1.69 - The Pound Dogs

Butterflies in my stomach let me know I’m, still alive. I remember a lot of people would talk about how after a few missions they wouldn’t get nervous. I never pressed them to see if they were lying or telling the truth. If you’re not nervous before a mission, then you’ve given up your reason to live. Every mission, operation or confrontation can be the last. It’s a good reason to be nervous. Tonight, I might be more nervous than ever before, because Edan is with me. I only had to worry about myself and my team before. I cared about my team, and on some level, I even care about myself. More than either of those, I care about Edan. He’s a smuggler, transporter or whatever he calls himself; he gets into plenty of scraps. I shouldn't be worried about him, but that’s my baby brother no matter how old he is.

“Hey,” Edan’s voice comes in clear of the communication system in the chameleon armor.

“Sounds good on my end,” I respond as I approach my target and enter stealth mode.

“Suit just vanished off my radar and out of sight, you’re good to move in,” Enylo chimes in.

“Big bro,” Edan snickers.

“Is now the time for jokes,” I ask in the way only an angry sibling can.

“It’s not a joke, I just wanted to tell you I lied earlier. I do have butterflies, I’m always nervous around you. Not the type of nerves when a pretty girl is around, but I always want to look as cool as you do,” he laughs in my ear.

“You look pretty cool when you do all your martial arts pirating,” I let out a quiet laugh before the mission really starts.

“Focus boys,” Enyolo cuts in on the coms. For a moment it seems like she’s trying to stop herself from laughing.

My job is easy, I just hang around the doorway, unseen and unheard until someone comes along and puts in a code to open the door. I actually feel bad for whoever does it. PIN codes are low tech, but you can tell exactly who did it if you assign different codes. They could have gone with something like a fingerprint or face scan, maybe even saliva for a DNA sample. That would have made it harder for us to get in but I’m sure Tawa would have been able to get in one way or another.

A Straiv’al approaches the door and glances around, unaware that I’m standing right over his shoulder. The code, 1031; I send it to the team via text. Edan sends back a smiley face modeled after himself giving a thumbs up. A few moments after entering the warehouse another smiley face arrives, this one modeled on Enylo with a pulsating vein in her forehead giving a thumbs up as well. They can’t be serious; Edan is rarely serious but Enylo chooses today to grow a sense of humor. Does she want me to die?

The warehouse is what I expected, Tawa laid out the plans for us pretty well. A small map displays in the lower left corner of my helmet’s heads up display. There’s merchandise here, most of it being packaged up as if it were legitimate but everything is clearly stolen. Broken goods tossed aside, Straiv’al pocketing things they want for themselves. The disturbing thing about that is it means they took off their clothes to attack at the docks. Is it a cultural thing or somehting? I put my questions on hold make my way to the control booth slowly, not fully trusting the camouflage elements of this suit. I’ve used some high-tech stuff before and something always seems to go wrong at the worst possible moment so I try to avoid as many people as possible.  

The control room is just as empty as Tawa said it was be. I plug in the drive he provided and let it go to work. I look out down to the floor below and wait for something, anything to happen. I’m thinking Tawa gave us a dud. I prepare my rifle to do this the hard way. Slowly the lights start to vanish in the building. Everything except the confused voices go silent, the humming sound of electricity vanishes. I look down the scope of my rifle, the targets glowing blue in the darkness, didn’t know they were cold blooded. Slowly Edan and Enyolo make their way deeper into the building after entering from opposite doors.

I fire the first shot, not a sound is heard beyond the thud of a Straiv’al dropping and the shattering of glass as whatever he held hits the floor. I’ve got a great view and I’m able to see through the darkness. The team is smaller than we expected. Just the three of us, Velphi isn’t built for stealth but he’s watching the outside. Edan and Enyolo were the only others willing to go inside and the idea of hiring help was off the table without Nastas. But it’s working, it’s working well. Enyolo is sprinting through the building causing panic. Bones break and screams of pain fill the darkness. Edan silently snatches people behind merchandise and quickly puts them to sleep before dumping the body. Anytime someone gets too close to either I pick them off with the rifle. They’ll live, but they’ll get some great sleep. Tawa’s program was supposed to give us fifteen minutes of darkness, but we didn’t need it. There were less people than we thought.

“I think we got them all,” I call out.

“Don’t rush, we still need to secure the perimeter,” Enyolo shouts back.

“I’ll get the bay doors and call the pickup crews,” Edan ignores her warning.  

I start to zip tie the knocked out Straiv’al; I’ll feel better if they can’t fight back when they wake up. Outside the crews have already arrived and Edan is perfectly directing traffic. It’s actually impressive, almost as impressive as watching him work with tech. I’ve known soldiers who worked logistics for twenty years and couldn’t pull off an operation of this scale at this speed. I’ve never saw an Alpha Draconian before I met Velphi, and I’ve certainly never seen one fly. Velphi circles above us, huge wings expanded further than I ever expected them to, almost as if he were a real dragon gliding through the air, rarely flapping his wings as if the wind was aiding him.

I spot Enyolo off by herself and make my way over, “good job back there,” I smile at her.

“You weren’t so bad yourself, for a military dog,” she smiles.

“Enough that you’d adopt me,” the words leave my mouth before I can ponder on them. Why would I say that?

“Don’t push your luck. I’ve already got a pound puppy to take care of, adding a military dog to that would be a lot,” she rolls her eyes and walks away.

“That’s not a no. We’re littermates, a bonded pair. That means you have to take us both,” I laugh as she walks away shaking her head.

I’m not sure if the adrenaline from a successful mission is just messing with my head, or I really like her. A lot. 

Author's Note: I lied, I messed up the biweekly scheduling, but I'm going to get it right. Have faith in me. I dropped a new YouTube video as well. My channel is pretty cool if you like history.

1.68 - Existential

I follow the coordinates to a different ward of Tortuga. This area looks nothing like the others I’ve been in. Buildings crumbling but still housing people. Trash covering the pathways and no shortage of seedy characters and others packed into tight corners or on staircases. I’ve never been here before but it’s a familiar place. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a mega sized space station, Earth, Mars or anywhere else; there’s always a ghetto. A place where if you’re poor it’s a fight just to survive. A place where criminals can hide amongst good people because they know law enforcement won’t look. I find Edan sitting on a bench, staring off into the artificial night sky.

“Hey,” I take a seat next to him.

“Hey,” he seems upset by something.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just thinking.”

“About,” I ask, he wants me to pry it from him but he’ll tell me right away like when we were kids.

“I owe you an apology,” he doesn’t take his eyes off the sky.

“The kidnapping? I’m over that,” not entirely. “You’ve treated me well, I’ve spent your money, had some interesting food and some good times. I even got a great new wrist comp.”

“No, for the trade going bad because I didn’t research the other party. An apology is owed for dragging out the response as well. I didn’t know how all of this would end, so I just kept dragging it along, not doing any work and making excuses.”


“No really, I just didn’t know what would come next. I got scared and I froze up because I didn’t know how to continue.”

“Seriously,” I interrupt him. “I don’t care. Let’s just go get this girl,” I stand from the bench and start walking.

“Other way,” he laughs as he rises from the bench and stretches.

The old metal building is covered in grime that hasn’t been wiped off in probably years. Inside is a hologram of a man operating as a check in. The floors are dirty, stained and sticky. There‘s an unrecognizable smell in the air. The place I used P.R.I.D.E. at wasn’t top of the line, but this place is closer to the bottom than the top. It’s the kind of place people go to when they’re running away from problems; Edan didn’t lie about that.

Rows of machines have people hooked in, helmets covering their faces, reclined in chairs. IVs run into their arms; it isn’t hard to tell the IVs are what’s keeping them locked in. Up higher a second level of machines have been placed on what look to be shelves extending from the wall. A quick scan of the bags with my wrist comp tells me they’re full of experimental drugs with names I couldn’t begin to pronounce. The whole place gives me a sick vibe, no decorations, no furniture, just machines. The quiet hum and our footsteps peeling off the floor with each step are the only sounds as we make our way towards the back, looking for an office.

“You said you tried one of these before right,” Edan asks.

“Yeah, it was nice. A little disorienting when I came out but nice,” I leave out the part about my terrible reaction to the drugs.

“I always wanted to try one, but this building makes the whole thing seem,” he pauses for a word, “eerie.”  

“I know what you mean, lined up like this, with so many crammed into a tight space. It’s almost like a storage facility.”

“You know we’re shutting this place down right,” Edan asks.

“I don’t have any objections.”  

At the end of the building there’s a small office. Inside is a Meteorian man sitting behind a desk staring into a holographic display where a woman is sitting on a couch. I’ve seen enough videos to know he’s into classic pornography. I’m just glad we got here before he reached the good part.

“Wow, is everyone in here trying to get their rocks off,” Edan asks.

The Meteorian fumbles to turn off the hologram, shouting obscenities. It’s not a big deal, we just caught him before he was going to partake in some self-love. He reaches for the desk drawer, and I know he’s going for a gun. I rush forward pushing the desk backwards sandwiching him between the desk and the wall.

“What do you want,” he shouts knowing he’s trapped.

“Not a handshake,” Edan laughs plugging his wrist comp into the terminal at the desk.

“We’re here to free the people you’ve been exploiting,” I answer his question.

“They paid good money to be here,” The Meteorian argues.

“I’m sure they did,” I respond.

“Well, that was easy. No real security at all,” Edan unplugs. “Kids should be waking up. What do we do with him?”

“Take his gun, tie him up and leave him,” I shrug.

“Great idea. Let’s just hope he’s not into bondage,” Edan laughs.

I let Edan work the crowd of people waking up and give instructions. He’s good with people, keeps everyone calm. I might even say he’s charming. I know I couldn’t lead a group of disoriented teenagers to safety. He promises to get them all home safely, one at a time. I follow his lead, helping people regain their balance. Calling transport services, pairing up people headed in the same direction. I’m better with the details but this needs both of us. 43 kids are sent on their way when we’re finished but Edan hangs back with 44, the one we came for.  

“I’ll make sure she gets home safely, you go get ready. Hit the shooting range, do some stretches or whatever you military dogs do,” Edan gives me a crooked salute as he gets into the backseat of taxi. I watch as the shuttle slowly lifts into the air before taking off. Once they’re out of view I remove the Meteorian’s gun from my pocket. Poorly made, cheap, and likely to jam. I break off a piece of the firing mechanism and toss the gun in the trash. If I have to shoot someone, I’d rather do it with a gun that isn’t likely to shoot me as well. 

1.67 - Different DNA

There’re so many different kinds of music on Tortuga, and a few that blur the lines on what can safely be called music.  I feel like an actual tourist in this place. I never got more than a few hours to explore when I was out on duty. New foods, new places, new stores. I never really cared much about what shoes or clothes I was wearing as long as the colors didn’t clash. Now I find myself looking at expensive shoes and clothes just because they aren’t what I’m used to seeing. Edan lent me some money, but I’m hesitant to spend it, afraid I’ll find something better right around the next corner. More than that, I need a hobby or something. I never had time for them before but walking around window shopping doesn’t seem like a productive way to spend my time. Should I take up painting? Maybe I can try to make my own music. How am I not a complete person at my age?

Before I can spend more time thinking about potential free time and how I still don’t know what to do with it I get a call from Edan on my wrist comp. He’s been trying to track down an ethical arms dealer, whatever that means. It hasn’t been easy, and most of them are looking for prices that could only be paid for by black ops operations, private militaries or criminal organizations that are really good at being criminals. I can’t say I’m surprised by the prices, just surprised he didn’t have connections. I guess he wasn’t joking when he said there were things he wouldn’t transport.

“Big brother, have I told you how much I love you today,” Edan starts.

“What do you need help with?”

“Why do you assume I need help?”

“Because when we were kids, that’s how you would always ask for help.”

“You’ve got me there,” we share a laugh. “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”

“Start with the bad news.”

“The guns are way more expensive than we wanted, and the guy doesn’t want to do business at all right now because of a family issue.”

“Well, what’s the good news?”

“Ethical gun runner,” Edan laughs.

“You’re a real unique individual.”

“Same DNA, but I’m one of a kind. How do you want to get the guns?”

“Same way we got things in the service. We do a favor for a favor.”

“I don’t do assassinations.”

“Doesn’t always have to be an assassination. Might be a recovering equipment, might be trading some technology.”

“I think he’s more worried about his family at the moment. Something neither of us know how to fix,” Edan stares blankly expicting some witty response, but I don’t have one.

“See if you can figure out what’s going on with his family. If we can help, that’ll get him on our side.”

I end the call before Edan starts telling more jokes. I know this whole thing has gone south and is probably really stressing him out, but he isn’t handling the pressure well. I think, or at least hope he’s stopped drinking so much. But I can’t be sure. I’m not tailing him every second of the day. Maybe Nastas was right, we should have just let this go. Trying to run an operation to get everything back might be too much pressure on Edan. He’s been smuggling things all over the galaxy, but it’s just that, smuggling. He hasn’t done anything like this as far as I know. But he’s my brother, my living brother. He grew up in the same terrible environment that I did so I expect him to be okay with it. Same DNA, but we aren’t the same people. He was right about that if nothing else. I’ve been trying too hard to make him be like me, or one of my soldiers.   

I wanted to stay when this was done. Explore the stars with my brother but I’m becoming a hindrance even if he won’t say it. Pushing him into confrontations he doesn’t want to be in, taking charge of operations, forcing him to reach out to costly contacts. I hope this all pays off in the end; if not I should be saving this money he leant me.  

Edan pops up on my wrist comp again, “Found out what’s going on with the guy’s family.”

“Okay, talk to me.”

“His daughter has gone missing. But, thanks to Tawa we know where she is.”

“We going to get her?”

“I’m already here. She’s been strapped into a virtual reality device for weeks. They keep the people alive, but it’s an extended simulation. Usually, you would take breaks but these people are running away from something, choosing to live fully digital instead. She likely wouldn’t want to go home because they rarely consider anything as home. They’re real virtual vagabonds.”

“Those things can be addictive; I tried a cheap version once, almost got me, but it was way too happy to be my life. Send me the coordinates.”  

“Let me know when you get here, I’m going to do some scouting. We’ll get the girl back.”

Same DNA, different people. But we do have similarities. We care about people; this girl is more important than the guns. We don’t even know if the guy will sell to us just because we bring his daughter home. We’re just hopeful that he’ll be grateful. We see the best in people, I just expect them to do the worst while he doesn’t. I wonder if it’s because I’ve seen war but he hasn’t. There’s no honor among thieves, but maybe there’s kindness. I don’t know. The location pings to my wrist comp, and I tap for directions. It’ll take about thirty minutes to get there, I really hope he doesn’t do anything I wouldn’t.