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I've been looking for a way to pin this guy down. There's a more complicated backstory that's alluded to, here - the asteroid belt he's looking for is one where he once spent a few afternoons as a child, and found the ruins of an ancient civilization. It's where/how he learned the rune-work that's become his signature magic. But this is a good way to put him in the right place at the right time! Many thanks to Dann for the prompt: Pirate, Impact, Violin. It was just about exactly what I needed.

Bolt grimaced as he stood up, straightening his shoulders. The engine was finally going back up to the last gear, but damned if he wasn't two weeks behind schedule - he should've done this at the last port, he thought, sighing. The whole thing was just getting ridiculous - a courier gig on this hulk was probably a mistake.

His hand trailed along the ridge of the engine as he wound his way back to the ladder up to the ship proper. He put the toolbox down, hauled himself up hand-over-hand, and turned down to the cot he'd tossed together in the pilot room - more room for cargo if he didn't have to sleep in one of the other rooms, right? The ship thrummed on underneath him, back to her usual pitch, away from the backup engines.

The asteroid belt wasn't the one - he knew that by now. He was pretty sure he was in the right sector, and certain he was in the right system - that narrowed it down to a few hundred years searching, over the thousands he might have expected otherwise, he thought, stretching out over the blankets. Ah, well.

He closed his eyes, and his hand dropped over the side of the bed; the toolbox was a comforting weight underneath, and he smiled.

***

The delivery wasn't too far behind, fortunately - if he could make it up between trips this way, his final check in should be relatively punctual. Bolt grumbled to himself as he lugged the three boxes out of the hold, carried them up the ramp, and slid his chip along the edge of the ident-strip to rent a hand-truck. Of course this bloody planet had a customs process that involved four different licenses - of course it did! He should've gotten more sleep before checking into port he thought, pulling the metal frame along, his delivery stacked neatly over the wheels.

"Hey, this one's for Demi Six," he called, as the guard held up a clipboard.

"Yeah, just sign here. Got a slip for it?"

Bolt fished in his pocket for a moment, and pulled out the little receipt for the courier service. The guard stamped it, the planet's seal glowing briefly as the ink set into the paper.

"Thanks," he said, pushing the cart down along the dock. Demi Six was about three blocks off the lift, he thought, if he could remember which lift to grab.

A ship's crew passed him going the other way, the patches on their shoulders identifying them in some code he was unfamiliar with. They were a grim bunch, eyes set mainly ahead, none of the usual merriment crews showed on their way out of ports like this one. He stepped into the lift, pulled the lever, and waited for it to pull him down to the planet's main surface.

The receiving service was a complex of towers, variously faceted, somewhere between utilitarian and graceful in architecture. He pushed the cart through the gate, slid his chip along the ident strip again, and signed the boxes off to the clerk for the fee the man handed him back, in local currency - he wouldn't bother getting it changed here, he thought, sliding the bills into his pocket. The rate was usually better a little farther out along the edges.

He managed to get back into his ship with a minimum of red tape, got himself cleared for exit, and slid out of the port fairly smoothly. The trip was another week and a half to his next stop, but he'd have to refuel there. He closed his eyes, sliding into a trance, humming under his breath.

The ship's display appeared over his vision as he closed his eyes, levels and displays glowing brightly, somehow more clear, easier understood, when he saw them in meditation, than on their screens. He was glad he'd chosen this model, even if it did need a ridiculous amount of upkeep on a regular basis; having a ship console that he could poke tools at on both levels was well worth it.

After establishing a reasonable itinerary, he hummed the sequence to close the display, and the lights dimmed, leaving him in a more normal trance. He let his consciousness slide into the easy silence of a full meditation.

The impact came, more or less, as a complete surprise, jarring his entire body, and the world around him. When he opened his eyes, everything was upside down, and he was braced against the ship's manual console, three or twenty sharp things poking into him at various angles.

Stunned, Bolt pulled himself up, staring around at the ship - everything had been scrambled around the cabin. He grabbed the edge of the console and whirled, staring at the console - nothing was amiss, according to - no! There it was. A breach on the hold's angled side... but that didn't make any sense at all, he thought, pulling that piece of the display up to the full resolution.

With a startling click, the display went dark - and a moment later, so did everything else.

***

When Bolt opened his eyes, there was a bright light on the edges of his vision, and everything else was still dark. He tried to turn his head - his neck was stiff and sore, and his arms were pinned behind him - every muscle in his body was knotted up.

"What the fuck," he said, conversationally.

There was a thump from somewhere in front of him, and footsteps. A hand pulled the blindfold off his face, and he blinked rapidly to clear his vision.

One of the men from the crew he'd seen on his way to Demi Six, he realized, as things swam into foucs. Tall, red hair combed back to his neck, sharp angled features, and blue-grey eyes, cold now, as they regarded him, evaluating.

"You weren't carrying shit," the man said, baritone voice rasping a bit. "Dorian's happy, I guess he's been looking for a violin for a while, but everything else was useless."

Bolt almost laughed. Pirates - of course they were pirates. Just his luck. "I could've told you that," he replied, shrugging - or almost shrugging, since his shoulders didn't really want to move. "Why would you be attacking a courier vessel anyway - some kind of death wish?"

The other man gave him an amused look. "We're not stupid, mate," he said, walking back across the room. "You're a freelancer, there's not much risk on you."

"Damn." Bolt sighed - so much for that tack. He frowned. "How'd you know that when you boarded?"

A shadow passed the pirate's face. "Don't ask stupid questions," he said.

They hadn't. That was... interesting. Either he was mistaken, and this was some kind of a hostile mercenary force who'd escaped his database - not entirely unprecedented, they cropped up all the time - or this was some kind of utterly suicidal pirate captain. Or, somewhat disturbingly, there was some kind of new tech that could give enough of a reading on his ship to tell them anything they wanted to know about him.

"Why'm I still alive?"

The man grinned at him. "See, now that was less of a stupid question. We're not sure if there's any value in you," he explained, crossing his arms behind his head. "And don't bother trying to answer, because we both know what you're going to say."

Bolt almost laughed. Of course there wasn't - and of course he'd say there was. But who knew? Maybe there was someone out there who'd ransom him, and he wouldn't wind up chained to a pick in the middle of nowhere, or out an airlock. He was glad he'd gotten the self-destruct bit on his chip - the thing would be a useless scrap by now.

***

The shouting was getting louder, and more frequent. Bolt looked up towards the corner of the ceiling, where it was coming from. Things had been tense, uneasy, in his captors' ship for the past few days - longer, even. It had been, he thought, about three weeks-universal since they took him. He'd gotten the impression there was a rift in the crew, or at least some unhappiness. If he'd had the knack for it, he would've been trying to exploit this for his freedom. But Bolt found himself at a loss where it came to figuring people. They never seemed to work the way they were supposed to.

His guards were usually the same three people, on a fairly regular schedule - they'd drop in every few hours to make sure he hadn't broken out of the room or anything, leave food, and make sure the door was secure. The room was about four feet by six, and mostly bare, but at least he wasn't tied up anymore - his body had just about healed.

One was the tall red-head who'd been there the first day - his name was Yuri, Bolt figured out, later. The others were Dorian, the violinist, who turned out to be a slim, blond boy with a snub nose and laughing blue eyes, and Tatiana, a well-muscled black woman who wore her dark hair in braids pinned back, and spoke quietly, with some authority. All three of them had been on edge, for the past few days. He wondered if they knew he noticed.

He wasn't entirely surprised when he heard the shots.

He was a bit more surprised when the door swung open and Tatiana stepped in, gun held at the hip. "You," she said, gesturing. "You want to live?"

Bolt stood up. "Yeah, I kinda do."

"Good." She held the door open, and stepped back out. "How good are you with a gun?"

He winced. "Not very. Can do a bit of spellwork, though."

The woman glanced back, looked him over once, and nodded. "Alright. Here's now it is - you might have gotten some of this. Our captain's an idiot, he doesn't know he's an idiot, and we've just decided we're not going to die for it. A few idiots think their chances are better standing with him."

"Makes sense. Where do I come in?"

"That depends," she said over her shoulder, leading the way down the hall. "What kind of spells do you know?"

He wracked his brain furiously. "Shields are what I'm best with," he said, "But I can do some damage if you give me a little juice."

Tatiana grinned. "Juice we've got. Can you fry the - no. Can you fix the light system if you fry it?"

He nodded.

"Good. Can you fry someone with the light system?"

"Should be able to, if you know where they are."

It wasn't the first time he'd killed someone, he reminded himself, as he shoved both hands through the panel and grabbed the exposed wire. Not even the first time he'd done it like this. But it still shook him, as he felt himself spread through the system, and focused the power. It was easy, too easy, to convince the energy running through the wires that this was the shortest path - and then, just like that, there was a strangled scream, and everything was over.

When he'd gotten their ship fixed, they dropped him off on the nearest planet, sans his ship - they'd scrapped it, Yuri told him. Another brilliant decision by their late fearless leader. If you didn't understand how something worked, destroy it. Bolt found himself surprisingly more upset than he expected - apparently, he'd gotten more attached to the ship than he had realized. Yuri handed him a few bills - enough to keep him alive for a while, until he found his legs, he saw, though by no means as much as he'd had when they'd captured him.

He watched the ship click out of port, sighing. Back to square one - or not quite, he realized, as he leaned back against the wall, and felt his ankle bump against the familiar weight of his toolbox. That was alright, then. He could figure the rest out as he went.

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thulcandran

May 2013

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