I sat on the transport, staring at the wall. My charge was next to me. I paid as little attention to him as I could manage.
I just wanted this mission to be over. But then, as soon as it was, there would be a new one. For the past 450 years of my internment, I had not rested, I had not slept, I had simply done the bidding of my master.
“These fools won’t know what hit them,” my charge growled from my side.
I did not reply. Even if I had wanted to, I could not. The two pock-marked bracelets over my wrists would not let me.
They locked me in. Though they were not attached to shackles, they fed straight into my body and mind. They translated the orders of my master straight to my brain. I did as he bid, and only as he bid.
I was a spacer.
One of the strongest. The jewel in my master’s crown. Along with my sisters and brothers, we had assured him dominance over his section of space for centuries.
“I cannot wait to see their faces puff up like jelly in the depths of space. We will push them out the airlocks,” my charge continued.
He was a repulsive character. From his figure to his voice, if I could have, I would have recoiled. Instead, I sat there, close to his side, eyes staring ahead, hands rested on my thighs.
Soon it would begin. My master had sent me here to ensure my charge’s safety, to ensure his mission ran according to plan.
The plan and the mission were as nasty as my charge. He would take over this transport, kill the crew and passengers, and take their cargo as his own.
Soon it would begin. I felt nothing but disgust. It was strange I could still conjure the emotion; for centuries I had completed missions like this and worse. Yet still there flickered a sense of disgust at the things my hands did without my permission.
One day I would break free, I promised myself. I had been promising this same thing for centuries.
One day I would find the key to breaking the shackles that kept me aligned to my master.
At approximately 07:34, the attack began. My charge and his mercenaries produced their pulse weapons, and with gleeful expressions, overran the crew.
I sat there.
I stared at the wall.
At one point a member of the crew rushed up to me, mistakenly believing I was immobilized by fear, that I was one of the passengers and worthy of protection.
He placed his hand on my shoulder, his face, plastered with sweat and contorted in terror, coming close to my own. “Get out of here, get to the escape pods. I’ll keep them distracted.”
My arm moved up. Faster than the crewman would have been capable of seeing.
My hand latched around his throat.
I was still looking at the wall.
I threw him effortlessly against it.
There was a thud and a snap. He lay still.
I could not rush to his side to see if I had killed him; the bracelets locked out all control of my body. All I could do was watch the blood slowly trickle down from his nose.
From that point on, I did as my master dictated. Activating a subspace pocket, I pulled out my energy blade. The pocket opened up before me like a black hole. I alone could push my hand inside to retrieve my weapon. The subspace distortions would have ripped apart a human or any other soft-fleshed alien race.
Walking forward, wielding my blade, I helped my charge overcome the transport. Though the crew had fought valiantly up to that point, managing to pin the mercenaries in the engine room, their fight was over as soon as I arrived.
There was nothing they could do. There was nothing I could do either.
I watched as I decimated them.
Then I walked calmly through the destruction to the bridge of the ship.
There I found my charge pawing over a control panel.
I stood by his side, leaning on my weapon, which was as tall as I was with a glaive-like blade at the end. It crackled and charged with energy that rippled down my arm, seeping into my skin with nothing but a tingle.
Below me, it singed the hull.
“They’ve put out a distress call,” my charge snapped. He was from a race of boar-like creatures. Two prominent, pointed tusks stuck out from his mouth, always dripping with saliva as his long tongue flicked over them. Compound, yellow eyes blinked out at the world, and a shaggy mass of black, dirt-flecked hair fell from his shoulders.
“Commander,” one of the mercenaries looked up, unmistakable worry creasing his brow, “A ship is responding. It is already in the system. It will be here in minutes. We should accelerate to light speed.”
My charge, the commander of this unit, laughed. Slobber spluttered out of his mouth and landed on the panel he still leaned over. “Let them come.” He turned to me, his eyes glinting.
I still stood exactly where I had come to rest moments before. My blade still crackled in my hand. I still stared at the wall.
There I would remain until my master told me otherwise.
“Let them come,” my charge roared louder, his voice shaking through the small bridge room.
His call was picked up by the other mercenaries, and they all smashed their hands down onto the panels and railings before them, stamping their feet, roaring, and preparing for battle.
But the battle would not be theirs, only the victory would be. The fighting would be all mine.
I could not shift my gaze. I could not turn to face the main computer screen. I could not find out what ship was coming to the transport’s aid. I would not know until it arrived. I would not know until I saw their faces. Seconds later, I would claim victory over them.
I had no choice.
As the time to their arrival neared, my charge snapped up from his chair. He had lodged himself in the central command seat, but his bilious form was too large for the arm rests. As he jumped up, he ripped off one of them, and it struck my leg, resting against my foot.
I felt it though I could not see it; I could not look down.
They all rushed past me.
“Where are the passengers and the rest of the crew?” My charge roared, licking his tusks as he headed for the airlift that would take him from the bridge to the rest of the ship in seconds.
“In the hangar bay.”
“Be ready to open it once they arrive.”
With that, they left the room.
They knew better than to turn to me and order me to follow them; I did not work for them.
My master had loaned me to their mission for one reason: to curry their favor. And if their favor was not to be had, I would receive orders to turn on them.
A favor from my master was a dangerous thing.
If their actions did not please him in the future, my sisters and brothers would be sent after these mercenaries. No matter where they escaped to in this galaxy, my sisters and brothers would hunt them down.
I stood there, staring at the same section of wall I could not turn from without a direct order.
As I did, the onboard computer beeped in warning. “Ship approaching, speed one quarter light speed. Estimated arrival 23 seconds. They are establishing communication. Re-routing now.”
I saw the reflected light of the main computer screen change color. No doubt it had just flickered on to show the ship that was soon to come to this transport’s aid.
“This is the Coalition Ship Zeus. We have received your distress call. We have scanned your vessel. We are picking up 8 Barbarian Mercenaries and 1 unknown life form. Please respond.”
No one would respond.
“If you do not respond, we will have to board your vessel.”
I stood there and stared at the wall.
“This is Coalition space. Under the Pax Accords, all transports traveling through this area are—”
I reached out. I brought my blade down into the panel closest to me. It cut through it with ease.
My master did not wish to hear the rest.
Sparks erupted from the panel, flames licking up and tracking over the broken glass and metal.
I walked toward the airlift.
I tried to close off my mind. Withdraw. I did not want to witness what I would do next. But I could not close my eyes, and there was nowhere to run to.
I was a prisoner in my own mind.
The ship shook as I exited the airlift.
I knew that the Zeus must have latched onto the transport with its docking clamps.
Soon its security officers and troops would board.
I felt the subtle vibrations in the hull under my feet. They had boarded two floors up.
I did not rush. I kept the same steady pace, my unblinking eyes staring ahead as I held my blade by my side.
I passed injured passengers and crew.
I passed the destruction the mercenaries had brought upon the transport. Panels had been ripped from the walls, conduits had been pulled from the floor, like guts from an animal.
Everything was charred, seared with black streaks from the blasts of pulse weapons. The acrid smell of burnt flesh and metal filled my nostrils. I could not have coughed against it even if I had wanted to.
I heard my footsteps, gentle and rhythmic, as they echoed through the broken corridor.
The ship gave another shake. I did not lose my balance even though a section of bulkhead nearest to me groaned and fell away from the wall, smashing through the floor, exposing a set of sparking circuits that crackled and danced.
I walked right over them.
They could not damage me. Their excess energy merely translated up my legs, through my body, and into my blade.
When I reached the end of the corridor, I turned toward an airlift.
It was broken. A woman lay inside, burns to her face and arms, her simple black tunic ripped and tattered.
The panel above her head had been shot, its sparks still churning out, falling toward her and singeing her hair and clothes.
One of her arms was stretched out toward it. She had obviously been shot seconds from escape.
I couldn’t shed a tear for her. Instead, I walked in. Using my boot, I pushed her legs forward so the door could close. Then I leaned over to the panel and placed my hand flat against it. The exposed wires and jagged metal could not hurt me. No doubt they had killed the woman, but they did nothing to me. Instead, I pushed into them until my bracelet was flush with what remained of the panel.
Energy and data transferred from the scratched and marked gold over to the panel. Within seconds the airlift lurched and began to ascend.
I stood there, bracelet still flush with the panel, wide eyes staring out at the seared wall.
The airlift shuddered to a halt.
I saw them.
The security team from the Coalition ship. They wore the classic Coalition uniform; neat tunics and pants with trim collars and pips. They came from every race. From the humans to the Bakarians to the Paranians. Every race that had joined the Coalition.
The man closest to the lift brought up his weapon. There was a moment where he stared at me, and maybe compassion softened his features. Then his gaze flicked down to the woman by my feet.
“Surrender your weapon,” he snapped.
He was human.
In seconds the other security officers around him all brought their regulation pulse rifles up too.
They pointed them at me.
I waited. Not because I wanted to, not because I could see the concern on their faces and appreciate why they were here. Only because my master decreed it. He was toying with them.
“Surrender your weapon,” the human shouted again.
He was their captain. I had met Coalition forces before, I understood their command structure, and I knew to look for the pips on their collars or stripes on their shoulders.
“You will die, human,” I said.
My voice was distant. It always was. Every word I had spoken over the past 450 years had always been a surprise to me. I spoke only what a creature beyond my mind dictated, never what I chose to.
I walked forward.
Reluctantly they opened fire. I recognized their hesitation; I saw their captain’s face. I appreciated the confusion and sorrow.
Their bullets slammed into me.
Each one fed up my body and into my blade. Without knowing it, they were making me stronger.
I pulled my blade up, swinging it around, aiming for the captain.
An ensign jostled into him, knocking him to the side.
My blade, crackling with energy, slammed into the ensign instead.
He was blasted back down into the corridor. He skidded along the floor, coming to a rest meters away, body limp, clothes covered in black marks.
“Fall back, fall back,” I heard the captain plead.
They kept shooting at me.
I walked forward. My footsteps were calm, even, paced. I chose to hear them above the screams and fire.
I brought my blade around, catching another crewman closest to me.
They did not have a chance.
“Our bullets aren’t having an effect; hold your fire, hold your fire.” The captain grabbed the woman to his side and pulled her back, pushing her out of my path.
“What the hell is she, what is she?”
“We can’t leave Mathers behind.”
“He’s dead, we have to get to the passengers.”
I heard their screams. I watched their faces contort in horror and anguish at their fallen comrades.
“Running scans, Captain, I have no idea what that weapon is, but it’s definitely absorbing our blasts,” a lieutenant shouted as he ducked behind a broken section of bulkhead that had come away from the wall.
“Fall back, head for the other lift.” The captain, though he was out of my immediate reach, still looked right at me.
Brave and stupid. Couldn’t he see that there was nothing he could do? Couldn’t he see that his forces were hopelessly outnumbered? If he wanted to protect his crew, he had to fall back.
I could not share with him my thoughts, all I could do was shout them silently in my mind.
When every one of his crew had reached the airlift at the opposite end of the corridor, he closed it using a device on his wrist.
As the doors hissed closed, one of his crewmen jumped forward. “What are you doing—”
The captain pushed him back, the door closing over a section of his sleeve. He yanked it out, his uniform ripping up his arm.
“She’s after me,” the captain answered, even though his crew were now safely locked in the airlift and out of earshot.
Yes, I was. My master believed you should always cut off the head first. Without a commander, a crew falls apart.
I walked toward him. He backed away, always facing me.
He brought his arms up. “Let us help them, please, just let us help them.”
“You will die, human,” my lips moved of their own accord. My words chosen by my master. They were beamed right into my mind.
He kept his arms in front of him, dirt and sweat dripping down his brow. “We’ve still got people in there. Please, you can take the transport. Just let us get them out.”
My arm moved up, my energy blade held firmly in my grip. I twisted it around until I held it out straight, blocking off the path behind me. The tip crackled and spat, energy arcing down and traveling through the handle and into my arm. It did not hurt; I could hardly feel it save for the lightest of tickles.
I looked on at him passionlessly. I saw the desperation eating away at his features, yet he still stood. The pulse rifle was still in one of his hands, his ripped sleeve dangling over it.
He did not give up.
“Please, we can’t leave them. Just let us save them. You can take the god damned ship.”
“You will die, human,” I repeated.
The section of corridor we were in was damaged, and as I stood there emotionlessly, my arm stretched out from my side as I blocked the path behind me, one of the conduits above exploded. Pipes and circuits erupted out of it, slamming against my face and shoulders.
Though they burnt, I did not move. I could withstand so much more.
I saw him double back, bring his arms up over his face to protect himself from the blast and crackle of the steam and circuits.
He flinched as his exposed arm burnt.
Up to that point, I had been wearing a hood. Black, it covered my face and body. Only my boots and arms were bare.
The captain brought his gun up and shot at the conduit above me.
There was an explosion this time. It slammed into me from above, ripping my cloak off my shoulders. It pushed me down onto one knee, the metal of the floor buckling underneath me. I jumped forward before I could fall through it.
I flipped, twisting in the air, landing behind the captain, bringing my blade forward.
There was a moment just after I landed where he stared at me. Stumbling back, his eyes grew unmistakably wide. I saw the whites, saw the pupils all but shake with terror.
“Spacer, you’re a spacer,” he choked out.
The room was filling with dark, foul smoke from the exposed conduit. He leaned forward and spluttered into his hand, coughing heavily, torso heaving as he did. But as soon as his fit was over, those startled eyes locked back onto me.
“What are you doing here? This is just a simple transport. There’s nothing here but cargo.”
My master would soon be done playing with this man.
The captain kept shifting back, movements jerky as he coughed and spluttered against the smoke.
“There’s nothing here for you,” he repeated, desperate.
“But your death,” I said.
He shuddered. But he didn’t turn to run from my promise. His eyes drifted over me, those pupils still shaking.
I caught my own reflection at that moment in the swinging panel of a service duct that had come loose from the ceiling above.
My skin was covered in lines, channels of energy that would glow in the dark. Patterns that shifted like wind across sand. I wore white armor, and the channels from my skin tracked across it too. Covering my eyes was a visor, opaque to the captain, it offered no hindrance to my view.
“Just … just let them live.” The Captain ran out of corridor. His back slammed up against a door. It was half jammed open, but the space it left was too small for the man to fit through.
He should have been like an animal trapped in the corner, except he did not lash out and neither did he crumple to his feet and shake in fear.
He faced me.
I brought my blade forward.
I did not want to kill this man. I understood what he was doing. I understood his sacrifice. I knew how loathsome those mercenaries were. I knew the horror my master had in store for all.
I had never wanted to kill anyone, but I could no longer count the number of times I had wielded my blade.
Just before I brought it forward, his face slackened, not with surrender, but compassion. “You don’t have to do this.”
My blade stopped.
No, I stopped it.
I had done this precious few times over the past 450 years. Overridden my master’s orders.
If I had not experienced it, I would not have been so sure that escape was possible, that one day I would finally be able to shrug off my shackles.
He hadn’t sucked in a breath since my blade had stopped just against his chest. I was close to him, my arms ready to tense at any second and plunge my weapon through his chest.
He looked into my eyes.
I have no idea what he saw.
At that moment the pain began. It stabbed into my mind.
My master trying to reassert his control.
I had never lasted this long before. My other brushes with freedom had lasted for fractions of a second. Long enough to know it was possible, but nothing more.
The captain, those shifting pupils still locked on me, began to move. He shifted to the side, my blade scraping across his uniform and cutting it easily. Shimmying, he managed to squeeze past it.
I heard him take several steps then he tapped something. “Lock weapons onto my coordinates. Prepare to space this section, that’s an order.”
It would kill him. If the weapons of his cruiser obliterated this section of the transport, it would kill the captain instantly.
It would not kill me. I would be lost in the rubble as I drifted out into space, but I would find a way back inside the ship. I would finish what I had started. He would be buying himself precious few minutes.
“Captain, you’re still there, we can’t—” someone snapped over the captain’s wireless com line.
“That’s an order.”
My master still fought me. The bracelets I wore sunk into my skin like hands around my wrists, exerting their control, sending their tendrils further into my body, sending their messages to my brain, trying to override my control to claim me again.
Somehow I still fought.
Then I felt it. The energy surging toward the ship.
I moved back, brought up my blade, and slammed it forward. As I did, it created a shield. It arced, beautiful and blue, all around me and down into the corridor.
The ship rocked back, the hull in front of my shield suddenly erupting in an enormous, bright blast.
Sections of hull melted in seconds, others tore free, ripping conduits, pipes, and panels out and sending them slamming away into the dark space beyond.
My shield held.
Every bone, every muscle, every fiber of my being.
I could only keep it up for seconds. It would tax me of my energy, shut me down.
As it weakened me, my master struggled harder to gain hold.
I lasted long enough for the captain of the Coalition Ship Zeus to fall back, run to the nearest airlift, and leave the level.
Then I shut down, I succumbed.
Blackness claimed me, but as it did, one thought settled in deeper than the rest.
I had claimed many lives, fought many battles for a master who cared only for destruction.
Yet that day, for the first time, I had fought back long enough to make a difference.
I had saved that Coalition captain.
It gave me the faith I so desperately needed to believe that one day I could save myself.
The rest of Axira Episode One is currently available from most ebook retailers.