Chapter 1 Lilly Fertile land; you could live off it and prosper. Or at least give it a good try. Most colonists who chose to settle the dangerous and unforgiving planets in Fringe space were of the adventurous type. Humans mostly, but there were other Terran races also. Long-eared bunnies, quick furry hamsters, and tough gorillas all ventured together with their human patrons. Most were young families, whose futures were otherwise to be determined by the safety of the Core worlds. Dangers like pirates, slavers, and hostile alien empires weren’t enough to hold the slow and unstoppable advance of those Terrans. The allure of starting from the ground up and succeeding by way of your own skill; that was the actual reason most settlers did it. It wasn’t for riches or renown, like many of the aliens thought. Speaking of aliens, some of humanity’s allies could also be found traveling and sometimes living on those small colonies. Races like the long lived and mighty Kil’ra now sent their youth to prove themselves there. What was the reason many of them chose to settle permanently in Terran space? Most of them couldn’t say, but those with greater wisdom always spoke to others of the bonds between humans and their friends. It wasn’t like anything they’d seen anywhere else, and the Kil’ra had been traveling the whole galaxy for thousands of years and seen a lot. Many of the other sentient species that they’d made First Contact with were no longer amongst the living, and many more had fallen into obscurity; yet those Terrans and their uplifted client races carried within them something new. Their tiny empire prospered, despite all odds. Friendly races and allies few and far between, and enemies all around them; frequent raids and attacks. And yet, they persisted. The scorching rays of Carrola’s twin suns bathed large fields of green. Big, round, and striped Earth-native fruits called “watermelons” were planted all around her. Lilly fixed the big straw hat, made of the local pink weed, on her head so that both her eyes and her large ears were well protected from the light. The two suns weren’t as forgiving as Earth’s star – but for the tropical fruits and other sun-hungry crops planted here, it was literally heaven. She carefully piloted her gravbike forward with one hand on the controls, while holding her scanner with other. Had to check for problems like parasites, pests, and also possible damage to the field’s water sprinklers. All could ruin large quantities of their future yield, and she was too good a farmer to allow this to happen. Since early morning Lilly had been scanning the fields and zapping some of the local rat-like creatures with her laser pistol, or fixing dented and broken water pipes. She was tired and thirsty, and wanted nothing more than a shower and perhaps one big, cold glass of watermelon cider. Better still, accompanied by a side dish of cured-pork-and-potato salad. Lilly’s mouth began to water just imagining the feast she and her brother would prepare after a long hard day’s work such as this. That’s when her hand holding the scanner slipped over the gravbike’s controls. Suddenly she swooshed upwards, the old machine moaning with anger; Lilly heard an explosion and then felt fire burning her back. The whole world swirled before her eyes in a kaleidoscope of bright, colorful lights, and her mind quickly faded into unconsciousness. When she woke up it was already dark. Somehow, Lilly’s head wasn’t cracked, and despite some pain in her hip, she felt no broken bones when she picked herself up from the ground. The same couldn’t be said of her old trusty gravbike; its frame was bent, and the engine block was missing. Lilly limped around for a while in disbelief, until she found the engine embedded in one of the large mumpa trees, completely trashed. She smelled burned vegetation and molten metal. She searched around the crash site with the faint hope of locating her hand scanner, stumbling for a couple more minutes until she realized: the smell wasn’t from her wrecked gravbike. The evening breeze was blowing from the direction of the colony settlement, and Lilly turned her eyes towards it. Even taking into account how far away the village was and her weak rabbit eyesight, the huge, towering flames she saw were a frightening scene to behold. The young bunny watched this raging inferno in total disbelief. In her disoriented mind, there was no logical reason why such a thing should happen. Lilly forgot the pain in her hip and ran towards the village with all of her strength. Her stride became almost animalistic, leaping and jumping over and on the crops she’d been inspecting earlier. With every passing minute of travel her fear grew, and by the time Lilly reached the butchered, burning remains of her village, she was in a state of complete shock. Passing by the sign “Murphy’s Landing – population 352”, she suddenly halted. Someone had used red paint to cross out the population number. No; it wasn’t paint. Looking down, she saw a severed human hand that had been used as a grizzly paintbrush. Without even noticing her own actions, Lilly knelt and took the hand, slowly walking towards the smoldering ruins. The stench of death hit her like a fist in the face, and she desperately tried to cover her sensitive nose. To no avail. Tears started rolling down her face as she neared her family’s farmhouse. There was a crater where the building was once standing, and in front of it, she found a charred human corpse with one hand missing. Lilly carefully left the severed hand near the body and sat on the ground. Then she spotted something else. She wailed, covering her mouth. Beneath the ruins, one set of brown, spotted rabbit feet were sticking out. Both had green work boots on them. Her little brother’s boots. The ones she had gifted him on his birthday just a month before. Bunnies are not that afraid of death. They can accept the natural order of things, since their lives are shorter than those of most races. But this lack of fear only applies to their own lives – not the lives of kin, or friends. They take losing others very hard, and such a personal cataclysm may change a rabbit individual forever, pushing them to extremes. Her eyes strayed away and back towards the one-handed corpse. He had a folding shovel still clenched in his intact fist, and from the looks of it, he had been shot from behind with a laser rifle. Lilly knew the man: a good friend, and the owner of their local shop – Mr. Alberto. With shaking hands she searched the body and took the key card for his house. She knew the trader had an old rail carbine stashed in his safe. He was, after all, the man who had taught Lilly and her brother how to shoot when they were little kids. She quickly looked around, wiping her tears and trying to fight the overwhelming terror that engulfed her mind. Move. You know what to do Lilly. Get to a weapon quick. You need to survive long enough, until the response team from the nearby colony arrives. She continuously reminded herself of the list of actions a colonist must take to ensure survival – weapon, food, equipment, shelter. The young bunny reached the center of her village without meeting any of the attackers, but she saw traces of their handiwork everywhere. The bodies of her fellow colonists littered the ground. Some had tried to defend themselves, but it seems they had all been killed in the same fashion Alberto was – one laser shot from behind. Lilly looked around for any usable items, but the bodies had been picked clean; even their PDAs were missing. She had almost reached the center of town when her ears caught the sounds of a pair of alien voices. She quickly froze, and hid behind one of the broken mega-concrete walls. They were speaking in a strange dialect of Fringe-Speak, and she slowly began to translate their conversation: "Ha! That was a most pitiful fight, Master Sergeant. The whole village was unable to put up even a meager resistance. I swear by the Empress’ mantle, one of those old farts stood against me with a shovel in hand!" "Yes, it was rather pathetic. It seems that those famed Terrans and their clients weren’t all that scary and tough, as the pirates said they were." "But Sergeant, this was one of their main colonies and there were no major defenses! No reinforced bunkers, no anti-space cannons, not even proper soldiers. The Taz’aran Empire will take their territory quickly, and they will learn to call us their masters soon!" The younger voice carried much enthusiasm and was speaking the name of his empire with elation. Lilly almost choked with anger and fear. They were mocking the memory of her dead friends, her brother. She saw an overturned pickup truck next to the place those two voices were. One of the three Danube trucks owned by the colony’s delivery company, "Slow Pokes". It was the perfect cover. Lilly carefully crawled forwards and looked from behind the truck. The two alien soldiers, those Taz’arans, were sitting idly on one of the village square benches and stuffing their faces with rations. Both looked stocky, but were no taller than humans, with pale greenish skin and dark brown eyes. They had crummy laser rifles resting on their knees, an alien model she had never seen in her life. Nothing like the Imperial-issue laser rifle; these were obvious copies, and bad ones at best. Even though Lilly was a farmer, she knew a little bit about weapons too. You had to; in the Empire, it was obligatory for all citizens to learn how to defend themselves, and to have a basic knowledge of simple weapons and armor. These rifles hadn’t even a basic heatsink installed! And their power packs were not designed with environmental protection. Oh, it was alright for now; but after a week spent in Carrola’s burning heat and humidity, they would experience weapon jams and even “violent” overheating. Lilly looked at their bulky, uncomfortable space suits and reached for her laser pistol. The range was perfect; she could take her time and aim carefully from behind the cover of this truck. Her hand grasped only air. Lilly, very much confused, glanced at her hip – the laser pistol wasn’t there! In the shock after her crashing the gravbike, it must have fallen somewhere. She desperately looked over her belt and her person, but there wasn’t anything usable... save for her hand PDA. Lilly crept back behind the pickup truck and crawled under the fusion core with one ear still pointed at those soldiers. They were still patting each other on the back, congratulating each other on how easy was it to conquer her colony. She slowly and gently opened the service lid over the core and removed her PDA. Ever so quietly, Lilly placed it between the plasma wires and began inputting an overload program. That would turn the fusion core into an improvised bomb. A crappy one, with low yield and range, but more than enough to turn both of those murdering bastards into dust. Lilly punched in a two-minute time limit and started crawling away from the truck. Suddenly, she heard the metallic sounds of one Taz’aran walking in his suit towards her position! She stilled, continuing to count in her mind the seconds left until the PDA’s overloading. She heard the soldier call his sergeant to join him in pushing the truck back on its four tires. They had to take a final look and search for anything left that could be of use. Lilly tried desperately to sneak away as quietly as possible. Not fast enough. The two Taz’arans pushed the pickup over, and it almost crushed her back. She managed to roll away, but the soldiers saw her and raised their weapons. They crowed as they trained their rifles on her: "Look what we have here, Sergeant! One of those fake sentients, with the long ears. Hey, should we capture it? We might get a reward for getting another one for the slave ship sergeant!" "Bah! Shoot her mangy ass, we have all the young ones and they bring the best price at the markets. I bet you can’t kill her with one shot, Soldier! Let’s see... a day’s ration, agreed?" Both grinned at each other and leveled their guns, aiming at Lilly, while she turned around and jumped with all her strength. The two Taz’arans were unable to press their triggers, nor was Lilly able to finish her jump. The explosion turned both soldiers into mush and mercilessly slammed her small body into the nearby wall. For the second time that day, she lost consciousness. She tasted blood in her mouth and tried to get up. Her dazed senses noted the two suns setting and Lilly, despite the pain in her limbs, began moving towards the south end of the village square. She checked her pockets this time, making sure the key card for Alberto’s home was in her possession still. Thankfully, it was. Fumbling and with bones aching, Lilly crossed the small crater left from the exploding Danube truck and reached Alberto’s store. It was ransacked, as she expected; the invaders had taken even the store shelves. Limping, she reached the inner door and placed the key card over its handle. A satisfying click and it slid aside, letting her in. Lilly made only a few steps inside when suddenly her eyes were attacked by a flash of light – old man Alberto had set the house lighting to turn on automatically when the door was opened during nighttime! She found the master holo-panel and turned the house lights off, but the damage was already done. Even if the Taz’arans weren’t looking for their missing soldiers after that explosion, they would certainly send someone to investigate the house. Lilly, despite the pain, limped up the stairs to the second floor as fast as she was able, and opened the weapons-closet door. Yes! The carbine was there, in its case. There was even a bug-out backpack! She quickly grabbed everything. She checked if the rail carbine’s power pack was full – it was – then reached into the case to grab the spares. Once again her hand grasped air. There were no spares! Lilly thought for about a second of searching for more power packs in the back of the weapon’s closet, but quickly changed her mind; her keen hearing alerted her that a big grav-vehicle was closing in on the house. She quickly ran towards the back window of Alberto’s house, opened it and, even with her injuries, leaped down without looking. At the same time behind her, an armored boot kicked down the door and couple of laser rifles fired through the house, aiming at her. Beams hit the air where she stood a couple seconds before, and her feet met the ground. Lilly almost fainted from the pain – a fifteen-foot-plus jump was way too much for a bunny in her condition. She grabbed the fence with one arm and started limping towards old man Alberto’s garage. She had almost reached the door when a bright yellow laser beam splashed the ground left of her. In a second the fear almost took over again, and her entire body froze. One Taz’aran shouted: "Surrender to us, rodent, and we will be merciful! Your life will be spared, drop your weapon!" In her mind Lilly screamed to herself, Move your rabbit ass! With a force she never knew she had, Lilly jumped towards the garage and screamed at the Taz’arans: "Eat space! Try catching me, you murderous bastards!" She rolled on the ground while two more beams melted holes in the garage doors, scorching her back. The pain almost made her lose consciousness again, but she managed to block it out and reach the combine parked in the garage. She whimpered when her burned back touched the seat. Another yellow beam hit the garage doors and through the holes, Lilly saw the two Taz’aran soldiers running at her. Despite the ever-growing pain, she smiled, and punched the start button. The old combine’s engine roared, and Lilly pushed the accelerator to the max. Big and heavy, Alberto’s vintage combine smashed the garage doors from inside and with the flailing grappling arm Lilly attacked her pursuers. Designed not just to gather crops, the old combine had a long and powerful “arm”, so that the operator could safely remove mumpa trees. The Taz’aran soldiers’ space suits were far more brittle than the bark of said trees. While the second soldier disappeared screaming beneath the combine’s left tread, she dropped the first soldier’s lifeless body aside and again pushed the accelerator. The large combine moved forward and Lilly turned south and started moving towards the mumpa forest. It was at least four kilometers away and she desperately looked behind, almost expecting her pursuers to shoot at her with a tank. No sooner had she left the garage and moved away from it and from the village, than a long-range guided missile hit Alberto’s house, and with a big reddish explosion, wiped away everything within at least five hundred meters. The shock wave reached the combine, but since it was so heavy, she only temporary lost her hearing. Looking down at the controls, Lilly saw that her nose was bleeding, the entire steering wheel covered in blood. She rummaged through the backpack, hoping that Alberto had stacked some meds in it. There were three medisprays in a small box and she pressed one of them at her neck, pushing the injector’s button. The bleeding stopped at least, but most of the pain she felt in her back lingered. She placed the spent medispray back into its box and looked at her rear holo screen. A single alien vehicle emerged through the smoldering ruins of Alberto’s house, and stopped on the ridge behind her. Its turret tracked her combine, and Lilly instantly pressed the brake while turning left. One single pulse from their beam gun melted the ground where her vehicle was supposed to be if she was still moving. She frantically pushed the accelerator again and started zigzagging, all the while looking intensely at her rear holo screen. The next beam almost melted the back side of the combine, and Lilly heard the tesla-engine giving out a high-pitched noise. The combine’s control panel showed her a red warning sign: the entire drive system was overheating! She stopped zig-zagging, locked the accelerator forward and leaped from the driver’s cabin and onto the ground, rolling to the side to cushion the blow. No sooner than she did this, Alberto’s vehicle was hit again by the alien beam gun, and it exploded, pushing her body to the ground. Lilly crawled, choking on the fumes, her eyes starting to bleed. Those mumpa trees seemed so far away. The young bunny started limping towards the tree line, hoping that the smoke from the smoldering wreck of the combine would cover her movements for at least a few seconds. Her ears caught the sound of armored feet meeting the ground and the hiss of laser beams. The Taz’arans were shooting at the remains of the combine. She reached a mega-concrete pyramid marker, the one that said "Mumpa Forest, No Entry Without Survival Gear!" Lilly found time for a sarcastic smile. As a farmer, she was an exobiologist, but even her knowledge of the planet’s ecosystem was limited. Nobody had had time to completely explore that forest and since Terrans were always respectful towards local wildlife and plants, it was considered essential to have one’s own supplies so as to not overharvest resources. She heard the Taz’arans shout behind her – "Here she is! Shoot to kill!" – and the buzzing of laser fire. Somehow Lilly rolled behind that marker, and the mega-concrete saved her life. A few accurate shots hit it and melted big chunks off its surface. She gathered all of her remaining strength and dashed towards the trees. A stray yellow laser beam glanced her left shoulder and she fell, face hitting the soft, muddy ground, screaming in pain. The trees, they were so close. The Taz’aran soldiers were even closer. Their suits clanked while they ran ever nearer, laser rifles pointed at her. Lilly grabbed her rail carbine and, roll...

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The last Crow A lone human dismounted his strangely designed bike and stretched his limbs. His eyeglasses were oddly shaped but reflected the powerful sunlight that those two suns were trying to bake everything alive with. Short reddish hair and bushy unkempt beard kept the rest of his head safe from the unforgiving suns. He looked towards the ruined Terran colony and spat on the ground angrily – there were supposed to be people here! The man needed food and also fuel for his ship's FTL module. Now, he was stranded here on that planet, and John Mackenzie didn't like this one bit! After landing here, the lone biker soon found out that the colonists were all killed. That, or dragged away on board of some slave ship, kicking and screaming. Had his ship's sensor array not been damaged in his last scuffle with some pirates, he'd be able to detect all that crap from orbit. He looked at the back of his bike; tied up there was an alien helmet he'd picked up earlier dangling off a tree branch. The more he looked at it and inspected the jagged alien runes it was inscribed with, the angrier Mack got. Filthy taz'arans! These slimy failures were leaving trails of dirty footprints everywhere he'd usually traveled. Fringe space was a large expanse, but he and they had clashed on multiple occasions already. The biker mounted his machine and revved its highly modified Tesla engine. A loud whistling sound boomed over the empty farming fields, and his machine leaped forward. Behind him, the bikes' wide rear tire made of solid megasteel, left a huge trail in the dirt. Now again on the move, Mack was no longer feeling like a baked potato. His face and neck were red and hurting from sunburn already. Along the way, he'd passed through a watermelon field. It had been expertly planted and maintained, but sadly the local critters helped themselves to any fruits left after the colonists had vanished. Mack did find one good hand scanner and a laser pistol though. The gun was oddly small and at first, he'd thought it belonged to a kid. Then realized it was probably the handgun of bunny or hamster farmers. He liked the small buggers. Use to give rides on his bike to their kids, whenever he traveled to "Murphy's Landing". Last time when he was here, he'd visited his old mentor – Alberto. That ancient fossil was like a father to him, back from the days he was but a runt. His childhood wasn't happy, but it was relatively safe compared to what other kids had to endure. The unfortunate ones who were grabbed by them slavers during the 69's pirate invasion. Exactly when he was born. His own mother he never knew because she gave birth to him in the ruins of Sheridan Wyoming. Alone. Mack was later told that her legs were crushed and after he was born, crawled a good mile over the debris-covered road towards the local clinic. Died along the way she did. Baby Mack was picked up by that same Alberto, a soldier then and part of the local national guard infantry unit. Rifleman 1st class Alberto was more a sniper than an ordinary soldier. Using an anti-tank rifle, alone, he killed one whole section of aliens before his unit was wiped out. He then roamed the ruins in search of survivors and found baby Mack by chance alone. During these days the nation-state of America had enough money and resources to restore all of the damage, that the invader had inflicted upon its infrastructure and cities. The case with Sheridan was something else. The local population of roughly fifteen thousand souls had been virtually exterminated. In fact, Mack was probably its one and only resident left amongst the living. There were other towns and cities who badly needed reconstruction and the minimalistic, but the highly effective government of the USA rightly decided to take action – spending resources where they would actually do some good. Old man Alberto took the kid and basically adopted him. Since he couldn't serve any longer because of nerve damage, Alberto was discharged with honors. He returned back to his home and garage in the small town of Liberty Texas. A capable mechanic and a biker himself, Alberto thought little Mack everything he knew about everything. He practically grew up in the saddle of a bike. His toys were the tools that were rolling around on the ground and his playground, Alberto's garage itself. Therein lied the problem for Mack – he fell in love with them' bikes, a little too much for his own good perhaps. There were those kids, orphans like him, who formed clubs dedicated to riding bikes, and each day they would race against each other. For control of territory, for each other's bikes and many other things. Mack remembered these days fondly. Despite the chaos and mischief he and the rest of them runts were inflicting upon the good citizens of Liberty, except some old assholes who threatened to beat them up, nothing bad happened. They spent all of their youthful energy building, modifying and racing their bikes. At first, the machines they were using were equipped with the phased down, discarded internal combustion engines. With scrap yards full of parts, it was easy for the tech-savvy kids to each build themselves a ride. His own club, “Black Crow Brotherhood” was the biggest and the baddest of them all. Mack remembered how he thought of the name. It was because of a small group of crows who nested near Alberto's garage. The birds were smart and stuck together, helping each other with the bits of food they snagged from people. And they remembered! Those who chased them away, or destroyed their nests, they attacked together when they could. Even a single crow would fight to the very end. Mack was intrigued and for a short time devoured everything related to crows he could find in Liberty's public library. They were proper bastards for sure but always backed each other up in a pinch. Intelligent and vengeful, the birds could make your life literally full of shit if you'd angered them. The runts around him quickly sewed their new club colors on the backs of their jackets. It was a large, and obviously very black crow its eyes red and claws drenched in blood. The beak was open and head turned to the side. Around it, there was a circle in which they wrote their club's motto – "Ride free and Die free!" None could stand against them, both when racing on the streets and fighting for territory. Unmatched in everything, the Crows soon generated such envy that the rest of their competitors banded together against them. In the battle that ensued, young Mack raced against his toughest adversary and was winning. His rival then, in desperation, kicked Mack's ride and lost control of his own. The kid splattered his burning guts all over the nearby wall. Of course, after that stunt, people wanted to have nothing to do with any of them' bike clubs. The government sent their goons to kick them out of Liberty. Despite their original orders, those bastards actually used lethal force against them, all of them. The local sheriffs had deputized everyone they could muster and the yahoos came armed with shotguns, hunting rifles, and revolvers. Instead of an orderly arrest and relocation, the teens were shot at point-blank range, and many of them died. Back then, those local sheriffs were the last thing remaining from the long dead Big Govt. A new organization called Internal Security or I-sec for short was being formed entirely from volunteers. The old guard was going out of business and hated every bit of it. Most were corrupt pieces of shit, who misused their positions of power and authority and could easily get away with racketeering and all other sorts of abuse. In an effort to show that they could still "do the job", the idiots overdid it. Mercilessly beating everyone they caught, the coppers made a lot of those kids invalids for life and killing some of them. That did it for his guardian Alberto and the people of Liberty. They picked up their own guns and attacked the posse. It was a battle Mack would remember till his last day. It was then his club gain its notoriety. Instead of leaving the already surrounded coppers for the I-sec agents to arrest – they attacked them. Riding on their custom choppers and other bikes, the “Black Crow Brotherhood” killed most of them and escaped in the desert when the real lawmen arrived. Because of that, the Crows had gained an unsightly reputation amongst I-sec agents. Fringe space colonists knew better. After the Liberty massacre, he and the rest of the Crows left Earth and traveled towards the newly colonized Imperial Minarchy space. Places like Applecrate, Murphy's Landing, and many others became their clubs' territory. People paid them protection money and his boys could always raid the pirates, druggers and other alien fucktards lurking around. Those were the days. Mack quickly gained a huge price on his head. As a matter of fact, most, if not all of his boys were wanted by some criminal syndicate, pirate clan, or alien law enforcement group. They could never get them though. Every time when the Crows had trouble, the colonists helped them. His club had hiding places everywhere. Yes, some of his brothers were rowdy and rough around the edges, but that was occupational. The Crows were free. Nothing else interested them. They lived away from central colonies and could effing do close to everything and without serious consequences. Or at least that was what he and his brothers though. A month after one particularly vicious run-in Taz'aran Imperial space, the club was assaulted full force. Somehow the slimy taz'arans managed to find all of their hiding places, orbital installations, and ships. In a multi-pronged assault, the aliens overwhelmed and slaughtered all of his brothers. All except him. Mack was then visiting a lady friend. Avern'a seer called Lena'la had called him to discuss some important issue. He took his modified GAV that was, in fact, a custom built grav-attack vehicle capable of orbital flight. His guys had fashioned for him an FTL "crutch" – a module with Gate-drive and space engines that he docked his "Blood Crow" with. The GAV itself had little cargo space, and instead of a troop-carrying module, he had his chopper and personal guns secured there. Otherwise, the GAV, like all vehicles of that class was ridiculously overpowered and bristling with weapons. Similar in concept to the combat helicopters of old, the GAV utilized cutting-edge grav-engine tech. It allowed crazy maneuverability, good armor protection and when controlled by a capable pilot one could easily wreck an entire armored squadron. His own had a twin 20mm auto-railgun turret on the nose, two pulse lasers on the wings, loads and loads of missiles, mag-rail launched bombs and even an effin' mazer. The Blood Crow and his bike were the last two vehicles left from his clubs' small starship fleet. Mack reached Lena'la's small asteroid cabin only to find her dead body. Apparently, she'd died of old age in her sleep. Deep in an asteroid field, he received the call for help long after all of his brothers were dead. Traveling back to each different battleground was pointless – the bastards fought to the last with everything they had. Just like the crows their club was named after, they used every sneaky and reckless tactic, all of the weapons in their arsenal. The taz'aran shitheads had paid a heavy price for their victory, but that gave Mack little respite. He would find all of them, those who were responsible for his brothers' deaths, and shove plasma grenades deep inside their asses! Mack's thoughts entertained the possibility that they were betrayed. Somehow the whole scope of the taz'aran operation, the fact that they had managed so masterfully to organize themselves and strike precisely and simultaneously at all of the "Black Crow Brotherhood" sites, was eerie, to say the least. So Mack decided to go and check on his old man. Alberto was but a farmer now, he'd gifted his old grav-bike to two bunnies brother and sister. He drove a friggin' tractor now, plowing his fields and moving them Mumpa trees around. Peculiar trees they were, Mack always got a strange feeling when near the forest – as if the trees were watching him. Turning the bike towards the nearest colony house, Mack cursed loudly and pressed the mag-brakes. Alberto's house wasn't where it was supposed to be – in its place there was a crater! Mack quickly jumped from his bike and grabbed that scanner he found, flipping the ON switch. The green holo-screen blipped above the small device and he walked nervously into the crater, stepping over the burning and melted pieces of mega-concrete. He angrily waved the device around, pointing its scanning beam at every larger debris. Mack found no DNA except that of some bunny, who was heavily wounded and moved towards Alberto's garage. The friggin' tractor was gone too and Mack detected faint traces of taz'aran DNA. Somebody had driven the old piece of junk and killed two of them shitters with it. Mack smiled. It was that bunny. He ran following the trails that tractor threads left and found the small battlefield where its melted wreck lied. More traces of taz'aran DNA, all of them dead. The scrooges had, of course, gathered all of their corpses, not for burial but to salvage the equipment... Reaching the forest, Mack's scanner found some craters and charred by particle beam fire trees. That was it. No more traces from that bunny. He whistled on his PDA's mic and soon the bike rode itself and stopped beside him. Mack jumped on the saddle and drove towards the other end of Murphy's Landing. Slowly. There were mummified corpses everywhere. The colonists' bodies laid where they were killed, Carrola's two suns had dried up their flesh, turning them into wrinkled husks. Towards the other end of the colony, Mack finally found Alberto's body. Shot from the back, one of his arms chopped by a vibro-blade, his other still clutching a shovel. Mack was a proper bastard, but that was the man who raised him. Wiped the shit off his scrawny little ass, and put food on the table. Mack sat beside the corpse and opened his last two beers. Good Bulgarian pale ale, "Bear's tear" was the name. He slowly drank both, first his and then the one he opened for Alberto. Grabbed the shovel and carefully inspected it. The shovel's blade was sharpened well, made from good mega-steel. Mack carried Alberto's body to the side of the road. He spent the rest of the day digging graves for the colonists... Next morning Mack was awoken by an unmistakable sound. The loud screech of taz'aran grav-engines. He tapped the side of his glasses and with multiple magnifications, Mack saw the damaged taz'aran grav-truck. It suddenly stopped mid-move and its front end caught fire, with long plumes of white smoke surrounding the vehicle. There were three taz'aran soldiers who leaped from its back end and one officer from the driving seat. All of them frantically began unloading small cargo crates on the ground and dragged them away from the burning vehicle. Mack slowly walked towards them. He produced a whiskey-infused lollipop from his front pocket and unwrapped it. Unable to see or hear him walking because of the smoke and fire, the first taz'aran soldier turned around and the last thing he saw was the shovel. Didn't even raise hands to defend himself. The shovel slashed his face, bone, brains and he fell on the ground, pinkish blood splattered everywhere. Mack smelled the lollipop. He hated the stank of taz'aran blood. Much preferred was the smell of whiskey and that thing was loaded with it. The equivalent of a small shot. Not enough, but something was better than nothing. He raised the gory shovel and whispered, wrapped around with smoke: “Hey! Holes-for-ears, your Empress eats shit and likes it!” the biker stepped to the side and raised the shovel above his head, gripping the handle with both hands. The two other soldiers dropped those crates and one lunged with his dagger in the air, aiming at the direction where he had heard Mack's voice. The shovel hit him from the side, slicing and crushing his neck. “Shiteaters!” – shouted Mack and himself lunged forward, stabbing the third soldier's gut with the shovel, splitting his belly open. The taz'aran screaming fell to the ground, trying with both hands to stop his guts from spilling everywhere. Mack left the officer for last. With his vision enhanced by those sun glasses of his, Mack quickly found himself behind the idiot and turned the shovel's blade to the side. He hit the back of the officer's head once with the flat of the farming tool. _________________________________________________________________________ The taz'aran officer was a Second Lieutenant. It never crossed his mind, that someday he would be captured by a Terran. The officer woke up tied to a metal chair, mouth parched and with splitting headache to boot. Before him and under the shade of one of those local trees, a tall, bulky human was resting. Strangely dressed, he had no armor or helmet. Instead, he wore exotic looking dark leather clothes, that were laced with mega-steel pieces. The man had his jacket resting on the handles of his bike and he could examine the colors on its back. It was a stylized dark-feathered bird with long beak in the center, wings spread and blood dripping claws. The circle surrounding it had some words written in a human language he knew nothing of, but the bird! This human was part of that infamous gang – the brotherhood of the dark wings or something. He tried licking his lips and looked down, suddenly realizing that something was very wrong with his legs. The taz'aran screamed – his feet were naked and lightly slashed by a blade, blood dripping on the ground. A puddle of smelly pinkish blood was getting bigger, his vision dimmer and breathing harder. The human stood up and walked towards him. He had only a thin shirt to protect his torso from the sun. Old, made of some white cloth, it had a strange yellow circular face with wide open white eyes and a toothy grin. Confused the taz'aran tried to talk but was kicked straight in the face. Spitting blood and teeth the chair he was tied to fell, his head hitting the ground hard. “Shiteater, you gots' only a couple of minutes left. The shit smelling blood will soon leave your meat sack. I don't have to tell you how good your kinds' death from blood loss feels. Nod if you understand!” He got another boot to the head before nodding. The Terran effortlessly picked him up from the ground and leveled his face with his. “And now ass-face, you will effin' tell me, why were you here and what happened with the rest of those colonists!” “I..I don't know anything, you hear me! Stupid hu...” he got another boot to the face. More of his bloodied teeth rolled on the ground. "Listen, you crap-mouth, I'll have to spend precious and not-so-nice minutes of my time, cleaning me' boots from that shit running in your veins. The smell is always a killjoy. Start talking and I might let you use this" and the human produced one medi-spray from his pants front pocket. “Ugh...you filthy scum! Even if I tell you what you need to know, what could you possibly do all by yourself?! You have no friends because we've killed all of them! Ahahahahah!” He got kicked in the gut and choked for air, then vomited what was left in his belly all over his feet. “Hmmm, vomiting all over those slashed feet of yours. In this climate and heat, I imagine that infection will soon be spreading in your shitstream,” he dangled the medi-spray before his face - “You still have time to reconsider” "Good! I will tell you what you want to know, and only because it will get you killed, you stupid human! Yes, some colonists were taken alive and loaded on one of our cargo ships. All that I know is – they were supposed to make a stop at Pion base. Only some thi...

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More from The Starshatters

The last Crow A lone human dismounted his strangely designed bike and stretched his limbs. His eyeglasses were oddly shaped but reflected the powerful sunlight that those two suns were trying to bake everything alive with. Short reddish hair and bushy unkempt beard kept the rest of his head safe from the unforgiving suns. He looked towards the ruined Terran colony and spat on the ground angrily – there were supposed to be people here! The man needed food and also fuel for his ship's FTL module. Now, he was stranded here on that planet, and John Mackenzie didn't like this one bit! After landing here, the lone biker soon found out that the colonists were all killed. That, or dragged away on board of some slave ship, kicking and screaming. Had his ship's sensor array not been damaged in his last scuffle with some pirates, he'd be able to detect all that crap from orbit. He looked at the back of his bike; tied up there was an alien helmet he'd picked up earlier dangling off a tree branch. The more he looked at it and inspected the jagged alien runes it was inscribed with, the angrier Mack got. Filthy taz'arans! These slimy failures were leaving trails of dirty footprints everywhere he'd usually traveled. Fringe space was a large expanse, but he and they had clashed on multiple occasions already. The biker mounted his machine and revved its highly modified Tesla engine. A loud whistling sound boomed over the empty farming fields, and his machine leaped forward. Behind him, the bikes' wide rear tire made of solid megasteel, left a huge trail in the dirt. Now again on the move, Mack was no longer feeling like a baked potato. His face and neck were red and hurting from sunburn already. Along the way, he'd passed through a watermelon field. It had been expertly planted and maintained, but sadly the local critters helped themselves to any fruits left after the colonists had vanished. Mack did find one good hand scanner and a laser pistol though. The gun was oddly small and at first, he'd thought it belonged to a kid. Then realized it was probably the handgun of bunny or hamster farmers. He liked the small buggers. Use to give rides on his bike to their kids, whenever he traveled to "Murphy's Landing". Last time when he was here, he'd visited his old mentor – Alberto. That ancient fossil was like a father to him, back from the days he was but a runt. His childhood wasn't happy, but it was relatively safe compared to what other kids had to endure. The unfortunate ones who were grabbed by them slavers during the 69's pirate invasion. Exactly when he was born. His own mother he never knew because she gave birth to him in the ruins of Sheridan Wyoming. Alone. Mack was later told that her legs were crushed and after he was born, crawled a good mile over the debris-covered road towards the local clinic. Died along the way she did. Baby Mack was picked up by that same Alberto, a soldier then and part of the local national guard infantry unit. Rifleman 1st class Alberto was more a sniper than an ordinary soldier. Using an anti-tank rifle, alone, he killed one whole section of aliens before his unit was wiped out. He then roamed the ruins in search of survivors and found baby Mack by chance alone. During these days the nation-state of America had enough money and resources to restore all of the damage, that the invader had inflicted upon its infrastructure and cities. The case with Sheridan was something else. The local population of roughly fifteen thousand souls had been virtually exterminated. In fact, Mack was probably its one and only resident left amongst the living. There were other towns and cities who badly needed reconstruction and the minimalistic, but the highly effective government of the USA rightly decided to take action – spending resources where they would actually do some good. Old man Alberto took the kid and basically adopted him. Since he couldn't serve any longer because of nerve damage, Alberto was discharged with honors. He returned back to his home and garage in the small town of Liberty Texas. A capable mechanic and a biker himself, Alberto thought little Mack everything he knew about everything. He practically grew up in the saddle of a bike. His toys were the tools that were rolling around on the ground and his playground, Alberto's garage itself. Therein lied the problem for Mack – he fell in love with them' bikes, a little too much for his own good perhaps. There were those kids, orphans like him, who formed clubs dedicated to riding bikes, and each day they would race against each other. For control of territory, for each other's bikes and many other things. Mack remembered these days fondly. Despite the chaos and mischief he and the rest of them runts were inflicting upon the good citizens of Liberty, except some old assholes who threatened to beat them up, nothing bad happened. They spent all of their youthful energy building, modifying and racing their bikes. At first, the machines they were using were equipped with the phased down, discarded internal combustion engines. With scrap yards full of parts, it was easy for the tech-savvy kids to each build themselves a ride. His own club, “Black Crow Brotherhood” was the biggest and the baddest of them all. Mack remembered how he thought of the name. It was because of a small group of crows who nested near Alberto's garage. The birds were smart and stuck together, helping each other with the bits of food they snagged from people. And they remembered! Those who chased them away, or destroyed their nests, they attacked together when they could. Even a single crow would fight to the very end. Mack was intrigued and for a short time devoured everything related to crows he could find in Liberty's public library. They were proper bastards for sure but always backed each other up in a pinch. Intelligent and vengeful, the birds could make your life literally full of shit if you'd angered them. The runts around him quickly sewed their new club colors on the backs of their jackets. It was a large, and obviously very black crow its eyes red and claws drenched in blood. The beak was open and head turned to the side. Around it, there was a circle in which they wrote their club's motto – "Ride free and Die free!" None could stand against them, both when racing on the streets and fighting for territory. Unmatched in everything, the Crows soon generated such envy that the rest of their competitors banded together against them. In the battle that ensued, young Mack raced against his toughest adversary and was winning. His rival then, in desperation, kicked Mack's ride and lost control of his own. The kid splattered his burning guts all over the nearby wall. Of course, after that stunt, people wanted to have nothing to do with any of them' bike clubs. The government sent their goons to kick them out of Liberty. Despite their original orders, those bastards actually used lethal force against them, all of them. The local sheriffs had deputized everyone they could muster and the yahoos came armed with shotguns, hunting rifles, and revolvers. Instead of an orderly arrest and relocation, the teens were shot at point-blank range, and many of them died. Back then, those local sheriffs were the last thing remaining from the long dead Big Govt. A new organization called Internal Security or I-sec for short was being formed entirely from volunteers. The old guard was going out of business and hated every bit of it. Most were corrupt pieces of shit, who misused their positions of power and authority and could easily get away with racketeering and all other sorts of abuse. In an effort to show that they could still "do the job", the idiots overdid it. Mercilessly beating everyone they caught, the coppers made a lot of those kids invalids for life and killing some of them. That did it for his guardian Alberto and the people of Liberty. They picked up their own guns and attacked the posse. It was a battle Mack would remember till his last day. It was then his club gain its notoriety. Instead of leaving the already surrounded coppers for the I-sec agents to arrest – they attacked them. Riding on their custom choppers and other bikes, the “Black Crow Brotherhood” killed most of them and escaped in the desert when the real lawmen arrived. Because of that, the Crows had gained an unsightly reputation amongst I-sec agents. Fringe space colonists knew better. After the Liberty massacre, he and the rest of the Crows left Earth and traveled towards the newly colonized Imperial Minarchy space. Places like Applecrate, Murphy's Landing, and many others became their clubs' territory. People paid them protection money and his boys could always raid the pirates, druggers and other alien fucktards lurking around. Those were the days. Mack quickly gained a huge price on his head. As a matter of fact, most, if not all of his boys were wanted by some criminal syndicate, pirate clan, or alien law enforcement group. They could never get them though. Every time when the Crows had trouble, the colonists helped them. His club had hiding places everywhere. Yes, some of his brothers were rowdy and rough around the edges, but that was occupational. The Crows were free. Nothing else interested them. They lived away from central colonies and could effing do close to everything and without serious consequences. Or at least that was what he and his brothers though. A month after one particularly vicious run-in Taz'aran Imperial space, the club was assaulted full force. Somehow the slimy taz'arans managed to find all of their hiding places, orbital installations, and ships. In a multi-pronged assault, the aliens overwhelmed and slaughtered all of his brothers. All except him. Mack was then visiting a lady friend. Avern'a seer called Lena'la had called him to discuss some important issue. He took his modified GAV that was, in fact, a custom built grav-attack vehicle capable of orbital flight. His guys had fashioned for him an FTL "crutch" – a module with Gate-drive and space engines that he docked his "Blood Crow" with. The GAV itself had little cargo space, and instead of a troop-carrying module, he had his chopper and personal guns secured there. Otherwise, the GAV, like all vehicles of that class was ridiculously overpowered and bristling with weapons. Similar in concept to the combat helicopters of old, the GAV utilized cutting-edge grav-engine tech. It allowed crazy maneuverability, good armor protection and when controlled by a capable pilot one could easily wreck an entire armored squadron. His own had a twin 20mm auto-railgun turret on the nose, two pulse lasers on the wings, loads and loads of missiles, mag-rail launched bombs and even an effin' mazer. The Blood Crow and his bike were the last two vehicles left from his clubs' small starship fleet. Mack reached Lena'la's small asteroid cabin only to find her dead body. Apparently, she'd died of old age in her sleep. Deep in an asteroid field, he received the call for help long after all of his brothers were dead. Traveling back to each different battleground was pointless – the bastards fought to the last with everything they had. Just like the crows their club was named after, they used every sneaky and reckless tactic, all of the weapons in their arsenal. The taz'aran shitheads had paid a heavy price for their victory, but that gave Mack little respite. He would find all of them, those who were responsible for his brothers' deaths, and shove plasma grenades deep inside their asses! Mack's thoughts entertained the possibility that they were betrayed. Somehow the whole scope of the taz'aran operation, the fact that they had managed so masterfully to organize themselves and strike precisely and simultaneously at all of the "Black Crow Brotherhood" sites, was eerie, to say the least. So Mack decided to go and check on his old man. Alberto was but a farmer now, he'd gifted his old grav-bike to two bunnies brother and sister. He drove a friggin' tractor now, plowing his fields and moving them Mumpa trees around. Peculiar trees they were, Mack always got a strange feeling when near the forest – as if the trees were watching him. Turning the bike towards the nearest colony house, Mack cursed loudly and pressed the mag-brakes. Alberto's house wasn't where it was supposed to be – in its place there was a crater! Mack quickly jumped from his bike and grabbed that scanner he found, flipping the ON switch. The green holo-screen blipped above the small device and he walked nervously into the crater, stepping over the burning and melted pieces of mega-concrete. He angrily waved the device around, pointing its scanning beam at every larger debris. Mack found no DNA except that of some bunny, who was heavily wounded and moved towards Alberto's garage. The friggin' tractor was gone too and Mack detected faint traces of taz'aran DNA. Somebody had driven the old piece of junk and killed two of them shitters with it. Mack smiled. It was that bunny. He ran following the trails that tractor threads left and found the small battlefield where its melted wreck lied. More traces of taz'aran DNA, all of them dead. The scrooges had, of course, gathered all of their corpses, not for burial but to salvage the equipment... Reaching the forest, Mack's scanner found some craters and charred by particle beam fire trees. That was it. No more traces from that bunny. He whistled on his PDA's mic and soon the bike rode itself and stopped beside him. Mack jumped on the saddle and drove towards the other end of Murphy's Landing. Slowly. There were mummified corpses everywhere. The colonists' bodies laid where they were killed, Carrola's two suns had dried up their flesh, turning them into wrinkled husks. Towards the other end of the colony, Mack finally found Alberto's body. Shot from the back, one of his arms chopped by a vibro-blade, his other still clutching a shovel. Mack was a proper bastard, but that was the man who raised him. Wiped the shit off his scrawny little ass, and put food on the table. Mack sat beside the corpse and opened his last two beers. Good Bulgarian pale ale, "Bear's tear" was the name. He slowly drank both, first his and then the one he opened for Alberto. Grabbed the shovel and carefully inspected it. The shovel's blade was sharpened well, made from good mega-steel. Mack carried Alberto's body to the side of the road. He spent the rest of the day digging graves for the colonists... Next morning Mack was awoken by an unmistakable sound. The loud screech of taz'aran grav-engines. He tapped the side of his glasses and with multiple magnifications, Mack saw the damaged taz'aran grav-truck. It suddenly stopped mid-move and its front end caught fire, with long plumes of white smoke surrounding the vehicle. There were three taz'aran soldiers who leaped from its back end and one officer from the driving seat. All of them frantically began unloading small cargo crates on the ground and dragged them away from the burning vehicle. Mack slowly walked towards them. He produced a whiskey-infused lollipop from his front pocket and unwrapped it. Unable to see or hear him walking because of the smoke and fire, the first taz'aran soldier turned around and the last thing he saw was the shovel. Didn't even raise hands to defend himself. The shovel slashed his face, bone, brains and he fell on the ground, pinkish blood splattered everywhere. Mack smelled the lollipop. He hated the stank of taz'aran blood. Much preferred was the smell of whiskey and that thing was loaded with it. The equivalent of a small shot. Not enough, but something was better than nothing. He raised the gory shovel and whispered, wrapped around with smoke: “Hey! Holes-for-ears, your Empress eats shit and likes it!” the biker stepped to the side and raised the shovel above his head, gripping the handle with both hands. The two other soldiers dropped those crates and one lunged with his dagger in the air, aiming at the direction where he had heard Mack's voice. The shovel hit him from the side, slicing and crushing his neck. “Shiteaters!” – shouted Mack and himself lunged forward, stabbing the third soldier's gut with the shovel, splitting his belly open. The taz'aran screaming fell to the ground, trying with both hands to stop his guts from spilling everywhere. Mack left the officer for last. With his vision enhanced by those sun glasses of his, Mack quickly found himself behind the idiot and turned the shovel's blade to the side. He hit the back of the officer's head once with the flat of the farming tool. _________________________________________________________________________ The taz'aran officer was a Second Lieutenant. It never crossed his mind, that someday he would be captured by a Terran. The officer woke up tied to a metal chair, mouth parched and with splitting headache to boot. Before him and under the shade of one of those local trees, a tall, bulky human was resting. Strangely dressed, he had no armor or helmet. Instead, he wore exotic looking dark leather clothes, that were laced with mega-steel pieces. The man had his jacket resting on the handles of his bike and he could examine the colors on its back. It was a stylized dark-feathered bird with long beak in the center, wings spread and blood dripping claws. The circle surrounding it had some words written in a human language he knew nothing of, but the bird! This human was part of that infamous gang – the brotherhood of the dark wings or something. He tried licking his lips and looked down, suddenly realizing that something was very wrong with his legs. The taz'aran screamed – his feet were naked and lightly slashed by a blade, blood dripping on the ground. A puddle of smelly pinkish blood was getting bigger, his vision dimmer and breathing harder. The human stood up and walked towards him. He had only a thin shirt to protect his torso from the sun. Old, made of some white cloth, it had a strange yellow circular face with wide open white eyes and a toothy grin. Confused the taz'aran tried to talk but was kicked straight in the face. Spitting blood and teeth the chair he was tied to fell, his head hitting the ground hard. “Shiteater, you gots' only a couple of minutes left. The shit smelling blood will soon leave your meat sack. I don't have to tell you how good your kinds' death from blood loss feels. Nod if you understand!” He got another boot to the head before nodding. The Terran effortlessly picked him up from the ground and leveled his face with his. “And now ass-face, you will effin' tell me, why were you here and what happened with the rest of those colonists!” “I..I don't know anything, you hear me! Stupid hu...” he got another boot to the face. More of his bloodied teeth rolled on the ground. "Listen, you crap-mouth, I'll have to spend precious and not-so-nice minutes of my time, cleaning me' boots from that shit running in your veins. The smell is always a killjoy. Start talking and I might let you use this" and the human produced one medi-spray from his pants front pocket. “Ugh...you filthy scum! Even if I tell you what you need to know, what could you possibly do all by yourself?! You have no friends because we've killed all of them! Ahahahahah!” He got kicked in the gut and choked for air, then vomited what was left in his belly all over his feet. “Hmmm, vomiting all over those slashed feet of yours. In this climate and heat, I imagine that infection will soon be spreading in your shitstream,” he dangled the medi-spray before his face - “You still have time to reconsider” "Good! I will tell you what you want to know, and only because it will get you killed, you stupid human! Yes, some colonists were taken alive and loaded on one of our cargo ships. All that I know is – they were supposed to make a stop at Pion base. Only some thi...

7.44k views ·