Space Mage Episode 1- Never Trust Bums by J.T.

Stiver Her name was Shell, only Shell, not Shell Smith or Shell Jackson. It wasn't a nickname, it wasn't short for Shelly, Shelby, Shiloh, or Sheilah. It wasn't the name her parents had given her, it was simply the name she'd been called for as long as she could remember. While we're on the subject, she had no parents nor siblings she was aware of, and hadn't the inkling to pursue such knowledge. She only had her name which attached to her like her dog-tags, both of which would be the only things things she'd likely take to her grave. Which got her thinking about death. Her death specifically. In the past it wasn't something she had time to worry about and was frustrated at the frequency in which the other soldiers would bring it up. It was a distraction, something that caused panic and doubt and she'd witnessed first hand how the fear of death itself caused death. Most of the other soldiers weren't born into Spec Corps, like her, like her kind. Most weren't raised from birth to fight, to seize, to secure, to gather, to kill. All without fearing death. The nursery rhymes she'd been taught made people uncomfortable. But she had time to kill, another cigarette to smoke, and a target taking an excruciatingly long time to come out of his hideout. So she thought of her death. Wondered what it would be like to be on the other end of that see saw, the dead and living see saw, and didn't stay on the subject long because she knew it would likely be quick. Her starship exploding in the myst of a battle, an enemy creeping up behind her and slicing her throat, perhaps a sniper capping her from a mile away. Shell felt certain it wouldn't, by any stretch of the imagination, be a death the average person has in mind for themselves. Dying of natural causes, for Shell, was on the battlefield. But this new brand of thought process was getting on her nerves, and she hadn't adjusted to civilian life just yet. For the first time, in a long time, she thought of her platoon. The testosterone infused gun waving, the constant barrage of insults, and most of all, targets that would get the hell on with walking out of a hideout so she could interrogate them for information. She watched the building from the other side of the street as she sat at a bus stop and attempted to blend in. Which was tough, borderline impossible, as this planet had old world technology and sophistication. It was the kind of planet that used gas to power their motors, bullets as ammo for their weapons and approached spaceports, and space travel, in the same manner they would a hive of angry viper-wasps. Terrified, confused, then right back to terrified and running very fast in the opposite direction with arms waving about carelessly. In this district the common person wore utility shirts, jeans, and flannel jackets. She was very out of place wearing her red hooded robe, which had black arcane inlays down the center and around the folds of her sleeves and around the border of the hood. The inlays would, from time to time, glow faintly and change rune signatures depending on a wide array of conditions. She thought about checking her wrist comm unit, which to these people would probably look like a ancient barbarian bracer, with blinky lights that showed ghastly visions. Admittedly she was out of touch on the subject of their perspective, but it was also a relief. They, like other planets she'd visited, would likely perceive her wrist comm as a weapon and her as a insane cultist and she didn't have time to run from the authorities. She couldn't give up this target, so she'd play nice. Her wrist comm buzzed under her robe sleeve, a signal that she had an incoming transmission from her ship, specifically from her one man pilot/repair/cleaning/cooking crew. An fat man in a camouflaged hat looked at her suspiciously as she tried to silence the wrist comm and she pretended, the way crazy people sometimes pretend, that the weird thing he’d just seen/heard was absolutely normal.

Just then she noticed the target, a skinny man with lots of tattoos and really bad facial hair, as he walked out of the well armed hideout. She got up slowly from the bench, and before following the target she turned and gave the fat man, the one with the camo hat, a crazed glare. For fun, and dramatic flare, she caused her eyes to appear as though they'd burst into flames for just a split second. The fat man fell backwards, turned, stumbled into a crowd of people, screamed, then ran the opposite direction. He wouldn't call the authorities, not on a planet like this, they'd call him crazy. He'll likely have nightmares for awhile, which is the price he paid for being nosey and having bad fashion sense. Shell followed her tattooed target, from a far enough distance as to rouse not suspicion, until they'd reached a section of the city where the population seemed uninterested to venture into. And for good reason. It was dirty, fenced off, and might as well have had a big flashing neon sign that read Welcome to Stabsyouville. Shell produced a zippo lighter from within her robes and pulled out a cigarette, she lit the cigarette with it and the sound drew her target's attention. He froze at her sight, in a deer plus highlights sort of way, and was motionless for much longer than Shell anticipated. But he bolted to jump a nearby fence. Which was exactly as she anticipated, she even let him get half way up the fence before she decided to begin. She blew out smoke, and muttered a spell in an ancient tongue, one that took hold of the smoke, transformed it into a ghostly three fingered claw and she willed it towards her prey. It raced through the air towards him, at lightening fast speed. It wrapped its smokey talons around his leg and pried him off the fence and carried him, kicking and shouting obsenities, to her. The claw let go and her target dropped face first on the street, at her feet. He dared not to look at her, blood trickled from his nose and he was checking to see if his jaw was broken. “Tim Toddberry. How long has it been? About a year, maybe two?” Shell said as her smoke claw disappeared into the breeze. “What do you want?” He spat blood. “Shan Hintu. Where is he?” “I don't know. What? You think I know?” Tim started laughing, a crack head kind of laugh, which was fitting because Tim Toddberrry sold and dealt with intergalactic drugs and rarities. “Crazy bitch, you think I'm on this planet because I like it? He told me to stay put or he'd hide my soul in another dimension. I've seen that asshole do that kind of stuff. So I'm stayin put. Gave me some creds, said to get this place nice and plump, like I do. Places like these are ripe for the picking. The tech is low, you know, the eyes of the galaxy aren't exactly lookin-” Shell pulled a revolver out of her robe. It was a distracting thing to see from Tim's point of view. “I think I like bullets.” Shell mused openly. “I was use to lasers weapons, of course, but bullets and revolvers, that's style. Spec Ops never let me have a style, per say, so I'm trying to branch out. How does it look on me?” Tim refused to look her in the eyes, he just stared at the gun and began sweating. “Whatever you think you can do, he can do worse.” He laughed, well didn't laugh for long. Shell aimed the revolver at Tim's right leg and fired. Of course, Tim Toddberry screamed, loudly, and grabbed his leg. “See, bullets have are much more painful. I like them. But you know what I don't like? I've been here for a week chasing you down and I hate this planet, I'm broke, low on cigarettes, low on fuel and food. My luck has been pretty awful Tim, and to be honest you had something to do with it, a lot to do with it actually, and I'm pretty upset.” “I don't know what you're talkin-” Shell slammed her boot against Tim's wounded leg causing him all kinds of discomfort. “You sold drugs to those people. Back on Tarvus III, very bad drugs. Ones that turned them against us and I had to make some very unfortunate decisions.”

“...it was Talon's-” “If you want to keep your brain, still in your skull, and not in tiny little pieces all over this street then you'll answer my question and not mention Talon again.” She was suddenly very serious and pointing the revolver at his face. “Where. Is. Shan Hintu?” She asked squarely. “Yomen, small corporate planet-” Tim tried talking more but was in too much pain, Shell aimed the gun at his other leg for motivation and he was able to power through the thoughts and say, “City of Hulen, said he needed some special things for this job he was doing. Needed some spices and reagents, kind of stuff I happened to pull off a Rogen Allience transport few months back, for his rituals. Said he didn't have time for me to do what I do.” “Which is what exactly? Sell tainted drugs?” “I free minds.” Tim laughed maniacally. “I expand. I open the gates. I let it all out. Like Talon, I set him free. Like most of Tarvus III, my greatest work. Shan picks the garden, I plant the seeds. I open their eyes to the future, I don't give them simple drugs, mage, I give them a gateway to somewhere they never want to leave.” “What is he doing on Hulen?” She said softly, trying very hard not to paint the street with his insides. “He's got this guy, Sam Lomak. Don't know anything else about him. But said Sams got something he needs. Something big-” Then Tim did a very stupid thing, he pulled a knife on her, one he'd palmed when Shell stomped on his leg, she’d noticed it. Shell shot him, just once, a well placed bullet she'd planned years ago. She could've easily avoided the knife and interrogated him further, but her willpower wasn't strong enough to overcome the desire to see him dead. He helped ruin her life, along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent lives. She pushed his dead body over and searched him until she found his wallet. In it was a credcard, and she hooked it up to her wrist comm and proceeded to drain his account dry. At least now she'll eat and can put fuel in her ship. She punched in a series of buttons on her wrist comm and called up Rubin, the one man crew, a cheap clone that came with her cheap ship. He'd originally only been used for loading heavy cargo boxes, and other mindless manual labor tasks, but she cross trained him to save on the crew expenses. Rubin preferred to go by Michael and made Rubin his last name. Most Rubins across the galaxy just refer to themselves as Rubin, of course hers had to be the special one. Lucky her. Actually flying the ship was a work in progress, he still wasn't allowed to land or take off. “Yeah boss.” He said, with enthusiasm that never failed drive her insane. “I need you to prep the ship, we're leaving. What do you want for dinner?” “Right. I'm on it. Uh. I think I want...maybe...no...I know.-” “You have 3 seconds.” “Gummy straws. I want gummy straws.” “You cannot have gummy straws, that's not dinner, gummy straws are snacks.” “Okay. I want a bowl of gummy straws.” “A bowl of something doesn't make it dinner.” “Oh, right, boss... I guess. I don't know. Whatever then...” She could hear the disappointment in his voice and decided to be nice for a change. She had a breakthrough in her search for Shan Hintu, closer now than she ever was, and it wouldn't hurt to keep the crew's moral up. “Fine Michael, I'll get you some gummy straws, in a bowl, for dinner.” She switched off the wrist comm before he could celebrate. She could barely deal with giving into his gummy straw dinner and outright refused deal with his excessive thanks and admiration. Rubins were famous for it, and Michael Rubin had to be the worst.

<*** Later, on the planet Yomen, in the city of Hulen. ***> It all happened much faster than Samuel Lomak imagined it should've. Usually, in the movies, people had time to clutch themselves while laying dramatically on the floor. They're suppose to cough, feel their body get cold, and say some heart breaking last words before passing through the great beyond. Sam, however, was stabbed to death by a gang of maniac hobos and was unconscious almost as soon as it happened. He was pretty sure he fainted before the first knife went into him, which was embarrassing, but relieved at the fact that he didn't have to suffer unimaginable pain. Which brought him the very curious matter of his continued cognizance. He tried to look around, or use limbs, or anything. But there was nothing, nothing but his thoughts. No white light, no darkness, no nothing. Just words and their attached meaning. He realized he was having trouble remembering, anything. He knew a gang of dirty hobos stabbed him, but only in that odd way you just know certain things in a dream. Sam tried to concentrate on the basics. “Samuel Lomak.” He said his name but there was no sensation like he spoke, nor the feeling like he heard it. “Executive Information Terminal Technology Assistant.” He said, suddenly remembering his dead end career, which was followed by a tugging sensation of bitterness as he suspected his promotion was long overdue. Flow of thought became increasing harder to paddle through, because the memories were like small tangible objects that needed picking up. As though he were on a beach armed with a sharp litter stick trying to collect the trash while shooing away a large herd of cats. It was a grueling process trying to piece things together and with each fragment he collected, he found he couldn't mold it into an image. Which made him panic, he concentrated on images specifically, attempting to picture something. It was challenging, like something was trying to close a door on his existence, but he tried harder and harder. A sudden spark of pictures erupted, so very tiny it could only be described as confetti vision. The visions seemed to fight him on the matter of existing. He pushed but it was like one of those dreams where the harder you try to run towards something the further away the destination gets, but he persevered. Feverish in his attempt to see something, anything, desperate to not spend eternity in nothingness. Then he saw something, though the visions were dark and full of smokey haze. He saw a top down view of a himself, at least it looked a lot like him only laying in a pool of blood. He could just make out his clothes, soaked in blood, his favorite clearance rack khaki pants and button up shirt with wacky smiley face tie combo. Circling his body were the outline of figures he couldn't quite distinguish. He heard them speak though he couldn't catch all of the conversation as sound was a cluster of echoes and sharp tones. “I aint about this voodoo stuff.” One said, a heavy set figure who scratched his head. “It's not voodoo, now kindly shut up and do your job.” Said the dark figure, who spoke with polish. “When do we get the chicken? You gave the other guys chicken, when do we get ours?” Inquired a third. “Yeah!” They all said in unison, except for the well spoken man. “You'll get more than chicken when it's done.” Answered the polished man, his voice laced with aggravation. “We want chicken, not more than chicken, not less than chicken. I'm not down with your squishy trickery tacticary!” The third proclaimed. “I want his shoes.” Demanded a fourth voice, whose tone was soaked in alcohol. “Everyone shut up and hum with me.” “I aint about no voodoo hummin.” The first said in a matter of fact kind of way. But they hummed regardless, because free chicken was at stake and the moment they matched tones Sam shot back into the nothingness, again. This time he felt like he was shotgunned through time, space and reality. While there was nothing, it was somehow nothing at the speed of everything. He felt

sickly and imagined throwing up somewhere between last week and yellow elephants. Then suddenly he popped, for lack of a better word, into an empty part of the universe. He found himself drifting motionless through space, he tried looking at himself and found he was glowing and translucent. He had no need to breath, and was without feeling in his body. He looked up and saw only stars and the complete darkness of space. He also saw that he was not alone. In front of him was a man with glowing green eyes, who had a large unkept beard and a wild main of hair. The beard and hair were as long as his body, and swayed in slow motion in chaotic directions as though he were suspended underwater. The mess of hair gave the man an elderly look but his eyes were young and alive. The man had flowing grey robes on, and his body was outlined in a nebulas black outline that was hard to grasp. It seemed to exist elsewhere and here at the same time. Was this a deity? A obscure mythical reference Sam couldn't remember? This was not how Sam expected the afterlife to look. The man eyed Sam curiously, his arms were crossed and his overall expression seemed grim. It was then Sam realized the man was in chains, full body, chains that were thin looking and surged with a bright white light. “Am I dead?” Sam asked the man, thinking he might as well get the most important question out of the way first. “You are not.” The words entered his mind, large and powerful, cruel and bored and as they did Sam noticed the man's lips did not move. “Why am I here?” Sam asked. “I would love, more than anything, to know that answer. Visitors are rare.” The words in his mind replied. Then as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and Sam felt like something hooked across his stomach and shot him backwards, yet again, through time, space, and reality. As Sam was shot through nothingness the man's words entered his mind one last time, it faded with every second and said, “Next time due stay a little longer.” Suddenly there was the very real feeling of Sam choking for air, he felt cold against the concrete of the street and though there was darkness, it was because his eyes were shut tight. Sam's brain hurt as as he felt the rush of his memories suddenly shoving their way back into his consciousness. His body was sore, and he smelled a foul dampness which he was pretty sure was the most unpleasant smell that'd ever attacked his senses. But it felt so good to feel, and this was quite possibly the happiest moment of his life, or death, or whatever he was at the moment. He opened his eyes and a person dressed in a red hooded robe, holding a smoking resolver, stood over him. The person's face wasn't visible in the darkness which terrified him enough that he started shaking uncontrollably. He gulped. “Say something intelligent.” Said the person, a woman's voice both stern and confident, she pushed the gun to his temple pulled the hammer back, making that signature clicking sound. A terrible sound for anyone whose seen how these moments end in old wild west movies. Sam found the courage to speak. “Don't you think that's putting someone on the spot?” He was surprised at himself to say, but he continued as fear and anger fought for control of his speech and sensibilities. “I'm just a bit confused as to what the hell is going on here. One minute I'm walking down the street, coming home from work, I offer a homeless man a few credits, you know, because it's the nice thing to do. Next minute I'm attacked by said hobo, then I'm hovering over my own dead body actually watching a group of weirdos perform some kind of crazy voodoo thing on me, then I'm floating in space with some creepy guy. Who, I might add, had a big giant flowing beard and spoke only in mind, which was really awkward, and now I'm lying in a pool of my own blood and you're putting a gun to my head. And now you expect me to say something intel-”

“Good enough” She said. “All that makes sense except for the bearded guy in space.” She lowered the gun and turned around, surveying the alley in a way that reminded Sam of a action movie detective. He looked around, and noticed the dead hobos, two with bullet holes to the back of their head and one was smoking with a scorch mark still smoldering at his chest. “What's going on?” Sam asked, directing his voice at the woman, he knew he sounded desperate but it had already been a trying day and he just didn't care. “They were attempting a possession ritual on you.” She answered without facing him, she bent down and touched the street muttering something softly to herself. “What? Why? Possession? Like magic or something?” “Yes. Like magic, or something.” “That's crazy, absolutely insane. They were just some bums, crazy bums, being weird.” “There was a man with him who isn't quite so crazy. Well, he's crazy, but he's not insane.” “Who are you?” “Shell.” “I'm sorry Shell, this is all a bit much.” Sam took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves. “I'm Sam Lomak. Thank you for saving my life.” He scratched his head and realized he didn't feel any hair. Which worried him, he looked down at his hands but they were very pale and eerily shiny in the moonlit darkness. He decided not to worry about it just yet, he had more pressing concerns. “I didn't.” She said, this time she stood up and walked over to him. The way she said it was like someone passively talking about the weather. “What?” He blinked as the next few seconds slowed to a crawl. “I didn't save your life. You're a walking corpse, actually in your case, a pile of bones.” She pointed down to a nearby puddle of water, reflective enough he could see himself, and he took the hint. Sam inched slowly towards the puddle, as though at any moment it would jump up and strangle him, and when he reached the puddle he leaned in to take a look at his face. Only it wasn't his face at all, it was just a skull, with just eyes in tact. There was no flesh, and his bones were gleaming, like someone had just shined them. He looked over at where he'd woken up and found a steaming puddle of cooked indescribable goo. It was all too much, naturally, so he did the most sensible thing he could think of at the time. He screamed and curled into the fetal position. Shell swiftly put her hands over his mouth, attempting to muffle his high pitched shriek. “You have to be quiet.” She urged him, with physical force. Sam answered with another muffled scream. “Listen to me!” She yelled quietly like an angry mom threatening her child who was misbehaving in public. “Shan Hintu, the man who did this to you, he got away when I saved you and I'm pretty sure you're not the first person he's done this to tonight. So consider yourself lucky I interrupted the ritual, because there's no telling what you would've become. Now, I need you to put on your big girl panties not scream like you saw a spider okay?” Sam nodded his head with his eyes wide. “Good. I'm releasing my hands now, so you need to be quiet and answer some questions for me.” Shell removed her hands from his face and her voice went to a calmer tone. “Are you involved with interstellar drug trafficking?”She said “What? That’s crazy.” “Answer the question.” “No. I only use prescription drugs for my food allergies. I’ve never been on a spaceship...” “If you’re lying me I will crush your bones to powder.” “I believe you.” “Good.” “Wonderful now that that’s-” “Have you ever met Shan Hintu, Talon, or Tim Toddberry?”

“This is a lot of questions. No. Never.” “You work for Techcore, is that correct?” She said. “Yeah I fix, and support, executive work terminals.” “You have access to all Techcore floors correct?” “Yes.” “Good. Give me your security card and you can be on your way.” “No.” “No?” Her face was hidden by the darkness but he could swear she was giving him a look that threatened to kill him, more than he was already dead. “Shan was planning to take your soul and shape it to his will. And you think this is a meet n greet? He's a dark sorcerer. You're not equipped to handle this kind of guy.” “I'm a walking pile of bones, you said it yourself.” Sam said as he picked himself up and dusted himself off. He found his clothes were way too loose to stay on his body and continued talking as he adjusted his belt. “I have no life anymore, I can't go into work tomorrow and expect people to compliment on my recent weight loss. I can't tell them I've come down with a random case of skin rot, and it's made me a little pale. I can't go home, I can't do anything someone with a normal life could do. It's because of this Shan asshole, so I'm coming with you. Maybe there's a way to reverse this thing.” “We don't have time for this Sam. I'm sorry your life is completely screwed now but Shan is-” But he could hear a sigh in her voice and she turned towards the street and began walking. “Dammit fine, but don't expect me to hold your hand through this. You stay out of my way and maybe you won't die for good. We don't have much time, so hurry up.” “Don't worry about me, I've taken self defense classes.” “Oh. Well then.” She called out to him, “That makes me feel much better then...maybe you take on the master of dark magics and I'll just take a nap, get my hair done, paint my nails, count my guns.” “Who counts guns?” Sam called back. “Me.” Shell said as she rounded the corner and into the streets of Hulen. With his belt tightened he took off his shirt and dared not to take another look at what he'd become, he kicked one of the bums to the side and looted a dirty trench coat. He grabbed a furry cap from another, and checking their pockets he found sunglasses. He put them all on and tried to catch up with Shell as they entered the general population of Hulen. “So why do you think he ran to Techcore?” He whispered to Shell once he caught up to her. It was late and there were hardly any people on the streets, which he was thankful for. “Because I shot him with a tracking spell just before he got away in the shuffle, and I don't have long before the trace wears off.” Shell muttered something under her breathe about how much time she'd wasted on anchoring Sam's soul to his body. Sam pretended not to hear her mutterings and shook his head. “First of all, before today I didn't believe in magic. I always thought they were just, you know, pretend and the kind of things you read about or see in movies.” “That's because your government likes to keep its people in the dark.” She said squarely, and paused for a moment before finishing her thought with, “Like all governments do.” “I'm sure all this could be explained logically, okay probably not, but even so, why would a dark sorcerer, which for the record sounds very weird to say and mean it, go straight to a technology firm, one that specializes in hover car cores? One I happen to work in? I mean what does Techcore have to do with anything? Also, how the hell did you know I work for Techcore?” “I searched your name on Galaxibook.” “Then I'm sure you're aware I'm completely insignificant? That I live alone, and have absolutely no life outside of Massively Multiplayer HoloVid Games? Meaning that there's no reason in the world I should have anything to do with any of this?” “Yes. Which is why you were Shan's prime target.”

Shell was silent for a moment before she said solemnly, “As for why any of this is happening. I intend on finding out.” “Why are you after him?” Sam asked, just realizing that he was following a very scary woman in a hooded robe, who carries an revolver, of all weapons, that fires bullets, and murdered three homeless men in cold blood without batting a eye. “You ask too many questions Sam. We're here, so watch my back and lets hope this thing doesn't get messy.” The Techcore building towered before them, four hundred and eighty seven floors high and though Sam entered this building many times before in the past several years, this was by far the first time he would count it as being a ominous experience. Hours ago he was a living person who walked out this door a somewhat disgruntled but overall very much employed employee. Now he was a walking skeleton accompanying a cold blooded killer. He cleared his mind though, as whatever awaits them was surely dangerous and confusing, and he needed to get a firm grasp on reality. Which admittedly the grasp was somewhat loose considering the circumstances. They walked into the lobby cautiously and the first thing Sam noticed were two security guards. Guards he didn't recognize. Guards who were not acting very guard-ly. One held a professional looking laser rifle upside down and was eyeing down the barrel. The other was sitting in a chair behind the information desk, with his feet propped up smoking a cigarette and eating a chicken leg with a euphoric look on his face. “Building is closed.” The chicken eating security guard said in between bites without looking at them. The other security guard stopped inspecting the barrel of his rifle and eyed Shell with contempt. Shell leaned over without taking her eyes off the two men and whispered, “These aren't the normal security guards right?” “No. No they're not. There was a bomb threat and we all had to leave early.” “I thought so.” Shell said, and she pulled back the hood from her head. Sam was suddenly taken back, he wasn't sure what he expected Shell to look like, but he wasn't expecting someone so strong and beautiful. She had a long scar that ran from the middle of her nose to end of her cheek and her short black hair was rugged and wild. Her face was cold as steel, and she looked the type who never smiled, ever. There was a dangerous beauty to her, and it was comforting that she was on his side. “I said the buildings' closed. Now leave!” The cigarette smoking guard barked and threw his chicken leg at them in anger. “I think it's her. Red robes. That's what he said, if someone with red robes comes in we shoot them.” The other said, trying to whisper to his friend but doing a poor job of it. “Ah damn.” Which was the last thing the chicken guard said before Shell held out her hands and a stream of bright red energy shot from her fingers and straight to his chest. It shot him backwards out of the chair and straight back a few dozen feet. The lobby soon smelled faintly of burnt clothing and ashes fell like dark feathers from the information desk all the way to where the guard laid charred and motionless. The guard with the laser gun wasted precious seconds watching his friend get propelled by the magical fire beam. He looked back at Shell and took aim, realized his rifle was backwards and attempted to correct the matter but she'd already drawn her revolver and fired two quick shots which hit him once in the gut and once through the forehead. He dropped like a bag of bricks as crimson blood sprayed out behind him. “Wow. I mean. Wow.” Sam said, he mouthed the word wow once more, but he was pretty sure without lips the effect wasn't quite as dramatic. Shell punched in some numbers on her wrist comm and squinted at the tiny map of the building. “He's still on the top floor.” She said finally and began walking towards the all glass elevator, the kind you see at high end hotels that are fully exposed. A design which tortures those whom are terrified of heights, like Sam.

Before entering the elevator Sam pried the laser rifle from the dead guard, specifically the one missing the back part of his skull. He was too much in a hurry and distracted to be grossed out by dead man covered in blood, but he knew later he'd need therapy if things ever calmed down. “You know how to work that thing?” Shell asked, now that Sam could see her face he realized she was smirking at him, which was embarrassing but at least he sensed some humor with her. Sam looked a the rifle in his hands and felt very cool for a moment until the revaluation come to him that he'd never fired any weapon, in his life. So he shrugged at her and reached into his back pocket where he kept his wallet, in which he kept his security card, and his heart froze when he couldn't find it. He checked all his pockets numerous times over as the elevator played soothing electro jazz. Shell sighed, which was something of her signature, Sam came to realize, and after a awkward handful of seconds she stopped him cold by grabbing his grubby trench coat collar with her free hand and slammed him against the elevator wall, lifting him up off his feet. “Please tell me you have the access card. We're running out of-” Shell looked back at her wrist comm as a digital sound interrupted her train of thought, she then suddenly cursed and violently kicked the elevator wall hard enough to leave a small crack in luxurious looking glass. “I've lost his signal.” “The card is gone.” He said in instant fear of her and her magic, and her gun, and all the kicking. “Think of another way up.” She let him go, he fell to his knees and put his hands on his head, his index finger tapped his hollow skull as he tried thinking of something that could help them get past the elevator security, and oddly enough the tapping seemed to help. “Admin codes!” He shouted joyously and got up to celebrate, Shell looked at him with short tempered eyes that read like a newspaper, the headline said, “Explain,” so he told her. “I know them. I mean I shouldn't but I'm in charge of the exec level terminals, and sometimes the CEO, Mister Goodall, nice guy, kind of a perv, but still a nice guy, doesn't want to be bothered with the time consuming source code back ups. So I do it for him, our little secret, he said, told me I'd get a promotion if I kept up the good work. You know, doing his work along with mine-” Sam cut himself off, sensing he was wasting too much time, then bolted out of the elevator and back to the lobby where he jumped over the still smoking bum guard body and landed in a rolling chair that rolled in the direction of the terminal, it rolled with too much force and crashed into the side of the desk and he flipped over sideways to the floor, next to a liter of cigarette butts and bits of breaded chicken crumbs. Sam looked back and noticed Shell was pacing back and forth in the elevator. He pulled himself up by the desk turned around to the terminal and punched in the admin codes, which was successful, and he then proceeded to unlock exec level elevator access. He looked up and noticed police lights were flashing out front, and he decided to lock down the lobby doors. “We have company Shell.” He said as he ran back to the elevator. “Are you done yet?” Shell answered back, not seemingly worried about the matter. Sam raced back to the elevator just as police officers were banging on the lobby glass doors and shouting at him, they were probably confused at what they saw as Sam's sunglasses flew off his face in his rush to get back in the elevator. He typed in a pin number on the security terminal and pushed the button leading to the top floor, and the elevator departed. Sam was out of breath and excited, then wondered why he was cursed to be out of breath when he had no lungs. As the elevator began its ascension Shell checked her revolver and reloaded her ammunition. She pressed a button on her wrist comm and spoke. “Rubin. I'll be on the top floor of the Techcore building, watch my back. Things might heat up.” She listened for him to answer but the signal was wavering and sounding scratchy like an old radio. “Rubin? Rubin? Did you hear me? Dammit!” She ended the communication link and swore, a lot, but them stopped, but them swore again once more before calming down. Once calmed, sh maneuvered herself so that she stood with her back to the wall opposite the elevator doors and pointed her gun in the doors' direction. In her open hand she readied a spell, a sphere of flame burst into existence and hovered above her palm, which started Sam at first, and he shook it

off as something he shouldn't have been surprised to see from her. Shell remained fixed on the doors as the elevator pushed past the 200th floor. Sam gathered himself and decided he should get ready as well and held his laser rifle up, aiming it at the doors. The muzzle of his rifle shook and his bones chattered with anticipation. “Don't be nervous Sam.” Shell said without taking her eyes off the door. “I'm not nervous.” “I can hear your bones shaking.” “Excitement. That's what the shaking is all about. Excitement. I'm excited. Ready for adventure. Come on dark sorcerer and your army of homeless soldiers, I'm comin for ya!” “You're nervous, and if you don't calm down, I’ll knock your head off your shoulders. I'm pretty sure it's possible.” “Okay! Yes, I'm nervous. But look at what I'm working with here. I mean you were throwing a fit, just now, you swore and almost kicked me. You should calm down.” “I'm calm Sam.” “Are you calm?” “Yes, I'm calm.” “Are you 100 percent positive, without a doubt, sure?” “Yes!” Shell shouted and broke her gaze at a door, but then put herself back into position as she said, “I can't concentrate with you making chattering... noises.” “Well I can't help the chattering. I'm a skeleton, Shell. My bones rub together. I'm not exactly use to that yet. I haven't had time to adjust to life without, you know, skin. Im about to storm my bosses' office with a laser rifle, and I'm doing it with a nutbag who duel wields guns and magic, it's a bit much to take in.” There was a brief pause as the elevator slammed to a stop and the lights flickered slightly, but it then continued going up. Sam tried to concentrate on keeping his rifle steady. “Don't be a scared little girl.” Shell said quietly. “That's very cruel of you. I'm going through a tough time here.” “Oh, well then I'm so sorry Susie Sad Cakes, maybe you should go home and bake yourself some Cheer Me Up Muffins.” “You're psychotic. That's a very mean thing to say at a time like this. What are you? 15? Suddenly I'm back in high school and being picked on by a sweaty fat kid because I don't like showering with the other boys.” Sam blinked in silence for a long minute before muttering to himself, “...so mean.” He was pretty sure he saw her crack a smile from the corner of his eye, but it may have just been his mind playing tricks. After a short time the elevator doors binged open. To an dark empty hallway. Shell swiftly walked out of the elevator and scanned the area with her eyes, there were 7 doors, 3 on either side of the hallway and the CEO office at the furthest end. Shell carefully went to the first door on her left side. She motioned with her head for some to come out, and slowly he crept out of the elevator towards her. With expert precision she kicked the door open and stood back. The room was empty. With patience and skill, she went through the same motions with the remaining side doors until they got to the CEO room. She eyed this door carefully, and knelt to one knee as she holstered her gun. She reached out to the door with her hand and suddenly a circle of green and blue hues danced around her fingertips. A few moments went by and behind them the elevator doors closed and they heard it leave. Shell was still concentrating on the door, seemingly un-phased by the new turn of events. “Uh, Shell, the elevator-” “Hush Sam, I have to concentrate.”

The a few moments later there was a bing sound as the elevator returned, and amidst the soothing electro jazz and white florescent lights, a terrible looking beast emerged along with a giant of a bum. The bum held a thick chained leech which wrapped around the beast, which looked like a skinless hippo with extremely sharp teeth. It snarled and foamed at the mouth. Sam stood in awe and likely would've stayed that way if it weren't for the bum unleashing the terrible creature and it immediately darted towards him. It seemed to be frothing at him, he wasn't sure how it was possible to pick up on such a thing but it's eyes were wild as it saw his boney arms shaking. If this thing had any desires to chew on bones, then Sam was screwed if he didn't do something, and quick. Sam held up the laser rifle, closed his eyes, and didn't even consider aiming the thing as he squeezed the trigger and hoped for the best. It was automatic, and the unexpected kick back from firing it caused him to lose control of the weapon and it fired in wide arcs all over the hallway. Pictures of very important looking old men and women were shot off the walls, laser beams shot through some of the doors Shell had kicked open and he heard glass shattering and desks being blasted to bits. He kept the trigger held down until he dared to open his eyes. The creature was barely a foot away with laser wounds through its neck and various parts of its body, behind the creature, and still in the elevator, he saw the giant bum was on the ground and having all the symptoms of death by laser beam. He stopped firing. Except when the beast shook alive suddenly and gargled, which prompted him to shoot at it until it stopped twitching. After a few rounds the energy cell on the rifle was depleted and he was unable to fire anymore. The smell of a smoldering cooked beast about a foot away was wretched and made Sam gag. “Done.” Shell said as she got up and looked past Sam and at the laser ridden carnage. “I think I got them.” “You most certainly did. Rifle out of ammo now?” Sam looked at the side of the rifle, there was a red bar indicating it needed a new cell clip. “Yup.” “Good.” She said, snatching the riffle out of his hands and throwing it to the ground. She turned to the CEO door and kicked it open while she pulled out two revolvers from her robe and did a stylish barrel roll into the room. There were two unkempt looking men in police officer uniforms in front of a very large desk, they were armed with laser rifles which were aimed at her, they both fired and missed her completely. Partly because they were bad shots, and mostly because she dipped and twirled like a whirling ballerina of death. She shot one threw the neck and got the other in both legs, causing him to fall to the floor clutching himself in pain. Behind the large desk was a man in a nice black suite, he had a very expensive looking electronic visor over one eye that made him look like a cross between a space surgeon and pirate. He had a scared woman as a hostage, he hid behind her with a laser pistol stamped to the side of her head. Her clothes were ripped and tattered, she was missing a shoe and had a tiny cheap plastic party hat on which was held firm to her head by an elastic band. The kind of hat that's famous among elementary school birthday parties. It had a cartoon donkey printed on it, that appeared to be joyously dancing to a seemingly upbeat song, or whatever cartoon donkeys dance to. Sitting at the desk was the Techcore CEO, he looked strangely calm sitting half naked in a white tank top and red poka-doted boxers. He was drooling all over himself. His hands were on his computer terminal, and he groaned in otherworldly tones. “I don't know who you are.” The man dressed in black said and continued, “But this party is already over.” Shell said nothing, she eyed the CEO and then the woman with puzzlement. “Oh don't worry about them. It was apparently his birthday, and his secretary here was helping him celebrate.” The man in black said, he laughed and coughed soon after he realized nobody else was amused. “Leave us now and perhaps I'll let your souls stay right where they are.” “Shan Hintu, I have questions for you.” Shell said. “You know my name, but I don't know yours. You have me at a clear disadvantage.”

“It'll stay that way.” “A lady mage whose feisty. Now you really are a walking stereotype. Please indulge me, are you here for revenge, or perhaps other more personal reasons.” “Both.” “That's the spirit.” “Where is Talon?” Shell asked the question quickly, it was obvious her patience was running thin. “Oh my, what a question to ask and we only just met. I believe that kind of question you're just not getting an answer to. Though I will tell you that Talon has been a wonderful addition to the family, and has provided us a wealth of information. Thank you for asking, I'll send him your regards, and now I know a little more about you. You're military, or I should probably say ex-military judging by the company you not keeping.” Shell said nothing. “Mages, especially in the Rogen Alliance, are kept on a tight leash. Talon must have been your keeper, since that was his official job if I remember correctly, I believe he told me something about you. Shell was it? Bit of a loose cannon I hear. Of course I imagine after Talon's little betrayal, and all the innocent lives butchered, with your help of course, you were probably left out to dry. I bet you fled, and now hunted by your own government. Am I hot or cold yet?” Shan wore a bright grin in an obvious attempt at coaxing Shell to act recklessly. “Let the hostage go and take me to Talon.” Shell said as she clenched her teeth. “I am a busy man, I'm working here, so there's no reason to be rude. That's impossible. Besides, this is an innocent young lady here, who is still alive and breathing, unlike your friend over there. I'm sure you're still opposed to shooting incident people, course I could be wrong. Talon did said you cared very little about such things.” “Shut up Shan, you talk too much. Take me to Talon.” Sam couldn't stand it anymore. His patience broke as he squeezed his fists and shouted, “Why did you do this to me?” Shan grinned but gave him and Shell no answer. The drool covered CEO continued typing on the terminal. A police hover ship swung by a nearby window behind Shan and a spotlight surged from it blinding everyone in the room. An officer on the intercom shouted, “Put down your weapons and lay on the ground.” “Oh good. They're here. They react quick on this planet.” Shan said as he waved to the police with his gun and pointed it back at the young girl's head. “Mister Goodall, are you quite done yet? I'm a busy man.” Shan directed his question to the CEO. “URRRRGGGM.” Mister Goodall answered as he sloppily typed using only his index fingers. “Good.” Shan said as he turned attention back to Shell and continued, “Little known fact kids, Techcore has outfitted most of the police and military forces here on Hulen with its hover core technology. All of which can be remotely shut off in case of enemy capture. Mister Goodall, care shut them down please? All hover cores, even the private sector, if you'd be so very kind.” “GRRUMP.” Mister Goodall replied, and with a meaningful finger jammed down at the terminal the police hover ship failed to hover, there was the distinct powering down sound of its core engine and in turn it raced towards the street. A few moments later there was a crashing sound and an explosion. “Good show old man.” Shan boasted and continued, “Now that most of the planet is unable to drive, or hover, or defend itself, I think my work here is quite done don't you think? Thank you Sam, without your security card we would've have been able to interrupt Goodall's birthday party.” Sam was horrified, most of his planet was without transportation, become of him. “Mister Goodall here is the only one with the power to do a complete shutdown, and the only one able to power it all back on. Especially since he's just changed all the access codes, isn't that right

Mister Goodall? Too bad he didn't get the bomb threat memo, must have been some kind of communication issue up in the exec area, or they were too busy celebrating. If you know what I mean. I think you know what I mean.” Mister Goodall didn't say anything, but with a big dumb smile he nodded acceptance while a fresh set of drool slipped out the corner of his mouth. “Makes no difference to me.” Shell said, her guns still trained on Shan. “You should really consider the offer Talon had for you Shell. We are doing great things here, and could use an person as capable as yourself. You to Sam, though for you I'd have to complete what your lady friend interrupted. Curious that you kept...yourself... mostly intact. I'd love to deconstruct your essence and find out how that happened.” Sam looked at Mister Goodall, he was a mindless husk of a man, whatever was in there was not Goodall anymore, it was something dead and driven completely by Shan. It disgusted Sam that this is what Shan had intended, for Sam to be one of his undead minions. Sam looked over at Shell, who looked emotionless and unreadable. The secretary cried, her mascara ran down her face, and her legs buckled but Shan held on to her tighter. Slowly, Shell holstered one of her guns and she began muttering to herself in a language Sam didn't recognize. Not that he knew anything other than Galactic Standard, but he knew enough accents to pick out other national dialects. “Can't have you doing that.” Shan pushed the secretary out of the way and raised a hand, a crackle of purple energy dances across his fingers and shot towards her. Just at that moment Shell released her own spell, which was a rush of unseen force that whipped the air around the room into a frenzy. The desk, Sam, Shan, the secretary and Mister Goodall were all slung around like rag dolls in chaotic directions. The purple bolt of lightening still hit Shell and sent shock waves over her. She cried out in pain and dropped her gun, which whirled around the room in the tornado of unseen force she'd unleashed. The windows in the office shattered sending the desk and the drooling Mr Goodall out into the open air where they caught up with gravity and shot down to the streets below. The secretary slammed against a wall and was then thrusted into the hallway. Sam was able to cling on to Shell's robe as they shot out the broken window. And suddenly Sam, clutching a unconscious Shell, was falling very fast down towards a very solid looking concrete street below. The city was a blur, lights and sounds whipped through his senses at insane rates. Sam screamed, and had no time to think of anything to do other than scream. “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMY-” Then something surrounded and smothered him, a net, and there was a stomach dropping sensation as the net gave a little and he dipped further before lurching back up. This was the moment Sam fainted.

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