Written by David Davis
Illustrations by David Davis, ecunderbase, and Reed Hawker

On Galactic Hub Serreven…

ecunder_orthosIn the Buuram district of Serreven Deck One, a lanky figure moves through the narrow lanes between the housing blocks. The shape is eerily silent among the din of the massive space station. It pauses at a small, single-story, box-like home that feels nondescript in rows and rows of boxy homes. The figure is a male cyclopasian, who reaches into his vest, pulling out a small data-pad. He places a thumb on the capacitive screen, and slides through the windows to find a serial number. He steps toward the door of the home, and compares the numbers on the pad to the numbers above the door.

Orthos Kabalos is on the hunt, and his prey waits within.

He studies the door for a moment, deftly feeling the frame. He brushes his three-fingered hand over the door’s control panel, and pulls away as a pair of Serreven residents walk by. They swagger along with a thick haze of drunkenness hanging on their every movement. Orthos puts on a show, fumbling in his vest for a key-card that isn’t there. The pair walks by, giggling at what they presume is another drunk who has misplaced his key. Moments later, Orthos pulls out a small device from his vest. It resembles a keycard but with a pair of exposed wires sticking out of one of the corners. He places the card inside, and then touches the exposed ends of the wires together.

With a sudden pop, smoke wisps escape from the control panel and dance into the air of the station. Orthos peers around and wraps the wires around his fake keycard, tucking it into a vest pocket. He eyes the door. Unmoving. Waiting.

Inside the building, a shady looking florara hears a disturbance. He puts down his tweezers and the delicate leaves he has collected from his many plants. He reaches for a gun on his dirt-covered workbench, and soil falls from the crevices of the blaster as he swings it upward toward his front door. The sudden silence makes him wary. The only sound he hears is the water-filter bubbling in the other room with piping that snakes through the entire greenhouse. Within moments, the florara approaches his front door, weapon drawn. His back is pressed hard against the wall, and he feels his leafy shoulder bump into a framed receipt for his first growing operation, before he lost it. The receipt’s frame squeaks as it pivots on its peg, but it does not fall off. The fluid vessels of the florara constrict for just a moment as the water in his veins freezes. He exhales and grips his blaster far tighter than his vessels are used to. His appendages are best suited for delicate touches and not the crude forcefulness of holding a gun, but this is furthest from his mind at the moment. He jumps out of his skin as Orthos smashes at the door with his fist, the violent blow rattling the frame.

The florara smashes the door panel hard with the butt of his blaster, his hand close enough for the electrical field to verify his presence. The door opens instantly, and he opens fire into the street. Ion-bolts fly out from the doorway into the empty neighborhood. He eases off of the trigger when he notices the the doorway is empty. Cautiously, he peers out of his small, boxy home and sees nothing but a charred metal on a lamp-post across the street. He spies his outside panel, smoking from malfunction, and he grunts in annoyance. Some prankster or malfunction, clearly. With a final, cautious look, he pulls his head back inside and taps the inside door panel, shutting himself into his laboratory again.

However, he does not see Orthos shadowy frame rise up from behind him.

“It’s not very wise to leave your windows unlocked, Virtil,” his tone is almost mocking.

Orthos’s motion is swift as he puts the florara into a painful headlock. The gun slips from the Virtil’s leafy hand. It noisily tumbles over long the hallway wall, coming to a stop a couple of feet away.
Virtil shudders violently as he yells, “Get the hell out of my house!”

In a fluid motion, Orthos unlocks his arms and shoves Virtil at the hallway wall with great force. The impact is accompanied by a crunch, like lettuce hitting a tiled floor. Orthos spins him around, grabbing Virtil by the leafy growth on his chest, and lifting him off the floor. The sudden ascent knocks off a wall-mounted portrait, and the small peg used to support the picture digs into his back, right between the shoulder-blades.

Orthos snarls, “you have been selling very dangerous plants to very dangerous people.”leaf

“Birweed is legal now. It’s legal!”

Orthos glowers, “No. Not Birweed. Shadeleaf.”

He tosses a small, plastic package at Virtil’s feet. The small leaf inside is clearly visible. Pale, thick, with six thick fingers along the ridge. The leaf is still moisture-rich and water sap oozes out of the stem as it hits the floor. The florara’s eyes widen and he goes limp. Orthos lets him drop to the ground. Virtil begins to sob, his crumpled form shaking violently with each gasp.

Virtil’s tears flow, and he is barely able to choke out his question, “oh gods, what have they done with it?”

Orthos stares downward at the sobbing florara and continues his questioning.

“You tell me what the cult plans to do with it. You’re a supplier, they had to specify what they needed it to do. What did they ask for?”

Virtil’s tears relent, and he straightens up a bit, back placed firmly against the wall.

“They told me n-nothing. They never told me any-anything. I swear.”

Orthos shakes his head, “nothing?”

Virtil regains his composure for a moment. Realizing he has the upper hand, he wipes away moisture from his cheeks. He rolls his shoulders a bit to ease some of the pain from the wall peg, but to no avail.
Virtil continues, “a burly cyc like you came to me and offered me a lot of money to grow some extra-potent shadeleaf. The money was good, and I don’t ask questions-”

Orthos crouches down. His appearance is feral and his long legs are bent akimbo as he rests on the balls of this three-toed feet. One hand rests near a pair of long lancettes strapped to his thigh while his other hand dangles between his legs towards the floor, ape-like. His large yellow eye studies Virtil’s features from only a foot away.

“No questions came to mind at all?”

Orthos_SS_poseThe florara catches the hint and scoots along the wall to give himself some space. Orthos’s presence was far too intense than anything he was used to, but he seemed oddly permissive in this moment. Virtil took as much freedom as he could during the interrogation. He’d run into trouble with the law before as illegal growers always did, but this stranger in his lab is not the law… he is dangerous. Virtil stops moving when his leafy finger touches part of his gun resting on the floor near him. Perfect.

“Look, I thought about the potency. It’s a poison,” Virtil continues, leaning over just enough to position his hand closer to the gun, “the strength of the plant they wanted would put someone into a coma, easy.”

Orthos stretches the fingers on his free and hanging hand. There is an audible crack of the knuckles, and Virtil winces at the sound. Skeletal structures always grossed him out.

“How easy would it be to weaponize?

Virtil smirks, “what, do I look like GalactiCorp or DraCo?”

“You’re scum. You have no idea what the buyers are capable of,” Orthos growls.

Virtil grabs at the gun and swings it into position. Orthos jabs him through the wrist with one of the lancettes, instantly pinning him to the wall, with the lancette embedding itself into the plastic with an audible thunk. The gun clatters to the floor as Virtil kicks and howls from the searing chemicals of the lancet entering his pristine vascular system..

Virtil screams, “Ghnaaa! C’mon!”

Orthos retracts the lancet, spraying water and vascular fluid everywhere, and picks up the gun. He dismantles it easily and tosses it in front of the wounded florara. Virtil cradles his wrist as precious fluid seeps out between his fingers. His legs kick rapidly and his gun-hand is whitening and withering.

Orthos stands up, wiping a lancette on a pant-leg. He sheaths it in the holster and kicks aside the dismantled gun parts, minus the small firing mechanism that he places in a pocket.

“I suggest you stay here and bind your wrist as best you can. I don’t imagine handcuffs would mesh well with your injury.”

Orthos begins to walk to the front-door, whistling a riff from Í’s Hours.

Tears stream down Virtil’s face and he screams at Orthos’s back, “you’re crazy!”

Orthos pauses in front of the door, and mashes the panel. He looks over his shoulder and stares at Virtil, meeting the florara’s scowl, line for bitter line.

“I was, once.”

Orthos steps out into the street, leaving a data-disk taped to the door frame.

6 Hours Later

maxine_gunMaxine Dent enters the Buuram District Security Post, carrying a small cup of coffee in each hand. The post is cramped and relatively messy, comprised of the large room where the security staff waits, a back room for the off-duty guards, and the large cell for the criminal element. Maxine brushes her purple hair from her face. Purple was not her natural color, but she could never see herself wearing any other shade. She could be a walking advertisement. Thank goodness for Hairtek. She adjusts her red flight jacket a bit as she approaches the security counter. She waits at the counter, and turns to the holding cell. She spies an irritable looking florara. One wrist is wrapped delicately in wet bandages, with a IV trailing out into a hydrator next to him. He stares at her, his face showing anguish, annoyance, and desperation: the look of the guilty. She winks and tosses him a thumbs up. Virtil grunts and turns his back to her. She shrugs and turns back to the off-duty room in time to see a rather bored blassnaught wander out. His eyes barely grew wide at the sight of his human visitor.

“That coffee for me?”

Maxine smiles, “for my favorite security guard. How are you doing, Haran?”

Haran takes the coffee and drinks the entire steaming cup in one gulp. Maxine winces at this, but the heat does not register for him. He crumples the cup between two fingers and tosses it in a nearby rubbish bin. She sips her coffee, making a show of being cautious at it. She sets the cup down, wiping her mouth with a finger.

“So you’ve busted a guy who peddles poisons. Should I ask about the hydrator?”

Haran absentmindedly scratches at his face and digs one-handed through the bin under the counter. He places a disk on the stained counter.

“Also found a data-disk containing files on the guy,” he yawns. “Seems he’s wanted by the Federation and the Empire. He was leaking when I showed up there. He’ll live.”

Maxine raises an eyebrow, “Really now? Nothing suspicious about that at all?”

Haran continues, “well, it also has a direct line to a Federation officer and an Imperial officer.”

He pushes a pad toward her with a hastily scrawled net number. The pen marks are worked deep through several sheets of paper. Haran always wrote like he was trying to kill the surface he was using.
“I figured you should do the honors of contacting the fed, on account of you being a federal detective.”

Maxine sips her coffee.

“Why not have me handle both? You could probably use a nap, right?”

The blassnaught smirks, “well, I don’t know how well it would go with the imperial officer, planet-jacker.”

Maxine laughs, “planet-jacker? That what the empire is referring to us as these days?”

Maxine hops over the security counter, her legs dangle for a split second before she leaps over.

Haran pats her on the shoulder, “That’s what the children call your people.”

She pauses a moment, shrugs, and then slaps the blassnaught’s meaty bicep. She takes the Federation net number and walks to the back room.

“Give the Imps a call and tell me what you find out.”

maxine_running

In the back room, she makes her way to a small desk and launches a vid-phone. A seamless corner of the desk opens up and a thick, coiled wire extends out. At the end of the wire, the tip blossoms into a delicate array of thin metal frames and wires. Within a second, a lattice of atoms fires up within this frame, and a holographic computer interface launches. below the screen, a smaller pad extends from the desk. The pad lights up, and digits are displayed on its surface. She punches in some numbers on the touch-pad, and the capacitive screen rumbles with each digit. The instant she puts in the number, the pad flashes the Federation symbol. On the vid-screen, the image of a man in a dull grey and wood office is displayed. He looks to be in his mid fifties, only a third of the way through his life-span, but his expression looks as though he has lived two-thirds already. He is a rather drab looking human, aside from the thin mustache tracing the contour of his upper-lip. His eyes appear sunken, and he looked like a man who is always bored and disconnected. He also looks like a man who was expecting this call.

Maxine is silent, unsure how to start the conversation.

The man smiles faintly and he clasps his hands together on the desk, “To answer your first unasked question… I am Commander Arthur Pryce of the fifth fleet, and I take it a certain Cyclopasian left his calling card.”

Several Parsecs Away

Echoes, the personal ship of Orthos Kabalos, drifts silently through space. The silence is not only the result of the void, but inside the ship he sits alone, quiet and determined to head to his next location. Echoes is a single cabin, and little else. There is no bunk, and little shelving, most of which is taken up by large collections of data files on discs, drives, and several computers. The only real comfort within the ship is a small desk, and the small nutrient-rich paste dispenser sitting on it. He dutifully finishes punching in some data into his navigational array, and then shuts it off.

Leaning back in his chair, he sighs and turns over. Before he closes his eye to sleep, he looks longingly at a picture taped to the side of the cabin. It is a picture of a younger and far softer Orthos with a woman who is holding a small child. He and the woman are both dressed in robes; the traditional robes of the cult of Y’Tun Sargon.