The son of a bitch smiled at me. I remember it like yesterday and it was a good thirty years ago. Looking out at this poor broken hulk spread over the lightless face of this rock makes me infinitely sad. And to think of how the day started, same as all the others. Today the legend ends.

I am an old man. I realized it a few years ago and that secret knowledge has served me well. I don't try to play the young man's game. We old swabbies have our own methods, the sliding glacial pace honed over years off planet and pinched in artificial gravity. It came to me when I took the shuttle down to Fleet. Walking the Earth felt weird, too grabby and chaotic. I got back up here as quick as I could.

Up in the morning cycle, a fresh day dawning. I fuss with the new uniform. Admirals have way too many buttons for my liking. That and they just changed the design again. My mentor once told me that you are only good until they change the uniform on you. That was about 3 uniform changes ago. I know I am out to pasture. Besides, I like this color of blue better. The new cut also helps hide my long battled paunch. Up to specs and off to the bridge, wearing that same path in the deck plates I have a hundred times before.

A quick tour of bridge keeps my mind at ease. Once a captain, always a captain. The crew here is good, usually on the way up or on the way down in their careers. We are on the ninth day of an automated burn through the backside of the Mars gravity well. The orange basketball is off to the starboard side. We are too far out to bask in the Sun's reflected energy, too close to skip the well without a 3-week engine burn. Not much to do but ride the program out. I have made my appearance and placated the crew. A nod to the young Captain and I retire to the Officer's Club.

My name is Joseph Armin Selinger. I have been in the Terran Navy for 53 years. I started as a second lieutenant and I am now a Vice Admiral. I serve on Winter Station, which sits on the now peaceful Pan-Martian frontier. See, Earth built four stationary starbases at the cardinal points of the Solar equator just beyond the orbit of Mars. Some genius named them after the seasons and likely got a promotion for it. During the years between the first and second Intersystem wars they served as the iron fist that held a tight leash on Mars. They were the stationary jump off points that turned the unhappy planet into a seething ball of rebellion. Winter is on the Solar South. It’s the newest of the bunch, in the middle of being rebuilt while the second war ended. A suicide attack by the Martian heavy cruiser Ronin destroyed her predecessor. A spy supposedly got the defense stand down codes from a loose-lipped techie. The court-martials were on the planet wide net for months. Such was the universe when I completed my stint at Fleet Academy and jumped my first tug to the Yamatsu Polar Fleet Yards. There, I joined the new bridge crew of the Jackal, a high-speed system runner. Our assignment: hunting escaped Martian war criminals.

Off the command deck and down the lift nine decks to the recreation area. My destination, the Spiral Arms Officers Club, the exclusive domain of old space biscuits like me. Winter Station is a stop along the way for officers now, whereas it used to be the destination. I push the real wood doors and make my way to My Stool, as designated by a brass plaque and years of use. From this perch I keep my finger on the pulse of the station, both officially and metaphorically. You can't run a port without keeping your ear to the sea, such as it is. Manny wordlessly slides me a coffee as I jack into the secure command system. My OS hasn't been changed in years, and the implant in my head needs special software to interface, but being an Admiral has its privileges. That and I'm not too keen on doctors after the job they did on my eye. It still aches when they cycle the gravity. The man who cost me that eye would soon be the topic of conversation. Manny always asked me about him. Hell, everybody did. He is the yin to my yang, the black to my white. As I read the shipping reports being written on my retina, Manny hammed it up by giving me a stern salute that rung off his hollow faceplate. I bought him that arm from a scrap trader in Barcelona, back on Earth. He could sympathize with me. He is so old, he has to repair himself. A living antique. It’s a hell of a thing to outlive your time.

"Not online today Cap'n?" he asked in his tinny droid voice.

"Zero-Zero Manny." Bi-nese slang had crept into my conversations with the old bot.

"Looking for sympathy - file not found."

"I still have the receipt for that arm, you know."

"And have you make your own coffee? Ha times 3 Cap'n."

Satisfied with the last word, Manny ended the verbal joust. He winked his eye shutter and went back to polishing the shining bar. Manny is the only person left that talks to me like that. An equal. I've had no family for ages, and everyone else wants to pin a medal on my chest or snap a salute off every time I blink.

A few hours later, Manny sidled up close, a sure sign he wanted to tell me something under the table. The only other people in the club the whole morning were two Fleet Security goons, dressed head to toe in jet black. They only clicked off their encrypted voicebox implants once, to order a bottle of hard liquor. Then they slunk off to the darkest corner of the room. I swear they grow those guys in a big lizard tank someplace.

See, the problem with old men, or droids, is that nobody expects them to be listening. Manny may be sixty years out of date on the outside, but decrypting voice coms was his first job. He filled me in on all sorts of things, all of which he "heard in passing". His innocent act was hard to top. Seems the spooks were running security on a salvage operation. "A shitty rustjob in the Belt" was the delicate term used. Some big shot wanted it all hushed up. Fleet Security would only roll over for a Senator or a CorpHead. Nothing too strange I thought, till Manny capped it off with:

"They found her Joe."

"Zero-Zero Manny. That’s not funny."

"Its the Chastity Joe. No mistake."

"One-One Manny? Really?"

"One-One Joe. One-One."

So, a fresh faced second lieutenant, straight from Fleet Acad, pissed that he missed the glory and action of the biggest interplanetary war the Solar System had ever seen, has something to prove. The Jackal is new, fast and most importantly, under gunned for the job she is assigned. Seems that the Terran government learned something at the end of the last war: Don't let them go to ground. All kinds of rebels had made the Second Intersystem War part two of their anti-Earth careers. Not this time. We stormed into the chaos of post-war Martian space and herded them up like wolves among sheep. We keep a low profile and bagged some big names: Killian Zakamarco, governor of Utopia Planitia; Jubei Chen, third in command of Martian Intelligence; Alice Acheson, Press Secretary for the Free Mars Party. We didn't have much trouble, as the war had come down to a rout. Then we met the Vulcan - last of the Martian Defense Force capital ships. It cut us in two without so much as a blip of static on the com. I saved about four people from a crew of eighty-six. Three days in a rescue pod and a month in the sickbay earned me a promotion and a shiny medal for bravery. It was at the Fleet Medical station in Armstrong City, Luna, that I heard the first rumors about him.

Hiram Leibowitz was born on Mars and it all went down hill for him from there. His mother died of redlung while he was a boy. His father was a rabid seditionist, and he got himself shot distributing Free Mars propaganda at the Ares shuttleport. Orphaned and angry, Hiram acquired a forged identcard and joined the Martian Defense Force at the age of 17. The name on that card would become infamous in short order: Roger Caleb McCalister.

"Jolly" Roger became a folk hero on Mars. He was part of the Great Raid. He held the line at the Battle of Phobos. He fought till the last day, escaping only when the Parliament fell under the shadow of our foreign flag. He was a rogue, a patriot, a cold hard killer. He was a jack-of-all-trades: bounty hunter, smuggler, gambler, heartbreaker, legend. The stories about Roger grew far beyond his actual actions. He became the Robin Hood of the Inner System. All I cared about was that he was a rebel. And rebels needed to be locked up. Burning for revenge, I fought tooth and nail to get on the assignment. Rebel busting was now a personal endeavor.

Rebel. Everybody on the losing side of the Second Intersystem War got that label. Earth, Venus, The Moon, and Mercury versus Mars, a few Gas Giant mining companies and about half of the Jupiter lunar colonists. It was a lopsided fight from the start. Turns out that Roger and I had matching chips on our shoulders. The Last Son of Mars began to wage his own personal war against Earth. From a simple fugitive, Roger kept right on building his legend. And his tool for the job was the Chastity Mangle.

The Chastity started her life as a Roman Catholic hospital ship, comically built on the Merciless class light cruiser frame. Its primary role was the high-speed transfer of wounded from the Martian front to more secure medical facilities Earthside. Painted stark white, she hung like an angel over the bloody sands of Mars. After the Faith, a sister ship running a similar mission, was shot down by an overzealous guard patrol, the whole series was put up for auction. The Chastity was at the auction yard for about an hour before Roger and his crew pinched her. He parked his little MDF runner, the Icarus, neatly in the spot as his calling card. It was a wise choice. She was perfect for a smuggler. He gutted her, overbuilt the engines and rechristened her the Chastity Mangle. I looked it up a few years ago. Seems some more zealous monks way back in the Dark Ages had designed chastity belts to keep girls pure while their men were off at war. A mangle belt went a little bit further, less with the chastity, more with the mangling. One of his crew even did a space walk and painted some nose art on her. This was a Catholic girl gone wild. The transponder array they slapped in had ID selections for 100 different ships. It was never the same sensor ghost twice. My favorite was the Perishables Freighter YumYum Bunny. I almost didn't chase him I was laughing so hard.

With his new ship, he slowly built himself up from a nuisance to Terran Enemy Number One. I would be chasing him for the better part of the next 20 years, and at the time he was my singular focus. The war never really ended for Roger. He kept right on attacking fleet targets, sabotaging and waylaying anything with an Earth registration on the hull. Eventually, he fell into crime to finance his escapades. One thing about Roger, though. He never killed in cold blood. He always stopped to help damaged ships, and always left enough fuel in his victims to limp to port. He was a classic romantic highwayman, kissing the ladies as he stole their jewels.

In my brash youth, I thought nothing of talking openly about wanting to get my hands on him. I was a media darling for my 15 minutes after the Jackal fiasco, and I mentioned that "Jolly Roger" would be brought to justice if I had anything to do with it. For some odd reason, this amused Roger to no end. I was to be his nemesis, the snarling puppy chasing the mountain lion. About 3 weeks after I was reassigned to the Hydra, the first of the pranks occurred. While on shore leave at Toshi station, my shuttle mysteriously flashwelded itself onto the landing platform. A small skull and crossbones card was taped neatly to the access port, with the note "Got ya first" penned on the back. The giant red paint "Free Mars" graffiti on the side was less subtle.

On and on over the years, he got me first. He piped sewage into the fresh water system at Fleet Refuel while I was on furlough. While I was at an Official Inspection and Decoration Ceremony for exemplary service, he torpedoed Admiral Cartwright's personal yacht in full view of audience. I had promised to keep it safe personally. He thawed a cryogenic shipment of bees in the cargo hold of my first command, the Zephyr, three days out from port on its maiden voyage. The journey-rigged heating system was quite elaborate from what I remember.

I only ever caught him once. On Earth, at a South American brothel. Kicking in the door with our guns drawn, the look on his face was classic. I wasn't very nice to poor Roger that day. Regardless of my handling, he smiled all the way back to lockup. When he found out how I had shot up the engines of the Chastity while she was in port, he frowned at me. "Not very sporting Cap'n". He then promised to make me famous, only once. Assuming he was trying to barter his way out of jail, I refused, went on a tirade about how he got what he deserved. He smiled all the way through the speech, winked at me and said "Too late Cap'n. You’re already a star. You're the only one who's ever gonna catch me." He escaped a day later, after seducing a female guard. The Mangle and three other ships disappeared from Fleet impound, the records fried for cover. They popped up one by one, stripped of engine parts. He was right. I was famous after that. I was the only Fleeter to ever catch the famous Jolly Roger.

Off and on though the years I was assigned to chase him. It became my specialty. No one else ever came close. Fleet Security even investigated me to make sure I wasn't in cahoots with him. Roger didn't help the situation by sending me a birthday card, saying Mom missed me at Thanksgiving last year. An embarrassing conversation with my superiors soon followed. It eventually turned into a joke, pools taken at Dispatch on the day Roger would pop up again.

When Roger did pop up again, he did it in a big way. The Titan Casino Heist was the biggest robbery in the history of manned space flight. Turns out that the owner of the Casino was a Martian profiteer who bled the coffers of the MDF dry during the War years. A crook and a traitor to Mars. Roger took it all very personally. The Chastity blew through the Saturn sensor field like it was shot from a plasma cannon. I think Roger bit off a bit more than he could chew. A lot of powerful people lost big money when he made his run for it, and they wanted blood. Fleet issued me six sets of emergency orders in the hour after the news hit the nets. Each one gave me freer reign and less reason not to shoot on sight. I caught him hiding in the atmosphere of Jupiter a week later, just south of the equator Sunside.

No way I was going to let him off by dusting him. I wanted to humiliate him. I wanted to slap him in leg irons and drag him to the stand myself. When we finally found him, just hanging dead in the top of the ionosphere, I got a funny feeling. Was he giving up? Sure, every bounty hunter in the Solar System had taken a potshot at him in the last few days, but why stop now? Roger struck me as the blaze of glory type. The Chastity just hung, trailing her fueling array and drifting with the planets gravity. We locked every gun we had on her. The tactical officer was getting a headache from all the screeching lock on alarms. I had him dead to rights, pinned in the crosshairs. Then I saw it. He was standing on the bridge, looking right at us. I magnified the screen and I saw him wave, make his hand into a gun, and pull the trigger. Too late.

The blast bent the superframe like a paperclip. Hull breaches, vent alarms, fire warnings, everything was screaming for attention. I got an exploding plasma panel in the face, taking my left eye clean out of my head. I passed out from shock, a few minutes later, but not before I heard a metallic thud shake through the ship. The Chastity tagged us with an emergency beacon. George Larson, my first officer, limped the Yoshimitsu back to port. Roger had laid a trap for me. He was pumping drive plasma out of his engines for hours before we arrived. When he flashed his vents, the explosion tossed us like a rag doll.

I found out years later he shadowed us back to port. When he disappeared, everybody felt a little bit cheated.

After my second recovery, Roger became my obsession for years. I really hit rock bottom. I took a leave of absence from the Navy and ran up an unpayable tab buying leads on where the hell he could have holed up from the wrong kind of people. I was about to get an extra hole in my head after starting a brawl on a Venus-bound Cruiseliner when salvation came from out of the blue. Seems my self destructive ways drew the wrong kind of attention. Roger saved me from the Lunar Syndicates - he paid the bounty online anonymously and sent me a letter. "Get a better hobby Cap'n". The bounty hunter actually helped me up from the floor after taking the pistol off my forehead. Roger had to of have had somebody watching me.

He sent me a copy of Moby Dick on the 25th anniversary of the day I caught him. A rare one, actually printed on paper and everything. I never did get the chance to thank him.

I moved on with my career, helped in no small part by my famous quarry and all the stories I had to tell. As it is with all things, our time passed. They still tell stories about Roger, but they are like fairy tales. Mars and Earth have mended fences and moved on to other things. Jump gates, out of system travel, colonies across Orion Arm. They make stories about the distances between planets seem small and unimportant. So much the pity.

Now I'm standing in a cargo bay, looking at the bone colored hide of the once proud Chastity Mangle all dashed to pieces. The survey crew says she has been adrift for years, derelict. I got them to cut me off the chunk of hull just up from the starboard access port, 9 feet square.

The old vacuum paint is in amazing shape. The Vargas girl, a healthy shade of green, is kneeling buxomly. In her open palm she is holding the key to the elaborate yet skimpy chastity belt that she wears. Her surprised look, little red mouth shaped in an O, and delicate hand raised to bottom lip give an amazing impression of girlish shock. It's her, The Chastity Mangle, church girl and hell raiser all summed up in a masterpiece of cheesecake art. I'm installing it in the bar on Winter.

Hiram would have wanted it that way.

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