Stalking the Desert
A Planet Cyrene Story
By Julien McBain
Glib gazed across the desert through his goggles, the night vision function tinting the world green on a dark Cyrene night. As he stalked over the sands, he heard the skittering of a crystal tarantula, one of the smaller creatures in this desert filled with megafauna. Not far away were the sounds of a meng shang herd, their large feet grappled into the hillsides of the Northern Foothills. He padded over the sand in his cloth-wrapped armour, the sandy colour and stillsuit arrangement marking Glib as a Turrelion; the Turrelion Desert was the homeland his people had been exiled from.
He hit a few buttons on his Omegaton Digital Inventory System, one of the numerous conveniences humans had brought to Cyrene when the Federal Empire started bringing colonists to the Calypso System. Of course, they had brought pirates and those damnable robots as well, but it’s not like the humans intended to cause problems. The Duster Gang had already caused enough problems on the planet to make the introduction of robots less than terrible; at least where they made landfall, they pushed the Dusters out. If the Turrelions couldn’t live there, it was better that machines do so. He turned at the sound of wind, and found himself closer than comfortable to a large wind elemental. He knew that they had taken up residency to the south and east of his destination, but hadn’t realized they would be this far out. Pulling out an Investafoe, he determined that he was no match for such a creature, and hunkered down while it passed.
Using the dust as a cover, he slowly crawled across the sands, hiding under blown sand anytime it presented itself, the rebreather in his armour silently accepting the assault of sand it had to filter out. He would undoubtedly have to clean the filters when he returned to the supply station; such was the cost of such a mission. He slithered his way through the colony of elementals, each moment worried he might catch their attention short as it would be; short, as he would not survive the encounter. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized he was clear of the colony, as groups of elementals were called, and was able to resume his walk. Without ceremony, he came upon the walls of his destination; it was once a great desert city, the capitol of Turrelion civilization cut out from the desert. Now it was called the Duster Hazing Station.
As he approached the walls of the abandoned city, he peered around for hostiles; the Hazing Station had become an arena of sorts; anyone, even Turrelions were permitted to go there and fight. In fact, it was the only way a Duster wouldn’t murder a Turrelion on sight–knowledge they may be able to do so in this arena. As he approached, two Dusters held up machine pistols and pointed them at him. Hitting two buttons on his ODIS, an AR-Matrix LR-35 materialized in his hands and he drew down on them. They stood off with each other for a moment as wits were gathered and next moves were calculated. “I was under the impression Dusters like it when Turrelions voluntarily enter the station,” Glib said, his universal translator sending the necessary information to those installed in the Dusters’ helmets.
Their gutteral language rang back in his ears, but the translator smoothed it out. Not that Glib needed it; he understood the Duster dialect, but could not manage some of the sounds. “You come here to participate in the culling?”
“I do,” Glib replied.
The two Dusters lowered their weapons and the larger one nodded. “Your weapon; it is too powerful for tonight’s show,” the other Duster stated. “You must not draw that rifle inside. You have a weapon for fighting recruits?”
“I do,” Glib repeated, using his ODIS to replace the LR-35 with an Initiate’s Knife, a mass-produced survival knife that was bought at any Trade Terminal. The sight of it made the smaller Duster laugh.
“You fight Dusters with that toy?”
Glib cocked an eyebrow, not that they could see it through his armour. “I have plenty of experience killing Dusters. Your recruits are not much of a challenge, but I thought I’d give them a fighting chance.”
The smaller Duster started to draw down again, but the larger one laughed. “I’m sure you do, Turrelion,” he said, as the smaller Duster contained his anger and stepped back in line. “You look like you would put up a good fight for us! But that is not why we are all here tonight, are we? Good! You may enter. Rules are as normal; battle royale, survivor wins. Five Thousand PED purse if all Dusters die, hard coin. Maybe you survive and we have a go, yes?”
“Depends on how tired I am after killing all the new trash,” Glib replied. Ironically, it wasn’t an insult, at least to the Dusters; recruits were referred to as trash unless they survived the Hazing Station. Fights like this were held once a week, thirty at a time, plus anyone that wanted to join in for the purse. Losers would recycle to fight again week after week, their broken bodies revived by the Revival Network that the humans had installed across Cyrene, that made death by combat almost completely impossible, and blood sport even more entertaining; removing permanent death meant there were far more volunteers to the meat grinder.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect; there were occasional failures, and certain materials could cause unforeseen complications. That very reason was why Glib was nervous when crawling through the elementals; not only would he miss this chance, but the material in the pouch on his waistband would likely prevent him from revival. Of course, that was assuming that it did what the peddler said it would; the pirates in Howling Mine couldn’t exactly be trusted, but his PED had been good, and they knew what would happen if they started jilting their customers.
He entered the Arena as the announcement of the challenge was made. Thirty Duster Candidates were spread out, along with two Zik, a human gladiator, one experienced Duster Gangmember, and him, a Turrelion that added a roar of blood-thurst from the crowd observing. The horn blew, and Glib faded into the background, his sand-coloured armour providing the camouflage he needed to survive. He moved slowly, keeping his booted feet from making noise in the soft sand that had filled the once relatively-clean city streets. As he rounded a corner, he came upon the first Duster, his pistol scanning the streets for his thirty four foes. As Glib padded up behind him, he noticed that the duster had scars running down his neck, not unusual for Dusters; but one was fresh; that meant he was a fresh candidate. Glib ran the last three steps and jammed the knife into the Duster’s back, severing his spinal cord. The ferro-titanium alloy penetrated the thin breastplate afforded recruits as a knife would cut sheng butter. As the Duster’s legs went limp, he quickly slit the boy’s throat. He almost felt sorry as the blood shot forth from the severed arteries, but the boy had chosen his fate; he would wake up at the revival terminal shortly, his first attempt foiled early.
He quickly scooted around the corner of a building, expecting the noise to draw attention. It did; the human came around the corner, a well-polished Barbarella Z12 in his hands. The silver armour he wore marked him as a Colonist, likely new to the system, especially considering the shape his equipment was in. The armour glinted off the moonlight and the human drew up and fired on something in the distance; he had obviously failed to notice the man standing not fifteen feet away from him. Glib considered dispatching the human now, but that was Federal armour; not as flimsy as the breastplates that were given Duster recruits. He waited a moment until he found his opening, then rushed the man. He had just squeezed off a second shot, exposing the weak joint where his neck was exposed. Glib rushed in, pushed the rifle off-line with his arm, and slammed the knife into the man’s neck joint.
Gurgling, as the colonist gasped for air that could not go through the sharp metal in his throat, and he fell to the ground as Glib removed the obstruction. He dematerialized before Glib made it back to the shadows, the revival terminal picking up the signal of a dead body as Glib moved away from it. He wondered what the colonist was doing there, but assumed quickly that it was the purse; five thousand PED was a hearty ransom, and could buy a nice condo on Calypso or Monria. Cyrene had no such living places; colonists lived in tenements akin to barracks that humans were prone to constructing in their bases, and most of the various residents of Cyrene had their own methods of living. Glib shook such thoughts from his head; Turrelions had lost that privilege when the Dusters moved in. Two more Duster Recruits were quickly dispatched as he moved across the dilapidated city, looking for his target.
He found him; the large Duster Ganger that held a wicked knife in his hand, laughing over the vanishing corpse of one of his recruits. Glib quickly ran toward the massive man, his filter straining as he panted. Nok’Gor.
The Nok’Gor turned; and when he faced Glib, he grinned. The honour of killing a Turrelion would go to the man that had experience in it; he would claim the prize of downing a hated enemy in this arena, win or lose. With a shout of triumph, he charged Glib, much as Glib was charging him. There was no way for Nok’Gor to know who we was rushing toward, nor that he was being hunted. As they came in, Glib went for a low-thrust, which was countered by a high-stab from Nok’Gor. Nether met their mark, their arms blocking the swings as the knife-fight continued. Glib faked left, then drew blood out of Nok’Gor’s arm as the knife the Duster wielded got stuck in an imperfection in Glib’s armour. Growling at the pain, Nok’Gor wrenched his knife free, tearing a chunk out of the metal in the arm guard that protected Glib’s body. The Turrelion swung with his empty hand, gauntlet crashing against the Duster’s face mask, denting it in. Nok’Gor roared with anger as he removed the dented mask, now painfully pushing against his temple on one side. The Duster’s scarred face was revealed, one eye glowing in the moonlight, the other a hole with a scar running over it.
Glib smiled grimly. He’d seen that eye taken out when it happened; and it was prior to the Fast Aid Pack technology the humans had brought with them too. If the injury was too old, Mind Force and Fast Aid couldn’t repair it. Even the revival terminals had a limit to what they could repair. He danced in and made another shallow cut on the Duster’s arm, more to anger than cause pain. The saw-toothed knife in Nok’Gor’s hand struck out again, this time sticking in one of the armour joints, piercing Glib’s inner elbow. Clenching his teeth as the sawblade tore his skin away, he shouted a battle cry as he kicked the old Duster in the chest, making him stagger as two ribs gave way. Using the moment’s hesitation from Nok’Gar as the larger man tried to regain his balance, Glib spun around behind him and inserted his blade just under the neckline of the armour plate.
The spinal column was hard, but the knife cut through, Nok’Gar dropping like a stone as his brain was no longer able to give orders to his body. Dragging the still-living, growling Duster deeper into the shadow and away from the warring recruits, Glib pulled the small stone from his pouch and waved it in front of his defeated foe’s face. “This is known only as Shadowstone,” he said, inserting it into the wound he had given the man. “It prevents the revival terminal from picking up on your signal. You will die tonight; and you will never come back.”
A look of anger came across the Duster’s face. “You’re bluffing, Turrelion. No stone could prevent that human technology from working.”
“We’ll see,” Glib replied, “but for the chance to put you down for good, it’s worth a shot.”
“Who are you?”
“Thirty years ago, when the Dusters took the desert and removed my people,” Glib started, cutting the straps to the Duster’s armour, “you raided our homes, raped and killed our citizens, and drove us screaming from the city. A particular, young and hearty Duster broke into an apartment in this very block, and killed almost an entire family to scare the others into leaving. Three boys and two girls, along with their mother. The mother took that eye before she died, her cleaver digging deep into your flesh.”
Nok’Gor’s remaining eye widened as Glib removed the mask, the face of a human, rather than a Turrelion, behind it. “You killed them because they were human living in a Turrelion city; an abomination, you said. So I’ve come to finish the job my mother started.” Throwing the armour plate off of his fallen foe, he took the knife that Nok’Gor had been carrying and plunged it into its owner’s chest, pushing it with all his strength until it was buried between the ribs, penetrating the Duster’s left heart. He then took his knife and plunged it into the right heart, carefully removing it afterward.
Nok’Gor gurgled as his life slipped away, and Glib waited to make sure he hadn’t been cheated in his deal with the pirates. Moments passed, and the body remained; far longer than any revival terminal took to take the bodies. “It is done, then,” Glib said nodding, replacing the mask over his face. The Turrelion by adoption wiped his knife off on the dead Duster’s pant leg, and dissolved into shadow, hunting his next target.
Entropia Universe is a Registered Trademark of Mind Ark PE AB.
Planet Cyrene is a property of Creative Kingdom Animation Studios Film.
This work is © 2019 by the McBain Manorial Trust; any intellectual property that is not otherwise owned by the preceding is owned by the Trust in the name of the Author.