Hi everyone. This is chapter one of my new manuscript in progress. Feel free to leave comments with your thoughts and feedback. Of course, this is still in the editing process, so if you notice any mistakes, typos, etc please let me know. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Thanks for stopping by!
The air was stale, carrying a taste of a day old smoke and metal. Smoke, in space. Outside the pinhole window, the stars and blackness laughed. The filters were old here, no doubt predating new regulations and dodging inspection for decades. A rusty hum cantering in the rafters begged the question if the outpost’s guts had ever been cleansed. It was one of the many things that made it an ideal locale. The grit in the air, the texture, was reality, unlike the tasteless vacuum of galactic politics.
Scrapes against the metal bar and chairs against the grated floor, even the hiss of the open and closing airlock door, drew barely a stir from any present. The bar was dim and eyes minded their own concerns.
“Debium flux. Did you hear me?”
Knuckles rapped on the table.
She looked up from across the way, arching a brow over the edge of dusty glass. Her companion rolled her velvet eyes, mercury orbs dancing across the ceiling and all the walls before falling back to her face.
“Archon, really. I’ve been talking about this for ten minutes.” Her mouth frowned as it formed the impatient words, and she indignantly ruffled her blue hair. Her face, impish and stern, was flushed with excitement as much as irritation. “What the shit do you keep me around for?”
“You know, Colt. We all know.” This voice was gentle. The man at the other side of the table ran a finger along the edge of his plate as he spoke.
Colt spun her eyes on him and narrowed them rapidly to slits.
“Do I, Jacob? ‘Cause sometimes I really wonder myself.” Colt sighed and slid the light pad across the table, in front of the silent Archon. “I need another.”
Still mumbling, Colt got to her feet and wove her way through crowded tables towards the center bar. A few barked at her passage, receiving a flick from below Colt’s chin and a well placed middle finger in reply.
“Answering her would require so little effort.” Jacob Gradient leaned his chair back on two pegs, running a hand over the back of his skull. He needed a shave, again, and a bath. Places like this always made him desire nothing more than to scourge the top layer of skin from his body. He turned his dusky eyes on Archon. “So now you’re not even answering me?”
“We don’t need Debium flux. There are enough spare parts in the gut of the Helios for her to arm a damn legion.”
Archon tipped the glass back and poured the murky liquid down. It burned. Outwardly, none were the wiser. She could have been drinking water, not lexium. Lexium made most boys cry and most men used it to clean core drives. She tapped the glass against her bottom lip. To her it was any other liquid.
“They say this new flux can enhance accuracy by over three percent,” he said, reaching out to take the flask of lexium off the table. He knew Archon saw him, but he slipped it into the inner pocket of his trench anyway and folded his arms over his chest. “So it does have some legitimacy.”
Archon turned to face him fully, setting the empty cup in the center of his plate.
“And when have you known me to miss?”
The two watched each other in a short silence until a grin finally tugged at the edge of Jacob’s lips. Her gaze didn’t break or flinch; it simply waited for the truth. Hazel eyes reading everything about him, seeking any tick or hint that might give away a lie or whatever else he might try to contrive. He knew better. Between them there were no secrets, no deceptions. His eyes traced the black line, a subtle imperfection, which marked the iris of her left eye. A few strays of her copper-blonde hair drifted across her cheek. And though he longed to brush them away, he dare not.
“Extremely infrequently, Captain.”
She shrugged her shoulders then, settling her back to the support of the chair.
“We don’t need Debium flux.”
Jacob nodded. The tone finished that conversation.
“At least answer her next time. She’s foaming at the mouth at the prospect of getting to paw Debium technology. I’m sure she’ll sulk for days.” Jacob picked up the light pad, running a finger along the screen. The page turned, sending Debium flux and Colt’s hope away to the ether of the database. The next item, however, paused his hand. He touched his chin instead, his brow creasing. “C-class impulse grenades are on the market now.”
“You seem surprised.” Archon’s eyes were tracing the walls over the room. They would be leaving soon.
“These are dangerous.”
“So is Debium flux.” Archon glanced back at him, her expression disinterested. “Why does it matter? Everything for trade in the ring is dangerous. Everyone who deals in the ring has questionable motives.”
“We should secure them.” Jacob handed her the pad. “The price is still low. They’re fresh. Look.”
Archon took it, giving it a quick glance over. He was, of course, correct. Any military technology, particularly explosives, fetched high prices out here. The grenades were indeed under marked. Someone needed to purge their goods, and quickly.
“Colt would be upset. I just told her no. She’d claim I was playing favorites among the crew.” Archon chuckled.
Jacob was not amused.
“If these get in the wrong hands…”
“You can’t save the universe.” Her voice was sharp and the moment of good humor gone. She tossed the light pad on the table, hard. The image fluttered, blue lines breaking across the screen before the static settled. “That’s not our job.”
“No, it’s not.” Jacob’s cheeks flushed and he ran a hand roughly over the shadow along his jaw. “Not anymore.”
Archon’s top lip twitched with annoyance, but before she could counter his remark, gunfire screamed from the airlock. Her eyes shot to the door, the one way in or out, and she felt the air move against her side as Jacob rose to his feet behind her.
“Still it! All of you, now!”
The owner of the volley bellowed the words, his pair of weapon barrels steaming from the expulsion and grinning red. He was a large man, neck veins bulging from too many adrenaline feeds. Hair-thin metal wires littered his skin, and a sleek casing painted his skull chrome. His companions filtered in strategically, surrounding the room.
Regis Spark was an outer rim locale. The bar was a front of house for the tradings of the ring that went on in the bowels of the station. Before the politicians had resented their reach this far into dead space, the Spark had been military turf. Now, it was a watering hole for those who walked the edge; those who risked traveling in the uncharted zones. Those who didn’t wish regulations and were brave, or foolish, enough to survive without them.
Every face in the room owned a weapon, some sort of gun. Everybody had connections, and people who would come looking for them when they didn’t pay their dues or meet their contract. Everyone had a reason to draw, to fight or even to die.
“Name’s Blister and I’m here for an owing. Stay your seat or die. I’m a Dark.” The man sneered the words, running his fingers along the end of the cannon. “You all know what it means.”
The crowd’s building aggression took a dive at his words. At one specific word: Dark.
Archon looked over her shoulder at Jacob, finding his face pale and drawn. He raised one eyebrow. His expression said no.
As Blister and his men flooded through empty spaces between the tables and chairs, people peeled out of his way. Chairs were overturned in haste, glasses tipped and drinks wasted. Dangerous and armed men scurried from his path like frightened children.
“It’s not worth it.” Jacob exhaled the words slowly.
“What’s not?” Archon followed Blister with her stare, the rest of her frame motionless and tense.
She noticed Colt, a few tables away from the bar. She was short, tiny for the spectrum, but her vibrant hair glowed like a halo in the musty air. She met Archon’s eyes and a devilish smile split her face. Archon gave a single nod, and started to rise.
Archon dusted off her legs, rolling up her left sleeve, then her right. She ran a finger over the inside of each wrist in turn along the metal casings that covered her forearms. An indigo ripple of light danced along their surfaces. Archon flexed her hands and the metal heaved with uncanny fluidity. Jacob sighed, moving as always against her back. His breath was warm on her neck.
“Can we limit the death?”
“Only so much as they allow.”
Archon raised her arms, extending them out forty-five degrees left and right. Two of Blister’s henchman died before they considered death a possibility. They heard the rush, the scream of the Confluence weaponry, as the first charges expelled, before their lights extinguished.
The voice was hallow and artificial, mimed by glowing words on the center console. The man in the pilot’s seat didn’t move. His right foot, crossed over his right ankle, twitched and the heel of his artillery boots scraped against the console’s metal coating.
The flat tone raised a single decibel.
A grumble came from the man, a mingle of protest and negativity. Then the console hummed to life, a sequence of numbers and characters scrolling along the black screen in white text. The ship started sing, the growl of the engine turbines filling the hull.
Arvis jerked up, hands and fingers waltzing over the hologram keys, punching in the override codes that were ingrained in his nature.
“What are you about?” Arvis coughed violently, rubbing a hand over his face to clear the crusts of sleep as his other continued quick work. That was, until the holographic keyboard folded into itself and vanished. “What the…”
Under his beard, Deacon Arvis snarled, red and gray whiskers chaffing his lips at the surge of facial expressions. Most times Arvis was calm and collected; the exception was when someone screwed with his ship.
[The Captain is under fire. I am prepping the Helios for departure.]
Arvis paused and looked thoughtfully at the white text even after the mechanical voice had faded from the air.
“Do you have eyes on?” Arvis leaned back in the pilot’s seat, his seat, massaging his knees with knobby fingers.
[No. Sensory diagnostics only. The Caption did not take visual units.]
“Course not,” Arvis said, and reached for the cup at the edge of the console. He peered in and sighed dejectedly at the bottom of the mug. “Has she returned fire?”
[Her Confluence is currently active.]
“Then what the hell did you wake me up for?” Arvis yawned, squinting his eyes and making the wrinkles marking his features deepen. “Power her down. When Archon is ready to leave, she’ll let us know.”
Arvis got to his feet with a grunt, shaking his leg to try and get the feeling to run all the way down to his toes. It worked, for the most part. He pulled a half-spent cigar out of his jacket pocket and stuffed it between his teeth. He then tucked his hands in his pockets and left the bridge, whistling softly and off-key as he went.
After a few moments passed, the engines slowed and silenced.
After Archon fired her initial attack the room frenzied. Her aim was flawless, cutting down the pair of thugs with liquid precision. They both flew airborne at the contact, one splitting at the midsection after he launched. The other she caught higher and his skull vacated his neck when the Confluence pulse hit. Headless, his body crashed into the far wall, landing next on a table covered with drinks and playing cards. The deck scattered, coated in crimson and dosed in alcohol.
The air around Archon heaved with heat and energy, leaving her drenched in a halo of violet. In each hand was a gun, or at least the shadow of one. Carved from technology and light, in another world it would have looked something like magic. Weapons that appeared to be nothing more than illusion - weightless, chameleon, incorporeal – and were equipped with ammunition that killed. It was Confluence. It was very real and it was dangerous.
Archon lowered her arms slowly, pushing her two palms towards each other. The pair of guns merged into one far less complex. By appearances, an automatic handgun. She looked across the room to her quarry.
Blister, for all his bravado, hesitated a full seven seconds before screaming the call for her death. All around the room, machine guns and pulse rifles unlocked and unsheathed, swinging to face her direction. He screamed the word, kill, which poured from his mouth like molasses. As if caught in a headwind, the patrons scattered far too slowly, some diving under tables as others threw themselves as walls and floors as the attack commenced. The remaining ten men of Blister’s crew sent their loads screaming towards her with enough force to gun down a tank.
As Archon watched, a smile licked her mouth. The bullets fell against her like rain, hammering the air around her with angry persistence. Pulse expulsions seared the oxygen away and blew tables and chairs into splinters and shrapnel. People screamed. People died from the deflection and crossfire. None of it mattered. At the small of her back she felt the pressure of a single hand, and knew death would not touch her.
Confluence. Its uses were numerous, though harboring it was dangerous and complex. Archon was the warrior, her strength tested and tried over the years though battle and war. And while Jacob had never fired a gun in all his life, he had passed through the very same crucible. Around them, Jacob’s manipulation of the Confluence contained and defended, discarding the attacks as if they were little more than drops of water.
Archon took a step forward, knowing her shadow, Jacob, moved with her. The onslaught continued, plastering the space around them with debris. Bullets that hit the walls ricocheted over and over again, blanketing the air in the station with metallic darts. Regis Spark was no floating canteen. The ex-military ark was impervious to anything short of a warhead detonated in its bowels.
She squeezed off two shots, the attack screaming above the cries of people. Beside Blister, his two bodyguards went down, the smaller expulsions from Archon’s Confluence offering a less gruesome display. The tiny beads of energy dove into their chests, exploding their hearts on perfect contact. The larger man fell forward, his rifle sliding useless across the grated floor. The second collapsed backwards, the final spasm of death locking his trigger finger and sending a spew of ammunition forward and up along the ceiling.
Blister had already ducked, snatching one of the round metal tables to serve as an iron parasol. The bullets clinked and rattled against the surface, varnishing the silver circle with divots. When the hail stopped, Blister screamed, the sound choked with rage and fear. He launched his defense at Archon, the table spinning end over end towards her head as she continued to advance.
It hit Jacob’s barrier with an electric crackle, the concrete air shivering. It never threatened to break, dipping slightly inward to absorb the impact, before breaking the table into a thousand tiny pieces. Daggers of tabletop flashed outward like quills, hammering into the surface of the bar and all chairs within range. The dead bodyguards twitched as the collateral pummeled their empty carcasses.
Blister was quick enough to toss up an arm, catching needles that might have otherwise entered his chest and face. He screamed and cursed, pointing his gun with the arm he had left. As Archon let her hands fall to her sides, the Confluence pulsed around her hands, wrists and forearms in vibrant tendrils.
With the room now still, Jacob’s Confluence field settled and faded to invisibility. A bead of sweat ran from his temple, trailing along the curve of his cheek. Blister franticly looked between the two, catching Jacob’s gaze over Archon’s shoulder. Jacob shook his head slowly; the glowing sheen in his eyes was enough show even a fool that the barrier was not down.
Jacob pressed his fingertips on either side of Archon’s spine, feeling the heat from her body even underneath her shirt. She was fine. Confluence caused a drain on the user’s body, but Archon had only fired four shots. He knew this heat came from excitement and adrenaline, not from exertion. He, however, had just deflected the attacks of a dozen men and defensive Confluence was far more taxing than the destructive. Jacob flexed his hands, the Confluence crackling in response along his arms. Inside he chuckled despite his outward void of emotion. A few years ago he wouldn’t have even broken a sweat.
“What the fuck do you want?” Blister growled the words, fighting the tremble that threatened his arm. Around him the room was in tatters, his crew obliterated. Those that weren’t dead were maimed beyond usefulness. His adopted ploy had never inspired such resistance. And Blister, in all his time running around in the ring, had never seen anything like the weaponry this pair toted. He had heard of Confluence – very few in the galaxy hadn’t heard stories – but he, and most others, had never seen it in active form. It was old technology, unpredictable technology. Dangerous technology. When the bitch in front of him still said nothing, his nerves really started to crack.
She looked simple human, old Earth or Mars stem maybe. As far as he could tell there was nothing alien about her, aside from the Confluence that she wielded. Her skin was plain, pale. Her hair was a nondescript cut and uneven, hanging just below her jaw line where it wasn’t tucked behind her ears. She wore causal clothes of mercenary fare; dark pants, heavy boots, a bland tank with a jacket tied around her waist. Beside the weapon, she appeared to be nothing exceeding ordinary. And her companion was no different. They hardly even looked like creditable mercs. Had they approached him for business, Blister would have walked away or shot them and commandeered their craft.
“What…are you?” What left his tongue as a demand, fluttered into a hesitant question. The pair was only a few feet from him. And while Blister did not fear pain, this woman made his insides crawl.
The word was barely a whisper, a breath escaping past her pale lips in a single, resounding syllable. Blister felt a twinge in his bladder: the urge to urinate himself. For years Blister found marauding as a Dark helpful to his endeavors. The more he used the alias, the more successful he became; people had actually started to believe he was one of them. Now, here, was reality. Reality, cold and devil, at his neck. Blister dropped his gun, a child’s toy in face of this. Take the Confluence away and he would have still been overmatched.
She was not bluffing. She was not lying.
Blister licked his lips, finding them chapped and cold.
“Which one are you?”
The Confluence fired, leaving the question hanging unanswered among the wreckage.