Not sure if it’s a compliment

When I was younger(obviously since I’m writing the story it had to have happened when I was younger…if I was grading this paper I’d of cut that from it…but I’m not so enjoy my waste of words) a friend of mine had just listened to the song NO HANDLEBARS. Quick summary of the song for those of you who don’t know it is there are two friends growing up and through a series of one ups one of those friends becomes a dictator, the other opposes him. This friend told me that he would trust knowing that if he ever became a dictator I’d be the one to assassinate him.

Soooooo part of me is like am I that heartless, or am I that logical. But in the end I take the positive of they’d trust me to do the right thing over my emotion and their best judgement. I can’t say it’s true, but this concludes another edition of not sure if this is a compliment.

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I’m tired

During a phone call with my dad this evening he pointed out I hadn’t posted in a while. The long and short of it is I am tired. Reaching that point of the semester with teaching/coaching/recruiting that I am exhausted.

So as I sit here on my treadmill getting up the motivation to run I look back a few hours into my day when my girls were so spent that they had to drag themselves out of the water.

I feel as long as I am putting other humans through such tortures I should be no exception.

My legs hurt. My knee is sore as shit. My hip is out of alignment. My back feels like someone took a whip to it. My shoulders are in no way pleasant. And most difficultly my mind is broke at the moment.

But that’s why I have to stand up, go for a run, finish homework, and put some words on the page before I sleep.

My father made sure I was stronger than life. So I run, and as I run I’m reminded of the words of my good friend Tim Smith as spoken as he drug my dying ass on a run around Wilkes-Barre during out masters… “every runner is running toward something or away from it.”

Stars

Recently I had the chance to look at the stars. This is always a grounding experience for me. There are two lessons I always take from the stars. The first is that when my life feels overwhelming, they remind me how large the universe is and just how insignificant my existence is. When you remember that you are a tiny speck in a wide universe and will pass unnoticed it helps to not stress you haven’t had a chance to mow the lawn in two weeks.

The second lesson I always take from this is that in the time it takes for the light of a star to reach my eye that star may have already lived its full life and has burned out. None of us are going to live forever, but we all can live lives that send our light years into the future, long after we are gone.

So on one hand remember you are insignificant on the other remember you are significant.

Mediocre

Been a while folks…I’m still here…with my return from the shadows I’ve got a lesson from my father.

I was going through a lot of decision making this summer and my dad as always was a primary sounding board.

One day though he gave me a nice reminder.

He told me he didn’t care what I was, a coach, a teacher, a writer, sales rep, or anything but he didn’t raise me to be mediocre.

I was always taught that if I’m going to do something I out work everyone else at it. Better to not do something than to not do it well.

That reminder that mediocre isn’t in my genetic make up was the kick in the ass I needed to get back into the fight of life.

So as I write this post between sets in the weight room before I go to teach, I challenge all you not to be mediocre today. Step up to whatever challenges come looking for you today.

Going dry

Going dry…I’m about 2/3rds through the rough draft and also let go a little physically this summer. So to spur myself into motivation on both fronts I am going dry until I finish the draft. If you catch me drinking at an event that is not a wedding or funeral I will give you 5$.

The only question remains is will I write faster or lose weight longer…

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

FOAMERS FOUR YEARS OUT

So it has been four years since Foamers released. I’ve learned a lot about writing and publishing since then(and even some about life). That first book was where I recognized for that this thing that many people told me was a pipe dream, was actually possible. Yeah, Dad, I still haven’t got you that beach house I promised you when I started writing at 14, but I am climbing.

So today I happened to Amazon search myself, just to see how I was doing with reviews and always curious to see my sales rank and at this very moment the, once upon a time, #1 dystopian novel on Amazon is .99 cents.

Already have your e-version? They have a new thing where you can buy it at as a gift, and who doesn’t have a friend who could use the story of Kade and crew, and if you don’t have a friend, I’ll be your friend.

Here you go: FOAMERS

FoamersCover

And no, that is not me or my dog on the cover. I’m not that skinny and she doesn’t have a tail.

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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The Adventures of Dud: Episode 1

So, what you’re about to get into is the first of a set of linked short stories I was working on a few years back. It was fun, but lost steam when I started back into the Primal Age Chronicles. There are a few more of these laying around, so hopefully you all enjoy.

Should go without saying, but these are my works and any use of them without my permission will result in bad karma, some stern looks, and possibly some legal action. So, don’t go stealing bones from my graveyard. PS, no idea what level of edited I left this in, so forgive typos and all that yada yada.

Enjoy.

The metal pod surrounding Dud kept him securely in place as he plummeted toward the ground. He couldn’t even scratch the itch on his nose.

Until three days ago he had never been in space, or beheld what technology could do. He had been wandering on a prison planet staying alive by hunting with a simple weapon called a bow. The rest of the slave crew he joined was as impressed by the simple tool as he was by the craft that took him amongst the stars he had only ever watched from the ground.

Now he was hurtling at a speed he didn’t want to calculate toward a planet he had never heard of before today. Everything seemed new to him. It was like the awakening of a child though he was somewhere past his puberty years but before being a full blown adult. The experience would be positive if it wasn’t for the fact that he was a bought piece of property that’s lifespan was only a few hours until this mission was accomplished.

He was being dropped on a swampy planet that belonged to a species of sentient beings called Stiations, an amphibious humanoid. There had been plenty of Stiations on Terra-One, the prison planet he was born on, but few of them spoke the same language as Dud. During his years of wandering the planet he had interacted with enough Stiations for one lifetime.

It already felt like a lifetime since he left Terra-One. Terra-One was a planet that had been nearly wiped out of all useable resources. Dying planets like that were worthless to sustaining large amounts of life and were sold at low prices. Sometimes a religious cult would purchase them to try to escape the ruling government, but no one ever truly escaped the Central Powers.

Terra-One had once been two-thirds covered in water, but now there were five trenches that provided the only guaranteed water. These trenches spanned for thousands of miles but were mostly contained in the dried bed that had once been the largest ocean on the planet. Most of the inmates could be found in their own makeshift societies that condensed around these water sources. From orbit it was easy to track the population centers on the surface due to every inmate being ID tracker tagged.

Dud was raised for the first few years of his life by his mother on Terra-One. He didn’t know exactly how long because he wasn’t introduced to the concept of years until later in life. He also didn’t know if his father and mother had been a couple of inmates who fell in love with each other or if he was what was called a ‘forced child’. Besides not knowing any of that he didn’t even know his mother’s name or her sentence.

He did know the one memory that woke him up most nights was the day his mother died. His mother was trying to teach him how to write the alphabet. Even though Dud was up to par on speech she felt it was important he learned how to write in case he ever found a way off the planet. Dud was a stubborn child and refused to write a single letter. They lived in a hut so small his mother could hardly stand up but she had built him a spider tunnel that he could use if they were ever attacked.

There was such little technology left on Terra-One that they lived a primitive existence. The only people who had the remaining technology weren’t the type of people a single woman with a child wanted to come across. He could recount the day as clearly as if he had to relive it.

Dud had been sitting on the floor at a small table that had a bleached animal hide about a foot long that he was supposed to be writing on with a charcoal pencil, but was much more effectively pouting with his hands crossed over his chest. His mother had sat opposite him running a hand through her greasy blonde hair.

“Please, just one letter. Just one letter. Your favorite one. I don’t care which one,” his mother had pleaded.

Dud had just shook his head.

“Why can’t you just do this one thing to make me happy? Please, will you do this for-”

It had been the first time Dud had ever heard an engine, but it had been enough to stop his mother mid-word. She had sprung to her feet, rolled up his parchment and rushed to the makeshift mattress they both slept on. The bedding had a plastic liner to give them some insulation from the ground. Rolling the mattress back she had revealed an escape tunnel.

It hadn’t been the first time Dud saw this. His mother had made him practice escaping through it almost weekly. He’d wiggle his way through it like a worm until he came out the other side, then he would wait patiently until his mother came to claim him. Dud had known this wasn’t something he could pout through and went to the hole.

“Mommy loves you,” she had said as she handed him the parchment and kissed his cheek.

Dud had climbed into the hole and wiggled his way through the dark tunnel. To this day he hadn’t figured out why she gave him the parchment, and it haunted him he never told her he loved her too. In his child’s mind he hadn’t put together what was going to happen, that it would be the last time he ever saw his mother’s green eyes alive with the fire of life.

He had done like he was supposed to and crawled through the tunnel until he emerged in a thicket that he laid in for an entire day waiting for his mother to come. When she never did, he had climbed into his tunnel and wiggled back to their hut.

This was the first time he had seen a dead person.

His mother had been hardly recognizable. Her blood had been cold and soaking into the ground by the time he came back. He had shaken her remains hoping she would wake up, but even in his tiny brain he knew it was hopeless.

He had gone over to the table and unrolled the parchment. With his blood covered finger he made one letter. His favorite. U.

Two days later when he hadn’t moved from the table he decided to give up his vigil and go get some water. Being careful never to look at his mother he had retrieved the child sized bow and arrows she had made for him, slung their two water skins over his neck, and headed for the door. Before he left the hut he rolled up his parchment and stuck it in his little quiver.

It was a decent trek on small legs to get to the water. His mother had set them as far away as she could safely leave him behind to go get water. Water meant predators, not just of the humanoid kind.

Dud was tired, hungry, and thirsty though so he trekked on until he reached the water. The trenches were fascinating to him. Land ended then thousands of feet of water began. There was no gradual transition. One leap to the next.

When he hit the clearing around the water he inched forward making sure there was nothing to eat him lurking around. Sure he was safe Dud lowered his skins into the water.

“Mind sharing with an old man?”

Dud practically jumped into the water at the sound of the voice. An elderly man was standing behind him. This was a remarkable feat. Dud had never seen an old person before. This man had long white hair with a matching beard. He was wrapped in a coat and wore a backpack that didn’t look like it was made of any hide Dud had ever seen. The man leaned heavily on a walking stick. The lines on the man’s face were cut so deep into his face that Dud couldn’t understand how the man wasn’t in pain.

Judging the man was not a threat Dud held his water skin out to the man. When he offered the man his water he didn’t know that he would be acquiring a mentor. This man that he knew as George but the rest of Terra-One knew simply as the Cartographer, would provide him with protection and knowledge.

George was a legend on Terra-One. So revered by every faction he was untouchable. The man earned his legend by traveling thousands of miles from the trench to find areas that had once been civilization before Terra-One was dried up. George was a practitioner of map making which earned him his name.

In the ten years Dud traveled with George he learned how to make maps, handle wild animals, hunt, forage, haggle, trade, and survive with nothing but his brain. This is also when Dud learned the concept of years. George died in what he called his seventy-first year of life.

The one skill Dud had loved more than any other was being able to integrate himself with wild creatures. Terra-One had more than its fair share of man eating creatures. Few were more feared than the moss wolves. They looked eye to eye with a full grown man while standing on all fours, but had the rat like ability to lay their bodies totally flat. Due to their mangy coats they could lie on a forest floor and blend in completely. Even their green or brown eyes didn’t give them away.

After Dud lost his mentor, he needed to find protection he could trust. It took him a few months but over time he cultivated a following of three moss wolves. He had found them as pups and fed them from his kills. It didn’t take long for them to bond to him like a member of their pack.

At night when he slept they would form a triangle around him. He felt totally safe from any predator, be it man or creature. That feeling of safety was the same thing that got him in trouble two weeks ago. He lay like he usually did, curled around his pack, coat wrapped around him, his child sized bow attached to his wrist, and the three wolves quietly breathing around him.

What he didn’t know was that the owners of Terra-One had a fire sale on any noncriminal on the planet. People like Dud didn’t have trackers in them, or any form of registration that made them a real person outside of Terra-One. However their numbers and movements were tracked from orbit. Like any other form of property he was bought and paid for.

People living on Terra-One couldn’t make as much noise as his captures were and survive long. The first snag of a branch had Dud’s eyes open. It only took moments for his well-trained eyes to adjust to the dark. The people coming for him were unlike the primitive prison population of the planet. One was a Terran like him, but was encased in a large metal contraption that looked lethal. The second was a ten-feet-tall Zieb, a four armed humanoid that had a thick hide and basically made of muscle. In two of his hands he held high tech rifles that Dud had never seen before and in his other two he held long curved blades.

Dud knew his wolves were waiting for his whistle to attack or retreat, but he had no idea what these outsiders technology could do. As much as the wolves were expendable to his existence, they were still his pack and he felt responsible for them. His only option was to get more information.

Standing with his hands up Dud presented himself before the two people. With a simple whistle he could set his wolves to action. It took longer than Dud expected for them to see him, but eventually they both trained their weapons on him.

“We’ve got one,” the terran said.

Dud wasn’t sure who he was talking to but it definitely wasn’t the Zieb and there were no other people with him.

The terran turned to the Zied. “Pods are inbound.”

“Come with us, or I hurt you,” the Zeib said, flashing a horse tooth sized grin.

Dud knew they weren’t associated with any of the clans on the planet. With the tech they had on them they wouldn’t be trusted outside of any stronghold. They might be company men, but they would have no reason to come collect him. Occasionally someone would pay to hunt a prisoner, but if that was the case they would have already shot. They might be trying to take him off planet, and if that was the case he didn’t really care who they were. If he could get off planet he could have a chance at a different life. He trusted himself enough to be able to get out of the worst of situations, and wherever they wanted to take him couldn’t be worse than Terra-One. They were a chance he would accept.

“Okay,” Dud said.

A sour look replaced the Zeib’s toothy grin. There was a strange sound like air escaping a contained space before the three pods landed side by side. The pods looked to Dud like metallic coffins. They waved him toward the middle one. Dud stepped over his ring of wolves, which he could feel watching him, and walked up to the pod wondering what would await him when it opened next.

As his pod closed around him he let out a long whistle followed by two short ones. The three wolves sprung to their feet and took off through the trees. Catching one last look of his pack as they disappeared he wondered if he would ever see them again.

When the pod opened he had no idea the world he would be walking into. The Cartographer had educated him on everything he knew, but there were even more advancements that Dud could never have fathomed.

He was on what he was told was a small spaceship. Since it was the only spaceship he had ever seen he had no frame of reference. Despite Dud’s curiosity he didn’t even get to explore the ship. The moment he came out of his pod the four armed Zieb hauled him into a sterile room where he was strapped to a table.

Dud’s heart pounded in his ears, but he used a trick George had taught him to remain calm in the worst situations. Forcing his exterior to look calm it slowly permeated through him until he became calm both inside and out and relaxed against the restraints.

From where he lay he couldn’t see much of the room, but he heard a clacking sound like someone was walking with metal boots on the metal floor coming toward him. His heart tried to speed up again, but Dud wouldn’t let himself feel fear when he didn’t even know the situation.

Then a metallic head that reminded Dud of a bee peered over him. He released the leash on his heart and let it run as fast as it could. The bee-head was attached to a metal body that looked like a Terran with its skin removed. George had once explained these metal men to Dud as something called a robot, and Dud’s heart immediately slowed down.

For only a moment before a long needle extended from the pointer finger of the robot’s hand and slid into his elbow. There had been a few people on Terra-One that did experiments on other inmates. George dealt with everyone, regardless of if he liked them or not. Dud had seen an experiment once, and he wondered what type of person could do that to another being. Now he was the test subject.

Maybe he shouldn’t have come so willingly into a world he didn’t know.

The antenna on the robot clicked around a few different positions then all the hexagon eyes turned away from Dud.

The metallic voice sounded like a soft hide by a warm fire, and Dud couldn’t figure out how something so smooth could come from such a creature. “Pure dud. Absolutely no enhancements or mods. Biologically no different than the first Terran into space.”

From the foot end of the table a female voice spoke, but Dud couldn’t move his head to see the recipient. “Then he won’t be a waste. Insert his bug and then get him briefed with the Mech.”

For a moment he was glad to hear what sounded like a Terran voice, but lost any good feeling when his veins burned like fire was pumping through them. His muscles felt like acid was eating them away, then finally his mind went blank and he passed out.

When he came to he was in the same room but was no longer strapped to the table. He sat up slowly dangling his legs over the side of the table. His entire body ached like he had been trampled by a herd of rhinophants. He ran a hand through his hair to find the long hair he used to have had been cropped into a close buzzcut. Worst of all there was something metal sticking out of the base of his skull, like someone had installed a button on his head.

“You’ll get used to it, but it’s best not to play with it.”

Dud turned toward the voice and saw that man, correction teenager, who had been in the metal suit on the surface of Terra-One. However he wasn’t in his metal suit anymore. He was in a tight fitting outfit that covered him from neck to toe. The forearms and calves of the suit were black while the rest was a dull gray. The kid was blonde with eyes as bright as light reflecting off of water.

“What is it?” Dud asked.

“A SLET.”

“SLET?”

“Spatial Locator Executioner Transmitter.”

Dud rubbed his eyes trying to make sense of the words. He thought he was well educated, but in the little time he was off planet his mind had been entirely blown. Perhaps George never expected Dud to get off Terra-One like his mother had dreamed, and didn’t teach him more than he needed to survive on their home planet.

“Mind explaining?” Dud asked.

“Rag’nok, you are worthless aren’t you?” the boy responded.

Rag’nok was something Dud fully understood. It was a creature so magnificent it was regarded as a god by the Zieb. The name loosely translated meant world destroyer. They were a four legged creature with long snouts and powerful tails, similar to that of the alligators that lived in the waters on Terra-One. Their hides were so thick no weapon could pierce them. They had a lifespan so long that the best guess for how long they lived was in the millions of years, and they grew until the day they died. The largest known Rag’nok in the universe was twelve-hundred miles long and still growing. This was the exact creature that had landed on Terra-One five-hundred years ago and made it nearly uninhabitable. Due to their ability to move through space as easily as swim through water the Rag’nok had long ago left to seek out other worlds to feed upon. While hurtling through space the monster was able to generate energy from light to keep it in a stasis state until it reached its next destination. The Rag’nok was every person’s boogey man on Terra-One.

“Wouldn’t mind learning some more to not be as worthless,” Dud said.

The guy grabbed Dud’s hand like he was going to shake it, but then rolled his wrist to the side. The skin was red from a new tattoo. Inked into his flesh so anyone shaking his hand could read were three letters that gave him the name he became known by: DUD.

“You’re the ninth dud we’ve had in the past two months. Sorry to break it to you, but you’ve got a brief life expectancy. No point in making you too worthwhile.” The kid grabbed a zipper at his elbow and opened his suit all the way to the wrist. He peeled it open to show the word MECHBOY running vertically along a ragged scar that went the length of his forearm.

“Mechboy?” Dud asked.

“My birth name is Caleb, Mechboy is the name she gave me,” Mechboy said.

“Who gave you the name?”

“She is our owner and handler. That SLET in your head connects you directly to her. Think of it like a metal parasite that was woven its tendrils inside your brain. She can use it to communicate with us, monitor our locations, and if our thinking puts us against her orders it will alert her. That is the scary part, with nothing more than her making up her mind to execute us that SLET will terminate you. Anywhere. Anytime. I can’t tell you who she is, because I have been told not to. Like I said you aren’t expected to live past tomorrow, so she isn’t taking any risks.”

Tomorrow was the day they were going to execute their contract on the Stiation planet. The only thing Dud was told about the job was his own part. He would drop down to the planet with Mechboy. They would set themselves up to intercept a supply ship. All he knew was he was supposed to pull shoot the ship with a tracking device. No one would tell him anything more than that.

Right before they dropped Mechboy donned his engineered exoskeleton. Metal reinforcements ran down his spine and legs. The metal suited gave him an extra foot in height and each arm was equipped with a variety of different weapons he could access with the flick of a switch. Over his shoulders were two different heavy weapons that ran off of his brain’s commands. Most of Mechboys bones had been replaced with a titanium alloy that allowed him to exist harmoniously with the exosuit.

“Why would you do something like that?” Dud asked as they prepared for the drop.

Mechboy looked down at him with pity. “I didn’t want to be a dud. It was the cheapest route I could sell myself into.”

“Sell yourself?”

“You’re a slave. Property. She owns you. I am an indentured servant. Three years ago she paid for me to have the mech upgrades and in return I have to work until our contract is up.” Mechboy swallowed hard. “I fulfill my contract tomorrow.”

Dud stepped into his pod. “What stops her from killing you with the SLET?”

Mechboy stepped into his own pod without looking at Dud. “Nothing.”

Dud’s pod closed around him and he was jettisoned into the atmosphere. Falling to the Stiation planet he embraced that fact that he was supposed to die on this job. Made peace with that fact. However he would die happy as long as his feet hit this planet’s surface. His mother had always dreamed that he would one day make it off of Terra-One, and now he had.

Dud sang his alphabet as he fell from the sky.

His pod hit the ground hard, but inside he had no idea. The machine retracted from around him and then launched back into the sky.

“Now I know my ABC’s.”

Dud heard the wheezing and clanking of the Mechsuit as Caleb joined him. There was a case on the ground that had been spit out by the pod like an owl pellet. Dud opened the case and took out the long thin piece of metal that looked to him like a rifle, but he was told it was a highly advanced piece of tracking equipment.

“Follow me,” Mechboy said and took off at what looked like to him to be a jog, but required Dud to sprint to keep up.

The entire planet smelled like rot, and Dud’s feet sunk into the ground on more than one occasion. There were no large trees on the planet, but it was fully covered in large ferns and other ground cover. Since Stiations were amphibious creatures they tended to prefer swamp planets. Dud now understood why they were always clustered into these types of environments of Terra-One.

Mechboy stopped running and a mask flipped down over his face. Dud stared off toward the horizon where the swamp gave way to a larger body of water. He could just make out the large bubble like structures the Stiations used as buildings. It created an environment that allowed them to live above and below water.

“Flight patterns show the supply shit will come directly above us from the east which is-”

Dud faced east before Mechboy finished his instructions.

“You tag it, I blast it. The ship will splash down in the water, and we haul ass back to where we dropped in.”

Dud inspected the tracer gun in his hands. It was long but light and perfectly balanced. He had seen firearms a few times in his life, but he had never fired one. Though he got the basic concept: aim and pull the trigger. He looked through the fancy scope which told him the distance and air speed to his target.

“What will you do your freedom?” Dud asked.

“Dud I don’t want to talk to you. Your life expectancy is almost up, and if it comes down to you or me making it out of here I am picking me,” Mechboy said.

“I don’t see the big deal with this mission. It felt more dangerous to survive until tomorrow on Terra-One.”

“I’m not sure either. This has been the safest brief I’ve had. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I don’t know. Ready up. The ship should be here.”

Dud heard a loud roaring sound as a ship penetrated the atmosphere. This thing was a large oval that reminded him of a sideways wish, but it was huge. Gigantic. Larger than most the villages on Terra-One.

He tucked the stock of the tracer to his shoulder and aimed through the scope. Like he had always been taught he led his target and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again. Still nothing.

Then he watched the entire front end of the colossal ship explode and drop toward the water. He pulled the trigger one more time, but still nothing happened, and then his target passed overhead.

Mechboy had a smoking barrel of one of his shoulder mounted rockets beside his head, while he kept watching the ship with his mask down.

“Dud, why isn’t it tagged?”

Pods launched from the ship in every which direction. Making it look like the giant fish was crying.

“I kept pulling the trigger, but nothing happened,” Dud said.

He had a sneaking suspicion he had been set up. The weapon had never been loaded in the first place.

“You put the site on the ship, and pulled the trigger?”

Dud looked at the mech in confusion. “If you don’t lead a target you’ll miss.”

Even behind the mask Dud could tell Mechboy’s face was fire red.

“Why would you aim away from the target? You put the site on the target and it locks on so the tracer hits every time.”

The ship crashed down into the water a mile away.

Dud ground his teeth and glared. “Maybe if you would have told me that instead of assuming I wasn’t worth talking to we would be on our way out of here.”

“Shut up. I can’t go back without the job being done or she’ll fry my brain. Go trace the ship before it sinks. I’ll keep you covered.”

Dud wasn’t sure what had him most angry; that he had screwed up or that it could have been avoided by communication. He took off in a sprint toward the crash site. It didn’t take a smart man to realize that the pods were dropping people to defend the site, and Mechboy would only keep Dud alive long enough to finish the job. He would be damned though if he died a failure.

Splashing through puddles he kept his ears open for any sign of the people from the pods. He came to a stop when he had a clear line of sight on the target, but when he put the site on the ship and pulled the trigger a message flashed in the scope that he was too far away. He let out a frustrated growl and kept plowing through the swamps, aware of the whirring of the mechsuit keeping pace with him.

Then the first Stiation appeared. A slender creature with green skin and black spots dressed in flowing tribal garb. This one held a rifle that was two large half ovals joined by two handles. The thing fired the weapon and a blue blast of energy vaporized a fern that Dud had just left.

There was a loud bang and the Stiation’s head popped like a zit.

“Keep going,” Mechboy yelled.

From all around Stiations were closing in on them. Mechboy spun as delicately as a ballerina as he swapped through a variety of weapons to do the most damage as fast as possible. Dud kept pushing until he crested the next hill. The ship had mostly submerged. He aimed at the little bit that was still above water. The crosshairs turned green and he pulled the trigger. There was a soft pft as a gel like slug flew out of the end of the gun and arced through the air until it smacked against the hull and spread like a drop of rain.

The tracer gun got so hot Dud had to drop it, and watched as it sizzled in a puddle until it consumed itself leaving no evidence of its existence. Dud turned to tell Mechboy to get moving, but he was already long gone with a group of Stiations heading after him.

Completely unarmed, Dud threw himself into a puddle. Forcing his outside to look calm, he slowly crawled his way forward staying covered in murk. If he just had his bow he wouldn’t feel so helpless. He wasn’t sure what his best course of action was as he continued along. Mechboy had left him for dead, so there wasn’t much of a chance he would be picked up even if he could return to the drop zone. Not to mention there were a ton of angry Stiations between him and there, and he didn’t have so much as a branch to defend himself with.

He needed a weapon no matter what, and he knew where there were plenty lying around. Pushing himself into a crouch he searched the area for any signs of movement. It seemed like everyone had gone after Mechboy, so Dud made a run for where the dead Stiations were scattered about. He picked up one rifle and slung it over his back, then retrieved a second and set off after the pack that was chasing Mechboy.

They were almost too easy to track. The Stiations left three toed prints everywhere they ran, and Mechboy left large divots everywhere he landed in his long gait.  He heard the firefight before he saw it. Mechboy was laid out, his legs no longer working, keeping himself up with one arm and firing with the other. A shield of energy was absorbing the blue blasts, but it didn’t seem like it would last for long. There were a dozen Stiations that seemed more concerned with surrounding Mechboy than killing him.

Dud thought really hard about abandoning the mission.

Get clear we will call you in a drop pod and cut our loses, a voice echoed in his brain as if he had heard it beside him. It was the same voice he had heard when strapped to the table. Dud wasn’t quite sure how the technology worked, but he hoped she could hear him in return.

I’ll get him out. Send two pods to his location.

Dud rushed behind the nearest Stiation and slammed the rifle into the back of his bulbous head.

He’s dead either way. Get out or I’ll fry you too.

Dud kicked the legs out from under the next Stiation and smashed the butt of his rifle into his head. Mechboy might have been willing to leave him for dead, but Dud was going to do this on his terms or not at all.

Call in two.

He tucked the stock to his shoulder and opened fire. The blue energy from his rifle slammed into another Stiation hurling it off its feet. A long sigh escaped him since he was glad to find out there were no complicated processes to operating their rifles.

He found his next target and fired while his feet made their way toward Mechboy.

I’ll fry both your brains.

Rolling out of the way a blue blast singed a puddle. Coming back up on his feet soaking wet he found his attacker and opened fire. He kept squeezing the trigger sending blast after blast until he hit his target. The energy these weapons used was so different than the arrows he was accustomed to that he had trouble adjusting his aim.

Then get it over with, Dud countered.

He found his next target, but nothing happened when he squeezed the trigger. He had no idea how to tell ammunition without a quiver, so he dropped the rifle and drew his next. Firing more shots than he wished he dropped the Stiation. Finally making it to Mechboy he nudged his side with his knee.

“Our pods should be here soon,” Dud said.

For the moment Dud didn’t see any more threats, even though he could hear them splashing through puddles somewhere in the ferns around them.

Mechboy pointed a gigantic barrel at Dud. “She said she’d cook my brain if I didn’t kill you. I’m sorry.”

Dud lowered his gun. “If you shoot me who is going to get you into the pod?”

A look of defeat passed over Mechboy as he lowered his arm. “It doesn’t matter. They broke my spine. Even if I live I don’t have a way to afford repairs.”

There was a loud croaking sound as four Stiations leapt fifteen feet into the air and landed all around Dud and Mechboy. They both opened fire as fast as they could. Two of the Stiations dropped before they could reach them.

Dud spun toward his nearest attacker and pulled the trigger when it was practically touching the Stiation’s chest. The moment he pulled the trigger a spear smashed the gun out of his grip. The spear wielding Stiation swept Dud’s feet out from under him, then leapt high in the air coming down at a trajectory to impale Mechboy.

Dud doubted the energy shield would protect the mech from a primitive weapon and hurled himself at the descending creature. He didn’t have enough momentum to knock the Stiation away, but the spear passed through Mechboy’s shoulder instead of his chest. The spear stayed behind as Dud and the amphibian slopped down into the swamp. Dud got himself on top and squeeze hard on the creature’s throat. The Stiation’s gills opened and he sucked in water from the puddle they were fighting in, then placed two fingers on Dud’s neck. His skin burned like someone was tearing it from his body. He released the neck and knocked the hand away.

“Get back,” Mechboy groaned.

Dud threw himself away from the Stiation, and a moment later Mechboy’s shoulder rocket blew him to sushi.

The pods landed and opened up waiting to receive their quarry. Dud rushed over to Mechboy and fought with all his strength to get him to his feet. Mechboy grabbed the outside of the pod with his hand to keep his own weight up when Dud started to give out under the massive weight of the exoskeleton.

The moment Mechboy was inside the pod filled in around him. Dud watched it lift off before he went for his own pod. He knew there were still more Stiations around but he didn’t want to take any more risks with his life.

He climbed into his pod, and listened to the gizmos and gadgets adjust to his body before they closed in on him. As the process started a Stiation hurled itself directly at him. The creature flew through the air knife first. Dud had limited mobility, but moved just enough for the knife to pass between his arm and side. For a brief second he stared into the large red eyes of an angry Stiation, before his pod snapped shut, slicing the creature’s hand off in the process. Through the outer shell of the pod, Dud could hear the dimmed screams of the dismembered Stiation. He felt the pod lift off and a new kind of fear took hold.

Whoever she was would be waiting for him to return. She hadn’t killed him remotely yet so he felt he might have a chance to escape death.

The ride back up in the pod felt a thousand times longer than the descent. After what felt like an eternity his pod opened releasing him and the knife wielding hand into the ship. Mechboy was sprawled on the floor.

Dud let out a long breath and a short laugh. He had survived the mission and already surpassed his life expectancy. Though it could end at any moment.

“For what it’s worth, thanks,” Mechboy said trying to right himself.

Dud just gave a nod.

Then she came into the corridor. She was a Terran, practically eye level with Dud, with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes were such a dark blue that looked black. A grimace covered her tan face. Her body was wrapped in a tight black fabric that had many overlapping pieces which revealed her streamlined muscles. A gun belt hung loosely around her hips, where a white pistol was housed. Even though she looked like she could tear Dud’s heart out through his chest, her youth surprised him.

“Now, now, now, what will I do with you?” she cooed.

“I’ve been told I am your property, so I guess whatever you wish,” Dud said.

“Poor Mechboy. I hope you enjoy your freedom. We’ll be dropping you at our next stop,” she replied.

“Lilith,” a scream followed the word as it left Mechboys mouth. Dud could only guess his SLET punished him for disobeying an order. “I’ll die without medical attention, and I’m worthless without a mechanic.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. You won’t die. Dud, drag him back to his room,” she said.

“I know I don’t have the best business sense here, but if the kid signed himself into your service to get turned into that thing, why wouldn’t you extend his contract and pay for his repairs,” Dud said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I told you to take him back to his room, I didn’t ask for your opinion,” she replied.

“Please, Barnoness. Repair me. One more year,” Mechboy pleaded.

“Three years.”

“That’s how long I signed on for the full augmentation.”

“I’ll gladly release you as a paralyzed mech if you would prefer,” she said.

“No, ma’am. We have a contract.” Mechboy said, hitting a set of controls on his apparatus that caused the suit to retract from his body.

The bee-headed robot came down the pathway, his footsteps pinging with each stride. He stopped over Mechboy and lifted him into his arms.

“I’ll draw up the standard contract and see to his medical needs,” the robot said and kept walking.

Dud was alone with Lilith. The air felt like it was chilling as she moved closer to him.

“No augmentations, no enhancements, nothing but balls. I hate to admit I am impressed with you, Dud. You might just be the best value I’ve ever received for my money, but you’ve already crossed me twice-”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t ever interrupt me. Twice is one more time than anyone else. As long as there isn’t a third you might just get a long time spot on my team. If I even suspect you are going to disobey me again, I will fry you where you stand. Hear me?”

“Heard.”

Lilith patted him on the chest and then walked down the corridor.

“Ma’am?” Dud asked.

“What is it, slave?” she replied.

“I have a lot of questions.”

“I’m not a tour guide, bugger off.” She kept walking and Dud watched her muscles move until he couldn’t make them out anymore.

He stood where he was to avoid angering Lilith. Where he was going, both on the ship and in life, he wasn’t sure. However he was alive, and off Terra-One, both were things that made him thankful. He still had far more questions than answers and he didn’t know what a tour guide was, but he would find one and figure everything out.

 

More weight

Overall I don’t remember much about the Crucible, but I do remember one part and that is when the one man is being crushed under the rocks and instead of confessing he says “more weight”.

Salem university Women’s water polo coach

Salem university men’s water polo assistant coach

Full time English professor(double load whenever possible)

Academic support tutor

Managing editor of Oddities

Writer of the Primal Age Chronicles

Freelance anything people will pay me for

So let’s add student to the list. Just completed the first class for my MBA.

Or in other words bring it on life, more weight!