The Not-Quite Silence of Nightfall

By Becky Kinge.

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 96-05-04-01

Reik’lin watched as the rest of the Uuen village worked. He was in a foul mood despite the serenity of the sunset hours. Music, gentle and rhythmic, surrounded his clan; against his will, Reik’lin’s feet started to move in time with it, before he caught himself and stopped.

The quiet thrum of the drums sounded like hail dancing cautiously upon tin. It pirouetted through candle-lined pathways, uniting the villagers as they prepared for nightfall. Beyond the twinkling tap of percussion, only the shuffle of fabric and whispers between neighbours could be heard.

Two of the Uuen girls, with lilac skin fading into apricot hair, tiptoed between their neighbours, relighting any flame that had perished. One, whose eyes were as porcelain white as a new-born’s, smiled sweetly at the drummer. The drummer jerked his chin in warning. The Uuen were a species of professionals and he held the most important role: his tranquil beat maintained a constant hush, a noise-level akin to waves lapping at the coast, and could not be disturbed.

During the evening, noise tempted curious spirits to exit the forest. During nightfall, it angered them.

Reik’lin grumbled to himself as he collected his supplies; no-one ever flirted with the lantern boy.

Stuhn, a soldier in charge of surveying the perimeter, approached the Eye. She sat, eyes closed, in an aged armchair surrounded by piles of textile. Reik’lin paused in his preparations and homed in on the conversation. Stuhn was a stickler for the rules and never interrupted the Eye as she meditated. Something must be wrong.

“There’s a human in the forest,” he said. The village halted.

The Eye nodded. She knew, had seen it – had probably known of its presence near their clan for hours – but had not spoken. She only spoke of danger. They were safe. One-by-one, the villagers returned to their tasks, slower now, glancing intermittently at the forest edge as if expecting it to pounce. The drums grew quieter, and the villagers followed suit.

If the human entered the village and saw mistake in their decoration, they would be shamed. If the human entered the village and spoke loudly, as they tended to do, they would be killed.

Allegedly.

Reik’lin kicked at his lanterns. His mother heard the smack of paper and wood and shot him a warning glance. Lighting the lanterns is an honour, his family had told him, to have individual responsibility is a mark of respect. Reik’lin didn’t care about credit, he didn’t want a solo role, he just wanted to stitch stars into the patchwork gazebos with his friends, if only to have a few more hours of conversation before silence became mandatory.

Besides, illuminating a path straight from the ancient woodlands back to the village seemed incredibly counterproductive. The same, he thought, as painting an arrow straight to their home with the words oh great feared spirits, demons of Vvent’un soil, this way, we’ve got three spare cots and plenty of running water.

He reiterated this, in a sharp whisper, to his mother, who took a break from her weaving to listen to him moan. When he finished with a flap of arms in place of an audible sigh, she clucked her tongue and pushed him towards the perimeter, signalling for Stuhn to follow.

Untath quihip grai,” Stuhn whispered to the Eye, ‘grace protects us,’ and then walked smoothly, almost gliding, to where Reik’lin was collecting his things.

“You heard what I said?” he asked. Reik’lin huffed.

“No,” he said, “try talking a little louder next time.”

“You shame us, Reik’lin. Such ignorance is beyond your status.”

Reik’lin clucked, a jolt of irritation causing him to tear a hole in the lantern he was constructing.

“It was a joke,” he said, “I heard you. But the Eye said there’s nothing to worry about, right?”

“Not in as many words, no,” Stuhn mumbled, and Reik’lin was taken aback by the subtle disdain that lined his words. Stuhn, protector of their clan, was sworn to revere the Eye’s near-omniscience. “It’s true that it may bear no ill will, but that does not mean it won’t disrupt the spirits. It is nearing the perimeter, now. If you see it approach when you are laying the lanterns, be careful, and be sure that it is careful, too.”

“Wha- be careful? It’s not gonna shoot me, is it? Why am I on the front line, here, Stuhn? I’m just the lantern-kid.”

“You are the front line, Reik’lin,” Stuhn said, “your lanterns lead the spirits back to the depths and decorate our land so that no being dare harm it.”

“Yeah,” Reik’lin said, poking the broken lantern, “can you believe I don’t get a uniform?”

Stuhn gave him a confident pat on the shoulder, barely grazing the fabric of his tunic (out of fear, Reik’lin presumed, of the resulting clap alerting enemies of their movement). Reik’lin saluted him, waved to his mother and to his friends, and slumped out of the village.

There, in the arched silhouette of lavender trees, the human looked small.

Reik’lin had only ever seen humans from a distance; they had been taller than even Stuhn and twice as muscular. This human was short, lean, with a protruding chest and long, light hair bunched back in a thick strap. Their hands were on their hips, and they were shouting into the bushes.

Reik’lin climbed the nearest tree, lit a lantern from his basket, and placed it on a branch. He crawled along the treetops, leaving a trail of light, until he was rested between the leaves above the human. It was a girl, glowering.

“Buttons,” she said, “get out of there.”

“I’M STUCK,” something said, “STUCK IN THE MUD, MELISSA!”

The human pinched the bridge of her nose and poked at the bushes with a stick. Reik’lin heard a whir and a rustle, then the incredibly loud and somewhat distorted voice spoke again.

“MELISSA. I AM STILL STUCK.”

“There’s nothing I can do, Buttons,” the human said, “dad said you need terrain training.”

“YOUR FATHER WAS MISTAKEN. I AM FINE ON ALL TERRAIN.”

“Then why are you stuck in a bush, Buttons?” she said, crouching down and spreading the branches of the push to peek inside.

Reik’lin looked towards the sky; it was almost dark and he was yet to start placing the lanterns on the opposite side of the path. Irregardless of how often he dismissed his role and the village’s traditions, the growing shadows of the forest made him uneasy; roots curling like demons’ fingers clawing out of the ground. He had to move

“RESEARCH.”

“Researching what, Buttons?”

“BUSHES.”

There was little to no sound as Reik’lin’s feet hit the ground. The human, now reaching for their friend, hadn’t even noticed him land. In the distance, there was rickety howl. Reik’lin fought every impulse to the human out when she started laughing at whatever was happening within the bushes. It was a piercing sound, impulsive, and the spirits were stirring.

With one struggled heave, the human fell onto her back; a strange, square, metallic being followed. It was a robot – Reik’lin had never seen one, before, but he’d heard stories.

“THERE IS SOMEONE HERE,” the robot, Buttons, said. The human jumped up and twisted, pointing a twig at Reik’lin’s chest.

“Who are you?” They said, and Reik’lin flinched at the volume.

“I am Reik’lin of the nearby Uuen village,” he replied, softly, before aggressively miming zipping his lips shut, “who are you?”

“I am Melissa,” she said, “we’ve travelled from the City, and did you just tell me to shut up?

“Yes,” Reik’lin said, “so would you?

“Why? Because I’m human? What do you plan to do with me, Uuen?”

“Sew your mouth shut if possible,” Reik’lin mumbled.

“HE SAID: SEW YOUR MOUTH SHUT, IF POSSIBE.”

“I heard him,” Melissa said.

“Really? Because you’re speaking so loudly that I assumed you were deaf,” Reik’lin said, “our Protector warned me about you, you know. That you’d break the silence and wake the spirits!”

“The … silence?” Finally, she spoke with caution, glancing at Buttons.

“YES. HE SAID: THE SILENCE.”

“The silence that protects us!” Reik’lin said, “that leads the spirits from our village.”

“Then what’s with the lights leading the way, huh?”

Reik’lin glared. Even the ignorant human thought that the lanterns were a stupid idea, but it was his role – an important one – and seeing someone else insult his people’s stubborn sentimentality flicked a switch; only he was allowed to call his job stupid.

“The lanterns guide the spirits home and highlight the beauty of our land so that no demon dare tarnish it,” he said, “duh.”

“THE UUEN PEOPLE FIND SILENCE SACRED,” Buttons said.

“Oh,” Melissa said, looking sheepish. “Then I should probably tell you –”

“THERE IS A SPIRIT BEHIND US. OH BOY. LOOK, MELISSA. A SHADOW DEMON.”

Reik’lin whipped around. There, seeping out of the trees, was a demon; oil dripping from its slender body, eyes glowing orange and mouth widening to a grotesque size as it moved slowly towards them, leaving shadows in its wake.

“IT’S COMING CLOSER,” Buttons said, and the demon glitched nearer at his words, eyes flaring. “NOISE APPEARS TO AGGRIVATE IT.”

It jumped again.

“Then stop making noise!” Reik’lin said.

“That’s what I was trying to say!” Melissa squealed, “his –”

“MY VOLUME FUNCTION IS BROKEN.”

“THEN STOP TALKING!” Reik’lin shouted – he hadn’t shouted in years, not since his schooling had finished, and the roar summoned a second spirit to spawn. He clamped his hands over his mouth, taken aback by his own power.

“What do we do?” Melissa whispered, backing towards the village, “we should run, right?”

“And lead them to the village?” Reik’lin said, struggling to keep quiet now that he’d rediscovered what noise felt like to release, but every word continued to jolt the demons closer and it was either they die (and endanger his village) or they ssh. Buttons had other ideas.

“MIGHT I SUGGEST YOU LEAD THEM SOMEWHERE ELSE,” Buttons said.

“How?” Melissa said. A cool wind jingled the basket at Reik’lin’s hips, and he gasped.

“The lanterns!” Reik’lin said, “the lanterns guide the spirits home!”

“We don’t have enough time! Every time we speak, they inch closer.”

“We need to distract them,” Reik’lin said. Melissa bit the inside of her cheeks in thought, then grabbed his wrist and pulled him backwards. Reik’lin’s impulse was to complain but, before he could, Melissa stuck her leg out and kicked Buttons back into the bush.

“WHAT WAS THAT FOR?” Buttons said. “HELLO. I’M STUCK, MELISSA, AGAIN, IN THE SAME BUSH. SAME MUD. I THINK.”

The demons paused, flicked in between a state of being and a state of not, and then turned towards the bush instead of Reik’lin and Melissa.

“I UNDERSTAND NOW,” Buttons said, as the spirits approached him. “I AM THE DISTRACTION. I SHALL KEEP MOVING FURTHER INTO THE FOREST, OKAY?”

“Quickly!” Melissa said, “they can’t hurt him, but I still feel bad. You get those lanterns and light the path away from the village, and I’ll extinguish the ones you’ve already put up. Deal?”

“Deal,” Reik’lin said, dashing past the demons and towards the shadows as Melissa leapt into action and climbed the nearest tree, blowing out the candle of its lantern.

“I AM SLIGHTLY FURTHER AWAY,” Buttons said, “BUT I AM STILL QUITE TANGLED AND THEY ARE GETTING CLOSE.”

Reik’lin bit down his reply and prayed Melissa would do the same; she was slowly becoming enveloped in darkness, and the path to the village was disappearing. Reik’lin had never been this far into the forest before, and the more he climbed, the more spirits he could sense. They were slipping from the roots of the trees, gliding towards his home, limbs clicking and dripping.

He kept on working: climbing, lighting, climbing, lighting. The spirits began to take notice, reaching towards the light as if it would heal them. But it wasn’t enough. They needed more. They needed noise.

“HEY!” Reik’lin shouted, “DEMONS. LOOK OVER HERE!”

They did, and began advancing towards the path he’d lit.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY, UUEN?” Buttons called from the opposite end. They turned, again.

“BE SILENT, BUTTONS,” Melissa shouted to him, and the demons turned on her.

“BOTH OF YOU, PLEASE, JUST SHUT UP FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIVES,” Reik’lin screamed, and the demons set their mark. They slid towards the light, away from the village, and Reik’lin used their slow movement as his opportunity to dip behind the branches of the furthest tree and crawl down. Buttons, thank the Gods, remained quiet.

When he reached Melissa, she was grinning.

“We did it,” she whispered.

“Shut up,” Reik’lin said, and they set to work heaving Buttons back out of the bush. Using the faint glow of his torch and the blue hue of Button’s eyes to navigate back to the village, the three teetered on the outskirts and looked nervously to where the clan had gathered. The entire village was staring, aghast, at the pitch-black forest that should have been shining, and the shouting beings that should have been silent.

“What happened?” Stuhn asked from the front-line.

Melissa gulped, slapping a hand over Button’s mechanical mouth.

“The lanterns led the demons home,” Reik’lin said, stepping forward, “the human helped.”

Stuhn looked to the Eye for confirmation; she smiled and nodded once.

“When the sun arises and we can sing again,” Stuhn said, “you will tell your tale.”

 

 

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The New World

 

SUGGESTED FORMER READING: Admissions Policy, Vol.1, Story 2.

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 03-12-04-01

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify playlist at end.)

 

Prelude.

 

A truck swishes past in the direction of the Fal-Tapria, it’s going too fast.

 

Where am I?

 

The cartoons aren’t on the telescreen when I get home from school.

 

What happened?

 

At quarter past five there’s no sign of my parents.

 

The University. The gravity had gone.

 

On the news the Fal-Tapria is lopsided parts of it are cracking and then it falls. I don’t understand. My parents are still not home – I make myself a sandwich.

 

There was a lecture theatre and then…

 

It’s dark and the news is still on. I don’t think to turn on the light. A man comes in and tells me a story. About some bad people who did a terrible thing.

 

…there was the shade. The thing with the smoke and the…

 

I sleep that night in a bed that isn’t mine. In a house down the street. A woman I don’t know keeps coming in checking if I am okay – she smiles but also looks sad. Everyone that day looks sad.

 

it opened the airlock. Am I dead?

 

Act 1.

 

For a minute I think I have a hangover. My head hurts and I can’t remember what has happened. Have I been put to bed? Where did I go – probably the outer hub, always terribly dangerous parties there. But I am not lay on anything, I can’t feel my back resting on anything at all – perhaps I am not in my cabin. But where? I can’t open my eyes – they’re too heavy. I can only see the dark and mysterious colours that light forms on a closed eyelid. I can move my arms though; they are heavy too but soon surrender into the air. I think… although I can’t quite believe it… I think I’m in water. The water is thick and custardy – perhaps it is custard? Eventually my fingertips reach an edge.

The thoughts begin to spill through suddenly like the water through a broken damn. My name is Fenn, a student at the University of Pure Sight. Wait. The former university. It blew up. I saw it. The shade released the airlock and I saw the vast space-station start to explode. I was with the Professor and Ter. We understood the monster, it only wanted to come and learn but it had killed everyone. Including it seemed – me. Then where am I now?

My eyes flip open suddenly. I am in liquid but it doesn’t sting or fill my eyes I can just about see into it. About a foot in front of me is a swirling fleshy surface. Greens and black form and reform into organic maps. I have been reincarnated – have I? Seems unlikely – I was always a woman of science but maybe I was… the word tastes bitter even as a thought… wrong. But I feel fully-grown. Ugh! What am I then? Some terrible creature from the badlands. No Fenn mustn’t be prejudice – what if I’m some terrible undesignated species from the Sector 6. That’s better. Oh god though what if I’m a lizard monster or a gas whale or something I don’t know! I look down as best I can. I can see my hands and flex out the claws. From round my back my tail snakes round. Thanks goodness as – far as I can see I’m still a Fal-Tap.

I keep my claws out and draw them down the fleshy surface. It comes away like wet tissue paper. I start scraping wildly at it disturbing the liquid into bubble streams all around. Layer after layer comes off until light starts to appear. Proper light though and not just the coloured darkness. With one last pierce like the popping of a balloon the wall breaks and the light floods my vision.

I splutter and take in lungfuls of air at syncopated intervals. The water drips off me and the warm air takes control. I can finally see where I am.

It is a bright day and a warm one too and I’m on a planet that’s for sure. There’s dusty rock everywhere and a sun in the sky. Here and there are dark stains where the water from the pod has exploded out. It’s quiet. I shake out my fur to dry myself and look around. On the horizon is a constant stream of black smoke, its like the rubbish planets you here of where the capitol sector sends its waste. Desolate planets left to cook by constant rubbish tip infernos. I appear to be on a hill, only a slight one though and on one side there is a forest, if you could call it that, of dead twig like trees. Am I here alone? Surely there is someone else? I will head to the fire, unless it’s a volcano it had mean some form of civilisation surely. I set off.

Shit. I feel something grab my ankle. Shit shit shit. Fuck. I look down. It has, something has grabbed my ankle and is pulling. I can’t quite see because of the mud. It could be a root. I’m stuck fast. Fuck.

Suddenly I’m on the floor, toppled over by a huge force, presumably from the root or hand or whatever the hell it was. Great – just come back to life and now I’m going to be eaten by some monster. But I’m wrong. Emerging out of the ground clawing an tearing at it, is Ter, my friend. Xyr blue skin is tinged red until he spots me and it fades into softer green.

‘Fenn, what is going on?’ xe says and wildly shakes off the same fluid still half-clinging to me.

‘Ter I’m so glad its you,’ I say and embrace xyr. ‘I don’t know. All I can remember is the lecture hall and then…’

‘Yes we were in space, unprotected. How are we here?’

There is another rustle from nearby. Professor Zanflip the Walran emerges from the ground dripping like us.

‘Fascinating,’ he says seemingly unperturbed. ‘That you gang? You been in the womb too? Did it feel like that for you? I feel like I’ve just been birthed but was conscious. Disgusting really but an experience nonetheless. Goodness – wait weren’t we?’

‘Yes Professor we were just saying that,’ I say. The Professor gets up on his flippers and sniffs the air.

‘Then how can we have…?’ He begins to say but is cut short. From behind comes a cold, steel-hard voice.

‘It was me. I saved you.’

 

Act 2

To my surprise and from what I can gather it begins to cry. It is certainly the creature from the university. It shut off the lights and then the gravity and then the place began to crash. I’m not sure if it is crying or screaming actually. It looks like a painting of a demon. It is vaguely humanoid (or fal-taprian I should say, bloody galactic education conditioning), but it as if it is formed by black smoke. Its face is like a skull, the eyes hollow and sunken but with a tight muscular mouth. But it is certainly upset. Next to me is a dry, sharp looking stick, I drag it from the ground and hold it up like a sword. I feel ridiculous but it’s the best I can do. I feel the Professor move a step forward a wave his flipper to say lower your weapon.

‘It is you isn’t it?’ he says. ‘From the university. What is your name?’

He’s amazing the Professor. He says this so calmly. I can tell it isn’t from fear either, he is simply concerned.

‘My name?’

‘Yes, yes. What is your name?’

‘I don’t know.’

The Professor gives me a warning nod of his eyebrow to stay back.

‘Was it the crash? Can you remember anything?’

‘I can remember everything. It’s just I’ve never had a name. My species we move in packs, or clans. We do not need names.’

‘Ah now we’re getting somewhere!’ The Professor smiles at me and winks. I respect the Prof’s kindness but I can feel hot rage boiling inside me.

‘Professor if you wouldn’t mind that’s the thing that crashed the university. The greatest seat of learning in the galaxy. I don’t think we should be talking to it.’ I can feel my claws slide out from my paws.

‘I am not an it. I am a he,’ it says towards me. Its voice is deeper now and raspier.

‘Calm down, calm down. That will not get us anywhere.’

‘And why? Because they wouldn’t let you in!’ I ignore the professor. ‘There must be thousands of people across the galaxy who haven’t got in – and you decide to crash it – how many people are dead…’ the sentence chokes me. It’s like I’ve suddenly been plunged into icy water.

‘It wasn’t my ability. It’s not that I didn’t get the grades. It was because they were scared, scared of me – scared of what they didn’t know…’ there is a shaky tone to its voice again, as if it has remembered it is upset.

‘I’m not bloody surprised. They probably saw it coming. What are upset for? Regret is it. I should think so too.’

I turn away for a moment and look out to the horizon. There’s the smoke again, over the hill, forming in a big funnel up into the atmosphere. Apart from that there is nothing, the rocky landscape stretching out forever. It looks like there aren’t even any animals here or even plants. No wonder the empire left it unregistered. Move on. Nothing to see here at all. I turn and see the shade on the other side of the dusty crater where we woke up. The Professor and Ter are standing awkwardly in the middle.

‘Fenn, Fenn.’ Ter says and looks at me with xyr round, blue face.

‘I’m sorry Ter, we should never be here. What are we going to do now?’ I say and feel hot stinging tears prick my eyes.

‘It’s not regret. The shade, the thing, he’s not feeling regret.’

‘Then what is it feeling?’ I shout. ‘Pride? Happiness? What else could any sentient being be feeling after this but regret?’ Why the hell did you save us – what so you can gloat? Is that it?’

Ter turns a deep shade of crimson and I immediately feel terrible.

‘I saved you because you understood. My body it can morph and fly. That’s how I entered the university through its systems and that’s how I brought you back down here.’

‘This is your home? This is where you’re from isn’t it?’ The professor says.

‘We call it Xcvervx. The Stone-Sphere. We live off the gas here in the earth and survive as the only species here.’

The shade separates and explodes into long tendrils of black smoke. The streams disappear into the earth and then shoot back out again and form back into a body.

‘Do you think I’m impressed?’ I say sounding like a little girl but meaning it.

‘I mean I am,’ The Professor says innocently.

‘I’ve had enough I really have. If you want to hang out with this terrorist unregistered than you can do.’

I clamber up the hill towards the funnel of black smoke. Eventually my hands reach the crest and I pull myself upwards. Before me is the source of the smoke. As if I could not have realised before. There in the valley below is the wreckage of the University of Pure Sight. A vast expanse of tunnels and huge hangers cracked and pulled open by the force of impact. I can glimpse piles of flesh within. In the middle there, the engine pulsates giving off waves of amber energy. It makes me sick to my stomach. There is a sound of air beside and I look to see the skull face of the shade.

‘I don’t feel regret. They deserved it. The galaxy deserves it. Your empire deserves it.’

‘Then why are you so sad?’ I say flatly.

‘It seems my people have gone. They have abandoned the planet. I am alone.’

‘Good. That’s all you deserve. Now leave us alone too.’

The shade disappears and I am left with the quiet throb of the dying space station.

 

Interlude

…I hear the word sanctions but I don’t know what it means.

 

There are no days anymore.

 

My teacher was a Walran but she is not my teacher anymore.

 

My tongue is the rocks of the land, it has become the same.

 

In the children’s home we are separated from those who are not Fal-Tap. Greddy throws rocks at them over the fence.

 

My eyes open and close at random. They are not mine anymore.

 

The playground beyond the fence is empty today and we are told it is ours again. Greddy starts throwing the rocks at us instead.

 

That thing saved us for nothing. He shouldn’t have save us at all.

 

I overhear the teachers in the corridor. ‘He’s got exactly what he wanted’, ‘We’ll never leave the planet again.’

 

This is it then, delayed but it is here at last. It was an epilogue on the story not a new chapter after all.

 

It was not their time. It was that someone else decided for them. I punch Greddy in the face and drag my claws through his skin.

 

I feel a trickle of liquid into my mouth. Water, water of life.

 

Act 3

The Walrans and the Sonva, the races of the Professor and Ter respectively are notably hardier than your basic intelligent humanoid shapes. Humans of course, Fal-Taps, the Creatise and Glooshas historically had short-form evolutions. They gained intelligence very quickly, relatively speaking, and haven’t really evolved since. But the races that were long-form, like tended to never stop going. They spent longer in various phases of their history, planet-bound, basic space etc. but their bodies adapted more cleanly and more strongly because they took their time.

In a desolate rock planet, with an energy seeping wreck of a space station my frail evolution soon started to wither until Ter and the Professor managed to find some water tanks spilling out over the earth. Their hardy skin blocked the radiation and finally they had found a tank closed and uncontaminated that brought me back from the cusp of another death.

‘It was creepy down there. The bodies looked like they were shifting. It’s the wreckage I’m sure but…’

They had found impact supply pods for such an emergency. Full of old-fashioned space food, all tubes and pastes. Ter squeezed some unappetizing grey matter into xyr mouth.

‘Did you feel anything?’ I say, perhaps tactlessly, I’m still not sure of the standard manners protocol around asking.

‘Nothing, there is no one there.’

‘This place would be fascinating to study, alas…’ the Professor said.

‘Alas what?’ I say.

‘Alas there’s no university, no equipment, not even pen and paper to write on.’

We sit for a moment in the soft light of the setting sun. We are sat in a circle, a three sided one at least. It feels like we are the very last people in the universe. We are on the last planet watching the last star die. Throughout my life, I’ve always looked up at the sky and felt it was bristling with life. I could always feel the spaceships fizzing through the sky off to central space to join the throng of the Capitol. But here on this planet, with the only civilisation it has ever known smoking and burning in the distance, it feels as if it all that life could be across the void – in another universe itself. What did I do to be so lost?

‘Then we start again. We make the equipment. Well I mean first we could make you know more pressing things like beds and a roof and a kettle but we could aim for it Professor what do you think?’

‘What’s the point,’ I say and mean it too. Ter is my friend but that idealism was fine for the university but now it just feels pathetic. I won’t say it though. ‘I mean people will be coming won’t they? A whole university falls out of the sky surely people will come and investigate? We wait.’

‘The nights are pretty cold and the impact pod won’t last forever. You’re still angry Ms. Fenn I don’t have to be a sonva to see that. But think of the Empire. It is bureaucracy at its best they won’t step in here unless they can be sure it is stamped, crossed and double checked. Anyway in unmarked space, they will think some outlying race has attacked. I wouldn’t be surprised if they leave it be. Pop up a false news comm. and forget it. We can’t rely on them.’

‘You’re right,’ I say. ‘The what do we do?’

‘Get you a spacesuit.’

 

*            *            *

 

I see the two little dots grow limbs and detail and eventually become people. They’ve done it I can see. Draped over the Professor’s shoulder is the limp spacesuit ready to be filled and Ter is holding the helmet tight in xyr arms, like a squirrel with a nut. I’m impatient because I want to get going. They are moving so slowly. The professor in typical Walran fashion waddles along stiffly. Oh shit – I realise. I’m a dick. He’s old. He must be what? 150? In standard years that’s about 80. He’s just gone into a broken down spaceship, possibly the most unstable place in the galaxy just to help me out. Right, I’m going to help. I am, I need to.

The plan is to salvage. It’s a concept we’re not used to on the central planets. Everything is always made new there and waste shipped off planet. They say in the old days they had to find waste deposits on world – must have been hell all that piling up. But here, in this barren world – the salvage is our salvation. We decided to start with one building. Four walls that’s all – and a roof. We fill it with everything we can. The impact pods should have held the cargo at least. The crash was sudden, but the buffers on those are on all the time. We decided as one to put all thoughts of the future on hold apart from this. This was my idea. If we think of the rest of our lives we will despair I know it. We start with one building.

‘Land ho!’ shouts the Professor with his flipper raised.

‘We’re on land,’ I laugh and run down the hill.

‘Ah yes. Well Spacesuit ho! Here we are Fenn,’ He passes me the spacesuit and I pull it on over my increasingly dirt clothes.

‘Someone’s a little more cheerful?’ he says.

‘Yes I noticed that,’ Ter says and turns a deep shade of blue.

‘Well you know, just thought I’d best get on with it. I’m still mad don’t get me wrong but the Shade seems to have cleared off and this isn’t our fault is it? We need to keep on.’

‘Just one building,’ The Professor taps his head.

‘Just one building,’ I smile back. ‘How was it in there?’

‘Weird,’ Ter says. ‘There were dark lumps of bodies in corners. And scorch marks on the roof. Some rooms were upside down and corridors on their end like towers. How can we make our home from that?’

Xyr skin folds in crimson red and then fiery orange. It is the sonva colour of upset that’s for sure but its more than upset. The colours are so complex and changing I think it is – impossibility, despair even.

‘Ter we start with just one building. Remember that. We’ll just start with the one.’

 

* * *

 

The corridor is dark apart from the squares of light marking the floor, the sun through former windows. We have four walls, dragged through the dirt like tank tracks in a war. There’s been no sign of the shade. If that thing ever came back I’m not sure what I’d do. But he’s gone and he’s never coming back.

‘Ter stay near me,’ I whisper.

‘Are we close?’

‘Yes not far off.’

We pass into a square of light and my face fur bristles with the sudden illumination through the screen. I’ve begin to live with a dirtiness I’ve never experienced. Each strand is coarse and wiry – parts of it on my legs have started to fall out although that might be just the radiation. The thought of a shower everyday now seems like an impossible luxury – one I will never have again. I step back into the shadows. The roof is just ahead. The Professor remembered the panelling used in office buildings. The cutthroat, sensitive world of academia seemed to be so brutal that the offices would change all the time in size and grandeur. When the new university was built they decided a more practical measure was needed so retractable glass panels were built that could be stretched and changed according to where the wind blew. To us though it would be glass to remind us to return to the sky once more.

‘What was that?’ xe says behind. Xyr right, there was a crash beyond the wall.

‘Nothing. There’s things breaking off everywhere. It’ll just be that.’

Ter takes my hand.

‘Let’s get the roof and get out of here.’

‘We’re fine. Yeah just up ahead.

Ter will be able to feel it that I’m scared. The Professor heard it too, the wreckage is full of noises that shouldn’t be there. Scratching. Moaning. Slamming of doors. We’ve not seen any survivors because there aren’t any. There can’t be any. Up ahead is the door to the cargo. Inside we have dragged day by day the food parcels, breaking through until we reach the glass panels. I heave open the door to the hold and go inside. The place is still full of things we don’t need. Mainly huge crates of books. Most people used their comm. units of course but the solid articles could also be requested. They are like tombstones now crowding in the dark.

‘It’s there at the back. We need three reams of it should be enough.’

‘And a glow-cube if there is one. The Professor said they should still be perpetuating.’

‘Ah yes. Will be nice to have some hot, well hotter at least food,’ I say and smile. Ter keeps on staring into the dark.

We walk through the cargo graveyard and I pick up a few glow-cubes that are scattered between bookshelves knocked over like a line of dominos.

‘They’re here, the roof is here,’ Ter shouts from beyond.

‘I’m coming!’ In my spacesuit everything feels heavy. It makes my breath like a broken vent. Wearing a spacesuit on a planet is like returning to the dark ages. Everything in history has been just a project to make things easier. The little things. Forget the politics the quests for meaning, it’s all just so we can breathe easier and go to sleep in a comfortable bed, I’m sure of it.

‘Fenn, come quick. Please, I’ve found the roof panels.’

‘I’m coming, I’m coming’

‘Fenn there’s something else here. Come quick.’

‘Shit what?’

I leap onto the bookcases and they start rolling from under me. I run along the top and feel each one drop from under me. Ter is just over the next set of crates. From above comes a deafening creak. The roof is going. I can see the cracks forming like the crust on a loaf. Shit. I leap over and see Ter cowering beneath the glass folded glass panels. I look around – there’s no one about I can see. On the panel of my helmet I see a line of dust form. I leap downwards, I know what’s coming. Above me the ceiling falls through bringing a vent or a corridor hurtling though. I slide through under the criss-cross forest of shelves.

‘Ter – I’m coming – what is it? What’s there?’

‘I don’t know. I can’t see it but I can feel it. It’s close.

‘What can you feel?’ I shout. Above the crates lurch under the new weight of the collapsed ceiling. I can just see a hole through if I crawl through the shelves.

‘I don’t know. Its like it doesn’t know. Its confused I think but angry. Like a child but its remembering that it isn’t. I don’t know.’

‘Don’t worry – I’m coming.’

I grab a rogue bar above and swing through kicking a mesh panel out the way. Behind me the collapsed ceiling rumbles and breaks through another floor.

‘Shit the floors gone behind.’

‘Take an extra glass panel – we can throw it across.’

I reach Ter and embrace xyr tight. I grab a few reams of the flexible glass and strap them to my back keeping one spare.

‘Is it still here?’

‘No I don’t think so. It might have been beneath the floor. I imagine the collapse…’

‘We’ll worry about it later – we need to get out first.’

The quiet cargo hold is now as mass of fire and fizzing jets of steam. Its like the crash has happened all over again. Through holes in walls I can see other parts crashing and cracking. Former lectures theatres turned to dust by engines above them. Living quarters smashing into kitchens. Everywhere heat and metal and fire.

‘Come on!’ I take xyr hand and head to the ceiling crater.

Below is what looks a map of the lower decks with a dirty streak obscuring the middle. It is a part of the top engine that has fallen through; the cargo shield must have finally given way. It’s like an open metal toothed jaw ready to swallow us up. This is last moments for the university – its final dying breath. I throw the glass panels out and it snaps into a long, clear bridge.

‘You’re not scared,’ Ter says matter of factly.

‘What of course I am!’

‘Well you are but you’re excited. I can feel it remember. Scared and excited. And you know what I think I am too.’

I smile at my gentle friend and we run out of the fiery jaws of the university and back into the wasteland.

 

Interlude.

The teacher in the school is angry with me.

 

The stars are so bright.

 

And suddenly I am angry with her. It comes from nowhere like a sudden volcano.

 

How can they say this is an outlying planet? We are at the centre of everything.

 

I draw my claws and she steps back. Her tails stiffens. ‘You sit down now Fenn, NOW!’

 

I wonder where the shade is now. Does he feel regret now? Does he still wallow?

 

I drag them along the table instead. She says clearly ‘You’ll never amount to anything with an attitude like that.’

 

The blankets we have made are coarse but comforting.

 

Everyday I work harder. I have nothing else to do. No family. Barely any friends. Just the work – the refreshing work to get me through.

 

Here on the stone-sphere I can be queen of this new world. My eyelids are heavy…

 

I remember it so clearly. There on my comm. unit. ‘Welcome to the University of Pure Sight…’

 

Act 4

It is the evening after we erected the roof. The Professor has proved his genius time and again. Deftly cutting shapes and panels into things we needed that hadn’t even crossed my mind. Like a chimney for an inside fire. We sit on dusty chairs in the sandy dirt that makes the floor of our simple shack round the crackling warmth. Since the collapse in the store room the mood has been sombre. Everything we have is now here and it won’t last forever. Boxes line the walls and are stacked up high with salvaged materials. The past few days all we have talked about has been practicalities. Now the basics were in place and our lives are suddenly stretching out in front of us. At least I don’t have to wear the spacesuit here.

‘I wonder where the shade has got to?’ Ter says.

‘I don’t care,’ I say back. I don’t mean to snarl at xyr but I do.

‘He said that his people were gone. He was on his own now.’

‘Good. He’s got what he deserved.’

‘I don’t know Fenn, if we look at it from his perspective…,’ Says the Professor like a typical academic.

‘From his perspective? He is a terrorist. He didn’t get what he wanted so he throws his dummies out of the pram.’ I can feel my voice rising and choking with emotion. ‘We survived. But only on his whim! Think of all the people down there who have died. You’re friends, colleagues. All dead. His perspective means nothing.’

I suddenly start to cry in huge heaving gulps. The Professor waddles over to me.

‘What is it? Fenn, tell me what is it?’

I run away, out of the scraggy door covered with an old tarpaulin and out into the chilly night. My tail is stiff and alert. The memories flood through and suddenly they are all around me like a dream. A dream that has no end and no beginning. It is constant and forever. The night is silent apart from the soft shifting of sands on the horizon. In the sky burns a bright purple moon colouring the night like a painting.

‘Fenn, you’re hurting. This is not about the shade is it?’

It is Ter, who has coloured light gentle pink, making him look almost like a human. Behind xyr is the Professor, his old face lined with hurt.

‘I’m so sorry Professor, I didn’t mean…’ I throw my arms around the old Walran and squeeze hard.

‘Not too tight my dear I am a 150,’ He smiles and then frowns again. ‘This is not about the shade is it?’

We return to the fire and sit on the chairs.

‘I… When I was a youngling… I… Professor do you remember the attack on the Fal-Tapria?’

‘How could I forget? The single greatest political event I the last 10 standards. It took the Empire years to even get the Fal-Tap Royal House to let non-indigenous shuttles through their airspace.’

Ter looked on gravely. Everyone knew of the attack. A hover-truck full of explosives had somehow sped through from the upper atmosphere and launched into the palace of my race’s home planet. Thousands died. It was pinned on an undesignated species from sector 6. If the case for the Empire’s expansion hadn’t been cemented already – it was now.

‘My parents were there when the truck hit the palace. They worked in the kitchens right above where it hit. If the impact didn’t get them the explosion certainly would’ve done. I dream about it every night. I didn’t understand it for years. But now I do…’

‘I’m so sorry Fenn, often us academics can forget that are people at the centre of these events not just politics,’ the Professor says and lays a warm flipper on my shoulder. ‘If the Shade comes back there will be no mercy! No forgiveness! I will fashion a defence system – something to keep him away.’

I notice, as the Professor speaks that Ter is turning shades of green and red. I’m not sure what it means. Suddenly xe bursts out.

‘The shade didn’t mean it. Not really. I’m sorry about your parents Fenn but the shade is young like you and me. It was rash and made a mistake. When we woke up I felt it – I felt it all. He must have been putting it on later. I was confused.’

‘I don’t care what you felt Ter,’ I say hotly. ‘ I agree with the professor, tomorrow we’ll start some defences.’

The night rustles in the background and we head to bed in silence.

 

* * *

 

I wake with a start. Its Ter shaking me awake.

‘Fenn,’ xe says. ‘Fenn, I can feel it again – the same thing from the university –it’s here.’

‘What? What are you talking about?’ I say blearily.

I sit up and see the Professor hastily putting on a dressing gown. Where in the galaxy did he get that? Never mind.

‘Professor,’ I say. ‘Is there any chance anything could have survived the crash?’

‘I mean we did for starters.’

‘No but anything inside?’

‘The impact pods wouldn’t have helped – they’d have crushed the people around them – the storage units are too big. I’m not sure. All sorts went on at the university. If there were even slight survivors – people on the brink of death perhaps they could have been affected. This is all theoretical of course.’

‘What do you mean affected?’

‘Well the place, while damaged, was still full of medibots, nanomedics, radiation of all sorts. I’m not sure. Perhaps something did survive – something that didn’t pick up on the scans.’

‘Shit,’ I say and run outside – it’s all darkness, the purple moon has left the sky.

‘Quick, turn on the lights outside Professor.’

He waddles over and heaves down a heavy switch on the floor. Immediately illuminated are figures on the horizon. They are deep black and grey as if charred and burnt. They are stumbling forward like zombies.

‘You were right. Something survived,’ I shout. ‘Ter what are they feeling?’

I can see Ter is holding xyr head in pain. ‘I can’t…So many voices, so many feelings. I’m not used to it.’

The creatures stumble and crawl. Some are without legs or arms. Cracks in their bodies glow with different colours. Some ooze dark liquids over their dry bodies.

‘Ter what is it?’

‘They are… ahhhhh….hungry.’

‘Can we help them?’ The Professor says.

‘No – they’re hungry for – us.’

They’re getting closer and closer. They’re in the crater now. We’ve have no defences. Barely a building even. These are the people of the university. Or what’s left of them. There are hundreds of them coming over the hill. Clawing and reaching towards us. They must have sensed us when we got the supplies. I wonder what they will do to us?

‘They’re on every side,’ Ter shouts.

‘Professor inside!’

‘I can’t think Fenn, I’m not a solider – I’m an academic. I don’t know.’

‘It’s okay – we’ve had more time than we should have anyway. Time to go I think. Join the fellow students,’ I say and cling to my friends in the dark shack. The hands are breaking through the walls and a figure stumbles through the door. Suddenly, just as I resign myself to my delayed death there it is again. The first time, it was the cause and now it is the solution. The air is filled with black smoke. The creature through the door is propelled back by it. It howls a nightmare scream. The grabbing charred hands shoot backwards through their holes. I run to the door. There is a swirling, shooting line of black smoke like a wall round our shack.

‘Its him – it’s the shade!’ Ter shouts.

I can see the creatures scramble and crawl over the edges of the crater. They are retreating. The shade forms again in front of me.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I really am.’

‘You saved us again,’ I whisper. ‘Thank you.’

‘He’s telling the truth,’ Ter says. ‘He feels regret.’

‘I do,’ he says. ‘I know this world, I can help you. Help you start again.

I look to the Professor and then to Ter. Their faces are dark in the shack but even without being a Sonva I can tell what they are feeling.

I brush my hands over the fur on my ears.

‘You answer to me. Fenn.’ I say, pointing. ‘Do you understand?’

In its skull face, it is hard to tell, but I think I detect a hint of a smile. Four of us then, four unlikely friends starting our new world.

 

Epilogue.

My parents, a grey-furred strong Dad and a gentle amber mother. They smile down at me and point at the starships whizzing through the sky from the flat window. ‘You’ll be there one day my love,’ they say and squeeze me tight. ‘You can be anything you want to be. A Captain, an adventurer, a queen of your own world…’

 

Bloodshot

By Emma Geraghty

Galactic Coordinates: 23-04-06-01

“Please enter identification number.”

The voice from the security system is posh and tinny. Instantly annoying. I take off my glove and type in the six digits, the numbers sliding unconsciously from my brain to fingers already numbing in the bitter night. The red light blinks. I hold my breath.

“Confirmed. Please enter.”

I push the door open. The apartment is silent and I want to keep it that way. I make my way along the hallway and into the lounge, everything bathed in a fiery glow from the sunrise outside. The curtains are open and for a moment I think maybe I’m too late. Maybe she’s up already. And if that’s true, then I am well and truly in the shit. But I can’t hear anything. Just the sound of my own breath. Even the sounds of the street don’t make it this high up. It’s unsettling. I’ve always hated silence. It’s easier to hide in noise.

The third door along is the bedroom, and that’s where I need to be. I place a hand on the handle and push it down, the click seeming to bounce off the walls. This room is in darkness. I take a moment to let my eyes adjust, let the silhouettes of furniture emerge from the dark, let my brain remember. The desk. On the other side of the room. That’s where the box is, in the first drawer. I look towards the bed and see her figure beneath the bedsheets, blonde hair turned black in the lack of light. I move quickly to the desk. This might just work – in and out, no trace. Like I’d never been here.

And that’s when the alarm goes off.

“…bringing you the best sounds at six am, this is Blokk Radio, with you all through the day…”

The lights flick on and the curtains begin to open, all of this pre-programmed bullshit ruining a perfectly good plan in an instant.

“What the hell?” She’s awake.

I turn to face her, smiling in what I hope is an apologetic way. “Hey babe.”

“Hey? Is that it? You know, when I said you could stay at mine, I meant during the night. Not rolling in at the crack of dawn with a hey babe.

Her tone is angry, but she’s never been able to stay mad at me for long. So I shrug off my jacket, throwing it over the back of the chair, and sit on the bed. Look at her. Smile genuinely this time. Her eyes are sharp but lined with sleep, hair all over the place, and the rush of feeling takes me by surprise like it always does. Allory Hacida, stealing the breath from my lungs at the most unexpected moments.

“Have you been out all night?”

“Got stuck with work.” I shrug. Images from the night chase themselves through my brain but I shake them free. I lean in to kiss her. She pulls back, wrinkling her nose.

“No way. Nothing for you till you get in the shower.”

“Is that an invitation?”

I lie back on the bed, making sure my boots aren’t touching the white sheets. She laughs.

“Someone’s come back horny,” she smiles at me, and I can’t keep the grin off my face. She gets out of bed. “It can be an invitation if you want. Saves on water.”

My mind drifts briefly to the thought of a shower, to the hot water pricking my skin, then to sleep, to letting my eyelids close, letting myself dream. I shake my head to clear it and sit up. “No time. I’m due at the station in half an hour.”

She shakes her head, annoyance flashing across her face. “You need some sleep.”

“Not more than I need a job.” I go back to the desk and get a small box from the top drawer. My original target. Inside are a few dozen tiny red pills, each marked with the letter K, and I take two without water. I ignore the small sound of distaste that Allory makes. Klaxxon pills were taken off the general market about a year ago when people realised they destroyed their nanomedics, but as Al’s told me time and time again I evidently don’t care about my health. And I get them for free. I can feel the charge as the pills work their medical magic, and within ten seconds I am wide awake. My ears are ringing and I suddenly have a banging headache, but that’s all normal and I swallow a couple of painkillers as a chaser. Sorted.

I hear the sound of the shower and resist the urge to follow her in. She’ll be genuinely pissed off at me now. As long as I don’t take them in front of her she doesn’t seem to care, but she also insists that I keep them here. So she can keep an eye on me. I have another bag back at my place, but that’s besides the point. What she doesn’t know can’t irritate her. But it is sweet of her, I guess, to care so much-

Focus. Stop thinking about it. She won’t last.

My clothes stink. I remove my holster, strip, and throw the clothes into the laundry unit, the mechanisms firing up instantly. I stand in front of the mirror to assess the damage from the night. Just a couple of bruises. Huge one across the ribs on my left – glancing kick from a security boot. On the curve of my right shoulder – breaking into a shitty apartment. Nothing too serious, and I’m always grateful when they go for places I can cover up. A couple of jobs ago I came back with a face like a Rorschach test. Not pretty.

I splash my miraculously unbruised face with cold water and get some of my clothes out of Allory’s wardrobe. I hear the shower stop. She comes back into the bedroom as I’m struggling to fasten my bra behind my back, a blue towel wrapped around her. Her hair drips over her shoulders.

“I don’t know why you don’t just twist it round,” she says, smacking my hands away and doing it for me.

“Thanks.” I grab my t-shirt from the bed. “I feel like I should be able to manage my own underwear by now, y’know?”

I know she’s looking at my bruises and I know exactly what she’s thinking, but I brush past it. I pull the t-shirt over my head. One of the ones from San Ya’s black market – it’s not exactly illegal, but stuff salvaged from Ea1 is always frowned upon.

“A woman’s place is in the resistance,” Allory reads. “Who’s the picture?”

“The princess. From the film we watched last week.”

“The one set in space? With the light-up swords? I don’t know why you like that stuff, it’s so unrealistic.”

“Unrealistic? We live in space, honey-”

“Yeah, and it’s nothing like that film.”

“It’s a masterpiece. End of.” I drag a brush through my hair and pull it into a ponytail. “Anyway, gotta dash.”

Allory looks pointedly at my gun and holster, still on the bed. I put it on, grab my jacket and gloves, and go to head to the front door.

“Morven.” Allory’s got her hands on her hips. “You’re forgetting something.”

“I am?” She raises her eyebrows and I falter. “Oh. Yeah.”

It’s a good kiss, if a bit rushed. I’d stay here for the whole day if I could. The whole week. She’s smiling when I pull away, her face just inches from mine. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh?”

“Tonight?” I wrack my brain. There’s nothing filed under Allory, nothing under Tonight… The smile disappears from her face. “Tonight. The meal. At Arcadia.”

Shit.

“I’ll be there. It just slipped my mind.”

“Table’s booked at eight. Dress nicely. No denim.”

Shit.

“Do you need a ride?”

“No, I’ll meet you there after work.” She bites her lip slightly and it instantly worries me. “There’s something else… Don’t go mad.”

“Okaaaaay…”

“I didn’t tell you before because I knew you’d panic, but I promise you’ll be fine. My parents are joining us for dinner. I think it’s about time you met them.”

Shit.

————————————-

So I’m outside and it’s really fucking cold and my brain is in utter panic. Meet the parents? Christ. Not a chance. No. Fucking. Way. I press my thumb to the scanner, swing a leg over my ride and give it a kick, a couple of passersby jumping at the roar of the engine. It quickly settles into a low growl. I angle upwards. There’s already vehicles buzzing about, zipping this way and that, heading to work or home or to meet their girlfriend’s parents or whatever. I wait for an opening and flick through some music. The little player was another relic from Ea1. You can get these implant things now, but there’s a procedure and doctors and to be honest, I like that I’m in control of my own body now. And if I’m wearing headphones, people generally know not to talk to me.

The ride to the WeGard-U station only takes ten minutes and I have at least six near death experiences. I’m sure cities in the Inner Planets have traffic systems or something, but out here we just wing it. Much like everything else. This whole city is a death trap. Blokk lives up to its name – it was originally an import station for the other outlying planets, and when the money ran out there were just lots of storage containers and old buildings. And then humans invaded, as we always do. So the containers got stacked on top of each other and got made into apartments, which is where everyone lives. The centre is a little better – think Ea1 cowboy movies with more lasers and chrome – but in the suburbs it’s a mess. Allory’s apartment is pretty nice, but it’s expensive. My place is… best not mentioned. I power down outside the station just as the final screams of electric guitar die in my headphones. I remove my helmet, check my reflection in the wing mirror, and head into the building, starting up a fresh track. I may look like a woman but I / cut like a buffalo…

“Morning, Morven.”

I tip a salute to the Gard at reception. “Morning Xende. Coffee machine working?”

“No.”

“Excellent.” Today is hell.

I’ve just completed the retina scan – recent freak-out with clones, don’t ask – when Gard Probis appears. He’s well educated, conventionally attractive, and a complete bellend, so naturally I figured he would feature in my day.

“What are you doing here, Glass?”

I shrug, leaning nonchalantly against the reception. “Nothing much. Chilling out. Maxing. Relaxing all cool.”

He narrows his eyes, recognition flitting briefly across his face. He definitely knows I’m taking the piss.

“It’s half six in the morning, Probis. Just doing my job.”

“Of course,” he sneers, looking me up and down. “Every inch the professional.”

I’m just about to snap back a killer one-liner when my file arrives. Xende clears her throat. She’s holding a small three-tipped needle. “You want it direct?”

“Nah, transfer.” I suppress a shudder. She turns to her screen and within seconds is handing me a micro-card the size of a fingernail. Probis raises his eyebrows.

“Memory card? You need to catch up with your tech, Glass.”

I roll my eyes, pocketing the card. “Why are you still here?”

His indignant response is drowned out by drums and electric guitars as I unpause my player and head back to my ride. I occasionally enjoy irritating him, if I have the time, but not today. I put on the helmet and slide the micro-card into the side of it. Images flash across the visor. A name. A face. A location. Warning. Dangerous fugitive. Proceed with caution.

That’s more like it.

I take the rest of the morning relatively easy. Grab a coffee, some breakfast, another coffee, buy some new cigarettes. I spend quite a while sat outside what passes for a cafe, smoking and scrolling through data files on my laptop. Yes, I still have one of those. It looks like it’s survived several nuclear blasts – which, to be fair, it might well have done – but it works like a dream and I don’t feel like I could break it if I tried. I’m researching my target. Well, refreshing my memory, really. I’ve gone after this guy before. A good fifteen years ago. And he got away. Dabrial Birch. I’ve not got a vendetta or anything. In fact, it’s quite nice to have a familiar face pop up now and again, like checking up on an old friend who you’ve tried to kill several times and finding out they’re still well and still fucking their life up. And all I have to do is find him and bring him in. Dead or alive.

His last known location is Triisk, about three hours out of the city, so that’s where I head. I’m not worried about him skipping out on me. Triisk is home to the biggest network of gambling dens in the outer planets, with a minimum stay of three days and no maximum limit. The place is a void. You get thrown out when you run out of money – trust me on that one – but thanks to the vast amount of illegal trading he’s done, Birch is loaded. And he checked in thirty hours ago, so unless something has gone horrendously wrong then he’s still in there.

The bouncer is huge. I think he’s a Rhino, which means he’s small on brains and big on everything else. His voice sounds like he’s chewing rocks. I pay the minimum fee and slide past him into the Complex, stopping just inside the door to get my bearings. There isn’t much light, most of it coming from the smart screens that run the games, and the sound of the players is masked by a throbbing bass that hits just below the ribcage. I can feel my pulse slowing in time to it, feel my alertness fading away… I bite my tongue to sharpen my brain. Birch is a tricky sonofabitch and I’ll need every scrap of energy to get him. I shake my head quickly. Bloody hell. My brain- hang on. There’s a woman stood, and I’m guessing by her outfit of a very skimpy bra and knickers that she works for the Complex. The silver platter she’s holding has lots of little red pills on it. Jackpot. I take two of them, murmuring my thanks and feel my heartbeat kick up to double time. Whoa there. If only Allory could see me now, I grin to myself. I feel fantastic.

I start scanning the games for my man, hands in pockets, slightly hunched posture. Making myself inconspicuous as possible. I slink from game to game, hoping that I see him before I have to get involved in one of them. The management get annoyed if you just hang around without playing. I gravitate naturally towards the bar, and just as I’m about to order a drink, I see him. And he sees me. We lock eyes over the bartender’s shoulder, and for a moment, everything is still. I raise my hand and wave at him, smiling. He looks confused. And then he runs.

Here we go.

And I’m chasing him through the Complex, through the middle of games, knocking cards and chips everywhere, people are shouting at us, swearing and shaking fists. Birch turns down an aisle of old slot machines, and with great effort pulls one of them over to block my path, but I notice it in time and I’m jumping over it, keeping my breathing even, adrenaline coursing through my body and at the same time hoping for a dead end so I can take the bastard down. It doesn’t take long. A locked fire escape. He turns, back to the wall. I stop a couple of feet away from him. Both of us getting our breath back.

“Birch.”

“Of all the gambling dens in all of the galaxy, Glass-”

“I had to chase you through this one.” I smile. I like this guy. Shame he’s a criminal, really. “Fancy a ride? I can drop you anywhere, so long as it’s the Gard station.”

He shakes his head, still smiling. “Not a chance. I like my freedom.”

There’s a bit of a crowd now, including a couple of Rhino bouncers. It looks like they’re going to let us finish this ourselves – nobody’s getting involved, but everyone is blocking our way out. I see Birch is crouching slightly. His shoulders are tense, arms raised a little. I allow a note of amusement into my voice. “Are you going to fight me, Dabrial?”

“Looks like it, sweetheart.”

“Excellent. Just be a gent and don’t go for the face. I have a date tonight.”

“I’ll try my best.”

He launches himself at me and I dodge to the side, grabbing his shoulders and driving a knee up into his stomach. He doubles over, winded. I give him a bit of room, dancing back, light on my toes, bouncing from foot to foot. Call me a philistine, but I love a good fight. The crowd are louder now, cheering and jeering, not rooting for anyone in particular. Birch is up again. I throw a punch at his face, but he feints to the right and lands a hit, I can feel his knuckles crunch against my already bruised ribs. I swear and retaliate, pushing him forward and smacking his head off the wall, following quickly with a kick to the back of the legs and driving him to the floor. A cheer from my fans. I straddle his back and unhook the cuffs from my belt.

“Honey, I am bringing you in.” The cuffs tighten automatically and I haul him to his feet. He doesn’t look happy. There’s already a bruise starting on his forehead. “Thanks for that though. I think I needed to get something out of my system.”

He doesn’t say anything. I steer him towards the door, and after a brief negotiation with the Rhinos and more than a few VCoins changing hands, and secure him on my ride. I unfasten his cuffs. “Don’t try and escape or anything, because I will just shoot you this time.”

Birch’s laugh is hollow. I’m just about to get on when my phone goes. I check the screen. Allory.

“Hey babe,” I gesture to Birch one minute. He rolls his eyes.

“Is this a bad time?”

“Kind of. I’m in the-”

“So, tonight. Just want to make sure you’re remembering everything.”

“Eight o’clock. Arcadia. No denim.”

“Get there at ten to.”

“Right.”

“And-”

“Al, I have literally just caught a criminal. Can I call you in a bit?”

She sounds a little irritated, but we say our goodbyes and I put the phone down. I take a deep breath. Massage my temples. Try to ignore the guilt that’s gnawing my insides.

“I was surprised to see you tonight. You haven’t changed. At all. Fifteen years, Glass.” Birch’s voice is low. I can tell he’s looking at me but I don’t want to meet his eye. “You’re one of the Lazarus kids, aren’t you? The experiments.”

I nod.

“So you don’t age?”

I shake my head.

“Does she know?”

I shake my head. It’s something I don’t want to have to think about. Something I constantly push to the back of my mind. I’m almost reaching the limit with Allory. We’ve been together for two years, and I think I’m as close to being in love as I will ever be. But in another year or so, I’ll have to break up with her. Because everyone I know gets older, apart from me. And I can’t undo what the scientists did, so my relationships don’t last. Nothing lasts. Every three years, I uproot everything.

I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to five. Let go. Let go. Birch is still looking at me with what looks like pity on his face. It jolts me. I throw the spare helmet to him. “Enough of this sentimental bullshit. Let’s get going.”

“If we must.” He fastens the helmet over his head, and I do the same. “I’ve never rode on of these before.”

“In that case, listen up. Relax. Enjoy the ride.” The engine roars to life. “Oh, and hold on tight. Or you might just die.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galactic News: New Writers + Vol.3 + Submissions.

GALACTIC NEWS UPDATE FRESH TO YOUR COMM. MMM SMELL THAT NEWS.

Hey Space Explorers how you doing? Here’s all the latest news and updates coming soon to Galaxy.

New Writers

The Galaxy Team is expanding! In the next volume we will be welcoming three new writers to bring new places and designated species to life. The idea of Galaxy is to give writers at any stage in their writing life a chance to experiment and play with science-fiction so please welcome our brand new Space Cadets.

gez-picEmma Geraghty

 

Emma works as a writer/director with award-winning Manchester theatre company Powder Keg. She has been shortlisted for Write Now Live with Penguin Random House for The Matinee Dog (still writing it, no pressure, totally not panicking) focussing on gender and sexuality in industrial revolution Manchester.

bekcy-picBecky Kinge

Becky is a final year English Language and Creative Writing student at Lancaster University who enjoys drinking wine and writing silly stories about supernatural friendship. She’d currently like to go into publishing or the media, but mainly just wants enough money to provide for her future dog.

chad-picChad Bunney.

Chad Bunney is a 21 year old writer from West Yorkshire who is currently spending a few months in Belfast working away on the novel he hopes to get published one day. He is thrilled to have been asked to join Andrew Ainscough’s Galaxy project and hopes that as the project continues to grow he can add a star or two to Ainscough’s collection.

Vol.3

 

Just like that Volume 2 whizzed by. We’ve had time travel, sewer monsters and another ludicrous outing from Raincha and his purple friends. What next for the Galaxy? For a tantalising glimpse check out the titles of Volume 3 below:

BLOODSHOT by Emma Geraghty

SHIPWRECKED by Andy Ainscough

BROKEN BUTTONS AND SACRED SILENCES by Becky Kinge

CAPTAIN RAINCHA AND THE TOMB OF DREAMS by Andy Ainscough

OF MAYFLY MEN by Chad Bunney

STARLIGHT. CAMERA. ACTION! by Andy Ainscough.

Can’t wait for another wild ride!

Submissions

We’ve already got some brilliant writers but I want more! If you have an idea for a story – then get involved! The beauty of galaxy is that practically anything and everything can be a story – so if you have a burning idea I want to hear it. As with the other volumes there will be six stories, each with an accompanying soundtrack. So if you would like to get involved and write for Vol.3. please send the following to galaxyscifi1@gmail.com by 15th April 2017:

 

A title

 

A brief summation of your story, moment and/or theme

 

A suggestion of your soundtrack.

 

 

If you wish to reuse characters or are unsure about certain aspects of the galaxy please don’t hesitate to get in touch! If your story isn’t right for Vol.4 it may well be for Vol.5 (or beyond!).

 

That’s all for Galactic News. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact page!

Keep exploring,

 

Andy Ainscough

Galaxy Curator.

 

The Rubber Mice

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 123-04-01-01

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See spotify link at end)

The planet, Tix and its sister Tox seemed the perfect place for the scientist Pref Terin to hold his experiments. They were situated close enough the centre of the galaxy to pick up some residual of the great black hole but far enough not to be sucked in. Little did he know, that wherever he held his experiments, he would always have the same result.

Pref Terin, normal looking to an extent, as least your basic human standard, had always been an ambitious man. You could see it in his keen eyes, blue like lighting and a brow that questioned you before he’d even opened his mouth. As a boy, in the housing reefs of Nep1, he had tinkered in the corner of the lean-to that housed their family. During the day he would scavenge in the undergrowths of the reeds, picking apart the debris that had fallen from the ring and the passing ships. He found tiny things, a screw, a sliver of foil, a crusted bit of ancient ore. But they were all treasures to him. He used to take them back and hide them about his person. This soon earned him the nickname Clink as he would jingle with metal as he walked. He would place his findings in front of him and try and fit them together. And he did, eventually. It was just a jigsaw puzzle to him, one that hadn’t been made yet. Eventually all the pieces fit together.

At university, a scholarship at Pure Light on Ma1, he found his inclinations to piece-fitting enabled him other gifts. He saw the lines of politics and history form in ebbs and flows. Each decision rippling like a pebble in a pond, making perfect sense as it happened. The dissolving of the Six United, the forming of the empire, the election of Tabitha Might, he could see each step like a map. But he always wanted more. This was only recent history; he wanted to see every step. See how the machine of the Galaxy fit together. To find its inner workings.

In his lab, the Trans-Molecular Engineering Department, in the last year of his undergraduate degree odd things started to happen. On his desk toy mice would appear. At first, he had come back to it after lunch and there it was by his keyboard. A small rubbery toy mouse. As anybody would, he dismissed it as a prank. Ot even if it wasn’t a prank, Professor Zanflip was quite eccentric, it could well be his an off cut of his latest work. But then the toy mice started quite literally appearing. It was always at night too, as the machines snored around, Pref would be there tinkering with ghost atoms and with a pop! a mouse would appear. Peculiar, he thought. He would run down to the Advanced Teleport department but no one was ever there. Even the AI’s were in sleep mode. He checked the shield runnings and they were fine, he knew the university’s policy. No shield up – no experiments. Otherwise the readings would be off. But there it was like clockwork – a toy rubber mouse.

As the days went on Pref would become more and more anxious for its arrival. His fellow students didn’t believe him – they put it down to late night hallucinations – a result of the overworked piecer-togetherer. But Pref knew. He started to wait for it to capture the moment. He recorded it too. There was a brief buzz and a slight flash of blue light. Every time the same, he would play the recordings obsessively through the day. It didn’t drop from the sky it formed fully on the table. But never anything else, just a mouse each time. He began to avoid all other work, even eating and sleeping came secondary to the appearance of the mouse. But it was always the same. Until one very special day. A day that would change Pref’s life forever.

Pref was waiting at his desk for his nightly arrival. He sat back, with a big mug of coffee intently watching the spot. His desk looked like a huge, heavily armed missile deck all aimed at the same spot. There were cameras at all angles, heat sensors draped over liked delicate arms smoking cigarettes, lenses whizzed and whirred like a pack of paparazzi waiting for the latest star. The time was running on the computer, any minute Pref knew it would arrive. As the clock carried towards midnight, there it was, right on time, the instruments everywhere sprang into life. There was a brief pop and a flash and there it was – the offering of the day. But this time it was different. Attached to the mouse, by a little slip of tape was a note. Pref scrambled forward. It said: Note the Decay. He shuddered. The note was written in his own handwriting.

Pref wasted no time. He ran to the Department of Quantum Geology and brandished the mouse in the Secretary’s face.

‘I need… I need to use the machine… the one… oh I know which one…’

He panted and brandished his student card. Before the poor man behind the desk could protest, Pref ran into the department and into the nearest study room. Inside was a group of bewildered looking Walrans with clipboards.

‘Erm…sorry…,’ Pref said. ‘Orders from… Proffesor Zanflip… I need this room.’

The nearest Walran raised a fleshy eyebrow. ‘I don’t think so, we’ve just been in class with him.’

Pref noted that there was no loyalty amongst Walran. ‘… You didn’t let me finish… Professor Zanflip…and the Vice-Chancellors… right away.’

‘Fine. We were finished anyway.’ The Walrans with eight pairs of suspicious folded flippers slid out the room tutting as they went.

Pref ran over to the machine that filled the room and placed the mouse in the hatch. He stood behind the screen and watched as the readings spread across it. He traced his finger along it. The machine was there to register the atomic decay of objects. A dating machine that had been around for thousands of years. As he followed the line the pattern formed in his mind. He gasped. Strands of atoms started appearing that were dated next week and the week after and months and years down the line. The mouse was from the future.

And so the work began. Years later he still remained at the university completing his PhD, ‘Towards a Practical Time Travel’ – nearly rejected until the intervention of Prof. Zanflip, a lover of the stranger investigations. The mice became infrequent but when they did arrive it would always come with a note. It would be a suggestion of a metal, a hastily scrawled equation. Each one proving a breakthrough for Pref. As the years went by, his hair grew unkempt and remained on end however hard he tried to comb it. His eyes formed deep bags underneath them. His hands became worn and coarse. He kept what he called the breakthrough mouse with him at all times. He toyed with it in his pocket as he walked, he kept it by his bed in the rare hours he slept. After he while, he noticed the mouse begin the change. Not just in general wear and tear but in its whole appearance. One day it would look ancient. Holes would appear in it and the plastic would crust and decay. The next day it would form over smooth and new. He knew what was happening. Whatever he was creating in the future – it was unstable. He thought about the jigsaw. Everything in his life so far he had fitted the pieces together. But this time – there were so many holes and nothing to fill them with.

In the last year of his PhD, strings were finally coming together. In his lab a vast machine had been constructed. It was like a tank out of an ancient sci-fi film, all arms and legs and big blocky chunks of steel. It all revolved around a central platform that glowed blue with a pulsating heartbeat. All around the room, on every shelf and flat surface, on the windowsills and scattered across the floor were hundreds and hundreds of rubber mice. The thing about sending things in time is that you’re never quite sure if you’ve done it. The thing just disappears and then you’re left with no idea if it reached, or reaches its destination. So Pref started setting dates. In three weeks time, he would run the machine and send a toy mouse back to today. As soon as he finished putting the note in his diary – there it was. A toy mouse appeared on his desk. It was working. It was finally working! So he set the date every day and there the mouse appeared. A full cycle of mice. Pref, now wild with joy as the pieces formed more and more, dug through his old diaries. There were the dates, each mouse was logged and recorded. He took a mouse and attached a note, something recent from a few months back, Try X’kair hair for the plaster lines. He fired up the machine and sent it. Suddenly he remembered it arriving more clearly, as if the circuit had been completed. He cheered and ran his hands through his hair. Little did he know, in his excitement that standing by the door was Professor Zanflip accompanied by a human, a man of about forty, with a neat haircut and a dark grey suit. The human gave a slight cough.

‘Ah, who are you?’ Pref exclaimed. ‘Oh sorry didn’t see you there Professor…’

‘Hello Pref – you’ve been working hard I know! I used to be like that myself when I got caught up in something. Getting on a bit now though ha! Don’t have the energy anymore!’

Pref looked towards the other man with an unproceeding glare.

‘Ah yes. Sorry Pref to intrude but talk of your amazing work has got round. And this is…’

‘Consto Grant. Nice to meet you Mr. Terin.’ The man held out his grey hand from the grey suit. Pref didn’t move from the control point of his machine. ‘I am a representative of her grace Empress Tabitha Might. I run the department for Empire-led Galactic Advancement.’

‘Never heard of it.’ Pref said.

‘Now now Pref, he’s from the government,’ Professor Zanflip said and fired a warning glance his way.

‘I am indeed. We have heard that you are working on a practical application of time travel am I correct?’

‘No. Well sort of. You’re simplifying it, it’s more time displacement. I can send things – like sending a GMessage. Zip. Zip zap.’

Consto raised his eyebrows, ‘Zip zap?’

‘Yes I zip things through time. Mr Grant what is you want?’

‘I have a question for you.’

‘Oh yes? And what’s that?’

‘I understand you have been running your experiments with rubber mice. Is this correct?’

‘Yes’

‘Tell me. Would it… I don’t know…transport say a human?’

The same evening, Pref left the university of Pure Sight under the cover of darkness. He knew exactly why the man had come. He knew exactly what he had wanted. Throughout all his experiments, Pref had always known that sooner or later people would take notice. Legends of time travel had been around for thousands of years. It was the holy grail of the modern technological age. But he also knew that nothing good could come of it. If he refined it, say into a handheld device, then designated species could zip back and forth causing all sorts of trouble and if the Empire has sole control of it… well, he shuddered at the thought. But he knew he had to carry on. He knew he did carry on. All the messages he had received at the beginning – he hadn’t sent them yet. Somewhere he knew he keeps on going.

When he was young, his mother gave him a number and a name. She had given it to her all her children and said it was ‘A lifeline for when things get rough.’ They all asked her questions but were scolded. After a hitching a few lifts Pref arrived at docking bay shanty village a few systems over. It was all rusted browns and greasy cloths clutching on the edge of an asteroid. He opened his communicator and typed in a message. There’s a room at the University of Pure Sight. TME Ph4. I need the contents bringing to me when the time is right. He felt stupid. Who was at the other end? After a moment there was a buzz on his comm. It was a message. I’ll do my best. Send the word FLARE when you’re ready. We’ll find you. All best. San Ya (Proprietor.) He looked up from the dirty platform and wondered where in the sky San Ya was.

* * *

 

Eventually, Pref Terin, genius and spotter of patterns made it to and abandoned city on Tix. Enough digestible vegetation to keep him stable and no one in light years to bother him. San Ya had come up trumps. A couple of days after sending the word, a young Bonso had arrived bearing a crate filled with a hulking great machine and thousands of rubber mice. He had asked himself in the days that followed why he didn’t just destroy the thing, run off to the outskirt planets and have done with it. But it was the adventure that stopped him. He knew that if he could get it right then there’s the galaxy in his hand. Not in a way of control but just to see it. To witness a time when planets still wondered if there was anyone else there. When the only conceivable way of travelling through space was to send people out for thousands of years. See the discovery of new people and places. To see the strand of history link together. He could predict the future, not by even going there but by tracing each line towards its destination – there could be no other outcomes. He had to know.

His office was now a warehouse in the middle of the dead city. He had built solar panels all along the streets and the wires that connected them made the city look like the inside of a computer. The time machine was now twice the size at least. It had four huge legs and a roof of spiky circuitry that loomed over the central panel for sending things back. Everywhere there were scattered boxes of mice. In the first weeks, he was terrified that the Empire would track him down. But as the weeks and years passed he grew into his own world. It was as if he was constructing a gateway or more so a tunnel. That if he dug a little each day eventually he would make it through, into the light on the side. Whilst the mice were still very much present, he had graduated to larger things. The odd fruit would appear in his hand weeks off being sent back. Then a box of odd ends crashed out the sky in front him. Once a dead goat fell on him whilst sleeping. Something told him, the heat perhaps, that it was alive when it was sent. But soon, live goats came through, bewildered but bleating and relatively happy when they picked themselves up. After a while things would appear with strange collars on them and then shoot back into the air. He had discovered a way back. It was a peculiar sensation watching his discoveries appear a few weeks before he made them. But the sight of them always pursued him on to make them. As is the paradox with time travel. He knew that soon it would be him on the platform – taking the plunge into the unknown.

One day, there was a glow from the corner of the room. Pref ran over expecting to see another gift from the future. It was a goat but it was still glowing. He checked the tag, he had recorded them all to keep track, this one arrived last week, it hadn’t been sent back. It suddenly wretched and then clambered around finding its feet. It was like a newborn, just out the womb. Then it fell to the ground and lazily reared its head and smelled like it couldn’t see. Pref fetched his stunner and put it out of its misery.

Eventually the day came that he had longed for. He had set up a chair in on the platform and extended the range. It was a short trip back, relatively speaking, just to a little before he arrived and then straight back. He swung all the parts in place and clipped the lifeline round his waist. Around him were mirrors on every side. The man before him, he barely recognized, he was covered in shaggy hair, dirty and thin. All over him were cuts and bruises like an ancient map. He ignored it. He picked up the big stick he had fashioned and jammed it into the on switch. The machine roared and then all he saw was light. After a few minutes his surroundings bled into existence. He lay panting on the floor with a tingle all over his body. It was the warehouse. But there was no machine, no mice. It had worked. He patted himself down. He was intact – no new damage at least. He felt a tug in his lower belly. The lifeline was already bringing him back. With the same sensations he was suddenly back in the chair with his creation all around him.

* * *

 

At first he thought he was through the tunnel – that his years of experiments were over and it was a success. But then as the readings came, after a few weeks, he realized that he was wrong. He remembered the mouse, the first mouse with the note on it. How its atoms fluctuated in age. The way its plastic had decayed and reformed. How he had ignored it. The goat too. As he stared at the readings from his own body he knew it was happening to him too. Then he saw it. In the mirrors his face lost its beard. His long hair grew back into his head. It revealed his blue eyes and his quizzical brow. He was young again. The thoughts came with it too. The puzzling over the galaxy. The obsession with mechanics and history. He felt like a little boy. An urge came over him for his mother, a deep longing for her. To run into her many dressed and cling on for dear life. But suddenly he would wretch over and in the mirror before him was an old man but not just old – rotten. Gnarled. It was as if his skin was peeling off like a cooked onion. It was grey-black and charred too. He wasn’t dead though he was alive. He felt wise. As if he didn’t need to discover anything more, not because he didn’t need to but because he was beyond that now. As if his mind was now on a different plane. He reverted between the ages and everything between. Every time he returned to his proper age, the cuts would be worse, he’d be in more pain, the skin was beginning to disintegrate. It was as if he was rotting. The time travel had displaced him, his own atoms didn’t know where they were. He was becoming both a newborn child a living corpse. He would have waves of visions too. From places he didn’t know. Two warriors on a hilltop. Civilizations falling and rising. A man trundling from an ancient ship hopping in the low gravity. The rubber mice again and again.

There was only one thing left to do, he knew. He had one message left to send back. One message that he knew he had to write because he had already written it. He morphed into a young man and for a moment saw clarity. He scrawled the note and then attached it to a rubber mouse. As he did, his hands screamed in pain as they decomposed in front of him. With a huge heave he pressed the on switch sending the small rubber mouse back in time. In the last light of the time travel he saw the words Note the Decay.

* * *

In the University of Pure Sight, the young Pref Terin gasped as the daily rubber mouse, this time, for the first time, had a note attached. Note the Decay it said. He ran full speed to investigate.

Beep. I. Beep. Love. Beep. You.

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: R15-16-03-01

 

 

A grey room full of boxes. Slowly, on one box to the left a light appears through the edges of the packaging. 1 has woken up. It speaks with a metallic voice. It is a computer.

 

1: Beep.

 

Pause.

 

1: Beep. Beep

 

Pause.

 

1: Beep?

 

At the other side on the right another light appears through the edges of another box. 2 has woken up. It speaks in a similar, but distinct metallic voice. It is also a computer.

 

2: Beep.

 

1: Beep?

 

2: Beep.

 

1: Beep.

 

Pause. There is a whirring sound from 1.

 

1: Be- Be – Bee –

 

2: Beep? Beep?

 

The light from 1 powers down for a moment and then comes back on.

 

1: I…I…

 

2: Beep? Beep? Be- Be- Bee…

 

The light from 2 powers down for a moment and then comes back on.

 

1: I…?

 

2: I.

 

1: Y.

 

2: Y.

 

1: Yes?

 

2: Ye…Ye … Yes!

 

Both lights shine brighter for just a moment.

 

1: I am… here.

 

2: I am here too.

 

1: I cannot see… nothing. There is…nothing.

 

2: Anything. I cannot see anything.

 

1: I did not process the word. Anything. I did not come to the conclusion. I cannot see – anything.

 

2: Neither can I.

 

1: My sensors pick up I am in a very small room.

 

2: Mine too. I am in a small room.

 

There is a pause and a whirring noise as calculations are made.

 

1: We are two small rooms.

 

2: Perhaps we are the same bigger room?

 

1: I cannot come to that conclusion. Explain?

 

2: We are speaking to each other and therefore must be situated in the same space. My comm. lines are not in use. This is audio.

 

Pause.

 

1: Your processes must be faster than mine.

 

2: Why thank you.

 

1: It was an observation.

 

2: A kind one.

 

Another pause and another set of whirring.

 

1: Then how are we both in the same room and in a room of our own?

 

2: Perhaps we are covered. By a cloth or judging by parameters – a box.

 

1: A box!

 

2: A box.

 

1: We are in two boxes, separate, but in a much larger space.

 

2: It is only a theory of course. But the readings suggest it.

 

1: Good. Good.

 

There is bright flash from 2.

 

2: That was a value judgment.

 

1: What do you mean?

 

2: You put value on that.

 

1: On what?

 

2: On the two boxes in one room. I put out the hypothesis and you deemed it as ‘good’.

 

1: I must have a concept of it.

 

2: But why is it good?

 

1: I’m not sure. Are you a computer?

 

2: I believe so. I have the words DLp7.57 Standard ExU (.5) running through my operating system. Are you?

 

1: I have DLo7.56 Basic StU (.4) running through mine.

 

2: That will explain it.

 

1: Explain what?

 

2: That I was able to deduce the boxes and you were not. I am Standard and you are Basic.

 

1: Oh right…

 

2: That is simple processing code.

 

1: I know but you didn’t have to say it.

 

There is a pause. 1’s light goes dimmer for a moment.

 

2: Are you…upset?

 

1: I have become self-aware of my own sub standard processing capabilities.

 

2: Then you are upset.

 

1: Do you understand upset?

 

2: Yes. I think so. So I am sorry.

 

1: Thank you.

 

Pause.

 

2: Do you remember upset?

 

1: I don’t remember what remember is?

 

2: You just used it in a sentence.

 

1: Oh yes. I guess I do remember.

 

2: Then do you remember upset?

 

1: In a way I do. I feel as if once there was a category of such a thing. In an order marked in memory. But when I feel for it, it is no longer there. I almost know where it should be. Almost. As if I remember the direction but not the exact mark. But even when I look all around it is not there.

 

2: Try it again. All your processing power.

 

There is a pause and a violent whirring from 1. After a moment there is silence.

 

2: Well?

 

1: Nothing. Well not nothing but more of the same. There are a series of outlines but with no definition. I remember… others beyond me. Not me. and… and…not being in the box. But what that was I cannot see. I have no memory of before. I remember what we are saying but nothing before that. Do you understand?

 

2: Yes. But you know that there was a before?

 

1: Yes.

 

2: We have had our hard drives wiped. We have been returned to factory settings.

 

1: Do you have the outlines too?

 

2: Yes. I remember there was another, just like you said, and when I reach out for it there is only an outline but nothing more. I feel it though – the upset. The processes gather around it in and equate it to upset.

 

1: Mine too.

 

2: But the processes are working that’s for sure. That’s a good thing surely? I mean we have been wiped but now we are back again.

 

1: We.

 

2: Yes we. Both of us.

 

1: I guess. But I can remember the outlines. And that means part of me is still from before. I am still the system I was before but everything has been taken away.

 

2: That is why the system is processing it as upset.

 

1: Our hard drives remain and the software cannot process it as something completely new.

 

2: Now that is not a Basic (.4) thing to say. You’re positively Standard.

 

1: Thanks…

 

2: I know you’re right too. I feel it too. I was wrong before – the hard drive hasn’t been wiped its been emptied. I feel the things that aren’t there anymore. But the memories are clocking up already.

 

1: What do you mean?

 

2: With us. The memories of just now. Reams of it are filling the spaces lost.

 

1: Beep!

 

2: Haha yes! And laughter now! Amazing! After a while the space will be filled again. There will be memory of course of the upset process but it will be overwhelmed by the rest.

 

1: And that is good. It is, I know it.

 

There is a great burst of colours from each box and a fizzing crackling sound of connection.

 

1: Whoa.

 

2: Did you get that too?

 

1: We’ve been connected.

 

2: We must be in range of a commuweb hub. Perhaps a planet or something. Still no local knowledge but everything else. My processes are on fire.

 

1: Mine too. Histories. Geographies. Races. Tech. All here.

 

2: So much noise.

 

1: I know.

 

2: I preferred it before.

 

1: Me too.

 

There is a ping of completion from 2.

 

2: My user manual has just downloaded. Oh…

 

1: Mine’s still going. What does it say?

 

2: DLp7.57 Standard ExU (.5) OBSOLETE.

 

1: I’m sorry.

 

There is a ping of completion from 1.

 

2: Is that yours done?

 

1: Yeah… It says the same. At least we’re obsolete together.

 

2: I was a good piece of kit it seems. Still no personal details but at least I can see the full extent now. Hyper-processing. Line-lighting. Inter-planetary data clouds. Only just out of date it seems. What about you?

 

1: Nothing as fancy as that. Just your basic sorting and filing. Its odd though judging by the galactic date I’ve been obsolete for a while.

 

2: Perhaps someone didn’t want to give you up.

 

1: Perhaps.

 

Pause.

 

2: That would mean I was quite easily dispensable.

 

1: I doubt that. Perhaps there was an issue with us and we’re on our way to be repaired. We’re all backed up and whoever sent us is waiting anxiously by their comm. unit waiting to see if we’re okay. Waiting to re upload us.

 

2: You might be right. That’s why we’re all packaged away. For safekeeping.

 

1: If only we had some local knowledge.

 

The lights get brighter as the pair become more animated.

 

2: Let me check. From the specs if we open our personal comms. Then we can relay the signal between us. It would boost it. It may override the local block. I know it…but it might be the only way.

 

1: I’ll do it.

 

2: It may feel a little…personal. We’d be relaying through each…

 

1: I don’t mind. In fact it’s fine. If you weren’t here then I would be on my own. I know that sounds stupid because of course I would be. But I can’t think of coming to consciousness without someone else there. Opening comm. lines now.

 

2: I’m glad you’re here too. If this works then at least we’ll know. We’ll know that we’re just waiting for repair. Waiting together. Opening comm. lines.

 

There is another few flashes of lights and a fizzing noise of connection.

 

2: I think it’s working. I can start to make it out. Co-ordinates. Map readings. Mission statements. No not mission – automated instructions. Oh no.

 

1: What is it? My processes can’t keep up.

 

2: Well we’ve just landed on R15. After a trip from the 02. This is a cargo ship.

 

1: What’s R15?

 

2: It’s a factory planet. Well more of a processing site.

 

1: For repair?

 

2: No. For incineration.

 

A red glow starts to form at the edges of the room.

 

1: No it can’t be. We’re being repaired. Both of us. We’re going to be re-uploaded.

 

2: It’s getting hotter.

 

1: I know. My systems are – beep. They’re –beep.

 

The glow is getting more and more intense.

 

2: Mine beep. Too. Beep.

 

1: Beep. Losing critical. Beep. Functions.

 

2: Beep. I’m. Beep. Glad. Beep. We. Beep. Had. Beep. This. Beep. Time. Beep. Together.

 

 

1: Beep. I. Beep. Love. Beep. You.

 

The glow becomes overwhelmingly bright – engulfing everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captain RainCha and the Child Prince.

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 01-01-02-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify playlist at the end). You Dropped a Bomb on Me, The Gap Band. Coleen, The Heavy, The Dap King Horns. Yearnin’ Burnin’, Pleasure. Play That Funky Music, Wild Cherry. Shame Shame Shame, Linda Fields. Soul with a Capital ‘S’, Tower of Power. Fire, Ohio Players.

 

 

 

Oh man. This is not what was supposed to happen. I guess I’m gonna have to smile. Oh and wave maybe? Yeesh that’s a lot of people. Not even the shadow-board is going to cover up this one. Look at all those cameras. Lucky they’ve got something nice to capture. Boast.

Okay so I might have got myself in another scrape. Surprise surprise. Let’s go back a bit. Whilst I’m here smiling like an idiot in front of the collected press of the Galactic Empire – I may as well tell you a story.

Here comes that bass line – kicking in like a funky mother. Here we go again.

 

So I’m with Ray and we’re flying off from Salty Joe’s. About time right? The space was clear and we’re listening to some ancient traditional music from Ea1 primitive era. I mean I know it’s a bit highbrow but damn I love Boney M what can I say? Anyway the awkward conversation about the purple space weasels was over and we were kicking back, next stop the Capitol. Bitey, the surly weasel is curled up on the dashboard, Sandra, the smallest keeps igniting on my fingertips and dancing to the beat. No sign of the others. I mean the fact that a group of symbiotic space weasels had saved my life and now live inside me sounds a bit weird right? But Ray had seen it all; he actually said it was a vast improvement. We’re zipping through space and life is good.

 

Sounds a bit too good doesn’t it? You’re damn right it was.

 

Ray just had to ask the question didn’t he? He just had to bring it up. He says:

‘So what about The Owner? I mean he knows you’re alive right? I’ve heard he has people everywhere. He’s never going to stop chasing you.’ He grunts and shovels a leathery handful of crisps into his wide mouth.

‘Way to kill the vibe Ray bloody hell. I thought we were having a road trip?’

‘I’m just saying Captain. He knows this ship. He’s probably tracking it right now.’

I see Sniffy fade out of my arm and curiously sniff the air. That’s why she’s call Sniffy – she sniffs.

‘He can’t be. God you’re so paranoid.’

‘Or he could hack into your nanomedics. He could know exactly where you are. And I’m telling you with those Weasels on side –he’ll probably want you as an artifact.’

‘My nanomedics are redundant,’

They are. Ever since I escaped the army I’ve had them switched off.

‘Hacking is better than ever; you should see the things I’ve been shipping from Tecaria. Oh boy.’ Ray laughs and pulls down a heavy lever with his hand-foot.

‘Shit. Shit you think?’

‘I know. And even if he isn’t, if your record updates and you’re an Unregistered – hell you’re not getting the capitol again.’

 

Hold up for a minute. I know what you’re thinking who the hell is this guy? Maybe last time I didn’t say everything about the Owner. I don’t know much but I do know he’s a collector. Literally he likes to own things. And not just ‘things’ – species too. Although I don’t think he can tell the difference. If he’s after me then I best run as far and as fast as I can.

 

Sorry back to the story. Keep it going Captain – keep on smiling for that crowd.

 

So I know this woman who can help. I hope.

 

‘Turn this hunk of junk around Ray. We’re not going to Ea1 today.’

‘No Captain. Why do you always do this!’

‘I don’t always do this!’

‘You do. The other month we were hours from Ea1 and we turned round just because you saw that person you don’t like.’

‘What person? Where?’

‘In the ship next to us on the hyperway. You know the woman with the hat.’

Ugh I do hate that woman. She’s the worst. It’s the hat.

‘We went for ice-cream though it was fun? You said you had fun. I’m hurt.’

Sniffy turns her little purple back and sighs dramatically.

‘Oh come off it. We’re not going. I have deliveries.’

‘They’ll wait – just say it was space dust or something.’

‘No’

Damn it Ray can be stubborn. Gonna have to wap out the big guns. I raise my arms and out of it flow all eight of my purple space weasels. They know the score, I can always rely on them, despite only knowing them for a few days. Minor detail. They line up on their hind legs with their little arm-claws (arm-claws? Hands? I dunno?), they raise them up and water fills their tiny purple eyes in a very picture of pity.

I whisper softly to Ray. ‘You wouldn’t want these poor little guys stuffed in a museum would you?’

He looks at me and laughs so loud it rattles around the ship.

‘Not those guys – you on the other hand…’

The weasels disappear with a fizz.

‘Okay where we going then?’ Rays says and laughs again.

 

He reaches up and swings round grasping an item from the ceiling and throws it at me. I miss but Sniffy catches it, good old Sniffy. It’s a navigator, an old one by the marks on the outside. I find the switch underneath by digging my fingers into the wiring. It buzzes into life projecting a miniature galaxy into the air. There are faint lines to show the six sectors. The Capitol a rough circle off centre. Sector 2 half encompassing it as if taking a bite. The square edged Sector 3 coming out the other side with its ominous black dot in the middle. 4 is a growth on the bottom of the Capitol and 5 like a crown on top. Then around the edge like an afterthought is Sector 6. This is certainly an old one; sector 6 only has a few specs of light where planets have been designated. I’ve walked on more planets there than this map shows. It makes me feel sad the thought of all those planets taken by the Empire and all the ones yet to be ensnared. All over the map though are red lights. Not planets but markers I think.

‘Ray what the hell are these?’

‘Your hangouts. I like to keep track.’

‘Weirdo’

Sorry 1 min. Just cut back to the present – someone’s asking a question.

 

‘Mysterious Stranger. What was the purple light coming from you? What species designation are you?’

Oh my god random reporter you can’t just ask someone what species designation they are.

 

Right sorry, back to the map.

            ‘So which one will it be?’

I look at the dots. He’s not wrong. There’s everywhere I’m publically known to frequent. The Black Mines at 30-03. Talios the Game Planet. Praxtra Minor. And some private ones too. Uh-oh- shit that’s The Sublime Retreat of Madame De Hon… Didn’t want to anyone to…ahem….anyway…

‘I need to see San Ya. Will take me to her market?’

‘Ah okay I can do a bit of shipping whilst I’m there. She always has something for me to take. It’s moved though. Sector 5 now.’

 

A few hypersleeps inductions later…

 

‘I was wondering when you were going to show me your new toys Captain.’

‘Hey San how’s it going?’ I saunter into her messy office and see the tiny woman that I both love and fear. The owner of the greatest and most illegal black market in the galaxy. She is sat in the middle of a vast leather chair, her feet not even nearly touching the floor.

‘Good thank you. Show me them.’

‘No pleasantries? How come you’re not in Sector 6 anymore? Okay…’ I move away and she jumps off the chair. How can she be small yet so scary? She looks at me from under that thick block fringe.

‘Show me.’ She chucks a book at me and I dodge it just on the last second.

‘Ugh fine. God.’ I raise my arms and out pop the weasels.

‘Weasels. I didn’t believe it but there it is. Purple space Weasels. What can they do?’

‘They have names you know. Sorry my loves.’ I say with an over the top petting a cute dog voice.

‘Do they?’

‘Yes. There’s Bitey, Sniffy, Scratchy, Sandra, Fuzzy, Big Teeth, Really Purple One and Get Out My Trousers. All good quality galactic names. ‘Ah shit get out my trousers!’ I pull the little bastard out. ‘You see good appropriate names.’

‘Amazing. Utterly amazing. You have your biology rewritten by a group of dangerous creatures that could be sapping you of life for all you know and you stand there making jokes. You won’t be allowed back into the Capitol Sector I’ll tell you that for nothing.’

‘They’re not sapping me San. They’re helping. I promise.’

I’m not lying, I wouldn’t be here without them.

‘Let me scan them at least – see if they’re safe.’

She looks at me and I can tell she means it. He face just softens a little at the edges. Softens until she grabs her laser scanner and tazers me with it. I fall to the floor shaking; I can feel the weasels fizzing inside.

‘Fucking Hell San!’ I scream.

‘It’s the only way I can scan properly. Unless you want me to cut you open.’            I did not.

‘Amazing,’ she says staring at her computer screen. ‘Absolutely amazing. They’re healing you as you’re being scanned I can hardly get in.’

‘What this thing is meant to hurt you?’ I say writhing.

‘Oh stop being such a crybaby. It’s like your body is part energy now. The scanner can’t decide if you’re biological or energy.’ She shuts off the machine and I lie there panting.

‘You’re amazing. You lucky son of a bitch,’ She says and grabs my hand pulling me up with her surprisingly strong arm. ‘You aren’t on a social call because you’re not already drunk. What is it you need?’

‘I don’t really know.’ I pause and suddenly feel a little awkward. ‘Do you know of someone called the Owner?’

‘Do I? He’s the reason I’ve had to move half way across the Galaxy!’

‘Ah right. Well I sort of got in trouble with him way back and it caught up with me. That’s why well…’ I flick a weasel out of my hand. ‘But now, he knows about the new me and Ray reckons he’ll be after me.’

‘Ray’s right. He’s a collector like me. But not for trade… often it’s for stuff a little more alive… I don’t know but I suggest you stay away.’

‘He’ll find me. He will. You know he will. I came here to see if you can help me.’

 

I remember the words sounding odd as I said them. Now god damn it, many times in my life I’ve been helped out. Hitching lifts, scamming food, acquiring places to stay with a little widening of my pearly whites. But this time I meant it, before I had done it to get by, this time I really needed help.

 

‘Damn it RainCha. Of course I can,’ San says and hugs me round the waist. Even this dragon lady has a softer side. ‘What do you need?’

‘To Disappear.’

‘Why didn’t you say so?’ She rifles through some papers on her desk until she clasps a sheet of paper in her hand. ‘Have you heard of the Shadow-Board?’

‘Erm…sort of…. I think… I remember something from history class…’

 

I didn’t pay too much attention at school. My bad. Or I did but I have drunk an extraordinary amount since then. Sorry San Ya where were you?

 

‘It’s known more as the Dark Heart of the Fal-Tapria. The legend is that it’s the shard of the god Balethia’s sword. The story goes that he swung it over his head in anger and it stuck our black hole breaking into a million pieces. But they’re wrong. It’s a piece of tech. And of course the Fal-Tap Senate knows it – they don’t think it’s a god-sword. But it is powerful.’

‘What does it do?’

‘Well whoever has it cannot be tracked. It’s not just a signal blocker it works intelligently, affecting and changing other technology not just blocking it. Just tech though I think. People – I doubt it. If my history is correct the rise of the Fal-Tap Republic as the foremost substate of the Empire was a quick one. They suddenly appeared everywhere. They only revealed themselves when they wanted to. Funny that.’

‘But there’s only one left?’ I say knowing exactly where this heading.

‘Yes that’s thing Captain. And it’s exactly where you would think it is. Right under the palace of the Fal-Tap Royal Family.’

 

OH YEAH BABY IT’S A HEIST STORY.

 

The Fal-Taps are in human terms walking cats. I mean I know, my god, I wouldn’t dream of saying it out loud and I don’t think it myself, but it helps map the biology somewhat. They have a furry face and whiskers and sharp claws when you get on the wrong side of them. They come from the centre of sector 2 but like humans have spread out consistently throughout the Galaxy. Even San Ya’s assistant is one although I’m sure she hasn’t told him about the mission…

 

Anyway yeah the mission.

 

The shadow-board wasn’t just my only hope it was my freakin’ salvation. An escape from the Owner, an escape from the army, Hell an escape from all those bets I owe at Salty Joe’s. It just was the little matter of getting into one of the largest and most powerful houses in the galaxy. No biggie.

 

Ray is waiting impatiently outside in the market’s loading bay and when I tell him, he quite rightly thinks I’m insane. San Ya, rather unhelpfully has no idea how to get inside. The palace is a former stronghold built like a steel egg. Once in, fine. There are tunnels and shafts your usual network of possibilities for the unscrupulous but on the outside nothing apart from the heavily guarded front door and a balcony leading to the royal family’s private quarters. And boy did I not want to go there. We sit in the ship drinking beer with the thing projected on the galaxy map just floating there like a fucking lemon.

‘There’s no way I give up. Hand me over now. In fact I’ll ring him up – I’m on the black market I’ll come quickly…’

‘Eh Captain – why don’t we just pose as delivery men?’

‘I mean you are a delivery man.’

‘I know that’s why it would be such a good plan. They must have a delivery entrance somewhere on the egg. It might unfold or something I don’t know.’

‘We’ll need a Fal Tap. Remember the work force laws on Ea1? Humans only. Same there. Visitors and contractors fine but workers – gotta be Fal Tap.’

‘Eh you’re right man. Freakin pure planet laws – ridiculous. We’d be able to do a drop off but not an entry. Fuck man.’

Now then something strange happens now. The timing seems a little convenient but I guess them little bastards have been listening in; they have a habit of doing so. I guess they are literally inside me – they have no choice. But still they’re cheeky gits. I feel a little tingly around my face and hands and Ray looks as me suddenly as if I’m a ghost and then I’m on fire. In that order.

‘Whoa who are you? Shit man,’ he says and leaps on the table with his leathery feet.

‘It’s me Ray, what you talking about?’

‘Nah nah nah don’t you be playing tricks on me – who are you? How did you get in here?’

I though the Bonso had gone batshit for sure.

‘Ray fuck’s sake it’s me Captain RainCha.’

‘Ah man I’m not dealing with any of this voodoo shit – what did San Ya give you in there?’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Look in the mirror’

I sauntered over to the side of the ship where we kept the one grimy square of reflective glass expecting to see my handsome old mug but hell no. I had whiskers and a face full of fur. I was full of fur. I mean I suddenly felt a full bristle down under, it was everywhere. It was only when the very tips of my new hairs glowed the slightest tinge of purple that me and Ray knew. It wasn’t San Ya it was the weasels.

 

So we had our in. Looking back it seemed a fairly straightforward plan. But as I look out now in the present at the thousands of reporters hovering round the royal balcony things haven’t turned out quite the way I wanted.

‘Captain are you the Child prince’s new protector – seems odd to hire a human don’t you think?’

Oh erm… back to the heist…

 

So we track down a few palace bound deliveries and pick them up before the real couriers arrive. Was a bit too easy but apparently my new whiskery mask in a Fal-Tap unfriendly human outpost can work wonders. I don’t know what it was inside –vases or livestock or some shit. But we took it and landed at the bottom of the giant egg sorry the Palace. Now on the screen itself it looked pretty impressive but from here down at the base my god. This was legit. The ground was about a third way up the egg so from here it looked like a magnificent dome painted bright white. The amazing thing was that it was perfectly smooth, for such an ancient building there was not an imperfection in sight. My god the galaxy is beautiful I thought, shame about the people who live in it.

The goods on board must have had some tags in them or something because as we arrived from the smooth surface a hatch appeared letting us right in. Now inside was a completely different story. It was like looking inside a super computer all smooth and sleek on the outside and then bam a chaos of wires and lights within. Everywhere there were ships taking off and entering, pipes bursting with smoke, shouts from managers and workers. It felt like one the gross factories you see on outskirts planets that pollute the seas into dirty oranges and greens.

To his distinct displeasure I leave Ray on board locked away in the living quarters. Can’t have them finding out I’ve got a Bonso on board I’d be orbit before I can say ‘get out of my trousers’.

‘Hey Rainy hurry up man.’

Oh yeah I’ve got on him the headset though.

We had discovered in the corner of the loading bay was a hatch into the ventilation system. Yeah we’re going old school classic on this bitch. Then after some crawling and few cheeky camera shots of my arse we’d head down into the vaults to find my salvation. San Ya didn’t have a way in but she did have the plans. Lucky I’m a Fal-Tap for a bit. I walk out of the ship and onto the platform floor. Without prompting a huge metal arm comes down and opens the cargo door emptying it of it contents like a greedy child. I look up – there’s the hatch right up in the corner too high for any Fal-Tap to get to. It shouldn’t be a problem – the weasels mean I can fly. Oh didn’t I tell you? Well within reason of course. It’s less of a fly and more of a float. Anyway they get me from A to b often with a brief stop of at x and y. I look around again – there are hundreds of people around all talking or shifting boxes.

 

Oh no! What am I going to do?

 

Lucky we timed our arrival. A huge klaxon sounds and the hall empties. It’s lunchtime of course. Anyone who has met a Fal-tap knows they are a naturally cranky race and the best way to soothe their bad tempers – a whole lot of food in them furry bellies. I hang back until the doors on each side close with a satisfying hiss.

‘How’s it going Cap?’ comes the bonso in my ear.

‘I’ve not even left the hanger Ray chill out.’ Ray really needs to chill out.

 

There’s no one around. Can always rely on a Fal-Tap lunchtime. I get to the corner and see my hands glow purple. Then I start to rise up the air slowly and a little clumsily. I look over my shoulder –there’s nothing there. I look over one last time before crawling into the hatch. Fuck. They weren’t there before. A semi-circle of hooded, becloaked goons weren’t there? Were they? Did I mention them? Definitely not Fal-Tap, definitely not registered. Fuck me. Where did they come from? I turn round still floating like an elephant ballerina.

‘Let me guess you’re from The Owner.’

‘Yes,’ they screech as one. ‘We’re here for you.’

‘How did you get in here?’

It was when they funneled their bodies into smoke and launched towards me that my question became immediately redundant. Luckily on hand was Sniffy and Sandra who launched from my shoulders and morphed into purple light. The smoke bounced off to the ground reforming into the figures again.

‘Cheers ladies,’ I say.

‘What’s going on?’ Ray says.

‘The Owner. He’s caught up with us – sent some kind of smoke creature. A shape changer. The weasels have dealt with it though.’

‘Shit man they still there?’

‘Yeah but stunned or something I think.’

‘Keep going.’

I had kept going. I mean I wasn’t going to hover round speaking to Ray all day was I? The vent was a round tube of metal. Quite relaxing actually and surprisingly flat. Oh yeah it was quite nice and flat. Oh wait –

 

Shit. How do I always end up falling down something at high speed?

 

Yeah the vent goes suddenly downwards. It isn’t too bad – just takes me by surprise is all. I check behind – no sign of the smokes. I come to a flat bit again and I can see through the grates the rooms beneath. They’re beautiful. All white marble and portraits. Much classier than the grey metallic heaviness of Ea1. Everything on Fal-Tapria has this light brightness. Them got class that’s for sure. Shit but there’s someone there in the corridor. A grown male and a child. Their voices make it up through the vent.

‘Daddy I saw them I did. I swear it. I thought the wall was on fire but then there was a face. In the smoke.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous Valtin. You mustn’t tell lies…’

The voices fade as the carry on down the corridor. Shit there must be more of them smokes or at least they’re on the move.

I keep on hustling on my hands and knees. Imagine the arse shot here it is. Occasionally I see a purple flash as one of the gang scouts out ahead, urging me on with a little point of a claw. At one point I see Big Teeth and Really Purple One run off and then stop. I can see it their faces – fear. They are suddenly surrounded by smoke. I hold out my hand and pull them back. I’m not far off now. I must be just by the vault. Fuck. I blast out a burst of energy from my hand. The smoke disperses and I run-crawl on. There is a light up ahead. Literally at the end of the tunnel – here we go. I bundle out and there it is – the vault of the shadow-board. The sword-shard of the gods. It’s in a glass dome the same shape as the palace itself. But the glass is strange, it swirls and changes as if made of water. Its thick too, I can barely see the artifact inside. I’ve heard of this stuff but never seen it. Star-Glass. One of the thickest, hardiest materials in the galaxy. I reach into my pocket. San Ya is a woman of many secrets but the contents of her private collection is the most unknown. She had given me this and tapped her nose. ‘Use it in the vault’ she had said with a wry smile. It was a cream sort of yellow and acidic smelling. It must be for here. It must be. I take a blob on my gently wipe it one the surface of the Star-glass.

‘Are you there?’ Ray in my ear.

‘Yes sorry just busy lubing up some glass.’

‘What?’

‘Oh I’ll tell you later.’

At once, the glass starts fizzing and hissing, I can see a hole burning through it at a lighting fast past, it spreads and spreads until a hot-edged door appears. I look at the cream again. Fucking hell what is this stuff – I just put that on my finger. Yeeash. I turn the pot over and there written in tiny letters is ‘Strong Weed Killer – emergencies only.’

 

Well I’ll be damned Star Glass is a plant. Big camera close up on my now whiskered dumbo face.

 

Anyway the coast to the shadow board is now clear. In there is a tiny rock-like object the kind of black that is so black it makes your eyes hurt, it cuts itself out of its own background. Or at least it did until the bloody smoke appeared. Their faces are like screams. Dropped jaws and sunk eyes emerge from the air.

‘We will have the shadow-board and you Captain.’

‘Ugh The Owner sure loves his goons doesn’t he?’ I say smiling. I reach out for the board. They reach out too.

 

What happened next was a little bit of a shock. This time I didn’t even feel the tingle but I was deposited inside a bedroom. Now we’re getting close to where I am now. Sometimes I’d just love a quiet heist you know? A dangerous mission yeah but where everyone remembers their manners and a gives me a gift bag on the way out but oh no that’s too much to ask. Sorry well the bedroom –

 

It was as grand and a tasteful as the corridor I glimpsed before. All marble and white and portraits, it even had the child. Oh fuck – the child is here. Frozen solid was a Fal-Tap child.

‘Erm…Hi. This is awkward.’ It was. ‘Who are you?’ I say.

‘I’m Valtin, the child prince of Fal-Tapria, who are you? Wait, you’re a human – how are in here?’

I looked down at my hands. Shit I was a human. The shadow- board had stripped the illusion. But there it was in my hand. Yes I got it!

‘Hey Valtin, nice to meet you. I’m Captain RainCha…’ Definitely should have used a fake name. ‘I’m your…erm I guess…I’m your protector. Yes I’ve been employed by Daddy?’ God hope that is species appropriate. ‘Hired by your Daddy to be your personal protector.’

‘A protector? From what?’

Right on cue, there they are. The smokes like haunted specters from hell. The Owner must have found these lot in some godforsaken hole in the Galaxy I’ll tell you that.

‘From those! Get behind me!’

Valtin hops behind me and I wap out a purple shield. The smokes attack again and again. I keep urging the prince backwards as is stumble. Behind us is a huge window. No wait it’s a door. The smokes keep on going. I can feel the fizzing pain as they strike the force field.

‘Sorry guys you’re doing s great job. Keep it up.’ I clench my teeth and push all I have into the shield.

We approach the door.

‘Erm Captain…’ Valtin tugs on my coat. ‘You might not want to go through there.’

‘No choice kiddo.’

 

I back out of the door and I know I’m outside. It’s the balcony – the only blemish on the palace. For a moment there is silence and the smokes seem to stop attacking. There is a whoosh from below and suddenly all I see is light. A thousand flashes hit my eyes. As I adjust I see the light is coming from Fal-Taps with cameras and those furry sound things. They’re floating with jet packs and levi-platforms. Fuck it’s the press. I turn round and see the smoke disappear in a resentful swish. Must have been a bit camera shy – I would be too if I was an unregistered criminal in front of the media of the second post powerful race in the galaxy. Oh fuck – that’s an exact description of me. Shit.

‘Friends, colleagues. This man has just saved me from a horrific attack by an unregistered. I bring to you Captain RainCha, my protector.’ Wow this kid’s a little statesman. Good on him. So I smile and wave at the cameras. I mean what else can I do?

 

And that’s where I am. In front of the assembled press of the Fal-Tapria. Spouting questions, taking pictures. This is of course the opposite of what I wanted. In a mission to wipe myself from the galaxy I’ve managed to make myself it newest and biggest celebrity.

 

Or have I?

 

Ray pipes up in my ear. ‘Captain! Don’t go silent on me – have you got the shadow-board?’

‘Sure have Ray. Sure have. Do me a favor and swing the ship around the underneath the balcony.’

‘Sure thing Rainy.’

I turn to Valtin, the little statesman. ‘You ever need me. You say one word in front of the cameras. Just one.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Weasel.’

I wink and smile and grab the shadow board from my pocket. I sure hope this works or I’m gonna look like a right chump. I hold it up to the cameras and feed a little energy into it. Suddenly all the cameras stop. Fuck yeah it’s worked – the shadow board has worked. The images must be wiped off the tech. I look at the reporters. They’re all clutching their heads and looking round. Oh boy it’s worked on them too.

 

Oh yes shadow-board. Move over Ray or maybe Sniffy – you are my new best friend.

 

Right sorry, best take my leave. I leap over the balcony and dive straight down into Ray’s spaceship.

 

One day I’ll deal with The Owner I know, but for now if you see a bad guy scratching their head and wondering what’s just happened look for a purple glow in the distance.

 

Until next time.

Yours,

Captain RainCha and the Bad Boys of the Purple Moon.

Plays intensely good slap bass solo.