GALATIC COORDINATES: 156-78-06-01
SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify Link at End). Butterfly, Crazy Town. We No Speak Americano, Yolanda Be Cool. Cheap Thrills, Sia. Mr Saxobeat, Meteorite, Years and Years. Starstrukk, Katy Perry, 30H!3. Saturday Night, Whigfield.
They say if you want to find something, and particularly something illegal, then the place to find it is the Black Market of the Hapless San Ya. At some point in her long and mysterious past, San Ya, proprietor and overseer of the Market, acquired a battered, dirty and all together dangerous space station. It was said, that she had single handedly flown it to the very edge of the galaxy and moored it around the dead planet 156. Over the years, in the sub networks and under-waves she sent out a message. It was an advertisement and an invitation. It read:
Come. Sell your wares. No judgment.
Only rules: No explosions, Nothing Gross.
But come. Sell.
And slowly like the trickle of a spring that grows into a great river they did. Designated life forms from across the six sectors came to sell whatever they had and whatever they could. The wide corridors and halls of the dilapidated shack of a shuttle quickly became full of shouting, squawking and rumblings of great beasts. There was always a party atmosphere in the market as people ate and drank and traded. But there was always money and ambition lacing through each word. People came because it was simply – exciting.
Now, San Ya was a tiny woman, for most of the life forms she would only come up to their waists (or waist equivalent) but one stare from those formidable glasses would keep even the darkest species in line. She ruled with a tiny iron claw. It was because, and she knew it, they respected her. If a customer arrived, and after pursuing the stalls found that the particular brand of banned chemical, or traditional body-opening device wasn’t there, San Ya could always find it for them. In fact, San Ya, more often than not would already have it.
San would draw the line sometimes though. Anything to do with children or the designated species young – she would refuse transactions on. Also any attempt at Sentient Cargo earned the seller a lifetime ban. She had learned the evils of slavery a long time ago and would not tolerate it again. She would march the corridors of her queendom inspecting each stall daily, her and chief of staff a Fal-Tap called Valeir, would inspire fear, laughter and all things in between.
San Ya to all intents and purposes was a fearsome woman. But she would, as we all do from time to time, get into scrapes. And this, to Valeir’s constant exasperation, was because San Ya, no matter what it was, could not resist a bargain.
On the morning of the May 1st, Galactic year 7.017, San Ya woke as usual. She washed thoroughly; she scrubbed at all parts and not just the ones in reach. She dried her long hair and bound it tightly in one thick, bready plat. She chose a grey starchy dress that stopped just below her knee; she had several and wore them every day without fail. With a final flourish she placed on her thick, bottle-end glasses. She pouted as the glass revealed her own image to herself.
She could see the lines along her face though. They had crept along in the night as she had tossed and turned. The night before something had arrived on her desk. She hadn’t noticed it at first, the desk was piled high with books, open boxes of wires and screws and countless mildewed mugs. But as she sat down to mark the accounts of the day there it was – a round object wrapped in brown paper. She had looked around, no one had been there. No one was there now. Or so she thought. But there in the shadows of the far corner two eyes emerged and then a set of teeth. It unflured like smoke into the room until a tall, seemingly male, ghoul of a figure stood in front of her. It appeared to be wearing a black cloak like a Vespin, but its face was almost human in construction apart from it swirled and undulated as if it was made of thick smog.
‘You shouldn’t be here,’ she said.
‘I have come to sell.’ Its voice clawed at her ears. It was just a rung below painful.
‘Then you will come back tomorrow and I’m sure some of the vendors can accommodate you.’ She looked to the door pointedly.
‘A few months back I was in a bar named Salty Joe’s. I believe you were there too. Do you remember?
‘Ah. Oh…yes perhaps.’ She cursed the day she’d ever set foot in that place.
‘Well I remember overhearing you were looking for something. Not something particular just something. Something powerful. A jewel in your crown. Well I’ve not found a jewel but this is something much more alluring…,’ he hissed.
And it was. She had locked it away in her safe. But it had kept her awake all night. Now, at the Black Market another day had begun. In the docking bay, above which her own personal quarters resided, there was a flurry of activity. She walked out onto the balcony and peered over. There was a big shipment coming in for the Walran Bank, she noted. Long crates all lined up like soldiers. She wasn’t interested about what was inside, never worry about the Walrans, she knew that. On the other side were a group of Gorbegs, pulling a huge crate. They shifted it into position and dropped the sides. Inside were a collection of beautiful stone statues; they had been carved into curves and slides like whips of energy. At the end of each were faces that screamed out like ghosts. She had seen them before. The Sent Forms. They were Cratian in origin. Very rare and very famous. Someone had been busy.
‘I wonder how they came across those.’ Valeir’s soft purr made San Ya jump.
‘Stop creeping up on me! My god.’ She dusted down her dress. Valeir was stood behind her smiling. He wore a tight fitting two piece, grey, crimson and red, with broad shoulders and lots of gold detailing.
‘My apologies San.’ He nodded at the statues. ‘How do you think they acquired those. They’re meant to be in the Sector 2 Pan-Race Museum.’
‘Don’t ask questions. You know that.’ San Ya, jumped off the balcony railing and stared upwards at the fur on Valeir’s face. ‘Haven’t you got something to do?’
‘What is wrong with you today?’
‘I didn’t hire you to ask me questions – go and check what’s in the Walran boxes.’
‘What are you not telling me?’
‘Okay fine. I had a private visitor last night.’
‘Okay…this already feels like something I don’t need to know.’
‘No not like that. A seller. He had overheard me in Salty Joe’s a bit ago. Brought me something he thought I would like,’ she whispered. Valeir noticed she was hopping from one foot to another. He couldn’t tell if it was with excitement or fear.
‘For the last time will you stop going to that bar. Every time there is some kind of trouble that stems from Salty bloody Joe’s.’
‘Oh just get in here.’ She dragged him by the fur into her office.
San Ya knew her limits. Or at least she thought she did. But something about the man emerging out of the shadows had shut off all her good judgment. She knew she shouldn’t have done it. But the curious way he had offered it, the fact that throughout their conversation it had remained in the package, temptingly hidden, it had brought out her inner collector with fiery passion. And boy was it a bargain. For such a…rarity. She had bought it and now she had to tell Valeir. He was going be mad.
‘What have you bought?’ he hissed. He sat down in the chair behind her desk. He folded his leg over the other smoothly and flicked a moment of dust off his knee.
‘You don’t come in here and judge me,’ she threw her hands in the air.
‘What is it?’ he growled.
‘I’m still your boss. Remember that Val.’ She pouted and folded her arms. She knew she had to tell him.
‘Oh for god’s sake you’re as much my boss as the planet beneath is. For an old woman you really are a child.’
San Ya gasped and clutched her chest in a picture of drama.
‘I am not…’ she gasped again. ‘An old woman.’
‘Right I’m going.’
Valeir rose from the chair and swiftly pivoted on one paw. San quickly reached over her desk and, whilst knocking a pile of paraphernalia flying, pressed her panic lock. The door steamed shut just missing Valeir’s padded nose.
‘I mean we always thought they were theoretically possible…’ San Ya’s voice had dropped to a whisper. Valier narrowed his eyes and placed his hand on the door.
‘Go on…’ He said slowly.
‘You know, a weapon. A big one. A proper big bastard.’
‘You don’t mean…’
‘Yes last night I bought a planet destroyer.’
‘Oh God San Ya. What have you done?’
So between the tiny woman and the tall, slender Fal-Tap a plan was devised. They had to get rid of it – that much they knew. Even with the dodgy practices of the market, if the Empire found out they had a planet bomb, they would wipe them out without a moment’s hesitation. But the two of them knew the visitors to the market well, and if this weapon got into the hands of some of these life forms. Let’s just there would be a lot less galaxy than there was before.
They were looking over the docking bay as they did every morning. San Ya had been here before, but never like this. Trouble came to San Ya, like iron filings to a magnet. She loved it, there was always something exciting happening at the market and here, plughole of the central sector was a bottleneck for the unusual and the amazing. She ran her fingers along the rail. But this was different, this was dangerous.
‘We could just keep it in my safe?’
‘No,’ Valeir said softly.
‘Fine. Have it your way.’
They headed down the stairs into the hubbub below. Some of the more aware life forms nodded their heads towards the pair. Some scattered into the backs of stalls lowering their heads in keenness to get away. They stopped for a moment and stared up at the statues, The Sent Forms, which had been placed pride of place in the central reservation. Their owner, a squat, bald human called Greb, slid out from behind a particular wide stretch of stone.
‘Ehhhh San Ya, Val Val, how goes it?’
‘I’m busy Greb. Move this will you – it can’t stay in the docking bay.’ San Ya flicked him aside and inspected the swirling marble heads above.
‘But it wont fit through the sub tunnels. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement.’ He smiled a gummy grin and tapped a jingle-laden pocket.
‘Come on Greb, that won’t work on me and you know it. Move it.’
‘You’re killing me San! You’re killing me.’ He raised his hands in a mock beg-prayer.
‘Bugger off Greb – get it moved.’
They moved on past the thousands of boxes and into the main sub-tunnel. Here the stalls were pressed tight against the walls and Valeir had to duck and dodge the banners, bunting and washing-line like displays of goods that hung tight across the walls. They were heading down into the engine market for the first part of their plan. The Engine market was the hub for all tech enthusiasts or just those with a slightly illegal and broken ship that would not do being repaired at the Capitol. It was a huge hanger filled with steam and smoke and grease. It was also home to renowned Walran engineer and former Chief Technician of the Walran Empire Fleet, Terius Flax. If there was one person who could deactivate the device it was him.
They entered his metal shack through the smoke curtain, a thick set of flaps that coated you in grime as you slid through them. Inside was a series of wide, tall steps that rose towards the wall. On the limited surfaces was every conceivable bit of tech you think of. Comms split open and unfurled like pictures out of anatomy book, holoscreens that fizzed and crackled like lava and towering fronds of stiff cut off wires like metal palm trees. But not only the surfaces, the walls were hung with all artifacts. There was an expanse of android arms, some twitched at the cusp of life, below that were hundreds of blue prints, tech-specs of ships and stations and buildings. High above, near the curved ramshackle roof, on a hover-platform was Terius, he was pouring over an item harnessed to the wall. Occasionally he would stretch his hand-flipper over the side and a bit of metal would fly up into his palm. Magna-grabbers, San had seen them before.
‘Terius you tech-head get down here I need you.’
‘Go away San. You only bring trouble to my door.’ Terius had a deep, chocolaty voice that wrapped around the room.
‘This is different. Come on Terius.’ She said mock sweetly. Valier looked on silently.
Terius zoomed down on the platform in front of them and stared at them. His whiskers were twitching under his goggles. After a moment he erupted into a huge belly laugh that rippled though the blubber of his body.
‘What is it San?’ he said.
‘I need you to deactivate it.’ She reached into her pocket and produced the crumpled brown package. Terius knocked up his goggles onto his smooth grey head. She pulled the paper aside, within was round glass ball filled with rippling energy. Along the glass were small flashes of light in vein like pathways. Terius’s eyes widened into two round plates.
‘Where the hell did you get that?’ he whispered in awe.
‘So you know what it is?’ Valier said slowly.
‘Of course I know what it is. A scref-energy cluster stabilized in an unlockable terra-glass case. A planet bomb. And a nasty one. If you even turn it on this thing will lock onto the nearest planet and then… Oh San.’
‘My thoughts exactly,’ Valier chipped in again.
‘I know, I was weak. The collector’s rush took over.’ San said raising her hands.
‘Next time the collector’s rush comes over you San Ya you run it by me.’ Terius snarled. ‘Right well it’s going to take me a while but I might be able to set up a system to link into the terra-glass that’ll deposit the energy into a series of micro-clusters. In other words bitesized chunks. It won’t deactivate it but it’ll make into a fairly standard explosion instead.’
‘Thank you Terius. You’re a life saver.’ San hopped on the Walran’s platform and swung her tiny arms around her neck.
‘Planet saver more like. Come on we can’t do it here. Back to yours?’ Terius flopped off his platform with a thud.
‘I think that would be wise.’ Valeir said.
But then, just as they were about to leave the tech all around them buzzed into life. Whirrs and rings scattered out all around. Valeir covered his sensitive ears and screeched in pain. One by one a message popped onto all the available screens. San Ya stared in horror at the same words all around:
We know what you have. We want it. Regards, The Owner.
‘Who’s the owner?’ Terius said guardedly.
‘Trouble that’s who.’ San Ya scooped up the package and thrust it deep into her the pockets of her dress. ‘This is what I feared. If some proper shit like him is after this than the whole galaxy is in trouble.’
Valier, breathing heavily appeared to be coming round. ‘Who did you tell San?’ He snarled.
‘No one I swear.’ With the firm press of her tone Valeir knew she was telling the truth. ‘It might have been the seller, or something I don’t know. There could have been psychics on board? Oh who knows?’
‘Who is the Owner though?’ said Terius.
‘He’s, or at least we presume it’s a He. He’s a powerful agent. I’ve dealt with him before or at least I used to. At first it was just usual stuff – a shipment of worker bots. A few tankers of sketch fuel. And then stranger requests came – artifacts. Specific ones from dangerous places. And morbid things as well, souvenirs he called them. From crash sites, from war zones. The name kept cropping up too ‘The Owner’. It would be stamped across delivery receipts, or I’d hear it being whispered behind a stall.’ San Ya clutched her arms around herself.
‘But he’s banned San, after that cargo of Sonva he was trying to flog. He can’t come here. And neither can his goons. The system will cross-check them no problem – they won’t get even get past the exterior shields. We just keep it safe and go on with the plan.’ Valeir placed a comforting hand on San’s shoulders.
‘Right then. We go on as planned. I can, if I concentrate, speed up the process a little by filtering the energy into temporary units as I build the more permanent ones. Come on.’ Terius, with a brief look in either direction headed out the entrance flap. San Ya looked at Valeir warily and followed in the same direction.
The Market was as busy as always. From every direction came the smells, sounds and sights. As the standard lunchtime approached, thick beefy smells erupted from all around. At mealtimes, the market took an even more jovial atmosphere as customers broke bread with stall-holders and supped deep on drink. But all this was passing over the three burdened holders of the planet bomb. They would ignore the shouts over counters for their attention and the offer of food form friendly traders. At every corner they were listening. They were looking for signs on every slip of paper or running across each holoscreen. They were looking for two words – ‘The Owner’. Eventually they reached the docking bay.
‘Not far off now.’ Terius said cheerily. They looked around. The bay was strangely quiet. San scanned the room with her eyes. Life forms were slipping out of the back into the storage areas. Ship windows and doors were shutting with a hiss. Her comm. unit sprang into life. ‘Mark 3 Vessel approaching’ it said metallically.
‘Mark 3?’ said Terius. ‘That’s massive.’
‘It’ll be him. That’s for sure,’ San said darkly.
‘He still can’t get through, those shields would withstand the inside of a star. He’s going nowhere,’ Valeir hissed.
San Ya stood for a moment. She looked at the other two as if she was about to explode. Putting her hands on her hips and growling she took off into the main bay.
‘Comm. put me in contact with the Mark 3.’
‘Of course.’ There was a light buzz as the contact was made.
San looked up into the sky outside the entrance to the docking bay.
‘Right Owner. I don’t know how you found out but you’re not having it so bugger off from my air space.’
A tinny, robotic voice fizzed into the speaker systems around. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
‘My associates are already here.’
Between San Ya and the entrance was the statue of The Sent Forms. At first she thought she was imagining it, but the white twisted forms were getting darker. They coloured like ink dropped in a glass of milk. Then they started to twist further into shapes. Out of the solid stone burst smoke. They churned and swished until it they formed into figures. Each one had a mouth like a dropped scream and two endless holes for eyes. Even in all her long years San had never seen this lifeform before. They certainly weren’t registered.
‘Okay. Okay what the hell are those?’ Terius said, sliding up from behind.
‘No clue. I have an idea though, about the item.’ San whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
The figures held up hands towards her.
‘Just give it to them San.’ Valier purred. He was trying to be kind to her she knew. He wasn’t being cowardly. Everything in the market had gone quiet. She wondered if these figures had emerged in other places across the market. They could be everywhere.
‘Don’t be such a turncoat Val. I have something. I need you to turn off the outer shields.’
‘You have to be kidding? Let his whole fleet in?’ Terius said patting his flipper to his head.
‘Just do it, get over to the switch and when I give the nod, turn it off. I’ll distract them.’
The two men looked at each other warily. San had done some crazy stuff in her long life but this time it seemed she had lost it.
‘Oh and Terius leave me your Magna-grabber.’
Terius slipped off his glove and handed it to San Ya. The dimensions changed and crackled as it strapped itself to her hand.
‘Put the weapon down in front of you and we will leave your little market alone.’ The figure’s deep voices spoke as one.
‘Okay okay. Keep your smoke together. Here.’ San Ya reached into her dress and produced the battered looking packing. She placed it carefully on the floor. ‘Just for my records – what are you? Oh god that sounds a bit specieist doesn’t it? Sorry. But what’s your designation?’ She inched slowly round them as if to have a look.
‘We have none.’
She inched round a little further taking a look at them from all angles. ‘Must come in useful that magic trick. I wish I could appear and disappear at will – it would keep my traders on their toes. Or toe equivalents. Do you have toes? I imagine it would be hard to keep together a smoke toe.’
In her inching she knocked into a stall sending some copper pots flying across the floor. She was a couple of meters from the giant open mouth of the cargo bay.
‘We have the device. Thank you. We will go,’ they said as one.
‘No!’ said San Ya. ‘I can… I can get you a designation. Surely you must want one? You could enter central space proper. Access Empire boundaries. You must want that?’
She walked along, still facing them, until she was in front of the docking entrance. They had turned with her. All they must have seen was a tiny woman cut out against the enormity of space.
‘Now!’ she shouted. With a hiss the shields sparked out of life. She held out her magna-grabbed hand. It buzzed with life. The planet bomb shot from across the room through the life forms and into her hand. ‘Will you look at that?’
The life forms burst with smoke. They were angry San could tell that. But she didn’t care. It was her market and she made the rules.
‘Give that back.’ They said furiously.
‘Yeah yeah of course I will.’ She clicked a few buttons on the device. It whirred into life. ‘Whoops.’
‘San! What are you doing?’ Valeir shouted from across the room.
‘Making sure no one uses this again.’ She said with a smile. The planet bomb rose into the air and shot towards the dead planet below. ‘Shields up if would Terius. Also maybe fire up the warp engines if you can.’
She turned to the lifeform. ‘Remind the Owner if you will that he has a lifetime ban from my Market and he is to stay away. Hope he has a good set of shields.’
San Ya smiled as the exploding planet beneath propelled her great market to a new home.
2 Weeks Later (Ea1 Standard Unit).
San Ya sifted through the piles of paperwork. Since the incident, as everyone kept calling it, she had kept quiet. Firstly they had found a new mooring, this time in the 05, a little closer to the central galaxy, but she thought it might at least pick her up a bit more passing trade. Valeir had chastised her relentlessly for such recklessness, saying the shields might not have held but the radio silence on The Owner had been reward enough. She peered out of the window of her office. The planet beneath was beautiful. A gas planet that swirled with whites and greens and golds. Much nicer, she thought, than that dead red rock before. There were so many questions to follow up she knew that much. Where had the device been made in the first place? Who sold it her? She grimaced at little. She knew she should really check up on her sellers.
The comm. buzzed and chimed. She sauntered over and flicked it on. It was Valeir. Oh no, she thought.
‘San, there is someone here to see you. He says it’s urgent.’
‘Who is it?’
‘A Captain…erm…What was it?’ There was a rustling exchange off the line. ‘A Captain RainCha.’
San smiled. She’d been wondering when he’d come and show her his new toys.
‘Send him in.’