Part Two – Robust Genetics

BACK

Five Days Before…

With a flick of her wrist, Gene severed the vines blocking her path in two. She slid the machete back into its sheath as she walked through the new opening. Leaves brushed her bare legs and branches snagged on her shorts. She glanced around at the jungle that had entrapped her, noting it’s massive-yet-sparse trees and wide canopy. Light barely made it’s way in between the trunk-like limbs of the gigantic trees, which almost rivaled the redwoods of Earth in scale. Vines hung down from the branches above, dragging across Gene’s bobbed brown hair, a rare trait that only a few morphs had. For your help, ‘morph’ is the most used nickname for anthropomorphic people who live in places other than Earth, which, yes, does still exist. Sadly. They’re just called racial slurs there.

A twig crunched behind her, and she stopped. She listened for any movement, standing as still as she could while slowing her breathing. Her eyes darted around, searching the brush for any movement, but nothing was there. A branch must’ve fell, she thought, so she let herself ease down on the paranoia. But to be sure, her machete was drawn, the handle being gripped with white knuckles. She continued to walk through the jungle, albeit at a much slower, hesitant pace.

Gene was used to danger. Her older sister was a GSS marshall, so she sort of had to get used to it quickly. Assassins came with disguises and went in body bags, so she had her sister teach her how to handle multiple weapons, including the ever trusty sword. She pressed her hand against the flat machete. It was no sword, that was obvious, but it could hack off limbs with relative ease. Limbs of trees, that is. Another snap of wood. Now she was really getting annoyed.

Turning to where she heard the new sound, she stepped back, and sighed, letting her arms go limp. Just an animal. A common one, from what she’s seen, some sort of large purple quadruped with the body of a shell-less turtle and a head like a snakes, minus the scales. It was about the size of a small car, and about the length of one, too. It’s black eyes reflected the sunlight cast on it, and it huffed as it lumbered towards Gene, probably curious. As soon as it came within a few meters, however, it made a sound that caused Gene to step back. It was like some sort of guttural growl, but unlike any others she had heard. It didn’t sound like it came from something happy either, but the worst fact is that it didn’t come from the purple snake-turtle-thing; it came from it’s back, more accurately the large incision that Gene just noticed as it walked directly under a ray of sunlight.

The animal opened its mouth, as if to moan or huff, but instead, a torrent of flesh came out. Tentacles, tan in color and the length of the creature, practically flooded out of it’s mouth, flailing and flopping around as Gene raised her machete. Saliva dripped from it’s mouth as it made a horrible belching sound, and more tentacles emerged from its mouth. Soon its entire head was just a mass of flailing appendages, and Gene raised her machete. With an animalistic scream, she brought it down on the tentacles, severing five of them off completely. Chunky red blood oozed from the stumps as a horrible screech emitted from the gash on its back, and the small purple animal began to shudder and moan as the gash on it’s back started to rip open, spraying gore and viscera all over itself. It’s time to run, and run Gene did.

Gene turned and tried to sprint, but it was to no avail. A tentacle whipped out, catching her heel, and she gasped as she felt red hot pain shoot into her ankle as she fell. When she rolled over, she saw her ankle. The tentacle had grown, or maybe just extended some nail-like needles, stabbing through the side of the boot and into her foot. She screamed, raising the machete up and bringing it down on the tentacle. The spikes retracted as the tentacle spazzed and flailed, and Gene started to scramble away on all fours.

But she didn’t make it five feet before the lumbering beast behind her, covered in shredded internal organs and guts from the carcass behind it, crashed down on her. She tried to yell, and swing her machete, but it didn’t matter. Her body was lashed with spiked tentacles, ripping her skin and clothing to shreds. With tears welling up in her eyes, she screamed one last time before the tan monster’s weight began to crack the ribs in her chest, suffocating her. Gene’s eyes fluttered as her vision got smaller and smaller, and her kicking and clawing got slower and slower until her limbs just slumped down to her side. Tears streamed down her face as she fell unconscious.

Now.

“…and then, I f-fell unconscious. When I woke up, I had been almost flayed alive, with cuts, bruises, and gashes all over me. My clothing and flesh was completely torn to shreds, and I just barely made it back to my c-camp, wheezing and spitting up bile as I radioed for help from my ship. I was picked up four hours later, and brought here.” Gene placed her hand on her forehead. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you more.”

“No, it’s fine,” Kolt acknowledged, “You appear to have at least healed some of your injuries from then, and, to be perfectly honest, I hope we can find a vaccine as fast as possible and get you out of here. I hate seeing people like this.”

Gene laughed. “Don’t pity me. I w-went there alone, and paid for it greatly.” She lifted one of her hands above her, and peeled off one of her fingernails excruciatingly slowly. Kolt almost hopped on her and pulled her hand away, wanting to yell at her for doing it, but he felt like she had done it for a reason. Sitting up, she swung her legs off the edge of the bed, still staring at her bloody hand. “The nail matrix is completely fine. So my nails will regrow, only to fall out again.” She looked up at Kolt. “Put out your hand.” She demanded, and Kolt did. She pressed the torn, blackened nail into the palm of Kolt’s outstretched hand, and he curled his fingers around it, not taking his eyes off of her.

“I will try to save you the best I can.”

“I know, Kolt Saudwell. I know.” She said to him, and Kolt left without another word.

 

Kolt’s face was like a latex mask; An emotionless, chiseled head, with a permanent poker-face and drooping frown, eyes wide in attention forever. He would blink, hoping it would be gone, but it was still there, his horribly scarred visage. Twenty five years of age, yet, his face made him look like he was forty. Scars from small nicks and gashes lined his entire body, bullet holes left grey nickel-shaped plateaus, turning the entire surface of his leathery black skin into a bumpy landscape of scar tissue.

He slipped his vest on as his gloves slid over his slim fingers. He flipped the Privateer hood over his head, his antennae naturally slipping into the two horn-like pockets, and clipped on his belt. I would go through the rest of his gearing-up procedure, but that would probably bore you. He dragged his ungloved fingers across the front of his olive green vest, feeling the ballistic nylon mix through the thin material of his gloves. It doubled jacket, meant to stop low-speed projectiles like rimfire bullets and grenade fragments. He lacked his coil suit, instead wearing a simple pair of black cargo shorts, the vest, and a short-sleeved shirt with the trademark hood of his organization sewn into it with robotic fingers. It was itchy, too, and it slightly irritated his head, but he liked it.  His entire outfit made him look like some devilish shadow person of sorts, as his black skin mixed in with his blacker clothing, but his green vest, generously donated by the GSS evened out the color disparity just enough. Plus the extra pockets and protection were nice.

His amber reflective eyes warped and blinged as the passing stars shined on them, and the engine of the small scout ship sputtered to a stop. He pulled his PDA from one of his vest pockets and tapped on it to turn the screen back on, simply checking for any messages. Almost immediately, the screen changed to a flashing red as someone was attempting to contact him, and he tapped on the bright green ‘ACCEPT’ button imprinted on the screen. Velent’s voice started to squeak from the weak speakers of the device.

“Kolt, just a reminder that this is still technically a survey mission so n-”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Kolt cut off the lynx, “You know the rules, and so do I. But I’m never gonna give up my weapons, at least all of them..”

“But you will have to. Leave your inventory in the ship, Kolt, and make sure to lock it tight. Also…”

“Yes?”

“Was that a Rick Astley reference? Isn’t that song, what, a hundred years old?”

Kolt went silent.

“…what’s a Rick Astley?”

“…Good luck.”

The PDA beeped as Velent disconnected, leaving Kolt alone in the cramped confines of the ship. He kicked the pedal under the dashboard in front of him, and the ship floated down to the surface, flame streaking the viewport as the ship bashed through the tall foliage, three prongs extending under the ship before it slammed into the soil, stabbing into the soil and securing the ship in place. Kolt pulled his legs out from under the console and kicked the hatch/viewport, and it swung upwards.

As this world was marked as officially unexplored and no intelligent species were found, Kolt had to use extremely primitive technology in his pursuit, in case anything undiscovered and sentient found his corpse and reverse-engineered the technology. If they made muskets, fine, but semi-automatic weaponry? Not fine. Not fine at all. Placing the metallic rectangle under the pilot’s seat, he climbed out of the ship. The soft soil and brush cushioned his fall, and he walked around the small scout ship, and pulled up on the handle that had slowly rose out of a hole next to a button Kolt had pressed. He jerked the handle to the left, and the trunk of the ship popped open, the air inside hissing as it escaped into the gaseous atmosphere. Kolt had no problem breathing the lower-oxygen atmosphere, unlike most people, but pairing that with fact that his ship sat on top of an open plateau, connected to the forest by a downwards slope, it definitely made him a little dizzy.

Kolt lit a cigarette as he trotted down the hill-like plateau, flicking closed his black zippo, engraved with a pictogram of a horned hood, the clones’ trademark clothing piece and what he currently had pulled up over his head, although the hoods were made by the Privateers for their employees who didn’t want to wear the bulky helmets. As the Privateers also produced the clones, it made sense to outfit them with similar equipment. Kolt’s flintlock bounced against his back as he entered the deep green jungle, a surprising absence of life confusing him. He expected animals, since it was, well, a jungle, but instead he was met with an eerie silence, the only sound heard being the low hum of his ship’s engine up the hill behind him along with the crunching of leaves under his feet. I mean, no animals was fine with Kolt, but, it just seemed… odd.

Speaking of his ship, it was nothing special, just a basic nameless scout ship loaned to him by Home for this job, based off of some mass-produced design passed around by manufacturers. It was not the sleekest ship, being blockier than any other ship in the Privateer arsenal, minus the large flagships, but having the organization’s sigil stamped above the cockpit, along with a coat of matte black paint sprayed over it. It was quite small, only being able to carry a pilot and a small amount of cargo in the trunk, this time the cargo being a Privateer-issued musket and a reproduction Colt-Paterson, along with a horn of powder, some flint, and bore butter. {A} Kolt had filled some of his pouches with thirty-six and fifty caliber lead balls too. Another had a sea of percussion caps inside, and his horn was hung around his neck by a metal chain, being made of what seemed to be a poor reproduction of a ram’s horn. Hopefully it wasn’t sentient, the creature he was hunting.

Kolt was looking for Gene’s encampment, where he’ll start his investigation. All he was given was a compass and handheld radio, for calling backup if he needed any. As he adventured for the next hour, cutting through brush and tree limb with his machete, he had time to think. And think he did.

“Why am I so hesitant?” He mused out loud to himself, “I’m braver than most, yet, this jungle, this damp forest, this heart of darkness, chills me to the bone for some unknown reason. Maybe I was scared by what Gene told me? If I am, I shouldn’t be, I have two guns, years of experience, and a big-ass machete. But what if whatever is in this jungle shrugs off all of those? Agh, worrying is getting the best of me If I encounter that creature, I’ll beat its ass.” He shrugged off his trepidation, reassuring himself that HE was the strongest creature in that jungle, the most powerful. In a few ways, he wasn’t wrong; he was (mostly) intelligent, and had the virtue of being completely sentient. He had weaponry, although primitive ones, and he had his radio, something that Gene probably wished she had.

Alas, poor Gene, suffering as ulcers, cuts, and bruises pop up all over her skin and turn her into a living pus pizza. Kolt remembered his own injuries from days past, all the times he’s been shot, had a lung collapse, a bone snapped, or when his weak tissue periodically breaks and began to weep bloody tears. But he couldn’t imagine what she was going through. Poor lass, Kolt thought, she’s probably shuddering in bed as the scientists and doctors work tirelessly to try to save her. And there he was, taking her place on the planet, to try to find a cure of his own, his own vaccine. Kolt stopped, standing there in the underbrush, breathing heavily as his energy was sapped from slashing plants to bits. With a sudden rush of energy, Kolt swung his machete downwards, and it stuck into the massive trunk of a fallen tree. Using it as a prop, he clambered onto the fallen plant, surveying his environment.

Trees, trees, and more trees. “Fuck.” Kolt sighed as he gave up, flopping over and laying on the top of the trunk, the hood making a thin pillow for him. His arms flopped over each side of the trunk, as did his legs, and he just stared up at the sky behind the canopy. Bird-like silhouettes cawed and whistled as they flew above him, almost lulling him into a trance. Introduced species maybe? That’s… odd. He ignored them for the time being, and thought, maybe I can just, close my eyes,  and let myself rest just a minute. Kolt closed his eyes, and let out the heavy sigh that had built up in his chest.

And then a bird shat on his face. Kolt sputtered as white goop splashed against his skyward-facing mouth, and he slipped off of the trunk, landing face first in an adjacent bush. Coughing and hacking, Kolt heard another caw come from above, as if he was being mocked. “Yeah, mock me some more you stupid featherheads.” He growled as he slipped his musket from his back and trained it on the shadow that was cawing. FTCHTHOOM! The black shadow let out a cry as a fifty caliber minie ball tore through it, and Kolt smiled through the smoke cloud, face still covered in bird shit, as it tumbled down. Far away, he faintly heard the telltale crunch of bone as it hits against something very sturdy, probably another downed tree. Kolt ripped his machete from the bark of the tree, and hacked off a large leaf from the bush he fell into, wiping crap off of his face. Thankfully, his mouth was closed when he was hit with the wave of bowel matter. He gnawed on the cap of the powder horn, pulling it off as he poured some grains of powder down the bore of the musket, with some plant matter to act as a wad before tossing a ball down. Kolt poked down the barrel with the ramrod, gave it a good smack, and returned it to its hole in the foregrip. He finished off the musket with a few grains of blackpowder in the pan and flipped it closed.

Ah, he loved guns. Scratch, that, he was obsessed with them. The relationship between a firearm and it’s user is always a dangerously thrilling one. You need to learn your gun first, learn how it feels, what ammo it works best with, and how to be good with it. And then, how to improve with it. There is always room for improvement with a gun, no matter the gun. Kolt knew this by the heart. All he had to entertain himself with as a child was book after book on firearms and how they worked. Lots of reading. He threw the sling back over himself, and coughed as he surveyed the area around him. To his right, more thick jungle. To his left, the foliage seemed to lessen, probably meaning that a clearing was nearby. He set off in that direction, slowly jogging. He pushed through a few shrubs, and found himself in a tiny clearing, only large enough to let in just some extra light from the sun above. But it was enough to illuminate what was in the clearing.

A camp, filled with the torn remnants of tents and shattered crates that had been eaten away by a mixture of decay and termite-like creatures. As Kolt approached the campground, he noticed small, sparkling objects littering the ground, and crouched down to pick one up. Cases for cartridges, ancient ones judging by the rust. Kolt wiped the grime off of the back of one and tried to read the lettering stamped around the primer, but it was completely unintelligible, written in some ancient language. He instead brought up his previously-wrist-mounted PDA, and swiped the brass case over the small bulb on it. The PDA took a second to process before writing an article on its screen. It was an old .577/450 Martini cartridge, used back on earth almost two hundred years ago by the long defunct British Empire. Confused, Kolt scanned it again, just to make sure. Yep, the cartridge was ancient.

Strange, he thought, why would an explorer have a gun that fires obsolete, ancient ammo? Oh wait, space laws. He looked through the campsite, finding nothing in the first two tents, but in the last one he unearthed a gruesome discovery; a decomposed skeleton, wearing some sort of extremely primitive space suit of sorts comprised of what seemed to be baggy leather, its head uncovered. The scariest part to Kolt was the fact that the skeleton… was human. “Oh, shit.” He coughed as he covered his mouth with his hand. Alien worms crawled in and out of orifices in the skeleton, whose jaw had been seemingly torn off violently, attached at only one point, teeth shattered, as if something violently shoved itself in. Take that as you will.

Kolt noticed that the skeleton was clutching something in one of its hands, which had been pulled over itself, laid on its chest. It was a large revolver of some sort, rusted and with a brown patina finish gained by years of exposure. He tried to pull it out of the hands of the skeleton, but its grip held fast. It didn’t hold onto it very well after Kolt brought his heel down on the fingers, snapping them completely off as the ancient leather ripped like thin paper, papyrus to be exact. Sorry Sans. Brushing off the grime and muck, he tried to read the text above the cylinder. Still written in some outdated tongue whose name skirted Kolt’s mind, but Kolt knew what this gun was, with its grooved cylinder, large hammer and unusual thumb-actuated safety; It was a Webley-Fosbery, one of Kolt’s favorite guns {A}. He was both thrilled and horrified at its sudden appearance, mainly because guessing by the leather tatters the skeleton wore, along with the ammo for a long-disintegrated Martini-Henry and this Webley, people have apparently been visiting this planet for a long, long time. He flicked the cylinder open and removed the eight-round moonclip from inside, pondering the rusted cartridges it held.

 

As Kolt hopped out of his ship onto the platform, he was quickly accosted by three clones, rifles slung over their backs. “Move before I violently displace your asses them with my fists.” Kolt ordered, but the clones steadfast, encircling him, eyes following him and brows forcefully furrowed.

“Kolt Saudwell, you’re coming in for questioning.” The one in front of him ordered in a forced gruff tone of voice, and Kolt’s arms were simultaneously grabbed by the clones on each side of him. There was no use in struggling, as these clones were wearing GSS licensed suits, and starting shit with the GSS was NOT a smart idea. Their hands locked around his upper arms, and Kolt was forced to follow the one in front of him. Trudging along, Kolt had the urge to shove his boot up the firm ass of the one in front of him, and then break the hands of the two holding onto him, but he fought it. They practically paraded him around the station, taking an elevator up to the floors above and riding on a tram, twice entering and exiting the towers, making their across the station as Kolt had entered through the third tower.

The residential sector of the station was a complete mess. Think of it as one of those giant apartment buildings in Judge Dredd, where it’s just level after level of houses with a big gap in the middle, except this time the gap sometimes has bridges across the middle, and there are shops along with apartments. There was trash EVERYWHERE; I don’t think the station janitors, or janitor, had reached this part of the station on their unbelievably long shift. Before being hauled into an elevator, Kolt peered down the shaft in the middle of the floors, getting a glimpse of a gigantic trash pile, licked by fire on both sides. An incinerator of some sort, he thought as the elevator doors closed on him, under which was the thick roof of the medical bay. What if someone fell down? The artificial gravity got heavier as the elevator shot upwards, before slowing to a grinding halt.

The doors opened to an awkward sight; A red fox wearing an OD-green police jacket, the letters ‘GSS’ emblazoned above the right breast, was forcefully shoving her Colt Double Eagle into the mouth of some poor hyena with an L-shaped scar over his right eye, spitting at him in one of the many common languages of the GSS. Considering by the overuse of grunting noises, it was probably English. The hyena whimpered as she tightened her grip on the collar of his leather jacket, growling out what seemed to be orders as the hyena began to furiously nod.

“The next time I catch you around children, I won’t just throw the book at you, i’ll make you eat it, got that, punk?” She was sincere. After the hyena gave himself a headache from the nodding did she let him go, and Only after she watched the hyena slink into an alleyway did she turn to Kolt and the clones. That sounds like a band.

“Ah, the Aldearian Privateer,” She sighed as she unzipped her jacket and tucked her handgun into a holster under her armpit, “I’ll take it from here, clones.”

“As you wish, officer.” The clones responded in unison, and they let go of Kolt’s arms and left down the elevator behind them, doors sliding shut on the visible halves of their stoic, pale faces.

“Follow me.” She ordered, and Kolt, feeling lost already, did so. They walked down the empty streets of the miniature grungy city, rounding corners into simulated alleys and stepping in puddle created by a mixture of spilled alcohol and urine. The GSS officer walked down another alley, and turned to Kolt, letting out an annoyed sigh. “Sorry for the intrusion. I just had to speak with you. You know Gene, the girl stuck in quarantine?”

“Yes.” Kolt replied. He had a lump in his throat from being thrust into conversation with this odd woman. This was the second odd woman this fortnight, and probably not the last. Wait, maybe it was the third, or even the fourth? If you count Velent and Gene, and ma-whatever, off topic.

“She’s my sister.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m Marshal Winter, Hillary Winter, and I need your help.”

winter

Marshal Hillary Winter, circa 2075

Hillary was quite tough-looking, with a wide, large face, larger jacket, and even larger thighs for one would assume crushing men’s heads like sparrow eggs. She had a stern look on her face and her lips were almost invisible, and the most prominent part of her face, her snout, was relatively short. She also had no tail, a sure sign of previous military service, and wore very tight jeans, which only helped show how huge her crotch-punters were (legs). She stood at about the same height as Kolt, maybe an inch or two shorter but it wasn’t really that visible.

She had a full head of hair, compared to Gene’s tiny little tuft, and it was a bobbed mess, frantically combed. It had been obviously dyed, being a dark, shiny shade of blue instead of a natural brown like Gene’s. Her fur was the same tone as Gene’s, and most of the markings were the same. But she had much more obvious age to her, and Kolt could practically feel the paranoia and worry wafting from her.

“You’re the only one who can come into contact with her, correct?”

“That’s true. I’m immune to almost all types of disease. Don’t worry, they scrubbed me down all over when I came out of the quarantine bubble.” He glanced down. “And I mean all over… and under…”

“Then I need you to tell her something. Considering that you’re a stranger, I feel more safe asking you this than a possible government agent.” Winter opened to her mouth to continue talking, but instead she just sighed and looked away. She shook her head.

“I… I need you to tell her that I’m s-sorry,” She stuttered, “That I’m sorry for convincing her to join the GSS’ sponsored science team. She shouldn’t have listened to my stupidity, the propaganda I constantly would spout about my job. If you could tell her this, I would be grateful. I brought you in since you were the only one who could be in the same room as her, and it was almost like fate smiled upon me, for once.”

Kolt was kinda creeped out. “Miss, er, Misses Winter, I-”

“Miss.”

“Miss Winter,” Kolt corrected himself, “I didn’t even need to come here. I’m just here because my best friend is. But I will gladly aid you. If it helps, I’ve recently been down to the planet she had gotten infected on,” Winter’s eyes widened slightly once Kolt said that, a little bit of hope sparking across her weary face. “I hope that I am close to finding the vector of her disease.”

Winter visibly started to fight back a smile, forcing down the edges of her mouth when they tried to pull back. “Thank you, Privateer.”

“Call me Kolt. Can I go now?”

“Yes, you can go.” Kolt nodded at Winter, and she nodded back, and he turned and walked out of the alleyway, trying to figure out what direction to go. As he walked around, Kolt thought to himself about if he had a sibling. He had a dad, a foster one, at least, and he was a great guy. But what if Kolt had a sister, or a brother out there, in the far reaches of space? If he knew found them, and they were sick, would he cry? Would he grieve and mourn over his siblings’ condition, even though he only found out their existence recently? Is the bond between him and his hopefully non-existent sick sibling strong? Why was he having this mental argument with himself? Imagine how is touch the sky? Kolt didn’t know. He always thought siblings were either a bore or a liability. Just like children. As he walked back down the narrow faux street, which was nothing more than a mocked-up hallway, he wondered how it was like to be a parent.

He never imagined himself swaddling a baby, or even holding one. Swallowing one, yes, but swaddling? No, not him, never! His face wrenched into disgust at the thought of him having kids. They would poop, pee, cry, and scream, and put him in so much debt. Children are only good for eating, Kolt learned that fact early in his life. His ancestors, the ‘first generation’ of Aldearians, would eat their children if they were not strong enough, using mandibles that had been long evolved away. They had to in order to survive on the ships to the Milky Way, as there was no food, and the ones who survived grew into the second generation, the Colonists. Cannibalism is not taboo, not anymore (it actually still is, Kolt’s just a fool). Eating another member of your species isn’t a crime, it’s actually preferred on some small, impoverished worlds (it actually is a crime, Kolt’s a moron), though if you do it you’ll probably get lynched (see). Kolt probably could never divulge in the cuisine of Aldearian flesh, as his species was pretty much extinct. The only other Aldearians he saw were in either the magazines, usually in articles about species rights deprivation and genocide, or on the news, usually talking about those two things. Everybody hated Aldearians, but Kolt didn’t know why.

Racism was a concept Kolt was not familiar with. To him, everyone is relatively the same. It didn’t matter if you were a man, woman, or neither. You were a person, which means you were a possible threat to his existence. He killed people equally, whatever that means.

Species diversity has changed a lot of things, including racism. It just doesn’t make sense; there are hundreds of morph species out there, why hate one over the other? Granted, people weren’t exactly fond of the damn foxes owning everything and being in almost all government positions, but it wasn’t apartheid-level favoritism.

Kolt remembered one time during a festival many years ago, on some small planet whose name eluded him.

People were whooping with joy, clapping and singing around him. Kolt sipped his margarita as he pushed through the crowd, attempting to catch a glimpse of the parade on the street. He squeezed past a few citizens, and almost tripped into the street. He stood there, glass in one of his hands and camera in the other, a lei draped over his hood and wrapped around his neck. This was quite a long time ago, close to when he first joined the Privateers seven years ago. He wasn’t nearly as scarred and grizzled back then as he was now.

Colorful parade floats crawled past at a snail’s pace, with members of various species hopping all over them wearing brightly colored costumes, members of many vastly different species all the same under their silly cloaks and hats. Some, mainly females, were dancing… saucier than the others, if you understand. The vibrant colors almost made the cameras in Kolt’s eyes sting, but he was having a blast. Alcohol, bright colors, and people shaking their bums? It was his kind of parade. But when Kolt finally took his eyes off of one of the actors’ rumps, he noticed something weird about the crowds on each side of the street.

Almost no one was the same, be it in coloration or species. The diversity was enormous! It would make left-leaning people shed a tear. Wolves yipped as they drank beers with fire ants, a rare type of morph, who hungrily gnawed on baguettes with their giant incisors like french hobos, a deer was slow dancing across the street in the windows of a restaurant with a mink, a ferret wearing glasses stood across the street looking awkward and trying to enjoy themselves, and in general everyone was having a mostly jolly good time. This was one of the few times Kolt had smiled in his entire service with the Privateers, but at this time Kolt was much younger, and much more stupid. But he had fun.

These memories warmed Kolt’s mind as he walked into an elevator, perusing the row of buttons next to him before pressing the one labeled ‘TRAMS’, and the artificial gravity tried to pull him down as the elevator slid down the shaft. Making fun of someone because of their ancestry or species? How animal-like was that! Kolt anxiously pulled out his PDA, but as he swiped through the menus he tasted a strong amount of iron seeping into his mouth. He wiped his upper lip off, and stared at the sizable amount smeared crimson on his gloves fingers. Turning and staring at his reflection on the reflective walls, Kolt noticed that he had what seemed to be a streak of blood, slowly dripping from the top of his head.

As he wiped his face off, he probed the bloody spot with his finger. It didn’t sting or anything, even though his skin was visibly cracked. He flipped open one of his pouches, and using mirror-like walls,stitched the tiny gash closed. He closed his eyes and breathed in, letting his breath slowly seep out of his nostrils. Were his scars leaking again? That seemed to be the most likely explanation, and as he left the tram, he sprinted to the bathrooms. Kolt wetting a paper towel and wiping the spot one more time for good measure, he left the tram station’s bathroom, waltzing into a empty tram connected by rail to the two other parts of the station, heading out on a round trip. Kolt spread out his legs when he sat down on the bench inside the oval-shaped pod, and when the doors, like fat, plastic wings, dropped down and sealed the pod airtight, he laid down on the bench, resting the back of his head onto the cushioned molded plastic under him. He made sure to get on the tram that took the longest, as it travelled across the middle tower and stopped in the last, before looping back around. He closed his eyes, feeling his eyelids slid over his lubed biomechanical eyes.

 

Kolt sat on the ground, daydreaming. It was quiet for once in his silent hell, due to the recent departure of that damned subconscious being. He laid his hand on the non-visible grass, feeling the invisible blades brush against his fingers. He wasn’t nearly as comfortable when he was in the shower, but, he still managed to stay unconscious. He dreamed about desert sands whipping across his chitin, the grains getting stuck in the corners of his eyes. He would run his hands through it, feeling every point and prick on his callused hands. Zerr was there, in the distance, waving to him. Kolt waved back, smiling, though when he looked back down at the sand covering his feet, all he could see was his feet, suspended in the familiar white void, shining with the light of an invisible sun. His mind stirred as his consciousness was transferred from one memory to another, one dream into another.

He was home. At least, his mind made it look like he was. Walking up to the glass window, Kolt peered down at the bustling city below him, and his stomach realistically dropped when he saw how high he was. His father would always close the drapes, but in his dreams, they were wide open. Slowly, his eyes rose up, looking across the city at the surrounding countryside, and a singular mountain flanked the penthouse. He wanted to be here, at home. He wanted to open the drapes, and stare down at the city below him, something he could literally only dream of doing. The demon in the back of his mind told him to push on the window, pop it out of its frame, and leap out into the empty space. It had been like this ever since he could remember. Kolt floated around his ethereal home, scanning each familiar room. In this dream it was impeccably clean, a fact that wasn’t true in reality. He and his father would throw their clothing everywhere, and it smelled like a Marbelian hooker’s asshole. If only his father was there.

Kolt’s adoptive father, loved him much more than most fathers ever did with their own biological children. It was mainly due to the fact that he was only twelve years older than Kolt, having been a pup when Kolt was born. He was less of a father, and more like an older brother. But Kolt loved him, and he loved his son more than Kolt suspected he did himself. His father was an ex-GSS soldier, having deserted in the middle of battle after watching his fellow soldiers slaughter a couple and being forced to gun them down to stop them from murdering a small child, only a few years of age, in a war long forgotten by everyone but still fresh in his mind. The couple was Kolt’s foster parents, and the child was Kolt; Kolt still doesn’t know who his biological parents are. He dropped his gun and ran from the battlefield, defecting to the country that was being attacked, the Aldearian Republic. The Aldearian government gave him the fanciest penthouse they could in one of their territories and in return he helped them negotiate a treaty with the Gilded States, and stopped the war. But after the treaty was signed, Dennis, Kolt’s adoptive father, was left with an odd-acting nine-year-old Aldearian child to care to, who thankfully couldn’t remember the events later, and couldn’t understand them at the time. So, Dennis adopted him, gave him a name even, but over time he found ‘Kolt’ to roll across the tongue easier.

Kolt wondered what his original name was, before he was a foster child.

What’s in a name?

 

Dr. Velent wiped down the spot on Kolt’s left forearm that had been marked with a white marker, as no other color would work. His arm was starting to get tired from being held out for so long, but Velent assured him it wouldn’t be much longer, and indeed it wasn’t. A small tube popped out of a hole on the table next to her, and she grabbed it and twisted the cap off, sticking a syringe in and extracting some of the blue liquid inside. “This,” She spoke as she placed the syringe on the table, “Is a concoction I whipped up. It’s none more than a few marked cells that I will inject directly into your bloodstream, for monitoring after you are exposed directly to Dr. Gene. It might sting a little when you are close to her, but just ignore it.” She gave the needle a tap with her middle finger, before holding onto Kolt’s wrist and slipping the thin needle under his epidermis. It didn’t even sting, as the needle was finely sharpened and small.

As Kolt rubbed the underside of his forearm, Velent placed the syringe in a small box marked ‘Disposal’, and pulled off her gloves. Kolt rolled down the sleeve of his undershirt on his right arm, and let his injected left arm uncovered, the small pin prick still oozing a tiny trickle of red blood.

When he brushed past the plastic curtains of the bubble, the atmosphere of the room made Kolt immediately know the situation was much more dire. Medical pumps were dragged in on wheeled carts, a defibrillator unit sat on the table, and IV units surrounded Gene like a cage. She seemed sleepy, but he didn’t know if it was due to the virus, or the drugs being pumped into her to stabilize her. She sat upright, legs tossed over the side of the bed, like she had not shifted since Kolt left for the planet, which was now designated UHP 54, or ‘Uninhabited Hostile Planet Fifty-Four’. Most planets were given simple designations not unlike that, as names are hard to come up with sometimes. But most large hubs and centers for trade have been officially named one thing or another.

Gene.” Kolt whispered to himself, and Gene, as if she heard him, flapped her ear weakly. Her eyes were focused on the slowly dripping IV bag suspended next to her, filled with some nameless drug.

“To think that the only thing stopping me from outright screaming in agony is in this plastic bag, along with the ones around me.” She glanced down at her bound wrist, which had at least four different needles jammed into it, all snaking off to different bags. “It’s almost like i’m having by bloodstream get quadra-penetrated. My entire arm is itchy.”

“I’m guessing that’s not very fun, is it.” Kolt pointed to the small wound on his arm. “I need you to get some blood on this. We’re testing to see if it can hurt my immune system. My species is robust against disease.”

“Robust? Heh, that sounds kinda odd.”

Kolt shrugged “Maybe I’m a little odd, then.” Kolt heard a muffled laugh from outside the bubble, and he blinked. “Also, your sister asked me to tell you something.”

“My sister?” Her ears perked up, or at least tried to, and her face was overwhelmed with a mix of happiness and shock.

“She says she’s sorry for getting you in the GSS. She said that it was stupid of her to let you join so early, and that you are too young to be doing dangerous stuff, and that she feels responsible for what happened to you.” Kolt felt good for the first and only time while being around Gene. He saw the shock in her face change to happiness, and then worry.

Her cracked lips attempted a weak smile, and she looked back at the IV bag. “She was already worrying about me, before I joined. Well, I’ll be out of her hair soon enough.” She looked back at Kolt, “Do you have any siblings?”

“None that I know of.”

“They’re silly, siblings. One day they’ll hate your guts and treat you terribly, the next, they’ll treat you like gold. T-Tell my sister, that it’s fine. I know you aren’t going to find a cure, but at least, attempt to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.” She looked up at Kolt, and suddenly reached for her bandaged eye. Yanking it off, Kolt’s stomach dropped when he saw her orbital. No skin remained around her socket, mottled bone sticking up through the matted fur, and her eye was sunken and red, clotted with blood.

“Look me in the eyes, and tell me that you will help my sister be happy.”

Kolt did, keeping a firm poker face. “I will.” He assured, his tone firm as he tried to put as much truth behind his words as possible. He felt that at that very moment, he made an oath, and he did. Gene looked down at his arm, and drew a flayed finger across her bloody socket, and Kolt offered his arm. She wiped the blood and pus mixture over the still-bleeding prick. Thankfully, Kolt has a strong stomach, but this whole procedure still made him queazy. As he turned to leave, Gene said the last words he would ever hear come from her mouth.

“Stay strong, Saudwell.”

His arm tingled.

 

As the scout ship landed once more on the surface of UHP 54, a bandage wrapped around his arm where a square of flesh was removed, including the injection spot, for study by Dr. Velent, Kolt’s PDA started to buzz, when he answered it, the familiar voice of Winter boomed out of the tiny speakers, a tinge of grief in her tone and her voice wavering.

“I-Is this Kolt S-Saudwell?”

“In the chitin.”

“Gene’s dead.”

The news didn’t really hit Kolt at all; It was obvious she didn’t have much time left, and, to be completely honest, he didn’t care that much. He had talked to her a total of TWO TIMES, Winter only ONCE for just a few seconds. If Winter died he wouldn’t give two shits. “I’m sorry.” He sighed, trying to make himself sound honest.

“Don’t be. It was my fault. Her body was immediately burnt, and her funeral is gonna be next week.”

“Okay. I’m sorry for your loss.” Kolt disconnected the call, not a twitch of emotion in his face. It’s just a job. He’s taken dozens before. No difference. He’s already met hundreds of other people, some dead, some alive, but he only cares about a few. That’s just how it is. How was this one any different?

Well, minus the fact that he’s doing it for free.

He’d be home by the end of the week.

The ship slowed as it hit the atmosphere, and soon it was sitting the same clearing as before. Kolt had messaged Home and got clearance to use higher tech weaponry, as he had found ‘modern’ weaponry on the planet, and he was given a Martini-Enfield single shot rifle, chambered for the long-obsolete .303 British cartridge, which went out of production when the British Army adopted the No.9 Mk1 in the 1950s.

While he was getting ready for an excursion into the jungle, Kolt pulled out the pristine Colt Model P he was given, a 4.75 inch barrel model, with a matte blue finish and chambered in the still-popular .45 Long Colt. It was known in some parts of the known universe as the ‘Single Action Army’, and he felt like a cowboy just holding it. Thumbing back the hammer and flipping open the gate, Kolt loaded five cartridges, positioning the hammer so it would sit over an empty chamber. He gave the gun a twirl, sliding it into the holster clipped the to his belt, and picked up the Martini-Enfield, pulling down the block by giving the lever a sharp tug with his pinky, and sliding a polished white case inside, pushing the block back up. A hinge was attached to the butt of the stock, and when Kolt flipped it open he was presented with two rows of four equally-bored holes. He pressed eight cartridges in, and flipped it closed. Turning to the the jungle below him, he started to wander.

The familiar brush batted against his naked legs, and Kolt started to feel like Zaroff, tracking an invisible, non-existent Rainsford through the jungle. The weight of the rifle on his back and the revolver on his hip made him long for his digital inventory, which sat under the seat of his secured ship far up the hill. He made his way back to the destroyed camp, and this time travelling past it, squeezing past the tents in the dense jungle. There was no obvious change in the jungle, but as he continued to walk, he noticed the air’s sparseness was gone, and he could breathe freely and easily. He thought, my lungs have gotten used to the planet, but as a flock of birds flew overhead, Kolt sensed something was wrong. His left arm started to tingle again, as if it was some sort of alarm for something unknown, and he slid the revolver out of it’s holster, scanning the forest as he pulled back the hammer.

“Flesh tingling. Something’s near.” He whispered to himself, looking over his arm as he held his revolver on the foliage around him. Nothing was different, but it just felt odd. The effects of the shot should’ve worn off by now, he thought, and continued to tromp around the jungle, this time jogging at a brisk pace, revolver positioned at his side. Light shot through some of the vines ahead of him, signifying a clearing was on the other side. But before he could push through them, he heard a characteristic high-pitched whinny to his left, and turned just in time to dive out of the way of a charging four-legged beast.

The creature that hard charged him look like an abstract interpretation of a devolved horse; the face nothing more than an equine skull with a thin sheet of pale blue flesh pulled over it, and with a pair of beady black eyes stared down at Kolt with a slightly cocked head, who had recovered from his dive and now had his rifle unslung and pointed at the creature’s face.{A} It whinnied again and whipped it’s head side-to-side as it began to rear it’s front legs, throwing off Kolt’s aim and causing him to loudly discharge the rifle into the vines behind it. He began to backpedal as he pulled the lever on the underside of the rifle down and ejected the empty case over his wrist, flipping open the buttplate and pulling a round out from inside, sliding it into the smoking breech and slamming it shut before turning and running. He was too close to it; it could easily outrun him and trample him.

He was facing what was known as a ‘Sark beast’. They’re genetically modified monstrosities formed from devolved horses that had been mutilated and enhanced in order to survive in alien environments. They were given to colonists to release onto potential colony planets, in order to see if the environment was suitable. And judging by its appearance, this planet has already been examined by colonists. But it was unlisted in the registry? Wait, the birds…

Kolt lept over a fallen tree as the beast sprinted after him, and, quickly thinking, he fell to the ground in front of the fallen tree and pointed his rifle upwards. The Sark beast magnificently jumped over it, sailing over Kolt.{A} But Kolt’s abnormally quick reactions allowed him to pull the trigger at the perfect moment, and when the creature landed, thick red blood gushed from a wound on its underside, and it angrily whinnied as Kolt got back to his feet, having flipped open the buttplate once again and drawn out three more cartridges. He had tucked two between his fingers, and the other one was already being slid into the breech of the rifle when the creature regained its bearings. The beast let out a more pained whinny, more a cry this time, but charged Kolt nonetheless.

But now that he had gained his focus, Kolt let his muscle memory take over. He fired again, striking the creature in the front shoulder and ripping a tear in its blue-ish flesh, and he yanked the lever down moments after firing, sliding in one of the cartridges held between his fingers before closing it again. His next shot hit it in the upper ribcage, and he didn’t even notice the steaming case bouncing off of his forearm as the tip of the next cartridge bumped against the edge of the chamber. The Sark beast began to stumble as it ran, but it hadn’t lost much speed, and Kolt’s final shot hit it square in the chest, to the right of the third shot, and the creature’s heart had been pierced; it was mortally wounded, but still a threat. The Aldearian dropped his rifle moments before the beast bent its head forward, intent on clobbering him with its thick skull. Kolt held out his arms, sliding one of his feet backwards and bracing it against the tree, and blinked once before the creature slammed into him.

He was pushed against the tree, but wasn’t hurt. Both hands were on the creature’s shoulders, its head over his shoulder, and he could hear its raspy breathing to his right as it fell forward onto him. He simply pushed it away, and the creature fell to its side, letting out the closest equivalent to a groan it could. Kolt leaned over and picked back up his rifle, and as the creature let out its dying gasps, he went around the tree, retracing his steps and collecting his steel casings; he was obliged by law to collect any and all sorts of technology he left behind, cartridge casings included, lead thankfully excluded; He wasn’t in the mood to go digging through the creature’s body to rip the bullets out of it. As he searched, he found a nice branch, and he leaned over and picked it up. He pinched the main stalk and ran his fingers down its length, stripping the leaves from it and leaving it bare. Swinging the stick around, he walked back over to the dying creature, whacking it on the side a few times with the stick before sitting on the tree. He blinked twice, and cocked his head to the side. The creature’s beady black eyes stared into his bright amber ones, and he felt nothing from this creature. It was acting on instinct alone, and Sark beasts weren’t carnivores; he had trespassed on its territory. He poked it on the face with his stick, blowing a raspberry as he did so, before whacking it under the eye.

“Die please.” He bluntly asked. “I don’t want to waste anymore ammunition on you.”

The creature stopped breathing. That was convenient.

Kolt stood up and looked down on the now-dead animal, prodding it with his stick, before looking behind him at the vines that he was about to push through before he was assaulted. A bullet hole high up on the vines had light shining through them, and Kolt climbed over both the creature’s corpse and the tree before he put a hand on the vines. He shoved through. What was on the other side, he didn’t expect.

It was some sort of ancient, ugly little town. Ruined pillars towered above him, and crumbled walls sat beside him. Kolt brushed off a complete brick, and intricate carvings appeared. Grass grew in certain patches, while paths were made of trampled dirt, weaving around invisible corners and long-gone buildings. Kolt was apprehensive as he walked among the ruins, revolver held awkwardly in both hands as he scanned his corners and peered behind him every few moments. He noticed that the pillars, while tall, did not clear the treetops, and figured that was how he didn’t see the blatantly obvious remnants as he swooped down. The few buildings that stood were single-story brick huts, with single open doorways and square holes next to the doorways, crude windows, lit up as the bright sun shined into them at a angle. Normally, Kolt would just be like “Oh cool,” and leave, but judging by his gut feeling (and his tingly limb), he needed to investigate further, and he spotted a toppled pillar not that far away, smashed into what used to be a two-story building.

Kolt examined the ghost town, looking over every building. His amber cybernetic eyes didn’t do anything to help this, as they were simply replacements for his opaque white ones he was born with, and didn’t have any sort of special ‘scanning’ ability. Inside the buildings were simple pieces of furniture constructed from wood, most likely from the nearby trees, and stone furnaces built into the ground. Baskets were weaved from plant fiber, and there was even primitive clothing and bladed weapons in some houses. Kolt pulled the top off of one basket he found, and his eyes widened in surprise when the smell of spiced jerky hit him. There was dried jerky in the basket. People had lived here. What unnerved him the most is that everything looked ‘new’, as in there was only some dust and soot on a couple of the objects, but nothing looked incredibly aged, and when he came across one stone furnace, he pulled off a glove and stuck his hand in, hovering it over the embers. He could still feel an extremely faint bit of heat from them. He left that building and scratched his chin, rubbing his forefinger and thumb together with his still-gloved hand. This didn’t feel right. Nothing about this felt right.

However, he did notice something quite odd as he was about to go into another building; a single two-story building far off in the middle of the town, and when he leaned out the doorway of the building he was about to enter, he noticed something moving in the windows, of which the building had four, two on each level, facing towards Kolt stood. It was pacing. Kolt climbed down the pillar, but as he stepped down, his right foot, still on the pillar, caught on the lip of the stone. He gulped as he tripped, knees scraping against the stone flooring, and a sharp pain biting into his right thumb. As he propped himself up, and dragged his right hand in front of him, the revolver coming along too. “Goddamnit.” He grumbled as he tried to retrieve his finger from between the frame and hammer of the revolver. Apparently, as he fell, his index finger slipped into the handguard, pulling the light trigger as his thumb fell between the frame and hammer, slamming the firing pin into his thumb. He pushed back the hammer, and, sure enough, a bloody firing pin stuck out of the top of his thumb, and Kolt slowly slid his impaled thumb off of the hammer.

He pulled off his glove and flipped open a pouch on his belt, retrieving a small bit of gauze from the neatly-organized medical supplies inside and promptly wrapping some of it around the digit, which was profusely bleeding from both sides. He slid the glove back on, deciding not to draw the revolver unless he really needed it, and he lowered the hammer with his other thumb. But he realized he missed a step, and pulled off his glove again, retrieving the canteen he had on his side and pouring some water onto the wrapped-up thumb. He tugged off his other glove with his teeth, washing off that hand too. He chewed on his unhurt thumb as he examined the bloodied and soaked gauze around his puncture; it didn’t sting that much. After a few seconds of gnawing, he wiped his hands on his shorts, and put his gloves back. And with a quickness to his step, a few minutes later he stood in front of the tallest building. It’s front was like all the others, with the doorway and it’s single window. Illuminated by the sunlight on the far side of the wall was a crude set of stairs, steps bending inwards from decades, possibly centuries of walking. Kolt tenderly laid a foot inside, watching each step as he walked to and carefully up the stairs.

He had no idea what to expect; it could be anything from an explorer, a settler, a wild beast, or, in the worst case, the creature Gene told of, even though the smudge of orange, not tan, that he had seen was definitely much smaller than what was described to him. He held his breath, focusing on his sense of hearing. Low, faint breathing. The stairs led up to a wall, attached to which was a doorway on the right side. As the stairs were attached to the back wall, Kolt was all the way on the left of the room, and with even more careful, precise steps, he tip-toed across, back to the wall, palms splayed. As he got closer to the door, another sound was heard from within the room; the crunching and shifting of a few pebbles as someone adjusted where they stood. This was no wild beast.

Kolt spun around the corner, lifting up his open hands, and catching a furry hand that held onto a machete, pushing it upwards and away from him.{A} Grabbing the arm of the blade’s owner, he pulled them towards him, wrapping his arm around the back of their head and pressing their face to his chest, and they gasped and let go of the machete. It clattered against the floor. Something about the orange and white fur reminded Kolt of someone, and he too gasped as he let go of his captive.

“Gene?” He said, bewildered, as the female fox brushed herself off.

“Yes, that’s my name,” The fox replied, a little out of breath. Leaning over and picking back up her machete, the fox slid it into a plastic scabbard attached to her hip. She looked him over, squinting accusingly. “How do you know my name, Privateer? And better yet, what are you doing here?” She questioned, but Kolt stepped back, hand on his chin.

“You told, me.” He fretted, “You’re dead. I saw you, sick, in the medical bay of Cerberus station.” He stopped, and looked up at her, noticing that her emotions had sunken, and her mouth had dropped open.

“Oh no…” She muttered. She placed a hand on her hip, and her other on her head, cursing as she circled around the room, Kolt still confused. “This is not good, not good at all.”

 

“Winter, I’ve found something and I think you-”

“I don’t want to talk right now.”

“Please don’t disconnect. I’ve found Gene. Well, another Gene.”

Silence. Kolt nodded to Gene, and he stuck out the tablet towards her. “Sis?” She asked, “Is that you?”

“OH MY GOD, GENE?” Winter’s rough voice screamed, causing the pair to jump. “You’re dead, supposed to be cremated!”

“Dead? Marooned, yes, but very alive.” Kolt smirked for a split second when she said the word ‘marooned’, and he thought of Zerr, the crow scavenger that helped him a few days ago. “Listen, are you somewhere secure, where no one can hear you?”

More silence, and then Winter’s voice once again boomed out of the tiny speakers on the device. “I’m in a secure location, “ She whispered, “How the hell are you still alive? I saw you, infected with some weird disease, and I saw your corpse. I… Can you guys get to a high point?”

“I landed on a hilltop.” Kolt explained, “We’re standing there right now, outside of my ship. But it’s too small to hold someone, unless…”

Gene looked at him, pleading. Kolt sighed. “Unless we clean out the boot, which I would rather not do as it would be a waste of good guns.” When he met Gene’s hostile gaze, he added, “…but it would be for the best, I suppose.”

“Alright,” Winter’s voice beamed in from Kolt’s wrist, “What happened, Genie?” Kolt reeled at the nickname, as it was horrible and child-like and stupid and dumb and also fucking atrocious.

“Don’t call me that.” Gene shared his opinion, giving Kolt a little bit of relief. “I’ll explain to you once we leave, come on Kolt, let’s move the guns.”

After a bit of pushing and shoving, Kolt managed to make enough room for Gene to lay without having to dump off the expedition firearm lockers, so that was nice, and he handed his PDA to her through the hatch behind his seat. “I’ll be able to hear you talk as we fly, due to the fact that it’s just the back of the seat that’s separating the boot from the cockpit.” Gene nodded, huddled into a fetal position as she slid the PDA onto her wrist, and Kolt pulled down the hatch. One detail Kolt forgot to mention is that, if he farted, well, she’s in a dutch oven. Whoops.

During takeoff, Kolt heard muffled talking behind the fibers of his flight seat, and asked, “Can you speak up? I can’t hear you over the humming of the consoles and the engine.”

“Sorry!” Gene practically yelled. “I was just catching up with my sister. Well, as you may know i’ve been trapped on that primitive world for, hmm, five-ish days, probably six. I had already set up a camp, but after my ship exploded I tore it down. I ate a bug!”

“Your ship exploded? Did you mix gasoline and petrol again?”

“Yes, wait, no, not this time, but yes, it exploded, and that’s the reason why i’m slightly toxic in attitude. Someone blew it up remotely, probably this ‘Doctor Velent’ you both spoke of through the self-destruct mechanism those damned safety unions forced to be installed. The only reason to have them is just to remotely detonate ships and kill people! Then again, they can sue the makers again to have them removed… Anyways, I made my way to the town, and noticed that there was a general lack of any fauna at all, minus the occasional flock of avians and some small insects.”

“German, please.”

Kolt heard her sigh very faintly over the roar of the engine. “There was no animals around except for the birds. Probably died off due to the lack of food; nothing is edible, believe me, I’ve tried to see what was. As I said before, I ate a bug. I had diarrhea for three of the six days as a result. Also, I found something suspicious.”

“The ancient campsite?” Kolt asked.

“Yes!” Gene exclaimed through the fabric of the seat. “Someone had been here, and quite obviously didn’t survive. I took a rifle I found on near a human skeleton I found, and scanned its serial number, or at least tried, as it didn’t have any! I used a magnet in my kit to check what it was made of, and to my surprise it was almost completely comprised of pot metal and aluminium! Not steel!”

“Khyber Pass copy?” That was the general term for a crude handmade copy of another, more well known firearm.

“Smart boy! Shortly after I brought it back to my ship and started to travel back to the campsite, I heard this horrible boom, and when I came back my ship was now scrap. Unshaken, however, as I thought my ship’s failsafe would’ve sent off an emergency message to Cerberus. That has turned out to not be true, and with the current chain of events, I think it was on purpose. But I did go back to the camp, and having lost almost my equipment in the explosion, had to rely on my own knowledge of equipment to deduce what happened.”

“Did you see the revolver that the skeleton held?”

“Of course, but I didn’t take it. It’s fingers were locked tight around it.”

“Well, feel around to your, uhh, left, I think.” After a few seconds of audible shuffling, Gene gasped.

“Kolt!”

“What, it’s a cool gun! A Webley-Fosbery, to be exact, the rarer thirty-eight version too. They made approximately four-thousand and seven hundred and fifty of them back around the turn of th-”

“I get it, I get it. Gah, doesn’t matter anymore, but as I was saying, I went back to the campsite and analyzed some of the leather tatters that the skeleton wore. They were cheap in construction, tearing quite easily. Suitable probably for a halloween party, but not protection on a possibly-dangerous planet. It was a reproduction, Kolt. As was the linens the tent was made from. The skeleton was plastic. It was all fake.”

“Is the revolver…”

She sighed in annoyance. “No, Kolt, the revolver is original, probably. The rust is probably relatively new, too.” Kolt silently fist pumped in the cockpit. “What i’m trying to say, is that the camp was faked, rather well to be honest, and judging by how close it was to my landing sight, it was deliberate. I spent most of my time examining it, and not actually looking for fauna and such.”

“So the story I was told was a red herring? Wait a second…” Kolt thought to himself for a minute, piecing together the evidence before slamming his fist on the dashboard of the ship. “Fucking hell, it was a distraction! First, you were taken care of, and I was sent on a goddamn wild goose chase, no offense to geese of course, but shit!”

Mumbling erupted from behind Kolt. “My sister has just told me that she’s going to talk with her supervisors and present this evidence. Doctor Velent isn’t getting away with this.”

Kolt gazed out the reinforced glass separating him from the vacuum. “Let’s not jump to conclusions; we need more evidence.” But he already had jumped to conclusions, and he felt his anger grow inside him. He was no fool.

Wait, yes he was.

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