t stand a chance.”
“Not unless they outnumber us,” Wilson murmured.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, boss. You just keep on with your suicidal pursuit of wealth.”
“With pleasure,” Jarik chuckled.
After a few days of Wilson admonishing Jarik for salvaging a pirate vessel and Jarik waving it off, the Depot came into sight. Gilliastrik’s Trade Depot was a run-down hovel, barely qualifying as a building holding itself together, and Jarik marveled that the thing was still standing every time he saw it. He’d thought that a sandstorm would’ve taken it out long ago, but apparently Salamanders knew a few things about building shelters in a desert.
Gill, as most people called her, was out front, sweeping the porch in full view of the scorching Eowei sun. Her long, black hair cascaded over her flame colored scales like a waterfall. Large claws gripped the broom, and she held her tail out of the way so as not to undo her work by brushing the sand back onto the cleaned areas. She wore few clothes, her natural armor giving her most of the protection she needed from the harsh environment of the Karochee. Jarik was amazed that her taloned feet didn’t claw deep gouges in the planks when she walked. As she saw them coming, she looked up and waved, her seven inch long claws shining in the sunlight.
Jarik made the grappler arm wave back, and he increased his speed just a little. Gill was an old friend, and he was looking forward to talking with her as well as bilking as many credits out of her as possible. The mech pounded the sand, and at last came to rest in front of the ramshackle base that served as the trading depot for the majority of desert salvage operations. The front of the giant machine opened, hissing with depressurization, and Jarik jumped to the sand, arms wide open.
“Gill! How’ve you been?” he said, enviro-suit making his voice fuzzy.
The Salamander woman huffed, looking at the broom in derision. “Been better, but I suppose we can all say that, can’t we? What brings you out this way?” She gave him a sly eye. “Wouldn’t happen to have some new salvage for me, would you?”
“I’ve got something that’s going to blow your socks of,” Jarik said. “If you wore socks, that is.”
“On occasion I’ve been known to, but not for the likes of you, Jarik Davin!”
He laughed at that. It was good to see his friend again. Jarik did enjoy his solitude, but every now and again it was nice to go out and talk with other lifeforms. He told Wilson to grab the cargo, and followed Gill into the depot, removing his helmet as he crossed the threshold. Wilson came behind, grumbling with the strain the weighty containment pod put on his repulsors.
“So how’s business?” Jarik asked as he dropped his helmet onto the counter and planted himself on a stool.
“Slow lately,” she replied, rounding the counter and fixing herself a drink. “Although I’ve made enough to keep in supplies. Thirsty?”
“Please.” He gratefully accepted the water she passed him and took a long swig, smacking his lips at the freshness. Gill always did have the best water, he thought.
“So did you hear?”
“About the ship, Jarik! I know you’re isolated out there on Xore’s Bluff, but you surely must get some kind of radio signals. It’s been all over the news and peer-to-peer systems for a week! You have to’ve heard of it!”
“Can’t say as I know of any ship come down. Did the Qualoons send another mercantile expedition?”
Jarik coughed into his water. “Pirates, you say?” he asked as Wilson brought in the containment pod and set it down on the counter next to him.
“I’m hitting the charging port. Hi, Gill,” the robot said in a surly tone.
“Wilson,” the Salamander woman responded. She eyed Jarik. Her slit-pupiled eyes moved from Jarik, who was trying to look nonchalant, to the containment pod, then back again. “Yeah, pirates. Way I heard it the feds shot down a ship from the Almanthari Syndicate a little over a week back. Went down here in the Karochee, they said. Nobody knows what they were carrying, but everybody thinks it was something valuable. Sure you don’t know anything about it, Jarik?” She arched a scaled eyebrow at him.
“Well, I did find a ship out in the desert, but I haven’t heard anything about pirates. I’ve just been monitoring the normal network channels in case someone claimed it. Nobody did, so here I am.”
“You didn’t.” Her jaw went slack, revealing her pointed teeth.
“It was a crashed ship in the desert, Gill! What was I supposed to do, just let Billiam get to it first? Or Jarlie?” Jarik scoffed. “Whatever I got out of it is officially mine by right of salvage. If the pirates want it back they can take it up with the feds.”
“Jarik Davin,” she said with a sigh, “You might just be the dumbest son of a…”
Gill was cut off by a loud boom from outside, followed by four other loud booms. The ground shook with them, and the lights in the depot dimmed as the fittings on the power supply were loosened. Jarik’s eyes went wide, and he knew that his wonderful week had just gone sideways. A speaker squealed static, and a tinny voice blared at them.
“We know you’re in there, scavenger, and we know what you have! Bring it out to us now, and we’ll let you walk away! We might even let you keep your mech!”
“They found me,” he whispered.
“You think?” Gill hissed.
“Can you distract them while I get to my ride?”
“So you can run off and leave me here with them?” She nodded in the direction of the door. “I don’t think so, Davin.”
“I’m not going anywhere. This is the biggest haul I’ve ever had. I’m not just going to run off. I just need a bit of a distraction. Give me one minute to get Wilson and start up the mech, then I’ll help fight them off.”
“And if they have a ship?”
“We’d hear it. They don’t.”
Gill thought for a moment, then growled, stabbing at him with her claws. “If they blow up my depot, Jarik, I’m taking it out of your hide!”
Jarik raised his hands to mollify her, “Agreed. Just give me one minute.”
His hands went to work, and he unlocked and opened the containment pod. Taking the massive tooth, which caused Gill no small amount of upset, he closed the pod again and locked it. For her part, Gilliastrik reached to the wall behind the counter and removed a large sword. Large was a bit of an understatement.
The blade was fully as long as she was, inches thick, and the handle fit comfortably in her claws. It looked like it could cut almost anything in half, and she wielded it as easily as he did his blaster rifle. She caught the containment pod he’d tossed her, and moved towards the door. As she went, he took up a position to the side, rifle up and ready.
“They don’t know what I look like, so you might be able to fool them. Let’s just try to make this quick, okay?”
“I’m going to get you for this, Jarik. You know that, don’t you?”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, darling.”
“When this is over, we’re going to have a long talk, you and I.”
Gilliastrik passed through the door, under the awning, and off the porch. Her foot talons made deep gouges in the sand, and the wind kicked up her hair like a cloak as she regarded the five pirate mechs standing in front of her. She smiled, sun flashing off her fangs, and held up the empty containment pod.
“You boys looking for this?”
If you enjoyed this story, you can find many more like it on my Original Fiction page, or in the anthology Darkest of Dreams from DimensionBucket Media on Amazon. You can also find more of my work at my website, jimfear138.blogspot.com, including my weekly podcast and audiobooks I've produced. You can also throw me a tip if you like at Ko-fi.