Light emerged from her cloaked form just outside of Bellude, the planet she decided would be her first target to gain faith on. She watched as the enormous space station that floated above the planet was a port for all the space-fairing ships. The smaller single-person crafts seemed to fly beneath the station, docking in smaller specialized housings at the base. While all the rugged industrial craft seemed to gather on the far side, where there appeared to be large storehouses to store all their goods, goods that would later be vetted for travel down the large space elevator that was attached at the base of the station, allowing inexpensive travel of heavy goods between the surface and space. Finally, the larger carriers that appeared to be people movers all docked on the nearest side to Light. Their dock had large towers and vast areas for numerous people to wait to board. Light continued to float and watch, admiring the different colored flames from the various ships. Blues, greens, and reds, all due to the fuel their respective crafts used. Eventually, she grew tired of watching them and drifted away, floating in the direction some of the craft seemed to be flying off.
Drifting through space, she gave herself some time to clear her mind. She thought about Vure as she floated far away from Bellude. As she was deep in thought, she failed to notice the overwhelming amount of debris that littered the space before her, her head colliding with a chunk of metal.
“God dammit, why the hell is there a chunk of metal out here?”
Light looked up, surprised.
“Not a chunk of metal, a whole field of metal, and space crafts.”
Pushing away the chunk she collided with, she flew outwards, getting a better view.
“I assume this must have been a battle. It is immense.” Light said, astounded.
“I can’t believe that there could be this much destruction.”
A frozen corpse floated by as she spoke.
“And death. Yet there is still a whole planet that is functioning with massive spaceports. Maybe this place is a little more interesting than I initially thought. I should…”
Light trailed off as she noticed strange sparks coming from a distant wreckage. The sparks seemed consistent and unlike the flickering sparks that seemed to come from many of the larger wreckages. She flew through fragments and hulls, making her way through the corpses of the space crafts that were left to rot in space. Suddenly, she noticed a ship. One that looked to be in perfect condition, one that was significantly smaller than those she had flown through. It looked as a child compared to the vast size of those around her. A little dirty, but in perfect condition with the words:
‘The iron fist of the law is nothing more than a puddle under the torch of a salvager.’
Printed in large red letters upon the hull. Paint dripping from the words, it seemed as if it was written in haste without a professional’s hand. Light’s curiosity took hold of her; she cloaked her form and moved in closer to see who was lurking. She grabbed onto the end of the derelict craft to allow her to turn into its hull quickly. But in her haste, she removed a chunk of the broken ship. The constant sparking stopped, and Light watched as a man in a fabric and glass suit looked up at the chunk that was now floating across his eye line. The man released his plasma torch, letting it float. He held down a small button on his right arm.
“Andrew, do you have eyes up?”
“I assume you mean the rogue part of the ship that just detached?” Andrew replied over the crackling intercom, which linked the two men to each other.
“That is exactly what I am referring to; I caught it out of the corner of my eye. What caused it?”
“Well, Mike, It was in my line of sight as it happened; just broke off and started drifting.”
“This is not a planet; there is no gravity or other force that can rip off chunks of metal. Something had to remove it.”
“Well, according to the ship’s sensors, there was nothing cloaked, I am looking back on the replay, and it just ripped off. Maybe a small, fast-moving piece of debris collided with it?”
Mike continued to survey his surroundings, cautious of what could be lurking.
“Keep me updated; I want all ship sensors running at maximum efficiency.” Mike said with a wobble of fear in his throat.
“I can max out our tools here on the ship, but that will make us an easy mark for anyone who is looking.”
“Just do it; I have the feeling that we are not alone anymore; I am nearly through here. Just give me five minutes.”
Mike went back to cutting into the reinforced metals with his plasma cutter while Andrew started to turn all the sensors up from his console on their spacecraft.
“Heat detection, max. Radiation diffuser, max. Cloak detection, max.”
Andrew stopped for a moment as his monitor glitched; an image of a human appeared for a moment under the cloak detection screen.
“Mike, we may have company.”
Without stopping his welding, Mike quickly switched his intercom back on.
“What do you mean, may have?”
“Well, I was maxing everything out, and once I turned cloak detection up, I saw a brief image of a person on my monitors. But it disappeared nearly instantly.”
“Must be a ghost in the machine; no one has to cloak in a suit that could evade our ship’s scanners.” Mike said as he attempted to speed up his cutting.
“Unless they came from outside our solar system, maybe one of the Leviathan Dominion personnel? Our government has been pushing for membership.”
Mike broke through the plating he had been cutting, the power of his torch forcing the chunk of metal inwards.
“If it is, we should be fine; no way someone of that much significance would bother with low-key illegal salvage. Probably just make a note of the crime and move on.”
Mike moved through the hole he forged and into the large derelict craft. Turning on his headlamp, he grinned.
“This is what we came for.” Mike said as he looked over a room filled with cargo containers marked with the logo from the Bellude government.
“Mike, I need you to stare at the locks on those crates. Isn’t it lovely how our government is kind enough to use different locks for various levels of security risks on their products?”
Mike knelt and lowered his head to the same level as the crates, giving Andrew a clear view of the frontal locks through his head cam.
“You are the biggest nerd, man. Who even knows that kind of information?”
Andrew looked carefully at the color and design of the lock, his eyes widening as he smiled uncontrollably.
“You need to be very careful with those crates; we are dealing with high-grade weaponry. Judging by the case sizes and shapes, those are explosives. Not small ones either; we are talking ship killers.”
Mike took a step back from the case that lay before him.
“Are we talking big crafts or just shitty little crafts like ours?”
Mike held his breath as he awaited a response.
“Nah, nothing significant; I just wanted to make you nervous. Probably just EMP bombs for dispersing fighters from around the larger crafts.”
Breathing again, Mike looked around the room, dozens of cases laid before him, all carefully packed into shelves.
“I hate to bunk your current theory, but there is no way we would transport bombs this way. It is too inefficient. To fully stock a ship this size, it would take hundreds of rooms twice this size. We are dealing with something else. We need an expert’s eye.”
Mike recoiled as he suffered the feedback of Andrew slamming his fist against the main console.
“Fine. We take one now and go see that crazy man. But as soon as we know what we have, we are leaving. I hate that maniac; he is into a lot of dark things that scare me.”
Mike laughed as he retrieved the closest case, being extra careful as he moved back to his spacecraft to be reunited with Andrew. Standing in the small decompression chamber, he forced the crate to the ground as air was regulated and gravity was restored to the room. He felt gravity drag his feet to the hard metal floors as Andrew regulated the room. Mike went to move the crate but struggled to lift it from the floor. Placing it back down, he went back on the intercom.
“Andrew, I need you here; this thing is a lot heavier than I initially thought.”
“On my way, let me just power down some of our equipment. I would like to get off the radar.” Andrew said hastily as the sounds of switches made their way through the intercom. Mike took his time in removing his helmet and slowly climbing out of his suit. Racking it away in one of the many hidden cupboards that lined the walls of Mike’s spacecraft. He ran his hand through his thick, greasy, black hair. He stopped as he reached the base of his skull; he was frozen as he stared out of one of the small round windows on the side of his ship. Outside, Light floated, staring in through the window. She moved closer, her darkened eyes blended into the dark corpse paint that surrounded her eyes. Her pale skin gave off a glow as the light of the nearby star dappled through the carnage around her. She walked through the vacuum of space, unblinking as she stared at Mike. Her image dulled as she stepped out of the light and into the shade of the nearby wreckage. The similar unblinking stare of Mike was interrupted as Andrew opened the heavy door to the decompression room. Mike’s gaze turned to Andrew with a look of horror on his face before returning to the window.
“You okay, Mike?” Andrew asked as Mike wandered towards the window cautiously. He peered out the edges of the window, checking the surroundings.
“I saw a woman.” Mike said as he continued to peer out the window. “She had black sunken eyes and pale skin. Her head was adorned with a golden veil, and… and she was walking towards me.”
“Alright, buddy, let’s get you out of this chamber and into one that has had less contact with that box. It might be something biological.”
Andrew grabbed Mike by his shoulders and led him out of the room, leaving the box in the decompression chamber to sit alone.
“I can tell you with certainty that she was there.” Mike insisted as he ran to the nearest window.
“Maybe it was a corpse that was floating from the battle? There are a lot of corpses floating around still. Hell, I hit a couple flying us to this site.”
“She was not a corpse; she fucking walked towards me.”
Mike slammed his fist against a nearby wall as he started to pace around the room they stood in. His mind overclocking as he tugged at every synapse of his brain to find an explanation needed to calm himself.
“I have it.” He yelled. “It must have been the person from the Leviathan Dominion, the one that appeared on your scanners. I mean, we know nothing about them, really, other than their stupid rules for traveling outside our home solar system.”
“Yeah… that makes perfect sense. Because the dominion is TOTALLY advanced enough to have someone walk through space with no suit.”
Andrew started to walk back towards the cockpit.
“I am going to get us underway; you keep a lookout for that Dominion member. Make sure she does not want to come in and chat.”
Andrew stepped out of the room as Mike turned to watch Andrew leave. He knew that Andrew was being patronisedpatronizing. He sat down at a nearby table, cradling his sweaty brow into his palms. He stared down at the table. His breath was as heavy as if he had just finished a marathon, the air forcefully removing the sweat that rolled over his lips.
“I know that no one should have the ability to walk through space. It is not possible; no biological matter can survive in the vacuum of space. So maybe Andrew is right; that box must have something biological in it. Caused me to hallucinate. Yeah, that makes more sense.”
“That is one way to explain it.” The soft voice of Light echoed through the room.
Mike froze; his breathing stopped. Eyes widened, he slowly looked up to see the terrifying image of Light. He started to stutter as he fell back from his chair.
“Not possible; how are you in here? Are you from the Dominion? Are you a hallucination?”
Light grinned deviously.
“I will answer one of your questions. You pick.”
“Are you a hallucination from that box that I brought on my ship?”
Light leaned forward and offered a hand; cautiously, Mike received it and was brought to his feet. Calming down, he brushed himself down.
“Not a Hallucination. A living thing with physical mass that I can touch and can survive in space.”
“Don’t forget the ability to enter spacecraft without the use of a door.” Light added.
“Right, so what exactly are you?”
“Interested in you. I will be watching from the shadows of space. If you are what I suspect you are, I will reveal my true form to you. Until then, you are nearly at the Bazaar; you better shape up.”
Light’s image faded before Mike, and as she disappeared completely, Andrew’s voice sounded over the intercom.
“I have initiated auto docking with the Bazaar; we will be landing in about five minutes. Shape up; we have a business to do.”
Mike grabbed at his wrist as a small symbol burned itself into the hand that light touched.
“Okay, this woman has my interest.”
Mike quickly ran to the first aid kit and wrapped cloth around his new band before going into his room to get dressed to leave his ship. He could hear the ship docking with the Bazaar, the clanking mechanisms joining the airlocks to allow access without a suit. Andrew ran down the stairs from the cockpit and met up with Mike.
“I have a case that should fit our new cargo in; let’s box it up so no one recognizes any of the government markings.” Mike said as he lifted a lightweight container into Andrew’s eye line.
“What happened to your hand?” Andrew asked as he looked at the bandages wound tightly around Mike’s hand. Mike looked at his hand as he came up with a response on the spot.
“I, uh, cut my hand getting this box. Just a stray bit of metal sticking out of the storage shelf I got this from. Nothing bad just bled a little too much to leave it open.”
Andrew looked at his hand suspiciously, making distinct note of the lack of blood seeping into the bandages.
“You look better as a whole, at least. Have you given up on your walking corpse?”
“No, I know she exists. But we may just find out that this thing is biological and has affected me. Alternatively, I might get some information from our guy.”
Andrew looked back at Mikes’s hand before heading towards the decompression chamber.
“Come on, let’s box up this shit. We got a lock to crack.”
Mike and Andrew carefully lifted and placed the stolen cargo into an unmarked box. Sealing it, they lifted it from the handles located on either side of the container. Placing it down before the airlock, they waited for the seal to be verified, allowing them to walk into the small Bazaar. The final hiss of the seal sounded, and an alarm sounded as a green light illuminated the doorway. Finally, the door opened, and the sound of the Bazaar flooded in; the loud chatter of people filled the two’s ears as they stepped off their craft. As their door closed behind them, they set out through the busy hallways of the Bazaar. Andrew led the way, forcing his way through the loud crowds as they all bartered with the many stalls that lined the halls. They walked past a plethora of different stalls that all seemed to run on a barter system, most stalls exchanging goods as a preference to a direct exchange of money. The people yelled over one another using all forms of language that are prevalent in Bellude.
“Why do we never get the dock next to the stall we need?” Andrew yelled back to Mike.
“Because we always seem to arrive during a goddamn sale that fucks us.” Mike yelled in return.
Neither of them liked talking while moving through the crowds unless they had important topics to discuss. Otherwise, it was just an unnecessary strain on their voices. They both stared up towards the upper area of the stalls they passed, reading all the neon-illuminated signs. Both made mental notes on the stalls that looked useful before, finally, they both spied the sign they needed to see.
‘The Eye of the Bazaar’
Walking up to the door, they knocked.
One knock, short pause, two knocks, short pause, four knocks.
A small viewing latch slid back, and a set of eyes looked out before closing. Standing in wait, Mike turned to the crowd looking around to ensure no one was following him as he waited for the door to open. In the middle of the crowds, he spied Light. She was floating above the heads of all of those who were wandering the halls of the Bazaar. Mike kept eye contact as he tapped at Andrew.
“Do you see that?” Mike yelled as he tugged on Andrews’s shirt.
“See what, the large crowd of people?” Andrew turned back to the door as he could faintly hear the locks lifting.
Light once again faded from view, leaving Mike confused. His trance was interrupted as Andrew tugged on the crate. Turning back, he followed Andrew through the door. The walls of this new corridor changed from the metallic look of the rest of the Bazaar, switching the aesthetic up by draping intricate tapestries that covered the walls, and strange patterned rugs were scattered across the grey floors. The sounds of the Bazaar faded as the man at the door closed it, blotting out the shouting of the others who wandered the halls. The thin, decorated hall opened to a large circular room that was filled with more carpets and tapestries. Incenses’ burned, giving the room a distinct aroma that made it pleasant to enter. The Incense made the room smell like a garden filled with fragrant flowers. The room was filled with a soft flickering light from the large brass chandelier that hung from the ceiling. Lining the edges of the room were bodyguards, all holding weapons that were aimed at Andrew and Mike as they entered. Laying down on a large circular couch was the man they were looking for, a short, plump man with thinning hair. He adorned himself with silken robes and a plethora of beautiful women that were chained to the ceiling by their necks.
“My friends, welcome back to the eye of the Bazaar.” The man flourished his words with erratic hand movements and a deep chuckle.
“As always, it is a pleasure to see you, Horras. We have an interesting find for you.”
Horras stood up, his head barely changing in height as he adjusted his robe.
“Why of course you have; you have a plain box. Nothing is more suspicious than a plain box.”
He walked over, gesturing for the box to be opened. The guards took a step forward, aiming their guns more intently. Mike released the outer hatches and revealed the government-marked box within. With effort, Andrew and Mike picked it out of their box and placed it gently on the ground.
“I believe that it is some kind of explosive based on the lock that is used.” Andrew said as he pointed out the complex colored lock. Horras examined it carefully, drawing a small telescopic monocle from his robe pocket.
“You have a good eye, my friend, but you have been tricked. This is not a lock for a grade 9 weapon like you thought. The slot where the key enters for a grade 9 lock has an hourglass shape with square edges; this one has rounded edges. Furthermore, the lock colors are boarded with a thin gold line. This is not a weapons crate; this is something far more valuable.”
Horras looked up with a smile that touched ear to ear.
“You lucky bastards have found an AI cache.”
“How much are we talking for this crate?” Mike said as he leaned in eagerly.
“Well, that depends on the type of AI.”
Horras snapped his fingers, and one of the chained women reached behind his couch and brought him a small bag. He snatched it from her hands and shooed her back to her spot on the couch. Carefully, he ran his hands over the tools and chose those which he believed would help him best. Attaching a small electronic device to the front of the lock, he started playing with a small keyboard that attached to the device. A few moments passed, and he stopped typing. Turning his head sideward, he listened to the electrical whirring that sounded from the lock. Once the whirring stopped, it started to tick at an increasing rate. Horras quickly ran behind his couch as everyone else panicked and stepped back towards the edges of the room. Hiding behind any decorative item they could, everyone waited for an explosion that never sounded. The box gave off one final click before opening slightly, releasing a white cloud.
Horras stepped forward with his arms raised.
“Fret not friends, just a harmless vapor. Probably used by the cooling system that is running in this container.”
With a skip, he knelt before the box, slowly opening it, his face was illuminated with a soft blue glow.
“By the stars, she is beautiful.” Horras said as his face was struck with awe.
Everyone stepped forward, peering over the opening case. Inside was a small LED screen that displayed scrolling information. Beneath the screen was a keyboard embedded in the fine-crafted metal plate that housed the screen. Horras leaned in and examined the scrolling text intently.
“My dear friends, you bring me the nicest of things to play with. This is a combat AI used by the large destroyer crafts. It is a weapons genius; it coordinates every weapon on the government’s largest ships. This is a blue jewel of destruction, one that I would happily purchase from you for a high price.”
Andrew and Mike looked at one another, muttering under their breath. Mike turned back to Horras, kneeling to the same height.
“And what about the other cases we found?”
Horrass turned to Mike, bringing his face closer.
“There are others?”
Andrew stepped forward, looking down at the two knelt before him.
“We found dozens of these crates, all with similar locks. We are unsure as to what is inside, but we can make an educated guess.”
Horras closed his crate carefully; righting his posture, he gestured for one of his men to take it away. One of the guards lifted it out of the room and took it behind a decorative curtain, all while Horras pulled a hand-held device from his pocket.
“I can pay you fifty million for this one. Bring me the others, and I will see what I can afford.”
Mike pulled a similar device out and outstretched it towards Horras; Horras inputted the amount agreed upon and connected the two devices. A few presses from either side later, and the money was transferred.
“Pleasure doing business with you. Let us get the rest of this cargo for you to look over.” Mike said as he put away his transfer device.
“My dear friends, you come back with as many as you say you have; I can get you access to that particular item you have been interested in.”
Mike and Andrew headed out with their container dragging behind them. They hastily made their way through the Bazaar. They raced one another to their ship; Mike paid for the docking fee as Andrew dragged the container through the airlock doors. Mike followed through shortly after, sealing the doors behind them. Andrew threw the container to the ground as he turned back to Mike.
“We are going to be fucking rich; the beautiful bastard Horras is going to make us millionaires.”
“No, what Horras is going to get us will make us rich.”
The two men ran at each other and hugged as they cheered and laughed.
“Get the hell back up into that cockpit; we have a cargo to go get.”
Andrew pointed at Mike as he walked backward.
“Yes, yes, we do.”
Andrew ran off, cheering as he made his way back to the cockpit. Sitting down in his spinning chair, he calmed himself down, trying to slow his beating heart.
“Okay, okay. Gota stay level headed, can’t afford to risk this.”
Pacing his breathing, he got back onto his console. Interacting with the station, he released the docking clamps, initiated the autopilot, and waited for their craft to leave the guided space around the Bazaar. Picking up the intercom, he radioed down to Mike.
“We are out of the autopilot zone and on our way to our millions. You hear that, Mike, damned millionaires.”
The sounds of Andrew’s voice echoed through the halls as Mike stood staring at Light while she floated outside the ship. She slowly walked towards Mike, pressing her hand against the outside of the ship; she slowly fazed through the wall. Her arm led her as she slowly moved through the wall and stood before Mike. She looked down at his hand, then back at his face.
“Did you not like my mark? Why hide it?”
Mike grabbed at his hand, fiddling with the bandages.
“I can’t let Andrew see it; he won’t understand. He does not understand what you are.”
“Maybe.” Light said as she sat down. “But neither do you.” Light’s hair waved as if she was still standing in the void of space.
“Would you like to know?” Light asked as she grinned at Mike.
Mike cautiously moved forward, grabbing the seat in front of him. He slowly pulled it out and sat down.
“I want to understand.”
“Then I need you to remove that bandage.