Sunday, July 26, 2015

Welcome to the Jungle: Short Fiction

Welcome to the Jungle: A Short Story
Chris Costello

 Out of all the wretched hives of scum and villainy in the Sol system, Rezan 4 certainly wasn't the most foul-hearted. But those who prowled its dark and dusty corridors liked to think they were in the top five.

The station was a hub of illegal activity, but there were still a few good men peppered among the drug smugglers, the  Splicers, and the killer robots. They fought an age-old battle, walking the thin line between light and darkness, keeping the forces of evil at bay as best they could.

Right now, one of those good men was having the everliving shit beat out of him.

Hank Reynolds was not a small man. In point of fact, he was built like a plutonium containment unit. And the years of underground Xeno wrestling had left him with no shortage of dirty tricks to use when things went bad.

 His large stature and street smarts, however, were of little import when pitted against a Galactian Ray Gun.

Hank was currently surrounded by a horde of would-be burglars, only one of which was human. It was the human who had done most of the legwork, ambushing Hank when he was on the way to his quarters from the station's commissary. They'd come out of nowhere, from every direction.

The coffee he'd ordered had been knocked from his hands and was now lying about ten feet away from him. The thick black liquid was splattered on the metal floor of the station.

He hadn't even gotten to take a sip.

"You must have some pretty huge gonads. Most of your kind wouldn't dare attack a Galactic Peace Agent. Sure, I’m off duty, but I still have pull.”

Hank spit the words out, and a glop of blood and phlegm came with them. He knew he had to be missing a few teeth by now, but he didn't care. Sickbay could patch him up in no time at all, if he was fortunate enough to get out alive.

"Silence, meat." One of the other thugs said. The robot had been built for combat, if the buzz saws on the ends of its fingers were any indication. But it had also been thrown together haphazardly. It appeared to be made of at least ten different metals, which meant spare parts. Spare parts meant these guys were amateurs. In light of the rust forming on the bot, it was hard to find it threatening.

The robot sliced a long gash across the side of Hank's cheek with one of the saws. He bit his tongue to keep from screaming.

They might've been amateurs, but they were climbing the ladder.

"You're damn right we're brave." The human said. He had a Mohawk that was died bright green, and one of his eyes had been replaced with a blinking red LED. Hank figured there was probably a camera  in there somewhere. "And now everybody else is gonna know it, too. The Toxic Gang is gonna rule Reza 4 one day soon."

So that's what this was. The really were knew, and they were trying to prove their mettle. Hank couldn't blame them, but the market was already over saturated. None of the previous newcomers had ever made it to the top, so why should these jokers be any different?

Hank glanced down at the smoking wound on his stomach, which was already cauterized. Ah, right. None of the other gangs had been able to get their hands on a ray gun powerful enough to blow a hole clean through a Peace Agent's force shield.

"You realize you've signed your own death certificate, right?" He said, fighting down the bile that was fighting its way up his throat. "My communicator will emit the backup signal, and then you'll have a squad on your ass faster than you can say warp core breach."

"That's gonna be kind of difficult." Said another of the criminals. She was bald, with orange skin and eyes the size of flying saucers. She was grabbing onto one of his arms with a strength that belied her slender figure. "Considering that your precious comm unit is currently being dissolved by my stomach acid."

Hank cocked his head at her quizzically. It was rather difficult, what with him being pinned, spread-eagle, to the ground.

He suddenly wished he'd taken one of the pedestrian corridors, instead of the cargo tunnels the GPA gave him access to. Less foot traffic meant the commute back home was faster, but it also meant that no one could hear him scream.

The alien chuckled and flashed him a smile that was made of pointy teeth. By Hank's estimate, she had about six rows of them.

He muttered an expletive. The comm unit would have to come out of his own pocket. The captain blamed low funding and a Council that averaged about one decision every decade. Hank blamed the fact that Captain Lawrence was a cheapskate.

"All right." The human with the Mohawk said after a minute had passed. "We've had our fun. Let him go now."

To Hank's surprise and delight, none of the other gang members put up a fight. They simply backed off bad let him get to his feet.

He cursed himself a second time, lamenting the fact that he hadn't grabbed his own weapon on the way out the door. He was technically off duty, and had figured the shield generator would be enough. He would never make that mistake again.

"See ya, guy." The human said, twirling the ray gun around his index finger. "It's been a real treat."

Hank frowned. "You're not gonna shoot me right now? Nobody ever comes in here. It'd be weeks before anyone found my body. Plus, you'd earn cred with some of the other scum here."

Hank suspected it was against protocol to give criminals advice, but he couldn't believe they'd let him live. There simply had to be an explanation. They certainly hadn't done it out of the goodness of their hearts. Those of them who had hearts, anyway.

"Hell, no." This from the human again. "You gotta spread the word. You're a constant reminder that we're a force to be reckoned with." He was doing his best to sound cocky, but hank detected something else behind his eyes. The one that wasn't mechanical, that is. It was an emotion he knew all too well. Fear. They weren't ready to take a life just yet.

Hank resisted the urge to chuckle. Even after a stunt like this, they would be eaten alive out there.

Hack backed away from them, very slowly, so he didn't spook them. The newbies always had the most sensitive trigger fingers. They might not have been able to kill him, but something told him they'd be perfectly happy to take one of his limbs as a souvenir.

"Best of luck in all your future endeavors." Hank said, setting off for the hallway. "Legal or not."

"Thanks." The human gave him a halfhearted wave. "You, too.”

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