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The bar was quite full for this time of night—a whirlwind of colors and sound that danced in my vision. I kept my eye out for any potential clients. Granted, they would look for me but I always liked to be on top of things. The bartender caught my eye after a few moments and he slid down my usual drink. There were certain perks to being a regular here.
“Are you Kali?” a voice said behind me.
I looked up from the condensation forming on my glass to meet a pair of neon yellow eyes. The being who possessed those eyes were a Jorün, a species that haunted dingy places like brothels and black markets. The Jorün looked like bipedal snakes with brightly colored scales in a rainbow of colors. They had a penchant of elongating their ss’s. “Yes. Who do you want me to get rid of?”
The Jorün male smiled. “How did you know what I wanted? I haven’t even opened my mouth.” I bit back a sharp retort. Smart alecks always got under my skin.
“My reputation has finally caught up with me, it seems.” The Jorün sauntered into the stool next to me with a complete air of confidence. He drummed one hand on the counter, a quick ka-thank ka-thank. Under the perceived coolness, I could tell he was nervous.
“The person who recommended you spoke very highly of you. He told me that you’re not just some measly imp that will do anything for money.”
I was quickly becoming fed up with the banter. “What do you want me to do?”
From a pouch that hung on his hips, the Jorün pulled out a hologram and powered it on. “I work in the trading business and recently . . . something happened.”
“I was supposed to transport five of the Sakana gems but someone stole them.” I raised my eyebrows in honest surprise. The Sakana gems were no laughing matter; each weighed about twenty pounds each and priced at an incalculable amount of money.
“So you want me to get the thief.” Doubt prickled under my skin. I had a feeling that he was using this to possibly save his own ass. It’s not every day someone goes to the underground resources when they could easily call authorities and call out a man hunt. “Do you have any evidence?”
“In fact, I do.” He passed me the hologram. On it was obviously a security camera, aimed at a loading dock on an arid planet. The video played in a continuous loop, showing a figure in a black cloak dart across the ground, surveying his surroundings with a somewhat fearful expression. He had a leather bag slung over his shoulder and he held it close to his body. I couldn’t miss the strange design on the bag—three looping circles with an eye in the middle—and assumed that this was most likely the doing of some mafia or terrorist group that wanted attention.
“Okay,” I said, receiving another drink from the bartender once it was gone. “Now, we discuss the logistics.” We conversed for a while about what he wanted and what I would be paid. I was given a lot of free reign of what I could do on one condition—I got the Sakana gems back. My mind swam with ideas of what I could do. The even greater thing was that the Jorün was going to pay a crazy amount of money. If I could get this job done, I would probably in the top quarter. It was a very tempting offer and I didn’t hesitate in agreeing. We shook on it and my client left shortly afterwards, only pausing to admire some of the dancers whose tattoos and chains identified them as slaves.
I stayed there for a little while, just long enough so I could finish off a third drink. The room only slightly tilted as I paid, got up and walked out to the loading dock. I quickly found my ship—a modest A661 Delta Cruiser—and quickly powered it on. Before I knew it, I was flying towards my home.
I was currently on Hevogi, a very popular mining planet. Its inhabitants had died thousands of years ago and it had been abandoned until it was discovered that there were giant amounts of metals that were used in ships and weapons. There was a sudden population boom and it metamorphosed into the metropolis it was today.
The traffic was bad, even in the late night, so it took me fifteen minutes to reach my loft. It wasn’t in the best condition, but it was what I could afford with my meager payment. I only got so much with my current income.
I was one of the lucky ones. After the destruction of Earth, the remaining humans came to realize that the other beings that inhabited the universe weren’t too welcoming. In the course of less than twenty years, the majority of the human race was enslaved under much more powerful beings. Some humans tried to escape, with varying degrees of success. Some made it out of bondage while others were dragged back to their masters.
My parents were part of the former group. Both of them escaped from a particularly cruel master and had me while they were hiding. They’d named me after an ancient goddess that represented chaos and darkness, mostly to keep our ancient history alive. They taught me how to survive and ultimately thrive in this world. Those lessons soon came to good use after they passed and I started to create a life of my own.
I’d tried my hand at a few odd jobs but I always feared that my true identity would ultimately get me in trouble. Ten years ago, I took an offer of being an assassin and I found that I was quite good at it. I was impulsive but I always made sure that my blows would be killing ones.
I shook myself out of the past and tried to focus on the mission in front of me. It dawned on me that I had very little evidence to go off on. However, I’d had missions with far less evidence. I smiled slightly as I planned out my attack.
This was going to be fun.
Using a few underground contacts, I predicted that the culprit would skirt the outer planets. It took longer for information to reach those planets and that was a perfect hiding spot for someone who didn’t want to be found.
I was currently waiting in a terminal that was a part of a public intergalactic system. In most places, it would be crowded, but this terminal was almost deserted, except for a few workers and passengers waiting for the next ship. I made sure to keep my head down and hood up because the farther you get away from the center of the universe, the worse the prejudice against humans got.
After four hours, I wanted to rip someone’s head off. I was never a patient person and it was utter torture to just sit and do nothing. My knee bounced up and down, showing the pent up energy I had. I wanted something—anything—to happen!
Another three hours passed with the same level of inactivity. Honestly, how hard could this be? I’d memorized all the cracks in plaster and was now following the lazy path of an insect that seemed much too entranced by the lights. “When is this going to end?” I groaned.
It ended pretty quickly, mainly because I decided to give up on waiting for the thief after eight hours of absolutely nothing. I was absolutely fuming. If I wasted too much time, there was a big chance of the gems changing hands and then I would be screwed.
I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I didn’t see the shadow in the corner of my vision until it was too late. Something rammed into my side and I fell, hip banging mercilessly against the hard ground. I struggled and kicked and bucked but my attacker was too strong and I couldn’t seem to shake them off. As I started to panic, my body went into autopilot and moved without me asking.
I wriggled my hands out of the attacker’s grasp, where they’d been pinned above my head. Not breaking concentration, my hands went down to my belt and pulled out my trusty weapons. I always had at least two chakrams (sharpened metal disks that could be held in the hands) and once I slipped my hand around them, I brought them up in an arc, hoping to slice flesh.
It didn’t meet skin, but my attacker jerked away anyways. I took this as my chance to scramble to my feet. My attacker did as well and we locked eyes for a moment, egging each other to make the first move. I impulsively took that offer and raced towards the figure. We fought hand-to-hand for a while, but I soon gained the upper hand and used that to pin the attacker to a tree, the left chakram dangerously close to the jugular.
“You thought I was some spineless maiden you could steal from?” I leered. “Well, you’re wrong.” I was beyond livid now. First, a very unproductive day and now I was being attacked? Why wouldn’t this day just end already!
The attacker only snarled. They wore a black cape and hood that covered the entirety of their face.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to kill anybody today, but seems like plans have changed.” I bent down slightly to retrieve the hunting knife hidden in my boot. My job did require killing, and I’d learned from an early age that life was easily taken away. I didn’t particularly like it, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
Under the hood, the attacker cried, “Please! Don’t hurt me!”
I scoffed. “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that one. Gets sort of annoying after a while.” I held up the knife with coy interest. I could feel the being shudder in fear. As I stared, I realized I wanted to see who exactly I was going to kill. In a flash, the knife tore at the cloth gathered at the crown of the head and it fell away quickly. What I saw underneath was not was what I’d expected.
The person I had pinned under me was a human. As in full blown, untainted Homo sapiens. I had no doubt that my mouth was wide open. “Go ahead,” he spat. Now that I could see his face, I knew he was a man. “Make fun of me. I know you want to.”
The filter between my mind and mouth must’ve malfunctioned because I said, “Why would I insult one of my own kind?”
The human stilled, bright blue eyes widening in astonishment. “What?”
“I’m human as well.” In the back of my mind, I rolled my eyes. I had a feeling that he wasn’t exactly the sharpest blade in the armory. I shook my head and the hood slipped down, raven hair falling around my face. I released some of the pressure on the man’s throat, but I didn’t let him go. I couldn’t exactly trust him yet but I wasn’t going to just let him go.
We stood there in silence for a while, the sounds of our heavy breathing being the only thing that could be heard. As this silence dragged on, I weighed my options. I was tempted to go ahead with the first plan but a part of me cringed at killing a fellow human. There were so few of us left and getting rid of one would not help in the slightest. However, if I let him go, he could possibly alert someone that I was on a mission. That would be so horrible if I botched this entire mission. The middle area was quite small and my usual straightforward mind seemed to be tied in knots.
“How are you not enslaved?” the man suddenly asked, interrupting my train of thought.
“My parents escaped before I was born,” I replied. “I’ve never known the master’s whip.”
“You’re lucky. I escaped five years ago.” The man suddenly blinked. “What d’you do to get money?”
The chakram lightly grazed his neck as it twitched in my hand. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m an assassin.”
“Oh . . . I usually mug people and steal their money.”
The silence enveloped once again. My brain was spitting out ideas alarmingly fast. As more appeared, the stranger they became. About 75% were things I had told myself many times I would not do. However, as the ideas solidified, they started to sound more and more appealing.
“I’m working on an assignment right now,” I said. “I’m supposed to find a thief. I propose that we work together.”
The human cocked his head. “Why?”
“Well, you’re the first human I’ve seen in twenty-five years, and two minds work better than one.” I probably couldn’t trust this guy, but times were tough and I was more than a bit desperate.
“Hmm . . .” The man paused in thought. “Sounds interesting.”
“So, are you agreeing or not?” The chakram pressed harder now, an outward sign of my annoyance.
The man sighed. “Alright, I’ll work with you. Can you please get that thing off my neck now?”
It was interesting to live with another human after so many years of solitude. The man—whose name was Rama, I later discovered—was certainly very interesting. The first thing I noticed was that he was that he wasn’t exactly as sharp as I was. You have no idea how hard it was to try to navigate with someone who couldn’t write and probably knew how to read about four words. It was taxing to say the least.
Aside from that, Rama was eager to learn how to thrive in this sometimes harsh universe. He was quite powerful from a life full of work, with broad shoulders and muscles that rippled under his tawny skin. It wasn’t exactly as dark as mine but it was still browned from the sun. I used that to my advantage and he became my comrade-in-arms to some extent.
The case I was on was progressing . . . somewhat. After Rama decided to come with me, we decided to split the money fifty-fifty. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t get as much money as I’d been originally planned but it was still a nice amount. With this incentive, both Rama and I tried our best to get this thief quick and with the least amount of attention drawn to ourselves.
Our best bet was to spread out our search to planets with substantially large black markets. If a guy on the run would be anywhere, it would be in a sleazy place.
The first planet we visited was Qyus, a wet, sticky, subterranean planet. We didn’t find much there; a bag of frog bones that supposedly granted any wish and annoying bug bites were the only good thing that came out of visiting Qyus.
The second planet, Mekahn, was a bit better than the first but it still didn’t bring us the results we wanted. We learned that the thief was working for a society that called themselves the Brotherhood of Galaxies. There were rumors that the followers of this cult were supposedly fearless.
“Well, that’s kinda obvious,” Rama muttered after we’d learned this. “Only a madman would dare to think of stealing something so important.”
The next three planets were not very interesting, to put it bluntly. We had been pushed out of a lot of taverns, just because we were human. We learned, however, the name of the thief. It was Azulnon, a common name in the right sect of the galaxy.
The sixth planet was Iradomas, an desiccated planet that was officially labeled “uninhabitable” but the biggest black market rested in one of the city ruins.
“Keep your head down,” I hissed, pulling my hood over my head. “We don’t want a repeat of last time.”
“Yeah . . .” We browsed the makeshift stalls, some selling things better left unsaid. After we turned a corner towards an inn missing one of its walls, I noticed a figure in the corner of my eye. Granted, everyone looked seedy here, but this figure in particular was more so. They looked to be over six feet and its head whipped around fearfully.
“Hey Rama,” I hissed, pulling on my companion’s sleeve. “Look at that guy by the fish seller. Doesn’t he look familiar?”
He pursed his lips. “Yeah.” We exchanged a glance and then suddenly, we were following the figure through the maze of crumbling buildings. The person we were trailing walked fast but we were quick enough to follow him through the crowds.
He turned a sharp corner and we found ourselves in a makeshift alley that had been created by a collapsed wall. The figure stopped once he realized he’d been cornered. “Why are you following me?” he asked in a reedy accent.
“Oh, you know why,” Rama snapped. He pulled out his trusty weapon—two energy blasters—and pointed it at the figure’s chest.
“Don’t play dumb. We know you’re hiding something,” I snapped, hands dropping to where my chakrams were. The nice thing about them was that they were both good for close-up fighting and attacks from afar.
“Me? Hiding something?” The hood fell down with a sudden gust of wind. The person we’d been trailing was Drii, a beetle-like species that was known for their strength . . . and stupidity. They were about as smart as a bag of sand. They also had a thing for acting smarter than they actually were.
“Cut the crap,” I growled. “Just give us the jewels and we’ll let you go. Fair and simple.”
His mandibles curved up in a weak attempt of a smile. “What jewels? I know of no jewels.” I groaned.
Rama clicked the safety off his blaster. “Give them up in three . . . two . . . o—”
“Okay! Okay! I’ll give them to you!” The Drii took the bag off his shoulder and placed on the ground at his feet. “But you won’t shoot me, right?”
I lifted a shoulder. “It depends.”
“You know . . . I know something you don’t know.” Again, he smiled but we could all tell that he was trying to buy time.
“Oh yeah? What?” I glanced at Rama and a message passed between us: we have got to get rid of this guy. Now.
“Maybe you two are si—” He never finished that thought. I whipped out one chakram and threw it, making a slight ringing noise as it flew. It hit its target and sliced through the Drii’s throat, brackish blood spraying from the wound. I grabbed the chakram just as he fell, head a few inches away from the bag.
Just make to sure he was truly dead (there were some species that seemed to be practically immortal), Rama crushed his skull. I checked the bag and when I opened it, winking gems smiled up at me.