Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Six

strh

We’re rolling now.

6. The Death Tribe and the Goddess

Tobun’s hut was modest in size compared to some of the other dwellings in the village. Some tribesmen had built their homes into the largest trees at the edges of the clearing, leading to some intricate and large designs. Their eldest member, however, was a man of minimal needs. Thick boughs made up the structure, with stretched hides forming a roof over. The hut was octagonal in shape and very closely resembled a yurt.

Women of the tribe, the first either of the time travelers had seen since arriving, brought in a series of steaming, deep pots, all with different meats and vegetables on skewers inside. Tobun explained that everything they were eating had been caught or harvested that same day. The forest was apparently verdant with flora and fauna, and while agriculture was not a technology unknown to the tribe, the sheer volume of edible plants growing naturally did not require them to grow and tend their own food, or find solutions for irrigation.

The meal was well received by both the Doctor, who politely accepted the fifth and sixth round of food even though he was feeling very uncomfortable well before pushing his bowl away.

The Captain, who had finally been tended to by Tobun’s trusted healers, had a healthy appetite and ate twice as much as either of the other men.

“We appreciate your hospitality, Tobun,” the Doctor said to him. “And now that I have eaten your food I will say thank you.”

“Yes, this was a fine feast,” Captain Light agreed, belching behind a fist.

“I take it by your tone and polite shifting of your bowls that you are now moving from accepting gifts to demanding answers,” Tobun said with a slight smirk. “But before we begin, I want you to know that I purposefully ended the discussion earlier in order that you would hear only information that would help you. While the men that help me in the affairs of this village are wise in their own ways, each has their own agenda, and all would have given you different versions of the answers you are probably looking for.”

“Well, thank you for that,” the Doctor replied. “We realize our coming here is met with some suspicion.”

“I do not suspect you of being anything other than two travelers waylaid on their journey. I will do what I can to help you, and the rest of the tribe will do as command them. Now, let us speak less of the moment and more of that which is unknown to you. Ask your questions.”

The Doctor and the Captain looked at each other, and Captain Light nodded for the Doctor to go ahead.

“How long has she been here?” the Doctor asked. “Does she have a name?”

“Long before I was born, and before my father’s father’s father was born, she was here,” Tobun answered. “And next you will ask how she has not aged. Ages ago we worshiped her as a goddess, and so the dream of her has always been alive in our minds. She is the only goddess in the pantheon, and so we simply call her Goddess. The rest of our gods took the form of men or animals. The palace where she gathers her followers was a temple built for worship of her, though we abandoned it long ago when the Death Tribe appeared.”

“Why then?” the Doctor pressed.

“It was a dark time for our people, and we were very nearly destroyed by the Death Tribe. We turned from our gods after seeing that they had abandoned us to the evil force that spawned our wicked brothers. The Death Tribe took over the temple, and the Death God used it as his seat of power. The Death Tribe believed a prophecy that they had been chosen to purify the planet. The Death God convinced them that if our species were to survive on this planet, it would eventually spawn a child that would destroy everything, the planet, the stars. And so they slaughtered us, and they did so with suicidal fervor, knowing that their deaths had purpose. The planet was once swarming with different tribes, but most were either destroyed or turned to the beliefs of the Death Tribe.”

Captain Light shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and the Doctor was not oblivious to it.

“I notice that your people have survived,” the Doctor responded. “How long ago did all this happen?”

“My grandfather was a child when the Death Tribe was defeated and the Death God disappeared. The temple remained empty until two winters ago. That was when new stars began to appear in our sky. The people began to say that new gods had arrived to protect us. And that is when she appeared,” Tobun said gravely.

At this, the Captain sat forward. “Did she come in a ship from space?”

Tobun shook his head. “As I told you before, the last spaceship to land here left when I was a child. There was a tribe that made their homes in the cliffs to the North of the temple, some distance from here. We once traded with them quite frequently. Ryn Fegh had taken his caravan there on his winter route, but when he arrived the village was abandoned except for one man who was dying. The man had cut off his hands, and with his last words he told Ryn Fegh that the entire village had been possessed by the Goddess and had gone to her temple.

“Ryn Fegh traveled to the temple to verify this, and he spied lights there that had not been there before. Keeping hidden, he watched the temple, and, indeed, the tribe were all there, and each of them had a red right hand. Ryn Fegh attempted to speak with him, but they acted as if he was not there. They went about their lives in a happy daze, eating and drinking and socializing, but only with those who bore the red hand. Ryn was invisible to them. Before he left, he says he saw the Goddess descend from the temple and the people bow to her. In fear and awe, Ryn Fegh fled back to us, and related his tale.”

“And then this … disease,” the Doctor mused. “The red right hand began to spread to other villages? Including your own?”

“News of the rebirth of the Goddess, coupled with the new constellations in the sky caused a resurgence in the worship of the old gods. Ryn Fegh, being a traveling merchant, spread his tale along his caravan route, and so, many of the tribes also began this worship, some more than others. They began pilgrimages to the temple, and most never returned, but some did. Those of our village that returned bore the red hand, though the happiness and contentment that Ryn Fegh witnessed at the temple did not carry back to their villages. They demanded we all return with them to the temple and give ourselves to the Goddess. Those affected were violent and possessed a deadly power in those hands. If we attempted to restrain them or attack them, they would cause the attackers to turn to dust.”

“What about the other weapons, the plasma rifles and such,” Captain Light interjected. “Where did they come from?”

“Devos can tell you better than I,” Tobun admitted. “His tribe fought them in combat. When Devos made his way to our village after his tribe was slaughtered, that was the first we heard of the weapons.”

The Doctor and Captain Light exchanged glances.

“I think that about covers it,” Captain Light said, standing from his seat. “We really appreciate–“

“Wait a moment,” the Doctor interrupted him. “Tobun, I have a few more questions, if you don’t mind.”

Tobun nodded for the Doctor to proceed. Captain Light seemed reluctant to sit back down, but did so with a sigh.

“This Death Tribe. How exactly did you defeat them?” the Doctor asked.

“A hero appeared. Some say he was the very child the prophecies said would bring about the destruction of all things, already born and grown to adulthood. He united the tribes that were left and led them against the Death God. Shortly after that final battle, the hero disappeared. My grandfather said that the hero came from our tribe, and when he returned after defeating the Death God, the village elders gave him an artifact of great power that allowed him to leave this place forever.”

“Sounds like every other hero prophecy I’ve ever heard. I’m sure they’ve got a genesis story and a great flood like everyone else, too,” the Captain quipped.

“Well, it might be important,” the Doctor countered. “Suppose that Death God, or whatever was behind it, somehow survived.”

“Last question,” the Doctor continued. “Does anyone see the Goddess outside of her temple?”

“You yourself claim to have seen her,” Tobun replied.

“Yes, aside from us.”

“She sometimes is seen in the forest, but only a handful of men ever escape her. Her touch brings the red hand. I am surprised that neither of you have it, having been captured by her. It is unusual.” Tobun looked at both of them in turn. “The others will accuse you of being in league with her, but I believe otherwise.”

“I am glad you trust us,” the Doctor replied nervously. “We desperately need to get off this planet. We want no trouble with you or your people.”

“Huts have been arranged for you, and you will stay with us until we leave for the temple. I am assuming you wish to go with us, should the council decide to send a party to her.”

“So, you will go with us? It could be dangerous,” the Doctor replied, concerned.

“I am not so old as I appear. I will do all I can to help you,” Tobun said solemnly. He then added, “Time lord.”

Both the Captain and the Doctor were shocked into silence.

“Your people are the space travelers that first aided us long ago. I can hear the beat of your two hearts from here.”

Tobun smiled a bit cheekily at the Doctor.

Devos was the last to arrive to the common house for the council meeting the next day.

The Doctor was quick to berate the Captain for the hijacked man’s robotic gait. “Can’t you do something about that?” he whispered harshly. “He looks like a marionette.”

“You try to control a life-size puppet while someone’s badgering you,” the Captain snapped back. He adjusted a knob on a device wrapped around his wrist.

The two guests of the tribe had been given smaller seats on the dais with the other five, and sat to the left of Tobun’s throne. While both Griln and Sigg were slightly upset at their being given such access, Ryn Fegh seemed to accept the word of Tobun that the travelers could be trusted.

“I hope that this will be a short discussion,” Tobun said to the assembled tribesmen. Several dozen members of the tribe were also in attendance and sat at the long tables surrounding the dais. “Yesterday it was decided that the time has come for us to confront the Goddess and her people, and the only decision that remains is that of who will go to bargain for peace with her.”

Several warriors that were present, obviously at the behest of Griln, stood and shouted their disapproval.

“Silence!” Tobun bellowed. The warriors immediately took their seats, as quick to obey as Tobun’s own son.

“War has already been brought to her by a tribe well suited for it, and they have failed. We must take a different path,” Tobun continued. “We will ask that she leave our village in peace, and we will agree to supply her with whatever she may desire that we can produce for her.”

Murmurs broke out among the assembled tribe.

“As the leader of this tribe, it is my duty to go and represent our people. Griln and Devos will accompany me.”

Several negative shouts erupted from throughout the common house.

Shouting above their cries, Tobun said, “I realize the danger that exists. And that is why I leave you two trustworthy council members to lead you should our mission fail and we not return. Sigg and Ryn Fegh will remain behind and carry on the work of the council. Jaron will also be given a temporary seat, if he will accept it.”

Jaron looked immediately embarrassed from his table of hunters, but nodded his acceptance solemnly.

“These men will protect you while we are away. If we should not return, they will direct the future of this tribe. They each have my blessing in the pursuit, should it come to pass.”

Turning back to the council, Tobun declared, “These are the conditions of our journey, and each of us knows the roles proposed. Are we in agreement that this shall be?”

Griln, Sigg, and Ryn Fegh all spoke “Aye!” in turn. Devos remained silent.

“Devos?” Tobun asked, awaiting his response.

The Doctor politely stepped on the Captain’s boot and ground his heel into the toe.

“Aye,” Devos stated very monotonously as the Captain stifled a curse.

“Jaron?” Tobun prompted, turning to him.

“Aye,” Jaron stated proudly. “May I serve as you desire.”

Tobun nodded. “Then we leave as the sun reaches its peak. Trust in those we’ve left behind to guide you, and let your thoughts be with us as we journey to the temple for the betterment of our peoples.”

With that, the assembly stood and began to filter out of the common house.

“They really trust him, don’t they?” the Captain observed. “He could tell them anything and they’d go along with it.”

“The fact that he doesn’t is why they trust him,” the Doctor replied.

Four of Griln’s warriors were chosen as escort, and they took up positions in front and behind the group as it left the village for the temple in the Kingdom of the Red Hand.

Most of the village turned out to see them off, and the tribe gave them a cheer as they set out.

As Tobun had remarked, he was not as old as he looked, and the pace he set was quick. Several times he had to prod the warriors in front of him to move faster. They made good time, as far as the Doctor could tell. They reached the promontory that offered the view of the temple in the distance in less time than it had taken the Doctor and the Captain to reach the village from there.

They moved in silence for the most part, but occasionally Tobun regaled them with tales out of the tribe’s legends as they walked.

When they camped for the night, Tobun and his son related the climactic battle against the Death Tribe as it had been told to them. The Doctor listened with interest, but the Captain seemed bored with the tale and curled up to sleep well before the others.

Their warrior escorts took turns on watch, but the night passed without incident.

After a quick breakfast, they were on the move again and the column of travelers had just attained their pace from the previous day when a strange sound was heard in the distance. The forest was thick overhead except directly over the narrow trail they followed. It was impossible to see the direction the sound was coming from.

“Sounds like a ship,” the Captain remarked.

The warriors took up defensive positions around the group, and pulled their wicked axes from their backs.

“Chariots!” Griln growled. “They’re going to attack.”

The warrior chief, who never let go of his massive battleaxe, hefted it and stood protectively in front of his father.

“Now how do you know they’ll attack us?” the Doctor remarked. “Perhaps they’ve come to give us a ride?”

As the Doctor said this, one chariot, really just a platform with a massive plasma gun mounted to a steering column, appeared ahead of them, dropping down to the trail from above. As it touched down, the weapon fired twice, vaporizing two of the warriors instantly.

Another chariot appeared behind them, and just as quickly, the other two warriors were eliminated, leaving Griln with the only weapon.

From both chariots, a handful of uniformed men disembarked carrying plasma weaponry. Each had a red right hand, and on their uniforms they bore an insignia that matched it, a red right hand set on a golden triangle.

“Throw down the axe!” one of the men demanded to Griln, leveling his weapon at him.

Griln sneered at the soldiers, gripping his hilt tighter. “Why don’t you come and take it from me?”

The rest of the group clumped together, warily watching the exchange.

“We will take you to the Goddess unharmed, but you will not enter the Kingdom of the Red Hand with weapons!” the soldier barked. “Last chance, or you’ll be vaped like your inadequate escort.”

“He can be trusted not to use it. I give you my assurances,” Devos said suddenly. “Now, lower your own weapons and escort us to the temple as you were instructed.”

The Doctor looked at the Captain who seemed deep in concentration.

Immediately, the soldiers lowered their weapons.

“Devos,” Tobun said, turning to him. “You know these men?”

“All will be revealed in time,” Devos said cryptically.

“Traitor!” Griln accused. Tobun put a hand out and held his son’s shoulder.

“Third party, we’ll say,” Devos said, his voice very monotonous. Turning, he walked to the chariot that had landed first and stood on the platform. “These should hold us adequately. The pilots will take us to the temple, and the remaining soldiers can walk back.”

The soldiers seemed about to protest when Devos shouted, “That is an order! Now help them aboard.”

Confused, the Doctor and the others allowed themselves to be herded onto the vehicles–the Doctor and Captain with Devos, and Griln and Tobun on the other. One soldier joined each group and the rest stayed behind as the chariots lifted off.

“What are you playing at?” the Doctor demanded of the Captain as soon as they were airborne.

“Look at their hands,” the Captain said, pointing surreptitiously to the pilot.

The Doctor scrutinized the pilot’s right hand carefully before spotting it. The man was sweating. The sweat was causing the red paint on his hand to run.

“TDI?” the Doctor whispered. “Faking loyalty to the Goddess?”

“It appears so,” the Captain answered.

“How did you notice that in all the ruckus?” the Doctor asked, perplexed.

“I didn’t. I recognized the weapons,” he answered. “Took a chance on Devos though.”

“Well, I won’t complain on that point,” the Doctor replied. “We may have lost Griln if that went on. I anticipate we may need him later.”

The chariots rose above the trees and set off toward the temple. Primitive in comparison to technology both the Doctor and Captain had seen in their travels, it was sorcery to Griln, who nearly swooned directly off the platform. Twice during their flight, a stream of vomit fell from the platform and splattered on the tops of trees as they passed.

Hundreds of people milled around in the clearing that held the massive ziggurat. Stone buildings had been erected around the temple in patterns radiating out.

“Those are new construction,” the Doctor pointed out as they flew overhead. “They look like barracks.”

“The faithful have to sleep somewhere,” the Captain remarked.

The chariots rose over the top of the ziggurat revealing a courtyard at its center. Both chariots hovered briefly before descending into the structure and setting down in the courtyard where a dozen men stood bearing spears with their red right hands.

Stepping off the chariots, Griln less gracefully than the rest, the visitors were grouped together and surrounded.

Tobun saw an opportunity to speak. “We come to speak with the Goddess and would like to make an offer of friendship to her.”

Those with the spears ignored them. They seemed to be as lifeless and robotic as Devos, though the Doctor doubted it was the same technology. The spearmen all had smiles.

A woman in a long silk dress approached them and bowed deeply to Tobun. Her right hand was red.

“Elder Tobun,” she said reverantly. “We have been expecting you for some time. You are the last of the great tribe leaders to offer his service to the Goddess. Did you not trust the judgment of the rest of us? Did we not tell you it would be better this way? We sent many messengers to you. Did they not convince you?”

“You sent our own men and women back to us! They killed people for no reason in their madness!” Tobun fumed. “I trust you, Laara, no more than I trust the men that just murdered four of my warriors. You were always devious, even before you came here.”

“Bad blood there,” the Doctor whispered. The Captain nodded in agreement.

Turning to Devos, Laara smiled. “Welcome back, Devos.” Suddenly she touched her right hand to his face. Devos’s eyes went wide with horror and he screamed. Neither Griln nor Tobun moved to help him.

The Captain, suddenly inhaling sharply, ripped the device from his wrist and let it drop to the ground where it began to smoke.

Before their eyes, Devos’s right red began to slowly turn red.

As his scream faded, a smile played across his face. He then turned and stood next to Laara, who looked back to Tobun with a smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll get to you and your son soon enough. Devos here failed me and my Goddess and needs immediate punishment.”

Laara then stepped over to the Doctor and the Captain. “You two are quite the clever ones, aren’t you? The Goddess has very special plans for the both of you.” She crouched momentarily and picked up the device that the Captain had been wearing. “I believe you’ll find Devos less suggestive than before.” She held the device teasingly before the Captain’s face before tossing it aside.

“Now, are you prepared to meet the Goddess?”

“Oh yes, very much so,” the Doctor said cheerfully.

This seemed to displease Laara. “The only reason you do not belong to us is that my Goddess commands you stay disconnected.”

“Interesting terminology,” the Doctor replied with a smile.

“Where is Penelope?” the Captain demanded.

“Oh, you mean the sparkly little cube?” said a voice behind them. Turning collectively, they all saw the diminutive Goddess walking towards them.

“I thought I left you two to die,” she said disappointedly. “Why didn’t you obey me?”

“Look, we just want to get off this planet,” the Captain pleaded. “Why don’t you just give me back my AI, and we’ll leave you to this, whatever this is.”

“You both went through an awful lot of trouble to get here, Captain Drustan Light, formerly of the Temporal Defense Initiative. You’ve already been disciplined for interfering in a TDI mission, what makes you think we’ll allow you to do so again?”

“What?” the Captain said, surprised. “You’re TDI?”

“My mission here is to prevent a paradox,” the Goddess replied. “I’m saving the universe.”

“There’s no way you’re TDI, you’re too young,” he replied.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” she snapped back quickly. Turning to the Doctor, she added, “Isn’t that right, Doctor? How is our dear Doctor Watson, or what’s his name again, Jeffrey? I bet he has a lot … on his mind.”

The Doctor’s mouth gaped open.

“Oh yes,” she nodded. “You were on the right track, though entirely by accident.”

She turned from them and snapped her fingers. From a side corridor, several men quickly carried in an ornate throne, which she then sat upon, her child size causing its voluminous cushions to nearly engulf her.

“And so here we are,” she giggled. “Thank you for coming to my party.”

“What are you up to?” the Doctor demanded. “Whatever it is, I’ll find a way to stop you. You ruined a good man, and I won’t let you do it again.”

“Well, let’s see,” she replied, touching a finger to her chin. “First, a tea party, then we give Mr. Grumpy Tobun and his apeish son a lovely red hand, and then we kill you.”

“What’s the red hand for?” the Doctor finally asked.

“Like all TDI business,” she replied. “It is none of yours.”

(to be continued)

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Five

strh

5. Time Lord, Time Bandit

The village of the Kinzix tribe was a far hike from where the Captain’s ship had come down, and the forest grew thicker around them before they began to see signs of habitation. Sparse game trails they followed soon turned to well-worn paths with ruts from carts, but even then the paths were well concealed. You could be standing parallel to a fairly wide path on your own game trail and the thick trees could completely block it from your sight.

Jaron led the column of hunters, with the Doctor and Captain Light bringing up the rear. The pain from his wounds troubled Captain Light to the point that Jaron had given him a wad of mashed fruit to chew. After initially refusing the aid, the Captain finally relented and chewed the thick pasty fruit in displeasure. Only seconds passed before he remarked that the pain had gone away.

“Clever tribe this,” the Doctor said as they continued down the trail. “Are these the sort of primitives you were used to dealing with on this planet?”

“Somewhat,” the Captain replied. “I only had the opportunity to view them from a distance. I try not to interfere with lesser cultures in my travels.

“You mean you try not to get caught thieving relics from them,” the Doctor teased.

Captain Light smiled. “That too.”

They walked on in silence for several moments before the Captain continued on along the path of inquiry the Doctor had started down.

“There were no plasma rifles when I was here last. No microsatellite barrier. The primitives I encountered were dying, and there really was nothing I could do for them.”

“What do you mean there’s nothing you could do for them?” the Doctor replied. “You mean you didn’t want to help them.”

“No, Doctor,” the Captain retorted. “I keep to the TDI rules so I get paid. When you deal in paradoxes, you go out of your way not to alter history.”

“Don’t talk to me about changing history,” the Doctor snapped, turning to face him. Both men stopped, staring each other down. “I am a Time Lord. My race has spent most of its existence making sure people like you don’t muck up the universe with your interference. It’s amateurs like the TDI that endanger life as we know it with their oblivious meddling. We’re the protectors.”

The Captain stabbed a finger at the Doctor. “Oh, I’ve heard all about your dead race, Doctor. And where are they now? What are they protecting beyond the void? It’s just you left, and what can you do against anything with that junkheap of a TARDIS?

“If they were still here, you wouldn’t be,” the Doctor countered. “And don’t you dare talk about her that way again or I’ll …”

“You’ll what, Doctor?” Light barked, getting in the Doctor’s face. “Punch me? Wave a sonic screwdriver at me? Abandon me like you do all your companions?”

The Doctor’s face darkened and his eyes narrowed. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“It’s my organization’s business to know about people like you, Doctor. The Time Lords are gone, and someone has to step up and do what Gallifrey and its pompous people never did.”

“Hey!” yelled a voice. It was Jaron. The rest of the hunters were out of sight. “You two shut your mouths and keep up. We’re skirting close to her territory now.”

The two time travelers stared at each other a moment longer before turning away and continuing on.

The trail broke through the tree ended at ledge leading around a sharp promontory. They followed Jaron along this path for a good ways, eventually breaking above the trees. The view as the trail topped out before winding back down into the forest was breathtaking.

Lights glittered in the distance, some moving low across the horizon, flitting back and forth from a central location where the forest had been cleared for miles. From the center of this massive clearing of forest an impressive ziggurat rose, sparkling with light.

“That is the heart of her kingdom,” Jaron explained. “We call it the Kingdom of the Red Hand. And that structure is her palace.”

“Those are the ruins I told you about,” the Captain remarked.

“Well, they don’t look like ruins now, do they?” the Doctor countered. “Those lights we see moving about?”

“Those are chariots. She has given her people magic and powers beyond what we are able to create. Though we’ve stolen some of their weapons in raids, we have no idea how they work and cannot replicate them,” Jaron replied.

“Interesting,” the Doctor mused.

“We must move on,” Jaron said, ushering them away from the open area. “If you have more questions, Tobun can answer them. He is the oldest of us that remembers a time before she came. He remembers all that has passed.

“Then lead on, Jaron,” the Captain said, gesturing to the trail.

The three men walked in silence as they continued through the forest. When the tress occasionally broke along the winding trail, the Doctor could make out the faint light of the lanterns the rest of the hunters carried ahead of them. Gradually, either the hunters slowed, or their own pace quickened, for soon the three men caught up to the rest of the hunters.

Eventually, the trees grew more spread out, and the trail widened until visible torchlight could be seen ahead of them. A primitive village of huts and treehouses stood in a wide glade, the middle of which was occupied by a large common house, decked out with the bones and horns of animals.

The Doctor recognized the bones of several vexes among them.

“I will take you to Tobun first,” Jaron explained, leading them towards the large common house.

As they walked, they noticed several villagers peeking out from the hide flaps of the huts. It was well into the night, but the village seemed to be fairly busy. Most villagers they came upon moved quickly to concealment, and more than one stared directly at both the Doctor’s and Captain Light’s right hands.

Jaron opened the large wooden door to the common house and gestured for them to enter.

Inside, long tables filled the room, which was as large as the entire building. A small dais was raised in the center and a roaring fire threw flickering shadows on the wood and hide of the walls and ceiling. A wide opening in the roof allowed smoke to escape, and showed the twinkling stars beyond.

Around the fire, in wooden thrones were five men, all engaged in a heated conversation.

Jaron motioned that they should remained in place and silent while the conversation continued.

“We cannot continue to play these children’s tricks against her,” one fierce and craggy-faced tribesman said. Of the five, he appeared the most warlike. In his right hand, he held a massive battleaxe and his clothes were made of the hides and bones of animals. “We must strike against her kingdom, and we must do it quickly.”

“Griln speaks of war, again. As if any of us would be surprised,” another tribesman spoke. This one wore clothes resembling silk, and unlike Griln, the warrior, he was groomed and reserved in his demeanor. “She is no warrior. She is a child, and a spoiled one at that. We must approach this situation as is warranted–as you would approach a child who does not understand that torturing a small animal is wrong.”

“We are not a small animal!” Griln bristled. “We were once a proud warrior tribe until she began poisoning our people with her magic! I say we embrace our heritage and take the fight to her and her minions. Look at her people, fattened by their rich foods. They no longer know the ways of the blade. They no longer care to test themselves in combat. They will fall like trees before my axe.”

“Griln speaks wisely,” the eldest of the quintet intoned. “We must not abandon who we were in favor of the temptations of change. We are warriors, and we will met this threat as warriors. However, what my bloodthirsty son does not understand is that not all battles are fought with blades. A warrior’s sharpest weapon can easily be his mind. We will think before we fight, as we have always done.”

Jaron leaned over and whispered to the Captain and the Doctor, “That is Tobun, the eldest. Griln is his son, and leader of our warriors. The fancy one is Ryn Fegh, a tradesman. He advocates that we should join the rest of those who were taken by force to her kingdom and become a larger more advanced tribe.”

“Seems a familiar argument,” the Doctor whispered to Captain Light.

“Who are the other two?” the Captain asked Jaron, ignoring the Doctor’s comment. The other two thrones had their backs to the door, and those persons seated there could not be seen.

“On our right,” Jaron continued, “that is Devos. He is the only survivor from another tribe far to the south. Tobun has given him the seat formerly occupied by my brother, Kemyn, who was taken by her many days past. Kemyn led our hunters, and now I hold that position.”

“He’s from another tribe, but has a seat on your council?” the Doctor asked.

“Tobun, Griln, and Sigg approve of it. They say it is right that we allow his tribe’s customs and blood continue on within our own tribe. And he knows her ways better than we. He has been to her palace and escaped unharmed and untouched by the sickness.”

“Sounds awfully suspicious,” the Captain remarked. “Why do you not occupy that spot in place of your brother? Should not a hunter replace a hunter?

Jaron smiled shyly and turned his head away slightly. “Kemyn was a smart one, and filled the seat well. I only know the forest and the language of the land. Not skills helpful for the council, I’m afraid.”

“And Sigg,” the Doctor said. “He’s the last one, to our left?”

Jaron nodded. “A good man, but his voice carries only as far as it is not drowned out by Griln or Ryn Fegh. Of the five, he is most favored by the rest of the tribe. He speaks what we simple men think, and often that is why they do not listen to him. He is Tobun’s nephew.”

As Jaron said this, Devos rose from his throne and began to pace around his side of the fire. His back to them, they could only hear his voice, not see his face.

“She is a powerful foe,” Devos said gravely. “My people met her as warriors, too, if you remember. Her weapons bite harder than ours, even the one’s we’ve stolen. We are no closer to understanding how they work, and her weapons grow more lethal and effective.”

“But those fools don’t even use them properly!” Griln exploded, rising from his throne. “I’ve seen them fight, and they are compelled to do so by fear! Those are not warriors, they are slaves! We can beat them if we fight!”

Devos held a hand up, and Tobun could be seen motioning for his son to sit down.

Griln did so grudgingly, causing the wooden throne to screech as his weight pushed it back slightly on the dais.

“Regardless of the guns they use, the red hand is the weapon we should fear,” Devos continued. “We don’t understand it, this sickness. Our people go mad in our villages, murdering those around them with this power, but their in her city, they are quite sane.”

“She’s bewitched them, obviously,” Ryn Fegh said dismissively.

“I think we should form a party to go and speak with her,” Devos offered. “When have we ever just asked what she wants? Have we not fought her from the very beginning, never asking why?”

“She is a demon child!” Griln roared. “She should be killed!”

Again, a not-so-subtle motion of the hand from Tobun ceased Griln’s tirade.

“I have to agree with Devos on this,” Ryn Fegh said. “Suppose we can find a way to peace with her through some sort of trade? We supply them with food and hide, they agree not to interfere with us.”

“An excellent idea,” Devos agreed, his back still to the spectators.

“And which of us do we send?” This was Sigg speaking. “That could be a death march. No one’s going to want to go there on the off chance that a fair exchange of goods for non-interference will work.”

At this, Devos seemed to ponder the question. He paced further around the fire, bringing his face into the light where they could see. “I will go, and I’m sure Ryn Fegh will volunteer. But they won’t take us seriously unless Tobun goes with us.”

“We will not risk my father for this foolish trade mission!” Griln countered.

Captain Light suddenly gasped and grabbed the Doctor’s arm. “I know that man!”” he whispered fiercely.

“Griln?” the Doctor queried.

“Devos.” the Captain replied.

“From when you were here before?”

“No, Doctor. That man is with the TDI,” Captain Light replied.

“An impostor,” the Doctor responded with interest. “Yes. His idea begins to make some sense then. Oh, this is very interesting, indeed.”

Tobun’s gaze had been wandering and his eyes fell upon the trio of men waiting at the door. Holding a hand up, halting the discussion on the dais, he said in a voice that would carry. “What is your business, Jaron? Who are these men you’ve brought with you?”

Devos went ashen as his eyes fell upon Captain Light, but he quickly composed himself enough to looked intrigued.

It was Griln that reacted more obviously. “Spies!” he cried. “That dim-witted hunter has brought her spies into the heart of our village!” Hefting his battle axe, he moved to attack, but his father, was up and towering over him before he could go further.

“You will sit down and shut your mouth until we seek your counsel, whelp!” Tobun commanded. “You are tolerated here because you are the warrior chief, not because of your intelligence!”

Griln chagrined, slumped back down in his throne.

“Bring them forward,” Tobun ordered.

The two travelers, led by Jaron, walked up to the dais and stood in the center near the fire where the gazes of the council fell on them from five angles.

“What brings you to this village, strangers?” Tobun asked.

Seeing the Captain eyeing Devos menacingly, the Doctor quickly moved to creative mode.

“My friend and I had an accident. Our vessel has crashed upon this planet, and we were hoping you might be able to direct us to someone who can help repair our ship,” he said, suddenly surprised that he had actually told the truth.

“We have no knowledge of those things here,” Tobun replied. “You claim to be space travelers?”

“Uh, yes,” the Doctor said, surreptitiously nudging the Captain, who was still locked in a stare with his acquaintance. “I’m the Doctor, and this is my pilot, Captain Light. We met your little problem–forgive the pun–when we landed, and she stole our valuables and left us for dead.”

“Is this true?” Tobun asked, directing the question at Jaron.

“We found them bound and fleeing a vex,” Jaron replied. “There was a metal ship nearby, not like those that fall from the sky.”

“Yes, about those,” the Doctor interrupted. “Who exactly launches the cargo ships into space in the first place?”

Ryn Fegh explained, “The Kingdom of the Red Hand digs rocks from the ground and puts them in towers. These towers fly into space, and then come back down later, empty of the rocks that had filled them. You claim to have come from one of these ships?”

“We came in our own ship,” Captain Light stated. His eyes had not left Devos’s face. “There is a security grid around this planet that destroys any that try to land here.”

“And you just happened to survive?” Devos replied cynically.

Avoiding the question, the Doctor pressed in a different direction. “Have you met other space travelers?”

Tobun answered, “Our people first were contacted by space travelers long ago. They offered us their science, as they called it. It was sorcery to us, but only in that we did not understand it. We are not an unintelligent people, just a people that prefers the simplicity of nature. They respected our wishes to keep our traditions, though we allowed some of our young people to leave this planet. The travelers stopped coming when I was very young.”

The Doctor was about to continue his questioning when Tobun raised a hand.

“We should adjourn this council meeting and continue the discussion tomorrow,” he told his contemporaries. “We have guests, and should show them our hospitality. As I said, it has been an age since men have come to us from space.”

Both Griln and Devos seemed poised to make a retort, but both held their tongues, and likely for very different reasons.

“Jaron, take our guests to my hut while I have a word with my son,” Tobun directed. “I will join you for a meal shortly. The rest of you should return to your duties until tomorrow. I will not make a decision on the matter of sending our people to her kingdom until tomorrow.”

Sigg, Devos, and Ryn Fegh nodded their heads and left the common house, Captain Light eyeing them every step of the way. Griln remained seated in his throne, scuffing a boot on the floor like a boy who knows he’s about to be punished.

“Thank you for your hospitality, sir,” the Doctor said, bowing his head slightly.

“You may call me Tobun,” the old tribesman said. “And don’t thank me until you’ve eaten my food.” This last he said with a wink.

Jaron led the Captain and the Doctor outside where immediately the Doctor hit the Captain on the arm.

“What are you thinking?” he accused in a whisper. “You nearly cut him in two with your eyes. Don’t you know subtlety?”

Before the Captain could respond, Devos was standing before them. He looked at both the Doctor and the Captain in turn before turning his eyes to Jaron. “Why don’t you go on ahead, Jaron. I’ll send them along shortly. I think I may have some information that will help them with their transportation problem.”

Jaron looked suspicious, but after a nod from the Doctor, he left the three men to themselves.

“Devos, is it?” the Captain said snarkily. “I much prefer Snotty Tom.”

“Shut your mouth, Light,” Devos snapped back. “You’re lucky I don’t vape you right here.”

“Hello, I’m the Doctor,” the Doctor said cheerfully, extending his hand. “We’ve not met.”

Devos gaped. “Oh, Drustan. You’ll fry for this. Do you know who this man is?”

“Enlighten me, Snotty Tom, is it?” the Doctor teased. “Tell me who you think I am.”

“Last of the Time Lords, and a rogue one at that. Our greatest enemy,” Devos replied. “And, you, Captain Light, will be reported for fraternizing with him.”

“What are you doing here, Devos?” Captain Light asked, his eyes narrowed. “This is a non-interference sector.”

“You know damned well what I am doing here. I’m countering the paradox you started!” Devos accused.

“Now wait,” the Doctor said, stepping between them, positioning himself as being on neither side for the moment. “The Captain tells me that this planet was always primitive. It would seem to me that any change towards what it is right now would be done separately from–” he paused, then shook his head, before turning back to the Captain. “You idiot. You made this a primitive planet. You’re not with the TDI, you’re a time-meddling thief!”

Now, the Doctor stepped to face the Captain with Devos, but Devos immediately pushed him back with the Captain.

“You are both the worst time fiends this universe has ever seen,” Devos declared. “And it is my duty to report you and see to it that the paradoxes you’ve brought into existence are unraveled.”

The Doctor ignored him, and continued his accusation of the Captain. “Oh, it’s very clever isn’t it. Stop a species from evolving so that its relics go up in value, you sick and petty man. I knew you were a time bandit from the first time I laid eyes on you.”

“Shut up!” Captain Light barked at the Doctor. As he did so, his hand shot out and a silver device sparked as it made contact with Devos’s bare arm. Immediately, Devos stood straight at attention, staring straight ahead. “You’re damned lucky this isn’t you.”

“Oi, what did you just do to him?” the Doctor asked.

“He has remotely hijacked my neural pathways, in a manner of speaking,” Devos said in a monotone voice.

The Doctor’s eyes went wide. “That’s cyberman technology!”

“Now you listen to me,” Captain Light said threateningly. “Think about where we are. We’re stuck here and we need a way off this planet. It doesn’t matter who I am or what I’ve done, we’re both in the same jam. This is your fault for interfering with me. What I said is true, I want to know what happened to this planet, too.”

“Oh right, because you’ve got important relics you left here you need to cash in on, and you can’t if the species that made them isn’t extinct!”

“No!” Captain Light yelled. “I came back here because in one of those relics there may be evidence that the entire TDI has been corrupted by a malevolent organization bent upon destroying this universe!”

“Ridiculous!” the Doctor countered. “Now you’re just making stories up because you’ve been outed as a time bandit.”

“I am not a time bandit, Doctor. And I’m not TDI either. They kicked me out when I discovered information that proved they had been infiltrated by another group. Ulysses did hire me, but it was to investigate this shadow group, not pull a job as part of the TDI or as a bandit.”

Captain Light took a deep breath.

“Now, you’re going to have to trust me. If we get out of this, I can prove it all to you. We have to work together first, though. And right now we’re expected at dinner.”

“Fine,” the Doctor replied coldly. “What about him?”

Captain Light turned to the rigid Devos. “Go back to whatever hut you’ve been staying in and sleep until the council meeting tomorrow.”

“Very well,” Devos droned, and then walked off.

“That technology is–“

“That technology just saved our life, Doctor,” the Captain finished for him. “Don’t worry. I’m not a cyberman, obviously.”

“That does not excuse you using it!”

“That man could have zapped us to TDI headquarters in a second, and we’d be executed in two. We’re both fugitives.”

Captain Light turned and followed the direction Jaron had gone. The Doctor huffed and jogged after him.

“Alright, we’ll work together for the time being, but we are having words after this is over,” the Doctor said catching up. “We’ve got to get our things back, get your relic, and get out of here.”

“And how do we do that, Doctor?” the Captain asked.

“We volunteer to go to the Kingdom of the Red Hand with Tobun and the rest,” the Doctor replied conclusively.

“My thoughts exactly.”

(to be continued)

 

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Four

strh

4. Vexes and Vexation

“Never heard of such a thing,” Captain Light replied gruffly. “And besides, the TDI spans universes, there are bound to be plenty of things they’re into that I’ve no business knowing.”

“I would think the ability to create miniature universes from scratch would be difficult to conceal. That’s a lot of energy to hide,” the Doctor pressed, still not convinced.

“Look,” the Captain said with a sigh. “If I knew anything about that, I’d tell you.”

“Fine,” the Doctor relented. “Is it absolutely necessary to bring that weapon?”

Together they stood pressed against the starboard door of what was left of Captain Light’s ship, preparing to exit the vehicle into what would likely be hostile territory.

“We’ve just barely managed to survive a massive cloud of microsatellites that could have vaporized us, surrounding a planet that is supposed to be primitive. I’ll take my chances offending the locals, whoever they may be now.”

Captain Light took a quick breath and then made to burst through the door to the outside. The Doctor stopped him abruptly, grabbing his arm and pulling him back.

“Now wait a minute,” the Doctor said thoughtfully. “Consider what we’re likely getting into. For us to have made it through that microsatellite field, we’ve probably been identified as an empty container. They’ll send someone out to recover it, and they’ll likely be robots of a sort. I recommend we exit the ship, quickly find a place to hide and see what we can learn. Perhaps we can follow the robots back to a base or something.”

Captain Light crossed him arms and looked at the Doctor disdainfully. “How the hell do you survive out here with planning like that? You call yourself a time traveler? You know, I bet you’re the very type of absent-minded and oblivious fool who’d recommend we immediately split up and get ourselves lost, or captured or worse. Thank God you don’t travel with companions.”

“Uh, well, yes. What would you do then?” The Doctor bit his lip nervously, remembering more than a few occasions where just such absent-mindedness and obliviousness had landed both he and his companions in trouble. Repeatedly, in fact.

“They probably tracked us coming into the atmosphere and supposed we were destroyed when you ditched our thrusters. They probably think we’re debris. They’ll send scavengers, most likely with orders to kill anything still alive on the ship,” the Captain said with certainty. “So, we step out prepared for a fire fight.”

“Well, let me go out first,” the Doctor suggested. “If they are just friendly robots, I won’t blow their heads off before they have a chance to say hello.”

“I’m going out first,” Captain Light countered. “So if they are scavengers, they won’t blow our heads off before we have a chance to say hello.”

The tension grew in the tight quarters, and the Doctor visibly gulped and adjusted his bowtie. “How about we open the door and peek out together?”

“Alright then,” the Captain agreed.

Carefully, both men stepped to either side of the door. The Doctor drew his sonic screwdriver, while Captain Light powered up his blaster.

“Ready?” Captain Light hissed. The Doctor nodded.

With a creak, the Captain opened the door and slowly both men peeked outside.

A small girl in animal hides stood looking up at them just outside the ship. Beyond her, thick forest surrounded them. The sky was dark, and only the light of Fallox’s single moon illuminated the scene.

“Oh hello,” the Doctor chimed in a friendly voice.

“Get your hands up!” Captain Light barked at the girl, leveling his blaster at her.

“Will you stop that!” the Doctor exclaimed, grabbing the Captain’s blaster. Fighting back, Captain Light tried to pull away, but the Doctor stubbornly held onto the weapon. “She’s a little girl for goodness sake! A primitive!”

The struggle turned more violent as both men lost their balance and fell in a tangle. For a minute or so, both men struggled to gain control of the weapon and gain the upper hand, but soon the blaster and sonic screwdriver were cast aside as the bout descended into a wrestling match.

Distracted, the two time travelers did not notice the little girl walk over and pick up the blaster. Casually, she aimed the blaster and fired.

A foot from both men’s heads, the ground erupted in a controlled explosion, showering them with dirt and hot rock. The scuffle stopped immediately and both men stared aghast at the girl.

“Are you two finished?” she said to them.

“Yes,” they both replied sheepishly.

“Get up,” the girl demanded, waving the blaster menacingly. “Hands in the air.”

“Now wait a minute–” the Doctor began. He was cut short as the girl fired the blaster again, this time close enough to singe Captain Light’s duster.

“Hey!” the Captain cried out.

“Shut your mouths, scum!” the girl barked at them. “Empty your pockets!”

“Please listen–” the Doctor began again.

“Do it or I fry you!” the girl yelled.

Quickly, the Doctor began tossing out the contents of his pockets. Likewise, Captain Light was desperately digging out lint and cracker bits from the deepest confines of his clothes.

In a few moments, the pile was quite impressive, containing but not limited to two yo-yos, a shrunken head, several dice, three bags containing what appeared to be jelly babies, a golden Venus idol, half an Oreo, various components to scientific equipment, some jacks, no less than twelve rubber balls of different size, assorted galactic coinage, and a very agitated fire newt in a plastic water bottle.

The girl looked disappointed, but sifted through the debris, keeping the blaster leveled at the two shocked men.

“Robbed by a little girl,” the Doctor muttered. “Didn’t see this one coming.”

“She’s a primitive,” the Captain replied in a whisper. “How does she even know how a blaster works?”

“Shut it!” the girl barked. With an exasperated sigh, the girl took the sonic screwdriver and placed it in a pouch at her hip. To both travelers’ dismay, she also took the small cube containing Penelope.

Admiring it, but still focusing the blaster at them, she commanded, “Lay down, hands on your heads. Try anything funny and I vape the lot of you.”

The men complied quickly. The little girl stepped over to them and crouched down, holding the cube before the Doctor’s face.

“What’s this?”

The Doctor hesitated.

Pressing the blaster against his head, she asked again. “What is this?”

“Nothing,” the Doctor lied. “Just a bit of junk I carry.”

The girl shrugged and tossed it to the ground. “No use? Then I guess I’ll vaporize it.” She stood and aimed her blaster at it.

“No, please!” the Captain cried out.

The girl smiled and retrieved the cube, before turning to crouch down beside Captain Light. “What is it?”

The Captain sighed. “It’s the AI for my ship. She’s … It’s important to me.”

With lightning quick movements, the girl removed cord from her pouch and began to tie up the Captain.

“Look, miss,” the Doctor pleaded. “We’ve come here for some information. We mean you no harm. This is Captain Light and I’m the Doctor. We’d pay you for your time, we just want to ask a few questions.”

Having finished binding the Captain, the girl walked over to the Doctor.

“You came down in that?” she asked, gesturing to the ship.

The Doctor nodded.

“Through the shield?”

The Doctor nodded again.

The girl laughed at him, and then began to bind him as she had Captain Light.

“What’s so funny?” the Doctor asked. Captain Light was confused as well.

The girl did not answer. Instead, she continued laughing as she finished binding the Doctor.

“Listen, maybe we can work something out,” the Captain offered.

“Tell it to the Vex,” the girl laughed and walked away.

“I say, did you say ‘Vex'”? the Doctor asked nervously.

His answer was an inhuman roar that echoed through the forest that surrounded them.

 “Well, that’s very interesting, now isn’t it?” the Doctor mused.

“What? The girl? Being robbed? Being bound and left for some beast to come chew us to bits?” Captain Light queried. “What could possibly be interesting at a time like this?”

“Well, just so you know,” the Doctor replied, “If that is a Thripitifalus Vex headed this way, then it certainly won’t be chewing us to bits.”

“Well, thank goodness,” the Captain sighed. Relieved, he began to struggle against his bindings and managed to get himself on his knees.

“Yes, Vexes don’t have teeth, and they get very cross about that. They happen to love flesh, but only have a proboscis with which to ingest, so they tend to rip their prey apart and stomp on it until its a sort of goo they can suck up,” the Doctor explained quite matter-of-factly.

The Captain was up and running, having loosened his feet.

“Hey!” yelled the Doctor, squirming on his side. “A little help here!”

The Captain stopped and turned around, his face flushed with frustration. Kneeling, he quickly unbound the Doctor as much as he could, freeing his legs but not his hands. Both men jumped up to their feet and began to run.

Behind them, crashing through trees and the remains of Captain Light’s ship, the Thripitifalus Vex broke into the clearing and gave chase. The creature resembled some of the rhino-like brontotheriums from Earth’s Eocene, sporting wicked horny protrusions around a face that terminated in a long snout. Two openings on either side of the creatures neck blew open and the inhuman roar vibrated from them.

“Oh, now that’s very interesting!” the Doctor puffed, now at full sprint.

“What’s so bloody interesting about it?” the Captain screamed at his shoulder as they ran.

The two men hurdled low shrubbery as they entered thick forest that surrounded their crash site. Behind them, the Thripitifalus Vex trundled, roaring through it’s sounding flaps.

“Most of the specimens I’ve seen have just been trophies, cut off well above those flaps,” the Doctor gasped, leaping over underbrush and ducking under vines. “Most scientists believe those flaps are somehow used in underwater breathing.”

“And?!”

“Obviously, that’s how they communicate!” the Doctor said cheerfully. “Interesting, no? I’ll have to mention this to Curator Heems!”

The Vex was closing in on them; massive trees began to fall around the time travelers as the massive beast crashed its way through the forest.

The Doctor, caught up in a sweeping branch, was tossed roughly to the side as the creature barreled past. Captain Light was not so lucky. With the Captain in focus, the Thripitifalus Vex jerked its head upward, its horns catching the Captain’s duster, and threw the man straight up into the air. Completely out of control, Captain Light flailed madly before coming down heavily on the trunk of a fallen tree.

The Vex had not lost its prey, and nimbly spun on its four legs. Focusing on its target again, it charged, head down.

“No!” the Doctor cried out, extricating himself from the tangle of branches. Struggling greatly, the Doctor began to see its futility as the beast closed the distance in only a handful of gallops.

And then, suddenly, the creature reared up, teetered on its back legs, and fell heavily on its back. Confused, the Doctor ran to the Captain, but noticed as he did so that there were other humanoids coming out from the trees. He ignored them, and made straight for his wounded companion who had propped himself against the fallen tree trunk he had landed on.

Captain Light’s face had deep gashes in it, and it appeared his right arm was broken, but he was breathing.

“Are you alright?” the Doctor asked, assessing the damage.

The Captain moved slightly, then winced, before answering, “I’m fine.”

“You need medical attention,” the Doctor concluded after a quick check of vitals. “The title’s merely honorary, but I’ve done some free study in medicine. Your arms broken, you need some stitches, but I bet you’re the type that likes scars.”

The Captain grunted a laugh, but then his face turned to stone as his eyes fell on something behind the Doctor.

“We’ve got company,” he said to the Doctor.

Looking over his shoulder, the Doctor saw several men in hides approaching. Most of them carried what appeared to be spears, but one was carrying a plasma rifle. “Hang tight, let me talk to them,” the Doctor said, patting the Captain’s shoulder. The Captain gasped in pain at the touch.

Standing, the Doctor brushed off his jacket and straightened his tie. With a flourish, he turned and faced the men approaching.

“Hello! I’m the Doctor!” he said to them, his smile beaming.

With a cursory glance behind the men, the Doctor noticed that the Vex was down and being bound by several other men. Hunters? he thought to himself.

“I must say, we certainly are lucky to have run into you,” he continued. “We seem to have run afoul of the local fauna, it seems. Without you we might be a pile of goo by now. Excellent show there.”

The man with the plasma rifle raised a hand to the men flanking him, and they stopped their advance. Continuing forward to stand before the Doctor, the man leveled the rifle at him. “Are you with her?” he barked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t–“

“Do you serve her or not, fiend?! Show me your hands!” the man demanded, raising the rifle level with the Doctor’s head.

The Doctor raised his hands above him. The man with the rifle, stomped over and roughly grabbed the Doctor’s arm and looked at the Doctor’s right hand specifically, turning it over to look at both sides. Keeping the gun leveled at the Doctor, the man inspected the Captain’s right hand as well.

“I don’t know who she is, but we serve ourselves. Like I said, I am the Doctor, and my friend over there is Captain Light. We need medical attention, as you can plainly see. So, why don’t you lower that dreadful weapon, and help us. We’re obviously already overpowered by you, and we’ve no intention to run.”

The man, apparently the leader, seemed to think this over. He lowered his gun and made hand motions to the others, who quickly broke line and trotted back to help the others with the Vex. “How did you come to be here?”

“Yes, well, we met a little girl when we landed. She took something of value from us, tied us up, and left us for that Vex,” the Doctor explained.

“Then you’ve lied to me,” the leader said. “Though you probably don’t realize it. You two are lucky. You have met her, but you had something she wanted more than your service. Few men see her and live.”

“That little girl?” the Captain chimed in. “She knew her way around a blaster, but surely she’s no real threat to men like yourselves.”

The leader smirked, but remarked no further on the subject. Looking at each of the two men in turn, he shouldered his rifle and held out his hand to the Doctor. “My name is Jaron, and I am tribe leader of the Kinzix.”

The Doctor happily shook Jaron’s hand as best he could, still being bound.

Seeing the difficulty, Jaron removed a knife from his belt and freed the Doctor before likewise cutting Captain Light’s bindings.

“If you can keep up, you can follow us back to the village. We can treat your friend there, but we must hurry. There are more Vexes about.”

Helping his companion to his feet, the Doctor nodded. “Lead on then, we’ll follow.”

The Captain and the Doctor followed Jaron as he made his way over to the fallen Vex. The great beast’s chest heaved as it slumbered.

“The ropes we use to trap them have barbs that inject a sleep poison. As long as he’s bound, we can handle him easily,” Jaron explained.

“What will you do with it?” the Doctor asked, curious.

“There are more men coming here from the village. They’ll construct a cart to move it, and then they will attempt to transport it close to her kingdom’s borders, where they’ll set it free to wreak havoc on her lands.”

The Doctor had moved around to look at the creature’s head, and more specifically the sounding flaps on its neck.

“Why are you so obsessed with this thing?” the Captain asked, gingerly stepping up beside the Doctor.

The Doctor smiled, and turned to the Captain. In a whisper, he said, “Because I think this is the very same Thripitifalus Vex that was missing from Heem’s collection.”

“How can you tell?”

“This marking between the eyes,” the Doctor explained. “I’ve only seen a few specimens, but only one has had this exact marking. Could just be a coincidence though.”

Turning his attention away from the Vex, the Doctor made his way over to Jaron who was giving instructions to some of his men.

“Just out of curiosity, Jaron, what was all that about my right hand?” the Doctor queried.

Several of the men nearby gasped, all looking at the Doctor’s right hand in terror.

“It’s fine!” the Doctor said, waving it at them. They seemed to relax and went on about their business.

Grimly, Jaron leaned in to speak to the Doctor where his men could not hear him. Captain Light had made his way over and listened in.

“The girl has magic powers,” Jaron explained. “She gives men a sickness. Their right hands turn red, and they go mad, killing innocent people. That is how we know someone has been turned by her. That is why we checked your hands.”

“How do the people with the sickness kill others?” Captain Light asked.

“That’s a bit morbid, isn’t it?” the Doctor replied, turning up his nose.

The Captain shushed him, then pressed for an answer. “Do they use a weapon, or are the victims burned?”

Jaron’s eyes went wide. “You know more than you say.”

The Doctor turned to his companion. “What do you know?”

“I’ve seen this,” Captain Light replied. “Red right hand. And the deaths, they are from the hand. It’s like an energy blast, massive power.” He took a deep breath, before concluding with, “This just keeps getting worse.”

“He speaks truth. I’ve seen the blast,” Jaron confirmed.

The Doctor was smiling. “I think we’re onto something now.”

(to be continued)

Day Thirty-Three – The Mysteries of Porcine Aeronautics and You

kaks

 I’ve not written an Inner Wild piece in a while. I’m not sure where this fits, or what planet this is on, or who Meretricious Mandy really is. I just know she’s a Solarian, and I know why they call her Meretricious Mandy.

Not bad for an hour worth of work, eh?

Limping back from a long day on the hunt, Meretricious Mandy made a pit stop at the old laundromat, hoping against hope that perhaps a rodent or two had set up a home there and would be caught off guard by a stealthy approach.

The old glass doors were nothing but metal frames, bent by force, blackened by fire. Most of the building was scorched, and Meretricious Mandy didn’t have the sort of knowledge one would need to be able to delineate whether or not the fire that licked this building was from one of the ground blazes sparked by ordinance, or perhaps arson. To Mandy, it didn’t matter anyway. She carefully stooped and stepped through one of the door frames, careful not to crunch the brittle glass beneath her feet.

At first glance, the place looked untouched. Being a laundromat, there wouldn’t be much to salvage. The region wasn’t known for the presence of some of the more inventive raider gangs, or the place might have been stripped down to nothing. As it was, the walls were still lined with dryers, starved of power. In the center of the long main room, the lines of washing machines were off kilter; some had tipped over, other were crumpled mounds of metal, scorched and twisted. Judging from the angles interrupting the arrangement of the washers, it looked like the chaos was a result of a blast coming through the front window.

Too open, Meretricious Many thought to herself. Nothing would hole up here, not with that gaping front window, no doors.

She took a good long pull at the scent of the place, flaring her nostrils and trying to filter out the musty stench of disuse and decay. There was something there, hiding just behind the mildew, masquerading as the delicate fragrance of spring flowers, but most definitely the bouquet of death, sweet and only days old. That alone wouldn’t mean much, but behind it, there lurked something more sinister. Metal. Heat. Oil.

Mandy’s fists clenched at her sides. With painful slowness, she raised both arms and unsheathed the twin blades from their scabbards crisscrossed on her back underneath her pack. That first tickle of sweat seeping out of her pores was difficult to discern against the constant irritation of salvage rash she sported. What really gave away her growing fear was the way her hands trembled slightly, causing the swords to waver in that silly look-it’s-a-rubber-pencil way. She knew what that smell might mean, and she knew the subtle nuances of it enough to be able to differentiate between a dead animal in repose among machinery and something worse.

Stepping carefully through the center of the main room, she moved with precision through the carcasses of washing machines. Occasionally, she allowed herself a glance inside the dark maws of those machines, but found only darkness alone. Likewise, the dryers were all empty as well, but her assessment of this fact was mostly the result of her attempt to convince herself that this was still a normal salvage scouting. A closer look at one of the dryers put that fallacy to rest.

The dryer had been stripped of all vital components. There was nothing but a shell left. The work was neat and methodical, the dryers had been disassembled and reassembled with precision.

Sweat began to drip from the tip of Meretricious Mandy’s nose. A barely perceptible tremor had begun at the base of her spine, and it slowly spread throughout her body.

Stupid, stupid stupid! she reprimanded. No way out!

She waited for it, that killing blow. She wanted it, not having the stomach for what was more likely. She froze, her feet crunching against the glass as her body turned to stone. Death was there, around the corner, beyond the next washer corpse, just beyond that wall, waiting.

Her breathing fell in line with the tempo of her heart, and this cadence of bodily processes reminded her of what exactly it was that she was likely to face in the next few moments. Hands down, she had no chance of surviving. She’d battled raiders six against her one, fought off the worst of the deadland predators, and survived in this hell she was forced to suffer through every day. But, this was worse, this was different, this was fatal.

Why do they call you Meretricious Mandy?

Her foot moved, a jerky start at first, but then with the fluid movement of a predator as she resumed her course. Fuck it, she mused. Might as well go down doing what I do best.

The press of silence was tangible, like the stifling suffocation of a thick cloth soaked in tar. Mandy could barely even hear her heartbeat anymore. With her swords poised for offense, one at an angle over her head parallel to the other in her other outstretched arm, she stepped over to the counter where the tatters of someone’s finest suit still hung from a hanger, as if the customer and clerk had just stepped away for a moment, for a drink, for a bathroom break, for an apocalypse.

Rounding the corner of the counter, Mandy spied human bones, long since gnawed to white beneath the blackened surface suggesting a fiery death. Old news, she surmised. A door stood slightly ajar just beyond an overturned cash register, and through the filthy porthole glass at its center, she thought she could make out machinery–automated dry cleaning?

Poking a blade against the warped wood of the door, she pressed it open, clenching her whole body against the possible shriek of disrepair. In silence, it swung back revealing a room full of hanging plastic, cloudy with dust, melted at times. Automated rails ran in curvy courses over head, still holding people’s Sunday best, moth-eaten or burned to a crisp.

The trembling started again as she picked up a nearly imperceptible noise further back in the room–a subtle sound of something rising up from the ground, of shifting against the wall of impatience and maneuvering. She braced herself for the attack, clenching both hilts with all her strength.

The smells were confusing for her in that room. The sweet death and metal scent was definitely there, but something else was in front of it, something closer.

Meretricious Mandy’s nostrils flared again, taking in the room, but not so much that her inhalation was audible. Sweat, blood, semen.

Something stupid, she cursed.

The sound again, this time definitely from two separate areas, registered in her head, and she quickly crouched and readied herself.

The two raiders lunged out from two separate clumps of hanging clothes and charged her with crude machetes. Between the two of them, Mandy spun, swinging her razor-edged blades in rising spirals, and both men received mortal wounds in their stomachs and necks. They fell dying on either side of her.

More trouble as the room erupted into a symphony of sound. At least six more raiders revealed themselves from behind machinery, underneath boxes, or swung down from perches in the high ceiling among the pipes and conduits.

Obviously blind, these idiots. And not just to my blades and the two dead bodies at my feet. They don’t even know what’s here; what’s worse than me.

The shot came from a pistol, and Mandy heard the slide of the trigger before the gun went off. Her blade was there when the bullet was only a foot away. The spark illuminated her wicked smile as she stared around the blade at the raider who had fired the shot.

Three more shots in quick succession, each one ricocheting off Mandy’s shining steel. After the fourth blocked bullet, the raider gave up and turned to run. With a quick lunge, Mandy closed the distance and insert both blades into his back.

Footsteps behind and to the side.

A flick of her wrist, and another raider staggered back holding a newly widened smile. The other attacker bowled over Mandy’s pack as she ducked and kicked out behind her. Before the man hit the ground, her blade had met him and bid the wasted life it extinguished farewell.

Not eight, more like twenty.

More raiders flooded into the room from doors leading out, some carried crude tools, and at least one had a gun.

Gun first.

Mandy vaulted over a folding station, and kicked out with her feet, meeting a raider as he charged at her. He stumbled back several steps, giving Mandy enough time to behead another raider who had followed her over the table.

A blade swung up to met a descending crowbar while the other jabbed at poorly wielded butcher knife. Still no gunfire. No bullets?

Boots hit Mandy hard on her shoulders as one raider swung down from the rails. She rolled with the impact and sliced through an assailant’s femur as she tumbled into a pile of clothes.

Trigger.

On one knee, Mandy deflected the well-placed shots, but quickly realized they were not as careless as the first shooter’s wasted blasts. More raiders circles her, but they kept their distance. The man behind the leveled gun was smiling. His wicked eyes were–

Fuck.

–glowing.

Three shots in rapid succession, stretching her abilities, timed and aimed to beat the speed of her arms and blades. Calculated.

Inhuman.

Blocked. Silence. The raiders stood there, waiting.

Drones, and some still-human cronies. But where’s the big daddy?

The first few thuds sounded like the first crackles of thunder, but then the rails began to shake overhead as each successive thud grew louder and closer. With an explosion of cinder blocks, the massive scavenger droid, nearly as tall as the high ceilings of the automation room, barreled through the wall, taking a good portion of the automated dry cleaning assembly with it. Most of it’s body was scavenged metal from cars and farm machinery in the area, but Mandy recognized a dryer motor in the mix.

The pseudo-raiders renewed their attack as the droid rolled on toward her. The drones meant nothing to it, it was after Solarian flesh and would happily crush its minions beneath it if need be.

In two moves, she had disabled three men and had just enough time to scramble on the folding station as the droid hit. Leaping away, Mandy narrowly avoided the hulking monstrosity’s charge. Grabbing a rail above, she managed to swing out and land atop one of the conveyors along the wall.

The droid spun and resumed it’s juggernaut onslaught, charging directly at her again. At its sides, the subjugated raiders charged forward like loyal soldiers.

Mandy dodged to the side at the last minute, but the droid’s collision with the wall broke a large chunk of cinder blocks loose that held together, spinning it so that portion of the wall hit Mandy and threw her back into the machinery with force. A couple of raiders had followed her trajectory and pounced on her. One sword had been lost in the impact, and she just barely raised her remaining blade to parry a quickly descending lead pipe.

Too slow, need to move!

She kicked out with her legs and toppled one raider, but the move left her right side vulnerable. A machete blade bit deep to the bone at her shoulder. Screaming out in pain and rage, she stabbed the attacker through the eye.

Recovered, the droid bounded back in through the hole it had created. Seeing its prey down, it thudded over to her and swung down with a mighty patchwork arm of twisted metal. Mandy rolled out of the way and scrambled to her feet as the droid’s other arm swung in a wide arc sideways. The blow caught her shoulder and she flew away, spinning in the air. Her remaining blade clattered against one of the dry cleaning machines and disappeared behind it.

A claw descended to her crumpled body and grasped her by the neck. Raising her body so that her face was level with its optic sensors, the droid glowered at her as best it could. Having captured its prize, it methodically stepped over and around the dead bodies and machinery, now with the calculating steps of an artificial intelligence that saw no reason for disorder and disorganization once its primary directive had been satisfied. It carried her through the wall and out into the harsh sunlight of the deadland.

Old model, Mandy noted as the hot metal burned the skin of her neck. Pre-Reckoning, I’ll wager. It doesn’t know how far removed it is from what I had feared. Hope you like surprises, Tin Man.

The droid made a strange series of sounds as pieces of metal grated against each other deep within the warped metal of it’s chest. The shriek repeated, this time with slight harmonics, but definitely a different sound than just random metal against metal. And then, having mastered the movements and vibrations needed to communicate with what parts it had available, it spoke within those vibrations:

“Solarian. You have been apprehended and will face the maximum penalty of death for your crimes against the Hegemony of the Inner Wild”

Mandy smelled her own flesh burning, could see the cold visage of death looking out at her through the deadlight optics of her executioner, but, there was another scent growing in prominence. It reminded one of the biting fragrance of summer rain on hot asphalt, sparks off car batteries, plasma.

“Do you know why they call me Meretricious Mandy?” she choked out beneath its scorching embrace.

The robot did not answer.

Her hands extended in front of her, Mandy closed her eyes and focused inward to trigger the energy helices within her arms. The pinkish glow started just below her elbow, shining through her skin and illuminating her flesh so that one could see her bones. She felt the energy coursing through the center of her body and being routed to those helices, where the energy accumulated. The glow spread down to her hands, and Mandy opened her eyes.

She smiled.

The release of energy from Mandy’s hands blasted the droid’s body into ash and molten metal. The arms, without a body to be attached to, fell to the ground, taking Mandy with them. Still being choked by the robot’s final spastic grip, Mandy struggled to free herself. Light flashed in her eyes as her airways collapsed to pinholes. Her arms began to glow again and she grabbed the metal crushing her neck. Her own energy burned her worse than the hot metal of the droid and her skin blistered at her fingertips. The droid’s metal finally gave way, and she ripped it’s claw from her.

Gasping for breath, she forced herself onto her feet.

The droid lay in a smoldering heap, the metal still white hot in places. It’s blank optic sensors stared up at her as she walked over and stood looking down at it.

“Because you’ll get fucked,” Meretricious Mandy croaked, answering the riddle.

She spat, and her saliva sizzled on the dome of the droid’s head as the last flickering lights of the power than ran through it died out.

Mandy turned back to the laundromat where five raiders stood with wide eyes.

“You should be running,” she stated.

Less than fifteen minutes later, Meretricious Mandy was the only human left in the town proper.

That is if one can consider a Solarian a human.

General Blog #14701-TS

The Random Taskerpickerizer has dictated that this day’s “Productivity” task is to be a “General Blog”.

Now, normally, I have something extremely snarky to say about something somewhere, hidden deep within sentences more easily digested than they are–like hiding a pet’s pills in a bit of cheese, you don’t even know how profound the sentence actually is, but you’ve eaten it, so there. One day, at the most inopportune moment, the depth of the sentence(s) will be revealed to you after some miniscule event triggered the sudden realization that “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” actually means something more than the obvious exhibition of the ability to use all letters of the alphabet in one sentence. I wonder what the sentence is in cuneiform, or Portuguese–doesn’t matter, I’m getting off subject.

Let me tell you briefly about my random task assignments. I have an excel sheet with four categories: Productivity, Culture, Knowledge, and Escapism. The Productivity category contains tasks like Music, General Blog, and specific short stories/novels that I have in process. The Culture category (its most geek culture) contains Sentai, Buffyverse, Comics, Kaiju, Clone Wars, etc. The Knowledge category contains Algebra, Spanish, Logistics & Supply Chain Management, Programming, and VBA. And lastly, the Escapism category contains roughly 20 video games ranging from Famicom’s Adventures of Musashi to Diablo II to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Each day, I run this excel sheet which randomly picks one task from each category, and my goal is to complete each task (typically an hour’s worth of time spent on each is optimal) and not deviate to other desired pursuits until these four tasks are complete. I have been using this for about four weeks, and I have yet to end a day with the list incomplete.

Why do I do this? I love chaos, but I also like accomplishment. I am a completionist locked in mortal combat with obsessiveness and neurotic attention to chronology and continuity. If I didn’t do it this way, I’d never get anything done. This is the meter of my polymathic pursuits. This is how I go to sleep each night feeling that I’ve done the work necessary for the day to become a smarter, wiser, more experienced man than I was the day before.

Let’s deviate a bit.

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy a couple of weekends ago, and it was as entertaining as I had anticipated. It looks like critics will have to wait for Ant-Man for the next opportunity to prognosticate the fall of Mighty Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. So, Ronan was blue, and that mangled body in Agents of SHIELD was blue, so definitely Kree, right? Hmm. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

My Executor is underway, and I’m pleased to report that I finally have Bossk in Lego form. Huzzah!

This is me!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of hundreds of pics from Honduras that JD and I have yet to sort through and assemble in any sort of album. Soon, maybe, and perhaps.

I suppose I’ll have to read Gilgamesh soon; I’ve exited the Chalcolithic and am well into the Bronze Age now. Hooray for sexigesimal number systems and cylinder seals!

Here are some recommendations from me to you:

Beer – Lakewood Temptress (this is local for me, like a few blocks away local)

Food – Goodfriend, Dallas-ish (the site of my first burgergasm, and coincidentally an easy place to find Temptress)

Book – Concrete Island – J.G. Ballard (man gets trapped a concrete island between massive highways after an accident)

Television – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – BBC series (watch before the Martin Freeman adaptation)

Music – Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery – Toccata (the sound of psychotic robots chasing the last humans on Earth with big spinning blades and Ayn Rand references)

Movie – The Magic Christian (Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr together at last!)

 

Day Thirty-Two – Rabbits and Other Lies (or, Rockclimbing for Krakens)

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After seventeen weeks of unemployment, and numerous hours of standing in lines at the LRC recruitment facility, Ken Baxter has given up. The Labor Replacement Corps have denied his entry into their ranks, citing over-qualification and a full roster of specialists in his field.

“I didn’t want to be a Lurker anyway,” he tells the old sot next to him. Downing another third of his pint, Ken looks at himself in the dusty mirror behind the rows of vodka bottles. His beard is ratty, his eyes bloodshot. He doesn’t look much more attractive than the alcoholic next to him.

“I mean, I see the benefit of artificial assistance, the freedom it allows for man to pursue his intellectual evolution,” Ken continues, “but my God!”

The pub is mostly empty, and Ken’s voice echoes into oblivious ears and empty glasses.

Another third down.

Ken glances at his drinking companion–the one who has not acknowledged him since he entered two hours ago. Annoyance is chewing Ken’s spine as he eyeballs the man’s untouched Maudite. Waste! he screams to himself. More waste, more empty experience!

“So what line of work are you in, sir?” Ken queries to the man next to him.

The man does not answer.

Ken twitches slightly and empties his glass. For a moment, he stands on the precipice of a decision to lay into this silent drunk, but he holds himself back. Ken has had enough fights for the week. Hell, it seems like every day there’s a riot at LRC. Men don’t like the word “obsolete” as it applies to them directly. Oh sure, they’ll shake their heads sadly at those losing their jobs to downsizing and redundancies, but take a man’s career and give it to a robot–

“Fucking robots!” Ken barks, unable to stifle the outburst.

–well, that just doesn’t swing off the tree at an angle a grounded man can handle.

The bartender’s nowhere to be seen. Ken cranes his neck around, trying to catch sight him. He then notices he’s alone in the pub, save the mute next to him.

“You don’t see robots drowning their sorrows in pubs. You don’t see robots having to go home and tell their wives and kids that GloFed is taking their house, or their aircar. You don’t see robots forced to live in GoodeLife hives and reduced to being carted around in Factotums with no manual controls.”

Ken rolls his empty glass around on the top of the bar, trying to attract the attention of the bartender.

“A robot can’t do my job, not like I can. A robot can’t see the improbable as a threat, it sees logic. It doesn’t look into a whirlwind of numbers and see a bull or a bear, it just sees numbers. Robots can’t dance with chaos like I can, it’s all order and lines and repetitive–“

Ken interrupts himself to bellow “Bartender!”

To his shock, an android, one of those torso units on a roller ball pops up from behind the bar.

“How can I help you, sir?” the robot inquires with simulated geniality.

Ken’s twitching again. He’s forgotten. He’s forgotten that when he came in this place, he wanted to turn around and leave. But, he stayed, and he took the drinks this metal thing gave him.

Ken has given up, remember.

“My glass is empty,” Ken points out.

“Indeed it is, sir,” the robot responded, and then was silent. It did not take its black optical receptors off of Ken. Seconds passed.

“So fill it up,” Ken expelled with impatience.

“I regret to inform you that you have reached your limit, sir. I have been programmed to cease the dispensation of alcoholic beverages to those patrons who have exceeded the limit set by this establishment.”

“What?” Ken asked, his mind effectively and completely boggled. “What’s the limit?”

“Seventeen pints, sir,” the robot responded happily.

What the fuck? Ken thought to himself.

It took a bit longer for the expletive query to make its way to his lips.

“What the fuck?” he said to the robot. “I’ve had three!”

“Your calculations are incorrect, sir,” the robot countered. It whirred and bleeped and chittered a moment before removing a long strip of paper from somewhere behind the bar. “Here is your tab.” The robot waves the bill in front of Ken. “As you can see, you have paid for and consumed thirteen Maudites, and three Blue Moons.”

“That’s sixteen!” Ken bellows.

“Sir, your fourteenth Maudite sits untouched before us.” The robot gestures to the Maudite in front of the immobile patron in the next stool.

“That’s his! You put all those Maudites on my tab! They’re his!”

The robot rolls back and forth momentarily on the ball that keeps him balanced.

“Sir, I am aware that you are a Tchamenian,” the robot states flatly.

Ken quivers with rage, and also defeat. “You’re just so damned smart, aren’t you!”

As absently as a man would don a thick coat, Ken reaches over to the man who still appeared to be another patron, and with familiarity grabs this “patron” and begins pulls it over him. The seams open at his touch, and what had appeared to be just another drunk slips comfortably over the inner Ken Baxter. The face adjusts as the symbiotic organisms synchronize again.

His voice a deeper, raspier baritone, crawling out different lips past a different ratty beard, Ken spits, “Fucking robots!”

Ken chugs the warm Maudite, then exits the pub, slamming the door behind him.

Outside, he trips over a Lurker who is cleaning vomit off the steps leading down to the street. Ken recognizes the vomit as his own as he takes a spill. Enraged, Ken scrambles up and barks, “Fucking humans!”

No respect for aliens here, Ken. Especially not former stockbrokers.

Especially not assholes too proud to admit they are obsolete, and too disconnected from chaos to adapt.

 

Day Thirty-One – Absolutely the Green Frog Bureau, LLC

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This is my Texas Summer piece for this year. I struggle to write a straight story anymore, and why should I make the effort? We are not denizens of a straight reality. Think otherwise? Well then, you’re the crooked soul, aren’t you, dearie?

Enjoy.

Interested in my other Texas Summer pieces?

Here they are:

Frozen Texas Summer

The Epic and Sudden Fall of the Gant Family

Heat.

It’s what I know as the tunnel widens and the door at the end of this long journey begins to open. It’s the brief end to a long day. Eventful and darkened with the wet sheen of closure, this is the day I become more than a man.

In darkness, I slip away into abodes of phantom clones of my ipseity. In darkness, I find opportunity to slumber.

As quickly as it passes, the day comes again on the orange.

I open my eyes to the low angle sun at perfect angle to beam through the dusty blinds and into my face. I still have blood on my hands. This burlap sack I pulled from the barn is musty; it’s grid is pressed into my face temporarily.

The cicada chorus, the symphony of the Texas Summer, is muted by the water-stained sheetrock of this abandoned house. The trees and ligustrums are fighting for canopy distinction above it, as mosquito larvae dance a jig in old buckets nearby.

I have my assignment, passed down through time channels, space eddies, past a million stars.

And, in my head I hold the memory, like red ochre on the wall, of man’s first vengeance.

Lacy is thick on thigh and tight around the middle, but she’s no heavyweight in the fat department. This woman is hard. Her dark hair falls in the perfect unkempt curl of obliviousness, and she wears it like a gold-laced dolman over black lingerie.

She’s taken up with some Mexican who tools around Coyanosa in a 70s model Cadillac convertible, orange sparkle. I gather from the locals that they call him Luison, after some Guarani legend. I’ve tailed him a few times, going so far as Los Hornillos in Mexico. Luison deals in flesh, but on occasion he gets himself into the drug trade if the money is right. Between Los Hornillos and the filthy waters of Miguel Hidalgo, Luison has a modest ranch tucked in a valley where he trains fighters and assassins, but mostly, from what I’ve observed there, Luison just uses the house there as his own personal Xanadu.

After the third time I witnessed a truckload of beaten women delivered in a rusty bobtail, I very nearly blew my cover and charged in, guns blazing.

Luison is not my target, though.

Lacy is hot molasses and hellfire, poured into leather and lace. She gyrates her body and bucks her hips, threatening to rip through the minimalistic clothing. She drinks black coffee and cherry pie at the diner every morning, waiting for Luison to arrive with his orange sparkle yacht and retinue of greased men. I know that a few of the locals have been in that dark embrace, in filthy stalls, on splintered stacks of pallets, between steam tables and grills. For Luison to know this would mean death for any one of them, and they know this. Pinch Luke, the diner owner, makes himself the size of a pea when the thump of conjunto begins to vibrate the diner’s front window. Maybe its this Mexican’s manhood they fear, or maybe its his rumored connection to the Sinaloa cartel. Either way, the diner empties dramatically each day Luison is around town.

It has taken me several months to track Lacy down, and I’ve spent a good deal of time attempting to understand why she does this, why she has fallen into this pit of debauchery with snakes like Luison. I tracked her here through a blog of all things, where she painted the page red with descriptions of dark Southern sexual escapades from the swamps of Louisiana to the dusty oilfield pop-ups of West Texas. She is a vile but undeniably attractive writer, grabbing at a man’s loins with the razor claws of a cat with a thousandfold more intensity than a four-hour bondage porn and makes you want to dive through the screen into a hell of pixel ecstasy, circuit envy, electronic nothings licked into your mind through the back of your throat.

I am biting my lip even now, knowing where I’ve been with her in my mind.

The thump of conjunto cacophony, warped by the sound of welding and sawing coming from Deep Andy’s shop across the street, stirs me from my thoughts, and from my position atop the old abandoned utilities building, I resume my scouting of the scene.

Luison is alone, and the familiar doppler effect is hastened as his orange sparkle yacht blows past the main intersection at a heated eighty miles per hour. Careering into the diner lot at an angle, handbrake employed gingerly, Luison’s car slams into a roughneck worktruck parked at the diner’s front window.

Sweat’s pouring into my eyes, and I have to remove the binoculars from my eyes to dry my brow. The asphalt from the roof is baking me alive. I’m only just noticing the heat as the scene heats up to match the Texas sun’s relentless assault. How long have I been here?

Luison is out of his car and in his hand is an MP7 flecked with blood. I take a cursory glance to the car itself and notice that blood is everywhere on the dark orange leather.

Things have come to a head.

Casting my binoculars aside, I vault over the edge of the roof and roll to my feet in a controlled motion. The Hayabusa I thieved from Wold Benny back in Stephenville is parked between the utility building and the old feed lot out of sight. I make for it, loosing the plasma rifle from its lock at the bike’s side and throwing its strap over my shoulder. I anticipate this will be the last time I will need any of these primitive tools.

Walking the Hayabusa up to the corner of the feed lot office, I afford myself a good view of the scene as it unfolds.

Luison drags Lacy out of the diner, her too-tight red dress is ripped and I suck in breath as I catch a glimpse of long thigh. The Mexican throws her roughly into the car, but with unnatural speed, old Lacy is back out again. Her left fist connects and Luison hits the dirt lot, dropping his weapon.

I hear the sound of engines down the street but dismiss it.

Luison is up and grabs Lacy again, this time pointing towards the direction I heard the engines. This time, she pushes him into the car and deftly throws herself into the back seat.

Curiosity peaked, I turn my attention to the far end of town where I see a Unimog flanked by three black SUVs bearing down on us. The Cadillac is gone in a cyclone of dust and the Unimog and its cronies are in pursuit. From out of the windows, cartel men appear wielding Uzis.

Luison is running for his life.

I lurch out into the open and follow the pursuit. I’ll be damned if a gang of cartel scum is going to deny me my bounty.

The road north out of Coyanosa tees into another road before you can pick up another road to Monahans east of there. Luison cuts the sharp angle with a wide fifty degrees at the start. His yacht kicks up a wall of dust that the Unimog disappears into, and I have no choice but to follow.

I catch sight of the slope early, but in the dust, I can’t see where to angle and I brace for flight. Airborne, I do my best to maintain level on impact. The back wheel kicks out when I come down, but I recover and continue pursuit. I toy with the idea of jetting past the cartel vehicles, but as I ponder my approach, I hear the whine of bullets nicking past. They think I’m with Luison.

I carefully pull the plasma rifle around off my shoulder and level it at the first SUV I’m coming up on. Shrapnel ricochets up off the blacktop as the cartel gunmen try to take out my tires. I quickly aim and fire.

The SUV’s back left side disappears in a sharp white pulse of energy. Half a man slips out of the vehicle’s new hole, and, now missing three quarters of a wheel, the SUV skids into the ditch.

Now, the other SUV’s occupants have sight of me, and they turn the barrels of their guns my way. Before they have a chance to take a shot at me, I unleash another bolt of hell towards their front end from a diagonal just behind at the their left. Most of the SUV disappears and the rest of it flips upwards, end over end. I risk the carnage and fire my bike past the metal disaster.

Just the Unimog lies between me and my target. The monster vehicle has been customized and is rolling a hell of a lot faster than it should be. I’m admiring this when I see the telltale shimmer of Lacy’s power not fifty yards ahead.

So, she’s that desperate, I surmise. I curse and get my weapon up just in time to fire a pulse into the energy wall. Just ahead of me, the Unimog collides with the invisible barrier and erupts in violence–a half sphere of explosion, not penetrating the wall at all. My quick thinking has afforded me a break in the barrier, but the Unimog’s fiery death throes force me through at an angle. I lose the Hayabusa and take flight unwillingly. The blacktop eats me, and I have the experience of my fractured tibia, jutting out of my skin, scraping against the hot mess of road. The tumble lasts for what seems like hours, but in a short second I grind to a halt, broken and helpless.

Ahead, I catch a glimpse of the orange convertible swerve to a stop and reverse its course back to me. The rear left tire crushes my hand as it pulls up next to me. My plasma weapon is yards away and sparking in its own death throes.

“Holy shit,” Lacy drawls out with her practiced honey cajun tongue. “What brings you out this far, sugar bear?”

Luison is out of his car and kicks me in the side. “Who the fuck are you?” he barks at me. I don’t like his greasy hair, and I can smell him for the first time.

No, I’ve smelled this before. I’ve mistaken his stench for something unpleasant left uncleaned in one of the ramshackle buildings making up the ass stain that is Coyanosa.

“This is my friend,” Lacy says, pushing Luison back from me. “He came a very long way just to see me, didn’t you sweetie?”

The Texas sun plays a duet with the hellfire of trauma that is what is left of my body. In the distant, the mirage of the blacktop looks like Lacy’s magic all around us.

Luison roughly pushes her aside and levels his MP7 at my head. His intention is to kill me, but Lacy has other ideas. Luison’s neck snaps and I can see his ribcage buckle. Lacy hasn’t touched him. The Mexican falls to the ground dead, his weapon clatters against the blacktop and I can see the heat mirage off the barrel.

Lacy crouches beside me and I can see her lack of underwear. I smile. Fortune smiles on me this day, for this and one other reason.

“You can’t catch me, Wilkes. Not you, not any of you. Not here, or elsewhere in this backwoods galaxy. Not now, and not ever in infinity,” she teases. Her hot hands caress my face, letting the blood stick to her soft skin. “If it were possible, it wouldn’t be a paradox.”

I cough blood and struggle to speak. In my hand, I tickle a switch and I can feel the throb of this paradox’s final lifebeat.

“What’s that, sugar?” she says, leaning over.

I take one last look at her cleavage, and then touch the stasi-tec device to her upper thigh.

“Circles are a bitch,” I grunt.

Lacy’s eyes have widened, but they are frozen now. She teeters and falls forward, her breasts hard and cold as ice now against my face. I giggle, then gasp for air. With effort, I shove her off me and take a few moments to breathe.

The Texas sun is directly over head, and its flaying my flesh with dull and rusty wood planes. The insect chorus, not as familiar to me now as the cicada drone, is singing my credit music.

I reach down an slip my communicator from its sheath with broken fingers.

I take a deep breath. “Target down. Need extraction.”

“Affirmative,” comes the reply. “Standby.”

Two beings shimmer into existence next to me and the orange yacht. One easily hefts Lacy’s frozen form from the blacktop before just as quickly disappearing into nothing.

“You’ve sustained serious injury,” the thing says to me. I can’t see through its visor, but I know its a bug. Why can’t they send out a humanoid every once in while. “Standby for realignment.”

The snap of bones and white burn of mended flesh brings into existence a primal scream that wanders up from my gut. I’ll take death next time, I think.

A few minutes pass before the pain allows me to think. By then, the bug is gone and I’m alone in the carnage of the aftermath of my occupation. I take another deep breath, and I sit up.

Not bad, I think to myself.

I stand slowly, forced to lean against the Cadillac for support as newly existent flesh sorts out its purpose.

Again, I’ve got to smile. “O Fortuna,” I say.

Luison’s keys are still in the ignition.