Author : Daniel Fuhr

The haze of smoke lingered over the sharp nose and into aged eyes. Smoking on spacecraft was strictly forbidden according to regulations. Jascon owned this tugboat; he made his own rules and could give a damn about those regulations.

He squinted to try to see through the smoke covering his eyes.

A few months ago, when the space marines contacted Jascon about using his ship as a decoy and trap for the local space pirates, he scoffed at them. They explained about the local growing number of pirates, calling themselves “The Barate”, not quite pirates, not quite bandits. He rebuffed the space marines, declining to assist them.

He coughed into the smoke, the tightness in his chest making it harder to breathe.

Eventually the request turned into a demand and the space marines requisitioned Jascon’s ship, his annoyance became anger. Under the marines control his craft was turned into a by-the-book regulation ship. Then the problems came. “Not enough lifeboats”, “Unsecured instrument devices”, “Nonworking emergency backup”, “No Smoking”. That last one chapped his ass more than anything. The only way he was able to afford paying his crew the small pittance they deserved was by allowing smoking.

Struggling, he pulled in another breath, he wasn’t sure if it was his last one.

As suddenly as they came, the space marines transferred. They abandoned Jascon to a condemned ship. His craft wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough to run cargo runs anymore. It wasn’t even good enough to leave the dock the space marines placed it in. The government revoked his license and the ships registration.

So he stole it.

The foot on his chest put another ounce of pressure on his chest. The number of strangers on his bridge was uncomfortable. The knowledge that he could be killed was uncomfortable.

“So you want to become a Barate?” the rough voice came through the smoke.

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