A few dozen shoppers of varying species milled around Station Zeta’s main plaza. Whoever said space was serene obviously never set foot on an orbital trading post. While Zeta was far from the most popular market in ungoverned space, it sure felt like it to anyone caught in the dinner rush. If a patron wasn’t careful, it was easy to spill their meal as they jostled through the crowds. Without a doubt, elbow room was hard to come by for everyone. Well, hard for anyone who wasn’t a Gurk.
Venka leaned against a recessed wall so her back and bushy tail pressed against the cool metal. The plaza’s simulated sky was set to night, draping the female Gurk in a soft shadow. Her blue fur and muted clothing blended into the darkness, leaving her nearly invisible except for one detail. Venka’s luminous, golden eyes betrayed her position, but she preferred it this way.
Two hungry Vilo engineers approached Venka’s spot, unaware of her presence at first. However, as soon as they noticed her glowing eyes watching them from the dark, their antennas twitched and they quickly found somewhere else to eat. A small grin crossed Venka’s muzzle, but she quickly returned to her stoic yet vaguely fierce expression. After all, she was still on the clock and had appearances to keep.
Scanning the crowd was no easy task for the eyes, even a Gurk’s. It was no wonder station security cameras needed complex computers to track potentially dangerous beings. Between humans, Vilos, Ziverites, the occasional Gryphon, and other species, finding someone took either advanced AI, or incredible patience. Venka’s long, pointed ears wouldn’t do her much good either, not that even she could tell one voice from another in the plaza’s clamor. That left her with her nose, and it rarely failed her. Although the combined scents and odors from hundreds of sources battled for attention, Venka was able to detect her crewmate before he reached her.
The male Gurk strolled through the crowd with ease. Few shoppers paid him much attention except to move out of his way. No one wanted their pockets picked, not that Feliks would have tried anyway. His hands were already occupied with his latest purchases.
“What’d you buy?” Venka asked once her partner was within earshot.
“Just a quick snack,” Feliks replied, holding up a fruit. “You want one?”
Venka narrowed her eyes and sniffed. “That thing’s almost as fuzzy as you are.”
“So?” Feliks said. “It’s good.”
“What even is it?”
“I think it’s called a ‘peach.’ The shop lady said they’re from an old human planet,” Feliks explained as he handed one of the fruits to Venka. She drew a knife from her belt and cut out a wedge.
“That’s actually not bad,” Venka said, trying the peach, “but we aren’t here for snacks. Are we clear, and have our customers arrived yet?”
Feliks tossed a peach pit into a nearby trash chute and wiped his hands on his dark blue pants. “Yeah, everything looks good; just another normal night,” he said. “No sign of them yet, but they should know where to find us.”
The Gurks waited for a few minutes until Venka caught sight of a pair working their way through the crowd. “Look alive,” she said, tapping Feliks. “That’s gotta be them.”
With some effort, Feliks focused until he spotted the duo within the throng of shoppers. Sure enough, the pair matched the descriptions they’d sent him: one female Gurk, and one male Gryphon. The Gurk wore a brown jacket over an olive shirt, and darker brown pants. Her jacket ended at her belt, giving her easy access to her gear pouches and holster. Like Venka, she sported kneepads, and also preferred minimalistic boots that left her paws uncovered. An old comm system in her ear and a weathered hat on her head completed her outfit.
The Gryphon was easily a foot taller than his companion, and certainly the biggest of his species Venka and Feliks had ever seen. His orange clothing and boots stood out against his brown fur and feathers, while his sharp, green eyes sized up the Gurk pair.
“Welcome,” Venka said. “My name is Venka, and this is my partner, Feliks.” Feliks nodded and smiled warmly.
The female Gurk smiled back. “I am Kervak,” she said, “and vhis is Atlas. It is pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Venka said. “If you follow us, we can conduct our business somewhere more private.”
Kervak and Atlas exchanged a glance before agreeing. They followed as Venka and Feliks led them away from the plaza. The group walked into an older section of the station, and reached a decommissioned storage bay. Feliks plugged a datapad into the door controls and punched in a code. A service door slid open and everyone stepped inside.
Cargo containers loomed in haphazard towers around the storage bay wherever they had been left to rust. Overhead, a few working lights struggled to keep the cavernous room from falling into complete darkness. Not that the three Gurks would have minded too much.
Towards the center of the maze of containers was a female Gryphon sitting at a table. She stood and waved politely when the group arrived. “Hey Venka!” the Gryphon said. “I see our guests made it here safely.”
“Yeah,” Venka replied. “This is Kervak and Atlas, our newest customers.” She turned to them. “This is Tib, one of our product testers.”
“Well, well, well! Step right up then! You’ve come to the right place for all your bounty hunting needs,” Tib said. “But before we get too far, let me introduce you to my brother.” Tib looked around the dim bay. “Rav? Come down here and say hello!”
A ripple of light flickered on top of a crate stack. Seconds later, a Gryphon with dark fur and feathers glided down from his perch and gently touched his black paws to the deck. He folded his wings, revealing his body from under his camouflage cloak.
“A Gryphon on overwatch?” Atlas asked, taking note of Rav’s sniper rifle. “Smart.”
“Hey, someone has to keep an eye on these little Gurks to keep them out of trouble,” Rav replied.
Atlas grinned. “I completely know what you mean. It’s nice to meet you,” he said, shaking Rav and Tib’s talons.
Kervak chuckled and flicked her tail in her partner’s direction. “Oh Atlas dahling, it is not ‘trouble,’ it is ‘adventure!’ Vouldn’t you agree, Venka?”
“That’s absolutely true,” Venka said. “But in our line of work, adventure can be deadly, hence the need to pack accordingly.” She directed Kervak to the table where Tib had arranged their featured merchandise.
Rav returned to his position above the others as his associates introduced what they had to offer. Feliks picked a plasma pistol from the table and held it up. “Every bounty hunter needs a dependable sidearm,” Feliks said.
“In fact,” Venka added, “that’s the same model auto-plasma pistol I always carry. It’s lightweight, compact, and easy to shoot. With advanced batteries, you can fire hundreds of lethal or non-lethal blasts in seconds. Perfect for grand entrances, or great escapes.” With that, Feliks fired a few stun bolts into the side of a cargo container.
Kervak rubbed her chin. “I don’t know,” she said, “Atlas, vhat you think?”
Atlas accepted the blaster from Feliks, and tried a few shots for himself. There were several circular targets spray-painted onto the side of the container, and the Gryphon easily burned dozens of marks into the bullseyes. He switched the blaster to its automatic setting and lit up the targets again. Although beaks often make it hard to tell if a Gryphon is smiling, this time there was no doubt.
“I’ll take two,” Atlas said.
“Excellent! Two auto-plasma pistols,” Tib said, keeping track of the items her customers wished to purchase with her datapad.
“We have a few other pistols, if you’re interested,” Venka said to Kervak. “Plasma magnum, repeaters, long pistols, anything?”
“Vhat is kind of you, dahling,” Kervak replied as she drew a golden pistol from her holster. She took aim and left a smoking blast mark in the center of a target. “But I have vhis covered.”
“Well then, we can move onto primary weapons,” Venka said, secretly impressed with Kervak’s shot.
Feliks handed Kervak a red, black, and grey rifle that matched his armored vest’s coloration. He handed a smaller, yet similarly decorated weapon to Atlas. “Military grade plasma rifle and carbine,” Feliks said, nodding to each weapon. “Semi-automatic, burst, and fully automatic fire modes in both stun and lethal settings. We recovered them from bunkers on Gurkon, decontaminated them, and upgraded their cooling systems. They’re my personal favorites, and you won’t easily find anything that beats the dependability and ruggedness of a Gurk blaster.”
“Some say our old tech is better left in the shadows of the past,” Venka chimed in, “Others call them relics…” Kervak and Atlas fired a few test shots with each blaster and exchanged approving nods. “I prefer to think of them as classics.”
“I like vhis one,” Kervak said. She handed the carbine to Tib. “I vill consider.”
Tib made another note, took the carbine aside, and brought attention to the other rifle options. “We have both standard-issue Grakkon and Commonwealth rifles, along with a few other galactic favorites,” Tib said. She turned to Atlas. “Of course, you look like you appreciate the punch of Gryphon sniper rifles, am I right?”
Atlas nodded. “I have one, actually.”
“Wonderful!” Tib said. “Interested in any new accessories?” She placed a padded carrying case on the table and popped it open. “Omni-scope, backup reflex sights, cooling module, anything?”
“The backup sights look useful…” Atlas mused. “Go ahead and add one.”
“Will do,” Tib said. “We’ve also built a few accessories and attachments you can’t find anywhere else yet. I think you’ll both get a kick out of this one.” Tib unpacked another case and attached an electromagnetic grenade launcher module onto the Gurk carbine. Venka took the modified weapon and a cylindrical grenade from the table.
Venka gave the grenade to Kervak. “What you’re holding might become a bounty hunter’s new best friend,” Venka said. “Packed into each grenade is an expanding electro-net perfect for those troublesome targets.”
“We ran into a Grakkon Elite on Centurion,” Feliks said, running a finger over the deep scratches on his armor. “Nothing short of a collapsed tunnel stopped him, but we hope our invention will come in handy if we run into another.”
“Yes,” Venka said, “I should warn you we haven’t tested these on actual Grakkon Elites, but we do know they work on everyone else.”
“They’re enough to catch a Gryphon,” Tib said. “Rav and I volunteered as test targets, and lemme tell ya, it’ll ruffle your feathers and make your fur stand on end for days!”
Kervak snickered at the thought. “Vell then, I vould be interested to give vhem a try.” She nudged Atlas. “Vhey would have been good on our last job. Vhat pirate vould not give up!”
Atlas nodded. “I used up my supply of stun grenades trying to nab him,” he said. “Speaking of which, do you have some?”
“Of course,” Venka said. “Always a favorite of mine, too. I personally modified this batch myself, giving them twice the knockout duration. Tell you what, if you buy five, we’ll throw in a plasmex grenade at half the price.”
“Sounds like a good deal,” Atlas said. “I think that should take care of my gear for now. Kervak, do you need anything else?”
“I vill also take all med kits you have,” Kervak said. “Ve tend to run through vhem.”
“Certainly,” Venka said.
“Better yet, I’d like any counter-toxin meds you have,” Atlas said. “A certain dinner last week drained our stock.” The Gryphon narrowed his eyes at Kervak.
“It vas only partial paralysis, dahling!” Kervak said.
“It was a Yamaran blowfish, and it nearly killed me,” Atlas countered. “The end of my tail is still somewhat numb.”
“Vhat is because you ate fast,” Kervak said, “I told you to savor fish soup, but you did not listen.”
The dealers looked to each other quizzically before Atlas turned to them. “Kervak fancies herself a bit of a cook. She’s really good too, most of the time. It’s when she tries to experiment that things get dicey.”
Feliks chuckled. “See, Venka, there are worse things in the universe than fuzzy fruit.”
“Yeah, but peaches don’t strike me as the kinda food that puts people in comas,” Venka said. “Either way, we do have a case of counter-toxins for you, Atlas. And I’ll take five percent off its cost if you share that recipe, Kervak.”
The female Gurks exchanged smiles. “You have a deal,” Kervak said.
Tib arranged the bounty hunters’ order on the table as her companions gathered. She calculated the estimated total on her pad. Even if Kervak and Atlas wanted to bargain or trade to alter the final cost, her crew would still take away a nice profit. Not bad for a night’s work.
However, as Kervak was about to enter final cost negotiations, the cargo bay shook violently. Everyone froze. Somewhere in the bay, a stack of crates toppled with a frightening racket.
“Vhat vas noise?” Kervak asked.
“Did something just hit the station?” Feliks added. A solid clunk reverberated through the storage area, making the mercenary’s fur bristle.
“It sounded like a ship docking,” Tib said, “but the rest of our crew’s not due for hours.”
“Who would be crazy enough to use that old dock?” Feliks asked. “Besides us?”
“Pirates?” Atlas offered.
Venka furrowed her brow. “Maybe…” she said. “Rav?”
Above them, the Gryphon’s cloak shimmered. “I’m on it,” Rav said as he crept to the opposite end of the bay to investigate. He jumped from container to container, carefully approaching the source of the noise with his rifle at the ready.
Tib set her pad on the table, and activated its holographic projector. The Gurks and Gryphons watched the holoscreen flicker to life and display a live feed from Rav’s scope. Eventually, he settled into a position overlooking the massive airlock doors leading to the dock. For a moment, nothing happened. Rav waited with his weapon trained on the doors.
Suddenly, the hiss of the airlock broke the silence, and the doors slid open. Although Rav was invisible to the naked eye, he still felt a spike of energy creep from head to his tail. He was thankful his crew could see through his scope, because he didn’t dare to make a sound.
“It’s not pirates…” Feliks said, watching the dozens of figures in the airlock.
Venka sighed. “No, it’s much worse.”
The figures in front were roughly as tall as Gurks, with similarly bushy tails and pointed ears. Aside from elongated breathing masks over their muzzles and equipment packs, the creatures didn’t wear much clothing or armor. Their eyes glowed green through their masks, and their clawed feet clicked on the deck as they advanced. “Grakkons…” Kervak growled.
Behind the basic Grakkon warriors, Rav spotted a squad of assault troopers clad in heavy armor and full-face masks. He marked every Grakkon he saw with his scope, only pausing when he saw two things that made his heart skip beats. The first was a massive anti-ship bomb on a hoversled being pushed into the bay. Alone, the bomb would have been enough trouble. Unfortunately, the other thing Rav spied was a Grakkon Elite commanding the raiding party.
“We see them all,” Tib said to Rav via her comm system. “Sit tight until we figure out what we’re gonna do.” She looked to the others. “What are we gonna do?”
Venka drew her autopistol and checked its charge. “The way I see it, the Grakkons aren’t here for the shopping, our pickup isn’t due for hours, and I’ll bet the station doesn’t have that much time.”
Everyone nodded, but Kervak was the first to pick up a blaster. “You are right,” she said, taking the Gurk carbine. “I’m vith you.” She turned to Atlas and gave him a cocky grin.
The Gryphon sighed loudly. “We’re in.”
“Are you sure?” Feliks said, swapping the peaches in his pockets for stun grenades.
“Of course, dahling!” Kervak said. “You need all help you can get. Besides, it vill be an adventure!”
“And as much as it scares me to hear her use that word, she’s right,” Atlas said. “You could use our help.”
Everyone chose their weapons and gear, knowing they’d need every advantage to stand a chance. Kervak and Atlas set their comm systems to their new allies’ frequency. After testing comms and grabbing a few stun grenades as well, they were ready to go.
Tib opened a tall crate and donned her wing shields and battle helmet. “I hoped I wouldn’t need these, but leave it to the Grakkons to ruin even the most normal of nights!” She was about to grab her quad-barreled minigun before she realized how fragile the old bay’s walls were, and decided against it. “Oh yeah, we should probably keep everything in stun mode,” Tib said as she chose a Gurk rifle.
“Yeah,” Feliks said, “I don’t wanna risk burning too many holes in this place. The Grakkons are gonna do enough of that when they see us.”
“Not if they don’t get a shot off,” Venka said. “Let’s go.”
The Elite barked orders to his subordinates in their native language. Each word was bitter and difficult to understand, but Rav imagined the Elite wanted his troops to find a faster way through the maze of empty cargo containers. A grunt offered an excuse, but only received a fierce reprimand for his trouble. None of the Grakkons expected any resistance.
The Gurks and Gryphons laid flat on the containers with their stun grenades primed. When their enemy walked into range, they tossed the stunners at the same time. Light ripped through the pooling shadows and a thunderous boom echoed through the storage bay. Most of the Grakkon troopers were caught in the blasts and slumped to the deck, unconscious.
Rav aimed at an assault trooper the stunners missed, and knocked him out with a single blast to the chest. At the same time, Kervak and Atlas peeked from behind their cover and picked off a few more stragglers. When the Grakkons returned fire, Venka and Feliks emerged from their positions and caught the troopers from behind.
The ambush scattered the surviving Grakkons, and forced them to retreat with their bomb. A pair of assault troopers tried to climb the containers and flank Atlas. Unfortunately for them, Kervak was waiting at the edge with a smirk and a few stun bolts. “Ve have vhem!” she shouted.
“Push up!” Venka called.
“That’s my cue,” Tib said, wrapping herself in her armored wings. She dropped down and landed on a Grakkon too slow to avoid her. The trooper was out cold.
Searing hot plasma bolts smacked into Tib’s shields as the Grakkons tried in vain to stop her. Above them, Tib’s friends easily blasted the distracted troopers. Those still conscious were pushed back even further as the Gryphon juggernaut advanced down the narrow pathways.
Seconds later, the Grakkon Elite and his last remaining assault troopers dug in around their bomb. The Elite worked to arm the explosive under his comrades’ covering fire. Rav reported the situation while he tried blasting the leader. To his dread, his Gryphon rifle had little effect.
“They’re setting the bomb!” Tib shouted. “I’m going in!” With a piercing screech, the Gryphon charged the Grakkon position with her friends close on her tail. At full running speed, Tib slammed into an armored trooper and threw him against a crate. She unfurled her wings and smacked two grunts behind her, knocking them out simultaneously.
After seeing this, the last Grakkon grunt tried to run away. He immediately wished he hadn’t when Atlas caught him with a wing strike to the chest. Kervak zapped the downed Grakkon for extra measure before she aimed at the Elite.
By now, every Grakkon except for the Elite lay stunned on the deck. Even with everyone firing stun bolts into his back, he didn’t even flinch. He stayed focused on his bomb, until Tib swiped him aside with her wing. “Any chance you’ll surrender now and save us the trouble?” Tib asked, aiming her blaster at his chest.
Fiery, emerald eyes glared at the Gurks and Gryphons through the gloom. The Elite looked from his enemies to the bomb, knowing he only needed one more code symbol to start the countdown. He made a desperate dash for the bomb. Tib braced for impact but thankfully it never came. Just before the Elite reached Tib, Kervak pulled her grenade launcher’s trigger.
Kervak’s grenade popped open and threw the electrified net over the running Grakkon. He was instantly wrapped and tripped by the shocking mesh, and skidded to the floor. For a moment, the net’s energy was enough to overwhelm the Elite’s motor functions, and it kept him crumpled on the deck.
“Ha!” Kervak cheered, raising her weapon. “Vhat vas not—” Before she finished her sentence, the Grakkon locked his glowing eyes with Kervak’s, and slowly started to fight the shocks.
Everyone concentrated their fire on the Elite, but it didn’t stop him from slashing and tearing at the net with his claws. “Back up!” Feliks said, knowing all too well what an Elite’s natural weapons were capable of.
Despite the withering barrage, the Grakkon found his footing. Tib stopped firing, and swung at the Elite with her rifle. The Elite blocked her attack with one hand, not realizing it was only Tib’s diversion. She followed up by slashing with each wing, before wrapping herself in them to withstand the Grakkon’s counterstrikes. While the Elite focused on Tib, Atlas approached from behind and dug his talons into the warrior’s shoulders.
Atlas didn’t feel the flesh give way at all, but he knew he had a solid grip on the pale Grakkon’s fur. He yanked on it, and pulled the Elite away from Tib. The creature was quick to recover, and in the blink of an eye he regained his footing, leaped over Atlas, and landed on a nearby crate. Atlas narrowed his gaze and brought his rifle to bear. He switched the weapon to its lethal setting, only to watch the Elite bolt for the bomb again. This time, he was successful.
The Grakkon managed to touch the last symbol, and the bomb emitted a pulsing, crimson glow. Venka couldn’t be sure, but she thought the Elite almost sneered at her and her companions. Then, just as quickly as he reached the bomb, he fled.
“Get after him!” Venka shouted. “He’s going for the doors!”
“But vhat about bomb?” Kervak asked.
Tib stepped forward. “I picked up a few things over the years,” she said, “Rav and I got this, you guys stop that Grakkon.”
With no time to argue, everyone just agreed that was the best plan. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was better than nothing.
“Yeah, we’ll see what we can do,” Rav said. “Seal the airlock behind you, just in case.”
With that, Kervak, Venka, Atlas, and Feliks sprinted after the Elite. They reloaded their weapons on the run, and tried to think of a way to stop their foe. As they ran, they desperately discussed possible solutions.
“His hide’s too thick,” Atlas growled. “I was going to try lethal fire before he jumped.”
“That won’t work on either,” Feliks said. “Even a charged blast isn’t strong enough.”
“Besides, if he hits the plaza, there’s no way we can open up with deadly force,” Venka added.
“Ve must be smart about vhis,” Kervak said as the group reached the airlock. The service doors leading to the rest of the station were forced open. “Vhis Grakkon is faster, tougher, and stronger. You see how he jump over Atlas? It like he defy gravity.”
Venka paused as she momentarily lost herself in thought. “Gravity, gravity, gravity…” she said to herself. Suddenly she smiled at Kervak. “Gravity! That’s it!”
“Vhat is?” Kervak asked.
“It’s how we’ll stop the Elite!” Venka replied. “Feliks, still got your datapad?”
“Yeah, right here,” Feliks said.
“Good. I’ll need you to hack the artificial gravity settings in the plaza,” Venka said. “We can use the grav-panels to drag down the Elite.”
“Okay, but the terminal is up on the command level,” Feliks said. “How will I get to it in time?”
The Gurks looked to Atlas. “I can give you a lift,” he said.
“Vhat verks,” Kervak said to Venka. “Vhat about us? Vhat can I do?”
“We’re gonna need some of your blowfish soup,” Venka said. “I remember seeing a Yamaran restaurant in the plaza; think you could whip some up?”
A mischievous grin crossed Kervak’s face. “Absolutely. I vill need time though. Not long.”
“I’ll keep him busy,” Venka replied. “Okay, everyone knows what to do?” No one spoke up. “Good. Then let’s get this done.”
The four mercenaries tracked the Elite through the station’s halls. Crippled security drones sparked and sputtered against the walls, leaving an easy trail to follow. Venka shuddered to think what the Elite would do to any living creature unfortunate enough to cross his path. She soon caught a glimpse of his capabilities as the group approached a pair of wounded station personnel. A human knelt over his Vilo coworker, but flinched when he saw the mercenaries.
“First Grakkons, and now pirates!” the man growled, balling his fists.
Venka flattened her ears. “Do I look like a pirate to you?” She quickly realized she was baring her teeth at the frightened man. “Second thought, don’t answer that. The important thing is we’re on your side.”
The man relaxed, somewhat surprised. He was even more surprised when Kervak and Venka handed him their med kits. “Take these and help the injured,” Venka said. To her relief, the human nodded and immediately applied a dab of healing gel on his friend’s forehead. Her bioluminescent antenna tips glowed brighter after a few seconds.
“Thanks,” the man said as the group continued on. “Good luck…”
Not long after, everyone reached one of the entrances to the plaza. The majority of the shoppers had already fled, leaving discarded bags, food, and other debris scattered around the floor. Stun blaster reports rang out as the last of the plaza’s security drones tried in vain to stop the Grakkon.
Atlas ducked as a shredded drone hull sailed over his head. It smacked into the wall behind him and exploded with a shower of sparks. “Looks like we found him,” he said.
Sure enough, the Elite stood in the center of the hastily abandoned shopping center. The remains of the robotic security force lay in pieces around him, and his eyes flashed green with rage. He whipped his head towards Atlas and the Gurks, and let out a low growl.
“I’ll let you know when I’m in the system,” Feliks said. “I’m ready.”
Atlas grabbed Feliks by the shoulders, unfurled his wings, and took off with some effort. The female Gurks watched their friends fly towards the control level for a moment before turning their attention back to the snarling Grakkon.
“I see fish shop,” Kervak whispered.
Venka smiled and readied her rifle. “Alright then, let’s get cookin’! Go now!” Purple bolts of plasma sprayed from Venka’s weapon. Kervak made her break for the Yamaran restaurant. Just as she hoped, the Elite was too focused on her ally to bother with her.
The Elite barreled down on Venka, but the little Gurk was ready. She stayed mobile, knowing survival wasn’t guaranteed if the Grakkon caught her. He chased her relentlessly, but every time he came close to catching Venka, she slipped over, under, or around obstacles too big for her pursuer to follow through. The occasional plasma burst to the torso also kept the infuriated warrior from looking elsewhere. Still, Venka feared it was only a matter of time before the Grakkon figured out a way to trap her.
Kervak leapt over the Yamaran restaurant’s counter and set her Gurk carbine on top of it. As Venka kept their enemy occupied, Kervak searched the kitchen for the ingredients she needed. With a triumphant grin, Kervak found three blowfish in a refrigeration unit. She grabbed them and set a pot of water to boil. In the moments it took to get the pot steaming, Kervak rummaged through the pantry.
She knew the blowfish were potent on their own, but she didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Just a hint of Yamaran seaweed could give the soup an unforgettable flavor, if measured exactly. Even a few grams over the recommended amount sent the effects of the dish from tingly to paralyzing. Of course, Kervak wasn’t aiming for flavor or safety, so when she found the shaker of seaweed, she dumped every flake into the pot.
Plasma flashed in the plaza ahead of Kervak. Venka had to be getting tired leading the Grakkon around, she thought. Kervak snatched a knife from the magnetic rack, and made short work of the blowfish. She slid the fish chunks off the cutting board and into the bubbling pot. Her eyes darted from the kitchen to Venka, then back to the kitchen. She stirred her concoction briefly, and then filled a large cooking syringe with as much of the brew as it could hold.
“I am ready!” Kervak announced, grabbing her weapon and darting out of the restaurant.
“Perfect timing!” Venka replied. She tapped her comm system. “Feliks, do it!”
“You gotta hold him still for just a second, I can’t overload more than a few panels at a time!” Feliks said.
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” Venka shouted, “this guy isn’t big on standing still!” The Gurk was nearly out of breath but her quarry was barely winded.
“Vhen I vill make him,” Kervak interjected. “Lead him to me.”
Kervak pocketed the syringe and readied the electro-net launcher under her carbine. Her ally slipped under a table and made a final break towards her. The Elite overturned the table and scrambled after Venka. Both combatants raced towards the waiting Gurk. It looked like it was going to be a close shave, but there was one benefit to the short distance: there was no way Kervak could miss.
At the last possible moment, Venka dropped into a slide and gave Kervak the perfect shot. She fired, and once again, an electro-net enveloped the Elite and went to work.
The Elite’s snarls could chill blood. Thankfully for Kervak and Venka, snarling was all the Grakkon could manage. Before he pushed through the pain and shocks like before, Feliks locked onto his position and cranked the gravity panels well beyond their safe settings. A metal beverage can lying next to the struggling Elite buckled and flattened from the extreme change in the artificial gravity. At the same time, the Grakkon tried to raise a clawed hand towards Kervak, but the panels soon overpowered his muscles.
“I don’t think the system can handle this charge much longer!” Feliks reported. The female Gurks exchanged a glance, and Kervak stepped forward.
Once she was sure the warrior was immobilized, Kervak cautiously approached. Eyes as green and hot as Grakkon plasma bore into Kervak. The Gurk mercenary only replied with a steely, luminous stare of her own. As the Elite opened his mouth to threaten her, Kervak whipped the syringe from her pocket.
“Vhat is enough of vhat,” Kervak said before squirting the entire syringe of soup into the Elite’s vicious maw. It only took a few seconds for the blowfish toxin to do its job, much to everyone’s relief. The gravity panels hummed and returned to their normal setting, but by then the Grakkon was unable to lift even a finger by himself. Kervak leaned in tentatively and saw that while the warrior was still alive, all he could do was blink and breathe. Barely.
“Kervak?” squawked Atlas over the comm systems, “Venka? You two alright down there?”
Venka took a second to catch her breath. “Yeah, still alive here. Thanks to your partner’s quick cooking.”
“Ve fine, dahling,” Kervak added. “You can come down.”
In the few moments it took for Atlas and Feliks to glide back to the plaza floor, Venka prodded their enemy with her rifle barrel. “You sure he’s down?” she asked Kervak.
The other Gurk nodded. “Look at eyes,” Kervak said, pointing. “He very angry. If he could move, he vould try to kill us again.”
Atlas dropped Feliks off a few feet from the ground and landed. He eyed the Grakkon with a hint of suspicion before placing a talon on Kervak’s shoulder. Kervak smiled at the Gryphon and thought she saw a flash of happiness behind his green eyes.
Feliks instinctively gave Venka a quick hug before she gently nudged him off. “Hey, what was that for?” Venka asked, trying to retain her air of toughness.
“You almost died!” Feliks replied.
Venka scoffed. “It was only like the third time this month,” she said. “But who’s counting anyway?” She maintained a professional grin, but the faintest flick of her tail betrayed her relief.
“Well, unless your friends took care of that bomb,” Atlas said, “I’d say it’s too early to celebrate.”
“I nearly forgot about them!” Venka exclaimed. She tapped her earpiece. “Tib? Rav? How’s it coming?” There was only silence.
Feliks tried his earpiece as well. “Guys?! Anyone there? Come in!”
To everyone’s horror, the station vibrated and shook with a violent shudder. The mercenaries braced for the hull breach alarms and general mayhem that was sure to follow, but nothing more happened.
“Whoa!” said Tib through the comm channel. “Sorry for that, everyone! But as you might have just felt, we had a close one on our end, too!”
Rav’s voice joined his sister’s. “Yeah, we couldn’t quite disarm the bomb, but the grunts were nice enough to leave it on that hoversled.”
“We loaded it onto the Grakkons’ stealth ship, and then flew out to jettison the bomb away from the station,” Tib said.
“So now we’re down one deadly bomb, and up one Grakkon infiltrator ship,” Rav said. “How’re things with you?”
Everyone in the plaza exchanged looks of relief. Atlas replied, “We paralyzed that Elite with a bit of crazy Gurk cooking, and everyone’s still in one piece.”
“That’s great to hear!” Tib said. “We’d hate to lose ya, especially after we just met! We’re re-docking now, and we’ll see you in a few.”
“Copy that,” Venka said. “See you soon.”
Kervak beamed. “Vell, ve certainly did good job!” The others nodded and looked down at the paralyzed Grakkon again. Before they could talk about what to do with him, the Station Zeta security forces arrived.
Squads of armored humans and Vilos surrounded the mercenaries. Venka’s muscles tensed and she sighed with frustration. However, before she started a shouting match with the head of security, a female Vilo stepped forward. She was obviously still healing from her wounds, judging by the med-gel on her head, and walked with a slight limp. Venka recognized her as the injured Vilo from the hallway, and relaxed somewhat.
“I am the leader of this station, and my friend told me what you did,” the Vilo said. “I hardly believed him, but the truth spoke for itself.” She glanced at the Grakkon and took a step away from him without realizing it. “Then I saw what you all did on the security cameras,” she said. “Without a doubt, we all owe you our lives.” The Vilo closed her eyes and bowed her head.
Venka blinked and tried to keep her jaw from dropping. She found her only defense against looking ridiculous was to embrace the moment. “It’s uh, it’s all in a day’s work,” Venka said. “Uh, a night’s work, really.”
The Vilo looked up at her and the other mercenaries. “I don’t know if we can ever repay you,” she said.
The Gurks and the Gryphon shrugged at each other, unsure of what to say. Finally, Feliks spoke up. “You can start by waiving the cost of any supplies and fuel our friends need for their ship,” he said, gesturing to Kervak and Atlas. They liked the sound of that.
“But most importantly,” Venka said, “you can hold back any questions you have about me and my associates’ activities. Just let us take our things, and you’ll never have to worry about us again.” She knew trading laws were lax outside of Commonwealth space, but she didn’t think the station would take too kindly to her grey market weapon dealing without a little guarantee.
The Vilo considered the request. Venka offered a weak smile that seemed to say, “You’d be space dust without us. You’re welcome.”
“Very well,” the Vilo agreed after a moment. “You will be free to go.”
Venka breathed a sigh of relief. “Well then, with that settled, you should probably take care of him,” Venka said, pointing to the Grakkon Elite. “Yamaran blowfish toxin seems to be strong enough to keep him sedated, and you’ll find my associate’s toxin soup in that restaurant.”
The Vilo gave a few orders, sending a security squad off to secure more of the paralyzing agent. Another squad arrived with a stretcher and electrified restraints. “We’ll take care of this one,” the Vilo said. “I’m sure the Commonwealth will appreciate the chance to take a Grakkon warrior into custody.”
Feliks chortled. “If you like him, then you’d better make some room in the brig. We stunned a lot more where he came from.” The Vilo turned her attention to him. Sensing the question in her eyes, Feliks tapped his comms system. “Hey, Tib? You guys docked yet?”
“Yeah, we’re back in the cargo bay, tying up the Grakkons,” Tib replied.
“Copy that,” Feliks said. “How’re they doing?”
Feliks heard a snarl and a Grakkon curse in the background. “Hold on, one’s coming around, I’ll ask him,” Tib answered. There was the brief noise of claws scuffling on armor, followed by a single metallic thud. “Yeah, uh, they’re all still sleepin’. Why?”
Feliks grinned mischievously. “Stick a bow on the lot, and keep an eye on them. Security will be around to pick them up soon.”
“You got it!” Tib said.
Feliks nodded to the Vilo. “The rest of the Grakkon prisoners will be ready for you soon.”
“I shudder to think what they might have done,” the Vilo said.
“If you had seen size of bomb,” Kervak said, “you vould do more than shudder.”
A slight smile crossed the Vilo’s face as she turned to Kervak. “Then we’re all fortunate to have heroes like you,” she said. “Thank you.”
Although the moment only lasted a few seconds, Kervak saw past the differences between her and the Vilo. Her face only showed mild satisfaction and a polite smile, but inside she felt warm. Venka and Feliks shared the feeling, although they weren’t likely to talk about it either. Each Gurk tucked the feeling away, putting it somewhere special inside themselves. They didn’t kid themselves, thinking all beings would see their character behind their species now, but the memory would help whenever life got hard in the galaxy. It was a rare moment for the Gurks to hear someone think of them as more than pirates and criminals, but as heroes.
A few hours later, the Grakkon infiltrators were secured, their gear confiscated, and their weapons turned over to the Station Zeta security forces. Venka considered selling everything at first, but decided against testing her luck with the station commander. Besides, the equipment and blasters would come in handy in case the Grakkons attacked again.
True to her promise, the Vilo commander left the mercenaries to their business after arranging fuel and supplies for Kervak’s ship. The Gryphons and Gurks were given their privacy around one of the station’s docking ports as they finalized their affairs.
Kervak and Atlas payed a fraction of the price they normally would have for the merchandise they received, and Tib and Rav helped them replace any items they used battling the invaders. While the weapon and equipment sales didn’t bring in the kind of money Venka hoped for, the Grakkon’s shuttle was a much better net gain.
“Thanks again for helping out,” Rav said to Atlas. “With all the ‘adventures’ these crazy Gurks get us into, it’s comforting to know there are good Gryphons out there to save their tails.”
Smiles were shared all around. “It was our pleasure,” Atlas said. “I don’t know if or when we’ll see you again, but you all keep your heads down, and be safe out there.”
“Oh, we’ll be around,” Venka said. “Just give us a call if you need anything else. This galaxy is getting crazier by the day, and properly prepared customers are repeat customers.”
“Ve vill keep this in mind!” Kervak said. “It vas vonderful to meet you all. If you ever need help again, let us know!”
“We will,” Feliks said. “Safe travels. But, if you run into any more Grakkons, give ‘em an extra zap, courtesy of us!”
With a confident nod, Kervak bid farewell to her new friends, and Atlas closed the docking hatch. In another few moments, they were be back aboard their ship, Trafalgar, and off towards another adventure.
Venka, Tib, Rav, and Feliks walked back through the station to the decommissioned storage bay and the dock beyond it. The displaced shoppers had returned to the main plaza so the station personnel could treat any injuries and answer their questions. As the mercenaries passed the recovering civilians, they only heard hushed whispers about their victory over the invaders. No one else stepped forward to thank them, but Venka was sure she caught more than a dozen nods of appreciation.
All around the station, mechanics and maintenance techs were busy checking for structural damage and tending to the destroyed security drones. Despite whatever damage the Grakkons or the mercenaries had caused, everyone knew it could have been much worse. The mechanics finished examining the decommissioned storage bay not long after the group arrived. With the clanging of the far door, the team had the room to themselves.
Before anyone spoke, Tib’s datapad chirped. She fiddled with the device for a moment before letting everyone know what the incoming message said. “It’s Spark,” Tib said. “She and Scuff are docking now.”
Clunky, thunderous impacts reverberated through the walls around the dock as the team’s captain made contact with the station. Within another few moments, the airlock opened to reveal Scuff and his daughter, Spark. The Rygols looked up at their crew with warm smiles.
“Whose ship is that in the next dock over?” Scuff asked with a flick of his grey tail.
“What ship?” Venka mused with a sly grin. “The prototype Grakkon infiltration shuttle?”
Spark’s eyes brightened metaphorically, while Venka’s eyes simply brightened.
“Yes!” Spark squeaked. “That’s the one!”
Venka tousled the young Rygol’s hair. “Well, according to space pirate laws and codes and whatnot,” she said, “that ship is ours now.”
“Do I even want to know how we came to possess it?” Scuff asked, rubbing his temples.
“We’ll tell you the whole story once we get underway,” Feliks said.
Scuff shook his head wearily. “I leave you four to make a simple sale, and you come back with a Grakkon ship. I honestly don’t know whether to be impressed with you, or worried for the galaxy.”
“It wasn’t just us,” Tib added. “We had some help from the customers, but don’t worry, they’re both still alive!”
“Well I should hope so,” Scuff replied. “It’d be hard to make repeat customers out of them if they weren’t.”
“They also got a kick out of some of the new gear,” Rav said. “I have video footage of the action, if you want to review it later.”
The Rygol cracked a small smile. As worried as he sometimes felt for his crew, he was glad to hear that whatever happened, they were still together. “Between the lot of you and your story, it sounds like I’ll have plenty of entertainment for the trip.”
“Where is our next stop?” Feliks inquired as everyone but Tib and Spark headed for the Rygol’s ship.
“Yeah, Cap’n,” Tib said as she headed for the dock to the Grakkon ship. “Where to next? Just let me know and I’ll bring our new toy.”
“We’re scheduled to meet a crew of privateers patrolling around Cyprice 7,” Scuff answered, “but after that, I’m open to suggestions.” He turned to Venka. “Where do you think we should go? What should we do with that new ship?”
Thoughts of mischief and mayhem flashed through Venka’s mind, and her eyes seemed to glow even brighter at the ideas. After a moment, she sighed loudly. “I guess the right thing would be to turn it over to the Commonwealth; the smart thing would be to sell it to ‘em,” she said. “But… who says we can’t have a little fun with it first?”
The crew looked to each other before turning back to Venka with approving nods.
“I hear a few planets in Grakkon territory are just lovely this time of year,” Venka said. “And I think it’s time we showed them a little adventure.”