"Clipboard, are you awake?"
The sleeping bag moves slightly and makes muttering sounds. After a few moments of silence, the woman on the couch gets up and wraps the blankets around herself, walks a few steps over to the sleeping bag, and kicks it.
"Clipboard! Wake up!"
The person in the sleeping bag stirs, and then suddenly gets up. His face is more visible in the light of the static on the TV. He's human, and has a pale youthful face with a mess of pale blonde hair. He' s wearing a turtleneck with the words "Dues Ex Machina" on it. As he wakes up, all of the metal equipment he has piled next to the sleeping bag lights up and makes booting up noises.
"Would you give me just a second, Dewclaw? At least wait until my software drivers load..."
"Sorry Clipboard, it's just that we've got to get going soon."
"What? Dewclaw, it's 5:46 AM, where the hell do we have to go so early?"; Clipboard asks, after looking at a digital clock/radio on the table where Dewclaw's stuff is.
"First of all, I want to leave now so that we don't have listen to Nick p**s and moan at us for sleeping in his apartment again. Second, we need to leave so we can get to the ship early and beat the rush hour traffic leaving Toj station."
"Ok, but why are you in such a hurry to leave the station?" A sudden realization dawns on Clipboard. "Oh crap, you aren't serious about this piracy thing are you?"
"It's not Piracy, it's vigilantism. And there's a lot of money to be had in it."
"Yeah, not to mention a lot of risk."
Dewclaw kicks Clipboard again.
"That's just about enough from the peanut gallery. Now get up, we need to get moving."
At this, Dewclaw turns around and heads for the bathroom, grabbing her pile of clothing and equipment and closing the door behind her. Clipboard gets up out of the sleeping bag, folds it up, and puts on all of his clothing and equipment. He's already wearing a turtleneck shirt and jeans, so he puts on his pair of oversized metal boots, and then his giant white trench coat, which has giant sleeves and oversized robotic gloves at the ends of them. He looks sort of ape like in all of the oversized gear. He then pulls a pair of square goggles that look like ski goggles with two lenses out of his trench coat, and puts them on his head. The lenses light up for a second, and then dim back down. Clipboard sits down on the couch until Dewclaw opens the bathroom door and walks out. She's Dressed in baggy knee cut shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt with a big letter D on it. She's also wearing a pair of sandals that are strapped in several places to her feet and the lower part of her digitagrade legs.
"Ok Clipboard," she says, "let's head for the ship."
"All right, but I'm still not sure about this..."
Dewclaw opens the door of Nick's apartment, and walks out into the dark of early morning. The stars are clearly visible through the glass dome of Toj Station, and the sun lights haven't turned on yet. Clipboard follows Dewclaw out the door, and they walk quietly down the exit stairs, and along the avenue. As they try to cross a street, a mini van pulls in front of them, almost running over Dewclaw's feet.
"You B*****d!" She shouts, and then lowers her voice. "Hey, wasn't that the same mini van that tried to run us over on Valentine's day?"
Clipboard catches up to Dewclaw, and watches the van speed off into the night.
"Jeez, you're right. Doesn't that guy ever sleep?"
"Maybe he's on Cocaine"
"Or a vampire."
Dewclaw looks at Clipboard, and raises an eyebrow.
"Now You're just creeping me out..."
About an hour later, at Nick's apartment, The door to Nick's bedroom opens, and he walks out. Nick is about 6 feet tall, maybe a little bit taller than Dewclaw, and has blonde hair, He's already fully dressed, in baggy pants, and a long shirt. He walks into the kitchen and up to the freezer, and takes out a frost covered box of "Waff-fulls". Looking tired and dazed, he pulls one out and puts it into the microwave. He stands around waiting for it to cook, and after about thirty seconds, the microwave starts making snapping and sizzling noises. Nick turns around, startled, and turns the microwave off. He cautiously opens the door, and looks inside the microwave. There is a mess of red filling all over the microwave's insides, and an exploded waffle lying on the turn table. As Nick looks at the waffle, it makes another loud snapping noise, and splatters hot filling goo all over his shirt.
"GAA!" Nick shouts, and tries to brush some of the filling off, only to have it burn his fingers. "Son of a bitch!"
After both Nick and the jelly filling have had a couple of seconds to cool down, Nick walks of to the sink, rinses his hands off, and rests his chin on one of them.
"Man, other people wake up with coffee... I wake up with an adrenalin rush when when my damn breakfast explodes. I've got remember to put those damn things in the toaster."
Nick scrapes the remains of the waffle out of the microwave with a spoon, and eats what he can salvage, then cleans the microwave up with a sponge. Then he goes back into his room and changes into a new shirt, that looks basically the same as his old one. He walks into the bathroom and brushes his teeth, then heads for his living room.
"Clipboard, Dewclaw, I need to go to work, so I want you out of my house..." he starts to say, before he looks and sees that no one is there. "Oh, I Guess they must have left."
Nick shrugs his shoulders, and puts on his boots, chest plate, and bizarre cloth dome of a hat. He grabs his sword and walks out the door, then down the metal stairs to street level. Coming off the stairs, he turns and heads around the apartment to the parking lot. He walks past of couple of cars with wheels, and one car with some kind of hovering thing attached to the bottom. Nick's car, however, has the oddest variation on wheels of them all. Jutting out of each fender of his green, finned Cadillac car, is an enormous chicken leg. The car lowers itself almost to the ground for Nick to open the door and jump in, then springs up and gallops out of the parking lot. Nick steers the thing along several roads, leaping over some smaller cars when he can. The car approaches a large ugly cinder block building, with a brown metal roof, and a sign above the door that reads "Charlie's armory". He drives into the parking lot, and parks near the front. His car lowers down on it's legs, and he jumps out and walks into the store. The sliding glass doors open in front of him, then almost slide shut on his foot. He walks through the several shelves and aisles of ammunition and cheap weaponry, until he reaches a metal door with a security keypad. Punching a code in, he opens the door, and steps behind the counter, then sits down on a chair. Sitting next to him is Rob. He's a bit shorter than Nick, with brown hair and a backwards baseball hat, and a t-shirt worn over a long sleeved shirt that reads "WCW SUX". Nick turns towards Him.
"You're here really early, Rob."
"Funny story. I fell asleep yesterday during work, and I never went home."
Nick narrows his eyes and shoots Rob a sideways glance.
"That's not all that funny."
"Yeah, well I'm not laughing either."
"Wouldn't the night shift have woken you up?"
"We were covering for the night shift yesterday, remember?"
Rob and Nick sit at their post for a few minutes, and Rob starts to tap his fingers. A customer walks in, and stands in front of the counter. A tall blonde man, wearing the trench coat and shoulder pads of a technomancer.
"Hey, store drones, I wanna buy a gun."
Nick sits up in his chair.
"Ok... what kind of gun are you looking for?"
"I don't have time for your mind game, cashier. Don't you have some kind of video catalog?"
Rob pulls a laptop computer out of a shelf under the counter and hands it to Nick, who starts it up, and brings up the electronic catalog, a blue screen with displays of guns on on it. Nick swings it around to the technomancer who scrolls through it quickly, looking more at the pictures of guns than the specs of each weapon. Finding one, he swings the laptop around so Nick can see, and says,
"This one looks menacing, I'll take it!."
Nick stares at the screen, a look of dread washing over his face.
"Are you sure this is the one you want? Maybe you should take a better look at the specifications on it..."
"Look, I'm the one with the money, I'm in control of this situation! Now sell me that gun!"
Nick rolls his eyes and turns around. He opens a metal door behind the counter, walks through, and shuts it behind him. Rob is left to deal with the customer, who is standing in front of the counter looking impatient. Neither one says anything for a while, and the customer is the first to break the silence.
"Hey, when's he going to be back with my gun?"
Rob shrugs his shoulders.
"How the hell should I know? It's not like I have cameras all over the place, and one of the terminals that shows everything they see is sitting on a shelf on the wall where it's easy for me to look at."
"Then what's that?" The technomancer points to a terminal on a shelf near Rob, which is showing the footage of the various cameras strewn about the store and warehouse.
"Well, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to that thing. All I know is that I can't get it pick up anything interesting, other than the occasional episode of 'Cops'."
"You- you imbecile! That's the security monitoring terminal for this place!"
"Did you just call me an Imbecile?"
The technomancer laughs, and eyes the terminal.
"I can't stand to be in this shop any longer, so it's a good thing your friend is coming with my gun. I'm going to buy that gun and get the hell out of here. Why don't you ask the other flunky here to show you how that terminal works, if he even knows."
Rob glares at the technomancer, and says nothing.
Nick walks back into the store with the gun to see the technomancer standing nervously, and Rob slouching in his seat looking angry. He sets the gun down on the table and says, ";that'll be $500."; The technomancer takes the gun, and hands Nick a wad of cash, which Nick sorts into the register. Putting the gun into a weapons holster in his trench coat, the technomancer walks out of the store. Rob looks at Nick and says,
"We just sold that guy a 2030 Sabro" 'Berser' pistol, didn&'t we?"
“The Sabro™ ‘Berser’ that was recalled because its feedback coils caught fire and exploded when you pulled the trigger?”
“The Sabro™ ‘Berser’ with the street nickname ‘Shoot off your mouth, melt off your hands’?”
“Good. I’d say that customer was more deserving of that caliber of weapon that most I know.”
“We’ll turn on the news in a couple of hours. I bet they’ll show some old still pictures of him.”
As Nick and Rob laugh about the demise of their witless customer, Charlie is in his office in the warehouse. The owner and proprietor of Charlie’s Armory, he is a seven foot tall anthropomorphic red dragon in a technomancer’s giant white trench coat and shoulder pads, and oversized gloves. His trench coat has zippers in the back to allow for his bat like wings, and he’s wearing gray slacks. He also wears a pair of technomancer’s goggles around his neck. He sits in a cushy leather swivel chair, behind his expensive looking wooden desk staring at recordings of the security cameras.
“I can’t believe that kid actually bought that Berser pistol. I mean, he’s a technomancer, he should know better. But, I guess that’s just what technomancy has come too. I remember when I was teaching technomancy, it was a field of science, and the most important things to technomancers were innovation and discovery. But those days are over, and now technomancy is little more than a mage clan whose members use guns instead of staves. All of the innovation has been replaced by stagnation, all the science by arcane steps and tests designed to keep the lower level technomancers from getting too strong. Schools of the art crank out arrogant fools like that kid who just walked out of my store with a suicide weapon. It’s really partially my fault, and the fault of my peers, though. After we made all our discoveries, inventions, and innovations, we all retired, or went into hiding. Now the technomancers we left running things just revel in our successes, and try to maintain a position of power for themselves.”
Back in the store portion of Charlie’s armory, Nick and Rob are attending to another customer. A man with long brown hair and wearing a brown cloak walks into the store and picks a small black tube from a rack labeled “Beam Swords” and puts it on the counter in front Nick and Rob.
“I’d like to purchase this beam sword.”
Nick picks it up and looks at the price tag.
“Do you want us to add in the plasma cutter upgrade for $300?”
“No, that’s quite all right.”
“Ok, then it’s going to cost you $98.”
The customer in the cloak waves his hand in front of Nick and Rob’s faces in a slow motion.
“$60 will be more than enough.”
“No it won’t. The sword costs $98.”
The customer waves his hand again.
“You’d be happy to sell me that beam sword for $60.”
“No, I’d be wracked with pain, because if I did that, then Charlie would hit me in the face with a rolled up newspaper.”
Frustrated, the customer waves his hand at Nick in an angry motion.
“Just sell me the damn sword.”
“Is this some kind of mind trick?”
Rob looks at the customer and says, “That’s the worst mind trick I’ve ever seen. Allow me to show you a better one.” At this, he ducks down under the counter, and rears back up with a huge metal gun resting on his shoulders. It’s tube shaped with a large blocky mechanism at the back, and it’s glowing blue from several panels along it’s side. Rob waves his hand at the customer.
“Pay for that sword right now, or I will chase you out of the store with this rail gun.”
The Customer looks at the rail gun, grabs the beam sword, pulls a wad of money out of his pocket, and shouts “Gotta go! Keep the change!” then dashes out of the store and down the street. Rob puts the rail gun down.
“Now that’s... a mind trick.”
Nick leafs through the money, counting it.
“Have you been taking diplomacy lessons from Dewclaw or something?”
“Hey, she has a way with people.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ve learned all her secrets yet, because this is only 60 dollars.”
“WHAT?!” Rob picks up the rail gun and jumps over the counter, then dashes out of the store. “I’ll rail gun him good!”
Nick watches him dash away, and rolls his eyes.
“He must have picked that up off of Dewclaw, too.”
Meanwhile in the middle of an asteroid field in deep space, a medium sized gray vessel is drifting around the unsanctioned zone near Toj station. It has a sleek triangular-kite shape, with the right and left sides folding down into short wings near the rear of the craft. There are two guns on both of the wing extensions, one on top of the wing, one attached underneath. The ship has two engines jutting out the back, and two turreted guns just to the front of them. In the center of the ship, there is a squat tube shaped structure, which is rotating slowly. The sides of the ship have the ships name, “Super Clunker” painted on them. Briefly, a somewhat smaller, blocky cargo ship passes by the Super Clunker on it’s way to the Toj station worm gate, which is a huge glowing ring shaped thing, off in the distance. The Cargo ship makes it’s way to the worm gate, then flies to the back of a line of ships, each flying through the worm gate’s ring and disappearing in a blue flash. Back on the bridge of Super Clunker, Clipboard and Dewclaw are sitting strapped into chairs, in the weightless environment. The only part of their ship with artificial gravity is the rotating tube section, which simulates gravity through it’s spinning. Dewclaw is sitting in a cushy looking chair in the middle of the bridge, which looks out onto the windows and all of the display screens. Clipboard is sitting at a more homely chair towards the side of the bridge, working on some kind of laptop that’s wired into a table sticking out of the wall. Dewclaw stretches in her chair, and yawns out loud.
“Oh, I can’t believe we haven’t encountered any pirates... why isn’t anyone attacking us?”
Clipboard looks up from his laptop.
“You know, maybe it’s the fact that we have six guns on this damn thing. They really acts as a kind of a deterrent to most criminals.”
“But this ship can have up to nine guns! We’re practically under equipped!”
“Dewclaw, I really don’t think this is going to work.”
“Clipboard, if we get attacked by pirates and win, we can legally take whatever we want! Think about all the money and items.”
“So what? If no one’s attacking, we’re just wasting time. We could be running missions for money.”
“I’m sure something will happen soon, we just have to give it time.”
“The only people who are going to attack us are the one’s who can beat us. Pirates might be lawless, but they aren’t stupid. This whole idea is futile.”
Before Dewclaw can respond, the laptop next to Clipboard starts making klaxon noises. Clipboard looks sick with fear.
“What, what’s wrong?”
“Another ship has targeted us and armed it’s weapons.”
“I told you someone would come!”
“In a minute we’re going to wish they hadn’t.”
Dewclaw starts to looks worried, then asks Clipboard,“What do you mean by that? What type of ship is it?”
“It’s a Gharzi.”
“Oh, crap. Well, scan them, We’ll see what we’re up against.”
Clipboard pushes a bunch of buttons on the laptop, and an image of the Gharzi comes up on the screen. The ship is about three times the size of Clipboard and Dewclaw’s. It looks like a flying saucer, with the two halves of the disc rotating in opposite directions from each other. Each side of the disc shaped craft has three double gun turrets, and the top dome has a menacing looking missile launcher. Clipboard starts reading off the scan.
“Their armor is about equal to ours, but their shields are stronger. They have twice the fire power we do, and the scanner says they’re armed with Titan missiles”
“Titan missiles... those are the ones that make that big purplish explosion, right?”
“Yeah, their guidance system is nearly impossible to jam, and they have an enormous payload to them. They can be dodged though, as they travel fairly slow.”
Dewclaw looks at the Image on the screen, trying to figure out a strategy.
“Ok, well, our seeking missiles are a lot faster, and have almost as much of a blast to them... and from that scan, it looks like their ship would only be able to fire half of the guns at us at any time. That gives them the same number of weapons as us... I think we can take them if we use a hit-and run strategy, so long as we avoid those missiles.”
“What?! You can’t be serious about this, Dewclaw. That Gharzi will tear us apart!”
Suddenly, a face comes up on the screen where the Gharzi specs were being displayed, and the bridge floods with the voice of the Gharzi’s captain.
“It’s very smart of you not to make any hasty moves against my ship... I suggest you not put up a fight while I board you and help myself to some of your money and belongings. Maybe if things go well, I’ll even let you live.”
The face flickers off of the screen, and the Gharzi specs come back up. Clipboard’s laptop makes another warning noise.
“They’re picking up speed and heading towards us!”
Dewclaw unbuckles her chair and jumps out, floating to a chair with flight controls. She straps herself in and grabs the helm, switches off the autopilot, and starts steering the ship. She turns and shouts orders to Clipboard.
“Target them and get ready to fire!”
Outside, the Gharzi moves towards moves towards the Super Clunker, it’s weapons pointed at it. It fires a large , cigar shaped missile, which moves ponderously towards the triangular ship. Just before the missile can hit, the Super Clunker suddenly jets it’s engines and flies behind a stray asteroid. The Titan missile hits the asteroid and bursts into a purplish shockwave. The Super Clunker appears from behind the asteroid unharmed, and suddenly picks up speed, heading towards the Gharzi. The Gharzi fires it’s turrets at the Super Clunker but only hits a couple of times. The Super Clunker opens fire, and makes several hits on the Gharzi before flying past and retreating. Back on the bridge of the Super Clunker, Dewclaw is turning the ship around for another pass, and Clipboard is tapping away on his laptop.
“They’re shields are down by 30 percent! I never expected us to do this well!”
Dewclaw turns her head towards him and smiles. “I told you this was a good idea. Now let’s make another pass, and try to hit them with our missiles this time!”
The Super Clunker races at the Gharzi, firing a flurry of gunshots and three missiles. The Gharzi tries to move out of the way, but is too slow. The three missiles hit and produce fiery explosions on impact. The Gharzi falls out of the explosive flames, and it’s engines die down. On the bridge of the Clunker, Clipboard and Dewclaw are celebrating.
“I swear Clipboard,” Dewclaw says, “If there was gravity here, I’d dance a jig!”
“I’m setting the autopilot to board the Gharzi, let’s get our gear and get ready to take them on.”
Clipboard and Dewclaw head to the airlock of their ship, grabbing pistol weapons on the way. They walk across a metal tube and Into the Gharzi. Entering the enemy ship, they walk into the artificial gravity habitat area, and start picking things up and shoving them into a burlap sack. They find the crew of the ship, and force the captain at gunpoint to hand over his wallet.
“This is really quite embarrassing...”
Back on Toj station, Rob is still chasing after the guy who stole the beam sword. The two run into an open lot, and Rob points the rail gun at him and shouts, “Eat this!” he pulls the trigger, but the guy rushes at him and chops the gun in two with his sword. Rob stares at the burning gun sections in terror, and then plays a strategy that has been tested by time since prehistory. He drops his broken weapon, then turns and runs away screaming.
The guy with the beam sword shouts “HEY!” and chases after him. Rob ducks into an alley, and dashes through to another street, throwing a bunch of wooden pallets and boxes to the ground behind him. The swordsman follows close behind Rob, and cuts through the boxes and obstacles thrown in his path. Rob manages to lose his pursuer by jumping onto the back of a bus and hitching a ride. The bus drives past Charlie’s Armory, and Rob slips off and runs into the store. He runs up and stops at the counter, panting.
“Nick, call the cops. I had him cornered, but he cut my rail gun up and chased me halfway here. I slipped him by climbing onto the bumper of a bus.”
“Ok, I’ll call them. Go ask Charlie to turn on the security system.”
As Nick calls the police and tells them about the theft, Rob walks through the warehouse to Charlie’s office, and finds Charlie asleep in his chair. Rob cups his hands around his mouth and shouts “Hey, Charlie!”, and Charlie wakes up.
“What are you doing in my office, what’s the problem?”
“A guy stole a beam sword, and cut up my rail gun when I tried to go after him. Nick wants you to turn on the security system.”
Charlie flips a switch under his desk, and there’s a slight rumbling sound from beneath the store. Out in front, two of the sidewalk panels lift up to reveal small antipersonnel turrets. As an elderly woman tries to walk along the sidewalk across the street from Charlie’s armory, one of the turrets follows her with its gun. A loudspeaker on the machine says “Just keep walkin’...” in a low voice.
A few hours later, in the dead of night, Dewclaw is standing in the middle of a road, illuminated only by a street light some distance behind her. About a hundred feet ahead, two headlights glare at her through the night. The car attached to the lights revs it’s engines, and suddenly shifts into gear. It charges towards Dewclaw at top speed, but suddenly makes a blasting noise and loses control. The Mini van almost flips over, but manages to right itself and comes to a stop in bunch of bushes. Clipboard walks out of his hiding place behind a building and follows Dewclaw to the spot where the van lost control. Dewclaw bends down and searches the ground with her hands, then pulls up a chain covered in sharp twists of wire. She and Clipboard high five, and then walk back to their ship.