Years ago, back when he was still working his first job as weapons officer on a planet security patrol ship, Lazzaro had got mixed up in a plan, hatched by some of the more unscrupulous, less career-focused members of the crew, to occasionally “redirect” items of ordnance from company stores to a privately owned cargo container, rented under a fake identity.
At a storage facility on a small moon (whose population was known for its liberal attitude and discretion in matters of client confidentiality) the crates of plasma charges, pulse rifles and hand blasters that mysteriously vanished from their employers’ extensive armoury were quietly delivered by unpiloted cargo drones and ferried to the container by automated loading trucks.
Then the company’s computerised records and ship’s manifest were carefully manipulated by a disgruntled data entry clerk called Gideon, whom the conspirators had recruited for just this purpose, ensuring that nobody was any the wiser.
Until the Dreeb incident.
That’s when it all started to unravel.
Colan Dreeb was one of the more unstable members of their little enterprise, an ex-mercenary who had joined the company after losing a leg on his final mission; a bitter and violent man with a short temper and a long memory who you really didn’t want to get on the wrong side of, not unless you enjoyed spending the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.
The paranoid Dreeb had got it into his head that the computer nerd was a security risk and wanted him out of the loop before he gave them away.
Not only that, but not being the most trusting of folks at the best of times, Dreeb had insisted that the cargo container was booby-trapped when they first began filling it with contraband, making doubly sure that nobody could make off with the gang’s haul of weapons.
Lazzaro and the others had cautioned against making any rash decisions, fearing that paying off their inside man would only open them up to blackmail and extortion if he objected to being cut out of his share of the deal.
But Colan Dreeb was not a man to be swayed by logical reasoning and he took it upon himself to plug the security leak once and for all.
Only a month before the container load of smuggled armaments was due to be delivered to one of the many privateers who dealt in “liberated” merchandise, he managed to persuade the unsuspecting office worker to meet him at the storage unit.
Dreeb used the excuse that the access code for the container wasn’t working, meaning that the drones couldn’t open it to make a delivery and he needed Gideon to come down to reset the password.
Too greedy to be suspicious of Dreeb’s motives, the man arrived at the unmanned facility, to be met by a scarred giant of a man with a false leg and a very real stolen pulse rifle.
When the terrified clerk realised he’d been duped, he tried to appeal to Colan’s better nature, offering to forfeit his share of the loot in exchange for his freedom.
Sadly for him, Colan Dreeb’s only nature was that of a cornered predator and his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Before the object of Dreeb’s irrational paranoia could protest any further, he was forced at gunpoint into the airtight container and locked in, Colan congratulating himself on his foolproof plan, thinking that when the clerk’s body was discovered it would seem like an freak accident.
Dreeb reset the plasma charge that secured the doors of the container and returned to the patrol ship, not mentioning anything about his murderous mission to the rest of the crew and assuming that they were now safe from discovery.
None of which would have caused a problem, (apart from Gideon, for whom it would soon prove to be a rather terminal one) but the designers of the cargo container had foreseen this particular scenario and fitted a failsafe, namely an internal keypad that meant anyone trapped inside could enter the password, allowing them to avoid a slow, suffocating death.
Of course Gideon wasn’t aware of the extra security feature Dreeb had installed. So, having eventually found the keypad in the darkness of his metal tomb and, waiting until he was sure his captor had departed, he punched in the code and opened the door to make good his escape.
It was only by chance that, at the time Lazzaro’s ship was on the opposite side of the planet that the moon orbited, otherwise they would have seen the resulting blast, which all but destroyed the storage facility, along with the unfortunate Gideon, the gang’s entire stash of illicit weapons and a sizeable chunk of the moon itself.
Never one for unnecessary modesty, Colan immediately took credit for the devastation, proudly informing his incredulous shipmates that he’d saved them from certain incarceration, or worse.
“You did what?“, Lazzaro remembered yelling at the impervious, glowering Dreeb, “You bloody fool, you’ve done it now, it’s not going to take them long to put two and two together and work out that sort of blast could only have come from restricted plasma charges.”
“But I…,” began Dreeb, his fists balled aggressively.
“No!” snapped Lazzaro, “No buts, no ifs, that’s it, it’s over. I’m out,” he stared at each of the nervously fidgeting crew members in turn, “at the end of this tour I’m finding alternative employment and I suggest you all do the same.”
And that had been the end of it.
At least until one of the others had got himself arrested for stabbing a pool shark during a fight in some spaceport bar a couple of months later. He’d done a deal with the local law enforcement; Dreeb’s description and likely hang-outs in exchange for a slap on the wrist and a hefty fine.
When the cops finally caught up with Dreeb, he didn’t go quietly, taking down three of them before succumbing to multiple stun grenades and an enthusiastic kicking from all the officers present at the arrest.
At his trial, Dreeb refused to answer any and all questions put to him and spoke only to declare his intention to hunt down and slaughter all the remaining conspirators, so convinced was he that they were collectively responsible for his capture.
The judge pointed out that he would have to put his plans for bloody revenge on the back burner for a while, then cheerfully sentenced him to fifty years hard labour.
Which was how, reflected Eric Lazzaro as he gazed out his cabin window at the dwindling dot of NASA 6, is how I ended up here on the Alice Marie.
There were certainly worse places to be, no question about that. All in all, Eric considered himself a very lucky man.