Note: Rated PG-13 for violence and language
"Lives of Dirt"
An angelic blue sky hovered high above with puffy white clouds roaming its endless vista. Below a serene rolling landscape of blown over grass rustled silently in a cool breeze. The vibrant greens literally stabbed the eye with their vibrant color.
A boy, of about nine or ten, swept away a lock of dusty brown hair as he peered up into the sky. There was a ship veering in across the distant horizon. He squinted his blue jeweled eyes as he judged its speed.
Man that thing is zooming.
It took about three seconds for the ship to reach him. But as it approached, it began slowing down, easing itself to a stop right at the edge of town.
It wasn’t a very large town, just a simple colony of likeminded people. People who wanted to get away from the bustling cities and the heavy handed taxes of government. Families, farmers, and tradesmen who just wanted some land to themselves and a heaping handful of privacy. Out on the fringes there was plenty of both for everyone.
The ship hovered in the air before it gently touched down in the grass. Massive thrusters kicked in as it descended. It was a bulky bulbous craft with crimson and vanilla painted plates covering its hull. A narrow cockpit jutted out from the front of the ship with heavily tinted windows obscuring any view of the pilot. Pressurized air bled out from side valves kicking up dust and blades of grass. Finally the big noisy ship came to a complete, quiet rest.
The boy watched intently as the ship’s boarding ramp lowered. The colony didn’t get very many visitors, and those who did come always had tons of the latest gifts, equipment, and supplies ready for sale. Of course the kid didn’t have much money in his pocket, but he still held out hope that there would be something he could afford.
Crisp, clean white lights shown inside the ship’s small hangar. The bright sterile lights silhouetted one lone spacer as he clunked along the gangway. He wore a flowing brown leather coat that reached all the way to the ground. There was a funny skull cap on his head, and a pair of thick, glossy round goggles on his face. As he walked out onto the grass, the boy could see the man’s unshaven jaw chewing constantly on some strange stick that stuck out of his mouth.
“Hey dere boy.” The odd accented voice cloyed in quaint low tones. “What be da name of dis here village.” His goggled eyes looked around at the houses and buildings.
“This is Bendensville.” The boy replied.
“Bendensville, hey? Not bad.” His black eyed gaze continued to scan the town. “Not many people out right now…”
“No sir, it’s lunch time. Everyone stays inside for lunch to eat with their families. Sep nice days like today, some people like to eat outdoors…like a picnic.”
“Ahhh, makes sense.” The loose straps on the man’s leather skull cap wagged as he nodded his head.
The boy couldn’t help but look at them like a dogs floppy ears. The grizzled looking spacer chomped down on a plastic stick jutting out of his mouth. He patted the boy on his head like a good little pet, then smoothly drew out a heavy, smoke encrusted pistol and tenderly drew back the trigger.
A sharp little pop burped out of the old pistol. The metal receiver cracked back and jammed forward, chambering a new round as a tendril of flame still spurted from the flared barrel.
The boy dropped lifelessly to the dirt.
The man took a step forward and leaned over the child’s fallen body, a small plume of smoke creeping out of the pistol as he let it hang by his side. His black glossy goggles stared inquisitively down at the boy’s bland blue eyes. A sick smirk stabbing at the corners of the killer’s pallid face.
“Bon voy’age little kiddie.” Came the cold giggling voice.
His deep black gaze darted up to the buildings. Not a single person stirred from their hovels, all of them probably ignorantly chewing on their cud, eating with their little pups. The predator inside the spacer snarled in disgust.
“Stupid clodhoppers.” He turned back toward the open hangar door of his ship.
“ALL CLEAR BOYS!”
Twelve ragged shapes clamored out of the ship like hungry coyotes at their master’s bidding.
“Member, we got room for just forty of dese here monkeys. Pick’em wisely.” The skull caped spacer snarled, his lips curled in a venomous sneer.
The others just smiled and laughed. “Sure thing boss. Just don’t grease any pretty ladies, last time you smoked the only one in the whole bunch.”
“Yeah boss, lay off the women folk will ya. Some of us don’t get our kicks off cutt’en down colonists.”
“Day ain’t colonists Basser, day just monkeys. But if yous wanna fratenate with da things, go ahead.” He swirled his pistol in a be my guest gesture, signaling them to carry on.
Shindu Dandaely was a big brute of a man. He stood nearly seven feet tall and weighed an easy 180 kilos. His legs and arms were as thick as young tree trunks, and his big barrel chest helped hide the swelling beer belly beneath. Regardless, Shindu could bench-press a hovercraft or clean out an entire room full of seasoned brawlers. He was the type of guy who liked using his fists to break things. Sometimes he even used his head.
With careless ease, he put a big foot into the door in front of him and watched in shameless satisfaction as the hinges busted loose from the door frame. He stooped down and glanced into the house, then turned slowly around to Mr. Hide.
“Nobody home.” He gruffed.
A ricocheting whine ringed off his armored back plate.
“Step aside doofus!” Mr. Hide sneered. “Let a pro get to his werk.”
As Shindu shuffled to the side, Mr. Hide saw a middle aged farmer struggling to reload his scatter gun. It was the tanned, weathered skin that gave it away. Mr. Hide was sure that if he shook the farmer’s hand, he’d feel the rough calloused palm of a man used to working for a living. Of course Mr. Hide worked for a living too. Only his particular trade was quite different from farming.
“Not so fast Farmer Tom, we wouldn’t wun’t to hurt nobody now would we?” He flicked out a spring loaded baton and smacked the man’s knuckles. The shotgun fell to the floor, four cartridges rolling along the tiles, coming to a stop in the little grooves. “Dats better.” His yellow toothy grin glowed with enthusiasm. “Now for lesson one…”
Shindu shuffled his feet in the dirt outside. He could hear the muffled sounds coming from the house.
Mr. Hide was at work.
Though Shindu may have looked like a big, mean brute, he was rather compassionate and shy. He loved a good bar fight, but it was one thing when the people you were fighting wanted to fight back, it was another when they didn’t.
And thus the big towering stack of muscle looked out of place as he brooded in the turf. Mr. Hide walked out with a massive grin on his immaculately groomed face.
“He’s all yours Shindu.”
Hide walked off toward another building leaving the big man to his work.
It was a rather simple job. Everyone knew that Shindu had a big heart so they took great pains to work him into their schemes. There was often a time when some settler made a stand, and at those times Shindu had no problem with taking action. But for the rest of the boneless grubs, it was up to them to do the dirty work. However, Shindu was tasked with transport.
He ducked back into the house and peered into the living area. A middle-aged man lay crumpled on the floor. His hands were convulsing in tremors, but his chest was rising slow and steady. Letting out a deep sigh, Shindu bent down and picked up the little man. He didn’t weigh much. Lifting him up to his shoulder, the farmer’s sleeping body rested comfortably at ease.
“Come on little fella, we’ve got lots more work to do.” He carried the man out the doorway and back to the ship.
Shindu paid little attention to the others and their work. He could hear breaking glass and muffled thuds, a few sharp cracks of gun fire, and shrill wailing screams. There was some commotion as figures darted in and out between the buildings. However nothing deterred Shindu from the task at hand. The simple minded brute labored on like a faithful oxen pulling his charge across the landscape.
The big man’s boots thudded on the hard metal grating of the open hangar ramp. He trudged past the moldy crates and crash webbing, back toward the ship’s central stair case. Up was the cabin and crew compartments, the kitchen, lounge, and entertainment room. Down was the maintenance access ways, the engine hold, storage rooms, med ward, and holding cells. Down was the way he went.
Seventeen steps brought him to the lower level. It was dark down here, and the smell of dampness and decay was thicker. His shoulders brushed across the narrow walls as he proceeded down the tunnel. The cells were all the way at the back. Crisply lettered signs labeled each door that he passed. Infirmary. Backup reactor. Main reactor. Maintenance shaft 1, 2, 3, and 4. Primary and Secondary Storage.
Shindu raised a big, knotted hand and banged on the door. After a pause and an audible metallic clink, the door creaked open enough for the man behind it to peak through.
“Eh, Shindu, come on in.” The old, ragged voice crooned. “Plenty a room, plenty a room, just step right through.” He motioned the way. “Let’s start in the back today.” Reaching to his side at a ring of ancient looking keys, the warden quickly felt through the familiar shapes and picked out the appropriate one, unlocking a barred cell door. “This ones in luck! Got a good mattress in this one he does. Good mattress.” The old cage keeper went over to the bed and gave it a reassuring fluff, sending a cloud of musty dust motes into the air. “Right here, right here.” He gestured for Shindu to place his charge on the bed.
Shindu shifted the man off without any sign of strain and gently placed him down on the dirty cushioned pad of a bed.
“Yep yep. I think this one will do just fine, just fine. Good work Shindu, now go fetch me some more, times a wastin!”
Shindu shot an apprehensive look at the cagey old coot, then snuffed and went off on his way. Old Rigger was a bit of a nut, strange and set in his ways, but he was the only man on the ship who didn’t mind caring for the captives. Rigger had a nurturing side to his weathered soul, though his age earned eccentricies may have blinded him to what was really going on around him. Shindu wondered if the wizened wart realized he was taking care of these people so they could become slaves.
But it didn’t really make a difference either way, so Shindu just shuffled on and back out to fetch another prisoner.
Richard Crawley was thirty four years of age. He’d served 16 years in the galactic army, four consecutive tours with the Star Shepherds. He fought in a dozen range wars, two civil wars, and a countless number of combat raids. There were numerous scars on his tightly muscled frame to bear witness to the ferocious fire fights and close calls. Fighting had become a way of life. His stock in trade.
But now he was getting old, and he wasn’t cut out for being an officer. Rules and regulations were things he never cared much for in the first place. So he retired with full honors, benefits, and compensation. He took his cash bonus for 16 years of hard work and bought all the provisions he would need to settle his own place somewhere out in the fringes.
The galaxy was a big place. If you were to look at a map, you’d see roughly spherical globes of civilized territory spread out across the spiraling swirl of the galactic arms. Outside of those spheres of control was the outlands, planets and void that went unpatrolled and uncared for by any galactic power. Those areas were free for the taking. They were also free of any of the bureaucratic regs and lofty territory taxes of the civilized realms.
And so ambitious settlers set the gleam in their eye toward the great unknown.
As did Richard Crawley, retired Sgt. Major 88th Shepherd Battalion, future farmer of the Bendensville Colony of Star Quadrant 4-4-22, Red Region.
Of course Richard Crawley wasn’t much of a farmer. He’d never farmed in his life. And after three months of tackling the great task, he gave up and decided to try something smaller. Instead of a 1000 acre plot of produce, he yielded a small but well formed two acre garden of various species. When his first yields came in, there wasn’t a farmer in the entire colony that could match his pride of accomplishment. The other colonists accepted Rich Crawley as one of their own and he managed to blend in as just another rough edged settler.
Until the slavers arrived.
When Rich Crawley heard those low droning engines set down next to town, he knew exactly what he was dealing with. Slavers were the worst kind of scum in the galaxy. They picked on the helpless settlers who ventured out into the uncivilized territories where no law or military ventured to go. There weren’t many of their kind. The galactic governments, for all their flaws, were actually quite good at dealing with the slavers and pirates. But there was just too much space. Yet the sheer amount of space played in the settlers favor as well. It was nearly impossible to find a settlement out in the void. No one ever mapped out their routes and there were no documents of who set out where. The only way to find the settlers was to go out with them or to blindly stab your ship out and strike your luck with fate.
However, sometimes fate was rather cold hearted and cruel because the slavers still kept to their business and still managed to find colonies full of ripe victims.
A cold bead of sweat trickled down Rich Crawley’s tensed brow. His thick black hair was matted in locks. He brushed a nervous, trembling hand through the tangled mess, then wiped the sweat off on his jeans before readjusting his grip on his weapon. A nylex strap kept the 9 kilos of metal alloyed barrels, receivers, and optics in a bearable cradle in his arms. He mentally ran through his arsenal.
10mm rifle…14 mags…loaded…safety off…check.
30mm grenade launcher…nine rounds…loaded…safety off…check.
He glanced over at the dining table in the middle of the room.
Two 60mm hand rockets…primed and ready…check.
20mm scatter gun…two drums…locked and loaded…check.
He patted the side of his utility belt.
Two frags…serrated knife…punch blade…check.
He shouldered his assault rifle keeping the barrel pointed toward the ground. His arsenal was ready. His enemy was out there. Now all he had to do was wait.
“Hide! Get over here’n help me get dis door. Damn things bolt’d tight.”
Mr. Hide glanced over at Vin and flashed a disgruntled snarl. “Ah come on Vin…I just saw a girl dart over into that shed. Why don’t ya leave that one alone and help take care…”
“Quit yappin’ Hide. If dis door’s shut, den it’s for a reason and aim t’find out.”
“Blockhead.” Hide kicked the dirt and shambled over to Vin.
Vin’s balding, lumpy face unfurled a three toothed smile that did little to soften his apish appearance. He had no eyebrows, those got burned off by a tough nut settler, his skin was smooth and oily, his cheeks, chin, and brow all appearing as a mass of connected lumps, and his bald bumpy head was home to a handful of long, black strands of weedy hair.
“You jimmy da door and I’ll go in.” Vin raised a clunky looking handgun and cocked the receiver back.
Mr. Hide pulled out a black leather pouch from the inside of his jacket. Unzipping the container, he revealed a shiny silver set of tools. “Gimme a second.” Kneeling down to the ground, he pulled out two pronged probes and began tinkering with the lock.
Nimble hands shifted the inside tumblers until the metal latches rolled into alignment.
“There. She’s all yours now.” Mr. Hide withdrew his instruments from the lock, placed them back in his pouch and into his jacket, brushed the dust off his pants and rose to his feet. He gave a bow and sweeping gesture, inviting Vin to try the door handle.
Vin took a gnarled, grimy nailed hand and turned the knob. It opened without resistance. Carefully he pushed the door inwards and looked into the house. Nothing seemed out of place. No movement. No knocked over furniture. He stepped through the doorway and walked toward a hall. It looked like it would lead to the bedrooms.
Bloody buggers hid’n under the beds again...
Then his ears popped with a god awful ringing that pounded in his ears. He felt something punch out of his chest with a burning liberation of pain and saw blood splash out onto the kitchen wall before him.
Mr. Hide was whistling his way over to the shed when he heard the shot. With the reflexes of a loathing snail, he rolled his head around toward the door that Vin just disappeared into. He looked around at the other houses.
Maybe it was somebody else.
Then he heard a gasping cry. “Ittt huuurts!”
The bellow came from the open door. Vin had got himself into trouble. “Damn you Vinnie. I told you to leave that door be.” Mr. Hide shuffled over to the door and hugged the wall beside it.
His mind raced through the situation. Some lover locked the door and went an’ gave Vin his share of what’s comin. Now he’s wait’n for me. Blasted! I’m not goin in there. That’d be stupid. Absurd.
But as Mr. Hide reassured himself that the last thing he’d do would be to enter that door, a chunk of the wall flew out by his head.
Mr. Hide dropped to the ground in fright as he heard a muffled curse from inside the house. That nut tried to shoot me! Hide scurried to his feet and ran off towards the next house, lunging through the door. As he lay on his back shivering in fear, he looked up to two surprised faces.
“What’s gotten into you Hide? You look like you’ve seen the devil.” Charlie Whelms and Jalom Bolee both had a long good laugh at that.
“**** you! **** you both!” Hide spat. “Some wacko over there-” He pointed a shaking finger out the door, “-just shot Vin and then tried to blow my freak’n head off!”
“Calm down Hide.” Jalom tried to choke off his laughter at his frightened compatriot. “Settle down.”
“STOP LAUGHING!” Cried Hide.
Charlie burst into another fit of chuckles while Jalom was actually managing to get a hold of himself now. He gave Charlie a stiff elbow to the ribs. “Knock it off Charlie.”
Charlie rubbed the spot on his ribs and his laughter finally died on the spot. Meanwhile Jalom was peeking out the window.
“Must be a regular hard case. And a bright one at that. He’s holed up in there alright, and he ain’t showin’ his head none neither.” Jalom looked down at Hide who was still lying on the floor. “Hide, why don’t you sneak out the back here, and try to circle around behind that nutcase’s house. I’ll put a few rounds down range while Charlie charges out the front. We’ll get’em in a rush. He won’t last long against three of us.” The others nodded their heads in approval. “Good. Let’s get to it then.”
Mr. Hide rose up from the floor and dusted the dirt off his black slacks and jacket as he snuck out the back door. Charlie picked up his big heavy caliber rifle from where it was leaning on the wall and looked out the window.
“Reckon this dirt pusher’s got balls?”
Jalom’s well tanned face nodded to the affirmative. “When I open fire, make a break for the corner there. Try and put some shots through them boarded up windows. We might catch him in a cross fire and spook him out.”
Charlie didn’t look too happy about the plan but he couldn’t think of a better one, except maybe one where he was doing the cover fire and Jalom was doing the running. Problem was Jalom outranked him in seniority. Jalom was the captain’s right hand man after all.
The loud snapping of gunfire broke into his thoughts. Jalom was shooting at the house. Charlie had to actually think what he wanted to do. He could envision the dreaded command as it coursed through his thought circuits and toward the receptors in his feet. At least that’s how he perceived it. Slowly his feet acknowledged the command and ordered his legs to move. Then his whole body was in motion and out the door. Adrenaline surged through his veins as he hauled himself forward. His eyes focused in on the corner of the house. The faded yellow sand stone wall jutted out of decorative gravel landscaping and stood sweetly like some beacon of safety. Charlie felt that if he could get to that corner, he would be safe.
He hit the solid stone wall with a blaring tinge of pain. So focused on getting to his destination, he forgot to stop, and he literally crashed into the wall. He slid to the ground, his back pressed up against the house and washing away the warm ache with a smile of relief. He made it.
But Jalom didn’t.
Charlie looked around the corner and across the street where Jalom should have been pouring out covering fire and saw only a large red splash of color in the empty window sill.
“Charlie.” Came a whisper. “Psst. Charlie.”
The big bearded man looked over toward the back corner of the house. Mr. Hide was whispering to him.
“Charlie. Signal to Jalom, I’m ready.”
But Charlie just shook his shaggy blonde head ‘no.’ Hide gave him a quizzical glare, then realized what the emotionless shocked gaze that was staring back at him meant. Jalom’s dead.
Well there was no time to shed any tears for Jalom, not that Hide would, and this certainly wasn’t a good time for hesitation. Dat fruitcake in dere will skin us both if we break and run from here. De only way through this is to go in after ‘um.
Hide looked at Charlie and nodded his head, then nodded to the windows. Silently he mouthed we’re going in. Charlie shook his head violently ‘no.’ Hide shook his head ‘yes’ again, this time waving his pistol and slashing a finger across his throat in a knife cutting gesture. You’re doing it with me or else!
Reluctantly Charlie gave in and the two spacers rushed the windows.
Rich Crawley watched in surreal slow motion as the glass from two window panes shattered in and rained down on the wood paneled living room floor. Two dark objects leaped through the windows, their heavy boots crunching the shards of glass, and both of the shadowy figures resolved into gun totting slavers.
Just as anyone properly armed would react to an armed intruder, Crawley jerked the trigger and released a torrent of projectiles. Hot metal slugs tore into the stone and mortar wall. Chunks of the floor and ceiling were blown into the air as the recoiling beast of the rifle was tamed onto its target. When the echoing scream of the assault rifle faded out, Rich Crawley carefully approached the two mangled bodies.
Both of them were dead.
“What the **** was that!” The skull caped spacer captain looked at the two men with him. “Well?”
“I don’t know boss.” A filthy snaggle toothed man shrugged. “Maybe a machine gun.”
“Well where in da’ hell did they get one of those!” The captain was irate, every word burning with fuming anger. “Well don’t just stand there! Take care of it!”
The two faithful ignorant underlings lumbered off toward Crawley’s house. Meanwhile the captain’s brain was churning full steam. Clodhoppers got heavy weapons. Bad sign. Very bad. More automatic fire interrupted his thoughts. The thunderous shriek ravaged the looming silence. “****.” That means Kapper and Dunely are dead. He took a deep breath and yelled out, “FORM UP!”
The slavers began spilling out of the houses. Plunder still in their arms, they headed toward the voice of their leader like bewildered sheep. What was left of the group formed up in an irregular mob.
“What’s up boss?” A stubby little brawler in a black hide coat asked while shifting a pillow case full of valuables in his arms.
“Rendix, Fontor, Benelli…you three get back t’de ship and grab da big guns. The rest of you, I wanna a perimeter around that area. That clodhopper whose causin’ all dis fuss ain’t gettin outta there alive, you understand me?” There was a consensus of nodding head. “Good. Now get to it.”
It took a few minutes for Rendix, Fontor, and Benelli to return from the ship. By the time they returned, everyone else had formed a circle around Rich Crawley’s bullet ridden house. The captain saw the bodies of Kapper and Dunley splayed out halfway across the street. From the looks of it, they were cut down while approaching the front door. He couldn’t see any movement from within the house. The windows were shattered, and the front had big gaping holes from incoming and outgoing small arms fire. Tough customer.
He looked over at the three bazooka armed men and gave them the signal to open fire. In rapid succession, three gas propelled rockets lurched through the air and immediately slammed into the little stone walled house. There was a two second delay that followed, then massive fireballs erupted out of every window, door, and hole. The entire roof jumped up into the air in a gush of flame. Splinters and concrete shrapnel burst in all directions, showering everyone watching as they were too stunned to duck for cover.
With clouds of smoke rolling up from the decimated house, the captain rose to his feet with a luminous grin. “Stupid farmer.” He raised his voice to all his men, “Let’s mount up! Grab yer spoils and pack up! We’re leaven’ in ten minutes!”
Fontor slung a sheet full of goodies over his shoulder and dragged a female captive by the hand. In turn she was tied to another female captive, probably her daughter. Either way, Fontor didn’t really care. As long as they were bound hand in hand, it made his job of pulling them along back to the ship a little easier. And so he gave them another stiff yank to hurry their precious little selves up.
“Quit it!” The little girl yelped as she fell to her bare knees, scuffing them on the rocks.
“You quit dragging your feet and I won’t feel the need to pull you so much.” The round faced man teased with his rosy cheeks.
There was a crunch in the rocky dirt beside them. Fontor turned his head to the side just as a gray blur struck at his fleshy neck. Instantly he felt a warm coppery feeling pouring out from his throat. Stunned, he reached up and touched it, pulling his hand away and staring at the small puddle of blood in his palm. As the world began to fade he caught one glimpse of his attacker. He didn’t know the man’s name, and his mind was slipping to fast for him to make the connection.
It was Rich Crawley.
Rich freed the mother and daughter but gestured for them to remain quiet. Being the hardened settlers that they were, they managed to do so without fuss. Blood was no strange sight to them. Often they helped to clean a deer or rabbit for dinner. The sight of Fondor’s ripped open throat was little different from any other animal.
With a flick of his wrist, Rich cleared off the chunks of flesh on his talon curved knife. Kneeling down next to Fondor, he wiped the blade off on the dead man’s jacket and sheathed the blade. He noticed Fondor’s eyes were brown. Sitting so close to the dead man, Rich could almost forget the man was a slaver. Almost.
“Better take cover in Shelly’s house there.” He pointed at a blue coated wooden house. “You’ll be safe there for the moment.” And with that, he darted off through the houses, assault rifle in hand.
The Captain looked around as his men gathered in the ship’s hangar. Basser was laid out on a bench with his back propped up on the lockers looking about as relaxed as a bear with his belly full. Shindu was sitting cross-legged in front of the lockers like a little kid. Rendix and Qwara, a feisty brunette, were tongue lashing, while Benelli watched in perverted satisfaction.
But where’s the rest?
“You’re kiddin me?” He blurted out without thought. “How many people did that fuckin farmer kill?”
Shindu darted his head around and raised his hand with an expectant gleam on his face.
“Seven!” Shindu chirped with pride, a big smile on his face.
“Seven wha-” He cut himself off. That’s how many got killed…
“…seven…” The Captain muttered the word like a puzzle question, some unsolved sound of significance.
Basser swept his legs off the bench and sat up facing the captain. “Boss, ya’ wan me and Shindu t’ go take care of dis guy?”
Were half dead…He snapped himself out of his thoughts with a startle. “No. No…we’ll all go.” Taking the lead, he pulled his pistol from his leg holster and tramped out the hangar door. By all counts the farmer should’ve died in the rocket attack, but somehow he’d managed to survive and kill another one of him men. The Captain resounded to make it the last.
Qwara was an odd bird. Unlike most women, she had no aspirations of exploring the world of fashion or trying to prove her equality in the war of genders. She wasn’t one for small talk and she certainly had no intentions of settling down. When she got out of school, she headed straight into a factory. It didn’t take longer for the dullness of repetition to eat away at her sanity, so she signed up for the Army.
After two months of boot camp and three months of drilling and practice exercises, she went AWOL. As far as she was concerned, the Army life was synonymous with boredom. She didn’t get to kill anything.
Running from the MP’s wound her up in a street gang, which was much more fun. There she got to threaten and beat people up, constantly living on the edge. Life was meaningful and exciting for a change.
But gang life grew tiresome. Trekking through the same old slums and haunts became a bore. By chance she hooked up with some short, stocky little brawler in a seedy bar. He talked about spacing into the outskirts picking up settlers. It didn’t take longer for her to catch on.
“You mean slaves?”
“Do you get to…er…ruff them up any?”
“Yeah. Dumb farmers are always givin’ problems. Every now and then you gotta sock’em one.”
That’s all it took. A chance to see new worlds and torment new people. Qwara was in.
Unlike most women, there was something inside of Qwara that wanted to hurt people. Not everyone, only the weak. There was something about them that disgusted her. She found them so utterly revolting that she had to hit them, kick them, or better yet, stab them. When she let loose on one of those defenseless cowards, an animal like beast came out of her. She felt like baring her fangs and ripping the throat of her squirming prey.
Rendix told her it was the killer instinct, something all warriors shared in common. When she looked in his big brown eyes, a lot like Fontor’s but warmer, she melted in predatory lust. For the first time in her life, she met someone she felt like keeping.
And now she stood on the edge of a crowded, clustered town of farm houses. Farmers in the outland settlements always tended to group tight. Weaker societies always found strength and comfort in large numbers. Yet all she could see was a feeling of claustrophobia. Narrow little dirt lanes cut in between the houses, which in turn where blocked off by a couple barren, rocky streets. Everything looked so brown when compared with the flowing green fields around them. A few brightly painted houses didn’t help too much, they only brought more attention to the blandness of the rest.
With one soft, gentle hand she teasingly caressed the cold metal of her revolver. The big, weighty gun felt good in her palm. Reassuring. Her index finger longed to pull back the crisp, deadly trigger until the loving click of its innards sent the hammer into motion. There was nothing quite like the thunderous rush as the cartridge exploded and the hot metal slug screamed out the barrel.
Unless of course it hit something that squealed.
Rendix looked up into her cool brown eyes. Brown like his. She flashed him a wicked smile and he tossed her a rugged grin in return. But the animal instincts were sharp in these two, and they quickly returned their attention to the buildings around them. Somewhere out there was a killer.
His breath came and went like the peaceful current of a stream. His entire body as peaceful as a gentle breeze. He’d found his center. His focus was sharp.
Snapping out around the sandstone corner of Craten Cook’s house, he shot his arm out and grabbed the slaver by his shaggy black hair. Taking a handful of the greasy stuff, he yanked the man’s head back and spilled his throat open with a rapid sweep of his knife.
Benelli fell with a choking gurgle, his life spilling out into the thirsty dirt.
Rich Crawley ducked back behind the corner and maneuvered swiftly through the familiar twists and turns. He’d seen the stupid slavers leave the safety of their ship. Ignorant of any military training, they simply wandered back into the town.
And now they’re mine.
He peeked around the next bend and saw a man blindly poking his head around as he walked past the houses on the left side of the street. Giving each window and door a cursorily glance, the slaver stumbled on to the next house.
Rich kept his knife at the ready and silently closed the distance between him and his prey. Just as the man stuck his head into an open doorway, Crawley leapt forward.
But something happened.
As he sprang forward, a red hot hammer pounded him in the back. He yanked around to see what happened but his legs gave out. Crumpling to the ground, the slaver in the doorway turned with measured ease, and a big fat smile on his face.
Rich Crawley’s world sank into blackness.
Qwara’s arm stretched out toward her prey. A nimble, loving finger pulled the trigger with infinite care. Slowly the cold metal lever squeezed back until an audible click released the hammer toward the primer. The bullet cartridge combusted with glee, spewing a hot lead slug through the grooved inner lining of the barrel.
She watched as a red speck appeared in the farmer’s back. A smile unfurled as he slumped to the ground revealing a crimson spatter on the wall of the house. The beast within purred with satisfaction, savoring the kill.
But not yet.
If she’d wanted to kill him, she would’ve aimed for his head. But she wasn’t the type of predator to waste an opportunity. She wanted to play with her food first.
“Gotch’ya.” Rendix stood over the bleeding farmer and kicked him.
“Easy baby. We don’t want to spoil the fun.” Qwara’s leering voice cooed.
Shindu and Basser quickly popped out between two houses to see what happened. Seeing that the farmer was finally out of commission, Basser blew out a sigh of relief.
“They got’em Shindu.”
“No more problem?” Shindu asked dutifully.
“That’s right! No more problem.”
Basser’s response was chipper and friendly. Of all the crew, Basser was the only one who didn’t treat him like a big dumb kid. He was his only friend.
Shindu place a big loving hand on Basser’s shoulder. “Now we can go!” He shouted with a smile.
“Shut up stupid.” The Captain spat. “First I wanna look at dis farmer.”
The Captain adjusted his leather skull cap and crouched down by the bleeding man. “See dese tats? Dem marine symbols. ****’n jarhead.” He took the pistol in his hand and placed the barrel to the farmer’s temple.
“Wait-“ Qwara whelped.
The Captain pushed her back with his other hand. “You wanna play with’em, huh?” He spared a glance at the marine. “All right. All right.” He put the pistol back in its holster, slowly rising to his feet. “I might enjoy watching this more anyway.”
And so the Captain stood back and watches as Qwara pulled out a long wavy knife. Rendix propped the marine up from behind keeping a firm hold on both his arms, just in case he came to.
Basser’s face turned white. His stomach turned at the thought of what they were about to do. He simply turned away in shame, unable to watch the grisly event unfold.
The Captain’s stubbled face glanced at him. “What’s a matter Basser? Gettin’ soft?” The old coyote laughed uncontrollably at his own words and turned his hungry stare back to Qwara. He nodded for her to continue.
Shindu heard the farmer scream like an insane dog as the cold knife slipped into his guts. His skin crawled at the ghastly sound, yet he couldn’t turn away. He’d never seen what the slavers did with the farmers before. Often enough he heard the muffled cries inside the huts or houses, but he’d never once ventured inside to see what was happening. And never did he hear their cries so clearly.
Of course all of them were very careful to shield the big lug from the brutal realty. Most of the crew had some sick habit or another that they liked to indulge in.
This was the first time he actually saw one of the acts carried out.
Crawley yelled out in pain, thrashing his arms to no use. Rendix was a small man, but he was stout and his powerful little arms had Crawley in a vice. Specks of blood squirted on to Qwara’s face as she worked. Rich could have sworn she enjoyed the blood spatter almost as much as his screams.
Shindu couldn’t take anymore. Some primal thought clicked into his brain and he sprang into action. Within in seconds his massive frame collided into Qwara, knocking her to the ground. He reached down with his big hands and picked her up by the head. Anger flooded through him. Uncontrollable rage. Before he could stop it, his big, powerful palms pumped the sides of her skull, crushing it like an egg.
Rendix was the first to react. He saw the woman he loved drop lifelessly to the ground, her brains still clinging to the hulking retard’s hands. Without any weapon of his own, he simply rushed into Shindu and tried to tackle him. Shindu brushed him to the side and brought a big hammer blow to the man’s back.
The Captain cringed at that sound. It was the crackling snap of a being becoming an invalid in the blink of an eye. Basser had turned around and watched Shindu’s attack in dumbfounded silence.
“Stop him!” The Captain cried, his burning black goggled eyes stared at Basser while an accusing finger pointed at Shindu.
Basser shook his head no.
The Captain stared back incredulously. He pulled his pistol and turned toward the raging goliath. Basser saw what the Captain intended to do, and drew his own gun in response. The Captain snapped his aim over toward Basser, and both shots rang out in glorious rebuttal.
Rich Crawley watched the episode unfold like a ghost among the living. He saw the skull capped spacer captain fire on one of his crew, who in turn fired back. The crewmen was hit first, a stream of red spurting out of his back. By the way the man gasped for air, it must have been a lung shot. The spacer captain fared no better. He spun in a circle as the lead slug jabbed him in the chest. Crawley watched the old man fall to his hands and knees and saw that cruel face look up in spite. Then the captain raised his gun again.
At that moment, Crawley thought he was finally going to die. Then a big mountain of a man swam into view. The captain fired and the big guy plowed on. He collapsed on the captain with a sickening thud, the sound of cracking bone and squashed muscle.
The lung shot slaver gave out one last wheezing gasp then fell over into the dirt.
None of it seemed real. Crawley saw the dead body of the women who gutted him alive and the man who must have been holding his arms. The guy who suckered him down the street and into the trap in the first place. The lung shot man was definitely dead as well. His chest wasn’t moving.
Pain came in crashing waves as Rich dragged himself across the ground. The savage dirt rubbed on his open wounds like sandpaper. It felt like he’d been skinned alive. Yet he pushed on, foot by foot, closer to where the big man and the spacer captain lied piled up. He shuffled with his feet and pushed with his hands, swallowing and coughing the retched, remorseless pain, but he made it.
The big man had been shot in the head. A clean hit, right on the bridge of the nose. When he landed, his weight fell clearly onto the captain’s neck, breaking it instantly. They were both dead.
Rich curled up on his side, holding some of his stomach in with his arm. He didn’t feel too good. Blood was pouring freely and he was getting cold. He knew death was upon him. His mind tried to grasp whether he was done here. Were all the slavers dead? Were the settlers all right? Was it possible that all of his efforts had been for nothing?
He couldn’t be sure.
And there wasn’t any time.
The cold took its grip, emotions and thought blurred into one, and Richard Crawley died in the street, his face in the dirt.
All the slavers were dead. Save one. Old Rigger, content with his little dungeon in the belly of the ship, sat contently at his antique metal desk. The cells were full of fresh tenants. There were so many people to take care of.
Yet four hours had passed and they still hadn’t taken off.
That’s odd. I wonder what happened…
Rigger crawled out of his dingy abode and climbed the stairs into the hangar.
No one was there.
He called out, but there was no answer. Must still be looting or partying up the town. He stepped out of the ship and walked into the dark twilight outside. Brilliant stars shown above and crickets sang blissfully in the fields. It almost reminded Rigger of some old childhood memory.
However, his peaceful revelry crashed to halt as he saw the staggered bodies in the street. That’s when the truth hit him. They’re all dead!
Old Rigger was not as senile as some of the crew might have thought. He knew he was in the slaving business, and that all his efforts of tending to the captive’s needs were fruitless and possibly even cruel. Nevertheless he took care of them. It was what he did. So he did it.
But now things were different. Had he been a smarter man, and not the recluse that he was, he might have simply took the ship and sold the settlers as slaves, just like they were suppose to do. If he did, he’d be a very rich man. However, he didn’t know where to go to sell them, let alone how to fly the ship. Yet part of him feared the idea of letting the captives loose. Might they turn on him?
No. Better to let them stay in the cells where they were. He’d think of something. Until then he’d get something to eat and take a nap. Right now he wasn’t in the mood for thinking. Thus he headed back for the ship.
It really was a beautiful night. The twinkling stars amid the black velvety sky sparkled like a billion diamonds, the pain of their exquisite sharpness cutting through his ribs like a crystal knife. He could almost feel the rich warmth of his blood flowing out from the wound…
He could feel it.
His eyes looked down and saw the scared, shocked expression of a little girl. Her brown hair was tied back in a pony tail, a blue ribbon holding it back. Matching blue eyes stared up in gasping fear. Trembling tiny hands holding a paring knife in a two handed grip.
Old Rigger’s lungs heaved in, fumbling through gravel choked breath, his eyes running back in his head as his knees gave out. The old hermit’s eyes locked on the little child, half bathed in hate and pity, then his full weight fell forward, dying in the dirt.
Myri Strodder, the little girl who was saved with her mother earlier that same day by Rich Crawley, now looked at the man she killed. She hadn’t thought about it much beforehand. Her little mind grasped that Mr. Crawley was dead and that everyone was locked up in the ship…and this man had the keys. Ignoring her mother’s caution, Myri decided to get the keys herself. She would free the people on the ship, then they could deal with the last remaining slaver. The paring knife was only a last minute consideration. A fail safe.
Yet when she snuck out from Mr. Bimmie’s General Store, the creepy old man was right in front of her. Out of instinct, she griped the small paring knife and thrust it forward with all her might, both hands gripping tightly on the rubberized handle.
And now he was dead. Yet that wasn’t what shocked Myri. The problem was she didn’t feel anything for it.
“Myri! Myri!” Her mother’s cries echoed down the street.
Ms. Strodder ran to her child and swept her off her feet as she embraced her.
“Oh Myri, I’m so glad you’re all right! Did the bad man hurt you?” Distress poured over her face.
Little Myri shook her head no.
“I love you so much.” She gripped her ever tighter in that hug only a distraught mother can provide. “Let’s get you away from this.”
“But mommy…the keys!”
Ms. Strodder stopped and for the first time really looked at the dead body on the ground. The slaver looked very old, and strangely disturbed. She might have felt pity for him if he didn’t have that queer smile on his dying face. The way his crooked yellow teeth leered out from his cracked lips and stubbled face, it almost appeared as if he had enjoyed his death.
“Your right Myri. Cover your eyes.”
Myri complied and Ms. Strodder, still clutching her child to her chest, reached down and unclasped the key loop from the slaver’s belt.
“Now let’s go free the others, ok?”
Myri opened her eyes, looking at her mother, and shook her head emphatically. Ms. Strodder wasted no time in leaving the dead slaver behind, nor did Myri dare to look back at his oddly smiling face and cold lifeless eyes.
Life went on, much as before. The farmers tended to their crops and gossiped in the diner. They bought their goods from the store, which now had quite a few new items on display. Children went to Mrs. Gonsalezie’s house to learn reading and arithmetic. But Richard Crawley’s housed no longer stood in that cozy little corner between Fritz’s house and Main Street. Now there was only an empty, cleared off lot. But occasionally little Myri Strodder went there and sat quietly in the dirt. She didn’t think about the starry night and the paring knife. Instead she thought about the stars and a lone old freighter flying through them. An old ship being piloted by a brave young woman who wanted to see the galaxy.
Myri Strodder dreamed of flying that abandoned slaver ship to seek her freedom.
And Mr. Fritz would teach her because before he became a farmer, he used to fly a big merchant ship on the Condorsy Run. He would teach her to fly…and then she would be free.