Light Tripper… Chapter Seven

23Vu

Don’t forget, all but chapter one will be removed from my blog when Light Tripper is released for sale, so enjoy juicy freeness while you can!

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Morgan fought with the controls as Light Tripper screamed toward a cluster of mountains. At the last moment he overpowered the levers, steering the ship into a narrow chasm. The jagged walls tore at her steel, flinging her left and right as if she were made of paper. Morgan could do no more. He and Sal remained strong with fingers laced, waiting anxiously to see where this wild ride would end. Sal braced herself for a fiery demise, but all at once she could feel Light Tripper losing momentum. The deafening shriek of steel scraping stone was waning, soon replaced with eerie silence.

Sal opened her eyes to find Light Tripper rocking to rest in a crater. She squeezed Morgan’s hand and it felt like an age before he squeezed back.

They abandoned the cockpit, heading straight for the airlock and emptying Light Tripper of the engine room smoke.

Sal staggered down the ramp, pulling the oxygen mask from her face before it strangled her. She dropped to her knees and threw up everything in her stomach.

“You okay?” Morgan asked, nursing his ribs.

Sal wiped the mess from her chin and gave a nod. “You?”

“I think I broke something, I’ll live though. Not sure we should have survived that.” Morgan patted the ruptured steel of the ship. “Good ole’, Light Tripper.”

Sal agreed, it was a lucky escape and she was grateful for it, but the grimness of their situation didn’t allow her time to celebrate. They were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by black slate as far as the eye could see. Light Tripper was completely busted, probably permanently this time. They couldn’t radio for help, who would they call? Sal could think of no one who would put their neck on the line to rescue them from the outlands, especially with the P.A. in the vicinity. Maybe she should have made more friends and cut off less hands. On top of all that, it was getting dark. That’s when the cragons liked to hunt.

A rough breeze scratched against her cheek and the silence was undone by the howl of a cold wind rolling down the mountains. Sal could taste slate on her dry lips. A storm was coming.

“Morgan,” Sal murmured. Her optimism was fragile. “I have a feeling things are going to get worse for us before they get better.”

Morgan was quick to calm her when he recognised the frailty in her tone. His eyes scanned the horizon for movement. “Let’s open the vents, pump the last of the smoke out of the ship. Then we barricade ourselves in for the night.”

Sal shirked off her fears. The captain had given an order. Good. She needed to work. She needed to not think about all the bad ways this could end if they were going to make a go at surviving. Sal emptied the last of the smoke, but soon discovered that wasn’t the only issue. She peered into the engine room and smelt the leaking thruster fluid long before she saw it seeping over the grates. Sal could do nothing but turn her back and hope the fumes didn’t kill them while they slept. Of course, they would have to make it through the night to get to that point.

Meanwhile Morgan had closed the airlock door and was stacking everything not bolted down.

“Is that necessary?”

Morgan looked over his blockade. “I wish we had more. Shut the vents, make sure everything is closed up tight. We should lock ourselves in down below.”

“Um…” Sal stammered. “I think we should stay up here.”

“Why?”

“No reason. Nothing to do with leaking thruster fluid, that’s for sure.”

Morgan’s shoulders slumped and he rubbed his face wearily. “Where are those oxygen masks?”

Sal had already fished them out of the debris. She presented them to Morgan, both with shattered faceplates.

He nodded. “That’s about right.” He patted Sal’s back. “Just don’t try and breath too often.”

Sal couldn’t help but laugh and Morgan gave her ear a soft tug and knowing grin.

She was starting to see hints of the old Morgan, in command of the situation, in control of himself, whose smile chased away even the darkest fears. But the notion that Morgan was going to get them through this became tainted when Sal noticed him scratching and itching at things that weren’t there. He’d only just taken dust, the withdrawals were coming quicker now.

Sal looked away, just like she had in the engine room. For now ignorance would continue to be bliss, they had cragons coming.

It had barely been dark an hour before Sal heard slow, heavy steps crunching through the slate outside. She lingered curiously near the airlock, her ear pressed to the sealed viewport. She could hear them snorting and sniffing and she was sure she could feel the sickly heat of their panting through the steel.

Morgan had told her not to lower the blaster shields, regardless of how much she wanted to get a look at a cragon. They could burst their way through viewports, even asteroid grade, and once the beasts were in, Sal and Morgan didn’t stand a chance.

Now the cragons were scratching at the sides of the ship, seeming to know which areas were weakest. As the night dragged on there was more movement, more howling as their numbers increased.

Sal’s curiosity dwindled. She moved away from the door, joining Morgan within his cargo fort.

“Do you think they know we’re in here?”

“Oh yeah,” Morgan replied nonchalantly. “They would have smelt us as soon as we landed.”

Sal’s stomach dropped when Light Tripper began to rock. “Are they trying to tip us over? Can they do that?”

“Let’s hope not.”

The cragons charged the ship from every side, over and over, hurling their bulk recklessly. Sal could hear their talons tearing through the outer plates. They weren’t investigating any more, it was an all out attack and soon Sal saw giant paw prints indented in the steel.

She glanced at Morgan’s barricade. It wasn’t enough. Sal checked the battery on her PEP revolver. It was fully loaded and ready to blow the head off anything that tried to get through that door.

The cragons kept pushing in relentless pursuit of their meal. Sal imagined that she and Morgan were a rare treat out here, top quality eating. She pointed her gun at the airlock. If she was going to be dinner, she would do her best to choke them to death on her way down.

Just when Sal had fired herself up for a fight, the fumes from the leaking thruster wafted through the grates and it wasn’t long before the room was spinning. Sal exhaled heavily, the last of her vigour slowly slipping away. Having to constantly fight for your life was exhausting.

Sal just hoped the fumes would knock her out before the cragons made it onto the ship.

With her senses a blur, Sal wasn’t completely sure the noises that followed were real. The cragons had been howling earlier, deep monstrous growls strung with hunger. Now the animals yelped sorrowfully, crying out in pain between slams and what Sal felt certain was blaster fire.

Perhaps it was just the fumes corroding her brain and causing hallucinations. Sal checked her mouth for foam.

“Did you hear that?” she asked Morgan.

Morgan shrugged, his shotgun wobbly in his grip.

The ramming was back, but it was more concentrated on the airlock. Sal heard a voice.

“Open the door!”

She was getting woozy, her eyelids flickering. “Do cragons talk?”

There were sparks around the frame of the airlock and the welds glowed red hot as whatever was out there tried to cut its way inside.

Sal struggled to point her revolver as the steel fell and Morgan’s barricade was demolished by powerful blaster fire.

A tall figure clad in black rushed inside. A gust of slate-drenched wind whipped at his long trench coat and only the white of his eyes could be seen behind the frayed scarf wrapped around his face.

He spied Sal and went to her quickly, taking a mask from the bag at his side and pulling it over her face. She watched the stranger disappear into the engine room just before she passed out.

Sal was awoken by loud clanging. She bolted up right, her foggy gaze darting anxiously about the cockpit. Morgan was snoring as he slumped beside her and it didn’t take long to noticed their weapons were missing. Just as she was about to hoist herself to her feet, the clanging ceased, replaced by slow footsteps approaching from behind.

Sal turned to her other weapon, the less reliable one. She clenched her fists, charging up her energy, but was barely able to muster a flicker of power.

“Don’t do that,” a man said through heaving breaths.

Sal felt a gun barrel at the back of her neck.

“I can’t miss from here.”

Sal raised an eyebrow. That sounded awfully familiar. She asked, “Can I at least take this mask off?”

“Sure. I’ve regulated the air supply. It’s safe to breath now. What about those things?” he asked, poking her hand with the gun barrel. “Have you turned it off?”

Each word from his mouth had Sal more and more intrigued. Was he talking about her energy? He had to be, but how could he know? Sal decided to play dumb.

She removed her mask. “What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. I know what you’re capable of, so don’t think for a second that I won’t empty a round into the back of your head to stop you from using it on me.”

His voice was firm and unwavering. No negotiations. Sal couldn’t help but feel roused. She was always up for a challenge.

A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Are you here to kill us?”

His reply was more of the same flat tone. “You’d be dead by now if I was and I wouldn’t have bothered to save you from fume poisoning just to kill you later. You do the math.”

He spun the chair around and Sal was finally able to get a proper look at her abrasive rescuer. There they were, those dark, bottomless eyes. Sal recognised them immediately. Slowly he unwound the scarf hiding his face. Sal shivered with anticipation. His brow was heavy, his jaw strong and squared. His black hair was slicked back, long enough to sit tucked just behind his ears and his rough olive skin was a map of scars, the parts Sal could see anyway, and even he was pointing a gun at her, she wasn’t adverse to getting a look at the parts she couldn’t see.

“You’re my buddy from the bar,” Sal stated.

He gave a nod.

“Well isn’t this a coincidence?” She looked him over for clues of who he might be and what exactly he wanted. His cargo pants were made of heavy black canvas, his boots looked military issue and he stood stiff and stalwart like a good soldier would.

“Are you P.A?”

He flinched, responding with a firm shake of his head.

“A helpful mechanic then?” she asked, acknowledging the grease smears on his clothes.

He shook his head.

Sal narrowed her eyes. “So you just happen to be strolling through cragon territory during a slate storm the day after manhandling me in a bar?”

He frowned. “There was no handling. As I recall you were pointing a gun at my head.”

Sal wasn’t buying anything he was selling. “I’m not an idiot.”

“Never said you were.”

Sal wasn’t finished and grunted at his interruption. “Why are you following me?”

He tucked his gun into his belt and leaned against the wall with his arms folded against his chest. “Hai. I was on Enos. I saw you having trouble with some Denians and thought I would offer my help. You obviously didn’t need it. Then I got in a little trouble for blowing Denian guts all over the dance floor and needed a quick exit. So maybe I borrowed a cruiser. Then I needed to lie low. Everyone knows that Lotus is the best place for that. Who would want to risk charred lung for no good reason? Then the P.A show up. I decide to high tail it out of here, when I see your ship go down and thought I could be of assistance. Looks like I was right.”

“So that’s it? Just helping us out of the kindness of your heart?”

He sniggered. “Fighting off a dozen cragons and risking fume poisoning? No ones heart is that big.”

Sal grinned. That she believed.

“I wrecked that cruiser in the slate storm. I need to get off Lotus 5, the less people that know the better. I figured when I saw you burning your way through the sky with flaming thrusters that you were in a similar situation.”

Sal laughed, throwing her arms up in the air. “Have you seen the state of this thing? We aren’t going anywhere, pal.”

He gave a nod towards the engine room. “She’s fixed. I just need to do a few patches outside and we’re good to go.”

Sal glared at him with weighty scepticism. “But you’re not a mechanic?”

He shrugged. “I have an aptitude. Look, I’ve heard about this ship. It’s a sprint-class right?… A really old one…” He glanced unimpressed about the cockpit with his nose high in the air.

“What’s your point?” Sal snapped defensively.

“This thing is fast, faster than that cruiser I jacked, so I fixed it. All I ask is that you get me as far away from here as you can and we’ll call it even.”

Sal’s sigh was thick with doubt. If what he said was true, if the ship was truly repaired than the safest thing to do would be to march him out the airlock and wave goodbye from the rear viewport. She nibbled her lip while casually scanning the cockpit for any weapons he might have missed.

As if recognising her incoming deception, he flung a small silver disc into her lap.

“That’s half of what I’m willing to pay for passage. I have to say, this is a great deal.” He pushed aside his dark trench coat, reminding Sal of the gun in his belt. “A really great deal.”

This guy was good. He was playing Sal like her favourite song and hitting all the right notes. Sal couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d known him for years, there was a familiar comfort that kept her relaxed irrespective of the chaos. But that was impossible. Sal had never met him before and his bearing was not something that could be easily forgotten.

Still, she rolled the silver credit disc between her fingers. Two hundred. Not a bad pay off. Plus another two hundred to come. Sounded like Light Tripper had just picked up a passenger.

“I’ll need to talk to the captain.” Sal said coolly, tucking the disc into her pocket. She nudged Morgan who didn’t stir. “He must still be recovering from the effects of the fumes.”

“No, he’s just drunk and sleeping,” he replied quickly. “And my bargain isn’t with him, it’s with you. You’re the one in charge, aren’t you?”

If didn’t even feel like a question, more a firm statement of his opinion.

Sal admitted to herself that it did feel that way much of the time, but Morgan was captain, she never denied that, even so, he sat there, fast asleep, when a decision had to be made.

Sal turned her bitch mode down a notch, offering her hand. “I appreciate your help. You’ve got a deal. I’m Sal Tripp.”

Suddenly this assured non-mechanic looked nervous. He stared at Sal’s hand as if it were a ticking bomb.

Sal cocked an eyebrow. “And you are?”

At last he lunged forward awkwardly, shaking her hand for less than a second before stumbling backwards. “Raijin.”

“Well, Raijin. You have a deal.”

He bowed sharply.

“A bow. How… strange.” She thought on his words, the distinct way he spoke. “I’ve never heard that dialect. What is that? Butanion?”

“Japanese. You know, Japan? Earth?”

Sal’s eyes widened. “You’re from Earth?”

“Sure. Aren’t you?”

“So I’ve been told,” she muttered from the corner of her mouth. “I don’t remember much before Morpheus.”

“This is a bad place,” Raijin said bluntly, that cold edge returning to his voice. “Full of bad people.”

Sal noticed him shoot a scornful glare in Morgan’s direction. She shrugged it off. What could he possibly know about Morgan?

“I’ll get started on those patches,” he said. “Shouldn’t take me longer than an hour. Hopefully the captain will be ready by then.”

“I’ll take care of him,” Sal replied.

 

 

 

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Light Tripper Chapter Six…

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Don’t forget, all but chapter one will be removed from my blog when Light Tripper is released for sale, so enjoy juicy freeness while you can!

 

CHAPTER SIX

Sal had been trying to think up an escape plan. There was a short period where she thought about Dorkin’s Chocolate Fudge Bars, but she never proclaimed herself to be focused to a fault.

Morgan spoke at last as if reading her mind. “Even if you get out of those cuffs, even if you get out of this room, we’re in Moby’s compound and we have no clue where Light Tripper is. Sorry, baby, but we’re screwed.”

“I think I prefer it when you’re wasted. You talk less.”

“Don’t talk to me like that, Sal. I’m still your dad.”

Sal frowned. It was hard not to look her father in the eyes when their faces were a nose hair apart. This seemed like as good a time as any to ask an obvious question. Morgan had nowhere to hide.

“So. You going to tell me what all that Class Two clearance stuff was about?”

Morgan spent awhile contorting his face through various expressions of shock and bemusement. Sal guessed he was stalling.

“You’re going to believe a word that fashtapa says? It was bullshit, Sal. He’s just trying to stir up trouble.”

Sal glared. “He knew you were P.A.”

Morgan rolled his eyes. “It’s not a secret.”

Sal was unconvinced. “Why would he bother making that up? He was going to kill you anyway.”

“Gees, Sal. Whose side are you on?” Morgan growled tersely. “I’m telling you there ain’t nothing to tell. Now how about you rest your yammering and figure us a way out of this mess?”

Suddenly there was a thunderous boom that shook the floor. It was followed by another, then another and a blaring siren added to the din, as Sal heard raised voices and frantic running in the halls.

“What the hell,” Morgan said with concern. “Is that canon fire?”

“Why would Moby be firing on his own compound?” Sal sighed.

Morgan slapped the back of her head. “And you’re supposed to be the smart one? It’s not Moby, dummy. He’s under attack.”

“I’m the dummy? Who in their right mind would attack Max-freaking-Moby on Lotus of all places?”

“Somebody who’s not scared of him.”

Sal was sure she felt Morgan shiver.

“Sounds like the Planetary Alliance have made the jump to Morpheus,” he managed.

He was talking crazy, he had to be. It was most likely some disgruntled debtor with a death wish. Maybe even Trick getting his revenge on Moby. She feigned a guffaw at Morgan’s little joke, but his returned silence made her nervous.

Sal cleared her throat. “Well if we were praying for a miracle than this is it. Time to go.”

Sal began to shuffle towards the door, dragging Morgan with her. She kicked at a wall panel until it fell away, revealing a mess of wires and blinking lights.

“I’m gonna blow it.”

Morgan cocked an eyebrow. “Have you forgotten that my head is cuffed to those laser beam hands of yours?”

Sal shook her head casually. “Nope, and that would be a problem if I was trying to melt off the cuffs. Just hold still, ok?”

Sal wrestled with Morgan for longer than her patience would allow. He had quite a bit of fight in him for a man in his inebriated state. Still though, a swift knee to the bread basket and kick in the shin subdued him and Sal was able to grab hold of the control panel. A tiny spark of energy was all it took before the panel fizzed out and the cell door slid open.

As Sal had hoped, the chaos overtaking the compound had left them completely unguarded. They hid behind a wall when a group of armed henchman came running past.

“Now what?” Morgan groaned.

Sal kicked him again, but this time it had nothing to do with her escape plan.

“You can either help or stop being so damned whiny. Geez.”

Morgan looked around the hallway and his ears pricked at the sound of a familiar voice.

“Lock down the top floors,” Cora screamed. “Blast everything on the storage level into space. The P.A. must not get those files.”

“Kinda pushy for a receptionist isn’t she?” Sal asked.

“I think she’s more than that,” Morgan replied. He grinned. “I’ve got a plan.”

Sal was surprised, even a little excited, until Morgan stuck his head around the corner and screamed, “Hey, you with the ass. We’re escaping. Come stop us.”

He pulled his head in, laughing and thinking himself very clever. Sal stared at him blankly in disbelief.

Sure enough, moments later Cora came charging into the room with two henchman at her side.

Sal high-kicked the first in the face, then dropped low to ground sweep the second. When he was down, Morgan was quick to drive a knee hard into his throat until he passed out.

It all happened faster than Cora could draw her gun. Morgan kicked it out of her hand and quickly she was sandwiched between them, with Sal’s arms tightening around her neck.

“Alright, gorgeous. How about you let us out of these cuffs?”

“Moby will kill me,” she coughed.

“Looks like he has enough on his plate,” Sal snickered. “He’ll never know and I won’t have to break your neck.”

Cora wore a wrist control panel that didn’t complement her outfit in the slightest. She tapped a few of the keys and the cuffs snapped open, falling to the ground.

Morgan’s hands immediately went into his pants, digging around the crotch. Both Sal and Cora observed uneasily, but Morgan’s hand soon emerged holding the Deal Breaker.

“That shrapnel is great for getting this baby past scanners.” He took Cora from Sal and spun her around, holding the tip of the knife to her back. “You’re going to take me and my girl to our ship now.”

“The P.A. are everywhere. Lotus City is locked down. You’re not getting out of here, none of us are.”

“You’d be surprised what my little girl can do,” Morgan said. “You just get us to Light Tripper. We’ll handle the rest.”

As soon as they stepped into the hall, the compound was hit by more heavy weapon fire. The building was becoming unstable now, with windows shattering and debris falling from the upper levels. There had to be a battle-cruiser out there packing some serious energy cannons. Moby’s compound was no fragile pile of sticks. It was metal and slate and built to withstand any onslaught. Of course, Moby probably never expected to be under siege by the Planetary Alliance.

Sal and Morgan weaved their way through the halls and levels, avoiding patrols and falling ceiling panels. Cora was taking them to a storage deck on the upper floor where they kept smaller shuttles. It was on the southern side of the complex which seemed to be garnering the least amount of P.A. interest. If they timed it right, if Light Tripper had enough speed in her, they could make a break for it and get lost in the pandemonium.

“Did the P.A. blow the shield?” Morgan asked

“No,” Cora grunted, tired of being pushed and pulled every which way. “They hacked into the mainframe and opened a portal. Disabling the shield would be suicide, everyone in Lotus City would choke to death on slate.”

“Oh, poor criminals,” Sal said sarcastically.

“Lotus City is bigger than that, sweetheart. There are families living here. Kids. No way the P.A. would risk that.” Cora snarled. “They’re the good guys, right?”

Morgan breathed heavily. “Depends who you ask.”

They reached the storage floor and unfortunately a handful of Moby’s henchman were the first to greet them. Beyond them though, and close to the landing deck, was Light Tripper. Sal ducked behind a container, returning fire on the henchman while Morgan restrained Cora with some wire he pulled from a cargo bin.

“What are you doing? You can’t leave me here!”

Morgan sighed. “Damn it. I knew this would happen. You’ve fallen in love with me.”

Cora grit her teeth. “My other options are Moby selling me to one of his business associates or spending the rest of my life in some P.A. facility.”

In the meantime, Sal had managed to take out three of the henchman but was quickly running out of ammo. What she wouldn’t give for a PEP revolver right now.

“Sorry, legs,” Morgan started. “I’m a space outlaw. The stars are my home, sure, it gets lonely…”

Sal moaned loudly, then hit Cora over the back of the head with her gun, knocking her out cold.

“Legs is sleeping now. Stop talking!”

Morgan looked disappointed.

“It was her or you,” Sal said quickly. “Now can you help me clear a path here?”

“I have to do everything,” he grumbled. He glanced around and noticed several sealed barrels. He smirked as he read the label. “Ah. Fresh H2O from the core of Lotus 5.”

He stabbed the lid of one barrel, then gave it a shove, clear water pouring out and streaming towards the henchman a few metres away.

“Nice plan. Their feet are all wet. Now we’ve got them,” Sal said, deadpan.

Morgan tugged Sal’s ear. “Charge up your magic and stick your hand in the water, smart ass.”

Sal smiled when she realised that sometimes, just sometimes, Morgan wasn’t a complete waste of space. She waited for him to get off the floor before placing a balled up fist of glowing energy into the stream of water. Immediately, the stream became electrified and the henchman were soon little more than smoking husks.

Sal and Morgan steered clear of the water and ran to Light Tripper just as another canon blast rattled the building. They opened the airlock and climbed aboard, Morgan smothering every inch of steel with kisses on his way to the cockpit.

Before joining him, Sal went to her bunk and retrieved her revolver, also sneaking it a kiss. As she hurried back, she noticed two boxes of Dorkin’s Chocolate Fudge Bars stacked against the wall.

She tore open a box and snatched out a bar, stuffing it greedily into her mouth.

“You’re such an asshole, Benny,” she mumbled between chews.

“Sal, come on!” Morgan called from the cockpit, stirring her from her chocolate trance.

Sal jumped into her chair as Morgan powered up the engines.

“Did the thrusters get fixed?”

“Looks like. We got full power. I’m going to pump everything we’ve got into them, give us a nice burst that should take us right out of here. Then we just use the P.A’s portal and get our behinds back into the big starry dark,” Morgan said.

It was a good plan in theory, still, Sal was savouring her fudge bar just in case it would be the last thing she’d ever eat.

Morgan slapped his cheeks, smacking the last traces of shine and dust from his body. The thrusters screamed as Morgan poured everything Light Tripper had into them, then with a flick of a switch, she surged forward.

They sped along the landing bay, through the narrow opening, then burst into the atmosphere like a cork from a bottle.

Sal gasped. “Oh. My. God.”

She had just caught sight of her first Planetary battle-cruiser and its massive perfection was frightening. It stretched across the lightning streaked sky, a colossal shard of steel lined with pulsing blue lights. Rapid-fire plasma cannons blasted mercilessly at Moby’s compound while several short range cannons picked off attacking cruisers. Sal noted several small P.A. starfighters circling, taking out the defences of Moby’s compound and returning fire from the turrets on the roof.

Beyond the deafening laser blasts, Sal could make out a woman’s monotone voice sounding from the battle-cruiser and through the city.

“Citizens of Lotus City. There is no cause for alarm. By order of the Planetary Alliance, you are instructed to remain in your homes. Please alert ground troops if you require medical assistance. Thank you for your co-operation.”

Cora was right, Lotus City wasn’t just Moby. Ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives existed here too, way down there, below all this madness. The attack continued and Sal spared a thought for those people caught in the cross-fire. She hoped the P.A. were the good guys, that they would not risk innocent lives. Morgan was less concerned.

“Alrighty. Let’s get out of here.”

Morgan manoeuvred Light Tripper through the bedlam and as anticipated, the P.A. and Moby’s crew were far too busy bombarding each other that they didn’t notice the ship weaving its way towards the portal.

Sal held her breath as they dodged plasma bolts and debris tumbling from the compound. She wasn’t worried they’d get hit, Morgan was far too good a pilot for that. What had her nervous was the sound the thrusters were making and the familiar smoke rising from the engine room.

“Didn’t Benny say he was waiting on a casing for the thrusters?”

“I do recall him saying something like that,” Morgan said nervously while at the same time pushing the thrusters even harder.

There was a crackling through the comm as it picked up a transmission. Sal made out two words, ‘Planetary Alliance’, it was enough to pique her interest and she made an effort to tidy up the signal.

“This is Commander Archon of the Planetary Alliance. You are ordered to cease fire and surrender.”

There was another transmission from the same location. Sal guessed that to be the battle-cruiser. She changed frequencies just in time to intercept the message.

“All scout ships report. Have you located the anomaly?”

“Slate storms are interfering with all systems. Can’t pin point the location.”

“Keep searching. The Commander has seized control of the Moby compound where the anomaly was first detected. Keep communications open for further instructions.”

Sal looked to Morgan. “Anomaly?”

Morgan turned off the communicator with a pound of his fist. “Don’t listen to that garbage.”

Light Tripper raced through the sky, clearing the P.A’s portal with ease and making for the stars.

Sal strapped into her seat and seeing Morgan wasn’t doing the same, did it for him. His eyes was focused straight ahead, his mind however was somewhere else, his bottom lip wedged between his teeth, his hands shaking on the levers. It was an expression Sal didn’t see too often. Morgan looked scared.

Suddenly there was an ear-shattering bang, as loud as the canon fire they had left behind. The smoke from the engine room was thicker and pouring onto the upper levels. Sal grabbed two oxygen masks from a side compartment, putting one over Morgan’s head as he tried to keep Light Tripper under control, before pulling on her own.

“They’re gone,” Morgan said. “Not just the thrusters… the engine too.” Light Tripper began to nose dive. “We’re going down, Sal. Hang on.”

Light Tripper was aimed straight for the outlands and clearing hundreds of feet in seconds until they were only seconds from impact with the craggy, ashen landscape.

Alarms blared, sounding their imminent crash landing, the panels sparked and the cockpit filled with black smoke. Sal reached out in the dark, her hard breathing echoing in the confines of her mask. She closed her eyes in search of calm and found it when she felt Morgan curl his fingers around hers. He squeezed them tightly and she squeezed back as Light Tripper continued to descend.

Light Tripper…. Chapter Five

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Don’t forget, all but chapter one will be removed from my blog when Light Tripper is released for sale, so enjoy juicy freeness while you can!

 

CHAPTER FIVE

The food was horrible. At first Sal assumed their replicator was just as busted as the one on Light Tripper. She even joked about it with the cook when he came to collect their untouched plates. That was when Sal discovered that this wasn’t replicated slop; it was handmade slop and the cook with his dirty long beard stared daggers at her and Morgan for the rest of the night.

But Sal paid him no attention. She was having far too much fun laughing and trading tales with Morgan. He was in a mood that she called ‘cruise control’. He wasn’t drunk or stoned and making absurd statements like ‘moons are made of cheese’ or ‘cyborgs can’t walk backwards’, and he wasn’t going through withdrawals yet either, which meant Sal didn’t have to tie him to his chair until he calmed the hell down.

Instead a band played in the corner, miners and drifters laughed amongst themselves and all was generally well in the universe. These were the moments Sal enjoyed most, where she didn’t have to dream up scenarios of Earth to find a little happiness. She hadn’t even noticed that it had started to get dark outside.

“Take a look at this,” Sal said, digging into her pocket. She fished out the candy bar. “Chocolate. From Earth. Benny gave it to me.”

Morgan gave a surprised huff. “Huh. How’d something like that get all the way out here?”

“Want some?” Sal offered.

“I’ve never been fond of chocolate,” Morgan mumbled. He looked away, his gaze suddenly distant. “Hope you don’t get a taste for it. It’ll break your heart when you run out.”

“Guess we’ll just have to pop over to Earth and pick up some more.” Sal chuckled. She was only joking, just a little, but Morgan’s tone quickly became cold.

“There’s no popping over to Earth, Sal. You know that.”

“I know, I was just saying…”

“Well don’t. It’s not happening, we’re never going back there. Can’t you just enjoy here rather than wishing for something else?”

“Aren’t you the one who told me to dream? To want something better for myself? To hope?”

Morgan exhaled. “You dream too big, kid. That’s the problem. You dream more than I can give.”

Sal stuffed the chocolate back in her jacket. “Then maybe you need to dream bigger too or can you even dream any more? With all that junk you shove in your body?”

Morgan grimaced, slamming a clenched fist on the table. Sal replied with her own fist and incensed glare.

Just then Benny wandered in, covered in more grease than last time. He pulled up a chair next to Morgan and cleaned himself up with a rag. He noticed the stalemate of stares between the Tripps.

“Am I interrupting?”

“Not at all. Just having a polite chat with my darling daughter,” said Morgan.

Benny’s studs trembled nervously. “Got some bad news. She’s not going to be ready ’til the morning. Got the thruster in there fine, but the damn casings don’t fit. I’m having some new ones shipped in from Lotus City.”

“Lotus City? Didn’t say who they were for, did you?” Morgan lowered his voice to a whisper. “We’re trying to avoid a certain crime boss.”

“Who? Max Moby?” Benny blurted.

Morgan and Sal rolled their eyes in unison, scanning the room to see if they had invited any unwanted attention.

“You think I want him down here?” Benny snorted. “Don’t worry. Tomorrow you’ll be out of here and that fashstapa will be none the wiser. Why not spend the night? Get some sleep. Light Tripper will be ready to go in the morning.”

Sal didn’t like this. They were suppose to be gone by now and instead they were spending the night. The delay only added to her mood. But what could she do? She wasn’t leaving her ship nor was she spending a night outside the dome with the cragons. Suddenly she didn’t care where she slept, as long as she didn’t have to look at Morgan’s face.

She stood up. “Rooms upstairs?”

Benny nodded. “Take your pick. This place doesn’t really get booked out.”

“Sal, wait…” Morgan started.

“Night, Morgan,” Sal snapped over her shoulder.

She didn’t look back at him, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of thinking she cared. Instead she stormed upstairs and claimed the first room on the left.

It was bleak and bare, just cold beige walls and a hard floor marked with orange lines.

There was a large blue button near the door and Sal gave it a thump. Immediately the wall panels slid open and hard plastic surfaces jutted outwards, aligning themselves with the orange markings. There was a bed first, pre-made and topped with a fluffy looking mattress, then a shelf, table and chairs and a small shower cubicle. The room was complete in seconds and Sal collapsed onto the bed with a loud groan. She heard a crinkle beneath her and found what was left of the chocolate bar.

She nibbled the corner. It was still delicious, even more so now that it had melted a little. When Sal had licked what was left on the wrapper, she pressed out the creases to read the details on the packaging.
Dorkin’s Chocolate Fudge Bar
Manufactured under strictly monitored conditions in New South London, August 2234.
Tested for human consumption only.

If non-human, please seek medical attention immediately at the first sign of illness.

May contain traces of nuts.
“New South London,” Sal mumbled. She was sure she’d seen that one on her maps. It wasn’t her favourite though, definitely not the first place she’d go if she ever got to Earth. It wasn’t in the Pacific either, where her mother – with the great hips and rack – was born, as well as where she died. Morgan was fuzzy on the details, but he said they knew it was coming and it was quick.

His choice of words didn’t provide a single scrap of comfort, even though Sal knew that was his honest intention.

Sal shirked off those prickly emotions that were fighting their way to the surface. She focused on Earth. Costa Rica. That’s where she wanted to go. They were supposed to be doing amazing things with the wildlife cloning there. Picking somewhere to get lost was the easy part. Managing to get on a ship that could jump systems and finding a way to bypass the security checks was far less simple.

She folded the wrapping in half and popped it back into her pocket. Another token to add to her trove. This was all she had, scraps and bits and pieces that she’d found during her travels. Morgan was no help. He had lived on Earth, probably had a million stories that Sal would love to hear, but he had no desire to share those memories beyond fragments about her mother.

Unlike Sal, Morgan was happy with the distance Morpheus provided. What he didn’t realise was it was growing a distance between him and Sal as well.

Whatever he was trying to run from, Sal was running towards at full speed.

If Sal did find a way to Earth, would Morgan follow and if not, could he let her go?

Could Sal leave him behind? Maybe Morgan was right, maybe Sal should just love what she has instead of dreaming of what she doesn’t have. Unfortunately what she has is a broken down ship and a melted chocolate bar in a galaxy where a person’s life was just bounty waiting to be collected.

Sal nuzzled her head into the pillow and just as she was about to close her eyes, the door slid open. Morgan kneeled beside her and slid a pill into her hand.

“You might hate me right now, but it’s still my job to keep those monsters out of your head.”

Sal said nothing. She tossed the pill in to the back of her throat and swallowed.

There was silence for a moment before Morgan leaned forward and kissed her forehead.

“Good night, my dreamer.” He left, the door sliding closed behind him.
The next morning saw Sal awoken by shuffling feet at her bedside. She reached under the pillow for her PEP, only to be quickly reminded that this wasn’t her bunk on Light Tripper.

She looked up still trying to focus, but had enough wits about her to recognise the snouts and downward pointing tusks of two Roborgs in tailored black suits, their hands thick with fur and grasping the biggest plasma blasters Sal had ever seen.

She heard the guns power up as she stared down the barrels.

The Roborgs snorted at each other, then one gave Sal’s leg a kick.

“Get up,” he grunted.

Sal was outnumbered, outgunned and had no clue what the stakes in this game were. She decided that this was one of those rare situations where it was okay to worried, maybe even a little scared. Just be sure you’re the only one who knows it.

Sal weighed up her choices. Bargain first.

“I’ve got a couple of hundred credits, okay? Tell me where you want them transferred and they’re yours.”

“GET UP!” the Roborg demanded, pushing the blaster closer to her face.

A Roborg who wasn’t open to a bribe. Straight away, Sal knew she was in trouble. She chided herself for leaving her revolver on the ship, shoving away her captors sweaty grasps as they ushered her downstairs. The bar was empty, the frivolity of last night just a memory.

Morgan. He hadn’t been in the room when she had been so rudely awoken. Maybe he had managed to get out of Soma. Her hopes were quashed when she caught sight of him sitting at the very same table where she’d left him, now featuring a fresh bloody nose and black eye.

Sal was dropped into the chair beside him. She inspected his wounds. “You alright?”

Morgan swayed, gave a mumble and a murmur, but apart from that was unresponsive.

She took his face in her hands and when he smiled she smelt nothing but moonshine, like gasoline mixed with sugar. Worse than that, his fingertips were dappled with silver.

Sal wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She would do neither though. Her energy was better spent getting them out of this.

Sal shoved away her father who chuckled then slumped limply in his chair.

“What’s going on? What do you want?” Sal snapped.

The Roborgs said nothing. They simply stood guard, waiting for something. Their silence only made Sal more pessimistic about their fate. She learnt a long time ago to be most scared of the enemy who wants nothing.

Suddenly Benny came into the bar, wiping his hands on his grease rag. “Your transport is all fuelled up and I’ve had my boys fly Light Tripper over to Lotus City. Anything else you fellas need?”

“Benny,” Sal snarled with grit teeth. “You ratted us out to Moby?”

Benny shrugged. “That bounty is just too big, Sal and this particle shield is about to split in two. Everything I have is in this dome.” Benny seemed briefly repentant. “I wanted to leave you out of it, I really did. That’s why I kept him down here all night, thought they’d just take him and leave you be. Looks like Moby wants you too though.”

“Of course he does, you stupid son of a bitch. Two for the price of one,” Sal screamed. She went to stand but was roughly re-seated by a Roborg.

Benny gulped, unable to meet her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

The Roborgs dragged Morgan from the bar while Sal was escorted under the aim of three close-range plasma blasters.

A large transport barge was on the landing pad and Morgan and Sal were loaded in.

Destination; Lotus City and the compound of Max Moby.

Sal blamed herself. She knew the moment Trick offered her this gig that it was a mistake. Still she came, like a fool. She hadn’t even collected the merchandise, the whole reason she was on Lotus 5. That was just bad for her reputation. Sal would almost be embarrassed if she wasn’t so preoccupied with imagining what horrific torture Moby had in store for her.

Sal considered her options as she looked around the barge. There were at least a dozen heavily armed Roborgs, not including whatever was on the bridge. They were thousands of feet in the air, probably flying above the outlands infested with cragons and Sal had zero assets and one enormous liability, Morgan, who was still comatose.

All Sal could do was sit, wait and think positively that a solution would present itself, a veritable trifecta of everything she loathed.

At least she didn’t have to wait long, soon enough the barge landed atop a towering stronghold, a steel obelisk that scraped the grey skies. Just like Soma, Lotus City was encapsulated within a particle shield, however this one stretched for miles and was powered by eight colossal pylons. The structures attracted and absorbed the constant lightning strikes, powering the turbines hundreds of metres under ground.

The loading bay door opened and even though Lotus City had the most powerful shield of any settlement on the planet, the air quality was still horrible. Sal could taste slate with every breath and it itched the back of her throat. Unfortunately, she and Morgan hadn’t been offered one of the air-purifying masks that the Roborgs wore.

Sal supposed it was a plus that she could breath at all. The poorer settlements with weak shields had constant outbreaks of charred lung from breathing large amounts of slate-infused air day and night. Morgan had told her about an old miner who coughed up buckets of slate and blood every morning before heading back to the mines. Sal preferred her lungs with less slate, so held her breath, even trying to hurry the Roborgs along.

After being shoved into an elevator, Sal lost count of how many levels they descended, but that didn’t mean she was happy when they came to a stop.

The doors opened into a large waiting area with shimmering marble floors and high windows that stared out to a black sky torn by lightning strikes.

The receptionist sat at her desk, a gorgeous woman with violet skin and long silver hair. She smiled pleasantly, more pleasant than you’d expect when receiving prisoners at gunpoint.

“Have they been searched?” the woman asked, only offering the Roborgs half her attention. The rest was devoted to painting her nails a glossy shade of pink.

The Roborgs exchanged looks, seeming unsure which of them, if any, had taken care of that.

“They’ve been grabbing at me all over for sure, but I think that was more pleasure than business,” Sal said with a frown.

The receptionist sighed. “Search them! You better hope they’re not carrying. Mr Moby will be most disappointed with you.”

The Roborgs began to pat down Sal and Morgan, then followed up with a quick body scan. As soon as the small hand-held machine got near Morgan it beeped like crazy.

The Roborgs grunted and surrounded him with blasters pulsing. The receptionist was concerned enough to abandon her nails and strutted towards them, her hips swishing in a way that almost made Sal blush.

She snatched the scanner from the Roborg and read the findings. “A lot of shrapnel you have there. Looks like some metal plates too. Seems a little too advanced for a bounty hunter.” The receptionist narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Looks like P.A. tech.”

Morgan began to babble. The receptionist leaned closer to make out what he was saying, only to have her shoes drenched with vomit as Morgan came to.

“Damn it!” she shrieked. “These shoes are worth more than both your lives!”

“Well now they’re worth less than a sack of goopa.” Sal grinned.

“Take them inside,” the receptionist hissed through grit teeth. “Inform Mr Moby about the metal inside of him. He’ll want to know more, I’m sure.”

Morgan and Sal were ushered through tall doors and into a large, dimly lit office. At the end of the room was a long black table and sitting at the head in a chair that might as well have been a throne, was Max Moby.

He didn’t look as human as Sal remembered. He had indulged in so many surgeries over the years that there was barely any of him left. He would take a fancy to the snake-like eyes of a Morlack or the scaled skin of a Libraton and Moby had no trouble finding unwilling donors with big debts.

Moby looked up from a clutter of tablets with those Morlack eyes of his. He was broad and powerfully built, his form-fitting suit struggling to contain his barrelled chest and bulging, muscled arms. He gave his bald head a rub, the Libraton scales he’d grafted to his scalp shimmering in the low light.

A Roborg approached him and handed over the scanner. “Morgan is loaded with metal. Cora says it’s Alliance tech.”

Moby took the scanner, reading with interest. “Looks like you’ve been hiding things from us, Morgan. Why would the Planetary Alliance waste good credits on fixing you up? Why not just leave you a cripple and dump you in some military facility?” Moby’s voice was deep and rough, like stone grating against stone.

Morgan breathed deeply, struggling to focus. “Just lucky I guess?”

“What could a crap heap like you possibly do for the P.A. to earn such hardware? Did you do their laundry perhaps? Clean their toilets?”

Cora came into the room and swished those hips all the way to Moby, handing him a tablet. “The tech inside him is all coded. I managed to run the numbers and found this.”

He tapped several of the keys. “Will you look at that. Captain Morgan Montgomery Tripp…”

“Middle name, Danger!” Morgan laughed, nudging Sal at his side.

She might have found it funny any other time but now.

“You had Class Two clearance. That’s some high security for a pilot.” Moby took Cora by the waist and pulled her close, allowing her to kiss his cheek before tapping her on the backside and sending her away. “You know, Morgan. I just took you for a drunk bounty hunter. Seems as if I underestimated you. You might have some secrets in that head worth knowing.”

Sal furrowed her brow. The way Moby was talking, Class Two clearance must have been something pretty special and she sure as hell didn’t know it was something Morgan once had. He always said he was just a transport pilot. Sal tried to make eye contact with him, but he kept his face deliberately turned from her.

“Boss,” a Roborg called from the ranks. “Won’t the P.A. give us trouble for messing with him?”

Moby chuckled. “Nah. The P.A. don’t care about him. He’s in Morpheus for the same reason as the rest of the space trash. No one cares about him.” Moby’s attention was drawn to Sal who had so far been silent. “Except for you, darling. No more running though, time to pay up.”

Sal prided herself on being able to get out of tricky situations, but as she studied the sealed room packed tight with paid thugs she bitterly realised that even though she could wrestle a Libraton to the ground and drag Takka from a cave with her eyes closed, Moby was stronger and smarter. For a split second she considered her powers, but they were so wild, so unpredictable and she had never used her energy directly, always channelled it through some sort of weapon. Attempting to take out Moby and his men could obliterate her and Morgan in the process.

Sal wasn’t in the mood to die today or watch Morgan die either. There had to be a deal to be made here, there was always a deal.

“Take anything you want, just let us go. You’ll never see us again, I promise.”

“Don’t you worry, I’ll be taking everything. Your credits, your ship and whatever else I want. But Morgan’s luck has run out. I need to show people what happens when they try to cheat me.”

“Hurting Morgan won’t prove anything.” Sal looked him over. “Like you said. No one cares about him.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Moby laughed, standing from his chair and walking towards them. “I’m not going to hurt Morgan.”

Sal’s relief was fleeting.

“I’m going to kill him myself and then I’m going to cut him into pieces and I’m going to hang those pieces on every planet, every moon, every space station in Morpheus. It’ll be your daddy’s rotting body parts that remind everyone who runs this system.” Moby approached Sal, carefully considering her from top to bottom, back to front. “Still deciding what to do with you though.”

Sal gulped, her heart racing a little faster than usual. “What, no dismemberment for little old me?”

Moby laughed. “You’re funny. Technically, it’s Morgan’s debt, not yours. I mean, I could kill you as well, just for added drama or…” Moby opened her mouth, inspecting her teeth. “Yeah. I have an associate in the Kobi system who’s been looking for a human female. He’s curious about the anatomy differences, wants to see if his parts fit into a humans. He pays well too. Looks like this won’t be a complete write off after all.”

Sal breathed deeply, trying not to think on all the horrors she’d just heard. “That’s it then? No deals? Morgan and I are far more useful to you alive.”

“Take them away and lock them up,” Moby ordered. “I’ll get to them later.”

“We’re the best bounty hunters in the system, you know that. Anything you need hunted, any species. We’ll bring it back to you dead or alive, however you like.”

“You know who my biggest bounty was until this morning? Morgan Tripp,” Moby said.

The Roborgs began to drag them from the room.

“Wait,” Sal blurted. She had no choice. “I can do things.”

Moby gave a dubious smirk. “What do you mean, you can do things?”

“Sal… don’t…” Morgan pleaded.

Sal ignored him, treating Morgan to a taste of his own evasion. “Let me show you, Moby.”

Moby allowed Sal to shrug away the grips of the Roborgs, but they kept their blasters trained on her just as closely.

Don’t blow yourself up, don’t blow yourself up…

Sal rubbed her hands together. They sparked and glowed and when she put a pulsating finger tip to the barrel of a blaster, her touch melted the metal and it dripped to the floor like candle wax.

Moby’s eyes came over brighter than her hands. “Well that’s something I haven’t seen before. Just how is it you can do that?”

The light dulled as her energy waned. “I don’t know, but it’s definitely not something all the kids are doing. Whatever it is, it’s yours. Just keep Morgan in one piece.”

“I certainly have things to consider. I’ll put a hold on the dismemberment and slave trading for now. I’m still locking you up though.” He looked at the Roborgs. “And watch those hands, huh? Maybe chain her up with her arms around daddy. That way if she decides to light up she’ll melt his face off in the process.”

Sal grumbled. Moby didn’t have to try and be so clever. Disintegrating her cuffs took a level of control Sal was still struggling with. Just melting that gun barrel was a big deal and Sal was secretly whirling with pride. Still, Moby knew how much Morgan meant to her and putting him in danger was a good way to keep her from experimenting further.

The Roborg gave her a shove and as Sal and Morgan were escorted from the room, Cora brushed past.

“Mr Moby,” she said. “There’s a hyper-cruiser making a nuisance of itself at the perimeter. Bouncing signals off the towers like nothing I’ve seen. How would you like to proceed?”

Moby straightened his cuffs. “Vaporise it.”

“Yes, sir.” Cora tapped her earpiece. “Southern cannons fire at will.”

A cruiser. Wasn’t a hyper-cruiser hijacked from Enos? Sal didn’t think on it long, the system was full of cruisers and this one wasn’t going to be around much longer anyway.

Instead she grunted in protest as she and Morgan were once again stuffed into an elevator that descended forever. Sal scrunched up her nose. The Roborg’s fur smelt dreadful. She was so preoccupied with inching her way into a corner that she didn’t notice Morgan clicking his tongue to get her attention.

“I can’t believe you did that,” he snapped in a strained whisper. “Do you have any idea what that thing is going to do to you now? Cut you open and see how you work, that’s what.”

“Well someone had to do something. You sure as hell weren’t. Have a good time last night, did you?”

“I needed something to take the edge off, alright? It was a very intense day for me.”

“I save your life and I don’t even get a thank you. He was going to make sushi out of you.”

“All you’ve done is delay the inevitable,” Morgan said. “You should have just kept your mouth shut.”

Sal hissed through clenched teeth. “Next time I will.”

They were thrown into a cell, a small box of a room barely big enough to fit the two of them. As Moby had ordered, Sal and Morgan’s arms were intertwined with their hands bound around the other’s neck. It had them far closer than either was comfortable with and after much twisting, turning and cursing, Sal couldn’t find a way free, short of melting off Morgan’s face as Moby had mentioned, which as the hours went on, was becoming more and more of an acceptable solution.

 

Light Tripper…. Chapter Four

space2

CHAPTER FOUR

They made their way to The Vapour Trail, one of the classier establishments in Corsar.

The human, Trick Satin, and his crew had taken over most of the bar, scattered amongst a dozen or so tables drinking merrily, their laughter drowning out the frustrated-looking singer.

If you lived under a rock and weren’t familiar with Captain Satin, commander of the largest pirate fleet in Morpheus, at the very least you would be able to recognise his crew. Trick liked them to wear shiny, black vinyl bodysuits, the tighter the better, regardless of how well suited their bodies were to such an unforgiving fabric. They were a walking BDSM nightmare and armed to the teeth, their loyalty to Trick unfaltering.

Trick was just as flamboyant. He was always shirtless, proudly displaying a flat, scrawny chest covered in star tattoos and leather pants that sat under his bony hips. His thin, black hair sat at his shoulders and his handlebar moustache was manicured to perfection.

How Trick had garnered so much power was a mystery, but despite appearing harmless he had a feared reputation as a brute enforcer and his fleet had never been defeated.

Powerful men tended to have exquisite beauties on their arms and Trick was no exception. His long time companion and beloved consort was a human named Ronald who donned a perfectly coiffed, blonde pompadour hairdo and a shimmering blue suit that was tailored to every sharp angle of his body.

Ronald always looked bored and his nose was permanently raised in the air. Trick fussed over him constantly, indulging his every whim, anything to keep the young fop happy. It looked like an awful lot of work to Sal, whose longest relationship had been with her hair straightener.

Trick spied her across the room just as he had managed to put a smile on Ronald’s face by ordering him another bottle of Arpatheian sparkling wine, which cost about the same as the new thruster Sal was struggling to afford.

Sal marched Takka forward and presented him before Trick and his crew.

“Ta-da.”

“Nice work, Sal. Very nice work. Let me keep the mask, I’ll add it to the bounty. You know Morvans. They can get bitey,” Trick said.

He snapped his fingers and his two largest men, hulks that Sal knew as Draka and Hacksaw, dragged Takka away to a back room, most likely never to be seen again.

Trick snapped his fingers once more and another of his crew whipped out a tablet, giving several short taps to the green text on screen before seeking Trick’s approval.

Trick gave a nod. “Annnnnnd you’re paid. Gees Sal, I thought this one was going to be tough but you’ve proven me wrong again. You’ve got a real knack for this. Maybe you should come and work for me.”

Sal cringed as she looked over Trick’s crew. “Vinyl makes me sweat.”

Trick laughed. “I know it’s a little kooky, but don’t they all just look so delicious!” He gave the stocky, bearded man beside him a pinch on the cheek. The man remained expressionless.

“Gosh, Trick can’t you see you’re making her uncomfortable?” Ronald sighed, sipping his wine. “She doesn’t want to join your gaggle of goons.”

“I don’t know.” Sal asked, “What’s the pay like?”

Ronald batted his eyelashes. “Money problems?”

“Well, thruster problems. Mine are on their last legs. I’m hoping this bounty will cover repairs.”

Trick furrowed his brow. “You’ve got that sprint-class ship, don’t you? That model is a relic you know, I’d wouldn’t be surprised if it was the last one still flying.”

“By the sounds it’s barely doing that,” Ronald giggled.

Sal tried her best not to glare at Ronald too menacingly. “Yeah she’s a mess, but she’s my mess.”

“You could buy a whole new ship with some of these bounties you’ve been cashing in,” Trick said. “Ships with better tech, more reliable. I mean, how much thruster fluid are those things leaking on the daily?”

Sal scratched her chin. “A manageable, non-lethal amount…. but it doesn’t matter anyway. No ship is faster than Light Tripper, everybody knows that and all that new tech you’re talking about, that goopa will get you picked up by every tracking mod there is. Light Tripper is invisible.”

Trick nodded. “She is that, isn’t she. I might have another job for you and your beloved ship.”

Sal pulled up a chair. “I’m listening.”

“You want a new thruster for that sprint-class? What if I told you I knew exactly where you could get one, on the house? I have a mechanic who owes me a favour and I would love to pass that favour on to you, in exchange for another favour of course…”

“Of course.” Sal knew how these things worked.

“I have some merchandise that requires collecting, unfortunately there’s a planet that doesn’t seem to like me very much. I get within a mile of it and they try to blast me out of the sky. Seems the current lord of the land has forgotten about our bargain. He’ll get his soon enough but for now, I need that merchandise.”

Sal hoped that next few words from his mouth wouldn’t be the ones she was dreading, but there they were, clear as day.

“You’ll have to go to Lotus 5. Your invisible ship should dodge Moby’s sensor towers just fine.”

Sal was out of the chair like a shot. “Sorry. No can do.”

Trick grinned from the corner of this mouth. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with the big bucks on offer for dear old dad would it?”

“You know about that?” Sal gulped.

Ronald rolled his eyes. “Sugar, everyone knows about that. I’d bet my baby blues that some lucky pirate already has him tied up nice and snug.”

Sal glanced over her shoulder towards the door. She liked to think better of the people of Agrios, but they were bounty hunters after all.

“It’s a free thruster, Sal, even if you had the credits, you’re not going to find parts for that ship in Morpheus and you were just bragging about how awesome she was. Were you lying?”

Everything Trick was saying was one hundred percent truth. Sprint-class parts weren’t just lying around, especially not free ones. Light Tripper’s old tech wasn’t detectable by sensors and radars.

She could do this, in and out without Moby even knowing they were there.

But then there was that other voice in the back of the head, the one that had kept her and Morgan alive all this time. Why the hell would we go to the one planet that had a price on her father’s head?

Then it came to her, as it always did, the reminder of her dream, of more than this.

Hope is why they would go to Lotus 5. Hope.

Sal held out her hand. Trick howled and clasped it with his own. Both clenched tightly, eyes locked in unspoken agreement.

“I’ll send you the cords.”

“If I manage to even get her there. Might have to get out and push.” Sal grinned.

Trick pinched her nose. “That’s my bahama mama. Now get out of here, before someone kidnaps Morgan.”

Sal nodded and exited The Vapour Trail just in time to see Morgan tossed out of the adjacent bar. At least he hadn’t been kidnapped.

“No tabs for you, Morgan,” a woman yelled. “And don’t come back.”

Sal walked to her father, picking him up and dusting him off.

“Find something to eat then?”

Morgan steadied himself. “I wouldn’t eat anything in there,” he yelled. “Rats. Rats the size of dogs. I saw them with my own eyes.” He ran wavering hands through his hair. “Did you get our credits?”

“Trick paid us out. Also gave us another job. Payment is a new thruster.”

Morgan scrunched up his nose. “No cash? Thought I taught you better than that, girl.”

“This could be the only thruster in the galaxy, Morgan. It’s worth more than credits. Without this ship we’re just… land-locked pedestrians walking around without purpose. Stuck.”

Morgan whipped off his hat and held it against his chest. “That’s deep, Sal. Got me right here. You’ve convinced me.”

Sal frowned. “It’s on Lotus 5.”

“Are you insane! Why not just hand me over to robot Moda and split the bounty between yourselves!”

“Don’t tempt me.” Sal pointed a stern finger. “I’m making a call. Light Tripper needs this part. I need this part. You can stay here if it’s too dangerous for you.”

“Too dangerous?” Morgan was taken aback. “You’re looking at the man who single-handedly defeated a pack of charging wilderhordes with nothing but a pocket knife and a roundhouse kick. Danger is my middle name.”

“I thought it was Montgomery.” Sal smirked.

“It changes from time to time.”

The original plan was to spend the night in Corsar, but as usual, fate had other ideas. Instead Sal paid Dallas what they owed and headed back to her bunk on Light Tripper, pottering the hours away sorting through her Earth treasures, waiting for the next disaster.

It came sooner than expected when she heard the familiar grinding of that damned thruster and Morgan swearing himself silly in the cockpit.

Sal tapped the wall holo-panel and a map with their position was projected. They had just passed the red moon of Spoke, which meant Lotus 5 was not far away. Still, she had hoped they would be closer before this happened, close enough that she could give the thruster one last jolt and maybe catapult Light Tripper into the atmosphere and let gravity do the rest. Looks like she was going to have to get out and push after all.

Sal’s growling stomach reminded her that she hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s protein chip, but who needed the necessities of life like rest and food. They were luxuries for a girl whose ship wasn’t held together with tape. She hurried to join Morgan in the cockpit.

“Think we’ll make it?” he asked.

The red blinking light was now screaming to be acknowledged. Sal hissed at it, covering it once more with Morgan’s cap.

“We’re screwed if we don’t,” Sal replied. “If she gives out up here, we’ll eventually lose power, then the life support before suffocating to death.”

Morgan gulped. “Could be worse ways to go.”

“Oh, I’m thinking about those too,” Sal mumbled. “Those Denians from Enos could catch up with us, board us and eat our faces off. Or we could get picked up by marauders, sold into slavery and spend our lives working in a pleasure pit.”

Morgan shrugged. “You know, I think I’d do alright in a pleasure pit.”

Sal cringed. “I hate to break it to you, but you are no 10.”

“Rude,” he mumbled.

Sal took her seat. “By the way, are you ever going to get around to telling me why Moby has this bounty on you?”

Morgan coughed uncomfortably. “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding around a debt he alleges I owed him and my possible non-payment of the alleged debt.”

Sal rubbed her temples. “But I gave you the credits to pay him. You said, Thanks Sal, I’ll be right back, just paying Max Moby.

Morgan was twitching. As if on cue, a cloud of smoke began wafting from the engine room and Light Tripper sounded a message through the ship. Warning. Thruster over load.

The ship was moving slower. Sal didn’t like the sounds coming from below deck, but she wasn’t going to risk having her face burnt off while investigating. Instead she decided ignorance was the best course of action, blocking out the crackling noises and seeping heat, instead focusing on Lotus 5 growing larger in the view port.

From here it was grey and dreary, a massive sphere of slate that was hard to distinguish from the bleakness of space. The landscape was unforgiving, jagged slate spires and crooked valleys between settlements, all of it shrouded in a wispy mist that drifted over the planet’s surface.

When it wasn’t raining there was lightning that scorched the rock terrain and you’d be lucky to go a week without suffering a slate storm, when the winds stirred up the coarse ground so wildly you’d choke to death without an oxygen mask.

Of course even with a mask, you’d still have to survive a night with the cragons, leather-skinned scavengers that roamed the outlands. Morgan described them as jacked-up demon dogs. Sal had never seen a cragon or a real dog, just pictures and constructs, but it wasn’t hard to get the point. Cragons were to be avoided if you enjoyed your body in one piece.

As charming as Lotus 5 didn’t sound, it was still heavily populated. Mining paid well and was one of the few legal occupations in Morpheus. The slate was a powerful additive when mixed with fuel and could give a turbine more power than any other carbon. The rock also yielded some of the most precious gems in the galaxy, well worth the extremely dangerous working situations and abundance of charred lung amongst the miners.

Sal considered it safer being a bounty hunter.

Light Tripper pierced the atmosphere roughly, rivets shaking loose and welds struggling to stay put, but before it all fell apart they broke through the clouds, hovering above a small settlement.

“There,” Morgan said, pointing to a patch of rock. “That’s Soma.”

Sal frowned. “How do you know it’s name? Trick just gave us cords.”

“I’m a well trained navigator, Sal, I know my way around…”

“How do you know, Morgan?” Sal rolled her eyes. “You’ve been here before? When? Who do you know down there? Who is waiting to kick your ass?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I think Benny might be the mechanic Trick has put us in touch with.”

“Benny? Moonshine Benny? Are you serious?”

Morgan shrugged. “It was your idea to come here, sweetheart. I’m just the pilot.”

Sal looked at her father sternly. “Listen to me, old man. We can’t afford to stick around too long. In and out. No gambling. No drinking. We get the thruster fixed and we go. Okay?”

Morgan pinched her chin. “Sally…”

“Don’t call me that,” she groaned, shoving away his hand.

Morgan persisted. Hey, where did we go…” He began to sing… terribly.

Days when the rains came?

Down in the hollow.

Playing a new game.

Laughing and running, skipping and jumping.

In the misty morning fog our hearts thumping and you, my brown eyed girl.”

Sal’s frown was immovable, but Morgan was undeterred.

Do you remember when, we used to sing…”

Sal released a long, loud breath and dislodged the lump of worry in her chest.

She sang. “Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah. La dee dah.”

That’s my girl.” Morgan turned on the comm. “Come in Soma, this is Morgan Tripp, captain of Light Tripper, requesting permission to land.”

I’ll be damned. Morgan Tripp,” coughed a man. “Lowering shields for you.”

Soma sat within a crater of dark slate encapsulated by a giant particle shield dome. It kept out unwanted visitors and harboured the town from slate storms.

The way to tell a good quality dome from a tragedy waiting to happen was the flickering. With a good dome you’d never know it was there, crystal clear and seamless. Soma’s dome had a ripple that reappeared every few minutes, like a stone dropped in a pond.

Sal was now compelled to check the condition of the ship’s oxygen masks. She had a feeling they might need them.

A section of the dome opened, allowing Light Tripper to pass through and Morgan put her down on the landing pad with a thump and a sputter.

Alright, let’s get out of this thing before it goes boom,” he said, hurrying to the airlock.

As the door lowered they were greeted by a tall Warwrackian man who was mostly humanoid, save for the line of silver metallic studs down the centre of his face.

Morgan Tripp,” the man greeted with a smile.

Morgan shook his hand. “How are you, Benny?”

Can’t complain.” Benny wiped his hands thick with engine grease on his overalls. “Hear you got a thruster that needs fixing? Trick must like you, he’s willing to wipe my debt.”

How did you get mixed up with Trick? You never go off planet,” Morgan asked.

Didn’t you know? Trick owns a settlement not far from here, uses it to lay low when he needs to. Runs a pretty good dice game when he’s here. Hasn’t been for a while though, Moby’s chased him off. I’ll have my boys take a look at your thruster, it’ll take a few hours though. You in a hurry?”

Yes, actually,” Sal interrupted.

Well hey there, Sal.” Benny smiled. He was suddenly concerned with his appearance, wiping the slate dust from his face and inadvertently replacing it with grease. “You still taking care of this old bastard? I’m surprised you’re not out on your own by now. Heard about that Libraton you took down a month back.”

Sal fondly recalled the encounter. Takka had been child’s play in comparison. That Libraton on Ventus was huge, massive. Sal borrowed a dashcraft and ran him over six times before he stopped twitching enough to gag and bag him.

But Sal wasn’t here to be flattered. “Thanks, but I’d just like to get the thruster and get gone.”

Okay sure,” Benny replied. “Why don’t you come into the bar while my boys get to work. A drink maybe? Just brewed up a fresh batch of shine.”

Sal sighed. He wasn’t called Moonshine Benny for nothing. Being a mechanic was just his day job. Benny’s credits came from brewing a potent batch of shine that kicked the goopa out of you after one sip.

Morgan was already licking his lips, but he quickly noticed Sal and her ominous stare piercing through him. He coughed. “Not for me. Maybe just a coffee and some grub.”

Benny cocked a stunned eyebrow. “You’re a good influence on this guy, Sal. Go on inside, tell them I sent you. We just got pork chops on the replicator. They kind of taste like chicken though.”

Morgan gave a longing sigh. “Everything does, Benny. Everything does.”

He headed for a building that was little more than a rusted steel cube. It stood over two levels and housed Soma’s premier bar, restaurant and hotel experience. Sal had seen worse and that wasn’t a complement. When Morgan was far enough ahead, she grabbed Benny’s arm.

I got a favour to ask.”

Benny’s sentient face studs stood alert.

Don’t sell him any dust, alright? Or moonshine.”

Sal.” Benny sighed. “He’s a grown man. I’m not his mama.”

Please.” Sal’s dark eyes were pleading more than her words would allow. “I need him to be functional, just for a few days.”

Benny relented. “Okay. If it’s that important to you. Hey, while I’ve got you here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thin bar in shiny, blue wrapping. “I traded some engine parts for a crate of these this morning.” Benny peeled back the wrapping. “It’s food, from Earth. The box says chocolate. I know you love Earth stuff, so…”

Sal would normally be weary of taking candy from the pockets of aliens, but immediately made an exception. Chocolate from Earth was not something you were offered every day.

Go on, have a bite.”

Another dubious suggestion. Why not, Sal decided. Of all the ways she could get killed in Morpheus, death by chocolate seemed the most pleasant.

Sal took a bite, savouring the smooth taste in her mouth long after she’d swallowed.

Wow.” She whimpered.

I’ll have my boys load a box or two for you.”

Sal narrowed her gaze. “What’s the catch?”

Benny gasped, appearing offended, but that only lasted a second. “I heard you might have some protein rations. Interested in a trade?”

Why the hell would you want to trade chocolate for that goopa?”

Got a buyer from a mining camp south of here. Some of his… labourers…”

Sal frowned. That meant slaves.

They can’t digest chocolate, turns their guts inside out. They’re paying good money for rations.”

Oh they are, are they? Why do I need to trade with you then? Why don’t I go straight to the boss?”

You’re right,” Benny sighed. “I’ll just take that back.”

He snatched at the bar in Sal’s hand. She lashed out with a snarl and quickly tucked it into her jacket.

Fine. A box for a box.”

Benny’s piercings shivered. “You’re a good kid, Sal. Morgan’s lucky to have you.”

She had heard that all her life. Those on the outside looking in and only seeing what lingered on the surface. They didn’t see Morgan’s heart, the man who had cared for her with nothing but love and kindness her entire life. Who taught her to fly, who taught her to fight. Who could make her laugh and cry in the same moment. Who shared the pain of her nightmares and the fear of her power. Who had made her strong. Yes, Morgan was suffering now, a slave to his vices, but that’s not the man he was. Sal would take care of him, clean him up, until he was ready to be that man again.

There was that hope again. Something Morgan had instilled within her. That kept her going.

Yes, Morgan was lucky, but so was she.

Light Tripper… Chapter Three

Behold! 

behold

Light Tripper cover deliciousness! Not ready for HD and print yet, but you get the idea! Enjoy chapter three!

LightTripper

 

CHAPTER THREE

The lights were so bright that Sal felt as if her eyes were burning. It was impossible to make out the faces behind the voices, they were just hazy shadows surrounding her, shoving sharp needles in her arms and adjusting the tangle of wires inserted in her head.

Try increasing the voltage,” a woman said. “See how it reacts.” Her voice was sharp and refined. Sal heard her tapping a keypad. “If the result is unsatisfactory increase the voltage again.”

I’m not sure she can handle another increase. It took days to reduce the swelling in her brain,” commented a man.

It reduced though. Didn’t it?” the woman snapped.

Yes. She heals quickly, but…”

Then do it. If it starts bleeding again drop it in the recovery tank for a few hours.”

Yes, Doctor Ra.”

They held Sal’s jaw open and pushed a mouth guard over her teeth. Then it hit her, a surge of electricity that ripped the breath from her lungs and threw her into waves of violent convulsions. She clutched the straps that held her tight to the upright stretcher, her body tensed in grotesque spasms and just when Sal thought the pain was easing, she was forced to suffer another shock, this time stronger, just as the doctor had ordered.

Hmmmm,” the man was disappointed. “Better prep the recovery tank.”

Sal bolted upright in her bunk aboard Light Tripper. She fought to steady her frantic, pounding heart and slowly she was able to breath again. Sal held her head in her hands; the throbbing was unbearable. Those images from her nightmare lingered even though her eyes were open and the pain felt so real that she couldn’t stop the trembling in her limbs.

A dull thud startled her. It was far too loud to be Takka. Sal listened harder, trying to decide if it was weapon fire. Trouble? Again? Already?

Sal grit her teeth through the pain and stumbled to the holo-panel on the wall.

“Morgan. Everything alright?”

“Morning, sleeping beauty.”

Morning? She’d been asleep almost a day?

“No problems here, sweetheart. Just crossing the asteroid field. Should be landing on Agrios shortly.”

Not many would be so calm when confronted with a wall of giant, spinning space rocks, but even with his faults, Morgan was the best pilot in Morpheus.

Agrios was a desert planet, surrounded by a dense ring of asteroids and if they didn’t smash your ship into pieces, the long range cannons on the planet’s surface would pick you off soon enough. Agrios did not welcome strangers.

Sal managed to drag herself through the lower deck, nursing her head the entire time. She joined Morgan in the cockpit and strapped herself into the co-pilot chair just as he narrowly avoided an enormous hunk of rock.

Even the dim cockpit lighting was too much. She squinted. “Nice driving.”

“It’s a gift,” Morgan replied with a wink. He noticed Sal grimacing. “You okay?”

“Just another of those headaches and I had this nightmare.” Sal shuddered at the share mention of it. “Did you say it was morning?”

Goopa,” Morgan yelled, chiding himself with a punch to his leg. “How did I get so distracted!”

He fumbled about the control panel, eventually finding a crumpled bag half full of white pills. He snatched one out, losing four to floor in the process.

The headache was getting worse. Sal was swaying side to side, fading in and out of consciousness. Morgan pulled down on her jaw to get her mouth open and she was immediately transported back to her nightmare with those faceless shadows poking and prodding her.

Sal lashed out, forgetting where she was and slapping Morgan’s hand away.

“No you don’t,” Morgan said firmly. He jumped from his chair, pinning Sal down and forcing the pill down her throat. He waited, tucking her hair behind her ears and wiping the sweat from her brow. “Sally. Can you hear me?”

The pain began to melt away. The booming in her head faded to silence and the nightmares slipped into the darkness of her mind. In fact, by the time Sal was able to open her eyes again she could barely recall what had frightened her so much.

“Can you hear me?” Morgan asked again.

“Yeah,” Sal muttered. “And your elbow is in my boob.”

Morgan shuddered and waggled his arm vigorously as if boob was contagious. “You okay?”

“Yeah. That came out of nowhere.”

Morgan returned to his chair and gave the console a kick. “It’s my fault. You were supposed to have that pill twelve hours ago. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, baby.”

Already the entire episode was drifting from her memory, like it always did after she had taken her medicine. She was feeling tingly now, her mind electric with sparking jolts of glee.

“Maybe you should give me the bag? I won’t forget to take them.”

Morgan frowned. “No way. Don’t want you getting too keen on these things. Best I hold onto them. I promise I won’t forget again.”

That was rich. The addict warning her against the dangers of addiction. Or maybe he was the best person to warn her. Sal was going to yell at him a second earlier for not trusting her, but instead she nodded silently and Morgan looked relieved at not having to argue.

He accessed the comm. “Come in Agrios, this is Light Tripper requesting permission to land.”

A woman’s soft voice came over the comm. “Why, Morgan Tripp, you handsome devil. How are you, sweetness?”

“Is that you Gilda, my love?” Morgan flirted. “I hear the voice of an angel in my ears so it must be you.”

Sal gagged, putting her finger down her throat.

“And do you have that darling girl of yours with you?” Gilda twittered.

Sal removed her finger and cleared her throat. “Hi, Gilda.”

“Permission granted, come on down you two.”

Sal flicked off the comm. “Why do you always do that? It’s so gross.”

“Don’t act all innocent,” Morgan grumbled. “You think I don’t know what you get up to with these Morphean boys? As long as he doesn’t have horns or a tail you’re like a dog chasing a bone.”

Sal’s eyes widened, though she wasn’t really offended. “Oh please. How many strange women have I had to throw off this ship in the last month alone? You introduced the last one as my new mother!”

“Hey, she was a good, honourable lady,” Morgan said defensively.

Sal frowned. “You passed out and I heard her hollering through the comm for help. I had to unhook her legs from behind her head.”

Morgan’s smile stretched from ear to ear.

“Just be a gentleman to Gilda, alright? I think she’s the only woman in the system you haven’t swapped fluids with, which is why she’s still nice to you. She’s also in charge of that long range cannon and I don’t want you pissing her off.”

Light Tripper broke through the atmosphere with force and soon the barren terrain of Agrios came into sight beyond the streaks of white cloud. There was nothing remarkable to speak of, just desolate red sand as far as the eye could see beneath an unrelenting sun that never set. That is why the city of Corsar was subterranean. Its only presence above ground was a squared landing pad that covered a couple of miles, dotted with ships and flanked by those long range cannons.

Morgan brought Light Tripper in for a landing and when she touched ground she released a long whooshing sound Sal hadn’t heard before, almost as if she were relieved to have made it this far.

“You can go get Takka,” Sal said sternly. “He’s in a terrible mood and Morvans can get bitey.”

“Why do I have to get him?” Morgan whined. “I drove here.”

“You auto-piloted here,” Sal snapped with a frown. “Plus I’m the one who tackled him and tied him up in the first place.”

“Might have been a bit more helpful if you did that before he shot me.”

“Oh, now you remember?”

“Fine!” Morgan sighed, unbuckling himself from the pilot chair. He grinned at Sal and pinched her chin. “I’ve raised a real hellcat haven’t I?”

“Yes. You’ve done a great job.”

Morgan went below while Sal shut down Light Tripper. There was an orange blinking light on the diagnostic panel, indicating an error with the left thruster. It always blinked, Sal and Morgan had just conditioned themselves to ignore it, sometimes they even covered it with Morgan’s hat. Now though, it was flashing an angry, not-to-be-ignored red. Between that and the whooshing sound, Sal was pretty certain that Light Tripper would need more than five thousand credits worth of repairs.

She headed to the airlock, grabbing another revolver from the weapon rack on her way and opened the door just as Morgan emerged from below with Takka. Morvans were mostly humanoid, apart from a mouth packed tight with razor sharp teeth and a jaw they could unhinge to take bigger bites of whatever it was they were eating. In Takka’s case, he was a proud consumer of Morvan and human alike.

Morgan had bagged Takka’s head with a laser mesh mask. If he tried to make a meal of them, the mask would tighten and slice his head into tidy segments.

His hands were bound behind his back and Morgan shoved him forward forcefully.

“I’ll pay you double what Trick is offering,” Takka bartered.

“You don’t have double,” Sal replied. “When I found you, you were hiding in a cave up to your ankles in your own piss. Not really the lair of someone flush with credits.”

“What about a trade then?” Takka persisted. “Dust. I can get dust?”

Sal walked swiftly to Morgan and took over the pushing and shoving of Takka towards the airlock door before Morgan could consider the offer.

“No more talking or I’ll quarter that ugly mug of yours right now,” she snapped. “You’ve brought this on yourself. Why the heck would you steal from Trick?”

“I wasn’t stealing, I was running from the P.A.” Takka argued.

Morgan was suddenly alert. “The Planetary Alliance? In Morpheus?”

Takka shook his head. “Nah. I was delivering that moonshine to the Renosa system. I touched down just as the P.A. were leaving. I saw them herding Renosans like cattle onto barge cruisers.”

“So? Maybe it was some sort of evacuation,” Sal said.

“The town was on fire,” Takka added.

“See?” Sal sighed.

Takka laughed. “The P.A. were the ones doing the burning.”

No real Morphean would ever say nice things about the P.A. They were bad for business if you were in the business of being bad. But this was the second time in the same measure of days that someone had been slagging off the P.A and not for confiscating smuggled shine or banning unregistered ships from their quadrants. These heartless space pirates were spreading tales of invasion, enslavement and genocide. Even Takka the cannibal, stared at his feet grimly as he spoke of the Renosan’s fate.

It was becoming hard to ignore. Sal glanced over at Morgan, hoping to gauge a reaction on what Takka said he had witnessed. She found his brow weighted with worry.

“Do you know where they were headed next? Were they coming here?” Morgan queried, scratching at his stubble.

“I didn’t stick around to ask,” Takka snickered. “I got as far away from there as I could, headed straight for the Negan system. Hid out there for months in case they were following me.”

“With Trick’s moonshine?” Sal asked.

Takka gave a firm nod.

“Well, that is what you would call stealing, Takka.”

Takka grunted. “Oh. Right.”

Morgan still seemed concerned with Takka’s disclosure. Sal gave him a nudge, her narrowed eyebrows beckoning an explanation.

Morgan shook his head. “Nothing. Let’s just get this over with.”

Outside the ship the temperature went from controlled to blazing-hot in seconds. After a few steps Sal was dripping sweat and in the minute it took to reach the entrance to Corsar, they were all dehydrated.

The heavy doors opened, giving way to wide stairs that led to a series of elevators. They hurried inside and Sal thumped a large button on the wall which released a stream of cold vapour, drenching them all in cool droplets of water.

Sal licked the water from her lips, revelling in the immediate relief from the heat.

“Ouch!” Takka screeched, the laser mask sparking and giving him tiny shocks as it was splattered with water.

Morgan and Sal were unsympathetic. They took the first elevator down several floors and when the doors opened they were greeted by the throng of Corsar, a city drenched in bright artificial light. The streets were lined with bars, traders and food stalls. Junk vendors hawked loudly, trying to better each others prices for ship parts sold in as-is condition. Fights spilled onto the streets, but were quickly settled by calm intervention or a head butt. Sal took a deep breath, catching a hint of fried-egg bread on the air. Ah. Home.

To the uninformed observer, it may have appeared manic, loud and slightly out of control, perhaps even comparable to the chaos of Enos. But if you had been raised on Corsar, if you knew these streets like the back of your hand, if you considered this wretched collection of pirates and hunters the closest thing to family you had, then you would know it as was the safest place in Morpheus.

Beneath the clamour there were good people here whose lawless behaviour was rife only up there, amongst the stars. You weren’t allowed to kill in Corsar, but a beating was acceptable if rightly deserved. The black market was banned here, no selling of body parts or slaves. But Sal’s favourite bit? No dust-dealing. Corsar management had far too many instances of bad behaviour by dust users, the kind who went batshit crazy, which often resulted in violations of the first rule.

In return the most wanted scum in the outer systems could find refuge here, for a price of course. That was another reason Sal wanted Morgan to remain in Gilda’s good books. They were behind on payments. Not that Gilda was in charge, but she had been around long enough to run things on behalf of the man that was, and when Sal glanced down the street, she saw just that man walking towards them.

He was tall, rail-thin and always dressed the same way. Cowboy boots, a tight pair of jeans, a long sleeved black shirt with leather patches on the elbows and a rigid, Stetson hat.

His name was Dallas, an Earth born human with a head of feathered grey hair and a bushy moustache that Sal had to restrain herself from tugging whenever she saw him.

Dallas tipped his hat. “Morgan. Sal. Nice to see you two again.” He looked over Takka. “You wrangled him, huh? Trick will be mighty pleased.”

“He’s still here then?” Sal asked.

Dallas nodded. “Saw him in the Vapour Trail earlier, talking to Pasha.”

Sal’s heart froze in her chest. “Pasha Prashad? Pasha Prashad is here?”

Dallas chuckled.

Sal’s insane obsession with the infamous Indian space captain was well known and unrequited. Pasha came and went like the wind, jumping systems to chase the biggest bounties. Sal had never crossed paths with her, which she was grateful for. She was pretty sure she’d just be a gushing, babbling mess if they ever did meet.

“Look, Sal. It’s about your payments,” Dallas started.

“Hey. If you have business with the Tripps, you talk to me,” Morgan interrupted. “I am her father, you know?”

Dallas laughed uncomfortably. “Sorry there, Morgan. You’re just indisposed much of the time, I’ve gotten use to sorting things with Sal.”

Morgan glared. “Well I’m here now, aren’t I? Get un-use to it.”

Dallas didn’t seem to be appreciating Morgan’s tone and the entire exchange was putting Sal’s stomach in knots.

“Well then, Morgan. You’re behind on payments. If I don’t have a deposit soon you won’t be welcome here next time you try to land. Get my drift?”

“You’d do that?” Morgan forced a woeful stammer. “Throw an innocent father and child onto the streets over a little thing like credits?”

Sal rolled her eyes at Morgan’s pathetic efforts. “How much do we owe?”

“It’s coming up to a thousand.”

Sal pointed at Takka. “Let me hand this bounty in to Trick and I’ll get you the money, okay?”

Dallas bowed. “Sorry to do this to you, Sal, but I got to keep the rules the same for everyone.”

Sal understood completely, that’s why she liked Agrios.

Dallas wandered off into the crowd and Sal was left to endure Morgan’s unhappy scowl.

“I almost had him.”

“You never had him,” Sal said. “Innocent father and child? Where do you think up this goopa?”

“What was Dallas going on about, you taking care of our business when I’m indisposed?”

Sal didn’t want to talk about it. Morgan would just get upset if she reminded him that when he was passed out, it fell on Sal to broker the deals or finalise the bounties. Morgan liked to think he was still in charge, but it hadn’t been that way for at least a year now, not since his drinking and dust using had gotten worse.

But it seemed Sal didn’t have to say anything. Morgan was already agitated. Sal noticed his shoulders twitching and a quiver to his fingers. It was starting. He was coming down.

“I’m hungry,” Morgan blurted out. “You take care of this while I find something to eat.”

“Are you sure? I think I should come with you.”

Sal knew exactly where Morgan was going. A bar, any bar, the closest bar.

Morgan shook his head. “Just go take care of this bounty, okay?”

He stormed off, leaving Sal to deal with Takka and his mocking grin.

“If you let me go, I’ll eat him for you? They’ll never find the body.”

Sal screwed up her face. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She gave him a kick in the backside. “Get moving, weirdo.”

Light Tripper….. Chapter Two

The next installment of Light Tripper for your reading pleasure….

 

space 1

 

CHAPTER TWO

The more distance they put between themselves and the lounge, the louder Morgan started to laugh. Sal hadn’t found the funny side of what had happened just yet.

“That was insane,” Morgan said, trying to catch his breath. “We’ve still got it, kiddo!”

Sal frowned, relieved to catch sight of their ship as they rounded the last corridor. They hurried inside and Sal waited to be sure nothing followed them through the airlock before joining Morgan in the cockpit.

“Hurry up and get her in the air,” Sal said with urgency. “I don’t know how long it takes a Denian to regenerate and I don’t want to find out.”

“You cut off his freaking hand!” Morgan laughed. “You are amazing!”

Sal wanted to smile, Morgan’s laugh was infectious – a guffaw with a touch of snort – but she could smell the shine on him and his finger tips twinkled silver. He was high as a lunar satellite. Once he passed out in an hour or so, he wouldn’t remember any of this and Sal would be tasked with the unfortunately familiar job of cleaning him up.

She tried not to think about that for now, instead focusing on getting the hell off Enos. She took off Morgan’s cap and shoved it on his head. “Punch it.”

Morgan activated the holo-panel controls, retracting the heavy impact shields from the view ports. The engine began to moan, gears began to grind and there was a loud thump as the thrusters came online and ignited. Then… nothing. With a shudder and a shunt, the ship shut down.

“Not again!” Sal whined. “I told you we needed to get that left thruster repaired.”

“We don’t need it repaired, it just needs some Sal magic. Go and do your thing.”

“I almost blew it up last time!” Sal argued.

“Well then I guess we’ll just sit here, wait for Kar to grow his limb back and kill us both.” Morgan leaned back, tipped his cap over his eyes and rested his hands behind his head.

Amidst their own bickering, a third voice called loudly from outside. At first Sal guessed the Denians had caught up with them, but then she sighted a small posse of new faces gathered at the nose of the ship.

She squinted for a better look. “Is that Moda?”

Sal could make out the leader of the group, a tall woman whose brown skin was all but covered in tattoos; a map of sharp lines and sequential dots which identified her as Foundry property. But Moda had taken power of those brands the day she murdered her enslavers and she used her new found freedom and the implants the Foundry had assimilated to her human body to hunt down bounties.

Sal had always considered Moda to be a genuine badass, but the Foundry had done an efficient job of making her more machine than human. Moda had about as much personality as a disposable dinner tray.

Morgan frowned. “Eh. Yeah it is. She gives me the creeps. What does she want?”

“Morgan Tripp,” Moda called. “I am here to collect the bounty on your head. Dead or alive. Your choice. You have three minutes to comply.”

Sal slapped Morgan’s shoulder. “What the hell?”

“I don’t know what she’s talking about!” Morgan was choking on his shock.

Sal was dubious. “Moda doesn’t make mistakes. Who have you pissed off this time?”

“Two minutes,” Moda called again. She reached for her gun. “I have assured Max Moby of immediate delivery.”

Sal wasn’t sure how much further her jaw could drop. “Max Moby? Max Moby!!!”

Morgan shrugged.

The Foundry had ripped off Moda’s arms and legs and screwed on tech replacements with her conscious the whole time. Still, they were fluffy bunnies compared to Max Moby. The Foundry were machines, incapable of emotion and empathy. Moby was a living, feeling human.

“One minute,” Moda reminded.

“Well?” Morgan snapped, a hint of nervousness in his tone. “Am I turning myself over to Moda or are you fixing those damned thrusters?”

The first option was so tempting, but Sal didn’t even pretend to entertain it. It wasn’t going to happen. She grunted and jumped from her chair, storming towards the rear of the ship. As she passed over the grates, she was startled by another bout of banging and yelling from below.

“Not now!” she yelled, stamping her feet.

Sal carried on, opening a hatch and slipping into the engine room on the lower level. It was all sparking wires, unconnected tubes and smoking machine parts. Sal tried her best not to electrocute herself on the way to the spinning thrusters right at the back.

The left thruster was shot, had been for months, but a replacement cost more than a whole new ship. For now, a little bit of what Morgan called Sal Magic had been getting them through.

“Come on, girl. One more ride,” Sal whispered.

She recalled when Morgan had first presented this leaking deathtrap in place of the ten-thousand credit bounty Sal thought they were collecting. Back then the ship was called FL296. It was outdated, ugly and its jump drive was completely busted, meaning she was only good for single-system travel. Since then, Morgan had made but one improvement, and only because all it cost him was a can of paint. He had changed her name to Light Tripper and painted it in bright orange across her side. Sal begrudgingly admitted that she liked the name and as time passed, that fondness extended to the whole hunk of junk. After all, she was quick as a hiccup and could probably outrun a shooting star if the situation called for it.

Sal set her mind back to her task. She spat into her hands and rubbed them together. With her hands glowing cobalt blue, she gripped the gears of the thruster and closed her eyes tight, remembering how the last time she did this her hair stood upright for weeks.

Sal felt the power surge through her, energy hot and raw, coursing through her veins. It was intense, exhilarating and frightening. Sal could never be sure what would happen when she turned it on, this time though, the result was just what they were after.

The left thruster roared into action and without putting a single hair out of place.

“Way to go, baby!” Morgan hollered from the cockpit.

Sal let slip a smile before scurrying back through the engine room and rejoining Morgan.

She spied the Denians approaching, fully regenerated and tearing through the corridor. Her shotgun hunk must not have made it. Poor guy. Whoever he was.

Moda turned her gun on Kar, who drew his just as quickly. There was yelling, Sal couldn’t quite make out the words, but each of them took turns gesturing towards Light Tripper while keeping their weapons trained on each other.

“Go, go, go,” Sal urged. “They’re keeping each other busy.”

Morgan hit the comm switch. “This is Light Tripper requesting departure from bay XX7.”

“Departure granted, Light Tripper,” management crackled back.

The steel floor beneath the ship began to descend, moving them from the hold to the landing bay.

Sal rocked impatiently in her chair, watching helplessly as Kar and Moda appeared to make a truce and charged the ship in a joint effort.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have cut off his hand. I see now how that might really piss a guy off.”

Light Tripper came to a stop with a heavy bump as she set down in the landing bay. Sal looked up, watching a grated plate slide into place above them, sealing them off from the hold.

“That was all you,” Morgan replied, accessing the holo-panel again and inputting their take-off sequence. “I thought you were doing fine just roughing them up. You’re getting stronger and faster. But then you’re all like ‘stab stab, cut cut’,” he chuckled, making a thrusting motion with his hand.

Sal bit her lip. “I over did it, right?”

“Showing off,” Morgan said with a grin.

“I did feel stronger when I was fighting though. That’s probably what got the thruster working. I’m always pumped up after a fight.”

Sal patted her grumbling belly. Now she was super hungry. A double cheeseburger with onions, pickles and a thick slice of grubroot. Hot damn. That would hit the spot. If only the stupid replicator worked. For some reason it only made clam chowder or a green sludge by-product.

Instead Sal poked around the control panel and found a half-eaten bag of dehydrated protein rations. They had three cases in the cargo hold that they’d swiped from a mining transport while it was being loaded on Klymus. They tasted like they looked, which was essentially dry, beige strips of goopa, but they would do the job of shutting up Sal’s stomach for another day.

Sal popped one into her mouth.

She could hear Kar and Moda pounding on the steel above them.

“That was pretty close,” she sighed.

Morgan put all power into the thrusters as the loading bay doors opened, revealing the infinite black of space beyond.

“You worry too much. Just try to control yourself next time. Outbursts like that is why I don’t take you to nice places,” Morgan said as Light Tripper surged forward, leaving a scorching vapour trail behind it.

“Excuse me? Do we need to start a dialogue about the bounty on your head? Max Moby is not someone we want to be on the wrong side of, Morgan. He’s gotten a lot of our friends killed, even killed some himself or have you forgotten?”

Morgan groaned. “Just let me worry about that, alright?”

Regardless of what he said, Sal would continue to worry about it, obsess even. It was added to the long list of Morgan screw-ups that were going to get them killed.

Watching Enos grow small in the distance didn’t make Sal feel any safer. The Denians had ships as well… fast ones… with guns and the latest gossip in the system was that Moda had obtained a Starjumper with some sort of experimental hyper-speed enabler.

Before it disappeared from their radar, a scratchy message blared through the comm. “Enos patrol ships on alert; light-class sprint cruiser hijacked in landing bay. Damage to Exit Bay Seven. Retrieve with force if necessary.”

Could that be Kar or Moda? No. Neither would need to steal a cruiser.

All the same, Sal put more power into the thrusters even though that was a terrible idea. She brought up the holo-map and said, “Let’s get to Agrios. Lay low for awhile.”

“But I hate Agrios. No good bars..”

“Because you’re banned from all of them.”

“No dice or card games…”

“Again, because you’re banned from all of them.”

“And it’s full of no-good pirates and hunters who threaten to kill me for no good reason…”

“They have lots of good reasons. You’ve ripped most of them off and they hate you.”

Morgan threw his arms in the air. “And still we’re going?”

“Hear that?” Sal sighed, pointing at the persistently rowdy floor panels. “He’s been bitching and moaning for hours. We have to go to Agrios to collect the bounty because that’s where Trick is.”

Morgan’s face went blank, trying to recall exactly what Sal was talking about.

“Really? You were that wasted?” Sal didn’t know why she was surprised. “Takka Graddo is in the hold, Morgan. We flushed him out of some dump on Jasper? Trick put a bounty on him for stealing a shipment of moonshine? He’s been on board for two days?”

None of this seemed to be ringing a bell for Morgan.

“He shot you in the leg!” Sal yelled with frustration, grabbing Morgan’s trousers and hoisting his leg onto the control panel. She pulled back the stiff, grubby fabric revealing a poorly wrapped bandage around his calf that was leaking blood.

“Huh.” Morgan snorted. “I thought I felt a sting. So we caught him, eh? How much is this bounty worth?”

“Five thousand,” Sal replied.

“Pfffft. Trick can afford more than that. I’ll renegotiate.”

Sal couldn’t be bothered arguing or reminding him that of all the pirates and hunters on Agrios who hated Morgan, Trick probably did so the most. After all, Morgan had crashed one of Trick’s best ships into a desert after drinking his way through half the moonshine cargo.

Luckily Trick had a soft spot for Sal and was impressed by the fact she could fit three replicated tomatoes in her mouth, so he didn’t break Morgan’s arms and legs. Trick was quirky that way. They also shared a love of Earth memorabilia, in private of course. Trick Satin was a hardened space pirate after all and in command of the largest fleet in Morpheus. Still, he had a pretty amazing collection of twentieth century Smurf figurines.

It had been a challenge for Sal to get her hands on Takka before any other bounty hunter, and with the thruster about ready to implode, the five thousand credits had already been spent.

It was disheartening for Sal, working hard for credits only to have them constantly swallowed up by ship repairs or Morgan’s escapades. The jump drive fund was just a box of wishes and I.O.Us at this point and as for getting to Earth, a planet several systems away, Sal reckoned she had a better chance of pushing Light Tripper there, it would just take her a few thousand years.

Sal thought about Earth a lot. Morgan said she was born there, not that she could remember. Apparently they up and left when she was just a few months old. Still, something about it called to her. It wasn’t just the oceans or forests, other planets had those things too. Deep in her heart, she knew it was home and the only place in the galaxy where she could get the answers to questions that Morgan dodged like bullets. Starting with the minor fact that she happens to be electrified.

But returning to Earth was little more than a dream. Even if she had the credits, it would cost more than new thrusters, more than a jump drive. To get past the shield you had to have genome tests, the proper data records and not carry the sort of criminal history that would get you arrested on sight. The Planetary Alliance were very strict on such things and Earth fell under their protected territories.

Sal was abruptly reminded of Kar and his incensed hatred for the P.A and Morgan by association, but Sal agreed with Opus. The P.A were another system’s problem. They had never shown a drop of interest in little Morpheus which is why it was rife with loveable scum. Sure, Sal had heard whispers; the disappearance of entire colonies and civilian transport ships on fire, but that’s all they were, whispers. They couldn’t get away with such things. Surely Morgan would have said something? Wouldn’t he?

Sal pushed Earth and the Planetary Alliance from her mind for now. These five thousand credits would go on the thrusters. That was more important, more realistic, otherwise Light Tripper was nothing but a floating mass of useless steel and Sal and Morgan were little more than civilians. Having a ship – even a wreck of one – was freedom and dignity in a system where the latter was in short supply. In Morpheus, there were two common sayings.

The first was ‘trust no one’, and the second, which most Morpheans lived and died by, ‘if you don’t got a ship, get one‘.

Sal would never give up Light Tripper. It was stability in a world where she was constantly teetering on the edge of the next life or death predicament, even if it was held together by dodgy welds, stolen parts and the odd touch of Sal Magic.

By now they had managed to put a good amount of distance between themselves and Enos, and the scanners didn’t show anything following them. Morgan and Sal Tripp had scraped their way out of another one.

Sal had input the co-ordinates for Agrios and Light Tripper was set to auto-pilot.

Morgan leaned back in his chair, feet on the control panel, his cap pulled down over his eyes. He had cued up a rare laser disc of his favourite Earth music to help drown out Takka’s complaining.

Sal rolled her eyes, dreading the sound of Morgan’s horrible, croaky singing voice and as soon as he pulled out the air guitar, she was on her feet and leaving the cockpit.

“Let me know when Agrios is in range,” she moaned.

Dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-danun, dun-dun-dun, dun-dun. Smoooooooke on the water…” Morgan crooned.

As Light Tripper made her way through space, Sal took some time for herself, hiding away in her room and locking the door. It was cramped, a set of bunks within a recessed wall, a sink and a mirror with a shower that tucked away behind a sliding panel. Of course Sal’s collection of Earth memorabilia didn’t help the clutter situation.

The white walls were covered in old posters, crinkled and curled, with the odd one in mint condition. Most were landscapes, lush green valleys and vibrant forests bursting with life, however Sal was most fond of her ‘Hang In There, Baby’ poster, with a kitten hanging desperately from a tree branch, a true gem of early Earth culture. Adding to the mess were her crates, stacked almost to the ceiling, bursting with books, trinkets and plastic toys with bobbing heads.

Sal had collected them on her travels, each beloved and she could never have enough. The top bunk was already starting to fill up with boxes. At this pace, she wasn’t far from having to sleep in the shower stall.

The mirror was smeared with who knows what, so Sal gave it a wipe with the elbow of her jacket. She unwound her hair from the knotted mess she’d been hiding under Morgan’s cap and rubbed her scalp, humming contently with relief. Her hand brushed over the tap and water from the ship’s fluid recycler spurted into the sink.

Sal wiped down her brow and the back of her neck while fruitlessly picking at the despised dusting of freckles just below her eyes. She spotted a dot of green blood and winced, scrubbing at her brown skin long after the speck had been wiped away.

Morgan could of mentioned something about having Kar on her face.

Sal crawled into the bottom bunk and kicked off her heavy boots. She felt a prod in her back and laughed when she realised she still had the revolver tucked into her pants. Sal yanked it out and checked it over to be sure it was fully charged; that all the mechanisms were working correctly; that the barrel was clear. She could clean a gun with her eyes closed, pull it apart and put it together in the blink of an eye, perfect every time.

The PEP was her favourite but she wasn’t prejudiced. Sal appreciated and admired all guns equally and was an advocate for the adage that size doesn’t matter. The PEP though, it channelled her energy so effectively, making it almost an extension of herself.

There were very few items that could do that, most exploded, appliances certainly did, she had annihilated multiple thumb imprinters in her time, but weapons absorbed her energy and became stronger for it.

It caused Sal to wonder sometimes. This power that she had seemed engineered to help killy-things kill better and faster. What kind of gift was that? For now, the hows and whys of Sal’s powers were a mystery that plagued her, a key that didn’t fit any locks and until she found the lock that clicked, Sal just had to do her best to only blow up imprinters and not something more important, like herself.

She patted the revolver lovingly before popping it under her pillow for safe keeping. They had never been attacked or boarded in space before, but there was a first time for everything, especially while Morgan was at the helm.

As Sal lay there, she spared a thought for the dark-eyed, probably-dead stranger who had held onto her with such desperation in the Dago Lounge. Who was he? What did he want with her? And where did he find that spectacular gun? All things Sal might have gotten the chance to ask if she wasn’t running for her life at the time. She drifted off to sleep, lulled by the hollow thrum of the engines.

Introducing…. Light Tripper

Oh, hi there. How are you? Good, that’s good.

giphy

While the Ardentia series gets a face lift, I’d like you to meet my latest project, a Sci-Fi Space Opera called, Light Tripper.

tenor

I’ll be posting chapters on the blog before the edited version makes its way to ebook for purchase.

The Morpheus system sits on the edge of the galaxy, a refuge for smugglers, bounty hunters and infamous space pirates. It is a world built upon few rules; lawless, leaderless and unaffected by the growing influence of the Planetary Alliance, a benevolent military force who bring salvation and peace to a divided universe. But there are rumours. Whispers of vanishing colonies and children herded like cattle. Morpheus continues to turn a blind eye, but what will become of them if the P.A. decides to expand its dominion?

For now Sal Tripp will just focus on what she does best. Bagging the biggest bounties in the system, aided by powers she doesn’t understand. Sal is strong, fast and can manipulate energy, channeling it through weapons with destructive results. But fearful of what her fellow space scum might do to her if they ever found out, Sal keeps her ability a secret that she shares with the only person she trusts, her vice-ridden father, a former Planetary Alliance pilot who owes credits to every gangster in the galaxy. Together they navigate the stars in their derelict ship, Light Tripper.

That’s before a blown thruster puts them at the mercy of the system’s most ruthless crime boss and weaves their path with a hardened super soldier who puts a higher value on Sal’s life than she believes it deserves. Then a giant P.A. battle cruiser descends on Morpheus and suddenly their way of life is threatened.

But this is not a simple invasion. The P.A. want more than territory, more than resources. Sal is thrust into a rebellion and her painful nightmares might just turn out to be terrifying realities. She will need to harness her power, unravel the lies and unite a system of despicable scoundrels to fight for freedom.

I hope you enjoy and please leave any comments/critiques in the comments section!

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Of all the cesspits in Morpheus, Enos Station was the nastiest.

Sal paced the cockpit like a cat in a cage. The ship had been docked in the Enos cargo bay for two hours. Morgan should have been back by now.

“Just need a word with an old buddy,” he’d said before he left. “Maybe a quick drink.”

After all these years, how was Sal still falling for the same goopa?

In and out without having to endure the sleaziest third-class space station in the outer systems? Such a feat would require Morgan to keep his word. Sal promised herself again this would be the last time she’d believe him.

She thumped her fist against the off-white ceiling panel above her. The holographic control board twitched and fizzled, static blaring. Another thump stabilized it. She tapped several of the green symbols, then waved the projection aside.

A panel to her left opened and the weapon rack slowly began to eject, the ear-splitting sound of scraping metal filling the cabin. Sal groaned gutturally, tapping her foot. A Nothrosian with six broken legs could move faster.

As soon as there was room, Sal squeezed her hand between the grates, grabbing the PEP revolver. She popped out the cartridge and cursed Morgan some more when she saw a red blinking light taunting her. He was always forgetting to charge the thing.

Sal had won her fair share of fist fights, but when it came to survival upon this million tonne hunk of rusted steel, she fancied her odds a touch more with her revolver in hand. She spit into her palm and rubbed her fingers together to create some friction.

Strikes of blue light broke through her skin, sparking and crackling in sporadic surges. It took all her strength to harness this fist-full of lightning and before she accidentally melted her face off, Sal gripped the cartridge and transferred the energy. Each of the eight chambers flicked green as it charged and by the end Sal was drained. It was always more exhausting generating energy cold, where she had juice to spare if she’d been chasing down a bounty or punching in a face beforehand. The aftermath was the same though. Shaping that energy made her damn hungry.

Sal was startled by banging and cursing that flooded from beneath the floor.

She wasn’t often caught off guard.

“Hey!” She stamped her foot. “Keep stuhm down there!”

What was going on beneath the floor was a problem that would be dealt with later.

Sal loaded the revolver and tucked it into the waistband of her skin-tight cargo pants, keeping it out of sight beneath her well-worn, red leather jacket. Sal twisted her dark, frizzy mess of hair into a knot, then yanked Morgan’s cap over the top. The thing stunk of smoke and cheap moonshine and was printed with a semi-naked Plokami female, her tentacles placed strategically to keep it classy.

Sal rolled her shoulders, sucked in a breath thick with dread, then stormed to the back of the ship and hit the airlock button. With the same finesse of the weapon rack, the airlock opened.

Immediately Sal was bombarded by the bustling din. The cargo bay was overrun with scabs – space transients and general shady types – all clumsily competing to refuel the ship or scrape the thruster scorch from the wing, anything for a few credits to spend at the bars or risk at the dice tables. Sal vigorously shooed them away. Like she had credits to spare.

Most were harmless, everyone had to eke out some sort of living, but it was the ones with the silver-stained fingertips that you needed to watch for. Dust didn’t wash off skin easy.

Sal had never partaken herself, she had enough trouble controlling the lightning in her veins without adding some powder concoction to the mix, but she had seen what it did to people. Most were calm, content to quietly enjoy their hallucinations, but others were just a bad trip away from clawing your face off. Those were the ones that Sal wouldn’t hesitate to unload her revolver into and no one was likely to say boo about it.

After all, this was Morpheus. There was no Planetary Alliance, no border control, no regulations and no standards. The only code around here was a moral one, and people with those were few and far between. That’s why Enos flourished. Its owners didn’t care about your principles or purpose in the galaxy, as long as you had credits to lose you were welcome and the station was not starved for punters. It offered services banned in most systems, including its infamous dice tables, where entire fortunes and bodily organs could be won or lost in a hand. Sal had heard tales of a captain losing not only his ship, but his entire crew. It didn’t surprise her though, Morgan had won their ship in a similar fashion.

Sal headed for the cargo bay exit, but had barely taken a step before being shoulder barged by another Enos arrival. There was drawn-out hiss as Sal was confronted by an eight foot, scaly-skinned Libraton.

“Watch where you’re going, human!” He flicked his forked tongue at her.

Instinctively, Sal reached for her revolver, but quickly reconsidered. Where there was one Libraton, there were another ten skulking around and this was a relatively small one. The others would likely be its larger siblings.

She bit her tongue, digging her hands into her jacket pockets and walking out of the cargo bay with her eyes set on the floor. She only glanced up to read the neon signs directing visitors to each entertainment hub.

The Dago Lounge was the largest bar on Enos and the best place to start her search. The most powerful bosses in the outer systems liked to congregate there and where there was underworld wealth, there were down-and-out space-bums on the hunt for a quick and easy way to score credits.

That was Morgan to a T, and Sal hoped she would find him under the first rock she kicked over rather than having to investigate some of the seedier joints. She was in no mood to drag him from the pleasure pits again.

She approached the heavy, sealed doors of the lounge and was abruptly halted by the doorman.

He was a pale skinned Eriog, not remarkably tall or well built, but by reputation incredibly strong. He was dressed sharply in a dark suit and wore a wide black visor over his eyes, a thin blue line darting back and forth across its shiny surface.

He put his hand on Sal’s shoulder.

She swiftly batted it away.

The Eriog replied by retrieving a sonic revolver from his jacket and pointing it directly at Sal’s head.

Sal frowned, raising her arms lazily in half-hearted surrender which the Eriog accepted, holstering his gun. He lifted the bill of Sal’s cap and leaned toward her dark, brown eyes. The blue line upon his visor began to zigzag and hum as it processed information.

“Human female.”

Sal nodded. “Yep.”

“No diseases or infections.”

Sal signed. “That’s good news.”

“Abnormality in genetic make-up. Explain?”

Sal was suddenly nervous. She didn’t let it show. “I don’t know, guy. I just work here.”

She waited for the Eriog’s response, again feeling an itch to grab her gun and see for herself just how strong he was, but fortunately he didn’t seem interested in further details. He continued to speak blankly in his monotone voice.

“No outstanding warrants or bounties. Not currently banned by Enos management. Entry approved.”

The large steel doors slid open, flooding the corridor with pounding bass music and blinding laser lights.

“Welcome to The Dago Lounge.”

Sal feigned a smile and dragged herself inside, the doors slamming shut behind her. It was hard to make out anything against the flashing strobe lights, faces there one moment then gone the next. Further disorientating were the holograms projected in the giant room. Sal looked down to find herself upon a pitch black sky, dressed with a million stars. The walls and ceiling were the same, no sign of the cold, hard steel that encased them, instead the patrons walked amongst the dazzling vastness of Morpheus. It was magnificent and the first thing Sal had found on Enos that she liked, but she’d always been in love with the stars. It was the jerks that populated them that were the problem.

Sal glided through the constellations, making her way to the bar. She pushed past a group of blue-skinned Quisons, avoiding their bushy tails that swished in time with the music.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked, putting a glass down in front of her as she took a seat.

Sal was surprised to see the young man was human, all painted and glittered, decorated like a prop and wearing a tight shirt with alternating graphics. He was probably cute under all that eyeshadow and Sal was alarmingly aware of how long it had been since she’d had her itch scratched, not to mention that human men were hard to find. But he was just so… sparkly.

“Not much of a drinker,” she said.

“Maybe you’re after something else?” He leaned forward. “A taste of that silver supernova?”

Sal frowned. “Really? No foreplay? Just straight into the hard sell?”

The bartender raised his arms defensively. “I thought I felt a vibe and I was just trying to speed things up. I can normally pick ’em.”

“Anyone else given you a vibe tonight?” Sal asked. “Tattoos, grey stubble, stinks of moonshine and self-loathing?”

The bartender grinned. “Oh, you’re looking for Morgan, huh? He’s over there.”

He tipped his head to a darkened corner and Sal soon spied Morgan sitting at a table flanked by a cast of unseemly characters. Sal wasted no time forcing a path through the dance floor, earning profanities and hand gestures that transcended language barriers.

She arrived just as Morgan tossed up two glowing blue dice. Sal snatched them from the air.

“Time to go,” she snapped.

Opus was the only player at the table she recognised. Most Gordites looked alike, all loose-hanging skin and tusks, but Opus had a condition that left his face covered in disgusting, pus-filled cysts. Even so, he wasn’t the ugliest Gordite Sal had ever encountered. They were in general, not an attractive species, but they were clever and ruthless.

“Why, is that little Sal Tripp?” Opus bellowed, his sagging chin skin flapping as he spoke. “You were just a youngling last I saw you.”

“And you were less oozy,” Sal replied, gesturing to a freshly popped cyst on his forehead. Opus had a pretty Plokami woman at his side who quickly dabbed up his dripping goop with a cloth.

She narrowed her eyes. “Morgan,” she said firmly.

Morgan sat silent, his gaze was distant, seemingly waiting for the dice to land even though Sal had been holding them for a time now.

“Dad!” Sal yelled.

At last he stirred from his daze. His hair was shaggy, dark blonde and flecked with grey. He was tall, even sitting down and had strong arms covered in tattoos, mostly poorly drawn animals, but there were also words in languages that Sal didn’t understand and Morgan didn’t want to educate her on. He gave his glazed blue eyes a rub.

“Sal. What are you doing here? I told you to wait in the ship.”

“Ship,” Opus laughed loudly. “That’s no ship. It’s a scrap heap with thrusters.”

“I’ve been waiting,” Sal said. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

“I always meant to ask, Morgan,” Opus started. “Why is it that Sal has this delicious brown skin when you’re a dirty, pale sack of goopa?”

The players erupted with laughter.

Morgan’s face was overcome with bliss. “Sal’s mama was an island princess,” he sighed. “Some place with palm trees and water like blue glass for miles. Where was it again, Sal?”

Sal folded her arms impatiently. “You’re the one telling the story.”

“Ugh, I forget…I remember the hips though,” Morgan snorted. “And the rack.”

The players turned to Opus for translation.

“Oomas.” Opus grunted, simulating overly large breasts with his hands.

The players laughed again and Sal wasn’t interested in learning any more Gordite dialect.

“Well this has been great. Morgan. Let’s go.”

“Yes. Runaway, Captain Tripp, like a good little coward. I would expect nothing less of the Planetary Alliance.”

All attention now belonged to the Denian who had so far been silent at the end of the table, though his fierce one-eyed glare was reserved solely for Sid.

Morgan squinted to make out his face. “Do I know you, friend?”

“You do not and I have never been your friend.”

Sal could confirm that he was no acquaintance of the Tripps, there were only a handful of Denians in Morpheus to begin with. But he was certainly familiar with Morgan, enough to know that he was ex-Planetary Alliance.

It wasn’t a closely guarded secret. Most of Morgan’s tattoos were from when he served and everyone this side of the Koji Divide had been forced to endure a grand tale of adventure from the lips of the P.A’s finest fighter pilot. But it also wasn’t a past that Morgan sang from every corner of the system.

For every fond memory he shared there were a hundred he tried to kill with shine and dust. He was also mindful of those unhappy with the Planetary Alliance’s expanding influence throughout the galaxy; those who saw them as oppressors rather than saviours and didn’t much care that Morgan’s status was no longer current. It didn’t take a genius to see which club the Denian belonged to. His revulsion was palpable.

Opus grumbled. “That’s enough, Kar. Talk like that has no place here. Let the rest of the galaxy worry about the Planetary Alliance. They are no threat in Morpheus and neither is Morgan.”

Sal wasn’t surprised to hear Opus defending her father, for whatever the reason he was one of the few friends Sid had. She just didn’t expect him to say such things out loud within earshot of others.

Kar the Denian fell silent and Sal thought this as good a time as any to attempt a hasty exit.

“Well this was swell,” she chuckled with half a smile. “But we have to be going.”

Kar reacted immediately, pulling back his long coat to reveal a holstered gun. Sal noticed a small symbol embroidered on the left of his shirt. A solid black crescent moon within a blood-red sphere. Kar didn’t give her time to ask for its meaning.

“He’s not going anyway until we’re done talking. Until he looks me in the eye and admits what a filthy fashtapa he is.”

Morgan laughed. “I can’t even admit that to myself. What makes you think you’d get the honour… friend?”

Sal rolled her eyes. Morgan was smiling. This was going to get ugly.

From the shadows came two more Denians and they took position either side of Kar, their bony fingers grasping the same style of gun.

Sal looked to Opus but he was all done talking. There was no way he was going to take a bullet for Morgan.

She sighed. “I guess there’s only one way out of this then. Best just roll those dice, Sid.”

At first Morgan didn’t follow, but slowly a grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. He nodded knowingly and said, “Alright, baby.”

He threw the dice in the air and even Kar couldn’t help but watch them fly.

Sal moved quickly, roundhouse kicking the first Denian bodyguard across the face and sending him to the floor. As he fell she used him for leverage, propelling herself upward and straddling the second bodyguard’s shoulders. Sal drove her clenched fist hard into its eye and the Denian howled briefly before Sal tightened her thighs around its neck and flipped backwards, spinning the Denian over the top of her.

In the mean time, Morgan had pulled a large serrated blade from his waistband, a knife he called ‘The Deal Breaker’, and had skewered Kar’s gun hand to the table.

With his associates subdued, Sal grabbed her revolver and pushed it hard against Kar’s temple.

“Sorry, Kar,” Morgan said, gathering his worn jacket from the back of his chair. “My little girl wants to get going and you know how kids can be.”

Kar’s lips were trembling furiously, his mouth frothing like a rabid dog desperate to attack.

Sal reminded him with a shove that she had a fully charged energy gun pointed at his head.

“I’m going to rip you apart,” Kar muttered. “But you’ll still be alive when I start eating you.”

“Hey. What do you call a Denian with a broken nose and a missing hand?” Sal asked.

Before he could answer, Sal drove her elbow into Kar’s face, instantly breaking his nose. She then wrenched the Deal Breaker from his flesh and sliced his hand from his wrist in one strike.

Those at the table were aghast with horrified gasps and winces as Kar cried out in agony.

“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” Sal groaned. “It’ll grow back.”

Morgan grabbed his knife and wiped Kar’s green blood on his trousers. “That is nasty, Sal.”

He took her by the hand and together they fled The Dago Lounge, barging into patrons who seemed more upset about their spilled drinks than the mutilated Denians giving chase from the dice table. Sal was surprised they recovered so quick. She moved her feet faster, her fingers laced tightly with Morgan’s, then she let out a yelp when someone snatched her other hand. At first she thought it was Kar and she braced herself for a likely ass-kicking. Instead she found herself face to face with another human; a tall man with the darkest eyes she had ever seen. His stare was piercing and meant only for her even though there were a million dazzling distractions. His mouth and jaw were obscured with a black scarf and he stood tall and broad, holding Sal’s hand hard against his chest.

Sal felt her knees wobble briefly. He was human, big and pleasantly shaped and wasn’t wearing a speck of glitter. He was practically perfect. It was a shame Sal didn’t have time to swap details. Judging by the commotion and ripple through the crowd, Kar was only a few feet away.

“Can I get that back?” Sal asked, nodding toward her hand.

“You have to come with me,” he said flatly.

“Oh. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, fella.”

Great, he was a crazy. Why did he have to talk and ruin it?

Sal attempted to yank herself free, but he didn’t relent an inch and all the while Morgan was tugging impatiently on her other hand.

“Sal. What’s the hold up?”

She puffed her cheeks. “Alright, you’ve had your fun, psycho. Now let go.”

The man said nothing and only clutched her tighter.

Sal had lost her patience. She wriggled her fingers free of Morgan and swiped her revolver from her belt. She pointed it between her would-be kidnapper’s eyes. “I can’t miss from here.”

His broad chest heaved a long disgruntled breath and he reluctantly released her.

Sal could see Kar now, charging through the crowd. She looked upon the stranger one last time and still his eyes were adhered to her as if she were the only person in the room. It was intrusive and intimidating and Sal didn’t like it. Before she could ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, he whipped back his coat and pulled out a plasma shotgun. It cocked with a whoosh and just when Sal thought he was going to blow an unsightly hole in her head, he spun on his heels and unloaded a round into one of Kar’s men instead. He glanced over his shoulder.

“Run then.”

Sal didn’t need to be told twice. Morgan had already found her hand again and was dragging her to the doors of the Dago Lounge.

Apparently amputations and shotgun fire were nothing unusual. The Eriog doorman waved farewell as they ran past and encouraged them to visit again.