Salvage Merc One: The Daedalus System, страница 1
A Salvage Merc One
The Daedalus System
Copyright 2016 by Jake Bible
“Joe?” Mgurn whispered. “Joe? Stop staring.”
“I’m not staring,” I said as I drank my beer and continued to stare at Hopsheer.
“You are,” Mgurn replied, his quad-jawed mandibles clicking with irritation. “You have been staring at her for the last hour. That’s your eighteenth pint of beer.”
“Is it?” I replied. “I wasn’t counting. You shouldn’t either. That’s just rude, Mgurn.”
He sighed. He’s Leforian, sighing was nothing new. I ignored the sigh.
So he sighed some more. And some more. And some more.
“Oh, for fo’s sake,” I snapped and turned to look at him. “Okay, I’m staring. So what? I can stare all I want. It’s not like she notices me or anything. No one notices me, Mgurn. I’m Salvage Merc One, the legend, the myth, the mysterious stranger that haunts the corridors of the Salvage Merc Corps headquarters. Now they see me, now they don’t. Forgotten before I’m five feet away.”
“Four,” Mgurn said.
“What?” I asked.
“Four feet away,” Mgurn replied. “I’ve counted. The other numbers forget you by the time you are four feet away. It’s annoying because if I’m talking to you then people ask who I’m talking to and I try to tell them but they forget so fast that sometimes I don’t even respond. That’s what’s really rude, Joe. Do you know how hard it is for a Leforian to be rude?”
“You didn’t seem to have a problem when counting my beers,” I responded and finished off the pint in my hand. I tilted the empty glass at Mgurn, indicating the full pitcher by one of his elbows. He has four. Elbows, not pitchers. Four elbows. There was only one pitcher left. “Fill ‘er up, buddy.”
He sighed yet again, but didn’t argue, and filled up my glass. I took a sip and started to go back to looking at Hopsheer Balai, the halfer woman that was the love of my life, who had no idea I existed unless I spoke to her directly. Unlike ninety-nine percent of the galaxy’s population, Hopsheer could actually retain a memory of me for longer than a few seconds. But only if we were conversing and in direct proximity to each other. It took longer than most, but once I walked away, she still lost memory of me within a minute or two.
It sucked nuft nuts.
That’s the thing about being Salvage Merc One. It sucked nuft nuts up and down. Yeah, sure, I had abilities that most in the galaxy didn’t, but so what? It was a life of loneliness. There was Mgurn, but come on, he didn’t exactly fill the hole in my soul that appeared when I ascended (descended?) to the role of Salvage Merc One and had to leave Hopsheer behind.
Once upon a time (regular time, not Sterli time), I was just Joe Laribeau, former Galactic Fleet Marine sergeant, guy with the replacement battle legs, a gift for turning stress into clarity, and a taste for as many drinks as I could pour down my throat. That last part didn’t change much. The rest did.
Recruited into the Salvage Merc Corps by Hopsheer, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. A gorgeous halfer -part human, part Gwreq, all incredible- walked into my life and gave me the opportunity of, well, a lifetime. I got to be part of an elite organization that helped end the War. I got to go on jobs, which we call tickets, and find whatever the SMC was hired to find, make a whole bunch of chits, see the galaxy in a way I never got to see it when I was a spacehead Marine, and was loved in a way I didn’t think I’d ever be loved.
Except it was a foing sham. The SMC Bosses hired me not because I had mad Marine skills, but because I had the gift of clarity. When crud went bad, my mind cleared, and I actually saw things in more detail, almost like slo-mo, and I could react faster than others. That gift turned out to be a curse because it made me special enough that the SMC Bosses thought I was the One.
Yeah, One with a capital O. A Chosen One thing. Next in line to become Salvage Merc One. They wanted me to take the reins from the previous Salvage Merc One, who became Boss Seven once he died, so I could get possessed by some foing thing called the artifact. No capital A for it. It can suck my capital A.
That artifact was inside me. It allowed me to find anything in the universe. Anything. It’s not like I had galactic positioning or whatever. It just meant I could zero in on a pretty damn close location then search from there instead of starting from scratch and searching the whole damn galaxy from scratch. Lots of scratch when you’re a number, which is our nickname for being a Salvage Merc, since we all have numbers. I used to be One Eighty-Four. Not anymore, as I’ve said.
Wait, there’s more!
The foing artifact also meant that no one could focus on me. Their memories would be wiped of my existence within seconds, or four feet according to Mgurn, of being out of my presence. Hell, most folks forgot me as they talked to me. I’d be asking a question, and they’d just space off, sometimes walk off, like I wasn’t even there.
Totally foed up. There are times I really hate SMC headquarters.
But, hey, free beer, right?
“Joe?” Mgurn asked.
For some reason, Mgurn never forgot me. He was my assistant when I was a rookie number (all rookie numbers get assistants their first year) then stayed on as my assistant once I ascended (still not sure that’s how it turned out) to the One position. It was great to have someone, other than the Bosses, to talk to, but being Mgurn, he never left me alone even when I obviously wanted to get super drunk and stalk my ex without his constant jabbering in my damn ear.
“Joe?” Mgurn asked again.
I swiveled my attention over to him, which was a bit of an effort since the nineteenth pint was really the one that pushed me over the edge, and raised my eyebrows.
“Uh, Joe, you okay?” Mgurn asked. “You seem a bit, uh, well, glowy.”
“Glowy? What the fo does that mean? Is that even a word?” I asked. I set the pint down then saw my hand that held the glass. Mgurn was right, I was glowy. Or my hand was, at least. “Oh, that’s what you mean. I’m, like, actually glowing.”
“Yes, slightly,” Mgurn said. “I do not think this is normal.”
“Nothing about me is normal, buddy,” I said. “I’m Salvage Merc One.”
Not that Mgurn was exactly normal. I mean, he was normal for a Leforian, which are a race of two-meter-plus tall bug hounds. They look like a huge armored beetle and a Great Dane had babies. Good thing they are genetically predisposed to being uber-nice since Mgurn could easily rip me apart with his bare hands if he wanted to.
“I believe you should go see Scott,” Mgurn said. “He can do a medical workup and assess your situation.”
“Scott doesn’t remember who I am, Mgurn,” I replied. “He’s useless since he can’t look at my medical history and anything he enters into the SMC system just gets erased the second I leave his office. Plus, according to the Bosses, I’m sort of indestructible.”
“No, you are not,” Mgurn gasped. “Do not even think that, Joe. You are far from indestructible.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m far from,” I replied. “I heal super fast now.”
“Which is not the same as being indestructible,” Mgurn said.
We sat there in silence for a couple seconds, our eyes on my glowing hand.
“You really should see someone about that, though,” Mgurn insisted. “You’re getting brighter.”
He was right again. My hand was getting brighter, and it was starting to draw attention. That must have meant that the light wasn’t exactly coming from me. I mean, it was, but there had to be an outside of Joe source or the other numbers wouldn’t notice.
That was my theory, at least.
The few numbers that had started to turn my way immediately turned back to their conversations, and drinks and food, as if nothing had happened. I pulled my hand out from under the table, and they began to notice again. I tucked it under, they turned away. Back up and they started looking. Under, they looked away. Back up and they—
“Stop that,” Mgurn hissed. He shook his head and gave me that disapproving look he does so well.
“What?” I asked. “I’m just playing. Having some fun. Fo, Mgurn, can you give me that, at least?”
“I am not giving you anything, Joe,” Mgurn said. “I am simply telling you to act like an adult and not mess with the other numbers. It is not professional behavior, and as Salvage Merc One, you should exemplify proper conduct.”
“Are you foing crudding me?” I snapped. “Do we need to go back to the whole people don’t remember me convo again? Sheezus, Mgurn. Any conduct I try to exemplify gets forgotten. Argh!”
“I am beginning to think the Galactic Fleet discharged you not because your cybernetic battle legs were too expensive to maintain, but because you are just a dick,” Mgurn said.
“Damn,” I replied. “I got you riled up, didn’t I? You totally called me a dick.”
I don’t know if Leforians can actually blush, but I am pretty sure I made him blush.
“I apologize for the insult,” Mgurn said.
“Why? I’d call me a dick too,” I said. “I kind of am.”
“Well, then perhaps you should work on that,” Mgurn said.
“Maybe I will,” I responded. “Right after I finish…this…last pint…”
I trailed off as I saw my other hand start to glow.
“This is getting weird,” I said.
“Joe?” Mgurn asked.
“I’m right here, buddy, no need to say my name if you want to talk to me,” I said as I held both of my glowing hands in front of my face and wiggled my fingers. “This is just trippy, man.”
They were getting brighter and brighter. It was almost painful. Not in my hands, but in my eyes because the glowing was turning into some seriously heavy duty light.
“Joe? Uh, I believe we may have a situation on our hands,” Mgurn said.
“Yeah, no crud, man,” I said. “But there’s no we here, buddy. The situation is firmly all on my hands. Ooo, and spreading down my arms. Why is my uniform glowing too? I’d think it would just be my skin.”
“I am not talking about your hands,” Mgurn said and tapped me on the shoulder. “The situation has gone beyond that.”
“Again, no crud, man,” I replied. “I can see it’s going beyond my hands. It’s all the way past my elbows now. This is crazy! What the fo is going on? If it was a threat, I’d think the headquarters AI would detect it and sound the alarm, but I don’t hear any klaxons going off, do you? Mgurn? Do you hear any klaxons? Maybe I have light in my ears and can’t hear them. Which doesn’t make any sense at all when you think—”
Mgurn shoved my hands onto the table with one hand and grabbed me by the chin with a second. His other two hands pointed at the rest of the mess hall.
And what was coming at us.
“Fo,” I whispered as I watched every number in the room walk slowly towards us, their eyes locked onto my glowing arms. “This ain’t good.”
“No, it is not,” Mgurn said. He cleared his throat and stood up, holding all of his hands out towards the numbers. “Hello, fellow Salvage Mercs—”
“You’re just an assistant,” I said. “You really can’t call yourself a Salvage Merc.”
His head whipped around, and I swear he glared at me. Not very well, since Leforians just aren’t the glaring type, but the effort was there.
“Sorry,” I said. “That was the dick part of me that said that.”
“Yes, I know,” Mgurn said and returned his attention to the numbers that were sleepwalking towards us.
And that was what they looked like they were doing. They were either sleepwalking or in some kind of trance. Slow, stuttering steps brought them closer and closer. It was taking forever. Sheezus, I would have preferred it if they’d rushed us.
“If you will return to your seats, we will get this situation sorted out,” Mgurn continued. “This is a Salvage Merc One issue. I do thank you for your concern, but there is no need for everyone to get involved. Thank you.”
“You already thanked them,” I said.
He glared again. He was getting better at it.
“Good speech,” I said and smiled. “Didn’t do crud, though.”
“Yes, I am painfully aware of that,” Mgurn said. “Perhaps we should leave.”
“I like the way you think,” I said and stood up. Good thing I had battle legs because they were all that kept me from falling over onto my ass. “Yikes. I think I had one too many beers.”
“Ten too many beers,” Mgurn said. “We should really talk about your drinking at some point, Joe. I believe you may have a problem.”
“I have lots of problems, buddy,” I said and nodded at the numbers that were still sloooooowly coming at us. “Most of them are right there.”
“That is not what I mean, and you know it,” Mgurn said as he started inching around the table.
There was one disadvantage with my favorite table. It was tucked into the far corner of the mess hall. Yes, it gave me a full view of the entire room, and I could watch the door to see who came and went, but it also meant our backs were up against a wall. Fine if you wanted to avoid getting shot in said backs, but cruddy if you wanted to turn and get the fo out of there in a hurry.
I instinctively slapped at my thigh, feeling for my KL09 heavy pistol, but it wasn’t there. No reason it should have been since I was supposed to be safely inside the SMC headquarters. Putting myself in the corner was instinct, carrying a KL09 around would have been paranoid.
Not so paranoid, as it turned out, since I had a quarter of the SMC numbers shuffling their sleepwalking asses at me.
“Suggestions?” I asked Mgurn.
“None that do not involve hurting our friends and colleagues,” Mgurn said. “I would like to avoid that, if we can.”
“Gonna agree with you there,” I said. “Especially since we’ll probably be the ones getting hurt if we try to go the punch and kick route.”
“Perhaps we can slip by them?” Mgurn suggested. “They are moving painfully slow. I believe if we go to the right and slide along the wall, we might be able to reach the doors without incident.”
“Good call,” I said and followed him as he moved to the wall.
The second I was out from behind the table, the numbers picked up their pace. A lot.
“Oh,” Mgurn said. “More not good. Shall we run?”
“Yes, Mgurn, we shall,” I said. “Battle legs, don’t fail me now.”
He glanced over his shoulder at me to say something, but the words didn’t happen. His quad-jaw dropped, and his eyes went the widest I’d ever seen them go.
“I’m guessing by the look on your face that my whole body is glowing now?” I said.
“Yes,” Mgurn nodded. “Your whole body is glowing now.”
I looked down and even I hurt my eyes. I had to squint to make out details of my own body, the light was so bright. The numbers coming at us squinted as well then came to a stop. Arms were raised to shield their vision as my glowing turned into full on spotlight. Put a disco ball in front of me, and we could have had a dance party.
“Do you feel anything?” Mgurn asked, turning away to keep from going blind. “Does it hurt?”
“I don’t feel a damn thing,” I said. I waved my hands around. “If all this wasn’t happening, I’d have no idea anything was even going on. Seriously. It feels like nothing.”
“It is obviously not nothing,” Mgurn said.
“Ya think?” I snapped. “Maybe we should call for help.”
Mgurn’s features changed, and I realized he was ashamed he hadn’
“Emergency assistance needed in the mess hall,” Mgurn said. “There seems to be a situation with Salvage Merc One.”
His head tilted as he listened to a response. Normally, I would have been pissed he didn’t dial me in on the conversation, but I was too busy being blinded by my light.
“Yes, I said Salvage Merc One,” Mgurn said. “That is not true. He is very real and not a legend at all.” He sighed louder. “Can you patch me through to one of the Bosses, please? They can help me.”
The numbers before us started backing off, all of them in obvious pain from my brilliance. But they didn’t go far, just back enough that the dazzling funk that was I didn’t hurt so much anymore.
“This could be a while,” Mgurn said to me. “I’m on hold.”
“Hold? Does our internal com system even have a hold?” I asked.
“Apparently, it does,” Mgurn said. He started to bob his head. “The music is quite pleasant actually.”
“Oh, is it?” I snapped as I sat back in my seat and started to pour another pint. Why the hell not? If I was going to go supernova, I sure as fo wanted to do it with a beer in my hand.
“Yes, I am here,” Mgurn said. “Who am I speaking to? Oh, well, it is an honor Boss Two. I am a big fan of yours. I believe Joe, I mean Salvage Merc One, has spoken highly of you. What was that? Well, I can’t recall a specific story he’s told, but I know he speaks highly of all the Bosses. No, sir, I am not brown nosing you. Yes, sir, I will knock off the ass kissing and get to the point. Although, I must point out that I am Leforian and in no way was I trying to kiss your—”
Mgurn winced and put a hand to his ear.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir,” Mgurn said. “If you will check the vid feed of the mess hall, I believe you will see what I am talking about. No, sir, I am not telling you what to do. That would be unthinkable. Well, yes, sir, I did just think it, so I guess you are right and it is thinkable. What I meant was—”
He winced again and nearly yanked the com from his ear.