Thanks to everyone who has been reading A Galaxy, Alive thus far, I’m really happy you’re sharing in this journey.
I’m pleased to announce that book 1, A Lonely World Where The People Are Blue is now available on Amazon! This version has a little extra content and is a lot more carefully edited than the rough drafts available here. My submissions into the Kindle Unlimited program, however, does mean that I’ve had to take chapters 2-18 down from this site – but chapters 19 onwards remains up and available and free to read at any time!
ABINAX The Networked Planet Silicon Sector 27-02-2338
‘Him!’ Solita shouted, pointing at an Abinaxian who had just turned the corner into the shuttle terminal. Her voice carried, alerting my target to our presence. Looking over, he saw Solita – my informant – gesturing towards him, and immediately began to sprint away.
‘Cheers,’ I said to Solita, both sincere and insincere in nature; she might have led me to my target, but she also got him sprinting away from me.
I don’t appreciate having to work for my fee, thank you very much.
At least I had planned for such a scenario.
After I charged out the shuttle terminal in pursuit of the fleeing local, I spotted him in the distance – crossing the station square. I weaved between shuttles as I crossed the road, causing their emergency brakes to automatically kick in, and resulting in a chorus of complaints from their passengers.
I’m doing this for your own good, idiots!
My console dinged with notifications as the inconvenienced locals left negative reviews on my Abinax profile.
Distracted by my depreciating Abinaxian standing, I tripped at the curb of the road, staggering for a moment before catching myself. I clambered upright and continued running. The ground squelched beneath my feet as I trampled what must be the only green area for miles around – the station square being the minimum requirement of parkland in urban areas as prescribed by the GMU.
In the distance, the suspect was fast approaching my first planned obstacle. The road ahead was completely blocked off, ribbons and crowds stretched across the walkways to mark the perimeter of the all-important Abinaxian of the Year awards. Well, maybe not so important – it was only the first rounds, after all.
The target, realising his mistake, darted right, leading him across the edge of the square. Perfect! I hadn’t planned for him to go left here – although that would have put him on the main road, which would take some amazing feat of agility to cross unscathed.
‘Approaching reroute point number two,’ I breathed into the console on my wrist.
‘Copy. Roger. Over,’ that familiar voice replied.
I jumped off the grass, onto the main walkway at the edge of the square, and, looking ahead, found that I was only 100 metres behind the target.
Maybe we won’t need that second obstacle after all.
I ploughed onwards, threading through the crowd of commuters that were heading for the shuttle terminal for their journeys home. My smaller form made this easier for me; I could slip through the smallest of gaps, whereas, up ahead, the suspect bumped shoulders with those around him, slowing him down.
As I gained on him, I began to hear the growing commotion. Commuters grunted at the barging man, while he himself seemed to be getting more impatient with those getting in his way. Voices ahead began to shout, but still the suspect continued onwards.
The suspect was fast approaching the end of the street – and obstacle number two – while I was only a few metres behind him. I reached my arm forwards, hoping to catch at the back of his jacket – although the chances of that stopping him was slim to none.
I snatched at the cloth, missing it by mere centimetres at this point – when the suspect turned the corner.
‘Wham!’ shouted Te’rnu, as he stepped out from behind his pre-determined hiding spot. He collided with the suspect, and, with the strength of the mechsuit backing him up, stood still standing, while the suspect fell to the ground.
‘Yes, you know: wham!,’ Te’rnu replied, folding down his helmet to reveal his smiling face. ‘Like the sound that nice coyote makes when he runs into those tunnels he draws for that bird. You know, the one in the Terran shows. This is like that: wham!’
I said nothing for a moment, so he continued.
‘In this instance, I am the tunnel, and our suspect is the coyote.’
‘We really need to get you some more up to date references,’ I replied.
At our feet, the target began to scramble away. ‘Shall I…,’ Te’rnu began.
I nodded, knowing exactly to what he was referring. ‘Go on then.’
Te’rnu pressed at a button on his mechsuited wrist, and bolts of electricity shot from it into the escaping suspect, incapacitating him.
I pressed at my own wrist, too – but where Te’rnu had cool mechsuit functionalities, I had only my console. I sent my drafted message through to the local police, telling them that we had successfully apprehended the target.
‘Let’s see if you’ve got any of it on you,’ I murmured as I crouched down by our horizontal suspect. I patted him down, and found – to no surprise whatsoever – that he did indeed have some of the Stirlik capsules on him.
I looked up at Te’rnu. ‘Hey, you’re recording this, right? I don’t want there to be any doubt that these weren’t planted on him.’
‘I suspect some of our competitors out there would plant stuff like this to get paid…’
The local police soon arrived – a local Abinaxian who seemed more preoccupied in smiling at passers-by than she did at handling our apprehended suspect. She nodded to us, and then, eventually, scanned the man that I was holding to the floor.
‘Ha. No wonder he’s a criminal,’ the police officer said. ‘Look at this.’
She turned her wrist to show me the information on her own console.
‘…Only thirty followers,’ she continued. ‘Surprised he didn’t resort to a life of crime earlier.’
I laughed along, pretending as though my own social media profile had more than twelve followers – among them, an overprotective mother, an employee who only recently left the village he grew up in, and a sister who had been missing for several years. Te’rnu knew enough to keep his mouth shut about this.
‘Will you have enough to prosecute him with?’ I asked. ‘Given that there’s a chance that his buyers won’t have memory of him any more.’
‘I think you overestimate him,’ the police officer replied. ‘Low-follows like him don’t usually have the brains it would take to program the ‘Liks in that way. I suspect those memories will be undamaged.’
I shrugged. ‘OK. Cool. Anything else you need?’
The officer shook her head. ‘Nope, all set – I’ll take him in. Thanks for your help with this. I’ll give you a five star rating.’
I shrugged. ‘No worries. I mean, we’re getting paid for this, not like we were just doing it out of the kindness of our hearts.’
‘Four stars, then, maybe,’ the police officer replied, before hauling the suspect into their van.
‘Maybe you should’ve-’ Te’rnu began, but then I nodded to show that I had realised my mistake there.
Small footsteps patted the ground behind us, and I turned to see Solita, our informant, running to catch us up.
‘I see you caught him. I guess your client will be happy?’
She patted me on the arm as if to say – good work.
A headache came over me, and I blinked back the pain from the momentary searing pain.
Fuck, that’s come on quick. Must be the hangover kicking in.
‘Well, that’s what you get when you hire the best detective agency in the galaxy,’ I replied, forcing a smile through the pain.
‘I am not sure about that,’ Te’rnu contradicted me. ‘By no metric are we the best; we do not bill the most, we do not have the highest rated reviews, we do not-’
‘Yes! Thanks, Te’rnu,’ I replied.
Solita approached Te’rnu, patted him on the upper back. ‘Oh, I’m sure you’re better than you think,’ she told him. ‘You caught a ‘Lik smuggler, after all. No easy feat.’
We soon parted ways, and Te’rnu and I headed back to the shuttle station – for transport off this planet. A big part of me was glad to see the back of it.
Once settled in our off-world shuttle, I began working on writing up a report for the client. This was my least favourite part of the job, but I couldn’t yet trust Te’rnu to describe the nuances of our work correctly. That is to say: his reports made our work sound too easy, and perhaps not worth the amount we were charging our clients.
I, on the other hand, enjoyed buying expensive things and running a profitable agency, so I tended to employ artistic license when writing up the reports that we sent with the invoice.
After this case, however, I had another reason to play fast and loose with the truth: I couldn’t quite remember everything we’d done. It was those damn famous Abinaxian cocktails that had done it – how could anyone say no to them? There were cocktails that changed flavour as you drank them. Some fizzed and popped and even buzzed in your mouth. Their most famous cocktail of all was known as Liquid Fire – very literally, an alcoholic plasma which warmed you as it poured down your throat. It was this drink, in particular, that meant my memory was a little fuzzy… and my head a little achy.
Te’rnu glanced over, eyes narrowed, as I tapped furiously at my console, keen to wrap up the report so I could relax for the remainder of the journey. My friend’s angry eyes were not enough to make me type more quietly, and he was far too polite and proper to speak up about it.
‘Told you we don’t need a team,’ I announced to Te’rnu as I sent off the final report and invoice – without, admittedly, spending the time to read it back to myself.
Te’rnu shot me a look which roughly translated to: “I don’t agree but I don’t want to have this debate again”. If he were Terran, he would have rolled his eyes in a big, big way.
Not minutes after I sent the report and invoice, the client contacted me. In fact, when accounting for the amount of time it would have taken for the signal to reach her, it was more like seconds. My console beeped to let me know that a communication was coming in.
I breathed a heavy sigh; a response this quick could only mean that the client was going to push back on the amount we were charging. I put myself into sales mode before answering.
‘Hello?’ I began, ‘I mean- Raynor Investigations, Syl Raynor speaking. How may I help you?’
‘Syl! Hi!’ the client responded. ‘I just got your message. I wanted to check that I’m understanding this right – you’ve finished the job already?’
Oh! It was going to be the opposite, then – not having charged enough.
‘That’s right, Huara. All sorted. Got the distributer, all locked up now, I believe. Shouldn’t be any more ‘Liks on Abinax any time soon.’
‘Oh, really?’ the Huara replied. ‘As easy as that?’
‘As easy as that,’ I reiterated.
‘I thought it would take at least a few weeks. Well… I guess I’m not complaining – means you’re charging less, after all.’
Damn it, I really should have stretched this case out a little more.
‘I mean… yeah. I guess we are. I sent my report along with the invoice – if you want to give it a read and then you can give me a buzz if there’s any questions?’
‘I’ll do that!’ Huara replied, and the line went dead.
‘Well… bye, then,’ I muttered pointlessly into the headpiece.
The call over with, I turned to smile smugly at Te’rnu.
‘Easy peasy,’ I said.
‘“Easy pea-”,’ he began to question, then changed his line of enquiry. ‘Do you remember…’
Te’rnu’s brow was furrowed. ‘Do you remember how we knew that suspect was the one we wanted? It’s a bit of a blur to me.’
‘You got a headache, mate?’ I asked, pointing at the pained expression on his face.
‘Yes, I guess that I do,’ he replied.
I held a finger in the air – one moment – and reached into my bag, pulling from it a bottle of aspirin.
I threw the bottle towards him. Te’rnu caught it, opened it, and lobbed a couple of tablets into his mouth.
‘This will help?’
‘Usually helps me,’ I replied, noting that my head, too, was hurting – that hangover not yet having loosened its grasp on me.
‘Ah,’ said Te’rnu, pointedly, ‘Yes. Of course it does.’
If you’re gonna call me out on the drinking, Te’rnu, just go ahead and do it.
‘I think…,’ Te’rnu began, his eyes widening. ‘I think this might be…’
‘Iyrogenesis?’ I asked.
‘Well… let me know if the pain gets worse. Chances are it’s just a headache, though. We all get them – no need to get ahead of yourself.’
‘Not me,’ he murmured, and then sat back in his seat, strikingly still.
I checked the time left on our journey – still another good few hours. Not quite enough time for a good sleep, but certainly enough time to make a cup of tea or two.
Standing from the seat, I made my way over to the dispenser and programmed in my order.
‘Want one?’ I called over to Te’rnu.
‘No…,’ he replied, still not moving.
‘How’s that head? Getting better?’ I walked over to his seat and stood over him.
‘I think so.’
‘Good,’ I replied, and patted him gently on the shoulder. ‘No transformation for you just yet, then.’
The shuttle console beeped – we’d been assigned a landing time. There would be no queues on Terra today, not this once.
I sighed, sat back down in my seat. It was time to spend the remaining journey preparing myself – both mentally and emotionally – to once again face the single biggest challenge I had in my life: my mother.
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.
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:
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?