Chapter 4: A Cold, Quiet and Lonely Type of Folk

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Z’H’AR
The Lonely World
Boron Sector
27f-11-2337

The planet Z’h’ar turned out to be halfway across the galaxy from Station 34-Alpha. Of course it was; this was the sort of luck I was having nowadays. While I’d heard of it, I didn’t know much about it, being that it didn’t impact much on my day-to-day life. Being the responsible employee that I was, I spent the journey reading up on my destination.

Z’h’ar was populated by two intelligent species, but to group both into one category was kinda disingenuous.

One species, the Iyr, were an advanced species, key members of the GMU, and known particularly for their head-to-toe mechsuits. These suits were installed with a number of programmes giving the user new abilities. They might provide extra strength, night vision, in-built assistants – you name it, they had it. Of course, not every Iyr would have every function included in their suit – such abilities were expensive – and typically only owned programmes relevant to their employment. Most notably of all – or so the guidepage would have you believe – nobody outside of their race had ever seen the face of an Iyr.

The other supposedly intelligent species, the Arellians, were little more than barbarians – the equivalent of Terrans over two thousand years ago. A desert-dwelling people, they tend to keep to themselves, farm the land, and were barely even aware of the existence of people from other planets. As such, little was known about their species.

I stared at the planet as we approached, wondering to myself how on earth I was going to solve this likely unsolvable case, on this planet I had never before visited. It was, if nothing else, a long shot.

I suppose I could go work in a bar somewhere. I’d always fancied doing something like that. Maybe I’d be happier there, anyway. No travelling involved, of course, but at least I could count on regular tips. Let’s face it, that would be more than this job ever gave me.

We touched down and I was greeted by a rather cold customs official. There were none of the smiles of home, only a long stare up and down, and a look that seemed to say “what on Z’h’ar are you doing here?” …but it was hard to tell exactly what expression they were pulling from under that helmet.

‘I see you left this part of the form blank,’ the border guard said, pointing at the visa application. ‘Referring to where you will be staying on your visit?’

‘Ah, yes,’ I replied. ‘It was kinda a last minute thing, so I don’t have anywhere yet, but I’ll be staying at a hotel in town, I guess.’

‘I can’t let you through until you have somewhere to stay.’

‘But I-’

‘I can’t let you through until you have somewhere to stay,’ the guard repeated, their tone exactly the same as the first time around.

I shook my head in exasperation, tapped in ‘Z’h’ar hotels’ on my console, and booked the first one that came up. It took a whole five seconds to do. Maybe I could have found a better price if I had browsed for a little while, but I was too petty to pass up on an opportunity to be passive-aggressive.

‘There,’ I replied, showing the guard the confirmation page, ‘Ut’r’a hostel, Central Stronghold.’

The guard nodded, waved me through, and shouted, ‘Next!’ to the queue behind me.

I passed through security and summoned a shuttle from my console. Before I could jump in it, a larger Iyr pushed in front of me, chucking their luggage into the back.

‘Hey, that one’s mine!’ I called out to the Iyr.

The only response I was given was a mildly irritated grunt. They closed the door, and I was forced to summon another. That was a whole thirty seconds of my time wasted already. Not that half a minute was going to make the difference between me finding this girl and not.

After checking in to the hotel (and, of course, spending a good quarter of an hour simply lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling), I headed out to the target’s last known location. There was no time like the present – especially when my job was on the line.

My best chances, really, were in the target returning home by herself. That’s if home was where she actually wanted to be, and this wasn’t just another runaway situation. But it seemed unlikely – she was old enough now that she would have soon been making her own way through life anyway. Maybe she was just caught up somewhere – a party, a brothel perhaps? Although, looking around at the stern, armour-plated Iyr, I couldn’t imagine that either parties or brothels were in particularly heavy supply around here.

No. If I found her, it would be down to my own abilities as an investigator, rather than dumb luck. Perhaps this was why Saotchun was so keen on using this case as a test.

I looked around at the city I found myself in. The central stronghold, operating as the capital here on Z’h’ar, was a desolate place, even for a desert planet. High walls surrounded the vertical city, guard towers posted around every gate. In the city itself, everything was about function; there was no art, no music, only blank screens posted on every street corner. This wasn’t a planet that I would be returning to for a holiday.

The local Iyr kept to themselves, heads facing down, walking with purpose as though they all had somewhere that they desperately wanted to be.

Outside the city, as far as I could tell, was no better. On the plus side, there were none of these charmless Iyr about. On the other hand, they had to deal with a lack of air conditioning, which I didn’t myself fancy in this heat.

I thought it was supposed to be winter here? What do they do in their summers? Melt?

The target, Melonaitopila (which was supposedly a short name for an Itagurinatipilazutinafian), had, by all accounts, last been spotted at a local U’kka shop. The store, while indeed serving U’kka, seemed to in fact specialise in Guran kebabs – a rather grandiose term for what turned to be simply a rodent cooked on a stick. When it came to my turn to order, I stuck to drinks only.

‘Say…,’ I started, ‘Have you seen this woman, recently, by any chance?’

I showed the store owner a picture of the target on my console’s holodisplay. The Iyr shook his head.

‘Not seen her.’

‘Are you sure?’ I prompted. ‘She was here, about a week ago?’

‘In this store?’

‘Yes. In this store.’

‘I have not seen her,’ the Iyr repeated.

I thanked them for their (lack of) help, and sat down to drink my U’kka. When the shift changed, I asked the new Iyr behind the counter the same questions, and received the same result.

This wasn’t a great start, and it wasn’t as though I had a massive number of leads I could follow. I repeated the experiment outside the store, but found that Iyr were unwilling to stop for a stranger from another world. Even when I stood their way, many would ignore me, and the few who did stop were less than helpful. The local Iyr would have me believe that nobody had seen this woman.

I’d landed fairly late, and so the day soon turned to night. Not wanting to be standing around in a strange street after dark, I decided to abandon my post, regroup, and try again tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, a new route of investigation would occur to me by then.

As I headed in search of somewhere to drink (real drink, not any more U’kka, unless I wanted my bowels to resent me), the screens posted around the city all suddenly blinked into action.

A symbol appeared, glowing in blue on the screens, one that I could have sworn that I recognised from somewhere. An equilateral triangle, with a kind of zig-zag hanging out the bottom. This must have been a character in the Iyr’s own language – one that nobody outside their own race was able to understand, even with universal translators. The Iyr really were a private people.

Around me, all the Iyr had stopped to stare at their nearest screen, and were transfixed by it. The symbol, then, was replaced, by an image of an Iyr, sitting, facing the screen. He spoke in the common tongue for a few minutes, during which time, everyone else remained still, silent, fascinated by what they were being told. I listened in; little of it was of interest to me, covering only topics like the local economy, updates on the negotiations with the GMU, and the weather.

Surprise, surprise – it’s hot again.

And then, just like that, it ended – the blue shape being shown again, upside down this time, on the screens. The nearby Iyr took this as their cue to continue with their days. I shook my head in bemusement at the whole situation, and I, too, carried on.

I found a bar open just outside the Iyr capital’s Central Command building. It was an impressive structure, almost perfectly cubic but for the doors and windows. Stretching across the whole of the front face, two symbols were painted in a brilliantly-white tone, presumably meaning “Central Command” in the local language. I took one last look at this monument to government, and entered the bar.

The Iyr’s ambivalence towards the arts meant that their interiors were minimalist, functional. A smooth, concrete bar stood tall along one side of the room, sharp, square corners matching the style of the Central Command building. I assumed this similar motif was unintentional rather than designed – I couldn’t yet imagine an Iyr with that much creativity. Next to the bar itself, a number of (largely empty) bar stools hovered, facing away from the square tables behind them. It was at one of these stools which I sat.

With no bar staff currently in sight, I took a moment to look around at the other customers. A group of Iyr sat, having a quiet, civilised conversation at one of the tables. A young Pritan trained his eye on the Lonely Galaxy’s guide to Z’h’ar, and accidentally spilt his green drink down his “I heart Z’h’ar” t-shirt. In the corner, another Iyr sat alone, his helmet marked with a red stripe.

I pulled my console from my pocket, with the intention of looking up the meaning of this red stripe, when the bartender suddenly appeared.

‘What would you like?’

‘You mean, to drink? Or just, like, generally?’

‘To drink,’ the Iyr replied, and I could only assume that there was a stern expression under that helmet.

What a humourless bunch.

‘Whisky,’ I replied. I wasn’t risking the local stuff, not after that spit-roasted rat I’d seen earlier.

‘Terran or Rykan?’

‘The real stuff,’ I answered. ‘Spelled with an H.’

The barman (or barwoman – it was impossible to tell from under these mechsuits) poured a glass, and I timidly took my first sip. Recognising that it really was the good stuff, I downed the rest of the rather small portion.

The Iyr bartender, still standing and looking at me, poured me another, and asked.

‘I shall leave the bottle, shall I?’

I shrugged – and the Iyr correctly construed that response as a “yes”. I topped up my glass, filling it to the brim, rather than having barely a splash, as suggested by the bartender’s serving.

As I sipped quietly, allowing the warm liquid to run down my throat, I pondered everything that had happened over the past few days.

This job, potentially my last, hadn’t gotten off to a good start. I had no real leads, a population of locals entirely dedicated to being unhelpful, and the heat was almost unbearable. No wonder this case had been the bottom of the pile, the last to be picked.

Trying to distract myself from the inevitability of me failing to complete this job, I pulled out Leya’s journal and skimmed through it again. It was a waste of time, without knowing how she’d encrypted it, I wasn’t going to be able to understand it. Looking through it now, it seemed as though there were sections, each cipher using different character sets. It didn’t seem like she had encrypted the whole thing at once, but maybe every now and then, when she had the chance? I put the journal away again in a huff; I felt destined to fail with that, too.

I spent another hour and a half or so in wistful contemplation; remembering the days of old, and pondering the route I had in front of me.

Only when I realised that my mood was turning sour, did I look around the room once again; it was time for some company. I didn’t fancy wasting my time on any more of the humourless locals – neither the quiet group nor the lone customers with the red markings – and so I fixed my eyes on the Pritan.

Soon, he caught me looking at him, and quickly, embarrassed, shifted his gaze to focus back on his book. I could tell, now, that he was staring at the page, reading the same passages over and over, distracted by me gazing at him. It didn’t seem like he was going to take the hint that he should come over.

I sighed, collected my glass and the bottle, and walked over to his table. The Pritan continued to pretend that he was transfixed by his book.

If you like that guidebook so much, why don’t you just… step outside and actually experience the planet you’re reading about.

I resisted the urge to open with this suggestion, and instead sat opposite him, continuing to look over in his direction. I was conscious, already, that the alcohol was starting to go to my head. I wasn’t usually like this; it must have been the heat.

‘Good book?’ I asked.

‘Yeah… yeah, it’s good,’ the Pritan replied, barely glancing up at me.

‘Want some of this?’ I offered, pointing at the bottle of whisky. ‘It’s good.’

As if to reinforce the point, I downed another glass.

The Pritan shook his head.

‘So, how comes you’re here? On holiday?’

Sensing that he wasn’t going to be rid of me any time soon, the Pritan put down his book and diverted his attention to me.

‘I’m… I’m, err,’ he began, stuttering over his words. ‘I’m just travelling the sector. I just finished studying and… and my dad, he said he’d pay for me to see some of the galaxy.’

‘Ah, I get it. He thought it’d put some hairs on your chest?’

The Pritan, in addition to looking nervous, now looked confused as well. He glanced down at his own, hairless chest. ‘Well… I don’t know about that. But he thought it would be good for me, if that’s what you mean.’

‘And you’ve seen a lot, sitting in bars, reading guidebooks?’ I asked, hoping the smile on my face would be enough for the Pritan to understand that I was just poking fun at him.

‘I’ve been out, too!’ he replied. ‘It’s just… Z’h’ar’s a bit of a lonely place, isn’t it?’

‘Tell me about it. That’s the reason I chose you to come over and bother, rather than this lot.’ I nodded my head in the direction of the group of Iyr, who were currently sitting in silence, sporadically sipping from their glasses.

‘Oh. I see,’ the Pritan responded, and then, when I didn’t carry the conversation any further, asked, ‘So… so why are you here?’

I looked around the room. Nobody seemed to be listening; the group were talking amongst themselves, the lone Iyr was staring into space.

To hell with it, who’s gonna care anyway?

‘Here for work. Looking for someone. Diplomat’s daughter. From Itagurinatipilazutinafi.’

‘Good pronunciation.’

‘Thanks.’

‘So, she’s missing?’

I shrugged. ‘Seems that way. Chances are I’m wasting my time looking for her. The people here… haven’t exactly been helpful. Don’t suppose you’ve seen her?’

I showed my new friend an image on my console’s holodisplay. He shook his head.

‘Well,’ I replied, ‘I guess that was a longshot.’

I raised my glass took another gulp.

The Pritan, loosening up a little now, leaned in close. ‘What about that guy? You asked him?’ He pointed to the lone drinker in the corner.

‘What, I wouldn’t ask him cos he looks so scary?’

The Pritan pulled a face which suggested that he thought that was exactly the reason that I wouldn’t have asked him. ‘Tell you what, if you do it, I’ll pay for a quart of that bottle you’re drinking.’

‘Make it half.’

‘No,’ he responded.

‘OK. A quarter it is.’

How could I refuse such a generous offer?

I stood from the table, set my eyes on the Iyr in the corner, and began walking over to him. Catching myself on the edge of one of the tables, and mumbling, ‘Ouch,’ to myself was enough to draw the lone drinker’s attention. He stared me down as I approached.

‘Hi, how-re you?’ I asked, slurring my words a little, but surely not enough that anybody would notice.

The Iyr remained silent, still, and stared at me.

‘I like your… your red bit… up there,’ I continued, pointing at the stripe on the Iyr’s helmet.

Still I got no response. Despite this, I carried on talking.

‘So, anyway, I was looking for this-’

‘Leave,’ the Iyr interrupted.

‘What? Why?’

‘You ask of things that concern only the council.’

‘Concern the…,’ I began to ask. ‘What you on about?’

‘The…,’ the lonely Iyr started… and then fell silent. For a few moments there was only the vacant stare of the mechsuit’s eyes, the inhabitant apparently taking a moment to think about their response.

‘No,’ the Iyr started up again. ‘Leave. No more questions.’

I turned to look over to my new friend, accidentally stepping on the Iyr’s foot in the process. They grunted a noise of irritation, but didn’t wince, so I acted as though it hadn’t happened.

My friend shrugged, and I shrugged back at him in response. Not wanting to shout across the bar, I mimed in his direction the action of taking a sip of drink. He nodded; he would indeed pay for the promised amount of whisky.

I walked back towards him, meaning to skirt around the quiet group of Iyr, but accidentally collided with one as they stood up. Their drink was knocked from their hand, spilling as the glass dropped to the table, a clunk echoing around the bar.

For a moment there was only silence, and then the Iyr whose drink I had spilled raised their arms at me, throwing a punch in my direction. I tried to dodge it, the blow softened as it only barely caught my arm.

So these Iyr aren’t so dull after all!

‘Bit of an over-reaction, don’t you think?’ I asked, as I struck my foot forward to sweep my assailant’s leg. ‘All I did was-’

The Iyr dodged my attempt to floor them. Now even further enraged, they struck me in the side of the head, dizzying me, and sent me tumbling to the ground. They stood over me, broadening their shoulders as though trying to intimidate me..

Through their legs, I saw the Iyr in the corner stand up, and begin marching towards us. When they, too, noticed this, the rest of the Iyr scattered in fear.

‘No more!’ the lonely Iyr called out as they strode. ‘I will have no more of you in here! Nobody casts doubts upon the Iyr!’

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Chapter 3: Not Bad For A Terran

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STATION 34-ALPHA
“Next Services: 7.5billion Kilometres”
Iron Sector
25c-11-2337

I spent the journey flipping through the encrypted pages of Leya’s journal, to no avail. Not only did I not see any way of easily decoding it, but I barely recognised some of the languages being used. It was split into sections – which I could only assume were ordered chronologically – each using a different set of characters. Beaten by this puzzle, I slammed the book shut and returned to staring absent-mindedly out the ship window.

When I docked back at Station 34-Alpha, I was welcomed with the familiar hustle and bustle of the central promenade. Businesses lined the Strip – a great many of them owned by fine, upstanding members of our great galaxy. There was a Gulian restaurant that served food which would fill you up as quickly as you wished – a single bite for those in a hurry, or several courses for those travelling for leisure. A bar, manned by a mute Iyr (who never seemed to remove his helmet) sold some of the purest alcohol on the galaxy – just don’t expect great service. And who could talk of 34-Alpha without mentioning the great Trunon, the best plasma-spinner in the sector.

Other businesses, such as the one I worked for, were not held in quite so much high regard. The shop front was coated in a thick layer of dust, the door’s opening protocol needed fixing up, and the ageing holosign was more often than not hacked to instead display pornography (courtesy of the kids of the promenade). These three issues conspired to give the agency the illusion of being a strip club, and attracted all the wrong sorts of customers.

As I entered the agency premises, a small, rotund Bringla looked up from his desk. Well, mostly he did – two of his eyes remained trained on his console. Typically he would be sat, locked up, in his office, but today he was using the communal desks, perhaps taking advantage of nobody else being around.

‘Raynor. You’re late. Expected you back here two rotations ago,’ he started.

‘Yes, sir. Sorry. Came from Terra, other side of the sector. Traffic was a nightmare.’

‘Ah, yes, I forget that you’re one of those. From Terra. Maybe keep that hush-hush for the time being, eh?’

‘What? Why? What’s going on?’

‘You mean to say you haven’t figured it out yet? What sort of detective are you? Come on, Raynor. I’m sat out here, my office door closed, what do you think is going on?’

Oh, leave it out, mate.

‘Maybe, sir, if you sent me on those training programmes you promised when I signed on at this agency, I’d have worked it out.’

Hutch sighed, rolled a few eyes in exasperation.

‘Well, good news and bad. Good news is the company’s been purchased, everyone with shares gets a payout.’

‘I don’t have shares.’

‘Oh? Really? Shit. Just bad news for you, then. You have a new boss. He’s been waiting for you. Everyone else has come and gone.’

Hutch nodded to the closed office door. I noticed that his name had been programmed out of the nameplate, replaced by the name of a P Saotchun.

My former boss nodded at me. ‘Yes, go on. Don’t keep him waiting any longer than you have to.’

What’s the worst that could happen? They fire me? Maybe I should get out of this hellhole anyway.

I walked, cautiously, up to the office door, and poked my head around it.

‘Mr Saotchun?’

Another Bringla sat at Hutch’s old desk. He, too, was small and rotund. Maybe they were just all like that; I couldn’t remember ever meeting a Bringla before Hutch.

‘Ah, you must be Ms Raynor, is that right?’

Without waiting for an answer, he brought my file up on the holoscreen in front of him.

I sat down on the chair opposite and opened my mouth to speak. In response, Saotchun put his hand up to my face, signalling that he needed longer to read my file.

If I’m as late as Hutch seems to think I am, couldn’t he have read it in the meantime?

I analysed his face as he continued to read. If this Bringla’s facial cues were the same as Hutch’s, then he was getting less and less impressed the more he read. I hoped that I was wrong.

Eventually, he began to speak. ‘So I assume Hutch filled you in outside?’

‘Not really. Only that you’d bought the company.’

‘That’s right. And, like any business-savvy individual would when taking over a new company, I began with performance reviews. I’m happy to say that over sixty percent of your colleagues passed with flying colours! The others will be fired.’

Oh.

‘Well,’ I began, a smile on my face, ‘I look forward to working together!’

The Bringla looked me in the eyes for the first time since I entered his office.

‘Oh, you assume you have passed, do you?’

‘No, no, I don’t mean that, I just mean… I was just being polite.’

‘Hmm.’

The room fell silent again for a few more moments.

‘Your performance reports do not impress.’

‘Well, I’m fairly new here, and I haven’t had much in the way of the training that was promised yet, and-’

‘So you’re blaming the lack of training for these average results?’

‘Well, I- Wait, average? I thought you said my performance was bad?’

The Bringla seemed to tut at me. Bringla don’t tut, do they?

No, I said your performance “does not impress”. I like to pride myself on only employing investigators who exceed expectation. You do not. At least, you don’t by my usual standards. But it says here… you’re a Terran?’

‘Did my stunning good looks not give it away?’ I asked, and then immediately regretted this flippant response. Sometimes I just couldn’t resist saying these things.

‘They did not, no,’ Saotchun replied, giving me a funny look. ‘If I were to judge you against my usual standards, I would fire you straight away, but…’

He trailed off, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was just for dramatic effect. I remained silent, waiting for him to finish his train of thought.

‘Can you say “fuck” yet?’

I raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘This word: fuck. I met another Terran once, he refused to say it. He was insistent that to use such a word would go against everything that he, and all Terrans, hold dear: their morals.’

‘I mean…,’ I replied, ‘I could say it if you really want…’

I could picture my mum shouting at me, horrified that I would say such a thing.

Young woman, you wash that mouth out this minute, you hear me?

‘Can you?’ Saotchun replied. ‘That’s not a rhetorical question, I stress. You see, all the Terrans I’ve met have been missing that certain… quality. That edge, that investigators need in order to do their jobs well. That ability to bend the rules, to break them if they see fit. I’ve never known a Terran to do that. In fact, they go the other way: they look to spread their sense of morality amongst the stars. I’ve never known a race without religion to be so preachy. So, with this in mind, I ask you: will you say it?’

‘Yes, I can say it.’

‘Well, then…’

A pause. Only by giving in could I fill the empty air.

‘F… fuck.’

Saotchun roared with laughter, clapped some of his hands together with joy.

‘I wish I’d recorded that. A Terran, swearing! Who would’ve thought it!’

He waved his hand over the desk communicator, opening a line to the outside office.

‘Hutch, come in here, will you? And bring the last file.’

After a scuffling from outside, the door opened behind me, and Hutch stood at the threshold to the room, file in hand.

‘Did she pass?’ he asked, mouth hanging slightly open.

Well don’t look so surprised, mate.

‘She’s on probation,’ Saotchun replied. ‘Give her the file, will you?’

Hutch ambled on over, placed the tablet on the desk in front of me.

‘This case,’ the new boss told me, ‘Will either cement you as a permanent member of the team, or will be your last case. You understand?’

I nodded.

‘Now, unfortunately, I let all the employees who arrived back here on time choose their own cases, and so this one… this one is the case nobody picked.’

I looked down at the file in front of me. It was a missing persons case. Of course it was – my colleagues were no fools.

‘So I-’ I began to ask, before I was interrupted by Saotchun.

‘So if you solve this case, you stay on the team, yes.’

‘But it’s a missing persons case! We solve maybe one in ten of these.’

‘Well, then,’ the Bringla replied, an overtly fake grin on his face, ‘Maybe you’ll arrive on time for your next performance review?’

I nodded, looked down at the console, and skimmed through it.

‘Missing daughter… government minister…’

‘Yes, very sharp man, he was,’ Saotchun added. ‘An Itagurina… Itagurinato… Itagurinatipi…’

‘Itagurinatipilaz,’ Hutch offered.

‘Yes! One of them. They’re a very sharp species, aren’t they? You Terrans could learn a thing or two from them! Anyway, yes: missing daughter of a government minister. Last see on Z’h’ar, amongst the…’

Saotchun’s eyes scanned the document. ‘…Amongst the Iyr – oh! That’s an easier one!’

As I skimmed, I saw something else on the page, which made my heart drop.

‘It says here this is a “no win, no fee” contract? How do you expect to turn a profit with that clause in our contracts?’

Saotchun laughed. ‘Well, Ms Raynor, I expect us to turn a profit by having employees skilled enough to solve these cases. And that’s precisely why some of your colleagues had to go.’

He shot Hutch a damning look, and my old boss suddenly became very interested in his shoes.

‘Look, it’s not just me, or my colleagues – nobody solves these kinds of cases. Nobody! Usually, by the time we even receive these cases, the target is long gone, off-planet, maybe even dead. You’re really gonna give me this as the only chance to save my job?’

‘I am, yes.’ He lent in close. ‘Look, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in your position before. I didn’t inherit my position, I worked for it, and, at the very start of my career, I, too, was the latest recruit in some crappy agency which barely turned a profit.’

Hutch opened his mouth as if to argue this point, but then thought better of it.

‘But you know what I did?’ he asked me.

‘What?’

‘I worked. Hard.’ Saotchun sat back in his seat, no longer pretending to be sharing some big, dark, secret with me. ‘And I solved cases like this. And then I got promotions, and I learned to manage people, delegate. And, after a great many years of hard work, I now own a chain of detective agencies throughout the sector. I am living my dream. So, if I were you, I would work hard, solve this case, and think about where you want to be in five cycles.’

Saotchun stood up from his desk and opened the door for me to leave.

‘Solve this, or you’re out, understand?’

I nodded.

‘Good. I’ll be keeping three of my eyes on you.’

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Thanks for reading this chapter of A Galaxy, Alive – I hope you enjoyed it!

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Chapter 2: Home Is Where The Nightmares Are

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TERRA
The Mended World
Carbon Sector
22-11-2337

Map of the Thames Delta, circa 2336

The transport ship glided down around the Crystal Palace, a tall glass spire piercing the heavens, with the EEO neon sign standing proudly towards the top. I watched the waves lick at Streatham Island’s flood defences as the ship queued to dock at the local shipyard.

This city had changed a hell of a lot over the past few hundred years. Until the mid 2100s, London was one of the largest capitals in the world. Of course, the Climate Crisis soon put an end to that, with large swathes of city being taken over by the sea. It wasn’t just in the continent of Europa, either. The capital of the Americas, Rio de Janeiro, was completely wiped off the map, with locals being relocated to the higher lands of Brasilia.

Where the Americas still had empty space, Europa did not. It had already grown hugely overpopulated by the time of the Climate Crisis, and so there was no land left on which to relocate anyone. Instead, we built upwards – towering structures pierced the skyline, and none peaked higher than the third Crystal Palace.

A long, winding bridge protruded from the northwestern-most point of Streatham Island, connecting the north side of what used to be London to the remaining strongholds in the south. This bridge snaked around the heavily-fortified Buckingham Palace, which was abandoned long ago, even before the last days of the monarchy. Then, it proceeded to the southernmost tip of the Great Willesden Estates, skirting around the now-uninhabitable Soho Marshlands.

‘Marshlands’ was an informal name, of course. There was nothing particularly marshy about Soho nowadays, except perhaps for the high water level. Instead of tall reeds and fine grasses, it was rubble that sprouted from the water – bricks, metal and the like.

We finally touched down at the Streatham Shipyard, and I joined another long queue: customs. It was almost laughable, the idea that a Terran might try to smuggle something into the planet. No Terran I’d ever known would have been capable of breaking the law in such an overt manner. How would they reconcile that with themselves? In fact, the worse I had ever seen a Terran do was drive their shuttle through a yellow light – and that was enough to elicit audible gasps from everyone in the vicinity. Full disclosure: I was that Terran.

It was visitors, I supposed, that the Terran government was concerned about. Who knows what such immoral species might bring on to their wonderful (if half-destroyed) planet? But they couldn’t just wave the Terrans through, of course. Treating species differently like that would have caused international outrage. Understandable, really. So we had to suffer through it in silence.

I brought up my console while I was in the queue, gave my mother an estimated time of arrival. She read the message and sent no reply. Typical. Or maybe she was just busy.

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time, Mum.

When I eventually got through the shipyard security, I summoned a shuttle, threw my lightly-packed bag in the back, and programmed in my mum’s address. This was the last time I would see this place, I noted; she was moving home tomorrow. I thought of those younger years spent in that home, in that cramped, dim space, and of staring out the windows that faced only other apartment blocks. It held a special place in the heart that was reserved only for a childhood home.

The shuttle wound through the overly-complicated shipyard transport network, until, finally, it brought me out on to the main road heading north. My Mum’s place – my Mum’s old place, I began to condition myself – wasn’t far from the shipyard, just a few miles north. This would be the last time I would have such an easy journey. The transport network around the Woolwich Peninsula, on the other hand, was nowhere near as smooth – not that anyone on Terra would be so negative as to admit such a flaw.

I exited the shuttle outside the block of flats that had paid host to my childhood home, and I looked up at it, taking it in one last time. Every few floors were painted a separate colour, each relating to a certain profession. The idea had been that neighbours who worked in the same industries would have more in common, and it would make for a more civilised living arrangement. This was classic 2290s New Age nonsense.

I took the transmat to the thirty-first floor (which was a pale fuschia, signifying that artists lived there), and the front door sensor alerted my mother to my presence. The door, recognising me as a trusted user, opened automatically, revealing my mum crouching beside a pile of hovering metal crates.

‘Syl! You’re here!’ she called out, acting surprised, as though her Home System hadn’t already told her this.

‘Yeah, I’m here, Mum. How are you?’

‘I’m good sweetheart, I’m good,’ she replied, wrapping her arms around me. ‘And how is my little girl?’

‘I’m twenty-four, Mum. This “little girl” business has to stop at some point.’

‘Oh,’ she replied, waving dismissively at me, ‘Let me have that one.’

I looked around at the apartment, which was still, largely, unpacked.

‘I see it’s going… well,’ I said.

‘I know, I know! I’m behind. What’s new? That’s what you’re here for, though, isn’t it? To help?’

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. ‘Yes, mother. Can I at least get a cup of tea first?’

Mum asked the house for two cups, and the machines in the kitchen whirred into life. In my youth, the equipment had been new, operating silently but for a soft purr. Now, after years upon years of use, the gears in the machines were beginning to grind, the pipes were slightly clogged, and, to be honest, it could all do with being ripped out and replaced. But we don’t do that, not on Terra, not any more.

‘So how have you been? Really?’ I asked.

She shrugged. ‘I don’t want to say things have been hard. I mean, we live on Terra after all. It’s not like there’s anywhere better out there.’

‘You’d be surprised, Mum.’

‘Maybe there’s places for you, Syl, but not for an old girl like me. Terra’s the only place I’ve known… it’s too late for me to start anywhere new. Right now, though, this just doesn’t feel like home.’

‘Turknan is supposed to be nice at the moment? Since the droughts ended.’

Mum shook her head. This was a pointless exercise, it seemed.

‘Is this anything to do with the move?’ I asked.

She looked me in the eyes, a pained expression on her face, and nodded. ‘There’s just no work for me, here, not any more. The whole floor is moving – art isn’t important to Terra like it used to be. Government’s preoccupied with standard of living, but what’s the point of living in a world without the arts?’

‘I know, Mum I know…’

‘It was that…,’ she paused, bent towards me conspiratorially, her hand partially covering her mouth, and whispered a word I’d never heard her say before. ‘…bloody GMU business, wasn’t it?’

‘Woah, Mum, no need to swear like that!’ I responded, in both jest and horror that my own mother would use a word like ‘bloody’.

‘I’m sorry, Syl, I’m just so wound up by it all. Didn’t know I’d lose my home, did I? Thought leaving the GMU was just about preserving our culture, it wasn’t like they explained all the nitty-gritty trade details to us. Not like I knew that Terran arts were propped up by GMU subsidies…’

She shook her head, forced a smile, and continued, ‘Sorry. You don’t want to hear about something as boring as trade agreements when there’s a whole galaxy of adventures out there, do you?’

‘No, Mum, it’s OK, honest. I get it. I’m sad to lose this place too.’

‘The new place will be nice, too, though,’ she replied, her voice wobbling in that way it did when she was lying to herself.

‘Have you seen it?’

‘Yeah. Set up the transmitter there yesterday.’

‘You got a transmitter? Very posh!’ I said, encouragingly.

‘Comes as standard with state-provided housing, don’t you know! Saves you loading all your stuff in a shuttle, which, let’s face it, is the worst thing about moving.’

When I needed a break from my mother, as all daughters often do, I offered to start packing in the study. My mum, grateful for any help that I could give her, told me to have at it.

I remembered Dad using the study a lot. It was one of the few memories I had of him. He would position himself in the corner of the room, in a large armchair, sat facing the very left hand side of the window, where you could see a small slither of the view to the south. I never knew what he was pondering so deeply, but even then, I could tell from his body language that it was important.

Nowadays, Mum had set up shop in there for her art. A huge digital tablet, her pride and joy (even more so than me) sat on an antique wooden easel.

Now, you have to be careful with this, Syl, it’s very old, from the twenty-second century. Do you know how long ago that was? That was over a hundred years ago! You’ll be careful, now, won’t you?

Yes, Mum!

I trod slowly about the easel, heading first for the desk in the corner of the room. Mum kept it tidy – really, she had little need to use it – and so I was surprised when I found an old journal in the drawer.

I pulled the diary from the desk, and fumbled for the on-switch on the top. It whirred into life, and I was shocked when I read the lock screen.

Diary of Leya Raynor, 2331 to 2336.

I remembered the moment Mum had rung me, back in early ‘32. I remembered the tears when she’d told me that Leya was missing; both hers and mine. I remembered us agreeing that we would do our bests to find her.

And yet, this journal was here. How could this have been? How could-

‘Mum?!’ I shouted. ‘What on Terra is this?’

When my mother poked her head around the corner, her face soon dropped. She lunged towards me, meaning to grab at the journal, but I pulled it away from her.

‘You have Leya’s diary? From while she’s been missing? And you didn’t tell me?!’

‘I knew if I told you, you’d want to take it. And didn’t want you losing it.’

‘I’d lose it? What are you talking about?’

‘Well, you know… since you started drinking you haven’t exactly had your life completely in order, have you?’

‘Mum! You can’t say something like that to your daughter! Not like you don’t have your own vices, is it? And to keep something like this from me?’

I paused, realising that maybe I’d gone too far by referring to her Stirlik addiction. ‘What does… what does it say?!’

She shrugged.

‘I don’t know. I’ve tried decoding it. I’ve taken it to every specialist on Terra, but… nothing.’

‘Can I try?’ I asked.

Mum looked at me with sad eyes. ‘I… she sent it to me…’

I could see that this diary meant more to my mother than I had realised. It was her last remaining memento of my sister, and I could see the parallels with her losing the journal, too.

‘Please…,’ Mum continued, holding out her hand.

Repressing both sadness and irritation, I gave the diary to her. She held it to her chest, close to her heart.

‘You could have told me you had it.’

‘And you wouldn’t have tried to take it from me?’

I said nothing; we both knew the answer to that.

‘I need some air,’ I said suddenly, surprising even myself.

I took the transmat down to the ground floor and allowed myself to walk around the area one last time.

Like everywhere on Terra, the streets were pristine. So clean were they, in fact, that I could see that their spotlessness even in the dark of the evening light. Long had issues like littering been eradicated and the cleaning process itself perfected.

Where once my mother’s street had been full of art galleries, restaurants, bars, there was now nothing. All commercial enterprises had been placed by more residential properties. The charm that this area once had was now gone.

It was the lack of bars that particularly frustrated me.

A Terran man turned the corner in front of me, heading towards me. I waved him down as he grew closer.

‘Hey, do you know where the nearest bar is around here? I used to go to the Woodsman, but…’

‘The Woodsman?’ he replied. ‘That’s not been around for a few years now. You want a drink, you’re better off heading to the main road.’

The main road was a good half hour walk away. I hadn’t been expecting my search for a drink to require so much physical exertion.

‘Thanks,’ I told the man, letting him go… and then I called after him again. ‘Hey, do you work round here?’

The man shook his head. ‘Not any more.’

‘What were you, a waiter, barman?’

‘Something like that. Why’d you ask?’

‘Where do you work now?’ I grilled him, completely ignoring his own question.

‘EEO. Ethics Export Office. Down at the Crystal Palace.’

I pursed my lips. ‘Yeah, I know what it stands for.’

The man smiled at me. ‘I suppose everyone does.’

With that, he turned away from me, and continued on with his life without me in it.

My quest for a drink turning out to be unexpectedly convoluted, I instead turned back, heading for my childhood home.

When I returned, Mum was already asleep. I poked my head into her bedroom – to see Leya’s diary sitting on the pillow next to her.

I resisted my very un-Terran instinct to steal it from her while she slept.

Instead, I went to Leya and I’s childhood room, which was preserved exactly as it had been when we’d lived here, and fell straight to sleep.

I awoke in the night to screams.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened in this apartment. During my childhood, I’d often be rudely awoken in the night by the sound of a woman shrieking. Always, the source was my mother.

I rushed to her room to find her sitting bolt upright in bed, slowly coming back to the land of the conscious.

My Mum looked up to see me standing in the doorway.

‘It’s OK,’ she reassured me, ‘It’s OK.’

I sat down on the bed next to her. ‘I think I’m the one who is supposed to be saying that to you.’

Mum laughed gently – that kind of sort laugh where you breathe ever so slightly harder than normal out of your nostrils. Clearly her heart wasn’t in it.

‘I thought you weren’t having these nightmares any more. Not since…’

I trailed off, but Mum finished the sentence for me.

‘Not since the ‘Liks. It’s OK, you can say it.’

‘I mean… yeah. I thought whatever memory was causing these nightmares, they’d overwritten.’

‘Once upon a time that was true. But one of them has been coming back to me. Over and over, every night.’

‘For how long?’ I asked.

‘Months now. Three… maybe four.’

‘Mum…,’ I began. ‘You could’ve told me.’

‘Oh, I didn’t want to worry you. I know you have lots on your plate already with that job you have.’

‘What is it? The memory?’

‘I don’t know if I should say, Syl. Some things you’re better off not knowing.’

‘First the journal, now this. Mum, you can’t protect me forever. I’m not that little girl you still seem to think of me as.’

My mother paused, looked at me for a moment as she processed this information.

‘I know,’ she said at last, ‘You’re right.’

‘Tell me.’

‘I don’t know if you’d believe me.’

‘Trust me, I believe all kinds of things.’

‘It’s about your father. I…’

She trailed off. I prompted her to continue.

‘Go on.’

‘I remember him… controlling Leya. I don’t mean verbally. Or even physically. But like… a puppet master might control a puppet. Or a brain might control its body. But it wasn’t his body, it was her’s.’

‘You’re talking about telepathy. Telepathy doesn’t exist, Mum. It’s a myth. We’ve known this for decades.’

Mum looked at me, tears in her eyes. ‘I knew you wouldn’t believe me.’

I felt my gut wrench in the way that only disappointing a parent can make happen. ‘Sorry. I believe you. Go on.’

‘I would’ve thought I was imagining it, too. But Leya… before she left, she told me, she remembers it happening to her. It was innocent things at first, like stopping crying fits, but then it got more sinister. He stopped her from going out, from having friends, until all her free time was spent in the house. Here. With him.’

‘How…,’ I began, not quite sure if I wanted to hear the answer to the question I was about to ask. ‘How does she remember being made to stop crying? Wouldn’t she have been a bit young?’

Mum burst out in tears. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I should have stopped him sooner!’

‘It was me, too, wasn’t it?’

Mum forced the sobs to stop, and nodded, her eyes red. ‘You were too young to remember, Syl. But Leya… she wasn’t. She has to live with it.’

‘And you think these are the memories you overwrote with the ‘Liks?’

‘Yes. Well, some of them, at least. But how can I know for sure what I’ve erased from my mind?’

This was getting all too much to process.

‘So… you made Dad leave? Because of this?’

‘I…,’ Mum began to reply through sobs, ‘I think so.’

‘Mum, this is…’

I trailed off, and we sat in silence for a while, processing everything that had been said.

Eventually, Mum piped up again. ‘There’s something else…’

I looked at her with wide eyes, afraid to ask the necessarily question.

‘What else?’

‘Leya, when she left… She told me she was going to go looking for him. Get answers about what he did to her. And to you.’

I touched at my cheek and found that it was wet. I’d been crying.

‘She went looking for him?’

Mum nodded.

‘You need to give me that journal, Mum. I need to find out where she went. You can’t protect me from this any more.’

She nodded again, still remaining silent, but reached for the diary, passing it to me.

I took it, and stared blankly into the distance for a few moments.

‘You’ll tell me what you find, won’t you?’ Mum asked. ‘I promise I won’t use again. I’ll live with the truth this time.’

‘When I find anything, I’ll tell you,’ I lied.

The console on my arm began to vibrate. It was the agency again:

Holiday’s over. We need you in. ASAP.

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Chapter 1: The Planet Yrgg Is Really Lovely At This Time Of Year

Welcome to the opening chapter of the new web serial A Galaxy, Alive – I hope you enjoy reading it!

First Chapter Table of Contents Most Recent

YRGG
The Planet of Dust
Iron Sector
20a-11-2337

Map of the known galaxy in part 1 of 'A Galaxy, Alive'.

No matter where you go in the galaxy, you’ll find that every planet has all the same issues as there are on Terra. Pride? Check. Wrath? Check. Envy? Check. Well, actually, the Guliens don’t have that last problem, but there’s definitely something weird going on in their wiring. Not that lacking envy is a bad thing, by any means; sometimes I wish I could be like them.

It’s these very problems that pay for my lifestyle. Think your partner is cheating on you? Good chance they are. Got a missing child? They probably got sick of your crap and ran away. Convinced there’s an intergalactic security organisation monitoring your every move because of your research into wormhole technology? Yeah… unlikely, mate, but I’ll still gladly take your money.

Whatever it is, my agency can handle it. And, by “handle it”, I mean they’ll send me to go through the motions of solving the case, and then take their 70% share of the revenue without really contributing very much. Work is hard to come by, nowadays, much less well-paid work, so I take what I can get. Let’s face it, it’s rare that any single person gets to do anything particularly special with their lives. Certainly most don’t do anything to change the galaxy for the better, even if we aspire to it. Instead, we slave through our work each and every day, just trying to make sure we have enough Units to pay the bills.

It’s on one of these mind-numbing – albeit bill-paying – jobs that our story begins.

My assignment was a tall, beautiful Yrggian, who, according to her partner, was definitely, 100%, not an iota of doubt, cheating on him. Still, that didn’t stop him from hiring my agency to make sure. These wealthy business types had more Units than they knew what to do with… not that I was complaining.

I had been following the target for several days, but she was yet to do anything out of the ordinary. There was no other special someone in her life, it seemed. All she really spent her time doing was going to work, going to the gym, and then seeing her friends for U’kka (where she would lie about going to the gym – she just naturally has this figure, she would say).

Normally, if there really was someone else in the target’s life, I would have known by this point – rarely did they spend more than a few days at a time without getting their fill. That wouldn’t stop me padding it out to a week or so in my reports, of course – I was paid by the hour, after all.

I watched from inside my parked Shuttle as the target left her home. She carried no gym bag, she wasn’t scheduled for work, and she’d seen her mates just a few hours earlier in the day. This, at last, was her doing something new.

She pulled up her sleeve, revealing her Console, from which she summoned a shuttle. As she entered, I quickly programmed my own shuttle into manual overdrive. Without knowing where my target was going, I was going to have to drive it myself. For many, doing so would have been unheard of, but in my profession it was necessary. Perhaps Private Investigators were the last remaining drivers in the galaxy.

Sure enough, the target led me to a new building, one that she hadn’t been to before. I couldn’t immediately determine its function; it looks like a corporate building, but as more and more Yrggian companies were merging, lots of these structures were being repurposed.

I jumped out of my parked shuttle still surveying the building, and failed to immediately notice that the target had turned to look at me over her shoulder. I began to walk away from her, in the other direction, hoping to throw her off the scent. The target shook her head and continued walking. Presumably she was content that I wasn’t following her, or about to mug her, or whatever, because she continued into the building. I thanked my lucky stars that she hadn’t paid too much attention to me, and proceeded after her – at a distance – into the building.

There was no doorman in the lobby, but it didn’t matter to the target – she knew exactly where she was going. But instead of moving to the inter-level transmat, she proceeded down the stairs, to the basement. Exactly what kind of kinky shit was this woman in to?

I continued after her, stopping at every corner to carefully look around before I followed. Being seen twice by a target was never good. I knew this from experience; on one of my first cases, my target – a lonely Pritan – had caught me watching him a few times, and had called the local police. That was not a good day for me.

The Yrggian turned into a room. Creeping forwards, and then crouching at the doorway, I peered in.

It was a large hall, with a ring of chairs at the centre. In the corner, there were cheap baked goods carefully positioned on an old table. There was the unmistakable stench of regret in the air. It was one of these sorts of meetings, then; the kind that my mother used to go.

Stirliks Anonymous. 

The group inside said their hellos, their how-you-doings, and they soon began to get serious. I needed to get closer, so that I could get clear evidence of this meeting for my client. He’d need proof, after all.

Even for me this felt like a breach of privacy, taking a photograph of someone at one of these meetings. I could picture myself reacting to the hypothetical news that my mother’s meeting had been intruded upon in this way. Nothing in the galaxy would be able to calm me down. Nothing, except perhaps cupcakes.

The attendees sat uncomfortably in their seats, picking nervously at themselves, barely making eye contact with one another. Most were positioned so that they were most of the way off their chair – and most of their way towards the door.

Mum had started using the ‘Liks after Dad left. Something had changed in her in those last few months. My youthful self was perhaps unable to perceive exactly what was plaguing her. Whatever it was, she took the ‘Liks to forget. That was what they did, of course: they took in old memories, bad ones, and they re-wrote them to be happier. Why live a miserable life when you could live a joyful one?

It didn’t matter to these addicts too much that it wasn’t real. Whatever it was that Mum had experienced to drive her to this, we would never know – her memories of the period were no longer a reflection of reality.

I’d been about eight and my sister, Leya, fourteen. It had really been Leya who had run the household for for those few years; trauma like this had a habit of making adults out of children. I had always intended to thank Leya for all she did for me back then, but as I watched her walk out that door that final time, the words were lost from my mouth.

I needed to see Mum. It had been too long. I was getting lazy with how often I went back to Terra. I plugged this in as a reminder on my console, and set my eyes on the job at hand, and getting closer to the group.

Spotting a strategically-placed bench to my left, I slowly, silently, crept towards it.

‘Please welcome, new member: Syl Raynor,’ an automated female Yrggian voice announced.

Hmm. Ok. Not ideal.

The group all turned in their chairs to look at me, crouched down in the corner of the room.

‘…Hi,’ I offered them.

‘Welcome, welcome!’ a particularly jolly Aflet called out to me. He was the organiser, then. ‘Come on in, don’t be shy!’

I looked to the door. It was still open. I could still turn around and walk through it… but I would lose my opportunity to solve this case. I rose timidly into a standing position and proceeded towards the group.

My target, eyes widening as she looked at me, stood up and pointed. ‘It’s you!’ she shouted. Then, looking at the organiser, added, ‘She’s the one that’s been following me! She’s been stalking me!’

OK, maybe outside this building wasn’t the first time she’d seen me, then. My agency really needed to send me on more training courses. Always the Terran who got passed over for them, wasn’t it?

One of the attendees, sitting with their back to me, pounded a fist onto his knee. He stood from his seat, rising to a height of maybe two and a half metres. Not a little lad, by any means. Slowly, he turned to face me, and I could see the anger on his face – the nostrils flaring, the brow furrowed. The host held out his hands in instruction – or perhaps in appeal – for the Yrggian to remain calm.

‘Now, what do we do when we feel these negative emotions?’ he prompted. There was no reply from the tall, broad, attendee staring me down.

‘That’s right,’ the host continued, even though nobody had said anything, ‘We communicate how we feel! Can we try that now?’

‘You dare,’ the Yrggian began, voice raised, ‘Interrupt one of these meeting? Is nothing sacred any more?’

He pointed at my target.

‘This poor woman has been through enough! She does not need you following her, giving her more to worry about. What the hell do you think gives you the right to barge in here?’

All signs suggested that my time in this room was about to come to an end. I whipped out my headpiece from my satchel, and without even bothering to put it on my head, aimed it in the direction of the target to capture her image.

Most of the group simply stared at me, faces pulled in various states of incredulity; it was only the Yrggian that took action. Face going red – even for an Yrrgian – he began to plough towards me. With my height being as it were, it was almost certainly clear to anyone in the vicinity that this was a fight I would lose – were we to count on strength alone. I rolled up my right sleeve, revealing a device on my wrist, and grinned slyly as I switched it on. The EMP whirled into action, letting out a wave of radiation, and the lights went out.

‘Ahaha, see you later, motherfli-,’ I began.

‘Backup lighting activated,’ the automated voice announced, and once again I was in plain sight.

‘Dang,’ I uttered through pursed lips, ‘I’m really starting to hate her.’

The enraged Yrggian barrelled towards me, grabbed me by the clothes and hoisted me up effortlessly.

Now dangling, and unable to pull myself free, I asked my assailant, ‘You wouldn’t hit a woman, would you?’

He looked at me, eye narrowing, eyebrow raised. ‘You are a female of your species?’

I scoffed, pulled an overtly unimpressed face at him. ‘Woah, what’s that supposed to mean, mate? Rude.

In one smooth flick of my left wrist, I whipped out my hidden blade, and held it to the Yrggian’s throat.

‘What we gonna do now, then?’ I asked him.

He looked at me, his forehead clenching involuntarily, in that way Yrggians do when they’re thinking too hard.

Eventually, he released me, and I tumbled clumsily to the floor, landing on my arse.

As I scrambled backwards for the door, the broad Yrggian called after me. ‘We have your name, Syl Raynor!’

I fled the scene, trying to suppress the guilt that was blossoming in the pit of my stomach. It maybe hadn’t been my finest hour.

I entered my shuttle and activated the pre-programmed route back to my hotel. I watched my rear keenly for the next few minutes, and only once I was confident that nobody was following me did I send off the images to the client.

Soon, I got a reply from him, telling me that my contract was fulfilled, and that the payment would be sent to my employers.

No tip, then. Damn. What was it with these posh types and not tipping?

It didn’t matter, at least the job was complete. I could now head to a local bar, relax, try out the Yrggian brandy which I’d heard so much about. I freshened up, and was about to head out – when my Console beeped.

There was a new message… from the agency. My heart dropped; this wasn’t expected, and so the likelihood was that it wouldn’t be good.

‘What the hell is this?’ the message began. I skimmed the remainder of it, getting the general point: they were annoyed with me. At the bottom, I found an attachment.

Beneath a security image of me, taken in the basement where the meeting had been held, was a message in bold, red letters:

Wanted for questioning: Syl Raynor.

It was time to get off this planet for a while.

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A Note From The Author

Thanks for reading this chapter of A Galaxy, Alive – I hope you enjoyed it!

If you would prefer to continue reading A Galaxy, Alive on a different platform, please head over to my subreddit /r/reymorfin or visit me on Patreon!

Or, if you’d like to sign up receive the latest chapters straight to your inbox, please use the form below.

Otherwise, continue reading using the navigational links above.

Coming Soon: A Galaxy, Alive

A Small Town Mystery…
…On A Galactic Scale

.

Syl Raynor knows that PI work amongst the stars is just as dull as it is on Terra: missing persons, cheating spouses, and conspiracy theories. But when she’s given one last case to determine whether she’ll keep her job, Syl is catapulted into the middle of an intergalactic mystery with far-reaching consequences.

On the remote planet of Z’h’ar, Syl will have to learn to be a real investigator if she’s going to keep her job… and her life.

Meanwhile, the diary of her missing sister burns a hole in her pocket. Does Z’h’ar hold the key to decrypting it?

.