What follows is the start of a weekly serial detailing the strange and ridiculous exploits of a bunch of far-future mercenaries. New, short episodes every Friday afternoon – welcome to the world of ‘Blast’em’!
He called her the wrong name. Twice. So Aurora whipped her hand back, and sent it crashing against the grunt’s face. Skin rippled, like an earthquake coming out from where the heel of her palm crunched into his cheek. His eyes flew up and his mouth screwed into a jagged line, as if all of the nerves in his face twisted at once . Then he dropped to the ground. Hit the floor like a bomb. One that sent the rest of the mess into deafening quiet.
“My name’s Aurora. Get it right.” She spoke down to the grunt, even though it was clear the man’s glassed gaze showed he was anywhere but here.
Aurora cast the same threat around the mess hall. Bunch of rookies. New drafts to the Corp. All of them staring back at her like she was a Gnarler, all tentacles and teeth. They were scared. As well they should be. Look at them there, elbows on the steel tables. Trays full of nutrient soup. The rookie grunts were all shades, all types. Even a few E.T.’s in the mix this time. A trio of willowy Caspers, their thin membranes making them almost translucent.
DefenseCorp must be expanding its horizons. Marketing to species that don’t breed like rabbits, like humans. Convincing them that hard-earned cash and the chance to fire big cannon were worth risking your life. Not the worst message.
It’d worked on her.
“You see what happened here?” Aurora announced to the silence. “He didn’t respect his superior. He didn’t respect me. And when you don’t respect me, you don’t respect who you work for. And if you don’t respect the Corp, this is what happens.” She pointed the body in the ground.
Another reason she liked working for DefenseCorp? This guy decorating the floor right here. None of that standard issue government regulation. Just good old-fashioned survival of the fittest. Fatter paychecks too.
Aurora resumed walking. Left the hall and the food that she didn’t want behind. As fun as it was to strike some fear into the rookies, she’d only been going through there on her way to someplace more important: the bridge.
The Odin-class cruiser Nautilus. The home of of nearly 200,000 people. Made from the core of an asteroid, hollowed out, refined and sent off on journeys to the most dangerous, most profitable parts of the galaxy DefenseCorp could find. Anywhere chaos planted its seeds, DefenseCorp showed up, ready to kill and clear. The company all others paid to take care of dirty deeds.
Speaking of dirt, Aurora stepped around a ridged patch of asteroid rock jutting through the side of the Nautilus’ central corridor. Molding a ship to an asteroid required certain concessions, like the occasional presence of space stone breaking through the polished perfection of refined manufacturing. Aurora had spent time on more standard cruisers, and they didn’t have the flare the Nautilus carried – some artistic DefenseCorp staffers had decided to coat these outcroppings in the colors of the various squads.
Sever’s gold and black was, of course, near the hanger and loomed down in a chunky oval from the ceiling. Aurora made a habit of tapping it with her hand before every mission, training or real. Luck was always desired, and ritual seemed the best way to ensure it.
Aurora glanced at her tablet as she walked – an easy motion, as it was bolted to her left wrist. Embedded, if you wanted to call it that. That way they couldn’t be lost. That way the batteries, if necessary, could recharge off of her own body heat. Keep it running in low mode no matter how long she was out. Until she died, anyway.
The tablet blinked at her. As it had been doing the last ten minutes. The length of time it’d taken her to go from her quarters, through the mess hall, knock out the lunkhead, and now to get here.
The bridge of the Nautilus was larger than most stadiums. A huge amount of space, for a huge amount of officers. Scanners, computers, giant domes for people to sit in that would provide, in case of some sort of battle, 3-D modeling of everything going on. Right now though, the Nautilus was in transit. Which meant everything out in front of the ship was awash in black. Off on the right, a pinkish nebula glowed. Pretty, if you had the time for that sort of thing.
“Took you long enough,” Commander Efron said. The man stood tall. Rippling in his skin suit that he never took off. That all DefenseCorp commanders had to wear as part of their rank. Seeing it made Aurora’s standard-issue cloth itch.
A skin suit provided the usual comforts. Regulated Efron’s body temp, killed poisons that made their way into his bloodstream, and happened to be a snazzy crimson uniform. One of the bonuses of earning Efron’s rank was the chance to have some style. The collar brushed up to the bottom of Efron’s chin, a dark one covered with not a millimeter of hair. A reflection, Aurora figured, of Efron’s start in an actual military force. Those things had existed until Defense Corp, with its lack of morals and rules, had put them all out of business.
“I tried to run, but someone got in my way.” Aurora didn’t bother shrugging; Efron knew any obstacle had been removed.
“It’s fine,” Efron said. “Twenty minutes ago we received a covert SOS. VIP customer, so it’s need to know. Your squad is being pulled from our main assignment to handle this one, and we’re almost to the drop point. Your team is ready?”
“I read the message,” Aurora said. “Sever will be ready to launch.”
“And you?” Efron replied. “You’re good on the particulars?”
“It’s a standard for Sever, right?” Aurora said. “Get in, raise all manner of bloody hell, then get out?”
“With the client, yes,” Efron smiled. “One warning though – you won’t be getting an extraction. We can’t delay our primary contract.”
No extract? That didn’t sound right. On occasion, Sever would do a drop and run. But that just meant the extraction would be delayed. Sever squad would hold their own, wait undercover after completing the mission and eventually some shuttle or another would show up and give them a ride back home. Efron wasn’t talking about that though. She could tell in his voice. A final note to it.
“What do you mean?” Aurora almost added sir, but this wasn’t the military. You didn’t have to call your commanding officers titles. They weren’t even really officers. Just bosses.
“It means you have to find your own way off world,” Efron said. “This contract is strictly classified. We can’t have evidence that DefenseCorp was involved.”
“Won’t it be pretty evident? My squad doesn’t operate in the dark.”
“You’re the best, Aurora. That’s why you’re getting this assignment. You and Sever will figure it out. Buy a shuttle, or steal one. You’ll be reimbursed.”
And if we can’t? Aurora didn’t ask the question, because there was only one answer.