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Short one today…boys if you’re stalking me today this one is for you.

You aren’t defined by how hard you can fight at 100%, you’re defined by how hard you can fight when you’ve got nothing left to fight with.

#doitforpetar


You’re gonna lose more than you win

For the rare few of us winning comes easy at everything they do. Work, school, sports, jobs, love, whatever.

For most of us, myself included, we’re going to lose more than we win. Hell my entire life trajectory has been determined by the fact that I wasn’t a good enough soccer player and got cut.

Today, during my set breaks, I’m struggling hard to touch last week’s weight. I’m tired. I’m sore. And I’m most definitely losing.

But that doesn’t mean we give up the fight. Just because I know that my odds suck of hitting today’s goal, doesn’t mean I won’t fight with everything I have to lose as best I can.

If you can’t win today, at least lose well.

Slow dance Saturdays

Is that a thing yet? If not, you heard it here first.

This was candidly snagged at a wedding a couple months back. Since Lauren has come into my life the biggest change I’ve found people commenting on is how much I smile. I have to admit it is a skill I still haven’t mastered, but I am pretty grateful she gives me so many opportunities to practice. My advice is to find someone who makes you smile, whether you want to or not.

The Rome Project

Another screenplay.  This is where the zombies started. The ground work for Foamers. This screenplay got such a reaction from those that read it that I decided to go back to school to chase writing as more than a hobby. I am proud in the tears a zombie screenplay had drawn. Can you read it dry eyed?

This was a hard copy scan and a few pages are missing, not to mention this isn’t the final version so plenty of notes and typos.

As per usual, this is mine, belongs to me, don’t steal cause I’ll gladly sell cheap, and no one likes a head ache.

Rome

Reflections on Strays

Strays was a heart breaker for me. Everything that could go sideways in the release. Sales have been low. Reviews have been slow. I dislike even looking at the book.

But…

Huge but…

There have been few times in my life I really felt awesome as a writer. It’s mostly self-loathe and whiskey. Decent bit of whiskey. Lotta bit of self loathe. I wrote the second book in a booth at what was the Middlesex diner. They kept my coffee full and my stomach fed. When the release date finally came, the diner was happy to host my release party.

That night people came from far and wide to support me. Many bottles of booze were drank. I read a pseudo sex scene in front of my mom and all of her friends. Luckily my sister, Brother-in-law and nieces had left by then. Three friends I had best manned for were there. A college friend I hadn’t seen in years drove six hours for it. Old room mates. Bosses. Coaches.

Writing is lonely.

That day I was not.

Strays may have disappointed, but the people I have in my life have not.

strays

Screenplay numero uno

Hey all,

Adventures of Dud is overish. If anyone has a strong desire for me to complete the fifth let me know.

This pretty PDF is the World Series of Beer Pong. College love story revolving around the world’s greatest sport of beer pong. Prior to opening it, disclaimers, there are themes of sex, drinking, and love. It has been a while since I wrote this and if would guess we are looking at a strong PG13. And also, no idea where it was in the level of editing.

As per usual, all work is mine and belongs to me. Steal it and I will find you, especially since I will sell out cheap, so lets all save of us some headaches.

KassabJ_TheWorldSeriesofBeerPong

Ireland 360

Dud the Fourth

“Val’Tia, seventeen,” Val’Tia said with a bow of her head.

Zeibs were identified by the number of people they killed. Their leaders were those of highest rank.

Val’Tia held a sword in each of her four hands. She was standing in the center of a combat arena. The arena was an oval, surrounded by stands that were packed with spectators. Standing on the gritty sand opposite her was a large male Zeib, with dark bronze skin, wearing nothing but a loin cloth. Hav’Nek had a white handprint on his face, that was a blessing to him from his master, the Baroness.

“Hav’Nek, two-sixty-seven,” he said, grinding his horse sized teeth as he attempted a smile but it came out as a sneer instead.

Two-hundred-sixty-seven kills made Hav’Nek elite. If number two-hundred-twenty-two hadn’t been murder he would still be leading a fair sized tribe of his kind. Hav’Nek wasn’t sad about that though. His sentence had been bought by the Baroness, who gave him the ability to keep killing. Bottom line he hated leading, loved killing.

Val’Tia had broken the laws of the space station Sanctuary, and was now to be put to death. That tended to be through execution, but since a Zeib can only be guaranteed a place in the Afterworld by dying in combat, Hav’Nek asked the Baroness to intervene.

Val’Tia was as good as dead either way.

The tone sounded to start the fight, and Hav’Nek caught glimpses of microdrones buzzing around sending video footage to different broadcasts, but mainly the projection that hung above the arena to make sure every spectator got a full view.

Most important to Hav’Nek was making the Baroness proud. She was the only spectator that mattered to him. He engaged Val’Tia, seeing three different openings he could have dispatched her in, but taking none to draw the fight out and make a good show.

The faster she attacked the more the world slowed down. Hav’Nek was once one of the best pit fighters on his home planet, and this duel was hardly even a spar. He had trained with and defeated the best..

To him the slightest twitch of her muscles gave away her next move. He let her weapons pass between his arms, listening to the gasps of the crowd. Parrying her attack he kicked her away. She stumbled and fell. He made a long, slow, executioner’s swing to give her enough time to dodge.

When she got to her feet, he resumed the dance. As slow as everything felt to Hav’Nek, from the outside it all happened in a blur.

Dud, a Terran crew mate of Hav’Nek, sat with the Baroness. Like Hav’Nek, Dud was also a slave. On the prison planet Dud grew up on he was trained to never get into a physical fights with Zeib’s. Most situations he was taught to just avoid Zeib’s. They weren’t much for bartering, but they were big on killing.

Sitting there next to his owner, he couldn’t get over the speed of Hav’Nek. The four armed man looked like a whirlwind of death. He was a spinning blur that Dud struggled to even track.

Two minutes into the fight, Hav’Nek sliced Val’Tia’s top right arm off at the elbow. At no point did she make a sound while she continued the fight. Her florescent green blood, that was so thick it was almost a gel, dripped to the floor of the stadium.

It was clear that Hav’Nek could finish the fight at any moment, but continued to prolong Val’Tia’s existence. Each time they clashed she slowed, her life flowing out of her.

Dud found it strange that this was a Zeib’s way of caring; to kill someone slowly.

Val’Tia dropped her weapons and fell to her knees. She crossed her remaining arms over her chest and bowed her head.

“May your victories be many, Hav’Nek two-sixty-eight,” Val’Tia said.

Hav’Nek took post beside her and raised one of his swords high into the air before slashing clean through Val’Tia’s neck.

Her head fell from her shoulders and the crowd went wild. The main screen showed her green blood oozing from her body, while all around Dud people jumped to their feet to cheer the combatants.

Dud, still fascinated by the computer wrapped around his forearm watched a stream of betting payouts. The odds were stacked in Hav’Nek’s favor, but people bet down to the fraction of a second that Val’Tia would be killed.

He had considered asking Hav’Nek to end the fight at a certain time, but cheating, like all crimes committed in Sanctuary, were punished by death. Sanctuary was a space station that housed thousands of people and served as a safe haven for a group of solar systems called the Commonwealth. This was necessary because the Commonwealth was a set of systems that no major civilization existed in, and was populated by pirates and mercenaries. It was a place that existed without any actual laws, and where anyone could set off to if they wanted to avoid the governing bodies of any other system.

The Baroness never got to her feet. She continued to sit as everyone celebrated the fight. Dud followed her lead and stayed seated. A Stiation female in purple robes walked in front of Lillith and then disappeared into the crowd.

Lillith took Dud’s hand and panic shot through him. She rarely touched him, and from what he heard of the outcome of all of her partners he feared her contact more than he did a Stiations.

Put that under your tongue, Lillith communicated to him through the metal implant at the base of his skull called a SLET. In Dud’s palm was a small gummy object about the size of a pupil. Dud didn’t hesitate, since he liked his brain in solid form, and placed the gum under his tongue. Immediately the gum molded to the bottom of his mouth and permeated into his body.

His head kicked back and his neck stiffened from an electrical current pulsing through the back of his neck. He covered his eyes, but it didn’t stop the swirl of images and words from passing through his vision.

“Let’s go,” Lillith said, getting to her feet. The crowd parted for her while the two of them made their way out of the arena stands.

They traveled down a corridor and to a bank of tubes that carried people through the Sanctuary at high speeds. A few minutes later they had arrived in Lillith’s personal apartment, a luxury that was worth most planets.

Waiting for them on arrival was her synthetic BOB.

“BOB, run a sweep for me,” Lillith ordered.

BOB, stood just as still as he had been when they entered, but a few seconds later he spoke in his sickly smooth voice. “You are safe to speak.”

“Then may I ask what I just put in my mouth, Baroness?” Dud asked.

“An information pellet. Information is genetically programed into the pellet, which is then absorbed by the body and relayed through the electrical signals of the body to the SLET. I had you take it in case it was poisoned and then took the information from your SLET.”

“Thank you, Baroness,” Dud said, but didn’t mean the thanks part. He had come to expect death at every turn, but the issue with always expecting it is once it becomes the normal status quo its harder to notice. He understood he was her property, and she would use him to shield herself from danger, but for just a few minutes he wished he could let his guard down.

“My dearest Dudley, we’ve got a new job,” Lillith said.

All the details flooded into Dud’s mind. A Terran emissary needs an escort through the Commonwealth. The emissary was going to travel through the Commonwealth on a Stiation ship, but she needed to keep her identity a secret, the best cover was to be the newest slave in Lillith’s group. No one questioned Lillith in the Commonwealth, nothing would guarantee no questions like being in Lillith’s crew.

“You won’t have your ship on this mission,” BOB said.

“Thank you, BOB. It is neccessary to have it appear to my brother than I am still on Sacntuary.”

Despite the fact that Dud had pretty much never seen anything he was seeing these days, a Stiation Cruiser was about as mind blowing as it could be. They were taken to the Cruiser in a small skiff like the one that had tried to pirate them, but the Cruiser was a sight to behold, both inside and out.

On the approach it looked like a fat arrowhead. Tallest at the top then fading into a narrow point. Dud didn’t get a chance to lay a hand to the outside, but it looked like a dull gray flesh, nothing like the Terran metal ships he had seen at Sanctuary. The last time Dud had seen the color of the Stiation was when he had seen a man drown back on Terra-One.

Inside the Cruiser Dud confirmed his suspicion that it was skin on the outside of the ship. His first three steps were full of caution as the spongy floor of the ship sunk ever so slightly with each step. An inch above the floor there was a hovering mist. The veins in the walls stood out against the gray flesh that made the corridors. Dud guessed the ship grew to its present size, as the corridors were in no way symmetrical.

“Keep up, Dud,” Lillith said, as he trailed her and Abastia through the hallway of the living ship.

Leaving the others behind seemed strange to Dud, since his second life had begun he had been with them. The plan was built for everyone to think Lillith was still on Sanctuary, but Dud felt vulnerable without the full crew. Especially knowing he was always the expendable one.

A voice came echoing through the corridors in Stiation, which Dud couldn’t understand, but based on tone and pacing he was pretty sure it was a count down. Not knowing what was being said, he continued following Lillith since he didn’t want to do anything to cross his owner.

Dud wondered if he was walking through areas that were similar to the WORDS in his own heart, just on a much larger scale, which made him them wonder if the animal ship thing felt him like Dud did when he had something caught in his throat. He tried not to wonder what would happen if the ship coughed him up in space.

Abastia and Lillith stopped as they entered a large oval room that was higher on the sides and sunk in the middle. Dud, with his head still searching in child like awe, walked into the back of Abastia who wrapped her long fingers around his arm to steady him. His heart took off waiting for some form of hell to course through him, but nothing happened other than the cool touch of her skin against his.

The walls of the central room were different than the walls in the corridor. They had a pinkish hue, covered in wrinkles and there was a slight crackle of electricity in the air. This was the command deck for the Stiation Cruiser, with two dozen Stiation’s at different stand-up stations.

A male Stiation came forward with a Terran female to meet them. She was identified as Jahnavi of the Kotapati and was the Terran they were hired to escort. They exchanged words with Lillith and ignored Dud and Abastia as if they were nothing more than breathing statues. After a small discussion Lillith sent Dud and Abastia to a room to wait in.

Dud wanted nothing more than to explore, but he knew he had to stay where he was put or risk death for disobeying. Since he wasn’t told he couldn’t sleep and Abastia wasn’t the creature he cared to converse with he decided to close his eyes and take a nap until he was called on again.

He wasn’t sure how long he had slept, but the wake up call was not one he expected.

The entire ship shuddered as an impact ripped through the entire hull. Dud was knocked from his feet, and as he caught himself on the floor he felt a sticky liquid creeping up his hands. The goo was cool on his skin. When he got to his feet there was already a foot of the gel filling the room.

He wanted to ask questions, but he knew better. Else in the room was panicking from the growing liquid level. Having no frame of reference for how to handle such a situation, Dud decided to do nothing.

The goo crept higher than his hips, then shoulders, then he truly felt a moment of fear as he couldn’t keep his mouth out of the rising liquid. He didn’t like the way the thick gelatinous goo felt sliding into his mouth. He held his breath as long as he could, but eventually his lungs won out and he had not choice but to inhale the mass that was filling the room and climbing over his head.

To his surprise it wasn’t like when he had fallen into the Trench and almost drown, his lungs worked the liquid in and out as if it was nothing more than air. It did require a little more effort to inhale and exhale, but from what he expected his lungs to have to fight, he was more than pleasantly surprised.

And he must have shown it on his face, since the baroness was smiling at him through the clear goo, which may have been the first time he had seen her smile.

It made her look far less terrifying, which wasn’t to say she didn’t still look terrifying, but just hat she was slightly softer, like a knife with a pretty handle.

Then there was a vibration. Not one he could hear but one he could feel. In his core. Like his own heart was the source, but he could feel it all around him, through him, and then there was nothing.

He was weighless. The world had gone black.

Then a speck of light. A flash. Like the stars were trying to signal him.

He was most definitely no longer in the Stiation ship. His entire room of people was floating with him through the vast nothingness in only the liquid blob that had surrounded them all.

Something in the back of his head said he should be scared as he hurtled toward a planet, but all he felt was the cool penetrating caress of the goo around him. For a moment he pondered if he was out of shits to give, or if there was some type of drug in the gel that was creating the euphoria.

Then the darkness was broken by a blinding light as they crashed into the atmosphere of a planet. As red fire burned around their encasement, he couldn’t grasp why the gel wasn’t heating up, or breaking apart. He had seen enough shooting stars to know what happened to objects that hit an atmosphere. And it was nothing good. Nothing good at all.

Somehow, beyond his realm of reckoning they passed through the atmosphere and into a night sky, hurtling toward the ground.

In all the falling and spinning and other motions that should have probably cost him his lunch, he was facing straight at the ground they were approaching. Somewhere in the back of his head a hardly whispering voice said put up your hands to catch yourself. It was totally asinine but he did it anyways.

He braced for impact. But the goo touched down as lightly as an insect on a flower. As if it hadn’t just been moving at asteroid speeds a moment before.

There was a brief moment as the goo ball reverberated with the settling, and then all at once it melted away into a puddle on the ground around them.

Dud dropped to his knees and began expelling the remaining gel from his lungs. It wasn’t until he looked up at the night sky that he knew where he was. He was home. Back on Terra-One.

The last place in the universe he ever wanted to be again.

Dud got to his feet and went to Jahnavi of the Kotapti and lended a hand to get her to her feet. Her hand was delicate on his forearm, but he could feel the power in her grip. She wasn’t as tall as most the people Dud had seen at Sanctuary, but she was nearly eye to eye with him. And those eyes. They were a steel gray, like metal untouched by air. Pure, and strong. There were dark lines snaking through the steel gray as if her pupils had sprouted roots.

“Thank you,” she said.

“No need to thank him, any more than you would a chair for letting you sit,” Baroness snapped, and Dud removed his arm from the Princess.

Jahnavi didn’t respond but gave him a wide smile, one that couldn’t be faked, He wasn’t sure if there was anything about her that could be faked. Which seemed totally out of character for a person of royalty, and made him question if she was just really good at faking everything.

Dud took in a deep breath of the familiar air. He hadn’t noticed the difference between what he inhaled here and what went through his lungs back on Sanctuary. He wondered if other pods might land around them, but it seemed like it might just be the four of them.

Abastia was still crouched with her knees high in the air like a frog ready to hop, while here beady eyes scanned in the darkness.

“Do we know what planet this is?” the stiation asked.

“I have no idea what we were near when the ship jettisoned us,” Lillith said.

“Were we just shit out? Was that how it works?” Dud asked.

“We have more important things to figure out, Dud, than give you a lesson.” Lillith snapped.

Dud shot her a glare, it was probably the most bold action he had ever taken against her, but for once he had the upper hand.

“The more important question is who attacked us and why?” Dud said his eyes darting between to two human females. He had a princess and the baroness with him, it was hard to say which was the higher target.

“I’d rather figure out where we are and find a way off this rock before whoever is after us comes looking,”

“We are on Terra-one, about ten kilos from where you picked me up,” Dud responded.

“How can you know that?” the baroness asked.

“First that star is called the Guiding Light, it never moves no matter the season. Second we are in the barren but not the desert. This area only exists in a small section around the Trench. Third that constellation is the Big Spoon. Fourth the air tastes like it always has. Do you need me to continue or do you trust that I know my home?”

Baroness just glared at him. Her piercing blue eyes would have been making him tremble, except he knew what reason number five was.

“You call Terra-One home?” Jahnavi asked.

Not knowing much about the universe didn’t mean he was too dumb to understand the connotation of calling a prison planet home.

“I was born here. Now might I suggest we head for water since we have no supplies or equipment and we are going to need a plan to make it anywhere that we can call for help from,” Dud said.

“I can just signal BOB,” Baroness said.

“Unfortunately you can’t. I am not even sure if you can melt my brain right now. The owners have many defenses set up against technology. Namely you can’t call out or in from Terra-One. So, before we are in need of water, I vote we are going to the Trench and from there we can figure out our best options.”

There weren’t any good options. He wasn’t ready to tell everyone that yet though.

“I will follow you,” Jahnavi said.

Even in the dark it was clear to see the grimace on Lillith’s face. Her teeth shone like bared fangs. Dud knew he would pay for this dearly, but at least for the first time in days he could think without worrying about his brain frying, even if it was on the shit hole that was Terra-One.

“Take us to the water then,” Lillith said, somewhere halfway between an order and surrender.

“If you guys want to live long enough to get to the water, make as little noise as possible when we hit the tree line. Night time is not the best time for us” -he shot a look at Abastia- “fleshbags to be wandering around.”

Dud looked at the sky for just a moment to get his bearings and set off at a jog. He knew Abastia would have no trouble bounding along and the two other humans would be augmented for speeds far beyond his range so no one should have trouble with the pace.

The barrens were an interesting area. They weren’t sand desert, but dried mud plains. Some of the mud flakes were as big as a rhinophant hoof, and others were as small as a hand. The cracked lines running through the dried flats gave them the look of shattered glass, if glass was brown and not transparent.

What he found more interesting was each step he took in the direction of the Trench his old senses rekindled. He could practically count the hairs on his arms from his heightened senses. The one thing that always held true on Terra-One was you were always hunting and being hunted at the same time. The Flats weren’t as bad for nocturnal predators, but if he had suggested his group camp there until light, they would have been dead by morning.

In the trees, they might not make it that long. But there was a chance they would see the morning light.

His best chance of survival would be to leave them as soon as he hit the tree line. They might all be stronger and faster than him, but none of them would be able to navigate the jungle in the dark like he could. Then he’d have three easy pieces of bait to distract whatever would come.

Only issue with that was if he let Lillith die, he would unlikely ever get off Terra-One again, and there was a chance the SLET would still kill him in the process. Neither of those outcomes sounded appealing to him so he would have to do his best to keep her alive. The other two time would tell.

The flats eventually gave way to short grassy patches, which in turn led to taller grass, which then became thicket, and shortly following they found themselves in a dense jungle of trees. The canopy was so thick is blocked out all the stars so Dud stopped to let his eyes adjust. To his dismay, and great strike against his pride, he was the only one breathing hard when they entered into the jungle. The good news was they were nearly halfway to the Trench and nothing had tried to kill them yet. Bad news was they still had a ways to go in the pitch black with plenty of predators to track them, not to mention the fact that the Trench alone was filled with plenty of things to kill them.

“Why did we stop, Dud?” Lillith asked.

Dud turned to face the three females. His eyes were adjusted to the dark, and he could see them on in the soft gray that night fades to when ones vision can pick up just the faintest of light. The two Terran stood tall and proud, and Abastia had returned to her animal like pose, sniffing and watching the dark.

“If you haven’t noticed it is a lot darker in here and there are a lot of things that will literally eat you alive. I’d like to see them coming,” Dud responded.

“Just hit the flashlight on your wrister,” Lillith replied.

“I’m not an idiot despite what you might think. Any form of light will attract all sorts of trouble, from any number of things trying to kill us.”

He was in fact an idiot. He didn’t know his wrister had a flashlight, but the reasoning to not use it was all the same.

The smell of rot was normal under the canopy as there were plenty of organics decomposing, but the scent that caught in his nose had something distinctly different to it. There was a slight pungency, the kind that came from old clothes when they had been too long without a wash.

His head snapped around and he let his eyes focus in the direction the wind was carrying the scent.

“Abastia, can you smell that difference or is it just in my head?” Dud asked.

“What difference?” Lillith asked.

“Yes, what is it from?” Abastia responded.

Dud should have felt all of the hairs on his arm stand on end in fear, but he didn’t. He was smelling rot wolves, but his body wasn’t telling him he should be running for his life.

“I need all of you to stay perfectly still and do nothing no matter what happens. Slime skin, that goes double for you, if you so much as activate a gland they will be on us immediately,” Dud ordered.

“What will be?” Lillith asked.

Dud ignored her again, enjoying his brief respite from being at her mercy and knowing the odds of getting off of Terra-One left little room for her to take retribution.

He took a careful step forward, extending his leg as far as he could and setting his toes to the earth as delicately as possible. The last thing he wanted to do was bring death to them all. Besides he might need the other three as bait to save himself before this was all over.

Part of him felt bad for thinking of using them as bait, but he was a slave who was purely bought to be used up on the job. If they could use him like that he had no gripe returning the favor. Especially on Terra-One where the name of the game was survival.

In all his time on this planet two people had actually cared for him, one had suffered a horrible death and the other was one of the very few who died of old age on Terra-One. The latter had accomplished all of that by making himself invaluable to everyone. Both had taught Dud important things about staying alive.

Dud had moved far enough away from the others to deem them safe. He could practically feel each of their eyes, not just on him, but exactly on him where they were looking.

During his short life Dud had many poor ideas, but this one was pretty high up there. He let out a high whistle which terminated before coming to completion and followed it up with a quick tweet.

Leaves rustled as the rot wolves, which he couldn’t see barreled for him. He held his arms out at his side and waited. There were three. Closing in from all directions. He still didn’t feel like this was the moment he was doing to die so he didn’t have to struggle to stay calm.

How wrong he was.

They hit him practically as once. Targeting both arms, and one of his legs. His body wanted to fall to the ground in three different directions which spent him spinning on his planted foot like an intoxicated ballerina.

Before he could plant his other foot they hit him again, this time all three from one direction pinning him face down on the forest floor. He had seen wolves hunt enough to know this wouldn’t end quick, and he wasn’t going to enjoy it.

He thought really hard about killing Lillith, thinking that if the SLET was working she might kill him and save him from being eaten alive.

Then a long rough tongue drug along the back of his neck, followed by another and another. Dud shook from laughter as his pack went about cleaning him.

This was truely a home coming for him.

“I missed you little shit sticks,” Dud said getting to his feet and patting down the rot wolves and for the first time realizing just how dirty they were as his hand came away covered in all kinds of gross. Last time he was equally if not more gross than they were, but now knowing what clean was made it slightly different.

Rot wolves were a cross between a large dog and a gigigigigantic rat. They were canine in most their features, but they could collapse their bodies to lay flat on the forest floor, and could even snake their way around like that. Their fur was in fact hair, but to the eye it looked like matted grass and leaves.

Dud’s wolves which he had raised from pups he called V, W, and X. V was a dark green and the tallest of the three, W was more brown and the stockier of the pack, while X was a light green and fell between the other two in height and weight. All three were circling him, rubbing against his legs, and fighting for their turn to be pet.

The joy of seeing them again had made him totally forget about his less civilized companions.

“All clear,” Dud called.

The females came forward, which put Dud’s wolves on alert as they put themselves between him and them, their fur raising to match their growls. The girls stopped, and Dud couldn’t help himself from smiling at the look of fear on Lillith’s face.

He had never seen anything like that from her in the limited time he had been with her, but it brought him great amounts of joy to see she wasn’t invincible. Though with all her augmentations he didn’t know if the three wolves couldn’t take her even if he let them, but he didn’t want to see that happen just yet so he gave two quick whistles which settled his wolves.

V and W went to sniff out the other companions, but X didn’t move from Dud enjoying his undivided pets all for himself.

Jahnavi held a hand down and let V sniff her before she pet the creature, but Lillith and Abastia looked anything but comfortable. They looked like stranded swimmers being circled by a fin.

Dud would be lying if he didn’t say it brought him great joy.

“I,” Lillith gulped, “don’t see any collars. How do you control them?”

“I don’t. I communicate with them. If they trust my judgement they listen, if they don’t they go for self preservation. I’m one of the pack, not the owner,” Dud replied.

Jahnavi let out a giggle as V ran her long, rough, tongue across her hand. “They are your pets?”

“What’s a pet?” Dud asked.

“You don’t know what a pet is?”

Dud looked to Lillith for help, she was none. Abastia saw the pleading in his eyes and saved him.

“Dear child, it is an animal a person owns, and it serves them as a companion.”

“Like a slave?”

W had moved behind Abastia and was lowering her haunches and wiggling her hips. X spotted his pack member moving to position and let out a short huff pulling away from Dud.

Dud’s eyes met with W’s and he looked her off, X seeing they weren’t hunting Stiation returned to Dud.

Jahnavi laughed, and Dud felt his cheeks go warm. A feeling that he wasn’t accustom to. On Terra-One he knew just about everything there was to know, outside of this damned planet he knew nothing.

“No, not a slave. They’re like a friend,” Jahnavi said.

“Do they have free will?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do they get to make their own choices? Where they go, what they eat, when they eat, breeding, all of that?”

“Well, no. They are part of your life.”

V, X, and W patrolled around the group, and Dud wondered how they would feel about being pets. He had been stolen from this planet and they carried on just fine without him.

“What about their life and wants?” Dud asked.

“They are kept safe, and know where their next meal is coming from. Pets are happy to be pets.”

Dud gave a shrug, it still sounded to slavery to him, but he figured pissing off the princess would be a good way to piss off the Baroness and that could lead to his brain being fried if they did survive this ordeal.

“We still need to get to water. We can discuss pets later,” Dud said.

Before anyone could get the conversation going, Dud whistled and the rot wolves moved out with him. The three others jogged to keep up with what was a fast pace for him.

Which pissed him off to no end. He was exerting himself, someone who had lived his life in the wild, not some sit on his ass jobber, and these people who could pay for their strength were just magically able to keep pace. Terra-One may be a prison, and in many ways a nightmare, but at least everyone had to earn what they had.

Things were going well on the run. He didn’t see the glow from any of the nocks, and he hadn’t heard the hunting cry of a burrock. They might just make the water without incident.

Then he realized it wasn’t just the predators he wasn’t hearing, it was all the creatures of the night. He stopped in place and the others skidded to a stop.

“What?” Lillith said, her eyes searching the darkness. He could practically smell her fear, which meant the girl in the darkness could as well.

The girl was sleek, a feline, a glossy black coat that looked like a shadow in the darkness. The cat was somewhere nearby, it was the only excuse for the lack of sound.

To confirm his suspicions the wolves started whining, and for good reason. A female pantera was larger, stronger, and faster than X, Y, or Z. Females of the pride did the hunting, and a prowling pantera was the last land predator Dud ever wanted to face.

Not wanting to make any more noise, Dud pushed his palms toward the ground and his three wolves went flat like carpets of grass. He waved the women in close though Abastia was the only one he cared about. Once she was in reach of her, he pulled her close, then slid his hand under her robe and placed it roughly where a Terran’s kidney would be.

“Take you hand-” Absastia started but Dud had already removed his hand. He knew everything he needed to know. His time on Terra-One had taught him how to tell which glands a Stiation had and which combinations that could make. Assuming Abastia’s missing fingers didn’t prevent her from doing what he needed they might actually live.

His heart rate picked up. The pantera had to be getting closer. Dud picked a branch off the ground that was around two meters long and snapped it in two thirds to get as much of a point as he could.

“Fire,” Dud ordered holding the sharp end of the branch up.

As Abastia ignited a small flame with a snap of her fingers, Lillith grabbed Dud’s shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“We’re being hunted. Shut up before you help it close in. Please,” Dud replied while Abastia made a charcol point.

“Poison the whole spear,” Dud said.

“You can’t hold it then,” Abastia replied.

“You’re sentiment is touching.” Dud rolled his eyes, hoping she couldn’t see it in the dark.

“Do what he says,” Lillith ordered.

Abastia rubbed her middle fingers together. Slowly a clear viscous liquid ran down her fingers and coated her hands. She rubbed it all along the piece of wood Dud was betting his life on. He took his makeshift spear back from her and wished he had his wrist rocket with him, but this would do.

“Laydown, all of you,” Dud said, and the three women laid on the ground. He gave a short whistle and X, Y, and Z crawled on top of the ladies, making them look like small mounts on  the forest floor.

Dud stepped away from everyone else and wished he wasn’t the hero right now. All three women were biologically more equipped for this, but he didn’t know if their speed or strength would substitute for his years of note being eaten.

The spear was warm in his hands as he walked forward. The toxin Abastia had was more potent than ones Dud had faced before, and he hoped that it wouldn’t get the best of him before he found the eyes in the darkness.

He had worked hard to build up a tolerance to most of the Stiations more debilitating abilities during his time on Terra-One, but as his hands started to burn he worried hers would best him. The only plus side was he doubted he would need more than one good attack to drop the feline.

“Come on. I’m here. Let’s get this over with,” Dud called into the darkness and the eyes responded.

Four meters in front of him the pantera was ready to spring. In the low light all he could see was the gleaming green eyes that were locked on him. They always had the same effect on him, also known as him fighting not to shit his pants. He carried many scars from many enemies, but these ladies of the night had cut him the deepest.

The green eyes disappeared, and if you listened ever so closely you could hear the soft pads of the cat pushing off the ground as the feline lept for its prey. Dud didn’t listen. Didn’t care to listen. He knew there was one hundred or so kilograms of clawed death in the air heading for his throat. That he did care about.

If he dodged he’d be dead. The pantera would relaunch the moment she hit the ground and be on him before he could find her in the darkness.

If he lifted the spear point first the cat would corkscrew, land, and then have him.

With his only option being what it was, he wished one of the women was in his place. Perhaps Lillith, but he worried his death would be tied to hers so maybe the princess instead.

His only chance was to let her take him to the ground and then fight to see who would walk away.

The claws wrapped into Dud’s back and sunk into his shoulders like the world’s worst hug. In his lover’s embrace he went to the forest floor, bringing the spear up only once the claws were hooked. He caught her broadside in the open jaws. As she closed down her teeth were close enough to just barely graze the skin on his neck before getting stopped on the wood.

The poison burned his hands, but the good news was he hardly noticed over the ten hooks in his back. She trashed against the toxin, whipping him around under her like he weighed less than a leaf.

He just had to stay alive until the second opening. They were locked together closer than if he had been trying to bed her. She wanted to pull away, but her claws were set. She was going no where until one of them was dead. Dud hoped that would be her. Like really, really hoped. And if she killed him, the wolves better finish her off. And then possibly Lillith afterward since it wouldn’t matter to him if his dead brain fried.

The pantera gave him the opening by turning her head to free her jaws from the poisoned wood. Dud didn’t pull the spear away, but checked it across her face, dragging the charcoal tip down her neck. The cut wasn’t deep. Hardly more than a scratch, but it would be enough. The stiation poison would enter her blood and soon she should be done.

The lady of the night let out a frustrated cry from the pain. A heart wrechning sound from a creature so beautiful, but Dud remminded himself that she was trying to eat him an couldnt feel bad bout staying alive. Her claws pealed his shoulders as her body spasmed and she pulled away from him.

She attempted to flee, but only made it a few steps before collapsing to the ground. The poison would take a while to kill her, and there was a slim chance she would survive it, but her scent would keep other predeators away until she died. A cover that Dud and his could use.

Struggling to get to his feet, Dud felt the full damage to his back. Blood was running down his tattered shirt and coating it to his skin. The pantera might cover their scent, but it wouldn’t be long until the blood invited the rest ofthe jungle.

The next part was something Dud hated more than the pain. He called the wolves over and they eached urintated on the same spot creating a mud puddle.

“You’re not about to do what I think you are?” Lillith asked.

“Would you like to get eaten?” Dud replied.

Abasita was at his side, with a tender, by Stiianian standards, on his shoulder. “I can put a healing salve on it.”

“Which will only bring more death to us,” Dud said.

Terra-One was unforgiving. Survival required endurance. Dud flopped back first into the piss puddle and rolled his wounds around until he was certain that his bleeding would be stemmed and he smelled horribly enough that the blood wouldn’t be the leading scent.

As he got to his feet the looks the three women were giving him made him feel like the peon he was. However he was still breathing and that counted for something. Until he collapsed facefirst into the puddle of piss.

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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.