Platform 323 (Part Five)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

The crew were gathered in the mess hall. ‘Hall’ was, perhaps, being overly optimistic given that it only held 9, or 11 if a couple were willing to perch precariously on each others laps. Only Schneider wasn’t present as he continued his half hearted vigil in command but the cynical faces of the other 8 crew members was more than enough for Murat to face up to.

Again only Ecce seemed particularly interested in either him or the events unfolding around them, with the rest distracted by their own thoughts. Probably thoughts about desertion, better futures or maybe even mutiny, Murat mused. No matter, for now he still had at least a tenuous grip on them and if they could just somehow pull off this job then all would be forgiven. A rich, drunk pirate was a happy pirate after all – the first thing O’Shaw had taught him.

“Whatever’s on that ship it’s worth a lot. And we’re going to take it.”

Silence kept a grip on the room.

“Their captain, Kochelski, isn’t making things easy. She’s a rookie, trying to stare us down, thinks there’s nothing we can do, that we’ll just disappear if she threatens us enough. I know you and you know me, we’re not the sort to just give up are we?”

What was intended as a rousing tone came across as an earnest question. One quickly answered by an unseen voice who shouted out ‘Yes!’ in what Murat suspected was a poor impression of him.

“… no, we’re not… So we’re going to board them and take what we want, before anyone else shows up”

Again, what had seemed stirring and inspirational in his head came out as a rather limp request but at least no one shouted ‘no’ in reply, which was just about as close to a positive reaction as he’d expected. Although the voice of Murat’s inner survivalist did let out a blood curdling howl to itself, demanding to know what had happened to good old running away before he’d even gotten the vague order out of his mouth.

“so if you know how to fire a gun, get one and if you don’t learn to fast. We’re going in!”

Again silence. Murat nodded awkwardly and made a swift exit pausing briefly at the doorway as he tried to think of something better to say – although not for long as Ecce barged into the back of him and shunted him out into the hallway. Nodding again as she sped past him, her eyes full of crazed enthusiasm, he did his best to retain a look of detached cool, at least until she was out of sight and he could stumble into a cargo hold for a moment’s quiet reflection and dejection.

He’d had to say something, that much was obvious, the crew were barely there and they needed good, old fashioned leadership. Murat just wished he knew a form of leadership which didn’t rely so heavily on suicidal attacks on unknown enemies – but that was a narrow mindedness born of long and harsh experience. Back in his military days generals had routinely sent thousands of men over the top to near certain death for no better reason than the lack of any other ideas. ‘Strategy’ they’d called it and even when everyone died they’d always seemed happy enough with their efforts. Murat had hated them, the out of shape, smugly ponderous commanders who’d issued the orders before returning to HQ for a nice sit down and an evening of boozing and excess. Unfortunately he’d also paid too much attention to them and despite himself he couldn’t help but choose a pointless and ill-planned attack over endless patience or a bit of quiet reflection and a measured retreat. O’Shaw had tried to train him out of it and had gotten half way to getting the job done, if nothing else Murat now at least had the good sense to properly regret his bad decisions rather than fall back into the military mentality of half hearted grumbling and blithely accepting them.

But like those old generals he was trapped by his own need to be seen to be doing something. He could hear the crew shuffling out of the hall and heading off to grab their weapons. Their voices as they went were muffled by the steel door of the hold but it didn’t take much wild speculation to guess that they were complaining about him. Not that it would do them much good, they hadn’t argued the point and that meant they’d obey him and, if things didn’t go right, then they’d be far too dead to argue with him. And he’d be far too dead for them to blame. It wasn’t the most comforting of thoughts but he’d take whatever he could get.

It took Murat another twenty minutes to build up the will to leave the cargo hold. The crew had wandered off to prepare themselves in their own way, be it through illicit drink, checking their firearms or posing in front of mirrors trying to convince themselves that they really were mad, bad and dangerous to know. Or, in the case of the more sensible ones, writing wills and letters to loved ones in the hope that they’d find a way to their recipients if the whole thing went wrong. It was a familiar ritual to the ex-soldiers amongst them and a depressingly necessary one. Stopping at a wall panel Murat opened a channel to the command deck where Schneider was startled out of a hypnotic focus on his origami, his face sinking as he saw his Captain on the screen in front of him.

“Find Ling, get her to line us up with that ship and then get your stuff together for boarding.”

The look on Schneider’s face reinforced Murat’s opinion of the plan and it’s lack of merits but the eccentric American gave a nod of acceptance nonetheless.

“You got it chief, suicide mission it is.”

The screen went black before Murat could argue.

They had perhaps an hour to spare now. Ling, a former engineer from the Chinese power block who’d made good her escape after being sent on a covert transport mission not unlike the one they were about to try and ruin, would have to line them up. Nothing moved fast in space and for all the chaotic action to come the prelude was a painstaking process. Pilots in general were an irrelevance on a ship like this. Much as they tried to cultivate their own mythos and air of buccaneering cool their main job was to point and click, while the auto-pilot did the real work. It was space, after all, you could pretty much just point yourself in whatever direction you wanted to go and hit the accelerator. But when it came to the pirates and raiders the job required a different skill set. Boarding meant finding a section of the enemies hull that you could cut through. More importantly, an area that you could cut through without finding yourself walking into a fuel tank, waste processor or barracks on the other side. Going in at the wrong place could all too easily mean decompression, explosions and instant death not just for your own crew but the oppositions’ too. Salvagers called it a Lovers Death, two crews wiped out because someone had latched on an inch or two in the wrong direction. Murat had seen it, or at least the aftermatch, during his time with O’Shaw. His former captain had said nothing as they’d cut their own hole and looted both ships. Only when they’d been heading away had he aired his opinion – ‘better us than the salvagers’. Nobody liked the salvagers, or scavengers, as they were more usually known.

All of that had led him to find Ling. She was a genius, according to her. A prized asset of the Chinese state and therefore a legend in her own mind – a real pilot who could steer a cargo ship onto a penny without breaking a sweat. Murat suspected she was full of shit but she was good and even if it took a while she’d get them into the right place and then they’d cut. Ecce could do that, it’d keep her busy, plus when the rest of them went into the breech she’d have to be at least a few seconds behind dropping the cutting gear. Sentimentality on Murat’s part but the old soldiers, pirates and detritus that made up the rest of his crew would at least have some idea of what they were walking into, she was all too liable to try and be a hero. Coming last wouldn’t do her much good if things went wrong but a few seconds might save her if they could secure whatever part of the ship they found themselves on.

Another command tapped into the wall panel brought Ecce’s face onto the screen. She was in her quarters and looked at least momentarily embarrassed at the casual backdrop before snapping back into her usual enthusiastic formality. At a guess she’d been posing with her uniform and a pricey pistol she’d somehow found herself. Rookies from the quieter platforms tended to be like that, big on shiny guns, uniforms, gadgets and big on mirrors or any shiny surface they could find. Experience tended to beat that out of them, the rest of the crew by comparison would likely be sporting assault rifles more or less identical to the ones they’d had in the various armies, the de jure weapon of choice for piracy. After all you didn’t need to be flash to shoot someone but if you missed then having a weapon which could double as a hefty club was never a bad idea or, if you were lucky, the club bit could come first and any risk of hitting a bulk head and finding yourself seeing black for the few seconds before you brain shut down would be negated.

“Yes sir?”

“You can quit the posing, Ecce, time to get your hands dirty – you’re on cutting duty.”

“Yes sir! I’ll get to the docking tubes now!”

She fired off a salute and sprinted out of the room before Murat could even close the channel. He let out a weary sigh, there was something continually disconcerting over someone who would get equally enthusiastic whether you told them they’d won the lottery, were going into a situation where they were liable to die or even just spending half an hour with an oxyacetylene cutter. It was youthful naivete, he assumed, but he was damned if he could remember ever being like that and the rest of the crew seemed to view her with the same nervous confusion. If they were, for the most part, jaded and grizzled veterans then she was the over-excited puppy who somehow ended up at the head of the pack. She’d learn, he dimly hoped but it was hard to see excitement like that fading into the apathy of the career pirate. If she ever did end up with her own crew they’d either get very rich very quick or die their first time out. Either way it wasn’t a thought Murat cared to consider given that it’d involve her leaving the crew and there being absolutely no one left who showed him the slightest bit of respect.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Platform 323 (Part Four)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

“What’re they doing?”

“Sitting there. They know we’ve locked the missiles on.”

“No weapons charging up? No other ships on the scanners?”

“Nope, we’re all alone by the looks of things.”

Murat nodded and Schneider went back to his origami. He was a good worker, Schneider, generally drunk of course and rarely to be found working but when he did do something he mostly did it right. The fact that he spent most of his space time practising re-creating pornographic scenes out of carefully folded bits of paper was a side issue at worst. Plus he was undoubtedly talented at it. Like Murat he was ex-army, a deserter from North America where he’d spent most of his time taking pot shots at South Americans with a howitzer a few miles from the frontline. And now he was a casual Pirate, interested mostly in origami, drink and not having to put too much effort into anything.

“Ecce, get them on the screen, and look serious.”

Following his own advice Murat put on his best thousand yard stare. Appearances counted for a lot out here, unless you found yourself dealing with an old hand, in which case you could do the whole thing in a pair of boxers with your feet up. The younger captains however needed the image thing for pride’s sake if nothing else. Never did to be seen surrendering to someone who was busy scratching their arse and swigging from their morning coffee.

“Link established, captain.”

Of the square cabin that constituted The Kazamov‘s command centre half of one wall was dedicated to the main screen, two to desks for whatever crew members felt inclined to do any work and one to the narrow blast door which led to the rest of the ship. Only Ecce and Scheider were present, the former standing before one of the desks, tapping commands into a touchscreen embedded into the metal of a desk, the letter focused on his own pursuits on the other side of the room. The rest of the crew would either be legitimately busy or just staying out of the way to avoid having to do anything. They’d know the ship had shown up though, that would make a difference Murat hoped. None of them were incompetent by any means and their lack of faith in him aside they were capable enough of doing the job.

A face flickered onto the screen. She was young and official looking – both bad signs Murat quickly concluded as they stared at each other, each trying to look as indifferent as they possibly good.

“This is Captain Murat of The Kazamov, our weapons are locked on and your cargo is ours.”

“Captain Kochelski. Our cargo is ours, Captain, and I’m under strict orders not to hand it over to anyone, so I suppose you’ll have to come and get it. If you can.”

It was going to be one of those sorts of jobs. Boarding wasn’t an easy option, it seldom was, after all it took a good half an hour to line up the docking bay and then the same time over again to cut through their bulkhead. And unarmed or not a corporation ship would undoubtedly have a security team on board. Murat’s crew could fight, there was enough of the veteran deserter about them for that, but fighting your way onto a squat and claustrophobic ship was no small task. Someone would die, his or theirs.

“Or we could just destroy you and write this one off as a loss. Might even be enough scrap left over to cover our costs.”

“But not enough to save you when my superiors find out. We’re black-ops, captain, not just a supply ship – we disappear, people care. Think about it.”

The screen abruptly went black. The first round was over with an anti-climax. Familiar ground for Murat. Threats, counter threats and games of chicken made up far more of a pirates work than the actual fighting and looting ever did. Earth-siders, the more backwards Platformers, they all liked to talk in excited tones about the adrenaline fuelled adventures of swaggering privateers, raiders and Captains but the truth was far more mundane. His opposite on the unnamed Neftech ship was either a Rookie with a good line in bluffing or a bona fide graduate of some black-ops training program. If it was the former then she was good, this Kochelski. She hadn’t blinked, hadn’t over done it and hadn’t hinted for even an instant at bombastic false promises. She’d just said her piece, kept the same blank look on her face and cut the link. Black-ops behaviour. And that would make a difference. Kuzumo had said it was a covert, government related shipment, but that meant nothing. The corporations, the Earth-sider authorities, they were always smuggling something to or from the Platforms, guns, drugs, people; it was a routine activity and even if they didn’t make a song and dance about it they didn’t exactly go out of their way to keep it a secret. A certain amount of wastage was even expected, that’s how the Pirates made a living, not to mention the local bosses, smugglers, raiders and corrupt pseudo-officials who skimmed off of the top. But a genuine black-ops crew was something else entirely. They were vicious, efficient and generally unpleasant people. If she really was one of them then whatever was on that ship was important and therefore worth a lot. So why send it on an unarmed, un-escorted ship?

It took a nudge from Ecce for Murat to realise that he was still staring blankly at the dead screen.

“What next Captain?”

“Get the the crew together in the mess hall, we might have to board them. Schneider, drop the paper and keep your eyes glued to the scanners – make sure we don’t have any company.”

Ecce gave another brusk click of her heels and went off to gather up the scattered assortment that made up The Kazamov’s crew. Schneider grunted, glanced briefly at the screen in front of him and then went back to his paper folding. As close to a ‘yes sir’ as he ever gave.

For his part Murat left the command room not far behind Ecce and headed back to his cabin. Among his meagre belongings was the one useful thing he owned, a gauss gun. Not something you’d want to fire around the bulk heads but an impressively high end rarity given that half of the soldiers fighting on earth had reverted to AK47s looted from museums. It had never been fired in anger but it had the right look about it and the crew would need all the encouragement they could get if he had to ask them to go in.

Plus, once back in his quarters, he had a chance to slump down on his bed, drop his head into his hands and with a moan of exasperation, think about what the hell came next. He could run. That was always a smart choice, especially if his opposite was willing to stare him down. But you could only really get away with that if your crew was with you and his were mentally half way back to 323 and a new career already. So he could wait, for a while at least. He was experienced enough to know that Kochelski wouldn’t try to just fly by him, they both knew he’d have no choice but to fire if that happened and that might be enough to save face in front of his crew. He’d been telling the truth about the scrap value too, you could never be too sure what would happen when a ship decompressed, especially one with unknown cargo, but whatever was left would be something at least. It had been nine days already though and even if Murat had seen these situations drag on for weeks patience was wearing too thin to try that now. Eventually someone else would come along anyway, even if they were a bit off of the beaten path between Earth and the Lagrange Open Zone they weren’t so far out of the way as to be left completely alone. And signal jamming might be doing the job for now but sooner or later Kochelski would find a way through it.

Finally, and least attractively, he could board them. Run the risk of walking straight into a highly trained security detail and see who was quickest on the trigger. His people were good, if they chose to fight, but hers might be better. Again he found himself wishing that he’d never mentioned the no-drink policy. Back during his time in the trenches they’d always handed out vodka before a big attack, he’d never have gone over the top otherwise, which was perhaps why he’d abstained ever since. Sobriety might be scared but sobriety was also alive.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Platform 323 (Part Three)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.


Murat was in bed when the heavy thuds fell on his door. By the ship’s clock it was some time in the afternoon on their ninth day hanging vacantly in space but for the life of him he couldn’t think of a good reason to get up.

There was more knocking on the door to his quarters. Pulling the blanket up over his head he did his level best to ignore it but as it grew more insistant and he found himself more and more awake until it became clear that he wasn’t just going to be allowed to drift back off.


Rolling out of bed with an unhappy grunt, still in his faux-uniform from the night before, he stumbled over to the bulkhead and swung it open.


“The ship, it’s here.”

Momentarily phased Murat stared blankly at Ecce, his second-in-command and perhaps the only member of the crew to retain any vague faith in him. She was young, she didn’t know any better he’d concluded, she’d learn to drop that soon enough.

“What ship?”

“The ship captain, the Neftech one. They’re not sending out an ID signal but it’s them alright, their design, no weapons, just a cargo ship.”

‘Shit’, was Murat’s first thought. He’d reached the point of zero expectation a few days ago, anything more demanding than lying in bed feeling sorry for himself was an unwelcome interruption. Ecce was staring at him though, eyes full of nervous expectation. She was like that, enthusiastic, efficient, a complete mismatch with the rest of the crew. She’d even had her own uniform made. It was black, had epulets and made Murat look like he should be cleaning out the drainage systems while she ran the ship. At times like this it made him feel that he should being doing that too.

“Erm, ok, lock the missiles on, I’ll be right up to talk to them. Don’t fire, just make sure they know we’re here.”

Weaponless cargo ships on covert missions were the worst type, in Murat’s opinion, they were bound to be up to no good, and Ecce was just the sort to get carried away and start shooting. It came from being brought up on the Platforms, that unnecessary sense of romanticism. Planet-siders were pessimists, happy to have escaped but certain in their pessimism that bad things were only ever a wrong step away. The natives of 323 were the same, caught as they were at the nexus of illicit activities among the Platforms; cynicism came easy to them. But Ecce was from a hydroponic station where solidly built kids were raised to lift things, shift drums of chemicals and take undue pride in being ‘red hands’ rather than worrying about the fact that the nutrient additives they spent their lives amongst were changing the colour of their skin. To everyone else it was a bizarre rural affectation for people who lived on a space station, but they grew the food, albeit in large plastic irrigation frames, so they could do what they liked. To go from that to 323, or piracy meant either a secret shame that the folks back home viewed as so scurrilous as to bar you from civil society, even if no one else gave a damn. Or a streak of romanticism so wide that you could still pretend, or even believe, that you were living the dream after 9 days of floating around pointlessly in a steel can surrounded by admittedly high functioning drunks, drug addicts, reprobates and failures. Ecce had the latter and despite keeping an eye on her Murat had never gotten the sense that it was faked.

Sharply clicking her heels together Murat watched as she strode off down the claustrophobic gangway which led to the command room before stepping back into his room and squaring up to the few inches of mirror which hung from the wall. Which quickly confirmed that he looked like crap, in a jumpsuit that had gone unwashed for a week and with a face that would have made a bloodhound suggest a nice lie down and a few days off. His mess of black hair had picked up a few greys, as had the ramshackle beard his aesthetic indifference had fuelled. A couple of scars above his eye and across his chin stood out too, mementos of his fighting past. He used to look military. Clean-shaven, cropped hair, rigid bearing – he still could do, he reckoned, he just needed a good run up to respectability, but there was no time for that. Instead a few tentative slaps to the face and a hand run through his hair would have to do. The creases in his makeshift uniform would flatten out and his tired brown eyes would look less bloodshot after a coffee or two. He’d have preferred a vodka to take the edge off but the drink free policy on the ship was his own idea even if he was the only one who ever adhered to it. The crew more than happy to operate a few tonnes of spaceship whilst completely battered on un-named ‘alcohol’ and whatever illicit chemicals they’d managed to pack.

There was no point dwelling on any of it though, there was a ship waiting and self-doubts aside, he was a Pirate. He’d learnt from the best, or at least the slightly above average and even if it had been failure all the way for a long time now success wasn’t wholly beyond his capabilities. With a grunt of self-assurance he left his quarters and headed to work.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Platform 323 (Part Two)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

The war didn’t exist on the platforms, not in any immediate way at least. Not all of the platforms had been completed when the bombs started dropping and conflict had brought a halt to all further work. Granted they still held plenty of strategic and economic value to whoever held them but the power blocs viewed them with an envious sort of fear, certain in the knowledge that the first of them to make a move to claim them would raise the ire of the others and see whatever gains they made in having the platforms liquidated back on earth in a fistful of mushroom clouds. So instead they dabbled. Acting through proxies they used the platforms as a black market for arms and technology, fighting mini-battles through friendly factions of mercenaries, smugglers, pirates, drug cartels and assorted criminals. All of whom happily played the role of state sponsored G-Men in between fighting their own territorial conflicts and protecting their own power bases. It wasn’t exactly the serene escape Murat had hoped for but by comparison it was as peaceful a home as you’d be likely to find as long as humanity was around. No army recruiters, no trenches and plenty of opportunities for a young and enterprising deserter to build a new life and, maybe, a new fortune.

And at first things had gone surprisingly well. He’d stepped off of the cargo ship that had aided his escape and, after helping to unload it’s suspiciously unmarked cargo, he’d disappeared into the chaos of Platform 323’s main plaza. He’d only learnt of its fame later on, when he’d started to pick up enough Platform lore not to be sneeringly dismissed as a tourist but even at the start he’d known the throng of life it held was something special.

While other platforms served their own myriad purposes P323 remained the beating heart of the network. It was where business was done. Pirates, smugglers, drug dealers, assassins, mercenaries, fences, theives, merchants, spies and assorted others treated it as their informal office with the Plaza acting as the greatest black marketplace in the known universe. With locals looking on all the while ready to fleece the unprepared of whatever wealth they couldn’t find a use for. Murat loved it. His military experience guaranteed him employment, not that he intended to go back into the soldiering business any time soon. But pirates and smugglers especially were always happy to pick up a new recruit who could handle a rifle in a crises and not ask too many question when there was a pay-cheque involved.

The first bar he’d walked into – and on P323 bars were the main site of business dealings – he’d been approached by the second-in-command of a pirate ship and after being liberally fed drink Murat had found himself as the newest addition to the crew of the San Francisco. It was a former cargo ship haphazardly refitted by someone who’d decided to bolt on a few missile launchers, run by another former soldier who’d left earth-side years before – James O’Shaw. And it was O’Shaw who’d taught Murat the basics of interplanetary piracy, the most important aspect of which had proven to be waiting around doing nothing. It was almost the ideal job.

On picking up a tip off from one of the many semi or wholly criminal individuals who floated around 323 studiously avoiding having any real job description they’d fly out to, hopefully, intercept the flight path of a cargo or transport vessel and… wait. Sometimes hours, sometimes days and sometimes even weeks would be spent sitting in space, the crew doing their best to pass the time without resorting to alcoholism or insanity. And then if they were lucky a ship would actually show up, at which point the relatively minimal excitement would start.

Space battles, Murat soon came to realise to his satisfaction, were not like real battles. There was no going over the top, there was seldom even any firing and the real conflict was solely one of patience and waiting to see who would blink first. Space, O’Shaw had explained to him one day, was death, lots of it. A ship was a tiny, insignificant patch of life cast out into a vast abyss of death and no captain with any sense would ever want to risk compromising the small glimmer of existence that they and their crew inhabited. So given a choice they’d almost always avoid a fight. Sure some rookies confused ‘shielding’ for a technological wonder that made their fragile metal can impenetrable. And some of those with military training had been convinced to have little enough regard for their life to make orders seem all important, but they were the rarity. For the majority, the sane majority, even the slightest threat of a missile slamming into their barely reliable energy shields and, more likely, into the hull itself was enough to make them back down and hand over whatever it was they had. So the pirates job was simply to aim their weapons and make the right threats. And a good pirate did it so well that before too long their reputation alone opened cargo doors the second they honed into sight. O’Shaw wasn’t that good, he admitted, but during Murat’s tenure they didn’t do too badly at the job. In fact only once had they even fired a shot in anger when a smuggler’s ship had turned out to be a bigger challenge they’d expected and had opened fire without a second’s hesitation. They’d missed, fortunately, the San Francisco hadn’t and at least a dozen of the smuggler’s crew had died as a result. The whole crew had gotten drunk that night – whatever savage and piratical image they may have liked to project on the platforms they were none of them gleeful murderers. Besides, a destroyed ship meant no profit.

Still, the occasional flash of danger aside, Murat had enjoyed those days. Enjoyed them enough, in fact, to set about buying his own ship and recruiting his own crew after five years of flying around under O’Shaw’s command. A choice made easier by the fact that his former captain had gotten himself stabbed in a bar brawl by an unknown assailant who, rumour had it, had objected strongly to someone stealing from a ship under his protection. These things happened though and at least they happened a lot less on the Platforms than they did back on earth, where Murat had seen deaths by the hundreds often enough not to be phased by a single murder, regardless of the victim.

So here he was, the captain of his own ship, chasing his own leads and with his own crew relying on him. Or sneering at him, one of the two. It was bad luck, nothing else. He’d done nothing wrong after all and if he asked his crew they’d probably even have agreed. He had the experience, he did the right things, paid the right sources and, for the most part, made the right choices. It just never seemed to work. In fact in the year he’d held his own command there had been just one job that had paid out and even then the prize had barely been worth enough to get the crew convincingly drunk. Why so many had even stuck with him this far was a bit of a mystery. The ship was free accommodation, he supposed, and he did keep them fed with the ever diminishing savings from his time on the San Francisco but given the general lust for fame and fortune that motivated those in his field it wasn’t much of a wage to offer.

This time though they’d surely have to abandon him, if this gamble didn’t pay off. And it had been sold to him as a sure thing. A corporate ship, Neftech to be precise, carrying something they didn’t want anyone to know about on the behalf of an earth government who didn’t want anyone to know that they knew anything about the thing they didn’t want anyone to know about. As far as these things went it was about as reliable intelligence as you could get. And Kuzumo was about as reliable a source as you could get on the Platforms. He knew things, he always knew things, he had friends, of a sort, in just about every major group on and off of earth. O’Shaw had used him, other pirates used him, the cartels and the smugglers and the gun runners all kept him on a retainer. And it was only when it came to Murat that he seemed to disappoint. Which given how much he’d paid was a distinct failing of customer service. This had been an all or nothing sort of deal and if it didn’t pay off then there’d no be no more board and shelter for the crew, no more ship for them to work on even because Murat certainly couldn’t afford to take another gamble.

Shaking himself from his depressing revelrie Murat swung a boot at the metal wall and instantly regretted it, grunting in pain and hopping into an unhappy jig.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Platform 323 (Part One)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. Should also say that it was written as a novel, not for piecemeal consumption, so some chapters will be broken up for this site. Like this one… You can also find all parts here.

Eight days. Eight days wasted lurking in deep space waiting for a ship that, by the look of things, would never arrive, if it had ever existed in the first place. Eight days of wasted food and supplies, on top of the small fortune Murat had paid for the tip off which had led him there in the first place and beyond even that, eight days where his crew had slowly but surely reinforced their disdain for him over yet another profit-free false trail. Another two days and they’d be turning the guns on him. Hell, even if he did head back to Platform 323 the lot of them would disappear the second they got through the security checks, off to find a ship which actually made money as opposed to flying around in circles waiting for imaginary targets. And to top it off illicit tip offs were never refundable, assuming that that lying bastard Kuzumo was even still on the platform, which was far from a given under the circumstances. Murat sighed and once again took to pacing the length of the box like compartment of his personal quarters. Another day, that long he could wait and then… well, then he may as well sell The Kazamov off for scrap and start looking for a new job, a prospect he didn’t relish even considering his ineptitude as a career pirate.

His quarters were slowly driving him mad, which didn’t help. He’d scanned every inch of the exposed metal walls, paced every inch of the similarly grey floors and organised and re-organised his meagre personal possessions so many times that he’d almost passed through familiarity and into contempt at the sight of them. One book, two surplus Zamin Corp uniforms, one of which he was wearing as some vague attempt at formalising his status as Captain, much to the amusement of the rest of the crew who knew a low level technicians outfit when they saw it, and the rest, junk. A smattering of relics which he’d accumulated since leaving home some fifteen years ago, all of which amounted to little more than a boxes’ worth of experiences and most of them had lost any meaning beyond simply being his. A meaningless haul, thought Murat, for a meaningless life – at least that was probably what the crew thought in their more sneering moments and to be honest he could offer little by way of argument.

In times gone by things had been better, Murat himself had been better. During his time as a conscript back on earth he’d been a good soldier. He’d hated it, granted, but comrades and commanders alike had respected him for his apparent capacity for not getting killed and for going out of his way to ensure the same for those around him. Words like ‘hero’ had been bandied around, medals had literally been dangled before him by self-satisfied looking generals witlessly encouraging him to go ‘over the top’ once more in a desperate bid to gain some steel and gold leaf for his chest. He’d said at the time that the whole war was a farce, quietly, to those he knew wouldn’t repeat it.

By the time of his enlistment the four power blocs of earth had been throwing the best and brightest of their citizens at each other, along with some of the most mindbogglingly advanced weapons conceivable, for 27 years. A whole generation had grown up around the world war and from the drum beating exuberance of the early days, with ranks of fresh faced young volunteers marching out to the front cheered on by loving mothers and fair maidens they’d all seen the slow descent into the desperate, exhausted brawl the whole thing had come to be. By the time Murat signed up training had been stripped back to pointing out the dangerous end of the gun. Fresh recruits were plucked straight out of school and the wonders of modern military technology had decayed into an almost nostalgic state of pointing and shooting whilst hiding in a trench. And above all of that the reasons for the whole thing had reached a point of oblique malleability where justifications changed day by day on the whims of propaganda chiefs.

Murat would have preferred to be able to cite such reasons for his eventual desertion. The hypocrisy, the waste, the meaninglessness of it all – and for the most part he did, although the truth always dribbled out when he found himself particularly drunk and maudlin, which happened with ever increasing frequency when he was off ship. He’d been scared, he’d been terrified in fact. Whatever reputation he had earned as a soldier was, he knew with absolute certainty, ill deserved. Those battles he’d seen won, those people he’d kept alive, were completely incidental to his one goal at the time which had been to stay intact and sane throughout what he regarded as a hellish, sanity destroying ordeal. Piracy, by comparison, had seemed like the dream life. No pointless charges, no battles for honour, no propaganda, just the freedom to run away when you were losing, loot whatever you found and lie in of a morning, free of bawling sergeants.

After a panicked escape via a cargo ship launched from Vladivostok space port, paid for with a couple of cases of ‘relocated’ weapons, he’d set off to his new life on Platform 323. Sitting at the heart of the LaGrange cluster of space stations – collectively referred to as The Platforms in common parlance or The LaGrange Open Zone in more formal settings – Platform 323 served as the hub of the disparate community it inhabited. Whilst far from the largest Platform, 323 had from it’s formal inauguration as the first completed station become the totemic entry point and talking shop the isolated scattering of humanity.

The project itself, the construction of an array of 40 space stations, bio-domes, construction yards and factories, had once been touted as the pinnacle of human achievement. Not only as a definite step into space but also as the final resolution of the millennia of internecine warfare which had blighted Earth and its inhabitants. Fuelled by an increasing sense that, amidst riots, strikes and civil war, they had pushed their people too far in the pursuit of largely redundant grabs for power the leaders of the remaining four power blocs had, amidst great pomp and ceremony, agreed to shake hands and make up. And it had worked, after a fashion.

For two decades global co-operation had fuelled an almost ecstatic notion of Utopia in the making amongst vast swathes of the planets population. Vast military industrial complexes had been re-tasked to the rebuilding of civilisation and the projection of human destiny on to the stars. And as the first stations had come online thousands had flocked to The Platforms mixing an almost religious belief in the new universe they’d set about creating with a grim sense of escaping the plague of wars which had over the proceeding century increased in intensity to the point of near self-destruction. Murat’s parents had even planned to abandon terra firma for a new life on the frontier but war had broken out and links to The Platforms had been severed before the move could take place. A week later Moscow was bombed and, with a five year old Murat in tow, they’d been moved to Siberia where his father’s engineering skills and mother’s biological knowledge had bought them a place in a bunker complex geared towards heralding a new era of weapons technology for the greater good.

Thinking back Murat viewed those days with a certain nostalgia. Like life in his later home, Platform 323; the underground city of his youth had offered an insulation from the war. Bombs fell, cities burned and territory changed hands in the bloodiest of ways but for the technicians and scientists of the Siberian installation that all seemed a distant, almost unreal, backdrop to life. A mile above Murat’s head tanks had thundered and planes had swarmed, guarding the subterranean haven beneath, affording it’s inhabitants a false refuge from the chaos. As far as life during a war went it was at the better end and selfish though he could vaguely tell it was he could quite happily have stayed blissfully separated from the realities of war if left in peace to do so. Peace, however, only occasionally managed to reach more than 50 feet above their heads in the bunker.

On turning 18 he’d been informed by the base commander that, while his parents were undoubtedly essential parts in the war effort thanks to their ingenious work in finding ingenious ways to kill people he really wasn’t. His education had been the same as all the other military brats on site, they’d been trained to serve the base like their parents did. Scientists, engineers, technicians, chemists – all their schooling had driven them towards at least one of those militarily essential roles. Murat just hadn’t been very good at any of them. So while his friends and peers smiled sadly at him and pulled on their fresh white lab coats to start in a new career he’d been escorted to the surface, wished good luck and shoved into the arms of the first army recruiter to pass by. By his reckoning he’d enjoyed no more than 15 minutes of adult freedom between the blast doors of the bunker and the army truck that drove him off for cursory basic training and a future of being shot at by strangers. Nonetheless he’d spent plenty of time stuck in the trenches dreaming wistfully of those 15 minutes and wishing he could return to those crazy, carefree days when no one was trying to kill him.

From that moment though the army had made him their own. First in the meat grinder of the Eastern Front, where he’d pointed and fired at distant, unrecognisable figures he’d been reliably informed were part of the evil Chinese hordes out to destroy his way of life. And then on to the Western Front for the majority of his tenure in uniform, where he’d pointed and fired at distant, unrecognisable figures he’d been reliably informed were part of the evil European hordes out to destroy his way of life. Both battles had proven hard ones to care about given that ‘his’ way of life seemed to consist solely of trying to kill other people and being shouted at by officers. If they were really out to destroy that, Murat had decided, then best of luck to them – he certainly wouldn’t miss it. Opinions like that were, he quickly came to realise, seldom welcome, even in the trenches where his comrade grunts were mostly thinking the same thing.

Beyond that though his war had been a largely anonymous one, from what he could tell at the time. The threat of death aside you could at the very least say that his job had been a stable one and if routine was your thing, and you didn’t mind the possibility of being blown up, it could have been an appealing life to the right sort of person. Not to Murat though. More or less alone amongst his comrades he hadn’t been brought up on the surface. War, to him, had always been a distant thing and even if he didn’t like to complain about the injustice of it all, in case it earnt him a swift beating, he always knew there was another way to be. And that’s what he’d run for when he deserted.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks.