Long Arm of the Law

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Scotscin
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Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:50 am

Long Arm of the Law

Post by Scotscin » Mon Feb 10, 2020 10:13 pm

Index

Part 1: Dumb Luck

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6





















Part 1: Dumb Luck
Chapter 1

An ancient coin tumbled upward through the air, trilling its metal song.

It reached its apex, then tumbled back down into the grasp of its owner, a man with greying blonde hair, his dark grey longcoat spilling off the sides of the chair he was precariously leaned back in, boots laid on the desk.

Marc Bourbon-Grimaldi held up the coin, flipping it over in his fingers. HON II DG PRIN MONOECI it was so stately stamped on one side, around the bust of a long-dead prince. On the other side, diamonds filling a coat of arms, and words too faded to read.

He flicked it into the air once more. As it floated upward, he took the time to look over to the computer screen on his desk. The progress bar hadn’t budged since the last time he’d looked. What he was looking at was a project he’d been slaving over the last month; a program he’d been writing, and a program he was uploading into every nook and cranny of the ship.

It was a precaution. As the Queen Frost’s Revenge’s “security expert”, it was his job to break into places where they weren’t allowed. But there was a saying among human pirates: no purchase, no pay. And it’d been a good long while since he’d made a purchase. Beyond their first big haul that he was forced to “assist” with so they wouldn’t just shoot him, his skills hadn’t been seriously called on for a while. Out in the Freeholds, it was so often cheaper, faster, and just plain easier to break into things with shaped charges.

What had started as a dry spell had become a drought, and his lack of utility hadn’t gone unnoticed. By him or the crew. For a while, they’d begun acting strange around him. Conversations stopping when he entered a room. A knowing chuckle behind his back. And now they were docked with an old station in orbit above a podunk planet in the middle of nowhere, for reasons he could only guess.

Something was going on, and he planned to have a bargaining chip if it came down to it. Now he just needed to finish uploading the program. If they caught him, of course, he’d walk the lock.

All he needed was half an hour. Maybe less. All he needed was thirty minutes of privacy to-

“Hey Grim!”

Three loud knocks came from the sliding door of his small cabin. He fell out of his chair. The coin he’d thrown up was in the middle of its arc, and with a grunt he forced himself into its downward and caught it with his left arm.

He sat up, grabbing the edge of his desk just in time to see one of the crew open the door without asking. A woman in cracked combat armor, face riddled with scars.

Grim glowered at the intruder, stuffing the coin back into his pocket.

She responded with a shrug. “What?” she said. “I knocked.”

“What do you want, Sam?”

“Oh, nothing,” Sam intoned innocently. “But, the boss lady sent me. She’s invited you to the officer’s mess tonight.”

He sighed. “I’m guessing this invitation is mandatory.”

She pouted at him, disappointed he even had to ask.

“Tell her I’ll be there in a minute,” he grunted.

Sam shrugged. “See, that’s the thing. She kind of wants you to come over now, at least that’s how her tone was.”

She tapped the gun on her belt for emphasis.

He didn’t dare risk a glance at his computer screen, but he remembered where it was last. Eighty percent. Once done, he’d have a gun held up to the ship’s figurative head.

“All right,” he relented, walking out from the desk and through the open door to his cabin. Sam seemed pleased with his cooperation, and didn’t object when he produced a keycard and slid it against the scanner of the door, locking it back into place. He couldn’t risk someone happening across what he was planning.

“Let’s go,” he told Sam, and with a nod she led him through the rusted corridors of their ship. An old SolForce destroyer, the Queen Frost’s Revenge took its name from the reigning High Queen of The Children, Radiant Frost, mostly as a joke. But on this ship, there was only one queen anyone recognized, and he was being marched straight into her lair.

It didn’t take long for them to navigate the metal halls and come to another one of the sliding doors, this one in much better condition. Sam motioned her head towards it, urging him in.

“Go on,” she said.

He looked over to the door, and his heartbeat picked up. Marion didn’t invite people outside her circle of officers unless they’d done something to make her angry. But Grim couldn’t think of any recent incident, so that meant only one thing. Whatever thing the crew had been hiding from him was about to come out.

He raised a fist to knock on the door, but it flew upon before he could strike it. Ahead was a room filled with weapons; all of them ill-gotten or soaked with blood money. In the center of the room was a long table, humans on either end looking up from their meals. And at the end, a woman, one of her eyes glowing with the light of crude cybernetics.

Marion McMay. Bloody Mary. The undisputed, unchallenged despot of their ship. She sat in her large throne welded together from the hulls of victim ships, arms crossed.

“Well?” she asked with an impatient drawl. “You going to come in or am I going to have to drag you in?”

He went with the first option, stepping through the door. It closed and locked behind him. The other officers continued to stare at him, but Marion simply gestured to the empty seat, a meal already prepared in front of it.

“Already got you a chair, so come on up.”

Grim hesitantly walked over, sitting down close to the pirate queen. She watched him sit, and then for a few more uncomfortable moments before suddenly clasping her hands together.

“Right!” she announced. “Everyone’s here. Dig in, ya’ll.”

The other humans began to eat like nothing had happened, scarfing down their rations like starved prisoners. Grim couldn’t help but just stare at his own meal, and wondered why it was so much better than everyone else’s. A chicken, an honest to god roasted chicken lay before him, still steaming.

He looked up to Marion with skeptical eyes. She laughed off his silent accusation.

“No no,” she assured, “it ain’t drugged. Besides, cooking food tends to evaporate the poison. Makes way less potent.”

For some reason, his appetite vanished. He pushed the plate ahead. “Captain McMay,” he breathed, “why am I here?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Why do you think you’re here?”

“Let’s assume I have no idea whatsoever.”

“A captain can’t treat one of her crew every once in a while?”

“That’s not what I’m saying, Captain. You’ve just...never invited me for dinner before.”

“Fair enough,” she relented. “I suppose this is new to you. How are you, by the way?”

She said it so plainly. His skin crawled.

“I’m...fine,” he lied.

“You don’t seem fine,” she said with a false quaver of concern. “You seem pale. I think you should eat. Make you feel better.”

It wasn’t a suggestion.

“Grim,” she commanded. Her voice made him lock eyes with her, and a sly smile crept across her face. She raised one hand.

“As Captain of the Queen Frost’s Revenge, I swear you will leave this room alive. Your food isn’t drugged, there isn’t anybody behind you with a knife. Relax.”

Grim didn’t sense deception. She was telling the truth. He did relax a little, letting out the breath he’d been holding in for a while. He finally took her up on her offer, digging into meal with gusto. It was mana from heaven; so better than the rations and frozen Hiver food they’d been living off of for the last few months.

The other officers went back to their own meals, talking and joking with each other like he wasn’t even there. Even Marion seemed to disregard him, and chose to recount a story where she killed a Hiver Prince.

Grim finished his meal before she finished her story. He sat back in his chair, listening to the end of her tale.

“Oh, best part:” she added, “I found out later he was a famous duellist or something.”

She drew her gun, pointing it at the ceiling. “Lot a good that did him!”

The officers howled with laughter. She joined in the laughter as well, chuckling at the crimson memory, then slinging the gun back into her holster.

As the laughter died down, she looked to Grim. “What about you?” she questioned. “You have any memories you wanna share?”

“Nothing none of you wouldn’t remember better,” Grim explained. “I’ve only been on here a year.”

“And what a year it’s been!” she repeated to the room. “But you’re right, you haven’t been with us terribly long. How about memories before then, hm?”

“What do you mean?”

“How about…” she wondered aloud, “Is there a story behind your skillset?”

Her smile had faded. His blood ran cold.

“Uh,” Grim muttered. “Not really. Just kind of picked it up, here and there.”

“No big, inciting incident?” Marion asked.

“...no?”

She nodded. “Interesting.”

“Well,” she continued, propping her own boots up on the table. “I’ve been thinking recently. I’ve been thinking about how we’ve been wasting your abilities.”

The way she phrased it was strange. “What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “Well, when we brought you on, it seemed like a good idea at the time. You did help us crack that vault a year ago. But since then, you just haven’t really seen much action.”

“Where are you going with this?”

She glanced at one of her minions. He nodded, and got up and walked out the door.

“Where is he going?” Grim demanded.

“Getting our friends,” she answered. “You see, I just don’t see you being active on our crew for the foreseeable future. But, I recently got an offer from some other people who would love to have someone with your expertise.”

She tapped the side of her head, winking. “Or rather, what’s up in here. They’re willing to pay very handsomely. And since I’m not getting much use out of you…”

Ice ran through his veins. The pieces were falling together. The whispered talks. The meal. That gesture.

The door slid open. In walked the officer that had left, and behind them, two aliens. One of them lean and upright with a long toothy maw, its head swollen and lumpy. The other massive, furry, and on all four legs, drool dripping down from its yellowed teeth.

The Zuul. She’d sold him to the goddamn Zuul.

Like it was the most casual thing in the world, she looked to the two aliens. “Here he is,” gesturing to Grim. “Get him off of here. I’m tired of him eating our food.”

The thin Zuul, the male, scowled. It spoke, his voice low and hissing. “You’ve not restrained him?”

“I figured he deserved a last good meal,” she explained.

Grim stood in his chair, gritting his teeth at the pirate. “You backstabbing—”

“The Horde made me an offer,” she chuckled. “Normally I wouldn’t consider such a thing, but...times have been pretty lean recently. And it turns out, the Horde pays really good for someone that knows a lot about security systems. Someone who’d have dirt on SolForce. Someone I haven’t been getting much use out of.”

He looked back to the Zuul, who were now marching their way, then back to Marion, hate burning in his eyes.

“I am sorry about this,” he admitted. “But not very.” She gave a half-hearted salute. “See you, Grim.”

He jumped up, one foot on the table as he readied to throw a fist at the traitorous captain. She didn’t even react, simply sitting there as a strong arm pulled his arm backward. Like a doll, he was turned around and made to face the furry muzzle of the female Zuul, drool running from its mouth.

“You will stop, infidel!” the male Zuul commanded from behind her.

He tried to pull away. The male stomped over, pushing the palm of its hand against Grim’s head.

“Stubborn. But you will STOP!”

The force of his command was enough to frighten him into submission, but he still strained under the Zuul’s grasp.

The Zuul pulled back, snarling, and craned its ugly head towards Marion. “Explain, female.”

She groaned. “Explain what?”

“What have you done to this one?”

“Nothing?”

“Then why is it still squirming? Why won’t it obey?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you going to take him or not?”

“We were promised a bountiful, pliable slave. You have lied.

She stood up, hand going to the gun on her holster. “Goddamnit. I knew this offer was too good to be true.”

The other officers rose as well, hands going to their own pistols.

Grim’s eyes went to the Zuul’s belt. Dangling on one end, a flashbang grenade. SolForce issue; no doubt taken from one of his previous victims.

The female Zuul swung his thick arm around, hoisting Grim up by his wrist as the male pointed an accusing claw at the captain. “Do not test me, she-ape.”

It ended its threat with a snarl. The female Zuul growled, awkwardly raising a thick, crude pistol upwards towards one of the officers. Even if the female Zuul were essentially warbeasts, they could use weapons if trained. The male and the captain began to argue, and the Zuul holding Grim began to loosen his grip ever slightly as her and her master’s attention was focused on the pirates.

By fortune alone, the Zuul’s earlier movement had brought him closer to the grenade. He had one chance.

He snaked his arm out, yanking the grenade from the Zuul’s belt. The alien turned his head, just in time for Grim to slam it into his eye. The Zuul grunted, releasing him and stumbling backwards.

As his boots touched the floor, Grim pulled the pin on the grenade, then bounded upwards to the table. The other Zuul dove to catch him, swiping his thin arms together. Grim ducked, then jumped over his attacker, landing in front of the door. He tossed the grenade back into the room, and then ran like hell.

Panicked yells came from behind him, and he turned just long enough to see an explosion of light erupt from the room along with a deafening bang. Screams and guttural howls filled the air. He kept running.

As he disappeared around the corner, the captain stumbled out of the room first, resting her arm against the wall, her red eye wildly darting around the hallway in a futile search. When it turned up nothing, she hobbled over to the speaker next to the door, slamming her fist against it and bringing her head near to make an announcement that run through the ship’s old PA system.

“All hands: Grim is no longer welcome on my ship. He’s running down Hallway Eight. Find him, and bring him to me. Alive, or you won’t be!”

As he rounded another corner, he nearly ran into another one of the crew running the other direction.

“Hey!” he shouted, going for his gun. “You better—”

His command was silenced with a left hook to the jaw. He scrambled backwards, falling against the bulkhead in a daze. His momentum unbroken, he kept sprinting down the hall, a stampede of boots and claws behind him.

Almost there, he thought. He skidded around the metal corner, seeing shadows running along the walls at the far end. Ahead, the locked door to his room.

He felt like he teleported as fast as he raced over and reached the front of his door. With frantic speed, he dug his keycard out of his pocket, forcing it against the reader.

The door slid open. A bullet whizzed by his head. He swung his head to the other end of the hall, just in time to see one of the officers, bounding around the corner, gun pointed right at him. The captain appeared a moment later, her red eye glowing like the devil’s own.

Behind her, two very angry Zuul.

He dove inside, scrambling back up to lock the door behind him. It thumped once, twice, then clanged as loud snarl came out from the other side.

“Grim,” Marion furiously intoned, “All you’ve done is trapped yourself, Grim!”

He stumbled back, watching the door shake a few more times, then stop. A small beep came from the other end, and he heard the captain curse.

“Damn it! He’s locked us out!”

A low, bubbling utterance. “We will blast our way through, female.”

“Like hell! You need him alive, and I need my ship in one piece!”

After a pause, she doled out an order to someone unseen. “Go get the torch from the shop. Now.”

Steps raced down the hall outside.

More thuds against the metal door. It was Marion, and she spoke loudly and clearly. “Grim, I’m not going to make any promises I can’t keep, but you should really know every single second you’re in there is a second I’m gonna pay back with interest once we get in.”

He didn’t have much time. With ragged breaths, he stumbled over to his computer, praying to God he’d had enough time. He gripped the edges of his desk, looking down on the upload he’d been forced to abandon.

Ninety-seven percent.

He slammed a fist on the counter with a half-spoken curse. He looked back up, watching the shadows move around from the bottom of the sealed door. On the other side, he could hear the captain arguing with their alien guests.

The progress bar inched forward. Ninety-eight percent.

He swallowed, sweat pouring down his head. There was nothing he could do to accelerate the process. He just had to wait, and hope.

And that hope died when he saw the corner of the door begin to glow red-hot, then white, then erupt into a shower of sparks. It began to move upward, slowly tracing the frame of the door.

He looked around the room, looking for any other way out, even if it came by a bullet. He knew that would be a sweet mercy compared to what the Zuul would do to him. Lose his life, or lose his soul.

The sparks from the torch had reached the top of the door, and was beginning its long descent back down the other half to cut the door free.

His search turned up nothing. No way out. Hell in front of him. The black behind him.

Ninety-nine percent.

A frustrated snarl came from the other end of the door. Two claws punctured the side already cut, and he watched with horror as two more sets joined it. Together, they pulled away the halfway-cut door like the top to a tin can. The pirates of the ship, including the captain, instantly filled in the gap. They trained their guns on Grim, lasers and ballistics alike as the claws pulled away from the ruined door.

He made a move towards his computer, but Marion brought up her own pistol “A-ah-ah,” she taunted. “No sudden moves. I don’t want you doing anything...rash.”

She looked to her left. “Now then. You’re going to get him, and we’re going to politely discuss whatever problem you have with him.”

The female stomped inside, the male behind her with lips curved upward. Almost like a smile. Could Zuul smile?

“Your resistance is puzzling, slave. But you will unravel, like all other puzzles.”

The larger Zuul marched forward, sharpening his claws to claim his prize, their bulk blocking the view of the pirates on the side of the now-destroyed door. The bar reached one hundred percent. A prompt came up.

This was it. In a jolt, he threw himself against the computer and tapped the screen, setting the program in motion. The Zuul bounded over, bringing the back of its claw against his face in blow that knocked Grim to his knees.

From the door, he heard Marion laugh. “What, deleting your search history?”

He tried to rise, but the Zuul’s punch was heavier than he’d realized. His vision spun as it turned to black. His legs gave out, and he crumpled to the floor.

When his consciousness rebooted, he was already being dragged out of the room. Only the chuckles of the pirates and the heavy breaths of the Zuul reached his ears, and he could only guess how long he’d been out.

Long enough for the program to kick in.

Or long enough to know it had failed.

He was laid out on his back, and felt a boot push against his chest. His eyes fluttered open to see Marion standing over him, gun laid at his face.

“You know,” she spat, “I said I was sorry before. And I meant that. Now? Only reason I’m not putting one between your eyes right now is I know what my friends have planned is so much worse.”

She stepped off, craning her head over to the male Zuul. “Alright, take him.”

It made an annoyed grunt. “We shall withhold half your payment until we deliver him to the Dominus, personally.”

“Like hell you will.”

“And if He so judges, we shall triple what was promised, once in His presence. This slave’s resistance may prove valuable.”

After a pause, she sighed. “You better come through.”

“Do not pretend you have authority over me, female.”

At that moment, every light in the hall winked out. The ever-present hum of electricity in the walls wound down as a great final breath, falling silent.

“What now?” Marion mumbled.

The emergency lights flicked on, bathing everything in an evil red light. The captain brought her wrist to her mouth, tapping a button on the side. “Captain to Engineering. What is going on down there?”

“I don’t know!” a man’s voice answered on the other end. “The engine just shut off. We’re trying to—”

A loud bang came from the speakers of the captain’s communicator, followed by a few terse shouts in Bengali.

“FIRE! DON’T LET IT—”

Another bang hissed from the speakers. Much louder, and the line cut to static. At the same time, they felt a rumble below, and the whole ship shook.

“That worked?” Grim whispered under his breath. “That should not have worked.”

One of the officers hefted his gun, looking to two of the pirates. “You, and you. We’re going down to the engine room.”

Marion held up a hand, belaying his order, her eyes still fixed on her wrist. “I don’t think there is an engine anymore.”

Another boom rattled the ship. With a great groan, one end of the hallway began to list upward, sending a few of the buccaneers to the floor.

“What the hell is going on?!” one of the pirates screamed.

Grim’s heart soared. His insurance policy was doing its dirty work, but he hadn’t planned on being on the ship when he started it. He needed to get off, or wouldn’t matter what dark corner of the ship he crawled into.

He threw himself up while the others were in disarray, sprinting up the inclined hall. Another bullet whizzed by his head. A searing hot flash of green energy blew out one of the red lights.

From behind him, he heard Marion begin to rant in Latin, her native tongue, ordering everyone to hunt him down.

He had a new goal now: get to the escape pods. If he was lucky, he’d get to one before anyone else.

A rumbling alarm pulsed through the ship as more explosions rang out from below. Fuel tanks rupturing. Plasma vents. Steam, blowing out of reactor cells with the force of bombs. Over the klaxons and pulsing red lights that declared to every hand aboard that the ship was lost. If there was anyone behind him now, he couldn’t hear them over the din.

In the red light, he had to rely on his memory of the ship’s layout. If he didn’t, well. At least it beat the Zuul.

He finally pulled himself into the small escape pod bay, large circular doors lining the walls. One of the pirates was already there, his fingers wildly dancing across the control panel in his attempts to open it.

Raising his fists, Grim lunged at the pirate. The pirate noticed him far too late, having only enough time to blurt out a “sh-” before Grim sweeped his legs, then pounded his head against the panel. The pirate fell limp, groaning.

Grim leaned down, taking his gun, then picked up where he’d off on the console, releasing the clamps that held it to the destroyer. The pod door slid open, and he heard steps on the metal grates of the stairs above.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Zuul racing down the steps, the female with its boxy pistol drawn. The captain was ahead of them, leading the way with wild eyes of rage.

“Tu es enim mortui!” she boomed.

Grim raised his gun and fired at the male.

With surprising speed, the female grabbed Marion by the shoulder and forced her into the path of the bolt. It slammed against her face, green flames spreading outward with a crackling hiss. She fell to the floor, her head black and smoking.

He didn’t have time for a second shot. He jumped into the pod, and quickly pulled the lever to seal it shut. Not a second later, the female pressed its head against the window of the pod, his breath fogging the glass.

A clawed hand roughly pushed its snout out of the way, and the male peered into the glass, its eyes sparking blue light. “You have nowhere to escape to, slave. In the black or the surface below, we will find you.”

He didn’t dignify the Zuul’s threat with a response, his hand going to the manual eject, a hefty switch surrounded by caution tape. He pressed it, and the scowling Zuul suddenly rocketed backward into the black of space as his pod cleared the ship.

As he retreated away from the doomed ship, he could see what he’d truly accomplished. Fires rages on every deck, fuel leaking outward in fiery spindles. An explosion had ripped the Node Drive apart, and jets of hot plasma surged from the twisted metal of what used to be the reactor.

Grim exhaled. His insurance policy, now cashed out in full. He inhaled. He felt sick.

He hobbled over to the controls of the pod. No doubt that station they were docked with is how the Zuul got on, and that could only mean there was a Horde ship nearby ready to snatch up his pod. His only hope lay on the surface below.

Flicking a finger over the data screen, he breathed a sigh of relief at the readouts in front of him. It had an atmosphere, at least. Not much in the way of a biosphere, but he couldn’t be picky now.

He set in his course. The jets of the pod began to burn in retrograde to the planet below. The arc of his orbit shrank, until it finally settled on his ultimate destination: a jagged mountain range, near the empty shells of what was once a city.

What a hell of a Tuesday.
Last edited by Scotscin on Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:20 am, edited 8 times in total.

Scotscin
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Long Arm of the Law

Post by Scotscin » Tue Feb 11, 2020 7:45 pm

Chapter 2

If there was one consolation to his landing, is that he hadn’t ended up face down. Among the sparks and smoke, Grim slowly worked up the strength to find the hatch release. He had to move quick; the smoke filling up in the cockpit had nowhere to go but his lungs.

He pulled the thick lever next to the pod door, and it blew off like a cork, tumbling down the side of the mountain he’d crashed into. He leaned out, coughing out the ashes and breathing in the fresh air outside.

He preferred the smoke. The air tasted like iron. This was a dead world, picked clean long ago.

Sitting his legs on the rim of the pod door, he jumped out. It was an awkward landing, but he managed to keep his balance, shuffling down the steep face of the mountain, pebbles racing ahead of his feet to the bottom.

After none-too-gracefully stumble-falling down the incline, he reached a more gradual slope and took the time to dust himself off. Ahead was the city the pod’s scanner had picked up. Above, a jagged shape descending out of the clouds, painted red and rusted redder. A Zuul slave raider, practically falling out of the sky in its careless descent.

Looks like those Zuul were right; they weren’t giving up their quarry. It motivated him to run. He had to get to the dead city ahead; at least there he might take one or two of them with him. The raider roared overhead, coming to rest on the other side of the mountain, kicking up a cloud of ash and dust as it hit the ground.

There was a pain in his side he couldn’t quite identify, but nursing it wouldn’t help him now. Onward he ran, clutching his side as the first roar of female Zuul carried over the mountain-tops, rattling through his soul. He’d heard stories of what a momma Zuul would do marines. Seen the vids.

He coughed, using those bloody memories as that extra bit of motivation. Every step seemer heavier than the last in the bitter air, but slowly and surely the skyline of the old settlement drew closer. A human city? Tarkan? It was impossible to tell; the skyscrapers and streets had long been stripped of colors, nothing more than grey ghosts against a grey sky.

As he reached the outskirts, he dared to turn around. Behind him, clad in spiked armor, a pack of Zuul females, males running behind them or riding on top. At the head, a male on a furry female that both looked intensely familiar. Looks like they’d used the other pod.

He braced himself, closing one eye and leveling his gun against the incoming horde. He pulled the trigger and the blast screamed forward, nailing the ground in front of one of the females. It threw up a mound of stones and dirt, but the Zuul just powered through the screen of debris, snarling all the while.

Alright, that wasn’t an option. He picked the closest building and ran inside, his footsteps echoing off the walls. The halls were empty and barren, bleak and brown, the sound of his boots sloshing through the puddles on the floor as his only companion.

But not for long.

The Zuul had arrived. He heard their guttural chatter, their snarls, their roars as they barked commands at each other, no doubt with his capture in mind.

He kept moving, darting from building to building, never staying out in the open. The air seemed to choke any sound outside, and that alone seemed to be his saving grace the few times he dared risk moving out in the open. He kept close to the buildings, waiting for stampeding squads of the aliens to pass. He stepped lightly when the voices came near, breathed lightly.

Was there a plan, now? If he’d had the embers of one, it had died on his dive into the atmosphere. There was only survival now. At least now, he had a guarantee in his hand that they wouldn’t take him alive.

Now he was slumped against one of the habitats at the far side of the city, ragged and out of breath, head resting on his knees. He was surprised he’d made it this far; he knew how the Zuul could track a sentient by their thoughts alone. That he managed to evade them this long was nothing but amazing.

Dirt churned from behind him. He froze, watching a hulking shadow move its way up the side of the building. From around the corner, the snout of a Zuul female peeked around, sniffing the air through the holes in her stainless armor.

His hand went to his gun. His breaths stopped. He watched the snout sniff the air once, twice, then slowly recede from view. The shadow stomped away, rejoining the sounds further into the city.

Grim went limp with a relieved sigh. He closed his eyes, weighing his options. Somehow, he always imagined it would be a bunch of angry Loa that did him in.

Something dripped on his head, warm and liquid. It wasn’t rain.

He craned his head up, looking into the eyes of a Zuul female perched atop the building.

“Oh no.”

His body tensed up like a coil and he sprung up, bringing his gun on the predator. He shot twice, both bolts slamming against the hard metal of the Zuul’s armor. Sparks flashed, and molten metal flew upward as the female howled in pain and fell backwards out of sight.
He froze, keeping his gun trained on the ceiling. Then he heard them: the shouts of every single Zuul around closing in around him. War-cries , blood-lusted hoots of joy that they’d picked up the trail.

Crap. He looked behind him. There was one last building ahead, a ruined warehouse of some kind, its roof long since collapsed. He’d make his stand there. He took off towards it, doing his best to ignore the sounds of the gathering horde behind him.

He came upon the open front entrance, long since rusted. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, revealing a big stack of crates in the muted air. His citadel, and likely final resting place.

Well, this was it. He jogged over, checking the charge of his pistol. Enough for twenty shots. Or three really good thumps. Pushing its thumb along the side of the power feed, he went for the latter. By god, he was taking one of them with him.

He made it to the boxes. Exhausted, his legs now warm jelly, he leaned against one of the containers, watching his pursuers pour into the warehouse. They walked like as confident hunters, all too proud they’d finally run down their prey.

Looking once around the approaching Zuul, he picked out the one he’d met on the ship. Such a skinny thing. When Grim raised his weapon, the Zuul swiped his hand to the side, and the gun flew out of his hand, clattering to the far side of the room.

He watched it disappear into the shadows, then sunk to his knees.

“You’ve led us on quite a chase, meat,” the emaciated one said. “But now, here you are. A broken beast.”

He raised his head, grimacing at the smug slaver. “You gonna kill me or what?”

“You think you deserve that mercy?”

“Go to hell.”

“Hell is the destination of the infidel. The destination of the slave. But for the pure and the chosen, Paradise is what awaits.”

“Word salad.”

His words seemed to offend the zealot. The leader barked something at one of the female Zuul, and the alien marched forward with gusto, throwing the back of his paw against Grim’s chest and pinning him ahead the metal wall of the container.

“We will teach you repentance, infidel. We want your mind. Your body, less so. And to teach you respect, I believe our first lesson of humility shall begin with your eyes.

The Zuul held out his other paw in front of Grim’s face, two of his claws perfectly aligned with his eyes, then began to slowly bring them forward. When he struggled, the Zuul slammed him against the container again like a rag doll, grabbing his head with both his paws and pressing the claws of his ‘thumbs’ against his eyes, just enough so he could feel the pressure.

“Rip him.”

The Zuul pressed in further, taking special care to savor every moment. Didn’t matter that Grim had closed his eyes, the tips of his claws would be through soon enough.

Right when he started to feel the first terrifying tinges of real pain, a shrill shot rang through the air. Grim still couldn’t open his eyes, but he felt his torturer’s claws slowly pull back. Over the next tense second, they were finally off, and he hesitantly opened them.

The female was looking at him, its own eyes wide in shock and pain. And then they slowly became vacant, and the monster’s arms sagged. A trickle of blood began to pour out of the side of the alien’s head, soaking into the fur on her neck and arm. In a final effort, the Zuul tried to turn its head in the direction of the shot, revealing a gaping exit wound on its skull, brain exposed to the air.

The Zuul collapsed, falling backwards in a heap. Blood continued to ooze from its wound, but the others paid no concern to their fallen comrade, instead looking over to something in the far right. Something to make them all pause.

Grim scrambled up, freeing the dead Zuul’s claws from his head. As soon as he did, he looked at whatever his pursuers seemed so interested in.

It was a shadow, drawing closer from the darkness of the shadows. A shadow upright and walking, every step it took ringing out with the jingle of spurs. A shadow with arms, one held out as it hand twirled something in its grasp, beating the air around it in almost musical twirls.

A shadow no more. Into the light stepped a brown-furred Zuul. Short and rail thin, clad in dark clothes with a brown duster, and a wide-brimmed hat sitting on his head. A red bandana around its throat, and snow-white facial hair. In one hand on an arm noticeably longer than the other, it spun an ornate revolver, cutting the air as it spun.

It walked forward with ominous pace, every step ringing out clear.

Grim had to blink at the sight in front of him. Maybe the Zuul had already ripped his mind apart.
Only explanation for what he was seeing.

The Zuul stopped, twirling its gun a little longer before finally tightening his grip, facing it up in the air.

It spoke, its voice low and raspy. “Now what’s this?”

Its resumed its walk forward, twirling the gun in its claws once more. “I have to wonder,” it continued as its gaze wandered over the other Zuul, “why you boys are out here so far? This ain’t a planet of interest.”

“Who are you, that you dare?” the leader Zuul demanded.

The new Zuul ignored him. “What I dare is that you folks are about to have yourselves a little lynching party, and our friend here is the lynchee.” He stopped his gunslinging again, pushing his gun into the holster around his belt. “And I just can’t have that happen. It just ain’t proper.”

The leader of the pack snarled, pointing its talons at the intruder and bellowing an order of execution. Every Zuul charged forward with fury, mouths agape and crude guns raised.

With lightning speed, the hat-wearing Zuul slung out its revolver in a near-blur with his long arm. The first shot went forward, nailing a nearby male Zuul in the eye. Then another, into the throat. He spun his arm around, kneecapping then executing a smaller Zuul with two shots, then turned and plugged another in the heart. A female charged up, and he sent a bullet sailing straight into her nostril and out the back of her head.

They all fell limp at once, and the Zuul broke open his revolver to reload, emptying out the brass of his gun in a six-shell shower, slamming in six new bullets with unerring speed.

Shot one, a Zuul’s heart.

Shot two, another’s head.

Three and four, in the gut of another.

Five, against the floor, and bouncing up into the jaw of a charging female.

Six, through the heads of two, one behind the other.

Another lightning reload, and he pumped the leader’s female mount full of lead with five shots in her side. She fell limp, her master tumbling off the side.

Smoke hung in the air as ghostly crack of the shots still echoed around the city beyond. The leader scrambled backwards, attempting to flee from his attacker, and with the same cool stride, the strange gunslinger marched forward and fanned the hammer of his revolver, sending his last bullet right between the Zuul’s eyes. Its head fell backward, hitting the floor with a thump.

The Zuul stood there for a moment, eyes on his last victim like he expected him to make a move. After a moment, he let out a long, sad sigh and slowly reloaded his gun one last time, then slung his sidearm back into his holster. In a very human-like gesture, he reached for his hat, bringing it to his chest as he mumbled something below his breath. It was a short, and he wasted no time putting his hat back on his head once he was finished.

He looked over to grim, and began his march over with heavy steps. “Now then,” he began, “I came over here to deal with a very bad pirate that’s done some very bad things. And I have to wonder: why’s her ship on fire, and why’s one of its escape pods in this godforsaken place?”

Grim remained silent. This was beyond his experience. This Zuul had just saved him, apparently, but it seemed to want answers. He didn’t know what telling the truth would get him.

The Zuul frowned, walking forward until the tip of his snoot was nearly touching Grim’s nose. “So what’s your story? You have something to do with all this?”

Again, words failed Grim.

The Zuul shrugged, making a low sigh. “Fine, have it your way. Guess I’ll just have to do some digging.”

He stood back turning his head so one of his eyes was closer. It flashed blue, the wisps of psionic energy pulsing forward. He kept his gaze on Grim for several moments, then let out a deep breath of air. The blue light in his eye faded with his exhale, and he blinked.

He stood up straight, dusting himself off. “Well, that’s weird.”

Clearing his throat, he cracked his claws and lowered and brought his snout down, staring into Grim’s eyes with both of his. “Been a while since I’ve had to work for it. Now then, tell me what’s going on around here.”

His eyes flared up again, turning white, and then an ever-so-subtle shade of violet. He gritted his teeth and balled his fists, his whole body shaking from the effort as he seriously flexed his psionic gifts. He persisted in his labors for several moments more, then his jaw went agape.

The light in his eyes vanished like a dying bulb. He stepped back, murmuring in shock. “What the hell…?”

Grim charged forward, using the Zuul’s confusion to grab his long arm and force it behind his back. Kicking the back of the Zuul’s knee, he knocked the alien’s leg out from under him, forcing him down and giving Grim a clear path to his holster. He went for it, pulling it out from its leather pocket and forcing the barrel against the Zuul’s head.

The Zuul snarled, trying to free itself from his grasp. As fast as he was, his strength didn’t seem to match, and eventually he ceased his struggles.

“Appreciate it if you let me go,” he grunted.

“Who the hell are you?” Grim demanded.

“Who the hell am I?” the Zuul asked with an incredulous drawl, “Who the hell are you, Mr. Brick Wall?”

Grim pulled back the hammer. “Start talking sense.”

His hostage tried the shrug. “No good deed. Look, I saved you, friend. I was just trying to find out what you’re doing down here.”

“What?”

“Wait,” he stated, going still. “Hold on. You not realize what just happened?”

“No? What are you talking about?”

“You seriously telling me you don’t know this about yourself?”

“Know what?”

“That you’re immune to psionics, you idjit! Now, if you’d kindly let me go, maybe—”

“No deal,” Grim retorted.

“I’m not bargaining with you. This is a warning. If you don’t let me go—”

Ku-TUNK. Something huge and heavy landed right behind them with the weight of a car. Grim hardly had time to let go of the Zuul and spin his gun around when a massive black arm knocked the weapon out of his grasp with a sideways swipe, then went for his throat, lifting him into the air.

Grim clawed at his attacker’s arm with both hands, looking into the unblinking eyes of a coal-black Hiver Prince, his wings as orange as the evening sun, two massive sword scabbards on his hips. His mandibles lightly twitched as he tightened his vice grip around Grim’s throat.

“Augh-!” Grim choked, slapping his hand against the arm of the Hiver. The Prince stood as still as stone, then looked down to the Zuul as he walked over to his gun and slung it back into its rightful place.

He turned around, looking up to Grim’s predicament with a smile. “Like I was saying, let me go before he makes you let me go.”

“Eeeugh!” Grims eloquently argued. He felt his face going red, and he kicked the air in desperation.

“All right,” the Zuul grunted, “put him down. I think he gets the message.”

The Prince replied, his English strangely accented and peppered with sharp clicks. “I don’t trust our friend to cooperate.”

“Well, neither do I, I’d rather we take him alive, if you don’t mind?”

The Prince’s grip remained for a maddening moment more, then hoisted Grim‘s face close to his. “I can, and will, break you in half if you try anything.”

“He ain’t lying,” the Zuul added. “Seen him rip a Loa walkabout’s head off once. Least, I think it was its head.”

Grim was sat down rather forcefully on his own two legs, and only then did the Prince release his grip. He inhaled all he could, the sour air sweetened by his need. After a few labored breaths, he finally felt like he was no longer being pushed into death’s door.

He rubbed his throat. “Who the hell—” he breathed at the Zuul, “ —who are you?”

The Zuul gave a toothy grin, pulling his gun out and twirling it in his hand. He threw his gun up in the air, catching it with his other hand and pointing it straight at Grim’s head.

“Name’s Johnny,” he declared. “Johnny Law.”
Last edited by Scotscin on Fri Feb 21, 2020 6:34 am, edited 5 times in total.

Scotscin
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Long Arm of the Law

Post by Scotscin » Thu Feb 13, 2020 9:43 pm

Chapter 3

Grim trod through the desolate landscape, the city far behind him. A little closer behind him, the strange gunslinging Zuul calling himself Johnny Law, his gun pointed right at Grim’s back. Ahead of him was the Prince, one arm laid on the hilt of one of his great swords.

Grim turned his head, looking at the alien he was now captive to. “So, where are we going?”

“Off this planet,” the Zuul answered. “I’ll let the rest be a surprise.”

“Who are you?” Grim demanded once more.

“Like I said, I’m Johnny Law. And ahead of you is…”

He trailed off, looking around Grim to the marching Hiver Prince ahead. “Hey, Your Highness! You alright with me telling him your name?”

The Hiver sighed. “This one’s name is Rixzikxoktin. But in your language, it would translate to something approaching “Cruel Dusk’.”

The Zuul smiled. “Yeah, we just call him Xoktin or Dusk. The ‘cruel’ part always seemed a bit weird.”

“‘Cruel Dusk’?” Grim repeated. “Odd name for a mother to give.”

The Zuul cringed at Grim’s observation. The Prince drew out one of his swords, sharpening it along the tough chitin of his forearm, sparks flying as he dragged it along. He repeated the motion a few more times, then sheathed it back in its ornate scabbard.

“My mother is dead.”

“Oh,” Grim said. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t know,” the Prince replied in a low voice. “Now, please stop trying to free yourself from your shackles.”

He stopped, caught in the act, looking down on the one metal bracelet of the cuffs he’d managed to unlock.

Johnny stomped up behind him, drawing his gun. “What the—”

He forced Grim’s arm that was still cuffed upward, leering at the half-unbuckled cuffs. “Well I’ll be dipped. You’re just full of surprises, ain’t you?”

The Zuul looked up to the Prince. “How Iong’s he been workin’ at them? These are my good cuffs, Xoktin!”

“Since we started walking,” the Prince answered. “I wanted to see if he could.”

“Well he can, obviously.”

He waved his gun in Grim’s face, a skeptical look in his eye. “Can you get the other one off?”

“Yeah?”

“Show me.”

Not restrained by the need for subtlety anymore, he deftly unfastened the other with a few expert motions. The cuffs clattered to the ground, open and defeated.

The Zuul leaned down, picking up his cuffs and fitting them in his pocket. “Well now. We got us an escape artist.”

Grim rubbed his wrists. “Those are SolForce issue. Pretty good, but still have some kinks you can exploit.”

The Zuul picked up the cuffs, pushed them into the pocket of his coat, then poked the barrel of his gun at Grim’s chest. “I’ll remember that. Now, unless you think you can escape a bullet, keep going. Hands in the air, now.”

With little choice, he raised his arms in a gesture of surrender, and with another poke from the Zuul’s gun, kept walking.

Their march took them up a hilly path, a range on the other side of the small valley where the city was. Once they reached the summit, what lay below made Grim stop in his tracks.

At the bottom of the hill, in a large clearing, was a ship. Wide with large wings and a sharp bow, it was unmistakably Morrigi, painted silver and chrome. So polished, it gleamed even under the overcast sky.

“I’m assuming this is what we’ve been walking to,” Grim wondered.

The Zuul swaggered forward, looking down on the ship ahead, rubbing the side of his head with the barrel of his gun. “How’d this get here?” He dropped the act. “Of course this is where we’ve been going. Think we were gonna walk off this rock?”

“A Morrigi ship?” Grim breathed.
The gunslinger didn’t answer, simply directing him towards it with his drawn sidearm. They marched down that last distance of the hill, and when they drew close, a door opened on the back of the vessel, a ramp slowly pushing outward into the ground.

They came down to the front of it, looking up to the interior of the ship as it was revealed by the descending ramp. At the top, a female Tarkan holding a battle rifle, her scales orange and swirls of blue, leaning against the wall of the interior, clad in the tan remnants of SolForce infantry armor.

Her grey eyes flashed yellow. She didn’t move from her spot, idly waiting as they proceeded upward. When they reached the top, she pushed herself forward, rolling her shoulders.

Daiko,” she said in a chuckle. “You caught you a stump.”

The Zuul smiled. “You wanna get all technical, Xoktin caught him. I’ve just been keeping him on the hook, so to speak.”

“Is this our occupant of the mystery pod?”

“I think so.”

As he passed them, another flash of gold raced across her eyes. “Think so or know so, daiko?”

He looked to her. “I don’t know. I can’t read him.”

She did a double-take, her pupils elongating and iris turning to bright orange. “Vo sa, koni?” she uttered in surprised Urdu Kai.

“Yep. Come on, we’re taking him to the brig.”

From an open hatch on the floor, a small tan Hiver Worker poked his head out, antenna raised with a multitool in hand.

Absolutely not!” he declared in a shrill voice. “Do any of you know what the bubonic plague is?”

The Zuul raised his arms, letting them fall against his side. “Is it a disease humans have, Ziskis?”

With manic energy, the Hiver sat the multitool on the floor above him and scrambled out, running up to Grim in a skitter, standing on the tips of his spindly legs and leering at him with his large yellow eyes.

“One of many!” he declared, holding out his three fingers on one hand in sequence. “Bubonic plague! Smallpox! Polar Fever! Do you have any idea how many ways we could be coughing up blood by the end of the week?!”

“Guess you better get started on making some vaccines, then,” the Zuul replied.

“Start?” the Worker asked. He turned around, skittering off down the hall. After a moment of banging from a room to the side, he returned with the same agility, racing up with a vial of clear liquid and a gun-like device.

He loaded the vial into the tool. “I always feared we’d bring a human aboard one day. I’ve been saving this serum for a while.”

With no ceremony, he pressed the nozzle of the tool against Grim’s arm and pressed the trigger. Grim felt a sharp sting as the little alien held it against his skin, the liquid slowly draining out of the vial. When it was gone, the Worker withdrew his tool and slapped a patch on the injection site.

“There,” he stated. “That should keep his diseases from spreading, at least. But I want all of you to get your round of vaccines, too!”

He pointed a finger at the Zuul. “Yes, even you!” he said, then turned around and hopped back into the hole where he’d emerged. After a beat, the pulses of light and hisses of tiny welds began to emanate from the hole, a thin wisp of smoke billowing upward to the ceiling.

“Friend of yours?” Grim asked.

“That is Ziskis,” the Prince answered. “He is...excitable.”

Grim was nudged with a gun barrel that was quickly becoming a familiar sensation.

“All right,” the Zuul grunted. “Vasu? Take our friend to the brig. We need to get him in there before Atra realizes I brought a human aboard.”

The Prince stomped forward, walking down the hall ahead of thin marsupial. “I will go tell her to take us up. That should keep her distracted.”

The Zuul followed, but not with the same destination in mind. “Once he’s in the brig, pow-wow in the break room. I’ll be waiting in there.”

Everyone present grunted acknowledgements of their leader’s order, and even the Hiver in the hole chirped a ‘yes, yes’ before returning to his work.

“Congratulations, stump,” the Tarka cooed. “You get a new gun pointed at you now,” she said, holding her rifle up from her hip.

He scanned her odd apparel. “What’s a Tark doing wearing a SolForce getup?”

“Against all reason, you apes make decent armor. Now, if you would.”

She goaded him towards another hall on the right, leading him into a small room with a console in the middle, and three giant cells at the far end of the hall. She directed him to the center one, and he sat down on the bench attached to the wall inside. Her clawed fingers danced across the panel of the console, and row of bars shot down from the rim of the entrance above, slotting into holes at the bottom. A moment later, a blue energy field surrounded the entrance; another layer of security to his cell.

She watched him for a moment, like she expected him to demand his freedom. When he didn’t protest, she shrugged and hefted the gun onto her shoulder.

“I hope you’re comfortable.”

“What is all this?”

She hemmed and hawed and his question. “Don’t think daiko would like it if I enlightened you just yet.”

A shrill shout came from outside, and she looked over her shoulder, calling back. She looked to Grim with a smile. “Now then, please sit still. I have obligations.”

She walked out of the room, humming a battle hymn. She was gone long enough for Grim to realize she’d actually left, and he weighed his options.

He stood up, leaning towards the measures taken to contain him.

His cell was huge; obviously meant for Morrigi prisoners rather than any human. Still, the bars were far too close together to squeeze through, and even touching that energy field would send him flying back against the wall.

Leaning in, he scrutinized the bars and the field around them for any faults. His gaze fell towards, looking to the slots where the rods of metal were slotted. One caught his attention, and closing one eye, he leaned down and scrutinized it further.

That would do it, he thought. He stepped back, and from his boot, drew a small serrated knife, then laid down on his belly. He brought the tip of the knife forward, testing the sensitivity of the field. When the hairs of his arm began to raise, he inched forward just a tiny bit more. Sparks began to dance on the tip of his blade in a steady hum.

He grinned. He had it.

Carefully, he began to lower his knife towards the slot he’d picked out, lightning dancing on his blade. Closer, he thought. Closer. He brought the knife’s sparking edge to the thin rim of the slot, and tapped the pommel. One, twice, three times with his finger, edging it forward by imperceptible lengths.

Zzzzzzzzznap. The electricity that had been forming around his blade danced over to the slot in a split second. Smoke filled the slot as the iron bar shot upward like a pogo. In that fraction of a moment it cleared the slot, Grim forced his blade under it. It bounced off the metal of his blade with a clank, and he grabbed the length of it with his free hand to absorb the vibration. He breathed deeply, wiping the sweat off his brow. He’d managed the tricky part. Now for the muscle.

Angling the blade of knife, he delicately pushed up the bottom of the bar, then brought his hand under it. Coming up to his knees, he began his effort to push the bar upward with a pained grunts. He’d expected it to be heavy, but it felt like lifting a boulder as it barely inched upward.

He brought his knife below it again, using it as a bar to push it up. That got him better results, and it slowly rose to just above his head, giving him just barely enough room to squeeze out. He did so, making special care to keep the bar balanced above him let he impale his own head. He snuck out, clearing the bars and turning around to lower the bar back into its slot.

He held out his knife, nodding as if he was proud of it. Sheathing it, he walked over to the console, hoping he’d be able to find out something about the ship he was on. All he could really ascertain that it was Morrigi and it was old; his little trick only worked on the old-style Morrigi prisons from before the Confederation.

Questions for later. He could only assume the ramp was closed now, so he’d need another way off the mysterious ship. Been a while since he’d had to interact with any old crow stuff, but he was decent at guessing. All he had to do is think like a feathery engineer very easily distracted by shiny things, and…

A flat, flickering hologram sprang up above the flat surface of the console. There it was. He had a map, and he studied it closely, his finger stopping at a small round port near the bow of the ship.

The airlock. Took him close to the pilot’s area in front, and they way they talked, it sounded like it was occupied at the moment.

Well, he thought. He’d just have to be quiet. He charted his path through the ship, and with a nod, slowly crept out of the room. His first instinct was to check if that Hiver was still in that hole of his. He inched forward, but detected no sounds of movement.

The floor under his feet shook with a low roar that rumbled through the bulkhead. His muscles instantly bunched up; they were lifting off. Before he even took his next step, he felt the ship rise off the ground, rising to an altitude that made his plan of escape rather impossible.

He cursed under his breath, berating himself for being so slow breaking out.

Another rumble send him tumbling back as the vessel shot forward, the front of the ship slightly inclined towards the sky. They were climbing now, no doubt gaining speed for a stable orbit. Now he was definitely trapped, unless…

He hadn’t seen an escape pod on the map, but there had to be one somewhere. He began to move down the hall, intent on finding it. He just had to…

He stopped, standing still.

“What am I doing?” he asked himself. Even if he found the escape pod, he had nowhere to go but a dead rock. He’d already cheated once today, and at least his abductors didn’t seem intent on killing him just yet. By the sounds of it, they were going to have a little meeting.

Maybe he’d listen in. If they were planning his demise, that was information he sorely needed.

He resumed his sneaking about, creeping down the hall until he heard voices floating out of one of the rooms. It sounded like the Worker and the Tarka quietly conversing about something, but their voices were too far away to make anything out. He heard the Zuul’s voice for sure, commanding the conversation with his drawl. Seemed like the Prince was speaking the least, and only in one or two words when he did.

Inching forward again, he crept along the wall until he was within earshot.

“No,” he heard the Zuul explain, “wasn’t like a Loa. It was like, I dunno. I just bounced off. I don’t know how to describe, you have to be a spook to get it.”

“And he didn’t seem to know?” the Tarka’s deep voice asked.

“Nope. Damndest thing. He couldn’t be SolForce then, they’d zero in on that in no time.”

The Worker whispered something, followed by a chair scraping off the floor.

“Well!” the Hiver declared in a suspiciously nonchalant tone, “I think we will just sit here for a while. I do not know about any of you, but I am...tired? We should all sleep. Now. Yes.”

His odd tone made Grim mouth out a ‘what?’.

He didn’t have to consider the mystery for long. He felt something cold and hard touch his cheek, and turned to see the barrel of a revolver. He let out an exasperated sigh.

The Zuul had a wicked grin. “Yeah, you know what that is,” he chuckled.

He was guided inside the room, a small little area with a table and a few chairs and cushions, and a SolForce-issue vending machine long since drained of goodies. To his left his saw the room had a door to the left leading out to the hall; must’ve been how the Zuul snuck up on him.

Threatened toward the least comfortable-looking chair, the others took their place on the other side of the table, staring him down as the Zuul waved his gun at Grim.

“We just can’t keep you anywhere, can we?”

“How did it get out?” the Worker asked.

“Don’t be rude, Ziskis.”

He looked to Grim, making a sarcastic half-bow. “What he meant to say was: how did it get out, sir?”

“How did you know I was out?” Grim retorted.

The Zuul thumbed over to the small Hiver. “He smelled you coming. It’s hard to be subtle. Also, I’m serious. How did you get out? One of your fancy Houdini tricks?”

“A what?” the Tarka asked.

“I”ll tell you later. The only way he could’ve gotten out was a manual disengage from the cockpit, and unless Atrareia just independently decided to stage a jailbreak…”

“What’s this about a jailbreak?” a flanging voice echoed from outside. They all turned to see a white and yellow Morrigi poking its head through the doorframe, one of its eyes covered with with a holographic visor. It seemed female, which was odd, since its was only barely bigger than the typically smaller males of the species.

She craned her head toward Grim, and blinked.

Johnny brought a palm to his face. “Ah, crap.”

“Human!” the Morrigi squealed, slithering up to Grim with liquid speed. Before he knew it he had the paws of the dragonlike alien on his face, stretching his cheeks like putty.

“He’s so adorable!” she cheered. “Why didn’t you tell me you found a human?”

“First off,” the Zuul explained, “because we knew you’d react like this. Second, who is flying the ship?

The crow dismissed his concern with a wave. “Autopilot, of course.”

She resumed her adoration of Grim, squishing his face together. “Out of all the dustlings, I’ve always had a weakness for humans. Their culture is very fascinating, you know!”

“Yeah, you—”

“Did you know they tested nuclear weapons on themselves before even reaching space?”

“We know, Atra.”

Craning her long head neck back, she blinked in surprise. “You do? I could’ve sworn—“ She turned to Grim, still stoically sitting in his chair and taking the abuse.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“You’re the first person to ask me that,” he sighed. “It’s Grim.”

“Got a full name?” Johnny asked.

“Do you need it?”

“Fine, be that way.”

He looked to the Morrigi, vaguely gesturing towards Grim with his gun. “Atrareia, meet our guest. Grim, apparently. Grim, Atrareia. She flies this scrap heap.”

“Don’t male Morrigi usually fly ships?” Grim asked.

“Observant! Yes, they do. But so do I!”

“May I ask why?

She beamed. “You may! The answer is: I do not wish to answer!”

He threw his arms up. “Great.”

“Since you’re already here,” Johnny grunted the Morrigi, “we might as well tell you: our friend here isn’t exactly here willingly.”

“A prisoner?” she asked.

“Yeah. We found him in that one escape pod that flew out. And we toss him in the brig, and not five minutes later he’s back out.”

She pulled back from Grim, her feathers rustling. “You escaped the prison? How?”

“See, that’s what I wanna know too,” Johnny emphasized. “In fact—”

He leveled his gun at Grim. “Why don’t we head back and you show us?”



Down on one knee, Grim circled the slot of the bar he’d lifted during his escape with the tip of his knife, Johnny and the rest watching his lecture with interest.

“And once they drop down,” he explained, “that completes the circuit, and that’s what brings up the field. If one of the bars is even a little bit off like this one is, you can basically take anything metal…”

He guided his knife down into the slot. “And if you’re really careful, send that energy right down into the slot. This blows out the circuit and flip the poles for a split second...”

He angled the tip upward. “Because the poles are flipped, the bar literally bounces up from the force of the magnetic fields pushing apart, and…”

He stuck his knife against the rod. “If you’re quick, you can put something under it before it comes back down. Then you just lift it up, and you’re home free.”

“Unless of course,” he said as he sheathed his knife and turned around, “there’s a crazy Zuul and his gang waiting outside. That answer your question?”

‘Fascinating!” the Morrigi exclaimed. “Where’d you learn this?”

“I’ve been in a Morrigi jail before. Well, SolForce prison, but they were using an old Morrigi station for the cells. Me and one other person can do that trick, as far as I know.”

Johnny pushed up the brim of his hat with his gun. “Ain’t the only trick you know. You broke out of those cuffs real quick. You some kind of super-spy or something?”

“Security systems is what I really crack,” Grim answered, “but it’s got me in trouble more than once, so, you know. Necessary skills.”

“Now for the million-credit question: you have something to do with that pirate ship going up in smoke?”

“Why do you care so much about that?”

“Because we were gonna kill Bloody Mary. We had a plan to board her and everything.”

“I made a bomb!” Atrareia cheerfully declared.

“That you did. Now, sir, answer the question. Did you have something to do with that pirate ship going to the black locker?”

Grim sheathed his knife. “Well,” he started, “long story short, I was kind of a guest and/or hostage on her ship for a while. But I suspected she was planning something, so I made myself busy making a program to sabotage the ship in case she tried anything. Surprise surprise, she tried to sell me to the Horde, so I used it.”

“So that’s why the bad guys were there,” Johnny mused, stroking his chin. “That’s a hell of a program you wrote to blow it up like that.”

Grim wobbled a hand. “Not as impressive as it sounds. The ship was old, the security was awful, and it still took me nearly a month to make something that would work. Even then, I was counting on the engine being in as a crap state as the ship’s intranet. The ship was basically a giant bomb, the way they’d maintained it.”

“So she made her own end. Fitting, I suppose.”

“She didn’t die when the ship went up.”

“Whaddya mean?”

“Let’s just say Zuul make their own cover. No offense.”

Johnny made an amused snort. “None taken, though I am kinda sore we didn’t get to kill her.”

“You were gonna kill her?” Grim asked. “She rob or backstab you guys at some point too?”

“Not directly,” the Prince explained. “We were asked to kill her.”

“It doesn’t hurt that no one would miss her,” the Worker added.

“So, what? Are ya’ll bounty hunters?” Grim questioned.

The Tarka laughed like she knew something he didn’t. “Not quite, Go'Rada.”

“Then what?”

“We’re just ‘the gang’,” Johnny said. “That’s all you really need to know for now.”

Atrareia bounced on her paws. “Rose asked us to kill Bloody Mary. Something about her murdering a Prince a few years ago.”

Everyone else turned towards her and said her name in scolding unison.

“What?” she protested. “He should know where we’re going!” She pondered her statement. “We were going back to Rose’s place, right?”

“Yes,” Johnny sighed. “While you’re at it, why don’t you tell him him—“ He trailed off, reconsidered his words. “No, no. You would tell him.”

“Rose?” Grim questioned.

“Call her a friend,” Johnny stated. He scratched his head. “Maybe a patron? Part-time boss?”

“And we’re going to meet her?

“Since you did our job for us, yes, you are. She’ll decide what we should do.”

He crossed his arms, made somewhat awkward by their mismatched lengths. “And since we can’t trust you to stay locked up…” He craned his head over to the Tark. “Vasu.”

“Yeah, Daiko?” she acknowledged.

“You watch him first.”

“Aye.”

“Atra,” he said, addressing the Morrigi, “you get to ask him one question a day. One.”

“Aw…”

“Everyone else, ya’ll were busy, so as you were. Imma make dinner.”

He pushed up the brim of his hat, then tucked in his hands in his pockets and walked off with a swagger. The Prince and Worker followed, leaving the Morrigi alone with them, staring at Grim.

“Just so we’re clear,” she mentioned, “you are a male, right?”

“That’s yer question for the day!” Johnny called out from down the hall.

She winced that he’d heard her.

“Yeah,” Grim answered.

“Okay!” she chirped. “Just wanted to make sure. I…” she trailed off, eyes darting about the room with the recollection of unpleasant memories. “I...may have made mix-ups before.”

With that, she scampered out of the room.

Now alone with the Tarka, she slung her rifle over her shoulder, looking at her assignment with a dutiful yet resigned frown.

“So, human,” she prompted, “you play chess?”
Last edited by Scotscin on Fri Feb 28, 2020 9:52 pm, edited 6 times in total.

Scotscin
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Long Arm of the Law

Post by Scotscin » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:22 am

Chapter 4

Grim stared at the black-and-white checkered pattern of the board, considering his next move. Across the table was Vasu, regarding this contemplation with dispassionate interest. He’d learned quick that he couldn’t trust the color of her eyes to give away her thoughts; she knew how to control them, and more than once led him into a trap with the false hope of success.

In the middle of the table was the Worker, sitting on a cushion as his attentions were turned to a small datapad.

Grim picked up the rook, ready to capture Vasu’s queen. Almost reflexively, Ziskis lowered the datapad and looked to him, slowly shaking his head.

“Ziskis,” Vasu protested, “stop helping the stump.”

“You misunderstand. That isn’t a ‘don’t make that move’ shake-of-my-head. It’s a ‘you will lose no matter what’ shake-of-my-head.”

“I’m right here,” Grim protested. “Also, have either of you considered that I’m not interested in winning?”

“And why’s that?” Vasu question.

“Because you have a gun,” Grim replied. “Now be quiet. I might lose, but I’m taking your queen with me.”

Ziskis gave a shudder of disgust.

“What?” Grim asked.

“You say that so casually,” Ziskis complained. “I always forget that humans have the Prince and the Queen switched.”

By chance, Artareia was walking by when he’d spoken, and quickly poked her head into the break room.

“Technically, the queen in human chess is known as the Mad Queen!” she declared, before moving on down the hall.

This only further annoyed Ziskis, who glared at Grim like he’d just revealed a deep, shameful secret.

“What kind of queens have humans had?” he demanded.

“Victoria’s eternal bloodlust could never be sated,” Grim nonchalantly replied, still considering his move. He finally decided to just get the match over with, moving his rook across the board and capturing Vasu’s queen.

Almost immediately, Vasu replied to his move by bringing her knight into striking distance of his king.

“Checkmate,” she stated.

Grim placed an elbow on the table, palm against his cheek. “I’ve lost count. What’s the score?”

“Vasu: 54. Grim: three,” Ziskis counted.

“I’m just glad I have someone to play against,” Vasu admitted.

“You mean: glad you someone to play against who doesn’t beat you in the first ten turns.”

“What can I say?” she said with a shrug. “I like to win.”

“Are you the only people here that know how to play chess?” Grim questioned.

Vasu swayed her head side-to-side. “Xoktin hates chess, so he’s out. Atrareia is...well, she’s Atra. That leaves Johnny. He cheats. So yes, only us two.”

Grim cocked an eyebrow. “How do you cheat at chess?”

“If you hadn’t noticed, he’s a Zuul. He can read minds. Except yours, apparently.”

“Yes,” Ziskis added, “Our hard-headed guest. You know Johnny will keep asking you about that until you tell him, yes?”

Grim sighed. In the last week that was his captivity, there had been a few constants. The games of chess with Vasu, Atrareia bombarding him with curious questions about humanity (Johnny stopped enforcing his one-question-a-day edict after two days), and of course, the questions about his psionic resistance. Usually from Johnny, sometimes from Atra. Even the stoic Prince seemed interested, when he seemed interested in anything.

“And every time I’ve told him the truth,” Grim retorted, “I didn’t even know I had this ability.”

“Surprising,” Vasu mused. “You would think that would be noticed.”

“It explains a few things that’s happened in the past, but no, I’ve never gotten a test done or anything.”

“You weren’t in the military?”

“SolForce? Hell no.”

The Tarka shrugged, leaning back in her chair as Ziskis swiftly reset the game, placing every piece precisely back into their appropriate squares. Once he did, Vasu considered the board before her for a moment before turning it around.

“How about you be black,” she offered.

“Black has a disadvantage,” Grim muttered. “Won’t do much for my losing streak.”

“Think of it as a change of pace.”

She made the first move, one pawn forward.

Their game played out like most of the others; Grim made a valiant defense, but Vasu’s marauding knights once again put him in a difficult position, threatening his queen, with a checkmate not far in his future.

He puzzled over his next move, and saw she’d made a fatal blunder, leaving one of her knights wide open. If he took it, her whole line would collapse. All he had to do was…

A flash of orange filled his eyes, and he jumped. His stomach traded places with his heart, and his vision went blotchy. He nearly fell over, grabbing the edge of the table for support.He dry-heaved, trying to get the taste of metal and sulfur out of his mouth.

He looked over to Ziskis. He seemed completely unaffected by whatever just happened. Vasu was scratching her neck, mumbling something in Urdu Kai he couldn’t quite make out.

The tinge of metal wouldn’t leave his mouth, nor his brain stop bouncing around his skull. “Did—” he paused, trying to spit out the coppery taste in his mouth. “—did we just pass through a Hiver gate?”

“Mmmhm,” Vasu confirmed. “You get used to it. Or you have a psychotic break. Whichever comes first.”

“What are we doing using a Gate?” he asked. “Are we in the Imperium’s territory?”

“We are outside Her Majesty’s realm,” Ziskis said. “Technically.”

Grim blinked. “Technically?”

A tone emanated throughout the ship. The jingle of a typical Moriggi PA system being turned on, soft and musical.

The voice that came through was anything but. It was Johnny, somewhat chagrined. “I’m guessing by the poundin’ headache I got, we’re here.”

“Yep!” Atrareia’s voice exclaimed.

“Great. Bring us down. Oh, and Vasu: when you’re finished kicking our friend’s ass at chess, please bring him over to the ramp.”

After a beat, the tone rose once more.

It was Johnny, again. “We’re not throwing you out of the ship. Just realized how that sounded.”

The speakers cut out once again.

Vasu sagely nodded. “Hm. Well, it seems we have one more game, stump. Might as well make it count.”

Grim stared at the board. He remembered something about a move he was going to make, but...he didn’t quite retrieve it. The few seconds before and after their entrance into the gate were just a hazy blur, and whatever move had planned was lost to eternity.

He made the only move that made sense. He placed his finger down on his king’s crown, knocking the piece over.

“Let’s get this over with.”



Vasu marched him down the hall, joined by Ziskis. They walked all the way to the back, to the ramp where he’d been forced up by the strange Zuul nearly a week ago. Johnny was already there, facing the ramp as he twirled his gun. Xoktin was standing next to him, towering over him as a pillar of black chitin.

The Zuul turned halfway. “Ah, there ya’ll are. Trust your last game went peachy?”

“Our friend here forfeited,” Vasu complained.

“Shame. So, Mr. Grim. You ever met a bug princess before?”

“Like a Hiver Princess?” Grim clarified. “No, I can’t say that I have.”

“Wait,” he added. “Why? Where are we?”

“The important thing to take away from this is that you haven’t,” Johnny said. “So, few rules. Ziskis? Feel like you’re better qualified to lay them down.”

Ziskis scrambled forward, pointing a finger at Grim. “What you will remember at all times that not only are you speaking to the Princess-Mother of the Rising Gunsmoke Clan and one of the eldest daughters of the Greatmother, but my mother! You will not speak unless spoken to! You will not make any sudden movements in Her presence! You will only refer to her as Your Highness!”

Johnny nodded. “Be a gentlemen, is what we’re sayin’. Your life might depend on it.”

The ship buckled. Johnny looked up. “Oh, down already? Good.”

“Atra!” he called out, “open the ramp!”

The ramp groaned downward. The bright light of two suns poured into the cargo hold, forcing Grim to shield his eyes. But slowly his vision adjusted, and he saw what lay ahead in a dazzling pattern of towers, metal, golden windows, and hexagonal faceting.

A city. A Hiver city. The activity alone was enough to know, with Workers busily running around at the end of the ramp, tools in hand, or the winged ones swooping around the heights of the great towers. Nearly everywhere, carved in stone or hanging from banners, the same symbol: a yellow rose, guns flanking its sides from behind it like wings.

“I wasn’t done!” Ziskis cried, continuing to rattle off more rules. “You will do anything she asks of you, you will thank her for gracing you with Her presence, you will not ask about—”

“I think he gets the picture, Ziskis,” Johnny assured.

The Worker made a loud buzz, like a harrumph. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go greet my mother and warn her of your impending arrival. But know this: I will be watching you. From the shadows, from the blinding sun. I will know how you treat my brothers, ‘Grim’.”

Without another word, he skittered down the ramp and into the city ahead.

Grim waited until he was sure the Hiver was out of earshot before looking over to Johnny. “Is he always like that?”

“He’s real funny once you get to know ‘im,” Johnny replied. “Like his mamma.”

“Speaking of,” he continued, “we’ll be meeting her pretty soon, soon as she finds the time. In the meantime, we’re guests.”

He looked over his shoulder to Vasu. “You’re in charge while we’re gone, Vasu.”

“Lemme guess,” Grim said, “Hive would act weird around a woman that isn’t their mother?”

“That’s part of it, but also we need someone to watch Atrareia.”

Vasu gave a poor imitation of a SolForce salute. “The ship will probably not be on fire when you get back, daiko.”

“S’all I ask.”

“And say hello to Var Rose for me, hm?”

Vasu turned and walked out of the cargo bay, whistling a sharp tune.

Having been twirling his gun through the whole conversation, Johnny finally slung it back into his holster. “Trust I won’t have to point my gun at you now?” he asked Grim.

“I think I’ve had enough of that,” Grim sighed. “To be totally honest, I’m kind of riding this to see where it goes.”

Johnny chuckled, looking up to the Prince. “Knew there was a reason I liked this guy.”

If Xoktin had an opinion, he didn’t state it, simply looking out on the city ahead with those black eyes.

They began their walk down the ramp, Johnny first. When Xoktin didn’t move, Grim took that as his cue to follow behind him, and only after he did so did the Prince bring up the rear, each step sounding out on the metal floor with a thud.

When they reached the bottom, a winged Worker dropped out of the air, landing in front of them. Tall and lithe, with the same tan chitin and bright yellow as Ziskis, it carried with it a manifest, and a large belt of tools around its waist.

He spoke, his English broken and much more harshly accented than either Xoktin or his brother. “Johnny! Greetings, you!” he said, “Ziskis-here?”

The Zuul pointed out to the city ahead. “You just missed him.”

The engineer chittered something in k’en-k’en, then lifted himself into the air. Grim followed his upward path as the Hiver flew up, then landed on the top of their ship’s silvery hull, walking along the length, hands behind his back as he inspected the surface.

“He’s looking for anything to fix,” Johnny explained. “Him and his brothers do good work. Damn me that I can’t ever remember his name.”

“It is Zitotki,” Xoktin rumbled.

“Right. Zitotki.”

Johnny resumed his walk. More Workers began to swarm around their ship as the ramp pulled up, fretting over the tiniest faults they could as they readied their tools. From the other end of the landing area, Grim could see a large piece of heavy machinery rolling over, a fuel line in its grasp.

They resumed their walk forward; a few of the Workers waved to Johnny and he absently replied with waves of his own. Even more gave slight bows to Xoktin, who ignored their prostrations entirely. Leaving the area meant for incoming ships behind them, wasn’t long before Johnny led them to a large open area; like a garden, or a terrace, a single white birch sitting in its center.

Hivers milled about the area; obviously some area meant for rest and reflection. That didn’t stop most of the Workers from carrying their work with them. Either on tables or benches, most of them still idly sketched blueprints, wrote equations, or stared at pieces of machinery in front of them like they were pieces to a grander puzzle.

“Nice place,” Grim observed.

“We’ll wait here until Miss Rose calls for us,” Johnny grunted. “‘Til then, on ya. Just know if you try to make a break for it, I’m a very good shot, partner.” He tapped patted his gun to make his point.

At this point all Grim could do is give an incredulous laugh. “What are you?”

He shrugged with a smile. “I’m Johnny Law. Righter of Wrongs, Shooter of Bad Guys. Handsome Devil.”

“Don’t push it,” Xoktin warned.

He poked Grim’s chest. “I’ll explain everything once we talk to Miss Rose. Or she might explain it herself. Depends on what kinda mood she’s in.”

Johnny walked off. More accurately, he began pacing in a wide circle around the tree, unable to sit still. Xoktin walked over and sat under its shade, an unmoving black shape against the white of its bark.

Grim picked a nearby table. It had no seats, so he sat down sideways, one arm resting on the surfaces. It wasn’t hard to notice the stares he was getting from the other Hivers in the terrace, but he could scarcely care at this point. He’d barely gotten any sleep, courtesy of the ‘gang’ needing to guard him and the unpleasant memory of the ship in flames.

Even if he was confident he could get away from Johnny or the Prince, he was truly too exhausted to care. He laid back on the hard ground. Only meaning to rest his eyes, he drifted all-too-easily into a dreamless nap.



In a dream with formless details, all he remembered was hitting the bottom of a cliff. He woke with a jolt, sitting up and experiencing a mild thrill of panic before he remembered where he was.

Johnny was still making his rounds. Xoktin might as well have been a statue for as much as he’d moved.

It was then he realized he wasn’t alone. He looked over this right, into the large eyes of a group of Hiver children on the other side of the table. Actual children, juvenile Workers, all staring at him with interest, their antennae swaying in unison.

He sat up, and they scrambled, running off to the far end of terrace, gathering around another grown Worker that seemed rather cross that his charges had scampered off, loudly scolding them in scathing k’en-k’en.

They led the gaggle of bugs down one of the great halls that lined the terrace, disappearing from view. He saw Ziskis emerge from another, walking forward with purpose. Johnny stopped his pacing, looking up as the Hiver walked over. They exchanged a few words, and with a nod Johnny looked over to the Prince, calling out his name.

He rose on his own time, and then they both looked to Grim expectantly. He decided to not keep them waiting, sitting himself up and joining the group near the tree.

“Mother is ready to see you,” Ziskis stated.

“You comin’ with?” Johnny asked.

“Of course. Follow me.”

“We know the way, Ziskis.”

“I will not have a human running around without an escort! Now, please. Let’s not keep Her waiting.”

They followed him down another one of the halls, leading to a great central tower in the center of the city. The way there required their crossing over a massive bridge, massive enough to accommodate the thick crowds of Hivers as they moved in and out of the building. They gave Ziskis and those he was leading a wide berth, parting like the wave in front of a ship’s bow before closing behind them.

An immense boom echoed through the air. Grim reflexively slowed down, looking for its origin.

“Don’t worry,” Johnny said, “normal around here.”

Once inside the central spire, Ziskis led them to the central column, into a great lift that seemed to reach the very top of the tower. When the doors opened, they revealed two very large, serious-looking Warriors clad in ornate brass armor standing on both sides of the lift. In their hands, great shining spears with ribbons of gold fabric.

They said nothing as the group piled in. Once they were all aboard, one of the Warriors clanged the tip of his weapon five times against the floor. The lift door closed, and they began to rise. The way up was lined with golden glass, and through it windows they could all see what lay below.

It was a hive, all right. Below, the entire city was grouped into more hexagons, some of them further away from the settlement and connected only by a thin grey line of habitats.

The hive itself sat in the center of a massive desert, nothing beyond but mountains and closer by, a large salt flat, the remnants of a lake long since gone. That’s when Grim noticed a settlement on its banks, straddling its edges like a beach. Nowhere near the size of the hive, but still a good-sized town. There were also dots in the desert, tiny shapes like ants that Grim could almost make out.

He squinted, and just barely registered the long barrel of a turret on one of them.

Tanks. They were tanks. Out the desert?

They reached the top of the lift, and the doors slid open. Ziskis stepped out, and the Warriors followed with matching steps, none-too-gently encouraging everyone else to move forward as well.

They’d been brought to a large room with a window looking down on the hive below. A room where the walls were lined with diagrams, and blueprints. Pictures of Hiver ships, and antique weapons hanging on the walls like trophies. In one corner, a massive drawing board, the paper on it filled with half-sketched plans. And hanging from the rafters, something truly unusual. A banner of red and white, and a field of blue on one end, carrying a single lone star. The flag of Texas, browned by age.

Standing in front of the window, a Hiver. Large; even larger than Xoktin, their chitin a nearly golden tan, a brown cloak with gold lining sitting on their shoulders, just barely concealing a pair of great yellow-white wings. They were marched to the center of the room, the guards moving forward even more to take their place to the massive Hiver.

Johnny took off his hat, holding it with both hands.

“What are you doing?” Grim whispered.

“You take your hat off in front of a lady!” Johnny whisper-shouted back.

“What about Vasu and Atrareia?”

“They’re women, not ladies.”

Ziskis stepped forward like he was stepping on holy ground. With a deep bow, he said something in k’en-k’en to the large Hiver in front of them.

They turned their head, slowly.

It was a Hiver princess. Sparkling eyes as bright as diamonds, golden horns curving upward in spirals. And on her head: a large, brown hat like Johnny’s; her horns rising through the flat brims, one side carrying a line of yellow roses.

“Johnny,” she said in accented, almost musical English. “You’re back.”

Johnny bowed. “Miss Rose.”

She turned her attention to Xoktin. “Prince Rixzikxoktin.”

He smashed a fist against his shoulder twice in salutation.

And finally, her gaze came to Grim. She turned around fully, the suns outside sitting on her shoulders.

“And who is this, you’ve brought to my hive?”

Johnny placed his hat back on his head, and gestured to Grim. “This is my uh, ‘guest’ I told you about, ma’am. He’s the one responsible for doin’ in Bloody Mary.”

“Is that so?” she intoned. “And how?”

A strong tap to Grim’s backside from Xoktin hurried his answer along. He stepped forward, and the two Warriors replied in kind, taking two large lunges to bring their spear-tips to the end of Grim’s nose.

“No need,” the Princess commanded. The Warriors instantly obeyed, stepping back. “But I would like to know sooner rather than later.”

“I sabotaged their ship,” Grim explained. “And...basically by accident, shot her in the face on the way out.”

“And you did this alone?”

“Pirate ship security is very, very bad. I told Johnny this, but they’d basically turned their own ship into a bomb from their ‘maintenance’.”

“Fascinating, thank you. And what is your name?”

“I’ve always gone by Grim.”

“Humans rarely have just one name. What is your full name?”

“Marc Burbon-Grimaldi. That’s what ‘Grim’ is short for.”

She took one step forward, as did her sons that guarded her with their lives. “Bourbon-Grimaldi?” she repeated with genuine interest. “The royal houses of Bourbon and Grimaldi?”

His mouth went agape. “Yes,” he finally managed to stammer. “How do you know that?”

“I have an interest in human history,” she said, gesturing towards the flag on the rafters. “There are times when your species’ actions almost make sense. Almost. But more to the point: you are actually a Bourbon-Grimaldi?”

Grim held out his hand, pointing to one of his pockets to declare his intention to take something out of it. The Princess gave a gesture of approval, and from it he took his coin that he’d last seen before his whole ordeal started. He placed it on his thumb, and flicked it over to the Hiver in a long arc. She caught it, bringing it up to one of her eyes, its metal surface glinting in the sunlight.

She voiced out the Latin lettering on the rim. “HON II DG PRIN MONOECI. Honoré II. By the Grace of the Goddess, Prince of Monaco.”

The Princess flicked the coin back to him. “A rare treasure,” she complimented. “I suppose no one but one of the royal family would have this.”

He caught the coin, looking up to her. “You’re looking at the entire royal family. I am, technically, the rightful Prince of Monaco.”

“By the Goddess,” she swore, “a human Tcho. And what has happened to Monaco to brings its Prince so far from Earth?”

Grim let out a deep breath. “It’s underwater, ma’am. Ever since The Thaw. Way before I was born.”

“I didn’t know I was carryin’ royalty,” Johnny spoke out.

Xoktin grunted at his declaration.

“You don’t count.”

“Prince Grimaldi,” the Princess mused. “Well then, Prince-of-the-Sea, I suppose you are owed my name.”

Ziskis skittered forward, standing up straight and gesturing towards his mother. “You stand in the presence of—”

“Son?” the Princess interrupted.

He stopped and turned, his antenna flaring from the thrill of his mother addressing him directly.

“Our friend has come a long way, at my request. I can introduce myself.”

Ziskis obediently walked back to the group as she took another step forward. She held out her arms in a diplomatic gesture. “I am Golden Rose. Daughter of Her Majesty, Queen Radiant Frost.”

The Warriors flanking her clanged the floor with their spears twice.

“Now then,” she continued, “Johnny has told me a lot about you. Not just that you gave Bloody Mary what she deserved. That you seem to know quite a bit about security systems.”

“I’m decent,” he admitted.

“And a most curious ability you seem to have, and one that’s just as surprising to you as it was to Johnny.”

“You mean my immunity to psionics.”

“In honesty, it’s your abilities as a thief that interest me.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but quickly snapped it shut. Had he stolen frequently enough to earn that title? Pirates were technically thieves, but he was more a hostage than a member of the crew on Mary’s ship.

“‘Burglar’ would be closer,” he finally corrected. “When I break into things, it’s usually because someone else is paying me.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.”

The Princess looked down at Ziskis, giving him a terse command. Without missing a beat, he scampered over to the far side of the room, grabbing a thick hexagonal briefcase off a table and bringing it over to his mother, holding it up like tribute.

Golden Rose took it from his hands, and he stepped back as lifted it up, showing the entire group.

“This,” she explained, opening it. From it she produced a large cylinder, covered with runic writing, “is a puzzle. There’s something inside, but neither I nor any of my sons have been clever enough to steal its secrets.”

She tossed the empty briefcase to Ziskis. He jumped up, catching it and then tucked it under one arm. Then she tossed the item that was inside to Grim, who only barely caught it in time.

He rubbed his fingers over the inscriptions.

“I want you to open it,” Golden Rose requested.

He looked up. “Say what now?”

“I want to see what all the fuss is about.”

He held up the cylinder with one hand, making a noncommittal noise as he inspected its ancient circuitry. “It’s Ancient Morrigi. Probably a library.”

“Yes, my sons were able to divine that much. Can you open it?”

He scratched his chin, squinting, and then looked to Johnny. “You tried getting Atrareia to open it?”

He shrugged. “She said something about it being for a specific tribe that’s probably extinct, so she was just as lost as us.”

Grim turned back, scratching his head. “All right.”

He studied its lines, its metal, its many faded buttons. After he’d learned everything he could from the surface, he looked up to Golden Rose.

“I could take a crack at it,” he admitted. “You got a computer laying around? And some silver wires? Has to be silver.”

—-

“Alright,” Grim said, leaning back from the cylinder. “I think I’ve got it connected.”

The cylinder sat on the ground below him, “connected” to the datapad on the floor by a thick cable. In reality, a bridge of bent silver wires reached out from a tiny slot in the cylinder, leading to plug of the cable, wrapping around and inside its slot like a python.

Over his shoulder, everyone else in the room watching his task with extreme interest.

He brought up the datapad, his fingers flipping across the screen. “So the thing about old crow stuff is that it was always built with the assumption that the only people trying to break into it would either be another Morrigi, or like a dumb primitive with a rock. You know, like us. So the idea that one monkey figured out how you can get a proper connection if you twist some silver wires just right never occurred to them.”

“How?” Ziskis asked. It was a general question.

“Well, I’m not just wrapping these things around at random. It’s this whole pattern thing that’s a bunch of voodoo it’d take forever to explain. Now then!”

With a final input on his datapad, a small icon popped up in the corner of the datapad.

“Alright,” he grunted. “We got a connection. Now I have to…”

He kneaded his forehead with his fingers. “Ah, it’s a…”

After some contemplation, he traced his fingers to the bottom, bringing up a large orange box with a command prompt.

He began typing out a command, chuckling to himself as he did it. The more he typed, the more he laughed. “This is cursed,” he chortled. “This is so cursed, what I’m doing.”

“What are you doin’?” Johnny asked.

“Crimes,” he explained as he continued his work. “I’m making the Morrigi and Hiver tech talk to each other with some very, very evil black magic. This is against Man, and God, and the Kona Lao...and Buddha, and Jesus, and The Goddess…”

He chuckled again. “I’m just making everyone mad up there. Gonna get struck by ten different lightning bolts the second I step outside.”

“Are you making any progress?” Golden Rose firmly asked.

“Maybe? I’m trying to—” He spring up, his eyes going wide. “That worked?!”

A soft musical motif played from the cylinder, and it began to glow, holograms crackling to life above its surface.

Grim ran a hand through his hair, staring at the fruit of his efforts. “That should not have worked.”

Ziskis reached out to it, prompting Grim to swat away his hand. “Don’t touch it!” he uttered.

He stood up, holding his hands out in front of him in a stopping gesture towards his artifact and the computer it was connected to. “Okay,” he started, clearing his throat. “It’ll take a while, but I should be able to crack this thing open permanently. In the meantime, this stuff is very sensitive, so nobody go near it, at least for another hour.”

Golden Rose looked to the rest. “Well?” she said, “You heard him. Everyone: get away.”

Everyone huddled over Grim’s shoulder took three large steps back. Even her guardian Warriors retreated, walking back in lockstep to the far end of the room.

Grim looked up at Golden Rose, dusting himself off. “It’s been a good while since I did something like this. Forgot how much I enjoyed it.”

“You seemed to be having fun,” she observed.

“Again,” he said as he gestured to the equipment, “what you’re seeing here is wrong. It’s so wrong.”

Johnny crossed his arms, looking at Grim’s work with skepticism. “So maybe this is the Zuul in me talkin’, but I always thought that if it’s stupid and it works, it ain’t stupid.”

“That’s demonstrably untrue,” Grim retorted. “You just don’t know what you’re looking at down there.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” he muttered with a shrug.

Golden Rose stepped back from Grim, looking down to Johnny. “Well,” she marveled, “I say your friend has gone above and beyond my expectations, Johnny.”

“You and me both, ma’am.”

She looked to Grim. “And how long did you say this process would take?”

He shrugged. “An hour? Two, to be safe?”

“In that case,” she replied, looking back to the others. “I would like to have words with Prince Grimaldi. In private.”

Without another thought, she turned around. “Ziskis? Show them out.”

Her mentioning her son by name seemed to shoot a bolt of energy right into his spine, and he practically shoved them all out himself, urging them towards the lift even with Johnny’s protests. They were gone within a moment, the Warriors taking their place on both side of the lift and facing towards them, crossing their spears to block the path.

Once they were gone, Golden Rose spoke again.

“Prince Grimaldi,” she voiced. “Tea?”
Last edited by Scotscin on Fri Feb 28, 2020 9:50 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Scotscin
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Long Arm of the Law

Post by Scotscin » Mon Feb 17, 2020 7:31 pm

Chapter 5

Brown liquid poured from the silver pitcher to Grim’s glass, taking with it several cubes of fresh ice. No Worker nor Warrior was at the pitcher’s handle; Golden Rose was pouring it herself as they both sat on a round table on the balcony of her chambers overseeing the busy hive below.

Once she’d judged he had enough, she set the pitcher down, noting Grim’s interest in the city.

“We make weapons,” she said. “Those booms you’ve no doubt heard by now are some of my sons doing tests.”

“With a name like the Rising Gunsmoke clan…”

“Weapons have always fascinated me,” she said with a sweep of her hand to the diagrams and blueprints inside. “It was no great leap that my family specialize in them.”

“What kind, though?”

“Whatever Mother demands,” she answered. “But,” she relented, “we have always had a specialty for small arms. Though in many cases, there’s nothing ‘small’ about them.”

“Skunkworks, huh?” Grim mused.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Sounds like you’re a place that designs Her Majesty’s newest toys,” he elaborated.

“On occasion. But my family’s talents lie in the creation process itself. We make weapons here, Prince Grimaldi. We make them better than anyone else.”

A low boom thundered below.

“Where are we, exactly?”

“You stand on the Freehold world of Xiko’ti.”

“So, we’re not in the Hiver Imperium.”

“Not on paper. Mother, and I, found it easier if my family operate outside the realm’s official jurisdiction. Understand: this planet’s status as a Freehold is no small bit of legal fiction.”

“Anyone else on this planet?”

“A few other clans. The Prism Cloud. The Glorious Sunset. The Great River. Most of them my aunts, but Mother has invested this planet’s governance to me. And of course, there are the humans.”

She gestured to the faraway settlement on the banks of the salt flat. “That is Graveyard, one of many human settlements on this world. Founded by members of your military before the Armistice.”

“Before?”

“For a time, this planet was known as Pueblo. Your people invaded it before Mother’s ascension to Queen. As I understand it, the ground forces sent to occupy this world revolted.”

“The Pueblo Mutiny,” Grim voiced. “SolForce never did get over that.”

“That is the other reason I am here: Mother wishes no harm come to your people on this world. She does not trust the Princesses of the other clans to leave the humans here alone.”

“Mighty nice of her.”

“I would like to think Mother’s reasons are noble, but the simple matter is that the ancestors of the humans that live here now humiliated the human empire with their rebellion, and the continued existence of their children is an ongoing humiliation.”

“I’m guessing they’re how you got that,” he said, gesturing towards the Texan flag inside.

“One of my favorite treasures,” she beamed. “From the city we’re looking at now, no less. I gave them some help when they required it, and they gave me that delightful banner in return.”

“And the cowboy hat?”

She tugged on the brim. “It suits me.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

He brought up his glass, downing the tea. It was sweet and cold in the dry desert air, and before he realized it, he’d guzzled down the whole glass.

“So,” he said, “the real big question, and pardon my language here, but who the hell is Johnny?”

“He’s a Prester Zuul, that much I know.”

“How many Prester Zuul do you know that slings around a revolver like he’s in the Wild West?”

“Just the one.”

“So what’s your relationship with him?”

“I’ve known Johnny for quite some time. I give him a safe port, a place to repair his ship, and on occasion, he fills some humble requests by me.”

“Like killing Bloody Mary.”

“A terrible, terrible pirate. Murdered the favorite son of my aunt Shining Glory. Threw his remains into a star. A grieving mother should know justice, Prince Grimaldi.”

“So you sent Johnny after him?”

“The important thing to know is that I promised justice delivered, and it has been, and now a powerful clan owes me a favor.”

“So you use him.”

“‘Use’ is the wrong word. Johnny is not one of my sons. If I were to command him to do something truly dishonorable, I suspect we may part ways, and shots may be fired. But I would never consider such a thing anyway. No, I ask little of Johnny, and only use his talents to those that deserve it. And in doing so, help my own family.”

“And the others in his little gang?”

“Ziskis is my son, as you may have guessed. Prince Rixzikxoktin has his reasons for his silence, and both you and I will respect them. The Tarka and the Morrigi I know little of; they tend not to leave the ship when they dock here.”

“And Johnny?”

“He is a mystery. I know he knew the Tarka before we met, but beyond that? A haze, and one he seems reluctant to clear. But he has a strong sense of justice, even if he forgets it sometimes.”

“And what happens to me?” he asked with crossed arms.

“That depends. Johnny couldn’t take the memories of your meeting, so he brought you to me for my judgement. I think you would be an interesting addition to his group, wouldn’t you?”

“I suspect I don’t have a choice.”

Grim had no frame of reference for Hiver facial expressions, but he knew more than anything she was amused by his reply. In a knowing gesture, she held out one side of her cloak, revealing the large grip of massive sidearm in a holster. “You have a choice, but I’m making it for you.”

“Kind of weird to a Princess to be armed, don’t you think?”

“That philosophy is how Fire Lotus almost became Queen.”

She looked over the Warriors still standing guard at the lift. She talked loudly, loudly enough to make sure they heard. “I like to think I’m prepared! Even if my sons do not like it! Even if they will never admit it!”

For a split second, the Warriors shuddered.

Golden Rose released her hold on her weapon, pulling her cloak back over her shoulder. “You’ll stay here for a few days more while we look over what you’ve uncovered in that artifact, and then I believe I shall fully release you into Johnny’s custody.”

She reached for the pitcher, pouring him a new glass.

“Welcome to the gang, Prince-of-the-Sea.”



During the days, he had free reign of the city, so long as a Warrior kept watch over him to block access to the especially restricted areas. To his horror, Golden Rose’s name for him had stuck, and nearly every Worker he ran into called him some variation of Sea Prince, or Underwater Prince, or worst of all, Drowned Prince. It was bad enough when they were obviously being sarcastic, and worse with the ones that were being sincere.

It wasn’t long before word got out of his abilities to defeat security systems, and he started to get dragged around the Hive by one Worker or another, demanding they get them inside a building because their key wasn’t working or the door was stuck.

He became the Hive’s unofficial locksmith; using his jury-rigged solutions to fool the scanners or just defeating the door’s lock through physical means. They started to make a game of it, seeing what he could accomplish with as few tools as possible; making bets with rations or cheese. His proudest accomplishment was when they dared him to break into a datapad, with no tools.

In three guesses, he had the password: 1GoldenRose1.

Meanwhile, Xoktin rarely moved from his spot under the tree. Johnny was more active, and once Grim had even been invited to see him test-fire some of the newest guns Rose’s sons had crafted.

Whenever he was around, Grim always noticed that the Workers and Warriors tended to give him just a slight berth, and he understood why. In an earlier conversation, Johnny claimed he bathed every day and twice on Sundays, but that statement was suspect at best since he always smelled slightly of sulfur. And if Grim could smell it, he knew the Hivers could. Still, they treated him like a regular guest, or at the very least, an amusing intruder.

Ziskis seemed to be everywhere at once, touching bases with his brothers and giving them insights on things he’d seen on his journeys. He also found the time to brag about how his mother had addressed him by name, which his Worker siblings seemed to treat like a sacrosanct honor. He eventually stopped haunting Grim’s steps, apparently trusting he wouldn’t get up to too much trouble.

But now, Grim found himself in the terrace from earlier, sitting up against the tree. Xotkin had finally moved to the other side of the grassy surface where the tree was planted.

Activity began to swarm from one of the halls. From the ends of it, Grim saw Golden Rose walking towards the terrace. Large and lumbersome, she made her path at her own pace, her Warrior bodyguard now consisting of six, guarding her front and flanks in pairs of two. Off to the side was Johnny and Ziskis, and to her left, another slightly small Prince that Grim had seen around the hive. Wild River, her consort, his color shades of steely grey.

The terrace fell dead silent as she walked right up to the tree in the center, looking over the reclining Xoktin and Grim. He didn’t even acknowledge her presence, remaining still in his meditations; it wasn’t him the Princess meant to speak with.

“Ah, there you are,” she stated.

“Can I help you, your Highness?” Grim asked.

From her cloak, she took out the artifact Grim had opened.

“Oh, that thing. Did you get what you needed from it?”

“I didn’t need anything from it,” Golden Rose replied. “We didn’t know what was in it until you so expertly opened the way.”

“Find anything?”

She looked down to Johnny. “Go ahead.”

He stepped forward. “There’s this big Morrigi tomb on the edge of the system. That’s where we found this thing.”

“And that’s all you got?” Grim asked.

“That’s all we managed to get. It attacks anyone who gets close, so a couple of years ago I figured we could try and turn it off. It uh, didn’t work out. We almost died.”

“Couldn’t the Queen just send in the navy to blow it up?”

“This world is technically a Freehold, remember?” Golden Rose replied. “Mother sending a task force sufficient enough to deal with the problem would attract undue attention to this world, as would publically requesting the help of the Confederation. As it is, it’s on the far side of the system, so it doesn’t possess a danger save to the occasional adventurer who tries to plunder its secrets.”

“So what’s in that thing I cracked open?” Grim asked.

Golden Rose tapped her thumbs on its surface. “My hope was that it would contain some secret to deactivate that blasted graveyard, but no. What you’ve pulled from here is poetry. A great deal of Morrigi poetry. Fairly useless for silencing an autonomous tomb, don’t you agree?”

“I feel like you’re going somewhere with this.”

Johnny stepped forward, slinging his longer arm around Grim’s shoulder. “Last time, we didn’t have ourselves a professional burglar. I think it’s time we try again.”

Grim gave a disbelieving laugh. “Okay, breaking into a Morrigi star tomb is slightly taller order than cracking open a little library.”

“You don’t need to break into it,” Golden Rose urged, “you simply need to render it harmless. I’m getting rather tired of the dead treasure hunters piling up around it. But of course, you’d be welcome to anything you find inside.”

“And,” she added, “I’ve told Johnny that if you do this for me, I’ll consider you trustworthy enough to release.”

“You mean let me go?”

“I mean ‘release into Johnny’s gang’. I’ve told you before: I think you’d make a good addition.”

“So, not free at all.”
Golden Rose softly laughed at his reply. Then, in a blur of brown and gold, she pulled her gun on him. He found himself staring down the length of a giant silver sidearm embroidered with golden roses, its barrel as wide as his eye. Her cloak was still billowing up as she pulled back the hammer. He hadn’t even seen her draw.

Her swift action was echoed by a wave of buzzes and chitters through the terrace, equal amounts shocked and intrigued.

“Could one person not pull their gun on me?!” Grim demanded.

“I trust you understand why I can’t simply allow you to leave alone,” she explained.

“I know too much now, right?”

“You know exactly enough.

“Then I guess this is another choice you’re making for me.”

She holstered her gun. “You learn fast.”

Pulling her cloak back over her shoulders, she looked down at the Zuul. “He’s all yours, Johnny.”

He chuckled, jostling Grim like an old friend. “Hehehehe. You know, I always wanted a human in the gang. Makes it feel...I dunno. Balanced?”

“Diverse?” Ziskis chirped.

“Interesting?” Golden Rose asked.

“Rounded,” Xoktin firmly declared.

Johnny snapped his claws, pointing to the Prince. “Thaaaaat’s it!”

Golden Rose slowly turned, motioning for them to follow. “Then it’s settled. Come, I will see you to your ship.”

She began her walk back down the hall, slowly as she came. The rest of them followed behind, well away from the perimeter her Warrior sons kept around her. Only Xoktin didn’t follow, remaining at the tree until they were well away from the terrace.

Grim looked back, watching him slowly rise from his spot and watch them leave.

“He’ll catch up,” Johnny explained.
—-

The ramp groaned. In front of them Golden Rose looking up at their ship, waving goodbye.

It closed with a hiss, clamping into place.

Johnny chuckled. “Told you she’d like him.”

Grim wasn’t sure who he was talking to but saw him looking up. That was when he saw the massive black frame of the Prince, who he hadn’t even realized was there.

Grim gawped. “How did he…”

Johnny shrugged. “Told you he’d catch up. Now then, we got us a birdhouse to turn off.” He looked up, raising his voice. “Atra!” he shouted, “get the holograms ready!”

“Oh,” her voice replied over the speakers, “We’re going to try and defile the tomb again?” If she was being sarcastic, it didn’t come across in her tone.

“Yep!” Johnny confirmed. “We’ll be up in the control room in a bit.”

“I’ll be there!”

The speaker cut out, prompting Grim to look to Johnny. “Is she gonna be okay with us doing this? You know, knocking out a Morrigi tomb?” he asked.

“She’s fine with it, trust me.”

Johnny took the lead, walking them to the front of the ship. As they did, Vasu joined them, unlit cigar in her mouth.

They came upon the sliding door of the control room. Atrareia pulled it aside, smiling.

“Hi, Johnny!”

“Hey, Atra. You got the hologram set up?”

“Yep!” she replied, pulling away from the door.

They all stepped inside, and Grim marveled at the layout. If there was any doubt at all this was a Morrigi ship, that was cast aside walking into the bridge. Every surface was covered in tribal art, shelves lining the walls carrying prized trinkets and valuables from long-dead cultures. Anything that wasn’t dedicated to that was covered in a dazzling array of blue and green holograms, or the outstretched wings of great dragons.

In the middle of the room was Atrareia, her long body curled around the glowing command pylon, her paws idly typing out commands on its surface.

From a flat table in the middle of a room, another glowing green hologram emerged. Everyone except their pilot gathered around it.

It was the hologram of a Morrigi tomb, a half-dome with a spire protruding from the bottom. Around it, a cloud of debris. The twisted wrecks of ships; human, Hiver, Tarka and Morrigi alike, all now brothers in death.

“Never thought we’d be doing this again,” Vasu muttered.

“We didn’t have Grim last time,” Johnny replied. “Now, Grim. What do you see here?”

“I see a big, scary tomb,” he answered. “Lot of wrecks around, so obviously it’s still doing its job. Likely a swarm of drones inside, just waiting for anything to get near.”

“Yeah,” Johnny laughed nervously, “that’s not the only thing. Atra?”

Atra drummed one the command pylon. Two red dots appeared, one at the top of the tomb and the other near the end of the downward spire, pulsing with a red ring.

“It wasn’t just the swarm that gave us trouble,” Johnny explained. “This thing’s got fusion cannons on the top and bottom. Big ones. As far as we can tell, they start shooting if the drones take too long killing whatever gets close.”

“Why don’t they just shoot right away?” Grim asked.

Atrareia waved her paws. “Oh! I know the answer to this! It’s another trap!”

“I think whoever built this thing wanted to make sure any would-be thief didn’t live to make another attempt,” Ziskis said. “So you dodge the drones long enough, and surprise! The cannons come online and blow you away.”

“We managed to get on the thing last time,” Johnny told, “but we had to bail because we got stuck...”

Johnny extended a claw, tapping inside the hologram. A green pulse emanated from where he touched, a small room just inside. “Right here. We got this far and came to a door we couldn’t open. It’s also where we found that artifact. Lotta good that does us, though.”

Grim looked up to their Morrigi pilot. “If it was that close to the outside, it was probably an archive of non-essential knowledge or something. Stuff more easily accessed. That would explain why that thing you found just had poetry.”

The Morrigi brought up her front limbs in a shrug. “Maybe?”

“How do you not know?” Grim asked. “You’re a Morrigi, aren’t you?”

“Sure, but no two tombs are alike. Tribes don’t really share their secrets with each other, you know?”

“Still, wouldn’t it recognize you as a crow and not attack?”

“You’d think that!” she answered cheerfully. “I tried shutting it off remotely, but that didn’t do anything. I think it actually activated more weapons...”

He shrugged, turning his attention back to the hologram. “Alright. So it looks like…”

Tracing his finger from the chamber, he brought it further inside the structure. “If we can’t turn it off remotely, there’s got to be a central control somewhere inside. Probably its own room.”

“Think you can get us there?” Johnny questioned.

Grim brought a palm to his face, staring at the hologram through parted fingers. “Oh man. I have no idea what tribe I’m dealing with here, so I’m going to have to improvise once we’re down there. I can get us through the door, probably, but I’m kind of worried about whatever’s past that.”

“I feel as though I should mention the drones inside,” Xoktin said.

“Ah, target practice.”

“They’re the reason we almost died.

“Well, that’s what we got Grim for here. Won’t get pinned like last time.”

Johnny looked to him hopefully. “Ain’t I right?”

Grim said nothing, still contemplating the hologram before him.

“Ain’t I right?”

Grim looked up. “Think we can get a hold of one of those drones?”
Last edited by Scotscin on Fri Feb 28, 2020 9:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Scotscin
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Long Arm of the Law

Post by Scotscin » Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:00 am

Chapter 6

The rope pulled tight on the drone’s wing.

“Got it!” Johnny hollered as he pulled back on the taught line. The drone fought him, attempting to speed forward. Johnny stumbled and dug the heels of his boots into the smooth metal floor.

“Someone!” he screamed over the roar of laser fire, “Could use some help ‘ere!”

Another joined him at the end of the rope, pulling it closer to the floor. It was Xoktin, and by himself he began to reel the captured robot in.

“Got it,” he calmly declared.

An explosion of sparks lit up the hall along with a loud Tarkasian curse.

Daiko!” Vasu yelled.

“I can’t be two places at once!” he yelled back.

“I’ve got it,” the Prince declared. “Go.”

Johnny let go of the rope, drawing his revolver and sprinting the hall. At both corners were Vasu and Grim, using the walls as cover as they exchanged gunfire with the drones attempting to overrun them. They poured out from the walls like a colony of disturbed ants, neverending and very angry.

Johnny threw himself at the wall, gun raised.

“Alright,” he breathed, “Got one. You’re up!”

“That worked?!” Grim cried. Before he had time to say more, one of the drones swiveled its cannon towards Xoktin, now in the process of wrestling the drone to the floor. Grim unloaded a burst of pulsed lasers from his rifle, nailing the robot in its flared metal wings. It tumbled out of the air, sparking and ruined.

With a curt nod at his kill, he handed his rifle to Johnny. “Here!”

“No need!” he shouted. He threw himself out of cover, fanning the hammer of his revolver, knocking five drones out of the air. When several turned their attacks to him, he rolled out of the way. Then he tripped, and awkwardly scrambled to cover against the other wall.

Grim saw his opening and sprinted over to the Prince. The drone wasn’t enjoying its captivity, wildly waving its wings in an attempt to free itself. When it tried to point its canon at the Prince’s face, he reached down and with no ceremony ripped it off, throwing it against the wall with a snarl.

Grim motioned upwards. “Sit it up!”

The Prince did so, sitting it upright as the drone continued to struggle.

With a leap, Grim threw himself behind the drone and reached into its thin midsection, finding the wire he needed. He pulled it out; it wasn’t a vital wire, and the drone struggled even more, flailing about like a panicked animal.

He pulled the wire as far as it would go and motioned towards the sealed door and the glowing panel next to it. Xoktin compiled, holding the drone in an awkward chokehold as they brought it over, the drone fighting them every step of the way.

Grim dragged the wire next to the elegant circuitry behind the panel the Prince had ripped off earlier. A green spark erupted from the circuitry, and the heat surged outward, singing Grim’s hand. He cursed, scrambling backwards, as the drone went limp.

A bolt bounced off the floor in front of it. He whipped his head over to see the drones were slowly making progress up the hall, gaining ground every second. Every time one of their comrades fell, another took its place, the fallen drones being dragged back into the bowels of the tomb by its comrades.

“Hey Grim!” Johnny shouted. “You got that door open yet?!”

“I’m not sure!” he shouted back.

Johnny whipped his head towards him. “How are you not sure?!”

At that moment, a scorching green bolt tore through Johnny hat’s, knocking it off his head. He let up a surprised yelp, turning back to the battle with gritted teeth. “You little—!” he bellowed, shooting a bullet right through the drone’s sensor array.

Grim began to wonder what kind of bullets those were. He didn’t dwell long though, with the door slowly grinding open, dust falling away from its two halves.

“It’s opening!” he yelled.

Vasu was the first to move, slowly walking back towards the open door while still firing on the drones. Johnny ran after her, shooting over his shoulder with impressive accuracy. Xoktin picked up Grim’s rifle with one hand, using his body as a shield as he gunned down the advancing horde while he still held the struggling drone in the other.

The three of them scrambled inside as the Prince continued laid down his covering fire. He finally stepped to the other side, the drone shrieking and beeping all the while with the little bit of fight it had left.

Johnny jumped back outside, dodging laser and plasma bolts like a jig as he grabbed his hat at the far end of the room, then dove back inside under the Prince’s roaring gun.

As soon as he was in, the doors suddenly and violently slammed shut. The rifle Xoktin had been holding was crushed between the metal slabs, sparking and hissing violent hues of green gas. He grunted, pulling what was left free from the door’s grip and threw it to the floor.

He held the struggling drone in front of Grim. “You still need this thing?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, yes. That thing’s our ticket in and out now.”

“Was sealing us in part of the plan there?” Johnny asked.

“Let’s say ‘no’,” Grim articulated. “Also, we should probably check up on Atra.”

Vasu had already brought up her communicator. “Atra, how are things outside?”

“Fine” she replied. “How are you?”

A shrill beep came over the communicator.

“Is that a missile lock?” Vasu demanded.

“Only a few!” she shot back.

“A few?!”

Johnny stepped forward. “Atra, you in trouble?”

“No more than usual!”

He scowled, looking up to Grim. “We don’t have much time.”

Grim nodded. “Guess we’re gonna have to boogie, then.”

Purple lights filled the hall, drowning out everything in a cacophony of enraged squawks and screeches.

“That’s Ancient Morrigi,” the Prince said.

“What’re they saying?” Johnny asked.

“Pretty sure the summary is: ‘intruder, prepare to die’.”

The walls ahead flew open. Instead of war drones, great mechanical constructs resembling metal Morrigi stepped outside one-by-one, their eyes glowing red like guardian spirits. They clutched their spears and axes close, each of them sparking with the arc of electricity.

“Birds,” Johnny stated.

Xoktin threw the struggling drone into Grim’s arms. He drew both of his sabers, flourishing them before the army of metal crows, then charged into a full gallop at the closet robot. He ducked under its thrusting spear, smashing the edge of his blade against its long body. It sunk into the false Morrigi’s long body halfway, sending out a stream of sparks and smoke.

He pulled his saber back out, ready to strike another blow. The other guardians swarmed him, striking at him at all angles with their axes and glowing polearms.

Johnny raised his gun, shooting out the eye of one of them. It turned in the din of battle, the red reflective covering of its eye shattered into a window. Three mechanical lenses stared back at them, zooming in and out.

“Yeah,” Grim spat, “he ain’t the only one here!”

She shot several more, gaining their attention as well, enough to take the pressure off Xoktin.

He sprinted down the hall, ducking under the legs of the guardians as he reloaded. “Come an’ get it, longboys!” he shouted over his shoulder, disappearing around the corner. Half of the assembled guardians took off after him in a screeching blur.

With a growl, Xoktin plunged both his swords into the underside of one of the guardians’ beak. Both his blade erupted out of the top, and he used his leverage to rip its head off. Now armed with a metal Morrigi-headed-hammer, he clasped both handles of his blade together and swung it against the back of another, crushing it to the floor.

“You alright, Xoktin?”

He looked up from his fresh kill. “Why are you still here?!”

Grim and Vasu took that as their cue. They ran down the other hall available to them; as they ran through the inscribed doorframe, Grim looked over his shoulder just long enough to see one of the Morrigi break from the pack and begin its chase of them down the hall.

Vasu stood and fired at their attacker, but it was quick. It twisted and twirled around her plasma bolts, spear raised read to skewer them both as it screamed its battle-cry.

The Tarka’s claws went to a sheath on her armor. From it something silver and brilliant shown in the light of the tomb. She threw her gun to the ground and brought out a knife, holding it with both hands as the tip of the spear crashed against it.

The spear shattered like glass. She was thrown backwards from the blow, sliding across the metal floor. The automaton recoiled, regarded its destroyed weapon with cold contempt, then threw it to the floor, raising its claws to do its work.

Grim dove to Vasu’s rifle, raising it against the robot’s long body. Green pulses of heat and light flew from the barrel as he unloaded into the robot, stripping away the thick armor.

He let go of the trigger when the barrel began to glow red, hoping that had been enough. Whole panels of the robot’s armor had been blown away, more of it simply dripping off its body in molten slag. The entire casing around its head was gone now, revealing the black frame modeled after a Morrigi skull, circuits sparking with every move.

He raised his rifle again to unload into its head, but a pull of the trigger only let out a plume of hot steam from the side. Still too hot. He went to his own knife, drawing it out.

Another bolt slammed into the center of its head, stripping away what little remained in a flash of sparks. And another, drilling a hole into its head. And a third, into its eye, blowing it apart.

It wobbled, then fell, slamming to the ground in front of them. Grim looked behind him; it was Vasu, a pistol raised and its barrel smoking in one hand, her knife in the other.

“Nice shot,” Grim complimented.

“Third one was supposed to go inside the hole I made, but I’ll take it.”

Grim walked over, helping her up. “Nice knife, by the way.”

She held it out in front of her, admiring its craftsmanship. “Living Steel. Nothing like it.” She sheathed it without another word. “Alright,” she said, “where to now?”

“While Xotkin and Johnny are—”

Three gunshots rang off the walls.

“—While they’re distracting the security here, we need to find central control. That’ll be what turns this damn tomb off.”

“I do hope your guess is right.”

“It’s not a guess where it is, it’s an educated guess. We just need to—where’s our drone?”

In the chaos of dealing with the Morrigi automaton, they’d lost track of it. Then they heard it, pitiful half-squeaks and the churning of actuators slowly pulling itself further down the hall. It was their drone, still functioning and attempting to make a getaway on its clipped wings like a cooked metal chicken come to life.

“Ay!” Grim barked, “Get back here!”

They ran up over it; it hadn’t gotten very far. Grim snatched it up, running further down the halls with Vasu as they passed door after door. Leading to either traps or treasure, with a Morrigi tomb, both were found in equal measure.

He was making a lot of assumptions about the tomb’s security before they boarded, but still, the best place to put the control room would be…

“There!” he stated, motioning towards a nondescript door. He found a panel nearby, and once again deftly overrode it with the drone’s own circuitry. The door flew open, only to reveal another set of doors, even thicker than the first.

Grim groaned. “Well, good news is that this is the control room. Bad news: I don’t know how to get past these.”

“What?!” Vasu demanded.

“Look, they’re blast doors! They’re gonna be on a separate—”

The sound of heavy steps made them both look back down the hall. It was Xoktin, bloody and beaten, cuts and scraps all across his thick carapace. His injuries didn’t seem to phase him though, and he stomped towards with only a minor sense of urgency.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Blast doors,” Grim explained. “They must have shut when the alarm went off. I can’t open them with a panel.”

“Why?”

“Do you want a crash course in Ancient Morrigi security or do you want to get inside?!”

“How?”

Grim stood back, creating and discounting solutions in his head. “Alright. Vasu, you be willing to lend him that Living Steel knife of yours?”

She withdrew it from its sheath. “I’m its master. It’ll only obey me.”

“Well, see if you can jimmy it into the slot. We’ll need to force it open. Xoktin, you as strong as you look?”

He cracked his knuckles in response.

“If we can get the door open a bit, you’re gonna have to push the rest of the way. Ready?”

Vasu has already brought her blade into the slanted crease between the two heavy doors. She pulled to one side, and the door creaked, but refused to give. She motioned Xoktin over, letting him add to her strength as they pulled together, the Living Steel blade remaining strong under the immense tension.

A hiss of air. The crease between the doors widened. Xoxtin grunted, throwing even more of his weight into the pull until there was enough room for his hand. He put one hand, then two, on the edges of the door, pulling them apart with great pained strains. His whole body trembled as he forced them apart, slowly revealing the room on the other side.

He eventually had enough room to brace his shoulder against, and he used it and one of his legs to keep the door steady with his own body.

“Please,” he urged. “This is harder than it looks.”

Grim ducked under his body as Vasu came up beside the Prince and pulled on one of the doors, attempting to relieve as much pressure as she could.

On the other side of the door, Grim found saw exactly what he’d been looking for: a large control pylon in the center of a room otherwise barren. No ceremony, no carvings of ancestors long passed.

He ran over, his fingers going to the patterns on the side. He found the one he was looking for; a small circle, with a smaller circle inside. He traced his finger along the groove, bringing up a holographic panel, curved in a way meant for Morrigi claws, not human intruders.

Now, for the hard part. There were about thirty commands that could turn off the station, but as Atrareia had said, no tomb was the same. What would turn off the defenses in one station would open all the airlocks on the other. Caution was what he needed.

It was also something he couldn’t afford.

He typed in the first command. Nothing happened.

Second, nothing. Third, nothing. Fourth, the lights above turned green.

“Today!” Xoktin suggested from the doors.

Fifth, nothing. Six, nothing. Seventh—

A loud, wet crunch sounded from the doors. Grim spun around to see Xoktin still holding frim against the door, but his body was losing ground. The chitin on one of his arms had cracked open, blood running down in a small trickle.

He was on his last bit of energy, just barely holding the doors apart. And then they shut together with a loud screech.

But the two halves didn’t meet. They stopped halfway, seized by a blue aura, then ground apart. The Prince rose back up with a second wind, pushing them even further apart, revealing the source of the strange force outside.

It was Johnny, his eyes glowing an awesome blue as waves of psionic energy emanated from his hands. Laser fire traced the air behind him as Vasu unloaded on an unseen foe from down the hall with her rifle.

“Hurry the hell up!” Johnny screamed. “I can’t do this for long!”

Grim punched in one last command.

A prompt came up. Two options. He had it.

He pressed the symbol for ‘confirm’. A soft tone echoed through the control room, and the station suddenly went silent. The scraping and firing of machinery went quiet as a strange calm came over the tomb, only intruded upon by the sound of groaning metal and the airy whine of psionic energy.

Grim!” Johnny screamed. “For the love of God!”

He sprinted back towards the door, diving back under the Prince. As soon as he was clear, the Prince stepped back from the doorframe, leaving Johnny alone to hold it open. The added strain caught him by surprise and his psionic hold of the door ceased, the aura around his hands popping out like a bubble.

The blast doors slammed shut with a deafening crash.

Johnny fell back on his rump, holding his head with the hand of his longer arm. “Ugh…”

He wobbled, then fell on his back.

Vasu ran over, picking up his head. “Daiko! You alright?”

“I don’t feel good,” Johnny mumbled. “Vasu, put a raw egg in a bottle of whiskey, break it over my head, and then shoot me.”

“I’ll consider it.”

He looked down the hall, groaning as he moved his head. “Robots stopped. That’s your doing I’m assuming.”

“Tomb’s in passive mode now. We should have free run of the place.”

The news seemed to invigorate the Zuul, and he awkwardly stood up. “That means we get first pick of the loot!” he declared with a smile. His legs wobbled again, and he fell forward. Xoktin reached out, grabbing him by the scruff of his shirt.

“By the Good Lord,” Johnny breathed, “I feel like you look, Xoktin.”

He groaned again, his head falling back as he went limp.

“Johnny?” Grim asked.

“He’s fine,” Vasu assured. “Get ready to hear him whining for a few days, though.” She brought up her communicator. “Atra, how are things outside?”

“Well, the drones stopped. I think they’re flying back inside. Should I chase them?”

“No, Grim turned them to docile. Don’t shoot at them; we don’t need this place turning hostile again, got it?”

“Got it!”

“Is the ship fine?”
“Ziskis is yelling at me about something he’s gonna have to fix, but I think we’re okay.”

“Good. Keep close, we’re gonna go check out the central vault.”

“Yep!” Atrareia replied. She hung up, the line going silent.

“Are you sure she’s fine with us plundering this place?” Grim asked.

“If you haven’t noticed, Atrareia isn’t like most Morrigi,” Vasu replied.

“Said the Solforce-armor-wearing Tarka, in front of the cowboy Zuul, and the mute Hiver Prince.”

“Alright, Sardo. You happen to catch where the central vault is? I wanna see what we almost died for. Again.

______

The statues of two Morrigi lay before them, tracing the surface of the double-doors. One on each door, clutching their spears as if they were the true last line of defense.

Grim tapped on a nearby panel, and they ground open with no objection. He turned to the others, holding his hands out. “Ta-da.”

“No fancy trick this time?” Vasu asked.

“Station’s locked into stand-down mode now. In essence, it’s just assuming everyone inside is tribe-kin.”

“Fascinating. Now, I call first pick of the loot.”

She moved ahead in a brisk walk, gently nudging Grim out of the way.

“Hey!” he protested, “I shut down the station!”

“So?”

“I get second pick,” Xoktin said, following Vasu inside.

Slung over the Prince’s shoulder, Johnny made an unconscious moan, declaring his place as third.

“Ungrateful,” Grim grumbled, walking up behind the Prince. “I don’t care who’s calling dibs, I’m getting…”

His words trailed off as he saw the majesty of the vault’s inner sanctum. Treasures from a hundred worlds, stacked nearly to the ceiling. Urns with scenery of Morrigi fighting great battles, each warrior pitch black in a style that reminded him of old Greek pottery. Books and tomes, arranged in neat rows, caked thick with dust. Long-deactivated drones hanging from the ceiling, bronze statues standing guards, a great dragon with wings stretched out on the ceiling…

And then there were things inside obviously not Morrigi. Tarka axes, and Hiver calligraphy, piled into their own corners like little dragon hoards.

Grim’s eyes passed over something in a far corner of the room, round and white, and didn’t immediately notice it until his brain slammed on the breaks and forced him to shoot back with a wild double-take. His eyes went wide, and his jaw went slack as he slowly walked forward, looking up at what was propped up against the wall of the vault.

It was big, with long struts jutting out from the main body, the bulk of its mass dominated by a large, white dish that was as wide across as a modest vehicle. And on its size, a small and gleaming golden disc.

He stepped forward, gazing upon it as the rest of the crew pondered over their own treasures. Vasu found a vac hammer that caught her fancy, and she hoisted it up on her shoulder. Xoktin prowled around the room like a predator on the prowl, his black eyes judging most of the treasures in the room and finding them wanting.

Vasu turned to him with a smile. “Why you being so picky? We can come back for the rest later.”

The prince walked up to a small box, and cracked it open. From it he took out a flintlock of obvious Hiver origin, hexagonal faceting lovingly crafted onto the grip.

She whistled. “Nice.”

When she noticed Grim standing dumbfounded at his own discovery at the other end of the room, she spoke up. “What is it?”

It took a moment for Grim to register her words, and when he did, he spoke in an incredulous shrill. “It this Voyager-goddamn-One?!”

Without waiting for the others to respond, he stepped up to the small disc, leaning towards it to get a better look. A golden circle with etchings of zigzagging lines, a circle with a dot in one corner, and more symbols interspersed throughout.

“Oh my god,” he breathed. “It is.”

Xoktin turned, stomping up behind him. “Who or what is Voyager One?”

“A space probe,” Grim answered. “A very, very old space probe. One of the first ones humanity ever sent out into the black.”

“What’s it doing here?”

“Well, presumably one of the crows found out about it and went on its path with a big catcher’s mitt. Must have brought it here.”

“If it’s that important,” Vasu said as she walked up as well, “then we should get it back to ship. I’m sure Atra would like it among her collection.”

“This is beginning to sound like a task that involves me,” Xoktin grunted.

A groan came out from the middle of the room. It was Johnny, whom Vasu had laid out on a small raised platform in the vault. His eyes were half open. “Did I die?” he grumbled.

Vasu turned, smiling. “No, Daiko.

He dropped his head back against the slab. “Well, wake me up if I do.”

The contradiction was lost on him as he once again slipped into unconsciousness. He began to snore, loudly.

“If we could actually get this out of here,” Grim said, motioning towards the ancient probe, “we could definitely sell it for—”

The station shook, everyone in the room losing their footing. The treasures in the room rattled, artwork and statues and coins alike bouncing around on the floor and their pedestals as the entire vault quaked. Johnny was knocked off his pedestal but it didn’t interrupt his sleep in the slightest and he kept snoring as the shakes slowly began to taper out.

“What was that?” Xoktin asked. He looked to Grim.

Grim shrugged. “I...don’t know?”

“How do you not know?”

“That didn’t feel like something turning on,” he explained. “That felt like something above us. But the only thing above us would be the…” His words trailed off, his eyes going wide as the color drained from his face. “Uh oh.”

“What did you do, stump?!” Vasu demanded.

A ping emanated from the Tarka’s wrist, and she brought up her communicator. “What, Atra?”

The Morrigi’s voice came through, an air of concern in her tone. “Hey, guys, I don’t want to incite panic or anything, but I’m picking up some kind of concerning readings from the top of the tomb.”

“...Concerning, how?”

“It’s the plasma cannon on the top. It’s, uh...melting.”

Vasu jumped. “What?!” She looked back up to Grim. “What did you do, stump?!”

“Must have turned off the magnetic containment in the gun when I turned off the defenses,” Grim grumbled. “All the plasma’s eating its way out.”

He turned to Xoktin. “Okay, we’re probably safe, but we should start moving this. I wanna get this out of here.”

“Do we even have time?” the Prince replied.

“This tomb’s gonna fry itself over about the next day. Lucky for us, the secondary containment will hold it off until we’re done picking over the best loot.”

From his position next to the slab, Johnny grumbled. “Is it gettin’ hot in here?”

Grim noticed it too. He looked up, the other two following his gaze. Above them, the ceiling was beginning to glow red.

Vasu looked back down, shooting daggers to Grim. “Secondary containment, huh?”

In horror, Grim looked down and nodded. “We should go! Xoktin! Get the probe!”

He stomped over, attempting to move the ancient vehicle from its place. But it was too heavy even for him, and it barely budged. “This thing is stubborn!”

“Grim!” Vasu screamed as she stared up at the ceiling beginning to turn an eerie white. “I think we have to go!”

“Damnit!” Grim cursed, and ran over to the probe. He scrambled up to the midsection and pulled off the golden record, then jumped onto the floor. “I am not leaving here empty-handed!” he screamed.

Johnny stirred. “It’s gettin’ really hot,” he complained. “Am I in the bad place?”

The air around them was beginning to shimmer with the heat. It was already like a sauna, and growing hotter every second. Grim sprinted out of the room, Xoktin right behind him, grabbing Johnny from his spot on the floor. Vasu brought up the rear, vac hammer balanced on her shoulder as she ran for the doors. Then she tripped, scrambling up and trying to recover her loot.

“Leave it!” Grim screamed. “I need to shut the doors!”

She tugged one last time.

“Now!”

With a pained snarl, she let go of her fallen equipment and ran towards the door, diving through it. Grim was already at the panel, wiring circuits together by hand. Only a few seconds after she scrambled out from the open frame of the door did they slam shut with a deafening thud behind her.

A moment after that, a sizzling came from the other side of the door.

“What’s that noise?” Johnny blearily asked.

“That’s the sound of the plasma eating everything inside,” Grim sighed. “Luckily, it’s the vault room, so it’ll at least take a while for it to chew—”

His words ceased when he witnessed the closed blast doors in front of them beginning to glow the same dull red, and they felt the heat from it radiate across them.

“Would you stop tempting the gods?!” Vasu cried.

“Okay!” Grim declared. “New plan! We are evacuating!”

Xoktin kept his dark eyes fixed on the increasingly heated doors. “How long do we have until the plasma breaks out?”

“Let’s not put a number on it!” Grim replied, turning to run. “Call Atra to pick us up now!”

Vasu raised her wrist. “Did you hear that, Arta?”

“On it!” the Morrigi chirped.

Xoktin threw Johnny over his shoulder as they all sprinted down the hall, the Prince running ahead like a galloping prize horse. As he did, alarms began to blare through the tomb, red lights shining off the hallways.

“What now?!” Vasu screamed.

“I think the tomb isn’t happy about the vault getting fried!” Grim shouted back.

As if on cue, a shriek sounded out from behind them. Grim looked over his shoulder to see the statues from in front of the vault crawling their way towards them, eyes glowing red and spears ready to skewer them all.

“Run!” Grim shouted. “Run!”

One of them surged forward, beak wide as it snaked through the corridor, only for a spark to fly off its eye. Then another, then another. It recoiled, screaming out in pain as Grim looked back to see where the source of the attack. It was Johnny, still carried over Xoktin’s shoulder, one eye closed as he had his gun raised. Three shots was all he managed, and he passed out, gun dropping from his grip. Grim leaped out of the air and caught it as they passed one of the open doors.

Grim slid to a stop, running over to the panel.

“Grim!” Vasu shouted. “What are you doing?!”

“Buying us time!” he screamed back. His brain went into overdrive, taking every shortcut he knew as he wired the circuitry together bare-handed. Just as the statues were making their way through the door, they slammed shut.

The statue reacted instantly, snaking out its arms to prevent their closure. It ground against the machine’s strength, it and the door shuddering as one fought against another. Grim turned tail and ran after the rest of the group, chasing them until they were at the tomb’s entrance; a long, flat section meant for incoming ships. On it lay their ship, gleaming in the sunlight.

“Home stretch!” Grim shouted as he worked up all the energy left in his muscles, surging ahead to catch up. He ran up alongside Vasu, saluting her. Xoktin was the first to the open cargo bay, pounding inside with Grim on his heels, and Vasu right after him.

Another screech. More than two. As the cargo lift began to close up against the ship, they all watched with horror as more and more statues began to pour out of the temple, weapons raised.

“Atra!” Vasu screamed. “We’d very much like it we went now!

On ‘now’’, a green flame shot out from the temple, consuming the living guardians in superheated flame. The cargo bay door shut just as the flames reached them. The force of their takeoff sent them all to the floor, and only after a long acceleration were they able to rise.

A silence hung over the ship before Xoktin was the first to rise. He laid Johnny out on the floor, patted down the small flame on his hat, and sighed. “Well. That was interesting.”

“Guys?” Atra said over the PA system. “You might wanna come to the cockpit.”

They all shared glances, and walked down the hall, leaving Johnny by himself. When they came into the cockpit, that’s when they caught sight of the tomb they’d left behind through the transparent canopy.

The tomb was destroyed. Plasma was venting out of every hole in it, scorching it black and brown and melting the metal like butter. If there was anything inside now, it was slag and smoke and ruin.

“Well,” Vasu shrugged, “Rose wanted us to turn it off. That’s one way.”

Footsteps sounded out from behind them. It was Johnny, held up by Ziskis as he clutched his head.

“Which one of you left Johnny on the floor?” the Worker demanded.

“And why’s the tomb on fire?” Johnny asked.

Vasu thumbed over to Grim. “Stump here screwed up and sent the station into a meltdown.”

“Hey!” Grim snapped. “I had no idea what we were even getting into when we boarded that thing. Find me one other person in the galaxy that would’ve gotten you that far!”

Johnny squinted. “Both of you, shut up. I got a splitting headache, and you’re bickerin’s only makin’ it worse.”

Vasu shrugged. “Sorry, Daiko, but there was a whole vault of treasures stump here fried.”

“Well, we didn’t lose everything,” Grim sighed. He held up the golden record he procured. “If nothing else, we got a souvenir.”

Ziskis leaned forward. Even with his insectoid eyes, Grim could see disbelief in them. “Is that what I think it is?”

“The golden record to Voyager One? Yeah, it was in there, along with the probe.”

“...You’re lying.”

He handed the record to Ziskis, who snatched it out of his grasp. Still supporting Johnny on his shoulder, he brought it close to his face, and he froze.

“...By the Goddess, you aren’t.”

He handed it back. “That might be the most valuable thing you managed to cart out of there.”

Grim shrugged. “I was gonna get Xoktin to help us cart out the whole thing, but...that didn’t work out. Speaking of, I think he nabbed himself a nice pistol.”

The Prince held out his prize, pulling the trigger. The flint snapped forward with a click. He held it up, studying it. “It’s a decent trinket.”

From her command pillar, Atrareia spoke up. “So...did we win?”

“Sort of?” Grim replied. “The tomb’s definitely not gonna shoot anybody anymore. And with all the treasures inside cooked...no real reason for people to poke around here anymore.”

“Mission accomplished,” Johnny slurred. He went limp, his head hanging from his shoulders.

“Then we must get back to mother,” Ziskis ordered. “Tell her what we managed. In the meantime, I’ll see to Johnny.”

He dragged the groaning Zuul off, disappearing down the hall. When they were gone, Grim held up the record above him.

“So, what should we do with this?”

______

“And that’s it, Miss Rose,” Johnny explained. “Station fried itself as soon as we jumped aboard.”

The Hiver Princess looked down, cradling the golden record they’d managed to save from the tomb’s vault, her fingers gliding over the symbols etched into its surface. “And this is all you managed to recover?”

Grim thumbed over to the Prince behind him. “Well, Xoktin managed to find himself a fancy pistol.”

The Prince held up his prize. “One I do not need,” he sighed. He held it up, tossing it over to Golden Rose. She caught it out of the air, examining it with a careful gaze.

“Ah,” she prompted. “A most kind gift, Prince Rixzikxoktin. Thank you.”

He grunted in response.

“Sorry we couldn’t turn it off the proper way,” Grim apologized. “As far as I can tell, that plasma cannon on the top was in way worse shape than I thought. Chewed right through itself once I sent that station into the standdown.”

“I will be completely honest,” the Princess replied as she looked down the sights of the flintlock, “I put about a sixty percent chance of you all somehow blowing up the station vs. you just shutting it down. Frankly, I’m fine with either.”

“It’s not totally blown up, ma’am,” Johnny replied. “Just a big ol’ pile of melted slag.”

“In that case, it might still be valuable for salvage. The point is, is that it’s no longer a danger to travelers, and for that, I thank you.”

Grim shrugged. “So, what happens now?”

She looked down from her pistol, and tossed the record back to Grim. “Well, I think that’s up to Johnny at this point. What do you think, Johnny? Would he be a good addition to your crew?”

The Zuul grinned. “Sure, I like ‘em enough. He might come in handy. Him being a brick wall with spooks especially.”

“Well then, it’s settled. Prince Bourbon-Grimaldi? I release you into Johnny’s care.”

Grim frowned. “I still feel like I’m not really getting a lot of say in this.”

Johnny stepped forward, gazing at Grim with a skeptical eye. “Look, partner. Do you really have anything better to do? What were you gonna do if we hadn’t come along on that dirtball I pulled you off of?”

Rolling his eyes, Grim gave his honest opinion. “Probably starved. Look, if I tag along with you guys for a while, can I at least get a promise you’ll eventually let me go?”

Johnny scratched his chin. “Hmmm. I don’t see why not.” He turned to the Princess. “Miss Rose?”

“Let him earn your trust, I say,” she suggested.

He nodded. “Makes sense to me. Alright, Grim: it’s settled. I officially induct you as a member of Johnny Law’s Golden Gang.”

Ziskis stepped forward, antennae twitching. “You explicitly promised me you weren’t going to call us that.”

The Zuul blew air out his nostrils and shrugged. “Eh, fine. Just The Gang, then.”

Looking back up to Rose, he raised a brow. “Oh, was there anything else you needed us doin’, Miss Rose?”

“Not at the moment,” she answered. “You do what you see fit.”

He tugged at his shirt. “Well then. I got a few ideas. So, if you don’t mind…me and the boys’ll get going.” Bowing, he tipped his hat and turned around, walking towards the elevator. “C’mon, guys. You too, Grim.”

Stuffing his hands in his pockets, the human followed them. “This was not how I was expecting this month to end.”

“Life is full of surprises,” the Zuul answered. “Point is, you’re with us now. Trust me, gang’ll grow on ya.”

“Oh,” the Princess intoned from behind them. “And Ziskis?”

The Worker shot up straight, stopping dead as he slowly turned around to face Golden Rose, slowly bowing in reverence. “Yes, Mother?”

She extended a finger towards Grim. “Keep an eye on him.”

The Hiver turned towards him, glaring. “I will, Mother.”

They walked into the elevator, escorted by two of Rose’s guarding sons. Reaching the bottom, they were guided back to their ship undergoing final repairs in the landing area. The cargo ramp was already down, and together the four of them walked up its metal floor, Vasu and Atrareia both standing in the room.

As the ramp closed behind him, Atrareia spoke up. “Well?” she asked.

Johnny shrugged. “Fine by Rose.” He laid a hand on Grim’s shoulder, jostling him. “Grim’s a part of the gang now.”

“Yes!” the Morrigi squealed, and suddenly scrambled over, picking up Grim in a tight hug. “I knew Rose would like you!”

Her hug was strong, and he tapped her shoulder to put him down. She did so, finally touching him down to the floor. She turned her attention to Johnny. “So, where are we going next?”

“Dunno,” he answered. “Figured we could just cruise around the Holden Abyss, see if we can’t get into some trouble that way.”

“And what about the stump?” Vasu asked with a coy smile.

“I have a name you know,” Grim muttered.

“And I will learn it eventually.”

“While you do, I’m hoping you people aren’t planning to keep me in the cells while I’m on here.”

“Nah,” Johnny replied with a shake of his head, “you’d just break out again anyway. Nah, we’ll just spruce up one of the little cargo rooms for ya. Xoktin, you mind helpin’ with that?”

The Prince grunted.

“Perfect!”

He stepped forward, slinging an arm over Grim’s shoulder. “Now then, I need to give you the full tour.” He walked forward, the human under his long arm as they journeyed they corridors of the ship, pointing out sights as they passed them.

The rest of the gang watched them leave, until they rounded a corner and Johnny’s words garbled into an echo.

Vasu reached into a pouch around her waist. From it, she took out a small cigar, and struck a match against the pauldron of her armor. She placed it in her mouth, taking a puff. “You know,” she started, “I’m kinda glad we got a human on board now.”

“Why?” Ziskis asked.

“They have an unlimited supply of a priceless resource.”

“Which is…?”

She smiled. “Dumb luck.”

END PART 1

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