Welcome to the opening chapter of the new web serial A Galaxy, Alive – I hope you enjoy reading it!
The Planet of Dust
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:
Wanted for questioning: Syl Raynor.
It was time to get off this planet for a while.
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