Kolt jolted awake, body shooting upwards and causing him to violently headbutt the low-hanging ceiling. Rubbing his head, he mumbled, “Where…?” He was in a hut of some sort, that was for sure, with a circular roof and round walls, all made of a thick sandstone. Someone had laid him onto a bed that appeared to just be a pair of blankets and some straw held in a rectangle by a few wooden boards, and the only other detail worth mentioning in the hut was the short wooden table with a handmade wooden chair next to it in the middle of the room.
Kolt swung his legs out and put a hand on his head, groaning. He rubbed his antennae, and when he blinked away the sand that had crusted over his eyes, he realized something. Wait, my helmet, it’s gone? He looked around for a moment, before quickly giving up and putting his hands on his utility belt… or at least, he would’ve if THAT was there as well. Suspicious, he put his hand on his inventory, which had stayed firmly secured in its holster, and ducked out of the short doorway leading to the bright world outside.
When his eyes adjusted, Kolt noticed that he was sadly still in the desert he had crashed in, albeit a much more flat region. Around him were a few more small circular huts, a small array of footpaths leading from one to another and allowing him to walk above the unstable sands. Wind whistled past him, and the Privateer put a hand to his head to shield his eyes as he squinted at the far off mesa. Most likely he could find a way off this planet there, he wondered, but for now he decided to explore his surroundings carefully.
He first chose the nearest hut as the start of his investigation, and as he neared it, noticed that the doorway was MUCH wider than the doorways of the others. Inside the room was a pile of familiar looking scrap metal that looked vaguely hi-tech; so much for the cart, although Kolt was positive this wasn’t ALL of the scrap. He left the hut and walked into another one, this one full of clay pots and empty wicker baskets. Curious, the Aldearian took the top off of one of the pots, and found that inside it was some sort of dried jerky. Didn’t smell like any jerked animal HE ate before, and he really liked jerky, but he decided to take a strip (or four) and stuff them into his mouth anyways.
And as he left the hut, gnawing on a particularly hard piece of mystery meat jerky, he came face to face with the owner of this small complex. A short being covered in raggedy brown cloaks stood on the footpath outside, black clawed hands crossed and a long black beak jutting out of their hood, a pair of barely-visible beady eyes on either side. “I was going to offer you some jerky when you awoke but, seems you’ve helped yourself.” Their voice was oddly distant, and it sounded as if they were nasally breathing as they spoke. Their head also jerked about a bit as they spoke. A raven, speaking through mimicry. Similar to myself, thought Kolt.
“Tathtes thorta like beef.” Kolt commented before swallowing the piece that he had stuffed into his maw. “Hi. I assume you saved me when I fainted from trauma after my craft crashed.”
“Yes, I did, and what’s beef?”
“Uhhh… who are you?”
“Oh yes, forgot to introduce myself.” The individual pinched the lower part of their ragged cloak and curtsied. “I am Zerr, the most profitable scrap merchant on all of Centim, and the ONLY scrap merchant on all of Centim. And judging by your appearance, you appear to be a Privateer.”
“Correct. Where’s my helmet? And my stuff?”
“I took them off you when I assessed your wounds. Follow me, please.” Zerr turned and shuffled down the footpath towards a larger hut a short distance away, more piles of scrap next to it. THAT’s where the rest of the cart went, he thought, huh!
Zerr led him inside the largest hut, sweeping her arm towards the belt and opened helmet on the large table in the middle of the room. Kolt quickly walked over to his items, grabbed his belt and slapped it on, and closed his helmet, choosing to tote it under his armpit for now. Zerr approached the sink next to the small single window of the hut, pushing the sand that had built up on it outside before grabbing the large crank attached to the sink nozzle, cranking a few times before screwing the valve on the sink. She took a clay cup and filled it up with water as Kolt looked around the room.
This was essentially just a much bigger and more extravagant version of the dreadfully plain room he had woken up in; fancy tapestries hung from a rod planted in the sides of the roof above Kolt, and a privacy screen stood in front of a much nicer bed than the one he woke up in. There was also the sink that Zerr was using, which she had just turned off and was now walking towards Kolt with a clay cup of water. He reached out his hand, expecting Zerr to hand it to him, but instead she splashed it on him. The tear in Kolt’s suit began to seal itself, and Kolt, blinking water out of his eyes, squeaked, “…thanks?”
“A Privateer, and an Aldearian one at that, just appearing out of nowhere near my scrapyard?” Zerr mused as she returned to the sink and filled the cup up again. “Well, at least you’re still alive unlike the others who materialized in the sky.”
“There were others?” Kolt asked as she actually held the cup towards him, and he suspiciously took it and began to drink.
Zerr nodded. “Two others. No idea what or who they were as they didn’t come in… well, more than ten pieces, same for their crafts. Care to explain what that was all about?”
“I was hired to act as a test dummy for a long-range teleportation system. It was supposed to drop me off on Home Station, but obviously that didn’t happen.” Kolt made a mental note to have a ‘talk’ with the scientists after this. He downed the water and set the clay cup on the table, and asked, “Where’s the nearest space port?”
Zerr chuckled, and Kolt squinted. “We don’t have one. Most ships landing here just drop their supplies from the air into the sand… the ones that don’t crash, that is. Lucky for you, I DO know that Home Station, if you leave the planet, is only a day’s flight away, if you speed just a little bit.”
“Then how am I to get off the planet? And what do you mean ‘don’t crash’?”
“I may have heard some knowledge about a smuggling ring working out of the capital, Duchel, who have a radio capable of contacting at least to Home Station. They use it to call their pirate buddies to ship the gold they steal from the mines off to their clients.” She ignored his second question.
“Duchel has a massive gold mine in the center of the city, quite dangerous for the poor folk who find themselves working in there for food scraps, but, it keeps us self-sufficient enough. Wouldn’t want the Gilded States annexing us now would we?”
“What about this colony’s corporate sponsor? Surely they keep things in check to make sure it doesn’t devolve into feudalism. I’ve had to… deal with a few colonies that turned into one or a few people’s personal kingdoms. Usually through violence. Well, ALWAYS through violence.”
“You assume corporations care about their colonies anymore. If we do get supplies, they’re stolen by the smugglers, and they’ve done nothing to stop that idiot ‘Goldbeak’ from taking over.” Zerr waved her hand. “Bah, whatever, none of this matters to you anyways. I can help you get to Duchel IF you help me with collecting the last pieces of scrap from your craft; mama wants a new pair of shoes, as my last ones got the soles eaten by a sand worm last week.”
“Sand worm?” Kolt asked, but Zerr was already walking out of the hut. “SAND WORM?” He called as she left. “WHAT THE HELL IS A SAND WORM?”
“You still haven’t told me what a sand worm is.” Kolt grumbled as he heaved a warped piece of steel in order to get at the electronics it was hiding, pressing the top of his helmet to it as well in order to try to use his neck muscles to help push it over.
“Quiet you.” Zerr hissed as she dropped some bits and bobs into the large basket bolted to the back of her hovercraft, which is where Kolt had to sit once again on the way to the crash site. She refused to tell him where he would sit when they were done. She walked back over to Kolt, pulling up her cloak so it wouldn’t get snagged on any pieces of scrap and so she could make sure she didn’t step on anything point, and examined the jumble of fried electronics Kolt had uncovered. “Hmm… grab all of this and put it into the basket.”
“Okay.” Kolt got on one knee and scooped the wiring up in his arms, before walking back towards the craft. However, his foot caught on something sticking out of the sand, and he ended up falling onto some more metal face first with an impressive clang. “Ow.”
“You’re incredibly clumsy, you know?” Said Zerr as she glanced around the crash site for any more expensive-looking junk.
“Inner ear issue.” Kolt sprung to his feet, still having the wiring pressed up to his chest, and walked to the hovercraft. After dumping it into the basket, he noticed that Zerr had left the keys in the ignition of the home-made vehicle. Curious, he glanced off into the distance, at the huge mesa that Zerr told him housed Duchel, the capital of the raven colony on Centim. He glanced back at Zerr, who was pre-occupied crouching down to look under a bit of the cart’s seat that hadn’t vaporized on impact.
He COULD just leave her here and go off. But, she knew where the radio that he needed to use was. Damn it, I hate choices! Kolt internally quarrelled for a minute until Zerr looked up at him standing next to her craft and called, “Are you alright?”
Kolt turned and nodded. “Yeah. But seriously, tell me about these sand worms!” He yelled back, walking down the dune precariously as he didn’t want to re-enact his graceful tumble earlier.
Zerr wiped off her knees and stood up as Kolt approached. “They’re more pests than anything, although they can get quite big. Like to eat shoes… or feet, if you keep them submerged too long.” She pointed down at her own clawed feet, and Kolt noticed that she was actually standing on some scrap instead of in the sand. “I’d rather burn my feet on steaming hot metal than play with losing limbs. You on the other hand,” Kolt looked down at his own feet, and quickly relocated himself on top of some metal fragments, “Learn quickly it seems. But in case they do decide to nibble on either of us,” She lifted her cloak slightly, showing another layer underneath and an old leather belt strapped around her waist, a brace of old large revolvers held by pirate-style with the grips crossing, “I know they don’t like lead.”
She reached towards the guns and pulled one of the pair out from behind the belt, holding it by the barrel and pointing the grip towards Kolt. “What are you doing.” He asked.
“Offering you one, for your protection?”
“But I have my inventory.” He patted the block on his hip.
Zerr giggled. “Try to use it, then.”
“Alright.” He set his hand on the box. “Carbine.” A jumbled error message appeared in his visor, comprised of artifacted letters and question marks. “The hell?”
Zerr pointed behind her at the twin suns. “These two give off intense radiation that messes with even the most advanced technology. Why do you think Duchel is in the middle of a mesa and i’m wearing such unfashionable clothing?”
“That’s an interesting environmental hazard.” Kolt commented as he stared at the suns, the visor self-adjusting so he could do that without burning out his prosthetic retinas. “How many people get cancer here yearly?”
“Nevermind.” Kolt took the revolver and looked it over. “Reichsrevolver. Why?”
Kolt held the gun barrel up. “These are arguably the worst cartridge handguns of all time. Why rely on two of these?”
Zerr shrugged. “They were cheap.”
“Fair enough I guess.” Kolt put the absurdly-obsolete gun’s hammer on half-cock and opened the loading gate, spinning the cylinder. Five cartridges and one empty chamber, good, at least Zerr knew her safety with these antiques. He set the hammer over the empty chamber and closed the loading gate, decocking the pistol and setting it in his belt pirate-style as well as he lacked a proper holster. “So, what now?”
Zerr pointed at a large chunk of cart that had stayed together. “Help me drag that next to the hovercraft.”
Winter had chewed six of her eight fingernails down to little nubs by the time the doctor finally came into the emergency room waiting area. They were still wearing the scrubs and gear they entered the operating theatre with, but now they were splattered with fresh blood and bile. Winter, noticing his presence after a second, got to her feet and demanded, “Tell me how she is or i’ll go in there and see for myself.”
The doctor raised his bloody gloved hands. “Easy Marshal, I was just coming out to tell you that the emergency surgeries were successful and we managed to remove some of the boils and stop the bleeding. As for Gene’s condition she’s, rough, to say the least, but we’ve stabilized her.”
“Can I see her?”
“I’m afraid that if I say anything other than yes you’ll probably put more blood on my clothing that isn’t Gene’s or yours so, yeah, if you want.”
Winter braced herself as she followed the doctor into a special room they hastily set up for Gene, and noticed that about half of it had a thick, opaque, plastic wall set up, with only indescribable shapes visible inside. Lots of bulky machinery that was dragged into the room had cords running through holes in the plastic, and Winter turned to the doctor and asked in a quivering voice, “W-What’s this?”
“A hastily quarantined room. Please, put these on.” He handed her a pair of latex gloves and a medical facemask. Winter pulled the mask over her snout and strained to get the gloves on, but soon asked, “Can I go in?” The doctor nodded, and took a step back as Winter unzipped the ‘door’ to the room.
Everything that was originally in the room had been moved out, and instead the doctors brought in what looked like a white cross covered in straps and missing the top length, machinery all around it. Doctors who were crowding around the figure on the cross heard Winter’s unzipping of the entrance, and as soon as they saw who it was, they almost fought each other to get out as quickly as possible. She had a bit of a reputation for uh, hurting people who got in her way. Usually bad people. Usually. Her drinking didn’t help with that either though.
The fox approached the crucified figure and failed to register what she was looking at in her mind. Her eyes glazed over as she saw large white boils and freshly stitched gashes oozing pus and blood, naked skin where soft orange fur used to exist, and the bare face of what barely looked to be a fox staring at her, nonetheless her sister. They had a hospital gown haphazardly thrown onto them, and the cords that she saw running through the side of the plastic wall entered into machines and her sister’s body, IV bags hanging next to her head. “S-Sis.” Winter finally whispered.
The head of the crucified person, laid limply on their shoulder, stirred slightly, and their crust-covered eyes opened. They whimpered something, and Winter got closer. “Sis…” They replied.
Winter fell on her knees and began to sob.
“Show me her ship.”
“But, Marshal, it’s been put under quaranti-”
“Show it or I let my knuckles do the talking.”
The GSS gendarme, a brown-furred feline, sighed, before unlocking the door to the hangar that Gene’s ship had been stuffed into. Winter walked inside and turned on the lights, before circling the small civilian craft. “Open the boot.” The gendarme shook his head softly and sighed, before walking to the back of the ship and twisting a lever, allowing the trunk to pop open. Winter walked beside them and scratched her chin, looking inside at the various tools meant for taking samples of various plant life, rocks, and possibly even small animals. But as she reached for a vial that held what looked to be a blade of grass, the gendarme grabbed her arm.
“You really sure you wanna touch that?” They asked, worried that they might piss off the already-furious fox but more worried at a possible outbreak and the repercussions for his job that might occur.
Winter tugged her arm out of his grip and shot daggers from her eyes, squinting and curling her upper lip to show off her fox chompers. “I am.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a pair of latex gloves she had pocketed when she saw Gene earlier, and slapped them on. “But you’re right, I need to be more careful with,” She picked up the vial, holding it up to the fluorescent light hanging above the pair by a chain, “What, looks like just a blade of grass.” She put the vial back into the trunk and slammed it closed, before pointing towards the front of the craft. “The cockpit, open it.”
The gendarme now was REALLY irate. “OH no no no no,” They stood in front of Winter, shaking their head furiously, “There’s a bunch of, gore and, stuff in there. Do you really wanna get near that?”
“If it helps tell me what the hell happened to my little sister, yeah, i’d wade through lava if I had to.” She shoved past, but he walked back in front of her. “Move or be moved, guy. In case it’s not obvious enough,” She balled one of her hands into a fist, “I REALLY don’t want to be messed with.”
“And I really don’t want to start an outbreak of some, I dunno flesh-eating virus or something, or worse, lose my job! So just, look around anywhere else? Please?”
Winter relaxed her fist and sighed. “Fine, you’re right. Wait, what the hell is this?” She looked down and lifted her shoe, as if she stepped in something.
“What’s wha-CRACK!” Winter brought her forehead down on the peaked cap of the gendarme as hard as possible, and he doubled over, falling on his legs and collapsing into an unmoving lump, his hat falling to his side. Winter whipped her head to the side, adjusting her hair with her hand.
“Baszd meg magad. I’m here for answers, not questions.” She walked towards the cockpit and clambered her huge form on top of the craft grabbing the external release, a large lever, and throwing it down. The cockpit popped forward, almost spooking her and knocking her off, but it then hinged onto its side, and she held up her jacket to her mouth in order to try and block the stench. Yeah, that was a lot of blood and pus alright, splashed all over the inside of the cockpit, and Winter got on her knees, leaning forward and looking down at the actual controls of the craft. The dials and dimmed lights of the dashboard were covered in what looked like mucus, and Winter accidentally touched some, quickly pulling her gloved hand away from the edge she was holding onto and coughing, standing back up and beginning to work off the glove.
But as she pulled off the diseased glove, she noticed a single small red light in the pitch-black cockpit, next to the seat. Flicking the glove off to the side, she got back on her knees and reached down with her remaining gloved hand, grabbing whatever was blinking and pulling it out, struggling against the thick mucus covering most of the seat. She stood up and held it up to the light hanging above, which she could actually reach now that she was on top of the craft, and squinted.
It was a small square, roughly an inch in width all around and with a single red LED on top of it, and there was some frayed wiring sticking out of the underside from where Winter ripped it out, along with a tiny antennae next to the light. She knew exactly what it was. “But, why the hell was it,” She looked down at the cockpit’s gore-encrusted seat, “There?”
She held the tracking beacon back up to the light. “The start of many clues, huh?” She rolled her neck, before hopping off of the craft back onto the metal floor of the hangar. She popped open the boot again, borrowing/stealing one of the plastic baggies from her sister’s kit and stuffing the crusty little device into it before pocketing the baggie. She stepped over the unconscious gendarme, put her hands into her pockets, and walked out.
But before she left, she leaned back into the hangar and turned off the lights, before softly shutting the door. “Sweet dreams.” She snickered.
Theo practically fell into the shower when he got to it, slamming the opaque glass door behind him. He put his hands on his neck and dug his fingers into the mushy nape of the coil suit’s neck, ripping it apart with loud squelches and various other meaty noises. It ripped apart, and Theo snaked out one of his arms from one of the sleeves, pulling out his other arm and rolling the suit down to his midsection. He shook it all the way off, throwing the limp carcass of biomechanical skin over the top of the shower door and making sure said door was locked before turning on the shower. His featureless naked body was blasted by ice cold water that soon turned warm, and he sat himself on the jutting ‘step’ sticking out of the back wall, burying his hands in his hair and leaning on his knees.
When the vomit was all washed off of him and he had sprayed off his suit with the detachable nozzle, Theo turned off the shower and popped his door open slightly, pulling in the plastic bag full of his normal clothing. He got to dressing himself and forming his coil suit down into a small block, and after zipping up his gray jumpsuit and folding out his gloves, stepped out of the shower holding onto the bag. Various other Privateers stepped out of the showers around his, having just finished putting on their own casual clothing, and they all walked single-file out of the public showers.
For being a station ran by the dreadfully dull Privateers, Home wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic or blank as most space stations. It had many open foyers and parks, and the designers attempted to emulate the structure of self sufficient office buildings, like the ones Japanese salarymen commonly work and die in, but with a lot more shopping malls and other necessities included, like the large grove jutting out of the side of the station and the full medical bay.
Theo entered the main foyer of the station, a huge, glass-walled room with people of all species all around. Recruiters handed out forms to impressionable youths as their parents looked on mildly terrified, and advertisements were plastered on the walls via projector, talking about products like ‘tail stump scar cream’ and ‘Totally-Not-Tampons(R) bullet hole pluggers’. Theo walked past a small food kiosk towards the small building in the middle of the foyer, a pair of elevators. He hopped in one and after pressing the button for the bottom-most floor, held on for dear life as the elevator shot downwards.
He exited the elevator in the middle of an incredibly wide room, the width of the rest of the station, that was completely and utterly bare save for the large circular holes laid out on the ground about two meters in width and the distant, absurdly bright lights on the far-off ceiling. From the holes a dark blue light shone through; space, lighting up the incredibly thick but transparent tube that was connected to each hole.
Theo looked across the empty room at the other pairs of elevators, which jutted down from the ceiling like upside down spires and routinely spat out a privateer or two, and quickly went on his way walking towards the hole that corresponded with his housing section. As he walked, he noticed other Privateers clamber out of their own tubes, using the hand rails around the edges to pull themselves out of microgravity, most of them going to dump their trash in the massive incinerator across the room, which Theo spied a pair of coil-suited Privateers dumping something rolled up in a carpet into before slamming the massive hatch, high fiving each other when their PDAs lit up with ‘CONTRACT COMPLETE’.
“Well, it does say ‘ALL TRASH WELCOME’.” Theo mused, looking above the incinerator, which was merely a massive swinging vault door that opened into a garbage inferno. He remembered when some Pawns, Privateers in training, dared one of their own to jump in and then jump out while wearing his coil suit.
Theo was on the clean-up detail to scrape the melted coil suit biomass off the walls, the result of the coil suit bursting into hot tar and allowing the wearer to go from ‘hot-headed’ to ‘so hot he’s past well done and is actually a pile of ash now’. There’s now a small sign on the incinerator door stating ‘ENTRANCE WHILE ACTIVATED IS FORBIDDEN, IF NOT DEAD YOU WILL BE PROSECUTED’.
Theo got to the tube that led to his housing section and sat down, swinging his legs over the sides and holding onto the bag tightly as he fell in. Gravity quickly drained as he fell and his stomach lurched horribly, but he was already empty after all that vomiting earlier. He glided past one of his fox anthromorph neighbors also going to dump their trash, except this time it was actual garbage and not an unlikely quarry, and Theo gave them a small wave as they glided past one another. Outside the tube, he could see the rest of the housing section gleefully spinning, each one emblazoned with their number painted in white a few times on the exterior; Theo lived in section 04, which was the only section on the right that wasn’t rotating to give the feeling of gravity.
He glided into the central shaft of the housing sections, a long circular tube that people commonly floated through all throughout the day. Theo floated down the right half of the tunnel towards the small hatch that led into his section, pulling it open with both hands and yanking himself in, slamming it shut behind him. Inside, there was a very small room, big enough to allow him to bring small furniture in and out but just barely, and below him were the double doors leading to his room. Below the door was a small set of buttons and dials, which he floated towards before grabbing the handholds beside it and pressing a few buttons on it, hooking his boots into the shoe-shaped holes in the floor that appeared after he did that before pressing another button and holding on for life.
The ring began to rotate, spinning faster and faster with every moment, before it got to its max speed. Theo fell to his knees, the wall now being the floor, the floor now being a wall, and pulled his feet out of the shoe-shaped holes in the wall. The holes quickly sealed themselves, and the double doors, which was more like a fancy airlock, let out a hiss of compressed air and slid open with a ‘whirr’, revealing a wide set of stairs that went down into his living room. Walking down, Theo nonchalantly tossed his paper bag containing his folded coil suit onto the couch, before yawning and walking into the kitchen behind the stairs. The floor of the kitchen was made of an extremely thick glass, a few feet in width, and below him he could see the colored streaks of distant stars, the large block that was Home, and various space ships whizzing past as his section spun furiously. He flicked a switch on the wall, and shutters sealed off that view; it was disorientating enough, but he had already vomited ONCE today, and with how easily he gagged just entering microgravity, Theo felt that his body would start drawing blood to project out of his mouth if he looked down for too long.
Theo’s home was less bland than most Privateer’s housing sections; he actually had style, unlike many people. Expensive oil paintings on the walls, a nice small piano that he never actually played but bought because he thought it looked nice by the main skylight to outside, light beige wallpaper to brighten everything up even when it was dark outside, and a nice, fat, thick television set for watching his telenovelas and soap operas. Speaking of which, when Theo checked the time, he realized his favorite soap opera, “Não é fácil ser português”, was about to start, so he walked over to his TV, fiddled with the knobs and messed with the antennae, and sat down on his couch with his boot-wearing feet resting on his coffee table. He sank into the couch, and watched the introduction of the show, mostly ignoring it but, with his mind wandering slightly. And whenever it wandered, it always came to one topic: Kolt. He wondered what his compatriot was up to. Hopefully his contract wasn’t giving him too much issue and he’d come Home relatively soon; his birthday was coming up, and Theo had planned something a little special for his best, and only, friend.
On the TV, a white lagomorph fell of a stepping stool, and the camera cut to them on the ground with what looked like strawberry jam slathered all over their head, before the camera dramatically zoomed in on their face. The character’s fox wife (who looked 10 years their senior) begin to cry-scream in Portuguese, “Por que!? O meu coelhinho Kilo morteu e é morto por exemplo!”
Theo looked up, out the skylight above him, before getting up to get some popcorn.
Velent poked the glob of snot-like mucus sitting on the tray with a needle. “It looks like my discharge.”
“I mean, that’s, essentially what it is.”
“My discharge?” Velent pulled her arms from the rubber gloves sticking into the box, crossing them as she turned to one of her colleagues.
The opossum adjusted his glasses. He was an intern, only recently force-I mean, repositioned on Cerberus. Velent’s assistants didn’t last long, it seemed, mostly due to her abuse and also the fact that they tended to disappear a lot when sent on lone expeditions into uncharted territory. “Well no, obviously not YOUR discharge, by the way, please never talk about your discharge again, but it’s, discharge of some sort. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before. It, LOOKS like snot. But, the chemical composition is just, well…”
“Spit it out for God’s sake.”
“It’s not anthromorph. It’s different.”
Velent raised an eyebrow. “How different?”
The opossum waved her over to a microscope he had set up. “Take a look.” Velent raised an eyebrow, but approached the microscope, pulling up her spectacles and peering down into it while adjusting the magnification. “Do you see it?”
“I… definitely do.” Tiny little microbial beings clashed with one another on a microscopic battlefield under the microscope’s lens, which was actually more along the lines of a massacre as the odd tentacle-covered microbes eviscerated and ate any other non-tentacled microbe they encountered. Velent pulled her eye from the microscope and nudged her spectacles back into place, asking her colleague, “What’s on the slide?”
“A skin sample from one of the boils that were amputated. The cells are literally FIGHTING each other, Polito! And not only that, there’s those weird, spaghetti-looking ones, the ones with the tons of feelers?”
“Yes, I saw them attacking and ripping apart any other microbes they encountered, save for ones of the same type. What are they?”
The opossum held up his finger. “I have ONE guess. But just one.”
“So spit it out, then, we don’t have all day. At least, I don’t.”
“They’re parasites from the planet she was exploring. Flagdynn, remember?”
“I thought it was called ‘Nova’?”
The opossum shrugged. “That’s probably the colony name but, Flagdynn was only recently discovered, and only about six percent of its surface is actually explored, and that whole six percent? It’s only in the jungle. And that six percent is VERY well documented, and when I checked the documents relating to Flagdynn, I found no reference to any sort of invasive parasite. I think miss Winter went out of that six percent, doctor.”
“And found something new.” Velent rubbed one of her facial manes. “These Winters don’t have a tendency for intelligence it seems. Write a report, I don’t care if it’s brief. I’m going to go take a walk, to ponder this. Hopefully I don’t run into her behemoth of a sibling.” She patted the opossum on the shoulder. “Good work, Doctor Grim.”
Velent’s eyes drifted as she watched the stars spin by. To most this was disorientating, but the good doctor had a stomach made of something at least close to steel. In her lips was a cigarette already half burnt, and nicotine-infused smoke drifted from her nostrils. She held her lab coat in her arms, and had folded and set her spectacles in the collar of her dark brown turtleneck.
She tried to remember the last time she smoked; most likely it was months ago, maybe years. The taste of nicotine was sickening to her, but the good doctor couldn’t deny its calming effect on her shaken nerves. But why were her nerves shaken? She held up a hand to the window, and watched it tremble. She was off-kilter. She was out of touch. And worst of all, she was complicit.
But she had work to do.
Velent snuffed out the cigarette by plucking it from her mouth and pressing it against the window, watching the smoke trail fade in the recycled air. She nonchalantly flicked the butt to the floor, another thing for the clone janitors to sweep up, and resumed her walk. Things weren’t going well for her, mentally or physically; she had been losing sleep, losing time, and losing patience. Her projects needed results, and they needed them now. For being such a perfectionist, Velent felt like she would have to half-ass something in order to make the deadline. She stopped, and turned back towards the window, now distant down the hallway.
She dreamed of floating, drifting out there, among the swirling stars. Being just another speck of space dust, not having feeling, or morality, or a duty to the world. Just a duty to exist. To ‘be’. But always, her dreams faded away when the morning alarm beeped, but they persisted in the back of her mind, along with something else. Something darker. An ulterior motive that she herself didn’t even know.
She desired to become god. And her way of showing it was molding flesh and meat, sinew and bone, working to help advance illicit cloning technology behind the scenes. Her latest project was an utter failure, but her attempts at covering it up was even messier. And while her gut feeling told her ‘run girl, run!’, her duty told her to stay. Stay and face to the wind, cat girl, face what’s coming.
Face the sickly face of the Winter girl.
Kolt’s mind was broken from thinking too hard. He had sat around with Zerr as she perused through the pile of scrap the pair had collected, Zerr plucking what looked like tiny particles and flakes to sell in bulk, rare earth metals that were worth thousands of company scrip by the gram, and their only ‘natural’ source on Centim was crashed ships, or other electronic vehicles. Kolt helped by existing, which meant he didn’t actually help, merely sat around and stared at Zerr with his helmet on. But this didn’t unnerve Zerr, oddly.
In fact, Kolt fascinated her deeply. He was silent, strong (although the coil suit helped that), and seemed smart ENOUGH. He was also obviously getting upset at her lack of instant resolution to his problem, starting to shift around nervously and pace a bit as she plucked the metal from the electronics with a tiny pair of pliers, but he would learn patience whether he liked it or not. Which, actually, was not something Kolt was used to.
He was one to expect results, fast, easy, quick, and on a plate with a ‘Please come again!’ scribbled on the cheque. It also embodied how he worked, giving him his ‘all or nothing’ attitude and his wanton lack of self-protection, which led to the canvas of scar tissue criss-crossing his thin form. But it was a minor price to pay for being the highest rated Privateer in the ‘Work Time’ category, a whole ten out of ten points correlated from thousands of reviews written to the Privateers after he finished contracts.
“I hired him to kill my brother, and three hours later I was informed I was now the sole heir of my family fortune!” One review enthusiastically wrote, finishing with, “If you need stuff done fast, ask Kolt. I will DEFINITELY be hiring him again!”
“I asked him to make an enemy of mine disappear, and he responded by turning up at the local butcher’s shop with a few tubs of meat the very next day. Quick AND tasty!”
Kolt’s reviews varied, as you can see, but generally he was very well liked. The fact that he was the adopted son of the most well-known deserter in modern history also helped that, but probably just a little bit.
Zerr thought he was goofy.
Kolt stood up. “I would love to sit here and watch you poke metal for the next few years, but I really do have somewhere I need to be. Namely not on this planet.”
“Patience, Privateer, patience. We’re merely waiting for the merchant convoy to pass by, and judging by the positions of the two suns,” She looked up at a small hole in the middle of the ceiling, squinting before finishing, “And that should be relatively soon. So patience.”
Kolt then looked up at the hole in the ceiling.
Kolt looked down from the sun and crossed his arms, shifting his legs as he sat on top of a compacted block of scrap metal. The convoy groaned and murmured with handmade hover crafts, all strung together and connected by chains or rope; Zerr explained that this was to stop any of the crafts from getting pulled down by any particularly hungry sand worms. The combined thrust of the crafts would pull the sand worm actually out of the ground when it latched on, and usually the convoy would arrive at the city with one or two latched on for their lives.
In fact, one already HAD latched on as the crafts moved, signalling its arrival by a heavy thump on the underside of the water farmer’s hovercraft, causing them to jump their bones and splash themselves with the freshly-poured clay cup of water they just got to quench their own thirst. Between the crafts Kolt caught glimpses of a red streak fluttering, the rest of the poor worm, probably too afraid to let go and therefore going on a journey. Zerr pointed to the tail of the worm when they saw it flailing a few meters behind, half submerged in the sand dunes that the convoy flew over. Kolt just watched it spasm the rest of the trip.
When the previously far-off mesa had grown quite large and towering above them, Zerr showed Kolt the backpack rig she had quickly rigged together for him to use.
“You’re quite inventive.” He commented as he threw the old leather straps over his shoulders, adjusting the huge box on his back. “And also manipulative. I’m not cattle.”
“You are now. I’d suggest sitting down while I push this junk in.” She picked up a shovel comprised of a bent piece of metal nailed to a pole, and began to shovel the pile of tiny dust-like electronic particles she had brought in multiple bags into the box, the growing weight causing Kolt to lean farther and farther forward to compensate. He fell to a knee, but Zerr continued shoveling. A minute later, she dropped the shovel and wiped her claws on her cloak. “Done.” Kolt got to his feet, struggling slightly due to the extra weight, but quickly got adjusted. “Just walk with it, don’t run. There’s no top to the box.”
“No promises, I trip a lot.”
The pair dismounted from the convoy as the other merchants and farmers got off with their own wares, and the sole driver of the mini floating flotilla messed with some of his controls before flying off, the bundle of collected hovercrafts trailing behind the lead vehicle. Kolt watched the vehicles disappear into the wind, before turning to the tall mesa that stood before them. The only thing around them was a towering metal pole with some cable reaching up to the top of the mesa, and a single small wooden stepping stool. Kolt walked over to the stool and tried to nudge it. It had been weight down with a screwed-one metal block. Kolt turned and walked back to Zerr. “If we’re walking up that whole thing, i’m shooting you.”
“Lord no, we only have to walk up the stepping stool. Look!” Zerr pointed a hook at one of the many lines of cables hanging down from the top of the mesa, and Kolt witnessed a makeshift golden (or probably caked with sand) cable car sliding down towards the group of people Zerr and Kolt were a part of. “The one thing our ‘lovely’ sponsors gave us: a few gondolas.”
“Those look homemade.”
“They only cost a thousand Forands each. They gave us twelve. Guess what the lowest legal amount of corporate aid colonies are required to get is?”
“Twelve thousand Forands every three years.”
“And they spent it on gondolas.”
Kolt flipped up the sliding amber visor of his helmet, revealing his identically-colored eyes. “Wait, what’s the sponsor here?”
Zerr flipped down her own hood to run a hand over her feathered head, trying to push down a few rogue feathers. She looked at Kolt, and he noticed the very edges of her mouth, the part that wasn’t a beak, raised a slight amount. Suddenly, she began to talk in an over-enthusiastic male infomercial host’s voice.
“‘Cheapondola, Affordable Gondolas For All Your Needs!’”
Kolt perfectly parroted that jingle back with his own mimicry. “‘Cheapondola, Affordable Gondolas For All Your Needs!’”
“‘Cheapondola, Affordable Gondolas For All Your Needs!’”
The cable car came to a stop in front of the lone stepping stool.
“‘Affordable Gondolas For All Your Needs!’”
Winter felt dead, more so than usual. She felt like a corpse that had been rotting in the ground for a few decades, freshly unearthed when a burst sewage pipe washed away the surrounding dung and dirt to reveal her rancid bones. It wasn’t pleasant. But at least she had a lead now. She washed the beacon furiously before leaving it with some other Marshals for them to track down the manufacturer by its serial number, but while that paperwork was being searched for, she went off to go talk with someone who was directly connected to her sister’s fate.
The doors to the medical wing slid open, un-oiled gears grinding and squeaking as the halves finally stopped, and Winter walked straight up to the receptionist’s desk, placing her hands on it and leaning forward. “Hi uh,” She brushed away a few loose strands of hair as she talked to the receptionist, a particularly bored-looking pangolin, “Where is Doctor Velent? I have to talk to her, kinda urgently.”
The pangolin checked her claws, responding in a dull tone of voice, “Doctor Velent doesn’t have any appointments today. She doesn’t have any appointments ever.”
“It’s police business ma’am, not an appointment.”
“Did you call her beforehand to let her know you were coming?”
“Then I can’t help you.”
Winter pinched the bridge of her snout. “All I need to know is where she is, miss,” She searched for a little name pedestal, finding one near the pangolin’s arm, “Itzu. That’s all.”
The pangolin sighed. “Take a right, look for the green line on the wall and follow it to the genetic research section. Don’t come bawling to me if she chews your ears off, I was trying to save you the hassle.”
“Uh, thanks?” Winter pushed off the counter and spotted the green line on the wall, following it down a hallway before stopping and staring at her reflection in a window whose blinds were pulled down and messing with her hair in an attempt to make it look less rough and more professional, licking her thumb and pressing down some rogue hairs before adjusting her jacket and collar.
She then ruined her professional look by unprofessionally stomping to Velent’s office and screaming, “You!” She grabbed the doctor by the lab coat when she turned around, and the lynx rolled her eyes. “Why the hell did you have Gene on that planet?”
“A simple ‘hello’ would’ve sufficed, also your breath smells like alcohol and blood. And you know why I sent her there, considering that you signed off on the life insurance form as the only kin in the surrounding area.”
“Just because I was lawfully forced to!”
“No actually you could’ve completely ignored the form.”
Winter dragged Velent against the counter, knocking some small plastic objects that she was using to melt on her hotplate for fun around before hissing, “Don’t act like i’m the reason she’s covered in fucking sores and warts and other crap! Where the fuck did you send her?” Winter then thought for a moment. “…you didn’t keep her near the colony, did you?”
Velent scoffed. “Of course not! I literally have the paperwork detailing every single bit of fauna in the area surrounding the colony, nothing of interest to me.”
“So what IS of interest to you, ‘Herr Doktor’?”
Velent squinted. That nickname was not of Winter’s creation. “Don’t mock me like that. You know well enough that you shouldn’t be making fun of our dead comrades.”
“He trusted you. I don’t. Where. Did. You. Send. My. Sister?”
Velent craned her neck around, starting to feel slightly uncomfortable from this musty fox huffing in her face. “Let go of my very expensive lab coat and i’ll tell you.”
Winter let go, backing up a step. Velent adjusted her coat, before stating, “First of all, i’m not legally supposed to tell you this, but considering how you have a tendency to not give a damn legality judging by the lengthy complaints sent daily to the Marshal’s office by the people I see coming in here with bruises and scrapes. I sent her to an abandoned civilization about six kilometers to the east of the colony.”
“It looked like a Kobold settlement, but it was abandoned only recently. Gene was supposed to scour a four kilometer circle around the site, and I honestly have no damn clue what happened to her down there.”
Kobolds, little digitigrade lizard-like aliens that were native to the area around Cerberus station; scientists are still baffled at their existence on multiple planets in the nearby solar systems, but that turned out to be at least partially the result of a few clans being contacted decades earlier and ‘uplifted’ with modern technology, and a few clans purposefully choosing to isolate themselves on new worlds as ‘personal challenges’. One Kobold philosopher, only known as ‘Drill,’ who apparently heavily admired the long-dead human actor Jack Nicholson, stated to GSS media that the reason why his clan in particular was choosing to live on a planet that was an inhospitable desert hellhole was that he ‘and a bunch of stupid assholes are going to start a community in the middle of a desert either to die or prove a very important point’.
Their ruined colony, filled with the bones of starved Kobolds, was found three months later by a corporation-sponsored colony on the same planet.
That planet is now known as Centim. It’s still an inhospitable hellhole, as Zerr knows and Kolt is starting to learn, but they aren’t the focus right now.
“But what PRECISELY did you have her look for?”
Velent bit her lower lip before glancing around. “Fine, I guess you can know. I’m trying to learn the secret behind cloning. That’s all I can tell you before I legally have to kill you. I merely told Gene to look for any new species and report back whenever she could, nothing more. Any information is good information when it comes to newly-discovered planets.”
Well this was a dead end. Winter ran a hand through her hair, ruining how nice she made it look, but she didn’t care at this point. “Then i’m going down there myself.”
“Don’t, the GSS issued a statement today saying that anyone and everyone going to the colony requires special permission to even board a ship going there.”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
Winter turned away from Velent and groaned, rubbing her face with her hands. Possible conspiracy? Check. Diseased loving sibling? Check. Exhaustion starting to kick in? Check. “Guess i’ll pull some strings then. Uh, thanks, Velent.”
Winter walked toward the door out of Velent’s lab, but the lynx called, “Marshal, I don’t think you should go there.”
Winter turned back towards Velent, who was leaning on a counter now, and squinted. “Why? I deserve answers, and, I GUESS so do you.”
“Because your sister needs you. And besides,” Velent picked up the blocky green device sitting on the counter next to her, holding it up with the screen towards Winter, “The Privateers are having a ‘hire one, get one half off’ discount.”
“You want to hire a Privateer for this?”
“No, I want to hire two. And one of those two is an Aldearian, which you hopefully remember are-”
“Invulnerable to most known diseases due to their weird-ass biology.” Winter blinked and put a large hand on her chin, wondering for a moment. “Now THAT is a good idea.”
“I’m not paying for them though.”
“Oh, you are.” Winter growled.
“Play checkers with me then, winner has to pay.”
“Hell no, last time we played was in the war and I always lost. I hate checkers.”
“You always lost because you would flip the board whenever you got angry, and fine, guess i’ll allow you go get infected by some sort of Space AIDS or whatever this disease is instead of making someone else do it for you.” Velent put down the GSS-manufactured PDA and crossed her arms.
Winter was now biting her own lower lip, having an internal battle about what to do. On one hand, she might get infected and end up in an adjacent room to Gene. On the other hand, she might cut into her bulk whey powder fund if she hires TWO Privateers, who historically are always expensive.
“Uhhhhhhh, give me a head start in checkers?”
“Only this time, Winter. Only this time.”
Zerr and Kolt annoyed the living hell out of everyone around them as the gondola slowly pulled itself up the side of the mesa, reciting advertisements they had the misfortune of remembering; Kolt found it hilarious to parrot a genital wart cream advertisement he heard on the radio on time, while Zerr began to whistle, or at least fake to whistle through her mimicry, the latest earworm jingle that EVERYONE had the misfortune of hearing; goddamn radio jacuzzi salesmen.
When the gondola finally got to the top of the mesa however, the pair were too busy trying to outdo one another with progressively more absurd slogans that they were now at this point making up that they didn’t even notice they had stopped until everyone around them fell over each other trying to get away from the two. Zerr stopped talking about patent-pending cloaca scratching devices and glanced towards the surging masses of people outside, something Kolt hadn’t even noticed until he actually stopped talking for once in his entire life, and sighed, “Well, we’re here. Welcome to the bazaar, don’t get kidnapped.”
“That happen often?”
“Duchel’s gold mine always needs workers, and the less that can be paid, the better.”
The pair stepped out of the gondola into a sea of black and brown, feathers and cloth. Almost everyone Kolt saw was a corvid of some sort, which he expected as they were the species that was colonizing this planet, but he expected maybe a few HUNDRED at most, not… thousands. And he saw thousands, something aided by the fact that he was six feet tall and the universal average was about six inches shorter than him, so he could see over to tops of many heads, hoods, and hats. Surrounding the busy birds were circular sandstone huts like what Zerr lived in, but there were a few more conventional block-shaped houses, and strewn above from house to house was a long semi see-through red tarp of some sorts, giving everything underneath a soft red tint.
“What’s with the weird tarp?” Kolt yell-asked over the sound of the crowd as the pair walked, Zerr directing Kolt through the swathes of people.
“Radiation screen, vital during midday when the suns are right above us. Don’t want to get cooked now do we?”
“No, but I bet those suns can give a nice tan.”
“Can Aldearians even tan?”
“No, we just sizzle and crack.”
Zerr snuck into a thin alleyway of sorts, which Kolt had to shimmy the crate on his back through gently, before the pair found themselves on a much less populated back street. The padded sand ground of the open air bazaar was replaced with sandstone bricks that were definitely miles easier to walk on, and Kolt watched corvids duck in and out of doorways covered with strings of glass beads, some chatting as they crouched outside, and even some little crow kids running past wearing their own rags and waving knives at each other. Wait, knives?
“Come on, Privateer, we’re almost there.” Zerr tugged on Kolt’s arm slightly, the first time she had actually touched him while he was awake, and Kolt recoiled violently, almost shaking some electronic particles out of the crate on his back as he jumped back. Zerr, confused, puzzled, “Uh, Kolt?”
“Don’t touch me. Please.”
“I won’t, sorry about that. Didn’t know you’d jump that hard.”
“Neither did I. You said we’re almost there so, move.”
Zerr was surprised at Kolt’s slight bossiness, growing used to him just being an ambivalent force to be swayed by whatever, but nonetheless she led him to a small blocky building with an open front. Inside a short raven sat on a stool picking small bits of rare earth metals from a rusted circuit board that sat on a short wooden table. Besides them were buckets of electronic particles, like what was on Kolt’s back, and as the pair approached the building the raven noticed them in return, folding down their hood and raising a hand, before tapping on the shoulder opposite of the hand twice; one of the many standard greeting gestures of the GSS. Zerr responded the same way, and so did Kolt after hesitating a moment.
Zerr sat down on her knees on the rug covering the stone floor of the building while Kolt swung the crate off his back and set it down as well, and the crow picking away particles wheezed, “Well well Zerr, finally scrap enough to hire yourself a bodyguard?”
“I wish Halv, I wish. This is Kolt, he’s a Privateer that got stuck on Centim after his craft crashed. I salvaged the electronics from his craft with his help, and now i’m here to get paid.” She motioned towards the crate with straps that Kolt had been lugging around, and the Privateer turned away from Zerr and the other raven as they discussed prices. Kolt watched the two children running around with little knives, which he was relieved to see were made of wood, before one tripped and the other pretended to raise theirs and stab it into the abdomen of the other. He wished they weren’t pretending, and that the knives were real. He wanted blood. He wanted to see pain. He wan-
Kolt put a hand on his head and shook it. Turning, he said, “Zerr, I need to go find somewhere to pee, don’t go anywhere.”
Zerr, who was handing a clump of wiring to the other raven, replied, “Uh, sure, remember to not get kidnapped.”
Kolt patted the Reichsrevolver held in his belt. “I won’t.” He walked away from the building and down the street, facing straight ahead and not looking around. As soon as he saw an empty alleyway that didn’t have any shady-looking youths playing with wooden spheres in it as some sort of primitive dice he ducked into it, pulling off his helmet and holding it under his arm as he pulled open pouch after pouch, looking for something. And after a moment of terror when he thought he didn’t have it, he found it in the pouch on the back of the belt, and held it up so he could read the description.
The label on the short orange pill bottle was almost blank, save for scribbled in sharpie ‘WHEN BAD THOUGHTS/VOICES COME, TAKE TWO. WHEN HE’S HERE, TAKE UNTIL HE ISN’T’. He pulled open the pill bottle and dry-swallowed two of the pills, rolling his head around a few times and giving himself a light slap, before hinging open his helmet and beginning to put it back on. However, out of the massive field of view his insectoid eyes gave him, he saw something behind him to this right on one of the walls of the alleyway. He turned, and walked up to what he noticed, a poster of some sort. “Oh, well this is dandy.”
It was a wanted poster printed on some dusty parchment. For him. “Of all places…” For twenty thousand Forands, someone wanted his head, literally; the included picture of his disembodied head, which was the desired object, was complete with the jagged scar he had across the front of his face and his trademark scowl, which was less of a scowl and more like a permanent poker face that he tried to get rid of for years. He even went to classes, dang it! No reason was given, but in small text on the bottom of the poster it was written, ‘Bounty set by the Arctic Mafia, will be collected when evidence is shown to the nearest representative’.
Those assheads again, thought Kolt as he put on his helmet. He’d dealt with them a LONG time ago, seven years to be exact, on his very first mission, which he remembered fondly… but now was not the time to remember it, as he heard Zerr yelling quite loudly down the street. Kolt ran out of the alleyway and sprinted down the street, skidding to a stop in the small clearing in front of the building Zerr had entered when he saw her angrily cursing at a pair of bulky corvids wearing eye-bleedingly bright gold armor. Whoever designed it had a hard-on for the Roman Empire thought Kolt as he looked over the two burly men, who had their backs turned to Kolt.
They also probably had a hard-on for the people who were going to be wearing the armor too, as quite a lot of feathers were showing between the conspicuous gaps of the armor, and Kolt himself actually felt slightly heated when his eyes settled on the biceps of one of the two. However, one of the corvids noticed Kolt’s presence when Zerr glanced towards him for a moment, and they turned. In their hands were lever-action muskets, think a lever-action carbine but with a full wooden foregrip covering the magazine tube, the receiver’s also decked out in golden coatings and the lever loops increased in size to fit the armored gauntlets the pair wore.
“You there!” One called as the other reached into a pocket on the inside of the plate vest, pulling out a roll of parchment. “Identify yourself, as you’re in the realm of the great Goldbeak and therefore must adhere to all his policies, including ‘no face coverings’!”
“I’m a Privateer, and you are?”
“A royal guard.” The corvid squinted, and Kolt realized that he hadn’t put his reflective visor back down, giving the two guards a good view of half his face, the easily-identifiable scar on the front of his head actually shining slightly due to the bright sun beaming down over the radiation screen right onto his face. The other guard, studying his parchment, whispered something to the guard that was talking to Kolt, and he watched the one roll back up the parchment and put it into his armor as the other stopped leaning his gun barrel-first against the ground and lift it up to his hip with both hands on it. “Are you Kolt Saudwell?”
“In the chitin.” Kolt reached up and slowly slid down his visor. “And if I were you, i’d just walk away and continue on my day.” He set his left hand on his hip, the grip of his Reichsrevolver rotated in that direction in case he needed to draw it quickly. The pair of guards looked at one another and simply chuckled, the other one now lifting his own rifle hip-level. Kolt rolled his eyes inside his helmet; great, today WAS going to be a long day.
The one guard who talked a lot took a few steps forward. “Drop your weapon on the ground slowly, and hold your hands up.” They operated the lever of their gun menacingly, the solid ‘KACHIK’ of the action seemingly louder than any other ambient noise. “Now.”
“I’d rather drop you.” Kolt’s left hand flashed onto the grip of his revolver, which in a millisecond was out of the belt and at his hip, other hand reaching over and yanking down the hammer. He fired by instinct instead of actually aiming as he didn’t have time, but his instinct was good today, and he saw (and heard) a hole appear in the upper chest plate of the royal guard’s armor, quickly dripping blood. The guard didn’t even have time to react when Kolt raised his revolver and thumbed back the hammer again with one hand, firing at the other guard and blasting them in the neck. They grabbed their neck as it began to gush crimson, dropping their lever gun and stumbling about. The other guard was still standing there, slowly looking down at the hole in his chest plate with amazement as the trickle of blood increased to a small stream, and Kolt set the revolver back behind his belt while commenting, “Guess that armor is all flair, no function, huh?”
“Y-Yeah, I guess so.” The guard responded, before going limp and falling over. The other one kept stumbling about with both hands on his neck, his pretty gold armor now shining red due to all the blood running down it, but Zerr had enough; she drew her own Reichsrevolver and pressed it to the back of the guard’s helmet, firing a round through it and causing the top of his helmet to pop open with a bloody exit wound, and they instantly went limp and fell to the ground.
Zerr turned to the other corvid and said, “Give me my money, now.” They quickly did, walking over to a pot and pulling it open, roughly counting out what they owed Zerr before handing it to her.
“Crap like this happens every other day it seems,” The raven grumbled as they shuffled around their workplace, “Idiots always getting shot.”
Kolt meanwhile had collected the rifles of the guards, spin-cocking one before calling out, “Zerr.” When she looked up at him, he tossed one towards her, but instead of her catching it the eight pound gun just hit her in the chest and fell to the sand. Kolt just stared at her dumbfounded, as did the other raven.
“I was, supposed to catch that?”
“No shit.” Zerr got her knees and quickly picked up the rifle, and Kolt gave an approving nod. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand?”
“What’s a popsicle?” Zerr asked.
Kolt groaned, before murmuring to himself as he looked for exits back to the main bazaar.“I hate this planet.”
As the pair ran back into the bazaar, they were spotted by another pair of guards, who gave chase after letting out shrill squawks. Zerr gave a frightened one in return when she saw the pursuers when she glanced over her shoulder while running, before dropping her rifle and sprinting ahead. She grabbed the side of someone’s cart, and yelled, “KOLT!”
Kolt dived, and Zerr threw down the cart, much to the displeasure of its owner, shattering its contents all over the ground and causing one of the guards to trip and smash his forehead right onto the side of the cart, leaving them groaning and barely moving. Zerr meanwhile helped Kolt back to his feet, and the Aldearian slung his rifle over his back as he ran, but when he ducked out of the way of someone carrying a basket on their head ended up separated from Zerr, unable to see or even distinguish her in the crowd; damn these colonist’s lack of fashion! He scanned his environment, before hoping that she was still running towards the gondola and running in its direction.
He ended up running face-first into the remaining guard chasing him and Zerr, smashing their chests into each other and smacking his helmet right into their beak. They both recoiled, before shaking off the mutual stun and looking at each other in confusion for a moment. Before the guard could swing around his musket to blast Kolt in the abdomen, Kolt used his helmet as a club, swinging his head from left to right as hard as possible and smashing the pointed front against the corvid’s face while simultaneously popping something in his neck and causing extreme pain to shoot through his body. Kolt grabbed his neck as the guard stumbled back, before raising his leg and kicking them in the crotch. The crow dropped his rifle and let out a feeble squeak followed by a low groan, buckling his legs together and cupping the sore eggs in his bird nest.
Kolt meanwhile looked around for any opportunistic weapons, and saw a handy-looking croquet mallet sticking out of a pile of knick knacks and other trash on a nearby cart. He grabbed it by the handle and yanked it out of the pile, causing the owner to screech at him in some language he didn’t know, and Kolt put both hands on the grip and raised the mallet high as the crow looked up in fear.
“Take your medicine.” He brought the mallet down with enough force to deeply dent the gold helmet the crow wore, far past where the helmet stopped and the skull began, and they shuddered for a minute, head rapidly twitching as spit dribbled from the sides of their beak. Kolt raised the mallet again, and smashed their skull in a second time, caving in the helmet and their head. He turned around the mallet and handed it back to the vendor across the pile of junk. “Thanks.” The vendor, who was in a state of shock, just let the mallet slip from their claws as Kolt ran off towards the gondola, which had just completed another trip up and down the mesa.
The Privateer hopped inside, before hanging out the door. A familiar screechy voice gasped, “Kolt!” And the Aldearian stuck out his hand for a claw to grasp onto, pulling Zerr out of the crowd and into the gondola just before the doors began to close.
“I hope this won’t have far-reaching consequences.” The Privateer bluntly said as he looked out the dusty windows of the gondola as it began to slide away from the mesa, watching a few more gold-covered individuals fight their way through the crowds and stare at the gondola as it left.
Zerr, who was still wheezing from running through a massively crowded area and possibly having tripped multiple times over people and other objects, wheezed, “What?”
“I hope we won’t get followed and this little event won’t mess with you after I leave.”
Zerr brushed it off. “Nah, hheehh, nah it won’t, hheehh, ravens look alike, doubt they even looked at me, hheehh, they just, seemed to focus on you!”
Kolt rubbed his neck. “Sadly. Killing is never fun.”
Deep down, he enjoyed seeing that head crack and cave in. He enjoyed watching blood dribble from the edges of the helmet, the corvid’s death twitches, and the audible crack of bone he swore he heard when the mallet struck the helmet a second time; the sound kept replaying in his head. Crack. Crack. Crack. Snap.
Kolt stopped cracking his knuckles. He had sprained his still-sore thumb.
What was happening to him?
He leaned against the window, staring into his reflection.
It stared back.