I know aliens. They're my specialty. But even the best
make mistakes, right?
I was tired too. We had been flying hard for seventy-two hours
straight. Dtang gripped
the ship's one small steering wheel,
his ebony knuckles showing
the tension of his tight grasp. We
were almost there, which
was good, we had both missed two sleep
periods as we neared our
destination and the 'energy pills' were
beginning to lose their
Kragon had chosen his booty planet well. A large loose
asteroid field completely
encircled the one lone planet and the star
it orbited, and most of
the asteroids were only a few dozen
meters in size. Too
small for any maps, but large enough to
shatter your shields, and
then maybe your hull. If there were
any seeking mines, and knowing
Kragon there were, we would have
to fly through at top speed
to avoid their scans. Which is
always inadvisable in the
middle of an uncharted asteroid field.
But there was the promise of treasure.
I looked over at the hulking form. Dtang was big even for a
Hollith. In the dim
glow of the lights from the console, his
dark skin was barely discernible
from the space that shined
through the port side window
next to his head and pointed snout.
"We'll be in the middle of those asteroids in a few minutes.
Can't you wait?" No
doubt my exasperation carried over into my
The huge Hollith bared his fangs at me. So, I figured he
"How about a little specialty from Earth?" I asked tiredly,
hoping he would decline.
A low growl rumbled from him as he used a huge hand, one of
four, to scratch the side
of his face.
"What this specialty?" He snarled questioningly.
"Peanut butter sandwich. Sticks to your ribs. Good protein
"Hmmmph! Never heard of this food!" His stomach growled
momentarily. A sound
like a low-level nuclear explosion.
"Yes, Dtang needs something to fill belly," The large red eyes
turned towards me.
"Make me this Earth specialty. And," he
added with a pointed claw
as I tiredly got up. "Dtang real
hungry, want it really stick
Holliths were not known for their manners, but I needed him.
Captain Kragon had just
kissed this universe good-bye.
Dear old Kragon. That Pirate of pirates, Cutthroat of
cutthroats, (well, you get
the picture) had finally bought the
farm. Probably a blaster
to his back, knowing the multitude of
enemies he had. Yeah,
there wasn't a Trader or Pirate that he
hadn't either cheated or
robbed in this quadrant of the galaxy,
not to mention the less
savory organizations such as Planetary
Governments, Royal Houses
and Intergalactic Corporations.
Actually, it was more surprising
that he hadn't been killed
However it happened, Kragon had spilled the beans on one of his
major treasure hoards.
Such a deal.
But that meant, I knew, a number of other ships filled with his
former enemies were blasting
their way to the same destination.
Naturally, I was willing
to share. It's just that I couldn't
trust some of these other
low-lifes who were heading for the
Now, I'm not a pirate, far from it. Besides, it wasn't really
stealing. It didn't
belong to anybody at the moment. I'm
closer to an Independent
Trader, though I don't really fall into
that category either.
Let's just say I'm a Galactic
Opportunist. And goodness
knows there are plenty of them, for
someone who knows what he's
Which I do, most of the time.
Anyway, I wouldn't take it all, just enough to see me through a
few decades of easy living.
Problem is, not everyone is as
generous as I am.
So, I hired Dtang. He could handle himself pretty well, as
long as the odds weren't
more than, say, eight to one.
I stumbled back to the small kitchen and had the computer make
a sandwich up, the way I
like 'em. See, I'm almost addicted to
the stuff. I eat it
every day. I crave it. So, I lay the
stuff on thick. And
because he was bigger than me, well, I
instructed the computer
to make it about three times the size of
a normal sandwich.
But I had forgotten how Holliths eat. If you can call it that.
As I sat back down in the darkened forward section next to him,
I handed the two pieces
of bread stuffed with an inch of the
thick brown specialty.
He took it with his lower right hand and stuffed the entire
thing into his mouth!
My eyes opened fully as I watched in horrified fascination.
He started chewing, at first, with rapid, appreciative
motions. Seconds later
the muscles in his cheeks began to bulge
as they began to work in
ever slower motions as that sandwich
began to adhere to his mouth's
interior. Strange noises began
to come from somewhere deep
inside his throat.
It was then that I remembered that Holliths don't have noses,
like normal aliens, they
have to breathe through their mouths.
And poor old tired Dtang
was going to need a breath soon.
And wouldn't you know it, right then, the scan alarm went off.
We were on a collision course!
I noticed the first asteroids go by our view ports.
Dtang steered calmly around the first few. But his chewing
motions got slower and slower
as his eyes widened.
I didn't start to get nervous until he stood up in his chair,
his ebony face a little
paler as he tried to chew and breathe.
The look on his ebony face
was enough to freeze my blood. But
still those four muscular
arms gripped the steering wheel.
With the alarm blaring in my ears I decided to take over the
I couldn't even pull one of his fingers off the wheel with
that death grip of his!
I looked into his strangled face. I
had no doubt he was going
to suffocate before he could swallow,
or we were going to smash
into a million pieces.
I began to change my opinion of peanut butter.
* * *
"I have a ship approaching at maximum speed!"
Natalie Bronde walked over and peered down at the instrument in
front of the young officer.
"They are traveling at a very high rate of speed. Easily
beating us to the target,"
the junior officer replied matter-of-factly.
"Put them on-screen," she ordered.
The main screen came alive; in the center of the star field a
ship came into view.
The body of the ship emphasized how sleek
and fast she really was.
As the small crew watched, something
amazing began to happen.
The ship veered drastically. And then it began to roll
continuously, first in one
direction, then another.
"He has inadvertently entered a thick portion of the asteroid
The large reptilian Captain joined them with those words. His
massive hands stroked the
green scales of his chin.
"They're flying a little hot to be in the middle of an asteroid
Now the ship on the screen began to veer rapidly as it evaded
the thick population of
asteroids. Rolling, it flew up and over
one asteroid, then breezed
around another, and then flew
precariously close under
a third. The ship was still flying,
rolling and swerving at
a blinding speed as those watching began
to grow dizzy.
"They are very courageous," the junior officer said with
"I have never seen such magnificent flying in all my years as a
raider," the deep voice
of the captain said with admiration.
"Looks like he's drunk," Dran Rork said simply.
The First Officer was the same alien species as the captain.
He looked at the newest
crew member of the Impaler. "Natalie, do
you have an ID on this ship
that is trying to beat us to
Eyeing the alien pirate evenly, she paused before speaking.
"Hran," she said to the young officer who had first alerted
them. "Run a check."
As first one name, and then three more identifying the ship
came across the console,
Natalie looked back on-screen with both
contempt, and a rekindled
The ship on-screen righted its flight with a sudden jerk, and
then headed straight for
"Helm! Hard over!" The Captain screamed.
Grabbing the corner of the equipment to keep from being thrown
bodily across the small
bridge, she looked over at the Captain.
"They can't possibly know we're here. We are still cloaked?"
As the turn neared completion, the ship they were viewing
rolled upside down and then
veered off in a direction opposite
to its original direction.
"True. I think it was nothing more than coincidence."
"Shall we go to red alert and destroy them ship to ship?" Dran
asked with obvious enthusiasm.
All eyes returned to the view screen where the ship was rapidly
"We outgun them easily, though they definitely can outrun us,"
the Captain thought out
"I suggest we let them pass, let them get into orbit first, and
then attack them on the
planet. We'll have surprise on our
side," Natalie added
"Yes, yes. I do not relish fighting a ship with such a
spectacular pilot at its
helm. If they can shoot half as well
as they fly...they could
be more of a match than we want."
Captain Sarec said with
Dran snorted angrily as he walked quickly away.
The ship on-screen finally pulled into a tight turn and
returned to its original
course. Only a slight rocking of the
ship spoke of its not being
on automatic pilot.
Natalie half-smiled/half-snarled with remembrance as the ship
on the screen grew smaller.
* * *
Dtang was wheezing horribly through his pointed teeth. Brown
peanut butter clung in gobs
inside his cavernous mouth. I could
tell, my face was inches
away. And mine were one pair of hands
out of three pairs grasping
the wheel as we tried to right the
ship again. I had decided
that I had better help him steer, just
in case he suffocated in
the middle of one of his strangled
maneuvers. But now
we were through the worst of the asteroid
fields, and Dtang had almost
chewed his way through the thick
Hollith breath mixed with peanut butter will never be bottled.
I swallowed queasily.
As Dtang managed a final, huge, gargantuan swallow, his gasping
breaths returned to a semblance
of normalcy. I fell back into
my chair. It was then
when I realized how badly my stomach had
cramped. I needed
the toilet desperately, but I waited for
Dtang's reaction before
I made a move.
He was silent for only a few moments when he slowly turned
those burning red eyes on
I jumped up immediately and got him some. Right after my trip
to the bathroom.
There's nothing worse than an angry Hollith. He slugged it
down with a single gulp,
swishing it around his mouth to loosen
up the last clumps of that
Earth delicacy. He opened his mouth
as he handed the empty glass
A healthy belch erupted. He smiled very strangely, as only a
"One more peanut butter and Dtang will be full. Get it!" I
again jumped up. "Good
Earth food" were his parting words.
Believe me, I had the computer make the next one with a little
less peanut butter.
We found the small planet close into the star's system, well
inside the ring of asteroids.
A quick scan showed we were the
first. I had never
doubted it, the Lightning's Thunder Star
engines are the fastest
known in this part of the galaxy. This
The ship's scanners soon found the faint trace of electronic
equipment. No doubt
these would be automated guarding devices
to keep the treasure hoard
safe while Kragon was away. Which he
was now, permanently.
Dtang landed on a small plain near our target. We would more
likely get by the main defenses
on foot than by ship. My hand-
held scanner began blinking
rapidly as I put my hand up. This
would be the most dangerous
Successful pirates like Kragon usually had several treasure
caches hidden away, no need
to put all your gold bars in one basket,
so to speak. But each
would be guarded by the most
sophisticated weapons systems,
and Kragon, with all that money
flow, would keep them upgraded
with the latest military-grade
It was common knowledge that most never made it to an
Andarian's gold cache.
But I am better than most.
We had almost made it to the clearing when I held my hand up
for a stop. The clearing
was the most obvious path to the cave
the ship's sensors had picked
up. And being so obvious, the
defenses should be easiest
to pick out. Also it's so much easier
to miss things, such as
automated weapons, in the thick of a jungle
if we tried
to make our way that route. Yes, the clearing would offer us
our best chance at detecting
Kragon's hidden toys.
I pointed to the scattered bones amidst the tall weeds about
two hundred feet away.
"Booby traps," I whispered back.
Dtang looked confused, which was almost a natural state for
"What is this Booby trap?"
I adjusted my scanner and frowned. There was some sort of
interference, and it seemed
to have natural sources. My heart
rate increased as I worked
its settings more. There were mines;
that was obvious from wide
dispersal of bones.
I easily picked up the gun emplacements in the thick vegetation
around the clearing.
They were too obvious and I quickly hacked
into each of them ( they
were older systems), not disabling
them, they probably had
a subroutine to detect such a blatant
attack and override that.
No, I just added a few things to
their sensors so we could
walk by. But an overconfident gold
digger would now keep going,
not looking further for the mines
"It traps Boobies who stumble into it."
"Oh," Dtang nodded, and then looked away still confused.
Holliths aren't known for
their brains. Just their strength.
But then I made out a pattern. I still couldn't pinpoint the
mines under the ground,
but I did notice vaguely, through the
planet's internal interference
points scattered throughout the
clearing, spots that had
just a twinge of denser interference.
I picked up a large rock
and handed it to Dtang.
"See that patch of wildflowers," I said.
"Throw it there."
Dtang reached back and hurled. It landed squarely. And just
nanoseconds later the ground
erupted with an ear-shattering
"OK, walk closely behind me and we'll make it through."
We began our winding path through the clearing with confidence,
and it was our quick progress
that saved us. We were almost
halfway across when the
gut wrenching sound of an Andarian
mortar lobbing into the
sky came to our ears. But the explosion
came too fast. Both
of us looked over at the flaming overgrowth
"Jungle has grown over that emplacement," I said, tuning my
sensor to detect this "third"
layer of defense.
I found it...rearming.
"MOVE!!!" I screamed.
With my eyes glued to the scanner we danced through the
clearing like a couple of
intoxicated and grounded humming-
birds. Within seconds
the sound of approaching, massive death
was on its way. Only
twice did I jump madly sideways as we came
too close to one of those
"spots" in the interference. By then
the whistling death approaching
from above was almost deafening.
But we both just managed to leap over the fallen carcass of a
massive jungle tree on the
other side of the clearing as the
explosion ripped the clearing
with its earth-shaking blow.
Shrapnel cleared the green
overgrowth all around us many feet on
into the jungle. I
looked over the tree trunk and found the
side facing the clearing
chewed almost beyond recognition from
the tiny shards.
"The first one would have gotten us if that tree's branches had
not grown over its path,"
I said simply.
Dtang's rapid breathing was his only response.
"We should be fine until inside the cave; from there it gets
nasty. I would expect
at least one attack droid, and a number
of other toys waiting for
us. In the walls, the floor, and even
the ceiling of the tunnel.
And there will be charges over the
cave entrance, it's a given.
To seal in any intruders, but it's
also the oldest trick in
the book." I winked.
"And then the treasure room?" Dtang huffed.
"We'll cross that problem when we get there," I grimaced. But
I had come prepared as I
patted my utility belt. I pulled out my
favorite device, though
it would not be needed this day.
"Ever see one of these?"
"What this is?"
Smiling, I rolled it in my hand like a baseball.
"These are hard to find, Dtang. Quite illegal, you know. I
picked it up at the edge
of the quadrant as my payment from one
of the last government jobs
Dtang's ebony face still showed doubt.
I put it back in its pocket. "I use it when fire-fights get
too dangerous. It
has the remarkable ability to drain off the
charges of any type
of blaster within a radius of fifty meters."
Dtang smiled widely, baring his fangs. "Dtang like this thing."
'So did I,' I thought silently as I started my scrambler.
There were two more automated
guns on each side of the cave
entrance. One by one
the lights on my scanner showed them
going silent. 'But
the one drawback to my weapon's Drainz
device was that once it
was used, it took it almost two hours
before it would be ready
for another use. So I could use it
only once, in essence.'
Dtang and I scrambled forward. I chuckled out loud as we
passed by one of the silent
gun emplacements. But I pulled up
short of the tangle of vines
that draped the ground of the dark
entrance. My scanner
showed the expected charges above the cave
entrance, except they were
no longer functioning. This puzzled
me but a moment, and then
I just accepted this 'gift'.
"It is safe?" Dtang asked.
"All clear." I whispered confidently.
We pushed some of the vines away as we stepped among the tangled
mesh. And then it
felt like something was pulling my leg clean
off. I didn't even
have time to scream.
I hung there upside down staring into the red eyes of Dtang.
He was hanging upside down
helplessly right beside me. And if
his leg felt like mine,
he was none too happy. Nor was I, at
being caught by so low-tech
a trap. Still, it was temporary.
"So," he grunted. "Dtang thinks we must now be Boobies."
"It's all right, we'll just cut our way out. Nothing major."
said. Irritated, I
reached for my blade.
But the surprises were just beginning.
Two surly looking Andarians appeared moments later with
blasters set to kill.
Not a good sign. Quickly they cut us
down and led us into the
dark interiors of the caves. And then
in some deep dark orifice
of the caverns, we came to him.
I started to have trouble breathing.
He looked bigger in real life, standing there almost as big and
muscular as Dtang.
Kragon was Andarian, so short, gray fur
covered his mighty torso,
except for his shoulder-length jet
"So, what have we here, Razon?" Kragon growled.
"I do not recognize them, sir. They are none of your known
Kragon stepped right into my face.
"Who are you, human? And why did you come here to die?"
"Wrong turn?" I half answered.
He pulled out his blaster and ground it into my ribs. And then
he smiled, which I didn't
"So, a petty thief. Wanting my treasure after hearing about
my most unfortunate demise.
I looked at Dtang, who shrugged and rolled those red eyes.
"Well, I figured you wouldn't be needing it anymore..." I
grimaced against the blaster
he pushed harder into me.
"Well, puny human. I have staged this little party to rid
myself of a few of my enemies.
I counted on their blind greed
to bring them here after
I leaked out this location. And if the
mined asteroid belt didn't
get them, or some of my other
devices, they would find
me and my crew waiting here for them.
You have ruined only some
of it. For which you will pay."
"Kragon!" His first officer growled, pointing to the tunnel.
Kragon turned to another Andarian who had just stepped into the
circle of light.
He raised the clenched fist salute before his bowed face.
"Our sensors report that several ships have just ended a
battle above the planet.
Two ships were destroyed."
Kragon grinned. "Two less of my enemies."
The guard continued. "One has landed. It is the Impaler, and
the crew is even now coming.
It is expected more ships will
arrive soon afterward."
Kragon returned his blaster to his holster.
"Take these two and chain them. They are small game. We'll
deal with them afterwards."
The guards removed the blaster from my right hip and the
assault blaster from its
holster on my back. I held my breath,
but they took my utility
belt anyway. I could have spit.
We were led deeper into the mountain. The two guards finally
stopped near a pile of shackles
and chains. Holding out his
four burly arms, they prudently
chained Dtang first.
I stood there in the dim light, my mind working furiously on
some kind of plan.
But for once, nothing came to me. A few
minutes later the sounds
of blasters told me that a fire-fight
was under way. It
lasted only a few minutes. And, I figured,
we didn't know if we would
have any better treatment if somebody
did beat Kragon. Still,
I hoped for the newcomers.
Dtang and I remained silent between the two Andarians. I knew
Dtang was waiting for an
opening, and I hoped that I could make
one for us. But the
timing had to be right.
And then we heard the sounds of footsteps coming our way.