Location: Arachna, United Commonwealth of Colonies
It was hot and humid around the equator of Arachna. The goldilocks world was positioned nearly identically to Earth around its native star, Mu Arae. The system had four worlds, but only Arachna was habitable. Only a little terraforming was required, and due to environmental concerns, the planetary transformation that was required was limited. The reason for that was Arachna was the first planet discovered by humans to have sentient life already present. The life was intelligent, the dominant species on the planet, and would have wiped out humanity’s ancestors if they’d cohabitated the same ecosystem.
Their scientific name was long and a point of pride for whatever scientist had named them centuries ago, but the average person just called them Arachnids. Arachna’s dominant species was big, the size of a large horse with eight legs. Each leg had three “fingers” capable of gripping their surroundings. A lack of opposable thumbs gave them no ability to use tools, but the creatures were still driven by a simplified evolutionary mindset that limited their thought process to: eat, drink, find shelter, fuck, and protect their territory. Scientists made a distinction between protecting their territory and protecting their young. There was more than one observed feeding where baby Arachnids were on the menu.
Their torso was a bulbous armored sack, with hairy scales that were stronger than the weapons primitive humans tried to hack each other to death with on medieval battlefield. Rising up from the center mass was a three-meter-long tail that was the primary means of identifying sex. Male Arachnids had a quarter-meter long stinger that pumped a neurotoxin into its victims. It would kill a full-grown human in ten minutes if they hadn’t already bled out from the stab wound. Female’s had tails that spit out a corrosive acid that was designed to eat through rocks and build nests to lay eggs in, but it worked just fine as a weapon.
Simply put, Arachnids weren’t that different from a lot of the primitive species back on Earth; with one significant difference. They produced a product that people loved.
That was the reason the equator of the planet was so hot and humid. Most of the eight-legged creatures thrived in the damp, sweltering climates. The creatures also required more oxygen than humans. The composition of Arachna’s original atmosphere was forty percent oxygen sixty percent nitrogen compared to Earth’s twenty-eighty ratio. Terraforming had changed that in the human habited areas, but the Arachnid sanctuaries contained the original atmosphere.
The atmospheric difference, the heat, and the danger the Arachnids posed on their own turf was why the Commonwealth Merchant Ship Dawn’s mission was so dangerous. Only a fool, or a genius, robbed Arachnids of their silk.
“Boss, I’m getting the fucking creeps from this place.” The deckhand was wearing stolen overalls of the planet’s corporate giant, Limitless Ltd.
Limitless Ltd. had the proprietary rights and licensing to remove a predetermined amount of Arachna Silk every month from the planet. The corporation could then turn that silk into the premiere smart fabric of the galaxy, and because they were the only one with access to the supply, they controlled the price. A meter of the material went for five thousand Commonwealth dollars. A low-quality suit or dress made of Arachna Silk went for a hundred thousand dollars. The crew of the Dawn was stealing a lot more than that.
“Stop complaining and keep your eyes on your PAD. If you snap the strand we’ll have to start up a whole new coil.” The boss snapped back as his eyes scanned the entrance to the massive cave-like structure that the creatures called home. Thick drops of dew constantly dripped from the ceiling, making the entrance look like a giant drooling mouth.
The Dawn was parked right at the entrance to a network of these caves. A few thousand Arachnids called this area home, and the last thing the boss wanted was to be spider-food. Tubing jutted out from the hull of the Dawn and down into the caves. A sleeping agent pumped through those tubes and put the Arachnids into a dreamless slumber. That allowed the crew to rig up the reels that would pull the silk, which was simply the webbing the creatures created, out of the caves.
The Dawn was a standard mining vessel that had been slightly converted for this particular bit of thievery. Mining vessels all had the universally recognizable flying-saucer look. A central half-moon bubble housed everything important, including the bridge and crew quarters. The flat disk extending around the bubble was the mining section of the craft and the legs that extended to grip asteroids. The bottom of the ship was flat, with the only opening being the engines, drilling laser, and intake ports.
New paneling had been added to the Dawn for this job to give it the radar signature of one of the corporation’s compliance vessels. Compliance came in once or twice a quarter, unannounced, to ensure local management wasn’t getting greedy, and that the Arachnids were living the same life they’d lived for the last several thousand years of their existence.
“We done yet, Boss?” The fidgety crewman asked impatiently.
“We’re done when I say we’re done,” the boss snapped back. “We paid a fortune for the paneling and access codes. Five minutes in, thirty minutes on site, and five minutes out. That’s the plan and we’re sticking to it.” He glared at the back of the crewman’s head. “If you want your cut you’ll do the work.”
That shut the deckhand’s mouth and got him concentrating on the white thread that was being pulled in by the winch at just a little over a meter per second. It was important not to snap the thick thread of silk as it was pulled in and coiled. A break before it was done reduced the integrity of the material, and diminished its quality. The last thing the boss wanted was to sell a substandard product. The type of people who would buy this from him would break his kneecaps if he tried to rip them off.
Thirty minutes on the ground would net ten million when they sold the goods on the black market, and because the supply was so limited they could charge market price for the silk.
The boss knew this. He also knew the accumulated total of all the expenses and the crew’s cut of the take. Even after all of that, they would all take home a decent chunk of change.
But there were always ways to make that better.
The boss was a big guy, close to two meters, but withered with age. A silver goatee about ten centimeters long hung down below his chin. His long silver hair was tied up into a bun that pulled back his already sun-worn face. He looked like he’d cracked a few heads in his days, and he had the scars to prove it hadn’t always been easy. A particularly nasty one across his throat showed he’d nearly died at least once. He had an old-school combat vest with anti-ballistic and energy- absorbent ceramic paneling to protect his expanding waistline. That was the best a person could get without getting into current military grade tech. A pistol was strapped to his hip and a handful of knives could be seen across his body.
The boss looked like a stereotypical pirate captain. Even more than that he was an older captain. That fact alone rated him respect and loyalty from the crew of the Dawn.
“Time.” A slight man behind the boss announced as they hit the thirty-minute mark.
“I shut down the flow five minutes ago.”
The deckhand’s head snapped around in horror, just in time to see a flash of brilliant light as the boss shot him directly in the face with a ten kilowatt blast.
The laser pistol, a fifty-year relic from the Maccabee Alliance’s last galactic scuffle, melted the man’s face and turned his brain into soup that slowly started to slosh out his charred eyes and burned-out mouth. The man died with a gurgle, but the rest of the crew wasn’t so fortunate.
The Arachnids regained conscious in a murderous rage, and they took it all out on the crew of the Dawn, which was the plan all along. There would be no remains of the six crew members that were tasked with standing in the caves and ensuring the silk didn’t get tangled up as it was pulled back toward the ship. Four of the six died as the larger and faster females stampeded over them shooting their corrosive acid. Those who weren’t killed by the acid eating through their bodies were trampled to death.
Those four went quicker than the other two. Those two were surrounded and overwhelmed by the males. The boss and his remaining crew member didn’t see as the two unlucky guys were repeatedly impaled and pumped full or neurotoxin by the irate Arachnids.
By the time the horde of horse-sized creatures reached the mouth of the cave the Dawn was already sealed up and lifting off the ground. The Arachnids converged on the body of the final boiled-alive crewman, aggressively ensured he was dead, and then dragged his body back into the caves.
“Let’s get out of here.” The small man said from the captain’s seat of the ship.
“Sure thing, Boss.” The older, grizzled, silver-haired man deferred to the younger captain.
<You’d think they’d figure it out, but they fall for it every time.> Noah Grisham, Captain of the Dawn, shook his head as the ship quickly gained altitude.
Noah was forty-one years old, 165 centimeters tall, as thin as a beanstalk, with a long face, and a messy mop of red hair. His eyes looked like he was perpetually on drugs, and their blue sheen always seemed dull and uninteresting.
And all of it was an exquisitely crafted illusion.
Captains of pirate ships tended to have a short life expectancy, and that was something Noah looked to avoid at all costs. He’d bought and been running the Dawn around space for over a decade. He would have proclaimed himself the captain but his sickly appearance screamed of weakness, and pirates acted like sharks with blood in the water when they smelled weakness. The answer to his solution was Able.
Able was a soldier turned mercenary from the planet Canaan of the Maccabee Alliance. He’d seen and done enough to make God shit his pants. Able agreed to be the face of the Dawn’s motley crew for a large cut of the profit and an ironclad secret partnership with Noah. It was a perfect brains and brawn combination, and one that had just netted both of them seven figures after the silk was delivered and all expenses were paid.
The Dawn climbed through the planet’s rough atmosphere, its sensors and expensive hull additions hiding them in plain sight as they rocketed into space.
“Sweet Betty, this is ground control.” A nervous voice came over the net as the local Limitless Ltd. compliance checked in on them. “I hope everything went well. It was a pleasure having you with us today.”
Noah snorted as the corporate bureaucrat pandered his way through the goodbye. “Thank you for your hospitality, ground control.” Noah answered making his voice annoyingly nasally and high-pitched. “Our report will get forwarded to corporate with the next data dump, but between you and me you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Noah could practically see the corporate lackey exploding in his pants from the news. A good report meant a bonus. If the pirate captain really wanted to fuck with the guy he’d make sure a report was never filed, then a crew would eventually go out to check the site, and they’d learn they’d been robbed. The compliance asshole would then find himself shoveling Arachnid shit for a living.
But that was just a dream no matter how much he wanted to do it. The report template and authentication ID had cost them another five grand, but it would make sure that no one ever came looking for the stolen silk. Making the robbery look like it never happened was part of the deal, and the clients he represented were very strict about following the deal to the letter.
Noah cut the link without saying anything else.
“Three hours to the launcher, Boss.” Able replied from the helmsman’s chair.
“Three hours until we can relax.” Noah whispered to himself. They’d change from their Commonwealth based registry to something else once they hit FTL.
He was already planning on what to do with his share of the cash. <Invest obviously. I also need to upgrade the ship, more fuel, supplies, and then a trip to the Rim.> It was another part of the deal that the Dawn got out of the Core Worlds for at least a few months. <There’s lots of work out on the Rim. I’ll hire a new crew and we’ll pull a few jobs before we get rid of them and jump to our next sector.>
That had been the Dawn’s MO for nearly a decade, and so far, it was working out quite lucratively for the young, innocuous-looking captain.