IN THE BEGINNING: 3291
Nobody stole from Dexter Vex.
Especially not his ships. In the mines he’d beaten other slaves to death for stealing his food, and even after Samuel had bought him from that hell hole it had been a principle that what was his, stayed his. True, he no longer beat people to death for it – and god alone knew how long it had taken Samuel to teach him that – but that didn’t mean he had to like it. Besides, the Sidewinder had been a gift from Samuel, when Vex had paid off his debt.
“Vex,” he’d said, “everyone needs a place to start. This is yours.”
True, Vex had never loved the ship, but he’d never been able to bring himself to sell it either.
And then of course Samuel had died, the same way as a lot of traders did, floating in the black surrounded by the wreckage of his ship and the dregs of cargo that the pirates hadn’t wanted. Vex had been in Alliance space at the time, tracking down someone who owed Samuel money, and by the time he came back it was too late.
He’d killed the people responsible of course – after all, in a strange way Samuel was his too, but it didn’t change anything. So he’d left the Sidewinder in Trevithick Dock as a reminder of what had been and had gone looking for more people who thought traders were easy pickings.
But someone had snuck in the docking bay and boosted it. Bastard. And to cap it off this guy had managed to evade him for three months. Nobody evaded him for that long. Most people didn’t last three days with Vex on their trail, let alone in a crappy stock Sidewinder. He didn’t know whether he was impressed or pissed about that.
He settled for pissed, and turned to his comms panel.
“To unknown commander, you have nowhere to go. Throttle down and prepare to be boarded.”
Silence greeted this, and the Sidewinder continued to pull away. Fine.
“To unknown commander – if it helps, imagine I’ve just deployed my hardpoints.”
There was a crackle of static and then:
“You have deployed your hardpoints.”
Shit– it was a kid, barely eighteen, judging by the voice. Now Vex was impressed. At that age he’d just started learning how to use cutlery aboard Samuel’s Anaconda. It would be years before he learned how to fly, let alone the sort of fancy multi-system evasion this kid knew. Still, the kid had stolen what was his. He turned back to the comms panel.
“Well, you shouldn’t have to tax your imagination too hard then. Kill your engines. Before I do it for you.”
The kid wasn’t stupid. He powered down his engines and welcomed Vex on board with a wary look. Vex slaved the nav console on the Sidewinder to his Eagle and took it and his reluctant passenger to Kimbrough Settlement, a nearby Federation outpost. He frogmarched the youth straight to the nearest bar and pushed him firmly into a seat.
“See this?” He said, his hand on his pistol. “I’m going to get myself a whisky. Move and I’ll shoot you.”
He sauntered back, drink in hand. The kid was sitting bolt upright, white as a sheet.
“How old are you?” He barked.
Vex grunted. He thought as much. “That’s lucky. Any older and I’d have killed you already.”
“How fortuitous for me.”
Smartmouthed little brat.
“I don’t normally kill children. It’s antisocial. Still, as they say, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it…” He sipped on his whisky, menacingly.
“All right, Meat Feast. You should meet my dad. You’d have a lot to talk about.”
Vex blinked. Did that just happen? He frowned, momentarily at a loss.
“Do you have a deathwish?” He spluttered, finally.
“That is absolutely the last thing I have, as it happens. I’d quite like to be left alive really – despite the best efforts of, seemingly, the rest of the universe.”
“What’s your name?”
“Phineas Hector Souvarine.”
Vex snorted. “OK. Well, I’m not fighting my way through that. ‘Souvarine’ has plenty of syllables all on it’s own.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Here’s the rub, kid. You stole my ship. I hate that ship but it was given to me by someone who I cared for a great deal. I was going to kill you, but killing minors is a line even I won’t cross.”
‘I’m not a kid,’ the youth went to say, but decided against it. Clearly, killing was something that this man was entirely comfortable doing.
“So what are you going to do?”
Dexter Vex sat back in his chair and lit a large cigar. “I’m going to sit here and listen,” he said, puffing deeply, “while you tell me why you stole my ship.”
And so Souvarine began to talk.
At first his voice was dull and matter-of-fact. He talked of his home on a small border world in the Empire, and the civil war that had engulfed his planet. He talked of the ships that left in the night, taking more and more of the townsfolk away. About how his family had finally joined them.
As he talked, his eyes gazing over Vex’ shoulder, his voice became more animated. He talked of the pirate ambush, and how he’d been separated from his parents in the confusion. He talked about the refugee centre they’d been herded to. About how, after weeks of the cramped and humiliating conditions in the small outpost they were held at, he had had enough and made a run for it.
At this point Vex stopped him. “How did you disable the security?”
The kid looked at him, trying to gauge what his reaction would be.
“I pretended to be your son.” he said finally.
“I found a member of station personnel and told them I’d been told to meet my father in your docking bay. I started cry about how I had to be there or I’d be left behind but I’d lost the key and…”
Here his voice took on a desperate quality, and he suddenly looked younger, more vulnerable:
“Oh god, I’ll be left here… I don’t want to be left here… p-p-p-please let me in, I won’t touch anything, I just need to find my father…”
Vex almost felt the urge to applaud, the performance was masterful. “What made you think of that?” he asked, incredulous.
Souvarine shrugged. “I read it somewhere. Can’t remember where, I read a lot. My father hates… hated it. To him I should have been learning how to shoot and hunt. After all, reading never got anyone into the White Navy.”
“He wanted you to join the Navy?”
“Oh yes.” Again Souvarine’s voice changed; this time becoming older, more authoritative:
“My name is Viscount Aenas Souvarine. I fought in the last war, and every full blooded Imperial man should do the same thing. You should learn to fight so you can kill the bloody communists and teach them a bloody…” What’s so funny?”
Vex was shaking with silent mirth. “You’re father’s name was Aenas?” He chortled.
Souvarine smiled. “Yep, I always thought it sounded like “Anus” too.” He smiled hesitantly.
They met each other’s eye and both started laughing. Other patrons turned to look at them.
“It’s not even that funny,” laughed Souvarine.
“I dunno,” said Vex. “Here was me thinking your name sucked. You’ve actually done pretty well out of it.”
“Gosh, thanks. What’s your name?”
Now it was Souvarine’s turn to look quizzical. “Dexter Vex? Really? Were your parents expecting you to be a brand of kitchen cleaner?”
Vex couldn’t help but smile again. The kid had balls.
“I wouldn’t know, Sou. I never knew my folks. I chose Vex for myself.”
“Oh. Right. It’s lovely. So… are you wedded to Sou?”
“What’s wrong with Sou?”
“Um, it’s a girl’s name.”
“You should listen to some Johnny Cash. Nothing wrong with being a boy named Sue.”
They sat in silence for a while, each contemplating their own thoughts. Eventually Souvarine broke the silence.
“What are you going to do?” He asked tentatively.
Vex looked at him for a couple of seconds, then seemed to reach a decision. He pulled out a data slate.
“Give me your hand,” he said, tapping a couple of panels on the slate. Souvarine gingerly held out his hand.
Vex gripped it and pressed it, palm down, onto the slate.
“What the hell are you doing?” stammered Souvarine, alarmed.
“I’m transferring the ownership rights to that Sidewinder to you.”
The kid looked at him, wide-eyed.
“You’ll need to forge a Pilots Federation licence until you’re 18. I don’t suspect you’ll find that that difficult?”
For once in his life, Souvarine was lost for words.
“Umm, no, I should be able to sort that,” he managed. “Why are you doing this?”
Vex looked sideways at him. “Well, Sou, a very good friend of mine once told me that everyone needs a place to start.”
“This is yours.”