Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
"Hey, watch it!" shouted the man dressed completely in black and wearing a mask that covered the lower half of his face as well as a hat that hid his rather prominent forehead. His admonition was aimed at the ragged group of men opening the crates his own crew had deposited moments ago. He really couldn't blame the men for being anxious, but still, the cargo was valuable enough to warrant careful handling. There was not one container of water or food in those crates that was not needed.
Unconsciously pulling the brim of his cap down even further over his forehead, until it rested on his dark glasses, he walked closer to the group of the familiar, ragged looking men. They turned their heads to look at him with expressions that ranged from wariness to awe. "Who's in charge here?" he asked, not seeing his usual contact, a man he only knew as Hal. It was his habit to keep as much distance as possible from the men who accepted the shipments they brought. The more familiar he and his crew became with them the more likely one of them would recall something about that might be identifiable.
One of the bearded men stepped forward. At first glance he looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, and as skinny as a rail with unkempt, graying brown hair and beard. "I am. Name's Cinabar. I'm a Guardian."
"Good. Then I'm entrusting you to equally divide this shipment to the distribution centers."
"You can trust me ta do m'job," the man answered with his chest puffed out with importance and a slow, repetitive nod of his head.
"Along with the usual supply of food, there's baby formula, some diapers and quite a few extra cans of fruit. See to it that pregnant women and children get priority on the fruit."
"Yep, that's the way we do it," the man agreed, his head still bobbing up and down. If the circumstances weren't so dire, the man in black would have found the repetitive head movement amusing. However, there was very little to be amused about on L2. His frequent visits here left him feeling both despondent at the colony's dire straits and a deep yearning to extend himself even more in an effort to help them.
Cinabar began to speak again, drawing his attention once more. "Guess it's a mixed blessin' there's so few women in a family way. I heard it said that starvin' makes most women's monthly stop, keepin' them from gettin' pregnant, even if they wanted to. Less mouths to feed, that's for sure." Then a look of sadness crossed the man's face as he added, "But with no children there's no future."
Of course the Guardian was right, the man in black thought. If he had his way, not one more person, especially a newborn babe, would experience firsthand the hardships the people of L2 endured each and every day. The government sanctioned blockade was cruel, unnecessary and criminal. Hopefully the people of Earth and the colonies would eventually learn the truth behind the reasons for the severe sanctions imposed on L2, and that the action taken by the UEC had been nothing more than a slow and painful extermination order for the people who had the misfortune to live there.
"I know I'm not ‘sposed to ask yur name, but I'd like to thank ya and whoever else is responsible for bringin' us food and water. There's no way could we survive on the pathetic amount we get from the charity shipment once a month."
The man in black nodded. "Those who sponsor my ship and crew are good, colony-born men of conscience. They understand your plight and are doing what they can to help. We must all remain nameless in order to protect ourselves. If our identities were found out, we would go to prison and then the goods we bring to you would no longer be provided."
"I understand," Guardian Cinabar said, his head bobbing once again. "But give ‘um our thanks anyway, won't ya?"
The man in black smiled, then fiddled with the dark glasses that hid the shape and color of his eyes. "I will," he replied with a small smile. "I've got to get back to the ship and see that all the goods have been unloaded. With any luck this will be over soon."
"From yur lips to God's ear," the man muttered. With a wave of farewell he returned to his ragged comrades and joined them as they continued to go through the packing crates.
The man in black turned and headed for the metal plank, leading to the cargo hold. With a hand moving up to his hat, he pulled down a thin wire that settled in front of his mouth, tapped a button in an earpiece secured in his ear and asked, "How are we doing time wise? Has all the cargo been completely unloaded?"
He was answered by the ship's pilot, his voice a strong whisper in his ear. "Buck tells me there's only one large crate left to unload, then we can cut out of here before the patrol ship comes by again."
"So how many does this make?"
"Runs? I don't know, old man. For me, I'd say at least fifty, maybe sixty tops in the last two years. So you can probably double that for how many deliveries you've made." There was a pause and then a weary sigh. "How much longer, H? I have an idea my luck's about to run out and I'm gonna be found out. I don't mind so much for myself, but I don't like putting anyone else at risk. Others have stepped out on a limb for this, and the last thing I want to happen is for them to go to prison for helping."
"They, just like the rest of us, know the consequences if we get caught. We do this for a greater good, so don't start giving up on us now, kid. These people desperately need our help. If you could see their faces, the desperation and gratitude in their eyes each time we make a delivery, you'd know we're doing the right thing, even though we're breaking a couple of laws."
"I know it's the right thing," came the soft reply. "Guess I'm just on edge right now."
Two burly crewmen, also dressed completely in black from head to toe, removed from the hold the last large 8' x 8' plastic crate on the anti-grav dolly. They guided the large container down the ramp and approximately thirty feet from the ship and the track of the giant containment doors surrounding it. They eased the crate down next to the men still rummaging through the other boxes and sorting the goods into several piles.
"We've got two minutes to get out of here," the pilot reported through the com-link, as the familiar deep humming sound filled the hanger, signaling the start of the ship's engines.
"Two minutes," the man standing on the ramp shouted to the two crew members who were extracting the expensive carrying unit.
"Got it, boss man," one of the men called back. Thirty seconds later both men were running up the gangway. Tapping his headset again, the man in black gave his report to the pilot. "Shutting the hatch. Radio the control room that we need the containment door shut, sealed and the lock engaged."
"I'm on it," the pilot replied.
Hitting the flashing red button above the hatch, the ship's loading ramp slid quickly and with ease into its compartment located beneath the hatch. Once it clanged into place the ship's heavy metal door smoothly slid down and shut. With a loud click of the lock, the green light above the door indicated the door was both locked and sealed. Checking to make sure it was truly secure, the man turned to make his way up to the cockpit to take his place as co-pilot.
The two crew members in the back had taken their seats and were buckling in, knowing from long practice that once they deposited their pilfered load, they got away from L2 as quickly as possible. It was sometimes a rough and exhilarating ride.
The man in black opened the door to the cockpit, made his way to the vacant seat without disturbing the young man flipping switches and checking gages to ensure they were ready to be released into space.
Turning his head, the older man watched as the massive gray, air-sealing door slid across on the rusty track, making loud screeching noises that made the hair stand up on his neck. He would never get used to that sound. Once the containment doors were closed, a loud metal thud sounded, followed by the sound of metal dropping into place as the seal was made secure. The ship was now cut off from the eyes of anyone outside of the sleek, black ship.
Removing his glasses and hat, revealing faded green eyes set in a weathered yet pale face that was framed by shoulder length, graying brown hair, the man turned to the pilot. "Alright Hotshot, get us the hell out of here."
The pilot chuckled even though he remained fixed on his task. "Don't I always?" he teased. "I'm the best damn pilot in all the colonies."
"Tell that to those anxious Preventers trying like hell to nail our asses."
"They won't even get close enough to kiss my exhaust much less my ass."
"Even one particular Preventer?"
That earned the older man a warning glare. "Howard," the pilot growled.
Chuckling, the older man heeded the warning. "All right, no more teasing."
"Thank you," the pilot said. Then after a brief moment he added, "So where do you want me to drop you off?"
"First star on the right and straight on ‘til morning," Howard chuckled.
The pilot rolled his eyes. "Back to the resource satellite it is."
The shuttle bay door opened, revealing a partial view of Earth and the darkness of space surrounding everything else. The pilot gave the older man a saucy grin of delight. "I never get tired of looking at that. Do you?"
"No, and I've been in space for the greater part of my life."
The two sat in companionable silence as the shuttle the shuttle's pilot gave the boosters a slight nudge, just enough to get them out into the airless space. After several moments of floating, the engines were engaged, the stealth system was activated and the marauder ship once again left its precious cargo on the not quite forsaken colony.