This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2003, and reprinted in the March/April 2023 issue.
Ishmael James 796A95 Age 38 Cr70,000
6 Terms (1 Rogue [from age 14], 5 Scout, retained for 7th term)
Computer-3, Electronics-3, JoT-2, Mechanics-2, Blade-1, Comm-1, Engineering-1, Handgun-1, Pilot-1, Rifle-1, Sensor ops-1, Streetwise-1, Vacc suit-1
“My past is none too pretty.
“All I remember as a small child was my parents being so happy about the immigration opportunity the government was giving them. It was all they talked about. A new world was waiting and it was sure to be better than scraping out a living on the high desert plateau. My parents told me that the fence was to keep wild animals out and to keep us safe. They must’ve been right about that because there were also guards watching over us. We must’ve been very special.
“The trip was crowded and the spaceship we rode on smelled funny. But it worked and we were almost ready to start going down to the planet when there was an explosion. I was closed in a stateroom alone when compartments shut to prevent total decompression. My parents weren’t so lucky. I decided that god doesn’t listen to people after all. Not one prayer or plea was answered, and I had heard a lot being made.
Not everyone died. The minister made a speech about god’s will and my parents (I didn’t care about the others) being shooting stars. Then we landed on an island in the north sea, away from the main continent. Compared to the desert, it was very cold, but at least crops and trees could grow there. We were the fourth ship to arrive and the first to be victims of Jomari terrorists. They didn’t like how we prayed. Maybe they were right and god didn’t like how we prayed either. Maybe that’s why he ignored my parents’ pleas and made me an orphan.
“I was taken in to be raised by an established and rich family. They had a lot of land, horses and farmhands. I gained 3 brothers and 2 sisters overnight. They hated me and always teased me. Whenever they were bad, they’d blame it on me. Their father (not mine) would always believe them and agree that I was a liar. His sons were raised to be god-fearing men and would never lie to him. His daughters were gentle maidens and were always good and kind. That’s what he said anyways. I was always punished for my ‘lies’ about who stole the pies or why the wine was missing. I always had to do extra chores and couldn’t go to school until I learned to tell the truth. When my ‘brothers’ realized that I was the perfect scapegoat, they made me do their chores also. They would tell on me by making some sin up to tell their father. I hated them and everyone else in the family.
“After 5 years of beatings and slavery, I boiled over. While mucking out the stables, the others teased me, and threw horse manure at me. They danced and said I was just a dirty little monkey who was too stupid to do anything except shovel shit. The two oldest boys held me down while the other put manure in my mouth. I beat them mostly to death with my shovel, then I ran away. I was an outcast after that.
“The community’s minister took me under his wing. It was the proper thing to do, he said. He promised the townsfolk that he’d scourge the evil from my soul. He had no wife and no children. He tried to keep his promise by whipping me and spanking me a lot. He masturbated a lot too. When I mentioned this to someone, they were shocked and then I’d be beaten again. Everyone already knew that I was a liar. One day, he raped me. I ran and told the constable. He said I lied because a man of god would never do such a thing. The minister said I was the devil’s spawn. He whipped me again and had my real parents removed from the church graveyard. If I was the devil’s child, he said, then my parents were the devil’s kin also. Maybe he’s right and that’s why god hates me. The townsfolk think he is right. I was cast out again. I decided to forsake god the same way he forsaked me.
“I was caught stealing pumpkins from a farm because I was hungry. I was sent to an orphanage but nobody wanted me. The minister arranged to have me ‘traded’ to an orphanage on the mainland for a couple of ‘good’ boys in return as if I were some kind of bubblegum card. At least the new orphanage taught me how to read.
“It was a run down place and lent out its children to whoever said they’d take care of them. I was given to a burnt out junkie and made to cook and clean and scrounge up drug money for him. I was about 13 years old. I got real good at sneakin’ ’round. You get caught, you get a busted head and rolled for whatever dosh you had. That meant getting beat again and going hungry again when you came home without the gooch. Not that I ever ate at home anyways; he spent every dime on getting high, so it was soup kitchens for my tummy. You learn quick: never turn down free food… ever.
“That lasted a year before my adopted ‘dad’ (ptui!) finally kicked up his ghost. Back to the orphanage it was for me. At least I was bigger and smarter now so that I wouldn’t get beat or raped any more. Besides, most of ’em figures I offed the old spud just to get away. I let them think that, but I was cleared; the drugs were spiked, sure they were usually cut with something unsanitary, but he actually died of starvation. Too many chemicals but too little real food.
“It was during these times that I met Chaz. A skinny little tart with a too big rack for her age. She was 14. I hung out with her and burnt some skunk too. Skunk? It’s a downer that lets you dream easy without feeling anything. It stinks while its cooked down for the needle aka ‘skunk’. I wanted to have sex with her but she said that her body was her meal ticket and only paying customers could touch. She would give me a feely-squirt when the juice was in our veins; I think she liked me. She tried trading her body for love and romance when she felt lucky. Too bad I’m unlucky. She said she was grateful to have me for a friend.... ‘just friends’ she said. Last I heard, she died of old age at 25 years.
“Of course I had been given over to another old guy in the meantime. This one was okay. No perversions, just booze and a once-a-month lay from a whore when his pension check came in. He was always bombed and didn’t seem to care what I was up to as long as the house was reasonably clean and the food was sorta edible. He’d give me what was left over from his monthly binge to see to all that stuff.
“Then came the turning point.
“I took the money and spent it on skunk to shoot with Chaz and watered down his hooch to hide the fact that I had spent it all and not on him. He found out and started to beat me terrible. He howled like a wild man about how I was wasting my life with drugs and I’d just die like a poisoned rat. He only stopped when I whispered that I learned how to waste my life from him, only I used drugs instead of booze ’cuz it was cheaper and easier for me to get. He became very quiet and locked himself into his room for 3 whole days. I was scared because I didn’t want to go back to the orphanage or to jail (like there was any real difference) . He hadn’t been all that bad to me; he left me alone and rarely beat me and never tried any funny stuff. I didn’t know what to do.
“When he finally came out, he was clean and shaven and in some kind of uniform. He said that I’d better straighten myself out if I wanted to join the scouts. That’s what he had been. An Impy scout. He said he’d be ‘damned by god hisself’ if he allowed me to waste my life like I was doing. He retired when he got too old and that’s where the money came from; his pension after serving 35 years along the border. Said the service would be a perfect place for someone with my attitude, even if they said otherwise. He said he’d teach me what I needed to know if I were willing to learn. He’d quit the gin if I’d quit the streets.
“I’m not stupid, I knew that this would be my last chance to get away from this place. This world never wanted me anyways. I’d do us both a favor and leave as soon as I could.
He taught me about machines and electronics. I even made some extra cash on the side by fixing vid-sets and radios and computers. He worked me harder than I’d ever been worked before. He taught me to take pride in my work because that was how people would ultimately judge me and that anything worth starting is worth finishing, whether its a repair project or a fight. He died of a bad liver just before my 18th birthday, so he never knew if he kept me from wasting my life away or not. I guess he’d know based on whether he was really damned or not.
“I passed the acceptance exam the first time and became a scout along the Vargr border. But that’s all in my service records. You can read the unclassified bits at least…”
Ishmael James passed the application test for service in the IISS, but was only narrowly accepted due to a borderline psychological profile. He was found to be anti-social with paranoid delusional tendencies, especially concerning authority figures. His interpersonal skills are extremely weak and could lead to conflicts with potential crew members. His high intelligence and strong analyzing/troubleshooting abilities make him an adequate candidate. It was suggested that he be stationed on small, non-critical bases in the ground maintenance division servicing small ship electronics. He already possessed rudimentary skill in electronic repair and would require minimal formal training.
Following basic orientation, he was sent to pilot’s school to qualify on sub-200 ton craft, both spaceships and jumpships. After a successful completion of this course, Apprentice James was assigned to a small field survey support outpost awaiting ‘C-school’ openings for basic ship’s tech postings. Temporary duties included buoy and transponder testing/repair and simple base maintenance (electrical). The following two years included computer and mechanical systems training. He became qualified to service ship’s hydraulic systems and control configurations.
After completing training, James was moved to a deep survey base inside Vargr space. Further information is classified. App. James’s computer and mechanical skills improved over the following four-year assignment. Duties required that vacc suit skill level B qualifications be held.
After a successful deployment, James was transferred to Field Communications as an open space ship’s tech. This meant that he would now oversee minor repairs to x-boat systems aboard a long-range tender. Communications skill was needed to effectively troubleshoot the equipment. Formal training into classified encryption technologies and hardware were provided. Due to shortages in personnel, he had to stand watch on the sensor boards. His knowledge of the inner workings of the sensor array made that position a logical choice.
During the beginning of his fourth term, he and another crewman, Friedrich Stracker, were both given a reprimand and 60 days extra duty without pay for fighting. Both sentences were shortened by the impending military action of that year. A Vargr corsair raiding fleet crossed into Imperial space and local units were mobilized to provide fleet intelligence and logistical support. James was paired with a competent pilot, Stracker, to provided deep penetration surveys. Stracker taught Mr. James basic hand-to-hand combat skills with bladed weapons during jump. This saved James’ life when they were caught at a forward base when it came under attack from the Vargr. James was a casualty, however; a grenade went off near him and badly injured his leg. The damage could only be partially repaired at a forward hospital unit and he acquired a slight limp in addition to lowering his endurance; long periods of the knee bearing any weight causes it to become swollen and painful. During his recovery, James trained with a handgun for shipboard protection. After his recovery, but while still on light duty, he and Stracker were sent on a deep penetration mission of some importance; details are classified. He was given an immediate re-enlistment pending the end of their mission. The fighting continued for another year and James became somewhat skilled in long firearms.
Following the police action, Ishmael James was promoted and transferred to Administration/operations for a period of relaxed service and debriefing. Running psych evaluations indicated a possible breakdown due to post traumatic stress syndrome. The problem was amplified by the fact that the action that brought the condition on was classified and he could not discuss it with anyone until further notice. Upper management felt that he had become a security risk, given his knowledge of computer and coding systems/methods currently in use. He spent 3 years in operations as an instructor’s aide, but proved to be a poor teacher, instead increasing his own skills. He kept to himself and rarely talked to anyone except his partner, Friedrich Stracker.
He was allowed to re-enlist for a sixth term despite having been reprimanded (again) for insubordination. He was transferred to technical department and given further training in starship ops which included design and maintenance of jump drives and the specialized controls used by them. In the first year of his term, he was shot by an unknown assailant while on liberty. Although he was not robbed, no motive could be found. The local police keep the case open in the event further clues are found.
Even though he wished to retire from the service, a unique event forced him to stay in the service. For an important diplomatic exchange of technical know-how with an influential Vargr warlord, both James and Stracker were specifically named to take part by the Vargr emissary. Both scouts are now on detached duty until further notice with an old Chatl-class 150 dton courier to teach a young Vargr technician new techniques for maintaining starships. This included refurbishing the ship that they were to use. Other Imperial technicians were sent to work with the Vargr fleet.
During this time, Ishmael James was again attacked and almost perished by an unknown assailant while fending off an assassination assault upon the young Vargr tech. Tensions are high as this particular exchange ‘student’ is related to the emissary. He has promised to hold the IISS responsible for her safety and would consider her death as an act of war…
A prized possession of his is an ornate and fine quality blade of Vargr manufacture. He refuses to discuss how he obtained it and most people just assume it is a trophy of his involvement in the short ‘war’ with the Vargr.