Tale of the Madeus
Tale of the Madeus: Sample
On the bridge of the Staine, Trueborne sat and kneaded the lumpy mass of melted flesh at his chin. It pained him sometimes, the memory of that old wound trying to surface and interfere with his waking hours. For a pirate and privateer, the captain was something of an anomaly himself: he was a teetotaler, and he never drank nor partook in the drugs his crew favored; he rarely sought the embraces of prostitutes, instead taking his shore leave in solitude. Any tales he told of himself were half-truths and embellished legends, engineered to build a reputation that would strike fear into his enemies and illicit obedience from his allies. He never thought of himself as an enigma, but that was what he had become. He couldn’t see the true extent of the myth he had crafted of himself, for it was the stuff of whispers in the dark corners of station bars and the warehouses and back offices of trade markets.
The truth about “Two-Tooth” was far stranger than the fiction. The hidden fact was that Trueborne wasn’t a native to the Solarus System at all. He was a refugee fleeing the Ix’anth Conflict, an interstellar war between the distant binary stars of Evanthus and Tambr. That war, which had claimed more than seven trillion sentient lives, would in all likelihood decimate both systems before it ended. It was a religious conflict, something Trueborne had never gained much of an appreciation for, and he knew that such violence never came to a true conclusion. He had seen three uneasy truces explode into interstellar bloodshed, and he had lost more than his fair share of friends and companions to the endless fighting.
Most sensible people with the means to escape went counter-spiral, towards the inner galactic systems. When Trueborne had laid out his plans to go to Solarus, his last remaining contacts had assumed that he had gone mad and had dismissed him as a lunatic.
“Solarus! Now that’s a bit like falling out of the evolutionary tree, isn’t it?” Conrad DeBlight, a trade officer who had always provided Trueborne with steep discounts and grey market contracts, struggled to contain his amusement.
Trueborne swirled his drink in its crystal tumbler and favored his old friend with a smirk. “Try at least to pretend that it’s a viable option, ser. I ain’t staying here, and it won’t be long before DeWitte’s forces overrun even this enclave. And who’s to say folding counter-spiral would be any better?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think there’s a good thousand trillion souls who’d say life there’s a damn sight better than in a barbaric system like Solarus! What’ve they got there? They’ve not even discovered intergalactic travel, and are only now poking at the very fringes of grid technology. Sure, there’s the ambia, but they’ve no idea of the value of it and we’ve long since cornered that little market.” DeBlight poured himself another finger of drink from an ornate decanter and clinked his glass against Trueborne’s. The fading light of the second sunset cast long burnt-orange paths of light across the table between the two men.
“Then call it a vacation,” Trueborne said. “A break from this senseless violence.” He raised his glass to his lips, but paused as a burst of laughter from DeBlight filled the room.
“But my dear Officer Trueborne, violence is what you do! Why do you think I’ve appointed you to so many contracts in the hives and lower warrens? Because of your peaceful nature?” Another barking laugh. “You get things done at the pointy end of the stick, my boy. It is what you do.” He punctuated each word with a jab of a beringed finger.
“So you’ve said in the past, and who am I to deny the truth according to DeBlight?” Trueborne knocked back the rest of his drink and wiped his lips with back of his sleeve. “Perhaps then, this bloody nature of mine would be better served where life is lived closer to the quick? From what I hear it’s nothing but pillows and ambrosia the further in-spiral you go.”
“Ah, but if only that were true. Things are no less murderous closer to the core.” DeBlight sighed, then clapped his hands. “But I can see that your mind is made up!” He opened a desk drawer and retrieved an ivory scroll-case from within. “I suppose it’s time I gave you this. I had a feeling this would be our last meeting, so I made the arrangements to have it drawn up.”
“What is it?”
“An annulment. Consider yourself freed from all your debts and responsibilities as they relate to business done with the Greater Tambr Trade Unity,” DeBlight said, and chuckled. “Your gaping mouth tells me that this comes as something of a shock? Officer Trueborne, you’ve more than paid off your debt to us with the services you’ve rendered. In fact, you’ve been free for more than two standard years. I’ve only kept you around because I thought you enjoyed the work!”
Trueborne snapped his mouth shut and put his hand on the case, fingering its carved exterior. “Then it was true,” he said in a quiet voice. “I’d lost the count when the Orian broke during that run from Alor 4. I had no idea.”
“I hope you’ll not hold it against me. I endorse your little plan, I do. I believe the Godsoar is doing an ambia run in a few days, captained by that old grunt Vashny. But you knew that already, didn’t you?” DeBlight winked at Trueborne, and smiled. “Know that you’ll always have a home in our house, young ser. The pacifist in me hopes that this senseless conflict comes to an end, but the trader in me knows that war is far more profitable than peace.”
“Perhaps I’ll return when I’m bored of living among the barbarians, ser. Time will tell.”
Trueborne had heard that shortly after his meeting with DeBlight, Ix’anthi fundamentalists had bombarded the enclave. There had been no survivors.
“Time had told, old friend. Time had told.”
“Captain?” Thorne looked up from her console to see Trueborne staring into the distance.
He shook his head and sighed. “Old memories, Thorne. Things best left buried. What’s the status of our quarry?”
“Distance scans show she’s made the expected corrections to her course. Everything’s going to plan.”
“Very good. Helm! Take us behind our little trickery and mask the engines. Prepare the forward mass cannons and charge the batteries. We break the Madeus this day. I want no survivors!”