The Current Price

Characters: Rainier Crew

“Damnit, I told you to stay out of their sensor range!”

“I don’t think they saw us.”

“THINK?” Reflexively the crew shrank away from the focus of their employer’s rage. “I pay you to know!”

Deck plates rattled on loose rivets as ‘Captain’ Anthony Russell stormed around the bridge, a comical flapping of limbs as he moved too quickly for his gravboots to lock down on every step. Strangely, none laugh as the ragged, awkward man came around and glared at the operations board himself. No one had laughed since they entered the quarantine zone eight days previous.

And no one had slept since bringing the first load of — they didn’t even know what to call the things they stole from the abandoned settlements.

But they did know it gave them bad dreams.

“Stay away this time. I’ve never seen one of those White Stars that big, and I don’t want to. They’ll move before too long, then we can go in free and clear. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, you know.”

The reaction was varied around the bridge of the cargo ship. Some faces, beneath the shadow of stubble and sleeplessness, shone with greedy anticipation of that next prize that was it’s own kind of addiction. Others held relief that with one more hunt, they’d finally have full holds and could leave for civilized space. Russell didn’t miss a single look, cataloging them for future use. Everyone missed the tiny shudder on the sensors.

“Pull back a bit further, and we’ll wait for the ship to move,” Russell ordered, turning back toward his seat. “It’s only a matter of–”

The jumpgate opened almost on top of them. For a moment the crew of the raider ship saw beauty as the ship emerged into normal space. Slim and graceful, it’s hull was a ripple of light and colour like the sun glimpsed through the cooling deeps of the sea. The alien ship moved as freely as if space were its sea.

And as quickly as a predator upon the prey.

The first beam separated the C&C from the cargo bays. The second was the last thing the bridge crew of the Rainier saw as it cut them apart.

The explosions were brief, gasses consumed quickly to leave the alien ship once again the brightest jewel in that small area of space. But it wasn’t alone for long. A second and third jumpgate opened, bringing two identical ships out to circle in silent contemplation about the kill. Magnetic grapples brought the Rainier’s sealed cargo holds out of its spin and the alien ships formed up.

Three ships. A Minbari might have called it prophetic. A human could have remarked that with one more, they would have made a proper foursome for the Armageddon that would follow them… home.

Copyright (c) 1998 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.

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