29 May 2016

Prologue from ALL GOOD THINGS

The lounge’s rancid stench was what you’d expect out of a hole that criminals scrambled into. With his medical background, John could make out the smells of urine, blood, vomit and various other bodily fluids and excretions, combined with cleaning agents that had tried and failed to win the battle. He pursed his pale pink lips tight, trying to hold his breath as long as he could between quick draws of air that made him gag. Fiddling with a small crystal wafer hanging from his neck, he looked across the booth’s table into the hazel eyes of his wife, Isabel.

She ran a tanned hand through her long black strands of hair, pushing them behind her petite ear. “I don’t like this place,” she whispered.

“Not much longer,” he attempted to assure her.

“Another moment longer is still too long.” She sighed deep, and broke their mutual stare to look off toward the doors they’d be using to leave later.

John had been second-guessing his decision to bring her along, ever since they left the transport to trek through this forsaken spaceport. He could almost pass off for someone intending to be there, as his Torian heritage gave him a near-albino appearance, aside from his bright blue eyes. He’d actually seen a few others of his kind while walking through the corridors, which he thought quite odd, considering his species had always been known for staying close to home. He, on the other hand, was nothing like the rest of his people. He’d ventured out into the universe to make his own way. And now, he was delving into a life of crime and profiteering that would have made his own mother retch.

Isabel’s glamorous body, however, made her stand out in ways he had never expected. Certainly, she’d turned heads everywhere he’d taken her, even when they lived on Vetras, their former home. But here it was worse. Her looks made her the target for all of the drunken animals and other criminals to ogle. It was obvious that she wasn’t supposed to be here, and that made her a target.

He shouldn’t have brought her.

John waved off the scantily-clad waitress as she tried to drop off another round of drinks, despite her having already been foiled on three earlier occasions. The barkeep behind the opposite counter gave them dirty looks, not expecting anyone to nurse their liquor for as long as he and Isabel had.

John continued stealing glances at a digital timepiece on his wrist, a present from Isabel for their recent wedding. She fiddled with the diamond ring on her left hand, shielding it from everyone else’s view in the establishment as she twisted it around her finger.

Finally, he breathed a sigh of relief with one last look at his timepiece. The moment had come. “Time to go,” he mumbled.

He slid out from the booth, holding a hand out for his wife. A smile finally graced his face, even though Isabel didn’t match his expression herself as they walked as a pair toward the exit. Watchful eyes made no effort to hide the fact that other patrons were keeping tabs on the two as they left.

Everything he’d done had been leading up to this point. Putting up with his former employer and her lunacy, stealing the wafer which now hung on a chain around his neck, and traveling to this disgusting armpit of the galaxy. His moment had finally arrived.
Their moment, he thought to himself, as he snuck another glance at his loving bride. She was afraid, and with good reason. But in a short while, they’d have millions on them, and could travel anywhere they wanted.

Someone was paying a hefty price for the wafer and its contents, exactly as John had hoped when he’d stolen it right out from under his employer’s nose.

They moved quickly out of the room, into a sterile, white tile hallway. The stench didn’t improve any, even though there wasn’t a single soul in sight. Isabel latched her arms around his waist and squeezed him tight. “I can’t wait to get out of this place.” John could feel her shaking, but he wasn’t sure if it was fear or excitement.

“It won’t be long,” he told her.

She looked up into his pale blue eyes, a smile finally coming to her face as she gripped his hand instead. “What are we going to do first with our money?”

“Buy a home, maybe a ship.” John kissed her cheek. “Once we have it, we escape this hellhole and never look back.”

“I can’t wait,” she told him, giving back a much deeper and more passionate kiss on his lips.

Having scouted out the location in advance, John knew where he was supposed to meet the buyer. That was about the extent of his knowledge, though. The transmissions had all been heavily-encrypted, and no identifying details had been given to him, even when asked. The only things John needed to know, he’d been told, was when and where the exchange would take place, and how much he’d be making in the deal.

His smile grew as he walked with his wife, until they finally reached landing bay four. Passing through an opening set of sliding doors, Isabel gripped his hand tighter. A ship faced away from them, its stub nose tucked into the darkened far corner as if it were being punished.

John’s heart thumped hard against the inside of his rib cage. He didn’t see anyone standing here, but he’d double-checked and triple-checked the messages before setting out for the meeting, and they were right on time. Isabel’s fingernails dug into his skin. He was just about ready to bolt when a loud clank resonated through the enclosed hangar, followed by even louder whirring. He looked over at the ship again, and saw the aft cargo ramp lowering.

Goosebumps covered John’s skin as he set eyes on the man who had to be the buyer. He was a beast, standing tall and decked out in a full body suit, jet black and glistening. Bristly blonde stubble adorned the top of his head, his face chiseled like stone. The suit flexed along with the man’s muscular chest, as he marched down the ramp and strode toward them with a frown.

The beast lifted an eyebrow as he drew closer. “John?”

He simply nodded, and came to a stop with Isabel clutching his hand almost to the point of cutting off circulation. The plan had been solid, but reality was setting in. John and Isabel were no criminals, and this man no doubt was.

“Elijah Cassus.” The bulky beast extended a hand with a sly smile. “I assume you brought what we agreed upon.”

John finally got his nerves under control, and pulled the wafer out from under his shirt. He blurted out in response, “And you?”

Elijah thumbed toward the open shuttle ramp, and a large duffel bag that rested just inside the ship. “Right there. Ten million, as agreed.”

John’s earlier feelings of mistrust finally began to dissipate. “Then it sounds like we have a deal.”

Elijah’s thin smile grew, before he turned and walked off toward the shuttle.

John muttered to his bride before following, “Stay here. I won’t be long.”

As they drew closer, John glanced at the duffel bag. Even from his vantage point at the bottom of the ramp, he saw several small holes in the outside of the bag, as if a projectile weapon had been used against it. He was no criminal, but knew enough not to ask questions. The only thing that mattered was those credits would soon be in his hot, little hands. Ten million credits would go a long way toward setting them up for the rest of their lives.

John unfastened a clasp behind his neck as Elijah climbed the ramp and hoisted the duffel bag off the floor plates. He pulled the wafer and its lanyard off, clasping the chain in his hand. He determined then and there not to let loose of it until he had the money. Elijah turned, and the two of them stood in a standoff.

Isabel caught John off-guard by calling out from the other side of the landing bay, “What do you plan to do with this information?”

Elijah’s tone soured as he growled, “It’s of no concern to you, as long as you’re paid.”

John gulped, thinking she had fouled up the deal. He’d thought she’d been on the same page as he was, that they didn’t care why anyone wanted the information, or what they’d use it for. The money was enough.

“But I have nothing to hide...”

John kept a close eye on the duffel bag and rivulets of sweat flowed down his temples. His heart thumped hard against his chest again. Elijah softened his tone as he continued, “I want to bring back my dead brother. We have an old score to settle.”

John took in a long breath, forcing himself to relax. His employer, the woman he’d stolen the information from, had successfully brought her husband and daughter back from beyond the grave using nano-bot technology and programming, all of which was well-documented on the wafer. He had no doubt that this man would have just as much success using the ‘death cure’ on his brother. He ignored the whole idea of settling a score that Elijah had mentioned. None of that concerned him.

Elijah tossed the duffel down the ramp, and it landed on the hangar floor beside John. “Ten million, as promised.”

John knelt down and unzipped the bag, before running his free hand through the solid credits inside. Each of the golden coins had a silver rim, which put the value of each coin at a thousand credits. All of his worries and concerns melted away at the feel of those coins against his skin.

Elijah’s voice grew cold. “And now, I want the information you promised.”

John looked up, distracted from his love-fest with the duffel bag. He flung the crystal wafer and its necklace toward the top of the ramp, where Elijah caught it mid-air with one hand.

“It’s been great doing business with you.” Elijah turned and stormed off. Isabel rushed over and knelt beside John, staring at the money. She squealed in delight and planted a passionate kiss on her husband.

“Oh, one last thing,” Elijah interrupted. John glanced back up, seeing a disintegrator cannon in the other man’s hands. Isabel screamed, before jumping up and sprinting toward the exit. John attempted to catch her, but she evaded his grip. A shot echoed in the emptiness. John watched as the energy blast struck her in the back, knocking her down with an awkward stumble. Her body quickly burned from the inside out, decomposing into organic ash while she screamed in pain and agony, writhing around on the hangar floor. Her voice carried even over the klaxon that had sounded off after Elijah’s shot.

John’s heart shattered into a million pieces as he scrambled toward her, screaming, “No!”

He was too late to do anything but watch her final moments, as her body completely decomposed. He ran his hands through the pile of ash, sobbing over his wife’s death. He felt something solid and pulled out the ring that he’d given to her, which only made him an even more emotional wreck.

“Why?” He moaned, turning back to his wife’s killer, who now pointed his weapon at John.

“The trouble with making deals with evil men, John, is you shouldn’t trust them.”

“But we gave you what you wanted.”

“You were both loose ends, John, pure and simple.”

John sobbed, trying to figure a way out of this mess with his own life intact. “But we wouldn’t have said anything. I’m the one who stole the information to begin with. If I told, we’d all be imprisoned.”

John kept trying to stall, hoping that someone, anyone, would come in and stop this madman. He held his hands out in front of him. “And ten million credits is obviously enough to keep my mouth shut.”

“I always did despise blabbering idiots,” Elijah snorted, before firing another blast.

John screamed even louder as it blasted through his hands and struck his stomach. The next few moments were more painful than anything he had ever felt in his life, as if his body were a garment that was being pulled apart at the seams. The seams were then seared with a blowtorch, only to be ripped apart again, and the process repeated.

His fingers were the first to disappear, and he watched Isabel’s ring fall into his wife’s ash pile at his feet. His watch soon joined it, falling off along with the river of ash that was falling from his arms as the weapon’s effects propagated up both limbs.

John could feel his organs within his gut slowly being ripped apart, their functions shutting down, causing even more intense pain. His lower extremities turned to ash faster than the upper, and though he just wanted to die, he collapsed into Isabel’s remains when his legs could no longer support the rest of his rapidly decomposing body.

While the pain and agony raced up his chest, he looked past the mound of ash up at Elijah who rushed down to retrieve the duffel. John knew his end was certain, but he had hoped that someone would stop this madman from getting away. As Elijah raced back up the ramp, all of John’s hope was lost.

Gears pulled the aft ramp up off the floor, the grinding sound barely distinguishable with the klaxon echoing to no avail throughout the hangar. A maniacal laugh escaped his lips as the ramp slammed shut behind him.

John could feel his heart stop, and knew that the end was fast approaching. It was only then that he truly felt remorse for what he had done. His actions had killed both his wife and himself, and who knew what else this madman would do with the information he now had in his possession.

With no blood circulating, his brain shut down, bringing with it a reduction in the pain levels, albeit for a mere moment. And with that moment, he saw his watch lying next to Isabel’s ring.

And then, darkness fell.


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