From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to a very exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine--the science fiction extravaganza issue! In this edition we explore the intricacies of modern pulp writers.
In news my wife and I survived a twenty hour car ride to Colorado to visit family for the weekend. This means no news on our new office.
Make sure to check out Geek the News for a story about fellow Oklahoma small indie press Literati.
Thank you and good reading,
Daniel J. Pool
By Gary Clifton
Murzak swung her patrol unit to the curb. Much had changed in the last thirty years, including upgraded police vehicles - now anti-gravity rigs operated by electromagnetic force field. The brass said it saved on road repair and equipment costs, like they rarely knew anything about anything.
The two citizens were not actually in a fight...more of a cussing and threat contest.
The presence of her uniform and a code one ass-chewing broke up the fracas. She had simply placed a hand on her Mark V laser-taser and the argument instantly disappeared. In the old days, police had actually carried much more lethal hand weapons. Murzak hoped she would never have to seriously hurt anyone with her service weapon.
The debris-strewn streets of the city showed signs of the financial and industrial decay common around the entire planet those days. A couple of inopportune and very expensive wars by the government, who should have known to use the money for medical research and to help the poor, had caused great decline in the big population centers and the land in general. Crime was rampant, mostly a result of hunger and fear.
Murzak had earlier heard radio chatter of unidentified aircraft circling the city. When she re-entered her unit, the dispatcher sent her directly to Sector J to back up officers now in visual contact with those aircraft. "Have you fools called in the military?" she asked, but received no reply by radio. Her superiors would speak to her about rough language on the transmission system, but she didn't really care.
Society was already in danger of collapse and now a foreign enemy was invading. She slid the cruiser among a glut of others and joined several officers who'd taken temporary shelter behind a granite wall. Murzak could feel the danger on the air like a weighted glove.
In the distance, two sleek, silver-metallic aircraft whizzed to and fro, apparently assessing the situation. The aircraft were alien, of a type and construction she'd never seen nor imagined. The street had been alive with sightings of "flying saucers" for years. Now, they were real.
"We aren't gonna shoot down space men with these little tasers," she said to patrolman Bolev, a long time associate and friend.
"Murzak," he peered over the wall, "you know the bleeding hearts who've filtered to the top of government. We need to blow these freaks out the sky. But the honchos say we wait and determine their intentions."
"Easy to say when you're not out here actually looking down their gun barrels," Murzak said uneasily. "And those appendages bristling on the wings sure look to be weapons."
"I ain't sure those anti-carbon magnetic IV units the army is usin' these days will actually bring one of them babies down," a grizzled sergeant said. "Maybe they'll land and not shoot. Man, rather a prisoner than vaporized."
Murzak, embarrassed at his show of cowardice, bit her tongue and remained silent.
In minutes both aircraft slithered in closer and landed in a roar, dust flying. A sliding hatch opened on one craft. The other machine remained locked down, probably as fire-cover. "For Heaven's sake, don't anybody take a shot at these guys," the sergeant's voice quivered. "They may be from Jupiter or Heaven knows where. Everyone stand down until the army shows up."
Three monsters with shiny silver skins climbed gingerly down a ladder and turned to face the small crowd of very frightened police officers. One carried a megaphone-device. He removed his head, then Murzak realized it was a helmet and that all three were wearing some form of space-suit.
The alien was horribly ugly - two small, oblong eyes with an ugly protruding nose. The helmet-less one opened his mouth but couldn't talk. He could only make horrible, strident, animal-gibberish sounds which made no sense.
"One ugly dude," the Sergeant said.
Murzak studied the second aircraft closely. The massed weapons were all trained, so it seemed, directly upon her. "In the name of The Almighty, hold your fire," she shouted to the crouched cops.
The grotesque alien raised the megaphone device and continued making horrible, foreign sounds. Suddenly Muzak realized the machine was intended to translate off-world tongue into something regular citizens could understand. After several failed attempts, the megaphone spat out a variety of strange, distorted words, like screaming in whispers.
Suddenly, the alien reached a tone she could understand: "Citizens of Planet Gronk, we are emissaries from Planet Cyritius of the Eighth Galaxy and we come in peace. We will not fire our weapons unless fired upon."
Relieved, Murzak felt like a million Sorussas...a of a lot of money. She'd heard since childhood space invaders hailed from the war-like planet Earth, not a passive tribe like the Cyrithians. God of Gronk was good.The End
About the Author;
Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has over thirty short fiction pieces published or pending with online sites. He has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University and is now out to pasture on a dusty north Texas ranch.
By Katelin Pool
By Andy Lex Bain
The gleaming craft thundered across the skies, starlight and las-fire glancing from its hull. It banked hard and spun to the right, dodging at the last minute as a missile sped past to explode against a nearby defence tower in an eruption of rock and dust. The shockwave blasted against the craft's force-shields, buffeting it sideways but the pilot quickly regained control. Coming under fire once more from enemy speeders, he flicked a switch on the glowing control panel and the anti-grav engines flared, a bright purple burst appearing at the craft's rear. Suddenly the speeder sped away and rapidly outpaced its pursuers in a flurry of midnight blue and silver.
“This is Delta Serpent,” the pilot spoke hurriedly into his comm-transmitter. “I'm nearing the drop point.”
“Roger that Delta,” came the reply, thick with static. “Remember, once you deliver the payload, you are to engage and destroy all enemy targets before returning to base. Repeat, you must destroy all enemy targets. They must not be allowed to learn the GDF location.”
“Confirmed HQ,” the pilot responded, pulling up to avoid a rocky outcrop. As he soared over the ridge, the drop point came into view. Amidst the rock-strewn wasteland sat the enemy outpost. It was a series of dome-shaped buildings of shining silver complemented with a couple of cylindrical pipes. Delta Serpent flew low over the sandy valley floor, weaving left and right to avoid jutting boulders and enemy fire.
“Drop point closing,” the voice of the craft's computer chimed. The pilot flicked another two switches on the control panel and pulled down on a lever. There was a clunk somewhere in the craft's lower sections as the explosives were readied into jettison position. The pilot grinned in satisfaction. While the HQ thought the cydraxians were bent on invasion or other such movie nonsense, the general opinions held by the troops were that the cydraxians had a subtler, more secretive purpose. Whatever their aims, they'd be going down.
A quick glance at the scanning panel revealed three speeders coming in fast. With luck he'd be able to use the neutralization bolt on one of them, taking out its power source and sending it straight into the outpost. Slowing his speed, he allowed one of the speeders to catch up a little and move into a direct line behind his own craft. He then tapped a number sequence into the touch pad. The craft was rocked slightly as the neutralization bolt blasted the enemy speeder, cloaking it in a wave of blue energy. All control was lost and Delta Serpent banked out of the way as the hapless craft spun forwards to crash into the outpost, exploding in a cloud of flame. Seconds later, Delta Serpent jettisoned the bomb as he soared overhead, creating a chain reaction of eruptions as the warp energy was released.
“Take that!” Delta Serpent roared away with the two other speeders in hot pursuit.
Xel Starharte placed a heavy, black leather boot on the chrome-plated floor of Starport Docking Station Gamma as she stepped down from her ship. She surveyed everything around her with eyes like chips of ice before her gaze alighted on an elderly individual flanked by two black-armoured guardsmen. Xel cursed inwardly. The last person she wanted to see right now was her employer's lackey, Michael Lynel. Having just come back from a mission for him, and having screwed it up due to faulty intel, the conversation she wanted to have with him was her fist talking to his face.
“Miss Starharte. Welcome back to Sphericus Prime.” The man offered his hand, one which was encrusted with gold rings. “It's been a while.”
“Not long enough,” Xel groaned. She ignored the man and brushed past his bodyguards. “You can talk to me after I've had a long nap.”
“But Miss Starharte,” the man protested, rushing after her, “I have a proposition…”
“Come talk to me in three years,” came the reply. “I hate your propositions. Although the only reason I failed the last one was because you'd neglected to tell me vital details.”
“Uh, well you are right of course. But I can't be held to blame for information I didn't possess at the time of hiring.”
Xel spun around, her eyes bright with fury.
“You could've contacted me.”
“And jeopardise your cover, and possibly the mission? I'm afraid I'm not that sort of a man.”
“I know.” Xel turned around and continued striding towards the exit. Lynel snarled, sensing the conversation coming to an end. This is not what he wanted. There was a job that needed doing and he had his orders. Even with her colourful track record, Xel Starharte was the cream of the crop. He ran after her and seized the sleeve of her scarlet bomber jacket, then spun her around. Instantly he regretted it when she tore free, lashed out with her boot and took his legs out from under him. The two bodyguards pounced on her, grabbing her roughly on each arm and making her resemble a small child flanked by teenage thugs.
“You're gonna pay for that,” one of the guardsmen growled. Xel winced as his grip tightened on her arm, nearly crushing it.
“Wait,” Lynel said as he struggled to his feet and dusted off his million-dollar suit. “Let her go.” It wouldn't do to break the arms of the commander's first choice. When the bodyguards didn't respond he shouted at them. “What are you doing? I said stop!” Reluctantly, the brutes released their grip on Xel and she pushed roughly away from them. There was a moment in which Xel and Lynel exchanged a venomous glare.
“What do you want from me? What does the commander want now?”
“It's an easy job this time,” Lynel pleaded. “Come on Xel, we'll be paying you the big ones.”
“I'll think about it,” she snapped, flicking a strand of brown hair away from her face. Working as a hired gun for the Galactic Defence Force did have its advantages. Two years ago she'd quit, citing sexism, bullying and discrimination against women. Then a year after that they wanted her back, saying that with her level of skill and capability she was the perfect choice for special missions. As an incentive, they'd thrown in a pay packet that doubled the salary of a normal starsoldier. “As I said before, come talk to me after I've had a nap.”
“Ok, alright,” Lynel agreed, his arms wide. “See you at Flamingos in four hours then.”
Xel dismounted from her sleek red speeder bike and looked up at Flamingos. Built into the bedrock of the planet, the massive, multi-story complex was constructed from extra dense materials mined from asteroids and towered thousands of metres high, its glittering windows like bright stars against the blackness of space. She knew why Lynel wanted to meet her here. Flamingos was the heart and soul of Sphericus Prime. She glanced left and right as she strode nonchalantly down the club's flame-edged entryway, pushing through the crowd of tourists, travellers, mercenaries and starsoldiers, some human, others alien. Some were even droids. Flashing her pass at the vermillion armoured bouncers she braced herself as she pushed through the crimson crystal-tech doors. In a galaxy of one hundred and forty-seven catalogued organic species and around fifty classes of android, fights were guaranteed. A troop of fifty bouncers patrolled the club; but Xel knew they were easily bribed. Relying on them was just asking for trouble.
Xel often stayed at Flamingos. She enjoyed the lights and techno-trance music and had a permanent residence in the club that she'd live in whenever she was on Sphericus Prime. Owning a flat in Flamingos required excellent contacts in case of break-ins. Fortunately Xel had sought out and befriended some of the best security droids in her short time as a merc.
The muted tones of the club's ever present music thump-thumping outside, Xel stood at her sink and splashed water on her face. Fully awake, she pulled on her combat fatigues and black cropped singlet. Emotions flicked through her troubled mind. She'd failed in her mission to infiltrate a criminal organization. Half the cash had been paid to her beforehand, as was customary, but it wasn't the money that bothered her. Time and again she'd been unsuccessful, not because of her own abilities but due to external matters. Like that bastard flunky Lynel feeding her the wrong intel. He had probably done it deliberately to get out of paying her the full amount. She tugged on her boots and swore that this time would be different.
This time she'd succeed and complete the mission.
She shrugged into her bomber jacket, grabbed her utility belt and buckled it around her waist, then exited her flat, slamming the door behind her.
As she walked casually along the corridor, Xel yawned. She never seemed to get enough sleep. It was hard work being an action junkie; usually she'd be drugged up on caffeine and sethii tablets during the day and only snatched a few hours of shut eye late at night. Perhaps she could get into this sleep thing; she could probably do with more of it.
Dreamcraft were playing their smash hit Dragon Rider as Xel descended the escalator. A holo-vid was running above the podium, depicting a warrior soaring through orange skies on the back of a majestic, reptilian beast. That'd be pretty sweet she thought to herself. The red lights flickered over her as if analysing her for hero material. Doing good deeds for glory and no payment? Screw that, she thought, dismissing it from her mind. Lynel had left a message on her PDA that he'd meet her in club room zeta.
The sleazy little man was drumming his fingers impatiently on the table, his chin resting on his other hand.
“Miss Starharte, how beautiful you look tonight,” he addressed her as she entered the flashy, red-lit club room. She narrowed her blue eyes at him dangerously.
“Enough with the flattery, I know you don't mean it. It's no secret you think I'm a mirror-whore.” She smiled to herself as he lowered his gaze to her bare midriff. “Now, to business.” She pulled a large, jagged knife from her utility belt and laid it on the table before taking a seat opposite him. The knife was followed by her gun, an SX-E Spark Pistol. It gleamed with an unearthly sheen and Xel could see Lynel eyeing the organic shape and design. There was no doubt that given the chance he'd nab the pistol for himself; any man would. It was tech from a lost civilization and she'd upgraded it. It was pretty rare; only a few similar pistols had been discovered, but she wasn't about to let some bozo take her most prized possession.
“That pistol, where did you…” Lynel began.
“Eyes off my equipment, dipshit.”
“Ok, ok, don't get your thong in a twist. Over the last week we've been bombing various enemy outposts in an attempt to scavenge some of that cydraxian technology. If we can pull it apart, see how it works, then we will be able to use that tech to defend humanity. We can also find a way to defeat the cyborgs when they engage in a full scale attack. However, studies on the tech take time, and so far we've hardly discovered anything new. We need something right now, something we can use. That's where you come in. We've discovered the possible location of an artefact of great power - an artefact that could…herald a new age for humanity and the galaxy. This could revolutionise…”
“Look, all this talk of saving humanity, ancient artefacts and new ages…I'm not buying it.” Xel was sceptical. “Get to the mission.”
“Your very impatient aren't you,” Lynel spat back, clearly annoyed that she'd cut his speech short. “The artefact in question…well, it's an alien device somewhere on the jungle planet Xanturos. The coordinates will be uploaded to your ship. Once you've retrieved the device, return to the GDF HQ and as usual, the rest of your payment will be transferred into your account.”
“As usual?” Xel glared. Nevertheless she stood up and holstered her weapons. “Well your intel had better be good this time otherwise I'll have some intel for you. And it's called kicking your ass.”
The starship drifted silently through the Rainbow Void. Around it glimmered a myriad of colours, flecked through with white stars. The small craft weaved in and out of amorphous mountains and valleys, a tiny speck compared to the vastness of the starscape.
Xel crash landed on her bunk and stared up through the translucent canopy. Her ship, an S-1 Raindrop class recon vessel 'Freefall,' was currently on autopilot. She watched the shifting colours high above, and wondered about the nonphysical nature of hyperspace. As she stared, something started materializing in the form of another starship. Unlike the sleek, aesthetic shape of her own craft, this one was larger and fish-shaped, with wings and fins protruding. Its surface was green and covered in metallic scales. She recognised it immediately.
“Cydraxian vessel de-cloaking,” came the voice of Freefall's onboard computer.
“Crap,” Xel cursed. She always forgot to cloak her ship.
She leapt from her position and scampered down the access tunnel into the cockpit, and then swung into her seat and began the cloaking sequence that would render the ship invisible. As she typed the code into the keypad, she glanced at the control panel's communication view screen where a yellow icon blinked rapidly. The message 'incoming transmission' appeared and Xel hesitated. Was that the cydraxians?
“Computer, do a scan for any other ships in the surrounding area.”
“Scan result negative.”
That meant it had to be the cydraxians. They were trying to communicate. Which was probably a good thing, Xel thought, considering the fact that they had the firepower to blow her out of the sky. She frowned, unsure of what to do. Shrugging, she flicked a switch to open the visual communications array. There was a moment of hazy static, then an image popped up onscreen. Xel's eyes widened; it was a cydraxian. Its yellow, lizard-like eyes stared back at her before it began to speak.
“Hezzzraak kel limorr. Novinthia du o'thala.”
Xel stared. She put on the headset and spoke into the mouthpiece.
“I…I don't understand.” Hopefully they would understand that she didn't understand. It must have clicked in the cydraxian's mind because it glanced away from the view screen and fixed some sort of electronic device to the front of its vocabulator. There came a hiss of static and then silence. The cyborg turned its attention back to the view screen.
“Do not be alarmed.” Its voice resonated with a metallic edge. “I am Lord Duthal of House Novinthia. We mean you no harm, but wish you to board our ship in order to speak with you. It is imperative.”
“So…you aren't gonna…I mean, open fire?”
“You expose yourself too much to digital visual entertainment, human. We wish to enter diplomacy.”
“You mean…DVEs?” Xel guiltily admitted to herself she was a movie buff. Life got dull flying through space, so DVEs really helped with that, although the latest hits all seemed to be full of anti-alien bullcrap.
“I believe they are colloquially known as movies.”
“Yeah, you're right…” Xel mentally kicked herself. This was the first time direct contact had been made with the cydraxians and here she was acting like a total dumbass. “Well,” she continued, “aren't we speaking now? But…naturally communications can be hacked so…ok I agree.” This was certainly going to be interesting. To her knowledge, no human had ever met a cydraxian in person.
As the Freefall landed in the docking bay of the massive, cydraxian ship, Xel looked around her and marvelled at the craft's combination of organic and mechanical components. She hoped she wasn't being lured into a trap. It would be incredibly stupid to simply go onboard unarmed, so she had decided to take her weapons with her. Besides, she never parted from her pistol. She stroked it lovingly and slid it into its holster. As the rear door slid open and the boarding ramp lowered, she strode down cautiously, eyes open for ambush. Waiting nearby was a tall, green-robed cydraxian. He was fascinating: a bizarre mix of lizard-like humanoid with robotic limbs. His bone-crested head, though mostly untouched, was dominated by the electronic vocabulator that dominated the lower part of his face.
“Xel Starharte,” the metallic voice echoed slightly. “Follow, we have much to discuss.”
Their path took them down corridors that disturbingly resembled a mechanical version of the innards of a giant beast. Duthal talked, while his metallic claws made a clicking sound on the polished greenstone plating. Xel tried not to keep staring at the cydraxian's body; she'd seen cybernetic implants before on humans but this was phenomenal. He was almost equal parts organic and motorized. He also carried a staff, a heavy, metal object tipped with a mechanical gyroscope that was in constant motion.
“The great race of the Cydraxians have lived in the Dragora Cluster for thousands of galactic years. Protected by our star-mists we have remained hidden, venturing forth only to explore nearby worlds for precious nagrilon. Only now have we decided to reveal ourselves to your race, because your people have stolen what is not theirs.”
“The GDF you mean? Galactic Defence Force,” Xel explained. “They're always out to get their hands on alien technology, and then trying to use it to improve their own.”
“The artefact you are searching for was stolen from us by this GDF. Their commander seeks to use it for a purpose we have yet to ascertain.”
“Wait…the artefact I'm…? But they're the ones who hired me.” Xel's eyes widened in disbelief. She stopped walking, her hand straying to her pistol and her eyes narrowed. “How do you know this? How do I know you're not lying?”
“You will see.” Duthal said no more. Presently they arrived at a large, diamond-shaped door. The cydraxian placed one mechanical hand on a touchpad and a series of red and green lights flashed in a particular sequence. A beam of yellow light then emitted from a vent in the door's surface and scanned Duthal's eyes. Then the beam vanished and was followed by the hissing of hydraulics as the massive door swung open. Xel followed Duthal into a vast yellow-lit chamber. At its centre stood a huge coffin-like structure. It had a clear panel in the front that revealed a body.
It was a human wearing the jumpsuit of a GDF speeder pilot.
“Is he…dead?” Xel stared at the human. “What…what's he in here for?” In response Duthal banged his staff on the transparent panel.
“Wake up, human! You have a visitor.”
The pilot shifted slightly and raised his head, before he opened his eyes blearily. His hands and legs were locked in place by mechanical cuffs. When seeing Xel, he smiled but that smile vanished when he caught sight of the cydraxian looming beside her.
“What…what do you want now? I already answered your questions!”
“Tell this girl everything. Comply, and you will be released. If you do not, you will be consigned to the slave-droid pits of Antherios.” Duthal narrowed his eyes and the pilot seemed to shrink back under that yellow stare.
“Ok, ok, I'll tell her. Is it her?”
“I'm Xel Starharte, mercenary and ex-starsoldier,” Xel introduced herself. “Now, get on with it. Did the GDF steal the device? I suppose you think you're the good guys, taking advanced tech for the good of humanity and all that crap.”
“Good guys?” The pilot gave a choking laugh. “I guess we are, stopping the invasions of the alien hordes…”
“Attacking our outposts on Sphericus Beta is not something you should be proud of, human.” Duthal slammed his staff into the floor, and a jolt of electricity shocked the pilot, causing him to reel in pain. Xel jumped back involuntarily, concern written on her face.
“Is that really necessary? I mean sure, if he destroyed some of your outposts, but…”
“Do not presume to understand our culture, Xel Starharte. This man has caused the loss of much research and data and enabled the GDF to steal even more of what is not theirs. By bombing our outposts he has invited the wrath of the cydraxians.”
“But he was only carrying out orders,” Xel protested half-heartedly. In truth she didn't have much pity for the GDF due to the way they treated women. She had quit after all. But mistreating prisoners was something she couldn't really abide, even if this pilot did deserve it.
“Save your sympathy, woman,” the pilot sneered. “Yes, we destroyed those cyborg bastards' research, and killed many of their pathetic scouts. Good riddance! Soon we'll stop their damned invasion and clear the galaxy of aliens forever!”
Xel frowned, annoyed that this pilot was nothing more than racist swine. She put her hands on her hips.
“Ok, so you stole a device from the cydraxians.”
“It's a technology-advanced cybernetics machine. When a person is placed inside they have their body enhanced with cybernetic implants. It's what the cydraxians use to augment themselves. For humans though there's a side effect: the chemicals injected into the body warp and twist it into something else, a monster! With a device like that in our possession we'll be able to split the galaxy in half and cause a civil war!”
“What? It's bad enough with you GDF running the place.”
'Why not? All these alien scum roaming the galaxy, trying to make peace with humanity when all they should be is purged. A civil war will be able to be blamed on the cydraxians; soon hate against aliens will grow and yeah, we'll kick them all out of our galaxy!”
Xel grimaced. This was worse than she'd thought. Sure, the GDF were an arrogant, elitist, sexist bunch but she didn't think they'd be capable of atrocities against the other races. The more she thought about it though, the more likely it seemed that they'd be racist as well. The GDF had the ear of the president, and it was rumoured that they were the real rulers of the Sphericus Republic. So if Commander Bale, leader of the GDF had stolen the device and taken it to Xanturos before ordering Lynel to hire her…it was obviously a set up.
“Ok, so Bale has the device. Why did he hire me?”
“I don't know,” the pilot scoffed. “They probably thought you were a threat. I mean, you used to be GDF until you went rogue on us, as well as you being the best shot in the galaxy and all that rubbish. Maybe the commander wants a little… entertainment. He probably wants your body.” This was followed by a sinister laugh. Xel thumped the panel with her fist in reply but he just kept laughing. She turned to Duthal.
“I take it he told you where to find me then?”
“Indeed. As well as committing his vile deeds against our outposts, he was one of the humans that helped Commander Bale steal the Cyberneticizer.”
“What's gonna happen to him now?”
“We have not decided what to do with him yet. Do you have any suggestions?” A mischievous glint appeared in Duthal's eyes.
“What's the deal with the slave-droid pits of Antherios, what happens there?”
“Criminals are sent there. They are cyberneticized to the point of mind-death and simply work in the mines until their time of usefulness has ended. This one may be used to carry large amounts of heavy material.”
“Sounds good,” Xel chuckled. She turned to the pilot. “Hear that? You get to be a dump truck for the rest of your life.”
“Up yours, harlot.” The pilot's gaze was pure venom, but she could see the fear in his eyes as he realised what was to become of him.
“Give me that,” Xel snarled as she snatched Duthal's staff and promptly slammed it down into the floor. The pilot reeled in pain as electricity wracked his body.
“It will be up to you to determine what to do about your commander,” Duthal said.
“He's not my commander,” Xel replied defiantly as she followed the cydraxian from the chamber, making a rude gesture at the GDF pilot on her way out.
As Freefall fell out of hyperspace like a fallen teardrop newly emerged from the Rainbow Void's glowing eye, Xel relaxed in her captain's seat and gazed through the forward view port. Xanturos materialised from space, a blue-green sphere that reminded her of home. She'd been born on the third planet of the Sphericus system, a naturally beautiful world called Azura. Suddenly she was filled with a sense of longing. It was a lonely job being a mercenary, setting out on missions that saw her venturing far and wide across the galaxy. Xanturos was about as far from Azura as she could get, being on the fringes of known space. She sighed as her ship approached the planet. It would be great to have another person around here, she thought.
“Activate orbital satellite,” she commanded. A panel opened in Freefall's crimson hull and a small, spinning device rose into space before it took up a position to orbit the planet.
Like a burning comet blazing through the atmosphere, Freefall sped downwards towards Xanturos. As she pulled up on the controls, Xel stared in wonder at the greenery that suddenly rose around her. She flicked a couple of switches on the control panel and a display lit up, showing a holographic projection of Xanturos. She then used a dial to slowly rotate the image, and paused when she spotted a glowing square icon which designated a large structure five kilometres north of Freefall's current position.
“That's it,” she mused to herself, “that's where the bastard is hiding out.”
Xel landed her craft with a whirl of dust and dead leaves. Quickly, she disembarked and was immediately aware of the clicking of insects and the strange calls of alien birds. She pulled out her weapons and turned her attention to the ancient, ruined temple. It crouched amidst giant cycads with its back to the hillside. Cloaked in vines and creepers, it was surrounded by broken pillars, the remnants of some long forgotten civilization. The doorway, a vast black opening, yawned wide. Without further hesitation, she ducked beneath the stone archway and down into the darkness.
She'd upgraded her Spark Pistol with a flashlight so she flicked it on. The narrow corridor was dark, the only light being a large, dust mote-filled beam which shone down from a hole in the ceiling. Ancient ruins had a bad reputation for still functional traps, so she'd have to be careful.
The next few hours were spent exploring the dusty passages and empty chambers of the temple. The cobweb-strewn walls had been engraved with unrecognisable hieroglyphs, and the floor underfoot was covered with moss and lichen. Finally, she arrived at a set of huge, arched doors constructed from nagrilon. The doors were ajar, revealing a staircase leading up into the hillside. A chill draft whispered from an unseen shaft.
Climbing to the top of the steps she was confronted by an awesome sight. In the chamber stood a vast gateway, constructed from various mechanical parts. It shed sparks and jolts of electricity at regular intervals. The Cyberneticizer lay in front of it, like a shining, steel sarcophagus.
And silhouetted against the dark blue space between the gateway's pillars was a man.
“Well, well, well. Miss Starharte, finally you've pulled your sorry arse across the galaxy to complete your mission.” His voice was deep, and edged with contempt. “It's about bloody time.”
“So, what's the deal?” Xel aimed her pistol with both hands as she circled around her target. Commander Bale was the most decorated officer in the Galactic Defence Force. He had an impressive height and build, a strong, square jaw, and a handle-bar moustache. Clad in his full, black plas-steel armour, his short blonde hair all slicked back, he was an imposing sight.
“The deal…is that you surrender yourself to the Cyberneticizer.”
“What…are you crazy?” Xel laughed. The smile faded from her face when she saw Bale's serious expression. “You lured me here to make me into a cyborg?”
“Not just any cyborg.” Bale walked slowly towards her. She pointed her pistol at his face but he remained passive, staring back at her through eyes as cold and blue as her own. “You would become a queen…my queen. Together we can unite the humans against the aliens of this galaxy and purge them all. The galaxy can be ours.”
“Did anyone tell you you're a nut?” Xel stepped backwards, but he kept on coming. “And that?” She nodded in the direction of the gateway. “What's the gateway for?”
“Beautiful, isn't it? It leads beyond the intergalactic void…join me or leave this galaxy. You're one for adventure aren't you? You'll have plenty of adventures millions of light years away from home.”
“Up yours. I'm here on a mission and I'm going to complete it. Now back down, or you'll get hurt.”
Suddenly Bale lunged. Xel fired, but she missed her mark, and the small, orange blast hit him in the side instead. He crashed into her and they went down. Gritting his teeth in pain, the commander roared his hate and rage as he struggled to pin her to the floor.
“You will submit! You will be my queen!”
“Get lost,” she replied, smacking him across the face with her gun. He reeled back, pulling a combat knife from its sheath and she leapt to her feet, fumbling for her own knife.
“Is this how you want to play it?” He grinned, his eyes narrow slits. “Bring it on.” Back and forth across the chamber they fought, viciously trying to best the other. Xel leapt atop the Cyberneticizer and as Bale closed in on her she launched herself off it, her boot connecting with his chin. There was a painful crack and his head snapped back. Flailing, he stumbled in front of the gateway.
“Adventure millions of light years away huh?” Xel slammed her fist into his face. “Then get your ass out there!” The blow sent him tumbling backwards through the portal. There was a massive swirl of energy and with a last gasp of anguish he was gone.
Xel sheathed her knife and picked up her pistol from where it'd fallen. Giving the Cyberneticizer a friendly pat, she wiped the sweat from her forehead and started towards the steps. She'd have a service droid carry the device back to the ship.
Lord Duthal looked down at Xel Starharte and bowed his head in respect.
“We will engage in talks with the president to become allies of the Sphericus Republic,” he said smoothly. “You've done a great honour, forsaking your own payment to return to us what is ours.”
“Ah, no probs.” Xel smiled, hooking her thumbs in her belt. “Anytime you need me, drop me a line, kay?” As she started walking back to her ship, her thoughts turned to Michael Lynel. She hadn't said anything about forsaking her own payment. Sure, she hadn't completed the mission, so she wouldn't be getting the rest of her payment, but she had something better. She smiled as she glanced down at Bale's authorization chip. Would that let Lynel off the hook? Xel shook her head as she strode up the boarding ramp.
There was some ass-kicking to do.
About the Author;
Andy Lex Bain is a 29 year old writer who resides in Tasmania. He enjoys writing, reading, bushwalking and aspires to be a full-time published author. His writing career began basically whilst watching classic fantasy movies such as The Never Ending Story and Labyrinth, and playing old roleplaying games like HeroQuest. He was then inspired to create his own fictional world and write stories to take place within it.
Thank you for reading and join us next week for works of existentialism, love, and lost.