by Dan Maltbie
Sherrick dipped and dived his tiny speeder through the heavy traffic surrounding the central spire on Transysco Prime. The clean glass and steel tower rose high above the disintegrating city below. The silhouettes of thousands of beings dappled the walkways and breezeways hoping to catch a glimpse of the rising tethered space station.
“Sherrick, you are cleared to land in the executive area. Please proceed,” a curt voice spoke into his comms.
“Roger. I’m inbound,” Sherrick said.
The speeder made a full arc before landing lithely on an outcropping just below the apex of the glistening spire.
A single BOT stood before the executive area with its blaster mechanically trained on the bounty hunter as a swarm of cleaning drones sprayed and tidied the offices beyond. When Sherrick neared, an electronic croaking emerged from the dingy security robot.
“HALT! Bounty hunter!”
Sherrick tapped a sequence into his armband, and the droid immediately shut down. “It’s time for an upgrade old boy,” Sherrick said.
The doors to the boardroom opened with a hiss as Sherrick approached. At the far end of a giant desk covered in vidscreens stood a diminutive Terran woman with smooth tanned skin and salt and pepper colored hair coiled in a tight bun. Draped in soft grey and deep black her outstretched hand hailed the dusky outlaw.
“Sherrick! Good to see you, old friend,” Benna said.
“Ms. Benna. I imagined you would be on your way to Paradise Station. What’s keeping you from the biggest party in the galaxy?”
“You know my work here is never done. Please,” Benna said.
Gesturing towards the vidscreen on her giant desk, she clicked a button on her bangle, and a blurry recording fizzed to life. The vid shifted into focus displaying the inside of a meager apartment. Flanked on each side of the view were a series of BOTs Sherrick didn’t recognize. The droids breached a door just in time to see a large Azurian with ocean blue skin and deep furrows under his eyes trigger a remote, then a giant flash before the recording stopped.
“What was that and what kind of BOTs did you send?” Sherrick said.
“Those are the new NBOTs. The first group had been released for high-level secret company operations but were lost in this blast,” Benna said.
A second vid blared to life showing a lone mocha complexioned Terran woman exiting a nondescript freighter onto a large landing platform that Sherrick didn’t recognize. In her hands was a large suitcase with shiny buckles and worn handle.
“This vid was taken less than an hour ago by our vid-drones patrolling the train to Paradise Station. The train is filled with top-level executives of this company attending the grand opening of our space station,” Benna said. “The case contains the same bomb that leveled our NBOTs and half an apartment building.”
“A blast that size would destabilize the station and send it spinning into open space,” Sherrick said.
“The train departed ninety seconds ago. You have three hours before it makes landfall on Paradise Station.”
The train departed Transysco Prime like a bolt of lightning. Saliq breathed a sigh of relief as she scanned the mismatch of Terrans, Azurians, and Rosarians bundled into the car. The vidscreens lining the windows of the train flashed a series of headshots, revealing a woman and a man who had been apprehended at the train station. Lyla and Donnz, wouldn’t be completing the mission they were assigned. She placed the suitcase on her knees and gazed out the window into the inky black of open space beyond.
An older Rosarian attendant with crimson red skin and long white hair milled about the cabin inspecting everyone’s invitations. As he reached Saliq, he removed a wand from his belt and held it parallel to the floor.
“Young lady, your docket states three passengers are traveling with us this evening,”
“My mates had a mix-up. They won’t be making it,” Saliq said.
Not only had her partners missed the train, but Security forces were questioning them now. It was just a matter of time before they knew her description and the purpose of this mission.
“They’re going to miss the Zork Brothers Circus, featuring the man-eating Mournseeker, which will be performing in the Transysco main exhibit hall on Paradise Station. Make sure you attend!”
As the old man moved on, the front door of the cabin slid open, and a tall black-haired woman in a grungy black jacket thudded into the Rosarian, drenching him in foul-smelling spirits. “Sorry, guy. This party is out of control.”
The woman threw herself into the booth behind Saliq with a crash. A tiny light flared, and Saliq could smell the acrid odor of cannasticks. She covered her mouth and nose with her sleeve and began to slide from her seat when she saw it, a speeding freighter flying inside the tube mere feet from the hastening bullet train.
The airlock slipped open with a pop as the onrush of air splayed Sherrick’s slick hair against his tan skull. Above, Alja his apprentice, inched the freighter ever closer to the speeding train.
“Boss are you sure this is the best idea?” Alja said.
“Hey! Who is the master and who is the apprentice here? Just fly the ship, keep that droid of yours under control and meet me on the train platform at the landing,” Sherrick said. Be where I told you to be when I told you to be,” Sherrick said before leaping to the advancing train.
Saliq felt the train quake as the fighter boosted off and sped away from the train. She pushed the suitcase onto the floor beside the window and out of plain sight. Behind her, a gigantic whoosh stirred the cabin as a stocky man with slick black hair entered the cabin.
The Rosarian man walked towards the man waving his wand in the direction of the door.
“There is to be no travel between cars, sir!”
The man grabbed the Rosarian by his arm and pulled him towards the flashing vidscreen before making him address the enthralled passengers.
“Excuse me. I am a Transysco train officer, and I have reason to believe a person in this car has a significant explosive device…” he said.
Saliq grabbed the suitcase and bolted for the cabin’s rear door. The lock on the door responded slowly before jerking open to a gale of wind. It slid shut with a clap as she groped towards the next car. She reached out for the handle but, it exploded before his eyes. Sherrick trained his raygun and squeezed off a shot, so close Saliq felt the flare singing her brown skin. A third shot skimmed her jacket and caromed into the oncoming doorway. The mechanical door jolted open, and she dashed inside.
A Rosarian woman clung to her Azurian mate as the door clasped shut behind Saliq. As she drew level with the pair the rear door exploded open and the cabin filled with wind and debris. Saliq lunged behind an open booth just ahead of a shot that would have nailed her in the chest. She crawled down the aisle craning her neck for the immense bounty hunter. In her haste, she smashed headlong into the cabin door, dropping the case.
The wind inside the train car made it impossible for Sherrick to see where the woman had gone. He defended his face against buffeted trash and fragments. At once, the woman appeared in the central aisle, the case sliding on the ground inches ahead of her grasp. Sherrick dove for the case and crunched shoulders with the robust woman.
“Wait, just wait!” Sherrick said grabbing the woman by the leg. She responded by driving her heel into his ribs, sending him crashing against an empty booth. He regained his footing just in time to see the case disappear out of the shiny metal door.
The door peeled open, as she escaped the reeling hunter’s desperate grab and landed on the blustery platform. As she crunched along the rail, she found a small set of rungs that lead to the roof of the bullet train. She grabbed the lowest level and hoisted herself upwards.
The train’s roof was polished steel, every three meters a notch rose to vent air from the compartments. Saliq fixed herself onto a pair of grooves and dragged forward. The wind whipped her jacket, and the case threatened to take flight. A blast to the right caused her to lose her grip and slide backward, towards the oncoming pursuer. She regained her footing and pushed onto a large section of a skylight. An errant blast roasted the handhold to the left and cracked the window, sending both her and the case barreling to the steel floor below.
Saliq rose to her knees and searched the skylight for a pursuer. The compartment was dark and filled with a strong animal smell she couldn’t place. Groping in the darkness, Saliq dipped into a niche, setting the case behind her. A thud shook the floor in all directions.
A red blur smashed above her head, showering the deck with hot metal and sparks. She dove behind a large crate that hissed as she drew close. The box erupted in movement, jostling and bouncing off the floor. Saliq sprinted across the ground towards a dark corner narrowly evading her pursuers shots. Saliq tumbled over a box and pin-wheeled into a huge cage. A Mournseeker, a gigantic lumbering beast from a distant galaxy, snapped its massive jaws as she retreated from the bars of the cage. A red blast, inches from her head smacked the lock on the cage, causing an ear-piercing hum.
“The Company wants me to take you in for questioning, but I know what’s in that case,” the officer said. “I won’t let you kill thousands of people.”
Sherrick jumped back in horror as the cage door swung gingerly open. The massive Mournseeker slapped its enormous claws at the woman, lashing the lower parts of her legs and sending the delicate case soaring into the shadows. He fired his weapon into the bronze beast’s hindquarters, forcing it away from the lady and directly at him. The smell of burning fur was wafting about the train car as the beast turned on the lone bounty hunter.
“I didn’t come this far to let some beast have my prey,” Sherrick said, firing again.
Saliq cast about in the dim light fumbling for the case. Her brow dripped, and her hands were shaking. In the corner, flashes of crimson assured the beast was occupied elsewhere. Her hand brushed the familiar handle, and she sprang on the case. She hugged it to her chest like a small child, weaving and ducking the melee between the Mournseeker and the daredevil bounty hunter.
The Mournseeker’s hot breath filled Sherrick’s nostrils as the beast closed. At its full height, the beast reared as it lunged towards him. He fired a shot into a giant knee before diving into the darkness. It only took a second before he realized the woman was making a break for the mechanical door. As he placed his foot on a crate, the Mournseeker lunged and knocked his perch away. He fell to the floor with a clonk as the great beast dug its teeth into his left arm. Sherrick fired his gun in quick succession three times before the monster released its grasp.
The door Saliq encountered was equipped with a different, less advanced, locking mechanism. She lifted the handle and dragged the door forward in the torrent of wind. Over her shoulder, she heard the officer wail in pain before a quick volley of shots rang out. The Mournseeker let out a roar that pierced the rush of the wind on the platform. She lifted on the adjoining cars lock, and the door swung free quickly.
Saliq jerked back as the bleeding bounty hunter tackled her from behind. The bulky case threw off their balance, and they collided sending them headlong into the final car. The case clattered to the deck as Sherrick placed his weight on the tiny woman. She lashed at his face and chest, but Sherrick leaned harder into the small lady. Her hands shook and clawed before relaxing and drooping in exhaustion.
“They killed my babies. My whole family!” Saliq said.
Sherrick released his grip on her and pulled her to her feet.
“What are you talking about?”
“Transysco. They came to see my husband a week ago. I was returning from work when I saw a group of BOTS I had never seen before loading my husband into a transport,” Saliq said. “As I entered my house they triggered an explosion that leveled the building and threw me across the street.”
“Your husband triggered that device,” Sherrick said.
“My husband was an ex-Transysco employee. He was writing a targeting program for some new TSO project. Not a bomb maker,” Saliq said.
Sherrick ripped the case from her hand and slammed it on the floor. The locks
sprang open as the lid of the worn case parted open with a creak. Inside, a vidscreen with a series of blueprints and a small photo of two beaming girls and the Azurian from Benna’s evidence vid stared out at him.
“This isn’t a bomb? Where’s the bomb?” Sherrick said.
“Bomb? There is no bomb. My friends and I were sneaking on this train to protest company policies. The vidscreen is security footage of the raid,” Saliq said.
The rear door of the cabin exploded off its hinges as the mortally wounded Mournseeker charged Saliq and Sherrick. The giant beast slammed Sherrick against the wall before stomping firmly down on the prone Saliq.
A light tone buzzed softly inside the cabin. “Welcome to Paradise Station!”
The large cargo door on the right side of the train slid open with a long hiss. Two Transysco workers stood in a daze as the hellish Mournseeker raised to its full height. It lashed out with astonishing quickness, removing the head and torso from the first man while kicking out with a vicious kick sending the other flying into the multitude of employees beyond. Screams erupted from the crowd as the giant beast exited onto the platform.
Sherrick shook the cobwebs from his mind and picked up his discarded gun. On the deck, just feet away, Saliq choked and spat gobs of blood onto her chest. He rushed to her side, grabbing her soft hand.
“It’s ok. I’ve seen worse. Hold on, and I’ll get someone,” Sherrick said.
“No. Take the video, find out why my family was killed. Please! “
Saliqs eyes shuddered before closing for the last time.
The interior of Paradise station was deathly quiet when Sherrick padded around the extended platform. Perched atop a giant bank of temp controllers, the wounded Mournseeker gnawed on what was left of an unfortunate executive.
“Boss! What happen—” Sherrick slammed his palm over the comm in his wrist plate. The creature stirred wildly, before returning to its treat.
Sherrick tapped his comm in a steady pattern, relaying his situation to his partner and her droid. A tiny light flashed in response. I must be crazy.
Sherrick bounded around the door startling the large beast. It reared back on its haunches and propelled itself towards the shaky bounty hunter. Weaving as he turned, Sherrick fired a shot that clipped the monster’s leaking shoulder driving it down against a set of stairs. Screeching in pain, the monster swept at Sherrick’s feet knocking him to the floor.
At the far end of the platform floating into view was Alja piloting Sherrick’s nimble freighter. The hunter stumbled to his feet and ran down the platform with everything he could muster. His feet shook and knees trembled as the beast began to pick up speed in its murderous pursuit.
The ramp of his freighter was slowly descending when he felt the steam from the beast’s nostrils. He quickly danced to one side, avoiding an extended bloody claw. Firing over his shoulder he nailed the Mournseeker high on its chest sending it smashing into the shiny train.
“Al, that droid of yours needs to pick up the pace,” Sherrick said.
Alja’s curt voice snapped over the comm, “Make some room between you and that thing, or we’ll be mopping up what’s left of you,”
The heavy laser blasted through the thick glass and chewed up chunks of the platform as the droid fired freely at the Mournseeker. The air whooshed and sucked everything out to the vacuum of space.
Sherrick gripped an alcove as his legs drifted off the ground into the rush of wind. Slowly the beast shambled towards it’s dangling treat. It latched firmly to his boot, digging a sharp talon into his foot and calf. Releasing a single hand from his grip, he pulled his gun from his belt. As he took aim and squeezed the trigger, a giant metal door slammed down, skewing the blaster fire and quelling the rush of wind.
The beast slung Sherrick against the train and wailed in triumph. Giant talons clicked on the platform as it inched in for the kill. As the beast opened its massive maw Sherrick spun and fired a blast into the giant opening. The giant Mournseeker reeled and slumped to the platform in a heap. Not taking any chances, Sherrick fired two more times into the quaking beast before it stilled.
“Alja, find a landing dock and get me out of here. We have to find Benna,” Sherrick said into his comm.
Ines Benna tapped the humongous vidscreen on her desk, selecting various heaps of data and deleting them with a flourish. “Ms. Benna, we have a craft landing on your executive platform,” a voice from her comm said.
She clicked an icon and a stationary cam showing the stream of freighters, fighters, and ships that wove in and around her perfect spire blared to life. The slick freighter was breaking hard and kicking up dust as it made its approach. Benna removed a tiny box from her desk drawer and placed it in her palm.
Sherrick stuffed the vidscreen in his jacket before exiting the gently smoking ship. “Wait for my signal, there’s no way she lets me walk out of here.”
“Boss, what if she has more than NBOTs up there?” Alja said.
“Like what? A Mournseeker?”
Alja flipped Sherrick’s bulky blaster towards him as he advanced towards the ancient security droid.
“HALT! Bounty hu-“
Sherrick squeezed off a shot that leveled the rusty bot and sent pieces flying in all directions.
“Didn’t get those upgrades, huh?”
Benna smashed her hand down on the clear table extinguishing the parade of lights and plunging the room in twilight. The door in the far corner of her office hissed in deference as the bounty hunter strode towards the gray and black clad executive. Sherrick tossed the vidscreen down on the immaculate tabletop, before delicately placing his blaster inches away from Benna’s face.
“Why frame the woman? Who was she?” Sherrick said.
“Have you heard the name Brinks before Sherrick?”
“He’s the head of security, commands the BOTs. What’s this have to do with him?”
“For the last year, he has been trying to supplant me. He stole the NBOTs from the vid and forced them to raid the family’s home,” Benna said.
“For the targeting codes?”
“Correct, bounty hunter. With those codes he could program them to attack who, what, and when he wanted,” Benna said.
“Supplant you? Are you an Emperor now?”
Benna smashed the glass against the table and advanced on the swarthy hunter.
“Don’t be mistaken, I rule the galaxy! Every delivery, colonizing, or creation of a space lane happens because I say so. I’ve foiled numerous attempts like this over the years. It’s how I got where I am,” Benna said.
Sherrick moved around behind the desk and gazed out the window at the sprawling metropolis below, slipping his blaster back into the worn holster.
“That family. Those girls, how could you?”
“I commend your empathy Sherrick. Though for me, the family was expendable. It was necessary and I would kill a billion little girls to keep this company, and my position, safe.”
Sherrick thumbed the comm on his arm as he rounded the desk towards Benna. His face was flushed and steady streams of sweat slicked his face. His free hand slid to the blaster tucked in his belt. Benna faltered retreating to her chair and triggering the tiny nodule. NBOTs swarmed the room surrounding the bounty hunter and the panicked Benna.
“This is how you repay me! I’ve killed, kidnapped, and stolen for this company my whole life!” Sherrick said.
“Please, remove yourselves from the building. You have ninety seconds,” the NBOTs chimed.
Sherrick dragged the blaster from his belt with blurring speed, aiming it towards the petite woman.
“Sherrick, I’d like to remind you that we own you. Ship. Home. Pay. Everything,” Benna said. “I’ll give you a few days to get over this, but there is still work to be done.”
The bounty hunter surveyed the room a final time before exhaling and replacing the blaster.
Sherrick was flanked on both sides by the lustrous new bots, with Benna bringing up the rear as they exited the office. The tiny padding of the NBOTs feet created minuscule claps as they impacted the shiny steel floors and echoed down the breezeway. As they entered the landing area the thrusters on his ship began to prime, emitting a high-pitched squeal.
“You know what to do kid,” Sherrick said into the comm on his arm.
The loading bay of his freighter crept open as they approached. The NBOTs stopped in robotic unison clacking loudly in the open bay. Taking a last glance over his shoulder, Sherrick could see the slim form of Benna standing just beyond the doorway of her office.
The freighter fired off from the terrace, engines whirring under the jump.
“Alright droid, here’s your shot,” Sherrick said.
The bulky droid advanced down the open walkway firing the heavy blaster indiscriminately. NBOTs piled onto the landing pad as Sherrick gunned the freighter into the deep dark of night.
About the Author
Dan Maltbie is a writer of horror, action, and mystery stories. His love of writing began as a child when he was tasked to review Tim Burton’s Batman movie in 1989 — caught up in the Image Revolution of the 90s. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fl in 2017. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his two sons, backpacking, and reading comics.