Steve A. Gallacci, for inspiring me with his masterpiece of a comic: Erma Felna: EDF.
B.V. Larson, for giving me many, many science fiction ebooks to read on my mother’s kindle many, many years ago and causing me to start developing my own ideas.
And finally, W.D. ‘WingDings’ Taylor, for helping develop characters and finally, finally, drawing some damn art after much persistence.
Now without further ado.
Everything started simple enough; a civil war raged in the infantile United States of America, war was brewing between Denmark, the German Empire, and its ally the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an uprising by Polish-Lithuanians had begun in the Russian Empire, and the world in general was in turmoil. It was 1863. The year they appeared.
Anthromorphs. Humans melded with certain species’ of animal, some canine, some feline, some even insectoid, but these ‘new people’ believed that nothing had changed, not even knowing they had all been dropped into a new, hostile, scared universe. They tried to return to their jobs they held, only to be shot by terrified fellow employees. But soon enough, the world accepted these visitors, and the effects they brought upon the world were monumental.
The American Civil War, previously a curbstomp by the Union versus the Confederacy, had been turned around due to the sudden appearance of foreign anthromorph supporters of the war, and the massive increase in manpower the Confederacy suddenly had over the Union. The war ended in 1865, with the Confederacy having fought to be free, but at the cost of small-scale rebellions caused by the extremely controversial decision to free their own slaves in a copy of Lincoln’s ‘emancipation proclamation’ as the majority of that new manpower was actually slaves. The original proclamation itself was overturned by a xenophobic and scared Union government, who overruled Lincoln’s power and instead jailed and executed all ‘pre-humans’.
Europe was also torn apart, with the surprising stalemate and fruitless peace treaty of the Second Schleswig War leading to a much stronger Denmark than most would’ve wanted, and a fledgling Polish-Lithuanian Republic forcing itself to life and waging a short war against the Russian Empire, grasping at its own life strings for the entire war before fading away into obscurity.
This was only the beginning of the changes that the world felt.
Things got even more odd when the Mimics came in 1912. Two species, descending from the stars on steel caskets, behemoths of metal that housed thousands of alien refugees from a slave colony millions of lightyears away, guarded by beings made of pure light who just so happened to cross paths with the hulking ships. The ones who came out of the ships were scarily human, albeit chitinous with four arms, and skin that looked and felt like black leather covering frail bodies, and with what looked like the heads of praying mantids.
But their eyes shone brightly, multi-colored prosthetics they had crafted inside their ships. These migrants had no explanation for where they came from as their ‘first generation’ had died out many years ago, but they explained that their oddly human appearance was the result of them observing Earth for years and forcefully mutating themselves to fit. The floating beacons of light soon formed themselves into vaguely human shapes as well, sexless, androgynous, transparent bodies full of what looked to be tiny universes and stars, with an ‘eye’ comprised of a single nebula. Marblemen, these were soon named, due to their pale and soft complexion most of them gained after examining humans more closely, like living Roman statues, and as their skin gained color and depth, their eyes transformed into single large cyclopean ones, and they renamed themselves Marbelians, as not all of them were men, obviously.
These mimics lived side-by-side with anthromorphs and humans after the teething issues were gone, but the Aldearians had their population cut down to a mere fraction of their original amount by the First Great War that began merely two years later; the Marbelians stayed out of it for the most part. But when the war ended in 1919, the world was even more different than it was before it. Kingdoms were gone, republics were formed, and these three ‘new peoples’ found themselves in yet another strange universe.
A universe of hurt.
It was a sunny, bright, early December friday. Birds were singing, anti-war protesters were protesting, and the world was abuzz with activity, as were the many others colonized across the stars. This world however, was no ‘real’ world. If one looked past the stars they would notice that the sky seemed a bit too circular, like a dome, and they would be right; this world was merely the inside of a Grove, a massive biosphere sticking out of the side of a space station, in sync with the gravity well on the primary station and meant to remove the claustrophobia of sitting in a space station for God knows how long.
When the twelve o’ clock bus stopped, a few people hopped off, a few people hopped on, and it was on its way. At least, it was until someone stepped out in the street in front of it and materialized a carbine out of the block on his hip, pointing it at the driver and causing the bus to skid to a stop.
The individual merely formed the firearm back into a block on their hip and whistled a jaunty tune as they approached the bus, tapping the folding doors with a prosthetic claw. When the doors opened, they climbed up into the bus, fumbling around with some change in their pocket for a moment before throwing it into the farebox. They nimbly weaved their way between the legs of some very annoyed riders, before finding a nice empty bench to sit down in, letting out an exhausted sigh before fumbling around in the pockets of their orange puffer vest for something. They drew out some suction cupped earbuds with their claw and pressed them to the exterior eardrums besides their antennae, and tapped on the side of their vest.
“…wireless back in fifty-two…”
As the music began to pipe into their ears, they leaned back in their seat, sticking their hands behind their head. But before they fully relaxed, they reached down and pulled up their hood with their claw. They also unconsciously scratched a fresh set of bite marks on the side of their neck, which paired nicely with the three other sets of bite marks that had scarred there over the years, courtesy of a unique skin condition that caused even the smallest nicks and gashes to leave behind bright gray scar tissue.
As they rested their arms behind their head and the bus began to chug along yet again, they closed their eyes for a moment, exhaled, and opened them again. Their bright amber eyes glinted in the faux sunlight of the grove.
“…lying awake at intent on tuning in on you…”
This individual’s name, or at least the one he puts on his listing, is Kolt K. Saudwell. The ‘K.’ doesn’t mean anything really, he just put it there because he thought it looked cool. He’s 25, of the third Aldearian gender although he explicitly uses male pronouns, and is literally covered head to prong-shaped toes in scars. And this is the end of his story. So let’s go back to where it began, about two months prior to this, on a dark, and stormy September evening…
“…you were the first one, you were the last one…”
“Video killed the radio star!…”
It was a dark and stormy night in some boring town in some boring city in some boring country with a predominant human population. All throughout the town, people were probably asleep or masturbating or something I don’t know, i’ll get to the point now. There was a house on a street in the suburbs of this city, light yellow paint, two stories, triangular roof with a big dual-doored garage dominating the front of it. If one tried to open the front door, they’d find it locked. Because who the hell leaves their front door unlocked at night? But, if one tried to open the side door leading into the garage, they’d find it unlocked.
Inside the garage was nothing special, a few spearfishing spears on the walls, some scuba gear, just the usual stuff someone who dabbles in diving has, and then there’s some other unimportant shit laying around but I really should get to the point now. Upstairs in this house was a mustached man who was very, very scared, as he was currently running for his life from a black, armor-clad individual who had smashed through his window as he slept in his room, something that one probably would cause one to be at least mildly agitated.
He scrambled out of his room in his pajamas, glasses that he had just barely managed to yank off his nightstand in his hand as he stumbled towards the stairs, barely able to see anything in the dim light beaming in from the moon outside. He slapped his glasses onto his face and tried to grab onto the railing for the stairs, but a black, leathery hand grabbed the collar of his cow-pattern pajamas and pulled back, causing his feet to slip out from underneath him. The dark individual chasing him pulled the fear-frozen man up from the ground, dangling his slipper-wearing feet a few inches off the ground, and their surprisingly long head pointed its ‘horn’ at his forehead.
The lower half of their head suddenly let out a whirring noise as a wide light orange visor was uncovered, and a distorted voice chuckled, “Going somewhere, punk?”
The man wheezed in fear, and somehow gained enough courage to kick the figure in their armored chest, which hurt his foot like hell but caused the figure to loosen their grip. The man then fell down the stairs head over heels as he was being held OVER them, but at the bottom he quickly got to his feet and ran into the houses kitchen, pulling open a drawer and pulling out the meanest looking cleaver he could find. The figure calmly walked down the stairs and into the kitchen, leaning on the island in the center of the room, hands on the edges and staring at the man with their orange visored face, like some sort of unstoppable robot. Their distorted voice cackled, “To be honest, the thing that keeps me doing this job is the chases. Helps me work up an appetite afterwards.”
“G-Get the fuck out of my house!” The frightened man screamed as he raised the meat cleaver, slamming it down on one of the hands clutching the corners of the island.
The figure pulled their hand back moments later, spitting, “That was my fucking thumb you prick! Ow!” They reached down to pick up their now-detached thumb off the bloody tile floor of the kitchen, the stump it used to be attached to gushing blood, much to their minor displeasure. The man, seeing an opportunity, dropped the cleaver and dashed past the figure, running for the garage. He thought, if he could get to his garage, he could get to his safe, get his shotgun, and probably not die! The horned figure just sighed as the man ran past, grabbing some paper towels off a nearby roll and pressing them against the gushing stump on his hand. “Well, my job’s done. Now where did I put those stitches?” They started to search their multi-pouched utility pouch for their medical supplies.
The man sprinted down the stairs to the garage, putting his hand on the knob. He had rethought his plan of actions, and just decided to run the fuck away from his house. Seemed good enough. However, as soon as he started to turn the doorknob, it perplexingly began to turn on its own. The door, which swung out from the side the man was standing at, opened to reveal another black, armored, horned, and substantially shorter figure standing there, a light blue visor staring up at him. They held one of the man’s prized spearfishing spears in their other hand, point towards the man’s gut.
“Let’s get to the point.” They said before driving the spear through the man’s guts, the tip emerging on the other side. The man instantly collapsed, the figure letting the spear fall with him, but as he was still high on adrenaline he quickly crawled past the second figure, trying to head for the opened side door of the garage.
“He cut my thumb off, Theo.” Said the first figure, who walked in through the open doorway. “Oh, he’s still alive.”
“Yeah, just making sure we get our bonus.”
“Sweet, can you help me find some thread? My thumb really hurts.”
“In a minute, let’s finish up here first.” They put their right hand on a block strapped to their hip. “Beretta.” The block began to warp and form into the grip of a gun, collapsing in on itself as the figure pulled it from their holster, and when they brought the gun up to rack the slide it had formed into a pistol. The man had collapsed by now from the pain of having a pronged piece of steel rammed through his intestine and kidneys.
The other figure, who had wrapped the entire paper towel roll around his hand in an attempt to stop the bleeding, did the same thing, reaching across their waist and calling out, “PHP.” The block formed into a long-barreled, blocky pistol, which they labored to turn around in the holster and pull out with their left hand, raising it and pointing it at the speared man in the fetal position in the middle of the room. The other figure flipped open a hatch on a circular arm piece on their left forearm, tapping on a few buttons. “Okay, recording now. Contract number,” They checked the small display on the underside of their wrist, previously hidden underneath the hatch, “zero zero zero, four-fifty-one, bonus request fulfilled, quarry speared with own prized spear and-”
“P-Please!” The man begged, spittle and blood dribbling from his mouth. “I-I have a family! I-I have kids!”
“With those pajamas? You couldn’t even get a girlfriend. Anyways, quarry speared with own prized spear, side garage door left open to give false sense of hope, Privateer Cobalt on scene, Privateer Saudwell also on scene.”
“Cut the nickname crap out Theo, you’re not faking out on me are you?” The other figure giggled, eliciting a sigh from their partner.
“Correction, Privateer Yanni with Privateer Saudwell on scene. Contract completed, we expect payment within the next twelve hours or we’re legally allowed to kick you in the dick after this and also shoot you maybe. Recording over.” They pressed the button on the underside of their arm piece again, and slammed the hatch shut with a swing of their arm. “Alright, showtime, you ready Kolt?”
“Yep, let me just,” they adjusted the handgun in their left hand, “Got it. You go first.”
“Alright.” The shorter figure raised their handgun and pointed it down at the face of the man, who raised a bloodied hand.
“We don’t negotiate with contracts.”
“Or kiddy diddlers!” Said the other as they raised their own pistol in their left hand.
But the shorter one didn’t fire, instead slowly turning and looking at their partner. “Wrong hand, Kolt.”
“My fucking thumb is off, give me a break.”
The shorter one sighed before looking back down at their quarry. The other meanwhile attempted to press both hands together in order to ‘correct’ their aim, only succeeding in dropping their paper towels. “Fuck it, just ventilate him already please, i’m getting annoyed.”
“Copy that. Nighty night.”
“PLE-” The pair unloaded into the poor man, the shorter figure’s handgun running out of ammunition faster than the taller figure’s gun. They simultaneously put their guns in their holsters and called out the holster command, and the firearms formed back into blocks on their hips.
“What a cake walk. Speaking of cake, can we go get some food?” Asked the taller figure, who had now decided to just ignore his bleeding thumb-stump and take off his helmet, pressing the flush button on the back and hinging open the two halves. “I’m freakin’ starving.” They yanked the clamshelled open helmet off their head, exposing their black mantid-like head to the dim light of the naked light bulb hanging overhead. Their shorter partner did the same, taking off their own helmet and holding it under their armpit. Their face was the complete opposite of the others, a square-jawed, plush-lipped, teal-skinned cyclops with a semi-afro and a pair of killer sideburns, having somehow hidden all of their hair inside their cramped helmet.
“I chose last time so, where do you wanna go?”
“Millies. I love their parmesan milk shakes.” Kolt walked towards the garage door switch and flicked it up with his non-abused hand. “And killing pedophiles always gets my tummy a-rumblin’.”
“We killed him because he was a lawyer defending people who had damning information on our client, not a pedophile, Kolt. Also never say tummy ever again.”
“Tummy. And whatever helps you sleep at night, man, him being a pedophile is a double whammy for me. Pedo AND lawyer? Two sticks with one stone… or was it birds and not sticks?” The garage door opened… and revealed a human wife and her two kids standing there in front of the mother’s minivan, mouths agape at their dead father laid out in their garage. Kolt turned to his partner and jovially announced, “Guess he did have a family after all! Anyways, is Millies good?” The pair bumbled off down the driveway, past the shellshocked family.
“Millies sounds good,” responded Theo, and the pair started to walk down the sidewalk before Kolt remembered something.
“Oh, wait, I forgot!” Kolt sprinted back into the garage and flipped open one of the pouches on his belt, flicking a calling card on the ventilated corpse. He then ran back to his friend. “Now we can leave. Also do you seriously know where some thread is? I think my thumb is rotting.”
“It’s not rotting, Kolt.”
“Well I THINK it is, or maybe it smells so bad cuz I haven’t showered since last month? Whatever, milkshakes, wooh!”
They walked off.
Such is life in the Privateers.
The storms had dissipated by the time the pair had found a Millies. They walked into the parking lot and up to the drive through window, Kolt ordering himself a parmesan milkshake, while Theo got a chili dog and a water. The pair sat at the outdoor seating, the umbrellas sticking out of the tables opened up as it was lightly raining earlier, and when the employee roller skated out with their food on a tray, Kolt had just finished stitching his thumb back on; Theo had found some threading in one of his pouches.
“Man this stings.” Kolt commented as he rolled back the severed finger of the glove so its jagged edges were touching one another again. He took the water Theo got and pulled off the cap, pouring the plastic cup onto his bloodied finger. The jagged edges of his suit melded back together over his stitched thumb, Privateer organic technology at its finest.
“Oh boo hoo,” choked Theo as he forced his chili dog down his mouth, “I, mmf, broke both my legth at once one time, THAT wath painthful.”
“I know, i’m the one who broke them.”
Theo wiped off his mouth with a napkin. “The events of that sleepover will hopefully never be repeated… Probably.”
Suddenly a silly little jingle rang out from the undersides of their wrists, and the pair flipped open the covers on their PDAs. “CONTRACT COMPLETE.” A stiff, low-quality robotic voice belched from the tiny speakers on their PDA, and a little animation of confetti played on both screens simultaneously.
“Well that’s done.” Sighed Theo as he flicked the cover closed. “Wanna head back to Home?”
Kolt however had his eyes stuck to the screen of his PDA. “Actually, I just got a new contract.” He waved off Theo. “I’ll see you at Home.”
Theo shrugged. “Sure, fine, don’t die.” Theo finished his food and put back on his helmet, before walking off, leaving Kolt alone outside the restaurant. Kolt smashed held his left hand and wiggled his sore thumb, before grabbing his milkshake and downing it, picking up his helmet and hinging it open.
“The things I do for money…”
Six miles away, a 24-hour gun range was full of gunfire like usual. Kolt paid the fee to use the pistol range, getting a slight discount due to his intimidation factor, before walking into the farthest left stall. He slightly leaned forward, sticking one of the hidden cameras on the front of his helmet in front of his stall, looking down the aisle at the rows of arms firing various sizes of handguns, some holding their guns with one hand, others holding their guns with two hands.
Kolt leaned back, and set his left hand on his holster. “Obrez.”
BOOM. He operated the bolt.
BOOM. People stopped shooting, some leaning back to look down at where that ear-blasting sound was coming from.
BOOM. A few people wearing thin earplugs winced, and by now everyone was leaning back to look down at the farthest left stall.
Kolt leaned back, turning the barrel of his sawed-off rifle towards the row of people, who just so happened to have their heads all lined up.
“It’s not nice to stare.”
“CONTRACT COMPLETE, TEN PERCENT REDUCTION DUE TO UNREQUIRED CASUALTIES.”
One wanted gangster (and six people in the wrong place at the wrong time) smoked. That ten percent reduction in pay hurt Kolt deeply. Actually it didn’t. He clambered into the cockpit of his spaceplane, which he had parked in a conveniently nearby parking lot. He laid his Obrez on his lap and pulled open the bolt, flipping open one of his pouches and stuffing four 6.5mm cartridges into the internal magazine. He closed the bolt and looked over his Obrez for a moment, wiping off some of the specks of blood with his finger.
“I should bring some wet wipes.” He commented before sticking the barrel of the long ‘handgun’ into his holster. “Holster.” It transformed back into a black rectangle, and he put his hands on the controls of his spaceplane. With a flick of a switch, the angular craft’s wings rotated vertically, and the attached engines blasted into the concrete ground. He may or may not have lit the cars next to him in fire with the flaming exhaust from the engines, but Kolt didn’t notice as the craft rose up into the air, before the wings swiveled back into place and sent the craft shooting off into the atmosphere. Kolt buckled himself into the harness on his seat, and when the craft started to break through the stratosphere, he felt his innards be catapulted into the seat behind him, his body following a few moments later.
Gravity exited stage left, leaving Kolt held in place solely by the harness. When his craft fully escaped the atmosphere, the cockpit’s view was filled by an array of bright little dots. Stars, all over the place, some closer than others. Although Kolt had been a Privateer for seven years so far, he always got a thrill out of leaving the atmosphere of a planet and seeing the stars again in all their glory. Kolt laid his helmeted head back in the chair, and exhaled. “Take me home. And don’t crash into asteroids this time.”
“AFFIRMATIVE.” A tinny-sounding female voice responded from a speaker behind Kolt’s seat, and the joystick of his spaceplane was taken over by the primitive AI inside the ship.
Kolt closed his eyes and crossed his arms.
“ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL: THREE WEEKS.”
“Just shut up and fly.”
A thin wooden stick whacked a piece of paper taped to a chalkboard. “This, is the fetal form of a clone.” A snooty female voice explained, “We only know what they look like due to the destruction of CF four-fifty-one due to a gas leak accident three years ago. This is when I began my research.”
The holder of the stuck whacked it against their other hand. “Now, before I discuss this topic any further, are there any questions?”
A clone in the front row of students raised their hand. “Yes, C-5555?”
“Is that what I looked like when I was a baby?” Asked the clone in their trademark low-quality voices, a result of them having no actual mouths and having to use specialized speakers in their face plates instead.
“Yes, I think so.”
“I looked ugly as SHIT!”
A chorus of laughs filled the classroom, and a nearby ferret anthromorph muttered, “You still look ugly as shit now.”
“No I don’t!” Screamed the clone, turning around and glaring at them; although only their eyes were visible above the angled face plate that dominated most of their face, they still tried to spit fire out of their corneas.
“Both of you shut up, i’m not done presenting.” Hissed the substitute professor, a local scientist, a now-annoyed lynx who still wore her lab coat, angrily adjusting her ironic cat-eyed spectacles. She turned back to her complex diagrams, pointing the pointer back at the printed black and white picture of a malformed fetus. “Anyways, as you can see, this fetus looks to be approximately four months along in the development process, but look at the mouth. There is none. Just a ‘shelf’ reaching from the palate of the mouth down to where the jaw would be. Notice also how the limbs are extra short and stub-”
A fox called out. “Mrs. Velent?”
“For the third time, it’s just ‘Miss’, and WHAT?”
“Is it weird if this makes me feel hungry?” People started to laugh again. “Why are you guys laughing, i’m serious.”
Velent pinched the bridge of her nose. “Yes, that’s very odd. Anyways, the limbs are extra stubby and malformed as they haven’t been developed yet, as clones are supposed to be developed for specific purposes. The ones called ‘Cuirassiers’ are what you commonly see working with the police or the military, ‘Menials’ are the older generations of Cuirassiers who have been… reset, and used as cheap, menial laborers, hence the name.” The fox raised his hand again. “If this information makes you hungry somehow, I will hit you,” She raised her wooden pointer, “With this very long stick, very hard.”
“Uh, no, I just wanted to know, is,” They pointed at C-5555, “He a Menial?”
“What the fuck!” Yelled the clone. “Rude!”
“No, he’s what’s known as a ‘free clone’.” Velent matter-of-factly stated, trying her hardest to not just yell at all the students that they should be actually paying attention and not being idiots towards one another. “Clones are implanted with a behavior-relegating chip in the mechanical parts of their brains, which are supposed to keep clones loyal to only their employer, and force them to listen any orders given to them other than stuff like ‘shoot me in the face’.”
The ferret piped up, “Is this class extra credit?”
Everyone started to pick up their stuff and pile out of the room. Velent rolled back her head and groaned.
“I’m never doing a seminar again.” She grumbled as she left the classroom with her books and photographs, shoving students out of the way as she stomped out of the small public college. As she exited the wooden doors of the college, she found herself back in the familiar stiff metallic hallways she had finally adjusted to. In front of her was a window staring down on a massive ring covered in windows, glass-cased walkways, exterior catwalks, airlocks and more. There was one more ring below this one, and she was currently on one as well.
These three rings made up Cerberus Station, also known colloquially as ‘Hades’ due to its location on the edge of The Gap, the ‘uncivilized’ section of space. The three rings made up the majority of the station, with a long ‘spike’ through the middle of the station making up the important subsystems and machinery. On the bottom ring of the station was an array of different-sized rectangular holes, titanic airlocks for ships to either attach to or fly inside. This bottom ring was mostly tourist attractions, malls, a small amusement park, a fake park to help people adjust, while the middle ring was most of the important areas for a space station of its size to function: a large residential complex wrapped around the inside of the ring, while a medical center, research station, and a small military base dominated the rest of that level.
The final ring, the topmost one, was mostly where people lived, save for the few unlucky folks who had to live in the crammed residential complex on the ring below. This is also where the law enforcement on the station were based, a small detachment of GSS Marshals. Appropriate, as this was a GSS station.
Velent was knocked out of her trance staring out the window by a hand put on her shoulder. “Velent?” Asked a meek voice, and she turned around.
GSS Marshal Hillary Winter wiped the crust that had formed on the edge of her eyes away with her hand as she put her signature on the third incident report that day. Still three less than yesterday, she thought as she stuck her pencil into her mouth, gnawing on the eraser as she slid the paper across her desk and leaned back in her chair. The fox yawned, the pencil falling from her mouth onto her desk, and she crossed her arms. Work kept her mind off of the nagging thing in the back of her mind.
She left twelve minutes later, too tired to keep working, hands stuck into the pockets of her standard-issue olive drab jacket. She rubbed the bags under her eyes as she walked out of her office, shuffling down the hallway and out a side entrance for the small police station. The clean, shiny walls of the police station eliminated around her, replaced by the grimy, rusted walls of most of Cerberus. A familiar sight, but still an ugly one. Her jackboots creaked as she stepped into an ‘elevator’, which was actually a sideway-moving booth due to the design of the station, and punched the button for the second ‘floor’. The doors slid closed, and revealed her own face staring back it her on their reflective surfaces.
Bobbed blue hair, dyed on a whim many years ago but kept due to the look having grown on her. A short snout coupled with a permanent frown and a look of deadness in her foggy eyes, and a prominent ‘GSS’ velcroed on patch was positioned over the left side of her chest, and in tiny text above the three huge letters was ‘H. Winter’.
Well, she thought, at least I don’t look as dead as usual!
The doors slid open to a ruckus. The same voice, arguing with itself. Clones. Of course. Not that far away from the elevator was a small stand created out of a foldable plastic table with a wooden overhang adorned with a sign that read ‘CLONE RITES ADVOCATS’. Yep, it was genuine alright. In front of it was a Privateer clone and a hyena stuck in a battle of wits, or in this case, flippant cursing and getting in each other’s faces. Another clone sat behind the desk, attempting to not look horrendously embarrassed, which manifested in them staring at to the right with wide eyes.
Winter approached the quarreling duo, shoving them apart when they started to lean towards one another. “Alright alright, what’s the deal here boys?”
“This, this, JERK tried to wreck our stand!” Stuttered the clone in a nasally, robotic voice.
“Y’all don’t deserve the ability to even make that stand!” Sneered the hyena, who had a visible scar above his left eye. “You ain’t even people.”
“Fairly certain they’re people.” Winter commented in a deadpan tone, unzipping her jacket.
The hyena turned towards her. “What do you care about clones, Marshal Bitch? They just meat for the grinder, which I learned from my service!”
Winter grabbed the hyena by the arm of his jacket and pulled him towards her, her hand in her jacket revealing itself to be holding a matte silver pistol, the barrel of which was now underneath the hyena’s chin. “Well I learned from my service that meat for the grinder is made from people who act like dicks to others for no reasons, got that?” The hyena began to furiously nod, staring down at the pistol pressed against his chin. “Good.” She put the pistol back in her arm holster, before suddenly grabbing the hyena by the front of his jacket and lifting off the ground with both hands.
She heaved him towards the stand as if he was only a few pounds, and the hyena’s body collided with the middle of the plastic table, causing it to break in half and fold in on him. Winter, who had taken a knee while throwing the asshole, stood back up, wiped her hands off on her jacket, and grumbled, “And that’s for calling me a bitch.” She looked up at the flabbergasted clone sitting behind the previously-unmangled display and said, “Sorry about the table.”
“N-No it’s fine.” They squeaked, eyes locked onto the groaning hyena.
Winter nodded, before sticking her large hands into her pockets. “Stay out of trouble.” She walked off.
Getting to the shuttle bay took more time than she wanted, but once she got there, she found a seat at the station’s space port, and dozed off. Gene should be back by now, her mind wondered, her expedition was only supposed to last a day. She felt the memories of her and her sister on the day she almost drowned rush into her head like the water flowing through her nostrils; their parents didn’t react with surprise when they saw the frail and small Gene carrying her much-larger sister towards their summer house, but instead rapturous laughter. They didn’t mean anything bad by it, the context was merely funny to them, not that one of their daughters almost drowned.
She swore she felt pressure on her hand when her mind drifted to when Gene grabbed her and pulled her up from the depths of that lake.
She drained a decade later with some plastique explosives she stole from evidence.
Also fuck alarms. Too loud. Can’t think.
She opened her eyes and squinted. Emergency lights had emerged from their holes in the ceiling, spinning like a dervish and flooding the room with their powerful red lights. Medical personnel rushed past her with a stretcher, and as she stood up, another fox marshal slammed into her large form.
“Christ Winter!” They coughed as the stumbled, and Winter helped her colleague back to his feet. “You’re faster than I am!”
“You’re not here for the call?”
“No, i’m here for Gene, she’s supposed to be here by now. The hell’s going on?”
They shrugged. “Medical emergency, big one. Ship came back on autopilot, and when the hatched popped, well, there was someone inside. That’s all I was told.”
“What kind of ship?”
“Well judging by the fact that the docking bay didn’t stop its rotation, a small one.”
The pair turned and ran after the medical team. As they jogged down the stairs, Winter started to get nasty, intrusive thoughts. Could this be about Gene? No, of course not, she’s too smart to be unsafe, unlike me, that’s one of the reasons why she’s not a Marshal! Also her body’s negative reaction to testosterone treatments was a factor.
She accidentally shoulder-bashed a nurse as she ran around a corner towards a flight of stairs, and after they scrambled to their feet, they screamed, “POLICE BRUTALITY!”
“I guess one more incident report is worth it.” She sighed, before turning around and kicking them in the shin. They fell over, and down the stairs. She then ran past their tumbling body with the other Marshal. To their right was a window overlooking the massive circular room that was the docking bay, and she saw a cluster of people crowding around a GSS scout ship that had just been detached from the rails that pulled it in through one of the wall-mounted airlocks. Winter sprinted towards them, shoving a few of them out of the way, and her mind was full of terrible thoughts. The other Marshal just stood back and watched in amazement as Winter plowed through the crowd.
“GSS Marshal, move out of the way!” She growled as she shoved a mouse to the side and pulled a hyena back, and in a second her eyes widened enough that the bags under them disappeared.
Other people screamed as well due to their eardrums being burst by Winter’s scream.
Velent grumbled as she watched through the same window that Winter saw the ruckus from just a few seconds before.
The lynx turned to squint at the skittish, slightly hunched over mouse who had just touched her shoulder, and they shuddered when she glared at them. “T-Thanks again for taking over for me today.” They squeaked.
“You realize that I only did that due to the alcohol you provided me last week, yes?”
“Good, now never ask me to help you again, Professor.”
The mouse adjusted their spectacles and walked off, and Velent adjusted her own glasses.
“Velent.” Said a new robotic voice. Ugh, these guys. She turned to greet the three clones, who, unlike their brethren, wore quite flashy red uniforms; heavy leather overcoats covered the majority of their bodies, their facemasks colored the same exact red as the rest of their outfits, and they wore kind of silly pointed cloth hats over their messy black hair, with two ‘wings’ pinned to the sides of it and a prominent red star in the middle of it. On their backs were fake wooden rifles, a result of clones being legally unable to carry firearms as ‘non-sentients should not be armed for any reason’ according to GSS law, something announced after a string of woundings caused by crabs with knives taped to their hands were picked up by the media.
“Hello, three stooges, what can I do for you?”
The foremost clone frowned slightly, before crossing his arms. “You did a great deed today, helping spread information on our kind. Thank you.”
“I also gained a migraine for it, but that was due to having to be around that damned mouse again. I already don’t like him due to that one ‘date’ proposition he made to me, ugh. Do you have what I need?”
They nodded, before glancing around. “Block us.” The lead clone ordered, and the two others stood between Velent and their leader, blocking anyone from seeing what was going on between them. The main clone stuck his hand into one of the pockets of his coat, before drawing out a small vial filled with pink liquid. “This is all my agents could find.”
“Good enough.” Velent snatched the vial from his red gloved hand, sticking it in a pocket of her lab coat. The two other clones moved back behind their leader, and Velent put her hands in her pockets, partially to look relaxed, mostly so she could keep a hand on the vial. “If you find anymore, please be dears and inform me, alright?”
The lead clone nodded. “Your help will make our inevitable revolution all the easier.”
“Yeah yeah just go already.”
The clones dispersed, and Velent turned back to the window overlooking on of the rings of the station. “Yuck, communists.” She took the vial out from her pocket, and looked it over. She also pulled up the sleeve of her right arm, examining her watch.
Her hands were still in her pockets as she walked out of the elevator and through the space port, perusing a stand full of flashy brochures for vacations, complete with pictures of multi-species families in sunny and exotic locations. She checked her watch again, before walking towards the entrance to the docking bay, but before she walked through the open motion-activated doors, she stopped, and instead leaned against the nearby wall.
She checked her watch again.
BWOMP, BWOMP, BWOMP, BWOMP. The emergency sirens boomed to life as their corresponding lights flickered on, spraying red beams of light all across the room. Velent pushed off the wall and walked through the open doorway and through a few corridors, stopping once to drink some water from a fountain and brush one of her manes while looking at her reflection in a window, before ending up next to the door into the docking bay. She stared through the window, and leaned forward a little. A crowd had gathered.
Velent grumbled as Winter screamed.
Theo sighed happily as his bald head was massaged and scrubbed. As soon as he felt the hands leave his head and the warm towel be applied, he grew back his hair in an instant, puffing the towel out into a beehive-like shape. He crossed his arms over the pink cloak meant to cover his body from water and soap, and opened his eyes. Glancing over to his right he saw a pine marten who had also just finished getting a head massage and fur cleaning, also leaning back in her chair and looking content.
Theo leaned over slightly and asked politely, “Are you a frequent patron? I swear i’ve seen you here multiple times before.”
She giggled. “Well, yes actually, are you?”
“Nope! I’m a Privateer who was ordered to ‘make you disappear’ in air quotes, but i’m a nice person, so i’m giving you,” He glanced up at the clock on the wall, “Ten seconds to run away with hopes that you’ll leave this town and never return. Mr. Fran gives his regards by the way.” The marten was speechless to say the least. “Your time starts now, by the way.”
“…thanks.” She got out of her chair and proceeded to run out, causing the hair stylist at the cashier to yell at her as she had left without paying, and with the cloak and towel on her head still there. Theo meanwhile swiveled his chair around and set his feet on the now-empty adjourning chair, picking up a gossip magazine from the small table situated between every two chairs and flipping through it.
He squinted at the title of one. “‘Lupaiya takes an Emmy’? Huh, interesting…” He flipped it open, and as he looked for an interesting page to peruse, noticed an advertisement for nail gloss depicting the slender and trimmed hands of a female fox, whose nails were painted a daunting shade of red. Theo glanced down at his hand, forming his own fingernails just to wonder what their usage was. He outstretched his hand and examined them, before realizing his mistake and instead rotating his hand inwards and making a half-assed fist, looking at them that way and muttering to himself, “Boys don’t look at their nails that way Theo, remember…” He shrugged, dissolving the nails and going back to looking at the magazine.
After he had left the salon and got back into his spaceplane, which he had parked next to an inner-city storm drain, he just so happened to glance over to his right down into the drain. The pine marten had splattered themselves a few dozen feet down on the pavement, body mostly obscured by the pink cloak. Theo stiffly turned back around and turned on the engine of his craft, not blinking once or changing facial emotion, before toggling the UV screen. “WARNING,” The computer’s manly voice grunted, a custom option for Theo, “UV SCREEN ACTIVATED, USER SIGHT REDUCED TO ZERO. RECOMMEND TURNING OFF UV SCREEN OR ACTIVATING AUTOPILO-”
“Shut it.” He pulled back on the joystick, and the craft promptly rose from its spot, before the engines righted themselves and it shot off into the blue sky.
After downing the plastic bag of whiskey he kept under his seat for emergency forgetting usage, Theo set a course for Home station, which was an okayish distance away, maybe a day or two. Glancing at the angled mirrors installed on the nose of his spaceplane, he watched the green-and-blue planet behind him begin to quickly fade away as he increased the throttle, knocking his relative walking speed of 900 km/h to over 3,000, courtesy of the massively overbuilt and overpowered engines on the spaceplane, the result of the GSS not wanting (or needing) to develop anything better, just refining it.
The ship itself was from the GSS, sold to the Privateers in bulk unpainted to be marked with their black-and-gray colors and marked with their emblem on the front of the nose; a white circle housing a smaller circle that was surrounded by two even smaller circles attached by a half-moon line, one at its lower left and the other at its upper right, while the central circle was attached at the bottom to a pointed triangle that invoked images of the clone’s default face. It’s quite obvious where they got the design from.
The trip back to Home was utterly uneventful, mostly just Theo trying to forget what he did to get a chair to set his feet on. He decided to waste some fuel and by extension money by throwing the throttle all the way forward and doubling his speed to the maximum of 18,000 km/h, which was only meant for exiting an Earth-like atmosphere. And he had just drank the plastic equivalent of a large flask of whiskey.
The good part: he got to Home in about three hours.
The bad part: His ship was full of feces-colored vomit flying around in globs. He had to put his helmet on to keep it from smashing into his face, but when he entered visual range of Home and began to slow his craft, autopilot automatically kicking in due to the presence of fellow Privateer technology.
Home Station has a simple name for a simple reason; it’s where the majority of Privateers stayed. Unlike most space stations, it wasn’t a Stanford torus ring arrangement, that is it wasn’t a flying donut full of people instead of sugar and carbohydrates, although by extension people are full of sugar and carbohydrates as well, but not as delicious unless you like to eat people beforehand. Gravity was controlled through what the Privateers bluntly called a ‘controlled gravity well’ that somehow made it so the station could function design-wise as a floating skyscraper. They also didn’t explain how it worked, like a lot of Privateer technology. I guess the people who literally appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a raging war with advanced tech want to keep it to themselves, although that hasn’t stopped the GSS from reverse-engineering some of their simpler devices as best they can.
The station as previously described looked a bit like a floating skyscraper, albeit with rounded edges, dull yellow windows that varied in size and shape, and a huge outcrop-like structure present on the right side with an opaque dome on top of it. This was the station’s grove, a biosphere that housed a small island chain in a simulated environment. It helped people not lose their minds when stuck in a glorified pressure-controlled metal box in space. When confronted with the same issue, the GSS put some dirt and trees inside some of their stations. Suicides from extreme cabin fever dropped 3.5% following the introduction of these small ‘parks’ in multiple GSS stations; it was considered a massive success.
Dangling from the lower half of the station was multiple rows of rings rotating around centralized rod-like structures, more conventional but miniaturized torus rings. These were the quarters for the Privateers who left often, the staff who worked close by instead living inside the main body of the station itself. Each ‘rod’ was attached by multiple long, clear, flexible tubes to the underside of the station proper, as these were how a Privateer would enter a housing section. One would enter the top of the tube and crawl down, gravity gradually dissipating before completely disappearing as they neared the central rods, which they entered. There, one could stop the rotation of his particular condo and enter it, before starting the rotation again and returning gravity.
Theo approached the top of the station, and his craft was approached by a single Privateer wearing a jetpack and an orange-accented coil suit, who pulled out two rods and turned them on, causing the rods to erupt into bright red light. He followed the jetpack-wearing Privateer to the landing bays, and they pointed the rods at an opening on the top of the station, an airlock that was already prepped and ready for him.
Theo then realized that gravity would come back into play as soon as he fully lowered into the airlock, but it was too late. He started screaming when his own vomit splashed him.
When the cockpit opened on the the spaceplane, the clone technicians expected at the most a bloody and barely-living Privateer, but not an angry screeching 5’0’’ feet tall manlet to leap out covered in vomit and fall to his knees, screaming wildly.
A nearby raccoon Privateer finished smoking his cigarette as he leaned on his own spaceplane, which was getting a tune up. “Welcome back, Cobalt, have a good trip?” They asked in a monotone voice, flicking away the butt of the cigarette and exhaling. Theo just kept groan-screaming.
Once he stopped screaming, Theo just started to pout in his helmet, before being shocked by the cold water blasted onto him by a few nearby clone technicians with a hose as they didn’t want him to stink up their workplace. He gave them a thumbs up, before groaning and getting to his feet. “I’m gonna go to the beach…” He muttered.
Kolt tooted as his computer buzzed, waking himself from his twelve-hour-long nap. “Whazzat?” He yawned, rubbing his robotic eyes before reaching up and plucking his helmet from its hole in the ceiling, hinging it open and putting his head inside. “How much longer to the place, ship?”
“THREE DAYS. SUGGESTION: REFUEL AND EAT SOMETHING.”
“No.” Kolt pressed a button on the dashboard of his craft, and the voice was muted. “More sleep.” He leaned his head back in his chair in preparation to go to sleep, but his PDA on the underside of his arm buzzed, and he flipped open its hatch, squinting at the screen. A new contract? He tapped on the screen, and read the details. “Teleporter experiment… if successful will deposit me in Home Station. Huh, well, okay.” He tapped the big green ‘ACCEPT!’ button, and craned his neck, setting his hand on the joystick of his craft and pressing the mute button again. “Computer, scan the coordinates on my PDA.”
A robotic arm with a camera extended from the left wall of the cockpit, and Kolt held his PDA under it. The camera angled itself down, and overlaid a grid of red light onto it. “INFORMATION RECEIVED, COORDINATES SET. ESTIMATED TIME, FOUR HOURS AT CURRENT SPEED, TWO HOURS IF THROTTLE INCREASED FORTY_FIVE PERCENT.” Kolt did so, pushing the joystick more forward, and the ship automatically redirected itself to the coordinates. Kolt leaned back in his seat and sighed. “Wake me up when we get there, okay?”
“I AM NOT PROGRAMMED TO DO THAT ACTION.”
“Like, just make a beeping noise when we arrive?”
“I AM NOT PROGRAMMED TO DO THAT ACTION.”
“I AM NOT PROGRAMMED TO DO-” Kolt hit the mute button again.
Kolt turned off the autopilot and banked the spaceplane towards the small moon that the coordinates led him to, overlaid onto a lime-green gas giant behind it. As he approached, he noticed what appeared to be rows of some sort dug into the surface, and a small facility near them, and as he got nearer and nearer he saw large satellite dishes next to the rows. On top of the facility, runway lights around landing pads began to flash, and the ship’s AI droned, “LANDING SITE LOCATED.” On the cockpit glass an orange circle appeared around the landing pad, and Kolt flicked a switch, sending the spaceplane into landing mode and rotating the engines downward as the forward-moving craft lurched to a stop. It slowly lowered onto the raised metal pad, which bounced a little as the craft set itself down, before slowly descending until it was flush with the ground, the lights sliding back into their holes around the pad and shutting off.
As he got out of his craft, Kolt floated to the ground in the weak gravity, and made sure his helmet was on the tightest it could be; wouldn’t want to suffocate on some backwater moon. A mustached, ponytailed Marbelian and two clones all wearing space suits approached Kolt’s ship, the Marbelian holding a clipboard. “Kolt Saudwell?” They proximity radio crackled into Kolt’s built-in headset in his helmet.
“In the chitin. Heard you needed someone to do some teleportation stuff?”
“Essentially, please, follow us inside.” Kolt followed the trio into an airlock, and after it vented took off his helmet as the other three pulled off their space suits, the Marbelian setting down his clipboard for a moment, and he entered the relatively-new facility. There wasn’t even a fine layer of rust on all the corners! Kolt knew this as he had taken about 15 seconds to go poke some of the corners in the entry hallway. The two clones and Marbelian scientist just watched in confusion until Kolt approached them when he was finished and commented, “No rust. How new is this place?”
“Oh uh, quite new!” Replied the Marbelian. “We finished constructing the primary facility here about half a year ago. If you look outside, however, we’re still working on the rest of the facility.” The Marbelian ushered Kolt over to one of the two windows spanning the length of the hallway, and he looked down on the massive clearing full of the radar arrays. He saw small groups of space suit-wearing clones digging out huge square plots of land, watched intently by fellow Privateers. Every block in the ground was the same thing, a half dozen or so clones being watched by a privateer or two.
“So this is where all my colleagues have been going.”
“Oh once we put up listings for guard duty, your fellow Privateers practically flooded our phones! It turns out there are many of them who absolutely love the prospect of doing a job that’s simply just overseeing some clones digging some holes in the ground for the bases of the rest of the facilities!”
“Well it’s probably because a few dozen of us die every month.” Kolt turned his helmet towards the Marbelian. “What EXACTLY am I here for?”
“I think you’d rather see for yourself than deal with my blabbering, come.” Kolt followed the Marbelian and his two clones through a few halls and into a large, open room. In the middle of the expansive room was what looked to be a… rollercoaster cart on a tall track?
“Wait, i’m riding a rollercoaster?”
“You could say that, Kolt, this is a prototype machine meant to essentially ‘flick’ the contents of the cart, and the cart itself, across the universe in a few instants. As you can see, there’s no portals or anything, as this isn’t some sort of sci-fi movie.”
“Then how does it work?”
“We really don’t know! The Privateers themselves gave us the technology to use and, well, we just put some stuff together using the technical package they had for us and, well, kind of are being told to ‘try everything’. We have the coordinates dialed in for the open field in Home Station’s grove. If everything goes right, you should arrive there within the next five minutes.”
“Oh gee that’s reassuring.”
Within a minute or two, Kolt was strapped into the cart, told to keep all limbs inside the vehicle at all times in case of ‘portal cuts’ severing limbs, a noted problem the Marbelian scientist mentioned with ‘earlier, totally non-sentient animal subjects’, and that they weren’t liable at all if anything went bad. Kolt gave the Marbelian a thumbs up, and when the Marbelian turned away to go talk with his fellow scientists behind their very thick blast shield lowered his thumb and instead raised his middle finger, before shifting a little bit in the seat and sighing.
“Just a cake walk.” He told himself as he crossed his arms. “No need to worry. Why AM I worrying? I shouldn’t be. Nope. Not at all.”
The Marbelian scientist popped his head out from behind the blast shield. “We are ready, Privateer!”
“Let ‘er rip, I guess.”
The scientist pulled his head back behind the blast shield and promptly smacked the big red button they had hooked up just for this device with a mixture of excitement and utter terror at what could happen.
Kolt didn’t really care about all this. He started caring when all the light around him disappeared. He started caring a LOT when long thin beams of blue light began to wrap around the cart in the darkness, creating a sort of blue tunnel. And he really started caring when the sudden acceleration of the craft caused him to slip out of the cart as he had forgotten his seatbelt, and he ended up flying down through the void. Or was it up? He had no clue, but it wouldn’t be a bad guess to think that he was at least a little terrified. Kolt began to scream loudly as his body rotated in the seemingly never-ending tube of light, the only things visible to him was the cart behind him and the blue streaks surrounding both him and the craft.
Then his limbs turned to static at the same time as the craft, and he promptly blinked out of existence.
He blinked back into existence in the sky. Judging by the two suns he immediately noticed off in the distance, this was not Home. He started to scream louder now.
Below him were rolling sand dunes, one of which the cart smashed into at an extremely high speed, causing it to essentially evaporate and explode into many small pieces of shrapnel and larger chunks of electronics. Some of the shrapnel hit Kolt as he fell, and his screaming promptly stopped when he hit the top ridge of one sand dune, the force of his body colliding with it causing him to frontflip forwards and down the sand dune. His body rolled to a stop at the bottom of the dune, and as he regained his senses, Kolt finally noticed that his helmet was booming into his eardrums.
“WARNING.” The semi-sinister robotic voice droned, “MASSIVE INTERNAL TRAUMA, LACERATIONS DETECTED ON LOWER ABDOMEN, SOS SENT…… SOS FAILED, ELECTROMAGNETIC DISTURBANCE DETECTED. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMME-” Kolt punched the side of his helmet, muting it. He sat up, setting an arm on one of his knees and wheezing. Looking down on his abdomen, he noticed a quite annoyingly big piece of metal shrapnel sticking out from his liver, and promptly grabbed it and tore it out, causing a fountain of blood to spurt out onto the sand. Kolt held down the wound with one hand as he looked through one of his pouches, finding the thread that Theo had given him and the needle.
With the big painful gash sewn up, Kolt began to crawl up the sand dune in order to find out where the hell he was. When he finally got to the top, he weakly stumbled to his feet and surveyed the wreckage spread out in front of him. His cart was now in many small pieces and some big chunks, and off in the distance he spotted a lone mesa. “This ain’t Home. I want double for this.”
He collapsed, falling down the other side of the dune this time.
In the distance, the monoscope watching him was collapsed, and the rag-wearing user sighed. “Again?” They got onto their hand-crafted hovercraft formed from ship scrap and old turbines, and glided over to the unconscious privateer with a miniature sandstorm trailing behind them. They haphazardly yanked him up and onto the basket in the back of their hovercraft, before hopping back onto the seat, adjusting their ragged cloak to stomp on the gas pedal.
They sailed off into the horizon, Kolt’s unconscious, helmeted body bouncing up and down with each glide up and down the dunes.
The day was September 21st.
The year was 2075.
The place, Centim.
The person, Kolt Saudwell.
Things are about to get funky.
ARC 1 OF 3: FADE RIGHT BLACK
EPISODE 1 OF 5: A UNIVERSE OF HURT