Well, seeing as I’m trapped in a friggin’ escape pod, I might as well tell whoever cares to listen how I managed to get here.
I’m a smuggler by trade. It’s what I do, and I do a damn good job of it. I do some legitimate transportation, too, but smuggling’s what pays the bills. And I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’d say my name is known all over, but I leave my name out, on purpose.
See, when I got into this line of work, I changed my name. If I got caught, I didn’t want anyone bothering my family. But, of course, nothing is ever fucking easy anymore, so there was a mixup. Whoever entered my information into the system confused my name and birthplace. So according to all official documents, my name is Lima Peru. I’d change it back, but changing it costs $7,000 because they have to change it in every system in the known universe, and that’s not an easy task. I mean, it’s not particularly difficult, either, but they make the rules. They are the Confederacy.
Let me reiterate: they are the Confederacy.
Of course, I only found out once I was hanging out near the Kuiper belt station, but the Confederacy didn’t fall. Whoever was in charge of that massive ship lied to me. Why? How the fuck should I know? Well, I mean, I know now, but… Look, I’m telling a story, dammit, leave me alone.
So some big ship lied to me and I punched it until I ended up in the Kuiper belt. I stopped there. I decided to lay low for a while. Kuiper’s a good place for that. I spent a few nights there with some money I had saved up, called to let my clients know I was behind schedule, and took it easy. Thankfully, my ship didn’t have any perishable goods onboard. That would have been a mess, literally and figuratively.
I had been at this for about a week and decided that it was high time I got back out in the stars. I was a little worried about scanning my ID on my way out, but I decided there was no need to worry. Whoever was bothering me was probably just bothering everyone who passed through that area, so I would avoid it this time. I set the course and headed off at a speed slower than light. I was going to take this slow.
I was going to do a lot of things.
I cleared the solar system just in time to have another ship hail me.
I stopped and opened the channel. It crackled a little, then a voice boomed through, though it sounded severely warped.
“Pilot, please identify your vessel and yourself according to Confederate regulations.”
This shit again?
I hit the button.
“Captain Peru of the USS Taylor-Marie, callsign Tango-Mike-Niner-Niner-Six-One-Eight. Personal callsign Alpha-Zero-Four-Zero-Six-Niner-Two-Eight-Eight.”
The comm channel was silent. That was a little weird.
“Captain Peru, I will have to request permission to come aboard. You are suspected of smuggling and aiding and abetting known terroristic groups.”
Well, great. They heard about my little incident and they wanted to talk about it, and get my feelings on the matter. If I could refuse, I would have, but as I was unable to refuse, I just let them do what they needed to.
“Fine, fine, come aboard. There’s not a lot of room, so don’t be surprised.”
The comm channel was cut and the ship moved in to connect with the airlock. This is weird, I thought. That’s the best ship money can buy and the Feds are using it? What the hell has this universe become?
The connected airlock pressurized very quickly. I moved to greet my unwelcome visitor.
There was a beep when the airlock was requested open, and I responded to it immediately.
The woman standing there seemed to be preparing herself for a speech, until I realized who she was.
She backed up a step. I don’t think she was ready to see me. I certainly wasn’t ready to see her.
“Jesus, Chels, what’s with all the cloak-and-dagger?” I asked, smiling broadly.
She slapped me square across the face.
“That’s for making Mom worry so much about you! You drop off the face of the Earth, literally and figuratively, and you take up… Smuggling? And what the hell kind of name is Peru? What, were you homesick?!”
“God, you really slapped me good,” I said, touching my stinging cheek. “It’s kind of a long story, this whole thing. The name was a mixup.”
“Well, you’re going to tell me every detail.”
I guess it was good to know my sister was the same as ever.
* * *
“Alright, so, where should I start?”
“Start after you dropped out of college and off the grid,” Chelsea answered. My family never got over me dropping out of college.
“Well, I found out what smugglers got paid, so I decided to do that,” I said matter-of-factly. “I changed my name in case I got caught, but whoever entered the information put in my birthplace instead of my name and I got stuck with Lima Peru.”
“Well, that is one hell of a pseudonym,” she said.
“What I wanna know is why you’re here,” I stated. “I heard you picked up smuggling a couple years after I did and left it behind after things went south.”
“Well, yes, but I was on the straight and narrow before. I tried to make it work, but the pay was abysmal and the hours were outrageous.”
“Oh, so you think you’re all high-and-mighty because you finished college and can use big words?” I asked jokingly.
“‘Abysmal’ isn’t a big word, or a complicated one,” she replied. “Anyway, when I couldn’t pay my bills, I got an offer to do some smuggling. You and I both are good pilots, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
“Oh, trust me, I noticed in school.”
“Well, that’s what brings us to today: one last trip.”
“One last trip?”
Her tone was very serious, her face even more so.
“Chelsea, your brow could knit a sweater. What’s going on?”
She smiled at my comment, but couldn’t look me in the eye.
“I came for the ship, Chris.”
I stared at her blankly.
“You mean the ship we’re sitting in?”
“Yes, the ship we’re sitting in.”
I had to let that soak in.
“I have a client who requested me personally by birth name to do this job,” she added.
“Trust me, you don’t want me to go into detail about what I’ve been up to under a fake name.”
I didn’t quite know how to take that, though I’ll take advice that makes sense.
“So you want my ship?”
“It’s not your ship, Chris.”
Let me just take a moment here to step aside and clarify: for all intents and purposes, this was my ship. I had been flying it around for so long that it was associated with me. It was a fantastic ship, the USS Taylor-Marie. I knew it was custom-made as long as I had had it. The story of how I came to own it is… Well, actually, not that relevant. Maybe I’ll recount it later, when I only have a few more minutes of oxygen left. Everything would be more interesting then.
“Chelsea, it’s been my ship for a long damn time. Why is the owner just now trying to get it?”
“I don’t know. I met him about 10 minutes before I left to get you.”
“That’s awfully quick. Does it fall under that category of things I shouldn’t ask about you?”
She nodded, so I left it be. This was the first I’d seen or heard of my sister in seven years, I wasn’t about to blow it.
“Alright, well, what the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Hand over the keys, that’s what.”
“And if I don’t?”
She pulled out an index card with coordinates and a short paragraph on it. I read through it quickly.
“I should have fuckin’ known! I was wondering how you’d have known about those guys…”
“Did you not read the last line, dumbass?”
“Oh, I read it,” I said, handing the card back to her. “It’s just not the first time I’ve had my life threatened.”
“So will you hand it over quietly?”
I didn’t think she’d actually kill me, but honestly, I wasn’t about to find out.
“Can I get my things together?”
“Of course you can.”
I collected my things as fast as I could (everything was scattered everywhere, so it took longer than I expected) and got off of my ship and onto the other.
I sat down with a little bag full of necessary stuff (which, might I add, is now pressed up against my ribcage) and got ready to depart.
“I need to make a call real quick. Do you mind?”
“Do whatever you want, Chels.”
She walked to the cockpit and shut the door behind herself.
I couldn’t hear any of her conversation, but I didn’t even want to. I was too sad. I really did like that ship. But, since I stole it in the first place, it was hard to feel cheated. It was just a nice ship. Comfy, fast, good-looking, free… I mean, shit, who wouldn’t miss a ship like that?
Chelsea came out of the cockpit and broke up the funk I was in.
“I’m going to drop you off at the Europa-3 base. They’ll take care of getting you back to Earth.”
Yeah, great plan there.
“Do what you have to,” I said with a resigned tone.
She took me to Europa-3, next thing I know, escape pod, quarantine, apologies, I’m fucked. So that’s my current status.
Oh, a light’s blinking on my console? What, are there space vampires who want to eat me?
That’s Chelsea’s ship?! And… Oh, God, where is she? WHERE IS MY TAYLOR-MARIE?!!?
It’s… Moving to intercept?
[a loud noise of metal on metal echoes on the tape.]
Is that the airlock? Is it… Am I being saved?
[Chris Jakkard grabs the recorder and turns to the airlock, which has opened.]
Uh… Well, I ought to keep dictating, since this is… New.
Chelsea left a note here…
If anyone asks, Captain Lima Peru is dead. Use your real name and this ship, courtesy of my employer.
And for the love of God, call Mom.
– Chelsea Jakkard”
…Well, hello, beautiful…
[Jakkard steps to the control panel, setting down the recorder.]
I suppose we ought to check this out…
[A button to display cargo content is pressed.]
Oh, I don’t even believe you right now. A free ship and my cargo?! Why would she–
[Jakkard falls silent for a moment.]
Well, shit, I guess I have to call Mom tomorrow now…
You know what? In the meantime, we have to get acquainted, you and I…
[Jakkard lays in his original course.]
Oh, your buttons are so responsive, you must be new. And that display is fantastically designed… You are a true work of art, Artemis.
[Jakkard stands up, and walks just outside of the cockpit.]
You need a motto. Like Taylor-Marie had. How about…
[Jakkard snaps his fingers, and opens a permanent marker.]
A warning to myself and to everyone else. Perfect.
[Jakkard returns to the captain’s chair.]
Alright… Let’s see what you can do at top speed. If anyone hears this, I dare you to come find me.
[There is a shuffling as Jakkard seems to move to a different part of the ship.]
Omnia potest inveniri, muthafucka!!
[Shortly after, the recorder was ejected into space. His parting words, “everything can be found,” seems to be a challenge. The recorder was found during the formal investigation into the destruction of Europa Base Mark III. Only two people were found in the station, the remainder having abandoned their post in advance of the catastrophe. Though it is assumed that the remaining officers on duty at the Europa-3 base were part of a conspiracy, it is impossible to confirm this suspicion. Likewise, the perfectly synced timing of the arrival and departure of Chelsea Jakkard, a known felon, and the arrival of a deadly neurotoxin and the following quarantine is assumed to mean that Chelsea Jakkard killed the two men on the Europa-3 base and encouraged the rest to abandon their post, presumably under duress. That, along with this tape, built a convincing case that Chelsea Jakkard created a situation that allowed her brother to escape. However, all formal inquiries into this matter have been completely blocked by Congress themselves, who apparently had a request by a very powerful lobbying party to drop the matter entirely, and to exonerate both of the Jakkard siblings. Seeing as that is the case, this file is to be kept under close control by any and all agencies with access to it. Like Chris Jakkard said in his parting words: Everything can be found.]
Drew Schackmann is a contributing writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. He can be contacted on Twitter.
© 2015; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.