“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 alter 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 to a prison planet known as 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 humility 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 cheek bones 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 hand, 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 hanger 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 turned away from Dud and 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 laughter, 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 pealed 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 in 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 peoples’ wrists. “Haven’t seen these since the 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?”
“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.
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?”
“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 blind 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 the singed marked beard grew around them.
“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.
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