Peace Is A Lie

I really didn’t want to wake up.

Well, that actually sounds kind of ominous. I didn’t want to wake up until I’d slept off the hangover I knew was coming my way.

But wake up I did.

Only to find my head trapped in some, hot, steamy hell of a head covering. I could feel its stiff edges resting against my collar bones and it’s weight bearing down on my head.

“What the actual … ?” I asked aloud, not expecting an answer, but also not expecting the hollow special-effect sound of my voice echoing around the damn thing.

I peeled my eyes all the way open and could sort of see out of two foggy orbs of darkened plastic.

Then I remembered.

Never let your younger brother challenge you to a holiday drinking game. His liver is in better shape than yours and his capacity for clearing a hangover is almost definitely higher. Plus, he’s been a little shit since he was three.

He proved me right as he bounded into the basement game room blaring the Star Wars theme from his phone.

I pulled the strange headgear off to glare at him and discovered it was a pretty authentic Stormtrooper mask. He beamed at my disgruntled expression. “How you feelin’, bruh?”

I rolled my eyes, even though it hurt. “Like maybe I wish I could Force choke your chipper ass into silence.”

He grinned and killed the music on his phone. “Alcohol is why they call today Revenge of the Fifth, dude.”

“Right.”

Fucker.

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Border Planet Blues – Expansion

Bez

Author’s Note – Day Two of the May Challenge – Lost in a city.  This started in a mircofic challenge last year, I think it was. Just a snippet that I keep going back to. I’m posting what I originally wrote and the little follow up bit that occurred to me this morning as I was thinking about the challenge.

 

It wasn’t easy to work the border planets, but Bez couldn’t deny that the money was about the best you could make without joining up with the Federals. It was hard to believe that rustlers were still a problem what with gene stamping, but here she was, tracking the Temple Sibs again.

If she drew a bead on Ned Temple this time, she was going to kneecap him just to avoid seeing his face for a couple of months. Bastard couldn’t seem to get over the fact that his sister had a fling with a ranch cop. And Talulah just didn’t have the spine to bust up the gang. More’s the pity.

Bez squinted at a cloud of dust rising on the horizon. Yup, that was them.

She drew her revolver.

She was going to enjoy this.

0-0-0

What the hell? Bez groaned to herself. Not out loud. Her head hurt too damned much for that.

The mattress was lumpy beneath her, but other than the pounding headache and oil slick that was her stomach she didn’t feel too bad. So this wasn’t a bunk in a jail cell. Whore house, maybe?

She had been in a celebrating mood after she collected her fat wallet of Credits from Doc Jones.

He was real pleased she’d pinched Ned Temple when he showed up to make off with Doc’s best stud. That bull made cows with more meat on them than she could rightly explain. But then again, she wasn’t a rancher from a long line of geneticists from the Central Planets. She was just a ranch cop. And damned if she’d ever paid any attention in school.

Through the haze of what had to be the worst hangover she’d ever had, she rifled through her fuzzy memories of the take down at the Whispering Pines Ranch (which she couldn’t help but think sounded like a goddamned undertaker lived there, but it paid pretty well, so she could forgive it). She’d drawn down on Ned from a fair distance.

She’d hesitated for a second, she remembered. They were coming in hot and she wasn’t sure she could get a shot off without hitting Greyleigh, the pride of the Temple herd of non-mutated horses. At this point in her career she hated Ned Temple about as much as it was possible to hate someone who was too plain stupid to be any better than he was, but she bore no ill-will to the rest of the clan. Besides, she had a real soft spot for Talulah and if she could ever pry her off her brother’s side, the family ranch was the only means of support she’d have to go legit.

That second was all Ned had needed to shoot first. His ultra-modded electro-mag had it all over her own legal Winchester Pulse blaster for speed, recharging, and accuracy. He’d grazed her. But all that had done was piss her off. She liked that jacket a lot. It was real leather, which was damned hard to come by these days. Any concern for his horse was forgotten in the searing pain in her bicep and the stink of singed fifty year old cow hide.

She’d done exactly what she’d fantasized about and clipped him right in the knee, narrowly missing Greyleigh, but scaring the hell out of the steed anyway. She was glad she hadn’t hurt the horse, because for one thing she didn’t really like hurting animals, especially holdovers from the old days like the Temple’s raised. But even more, she decided she liked that silvery little fella personally when he tossed Ned unceremoniously in the dirt and took off.

Talulah had done the smart thing and kept her distance until she had Ned cuffed and Doc raised on her communicator to come collect the lousy little bastard. Doc had patched up her arm for her with some fancy new glue one of his researchers had recently invented so that was good as new before her jacket had stopped smoking. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done for the leather. She decided to keep wearing it to remind herself what happened when you hesitated.

Doc had taken pity on Talulah and let her go with a pretty stern talking to and the confiscation of her equally fine Temple mare, Zeign. Then he’d called the Federals to come pick up Ned and check the fencing they’d sold him under high tariffs. If he was going to pay for shit to get shipped in from Central, it had damned well better work so he didn’t have to spend his hard earned Credits contracting with ranch cops, too.

Talulah had just about begged her to take her back into town with her and help her send a message to their folks. That was her default strategy when Ned did something breathtakingly dumb and got busted. She’d play the helpless little lady led astray by her domineering criminal brother and get let off the hook. Her parents usually bought it, too. And she’d always walk away from any bad situation richer than when she tumbled into it. Bez should have known better, but, speaking of tumbles, Talulah was an especially fine companion for one.

They hit the nearest saloon after raising one of the Temple servants for a little loan to get Miss T a transport home, gotten pretty loaded, danced an awful lot, then … gotten a room. Well, at least this isn’t a whore house. Sheets should be pretty clean for laying around in until I can shake this hangover.

Hell and damn, Bez grumbled (still not out loud). I should never drink with that woman. She’s got iron innards and more willpower than sense.

Finally she forced herself to open her eyes.

“Son of a bitch.”

It still wasn’t very loud, but the scene was definitely worth a little volume. Bitching in her head just wasn’t going to cut it.

This wasn’t the tavern crash pad she’d gone to sleep in in Little Duck (weird name for a town, but it was a cute little one, with dusty yellow roads that seemed to make it fit) . It was a very nice hotel room. Not a Little Duck place. This was a city joint.

Bez moved to get up. She paused. Stark-assed naked to boot.

She looked around. The only article of clothing she could see was her leather jacket with its freshly torn sleeve that she could have sworn she could smell across the room. No Winchester Pulse. No Credit wallet. Not even any god damned boots.

Cursing, much more loudly this time, she got up and stomped across the room to one of the windows and threw back the curtains. When she looked out of her ground floor room on the busy street, she swore again. Not only was she not in Little Duck, she wasn’t even in the nearby city of Albans. In fact, the twin suns blazing white overhead said she wasn’t even in the same system.

“I’m gonna kill her,” she growled. A passing fellow dressed much to well for the time of day for him to be anything other than a Fed, tipped her a wave and an appreciative wink. She returned the implied compliment with as rude a hand gesture as she could conjure up from her days at the Academy.

She turned and stomped over to her coat. If she zipped it up it would cover enough of her ass to go to the desk, get them to contact the Home Office, and at least get her some clothes and enough Credits to hit a transport back to her nearest safehouse. She picked it up off the chair and a note fluttered to the floor.

Bez, I’m sorry.

I had to spring him. We’ve got a big job coming. I swear I’ll make it up to you. Hope you don’t get too lost in the big city. Herodis is one of the most populated planets in the Central System. At least it shouldn’t be too hard for you to find some clothes. Although, to be honest, I prefer you without them. I’ll be in touch.

Lulu

P.S. Ned made me leave the jacket.

Bez sighed and pulled on her coat.

“I’m not just gonna kill her. But I am gonna gut Ned Temple like a fish.”

The door slammed so hard on her way out to find the desk and figure out where the hell she actually was, she heard the mirror fall off the wall and break.

 

Border Planet Blues

Just a little bit of micro-fic I wrote a while ago for a pic prompt. I’ve been mulling over doing something with it, so I figured I’d see what the internet thought about it. ~ J

Bez

It wasn’t easy to work the border planets, but Bez couldn’t deny that the money was about the best you could make without joining up with the Federals. It was hard to believe that rustlers were still a problem what with gene stamping, but here she was, tracking the Temple Sibs again.

If she drew a bead on Ned Temple this time, she was going to kneecap him just to avoid seeing his face for a couple of months. Bastard couldn’t seem to get over the fact that his sister had a fling with a ranch cop.

And Talulah just didn’t have the spine to bust up the gang.

More’s the pity. That girl was all sorts of fun, and she had a good mind, if she ever used it for anything other than keeping her useless brother in whiskey and smuggling jobs.

Bez squinted at a cloud of dust rising on the horizon.

Yup, that was them.

She drew her revolver.

She was going to enjoy this.

The Fall of Terra By Jess & Keith Flaherty

aerial-view-atmosphere-clouds-76969

Eyes downcast, hands folded, she always acted like a piece of furniture unless summoned. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t busy. When Master Den mentioned Kapteyn-6 she took an almost motionless step forward, seeming only to fidget as she adjusted the recording devices hidden in her prosthetic arm. She wasn’t worried anyone would notice.

She was hard to look at. Her robotic eye and the laser-burn scars that necessitated both devices running from the middle of her half-shaved head down her body made people uncomfortable. Den thought her ability to perceive more than the visual spectrum and her enhanced strength and dexterity made her excellent security material.

What he didn’t know was every image and sound was constantly recorded and transmitted to the Order’s base on Satellite 9. She was meant only to observe and transmit, allowing the order to use the information to weaken the Council of Seven and their organization. Once they had what they needed, she had her own plans.

Augments were highly sought after on the black market. She’d been captured trying to blow one of Den’s pipelines when she was fourteen. Her impassive face almost cracked into a smile. She’d let them catch her. Den Mirahz had always been her target. She’d pay him back for what his greed had done to her parents, to their small town, to her own fragile nine-year-old body. He had been her focus since she’d recovered.

Months of torture told him only that she was bright, had useful, if unattractive augs, and had been brainwashed by those intergalactic pains in the ass, the Green Order. Den thought her worth retraining. She’d been difficult to mold, but when he broke her she became one of his most loyal possessions, or so it seemed. She had never broken, only become bored with his game, ready to play her real hand. Fifteen years later, she was finally where she’d hoped to be, at the Hunter’s Lodge, the almost mythical gathering place of the Council, where Den and the rest manipulated the Interplanetary Federal Alliance.

“Terra! Stoke the fire,” called out the shimmering blue Proximalian, probably the nearest thing her master had to a friend at the table.

She bowed and moved down the mahogany table toward the cavernous fireplace. She looked around at the mounted trophies taken by the members of this destructive club from all over the galaxy on and around the hearth and the room’s exposed beams. Den had an impressive collection of animal teeth here, many of which were obviously human. She was glad she’d never been here with him before or she might have blown him to kingdom come years ago, promises be damned.

She used her hidden scanner on the blueprints next to the enormous red-scaled Gleisien, known as the Capo, the merciless figurehead of this council, as she reached out to stir the fire before adding more fuel cubes. It appeared to be a supply ship, meant to aid the survey of Kapteyn, but the diagrams revealed compartments perfect for smuggling. The primary cargo would be slaves like her, minimal survival gear, and an insulated pod for an atmospheric seeding medium and something called tanantobacter z-terranomica. She hoped the Order was receiving and could use this, because she wasn’t sure how much longer she could conceal her clandestine tech in this place.

Den gave her a hard look so she hurried back into position. “We’ll launch the bacterium, followed by the atmospheric seeding.”

The Capo asked, “Won’t that make the news cycle?”

“We’ll say a part broke off. That’ll explain the crash when Icarus falls out of orbit,” sniffed the furry Breeneen, Zalna, who Terra thought might be female. It certainly had enough breasts.

“What of the slaves?” asked the lizard-like Bavnial.

Den gave his sharks smile, “We’ll say they were crew. Anyone who matters wants a breeding colony as much as we do. The slaving ban is nominal and bound to end within a cycle or two. We need a decent supply chain.”

There were murmurs of agreement.

“Besides, we need labor for extraction. Robots aren’t equipped for the terrain or the extreme cold of the ice age on K-6.”

Zalna nodded, “It’ll save wear and tear on more worthwhile equipment for analyzing the minerals.”

Terra gritted her teeth as she transmitted this snippet. Populations were nothing more than another resource for The Seven to exploit for their friends. She took a careful breath, determined to slow her heartbeat. She was more nervous about being here than she’d expected. She’d never had to deal with the trappings of so many powerful people. She was starting to get strange glances from a number of other security personnel. A Kelparian guard slithered out of the shadows near the head of the table.

“Councilmembers, I’ve intercepted a transmission.”

“Yes?” the Capo snapped.

“The blueprints as well as your conversation have been broadcast to an outpost on Satellite 9.”

“From where?” the Gleisien shouted.

“Behind Master Mirahz, Capo.”

Den was on his feet, glaring. He’d been so sure she was his. His sense of betrayal hissed out, “You’ll wish you were in Hell long before I send you there.”

That voice always menaced slaves into cowering compliance. Now she gave him a cool, satisfied smile. She’d waited for this for over a decade, and she’d served the Order as promised today, finally delivered the evidence of collusion needed to loosen the Council’s grip. Terra held out her hand to display the dim red pulse of the micro-fusion explosive she designed and buried in her artificial flesh.

“Why don’t we go together?”

With a snap of her fingers, they did.

The fire took days to extinguish and the smoke created months of stunning sunsets. That was the end of Terra. But it was also the beginning of the end of the Council’s influence. The Terra she truly loved, her shining blue Earth, and other planets like it, now had a fighting chance.

One Terra fell, so the other could rise.

~ End ~

Out of the Blue

“What was that?”

“What was what?” Jason, spoke around the screws he was holding in his teeth, didn’t even look up. Tally had been twitchy since they’d cleared the Ort Cloud.

“That sound,” Natalia’s head tilted sideways, as though listening more intently could actually allow her to hear a sound that couldn’t exist in the empty vacuum of space all around them.

Jase carefully screwed the cover panel back over the sensor array access and slid the screwdriver into its pocket in the front of his blue coveralls. Tally’s eyes were too round and she was carefully concealing an all over sort of trembling that looked like perhaps their climate controlled compartment had suddenly gotten cold. Maybe she was getting sick. It wouldn’t be the first time one of them came down with some inexplicable illness out here on the edge of known space. He should probably go wake one of the team docs and he was trying to remember if Desta or Hai had more sleep to go on at the moment and was about to head to the crew quarters when Natalia yelped.

He slid away from the panel over to where she was hovering by the small window, staring out into the strangely bright dark. He reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder, but she whipped around and shoved off from the wall to get away from him. They all joked about space dementia, but Captain Ross was starting to find it less and less funny. They lost Kolya back just after Pluto to some strange bout of madness and fever, then Buzz (because of course the Aldrin descendent had to go by Buzz out here) when they’d approached the Barrier. And Tally had been worrying him for days, jumping at every noise, eating poorly, and getting increasingly paranoid. It was actually why he’d relieved Marsh to work on the array problem. As the commander, he wanted eyes on struggling crew.

“Tal, what is it?” She shook her head and closed her eyes tight. “Natalia?”

“It’s the screaming, Jason. I know you can’t hear it. When Nikolai told me I thought it was delirium.” She shook her head and gave a little hopeless sigh. He started toward her again, but she put up her hand. “No, Jase, don’t. Maybe it won’t get you; maybe you won’t hear it.”

“Natalia, I’m responsible for this ship and everything on it. Tell me, so I can help.”

She sunk slowly to the floor, as though she’d found a tiny pocket of gravity that only effected her. She spoke, but there was a quality to her voice that made Jason’s blood run cold. “When you look into the Abyss, the Abyss looks into you.”

Instinctively, Jason was using his hands on the console to make his way toward the hatch dividing this room from the command console. Wanting to keep her talking, he ventured, “What’s the screaming? What do you keep hearing?”

Her head came up; her smile was sharp and perfect. “It’s Natalia’s. She doesn’t like us inside.”

Jason to a slow breath. It had never been this bad, gotten this scary with Buzz or Kolya. He was about to thumb the catch and leave to get help when the eyes that had once belonged to Natalia Ross, his sweetheart since grad school, opened and bored into his. They were liquid black and in them he could see distant invisible stars. She rose and glided toward him, free from her own gravity once again. She pressed her body against his and looked into his soft azure eyes and was gratified to see the instant shift in color and his hands rising toward his ears to block out the sound.

“You always wanted to be the one to make contact, Captain Ross. How do you like it?”

It wasn’t long before the pair walked heavily down the hall to introduce the rest of the crew to life in the Black.