Winner of writingforums.org weekly short story contest, and the story from which this blog took its name. Enjoy!
Double kicks thudded as the soaring electric guitar reverberated through the cabin. Six months out of Nowhere and a month from Somewhere, Taco lit a cigarette, dusting the remnants of freeze dried chilli Con Carne from the rusted console. Most would say The Battle Hammer, an M class Freight runner was a little worse for wear. Named after a popular heavy metal band, the space faring equivalent of an eighteen wheeler would get shredded by even the lightest assault craft. The six thruster ship hauled four, seventy meter containers, filled with… Well, Taco didn’t know what he hauled. He didn’t really care either.
The burning tobacco lashed the back of his throat. With the cigarette resting on chapped lips, he popped open the cap of yesterday’s liquor. Mic Mannigan’s Wiltin’ Whiskey.
He took a slug from the bottle, patting his hand to the beat of the drum, ash broke away, dusting the dashboard. Licking his lips and savouring the burn, he wiped his mouth as the tar stained plastic that covered the radio unit began to glow. The dirt rimmed screen lit up. A photograph of a women with potent green eyes and dyed green hair appeared. Simultaneously, The man turned down the music and accepted the call.
‘Taco, my man!’ April’s voice crackled. ‘You runnin’ a dead head? Over.’
Taco picked up the receiver. A fat microphone, once steel but now mostly black gaffer tape. ‘Negative, April, you know me, rollin’ solo. Over.’
There was a long pause, Taco’s eyes narrowed.
‘You never got your I.R.L.F.D. fixed did you? Over.’
A shiver ran up Taco’s spine as the words echoed through the cabin. He swallowed audibly as he raised the mic. He pressed the button, opening the channel but released it again without a word. The radio clicked.
I.R.L.F.D. stood for Infra Red Life Form Detector. A compulsory device on all inter planetary freighters to prevent “people smuggling”… But really to prevent soldiers out in Nowhere going A.W.O.L.
‘Shit, Taco, what the fuck, man? You told G you got it done. This’ll send us broke. Over.’
‘Negative, it’s working. Over,’ Taco replied.
He ran his hand through matted hair before realising he held a lit cigarette. Ash drifted into the windless air as he stubbed it out, spilling buts from the laden tray onto the messy console. He returned the receiver to its hook. Dusting the grey powder from his trousers, he crossed the five meter cabin to the I.R.L.F.D. console.
The Battle Hammer’s life detector was an old model, it held a steady green light if the cargo bays were empty. Red if it it detected life. It was green. Taco belted the console with the inside of his palm. A thud echoed through the room but the light did not so much as flicker.
He pursed his lips before returning to his captain’s seat, dropping into the cushy chair, he leaned back. ‘April, I reckon yours is busted. It’s running green how far out are you? Over.’
‘I’m reading you clear as day, mate. You’ve got yourself a Ghost. Over.’
‘Ah, fuck it,’ Taco said indifferently, and without opening the receiver. April’s rig was barely two months out of the assembly line. Taco would have to admit that if there was a discrepancy with the scanners, the Battle Hammer would be to blame.
‘You gonna head back and check it out? Over,’ April’s voice crackled.
‘Yes, April, I am going to check it out,’ he said. ‘Just give me a minute. Over.’
‘I don’t have time, I’ll be out of intermittent range in six minutes. Scanners are showing two Sledgers in the area, want me to put a call in? Over.’
Taco thought for a minute, rubbing his stubbly chin. Sledger was trucker slang for a mercenary ship. Normally on their way to Nowhere, to make some coin fighting on the frontier. Always keen to make a bit of money, Sledgers would often help out truckers in a bit of strife. But, there was a catch. Federation ships occasionally disguised themselves as Sledgers. If one of them turned out to be a Fed, and the ghost was a stow away… Well, suffice to say Federation cruisers don’t have much time for people smugglers, and April’s cool voice would most likely be the last friendly one he heard.
‘Negative, I’ll sort it out. Just one Ghost? Over,’ Taco said.
‘Affirmative, just one, second hold. Over.’
‘Alright, take it safe. Over.’
‘You two, Taco. Catch you on the way back. Over.’