So, what you’re about to get into is the first of a set of linked short stories I was working on a few years back. It was fun, but lost steam when I started back into the Primal Age Chronicles. There are a few more of these laying around, so hopefully you all enjoy.
Should go without saying, but these are my works and any use of them without my permission will result in bad karma, some stern looks, and possibly some legal action. So, don’t go stealing bones from my graveyard. PS, no idea what level of edited I left this in, so forgive typos and all that yada yada.
The metal pod surrounding Dud kept him securely in place as he plummeted toward the ground. He couldn’t even scratch the itch on his nose.
Until three days ago he had never been in space, or beheld what technology could do. He had been wandering on a prison planet staying alive by hunting with a simple weapon called a bow. The rest of the slave crew he joined was as impressed by the simple tool as he was by the craft that took him amongst the stars he had only ever watched from the ground.
Now he was hurtling at a speed he didn’t want to calculate toward a planet he had never heard of before today. Everything seemed new to him. It was like the awakening of a child though he was somewhere past his puberty years but before being a full blown adult. The experience would be positive if it wasn’t for the fact that he was a bought piece of property that’s lifespan was only a few hours until this mission was accomplished.
He was being dropped on a swampy planet that belonged to a species of sentient beings called Stiations, an amphibious humanoid. There had been plenty of Stiations on Terra-One, the prison planet he was born on, but few of them spoke the same language as Dud. During his years of wandering the planet he had interacted with enough Stiations for one lifetime.
It already felt like a lifetime since he left Terra-One. Terra-One was a planet that had been nearly wiped out of all useable resources. Dying planets like that were worthless to sustaining large amounts of life and were sold at low prices. Sometimes a religious cult would purchase them to try to escape the ruling government, but no one ever truly escaped the Central Powers.
Terra-One had once been two-thirds covered in water, but now there were five trenches that provided the only guaranteed water. These trenches spanned for thousands of miles but were mostly contained in the dried bed that had once been the largest ocean on the planet. Most of the inmates could be found in their own makeshift societies that condensed around these water sources. From orbit it was easy to track the population centers on the surface due to every inmate being ID tracker tagged.
Dud was raised for the first few years of his life by his mother on Terra-One. He didn’t know exactly how long because he wasn’t introduced to the concept of years until later in life. He also didn’t know if his father and mother had been a couple of inmates who fell in love with each other or if he was what was called a ‘forced child’. Besides not knowing any of that he didn’t even know his mother’s name or her sentence.
He did know the one memory that woke him up most nights was the day his mother died. His mother was trying to teach him how to write the alphabet. Even though Dud was up to par on speech she felt it was important he learned how to write in case he ever found a way off the planet. Dud was a stubborn child and refused to write a single letter. They lived in a hut so small his mother could hardly stand up but she had built him a spider tunnel that he could use if they were ever attacked.
There was such little technology left on Terra-One that they lived a primitive existence. The only people who had the remaining technology weren’t the type of people a single woman with a child wanted to come across. He could recount the day as clearly as if he had to relive it.
Dud had been sitting on the floor at a small table that had a bleached animal hide about a foot long that he was supposed to be writing on with a charcoal pencil, but was much more effectively pouting with his hands crossed over his chest. His mother had sat opposite him running a hand through her greasy blonde hair.
“Please, just one letter. Just one letter. Your favorite one. I don’t care which one,” his mother had pleaded.
Dud had just shook his head.
“Why can’t you just do this one thing to make me happy? Please, will you do this for-”
It had been the first time Dud had ever heard an engine, but it had been enough to stop his mother mid-word. She had sprung to her feet, rolled up his parchment and rushed to the makeshift mattress they both slept on. The bedding had a plastic liner to give them some insulation from the ground. Rolling the mattress back she had revealed an escape tunnel.
It hadn’t been the first time Dud saw this. His mother had made him practice escaping through it almost weekly. He’d wiggle his way through it like a worm until he came out the other side, then he would wait patiently until his mother came to claim him. Dud had known this wasn’t something he could pout through and went to the hole.
“Mommy loves you,” she had said as she handed him the parchment and kissed his cheek.
Dud had climbed into the hole and wiggled his way through the dark tunnel. To this day he hadn’t figured out why she gave him the parchment, and it haunted him he never told her he loved her too. In his child’s mind he hadn’t put together what was going to happen, that it would be the last time he ever saw his mother’s green eyes alive with the fire of life.
He had done like he was supposed to and crawled through the tunnel until he emerged in a thicket that he laid in for an entire day waiting for his mother to come. When she never did, he had climbed into his tunnel and wiggled back to their hut.
This was the first time he had seen a dead person.
His mother had been hardly recognizable. Her blood had been cold and soaking into the ground by the time he came back. He had shaken her remains hoping she would wake up, but even in his tiny brain he knew it was hopeless.
He had gone over to the table and unrolled the parchment. With his blood covered finger he made one letter. His favorite. U.
Two days later when he hadn’t moved from the table he decided to give up his vigil and go get some water. Being careful never to look at his mother he had retrieved the child sized bow and arrows she had made for him, slung their two water skins over his neck, and headed for the door. Before he left the hut he rolled up his parchment and stuck it in his little quiver.
It was a decent trek on small legs to get to the water. His mother had set them as far away as she could safely leave him behind to go get water. Water meant predators, not just of the humanoid kind.
Dud was tired, hungry, and thirsty though so he trekked on until he reached the water. The trenches were fascinating to him. Land ended then thousands of feet of water began. There was no gradual transition. One leap to the next.
When he hit the clearing around the water he inched forward making sure there was nothing to eat him lurking around. Sure he was safe Dud lowered his skins into the water.
“Mind sharing with an old man?”
Dud practically jumped into the water at the sound of the voice. An elderly man was standing behind him. This was a remarkable feat. Dud had never seen an old person before. This man had long white hair with a matching beard. He was wrapped in a coat and wore a backpack that didn’t look like it was made of any hide Dud had ever seen. The man leaned heavily on a walking stick. The lines on the man’s face were cut so deep into his face that Dud couldn’t understand how the man wasn’t in pain.
Judging the man was not a threat Dud held his water skin out to the man. When he offered the man his water he didn’t know that he would be acquiring a mentor. This man that he knew as George but the rest of Terra-One knew simply as the Cartographer, would provide him with protection and knowledge.
George was a legend on Terra-One. So revered by every faction he was untouchable. The man earned his legend by traveling thousands of miles from the trench to find areas that had once been civilization before Terra-One was dried up. George was a practitioner of map making which earned him his name.
In the ten years Dud traveled with George he learned how to make maps, handle wild animals, hunt, forage, haggle, trade, and survive with nothing but his brain. This is also when Dud learned the concept of years. George died in what he called his seventy-first year of life.
The one skill Dud had loved more than any other was being able to integrate himself with wild creatures. Terra-One had more than its fair share of man eating creatures. Few were more feared than the moss wolves. They looked eye to eye with a full grown man while standing on all fours, but had the rat like ability to lay their bodies totally flat. Due to their mangy coats they could lie on a forest floor and blend in completely. Even their green or brown eyes didn’t give them away.
After Dud lost his mentor, he needed to find protection he could trust. It took him a few months but over time he cultivated a following of three moss wolves. He had found them as pups and fed them from his kills. It didn’t take long for them to bond to him like a member of their pack.
At night when he slept they would form a triangle around him. He felt totally safe from any predator, be it man or creature. That feeling of safety was the same thing that got him in trouble two weeks ago. He lay like he usually did, curled around his pack, coat wrapped around him, his child sized bow attached to his wrist, and the three wolves quietly breathing around him.
What he didn’t know was that the owners of Terra-One had a fire sale on any noncriminal on the planet. People like Dud didn’t have trackers in them, or any form of registration that made them a real person outside of Terra-One. However their numbers and movements were tracked from orbit. Like any other form of property he was bought and paid for.
People living on Terra-One couldn’t make as much noise as his captures were and survive long. The first snag of a branch had Dud’s eyes open. It only took moments for his well-trained eyes to adjust to the dark. The people coming for him were unlike the primitive prison population of the planet. One was a Terran like him, but was encased in a large metal contraption that looked lethal. The second was a ten-feet-tall Zieb, a four armed humanoid that had a thick hide and basically made of muscle. In two of his hands he held high tech rifles that Dud had never seen before and in his other two he held long curved blades.
Dud knew his wolves were waiting for his whistle to attack or retreat, but he had no idea what these outsiders technology could do. As much as the wolves were expendable to his existence, they were still his pack and he felt responsible for them. His only option was to get more information.
Standing with his hands up Dud presented himself before the two people. With a simple whistle he could set his wolves to action. It took longer than Dud expected for them to see him, but eventually they both trained their weapons on him.
“We’ve got one,” the terran said.
Dud wasn’t sure who he was talking to but it definitely wasn’t the Zieb and there were no other people with him.
The terran turned to the Zied. “Pods are inbound.”
“Come with us, or I hurt you,” the Zeib said, flashing a horse tooth sized grin.
Dud knew they weren’t associated with any of the clans on the planet. With the tech they had on them they wouldn’t be trusted outside of any stronghold. They might be company men, but they would have no reason to come collect him. Occasionally someone would pay to hunt a prisoner, but if that was the case they would have already shot. They might be trying to take him off planet, and if that was the case he didn’t really care who they were. If he could get off planet he could have a chance at a different life. He trusted himself enough to be able to get out of the worst of situations, and wherever they wanted to take him couldn’t be worse than Terra-One. They were a chance he would accept.
“Okay,” Dud said.
A sour look replaced the Zeib’s toothy grin. There was a strange sound like air escaping a contained space before the three pods landed side by side. The pods looked to Dud like metallic coffins. They waved him toward the middle one. Dud stepped over his ring of wolves, which he could feel watching him, and walked up to the pod wondering what would await him when it opened next.
As his pod closed around him he let out a long whistle followed by two short ones. The three wolves sprung to their feet and took off through the trees. Catching one last look of his pack as they disappeared he wondered if he would ever see them again.
When the pod opened he had no idea the world he would be walking into. The Cartographer had educated him on everything he knew, but there were even more advancements that Dud could never have fathomed.
He was on what he was told was a small spaceship. Since it was the only spaceship he had ever seen he had no frame of reference. Despite Dud’s curiosity he didn’t even get to explore the ship. The moment he came out of his pod the four armed Zieb hauled him into a sterile room where he was strapped to a table.
Dud’s heart pounded in his ears, but he used a trick George had taught him to remain calm in the worst situations. Forcing his exterior to look calm it slowly permeated through him until he became calm both inside and out and relaxed against the restraints.
From where he lay he couldn’t see much of the room, but he heard a clacking sound like someone was walking with metal boots on the metal floor coming toward him. His heart tried to speed up again, but Dud wouldn’t let himself feel fear when he didn’t even know the situation.
Then a metallic head that reminded Dud of a bee peered over him. He released the leash on his heart and let it run as fast as it could. The bee-head was attached to a metal body that looked like a Terran with its skin removed. George had once explained these metal men to Dud as something called a robot, and Dud’s heart immediately slowed down.
For only a moment before a long needle extended from the pointer finger of the robot’s hand and slid into his elbow. There had been a few people on Terra-One that did experiments on other inmates. George dealt with everyone, regardless of if he liked them or not. Dud had seen an experiment once, and he wondered what type of person could do that to another being. Now he was the test subject.
Maybe he shouldn’t have come so willingly into a world he didn’t know.
The antenna on the robot clicked around a few different positions then all the hexagon eyes turned away from Dud.
The metallic voice sounded like a soft hide by a warm fire, and Dud couldn’t figure out how something so smooth could come from such a creature. “Pure dud. Absolutely no enhancements or mods. Biologically no different than the first Terran into space.”
From the foot end of the table a female voice spoke, but Dud couldn’t move his head to see the recipient. “Then he won’t be a waste. Insert his bug and then get him briefed with the Mech.”
For a moment he was glad to hear what sounded like a Terran voice, but lost any good feeling when his veins burned like fire was pumping through them. His muscles felt like acid was eating them away, then finally his mind went blank and he passed out.
When he came to he was in the same room but was no longer strapped to the table. He sat up slowly dangling his legs over the side of the table. His entire body ached like he had been trampled by a herd of rhinophants. He ran a hand through his hair to find the long hair he used to have had been cropped into a close buzzcut. Worst of all there was something metal sticking out of the base of his skull, like someone had installed a button on his head.
“You’ll get used to it, but it’s best not to play with it.”
Dud turned toward the voice and saw that man, correction teenager, who had been in the metal suit on the surface of Terra-One. However he wasn’t in his metal suit anymore. He was in a tight fitting outfit that covered him from neck to toe. The forearms and calves of the suit were black while the rest was a dull gray. The kid was blonde with eyes as bright as light reflecting off of water.
“What is it?” Dud asked.
“Spatial Locator Executioner Transmitter.”
Dud rubbed his eyes trying to make sense of the words. He thought he was well educated, but in the little time he was off planet his mind had been entirely blown. Perhaps George never expected Dud to get off Terra-One like his mother had dreamed, and didn’t teach him more than he needed to survive on their home planet.
“Mind explaining?” Dud asked.
“Rag’nok, you are worthless aren’t you?” the boy responded.
Rag’nok was something Dud fully understood. It was a creature so magnificent it was regarded as a god by the Zieb. The name loosely translated meant world destroyer. They were a four legged creature with long snouts and powerful tails, similar to that of the alligators that lived in the waters on Terra-One. Their hides were so thick no weapon could pierce them. They had a lifespan so long that the best guess for how long they lived was in the millions of years, and they grew until the day they died. The largest known Rag’nok in the universe was twelve-hundred miles long and still growing. This was the exact creature that had landed on Terra-One five-hundred years ago and made it nearly uninhabitable. Due to their ability to move through space as easily as swim through water the Rag’nok had long ago left to seek out other worlds to feed upon. While hurtling through space the monster was able to generate energy from light to keep it in a stasis state until it reached its next destination. The Rag’nok was every person’s boogey man on Terra-One.
“Wouldn’t mind learning some more to not be as worthless,” Dud said.
The guy grabbed Dud’s hand like he was going to shake it, but then rolled his wrist to the side. The skin was red from a new tattoo. Inked into his flesh so anyone shaking his hand could read were three letters that gave him the name he became known by: DUD.
“You’re the ninth dud we’ve had in the past two months. Sorry to break it to you, but you’ve got a brief life expectancy. No point in making you too worthwhile.” The kid grabbed a zipper at his elbow and opened his suit all the way to the wrist. He peeled it open to show the word MECHBOY running vertically along a ragged scar that went the length of his forearm.
“Mechboy?” Dud asked.
“My birth name is Caleb, Mechboy is the name she gave me,” Mechboy said.
“Who gave you the name?”
“She is our owner and handler. That SLET in your head connects you directly to her. Think of it like a metal parasite that was woven its tendrils inside your brain. She can use it to communicate with us, monitor our locations, and if our thinking puts us against her orders it will alert her. That is the scary part, with nothing more than her making up her mind to execute us that SLET will terminate you. Anywhere. Anytime. I can’t tell you who she is, because I have been told not to. Like I said you aren’t expected to live past tomorrow, so she isn’t taking any risks.”
Tomorrow was the day they were going to execute their contract on the Stiation planet. The only thing Dud was told about the job was his own part. He would drop down to the planet with Mechboy. They would set themselves up to intercept a supply ship. All he knew was he was supposed to pull shoot the ship with a tracking device. No one would tell him anything more than that.
Right before they dropped Mechboy donned his engineered exoskeleton. Metal reinforcements ran down his spine and legs. The metal suited gave him an extra foot in height and each arm was equipped with a variety of different weapons he could access with the flick of a switch. Over his shoulders were two different heavy weapons that ran off of his brain’s commands. Most of Mechboys bones had been replaced with a titanium alloy that allowed him to exist harmoniously with the exosuit.
“Why would you do something like that?” Dud asked as they prepared for the drop.
Mechboy looked down at him with pity. “I didn’t want to be a dud. It was the cheapest route I could sell myself into.”
“You’re a slave. Property. She owns you. I am an indentured servant. Three years ago she paid for me to have the mech upgrades and in return I have to work until our contract is up.” Mechboy swallowed hard. “I fulfill my contract tomorrow.”
Dud stepped into his pod. “What stops her from killing you with the SLET?”
Mechboy stepped into his own pod without looking at Dud. “Nothing.”
Dud’s pod closed around him and he was jettisoned into the atmosphere. Falling to the Stiation planet he embraced that fact that he was supposed to die on this job. Made peace with that fact. However he would die happy as long as his feet hit this planet’s surface. His mother had always dreamed that he would one day make it off of Terra-One, and now he had.
Dud sang his alphabet as he fell from the sky.
His pod hit the ground hard, but inside he had no idea. The machine retracted from around him and then launched back into the sky.
“Now I know my ABC’s.”
Dud heard the wheezing and clanking of the Mechsuit as Caleb joined him. There was a case on the ground that had been spit out by the pod like an owl pellet. Dud opened the case and took out the long thin piece of metal that looked to him like a rifle, but he was told it was a highly advanced piece of tracking equipment.
“Follow me,” Mechboy said and took off at what looked like to him to be a jog, but required Dud to sprint to keep up.
The entire planet smelled like rot, and Dud’s feet sunk into the ground on more than one occasion. There were no large trees on the planet, but it was fully covered in large ferns and other ground cover. Since Stiations were amphibious creatures they tended to prefer swamp planets. Dud now understood why they were always clustered into these types of environments of Terra-One.
Mechboy stopped running and a mask flipped down over his face. Dud stared off toward the horizon where the swamp gave way to a larger body of water. He could just make out the large bubble like structures the Stiations used as buildings. It created an environment that allowed them to live above and below water.
“Flight patterns show the supply shit will come directly above us from the east which is-”
Dud faced east before Mechboy finished his instructions.
“You tag it, I blast it. The ship will splash down in the water, and we haul ass back to where we dropped in.”
Dud inspected the tracer gun in his hands. It was long but light and perfectly balanced. He had seen firearms a few times in his life, but he had never fired one. Though he got the basic concept: aim and pull the trigger. He looked through the fancy scope which told him the distance and air speed to his target.
“What will you do your freedom?” Dud asked.
“Dud I don’t want to talk to you. Your life expectancy is almost up, and if it comes down to you or me making it out of here I am picking me,” Mechboy said.
“I don’t see the big deal with this mission. It felt more dangerous to survive until tomorrow on Terra-One.”
“I’m not sure either. This has been the safest brief I’ve had. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I don’t know. Ready up. The ship should be here.”
Dud heard a loud roaring sound as a ship penetrated the atmosphere. This thing was a large oval that reminded him of a sideways wish, but it was huge. Gigantic. Larger than most the villages on Terra-One.
He tucked the stock of the tracer to his shoulder and aimed through the scope. Like he had always been taught he led his target and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again. Still nothing.
Then he watched the entire front end of the colossal ship explode and drop toward the water. He pulled the trigger one more time, but still nothing happened, and then his target passed overhead.
Mechboy had a smoking barrel of one of his shoulder mounted rockets beside his head, while he kept watching the ship with his mask down.
“Dud, why isn’t it tagged?”
Pods launched from the ship in every which direction. Making it look like the giant fish was crying.
“I kept pulling the trigger, but nothing happened,” Dud said.
He had a sneaking suspicion he had been set up. The weapon had never been loaded in the first place.
“You put the site on the ship, and pulled the trigger?”
Dud looked at the mech in confusion. “If you don’t lead a target you’ll miss.”
Even behind the mask Dud could tell Mechboy’s face was fire red.
“Why would you aim away from the target? You put the site on the target and it locks on so the tracer hits every time.”
The ship crashed down into the water a mile away.
Dud ground his teeth and glared. “Maybe if you would have told me that instead of assuming I wasn’t worth talking to we would be on our way out of here.”
“Shut up. I can’t go back without the job being done or she’ll fry my brain. Go trace the ship before it sinks. I’ll keep you covered.”
Dud wasn’t sure what had him most angry; that he had screwed up or that it could have been avoided by communication. He took off in a sprint toward the crash site. It didn’t take a smart man to realize that the pods were dropping people to defend the site, and Mechboy would only keep Dud alive long enough to finish the job. He would be damned though if he died a failure.
Splashing through puddles he kept his ears open for any sign of the people from the pods. He came to a stop when he had a clear line of sight on the target, but when he put the site on the ship and pulled the trigger a message flashed in the scope that he was too far away. He let out a frustrated growl and kept plowing through the swamps, aware of the whirring of the mechsuit keeping pace with him.
Then the first Stiation appeared. A slender creature with green skin and black spots dressed in flowing tribal garb. This one held a rifle that was two large half ovals joined by two handles. The thing fired the weapon and a blue blast of energy vaporized a fern that Dud had just left.
There was a loud bang and the Stiation’s head popped like a zit.
“Keep going,” Mechboy yelled.
From all around Stiations were closing in on them. Mechboy spun as delicately as a ballerina as he swapped through a variety of weapons to do the most damage as fast as possible. Dud kept pushing until he crested the next hill. The ship had mostly submerged. He aimed at the little bit that was still above water. The crosshairs turned green and he pulled the trigger. There was a soft pft as a gel like slug flew out of the end of the gun and arced through the air until it smacked against the hull and spread like a drop of rain.
The tracer gun got so hot Dud had to drop it, and watched as it sizzled in a puddle until it consumed itself leaving no evidence of its existence. Dud turned to tell Mechboy to get moving, but he was already long gone with a group of Stiations heading after him.
Completely unarmed, Dud threw himself into a puddle. Forcing his outside to look calm, he slowly crawled his way forward staying covered in murk. If he just had his bow he wouldn’t feel so helpless. He wasn’t sure what his best course of action was as he continued along. Mechboy had left him for dead, so there wasn’t much of a chance he would be picked up even if he could return to the drop zone. Not to mention there were a ton of angry Stiations between him and there, and he didn’t have so much as a branch to defend himself with.
He needed a weapon no matter what, and he knew where there were plenty lying around. Pushing himself into a crouch he searched the area for any signs of movement. It seemed like everyone had gone after Mechboy, so Dud made a run for where the dead Stiations were scattered about. He picked up one rifle and slung it over his back, then retrieved a second and set off after the pack that was chasing Mechboy.
They were almost too easy to track. The Stiations left three toed prints everywhere they ran, and Mechboy left large divots everywhere he landed in his long gait. He heard the firefight before he saw it. Mechboy was laid out, his legs no longer working, keeping himself up with one arm and firing with the other. A shield of energy was absorbing the blue blasts, but it didn’t seem like it would last for long. There were a dozen Stiations that seemed more concerned with surrounding Mechboy than killing him.
Dud thought really hard about abandoning the mission.
Get clear we will call you in a drop pod and cut our loses, a voice echoed in his brain as if he had heard it beside him. It was the same voice he had heard when strapped to the table. Dud wasn’t quite sure how the technology worked, but he hoped she could hear him in return.
I’ll get him out. Send two pods to his location.
Dud rushed behind the nearest Stiation and slammed the rifle into the back of his bulbous head.
He’s dead either way. Get out or I’ll fry you too.
Dud kicked the legs out from under the next Stiation and smashed the butt of his rifle into his head. Mechboy might have been willing to leave him for dead, but Dud was going to do this on his terms or not at all.
Call in two.
He tucked the stock to his shoulder and opened fire. The blue energy from his rifle slammed into another Stiation hurling it off its feet. A long sigh escaped him since he was glad to find out there were no complicated processes to operating their rifles.
He found his next target and fired while his feet made their way toward Mechboy.
I’ll fry both your brains.
Rolling out of the way a blue blast singed a puddle. Coming back up on his feet soaking wet he found his attacker and opened fire. He kept squeezing the trigger sending blast after blast until he hit his target. The energy these weapons used was so different than the arrows he was accustomed to that he had trouble adjusting his aim.
Then get it over with, Dud countered.
He found his next target, but nothing happened when he squeezed the trigger. He had no idea how to tell ammunition without a quiver, so he dropped the rifle and drew his next. Firing more shots than he wished he dropped the Stiation. Finally making it to Mechboy he nudged his side with his knee.
“Our pods should be here soon,” Dud said.
For the moment Dud didn’t see any more threats, even though he could hear them splashing through puddles somewhere in the ferns around them.
Mechboy pointed a gigantic barrel at Dud. “She said she’d cook my brain if I didn’t kill you. I’m sorry.”
Dud lowered his gun. “If you shoot me who is going to get you into the pod?”
A look of defeat passed over Mechboy as he lowered his arm. “It doesn’t matter. They broke my spine. Even if I live I don’t have a way to afford repairs.”
There was a loud croaking sound as four Stiations leapt fifteen feet into the air and landed all around Dud and Mechboy. They both opened fire as fast as they could. Two of the Stiations dropped before they could reach them.
Dud spun toward his nearest attacker and pulled the trigger when it was practically touching the Stiation’s chest. The moment he pulled the trigger a spear smashed the gun out of his grip. The spear wielding Stiation swept Dud’s feet out from under him, then leapt high in the air coming down at a trajectory to impale Mechboy.
Dud doubted the energy shield would protect the mech from a primitive weapon and hurled himself at the descending creature. He didn’t have enough momentum to knock the Stiation away, but the spear passed through Mechboy’s shoulder instead of his chest. The spear stayed behind as Dud and the amphibian slopped down into the swamp. Dud got himself on top and squeeze hard on the creature’s throat. The Stiation’s gills opened and he sucked in water from the puddle they were fighting in, then placed two fingers on Dud’s neck. His skin burned like someone was tearing it from his body. He released the neck and knocked the hand away.
“Get back,” Mechboy groaned.
Dud threw himself away from the Stiation, and a moment later Mechboy’s shoulder rocket blew him to sushi.
The pods landed and opened up waiting to receive their quarry. Dud rushed over to Mechboy and fought with all his strength to get him to his feet. Mechboy grabbed the outside of the pod with his hand to keep his own weight up when Dud started to give out under the massive weight of the exoskeleton.
The moment Mechboy was inside the pod filled in around him. Dud watched it lift off before he went for his own pod. He knew there were still more Stiations around but he didn’t want to take any more risks with his life.
He climbed into his pod, and listened to the gizmos and gadgets adjust to his body before they closed in on him. As the process started a Stiation hurled itself directly at him. The creature flew through the air knife first. Dud had limited mobility, but moved just enough for the knife to pass between his arm and side. For a brief second he stared into the large red eyes of an angry Stiation, before his pod snapped shut, slicing the creature’s hand off in the process. Through the outer shell of the pod, Dud could hear the dimmed screams of the dismembered Stiation. He felt the pod lift off and a new kind of fear took hold.
Whoever she was would be waiting for him to return. She hadn’t killed him remotely yet so he felt he might have a chance to escape death.
The ride back up in the pod felt a thousand times longer than the descent. After what felt like an eternity his pod opened releasing him and the knife wielding hand into the ship. Mechboy was sprawled on the floor.
Dud let out a long breath and a short laugh. He had survived the mission and already surpassed his life expectancy. Though it could end at any moment.
“For what it’s worth, thanks,” Mechboy said trying to right himself.
Dud just gave a nod.
Then she came into the corridor. She was a Terran, practically eye level with Dud, with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes were such a dark blue that looked black. A grimace covered her tan face. Her body was wrapped in a tight black fabric that had many overlapping pieces which revealed her streamlined muscles. A gun belt hung loosely around her hips, where a white pistol was housed. Even though she looked like she could tear Dud’s heart out through his chest, her youth surprised him.
“Now, now, now, what will I do with you?” she cooed.
“I’ve been told I am your property, so I guess whatever you wish,” Dud said.
“Poor Mechboy. I hope you enjoy your freedom. We’ll be dropping you at our next stop,” she replied.
“Lilith,” a scream followed the word as it left Mechboys mouth. Dud could only guess his SLET punished him for disobeying an order. “I’ll die without medical attention, and I’m worthless without a mechanic.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. You won’t die. Dud, drag him back to his room,” she said.
“I know I don’t have the best business sense here, but if the kid signed himself into your service to get turned into that thing, why wouldn’t you extend his contract and pay for his repairs,” Dud said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I told you to take him back to his room, I didn’t ask for your opinion,” she replied.
“Please, Barnoness. Repair me. One more year,” Mechboy pleaded.
“That’s how long I signed on for the full augmentation.”
“I’ll gladly release you as a paralyzed mech if you would prefer,” she said.
“No, ma’am. We have a contract.” Mechboy said, hitting a set of controls on his apparatus that caused the suit to retract from his body.
The bee-headed robot came down the pathway, his footsteps pinging with each stride. He stopped over Mechboy and lifted him into his arms.
“I’ll draw up the standard contract and see to his medical needs,” the robot said and kept walking.
Dud was alone with Lilith. The air felt like it was chilling as she moved closer to him.
“No augmentations, no enhancements, nothing but balls. I hate to admit I am impressed with you, Dud. You might just be the best value I’ve ever received for my money, but you’ve already crossed me twice-”
“Don’t ever interrupt me. Twice is one more time than anyone else. As long as there isn’t a third you might just get a long time spot on my team. If I even suspect you are going to disobey me again, I will fry you where you stand. Hear me?”
Lilith patted him on the chest and then walked down the corridor.
“Ma’am?” Dud asked.
“What is it, slave?” she replied.
“I have a lot of questions.”
“I’m not a tour guide, bugger off.” She kept walking and Dud watched her muscles move until he couldn’t make them out anymore.
He stood where he was to avoid angering Lilith. Where he was going, both on the ship and in life, he wasn’t sure. However he was alive, and off Terra-One, both were things that made him thankful. He still had far more questions than answers and he didn’t know what a tour guide was, but he would find one and figure everything out.