Notorious

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A smuggler about to be sentenced to death is offered one last chance to correct his past and find purpose in his life. He's on the run, but he has one last job to finish before he submits to fate.

My first story, and possibly the start of a series.

Submitted: June 13, 2016

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Submitted: June 13, 2016

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Notorious

By Randy J.

 

 

Perhaps the most notorious watering hole in the galaxy, the Broken Bottle was home to the most vicious crowd of thieves, criminals, and madmen that the unholy bonds of space and time had to offer. It was also here that I came to meet one of the most curious circle of outcasts that I ever had the pleasure of knowing, even if it was for a short time.

I was drunk. I had spent most of my afternoon swaying back and forth between my favorite corner of filth at the bar to my favorite corner stall in the bathroom. I had just returned from another, well let’s just say it was successful, smuggling operation from across the nebula, and I figured it was time to lay low. Then I quickly realized that I instead wanted to drink myself stupid, and 50 credits later there I sat, chugging this piss-poor excuse for poison while I avoided the stares and tentacles of all the murderous outlaws who just wanted another excuse to kill. I was happy. But the Feds didn’t care.

I knew even before I heard their siren that I was screwed. My boat had a Federal Ship detector on board, since their messages traveled on a certain frequency, and the moment they landed beside this hellhole my goggles began flaring red and blue, partly blinding me in my efforts to fit my mug down my throat. Their high-pitched alarm oscillated at the speed of sound, warning any poor sap they hunted that it was already too late in an effort to avoid any useless confrontation. Annoyed, I turned my drunken self to face the door. Raising my goggles, I rubbed the top pair of my eyes and sluggishly blinked, first the top pair, then the bottom. My soggy overalls were dampened by all the beer my overly-eager mouth had failed to contain, and in my stylish work boots and fashionable goggles I felt that I had unwittingly found the exact outfit I wanted to be arrested in. Surprisingly, I wasn’t in any mood to resist. Hell, in my drunken stupor, I was even relieved. In all my years as an interplanetary smuggler, I knew eventually that I would end up dead in an old cell block or by their hand, if not by my own hand. I was only prolonging the inevitable, the life of a smuggler could only end one way. In the end they always find you, they always try you, and they always kill you. They always win, and I knew that more than most. But as it turned out, I was a bigger idiot than I realized.

All the eyes inside the pub were on the door, a unified wave of hands, claws, and suckers coming down to caress one weapon or another while their owners hurried to finish off whatever drink they were struggling to stomach. No one wanted to fight the Feds, there was never any use if you wanted to survive. But sometimes, if they were lucky, their doomed soul would pop off multiple rounds at them as they swarmed, killing one or two of the tacky bastards before they themselves were reduced to nothing more than a pile of flesh and bone. Still though, the monsters’ unease was redundant; I knew who the Federation were coming for. I had been careless on my last run, left too many holes wide open, slipped too much information to whomever was listening. In truth, I stopped caring. This was no life to live, living in a dingy ship, going from star to star on a damned fool’s errand, dodging custody, never staying too long for fear that my past might catch up with me, never having a plan to settle down and live the life that my father had so desperately wanted for us when he began his stupid little business. Getting drunk was my only solace, the empty, desolate face at the bottom of the mug my only companion. So, I thought, I might as well get this over with.

The door swung open with all the grace of a piece-of-shit door. Outside, the black terrain could be seen in the dying sunlight, spotted by a random array of purple oases that characterized this side of the planet. As if by a drunk valet, an assembly of ships could be briefly seen strewn about the land. Depending on the criminal’s occupation, these ships ranged in size from just a few-yards-long to over a hundred-feet in diameter, and those weren’t even the ugliest in the bunch. None of these, however, compared in size to the Federation’s massive half-mile long cruiser, one of the smallest vessels in their arsenal and the personal carrier of a worse monster than any that have set foot on this planet.

As I sat there thinking this, I began to make out one of the ship’s many multi-functional turrets before a large black shadow moved its way into the door.  At twelve feet tall, he had to stoop down to enter the door, but this was no problem. A glint of light reflected off of the dreaded black insignia, crossed rifles and an open hand, a hand that so often brought death, perched upon a blue, circular cap on the bastard’s head. His large, muscular shoulders could barely fit through the door, the dirty wooden floor of the pub cracked under the immense weight of the policeman. He wore the blue overcoat of a captain, the black buttons reaching all the way to the brute’s throat. A grey, wrinkled face scanned the pale faces of the bar’s unethical patrons, challenging anyone to try whatever stupid thought was racing through their head. 5 of his cronies filed in behind him, their massive bulk blocking whatever dying light was left. They always came fast, they always came with a show of force, and they never, never messed around. My head hung low as I glimpsed the 3-inch scratch I inflicted on his left boot the first time we met, the only time that I had seen an officer of the law show mercy due to my young age. I remember how angry I had felt when he picked up my father, right hand enclosing around his neck even as my father found it harder and harder to breathe. Then I remember grabbing my knife, charging… and that was it. I woke up with a broken arm in an empty house. Except for the note. Slumping my shoulders, I rose from my seat, head lifting to face the monster from my nightmares and the bringer of my fate. I didn’t even know his name. His black eyes were already on mine.

“I, ugh, didn’t tink you wuld take this longuh.” At the last word, a burp escaped from deep within, carrying the scent of beer and last night’s chum. The shifty eyes all turned to me as I struggled to stay up and keep my dignity.

Smiling, The Captain replied in kind. “I gave you a chance.” The deep voice resonated across the room. “I told you, when I brought your father down, that I was giving you another chance at life. You were dumb enough not to listen. Now come with me.” With not another word, he reached out one massive grey arm and held it, palm upward. His men stood upright behind him, reminding me of how little choice I had.

Resigned, I took two steps toward him, stumbled, tripped over my own feet, and, before Odd and everyone, went sprawling across the room to the center of the pub. And then it happened. As if waiting for just such an excuse, a red beam of light erupted from the floor two inches from my bruised face. Before I had a chance to question it, it circled around my chubby body faster than I could follow it, burning and crackling through the heavy wooden floor as if it was toilet paper (In one corner of the pub, it might as well have been), flames sprouting around the seared edges like dancers on the floor. Before I fell, the last thing I saw was the Captain’s wide eyes witnessing it all, his vindictive smile turning into a frown of rage, his open palm clenching into a fist as his men ran to stop me from escaping. Then, I fell through the floor, screaming as I dropped ten feet into a small ship’s deck. Groaning, I gingerly sprouted to my feet and turned around to witness my rescuer. “Howdy,” the raindrop shaped head said. And then we were off.

The sudden lurch forward threw me off my feet, pinning me to the cabin wall. I started screaming, goggles continually flashing yellow as they sensed the potential danger I was in. I was pinned to the wall of the ship, arms flailing uselessly as I began to cry, fearing for my life as the ship hurled through the underground darkness I never knew lay beneath the pub. A tiny pinpoint of light could be seen far off in the distance, growing steadily larger and dimmer as the last of the sun’s rays ebbed from the face of the planet’s eastern end. Finally, the ship shot out from the end of the tunnel, rocketing into the atmosphere and leaving the dingy planet and the raging policemen behind. Becoming accustomed to the ship’s acceleration, I finally tore myself from the wall and stood there in the alien ship, dumbfounded and swaying in a semi-sobered stance. Sliding the ship into Auto, the pilot slowly swiveled around in his chair, stood up and flashed me a smile as he handed me a bucket. Taking it, I stared at him, then nodded to him my gratitude as I bent over and vomited 5 pounds of liquor and shame into the bucket before blacking out.

#

The ship’s captain had explained everything to me when I came to the next morning. They had been in need of a smuggler when they got word of a notorious runner who spent his time at The Broken Bottle. When they saw the Fed ship land, they took cover in the underground tunnel that the bar’s patrons used to bootleg cheap weapons. They overheard the Captain’s booming voice and, for whatever odd reason, decided to take action. Using infrared, they utilized the ship’s carving laser, which can carve through steel in case of rescue. Luckily, no other Federation ships were nearby to intercept before they jumped ahead through one of the unsanctioned wormholes created to make travel between systems possible. By the time he had finished explaining I was still lost.

At first I was frightened, but then the rest of the crew marched in, happy faces simultaneously scaring me and making me sick. I was put at ease once I saw that one of them was a Monicarian, my own people, as a Monicarian never wishes ill against another. It is literally against our DNA. We couldn’t even if we wanted to. Still, I was confused, I had no idea who they were, what their intentions were, and most importantly where in Odd’s good graces did they have the audacity and stupidity to piss off one of the most elite killing machines that ever existed. And so they told me their story.

They were desperate. A few months ago, something was stolen from Androck's, the pilot, home planet. It was apparently very precious as the planet quickly began to panic while they searched every cave, crevice, and mountain in the solar system for it, but to no avail. That is, until they received a call. Whatever it was that they were looking for was, unfortunately, in the hands of a pirate crew captained by a fearsome alien known only as Riddick the Brown. He wanted ransom, an enormous sum of money that, if given, would bankrupt the entire planet and send all of its inhabitants into crippling poverty. Every month that he didn’t receive the ransom, he tripled it. Now it was too late to even acquire the necessary funds capable of satisfying the greedy old fart, yet the planet’s King refused to admit this, instead begging the pirate to allow him a couple of more months to obtain the rest of the money. This they did for fear that, if the pirate were to not receive his bounty, he would make off with his newfound treasure. Or worse.

“And so we realized that we needed to steal back what’s ours, or else it be lost forever,” Androck concluded. Ereeka, my fellow Monicarian, silently nodded her head in agreement. Her friendship with the other two crew members apparently began while she was attending school on Westodia, Androck’s home planet. All three of the crew members were present when the pirate broadcast his message from the skies, and she resolved to help her new friends. She was like most Monicarians, short, skinny, but with a pride bigger than that of an earthen lion’s. She wore a small grey t-shirt that hugged her body and black cargo-pants that fell down to her bare ankles (our species is not really known for style). Her two pairs of eyes blinked simultaneously, as is courtesy in our customs, and she sat her green legs down under her while she pondered their situation. Ashlen, the crew’s cook and communications handler, sat in a chair across from the bed, her four hands clasped together in front of her into one big fist. She was of a subspecies of Shawanian, a coolly dark-blue base with a sky-blue oval covering most of her torso. Spots of an even darker blue spotted the edge of the oval and along her arms. From her head protruded soft spiky-like growths of blue and yellow, which waved back and forth whenever she moved. As if in response to her growths, Androck sprouted 3 from the bottom of his oval head at random, sometimes retracting them to simulate a stubbly growth across his chin. This was in accordance to Westodian’s custom, as in times of despair they switch between appearances to accommodate stress. His red skin glowed in the cabin light, giving his tall, oval appearance somewhat of a modest stance. Something about the way he carried himself, too, made me curious, as Westodians were extremely humble, rarely even making eye-contact, but not Androck.

“Well, that does sound like a dilemma,” I replied, beginning to understand. They wanted to steal something and smuggle it back. What was I good at? Stealing and smuggling. It made sense that they would ask for my help, after all, father made sure that I got good before he took me on runs. But something weighed on my mind.

“So, if you needed my assistance, why would you wait till now? You said you’ve been needing a smuggler for weeks now.”

“We did not know who to trust with our cargo, we wanted to make sure they wouldn’t take it for themselves and demand the same.” This time it was Ashlen who spoke, her blue and yellow growths waving as she did. Her tall frame dwarfed the chair she was sitting in, yet as skinny as she was she could not fill it. A music player hung from the belt of her denim shorts, which appeared to be a child’s pant-size, wireless earphones tucked away into her pockets before starting conversation. “We have met with many promising men, even Human smugglers, but none who appeared trustworthy. Then we heard of a Monicarian currently somewhere in the Horsehead nebula. We knew that a Monicarian could never betray another of his kin, and so we knew we had to find you.” Ereeka again nodded.

The ship rattled suddenly, making the four of us jerk forward as we sat thinking. We were going through a smaller nebula as we passed, the behemoth of a cloud birthing the last of a new breed of stars. The intense rays from the newborn suns rocked the ship as it passed, making me miss my trashy old transporter. I had that thing tricked out, vortex manipulator, event-horizon cloaking device, the works. Now we were riding in this tacky, but I had to admit, modest Class-B Chevy Galaxy. From what I had seen so far, Androck could have been in love with it. I caught him a couple of times during the conversation gently caressing the walls with the palm of his hand, like rubbing the underbelly of a canine, all the while giving me a straight face. It was creeping me out.

“Well, I am very grateful for what you’ve done for me, and I don’t think I can ever repay you for saving my life. You have my complete and utter undying loyalty for everything, but please, let me just say, you guys are all idiots.” This elicited a look of surprise from all of them. I continued, “Do you guys know who you pissed off back there? Do you have any freaking idea what you just did? You idiots just messed with one of the greatest Federal officers of all time, the man personally in charge of hunting down the best of every criminal, outlaw, and murderer in the entire galaxy.” In the midst of my outbreak, I had gotten up from the bed and paced the cabin floor, thrusting my fist through the air here and there for emphasis. “This man has survived wars using his teeth, and he never rests a minute of his life. The man took down my own father for god’s sake, who the hell do you think you’re messing with here? You just signed your own death warrants without even realizing it, and let me tell you something, you never get away.” When all was said and done, I stopped with my back turned toward the crew, letting my dramatic excerpt sink into their minds and letting the weight of their own foolhardiness creep into their shoulders. Satisfied, I about-faced toward the crew, only to find them plucking at their hands like bored schoolchildren. Again, I was dumbfounded.

Making sure I had finished, Androck spoke. “We understand exactly what we did. We knew what we were getting into the moment that Federal ship landed.” A sudden spark emerged in Androck’s eye. “We are not stupid, we are not fools, and we realize that we may not get out of this alive. But that is the severity of the situation, and we cannot afford to lose this struggle. The consequences are severe either way, but we are all resolved to die if it means that we can return order to this chaos. We must recover what has been lost, and you were our best option. The moment we return our treasure to safety, we are resigned to our fates. That is what we’re dealing with, Monicarian.” Androck held his gaze just a bit longer, his sudden speech throwing me completely off, before nonchalantly going back to examining the surprisingly manicured claws on his hands.

I stood there, staring down at the three of them as if I was seeing them for the first time. They’re crazy, I thought. They’re willing to risk their lives for something that which they personally do not profit. They will die before they’re willing to let a simple treasure get away. But they’re right. If it was a town or country, I probably couldn’t care less if they fell in ruins, it happens all the time and for the most part is inevitable. But an entire planet? I already can’t live with myself, what would happen if I knew I could be responsible for the death and despair of an entire species? My pops raised me better. And suddenly I had purpose.

“Okay, okay, okay,” I said slowly. “You won me over. If it can be helped, I want to help bring your people back to fruition. You have my word.” Which they did.

Androck first raised his large oval head, looked me up and down, and then, with the fire still bright in his eyes, released a big, sickening smile. “Happy to hear it! I know that you Monicarians are a stubborn bunch, so I appreciate whatever it was you did to convince yourself.” At the word ‘stubborn’, Ereeka looked up from her hands, made a sound with her cheeks, and kicked at Androck’s legs. With a wince, he bent down to rub the spot where he was kicked, but the smile never left his face.

Chuckling, I shook my head. “Well then, if we’re going to smuggle aboard a pirate ship, we’re going to need some supplies. Since my ship is most likely towed scrap by now, we’re going to need to go for a quick run.” I would give them a list, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was sure they couldn’t tell the difference between a laser rifle and a leaf-blower.” Ah, and one last thing, I’m going to need to know exactly what we’re smuggling if I’m going to figure out how we’re going to store it, no exceptions. So, if I may be so bold as to ask, what exactly did those damn pirates take that is worth an entire planet’s salary?”

For the first time since I arrived, Ereeka was the one to speak. In clear Monicarian, she answered “We’re smuggling the King’s daughter.”

#

On the way back from the busy market, we tried to look as inconspicuous as possible while the local patrol passed us on their bikes. We were all wearing shawls that covered our face and ankle length cloaks while we paced through the roads, large bricked buildings stacked high on either side thanks to the lower gravity. The high-stacked buildings gave the roads a nice, cool quality to them that gave relief from the twin suns this desert planet revolved around. As inspired as I was to begin this mission, I was immediately put off by the realization that, despite the appearance of Androck’s sparkly little Galaxy, we had no money. This meant that after buying an extra-small space-suit for the princess, we had better luck foraging for weapons rather than finding any that were reasonably priced on the black market. And we were on the planet Demer for Odd’s sake, notorious for its awesome black market weapons. As we walked the streets back to the ship, Ereeka and Ashlen in front, I began to get the feeling that we might be in a little over our heads, only to have my point proven when Androck spoke.

“Hey, if you’re so keen on buying some weapons here, why don’t you just pick-pocket?” Androck asked nonchalantly.

“Because A: keep your freakin’ voice down,” I hoarsely whispered. “And B: do you know how hard it is to pickpocket when you’re seven-feet tall?? I’m good at smuggling man, that’s my game, I suck as a thief.”

“Well there goes options A and B. What about C?”

“I will Cut you.”

“Don’t be so harsh. We could always try and trade something for a little bit of cash.”

“And what do we have of value that you want to trade? Other than these two fine ladies, of course.” I felt a sharp pain across my shin as Ereeka kicked out her right leg behind her.

“Good one.” Androck giggled.

“Thanks. Besides, to buy the necessary amount of weapons that we’re going to need on this trip will cost a small fortune, I thought you had this all planned out when you went to rescue me.”

“Right, that was before the police arrived. We were actually kind of hoping you would have all the stuff we’d need since you’re all, you know, outlawy,” Androck smiled sheepishly. “Don’t you have any connections?”

I stopped mid-track before I caught myself, but corrected and kept walking.

“Ya I used to. That was before, well, when my dad was still in business. I lost his contacts after he was taken away.” It was one of his contacts that turned him in. Androck must have noticed my half-step before, because he chose to stay quiet. “What I’m getting at is, you really don’t know who to trust.”

“Ya, I understand,” Androck nodded. We walked ahead a few more yards before I heard him quietly ask, “Did you and your father get along well?”

Well that’s out of nowhere, I thought. I was quiet, and suddenly the tension between us became awkward. I decided to humor him.

“Uhm, we weren’t on the best of terms. We lived in a run-down part of the capital, and it was hard to find work. My neighborhood had a lot of ties with guerilla groups in the bordering forest, and my father was usually typecast when he went to go look for work. After a while, he decided he’d be better off playing the role.” We were still a good distance from the parking area. Nice time to spill your guts out, I supposed. “Well, when he started doing that, he was finally making money,” I chuckled, maybe a little too hard. “But we wouldn’t really see him much. My brothers and I were really the only ones that looked after each other, mom had left dad a couple of years before when we were still dumpster-diving. After about a year, my dad had earned enough money to buy his own ship, and then he started spending more time with us. He picked up a couple of things, like how to fight and to shoot, and he began teaching us, taking us on runs even. I’m not sure if it was better when we had nothing, but after a while I knew it wasn’t worse. My dad became the best, and he saved almost all of what he had, where I don’t know. I just know my dad tried his best. Eventually, his best wasn’t good enough. I don’t blame him for losing my brothers. I just blame him for getting caught.”

Androck was quiet for almost the rest of the trip. The girls were busy chatting about who knows what, oblivious to our conversation. After a good long while, Androck managed to mutter “Ya. My dad tries his best too,” and then was quiet.

When we began to board the ship, me and Androck shared a glance, nodded, and then parted ways. I began to look for sharp materials on board that I could use for weapons. Finding a couple of random tools, a pair of scissors, and some tape, I got to work. While I worked, I got to thinking of my father again, the night he was taken. And that note. The note the monster had left me:

You ruined a perfectly good pair of shoes, boy. Get out now, or I’ll find you. Know me by the scar you left on my boot, I’ll be wearing it with pride.

#

In the dead of space, no one can hear you scream. This worked to our advantage as I grabbed the guard by the scruff of his gangly neck and threw him into the airlock, pushing the button that ensured the dreaded pirate’s death as he was thrown into deep space and fried to oblivion by the raging heat of the star the ship was orbiting. Taking off my helmet, I glanced over to the cabinet we were hiding behind and, as the crew filed out, nodded my false approval. Even in bulked out space suits, my new party didn’t look the one bit intimidating. Still, in the few weeks that we spent together preparing for our trip, I had gotten to know each person individually, and what they lacked in preparedness, they more than made up for in initiative. For days, I trained them in a rushed sense of close-quarter combat. They didn’t have the strength, nor the speed, not at the beginning, but they learned fast. I did everything as my father did to my brothers and I, preparing my crew for the inevitable fights that would need to take place as we would battle through the ship. I remembered how hard my father worked to prepare us for battle, even as one by one my brothers fell victim to law, attack, and misfortune. And yet I saw how my comrades persevered, testing themselves to the limits, sparring with each other even after I had dismissed them. They got better, good in fact, and even as a seven-foot tall Monicarian, they were able to take me down from time to time. After, we would sit around and talk about, well, everything. We listened to Ashlen talk about her family, and how much she looked forward to seeing them after we finished mission. Shawanians are close to becoming extinct, so they value family above all else. As we listened to her talk about her brothers and how much she loved to punch them, I couldn’t help but smile and think of my own. We listened to Ereeka’s never-ending list of music, from all varieties and genres. We often spoke comfortably with each other in Monicarian, soliciting looks from the other two whenever we would laugh at something the other said. Even Androck, with intent in his eyes, would sit with us for hours at a time, going so far as to suddenly break out into impressions of any and all of us, and doing a damn good job of it. We had become closer as we neared our destination, becoming good friends in the process, and that is what frightened me most.

We were in the engine room, having entered at the rear of the ship near the exhaust ports. Quietly, we stripped off our suits and hid them behind one of the supply sheds around the room, placing an extra, smaller one on top of ours for our cargo. Then, brandishing some makeshift knives I had painstakingly made, we strode into the hall. I had no idea where to go, but Androck was persistent, walking ahead of us, taking turns seemingly at random, almost sniffing the air in anticipation. He needed to slow down, I didn’t want to find trouble this early into the raid. Rushing forward, I caught up behind him and double tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around in a rush, right hand defensively turned up while he began to fidget with the knife on his left. Rolling my eyes, I then proceeded to backhand him upside the head, giving him the signals to focus and slow down. Rubbing the spot where I hit him, he again took the lead, this time making sure we were caught up before proceeding. The halls were surprisingly clean for what I imagined a pirate ship to be like, metal grill and walls almost sparkling as we walked single file further and further into the ship. I was beginning to get anxious, I was sure we’d run into someone by now, but the halls seemed empty, almost as if they were suddenly abandoned. Shaking my head, I rid my thoughts of what I was beginning to suspect was an ambush. Androck turned a corner, and I followed close behind him. Then, out of nowhere, Androck came rushing back toward us, almost colliding and knocking me over in the process. I swear to Odd, I almost screamed. Before I had the chance to upside him across the head once more, he gave the signal to stay low and come forward. Obeying, we all crouched down close to the ground and began to inch our way forward to the edge of the hall, peering out one by one into the end of the hallway. When we did, I almost screamed again. With laughter.

The dreaded pirates we had worked so hard to hide from were all gathered in the pantry of the ship further down the hall, margarita glasses in hand, party hats in tow, eating pink cake with small forks and having what looked like the time of their lives. There must have been 100 of them all crammed into the kitchen, laughing and giggling while they stuffed their faces like hungry little divas. I could almost hear the conversations I knew them to be having, talking about work and their feelings, filling up their glasses with another potent round of margaritas as they discussed what Jim and Bob were up to and gossiping to their merry little hearts content. All this while shouldering what looked to me to be an impressive array of automatic weapons I knew to be stolen. I almost couldn’t believe our luck, the enemy was drunk, occupied, and out of the way. I felt like crying. I put my hand up to grab my crew’s attentions, and then, with a merry little wave of my hand, signaled them to shuffle past quickly while our luck was banging. Without a hitch, we went past the merry band of killers and made our way to the heart of the ship.

We were close now, I could feel it. Ereeka and Ashlen were practically sweating with excitement, shifting their knives from hand to hand and looking back over their shoulders, just in case a drunken pirate had snuck up while looking for a quick toilet break. I could see Ashlen rotating her knives in anticipation, both of her lower hands fitted, her top pair of hands rubbing her arms in an effort to keep her warm in the frigid belly of the ship. Finally, we turned one final hall and came to the end of a hallway, a row of five chambers on each side. As if by instinct, Androck walked up to the second to last chamber on the left side of the hall and eagerly looked inside. It was uncanny, his connection to the prisoner probably passed down through countless generations of humble Westodians, possibly telepathic in its nature. It creeped me out. His eager complexion instantly became more relaxed as he stared through the door’s portal, and his all too familiar smile spread across his face. He pointed to the chamber door with a sudden ferocity, you could’ve mistaken him for a madman. Now it was my turn to smile, my sharp teeth clicking into place as I fought the urge to laugh. This was so much easier than I thought it would be. Walking up to the door, I peered inside and saw nothing. Perplexed, I shot a puzzling look towards Androck, but all he did was nod. Still confused, I bent down to the lock placed on the door and, using my many years of experience, began to shimmy a pick into the lock in an effort to disengage it. With a sudden click and a twist, the lock gave way, and I stood. I looked over first to Androck, then Ereeka and Ashlen, took a deep breath, shook my head in hopes that my goggles could detect any hidden danger, and put my hand on the handle. With a twist and a pull, I opened the door to reveal a young woman standing not two inches away, dead-center of the door. She couldn’t have been more than 13 years old, her smooth chin not yet able to produce growths, yet she was composed with the gentle air of authority and defiance I so commonly saw in royalty. She stood there staring at us, one after the other individually, apparently contemplating whether what she saw was real or imagined. Finally, she alighted on Androck, and with a huff, and a puff, she ran across the threshold of her prison and embraced her savior with all the might she had the stubbornness to reserve over the past few months, and began to bawl. “Brother I missed you,” she managed to squeak out.

Shocked, we all simultaneously turned to look at Androck, who was on the verge of tears. “Naya, I missed you too,” Androck choked as he bent down to hug his long lost treasure.

#

Crouching in the hallway, we waited in the open doorway of an unoccupied laundry room while a small band of drunken divas made their way back to the party from the bathroom. Naya clung tightly from the shoulders of her brother, Androck grabbing a tight hold of her legs as if she might suddenly be plucked from his shoulders. We had shuffled through most of the ship, rounding the last few corners before almost encountering small bands of pirates here and there. They were becoming more frequent, and it was beginning to look like the party may already be nearing its end. Probably already drank most of the booze, I thought. Regardless, we pushed on, eager to get back to our ship and get the merry hell out of there. We just had to get past these idiots.

Showing the all clear, we rushed forward, and, confident that we had gotten past any and all aggressors, sprinted the last three hallways until we finally reached the engine room and closed the door. Panting, we quickly checked around the room, and then, seeing that it was as empty as the bottle of rum I drink every night, simultaneously broke out into a tremendous whoop as we realized how smoothly the entire operation went. Ecstatic, Androck gingerly let his sister down and then, with a flare of his growths, ran at us, arms spread out, and wrapped us all into a tight hug, laughing merrily the entire time. We joined him in his uproar, too happy to care if we were making a noise, we had come and gone and the pirates didn’t even have a freaking clue. We looked at each other with smiles on our faces, unbelieving of our luck. Finally, we filed towards the shed where we had left our space suits and looked behind it. They were gone. A hammer engaged behind us.

We swiveled around, blood draining from our faces faster than a hundred ticks could empty them. Holding the lock from Naya’s chamber, there stood Riddick in all his musty glory, brandishing a semi-automatic rifle at our crew while his detail filled in behind him. He was taller than I imagined him, almost 7 feet of menacing cold eyes, and awful, just awful dreadlocks. His beak flapped open as if he meant to squawk, but instead he let out a victorious “Ha” while we stood there, mouths gaping and faces astonished. “Oh ho ho, you punks were so close, now, weren’t ya?” His leathery face looked like it wanted to creak as he spoke, and in my mind’s eye I imagined a baby pirate Brown calling out for his momma, dreadful locks and wrinkles converging as he closed and opened his maw. He looked us up and then down, sizing us up before he proceeded to pace about the room. “Oh you almost had me, striking while we were all indisposed of back at Rob’s birthday party, but luckily we sent some guys down to invite up poor Henry.” At the flick of his wrist, two other squawkers brought forth what remained of good ‘ol Henry, his gaping eye holes frozen open as his boiled skin gave his stuck, horrific expression that of someone experiencing great pain. Another flick of his wrist and Henry was gone, much to the relief of Ashlen who, upon seeing Henry, was on the verge of retasting her lunch. Much to the dismay of Riddick, she didn’t. “So, listen here you little shits. Now I thought I was a lucky son-of-a-bitch when I sent just two unarmed guards to kidnap the king’s daughter, and that shit went down like cake. Now I come to find out that the freaking prince is on board my ship too? I freaking swear to Odd, it’s incredible with you people!”

Androck stared down the pirate with every shred of decency he had. He hated the pirate, despised him with every fiber of his being. He took his sister from her home and kept her like a dog for a profit at the cost of billions. With one foul swoop, he played the existence of an entire planet by using a simple catch-22, and Androck had just made it worse. No, there was fury in his eyes now, and he wasn’t going down without a fight. I could see his blood tingling, he was fighting the urge to grow spikes, turning his stress into sheer anger to fuel his thinking. Acting fast, he began to scan the floor for potential weapons, but they had left their knives at the opposite end of the room while they were celebrating. I could see his mind racing to think of any sudden movement that wouldn’t end in death, when a reflection caught both our eyes. It had appeared out of nowhere on the wall behind Riddick, slowly making its way to the right across the room. Confused, Androck slowly began to turn so as to not warrant any trigger pulls, and turned his body to face the window on the airlock. We had left the outside door open when I hitmanned poor Henry, and Androck could see something glistening far off in the distance, reflecting some of the star’s intense bright light into the open bay. It wasn’t too far, but it had a powerful light on it, and it was beginning to get a little difficult to distinguish the exact shape of the ob-

Oh no.

Following his gaze, Riddick looked off into the distance and began to chuckle.  “Oh hell yes,” He grinned, cackling as Androck stared off in horror at what remained of their destroyed ship, feeling his heart sink as he began to make out the scorched hull of his baby. “When we came down to find Henry, we saw the airlock was open and feared the worst for our old friend. So we went out to look for him, and instead found this ugly little parasite clinging onto Papa with a cable and hook. SO, naturally, like you would burn off a tick, I burned off your ship. Well, more like filled it with gasoline and explosives.” One by one, we all turned and stared blankly out into the inky darkness of space as we watched our only means of escape drift away towards the sun. Riddick produced a remote from his pocket and, keeping the remote up for us to see, pushed the big red button in the middle. Quick as a whistle, an enormous fireball soundlessly emerged from the ship about a mile away, the fireball itself dwarfed by the immense star, and then just as quickly was snuffed out by the empty space. “Oh, will you look at that, looks like it’s still got some juice,” Riddick teased, tossing the remote at our feet. “The sun’ll take care of that.” As I stood there gazing at our utter demise, I stole one last glance towards Androck, who had come so close, and failed. What I saw was chilling. Androck had no expression on his face, the once fierce pupils of his eyes reduced to tiny dark pearls, poisoned by the amount of anger he possessed. He kept his face forward, never moving, rage dulling every sense and clouding his mind, excluding him from any consecutive thought except one. That was the look you got when you were angry enough to kill a man, without a second thought. He wasn’t even growing spikes. I knew that look, I’d seen it far too many times. Androck was done.

He was going to freaking kill him.

#

By then, I was almost sure I had memorized the halls. They strapped us into old-fashioned hand-and-foot cuffs and made us walk through the vessel, Androck and Naya up front while Ashlen, Ereeka, and I made up the back. We passed the pantry once more, allowing us to view the abandoned glasses and cake plates placed about the room. We trudged grudgingly forward, every step another personal f-you from Mr. Brown himself. Riddick’s patience was stretched beyond thin, he only wanted to keep the prince and princess so he could threaten to kill one or the other if their father didn’t give him his money now. But I knew from the way he looked at us, he didn’t see any profit. We were marching to our deaths.

After about a half hour of walking, we reached the bridge of the ship. It was a large domed area with a long horizontal window giving us a view of outer-space from one side of the room. A communications panel was off to the other side, a single empty chair its only company. Here, I looked to the ground and gulped. The wood-paneled floor was, although clean, deeply stained with the blood of many creatures. Today was just an average day apparently. Riddick walked towards the middle of the room, stopped, and turned to face the crowd. He dismissed the rest of the pirates, leaving only two armed guards at the door.

“Okey-freaking-dokey, I want the royalty to the side, boys, they’re bringing me good luck so far. Put the others in a row.” He moved his wrist, and one of his men grabbed me by the arm and led me to the right, allowing Ashlen to take up the middle while Ereeka took the left. I looked over at them, the weight of the moment still not entirely hitting me. I watched as both girls stared on with a steely resolve, succumbing to the pirate, but prideful in the end. I don’t know how long I stayed staring, eventually I heard the pirate man speak again, but I didn’t pay attention. For maybe the third time in a month, I was contemplative about death. I thought about my position weeks ago, when I was so ready to accept it, I thought that it would make it easier if I just catered to my fate. And it would have made it easier, but it wouldn’t have made it better. I thought of my father one final time, how even after the Federation was closing in on him, my father never once let the Feds see his shame, instead bristling with pride all the way to his execution. My father did his best, and he knew that, and he accepted it. In the end, it’s all about how you welcome death. I loved my father; I never told him that. Maybe I still could.

“-and wash your hands, you filthy animal!” Riddick was done screaming at his cronies. They had brought him his collection of guns, and he was quietly looking them over to see which toy he wanted to use today. Fascinated, he set his eyes on a new number they had salvaged from Androck’s vessel. It was a golden pistol-shaped object that glittered in the light. Riddick mulled it over, slowly rotating it in his hands before he settled it into his grip and felt the handle. He liked it.

“So, I had fun today guys, didn’t you?” He asked as he put down the gun. Androck and Naya stared at us regretfully to the side, tears welled up in the little girl’s face as her brother stared intensely at his fallen friends. I had long since adopted Ereeka and Ashlen’s hardened stance, resolved to go out in a final act of defiance. I was ready to die beside some of the most capable and honorable people I had ever met. I was going out with my team, and in the end, I wasn’t afraid anymore. We were a great team.

“So from your silence, I’m guessing you guys are pretty pissed. And if you won’t talk, then you’re no fun. Let’s get this over with.” Riddick made a movement to pick up the gun, and from my place I settled for a quick look at the instrument of my de- No freaking way, was that what I think it was? Oh my Odd.

As he picked up the gun, another gleam of light could be seen streaking across the room, except this one was moving fast. And then, suddenly, it stopped. Two explosions rocked the ship, sending Riddick and his two guards at the door sprawling to their knees. My goggles started flashing yellow, but I took advantage of the situation. Still standing, I took the opportunity to rush at Riddick, arms out in front of me, hands grasped outward in the perfect shape for strangling. Seeing me, Riddick lunged for the fallen gun, grabbed it, pointed it straight at my chest, and pulled the trigger. Moving my hands upward, I ducked into position just in time for a bright, thin gout of flame to plume out of the end of the gun and engulf the chain in a fiery blaze. When it had gone, the chain glowed red hot and, summoning all my strength, I pulled the chain hard to either side until, with two final jerks, the chain snapped in half across the middle. I could feel my shackles practically burning with the heat of the chain as I lunged past Riddick, who was gawking perplexed at the end of the barrel, straight towards his prized gun collection. Alighting upon it, I grabbed two pistols, whipped myself around, and opened fire. Beams of intense light charged from the barrels, striking one of the guards by the door as he struggled to his feet. By this time, Ereeka and Ashlen were already on the other guard, Ashlen grabbing him from the middle in an intense bear hug, and then, using her four arms as a vice and arching her back, picked him up from the floor fast as lightning, slamming his head down on the floor and breaking his neck. Erika finished off the second guard on the ground, picking up his rifle and butting his head so as not to waste bullets, acting fast to look for the keys. Wheeling around the room, I searched for Riddick, the golden gun that had failed him so drastically tossed on the floor. I scanned the room, but failed to notice the shadow creeping up behind me. Riddick lunged, sending me to the ground, and as I turned to face him, he rushed on top of me, one of my crew’s forsaken knives firmly in his hand. He swung down, and I desperately tried to stop the descent of the knife, pushing my hands against his. He was strong, I couldn’t help it, even as the knife began digging into my skin. I was going to lose.

“Good luck, huh?” Androck came out of nowhere. Riddick snapped up in surprise while Androck raised the torch in his hands and, with a pull of the trigger, sent a pluming fireball to Riddick’s face as he tried to get off me. His dreadlocks were ablaze, and there was smoke emanating from Riddick’s face as held it and ran, screaming, out towards the door, passing by the perplexed Ereeka and Ashlen while they took off their shackles, and disappeared out of view.

Somewhere along the ship, there were sounds of small explosions and the frightened screams of men as they fought their unknown foe across the ship. I turned off my goggles, no longer needing to be reminded that I was danger. Ashlen and Ereeka, now free, rushed to unlock my chains as well, the still-glowing cuffs burning my skin. They dropped with a thud and a hiss, and, keeping in mind that things were far from over, used my new-found resolve to whistle at my freed crew, signaling them to grab a weapon. The girls quickly did so, with Androck replacing his torch for a scoped rifle, to which I quickly saw he was no stranger. Only poor Naya, her eyes wide, failed to grab a weapon; instead, she gripped the knife that Riddick had dropped as he ran. I quickly surveyed my team, saw their silence, and understood. Nothing needed to be said, we already knew. We had already accepted death, and now as we were not afraid did we ever really come prepared for this mission. Charging my clip, I waited until the rest of the gang finished their tasks. Then, with a nod and two shakes of my hand, we set off away from the source of the screams.

We moved quickly, sweeping through the halls as we moved, never flinching and barely stopping. Entering a corner, we almost collided with a group of pirates hurtling towards the aid of their allies. Letting go of her gun, Ashlen acted first, twisting the arm of the man closest to her using her two left hands and, bringing him close, snapped his neck with her right before he had a chance to counter. Raising my guns, I began firing at the other three thugs, striking one full on in the chest and luckily hitting another square on the forehead. The last man, enraged at his friends’ death, rushed suicidally towards me, only to be met with a thrown knife straight through the chest. He fell back instantly. Turning to see, we all stared at Naya, who was watching them all with a grim sort of satisfaction at her accuracy. “Hardball practice?” Androck asked. Naya nodded once, then proceeded to retrieve her knife before we ran further into the hall. Turning, we encountered two more men coming out at the end of the long hallway. Without even thinking, Androck raised his rifle and fired one shot at the bastards. It hit the one on the left with extreme accuracy, rendering him useless as he collapsed to the floor with a smoldering head. The other was smarter instead choosing to turn around, but Androck was faster. He shot another off, pulled it, and instead hit him in the thigh. The man cried out, clutching his leg hard as he fell, and then began scooping his arms outward, forcing himself across the floor in a feeble attempt to evade his aggressors. Another shot ran out, and the man slumped over in his place, a burning hole replacing the location of his ear. There was a moment of silence from the crew following their deaths, explosions and screaming still prominent in the background, before Androck remarked “Hunting animals is easier,” and then he was aware of our worried faces. “With animals, you don’t have to feel their pain, it’s mostly sport. Here, you can’t help it.” Silence, and then a unified nod. He may have gone off the deep end, but he was still remorseful. Good enough.

For the longest time, the crew was left alone. Ashlen and Ereeka had destroyed any and all opposition that snuck up behind them, stabbing out with lightning fast speed and finishing off the danger with a quick shot to the head. After a while, we stopped encountering pirates, and we continued trotting through the halls, keeping an eye out for any escape pods we could encounter, to no use. We had to find the hangar, which so far we had no luck. It was beginning to get eerie, the sound of explosions had stopped, and for the first time in only an hour, the ship grew quiet. I knew the hangar would have to be in the middle of the ship, so I at least knew we were close. But what else was close? I sped through another corner to another hallway, and then firmly stopped dead as I got the answer to my question. The answer was in the form of an open hand over crossed rifles.

“Hello again,” said the Captain, his blue overcoat sooted and searing, but still intact. All around the hallway, the smoldering corpses of the pirates lay strewn about. Some were in a pile, as if the officers were just beginning to clean up before they heard us rounding the corner. The Captain was standing to the left of a platoon of thirty officers, rifles aimed down at us, blue uniforms and caps evenly spaced three per row in the cramped hall. “It’s been too long.” He stepped forward three paces, stopped, and looked down at us, his large black eyes interrogating us as he tried to hold back a thinly-veiled smile. “I was a little angry after the last time we met. You see I rarely have the displeasure of having the moment stolen from me, so I worked hard to make it right. It wasn’t easy, your father taught you well.” Here, his look of slight annoyance turned to utter contempt. “But I found you. I have no more patience.  I warn you once, put down your weapons or die.” He looked at us savagely, black eyes judging our every intentions. I traded a look first down one side of the team, then the other. In all of their faces, I saw the same answer: no. We had come too far. Grunting, the Captain seemed to understand this. Raising his arm, he put up two fingers together, palm facing forward, and with two quick motions, signaled his crew to open fire.

A wall of lasers came screeching down the hall, and we never had a chance for cover. As if in slow motion, I watched as Ashlen threw herself between us and the militia right before they opened fire. The first laser to hit struck her square on the side of her head. With her last breath, she didn’t have to suffer as she absorbed ray after ray of intense heat, partly shielding the rest of the group as they ran to escape. Her slim body was only enough to shield the worst of the attack, but even as the group ran for cover, streaks of heat grazed our legs, Androck running beside Naya to shield her from any stray shots. Passing the wall, the crew felt a great lurch as row after row of organized war ran to catch up with them, bulks of muscle tearing apart the grill of the floor like a hammer tenderizing meat. We ran hard, never stopping, cutting corners, taking shortcuts, even going so far as to go in circles, but it was no use. The wall kept advancing, searching, roaring as they neared their prey, smelling the fear emanating from deep within our hearts. We couldn’t outrun them, we were tired, we had no chance of winning if we stayed and fought, and it was becoming clear that there was no escape. There never was.

The crew stopped for breath, still mourning the sudden loss of Ashlen, but with no time to grieve. We looked at each other, friend to friend, sister to brother, family one and the same. And that’s when I saw Ereeka’s eyes flash. She looked across to the other side of the hall, calculating, silently moving her lips as she counted with her fingers by her side. Whatever she came to, it must have been bad, because as soon as she finished, she took out her knife, raised it up with both hands, and ran at the pipe. We leaped out of the way as she jumped past us and with Monicarian strength plunged the knife through the pipe, twisting it and bringing forward a sudden potent, rotten smell. I saw no method to her madness until I saw the flammable sign etched into the pipe. An understanding began to form in our thoughts, and I flashed a big cheesy smile to Ereeka, who returned one in turn. But there was a flaw. To ignite the gas, you would need someone to trigger the flames, but to be anywhere near this when it went off would be disaster. As I thought this, I saw from out of the corner of my eye Ereeka take out a small idol from her pocket. She kissed it once on the top, closed her eyes, and then replaced the idol back. My heart sank.

“No, no what are you doing?!” I screamed, again aware of the galloping madness that was racing to surround us.

“We have our treasure” Ereeka sadly began to explain. “She has to get back home.” I was about to slap her back to her senses before she continued, “I am not stupid, I am not a fool, and I realize that I will not get out of this alive. But that is the severity of the situation, and we cannot afford to lose it.” Even as understanding began to flood into Androck’s brain, he stayed firm. He didn’t know what to say, but I did.

“No, you can’t do this to us, not after Ashlen!” I begged, the rotten smell of gas now unavoidable in the spacious hall. “You can’t sacrifice yourself too, otherwise you’d just be hurting me, and you’re my kin, you can’t do anything that could hurt me. It’s in our code!” Even as I tried to make myself believe it, Ereeka only smiled. “You know that’s not how it works,” she finished. I couldn’t hold it, the tears flowed freely from all four eyes, my friends, my companions, those who saved me from utter death and restored my pride, were destined to die. And there was nothing I could do. Gradually I let a steady stream of tears fall as I stared at my friend’s face one last time. Monicarians, I grieved, they’re so damn stubborn. First touching her shoulder, I embraced her as I heard the distant roar of the Captain’s voice, shouting orders to his men as they rounded the second to last corner.  Then, without a look back, I moved forward, keeping my head high as I motioned for Androck to catch up. I saw him turn, nod his head to Ereeka as she likely did the same, and then we were beyond the corner. We sprinted, trying to space enough distance between us and the upcoming wall of heat. Naya was struggling to keep up, so Androck picked her up without stopping his pace. There was one final roar, and I imagined the Captain charging from the edge of the corner, mouth etched in a battle cry, almost 3 dozen of his best men stampeding at twenty miles-per-hour towards what I imagined to be Ereeka, slowly letting them get closer as she raised her gun, pointed it at the open hole in the pipe and-

The explosion rocked the ship even before I imagined her pulling the trigger. The walls shook as the shockwave emanated through the hallways, causing Androck, Naya, and I to go sprawling towards our feet. The roar of fire could be heard, and a wave of searing heat blasted around the hallway, almost scorching us in its intensity. Laying low, we waited for the ship to stop shaking before we finally poked our heads up, and even then we lay waiting, listening, and trying to make out the distant sounds of stampeding bulk. Silence. Wearily we got up, one by one, and started to glance at one another as we stood in a circle in the middle of the hall. Then, relief washed over us like a wave, simultaneously hitting us like a ton of bricks. I let out a short laugh, even as a single tear rolled down my cheek in remembrance. I looked up to see Naya and Androck doing the same, wiping their cheeks before they let them fall. For three minutes we stood there, listening to the beautiful sound of silence, and then, gradually, we began to walk through the silent halls, passing by guns, debris, and bodies as we found our way to the ship’s hangar. Sure enough, as we turned an unfamiliar corner with bodies strewn about, we saw the sign upon the door, the plaque almost falling off, a few stubborn nails holding it in place, the word HANGAR etched upon the wooden block. We walked to the end of the hall, turned the handle, and walked inside.

The hangar was small, the ship itself only about medium in length compared to the largest commercial vessels. All we needed was a small pod, but the moment I saw her I knew exactly what we would be leaving in. She was standing alone in the middle of the hangar, looking almost brand-spanking new in the dim light. An almost exact replica of my old ship, the 20-foot-long vessel stood upright. I marveled at its beauty, studying the short wings and powerful engine that made my old baby purr. It was perfect, and, looking to my left, I saw a single set of keys hanging from the wall. I gave Androck a glance, cocked my head towards my new babe, cocked it back towards the keys, and waited for his reaction.

Androck smiled, and then he began to chuckle, his teardrop head shaking from side to side as he did and, in a perfect impression of Riddick, croaked “First, wash your hands, you filthy animal!” And with a grin, Androck looked like his regular old self again for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I smiled, and Naya began to giggle at her brother’s immaturity. Then I began to laugh, and in all of the laughter we didn’t have time to notice the stench of barbecue in the air. Without warning, the crotchety old pirate Riddick sprang up from behind a row of boxes, raised his hand, and thrust it downward into Androck’s back as his smile faded away. Pulling back, the glistening knife shined bright with the blood of the Westodian, and Naya’s piercing screams were the only sound besides Riddick’s cackle. Androck slumped down, revealing Riddick in all his glory as he stood completely upright, a seven-foot-tall mess of insanity. His dreadlocks were gone, his pink, bald face oozing pus and blood above his blackened beak. Androck hit the ground hard and stared up at us. He stared at his sister for a quick second and flashed her a smile, even as her tears hit the ground, the poor thing being too scared to move. Riddick’s crazed eyes appraised us, scanning us with his charred face, trying to decide who he should kill next. Then Androck turned his head at me, spikes slowly protruding one last time as he gave me a final nod. I nodded back, and Androck's eyes finally lost their fire. Riddick, bent on revenge, ultimately chose his victim and let out a piercing squawk, the force of his rage shaking droplets of blood from his puckered pink flesh. He gave one giant yelp, flipped over the boxes and, before he could land forward and enact his revenge, was blasted from the side by a huge pulse of energy, disintegrating him into a thousand pieces that splattered across the floor in a purple mist. Stupefied, I turned my dumb gaze towards the door, where a massive grey arm held an enormous gun pointed two feet to my left.

“You’re mine,” The Captain sneered, his overcoat completely gone. His gigantic form was revealed as layer upon layer of rippling muscle, the only part of the uniform that wasn’t destroyed being his trousers and boots. A large part of his right shoulder appeared reddish-grey, and when he flexed I could see he had trouble moving his right arm. “You destroyed my Company. All of my men, all of them, burned to death in seconds, while I covered myself with my protective coat. You killed them!” At this, his throat expanded, and the force of his agony was felt across the room. He had destroyed my pride, and now he blamed me for destroying his. “You are nothing but trouble to me, and I want nothing more than to physically make sure that I put an end to you. It stops now.” Sighing, he threw the enormous gun across the room, letting it slide until it stopped right next to babe 2.0. Turning, I saw no sign of Naya, but I had no time to think, with two bounding steps, the Captain was beside me and, sweeping his heavy arms, knocked me across the room, making me land against the opposite wall, after which I dropped to the ground with a thud. I groaned as I fell belly down, and already the ground shook three more times, I felt his massive presence beside me. Acting quickly, I rolled away from his murderous bulk, narrowly evading one angry foot after another as he first missed, and then stomped after me like a toddler having a fit. Taking a chance, I rolled one more time, waited to feel the ground shake, and then, scrambling, pounced up into the air. Swinging his arm forward to grab me, I focused on the gap between his thighs, and as I landed, sprinted and took my chance. Right before I weaved through, I caught a glimpse of his muscles flexing as he prepared to piston them shut. At the last second I skidded to a halt and listened to the acute clap of the Captain’s thigh muscles colliding, saw his flesh wiggle as it absorbed the force of the impact that would have crushed me. Instantly, I darted out of the way, narrowly avoiding the giant’s outstretched hands.

He was fast, he was smart, and he was pissed off to top it all. I was getting tired, I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever, already I had to dart across as he swung by, clipping me with his hand on the right side of my ribs and sending me sprawling to the center of the room, right next to the ship.  Again, I landed face-down, but this time I made no move to get up. I felt no tremors this time, the Captain apparently content with my condition. Propping myself on my elbows, I began to cough hard, sending droplets of blood spraying across the floor as my punctured lung struggled to breathe. Screw this, I was mad. Death, I began to think angrily, we meet again. My thoughts raced as I thought of earlier that day, going over mission briefs, scrutinizing every detail of our plan to make sure that we were prepared, that we could handle it. I lifted my head, glancing over to where Androck lay, his limp body propped against a metal box, the fire I had so often seen forever gone from his eyes. We were close, we almost had it, it didn’t have to be this complicated. We could have left with everybody. Even with the pain of my broken ribs, I began to bawl. We were so close. It didn’t have to be this way. But it was. As I sat there, rage building inside me, grief bubbling up and cascading over the edge, I couldn’t help but think about how we were resolved to fate. It couldn’t be helped, you can never argue against it. They always won, we always lost, and there’s never a chance of getting way. I began to feel the ground quake slightly, as the Captain slowly made his way towards me. But while I knelt there contemplating, I knew that it was all a load of shit. This wasn’t a resolve to fate, this wasn’t how I wanted to go, grief-torn and giving up. My friends didn’t die because of fate, not because there was no other way. They died because they chose to alter the circumstance. They played a different set of cards, even while the entire deck was stacked against them. They said their final screw-you directly to death’s face, and death had played along. There was always something to be done, always a way to resist, even as reality closes all around you and you succumb to complete defeat. All you needed was to have the right purpose, and you can push through. As I felt the ground shake and my fate come to fruition, I remembered my purpose, the whole reason I was there. I still had work to do.

Timing my breath, accounting for my injuries, I waited until he was right next to me, twelve feet of flesh bending over to pick me up before springing from the floor and barely making it past his enormous fingers. I tried to keep from screaming, but in my pained state I roared. Caught off guard, the Captain dove to catch me, his big bulk too much for him to stop, and he fell sprawling to the floor. Half limping, half sprinting, I charged a straight course towards the massive gun laying on the ground as the Captain struggled to his feet. I reached the gun, heaving it painfully into the air right as the Captain regained his balance, cocked back the giant hammer, and aimed it just in time to stop the lumbering bastard right in his tracks. The gun was as big as my torso and weighed a ton, but the look on his face as he saw how screwed he was made every ragged breath worth it. He was ten feet away, but this thing was huge. There was no way it would miss.

“Right,” I said, shifting the weight of the gun so I could speak more comfortably. I struggled to catch my breath, heart thumping at three-hundred miles an hour, victory suddenly looking like a very possible outcome. “Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘this is a big-ass gun’, and guess what, you’re right! You’re probably also thinking ‘Hey, I wonder if this gun has enough firepower to rip my freaking head off.’” Again, I shifted my weight. “The answer to that question is ‘Hell yes!’” The brute eyed me with the disgust one would show a maggot, his black eyes furrowed so deep into a frown it would take an excavator to dig back out. “So, here’s what I want to happen. You’re gonna leave. I’m going to be pointing this thing at you the entire time while you leave, and then Imma retrieve this little girl and take her back home. If you have any problem with this at all that’s fine, I don’t care, but you know what has to happen if you don’t comply. Your choice.” The Captain was seething with anger, his clenched fists saying everything that didn’t need to be said.

“Go ahead, kill me. Because if you don’t I’m going to find you and kill you anyways. This I promise you, and I’ll take as much pleasure in killing you as I did your brothers.” The ugly brute smiled.

“As you wish,” I replied bluntly, and without hesitation, pulled the trigger. The sudden burst of energy that emanated from the center of the gun was so great, it had sent me flying even before the blast left the barrel. Instead of attacking his ugly mug, the blast of energy shot straight into the ceiling, hitting the metal girders that supported the roof. I hit the opposite wall of the room and instantly let go of the gun, the smoldering barrel hissing, as if in mock. The Captain first stood there, eyes wide open, and then he snickered, hard. My eyes barely open, I struggled to regain myself as I saw him take two steps into the center, raise both his arms, and victoriously scream “Who dares challenge me now?!” Well, apparently Odd did.

I heard it before I knew what it was, a sudden detached screeching that emanated from above. The Captain was too busy laughing to notice the 5000-pound girder fall through the air until it was right above him, but even then he was too late to defend. It struck him head on and pinned him and his arms directly to the floor. Dazed, I sat up and stared at the immobile monster, shocked at the sudden turn of events. But then he was awake, his terrifying roar radiating from his mouth. I saw him struggling to move the metal, but he couldn’t move, his arms trapped under the heavy mast that must have been 10 times his own weight. Glancing over at my new baby, an idea began to form in my head, and I raced to get the keys from off the hook. Keys in hand, I ran as fast as my battered body allowed, essentially galloping across the room to where my ride lay. Reaching the hull, I grabbed the outside ladder and quickly pulled myself up towards the top of the ship, lifted the lid, and threw myself into the captain’s seat. I drove the keys into the ignition, all the while listening to a scraping sound down below, the big ol’ brute somehow beginning to slide the girder off of him. It was, however, already too late for him. Turning the ignition, I flared the girl to life, immediately putting power to her engines as I turned the ship’s main thrusters in the direction of my captive prey. All systems checked, I put her into anchor, revved the engine, and with a tank full of gas and the pedal glued to the metal, ignited the thrusters. The rockets welded onto the ship flared to life, each and every one pointed directly at the struggling bastard. Before long, the thrusters were putting in the work at over half capacity, and the steady roar of the engines almost masked the horrified screams of the Captain as the flames engulfed the girder. I couldn’t see his last moments trapped underneath, I didn’t want to. Instead I listened to the screams of the monster from my nightmares as the heat from the thrusters cooked his flesh. I waited until his screams faded into the hum of the engine, and even then I kept the engine going for another 5 minutes. I wanted to make sure he was good and dead. Then, turning off the ignition, I waited until the engine died down. And then I waited, and waited, and waited. Ushering out a long, painful, and tired sigh, I finally decided on climbing down the ladder. As I reached the end of the ladder I could see that all that was left of the great captain under the red-hot girder was a smoldering pile of ash, and one slightly singed, black boot.

As I stood there, looking at his remains, I heard a soft squeak. I hurriedly glanced up to see a lovely young face poking out through the door of a supply closet, 3 soft spikes gradually growing and shrinking underneath her trembling chin. Gently, she opened the door, looked at my tired form, and then, very carefully, made her way around the sooted ground to me. She pulled up next to me, hands at her side, solemn complexion contemplating whether or not she felt safe. I felt the same. But then she gave me her hand, and I held it tight. “Let’s go get your brother, Naya.” Nodding, but not letting go of my hand, we walked over towards her brother, making sure to bypass the goo that was Riddick, and, with a loud grunt, helped me lift his limp body over my shoulders.

#

Finding Westodia was easy. The girl knew her solar system well, and was able to pick it out from a number of constellations in the sky. Upon her safe arrival, the king was ecstatic. His jewel-ringed spikes grew and shrank, the gold and silver bands lifting and lowering in compliance with his breathing. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about his son’s death. Androck had told me he had gone to school anonymously at the disapproval of his father, who wanted him safe at home. Too late. I don’t think the King knew his son had left school, instead believing me to be working under the pretense of an award, but I just shook my head and gave him the cheesiest smile I could, after all, I did learn from the best. Giving a final hug to Naya, I looked her in the eyes and nodded my head, reaffirming our agreement to tell her father later about his son’s demise. We had secretly buried him in what Naya confirmed to be a sacred spot, a beautiful forested area that lay next to a waterfall on the other side of Westodia. Out of a simple stone slab, I engraved his initials and placed it on his grave, knowing full well his father would make sure to give him the proper burial rites when he learned about his son. Finally I departed, refusing any and all rewards the King offered. I had done my part for them, and my mission was complete. There was just one thing left to do.

Distancing myself from the planet, I made my way to a rogue star out in the middle of nowhere, landing on an uninhabited planet. Walking away from my ship, I set the brown paper bag down next to me and broadcast my message. Then I waited. Sure enough, I didn’t have to wait long. The dark spot in the sky grew larger as the huge Federal ship plummeted towards earth, ship’s thrusters engaging one-hundred feet from the ground as it suddenly slowed and descended, kicking up dust and wind at my re-goggled face. I wasn’t impressed. Finally, the ship landed, and in a show of force, a door opened and unleashed fifteen muscular officers as they circled around me. Putting my hand to my face, I yawned, stretched my legs, and waited for them to speak. When they didn’t, I took the liberty for them.

“Well, it looks like you got my message,” I chuckled. That was responded with the sound of hammers being drawn back, “Okay, fair enough.”

As if he was unsure, the policeman in front of me first slowly lowered his rifle, studied me, and then sensing he was safe asked “Do you understand the severity of what you claim? Do you know the consequences of the actions that you imply? How exactly are we-”

With slow, deliberate, motion, I reached inside the bag at my feet. Shutting up, they all raised their rifles and aimed at my head. Then I raised my fist from the bag, prize in hand, and they just as quickly dropped their rifles, grey faces astonished. Victorious, I tossed my prize in front of the policeman, the muscular brute wincing as it landed with a thud. Landing sole down, the singed boot kicked up a small cloud of dust as it settled into the barren soil. When it had cleared, a skinny, 3-inch-long scratch could be seen along the edge of the boot.

“Listen up,” I spoke with a sudden demanding voice, startling the gaping policemen. “I told you once in my message to the sky, and I’m telling you this now. Your captain is dead. The reason for that is because he stood between me and my desired outcome. With my team of experts, we obliterated an entire platoon of you sorry-eyed bastards. I want to put it on record, in front of Odd and everyone, that we are the most dangerous and elite band of criminals in the galaxy. We are not stupid, we are not fools, but we are truly alive. And that is because we are unafraid. Do not come looking for us. You have been warned.”

And with that, I walked past the circle of officers, both officers on either side wincing as I moved past them, clambered into my ship, and blasted off into the dark sky before they had a chance to react, leaving behind a circle of uncertain men who were, for the first time, very afraid.

END.

 


© Copyright 2017 R.J. Cervantes. All rights reserved.

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