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!
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.