Chapter 1: Twelve Days
Petra glanced nervously at Illien, who gave her back a wink that was strangely reassuring. Beside her, Erik, their tall, red-bearded friend stood tall and unflinching, with a green poncho made out of several different stitched fabrics concealing a host of weapons.
Illien looked back up at their problem — or, rather, the man who was the problem. Standing under the dim light of a hanging lightbulb that made your vision go white for several minutes if you stared at it was a man clad in a dark trench coat, flanked by two others wearing similar attire and brandishing dangerous looking weapons.
They were standing in an abandoned warehouse, at the edge of a city infected with criminals and corruption. The walls were lined with crates all in the same homogenous brown colour. The crates were all but indistinguishable from one another, save for the string of numbers and letters in red ink imprinted on them.
The scene was very tense. Petra was nervously rubbing her hands together and stealing glances at Illien, who was smiling in a friendly and reassuringly confident manner, but was shaking inside. Erik was staring off into the distance, as if he were on a different planet.
Through the scope of her rifle, René saw all these things. She was dark skinned and had frizzy, shoulder-length black hair that was held back by a blue bandana. She was perched behind one of the hundreds of crates in the warehouse and her scope was focussed on the man in black, who had one hand crossed, and the other hand stroking a thin beard that ringed the outline of his face.
This isn’t going very well, thought René as she pondered whether or not to pull the trigger and just end this whole ordeal.
A few hours ago, she recalled, Illien had a greed to meet Drell Hashan, the leader of a powerful pirate fleet stopping by in this system. Illien was prepared to make a deal with him, and after a few words were exchanged, it soon became clear that Hashan was at a point where things could go south very quickly, and that even the slightest thing could set Hashan off, who was known for having a short temper with violent outbursts.
René had noticed before that there were several other darkly clad figures waiting in the darkness; if it came down to a fight, they would be severely outmatched. Even with René’s skills, she couldn’t hope to take them all down in time to save her friends. She let out a heavy breath. It had been several minutes since Illien had presented their final offer, and the situation grew more and more uneasy as time ticked by.
Illien and Petra exchanged glances, while Erik started to break out of his trance of boredom. Illien looked at Erik and mouthed “no” to him, but Erik either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because, at that moment, he lost it.
“Dammit Drell, how many bloody hours is this gonna take!?” he yelled angrily.
Petra looked at Erik with wide eyes, a look that said “Now you’ve done it!”
Illien broke out first. “What my terribly mad and outrageous friend is trying to say i—“ he began, but then was cut off.
“Silence!” Drell screamed, as he made a swiping motion with his hands. Instantly, his two guards raised their weapons, and several more jumped out from behind crates and through the door behind Hashan.
Erik threw off his poncho, revealed several unfriendly looking weapons, drew two axes, and yelled curses. Illien drew his fusion gun from his holster and pointed it at Hashan. Petra took out her sword and raised it with one hand, while the other took out a holstered revolver. The two sides froze.
Illien was aiming at Hashan, who had a stern look on his face. Erik was swinging his axes around and psyching himself up for a fight. Petra was eyeing their opposition. There were too many of them to fight.
René watched the situation unfold below her. She focused her sights on Hashan, lining up his head. She paused when she saw the others do the same, and a tense standoff ensued. René bit her lip, and thoughts raced through her head. What could she do?
Hashan walked over to Illien, raising both hands up above his head. Illien had his rifle trained on him. Smiling, Hashan walked over slowly to him, then stared down the barrel of Illien’s gun with one eye, and Illien kept it trained on him, confused. Petra scanned the room, looking for something, anything, that could even the odds in this fight or get them out of this mess. Erik was ready for a fight, and his eyes were crazy.
Breaking his strange death-defying stare down Illien’s rifle, Hashan suddenly broke out laughing. Illien forced himself to laugh as well, and silently urged on the others to follow. Petra looked around awkwardly as she laughed along at nothing in particular with the rest of them. Erik let out a deep laugh and pointed at one of Hashan’s goons, and he looked back, confused. The whole warehouse now echoed with laughter, though most of the laughs weren’t genuine.
René looked on, astounded at what was happening. Hashan looked back up at Illien. Then he spoke.
“My friend,” he said, smiling, “I like you. Wouldn’t want you to end up like the last people who failed me, no?” he asked, pointing to a necklace that hung around his neck, that was composed of human teeth.
Petra looked away, disgusted. Erik frowned. Illien, keeping his cool, replied, “no, of course not.” He made a pint of chuckling afterwards.
Hashan was silent, and Illien stopped.
“12 days,” Hashan said. Then he made a sweeping motion with his hands. A few of his goons groaned as they carried one of the crates over. They dropped it at their feet, then went back to surround them. Illien made a point of holstering his weapon, and the others took his cue. Petra was quick to sheath her sword and sling it across her back. Erik seemed almost sad that they weren’t going to have a fight, and put away his axes sourly.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” Illien said, smiling as he clasped his hands together.
Hashan looked back up, and then took something out from his trenchcoat. “The coordinates,” he said, as he threw a data drive to Illien.
Illien caught it, then put it into his pocket.
“12 days,” Hashan said.
With that, he made a sweeping motion with his arm, and yelled at his goons. They all cleared out the back door, grumbling and bumping into each other. Then, as quickly as the whole situation had started, it ended.
As the doors shut, Illien heaved a sigh of relief. Petra closed her eyes and muttered something, then turned to Illien.
“That was way too close, Illien,” she said.
“Curse that craven, clay-brained codpiece!” Erik cursed, “the next time I see that bastard, I’ll smash ‘is head in!”
Illien nodded. “Not the nicest chap. I agree.”
“Or the most sane, he’s downright crazy!” Petra said.
Illien looked up. “You can come out now, René,” he called out.
René had already packed up all her gear, and put on her long black jacket. She slung her rifle over her shoulder, and made her way skillfully down the towers of boxes overhead. She jumped down the last one, and landed expertly on the ground, despite being weighted down by her backpack and rifle.
“We should get moving,” she said, “the militia will be here any minute now.”
Not even Erik argued with that, and they made their way to the door opposite the one that Hashan and his men had entered through. Erik kicked it open, and went to pick up the crate. Erik held one end, while Petra and Illien held the other. René walked ahead, to scout. Once they had gotten the crate out the door, they felt faint drops of rain pelt their skin as the grey skies overhead rumbled and churned.
The area outside of the warehouse was a field of tall grass, which ended to the right at the edge of a forest. To the left it ended at the edge of a gravel road. The four awkwardly carried the crate to the road, where René was waiting for them. A wind had picked up, and René’s long jacket billowed along with it. She was staring off across the fields beyond the road, which seemed to go on for miles.
The road, if you could even call it that, stretched on for a while, until it reached the edge of the city, where tall buildings and structures stood. Erik dropped the crate on the roadside, and Petra and Illien cursed him as they set their side down. Shaking his arms, Illien sat down on the crate. Petra joined him. Erik tried to, but the whole thing threatened to collapse when he did. René simply stared off into the fields.
“Get Ratchet over here,” Illien said, “and fast.”
“On it,” Petra said, as she typed and spoke into a comms device, “Carl, get over here.”
A few minutes later, a dark green jeep pulled up beside them. A figure, who was wearing grey pants and a dirty, smudged blue shirt with a llama on it covered by a dark grey jacket, jumped out and came bounding towards them.
“How’d it go, Illy?” he asked.
Illien rolled his eyes, “you know I hate it when you call me that.”
Petra and Erik snickered. René turned around and a smile began to form.
Illien looked around at the others, then back at Ratchet, his little brother. He ruffled his messy hair and patted him on the back.
Ratchet looked around at the others.
“So? Did you get the deal?” Ratchet said excitedly.
“We got the deal alright,” Erik broke in.
“Barely,” Petra added.
“That bastard had better watch his back or I’ll—“
“Anyway…” Illien interrupted, “we should get going…”
He paused. He was looking down the road, squinting his eyes.
“Get the crate on the jeep!” Illien cried out.
Erik heaved his side up as the others helped as best they could. René dove to the ground beside them and set up her rifle. Through her scope, she saw three trucks approaching and an armored car.
“We’ve got company!” she said, “can’t you get that thing in any faster?”
“Trying…” Illien and Petra said through strained breaths.
René looked back through her scope. They were coming too fast. They needed more time. René closed her eyes, then adjusted her grip on the rifle. She opened her eyes again, and set her crosshairs on the driver of the truck.
No, she thought, these people aren’t criminals.
She lowered her aim to the tires, took a deep breath, and fired.
The sound of the shot rang out through the fields. Her bullet went ripping straight through the tires of the lead armored car. It began to drive in a violent zigzag, before finally tipping over on its side, blocking the road. Its occupants ran out just in time, before the car was set ablaze. The convoy halted, and dozens of armed militia jumped out the backs of the trucks.
René stood up and slung her rifle across her back.
“Are you done yet?” she asked.
Erik pushed with all his might, and the crate came thundering down on the bed of the Jeep.
Ratchet was at the wheel. “Take your time,” he yelled, “we’ve got all day!”
Illien ran around and jumped into the shotgun seat. Petra piled into the backseat, and René and Erik were following closely behind.
Suddenly, a shot rang out, and Erik yelled out. He jerked to the left, crashing into the jeep’s side. Blood was running down his shoulder as he cried out curses upon curses to the militiamen. He suddenly was wild with rage; though, he soon began to collect himself, and took out his axes as he turned to face them.
“Erik, no!” Illien cried out. He opened the door and ran out. Petra saw this too, and followed.
“Oh, yeah, take some more time,” Ratchet yelled, “it’s not like we’re being chased by gun-toting hooligans or anything!”
René turned and set her sights down her rifle instantly, but hesitated when she saw where the shots had come from. A young boy, scarcely older than she was, holding a semi-automatic rifle, and a scared look on his face. No, she thought, not this one, I…I can’t.
Erik was now running at the militia, raging and crying out at them. Illien and Petra ran after him.
“Erik!” they yelled, but it was no use. He was in a mad frenzy.
The boy who had fired the shot turned and started to run when he saw Erik charging. The rest of the Militiamen paused where they stood, frozen by this strange, suicidal charge, but this freeze would only last so long.
Illien looked at Petra, and Petra nodded grimly. Quickly, yet solemnly, he pulled out his rifle and paused before aiming at Erik. Wincing, he set his scope on Erik’s legs, and placed his hand on the trigger. There was no guarantee he would hit them.
A shot rang out, but it wasn’t from Illien. Erik collapsed to the ground, crying out. Lying on the ground now was Erik, who was cursing wildly. Illien looked behind him, and René nodded.
“Tracer,” she said over to them. This meant the shot she fired was just a tracer round.
Illien and Petra then let out a volley of shots that weren’t aimed at anything in particular, but suppressed the remaining militiamen.
“Get him out of here!” Illien yelled out.
A volley of shots erupted from behind the militiamen’s trucks, but they were too far away to hit anything; even if they were close, they were untrained, and thus they would still have a hard chance of hitting them. The shot that hit Erik was a lucky one.
Dragging a screaming, cursing and flailing Erik, Illien and Petra made it back to the Jeep, and shoved him inside.
René was firing while walking backwards, but she couldn’t hit anyone. She kept telling herself that these people didn’t do anything wrong. She could have killed them, but she had her morals. She wasn’t a Bengal anymore, and no one could force her to take any more innocent lives.
“For the love of Mike!” Ratchet cried out, losing patience, “get in, or we’re leaving!”
René ran swiftly over, and took her place in the stuffed Jeep.
“Step on it!” Illien yelled.
“About time, Illy,” Ratchet said with a grin.
Illien put his head in his palm.
Petra laughed. René seemed to be smiling, but she was looking out a window, so they couldn’t tell.
The Jeep sped forwards down the gravelly road, kicking back dirt and pebbles as it sped away from the rain of bullets that churned up the road behind them. The rain had now become a full-on storm, and lighting silently illuminated the sky followed by claps of thunder. The rain came down in sheets; their drops gently pattered on the Jeep’s surface.
Except for remarks between Illien and Ratchet, snickers from Petra, and strange, otherworldly string of silent curses whispered from Erik’s bearded mouth, the journey back was silent. Each one of them was reflecting on the last words that they had heard: