THE COMPLETE 8 BOOK SERIES
John Macallen Davis
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical people, events or places are used fictitiously. Any other names, places, events or characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual places, events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 John Michael Davis
Editing by: Daniél Lecoq
All rights reserved, including the right to copy this book or portions of this book in any form. For more information, please email [email protected]
First edition January 2017
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Manufactured in the United States of America
Awakening logo is a copyright of John Michael Davis, all rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Gears & Spears
Heroes of Destiny
Heroes of Battle
Heroes of Fate
About the Author
Of all of the planets in the Skyla System, Adam found himself here.
A small cropping planet filled with the swine of society. Fleeing convicts, underground smugglers and the like. Sitting quietly for several moments, he thought long and hard about the decisions he’d made. Who else was there to blame? He’d had a decent upbringing. Adam had been given the same chances as the other kids around him. Most of those kids had grown up to become something honest. Doctors, executives, hell even a professional skiff ball player in one case.
But Adam was a smuggler of illegal goods.
Some folks tried to dress it up with fancy words that didn’t quite fit, but at the end of the day he took things that were stolen and delivered them to the highest bidder. He was good at it, too. One of the best. But that didn’t make it any easier to swallow. His father had always tried to steer him onto the right path. Have ambition, he used to say. Instead, Adam had found himself in and out of prisons up until the First Glimmerian War, at which time he’d been volunteered for service against the Legion.
“You sleeping over there?”
Adam’s stare broke away from the window. As dry bushes rolled across the barren landscape outside, he turned back to the card game – glancing at each of the men for a moment. They were typically looking for men who danced to the ballad of illegality. Tossing in a small handful of credits, Adam remained silent.
“You’ve got balls, Adam. I’ll give you that,” one of the men said. Lucas, who was also considered one of the best. He and Adam ran the smuggling game on the furthest side of the Skyla System and everyone knew it. “But I’m gonna raise your ass.”
Adam didn’t care about the money. He should have. His Gunship model was barely worthy of flying and his crew hadn’t been paid in weeks. But as he sat there, turning his attention back to the window once more, Adam could think of nothing but his father tucking him in at night as a young man.
Don’t spin your wheels, Adam. He’d always say. You figure out which road to take and then you drive it hard. Go somewhere.
Yet here he was. Sitting in one of the most run down establishments of the quadrant. Paulie’s Drinking Hole.
“Read ‘em and weep, boys.” Lucas grinned.
Right away, the grizzly-bearded man put his arms in and began scraping all of the credits into his direction. Without a word, Adam stood up and left the table of shady characters who claimed to be his friend. Truth be told, they would have given him over to the authorities for a fistful of credits. Hell, maybe even for a free beer. Honor among thieves? Adam had been around long enough to know the saying was ridiculous. The only honor he knew was a fast gun hand and a trusty revolver by his side.
“Politics?” Adam asked.
Taking a seat beside one of his real friends, crewman Dalton James, Adam began looking at the wall mounted monitor. Finding humor in Dalton’s gaze. It was half interest and half drunken stupor.
“Ah fuck,” Dalton admitted. “Ain’t my doing. It’s all that’s on.”
“No skiff ball?”
“Nope,” Dalton grinned with defeat. “Nothing. Just a bunch of old bastards talking about the possibility of another civil war. I’ve had my share. But every so often they switch over to Monica.”
“She’s this newscaster chick,” Dalton said. “I don’t the first clue what she rambles on about, but she wears some pretty hot clothes.”
Adam stared at his friend for several moments.
“And no I’m not drunk, before you ask,” Dalton said with pride. “Who could get drunk by drinking this watered down piss.”
The bartender glanced into his direction.
“Yea, I said it loud on purpose. And don’t think I wouldn’t say it to your face either,” he bitched. “I’m a professional criminal and I’m telling you that calling this mule urine ale is a crime in itself.”
“You know, they do have better drinks here.” Adam said in a low voice.
“Yea, but I ain’t paying seven credits a shot.”
“Two shots of rock whiskey,” Adam said. Holding up his hand for a moment. He could see the bartender’s hesitation. “Put a rush on it. My friend doesn’t like to wait. And bring me a coffee while you’re at it.”
“Coffee?” Dalton asked.
“Yea,” Adam turned to the only window of the bar once more. “I’m not in much of a mood to drink tonight.”
“You pussy.” Dalton said.
Immediately, he downed a shot of rock whiskey. For the rest of the Skyla System, rock whiskey was a last resort. It was good for cleaning up oil spills or soaking flatware in, but to drink? Not so much. At Paulie’s it was top shelf.
Dalton followed the first shot with a second; chasing one bad swig of rock whiskey with the next.
“May want to slow down. Otherwise we’ll be washing dishes to pay for it.” Adam cautioned. Dalton had the tendency to drink like a millionaire, while wearing the look of a beggar.
“We need to do something, the ship ain’t gonna fly itself. Man we need fuel and the crew wouldn’t mind getting paid.”
“I know,” Adam agreed. “But what do you want me to do? We flew all the way out here and Jones screwed us over. It’s not like we could outgun him – Jones had at least twenty armed men with him.”
Then, all of the sudden a man slipped into Paulie’s. He was making it a priority to enter without being seen. But it just so happened that Adam was terrific at reading people. Not that it reflected while playing cards for money.
“He’s military,” Adam said. “But not Legion. I can tell because of the glasses. I can’t think of a single Legion outpost where you’d need shades that dark. Dark green jacket, so I’d assume it’s far from here and it’s baggy, which means he’s hiding something.”
“All of this and you keep losing at cards?”
“Unfortunately for me, the other captains know how to read people too,” Adam said, standing to his feet and placing a hand on Dalton’s shoulder for a moment. “Old buddy, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Don’t be too long,” Dalton grinned. “This whiskey ain’t cheap and this old dog right here is mighty thirsty.”
“Dishes… We’ll be washing dishes.”
Adam wasted no time making his way over to the mysterious man. His crew had needed another set of hands for quite a while and the man looked the part. He was roughly six feet tall and well-muscled. Adam could see that, even with a jacket trying to hide the man from whatever he ran from. His eyes held secrets, too. A common trait among the criminal type.
“Mind if I sit?”
The man looked up for a moment.
“Do I know you?”
“Name’s Adam Michaels,” he replied. “I captain a small ship and we may be interested in taking on another able man.”
“A job?” the man asked.
He began eating the bowl of complimentary bread. Something no one ever did. It had likely been there for days on end.
“I’d avoid the bread,” Adam said with a slight smile. “The last time someone tried to eat a bowl of it, they left with their teeth in a knapsack.”
Still, the man ate the bread without pause.
“Of course if you’re hungry enough…”
“What’s the job and what’s it pay?”
“Ten percent of the take. We normally haul things for people. I supposed you could call it a transportation-”
“You mean smuggling?”
“Well I-” Adam began.
“Look, I’m OK with the job. We’re all running from something, right? But ten percent is low, don’t you think?”
“How you figure?” Adam asked.
“It’ll require handling weapons and getting shot at. Which again, I have no problem with as long as the money is right.”
“You seem military, but not Legion.” Adam probed.
“Gali Special Forces.”
“Gali? What brings you all the way-”
“I want fifteen percent and no questions. Those are my terms.”
“Fifteen,” Adam balked. That was a lot of money, given the fact that he knew nothing about the man. A military background certainly helped, but Gali? That was on the other side of the Skyla System and at least seven days of hard flying. It let Adam know that the stranger was indeed running from something and it must have been a pretty big something if he’d put that much distance between himself and Gali. “Fifteen isn’t gonna happen. Look, here’s what I figure. You’re obviously on the run from something. I can handle that, hell we all have baggage. It also means that you’d be a good fit for our crew. I can keep you under the radar and pay you a decent bit of credits, but fifteen is more than I end up with.”
“Then I guess we’re finished talking.”
“OK.” Adam said. Standing up with respect.
“What’d he say?” Dalton asked.
“He’s mulling it over.”
“Well fuck,” Dalton said. “Did you try to low ball him or offer the same six percent you’re paying me?”
“Oh no, I offered him all I could.”
Adam hoped that little fact didn’t poke its ugly head up. He called it adjustable wages. The way he figured it, Dalton drank at least four percent worth of each take. Therefore, he’d given his friend the other six percent in actual coin. For Adam, the math was there. But arithmetic wasn’t Dalton’s strong suit. So it remained hush hush.
“Well to hell with it then.” Dalton said, scowling at the new face. How greedy could a man be? Turning down six percent plus “free” drinks.
Suddenly, Adam caught a brief flash of red walking past the window. And then another, followed by yet another.
“Legion.” he whispered.
The mere mention of it was enough to sober Dalton up like a young man sitting in the front pew of a church. Not only had they fought against the Legion during the First Glimmerian War to no avail, but since then, the red coats hadn’t exactly earned a reputation for being fair to citizens. Often times people disappeared for nothing more than a disorderly conduct charge – never to be heard from again.
Dalton began reaching for his sawed-off shotgun. A scatter gun was the proper definition, but seeing as how he’d sawed the barrel off his damn self, Dalton reckoned he could call it whatever he felt like.
“Too many red coats,” Adam cautioned. Easing his friends trigger finger. “Probably not even here for us.”
“Adam Michaels!” one of the soldiers shouted. They wore the typical Legion gear. A thick red nylon jacket, black pants and boots and most notably, a red battle helmet with a heavily-tinted black face shield. “You’re under arrest. Charged with illegal distribution of military weapons, per section seven, article fifteen.”
There were three of them, each with a standard battle rifle.
“I haven’t done-” Adam began.
A lie of course, and they’d have none of it.
“Shut up!” one of the soldiers warned.
Standing to his feet, Adam placed both hands behind his back. Preparing to be cuffed up, just as he’d been countless times before.
“You too, Dalton. We have warrants.”
“Like hell you do!”
Once again, he considered raising his shotgun and finding out which side was better by way of a cloud of gun smoke. Dismissed as Adam nodded his head.
“You know, I’m willing to negotiate a number we can both feel good about.” the mysterious man said. Making his way to the fray.
“Get your red-backed asses out of here!” a man shouted from the rear of Paulie’s, erupting laughter in the process.
“I can’t do fifteen,” Adam said. “But we can talk.”
“Silence!” one of the guards warned.
“Twelve. I can do twelve, nothing lower.”
“I can live with twelve.” Adam
Six percent and twelve free drinks…what a great deal. Dalton thought.
“Back!” a guard shouted as the stranger approached.
“The name’s Roman Raines.”
As quickly as cheap beer ran to a man’s stool, Roman struck one of the guards in the stomach with his boot. Then, lighting quick, he grabbed the man’s weapon and pointed the cookie cutter rifle into the direction of the two standing soldiers. Each fumbled with their own weapons for a moment before dropping them and reaching for the sky.
“Fucking amateur hour,” Dalton said. “The Legion comes after the two most notorious smugglers in the galaxy and sends these pee wee league fools.”
“Notorious at what, bedding down the homely looking women?”
Laughter erupted throughout the establishment.
“Quiet Lucas,” Dalton barked. “Or I’ll make it a point to stop by Ranson Four and bed down that old hag you call wife.”
And I’d do it, too. Just out of spite. Dalton thought.
“Sorry boys, but I’ve gotta run.” Adam said. Bowing to the crowd of lowlifes who shared the common bond of crime.
“Don’t worry, we won’t kill em,” a man shouted. “We’re just going to beat the shit out of ‘em, hog tie ‘em and put them on a commercial freighter.”
Still, the three Legion solider, most likely greenhorns, looked like it could in fact be the end for them.
“No killing,” Adam said. “Remember, it’s not personal. They have a job to do and we hate their leaders – not them.”
“Get outta here with that do-right shit!”
Adam nodded. Wasting no time in running something fierce. Like any good criminal, he understood that the Legion would have more soldiers at Paulie’s soon enough. And the three soldiers about to take a beating would likely be pinned on him as well.
“Good fighting back there.” Adam said.
As all three men ran fast, whiskey bottles clanged together beneath Dalton’s long brown duster.
“You stole whiskey?”
“Nabbed four bottles while the barkeep was watching the action,” Dalton admitted. “But it ain’t stealing. If anyone was stealing, it was him. Those drinks were way overpriced and you know it.”
Roman looked at both men for a moment. Wondering what he’d gotten himself into. And what kind of money was he actually looking at? Percentage didn’t mean anything if the crew it came from had to steal its whiskey.
“Kelly. Have us ready to go quick.”
Dalton held his radio out and waited for a reply.
“OK,” the young woman replied. “Anything I should know about.”
“This happen a lot?” Roman asked.
“We’re kind of known for it.” Adam admitted.
“Prepped and ready.” Kelly’s voice replied.
“It’s not too much further ahead… Just keep running.” Adam said.
“Whoa now,” Roman said as he approached the small ship. It was a Gunship alright, but it was in Frankenstein condition. The exterior was slapped together with different shades of blues and pale grays, which let him know that it was actually pieced together from various ships. Even the ramp which led into the ship looked like a death trap. “I’m not so sure about putting my life in the hands of-”
“Don’t worry, she’ll fly,” Adam boasted. “I did a lot of the work myself. She doesn’t look like much, but this Gunship has pulled me through a lot of close scrapes.”
“Who’s the new face?” a thin man asked. He held a shotgun at the ready.
“He’s with us, Kato.” Adam replied.
“He looks like trouble.”
“Yea, and you look like an unbathed heathen, you scrawny fuck,” Dalton said. “Now put the gun away before you accidentally shoot somebody – namely me!”
Without so much as a word, Roman passed the skinny man on the ramp. Giving him a stone-faced glance of dare.
“Go Kelly!” Adam yelled.
He quickly shuffled his way up a thin set of metal stairs. Meanwhile, Dalton grabbed one of the large brackets mounted to the wall near the ship’s door. Roman was quick to take the other, leaving Kato as the odd man out. He pressed a large red button which began raising the ramp and sealing the ship’s door. Never taking his eyes off of Roman.
“We’re underway,” Kelly said. She left the bridge and appeared momentarily on the upper deck of the ship. Roman caught just enough of her to see that she was young, barely of age, and cute. “The Legion is already looking for the ship.”
“Hopefully we’ll be gone before the come sniffing around the docks.” Adam replied. He followed her back into the door which led to the ship’s bridge. Poking his head back out for a moment, Adam shouted down.
“Dalton, when we’re up and away, you get Roman settled in. He’s bunking with you. Give him the grand tour.”
“Will do,” Dalton replied, turning his attention to their newest crew member. “You’re going to love the gun room.”
Suddenly, the ship jolted like a blast coaster at some local carnival of fools. Muscle worked against steel as every man held on against the turbulence. Moments later, the ship found itself in orbit and standing became much easier.
“So you left Gali?”
“No questions. I thought that was the agreement?”
“Look, I’m not trying to start trouble; I only want to get to know you a little better. I knew right away that you had military training. So let me tell you about the rest of my crew instead.” Adam suggested.
Roman seemed OK with that.
“Dalton is my best friend and the most capable on this ship. He and I go a long ways back. We fought against the Legion during the first war and we’ve had our share of jail time together. He’s like a big, loyal dog. Dalton’s a little crude and he drinks like a fish, but when something goes down he’s the guy you want beside you. Kelly’s the ship’s pilot and she’s good at it. Her family wanted her to continue flight school. You know, become a bonafide pilot flying commercial rigs, but she came to me one day on Glimmeria. Said she wanted to see the rest of the Skyla System and what it had to offer. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but the star system is filled with a lot of bad shit. I’ve made it personal when it comes to Kelly. She’s like a daughter to me and she’s more important than any cargo we carry. Part of your job is to help me protect her.”
“Understood,” Roman said. “And Kato?”
“Met him in prison. He’s pretty blunt when it comes to what’s on his mind and he ain’t much to look at. Or so the ladies tell me. He’s a mechanic on this rig by default. I did prison time with him and I trust him.”
Roman sat in the plush red chair for several moments. Not offering a word. Instead, he looked across the stars in front of them.
“The android’s name is Luck.”
“Android,” Roman began. “You never said anything about an android.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I grew up poor as a child back on Gali. For me, military service was the only way out,” Roman began. “I did well; eventually I rose in rank. But we were invaded during the Glimmerian War and the Legion soldiers were backed by androids. They killed a lot of good friends of mine. I hadn’t taken kindly to them since.”
“Luck is nothing like you’d expect,” Adam replied. “I won his ass in a poker game. He doesn’t have a real job on this ship unless you’d consider bartending a vital part of the crew. He’s been trained to fly the rig in the event of an emergency and Dalton’s even tried working with him a little on handling a gun. But mostly, he picks up what he can when it comes to mechanic’s work. Sometimes I send him down into the engine room just to piss Kato off.”
Adam smiled wide.
“I’m not fond of killing unless someone’s trying to kill me,” Roman admitted. “Just want you to know that.”
“The last bit of killing I did was during the war,” Adam replied. “This job is dangerous, but a man can survive it without killing. So, from soldier to solider, I respect what you’re saying. I think you’ll do just fine here.”
Long after the conversation had ended and Roman had made his way to his new bunk, Adam sat there. Watching the stars and thinking of the ship’s maintenance, his crew’s safety and value to the overall scheme of things. He even wondered, as he had done from time to time, what kind of life he would be living if he were settled down on a decent planet somewhere; living a normal life.
At times he found himself missing the feeling of settling down with a wife and children, even though it wasn’t a feeling that he had been fortunate enough to experience. But he’d seen it throughout his travels. Part of his soul longed for a stereotypical life.
But the thoughts that raced through his head all too often seemed to end up with the same conclusion. He loved what he was doing, from the near fatal gunfights to the deep space travel. Especially the deep space travel.
It’s hard to explain what space travel is like until you’ve actually been there. That’s one thing that a normal life cheated folks out of. The near frigid temperatures of the ship’s interior that you are forced into getting used to. The constant silence of a vast nothingness as you learn to block out the sound of the ship’s engines, all while surviving on freeze dried rations and what few supplies you were able to load before leaving the last settled world.
It sounded horrible, that is until you learned to appreciate the beauty of the stars slowly passing you by; almost as if memories were being revived in slow motion. It made Adam feel alive. During their flights he often could feel the blood pulsing through his veins and the warmth of his own heartbeat.
Most people will say that the stars are all the same, but the moment you begin to appreciate the simple things, suddenly you realize how beautifully different every trip becomes. Each pattern of stars had a way of intertwining itself with a memory that he was rather fond of. As Adam sat on the observation deck, he had almost as many thoughts racing through his head as stars spread out in front of him.
None of his problems seemed to matter. All of the problems within the system, the challenges his crew faced every single day and the friends he had lost during the Glimmerian War; all of that was simply put on hold every time his ship became interlocked with the stars. It was the one place that nothing else mattered. Any other time he could see the faces of friends he’d lost – he could see the faces of people he’d killed during the war. But during his flights through deep space, they all seemed to go away for a few moments.
“Into the steel I see.” Roman said.
Dalton continued meticulously cleaning nearly a dozen weapons. Each with its own look of attitude.
Everything from the basic combat pistol to the punishing double barrel shotgun; it was all right here, laid out on a coarse brown blanket in front of them.
“I’m into the steel, the hard liquor and the steel that produces the hard liquor,” Dalton said. Cracking a smile. “I’m also infamous with bedding down the ladies, you might have heard?” he added.
“Nope.” Roman replied with a sarcastically fluctuation of his eyes.
“What about you? I’m sure you’ve had your hands on plenty of steel yourself in Gali?” Dalton asked.
“As well as liquor and women. But there’s not a lot I miss about Gali to be honest. Just a bunch of trees and political corruption,” Roman replied. “Yea, I’ve been trained with quite a bit of everything but still prefer the tactical blade,” Roman said, pulling a combat knife from a black leather band that wrapped around his leg. “It never jams up on you and it’s just as accurate.” he added.
Suddenly, he threw the blade end over end throughout the room with blazing speed, hitting the wooden post of Dalton’s makeshift gun rack. The bulk of the blade buried deep within its unfortunate wooden fibers.
“Tell me. What is a man to do when his gun jams up during battle?”
“First off,” Dalton said. Hoisting his sawed off shotgun to the ready. “If a man knows his guns then he also knows they don’t jam up when cared for properly.”
He fired two loud blasts from the gun which cut the wood down, smashing it to the floor with a thud.
“But, if by chance it does,” Dalton smiled. Quickly, he brought two revolvers around from the back of his belt. Eight shots total and all that remained was a pile of wooden shards and a combat blade. “He always brings a backup.”
“Nice accuracy.” Roman said.
“You should see me when I’m sober.” Dalton replied.
Roman knelt down to fetch his combat blade. Meanwhile, Dalton stood there with his chest pushed out like a proud father.
A few moments after he had laid the shotgun back in line with the other weaponry, Kato burst into the room, a semi-automatic rifle in his arms and at the ready, responding to the gunfire and suspecting their newest crew member.
“You know, I normally consider it a rule to kill anyone who draws down on me twice.” Roman said.
“Is that a fact?” Kato asked, tightening his grip on the weapon as he continued a deadlocking stare with Roman.
“Calm down you jackass, I fired the shots, not him.” Dalton said, making his way to Kato in a threatening manner.
“Right now I don’t care who fired the shots. He just threatened to kill me.” Kato replied.
“Oh, it wasn’t a threat.” Roman said.
The air in the room was tense enough to be carved out with a blade.
“RELAX! Nobody’s killing anyone,” Adam said as he entered the room. “You put that piece away Kato,” Adam added. “NOW!” he yelled, finally convincing Kato to slowly lower his weapon.
“Pull a gun on me-” Roman began to yell, charging into the direction of Kato. Adam drew his revolver with blistering speed, holding Roman at gunpoint.
Roman was well-trained in the art of war. But he had never seen a man with a gun hand faster than Adam, earning his respect.
“This ends right now. Everyone understand? In our line of work, I can’t have fights amongst my own crew.” he asked.
No one replied.
“It either ends now or I’ll personally airlock anyone who has a problem with it and hire more guns when we land on Tameca,” Adam added.
Seconds later, Kato walked away.
Roman held his hands up and backed off slowly.
“Good, after seeing what you did to those damn Legion soldiers, I’d have to hire two men to replace you. And I don’t want to spend that kind of money.” Adam said.
“Or free beers.” Dalton added.
What free beers? Roman thought.
“You know, you may want to be a little friendlier when it comes to Roman. He could end up saving your life one day.” Adam said.
It took a bit of jogging, but he’d caught up to his mechanic.
“That will be the day.” Kato replied,
Turning to enter the confined engine room, Adam stood for a moment; watching him disappear into the steam filled cave made of faded grey steel.
“Look, I’m asking as a friend-”
Suddenly Kato reappeared. Letting the warm steam blow across his rather sickly looking frame.
“Look, that guy’s hiding something. I don’t know what it is and I can’t prove it, but I have a gut feeling.”
“We’re all hiding from something.”
“No,” Kato insisted. “I’m hiding from the Legion. You and I have full disclosure. You know that I grew up in the middle of that shit-show called Glimmeria. You know my rap; busted twice for boosting ships. You know that I like spicy food and cold beer. And that I sleep on my side because I can’t stand to stare up at the ceiling like I’m dead. You don’t know shit about this new guy. None of us do.”
“It’s my ship.” Adam reminded.
“Yes it is,” Kato agreed. “And if you don’t want me keeping an eye on him – fine. But someone needs to do it. If I end up dead in my sleep…or Kelly, well, that blood will be on your hands.”
Once again his mechanic disappeared into a veil of steam. Adam stood there for a moment, listening to hands digging through a metal toolbox. He understood. As much as he wanted to trust Roman Raines, the mysterious man had yet to earn it. He’d be the one to keep an eye on their newest crew member.
“System checks out fine.” Luck said, his upper body lay under the control panel of the pilot’s gauges.
“All right, everything looks good up here as well, switching over to auto-pilot.” Kelly replied, clicking several buttons as she stood from the plush leather seat to see Adam board the small bridge area.
“How’s the grid?” Adam asked.
“We didn’t pick up anything on our way out other than a little com traffic, looks like a clean getaway. Aside from some distant commercial traffic we’re all green on the board, captain.” Kelly replied.
“Good. That’s good.” he replied, taking a seat in one of the two chairs stationed behind the pilot.
“We got into a little bit of local trouble with the Legion back there. They shouldn’t exactly be combing the system looking for us. I don’t see them wasting the resources,” Adam added. “I need you to plot a new course out for us. We need to make a stop in Tameca before hitting the outer plains.” Adam said as both Kelly and Luck looked on.
“Yes sir, Captain. We have a job in Tameca?” Kelly replied curiously.
“Not sure just yet, maybe; it’ll be a big payout for all of us if things work out the way I’m hoping.” Adam replied.
The thought of the Hunters were cemented into his mind throughout the entire conversation. He kept telling himself that sometimes earning a good amount of credits meant doing things you didn’t want to do. Or, in this case, working for the most notorious group of killers in the Skyla System.
“I’ll pull everybody together when we get there and go over all of the details. Try to bring us to the edge of Tameca City somewhere, without drawing a lot of attention. Just in case the Legion is still looking. And good job back there.” the Captain replied with a nod as he left the bridge to head to his rack for a few hours of much needed slumber.
The hazy grey rain began hammering the Gunship the moment it made its approach into Tameca’s atmosphere. It had been a very short flight, having left one of its farthest moons before flying into one of the larger planets in the system. The rain was a welcomed sight to the captain as he awaken to see the distant city skyline from a small circular window near his bunk. He’d always enjoyed the tranquil sound of rainfall. He was also glad to be landing, still he couldn’t help but think cautiously of the hidden dangers that always came attached to such a setting. A gigantic planet, which was predominately covered with water, held one of the most highly populated cities throughout the system. Tameca City, known for its massive number of ports; it was a smuggler’s paradise.
Sure, there was a Legion presence in Tameca City, however the run of docking ports was so immense that they simply couldn’t check them all, relying on the help from its citizens. The same citizens who feared the most ruthless clan of criminals on Tameca, or any of its moons for that matter. The hunters.
They were highly-organized vampires. As a group of criminals, they were feared, even by the Legion soldiers themselves; which served as a free pass to conduct underhanded business and wreak havoc abroad. If the hunters couldn’t buy an officer of the law – they’d just kill them instead. It was the cannibalistic nature of the kill that most people feared. The hunters were sadistic and they had their own agenda. They were thought of as immortal, but bled and occasionally were even killed. Often among their own people.
Still, the fact that they moved with exceptional speed and were so proficient with hand-to-hand combat only added to their legend of immortality. It was the hunters who had brought the Gunship to Tameca for the possibility of a high-paying. Though the rest of his crew remained unaware of the fact.
Adam didn’t like the idea of dealing with clientele such as the hunters; but they had been looking for someone to move goods and were offering a lot of credits to anyone who was brave enough, or stupid enough, to accept the job. Most of the star system’s worst turned a blind eye. To hell with the money, no matter how much. It was a very risky job, one the captain knew he had to take in order to make financial ends meet. They needed fuel for the ship and food to eat; although selling the idea to the crew wasn’t going to be the easiest of tasks.
With the crew gathered in the loading bay area of the ship and the vessel snugly nestled between two large hills of high grass, or as smugglers like to call it, a hairy nook, the captain knew that it was now or never. He had to sell the idea of working for a group with a name that was more ruthless than the luck that he had been burdened with his entire life. They would be lucky to finish the interview, much less the job unscathed, and it would take every one of them to pull it off. There was a chance that they’d die trying to deliver the goods. Adam knew if it had been easy, the vampires would have delivered it themselves. Plus, with the hunters, there was always the chance that they would simply kill everyone at the end of the day and keep their money.
“The hunters! Have you lost your damn mind Adam?” Dalton yelled as the rest of the crew looked on. His loud voice echoed against the hollow walls of the nearly empty cargo bay, with only a few steel crates in sight.
The hunters? Roman thought. What were the odds?
“I don’t care how much it pays! If I can’t kill ‘em, then I don’t want to go into business with the bastards!” he added.
“Relax, will ‘ya? We do the job and collect the money. That’s it. It’s that simple.” Adam replied.
“I’m with you, captain. Vampires don’t intimidate me.” Kato added.
“Easy for you to say, sitting back here at the fort while my dick’s out there on the chopping block!” Dalton replied angrily.
“Captain, what does he mean you can’t kill them?” Kelly asked.
Adam frowned slightly, looking at the floor for a moment before looking back into her direction. Before he could say anything, Roman calmly replied.
“They die. It’s not easily done, but possible. I’ve put a few in the grave myself.”
Adam spun around to see Roman still sitting on an empty crate behind him, quickly asking “You can?”.
Roman replied with a slow nod.
“Define a few?” Adam asked.
The look he received from the former Gali soldier let him know that it was a good damn many. Only legitimizing Kato’s worries.
“I’ve put an entire rifle clip into one of the beasts myself! It did little to slow it down; much less kill it!” Dalton said with disbelief, as the rest of the crew looked on.
“What do you mean beasts? Captain?” Kelly asked, glancing hard at Adam.
“Go on Adam, tell her.” Dalton said with heavy sarcasm, earning a long glance from his old friend.
“Everybody just calm down for a minute. Relax. Take a deep breath?” Michaels said, trying unsuccessfully to lighten the spirit of the crew.
“Nobody’s having a baby,” Dalton said. “So you can drop that shit.”
“All right, they are a pretty ruthless bunch.” Adam said. Feeding Kelly’s fear.
And she had reason to be afraid. The hunters’ hair and skin was void of pigment. They wore solid black leather attire and above all things was their uncanny desire to feast on the flesh of human beings.
“Any person that eats another person has some damn issues,” Dalton said with heartfelt emotion. “Unless she’s good lucking and it ain’t for keeps.”
“Damn straight.” Kato seconded.
Not that he’d eaten a woman who he didn’t have to blow up first in quite a long time.
Even though they kept to themselves as a secret society, the hunters were infamous among the citizens of the star system. They were demonic in nature; relying on sleek weaponry and a code of honor that rivaled even the warrior families of the small planet of Benza.
“Doesn’t matter. By the time you and Luck get back with the supplies and the ship checks out flight ready, we should be back from our meeting with the hunters and then it’s business as usual.” Adam said, trying to calm the crew down before turning to get a list of needed supplies from Kato.
They didn’t like it. Hell, neither did he. But Adam was smart enough to realize that they were out of options. Their fuel reserve had all but dried up and they were rationing food among the crew. His career as one of the star system’s most notorious smugglers was now on life support. And he couldn’t see any of them retiring from it to lead a normal life.
As Adam turned to the exit of the ship, he could see Dalton and Roman gearing up for the much anticipated meeting; both men looking more than ready. Roman was equipped with his large combat blade, which was all the steel he needed. It lay against the upper part of his hip, beneath a thick black leather strap.
Meanwhile, Dalton was going heavy. And for him that spoke volumes. He had an arm-sized bowie knife strapped tightly to one of his legs, with two older knocker pistols strapped to the other. They’d earned their unique nickname from the ability to either cut a man in half at point blank range; or bash in the unlucky victim’s skull quite easily with the brass shielding at the bottom of the weapon’s handle. He also wore a black flack jacket which held several grenades as well as two short barrel shotguns. Both guns draped across his shoulders and crossed behind his head.
“Bringing a lot to the table, don’t you think?” Adam said.
“That’s what she said.” Dalton replied, laughing for a moment,
Adam continued to stare at his friend, refusing to give in.
Finally, Dalton lamented and began taking the flack jacket off. Tossing it onto a nearby table and easing each grenade down softly.
“Alright, but that’s it. The knife stays.” he swore.
“Fair enough.” Adam finally grinned.
“Hold the fort down until we get back” Dalton said.
He glanced at Kato sarcastically as the three men headed for the exit ramp.
“Kelly, you and Luck grab everything we need. And get plenty of fuel. Stay in contact with the ship – Kato, see to it that you stay near a radio. Try to steer clear of any Legion eyes on the street. We don’t need that on top of what’s already on our plate. Getting this over as quick as possible and getting back into orbit would suit me just fine.” Adam said.
Kato nodded with understanding as he prepped the rover.
It was nothing more than a large, mechanical vehicle used for carrying cargo. Still, Kelly and Luck looked very comfortable. Meanwhile, Dalton started out of the cargo bay door with the others, immediately hammered by a cuttingly cold rainfall.
Fucking android gets a smooth ride and I’m walking?
Dalton glanced back for a second. The droplets of water crashed around with tiny splashes of tranquil bliss. It would have been relaxing, if not for the fact that it was so cold. The rain was nearly turning to ice as a result.
“If we end up marching through this shit-show of rain and end up dead, I’m never going to forgive you.” he said.
Roman began laughing loud, but not loud enough to be heard in the rain.
Even Captain Michaels chuckled for a moment. He had to admit it, Dalton was right. They had nearly a mile walk in front of them in some of the worst rainfall he’d ever seen. Only to meet with gangsters that could very well kill them. That, or they’d take on a job and be paid handsomely for it. Probably just wishful thinking.
They had walked nearly a hundred yards when the rover passed by, throwing water and splashing Dalton something fierce. He retaliated by reaching down into the mud, finding a decent rock and hurling it at the rover. What good would it do? One crude rock against reinforced steel? It only served to ease Dalton’s nerves a bit.
Adam tried his best to ignore Dalton’s generous flow of curse words that followed, focusing on the city which sat on the horizon. As usual, it was easier said than done.
Adam had been here a few times before, but could never quite get past the size of it. Tens of millions of people had come from every corner of the system to call Tameca City home. A lot of good citizens lived here, raised families and worked hard every day to earn their place. Its lights shined into the sky, even against the thick rainfall. If nothing else, Tameca City had become famous for both its endless night skies and the massive concentration of lights within its limits.
A city of this magnitude was easy to get lost in, making it a smuggler’s paradise. Although Adam wouldn’t admit it, everyone he had ties with in the city was on the wrong side of the legal system. It seemed like everywhere he went in Tameca, he found trouble. Sometimes he had a hand in it. Well, usually he had a hand in it. But he’d always tried to convince himself that he had been incorrectly branded because of the few times when he was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
They were scheduled to meet at the Dusk Tavern, which was perhaps the vilest establishment in Tameca City. The hunters conducted their business there for a reason. During normal operating hours, the Dusk Tavern was home to raging fistfights among drunken criminals. After closing time, the real business took place.
It was bad enough to be going to Dusk Tavern at all. But to march with cold liquid piercing their bodies from head to toe the entire time? Adam couldn’t think of a single reason that anyone would put themselves through such a drenching walk only to wind up at the worst possible destination imaginable. A place where closing duties included sweeping up loose teeth and mopping up a mixture of blood and ale.
“At least they’ve got good drink at the Dusk.” Dalton said, grinning ear to ear and he began thirsting for stiff whiskey.
Adam shook his head for a moment before glancing up into the sky, wondering if there truly was a higher power that made a full-time job out of torturing him. He was worried about his own life. Yet he travelled with a complete stranger and an ale-crazed drunk.
After walking for half an hour or so in clothes that were clinging to their skin from the rain, the three men arrived at the edge of the Tameca City. The bright lights and hustle of thousands of bodies were a welcome sight to anyone who had just been on a trip through the system. Though Adam wanted them to draw as little attention to themselves as possible.
It only took a few moments of holding up a fistful of credits before a transport shuttle came to a screeching halt; adding a few more dings to the already wretched yellow paint job. It was like a roll of the dice whenever you used a city shuttle in Tameca City.
Sometimes you would land an android at the controls, and they weren’t exactly famous for their conversational skills. Other times, you’d find a former convict or drunken lowlife behind the wheel who would give you the entire laundry list of rumors throughout the city in five blocks or less.
After a couple of minutes of convincing the driver, who Dalton swore did jail time with him several years back on the small moon planet of Jocom, that they truly did want to go to the Dusk Tavern; the older man put down his small flask of booze and began the trip. Adjusting his mirror in order to see them all in the back seat.
“Everyone is talking about another civil war between the planets,” the driver said as he passed the first intersection on his way to the bad side of town; traffic so thick it was almost unbearable. “The Tameca City Council will be voting on it one way or another this week, but everyone that lives here knows that it’s just a tactic to stall for time while we raise a large enough army. A lot of Colonial soldiers weren’t finished when the first war ended, myself included. Fucking redcoats.” he added.
Adam nodded, but he was done. He’d made it out of the first war alive, somehow. Even as a prisoner that had been forced to fight. Adam had watched almost everyone he’d ever known, cut down by the snapping rifles of the Legion. Escaping that war alive had been a blessing and he didn’t plan to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Dalton had fought the war, too. But he had other things on his mind. Using his fingers in instructive fashion, Dalton versed Roman on what the Dusk had to drink behind its bar…and what drinks to avoid.
“So, what business do you guys have at the Dusk?” the driver asked.
“No business of yours.” Roman replied.
He’d listen to a cab driver’s bullshit, that came with the price of admission. But he had no intentions of spilling his own business.”
“What my friend means is…we are meeting some old friends there. The kind of friends who wouldn’t really like to be the subject of conversation. And trust me, you’re better off not knowing.” Adam replied in a much friendlier tone.
“Understandable.” the driver said politely.
He gave the Roman a look filled with ill feelings.
“I simply meant that it’s a rough place. Wasn’t sure why anybody would go there willingly is all.” the driver said in a calm but probing voice.
Dalton broke his stare from the window to answer.
“They got damn good liquor there. Some of the finest I’ve put these lips on, and trust me I’ve been around.”
The driver looked puzzled for a moment before answering with a grin.
“Yes, I bet you have.”
“What the hell is that supposed-” Dalton began to ask, turning his entire body to the driver in the process. But before he could finish, he was cut off by his old friend.
“Can we stop with the drinking already?” Adam asked Don’t you think about anything other than rum, ale and whiskey?”
Dalton began to think long and hard. He resembled a monkey during some type of significant experimental training. Perplexed, he placed a finger to his chin.
“Well yea. I mean if you’re going to bring it up. I like guns. Lots and lots of guns. And women. You know how I like my women.” he finally replied.
Roman broke out into a loud laugh for several seconds. He’d met plenty of characters during his time as a solider. But never anyone quite like Dalton James.
The remainder of the ride lasted only a few minutes and was funeral quiet. Dalton thought of women, in particular – brunettes. Roman tried to understand his new booty-chasing friend and Adam knew that there was no understanding Dalton. He was like a spontaneous child who drank like a fish, swore like a sailor, bedded down any woman that was half willing; Dalton also happened to be good with a gun.
The shuttle arrived at the Dusk Tavern and the driver looked around with paranoia. The engine ran as loud as could be expected from the vintage model; clanging of steel rods could be heard from its engine compartment for nearly a city block.
Adam handed the driver a small fist full of credits and thanked him. Both Dalton and Roman were already standing outside of the yellow car, waiting. Perhaps the drink would run dry if they waited a moment longer?
“Well, the place hasn’t changed a bit.” Adam said.
Wooden boards made up its exterior. The building itself looked solid enough, but the wooden boards that trimmed it out were faded. The roof was as shiny as it had been during production, nearly fifty years ago. Locals had long believed that the aluminum roofing was put into place to block the overhead scans from the city’s security choppers, not that the security force was brave enough to enter the Dusk Tavern either way. They would have ended up just as dead as anyone else who came at the hunters with a lawman’s look in their eye.
The Dusk Tavern had but one entrance; guarded by two of the largest soldiers that any of them had ever seen. Adam approached with confidence, while Dalton nearly trampled his friend with a look of whiskey in his eyes. Roman was cautious. He had his reasons.
Both soldiers had solid black shirts beneath tactical vests. They also wore cargo pants and boots and fit the profile of higher end mercenaries. Armed with light machine guns, they were the type of security that if you weren’t on the list; you weren’t getting in..
As the three men approached a waist-high podium with a computer screen on its top, Adam placed his hand on the glowing green glass; trying his best to look casual as every fingerprint was thoroughly scanned. It was very sophisticated, yet appeared monochrome. After a few moments, the soft green glass illuminated bright white and the security detail slowly opened the door.
“Adam Michaels, they’re expecting you.” one of the mercenaries said. His voice was very foreign and certainly not of the human race.
Each of the men entered with caution, taking extra time to survey the surroundings.
The room was nothing more than a small wooden bar that was polished to a very fine grain, along with a handful of stools and several thick wooden tables near the entrance. They were also quick to notice a door behind the bar at the rear. Walking into its direction, Dalton would get into position to cover it just in case things went sour, or at least Adam thought.
“Well, here’s the liquor.” Dalton proclaimed.
He completely disregarded the rear door from that point forward, while cradling a bottle of molasses black bourbon. Smiling as if he had just become a father for the first time. It was normally a drink that he couldn’t afford. A single bottle cost as many credits as it took to fill the Gunship with fuel. He’d heard of its stoutness, but he’d drink it back on the ship with very little problem. Then he’d either make a lamp from the classy bottle or trade it, completely empty, for something else he desired.
So this is what the Dusk looks like after hours. Roman thought.
Glancing around the room, he didn’t dare admit he’d been here before.
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