Adventures Part Duex

Yup, cause you’re all dying for it. Episode II. Again, don’t know the level of editing. Quality is questionable. The rights belong to me. And it’s free. Enjoy.

“You put his hand in a jar?” Dud asked. He circled around the jar, taking in every angle of the purple Stiation hand. The four fingers had a red line that covered the segments but skipped over the knuckles before they met at an outline of a circle around a solid circle. The jar sat on a wooden altar with many other bones and powders as well as different colored candles.

Dud had come to Abastia’s room upon her request. Abastia was their Stiation crew member, who kept her room in such a condition that one would think they had walked into her back water Hoven, the Stiation place of religious gathering. Like the rest of the crew she belonged to the captain, Lillith. Abastia had been jailed numerous times for practicing religion within the Commonwealth of Systems without a license. She was from a small sect of her race that believed in the old ways of their people and still held strong her beliefs. The one thing she was never willing to do was pay a tax to lead her Hoven as her type of beliefs didn’t gather any form of collateral from its followers.

Dud had learned all of this about five minutes earlier when another crewmate that went by the name of Mechboy informed him. Only having been with the crew a little over a day, Dud hadn’t wandered much out of his own quarters, and hadn’t even been aware there was more to the crew then Lillith, the synthetic robot, BOB, the four armed Zeib, Hav’nek, and the augmented Terran, Mechboy. Mechboy had filled him in that there was one and a half crew members he hadn’t met yet. Abastia was the one, and Dud couldn’t imagine what could be called a half.

Lillith made Dud a crewmember to have him die in service on the first mission she used him on, however Dud had managed to survive his first deployment. He had been bought at a dirt cheap price, as he was born on the prison planet Terra-One. Meaning he was sentenced to life there because the two people who created him were criminals. Mechboy had taken a liking to Dud after he not only was able to survive the mission, but get the wounded Mechboy back as well.

During Dud’s time on Terra-One he had interacted with the three primary species of the Commonwealth; Stiations, Zeib, and Terran, as well as many other lesser beings. Being Terran he was great at reading them, so they never gave him pause. Zeib were easy to understand. They wanted something to kill. You either were assigning them quarry or becoming it. Stiations were by far his least favorite of the species. They were amphibious creatures who were extremely slippery in all things. He never met one he could trust.

Abastia squatted with her long legs spread wide, and her arms separated with her palms to the ceiling. She seemed entirely unaware of Dud’s presence in the room. Her head, shoulders breasts, and hips were covered in a flowing golden wrap, which stood out brightly against her lavender colored skin. The slits she had for nostrils expanded and contracted with her deep breaths.

Stiations had four fingers with bulbous tips. Each finger extracted a certain chemical. Most Stiations could only produce a chemical that caused a paralyzing burn on contact, and this group made up the warriors and laborers of their society. The number of different chemical combinations continued all the way up to a total of eight different chemicals. Stiations that could produce eight combinations were the leaders of their species.

The first thing Dud noticed about Abastia was that she was missing the bulb of the fourth finger on her left hand. In purely Stiation controlled societies all crimes were decided by the removal of bulbs which was a permanent demotion in class.

Abastia muttered a few words in Stiation before opening her clear eyelids. Her eyes were a bright emerald color that seemed to shine regardless of light.

“I do not feel that you understand the full implications of your actions,” Abasita said, rising up to her full height, which was half a head taller than Dud, but she was skeleton thin.

Dud tapped the jar, causing the fluid to slosh from side to side. “A Stiation got his hand cut off. Am I missing something?”

The mission Dud had run with Mechboy took place on a Stiation planet. During the escape one of Dud’s attackers had lost his hand and knife into Dud’s pod.

“I have run a battery of tests on this hand,” Abastia said gently resting her hand on Dud’s shoulder. Dud went rigid, like a person might when they know the jaws of a predator are all but closed. Depending on the secretions Abastia could produce she had the ability to inflict a number of different pains on Dud. “This hand has three different chemicals. The tattoo signifies a General in Vicantian’s army.”

There were no armies that belonged to planets or sectors. Everything had become privatized. An army was nothing more than a large quantity of mercenaries that could be hired at bulk discounts. Vicantian was unfortunately one of the men Dud had learned about on Terra-One. He had had a few run-ins with some of the mercenaries who had befallen a bounty. The nutshell version was that they weren’t the nicest folk this side of the Milky Way.

“Running through all the possible combinations of logic lead me to believe that this Stiation was at least capable of five secretions. You have not only taken his secretions, but his entire hand. Not only will he lose his command, but he won’t even be able to serve as a soldier. I never would spare much thought to the life of a Terran, but due to our proximities my life could be endangered by this news. You need to be prepared. He will invoke a Dablakahn,” Abastia said.

A Dablakahn was when a Stiation declared themselves the living dead. They wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation of losing their class status, but it all depended one being able to kill the person responsible for causing them to be cast out. The Stiation would never be able to return to a full life, but they would be remembered as dying at their position in life, which was the most important thing to a Stiation.

“You really think they’ll go walking dead over this?” Dud asked.

Abastia held up her tipless finger. “I did for far less.”

“Dearest playthings. We have a ship to board. Dud, Hav’Nek and Squeelch to the pods,” Lillith’s voice boomed inside of Dud’s head. He touched the metallic device that was attached to the top of his spine. The SLET allowed Lillith to know exactly where Dud was located at any point in time, as well as communicate with him, or if she wished kill him. He was her property.

Dud gave a nod to Abastia and left her room. He would have said something to her before he left, but he feared Lillith might explode his brain just for delaying. Though Dud had never been on another spacecraft in his life this one felt small, especially compared to the open world he used to explore.

The ship had been made from the claw of a Rag’Nok. A creature as old as the universe that could travel through space and destroy worlds. This made Lillith’s ship nearly invulnerable to weapons, and unmistakable to see, but almost blind to all ship detecting technologies.

The walk from the living quarters to the exit was about four strides. By the time Dud got there Hav’Nek the four armed Zeib was waiting and dressed for battle. He wore nothing but a covering over his groin and his body, which was a brick red color painted in black lines. There was an oval like rifle in each of his four hands. These rifles had a barrel over and under giving Hav’Nek the option between stunning and killing his opponents. Each of the four rifles butted against the inside of Hav’Nek shoulder with a horse shoe shaped stock that allowed him to pivot the rifles with this body. There were side grips that also served as the trigger mechanisms. Over his back were four handles of different melee weapons.

The other person, or thing, Dud wasn’t quite sure on what to call it, looked like one of the armored rodents that wandered Terra-One. However it walked upright like a man. It was covered in natural shell-like golden plates with long claws instead of fingers. The face was a peach color with an elongated snout punctuated by two beady black eyes. Its chest was the same color as the face and those two places seemed to be the only ones not protected by his plating. This creature was shorter than Dud, but much thicker and broader. He hadn’t met this crew member, or pet, or whatever yet, but he assumed it was Squeelch.

Lillith, or Baroness as the crew had to call her, appeared a moment later, dressed in the black outfit that looked like it was wrapped tight around every inch of her body by different strips of the material. She came up to Dud, and for the first time he was close enough to see the features of her face. Her jaw and cheekbones looked like they had been carved from marble, her nose was the perfect fit for her face, and amongst her black irises were tiny white flecks that made him feel like he was staring at a night sky back on Terra-One.

She smacked a simple set of pistols into his hands. They looked like hardly more than a bent pipe that could barely fit in his palms, but they did have a wrist holster. Once he figured out how it worked he couldn’t stop playing with it. He would throw the pistols straight down but they would swing back a lock to his forearm. With a snap of his wrist they would fling back to his hands.

“You only have stun rounds Dud, so don’t get any ideas,” Lillith said.

“Yes, Baroness,” Dud said with a bow of his head. He truly did not want to anger her. Despite the fact that she could kill him at will, he wanted to see the universe and she was his only chance at that.

Dud dropped to a knee and grabbed his head as a pain that started like a mild headache grew until he thought his head was going to explode.

“Please, Baroness, I’m sorry for whatever I did,” Dud said.

The pain stopped and when Dud looked around everyone was staring at him strangely. While his mind cleared he all the sudden had a memory, about a ship that was classified as a schooner, and had a crew of eighteen people. It was forty meters long, and he could clearly picture the blueprint layout of the ship.

“By now your SLET should have made a memory of the schooner that is pursuing us. The crew size is manageable so try to only stun so we can sell them,” Lillith said.

Hav’Nek was giddy with joy and bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Lillith handed Dud a metal device that looked like a mushroom cap. “Our bioscans show the crew is mostly in their hangar waiting to bring us in. You three are going to launch through the pods. Synth is going to open up their system to send you guys in. Hav’Nek your job is to subdue the crew. The scans say it is a Terran crew so you should have no problems. Dud you will proceed straight to the marker in your memory and plant the control device.”

Dud put the small half sphere into his pocket.

“Dud, not that I care if you make it back, but do remember anyone you face on this ship is more evolved than you. Stay out of the fight as best you can and just do your job. Hav’Nek, if he should die, finish the mission,” Lillith said, and walked away.

Their pod doors opened up and Squeelch entered his right away. Dud took a step toward his then stopped and looked at his pistols.

“Do I need to lead or do these do that for me?” Dud asked.

“Lead.” Hav’Nek’s voice sounded like he was chewing gravel. “Quick, ask me what my favorite party is?”

“What’s your favorite party?” Dud asked.

“A boarding party.” Hav’Nek rotated his top set of hands in circles as he pumped the lower pair in and out from his body and gyrated at his hips in one of the strangest attempts at dancing Dud had ever seen.

Dud shook his head and stepped into his pod, no longer nervous by the sounds of all the machines closing the metal capsule around him. Zeib’s didn’t have the range for humor or the ability to laugh. Their voice could be sad, angry, mad, murderous, monotone, but it couldn’t flip over to positive emotions.

As darkness enclosed Dud he wondered how well he would be able to survive in this universe. On Terra-One most people had no advancements. It was rare that someone wealthy enough to augmentation or enhancement would be sentenced to a prison planet, but even when they were Dud knew more about Terra-One than anyone alive. He had the advantage over anyone there. Now he was no longer the alpha, he wasn’t even the dirt on the shoe of the omega.

On Dud’s first and only ever pod experience he went from their ship to the ground and back up again. This was a different feeling being launched through empty space into the reception of another ship. He searched his memory for where he was as well as where he needed to go. He tensed his body to sprint away as soon as his pod retracted.

The pod slid away and for a minuscule moment Dud was able to see the look of shock on twelve Terran faces standing in their loading bay. Dud had no more time than that because what felt like a warm blanket wrapped around him, folding his body into a ball. In his cocoon he could dimly hear weapons fire as he rolled end over end.

Light flooded back to him as he was propelled onto his feet into a corridor, the same one his memory said he needed to take. Looking back Dud realized he had been a passenger across the loading bay wrapped protectively in the armor plating for Squeelch. The tall manamial rolled back into the fray.

In the few short days since Dud had left Terra-One he had tried to stop letting himself be surprised by every new thing, but when he was told they were fighting Terrans he expected people like himself. These were nine-feet-tall metal monsters fully covered head to toe in some sort of robotic armor. The room was larger than the entirety of Lillith’s ship, with a few square vessels that Dud predicted were almost the same size as his new home.

Squeelch rolled through a rack that had carried large rifles, so large Dud doubted he could manage one, and scattered the weapons everywhere. They must not have been expecting the counter boarding.

In the center of everything was Hav’Nek, still gyrating and dancing amongst the metal soldiers.

“Ain’t no party, like a boarding party,” Hav’Nek continued to sing, in the loosest sense of the word, as he fired off precision shots in multiple directions at once. The Zieb paused for a moment when his eyes settled on Dud. “You’ve got a job to do.”

Dud snapped his two pistols into his hands and ran down the corridor following the path the memory told him, while Hav’Nek resumed his chorus. There were two hatches he ran past that he knew led to crew quarters. The first door on his right was the mess hall, the first on the left was medical, the next was their armory, and back on the right was recreation. He knew everything about the ship.

Follow his path like a beacon was leading him, Dud found himself staring at the door to the bridge. Though he had seen doors in his life before right then and understood how they worked he was stumped. This just looked like a flat piece of metal to him with no handle or latch. He felt all over the door for something he may have missed. Each second that ticked by he grew more frustrated until he slammed his hand against the pad that he thought was glass beside the door. Upon impact the door whooshed open.

Inside there was a swivel chair with a half-circle of screens a monitors around it that looked out a massive window. Dud went to the chair and flung his hands down to holster his pistols then pulled out the small mushroom like device Lillith had given him.

He sat in the chair in looked around for a place to insert the device. His hand moved like it was following muscle memory and put the device into a small space that he’d never have found on his own.

“Good work, Dud. We have full control of the ship now,” Lillith’s voice echoed in his skull.

Having no other orders, Dud let out a long sigh and relaxed against the chair that encompassed his entire body. As he took a few more deep breaths he was surprised by the amount of adrenaline he felt. On Terra-One he had far closer encounters, and today he had hardly been in danger, but everything being unknown kept him on edge.

But not enough.

A wire descended over the chair, and practically reached Dud’s neck before he grabbed the hands of his attacker keeping the crackling wire just far enough away from his skin that he could feel the heat from it. The only thing he found reassuring while he fought a fraction of an inch from losing his head was that he was holding onto what was most definitely Terran wrists. The issue was they were far stronger, and it was a battle he would lose any moment.

Hav’Nek, who had been strolling down the corridor to find Dud, broke into a sprint when he saw his crewmate under attack. He reached the Terran with such momentum that the simple force he wanted to use to free Dud from the man’s grasp, ripped the man’s arms off his body with two loud pops. The attacker turned around and fell back against the chair.

Hav’Nek looked at the two arms he was holding in his upper hands when a sneer, the closest thing his face did to a smile, came across his face. His lower arms grabbed the dismembered arms by the bicep and began to throttle the armless attacker.

“Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself,” Hav’Nek said as he continued the assault.

Dud came around the chair and stood beside Hav’Nek, wanting to wait for the Zeib to finish what he was doing to thank him for his help.

“Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha,” Hav’Nek said, dry and flat, in time with each blow he delivered with the man’s hands.

Pocketing the wire that had almost been his demise, Dud backed away to the entrance of the bridge to make sure no one else was coming down the corridor.

“Ha. Ha. Ha.”

After minutes passed, Dud gave up on standing and slid to the floor waiting for Hav’Nek to finish so that he could get his next set of orders.

“Ha. Ha. Ha.”

Dud thought he may have nodded off, because when he came to it was the long nose of Squeelch prodding him awake. At this time the attacker’s body was prone on the floor, but Hav’Nek was still HaHaing while continuing his barrage.

“Hav’Nek!” Dud said.

Hav’Nek dropped the two arms in a way that reminded Dud of when he scolded his moss-wolves for getting into things they weren’t supposed to.

“Did you like my joke?” Hav’Nek asked.

“Yes, and thanks for saving my life, but is there anything else I need to do,” Dud said, pushing himself to his feet.

“But you never laughed.”

“I’m not much of an external laugher, but I was cracking up in my brain.”

Hav’Nek gave a few nods then held up his top left arm, which Dud noticed for the first time had a clear sleeve over the forearm.

“Baroness, they have marine armor. Upload Dud the emergency release sequence,” Hav’Nek said, then tapped his forearm.

Dud braced for what was coming, but for this upload the pain was nothing like the first time. He hoped it would continue to get easier so he didn’t keep looking weak in front of the crew.

“The softies will be out for a few more hours. Go back to the loading bay and strip them of their armor,” Hav’Nek said.

Dud turned to leave. “Thanks again for saving my life.”

“I did it for the baroness, not you. You cost money to replace.”

As Dud made his way back to the loading bay, he tried to make sense of Hav’Nek. Dancing, singing, and jokes weren’t in the usual skill set of Zeibs, and slaves that wanted to protect their owner weren’t a common thing either.

Whatever Dud had been pondering left his mind as he stared down at what Hav’Nek had called marine armor. The large metal suit that surrounded the person inside was too heavy for Dud to lift. Luckily the SLET told him that the release was in the front anyhow. He pulled back the cover to a panel with four different buttons and punched in a combination. He heard the grinding of gears as the center of the robotic chest peeled itself back and opened up along the arms and legs. The armor continued to retract until a person lay on top of it like a metal bed. A person who was definitely not nine-feet tall like the goliath had appeared. Just a normal sized person in a robot suit that had built in hands and feet which accounted for the extra size.

The way the armor worked reminded him of how he felt in one of the pods, the major difference was the pod wasn’t shaped like a body, nor did he have a visor.

What he did know about the marine armor was he wanted one.

“Poor man mech’s,” Hav’Nek said walking into the loading bay and attaching clear rings around the unconscious people’s’ wrists. “Haven’t seen these since the Orc invasions.”

“Orc invasions?”

“Look it up later. I’m not your guide.”

Dud had no idea where or how or even what looking something up was, but he figured he could make due. He had survived in the wild without technology for his entire life until a few days ago. There was no reason he couldn’t manage with technology. It was just another unknown waiting to be discovered.

Since Hav’Nek seemed anything but welcome to conversation Dud sat quietly trying to figure out what was going on. Time was a strange concept to him now, since everything on Terra-One had something to do with the planet’s rotation around a star, but in space he wasn’t sure even what to call the different segments. He just knew he had been sitting and doing nothing for a really long time and was getting bored. Hav’Nek had long ago finished putting the bands on each person’s wrists and had left the loading bay, but had given Dud no further instructions.

Squeelch came and sat beside him, and not in the way Dud pictured the creature would sit. He assumed Squeelch would lay like the rot-wolves, but Squeelch sat in a more humanoid fashion, with his legs crossed and his back upright.

Squeelch delicately took Dud’s wrist in his claws, and dread followed suit. Dud had no idea what this creature was, or what it was capable of. For all he knew if it applied a single kilo of pressure too much Dud might be without his wrist. The creature turned his wrist so the black ink faced outward.

Squeelch’s circular mouth opened and a guttural sound came out. Dud stared at the creature blankly. Moving his head in a full circle in a way that reminded Dud of an eye roll, Squeelch tapped a claw to his chest and opened his mouth again. This time it was a high pitched squeal that made a sound Dud could understand.

“Squeeeeeeeeelch,” the creature said, then tapped Dud on the shoulder and took a deep breath. The creature tensed as it let out its next word. “Uuuuuuud.”

“You can read Common?” Dud asked.

Squeelch nodded his head.

“And understand it?”

Another nod.

“Just can’t speak it?”

Squeelch pointed a claw at his neck. “Cooooooors.”

It was Dud’s turn to nod, understanding Squeelch didn’t have the right vocal cords.

“Write?”

Squeelch clicked the tips of his claws together.

“Isn’t there some sort of,” Dud paused trying to remember the word. “Augmentation you could have done?”

Reaching out with his pointer claw Squeelch tapped Dud’s tattoo.

“Indent? Like Mechboy?”

Squeelch nodded.

“Really think it’s worth it just to be able to talk to a whole new group of idiots?”

The nods continued.

“To each their own. I didn’t mind hardly having to talk to people.”

Hav’Nek came back into the loading bay, and Dud noticed that his visit was perfectly timed with the awakening of the hostages. With the death of the captain there were fourteen survivors left.

“Anything you need me to do?” Dud asked.

“Keep doing nothing. It seems like your best skill,” Hav’Nek replied.

Though Dud had more than one retort he knew it didn’t matter what he had to say, the Zeib wouldn’t listen anyhow. Hav’Nek moved to the middle of the room and drew a long blade in his top right hand.

“Everyone on their knees,” Hav’Nek said.

Though a few of the survivors attempted to resist the order, Hav’Nek tapped the clear sleeve on his arm and all of the clear cuffs he had put on the survivors brought their wrists together behind their backs. With a second tap of the sleeve, the cuffs went straight for the floor in a way that reminded Dud of a magnet. There was some struggling and squirming, but no one was going anywhere.

“You have all been claimed by the Baroness,” Hav’Nek said.

“Holy Rag’nok, the captain never said that’s who we were hunting,” a female survivor said.

Hav’Nek continued like she hadn’t spoken. “You have two options. Sign yourself over as the personal property of the Baroness, or.”

Hav’Nek slashed the air with his sword.

Dud watched each of the survivors as they looked around at each other. He could read on their desperate faces that each of them was looking for a savior. Amongst them he didn’t see a single one that looked ready to fight back.

Then he realized they were all about to be turned into property. Just like he was, the only difference being they had lives. Part of him wanted to do something to help these people, then he remember the SLET and the fact that his brain would be turned to soup if he lifted a finger. Besides, these people planned to attack Lillith.

“Seal the contract with DNA, or forfeit your blood,” Hav’Nek said.

He walked around the bonded survivors and held the sleeve out to them, but now instead of being clear it displayed white words on a black background that made the contract with a tiny gray square. Over their heads he held the sword with his grimace that was meant as a smile.

Each person in turn touched the tip of their tongue to the gray square. With every signed contract the sleeve would say the person’s name, rattle off any augmentations, and their approximate market value as a slave. Bartering was the natural way of dealing anything on Terra-One so Dud had no idea what a good price or a bad price was, however he was super impressed by the sleeve. But he would be sad if there was no bartering in this new world.

Lights flashed as a deep chime rung. Having studied the calls of animals his entire life, Dud took it to be an alert, but not an emergency. All heads focused on the bay door, which was large enough for any of the service vehicles in the loading area to fit through. The entire door didn’t open, but a person sized hatch slid open, and Lillith walked in all dressed in black, with her hair pulled back, and a star flecked eyes glued to her own wrist. She swept her eyes repeatedly across her screen, then tapped the device. One of the men, from what Dud remembered a lower valued product, was launched up onto his feet.

“Come with me, please,” Lillith said.

Dud had no idea what was going on. Hav’Nek had an ear to ear sneer going, and the man Lillith addressed had his head hung so low it practically touched his chest.

Then one of the women, fought to her feet, shaking under the pressure of her cuffs. “Not him, you bitch.”

The cuffs brought the woman back down on her knees as tears streamed down her face. Hav’Nek was upon her, and grabbed a fistful of her hair forcing her face against the floor.

“Everything will be okay. I love you,” the man said as he kept walking.

Lillith laughed and ushered the man ahead of her, but stopped before she passed through the door.

“Oh, Dud, could you see to Mechboy. He has your next assignment,” Lillith said.

“Yes, Baroness,” Dud said, getting to his feet and following her out the door and through the airlock to her ship. When they entered into the mid of their ship, and Lillith was herding the man the other direction.

“Baroness,” Dud said, feeling a cold tingle of fear creep along his spine. “Might I ask to have my gear back. I haven’t seen my stuff since I came shipside.”

Lillith appraised him, and Dud found himself glued to tracking her eyes. The speckles in the darkness kept him entranced.

“Very well, BOB will deliver them to your room,” she said.

“Thank you, Baroness,” Dud said with a tip of his head.

He watched the clear shape of her body sway side to side as she led the man to her quarters. Until he could no longer see her, he waited in the corridor, and then left for Mechboy’s room.

Inside, Mechboy had been moved from his bed, to a flat trolley that hovered off the ground a few inches.

“Glad to see you’re still with us,” Mechboy said. Dud couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or just conversational. “Looks like you get to deliver me to the mechanic when we make it to Sanctuary.”

Sanctuary was something he had actually learned about from the Cartographer. A place that allowed all the criminals of the system to rest peacefully. A place where all crime was punished by death, and absolutely no weapons were permitted. It was a space station that orbited a dead planet and had impenetrable defenses. For people who lived their lives without law it was the one place a person could relax, resupply, and pick up new jobs. The Cartographer had painted such a beautiful picture of the place in his telling that Dud always wondered if it was real or if it was some sort of afterlife the man had believed in. It would seem that the old man had been telling the truth. That didn’t mean Dud was entirely without questions.

“Baroness just took one of the prisoners to her quarters. Had all the signs of a funeral,” Dud said.

Mechboy shook his golden locks. “You really don’t know shit about this system do you. The Baroness always kills her mate.”

Dud found himself lost in his own mind trying to picture the act and action.

“Does make you wonder, right? Would it be worth it?” Mechboy said.

“Yes it does,” Dud said.

He was glad he found Mechboy in a talkative mood, and took advantage of the time it took to arrive at Sanctuary getting many of his minor questions answered. He found out they would be selling off all the prisoners as well as the ship upon arrival, which was part of the reason why Lillith had picked a low valued slave. The main reason they were heading to Sanctuary was they had been away from port for a month and needed to restock. It also did well for Lillith to shake hands and search out deals that people weren’t willing to give out remotely.

Mechboy stopped speaking mid-sentence and then said, “They’re dropping us at a lower dock. It’s time to go.”

Dud grabbed the handle of the trolley and pushed Mechboy through the ship. They exited out the airlock and into a long corridor, that was well lit, and spotless clean. The walls reflected Dud pushing the cart an infinite number of times as he made his way down the long expanse.

“Any crime here is punishable by death. If someone hits you, just take it, and they’ll be sentenced for it. No weapons, no stealing, no cheating, no violence,” Mechboy said as they reached an elevator bank at the end of the corridor.

They stepped inside the circular elevator and Mechboy stated the floor they needed. The car plummeted so fast, Dud thought he was going to lose his stomach. There was a rapid dinging sound, which marked the passing of each floor. Dud couldn’t keep count, and was just barely beginning to grasp the size of the station.

“What’s wrong with Hav’Nek? I’ve never met a Zeib that wanted to be funny,” Dud said.

Mechboy laughed. “If there was one thing you couldn’t do, wouldn’t you want to do it?”

A few seconds later the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. The floor they walked into was nothing like the pristine corridor they had come from. The entire area was wide open with only supports dividing up the different areas. There was hardly any other light except when a torch would light or sparks would fly from a mechanic somewhere. Dud was dumbfounded looking at the vast array of metal beasts he had never seen. There were many small ships, and a ton of different robot parts. Each step he took deeper into the maze of mechanics let him see something he had never seen before. He tried to hide his amazement, but it was hard to blink for fear of missing something.

As they neared the area that was sectioned off by the mechanic Dud was being led Lillith’s voice echoed around his skull.

“Without informing Mechboy, offer the mechanic the fourteen marine suits as payment,” she ordered.

Dud wondered if her mate had met his fate yet, or if she was just taking a quick break to give him orders. He silently complied, and pushed the cart into an area that was cordoned off by large metal tubs in what looked like a capital U. At the bend a hammock hung low with the weight of the man resting inside. All around lay scattered parts, most of which Dud had no idea what they were but he did recognize a few pieces from the marine suits.

The hammock tossed as the man’s metal soled boots echoed off the floor. He stumbled forward and Dud realized they weren’t boots, but the man’s legs had been replaced with mechanical ones. The man’s left arm was also a mechanical replica of a Terran arm.

Unlike Mechboy, Dud didn’t think the mechanic chose his upgrades out of desire, but due to the scars that covered his face, as well as the robotic eye with red lit iris, made it look like they came from necessity. The scars were so pronounced they cut through the mangy beard like a mountain range.

“Ronald, long time no see,” Mechboy said.

Ronald spit of wad of something that smelled horrible against the perforated floor. “She hasn’t sent payment.”

“I’m here to discuss that,” Dud said, adding a nod of his head away from the damaged kid.

Ronald stopped away from his territory a few steps with Dud.

“Out with it then, boy,” Ronald said, pulling a palm sized, circular tin out of his pocket.

Dud was about to give Lillith’s offer, but hesitated. He hated to disobey her, but the only two ways his life could go at this point were dead, or earning her respect enough to not be expendable. He didn’t have Mech upgrades, or augmentations. He had no genetic advantages, but he did have his brain and his tongue and they had served him well this far in life.

“We have ten marine suits,” Dud said.

“That won’t even cover the kid’s broken back. And what about her outstanding debts?” Ronald said, removing the tin lid.

Dud hesitated to collect his logic. He was playing a game he didn’t understand. He had no grasp on the concept of values in this exchange.

“That will cover her debt in full. If I go back and ask for more she’ll kill me, and find a new supplier. Your call,” Dud said.

Ronald scooped a hefty amount of the brown paste out of the tin with his Terran hand and tucked it under his tongue. Almost immediately his red robotic iris turned green. “Business has been slow. Soon as the suits are delivered, I will get to work.”

Before Dud had time to feel proud of his bartering skills a Terran man, almost a foot taller than Dud walked past. He was dressed differently than all the grease covered mechanics, in a well fitted black outfit, lined with gold, that made the man look too important to be in such an area. He had pasty white skin, and short black hair. The part that set Dud’s innate predator instinct off was the way his black eyes, with white flecks settled on Dud even as the man had to crane his neck to keep his eyes trained.

“Do you know that Terran?” Dud asked.

“You must be a special kind of stupid, son. That’s the Baroness’s brother,” Ronald said, spraying some of the brown paste on Dud.

Dud watched Lillith’s brother until he was out of sight. If he was going to stay alive he would need to prove himself more useful to Lillith, but for today it was a win. He had survived another mission, and landed in a new location. He would deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

 

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.