Bounty Hunter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: The Science Fiction Hub


Cythera Parker is a bounty hunter flirting within the laws of a futuristic society. She finds herself unwillingly tracking a fugitive across space. What's the cost? About 2M cryps currency and
possibly her life.

Submitted: August 16, 2018

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Submitted: August 16, 2018

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Her fingers touch the cool Air Dart and the grunge bar falls quiet. The regulars know she’s about to empty someone's pockets. Even the cleaning ‘bots swerve away from the gaming section when their scanners recognize her.

Air Darts is an easy way for Cythera to earn quick cryps by challenging a drunk human male to a game. Winner gets 500 cryps, and desperate times call for crushing a man’s pride. She hasn’t gotten a notif for a bounty in weeks and she’s behind in rent, her food cooler needs restocking and her grandmother’s pain meds are low.

Clouds of opioid drift low hazing the liquid lights across the crowded room. Cythera walks twelve paces away from the Air Board for her final throw. Her drunk opponent staggers towards her.

"When I win," he slurs, "I want a personal tour of your rainbow eyes."

Cythera ignores him as she palms the slim dart. She can almost taste the spicy rabbit balls from her favourite street cart.  Grinning, she enables her eagle vision to guarantee hitting the bullseye. A World Soldier materializes into her line of sight before she can throw it.

Its pale form towers above her with biceps the size of her head and shoulders shaped like rocks. She sees the dark red uniform and suddenly she’s eight years old again watching as World Soldiers storm Father’s Testing room. She sees her siblings convulsing on the floor as cold heavy hands drag her away from her dying family.

A loud bang yanks her into the present. Chairs clatter to the floor as some citizen scamper for the exit while others seem suspended in place. Her eyes return to normal sight. She steps back and lowers a trembling arm.

“Hold out your hand,” the World Soldier commands. Its voice sounds metallic, like two pieces of metal grinding against each other. Cythera hesitates. It’s against Earth Laws to disobey World Soldiers. She reluctantly raises her arm. It presses her finger against an ID box that glows green, confirming she’s the person they’re searching for.

Shit.

The World Soldier drags her out of the bar and into the crisp night. The sidewalks are thick with citizens enjoying their Friday. While it’s rare for a World Soldier to pursue a public citizen like this, the sight of one is an automatic deterrent. Citizens hasten away when they see them. No one dares to interfere.

It shoves Cythera into a narrow alley. She stumbles over a busted recycler brimming with damaged tech and trips into two cold bodies. They’re all World Soldiers ‘bots with metallic green tinges around their irises that match the mossy wall behind them. Humans can be reasoned with. ‘Bots are programmed for right and wrong. No in between. No reasoning with them.

They’re gonna put me back in that cage. Her eyes flit around the deserted alley trying to find an escape. The part of her brain that isn’t petrified urges her to send a message to her grandmother if she’s about to disappear. One of the Soldiers holds out its arm. The surface of its paper white skin rises and a small circular device slides up. Its eyes flicker rapidly as the device projects a hologram of the Earth’s Council’s symbol.

Cythera’s heart sinks. The Earth’s Council. A group of beings who hold supreme power over Earth. They avoid humanity as much as possible because they’re tasked with making unbiased, life-altering decisions for the planet’s survival. Their priority is to preserve the Earth, not its human inhabitants.

"Cythera Parker. Bounty Hunter."

There’s a holo silhouette that seems male but everything else is obscured. She can’t tell if he’s human, ‘bot or Variant. Even his voice sounds distorted. One of the World Soldiers nudge her.

"Yes,” she mumbles.

“It’s unlawful to cheat citizens out of their currency especially if they’re unaware of your Variant traits. I’m Brother Lykon. I was part of your trial when you were eight citizen years. You may not remember it.”

She grits her teeth to stifle a scream. She still has night terrors about that trial. She dreams about sitting in the middle of a sparse room surrounded by nameless Earth’s Council members while her saviour, a police Sergeant named Skylar Spencer, argues with them to spare her life. She still remembers the Earth’s Council branding her with words like ‘unnatural’, ‘deserves death’ and ‘no legal rights’.

She desperately wishes she had a Variant trait for invisibility, speed or flying because she wants to disappear.

“We have a job for you,” Brother Lykon says, “a criminal escaped Earth. The quantum satellites tracked the stolen ship to a planet outside of our solar system. You have to bring him back alive. There’s another ship prepared for you with basic human essentials for one week."

Okay. She opens her mouth to reply but quickly closes it. This isn't how she imagined her first space flight. For starters, her grandma would be with her and secondly, not on the Earth’s Council’s expense. Instead she asks, “Why me? Why not one of them?” Cythera tilts her head towards the World Soldiers surrounding her. She’s secretly pleased her voice isn’t shaky.

“Your Variant trait, despite being artificial, is an asset for this mission,” he states, “The fugitive will be expecting armies. He wouldn’t perceive a scrawny girl as a threat. I can also move you secretly out of Earth’s orbit but not the World Soldiers. Their file remnants can be tracked.”

The word ‘secretly’ resonates in her head. He’s telling her that no one will know she left Earth and that she’ll be untraceable except to him. Once again she’s at the mercy of the Earth’s Council and she hates it.

Brother Lykon continues. "Your reward is two million cryps and the cure for your dying grandmother. Payment only when you return to Earth with the fugitive. Good luck." The holo disappears.

Her jaw drops. Two million cryps. She could work for a lifetime and never amass that much currency. Her grandmother could finally stop suffering.

Her smile vanishes when she realizes the Earth’s Council considers her expendable. Cythera vaguely wonders if her spaceship will explode on the return flight or if they’re relying on the fugitive to kill her. She wants to refuse but disobeying a direct order from the Earth’s Council carries the death penalty so either way she’s screwed.

She turns to the Soldiers. "I need to call someone to watch my grandmother."

One of them grunts, "Your friend, Dru, is already there with an escort. You need to leave now.”

Cythera tries a different approach to test her theory about the mission, “She’s going to ask questions.”

“She knows you are safe and that you will be gone for some time.”

Theory confirmed. “She needs a signal from me otherwise she’ll raise an alarm.” Which I’m sure the Earth’s Council wants to avoid.

The World Soldiers are silent for a few seconds. A hover train rumbles overhead as it hurtles to another part of the city. One of the Soldiers nod its consent. Cythera scribbles 605O5 on her wrist link and sends the note to Dru. She looks up as the Soldier shoves a tube of blue liquid in her hands saying, “It will put you in cryo-sleep. Drink it.”

She pops it open. Her wrist link vibrates indicating Dru read the note. The tension eases in her chest. Dru will raise an alarm if she’s not back in sixty days. Cythera downs the liquid in one gulp.

____________________________________________________________________

Her eyes jolt open as tingling energy drain her body. Something prickly detaches itself from the back of her head. She gasps and surges up. Her arms brace against a glowing dashboard of colourful lights. Cythera groans, raises her head and overhead lights flood everywhere. Her head pounds in the harsh brightness. She squints while trying to identify her surroundings.

 

She's on the Captain's chair in a spaceship cockpit. The room spins as she tries to moves from the seat. Cythera cradles her head as it pounds hard enough to rattle her teeth.

 

"Your symptoms of information overload will dissipate in a few minutes,” offers a smooth feminine voice that emanates from everywhere inside the ship, “Details about the spaceship and the fugitive were Neuro-linkd to your brain during cryo-sleep. Due to time constraints, I had to transmit faster than the average human rate."

 

Cythera breathes deeply to allow her brain precious time to adjust to the upload. She peeks between her fingers. "You're the AI?"

 

“Yes. I’m programmed to oversee the spaceship and assist you in your duties.”

 

How considerate. Cythera squeezes her head before easing up off the chair. Her gaze falls onto the incredible scenery outside the main viewport. A pale pink moon hangs low in the sky. Behind it are the glowing outlines of two enormous planets on the horizon. They're so bright that Cythera can easily see green wisps of gas clouds across the star-ridden sky. There's enough light for her to see vast, red plains twinkling like diamonds. She uses her eagle vision on the plains. They’re composed of coarse grains of red sand-like material while the 'diamonds' look like frozen drops of water with pink tendrils inside.

 

Cythera reverts to normal vision. She sets her wrist link to record images for her bedridden grandma. "I'm on an alien planet outside of the authorized space travel zones. ‘To boldly go where no one has gone before',” she quips from her favourite classical film.

 

"Your current location is planet Gliese 581d," says the AI, pulling Cythera out of her daze.

 

With her headache finally gone, Cythera can now access specifics about the ship. Unfortunately, all she knows about the fugitive is that he's dangerous. No visual. No other stats. Just a name: Slate. Typical of the Earth's Council to leave a frustrating air of mystery. She rolls her eyes. The sooner she captures him the sooner she can get home, claim her reward, continue avoiding the Earth’s Council and live happily ever after.

 

“Can this planet sustain human life?" Cythera asks the AI while walking into the main cabin. It’s mostly twisted metal grey walls and heavy glass.

 

"Negative, Miss Parker.”

 

"Cythera," she corrects.

 

"Negative Cythera. The planet orbits a red sun. It's afflicted with high temperatures and radiation levels during the day and below freezing conditions at nights."

 

Cythera glances at one of the smaller viewports. Her rainbow eyes beam back at her against her bronze skin. Beyond her reflection are tendrils of frost that snake from the edges of the viewport covering the thick glass with beautiful crystalline shapes. She rocks back on her heels. “Well since this planet is trippy for humans, our dangerous war criminal should still be on his ship?"

 

"I took the liberty of calculating its trajectory with estimated landing coordinates. It's 2.37 miles away."

 

Cythera rushes to the main viewport. Using eagle vision again, she sweeps the red plains until a familiar outline comes into view. She blinks, switching to thermal vision to check for Slate's heat signature inside the ship. She sees mostly green flares with blue tinges. Nothing that signals human.

 

"It’s empty," her breath fogs the glass. "Where would he go?" She turns away and tugs her spiky, salmon-coloured hair while playing out various scenarios in her mind. Only one seems logical: get to Slate's ship and track him from there.

 

She crosses the room to where reflective space suits and moon boots are stored inside a grey wall. Cythera slips into a full suit which shrinks to accommodate her size. She stills as the Neuro-linkd leads inside the suit snake up and attach to the base of her skull. She braces for the head rush.

 

 The AI is in her head. “This is an updated model with no reported side-effects. I've interfaced with the Neuro-linkd so you’ll have full access to the ship while you're outside."

 

Cythera nods. She unlocks one of three nearby weapons cases and whistles her appreciation. High-tech energy blasters, cryp sized grenades and sharp steel blades overflow the case. She slips as much as she comfortably can into hidden pockets and on her body. She’s prepared for anything Slate throws at her.

 

A few minutes later she stands before the exit door. She grips a hand-held energy blaster at her side. The suit's retractable helmet rises over her head and locks securely. Its internal feed activates and syncs with the AI. Cythera inhales, testing the quality of the recycled air. Satisfied, she engages her comms.

 

Perimeter check? Her feed flashes an all clear.

 

“You’re safe to proceed outside,” AI replies.

 

She stares at her grandmother’s image on her wrist link for a few seconds before hitting the release button and stepping outside. The suit mimics the black night while adjusting its internal heaters against the cold. The door closes behind her. Cythera allows her night vision to dominate as she jogs to the other ship while searching for traces of Slate.

 

Something heavy slams into her from behind and pins her face down into the alien dirt. Blinding flares force her to switch to normal vision. She cries out from a sudden twist in her hand causing her to drop the blaster. An alarm blares inside her helmet while the internal feed emits frenzied warnings.

 

She gasps for breath against the weight squeezing her lungs.  He’s a heavy mother-. Her brain sends a defensive command to her moon boots by switching off its gravity thrusters. Suddenly Cythera is hovering off the ground with the attacker jerking on her back. She flips him over, reverse their positions and kick him away.

 

He doubles over as he flies through the air. Pressing her advantage, Cythera uses eagle vision to sink three knives into his legs. She engages the suit’s propulsion jet and body slams him into her ship. He crumbles to the ground still holding his legs.

 

Realizing he’s in a similar spacesuit, Cythera pounces before he can recover. She smashes her elbow into his throat. He grabs her wrist as she aims another blaster at his helmet. Sparks explode from his gloved hand near her face. She flinches but leans her full weight into his throat. More sparks fly and lands harmlessly on her helmet. His fingers tremble on her wrist.

 

Need to sedate him before he kills me.

 

Cythera pulls the trigger and blasts open his helmet. Heavy glass fragments slice his face but he doesn’t cringe. He locks metallic green eyes with her rainbow ones.

 

Cythera gasps.

 

A thick cloud of gas knocks it unconscious. Cythera scrambles off it. Massive containment drones from the ship soar over Slate, securing its hands and feet for transport to the ship’s holding cell. Her ragged breaths nearly drown the AI demanding her status but she’s too stunned to respond.

 

Metallic green eyes.

 

Slate is not human.

______________________________________________________________________

When Slate shifts, Cythera is sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the holding cell. She watches Slate slowly push up and copy her seated position, facing her. An opaque energy barrier separates them.

 

It looks younger, maybe closer to her age, with mud brown skin and curly black hair growing past its ears. She’s not surprised its face is healed. She uses micro vision to check for minute scarring but its skin is flawless. She scowls at its impressive rejuvenation capabilities.

 

 Slate’s eyes roam her face. “You’re a civilian.” Its voice is smooth, almost baritone and melodic. “When I ran all probable outcomes of my capture, this scenario had the lowest possible success. You’re clearly resourceful but a civilian nonetheless.”

 

“Don’t judge an e-fic by its media,” Cythera says mildly.

 

Slate narrows its eyes. “Who are you?”

 

The AI interrupts, “Cythera, we’ve left the planet’s orbit and now following the set course to Earth. Should I prep for cryo-sleep?”

 

Cythera nods.

 

Slate’s attention moves to the ship’s ceiling. “Show her what the Earth’s Council ordered or I’ll do it.”

 

Cythera frowns. Slate holds up its right hand. Its fingers extend from the joints until they morph into long, thick wires that disappear into a wall of the holding cell. Cythera jumps to her feet and shouts, “Stop!” as she aims a blaster at its head. Slate does not flinch. The ship’s lights flicker a few times before holding steady.

 

Slate squints at her. “I’ve reprogrammed the ship’s AI before it could delete a specific file.”

 

Her eyes widen. He's controlling the ship! She powers her blaster to max kill. Currency reward be damned. She’s going back home in one piece.

 

“This is from the ship’s log,” it says ignoring the lethal weapon.

 

The left wall morphs into a screen. It displays surveillance recordings around the ship’s exterior. The time stamp is roughly an hour ago. The video magnifies showing Slate, in full space suit, crouching in the ship’s shadows, biding its time.

 

Cythera stiffens. The AI knew Slate was close but assured her it was safe to leave the ship.

 

“You don’t seem that surprised,” Slate observes.

 

She snorts and powers down the blaster to stun but keeps her finger on the trigger. “I suspected they would try to kill me. Again. Plus they didn’t share any details about you. In fact, Brother Lykon identified you as ‘he’ so I figured human but you’re really not.”

 

“But here you are.”

 

Cythera shrugs. “Two million cryps are worth the risk.” She points at it with the blaster. “I used my x-ray sight on you earlier. Cyborgs are against Earth Laws. Half human, half ‘bot. You’re a shiny new toy for the Earth’s Council.”

 

Slate smirks. Its hand is still inside the wall accessing the ship’s information. “There are Earth Laws forbidding you as well. But here we are. Both illegally created and punished like criminals by the Earth’s Council for something beyond our control. Did you ask to exist? Neither did-.”

 

“Hold on,” Cythera interjects, “We’re not the same so scratch your pity speech. It wouldn’t work. Besides whole cyborg thing, I don’t get the fuss over you. I should have lowered my expectations.”

 

All humour disappear from its face. Its hands and fingers retract from the wall. Cythera tenses. She hears a soft beep and then Slate explodes out of the holding cell. She yells in shock as it sends the blaster flying from her hand and knocks her onto the ship’s icy floor. This time Slate’s elbow is pressing into her throat.

 

She claws at its face but it doesn’t flinch. She feels her windpipe stabbing into the back of her neck. Her cheeks are on fire. Cythera bucks hard, trying to dislodge its grip but it is too strong. Her struggles weaken. Her free hand flaps around searching for a weapon. Darkness creep at the edge of her vision.

 

Suddenly a shower of sparks erupt from Slate’s arm, narrowly missing Cythera’s face. It grimaces as its arm jerk and tremble. More sparks fly around them until Slate screams and rolls off her, writhing in pain.

 

Cythera immediately curls away from Slate. She’s coughing, holding her throat and panting. Dripping tears cool her hot face. Cythera crawls to the closest weapons case and grabs the nearest blaster. With shaking hands she fires a blind shot at Slate and leaves a smoking spider web hole in the wall behind it.

 

Slate is still rolling on the ground, clutching its arm in pain but she doesn’t care. It tried to kill her. If she had died, what would happen to her grandmother? What would the Sergeant believe? Cythera stands on wobbly legs. She wipes her face and raises the blaster. She intends to seriously injure Slate this time.

 

“Wait,” it groans, “I had to show you. I’m sorry but I had to show you why you overpowered me outside.”

Cythera hears static and fizzing sounds as she approaches it.

 

Slate closes its eyes. “My body is in constant operating chaos. The AI parts inside my skull conflict with the organic parts of my brain and in turn my humanity. Outside...although I'm programmed primarily for self-preservation, my organic parts identified you as a low-level threat and refused to attack. You saw the consequences of a conflicting command.”

 

Cythera notices its heaving chest. There are beads of perspiration on its forehead and upper lip. Slate is still supporting its arm. She pauses as more sparks explode causing Slate to whimper again. Maybe it’s telling the truth.

 

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” it whispers. Cythera sighs. It’s unnerving to hear a ‘bot apologize. A half ‘bot anyway.  

 

Against her better judgement, Cythera rasps, “Do they know you’re flawed?”

 

Slate nods. “I escaped from Testing. The Earth’s Council demanded perfection if they were going to build an army of cyborgs using my base model.” Something glimmers in Slate’s eyes when it looks at her. “Cythera, they erased my family’s memories from my storage cells and held them at ransom. For every round of Testing I willingly completed, I was rewarded a memory.”

 

Cythera turns and walks to the nearest viewport, fighting back fresh tears. She doesn’t want to feel anything for the cyborg who just tried to kill her but her heart is breaking. Maybe because Slate said her name and now it’s talking about how painful Testing is for a cyborg but she wants it to shut the hell up because now she’s thinking about her siblings who never had a chance to live freely, her loving Father who they murdered and the injustice done to her as a little girl. But she got lucky when Sergeant Spencer found her during a co-opt raid. The Sergeant willingly fought the Earth’s Council for her full citizen rights. The Sergeant risked her own life and career for an abomination created in a lab because the Sergeant firmly believed in giving an artificial little girl a chance to live in the real world.

 

She doesn’t know how long she stares out the viewport but when she turns around, she realizes Slate is still lying on the floor with a vacant expression. There’s a whirring hum coming from it.

 

“Are there any more like you?” she asks. The hum stops.

 

“Destroyed along with my creators,” it croaks. “They were planning to overthrow the Earth’s Council.”

 

“Lots of that happening lately,” Cythera mutters.

 

Her body sags. Everything is starting to crash and all she wants to do is go into cryo-sleep. She already knows what she needs to do with Slate. Taking a deep breath she injects some authority into her voice. “We need a plan for when we land on Earth.”

 

Slate glances at her. “Simple. Don't land on Earth.”

 

“I have to get back to my grandmother and my friend Dru. The Soldiers are watching them.”

 

Slates exhales. “What do you suggest?”

 

Cythera walks towards the cockpit. “The trick is to keep both of us alive. Hopefully Dru would have raised an alarm by now but just in case we need one hell of a distraction. Or a decoy.”

Her face softens. “Decoy. You're the decoy.” She stops and grins. “I have a plan. Help me find a printer.”

_________________________________________________________________

When Cythera wakes from cryo-sleep, she stumbles to the main viewport in tears. Dru didn't just raise the alarms. She sent the cavalry. Sergeant Skylar Spencer is leaning against a car with a grin on her face. Behind her is half of Snowville City's Police keeping an eye on the handful of World Soldiers and an Earth’s Council Hypersonic Jet. Armed police drones circle the group.

 

Cythera focuses on the Sergeant while disembarking the spaceship. On her left are containment drones carrying Slate’s body while on her right are the weapons cases that are now rightfully hers. The Soldiers immediately march towards her. She falters but regains her confidence when two Police drones hover close by.

 

Spencer is suddenly at her side. “Hey kid,” she teases, “what trouble did you get yourself into this time?” She squeezes Cythera's shoulder who nearly melts into the comforting touch.

 

Spencer faces the World Soldiers. “Cythera followed your orders are captured the fugitive.”

 

Two Soldiers accept Slate’s body and guides it towards the jet. One enters the ship. Cythera digs her fingers into Spencer’s arm, holding her breath. A few minutes later the Soldier emerges declaring an all clear. She exhales.

 

The one closest to them points at the cases. “What are those?”

 

Cythera raises her head. “Those are my weapons from the ship.”

 

“They are the Earth's Council’s property,” it growls.

 

“They’re mine now. Small bonus for capturing your war criminal,” Cythera counters but inside she's begging them not to shoot her.

 

It feels like an eternity before the Soldier nods. “One million cryps are in your currency account.”

 

“Wait,” Spencer demands, “it’s two million plus the cure for her grandmother’s blood disease.”

 

The World Soldier gestures at the weapons cases. “Small adjustment for my stolen goods.”

 

Spencer steps towards it. Her fingers twitches for her weapon. Cythera grasps her arm, pulling her back.

 

"Be careful, Sergeant," the Soldier warns calmly, "You got lucky once persuading the Earth's Council for mercy. Next time we will not hesitate to eliminate your arrogance.”

 

Spencer tenses but Cythera squeezes her arm again and pleads, “It’s ok. It’s fine.”

 

Spencer scowls but eases back.

 

A quick glance with her x-ray vision reveals Brother Lykon on the jet controlling everything through the World Soldiers. As much as she wants to punch him for knowingly sending her on a suicide mission, she needs them gone.

 

Soon the jet is rising quietly into the air. Cythera shields her face from dust until the jet flies out of sight. Spencer orders the rest of the officers and drones back to the precinct, leaving them in the middle of the desert.

 

“How long was I gone?” Cythera asks.

 

“Almost two years,” Spencer replies, “your grandmother is fine but obviously worried. When Dru told me what happened, I raised hell to demand answers from the Earth's Council. Seriously Cy. What were you thinking? I don't care that you're an adult now. You still call me for shit like this! I can't-”

 

“Yeah about that,” Cythera interrupts “pause for a bit because I did something really stupid that’ll either get us all thrown into an off-world prison or killed.”

 

She kicks a weapons case three times.

 

The top slides open and the real Slate sits up smiling. “Hello,” it waves.

 


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