by K.D. Gaffny
This is an except from my upcoming book.
|Dennin Brenner groaned as he got up from his pilot’s chair. Maybe his daughter was right. Maybe he was ‘getting too old for this shit’. Of course, being recently cloned in an ancient cloning chamber didn’t make matters any easier for him. He walked over to an enclosed shelving unit and opened the door. Reaching inside without looking, he grabbed his ‘tool belt’. He didn’t really have tools, it was a gun belt. He just liked using fun words to describe things. Not really paying attention, he knocked several rounds of ammunition to the floor. “Umgph,” came out of him as he bent down to retrieve the fallen rounds. “I remember when I could move around without all the damn sound effects,” Dennin mumbled to himself. “Maybe I should start using old DNA scans like those rich bastards do.” Sure, it was vain and all that, but this body was just starting to fall apart.
“What am I even doing?” He asked himself in a deep and gruff voice. He wasn’t working. He wasn’t checking up on Kalista. He was just aimlessly traversing the universe, searching for something to get himself into. The last time he got himself into something, he had died. Alae Mors was what he had gotten himself into. That was not a situation he wanted to remember, but he allowed his thoughts to drift there anyway. One of the best things about cloning is you never actually remember the death, just the last series of events you had recorded before the shit really hit the fan. Dennin thought back to what he did remember about that night.
He had been following Alae Mors, from a distance. With the way Mors was acting, he knew he was being followed. Rain was pouring down on Malline, and it wasn’t the type of rain you’d see on any other planet. Malline was named after the word ‘malign’, it was just spelled differently. The CESE explorers that had found it named it after its traits, but changed the spelling just in case something good was actually found there. To Dennin’s knowledge, nothing good was ever found there. The rain on Malline was so acidic it could eat through anything that wasn’t specifically insulated against it. Fortunately for Dennin, his armor was insulated. Unfortunately, it seemed Mors’ armor was as well. The rain fell in sheets the way it did on a tropical world, but ‘tropical’ wasn’t a way to describe Malline either. Retched, fiery, decaying, uninhabitable – those were appropriate ways to describe it.
There were a few sparse civilizations on Malline. Precipice Junction was the one they had landed at, but it wasn’t their destination. Mors stopped briefly at the lodging facility called Cliff’s Edge, meeting with another man in dark armor. They talked for a few minutes, exchanged something, and Mors was off again. Dennin’s visor magnification wasn’t able to pick up on what the other being had handed Mors, but that didn’t really matter anyway. Dennin wasn’t there to intercept cargo, he was there to kill Alae Mors. Mors went back out into the rain and started walking, Dennin followed. “Where is this freak going?” Dennin asked himself. “I suppose I should do a quick mental image. This place is a nightmare. I need to remember I was here, just in case I have to reconstruct the nightmare.”
That was the last thing Dennin had said, to his knowledge. Mors may know differently, but Dennin was sure Mors wouldn’t be enthusiastic about retelling their experience together. Dennin wasn’t about to pick up where he left off in his pursuit of Mors, either. Dennin had lost that battle. He learned from his mistakes, even if he couldn’t remember them. Yet, here he was, about to walk out into another stormy night on Malline. He honestly couldn’t even come up with one single good reason to be here. He had already contacted the Agents, told them of his failure, and said he was off the job. Being an ‘untouchable’ being did have its perks. He was able to tell them he had died and cloned without fear of being wiped from the face of the universe. Few were so lucky.
Dennin grabbed his new favorite gun, a Thunderbolt Arms modified Destroyer MK VI. He told himself that he was here to retrieve his previous favorite gun, but that wasn’t really true either. He had several just like it on the shelf in front of him, and he had just picked one of them up. Sure, they weren’t ‘Betsy’, but he didn’t really need her anymore. He only used a gun until it failed him. He’d had four named guns before Betsy. This new one would need a name… what should he call her? “Missy,” he said out loud. “Oh. No. That would curse you into being inaccurate.” He held the gun up, turning it from side to side in front of his face. “You need a name. I can’t walk out this door until you have one.” He sat back down in his ripped and well-worn pilot’s chair, searching for a name.
Various lights blinked on his control panel, bouncing off his object of focus like the lights of a casino on New Vegas. She had smooth contours, elegant curves and the fresh smell of oil. The right side of the ivory handle was inlaid with his mark, a stylized marksman’s crosshair inside of a ‘D’. Dennin was right handed, so the insignia was often pressed into his armored palm. A red light from the console stayed lit, shining off the barrel. The gun oil caused the light to spread out, making it look similar to a flower from back on Earth. “Ah, there it is. Rosie. Great, let’s go see if your sister is out there, Rosie.” Dennin hit a button on the small control panel of his left arm. The door on his ship, Grendel, slid up with a hiss as the pressure inside gave way to the traumatic conditions outside.
Dennin hit the same button as he walked away from his sinister looking freighter and the door slid shut. One more button and all the running lights went out. “No sense going out into these conditions with an empty bladder,” Dennin said as he made his way to the same lodge he had followed Mors too. The drinks on Malline were just as wicked as the planet itself, but Dennin felt that it was worth the potential gut rot for some liquid comfort. He wasn’t working right now, so he didn’t need to have a completely clear head. Besides, who in their right mind would go searching for their own corpse without a drink first?
The air inside the Cliff’s Edge was filtered, but it still reeked of the death and decay from the valley below. Metal tables with a plastic-like coating were placed sporadically throughout the establishment, as if the owner had absolutely no sense of decorating style. The tables were for the few people who were crazy enough to stay in a hell-hole like this to eat at. The coating was to keep the corrosive elements brought in from outside from eating the tables. A plastic bar, made to resemble wood, lined the far end of the dining portion of the lodge. The paint on the bar was always in some state of decomposition, so it never really looked like wood. Dennin took a seat on a coated stool in front of the bar.
“What’s your poison?” The bartender asked, spinning a glass on a towel in his hand… no. He was spinning it on a towel over the nub that used to be his hand.
“I suppose they call you lefty, then?” Dennin asked, not the least bit afraid of offending the man.
The middle aged man chuckled. “That they do. It’s been so long I don’t even remember my given name. Lost it right here on this little patch of heaven called Malline. When I was a kid I was fishing debris from a wrecked starfighter out of a lake. My glove filled up with the lake water. Ate the hand off before I could do a damn thing about it. Now, I’ve got a convenient, built in club. It does make wiping the inside of the glasses easier. Did you just come here for stimulating conversation, or can I get you something to douse the flames in your gullet?”
Dennin placed his hand onto his chin and stroked his short cut beard. “I’ll take your best pinot noir.”
“Ha! A glass of ice whiskey it is!” The barkeep shook his head as he walked over to the bottles and grabbed the one with a fake ice texture on the neck. “This stuff will burn a little, but it has a chilling after-bite. Amazing how they do it, really. I’ve tried making it myself, hoping I could do it cheaper. I only succeeded in killing a few dozen lab rats. I almost considered that a success, but then they burst into flames. There was pus and boils, then it turned them a weird gray color. I decided I shouldn’t try it out on the general public. What brings you to our tourist paradise, my good man?”
Dennin shrugged, his armor hitting his chin. “I don’t really have an answer to that one. Not because I’m on some secret mission and I’d have to kill you if I told you. More like I’m looking for something, but I don’t even know why. If I had to state a reason to a local authority or something, I’d tell them I was searching for some lost property.”
The glass of amber liquid smoked as the bartender added ice cubes. He set the concoction down in front of Dennin. “Well, I hope you find it. The elements here tend to make most property turn into a pile of mush within a few hours. Is this property of yours going to be able to take that kind of abuse?”
"I should think so. It's one of these," Dennin said, holding up Rosie. He slid her back into her holster so the bartender didn't think he was going to use it against him. “In theory, it should be attached to a full blown version of myself. I’m pretty sure I died here a few weeks back.”
The bartender shook his head, trying to be empathetic. “Isn’t that just the thing? You’re going around, minding your own business, then BLAM! You’re dead. A lot of people don’t live through that, ya know? Glad to see you made it through, though. I’m pretty sure I know who you are. Dennin Brenner, right?”
Dennin nodded. “That’s me. I was working here a few weeks ago, and things went bad. I don’t know what went bad, but something did.”
“Well, friend, I can help you fill in some of those blanks if you want. You see, I actually mopped up a pool of your blood. Nasty event really. If you want to know, I can tell you. Oh, and I think this is what you were looking for.” Lefty placed Betsy on the bar like he was setting down a basket of pretzels.
Dennin picked Betsy up, looking her over. She looked clean, and her battery was fully charged. This bartender had been taking good care of her. “That’s Betsy alright. So you’ve known the whole time. Why the game of playing coy?”
“In my business, you don’t admit to knowing anything without knowing whether you’ll end up laying on the floor clutching your broken skull. Especially when dealing with a famous bounty hunter who ends up getting killed by a Psionic dark warrior. You…” Lefty paused, looking Dennin up and down like he was sizing the bounty hunter up for new clothing. “You seem alright. I’d never talk with the guy that ghosted you, but I’ll give you what you want to know.”
“Fair enough. So, what happened?” Dennin placed Betsy back on the bar, with the barrel pointing away from either of them.
“Well… you, the dark guy and some other fellow were in here around dinner time. Being the popular attraction we are, there wasn’t anyone else in here. You ordered a drink, a distilled water I believe, and the other two sat in the corner. They talked for a moment, and then passed something between them. That happens here all the time. If you want a part of the universe that is far away from prying eyes or ESDF security cameras, this is the hole you’re looking for. I didn’t think too much of it. They left, you slammed your water and followed. I figured that was it for the night.”
Lefty walked over, grabbed the bottle of ice whiskey, and refilled Dennin’s glass. “About twenty minutes later, you flew through the door, and I don’t mean ran quickly. You were airborne, and you smashed my door into about ten pieces. Then the dark guy comes through and lands on top of you. His left arm was a shield, and his right arm was a sword. Those are primitive weapons by today’s standards, so they were pretty memorable.”
The bartender just put the bottle down on the bar. He leaned against the counter behind him that held various bottle of intoxicants. “So then he shield slams your helmet, cracking it in half. Then he… well, he buried the sword into your forehead. Head wounds bleed a lot, so you made quite the mess. The creepy guy gets up, turns his weaponized arms back into regular arms and throws a credit stick on the floor. He says to me ‘Sorry about the mess. And the door.’ Then he’s gone. Not gone like he walked out, he just vanished mid-step.”
Lefty pulled a credit stick out of his pocket and held it up like evidence. “Turns out the credit stick has over a hundred thousand credits on it. I almost choked on my tongue. The door is only worth about twenty creds, so I’m guessing the extra were for my silence. I’ve been silent, well, until now. I figure if anyone can know what went down, it’s you.”
“Just so you know who else you’re dealing with, that dark guy was Alae Mors. He’s a real treat of a fellow. Livens up any party. I certainly don’t want to be less generous than he is, so you can keep Betsy, my old armor, and here, this completes the look.” Dennin held out his new helmet to Lefty. “I only ask for one thing in exchange; don’t go around pretending to be me. I can come back from the dead, but I highly doubt that you can. In my line of work, every scumbag in the universe is looking to kill you. If I were you, I’d get the armor and gun stripped and repainted a different color. You’ve got the credits to get that done, thanks to Mors.”
Lefty took the helmet, tried it on briefly, and then placed it on the counter he had been leaning against. He would have to get some alterations done to the helmet, and the rest of the armor as well. “That’s mighty neighborly of you. I’ll be sure to take that into consideration. The armor is great stuff, except for me, it has an extra glove. I was thinking I might get one of those fancy cybernetic hand replacements. Almost have enough credits to pay for it already. I do actually remember my given name. It’s Cliff, like the sign on the shingle outside. Cliff’s Edge has two meaning. We’re here, on the edge of a cliff. The other is that I’m Cliff, and living here is probably going to put me over the edge and drive me crazy. My full name is Cliff ‘Lefty’ Shiles. I’m just a business owner here on this lovely planet. I don’t travel much, so there are no worries about me acting like I’m you.”
Dennin smiled at the dual meaning of the establishment’s name. “That’s good for both of us, then. Well, Mr. Shiles, I’ve got what I came here for. I don’t know why, but I just needed closure this time. Thanks for the banter. Oh, I’d also like to buy the rest of that bottle off you. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a long, lonely night. I could use the company.”
Cliff handed Dennin the cheaply decorated bottle of liquid. “Here, my treat. Take care of yourself Mr. Brenner. I don’t want to see you bleeding out on my floor again anytime soon.”