Adult – Soft, Action-Packed Sci-Fi – 115,000 words (OPEN TO QUERIES)
(sample subject to edits. liberal use of profanity, sample is censored)
She’s girl-Han Solo. He’s John Wick in power armor – together, they’re hunting the galaxy’s biggest badass monsters. For anyone who likes the idea of Star Wars x Ironman x Robotech.
Angels is a scrappy go-getting pilot. Locke is a conflicted ex-mercenary, and a hardened killer. Together, they are competing to become Arc Hunters (think bounty-hunting xeno-archaeologists in power armor). Ultimately, Locke and Angels are forced to choose between love, longing, power, or peace. All of this while navigating a future ruled by the whims of faceless corporations and a soulless race of sentient AI that some worship as gods. Oh, and Angels’ robot Brix will steal your heart.
Locke’s voice came over the comm in Angels’ EVA/M suit, cool and warm at the same time. “We’ve found the Arc Hunters alright. Our sensors have picked up a Horuken battle-cruiser in this system – look, we’re gonna be on top of it in a minute.” When Angels didn’t respond, he added with annoyance, “Brix thinks they’ll leave us alone, but… listen, you don’t wanna be out there when we make our pass.”
But Angels did want to be out here, her boots mag-locked to the hull of her ship – the Shrike – with nothing between her and the unknown, hurtling through the limitless dark at terrifying speeds. In fact, she couldn’t think of any place she’d rather be.
Besides, Angels didn’t take orders from anyone, least of all Locke, but she did attempt to take his concern seriously. After all, he was one of only three people in the galaxy that she gave a crap about; even if, technically, her robot Brix wasn’t real people. He still counted though.
The probability that Locke was right irritated her. She should hurry back to the airlock. At this range, the radiation off an unexpected hard scan from the Horuken cruisers’ sensors could fry her like an egg – despite the slip-shields protecting the Shrike. The Horuken were a proud and territorial race, as likely to warn them away as welcome them, but Angels and Locke were here as guests. So maybe Locke was just being overly-cautious. Because, the Horuken presence was why they came all the way out to this system – joining the Arc Hunters’ guild was going to be her ticket to fame and fortune. And, the guild was a Horuken operation. So, he had no right to get all uptight about a sentry-ship or two.
Locke’s continued silence over the comm spoke volumes. Physically, there were only a few meters of hull and air separating them, but between them was the seven-year gap that they’d spent apart; nearly a third of their lives – a black hole in the almost everything-else that they shared. So, when she spoke again it was to Brix that she said, “Hey buddy,” – because that’s what she called the robot. She never called Locke “buddy” because that would be weird. And if they ever managed to sort out their s**t and get together-together, he couldn’t have a nickname like that looming over him.
Neither Locke nor the robot responded. Which was somewhat typical. “I’ve never seen a Horuken cruiser… take us closer,” she urged.
The only response was the sound of static, softly hissing as it washed over the comm. But a moment later, she felt the ship begin a gentle turn.
Locke again, resigned this time, “Brix says we won’t get close enough to annoy them – but I’m still putting on my armor.” Not that it would make any difference.
“Good thinking,” she replied. “We’re not far from the Arc Hunter’s flagship, the G’henna – and I want you to look badass when we get there.”
He didn’t respond to that either. Well, that was fine; she could talk enough for all of them.
As for the cruiser, it turned out to be too far away to be seen with the naked eye. Her suit’s visor had great magnification for close-up repair jobs, but not so much across the vast distances involved with looking at stuff that was, spatially, still relatively close. Ultimately, the imposing Horuken warship was nothing more than a dot on her hud, one which thankfully let them pass unmolested, not bothering to either scan or obliterate them. A minor victory, yes, but also a missed opportunity.
Slightly disappointed, she boosted over to the starboard airlock – which was further away than the portside one. Less convenient, but also more accessible on account of the portside lock doubling as Brix’s quarters. He was a big old robot, and wouldn’t fit anywhere else except the cargo hold – and they needed that for storing actual loot, and weapons, and stuff. All of which were currently in short supply.
A lot was riding on what they’d find on the G’henna.
Angels punched the release on the airlock, watching the icy puff of residual moisture and gasses float gently over the worn hull. The Shrike wasn’t a big ship. And it wasn’t pretty. Basically, it was a sleeked-up scav-job. A mismatched patchwork cobbled together from better ships, with none of the good mods. Except for the engine core, which was pretty awesome. And the Shrike was all hers. Plus, it came with additional perks – like Brix, and Locke, when he wasn’t being difficult.
Fighting the airlock’s sticky hatch-lever, she made her way through the swishing iris, the walls sputtering and hissing as the pressure equalized enough for her to shimmy out of her EVA/M suit. Then through another iris – in her skivvies – peeking both ways before scooting into a cramped central hallway filled to overflowing with assorted plas-lok containers.
She slipped inside her tiny cabin – across the corridor from Locke’s – and shut the door behind her, quickly checking the vidpanel to confirm they were entering the Mrh’sheva system. Where the G’henna was waiting.
Angels changed into her light-grey bodysuit, quickly, letting her hair down and swiping her bangs out of her eyes. They swayed back the other way as the suddenly ship lurched. She called out, “Brix, you forget how to fly?”
The robot’s response over the ship’s comm came quickly, flat and monotonous. “Rocky debris.”
“Anything I should be concerned about?”
Fine. Brix could handle the flying better than any of them. The robot’s “brain” consisted of all of the ship’s original nav-computer, and half of Brix’s original hardwire – much of that old enough to qualify as ancient. They hadn’t made a Botto-Robotto model IX for a very long time. But, like the Shrike, at least he patched up well enough.
As the craft braked the swaying subsided, slightly. Slip-shields worked wonders at speeds nearing FTL, but not so much on slow approach. She steadied her progress aft using the overhead rails, excited, easing into the cargo bay – but not before calling out, “Are you decent?”
Locke grunted, and she chose to interpret that as an affirmative response – but with things so tight aboard the Shrike, decent was a fuzzy term anyway.
And then, there he was, dark and handsome. Looking like a proper killer on account of the hard-earned, scarred, green-black Combat Suit he was presently climbing into. And because he was a killer. He’d become one in “the gap” – the seven years they’d spent apart, but the killing was one of those things they didn’t talk about.
It was hard to believe that he’d become a mercenary, of all things. Well, ex-mercenary… but what did that matter now? At least he’d acquired himself a useful trade. Or maybe he’d just made the best of a bad situation – like she’d done. Still, there was so much that she wanted to ask. But, on the other hand, Angels didn’t want to invite too many questions about her own past.
Locke gave her a nod as the armor folded itself around his body, its internal bolts whirring away, sealing him in – except for the helmet, which was still sitting on a workbench.
The rest of the cargo bay was filled with a few small containers – they’d need to offload them for a good price if they were going to keep on eating and flying.
Noticing her sideways glance, he said, “Don’t worry about those, we always get by.”
Locke was a terrible liar – but she gave him a smile anyway, adjusting her long white coat. The Tri-Gun strapped to her right thigh was a little too big to be holstered that way but she liked having it within easy reach.
“You’ll grow into it,” said Locke.
“Hilarious,” she replied. And then, “We can’t bring anything bigger aboard the G’henna.”
“Don’t look so disappointed, we’ll get there. Big guns, good times, buckets full of credits – that’s what all this is about.”
Not answering, he fussed with his sidearm. It was a boxy black military job but not a great one. Universal Mechanics kit proudly advertised itself as a practical blend of price and performance. He said, “And if it doesn’t work out?”
It was a good question. “What are you getting at?”
“We didn’t come all the way out here to sell cargo.”
“I’m assuming you have a point.”
“We don’t have an Arc Hunting sanction,” he said, proving that he’d been paying attention all along. They’d need a sanction if they were going to make this Arc Hunting thing work – that, or they’d have to fly under someone else’s.
Angels adjusted her belt, paying close attention to the buckle. “Yeah, well…”
“Those big tickets are out of reach, and we can’t afford one anyway. Which means you’re angling to crew for an outfit…” but he trailed off when he saw Angels’ nonchalant expression flicker. “You want to join a crew? Seriously? The deal was… me and you.”
“What if I said that we could work our way up -”
“- from nothing?”
She crossed her arms, “Look where we are now. Teaming up with an established outfit would give us a leg up. Sure, we’ve done okay on our own, but we’re on our last legs here – and I’m not ready to call it quits. We need this opportunity. Any opportunity.”
He huffed, “You know what our share would come to? As supplementary crew? I’d be just another meat-shield, and it wouldn’t even be enough to cover our expenses … Then where’d we be? And you? A glorified scavver?”
“Or a pilot. I have many talents.” She gave his armor a hard jab, more for emphasis than anything else. “I’m no scavver, and I’m nobody’s slave. Corporate or otherwise. You know what I want – to see proper planets. Fly anywhere. With nobody to stop me. Nobody to challenge me. And I’ll take what I want – when I want it. And I’d like you to be there while I’m doing it.”
“Uh-huh. I’m just imagining how I’d fit in.”
“Are you s**ting me right now Locke? You want the same thing!”
He checked the big gun too. The one that she knew he didn’t like to leave behind and wouldn’t be able to bring aboard the G’henna. He was looking at it, not her, when he said, “We’ve been doing ok.”
“Ok isn’t enough for me.”
“But… I don’t see how… there’s other ways… Angie, I…”
Angels. She was Angels now. “Ugh. What, you figure us for some kind of settlers, is that it? Sign up on a fifty-year corporate billet? Join a colony? Maybe we could get a nice spot in the shadow of a terraformer. Somewhere green. I can see it now… fields of FarmUltra Q-Wheat blowing in the wind, a piece of straw whistling between your teeth. Locke the farmer. Swords to ploughshares. And me? Grown fat on a larder-world, homesteading with a couple of nugs nipping at my heels? Sounds lovely, but if that’s your take, then you can keep it.”
Locke grinned, “Sounds charming.”
“I dare you – settle down and see if you can make an honest woman out of me.”
“You’ll never be an honest woman, Angels.”
He was smart too. “So?”
“Alright, you called my bluff. No qwheat. No cabin. Not now anyway… there’s time enough for that if we get a chance to grow old. Besides, I’m all done with joining other people’s causes.”
“You see? That’s what I’m talking about. You don’t want to go back to your hell, nor me to mine, neither. So, where does that leave us? You could pick up with SecPol, keeping the civvies in line – but you’d hate it. And I’d find something… I always do. But that’s not the life that I want.”
“Where do you come up with this s**t?”
“What’s your strategy then?”
“I found you. That’s as far as I went, plan-wise.”
“So, what the hell were you thinking about all that time you were gone?”
He set the gun down, shrugging large because of the armor. “Dunno, mostly I thought about surviving another day. Catching up with you. Getting a few drinks. A shower, maybe.”
“I hope it wasn’t in that order.”
“I didn’t realize you had hopes.”
She’d had many, but she said, “Not for the long-haul.” She was talking to a cargo-crate at this point, avoiding eye-contact and referring to their shared-but-separate upbringing on the same multi-system convoy. Ships that spent months or years going in one direction, and then months or years doing the same thing, but the other way around. She said, “You wouldn’t go back, would you?”
A ping from Brix rang over the comm, saving Angels from the prospect of taking the conversation any further. She turned, fiddling with the controls for the big vidpanel on the back wall. After a moment, the forward view came up, revealing the Mrh’sheva system. She sensed Locke tensing up. But it was just a single star on the edge of Horuken space bordering the insectoid Rodan Infestation. No big deal. Not anymore. The four living species were all friends again. For now.
Angels knew that the Horuken and the Rodan had been at war for ages. Until just recently, in fact. But it didn’t take long for the big corporations to capitalize on the cessation of hostilities. Systems like Mrh’sheva opened up for business just as soon as the gunships left. This particular star was of little value to the bear-like Horuken, but the dead planets and asteroid fields orbiting it were plenty interesting to Exoris, the civilized galaxy’s biggest mining corp. But the planets were gone now and today the system was no more than a few billion comets and asteroids circling the solar drain.
Nobody knew exactly how Exoris f**ed it all up, but the planets were long gone and now the remaining debris was currently winding its way into the sun’s gravity well. Exoris shut their operation down and got out before they could be blamed for messing up the local sector even more than the war had. There was probably some sort of liability there too, legally speaking.
Either way, the view was beautiful: doomed cometoids slowly making their last decaying orbit into the sun, one side heating up, giving off trails of brilliant white. Not just water-vapor, but also trace minerals, metallic elements, and radioactive particles. Spectacular to watch, but a total pain in the ass to navigate – thus the occasional lurching and swaying.
“Way to go, buddy,” she said encouragingly into her comm, wanting Brix to know that he was doing a good job.
Locke kept his eyes on the screen. “So, we catch up with the G’henna… and then we try getting a couple of crew-slots with an Arc Hunting outfit…”
“Come on, it’s not like you to get cold feet.”
He grunted. “Angels, I’m with you, ok? But they’re going to laugh us off the G’henna… we’re not prepared for this. We could come back another time. Try to get another docking pass – by the way, how did you get us this docking pass?”
“I’m a creative problem solver. Besides, you have that fancy armor of yours.”
He shook his head. “On the G’henna, this kit’s not going to impress anyone, trust me. With enough credits, and your social skills, we could get ourselves a scouting ticket… sure, we’d have to start at the bottom, but I guess it would be something… But we don’t have enough credits. And besides, Arc Scouts are basically scavvers – you know that right?”
She felt that Locke was being difficult on purpose. “It’s a legit way to earn to a lot of credits… do you have any idea how much those contracts are worth? Even at the low end? Give it a couple of years and we could move up the ranks.”
“Even if we could swing it, parading me in front of a bunch of hardened hunters, begging for handouts isn’t much of a plan.”
Angels gave him a stern glare. “You should be as happy for us as I am, Locke. That’s what I think. This could really change our lives. And the part I haven’t told you yet, is this… there’s some kind of rogue Horuken carrier that’s been lurking around this system. It must have got itself lost in the war against the Rodan, or something. Whatever the case, its back now, and its been disrupting the local shipping lanes… and that means Exoris has slapped a huge corporate bounty on its ass. The contract’s open for kill or capture, but the payout’s double for a capture. The only tiny little catch is that it’s open to Arc Hunters. Exclusively. Thus, our current mission: we get onto the G’henna, get ourselves crewed, get the loot and – last but not least – we get rich. Are you following me Locke, or am I going too fast for you?”
Locke did that surly thing that he often did with his eyes, and said, “A Horuken carrier?”
“You, me, and the Shrike.”
“Right. That’ll tip the scales. I can’t wait to hear how you’re planning to capture it.”
“Who said anything about -”
And that was when Brix announced, “Docking sequence initiated.”
Angels had to steady herself against Locke as the deck tilted. Comets and asteroids slewed slantwise across the vidpanel as the G’henna and its accompanying armada swam into view.
She felt her breath catch in her throat – despite all the rocks swirling around, the G’henna had managed to find a vast bit of void in which to set up basecamp. The Arc Hunting guild’s flagship stood out like a broken sideways spear, the sun’s light glinting off its edge, setting it on fire. The G’henna was massive, its configuration identifying it to the sensors as a Governance flagship. It had been that, once. Designated the Grsh’hrenna, meaning “the rending of limbs” in the growling Horuken tongue. The galactic Governance had commissioned the carrier as an offering to the bears. Back when they finally agreed to come into the fold. But that was then; now it was the Arc Hunter’s main base of operations.
It was a good setup, because the guild had a stranglehold on sanctioned freelance work. The lower echelons – scavvers and unsanctioned bounty hunters – operated on the fringes of legality, while real Arc Hunters had access to the best contracts, the awesome power of AR|C suits, high grade weaponry, and a whole lot more.
“Fuck me,” whispered Angels as Brix brought the Shrike beneath the G’henna, its turrets and launch tubes sliding by, reminding anyone who may have gotten any big ideas to reconsider them.
The flagship was surrounded by an armada – the most notable vessels to Angels’ eye were a pair of hedgehog-like Governance battle cruisers. Because the Governance didn’t like to fly its own flag on anyone’s behalf. Including itself. It usually contracted the heavy lifting to the various mercenary banners. The mercs, obviously, were mostly if not wholly owned by the corps. And the corps formed the big conglomerates that held the Governance together. They made up its membership and filled its political structure from within their own self-interested ranks. Like a Rodan birthing-circle, everyone eating each other’s larva.
As the Shrike passed through the docking bay’s force-field, Brix announced, “Landing… Angels, acknowledge.”
Her ears popped as the docking computer matched the Shrike’s internal pressure with the G’henna’s. She said, “Thanks Brix, meet us at the cargo hatch, will you?”
She punched the release on the ramp and a gigantic hangar slid into view in jerky stages. She’d have to fix the servos, eventually. He made it down all the same, revealing small to mid-sized ships slurping up or disgorging cargo as dock crew scurried back and forth beneath them. Mechanics were everywhere – installing sensors and mods. Tweaking hardpoints. Upgrading sub-systems. They’d be making a killing on ship like this, but Angels didn’t want to fix ships for a living. The Shrike had been her last mech-job, meant to take her away from all that.
She was here as a customer. Or posing as one. At least until she could afford to live the sort of life that she’d like her and Locke to become accustomed to.
And she clearly wasn’t the only one. Many ships bore damage, wearing their scars with pride – meant to look rugged. Like their owners, who strutted around the docking pylons or stomped purposefully in front of their competition in full armor.
Locke was right. His armor wasn’t going to impress these people. But it wouldn’t do any good for wither of them to dwell on that. If she had to pick some asshole in a shiny suit or Locke in his old deathtrap, she knew who she’d bet on. Count on.
Still, there were plenty of bad-asses to go around. Arc Hunters lingered everywhere in their high-end gear, creating pockets of predatory stillness in the ebb and flow around them.
Now that she was finally here, Angels was doubly sure that this was the life she wanted for herself. Locke too. Belonging to the Arc Hunter’s exclusive guild was only a small part of the draw. There was also the money to consider.
She was born for this – not some quiet cabin on a colony. The galaxy was divided into shepherds and sheep, and she wanted to be a wolf.
It didn’t matter that the Shrike looked janky and out of place. Angels could blow off its scavvy appearance with a casual aside, a subtle wink, or a sly grin – hinting at hidden powers the ship didn’t possess. After all, most things were all about presentation, and they presented well – her and Locke.
She tried her best not to make her smile too obvious as she sauntered down the ramp and into the fray.
Locke’s expression was grim as he picked up his helmet, letting it hang limply at his side while he took a few steps forward. Half-turning, he considered the weapon rack beside the armor-bench – but then again, if they needed to shoot their way out of here, they were in real trouble.
Turning back, he wasn’t surprised that Angels had already disappeared down the ramp, buzzing with energy. He knew that by the time she reached the bottom he might have a hard time finding her again. She was good at melting into crowds. Becoming one with them. Some kind of energy-chameleon.
Coming here had been a bad idea – but Locke was well used to accepting other people’s bad decisions and making the best of them. Then again, Angels had a habit of being right, or lucky. His job was to fill in when she couldn’t swing one or the other.
He sighed, stopping at the edge of the ramp. Dockworkers, loader-bots, up-armored dickheads, and civvies in corporate livery milled everywhere, but that was to be expected. He’d find a quiet place just as soon as Angels sealed the deal. Speaking of which, he spied a block of short-term accommodations behind the mech-bays. This one was aptly named the Fire and Forget.
Every port had lodgings like the F&F. Temporary bunks were always in high demand. All of these spacers, going from one hangar to the next, hopping from one place to the next, one bunk to the next – then moving on again. Most people spent weeks, months, or years in the relative solitude of the great divide, taking comfort where and when they could find it. But Locke and Angels weren’t here for that.
With every step he took down the ramp, he could feel his focus sharpening – muscles tensing, then “relaxing” into an easy coil. He let the din of the cargo bay wash over him, isolating the important sounds. As he flexed his fingers, he visualized drawing his weapon on a new target. A breath. A shot. And the next breath light – as the target fell – like he had stolen it from them.
Outwardly, he appeared to walk easily, making his way down the ramp, looking right and not seeing Angels. But he saw Brix, wading through the crowd toward a large window overlooking the assembled armada. Angels had her back to the crowd she’d come to seduce, long and elegant in her white coat and blonde hair. Relaxed. Confident.
“Brix,” he called out, but the robot ignored him, doggedly heading toward Angels. Then he said, “Cargo!” into his comm. “Remember what Angels said about the cargo?”
Brix stopped suddenly in mid-stride, in that freaky way that old bots did, turning its head back toward the Shrike.
Locke said, “That’s right. She wanted you to unload – and guard the loot while we find a buyer.”
“Angels might need my assistance.”
“I’ll take real good care of her. Don’t you worry about a thing,” he said. Brix’s subroutines were nothing if not predictable.
“Acknowledged,” it said, making its way back toward the ship and clunking resentfully up the ramp past Locke.
“And close up when you’re done, will you?” he said, but Brix pretended not to hear him.
The bot’s reaction made Locke uncomfortable, and that was a problem. He was angry at himself for letting the robot get to him. Then again, maybe it was just G’henna – filled with overbearing preeners, like that pair of preeners two bays over. They were wearing shiny silver AR|C suits that probably cost more than the Shrike and everything in it, including Angels and Locke. Undoubtedly bought with corporate funds siphoned off by well-meaning relatives. Having an Arc Hunter in the family could be useful, even if those two would never see any real action. Meanwhile, they’d get to feel a little bit dangerous without ever actually getting their hands dirty.
However, the majority of these hunters were dangerous – the rich kids just helped to subsidize the show underway. The authentic hunters were easy to pick out. Many had well-worn but carefully maintained gear. A mix of old and new. With an attention to detail and an awareness that didn’t come from overly relying on their sensors. People who’d done some shooting and felt comfortable enough to do it again – despite having someone else shoot back at them. It was also possible that Locke had crossed paths with one or two of them, but if they were all still here, maybe not. Whatever. There were no banners aboard the G’henna.
On his way over to Angels, in the docking pad next to the Shrike’s, he spotted a vessel that identified itself as the Last Gasp. A Cygnus Heavy Industries lancer. Good in a firefight, but with enough room to drop a squad straight into the shit. A better than decent ship. Flashy, but solid.
A big Horuken in full AR|C stood at the bottom of its cargo ram, big and puffy, almost half as tall again as Locke in his Combat Suit, Mark One. An ArmaGhede coilgun rested in its armored grip. Either the bear hadn’t gotten the memo about heavy armament aboard the G’henna, or it had special dispensation. But, if it was the latter, then why was it down here slumming it, and not a few decks above, where the sanctioned hunters had their assigned berths?
But, at the end of the day, armored Horuken weren’t his problem anymore – though the man Locke saw standing beside Angels might be.
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