News of Engagement

So I guess I am full of shame.  Shame on me!  No chapter update yesterday!

Well…I have an excuse.  I swear.

See I have this boyfriend.  And a couple weeks ago he and I ordered rings for each other from Etsy, agreeing that we would have two “proposal days.”  So yesterday my boyfriend’s ring arrived and I took him out to dinner and sorta proposed to him and long story short my boyfriend is now my fiance.  Understandable?

Great so now that we’re all caught up, I hope you’ll see that as a reasonable excuse.  Now, as for future chapters.  I know I’m only five in, but I’m already working on some editing, reworking the plot a bit, etc.  So it might be a few days before my next update.  This is due somewhat to my editing, but mostly to the fact that I am going to go be on an airplane very soon.  Going back home to visit the family for a week.  I have this inkling that I’m not going to get much blogging or writing done in that time.  Sorry.  But in a week or so I should have a new chapter for you!  I almost promise!

I bet you’re looking forward to that.

Okay that’s all I’ve got for ya.

Love,
Bex

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Chapter Five

Alright so this is where my perseverance is tested.  This is the last chapter I have written right now.  Which means if I want to keep going with the daily updates, I am going to have write a new chapter sometime between now and tomorrow afternoon.  Wish me luck!

Click here for Chapter One.  I will always link to Chapter One from now on because I trust you to be able to navigate to the chapters you may have missed on your own.

And now…

Chapter-Five

Paxton hit the wall of the training room and felt a lightning bolt of pain shoot through his skull.

Icthi began yelling at him in her native tongue, even though he’d told her many times over the past few weeks that he didn’t understand a word of it.

Training with her was certainly helping to build up his tolerance for pain. The first time they’d sparred, she had knocked the wind out of him and pinned him within thirty seconds.

After weeks of practice, he’d managed to survive almost three minutes in a match with her. He counted this as an improvement.

Icthi yelled something else at him.

“For the sake of the Overseer! I do not speak Samakese!”

“Then you will learn!” she spat, baring her pointed teeth.

Icthi was the first Samaki he’d encountered who could survive for so long out of water. Her gills would occasionally flap angrily, as if they were trying to find some, but other than that she gave no indication that she was suffering.

“I thought I was supposed to learn to fight. How is learning a foreign language going to help with that?”

“Because, trink, you are only going to get instructions in Samakese. So you’d better learn fast, or you will never get better.”

“Or you could give me the instructions in a language I understand, and then we’d actually get somewhere.”

“This is not just about fighting! Enforcers must be ready for anything! This includes hearing a foreign tongue. You also need to learn how to deal with frustration better. Keep your head clear. Now…kurakeh!”

She jabbed her insanely long bayonet at his feet and Paxton jumped out of the way.

“See? You can learn. Again! Kurakeh!

This went on for two more hours.

By the end of it, Paxton had a brand new set of bruises to call his own. And he’d learned three Samakese words.

Rix met him outside the sparring room.

“Mind if I walk with you?”

“As long as you don’t mind me limping,” Paxton groaned.

Rix laughed. “Yeah, that’s our Icthi. She’s a tough trainer, but if you ever beat her in a sparring match then you automatically know you’re ready to start fieldwork.”

“Does she train everybody?”

“She’s been the trainer for at least five years. She trained me, and I’m a better fighter for it.”

“Did she…has she always used her native tongue?”

“Oh yes.”

“But I thought…isn’t it…not allowed? Aren’t we required by law to speak Burgian?”

“We sure are. But Icthi decided she was above that law a long time ago. Funnily enough, no one’s ever called her on it. I can’t imagine why.”

Paxton laughed. “So did you have something you needed to talk to me about? Or are you just here to keep me company?”

“I’m here to tell you that you’ve been assigned a partner.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“You’re looking at him.”

“You’re kidding. I thought you already had a partner.”

Rix coughed uncomfortably as they left HQ and headed for the Enforcers’ private apartment block.

“My old partner…he was a double agent. A rebel who was trying to infiltrate us from the inside. What they did to him when they found out…it wasn’t pretty.”

“Shit. Remind me never to join the rebellion.”

“I hear you.”

They had reached Paxton’s apartment.

“Want to come in for a drink?” he offered.

“Nah,” Rix said. “I’m on solo duty tonight. But I’ll catch you later. I’m going to start showing you the ropes tomorrow. Gonna teach you all the stuff you need to know that isn’t about fighting.”

“Sounds like fun. I’ll see you then.”

“Bright and early,” Rix said, reaching out to shake Paxton’s hand.

They shook, and in that moment Paxton felt a folded piece of paper touch his palm. When Rix dropped his arm, Paxton curled his fingers around the note. Rix was looking him right in the eye. Paxton nodded at him ever so slightly. Rix smiled and nodded back. Then he turned and left.

Paxton waited until he was inside with the door locked to read the note.

 

Be careful what you say. There are recording devices in your armor that are never turned off.

 

Paxton felt himself go cold. Rix’s first partner must not have known about that. No wonder they caught him.

Paxton went to his room and very quickly shed his armor. He put it away in his closet and pulled on some street clothes.

“How was training?” his mother asked when he entered the kitchen.

It was still so shocking to him, the presence of a kitchen in his house. He and his mother had separate rooms, too. And a separate bathroom with a door that could be closed for privacy. It was all so unreal.

“Painful,” Paxton replied. “But I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

“I’m so glad, sweet.”

The tears in her eyes said otherwise.

Paxton wanted to hug her, to talk to her about Da. But if there were recording devices in his armor, well…he had no doubt that others could be found throughout the apartment building. It had been built for and by the Enforcers, after all. Korse probably spent every waking minute listening in on everything Paxton said. The head Enforcer hadn’t warmed up to him at all in these past weeks. It was…unsettling. He kept thinking he was going to turn a corner one day and see Korse standing there with an MWt-1000 aimed at his face.

That image would not leave his head. It haunted his dreams. He’d often wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about a long, dark hallway and the business end of his boss’ most powerful laser.

Rix noticed Paxton’s reaction the next day when he started introducing him to the other standard-issue weapons, one of which was a laser.

“You okay? You look like you’re about to hurl.”

“I’m fine,” Paxton said quickly.

“If you say so.” Rix handed him the laser. It was made of a lightweight, white material. “All Enforcers need one of these. It’s state-of-the-art. MWt-500. It packs more of a punch than you’d think. There are two settings. Spurt and Continuous. The former will make the laser come out in small bursts, just like bullets. Use that setting if you want to take down a target without killing them. The wound cauterizes itself, so all you have to do is shoot out a leg and the target goes down with very little mess.

“Continuous is the one you’re used to hearing about. It’s a concentrated beam. It slices and dices. Can cut a Goliath in half from a distance of over half a mile. Use that setting when you get a kill order. Got all that?”

“I think so.”

“Good. There’s a holster right below your right hip.”

Paxton holstered his new laser.

“Bayonets for close combat and intimidation. Laser for long-distance incapacitation or termination. Clear enough?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. That’s pretty much all the rookies are given for protection. If you manage to live through your first couple years, you might get a couple flash-bangs and grenades. You need special clearance to use ‘em though, because if you aren’t careful you could end up hurting yourself and your fellow Enforcers instead of the intended target.”

“Um…I wasn’t aware Korse or anybody else cared if one of us fell in the line of duty.”

“You’d think,” Rix said. “But there’s this one grenade that spits paralyzing gas in all directions. One trink a couple years back took out himself and a dozen of his own with one of those things. Let an entire rebel group get away, laughing the whole while. Even had their own weapons looted right out of their armor. So…uh…yeah. Special clearance needed.”

“Right,” Paxton agreed. “Note to self: Be very careful with projectiles.”

“Absolutely.” Rix pointed to Paxton’s leg. “Time for first aid training. Press down on that little square button by your left calf.”

Paxton looked down and found the button. There was a rectangular protrusion on his left boot. It ran parallel to his calf. When he pressed down on the top of it, a long box ejected from the little slot right into his hand.

“Easy access to all the most important medicines and salves,” Rix explained. “We keep ‘em on the opposite side from our lasers to reduce confusion. You want to be able to go for your weapon with your dominant hand and your medical supplies with the other. Tulawea?”

“What?”

“Sorry. Icthi’s got me saying it. Understand?”

“Oh. Yeah. Tulawea.

Tulaweoh for ‘I understand.’”

“Okay. Tulaweoh.”

“Good. Remember that one. It’ll impress Icthi. Might even make her tolerate your presence a bit more. Okay, so open the box.”

Paxton opened the little rectangular box to find several small compartments.

“It’s color-coded so even the simplest of trinks can understand,” Rix explained. “Pink is your burn salve. You know…because burns turn pink on most skin. Rub that stuff on a burn and it’ll heal up within minutes. Tulawea?”

Tulaweoh.”

Rix smiled. “Good. Next…”

Paxton listened while Rix explained what each and every pill and balm were used for. Then Rix made him repeat it back several times over. Pink salve for burns. Black pills to heal headaches and some other minor head wounds. The red cream was for any wounds that were bleeding. It caused them to scab over immediately, and it accelerated the healing process. There were also green pills to take in case of poison ingestion. And swallowing just one of the white pills could cause broken bones to begin to knit, but it was important to set the break first. Otherwise the bone would heal incorrectly.

“Have you ever seen Yuli’s left arm?” Rix asked. “Yeah, he didn’t listen to instructions very well. Had to have his armor entirely remade because his arm bends in a different direction now.”

“Set the bone first,” Paxton said.

“You’d do well to remember that.”

“It’s remembered. I remember it. I have committed it to memory.”

“Good man. You can put the first aid back. We’ve got target practice now.”

“Sounds fun.”

Paxton closed his little medicine box and slipped it back into the compartment on the side of his boot. Once it had clicked into place, he straightened up and followed Rix down two floors to the shooting range.

It just so happened that Yuli was there, firing off a few rounds with his gun set on Spurt. Rix had not been exaggerating. Yuli’s left arm was bent at about a forty-five degree angle away from his body.

Set bone then take white pill. Got it, Paxton thought.

The next hour was spent firing at all sorts of targets, near and far. Paxton wasn’t too good at it at first, but by the end he was hitting bull’s-eyes.

With the gun in his hand, he felt powerful, like nothing could stop him.

Like he was ready for anything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you’re still reading, I want to make a quick point of my use of words like “feet” and “miles.”  In the future I may change those words, but I think it might be unnecessary.  I know the setting for this book is an entirely different planet that probably has its own measurement system, but since you are reading it in English, doesn’t it make sense that you’d get the English translation for their measurements?  I don’t know.  I’m not big on making up random new words for things.  Sometimes it’s necessary, but I’d like to avoid an excess of new vocabulary.  Tulawea?  Kidding.  Sorry.  Hopefully that makes sense though.

Chapter Six tomorrow!

 

 

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Chapter Four

Chugging right along.  Here are the links for those who need to catch up:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Annnd noooooow…

Chapter-Four

“Do you know where your husband is tonight?”

“Hm?” Paxton’s mother wiped sleepily at her face as she tried to think. “He’s…well he’s at work. He works every night.”

Paxton cowered in the corner. He wasn’t sure his mother knew he was there. She’d put him to bed hours ago, but he’d woken up and snuck out when he heard the banging on the door.

“Your husband’s workplace has been searched. He is not present. You do know the penalty for missing work, don’t you?”

“No…I mean yes I do, but…but please understand…he’s got to be there.” Her voice started to get higher, her speech faster. “My husband…he would never. He wouldn’t do something like that. We have a son to think of.”

“He is not at work and he is not at home. We have no other facts to consider. If your husband returns home tonight, your first action will be to call us. If you fail to do so, well…” The large man in the scary armor paused and turned to stare right into Paxton’s eyes. “There are penalties for that as well.”

Paxton’s mother followed the Enforcer’s gaze and saw her son crouching in the corner. She burst into tears, much to Paxton’s confusion. He couldn’t understand it. Had they hurt her? He only ever cried like that when he fell down.

“Please! I’m sure there’s an explanation!”

“Call us the moment you hear from him.”

They turned and left.

Paxton’s father did not come back that night. Or the next day. Paxton had no idea how to make his mother feel better. She stared out the window most of the day, jumping up and running to the door every time she heard a noise.

He tried everything he could think of – games of hide-and-seek, sitting in her lap, asking her to tell him a story – but nothing seemed to work.

On the third day of this, there was a knock at the door. Both Paxton and his mother ran to answer it.

Nobody was standing outside, but there was a package on their front step.

Paxton’s mother opened it. On top of the packing material was a work schedule with a note that said she would be expected to begin at the factory that very night. She set the papers aside and Paxton watched as she dug beneath the crumpled packaging. Her eyes filled with tears as she drew a hand out of the box. The bloodied stump of a wrist was still dripping. An old, dirty wedding band clung to the ring finger.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, so…that was fun, huh?  Chapter Five tomorrow.  And guess what?  I’m back to occasionally drawing comics!  Here’s one for you now!

Writer's-Block-Strip-42

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Chapter Three

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for the third chapter of this book.  So sorry for the wait.  I had to go to work this morning, and that takes priority unfortunately.  I tried calling in with the “I have to blog” excuse before and it didn’t go over well.

But Chapter Three is here now, so you can all relax.  I even made a little animated header for it to celebrate me finally installing Photoshop Elements on my new computer.  And here are the links to chapters one and two if you missed them:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter-Three

Thirteen years ago, Kanid Et-Korrida was out foraging for food when he was distracted by the unexpected wail of a baby. Following the sound, he came to a clearing where a lone infant was lying, screaming up into the sky, its tiny face scrunched up and red.

Kanid had been around for twenty-five years on that planet. He was no naïve young pup. He knew a trap when he saw one.

Having a nose more like a dog’s than anything else, he took a deep breath in and scented the air. He picked up the smell of the baby immediately. It was unmistakable. Youth and tears and, well…it wasn’t exactly wearing a diaper.

Beyond that there were the smells of nature. Various woodland creatures, pine, oak, and something else…it was vaguely metallic.

Blood?

Was the baby bleeding?

Kanid couldn’t tell from that distance. Where his nose and ears helped him, his eyes failed him. He threw caution to the wind and ran up to the child, pulling it into his arms.

The trap sprung immediately. Six metal poles shot out of the earth, forming a perfect circle around them. That explained the metallic smell he’d picked up; the baby was definitely fine, if a bit…messy. Kanid could hear the hum of electricity passing through the poles. He had heard of this type of trap. If he tried to pass between any of the metal rods, they would immediately send up a wall of electricity, frying him and the baby on the spot.

Enforcers would have gotten a signal that the trap had been sprung.

He had maybe ten minutes before they arrived.

Thea, can you hear me?

He projected the thought as far as he could, even though he knew it would probably be useless. If he couldn’t sense Thea’s mind then there was no point trying to contact it. But…well, there was no point in sitting around either. He couldn’t fly, and there was no way he was digging. The Enforcers had probably planned on someone trying that. Plus…baby.

Theabella? If you’re around, this would be a good time to show up.

Ugh…what you gone done now?

Even in her head, she carried the signature accent and speech patterns of her people. She had been born to a large community that did not speak Borgian as a first language. The result was that she grew up speaking an odd, accented version of Borgian – the common tongue on this planet.

Thea, I have never been so happy to hear the sound of your thoughts. I’ll explain later. Come save me.

I always gotta be savin’ your furry ass, don’ I?

That’s why we travel in pairs, Theabear.

She appeared in front of him. Tall, lanky, jet black skin, and spindly legs with knees that bent backwards. Her eyes were huge, yellow orbs. Her nose and lips barely visible. She had a pair of pointed ears on top of her smooth head, like a cat’s.

And she had the power to teleport.

“You done found a baby?” she asked, her huge eyes getting even bigger.

I couldn’t just leave her.

“Ech. You and your sentiment, yeah?”

I have been sufficiently reprimanded. Can you get us out of here, please?

“Fine, fine. Just hold dat baby close.”

Kanid clutched the child to his chest and Thea took hold of his shoulder. The metal rods could do nothing to stop them as she transported them in the blink of an eye.

It took several jumps – Theabella could only teleport short distances, even shorter when she was taking others with her – but they eventually made it back to camp.

Camp, this time around, was a cave high up in the mountains. It was cozy. They had managed to expand it so there were several rooms. Everyone was waiting in the entrance of the cave for them to come back. They had a fire going, but just a small one. It was enough to keep warm and see by. That was all they could afford to have, especially since there wasn’t a lot of ventilation. But they made it work.

Click was standing guard at the entrance, so he was the first to see them.

“Eugh, what is that smell? Is…is that what I think it is?”

If you think it’s a baby, then you got it right, Kanid answered.

“Where the hell did you get a baby?”

Enforcer trap. May we come in, please?

“Yeah…sure.”

Click stepped aside, his grip relaxing on the gun he’d been carrying.

They met Click’s twin sister, Switch, at the fire. Their names weren’t really Click and Switch. It just happened that no one could pronounce their real names, so nicknames had been promptly assigned.

Molt and Het-Lei aren’t back yet? Kanid asked.

“They said they’d be back by sunset. They’re trying their hand at fishing today,” Switch said.

Kanid wasn’t overly worried about them. They could take care of themselves. Het-Lei was a shapeshifter, though he always looked slightly transparent no matter what form he was in. Molt was a mostly-human creature with long feathers instead of hair and a giant pair of wings on his back. His eyes were golden yellow with tiny pinpricks for pupils. Molt was a nickname that he had earned the first time he had shed all his feathers. It happened twice a year. He said his grandmother told him that it only happened once a year on the planet his ancestors were from, but then she had been brutally murdered in front of him and suddenly the difference between annual and biannual events didn’t seem all that important.

Between the two of them, not much posed a threat.

But Kanid wondered how they would feel about the baby. Het-Lei would probably be okay with it, but Molt tended to lean away from things like affection and sentiment. He believed they made a person weak.

“Please tell me that foul stench isn’t meant to be our dinner,” Rath said from where he stood, leaning against the back wall.

He was wearing his signature brimmed hat, the one with the band around the middle. He’d stolen it from an Enforcer’s house that he had looted. It was his trophy. It covered most of his perfectly combed white-blonde hair, and it was several shades lighter than his sun-darkened skin. Rath’s eyes were intelligent and dark, and there always seemed to be a laugh brewing beneath his smile.

He emerged slowly from the shadows and tipped his hat back.

He had a flare for the dramatic.

It’s a baby, for the last time.

“Kanid done gone soft,” Thea pitched in. “He picked up dat baby middle of a field. Done near got himself killed.”

“She needs to be cleaned,” Rath said, taking charge. “And we need to see if they planted a tracking chip in her before they stuck her in that trap. Switch?”

Switch stood up uncertainly.

“Rath, I’ve never used the jammer on a baby. The shock could hurt her.”

“They may already be tracking us. It’s the jammer or tossing her off a cliff. You pick.”

Switch nodded and ran to another part of the cave that she and Click used as their bedroom. She returned a moment later with a small device she had built that looked like a simple metal bracelet. When someone put it on their arm, it would send out a small shock that would destroy any microchips within the body. It had only ever been used on adults before.

Kanid held the baby still while Switch slipped the device onto its arm. She took a deep breath and activated the bracelet. A short burst of electricity shot into the child’s arm. She began to cry, and some of her hair stood on end, but other than that she appeared unharmed.

“Thank you,” Rath said. “I’ll go get her cleaned up now.”

He accepted the baby into his arms without question. She was still crying, but she began to quiet down as he rocked her back and forth.

Does this mean you’re taking responsibility for her? Kanid asked. Because I’m not so good with kids.

Rath looked down at the tiny thing in his arms. It was low to use a baby as bait, even for the Enforcers. One thing was sure. They would never be able to find her parents now. Any ties she had to them had just been destroyed by Switch’s machine. It was cruel to do that, but necessary. He couldn’t risk having the Enforcers find them before they found the parents. If the parents were even still alive, which was doubtful.

“I’ll keep an eye on the kid,” he said. “Did we find any food at all? Or are we going to have to eat the baby?”

“I done grabbed some things,” Thea said, pulling her bag off her shoulder. “Mushrooms…yes, before you ask, they not poisoned. I know now. Green spots good. Yellow spots bad.”

“Anything else?”

“Some berries, yeah? And I dug up some wild roots by that pond, you know? They be good to eat.”

“That’ll do. Click, do me a favor and mash up some of those berries. We need to feed this baby something.”

“Great,” Thea said. “I bring food. Kanid bring another mouth to feed.”

“You would have done the same,” Rath said.

Thea grumbled but fell quiet.

“What will you name her?” Switch asked, coming up to stroke the fine hairs on top of the baby’s head.

“I suppose she does need a name, doesn’t she?” Rath mused. “How about Josselyn?”

“Mmm…that’s pretty,” Switch said. “What do you suppose she is? Human?”

“I thought so at first,” he replied, “but look at those ears. Pointed. Mixed race, maybe?”

“It’s possible. If she had purple hair I could almost see her as a Delliakite.”

“I guess we’ll never know for sure. Only time will tell what surprises she’ll bring to the table. I’d better go get her cleaned up.”

Rath left the room, winding his way down toward the back of the cave where they had their water supply – a steady trickle of rainwater runoff that had carved a chute for itself right through the top of the mountain.

Rath cupped his hand under the small stream of water and began to rinse the baby as gently as he could. Joss began to make strange fussing sounds. She alternated between being extremely loud and almost inaudible. Rath cocked an eyebrow at her as he continued to wash her. She eventually got used to the feel of the water and settled down. He grabbed a small block of soap that Switch and Click had looted a few weeks earlier. After creating a sizable lather, he finished cleaning himself and the baby.

How’s she doing?

Rath looked up at Kanid and smiled, handing him the soap.

“She’s alright. There’s something off about the noises she makes, though. Can’t put my finger on it.”

She’s a baby. Isn’t she supposed to make noise?

“That’s just it. Sometimes she whines, and sometimes it looks like she’s trying to but can’t. Or she doesn’t notice that she isn’t making any noise.”

You’re probably overthinking it. That is your M.O. after all.

Kanid reached over the baby to get some water on his paws, which caused Joss to startle and begin crying. Again her wails alternated between ear-splitting and completely silent.

“She didn’t even know you were here,” Rath murmured.

Well I am very quiet. Maybe she didn’t hear me.

“I don’t think she can hear anything at all.”

Rath…tell me that’s not true.

“It’ll be okay, Kan.”

I should never have picked her up.

“You saved her.”

For how long? All it takes is for her to learn how to walk. Then she gets curious, wanders right out of camp. Someone or something comes up behind her. She’s dead. End of story.

“Stop being so negative. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

You can’t watch her all the time.

“I’ll teach her to survive, Kanid. If we turn her away or kill her, then we’re no better than they are.”

Kanid growled. She’s a liability!

“Then she will be my liability!”

Joss had fallen asleep sometime during their argument. She didn’t stir at all when Rath yelled.

Kanid said nothing.

“Finish cleaning up,” Rath instructed quietly. “I have to feed her.”

He pushed past Kanid and left.

Rath knew he shouldn’t have gotten mad. But the idea of leaving a defenseless child to die…it really riled him. Most of the people in their little group were only there because they had lost close friends or family to the Enforcers. He was no exception.

Looking down at the tiny thing in his arms, he found a smile.

He’d been the youngest of five, so he’d never really had a chance to try his hand at taking care of younger children.

“It’s never too late to start,” he said to the baby, though she didn’t hear him. “How hard could it be?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So that’s that.  I know it has some bugs to work out still.  I just want everyone to keep in mind that you are reading a skeleton.  It’s going to get its flesh and muscle and hair color later.  But hopefully it’s still entertaining.

Also I realize I’ve totally worked myself into a nice little corner over here.  I’m pretty much honor-bound to finish this book now, even if it ends up being terrible.  Frick.  I’d better get writing.

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Four!

 

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Chapter Two

Moving right along.  For those who have not read Chapter One, it is but a click away.  Simply go back to the post before this one.

I’m starting to think that this book might not have a plot.  And I’m still unclear on whether the characters have personalities.  But I’ll iron out those minor details later.

Here’s Chapter Two:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Paxton hated himself.

It wasn’t unfounded, though. He was planning on becoming an Enforcer. If that wasn’t reason enough for self-loathing, nothing was.

“You’re sure…I mean…you’re okay with me doing this?” he asked his mother the day of his test.

She smiled sadly. “You do what you have to do,” she said. “If you think this is the right step to take, then I trust you.”

“Even though…even after what happened to Da?”

“You promise me you never do to anyone’s Da what they did to yours, and I promise you that I will always support your decision. Now go! You’re going to be late.”

Paxton leaned forward to kiss his mother on the forehead and then he was out the door.

As he walked down his block, he was met with more than a few glares. His neighbors had heard about his intentions, and they were not happy.

An elderly Lepthian grabbed her grandchildren as he walked by and swept them into their house.

Well, “house” was a generous term.

Hovel might have been more accurate.

Paxton shuddered, hating himself even more.

He walked down the dirt road, passing rows and rows of identical hut-like structures. Each one had a domed roof, two small windows, and a door. There were no gardens, no lights, no individual markings of any kind. Of course that made sense considering they had originally been built to accommodate prisoners from all over the galaxy. The current residents weren’t criminals, but were still treated as such, despite the fact that the kings and queens and overlords of the galaxy had long since ceased to ship their prisoners there. A good many citizens were beginning to band together in an attempt to rise up against this injustice. Paxton hated that it would soon be his job to capture or kill any rebels he came across when he secretly felt for their cause.

He turned down Block 319C and headed down to the main road. A few children were playing quietly outside, but they didn’t stray too far from their houses. Any time the distinctive whir of an Enforcer vehicle reached their ears, they ran to get inside until the sound had long since passed.

Eventually Paxton reached the main road where there was a rundown transport station. He climbed up onto the platform and waved his identification card in front of the reader. It beeped twice and then a hover transport dispensed from the platform beneath his feet. Paxton stepped onto it, took hold of the railing for support, and said, “Enforcer HQ.” The transport beeped and began to move along at a steady clip. It was old and desperately in need of repairs, so occasionally it dipped dangerously close to the ground, or swerved to one side, but it always corrected itself eventually.

The trip wasn’t long, but Paxton still managed to work up a good sweat. He had nearly been laughed out of the building when he’d first gone to apply for the Enforcer position.

The Enforcer working the application desk at the time was a Rizzarian. He had two tremendous horns protruding from his skull, and his body was covered in thick, armor-like scales. At least the parts of his body that weren’t covered in very real, very damage-resistant Enforcer armor.

“A human Enforcer!” the Rizzarian crowed. “That is the highlight of my morning.”

“I’m serious,” Paxton said.

“So am I,” the Rizzarian replied, chuckling. “You do realize what would be required of you in order to get this position?”

“I’ve seen the arena.”

“Right. And you are speaking clearly, so I can assume you aren’t drunk off your ass. This means you are either incredibly stupid, or you lost a bet to someone who hates your guts.”

“I want to be an Enforcer. Your arena doesn’t scare me,” Paxton said, hoping the quaver in his voice wasn’t apparent.

The Rizzarian leaned forward in his seat to stare down into Paxton’s eyes. Paxton stared back.

“You’re serious,” the Rizzarian said.

“Deadly.”

The Enforcer let out a bark of a laugh. “This I gotta see! You know what, kid? This is your lucky day. I’m going to introduce you to the head Enforcer. We’ll see if he thinks you’ve got what it takes to face the arena.”

The head Enforcer had not been as amused by Paxton’s presence as the Rizzarian had been. He was a hulk of a thing, at least seven feet tall, Paxton guessed. Something red and fiery seemed to be glowing underneath his gray skin, and his eyes looked like burning coals.

“Why did you call me here?” the head Enforcer asked, his voice harsh.

“This young human has expressed interest in joining our ranks,” the Rizzarian replied.

The head Enforcer turned his fiery glare on Paxton. Despite being tall for his age and species, Paxton felt like a tiny, frightened child when faced with that gaze.

“Do you have a death wish?” he asked Paxton. “If I weren’t in such a good mood right now, I’d kill you on the spot for pulling such a stupid prank.”

“It’s not a prank,” Paxton said, setting his jaw. “Put me in the arena. I’ll wipe the floor with whatever trink you pit me against.”

The head Enforcer said nothing for a moment. Then half of his mouth turned up in a fearsome grin. His teeth looked like dried lava.

“Give me your ID card.”

Paxton handed it over. The head Enforcer swiped it through the Rizzarian’s terminal.

“No infractions,” he read. “Though there is something to be said for the father. Planning on following in your Da’s footsteps, human?”

“My Da was weak. He left me to care for my mother on my own, and I plan to do just that.”

The head Enforcer let out a grunt of a laugh and gave Paxton his ID card back.

“Return in one week, human. You will face the arena at noon. If you live through your trial in the arena, I might consider having a human-sized set of armor made.” He paused, his smile dissolving as his eyes narrowed. “But you will not live. You will see your error seconds too late. And you will die. Let that be the one and only warning I issue to you. If you do not make an appearance, you will be labeled a coward and a trink, but you will live.”

“I’ll be here,” Paxton said.

“We’ll see.”

 

The hover transport sputtered to a stop outside the Enforcer HQ and let out a noise almost like a relieved sigh. He stepped off of it and it immediately turned to head back to the station it had come from.

Paxton gazed up at the tremendous building in front of him. It was made entirely of metal, with only narrow slits for windows, and it was completely intimidating to look at. It was much wider than it was tall, and that was saying something since the top of the building wasn’t even visible if you were standing right outside of it. It had to be big, of course, because at the center of it all was the arena. Inside the arena, two things always happened: A young hopeful began his or her life as an Enforcer, and another one died a brutal death.

Paxton swallowed hard and walked up the steps to the entrance of the building.

He waved his ID card at the doors and they slid open.

A different Enforcer was working the front desk that day, but it soon became clear he’d heard all about Paxton.

“You actually came!” he shouted, standing up.

“I said I’d be here.”

“This is too good to be true. I wish I wasn’t on duty today. I wanted to see this fight in person.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“Don’t worry. They’re broadcasting the fight all over the building today. I’ll be keeping a close eye on my monitor.”

“Great. Where do I go?”

“Through that door there. They’ll fit you with your armor and give you further instructions.”

Paxton nodded and headed through the door the Enforcer had indicated. It led to a long hallway which ended in another door. He went through that one, too, and ended up in a tiny elevator with no buttons. No controls were needed, though. It began moving the moment the doors closed behind him, descending for several seconds before seamlessly shifting into a horizontal direction.

A moment later, it slid to a stop and doors on the opposite wall opened. Paxton stepped out into a room that was full of shelves. On the shelves sat various pieces of armor. They seemed to be in all different shapes, but the sizes only varied from large to extremely large.

“I’ll be damned, human,” the Enforcer in the room said. “Nobody saw this coming. You’re sure about this? It’s not too late to back out.”

Paxton just glared at him.

“Right. Well…best of luck to you. My name’s Rix. I’ll be fitting you with your loaner armor for the fight today.”

Rix had a number of short, writhing tentacles on the top of his head. He promptly reached up and pulled one off. It grew back instantly.

“Get over here.”

Paxton complied. Rix began stretching the plucked tentacle around Paxton’s chest, up his arms, around his biceps, from his leg to his groin, and more.

“Gotta tell you, kid, we don’t have a single thing in your size.”

“Just give me the next best thing.”

“Hmm…yes…maybe…maybe you’re about the same size as a smaller Hedger?”

He began pulling pieces of armor off the shelves.

“You know how to get these on?” Rix asked.

“I think I can figure it out,” Paxton said, putting on every loose-fitting piece of armor Rix handed him.

It only took a few minutes. The last thing Rix gave him was a pair of standard-issue gauntlets. These were the weapon of choice for most Enforcers. When activated, a pair of bayonet-like weapons would spring out. They had electrical currents running through them, so they were extra deadly and also potentially dangerous to the user. It was a symbol, of sorts. The Enforcers were saying, “We don’t fear the proximity to death, nor the prospect of pain.” It was meant to intimidate.

“Korse requested I give you that specific pair,” Rix said, nodding at the gauntlets as Paxton put them on.

“Korse?”

“Oh, the head Enforcer. Our boss. Yours, too, if you miraculously win today.”

“Oh.”

Paxton fitted the gauntlets over his forearms and found that they were surprisingly snug, especially compared to everything else he was wearing. Had Korse done him a favor? Built him a special pair of gauntlets? That didn’t seem to be his style.

“Alright. Looks like you’re all set to die,” Rix said. “Uh…any last words?”

“I’m not going to die.”

“Sure. Well, uh…just go stand over by those doors. They should be all ready for you in a few minutes.”

Paxton went over to stand by the door. His heart was pounding so hard he swore he could hear it echoing loudly from within his ill-fitting armor. It was an agonizing minute and a half before the door slid open, the sudden onslaught of sunlight blinding him momentarily. Once his eyes adjusted, he stepped out into the vast arena. The door shut behind him immediately.

The stands were completely full, not even one empty seat to be seen. The roar of the crowd was deafening. The first section was packed with Enforcers and some of the elite who had paid enough money to have the Enforcers turn a blind eye to them. The second section – the balcony – was packed with ordinary, lowly citizens. It was one of the few events they were allowed to go to with little to no fear of being taken by an Enforcer. As long as they didn’t hurt anybody or cause too much of a scene.

Paxton had asked his mother not to come. If things didn’t go the way he hoped, he didn’t want her to be there to witness what would surely be a gruesome death.

He couldn’t tell if anybody in the audience was actually cheering for him, but he doubted it. None of the Enforcers wanted a human in their ranks. None of his fellow citizens wanted to see one of their own become a member of the hated police force. So many had lost friends and family over the years for stupid, often made up infractions. The lucky ones were killed on the spot. The unlucky ones were taken to the tombs. If Paxton did survive his trial in the arena, he’d still be as good as dead to them.

No competitor had entered the arena yet. Paxton stared around at all the onlookers, feeling his stomach clenching into a tight little ball. He had spent the past week putting himself through the workout of his life. Weight-lifting, boxing, weapons training. Anything he could think of for hours on end. His mother would have to fight just to get him to stop long enough to eat a meal.

He was confident he could take on most anything or anyone by this point. He was tall for a human and strong. Young, too, which might give him an advantage over an older opponent. He had turned thirteen only a few months ago. Well, he guessed he was around eighteen or nineteen in human years, but he was not on a human planet. He had hatched his plan to become an enforcer almost a year prior, when he realized he’d soon be required to join the workforce. His mother was already very sick from her long, grueling hours at the factory. Her hair was going prematurely gray, and he knew that if he didn’t do something the Enforcers would work her into an early grave.

The only way to protect her was to join their ranks. He would be able to move her into a better house, and she wouldn’t be required to work as an Enforcer’s family member. On top of that, he would be paid a living wage. This was how the Great Overseer controlled his police force. Though the Enforcers were well equipped to take down the planet’s government, they never rebelled. The Overseer provided them with enough power and benefits to keep them right where he wanted them.

Paxton knew nothing could ever make him transgress. He would accept the protection that his despicable new profession would afford him.

All he had to do was win this fight against the other prospect that had been chosen to compete against him.

After months and months of training, he felt he was ready.

Just as long as they don’t pit me against…

Paxton felt himself go cold. He had just caught the gaze of Korse, the head Enforcer. His expression was malicious, his grin sadistic. That was when the doors at the opposite end of the arena swept open, and out stepped his opponent.

He was a Goliath. Nine feet tall, with skin made of rock, which meant he weighed at least twenty times more than Paxton. This one didn’t even seem to need the armor he wore. Nothing could penetrate a Goliath’s rocky flesh.

Korse had set him up to be slaughtered.

The Goliath gritted his teeth in a fierce grin when he caught sight of Paxton.

Korse rose from his throne-like seat and an instant hush fell over the stadium.

“We are all familiar with how this works, I’m sure. This is a fight to the death. The two competitors have only their own strength and wits to rely on. The winner becomes an Enforcer. The loser dies. There are no rules beyond this. Begin!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the Goliath charged. Paxton felt himself go cold. He could see the oncoming behemoth, but couldn’t remember any of his training. His extremities had gone numb. It wasn’t until he could see the finer details of his opponent’s eyes – red sclera, yellow veins, black irises – that his reflexes kicked in. He dove out of the way, rolling back to his feet. The Goliath was unable to slow his charge in time to correct for the new target, and ended up several feet away.

Growling, his opponent slammed his massive gauntlets against his sides, activating the spring-loaded, electrified bayonets. They slid out the bottom of the gauntlets in one smooth motion. Paxton recognized the sight of them – the blades were bent at an angle so they were suspended a few inches below the Enforcer’s wrists. That way the bayonets could stick out parallel to the user’s forearms with encumbering them in any way. So long as the Enforcer remembered to keep his hands balled into fists with his arms extended away from his body. One wrong move and he could electrocute himself.

Paxton wondered if Goliaths could even be electrocuted. Wouldn’t they just be able to shake it off? No point in pondering. He quickly imitated the Goliath’s earlier motion and activated his own bayonets.

Something went horribly wrong.

The gauntlet on his left wrist let out a series of sparks and hissing sounds, but no blade extended from it. The gauntlet on his right produced a bayonet that was bent out of alignment. Sparks flew from it as the edge of the blade caught the underside of Paxton’s closed fist. He screamed as electricity shot through him, his arm going numb.

There was supposed to be rubber padding on the inside of the gauntlet to prevent excessive injury. His were apparently missing.

Korse had set him up with faulty weapons and an unbeatable opponent.

The Goliath laughed and charged again, keeping his own fully-functional bayonets extended. Paxton only had a second to shed his useless weapons. He no longer had any feeling in his right arm, but he still had the use of his left. He attempted to dive out of the way again, but the Goliath wasn’t as dumb as he looked. Having anticipated Paxton’s dodge, he threw his arm out at the last second, sweeping it upward into Paxton’s chest and intercepting his dive.

Paxton went flying through the air as more electricity, this time from the Goliath’s gauntlet, sizzled through him. He hit the ground hard, his ill-fitting armor barely protecting him. Something had definitely broken. A couple ribs, he thought.

His mind went hazy as the roar of the crowd filled his ears. This fight would be over soon. The Goliath approached slowly, lazily. A predator stalking its prey.

Gasping for breath, Paxton scrambled backward, supporting himself on his good arm as best as he could. But the Goliath was on him before he’d been able to move more than a couple feet. His opponent retracted his bayonets so that he could wrap one massive hand around Paxton’s throat. He had opted to savor the fight, rather than going in for the quick kill with his weapons.

Oxygen deprived and severely injured, Paxton grappled with the stony fingers to no avail. The Goliath easily lifted him off the ground and flung him another thirty feet. He landed in a heap, gasping for breath. A little feeling was coming back to his right arm, but it was mainly enough to feel an extreme amount of pain and nothing more.

The ground shook as the Goliath approached once more. Paxton pushed himself flat onto his back, and as he did so, his left hand landed on something hard and sharp. He glanced to the side, seeing that it was a fairly large, pointed rock. His fingers closed around it.

The Goliath was upon him. He reared back, raising a rocky fist. In a moment he would bring it down, crushing Paxton’s skull like an egg.

Or so he thought.

With the last of his strength, Paxton leapt to his feet. As the Goliath’s fist came down, Paxton jumped up, landing on top of his opponent’s tremendous arm. The Goliath leaned back in surprise, giving Paxton just the right angle for his attack. Pushing off of the Goliath’s arm, he jumped forward, driving the rock in his left hand directly into his opponent’s bright red eye.

Yellow blood gushed from the wound as the Goliath roared in pain. The fight wasn’t over yet. Paxton jumped to the ground, pulling the rock out with him. The Goliath flailed wildly as the crowd screamed, either in indignation or support. Paxton couldn’t tell.

He kept well out of the way of his opponent’s reach, jumping back any time a swing came close to him. The Goliath recovered ever so slightly, a trail of blood leaking from his right eye. He kept turning, trying to catch sight of the human, but Paxton made sure to keep to the Goliath’s blind spot.

Moving as quietly as possible, he slipped behind his opponent and reached down into the dirt to find something solid he could throw. He found a few pebbles, got a grip on them, aimed, and threw. They landed a few feet to the right of the Goliath, still in his blind spot. Without thinking, he roared and attacked, his blow landing on empty space. But it had caused him to kneel, which gave Paxton the opportunity he needed. He got a running start and leapt onto the Goliath’s back, managing to get a hold of its right shoulder with his barely-functional right hand. In one smooth motion, he used his momentum to swing his left arm around and drive the sharp rock into the Goliath’s remaining good eye.

The bellow of pain was doubly loud this time. Paxton dropped back to the ground and darted away as the Goliath fell to its knees, twin streams of yellow blood pouring down his face and dripping onto the ground. His opponent alternated between screams of fury and sobs of agony.

“Where are you?” he shouted. “Show yourself! Finish me!”

Paxton wasn’t sure he could. Even if he somehow knew how to kill a Goliath with one small rock, he wasn’t confident that he would.

Breathing labored, he dropped his little rock and instead clutched at his throbbing side. With the adrenaline fading, all the aches and pains of the battle were catching up with him.

“You heard him,” Korse’s voice boomed. “Finish this battle, human.”

Paxton turned to face the head Enforcer. He set his jaw and said nothing.

Korse cracked his half smile again.

“If you do not dispatch of this sorry excuse for a Goliath, then you will both die. This might prove inconvenient to you.”

Paxton still didn’t respond as he began to panic. How could he kill a being made entirely of rock? He doubted Korse would allow him to wait for the Goliath to bleed out from his wounded eyes.

“Don’t worry, human. You fought well. We will provide you with a weapon. All you need do is finish what you started.”

With that, Rix entered the arena bearing a large axe. The afternoon sunlight glinted off its freshly-sharpened blade. Rix pushed the weapon into Paxton’s good hand.

He turned to look at the Goliath, who was still kneeling prone on the ground a few feet away. Hefting the axe over his shoulder, Paxton approached.

But still, once he was there, he hesitated.

“Do it, you puny coward,” the Goliath growled. “Do not dishonor me by attempting to save my life now.”

Paxton lifted the blade, ignoring the protests of his broken ribs and his electrocuted right arm.

The Goliath began to scream. “DO IT! KILL M–”

The blade fell.

The Goliath’s head dropped onto the ground and rolled away while the body simply shuddered and collapsed. Yellow blood stained the ground.

Paxton took a shuddering breath and released the handle of the axe.

It was done.

He was an Enforcer.

He hated himself more than ever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter Three tomorrow!  Be there or be labeled a coward and a trink!

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