I've reactivated my Fiverr gig, the I Will Kill you for $5 project. And two victims were eager to join us at the slaughter. I mean... I have two new customers. That also means my lucky readers have two new short stories incoming to read.
First things up first... the download link is here (the story is available in PDF, epub, and mobi). Take it where you want to read; computer, phone, eReader, tablet, etc. Otherwise, you can scroll down and read it directly in this blog post as well.
The above image is of the real Cass Morrison and her pup, Bennie. She had made a jest about possibly including Bennie in the space opera she had asked me to write, and well, I couldn't resist playing with that idea. Cass and Bennie are both present in the story. I've worked with Cass (and others) on a daily check-in we do on Pluspora.com, and she is a wonderful person. It was exciting to get her order.
But, no more fluff, let's get to the good stuff. Enjoy the reading, and sound off in the comments when you're done to let me know what you thought.
Cass Morrison and the Package from Saron
The United Nations had divided the entire globe into Districts by 2037, China being the last to come over unwillingly to the global government model. With the years that followed, the world became one giant slab of buildings and efficiency. No matter where you went, it was all about everything being the same. At least, that was the theory. But of course, it didn’t turn out that way.
Blocks, huge compartmentalized living structures, covered the entirety of Earth’s surface. Elevators gave the ability to travel up and down between Levels, and monorails took you from District to District. It was crude, and with time, the sweetest commodity was sunlight. The higher up you lived, closer to the sun’s rays, the more expensive the cost of living got. This led to a clear-cut segregation between the lower and middle classes, with the lower classes living in the lowest Levels of the Blocks. Closest to Earth, but furthest from light.
The United Nations adopted a crude universal police system named The Order, which was originally a United States federal police force that slowly overtook local law enforcement. Order and Serve was their motto. Protection was optional. Out of the need for more law and order, bounty hunters became a necessary evil. The Order often called upon them for assistance on a contract-by-contract basis. Justice was scarce, revenge was typical.
But then there were the smugglers. So much had been banned by United Nations rule throughout the Milky Way that many reached to the stars for reprieve. Neighboring galaxies could smuggle goods for a price. Often those goods were people. This is one such story.
Cass Morrison stepped off her ship, the Alberta, and looked around the grey Blocks of Earth. She hadn’t returned home in years. She hadn’t missed its unpleasantness. Her short, white hair bounced in the wind atop the Blocks. It was sunset in District 120, and there was a light snow falling. She pulled her cloak tight and raised her hood above her head. Her cloak wrestled with her gun holster at her hip. Her leather vest covered in extra ammunition. A knife on her left boot. She shouldn’t need any of it for her visit to Earth, presumably, but she could never be too cautious. All the galaxies were a wild frontier of lawlessness.
She heard Bennie, her partner, yelling at the men inspecting the Alberta. “Bennie,” she hollered to him, “Come on, let’s go. We have a meeting. Let them fuss.”
Bennie ducked as he walked off the Alberta. He was an Empusa warrior from the planet Dreadrock. They had met up some years before. She had adopted him, in a way, from a tavern on some lost planet somewhere. She couldn’t recall the name of it. He was two heads taller than she was and twice her size in every way. The Empusa were an all-men tribe of warriors known for their dreadlocks, grey furry bodies, and immense muscle density. They began training at an early age by carrying and eventually throwing large boulders atop their mountain home. When they came of age, they had to mate with the desert tribe Lamia, an Amazonian-like tribe of women warriors twice as furious as the Empusa. When she met him, he was drunk for the first time in his life after recently being cast out of the Empusa for embarrassing traditions. He said it was because he refused to mate with the young Lamia girl that had been sent to him, because in his words she was “too young” and “didn’t want to.” He could only return home to Dreadlock, if he had the ability to pay recompense. But the price of recompense was so high, he’d be lucky if he’d ever save enough for it. Still though, he tried.
“They touch my stuff!” He bellowed through his deep and raspy voice which was typical of the Empusa. “Damn humans.”
Cass raised a single, black eyebrow. “They do it everywhere. And they always take a little too. Let’s just hurry back so they don’t take it all. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to.”
The two rode a busy monorail from District 120 to District 37. District 37 was a good place to be forgotten or lost. It was also a good place to kill someone, or be killed. It was an indication to the type of cargo they’d be smuggling. Something very precious, likely a life. Cass knew that also meant it would pay well, which she was looking forward to. Their last ten cargos had left them with barely enough to scrape by. And fuel for the Alberta wasn’t cheap.
They stepped off the monorail and rode an elevator down to Level 1. Another indicator that they were going to be dealing in some serious matters. Once off the elevator, they tore through the sludge until they found an abomination of a place called Bogart’s Opera.
Bennie growled lightly at the sight of it.
“What?” Cass asked.
“Don’t like.” Bennie said. “Turn back.”
“We can’t afford that,” Cass reminded, “You know it.”
Bennie growled again but entered the joint with fists clenched.
At the bar Cass dropped the name she’d been given, and a penny with Abraham Lincoln’s face on it. It was priceless, except you couldn’t sell it to anyone. Only collectors wanted one and her client knew the bartender wanted one. He quickly pointed to a man in a corner booth under a blue light, and then turned to spit shining the penny.
Cass and Bennie sat across from the man.
“No names,” the man said, “It’s better. You can call me Abe.”
“Well, we’re here,” Cass said. “Now what’s so important that you drug us to District 37?”
Abe took off the hat he was wearing, it was black with a large bill all around it. He scratched the tips of his pointy ears and small horns, one at each corner of the forehead. “It itches, the darn thing.”
Cass recognized the horns and pointy ears. Abe was Strix, a mixed-race of species with pointed ears and short horns at the corners of their foreheads. Like the humans discarded their tails but maintained the tailbone, the Strix had small bone bumps on their backs where wings once attached before an evolutionary process. Strix were native to Saron, a planet far from Earth and in an entirely different galaxy. Her mind wondered to recent reports she’d picked up along the way of war and turmoil on Saron. She didn’t know how much of it was true.
“I have brought you here,” Abe started, “Because I need something smuggled off Saron. Reports are that you two are damn good.”
Bennie grunted. It was what he did whenever someone started with flattery.
“Well, they do,” Abe said, “And I’m willing to pay you twenty-thousand credits upfront and thirty-thousand more upon completion.”
“That’s a lot of credits.” Cass said. She pulled her hood down and her white hair shone blue in the light. She leaned across the table. “Maybe too much. What’s the cargo?”
“Therein lies the rub, fellows,” Abe said. “I can’t tell you what the cargo is until after you accept the contract. If I did, and you backed out, I’d have to kill you.”
“Like to see you try.” Bennie said to Abe. He turned to Cass. “Bad business.”
Cass knew that fifty-thousand credits was more than enough to square Bennie with the Empusa. It was the deal of a lifetime. Normally, they’d split the payment down the middle, but twenty-five wouldn’t be enough for him, and he’d be left saving for another day. She was captain of their enterprise, and she rarely used that leverage, but no just wasn’t an option. The payload was too good.
“Bennie, it’s too good.” Cass said. “It’s a yes, and we’ll discuss it later.”
Bennie grunted. She knew that meant he didn’t like it, but he’d go along.
Abe looked uncomfortable, “Actually, you should probably do that now. Going into this mission not fully supportive of each other could prove disastrous.”
Bennie slammed an oversized fist down on the table. “Discuss. Later.”
“Right you are,” Abe said and recoiled back into his bench.
“What’s the prize?” Cass asked.
“A person.” Abe said. “A very important person. Princess Aigina of Saron.”
“So it’s true then,” Cass started, “She’s been ousted.”
“Yes, it was a very violent coup.” Abe said. He picked up his beer and took a large gulp. “After the passing of her mother, Queen Eretria, she came to power naturally. But her uncle, Hippias had other plans.” He leaned over the table and whispered, “Have you heard about General Dareios?”
“Rumors.” Bennie said.
“Not rumors, I assure you.” Abe said. “Captain Datis and his business with the Attika people, you know. The genocide he committed there, all of it was sanctioned by none other than General Dareios. It was a show of strength on his part, that let any future peoples who would reject his rule know what he could do to them. Submission or be wiped out entirely. Queen Eretria, rest her ghost, would not bend to General Dareios and she was only so fortunate to die of natural causes, if only to not have to see what has befallen Saron. General Dareios supported Hippias’ claim to the throne, and unfortunately many fearful Strix did the same. They were afraid that young Aigina, following in her mother’s footsteps, would result in their utter annihilation.”
“Why not just kill Aigina?” Cass asked.
“Another rub,” Abe said, “She is still very much loved by the Strix. So any violence that should befall Aigina cannot come from Hippias. They’ve commissioned a third party to hire bounty hunters to see the deed done. For now, she is under house arrest. Unable to leave the confines of her own room, the windows sealed shut.”
“How do you know all of this?” Cass asked.
“Mine own eyes,” Abe said. “I was an advisor to the queen. I witnessed all these things. I smuggled myself out soon after the coup. But the plot concerning the bounty hunters I have learned about through long-trusted eavesdroppers. The names of which I shall never reveal.”
Cass sat back in the booth. She looked at Bennie who looked annoyed. Cass was exhausted at the thought of having to break into the Palace of Saron. But she’d agreed to it and there was no turning back.
During automated lightspeed travel, it gave Cass and Bennie time to go over their plans. Cass had figured security would be light, as they were expecting a bounty hunter to infiltrate. It was sneaking Aigina out that could be problematic. There would likely be a lot of improvising, she figured.
They managed to buy a digital copy of the blueprints of the palace off the online black market and studied it off and on for hours. Committing to memory the various routes by which they could make their escape. Of course, there was always the possibility the prints were out of date. But it was a chance they’d have to take.
Their plan was to escape through a window at the end of the hallway from Aigina’s bedroom. From there they would use rooftops to make their way back to the Alberta.
Just before they exited lightspeed, Cass turned and gave Bennie a funny look.
“What’s that look?” Bennie asked.
“Something bugged me back on Earth,” Cass said, “About the way Abe talked about Aigina. He referred to her as Princess Aigina only once or so, and then for the remainder he just referred to her as Aigina. If he was really a subordinate to her mother, the Queen, and to Aigina, then he wouldn’t be so flippant when calling her by name. There was no show of respect.” She paused for a moment and pulled a lever back slowly; it took them out of lightspeed gently. Before them was the planet of Saron. It was a mossy green, where puffy white clouds weren’t. The planet sported three suns, two that glowed during the day, and one at night. Their night was known as the Twelve-Hour Sunset. Cass checked the time; they were arriving right in the middle of the Twelve-Hour Sunset. She turned back to Bennie. “Contrast everything I just said with the fact that he always referred to Dareios as General Dareios.”
“Sound like trap.”
“Yes, it does,” Cass said. “I’d be willing to bet a lot of credits that Abe is the bounty hunter.”
Bennie laughed long and hard. “Abe, a bounty hunter?” He laughed some more.
“No matter,” Cass said, “We know what we’re heading into. Let’s add one more twist of the knife to our plan.”
After docking the Alberta, Cass and Bennie met privately with a resistance leader named Chalkis. He gave them a single uniform from the Saronic Guard, along with a standard issue rifle and ammunition. After a short review of their plans, Cass and Bennie headed out into the streets of Saron. Bennie was cuffed, carrying a backpack strung over his shoulder that contained Cass’s outfit and weapons. Along with an outfit for Aigina to change into.
Bennie led the way through the streets, making his way to the palace. But to the passerby it looked as if Cass was walking a prisoner to the palace. Even a few Saronic Guards they passed got a good laugh out of it, since Cass was so much smaller than her prisoner.
“This is insulting.” Bennie said to Cass when they reached the palace gates.
Upon announcing she was transferring a prisoner, the guards simply let them through the gates. As she had expected, their guard was intentionally let down. Under normal circumstances, they would have checked the forged documents Chalkis had made for them. It would have been a much more laborious affair before letting just anyone storm into the gates to the palace.
Once inside the palace, they made their way to a staircase that would have led them down to the dungeons. But instead of going down to the dungeons, they went up to the eleventh floor. It was where they would find the royal chambers, and subsequently Aigina.
They found the guard’s station completely abandoned. Apparently, word had gotten out that they had arrived, and for everyone to stay out of their way. The trap was being set, and she didn’t like it. She could tell by the laborious breathing Bennie was engaged in that he didn’t like it either.
At the doors to Aigina’s room, they paused for a moment. They looked up and down the halls. There was still no sign of guards.
“Trap.” Bennie whispered.
Cass gently nodded. She opened the doors.
Abe opened the shutters to the attic of the housing unit he was planning to assassinate Aigina from. Behind him lay the bodies of the wealthy owners of the unit he’d taken for himself. He pulled his marksman rifle from its pouch and laid it up in the window. The barrel just barely sticking outside of it. He checked the temperature and wind conditions with his tablet and tucked it away. He pulled up a small barstool and positioned himself for the kill of his career. It was going to be the biggest haul he’d ever scored.
He took out binoculars to check the gates, and then checked the window at the end of the eleventh floor. He knew the guards had been given orders to prevent them from coming down the stairs, forcing them to exit by rooftop.
He placed an earpiece in his ear that was connected wirelessly to his tablet’s communication’s software. He tapped a button that unmuted his and everyone else’s microphones. “Abe checking in.”
His men followed suit and checked in as well.
“Remember,” Abe started, “If I make the shot, just pack up and go home. I’ll transfer the credits at the end of one month in Earth cycles. If something goes sideways, charge the whole lot of them. For now, eyes peeled.”
It didn’t take long until after he had received news that they’d entered straight through the front gates, that he saw them exit the window. One, two, and three. Bennie was leading the way with Aigina in-between them. Cass appeared to have changed out of her guard’s uniform and back into her hooded cloak.
Abe set aside his binoculars and looked down the scope of his rifle. He followed them intently as they jumped from one rooftop to another, slowly but surely closing in on his rifle’s range. He knew exactly when he could take the shot and hit his target, accounting for the minor amount of wind that was bouncing across the rooftops during the long sunset.
When they reached just the right point, that they were within range, he waited just ahead of them until Aigina came into the perfect spot—and he fired. After only a single second delay, the bullet hit its target in the head, and they tumbled down the rooftop and fell into the streets.
He tightened his scope in on what appeared to be a wig slowly falling down the rooftop.
Something grabbed ahold of his rifle and with a single pull yanked him out onto the red-tiled rooftop. He slid down to the edge, where his bootheels finally caught him and prevented him from falling to his death below. He looked up behind him and saw Cass standing defiantly against the sunset in the background. She ran down the tiles and when she reached the edge of the roof, she jumped across with her cloak flapping behind her.
“Kill the hooded one,” Abe shouted to his comrades, “The hooded one is the princess!”
He heard a howling, deep and thunderous, it was the call of the Empusa. He looked to Bennie who was letting out the bellow. Who could he be calling to? He looked about the rooftops and saw his men running and jumping across rooftops, but behind them were Saronic resistance fighters in pursuit. His men didn’t even see them.
“Behind—” Abe started to warn, but it was too late. The resistance fighters started picking them off one-by-one.
He heard voices shouting in the streets below. He leaned forward, he could see people running through the streets shouting, “Hippias is dead, long live the Queen! Hippias is dead, long live the Queen!”
Abe realized that he had shot and killed Hippias. He had been dressed in Aigina’s clothes. General Dareios would have his head on a platter. He was furious. He looked to Cass who had caught up to Bennie and Aigina, she was using his own rifle to pick off his men. He spit and cursed her name. He reached for his pistol on his right hip, but it had escaped the holster in the fall. He reached to his left hip; his blades were intact. He ran back up the rooftop, and then back down to the edge and leapt.
Cass took one last shot with the rifle she’d borrowed from Abe, the bounty hunter took a hit to the knee and rolled off the rooftop to his death. She threw the rifle off the rooftop, empty of ammunition. She pulled her pistol from its holster and began to shoot at bounty hunters that were finally reaching their rooftops. There was only a handful of them left, as the resistance had made good on their promise to have their back. She saw Chalkis tackle a bounty hunter across a rooftop, they rolled together to the edge and caught there by chance. He strangled the bounty hunter who would kill his queen. And she remembered that they were trusting Bennie and her to get their queen to safety. She couldn’t betray that trust.
She turned around and took another shot into a bounty hunter’s belly. He tumbled over and slid off the roof. She walked backwards, trying to keep up with Bennie and Aigina. She began to reload her six-shooter, some old thing she’d bought of the black-market years before. She reloaded it with six new bullets. When she looked up Abe had just reached the top of the roof with her. It was a flat space between the angular, tiled rooftops that were custom for Saron culture. He pulled two blades from his left hip. He spun one around and offered it to her.
“A little old school blade play, my darling?” Abe asked.
“Not really my style.” Cass said. “And don’t call me darling.” She hadn’t engaged in swordplay since she was a teenager. Her father had insisted she know both gun and swordplay. But it was never her expertise. She put away her six-shooter and accepted the blade.
“How did you know it was me, may I ask?” Abe asked as he took a pose.
Cass attempted a pose, but her knees shook trying to hold it. It had been so long. “You kept forgetting to call Aigina your princess,” she explained, “But you never missed an opportunity to refer to Dareios properly. That, and you had way too much information, seriously.”
“The whole princess thing, yeah,” Abe started, “Was never a fan of royalty.”
“Yet you swear allegiance to Dareios, I presume.” Cass pointed out.
“What can I say,” Abe said, “I love a man with a plan.”
Her knees were buckling. “Shut up and fight me.”
Abe came at her with a hard thrust, she swatted it away. He came again from over head with a swing towards her face, she tried to back up, but it scratched her cheek and nose. She wiped away blood with her open hand.
“This really isn’t your style, is it?” Abe joked.
Cass tried to remember her training and took a deep breath. She remembered she always struggled finding her serenity, her inner peace. It was always about just landing a punch or kick to the groin for her. And the more she got hit, the harder she hit back.
She took a deep breath and took a pose. Her eyes closed. She could hear the gentle breeze across the rooftops. She drowned out the yelling from the streets, the running and shooting. Screams of pain as more bounty hunters breathed their last. Just a gentle breeze, and the warmth of the Twelve-Hour Sunset.
She heard Abe’s feet shuffle and she opened her eyes slowly, and it felt as if she was watching everything in slow motion. She saw him thrust directly at her torso. She turned and his sword and arm extended past her. She quickly sliced down and into Abe’s bicep in front of her.
But she was so focused on his right arm, that she completely missed his left hand reaching for her six-shooter. By the time she felt it moving away from her body, and out of its holster, it was too late. He pulled away from her, shielding his wounded arm, but quickly took aim and fired two shots at almost point-blank range. One hit her wrist, knocking loose the sword. The sword slid down the tiles and off the roof. The second shot caught her in the stomach. She fell to one knee.
She could sense she was losing a lot of blood quickly. She grabbed her knife from her boot and lunged back up with all the strength she had left. She thrust the knife deep into his chest from underneath the heart but pierced it as she thrust up into it. She gave it a little twist for good measure. She reached around with her other arm and held him as he went limp. She collapsed to her knees with him and met eye-to-eye.
“You should have left well-enough alone.” Cass said to him.
His arms rested at his sides and he let go of the blade and gun, and they slid down each side of the roof.
“Why did you do it, if you knew it was a trap?” He asked with his dying breath.
She didn’t tell him, but she knew why she had done it. For Bennie. He would finally have enough money to reclaim his heritage. To return home.
She pulled the tablet from inside Abe’s jacket; she used his hand to unlock it with his fingerprint. Once inside his tablet, she transferred everything he was sitting on in his account, over one-hundred thousand credits. It all went to Bennie.
She let go of Abe, he slowly crumpled up and over the side, down to the streets below where there was screaming and cheering.
“Go home, Bennie,” she whispered. “Go home.”