“Is he on board?” the pirate king barked at his guards.

“According to the log he came on board at exactly 14:08 sire,” the officer mumbled.

“That was 4 hours ago! Now find him!” Delaine screamed as he opened the door to his private cabin.

“Looking for someone?” Idlewally chirped up. He was sat on the chair so lavish you could get away with calling it a throne, with his feet up on the desk, heels resting on the reports that had the pirate king so flustered in the first place

“How dare you? Who do you think you are?” Delaine growled, the rage bubbling atop the surface, hand reaching for his pistol.

“Ah, who am I? Now that is the real question. How about you get rid of your aides and we can talk in a civilised manner?”

Spotting Delaine’s movement, knowing he had mere seconds before the gun was aimed and discharged, he added “I would advise against that. This room is rigged to blow the second my heart stops beating. If I die, so do you, as well as everyone within 500 metres of this office.”

“Oh, if that’s your game…” The hulking shape of the pirate moved towards the desk, silhouetted by the glare from the distant star. “You will be begging me to kill you but you will remain alive just long enough for the device to be neutralised and, believe me, it will not be a pleasant experience. I am going to keep you breathing, but I guarantee you it will be an experience that haunts you to the end of your days.” A sadistic smile crossed his face as he saw in his mind’s eye the torture he would inflict on this disrespectful worm. “You made a bad choice.”

In an instant, Idlewally drew his own blade, but before anyone could react he sliced open his own hand. Blood streamed from the wound, as he casually threw the knife at the pirate’s feet.

“Run a DNA test. Then we will talk, and I will wager my life, it will be just the two of us.”

Delaine hesitated, evaluating the scene before him. He ordered the test be done, ushering one of his men to attend to the commander’s hand. Moments later, he returned with a datapad – the display showing a picture and bio, but not that of the man sitting in front of him, but a man who was supposed to be dead.

“Clear the room!” he commanded.

“…but sire?”

“I SAID CLEAR THE FUCKING ROOM!”

Having served long enough to know that the pirate king would not ask again the aides left, leaving the pirate king and the dead man alone.

“Seems my intelligence operatives have been taken for fools. You are meant to be dead, Idlewally. Or… should that be Wally Walford, Dragonhead?”

“Hey, call me what you like, it doesn’t change the fact I am here and you are wondering what the hell I have done over the past 8 months.”

“I should have left you to die when we discovered your escape pod.”

“Maybe, but I wouldn’t have died. If you didn’t take the bait I would have been rescued and we would now be at war. For both our sakes, this deception has proved more than fruitful.”

“Explain yourself! I warn you, my patience has its limits, and get your fucking feet off my desk. In fact, get off my chair!”

Slowly standing, Idlewally moved over to the computer, retrieving his knife as he passed by. “As you know, the Dragons set up base some time ago in Patocuda. It was never our intention to settle down, however we found the strong commerce available in system. A good front for our, shall we say, less than ethical dealings. But the biggest issue was always Kumo Crew. We knew you would not tolerate such a strong faction in the heart of your space for long, so a few of us hatched a plan that would save lives and, more importantly, money. I was sent to infiltrate your organisation and plant the seed that you needed to crush us.”

“But you put your own people at risk when you suggested the plan of attack. You haven’t the man power to throw lives away.”

“No, you are right. All the dragons were away running missions apart from the few who were in on the plan.”

“What? That lunatic and the drunk were the brains behind this operation? Are you truly that stupid?”

“Well you bought it hook line and sinker, so what does that make you?”

Wally saw anger flash in the pirate’s cold, dark eyes. “Ah ah aaah! Remember, if I die, so do you,’ Wally reminded Delaine.

Archon steadied his footing. “But we saw bio-matter. We saw those bodies floating in space during the attack.”

“You saw what we wanted you to see. You didn’t attack our defences as I led you to believe, you attacked a storage compartment where we have been storing the dead in stasis for months. Our defences were never offline. Hell, if we wanted you dead we would have killed you without a second thought. However, you need us, and we need you”

“I need no-one!”

“Really? Then pray tell, how were your systems doing before you thought you demanded we fight for you? Let’s face it, as far as pirating and smuggling goes, you are the best, only a fool would deny it, but you can’t govern your people by fear. Save that for your enemies. We have shown the true financial potential of your empire.”

“Then why all the smoke and mirrors, if you were in control of this situation as you claim, why do my bidding?”

“Because it beats all-out war. We are good, but we haven’t got the pilots or resources you have. Eventually you would have beaten us like you have every other faction that has stood against you. We needed to prove our worth or you would never have taken us seriously. Now we have commanders loyal to us in all your key systems and industries, wiping us out will be financial and political suicide for you. That puts us in a position to strike a deal.”

Archon’s eyes lowered, his stance relaxed. “So now we get to the heart of the matter. If you think I am surrendering my kingdom to you fools then you are very much mistaken.”

“Us rule? Come on!” exclaimed Wally. “A lunatic, a drunk, and a dead man? No thanks!”

“Then why the games, pig. What do you want?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? You went through all this for nothing? Your excessive lifestyles have clearly left you bereft of any sense.”

“Seriously, we don’t want a thing from you other than to be left to our own devices. We could have hoped you would have left us alone, but that was never going to happen so we made plans to ensure our survival.”

“You raid the bee hive to stop the bees stinging? I had heard you were crazy but this is sheer ignorance.”

“Don’t be so short sighted. We surrounded ourselves with bees, as you put it, to keep everyone else at bay. Think about it. Despite having a home, we are still mercs, we make enemies all over the galaxy, but our capabilities are drastically reduced as we need to keep a sizable force here to prevent people taking advantage of our being elsewhere. However… with you surrounding us, not many factions can afford to make an enemy of you as well as us. That is why we have strengthened your position so drastically. Anyone thinking of attacking us will think again seeing how sizable a force would be surrounding them. As far as the rest of the galaxy knows you have forced us to do your bidding, if you let it be known we are a protectorate of Kumo Crew, no one would dare attack us, and we will keep tight lipped about our involvement in your business. Everyone is a winner. You can either agree, or we bring your kingdom to a standstill. You have till tomorrow to get back to us with your decision.’

Satisfied, Wally headed for the door, only to be seized in a gorilla like grip.

“What about the device? If you walk out of here, what is the reach of your heartbeat sensor?”

“My what? Oh that! Yeah, sorry, I was bluffing. Had to say something to stop you killing me on the spot.”

The giant released his grip, and reached to his gun holster. Wally moved, walking confidently through the doorway and past the guards. Archon slowly followed, his gun raised and the laser sight flickering across the back of the commander’s head. The sentries raised their rifles.

Delaine stopped, and muttered, “no.”

He turned and slammed his fist violently into the bulkhead frame, the sound of the impact resonating through the corridor in front. His guards turned in shock.

He spoke again.

“No. Not now.”

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