From a bar to eternity
The two-faced low-lives who chose to hang out at this bar never seemed to become more honest or fresher. What a bunch of misfit idiots... Tellus... The ball-shaped space station that was meant to be a Utopia. A perfect replacement for the planet we destroyed. I’ve always seen it as a refuge for the scum of the universe. A highly segregated metal ball where the gap between the rich on the surface and the poor who live closer to the core keeps getting bigger. I guess that's why I fit in so well. There's always work for those who are willing to do anything for credits. I empty my whiskey and lean back against the wall. She should be here any minute now. Maybe I have time for one more drink before she arrives. I keep telling myself that it’s to blend in, but the truth is another. There. I knew she would show up sooner or later.
When she steps into a room like this one you can always hear a certain change in volume. None of those who are hanging here have clean records and no one knows who’s on her list. She should be between jobs, but you can never be sure. She
sits down at the bar and the bartender greets her cheerfully. There won’t be any trouble here tonight, not as long as she’s in the room. I draw a few deep
breaths to gather courage. "I'll have the same as the lady." I say, and sit down on the bar stool next to her. She smiles. "Well look what the cat dragged in, Lothar Feige, they let everyone in here nowadays?" The bartender comes with her beer glass and a similar for me. She raises hers. "To health and prosperity?" I raise my glass to hers, we've never been much for health, neither she nor I.
"I heard you delivered a clone to Cedric Tempus the other day. It musthave been an expensive investment if he hires you."
"Yep" she answers shortly. I can see that she's hiding something, the same day as the clone arrived to Tellus there had been an attempt on Cedric's life just a few streets from where we were sitting. She had caught the offender Jonas Air without any major problems and pocketed a nice reward from the federation. He had escaped from Lockdown prison a week before the attack. Tellus most secure prison, yeah right, if that idiot could get out, anyone could. Cedric Tempus, the politician the people called “the son of the slums” had more than enough enemies. In this case the circumstances fell into place in a just too neat pattern. She had a plan and patience to put it into action step by step.
"What happened to your hands?" I ask when I see the scars on her wrist. She rubs over the patches of pale complexion. The skin reset hadn't linked with the nerves yet.
"Just a scratch. When I delivered the clone I encountered some pirates. The old plasma guns overheated."
I quietly swallow a sip from my glass. The plasma cannons must have melted the skin and flesh on her hands down to the bone. "I hope Cedric paid well."
She nods silently. I can’t help but feel some kind of melancholy, it seems to flow from her, she's usually not like this quiet. "Why the dreadlocks? Are
you picking up an ethnic lifestyle?"
"You could say." I recognize the hairpieces and the way the blond tangled curls are tied at the neck. A traditional hairstyle from Perth, the mining colony where she grew up. I think she was nine when it blew up into atoms. I haven’t seen her with dreadlocks since she gave captain Adam Mills and
military academy the finger and started working as a bounty hunter. She was alone in the world and had always had a bit of difficulties with authorities...
The problem that lay in the way of a brilliant career as a freelancer was that she had some difficulties with unruly prisoners too. It often happened that she delivered a head in a sack instead of a live person. Technically, she’d never failed a mission that I know of, everything is a matter of perspective.
"Can we go somewhere where we can talk in private?" I ask quietly.
She glances at me behind the glass. "Go ahead and talk."
I cough strained. There are many ears here that I don't want to share my thoughts with. "I've got a job coming up, a big one. Nice reward at the end."
She smiles. "Who on this tin can is stupid enough to hire you?"
"No one, I think I've found Tombstone Tom." I've caught her attention, her dark eyes are burning with curiosity, even though she tries to seem unaffected.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I need help... My source says he and his little gang are hiding on Proxsoul."
She laughs and shakes her head. "I wasn't going to put my foot on that rock pile again... Tombstone Tom... is your source reliable?" I nod, what else can I do? If she knew that I had beaten the information out of a pirate I drank under the table a week ago she’d never come. I need her and she knows it.
She counts on her fingers in the air. "I'm between assignments, so why not? Be at docking bay 94 in ten hours. If we are to land on Proxsoul in daylight,
we have no time to lose."
"Your ship or mine?" I ask, and feel how a stone is lifted from my chest.
"Is that even a question? Mine course. I refuse to go in another piece of junk."
The atmosphere on the small planet Proxsoul at the edge of the known universe is similar to the one we are accustomed to at Tellus, with one exception. The chemical fumes contain small amounts of sulfur and hydrogen. We might survive for a short while, but after that our lungs will be filled with acid and the sweat will become corrosive to our skin. We've landed the ship quite far from the old research station. If the pirates are hiding on this rock, they're there. It's the only place that has a protected atmosphere. If they see us coming they will have time to run. We needed the element of surprise on our side. My source had no idea how many they could be. A handful, but it can be a varied appreciation.
She undresses and doesn't care that I can see her. I turn with my back to her out of respect but it's hard not to glance over my shoulder. She pushes her toes in place and starts to pull the black full-body protective suit over her legs. I can see the scars on her back and arms. Whoever did her latest skin reset had not done a very good job. As far as I knew her last mission was the one Cedric Tempus hired her for. Say what you want about him, but he's a good politician who actually cares about people who have it rough. Now a part of me wants to strangle him with my bare hands. What missions other than transporting the clone from Stella Nova had she done for him? How badly injured had she been when the skin and flesh reseters couldn't do a better job? "Do you need help with the zipper?" I wonder silently.
She smiles. "Sure." I let my suit hang at the waist to show off my best side. Then I go to her and slowly close her zipper. I want to let my hands follow the skin on her back on the way up but I know it can lead to a right-hand punch. We don’t have time to fight now. The brilliant blue of the zipper subside and the suit flows together, welds seem to melt and become one with the rest of the suit. It is all tight now and should protect us from the atmosphere. As long as you don't need to take a piss of course. I'm waiting for her to turn around before I put my hands in the sleeves of my suit. Jackpot. I see how she tries to hold back a smile when she sees my well-trained torso, I've worked hard for it. I turn around and she pulls up my zipper. Damn, I feel no indication that she wants to touch me.
She goes over to the wall to get more protective gear. The suit adapts quickly to my body temperature and now feels like a second skin. Fully air-tight and water-resistant. I glance at her while the suit is hugging her body in just the right places. At hormone-fueled fifteen, I'd probably been forced to excuse myself for a moment. Now I just enjoy the view. I take my equipment out of my bag and put it beside hers. We're both wearing black and gray, how appropriate. "Where’s the burgundy?" I ask casually. I know she has an old pimped antique that she loves to use. A shiny burgundy space armor that can keep her alive in most environments, even in space outside the ship for at least two days. To see her in ordinary lightweight equipment is unusual.
"It's being prepped for another mission." she responds with a tone that tells me not to ask if I want to live. She puts on her loose pants and a
black jacket. There are a couple of new marks on it that I don't think I've seen before. Civilizations yet unknown to most people on Tellus have already
put their mark on her. I don't know what they mean, but Warrior is an educated guess. What Tellus' military calls charted universe is only a small part of her reality. Just half a day's journey back from the little rock we're on you can catch a glimpse of the monument, one of several huge round circles that mark the charted universe. If you travel beyond the portals, outside zone 20, you do so at your own risk. The military won't come and help you if you get into
trouble. You're outside the safety zone. One breath from eternity. Her playground.
She pulls on a hood made of the same material as the protective suit, and when we've gotten the protective masks in place and verified that the oxygen flow works she opens the loading dock. The visor covers my face, I have a clear view but I can't help it. I always get a bit dizzy when I'm in places with less gravity than Tellus. It takes a few steps before I can master it and walk properly. It's not a huge difference but enough to confuse my inner ear. The atmosphere refracts the light from the nearest sun bathing the landscape in hues of purple, light blue and gold. She puts her weapon on her back and leads the way through a field of bright red flowers. I don't feel as safe, if the bohrs see me first I better be prepared. When we're halfway through the field she
raises her hand and asks me to stop. Something is running past us among the flowers in front of us. I see movement in corner of my eye not far from me. She signals me to stand still. I put my hand on the trigger. The pulse races within me. I've read about the wildlife on Proxsoul but I haven’t experienced it
myself. The rats can grow to a nasty size and hunt in groups. It was said that the explorers who had mapped the planet had had them on their ship. In the friendly and nutritious environment they had no problem to multiply and grow uncontrollably. She loosens the electroshock gun from her belt and gets ready, seconds later I see how something comes flying at me from the beautiful flower field. I spin around and fire a shot the same second as the rat reaches my weapon. Then the next and the next and the next. I glance towards Becky. She holds a shocked rat by the scruff of its neck and waves it around. It seems to keep the beasts at bay.
"Hurry up!" she shouts and begins to run through the field. I follow her without hesitation. Somewhere inside me a seed of worry starts to grow. If this is the size of the rats... then how big are those who eat them? I won't stay to find out. I look over my shoulder to make sure that nothing’s following me and I run straight into her. She stands still and stares ahead. The rat wakes up in her hand and she lets it down on the ground. Faster than lightning it rushes back into the field of flowers. Standing a few steps in front of her are three men with skin that shimmers of gold colored fish scales. Their flat faces are grinning and they point their spears at us. Bohrs... savages, the first civilization of human-like creatures that our researchers discovered. Poor bastards, they've hardly invented the wheel and then we show up in our birds of metal. "Do you know them?" I ask cautiously. She shakes her head. She follows the warriors with her eyes as she slowly puts the electroshock gun on the ground. I follow her example and get up with my hands raised. She begins to speak their melodic clicking language. They seem surprised and tense. One mistake on our part and they’ll throw their spears at us. They respond with loud snorts and come closer. She draws a deep breath and keeps
talking. Slowly she turns her side to them to show them one of the marks on her jacket.
The leader of the three or the bravest one... goes near her to inspect it. He snorts, pushes Becky aside and comes up to me. I have no bohr marks. I haven't done anything to deserve them. He yells something in my face and threatening puts the tip of his spear under my chin. Becky shouts something and he turns towards her with a look of doubt. She repeats the sentence and with a look of disapproval he removes his spear. I can feel that he wants to spit in my face but he doesn't, instead he shows his teeth and goes off to his friends. He waves his arms irritably, it is time to leave. Becky picks up the shock gun from the ground and attaches it to her belt again with a deep sigh. "What did you tell them?" I wonder before we follow bohrs into the woods. She smiles. "That you aren't a warrior, no one they need to care about..."
"Why thank you... So they won't spear me because I'm a pussy?"
"Nope... Come on we don’t want lose them."
I grab her arm before she gets a chance to leave. "Becky..."
She squirms. "I said they should leave you alone because... you are my partner..."
"As in colleague?"
She sighs deeply. "Partnership is sacred, they won't touch you if you are sworn to a warrior. Did you see the necklace he had?"
I nod, "The dried fruits?"
"Yes, you could say that... testicles... from fallen enemies. The more you have, the higher the rank." I am so happy that I managed to persuade her to come with me...
The bohr village is simple, the huts are erected in circles around the village center. The warriors escort us through the village with screams and shouts. The
villagers join in and a rhythmic chanting rises as we approach the village center. I can feel the male bohrs glancing at me. Apparently they're all chasing more trophies. The warriors fall to their knees in front of a high stone altar. Becky follows their example, and I follow hers. An older heavyset
female bohr comes out at the top of the altar and the crowds silence. "She is Mother Boria, she is the leader of the breeding females. The great mother.
Respect her, if you want to live..." Becky whisper quietly. I nod and carefully glance up to the altar. The woman is as tall as I am and most likely weighs about two hundred kilos. Boria slowly begins to speak and the warriors rise again. Behind her, a blue smoke rises to the sky. She turns toward the
smoke and raises her hands in honor and worship.
"It's a gas that rises from the planet's interior. They call it Thao, it's their deity. The bohrs have heat and light in their huts, and everything comes from the gas." Becky explains while the warriors push us up towards Boria. A spear shoots out in front of me to stop my path while Becky goes up to the enormous woman. Without a word from Boria Becky takes off her tight-fitting glove and holds up her hand in front Boria. Soon the damages from the toxic air
start to show. Boria ignores her. Becky takes off her other glove and shows both hands to Boria. Still no reaction. Becky sighs and starts to snap off her mask while smoke rises from her hands. Slowly she lifts the mask and glances at Boria. I see that she’s holding her breath. To breathe this air would cause
serious damage to our lungs. When the skin starts to bubble up on her cheeks Boria turns to her and stretches out her hand. Becky bends down and kisses it before she gets put on the mask and the gloves again.
"No one comes before my feet behind mask..." Boria says haltingly in the international language of Tellus. The world language, as it's so nicely
"Gracious Mother. We have come because we are looking for evil men. To find them, we need to go over your land. We ask for your blessing to use the
tunnels." Becky says slowly and bows her head. Boria nods omniscient.
"Dull, small men come. Take trophies from other small, dull men. At the
hut that glitters in the sun."
"Are they at the research station?" Becky asks even slower.
"For many, many moons... They wandered here, took trophies with black weapons and desecrated Thao." Boria’s gaze is cold and hard.
"I am very sorry. I will do everything in my power to avenge Thao and your fallen warriors." Becky responds and bows her head again.
"Laulin..." Boria says slowly and place a hand on Becky's cheek. "You and your Khaor may pass. Bring gleaming house back to Thao." Becky nods and returns down to me.
"Laulin?" I ask curiously.
"It means baby, infant. She thinks that I'm so small for a woman that I must be a child who never grows up." I look around. I haven't thought about the fact that women are much bigger than the men. She has won the respect of the bohrs but she has never told me how. I guess it has something to do with dried fruits.
One of the warriors who brought us to the village walks up to Boria and bows his head. She turns her gaze into the blue smoke, ignoring him. He loosens the leather protection from his arm and puts his hand in the smoke. It seems to have the same effect on him as the atmosphere itself has on our skin. When he bites his lip in pain, she turns towards him. Panting he pulls back his arm and kisses her hand. He quickly states his case and Boria glances in our direction. She nods. She loosens one of the leather bags that are hanging at her belt and
sweeps it through the smoke. She seems completely unaffected by the corrosive gas. She closes the leather bag and hands it to the warrior. He kisses her hand again and kneels at her feet. A gesture of gratitude, I suppose.
"What's happening?" I wonder silently. Becky looks tired.
"He wants to come with us. Apparently they've had problems with the snake in the tunnels and since you don't count he doesn't want a child to go through them alone. Prepare to get some company." I see how her body itches, she wants to talk to Boria again but the skin on her face probably stings like
hell. The warrior walks towards us, pointing demonstratively that it's time to leave. He growls at me.
"Khaor" I reply firmly. He seems annoyed but accepts that I don't want to fight. I've memorized that word, it seems to be useful. If we want to
reach the research station unseen it's the best route. Not the simplest, but the best.
"What’s he going to do with the gas?" I wonder when we leave the village. Becky glances towards the warrior who holds the lead and leans closer to me.
"When the bohrs inhale Thao it increases their strength and speed. They become virtually invincible. They feel no pain, no fear, just a crazy wave of adrenalin."
"They get high as a skyscraper?"
She nods, "Yep, but you saw what the gas did to his arm... every time they inhale Thao a piece of their lungs die of acid damage."
"So, choose your occasions. Nothing for the regular Friday night."
"Nope, not if you want to live."
I see that the sun slowly begins to descend towards the horizon. We've got to try to reach the tunnels before dusk, when the predators come out to hunt. The bohrs’ long legs are not easy to keep up with, luckily I added some running to my training regimen. After an hour of walking we reach the beginning of the cave system. The sun's last rays sweep over the landscape and a black night falls. Becky turns on the spotlight on her weapon and sweeps through the darkness of the cave mouth while the bohrs make some simple torches by wrapping cloths around wooden sticks. The warrior who leads us shouts something to Becky. She moves the beam to the wall of the cave and with flash-like speed he snaps a couple of beetles crawling on the gray stone. He mashes them in his hands and rubs the purple liquid that came out of the beetles against the cloths. Flint meets stone and a spark ignites the torch.
"I didn't know that the wildlife here was so flammable." I mumble quietly.
"Watch your steps." Becky replies and goes into the darkness. I glance at the bohr warrior. "After you, you big klutz. Try not to run into any more walls, obviously you did that when you were born, but it can be tough in the long run." I mutter and nod towards the cave.
"Klutz? Who do you call klutz?" he replies slowly and haltingly. I close my eyes and swallow hard. I quickly go through everything I accidentally
may have said in his presence and realize that I might be in trouble. "You know our language?" I ask as politely as I can.
He glares back. "Stouk understand, speaking difficult. Small ant..." he leans threatening over me and puts his hand on his knife.
"Khaor..." I mumble quickly, "Laulin Khaor." and loosen the safety on my rifle. Stouk snorts and is frowning his flat nose. "Laulin, bad taste." He licks his hand and wipes it off on my visor before he sets off into the darkness after Becky. The godforsaken ape... I just lost half of my vision. I try to rub off the worst as I start to go into the darkness. It’s pitch black in front of me. As in a tomb. I shudder when I see the deep scratches on the walls. The spiders that once built the cave system were long gone, but here and there one could still see the marks in the stone after their rampage. Suddenly the tunnel divides in two. I point my light into the darkness but I can't see any of my companions, or the light from their torches. Damn. This was most likely a part of Stouk's plan. I grab a mini tracking ball from one of my belt bags, turn the halves and put it on the floor. The sphere hums and soon throws an X-ray towards the cave wall. I activate the extra screen inside my mask and a small box folds out in front of my right eye. I don't like to use this technology, it's old and can't be trusted. When this mission is completed I'm
going to buy new equipment from Jody at the federation's research department. She always gets hold of the latest gadgets. Gadgets that break easily, or simply disappear. Strange how things happen. I take a step towards the tracking ball and it happily rolls away in front of me. There! I see the silhouette of three bohrs and a woman a few caverns away. She seems annoyed and turns back toward the surface. I knew she wasn't going to leave me. A scraping sound makes me turn around. A spider the size of my shoe runs past my feet. I hiss and follow it with the spotlight on my rifle. "You stay away from me! And that goes for your eight-legged friends too!" I shout after it. I hear the scraping again. I look over my shoulder and I realize that the scrapings are multiplying. Soon the cave wall is teeming with swollen black spiders. As big as my shoes... and bigger. I pick up the ball and run in the direction I’d seen Becky and the others.
"Run!" I cry when I see the beam from her spotlight. When she sees the creatures that are following me, she is not slow to turn on her heel. Cave spiders... they are much smaller than those said to have dug the tunnels but large enough to not be worth a closer look. Becky seems to agree, I have never
seen her run this fast. We soon run into our guides who immediately realize the seriousness of the situation. Run for your life, literally. The bohrs are hard to keep up with but with a cave full of spiders behind me there’s no problem to run like hell. Suddenly I run straight into the sweaty back of a bohr. The cave floor in front of us has collapsed and above our heads a grand hall is opening.
Stouk squints into the darkness and picks up the leather bag he got from Boria. He gently twists something that looks like the teat of a cow, puts it in his nose and draws a sharp breath. The strong bohr body immediately starts to shake and with a roar, he takes a huge leap over the gap ahead. He cuts loose some long roots running from the cave roof to the wall and throws them over to us. His friends are not late to swing over. When it is our turn time’s running out. Becky turns around and shoots the first spiders that are getting too close.
"Jump dammit!" she shouts through the alarm. I can't leave her, and I've always wanted to swing across an abyss with a woman in my arms. I wrap the root around my arm, back up so that I can put my arm around her waist and rush towards the abyss. She's still shooting spiders over my shoulder. Damn... I've forgotten how heavy she is... Seconds after we’ve left the edge of the cliff I realize my mistake. The swinging stops and we're hanging in the air in the middle of the black abyss. What to do now? The bohrs on the other side can't reach us, they're shouting and screaming but can't really do anything. She wraps her strong legs around my waist and continues to shoot at everything that
moves in the cave we just left. I'm right where I want to be, at the worst possible moment.
"My Chromatium guns!" she shouts. I look at the gun hanging in a holster on her leg. I pull it quickly and look at it. There's no bullet in the chamber. The root cracks and yields, we fall half a meter before it stops again. Somewhere above I hear the root threads snap one by one like tired rubber bands.
"NOW!" she shouts and hangs on to the root and me. I aim against the wall and fire the gun. The air-powered gun creates an enormous pressure in the
thin atmosphere. The recoil from the weapon hits so hard against my arm that it feels as if it's dislocated. It makes us swing again and soon I can reach an
extended bohr hand. The spiders crawl out of the cave and up on the wall towards the hall's roof. We hurry to get out of there, we don't want to wait for them to get across the abyss, or whatever is chasing them...
After a couple of long hours of running I glimpse an opening in front of us. It seems to brighten outside. Stouk goes out first, he takes his friends with him and looks around. The blue-purple light washes over a barren rocky landscape. Below us the research station glimmers like a golden dome. Strange... I didn't Think you needed instruments that sensitive to study the bohrs.
"Do you know why they invested in a gold plate?" I wonder and turn to Becky. She shakes her head. Something's not right. Gold protects sensitive
instruments from interference like radiation from the sun and magnetic fields. It must have cost a fortune, hardly worth investing in research that could be done from Tellus with satellites. I turn on my binocular screen on my right eye and take a closer look. Soon a growling bohr eye covers the entire screen. Stouk is standing a couple of steps ahead of us and is waving us to continue. No movement around the station as far as I can see. The rocks are slippery from a rainbow-colored alga. In the shaded rock crevices the algae have grown into a spider-like web that's ghostly swinging in the light wind. The space station also seems attacked by it. Half of the dome is overgrown and purple shadows are sweeping across the shiny surface. There’s no possibility to reach the station unseen. The surfaces around the station are open, so we're trying to sneak among the veils of the algae. Becky picks up a small plastic tray and after a few keystrokes a 3D sketch of the station is rotating above it.
"Does the federation usually leave out their blueprints for general admiration?" I wonder, and teasingly push Becky's side. I can see her smiling behind the visor of the mask.
"If they want to keep me away, they have to update their codes more frequently... can you see a way in besides the main entrance?"
"You most likely have something explosive in your bags..." I mumble tired. She has a penchant for explosions, it has come in handy many times. I'll
never forget when I saw her mixing magnetic acid bombs in the middle of an asteroid field while under fire by pirates.
It was shaky, but not as shaky as for pirate ships that headed straight into a magnetic mine field...
"I thought we'd try to be a little more discreet this time." she mumbles. "There, the entrance of the lab and it has an airlock! It shouldn't be that far from here."
"Does that mean that our friends have to stay outside?" I look at Stouk with a smile of victory. "They can't breathe in there, so yep. They have to stay outside." I can see that they're not happy about that.
It's not difficult to find the entrance. The gold-plated door is hanging askew. Our tall friends stay outside while Becky gently pushes the door with her gun. So much for that airlock... the pirates probably got in the same way. At least the next door is intact. We glance at each other when she puts her hand on the handle. I loosen the safety on my rifle and stand next to her with my back to the door. We have no idea what that might be on the other side. She counts down on her fingers and on three she tears the door open. The headwind is huge. The atmospheres are trying to equalize the pressure differences. We squeeze in and with joint force barely manage to close the door behind us. Puffing she lights the spotlight on her gun and measures the atmosphere before she takes her mask off.
I quickly follow her example. Nice to be able to breathe fresh air again and get out of that damn hood! My filters are more than a little worn... considering where I bought them, perhaps worn isn't the right word... trash is probably closer to the truth. I hang the mask at my belt and turn on my
spotlight. We have entered right into the lab. What bothers me is that it doesn't look like a research lab that's supposed to study a new civilization. I poke on a test tube that’s been knocked over. A blue goo still rocks around on the glass. Same color as the bohr's Thao... Becky also seems to have found
something strange. She's inspecting large cylinders with metal sockets on both ends. Fuel pods, if I´m not mistaken. Someone seems to have been much more intrerested in Thao than the bohrs. A sound makes us remember our mission. Becky's pointing towards the door on the other side of the lab and puts out her light. A couple of laughing voices pass the door. They turn on the lights in the corridor they're in and continue past.
"Was it here the air pressure went off? Or was it in there? "
"I do not know, check it out. We don't want any god-damned rats in the lab." One of them opens the door and turn on the lights.
"Well hey! How are you doing?!" I exclaim just a meter in front of his face. Becky's pressed against the wall by the door and beats him in the head with the back of her rifle.
"Kaj?" his friend rounds the doorpost and is met by the same treatment. He falls to the floor on top of his unconscious friend.
"It sounded like he broke something..." I mumble a bit maliciously.
"Nothing he can't live without." Becky replies. We step out into the corridor. Everything seems quiet and still the only sound is the hum of the lights.
"You take the left and I'll take the right." she whispers sneaking away along the corridor.
I nod and kick on the pirates for a while to get the lab door closed. When I turn around I see a grinning face before I get a blow to the back of my head
and everything turns black.
I wake up when a bucket of cold water is thrown in my face. I straighten up and realize that I'm tied to a chair. When my vision clears, I see a bunch of furry
characters in front of me. Pirates... I should have been more careful. A man steps forward and sets down a chair just half a meter in front of me. He leans forward and takes a firm hold of my hair lifting my face up. "The cat drags in every possible piece of junk this time of year. Lothar Feige, when
they said they'd captured a bounty hunter I thought they'd sent someone more unpleasant. Are you alone?"
Tombstone Tom ... so, I was right and they hadn't caught Becky. If they had, they wouldn't ask. Tom glances at me and gives me a straight right-hand punch. He's strong, I feel how blood flows to my
mouth. I discreetly loosen my pin tooth where I hid my tracking capsule and crush it against the palate. Now she knows where I am and I know she won't
leave me. I have her bounty right in front of me. I spit out the blood on the floor and swallow the transmitter. Now she'll be able to find me, no matter
what. As long as her equipment is working that is. She knows that I always use wavelength ten, she’s always on four.
Tom lets me get a taste of his left hand, he is equally strong in both hands but that punch got my head spinning. If I hadn't been tied to the chair I would
without a doubt have fallen to the floor with my face first.
"Are you alone?" he asks again. I can't help but laugh. Blood pours out of my nose and I feel how my right eye begins to swell shut.
"Nope." I answer quietly. Tom leans forward again.
"I thought so, you're just a little boy in a space suit. Who?"
I refuse to tell him, buying her time. Time to find me and him. Another blow from his right hand and my jaw is threatening to jump out of joint. Next punsch from the left punctures the blood accumulation under my right eye and I can see
again. The red splashes on his jacket and face seem to irritate him and he asks one of the other pirates for a handkerchief.
"Who?" he asks again while he wipes the blood away. I roll my head from side to side and glance a bit amused at him, I can see it, even though he
tries hard to hide it, the small spark of fear that’s glittering in his eyes. The slight trembling of his lower lip.
"Someone you should keep away from the cleaning fluids..." I mumble. She should have found us by now. If there are chemicals around, she'll come
with a bang. I barely have time to finish the thought before the wall behind me is blown to pieces. The blast knocks over the chair I'm sitting on and gives
the pirates a good punch in the face. The rattle of her automatic weapon fills the air. The pirates crawl away in panic while the dust slowly settles in a desperate attempt to avoid the bullets. Tom rises confused and is quickly put to the ground again when a bullet hits his kneecap, first the right then the left. I'm trying to turn my face to the explosion. In the corner of my eye I see her stepping out of the junk that remains of the wall. "Discreet..." I mumble and try to smile despite my swollen face. She lifts up the chair I'm sitting on and cuts the ropes without reacting to my comment. I rub my wrists, my vision is still a bit hazy but I can see the red traces from the ropes. They hurt like hell. She goes to Tom who tries to crawl away on his broken knees. She puts her electroshock gun to his neck and pulls the trigger. Tom falls on his stomach to the floor.
"Where's your mask?" she asks while she checks Tom’s pulse.
I look at my belt and realize they've cleared my pockets. "I don't know, but they must have equipment somewhere." I respond and
correct my jawbone. It wants to jump out joint, it's probably broken. When the shock subsides, it won't be fun... She grabs a small pillbox from one of her
belt bags and shakes out a pill in her hand. "Here." She hands it to me with a demanding look.
"What is it?" I ask suspiciously. I know she has stuff in those bags strong enough to take down a horse.
Not what I wanted to hear, but she probably doesn't feel like dragging both me and Tom around so I trust her and swallow the pill. It doesn't take long before I start to feel pretty numbed. She has put a pair of electronic shackles on Tom and checks his pulse again. She probably gave him a good whack. She gets a black bag out of her belt and spreads it on the floor. "Help me roll him over." she mumbles, and opens the zipper. Hoverbags... they were used to transport the bodies of the fallen in war. Waking up in one of these was each soldier's nightmare. I help her to put Tom in the bag. She closes the zipper
and turns the wheel on the top. An air cushion comes out under the bag and helps us to move the body around without any major problems.
"Why don't we just take the head?" I mumble and rub across my jaw.
"He has a higher price alive." she replies shortly. "Come on, we have to find you a mask within fifteen minutes and preferably be well on the way away from here." I nod, if she says fifteen minutes then its fifteen minutes. We shove the bag in front of us and run through the corridors. Somewhere a motor is whistling and the station seems empty.
"Just like rats ..." she mutters irritably and guides me back. "There should be some form of protective equipment that works in the lab. Come on, we have to hurry."
"Didn't you say that we have fifteen minutes?" I shout anxiously.
"It's an educated guess..."
Not the answer I wanted. When we come back to the lab, I start looking for anything that looks like protective equipment. Becky takes a few test tubes,
cylinders and other useful stuff and presses them down into the sack with poor Tom.
"Won't he suffocate in there?" I ask casually when I finally find a mask that fits tightly.
She scratches her neck. "Well, see if you can find another protective mask."
I throw her one and it seems to work. She attaches hers across the face and turn on the oxygen. We have no time to lose. She holds on to the hoverbag when I pull the door to the side. The air pressure takes hold of the bag with Tom and Becky throws herself up on it. I manage to get hold of them before the whistle out through the door. We leave the station like shot out of a cannon. The bohrs are waiting faithfully not far from the station, I can see how their chins drop when we crash-land on the mountain not far from them.
"RUN!!!" Becky shouts and waves for dear life. The bohrs think they should come and start going down towards us. Seconds later, the ground begins to shake. Becky grabs me and pushes me down on the ground. The entire space station is vibrating before a violent blow rips the dome to atoms. The bohrs
are knocked over by the blast and sit up in surprise while gold flakes float down from the sky.
"Did you have to give it all you got?" I wonder as I coughing turn over on my back.
"I promised Boria..." she replies quietly while gold flakes are landing on her mask. "Come on, it's a long walk back to the ship."
She sedates Tom using an injection before she sits down in the pilot's seat and gives me another painkiller. "We’re lucky that Tom found you, that way we didn't need to find him." she says smiling. It had probably been the plan from the beginning. Fast and efficient hunting was her way of working. I knew what I had gotten myself into, so I swallow the pill and adjust my jawbone again. The bohrs head back to the village when the engines start to hum. I
glance at the ball of compressed gold dust that Stouk gave me before our departure. My first trophy, and not a bad one either, as big as a fist. He asks me to be a good Kahor and I promise him that I will. One of their warriors has once more left the village, my Valkyrie. My... it slipped out of my mind, I know why but I've never admitted it. Now it hangs there like bait in a trap dangling in front of me. She admitted it on the way here. Cedric has given her
a mission that could be her last. The plan is put into action in a couple of weeks. She is resolute, silent and stares into the space ahead of her. My warrior woman, my valkyrie, my siren, my... She doesn't expect to return. The insight stings in my chest. I want to try to talk to her out of it, get her to back away and resign the mission. Sighing, I realize that I if I did I'd kill the adventurousness, courage and recklessness. The part of her that I already had
openly many times acknowledged that I love. She could die. Although her skeleton has since long been replaced by metal in the places she'd broken so
many times that the health services had given up. Soon she's more cyborg than human, but what's between the eyes is the same. My... I admit it, silent and ashamed of myself. I love her.