It’s dead. Feeling helpless, Joshua watched as the last people on Earth choked on poisonous fumes and drank parasitic water to keep from dehydrating. “Where are you,” asked the voice of fifteen billion disembodied souls hovering aimlessly like tossed chewing gum wrappers and plastic bags caught in a spiraling wind. Trying to recall the best of times, bits and pieces of his life appeared and vanished, an imaginary childhood friend melting into a dream.
“Josh, are you ok, hon?” The friendly, attractive, and uncharacteristically tall and thin Dyashan waitress brought him his order. Her soft, blueberry pie skin and lemon meringue, mini-skirt uniform barely stopping her three breasts from unanimously voting to free themselves reminding Joshua of the previous two nights. Ogling the triplets, Josh grew thankful for her companionship, as well as her humanoid anatomy.
“Uh, yeah, I’m fine,” he answered. Hon, he laughed. Did she learn her trade from the affable blue-haired servers from East Baltimore or is it a greeting of all waitresses throughout the Galaxy? What would Dakoda tell him? Fine - fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional, he pondered as he ate his bagel with a schmear and a cup of Tastean coffee. Expressing his gratitude by leaving a gracious tip, he exited the diner continuing to his destination.
After months of working undercover, the most covert agent within the Universal Environmental Agency found the primary hub for warehousing equipment outlawed by the Environmental Protection Treaty of 2105. “The universe has gone to shit,” he told the Director. “The sky on most of the planets is the color of kiln-baked cork and the oceans as desolate as a ghost town. Ecological, political and socioeconomic exploitation pillage whole civilizations. The disease of corporate greed is spreading faster than familiarity can breed contempt. ManusCorp, CDK Industries, and other big companies bribe government officials, clear-cut forests, kill most indigenous life-forms, and enslave dispirited populations. For what? Manufacturing plants, animal agriculture, and drilling for fossil fuels, refashioning each conquered planet into a new wasteland of the universe; space is no longer the final frontier.” The Director told him to wait. He hated waiting.
Dyasha, a small and, on the whole, a mostly insignificant planet at the far end of the Galaxy, became one of the first off-Earth worlds ready to embrace the plague of corporate greed. With the promise of money and technological advances in warfare, the planetary leaders of other worlds soon followed, like rats dancing to the Pied Piper. The swiftness and ease of the conquests had the CEO’s and Boards of Directors cheering, “We came, we saw, we conquered,” drowning out the cries of societies and ecosystems.
Reaching the ominous dome shaped warehouse stationed in the center of the city, the agent edged his way toward the south side of the building leading to the underground passageway. Bioluminescent plant life, atoning for the polluted air and fetid waterways of the city, emitted enough light to find the opening. Armed guards covered the east and north entrances. The Vouwrelk River, flowing with the hardship of a blocked artery and filling the air with the stench of a fertilizer factory in midsummer, gurgled to the west.
Pulling his wavy, gray hair back in a ponytail and contorting his six-foot, five-inch athletic frame, Joshua started his descent below the streets. The experience reminded him of when the Barailian Rainforest Cartel stuffed him into the trunk of a small Italian sports car. Removing a thumb-sized flashlight from his pocket, he followed the morsels of dust frolicking in the splayed beam through the corridor. The silence gave him too much time to regard his plan. Should he do this alone or wait until tomorrow when backup arrived? Alone. The agent had never thought about being alone until recently. Dreams of a different life invaded his sleep; dreams of a life worth rejoicing in the warmness of love instead of dispossessing his soul whenever he went on a mission.
The operative shook his head to clear his mind and returned his attention to the business at hand. The green glow of the old digital watch, a gift from his parents for his UEA graduation, confirmed the time as 12:37, plus or minus ten seconds. Meandering his way through the labyrinth, he continued until the passageway ended with a set of seven concrete steps leading up and out. Climbing each step as if he was a living mannequin, the agent reached a small overhead doorway. Three muffled voices drifted across the barrier.
Taking a deep breath, he gave the door a liberal push to gauge its weight. The door yielded effortlessly into a tiny, dimly lit area, plastering the room with a harsh thud. A wooden chair and an electric interrogator with wires that connected to various body parts, paying particular attention to the male anatomy gave the impression of expecting a guest.
Placing his hands on either side of the opening, he quietly pulled himself up. Moving beside another door that led into the warehouse, the voices became clearer and more audible.
The first voice, the gravel, baritone of a concrete mortared throat, belonged to Rutt Linghbell, Supreme President of Dyasha. The second, a shrill, irritating rusty hinge screech, he recognized as the head of the local police division, Mix Hockelbumney. A third voice, calm and monotone, spoke in one-word sentences.
“What time will they be here?” asked Mix, his voice in dire need of three-in-one oil.
“Three-o’clock,” answered the croaky voice of Rutt. “Will everything be ready?”
“Yep,” said Mr. Monotone.
The agent, no stranger to being alone on a distant planet, going into battle with two known killers and a third unknown voice, felt different, alone. Alone - an unlit match reminding him of his solitude; reminding him of the ever widening gulf between him and his soul. “Get out of your head,” he thought. Holding back his fear by overcompensating with a false sense of self-confidence, the agent dragged himself out of the dark abyss of his emotional state and geared up for his attack. Without warning, the door to the warehouse flew open. Two bodies seized him in the manner of two horny dogs humping his legs.
Grabbing both heads in the crook of his arms, he lifted them off the ground wedging each one under his armpits like footballs, priming to crack their skulls together. A punch equivalent to an eight-pound bowling ball came from the right causing him to fumble his two prisoners. Spinning around to engage the party on the other end of the fist, he cocked his arm like a slingshot. Gravity surveyed the situation from its copious vantage point. Noticing Joshua’s legs turning into overcooked spaghetti, gravity worked its magic; Joshua wobbled, and then encountered the canvas, face first.
He awoke, the loser of a one-sided boxing match, naked, tied to the chair, and needing a big slice of false self-confidence. Electrodes, attached to his testicles with alligator clips, sent short bursts of electricity through his body giving the agent an erection worthy of Frank Lloyd Wright. “You think I’m gonna talk? Go ahead. Roast my nuts,” he bellowed.
Through the open door, Joshua could see the silhouettes of two men in the dim light. His outcry invited a small, round man with pastel blue skin to enter the room. The extravagant bright yellow and orange uniform of a Dyashan military officer, complete with medals of every size and shape pinned to both sides of his chest, clashed with his robin’s egg flesh.
“Who are you?” asked Rutt.
“Boehm, Joshua Boehm.”
Mix, a copy of Rutt without the garish uniform, walked in catching the name. Looking at his partner with more excitement than a boy getting his first blow-job, he squawked, “The General will be elated. Mr. Boehm, you’ve made my colleague and me incredibly rich men.”
“The machine to which you are currently attached is used to torture prisoners before we kill them. But in your case, since you are worth much more alive than dead, we will only cause the pain,” explained Rutt.
He nodded to the third person in their party. Joshua turned and looked up at a muscularly built man with hands large enough to engulf his captors’ heads. Raising his huge index finger to the on switch, Joshua closed his eyes and braced himself for a torture and pain he couldn’t imagine. He silently wished he was back in the trunk of the sports car.
With the swiftness of a ninja, the third man swung around and hit Rutt in the head knocking him out cold. Removing a particle beam blaster from his holster, he shot Mix between the eyes, splitting his skull into equal cauterized pieces, exposing his avocado brain. One more blast just above the shoulders threw the remains of Mix’s head into the warehouse; the two halves wobbling on the floor like blue ceramic bowls filled with guacamole.
Opening his eyes in astonishment, Joshua marveled with the intensity of having a private audience with an angel. “Levi Wolf,” the man said, releasing Joshua from the chair. “Director Knightly presumed you would try to go at his alone and could use reinforcement.”
“Why the hell did you hit me?” Joshua asked.
“Rutt and Mix wanted to kill you without asking questions. I only gave you a little tap. Do you want your momma to kiss it and make it better?” He asked, calisthenics of humor back springing to a somersault.
Joshua looked at Levi attempting to size him up. Unclasping the alligator clips from his testicles, Joshua stood up at a snail’s pace, not wanting to damage any part still attached to the machine. Getting dressed, he asked Levi, “Who’s the General that Mix mentioned.”
“We don’t know, but most believe it is Trapp. That’s why Rutt is still alive. Director Knightly received a reliable tip referencing an alliance forming to expand unlawful environmental practices. We knew Rutt and Mix were working for them. That’s why Director Knightly asked you to wait. Knowing you wouldn’t, he sent me to keep you alive. That shortcoming called impatience almost got you killed tonight. I won’t always be around to save your ass.”
Ignoring Levi’s holier than thou speech, Josh asked, “Trapp? I thought we put him away for good. What will happen to him?” Joshua asked, pointing a finger at the Supreme President.
“He’s going back with me to be an informant.”
“Suppose he doesn’t cooperate?”
“The Tech and Communication departments have ways to secure his collaboration. Whether he does so willingly or unwillingly, Rutt Linghbell will work for us.” Levi sighed, “You’ve had a rough night. Why don’t you get yourself a drink? I’ll wait here for the extraction crew to confiscate the equipment in the warehouse.”
Joshua smiled and thanked Levi for his help. Remembering the paralyzing feelings and thoughts that made him freeze with uncertainty, a nauseating feeling came over him, like looking over the edge of a bottomless abyss. What did it all mean?