This is a work of
fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed
in this work are either products of the author’s imagination or are
Copyright © 2014 by
All rights reserved.
Cover Image by yod77
Cover Design by
For Kaitlin and
Who have always
begged me to write a romance.
Well – I tried.
The whole place
stank of piss to him. Piss and refuse and poverty. The surroundings –
metal plated streets lined with ramshackle huts of old rubbish –
were illuminated with sickly green, yellow, purple, or red lights
reminiscent of tacky neon from the 20th. He could feel the
desperation around him. The struggle to live. To survive. The gutters
overflowed with waste, and the stench of maggots in rancid meat
filled his nostrils with death. The scents, the sights, the noise –
it was nauseating.
breathed deep and smiled.
It wasn’t a
particularly pleasant expression, though Shrike never suspected
otherwise, judging by the attention he received from dancers at the
clubs. As he grinned, his lips tightened the scars crossing his face
from forehead to chin, each leaving deep furrows in his nose and bare
lengths in his short-trimmed goatee.
Shrike left the leer
in place as he strolled through Beta Station, breathing in the stench
of life. Real
life, not the farce at which those rich pricks in Alpha pretended. He
nearly started whistling a tune. The scramble for subsistence carried
with it the uncertainty of every minute, as well as the ever-present
chance for a fight, where the winner walked away with both life and
the loser’s valuables. Unfortunately, he didn’t get many
surprises like that anymore. Perhaps the lithe movement of his lean
frame, the iron look in his dark eyes, or the MK tattoo peeking from
beneath his collar frightened potential challengers. More likely,
everyone was unnerved by the sheer shock of seeing a human.
Maybe if he slouched
the nearby Korvak packs would gamble. They relaxed menacingly along
the walkways and in the alleys, looking passersby up and down with
ill-concealed hostility. Alone as he was, he should have made a
tempting target. After all, his Predator X battle armor was top-notch
and worth a small fortune, outfitted with high-tech kinetic shields
against projectiles and ceramic plates to absorb even superheated
particle bolts. The Korvak might get in close enough to use their
razor-sharp fangs, claws, and dark matter electro blades. They would
lose a man or five, but those who were left could live a life of
privilege in a place like Beta on the profits from his equipment.
No takers. In fact,
most looked away uneasily. Shrike got on well with most Korvak he
knew. They were stupid but violent. The predatory origin of their
race was apparent in their crooked limbs, ideal for agile movement,
and in the serrated teeth jutting from their skeletal faces. Korvak
ready for a fight. Shrike shook his head with disappointment, until
he realized his hand was tight on the Skar M-500 particle accelerator
shotgun strapped to his thigh. No doubt he looked like a tox-junkie,
grinning as he clutched a high velocity, 500 particle shred
slug-thrower. Little mystery he wasn’t getting hit by anyone, not
even the Korvak. He was working against himself.
It didn’t matter.
Shrike couldn’t suppress his grin. As much as he loved Beta
Station, however, it wasn’t the locale that had him high. It was a
It had been four
months since they last met. Four laggin’ months; it always seemed
longer. This time he
got to pick the location, thank the eternal star-lag.
The walkways became
better lit as he drew closer to Smuggler’s Den, just as the streets
cleared of beggars. The Den’s owner, a vicious Liari called Vasir,
ran this quarter of Beta, and she wasn’t fond of freeloading
vagrants cluttering up her establishments. Her muscle kept them well
Shrike thought on
his choice of the Den with satisfaction. It offered all the vice and
danger of Beta with none of its beggarly mewling. Plus, it offered
some of the best entertainment to be found on the station. The Den
was one of the few clubs on this rock where you could drink without
fear of food poisoning, and they had the best dancers around. Most
establishments here would throw anything with tits on the stage, but
Vasir only hired quality dancers, and mostly Liari, at that. It was
too bad she hadn’t conjured up any humans, but hell, he couldn’t
even remember the last time he had seen another of his species.
The Den was the best
club, though there were dozens he could have selected and been happy.
Beta Station was huge. Built into an asteroid that orbited the Treyon
star of the D’hask Nebula, Beta was over sixty kilometers wide, and
had an overflowing population of over two million. As the station’s
population continued to grow, more and more ramshackle structures
were built atop one another to form towers that protruded out the
sides of the asteroid into the space beyond, straining both Beta’s
artificial gravity generators and the fusion thrusters that kept
other asteroids at bay. Shrike had been to the upper levels before –
one of towers that protruded twenty kilometers from the asteroid’s
surface – and he had felt the gravity lessening. Even walking too
exuberantly at those levels could leave you with a sore head, but
that didn’t matter here in the underside, where the tunnels wove
through the asteroid itself. Overpopulation might someday create a
problem, but he figured piling people closer together had worked
before, and Beta had always imported its food and water. The biggest
headache was finding room to dock ships.
Shrike snorted with
amusement. He must have spent too much time with Dr. Argus recently;
there was nowhere else he could have picked up such useless drivel.
That damned freak would natter on about anything to anybody, even a
detested rival. Probably a result of living in that hermitage he
called an observation station. Who cared how shit functioned as long
as it worked?
Shrike nodded at the
bouncers at the Den’s entrance, two Tryans who noted his approach
with reptilian eyes. He could feel the rhythm pulsing from the
luminescent archway, music thrumming with enough bass to send
vibrations through his body. He modified his Internal Regulator
unconsciously, muting the synthesizers to a thick rumble to both
reduce distraction and minimize damage to his hearing. He moved his
head with the beat. It was good stuff. Vasir knew her music, though
most Liari did.
Adjusting his IR
brought an utter lack of traffic noise to his attention. Stations and
cities normally roared with the thunder of transport shuttles and
gravity-bound cars along 3D projection lanes. Shrike always forgot
that Beta didn’t have transport. There just wasn’t room. Everyone
walked or rode the multi-directional elevators. Nothing about Beta
was conducive to the disabled. To be disabled here was to be dead.
Still, the noise of
traffic was so common that the station felt odd without it, like a
once-healthy mind missing vital memories. In the space lanes or out
on colonies he didn’t miss the racket, but such a populated place
wasn’t complete without the whir of passing cars.
Tryans were satisfied with his appearance, because they allowed his
entrance without comment. He’d worked with their kind before. They
were a numerous race in the galaxy, their interests rivaled only by
the Liari and Rynok. Shrike wasn’t a racist – he’d kill anyone
of any race with equal discretion – but he figured he would give a
Tryan more of a chance than he would others. It was a debt he owed
them for their help at Mal Kor, and Shrike always paid his debts.
Their efforts had amounted to nothing, but at least they had tried.
It was more than could be said for everyone else.
Smuggler’s Den was
booming. Members of every species filled the club, placing bets at
the holo tables, getting pass-out pissed around the bar, or tipping
the dancers with lusty enthusiasm. Shrike even noticed a few Rynok
scuttling around the dancing platforms. It was rare to see the
insectoid creatures in public, who preferred the bustle of their own
hives to the alien atmosphere around the galaxy’s other species.
Probably didn’t want to associate with the bipedal masses. Bug-eyed
Still, the Rynok
seemed to find the Liari as irresistible as everyone else did. Shrike
shuddered, giving the nearest dancers a pitying look. An ideal day at
work likely didn’t include getting groped by a giant mantis.
He would rescue a
few dancers from their patrons later. Help ease their discomfort.
For now, Shrike
shoved through the crowd, ignoring the stares and whispers. He didn’t
care about the attention. He hardly even noticed it. Shrike was too
intent on his search, sifting through the throbbing music, shimmering
lights, and rambunctious debauchery. She wouldn’t get the jump on
him this time. He was on high alert, so focused he paused for
scarcely a moment when a nearby Liari dancer gave him a complimentary
flash of ample cleavage and a smoky wink.
It was still a
surprise when he saw her first, though it appeared she wasn’t
waiting in ambush, leaning against the back bar as she was, chatting
with a bartender. Triumph shivered down his spine, and he chuckled,
not even attempting to sneak up on her. A more pointless exercise
would never be found outside of the Galactic Philosopher’s Guild
than trying to surprise that bloody woman.
Sure enough, Shrike
hadn’t come within twenty paces when he noticed her hesitate, and
He stopped in his
tracks, his mind numb. Then, a throaty chuckle came from behind him,
and a he felt a pistol barrel touch the back of his head.
Son of a bitch.
Shrike turned with a
sigh, cursing himself for an idiot. She was as beautiful as he
remembered. Her pale, pink skin was so light it was nearly
translucent, a rare color among the Liari. Delicate, angular features
were highlighted by the intensity of her stark blue eyes and the deep
azure and gold patterns in her head crests, curving like curtains of
frozen waves behind her head and down her neck, reminiscent of the
hair worn by females of his own species years ago. The Liari form was
humanoid, and she wore it to perfection. Her long, slender legs rose
up to meet the hips, torso, and bust of an alien goddess, all encased
in light Commando battle armor. Shrike quickly altered his IR to
dampen some of his senses, lessening the effect of her pheromones on
the pleasure center of his brain. Neglecting to adjust for that
around Liari had gotten him into trouble more than once.
He snickered. Good
She was smirking at
him, lips quirked up mischievously, left eyebrow raised, like she was
listening to a joke no one else could hear. Despite his annoyance at
her success – again – he grinned back.
Shrike said with as much peevishness as he could muster. “Where’d
you find the bloody twin?”
She grabbed his
proffered hand and pulled him forward, slapping him heartily on the
back. “She caught my eye,” she shrugged with a laugh and a wink.
“I knew the shade of her skin would confuse you, even with her
wearing that horrid Bacarin armor.”
something was off,” he lied, nodding sagely. Did the laggin’
woman think of everything?
“Come on, you
great human relic,” she said, gesturing to their corner table not
far from the bar. “Let’s grab a seat and a pitcher of Burnt
“You won me at
pitcher,” Shrike declared, following her lead as was his wont. She
always knew the best stuff around, and the view from behind was just
Vash exclaimed by way of continuation as she slid in the booth. Her
eyes glittered playfully at him. He took the seat opposite.
He glowered, or as
near a glower as he could summon. “Don’t call me Sam.”
motioning at one of the bartenders, who gawked at Shrike open-mouthed
for a moment, then noted their request and rushed away. “I don’t
know why you hate it. Sam is such an obvious Earth name. It’s like
your parents wanted to be perfectly clear you were human.”
Samuel, a name
passed down through millennia of Earth history, long before humans
had known the stars weren’t little fairies or some shit like that.
Shrike found it backward, and it shortened into an even simpler
understand why you prefer your surname,” she continued, fiddling
with a napkin, a look of casual concentration on her face as she
folded and pressed the fabric. “Why would you want to be a
primitive animal, a…what-didja-callit? A bird?”
bird,” Shrike explained. “It’s a songbird that acts like a
“If you say so,”
Vash shrugged. He caught her covert look and sighed. She was just
to get him going. He ought to know better than to let her goad him
after all this time.
“Here you go, a
little bird-thing for the bird man,” she announced, placing the
napkin on the table, though it wasn’t a simple napkin anymore. It
was a perfect replication of a flying bird.
smiled, fiddling with the wings and head. The Liari had taken what
humans called origami and made it something incredibly intricate.
Vash was often creating something with the small pouch of paper she
carried, a rare commodity these days, as paper was used for little.
She flicked a hand absently – it was one of thousands of amusing
creations for her – and swiped the bird to the floor for the
He waited for her to
turn and look for the bartender before picking it up and placing it
in a slot of his armor. She didn’t know, but he had hundreds of her
discarded designs in a compartment on his ship. They were all
beautiful, unique. Like her.
“So,” he began,
grabbing the pitcher of deep brown, sluggish liquid as soon as the
barkeep returned, pouring for both of them. “Whatcha been up to,
Vash? Any good jobs I’ve missed?”
taking a long pull on her drink when he slid it her way. She didn’t
wince at the heavy kick. Shrike grinned and took a long swallow as
well, letting a chalky taste of alcohol, ash, and dirt slug him in
the mouth. Craeken fare was too much for most people, but Vash downed
it like water on a hothouse.
“You know how much
I hate to brag.”
He raised an
eyebrow. “Not a damn bit.”
look broke into a wicked grin. “You want the long version or the
short? Because let me tell ya, we could be here all night.”
“The short, then,”
he laughed. “You can fill me in on all the messy details after
you’ve compared with my
“All right, bird
man,” Vash crowed mockingly. “Give me your best shot.”
“That human sense
of honor is going to get you killed someday, but I’ll start if you
insist. I managed to land a contract with ASS about three months
He was surprised
despite himself. “How? Alpha has the most extensive database in the
She snorted in
amusement, sidetracked by her own quip. “Alpha Station Security –
it’s too funny. They can insist they’re the Alpha Station Police
all they want, but they’ll be ASS forever to anyone who’s heard
“How did you
bypass the database?” he pressed, intrigued.
she explained smugly, “this was some hardcore smoke and mirror
shit. I had to use every skill in my repertoire. A little hacking,
some networking, called in a few favors, laid on the charm, and there
I was on the payroll as a special tasks “advisor” in a narcotics
investigation. But this was a two-birds-one-stone type deal.” She
nodded in self-satisfaction at her use of the human saying, and
Shrike gave her a token tip of his glass. “I ended up busting the
tox ring, though I’d actually been hired to wipe some files off the
Alpha database for a client. I got paid up front by ASS, landed an
additional stipend when I took down the tox runners, and
I managed to wipe everything Alpha had on both myself and my client
before spacing a few days later.” Shrike bellowed his admiration,
marveling at her nerve.
Vash grinned at the
approval, giving a slight bow in her seat. Then, she scowled into her
drink. “There’s always a hiccup though. This time it was a nosy
SOB, a certain Detective Arturian. That lagger had me smelled out
from the beginning, kept trying to catch me in a lie the entire time.
You know him?”
“Sarus? Hell yeah.
I’m glad you didn’t kill him. He’s the only friendly
acquaintance I have on the Alpha force. Good guy.”
“He a contact? I
didn’t get the feeling he was dirty. In fact, he struck me as
nauseatingly righteous. Seemed to be crossways with a lot of his
superiors though. He got pretty pissed about all the regulations and
bullshit he had to put up with from the brass.” She smirked. “If
it wasn’t for some of that red tape, I’d have been made.”
“Dirty? Nah, just
knows how the wind blows. All the political hoops Alpha Police would
have to jump through would make holding me a shitstorm, and he knows
“I’ll let you
know before I pull another stunt like that,” Vash said, lounging
back in her seat. “Maybe you can keep the guy off my ass.”
“Nothing I do is
going to keep guys off your ass,” Shrike objected, holding up his
hands. “Have seen that thing lately?”
“We’ve all got
our burdens to bear,” she sighed, sadness on her face. “Yours are
the extinction of your entire species and that hunk of useless metal
you lug around. Mine is this magnificent ass.”
“Such is life,”
Shrike agreed, “but don’t be ragging on my baby. Not many can say
they’ve seen as much as this pistol.” He set his antique, Kimber
1911 on the table between them.
“A relic,” Vash
said. “Good for absolutely nothing.”
“She’s my good
luck charm.” He laid a protective hand on the blue steel barrel.
“Yeah? How much
luck did she bring at Mal Kor?”
Shrike pulled on the
collar of his armor unconsciously, exposing the MK tattoo underneath.
“Enough to get me out alive. That’s more than most anyone else
Vash gave him a look
of grudging consent. “True enough.” She took another long drink.
“Tell you what, you get a kill with your primitive tool, and I’ll
spring for that Armakyte sniper rifle you’ve been salivating over
since its reveal. Of course, this is on the condition that if you
gotten the kill in a year’s time, you buy one for me.”
Shrike looked down
at his lucky charm uneasily. He wasn’t even sure the thing would
fire anymore, and only one magazine of the ancient .45 caliber
bullets it required remained in his possession. But there would be no
hesitation shown where she might see. He grasped her proffered hand.
“Putting down an
injured rodent in the gutter doesn’t count,” she said
facetiously, grinning at him. “It’s got to be a sapient species
kill in an honest to star-lag fight.”
Shrike waved her down. “You won’t think this is nearly so funny
when you’re handing me a rifle powerful enough to take down a
Vash finished her
drink with a sardonic shake of her head, then poured herself another.
“Out of pity for all the money you’re going to spend on me next
year, I’ll buy your first dance for the night. What do you think?
The light green one with the dark eyes? Or the blue one in the
“You think Vasir
has found a human dancer recently?” he asked, already knowing the
answer. One could dream.
she said, with a sympathetic expression. “I haven’t seen a human
besides you for over three years, and I doubt that’s any different
for most others. I did hear some scuttlebutt a while back though.
Sounds like a few humans are trying to start a small settlement on
one of the moons of Mascer, giving a go at repopulation.”
He was silent for a
moment, cynical instincts jumping to the forefront of his mind at the
news, but he brushed it away, giving her a hopeful smile. “Good for
them. Maybe, maybe…”
succeed,” she finished for him.
cleared his throat. “I can’t decide. What do you think? The green
or blue Liari?”
“I thought they
both looked to your taste,” she snorted. “That’s why I picked
them. But if you’re going to make me choose for you…I’d say the
green one. She’s got spunk.”
“All right,” he
nodded in satisfaction. “I’m going to need another pitcher
“You just read my
mind.” She grinned, turning to give the bartender another
threatening look, and he immediately scurried toward them.
Shrike caught her
eye and he gave her a contented smirk. “It’s good to be back.
I’ve missed this.”
She tapped his glass
with her own and gave him a wink. “Me too, bird man. Me too.”
When the charges
blew, Shrike was the first one through the door.
A couple of the
others had gotten bitchy about that, especially the Craeken, but
Shrike had calmly, rationally explained that his kinetic shields
could deflect the initial damage long enough to clear a foothold.
Then, he had calmly, rationally explained that if they didn’t like
him going first, they could take a long walk out an airlock, because
he didn’t give a testicle-sized fuck what a bunch of amateurs
thought about an entry breach.
So, as the airlock
door flash-fried into sparkly metal fragments, Shrike leapt through
the hole, roaring at the top of his lungs, shotgun in hand and
kinetic shields deflecting particle projectiles with brief ripples of
energy. Sometimes, in the midst of episodes such as this, he wondered
if he wanted
to die. This often lasted for all of a millisecond. Then, he would
remember the lethal particle shreds filling the air around him, ditch
philosophy, shrug to himself, and shoot the first person he
encountered with solemn pomp and great glee.
situation proved no different, and Shrike’s boots hadn’t yet
touched the floor when he fired a 500-shred particle slug that ripped
through the shields of the first of many unfortunates, shredding the
armor underneath and reducing the torso into a pulpy, lacerated mess.
The kick of the shotgun threw his shoulder back, midair as he was,
but he used the force of the recoil to roll sideways and back as he
hit the floor, coming up on his feet somewhat out of the line of fire
and allowing the others to leap through from behind him.
Why that idiot
Korvak felt he needed to be second through a fire-choked breach the
star-lag only knew, but he went down immediately with innumerable
particle shreds through his face and chest. The dumbass had said that
his shields were faulty not five minutes ago.
The Korvak’s death
might have plugged the entry point had the Craeken not been next. The
massive, chitin-plated alien barreled through the breach, using what
was left of the Korvak as a screen to save power in his shields. The
airlock entryway began to empty of enemies as its defenders scrambled
to get clear of the rampaging Craeken. Shrike grunted appreciatively
at the distraction, following the path of destruction and picking off
the defenders who broke from cover to get out of the way.
Of course, plowing
balls-to-the-walls through a combat zone, even if you’re an eight
hundred pound Craeken, is a bad idea against a prepared enemy. It
wasn’t long before the hulking beast was bleeding out on the floor,
shields overloaded, with multiple projectile wounds to the neck,
body, and face. By that time, Shrike had pushed well into the
frigate’s aft hallway, providing ample footing for the rest of the
boarding party to pour aboard.
branched off down the three passages in which they had a foothold,
one leading to the engine core, one toward the crew and cargo deck,
and the last toward the bridge. Naturally, Shrike wasn’t about to
miss out on a bridge party, and he accompanied a group of Nova Rayn
regulars with Brash toward the BCN, Bridge Command and Navigation.
Working for the
Novas wasn’t too bad. Shrike squeezed off several rounds of cover
fire so his current Nova companions could move forward. For a
mercenary, protection, drug-running, and extortion agency, the Nova
Rayn was pretty reliable, providing prompt and plentiful credits.
They normally kept paid up with authorities too, though he heard
they’d gotten crossways with Vasir and the other bosses on Beta
lately. Novas weren’t uptight, like a bunch of organized merc
groups were nowadays; Shrike even liked one or two. Brash seemed
solid enough, for an Alishkar. The overabundance of eyes Alishkar
possessed had always creeped him out a bit, but he wasn’t one to
judge on biological configuration. In fact, he’d worked with a
Kreever a few years back with eyes all
– one of the nicest guys he ever knew.
When Shrike had been
contacted by Brash for a freelance contract, he’d been working some
tough jobs at the clubs. Mostly the kind that included ample alcohol
and private dances. Unemployment tended to drain him of both his
resources and sanity at an alarming rate, so he accepted before Brash
even provided an explanation. Fighting Black Sand mercenaries was
good enough for him. He could care less if it was Sands, ASS, queen
bug of the Rynok, whoever – if he got paid and the fight promised a
challenge, he was game.
The Nova Rayn and
Black Sands had a bone to pick, and this fallout had been coming for
some time. The Sands had been encroaching on tox rings, contracts,
and protection benefits claimed by their rivals for the better part
of the year. Apparently, the Novas had had enough. Shrike’s raid
was one of many attacks crippling Sand operations in the D’hask
Nebula. At the rate the Novas were hitting shipments recently, the
Sands would be backpedaling through warp within a month, but Shrike
had seen the way these things worked. By now the Sands had to be
working out a counterstrike, and he had no doubt he would get in on
both sides of this gang feud, making a tidy profit from the offers
and counteroffers. If Brash was smart, he’d propose to extend his
contract with a hefty bonus when it timed out.
Resistance was fading rapidly. Too rapidly. The fire was so weak that
he could almost walk down the center of the passage without fear of
overloading his shields. He urged Brash to push his men forward. By
throwing sporadic resistance at the boarders, the Sands were
attempting to slow their approach long enough to set up a fortified
defense in the narrow access hallways preceding the bridge, designed
as chokepoints in case of attack. By spurning cover and driving
through the delaying actions, Shrike and Brash could interrupt the
Sands in the middle of preparations, eliminating the advantage of any
barricades or portable turrets they might set up if given time.
Many of his
companions gave him defiant scowls at his commands – freelancing
scum thought he could give orders to Novas?
– but Brash and his veterans just nodded, barking at the squads to
double-time through harassing fire. Reinforcements still coming
aboard could mop up the skirmishers they left behind.
They lost a man or
two pushing through the rearguard, but most resistance scattered as
they stormed through the access hallway. Brash led the way into
Navigation, pausing just long enough for a charge to blow back the
heavy metal door before leaping through and sliding left to clear the
opening. It probably saved his life. Not a full second after the
charge went off, a portable turret opened up on the entry point.
Shrike dropped to the floor as the high-pitched whir cut the air, but
the next two Novas tried to leap through the breach. They collapsed
immediately as a stream of particle projectiles jackhammered through
their shields and armor.
Luckily, Brash took
down the turret within moments. A well-placed gooey grenade
discharged on the turret’s barrel, coating it in gelatinous
superfluid that flash-hardened into a solid block, plugging up the
barrel and preventing its lethal ejections. The discharges backfired,
and the turret exploded with a metallic pop.
Shrike leapt up in
the lull, bullrushing past the heap of bodies before any defenders
could stack the Novas up further. Brash was pinned down just inside
by a squad of Sands fortified behind navigation map projectors and
block consoles. Shrike assessed the situation in a moment, allowing
his Internal Regulator and targeting system to pinpoint the bunkered
squad while he collapsed his shotgun into its holster on his right
thigh. He pulled his portable Crask Cannon from the right shoulder
cavity of his armor and squeezed off an anti-personnel mini rocket.
The improvised defenses exploded with enough force to ripple his
vision. Black Sand mercs and accompanying body parts were thrown in a
brief, volatile flash to the outer edges of the room, and Shrike
grunted cheerfully, collapsing the cannon and sliding it back into
its compartment. He reached for his shotgun…
Then got blindsided
by a chair.
Shrike took the
brunt of the blow on his shoulder. When he hit the floor, he
scrabbled frantically with his legs, using the unexpected impact to
propel himself behind a small console station. He pulled his shotgun
free with a growl.
Of course there had
to be a warper. It would be too easy otherwise. Above him, Shrike
heard the fizzling sound of a laser gun throwing superheated bolts of
particle fluid. Most of the Novas’ armor wouldn’t be equipped
with the ceramic plates needed to soak that kind of heat.
Fortunately, Shrike’s Predator X suit could handle a bolt or two,
but that fact was scant comfort. The laser pistol was the least of
his problems. Its wielder could kill him with his laggin’ mind.
This one was
telekinetic, as evidenced by the run-in with a chair. Shrike leaned
out from cover to assess the situation. Brash and what was left of
his squads had spread out, attempting to hit their opponent from as
many sides as possible. The warper, a male Liari with a short, black
head-crest and metallic silver skin, ignored their volleys. His hand
was held up like a ward, and a blue field of light extended before
him in a mutable oval, deflecting the incoming shreds with tiny white
flashes. Shrike fired. The impact of his particle slug sent a white
shockwave rippling along the oval barrier. The warper stumbled,
ceasing to fire the laser pistol in his right hand, and searched
about with his eyes. Shrike ducked back behind cover.
He gave his shotgun
a loving pat. Kinetic shields, warp barriers, hardened armor – very
little stood up to 500 particle shreds hurled with enough force to
punch through titanium plate.
Still, with two
abilities this warper would be difficult to defeat. He rolled his
shoulders, readying himself. It wouldn’t do to try anything fancy
here. The warper was moving around too much to try a rocket or
grenade, so a straightforward approach seemed best.
Shrike rolled out of
cover into a room littered with Nova dead. The Liari was moving at
will, blasting those who remained with his laser pistol. The heat of
the fluid bolts melted through armor, burning holes in the organic
tissue underneath. Those who tried to hide behind cover were
bombarded by flying objects, knocking them out of hiding and directly
into the deadly warper’s sights. This guy was powerful.
Shrike leveled his
shotgun and pulled the trigger. The warp barrier wavered, and the
warper turned instinctively, rolling with signature Liari grace and
racking off bolts with his pistol. Shrike felt the heat of a bolt as
it whizzed past, missing his helmet by inches. When the warper came
up on his feet, Shrike delivered another slug to the center of the
warp barrier, and it flickered again, going down for a moment before
shimmering back into place.
He leapt over a
body, sprinting at the warper with his shotgun leveled from the hip.
The Liari’s countenance grew calm, a look of concentration on his
thin face, and he raised the pistol, lining up a shot. Time seemed to
slow. Shrike saw the flash of the bolt leaving the barrel, and he
took it in the center of his chest. He could feel the heat
dissipating through the ceramic plates, but by the star-lag, it was
Shrike fired again. The slug smashed into the barrier, which guttered
and died. The warper let his hand drop. Shrike sensed a flash of
motion in his peripheral vision, and he instinctively leapt. A chair
passed under his legs. The warper was mere paces away, and he raised
his pistol hastily as Shrike hurtled toward him.
The shot passed
wide, just under Shrike’s left arm. He came down with a triumphant
roar and smashed his forearm into the warper’s chest, purging all
the electrical power in his equipment through his gauntlet. The
shields on the warper’s armor overloaded with the influx of energy,
and he stumbled back at the force of the blow, connecting with the
wall. He scrambled to raise his pistol. Shrike shot him in the chest.
The Liari slumped on
the deck, and Shrike put another slug in him. Just in case. He turned
to survey the Navigation room. Brash had the area cleared and was
motioning the three other survivors to bunker up by the short passage
to the bridge. More than likely the captain, helmsman, and their
staff would be the only remaining resistance, but it was best to be
careful. Brash collapsed his assault rifle into its holster and
approached Shrike after another squad of Novas arrived to carry the
fight forward the final stretch. The Nova captain’s top three eyes
were still swinging around Navigation, continuing their search for
any further threat. Shrike chuckled, ejecting the heat containment
clip from his shotgun and inserting a cool one. The Alishkar must be
pretty rattled to be so jumpy.
exposing row on row of blocky molars. He started speaking, but all
that came through was static rumbles. Shrike held up a hand to
forestall him, and Brash cut off with an understanding nod.
Shrike fiddled with
his IR for a few moments until he heard the faint clicking sound that
indicated the restoration of power. “Sorry, Brash,” he said,
tapping his temple. “Had to purge all the power in my systems to
take down that laggin’ Liari. Might be a moment or two before
translation comes back online.” Shrike continued to tinker with his
modifications until the slight buzz of static faded away. He gave
Brash a thumbs-up.
“Lag take all
warpers,” Brash huffed, the rumbling Alishkar tongue once again
translated to understanding. He still seemed a little shaken. “You
keep saving my ass and I’m going to force you into a Nova
Shrike ignored the
joke. No way was he getting tied down on anyone’s permanent
payroll. “He had a tricky combination of abilities,” he said,
nodding at the Liari’s prostrate form, “but at least he only had
two. I know a female Liari who’s got four.”
whistled. “Wouldn’t want to run into her on a bad day. Why do the
Liari get all the love, huh? Seems like having a warp or two would
come in handy on a job like this.”
“It’s all the
dark matter in their home system,” Shrike grunted, accepting a
hydration packet with a nod of thanks. “In most of their colonized
systems too. Liari space is loaded with the stuff. It guarantees that
every Liari gets at least a little dark radiation in the womb. Plus,
their species has been so exposed that they’ve adapted to it. The
risk for cancerous complications is almost nonexistent.”
our species,” Brash barked a laugh. “I don’t know how many
humans manifested warp talent before Mal Kor, but Alishkar are lucky
if we get one every few million.”
Shrike retracted his
helmet and placed the hydro packet in his mouth, letting the
refreshing liquid burst on his tongue. He swallowed before shrugging
in answer. “Luck of the laggin’ universe, I guess. The Liari get
warp talents, good looks, loads of credits, and sex with just about
anyone or anything they want.”
Brash shook his
head, a wistful look on his face. “Goddamn pheromones.”
He didn’t look
like he meant it.
Boots thumped from
the direction of the bridge, where Shrike could see the captain of
the frigate being escorted by a squad of Novas. Brash turned
through,” the Sand captain, a muscular Alishkar, was sneering to
the mercs. They continued to ignore him.
“Got the cap here,
Brash,” a Nova reported. “Said his name’s Captain Bosh. He
surrendered without much of a fight, but his mouth hasn’t quite
caught up with the idea.”
“I don’t know
what Rayn thinks he’s going to score, but he’s bitten off more
than he can chew,” Bosh sneered, addressing Brash. “We’re going
to slap the Novas down hard for this shit. When the –,”
“I don’t give a
Craeken’s right nut what you’re going to do,” Brash cut him off
brusquely. “Synic’s been patient with the Sands for too long.
He’s decided to fuck you back through a laggin’ wormhole.”
strong now, and Rayn knows it,” Bosh scoffed. “He–,”
Brash drew a pistol
from his belt and shot him in the head.
Everyone had seen that coming. Except for Bosh.
“Bring me the
First Mate,” Brash ordered the Nova squad. “I’ll off him too if
he gives me this shit. We’ll just work our way down the chain of
command until we find someone willing to take a message to Geezo
without a bravado shitstorm.” Brash turned back to Shrike as the
Novas complied. “We’re done here. If you want to go sweep for
valuables, that’s fine by me. And I’m getting you a bonus stipend
from up top for the warper.”