Kalimantan, What Manner of Man

You are reading: The Final Bounty

Written by Antagony on 15 Jun 2017 19:05.

Often, Kalimantan would ask himself what sort of man he was. Good? Bad? It’s what he asked himself when looking down at his three bloodied, clawed fingers. The same again when inspecting his other hand. Most of it didn’t belong to him, but he could see that the scales on his knuckles had either split or puckered and that his own blood, thin and fuschine in colour, had begun to mix with the flecks of crimson from his prisoner which had gathered there.
His victim appeared lifeless as he dangled from the ceiling. They were restrained at the wrists and ankles and hung upside-down; the chains taut so that they couldn’t swing around and bump into Kalimantan. But there was no doubt, the mark was still alive. Stealing breath. Healing quickly too.
The cuts on Kalimantan’s claws were minor injuries. Given time, the damaged scales would shed, and newer thicker ones would replace them. His were already relatively thick for a young male Samarind. Thick and a grizzled grey. He was a massive, muscled hulk of a thing, though a relatively average specimen compared to others of his species. His snout was long, and his jaws large and wide, making for a powerful bite. And his dagger-like teeth, apparently not deadly enough, could deliver a toxic sedative into the bloodstream of any prey that managed to escape.
Kalimantan’s most distinguishing feature however, what set him apart from the rest of his kind, were the unique scars found on his neck and face. Not simple lacerations either but long crooked grooves cut deep into his flesh. It was the kind of damage that takes time to inflict. Days even. With horrified green eyes, Kalimantan had watched up close as he was cut two hundred and forty-four times so many years ago.
A vent of steam interrupted the man’s contemplation and broke the silence. A change from the usual breaking of ribs. Otherwise, it was quiet aboard Varuni. The crew were most likely passed out, asleep. Kalimantan closed the door to the brig and secured it. It hissed as it vacuum-sealed itself.
Kalimantan arrived at the bridge in stride. Sensing his presence, the xenon in the lights gradually hummed to life as if to greet him, as did a number of the auxiliary systems therein. Fans started to whir and shake worriedly to power everything and reboot the computers. But nothing out of the ordinary on that ship.
The bridge was the largest and most spacious area aboard, with an open, vaulted ceiling. From which hung a number of even larger fans spinning at high speeds, meant to keep all of the hardware cool. The walls were mostly series of thick columns which supported a number of heavy circuits running between all the computer modules and down into the floor towards the engines. It, and indeed the majority of the ship, had a rather unrefined and spartan aesthetic. Otherwise, the one source of beauty to behold came through the only window on board.
At that point, that eyeful was a tiny green planet just coming into view, awash with cloud, and a fleet of moons. Kalimantan watched as the ship hurtled through space toward it, thus multiplying the size of the speck every second.
He gave everything a moment to warm up before setting up the main console. He pulled a lever down, and spun a dial some sixty degrees to port, with each mechanism making a slight click when it moved, even an inch, like gears. Then using the flightplan on the monitor, he leveled out the ship with the control column, and decreased the speed. Finally he locked in their final coordinates, which he had devoted to memory. The last thing Kalimantan wanted was to crash, and die in a fiery wreck. Not that they couldn’t survive it.
Varuni was made to last. A thousand-year-old, war-era transport ship outfitted with one of the thickest hulls ever conceived using one of the toughest alloys to ever exist. An alloy so rare in the universe, only two other ships in her class were completed. So if she went down, it would be the things on the inside that killed the crew. And the chances of that were remote.
A few minutes went by when finally a set of boots slamming loudly against the grate underfoot rattled the metal throughout the ship. They came slowly closer and Kalimantan turned to see his kin had joined him. In his hands, a side of a torso, and the corresponding leg.
“Sarawak,” saluted Kalimantan.
The beast glanced up from his feast and glared at Kalimantan with his one good eye. The other being sewn shut. “Kalimantan,” he replied.
“We’ve arrived at Tigris. We’ll be landing in Qādisiyyah in a few minutes.” Their home away from home.
However his brother didn’t seem to care. He gave a snort as he dug into the flank of his kill. Meat filled his mouth and trickled down his jaws and snout as he asked, “Is he down?”
“Aye, Captain.”
“Dead?”
“No…”
Sarawak advanced, sensing a but.
Kalimantan obliged, "Not fallen, but down. Though since you’ve brought it up, I still think it would be easier—”
“Out of the question.” Sarawak was now standing directly beside his brother. “What would be easier: is if my first mate didn’t question my orders!” roared Sarawak. Spittle flew into Kalimantan’s face, who looked away from his superior.
The captain paused and sighed. He bit into the meat again and chewed loudly, by his brother’s ear. And he whispered, “Would you challenge me? Kalimantan?”
“No, Captain.”
“Would you challenge me!?”
“No!”
“Challenge me!”
“No, brother!” railed Kalimantan, quieting the craft again. The machinery, the instruments. Even the engine normally hissing with steam, and churning wildly, was a-lull. “I say no. I would not challenge you. You are my brother and you are my captain.”
Sarawak gave a toothy grin, “Yes. Sarawak is captain of the Makassar. Not Kalimantan.”
“Yes sir. Understood.”
“Good. Because I will not say this again. If we kill him… Our reward will be halved. And you don’t want to settle for half, do you?”
“No. I do not.”
Before the captain could scold Kalimantan further, a light flashed on a console on the opposite side of the room, distracting him. Along with it, came a constant buzz, and it was obnoxious in its rejoinder.
Sarawak crossed the room to check the herald. He mashed a few buttons to activate it and hush the alarm. Immediately the superfluid screen emptied of indigo and filled with teal. The captain groaned, and with a swat fixed the screen.
This action revealed a logo of some kind, on a now white field. A red-winged, blue orb, with a human font plastered beneath it. A word neither Sarawak nor Kalimantan could read: Sangiher. A second later, the background changed again, unveiling a human in synthetic fibres. Probably female. Small and thin with a smooth pink hide, long bedraggled fur draping off her head and a flat face with puny features. The transmission was poor, so the human woman constantly appeared to flicker.
“—eetings. My name is Konstanze Firenze. Am— addressing Captain Sarawak of the Makassar?”
Sarawak lowered his food and stood up straight. “I…” But he faltered when it came to speaking the foreign language. Not for lack of confidence, but limited comprehension. So he deferred to his brother.
Kalimantan stepped in. He spoke up, and he spoke well. Though listening to him speak an alien language with his tongue and his vocal chords, it sounded like a saw trying to cut gravel. “My name is Kalimantan. I speak on Captain Sarawak’s behalf.”
“This is irregular.”
“Yes it is!" snapped Kalimantan. "Who and what are you to dictate who you may speak to aboard our ship? It is in your interest to treat me with as much respect or face the consequences of your impertinence!” growled Kalimantan. Albeit briefly, that put the woman in her place. As his non-human tone and timbre was nothing short of frightening. He continued more calmly. “If you must know, the captain does not understand your language. Now tell us what you want, or there is nothing further to discus!”
“Very well. I have a proposition for your captain. Please tell him your quarry is cargo. —imple, inanimate, stationary.”
“We already have a bounty, we are in the midst of a delivery. As soon as we have, however—”
“I’m afraid this assignment is a time-sensitive one. If you won’t take it, we will have to —roach another —mpany.”
Kalimantan turned to his brother and translated everything thus far. His brother gave a nod, and asked for additional information.
In the human speech, Kalimantan repeated for his brother, “What is this cargo?”
Firenze replied, “That information I cannot divulge.”
With a puzzled look, Kalimantan queried on, “Where is this cargo?” It was simple information. Or at least, he thought it was. And if there must be a mystery, then the job wasn’t for the Makassar. If the human had a false dessert, a wild avian chase, then they surely weren’t interested.
Yet the woman answered, “That information I —ot divulge. Not until the contract is made. Only then will I transmit the coordinates.”
When Kalimantan translated this, Sarawak still didn’t seem concerned, so he continued still. “How much are you willing to pay?”
“Three million uni—. Converted to your —rency, the Mutisalah, it is about ninety-seven trillion.”
For the Samarind, the monetary value was difficult to work out. The idea of currency was relatively unknown as they, and many other species in their solar system were used to a bartering system. Though as Kalimantan understood it, three million units was the equivalent of six good ships; the farscape of a lesser moon; several legions; or nearly half a million slaves.
“Sarawak,” Kalimantan explained, “we can’t accept this job as much as you may want to. If we don’t deliver our current bounty before long, he will become fair game for other hunters. That’s a risk.”
“Yes, you’re right brother,” Sarawak agreed.
As Kalimantan was about to pass on their decision, Sarawak added, “Like you, I would err on the side of caution, Kalimantan. Unless we were to be compensated for taking on a second bounty. The human doesn’t know what we are carrying, or how little space he occupies.”
“You do not know what this new bounty is either! …Captain.”
Sarawak grunted. He leered. “Do I need to remind you already of your rank aboard this ship? Already?”
“No, Captain,” Kalimantan acquiesced.
“Tell her we have ten crew. Tell her we will accept five times her current offer.”
The first mate turned to the screen and said, “To compensate our ten crew, and add time between the delivery of our current bounty, we demand fifteen million units.”
“Excellent. Done. ”
Kalimantan was baffled. There was no negotiation, no resistance, nothing. When he told Sarawak his brother became excited and he roared triumphantly. Yet the human remained smug. Even as she looked down at her lap and replied that “Our words are binding; the coordinates have been sent.”
Firenze then chuckled. “You people are all the same. So hasty. So —xious to deal. So greedy. So… predictable.”
“You know nothing of my people,” spat Kalimantan.
“No no, Mr. Kalimantan, not you Jurassic-faced Samarind. Bounty hunters.”
The transmission ended.
Sarawak bellowed into the ship-wide comm to rouse his crew. It was an enthusiasm that would not infect his brother. Kalimantan smelled a trap. He sensed danger, but had no proof. Despite whatever his gut told him, it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Sarawak. And since he didn’t possess the luxury of ignorance like the rest of the Makassar he sat with a burning unease. He understood the human’s words, and he could even read some of her facial expressions. The tells which betrayed her words or hid the minutiae and deception behind them.
“Kalimantan, I couldn’t be more proud!” chortled Sarawak. He embraced his brother and slapped him on the back “We’ll resupply here at Qādisiyyah as planned. Then we’ll head to the portal at the Theta Quadrant. But instead of going to Suluk, we’ll pick up our second bounty.”
The men spoke of a wormhole half a parsec away. And of hyperspace. One dreamed of treasure, the other of death.

Next Chapter: Carrion, the Ghost by Eilidhan

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