Monthly Archives: August 2015

3-4: In the Between

Artillery echoed across the low plain, missiles fired from orbit tracing paths as black as the death they carried across the red sky. The batteries behind Laurie pounded a deafening rhythm, boom-boom-boom, pouring fire into enemy defenses.

The smell of burning metal and flesh made its way through the filter in Laruie’s helmet, stinging her nostrils. She knelt behind a piece of rubble, quickly pulling the spent filter out and replacing it, blinking back the water in her eyes as smoke overwhelmed her. New filter in, she slammed the helmet back on, popping her head over the scrap to take stock of her surroundings.

Everything had gone to hell. There was supposed to be minimal resistance. To say that intel was wrong would be as gross an understatement as their estimation of the enemy. The first dropships never stood a chance, decent engines disabled within seconds of breaking atmosphere, plummeting in a freefall until they burned up or impacted the ground. A fast death, with several seconds of pure terror preceding it. All those beings were now vaporized or impossible to pick from the twisted metal that ferried them to the ground, all mixed together in blackened craters.

Her own ship, in what was to be the second wave, had made it though. She called for the orbital bombardment before she hit the ground, rage and hate burning in her chest. She slaughtered everything in her path, now on the outskirts of the capital city.

“What now?” She glanced back at the soldier crouched behind her.

“We push in.” She glanced skyward, the red from the setting sun masking the fire that burned all around. “I want this city taken by nightfall.”

She radioed for the shelling to stop, waiting and counting until the explosions stop. “Now,” she said, standing, “We move in.”

Suddenly, pain burned in her left eye, her helmet shattered and blood pooled in her mouth. She whipped the helmet off and what remained of her eye went with it. She swore violently, trying to look around with her remaining eye. It managed to fix on the child standing there, covered in soot, the rifle it had taken from a soldier clutched in his hands would have been comical in another context. Laurie didn’t laugh, gritting her teeth against the pain and cursing the child.

She reached for the pistol on her belt, drawing it purposefully. To his credit, the young native didn’t react with any fear, instead trying to bring his weapon to bear as her sight covered his face.

She woke, cold sweat covering her as she sat upright in the medical bay. She looked wildly around, expecting to see the dirty face that haunted her dreams. Instead, the Bartender was perched on a stool, reading calmly.

“What the hell are you doing?” She snapped.

“Waiting for you to wake up. You passed out trying to fix the primary converter in the engine. I thought you’d be more comfortable here.”

“Well, why aren’t you trying to fix it?”

“Because it’s beyond any hope of repair. I rigged the cargo bay, as you asked. We’ll be ready for them when they come.” He paused. “If they come.”

She took a deep breath, taking stock of her wounds. “I also took the liberty of patching you up a bit, since you wouldn’t let me do it while you were awake.”

“Thank you.” She did feel better, which was relative at best. At least the pain in her side was only a dull throb. She leaned back on the table, wiping her brow as she did. “Did I… say… anything? While I was asleep?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“Yes.”

She swore. “What did I say?”

“Just ‘not again’. Over and over.” He laid his reading material aside and rose, standing over the table. She moved her arm from over her eyes, looking up at his reptilian face, as calm as she had ever seen it. “You know, I recognized you that day in the bar.”

“Would have helped you out to turn me in.”

He shrugged. “There are plenty of people who want both you and I dead. I’ve done things I am not proud of for a cause I believe in.”

“I didn’t believe in their cause. I was just paid to be there, Bartender. And a lot of people are dead because I was.”

He looked down on her, care reflected in his deep black eyes. “I can’t judge you. And neither can the Dead Corps.”

The Venturess creaked, the sound of metal on metal reverberating though the ship. “Won’t stop them from trying,” she said, sliding off the table. The Bartender picked up her gun belt and handed it to her. “Ready for this? They’ll let you go if you don’t help me.”

“I never did take the easy way out, Captain.”

She stopped in the doorway of the medical bay, looking back at him. “You’re really willing to help the Butcher of Vaersadg?”

“I don’t think you’re that person anymore, Captain.”

She looked ahead, to the far side of the cargo bay, where a thumping was emanating as they attempted to breach the hull. “I hope you’re wrong, for the time being.”

“Where do we take them? The bay is rigged to blow.”

“There’s good cover here, but no way out. We can go above, to the common deck.”

“Not great shooting lanes, except for as they come up the ramp.”

“That could work to our advantage.”

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3-3: The Long, Cold Dark

“We need to find Scorch. I don’t want another crewmember dying under my command.”

“How are we going to do that?” the Bartender asked, folding his scaly arms. “We can’t move, can’t send a signal.”

“I think our small friend is more resourceful than that. Come on.” She moved as best she could to the locker that served as a home for Scorch’s suit. It appeared undamaged, and opened easily. She rummaged through the contents- a few spare parts, a couple mechanical contraptions that he appeared to be tinkering with- and found what she was looking for. It was a small disk, fitting easily in the palm of her hand.

“I knew he would want a way to find his suit if he got separated from it.” She pushed a button on the rim, and a start chart flashed to life in the air above the disk. Two points were marked, one near a star, one…

“We are in the middle of nowhere.” The Bartender looked intently at their location. “How did we get so far off course?”

“They must have towed us here and cast us adrift.”

“So where is Scorch at?”

Laurie bit her lip. “It looks like Nuvaria. Which doesn’t make any sense. They dragged us way off our own route, and then went back that way.”

“Nuvaria is just a scrap heap. Why wouldn’t they dump the ship there as well.”

She said nothing for a long moment, pondering what it meant. If whoever boarded the Venturess was just selling scrap, why hadn’t they towed the ship there? And if they had another purpose, why abandon them in such a remote location?

“How big is the price on your head, Bartender?”

“Fairly large. Depends on who you ask. If you collected all of them, probably a few million. Why? If they were going to turn me in to the Fuesillian government, they would have taken me with them.”

Laurie said nothing, instead biting her lip and staring at the chart, willing it to reveal some secret. The Bartender glanced between her and the small points of light, hovering in the air and slowly rotation.

“Laurie?” She looked sharply at him. “Captain. What price is on your head?”

“I don’t know the exact figure. But I know it’s out there.”

“Then why didn’t they take you with them? Turn you in.”

“Because it’s not the kind of price where you want to deal directly with those who placed the bounty.”

“You think some scrappers are afraid of a mobster? It’s not like you have the Dead Corps after you.” She shot him another sidelong glance. “You don’t… do you?”

“I wasn’t always the upright transport captain you know today, my friend.”

The Bartender was noticeably disturbed, his scales crawling and short hair standing on end. “But… how? I wasn’t even sure they were real.”

“I was at Vaersadg. It’s where I got this.” She tapped her artificial eye.

“So were a lot of people. Most of them just followed orders.”

“Not me. But I gave a lot of them.

* * *

She closed her good eye and took herself back to a time when she had both of them. She was in full combat uniform, light armor strapped tightly to her body. She stood on a short hill on the planet Vaersadg, surveying the carnage on the wide field below. A city burned in the distance, tall buildings crumbling as missiles continued to pour into it from orbit.

Gun emplacements lined the hill, aimed down to the field. It had been a battlefield, earlier, until she had called down fire and death from the battleships in orbit above them. The army lay in ruin, tanks and walkers and soldiers strewn everywhere in the grass.

Soldiers approached her, saluting as they came close. The ranking soldier spoke up.

“Refugees are fleeing the city, Ma’am. What should we do with them?”

In the present, she remembered her response, and it formed a lump in her throat, filled with bitterness and regret. She knew she couldn’t get the words out now, but she had no problem uttering them then.

“Take no prisoners.”

“So, yeah. The Dead Corps has a price on my head.” The Dead Corps was a fanatical species, who had taken it upon themselves to mete out justice throughout the galaxy. They were a parasitic life form, attaching to a victim’s spinal column and seizing control of the body.

“They’re no rumor. They take over your body, and turn you into their slave. That’s why they left us here. They want me alive.” Her left eye hurt in the corners, where tears should have come from. She rarely felt fear, but the Dead Corps was relentless. “They don’t kill their victims. They leave you trapped in your own mind until your body falls apart. I’ve crammed those memories down, and they want to put me in a prison with them.”

A tear rolled down her right cheek. “Maybe it’s what I deserve.”

“That’s not for me to decide. But we can do something.”

“Like what? If they’re coming for me, there’s no escape.”

“We can fight. We can run.”

“We’re both injured, and the Venturess is dead in space.”

“We can fix the ship, or get ready to fight. I don’t know about you, Captain, but I don’t intend to go down quietly.”

“Promise me one thing, then.”

“Name it, Captain.”

“If they get to me, don’t let them take me alive.”