We are coming up on the end of NaNoWriMo. I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter from my NaNo last year, as it has been reworked since then. I don't know if the whole text will see the light of day, but maybe. In any case- here is chapter one of Journey to Pendar.
CHAPTER 1— FIRST MEETINGS
It was typical midday crowd inside the Stars’ Crossing, a few locals stopping in for their lunch time meal, but mostly it was freighter crews and military personnel. The usual. Addie was used to the routine, she found it comforting. The crowds started forming around the eleventh hour, and would stay through the thirteenth, almost to the fourteenth. Then there would be a lull before the evening crowds would come in. The locals would come in hoping to hear news of things happening in other parts of the Empire, or possibly meet with a freighter pilot or captain who could arrange to move some of their product. The military folks stopped here mostly because it was the only place to eat that welcomed them outside of their mess hall. The food at the Stars’ Crossing wasn’t good, but it was better than what they ate on base. The freighter crews were here hoping to meet new customers, and to fill up on some real food before returning to space. Addie could look out at her crowd and spot each type.
There was one more type that would sometimes come in, but it was rare to see, and almost instantly recognizable. It was the boy who came in now. His clothes were dirty and unkempt, his hair was disheveled, and he swept the room with a look of worry. He was escaping something and looking for a way off planet. Usually they were farm workers who had some kind of debt and a cruel master. They were willing to try anything to get off this planet and away. Some would join the military, but usually were returned to their masters when they were found out. The truly desperate ones came here, hoping some freighter crew would take them in and take them away from here. The final destination did not matter much to them. The boy was young for the runaway type, but there was no mistaking what he was.
“Excuse me,” he said as he walked up to her at the bar, “can you tell me if there are any crews here, looking for some extra help?”
The conversations always started out this way. She just smiled. “Most of them here are probably looking for passengers who can pay with credits, son, not tag alongs.”
“I’d earn my keep. I can work real hard. Probably better than two crewmen, all told.”
She shook her head as she smiled again. “Don’t really know, to be honest, but there might be one fellow, willing to take you on. That’s him at the end of the bar.”
He sat alone at the old bar. It seemed like the other customers in the restaurant were avoiding him. One look, and the boy could see why. It wasn’t just his rough look that scared them away, after all, they had seen plenty of old time freighters come through town. There was something more, something that made this man different. Something about the way he carried himself. He sat hunched over his food, his right hand gripping his soup bowl, while his left hand was shoveling the contents up to his mouth. He made loud slurping noises with each bite. His short, grey hair was a mess, like he had either just rolled out of bed, or he hadn’t slept in weeks. The stubble on his unshaven face suggested that it was the latter. His long, old brown coat hung from his shoulders and nearly touched the floor, despite sitting on a tall chair. At the top of his coat was a hood. It was this particular accessory that drove most of the locals away. It identified him immediately as a Pendaran. No one else wore hoods, and no one wanted to be near a Pendaran. The stories said that not even Pendarans wanted to be near other Pendarans, and as far as stories go, that one was pretty accurate.
In other words, this man was used to eating alone, enjoying the solitude. He had a glass of water sitting next to his bowl of soup, and about every third scoop, he would bring the cup to his mouth and take a swallow or two, hastily wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his coat. Then he would go right back to eating his soup, spilling ample amounts on the bar. It looked like, along with sleeping, he hadn’t done much eating over the last few weeks. The boy stood there and just watched the man eat. He watched as the old captain reached the end of his soup, and brought the bowl up to his mouth and drank the rest. Then he gulped down the water, and set the glass back down on the bar.
The boy looked from the man and then back to Addie. “Are you sure he can help me?”
“No. He’s just the only one I don’t know about. I’ve seen the other captains and pilots already turn down passengers. No one has asked him. How desperate are you?” She winked at him.
He was already unsure about his plan, and seeing this man made him more so. He wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. Maybe he could hide out in the town for a while and try the restaurant again. Surely there would be others, more suitable to his tastes, who would be willing to help. Then he remembered an old saying: If you’ve got an empty belly, you can’t turn down whatever food is in front of you. His belly was empty. This was his chance. He mustered up all the courage he had and made his way to the end of the bar.
As the boy got closer to the old captain, the man turned toward him and shoved his glass into the younger man’s hands. “More of that water. Make it quick.”
“Uh…,” he took a deep breath, “I don’t work here. I am actually looking to find a ship to work on, earn my keep…” The last part trailed off as the man looked him straight in the eye.
“I see. And what is your name, crewman?”
“Mostly, people call me Drake, sir.” Not knowing what to do, Drake saluted the man.
“I see. Well, Drake, the Nomad does not take on runaways. It gets messy if we do. Sorry, lad.” With that, the man stood and walked down to where Addie stood wiping down the counter top. He completely ignored Drake as he walked by. He didn’t even notice Drake following him.
“I’m not a runaway, sir. I am a prisoner, being held here against my will. I just want to get away. I promise I can be useful member of your crew, captain.”
“I’m sorry, lad, but the answer is a firm no. Miss, more water, please. I don’t know when I’ll have more fresh water.”
As he stood there, waiting for Addie to return with his water, completely ignoring the boy, the doors chimed,indicating a new customer had just walked in. The man turned and his face fell. He recognized the new customer right away. “Can’t be time already, can it Jax?”
The younger woman was tall and muscular and wore a brown jacket, similar to the captain’s long coat, minus the hood. She had black hair, darker than any Drake had ever seen before, only to be out done by her even darker eyes. Her jacket had the same insignia as the captain’s coat, indicating they were from the same ship.
Jax smiled at him. “You know, Obe, it would be easier if you just kept track of the time yourself,and came back to the dock when you were supposed to, I wouldn’t have to come and retrieve you.”
Obe nodded his head, like he had heard all of this before. “What’s the point of being a captain, if you don’t have a crew to keep track of you? I’ll be just a minute, I just want one more bit of water.”
Jax shook her head, smiling. This was obviously a familiar game to them. Then she noticed the boy. “Who’s this? You make a new friend, O Captain my Captain?”
“What?! Oh, him. This is Dirk. Dirk, meet Jax, an actual member of my crew.”
“Actually, ma’am, it’s Drake,” he said, while extending his hand. “I was just discussing the terms of my employment with the captain here. Ol’ Obe.”
“Ol’ Obe? I’m guessing he told you no, Drake. We don’t typically take on runaways.”
“I don’t know,” the captain said as he finished his second glass of water, “the kid’s kind of growing on me. I’m sure we could have him do all the chores we all hate doing. We haven’t had anyone to clean the toilets for a while now.”
“I would be willing to do it. I’d be willing to do just about anything to get on your ship, Captain Obe.”
“Fine, fine. Where are you headed? We’ll see where we can drop you off that’s on the way.”
“Nowhere, in particular, Captain Obe, sir. Just looking to get away from here and for some adventure.”
“You’re in luck,” the Captain said with a smile, away from here is exactly where we’re going next. Name’s Captain Oberon Manethara of Pendar. You can just call me sir. Now, before you set foot on my ship, you will need to sign a work contract. It’s pretty simple, pretty straightforward. You agree to work on my ship as a member of my crew, and in return we provide a place for you to sleep; a cabin with a bed and privacy. We also provide food for you to eat. We all eat together as a crew, no one goes without. In addition, you will be paid 10 credits each monthly cycle for your work. There is no term to the contract, so you can leave whenever you want, or I can let you go if it’s not working out. Do you understand?”
Drake nodded. It was a good deal. He had heard of other runaways who were willing to leave on ships without any kind of agreement. They basically became slaves in space and were worse off than if they had stayed here. To him, the suggested contract was better than he had imagined he would receive. It was more money than he had ever received in his life. He had no hesitation in agreeing to it.
Captain Manethara smiled at him and motioned to Jax. She pulled out a CompTab, and manipulated the screen pulling up a standard contract that they must have had programmed just for these types of occasions. She typed in a few places. “Do you have a family name, Drake?” Most slaves didn’t. He shook his head. She finished typing in a few places, then handed it to him, indicating where he would sign and then scan his thumb, the standard procedure for signing a contract of employment. Once he had completed it,she looked it over, nodded at Captain Manethara, then switched if off and put it back in her bag.
“Excellent. Jax tells me it is time to head the docks and take our pod back to our ship. We have our next assignment to complete. She will introduce you to the rest of the crew once we are aboard the ship. Welcome to the team.” He extended his hand and Drake took it like he had seen his master do with his business associates. Somehow it felt as though something very important in his life had just happened.
The hangar was in the docks, just across the open square from the old restaurant. Like most old villages in old colonies, the square was centrally located, and everything in the town revolved around it. Most towns also had their docks in or near the square, since most of the commerce came through them. That’s where all the transports would park, and most of the merchants wanted easy access to the square to sell their goods. Bigger towns and cities might have multiple docks for different types of transports, but this was what they called a “one dock town.” The type of town that you normally avoided. Oberon Manethara and his crew didn’t avoid any town, as long as there was payment waiting for them there. In addition to the local transports, the docks were where all the pods, the smaller surface to ship transports, would be parked.
As the trio entered the hangar where their pod was docked, Drake wondered which of the three small transports would be theirs. This was barely a one dock town, and there weren’t a lot of freighters or transports in orbit at the moment. Jax and the captain walked over to the nicest of the three pods currently docked there.The Nomad had space for two pods, but had originally only had one when Obe had purchased it, one clunky old piece of junk, simply called “Pod 1.” Pod 2 had been destroyed under Nomad’s previous owner. Obe hated Pod 1, but for years it was the only pod they had, so he had made do. Then, a couple years back, as part of a job they completed, they had inherited the other pod. The customer couldn’t pay, and they happened to have this almost new pod that Obe felt they didn’t need anymore. A new paint job and a new name, and no one was the wiser. He had christened the new pod “Liberty,” and she was a beauty. Compared to Pod 1, she was a luxury liner. If he was going to the surface at all , or on a short excursion, he always preferred to take Liberty. He was glad to see Jax had been thoughtful enough to bring her to retrieve him. Not all his crew would have been as thoughtful.
They walked over to the Liberty, and Captain Manethara went straight inside to begin preparations in the cabin for departure. Jax stayed on the outside to make sure everything on the exterior was ready for lift off. Drake began walking around the pod himself, admiring it. To him, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. To him, it was aptly named, since this was liberty, his ticket away from here. He reached out his hand, running it along the smooth outer surface. For years he had dreamt of a day like today, and for months he had been desperate find a way to make it happen. It was finally here.
“Hey!” The shout came from across the hangar, near the entrance.Drake and Jax both looked up. Drakes stomach dropped as he recognized the men that stood in the doorway.It was his master and some of his guards. He knew it would only be a matter of time before they discovered that he had escaped, but he had hoped that he would already be leaving orbit and on his way out of this place when they did. Now, it looks like his dream would be crushed. He would try again, but this attempt was over. He began reserving himself to the fact that he would be returning to the only home he had ever known.
“You have my property. That,” his master said, pointing to him, “belongs to me!”
“I’m, sorry,” Jax said calmly, “but he is one of our crew.”
“No! I’m sure you think it’s fine to take him for your own, but he already belongs to me. He is a runaway and a thief. Return him to me or else I’ll call the constable, get the law involved.”
“Fine.” The voice came from just inside the main hatch of the Liberty. Captain Manethara walked onto the steps leading the hangar floor. “Let’s call the constable. I just want to ask you one thing first. Do you have any paperwork that shows this young man belongs to you or is employed by you?” Slavery itself was technically illegal throughout the empire, but many outlying worlds, like this one, continued in the practice. Because of the legality issue, though, most slave owners did not have any papers or documents that showed they owned the slaves. They had no solid claim.
“Nice try, off worlder, but the kid’s mine. I know it, he knows it, you know it, and the constable will know it to. This’s not some fancy inner world. He’ll take my side.”
“Maybe he would.” He reached out his hand toward Jax, who placed the CompuTab into it. He opened the screen and pulled up the freshly signed contract, and then walked to the slave owner. “This, friend, is a contract, legally binding through out the empire, that says this young man, Drake, is a full member of my crew, and as such is under the protection of the Nomad and her crew. Unless you have a document that predates this one that says he belongs to you, then I think I have the legal high ground. So, please, let’s call the constable and get this all cleared up.”
The slave owner stared at the screen, trying to read every word, then he paused, not sure what he should do next. His face was set and determined, He did not like being pushed around by these fancy off worlders, and was ready to defend himself and his claim to the boy.He looked at Manethara and began leaned in toward him, trying to establish his dominance.
Oberon Manethara was not easily intimidated. He did not step back as the man stepped closer to him. Instead, he stepped in, and moved some of his gray hair behind his ear, and stared the man straight in the eye. He could see his expression change as he noticed the ears. They came to a slight point, small but distinct.
“You’re a…a…one of them Pendarans.” he then looked at Drake, “I don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself involved in, boy, but I don’t want no part of it.” He then looked back and Manethara, “Go on, take the boy. He’s pretty worthless any way.” He turned to the small group that had come with him and rushed them to the door. The men almost tripped over each other as they raced toward the exit.
Manethara stepped through the hatch, and onto the Liberty. Jax followed him in, and then proceeded straight to the cockpit and finished the preparations for take off. Drake was the last of the three to enter, and tried to take it all in. He had never seen anything so amazing. Everything was metal and clean. It felt cold at first, but the furnishings inside the Liberty made it feel warm and inviting at the same time. Drake had never been on any kind of space craft, and the people he knew who had traveled in space, had only been in freighters that were bare bones at best. He could have never imagined anything like this. The captain made his way back to his normal chair and buckled himself in. He smiled at Drake and said, “Just wait ’til you see the Nomad. She is a fine vessel, if you don’t mind me saying so.” Drake nodded and smiled, and then looked over the remaining seats in the cabin, and found one near a window. He sat down, and then buckled his own safety harness in preparation for take off. Jax called back from the cock pit that they had been cleared for take off. Drake felt the force of the planet’s gravity pulling him down as the Liberty lifted off the ground and left the dock. He smiled, not even trying to mask his excitement, and then looked over at Captain Manethara. The captain’s head was bowed and his eyes were closed, and Drake could hear him snoring.
Zak Sweetwater sat alone in a dark, empty room. He wasn’t entirely sure where he was. His new employers had met him at the designated spot, and then blindfolded him and had injected him with some kind of drug that had knocked him out almost instantly. The next thing he remembered was waking up in this dark room, alone. It was cold in the room, that and the constant humming noise of engines told him he was on a spacecraft of some sort, which meant he could be almost anywhere inside or outside of the empire.
Many people may have panicked in such a situation, but in Zak’s line of work, he was used to being in these kinds of situations. He had learned a lot of patience over the years, and that patience was one of the big reasons he had always been so successful. He was one of the best at what he did, and his services did not come cheap. These employers, however, were offering him more money than he had ever been paid in his life. This must be a high profile job, which means they came to the right man. Zak excelled at the jobs no one else could do.
No, for the money, he had no problem just sitting and waiting, regardless of how long the wait would be. He had tried to estimate how long he had been in here,and could only calculate from when he had woken up. From that time, he guessed it had been at least three hours. Three hours and he had not made a single noise. His employers could be testing him to see how thinly his patience could be stretched. He just sat and rubbed lotion into his already soft hands. He had always taken care of his hands. They were so crucial to his work. They were finely tuned instruments, like a surgeon’s hands, but they did very different work.
Finally, after another hour, the door to his chamber opened, letting in a flood of bright light. Instinctively, he raised his hands up to shade his eyes, and then tried to stare at the open door, expecting his employer to walk in. All he could see was a silhouette against the lights from the doorway. From the shadowy figure, he could tell the person was above average height, but thin. The lack of curves suggested it was either a man or possibly a woman in some kind of blast armor. He suspected the former. He just stared at the figure and waited for them to speak.
“Mr. Sweetwater, thank you for meeting with us to discuss this exciting opportunity.”
He tried to smile, “Didn’t have much of a choice, did I?”
“I suppose that is true, but in any case, thank you.”
“What’s the job? What’s the assignment?”
“It’s simple, really, we are going to make you very rich. Rich enough that you will be able to retire early and live out the rest of your days in luxury. All we require in return is one thing, one tiny, little thing.” Zak could hear the smile in the figure’s voice as he spoke. “Simply put, we require one small act of treason. We want you to kill the emperor.”
Silence fell across the room, and Zak realized he was holding his breath. He caught himself, and forced his lungs to start working again. This was as high profile as his jobs got. No one had ever pulled off something like this before, but if anyone could, it was Zak Sweetwater. He hesitated only a second, before smiling at the figure. “When do we start?”
Jake Dietz is a story teller. In addition to the writings on this site, he is also the host of The Geeky Mormon Presents... -a weekly podcast on all things geek. He is also a husband and father of six beautiful children. He loves a good story and will take it in any format he can find.
© Jake Dietz 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jake Dietz with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Original artwork is © Samuel Norton 2016.