The cargo hold was dark and cold. The captain didn’t waste much energy from the reactor on lighting or heat while in transit. That didn’t really bother Red. He liked the solitude he could find here. He fiddled with the well warn C-Vac knife that he had used during the war. The knife had a heavy thick blade that was designed to pierce vacuum-suits and expose the unfortunate wearer to the unpleasantness of rapid decompression.
Sometimes the faces of dead friends and enemies would come to his dreams and haunt him. Men he had killed, and men he had seen die all seemed to have a bone to pick with Red. In the darkness of the cargo hold he could let them go at least for a while.
As he sat in silence on top of a vac stable container he heard light footsteps on the walkway behind him. “Hey Jess.”
Jess smiled in the darkness, “I can’t ever sneak up on you no matter how hard I try, can I?” Jess was a young woman barely old enough to buy liquor on most systems, but she really knew her way around sutures and needles.
Red chuckled a bit, “Nope, ‘cuz I’d be dead if I let little girls sneak up on me during the war.”
Jess rolled her eyes, ever since she joined the crew six months ago; Red had all but adopted her as his surrogate daughter. The scarred war veteran was always trying to protect her. She didn’t mind too much because occasionally she needed it when they had planet leave. Picking fights with people three times her size wasn’t too healthy if you didn’t have a muscle bound friend or two.
“Hey Red, what are we smuggling this time?” Jess asked as she hopped up on a container across from the old soldier.
Red sheathed his knife and grunted. “You know the captain don’t tell me nothin’ that I don’t need to know.” He didn’t care what cargo he was guarding in the least, as long as he got paid. “Oh and darlin’ you don’t need to know either. Just keep the crew healthy mmm kay?”
Jess started to get annoyed. “But not knowing really annoys me. Look I didn’t skip out on my med intern contract to be bored on our runs. I was looking for adventure and excitement.”
“Look, Jess. Being part of a freelance crew is gonna have its dull times, thank the Gods for that.” He hopped down from the vac box, his heavy boots echoed in the chamber. “Haven’t you gotten your fill of adventure yet?”
“What, you mean handing out anti vertigo meds and giving a couple of stitches? Come on Red that’s not adventure.”
“Hey Chuck got his arm slashed pretty good in that fight, you did a good job patchin’ him up.”
“That’s exactly what I mean; you guys always get to do the cool stuff. I just end up mopping your blood off the sickbay floor.”
Red sighed, “We can yak about this later, it’s prolly not too long till we make landfall.”
The intercom burst out a hiss of static, “All hands to General Quarters! All hands to General Quarters. This means you Jess.” The captain’s tinny mechanically scrubbed voice echoed through the cargo hold.
“Damn Red why does the Captain always single me out like that?” She moaned as she hustled toward the bulkhead door.
Red grinned and smacked the young woman on the butt, “Remember last time you were dawdling along an’ didn’t secure that rack of meds? Hmm?”
“Hey, don’t touch my ass! Besides it wasn’t my fault, one of you hired goons messed up…” The ship jerked causing Jess to stumble backward; Red caught her and shoved her forward.
“Hey keep movin! I needs to get to the bridge. You only need be in sickbay.” He said as he shouldered past the young medic. The corridor was barely wide enough him to squeeze past her sideways. Wide passageways were a waste of space on a ship, especially in a Sub Handy-Sized Freighter.
Captain James Hunter stood on the bridge at the helm; the green sun was just starting to fall beneath the edge of the cloud shrouded world that dominated the Invisalum windows. Seeing a sunset from space never ceased to stir something deep down in his soul.
“Hey Jim!” Red called from the corridor.
The captain turned back and nodded, “I’ve got a special job for you once we get planet side.”
“Oh? What kinda job?”
Captain Hunter smiled as he turned the massive oak wheel. “You know the kind that takes advantage of your ‘special’ talents.”
This peaked Red’s interest. His ‘special’ talents usually involved inflicting a lot of pain. After the war he had worked as a bouncer at a seedy bar on New Argentina, a back water planet where unsavory characters went to escape the long arm of the law.
“Nice.” Red said as he grabbed an overhead ‘pucker bar’ to avoid being tossed to the deck plating. They had just hit the upper atmosphere.
Rex rolled over out of his uncomfortable rack as soon as the captain called for general quarters. He blinked a couple of times until his heads up display fired up. It was acting up lately; he would have to get Chuck to look at it later.
He absentmindedly scratched the back of his neck beneath his collar before buckling on his gun belt, over his wasteland digital camo cargo pants. In an old scratched leather holster rested his Viper V-16 coil pistol. Two spare magazines rode on his opposite hip, and a collapsible shock impact baton sat in the small of his back.
He shrugged on his leather bomber jacket over his dirty formerly white Rock Hounds t-shirt. The Rock Hounds were a popular Rock Metal band that had just sold over 1 billion MP6 downloads. He would like to see them in concert someday.
Rex clipped on his spiked wrist and ankle bracers and checked the chamber of his Viper. It was empty. He racked the slide, scandium and steel slid across each other between them a nano-tech lubricant. After popping an extra round into the magazine he flicked the safety on and re-holstered the weapon, under the jacket it went.
After fighting with the rusty bulkhead door for a moment he was ready for whatever crap job he would be given by the crew. Not that he minded so much but he always seemed to get tasks that were a waste of his talents and superior physical prowess.
Jess hurried by as Rex stepped out of his tiny cabin into the passageway. She stopped and he stood at attention. His ears erect. “Ma’am.”
“Oh Rex, you don’t need to do that, call me Jess. Okay?”
Rex looked down at the much smaller woman, “Yes Ma’am, Rex will call you Jess, Ma’am.”
“You’re so cute Rex.” She said and reached up and scratched behind his right ear, exactly where he liked it. “Who’s my favorite Doggie?”
He stoically resisted for about ten nanoseconds before his tounge hung out of his mouth and he panted happily. His tail wagged and all for a brief moment was right with the world.
“Well Doggie-Boy I’ve got to go to Sickbay. We’ll need to play fetch or something planetside. Later.”
He watched the young human go before turning toward the Bridge. His claws clicked on the deck plating as he loped toward the stairway. Chuck staggered out of his cabin his graying hair was a mess and his wife beater t-shirt looked like it was ready to be turned into rags for cleaning gun parts.
“Good morning Mr. Engineer sir!” The Dog-Boy said in a loud voice. He could smell the fat man from his rack sometimes. Rex absently wondered if he ever showered.
The disheveled engineer winced. “Can you keep it down ya filthy mutt?”
“Yes sir! Rex will be quiet, Mr. Engineer sir!” he barked.
Was the dog being passive aggressive? Chuck didn’t care he would get his revenge the next time the landing gear needed to be greased. That stuff took forever to get out of the over grown dog’s fur. “Funny. Tell the captain I’ll be down below, keepin’ this ole rust bucket from blowing up.”
Rex made it to the bridge and saluted the captain, “Captain, Red. Rex reporting for duty.” He said in his accented voice. Despite the genetic modifications the Dog-Boy’s vocal chords didn’t exactly sound human.
“Good boy Rex.” Red said without looking at the dog, he was intently watching the heat shield temperature readouts. If the needle stayed in the red zone too long pieces of the ship would end up on the ground instead of the whole ship.
The Captain glanced over his shoulder away from the wheel. “Rex, check the Frisbee for any unauthorized air traffic.”
The Frisbee was the long scan radar system. Since it was round and flat and spun slowly on top of the ship, the crew had nicknamed it after the flying disk. “Yes Sir, Captain Sir!” Rex replied and sat down at the Radar console. After a few moments of checking the pattern of dots he called the all clear.
Technically having a Gen-modded canine operate bridge equipment was against IPSFA regulations since they were colorblind, and not licensable to operate a space-faring vessel. Hunter didn’t care since the Frisbee’s display was all green anyway.
“All clear Captain!” Rex said as he stared at the screen.
“Good, let me know if anything approaches within 500 miles.” That dog was worth every last Inter Planetary Dollar, or IPD he had lost at that poker game to win him.
His former master had been an abusive New Argie “Smuggle Man” who used him to get payment from delinquent customers. It had taken nearly a year to keep him from flinching every time he got close. Poor dog. The captain didn’t understand why some people treated them so poorly. Sure they didn’t have the same rights as humans but they were more than just a pet.
The Captain snapped out of his quiet reverie when the Master alarm on the “Canis Minor” blared.