An intergalactic war criminal on the run, a bounty hunter closing in, and a planet about to be rocked

Flight of The Red Bird

That was close.

Tangling with security forces anywhere in the known galaxy was never a good idea. To attempt to walk into somewhere like a British RAF base on this planet and demand to see personnel files of all the pilots, even if you were disguised as a senior internal investigations operative, with convincing credentials, always carried more than a little element of risk. These humans were crude and a little primitive, but they weren’t stupid – and they could certainly be dangerous.

Grom Tal thought he’d gotten away with it too as he left the base with a pleasant ‘cheerio’ in his ‘borrowed’ MoD Land Rover. But a few moments later he knew for sure that he was being tailed. A quick stop in a service station, another car ‘borrowed’, a few changes of transport vessels (trains, coaches, tube trains etc), a change of clothes, and eventually, five hours later, he arrived back at base – a nondescript rented room in rainy North London.

Satisfied he was clear of any pursuant, he locked the door and then swiped a hidden pressure pad in the wall, instantly a web of lasers covered the door. Tossing his keys onto a table he slumped into a chair next to it. He’d been in this body awhile now, but he was pretty sure he didn’t used to get this tired in his previous one. It probably needed ‘fuelling’ again.

But first he slapped the top of his left hand and a holographic data projection appeared displaying standby mode. He swiped the display off his hand and onto the table top – it expanded and boxes opened up and filling up fields with messages, news, transit movements, data files and surveillance information. Tal expanded the last field to check that all the sensors he had placed in the vicinity didn’t show up any unusual activity.

‘Best be safe,’ he reminded himself, ‘these humans can be a cunning lot when they need to be.’

Satisfied there was no one staking out his abode, he flipped out another field and hit ‘on’. Instantly a wall of TV screens came to life – tuned into the main news and media outlets from around the world, all on subdued volume. He activated another field that displayed and skimmed rapidly through streaming lines of social media feeds.

He left them all running, headed over to the kitchen area and rummaged around in the fridge, finally grabbing last night’s chicken tikka masala, and sticking the leftovers into the microwave.

Returning to the table with a steaming plate and fork in his hand along with a can of cola – he’d developed a bizarre addiction to the sickly syrupy brown drink – he pinched out and expanded another field, and threw open the files to fill almost the entire room.

The files included pictures, bios, last known movements, confirmed and suspected aliases and associates, and in fact everything that was known about Tremp Divarskargh, citizen of the Jigarian nation of the planet Krento IV. A highly decorated captain and lead Pilot of the now disgraced and disbanded Jigarian Space Force.

About 10 years ago, led by a despot, the Jigarian forces had attempted to seize control of not only Krento IV but the other five inhabited planets within its solar system until the Galactic Peace Corps (GPC) stepped in and stopped them. After a series of fierce battles, the leaders had all been killed, or captured and indicted as war criminals. All were now ensconced in correction and rehabilitation facilities.

Except for one of course, the legendary Divarskargh, AKA The Red Bird, as he’d become known. When the Jigarian forces were decimated, he escaped in a tiny shuttle pod and vanished about eight years ago.

The GPC still wanted him though, and it wanted him bad. He’d attained infamy, due to his legendary exploits in the war – movies and documentaries had been made about him, holo-games were based on his battles, kids read comic books about him (all of which Tal had watched, played and read himself).

The fact that he had never been caught only added to the near-mythical status Red Bird had attained. For the alliance ministers that controlled the GPC, this just would not do. He was a war criminal, and they wanted him brought to justice. So much so, that they’d set very high stakes, high enough for bounty hunters, like Tal, to spend the last seven years scouring all charted space for him.

His eyes continued to sear through the files that he’d analysed in detail a thousand times before, desperately searching for something, anything, that might give him a lead, a clue, a glimmer of hope. The only information that was not included in the classified files was that which had led him to Earth.

A supply vessel had encountered a stricken ship on the edge of the Alpha Centauri system six years ago. They bartered a few parts with the senile and inebriated old commander and last clocked him inexplicably entering this particular solar system.

There was no established trade or transport to this part of the galaxy, and it made no sense for the old codger to be heading here. Maybe he was actually just utterly confused and disorientated. But it was the nature of the old Captain’s ship that piqued Tal’s interest.

The low-grade ship was a skiff, a leisure boat for hopping up to orbit and back. It wasn’t engineered for the rigors of deep space travel. No pilot could have safely got it this far out. No ordinary pilot that is. It had to be Divarskargh.

Tal had studied Red Bird for years now. What had started to become clear to him was that the flying Ace was no ideologist; he wasn’t even really a soldier, there had been no previous history of service in the armed forces, or any display of aggression or violence in his entire family history.

And yet tales of his missions, his derring-do, his impossible number of combat kills, his incredible and outrageous flight manoeuvres and his uncanny ability to bring it back home every single time whatever the odds, these were now told in awed tones even on the very planets the Jigarian regime brutally attacked.

Tal had spent years stripping away all the bombastic war propaganda to get to the man beneath it all. He had started to see what Divarskargh was really all about it, he had discovered a man obsessed with one thing, and one thing only – flying. Those that had flown alongside and those that went up against him and lived to tell the tale were on record as saying that Red Bird’s control over his machine was beyond comprehension.

Time and again they would relate how the captain seemed to have the ability to communicate directly with whatever he was piloting and control it by mere instinct alone. He was able to consistently and persistently, even in the high-stress heat of full-on battle-engagement, against a fleet of hundreds of fighters, skim just over the edge of his craft’s limits pushing and coaxing it into trajectories, twists and turns that even the most seasoned pilots would dismiss as simply impossible.

And they weren’t desperate manoeuvres, usually they were flamboyant and bold – ‘artistry in flight’ he’d heard one veteran comment. Red Bird was a man that revelled in the act of flying itself – he did it because he loved it. His warring heroics were merely an outcome of his passion. Tal could not imagine that Divarskargh would ever give that up.

That being the case, it would be safe to assume that the escaped pilot would have taken up a guise where he would be at the very cutting edge of whatever this planet, the Earth as it was called, might offer him in terms of flight. He might be a test pilot, perhaps a stunt or racing flyer, and despite it becoming apparent that the man was not a natural-born killer, he could even have enlisted into whatever aerial fighting forces existed.

Being an astronaut would have been too obvious, there simply weren’t that many of those on Earth. Nonetheless Tal had gone through the profiles of each and every one and dismissed them as impossible matches.

He dropped his emptied plate on the table and took another swig of the brown stuff and allowed himself a yelp of frustration: ‘where the heck are you Divarskargh?!’

At the moment, one of the holo-displays started flickering, demanding his attention. He pulled it forward and realised it was monitoring the TV-outputs and had detected something. He quietened all the other monitors and raised the volume of the highlighted TV.

There was some kind of light-entertainment TV programme on – a chat show, the type that tended to hype up some select but insignificant humans (in his personal view) as some sort of celebrities or heroes.

‘… needs no introduction,’ the host was saying, ‘but I’m going to give him one anyway – don’t worry though because it’ll be a speedy intro as nothing less would do for the undisputed King of Speed!

‘Taking multiple championships across motor racing, rallying and even drag racing, this is a man that even his rivals admit has an uncanny level of car control. Those that work with him on his cars claim he must have some sort of physic-connection with his racing machines.

‘Well let’s get him in here and ask him just how he became the fastest human on earth. It’s the man who always comes first, ladies and gentleman, please welcome two-time F1 and WRC champ, as well as current land-speed record holder, Trent Davidson!’

Tal found himself agape, a curious human affectation. He realised he’d been on Earth too long. But perhaps under the circumstances… after all, that description… and that name – so close to Tremp Divarskargh.

On the screen a beaming, waving and absurdly good-looking human, bounced spryly into the studio, soaking up the adulation of the audience and sitting down to banter with the show host, displaying perfectly judged and timed sure-fire wit and supreme charm and eloquence.

A short while later as the show ended after the show’s host challenged Davidson to an R/C obstacle course race around the studio – which of course the champ won – Tal turned down the volume and pulled up everything that could be found on the champion racer.

During the split-seconds of the search, Tal allowed himself a fleetingly vain glance into the dresser mirror. The long procedure undergoing DNA transplantation to morph his physical form into that of a human was as much an endurance of confusion as it was painful.

Not paying top credits for it meant the results were more often a bit of lottery than not. However Tal had ended up with a rugged, craggy and austere appearance which actually befitted his ex-military background – and if he was honest about it, he quite liked it too.

However the chiselled, youthful but manly persona Divarskargh had acquired – dark-haired, bronze-skinned, perfect teeth, sparkling chestnut eyes, tall frame, trim but clearly muscular and fit physique – was top class work, in fact it was art. Tal had been a female a couple of times in the past, and those latent hormones almost tingled as he recalled the image of the man he had just seen on the TV.

He didn’t need to recall it for long of course, because soon his data file was saturated with the exploits, victories, daring-do feats and sheer all-round superstardomness of Divarskargh AKA Davidson.

The history files claimed that the flamboyant young millionaire playboy had come to racing relatively late in life after being invited to a track day.

He’d embraced motor sports and in the last six years had tried and pretty much conquered every form of four, and indeed two-wheeled, racing on the planet with multiple championships, including the Earth’s most premier titles it seemed. He’d also established records for speed and jumps, and his bankable looks and winning personality meant he had even dabbled in show-business, appearing in movies and music videos.

His hectic and high-profile lifestyle also meant he was a darling of the gossip and tabloid media, whilst at the same time his extensive and substantial philanthropic activities, frequent appearances at children’s hospitals and the fact that he was even a volunteer in various search-and-rescue organisations, regularly flying helicopters into dangerous situations to save lives, all meant that he was one of the most famous, loved and admired people on the planet.

Come to think of it, he had come across the name a couple of times before during his time on this planet, but it hadn’t registered as he’d foolishly narrowed his focus too much. Caught up in Red Bird’s obsession with flying, he hadn’t expanded his search beyond full-time pilots. Now he realised the obsession wasn’t in flying, it was in speed and exercising supreme control over all kinds of machinery.

Digging deeper into Davidson’s files, the fact that there were hardly any pictures and not much information beyond six years ago, confirmed that this was indeed Divarskargh.

Now that he had finally found his man, all his expected emotions of relief, delight and vindication were but fleeting sentiments as he slumped back into his chair and actually wished he was wrong about Davidson, because things had just got considerably, almost impossibly, difficult.

The Galactic Law on operating on non-integrated planets was clear: no evidence or suspicion of alien presence or activity would be allowed or tolerated. This is why Tal took human form, this is why he lived and operated like a native of the planet, and left most of his equipment back in his ship, remotely orbiting the planet as usual.

Contravening the law would mean losing his bounty-hunting licence, getting slapped with massive credit penalties, or worst ending up in a prison – most likely with people he had hunted down and put in there himself!

Davidson was a superstar – just how the heck was Tal going to quietly nab him and get him off planet without causing a whole lot of commotion. He grabbed some more cans of cola and settled down for a long-night of research and planning.

Before first light the next morning, he’d vaulted over the fence of Hyde Park to rendezvous with his ship, and within the hour had left the solar system at high warp.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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