This wouldn't do. This wouldn't do at all. How had I, Jubal Early, end up grounded on this behemoth of a boat? I needed to be out in the black, searching for River, scenting her on the solar winds. Not standing before a magistrate and trying to explain what happened on some satellite moon that was none of my fault and certainly nothing of consequence.
I cocked my head at the magistrate, giving him a bland smile while he eyed me all suspicious-like. Couldn't find no fault with my papers, and yet I could tell he had his back up about me. Like he feared me, or what I was capable of.
"It says here that someone matching your name and your description killed two people on Cyrus and did not present yourself to the authorities. What do you have to say about that, Captain Early?"
I quirked an eyebrow at him quizically.
"A captain? Now there's a thought. Am I a captain if I have no crew to command? I pilot my ship, so you could say I'm a pilot I reckon. But really, I'm a man of many talents and functions. As for your question, your honor. I did kill two men on Cyrus, that's the honest truth. But it was in self defense on account of them trying to kill me and take what was rightfully mine. I am a bounty hunter by trade and had to leave quickly as I was in pursuit of a bounty at the time. Since I was in the right, I felt no need to check in with local enforcement. Besides, the people in that area knew of the two unsavories I terminated. Figure I done them a favor sending those two into the beyond."
The magistrate seemed unimpressed by my reasoning. He didn't see the logic of it the way I did.
"I am going to wait till the representative from Cyrus arrives to present his case. Apparently they want to deport you, but I would rather conduct the proceedings here on this ship. That will be all for now."
I was lead back to my cell. This was not the way things were meant to go. I had a mission, and I couldn't afford to lose the trail this early in the hunt. 'Course it could have been worse, and these guards could have been efficient and thorough alliance troopers, not the lackwitted go-se they were instead. I pretended to lie myself down a spell, to rest, then very carefully pulled a small transceiver from my sleeve and inserted it into a device I'd keep hidden in my vest. Tbe guards had wandered off into their mess area and were slurping some slop into their mouths with relish.
"This is Jubal Early. Checking in with Node 17."
"Mr Early, it has been a while since you updated us on your progress." Came the reply. Detached, and unemotional was the voice on the other end. Not hardly human even. But I paid that no mind. After all, in the scheme of things I was the bogey man.
"Ran into a spot of trouble, and may need some assistance. In need of getting some charges dropped. See, I killed some low-lifes on Cyrus, and am now in Alliance custody awaiting a hearing."
There was an ungainly pause, which did not seem right to me. Wasn't I the one they'd hand-picked to bring in their prize?
"Why should we help you when you seem no closer to recovering the girl?" Came the reply. Did the thermostat just sink a few notches in here? My mind raced, trying to regain control of the situation.
"That's where you are wrong, son. I'm light years closer than I was. I have been on the ship transporting your precious River. I know it now, can track it. I've had contact with the crew, and know their mettle. Almost got the bounty too, but due to circumstances out of my control I was unsuccessful at that time. But the thing is, who else has an intimate knowledge of the ship and crew who have taken your girl in, made her one of their own. I've marked them, it won't be long now. Who else has achieved that much. Have you even come in contact with her?"
There was another pause.
"Have you spoken to her? Interacted with her at all?" Something in that voice suddenly made the hair in the back of my neck stand up. I knew I was in a situation that was precarious, possibly perilous.
"No sir. Only observed from a distance." I lied. "But I nearly had her. If I get assistance now, I can be back on her trail within a solar day."
I held my breath, wonderin' if I'd said the right words to keep myself in the hunt, or even keep myself alive. One thing for sure, I wasn't all that certain I wanted to meet them that wanted River Tam recovered face to face.
"We'll consider it." The comm went silent and I stashed it away again. I'd have to sit and wait a while. But my gut told me that I'd won through. This time.
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