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Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2292529
The latest in my series of short stories based on my Starhawk Chronicles book series
Will the Real Jesse Forster Please Stand Up?

A Starhawk Tale

The ocean below was a chaotic blanket of whitecaps, the sky above the color of slate. A fitting reflection for my mood at the moment, Boruus Noth thought, staring out at the angry waters below the precipice upon which his temporary base sat. The abandoned castle which was, supposedly, haunted, cursed–whatever legend the locals were christening it at the time–had always given Noth a bad feeling, and Volkov were not known to be a particularly superstitious race. And on this particular day, Noth had a very bad feeling.

That feeling did not improve as one of his men approached him from behind. “Lord Noth? We’ve caught an interloper snooping around outside the southern entrance. Says they’ll only talk to you. No one else.”

Noth turned to the guard, glaring with impatience at having been disturbed while overseeing the loading of dozens of crates of Kryllian stim-vapor cubes. He had a schedule to keep, and his investors did not take lightly at having their supply lines run dry for even a few hours. The stim-cube trade was flourishing in the narcotics industry. Noth had gotten in on the ground floor, rising quickly from lowly street hustler of Del Roona, up through the ranks until he was able to form his own small, but quickly growing cartel of his own. He neither wanted nor cared for, distractions.

Still, despite his mood, the Volkov was feeling accommodating, and softened his stare at the guard, insofar as his craggy, stone-faced countenance could soften. “What does he want?” he grumbled.

She, Sir,” the guard corrected with a nervous tremor in his voice. When Noth’s only reaction was the raising of an eyebrow in curiosity, the guard relaxed. Slightly. “As I said, she refuses to speak except to you.”

Noth sighed. Were he not intrigued, he would simply ignore the matter, After all, the guards didhave the intruder in custody. He could simply snap his fingers and have them execute her on the spot.

But Boruus Noth was feeling accommodating today.

“Bring her in,” he said, dismissing the guard and turning back to his data screens, checking and re-checking his shipment schedules.

Moments later, the guard returned, with another of his compatriots flanking the intruder. Noth was amused as she approached. She was of average height, for what he assumed was a human, her identity kept hidden beneath a battered helmet of a Harkonian ground-force trooper of pre-war vintage. The helmet in itself intrigued him. Perhaps when all was said and done, he would keep it for his collection. He was known for his fondness for antiques.

Noth looked to the first guard. “She is unarmed, I assume?”

The guard held out an equally battered KX-29 pulse blaster, older even than the helmet. “This was all she had on her. We checked her over thoroughly,” he said with a grin. The other guard chuckled softly but added no more.

Savages, Noth thought. Despite the unseemly way he made his money, he would not invite the mistreatment of a prisoner who did not deserve it, especially since he wasn’t even sure if the new arrival would remain a prisoner. He would have an in-depth discussion with this particular pair of guards at a later time.

He stepped closer, again admiring the design of the decades-old helmet. “Kindly remove your disguise, so that I may speak to you face-to-face.”

The newcomer reached up, using slow, steady movements so as not to provoke the guards. What was revealed intrigued Noth even more than the antiques she carried. Long, russet-brown hair, dark eyes which fixed him with a dagger-like gaze, and a face with soft, slightly pink complexion and high cheekbones. Boruus Noth knew beauty when he saw it, even in a human female, and this one was strikingly beautiful.

He took another half-step closer, studying her. She was young for a human, and if he was guessing correctly, about halfway into her third decade of life. Noth smiled, as charmingly as a Volkov could. “You do know you could be in quite a bit of trouble, do you not?”

The newcomer remained silent, keeping those coffee-brown eyes fixed on him.

“Come now,” Noth said. “My guards said you would speak only with me. Now is your opportunity. What’s your name, child?”

She spoke in a slow, measured voice, that almost sounded like a threat when she replied, “Jesse Forster.”

Noth was taken aback by the response and saw the two guards share a look as well. The name Jesse Forster was well known in his circles. A bounty hunter, and a good one by all reports, but this could not be the one that he had heard about. “Impossible,” he said.

“Why?” she spat, more challenge than question.

“Because while the name is known to me, and I am somewhat familiar with the reputation that goes along with it, I can state unequivocally that you are not Jesse Forster.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because Jesse Forster is a male.”

“So, what are you, some kind of sexist?”

Again, Noth was stymied. An accusation of that sort was the last thing he expected. It took a moment for him to regain his voice. “Jesse is a male human name.”

“Not when it’s short for Jessica, you misogynist pig!”

This was growing tedious. Noth had much more important work to do than banter back and forth with this little spitfire. There was a schedule to keep and repercussions if not kept.

One of the guards picked up on his mood. “What do you want us to do with her, Sir?”

“Put her in a holding cell for now. Untouched,” Both men’s faces dropped in disappointment. “I will decide after we get this shipment out. Until then, make sure she’s…”

He was interrupted by the ping of his comm-band. He switched it on. “Lord Noth? This is Jerrus guarding the North gate, Sir. We’ve caught an intruder. He-he won’t give us any identification. Says he’ll speak only to–um–only to you…Sir.”

Noth blinked with surprise, sharing the look with the two guards. He looked to the girl, who was still regarding him with the utmost contempt. “Friend of yours?”

Her reply was more silence, and that scathing glare.

Noth sighed, rubbing the tip of one long, pointed ear to try and ward off the headache that was forming at the base of his skull. It was going to be one of those days. He could feel the eyes of his crew around him watching for his response. Ordinarily, he would be breaking things in a blind rage by now, but he just didn’t feel up to it, despite his impatience at the distraction. Must be getting soft. Have to see to that. He raised his comm-band again. “You did say he?”

“Correct, Sir,” A pause. “At least, I think he…it…” Another nervous pause. “Definitely a he, Sir. I think.”

“Chauvinist troglodyte,” the woman said, under her breath, but still loud enough to be heard. Noth ignored the comment.

“Bring whoever it is here to me, and make it quick! I won’t tolerate any more interruptions!”

“Y-yes, Sir!”

Noth made a mental note to review his staffing policies with his second-in-command later on. A nervous nannyte like Jerrus should not be in an important position such as security. Maybe give him a nice loading assistant job. Later.

The other two guards, he noted, made no attempt to take the woman to her cell, all too obviously waiting to see who this latest person of interest was.

A few moments later, Jerrus and his companion lead the new intruder into the control office. Striding between the two of them, chest puffed out in an exaggerated show of bluster, was a warwick. Covered in white fur mottled with brown and black spots, and standing a little more than half of Noth’s height, the warwick nevertheless projected haughty confidence that seemed to fill the room. He met Noth’s gaze unflinchingly.

“Not what I expected,” Noth said, “And who might you be?”

“Jesse Forster,” the newcomer replied with an air of pride. He looked over to his right where the young woman still stood and nodded in her direction. “Jesse,” he said in acknowledgment.

She returned the nod. “Jesse,” she replied.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Noth said aloud with a shake of his head. “You are not Jesse Forster.”

“You got proof of that?”

Noth regarded this new Jesse Forster with annoyance. He had better things to do than play a game of who the hell are you? “ I know that Jesse Forster is not female,” He glanced at the girl, who shot daggers at him with her eyes. “And I also know that he is most decidedly human.”

The warwick struggled against the guards still holding him, fixing Noth with a gaze that would have frozen water. “Wow! Racist much?”

Someone in the back snickered. Noth, his patience growing razor-thin, whirled to see who the culprit was, but was too late. Everyone was working hard at looking like they were hard at work. “Enough of this,” he growled. “Put them in a holding cell, together, since they already seem to be acquainted. We will deal with them after all the shipments have been…”

The ping of his comm-band cut his words short. Everyone in the room went dead silent at the disturbance, waiting for Noth’s reaction. He locked eyes on the nearest guard, who visibly shuddered under his gaze, Without looking, he activated the comm. “Noth,” he said, keeping his voice under control.

“Lord Noth? This is Shenpai at the eastern perimeter gate.”


“Shenpai, Sir. I’m new here. Just started last week.”

Noth looked to his other guards, and was not surprised when he received a few shrugs in return. Employee turnover had been a bitch lately. He sighed. “Yes, Shenpai? What is it?”

“We’ve apprehended an intruder here, Sir, and…”

“Let me guess. He refuses to speak with anyone but me, correct?”

There was a moment’s hesitation. “Actually, Sir, he’s not speaking at all. I’m not entirely sure that he can…Sir.”

The headache Noth was hoping to ward off was coming full force now. Someone was going to lose a limb today, at least. The others had picked up on his vibes and were looking like they wished they had somewhere else they could be. Jerrus looked like he was trying to keep his bowels from releasing. “Bring the intruder here to me, Shenpao.”

“Shenpai, Sir,” the voice on the other end corrected. “And while I have you here Sir, I really wanted to thank you for this opportunity to work for you. I truly appreciate…”



“Focus. Prisoner. Here. Now.”

“Yessir. On the way.”

Noth cut the link. “That holding cell is going to get pretty crowded,” he grumbled. “And not just with intruders.”

The next few moments were spent with Noth’s men trying very hard not to do anything that might attract their employer’s attention, and subsequently, his ire. Noth spent those moments avoiding the scathing looks the two Forster imposters were sending his way. It was almost a relief when Shenpai and another guard brought the newcomer before him. Again, it was not Forster.

“Wrong,” Noth declared the moment the prisoner came within his sight. “Too tall. Wrong color. Wrong species.”

He looked up as the intruder towered a good quarter-meter over him, all grey-green scales and a piggish snout filled with dagger-like teeth that were revealed in a macabrely congenial grin. “I suppose you’re going to claim to be Jesse Forster as well?”

A bigger grin, more bared teeth, but not a word spoken.

“It’s a Vor’na’cik, Sir,” the second guard, an older man with snow-white hair pulled back in a ponytail decreed. “They’re not allowed to speak with others not of their kind.”

Noth gave him a long, hard look, though not for the correction. The man looked familiar, but Noth could not remember having seen this man on security detail before, but then, turnover in his organization was fierce.

The Vor’na’cik looked over to the Warwick and inclined its head. The Warwick nodded back. “Jesse.”

The woman nodded as well, echoing the Warwick. “Jesse.”

Noth turned to them. “So you two acknowledge that this being also will claim to being Jesse Forster?”

The Warwick crossed his arms over his chest “I refuse to say any more without proper legal representation.”

The woman was more direct. “Stuff it!”

Noth sighed, looking at the white-haired guard, “I suppose you are going to claim to be Jesse Forster as well?”

The man shook his head emphatically. “Oh no. Not me,” he replied, then grinned and pointed to the guard standing quietly on the other side of the Vor’na’cik. The guard who had done his best to make himself as unobtrusive as possible so as not to be noticed. The guard who now had a sidearm pointed in Noth’s direction. “Him!”

The guard nodded at Noth, smiling at him from behind bright blue eyes. “Hey! How ya doin’?” Then to the Vor’na’cik, “Morogo?”

It was only at this point that Noth realized that the hulk standing before him merely had his hands crossed before him at the wrist, and was not actually restrained in any way. The Vor’na’cik moved quickly, quicker than a being its size had any right to, grabbing the two guards watching over the woman, and hurling them at the ones guarding the Warwick. Weapons appeared in prisoners’ hands from security personnel holsters. Blue flashes of stun beams crisscrossed the room, and Noth watched as his people dropped in unconscious heaps on the floor, or raised hands in surrender. In less than a minute, it was all over.

Noth looked to the blue-eyed intruder. “Jesse Forster, I presume? The real Jesse Forster?”

“In the flesh,” he replied with a grin. “Though you can still call me Shenpai if you prefer.”

“Do you really expect to get away with this?”

“Seems to me, we already did,” Forster replied, slipping one of the extra guards’ pistols into his belt as his companions went about securing those of Noth's people that were still conscious. He pointed to the stunned guards strewn about in piles across the floor “You really ought to think about maybe paying your people more. You might get a better class of employee. But then again, you won’t be needing any for the foreseeable future at least. Not where you’re going.”

The Vor’na’cik stepped up next to Forster, giving his captain one of those razor-toothed grins, then met Noth’s gaze. It inclined its eyes quickly toward Noth’s hands before resuming eye contact as though saying you know the drill. Sighing, Noth shoved his hands in front of him, wrists together, as Morogo slapped a set of manacles around them. The Vor’na’cik then favored him with the same toothy smile. The implication was clear. Thank you for your cooperation.

The dark-haired woman came up to Foster, throwing her arms around his neck and planting a kiss on his lips that lasted far longer than Noth thought appropriate. When finally, thankfully, she disengaged, she looked adoringly into Forster’s eyes. “Thank you for coming to the rescue, my lover.”

“Always my pleasure,” Forster responded, giving the girl another quick smooch. Noth’s stomach twisted in revulsion. If I had a gag reflex, my stomach contents would be all over the floor by now.

“We’ve got the big fish,” the warwick said as he finished securing another prisoner. “What do we do with the little ones?”

“Contact the local authorities. Let them deal with the cleanup,” Forster said. “And call Bokschh and tell him to bring the ship in. I want to collect on our friend here and be on our way. Take a little time off.”

“The ‘hawk’s already on its way,” the white-haired guard imposter noted, gesturing out the window at the dark shape approaching low over the raging ocean and growing larger as it closed in. It angled up and out of sight, but the roar of its engines announced its presence somewhere above.

After a moment, another female human came bounding down the stone steps leading from the rooftop. Dressed in stained coveralls, with flame-red hair tied back in a loose ponytail, even Noth, who thought most humans all looked alike, could tell that the newcomer was related to the one currently draped over Forster’s shoulder. “I suppose this one’s named Jesse too,” Noth quipped, a bit louder than he intended judging by the way the redhead’s head snapped in his direction as she approached. The heated look she fired in his direction confirmed for him the familial connection between the two females.

“Looks like your crazy plan worked out,” she said.

“Of course it worked,” Forester replied, sounding cocky. Or was it offended? Human nuances were so difficult to detect. “My plans always work.”

The redhead snorted. “Except for the hunt for Neru.”

“Or Tros’kenai’turoom,” added the brunette.

“Or Corriché,” the warwick and white-hair said in unison.

Noth felt a short but surprising pang of pity for Forster at that moment. At least my people show me fealty. The thought made him chuckle.

Forster shot him a look. “Want to share what’s so funny?”

Noth grinned. “I was just thinking perhaps we should both terminate our respective workforces and go into business together.”

Don’t,” he said, stabbing a finger in his direction, before pausing and looking quizzically at his crew. After another few seconds, he finished, “Make me even consider that.”

And now, despite all that had transpired in the last few minutes, Boruus Noth threw his head back and laughed heartily, the sound echoing along the stone of the chamber walls. He was laughing still even as they lead him away up the stairs to the ship waiting on the roof above.
© Copyright 2023 Author Joseph J. Madden (authorjjmadden at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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