We Deliver Anywhere in the Tri-Galaxy Area
“Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. A shame, really … I would have enjoyed listening to your colleague's final moments.”
The gaunt figure turned away from the large viewing portal of the scientific outpost, a small research centre in orbit around a barren moon. Behind him, through the window, a lifeless body drifted away, slowly spinning in an endless twirl, dancing on the currents of the galaxy.
"He looks cold… if only he had answered my questions, he might still be inside with us where it is warm, yes?" the Drul mused caustically.
Milo struggled against his restraints, deepening the cuts to his wrists and ankles. His left eye was nearly swollen shut, compliments of the walking steroid standing to his right - the strong silent type, who let his fists do the talking. He glanced over to the empty chair beside him and saw the severed ties askew on the floor and the blood trail leading to the outer hatch.
“Now it’s just the two of us and make no mistake, I can hear you very clearly,” the sallow Drul offered softly. He was much smaller than his muscled and mute minion. “Maybe now you will be motivated to answer my questions?”
“He had a family you bastard.” Milo snarled.
"And you doctor? Do you have a family?” the Drul continued callously.
Milo spat at him, but the blood laden attempt barely cleared his boots. They had been at this for a while now.
“In fact, where is everyone? Where are your fellow scientists? It is only you and… well,” he gestured to the viewing portal, "your floaty friend.”
“Where is your data? My men have found nothing on your fancy computers.” The cadaverous creature paced back and forth. “You wouldn't have destroyed your life's work.”
“I don't know what data you are talking about,” Milo pleaded.
“Tsk, tsk. You continue to play coy. Somehow, you knew we were coming, yes?”
Milo closed his eyes and let his head hang from exhaustion.
“Tell me what I want to know,” the Drul crooned, “and this can all be over.”
“I'm not telling you a damn thing,” Milo grunted. Over? He knew his life was over the minute a Drul and his guard dog boarded the science station.
The Drul leaned in close, dark eyes sunk into bony sockets examining his captive. "I believe you,'' he said, sour breath assaulting Milo’s nostrils, ''I believe you would sooner join your friend outside before telling me a single truth.”
He nodded to his enormous uncommunicative associate ,who immediately made his way behind the chair that held Milo prisoner. The Drul produced a small vial and plucked something out of it with a pair of forceps. The Thug's large hands clutched either side of Milo's head in order to hold it steady. Too weak to struggle, Milo watched in horror as the Drul directed the tiny, dangling contraption toward his eye.
"This little guy is something my scientists created for just such an occasion.” the Drul grinned. He held it up with seeming delight and placed the metallic, silverfish-looking device on Milo's cheek “He will assist you... and you will tell me everything I need to know.”
The Drul turned over his hand as if to check his watch and a display appeared above his wrist. A skeletal finger swatted the air and the mechanical device sprang to life. It scurried into the corner of Milo's good eye, burrowing deep into the socket. Milo cried out in pain as he felt the creature making its way toward his brain.
“Ah, good,” the Drul remarked, a greasy thin line forming a smile, “we are getting something.”
“The data has been moved, but is not lost.” The Drul continued as he interpreted the display, “You do have a family, a daughter! She works for you here at the lab and sometimes… from your home.”
Milo fought hard against the tiny invader, his whole body shaking in revolt.
“If i can't find the answers in your brain,” he tormented, “maybe your daughter, Mira will answer my questions?”
Milo was no longer able to control the pain or mask his anger. His body summoned something from deep inside, a sound to convey all the feelings he had been holding back. He belched it outward in one long agonising bellow.
“Yes,” the Drul exclaimed, eyes bulging with excitement, “let me hear you scream!”
Chapter 1: The Package
Cal Bishop stood in one of the largest Spaceports of the Dogma quadrant waiting for his turn. It truly was enormous. Thousands of different species from thousands of different worlds - all gathered in one floating city orbiting around the largest planet in the system. It was a place of commerce boasting any business you could think of, from Vacation Transports to Body Modifications and Implants. Some spend their whole lives in a port like this, he thought. Hmm, makes sense, it was a relatively safe haven, a mix of federation order and traveller anonymity. Races from all over the place could meet prior to passing through any checkpoints. These were the places Cal preferred.
Unfortunately, Cal's business was on the planet’s surface which meant customs, and for any being that wasn't chipped, waiting in line.
Cal noticed the Port Authority Officer pointing at him from the kiosk to his right. Her jaw worked impatiently, spitting out nasty hisses and gulps and a general guttural garble that seemed to betray the delicately scaled features of her cheekbones. It sounded like she might be needing the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Cal tapped at his right ear to jostle the universal language translator inside and, at once, the agent's voice became clear. He decided he had better get the earpiece looked at soon. If his translator wasn't working properly, Cal would be lost.
“Sorry about that. My name is, Cal Bishop” he said, after making his way to the window, “Interstellar Courier here to pick up a package.” Cal handed her his Everything Card. The agent plugged the ECard in and her display screen flashed to life.
“I see you're a regular with us, Cal. Your ship is docked in Roundabout 2, Deck 2.” She continued, “You are a citizen of Dirt?”
“Earth” Cal corrected. Every time, he thought.
“Never heard of it. I'll change it in your file,” a fin-like finger waved through the air a couple of times. “The system doesn't accept Earth, so I'm going to have to leave it as Dirt, but I'll make a notation. I'll need some verification please.”
Cal plucked out a hair, handed it over and readied himself for the usual spiel. He found that he was captivated by the beauty of her iridescent scales, a rainbow of light catching his eye with every movement of her head.
“...and with the chip implant you would have access to any of the over 1500 planets in the system and never have to wait in a line like this again! You could throw away your earpiece, as the chip would integrate your language translation automatically. No need for an ECard anymore and,” she paused for effect, “you could save what little thinning hair you have left.”
“You left out one part,” Cal replied, ignoring the insult, “the Federation would be able to track me wherever I go. In my line of work, sensitive packages are delivered to sensitive people who won't do business with anyone who can be traced. You know, track your packages, not your Courier.” Cal decided to add one more thing, “And my hair is thick and luscious.”
“We have a word for people like you,” she said.
“Criminal,” she said, holding back a playful giggle.
Cal flashed a confident smile and ran his hand through hair. It never hurt to flirt, especially with a pretty Port Authority Agent. When you are a courier, you can never have too many friends in customs.
“The system is slow today, so why don't you tell me all about this Earth.” the Agent asked.
Cal hadn't thought about Earth for a while. It was nearly 15 years since he had called it home. Cal had been one of the first to board the mass transports off planet, in a supposed 'discovery of a new life and new worlds', not that he had any choice in the matter. All the years that mankind had spent searching for signs of intelligent life somewhere in the stars had been a huge waste of time. We were never going to “discover” them - they knew exactly where we were, after all, they were the ones that put us there!
Apparently, a couple of million years ago, the Federation of Planets had introduced a few primitive mammalians to a thriving little blue planet nestled in a small corner of the Galaxy. Whales, dolphins, mammoths and man were among the major creatures deposited as the study group thought they would do well in the environment and one day, make a positive contribution to the universe. The Federation would check back every 150 to 200 years or so to monitor their progress.
By the mid 21st century, the Federation of planets deemed the experiment a disappointing failure. Out of the four original transplant species, man was solely responsible for the unmitigated depletion of earth’s resources and the contamination of all earthly elements: earth, water, air and space. What was left was on fire.
Left to their own devices, humankind would cause the inevitable and imminent destruction of the planet. Man was declared an invasive species and consequently had to be removed from the equation. On the bright side, it was determined that humanity had evolved sufficiently to be shown a better way.
Colossal vessels were brought in to transport all of humankind to other inhabitable planets throughout the Galaxy. Those resisting emigration were reminded that they were not native to this planet. Those still refusing to leave we're allowed to remain, in a “circle of life” sort of way. The Federation made one thing very clear, the future of the planet Earth did not include Mankind.
Earth was declared a wildlife sanctuary. The atmosphere was seeded with mechanical microbes that would rain down from the sky and decompose every man-made thing from concrete to plastic. Huge nets gathered satellites and space junk orbiting the planet. In time, buildings would crumble to dust; bridges would disintegrate; dams would fall away, and the roadways would meld into the soil. Mankind's footprint would eventually wash out with the tide. The Federation predicted that sometime within the next 500 years, Earth may be a great vacation destination for sightseers and naturalists.
“Let's see,” Cal began, “I would describe Earth as…”
“Okay. Everything checks out,” the agent cut in. “Welcome to Edee 6! Come on through for your transponder. Shuttle is out so you'll have to take the slingshot.”
Cal preferred the slingshot; a long shaft connecting the Spaceport to the planet. It was the equivalent of a giant free falling elevator, but one that didn't result in your stomach doing cartwheels. Just step into a solo elliptical pod and in less than 90 seconds, you were on the planet’s surface. While you were riding down, someone in a connecting tube was getting sucked back up. Amazing technology Cal thought, a round trip to the planet in less time than it takes to soft boil an egg.
Cal walked through the security scan and toward the lizard man that was motioning him impatiently forward. Cal was startled when he tried to fasten something around his neck.
“What are you doing?”Cal cried, taking a few steps back.
“Transponder,” was the one word reply.
“Last time I was here, they had ankle bracelets.”
“We got rid of those. Too many people were tampering with them,” the agent said. “People tend to take the collar more seriously.”
Cal was one of those people who tampered with things and yes, wearing the collar seemed very serious.
“Look, you have three choices,'' the agent said, noting Cal's apprehension, “you can head to registration and get a chip implant; you can wear the collar or, you can turn around and go back to where you came from.”
Cal contemplated. This delivery was special, a long haul order to the outer nebula. A sensitive package to a dangerous sector for an anonymous and wealthy client. Very wealthy. A high risk job for higher risk pay; 10% now with the rest on delivery. Payment was verified and waiting on the other end. Cal would make more on this job than he would in a year. He could feel the eyes of more than the one agent on him now. Cal never liked to draw attention.
“It's a free Galaxy, so the choice is yours. But if you want to get onto the planet, it's either this,” the agent waved the collar in the air, “or the chip.”
Cal stepped off the slingshot and into the busy Marketplace of Edee 6. He marvelled at the sites before him, a bustle of activity like the Spaceport but inverted. Here it was bright and clean, the air was pure and energising and everyone was friendly and alive. Cal felt his spirits lift and he tilted his head back to absorb the warmth of the sunny sky. It felt safe here. Cal decided that this might be a good place to retire one day. He fiddled with the collar before making his way to the taxis.
Monopods, transports and unit shuttles were everywhere, criss-crossing the city like a colony of mechanical ants. The surface really knew how to move people and in no time at all, Cal found himself in front of the Interstellar Courier Office.
“Hey Old Timer,” Cal said, as he made his way to the counter, “are you the screw up that lost my package?”
“Cal! How are you doing, Young Fella,” he said, flashing him a warm smile, “it's been a while.”
Tom worked at the outlet long before Cal started with the company. He used to be a space driver but those days were long behind him. He reminded Cal of his uncle, if not for the gills and spiny dorsal.
“When did they start using these?” Cal asked, slipping a few fingers under his mandatory necklace.
“They're starting to crack down,” Tom said. “I would have run the goods up top but this was a ‘One-Touch Request.’ These sensitive packages are better off down here anyway, safer than the Spaceport branch.”
Cal jiggled the collar lightly, “Do you think you could?”
“I'm sorry,” Tom said, jumping out from behind the counter, “Let me get that for you.”
Cal relaxed. Tom was a Master Tamperer.
Cal stepped off the slingshot and back into the Spaceport with the package tucked neatly inside his jacket. The parcel was about the size of a ring box. Most of Cal's packages were small, no larger than a Decladon’s hand. They could be anything - Holographic communiques, Intelli-Files or Quartz U-Zips that could contain blueprints, extortion or blackmail… who knows? Who cares? His job was delivering secrets. Cal knew one thing, the bigger the secret the bigger the payout.
Cal passed the checkpoint for the exit. There were no lines here. He thought it was funny that there was strict security with regards to what you could bring into a place but essentially no security when you left. The Spaceport was essentially a huge Airport Terminal, an unchecked, unregulated place in between places. Cal strolled through the scanners that would deactivate the transponder collar and felt it buzz in response. Although things went smoothly this trip, Cal was glad that Tom had disabled the collar just the same. Ahead, he could see bins to collect the disabled transponders and was reminded of the large drums positioned at the exits of an Earth Movie Theatre to collect the goofy yellow framed 3D glasses.
Behind him, Cal noticed a ruckus developing by the slingshot. It appeared the units were in lock-down and all transportation to the planet's surface was suspended. Voices were rising as disgruntled passengers complained about the situation. Security was summoned over the intercom and instinctively Cal increased his speed and quickly made his way back to his ship.
Cal flopped into his Pilot's chair, glad to be back aboard. Reaching into his coat liner he retrieved the ring box and parked it on the console in front of him. He leaned back in his chair to stretch and felt a pinch in the back of his neck from the collar.
Oh for crying out loud, Cal thought. With the brewing disturbance at the slingshot, Cal had forgotten to remove the transponder. Since Tom had deactivated it, the collar had not been in the forefront of his mind and Cal cursed himself for forgetting to remove it. He unclipped the transponder now and tossed it up on the console, watching as it ricocheted off the ring box. Cal closed his eyes and shook his head, he couldn't wait to leave the Spaceport, set the autopilot and get some rest.
Before Cal could start launch procedures his attention was diverted by a humming sound. He swore it was the same vibration sound his cell phone used to make and chuckled at the memory. This time however, the sound was coming from the dash and the ring box was slowly migrating across the console. Cal's packages generally didn't try to deliver themselves and he immediately began to panic.
He lunged for the box with the thought of tossing it in the vault, in case it was going to explode. Cal grabbed the package and was surprised that it was warm to the touch. Shocked, Cal fumbled the box into the co-pilot's chair. The ring box sprung open, revealing a small pill-sized capsule no bigger than an ibuprofen. Cal moved in for closer inspection. A clouded liquid swirled inside the pill, which began to glow and swell. Before Cal could retreat, the capsule expanded 1000 fold and burst, spilling gallons of clear fluid and a crumpled figure to the deck of the ship. The figure was female. Yep, most definitely female.
“Help me,” she said, as she slipped about on the floor trying to steady herself.
Cal took a second to comprehend the situation as he gained his footing amidst the embryonic goo. He made his way to the storage locker and hurried back with a blanket to cover his new passenger’s nude form.
Surprisingly, the situation wasn't as strange to Cal as he would have imagined. A few years ago, his company had looked into shrink science: Minimising the spaces between the spaces at an atomic level. It would have revolutionised the courier industry. Just think, thousands of pounds of cargo that could fit in the palm of your hand and be re-hydrated, for lack of a better word, once it had reached its destination. The only problem was one of stability and the science was never accredited. It would certainly never be approved for living organisms.
Cal was about to help her to her feet when the communications display lit up on the front panel telling him to report back to Port Authority immediately. Cal bolted to the ship's console and peered out at the docking bay platform from the bridge of the ship. Security officials were beginning to congregate around his area, some pointing at his ship and others waving their arms in an attempt to get his attention. This wasn't good.
Cal fired up the forward thrusters and hit the switch for the main engines. He was surprised to see his transponder collar reactivate. With a blinking green light it clicked once and immediately shrunk to one half its original size. Cal was relieved he had removed it when he did and made a mental note to speak with Tom about his tampering skills. Never again would he willingly wear a collar. It appeared that the Spaceport Authority wasn’t overly concerned with Cal’s neck size. So much for retiring on Edee 6, he thought.
Cal flipped a few more switches as the ship reached full power. On the platform deck below, the officers were wheeling out what looked to be an Ion Cannon. Cal was really starting to believe that he had worn out his welcome here. Out of the corner of his eye, Cal could see that the girl had made her way to the copilot's chair.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling the blanket close around her shoulders.
“Don't thank me yet,” Cal said, punching the thrusters and banking the ship away from the docking bay. The blast from the engines toppled the men working the ion Canon and a rushed shot fired high and wide. It really was time to leave. The ship swung 180 degrees and bolted into the space Harbour, out of range of the Cannons. Two battle drones launched to flank Cal’s ship while a third hovered in front, blocking the way into open space.
“What's your name,” Cal asked. I hope she is worth it.
“Well, hang on to something Mira,” Cal said, and he punched the throttle to the floor.