EC – Personal Log – 0120053118 – The Flaxtor Carrier Pigeons of Death – Part 2
For the record, some history.
Flaxtor was a nice quiet planet on the far edge of the Katakan Nebula. Even after hole-jumps started to boom, Flaxtor was not on the list of places to go. It was a simple, basic planet that filled a hole in space.
That is until Textr Crimm happened to make a jump into Simmaer, he says on purpose, but others say not so much. There he “discovered” a population of peaceful, trusting inhabitants who were also – a pushover. They were adept at making miniature electronics, mostly for the creation of music, art and furthering ideas through advanced artistic expression – almost like what they might call “high functioning hippies” on Earth back in the day.
Crimm also “discovered” the Flaxtorian invention we now call “Pops”, a super-advanced nano-technology that induces mental euphoria with hallucinogenic properties that not only make the artificial seem more real than real, but it also taps into and feeds the pleasure centers of the brain heightening imagination for what is described simply as the highest of highs.
Crimm went to work exploiting his new finds immediately and in short order, Flaxtor devolved from a quiet oasis into one of the six most accessible, and officially Union ordained, public pleasure planets within several universes. Or, as one might better refer to as one of six supremely universal shit holes.
I’m not sure what it is about artificially altered mind-states, or the ability to induce artificially altered mind-states that makes people crazy. Maybe the question is its own answer. Either way, once somebody knows there is a new way to escape from what they carry around in their heads all day, they get hell-bent on trying it. Once they try it, most can’t forget it and have to get it again. Once there is a stable demand, there’s always someone like Crimm working to control the supply – or at least monetizing it. And as history shows, that generally leads to all kinds of unsavory behavior.
That brings me to the Shags. There wasn’t much of a law enforcement function on Flaxtor because, for the most part, it wasn’t needed. Flaxtorians lived in some near Utopian, peaceful mindset where everything was all good all of the time. Even now, the Shags aren’t really for the Flaxtorians as they are to better control the off-world elements. That’s where all the big trouble comes from.
And for beings that lived in harmony most of their lives, those drafted into the Shag corps seemed to take right to the military-grade training they got from humanity, and other more militant civilizations, making them a force to reckon with – at least when one was outnumbered.
As I struggled to get my eyes adjusted to the beaming light, without making any sudden moves, I counted five Shags total. Five was a lot. That was about four more than you’d see on a routine investigation of any kind and about five more than you’d see anywhere during sleep hours. Certainly, more than you’d see in a fairly non-descript alley where no crime was taking place. At least as far as I knew. So, what’s the give?
The incredible light, made brighter by the dimness of the alley came courtesy of cell drones. One of the Shags pulled radial blasters, one in each hand, and trained one on me and one on Strom. Two shags stepped into the light with the shade shields down on their helmets and grabbed Strom while two stepped out of the darkness behind me, seizing my arms and pushing us closer together.
Having a radial blaster pointed at you is deterrent enough to avoid any sort of resistance. Best case scenario, if and when it works like it’s supposed to, it stuns the assailant to the point of temporary paralysis. As you recover and the feeling moves back into your body, you get one hell of a headache as a reminder not get yourself into situations where you might get blasted again. That’s a fresh weapon mind you, straight out of the box.
Most of the time, however, someone gets to tinkering with them. Quite often the safety sticks on them so that’s the first thing to get hacked away. Then there’s the aiming beacon, the power regulation, blast recovery cycle time… the long and the short of it is you never really know what you’re gonna get when one of those things goes off. Depending on the settings, if those are still operational at all, and depending on who’s using it, at it’s worst, I’ve seen it basically gut a man in seconds from the inside out, leaving little more than a smoking husk to sweep up after the party’s over.
“YOU GIVE ANSWERS!” the voice repeated.
“Of course, of course,” Strom warbled. “We are more than happy to help!”
“STATE THE NATURE OF THIS BUSINESS!”
Now, I don’t know a whole lot about Flaxtorian anatomy, but I think Strom was sweating.
And my intent was straight enough, I’m just here to pick up the thing and tap out of here. But before I could open my mouth, Strom changed the whole dynamic.
“There is no business here, sirs,” forcing his mouth to smile as he spoke. “I came out for some air after a long day, and this man is passerby.”
“YOU HAD BUSINESS. STATE NATURE OF BUSINESS.”
“Business? There was no busi…,” Strom’s voice stopped quick as a muffled, scratchy recording of his own words filled the air.
“BE CAREFUL DIS, YES? HOT. HOT. HOT.”
Then it was official, small streams of sweat limped across Strom’s course features.
“Oh that,” he said in a more high-pitched warble. “That was nothing. Just me commenting to a passerby on how it is such a warm evening.”
“Look,” I said as plainly as possible. “Nobody did anything here. I’m just here to…”
“He was lost!” Strom blurted out. “I was gived him directions.”
“PROVIDED INFORMATION IS FALSIFIED.”
“No,” Strom said, “This is all the true. This man was lost, looking for his tap-out. I was gived him directions and he was on to go.”
“PROVIDED INFORMATION IS FALSIFIED. TAP IS CANCELLED. AWAIT TRANSPORT OT CENTRAL.”
My mind flew. Central?! We need to go to Central for this? I ran through all the things I could recall about this job from the moment Bodie Marcum contacted me at the start.
Blah, blah, blah, Flaxtor, blah, blah, blah, get turbo-drive, blah, blah, blah, in and out quick and easy, blah, blah, blah, fast money.
Nope. I wasn’t missing anything. Bodie’s not much of a talker, but he was always one to give me a head’s up if he thought things would go sideways on a job. There were no clues about Shags getting involved and certainly no information about ending up in Central. I’m a good boy. At least, I’ve been a good boy on this trip. Straight business.
Where Flaxtor was seen as a pleasure planet, Central, the primary criminal holding, and processing center was anything but. Outside of the Shags who did the footwork, the real peacekeeping effort was all outsourced to Cankton-Ho. This giant off-world conglomerate provided criminal handling and prison resources to multiple systems. They prided themselves on incredible success with rehabilitating the damaged members of many societies. That was the print anyhow. The fact is Central, formally known as the Cankton-Ho Criminal Restoration Corporation, was as reliable at prisoner reform as a hacked radial blaster. You knew what the intent was, but the end result was anybody’s guess. Many people who ended up in Central, even for small and seemingly trivial infractions, were often never heard from again.
I never signed up for a trip to Central and since I accomplished my objective and had the drive tucked neatly away in my pocket, it was clear to me that my business here was done. True, it sounded like the Shags had eliminated my current tap-out, but that was a temporary problem The bigger problem was staying upright, whole and free long enough to find a new tap-out and get the hell out of here.
The mention of Central caused Strom’s breathing to hitch and wherever the heart of that creature resided within that bulbous mass, I was certain it just hit-skipped up a few notches to where – for whatever reason – full panic was about to take over. The broad, artificial smile he worked so hard on faded to nothing as his eye grew wide. He started to shake.
Damned if I ever heard such a thing in my whole life before or since, and I’ve heard and seen some shit, but the noise that tore out of Strom in that moment, that ear-piercing, head-splitting scream, threw us all out of whack.
Strom’s body pulsed and recoiled. His hands shot to his ears, and while I don’t think he had any intention of resisting or escape, an eye in the moment could see it as such and it did. The Shag with the blasters turned both on Strom and fired.
The intensity of the scream began anew as Strom’s body jerked in response to the blast. He was on fire. The two Shags holding him must have been newer for they forgot that much like electricity, the pulse of a radial blaster runs through whatever, or whomever the target is in contact with. They forgot to let go in time and in seconds, their screams joined him.
The Shag who fired quickly held the guns up before him as if what happened was so disconnected from what expected that he needed to see if the guns were in fact what he thought they were. In any other instance, the gaze would have been comical.
In the same instance, the tight grips on my arms loosened and the Shags holding me dropped my arms to shield their faces from the spectacle before them, even though they came in with face shields down.
Chance is a fickle mistress. For as ugly as things got as fast as we got there, I learned enough in my travels to know that when a chance comes along – you take it. I stood there watching, trying to process everything that was going on until that moment when a single word flashed across my mind.
turned *Editor’s note:
To read other fantastic tales, search for Emory Crisp at the top of the page.
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