Platform 323 (Part Two)

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

The war didn’t exist on the platforms, not in any immediate way at least. Not all of the platforms had been completed when the bombs started dropping and conflict had brought a halt to all further work. Granted they still held plenty of strategic and economic value to whoever held them but the power blocs viewed them with an envious sort of fear, certain in the knowledge that the first of them to make a move to claim them would raise the ire of the others and see whatever gains they made in having the platforms liquidated back on earth in a fistful of mushroom clouds. So instead they dabbled. Acting through proxies they used the platforms as a black market for arms and technology, fighting mini-battles through friendly factions of mercenaries, smugglers, pirates, drug cartels and assorted criminals. All of whom happily played the role of state sponsored G-Men in between fighting their own territorial conflicts and protecting their own power bases. It wasn’t exactly the serene escape Murat had hoped for but by comparison it was as peaceful a home as you’d be likely to find as long as humanity was around. No army recruiters, no trenches and plenty of opportunities for a young and enterprising deserter to build a new life and, maybe, a new fortune.

And at first things had gone surprisingly well. He’d stepped off of the cargo ship that had aided his escape and, after helping to unload it’s suspiciously unmarked cargo, he’d disappeared into the chaos of Platform 323’s main plaza. He’d only learnt of its fame later on, when he’d started to pick up enough Platform lore not to be sneeringly dismissed as a tourist but even at the start he’d known the throng of life it held was something special.

While other platforms served their own myriad purposes P323 remained the beating heart of the network. It was where business was done. Pirates, smugglers, drug dealers, assassins, mercenaries, fences, theives, merchants, spies and assorted others treated it as their informal office with the Plaza acting as the greatest black marketplace in the known universe. With locals looking on all the while ready to fleece the unprepared of whatever wealth they couldn’t find a use for. Murat loved it. His military experience guaranteed him employment, not that he intended to go back into the soldiering business any time soon. But pirates and smugglers especially were always happy to pick up a new recruit who could handle a rifle in a crises and not ask too many question when there was a pay-cheque involved.

The first bar he’d walked into – and on P323 bars were the main site of business dealings – he’d been approached by the second-in-command of a pirate ship and after being liberally fed drink Murat had found himself as the newest addition to the crew of the San Francisco. It was a former cargo ship haphazardly refitted by someone who’d decided to bolt on a few missile launchers, run by another former soldier who’d left earth-side years before – James O’Shaw. And it was O’Shaw who’d taught Murat the basics of interplanetary piracy, the most important aspect of which had proven to be waiting around doing nothing. It was almost the ideal job.

On picking up a tip off from one of the many semi or wholly criminal individuals who floated around 323 studiously avoiding having any real job description they’d fly out to, hopefully, intercept the flight path of a cargo or transport vessel and… wait. Sometimes hours, sometimes days and sometimes even weeks would be spent sitting in space, the crew doing their best to pass the time without resorting to alcoholism or insanity. And then if they were lucky a ship would actually show up, at which point the relatively minimal excitement would start.

Space battles, Murat soon came to realise to his satisfaction, were not like real battles. There was no going over the top, there was seldom even any firing and the real conflict was solely one of patience and waiting to see who would blink first. Space, O’Shaw had explained to him one day, was death, lots of it. A ship was a tiny, insignificant patch of life cast out into a vast abyss of death and no captain with any sense would ever want to risk compromising the small glimmer of existence that they and their crew inhabited. So given a choice they’d almost always avoid a fight. Sure some rookies confused ‘shielding’ for a technological wonder that made their fragile metal can impenetrable. And some of those with military training had been convinced to have little enough regard for their life to make orders seem all important, but they were the rarity. For the majority, the sane majority, even the slightest threat of a missile slamming into their barely reliable energy shields and, more likely, into the hull itself was enough to make them back down and hand over whatever it was they had. So the pirates job was simply to aim their weapons and make the right threats. And a good pirate did it so well that before too long their reputation alone opened cargo doors the second they honed into sight. O’Shaw wasn’t that good, he admitted, but during Murat’s tenure they didn’t do too badly at the job. In fact only once had they even fired a shot in anger when a smuggler’s ship had turned out to be a bigger challenge they’d expected and had opened fire without a second’s hesitation. They’d missed, fortunately, the San Francisco hadn’t and at least a dozen of the smuggler’s crew had died as a result. The whole crew had gotten drunk that night – whatever savage and piratical image they may have liked to project on the platforms they were none of them gleeful murderers. Besides, a destroyed ship meant no profit.

Still, the occasional flash of danger aside, Murat had enjoyed those days. Enjoyed them enough, in fact, to set about buying his own ship and recruiting his own crew after five years of flying around under O’Shaw’s command. A choice made easier by the fact that his former captain had gotten himself stabbed in a bar brawl by an unknown assailant who, rumour had it, had objected strongly to someone stealing from a ship under his protection. These things happened though and at least they happened a lot less on the Platforms than they did back on earth, where Murat had seen deaths by the hundreds often enough not to be phased by a single murder, regardless of the victim.

So here he was, the captain of his own ship, chasing his own leads and with his own crew relying on him. Or sneering at him, one of the two. It was bad luck, nothing else. He’d done nothing wrong after all and if he asked his crew they’d probably even have agreed. He had the experience, he did the right things, paid the right sources and, for the most part, made the right choices. It just never seemed to work. In fact in the year he’d held his own command there had been just one job that had paid out and even then the prize had barely been worth enough to get the crew convincingly drunk. Why so many had even stuck with him this far was a bit of a mystery. The ship was free accommodation, he supposed, and he did keep them fed with the ever diminishing savings from his time on the San Francisco but given the general lust for fame and fortune that motivated those in his field it wasn’t much of a wage to offer.

This time though they’d surely have to abandon him, if this gamble didn’t pay off. And it had been sold to him as a sure thing. A corporate ship, Neftech to be precise, carrying something they didn’t want anyone to know about on the behalf of an earth government who didn’t want anyone to know that they knew anything about the thing they didn’t want anyone to know about. As far as these things went it was about as reliable intelligence as you could get. And Kuzumo was about as reliable a source as you could get on the Platforms. He knew things, he always knew things, he had friends, of a sort, in just about every major group on and off of earth. O’Shaw had used him, other pirates used him, the cartels and the smugglers and the gun runners all kept him on a retainer. And it was only when it came to Murat that he seemed to disappoint. Which given how much he’d paid was a distinct failing of customer service. This had been an all or nothing sort of deal and if it didn’t pay off then there’d no be no more board and shelter for the crew, no more ship for them to work on even because Murat certainly couldn’t afford to take another gamble.

Shaking himself from his depressing revelrie Murat swung a boot at the metal wall and instantly regretted it, grunting in pain and hopping into an unhappy jig.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Leave a comment