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Three Suns in the Sky

 

As soon as the ship landed at the remote desert base on Sian Elchee 8, Wharton Asp lit a tac-stic and sucked in the smoke greedily.

Damn hangover, Asp thought to himself. When traveling thirty six hours in a small A3 Archwing ship on autopilot with your shadow as your only passenger, sometimes there’s nothing else to do but hook yourself up to a whisky IV and let the time fade away. But he must have entered in the wrong drip amount because a headache like this one only comes after a fight against a heavily armed Malhuiian in a contaminated air field.

By the time the computers confirmed that air quality and ground temperatures were stable and the back hatchway opened with a hiss, Asp was on his second tac-stic. They weren’t really helping, but they momentarily took his mind off the earthquakes in his head.

And the earthquakes had to take a back seat now. He wasn’t paid to drink, smoke, or feel like death warmed over. He was paid to solve problems or make problems, find people or lose people, retrieve this or destroy that. An intergalactic bagman of epic proportions. One of the finest private dicks this side of the AL6 Long-form cluster.

He was here – on this barren windswept sand dune of a planet – because of a woman. No surprise there. The money she offered to find her kidnapped child was paltry. Even the story was full of holes. But Asp had a hard time saying no to a woman, especially one who could slam back shots of rye the way this one could back at the office. Plus her hair. The silver in her hair captivated him whenever she turned her head.

‘What she didn’t do enough’, Asp mumbled as he slipped a small breathing mask over his face and stepped out of the ship.

The air wasn’t a danger on Sian Elchee 8, but the sudden sand and wind storms could make breathing a troublesome task. Not only breathing, but walking in general, as Asp almost went head over heels as soon as he began walking down the runway, sand rushing across the ground like crashing waves.

It was a classic sandstorm, with visibility cut down to about one hundred lengths. Asp could barely make out the small terminal building in the distance.

As he walked over, he remembered what she told him. She didn’t mist up right away. He liked that, but it made him suspicious.

They took my boy. They said he was going to be the new messiah. Perfect death so others may live. I tried to stop them…I’m all alone here…please…

Asp walked to the entrance door but it didn’t open for him. He ran his hand over the door to find the manual touchpad, but instead he pushed the door right over, it keeling down dead directly in front of him. Before he could take a step, the swirling sand rushed in first. Asp scrambled inside without much thought and propped the door back up, but it didn’t stop the sand from pooling at its edge.

Asp turned to apologize to whoever was manning the terminal, but surveying the small office before him he quickly realized that a sudden blast of sand was not going to be of much concern here.

Everything was a mess, tables and chairs destroyed, liquid screens smashed and kicked into corners, papers and rivlets strewn under and over everything. It was a magnificent trashing, as if the sandstorm had not only stopped by but started here.

Noises stirred from behind a shut door to his right. Asp walked lightly over a chair and opened the door, ready for anything.

A fat local Drium was stuffing his face with bagged sugar food while gazing into an old tele-box-monitor. He turned to look at Asp at the door. His eyes widened in happy surprise.

‘Helta!’

‘Yeah, helta’, Asp replied, ‘you work here?’

‘Oh yes! Yes I do.’

Asp looked over this new room. It was a slightly smaller mess. Now that he found someone here, he found he didn’t care about the other room.

‘Is my ship gonna be okay out there?’

‘Oh sure! No problem! All good!’ the Drium replied, ‘you have the…ah… weather proofing?’

‘I do, but it’s pretty nasty out there.’

‘Oh but not much longer. Suns are coming out soon.’

‘Suns?’

‘Usually we get two, but the climate tele-professor is predicting three this day.’

Asp didn’t care for the mindless, unending smile of this creature. ‘Which way is town?’

‘Just out that door’, the Drium said, pointing to yet another door, ‘only one way. Follow the path.’

How many times have I heard that? Asp thought to himself as he strode across the room without glancing at the simpleton who suddenly decided to babble to his quickly departing guest, ‘yes, right through that door. Short walk, bit longer in this weather. But like I say, like earlier, supposed to sun bright three times! Professor’s never wrong! Gonna be a glorious-’

Then Asp was outside the door and also the building. The sand and wind howled once again, but at least he was alone with his thoughts. Driums were perfect assistants. Not an original thought in their heads, but if you force them to take a shine to you, they’ll stick with you to the bitter end, but only because they’re to dumb to walk away when they should be running. Gan knows who told this one to worship this piss poor excuse for a landing base, Asp thought.

He walked for about ten minutes along a paved path that wouldn’t exist if not for the emergency lights. He kept waiting for a vehicle that would force him to the side, but none came. Instead, Asp soon found three figures were approaching in the haze. They stopped about thirty lengths from Asp, so he paused as well.

‘Helta’, one called out curtly.

‘Helta’, Asp replied through his breathing mask, his hand casually moving to the gun on his hip.

‘Are you the detective?’ the same voice asked.

‘Who would need a detective in the middle of a hurricane?’ Asp yelled back, ‘where’s the town?’

The three started walking forward again, but Asp kept his ground.

‘The town is be right behind us’, the only talker replied, ‘can we now help you with anything?’

‘Awfully kind of you to ask’, Asp said. They were only ten lengths away. Despite the dust Asp could now see they were Stragliens. A difficult type of people. Conversation was about to become brief and loud.

‘We heard a detective was ssssummoned’, the talking one pressed. Then the one to its right tried to remove a weapon from its side pack without Asp noticing, but failed miserably.

‘I don’t know what you’re- my gan! Behind you! Get down!’ Asp suddenly screamed and crouched, motioning to some random point in the thick storm behind the three Stragliens. Two of them bought the gag and turned to look, weapons drawn. Only the talker remained fixed on Asp, so he shot him first. As their leader fell, the other two realized they’d been had and turned back around, but before they could do anything about it, Asp shot them both, too.

The wind howled. Sand seemed to actively seek out the corner of Asp’s eyes. Even with the mask, his tongue was dry as the desert that surrounded him. He wished he’d brought a scarf.

It was another fifteen minutes to the town. Or at least the mass of stocky, three story buildings that made up the town. And town quickly became a generous term for what Asp stumbled into. Not a single sentient being was walking, crawling or floating down the empty streets. This place was such a ghost town that there seemed to be no one here to apply for the status of ‘ghost town’ with the governing council, which would have entitled it to various subsidies on ammunition and supplies. While the current sandstorm was fine reason for the absence of life, other signs pointed to a much more devastating problem. The town central hall was in ruins, furniture, plantation, and rivlets strewn across the grounds. An entire block of what looked to be houses and penton stations was nothing but rubble. And, most damning for someone looking for a missing child, the town schoolcare centre was boarded up.

Although he wanted believe it was by accident, and that he didn’t have an internal magnetism that drew him to such places, Asp found a drinkery with an open sign. He stepped to the door, but it didn’t budge. Upon examination, a small handwritten sign affixed to the sensory pad said ‘push door oneself’, and Asp followed the advice.

With a high pitched squeal, the door slowly opened a revealed a dank, dusty saloon with a bar counter running up one side. Most of the chairs were broken, and the tables were held up with broken pieces of chair.

‘Helta.’

Asp turned. There was a figure behind the bar, staring at Asp with a businesslike demeanor. Hard yellow eyes and a large bulk hidden behind a sprawling silver grey beard. Asp had no idea how he missed him on his first sweep of the place.

‘Helta,’ he responded.

‘Can I help you?’

‘You have ale?’ Asp asked, approaching the counter.

‘Just vin.’

‘I’ll have that then.’

‘You have payment?’

‘Yeah. You hooked up to DAC cards out here?’

‘Not in the storm.’

‘I’ve got a couple bucks, then’, Asp said digging through his pockets.

‘Good enough’, said the bartender, and switched on the tank.

‘Dossa of a storm you got out there.’

‘Yeah, it’s that time of year. But three suns today, you know.’

‘I heard. Should be quite the show.’

‘You didn’t come here just for that, though, I hope.’

‘Nah’, Asp replied, tossing three buck coins onto the counter, ‘its business I’m afraid.’

‘Well good luck making money here. It’s been…slow… round these parts.’

‘So I’ve noticed. Central looked pretty beat up back there.’

The bartender walked over to the vin tank, glass in hand. ‘Yeah, we’re waiting for the storms to end before fixing things up.’

 As the man prepared his drink, Asp dug out his handsat console and sifted through some programming to bring up a picture of the mother. His current patron. Asp held in front of the bartender as the glass was set down in front of him.

‘Just asking, no pressure. This woman look familiar to you?’

‘Ehhh…nah…no.’

‘You sure?’

‘Yeah.’

‘How about him?’ Asp adjusted his finger to show a picture of the boy. The bartender cocked his head to examine the new photo.

‘Nope.’

Asp knew he was lying this time. Asking about the woman – who couldn’t even point this planet out on a map, let alone having visited it – gave him a glimpse into the man’s mental defenses. When it came to the truth, the bartender would mull it over, be casual and open. He was too dismissive of not knowing the child, meaning that if he wasn’t lying outright, he was definitely hiding something. A rather idiotic slip up, but then you don’t need to have the intellect of an internal quantum scientist to pour drinks.

Asp knew he might be wrong about this, but you don’t build up a successful detective business without punching the wrong person in the face or disrupt honest brain stem synapses from time to time. He sipped his drink and winced. The bartender grinned.

‘Good?

‘Strong vin.’

‘So you’re looking for people, eh?’

‘What’s that?’

The bartender leaned in and repeated himself. ‘I said, so you’re looking-’

In a flash Asp brought his left hand to the bartender’s throat and squeezed. The bartender’s words became a shrill buzz. Asp smashed the glass on the counter spilling vin everywhere. He picked up a shard and dragged it along the man’s cheek, drawing a steady drip of blood. Now the sounds were a mixture of buzzing and whimpering.

‘Where’s the boy?’ he asked, calm but strong. He weakened his grip on the throat.

‘You…you shinty little-’, the bartender panted.

Asp squeezed again. The man gagged. Asp held up the glass shard.

‘Answers or I’ll find a spot in your face to hold this.’

The bartender’s eyes widened as he weakly tried to pry Asp’s hands off his throat.  ‘Kid…probably…probably here somewhere…there’s been…many…dunno…’

‘Where?’

‘Out…outside of town.’

‘What’s outside of town?’ Asp said. He was far from emotion now.

‘The suns. They…they make the suns.’

Asp squeezed the throat again. ‘That doesn’t make sense to me. Explain. And quick.’ He loosened his grip. The bartender’s breathing was ragged, but he seemed less terrified now. Almost resentful at beating caught like this.

‘Kids come in. We bring them. Keeps the suns up. We need the suns.’

‘Who’s in on it? The whole damn town?’

‘It…it helps. Keeps the…the Bebuur clans out. ’

‘You have Bebuurs?’

‘Th-thousands in the canyons. The suns mean every-’

Asp squeezed again. ‘How does it work? What do the kids do?’

‘I make drinks! I don’t know magic!’

‘Who runs it? Who’s in charge?’

‘Bagnol. Professor. He makes it happen.’

‘Where is he? What does he look like?’

The bartender’s eyes darted momentarily to the wall. Asp followed the gaze and saw it rest on a framed photograph of a beaming aruman like himself in a white coat and red headdress. The Drium at the terminal mentioned a professor. He was sure he’d find the same picture somewhere in that now memory of a mess.

‘That’s half of what I wanted to hear. Where is he?’

‘You’ll never-’

Asp smashed the rest of the glass on the counter for effect. The bartender jumped, his ragged breathing becoming a constant panting.

‘Building. Outside of town. Holy place. A temple. On the logos path.’

Asp released his grip and brushed the drool and glass off his sleeve. The bartender clawed at his sternum, trying to force in more air. Asp was already getting ready to move on.

‘Can you keep your mouth shut and not sound any alarms about me, or do I have to finish choking you and take your eyes as a bounty?’

‘You can’t just-’

‘I know thirty people who would pay me handsomely to suck up your eyes in a nice soup.’

The bartender’s jaw clicked open and shut, no words coming out.

‘If I meet up with any trouble on the way to the temple, I’ll know it’s you.’

With that Asp turned and walked out of the bar. The sandstorm hit him in the face again. He realized going anywhere at this point would mean being followed by those who knew the terrain much better than he. A living bartender was too much a risk. Besides, his mind rationalized, he admitted to being a part of the ploy. With a sigh he turned back into the bar.

The bartender spun around as he heard the door creak open once again. He was a bloody mess, and already in the midst of breaking his promise, setting up a communications link with a battered old comm device. Asp frowned and removed his gun from his holster.

‘Wait-’, the bartender began.

‘No’, Asp replied, and shot him twice in the chest. The man fell to the floor. Asp walked behind the counter, pocketed the bartender’s ID drive, turned, and strode out.

I’m never going to get used to stepping into this weather, Asp thought to himself as he hastily put his breathing mask back on.

Now that he had a destination, Asp didn’t bother to take in the town like a tourist. He stayed on the logos path, and even though he could have sworn he saw movement in the odd window in the occasional ratty house, he kept a strong pace.  

Soon the decaying village disappeared completely, and Asp was deep in a three-tier sandstorm where the terrain was just getting rockier and harder to stake out. Cliffs and jagged formations sprouted around him, dozens of perfect places for someone to hunker down with a highly powered personal rifle and wait for an intrepid detective to stumble on by. Asp tried his best to follow the basic military training, but trying to move downwind, or in a zigzat advancing line isn’t easy with pebbles and dust digging into your skin from every which way.

Asp found himself descending into a canyon of vague definition. With every step it seemed to change dimension. From a small crevice to an unending landscape of eroding rock. He’d never seen such a challenging logos path. Why keep any type of public satellite uplink to a place like this?

Digging out his handsat and ducking behind a large rock to get out of the wind for a second, Asp surveyed the area from six hundred kilos above. He saw himself as a small blue dot. The only other unnatural item in this barren landscape was a box structure four kilos ahead. There were three blue dots inside it. If one was the kid, and the other the professor, it meant only one guard.

No real security. Easy.

Two hours later, Asp stood in front of what was supposed to be a box structure of some sort but instead was a giant slab of rock in the middle of a seemingly unending sandstorm. Paranoid thoughts of someone corrupting his data scanner or a decoy satellite relaying false information flashed in his head. But then he looked up and saw a building jutting out over the cliff above him. He took a couple steps back and craned his neck.

            Asp eyes thinned as he tried to take in the temple through the storm. It looked like a prop on the side of the mountain. Something one would see in performed stage story. Religious symbols were bolted to the roof. Fancy intersecting arcs and metallic cutouts of burning planets suggested a marrying of several different faiths were housed within. While it wasn't as bad as a paper house, it was certainly no hundred-thousand year old temple.  A satellite dish and a receiver modual were affixed to outer walls. Asp decided it was a poor quality cabin with a fancy roof adorned with holy trinkets. And no discernable front entrance.
I should have demanded more money for this one, Asp thought, the transport fees won’t show what a pain this whole thing really was.

He walked around the area, running his hands over the rock, looking for a hidden entrance. Nothing. But as he started back for a second sweep, the step he took with his left foot rang strangely hollow. Asp looked down, and then stamped on the ground. A dull metal clang. He kicked away the stones and rocks covering the slab, but the dust was always going to get in the way.

Kneeling down, Asp rapped on the door. Three inch formucron metal. An expensive, professional choice for a temple.

Where there’s a security door, there’s a security panel, and Asp pushed aside and overturned rocks for five minutes to find one. With no luck, he took out the bartender’s drive and simply waved it over the door, and the immediate unlocking could be heard over the howling wind. It sounded like a starship engine powering up.

Asp stepped off the door just in time, as it simply swung down with the force of gravity to open. Sand and stones poured into the hole that Asp eased himself into. His boots hitting the steel floor echoed through what was clearly a corridor, and with his presence, setting off motion detectors, quartz powered lights flickered on. He made his way through the hallway, sacrificing speed for stealth. When the corridor abruptly shifted right, he pressed his back to the wall, and peered round the corner.

A heavily armed Straglien guard was punching numbers intently into some sort of handheld digital device with flashing lights instead of keeping an eye out for people like detectives. Discount rent-a-thug, Asp thought as he quietly removed his gun for the second time today.

He turned the corner and was only six lengths away from the Straglien, his gun pointed at the creature’s skull. It still hadn’t registered Asp’s existence, and he was beginning to feel slightly guilty for what was he about to do. He was also mildly interested into what the creature found so absorbing. Asp finally cleared his throat and the creature turned.

‘Where’s the boy?’

‘Hansz keth!’ it responded, which was a screech of mother tongue profanity.

Asp fired and the Straglien’s head snapped back, blood splattering against the wall. Compared to earlier, the sound of a gunshot in a small steel corridor was deafening.

Shint, Asp thought, how’s that for an alarm?

He quickened his pace and found a televator at the end of the hall. No buttons. As soon as he stepped in the door shut and he was whisked upwards. When the ride ended, Asp stepped out and found himself confronted with hundreds of small liquid screens painted against the wall. Each screen showed a different street corner, room, or storm scene. Cameras for the whole town. Nothing happens that can’t be tracked.

Asp watched the fat idiot in the terminal building. The Drium was digging through the mess, picking up a large mecha-wrench. Apparently he’d been set up since he stepped off his ship. Asp made a mental note to kill the guy at the airfield if and when he made it back to his ship. He probably tipped off the three Stragliens he gunned down on the way into town.

‘And to weth-ir-lac, the builder! With his hands he crafts the clusters that form in his eye and are brought to our lands!’

Asp turned to the sound of the voice, but instead he found a door. Approaching carefully, he pressed the sensor pad beside it, and waited with gun drawn. The door opened with a quiet hiss.

A large room. The main room. Certainly the last room. Asp had to take everything in very quickly. A table in the middle with a child strapped to it. Windows overlooking the canyon, a perfect view of the swirling sand storm. A large launch console with a personal payload delivery attachment in one corner. And most pressing, a man in a blood purple robe with a ludicrous headdress screeching pseudo-religious garbage to a digital camera diffuser.

‘For so the on-high was pleased and bestowed upon his followers, tang-kleic, sarn-keemin, woor-tausin, the three, the new covenant with those it loves.’

Asp wasn’t sure if the child was his boy. It didn’t matter much at this point. He stepped into the room and slowly approached the performance, the performer not taking any notice of him.

‘And so tang-kleic, we honor you!’

With those words the launch console came to life with an alarming beep, monitors flashed and the entire building shook. Asp knew the sound and feeling. A small range missile was just fired.

Asp strode over to the camera and pressed some random buttons, gun pointed at the man. He glanced at Asp but did not acknowledge him. Asp felt he was invisible.

‘And so sarn-keemin, we honor you!’

A repeat of ten seconds earlier, flashing monitors and beeping and a second missile fired into space. Getting no reaction from the man who Asp now assumed was the professor, he grabbed the camera and ripped it out from the hookup and tossed it to the ground. He looked to the professor, gun still ready and willing.

‘Stop. I turned the transmission off.’

‘And today, we give to weth-ir-lac the supreme bounty, the ultimate joy, he who has been good to us for so long shall be-’

‘Shut up’, Asp snapped, ‘You’re not talking to anyone but me.’

Professor Bagnol finally stared at Asp, recognizing him as an actual person.

‘I am talking to god, who is all around.’

Asp walked over to the table, not taking his eyes off the professor, who calmly followed him over.

‘You understand, says? This child is the one-’

‘Shut up. Remove the locks or I’ll blow your brains out.’

‘His destiny lies above us. He joins his brother and sister in the sky and will shine down. He is woor-tausin reborn.’

‘Not interested. Remove the locks.’

Bagnol wasn’t listening, only preaching. He gracefully removed a bent, bejeweled dagger from beneath his robes. ‘And today two will become three and the prophecy shall be fulfilled.’

‘Last chance, professor.’

With that single word, Bagnol blinked and looked at Asp not as megalomaniac but as a typical local computer tech. ‘I must put the boy in the sky about to burst into flames; it’s the only thing that keeps the savages from our homes.’

Remotely more sensible talk made Asp hesitate slightly. ‘What?’

But as quick as this new Bangol appeared, he receded. The old eyes were back, gleaming with fervor: ‘It tells crazy, but it works. See?’

Bagnol brought the knife down towards the boy’s chest and without a moment’s hesitation Asp shot Bagnol in the face. Bagnol stumbled backward, knife falling to the ground, but he didn’t fall over. With great effort he lifted his head to face Asp, blood pouring out of a deep hole in his left cheek. He was smiling.

‘You’ll see. Five minutes or so.’

Asp squeezed the trigger three more times. Bagnol took all three shots in the chest, stumbled backward, then finally fell over. Asp stared at the body for few seconds, willing it to stay down. When he was satisfied it wouldn’t move again, he turned back to the table and began work the locks.
’Just a second, we'll get you out of here.’
He glances at the boys face and then stopped trying to free him. The mouth was open, frozen in a gasp. The eyes were empty, starring up through the ceiling and beyond the sky. 
He was already dead. Asp stared, trying to cobble together the puzzle pieces. Then he slowly breathed out the answer: ’Rituals.’
They may have used the most advanced chemicals to make the boys last moments as painless as possible, but the ritual needed to be what it always was. Bloody. Asp walked over to the launch console but it didn’t tell him anything he wasn’t already concluding. The two missiles fires were scheduled to detonate very soon. Whoever or whatever was in them were loaded with high intensity photon flare pellets, so when they exploded, they stayed exploding for a very long time. The boy was supposed to be third. Hence the personal payload delivery system. Everything here could be purchased at a local industrial galactic transportation store.

Asp also realized the job was over. And that he wasn’t going to be paid.

He walked in a daze to the windows that overlooked the canyon. Even though the storm hadn’t let up, it felt as if he had a much better view of the area around him from this height. The storm looked manageable from up here, as if it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Then Asp spied movement from the distant corners of the canyon. A single line of well armored individuals marching forward. Bagnol’s back up, perhaps believing that late is better than never? Asp didn’t think so, and watched with baited breath.

Quite quickly he realized it wasn’t just a handful of creatures, but a steady stream of them. And as they got closer Asp laid more of this tale to rest. Bebuurs. Local alien clans on these lesser settled planets that had little interest in adhering to the governing council’s charter of law and economic policy. Thousands of them were pouring into the canyon, stopping within a stone’s throw of the temple. And while they rejected galactic governing, they embraced whatever council-approved weapons they could get their hands on. Including, as Asp saw to his dismay, a truck mounted propulsion gun that was being dragged instead of driven through the canyon. Asp was impressed that they would be willing to pull such a heavy weapon laden vehicle and hoped they had no clue how to use it properly.

Can they see me, Asp wondered. Was Bagnol smart enough to make this one-way glass? Then he saw a handful of Bebuurs point directly at him.

Apparently Bagnol was not smart enough. And the Bebuurs were smart enough to know that Asp wasn’t Bagnol, because seconds after being pointed out, he was pointed at with several base guns and personal rifles.

Asp took a couple steps back from the window. Just in time, too, as the random firing began with great fervor. The window cracked and shattered, quickly becoming nothing more than pieces of glass covering the floor. The sandstorm made its way inside. But that didn’t seem to satisfy them, as the shooting continued, first at the rest of the wall that had held up the glass, and as that was slowly chipped away in a hail of bullets, the ceiling of the ever shrinking main room.

Asp tired to make a break for the elevator, but passing the multitude of screens he saw that some of the more agitated Bebuurs had already wrenched open the ground entrance and were coming through the corridors underneath. And as Asp considered throwing something out onto them in order for him to sneak out onto the cliffs, the shooting stopped. Asp peered to the edge of blown apart front of the building and immediately understood.

The Bebuurs were pointing the propulsion gun at him. Asp suddenly wished he was much, much shorter. He squinted, and tried to pick off the one sitting in the gunner’s seat. It was well protected, a large clear plate of weapon-resilient glass covering the operator and it’s controls. The few shots that hit the weapon bounced harmlessly off the shield. Then the operator began to whoop loudly. Asp couldn’t hear it, only see the creature gleefully bend its neck and let its gills expand and contract rapidly. The gun had powered up and was ready. Asp moved back and stayed low and hoped with every aching bone in his body that the shot would be ridiculously high.
But then the sun came out.
And then another one did.
The sandstorm cut out like someone flicked a switch, replacing a bitter haze with a flood of light. Everything was white and bathed in solar ray’s warm glow. It was over.

Asp stood up and took a deep breath. He holstered his gun. He looked down at the masses with slight grin as he went for his pack of tac-stics. The Bebuur masses responded by firing the three ton gun at the ruins Asp was perched upon.

The shot was high but a shot from a stationary gun with a fusion core still vaporized a sizable chunk of the building and rock around it and started a small avalanche that Asp suddenly found himself riding quickly to the ground.

Only one thought coursed through Asp’s mind: I hope that wasn’t my last tac-stic.

But then instinct crept in and he tried to keep from sliding any further into the waiting, angry hands of thousands of ravenous, heavily armed, religious zealots. As he began grabbing for stationary rock after stationary rock, Asp realized the problem. There were two in the sky, but they were promised three today. He was one sun short.

Then the chanting began. Low grumbles at first, but the phrase, 'make it rise and light' quickly caught fire amongst the unruly locals, all demanding a show as Asp dragged himself back into the remains of the temple.

Asp saw the boy lying on the table, but then thought of a better idea. He moved over to Bagnol and dragged his body to the launch console.

Asp smashed the flare pellet box open that was beside the payload delivery deposit and jammed the pellets into the aruman’s mortal wounds. Then he stuffed the body into the deposit hold slammed the door shut, and pressed as many shiny red buttons as he could find the console.

Guns fired from behind him. He turned and saw the Bebuurs had followed his lead and climbed up the cliff and into the temple. He drew his gun, but two things happened. The third and final missile took off with a shudder and beep, and the sight of the dead boy on the table made the Bebuurs stop in their tracks.

Seconds later, Bagnol lit up the sky. Flooding it with renewed brightness. It was overkill, but perhaps that was fitting, given the man’s history. All the Bebuurs turned and watched it, slowly going down on one knee, and even without looking into their eyes, Asp knew they were satiated.

He quietly let himself out.

 

Asp walked into the terminal building gun already in hand. The Drium looked up from his tele-box monitor, but before he could register surprise, disgust, or shock, Asp shot him between the eyes. The head flew back like a slingshot and blood poured from the front and back holes. Asp turned and walked out. The suns were shining, but he still had a headache.

He began walking down the empty runway to his ship, wondering what he would say to the woman. But as he came upon the charred scrap heap that was once his Archwing – apparently a final gift from the now dead Drium – Asp realized he would have plenty of time to think of something back in town. What did Kelkut tell him before he left for this hole of a planet? A public transport makes the rounds here every three solar rotations? Plenty of time to write a fine eulogy and developed a heavy drinking habit.

Asp walked back down the runway patting his coat for tac-stics as the three suns fought overhead.

 

 

the earth died screaming while i lay dreaming...

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