3/4 the way through Dud

The third installment of The Adventures of Dud.

Dud wandered around the corridors trying to figure out where he was, but with no objects in the sky to orient himself to he was utterly lost. He figured his best bet was to keep walking along the metallic hallways until he met another being that could explain to him how to get back to the higher levels of the floating space station called Sanctuary.

Dud, why aren’t you back yet?” Lillith, his owner, said through the implant that was attached to the base of Dud’s skull. His fingers touched over the robotic parasite, pleased with himself for not dropping to his knees in pain for the first time.

Trying to find my way back, Baroness,” Dud thought in response.

His strength didn’t hold out, as his body wavered to the side and he crashed against the wall. When he closed his eyes he could see a schematic layout of the entire station with a blinking line that he could only assume he was supposed to follow. The device that was embedded in his brain allowed Lillith to locate and communicate with Dud regardless of their proximity, but that was just the simple function. It also had the ability to temporarily store information in his in his short term memory, which he liked, but also had the ability to fry his brain on command from his owner, which he didn’t like.

Sanctuary reminded him of an acorn in shape with layers like an onion. He couldn’t begin to guess how many kilometers of corridor looped around the floating city. Following the line laid out in his memory he tried to make sense of the layout, but having never seen more than a gathering of a few hundred people he couldn’t imagine how thousands subsided in a place that couldn’t have resources. Despite all the pondering he wanted to do, if he didn’t hurry he was likely to have his brain seared into a puddle.

Breaking into a run he followed the line around the corridor that seemed straight to him, but according to the blueprint he was gradually making his way along the outer corridor. Eventually he came another one of the machines that his crewmate, Mechboy had called an elevator.

The doors to the elevator slid open upon Dud’s approach and he stood inside. But nothing happened. He looked around the small box and tried to figure out how to work the contraption. Mechboy had pushed a button, but when Dud looked at the wall of buttons there were hundreds of them. He reviewed the schematic, but it didn’t tell him what button he needed to push.

Taking a deep breath he thought to Lillith which button he needed to push.

You are more incompetent than an infant,” Lillith replied. “Push number 1111, then when you get to the individual banks, let your SLET do the work.

Dud did as he was instructed. Once he pushed the correct button the doors whooshed closed and he felt himself traveling so fast through the elevator system he felt weightless. As he neared his final destination he realized that the elevator car was made of a see through material, not the metal he had been surrounded by in the shafts. In quick blurs Dud could see open spaces with beings inhabiting them, but they passed so fast that he couldn’t make out any details.

The elevator practically spit him out as he reached his floor. He moved forward on unsure legs toward something he recognized. It was a small green plant, that was growing out of a half wall. When he made it to the planted wall he clung to the edge of it like he would float away if he didn’t stay grounded.

What he saw on the other side of the wall was far more strange that the feeling he was recovering from. During his life on Terra-One the concept of clean had been slightly less dirty than everything else. The few settlements were practically made of dirt. This open area before him was the cleanest thing he had ever seen. The white walls shone with an incredible polish. The area in front of him was filled with people sitting at round tables. There were paper things he had seen once in his life before that someone had called cards. He remembered them because when he traded them he had received enough supplies to last him a month. They had been even more valuable than the occasional weapon he traded off a hunter.

And here they were at every one of the tables.

Besides the cards there were circular things that people would toss into or take out of the center of the tables. Some of the people looked ecstatic and others on the verge of tears. He wanted to stay and learn more about this place, but the image in his mind told him he still had a ways to go before he was safe from immediate death.

He followed the directions in his mind and skirted around the area filled with tables. Most the people playing cards were Terran like him, but there were a fair number of Stiations and Zeibs, as well as a handful of lesser beings.

Three loud sounds blared through the entire area, that reminded Dud of the sound a Rhinophant made when it charged. It had a similar effect as everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and looked up at the ceiling. What was a formerly white surface crackled with energy and it opened a view of something that wasn’t there. The scene on the ceiling showed a naked Terran woman who had her arms and legs bound hanging over a tank of yellowish liquid. Her brown hair hung over her face, and she seemed focused on something in the liquid below. Though she was dangling she held her body rigid, locked by fear.

A man appeared in front of the tank. He was short, which surprised Dud as he hadn’t seen many male Terran shorter than him since he left Terra-One. This man was broad though, more broad that the average Terran, and even under his black and gold uniform looked like he was made from rock. The man’s black hair came together in a horn like spike at the point where his hair met his forehead. His chin was sharp, and his eyes were soft, the only part about the man that looked weak.

The man held up a hand indicating the woman. “I present this as a reminder to each of you that here at Sanctuary we pride ourselves in being honest and upright. We are a refuge for those who need it and a safe haven for those in need of protection. All crimes committed on Sanctuary are punished by death. This woman, who I regret to admit was under my employ, stole from a room she was cleaning. I hold my staff to the same penalties of punishment as I would for any pedestrian. She has been proven guilty and is sentenced to death.”

At his final word she dropped into the tank, fully submerged. That’s when Dud noticed something familiar, one of the animals he feared back on Terra-One. It was a school of fish, each fish being about the size of his thumb. He understood why the tank was a yellow color, since the fish had a dark blue and white coloring it made them easy to see. These fish had a hard front lobe that formed almost into a beak. They had no teeth, but fed by spearing their way through another animal and swallowing the soft insides as they burrowed clear through the other side. He had known them as Spearheads.

The school of Spearheads swirled around the woman as she screamed out her air underwater. Dud hoped for her sake she could drown before the Spearheads attacked. The entire area, which held well over one-hundred people, was held in a single collective breath hold. As if exhaling was a crime, and no one wanted to face the tank.

She wasn’t lucky enough to drown. The first fish to strike shot through her open mouth and out the back of her head. As the yellow tank turned red the fish could be seen as a blue spot on one side of her body before they disappeared and a moment later appeared in a poof of red on the other side of the woman.

“Thank you for your attention in this matter and remember our number one priority in Sanctuary is the safety of you and your property. We keep all areas of under constant surveillance, but if you see something suspicious please report it to the nearest Guard,” the man said.

The image blinked out and the white roof returned. Everyone released their breath and sound came back to the room in a rush of chatter and clatter.

Dud continued on his journey, hoping to make it to the individual banks of elevators before his memory failed him. The one issue with the SLET was that after the initial upload it was up to memory to keep it. He had asked their Synthetic to upload his brain with all the information he would need to assimilate into the universe away from the prison planet he was born on, but had been informed that he would lose all of it since he wouldn’t be able to commit any of it to long term memory fast enough.

When he reached the other side of the area, he could just make out the place he had entered as a small speck. The wall he approached was lined with tubes that held oval capsules. Standing in front of each tube was a Synthetic. Each robot was put together in a unique shape. They all had one thing in common and that was a set of four arms, like a Zeib but they were more Terran in build. They all looked to him like a person with their skin peeled off, if their muscles and bones had been made of metal. The Synth’s had unique head shapes, and eye colors, they were even made to look more male or female.

As the approached the nearest tube a female Synth with orange eyes and a metal Mohawk held up her bone-like hand for him to stop.

“Present SLET for verification of ownership,” the Synth ordered.

Dud turned around and felt a warm charge run along his spine as the Synth placed a finger against the SLET.

“Ownership verified. Property labeled Dud belongs to the Baroness. Step into the tube,” the Synth said.

Doing as he was told, Dud stepped through the opening in the tube and into the capsule. It closed around him in a similar fashion to the pod, but it wasn’t skin tight. When the capsule peeled back Dud was standing in front of what looked like an old fashioned wood door with iron knockers, but it parted open down the center and slid to the sides. Dud decided that he shouldn’t trust anything here on face value.

The room inside was expansive. There was a sunken area that was line with cushioned seating. Over to his right there was a long black bar that had a neat stack of different sized glasses running down the center of it. Through a clear wall that ran the length of the apartment Dud could see their talon like ship sealed in an airlock. At the far end of the room there was a device Dud hadn’t seen before. It was shaped like his favorite letter, U, and was laid on a set of legs with a stool in front of the wide end. There was another door along the far wall.

Lillith sat in the circular sunken area, with Hav’Nek standing behind her. Dud had seen plenty of Zeib in his day, but Hav’Nek was the largest. He wore nothing but his tribal cloth which exposed most of his bronze colored, heavily muscled body. The male stood a full decameter? taller than Dud. The only hair on his entire body was the grease black pony tail that sprouted from a fist sized area at the top of his head. With all four arms crossed over his massive chest, Hav’Nek was formidable even without his usual arsenal of weapons.

The size of Hav’Nek made the man sitting across from Lillith look even smaller. It was the same man from the execution still dressed in his black uniform lined in gold.

“Baroness you have my deepest apologies. I hate to use anything other than Synths, but with the prison planet sales it hard to turn down such a good price. Your apartment will never be tended by a living being again,” the man in black said.

“Mordawrf, don’t burden yourself with any guilt on such an unevolved creature. My dress has been returned, the culprit has been punished,” Lillith said.

Dud’s brain put the pieces together. The woman he had seen killed by the Spearheads had been in charge of caring for Lillith’s apartment and had stolen a dress. An article of clothing she paid for with her life. On one hand he respected the code of the Sanctuary, but on the other couldn’t help but feel that was too harsh of a punishment.

“What I don’t understand is what she thought was going to happen? She could slip away dressed like a wealthy person and escape my employ?” Mordawrf asked.

“My dear Mordawrf, these prison duds are dumber than a newborn baby. They don’t understand our ways.” Lillith nodded toward Dud who hadn’t moved from inside the doorway. “I too have been lured by the excellent prices on these damaged goods, so for my forgiveness I would appreciate you giving my dud a tour of Sanctuary and explain to him the rules of this place so he doesn’t make a similar mistake to your former employee.”

“Absolutely, Baroness. What do you call your property?”

“Just Dud. Also if you could get him properly dressed so he looks more respectable and less like property I would appreciate that as well. Just add it to my credit.”

“It will be on the house of course. After I failed in my duty to uphold the protection of a patron, it is the least I can do.”

Dud didn’t want new clothes, he wanted his old Terra-One clothes back, but he knew he couldn’t argue with Lillith.

“Your services have always been above and beyond. Now Dud, how did the business down below go?” Lillith asked.

Dud gave a curt nod. “I delivered Mechboy to the mechanic, who agreed to fix him for ten marine suits.”

“I told you to offer him thirteen.”

“I am sorry, Baroness, but I thought that I could make you some extra money if he was willing to do the work for less,” Dud said, hoping that he was safe from her rage by disobeying her for a positive reason. He could see the anger pass through the features on her face as the scrunched tight, before relaxing and ending with a fake laugh.

“Of course that is wonderful. For a simple-minded creature you do think for yourself a great deal.”

“Thank you, Baroness,” Dud said bowing his head again.

Mordawrf rose from the cushions and walked over to Dud. He clapped him on the back and turned him away from the apartment. “Let’s get you the tour.”

Dud walked alongside the broad man and listened to him talk as they made their way down a corridor that was filled with doors that resembled Lillith’s. Dud was informed that this entire row, which wrapped all the way around Sanctuary were permanent resident apartments. These apartments cost more than most planets, and of all the people who called Sanctuary home, Lillith was the only one to actually own her spot. Lillith’s father, who was known as the Baron, bought it for her for her sixteenth birthday. Her ship was her twenty-first birthday present. Those two purchases could have bought most of a solar system.

Mordawrf spoke well of the Baron, and explained that he was the leader of the main syndicate of crime in the Common Wealth system. He was the closest thing they had to a governing body before he died.

His syndicate always expected Lillith to be the one to take over the family business, but her younger brother had other plans. Mordawrf said he was one of the few people who knew she was happy about that fact. She wanted to have a different life and was happy to hand her position to him. The syndicate didn’t feel that way though and it schismed the unification. Her brother still controlled the majority of the former syndicate that used to exist under their father’s rule, but there were many out there trying take control or force it to Lillith. This turned out to be a major issue as her brother now was constantly hunting her because he felt he could solidify his command.

Mordawrf put a hand on Dud’s shoulder. “My boy, I will kill you if you mention any of this to her. I just figured you should know what you’ve been drafted into.”

Dud hardly was listening as they were standing in front of a screen that was showing a bunch of Terran’s running around in an area lined by a rectangle. Different numbers were scrolling across the screen, but Dud couldn’t make any sense of it. There was an object they were fighting over.

“Are we watching a fight?” Dud asked.

“Of sorts. It’s called sports. They are competing against each other for points. The team with the most wins.” Mordawrf replied.

Dud shrugged and followed Mordawrf along as he went through an explanation of how the Sanctuary worked, though Dud understood few of the things he was actually saying. The entire outer perimeter was a solar array, and at the core was a Furenium reactor. Though the science of Furenium reactors made no sense to Dud he did grasp that is was worth more money than a dead planet and it had a rejuvenate power cycle where it would start with low outputs grow to a critical level over years, but instead of exploding it would die, only to start over again.

There was so much that Dud didn’t understand about this world and he needed to learn fast if he was going to stay alive long enough to keep seeing the universe.

“On Terra-One there were sages you could trade with for information. Are there people like that here?” Dud asked, as they stepped into an elevator.

“There are a lot of people here selling information. It’s probably the most traded commodity in Sanctuary. But I think the knowledge you’re seeking is free,” Mordwarf said, pushing a button.

“Nothing is free,” Dud said. That was one of the first lessons the Cartographer ever taught him. Everything had a price.

“I suppose technically you need to purchase a device to view the information on.”

“I have nothing to barter with.”

Mordwarf clapped him on the shoulder. “Here in the civilized world we have things called credits. They are how we pay for things.”

The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into a room that made Dud wonder if he was back on Terra-One. They were on a raised metal platform at the top of a circular seating area. Where the seating ended was where Dud felt home. The center of the seating area looked like a desert on Terra-One to add to the reminiscence there was a rot wolf and a rhinophant calf in the center. The rhinophant was a squat, broad creature, with a thick armor like hide. It’s head had a skull cap, then the snout formed into a stout trunk that reached the ground. The mouth was under the trunk and had a short horn that pointed down. In the wild it would use this to dig for food that it would then pick up with its trunk, but in defense it could be used just as well to impale an attacker, but the skull cap was its main deterrent.

Dud looked at the masses of people surrounding the center area hollering as the two animals tore and thrashed at each other. Dud had never seen so many people in one place before.

There was a sickening crack as the skull cap of the rhinophant caught the side of the rot wolf sending it to the ground. Dud cringed as the rhinophant dropped its full weight, led by the horn onto the rot wolf. As the crowd howled or booed, Dud could only wonder how his three were doing without him.

“I don’t have much stomach for these creature combats, but I try to give the people what they want. This is the only arena I have and it’s small bones compared to the planetside ones. I can only host whelping weights, which is animals under eight hundred kilos,” Mordwarf said.

Dud didn’t respond, he was still trying to process the event unfolding before him. However a woman, standing in the top row turned around at the sound of Mordwarf’s voice.

She was tall and lean, like most everyone here, with long blonde hair, braided meticulously to stay in line with her spine. She wore a black uniform similar to Mordwarf’s with the only difference being a silver finishing.

“Boss, I didn’t expect you down here today. Did I miss a comm?” she said.

“Milla, you missed nothing. I wanted to see you in person. This young lad is Dud, I was hoping you could get him set up for Sanctuary living,” Mordwarf said.

Milla looked eye to eye with Dud, then back at Mordwarf. “Forgive me for asking, but why me over a synth?”

“The boy comes from Terra-One and I feel that a Terran touch would do best, and of all my officers I trust you most. Please keep in mind he is not just our guest but the guest of the Baroness.”

Milla’s face drained of all color.

“What all would you like me to do, sir?”

“Get him set up with a minimal lodging in a higher level, I believe we still have singles available there. Give him a tour of the places he will need to know, how to use our travel systems, oh, and please get him a wrister on my credit please.” Mordwarf clapped Dud on the shoulder. “I am leaving you in good hands. If you should have any need of me any Synth you see can immediately get in touch.”

Mordawrf went back to the elevator and returned to his day. Milla’s face regained some color, but her pale skin held a tinge of red.

“Follow me,” she said.

Dud did as she said and followed her back to the elevators. The pressurized tube that held the elevator moved them to the next location. The entire trip Milla never said a word. The car traveled lower and toward the center of the space station.

The area the elevator eventually opened up to was a gigantic open area that held most of the living quarters and shopping areas. The circular area of the first floor, where are the stores were located, was a kilometer round. The apartments and rooms were housed in the floors above, with each floor having a balcony that looked over the shopping area below. The open space of the community area was cone shaped with the living floors narrowing in the higher they were. The area was full of life as all different species of people went about their business. Outside of the Sanctuary many of these people were enemies, and with the exception of the business owners they were all freelancers, but in their safe haven they were all able to let their guard down without having to worry about getting shot in the back.

It reminded Dud of an ant hill, just without the biting. The thing that left Dud in awe was the amount of goods present in one location. There were items he recognized, things like clothes, and food, but there were so many different shops all dedicated to technology that Dud didn’t even have a guess at what it was.

Milla led him through the clusters of people until she stopped in a store that had walls lined with wristers which were clear sleeves that served as a computer device. It could handle locations, information, communications, and even had a flashlight. When the screen or projector wasn’t needed it could be rolled up into a bracelet.

Dud had one on his arm and kept hitting the command for the roll up and unroll. He could hardly feel he was wearing it. Milla grabbed his wrist as he was about to unroll it for eleventh time.

“You are such a Neanderthal. I give you access to any information in the universe and you are distracted by a convenience feature,” Milla said.

Dud cocked his head at her. “What’s a Neanderthal?”

She tapped a button on the wrister and it unrolled down his arm. She tapped a button and told him to ask again. This time the wrister picked up the question and the sleeve turned into an information filled screen loaded with information about the pre-evolved Terran.

Dud scrolled through the information when the Stiation shop owner walked to them and crossed her arms over her chest. She didn’t say anything, but Dud could tell from her amber eyes that she didn’t want him to keep using the device.

“Surana, we’ll take this one. Please credit the cost against this month’s rent,” Milla said with a smile.

Surana gave a curt nod and left them without a word. In her wake a Terran man who had been browsing the inventory came up behind Dud.

Dud heard him approaching, but didn’t turn around until he saw the color drain from Milla’s cheeks. The man approaching was Lillith’s Brother.

“That’s a good model, but you think you could have got the simple boy a top of the line model since you’re buying on Daddy’s credit,” GEORGE said.

Milla looked to Dud like small game did to his pack of wolves when it was finally run down and cornered. GEORGE stood there grinning ear to ear like he was the only one in on a joke.

“Are you jealous her Dad’s credit is better than yours?” Dud asked. Milla’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist with vice like strength, and pulled him away from GEORGE.

“I don’t think you have any grounds to be insulting anyone’s father when you are a dud made from criminals,” GEORGE said, as Dud let himself be drug out of the store.

Milla hurried down a zigzag line cutting through the crowds, still pulling Dud behind. “Don’t antagonize that man.”

“I thought all crimes are punished by death here,” Dud responded.

“They are, but there is a much bigger universe than Sanctuary.”

Dud wasn’t sure since he hadn’t heard the tone in years, but he felt like she actually cared about how long he would live.

Her color came back as they rode an elevator to the top floor of apartments. The pinnacle floor had only four doors that all were concave. She uncovered a panel that had a glass screen under it and tapped in a long code. She then had Dud place one hand at a time on the glass while looking into a smaller circular piece of glass, which scanned his hands and retinas. Then she had him create a sixteen finger tap combination in case he ever needed to override the scanner. The door parted in the middle and slid away as they walked into the room.

The room was shaped like a wedge of cheese. At the narrow end he could touch both walls, but it fanned out into an area that was about four arm lengths wide. Dud was expecting something technology laden, but the room was just a space occupied by a cot.

“For members of the Baroness’s crew we float you guys the first month’s rent. After that a bill will be sent to your wrister.,” Milla said taking his arm and showing him how to access his personal page on the device. By registering his retina’s and hands Sanctuary opened an account for him to put credits in which read 0. In an area labeled contacts Milla placed her finger there for three seconds and he watched the device register her name into that section.

“If you need me for anything tap that and it will hail me,” Milla said.

“Is it a safe assumption I shouldn’t worry about next month’s rent,” Dud said.

“Not paying rent will result in the confiscation of your belongings and a ban from Sanctuary that will be punished by death if you should ever return,” Milla said.

“I don’t expect I’ll still be alive then,” Dud said.

Milla looked away. “You’re the first one to make it to Sanctuary in a long time. Have faith.”

Faith was a foreign concept to Dud. There were a variety of religions on Terra-One but he had always been the master of his own fate.

“Did you know any of my predecessors?”

“Only one. My father usually has Synth’s take care of tasks like this.”

“What were they like?”

“As far as dud’s go, he was pretty perfect. Strong for not having any augmentations. Smart without having to use stims. Beautiful for no enhancements.” Milla’s eyes glossed over like she was going to cry.

Dud wasn’t sure how to comfort her. There wasn’t much personal interaction in his life. The cartographer had raised him to be tough, and he never once saw the old man shed a tear.

“If you’re good here, I have work to get back to,” Milla said, heading for the door.

Dud snatched her wrist. He wanted to say something kind, but he wasn’t sure what you told someone who had lost someone close to them. The only two times he had lost people in his life he had been alone.

So instead he said, “What’s the game played with the pieces of paper with numbers on them?”

“Cards. More specifically poker. You’ll have look it up past that since we offer hundreds of games. Have a good day, Neanderthal,” Milla said pulling her arm free.

“Thanks for your help. I’m not used to needing it, but these last couple days I’ve been in pretty deep,” Dud said, sitting on the cot.

“Just take it little by little.” And with that she was gone.

Dud was alone. The tiny little cheese wedge of a room was the first room he had had since his mother died. Part of him missed the great expanse of sky that seemed to stretch on forever, but it was a fair trade for a universe that did go on forever.

He poked at his wrister like a senile bird hunting for worms. Any information he could ever want was at his fingertips and it felt intoxicating. At the same time having such a wide ability to seek out anything made it difficult to find somewhere to start. Feeling like he should look up something more important than a card game, but unable to think of what he wanted to know first, he settled for learning about poker.

Milla hadn’t been lying. There were hundreds of different games. He navigated his way through a few different games. He figured out at the core they were all the same, using the same deck of cards, just the variation of hand size differentiated them.

Terra Hold’em caught his attention and he dove in. The game had four rounds of betting. At first each player was dealt three cards, then the first round of betting would happen, and each player would discard one card from their hand. Then the dealer would flip over three community cards called the river, followed by a round of betting. After that the dealer would flip a fourth community card called the turn, which was then followed by a round of bets. The fifth and final card was named the river and was followed by the final round of betting. The best five card hand won the pot.

The reason he liked the concept of poker was that it was asserting yourself mentally over other people. The only issue he had was that he had no credits. Without money he couldn’t play.

A ding came from his wrister and he looked down at a blinking notification that said message. He tapped the message and Milla’s head was on the screen.

“I figured you would want to try out poker by now. I got you a small loan for one-hundred credits. You have thirty-six hours to pay it back or you get hit with one percent interest each day thereafter. Just click accept if you want it. Good luck,” she said.

“Thank you,” Dud said before he realized it was a recorded message. The loan appeared on his screen and he clicked to accept it. He asked his wrister the fastest way to a Terra Hold’em game and followed the directions through a set of the super tubes.

Within minutes he was on the poker floor and sitting at a table. It was a small stakes table, and he noticed most the people at his table were also wearing SLETS, but in the dozens of high stakes players there was only one player with a SLET.

When he took his seat he was instructed by the Synth dealer to place his finger on the pad in front of him and Dud’s seat was credited with one-hundred dollars.

As he began playing it was clear why there was only one Zeib and one Stiation at the table with eight Terran. The Zeib had such a limited range of emotions that he had few options to bluff, while gambling was against the main Stiation religion.

All ten of them had one thing in common. They were all poor. Most of them were dressed in drab clothing and were unkempt. All but one was property.

An hour later Dud had figured the game out pretty well and doubled his money. He would have sat there for hours if his SLET hadn’t chimed in.

“Dud I need you to go check on the progress of Mechboy. I’m looking to acquire a contract need to know if we will be at full staff, but he’s not responding,” Lillith said.

“Yes, Baroness.”

Dud put his finger on the scanner and his money was transferred to his account. He clicked on the loan he had taken out, and sent enough money to pay it off. He consulted the best way to get back to the machine shop from the wrister and made his way down.

The machine shop was dark and poorly lit, with each different type of mechanic staking his claim by building an area out of supply boxes and parts. Dud set his wrister to illuminate and used the low light to help navigate through the area that reminded him of animal graveyards on Terra-One with the scavengers pecking about.

Eventually Dud made it to the part-man part-machine’s sector. There was a loud racket of whirling machines as Dud moved into view. Mechboy was laid out of a metal work bench. He was naked with his spine flawed open. He looked like he was in a deep coma as the mechanic dug around with one tool that looked like a miniature buzz saw and another that was a pencil sized soldering iron.

Ronald noticed Dud standing there and halted his work.

“What do you need?” he asked.

“The baroness wants to know when Mechboy will be fully operational,” Dud replied, looking at a pile of parts that used to be the marine suits.

“He will be mechanically fine in a few hours.” The mechanics wiped sweat from running into his robotic eye. “Is that all?”

Dud stood there contemplating how pointless his errand felt now that he was understanding how to use a wrister. There were any number of ways that Lillith could have found out when Mechboy would be operational.

“You know why I’m here,” Dud said, having no idea other than there had to be something more.

“And I’ll tell you the same thing I told that bastard brother of hers. You can’t lay harm to me here, and I can’t be bought. So, if you don’t mind I will get back to work,” The mechanic said returning to his task in a shower of sparks.

Dud figured that had to have been the information she was looking for, and he’d deliver it to her. Plus he was curious what their next job would be.

As he made his way toward the elevators, he wondered if Mechboy played any poker. It would be nice to have a familiar at the table. His thoughts were cut short as someone grabbed him by the wrist and threw him into one of the mechanic bays. The large supply boxes were stacked taller than him and formed a three sides of a rectangle. The area was small and based on the half built hover bikes this mechanic specialized in small transport. However it wasn’t a mechanic that drug him in.

George blocked his path out with two henchmen. One was a female Zeib, who was barely covered in her tribal wraps which snaked around her body covering her top and bottom breast pairs and her hips. The other was a male Stiation, one that Dud wished he didn’t recognize, but the Stiation’s right hand was replaced by a synthetic one.

“Dear boy, I am glad we ran into you,” George said.

Dud steeled himself knowing they couldn’t harm him here.

“I have the distinct feeling you were looking for me,” Dud said.

“Right you are. How would you like your freedom?”

That was something he wanted desperately. He didn’t mind the life style with Lillith but he did hate the fact that she was continually keeping him in death’s way and could kill him with a thought.

“What’s the price?”

“All you have to do is kill my sister,” George said. “I’ve even got our mutual friend here to agree to call off his Dablakahn  against you if you kill her. However I have to thank you for taking his hand, my syndicate has never been stronger since I was able to bring in Imota and those that stayed loyal to him.”

The Stiation smiled at Dud bearing his small dagger like teeth. Dud had been off his planet for a few days and he already made an enemy.

“And If I decline your generous invitation?” Dud asked, more to buy himself some time to try to find an out, than to actually get an answer.

“I’ll send word around to my darling sister that you are planning to kill her, and you will be dead before you can even think about it,” George said tapping the back of his head.

“Well, then, shall we get to it? Wouldn’t want her to die before I can get there,” Dud said. He wasn’t sure what he would do, but he knew his best bet was to go along with the plan.

“Val’Tia will accompany you. I can’t expect someone so devolved to be able to take on my sister. You just need to open the door,” George said.

Val’Tia placed her right hands in a fist against the open palms of her left hands and bowed her head.

“Follow me then,” Dud said pushing past George and shooting a glare at Imota.

Val’Tia followed Dud into the elevator and he navigated his way back through the tubes of the space station. As they moved closer to Lillith’s penthouse Dud couldn’t figure out how to get himself out of the situation.

George was right though, if Lillith got word he was trying to harm her, his brain would be mush. There was no way he could tip her off without letting his Zeib escort know what he was up to, and Dud stood no chance of going hand to hand with her. He wasn’t sure how any of this wasn’t going to end up with him being dead since he’d be violating the laws of Sanctuary.

As his tube took him closer to Lillith, he did his best to keep his thoughts away from the words Lillith and kill in case his SLET would alert her to the threat. She had told him on his first day that she’d fry him for even thinking of it.

No matter what happened Dud realized he wasn’t coming out of this situation alive. Lillith might be his owner, but she had freed him from a prison life. If it hadn’t been for her, he’d of died on Terra-One. He at least saw another planet in his life.

He was running out of time. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m coming to kill you. I’m coming to kill you. I’m coming to kill you.

The elevator stopped. He expected to drop dead. But he didn’t. He approached Lillith’s door with Val’Tia beside him. Nearing the door, he heard a beep from his SLET and figured that was the end of him. Instead the door opened.

The two of them walked into the room. Dud felt sweat beading down his forehead and a tingle up his spine. The same tingle he had back on Terra-One when a predator was watching him but he couldn’t see it.

Val’Tia let out a scream as she fell face first to the floor. Lillith had her legs wrapped around the Zeib’s lower arms while she locked the upper set with her own arms. When she let go, Val’Tia was bound.

Her black eyes locked on him as a smile spread across her stoic face. “You’re lucky I don’t think you are dumb enough to come after me.”

“Thank you, Baroness,” Dud said.

She rose and came over to Dud. He froze. Waiting for her to strike. As the day had proven, he was wrong again. Her warm lips pressed against his cheek.

“My brother isn’t dumb enough to think this would work, he was testing you. Hail Mordwarf,” Lillith said.

Dud gave her a nod and carried out her request trying to forget the feel of her lips.


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