Planet of the Dead (Part Seven).

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Dexter Grey had assembled the crew of the Abyss in order to explain what he had encountered aboard the garbage scow.  He paced back and forth in front of the crew nervously.  Macy noted that he did not seem like his usual calm and collected self.  It seemed to her that he was having trouble catching his breath and containing his racing thoughts.  He didn’t seem to know how to address the crowd, but finally he took a deep breath and raked his hands through his spiky, black hair beginning to speak. 

Macy leaned forward in her chair.  She had never seen Dexter like this in all the time that she had known him.  She knew that Dexter had a crush on her and he sometimes acted goofy around her, honestly she just hoped he would make his move soon, she was tired on waiting on him.  This was different though, she had never seen him like this.  He seemed terrified and unsure of himself.  She stared at him trying to will him to speak.  

“So, I don’t know how exactly to say this, but the people about the scow were dead,” Dexter began looking around, his eyes darting about wildly as if at any moment he expected something to lunge at him from a dark corner of the room.  

“Is that why you called this meeting?  Is that what’s gotten you so twisted up?  You’ve seen dead people tons of time…  Get over it and let’s get going we got a pay day just ’round the corner,” Hunter interrupted.

“It wasn’t that they were dead that freaked me out… they were dead, but they still moved…. They were like corpses that had somehow been reanimated… They tried to bite me… I think they were hungering for my flesh… Or maybe it’s a virus… and that’s how they transmit it… I dunno… I just know that freaky shit just went on in that scow,” Dexter reported not bothering to sink to Hunter’s level of childish insults.  Macy didn’t know if this was because he was so focused or because he was so frightened.  She didn’t know which she would prefer.  

“Bah, that’s just a bunch of silk spin, they used to try and scare us with those bunter tales when we our first hunts, buncha lettle shuf, if you ask me,” Ravage replied gruffly seemingly only irritated at being called to this meeting.  

The triplets were cowering in a huddle next to each other.  They were clearly scared, they must’ve heard similar stories around campfires when they were really young.  Everyone else in the room seemed to be familiar with stories about such creature, but everyone else had the wherewithal to regard them as simple spook stories.  Deliah placed her hand on Ravage’s calming him and concentrating on putting him in a better mood.  His aggressive behavior would do nothing to help them figure this situation out.  Ronto was quiet, which was not odd in of itself, but once the creatures had been mentioned he seemed to take on a brooding air.  Finally, he spoke.  

“I have heard of these creatures before.  They have been spoken of extensively in the legends of many worlds and many beings through out the galaxy.  This is an evil portent,” Ronto finished thoughtfully stroking the part of his mane that hung from his lower jaw.  While he spoke he had faced the assemblage, but now he turned his back on them, once again staring out the view port at the garbage scow that was rotating lazily before them, held completely by the whims of the gravity wells created in the void beyond their space ship.  

“An evil portent?” Doc asked seeking expansion on their Captain’s cryptic statement.  

“It is said the when the end times begin these creatures and other minor aberrations will become apparent in reality.  If the legends are to be believed then this means that the walls of reality are starting to weaken,” Ronto answered gazing out at the crew, he seemed to be scrutinizing them, trying to see something that was indiscernible to everyone but him.  

“What does this mean for us?” Deliah asked looking at Ronto with concern etched on her face.  

“It may mean, that my quest was begun too late, this has been the very thing I have been trying to prevent.  The being behind all of this may be one of the most malevolent and powerful forces in the entire universe.  It might be down to us to stop it, but first we’ve got to get down to the planetoid and contain this… outbreak,” Ronto explained.  

“So, what exactly makes them like that?  The living dead?” Dexter asked, clearly having a better idea of what they were dealing with than anybody else.  

“Some postulate that it is a disease, some call it a curse, I think it is both as well as something in between,” Ronto said peering intently intoo Dexter’s eyes, his horns beginning to glow with a light, blue aura.  

“What about this entity, you spoke of?” Macy wondered aloud.  

“I will speak to you all about that after we have finished planet-side.  Until then, know that we are in a war with unnatural abominations that threaten the fabric of reality itself,” Ronto replied preparing to leave the bridge.  

“But what do we do about the ship?” Hunter asked.  

“We do what has to be done,” Ronto said punching the buttons on the device on his wrist.  This device allowed Ronto to remotely connect with the ships main computer.  He could control the ship as long as it was in range of the signal of the device.  The crew of the Abyss watched as the garbage scow was ripped apart by plasma blasts ending in a fiery explosion that left only useless slag in its wake that would burn up in the planetoids atmosphere.  

“Everybody prepare yourselves, we just entered a war,” Ronto concluded as he left the bridge leaving the assembled party sitting there slack jawed.  

           

   

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Planet of the Dead (Part Six)

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Dexter Grey stood before the open hatch that led to the outside of the Abyss.  He stood in the hatchway staring out into the void with only his spacesuit to offer him any protection from the vacuum.  As they were on their way to the Puzzle Box they had intercepted a distress signal just as Ronto had predicted.  Usually, his intuition was frighteningly accurate.  This instance was no different.  They had diverted their course and headed for point of origin of the distress signal.  It was a small garbage scow.  It looked to be small so instead of sending a large boarding party, Dexter had opted to go alone.  They had scanned the scow with their sensors and it seemed that all the life support systems had been shut down and nothing appeared to be alive on board, but Ronto had still advised Dexter to exercise caution.  

Dexter’s space suit was tethered to the Abyss, it was his umbilical that would provide him with oxygen and power his suit.  There had been no way to dock with the scow so it looked like Dexter was going to have to spacewalk to it.  This, of course, was a misnomer as he wouldn’t actually be walking.  He was going to jump from the Abyss which was still generating a gravitational field into the vastness of the empty space all around him.  He would be weightless as he floated toward the dead scow, his momentum carrying him across the distance between the two ships.  Spacewalks were always unnerving affairs, because if anything went wrong there was a strong possibility of being lost in the void; to free float until your oxygen ran out and you suffocated to death.  It would be akin to being lost at sea, but an endless infinite sea.  

Dexter poised on the edge of the ship ready to make the leap.  He paused for just a second making sure he was aimed at the entry hatch of the other vessel.  Then he lept from the security of his ship and through the chasm between the two ships.  He felt his stomach jump as weightlessness overcame his senses, but he steadied himself for impact against the other ship.  He grabbed onto one of the metal bars to either side of the hatch.  If he would’ve missed that, he would’ve had to pull himself back to the Abyss using the umbilical and then try again.  Luckily, he managed to get a firm grasp the first time he tried.  He reached into his utility belt and pulled free a small box that he attached to the code entry device on the hatch of the scow.  These devices were used by security and emergency personal to override a ship’s entry codes.  This one was a black market version modified for many clandestine activities; highly illegal in civilized space.  

Dexter hung weightless in the void waiting for the tiny box to perform its magic trick and open the floating vault before him.  The door opened a few seconds later.  Had they been in an atmosphere rich environment Dexter would’ve heard several beeps and finally a click signalling the devices success, but out in the void there was nothing to transmit the sound.  He entered the ship cautiously.  The bay toward the rear of the ship was large, but empty.  That was curious, Dexter had expected it to be filled with tightly bound squares of compacted refuse, but it was empty.  The ship must’ve malfunctioned and rocketed into space before the life supports could be engaged, but why would Ronto have foreseen that?  That seemed like a pretty mundane occurrence.  

This brought Dexter’s thoughts to his Captain.  He was a Kalipian, but little was known about their species.  Dexter had tried to do research on their biological make up and physiology, by hacking into the Grand Cortex of Information, but even with that vast database he had come up with little that explained his Captain.  He didn’t know if premonitions were common among his people or if Ronto was simply gifted among his race, but it didn’t really matter, because Ronto had long proven that his insights were usually spot on.  Dexter proceeded with  caution to the cockpit.  

What he found caused his breath to catch in his lungs and his heart to momentarily pause as he viewed the grim and dismal scene.  He saw two bodies.  One of which floated aloft in the gravity free space.  The other remained strapped into the pilot’s seat, they were both humans or at the very least humanoid species.  The pilot had a huge chunk missing from his neck.  There were chunks of frozen blood floating all through the cockpit.  It appeared as if the free floating person had attacked the pilot.  The passenger looked sick or had been sick when he was still alive.  His skin was pale and broken comprised of huge gashes all over.  Dexter looked at the pilot and noticed that he had several gashes too.  Then he realized it was from where their blood had frozen and burst forth from their veins.  Dexter floated forward and attached the small black box that had opened the door to the main computer console hoping to retrieve a log of what had happened here.  As he waited for the gadget to retrieve the information he floated in space looking at the passenger which whirled slowly just to the left of his peripheral vision, which was limited due to the helmet of his suit.  

Dexter felt something grab his arm and he turned his head feeling full terror as he saw the passenger looming over him in the weightless topsy-turvy world of zero gravity.  He regarded the passenger trying to lunge at him with gnashing, biting teeth.  He shoved the passenger backward but the action caused not only the passenger to fly backward, but also propelled Dexter back through the door into the cargo area of the scow.  The creature was somehow living in this vacuum and sluggishly tried to move forward by reaching out with its grasping hands.  Dexter didn’t know what to do, but he had to go back into the cockpit to retrieve his black box.  The creature moved slowly and sluggishly, even in zero gravity relying only on the jerky, uncoordinated movements of its momentum to carry it forth, it didn’t seem to realize how to move in this environment.  Its legs kicked uselessly as it rotated slowly, floating in space, still gnashing its teeth.  

Dexter pushed himself forward, propelling toward the cockpit like a bullet from a gun.  He maneuvered to the console to retrieve his black box keeping a careful eye on the floating creature writhing before him as it rotated slowly in a circle.  Dexter grabbed the black box and disconnected it, never taking his eyes off the creature.  That was when he felt something grab his left arm and he looked down only to see the pilot thrashing against his harness.  It had a firm grasp on his arm and tried to bit through his space suit.  It was unable to tear through the thick material, but still it scared Dexter.  He pushed off with his foot propelling himself backward, but he was locked in place by the firm grip of the pilot.  Dexter tried to pull away, but the creature that the pilot had revealed itself to be held him fast.  He reached down to his utility belt and tried to pull his plasma pistol free but that’s when the other creature lunged tearing at his other arm.  The pistol was torn free and floated uselessly in space just out of his grasp.  Thinking quickly he pushed the button that held the pilot in place.  The button released the harness causing the creature a moment of surprise at the weightless sensation.  Dexter grabbed the pilot and flung him into the other creature before beating a hasty retreat from the scow.  He had to get back to the Abyss and tell the others what he had found.  

                   

Planet of the Dead (Part Five)

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Ronto left Dexter Grey on the bridge of the Abyss.  He knew that Dexter had been confused by his cryptic statements following the briefing.  It had not been his intention to be cryptic, but sometimes things just occurred to him.  They were usually things that ended up coming true.  Ronto had a powerful gift of premonition.  It was as if he were not wholly apart of the physical world.  If nothing else he was sometimes granted a window into the spirit realm.  Ronto was the last of his kind, but not physically. 

There were numerous Kalipians out in the universe, but he was different.  He had encountered something through his travels that awakened something that had lain dormant in his form.  It was due to the fact that it had laid dormant that had allowed Ronto to survive as long as he had.  Before his awakening Ronto was poised to take over leadership of his tribe.  He was to become the chief, but just like every chief he had to undertake the ritual testing which included a spirit walk.  This was a trial in which the prospective chief ingested a magic elixir that would open them up to the grander universe beyond their kin.  Through this ritual one was supposed to interpret what their true purpose in the universe was. 

Ronto had always thought that his purpose, his true purpose, was to lead his people, but it turns out that his calling was greater, the meaning of his life was deeper.  When he looked onto the nature of the universe it appeared to him as body of water, endlessly deep and forever expanding outward in all directions.  It appeared to him as a great abyss, one that was dark and terrible, but also beautiful.  It was this beauty that pulled to him demanding that he let go of himself and join the abyss.  He was not afraid and he stepped forth into the waters that connected every corner of space as well as every molecule.  It awakened in him, his true essence.  In form he might be a Kalipian, but in spirit he was truly a Spirit Walker.  These were not beings possessed of a certain flesh, but rather spirits that moved out into the universe to gain insight, understanding and always to uphold righteousness.  Ronto spent his time in the wilderness searching for his true identity; his real nature, when he discovered it he left for another broader wilderness. 

Ronto had finally made it to his quarters he breathed a weary sigh.  When he left his tribe he left his wife and children behind.  It wasn’t like him to get sentimental about his situation, he knew that he had undertaken a great quest, but sometimes the two sides of his being were at odds.  He was a spiritual being, but also one that existed in corporeal world, both had desires which were sometimes at odds.  The door to his quarters whooshed open as he keyed in the access code and he was transported to familiar, nostalgic, surroundings. 

Ronto’s quarters were wall to wall holographic view screens depicting scenes from his home planet.  Ronto came into the room and sat in its center.  He always felt at peace here.  It reminded him of a simpler time when he had simpler ambitions.  There was a part of him that still wanted to live out those simpler desires, but something happened long ago and now he was the only Spirit Walker still apparent in the universe.  He had to walk a purer path now, although it was a path heavy with sacrifice it was also filled with spiritual reward.  

Ronto went to the mantle that sat next to the far wall dominating it with its presence.  He walked to it it slowly, showing it proper respect.  Upon its cradle rested his ceremonial war staff, if he had become the chief of his tribe this would have been the instrument of his rule, but now it was a ceremonial relic, but one that served as an anchor for his desires.  He sat cross-legged  in the middle of his room feeling the polished wood of his staff.  He closed his eyes and began to meditate. 

All around him scenes played out from the wilds of his home world.  Predators hunted prey and stalked though wilderness and grasslands in a sacred and solemn dance.  It was the way of the universe that things were ever changing; some called it evolution, but that was just a term to demystify the natural progression of the succinct order of the universe.  Ronto let the spirit world speak to him; hoping answers would come.  He felt that something was about to happen that would change the nature of his quest forever.  

Ronto’s thoughts turned to his companions.  Was it safe for them?  Was it ever safe for anyone?  Ronto wondered.  He wondered just what he would do should his goal present itself, only to imperil his companions.  What would he do?  Which was more worthy the quest or his honor?  His eyes clenched shut and he doubled over feeling as if he already knew the answer.     

Planet of the Dead (Part Four)

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The crew of the Abyss gathered on the bridge.  This was to be the briefing for their latest mission, while it was Captain Ronto who called the meeting, it would be up to Dexter Grey to inform the crew about the facts of the mission.  He had been gathering and studying all of the information he could find out about their mission for the last month.  He was the expert here.  Also, Ronto wasn’t great at conversing with the crew, he generally left these duties in Dexter’s capable hands.  Dexter looked about the bridge fixing his gaze on Ronto.  

Ronto stood at the viewport resting his left hand against its smooth surface.  His massive back was turned to the assemblage, even through his jacket Dexter could see the  sinewy musculature of his captain’s massive form.  His thick blue mane cascaded majestically down the back of his black trench-coat.  The two horns that curled forth to either side of his jaw shimmered in the faint, flickering light of the front of the bridge.  It appeared as though the Captain was bathed in ethereal starlight giving him a strange supernatural aspect, but it was just a trick of the light coming from the other side of the viewport.  Dexter knew that Ronto was glowering at the void beyond the viewport ready to get this side mission over so that they could continue the sacred quest that he had undertaken.  

Dexter turned to face the rest of the crew.  He noticed Macy and Hunter sitting together off to one side of the assemblage.  Macy smiled at him when he glanced and her and he felt his cheeks warm at the attention.  He politely returned her smile.  Before moving his attention elsewhere.  The three of them had grown up together, but Dexter always seemed to get a little tongue-tied around Macy, even when they were younger.  There was just something about her that always caused Dexter to lose all his charm and self confidence.  

Dexter’s gaze shifted next to Hunter who glared at him impatiently.  He was ready for this briefing to begin so that he would know what they would be facing when they got to their destination.  He always liked to know what to expect in any given situation.  He was fond of pointing out that precision planning was better than luck in a fire fight.  Most people would find Hunter’s gaze unnerving at best, but Dexter knew his friend too well to be put off by his display.  Just as Macy’s gaze made him uneasy, he found comfort in the scowl etched on his friend’s face, it was a natural expression and lent an air of normalcy to the situation.  This was his brother and he had nothing to fear from him.    

Next, Dexter turned his attention to Ravage, the Onx warrior, a savage rock creature that sat alone in the center of the bridge.  If he was friends with anyone on the ship it was the Captain, but even that was just an assumption more than a fact.  Sitting close to Ravage was Deliah.  She always liked to stay close to Ravage in case his rage got the best of him.  Deliah was the only one who could calm him down, but the Onx warrior despised her for this.  She was able to utilize her empathetic abilities to make beings feel what other felt or what she herself was feeling, she was great for diffusing tense situations.  

Next he turned his attention to the triplets they were named Nico, Mako and Dott.  Mako was the lone male of their group and right now it appeared as if his sisters were letting him have it due to some real or imagined offense.  Mako shifted uncomfortably in his chair as his sisters bickered at him from either side.  All three of them had, had hard lives, but you would never know it from observing them.  They appeared to be happy-go-lucky and carefree, but Dexter knew this was just a facade that they liked to maintain in front of others.  

Finally, there was old Doc and MX-87Z.  Old Doc was the ship’s mechanic.  He was cantankerous and often rude.  He was small, hunchbacked humanoid with dull orange skin, but he possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of all things mechanical.  He had a special gift for machinery.  Sometimes he just had to glance at somethings inner workings once to know exactly how it worked and how to make it better.  So perhaps it should come as no surprise that old Doc’s best friend was MX-87Z, the ships medical robot.  He was technically a synthezoid, a robot given a facsimile of human flesh in order to make it more pleasant for humans, but MX-87Z had decided to remove his synthezoid skin feeling that it was a lie and an affront to his true nature.  Anywhere in civilized society this would’ve gotten him decommissioned.  Here it was just a respected quirk among a band of misfits, in other words he fit right in.         

“So you all know why you’ve been gathered here.  We have a job to do.  And this one is the stuff of legends.  We have been contracted to break into a space station known only as The Puzzle Box,” Dexter began looking upon the sea of faces trying to gain of sense of the feeling about the room. 

“A place called The Puzzle Box?  Hrrumph.  It don’t sound like no job that shouldn’t take more than a few hours to sort out… Are we all really necessary for this little errand?” Ravage interjected judgmentally.  

“Look, this isn’t gonna be a blue milk run, The Puzzle Box was designed by a mad genius.  It was built by a million slaves who were executed just after it was completed.  Nobody knows exactly how it works, but legends and rumors about this place abound.  Basically, what is speculated is that The Puzzle Box holds untold wealth.  That’s what we were hired to find.  Once we enter the complex it will anticipate our every move.  It’s a space station that is designed to be a deathtrap.  If we can’t decipher the riddles and puzzles within the station it will kill us,” Dexter explained.  

“That doesn’t sound too difficult.  All we gotta do is survive, piece of cake,” Hunter replied confidently. 

“It can’t be that easy, there has to be more to this space station,” Macy interjected biting her lower lip as she tried to think through all the angles of their next assignment.

“Macy’s right.  There are two very big obstacles in our way: the complex was designed and built over a thousand years, but somehow it is still one hundred percent operational, that’s one problem,” Dexter said.  

“Okay, so the station was designed and built a thousand years ago, so what?  There are lots of self replicating nano technologies that could accomplish this.  You send me in and I’ll figure out how they work and disable them.  Then, we march in there and get the loot.  I’m still not seeing much a problem,” old Doc interjected.  

“Well, there are two more problems.  Apparently, the station offers its victims a chance to survive.  There are a series of tests and riddles that one must complete in order to get to the heart of the complex… the other problem is a bit more… harrowing… the station is inhabited by a mutated spore that has both telepathic and hallucinogenic properties.  Apparently, the spore gets inside of you and makes you hallucinate and then it amps your ability to feel extrasensory stimuli,” Dexter informed the group.  

“And how do you know about all this?” MX-87Z inquired with its perfectly articulated mechanized voice synthesizer.  

“Well, I’ve done a ton of research on this and it seems that the designer of The Puzzle Box liked to brag.  There are extensive interviews of him detailing what types of horrors lurk inside the complex without giving anything up other than the info about the spores…” Dexter trailed off looking around the room.  

“Alright, thousand year old death trap filled with state of the art technology and an untold pay off, sounds like fun.  I think we have a good shot at this,” Mako offered.  

“So what does everybody say?  Are you in?” Dexter asked finally.  The Kitarians nodded their agreement that they were in.  Hunter and Ravage simply got up and walked out of the room purposefully to prepare.  Deliah looked tense, but she nodded slightly showing her support.  Old Doc and MX-87Z left the room murmuring to each other about ways around defenses housed within The Puzzle Box.  Everyone left.  There were just three people on the bridge.  

Macy got up slowly and Dexter tried his hardest not to notice.  She approached him slowly.  He tried to busy himself with reading information pouring forth from the data stream before him.  When he glanced up she was staring intently at him smiling sardonically.  

“So, you really did your homework on this one, huh?” Macy asked brushing her hand against Dexter’s shoulder causing his stomach to flutter.

“Uh, yeah, I uh, guess I did okay,” Dexter stammered wishing that he could summon the confidence he had when dealing with the group.  

“I’ll say!  You were fantastic!  You have so much intel… do you really think we can pull this off?” Macy asked.  

“I think so.  I.. uh… think that when we’re together we can do anything… I mean, like, the group… we have a lot of talent…” Dexter tripped over his words.  

“I think you’re right,” Macy said dropping him a wink before turning to leave.  Dexter watched as she left feeling a piece of himself leave the room with her, maybe the most important piece of all.  He heard a low growl that stirred him from his musings.  He turned and gazed into Ronto’s burning eyes.  He took a step back swallowing hard.  

“What?” Dexter finally asked.  “You don’t think we can do it?”

“I think we can.  And maybe we will, but not now.  We’ll intercept a distress signal first.  It will prove to be more important that we respond to that right now… But everything is connected…” Ronto said stoically.  

“What are we heading towards?” Dexter asked.  

“I’m not sure… fate?  Destiny?  Oblivion?  We are following the path… that’s the best any of us can do…” Ronto finished cryptically.        

Planet of the Dead (Part Three)

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Dexter Grey followed Ronto out into the street it was bustling with humans running forth; ready to follow their errands and the toils of their own hearts.  Dexter trailed behind Ronto as present as a shadow at high noon.  The crowds parted before what they perceived as nothing more than a hulking brute.  Dexter knew better, he had traveled with Ronto for the last five years and trusted him with his life.  He was a noble soul, that just happened to inhabit a corporeal form.  Dexter and his two mates had first encountered Ronto after they have been marooned on a planetoid a few systems over. 

Dexter, Macy and Hunter had grown up together always yearning for adventure traveling the star lanes.  They had always hoped to save up enough money to buy their own star-ship and travel the galaxy.  They had each saved up all the money they could scrounge from the menial jobs they worked after a few years they had enough to buy a small, skip ship.  It wasn’t a big ship, it had just enough room for the three off them to live on comfortably.  It was really more than just a shuttle, but to them it was home.  It would allow them to accomplish their simple goals: to travel the galaxy, explore and adventure.  Unfortunately, they were sold a lemon.  It limped just  far enough away from their home planet, Enaria, before it broke down, leaving them stranded to coast to a stop on a small planetoid.  It was a desolate little rock; they were teenagers, stranded in the unknown, together.  They didn’t know what else to do, so they threw a message in a bottle, not literally of course, they threw a wave out into the galaxy and waited; come what may: salvation or ruination, they had cast their lines of fate.  Finally, a ship had come bleaching out the hope of the sun’s rise and light, but bringing a hope all it’s own.  

That was when Dexter had first seen the Abyss, he didn’t know then whether it carried benevolence or malevolence, but he fell in love with the ship right away.  It was a huge cruiser class ship; one that minimum wage kids could only dream of possessing.  It was a ship with hanger bays, fusion engines, warehouses, crew cabins; luxuries that seemed to stretch outward toward infinity.  It was all smooth angles accenting the square bulk of the mid-section that housed all the essential bits and pieces, like ornamentation to disguise functionality.  The front of the Abyss was dominated by three sloping points, the one in middle ending just short of the ones on either side.  It had majestic boxes that spread out to either side and trailing down the length of the ship, they looked like wings, but they simply held all the complex internal thrust mechanism of the ship.  The two points to either side of the ship were observation decks filled with transparent steel membranes (Dexter would only learn later that these had been transformed into battle stations, controlling all of the mighty ship’s weapon systems) that allowed the occupants to view the universe.  The ship landed.  They met Captain Ronto.  He was a being driven to search the universe, but who was also in the habit of picking up strays.  He answered the distress wave dutifully, taking Dexter, Macy and Hunter aboard his ship to act as another addition to his crew.  

Dexter followed Ronto until they reached the Abyss it was only there that he lagged, taking a moment to take the ship in, once again, and breathing an awe-filled sigh at the sight of what he had come to think of as his home.  Dexter contemplated for a moment that it was just a ship, but that it housed all his friends and family.  Somehow that transformed it from the state of being a mere conveyance to something far greater.  For good or ill this ship held all that he held dear, all he wanted to protect, all he wanted to save and all he loved.  It was a powerful realization.  He walked up the ramp with an idyllic smirk etched upon his face thinking of all the occupants.  

There were many occupants, Ronto was, apparently fond of picking up strays.  Most of the occupants were aliens, at least from the perspective of Dexter and his human companions.  There was a Onx, a rock creature from some far flung world, who possessed a hard and wicked heart, but also a fierce loyalty for his crew.  There was Deliah, who was an empath.  She felt emotions from every being in existence, but not only that she also possessed the ability to implant emotions into other beings.  This often came in handy in negotiations and sometimes in battle.  There were the triplets who were war-torn orphans.  They were Kitarians; a feline race.  They were young and quite raucous and free-spirited.  There was old Doc who was cantankerous and worked as the ship’s mechanic.  He pretty much kept to himself and was only friendly with the ship’s medical doctor: MX-87Z.  He was the ship’s sole synthezoid, which was a autonomous robot cover with a synthetic human flesh.  They were designed to integrate with humans, hence the fleshy make-up.  MX-87Z rebelled against this.  He had stripped off his “flesh” preferring to appear as he truly was: a machine, capable of thought, sentience and free will all its own.  

Finally, came Dexter’s human companions: Macy and Hunter.  Macy was a smart, attractive girl with a mischievous streak a mile wide.  She had always been fascinated with trying to figure out other cultures, she like Dexter and Hunter, had never really felt like she belonged to or with the human race.  She was always far off in thought.  She was always dreaming of some place that outcasts could congregate.  She was an artist at heart, wanting to paint the universe with the color of her hope, but always feeling the sadness of her failing; inability inherited by her creator; knowing that one could only create what one could create, but could never change the creations once they were created.  

Hunter on the other hand was a collector of relics.  He loved to study ancient human history and he possessed a myriad collection of ancient weaponry ranging from swords to guns.  Hunter refused to use any weapon that utilized lasers or plasma, but instead used archaic technology relying on strength, gun-powder, keen-edges and cold steel.  He a fierce man, possessing a keen intellect and an encyclopedic knowledge of human warfare.  We wanted not to fight war, but to end it, he knew in his heart that conflict was the heart beat of survival.  He wanted peace, but knew, that for that be achieved, he must fight ever onward.  

Finally, there was Dexter himself.  A confidence man if ever there was one, a being gifted with a silver tongue.  He was forever talking; trying to make others understand his point of view.  He was a salesperson with nothing left to sell, but his essence, which is all and only what salespeople ever really sell.  He had found his calling and he was with his family.  That’s all he could ask for at the moment.  He had cast in his lot with a bunch of misfits, but those misfits were his family and the Abyss was his home.  He marched up the boarding ramp and hit the button which closed it.  

Dexter watched as it slowly rose and he thought about the ships Captain.  His name was Ronto, he knew that.  He knew that Ronto was a noble being and one who was set upon a quest that was largely unknown and unsure, but ultimately important.  He thought of his captain as the boarding ramp closed, robbing him of his last glimpse of this world; this last breath of real air, and he knew he had found his home, whatever that meant.  Home is not one of those words you can pin down adequately.  It means a table and a meal.  It means people to share that table with.  It means friends with which you can share that meal.  It is a place of being and a place of knowing.  All you have to know is that you belong.  

What is this quest? 

What is this journey? 

It is an enigma.

Just like the Captain.  

All he knew was that he was home.  That was enough for Dexter.  That was enough for now.  

The door closed.  Soon they would be underway; onward towards new adventure.  

 

                

Planet of the Dead (Part Two)

“So what the fuck makes you so god damned different?!  Why should I believe that your crew can complete this task that has cost so many others their lives?!  You look like a god damned traveling sideshow!  You should be at a carnival, not pestering a reputable business man like myself!  I only accept serious inquiries into work!” the meat-headed brute on the other side of the desk slammed his fist against it to accent his point.

“Well, here’s how it is, humans left their own star system centuries ago, nobody knows rightly why exactly, but that don’t seem to matter, we did.  What we found out in the great black yonder, the distant unknown, beyond our borders was a galaxy that was teeming with intelligent life.  And all of ’em seemed to know better than to associate with humans.  We were the least educated, most barbaric, technologically adequate race in the whole galaxy… We were awed by them, but we were old news by their reckoning, any one of ’em could’ve conquered us long ago, but they didn’t, because we weren’t worth the time it would take… we weren’t worth the effort.  That kind of has a way of humbling a person, y’know?  So humans and aliens they don’t mix, they don’t mingle and they sure as hell keep to their separate settlements, but to the determent of us all.  I think we can learn from one another.  I think that we can utilize each of our talents to do beautiful amazing things.  Yeah, I travel with a bunch of aliens, but we’re the best damn bunch of misfits that ever roamed the void!  And we can sure as hell break into this vault that no of these other feebs could!”  Dexter Grey said his eyes narrowing to slits he felt no need to let physical shows decide this, instead he relied on his wits and his cunning.

“Alright, you got the job, but you better have my payoff in one week!  Otherwise I’ll put a price on your ship so big that no bounty hunter could possibly resist it.  I didn’t get to be the Don by fucking around with rejects like you!” Don Guiquietti said as he reached into his desk and pulled out a cigar and lit it.  He slumped back into his chair looking bloated, corpulent and repugnant.

“One more thing, your excellence, but should you ever speak another unkind world about me or mine and I will end you!” Dexter Grey said as he got up from the chair that sat before the Don and made his way from the room happy to be away from the stench of the two bit hustler with delusions of grandeur.

Outside of the door stood a hulking blue furred mass, only the portion of his chest that was uncovered by blue fur showed the deep gray color of his skin.  He snarled as he saw Dexter Grey approach.  The snarl revealed an array of razor sharp teeth on either end elongated into fatal looking fangs.  His red eyes gleamed as he peered at the man.  His name was Ronto and he was a Kalipian.  He was the Captain of the ship Abyss.  He stared at Dexter with a hostile impatience, but also a questioning wonderment.

“Like I told, ya, Captain, it’s all good.  We got the job,” Dexter said confidently a smile broadening on his face as if he were trying to reassure the brutish figure before him.

“I still don’t like it.  I like to negotiate my own contracts.  Imagine the humiliation of having to send my first mate in to do it for me,” Ronto growled; his human speak always came out in guttural, violent growls.

“Boss, you have no respect for the decency of the human culture, we’re a backward, suspicious species, we prefer to deal with our own kind,” Dexter explained.

“I still don’t like it,” Ronto glowered.  “I’m in charge here!”

“I know that, but he don’t, but it don’t matter as long as we get that prize he’s after,” Dexter pleaded reassuringly.

“Let’s just get back to my ship and get underway.  I want to get this job done and back to the quest.  This is just a paycheck for me,” Ronto barked.

“Me, too, what do think I believe in what that afterbirth is selling?  Hell no, I’m faithful to the cause, brutha,” Dexter replied.

“Let’s hope so.  This isn’t the path, it’s a detour,” Ronto declared.

Dexter Grey watched as Ronto stalked through the office his towering form causing all the humans in it consternation, agitation and abject fear.  He was tall, muscular, alien and absolutely deadly, but he possessed a noble and intelligent spirit and Dexter knew that this was what his own people feared most, fore they might have developed concepts such as honor and sacrifice, but they never knew them until they encountered aliens.  It had taken something else, some other creatures to show them just how truly lacking they were.

It was humbling indeed.

Dead Planet (Part One)

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Hauer Drex moved his ship through the wispy atmosphere of Annex 12, a small moon that orbited a planet called Tuo-Vevex.  Hauer’s ship was a small garbage scow that came and collected all of the refuse from the richer settlements, who could afford to hire an independent contractor like himself.  His ship was named Bunger Hop.  He maneuvered the Bunger Hop toward one of the canyon that bit into the surface of the tiny moon.  He was making his way to this remote location to visit Dr. Langston Gaphe, whom he hadn’t spoken to in quite some time, but who was also over due for a garbage pick up.  

Dr. Gaphe had set a make shift research facility out at a plantation style villa near the canyon.  He was some genius egghead from some university that Hauer never heard of before, but he was an okay fellow.  He also had a strong appreciation for fine beer and even brewed his own.  He was often quite fond of showing off his newest batch of brew and this was what brought Hauer out this way this morning.  That and the good Doctor was quite overdue for a garbage pick up.  It had been a solid month since Hauer had heard from him.  He decided to come out and investigate.  If that happened to lead to getting to try out the good Doctor’s newest back of brew, then that would be a fine turn of events, indeed!

When the Bunger Hop approached Dr. Langston’s residence it appeared to be deserted.  No one answered when Hauer broadcast a hailing wave to the small complex.  Hauer reasoned that everyone was out on assignment.  Dr. Gaphe had a full research team helping him to investigate the rift.  Once over many beers Dr. Gaphe had confided that he believed that this moon had once been home to a particularly advanced alien species.  What had puzzled Langston was that there was no record of this species anywhere in the known galaxy.  It was also puzzling because while this species was advanced, they seemed not to rely on technology as none had yet been found in the rift.  Langston had only happened on a few glyphs suggesting the possibility of an advanced species by accident when spelunking in the canyon.  Hauer assured himself that everyone was simply down at the dig site investigating.  He decided to set down by the hanger and wait for their return.  

Once the Bunger Hop was situated firmly on the craggy, rock strewn surface of Annex 12 did Hauer make his way outside of the ship.  He was an older man his brown hair just beginning to grey around the edges.  His face was round and starting to sag and show signs of wrinkling.  His midsection had grown rounder as he aged and he had a healthy paunch that he now patted as he stood at the bottom of the Bunger Hop‘s boarding ramp.  He had, in his opinion and grand estimation had a great life, one that had been filled with steady work, adventure and drunken debauchery.  He could imagine no greater life that a man like him could’ve had, nor would he have wanted to.  Imagination had never been Hauer’s strong point.  He left that for those better suited for it: the drifters and the dreamers.  

Hauer stood in the bright midday sun of Annex 12 feeling it heat his skin and warm his bones as he felt absently in the pocket on his chest for his pack of anti-carcinogen cigarettes.  He pulled one out of the pack and put it in his mouth.  He fumbled for his Zippo that was in his pants pocket, eventually he found the damned thing and brought it forth lighting his cigarette.  He hated the fucking things, but his Doctor kept telling him he had to smoke at least five everyday in order to keep the cancers away.  Hauer exhaled a cloud of blue smoke and looked up into the sky, wispy clouds drifted across the faces of the twin suns that stood sentry in this center of this solar system.  

Suddenly, Hauer heard a strange scraping sound coming from the hanger near where his ship sat.  He had nothing better to do, so he decided to investigate.  It was a strange sound, a kind of dull grinding, like gears grinding trying to push a door that simply would not close.  Finally, he reached the large hanger and keyed in the code sequence that would let him inside, he and Langston were not exactly friends, but sometimes necessity makes strange alliances, in this instance it had caused Langston to give access codes to his garage in case he should ever need to enter it while Langston was away.  The door whooshed open filling Hauer’s nostrils with the stench of death and decay, while feeling his heart with a grim dread.  

The macabre sight that he saw filled his being with terror while paralyzing every thought in his brain.  He felt an immediate desire to flee, but his brain was recoiling in terror refusing to transmit this information to his stubborn body.  His heart beat a rapid fire staccato beat that would do a machine gun proud.  He looked upon a twisted scene in which several grey skinned beings pushed, scraped and pounded on the doors of Langston’s ground-skimmer.  One of the creatures turned to regard the hanger door as it whooshed open.  It stared with huge black eyes staring from its bulbous head, instinctively Hauer knew that these were dead, emotionless eyes that regarded him.  The creature was small in stature, about half as tall a grown human male, its body was frail and boney.  It’s appendages were narrow, lanky and elongated.  Its six digit hand reached out toward him before it started shambling toward where Hauer stood.  Its beak shaped mouth clacked rhythmically in anticipation of a meal as it lurched his way.  Hauer understood all of this institutionally as any prey can immediately identify a predator.  

Hauer heard a woman scream.  The sound of it broke him from the paralysis of his trance.  He looked in the direction of the scream and saw Langston’s wife, she was screaming from inside in the ground-skimmer.  One of the creatures had just used its bulbous head as a battering ram breaking the plexiglass windshield and gaining entry to her safe haven.  Hauer watched for a moment as the creature ripped and grabbed for the distressed damsel.  There was nothing that Hauer could do, and besides he was no hero.  He knew this deep in his soul all too well as he fled from the scene screeching like a frightened bat-hawk.  

Hauer knew only one thing: that he had to get back to the Bunger Hop and get off of this wretched world.  He had to inform the authorities, maybe they could come down here and scorch the earth clean of whatever pestilence this was.  He ran up the ramp to his ship punching the hydraulic button that caused the ramp to raise and seal up his ship.  His heart was jolted once again as he saw Langston before him clutching his neck as blood streamed from around his hand.  

“What the fuck is going on?!  What the fuck are those things?!”  Hauer demanded hysterically.  

“No time.  We need to get out of here…. send a distress signal…” Langston said.  He didn’t look good.  He looked pale and weak.  

Hauer made his way past Langston settling into the pilot’s seat.  He quickly fired up the engines for the Bunger Hop taking it up into the air and what he hoped was safety.  “I’ll need to grab some air if I want to get a good signal out.”  

The ship rose and he hit the automated distress signal.  He had given his passenger his explanation, but he knew that it had gone unheard as he felt sharp teeth bite down into his own neck.  He glanced at the reflection on the view screen of the terminal in front of him and caught a glimpse of Langston looking like a hunger beast as he tore at Hauer’s jugular.  His eyes had that same hungry dead look as the creature down below.  Hauer’s last act upon this plane of existence was to shoot the Bunger Hop up out of the atmosphere and into the bleak vastness of space.  Once there he shut down all the systems of the ship except for the distress beacon.  Somebody would come and investigate.  Someone would eradicate this unnatural menace.  Were these actions the salvation or damnation of the galaxy?  

Only time could make that particular judgement.