That foreman did me dirty. It’s the only reason I’m in this accursed cell. I hate planets like this. Mostly city, all sprawl. Data-obsessed, authoritarian yet often lawless, devoid of honor.

I’d had to declare my cargo to dock Iris – coordinate data in this case – and I’d needed to dock the ship to refuel. Figured I’d pick up some miners while on Ghadin and head back to the planet I’d found to pick up a load of its weird crystals. Full cargohold to sell. Pay the miners, register the planet with the Exploration Guild and get that cash too. I’d be set for a couple years.

Didn’t go the way I expected. Foreman at the docks demanded I share the coords. I said no. Not quite that nicely. He let me disembark, though. Then they got the drop on me. Tasers. I should’ve figured. I hate tasers.

Call it my fault, but I’m not the galactic-scale jerk looking to claim someone else’s discoveries for fun and profit. Sure, I might fight you for the goods, but it’d be a fair fight. Fair as fighting me could be, anyway.

I’ve got to get out of here. Get my weapons, get the ship, sell the coords.

I wait until the guard passes by, then release my spirit blade. Its light courses through my veins and the thing solidifies in my palm.

Four swipes. SHHHNG! I sheer through the bars of my cell and kick ‘em into the hall. The clatter of steel draws the guard at a run.

“Surrender!” I cry, bounding into his path, a wall of leather-wrapped meat.

He’s got a blaster. There are machines built into his head. Wires and a camera. He fires. A slowbolt of ultra-hot plasma. I parry the shot. My spirit blade absorbs it and gets brighter, blazing white. He skids to a stop, unsure. Aims again. I slice his arms off and he falls behind me, screaming.

I dive into the office at the end of the hall. The clerk inside cowers. Good for him.

“Don’t move, do live,” I say. He nods and shuts his eyes, trembling.

My Minarian axe and harness are there, not yet processed. Black diamond gleams under blue neon lights. I strap on the harness and wield the ebony battleaxe, letting the spirit blade dissolve.

There’s a door ahead and I shoulder through it, ripping it from its hinges. Place looks hi-tech, ceramic panels and steel with neon strips of lighting above, but the door’s like tinfoil.

Barbarians dance half-naked under party lights. Platform shoes, belts made of bullet casings, rainbow hair, faces full of metal. Every last one of them wired up or otherwise visibly augmented. Some stare into space as if entranced by some sick sorcerer. Sourceless lights flicker in their pupils. No one notices me.

In the center of the dance floor is something I’m quite familiar with – a fighting ring. Were they going to make me fight out here? Wouldn’t be my first time.

Two women in the ring. They’re both ripped, brunette, and hot. One’s an outright babe.

I can’t be distracted. I pretend a passing interest in their attempts to kill each other and stroll toward what I think is the exit. Smacking meat sounds and low but feminine grunts follow me.

The door blows in.

Five punks in essentially functionless leather and steel go down under the shrapnel. Two plantigrade mini-mechs barge in through the cloud of smoke and dust. One’s a person in a suit, the other’s a cyborg who seems only to have retained his human head.

“Attention citizens,” booms one of their voices. “This is your Neighborhood Watch.” I snicker at that. “Automated systems have reported a rogue Visitor. Please stand aside. Have your I-tats exposed for scanning.”

Quick response. They haven’t seen me yet, but there’s no sense delaying the inevitable.

I charge.

The Watchman with a human head is closest – let’s call him Meathead – and I reach him in moments. Meathead’s got a cannon on one arm and a kanabo in the other hand. The studded club flickers with electricity. Stun me once…

He swings it to distract me and fires the arm cannon. I tuck and roll under his aim. The sizzling plasma leaves a trail of ozone scent, plows into an unlucky clubber and blows his whole midsection to bits. I see the shock on his face as his torso tumbles to the floor.

People scream and scatter and the music gets inexplicably louder. Foom Foom Foom Foomba!

I smash my axe into Meathead’s knees and slice through. The Minarian weapon’s hot magic leaves a trail of molten metal. The legs fail and his human face falls past mine. I punch it and the lights go out. He flops onto the floor.

Mechman fires tiny tungsten rods at me from machine guns mounted on each arm. They sing when they hit the steel floor. Ricochets bring another chorus of screams to my ears. Why are people still here? Idiots.

I dodge and deflect the bullets, but one grazes my leg. Bloody anger blazes. I close the distance and bury my axe in his chestplate. The armor’s thicker here and it doesn’t go through, though molten metal wells up in the wound like blood. He clenches his robotic arms around me like a vice. My cheek presses up against the side of my axe. Mechman grins. I grin back and he flinches.

I’m about to skewer his side with my spirit blade when something else gets him. A thin sliver of metal penetrates his left temple and exits his right. His eyes roll up in his head and the sliver retracts. I yank my axe out of thick metal and dance back.

It’s the babe. She’s got a feline face and a jet black bob cut. Eyes with too much eyeshadow.

“Silica,” she says. Her voice is husky and it gives me a tingle.

“Duran,” I say. “You saved him some pain.”

“Didn’t save you?”

I shake my head. “But thanks for the thought.”

“You have a ship?” she asks. “They called you a Visitor.”

Oh no, a groupie. “I do,” I say.

“Take me with you,” she says.

I look her up and down. She’s wrapped in tight black leather strips that are obviously meant to be a barbarian costume, but remind me of home.

It’s been a while since I’ve had any crew, especially a woman… There are good reasons for that.

I’m about to tell her no when she holds her arm out to one side. The air comes alive and a blade grows out of her skin. Its edges sing with purple fire. She’s no groupie after all.

“Alright,” I say, “come on.” I’ve never been one to pass up real talent.

We rush through the club’s exit and I’m waiting for the hammer to come down, but there are no more Watchmen. I look at Silica in puzzlement and she gets the question.

“First two were close when the alarm went off – bad luck,” she says. “Looks like we got an opening.”

She hails a hovering cab and slides in. I think for a moment about not trusting her, but breaking out of the cab wouldn’t be hard. I snap my axe into its harness and squeeze into the yellow vehicle.

“Closest impound,” I say. The cabbie doesn’t understand. Silica translates into some language with a lot of Ks and the cabbie floors it.

The city towers above us, even after we climb dozens of storeys into the endless flow of colorful traffic. The higher up you look, the nicer it gets. Glints of gold and silver gilding around windows that might be made of ALON. There are holographic ads everywhere, many of them lewd.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got big feelings. I look over at Silica’s gleaming black curves as I think this. But there’s a time and place for it.

I get Silica to convince the cabbie to swing us up above the impound lot. I pop open the gullwing door and cold wind rushes in. Feels good.

We’re about fifty feet above the lot. Can’t get closer for a mess of wires. I see Iris parked among a dozen pieces of unspaceworthy trash. There’s a thick cable running up her boarding ramp. Lowlife’s trying to steal my data.

The gate man’s looking up, talking to someone I can’t see. Neighborhood Watch, or worse? Better hurry.

“Can you land the drop?” I bellow at Silica. Wind whips through the cab and the driver looks annoyed.

She bends forward, peering down and holding tight to my muscled arm. She looks at me, unsure. Must not have augments in her legs.

“You know what?” I say, and scoop her under my arm. I bail out of the cab and briefly hear the driver cursing us in that K language. I don’t have to understand him to know it’s because we didn’t pay. Whoops.

I hit the steel tarmac and absorb the shock. Sometimes it’s a real blessing having been born on Minari.

I set Silica down and she’s looking at me funny.

“Hey, jack,” calls the gate man. I can’t tell his mood because his eyes are glass and metal and his cheeks are lax. “One of these yours? You gonna have to fork the fee.”

“Dock man robbed me, jack,” I say, taking heavy steps toward the man. To his credit, he doesn’t back away. “And that’s my data you’re siphoning. You don’t want to do that.”

I sense him considering. He knows I’ll kill him if I have to. He doesn’t have any way to stop me from taking my ship. He wonders if he can still get something out of this.

“Alright, jack, how about fifty percent da-” he starts.


A two-pound slug just misses us and blows a hole in the roof. Gate man runs for cover.

There’s a flat, wide speeder hovering just off the side of the building. It’s got one big bore cannon on the front and when it fires the whole craft blows back.

I’m not so sure about parrying a bullet like that, but recruiting Silica pays off.

She dashes for the speeder, strong legs pumping under glossy leather.

“Stop staring and sever the dataline!” she calls back.

She’s right. I draw my axe and run.

I’m five meters from Iris when a man bigger than me bounds around the corner. This doesn’t happen often. There are more FOOMs and sounds of ripping metal behind me, but I can’t spare a glance. I’m just happy not to take a shell in the back.

Big Man’s mostly organic, but I can see places where his frame is augmented by steel and servos. He feints and I fall for it. A meat hammer slams into the side of my face. I’ll have to get some teeth fixed. It throws me off balance and he follows up with a shot to my temple. There’s a moment of blackness and when my sight comes back, my muscles remember their training.

I haven’t lost my axe and when Big Man strikes again I catch his fist on the blade. His arm is bisected up to the elbow before he gains control. For all his augments, the pain is undimmed. He screams until I take his head off.

Two big bounds and I’m at the dataline. No finesse needed – I drive my axe through it.


I duck reflexively and a guillotine sheet of metal cuts through the air where my head had been.

“Got it!” Silica calls. I hear her running to catch up.

Ever a gentleman, I let her board the ship first, follow and call to Iris.

“Close it up, lady,” I say. “Takeoff procedure.”

The ship hums to life and I feel gravity’s pull as it starts to rise.

“Follow red signs to the gunner station,” I tell Silica. I’m headed for the cockpit. “We’re going to have more company.”

Copyright TJ Marquis 2020. All rights reserved.