1.62 - Language of Pain


I’ve taken up position on top of a shipping container; there’s hardly any wind resistance and light won’t be an issue for my scope. The bigger issues are the massive size of the docks and this old rifle I was given to cover them. It took a minute for me to even get eyes on them down there. Edan and Nastas are carrying a red box and making small talk over the radio. Still, this rifle is, odd if nothing else. It’s not a human or Ghuk build, probably Revrell. The bigger issue is how terrible it is. I’m fine with nonlethal rounds, but you can only fire five shots before reloading. Each magazine is a different type of ammunition but doesn’t specify which. Edan assures the one I have loaded as an electric charge. It could also be some kind of gas, or a net. A net fired from a sniper's perch is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. It’s no wonder Revrell are terrible at warfare. Instead of innovating the basics, they’re trying to do something new. I wish I knew who came up with this idea because they should be publicly shamed. I hope Enyolo is having better luck on the ground. She’s supposed to be tailing the people with the money to make sure they don’t try anything.

Efrem and Nastas come to an opening where they’re face to face with two more Meterorians. The others are carrying a briefcase, cliché. Probably old bills, just as good as credits but it’ll take a long time to convert them without raising any red flags. There doesn’t seem to be any actual worry and they almost seem friendly considering the tradeoff. Things get tense when we all seem to spot Enyolo sprinting across a set of shipping containers. I struggle to keep the sights of the scope on her. Almost effortlessly she leaps from the stack of containers into the air colliding with some kind of large...blueish colored man, with a beak. I’m so confused here. The two quickly slam to the ground in what I can only imagine is a thud before Enyolo quickly rises.

I don’t have time to process what’s going on before another of the blue people rushes in and stabs the Meteorian carrying the briefcase. Soon the meeting is overrun with them and it’s clear they aren’t friends. They’re odd to look at, almost human, but large beak like shells that cover most of their faces, extremely long limbs, red markings across their bodies and some kind of tentacle or hair jutting from the back of their skulls. If I was down there I can get a better view, but I’m here and there’s only one thing I can do. I line up a shot on one of them approaching Edan from behind and fire. An electric round quickly causes it to drop and convulse on the ground. Enyolo engages one in a fist fight, she’s easily winning until an arrow pierces her shoulder. I didn’t know archers were still a thing. I spot the culprit on a shipping container slightly lower than mine across the docks. My next shot quickly drops him. I switch back to the mayhem and the second of the Meteorians is down. Another quick shot, this time on one of the creatures approaching Nastas. Two shots left before I reload, need to prioritize. I watch as Edan quickly dispatches one of the creatures through some kind of martial arts I don’t recognize. I spot another bowman and take him out. Before I can take my last shot a cloud of smoke appears at Nastas’ feet covering the area. There’re still enemies around but I need to get down there. I’m not about to lose another brother.

The cloaking tech on this armor mixed with the chaos of the smoke makes for great cover. I follow the tracker signal of the others to meet up with them. Along the way I can hear what sounds like predator birds screeching while gurgling water as my translator tries to decipher the language. I take the opportunity to clothesline one of the creatures who couldn’t spot me. Up close their flesh is slimy, as if covered in some kind of mucus. I dodge two others, as more approach. It almost seems like they’ve got an endless number of them on the docks.

“Open the door, it’s Efrem,” I reach a shipping container they’re all hiding in.

“Glad you found us,” Nastas begins before Edan cuts him off.

“Nice shooting, really glad we brought you,” Edan says.

“Yes, I am grateful,” Enyolo says picking at the raw and bloody wound from the arrow.

“We should get that checked out,” I say as she sticks her finger in to measure the depth.

“This is nothing, I can pull spikes from my flesh. I am simply checking for any blood clots or barbs,” Enyolo responds calmly, wiping blood from her hand onto her shirt.

“Who are those guys,” I ask.

“Staiv’al,” Edan sighs.

“Who?”

“Think Ponarians but instead of insects, they look like a combination of dinosaurs and squids.”

“I was thinking slimy flightless birds.”

“Dinosaurs were birds.”

“Not all of them.”

“Silence,” Enyolo interrupts Efrem and I. “What is the plan.”

“They hate fire, we set a fire,” Nastas finally speaks up. “It’s the reason they have such a hate for us as Meteorians. Legend has it they once ruled the skies until we burned their wings away.”

“Please save the story for later, the smoke won’t last, and is fire a good option? We don’t know if any of this stuff out here is explosive,” I argue.

“It’s stuff, not people. We chose a dock that’s not in service today,” Edan responds.

I try to argue about the damages and how we can probably wait them out or lure them into a trap fighting one at a time. My concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears as Nastas produces several small objects from beneath his robe. Even if I’ve never seen any like these before, I’ve seen enough grenades to recognize them. One a bright red color, the other two a dirty yellow.

“On three,” Edan suggests.

“Three,” Enyolo agrees.

“We don’t really need to do it this way,” I argue.

“One,” Nastas starts the count.

“Seriously, a lot of damage could be done,” I argue.

“Two,” Enyolo actually smirks at me.

“You want to be a swashbuckling space pirate, act like it,” Edan laughs before shouting “three!”

Enyolo kicks open the door to the container, alerting our enemies of our location. The screeching picks up immediately. My translator sends me a notification that it can’t identify the language. Nastas tosses the two yellow grenades high into the air between us and the Staiv’al. The two grenades smash into each other raining down liquid. It confused them for a moment, before he tosses the red. It smashes to the ground flinging sparks in every direction. The drops of liquid immediately catch fire when coming into contact with the sparks. A wall of fire separates us from our pursuers as we escape with our lives and nothing else. Even without understanding the language I’m sure they’re shouting in pain as their flesh is burned away. Pain is universal, and shouts of the pain sound the same in every language.

1.61 - Welcome to Tortuga


 

Space stations, you either love them or hate them. A lot of people live their entire lives on them. Some of the stations I’ve been on house over a million people. They’re complete with their own interior ecosystems, grass, trees and everything else that make them seem like real planets. We’re supposed to be doing this deal on Tortuga Station. I’m told it boarders the space between The Draconian Empire and Revrell Republic so it gets a fair number of visitors for both and is a neutral ground for many unsavory deals. You’ve seen one space station; you’ve seen them all. That’s how I felt until I got a glimpse of Tortuga as we approached for docking. The station is a massive sphere, bigger than any station I’ve ever seen before. A large ring encircles it and jutting from the ring are eight more giant spheres. The entire structure is probably larger than some planets I’ve been on. It’s certainly larger than moons like Enceladus, yet everyone else seems to think of this as typical as we make our approach.

“That thing is huge,” I speak up.

“Yes, it most certainly is. It has a very interesting history as well,” Nastas speaks up. “Originally it was built by The Revrell as a modern marvel, a testament to what their scientific advancements could do. However, it was overrun by several species attempting to escape Revrell Rule. I’m told the battles breaking out across the station were extremely bloody, and eventually culminated in all of The Revrell being executed or expelled from the ship depending on what their supposed crimes were. Stop me if I’m boring you.”

“You’re boring me,” Edan spins around to inform Nastas.

“I like history, so I’d appreciate hearing more.”

“Thank you Efrem,” Nastas smiled.

“Losers,” Edan says with a sigh before continuing to spin in the copilot chair.

“Well, the station could not remain in Revrell space, so it was moved to Draconian space over several decades. However, species fleeing Draconian control attempted to take control of the station as well. Once again, bloody battles took place. However, when the two sides spoke, they realized they were both struggling through the same torment. Those escaping The Revrell had been under the impression that every species in The Draconian Empire pledged absolute loyalty. Eventually they settled the station here. A place where Draconians nor Revrell would peruse. While the station was built for show, and much of it was empty over time the population has crept to twenty million and every portion seems to serve a purpose. It is the place I call home. My people, The Meteorians were one of the keys to escaping The Draconian Empire. We had attempted to settle many planets but none of them were suitable. The station truly was a blessing,” Nastas speaks lovingly.

“We’ve got permission to dock,” Janet loudly interrupts him.

I love to discuss history but Nastas alters his speech pattern so there’s never a way to interrupt him. It’s almost as if he wants to constantly keep you off balance. There’s never a natural way to jump into the conversation. He implies you’re rude then you’re stuck for another five minutes. I hate people like that. They’re always hiding something.

I’m curious about all the different kinds of ship docked here than what he’s hiding at the moment. I exit the ship first, not because I know where I’m going but because I’m excited. I’ve seen some nice docking bays before but never one with waterfalls. I know the sky above is just a digital image, but it’s incredibly detailed and lit well enough to appear as if I’m actually below a shining sun. Waterfalls run down at various points, there’s grass, actual grass growing inside not the artificial kind. There’s a massive shipping bay here, but it’s also a park. I’ve been all over Sol and several other systems but I’ve never seen anything like this. I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the station is as impressive.

“Hey, let’s split up and meet later for the job. I’m going to take my awestruck brother on a tour. It’s not every day I get to see him actually amazed by something,” Edan jokes.

Crossing from the docks we reach the market, a massive market. Tents and shops seeming stacked to the ceiling thousands of feet into the air with everything you could ever want. I attempt to use my wrist comp to get information about various species, and merchandise I’m witnessing but most things return nothing. The information about different species is limited. I’m sure I look like I’m some kind of obnoxious tourist.

“We need to get you a new wrist comp,” Edan grabs my wrist. “I’m glad you didn’t go with the implant, I didn’t either. But this thing is old and outdated even by Sol standards. Let’s go check out some tech,” a smile creeps over his face.

“Who’s amazed now,” I joke.

This is nothing like the market in Invicta. Everything here is out in the open and seems to be legal; there’s no guilt for wanting to buy things here. It’s the opposite, I have an urge to spend money and I don’t even know what the currency is here. We bypass the carts and head into a small shop. Inside is filled with small wooden toys and handmade crafts. Edan waves to the shop keep who points us to an elevator. We ride for a few minutes before exiting into another shop. The walls are lined with various models of tech, but Edan pulls me to a wall lined with dozens of different wrist comps.

“None of these are human models and that’s fine. I’m running the Imago firmware. It’s designed for humans who are regularly in rooms where they’re the only human. It’ll do everything your current wrist comp does and allow access to Draconian and Revrell tech and Nexus. Your translator will work a little better, you’ll be able to keep up in conversations, and Now you won’t have to look confused searching for information. I think this light weight version will work well for you,” Edan points out a small black rectangle. “But you’ll also need something heavy duty. This one can take one hell of a beating and keep going but it is a little heavier. Well, do you have any that are catching your eye?”

“You know, you can give Nastas a run for his money if you’re allowed to talk about tech.”

“I’m doing you a favor and you insult me like that,” Edan feigns shock complete with a hand over his heart.

In the end we settle on something that’s an eighth of the size of my previous wrist comp, but still rated for heavy duty. Edan says it’s a model used by the Sudalit species. He promises I’ll love them when I finally meet some. Once he’s finished installing the firmware, I’m going to look them up. As he sits at a table tinkering with the new wrist comp I try a type of Meterorian snack. It’s fried dough filled with something that I can only describe as a cross breed between chocolate and strawberries. I don’t know what this is, but I know it’s delicious.

“I got you a gift, and lunch? You get more than some of my dates,” Edan passes me the wrist comp.

“That’s why you’re still single.”

“What about you? Who’s the Renan fellow you’ve been trading messages with? Seems like there’s something there.”

“Why would you read my messages?”

“Had to keep myself busy while the system worked.”

“He’s just a friend.”

“Now?”

“Shut up.”

“You’re fresh off a break up and you’ve already got eyes for Enyolo,” Edan laughs. “You’re so greedy, still.”

“I don’t have eyes for Enyolo. You need to stop saying that.”

“Why do you not have eyes for me,” Enyolo asks. I hadn’t seen her arrive but judging by Edan’s laughter, he did. “Am I not beautiful or is because I don’t allow my loins to guide my behavior.”

I can feel all of my body heat rush to my head. “I think you’re beautiful, I just think we’re on a mission and we should keep our eyes on the prize,” she just stares at me. “Not that you aren’t a prize, I think you’d be a great prize. Not that I think women are prizes to be won in competition. I’m sorry.”

“Women can be won as prizes in some cultures.”

“Is yours one of those,” I’m surprised by her response.

“No, but I like that you think you can win me.”

“I wasn’t saying I’d try to win you. You’re not an object.”

“You’re as stupid as your brother,” Enyolo sighs and takes a seat next to me. I don’t even say anything when she reaches over and takes a piece of my food.

“Wow, you actually made her speak, and tell a joke,” Edan laughs. “Sounds like love is in the air. Wait until Nastas and Janet hear about this.”

“Do not persist on making me your entertainment. It could be hazardous to your health,” Enyolo calmly implies a threat to Edan.

“I can’t let you kill my little brother,” I try to joke.

“I understand, family is important to humans as well,” she shrugs and continues to eat my lunch.

“Wrist comp is done,” Edan holds it out.

It snaps to my left wrist and instantly begins a biometric scan, getting a baseline of my vitals. I guide it through a few different basic settings before it lands on the home screen. The location displays “Tortuga Station,” so there’s already an improvement over my previous wrist comp. Photos, music and notes to myself are all intact, but it’ll take some getting used to.

“Would you two like a tour? I don’t think either of you has ever been here,” Edan asks while sending a message on his own wrist comp.

“I don’t care,” Enyolo shrugs.

“I’d like a tour.”

A message pops up on my wrist comp, it’s from Edan. “You’re on a road to nowhere with her,” an attached image is a picture of him with his hands on his hips and a disapproving face. He gives me a smirk as I look at him across the table.

1.60 - A Notch Above


 

The couch isn’t bad for a ship, I’ve had worse. I stand and stretch, trying to wake up fully, “You’re a rough sleeper,” Edan doesn’t give me a chance to forget we’ve been sharing a room for three days.

“Morning.”

“Brush your teeth, your breath stinks in the morning,” Edan jokes.

“You know, I really hate that you’re a morning person.”

“Nah, you love everything about me. After that first day, you stopped complaining. You’re enjoying this. I can see it in your eyes. You look grumpy, but the eyes tell it all,” Edan smiles.

After more brotherly banter and a quick breakfast Edan leads me to their small armory closet. He made it sound like a large section of the ship but it’s just a corner of the shipping bay. I understand, I’m used to military ships, large armories and small amounts of cargo. I guess it would be the opposite when you’re smuggling goods between systems all across the galaxy. It’s not a lot, a few different models of gun that I don’t recognize. No explosives, at least none that I can recognize. Guns are easy to spot no matter what species they come from. Barrell at the end, bullet, laser, shrapnel or whatever comes out, trigger on the other end. Explosives, not always as easy to spot. Could be solid, liquid, a foam or even a gas.

“Lot of guns, no explosives,” I start to poke around the corner.

“Well, we can’t get everything and I prefer to keep it nonlethal. You can shoot someone and make sure they don’t die. It’s a little harder to do that with explosives.”

“Good point. I see you and your friends do wear armor.”

“We’re not soldiers,” Edan sighs. “Doesn’t make sense to wear full armor to trade talks. A chest piece under a shirt is usually enough. No need to wear full military gear.”

“Well, that’s not going to work for me.”

“We’ve got a full kit if that’s more your speed. But, don’t blame me if you’re out there struggling to keep up. We’re not hunkered down and shooting. Most of the time, we’re not even shooting or fighting. Things tend to go smoothly. But, we’re meeting with someone new. They’ve got a bad reputation, so having a little extra security doesn’t hurt.”

“Well, I’m going to be, hunkered down and shooting,” I imitate Edan, “So, I’d like that full set. Don’t worry, I won’t get trigger happy and if I have to run, it won’t be my first time running in armor.”

Our different takes on what weapons should be used and what kind of armor, if any, should be worn to operations shows that we really don’t know what the other does. He seems to think I’m digging trenches and having full blown gun battles. I can admit I thought he was doing the same kind of thing I was. I’ve made trades before. Hostages for guns, gun for bombs, bombs for money and so on. I wore armor to all of them; but I guess I was dealing with government and military entities even if they weren’t always my own. I suppose you don’t want to look like you’re prepared for a fight if you’re dealing with other smugglers, gangs, or whoever buys smuggled goods. There’re situations either approach could work but for the most part, if I’m prepared for a fight, nobody is going to try me. If he’s prepared for a fight, people are thinking it’s a setup.

“Here we go,” Edan brings me to a set of black armor.

“What’s is this,” I ask, confused by some of the design choices.

“Well, it’s a Revrell set of armor we got,” he stalls, “as a bonus. Don’t worry, it’ll fit a human as well. There’s some kind of airbag system or something that helps it fit around whoever wears it. Good for cooling as well. It’s actually a really good piece of tech, but we never had use for it.”

I take the helmet in my hand and feel around it. The exterior is a cold and hard plastic like material, but it’s sturdy. Inside a very comfortable suede type material covering padded sides. I can tell there is some kind of electronic heads up display without powering it on.

“It has a light weight, but the material it’s made from is strong. We took some shots at it, didn’t leave a scratch. If you do get hurt, it’ll provide first aid through nanobots or something,” Edan laughs. “The Revrell are terrible fighters, so they make great armor. It’s easy to modify for humans as well. They were calling this one chameleon armor.”

“Why is that?”

Edan takes the helmet from me and presses a hidden switch on the side I hadn’t been aware of. The helmet and suit both lose their color in an instant becoming a cloudy translucent color. “When a person is wearing it, and the suit is powered on, it’s almost perfectly invisible.”

“That’s incredible,” I walk around the armor waving my hand on one side to view a blurry version on the other.

“Humanity could really learn a lot by embracing other species,” Edan just nods.

“You know, I’m always jealous when you randomly break out profound quotes like that. It’s as if you meditate on the meaning of life,” I laugh.

“I do. I’ve been enjoying your company but usually I wake up, exercise, meditate, journal then read. It’s important to keep my mind and body straight.”

“Wow, and I thought you were just a born philosopher.”

“Nope, just a regular guy. You should write in a journal too. It’ll help you understand thoughts that you can’t reckon with.”

“I’ll keep that in mind Mr. Sensitivity,” I shove his shoulder.

“You need to be more sensitive, figure out that wild mess going on in your head. Military won’t take you back like this.”

“I’m not going back.”

“Probably scared you don’t have it anymore,” Edan jokes.

“I still go it, that doesn’t mean I’m going back.”

“I never saw you with it Mr. Black Ops. I’ve just got your drunken stories. You need to get in shape before shipping out.”

“I’m not going back,” I say more forcefully this time.

“We’ll see. Once I show you some new moves, you’ll be dying to get back.”

Nastas coughs to make himself known, “you two bicker like children.”