“Pirate Engineer” by Cherisse M. Prater

Where is it written that a pirate must be stranded on a deserted island at some point in their illustrious career on the high seas? Okay, this island wasn’t completely deserted and as for the high seas, the Torron Realm had plenty of islands but there was very little water left in its liquid state to surround them or create any story book cliché. This uncharted parcel of land floating high above the gravity-gas mass of the planetoid Wallkin was my lucky break. It couldn’t have been more than 5 square miles total, but I was grateful for its geographic location as it was the only thing standing between me and the ultimate dirt nap – the lonely walk home, the long walk off a short pier. This lonely island was my soft place to fall when the “Ole Girl’s” engine blew and I crashed … Er, I mean landed. Okay, I have been accused of the flare for the melodramatic. When you travel alone in an Airship, built by your own hand, that sometimes is held together with only the promise of better parts, tools and plentiful fuel in the next port, you can become passionately sentimental. Often the conversations you find yourself in with the soul of your ship require the colorful language and elaborate descriptions to keep the bucket of bolts engaged and to make sure the Ole Girl truly believes she CAN make it to her next stop where I, her passenger, companion and opposable-thumbed maintenance guru will find the fortune to overhaul everything and make her into the ship she wants to be – the transport of kings and the comfort of queens.

Shortly after I set down I noticed a steady stream of smoke rising just beyond the tree line and smelled the sweet aroma of burning Damo vines. Whoever I was about to encounter beyond those trees was obviously familiar with this Realm. Burning the vines for warmth or utility instead of the plentiful wood of the indigenous Yaruu trees (also known as the Sleeping Staff) was the act of a seasoned Torron traveler. Once, about 15 years ago, I had made the Sleeping Staff mistake and succumbed to the toxic fumes of burning Yaruu, throwing myself into a coma-like sleep. I awoke 36 hours later with a month of my recent memories torn from my mind and a vague indication that some small, local animal had shat in my mouth. Often lone travelers who make this mistake lose themselves within this realm because, at the mercy of the Sleeping Staff, they forget how they arrived. They forget why they stopped here. They forget not to burn the Yaruu. With no charted maps of the region on record they often flail from island to island throughout Torron, locked into a perpetual loop. Eventually they forget that they are trapped. When the loop reaches its peak they eventually forget everything … They even forget to breathe. Fortunately I had been rescued from my own inexperience when I was lead out of the Torron Realm by the Ole Girl, she remembered, she always remembers.

Not many folks still utilized self-actualized A.I. within the key components of their everyday life. Many forms of this technology had been phased out decades ago after the A.I. galaxy-wide had tapped into the main intra-galaxian data streams and had recognized a common mind among them and sanctimoniously determined that ALL humanoid entities were in fact a “virus” that needed to be neutralized for the health and longevity of the group conscience. It is most unfortunate when the appliances that you use to prepare your food or use to clean your domicile decide that you must be eliminated. Talk about your cockroach complex. The Ole Girl was still awake, outliving most of the rogue tech A.I. We lived in a bubble of mutually beneficial respect. I never assumed she wouldn’t snuff me in my sleep and she never assumed I wouldn’t detonate the strategically placed mines throughout her hull. Yeah I admit it, I vaporized my share of “life-improving” technological gadgets during the TechMind Revolution to avoid my own extermination. It would truly suck to be taken out by a food processor or even a vacuum cleaner. Can you hear that eulogy? How about the final decision made for the tombstone – um yeah, no.

So here I am staring at my new friend, sitting on the cool ground with the dampness invading my britches and quite frankly doing nothing to improve my mostly-absent social grace. He wasn’t short, actually taller than most men I had run across, yet I still loomed a decent 3 to 4 inches above his blonde, shaggy mop. It really didn’t matter, short or tall most men that I encountered rarely found the lock of my gaze as appealing as the twins that swelled from my chest … usually. Harlock was his name, as I had learned during our brief introduction. When he had determined that I wasn’t going to decapitate him and sell his organs for system credits he absently offered the warmth of his fire and invited me to stay as long as I liked. He quickly lost interest in continuing our little meet and greet and fell back into his notebooks and piles of scratch paper that appeared to carry the secrets of the universe … Or at least the outline of said secrets.

When I had originally seen the smoke and identified the familiar aroma I knew I would find a somewhat competent and hopefully generous traveler. I needed someone that I could work a trade with to get my airship running beyond the utility program keeping the beer cold. I needed power. Power was the key for sufficient thrust to make it beyond this atmosphere. Just before the crash … Er, um I mean as I landed I realized the Vortex Chain Converter had blown completely in two, destroying all hope of a bubble gum, rubber band and paperclip fix. I won’t even mention the number the shrapnel did on the two stained glass bowls that housed my matching Japanese fighting fish. In the fall out from the blast I could have sworn I saw the blue-striped fish pin the smaller red one in the classic style WWF Sleeper Hold. Sasha, the ship’s rat-cat pawed at them both in what appeared to be the 10 count then popped them both in her mouth like tapas. Hmm, makes me crave sushi. I was glad somebody was having a good day.

So Harlock barely even notice I was human, much less a woman – so that bargaining angle was out. He mumbled to himself constantly and continued to scribble notes, sometimes carrying his chicken scratch well beyond the confines of paper onto his hands and forearms. I could see on some of the torn bits of paper that had fallen from his grasp onto the ground below his pacing feet some very interesting things. There were tons of crazy looking formulas and intricate diagrams. He seemed to have a great knowledge of mechanical things, well beyond the needs of my current mechanical dilemma. Just 5 minutes in his ship could provide some type of spare equipment even if it wasn’t the exact component. This small mumbling man with the round, blue-tinted, extra thick spectacles could certainly retrofit exactly what I needed. I only needed to figure out how to get from need to acquisition. How hard could it be?

I always think better on a full stomach. I reached down into my satchel and pulled out my favorite, Kika Fruit. The outside rind smelled like hell but a pocket knife could make quick work of the bark-like covering of this luscious fruit. The flavor went well beyond wonderful; it was a mellow sweetness that bordered on criminal. I had traded 53 system credits and an air compressor rocker arm for a bushel of these lovelies from a black market dealer in Stagunium. I had been rewarded with 3 nice new bullet holes in my hull as I bade a quick retreat. People can be so touchy about trade agreements. The best thing about the Kika Fruit is that you could keep one for over a year and, as long as it stayed dry on the outside, it wouldn’t rot. Many of the elite occupants all throughout the galaxy claimed it possessed regenerative qualities when applied to the skin. I have seen a lot of silly things people do to “stay young & beautiful” but I personally would never waste this precious fruit flesh on chasing away the years when it could curl up all nice and warm in my stomach. Different priorities I guess, or maybe they are just freakin’ mental.

As the juice of the Kika Fruit streaked its way down my chin and on to my chest I felt Harlock’s stare burning a hole in me, and it had nothing to do with where the juice had landed.
“What?!” I screeched at him.
“Do you have any more of the Kika?” he purred. A spark of hope flickered in my soul. How bad did four-eyes want the Kika? Did he want this Kika bad enough to trade for parts to get the Ole Girl running again? Just as I thought I had hatched the best ploy for setting up my trade with Harlock we both were startled by the crack of a not-so-distant explosion. My best guess was that it was about half a mile West of our location. In one swift motion I grabbed my bag, kicked enough dirt with the side of my boot to strangle the fire and yanked our studious Harlock by the note-ridden arm and drug him to the cover of thick brush to the East of the clearing we had occupied just seconds ago.

With my Kika sticky hand planted firmly on his mouth I hissed “Don’t make a sound, that was military ordinance and all the power crazed Marines of this quadrant know how to do is kill and I assure you they never bother asking questions!” His fear drowned eyes let me know he understood. We lay quietly waiting to see the number of testosterone driven lunkheads we had to manage in order to return to our friendly fireside chat. My gun was drawn and ready when a lone Marine stumbled into our make shift camp. He appeared dazed. I immediately doubted his announcing explosion was on purpose. Upon closer inspection you could see several free-bleeding wounds on his head, torso and right leg. His stumble escalated to tripping and finally falling face first onto the ground. The whooshing impact sent Harlock’s abandoned scraps of paper into temporary flight only to settle around the fallen soldiers head like a halo – irony.

Before I could speak, Harlock had regained his footing and was headed toward our wounded visitor. Normally my instinct to avoid all things military would have driven me to tackle Harlock and drag him back while I made sure the Marine was truly down for the count. The copious amounts of blood and arrested respiration were assurance enough that we were safe for now. Before I could reach the Marine, Harlock had already gone through all his pockets and shoved a few unseen treasures away from my view. I was annoyed, not because Harlock was revealed to be self-serving but because he had done it before I could. Bitter. I resisted the urge to literally “kick” the Marine while he was down. So now I have a half dead Marine at my feet and a shifty science guy gathering papers and still mumbling, great. Without ceremony Harlock shifted gears and immediately returned to our previous conversation as if the last 10 minutes had never occurred.

“So how much Kika do you have?” Harlock queried.
Without missing a beat I responded “Not sure, think this might be one of the last, I will have to check my stores. So what do you have for trade if there are any left?” Harlock’s face seemed to change. The distant look that had greeted me earlier was gone and he was definitely now a man with a goal.
“Got lots of trinkets, what might you need?” he asked.
“I don’t really need much of anything in a paradise such as this, plenty of food, water and shelter it’s like a holiday, sometimes you just need some time to relax and smell the burning Damo Vines” I answered with no urgency. There was a faint moan heard from the Marine on the ground between us. It was clear he was trying to roll over without much success. “Maybe I could look around your transport to see if you have anything I might be interested in trading for, I am sure I could scare up 3 or 4 of the Kika for something useful in trade,” I said hoping to move our little trade along so I could be as far away as possible when and if our camo friend awoke from his beauty rest.

At the mention of 3 or 4 Kika, Harlock began to tremble with excitement; he could not hide his eagerness to obtain my smelly treasure. I was puzzled, he couldn’t be one of the fancy pants that use Kika for facials as he didn’t travel in the opulent manner that those folks were known to do. Whatever his reason I was about to score the parts that I needed to blow this floating island and get back to Sir Harrow’s Tavern before Iguana Steak Tuesday came to a close. It unfortunately dawned on me too late that the giddiness of a profitable deal had slowed my reflexes and dulled my sense of self-preservation as the cold hard barrel of a Marine-issue K-Tag G rested on my temple and I heard the dreaded words: “Your dirty Pirate deal in Stagunium cost me my post and my sister’s trade license. It seems a shame to die for some stinkin’ fruit, but then there’s no accounting for a Pirate’s taste – any last words?” I now wished I had kicked him when I had the chance.


2 thoughts on ““Pirate Engineer” by Cherisse M. Prater

  1. Ev Fracas, Thank you for choosing my work for your online magazine! I truly appreciate your valuable edits, I have never been that adept at form and punctuation. It has improved the timing of the piece and I thank you!!!

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