Light Tripper cover deliciousness! Not ready for HD and print yet, but you get the idea! Enjoy 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?”
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.”