Ill-Gotten Gains

Here it is everyone, my newest short story. It’s a little under 11000 words. Enjoy!

Karim has already stepped off the sky shuttle, which is what passes for a taxi on Orion IV, that has ferried him from the planets main port, Marrec Port, where his starship, Eternal Veil, is docked. He is headed for a meeting at the private residence of Ferris Long, crime boss and defacto ruler of the planet. It isn’t the first time that Karim will be visiting the criminal overlord of the corporation abandoned frontier human colony in his private residence. Residence is an understatement Karim thinks as he strolls down the wide cobbled pathway toward the extravagant glass and polycrete angular shape that serves as Ferris’ home. The polycrete is grey, a lighter shade than would be found on many human colonised worlds due to the presence of salt that is used in the production of the substance here. Karim knows nothing about building so has no idea if the presence of salt in the mix gives any particular benefits or drawbacks and he doesn’t really care. Karim is a smuggler after all and all he cares about is cargo, destination and most of all pay. Not in that order.

Nevertheless he can’t stop himself from gazing at the wide assortment of exotic and colourful blooming flowers that line either side of the wide snaking path. Karim has no idea why the bleached cobble blocks under his feet are set in a snaking pattern but the lack of necessity of the paths winding fits in perfectly with the abode that it belongs to, as well as the man that ordered it constructed. Karim doesn’t like Ferris, no one likes Ferris truth be told, but Karim doesn’t like anyone else for that matter either. He’s a loner and that is why being a smuggler suits him so perfectly. Except on the rare occasions that his cargo are people needing transport ad who are trying to escape some past foul-up or other. Karim never asks questions. He doesn’t need to. Not on runs like those.

Still he keeps a watchful eye on the small army of goons that Ferris has stationed at regular intervals as he gradually meanders left and right. If this was his own estate the pathway would be straight, no nonsense, but while he doesn’t agree with it he understands why Ferris has had it laid out this way. The entire route is supposed to show the beauty and expense of Ferris and how he has absolute power over this planet and the people that call it home.

Karim wonders what it would have been like if the Belwell Corporation had remained here. He knows there wouldn’t have been anything like this estate if they had. Corporation bigwigs never take residence on frontier worlds. Most of the upper echelons of the corporations never even visit them in person. That is what middle management are for, in their minds. Still Karim would have loved to have seen what they would have done to the over sodium infused soil and its pink tinged waters. The answer is they would have likely used their bio-engineering departments to drastically alter and remove traits in the environment which they would have deemed troublesome. It’s what the corporations have done on many other of the frontier and primary worlds in human space. But Belwell had abandoned Orion IV long before any possibility of that had ever had the chance to enter their corporate heads. Not because Orion IV has any severe issues or failed as a colony. No, instead they left because of financial issues after the discovery of false and creative accounting dating back nearly a century. That had forced them to restructure so they didn’t slip into bankruptcy and one of the casualties of that process had been Orion IV.

Karim doesn’t know why the planet was then left to the mercy of a man like Ferris Long, or why it wasn’t claimed by another competing corporation, but that was more than twenty years ago and didn’t much matter now. Ferris is definitely in-charge, not that the United Star Systems Allegiance, or USSA for short, agree with it. Though neither did they disagree with it enough to forcibly remove Ferris. That did surprise Karim. The USSA, or as people in the frontier often refer to them, the Allegiance, seldom resist interference whether it’s wanted, needed or not.

At least, Karim notes, he is nearly at the massive angular house that serves as Ferris’ sole residence now. He doesn’t know how much land this estate of Ferris’ has, but he can take an educated guess seeing as it is nearly two hours by sky shuttle from Marrec that it’s of a more than decent size. Meaning that it is larger than a sole person needs but not as large as a man who ruled a small planet of less than a million souls could have gifted himself. And yes this estate was very much a gift. Ferris never paid a dime for it.

However, Karim soon realises that he has never met Ferris anywhere on the estate except inside the massive house. It isn’t his taste, but then he doubts many people have taste like Ferris Long. The inside is gaudy with gold everywhere. In fact, the only thing about the structure Karim likes is the view from its seven metre high glass south facing wall that looks out over rolling hills of colourful flowers and the pink ocean waters. To him the seas of Orion IV look more like candyfloss than water, but he knows better than to go swimming in them as there are countless predatory species that lurk in the darkness ready to strike and easily capable of conquering even the toughest of humans. At least, that is what he’s been told. He doesn’t know for certain and quite frankly doesn’t have the time or wish to find out.

He doesn’t know why Ferris has demanded an audience but he can guess that it relates to some form of payback for Ferris having given Karim shelter after the failed Perrin Run. Karim can imagine the demands that the crime boss will make.

Karim Bensho reaches the vertical slab of light grey, almost cream, coloured polycrete that reaches up toward the green sky above him. He resists the urge to follow the seemingly single unbroken slab upwards. The smuggler knows there’s a camera, or six, affixed and pointed in his direction. Karim doesn’t know why Ferris needs so many cameras when he has an army for protection, but guesses that the prolonged period of rule over the planet has led Ferris to adopt a policy of forced paranoia. He knows the criminal doesn’t suffer actual paranoia as he is too sure, arrogant and brazen for that to be the case. Nevertheless Karim is left standing on the spot in front of the almost black double doors fashioned from some kind of Orion IV native wood for a few minutes until they finally part to reveal the spacious entry space. It’s square in nature and decorated with gold encrusted picture frames of the building’s owner throughout his earlier years.

Karim pays no attention to the decoration which physically makes him feel sick due to its gaudy and exploitative cost as he is guided across the entrance space, down a narrow hallway, which you would expect to be wider for the size of the property, and then finally into a study come pool area. Karim shakes his head slightly appalled by what Ferris believes is good taste as scantily clad women, who have been surgically altered both facially and physically to fit Ferris’ idea of beauty, writhe about entertaining the man who is sat behind a gunmetal grey desk licking his lips.

Karim rolls his eyes at the sight of the diminutive five foot seven inch man with a long pointed nose and sharp chin. His small beady recessed eyes like those of a rodent, except hazel in colour, engrossed by the sight of the, likely more attractive before Ferris had got his tendrils on them, women moving about one another suggestively. His thinning blonde hair flapping about giving an indication of just how bald the criminal is going as a wide yet thin smile sits carved across his overly pale face. Karim has no idea how Ferris can be so pale if he spends much of his time here in the semi-open to the world outside space that they are all currently in. Still Karim stands there silent, though the look on his face is that he is clearly unimpressed by what he in bearing witness to. He knows that will grate with Ferris, but the smuggler doesn’t care. Time is money and whatever time Ferris is wasting it is purely on purpose, as the smuggler has seen those small weasely eyes flit toward him more than once already.

Even Ferris’ hired goons seem unimpressed by the display that has likely been arranged just to waste Karim’s time and make him wait, even though Ferris has called him here and if he did the same could expect to be forced to reimburse the crime boss for such actions.

Finally Ferris snaps his fingers which the pair of women take as the order to leave that it is meant to be. That means they know what would happen if they dared to continue, or even attempted to utter a word in protest. Karim doesn’t want to know how Ferris has achieved such things, though he has heard rumours and none of them are pretty. In fact, they’re fairly barbaric and would be considered, especially in primary systems, as worthy of life in prison.

“Ah Kay.” Ferris Long beams as he turns to Karim, who he insists on calling Kay. He’s the only one who does and Karim hates him for it. Kay isn’t his name. It isn’t even a version of his name. The criminal overlord of Orion IV simply uses a single letter of the smugglers name and extends it. Still, Karim refuses to let it show that it bothers him.

“Ferris.” Karim replies dryly as Ferris sips from a martini glass that has a strong smell emanating from the purple coloured liquid which is frothing about as Ferris moves.

Several drops of the viscous liquid spurt over the rim of the martini glass staining the floral open shirt that is barely covering Ferris’ torso. It isn’t a pretty sight, Karim thinks as he stares the man in the face, ignoring his somehow rotund belly. The smuggler concluding, and not for the first time, that Ferris’ head and body shape do not fit together. Instead, they somehow look as though they should belong to two separate people. But for as long as Karim can remember that is how Ferris had looked and he’d known the man since he’d been a boy. Though, the smuggler prefers not to relive those days as he waits for the crime boss to continue speaking.

“Good to have you back where you belong, Kay.” Ferris says before turning to some of his closest goons and adding, “Best smuggler there is, you know.”

Karim knows the weasel of a man is trying to butter him up, which makes it even more obvious, somehow, that he wants something. Its how these exchanges always start and Karim finds them boring. He prefers when people get to the point, especially Ferris. The ruler of Orion IV knows that, which is why he refuses to do it. It’s another exercise in power and a display of who holds it on this world.

“I remember when I first met Kay here.” Ferris then announces about to go on a trip down memory lane. Karim narrowly managing to avoid rolling his eyes as Ferris continues.

“Little orphan of seven, I think. Daring enough to try and pick my pocket he was so hungry.” Ferris remarks before erupting into laughter. No one else joins in. Karim had no intention of and the hired goons know better than to. Though they keep their eyes fixed on Karim, who is armed. In fact, everyone is armed, except perhaps Ferris. Karim can’t be sure other than to say that the crime boss isn’t physically carrying. But he expects there is a gun somewhere on the other side of that desk. Likely it’s pointed at Karim. Not because there is anything personal between Ferris and he, but purely because Ferris doesn’t trust anyone enough not to have a weapon of his own pointed at whoever he is talking to.

Maybe he is that paranoid then, Karim thinks as he waits for Ferris to continue.

“I always liked that about you Kay. That’s why I took you in. Gave you a roof over your head. Put you through flight school. And look at you now, a smuggler. Got your own ship. Do your own runs. Look at how far you’ve come. And it all started with me.” Ferris says before shaking his head with pride. But the pride isn’t for Karim’s achievements, no, instead they’re for Ferris’ own. The man really believes that he is the reason Karim has managed to forge a life of his own. In Ferris’ head it is not because Karim showed a natural aptitude for space flight and navigation. Anyone else would protest at Ferris’ words but Karim knows there’s no point, so he simply stands there his arms hanging at his sides, relaxed.

“Can we get to the point Ferris?” Karim asks after a period of silence. He knows better than to interrupt the overlord who to this day he still isn’t sure how to describe the position of. Sure Ferris is a crime boss, a criminal, but he’s also an overlord, a dictator, a tyrant. However, Ferris has no actual title. It surprises Karim that he’s never insisted on one. If he had it would have been in-keeping with the man’s personality, but somehow Ferris had managed to resist that particular urge.

“Always right to the point Kay. I like that.” Ferris remarks with a rapid up and down shaking motion of his hand while his index finger is outstretched. Getting the old saying wrong likely on purpose, though Karim had never ascertained if that is true or not.

“Truth is, I have a job for you.”

Karim again resists the urge to roll his eyes because that couldn’t be more obvious of a statement seeing as the only reason he’d call the smuggler here is because he has a job for him.

“Ok, what’s the job and the pay?” Karim asks as he stands casually in front of Ferris dressed in black leather boots, plain black trousers, a thin white shirt devoid of a collar over which sits a black giblet vest. A holster hangs off the smugglers left hip and is occupied by a Burnblaster that the fingers of his left hand loom over near permanently.

Ferris smiles at the man who is a good four inches taller than himself. The crime boos is biding his time before he answers. He enjoys making people wait for him, but if they ever try and repay the favour he will make them pay for it with coin or blood. Most of the time its coin but every now and then a down on their luck fool will come by and that is when Ferris gets a few extra kicks. He still prefers the coin to the blood, but he has an appearance to keep up, so he puts on a show that makes it seem like blood is his favourite. It’s helped him maintain his reputation of being someone you should never fuck with. But Karim knows him better than most. That’s why the smuggler never plays his games. If it were anyone else it would sadden and perhaps even anger Ferris, but Karim, or Kay as he calls him just to get under his skin, is an exception. Ferris enjoys the dance they do each time they meet. He’s sure one day he’ll get the better of the smuggler and he yearns for that day because when it comes the payback will be glorious. Of that there will be no doubt.

“Nothing much. Simple little job. Any two bit space hopper could do it. But the pay is zero. I’ll cover your costs only. Nothing else.” Ferris admits finally having built up the silence to an almost deafening volume.

“Not my run then. I don’t do pro-bono work, you know that Ferris.” Karim replies bluntly but with a smile. He knows this is part of the game, but he isn’t willing to back down no matter who he is faced with. However, he did feel the goons present all wince as he delivered his response.

“Good joke. I like it.” Ferris offers in return before adding, “Kay’s always been a funny guy.”

Then Ferris’ face turns dark in the seconds before he spits, “You think you have a choice?”

Ferris is pointing at Karim now and his eyes are blazing angrily. Still Karim keeps his cool. He’s seen Ferris angry before and it doesn’t scare him. He’s dealt with worse during his years of smuggling cargo throughout every human system. Truth be told Ferris isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as he likes to make it seem as though he is. Sure, he’s a violent man, but Karim knows that a lot of that is an act. Ferris prefers intimidation and only ever resorts to violence if no other option presents itself, or if he has an audience. His goons don’t count as an audience. They don’t rate high enough on Ferris’ radar that he feels they need to be shown displays of power.

“You fucked up! The Perrin Run should have been an easy in and out. But no. You go running right into an Allegiance destroyer! Are they not fucking big enough…” Ferris gestures size with his hands as he rants angrily, “…for you to see them!”

“What can I say; they were waiting for me when I dropped out of slip.” Karim fires back with a solemn yet casual shrug.

“Bullshit!” Ferris spits angrily in response. But a glint in the weasely looking mans eyes makes Karim think that the crime boss knows what the smuggler is saying is true.

It isn’t the first time that Karim has wondered if Ferris had something to do with the failed run. As Ferris is right, it should have been an easy job delivering some rare and prohibited meats to the colonists on Perrin. When Karim had dropped the Veil out of slipspace however he’d found himself face-to-face with a USSA destroyer. It hadn’t been an unlucky coincidence, especially as all three hundred of the military ships dual cannons had been aimed at him. Plus they were only a few thousand metres from his exit point, known only by three people. One of those three had been Karim himself while the other two had been Ferris, who had given him the job, and Polly Onjo, the buyer of the illegal meats.

Karim knew for a fact that Polly wasn’t the one who alerted the USSA as he watched her ship detonate and decompress when she refused to extinguish her propulsion drives and instead initiated an attack against the clearly overwhelmingly superior destroyer. That had given Karim the chance to get out of there and return to Orion IV. And for all the tech the USSA have, the ability to make it appear as though they have killed a known dealer isn’t something they hold within their repertoire. Plus it is entirely contrary to how the USSA operate, especially when Polly had been broadcasting openly for both the USSA and himself to hear.

“So you’ll take this job! And you’ll prove you aren’t a snitch! Cause if this job goes wrong a lack of shelter against the Allegiance will be the very least of your worries!” Ferris roars angrily as his hand rests on the grip of a blaster that is hidden from Karim’s view. The barrel of the weapon is aimed squarely at the smugglers chest. Ferris doesn’t think Karim will try anything, but he has to be ready. That’s why his security have their weapons levelled at Karim now instead of lowered and holstered as they had been only a few seconds ago.

The smuggler glances around unsurprised by the array of barrels that are pointed at him. Then he sighs and remarks, “You know full well I’d never jeopardise runs. I’m a free man. I’d never risk that for more coin.”

“Well…” Ferris says with a laugh before continuing, “…you do this or lose the Veil. Your choice. What’ll it be, Kay?”

Karim knows what he’d like to say, but decides better of it and instead bites his tongue. Ferris too can imagine what Karim would like to say which is why he is sitting behind his over wide desk with a smug smile plastered across his face. His own eyes staring into the deep brown eyes of the smuggler opposite him.

Ferris has to admit though that Karim looks the part with his clothes, thick black crew cut hair and several days’ worth of stubble that frame his jaw line perfectly. Still, business is business and Karim owes him for the failed run that resulted in one of his buyers losing their lives.

“I’ll take the job.” Karim answers after a long pause of silence during which the two men stared intently at one another.

Ferris giggles gleefully in response to Karim’s acceptance, not that the crime boss had any belief that the smuggler would do otherwise. Though, Ferris did make sure to keep a watchful eye on Karim’s left hand as it hovered over the Burnblaster sitting in its holster.

“So what is the job?” Karim then asks once Ferris has stopped giggling like a school-girl.

“Weapons run. Nothing too difficult for the Veil I assure you.”

“Where to Ferris?” Karim queries impatiently though while managing to keep his tone light hearted. He isn’t impressed with the criminals continuing evasiveness, which the smuggler knows means there is more to the job than Ferris wishes to admit. When Karim will find that out though he has no idea and that worries him a little.

“You’ll get the cords once you’re loaded and back in orbit Kay.” Ferris answers before adding a wide smile of superiority that grates with Karim who half rolls his eyes in response.

“Am I getting any backup?” Karim questions sure he already knows the answer.

“Not on this one.” Ferris confirms, just as Karim had expected. Though, the smuggler notes that the goons are still stood there with their weapons pointed at him ready to fire. And if he didn’t know any better he’d swear that the goons aren’t human, because they haven’t so much as swayed slightly in all this time. Thus making them appear more like they’re statues than people.

“Should I expect heat?” Karim then queries. He doesn’t know what the answer will be, but he knows what he hopes it’ll be. He doubts he’ll be that lucky though.

But the only response Karim gets is a simple raise of one of Ferris’ overly bushy dark blonde eyebrows. The smuggler knows he won’t get anything more than that so asks, “How long ‘til I’m ready to go?”

“The Veil is already being loaded.” Ferris says with a smile.

“You had no right to assume Ferris.” Karim fires back with an irritated tone. Though, he kept the expression on his face ambivalent as he spoke.

“No right. This is my world. And on it, I will do as I please.” Ferris growls back angrily as the goons around Karim step a half step toward the smuggler making it abundantly clear that they are still ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

But Karim simply shakes his head from side to side twice, turns and then begins to walk back across the long study come swimming pool space toward the narrower than would be expected corridor that will ultimately lead him out of Ferris’ abode.

As he strides confidently Ferris calls out, “The Veil’ll be ready by the time you get back to port.”

Karim says nothing in response as he continues to leave Ferris and his goons behind without an escort showing him the way this time.

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