“Can you get this rust bucket moving or can’t you?”
“I’m trying, sir! She took a lot of damage from our last hit, and I didn’t have time to fix ‘er!” The dwarven engineer wiped a bead of sweat off of his upper lip with the back of his hand and kept working.
“Can’t believe my dad went and got himself killed. 30 years a pirate and he gets taken out by some assclown United goon.” Hammert should his head for the millionth time since the news hit his wire. And it happened right after his first big score since getting his own ship, too. He scratched his beard and realized that his dad wouldn’t even get to see how full it was now, a true right of passage for a dwarf male. He shook his head again.
“There! Sir! The accelerator is fixed and the thrusters are back at full power. Won’t take us long at warp and top speed.”
“Do it then. Get me home. I need to see Ma.”
When The Oyster docked, Hammert jumped off and made his way across the landing pad. “Ma! Ma! Where are ya?”
“Your mother is resting, Ham.”
“Uncle Claud,” the younger dwarf said with a nod. “Is she all right? I made it back here as soon as I could.”
“She’s doing well, all things considered,” Claud said.
“Good, good. I was worried.”
“You needn’t worry, Son. I stepped forward to take care of her in your father’s absence,” he said casually, and Hammert noticed a new ring shining on his uncle’s left hand.
“You…you married my ma?”
“She can’t be alone in this troublesome time, Ham. It’s my responsibility—my duty.”
Fuck off, ya fleabitten pile of space rubble, Hammert thought, but grunted and said, “I want to see Ma when she’s up.”
“I will tell her.”
Sitting over a beer in a dark corner of the saloon with his buddies a bit later, all of them a bit sloshed, Hammert sighed. “If ya ask me, Claud’s been looking to get his hands on dad’s enterprise for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he helped get my dad killed.”
Horace and Beetle looked at each other, then Horace leaned forward, his eyes wide. “Funny ya should say that, Hammy. I didn’t wanna tell ya cause I wasn’t sure if it was for real or a little too much liquor, but the night yer dad died somethin’ didn’t feel right. I went out to the Overlook like I do sometimes and I swear on Centaurus that I heard yer dad’s voice say somethin’ about Claud. I swear it, Hammy, I wouldn’t make shit like that up, ya know me.”
“Take me there, Horace. Take me right to the spot.”
Standing out there on the precipice looking into the open sky, Hammert closed his eyes and listened. The liquor made his feet a little wobbly, but he held his ground and waited. Just when he was about to leave, he heard it too, just as Horace had said.
His dad’s voice, distant but clear: “Ham, my son. You have grown into a worthy dwarf, and I am proud. But ya must carry out this task: avenge me. Claud is the reason I am bound to this place; my spirit wanders waiting for his blood to spill.”
“I’ll do it, Dad. I knew I was right about that pretentious prick.”
The voice was gone, and Hammert was left trying to figure out how to kill the bastard.
He spent most of the night trying to make a plan, but in the wee hours he started to doubt. What if it was a misunderstanding? What if it was the alcohol? His mom had seemed okay when he’d spoken to her.
For a week, Hammert watched and thought and worried, and the longer he waited, the more comfortable Claud became, taking over the daily operations of his dad’s carefully built enterprise, and doing a fucking awful job of it, too, Hammert noticed.
It was Monday the following week when Hammert saw something that stirred the vengeful spirit back up into his chest. He was walking with Claud and his mother when a few little boys in the street started pretending to gunfight.
“Pew pew!” one said, his fingers shaped into a plasma ray gun anyone would recognize as the standard United weapon.
“Ya missed, ya lazy United scum!” another boy yelled. “Ya can’t catch me!”
“But I can!” yelled a third boy, coming up behind him and drawing his finger across his neck.
Hammert and Claud both stopped in their tracks, stricken looks on their faces. Hammert’s dad had been killed with a knife—not a weapon carried by United officers. “Uncivilized,” they always said.
At the same time, Claud swallowed and fingered the blade in his pocket, something that didn’t escape Hammert’s attention. The younger dwarf looked at his uncle, and Claud knew it was over. He would have to take Hammert down, too.
Later that night, Claud invited everyone he knew over for a party, but he pulled aside a young man—the brother of the girl Hammert had fancied before she had died. “Leo, my good boy,” Claud said to him. “How have you been since your father’s and sister’s deaths?”
“It’s been difficult, to be sure. I miss them both so much; it’s just not the same.”
“Well, I saw you over there and I was overcome with such grief and guilt—Leo, I know why they died, I just didn’t want to say anything, but it’s clear I can’t hold it back anymore. Hammert loved your sister, and when your father said they could never be together, he killed them both. I am so sorry, Leo; I should have said something.”
“I will kill him,” Leo growled. “Give me your blade, Claud. Make this right by me!”
Claud did, passing the blade through a small cloth laced with poison as he pulled it out. “Strike swiftly, young man.”
“Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” Leo yelled and lunged at Hammert, who rolled away in surprise from the knife-wielding dwarf.
“Leo, what in tarnation are ya doing?”
“Avenging my family, you sniveling pig!” Hammert rolled away from Leo as he lunged again, but this time the blade nicked his shoulder. Claud grinned—his plan was working. He wouldn’t even need the cup of poisoned beer he’d set aside just in case. The sight of Hammert’s blood was enough to guarantee the boy’s death.
“Boys, stop! Stop that right now!” Both boys halted in their tracks at the sound of Hammert’s mom and her angry voice. “I don’t know what’s caused this, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved over a few words and a keg. And I will drink to that,” she said. Claud watched in horror as she grabbed the cup he had poisoned and guzzled it down.
There was a small choke and a gurgle, and then the dwarven woman crumpled.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” Hammert roared at Claud, grabbing the knife from the stunned Leo and immediately plunging it into the other young dwarf’s chest. Reckless with rage, Hammert leaped at Claud and drove the knife straight into the man’s chest.
“The knife is poisoned, Hammert. You will die too,” he said with a sick grin on his face.
“But at least one of us will go to be with the ancestors. It won’t be you.”
Both dwarves collapsed. Hammert’s eyes grew heavy. The last thing he saw was Horace’s face. “Ya did it, Hammy. And everyone will know. I’ll blast it across space if I have to.”
“Ya’ve been a good friend. Take my ship…she’s a good ship, Horace. She was my dad’s…”