This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Davies took another sip of his whiskey, and said nothing. Soon enough Sorvac spoke again.
“Of course, you don’t have to struggle by on what the Navy will pay you. You could retire with a seriously large bonus.”
This time Davis didn’t hide his sigh.
“I already told you a dozen times, Sorvac. There’s no way I’m going to do it. You’re lucky I haven’t reported you to Command.”
“It would be my word against yours. It’s not like anyone could prove anything after we do this. That’s the whole point!”
“Maybe, but it would put a cramp in your style if you knew you were always being watched going forward.”
Sorvac shrugged again.
“That’ll never happen here. Gulvarian isn’t important enough a planet for Command to pay that much attention to. Besides, it’s not like I’m asking you to do anything that’s going to hurt anyone. Quite the opposite. We need you to help deliver a few luxury goods to the poor workers of the planet.”
“Luxury goods? Booze, drugs, and weapons? And who knows what else!”
“I don’t ask the details. That wouldn’t be healthy. And I never discuss this outside of my cabin, so no one will ever have any proof. Inside here… well, I know you’re not carrying any recording or transmitting equipment. I made good use of my first unofficial bonus to make sure my cabin is bug-proof, and I’ve updated the tech several times since.”
Davies shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter. You know I’m not going to report you. Not this close to my retirement. I don’t want to deal with all that paperwork, that suspicion, and have the chance of a black cloud hanging over me when I retire. I’m going to keep doing things by the book. Then I’m going to retire quietly, without any drama or fuss.”
“Fine, Davies. I understand. I had to try, though. You’re getting closer to retirement. I thought the reality of your financial position might have started to bite. But if you’re happy to retire and barely scrape by… well, good luck to you.
“But if you have any thoughts that the extra money would be useful then now is the time to say. This is the last chance you’ll have before you retire.”
“So this means this is the last time I’ll have to say no to you?”
“I promise. This is the last time you’ll say no to me!”
Sorvac refilled the two glasses, then lifted his in salute.
“Here’s to you, Davies, and to your retirement. May it be everything you wish it to be.”
Davies lifted his own glass, clinked it against Sorvac’s, then the two of them took a drink.
The problem Davies had was that he liked Sorvac. Just as well considering they’d been working together for several years now, if not always on the same shift.
Davies was fairly certain Sorvac had talked other officers into agreeing to his scheme at least twice in the last year. That was fine. Everyone knew smuggling was rife on Gulvarian. If Sorvac could convince someone else they worked with that they should turn a blind eye, ignore when a ship slipped away from an incoming convoy as they reached the atmosphere, then so be it. Of course they also had to convince the sensors that nothing had happened.
Davies figured it really didn’t make much difference in the long run. He’d been in the Navy long enough to have lost any illusions that it was a beacon of light in the universe. The Navy had its share of corruption. Some a lot worse than just smuggling. But Davies kept clear of it all. Not because of deeply held morals, or not just because of that, but because the risks had never seemed worth the rewards.
And now, so close to retirement and with his bank balance far fuller than Sorvac or anyone else would have suspected, wasn’t the time to break those self-imposed rules.
Sorvac and Davies continued knocking back drinks and chatting about other subjects as the evening wore on pleasantly.
* * *
Davies swayed slightly as he made his way back from Sorvac’s small bathroom area and took his seat.
“Damn,” he said. “The bladder is certainly something that gets weaker with age!”
“I’ll take your word for that, old man,” said Sorvac.
Davies just grinned back and shook his head. Sorvac was barely ten years younger than Davies. And he was talking about retiring in the next year or so.
To Davies that seemed foolish. Sorvac had certainly not been frugal with his money in the time Davies had known him. Others had noticed that too, so deciding to retire early and then continuing to live well was a sure invitation to a formal investigation into his funds. Then again, maybe Sorvac had stashed enough money away that he could buy off anyone who might ask such questions.
The money he’d offered Davies was certainly eye watering, considering how little was being asked in return. Agreeing to help Sorvac out just once would have earned Davies enough money to match the first four years of his Navy payout.
Davies had to admit he might even have been tempted to take the offer if he hadn’t been so frugal himself. But he had simple tastes, had never had any long-term relationships, and had no family left. That meant he had more money than he thought he would ever need.
Sorvac sighed, then fixed Davies with a stare. The effect was somewhat lessened by the fact Sorvac’s head kept swaying.
“Davies, you know I consider you a friend, don’t you?”
“You’re not so bad yourself. Especially now you’ve stopped pestering me to do something I won’t do.”
Davies winced. The alcohol had loosened his tongue and now he’d given Sorvac another opening. Sure enough, the other man took it.
“I do have to try one more time. This isn’t my decision, please understand that. My… associates… they stand to lose a lot of money if they can’t go through with the shipment tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I hadn’t realised it would be so soon. I guess this means you’ll have to stop asking me to help!”
“After today, yes. But I’m afraid I think you’re going to say yes.”
“I’m not going to do it, Sorvac. Just drop it.”
“My partners have done a lot of research. You are Second Lieutenant Davies. You’ve been in the Navy for forty-one years, seven months, and three days. There are several very minor negative entries on your record, all from when you were very young.
“Other than that you’ve had an exemplary, if not outstanding, career. You served on many ships, always well, but never quite doing enough to find your way up the command chain.”
“So?” Davies shrugged. “I never wanted to be in charge. Too much responsibility. Too much pressure to keep climbing further up the ladder. I’ve enjoyed myself, in the main. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.”
“As you should be. You’ve served well. You’ve done the right thing. There are always those who don’t though. For example, one Jasper Cairak. Now he was a character. Claimed to be part of a rebel force, but was nothing more than a common pirate. Have you heard of him?”
Davies fought hard to keep his hands from trembling. This was not a topic he wanted to talk about.
“I think I recognise the name,” he replied. “From a long, long time ago. I seem to remember we went hunting for him a few times when I was a cadet. Then it turned out he’d been killed in a different sector several years earlier.”
“But what a run he had! At least thirty-seven vessels boarded and destroyed. Hundreds of people executed at his hand, all of them army or Navy personnel or senior officials in government. Millions of credits worth of goods stolen. From what I heard it took a carrier and four destroyers to finally defeat his ship.”
“It could be. I really don’t remember how he died.”
“No, you wouldn’t. Because my associates found out you had left your ship by the time it was engaged, Captain Cairak. Your ship may have been destroyed, but you lived on. Lived on, changed your name to Davies, signed up at a Navy officer recruitment event, and have been hiding in plain sight ever since.”
“That’s ridiculous!” said Davies.
“Of course it is. I know there’s no way you could be Captain Cairak, but there’s enough coincidences in the timing that internal affairs would launch an investigation. You know what they’re like, it could take them months to complete it. Maybe even years.
“And in all that time you wouldn’t be allowed to retire. Hell, they might even decide there’s enough evidence to prove you are the notorious captain, in which case you might end up on trial!”
Davies forced himself to unclench his jaw and uncoil his fists. The temptation to smash Sorvac in the face was almost overwhelming, but it would solve nothing.
Sorvac sat quietly, actually looking uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, Davies. I wouldn’t have done this to you if I had any choice, but I’m not willing to cross those I work with. Please don’t imagine for a moment they won’t do this to you. They are more than ruthless enough.”
“And if I do what they want, and that is only an if, I suppose they’ll keep this hanging over me even once I retire. A nice bit of blackmail to bleed me dry.”
Sorvac chuckled and shook his head.
“That won’t happen. Trust me, any amount they got from you would be a drop in the ocean compared to the profits they normally deal with. They’re even going to pay you still. This isn’t blackmail, it’s just leverage to make sure you do what needs to be done tomorrow.”
Davies sat in thought for a long time, his mind running through his options. Not that he had many. Finally he knocked back almost a full glass of whiskey and slammed the empty glass down on the table.
“I’ll do it! But I don’t want the money. Donate it to the welfare fund for families of crewmen who died in service.”
“I knew you’d see sense! I’m sorry it had to happen this way. But are you really sure you want to give up that much money?”
“I’m sure. And I’m leaving.”
“I’m sorry, Davies. This really is for the best, though. And it won’t harm anyone.”
Davies just grunted, stood up, and stamped out. It would have been more impressive if he’d managed to avoid swaying into the door frame as he did.
Davies rubbed his temples and squinted as he studied the incoming fleet through his hangover. The convoy had appeared on sensors twenty minutes before but was still some way out, at least another twenty minutes from making planet-fall.
When it did one of the ships would slip away from the rest. And Davies would be ensuring that there were no alerts when that happened.
He wasn’t happy about it, but he had no choice. He wanted to retire. He needed to retire. Sorvac had been right, any investigation into whether he was captain Cairak would be guaranteed to destroy all his plans.
Worse than that, it might even unveil the truth. Sorvac and his business partners believed they’d just uncovered coincidental timing between the death of Cairak and Davies enlisting, but they were wrong. There was no coincidence.
That was something Davies’ dreams after leaving Sorvac had attested to. They have been full of fire and anger, pain and death. Full of the terrible fury which had driven Davies to commit terrible acts in the belief that he was righting some universal balance. And his dreams had been full of the guilt which had followed and which he’d only managed to bury after years of service in the Navy.
As Cairak, the anger had driven him for nearly three years, leading to a trail of destruction and death. But the fury had burnt low in the end. He’d been forced to confront all that he had done and who he had become. He was forced to take a good look at those he’d gathered around him.
None of his crew were fighting for ideals. They were fighting for the killing itself. Nothing Davies could have done would have turned them from that path. If he’d tried he would almost certainly have been overthrown and killed himself, and nothing would have changed.
So it was no coincidence that Davies, or Cairak as he was then, wasn’t on board his ship when it was destroyed. In fact it was no coincidence that the ship had been tracked down. Davies had slipped away, supposedly on a special mission, and had used that cover to tip off the Navy and trigger the destruction of the ship and those aboard it.
That alone hadn’t been enough to ease his guilt over everything he’d done. Some of the captains and officers aboard the ships he’d destroyed had definitely deserved it, but he had started to realise not all had. And just how many others had served aboard the ships he’d destroyed who were completely blameless.
Davies had struggled with how he could make things right until he’d finally settled on the idea of joining the Navy. Putting his own life on the line, and in doing so trying to ensure those who were not officers had someone looking out for them.
By being frugal with his wages he had managed not only to save plenty of money for himself, but also to give sizeable donations to the Navy welfare charity. He liked to imagine that the money he’d donated had ended up helping some of the families of those he’d killed. Even if not, making the donations helped ease his mind.
Eventually he had buried his past life, rarely even dreaming of those times, and believed that he was safe from discovery. Now all that would be placed in jeopardy if he didn’t do as Sorvac asked.
Davies felt a spark of the old anger light in his chest. He might have to do this, but that didn’t mean to say he had to leave it there. He could go after Sorvac and his associates. He could find out who they were, then use the money he had saved to put together a ship and crew. Hunt them down and show them they truly were dealing with Captain Cairak, and just what a dangerous mistake they had made.
The fire quickly died. The burning anger had faded away through the years, and maturity made him realise whatever he did would be likely to harm innocents as well as those he wanted to get at. Many innocents. He knew that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
No, he would break the rules this one time, and then he would retire. He would end his days in his house on the beach, finally having found some form of peace. And he would never, ever, talk with Sorvac again.
* * *
As the convoy entered the atmosphere Davies half expected Sorvac to make some form of signal. He didn’t. Apparently he trusted Davies would do what was required.
Davies had expected to be nervous, but he was icily calm. He adjusted the sensor properties, ensuring no alarms would trigger when the ship deviated and that there would be no record of it happening left in the systems. Then he settled down to watch. He might be having to do this, but he felt he should at least witness what happened.
It took another five minutes before the ship peeled off. It was one of the medium-sized freighters and was soon well away from the main convoy.
Almost at the same time a second ship, slightly smaller, pulled away and in a different direction. It seemed to be heading toward the drylands. Davies shook his head. He should have expected that there would be more going on than Sorvac had said. He shrugged. One ship or two, what did it matter?
If he’d known the answer to that, if he’d known just what was on board the second ship, he would have run to the authorities immediately. Even if it led to him being executed for his past crimes.
But he had no idea anything was unusual so the second ship went undetected by the planet’s defences. And so a danger Davies could never have imagined was unleashed upon the planet.