Canto 22 – Flying by Pinwheel
The Conference Room onboard the corsair flagship was spacious. It was one of the largest in Tron’s fleet. The most famous corsairs in the Imperial Rim Worlds were gathering there for a meeting.
“I missed you, Uncle Goofy,” said a cherub-faced little boy to Trav Dalgoda.
“I missed you too, Artran. I wouldn’t have left, but two of my very best friends from Questor needed my help.”
“The Aero Brothers?” asked Artran, eyes opening wide like brown blooms in a sunny field.
“Yes,” Trav nodded. “And your father got rather mad at me too.”
“He’s always like that. He always forgives me, though.”
Trav nodded at the boy. Artran was no more than seven years old. He was a very open-faced, trusting little man. It was difficult to believe his parents were two of the most infamous space pirates in known space.
The sour-faced pirate known as the King of Killers came into the room and sat down opposite Trav. He was a thin, bitter man with no sense of humor. Trav liked him anyway.
“How’s the pirate business, King, old Jester?”
“Shut up, Goofy, or I’ll rip your head off and stuff it in your… er…” He looked at Artran, “mouth.”
“That’s not very nice, Mr. Killer,” muttered Artran softly.
“Oh, I know, boy. I don’t mean it. It’s just that this clown and thief has caused us too much trouble.”
“I apologize, King. I had to help my friends, didn’t I?”
“I respect Ged Aero,” shot back the King. “If you’da said that he needed the artifact, I’da voted to give it to him. You don’t just steal stuff from Tron. Where’s your sense of honor?”
“I’m not sure I ever had one. If I did, I probably sold it and forgot about it.”
“The Aero Brothers are colonizing a planet?” King asked for conformation.
“No. It already had a really cool civilization on it when we found it. They are merely taking ownership.”
Just then, Elvis the Cruel walked into the room, his guitar slung over his back. He walked with a swagger and wore a dirty white muscle shirt. He was combing his greasy black pompadour with a practically toothless comb. Beside him walked the gorgeous lady pirate called Sheherazade. She wore a Princess Leia-style bronze slave bikini, though no one remembered why the heck such clothing was called that. It had something to do with a former emperor’s favorite comic book or something. Her skin, and she was showing practically all of it, was a deep ebony color. She sat down next to Artran and motioned Elvis to sit beside her.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” said Elvis.
“So, Trav,” said the sultry Sheherazade, “How did you get Tron to let you live?”
“Oh, Sheherry-baby, you know I’m Tron’s best buddy. The old Jester could never kill me.”
The beautiful lady laughed with a charm made more elegant by her tawdry companions. She seemed a regal Egyptian goddess. The King of Killers watched her longingly.
Elvis took out a cigarette butt and lit it, letting it hang on the slack part of his lower lip.
Pirates from other corsair fleets began to arrive. Razor Conn of the Black Hawk fleet showed up wearing a white cowboy hat and sunglasses with his second in command, the mysterious oriental, Shad Blackstone, by his side. The Degenerate, one-eyed Captain of the Corsair Frigate Palace of Foul Odors showed up in his crusty Lancer Battle Suit. The dwarf that traveled with him was named Stinky because of his unique ability to produce overpowering flatulence on cue. Several other Lancer Corsair captains were also there. Fez Amin of the dreaded Monopoly Brigade was there. His bald, tattooed head was skull-like and menacing. Arkin Cloudstalker was there with seven of his beautiful Lady Knights, captains of the White Sword Corsairs.
Tron came in with both his beautiful wife Maggie the Knife and Dana Cole. They both sat with him at the head of the conference table.
Tron held up a hand for silence and attention. All eyes fixed on the man with the scar. He had a commanding presence above and beyond the many forceful personalities gathered on the ship.
“You’ve heard the word circulated already,” began Tron. “News travels fast among the Corsair Brotherhood of Gentlemen Adventurers.” Everyone laughed at the high-tone name for the scum of the universe. “I have come here to declare war. We have been double-crossed by the smuggler prince and planetary duke of the planet White Palm. Count Nefaria tried to take us all out by acquiring ancient artifacts of incredible power. The Pinwheel Corsairs intend to take him on in his own system and take him out. I am not asking you to help me, though help is welcome. I am asking you to refuse any call for help he might make.”
“And what happens if we decide we like Count Nefaria more than we like you?” growled Fez Amin.
Elvis stood up and glared across the table at Amin. “Then we bust you up like a bunch of Louisiana hound dawgs!”
Fez Amin laughed. “What does that mean?”
Tron stared at the Monopoly Brigade’s tattooed leader. “Are you taking me on?”
“Naw,” said Fez Amin. “I’m just asking what if? Goober there gave me a funny enough answer to satisfy my need to laugh.”
There was a lot of nervous laughter. Everyone feared Fez Amin. He was dangerously insane and full of bloodlust. They feared Tron and his ace pilots as well. Few openly laughed at the eccentric behavior of a pilot like Elvis the Cruel. The possible consequences of such disrespect made everyone with a sane brain nervous.
“You tell me now,” said Tron to the group, “Who has a contract with Count Nefaria?”
No one raised a hand.
“Who is against my plan?”
Again, no hands went up.
“We hear you met a group of Corsairs called the Wraiths,” said Razor Conn. “You know much about them?”
“No,” said Tron. “But we beat them hard.”
“Let me give you this to help your cause,” said Conn, tossing a computer log core onto the table. “That is proof that the Wraith Corsairs work for both Nefaria and Syn Corporation.”
Everyone gasped but Tron and Maggie.
“Robots?” asked Tron.
“That’s my guess,” said Conn, smiling beneath his mirrored sunglasses and white cowboy hat. “It cost me forty fighters and one Black Hawk Frigate to get that bit of evidence. I’m not gonna help you kill Nefaria, but I mean to bet on you and the Pinwheels to succeed.”
“I thank you for that,” said Tron with a gracious nod.
Arkin Cloudstalker spoke up then. “We hear you helped Ged Aero escape the Imperium in return for your so-called Crown of Stars ancient artifact. And we hear Ged now owns a planet.”
“I won’t deny it,” said Tron.
“What part does that Crown play in all of this?” asked Cloudstalker. “That’s what I’d like to know.”
“You know the Crown has the power of the Ancients,” said Tron. “If we knew how to use it, we would tell you what we plan, but we need to research it more.”
“So, if we throw in with you, does that mean we are also supporting Ged Aero?” Cloudstalker’s face was grim as he got to the crucial question.
“I haven’t negotiated with the Aero Brothers yet. You can see I have their friend Trav Dalgoda as a member of my team already,” said Tron, indicating Goofy who was playing with Artran and oblivious to all around him. “I think it’s safe to say we respect Ged Aero and intend to throw our support behind him as he opens new systems in unknown space.”
“Well,” said Cloudstalker, “I believe Ged Aero is the one man who can solve our problems with the Imperium. I believe only true integrity can undo the Gordian Knots of Galtorr. I’m adding the White Swords to the Pinwheel Corsairs in this attack on Nefaria. I say one less nasty old spider in the Galtorr Imperium is a good thing!”
Most of the corsairs applauded Cloudstalker. Fez Amin growled.
“Ged Aero is a Werewolf!” shouted Amin’s tattooed second in command.
“Your foolishness is good for business!” mocked Fez Amin. He jabbed a large polished knife intao the conference table. “If you kill or capture Nefaria, Admiral Brona Tang will be hunting you down like the dogs you are. The Imperial Navy hasn’t paid any attention to you before now. That will change. I’ll be the only corsair still operating with a reasonably valid Letter of Marque. I’ll be laughing at your cold, dead corpses floating in endless space!”
Fez Amin and the Monopoly Brigade stormed out of the conference as if in anger. Tron frowned. It was more likely a tactical retreat. Amin was now part of the enemy.
Trav reached across the table to retrieve the fancy toad-sticker. “Sorry about the table, Maggie,” he said sweetly to Artran’s fierce mother. “I’ll just keep this cool knife.”