Farron walked into the Prize Fight hoping to find a lead. Torin Gage had been seen there less than a week ago. She waited at the bar to be served and to ask questions. Information could be expensive and not always worth the price, but she had to find him and this was the only lead she had.
She ordered a drink, “I’m looking for a man.”
The bartender’s name tag said Lano. “Will I do?” He asked, looking at her appraisingly while he made her drink.
“He’s human.” she said with a smile. “And it’s business. His name is Torin Gage.”
“Not much to say.” Lano handed Farron her drink. “Haven’t seen him in about a week. Stayed upstairs while he was here. Didn’t say where he came from, or where he was going. Paid his bill with good money. Won big on the fights, he nodded his head to the back of the room where the arena was. And was lucky with the women.”
Sighing, she listened to the bartender as she finished her drink. Lano talked freely and didn’t indicate he had information for sale. So she left him a big tip and made her way through the crowd to the arena. It had been a long flight and it looked like her trip wasn’t over.
The fight was already in progress and her five foot two inch height kept her from seeing over the crowd and into the pit. She worked her way to the front and then climbed over the railing to stand on the inside ledge of the ring.
It was a typical arena. The floor had a diameter of seventy feet and was about fifteen feet below ground level. The sides sloped at a steep angle. The arena was not enclosed, so projectile weapons were prohibited unless they were natural. Also, no armor was permitted unless you were born with it. Flying is allowed, with natural wings, as long as it is within the area of the ring.
The champion was about seven feet tall and very muscular. His skin was grayish and had what looked like several plates of hard leather covering his chest, stomach and back. A natural armor. From between his shoulder blades protruded a pair of large leathery looking wings that, so far, hadn’t been used in the fight. The challenger was just as big. He was reptilian, and had a greenish tinge to his scaly skin. His muscular arms and legs ended in claws that looked like they could shred steel. He also had the advantage of an extra limb, a powerful tail that he was using with great skill.
Farron suddenly felt a hand on her back, “Out of the way, bitch.” She found herself tumbling out of control towards the floor of the ring just as the combatants roared and charged at each other. Dodging the fighters she tried to get back to the wall. The sloped sides of the arena were too steep to climb out and she didn’t want to leave her back exposed. Usually, someone in her position died quickly, either by an angry fighter or simply by getting in the way. Farron wanted to see the fight but this was too close, even for her.
Farron circled the engaged combatants and then backed away towards the far side of the arena. She saw the tail coming at her just before it hit. She somehow managed to leap backwards and only caught a glancing blow. Even that knocked her off her feet leaving her breathless, and on her back. She rolled left just in time to avoid the sharp claws of the reptile as he landed where she had fallen. In one motion she was up and running. His roar drowned out the scrape of his claws on the arena floor as he charged after her.
The crowd roared as he dove at her back. Instinctively, she dropped flat. She felt his claws scrape her back as he ripped through her shirt, tearing her skin as he passed over her landing several feet ahead of her. On her feet again, Farron wheeled about and began running full speed towards the opposite wall while her mind worked even faster to figure a way out of her predicament. There was no way she could fight him. All she could do was hope to outrun, or dodge him. He was fast and she was already running out of energy. Running was not the answer. She stopped and turned around panting hard.
Her opponent came to a stop and watched her. She slowly began circling him, looking for a weakness. She saw none. The reptile continued staring at her and suddenly began making a loud hissing sound. Farron realized he was laughing at her and glared at him. She was smart enough to avoid fights whenever possible, but capable enough to win most of the ones she couldn’t avoid. This was not a fight she could win. He was just too strong and too fast for her. But Farron had a weakness. She didn’t like being laughed at. His laughter irked her.
Turning to the audience, the reptile raised his arms encouraging them to join in his laughter. Taking advantage of his momentary distraction she charged at him with a blood chilling scream. She leapt into the air, her boots aimed at his head. They did not reach their target.
She knew he was fast, but she didn’t realize how fast. Flying through the air towards him, she saw him turn arms still upraised and swipe one huge claw towards her. She came to an abrupt stop and found herself swinging upside down by her feet. The reptile peered down at her for a moment, then burst once again into his obnoxious, hissing laughter.
Farron suddenly found herself flying through the air to the sound of laughter. Suddenly, she hit something. But it not as hard a landing as it should have been. Looking up she found the hard grey face of the champion looking back at her. She had forgotten about him. He grinned at her exposing a large number of sharp teeth.
“Put me down,” she gasped.
“Patience,” his voice was deep but gentle.
She suddenly realized that they were hovering over the arena. Cradled in his arms she found them gliding towards the edge of the arena. Hovering by the rim, he lowered her to the ledge she was pushed from.
“I like you,” he said smiling. Suddenly his fist shot past her ear and Farron heard a yelp behind her. His tone became angry as he looked to the man standing behind her. “But I don’t like you.” Casually swinging his arm he flung the man into the arena. He glared at the others standing around her, “anyone else want to try pushing her?”
Then, turning in the air, he swooped down to the arena floor and roared his challenge to the reptile. Claws extended, they charged towards each other. The fight was over quickly. The champion tossed his opponent around like a rag doll. It was as if he had been dragging the fight on just to give the audience a show. Leaving the reptile unconscious on the arena floor the champion strode to the man cowering in fear at the base of the wall. Grabbing him by the front of his shirt he dragged the man over the railing and dropped him.
The champion turned to Farron. “I have to leave now. No one here will want to fight me.” He stared at her for a moment. “Come with me.”
She was stunned. “I…I can’t. I am on a job. I have to find someone.”
“Ah. A bounty hunter,” he nodded in understanding. “Perhaps I can help you. Who are you looking for?”
She hesitated. Assistance from someone like him could be immensely helpful. But she wasn’t sure she wanted to share the fee. She was used to working alone. But at the moment she was in a lot of pain. If Torin Gage showed up now she would be unable to apprehend him.
“I will not charge for my assistance. Your company would be payment enough,” he said as if reading her mind. “I have a fast vessel. You would no longer have to travel by public transport.”
This was sounding better and better. “Why?” she asked.
He smiled. “I told you. I like you”
She considered for a moment longer. “I am pursuing a man named Torin Gage.”
He looked away. “I know him. He is here.” He looked back at her. “Do you know why he is wanted?”
“They say he is a thief. That what he stole was extremely valuable and irreplaceable. There is a high price on his head.”
“He will meet you at my vessel in one hour. It is docked on Artemis deck, bay 3.” He began to walk away from her and then turned back. “Perhaps you will listen to his side of the story before you turn him in for your price?”
“I’ll listen. But it won’t matter.”
It took Farron almost the whole hour to find the ship. She was preoccupied by everything that had happened. The fight with the reptile was just another fight. She could handle a fight. She could have been hurt pretty bad, if the champion hadn’t intervened. But she had been hurt before, and she recovered.
The champion. She didn’t even know his name. She could handle men as easily as she could handle a fight. But he wasn’t a man. He was a very large alien with wings. And a voice that rumbled like distant thunder and who smelled like clean, damp earth after a storm. Remembering the way his voice resonated through her caused an involuntary quiver. She stopped. That was just wrong. She didn’t know him. She didn’t even know what species he was. She couldn’t figure out why she was attracted to him. He had seemed nice, but she had met men who seemed nice before. They had never affected her like this.
For a little while she almost forgot why she was there. Farron didn’t like being distracted. She was many things, but a romantic was not one of them. Yet here she was, mooning over someone she had just met. She shook her head to clear it.
Focusing on her task, she quickly found the champion’s ship. Artemis bay, dock 3 was a private docking area that provided some privacy. The vessel was a small battle ship. Farron was not familiar with the model, but it looked fast. Although it wasn’t new, it appeared to be in excellent condition. She wondered what the inside looked like. Then she shook her head again. She couldn’t accompany the champion. She usually worked alone and it would cramp her style. He seemed quite capable and could be extremely useful, but she didn’t like depending on others.
Every time she had a partner things went wrong. Either she didn’t agree with their rules or they didn’t want to accept hers. Sometimes they expected their working relationship included privileges that she had not offered and she was quick to end those partnerships. She was hesitant to make this a partnership because it was his ship and his idea. She would feel obligated to him, and she didn’t like that.
“You should be more vigilant when you are waiting for a criminal.”
Farron spun around. She hadn’t heard him approach. She felt like kicking herself. This was not good bounty hunter behavior. She could get herself killed this way.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” he said with a sly grin.
Farron scowled, sizing him up. He was bigger than her, but she had taken down opponents his size before. She was irritated that he had found her with her back turned. And he was laughing at her. She was even more irritated that she didn’t have a comeback to his comment.
She was tempted to just arrest him and escort him to the transport home. “Torin Gage?” she asked and waited for him to acknowledge.
“I am he. And I understand you are looking for me,” his voice and smile were friendly.
She pulled out her identification card and the arrest warrant. “I am here to arrest you for theft. Here is a copy of my contract.” She handed him her con-card. This was so unlike her. This was not the right way to arrest someone. Galactic law may require that she show the contract to the offender, but it did not require that she show it before arresting him. Under normal circumstances her quarry would have been rendered insensible and even confined before seeing her credentials.
He took the card and studied the information scrolling across the small screen. He then looked up at her, his curiosity evident on his face. “So, why haven’t you stunned me and locked me up yet?”
“Because your friend wanted me to hear your side of the story. And he saved me from a lot of pain today.” She grimaced. “Not that I needed saving.” Scowling, she snapped. “But I feel obligated. And I hate feeling obligated.”
Opening a panel on the vessel, Torin Gage lowered the ramp and walked into the ship. Farron’s scowl deepened. She really didn’t like this. Warning bells pealing in her head she followed him inside. What was wrong with her?
“It is a lot more comfortable in here,” he said sitting down in a chair that molded to fit his body.
“Where’s your friend?” Farron looked around suspiciously.
“This is not a trap,” Gage leaned forward.
“Forgive me if I am not re-assured by that,” Farron felt her irritation increasing.
“Have you ever heard of a Furcifarian Sphere?” He was watching her closely.
She raised her eyebrows in amazement. “Is that what you stole?” Furcifarian Spheres were extremely rare. She had read about them but had never actually seen one. The images she had seen were of spherical objects encrusted with black crystals. Each sphere was about the size of a man’s head and there were hundreds of crystals covering the surface.
It was a source of power that was unmatched in the known universe. It was like harnessing all the energy in a small star and storing it in an object a tiny fraction of its size. The energy extracted from just one sphere could power a battle cruiser for the lifetime of the vessel. It could provide the energy needed for faster-than-light travel, for its weapons, shields and life support systems.
He shrugged. “Technically, I stole it back. It was initially taken from the Furcifari. They want it back. And getting things back is what I do.”
“How do you know they didn’t sell it and then change their minds?”
“It’s not the kind of thing we would sell. There is nothing in the universe more important to us,” Torin Gage stood up suddenly, his voice breaking with the force of his emotion. “And the ones you have heard about, the ones that power the battle ships. Those were not sold either. They were stolen, just like this one.” He touched a screen on the control panel next to him and the ramp slid back in place locking Farron inside.
Gage knelt on the floor of the vessel and reached underneath a control panel. Placing his hand on an identification screen, he winced slightly before removing his hand. Farron saw a drop of blood left by the DNA scanner. An opening appeared next to the screen and Gage reached both hands into it. Farron took in a slow, deep breath and exhaled slowly when she saw the sphere.
She knelt next to Gage. It was beautiful. But, it was the knowledge of the power that was present within her grasp that awed her. “Why are you still here?” She asked Gage and reached out her hand to touch a crystal. She could feel a gentle pulsing beneath the surface. “If you hadn’t waited around, I wouldn’t have been able to find you.”
“You are not the only one after me. And some of the others are not as ethical as you are.” He looked at her. “Considering the value of this…object, I am sure there is someone after you as well.”
“Of course,” she nodded, taking the sphere with both hands. Gage seemed to hesitate for a moment before removing his own hands from it. “They would expect me to steal this for myself. It is certainly worth a whole lot more than you are.” She glanced at him.
“I will go with you so you can collect your fee,” he said. “But I will not allow you to endanger my mission.”
“What is your mission?”
“Returning this to the rightful…owners.”
Farron looked closely at the sphere. “Don’t you mean ‘parents’,” she looked at Gage.
Taking the sphere carefully from Farron’s hands, Gage placed it back within its container and made sure it was fully sealed. “Insightful,” he smiled.
“Don’t the others know?”
“They have been told the truth but they don’t care. The life within one egg is a small price to pay for the benefits. Your employers don’t care that they are slowly destroying an entire race just to power their battleships. They don’t care that the energy contained in the crystals are the essential energy needed for the young Furcifari to grow and hatch.” He looked at her, his eyes glistening. “I apologize for bringing you into this. But I felt I could trust you. I need your help.” He stood up and held a hand down to her. “We need to go now.”
“But, the others are still looking for you.” Farron took his hand and stood up. She found herself wanting to help him. She didn’t have any proof that what he had said was true, but it didn’t matter. She believed him.
“That is where I need your help.” He looked at her hopefully.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Send a message to your employers stating that you have found me, confiscated my vessel and will be delivering me to them shortly.”
Farron nodded and picked up her con-card. Her message would be received by her employers almost immediately and the other bounty hunters would be ordered back. They wouldn’t be happy about losing their quarry. But having no reason to suspect how valuable the cargo really was they would hopefully go in search of another paycheck.
“We will be there in less than a week,” Gage turned to look at Farron. “Thank you.”
“Thank your big grey friend,” she said. “Where is he, by the way?” She frowned. “Isn’t this his ship?”
Gage grinned at her, leaned back in his chair and plopped his boots up on the control panel next to Farron. “This ship is mine. Now, I have a question for you.” His grin widened. “Why do you do this?”
“Hunt down criminals for reward?”
“I have to make a living somehow. And I am good at it.”
“But, if you had the finances to last you your lifetime you wouldn’t need do it anymore.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully. “I suppose, there is a certain amount of excitement in doing what I do. I visit new worlds and meet different species. I encounter danger and survive. If I was wealthy, I wouldn’t need to do it. But I might, just for the excitement.”
“Then, I have a proposition for you,” releasing the gravity lock on his chair, Gage floated close to her. “After we have returned the egg, why don’t you and I go on an adventure? We have a fast ship and a whole universe to explore. And you will have no obligations to anyone.” He smiled again, his eyes locked on hers. “Not even to me.”
Looking into his eyes, Farron’s heart beat faster. One of the best things about her job was the exploration. But it was always with a plan. Always knowing that it was under contract. Never with the complete freedom to go where she wanted to go.
He took her hand in his. “Why?” She asked looking down at their hands.
As she watched his hand grew larger and became a familiar shade of grey. And a voice like distant thunder said, “Because, I like you.”