You must login to vote
“I love you,” The Reverend Priest Den Williams said, kissing the child fully on the lips. He laid her head down while she convulsed on the dusty ground. The Reverend Priest stood straight and tall. “I love you all!” he proclaimed to the throng of people who now lay writhing and kicking in the dirt. “More importantly, The Creator loves you!” he exclaimed. “ The Creator loves you for your dedication! The Creator loves you for your sacrifice! The Creator loves you for this unselfish act!” He gestured to the multitude that lay dying in the burning sun.
He walked among them as the convulsions dissipated into the still blank stares of the damned. The people behind him had already begun to stiffen. Further back his victims began to bloat in the blazing heat.
“Let your faith comfort you. Through your physical discomfort, you shall earn your reward in the hereafter.” All the while he walked among the dead and dying, he smiled. Den Williams, a tall, slender man, with a square jaw and gleaming white teeth, had come a long way from his humble beginnings: preaching to a motley crowd of poverty – stricken degenerates in a shantytown, spewing verses his dead mother had taught him. He had become the Reverend Priest, the single most popular and powerful voice of the Creator that this sector of the galaxy had ever seen or heard.
The few living that remained pitched the dead into an excavation site. They heaved limp and stiff bodies until late in the evening. Twisted shapes covered the floor of the depression three deep in places. The Reverend Priest Den Williams sat, and watched.
When the last of the bodies had been stacked, his most faithful followers wadded into the mass of bodies and waited for their beloved leader to join them. The Reverend Priest stood straight, tugged at his suit and goose-stepped to a silo at the edge of the ditch. He looked down upon his followers, living and dead, who lay in the stillness of the night air. He felt a wave of responsibility flood over him, as he beheld the carnage … and it felt good.
Williams smiled as he reached for the button, and with a last glance he laughed viciously. The few living followers stared at their Reverend Priest. They no longer reveled, but finally realized that the smiling Reverend had plans other than joining them in their unselfish sacrifice. Their epiphany brought an end to his laughter. Looking down from on high, he depressed a button, opening the floodgate on the silo.
He watched wave after wave of excavated dirt cascade over the dead. The few still living began to scramble out of the pit, trying to save the life they were so gullibly willing to sacrifice, but to no avail. The Reverend witnessed their indecent burial beneath tons of earth. He watched until the dust had settled, and the last scream had faded far off into the night.
“Blessings of the Creator to you all! Alleluia! Amen!” he said picking up a clump of dirt and crumbling it over the fresh ‘grave’.
Sweat rolled down the fat man’s back, rolled as it always did when he puffed luxuriously on his hookah. The fat man reclined on plush purple pillows trimmed in gold braid. Light from a setting sun sifted into the dilapidated room through tattered curtains hung loosely over a broken window. Piles of debris marked the passage of previous occupants, but the fat man was oblivious to it. He spewed forth a foul, odorous cloud of black smoke. All he cared about was the plush pillows, keeping his hookah full, and the billowing black smoke.
The fat man’s name was Artimus Wheeler – Arty to his clients – his one small claim to fame was his reputation as a supplier of premium drugs and slaves, a very small claim to fame indeed. Artimus drew long and hard on his hookah and blew another foul cloud into the air. He watched it change shapes and become faces he had known before: the face of the mother whose love he could never win, of the father whose wrath he always bore. These faces he blew away in a cleansing puff of smoke, a puff that wiped the slate clean, that let him start over again. His next puff replaced the old faces with new ones, happier ones. They were the faces of victims. How easy it was . They would all come begging him, bringing all they had, even their children. And the children, … they were the biggest suckers of all. They would practically worship him, and when he had used one to its limit there would always be another not far behind. There were some bad feelings mixed with the faces – he was human after all – but the smoke made those go away, leaving only the good feelings.
Yes, the smoke left only the good feelings and Artimus felt good as he watched the changing faces in the smoke. He laughed. He was so engulfed in his smoke-induced euphoria that he failed to notice the sound of heavy boots padding down the deserted hallway. So entwined was he in his hookah that he didn’t hear those same boots come to a stop in front of his door. Arty took a long drag and blew another cloud of foul smoke in the air. Another face appeared. Twilight made the eye sockets glow red in this face that had hard lines of a cruel life. “Evans”, he thought, and laughingly blew another breath of smoke that erased the hated visage. Artimus laughed again as the face contorted, folding in upon itself. The eyes hung in the air, staring at Artimus, haunting him, taunting him, and burning him to his soul at the same time. From behind the apparition came a crash that slammed the door to the ground, stirring up dust and dirt that had been gathering over unknown ages. The eyes faded away in a swirl, to be replaced by another pair of glowing red eyes: the eyes of a bounty hunter.
The black-helmeted bounty hunter wore goggles that shone red through the haze of smoke. A full mask protected him from the stench that permeated the room. He stood on top of the fallen door in his black, lightweight body armor, his all-terrain boots firmly planted. He held his assault blaster at the ready, its single red eye unerringly tracking through the haze.
“Bounty Hunter!” Artimus screamed in shock as he dragged his reluctant mind out of its drug induced fog. He tried to jump to his feet, but his precious hookah had entangled him and sent his plump body crashing halfway through the window. An agonizing howl saluted a shard of glass that pierced his mid-section. The Bounty Hunter grabbed Arty by the hair and yanked him back into the room. Arty’s head received an abrupt introduction to the butt of a blaster. He collapsed in a bloody clump.
The Bounty Hunter looked down at Arty, who had a gash across his forehead that was oozing blood over his whimpering face.
“So, you’re Fat Arty?” He sneered through his mask. He picked Arty up by the scruff of the neck and let him taste the back of his mailed glove. “You disgust me more than the stench of this filthy hell hole.” He let Fat Arty have another taste of the back of his hand.
Arty cowered amid the debris and settling dust, sobbing while blood ran from his wounds. The Bounty Hunter flipped Arty over with a disdainful kick, as if ridding his foot of filth. He then placed one of his boots in the middle of Arty’s fleshy back. The Bounty Hunter knelt on Arty’s back. He secured the villain’s hands behind him, attaching one end of the shackle to the ankles and the other end to his neck. A clever design of manacles: the longer the stride one took the more it would choke. Also, the more one struggled against it the more it would tighten. The Bounty Hunter more than unkindly helped Artimus to his feet.
“Wait! … urgl …!” Arty managed to squeeze out a plea despite the choking effect of his manacles.
Without replying the Bounty Hunter grabbed him by the choke collar and led him out. He pushed Fat Arty down the hall. The shackles choked him at every step until his face finally slammed into the wall at the corridor’s end.
“Wait!” Arty begged between gasps of breath. “Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll double it!” The Bounty Hunter peeled Arty off the wall. “Triple!” Arty said in desperation as he dangled from his captor’s hand over the stairs. “Okay, Okay! Anything! Everything! Anything you want, just name your price!”
With a sickening grunt that came from the pit of his stomach the Bounty Hunter pushed Fat Arty down the stairs. The thumping sounds Arty made were loud.
Arty lay unmoving at the bottom of the stairwell. The Bounty Hunter yanked Arty by the hair, forcing him to come face-to-face.
“Not double, not triple, not all your money. Don’t you get it yet? I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing it for the sheer enjoyment.” The Bounty Hunter grabbed Arty by the restraining collar and dragged him to his feet. The Bounty Hunter pushed Arty out the door toward his waiting transport, Arty went choking and sputtering all the way. Arty fell heavily against the side of the transport, no better than a sack of potatoes. The Bounty Hunter depressed the remote entry unit that opened the bonnet.
“This if for all of those helpless, innocent kids you got hooked on that stuff! The Bounty Hunter launched a fist that lifted Arty off of his feet and landed him neatly in the compartment. Arty’s eyes lolled in his head.
The last thing Arty saw before succumbing to darkness was the Bounty Hunter slamming the bonnet shut.
Lee Allen watched the absolute blackness of space melt into blue while he piloted his interstellar cabin cruiser ‘The Dioscuri’ through the familiar atmosphere of Towas. The engines roared to life when the ship left the icy, soundless depths of space and plunged into clouds. The Dioscuri raced across the sky like a giant bird of prey, shaking lesser birds from the trees, and animals from their boroughs. The Dioscuri arced high over the Nanaham Mountain rang, then decelerated as it approached the Manwar River.
The first snow of the season had come shortly before, covering the valley in a shawl of fluffy white with tufts of green peeking from under its lattice. Lee piloted his craft to a skillful landing at his riverside dock then wearily dragged himself to the confines of the secluded retreat he called home. The smell of a fire filled the air as a winter moth fluttered overhead.
Lee stopped briefly before entering. He dropped his gear in order to look at the coming twilight reflected off the river, and noted how the red hues of the setting sun complimented the purple mountains, and inhaled the beauty of the surrounding wonders of nature. Lee couldn’t help but feel small and insignificant in its presence. He picked up his equipment and lugged it the final leg of his journey.
“Darcy!” Lee yelled through the cabin, expecting an answer. He dropped his gear in the corner and wandered toward the kitchen. “Darcy!” He shouted again. The hairs began to rise on the nape of his neck, his senses straining for the most minute of sounds. A twinge of panic started to rise when she still didn’t answer. Lee began to reach for the holstered weapon that he had so carelessly dropped with his gear, then from somewhere outside he heard her voice.
“I’m out back!”
At the rear of the homestead he found his life-mate of three years, Darcy Degau, sipping from a cup. Lee filled his eyes with her. Until he embraced her, he hadn’t realized how much his arms ached for her during his long absence. She laid her head on his chest. The smell of her shiny black hair stirred his emotions as she filled his arms. He couldn’t help but think, ‘A woman any man would kill for.’
“What are you doing out here?” he queried softly, brushing his lips over her eyes.
“Mmm .. just enjoying the view. How did things go with you? Did you get him?”
“Yes, I got him. I almost wish I hadn’t though, when I think of all those innocent children that scum seduced and hooked on that stuff ….,” a sickening churn stirred his stomach, causing him to stop amid sentence. “I need to wash myself.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Darcy said suggestively, as she nuzzled closer, “you head down to the hot springs, and I’ll fix a couple of drinks and join you.” He gave her a long kiss, tasting her luscious lips.
“That’s just what I need.”
After stripping, Lee Allen laid back in the hot spring, letting the hot water soothe his mind as much as his body. He was staring at another winter moth fluttering on the air currents against an overcast sky, when he heard Darcy’s familiar footsteps coming up from behind.
“You look much better already,” she said, as she placed the tray along the edge.
“I am,” he replied. There’s just one more thing I need.” He snatched her hand in less than the twitch of an eye. Lee yanked her screeching into the spring.
“Couldn’t you at least have waited until I undressed?” she said, feigning anger.
“No.” Lee said, as he pulled her close. “Who could wait for this?” In the light that glowed through the gray of the clouds, they kissed. The water was warm, and the time plentiful. There was no need to rush their lovemaking.
The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee filled the air. Lee watched the sun’s first rays spill down the mountain and across the valley.
“What are you doing up this early?” Darcy joined him on the deck, dressed only in her nightshirt.
“I didn’t want this view to go to waste,” Lee murmured. His gaze gathered in the sunlight shimmering off the fresh snow. Lee leaned back and drank deep from his mug. He took his gaze away from the valley and cast it upon Darcy. The sunlight, magnified by the snow, made her nightshirt a tease of a veil over her voluptuous curvatures. Her silky hair flowed over her soft shoulders, around her long neck, framing her gentle face. Her light brown eyes were so bright and clear in this new-born light that they were almost yellow.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” She mused shyly.
“I didn’t want this view to go to waste,” he said, bringing the mug to his lips again.
“Well, it just might go to waste while you’re gone chasing some lawless creep, in some godforsaken hole.” She teased. “When you come back, this may all be gone.” She gestured toward her beautiful body and left with a wink.
Smiling, Lee stayed and looked upon the valley again, inhaling the smells, letting his eyes and soul drink deep of its beauty. For the first time in quite some time he felt clean. From inside he could smell Darcy starting breakfast. He closed his eyes, ‘life is good.’
Darcy’s booted feet left tiny prints in the fresh snow, as if she were a doe. Lee Allen crouched low to the ground as he tracked his prey. He was totally engulfed in this childish game of hide and seek. He came to an abrupt stop. The tracks suddenly ended. He spun around looking for a sign. He looked back toward the clearing, and ahead to the house. Nothing
He looked up in time to see the white of the snowball smack him in the face. As Darcy giggled from her perch, Lee wiped off the snow.
“Come here woman!” a playful, mocking cool tinged his voice.
She climbed down into his arms. He closed his eyes, and leaned in to kiss her. Darcy swiftly pivoted, and grabbing his arm, executed a perfect hip throw that left Lee kissing snow. Darcy giggled with delight as she ran up the hill that led to the house.
Lee recovered quickly. He grunted in a low growl and was again in hot pursuit and closing on the maker of the doe-like prints.
Catching up to her, he gathered her gently in his arms, rolling over to cushion her fall with his body. Over they rolled, over and over again, tumbling down the hill. When they came to rest they lay side-by-side, holding hands, looking happily skyward. Lee began raising his arms, and then scissoring his legs back-and-forth, as though he were doing jumping jacks lying down. Darcy did likewise. They stood together, being careful to not ruin what they had created.
Angels holding hands.
They moved toward the house, knit together almost as one, laughing all the way. Inside they began removing their wet outer garments.
“Oh to be a kid again … that was such fun.” Said a giggling Darcy. “Now I remember why I wait here for you while you’re off gallivanting around the cosmos … because I love you.”
He moved close to her and pulled her to him. “You know why I gallivant around the cosmos?” he murmured as he looked into her eyes, “because I love to come back to you. And because I’m out gallivanting around the cosmos, I want you to remember how good it feels to love someone and to have that someone love you back.” As he moved his muscular arms up around her waist to embrace her, he heard his communicator buzzing.
“I know what that means,” Darcy said, somewhat agitated.
“Wait a minute,” said Lee, “let me see what it’s about before you get yourself all worked up.”
Lee walked into the den, closing the doors behind him, and went over to the Interstellar Satellite Communications monitor in the darkened room. Lee’s finger engaged the receive button of the monitor, which cast an eerie, green glow across his face.
“YOU!” Lee shouted as the face on the monitor came into focus. “What do YOU want?!” The words came from Lee’s mouth like a poised dagger and his shock quickly swelled to anger.
“Watch your mouth, Boy!” snapped a voice from the monitor. “Don’t you know who you’re talking to!?”
The speaker calmed himself, and let the tension of the moment pass. Speaking in a more official tone, he began again. “I have been appointed to Seneschal of the Law Enforcement Branch by the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth of Merchants himself! And I have been instructed, against my better judgement I might add,” he sneered, “to ASK you for your assistance. Personally, I hope you declined so we can get a real professional on the case.”
Lee could not believe the irony of the situation. His most hated enemy, the individual most responsible for him resigning his co-mission appointed to Seneschal and then direct to ‘ASK’ for his assistance. Lee could smell his old friend’s, Senior Executrix Miyori Osuna’s hand in all of this somewhere.
“I don’t have anything to say to you ‘Commander’ Evans.” Lee said through clenched teeth.
“I don’t think you could handle this job anyway, Allen.” Seneschal Evans taunted, aware of Evans obvious disdain. “It’s not one of those easy ‘lost house pet cases you usually work. This is the big time, Allen. Quite frankly, I don’t only contacted you because protocol forces me to. It seems that my ‘superiors’ consider you to be the best and most qualified person to handle this mission.”
“What mission is that, Commander?” Lee asked.
“That’s Seneschal to you,” snapped Evans, leaping to his feet as if he were going to come through the monitor and throttle Allen for his disrespect.
Lee leaned back in his office chair, unaffected by Evan’s reaction, and obviously pleased at the response he was able to garner. “What mission … “Seneschal?” Lee retorted in jest.
Evans composed himself, and slowly sat back down obviously disturbed at his lack of control. “Den Williams,” he began again, his voice returning to its official tone, “was involved in a mass murder and they, I mean - ‘We’ – want – ‘You’ – to bring him in.”
“Me!” Exclaimed Lee in protest. “Oh no!” Now it was Lee’s turn to lose control. He stood up and shook his head adamantly with widened eyes as the memories of past agonies flooded his mind. “I’ve tangled with that madman for the last time. As you’ll recall, I barely escaped with my life last time, and your ‘agency’ was of no use to me at all!”
“Hang on, Allen. An excavation of Williams’ retreat on Parsis uncovered hundreds of bodies, some of them belonged to very important and prominent people. We want you to bring him in to answer for his crimes, past and present. We called you because you’ve dealt with him successfully in the past. Now the mission is yours if you want it. If not…”
“Well, ‘Seneschal Evans’,” Lee mocked, “if you have such a strong case against him why doesn’t your over-staffed military bring him in yourselves?”
“It’s not as simple as that Allen,” replied Evans, “or we would. You see, Den Williams has made his new headquarters on a small out-of-the-way planet called Cala, deep in the Jalisco Sector at a secure and remote location called Pollsmoor. This particular planet is in Losothinian territory. The Losothinian Leader is someone you might remember: Crimean Riazan?”
Lee flinched; he had heard of the Losothinian Leader, Crimean Riazan, before. Not only was he the leader of the Losothinians, he was also spearheading a movement to end commerce with the Commonwealth of Merchants, even at the expense of all-out war.
“Yes,” answered Lee, I’ve heard of him.”
“Good, then you can understand our position in this. We want Den Williams to answer for his crimes, but we dare not make demands for his extradition because of the already stressed relationship between our two governments.
“What you mean to say is that Crimean Riazan doesn’t give a damn about you, your laws, or dealing with the Commonwealth of Merchants at all, now, does he?”
“Ahm …,” Evans cleared his throat, “that’s close enough. Now, do you want this assignment, … or do I get to call a ‘real’ professional?”
Remembering how close he had come to bringing Den Williams down before, Lee thought that now maybe he could take care of some unfinished business and tie up some lose ends for good. “How much?” He asked wearily.
“Let me give you t specifics of the mission, and then we’ll talk price.”
“You’re leaving again aren’t you!” Moisture welled in Darcy’s light brown eyes the second Lee came out of the den.
“What is it this time? Some pillpusher? A runaway? Or maybe just some lousy thief!” Darcy’s voice quivered helplessly. Emotion threatened to choke her words. “What is it!”
“It’s Williams, Den Williams.” Heedless of the dark look that passed over Darcy’s face, Lee continued. “Something about hundreds of people dead and buried on one of his religious communes.
“So, why do you have to go?” Darcy asked wearily, remembering what Lee had gone through the last time. “You’re not in the military, and you’re not the Marshal anymore!” Having spoken her mind, she leaned her head against his chest. “Let them do their own dirty work for once.”
“You know what I am, and you know that this is what I do. They want me because I’m familiar with him and his tactics, and I’ve dealt with him successfully before.”
“I don’t care! What about me? What am I suppose to do? Sit here and put my life on hold until you get back? Or for someone to foreclose on this place before I find out if you’re dead or not?! I don’t think so, Lee!” Darcy raced out of the house, sobbing. The force of the door slamming behind her reverberated throughout the cabin.
Lee walked down the riverbank until he heard a faint sniffling noise coming from behind an overhanging tree. Darcy sat huddled against the tree, her face buried in knees that she had pulled up against her chest. Lee tried to touch her hair. She jerked violently away. He gazed down upon her long, dark, hair, in the shade of the tree that towered over her. The overgrown roots cradled her as if they were arms – perhaps more protective than his own, Lee thought with a twinge of guilt.
“You know,” Lee said as he choked down his motions, “this won’t be an easy mission and I could always use some help. You definitely have some experience,” Tears trickled down his face in salty rivulets as he stared upward into the maze of branches, “… and we do work well together.”
Darcy stood and turned toward Lee. Tears and long strands of hair mingled on her face. With an effort, she stifled her emotions and raised her eyes to meet Lee’s.
“How much does it pay?”