“Brick Neilson, you son of a bitch!”
“Too close for you to handle, son?” Brick asked, a grin on his face as smoke rose from the pistol in his hand. The Autochron space pirate who had been holding Slip hostage was now lying dead on the ship floor, deep purple blood running out of a large hole in his silvery skull.
Slip got back to his feet, looking at his once-white bathrobe that was now stained with purple. “So, do you mind telling me what’s going on here?” He said, moving toward his footlocker to get dressed.
“Pirates, from the looks of it. I don’t know why we weren’t on higher alert when we decided to go through contested space, but a squadron of them came out of cloaking and hit us with a Lockdown blast. They had us boarded before we could muster a defense.”
“What about the rest of the crew?”
“If this guy is any indication, we’re dealing with Autochrons. They don’t like to kill anyone if they think there’s more money in keeping them alive. They’re likely to have us pilot our ship to the next seedy port town that they can fence it in and then turn us loose. If we’re lucky, they might even give us enough cash to pay for a transport back home.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Not really, no. But everyone from the captain down is going to lose their careers here, so it seems to me that it would be in your best interest if we stopped that from happening. Losing a ship and all of its equipment is humiliating, but bringing down a whole band of pirates is how you become a legend.”
“So do you have a plan?”
Brick looked at him for a second, as though he didn’t understand the question, before responding incredulously “Yeah. Bring down the whole band of space pirates. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“I meant a plan on how to do that!”
“Oh… No. I don’t have one of those. Is that pirate using a lasgun or a slug-launcher?”
Slip knelt down and picked up the pirate’s weapon. It was roughly the size and shape of a pistol, but with a small fusion component instead of an ammo magazine. “Lasgun. Why?”
Brick smirked before responding, “Most adventurer ships have light dissipation fogs, basically turns lasguns into flashlights. The activations switch for that should be in security. Assuming that most of these pirates are using lasers that might even the odds a bit.”
“But all of our guys use lasers too.”
“If that’s the case, we honestly deserved to be overrun.” Annoyance was audible in Brick’s voice, “Light and energy weapons can be shut down, it’s a lot harder to counter good old-fashioned ballistics. You can bet the pirates are going to have some.”
“Are you sure?”
“They’ve successfully taken over a NASA vessel, we should assume they’re not idiots. Are you finished getting dressed yet?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to some gear that won’t be shut out by the LDF.”
Unlike Brick, who looked like his picture on the cover of this book, Slip looked every bit the professional adventurer. Or, at least, he looked like someone who was very concerned with looking like a professional adventurer. Brick Neilson had been doing this long enough to know that looking like a professional adventurer was a sign of either a novice or someone who had come from the fleet. At this point, Brick wasn’t entirely sure what to think of his new charge.
“So were you in the fleet?” Brick asked, as they made their way toward the security wing of the ship.
“Five years. Boarding and raid defense.”
“So this should be right up your alley then.”
“I hope so. I know I’m alongside a legend but I’d like to be able to pull my weight.”
They stopped at a corner. There were two guards blocking the doorway. They appeared to be on high alert, already aware that someone was loose on the ship. Slip took a throwing knife from his belt, Brick took another throwing knife from Slip’s belt because he didn’t have any of his own. Honestly being quiet wasn’t really his style and wasn’t terribly effective with Autochrons anyway because of their neural networking. Still, it might by them a little extra time. Brick did a silent three-count with his fingers before the two of them dove around the corner and let their knives fly.
Brick’s knife punctured the left eye of one of the guards, putting him down. Slip’s knife was equally lethal, hitting a guard in the throat. Unfortunately, they had not properly coordinated which one of them would kill which guard and, as a result, they had both incapacitated the same pirate. The living guard hesitated for a moment due to surprise, which gave Brick Neilson enough time to quick draw his pistol and put three rounds in him.
“You threw your knife at my guard!”
“No, you threw your knife at my guard!”
“No! I was pressed against the wall, that means my knife went to the guard on our inside!”
They opened the door to the security room. Inside were three more pirates who opened fire on them without hesitation.
“They knew we were coming because you had to fire your slug-launcher!” Slip shouted as he tumbled back through the door. No one could hear him though, because while he dove backward Brick Neilson was diving forward. Running up to the hatch, Slip watched in in awe at a perfect demonstration of why the man who had come to join him on this space adventure was a living legend. When the door opened again, Brick looked the young man in the eye and, after an appropriately dramatic pause said…
“No, they knew we were coming because they’re Autochrons. They have a neural network that keeps them in constant communication. The good news is, now they know what they’re up against.”
“That’s good news?”
“It is when I’m around.” He said, making his way to the LDF switch. It required clearance from an I.D. card. This would have been a problem, but Brick Neilson had insisted that he have maximum clearance on the ship ahead of time and nobody was going to tell him no. That was the benefit of being a legend. When he activated the switch there was a barely audible hissing sound that only dogs and those who were listening very clearly would hear. The air also became thicker, but again only slightly, you had to know what you were looking for in order to notice it.
“Ok, so now what do we do?” Slip asked, remembering that they hadn’t discussed the plan very much beyond this point.
“Storming the bridge seems like a good idea. We’ll have the element of surprise, especially if they don’t realize yet that their lasguns aren’t going to work. Once I’ve got their attention, you get the hostages out, ok?”
They made their way to the bridge in what would take at least a page if I were describing it in depth. Like, describing every turn and bit of dialogue that happened between them but most of it wasn’t particularly interesting. I’m not saying that there wasn’t some merit to it, just that it wasn’t the sort of dialogue that would hold your attention for an entire page while the two of them walked toward the bridge. It was the sort of dialogue that you would see in a classic film noir. Interestingly, the term “film” was still a verb used to describe making a movie, even though no methods that used actual film were in common practice. That’s really irrelevant though, so let us get back to Brick Neilson and his young protege storming the bridge.
Brick Neilson opened the door to the bridge. It was silent because engineers long ago realized that the click-hiss sound that automated doors used to make would drive someone insane if they had to hear it every day while on an extended voyage. Seriously, that sound alone was credited with a major drop in fleet and SAO retention. Once the door was opened, Brick stepped through and put two rounds in the first and most visible pirate he could see. The others turned to blast him as he ducked behind cover, but they were all using lasguns and their beams were no more effective as weapons than the pointers one might use to tease a housecat. In the moment it took them to realize what was going on, Brick rose to his feet and trained his pistol on the one that looked like he was in charge.
“Alright now, don’t be too hasty to draw your back-ups. I’ll plug your boss here, and I get the feeling he doesn’t want that.” The room was still for a moment before Brick asked a follow-up question, “Do you slags know who I am?” This time the silence came from them referencing the Autochron neural network, which is a thing I feel like I should explain but honestly the details of it are boring and I do not want to write them down. When they completed their referencing there was an audible gasp from everyone in the room.
“That’s right. I’m Brick Neilson, Space Adventurer. Now throw down your weapons or we’ll see how long your crew lasts against a legend.”
About half of the pirates did, in fact, hastily disarm themselves. The rest of them, though, reached behind their backs for what Brick assumed were slug-launchers. He shifted his aim and emptied his pistol, putting down five of them with fifteen shots before ducking back into cover. He muttered a profanity to himself as he peeked around and was met by a volley of gunshots. They weren’t wasting ammo and he could tell that only two of the pirates he had hit were actually out of the fight. This was not the fight he wanted. He was sure the pirates who had surrendered were rethinking their decision.
Brick thought through his situation. He was outnumbered, something like twelve-to-one. If everything went according to plan, well, aside from this which was clearly not going according to plan, then the kid would have gotten anyone who might be being held on the bridge free. The pirates all had slug-launchers, but they had been forced to use back-up weapons which meant that they would be reloading quickly. Against anything but Autochrons he might still have the firepower advantage, but that was irrelevant because he was fighting Autochrons. He heard them advancing on his location. He hastily reloaded his pistol and waited for them to turn the corner.
As soon as he saw the pirate, Brick grabbed his wrist and moved him between him and his allies. Alright, that was a confusing sentence. Brick grabbed the pirate, then maneuvered himself so that the pirate’s body was providing him cover from the other pirates. Then, rather than shooting his newfound living shield, he double-tapped the other two pirates who had advanced on his position. The autochron who was still in his grip struggled and fired off a round from his backup slug-launcher, but Brick wa able to control his weapon, which fired harmlessly into the floor. The other pirates ducked for cover as Brick emptied his pistol into their ranks before pistol-whipping his new hostage so hard that his skull caved in and kicked him back into the crowd. This was a more brazen tactic than he would have ever used in his younger days, but he knew they would hesitate. His reputation earned him a few very important seconds with every display, now he just had to break their morale before they realized that he, like they, were mortal.
Fortunately,at that moment one of the Autochrons threw up a hand and shouted “Enough!” Everyone paused, and Brick took a moment to whisper a silent thank you to the heavens. “We have no desire to do battle with the legendary Brick Neilson.” The Autochron leader said, though whether he was actually their leader or simply relaying information from the network was questionable. He certainly wasn’t dressed like a pirate captain. The “leader” pressed a button on the bridge and brought up the ship’s viewscreen, and any doubt as laid to rest as an Autochron who, by his garb, was clearly the leader showed up on the screen.
“Brick Neilson.” He said, his voice holding all of the energy you would expect from a species that wa at least one-fourth computer. “I heard you were retired.”
“I was.” Brick said, rising to his feet. His pistol was empty, but the Autochrons didn’t know that.
“We have you outnumbered. Even if you kill all of the Autochrons on the ship…”
“I know, I know. You’ve got a whole fleet. You think that gives you the advantage over me, yadda yadda.”
“We could blast you into spacedust!”
“No, you could blast the ship into spacedust. I would catch up to you.”
“So then, why are we even talking?”
“Because you don’t want to die, and I don’t want everyone on the ship to die. So we’re negotiating. There’s no profit in a blown-up ship anyway.”
“You would have us return the ship, though. And what do we gain? We’ve already suffered too many losses to play sandbag now.”
“That’s not my fault, but I’m willing to offer you something more valuable than money: a reputation.”
The words hung in the air for a moment as the Autochron leader considered Brick’s words. “Go on, Mr. Neilson.”
“Please, call me Brick.”
“Ok then, Brick…”
“Actually, call me Brick Neilson, I like my whole name.”
“Very well… go on Brick… Neilson…”
“What’s the name of your little pirate crew?”
“We’re the Red Merchant Guild.”
“Never heard of you. That’s a problem for you, isn’t it? No one’s heard of you, so you have to fight a lot more often than you should. Right?”
Again, there was silence as a response.
“You were hoping to make a name with this ship. You did a good job of it too. You’re too capable to be unknowns. Imagine if you showed up to port with evidence that you had gotten the better of a legend.”
“Are you offering to be our prisoner?”
“Publicly, though I trust that I would get more of a passenger’s treatment. After singing your praises for quite a while, I will escape with no casualties on your side. Having captured me at all will make the Red Merchant Guild famous throughout the galaxy.”
“And what if, once you’re our prisoner, we choose not to let you go.”
“Then I escape with heavy casualties, but neither of us want that.”
“We could kill you. That would…”
“Nope. See, I’ve got plenty of enemies who would love to see me dead but I also have a lot of friends who would come after you, even if you could pull that off.”
“Very well then. We will take you as our prisoner, but we’ll need one other hostage to keep you in line.”
Brick smiled and said “Well, you might need a volunteer because I’ve already had your hostages freed.”
Indeed, while everyone was focused on the legendary Brick Neilson, his less famous young friend had freed the captured adventurers. The three pirates who were supposed to be keeping them closely guarded felt like proper idiots for paying attention to Brick instead of their charges.
“It’s ok, though, I’ll pick a volunteer for you. Then we can get this over with and I can go back into retirement.”
There was more discussion and negotiation of terms, of course. They insisted that Brick Neilson would give up his weapon, he said it was fine as long as he got to keep his arms and legs free and was allowed to have more or less free run of whatever ports they landed in. The same, of course, would apply to the volunteer that joined them. That volunteer was Slip, of course, because Brick Neilson had determined that he was going to make that young man a legend in his own right. After all, he owed Roland a favor and he believed in paying back extra.
Brick and Slip were moved onto the pirate’s “home” ship. It was the least armed ship in the fleet but the most heavily armored. It was also the ship with the most amenities, where the pirates kept themselves when they weren’t on duty. When their shuttle arrived on the home ship, Brick and Slip were greeted by the pirate captain himself. He was more heavily built than most of the others. He had clearly augmented himself to be a taller, more imposing figure.
“Welcome, Brick Neilson, to our ship. This will be your new home for a while, but you will find we have all of the amenities you might expect from a NASA ship.” He was as friendly as one might expect from an Autochron. He gave them a tour of the ship, which was mostly living quarters and recreational areas. They didn’t have a proper food court, since it’s not like you could get major restaurant chains on board with any crime besides tax evasion. Instead, there was a team of dedicated chefs who cooked whatever you could have replicated with varying degrees of quality.
The pirates also seemed much more professional than one might expect from the sort of people who rob spaceships. Usually a pirate crew was made up of Jacks (or Jills) of all trades, with at least a little disorganization and almost no uniformity. This crew looked like they could have been with the IPF or a legitimate mercantile organization. They even wore uniform jackets with crests on them to signify membership in their organization. Brick Neilson never liked to admit this, but he was actually impressed.
“You’ve got a hell of an operation here captain…” Brick Neilson trailed off, waiting for the pirate captain to fill the silence with his name.
“Thank you, Brick Neilson.” Either the captain didn’t know what Brick was doing or he was just an asshole. Either way, Brick appreciated it.
“You also took a fully crewed NASA ship completely by surprise. Why are you not more famous?”
“I’m not really sure. We’re pretty well known among buyers, but not suppliers.”
“By suppliers you mean your victims?” It was Slip talking. He was more than a little angry at his situation and had never developed much tact.
“Well, yes. The people we take our goods from.” The captain was clearly too indifferent to be offended. “I don’t like to term victim, though, it makes us sound so much more violent than we are.”
“Yes. That is correct. I should point out, though, that the only casualties suffered in our previous encounter were on our side.”
“Yeah…” Brick tried to think of a good excuse before settling on “Sorry about that.”
“No apology necessary. We know the risks when we take the job.”
“So which port do you head to next?”
“A city called Halsbrin, on the planet Atelron Five.”
“…Maybe I should have just let you keep the ship.”
Atelron Five had been heavily terraformed from it’s original state to be habitable by people. What was once a single biome planet composed entirely of swamp and muck now resembled Earth much more closely, even if a large portion of it resembled twentieth century Louisiana. It was just before dusk when the ship set down, which meant that most of the sorts of people who hung out in pirate ports would be hitting the taverns soon. Brick Neilson had agreed to sing the praises of the Red Merchant’s Guild in the tavern of their choice. Unfortunately for him, they chose Bill’s place.
Bill’s bar was the logical choice, being the most well-traveled. It was also where Brick Neilson’s enemies were more likely to find out that he was on this side of the galaxy rather than safely home on Earth. In keeping with their agreement, neither Brick Neilson nor his protege were bound, but the captain and and a few of his crew accompanied them to the bar. Once they stepped through the doors everyone took a cursory glance in their direction, mostly to make sure it wasn’t someone coming through to start trouble. When they saw a walking, talking legend walk through the door, though, there was collective gasp. Bill, who was the owner of the bar for obvious reasons (mostly so that the name would be appropriate even after the original owner died. His name was Carl, but he always claimed to be clairvoyant. He didn’t see that bus coming though. Asshole.) called out loudly…
“Brick Neilson you son of a bitch!”
“Bill! How’s the booze business going?”
“Well, Carl finally up and died on me. Hit by a bus, of all things.”
“Didn’t he always claim to be psychic?”
“Yeah, but I think we should leave it alone. I thought you were retired.”
“I was. Came out to do a rookie run with NASA. Got captured by some Autochron pirates, you know the deal.”
Brick made his way up to the counter, with Slip beside him. He introduced the young wannabe-legend to Bill.
“Rocky’s nephew, huh? This is a bad port for you to be in.”
“I know,” Brick acknowledged, “Does Grubb and his lot still come around here?”
“Oh yeah, all the time. That’s not who you should be worried about. You’re usual?”
“Yeah. And don’t tell me she’s still hanging around these parts.”
“You bet. She’s got a hell of a score to settle with you.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. She loves me. We’re like family…”
At that time the door swung open and in stormed a relatively short young woman who would have been adorable if she hadn’t been seething with endearing fury.
“Brick Neilson!” She shouted angrily, “You son of a bitch!” She stomped toward the bar.
“And I may have missed a few reunions… Vanessa! Hi! Have you missed me?”
“Oh, sure! I’ve missed you!” She said, grabbing his drink before he had a chance to take a sip and chugging it.
“Hey! That was mine!”
“Do you have any idea how difficult it has been to keep order in this hellhole? You were supposed to find a replacement sheriff after your last space adventure!”
“But… but Vanessa, I’m on my last space adventure now!” he said.
“You know what I meant! And now you’re back, and you’ve got enemies on this planet, and it looks like you’re hanging around with a pirate crew! And your enemies are going to be rolling in here to start trouble any minute now and…”
Just then, the door swung open again. This time though it was a large Carnagean dressed like the stereotypical inhabitants of Earth’s former prison colonies, which is what you would expect because the planet Carnage used to be an Earth prison colony. He raised a shout.
“Brick Neilson, you son of a-”
“No! That is getting old by now!” Brick shouted back at the man, rising to his feet.
“Now listen, Grubb,” he started, his voice ringing with frustration, “I’m sure you’ve got a score you think you can settle today but I am having none of it. I have been roped into coming out of retirement, captured by what may be the most competent band of pirates I’ve ever met… who happen to have no social media presence whatsoever, and yelled at by a friend of mine who I’m sure has spilled more blood over the past fifteen years because people told her she was cute when she was mad… which she is… that I have in my entire life. And you think I’m scared of YOU?”
Grubb was taken aback by Brick’s attitude. After a moment, though, he started walking toward the bar. Following behind him was a group of his flunkies. There were about five of them, and as they moved forward both Vanessa and Slip turned to face them. There was a moment of tension as everyone waited for the sort of brawl that you would see in movies about the American frontier that were nothing like the actual history of that era. The tension broke when they heard the sound of Bill’s pump shotgun from behind the bar.
“Gentlemen…” Bill said, leveling his large and probably vaguely phallic instrument of death at the would-be brawlers, “If you could please take your little kerfuffle outside. The last time Brick Neilson had one of his brawls in my bar it nearly killed my business.
After a long pause, Brick Neilson reached into his wallet.
“Bill, you know that a barfight always makes a good story.” He said, pulling out a silver data card, “and nobody wants to hear ‘the story of that time five slags got punched to death by a damn walking god behind a tavern.’” He flashed a smile, “That card should have enough money on it to cover the damages. You can check the balance before the fight starts.”
There was a really boring period while Bill swiped the card, waited for it to connect to the bank’s network, waited for the balance to display, became wide eyed, picked his jaw off the floor, plugged it in as running an open tab with no limit, and handed it back to Brick. “Alright, you’re in the clear.” He said, at which point patrons began scrambling for the door.
Vanessa, Slip, and the two pirates stepped forward to back up their friend, but he stopped them. “No no, I can’t have people thinking that the legendary Brick Neilson has gotten so sluggish that he can’t punch a group of space thugs to death with his bare hands.” Slip and the pirates were both hesitant, but Vanessa wasted no time sitting down.
“Bill, pour me another round, put it on Brick’s tab.”
“What’ll it be?”
“The usual. One for the kid too.”
Bill reached for the top shelf and grabbed a bottle of Literally Pure Alcohol, an accurately labeled drink by the Literally corporation. They were famous for accurate advertising and straightforwardness. The ad for this particular beverage said “Can’t find a drink strong enough, try Literally Pure Alcohol. It’s 100% alcohol by volume, because it’s Literally Pure Alcohol.”
Bill was halfway through pouring the drink when Brick scooped up the glass and flung it at one of Grubb’s thugs. It shattered against his skull, knocking him to the floor and lacerating his face along the way. It also soaked his face (and face cuts) in Literally Pure Alcohol, which burns like that thing everyone has been calling Brick Neilson lately. He fell to the ground in a whole lot of pain, his cries distracting his friends long enough for the legendary Brick Neilson to rush forward and cross the jaw of one of the other lackeys with his fist.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been punched by a man like Brick Neilson, but he’s got welder’s fists. Have you ever bumped fists with a welder? I swear, it’s like punching an anvil. That’s the kind of fist Brick Neilson punches you with. It’s like getting hit square in the jaw with a damn anvil. The guy fell to the ground like a sack of bricks. That’s bricks with no capitalization. Like the object, not the person who is here punching people to death. Although I imagine a shack of him would be pretty scary.
Unfortunately, the cracking sound of Brick’s knuckles adjusting the bottom half of the slag’s face into a place that it definitely was never intended to be (in relation to the rest of his face, anyway) snapped the other three assailants out of their distracted state. Grubb grabbed Brick Neilson into a bear hug and body slammed him into a table. The table broke under the impact, and the size of Brick’s tab increased significantly. As Grubb got to his feet he realized that the hero of this story was still holding onto his shoulders with one hand, and was now swinging what looked in Grubb’s peripheral vision to be half of a table at the side of his head.
It turned out to be more like a third of a table, but it still did a healthy amount of damage. Grubb, however, lived up to the Carnagean stereotype of being ridiculously durable and was still on his feet. The two lackeys of his who were still standing rushed toward Brick Neilson, scooping him up and ramming him into the bar. In his younger days this would not have hurt nearly as much as it did now that he was old and out of practice. He felt a sharp pain in the middle of his back as they reared back to ram him again. This time he leaned back against the bar and drove one of his knees into the nose of one of the would-be assailants.
As one villain reeled in pain, the other hit him on the left side. Brick was able to twist out of the way and was about to punch him in the kidneys, but Grubb was now fully recovered and swung a chair at him. The chair broke, but it also knocked Brick over a table (destroying the cups and glasses on top of it and raising Brick’s tab yet again).
Meanwhile, Slip looked vaguely concerned.
“Should we help?” He asked.
“Nah,” Vanessa replied, nonchalantly. “He’s out of practice, so he wants to get a feel for how rusty he really is.”
“So how do you two know each other?”
“Oh, he helped me avenge my father and become sheriff of this mud town something like fifteen years ago. He said he’d find another sheriff, then he retired.”
“And forgot all about you?”
“Yeah, he probably…” she cringed as Brick got German Suplexed (an outdated term in everything but grappling) into a wall. “Probably thought I’d end up being happy as sheriff here. I always have liked a good fight, after all.”
“Pardon me for saying but you don’t exactly look like did Brick just throw a framed portrait like a damn frisbee?”
“Yeah. That’s what happened. Welcome to Brick Neilson being a damned showoff. Anyway, you were saying?”
“Oh, yeah, I was saying you don’t really look like the warrior type.”
“That’s part of the problem. Every time a new group of ruffians rolls in I have to justify why I wear the tin star in this town.”
“You haven’t built up a reputation yet?”
“I’m kind of a pacifist. People know I might beat’em up and lock’em up, but they know I won’t kill them if I can help it… uh-oh.”
“Grubb is in full-on Carnagean frenzy.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be impossible to put down a Caragean that’s gone into a frenzy?”
“Not impossible. Just very, very difficult. Last time I saw it done someone had to hit them in the face with a literal anvil.”
“Do you think Brick can handle this then?”
“Well, who do you think was swinging the anvil?”
At this point, it was just Brick Neilson and Grubb. The Carnagean had the legendary space adventurer in another bear hug from behind and threw him with a release German suplex toward the wall. This time, though, the legend recovered his momentum in time to land more gracefully. He broke his momentum by catching a table with his hands and bringing his feet down to rest on it. He then grabbed a mostly full glass of alcohol and threw the liquid into Grubb’s eyes while muttering something about how he hoped the person sitting at this table liked their drinks strong.
Apparently they did, because Grubb suddenly seemed to not quite know where he was grabbing. He lunged blindly in the direction that Brick had been, but only managed to slam his body into the table (It broke. This fight has been very expensive for Brick Neilson). As the Carnagean brute swung violently, smashing everything in his general area but being a figurative (not literal) mile away from hitting Brick Neilson, our hero realized that his only real option was hoping he could wait out the rage.
Brick Neilson was not a man who liked only having one option. After making sure he had a clear path, he run as fast as he could toward the rampaging brute. Grubb heard him, of course, and threw a heavy right hook where he thought his foe would be. Brick Neilson was ready for that, though, and was instead ducking low and ramming his foot as hard as he could into the Carnagean’s kneecap. There was a loud snapping sound and Grubb fell to the floor. He was still thrashing and grabbing, but he could no longer get to his feet. When he started to tire from his frenzy, Brick backed up again and delivered a hard running boot to his opponent’s temple. Like, the soft part of the skull… he didn’t like… kick him in the church or anything. That would be weird. Especially since Carnagean’s are usually areligious. This last kick took all of the fight out of Grubb.
“I am so done with you Grubb!” Brick shouted, standing over his fallen assailant. “You’ve had it out for me for almost my whole life now, do you realize that? You’ve been trying to settle some score with me since my days as Brick Neilson: Space Cadet. You couldn’t beat me then, Grubb, and that was when you had the best chance. You also couldn’t beat me when I was Brick Neilson: Space Captain, or during The Space Adventures of Brick Neilson. You had been reduced to a two bit lackey during Brick Neilson’s Last Space Adventure: No, the One Before That One. So tell me, what made you think you stood a better chance now that I’m out of retirement for Brick Neilson’s (Last) Space Adventure, huh? Did you think I was too old to beat you to death? Or did you just feel obligated to make an appearance, for traditions sake?” Grubb didn’t answer because he was unconscious. That’s the sort of thing that Brick Neilson does to people. He makes them unconscious.
Brick turned and went back to the bar. He sat on the stool and ordered a glass of Literally Pure Alcohol.
“You did a lot less damage this time, Brick.” Bill joked.
“Well yeah. I was paying the tab for it this time.”
“Now everyone’s going to be talking about how you’re back in town.” Vanessa pointed out.
“As long as they remember that I’m here because I’ve been captured by pirates.”
“Oh, are they going to let you go if you sing their praises enough?”
“That’s the deal. They captured me square though. They’d be really scary if they had any kind of reputation, or a more menacing name.”
“What’s wrong with Red Merchants Guild?” The pirate captain butted in, clearly offended.
“It’s not a scary name. I mean, if you were big enough to run a syndicate then sure. ‘Beware in the night, the Red Merchant’s Guild may come for you.’ Instead, you just sound like a group of traders who, for whatever reason, are now wanting to shoot everyone.”
“So should we change our name then?”
“Not at this point. It was the Red Merchants Guild that captured the legendary Brick Neilson. After successfully handling the fallout that comes from that, you guys will be legendary.” After a lengthy pause, Slip Wilson and the pirate captain both asked incredulously “Fallout?”
“Well yeah. Now everyone knows I’m back in town, which means my enemies are going to come after us.”
“That was not part of the deal!”
“Well no, but I didn’t expect you to bring us to the Atelron system! It was out of the way!”
“And what enemies do you have here?” Slip Wilson asked, half excited and half terrified.
“You guys don’t know?” Vanessa asked with a smirk.
“I guess they don’t. Rendell still keeps a grip on this system doesn’t he?”
“Everywhere except my town. We’ve managed to make it more trouble than it would be worth.”
“He hasn’t offered to help you keep order here?”
“He has. I don’t like his methods. He’s a tyrant and a killer. He’s going to come for your head though.”
“We should just give you to him!” the captain interjected.
“Look, Cap’n, you can’t be selling me out to an interplanetary warlord. That’s just not cool. You should at least introduce yourself first. Which you haven’t done, even though we’ve been travelling together for a few days now. Jerk.”
“I… my name is Systan. I could swear I told you that already.”
“Nope. And let’s look into this selling me to a space tyrant thing. Try it and Slip and I pull our escape early. Our alternative, though, is putting the mad king down.”
“You expect us to battle a planetary warlord? For you?”
“No, my friend. I expect you to go to war with one. For you.”
“And why would this be beneficial to us?”
“For one, if you pull it off then you’ll be in the perfect position to fill the power vacuum. Plus you’ll be able to annex all of his funds, although I assume you’ll be paying Slip Wilson here a fair cut of the loot now that you’re going to be fighting together.”
“Who said I was going to be helping these pirates with their war?” Slip asked, still more than a little confused.
“It’s a noble cause, isn’t it?”
“How is picking a side in a pirate war noble?”
“Look, these guys are clearly not exceptionally bloodthirsty… no offense.
“They’re practical, and very competent. Helping them take control of this system is good for them, good for the people of his system, and with even a tiny cut of the loot it’s going to make you rich. Plus, you’ll get part of the credit for overthrowing Rendell, something I never managed to do on my own.”
There was a lot of bickering back and forth between them, with Bill occasionally interjecting and the extra pirate guards communicating with their boss via their neural network. They talked about logistics and feasibility, they talked about their relatively small fleet of ships doing battle with a warlord’s armada. There was a lot of planning that no one wants to read about and a lot of arguing over who would get what cut of the loot. It would have been a very entertaining argument to watch, I suppose, but it would have been cluttered and boring as hell to read. You would have to be like “Ok, wait, who was saying this? Was that Brick or Systan? Wait, maybe it was Vanessa.” Or I would have to end every line with something like “Brick said.” Then I’d have to try to find synonyms for “said” which fit the general tone that the person was trying to convey. It would really just break up the fun of reading a snappy, rapid-fire dialogue where the characters are constantly trying to one-up each other. Anyway, we should probably get on to a more interesting part of the story.