Author's note: The events of this story take place about five years before the appearance of Captain Lafayette and Shadira in "To Catch A Thief"

Chapter One – On the run

 

  He hardly noticed the colorful stalls and equally colorful people of the open-air bazaar. Martin Alcott’s mind was too busy feeling sorry for himself and being angry with himself for being such a fool.

Just a small favor he had done for an old friend and his career was over. At least he had managed to sneak off the ship and it should be another hour or two before anyone noticed that he was gone. At least there was no Starfleet presence on this little piece of rock that passed itself off as a thriving trade world. Alcott didn’t even remember the name of the place, but he had seen enough worlds like it along the Federation border to know what to expect. 

Half the local cops would be in the pocket of some merchant or crime cartel, a distinction that could only be made by style and manners. The other half of the cops were either sulking because they were not important enough to the bribed and bothered about nothing much, or they were frustrated and took out their anger on the locals. None of them would be inclined to go out of their way to help a Merchant Marine crew capture a fugitive crewman – not if he could turn finding him into an effort for the cops.

Martin started to pay more attention to his surroundings. Humans – or at least Human-looking species – were in the minority, but they still made up a significant part of the population. All he needed now were two things: clothes that allowed him to blend into the crowd and some money. As he lacked the latter, he would have to steal the former.

*****

  He stayed in the shadows of the small alley and studied the comings and goings of the bazaar. He had been in the Merchant Marine for some years and he had started to think of himself as an old space hand, but there were at least half a dozen species in the bazaar he had never seen before. ‘Should have expected it.’

  Chamra – the name of the world had come back to him – was just far enough from the usual area of operations of the Orion Syndicate that most people thought they could get a fair deal here. That was bound to draw a lot of traders and travelers from all around the sector. In reality the Syndicate probably ran half the world, through third parties that were low-profile enough not to frighten away the legitimate merchants. ‘A nice little place to make some honest profit and just far enough from where all the security types are looking.’

  Martin Alcott knew all that, if not by personal experience then by rumors and educated guesses. What he didn’t know was what to do next, or rather how to do it. He was a helm-control officer by training, not a thief.

  He started to take off his uniform jacket, but then decided against it. A Merchant Marine officer would draw some attention, but no one would expect him to steal from them. ‘Might be just enough.’

  He would just stroll around until he found a stall that offered what he was looking for, one to the side of the bazaar preferably, with a street nearby that offered a quick getaway. Then he would just wait for the right moment and make a quick grab. It was hardly a plan, but there was little else he could do.

  *****

  Martin Alcott’s breathing came in rasping labored gasps, but he had no time to stop and catch his breath. That shopkeeper would never wonder again why there wasn’t a cop around when you needed one.

  Either the merchant had bought some protection from the local cops or the one after him right now was of the frustrated angry sort who was looking for a good excuse to vent some of those pent-up emotions on a petty thief. ‘And that would be me. From a good job commanding the second watch to petty thief in a few days. Great career move Marty.’

  Martin stumbled on, the shouts behind the corner getting awfully close. He still held on to the brown unassuming jacket he had grabbed of the stall and his fingers touched the inside lining. Despite the fear and terror working hard inside him to drive him on he stopped and stared at what was supposed to be his new inconspicuous outfit. “Damn!”

  The jacket was lined with Tholian silk. Why anyone would line a jacket befitting a dockworker with the most expensive clothing material available escaped Martin Alcott, but now he knew why the merchant had been screaming bloody murder. The damn jacket was probably worth more than he made in a year. ‘Have made,’ he corrected himself and started to run again his hands clutching the jacket even harder, as if his life depended on it.

  Just dropping the jacket and trying to make his getaway would be no use. He had no way of knowing what sort of cop was after him, but whoever it was, he would do his best to catch him. Either the cop would turn him into an object lesson for others, doing his best to make it very clear that there were a few merchants nobody should steal from, or he would teach him a lesson just for the fun of it.

  After a few meters Martin’s lungs told him that running wasn’t an option any longer and he settled for a painful jog instead. Perhaps he could lose his pursuers in the maze of small side-streets he had just entered.

  What he managed instead was getting himself lost.

  *****

  He leaned against a wall and tried his best not to just slide down it while he caught his breath. The shouts behind him had become faint, almost imperceptible. If he didn’t know where he was, perhaps his pursuers didn’t know either.

  “Yeah right, great thought.” No that he had stopped he was becoming acutely aware of the pain in his legs. At least it made the pain of forcing air into his lungs less noticeable. ‘And if I just close my eyes no one will see me.’

  He was a stranger to this city. Just finding his way back to one of the main thoroughfares would be difficult at best. But if the cops were still after him – and he had no doubts about that – they would know these back streets like the lines of their well-greased palms. Any cop just looking for some impromptu anger-release would have given up by now, beating up a few locals instead, justifying it with a search for information about the dastardly thief who had robbed the poor innocent shopkeeper.

  At least it sounded like he had gained on his pursuers and after a minute of trying to recover his strength Martin slowly moved on. ‘Just a little further. Have to find a spot where I can hide a little while. Have to think.’

  He rounded the next corner and found himself in a small square enclosed by high windowless walls. There was just one other alley leading off the square, about ten meters away on the opposite side of the square.

  Too bad Martin Alcott had paid so much attention to the voices behind him that he never noticed the voices in front of him. Six heads turned in his direction and suddenly the cops behind him seemed like heavenly angels. Avenging angels perhaps, but still figures of pure light compared to what he was now facing.

  *****

  “Look what we have here boys?” one of the two Tellarites belched out and it took Martin a moment to make out the words between the grunts – the difference was hard to notice. “One of ‘em Starfleet do-gooders as I live and breathe.”

  “Uh no. I am not Starfleet, I am with the Merchant Marine and I am sort of retired.” Alcott surveyed the group he had run into and immediately regretted paying closer attention. There were way too many knifes and blunt instruments in their hands and more scars in their faces than he had ever seen outside a cheap holonovel.

  Neither the Tellarite blocking his path nor the Human by his side seemed to take much interest in Martin’s career choices as they circled around to his side and made way for another Tellarite and a snarling Antican.

  ‘Bad news!’ Descendents of canine pack-hunters, Anticans had a reputation for ferocity and quick tempers. Not that their sharp teeth and wicked claws did anything to help improve their public image.

  “Listen guys, I am really just passing through, but if that’s a problem with you I’ll just turn back the way I came. No skin off my nose, if you know what I mean.” At least they were not carrying any guns Martin could see. ‘Oh crap!’ That meant they wouldn’t just shoot him in an instant, but cut and beat him to a death filled with more pain than he ever had cared to imagine. But suddenly Martin Alcott’s imagination worked a lot better than it ever had before and that was something he could have done without.

  The Tellarite shot a glance over his shoulder and grunted: “What should we do with ‘im, boss?”

  “Whatever you do, do it quick. We don’t have time for this.”

  It took Martin an eternity – a very short eternity – to realize it was the Nausicaan who had spoken. Behind the four thugs he was facing stood a Nausicaan and an Orion woman. He had assumed the Orion would be the leader of the group. Nausicaans were usually too dumb to lead a group of thugs – they were the brutes lead by others. If this one was clever enough to keep this motley crew together things looked even bleaker than they possibly could.

  ‘But what about her?’

  *****

  The speed at which his mind suddenly worked would have amazed and astonished Martin Alcott if he had had time to think about it. As things happened it took him only a fraction of a second to notice several things:

  The Orion was a feast for the eyes.

    Her tight black leather outfit didn’t help to keep Martin’s hormones in check.

  Despite how tight her out fit was the Nausicaan had still found a handful of it to grasp in his oversized fist.

  She was the victim here and he was just the innocent bystander caught in the middle.

  *****

  Martin tried to put a grin on his face and pointed at the Orion with his free hand. “Listen guys, looks like you are having fun and I really wouldn’t want to distract you from it.”

  “Uhhh, listen to that,” the knife-wielding human on Martin’s left snickered, noticing how high-pitched Martin’s voice had suddenly turned. “Did we scare the pretty Starfleet boy? Isn’t that a shame?”

  Alcott waited until the laughter had died down before he cleared his throat noisily. “Listen! I have friends in Starfleet! They will come looking for me if they don’t hear from me soon!”

  The Tellarite closest to him almost fell over and it took Martin a moment to realize the man wasn’t suffocating, but just trying to fight down the hardest laughter imaginable. It was no use. After a moment the laughter of five rough throats filled the square, reverberating from the high windowless walls, nearly deafening the former Merchant Marine officer.

“That’s a good one,” the Tellarite managed after he had halfway recovered. “Let ‘em come. The Hawk will teach them a few lessons they won’t forget. Oh wait.” He seemed to seriously consider what he had just said before his grin split his features in half. “Trouble is they won’t live long enough to remember the lesson we will teach them.”

  Martin Alcott tried his best to keep his eyes focused on the Tellarite’s sickening grin while his mind paid attention to something that hadn’t registered on the others’ minds.

  As the sound of fast footsteps rounded the corner behind him Martin threw the jacket he was still clutching at the Tellarite.

  “They made me do it!” he yelled at the top of his lungs as he made a dash through the group of surprised thugs.

  He grabbed the Orion’s arm and dragged her with him as he ran away again, not waiting to see if the motley group of hoods or the policemen his loud voice had attracted would win the fight that ensued behind him.

  *****

  Martin grabbed the pitcher the waitress was about to hand him and waved her off. Any other day he would have taken the time to make a pass at her, but today was different. What would have been an exotic and exciting place any other day was now just another sleazy dive on a good-forsaken – or at least law-forsaken – frontier world.

‘Amazing what losing your job, becoming a common criminal, and having your life threatened at the same day can do to sharpen one’s perception.’

  It was little consolation, but at least it had focused his perception enough to realize that the beer tasted like piss, or what he imagined piss to taste like.

  He took another long gulp. The taste was horrible, but at least there was some real alcohol in it. That didn’t help, but it almost made him forget that it didn’t help.

  “So,” he slowly said, his eyes narrowing to small concentrated slits. “Your captain had some trouble with this Hawk guy, who is the underworld big-wig on this sorry ball of rock, before he just disappeared or rather was disappeared?”

  The Orion woman just nodded and Martin’s eyes followed the downward motion of her head until his eyes came to rest on her ample cleavage. ‘Look at you,’ he scolded himself, ‘as if I didn’t have enough problems already. Girl-troubles are so not what I need right now.’

  “And your crew ran off, which leaves you in possession of a ship?”

  Again she nodded and Alcott forced his attention on the glass of beer he was raising to his lips. That reminded him of the taste of the local brew, which in turn made starring at the Orion’s breasts like a slobbering idiot a most inviting, if somewhat undignified, alternative.

  “And this Hawk guy wants you to sign the ship over to him, but you’d rather keep it? Well, that must be one hell of a ship if the local don is after it.”

  She pushed a blocky padd across the table and while Martin was pretty curious what was on the padd, he couldn’t help wonder where the blazes she had hidden the thing. Not up her frilly half-transparent sleeves, that was for sure. But the rest of her outfit left no space for pockets. ‘Damn, she’s good. Not an amateur like me, that’s for sure.’

  It took Martin a moment to get the hang of the padd’s control configuration, but once he had managed that he almost spit a mouthful of what passed for beer on Chamra over the table.

  “Are you kidding me? What would anyone want this ship for?”

  *****

  Martin Alcott slowly turned around and looked at the jumbled mess that was supposed to be a bridge.

  The reddish-brown color of the deck and walls at least fit the Klingon design of the ship, but everything else...

  He peered at the underside of the helm station and sadly shook his head. Merchant Marine ships ran on smaller crews than most Starfleet ships of equal size and any Merchy worth his pay knew how to man several posts and make those stations run without an engineer around to take care of routine, or not-so-routine, maintenance. But this ship was really something else.

  “You know,” he remarked, his head buried in the innards of the helm station, “if you want to get this bucket of bolts into space again you’ll need a dry-dock, a couple of hundred man-hours, and a lot of money to pay for both.”

  He stood up and looked around again. “If you have neither you’ll need at least a good crew who knows what they are doing and some spare parts. Do you know anything about engineering?”

  She shook her head and her hands clenched into fists. ‘God, this really means a lot to her. Well, she knows her way around this city and I need a ride. Might as well help her get me off this world.’

  Without ever realizing it Martin Alcott had finally left his old life behind him.

  He had run from his old life. He had turned into a petty thief. He had faced down a bunch of thugs and rescued a beautiful woman.

  It had been one hell of a day, but he never had a choice. He had to get away from his old life and he might as well do it with some style. Now what was the name of that pirate he had loved so much reading about when he had been a kid?

  “Well, I know a few things about engineering. You just get us the right people and we will have this old lady back in shape in no time at all.” He grinned and held out his hand to the Orion. “By the way, the name’s Lafayette, André Lafayette.”

  She stared down at his hand from narrowed eyes for several seconds before she took his hand in a firm grasp.

  “Shadira.”

 

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5    Chapter 6

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