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Ancient Things

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Notorious bounty hunter 'the captain' and her partner end up getting caught up in a galactic secret that throws everything into question.

Scifi / Adventure
Age Rating:

Just another day

Once the Mayflower hit the planet's atmosphere, the ship's hull started to scream from the sudden friction. Through the bridge's window the view of the curvature of the approaching world was replaced with streaks of burning flames as the hull superheated the air and ignited it. The holographic display had been destroyed, so there was no way to block it out, and the bridge was flooded with the blazing orange light. The captain grimaced at the sight of it, and held on tight as another shot hit its mark, and the ship jolted hard from the impact. They were still being fired upon.

“Can you pull us out?” she called out across the constant groaning of the ship. Everything was vibrating now as the ship fell into the planet's gravity. Jody was at the helm, frantically moving her hands every which way over her console to try and steer the ship, but it was a losing battle, much like the one being waged with the other ship behind them.

“It's no good, cap,” Jody shouted over her shoulder. “We don't have enough power to get out. One way or another, we're going down.”

Another shot from their attackers struck hard, adding insult to injury, and the captain slammed a hand down on her emergency button on the armrest of her command chair, and safety straps slipped around her torso to secure her to the chair.

“In that case, strap yourself in. We're in for a rough ride. Just aim for something soft, and don't die. That's an order.”

“Yes ma'am,” said Jody. She strapped in too, and held on tight to her straps with both hands as she watched helplessly as the flames through the window gave way to a quickly approaching landscape. The ground rushed up to meet them, and then they both knew no more.

The first thing that the captain saw when she opened her eyes was a startling pink sky, with afternoon sunlight painting the underside of the clouds with vivid pinks, oranges and reds that made the whole world bask in its hues. The first thing she heard was the sound of burning, and the occasional clash of falling metal. She sat up painfully, and found that despite the safety harness of her command chair, she'd been thrown clear of the wreckage by the sheer force of the impact, and had rolled some distance away on the cool grass.

She was filthy, bleeding from several cuts across her legs and back, and she was pretty sure that her arm had been dislocated. All in all things were looking pretty good compared to her most optimistic expectations. The world around her was mostly grassy plains and hills, although there was what looked like a forest of trees nearby in front of her. It was unsettlingly earth-like.

She was surprised to see Jody's bloodstained and grubby face suddenly appear in her field of vision, and a small but rough pair of hands held onto her stricken arm firmly, and all at once the captain's world become one of intense pain as Jody pushed the captain's arm back into its socket.

The captain swore at her with a passion and only stopped when she ran out of breath.

“You're welcome,” said Jody.

“A little warning would have been nice,” spat the captain, and very painfully pushed herself up onto her feet. She looked up at the wreckage of the Mayflower nearby, and she couldn't help feeling just a little bit emotional. She knew that it was just a ship, and that it wasn't really a living thing. But a life out in space tended to give you the feeling that your ship, contrary to common sense, could feel and react as though it were truly alive, and it was hard not to form some kind of bond with it. A symbiotic bond between captain and ship. Seafaring captains had been doing the same thing with their little wooden ships ages ago on ancient earth. So as the captain looked on at the stricken corpse of her ship, on fire and falling apart on an alien world, she couldn't help but burst into tears. Jody said nothing, and simply let her hand rest on the captain's shoulder, and let her weep.

After some time, the captain was able to pull herself together and wipe her face. She turned to Jody.

“Alright,” she said, already pulling herself together. “So why are we still alive down here?”

“What do you mean, cap?”

“I mean Thrask wants us dead, and his ship is still up there. Any ship with sensors that work will be able to pick up two life signatures down here, and he can fire down at the surface with pinpoint accuracy to finish us off. So why are we still alive?”

“Well, before our own sensors were blown out, I remember seeing that the atmosphere of this planet has a peculiar energy signature.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“No, it's too weak to do us any harm, but it made any form of scanning impossible. If it weren't for the fact that I could see green land and blue water, I had no idea what we were going to find down here.”

“So that means,” said the captain, turning her eyes skyward, “that Thrask can't see us, and will have to send someone down to find out whether we survived the crash.”

“And kill us off when they find out we're alive,” Jody reminded her, but the captain started laughing. It was one of her knowing, slow laughs that always set Jody on edge because it meant that the captain was thinking of something unpleasantly amusing.

“They can try,” she said, and smiled at Jody with one of her worrying smiles. Jody sighed.

By the time a shuttle came in through the clouds over the wreckage of the Mayflower, night had fallen. The floodlights on the shuttle switched on, and bathed the scene with stark white light. For a while it only hovered, swaying over the crash site and looking for any sign of movement. From their hiding places, Jody and the captain watched the hovering shuttle carefully.

They'd dug a small bunker a small distance from the wreckage, and covered themselves in the freshly turned dirt to render themselves invisible to the naked eye. The energy in the atmosphere meant that the shuttle's sensors would be inoperable, and so that only left line-of-sight. They lay on their stomachs, watching the shuttle, and waiting.

In the end the shuttle was forced to land so the mercs inside could search the area. It touched down not too far from their little hiding place. Once it hit the ground, Jody and the captain leapt up and moved as quickly and quietly as they could. Now that the shuttle had landed, they only had scant seconds to act. It was an enormous stroke of luck that they'd landed so close. They'd had a few plans of action to accommodate every potential situation, and since they landed so close they were able to go through with the captain's personal favourite.

The shuttle was small, only big enough for a compact cockpit and a tiny loading area. It was the type of shuttle used by larger ships for small teams to move to and from a planet's surface. At either flank of the vessel a loading door could be opened, and a small ramp would run down to the ground allowing easy access. Jody ran for the nearest side, taking care to approach from behind and out of sight of the cockpit. When she got there she skidded feet first on her back until she came to a stop just under the loading door. The captain made for the other side, passing behind where the shuttle's thrusters were still cooling down. She could feel the heat as she passed, and suppressed the urge to cough. As she fell to the ground along the side of the ship, the doors opened, and the ramps came down. Both of them were now hiding under the ramps.

“No movement on this side,” said a voice just above the captain. She could hear the movement of the merc's boots on the metal ramp, and the faint rattle of rifle in his hands. She could picture him doing a sweep of his surroundings, moving the rifle back and forth as he gazed down the sights.

“Nothing here either,” said another voice on the other side. A third voice spoke from inside the shuttle.

“Alright, you two go out and take a look around. I'll stay here with the shuttle. Remember, the boss wants confirmation that these two are dead. We're not leaving until we've seen their bodies.”

“Yeah yeah, we know the drill,” said the first one.

“And we know better than to piss off the boss,” said the second.

“Great,” the third said. He sounded impatient. “Now get moving. I want to get out of here as quickly as possible.”

Without another word the two mercs walked down the ramps. Their steps were heavy and easy to track; they weren't making any attempt at stealth. Obviously they believed that they were looking for a pair of corpses, and the captain couldn't blame them after what she'd seen of what was left of her ship.

Once the mercs stepped off the ramps and onto the grass, what happened next was a blur of motion. Jody sprang up from her hiding spot and deftly jumped up into the shuttle in absolute silence, while the captain got to her feet, moved behind the merc on her side, and twisted his head around and snapping his neck. She watched him fall with a look of disdain. If he'd been working for her and let his guard down so easily, she'd probably have killed him herself anyway. She smiled as she knelt down and snatched up the dead merc's rifle.

She pressed herself against the shuttle by the door, and listened carefully. She heard some minor scuffling coming from inside, but she ignored it and strained to listen for the other wandering merc. She heard his footsteps on the other side, towards the wreckage, so she ducked back around the back of the shuttle, and peered carefully around the other side. He was there, just ahead, staring at the illuminated wreckage in the floodlights. That was good, because that meant his night vision would be destroyed. It also meant that he was silhouetted against the lit up landscape, and therefore an easy target. The captain smiled again and silently moved forward, rifle in hand. Once she was close enough, she took aim and pulled the trigger, and the merc's head blossomed with blood as the bullet popped his head open like a pumpkin. He fell to the ground, dead.

The captain breathed in deep and let it all out in one big sigh. Life was good.

She made her way back to the shuttle and went inside. There she found that Jody had done her part, and was kneeling hard on the remaining merc's neck on the floor, and twisting his arm at a painful angle. He looked up at the captain with bulging eyes, and when he saw the rifle in her hands, he knew instantly that the others weren't coming to help him.

“Hi there,” said the captain sweetly. She looked down on him with the rifle resting on her shoulder. “I'm sorry we had to meet under these conditions. I'm actually super nice when you get to know me.”

The pilot was only able to gurgle a response, and Jody twisted his arm a little further.

“Here's how it's going to go,” the captain continued, kneeling down, “you're going to take us up to your boss' ship, and you're not going to give away the fact that there's anything wrong. As far as anyone needs to know, everything went smoothly, and you found your two corpses.”

She glanced behind her where the first merc was lying with his head on backwards.

“Which isn't strictly a lie,” she added. “Now, you're going to do this for us, because if you don't I'm going to shoot you in the face.”

The captain's voice hadn't changed from the soft sweet tones she'd been using, but the rifle pointing at his face didn't waver at all. The pilot, from where he lay under Jody's knee, realised he was more frightened of the captain's smile than the rifle. He tried to nod, but he couldn't move his head, so he gave a weak thumb's up with his spare hand.

“Awesome. Like I said, I'm super nice,” said the captain. “Now let's get moving. I'm itching to kill some more mercs.”

It took almost an hour for the shuttle to lift off and make its way back the merc ship waiting in orbit. And so it was just a little over an hour after they'd left the surface that the captain swept her way between the two slumped bodies with gaping holes in their chests, and stepped into Thrask's quarters. Thrask was on the floor, trying to crawl away while dragging a broken leg. He'd lost his weapon in the fire fight, and he was trying to reach his secret backup gun that he hid in his dresser. The captain stopped him by stamping hard on his busted leg, and he screamed in pain and thrashed around on the floor.

The captain grabbed the back of Thrask's jacket with one hand, and lifted him up bodily to turn him over onto his back. Then she kicked a stool closer to him, and sat herself down on it right beside him.

“Hey buddy,” she said as she rested the rifle on her lap. “How are things going?”

“You crazy bitch!” spat Thrask, sitting up to lean on his elbows. “What the hell's wrong with you!?”

“Hmm. That's a good question,” she said, and scratched her chin as she thought. “Let's go down the list, shall we? Things were alright this morning. I had a ship of my own, and I'd just taken a contract for some extra money. So, yeah, this morning things were pretty good.”

Thrask, sensing an opportunity, tried to make another mad dash for his dresser, but the captain clocked him good in the back of the head with the butt of her rifle. She turned him over again and threw him back against the nearby bed so he could sit up.

“But NOW,” said the captain, and she scooted the stool closer to him, “Thanks to you my ship is scrap, along with all my stuff, plus Jody tells me that I have a bit of an anger problem. So yeah, that's what's wrong with me right now. Anyway, I figured that in exchange for you blowing up my ship, I could just, y'know, take yours.”

“I only shot you down because that 'contract' was for my bounty. You were already coming for me, I just shot you down first,” said Thrask. He was in a great deal of pain, but he'd had broken bones before. “Besides, my crew's not gonna take orders from you,”

Gunshots rang out from out in the corridor, and the captain smiled.

“Well, you're right about that.”

She stood up and held up the rifle to aim right at his chest. His eyes widened, and he tried to back up harder against the bed.

“Wait! Y . . . you're just gonna kill me? You're not even gonna give me a fighting chance?”

“If you're trying to call on my sense of honour, I'm going to have to call 'pot and kettle' on that one, Thrask. Besides I'm here to get paid, not for honour.”

She pulled the trigger, and Thrask to the chance to see his own lungs through the new hole in his torso right before he went limp. Jody came in, her own rifle in hand.

“Everything go ok?” the captain asked.

“Yes ma'am, everyone's dead.”

“Everyone? Did you check everywhere, like the crawl spaces and storage lockers?”

Jody looked offended.

“Please, captain. This isn't my first time. I checked and double checked. We're the only ones left alive.”

“Great. Now help me put this guy on ice. The rest we'll jettison out the airlock before we set course for Belannos. After that I think I need a drink.”

“I don't think that a ship like this will have anything better than moonshine,” said Jody as she picked up Thrask's legs and helped the captain lug him out and down the corridor.

“I don't care if they drank rat piss and their own vomit. I'm getting blackout drunk after the day I've had.”

They each stepped carefully around the bodies of the former crew as they carried Thrask over to the sick bay. Jody grimaced as she trod in one guy's spilled out intestines with a wet squish.

“I'm with you on that one.”

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