Better Than James Brown

By Emma Geraghty

This is set immediately after Captain RainCha and the Temple of Dreams, so make sure you check that one out first.

Galatic Co-ordinates: 15-01-01-01

Here are a few things that I would love to say. I would love to say that this is my first time inside a government cell. I would love to say it’s the first time I’ve been arrested in a public space. And I would love to say that I came quietly. But none of those things, in any way, are remotely true.

San Ya’s assistant took me in an outflier away from the cave of wonders, or whatever that place was called. I offered to stay and wait for RainCha, but to be perfectly honest I wanted to get away from there as quickly as possible. I was shaken up. Being teleported into a death race is not the kind of experience I was looking for in KrYstal100. And RainCha seemed to have a handle on things. Guy has an ego as big as his, he must be good for something. I think Valeiran could tell I was on edge. After a swift word with San Ya, I was in the tiny ship buzzing back towards Sector Four. Valeiran kept trying to talk to me. He had a very soothing voice. It didn’t do anything. I was seriously freaked. All that talk of worst nightmares… I just wanted to go back to Allory and get into bed.

The universe, as usual, had other ideas. Valeiran picked up the government fliers on the scanner about ten minutes into the flight. He didn’t seem panicked at all. I saw him start to reset the flight path, evasive manoeuvres, all of that. But I was tired.

“Just drop me at the nearest port.”

His brow furrowed ever so slightly. “We can get away, Morven.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want you getting caught up in whatever they’re trying to pull. I can deal with it. San Ya probably needs you wherever she is, or with whatever RainCha is dealing with. You seem pretty indispensable.”

He smiled his incredibly attractive smile, but for once my mind was too preoccupied.

“Seriously. Drop me. I’m good. I can lose myself in a crowd.”

Valeiran dropped me at Cymosa Port. Not the nicest place, but somewhere I could fade. Probably lay low for a day or two. Maybe they weren’t after me.

“MORVEN GLASS.”

Maybe they meant another Morven Glass. I kept walking. If I could just make it to the main street…

“STOP WHERE YOU ARE.”

I didn’t. I could hear them running towards me and resisted the urge to go for my gun. I rolled my shoulders, shook my head slightly, and dropped to one knee as one ran straight at me. His momentum landed him on my back and I threw him sideways. Back on my feet. Turned to face the other three aiming blasters at me. For a moment, I was tempted to go for them. Just to see if I could. But getting shot was something I didn’t fancy.

“HANDS ON YOUR HEAD, GET ON YOUR KNEES.”

“If I had a credit for every time…” I grinned, locked my fingers behind my head and knelt on the floor. There was quite a crowd now. The guard I sent flying twisted my wrists into cuffs and kicked me in the shoulderblades, sending me straight to the ground. I managed to twist slightly so I didn’t land right on my face, but it still fucking hurt. I was hauled unceremoniously into the back of the flier, a hood was pulled over my head, and we set off. Another grand adventure with the law for Morven Glass.

So now here we are. Or rather, here I am. In some cell in the pits of some government building, getting the shit kicked out of me because of someone else’s fuckup. If I ever see RainCha again, I might kill him. Or shoot him in the knee. Something along those lines.

“I told you, I don’t know where he is.”

“Don’t lie to us, Glass.”

“I’m not lying, you cretin.”

He sinks a fist into my stomach and I crumple. Or at least I would, if I could. The Gorbegs on either side of me keep me upright with iron grips on my upper arms. My feet are only just on the floor. I’m a little glad of the support, to be honest. Not sure I could stand on my own. These guys are good. The guard stood in front of me waits while I get my breath back. Very nice of him.

“I told you. I fucking told you. I got teleported to some weird Indiana Jones bullshit in the middle of arse-end nowhere. I don’t know where RainCha is. I never met the bastard before today.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s not my problem.”

The guard smiles slightly. It’s not a friendly smile. I grit my teeth, waiting for the blow I know is coming, but even then the punch to the face takes me off guard. “It is your problem, Miss Glass. It is definitely your problem.”

I guess he’s right. I’m not sure it’s my fault, but it’s definitely my problem. I press my tongue against my teeth, checking if any have come loose. Miraculously not. What I should do is just relate the whole story to him in a calm tone of voice so he understands that I genuinely had nothing to do with RainCha appearing in the Galactic Senate and it’s just a huge misunderstanding and actually I’ve had a pretty rough day too and he’ll just let me go back home. But I doubt that would be the outcome. And I’m pretty sure he just gave me a black eye, so there is no chance of me co-operating whatsoever. Because I’m stubborn. And I’ve had worse.

He’s talking again.

“…we have no issue with keeping you here overnight, it would be so much easier if you just told us what we need to know. I don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart.”

I laugh. “Oh, fuck off. This is nothing. I’ve been doing this for a couple of centuries. I’m a child of Lazarus, remember? The kind of torment I went through for that, you’re not even allowed to come close to. This is basically a massage.”

“Listen-”

“Nah, you listen. I have told you what I know. I have not lied to you. I hardly know RainCha. I have no idea about the teleporter. I am not the droid you’re looking for. So you might as well just let me go, because this little spa day is just wasting everyone’s time.”

The guard doesn’t seem to know what to do with this information. It must usually be a lot easier than this to interrogate someone, and for the second before he hits me, he looks genuinely irritated. He slaps me hard across the face and my head snaps to the side. I taste blood in my mouth. I count to three and grin up at him.

“Come on, honey. At least buy me dinner before any of that kinky shit.”

——-

It’s dark when I come round. It’s dark and I am in a lot of pain and I am pissed off. I never asked for any of this. Not this time. I allow myself a moment of self pity before getting my shit together. I pull myself into a sitting position against a wall. Everything hurts. I do an inventory. It’s mostly ribs and kidneys and stomach and face. Nothing broken. Maybe a rib or three. Black eye, probably. Split lip, definitely. Huh. My nose isn’t broken. That’s nice.

I’m pretty sure I can hear breathing nearby. I give a low whistle, the universal call and response signal. Someone whistles back.

“You awake.” The voice is heavily accented. “Thought you dead.”

“Sadly not.” I squint into the darkness but can’t make anything out. “How long was I out for?”

I hear them shrug. “Time unimportant. You human?”

“Mostly. You?”

“Vespin.”

I don’t know if they want a conversation or not, but my brain just isn’t up to it. I hope I haven’t been down here long. The last time I was in a government cell, I didn’t get out for a week. I don’t think I could do that again.

In the darkness, I can let myself think. It’s something I try not to do too often – I’m all hard exterior and wisecracks and old pop culture references that people don’t understand. Not that much room for real thoughts. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. Old age doesn’t apply to me, but I have had enough injuries that I should have been dead long ago. Maybe that was something else they did to me at the Academy. Superior healing power. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. I don’t know. That’s the thing with being alive as long as this. You don’t care any more. Or rather, you do care, but in a different way. I have seen too many loved ones die to care freely. I don’t let people in, I close myself off. To people. To situations. To everything. Nothing is new any more.

So when something shakes me up, it really shakes me up. Getting teleported into that canyon, for example. That has never happened before and I had no idea how to react, but my default is survival and I’ll be damned if that’s the way I was going to go. The fates have other ideas, I guess.

And then there’s Allory. It’s been over two years already, and I don’t want it to end. I’ll have to tell her at some point, that I don’t get older, and then she’ll want rid of me. Which is fine. Or there’s the alternative story line, where she says it’s fine and physical appearance doesn’t matter and she wants to stay with me forever, at which point I’ll leave. Because it doesn’t matter if she’s strong enough. I’m not. I can’t watch her get old. I don’t have it in me. When I got out of the Academy, ten years after enrolling, after all of the experimentation, I went back to my family once. And that was it. I knew that if I stayed with them I could see my little sisters grow up. But then they would carry on growing. They would pass me, their big sister, and they would grow old and time would take them away from me. I don’t know if I had nieces or nephews or anything like that. Better they thought I was dead than knowing I was… well. Weak.

Shit. This got real. I guess I should be feeling close to tears or something, but unless it’s physical pain I generally don’t cry any more. Physical pain or a vintage movie where a dog dies. The bastards.

I lean my head against the wall and close my eyes, trying to get the images of my family or Allory or Marley and Me out of my head. I can hear the Vespin breathing near me. They sound asleep. There’s an idea…

Bright light wakes me, and for a minute I think I have died and crossed over and I am a little put out. But then I realise that a door has opened. Not a metaphor. A physical door to the cell has opened and guards are coming in. They motion for me to get up. I can’t. My body has seized up, so when they grab me under my arms I yell out in pain.

“Give me a minute, fucking hell lads.”

I try to get some life back into my limbs. Slowly, slowly, I get to my feet, using the wall for support. This is really difficult. My eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the light. One of the guards grips my upper arm and walks me to the door. Wait. Where are we going?

“Gonna be honest with you boys, I don’t think I can take another interview. Someone else can have the job.” I’m babbling a little. This doesn’t happen to me. What the hell, Glass? Get your shit together.

“Someone’s collecting you.”

If that’s supposed to reassure me, it doesn’t work. Just don’t let it be a lawyer, I can’t handle that, not right now, not when I’m already injured, who is it, what-

But then I’m already out of the door and I see who’s come for me. Allory. All business suit and angry expression, a look of fear flashing across her face when she sees me. I must look gorgeous. The guard lets go of me and I fall against her. I press my face into the shoulder of her jacket, my fingers gripping her arms. She holds me for a moment, lips pressed to the top of my head.

“Come on. We’re leaving.”

She signs some forms, muttering about lack of professionalism and the legality of everything, and helps me walk slowly to the lift and up to her flier outside. She straps me into the passenger seat. There are guards watching. I have a look at the building we’ve just come from. It seems like a single storey storage job, but that’s definitely just a hologram. I’m normally on the lookout for details, little snippets of information I can use or at least something to make a decent pun with, but I don’t have the brain power. The events of the last few days – hours? Weeks? I genuinely don’t know, and that scares me. But anyway, they’re catching up with me. Allory gets in the pilot seat and revs the engine, taking off slowly. She doesn’t like talking when she’s flying, so I lean back against the headrest and take a moment to look at her. Really look at her. Take in the angle of her jawline, the tension in her knuckles as she grips the controls, the small strands of hair that have escaped her bun. I’ve never told her that I love her. I can’t say it now though – I have been hit in the head too many times recently for it to come across as sincere. I feel my eyes begin to close.

“If you die now,” I hear Allory say in a measured tone, “after all the strings I had to pull to get you out of there, I will kill you.”

I open my eyes, smiling. “Al-”

“And I am aware that sentence is illogical, but let me explain.” She types some new coordinates into the navpad. “If you die, I will hire all the best scientists to bring you back, I will spend every scrap of money I have to resurrect your ungrateful self, and after your first few minutes of consciousness, I will shoot you in the head. So keep your eyes open.”

“Aye aye captain,” I respond, and am rewarded with the smallest of smiles. “Where are we going?”

“Hospital.”

“Allory, I don’t-”

“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently, Morven? You’re a fucking mess. I have no idea what they did to you, and I don’t want to know because I am already fighting the urge to turn around and burn that place to the ground. You said you’d be home three days ago. You promised. And I know you’re tough and you can fight, and I know your job is dangerous, but you keep your promises and when you didn’t show…” She shook her head sharply. “I’m taking you to the hospital. I want you to heal properly. Not your usual couple of days bedrest and then back to work. I’ve had enough of your bullshit with that. You hear me?”

I nod. “I hear you, Allory.”

“Good. Now, shut up and let me fly.”

I keep my eyes open all the way to the hospital. My heart starts beating faster as soon as I catch sight of the place, but I breathe slowly and will myself to calm down. Medical facilities have always terrified me, ever since the Academy, so it’s a testament to Allory that I actually make it through the doors and past reception. I get given a robe to change into while I wait for a doctor to see me. Allory has to help me. Fucking hell. I can’t remember being this bad in decades. Fuck RainCha. Fuck Lavatio Bron and his mirrored suit and his sand snakes and fuck Tabitha Might and her slap happy guards. I get examined and poked and tutted at and I do a lot of metaphorically biting my tongue until finally I get put into a bed and injected with some sort of sedative. Allory kisses me lightly on the lips as I drop into blissful unconsciousness. I don’t want her to leave. But the whole world is slipping away.

Dreams. Memories. Everything white and chrome and sterile smelling and it’s just a needle. You’ve done it before, the side effects with this one are minimal. Are you looking for an escape route? There are guards everywhere, and I know you might fancy your chances but eventually one of them will stun you and bring you back here and we’ll give you the drug anyway. Don’t be a pussy. That’s better. No, not your arm. This one goes straight in the spine. Scared, Glass? Didn’t think so. There. All done. Brain spinning. Everything hurts. His face turns into Mum and San Ya and Allory who smiles and pushes a needle into my temple and I am in so much pain and I’m crying what’s wrong with you? You’ve been through worse but that means fuck all if you don’t take it as far as you can go. It’s just another year or so. We’ll make sure your family are safe. Who knows what would happen to them if you decide to drop out. Not a difficult choice, is it?

I wake in a cold sweat, heart thumping so fast I feel like it might re-break my ribs. Panic attack. I close my eyes tight and focus on my breathing. I’m getting out of this place. I try to rub my eyes, but I can’t move my hands. I look down. Handcuffs? Are you fucking serious?

“WHY AM I IN HANDCUFFS?”

Allory’s head appears round the door, eyebrows raised. “Why are you shouting?”

“Why am I in fucking handcuffs?”

“Because otherwise, you’ll try and discharge yourself. Which you are completely allowed by law to do. So I handcuffed you to the hospital bed.”

I press my head back into the pillow and close my eyes tight, willing myself to calm the fuck down. The sheer ridiculousness of the situation hits me. I start to laugh. It hurts, but not as much as it did before. Must be getting better. Allory comes over to the side of the bed.

“You know, I kind of like you in handcuffs. Once you’re fully healed up, I’m going to…” she bends down and whispers in my ear. My eyes widen in surprise. I think I’m blushing. Wow. She pulls away, a look of pure innocence on her face.

“Whoa.” I shake my head in disbelief. “Now I know I love you.”

Now Allory looks surprised and I panic because that is completely not what I meant to say. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. 

“Weird timing, Glass,” she says. Then she shrugs. Smiles a little. “Get some rest. I love you too.”

She walks out of the room and I breathe a sigh of relief. That went so much better than it should have done. Huh. The universe had other ideas, I guess.

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The Runaways

By Samuel Edney

Galactic Co-ordinates: 89-13-05-01

Suggested Soundtrack: See Spotify Playlist at end.

Beep. Beep. Beep…

URGENT MESSAGE SENT FROM COLONY SIERRA TWO-NINE, REGENCY CLUSTER BELT SEVEN; The zealot families have overthrown the government and authorities. The colony, no… the planet… everything is in disarray. Fire engulfs us, everywhere. Send immediate help. Please, for the love of God, have mercy. Send as much help as you can muster… They are coming. The darkness is coming. It is hungry. It wants to eat us all… they are coming.

***

Through the lenses of dusty and rusting old binoculars, Mica looked down to the base of the hill. A compound; a metal fence surrounded it, floodlights shone down on the tarmac. Atop the tarmac, a dropship, fuelled by two crew members in orange overalls, and guarded by a squad of five soldiers, clad in dark blue. Two of the soldiers stood at the gate, letting in the last of a convoy of civilians, draped in rags and stumbling through.

‘Is it still there?’, Cassy asked from below.

‘Yeah. But not for long’, Mica replied. She lowered the binoculars, hooked them back onto her belt, then climbed back down to the room below . ‘Reckon we still have about a half hour.’

The cottage was old, ruined, the bricks covered in moss. The roof was merely a frame, and several holes punctured the walls. Mica jumped down onto the grass and leaf covered warped wooden floor, and sat down. Cassy packed several items into a backpack; two bottles of water, several small food ration packs, and an old star map. Mica pulled her own backpack to her, unzipped it and began to check the contents inside, placing the binoculars in.

‘You ready?’, Cassy asked. Fiery green eyes looked up at Mica through dark brown hair. Her chiselled cheeks and jawline punctuated the default look of stern judgement she harboured wherever her gaze fell.

‘Of course I am… why?’, Mica asked.

‘Your hands are shaking.’

Mica looked down. The bottle of water she had in her hand shook. She put the bottle back in the bag, clenched her fist, tried to make the shaking stop. ‘Well, you don’t look entirely calm either.’

‘Of course I’m not’, Cassy said, ‘You think this is easy for me?’

‘It isn’t easy for either of us.’ Mica zipped up her bag, put it beside her. ‘You never actually told me why you’re doing this with me.’

‘I’m not doing it with you, I’m doing it for me. You just happen to be here too’, Cassy spat.

‘You asked me to be here,’ Mica said, ‘Those are half of the supplies I manage to scrape up in your bag.’

‘Don’t lecture me.’

‘I’m not, I just…’, Mica stopped. She didn’t want to insult or offend the only sane person she knew was left on the planet besides her.

Cassy zipped up her bag, put it to one side, ‘I know. And… I know we don’t know eachother that well. I’ve never really known anybody that well. Just my family, who… who helped orchestrate this whole mess.’ Mica looked at her, scared but curious. ‘Which is why trust isn’t one of my strong suits,’ Cassy continued, ‘Never trusted anyone, and no-one ever trusted me. That’s why I need to get away; because maybe someone, somewhere else, might trust me… and I can learn to trust them too.’ Cassy looked at the floor, refusing to meet Mica’s gaze.

Silence filled the room. Filled the cottage. Filled the whole world around them. Mica searched for a reply to break it up. ‘My family are all dead.’ Cassy started to look back up. ’At least, I think they are. I haven’t seen them since Resdun Square. Lost them in the crowd. Then…’, Mica paused, lost in the memory, ‘There was an explosion. Fire. Fire like I’ve never seen. As if, a dragon had swooped down and let loose all it’s might and… and fury.’ She stopped again, Cassy looked out at the forest, and the night sky. ‘I searched for three days, went further and further; ten blocks, twenty, thirty, even to the edge of the colony. Never found a trace.’

After a moment, Cassy looked back at her. ‘I didn’t know.’

‘Well, now you do,’ Mica paused, ‘Listen. Maybe, when we get out of here… just for a bit, until we both… you know… find our feet… we can stick together? I’m not saying forever, but…’

Desperate for the stammering to cease, Cassy grabbed her bag, and stood. ‘To be honest, I wouldn’t count on it.’ Mica looked at her, then away, feeling slightly insulted.

The rumble of an engine came from outside, drawing both girls attention. Cassy, hunched down, stuck to the walls, moved into the living room. She stopped at the window, scanned the road leading up to the cottage outside. Overshadowed by trees and bushes, it was pure darkness. Cassy stared into the abyss, occasionally glancing in each direction. Nothing, but the sound of the engine grew louder every second.

Then, the darkness began to illuminate. The engine growl accompanied a pair of headlights curving around a bend ahead of the cottage. Cassy stuck to the wall, peeking over the flaking paint of the windowsill. Within a moment, the headlights straightened out and shone directly onto the cottage. Cassy jumped back so as not to be seen. The beam of white light burned onto the face of the cottage for a moment, then disappeared. She peaked round again.

A pickup truck had come to a stop outside. The bulbs of it’s headlights cooled as they died down. The rusting door on the driver’s side creaked as it opened, a pair of fur clad boots kicked up leaves as they struck the ground.

A bony hand wrapped itself around the frame of the door, slammed it shut. Another held a metal pipe. They were attached to the long arms of a tall, thin figure, clothed in cloth rags. For a head, it donned a mask; made from a real bull’s head. The figure began to walk; towards the cottage.

Fear filling her mind, her heart, her very soul, Cassy retreated to the back room, swept her bag up from the ground. ‘Time to go’, she said, careful not to show her fear to Mica.

‘Now?’, Mica asked.

‘Yes, now!’, Cassy snapped.

Mica grabbed her bag too. The two girls swung them over their shoulders, then began to climb through a hole in the wall next to them, Cassy first to go. Just as Mica exited, the sound of the front door being kicked to pieces rang out. Mica looked back to see the figure in the doorway. Before she could even register what was happening, Cassy grabbed her, then pulled her through the gap.

***

The two girls ran, kicking their way through the forest, occasionally tripping over tree trunks protruding from the sap coated ground, the momentum of sprinting down the hill forced the loss of control of their pace. Cassy glanced back to the cottage; stood in the spot they occupied mere moments ago, the bull headed figure stared at them. Then, it disappeared quickly into the darkness behind it.

‘Was that a zealot?!’, Mica shouted her best through her wheezing.

‘Not now, focus on getting to the dropship!’, Cassy called back.

‘I want to know why—!’

The two came to a stop, forcefully slamming into a tree. Cassy turned to Mica, bragged her by the straps of her backpack, ’Listen to me right now, because I’m not going to stop and come back for you if decide to get bogged down in wanting to know why that thing is chasing us. I am getting to that dropship, and if you want to be there too; forget about the zealot’

Mica stared into Cassy’s green eyes, nodded, shaking again, more visibly next time, unsure whether through fear or still regaining herself from the momentum of sprinting down the hill. Cassy let her go, turned around and began to search for the compound guarding the dropship. Just between the trees she could see the illumination from the floodlights. ‘Looks like we’re pretty close,’ she said, ‘But we can’t stay on rough ground, it’ll take too long. We need to find our way to the main road.’ She looked back to Mica, who had turned and was staring back up at the cottage, now some distance away. ‘Mica’, Cassy said.

Mica turned to her, a lost look in her eyes. ‘Sorry, I just… this is it isn’t it?’

‘This is what?’

‘We’re really leaving.’

‘Well, yes that’s the point of all this’, Cassy said, confused.

‘I know… it’s just hit me now’, Mica started to tear up, but she didn’t entirely understand why.

Cassy rolled her eyes, ‘I’m going to leave you, here and now, if you’re starting to falter already.’

Mica shook her head, ’Don’t worry about it’, she said, a stern snappiness to her tone, ‘I’m here. Lets go.’ She made to move, but Cassy pulled her back. ‘What are you doing? I’m ready, now you’re not?’

‘Shut up,’ Cassy whispered. She listened to the sound of the woods around them. Birds chirping, the leaves rustling in the slight breeze; and the sound of engines. More than one. Cassy’s eyes widened. ‘Run. Right now. Run!’

The two broke into a sprint yet again, this time steadying themselves slightly as they progressed down the hillside. Cassy kept her attention focused on the light projecting from the dropship compound. Mica kept her attention on Cassy; the further they went, the darker it seemed to get, the shrubbery and foliage around them becoming more dense,clawing at them, as if to pull them into the trees.

Up ahead, Cassy spotted a clearing, ‘Open road!’, she shouted back.

As they approached, Mica spotted something in the corner of her eye; headlights. Not just one pair, but several. ‘Left! To the left!’, she screamed.

Cassy turned her gaze, just able to make out the outlines of the truck from earlier, being followed by other cars and trucks. She looked back ahead, gritted her teeth, and ran harder.

They reached the road; a wide dirt path that dropped further down into a ravine on the other side. Cassy stopped, scanned her surroundings. To her left, the road looked to curve left and back up the hill. To her right, a straight line, leading directly to the compound’s gate. Mica screeched to a halt beside her, kicking up dust. The chorus of growling engines grew. Cassy grabbed Mica, pushing her ahead as they ran.

Focusing her attention, Mica looked up and ahead, laying her gaze on the dropship and the crew and civilians starting to board it. She locked on, the sight of escape and near freedom from the lunatics chasing her, and the fire that she remembered engulfing everything she had known, spurred her pace. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Calm and determined. She could feel the blood pumping through her veins, the wind rushing past her ears drowning out the oncoming engines and the rising panic nature of Cassy’s shouting. All Mica could see was the dropship, and the future it could bring.

Just a little further.

The sound of a deep, guttural scream snapped her out of her trance. She skidded to a halt, whipped back around. Mica laid eyes on Cassy, several yards behind her, being surrounded by four vehicles; three pickup trucks and a small car. Cassy stopped too, hidden behind a veil of dust kicked up by the vehicles now encircled around her.

Cassy searches for Mica, disorientated by the sudden blockade now facing her. She found her, a fair way aways down the road, staring straight back. She tried to muster a call for help, but as the doors to the trucks and car opened, seemingly, and eerily, unanimously, she found no use of rhetoric. Instead, her green eyes lost their fire, replaced with terror, stared longingly at Mica, begging for help.

Mica didn’t move. She just looked on. Then to the dropship, then back to Cassy. She thought about what Cassy had said to her, back on the hill, and how she was met with a stunning indifference back up in the cottage after trying her best to provide some amount of comfort. It didn’t take long for her to make a decision. Avoiding meeting Cassy’s gaze, she turned towards the compound, and ran once more.

Cassy watched the outline of Mica’s body disappear into the lights, and felt something all too familiar to her; crushing betrayal. She paused, stared at where Mica was.

A body blocked her line of sight; towering over her, the bull headed figure that chased them from the cottage. Cassy looked up into the hollowed out eye sockets of the mask. Fiery green eyes stared back, ‘Brother.’ The figure grunted through the mask.

The slamming of a door from behind her drew her attention. She turned slowly, now surrounded by rag-clad figures, all wearing animal heads as mask. Closing off the circle, holding an axe, a man wearing a wolf head. Cassy took a deep breath, focusing herself on the situation at hand. She stared directly at the wolf, ‘Father.’ The wolf headed figure said nothing. Cassy looked around at each individual figure. ’Well? Come on.’ She raised her fists. From the circle, wielding hammers and pitchfork, two assailants approached. They were hesitant, put swung for her. Cassy dodge, then swung back, knocking the hammer wielding ‘Pig’ away. The pitchforking wielding ‘Sheep’ stabbed at her torso, but Cassy darted left, took hold of the pitchfork, and wrenched it from the Sheep’s hands, using it to knock the figure away.

Cassy was light on her feet, pitchfork in hand, skirting around the group, trying to keep a watchful eye on all of them, but failing to do so. ‘Come on!’, she screamed, ‘Get it over with you sick fu—‘

A deep thud, followed by a grunt and the spitting of blood, Cassy was knocked to the ground. The Bull had driven the metal pipe into the back of her head. Pig and Sheep returned with rope and a bag in their hands, respectively. Cassy tried her hardest to pull herself up, spitting more blood into the dirt.

The rope was wrapped around her wrists, the bag pulled over head, and she lifted up. Cassy felt herself being thrown into the back of the pickup truck. The sound of two pairs of feet joined the clanging of her body onto the metal, followed by the percussion of opening and closing doors. In the darkness, she tried to get a sense of balance, desperately searching for detail through the dark fabric as to where she might be. The growling of the engines started up once more, and Cassy felt the vehicle lurch and start to move.

A bright beam of light pierced through the bag, blinding her. She could hear several howls of surprise and protest, followed by a deep boom of twin engines, and the gusts of air that they kicked up. The bag flew off of Cassy’s head, and she stared up at the underbelly of the dropship. Next to her, the Pig and the Bull were writhing; taser rounds lay in their chests. They fell from the pickup and onto the dirt road.

Cassy blinked repeatedly, struggling to stay conscious, but everything began to turn blurry. From the dropship, five indiscernible outlines of dark blue slid down ropes to surround the pickup she struggled to find her feet in. She could hear the muffled shouting of orders.

Suddenly, she felt herself being lifted into the arms of a solider; one of the guards from the compound. He was young, with dark hair and glasses, a name tag sown onto his vest that read; ‘JOSH’. She and him began to rise, darkness beginning to fill her peripheral vision. Cassy’s attention turned to the dropship she rose to meet.

A pale hand stuck out as she was carried onto the rear ramp, and the face of Mica met her.

Then, darkness.

***

The distant sound of generators humming. The dark began to illuminate. Someone was next to her, touching the back of head with something soft and wet. In the distance, a distant voice spoke, crackling slightly; a radio broadcast ‘… with a flash of purple…appeared in the Senate… Tabitha Might…’

Cassy awoke to the sight of a green suited medic tending to the wound on the back of her head with a cotton bud. He drew back, inspected the blood, brought out a bandage from a pack wrapped around his waist. Around him, a grey coloured room. She was laying on a bed. To her left; a window. Outside of that, the blackness of space, punctuated by stars. To Cassy’s right, Mica sat in a chair, looking at her.

When she came around fully, Mica smiled, sat beside her. ‘Hey. You’re alright. Just relax and don’t move too much’, she said, ‘Took a helluva hit. But you’ll be fine, apparently.’

The medic packed his things away, nodded, then left the room, turning off the radio as he did so. Cassy blinked again, focusing on the same outside of the window. ‘Where are we?’, she asked.

Mica stood, moved over to the window. ‘We’re in orbit’, she smiled again, ‘We made it’.

Cassy managed to pull herself up enough to look out of the window. The planet’s

surface came into view; there were large patches covered in fire, with others covered in

lights that, one by one, started to go out. Cassy looked away, stared straight ahead.

Mica moved away, ‘I’ll let you get some rest’, she said. She started to walk towards

the door.

‘Mica’, Cassy said. Mica stopped, looked back to her. ‘About you sticking around.’

‘Yeah?’, Mica asked.

Cassy paused, searched for the right words. ‘Maybe, for the near future anyway. And… thank you’, she said.

Mica nodded, meekly smiled, then exited. Cassy looked back outside the window, and pondered over what may happen next.

 

Starlight, Camera, Action.

By Andy Ainscough

 

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 02-01-04-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: See spotify playlist at end.

 

In all the roles I’ve played I think this is my greatest. It is finally me and just me alone. I am in this moment, truly me. Is that acting? Is it actually realizing who you truly are? Everyone thinks it is someone else. They are so used to seeing a character every single day. When they really see you, it is someone else entirely.

Here at the opening of my new film, with the assembled paparazzi of the galactic empire, they see me for the first time.

It was always the two of us, all through our lives. The two of us. The golden pair. So beautiful, so perfect, how could the Galaxy not love us? You’ll know me, of course, Branta Carlile, and my brother, Brent. I think when I clock it up we’ve done over a three hundred films together. We’d churn them out one after another. Starring roles, cameos, characters we’ve done them all. It started, as all these things do with a mother. Our mother, Farbrisia Carlile, was born in the slums of Nep1. She was a tall, heavyset woman with a fierce stare. We never knew our father, I don’t think she did really but we did know he was an illegal. We were born glowing and glittery. We were supremely healthy with two crops of lush golden hair. Our cherubic faces had cheeks just a tad too rosy. My mother knew whoever our father was – he was an enhanced human and she saw the chance of a lifetime.

I think we were six months in our first film. Nothing huge, some kind of holoart where the history of the galaxy was represented by two babies swimming through goo. Our enhanced brains work better than normal humans so I remember it well. The cold, viscous goo, my mother looking over the vat as the hover strings pulled us through. Before out ‘big break’, she used to take us down the docks where the commercial cruise liners stopped. She knew how beautiful we were and if she held us over the barriers, one day someone would need us. She was right – one day they did. How different a life we would have had if Farbrisia Carlile was less ambitious. If she could have loved both of us the same. If she could keep us for herself rather than show the whole galaxy. How better our lives would have been.

After a few more roles, we were picked up by an agency and were relocated to Ea1. I remember my mother’s over exaggerated sighs of relief. She had been on at us for months about the darkness of Nep1. The darkness was sending our enhanced skin shades of blue and we needed to get further into the solar system to get back our golden glow. I didn’t mind, I would have quite liked to have gone blue. But we boarded the shuttle bus to Ea1 and never looked back. I will never forget my first view of the Capital. Earth, as it used to be called an age ago, had lost all semblance of a natural object. It was a sphere of chrome and gold, glass and diamond. Giant antennae punctured its surface. HoloAds the size of countries flickered in the solar sky advertising perfume and housing developments in the 02. On the top, at the north-pole, was the golden senate building, its vastness even visible from space. One day I would meet her, the sneering witch-like Empress Tabitha Might, but then I just imagined her scuttling around in there like a rat.

From then on, we were the darlings of the galaxy. But it was always my brother who came first. Even swimming through that goo at sixth months old, he swam first. Not only have I had my life robbed by my mother but my brother too. In the posters he would be in foreground, me always behind. Why? I was more beautiful, hell I was more talented. After a while I admit it, the rot set in. The way he was treated was so different. I remember once, a dreadful film, some faux western starring Lavitio Bron, well before the disgrace. Lavitio, his face morphing into a soft elfin man as he approached us, went straight up to Brent and graciously congratulated him on something and then walked straight past me. Nothing at all. I was the biggest star in the galaxy and I couldn’t even get a hello. Well the jokes on him now. Look it up.

The endless flashes continue – will they ever stop taking pictures?

My mother was the same, she always doted on him, the golden boy. Once, we were up for the same award at the Grants, he won of course. She said to me after, ‘You were second out of the womb, this is your place to be second best, be pleased for your brother, he is the one who deserves the spotlight.’

She died in a gambling den on Triisk. After a string of reality tv show appearances, the chem.pills finally got her. I saw her just before she fled to sector 6, her eyes green and glazed, she barely knew who I was, she said ‘you, woman, where’s Brent? Brent Carlile, I’m his mother you know.’

When I got Triisk, I searched and searched for her. I wore a veil and pretended I was her staff. Eventually a janitor in one of the hyper casinos said her body had been thrown in the gravity compactor. They said she had choked on her own vomit. Too much chem., a door Gorbeg said sadly. I searched those god-forsaken places for her. On my own. Brent stayed in the Capital with his friends. When I told him, he looked a me for a moment, in the middle of a gaggle of people all drinking champagne, and then said ‘ah man, that’s a shame’. She loved him so much, more than she ever could me, and he didn’t care. He didn’t care at all. The press showed endless footage of him in black mournfully walking through the holopark with a black rose. Staged, just like everything else, it was staged.

From then I just kept thinking about it, a life I could have lived. Away from my tragic mother, away from my horrible brother. Where I was the star because I was kind and beautiful. Not because I caught some of the light in somebody else’s shadow. I had to do something about it. I had to break free of this role given to me and become the one everyone remembered. Because of something I did. Me.

The paparazzi click and click and flash and flash. Somewhere in the distant I hear teleports and the thud of boots. I heave him up a little, my brother, he is becoming heavy in my arms. This is the role I will be remembered for. I killed him just behind the door, stabbed him through the neck. We were due to make the announcement of our latest venture so I though I would make it mine. They’re right to take pictures. Take as many as you want. The blood that stains my white dress is congealing and starting to smell. I clutch his body and stare forward smiling. Me, in my final role as Branta Carlise, the biggest star in the Galaxy.

 

Captain RainCha and the Temple of Dreams

by Andy Ainscough

 

SUGGESTED FOMER READING: Captain RainCha and the Bad Boys of the Purple Moon, Vol.1, Story 4 + Captain RainCha and the Child Prince, Vol.2 Story 3.

 

GALACTIC COODINATES: 12-05-06-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: See spotify playlist at end.

 

 

Oh boy. This is not good. Really not good. There’s no religion or self-help book that can make see the good in this. Oh boy not one. I can see why people wanted the damn thing so much if it did this. Fuck me, this is a bad guy’s Christmas.

 

Okay so as usual – I’ve got me some explaining to do. Let’s roll back a bit. Let me tell you how I came face to face with the Galactic Empress Tabitha Might.

 

Cue titles. A montage of purple weasels. Me looking handsome. Slow motion pulling out of guns. Etcetera etcetera.

 

Now I love myself a party. Who doesn’t? And I find myself in one of the hottest gigs in sector 4. And we all know sector 4 is the coolest sector. I know Joe will be salty but you’ve just gotta have a change from time to time. Its Friday night standard as I walk into KrYstal100 and the place is LIT. Its full of illegals, unregistered, humans, Fal-taps, Gorbegs – essentially if there is a biological oddity in the damn wide universe it is represented here. People dance around the crystal formations that grow out the ground up to the cave roof. A cross species slap-band funk the freak out in the corner hitting the crystals and send sound waves rumbling through the floor so you can feel it in your nethers. Oof that’s some good funk.

Oh yeah –we’re in a cave. And the place is run by living crystals. Sorry, just to get you up to speed.

 

Anyway. I’m not here strictly on pleasure. That would be ridiculous. I’m here to catch up with a business associate of mine.

‘Come on Ray she’ll be there later,’ I say and usher him away from a particularly sleek looking silver-back. Oh yeah my mate Ray is here too. He’s a highly evolved Gorilla but now works as a courier and my professional getter-into-troubler.

I walk across the dance floor snaking my hips as I go. They all love it. Or if they don’t they just haven’t seen it yet. At the other side are the private booths. Each one is carved into the rock face and lined with a different colour crystal. People like it – I think it looks like a fucking sweet shop. Alas. Me and Ray cha cha to the nearest one. A big, nasty looking Gorbeg in a begrudging tuxedo stands with his hand on an inevitable red velvet rope.

‘Name.’ It says blankly. Literally not a hint of emotion. The wall looks more passionate.

‘Woah calm down hot stuff,’ I say.

‘Name.’ the living wall says.

‘Okay okay no need for a speech handsome. Captain RainCha and Ray.’

Its huge hands remains unmoving on the rope.

‘Full names.’

 

Uh oh. Noooooooo. Don’t judge me.

 

‘ How did she get my full name? Ugh fine. Captain Horatio Alveron RainCha and Ray, full name. Ray the Bonso.’

 

What can I say – my parents were Hippies. End of Story. Fine.

 

‘In you go.’

 

Here she is. If I wasn’t such good friends with her I’d spend all my time running away from her. This bitch is crazy. But I love her. She’s tiny and this time she has a immaculate bob haircut in her trademark sleek black. She sits, with her tiny legs dangling over the plush sofa her hands folded and her lips pursed.

 

You guessed it – it’s only San Ya, proprietress of the largest black market in the Galaxy.

 

‘You late,’ she says unmoving. We shuffle in next to Valeiran, San’s Fal-Tap assistant and two radioactive looking drinks teleport onto the table. Told you this place is cool.

 

‘Hey San, sorry hun, we went to that new planet in the 02, tried to flog some of Ray’s old stock but it turns out its been overrun with green goo monsters. Who knew?’

 

‘Half galaxy knew RainCha. Idiot. But tell me did you get it? Shadow-board is it yours?’

 

Cut-Scene. So it turns out I’m wanted by some pretty bad guys. They’re really bad actually and not very pretty. Anyway, they knew everything about me – including that recently I got some let’s say superpowers courtesy of a bunch of undiscovered purple space weasels. Long story. But annnnnyyywayyy. I had to get a little do-hikkie that essentially deleted my name and face from every database in the galaxy.

 

And it motherrrfuckin worked. Yea.

 

‘Yes San I did indeed get the shadow-board.’

 

‘Show me, show me now.’

 

I’ve had the shadow-board, actually a rock that produces weird black smoke embedded in a sick necklace that is totally dope. I delve into my shirt and carefully hold it out towards San.

 

‘Fuck me San!’

 

She immediately yanks it off its chain and clutches it in her tiny hand. A series of magnifying glasses spin round from over her had and onto her eye.

 

‘Needed closer look. Necklace very frivolous.’

 

She stares at it every which way and gasps occasionally.

 

‘It is very beautiful. I wonder how works.’

 

‘No idea – I just know that it does.’

 

Besides me I can hear Valeiran purring. His tail is edging towards the shadow-board.

 

‘Do you think San,’ he says sexily. I’m sorry he’s super sexy even for a cat. ‘Do you think San it is one of the Unnawri?’

 

Oooo what is this?

 

‘The Unnawri?’ I say and look at Ray. He raises his eyebrows. I can practically see the credit signs rolling in his eyes.

 

‘Very possibly Val. RainCha you are a scoundrel but a useful one. Tell me have you heard of the Unnawri?’

 

Clearly not. What’s wrong with her?

 

‘No San as I have literally just expressed I have not.’

 

‘Sarcastic boy. You stop. The Unnawri are powerful artifacts from the Sofiva Empire. Beautiful and dangerous. They have been lost for millennia. But we think they are still out there.’

 

Ah. The Sofiva. Before the human vermin infected the galaxy a wise and powerful race called the Sofiva built a benevolent empire across it. Or so the story goes. They were like gods and angels. Built like humans but stronger and lither. Their never fatigued or aged. They were said to have cracked the code to eternal life. But they disappeared. Suddenly and definitively. Then the humans moved in. Any scrap of Sofiva evidence is worth millions and millions of credit. So you know people want them you know?

 

‘It’s not – you’re joshing me. the shadow board is a…what was it an onion?’ Ray says and laughs heartily. God love Ray.

 

‘Unnawri. Stupid Bonso,’ says San in a very roundabout fashion.

 

‘Do you know where the rest are?’ I say.

 

‘As soon as we had an inkling, San and I started doing some digging. If the shadow-board is an Unnawri then the legend is real and the rest will be out there. We have located a contact. A soothsayer of a kind called Pref Terin. We feel he may be able to help us find the rest.’ Valeiran says so softly and gently I practically fall in love with him.

 

My stomach suddenly drops. I mean I already kind of knew it but it just hits me all at once you know? If this is one of the most valuable objects in the galaxy then there are people gonna want it no fear. Suddenly all across the room I feel eyes looking at me. Are they? Who knows?

 

‘San,’ I say. ‘I think we just head back to the market. Get the shadow board somewhere safe.’

 

She understands my meaning and nods to Valeiran.

 

‘Yes. Good idea. Come Idiot Captain. Bonso. We will go. My ship is outside.’

 

We slide out of the booth and the enigmatic Gorbeg lets us out without a smile. Our motley crew slips through the crowd. I make sure the weasels are inside. For once they conform. A woman bumps into me – she has an old fashioned t-shirt on. A man with some kind of lighting sword – she looks hard as nails. She stares and me for a moment and then for longer at San Ya. I’m not offended, everyone knows San. I mean the woman might know me, I’m not bothered. Am I? Oh who cares?

 

The night is full swing. The music bounces off the crystals. Drinks slosh around. Different species, who probably shouldn’t, neck in the distance.

 

Then. No kidding. Total Silence. No joke.

 

I’m stood in some kind of spotlight. A huge blinding light from above. The rest of the club is frozen. San Ya next to me points at the exit like a statue. Valerien remains sexily still. Ray is honestly pulling the most hilarious face. I take a picture obv. But still what the hell is going on?

 

This is where things get a bit weird. There’s a voice. From god knows where. Perhaps it is God – I don’t know but here it goes:

 

‘CAPTAIN RAINCHA YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN…’

 

I knew it. I knew I was the messiah. Something just told me you know?

 

‘YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN FOR A RACE.’

 

A race? That’s not savior of the galaxy. So mad.

 

‘…A RACE TO THE FINISH AND A RACE TO DEATH. AT THE END LIES THE TEPMLE OF DREAMS WHERE YOU’RE GREATEST DESIRES WILL COME TRUE.’

 

Inevitably, that’s when I teleport.

 

So back to the present for a little interlude. Ooo nice word. Interlude. This is by far the worst shit I’ve been in. And I’ve been in some proper shit before. Tabitha Might does not look happy. And as I look over my shoulder, neither does the collected representatives of the Galactic commons. Anywho back to the story.

 

So I’m teleporting. I’m hoping I land in a nice warm bed, or a soft, flower laden meadow. But oh no, I land IN MID AIR and fall to a stone floor with a ‘oh fuckin hell’

 

It’s darkness but I’ve got a stone floor so that’s something. I whip out Scratchy out of my arm. It sniffs the air and looks at me quizzically. ‘I don’t know hun either,’ I say. It raises one of its tiny claws as if to say oh I have an idea. Suddenly it grips with all its might and glows a bright purple. I look round. The purple light does nothing. Just illuminates more darkness beyond.

 

Then I have an idea. I whip out all eight weasels and push as hard as I can. Purple light fills the air. Oh shit, I’ve got this wrong. I can feel a fizzing up and down my air. Damn things can never get it right. I can tell they’ve mistaken light for raw power. Children and animals people, never work with children and animals. So suddenly I’m a mini bomb ready to blow. And blow I do. Watch it.

 

I was in a prison or a box. I know that because the weasels have only gone and blown the bloody doors off. Well and the walls.

 

I’m on a podium in the middle of an oblong stadium. Either side are huge crowds in the stands. They’re jeering and shouting and waving betting slips. These are not your usual San Ya’s market fodder either. You know people like me, a bit sketchy but a good heart really. These I can tell are proper underground scum. There’s some I can see who are banned from the market. There are slavers. I can see men sat with species in chains round them. There are huge monsters taking up tens of seats. Unregistered and terrorists. If the Empire found this place they’d have a field day. Me on the other hand… Beside me are others on more podiums. An old battle hardened Fal-Tap with a scar down his face. A young Gloosha with a set of mean spikes on her head. A huge Gorbeg with a cyborg arm. A human – wait, I think, it’s the woman from before, the one in the vintage t-shirt. What’s she doing here?

 

A platform floats up in front. Oh no. No, no. Not him. Anyone but him. I’d recognize that missing tooth anywhere. Lavatio Bron.

 

Firstly I owe him money but that’s besides the point. Mainly this guy is a sleezebag of the highest order. He used to be the darling of the galactic network. Show on every channel, appearances in every sector attended by millions. But after some rather, what I can only describe as… unsavory business transactions the man fell from grace. I saw him hosting a club night on Triisk a few years back. Some dead end gig, with a few tired old strippers. Seems as though the man has landed on his feet though.

 

Let me just paint you a picture of how much a bellend this man is. He’s wearing a suit made entirely of mirrors so you can’t help but look at him. His dyed black hair is slicked back in the most enormous greasy mullet you’ve ever seen. His face is conventionally attractive I guess. But anyone would say that. He’s had morph-surgery. His face literally moulds itself to your own particular attractions. It’s the weirdest thing you’ll ever see, but my does it get your loins going. Ugh I hate him. It’s the tooth, the missing canine, that’s the only way I can tell it’s him. Oh and his smug fucking grin.

 

He’s whizzing round on a grav-platform clicking his fingers at the crowd. They cheer and I can tell a wave of unusual feeling hits their privates. Eventually, with a flash of fireworks he hovers centre stage.

 

‘Welcome one. Welcome all!’ His silky sickening voice booms over the stadium.

 

‘OI!’ I shout being a nightmare to show proceedings. ‘OI LAVATIO’

 

‘I see you’ve all made it from your various prisons you beautiful lot.’ There’s a roar of laughter from the crowd. He can’t hear me the bastard. Right I’ll show him. There’s a rise of purple fizz in my throat.

 

‘OI LAVITIO BRON WHY THE FUCK AM I HERE?’ my voice echoes around the stadium thanks to a little fire from the weasels.

 

He stares at me for a minute shocked and then smiles lizardly.

 

‘Well well, ladies gentlemen, other designated existences introducing Captain RainCha and the bad boys of the purple moon!’

 

There’s a roar from the crowd. Cool, the name caught on. Anyway. He swings along the line the Fal-tap first.

‘Terrance Grenn, Mercenary. Adventurer of the 6th sector, watch out for those claws.’ Then the Gloosha, ‘Bloge, heir apparent to the Sea of Harmony. Gonna get in trouble for that one.’

He bypasses me and heads to the gorbeg. ‘Oh boy, don’t get on this one’s wrong side. It Karvax, Grand Champion of the Sector 6 gladitorial games. Finally last but not least. Its her, a child of Lazarus – Morven Glass herself. I, on behalf of my employer welcome you to the Sancta Canyon. At the end of this treacherous path lies the tomb of dreams. Inside, legend has it all your dreams can come true. The first one there will find out its wonders. The others – well they will die.’

 

There’s a Cannon fire. I guess that means – oh shit. GO.

 

So I’m running that’s for sure. And so are the others. It’s a race I guess that’s what you do right? Terrance Grenn whizzes past me, a trail of blue behind him. He’s got grav-boots on that’s not fair. I want Grav-boots. The canyon is narrow but huge. The vast, sandy walls tower above me. As I run the roar of the crowd becomes less and less. This shit is creepy. There is a crash from behind. It’s Karvax, the huge Gorbeg, he shoves me to the side. Painfully from the floor I watch as he leaps into the air and plunges his arm into the rock face. He propels off it and into the adjacent wall. He’s going over the top! Bastard. Well two can play at that game.

 

My arms glow purple. Oh yeah baby here we go! I zoom into the air like a rocket. The energy from my purple weasels tingles all over my body. Sandra busts out of my outstretched arm and dances to the music. Oh what music you ask? I’m playing funk music in my head obviously.

 

Anyway.

 

I shoot up past the canyon edge and from here I can see the whole outstretched map. The canyon is like a deep gash in a rocky wasteland. It snakes on and on until out of the sand a mountain rises. Along the slopes there are cracks with deep green energy throbbing out of them. Well that’s obviously the place. Right then off we go.

 

Oooo. There’s something in my ear. It’s a bee. Wait no its not. Is it? Ah. It’s buzzing. Shit. What is that? Bitey pops out over my shoulder and peers in – it shrugs and then disappears.

 

‘Captain that you my friend?’

 

Is it God? Surely not. I thought somebody disproved him years ago.

 

‘Can you hear me Captain?’ I think I’m having a religious experience.

 

Its Ray. Ray is speaking into my ear.

 

‘Captain its me Ray. Can you hear me?’

 

‘Shit yeah I can – how are you doing that?’

 

‘Oh I put an audio chip in your ear months ago. No biggie.’

 

‘No biggie you fucking weirdo! What you snuck into my room and then gave me an inside piercing. I’m outraged – can you tell I’m outraged? Who does that? Why on the moons of Sa1 did you do that?’

 

‘I dunno maybe in case you got lost or kidnapped or teleported out of a bar right before my eyes. I dunno. Something like that.’

 

Hmmmm. I guess. Okay I suppose. Still mad though.

 

‘Where are Captain?’

 

‘Lavatio Bron has me. But it’s not him running the show I don’t think – he’s just hosting it. They’re getting me and some others to race to a ‘temple of dreams’ or some shit.’

 

‘Ughhhh Lavito Bron is the worst.’

 

‘I know right?’

 

‘Never heard of the temple of dreams. Did he give you anything else?’

 

‘Erm…the Sancta Caynon. I’m hovering above it now.’

 

I can hear him typing. From the background I hear a barked shout. Ah he’s at San Ya’s.

 

There’s a rustling screech – I think a microphone has been pulled away.

 

‘Captain its me San Ya.’

 

‘Yes I can tell it’s you San. You have a distinctive voice’ Like a gar-claw being pulled against moonstone.

 

‘You in sky yes?’

 

‘Yes why?’

 

‘Get down – get down – back into canyon.’

 

‘Why –?’

 

Oh. Oh I can see why. How did I not spot it before? The sand is moving. And I don’t mean just with the wind its literally moving up and down like waves. I can still see Karvax running along the dunes. Oh yeah there it is. A huge monster like an eel but MASSIVE rises up through the sand and swallows the mercenary in one. Shit. Suddenly on shoots past me on the left. I dodge. Then on the right. Bollocks. They block out the sun with enormity. Enormity. Good word Captain. Sorry.

 

‘Captain what happening? You are on the planet Cracktar, home of the desert snakes. Get back in canyon.’

 

‘I’ve realized San. Little busy. One min.’

 

I shoot downwards. Karvax must have sparked a feeding frenzy. The bastards are everywhere. It’s a storm of teeth and slobbering terrible, sandy breath. One rises up in front, I blast it with energy. The purple shot bounces off its grey-brown hide. Okay so can’t fight them. They’re all around shooting up through the sand wrapping and writhing round me. There! There’s a hole I funnel the energy into my feet and blast across as quick as I can. It’s closing and quick. Come on weasels. Sandra appears in front of me with a face as if to say we’re doing our bloody best. I push harder.

 

Yesssss. I did it. Of course I did right? I zoom out of the nest of giant eels and into the sunlight and shoot down into the canyon, back where I started. Just as I pass the lip I see the writhing monster mass slither back into their sand-sea. This place is gross.

 

‘I’m out. I got back in the Canyon.’

 

‘Good. Desert snakes very nasty. Eat you one bite. No hope.’

 

‘Thanks San. Good talk. You anymore info?’

 

There’s another buzz in my ear.

 

‘Ray here. The Sancta Canyon is rumored to be home to the Temple of Dreams like you said. It’s a burial place of an ancient king said to house an ancient treasure. Lost for an age though – not a surprise against this shit- hole of a planet. We are straight up sector 6 here my man. Uncategorized to shit. Look there’s not much info apart from a message found on an ancient hardrive.’

 

‘What does it say?’

 

‘Face your worst nightmare to find your greatest dream.’

 

Oh boy that doesn’t sound good.

 

Alright Alright. It can’t be that bad. How would anyone know what my worst nightmare is? I’m pretty sure I don’t know what my worst nightmare is.

 

‘I have placed tracker on you. Get going. We are on our way. But you can’t look like you’re not playing game. They kill you dead. Go now.’ Says San in my ear.

 

‘God hell San I’ve just escaped a nest of giant sand eels give me a break.’

 

She’s right though. I start to run down the canyon. It’s strangely empty. There’s no plants anywhere, no scuttling animals. Nothing. Not even a few stray rocks. I stop for a moment and wipe my hand along the side. The dust comes away and there’s metal underneath. A grainy metal as if its really old.

 

‘San, Ray. I don’t think this is a canyon.’

 

‘What do you mean man?’ Rays says.

 

‘I think this whole place is the tomb.’

 

‘I can scan it from you audio chip.’ There’s a clicking of keys and a buzzing of loading screens. ‘Oh boy Cap you’re right. This place is massive. The sand must have moved in afterwards. It’s like you’re on the last assent of some huge mountain.’

 

‘Are you here yet? Can you get me?’

 

‘Nearly but we can’t get down too close or the snakes will get us. Get to the temple up ahead and we’ll pick you up from there.’

 

Knew it. I just knew no matter what I’d have to make it to the temple. Behind me I hear a chug of a jetpack.

 

‘Can who get you?’ A voice says. Its slippery and sarcastic – I like it. I turn and see the woman from the crystal club. She lands on the floor with a light thud and holds out a gun.

 

‘Woah there hun,’ I say. ‘Let’s not ruin our first date with laser blasters eh?’

 

She laughs, cocking her head back. ‘Not my type, I’m afraid,’ she looks me up and down. ‘So go on then Captain what’s your party trick?’

 

‘What was your name again?’ I say stalling. I like her already but I can’t yet work out if she’s going to kill me or not.

 

‘Morven, Morven Glass. I’ve heard your name before, mainly in Salty Joe’s, mainly paired with a few choice expletives. Go on then tell me, why you here?’

 

Ugh, I have to do this like literally ten times a day.

 

‘I crash landed on a unregistered moon and became host to some purple energy weasels. They make me kinda fly and blast and shit. No six pack though yet. I thought that’s what super powers did but apparently I miss out? Just my luck.’

 

‘You’re shitting me. Weasels? You’re having me on.’

 

Now this is the bit I enjoy. Because quite rightly no one ever believes me. I spin on one foot. As I move through the air, with a flash of bright fuschia, eight weasles appear on my arm and wave at my new friend Morven. I grin.

 

‘Ok. Ok you’re telling the truth. Shit that’s cool. The weasels though not the spin.’

 

‘Go on I’ve shown you mine, you show me yours.’

 

She sighs. ‘I’m a child of Lazarus.’

 

I knew my face dropped. I knew it. I couldn’t help it – a bloody child of Lazarus.

 

‘So you… so…’

 

‘Yes. I don’t die. Pending injury at least. I won’t ever…run out.’

 

‘Whoa cool.’

 

‘You’d think wouldn’t you…’

 

She puts down the gun and squints at me. ‘You’re not a bad guy are you? You’re just a big idiot man?’

 

‘Oh absolutely.’ I laugh.

 

Unfortunately at that point, right behind us, they decide to make another apparence, missing us by mere inches a giant, bloodthirsty sand snake burst through the wall. Fuck’s sake.

 

Ok just imagine the next bit accompanied by a rocking bass solo right?

 

I shoot up into the air. Morven’s jet pack bursts into life. Snake after snake is busting through the walls. We dodge and duck and weave. These things are nasty you can tell by their bloody awful breath. I wonder if the snakes came with the temple or came afterwards? Shit no time. The canyon is getting darker as more and more of the beasts criss cross the expanse. They’re bursting through and diving straight back into the other side.

 

‘Morven if we can get to the temple at the end my friends can pick us up’ I say blasting a snake down through its open mouth.

 

‘Who are they?’ She says running along the length of another.

 

‘What the hell does that matter?’ I say and swoop under another big bastard.

 

‘I’m not getting in some spacecraft with someone I don’t know. You could be slavers or something!’ she hovers for a moment and expertly takes out the eyes of one snake sending it writhing to the ground.

 

‘We’re not Slavers! My friend is called San Ya, she’s okay.’ I mean I wouldn’t stretch to good. The canyon is writhing with the buggers. Up ahead I can see the floor rising. We’re getting near. I send out the weasels. Each one along a different snake. They scamper along quickly down the great mottled backs.

 

‘Whoa you mean the San Ya, okay it’s a deal. I’m coming with you.’

 

Down below I see Blooge the royal Gloosha caught in some huge teeth like trap on the ground – definitely dead. That’s going to cause some international incident I know it.

 

‘In 10 seconds M, Get by side and fly forward.’

 

‘Yes Captain,’ she’s says, still sarcastically.

 

I wrestle away from my current snake and look forward. The weasels are all in position along the side.

 

‘NOW!’

 

There’s a flash of purple and a great explosion. We hurtle forward at lightning speed. I can hear rustling the snakes are coming to. The temple is up ahead I can just see it. Whoa shit shit. Its Terrance Grenn the fal-tap mercenary. A snake bursts out and eats him in one.

 

‘Keep going!’ We push harder and harder until we tumble out onto a flat stone surface and everything goes deathly quiet.

 

‘What the hell just happened?’

 

‘The weasels exploded. Made a brief pathway for us to whizz through. They saved us.’ I say.

 

‘Oh I’m sorry I guess.’

 

‘Oh no…they’re not…’ Out pops Sandra from my shoulder and winks at Morven. ‘They’re multi-talented.’

 

Okay the next bit is where things get weird (okay weirder). Something unexpected happened and I’m not talking about Tabitha Might. Let’s just say I didn’t enjoy it.

 

Behind us, presumably with no food sources, the snakes retract into the walls. We came through a force field I felt the tingle as we passed. Up ahead is the tomb. It’s a squat, square pyramid. It’s hard to tell if it’s made of stone or metal – it’s like a combination of the two. All over it are strange carved symbols. They are faded though and their edges are blurred. This thing is ancient.

 

‘Cap we’re here but couldn’t get through to the ground – we see you’ve made it though.’ Ray appears in my ear. ‘You’ll have to fly up from here something is blocking our lifter-upperer.’

 

‘Transit beam Ray, its called a transit beam.’ I say without thinking. The tomb is entrancing its like being a dream even looking at it. ‘There’s a force field here. But it seems to let people through. I’ve made a friend – we’re bringing her too.’

 

‘Okay fine. Come on then.’

 

I drift forward towards the tomb. Its like I’m being pulled along. I can fell Morven beside me doing the same. What’s inside there? What did those goons at the stands want so bad that they set all this up? In the middle is a gap of a door. We stand in front of it and just stare. I feel like I’m underwater. Everything is blurred at the edges.

 

‘Cap, come on, we can’t stay forever.’

 

‘Sure sure.’

 

We stare at the open mouth of the door as if it is a piece of beautiful art. The blackness inside changes slowly. It swirls and curves into creamy passages of white. They twirl like rivers bending into whirlpools until the shape of body appears. The body gains detail, the end of a vague arm flexes into fingers. A soft face takes on softer features. It is like a human, but beautiful, more beautiful than any human could possibly be. And taller, and more graceful. Out of its back, slowly two great wings unfold. Is it an angel? Oh no did I get eaten by a snake? Am I dead? Well if so Morven is too – ha. The Angel, with all its features in place opens its mouth and begins to speak.

 

‘Welcome weary travelers. We are the Sofiva and welcome to our temple. One may pass and one may leave. Through this door is your worst nightmare and your greatest dream. Only those who are worthy will have both.’

 

Well what do you know? As soon as the Sofiva are mentioned here they are. Well fancy that.

 

The words snap me out of my trance. ‘Yeah I can do without either. We’re going hun.’

 

‘Yeah sorry strange hologram lady. We’re off.’ Morven says.

 

We both blast off upwards but of course slam into the now solid force-field roof.

Shit. A little sore we both look at each.

 

‘I’ll do it.’ We both say at the same, clearly both secretly and absolutely wanting to.

 

‘I’m protected. The weasels they’ll keep me safe.’

 

‘From your worst nightmare?’

‘Ha maybe not. But a nightmare – you must have lived longer than I have Morven, I’m sure there are more nightmares for you than me.’

 

She looks at me for a moment and then turns away. ‘I’m not sure of that. Your eyes Captain, your eyes tell a different story.’

 

‘Go. I’m protected. I’ll be fine.’

 

She turns and then with a huff jumps and hovers in the air. ‘Fine, but its my turn next okay?’

 

I nod and smile weakly. She launches upwards through the force field and I am alone. It hits me suddenly – that feeling of being alone – but it isn’t an alien one. Before Ray, before San, hell before Salty Joe I was alone. After the army, before I found out that greedy people only get greedier, back when I was hanging out on the ice planets of the Thex system and hopping between the asteroid ruins of the last edge of the galaxy, I was alone. I feel it here again like an old friend. Even though my friends hover above the force field they may as well be a universe away. Only the door is there now and whatever stands beyond it.

The Sofiva stands to the side and gestures me in. I walk forward through the door and into utter darkness. I know what is coming. I can feel it. If the Sofiva was right than it is my worst nightmare is coming, and my worst nightmare is something I have already lived. Predictably the door closes behind me with a grind. Slowly but surely I hear in the distance the pounding rhythmic march of many feet. They are getting closer. I try to run but in the darkness I go nowhere. Up ahead a child appears. I don’t know his species but he turns from green to red quickly as if alarmed. He runs through lush green trees shouting for his mother. Shouting for anyone. The marching boots get closer and closer. He screams and runs. Others appear, more children playing out on the forest. They are glowing red just like the first one. The marching people pass by me – they are soldiers, decked out in full space gear. They looks like robots, faceless and terrifying. I know they are human though because one of them is me. Suddenly they stop and bring out the guns off their back. I collapse to the floor – Sandra emerges and cuddles my arm. They cock the guns and aim into the forest. I can see the glowing red of the children just for a moment and then it fades away.

 

Yep. They got it right. My nightmare relived. After that I never went back.

 

At the present Tabitha Might is opening her mouth as if to speak – but we’re in slow motion right? So let me finish off my yarn.

 

I sit for a moment curled up in a ball. There’s a tap on my shoulder, I raise my head and see all eight weasels looking at me with tears in their eyes.

 

‘Don’t hate me,’ I say. They don’t, they all come and nuzzle my legs. I don’t deserve them. The room, now the projection has gone is just a small stone space, with nothing in it. They must tap into your mind and project it back at you. Horrible but effective I guess. In front a panel opens into another room and light pours in. I get up and slowly walk through.

 

My god the Sofiva were keeping this close to their chest weren’t they?

 

Inside is a glass room. Literally all of it glass. Or I think its glass. There are beautiful sculptures of impossible creatures laid on delicate plinths across a huge carved floor. The ‘windows’ must be holograms – each one a different scenes. On one side lush green fields, another a snowy mountaintop. The furthest side is as if we’re in deep space, a galaxy of stars for the taking as if painted on a canvas. My open mouthed gawp is interrupted for a moment by a voice that I had all but forgotten.

A painful jolt shoots through my head accompanied by a scratchy changing of sound connection.

 

‘Ahhhhhh Captain – forgotten about me had you?’

 

Ah yes, my old enemy The Owner. Of course – how could I forget? He’s after me for a few things, not including selling him some dodgy sheep and stealing the shadow-board from under his big fat nose. Anyway.

 

‘I bet you were wondering who put this all together weren’t you?’

 

‘No,’ I say. ‘Obviously it was you dumbass.’

 

‘Well… oh fine. Well we have the place surrounded. You’re little buddies have scarpered. Get the artifact. There in the centre. Get it and bring it to meeeeee.’

 

His voice is so annoying I can’t even. I just can’t.

 

I guess I have no choice.

 

On the central plinth is what looks like a heavy ring. Is this it? A bit of old metal. As I grab it I feel that familiar tingle. But boy is it powerful.

 

OH MAN IS THAT GOOD.

 

So that’s you to speed. I touched the artifact and it teleported me here – the galactic senate right in front of Tabitha Might. I mean talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire? Oh shit I guess slow motion is over. Back to the present. Tabitha Might raises her finger and points it at me:

 

‘GET THAT MAN!’

 

I’m not worried. Scratchy just winked at me. The weasels have a plan. As I say it again that doesn’t sound so good. The weasels have a plan? Oh god I’m going to die.

 

Guards emerge from everywhere. I feel an odd stretching sensation over my body. As if my head is halfway into warpspeed but my arse isn’t. What is happening? Ugh this is horrible. I’m being pulled downwards. The guards step back shocked.

 

Oh wait- I’m not being pulled downwards. I look at my hands. They’re tiny little purple claws. I knew I had more powers – I knew it! I can transform into one of them. At least I hope I can transform back – we’ll have to see. Anyway for now I better run. I scamper along the floor of the senate and jump headfirst through the Empress’s chest and out the other side. I wave a tiny claw and disappear into the labyrinth of Ea1.

 

A cliffhanger. A cliffhanger indeed.

 

Now that was quite an adventure and it isn’t over yet…

 

Tune in next time. Stay cool.

 

Captain RainCha and the Bad Boys of the Purple Moon.

 

 

 

 

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.