Ep 6. Headed for a Dead Night.
28 weeks since quantum event...
“He wants what now?” Riker cocks a brow at Rose, anxiously tapping her foot while she clenches her datapad.
“That place you were talking about— the trade hub— what was it called?”
“The Brine?” Riker asks a playful grin on his face.
“Yes! The Bri— wait, is that really what it’s called?”
Riker sighs, “It means something else in another language. Why am I taking you there?”
“Lieutenant Rose will not be accompanying you Mr. Everest,” Tate, the six foot four inch insect-oid captain says, rounding the corner with two humans, Doctor Sanderson and Altera in tow. “My XO Altera, and our ship’s Doctor will be joining you instead. We are in need of medical supplies.”
Riker looks Altera over. Riker met most of the soldiers and civilian contractors aboard the ship. The soldiers are all built like soldiers — bulky, hard, built for hitting things and for getting hit — and the civilians are all built like civilians — soft, relaxed, curious — but Altera… One look at her and Riker knows. “I get why the Doctor is coming along, but I doubt we need your senior officer to accompany—”
“She’ll be joining you for security.” Tate interrupts. “No offence Mr. Everest, but I don’t know you. And I want to be sure someone on this away mission is going to be concentrated on bringing my only doctor back in one piece.”
“Unfortunately the cockpit only seats three so, one of them is going to have to stay behind.” Riker says, trying not to over exaggerate. Ohana is equipped with inertial dampeners, so it could be standing room only without an issue.
“Well it’s my understanding that Lieutenant Rose could use help from West on her little project.
Riker loses his composure and looks to Rose. He’s always advocating for West to be independent. He’s endlessly telling people to treat West like an adult, like any other person… But the truth of it is he rarely let’s West out of his sight, especially not since Tiu-Raka. “It’s fine Riker. He’ll be fine.” Rose offers a reassuring smile.
“Yeah kid,” Altera offers, walking past Riker, and giving him a pat on the shoulder. “I know Rose. She’ll take real good care of ‘im.” She offers a wink to Rose before escorting Doctor Sanderson onto the ship.
“I appreciate the inconvenience Mr. Everest.” Tate says stepping forward, flexing his mandibles as he clasps his hand behind his back. “Were any of our away vessels warp or even FTL capable I would send them instead with just some directions from yourself. Rest assured, your brother will be well taken care of.” Riker looks at Tate with a cocked brow as the kern tries to reassure him, and fails.
“He gets hurt, I’ll burn Utica to the ground.”
“What?” Tate asks, taken back by the phrasing, rather than any understanding of what the phrasing means.
“I dunno. It’s an earth history thing.”
Two hours later…
“I’m just saying I can fly basically anything.” Altera says with a grin, sitting in West’s comms and nav chair.
Riker breathes quickly through his nose. “I don’t give a werfle’s hindquarters what you can or can’t fly, nobody flies Ohana except me!”
Sanderson had been ignoring them both for most of the journey, instead choosing to go over patient files. But as the indicator on the heads up display was telling them they were nearing their destination, he put his tablet into his bag and made a show of clearing his throat. “I think blowing off a little steam is a good thing. And I’m sorry Mr. Everest but Altera is in more of a need to blow off steam then most, so I’ve been letting her take you for a ride.” Sanderson’s southern drawl is soothing, even while he’s humiliating them both. “But I swear to whatever God you pray to son, if you keep lettin’ her get your goat,” he pauses and locks eyes with Riker who has turned to take him in, “I’ll kill you.”
The ship drops out of slip space and drifts towards their quarry, Brine. In Qu’Ark’Tan it means “Gathering.” In the far reaches of space it’s known for shopping, deals, and the scum of the universe. The three humans are here for the former, but as Riker negotiates with the control tower for a slip near the bazaar, he’s sure they’ll run into the latter.
Riker checks and clears his six shooter before holstering it on his right leg, and then cocks his lever of his winchester.
“Now how does a gun like that survive the end of the world?” Altera asks, putting a piece of chewing gum in her mouth.
“Some parts of earth had the highest mortality rate of the known universe at the time my earth was destroyed. Lots of aliens started to adopt our firearms figuring that might have something to do with it.”
Riker holsters his cut-down rifle on his left leg, “turns out some citizens of the Earth just had an easier time justifying hurting folks than others.”
Altera grins, and pops her bubblegum. “My kinda’ place.”
“Well let’s keep those tucked away, shall we? We’re here for medicine, not for a shootout.”
Riker leads Sanderson down Ohana’s gangplank, “Nobody goes looking for a shootout Doc.”
“Somehow Mr. Everest, I don’t think that necessarily rings true for you.”
Brine permanently houses more than 12 billion permanent residents, that doesn’t include the billions more in traders and vagrants that pass through hourly. The base consists of three rings that converge at two opposite points, surrounding a small moon. The moon itself looks nothing like a celestial body, rather it’s been converted into a giant power generator for the surrounding rings.
Riker, hoping to avoid complications, has chosen to dock in a section of the station full of less savory types. R3-D10778 is a mostly residential area on the third ring with a small handful of shops run by the black market on Brine, making for fewer officials asking questions. Harold Sanderson, an excellent physician and xenobiologist, does not look impressed. “You can’t possibly expect to help me find what I need here?”
“What’s a matter doc? Not fancy enough for yah?” Riker grins.
As they pass an open grill cooking what appears to be a type of feline, Samson scowls at the back of Riker’s head. “Yeah, something like that.” The area is grouped tightly, clearly when it was designed, a street market wasn’t a consideration, making even accustomed people feel claustrophobic as you cannot step anywhere without bumping into someone. Street food, odd wares, and a variety of materials are all on sale here.
Walking through the black market, Altera notes the number of eyes now tracking them as they pass. “Are we safe here?”
“You gotta remember,” Riker yells back without stopping, still pushing his way through the crowd, “humans are rare, especially ones as well dressed as you two.” Riker had suggested they change out of their UPA uniforms and into something more casual. It took some convincing, but they had agreed, though their definition of ‘casual’ is better than most high class aliens, let alone humans on the verge of extinction. “Three humans, two of which are wearing fancy clothes? That’s like winning the Brine Space-Lux 300. Twice.”
Neither the doctor or the XO understood what he was talking about, but the context was clear enough. It takes some time but eventually they come to a large white apartment complex, considerably quieter than the rest of the street. “Why so few people?”
“The black market is illegal, but Brine security knows it’s necessary. The unwritten rule is they only bust you if it’s egregious, and they bust anyone in eyeline as a warning.” Riker locks eyes with both of them. “This place is the only reliable medical help people in skids can get, so nobody is willing to make noise here. And that’s got to mean us.”
The doctor cocks a brow at Riker, “I’m a physician son I don’t—”
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Riker gives a knowing glance to Altera who grins and pops her bubble-gum. “Ritzy? Ritzy, you here?” Riker shouts as he walks into the open door. The room is clean and simple, a variety of medical tools and supplies are in glass display cases serving as counters, along with more high-end merchandise locked in cages behind. A computer display is sat on one of the display cases across from the door where a four armed woman with a pink hue to her skin is currently leaned over, with an arm supporting her chin while the other three manage a comic book.
“Oh my gawd, Riker!?” Her voice is pitched at the end just before she squeals in excitement. “Where have you been-ah?” She leans over the counter, giving Riker a hug and kiss.
Altera also notices a free hand giving his rump a quick squeeze. She nods, impressed. “Yeah, ok, game recognizes game.” The assassin says quietly to herself.
“I’ve been around Ritzy, what about you? Same old same old? Except this dress I’m seeing,” he whistles causing her to blush and twirl to show off the simple sundress.
“Oh stawp it! Stawp!” She laughs playfully swatting at him. “Now, Captain Everest, who are your lovely friends?”
They were on ring two when the ship landed, about to convince a ship engineer to upgrade their vessel free of charge when Ohana landed, not that they knew that Riker P. Everest was the one who brought them here… But the readout on their screen was unmistakable; Two pieces of their technology, illegally configured, was on Brine. And that was a slight they were not willing to let stand. “Please don’t hurt me anymore.” The engineer whimpers as his three captors hesitate.
The one holding him snaps his neck like a twig and discards him. Just because they have other matters to attend to, doesn’t mean that anyone can see them as merciful. Mercy is weakness, and the Swarm has no weakness.
Introductions don’t take long, nor does it take long for Ritzy to begin flirting with the doctor as he browses her wares and medications. “I gotta tell you kid,” Altera says standing by the door, keeping an eye on the street while Riker leans on a case nearby, “I’m impressed.”
“For introducing you to a medical dealer?” Riker asks incredulously.
“No, for not trying to screw us. Thought for sure you were trying to play us, that’s why I told Tate to keep your brother.”
Altera shrugs, not bothered by Riker’s offended tone. “Can’t be too careful.”
Riker rolls his eyes and turns to Ritzy and Sanderson. The doctor seems to have all but forgotten why they’re here as they stare into one another’s eyes, leaning in closer. “Hey Doc,” Riker says, just below a shout, but startling them both. “We gettin’ close to done here?”
Sanderson smiles awkwardly, “Yeah, uh, yes. Yes.”
“Y’know, Riker, I was just saying to Doctor Harold Sanderson—”
“You gave her your whole name?” Altera asks, taking a tone.
“What’s she going to do, tell my Mama?”
“Anyways, I was just saying to the handsome doctor that it’d be cheaper and quicker if I just gave him molecular data for the replicator.”
“Naw, that won’t work. My ship isn’t docked with theirs on any consistent basis, and the recycler doesn’t—”
“Not your replicator silly, theirs!” She grabs at Sanderson’s shirt.
“Your replicator definitely didn’t make—”
“Ritzy, shut up.” Ritzy is taken back by Riker’s sudden rudeness, and Sanderson is about to defend her honor when Riker rushes up to him. “These clothes, where did you get them?”
“The ship, of course, but—”
“Ritzy you take the doc and you hide in the back and do exactly what I tell you to do.” Riker says drawing his gun. “Altera get the door and the lights!”
“What’s the big—”
“Anything made with a replicator has an isotropic signature that’s unique to whoever made it and can easily be traced.” Riker checks the chamber on his gun and snaps it closed with a flick of his wrist. “You’re both wearing Swarm homing beacons.”
The first one kicks the door off the hinges and into the middle of the room, it steps through awkwardly, a second not far behind it. The two swarm aliens look around the room slowly, the combination of light from the display cases and darkness around them causes them to squint, unable to focus. Exactly ten seconds after they kick the door in there’s a loud noise from the back room. They rush for the door, and as soon as they’re past Riker hiding behind the right display case, and Altera behind the left, they rise and open fire.
Riker is the first to fire, and hits the base of the alien’s enormous head, the one soft spot on their body. It falls dead instantly. Altera’s knife was lined up, but Riker fired early and the second alien turned before the knife impacted. It’s scream is shrill and it dashes towards the young man. He deftly fires and chambers each weapon, hitting around the eyes of the Swarm alien, but never quite finding their target. In what feels like an instant it leaps onto the display case, crushing it and slashing at Riker. Captain Everest’s Tillium plate protects his torso, but his left arm takes a slash, causing him to drop the winchester and fall backwards. He frantically tries to reload the six shooter, but another swipe causes him to drop the moon clip and splay his bullets on the ground. He grabs his second moon clip and reloads quickly, but before he can fire the alien drops on top of him, dead, with Altera standing over them both holding a knife covered with green blood.
“Took you long enough.” Riker gasps out, under the weight of the alien.
“You shot early.”
“I got excited.” Riker says bobbing his head back and forth.
“Is it safe?” Sanderson shouts from the back room.
“Yeah!” Riker shouts putting pressure on his arm after he holsters his winchester.
Ritzy is first through the door, to survey the damage to her shop. “Oh my gawd-ah!” She exclaims.
“Where’s Sanderson?” Altera asks just before the doctor stumbles out of the back room still doing up his pants. She grins, shaking her head, and rolling her eyes. “I don’t even wanna know.”
“Ritzy, we’re gunna need those data-chips, ok? I’ll pay you back, I swear.”
“No sweat Capy-tan, I know you’re good for it.”
“What’re the odds that Brine security you were talking about is going to ignore a gunfight in their favorite clinic?”
“Low. Doc, we gotta go.” Riker grabs a piece of cloth and ties it over his arm.
“We need to get that taken care of.” Sanderson says, taking the chips from Ritzy.
“No time.” Riker says grimacing as he pulls the cloth tighter with his teeth. “You can patch me up when we’re in slip-space.”
“Riker, you take point.” Altera orders, moving to Sanderson.
“No, you take point. You’ve got both arms, I can only use one and it’s going to be on him with my head on a swivel.” Riker says, grabbing Sanderson’s shoulder.
“I can fight.” He says, annoyed at the patronizing.
“I get it Doc,” Altera says, “but the kid’s right. You stay with him. Maybe you can fight, but I know damn sure nobody back on our ship can heal.”
“Go.” Riker says sharply.
Their pace through the streets is quick, just short of a jog. They’re far away from the clinic by the time security arrives, and nobody stops them as they rush back to the dock and board Ohana. “Well, that was easy.” Sanderson says walking up the rear hatch and into the ship.
“Don’t say that!” Riker and Altera shout simultaneously.
“Why would you ever—”
“How were you a soldier?
“Nobody ever says something like—”
“Do you hate puppies too?”
“What’s a puppy?”
Sanderson looks at each of them. “You done?”
“Yeah, fine, whatever.” Altera replies walking past him.
“No seriously, what’s a puppy?”
The third alien takes a reading with the computer strapped to his arm, it records the engine signature as the Ohana takes off from the dock and out into the black. There aren’t many who can kill a Swarm in one on one combat, but it has been known to happen. But when he delivers this information back to the hive ship, the next fight will most definitely not be a one on one encounter.