The Adventures of West & Gunfighter Riker P. Everest
by Darius Bearguard

6
March
2021

Episode 5: 
"The Ghosts That We Knew"

Five months before Quantum Event

Coming out of slipspace inside of a planet is probably the worst way to die. The first thing to happen would be choking on whatever the core of the planet is made of as the empty space of your lungs is filled with dirt, or maybe lead or crystals. The second thing to happen is what’s described as an intense burning sensation as your body fuses with the matter you’ve materialized in. But simultaneous burning and suffocation is a price Riker P. Everest is willing to pay, because if he stops to do the jump calculations the tracker embedded in West’s neck will go out of range, and he’s also not smart enough to do the calculations while moving.

He hasn’t taken his eye off the beacon since he took off from Tiu-Raka. He’s not sure how much of a head start they have, but he knows it’s plenty if they stop at another central trading planet. “Stop it.” he says to himself. “Don’t think that way. You’ll find him. You have to.”

Thirteen years ago...

Riker tugs on his shirt, partly because it was too small for him when he was ten and a year on and it’s starting to get uncomfortable, and partly because he’s nervous. He hadn’t heard from or seen Koga’Tun since he first joined The Hammer Suns Gang, and even that was only very brief. And now, three days since he got reamed out for not shooting the dock worker’s kid, he gets called to see the big man at his office. His leg bounces nervously as the secretary looks at him with compassion. “You ok hun?” The Borthan alien asks.

Her red skin and orange ember eyes along with long dark red hair and effeminate looks make Riker feel even more nervous and awkward, but he manages to nod his head anyway. “Yeah, I’m ok.”

She grins a knowing grin, “Well you just keep your chin up kiddo. He’ll be ready for you in just a second.” Riker goes back to looking at his hands between his knees and bouncing his leg. The office is nice. Several monitors broadcast news and entertainment, mounted against the white walls. The furniture is all some combination of chrome and white paint or leather. Most people are thrown off by such an extravagant face for a criminal empire, but The Hammer Suns Gang has run Space Base D-3010 for three generations for a reason. It’s just clean looking enough that legitimate businesses work with them, but dirty enough behind the scenes that they can charge exorbitant fees for their ‘services’.

Riker is startled by sudden shouting from the other room that grows and escalates until finally the double doors into the office are thrown open and three very well dressed people and their 5 security guards storm out of the office, and out of the building into waiting cars. The doors swing closed before Riker can see inside, but a moment later he hears a voice over the secretary’s intercom “You can send him in Luainee.” She looks at Riker and nods. He takes a moment to draw in a deep breath, and then walks into the office.

The office is much bigger than the waiting area and decorated much the same except instead of a line of chrome to break up the white walls, it’s a long unbroken aquarium. Riker finds himself immediately drawn to the fish, but as he steps closer he realizes something is amiss; all of the fish are mechanical. Little replica robots. “Magnificent, aren’t they?” Riker jumps hearing the voice. “A boy I know helped make them. Clever chap. I hope you’ll like him.” The chair turns revealing a human man with an exceptionally well kept moustache, and a rough almost sultry tone to his voice. Riker’s face however does not express trust, and the boy begins looking around the room. “Yes, I suppose you might find it odd. Being told you’re seeing the great Koga, and instead seeing me.” He gestures to one of the chairs, but Riker doesn’t move. “I don’t bite kid. Besides, if I wasn’t supposed to be here, would they have let me through the door?”

Riker can’t deny the logic and moves to sit down asking, “Where is Koga’Tun?”

“Well, to be frank, that’s what my last meeting was about.”

“And?”

“Hm?” He says, looking distracted, “Oh, yeah, he’s dead. Been dead for months now.”

Riker’s eyes bulge. “What? He’s dead?

“Oh yeah. Yeah. Super dead.”

“What do you— I mean, how—”

“Ugh, listen kid. I just went through it with those guys, do I really have to…” The look on Riker’s face suggests he won’t be satisfied. “Fine. But I’m not, y’know, taking any questions on this or whatever. I start the story, then you stay quiet until I’m finished. You put the money in the jukebox you gotta let the song play out, ok?”

“What?” Riker asks, very confused.

He takes a deep breath “Let’s begin. Koga’Tun got himself killed doing something dumb.” He looks back at Riker, who, after a long moment, still wears the same confused expression. “What?”

“That explains absolutely nothing. Who the hell are you?”

“I said no questions!”

“You asked!”

“Ugh, fine. I’m Chip, I was Koga’s number one. He bought me years ago, but discovered I was pretty smart, so he put me in charge of keeping his business organized and growing, while he was in charge of scaring the hell out of people, and being the public face of our little enterprise. A few months back Koga and the head of the dock worker’s union got drunk and were trying to surf on the back of some cargo transports that were racing each other around the station. The race ended, as these things tend to, with the two surfers getting themselves decapitated by yardarm number one-niner.”

“How did nobody find out about—”

“Look, kid, the point is nobody did find out and I’ve been running this thing for a while now. Or at least I was, until about five minutes ago.”

“What happened five minutes ago?”

“Two of the most powerful business leaders on the station, and one alderman, demanded to see the boss over some business dealings they apparently had on the side that Koga wasn’t keeping up on. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, he’s dead, so I didn’t have much of a choice but to tell them he got decapitated by yardarm number one-niner.”

Riker’s eyes somehow manage to bulge out further. “Why would you think something like that could work?”

Chip’s voice rises slightly in excitement. “Because I’ve been running the galaxy’s largest criminal empire while my boss was out doing things like getting decapitated by—”

“Yardarm number one-niner. Yeah, ok.”

Chip stares at Riker a moment, “‘Yeah, ok’? You grill me for five minutes even after I specifically told you there’d be no questions, and then we get to the end and it’s ‘Yeah, ok’?” Riker shrugs, unsure of what to say. “Kids.”

“So, if Koga didn’t call me…”

“Oh right; The reason you’re here.” Chip leans forward in his chair, and presses his fingers together in front of him. He takes a breath to begin but Riker interrupts him.

“If it’s about the dock worker’s kid I just… I’m sorry, ok? I know we’re supposed to be, like, a ruthless—”

“It’s not about the dock worker’s kid.” Chip smiles.

Riker breathes a sigh of relief. “Really?”

“Well, I mean, it was about that and I was going to have you thrown into the recycler by the two big burly Koupas out in the lobby, but then that thing with the important people happened and now I need something else.”

“Oh… uhhh, ok.” Riker says nervously.

Chip smiles and slides a piece of paper across the desk. “Go here. Talk to a guy named Warchyk, he’s skinny and blue — and I don’t mean like, ‘he’s got a blue jacket’ kind of blue — so you can’t miss him. He’s got a ship waiting for you. It’s yours. It’ll be in your name by the time you get there.”

“A… A ship?” Riker says, his mouth instantly dry and chalky.

Chip pours him a glass of water, “Yes. You’re a Captain now. Congratulations and Cheyney’s blessings be upon you.”

Riker ignores the last part—he’s not really religious— and takes the drink. “Wow. So I’m Captain Riker Everest now?”

“Ugh,” Chip cringes, “gotta work on the name kid. Captain’s gotta have a cool name, or nobody’ll respect him.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how I never announced myself as leader of the The Hammer Suns Gang?”

“Yeah?”

“Ever wondered why?”

“Not really.”

“Well… uhhh… Chip’s not really a cool name so... now you know why, I guess.” Chip stands up and hands Riker a duffle bag from behind the desk. “A few guns, some credits on a courier drive, and a data stick with a few recipes for the food replicator.”

“It has a food replicator!?” Riker asks excitedly as Chip hands him the bag and starts nudging him out the door.

“Yes. And you’ll need it,” Then under his breath he adds, “Trust me.” Chip says, still pushing Riker out of the office.

“Mr. Chip I—”

“Just Chip kid, and I kinda need you to hurry on out of—”

“But why me?” Riker asks prompting Chip to stop pushing. For the first time since the conversation started Chip looks unsure of himself. He glances briefly at Luainee who just looks like she might adopt Riker at any moment. He kneels down and looks Riker in the eye.

“There’s too much evil in this world Riker. You spared that dockworker kid’s life. Any one of my men—”

“Or women.” Luannie interjects.

“Yes, or women, would have decorated the dockworker’s kitchen with that kid’s fluidic sack. But not you. And I know you took a beating for it, but still you didn’t pull the trigger. Because you’re a good man. This place, this life… It’s no life for someone like you. It’ll grind that good man down as fast as a star cruiser using an FTL. So I want you to leave this life before that happens. I want you to leave and never come back. You understand?”

Riker nods, wiping a tear away. “Thank you.”

“Now go.” Chip says with a smile, watching Riker run out the doors and down the hallway.

“That was real sweet, what you said to him Chip.” Luannie says stepping closer to Chip and taking his arm.

“Yeah.” Chip gives a satisfied smile, “Certainly better than ‘I don’t have time to find someone competent because any minute now thirty goons are coming to kill us.’ As far as motivational speeches go, that might not have ranked up there.”

“Yeah. Wait… What!?

Within an hour Riker’s at the designated location, pier one-niner. And as he looks up at the fabled yardarm he swears he can see two splotches of blood. Down the pier he sees his quarry and runs over to him. “Are you—”

“You Chip’s,” the blue alien turns around, “the hell? You’re a kid!?”

“Hey, I’m almost twelve!”

“You’re Riker?” Warchyk looks down at his tablet, “The guy Chip sent?”

“Yeah…” Riker looks dejected, worried he might not get the ship.

“Unreal.” The blue humanoid alien taps the tablet and the ramp comes down from the rear of the ship, just below the slipspace drive. “He tell you what this is about?”

“No. Can I ask something?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind of alien are you?”

“Seriously, that’s what you’re going to ask? Crime lord gives you a ship and you want to know what I am?” Warchyk laughs, “Ain’t nobody out there like me, except me kid. Best leave it at that. Hey West! Time to meet your babysitter!”

“Huh?” Riker looks from Warchyk then to the top of the ramp where a young boy, maybe eight years old stands holding a tablet. “Babysitter, I didn’t—”

“Where. Is. Dad.” The boy’s tablet says in a robotic voice.

Riker’s stomach drops. He feels queasy as he begins to understand the truth. Not just the truth of what Chip had done to him, but also of what Chip had done to the boy. “Better get on board kid.” Warchyk says leading the way. Riker enters. The ship is small, with a combined sleeping area and galley that sits next to the cockpit with three chairs. Riker looks at West as he walks by. West taps his tablet again and the voice says “Where. Is. Dad.”

“What is—”

“It’s his speech machine. He’s not so great with words. Not bad with numbers though.” Warchyk adds, trying to sound hopeful. Riker looks back at West and then to Warchyk. “It’s how he talks.”

Riker, understanding the idea, turns to West and speaks to him like an enfant. “Hi. I’m Riker. What’s your name?” Riker says with a smile.

West taps away on his tablet then looks at Riker. “Hello. Bumface. Nice. To. Meet. You.” West bursts out laughing.

“Seriously?” Riker yells angrily, “Why is that even in there?”

“Don’t look at me, he coded it.”

“Chip coded bumface into his speech machine?”

“No. Not Chip. West.” Warchyk grins.

“What? C’mon he can’t even talk. You expect me to believe this retar—”

Hey!” Until now Warchyk had seemed very passive, if not sarcastic. But when his voice raises, Riker feels himself getting smaller. “Don’t you talk about him like that!” Warchyk shouts, spittle flying from his mouth. “He gets that from all sorts of people, he doesn't need that crap from you, you hear me?”

Riker nods, ashamed and angry.

“I said you hear me?” Warchyk shouts taking a step towards Riker

“Yes!” Riker shouts back, defensive.

“Good. There’s a video for you in the cockpit.” Warchyk points the way and Riker walks to the captain’s chair and takes a seat. West sits in the chair off to Riker’s right, Warchyk takes the one on the left.

“Why are there no windows?”

“You ever been outside the 3010 kid?”

“No.”

“Most ships, especially ones this size, they don’t have windows. A window is just another word for ‘thing that might break and get my ass sucked into the vacuum of space’. So these ships are equipped with hundreds of tiny cameras that project,” the cameras are activated and Riker can suddenly see what’s outside the ship, “what’s outside, in.” Warchyk taps another button, and Chip’s face in his office appears. “You ready?” Riker nods.

“Hello West,” he smiles, “Hello…” He can be heard flipping through some papers as his eyes dart down, “Riker! Hello Riker. By now you’ve met my son West. He’s my whole world, and now I need you to make him yours. I know this isn’t fair, and I’m sorry for that. Please understand that I had no choice. I’m sorry West, but daddy has to go away for a little while, but your new big brother Riker is going to look after you—” A loud crash can be heard which startles Chip. “Well that’s my cue to go. Good luck, both of you!” The video ends as Chip stands and begins to run.

Riker turns slowly to West who was already tapping into his machine. “Are. You. My. Brother?”

“I… I…” He turns to Warchyk, “There has to be some kind of mistake. I can’t—”

“He has no one else.” Warchyk says.

“What about you?” Riker asks, panic in his voice.

Warchyk shakes his head. “I’m with you two for a month, help you figure out the ship, how to get work, and how to work with him. But I can’t stick around for long.”

“Why?”

“A story for another time. That being said,” he raises his voice a little, “I hear you might have the recipe for Pizza Pops in that bag.”

“Pizza. Pops. Are. Life.” West’s tablet announces, almost instantly.

4 months before Quantum Event…

Riker smiles remembering that first month. It didn’t take Riker long to learn how to fly, and it didn’t take him and West long to really become brothers. For thirteen years they’ve been Ohana. “And Ohana means we fight for the ones we—” The computer beeps as the tracing program warns Riker that West has stopped suddenly, so Riker drops them out of slipspace. “Alright Riker,” he says to himself, “time to go get your family back.”