Prologue: On the Run
Running. I’m used to it by now. But this type of running—fleeing for your life—well, it’s in a word: different. There’s just something about it that always feels like the first time. Maybe, it’s the heart-racing rush of absolute adrenaline pumping through your veins. Maybe, it’s the fact riveting your conscience with every thump of a step that your pathetic life hangs in the balance. Maybe, it’s the bizarre high you get from it all. Maybe, I’m crazy. Scratch that. I am crazy. You have to be—to end up in my position now, entangled with the bloody underground mob that fancifully calls themselves the Collectors. They’re definitely the wrong sort to cross, which is probably what I have done.
Wait. I most certainly have done that. And how do I know? Well let’s just say I work—worked—for them. So, I know how they operate. I’m very well aware what they do to any poor soul that happens to not make nice. Which brings me back to the sticky situation I am in now—fleeing for my life. Yeah, that. Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned with anyone catching up to me. I’m too good. Nobody can catch me. Nobody. Not when I’m trekking by myself. A life pretty much lived nearly on the run has proven that much. But, as circumstances have presented themselves so interestingly, it happens that I am not. I’m not alone. The very person I should have killed for bounty like the countless others, I’m helping escape. See? Did I not say I am crazy?
I really didn’t have a choice. Okay. Maybe I did. We always have a choice they say, whoever they are. I made my choice though. Did I make the right choice? It’s debatable. I would like to think I did. Given the consequences now, would I go back and change it? I don’t know. Maybe. But after seeing him, I knew I couldn’t. There was no possible way I could. I’m already in too deep. Hopefully, I will not regret it; I better not, for the boy’s sake at least.
For any of Nylron residents flying in their pods overhead, the glimpse of two shadowy figures sprinting down a long barely lit alleyway, wouldn’t be too uncommon. Not here on Nylron. The gritty, dark urban underbelly of this side of the Sector. Sector, meaning the Sector Galaxy, which isn’t too far away from the Milky Way. The whole nasty planet is pretty much like this, except for the Wastelands. Anyhow, this is sure to happen everyday…People, Drones—human clones—or native Nyltar—nasty blue reptilian like creatures that have an ugly greed streak—running for their lives, being caught up in bad deals with the wrong sort like us; well, whoever up there, if they happened to see us, which is unlikely, given the time of night, wouldn’t think twice to look again. That has its advantages—but in times like these, help wouldn’t be unwanted.
“Oh no! Great! There’s two right behind us!” The Kid—that’s what I’m calling him for now—shouts out, distraught. He’s looking back, his eyes widened, mouth falling agape; he’s almost faltering.
“Keep moving!” I bellow, and this seems to kick reason back into his skull. Thankfully. I feel sweat trickle down my furrowed brow. My breaths are becoming shallow; I can feel my chest heaving. My thighs are aching horribly. The heat of exhaustion is flaming in my cheeks. This isn’t the time to give up. Not me. Not now. Not ever.
I hear their taunting, gurgling laughter. The Goons. The brainless fingers of the Collectors. Suddenly, I feel a blast of a laser beam sizzle past—centimeters—from my wishing hair. I just paid for this wig. I curse beneath my breath. Eyes narrowed—I turn back. Grasping a better grip onto my handgun, I take aim of the nearest one, at his bobbing bulbous head. This Goon’s scaly skin shimmers translucent blue-green in the dusky, damp light from a nearby factory building. I can barely make out his forked black tongue hissing at me. I could vomit. I fire.
The bright blaze of red laser gores itself straight through the center of his forehead. And I crack a valiant smile, as from my periphery I see his body crash and splatter itself behind us. His friend angered, yells something unintelligible, and with no remorse continues to gain on us.
“You’re not getting away that easily! You filthy traitor!” This Larghan’s English is awfully broken. Moron. “Nobody betrays Gha Rul and lives!”
Watch me, I think notoriously. I quickly make note of our surrounding, scanning as fast as possible. I smile again catching glimpse of something that might just help. Nearly dilapidated is hanging pipe, a good three feet in circumference—my guessing. I hear from behind that armor-suited idiot yacking into his wrist communicator and I grimace. Not a good sign. I need to take him out as swiftly as possible.
I press the trigger, and there’s the bright light again—and a jarring BANG! when the heated beam collides into the rustic metal shambling onto the ground. We hurtle ahead just in time, avoiding its noisy crash. The panged yelp of the Goon verifies he isn’t so lucky. I glance to the Kid to see if he’s okay—and he looks like he’s going to pass out, be sick, or both very soon. Even in the poor light, it’s extremely noticeable in the hunkering way he’s carrying himself now; his breathing is haggard, and his stare weak. Poor kid. He’s probably not used to this type of labor. I need to think fast.
“Quick, over here!” I say, and, taking an immediate left, I lead him into a shadowy nook hidden nearly by a blockading, metallic box-like structure. The air here is stifling and overpowering with nauseating fumes. My stomach turns in disgust and my nostrils flare. “I—I think we’ve outrun them, for now at least…We should be good for a few minutes; so, now we rest.”
The Kid releases a sigh of complete relief and without hesitation slides down the side of the dark, brooding building, slinking his long lanky legs outward. He’s breathing terribly, clutching at his side, and what I can see of his angled face cast in the greenish glow of a nearby orb, his face is flushed, glossy with drenched sweat. His short hair is plastered against his forehead, his pale blue eyes despondent.
“You okay?” I whisper, almost worried.
“Yeah,” he wheezes, exasperated. “I’ll—I’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” I mutter, unconvinced, and I take an anxious look around the corner of our narrow niche to assure myself there’s no other Goons close by. I don’t see any, as of now. I remove my black gloves, and feel my face. I didn’t realize how balmy my own face was as well. That had been a hell of a run. His gasping regulates into easier breaths, and I see himself straighten his body upright. He’s looking at me now, bewildered.
He swallows nervously. “Who are you?” he says, with the same perplexity seeping from his eyes.
“Who I am is irrelevant,” I answer curtly.
“You were going to kill me, weren’t you? But then you end up saving my life? I—I’m just trying to—I guess take all of this in.” He drops his face into his hands; I can see the emotions riddling him.
“I know,” I tell him. I wish I could give him the information he wants; but, I can’t. Not now. Maybe, later. If he lives through this. I just have to keep him alive. Maybe, that’s what I’ll end up having to do regardless.
“I’m so confused!” he says, angered. He has every right to be—especially given the circumstances. I would be too, in his stead. “Do you care to tell me why those guys…Those weird looking—whoever they are…Why were they trying to kill us? Why were you going to kill me? Were you working for them?”
This kid’s smart, I’ll give him that. He can easily connect the dots. His mind isn’t so idle as I previously surmised. Note to self: remember not to underestimate your opponent, again. I make an intentional glare at the golden glint of the marked talisman hanging about his neck, beneath his jacketed tunic. I then return his inquisitive stare, with a foreboding glance of my own. “You’ll find out, soon. I promise.”
His face remains inscrutable for a long moment, before he slowly nods reluctantly. “Okay.” I’m glad he’s not pressing the matter. The last thing I wanted to do is sedate him with a stun-ray. He’s cute after all. But that’s something I wouldn’t tell him ever. I don’t believe in boosting people’s egos. They can do that themselves.
“Do you think you can stand now?” I ask him, and he inclines his head.
“Good,” I say, happy, “let’s go.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” a new, gravelly voice sneers, and my stomach drops. “Except for into two bags, sent back to Gha Rul—dead.”
I look to the opening of the nook and I see none other than the slimy, no-good Gorgon, Rath, looming over us, his handgun aimed directly at me. He’s another bounty hunter and he’s not by himself either. There’s an armor-suited Goon with him; his gun is aimed the Kid, and I’m for the first time fearful. Not for my life, but for the Kid’s. I don’t dare show it though. We could both die, in this very instant. We’re caught off guard. They must have transported themselves here. Rath’s snake-like eyes glow lurid red in the darkness. I hate them.
We attempt to stand but, Rath, growls at us to not move or he’ll shoot. “I should have known you’d end up here, Rath,” I hissed, my mouth up-turned; he snarls back at me. I’ve always hated him, even when I technically worked under the Collectors. The only thing I ever thanked them for was the money—that was it. Nothing more.
“Funny how things work out, isn’t Angel?” he mocks, with something of a strained burble, which I suppose is a laugh. “You betraying the Collectors, after all they have done for you…After so many times of saving your pathetic human hide, just to turn on them? Typical of your kind. That’s why you can never trust humans…They’re consistently unpredictable—”
“Save your overzealous, self-righteous banter Rath,” I snap. “Nobody cares.”
“So ungratefully snippy, even before your death—Not the attitude I would have, if I knew death was as imminent as it will be for you both…You should be an all regards gracious I haven’t killed you by now…At least now we know where your true loyalties lie…With humans. Should have known…I knew it was a bad deal for Gha Rul to assign you a position…And what happened? Exactly what I knew would, all along. And now I’m here to finish the job you should have.”
“I would have preferred you had shot me immediately, if I knew I would have to listen to your meandering, lame speech.”
“Silence, you meaningless, wretched girl!” he shouts, the Goon is hissing along, flashing its nasty black tongue. I could, again, puke. “You die now!”
There’s a sudden blast of blistering, blinding blue light, and I pull in a gulp of air knowing it very well could be my last.