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Peddler of the Galaxies

By Jane Maree

The prisoner still refuses to talk.

Hands clasped behind my back, I pace my cabin. Shutters dim the starlight lanterns on my desk, but the wide, paned window reveals the sparkling view of a myriad of stars to our stern. I can’t bring myself to pull the blinds, lest I miss some glimpse of pursuit.

It’s been ten days since I gave the order to obliterate the Nova Alliance’s trade station with our cannons.

Ten days since I thought my vengeance would be satisfied, my parents avenged.

But still, it’s not enough. The Nova Alliance took everything I cared about, and I will not rest until I take everything from them.

I pace to the window, staring out at our stardust wake.

It’s been ten days, too, since we fished Mister Kieffer out of the void—wearing no mask or oxy-tank, but somehow alive. I need to know how he survived. Was it luck or something more?

His silence suggests something more.

And something more is exactly what I need against the alliance. I’ve tried everything I have, now I need… more. Their trade station is gone, but their poison runs deeper than that. Nova officials and soldiers are spread across the galaxies. Somehow, I must destroy every last one.

I pace to the cabin door, peering through the dim pane to the Nebula’s main deck. My breath fogs the glass, but nothing stirs beyond. The crew sleeps belowdecks. It’s hard to tell the passage of time away from a regular solar system, but I can just make out the digits on the mast’s atomic clock: past midnight, standard galactic time.

A shadow slides across the deck. My hand drops to the pistol at my belt. Who would be sneaking about while everyone else sleeps?

Snatching up the nearest shuttered starlight globe, I unlatch my door quietly and slip out, following the movement to the lifejets.

I stop in the shadow of the foremast. A figure bends over one of the lifejets, and the dull clink of a lock warns me that he’s just bypassed the security system that only I have access to. I peer closer. Actually, it looks like he’s removed the seal-lock completely, leaving the pod unsecured but unsafe for space travel.

Unless you can survive the void.

Drawing my pistol, I flick open the lantern’s shutters, shedding pale light across the scene.

Mister Kieffer ducks, but there’s no shelter, and he crouches exposed in the pool of starlight. Resignation flickers in his eyes.

“You’re supposed to be in the brig,” I growl.

His jaw bunches as he straightens, still holding the key. What fool crewman let himself be pick-pocketed? “Worth a try.”

His blasted cockiness even in the face of capture makes me snap. I drop the lantern—it spins across the deck in a dizzying flicker of light—and lunge at Kieffer.

I grab his collar and throw him against the lifejet. “Who are you?” I demand.

Kieffer gasps, raising his hands, but I shove my pistol under his jaw.

“How did you survive?” I lean over him, teeth bared.

His gaze hardly shows a flash of fear. “Why would I tell you?” He spits the words. “You killed them all.”

I sneer. “You care for the alliance that much?”

“To the void with the Novas! I’m not with them!” He surges against me.

I stumble back a pace, but he follows so we’re chest to chest. His eyes are red-rimmed but filled with rage. Familiar rage.

“You killed my family.” His chest heaves.

Raw pain surges into my throat in a roar, and I grab his shirt and shove him against the mast. “They killed mine,” I hiss. “And for ten years I have been making the alliance pay, and I will not rest until I have obliterated them.”

Kieffer scoffs. “The stories say you killed your own parents to become the captain. You were tired of being second place, so you executed them—”

I throw him to the deck. “Liar!” I shove my knee into his ribs and jam the pistol against his throat again.

“Pete!” Strong hands grip my shoulders, dragging me back.

“Release me!” I shake free, turning to face Cookie’s creased brow. “Stay out of this, old man.”

Ever the quiet voice of reason, the cook doesn’t retreat. “Lad, killing him won’t do you no good.”

“You’re wrong.” I turn back to Kieffer as the prisoner struggles to his knees.

Cookie grips my arm.

I cock my pistol, but Mister Kieffer raises his hands, shuddering. “Please, don’t… I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you, okay?”

“How did you survive in the void?”

“Stardust.” His shoulders slump.

It must be true, unless he’s an expert actor. I crouch, frowning as I spin my pistol idly. “Explain.”

He shakes his head but looks up beneath the dirty strands of his fringe. “My parents were peddlers. We traded anything, anywhere they’d let us in. When I was a child, they traded for some stardust.” He glances up at Cookie, still standing over us, and continues, “If you have the right kind of stardust, you can make a wish. One wish, and it’ll never work for you again, no matter how much dust you have.”

“And they wished that you wouldn’t die?” I cock one brow.

“Everyone has to die eventually. They wished that the void wouldn’t take me like it did my brother.” The sorrow that glistens in his gaze is proof enough of the truth.

“And you know where to find this stardust?” My knuckles whiten on my pistol.

Kieffer looks away. “The Interstellar city on Holuvian.”

His words lift a weight from my chest, and I stand. Only one wish?

I only need one. I know instantly what I will wish for.

“Pete?” Concern lowers Cookie’s gentle voice.

I turn to him, resolve pounding with each heartbeat. “Get the prisoner back in the brig and make sure he stays there this time. We sail for the Interstellar.”

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Jane Maree is an Australian writer, adventurer at heart, beloved daughter of the King of Kings, and believer in at least six impossible things before breakfast. Raised on fairy tales, scraped knees, and makeshift swords, she has yet to outgrow any of them. In her day job, Jane teaches music and freelances as an editor, but by night she crafts wild stories of daring heroes overcoming extraordinary odds.

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