— by Ted R. Blasingame
There was a knock on the door and Aramis opened his eyes with a yawn. “Go away,” he whispered to himself. The door opened and Ringo stuck his head into the opening. The room was dark but for the light from the corridor.
“Cap'n?” the beagle asked tentatively.
“I am not hungry, Mr. Ringo. Please leave me alone.”
The ship's cook frowned at the hoarseness in the wolf's voice. It had been three weeks since they had left Castelrosso Island and the world of Brandt for planet Dennier, and Thorne had barely been out of his cabin at all.
His own injury better healed, the beagle brought meals to his captain twice a day, and although Tyler Ringo often tried to get the wolf to talk with him as they had in the beginning, Thorne had withdrawn into himself and remained tight-lipped. Dallas had been the only one to successfully get in to see him, and then only to check in on his condition.
The story of what had happened to Cinjin had spread around the ship and everyone tried to tread lightly whenever near the captain's quarters. Jason Talos had assumed all command responsibilities of the ship's daily routines on their journey to Dennier, and there had been no problems along the way.
Despite that the golden coins that had been divided up equally to everyone a day after departing Castle Bay, the three week trip had been uneventful and boring to all on board. There had been several opportunities to raid unarmed freighters along the way, but every time Jason brought the request to the captain, the answer was the same: No deviation from orders.
“Cap'n,” Ringo tried again, “I have a message for you from Jason.”
The wolf growled under his breath and said, “What is it?”
“We have just entered local solar traffic and should be coming up on Dennier in a couple hours. He wants to know where on Dennier to set our course.”
“To the capitol, Grandstorm,” Thorne replied after a moment. “Make preparations to land at the Rutan Spaceport. I will also need aerial transportation standing by for myself... Cinjin and Jenda.”
Ringo swallowed. “Uh, yes sir,” he said. “May I ask what you have planned?” He couldn't see anything of the wolf in the darkness of the room, except for the reflections of two amber eyes staring back at him.
“That is no one's concern but my own,” the captain replied in a low voice.
“Aye, sir,” Tyler answered automatically. “I'll give Jason your reply.”
“Close the door, Mr. Ringo.”
“Yes, sir,” the beagle replied.
Jason's body clock was still set to Castelrosso's local time on Brandt. There it would have been well after midnight, but at the Grandstorm spaceport, it was mid-morning. The black wolf yawned, stretched and felt his eyes water. Standing beside him was Dallas and Ringo, who watched Errol and Goro push two floating platforms toward a small air transport with twin repulsors rings. They quickly transferred the bodies of Cinjin and Jenda to small freezer units in the belly of the transport. Aramis stood quietly to the side, tugging absently at the tight tail flap of the dark suit he wore. He was thin and looked gaunt, but his injuries had healed well enough.
The black wolf stepped forward and faced the captain. “Sir,” he said in a firm voice, “we followed your orders and have come to Dennier. I think it's time you gave us an explanation.”
Thorne turned to the first officer and stared at him for a long moment. He finally nodded and said, “I am going to give them a proper burial.”
“Why bring them here?” Dallas asked. “If your home was in Castelrosso, I would have thought…”
“I will bury them here,” the grey wolf said with an edge to his voice. “This is where they belong.” His eyes moved to the lupine pilot of the transport when he shut the side door of the craft with a clunk. Goro waved and took the two floating platforms back to the ship with him as Errol walked over to the captain's small group.
When the Labrador stopped beside them, Jason asked, “May we grant the crew a bit of shore leave while you do this?”
“I want you to re-supply the ship and launch immediately for Castelrosso,” Thorne said to the surprise of them all.
“You forbade anyone from leaving the ship once we got to Castelrosso,” Jason reminded him, “and the crew didn't have a break when we got back from Quet. We've all been cooped up for a long while, sir, and could use some recreational time.”
Thorne glanced over at the waiting transport and then nodded. “You may give the crew three days, Mr. Talos,” he said. “Then I want everyone back on board the ship and on your way back to Castelrosso.”
Errol raised an eyebrow. “You don't sound as if you intend to go with us,” he said.
“I have business to attend to while I am here, Mr. Colfax. It may take some time, so I'm not going to tie up the ship and crew in the meantime.” Aramis looked at Jason and gave him a critical eye. “Duster, you will be in command of the Hoenix in my absence,” he said to him. “Raid and plunder what ships you will and divide up the bounty among yourselves, but don't wait for me. I may be gone a while, and I will arrange my own transportation back when I am ready to return.”
Jason tilted his head and studied the captain suspiciously. Thorne always seemed to have his hands into secretive situations and trusted no one with the information. What manner of trouble this new venture would bring down upon the ship and crew, he couldn't guess. Finally, he gave the grey wolf a nod and a casual smile.
“At your orders, sir,” he said. “We'll see you when you get back.”
Dallas and Ringo both looked up at captain with frowns and similar thoughts. It was because of Thorne that each of them had joined the ship. Aramis hadn't been an easy captain to work for at times, but his plans always seemed to have a larger purpose than the few details he ever let out.
Ringo stepped forward and wrung his hands nervously. “Cap'n, please don't be gone long, okay?”
“Don't be concerned, Tyler,” Thorne told him. “Duster has kept the ship going in my place for the past three weeks. He's capable of handling things while I am away.”
Dallas took the wolf's hands in her own. “Let me go with you, sir,” she said with large eyes. “We all know you can't go long without getting yourself into trouble that needs patching up.”
“No, Dallas,” Aramis said. “You will be needed aboard ship. As medical officer, you answer to no one but Mr. Talos, and I am sure there will be injuries for you to attend. Don't worry about me. I have healed well under your care and I need time away from things.”
Thorne noted his pilot's impatience, so he reached for his things beside him. Leaning against a black suitcase was the walking staff he had brought out of Hoenix. He hefted it up in one hand, and then the suitcase in the other. He looked back at Ringo and gave the beagle a subtle wink, and then walked quietly out to the transport. The pilot took his bag and the staff, and then stowed them in a side compartment. Aramis opened the passenger door and crawled inside without looking back at his crew.
When the white wolf got in behind the controls of the craft a moment later, he glanced over at the captain with a nod. “We have clearance, whenever you're ready,” he said.
“Thank you,” he replied with a nod. “Take us up.”
The twin repulsors of the small transport hummed lowly and then the craft was airborne. It hovered a brief moment high above the landing pad and then swung around to the northwest.
Errol watched the transport fly away and then he turned back to Jason. “What do you think he has planned this time?” the engineer asked.
“Who knows?” Jason replied with a shrug. “However, we have his permission and our orders. As soon as the ship has been secured, everyone is granted three days of leave.”
An hour later, the aerial transport set down on a gravel landing pad next to a tiny runway on the outskirts of a small farming community. Mangum only boasted a population of twelve hundred people, but it was the birthplace of Aramis Argent Thorne. The town seemed virtually deserted, as most of the residents would be out in the fields at this time of day, but a long black car waited for them in the noon sun.
It only took a few minutes to transfer the two crates to the back of the ground car while Thorne paid the transport pilot for his services. Moments later, the aircraft took off from the rural flying field and set its course back to Grandstorm.
Aramis sat in silence as the hearse moved through the quiet streets of the town. Memories of a simple childhood came back to him as he recognized shops around the town square and of the old waterfall fountains at each corner of the central city park. It had been over two decades since he had last been there, but the town was so unchanging that it didn't appear all that different from when he had left with his new bride.
After burying Cinjin and Jenda, he would wait around in a local motel for three days to allow the crew of the Hoenix to have their shore leave and then depart. He had told his crew that he would return once he had completed new business on Dennier, but the truth was that he didn't intend to contact them again.
With the loss of his family, he was sick of the potentially violent lifestyle he had maintained for so long. He was tired and weary of the piratical life, and he knew that the human Faltane would likely be on the lookout for him. After the funeral, he would go to the town's only bank, open up an account under a new name, and then transfer everything from his account on Brandt into it.
His plans included a seat on a commercial space flight to Pomen to cover his tracks further, where he would try to lay low. If anyone from Randon's crew let slip to Faltane about the extra box of gold that got away, Thorne could find himself the subject of a wolf-hunt. It was a dangerous position he had placed himself in, but all he wanted in life now was a quiet existence.
It only took a short time to cross the town on its way to the cemetery. The long car turned off the paved street onto a gravel road that passed beneath a wrought-iron archway, and then headed to a back corner where two figures waited.
A half hour later, a pair of fresh graves resided in a plot next to that of Thorne's long-deceased parents, and the grave attendants retreated to a nearby hovel to escape the growing heat of the summer day.
Aramis stood still in front of a solitary grave marker beneath a shade tree, a few feet away from those he had just buried. He had been unable to retrieve Scarlet's body to lay to rest, but he had arranged a head marker for her.
He held his hands together in front of him and stared down at the name of Scarlet Thorne.
“Goodbye, my life-mate,” he said with moist eyes. “You were the best chapter of my life, but now that you're gone, all my hopes, dreams and inspirations have died with you. You were my life, my soul and my heart. I no longer have a heart for the things I have done in the past, so my future is now uncertain. I… I miss you…”
He fell quiet for a moment as a warm breeze lightly swept across the surrounding crop fields and made the leaves of the tree gently flutter. He closed his eyes, tilted his head up toward the clear sky and gave up a long, mournful howl.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.