Where Our Specters Lie is a short story by KidVegeta about a young Lombax named Leo. The story focuses on Leo as he tries to evade Emperor Tachyon's assassins, discover clues about his past, and figure out why he is one of the last few Lombaxes to still be living in the universe. This story is set during the time of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.
This story's theme song is Indaco by Ludovico Einaudi:
Chapter 1: Jaunt in the BlueEdit
He could taste the salt in the air, feel a warm breeze blowing across that forlorn world. The sun was sinking from the sky, a burning blot of fire that streaked the air with oranges and purples and ruby reds. Night is fast approaching. We better do this quick, before we lose our light. The warship descended from the atmosphere so swiftly and low that it nearly brushed against the cracked desert ground. As far as he could see, there were deserts, endless and bleak, with but a few salt lakes splattered about like topaz pock marks. Ruins were spread across the lands - ancient rusting buildings, half caved in or blown asunder, crashed ships sticking out of the dirt like broken teeth, and wrecked space tethers, once so tall and proud, now fallen in spectacular messes of twisted steel and rust that stretched for miles in all directions. Ahead of the warship, one such space tether had fallen, and the small part of it that remained upright blew with the wind. The warship sped right through it, shattering the metal in screeches and sparks. Leo sighed and shifted in his new hyperflux armor. This is a dead world. I wonder what happened here.
“To yer stations, lackeys!” King Raccoon shouted.
Everyone complied and shuffled into their places. The Agorian crew readied their blasters, while the Terraklons prepared grappling hooks. We’ll be in and out, Leo told himself. No need for a firefight. This is a dead world. Dead things don’t care what we steal from them. It was true, or at least Leo hoped it was. The smugglers who had told King Raccoon about this place had no reason to lie. On the other hand, they had no reason to tell the pirate lord that this planet housed untapped stores of raritanium either. Maybe they are planning an ambush. Leo shifted again nervously and felt for the Doom Blades attached to his belt. I don’t want to have to use these.
The hyperflux armor Leo had won in a space poker tournament was too big for him, he realized. It would suit those Agorian dolts better. But he had outwitted all of them, outplayed all of them in that tournament. Even if his prize was a little big, he still liked it. The armor would provide him with plenty of protection should a battle break out. In truth, Leo was a lover, not a fighter. He loved space whiskey and space poker and being lazy and coming up with witty-sarcastic comments. Most of all, he loved making money. And this would be a great opportunity for that, he knew.
The wind was whipping the young Leo’s face when he decided to put back on his helmet. The warm air felt good on his yellow fur, brushing through his long wide ears, but now it was time to find the raritanium and get rich. No, Leo corrected himself, now it’s time to make it rain. He smiled, finding his own comment rather funny.
Unshouldering the Judicator from his back, Leo took his mark near the front of the warship.
“Are ya ready to blow things things up, young lad,” Captain Raccoon said to Leo as the larger, racoonier alien paced the deck.
Leo nodded. “Aye aye, cap’n!”
“I can’t hear you!” Raccoon growled, waving a hook at the sky.
“Aye aye, cap’n!” Leo yelled as loudly as his little lungs would allow. It was still little more than a squeak.
“Oooooooooooooooooooooooooo-kay!” King Raccoon shouted, giving Leo a nice pat on the back and then moving forward. “Grapplin’ hooks, away!” The Terraklons did as they were commanded, and streams of ropes burst out from the warship down to the barren desert below. “On my mark,” King Raccoon said, bouncing on his toes with the grace of an 800 lbs. space gorilla. “Now!” he bellowed. “All crew abandon ship! Get the raritanium quick, quick, yarrrgh!”
With glee did the Agoriansa and Terraklons jump over the ship, as if they were diving into water. The Agorians fired their weapons at the ground, causing great explosions to go off and dust to spring up everywhere. Soon, Leo could see naught but the dark forms of his crewmates diving into dusty obscurity. They were destroying the landscape for one simple purpose - the raritanium was underground, in untouched mines. The fastest way to get to the pristine loot was to dig with explosions and gunfire. Messy, but I like it, he thought. Leo grasped his Judicator and went to run over the edge of the deck. I’ve always wanted to use this gun, Leo thought. Now’s my chance.
“Oho, where dya think yar goin’, eh, boy?” Captain Raccon roared as he snagged Leo with his hook.
“Sir, I’m going to mine the raritanium,” Leo replied, a bit confused. “Why are you stopping me?”
“Because, my little friend,” the captain said with a pat of his mountainous belly, “I’ve got somethin’ different planned for ya.”
The captain whistled shrilly, his great fat flabs jiggling as if in a storm, his beard twitching like a hidden space lemur was making a home in it, and then Leo heard three loud thuds behind him. The boy whirled around and saw before him three warriors he had never seen before - the one standing at the front was a dark-clad female alien with a furry, long face and floppy ears. Behind her were two robots, one tall and thin, the other shorter and bulkier.
“So this is the Lombax you told me about, Raccoon?” the female said, stepping forward. She was pointing a pistol at Leo, who simply stood there, frozen. He didn’t know what to think.
He had his Judicator in one hand, but before he could aim it at her, the captain kicked it away. Leo the Lombax watched in horror as his prized weapon went tumbling off the edge of the ship into the dust cloud below. Son of a Qwark.
“What’s going on?” Leo said, trying to take a step back. Captain Raccoon shoved him forward, causing the boy to fall to his knees. Panic was creeping into his heart, a stubborn, burning thing Leo wasn’t sure he should push back against.
“Emperor Tachyon has a debt to collect, Lombax,” the female said. She raised her pistol at him. “He has ordered me to kill you myself.”
“Who’s Emperor Tachyon?” asked Leo, who was startled by such a declaration. How could someone I don’t even know want me dead?
The woman scoffed. “It’s not my place to give you a history lesson, kid. But Emperor Tachyon wants all the Lombaxes dead, so that’s what we’re here to do.”
Leo tried to stand up to face his female adversary and her robotic guards, but his captain once again kicked him to the dirt. “No use fightin’ it, lad. This is how it must end.”
“Captain?” Leo’s voice was high with fear. He felt chilled to the bone. “Why would you do this to me? I’ve been a loyal member of your crew since I can remember!”
Raccoon had a look on his face that Leo could not place. Orange sunlight glinted off his five-foot-long grey-red beard, and for a moment, the Lombax thought he looked tired. He must be feeling guilty. I’ve been with him since I was little, since my brother sold me to him a decade ago. The thought of that old betrayal left a sour taste in Leo’s mouth. First my brother, now my captain. Is there anyone in this cursed universe I can trust?!
“That’s all well and true,” Captain Raccoon said gravely, “but money is money. And Tachyon was payin’ a lot for any Lombaxes. Yer species is nearly extinct. Yer the only one in this galaxy, so far as I know. I couldn’t pass up such a good bit of loot. Ya understand, boy, eh? A pirate’s primary loyalty is always to his loot!”
Leo’s heart sunk. His mouth agape, his eyes twitching and close to releasing a floodgate of tears, he tried to reply to his captain, to plead for his life, but the female assassin interrupted him. “Look at me, Lombax,” she commanded. Leo turned to face her. She was a space weasel or a space badger o’ garbage. He wasn’t sure.
The space badger girl pulled down on her trigger suddenly, before Leo was ready, and he was hit in the shoulder as he went to dodge. Again Captain Raccoon tried to pin him down, but this time, Leo had no choice. He couldn’t let himself die. He had to live. If this is how they want to play, so be it. I’m sorry captain, but you made me do this. Leo swiftly pressed a button on his forearm gauntlet, causing a small blue energy sword to materialize in his hand. He swung wildly at the captain who was trying to pin him down with one gigantic leg.
The cut was clean, like a razor through silk. The boy Lombax felt blood splatter all over his body (thank Qwark he was wearing a full suit of air-tight armor) and then Captain Raccoon fell off of the young Lombax, screaming and cursing.
The female and her guards shot at Leo again. He rolled to the right, behind some barrels of space rum, and unholstered his Doom Blades. “Let’s see how much you like this, pinheads!” Leo screamed, jumping up and firing his weapon at his opponents.
“Who you callin’ pinhead?” the tall pin-headed robot droned.
“It’s okay, Robutt,” the shorter, more muscular one said in earnest. “You’re no pinhead to me.”
“Thank you sir, and so forth,” the taller one said in monotone before being hit by a few Doom Blades and falling over.
The swarm of blades in the high airs, like a raging band of space wasps, stung and bit and cut at Leo’s three adversaries. The two robots fell, letting out high-pitched squeals of pain or annoyance. The female space badger dodged the blades as best she could, though a few cut her torso and face, causing light pink blood to drip down her armor. She rushed at Leo, tackling him to the ground and causing him to lose ahold of his Doom Blades. The boy tried to push the Space Badger off of him, but she was bigger, older, stronger. She began to choke him out when he activated his energy sword again and swung it at her. The space badger jumped back and created a pink blade of her own. She let out a yell and then rushed at Leo again. The world’s dying light was now a deep purple, and the planet’s star was falling behind the furthest horizon with great haste. Night was nearly on them.
Their swords clashed in a flurry of energy on energy, sparks and light blurring and flying and spinning and cracking. Some Doom Blades still swarmed in the air; a few had split open some barrels of space rum, causing a fire to catch on the deck. King Raccoon’s screams began to lessen as the flames came dancing towards him, and Leo thought he saw the great giant of an alien go up in a cloak of fire, but he could not be certain, for the fires had brought up great black smoke everywhere, and it was difficult to see. Lucky I have this armor, otherwise I’d have already suffocated from the smoke.
The very air was exploding in fits of sparks and energy. It was so hot; so very hot. If I don’t kill this girl fast, I’m as good as dead. I’ll be cooked alive in this armor, Leo thought with dismay. Sweat was pouring down Leo’s back. He stumbled, cursing his oversized armor. The Lombax’s guard dropped, and the female space badger pressed him backwards. He parried as best he could, but the boy was tired and weak and injured, and his form was becoming sloppier with every passing moment. In contrast, his opponent held her form with the utmost discipline. He found no opening in attack, no place for him to strike back at her. He was forced to be completely defensive. It was then that Leo found that he had been backed up to the ship’s plank. He stepped onto it and continued backwards, noting that a misstep would send him falling to his doom. I have nowhere else to go, he realized, with sudden horror. His opponent’s strikes were pushing him back and there was nothing he could do. If he stayed his ground, he would be cut to pieces.
“Hey, can’t we work something out?!” Leo shouted over the raging fires and clattering energy. “You look like a pretty girl… I bet you like money, right? I can pay you a lot! I’m a space pirate; I have a ton of loot in my cabin. I swear, I’ll give you everything I have… please… just don’t kill me! Please!!”
She smirked. “What’s that? Begging for your life, Lombax? I didn’t know you had it in you to be such a groveler.”
That tickled Leo the wrong way. “Oh yeah?! Well I didn’t know you had it in you to be the ugliest space weasel this side of the Space-issippi!”
“So now I’m ugly, am I? Let’s just finish this, Lombax. You’re only prolonging the inevitable. I won’t back down.”
Their blades fell upon one another again. This time, Leo held his parry as his opponent pushed her blade towards him. Leo took a step back and felt his foot scrape against the edge of the plank. I’m going to fall off. I’m going to fall off! I have to push her back! This one’s for all the marbles!
Leo didn’t even know what a marble was, but a fierceness rose up inside him all the same, and he found in his aching muscles a strength he had not before known, a strength that briefly allowed him to beat the female assassin back. He began to go on the offensive, swinging high and sharp, and she was forced to parry as best she could. The startled look in her eyes made it all the better. I’ll cut off her head and mount it in my cabin. Then all my mates will get to see it on poker night. They’ll tell me how wonderful it is and how lucky I am to have such a trophy… it’ll be the best!
Then, the girl stopped moving. She thrust out her sword, which caught Leo’s. For a moment, the two stood there, silent and desperate, pushing back on one another with all their strengths. And then, the space badger reached for her pistol with her free hand. She unholstered it, aimed it at Leo’s stomach, and shot before he had a chance to react. No!
He didn’t feel the pain or the heat. He didn’t hear her laughing in triumph. At that moment, all Leo felt was himself falling, falling so far and so fast from a burning warship in the night’s sky to a ruined planet below. The fear cut so deep that he felt shrouded, covered, choked in it. There was no hope left in the boy Lombax. He knew he had lost; it was over. The stars shone black in the milky sky, and when Leo closed his eyes to brace for the sickening impact, he knew he would never see anything so hauntingly beautiful ever again.
Chapter 2: Leviathan SleepsEdit
“Son of a frakmonkey! What happened?” Leo’s voice was hoarse and tired. Am I alive or dead? Everything was so bright; he could see nothing save blinding whiteness. And when he tried to stand up, he felt jolts of pain that sent him reeling to his knees. The Lombax gasped. “Arghhh!! Man, I hurt all over!”
“Have a band-aid, brah,” a deep, dry voice replied unexpectedly.
There was a blur moving in front of Leo, and then the light faded to a mellow artificial blue. He saw a bronze-skinned hand shoot towards him and slap him across the face. The boy fell over once again, howling in pain like a feral space wolf. He blinked his eyes stubbornly to adjust them to the light, and within a few moments, Leo began to make out where he was.
It was a small, dirty room, filled with tables of scrap metal and half-constructed steel contraptions that looked more like robotic skeletons than functioning devices. Leo had been lying on a table before being knocked off by whoever that alien was. He felt his sore shoulder, grimacing at the throbbing pain that emanated from it. I still can’t believe she shot me. That was a dirty move. I’ll show her dirty. I’ll get that space weasel back no matter what. A few spherical drones buzzed around various piles of metal, shooting energy into the great masses and causing sparks to fly. They sound like space flies - really loud ones, Leo realized. They were the perfect cover for that alien to move around unfettered and unnoticed in the room. The hairs on Leo’s neck stood on end. He realized he wasn’t in his armor and shivered. He wore only a meager set of roughspun clothes, and he noticed, with quiet horror, that his arms and hands were covered in gashes and cuts, and blood had stained his once-golden fur. I can imagine what the rest of me looks like, he thought sadly. Dang Leo, what happened to your dashing good looks? These scars better not be permanent.
Well, it could be worse, Leo thought. I could be dead. Or maybe I’m about to die. Maybe that alien’s setting a trap. Gonna hunt me first. Lure me into a false sense of security… and then, bam! Right in the kisser. Leo did not want to get it right in the kisser, no sir. He was adamantly opposed to such peevish knavery. Leo limped back gingerly, trying to walk off the pain, and noticed that behind him, on the far side of the room, was a great pool of water. He looked up at the ceiling above the water and noticed a hole, about the size of a sack of space potatoes, in the thin metal from which shone daylight. I’ve been knocked out at least half a day.
“I like da glow of your blood in dis light,” the alien’s voice boomed happily from behind a pile of scrap metal.
Leo dropped into a defensive stance. He had never been a good martial artist on account of his meager stature and pitiful strength, but he had no other choice. Even if his muscles and bones burned and hurt like nothing he had ever felt before, he couldn’t run. There was nowhere to run to. I’ll have to kill whoever this is if I want to get out of here in one piece. “Who’s out there? Who are you?” Is this another assassin from Emperor Tachyon? At least it’s not that girl. But I guess that’s not a good thing… it just means there’s more of them! And besides, what do these dudes have against Lombaxes anyway?
“Who are you?” the deep voice grunted back.
“I’m… well, I’m nobody important. I got thrown off my ship and somehow I ended up here. I didn’t mean to be here,” Leo continued as apologetically as he could, eyeing the overburdened tables around him. They towered like miniature cities of such mess and ambition that they were impossible to see through. They’re the perfect cover for this guy hunting me. Leo half considered jumping in the pool behind him. Maybe he could hold his breath long enough to make the scary monster go away. But Leo knew that was a silly notion, almost as silly as his trust in his former space pirate captain had been. “Look, if you just let me go, I swear, I won’t-”
“Lombax fell from da sky. Long time since I seen a Lombax. Good fortune from da Mother in da Great Blue, dontcha tink?”
“How do you know I’m a Lombax?” Could he be a member of the crew? No, can’t be. No one I know has a voice like that.
The voice laughed and snorted. “Ey bruddah, you dunno where you are!”
Leo took another step back and instantly regretted it. He grit his teeth to bear through the pain. “I-I’m not meant… to be here. P-please, just let me go.”
“Are you ready ta fight, Lombax?” the voice inquired. Leo realized then that it had moved closer, was moving closer with every word.
Leo gulped. What’s the point of escaping from that psychotic space badger just to die like this? His voice was high and trembling with terror when he spoke next: “I said I don’t want any trouble!”
“We want what we can’t have, brah,” the other alien replied softly. “But life don’t work dat way, eh?”
From behind a table which housed what looked like a half-constructed refrigerator, a large being stepped. His skin was polished bronze, his eyes swirling black. His dark hair rose in a feathery-furry mohawk on his round head. He was faintly humanoid, with long, sharp eyes, and pointed ears, and a fat belly that jiggled with every step. Maybe I can outrun him, Leo thought, his eyes wide in fright. There’s no way I can actually fight a monster as big as this!
The taller alien stepped forward. He held a small device in his hand which a floating drone was shooting an energy beam at and causing sparks to fly in all directions. Sweat and oil coated the man’s head, and his arms and scalp were decorated in dark tattoos of shapes and designs Leo could not comprehend. When the alien saw Leo, he flung his piece of metal onto a side table, took a rag out from his belt, and wiped the grease and sweat from his brow. Then he smiled.
“Ey brah, what you doin’?”
“What do you mean?” Leo’s replied, guarded.
“Da bed,” the alien gestured back to the empty table. “It’s for your own good, brah. You took a big fall from da sky. You need rest ta heal dose wounds.”
The Lombax cocked his head. “Wait, so… you’re not trying to kill me?”
The alien laughed. “No, silly Lombax. I saved you when you fell into my pool and nearly drowned. I been keepin’ you alive for tree days since you fell.”
“Three days?!” Leo replied in shock. “How was I out that long?”
The alien grunted in amusement. “Lombaxes are fragile things. Dey fold like paper… but,” he continued, grabbing something from behind him, “sometimes, dey know how ta sting like a space bee, eh? Heheheh.”
The alien was holding Leo’s Doom Blades. He pursed his fat lips and then threw the weapon to Leo. The Lombax caught it gingerly. “T-thanks…” he breathed. The agony was still acute, and his entire body felt as if it were on fire. His fingers burned and ached when he caught the heavy weapon, sending another flare of pain across his body. Leo fell to one knee. The burden of pain, so tight and unforgiving, was pulling him down, pulling him to the dirt it wanted to lay him in. But Leo would not go willingly.“H-hey, it may not be very obvious, but… but I’m in a lot of pain.”
“I see, bruddah.”
“Y-yeah… you wouldn’t happen to have anything to help me with that, would you?” Don’t tell me you have another band-aid.
The alien patted his stomach, then plucked something from his belt and threw it at Leo. The boy Lombax caught a syringe filled with lime-green liquid. He stared at it curiously. Is it worth risking it? For all I know this is poison. He looked down at his Doom Blades at his feet. On the other hand, if that dude wanted to kill me, he would have already done so. Leo shrugged. “What is this, exactly? Pain-killers, drugs, space tequila?”
The alien laughed again. “Ya, brah.”
Leo didn’t waste another second. He stuck himself in the arm and then threw the empty syringe aside. This guy’s alright. If there’s really space tequila in here, he’ll be my new best friend for sure. “So what now? Can I leave?”
The alien shook his head. “No Lombax. You must help me.”
“Da hunt,” the alien gestured broadly. He unshouldered a shotgun from his back - a constructo model, Leo thought - and cocked it. “We hunt Basilisk Leviathan, brah. I seen your gun. You add many modifications to it. You are a true killa.”
That made Leo smile. We Lombaxes can’t help but mod our weapons. The space pirates told me it’s in my blood to do that. He only wished he could show the alien the modifications he had made to his Judicator… but that weapon was long lost, courtesy of one ugly space weasel. For his Doom Blades, he had installed explosive detonators to the blades, which caused them to explode in a fiery mess after lodging themselves into the skins of Leo’s opponents. He had also added a bayonet to the front of the gun, but he had never needed to use that… yet. Captain Raccoon had loved that. Leo frowned. But he’s not my captain anymore. He’s not my friend. He betrayed me. And if he still lives, I’ll make him pay. I’ll gut him with this bayonet. He’ll never see it coming.
The alien was watching Leo curiously. He slapped his belly again and cracked his neck. “Now come, come, join me. Quick! We hunt together, like one.”
Leo trotted up to the large man. He noticed that the pain was lessening. Whatever he gave me, it’s working. But there was something else happening to the young Lombax - he noticed that his vision was blurring slightly. Colors were exploding in vivid bursts more real and three-dimensional than before. But he felt good - better than he had ever remembered feeling. His veins coursed with pure ecstasy. Leo felt alive. He felt ready to hunt.
“Hi,” Leo said, laughing slightly as he reached the alien. He put out his hand. “I’m Leo.”
The alien shook it firmly. Leo saw how big his muscles were, his biceps like massive pistons. He could crush me if he wanted to. That only made Leo laugh more, and he didn’t know why. “Leo da Lombax,” the alien replied with a crooked smile. “Good, good. I am Kahunai, the last of da Samohai Nomads.” He lowered his weapon and began walking forward. Leo followed him, having to jog to keep up with the lumbering giant’s pace. “We go troo da caves,” Kahunai explained. “I tracked da beast for months. He lairs nearby. Keep your weapon ready. You will need it, bruddah.”
“So what’s a Leviathan look like? I’ve never heard of them before.”
“As ugly and beautiful as da stars in da sky, eh?”
Leo grinned. The pain-killers running through his veins made him feel like he was floating on clouds. This is how I ought to live, he thought. I should always be on painkillers. I’m not afraid of anything anymore - assassins, Leviathans, manicures - who cares about them? Not me, no sir. “I knew a girl like that once. She tried to kill me.”
“Ah yes, young love,” Kahunai muttered. “The Leviathan will try ta kill us too. But we ready, right brah? It’s like hunting space boar - better, even. You’ll see.”
“Sure,” Leo agreed. I’ve never hunted space boar either. But Kahunai didn’t need to know that. The young Lombax laughed just thinking about it. For a while the two went, going along as quiet as they could through the cramped rocky passages, Kahunai moving like a soundless predator, and Leo pouncing and purring and tripping carelessly behind him. I’m up in the clouds, and I can’t come down. As he was skipping along absentmindedly, the air as sweet and light in his lungs as cotton candy, Leo decided to open his mouth again just for the heck of it. “So Kahunai… aren’t you curious about why I fell through your roof? Seems kinda weird, right?” he nodded and winked and laughed and nearly threw up from a sudden sense of vertigo.
Kahunai didn’t look at Leo. Instead, he led on, his shotgun at the ready. “You already told me, eh? You fell off your ship.”
“Sort of,” said Leo, regaining himself. “I was pushed off by an assassin.” He found it hard to talk then, to act normal. His head was swimming, and it felt like he was thinking about a million things when, in truth, he had trouble thinking about anything at all. I wonder what Kahunai really gave me.
“Mmm…” Kahunai grunted. “Dat’s unfortunate.”
This guy gets it! “I know, right? She said Emperor Tachyon sent her to kill me just cuz I’m a Lombax!”
Kahunai stopped, pressing his ear to a rock. After a moment, he spit on his finger and raised the digit to the air. For three heartbeats, he stood still as stone, and then the large alien began walking forward again, as if nothing had happened. Leo followed him as best he could and giggled like a drunken pirate. “Ya, dese are dark days, brah. Hard ta find a Lombax in da galaxy anymore.”
“Is that because of the assassins?” Leo asked, trying to at least appear serious. This space tequila is affecting me more than I thought it would. I better be careful. Gotta sober up before the Leviathan appears, otherwise I’ll end up as lunch. But those words echoed hollowly in his skull and then receded into oblivion with the rest of his rationality. Leo began to spin his Doom Blades on one finger like one would do with a basketball. Suddenly he found himself very much entertained. His fingertips and the tips of his ears were buzzing numb.
The bigger alien shrugged, his massive fat rolls rolling about his body like ocean waves. “I tink so. Dis Emperor Tachyon sounds familiar. Maybe he was da one responsible for dis planet’s bad luck, eh?”
Leo’s ears rose. “What back luck? Huh, huh? Tell me!”
Kahunai licked his lips. “Well, da Lombaxes used to trade with my people, but a few years ago, all dat stopped. Someone had it out for da Lombaxes, and dey hunted dem till dey were no more. Da Lombaxes are dead, but I dunno why. One day… poof! And dey gone, just like dat. Chaos came den, brah. We no longer had da Lombaxes to bring us supplies, and dere were too many of us on dis planet. War, famine, poverty, drought, and sorrow followed and now my people are all gone. I am da last of the Samohai,” the alien said. “The last of my tribe.” His voice was solemn and weak, and Leo understood the alien’s pain. The euphoria running hot through his veins chilled; Leo knew he could never go back to how it had been.
“Welcome to the club,” Leo replied, sadly. The Lombaxes are all gone, or almost all gone. That’s what the space pirates told me when they took me. I guess they weren’t lying after all. I’m gonna end up just like Kahunai one way or another. “But do you know why the Lombaxes were killed? Why did they disappear?”
Kahunai nodded. “I dunno brah. Maybe dis Emperor Tachyon did it. But no more Lombaxes eedah way. I tought dey were all gone… but den dis Leo falls troo my roof, eh? And I see I was wrong. Hehehe.”
Tachyon must be trying to clean up the mess he made. Somehow I survived, and for some reason he wants me dead. But why? What did the Lombaxes ever do to him that would make him want to kill every last one of us? And if Kahunai is right, and they’re all gone, then that means… No, can’t think about that now. There’s still a Leviathan to hunt.
They went on through the tunnels for what seemed like hours. The hot, rocky, confined paths snaked and weaved in endless spirals. Leo began to feel dizzy, and even a bit queasy, but that was probably just the space tequila-drugs-painkillers. It felt as if he and Kahunai were crawling through the belly of a great serpent, ancient and measureless, hoping beyond hope that they could find the beast’s mouth and jump back out. And what awaits us on the other side? Maybe there’ll be another monster, with its jaws wide open, ready to devour us for daring to survive. That’s how life seems to be, Leo thought. If the space pirates taught me one thing, it was that.
At that moment, the ground began to rumble. Kahunai turned around sharply and grabbed Leo by the chest. He dove to the dirt, cradling Leo like a newborn baby in his arms, and landed not a second before the cave burst apart. Rock and dust spewed about as if an earthquake was starting. The very walls shook; jagged cracks appeared along them and then split violently. Kahunai rolled off the young Lombax and dodged a falling bit of rock as he tried to regain his feet. Deep cracks sprung forth from the walls and rode down the tan-colored rocks to the floor, where they opened wide gouges in the path. The fat alien saw this only too late - he tried to step back, to prevent himself from sinking into the rapidly-forming hole in front of him, when his foot fell through an equally large hole growing behind him. For a moment, Kahunai struggled to pull himself back out, and then he was gone, fallen into the darkness, and Leo was alone.
The Lombax scurried back. Half of the path ahead split and fell into blackness below, but that stopped a few feet before Leo. The rumbling swiftly ceased; the walls no longer shook, and rocks no longer fell. That was when Leo heard it. It was a low rumble, like the sound Leo’s belly made when he was very hungry. He gripped his Doom Blades and pointed them ahead. All right, let’s catch us a Basilisk Leviathan.
It was below him, or at least Leo thought so. He heard the low rumble of something big closing in on his location, but every time he took a deep breath and placed his finger on the trigger, the sound disappeared, and the Leviathan once again returned to the shadows. Much of the tunnel had been wrecked by the previous attack, and now there were hills of rocky ruins in every direction and dust enough to cloak even the biggest of beasts.
It was then that Leo saw a flash of something blue to his right. This time, Leo didn’t hold back. He pushed down on the trigger. That was his first mistake.
The Doom Blades went whirling into the darkness, only to explode in pink flashes a few seconds later. This displaced even more of the rocks, causing another mini earthquake. Leo lost any sense of his quarry. He thought the Leviathan - if that was indeed what was attacking him - had been in front of him, but when the ground shattered to pieces and a ghastly purple-skinned animal came flying up at him, Leo knew he had been had.
The Lombax used his cat-like reflexes to spin out of the way of the beast’s open maw and fire a few Doom Blades at it. One of the blades caught the beast in the eye, shredding it in a bloody blast. The Leviathan howled, shooting itself into a nearby rock wall. In its wake was left a deep crater which looked more like a tunnel than a blemish in the rocks. At once, Leo realized that the path he and Kahunai had been traversing had likely been made in the same manner. But that Leviathan must’ve been three times as big as this one. For that, at least, Leo was thankful.
He landed on his feet, as any good Lombax would, and began to run down the freshly-carved path. He didn’t know why he was doing it. The space tequila made him slightly bolder, but even that was fading now. Once he got a few paces inside the lightless expanse, Leo realized his foolishness, and fear came to him fresh and hard. He went to turn and run out, when the rumbling came again. It was not just the beast that rumbled, but the very rocks around him as well. He pointed his Doom Blades in every direction, searching in desperation for any sign of his prey, but he saw nothing. It was too dark, and the space was too cramped. Even if the Leviathan was nearby, Leo had no way of seeing it. He was trapped, cornered, confused. I’m the one who’s really being hunted. Come on, Leo! You let this stupid beast outwit you? Really? The Lombax slapped his forehead in anger and ran back towards the faint light of the other path, hoping to get out of there before the beast tried to eat him again. When the boy realized there was not, in fact, any ground in front of him, he let out a gasp of terror.
Leo felt himself falling, shattered stone and dirt his only companions. He could barely see through the dustclouds. The wind was on his face, blowing through his golden fur for several seconds - for too many seconds. He was falling too far. Then the Lombax saw before him another pool of water, this one much larger than Kahunai’s and black as pitch. And he distinctly realized that he was going to fall into it. Not again, Leo thought with dismay. He could already feel the ache in his bones that he knew would come once he hit those dark waters at terminal velocity.
Chapter 3: XanaduEdit
One step. The smell of freshly-cut grass floated lazily on the wind. It was a warm wind, a summer’s wind; the cobalt sky radiated heat, warming the fur on his face, as puffy clouds of milk fluff drifted by overhead. He remembered the taste of the air - humid and sweet. Another step. People brushed past them, moving this way and that; he could hear them buzzing on in monotonous lines. There must’ve been hundreds. It was a hot day, a busy day. They weren’t walking anymore. He felt his brother’s chest contract and push out against him. He clutched at the older boy’s fur, confused.
They were running now. Short, sharp breaths came hot on the back of his neck. Desperate breaths. The people around them gaped and stopped to watch. He tugged at his brother’s fur, glinting golden in the light of midday. Where are we going, he wanted to ask. Is this a game?
Games, at least, had winners.
Sweat and the smell of the ocean were on his tongue. His fingers clutched his brother’s ear so tight they flushed red. He tried to fight it. But he was so weak. They came to a stop, snapping still like a tree in a tsunami. And then, without pause, his brother handed him to another, speaking quickly, indiscernibly, his voice breaking. His brother’s hands were shaking. The boy reached out for his brother. His older brother stared back at him for a heartbeat and then turned around and ran off into the crowds.
Remembering the smells of the warm summer air, the sounds of the busy metropolis were easy. Remembering what his brother looked like, though…
He saw fur golden as the sun, glimmering like a new dawn, and shadow. Eyes black as oil. Two little eyes staring at him, one last time, as they departed for good. Were there tears? Was there happiness in them? It was impossible to tell. In blackness, anything can hide, even the darkest of hearts. He didn’t say goodbye.
The sudden realization caused his own chest to heave. Tears came not, but he cried all the same, sniffling and coughing and not understanding why. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Waking in a gasp, Leo found himself in an ocean of rippling black waves. Cold it was, and his veins felt like they had frozen up with ice. He tried to fight against the current, but all he could do was sink further in. It felt as if things, nameless, eyeless, hungry, were calling to him from beneath the waves. Under the surface, he could hear primal laughter, gurgling and churning, as old as the planet itself. Dead bubbles rose like clouds and suffocated him. Then, something grabbed him.
Its pale hand was more like a tentacle, and when it latched around Leo, he felt the life sucked out of him. It was worse than cold, it was a chill that touched his bones that filled him with despair. Ancient things pulled at him like a piece of meat, screaming in their rapacious starvation. Leo was starving too, but the air he craved was foreign to these beasts, as foreign as a Lombax on a pirate ship.
Deep in the sunless sea, in the furthest depths of that life-starved ocean, an antediluvian ember burned. The beasts in fervent waves pushed Leo forward, as if to present him for a feast. The blue-white embers stirred; an age-old horror had awoken. I’m too deep. I want to get out of here. I want to go home, the Lombax thought as panic rose in his throat. Jet streams billowed around him. Bubbles burst and were replaced at once. The tentacles sucked and pulled and gnawed and gloated. This was the first time in millennia the old fires of the world had been stirred.
Where the bottom of that sea came upon him, Leo saw icicles buried in mud as thick as tar. Seaweed grew in molted patches like sickly grey tendrils. Onyx eyes shone from beneath the mud, as numerous as the stars; watching Leo approach, silver bubbles rose in excitement from the sea floor, and the Lombax thought he could hear the underwater currents singing a melancholic chant. Blue-white flames, pale as moonlight, flickered and burned under that frozen sea.
The monster swirled in darkness, and extended its mouth; its teeth were the size of his entire body, protracted in infinite rows. It frothed at the mouth as the creatures beneath the sea danced and wept and watched from all around. There’s no escape, Leo thought. He wondered why he hadn’t drowned yet, why the air in his lungs hadn’t evaporated like his boyish hope. He remembered back to frolicking through the tunnels with Kahunai, the space tequila coursing warm through his body. That was a lifetime ago.
Now he was as alone as was physically possible, in the nightmare abyss. And it was so frigid, Leo thought, so cold he felt like his body was going to turn into one of those half-sunk icicles. He tasted something sweet, and then, as the monster turned and rushed at him and he screamed, Leo realized he needed to breathe. His lungs spasmed, but there was nothing - no air, no light, no hope. He began to convulse in panic. He needed to breathe. He needed air. Come on, Leo! I’ve come too far to drown. I need to live!
Live, the sea seemed to echo hollowly. The creatures beneath the black waves continued their solemn dance and watched as Leo began his long, but inevitable trek away from the world of the living. No, Leo screamed in his mind. I’m not ready!
It moved so fast, he couldn’t tell where it came from. Through the water, like a bullet, it sped, foaming the cold blackness into white bubbles. And then he was rising. Leo was flying. A fountain erupted from the still sea, white and alive, a shout of triumph to shatter the despicable silence. That barren sea chilled Leo to the bone, and it took all his strength to not fall in again.
His muscles were aching again where the space badger had hurt him. He drifted through the water on his back, too exhausted to move or catch a glimpse of what had brought him back from hell. And when Leo soon heard his feet brush against the black sand of that starless shore, he felt someone over him, laughing or crying or shouting or living. Live, damn it! The cavern into which the Lombax had fallen was deep as it was dark, and every sound echoed with impossible reverberation.
It felt as if someone had broken his ribs and sewn them closed. Someone lit a torch and stuck it in the sand. And then all at once, the pain came back to him, exploding up and down his body like streaks of starfire. Leo shook and shivered and rolled, sucking for air and crying softly. He heard someone laughing; a deep rumbling sound, like a space pig roasting over a fire.
“Ey, come on brah, get up!” Kahunai chuckled. He patted Leo on the shoulder and handed him his Doom Blades. “You gotta monster ta hunt. He still out dere!”
“Wh… what happened?!” the Lombax squeaked. He bit his lip to push through the pain.
“You drowned, eh? Kahunai bring you back,” he said. Counting on his fingers, the larger alien grinned, “Dats two times I saved ya!”
Leo spit out seawater and struggled to stand up. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I owe you my life.” He sensed the cold leaving his body now that he was out of the water, and with it went the pain, slowly, like a trickle of water down an icicle.
“Nah brah. You owe me one Leviathan.”
Well, that I can give you. Leo cracked his neck and raised his gun. It felt good to hold cold steel in his hands. His trigger finger was itching for a fight. In the distance, something screamed. Leo stepped to the water’s edge and saw bubbles rising to the surface. Then the surface broke as a stream of water came shooting down from a gap in a nearby wall. The Lombax spun around and saw mud-red liquid streaming into the hidden sea. Again, something screamed in the distance. This time, it was farther away. Leo almost thought it was coming from under the water.
“What is that? Is that one of the monsters?” Leo asked. He thought back to under the sea, to what he had seen.
Kahunai lit another torch. “No. Da monsters, dey dat way, not here!” He raised his shotgun into the air as if to dare any monsters to come for them.
Perhaps in response, another fountain of water discharged from the center of the still sea, and then Leo beheld his quarry.
The Basilisk Leviathan glowed blue in the smoky darkness, and as it flew, it roared almost as loud as Captain Raccoon did on when he stubbed his toe. Leo backed away from the water, lest anything try to pull him back in. Come and get me, he dared the Leviathan.
The creature flew towards him with unparalleled vigor. It had no wings, which allowed its elongated form to glide through the air like a finger through water. Leo waited until he could see the glow of fire radiating from its open mouth. Then he let loose his attack.
The blades cut through the air in beautiful spiraling arcs. When they bore down on their target, the Leviathan tried to dodge them. It flew upwards, spinning away from Leo’s attack. Those blades that maintained their trajectory were incinerated with a breath of fire.
“Whiskey cricket!” Leo swore. “Hey, you’re going to need to distract it, Kahunai.”
“We do dis togetha!” the fat alien smiled. The two pounded fists and then ran off to either side of the black beach.
Kahunai, bless his fat rolls, threw a grenade at the Leviathan to get its attention. Once the creature noticed the fresh meat, so tasty sweet, before it, it could hardly contain its desires. Swiftly then did the beast come at Kahunai, and the alien could do naught but shoot his shotgun at it as if he wielded a sniper rifle. Nay, his weapon was good for only close quarters, and the shells spread across the air and fell long before they could touch the purple flesh of the Basilisk Leviathan. But Leo the Lombax carried a more devastating attack, and his Doom Blades came howling in from behind, taking the Leviathan’s flank with sudden force.
They blades lodged in the Leviathan’s thick hide and exploded. Meat and blood flew across the air, and the beast screamed in pain. It fired another bout of pearl-orange flames at Kahunai, trying to slow roast the slow-roastable alien. Kahunai’s mohawk caught fire and he shouted in surprise before rushing into the ice-black water to quench his head. Then, the Leviathan turned towards Leo and readied a full-body electric attack. Its entire body shone with heat. But Leo’s body was flowing with adrenaline, and he rolled this way and that, evading the shots of deadly electric sent his way. A few trigger pulls loosed enough Doom Blades to swarm around the Leviathan. Many caught it in the face and exploded. The explosions illuminated the creature’s face, and Leo was pleased to see the eye he had previously taken out was puffed up and crusted with blood. You’ll lose the other one before this is over.
Leo braced for the creature as it charged him, readying both a flame and an electrical attack at once. As soon as it opened its mouth to spit its aggression, Leo rolled forward, letting the wave of heat and lightning roll over him. Then, for a brief second he stood before the great beast’s maw. Wide and purple and covered in blood it was, so Leo shot a mouthful of Doom Blades into it.
When the Basilisk Leviathan howled in pain, Leo thought he would have to go another round. Then, his Doom Blades exploded, and so too did the Leviathan. In a purple-red mess of gore and sludge, the creature burst in all directions and fell right on top of Leo, bathing him in foul Leviathan juice.
“Oh, the Lombaxity!” he shouted. Then he threw up all over the place.
“Ahahaha, well done brah!” Kahunai said, appearing behind him and slapping him on the back. The aliens’ mohawk was gone, giving him a queer bald look. He looked like a giant baby, and not a pretty one. A little too much chlorine in that gene pool, methinks.
“We did it,” Leo whooped, punching the sky (which had, unfortunately, done nothing to warrant such a rude attack). “Now what?”
“Now,” Kahunai said, his eyes shining like polished stones, “we take the carcass back home and cook it up for a big feast!”
Leo felt his stomach rumble. He was hungry; that was true. But he had more pressing matters to attend to than a feast. “That’s great and all, but you know I can’t stay here forever, right? This isn’t my home Kahunai. I need to leave soon.”
Kahunai rummaged in his belt and threw a chain of keys to the young Lombax. The chain was as large as Leo’s face and contained at least three thousands keys on it. When they jingled, the very world seemed to titter with iron sound. “Here, take my ship when you want ta leave, bruddah. Just make sure you return it, eh?”
Leo didn’t want to mention the logistics of such a feat, so instead, he danced like a sentient space monkey, clapping his hands over his head, and shot a few Doom Blades to the sky for good measure. As luck would have it, that was most unlucky a decision.
One Doom Blade lodged itself into a nearby rock wall and exploded. At once, dim yellow light began to leak out from within.
“Hey what’s that?” Leo asked. Curiosity got the better of him, causing the Lombax to drop to all fours and bound on over to the hole in the wall.
“Don’t go lookin’ for trouble if ya don’t want ta find it, brah,” Kahunai warned.
Leo ignored the bigger man and made his way to the hole. Inside, he heard the sound of metal on rock, of people mining. The Lombax stepped inside, his gun at the ready. When he realized what he had stumbled upon, the boy’s fur stood on end. They always said curiosity killed the Lombax, he thought with trepidation. Guess that’s why we’re nearly extinct.
She was pretty, for a first mate. Some called her Ruby; others called her Rose. She was pink-skinned and thin as a flower. Her hair was black and blue and tattoos covered her arms. In one hand, she held a bag of unrefined raritanium. In the other, an electric pickaxe swung back and forth.
“What are you doing here, Leo?” she said. There was shock in her voice.
I thought they would have left by now. Guess there was more raritanium than we thought. Leo raised his Doom Blades. “Where’s Captain Raccoon?” He didn’t know what he was doing. He hadn’t expected his former crewmates to be here. He hadn’t expected to fight Captain Raccoon again so soon. But he wanted revenge. The boy wanted to hurt that stupid space alien as much as he had hurt Leo.
“You should leave,” she said, softly, dropping her bag of raritanium. “If Cap’n Raccoon finds out you’re alive, that you’re here…”
That stupid brute. “So he thinks I’m dead, does he?” Leo responded.
“Yeah, well,” Ruby paused, the thick space australian accent of hers hanging wistfully in the air, “we all did, even the mercs the cap’n hired. But those three already left the planet. I dunno where they went.”
“Why do they want me dead?”
Ruby laughed and set her pickaxe down. “Come on, Leo, drop the gun. It’s me you’re talkin’ to. I don’t want this to be a bloody interrogation.”
The Lombax obliged. Ruby had been one of the space pirates who had taken care of Leo best after his brother had sold him to them. After my brother betrayed me. Gave me up. The Lombax bit his lip. He couldn’t deny that Ruby had been good to him. There had been numerous space pirates who had raised him like they were his parents - the second mate and One-eyed Walder as well as Crusty Jenkins came to mind. They had raised him like he had been family. They had been all he’d known. And then Captain Raccoon had betrayed Leo and tried to kill him. But the crew… the crew still loves me. They’re still family.
“Okay, can you answer my question now?” he asked her.
She nodded. “I didn’t expect the cap’n to call a bounty on you. But all this started years ago, when we first got you.”
“When my brother sold me to you as a slave. He wanted the money for himself!” Leo’s face was dark and his eyes narrow. It pained him to remember.
“Aye, that’s what we told you,” Ruby said slowly. “But it’s not really how it went down.”
Leo froze. “What do you mean?”
“You’re brother didn’t sell you to us. In fact, he would have paid us to take you.”
“But… all these years… you said…!” Leo’s face was flushing and he didn’t know why.
“We lied, Leo,” Ruby shrugged. “Thought it’d be easier on you if you didn’t know. Tachyon had no way of knowing you were alive anyway. There was no point telling you.”
“What are you talking about?” Leo raised his voice.
She sighed. “Yeah, that’s right. You don’t know any of it. Bloody hell! Well kid, here’s how it is: Tachyon is a Cragmite, the last of his kind before he rebuilt his people’s empire. They were the sworn enemies of the Lombaxes. And one day, ‘bout a decade ago, they won. They defeated the Lombaxes and made ‘em disappear. Some say they went to another dimension; some say Tachyon killed them. This is just for the Lombaxes on your kind’s homeworld, mind you. For the Lombaxes who lived off-world, Tachyon wiped them all out.”
“And where does my brother come into this?”
“You’re family lived off-world. On a planet called Dexitar. After he dealt with the Lombaxes on your homeworld, Tachyon turned his sights towards the other Lombaxes… he came for your family and ambushed them one day while we were in port. Your brother appeared and gave you to us, pleadin’ with us to raise you right.” She laughed throatily. “Guess he didn’t know we were space pirates. But that was the last we saw of that kid. Afterwards, when Tachyon began to burn that world’s surface, we left. With you onboard, mind you.”
There were tears coming to Leo’s eyes. Did my brother try to save me? Why didn’t he save himself? “And… and why did you keep me?” he asked after a long while.
Ruby shook her head and closed her eyes, remembering. “We weren’t going to, to be honest. Cap’n Raccoon wanted to throw you overboard. But just as he was complaining, you grabbed One-eyed Walder’s fake eye and threw it in my soup. I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen the crew laugh like that, even after they’ve emptied two barrels of grog. Cap’n thought it was a good sign of your potential and he decided you could stay… as long as we raised you and didn’t let you annoy him. Bear in mind, you were only three or four years old… we weren’t sure, exactly. Hard to tell how old a Lombax is, second mate always said.”
Just at that moment, Kahunai came puffing around the corner and into the raritanium mine. His shotgun at the ready, he peered at the rosy-skinned alien in front of him. Ruby was massaging her wrist and staring sadly at Leo. “I told you to go, Leo,” she said. “What good are these stories if you won’t live long enough to appreciate them?”
“We’ll leave,” said Leo. “Just don’t tell Captain Raccoon I’m alive. I don’t want more mercenaries on my back.”
Ruby shook her head. “You remember the first rule of the space pirate code?” she asked Leo.
“Uh, loyalty to the captain,” replied the boy Lombax. “Something like that.”
She nodded gravely. “We all have our duties. I’m first mate, Leo. I can’t forsake my vows.”
And then, Leo realized what was going on. Ruby wasn’t massaging her wrist. She had pressed a button on her gauntlet to let Captain Raccoon know what was going on. He went to run out of there when suddenly, the great behemoth of a space pirate appeared. Both of his legs were peglegs now, thanks to Leo. When he saw the Lombax, he spit out a mouthful of grog and raised a hook in anger.
“Yargh… the Lombax lives! It appears yer quite hard to kill after all.” He pat his belly. “Well, we have unfinished business, lad. Prepare ta die! This is for righty!”
Leo took a step back, but Kahunai took a step forward. “No one touches da Lombax,” he said in a serious tone. “He helped me kill a great Leviathan. He is a good boy.”
“Yeah, but he’s a Lombax, ya bloody fool!” Captain Raccoon thundered. “Emperor Tachyon has a strict no Lombax policy.”
“Ruby…” Leo said, his voice cracking. “Come on, you see the captain’s gone mad. Help me! Let’s end this!”
She shook her head and unshouldered a weapon from her back. “Orders are orders, Leo. I’m sorry.”
She raised me. For years, I was like a son to her. How could she forget that? The tears were now thick in Leo’s eyes. He raised his own Doom Blades. “I don’t want to hurt you, Ruby…”
“I don’t want you to, either. You’ll die faster if you don’t.”
Everything goes away in the end. Everyone gives up on you one way or another. Everyone except Kahunai. The fat alien stood defiantly. “You won’t hurt him, I swear it. I’ll kill you first!”
“Enough talk! Let’s end this, ya witless fool!” Captain Raccoon bellowed.
He jumped forward and swung a hook at Kahunai. Leo realized, only too late, that the weapon Ruby was holding was a familiar one - it was his old modified Judicator. She must’ve found it after Captain Raccoon kicked over the edge of the ship. Curse her! Curse him! Curse all of them!
Ruby fired the Judicator at Kahunai, and the yellow-fire explosions briefly clouded everything from sight. Leo was wary to use his Doom Blades in such close quarters lest they hit his large companion, but after Ruby fired a second volley, he knew he could not wait. His friend was covered in smoke and fire, and Leo didn’t know how hurt he was.
The Doom Blades knocked the Judicator from Ruby’s grasp. The first mate screamed in pain as a few lodged in her arms and exploded, sending meaty chunks in the air. Leo rushed at Captain Raccoon, who was trying to hook Kahunai like a space fish. The fat alien held his ground by firing shotgun blasts at the captain, forcing the space pirate to back off. He didn’t even see Leo come racing towards him, energy sword above his head. The Lombax swung his energy sword down and felt it slice through the captain’s one good hand. Captain Raccoon fell backwards, screaming and bleeding and writhing in a pool of grog.
“Are you okay?” Leo asked Kahunai.
“Yeah, dis old body of mine can take quite a punishment,” the larger alien replied jovially. He reloaded his shotgun and turned to face Ruby. “Now what about dis one…”
Kahunai’s voice cut off then, for, as Leo beheld with unbridled terror, Ruby had once again picked up the Judicator and limped towards the two. Just as Kahunai had turned to meet her, she had fired the gun at him, near point-blank range. All three of the missiles hit Kahunai in the face. With a cough, the man stepped back, looked at Leo, smiled toothlessly, and fell over dead.
“No!” the Lombax boy screamed in choked sobs. He rushed forward to the man, but Ruby fired another blast at him. This one rocked the caves and nearly collapsed them on the two.
“I’m sorry,” said Ruby quietly. Blood poured from her wounds and she struggled to hold the heavy weapon with so much of her muscle mass gone. “But this is the way it must be.”
No it’s not, Leo thought. Life’s not supposed to be a nightmare. He stood back up to aim his Doom Blades at her again, when a host of space pirates came running around a bend in the tunnel. They had heard their captain’s screams of agony and were ready to make his foe pay. When they saw Leo, they let out a collective gasp. Then, the boldest among them rushed forward and began firing his peashooter at the Lombax.
They were my friends… my family. But I guess nothing can stay good. They chose money over me. Every one of them did. And the only person who thought of me as an actual person is dead now. Leo could have stayed there. He could have stuck his feet in the dirt and held down his trigger until he ran out of Doom Blades. But that would have, undeniably, ended with his death. And he didn’t want to die. No sir. Leo wanted to live. He was a Lombax after all. He wanted to continue being a Lombax.
So, with tears streaming down his golden-furred face and his heart aching, Leo turned and ran.
Chapter 4: Vandalism is HumanismEdit
He found Dexitar a bruised world, covered in old scars and wounds that refused to heal. Its surface was abundant in oceans, with but a few tropical islands interspersed around the planet’s equator. Supposedly, many of them had been populated in the years back when Leo’s family had lived here, though the Cragmite Tachyon had brought an end to that. Now, only some of the larger islands were inhabited. The planet was dying a slow death, burning out like a distant star. It made Leo sad to think about it.
Landing on the largest island, Leo found himself in a shanty town of of grey wood and leaning buildings. Plank roads snaked this way and that in tangled paths, many of them trailing down the beach and over the water, where more buildings loomed. Leo spied a tall house of black marble looming out at sea. Only a single plank road made it that far out. Home, Leo thought, is that my home? My father was supposed to be a famous Lombax. I would think he owned a huge house. I’ll need to check it out. The black marble house stood out compared to the rest of the houses, like a Lombax would amongst a group of aliens. It seemed to call to him, that place, and even though he had no memory of it, he was growing surer and surer by second that that was where he had once lived. Funny how in his dreams and fantasies, it had always seemed a brighter place. But this place has been through a lot… just like me.
The sky was a delicate pink, blurry from the hazy fog that coated much of the air. It wasn’t a thick fog, but it was persistent. And where the crystal blue waters met the sky, they melted together into the white point of the planet’s star. It was hot, humid, quiet. Only a few aliens walked the wooden streets - and they were queer aliens indeed. Humans, they were, if Leo could guess. He had seen such creatures on the planets he had marauded with the space pirates. While they looked weird, he remembered the ones he had crossed had not been warriors at all, but merchants. They had a lot of money on them; a lot for us to steal. But it doesn’t look like a run-down place like this will have those kind of humans.
Cautiously, Leo walked into town. He tried to remember the place, the sights, the smells, but it was all foreign to him. Many buildings were in ruins, their wood frames covered in mold and rot, and trash and decaying food lay near everywhere on the roads and sidewalks. The miserable place almost looked uninhabited, given the state of things, but Leo saw cold eyes watching him from windowless homes and could hear hushed voices murmuring from all directions. The place I dream about was happier, more alive. This place is a graveyard… an alien graveyard. The Lombaxes are all gone. Children ran across the garbage-filled street ahead of him, chasing a ball and crawling under rusting hoverbikes. When Leo passed them by, they stopped what they were doing and stared. The one carrying the ball let it fall from his little brown hand and roll down the road until it ran into a pile of moldy bread. Guess it’s been a while since they’ve seen a Lombax. This young ones probably haven’t ever seen one of us before.
The plank bridge out to his family’s compound was derelict, and no one traveled it with Leo. Barnacles grew on the posts and bird droppings rose in mountains the entire way down. He tread over old newspapers stuck to the wood like faded stickers. No one comes down here anymore. They want to forget it was ever here. And why should they care about the Lombaxes? If Ruby was to be believed, Tachyon had destroyed much of the planet just because his family had lived here. The humans had been collateral damage; their world had been irreparably devastated because they let Lombaxes live with them. He was kind of surprised they hadn’t attacked him on the spot. But the ones who saw me don’t know what I am, he thought.
The front entrance was covered in graffiti and weeds. Across the central door was written ‘The Lombaxes Sleep Tonight’. Other, cruder remarks, such as ‘Scum’, ‘Evil Luck’, ‘Skin ‘em’, and ‘Kill them all!’ decorated the black wall in greens and pinks and blues. Guess that settles that. This place is definitely my home. The boy Lombax stepped up to the door and tried to open it, but found that it wouldn’t budge. Pressing hard with his shoulder, Leo found the door no more willing to open. Locked. Well what do I do now? He hadn’t accounted for this. He hadn’t accounted for much of anything that had happened to him.
Returning back to the shanty town, Leo saw three humans fishing on a nearby beach, sitting on a pier, their legs dangling over the edge and resting comfortably just below the water’s edge. Beyond them on the sands of the beach, a girl was throwing what looked like small explosives into the water. When they detonated, she ran and dove into the waves, perhaps to catch her semi-obliterated dinner.
Moving further into the town, Leo saw scores of humans crouching in alleyways around fires, their hands and faces covered in dirt and their clothes little more than rags. Gaunt they were, and dejectedly they wore their faces. The smell they exuded was ancient and ripe. Shadows danced across the alleyways like shifting grass, cloaking the aliens in a somber gloom. Leo couldn’t make out just how many there; the masses of them seemed to go on forever until they bled into the shadows and became one with the darkness. They eyed him as he went. It was a rank place, this shanty town. He wondered how long it had been like this. How long did it take for their society to fall apart after Emperor Tachyon? How long did it take them to get like this? He guessed not long at all. That there were still this many people, all these years after that dreadful day, was most curious.
“The devil’s returned!” someone screamed as Leo passed them. “Wicked beast!”
“Look what you’ve done to us, cat!” another shouted. “How can you sleep at night knowing you’ve put us here?”
I haven’t been. Not since I last saw Ruby. Not since Kahunai… Leo stumbled on a can and collected himself. He had to stay sharp, in case one of the humans tried to attack him.
“We should skin ya alive!” a man with black teeth said. He jumped up and wobbled towards Leo, a bottle of dark liquid in one hand and a garbage can lid in the other. “Come here ya little rat! I’ll make ya pay for all the misfortune you’ve brought us!”
Leo ducked out of the way of the man’s errant swing and then bounded off down the wood plank street on all fours. Dodging refuse and ruins, the Lombax kept running. He ran till he could no longer hear their jeers and smell their foul stench. He ran till he could no longer hear murmuring or feel hateful eyes watching him. He ran till he came upon a bar called ‘The Salty Maroon’. Flickering neon greeted Leo, and it appeared he had found the first true sign of a society - it appeared not all of the humans were dirt poor and wasting away in the alleys. Maybe there was some semblance of a society after all. They survived Tachyon, just like me.
Most of the people inside didn’t pay him heed, though the bartender raised an eyebrow upon seeing a Lombax enter his establishment.
“Long time since I’ve seen your kind here, cat,” the man said gruffly. “I thought Tachyon wiped you out.”
Leo sat down on a chair as far away from the other human patrons as possible. “Yeah, well, it looks like he missed one.” When the bartender gave Leo a strange look, the boy said, “Hey, you aren’t gonna throw me out, are you?”
“That depends. You have bolts to spend?”
“Then stay. Business is bad enough as is. All I want is paying customers - don’t matter if they’re normal kind or cats.”
Leo’s belly was rumbling; it had been quite a long time since he had last eaten. He ordered some fish and space whiskey and sat alone, pondering what to do. His home was on lockdown, but he didn’t know who had made it so. If it had been his father, then perhaps there was a way to get inside. If it had been Tachyon… well, Leo would need a lot of explosives in that case. If only I had my Judicator.
“The black house on the ocean… that was where the Lombaxes used to live, right?” Leo asked the bartender.
“Governor Mbube and his family used to live there, yeah.” That gave Leo a jolt up his spine. I never knew my father’s name. And this human doesn’t realize I’m his son. Best keep it that way. I don’t know whose side he’s on. “There weren’t many Lombaxes, but they ruled over us like they were kings.” He shrugged. “But make no mistake, I won’t complain about them. Business was better back then, no matter how you look at it. The Lombaxes brought interstellar trade to Dexitar. And then that Cragmite, Emperor Tachyon, came and killed them all. And he didn’t just take out the Lombaxes. He destroyed our civilization. We used to be a thriving planet, a planet on the upswing, kid. And now I don’t know how much longer Dexitar will last. I’d already be gone if I had a ship outta here. But not many traders come by anymore. It’s like we’re cut off, being left to die slowly on our own. The rest of the universe wants to forget us, forget what happened here. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. It’s a terrible way to go.”
“Do you know why Tachyon attacked the Lombaxes in the first place?”
The bartender scoffed. “Cragmites and Lombaxes have been feuding as long as I can remember. A long time ago, it seemed the Lombaxes won, but now I’m not so sure. Rumor has it that Tachyon wiped out all of your kind. That’s why I was surprised seeing you here. I thought the Lombaxes were extinct.”
Not yet we’re not. Not as long as I breathe. “And no one’s been able to get inside the house?” Leo enquired. “I saw graffiti all over the walls…”
“Not as far as I know. Many thieves and hopeful lads have tried, though. There’s talk of Lombax riches inside that place, but as far as I know, no one has been able to get inside to find them. The place was sealed up after Tachyon arrived, and no one’s stepped foot inside since.”
“How would I get in? The place seems like it’s locked up tight.”
The bartender shrugged. “You need a miracle, or a lot of explosives. Probably both. I don’t see anyone getting in that place without taking its walls down.”
An hour or two passed as Leo finished his meal and ordered more drinks. He felt himself getting woozy, but still he ordered more space whiskeys. I need this, he told himself. After Captain Racoon, the space weasel, Ruby, and what happened to Kahunai, I just need a break. The drunker he got, the bolder the Lombax became, and eventually, he decided to play some space poker with a shady group of humans in cowboy hats. After confidently boasting that he would get all of their chips, Leo the Lombax busted out on his very first hand when his pocket jacks (the Lon McEarchern memorial hand, to be sure) ran up against the pocket queens (Calamity Jane, to be even surer) of a particularly unsavory cowboy, busting him out and losing the boy good amount of bolts. This made Leo curse all of humankind and leave the bar in a drunken haste.
It was evening when Leo returned outside. A warm breeze was blowing through the meager town. Salt was thick in the air, as was smoke and sweat. Leo returned to his ship and donned his hyperflux armor. He hadn’t wanted to wear it during his recon operation, lest he scare the humans, but now, he had no other choice. He was going to have to break into his own house, one way or another. The Lombax did not have many explosives - just a few grenades and his Doom Blades - but if they didn’t work, he would use Kahunai’s ship to get inside that marble monolith. Leo slipped into the too-big set of armor in a semi-drunken struggle, donning everything save for the helmet. That helmet fit worse than the rest of the suit, and he didn’t want to wear it if he didn’t have to.
He patted the ship as he closed it up and remembered how he’d found it. It was in Kahunai’s garage, way in the back, under a tarp. It looked like he had never flown it before. Probably never left his planet, Leo thought. But it’s a fighter ship. It should hold its own against pretty much any one-manned fighter. It had rockets and a turret, but it was still a last resort. I don’t want to destroy my home, after all. I don’t want to destroy the last evidence of my family.
The sun was setting as a distant white dot on the purple-pink horizon as Leo walked down the plank bridge to where he had once lived. He could hear fish splashing in the waters around him, bursting from below the surface to fly for just a moment before falling once again into the obscuring waters. Otherwise it was quiet. Winged luminous spiders danced across the air, twinkling like midnight stars. Leo found the front wall of his house to be much as it had been the last time he had been here. Graffiti still lined the walls. Yet, there was new graffiti as well - this kind not so harmful. Pictures of fish and flowers and stick figures lined one section of the wall. And as Leo approached them, he realized they were fresh.
The next moment, Leo heard the sound of spray painting, and he ran around the corner of the wall to find a girl in the act of vandalism. She wore a purple-and-white hoodie, fingerless gloves, and knee-length black shorts. Her face was as grimey as those Leo had seen in the alleyways of the town, and slung over her shoulder was a bag of fish.
“Hey, what are you doing?!” the Lombax shouted.
The girl jumped back and raised her fists defensively. When she saw Leo before her, her eyes widened and her face became uncertain. “Whoa, you’re a kitty!”
Leo raised an eyebrow. “If that’s what you humans call it, sure. I mean, I’m really a Lombax, but okay.”
The girl pocketed her spray paint can and unshouldered her sack of fish. “My gramma said kitties used to live here. But she said they were long gone.” She strode up to Leo and pinched him on the cheek. When he jumped back and swore, she laughed. “I guess you’re real after all! Want some fish?” She showed him her bag. The fish inside were all torn to pieces, in bloody, fleshy bits.
Leo wrinkled his nose. He was glad he had just eaten at the bar, otherwise his excuse might not have seemed so sincere. “N-no thanks…”
“Suit yourself,” she said, sitting down on the edge of the wooden bridge and starting to eat the fish raw. “I’m Kaimara, by the way. Nice to meet you, kitty.” She held a hand covered in fish bits.
Leo shook it after some hesitation, being sure to wipe his hand off on his armor when she looked away. “I’m Leo.”
“Do you live here?” she asked through mouthfuls of fish. “I’ve never seen kitties here before. I thought it was just a story gramma told me…”
“My family lived here once, but I don’t remember it. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been here.”
“I come here everyday,” Kaimara replied. “This place is eerie, don’t you think? But I like it. It’s a lot different from the rest of the town. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Just like me. “Is that why you are graffiting up the walls?”
“Oh that? I just do that for fun sometimes.”
“Some of the things on those walls…” Leo began, gesturing to the black marble behind them.
“I didn’t do those,” Kaimara insisted. “I only draw pictures. Those mean things have been there ever since I started coming here.”
“So you just come here to draw?” Leo asked. He didn’t understand.
“Yes,” Kaimara said earnestly. “and I like having some peace and quiet. It’s hard to be in town all day with the others… they’re all so sad. I can’t be around it. It’s a real downer.”
“I know what you mean.”
“Sometimes I stay out here all night, staring at the stars wondering if I’ll ever get to visit any of them one day. I imagine all of the places I could go to. All of them would be more cheerful than here, of course.” Her voice was full of longing.
All of them want to get out of this hell my family caused. No, Leo reminded himself. Emperor Tachyon is responsible for how things turned out. But it wasn’t like that mattered now.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you. It must be hard living here.”
“There’s barely any food or water,” she said. “And barely any jobs. The adults just sit around all day complaining. I can’t stand it.”
If I could help them, I would. But I’m just one Lombax; I’m not even an adult. What could I do? “The others in town blame my family for all of this.”
“That’s what gramma says. She told me the kitties fought a war against an ugly little alien and lost. And because they lost, the alien decided to hurt us too. But I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like the kitties did anything wrong… And besides, no one here is trying to make things better. All of them just sit around all day in the garbage and whine. It’s sad.”
The stars were coming out. They sat there on the edge of the bridge, their backs up against the black marble, feeling the evening ocean wind on their faces. Kaimara threw a small rock-like explosive in the water and dived in after the fish she blasted to pieces when she ran out of food. Returning to the surface, she gathered the fish parts into her bag and continued to eat. That made Leo laugh. She looked so weird, her black hair all wet and the salt water running down her dark skin, as she munched on fish heads. Flying spiders danced by them, sparkling like stars themselves.
“So why are you here?” she asked him after a while.
Talking with Kaimara had made Leo forget about his true goal. His face reddened in embarrassment. “Well… I’m trying to get inside my home. But it looks like there’s no way in as far as I can tell. The people in town said no one’s been able to get inside.”
“I tried one time,” the girl stated plainly. “But the whole place’s covered up, so even if you climb over the walls, you can’t get in.”
“I figured,” Leo responded. “I guess I’ll have to bring out the big guns.” He unshouldered his Doom Blades and set the gun down on the wood planks. Standing up, he took out his grenades. “Hopefully these explosives will be enough, otherwise I’ll have to use my ship…”
“Whoa, cool!” Kaimara said. She jumped up, dropping the half-eaten fish tail she was clutching, and peered at Leo’s weapon. “What is it? Can I touch it?” she asked.
Before Leo could tell her she could not, the girl picked up the gun with all her strength and aimed it at the black marble. Sticking her tongue out of the side of her mouth, she let out a low whooping sound and pressed the trigger.
“Wait, stop!” Leo shouted, running forward. “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
He grabbed the gun from her grasp, but it was too late. Seventeen blades had already been fired, and they sailed right into the dark wall ahead, just above ‘The Lombaxes Sleep Tonight.’ Leo seized Kaimara and then dove back just before the blades detonated. At least she didn’t shoot her eye out… Sparks and shrapnel and smoke flew out from the wall towards them. Leo’s eyes watered and he began to cough.
When the smoke cleared, Leo the Lombax saw that the wall was almost completely undamaged. Only a few light scratches could be seen on its surface. He sighed and turned away. No way I’m getting in with the Doom Blades. And these grenades barely have any more firepower. I’ll have to use the ship after all. It was an unwelcome thought, but a necessary one. He began to walk back to the beach when Leo heard Kaimara speak.
“Hey, what’s that?” she said, jumping up and running forward. She pressed her face against the marble and stared at it intently. “Leo, come look! There’s something going on!”
Leo turned around. He saw a crack forming in the wall, above where the locked door was. A hole then opened up, and Leo saw a flash of light come out. Following it was what looked like a camera on a stick. It zoomed out all the way to Leo, stopping just a few inches from his furry face. The device looked him over and then began to buzz.
“Identity: Leo, second son of Mbube, confirmed,” the device said in monotone. “Lockdown terminated. Welcome home.”
The device shot back into its hole, which immediately closed up. Before Leo could speak, the door swung open and bade them enter.
“Awesome!” Kaimara giggled. “How did you do that, Leo?”
“I guess it recognized me. This really was my home once.” Once but never again.
The two stepped inside, finding the place to be rather poorly lit. Leo pressed a few light switches, but none of them turned on. Power must be out. I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been about a decade since anyone’s been in here. He pressed a button on his hyperflux armor and a flashlight came on, bathing the old home in artificial light.
Kaimara followed Leo closely as they walked further into the house. The place was a mess - an ancient mess. Dust, several inches thick, coated almost everything. But much of the house was in ruins anyway. Bookshelves had fallen over, tables had been split, chairs were wrecked. Doors were blown off their hinges. Blast marks lined the walls and floors. Leo even thought he saw some old dried blood splattered on the faded grey carpets.
They came to a room that might have been the kitchen long ago. Dust and mold clung to everything. But as Leo was walking through it all, he saw something out of the corner of his eye that made his heart skip a beat.
“This place is creepy,” Kaimara from behind Leo. “What happened here anyway?”
Leo wasn’t listening. He ran over to the counter and picked up the picture frame. The glass covering the front of it was cracked in more than one place, and it was covered in so much dust that he couldn’t make anything out. So Leo wiped it off with a gloved paw and beheld his family.
There was a man and a woman, their arms wrapped around one another, and three children sitting below them, all with smiles on their faces. The eldest was a boy who reminded Leo of himself. He was a bit thicker in the chest, perhaps, with blue eyes instead of Leo’s green eyes. There were, next to him, two small Lombaxes, probably no more than two or three years old. One was a boy, the other a girl (for she had no tail). Leo felt his face flush. That’s me. He stared at the baby next to him, though, and frowned. But who’s that? I don’t have a sister… at least no one told me I had a sister. And judging by their ages, they were twins. A twin sister all these years I never knew about. Leo’s mouth went dry.
“Hey, Leo, what’s that?” Kaimara asked.
He showed her the picture without speaking. Leo didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry or feel relief now that he finally knew what his family looked like. But I’ll never know what they were like. I’ll never know them. Leo didn’t know if an afterlife existed, but either way, he hoped his family was in a better place now. They’re together, waiting for me. He felt like crying then, but forced himself not to. Not with Kaimara here.
“Which one is you?” Kaimara asked with awe in her voice. He pointed at the one in the middle, and she gasped. “You’re so little! Are these other ones your family?” He nodded. “And… and did they…” she could not complete her question without being rude, so instead Kaimara trailed off politely. Leo knew what she meant all the same.
“I think so. We’ll find out tomorrow.” Suddenly, he felt very tired. The weight had not been lifted from his shoulders, Leo thought, even though he had expected it to be. No, coming here had just raised more questions. More longing. More pangs of nostalgia. He wanted to see his family. He wanted them to be alive. He would give anything for that. But that’s not how the universe works. What’s dead is dead. “I’m tired,” he told Kaimara. “We should get some sleep. You can stay here tonight if you want. I’m sure there are some old beds in here somewhere.”
“Thanks!” she said sweetly.
They found the bedrooms on the other side of the house, where it had been less touched by the Cragmite’s wrath. Here, entire rooms still stood. They were covered in dust, yes, but they looked like they were part of a normal home, not part of some half-wrecked palace.
The first room had a sign above it which said ‘Mbube & Erslen’. My parents’ room, he thought. The next said ‘Cecil’. My older brother. I finally know his name. Leo didn’t know what to think about that. Was his brother a hero or a traitor? Had he saved Leo or sold him into slavery? The boy had conflicting reports on the matter and knew not which to believe. He didn’t know why, if Cecil had been able to save him, the boy had not saved himself. Something is wrong with the story. I need to find the missing pieces.
Finally they came upon the last room, which had the sign ‘Leo & Léaina’ above its door. Leo stepped inside. It smelled of mothballs and old wood. There were two beds opposite one another, one colored pink and the other blue. Leo gravitated towards his side of the room. He saw a desk and a small bookshelf. Toys covered the floor - space fighters and Lombax action figures and blocks. It was chaotic, but happily so. Leo smiled. He could faintly remember playing here, so many years ago, but the memories were muddy and stretched like dough so that the more he thought about them, the less he remembered. There was a picture of him and his mother on his desk. Next to it were sheets of paper which Leo had drawn on in his toddler years. His pictures were oft as not drawings of his action figures or other toys, but the one at the bottom was a picture of Leo and his family. He had drawn all five of them as stick figures, but he could tell who they were. It was a strange feeling looking back at the past he barely remembered. Back then I knew my family. We were all together. He had no memory of his sister; had he not gotten into the house, he would have never remembered she even existed. Yet now here he was in the room he had once shared with her staring at a picture he had long ago drawn of him and her and their family.
They got some less dusty sheets and blankets and pillows out from a nearby closet to re-adorn the beds. Leo thought his old bed sheets had a familiar scent to them, one he had known only in his dreams, so he did not replace them. He did replace Léaina’s though, if only for Kaimara’s sake. The two of them laid down to sleep and Leo turned off his flashlight and removed his armor.
“Is it good to be home, Leo?” Kaimara asked him.
“I can’t tell,” Leo responded after a few moments pause. “It brings back memories and feelings I thought I never had and I don’t know how to explain it.”
“That’s okay, you don’t have to,” the human assured him. “This is a nice house. I’m glad we could stay here. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in a bed.”
There was a long pause, only interrupted after a long spell when Leo said, “Do you blame the Lombaxes for what happened?”
“I already told you,” the girl laughed. “I like the kitties.”
That made Leo smile, in spite of himself. The two said goodnight, and soon the boy heard Kaimara’s breaths start to come long and deep. She had fallen asleep so easily, it almost made him jealous. She doesn’t have anything keeping her up at night.
The imprint of the picture Leo found in the kitchen was with him when he closed his eyes. When he saw his family, so innocent and happy, he couldn’t help but feel anger. He felt angry towards Tachyon and Captain Raccoon and the humans in that shanty town. How dare they blame my family for what happened to them. They didn’t ask for this. None of us did, least of all me. And yet, another part of him knew that the humans had not asked for what had happened to them either, and that just made Leo more miserable. There’s no winners here. We’ve all already lost.
But, Leo thought as he drifted off to sleep, that’s usually how it is.
Chapter 5: The Crooked KindEdit
His father’s statue cast a long shadow. It was a cold morning, a blue-grey morning, and Leo found himself wandering aimlessly through the halls of a once-regal palace. When he came upon his father in the courtyard, the older Lombax greeted him with a face of polished white stone. He was striking a pose, gallant and stern, and in his right hand was the carved figure of an omniwrench, hewn in exact likeness in the rock.
He couldn’t sleep, and that struck Leo as funny, for even on Captain Raccoon’s cramped space ship, sleep had always come easy. Here, of all places, it was stubbornly eluding him. His heart pounded - thump, thump, thump - quick and deep, aligning with his footsteps. The boy’s head ached too, though that was probably because he hadn’t drank enough water last night after all that space whiskey.
Something, Leo thought, there has to be something here that would explain what happened. But he had scoured the entire place; it was a house, full of dust and nostalgia, but it was not a chest of secrets. So much of what Leo stumbled upon was as foreign to him as the shanty town. He saw pictures, furniture, clothes, but nothing which told him what had happened.
When he came upon his father’s statue, Leo couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride well up in his throat. He was a true Lombax. He looks noble… like a god. And such a statue reminded Leo of the times he had raided wealthy planets with the space pirates, had stolen from them like a ravenous space wolf. And here I am, realizing my family was one of them one time long ago. His father’s statue stood in the courtyard, amongst moss and fog and ruin. Across its face in gold-laced writing was writ ‘Dux Mbube, the Golden-handed’. There had been a great battle here once, Leo could see that. Blaster marks scorched the far walls, and the ground was covered in ancient craters and cracks. What looked like robot parts covered much of the ground, little bits of broken metal or wire here and there, and Leo thought his father had given them a good fight. But he died all the same. Just like my brother and sister and mother. In the end, Tachyon got the last laugh.
There was a broken robot at the base of his father’s statue that Leo found particularly interesting because it did not look like any of the others. It had a light blue frame, unlike the greys and blacks of the other wrecks, and it was remarkably intact. Leo scampered over to it and found that it was a camerabot - its face was small and pointed in the shape of a lens. That made Leo’s heart beat faster. He gasped audibly. This could have recorded what happened! He picked up the small thing and noticed that it was in lockdown mode. I’ll need something to pry this guy open… but nothing too powerful. I don’t want to damage what’s inside.
Leo was puzzling over what he could use to open the camerabot when he heard a voice. “Hey kitty,” Kaimara yawned. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Looking for answers.”
“Did you find any?”
Leo shook his head.
“Well, I’m hungry,” Kaimara replied, her tone gentle. “And it’s too cold to go fishing, so what do you say we get some breakfast in town?”
Leo’s stomach rumbled at the thought of breakfast. He had forgotten to eat in his excitement to explore his childhood home, but now that he was reminded, he knew he needed eat something. Some juicy fish… and maybe some space whiskey too. It was early, but in these desperate days, it was never too early to start drinking. “All right, let’s go.”
And so they went, the Lombax and the human, down the wood plank bridge from Mbube’s dread palace to the hapless shanty town. Dark eyes watched them, and darker words greeted them. Heckles of ‘stinkin’ animal!’ and ‘filthy furry!’ filled the air, but Leo did his best to ignore them. He had learned long ago what folly it was to try to change someone’s opinion. He had been bruised more than a few times by Captain Raccoon for wasting his breath. A few times, Kaimara shouted back at the lurkers in the shadows, but her voice was only one against many. She was young and did not yet understand that there was no justice in the universe. But she’ll have plenty of time to learn that.
“Guess they don’t like Lombaxes,” Leo said, stating the obvious in an attempt to lessen the awkwardness that was growing with every passing insult.
Kaimara snorted. “They’re just jealous, and sad. They don’t have anyone else to blame but you.”
“Well at least there’s one human who doesn’t see me as a devil,” Leo noted. That made Kaimara smile.
That smile died in the next instant when a trio of boys hurled trash at them. The two ducked out of the way of the poorly-thrown projectiles, but Leo was not fast enough to step out of the way when the boys charged at him. Their audacity surprised him, yet when they bounced off his hyperflux armor like drops of rain, it was they who felt fear. Leo saw it in their eyes. Desperation is a dangerous thing. He wondered how many of these beings had known Lombaxes… had known his father. Probably not many of them. Yet, the tales of the Lombax demons seemed to have spread through the shanty town like wildfire.
He and Kaimara ran the rest of the way to the bar. On the way, one boy shouted, “I’ve never seen a cat that big before!” But when he stood in Leo’s way, his eyes wide and his body unwilling (or perhaps unable) to move, Leo just slapped him aside into the puddles. He didn’t stick around to hear the boy cry.
The bar was more packed than it had been the previous day, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke and laughing. These ones don’t seem to be hurting so much, Leo thought. At least they don’t brandish their wounds openly. He and Kaimara took a seat and Leo paid for their meal with a few of his precious bolts. As they waited for their fish to arrive, the Lombax saw that three humans wearing dark cloaks were eyeing him from a far corner. Smoke rose around their heads, fogging their appearances. Yet he could see their eyes, shining blue.
“So, Kaimara…” Leo began, keeping one eye on the three watchers, “what kind of things do you do here?” He tried to sound polite, but Leo knew the question was a little insulting.
“Fishing mostly. Exploring too. Mostly, I try to keep to myself if I can.”
“Well, ever since mom and dad died, gramma’s been taking care of me. She’s nice, I guess, but I can only stand her for so long. She never stops talking. She likes to tell stories. But it’s more like a bunch of random thoughts that never end.”
“Oh.” I should say something. But what? What would words change? Wounds like ours can never be healed.
Kaimara’s grandmother reminded him of Ruby Rose. She had always liked to tell Leo stories when she had put him to bed, especially when he had been younger. He remembered her telling him a story about a salty old space pirate who had traveled from planet to planet trying to trade his glass eyes for ones that actually worked. All he found were swindlers and monsters who tried to cheat him or eat him or sometimes both. Leo had liked the part when the space pirate had killed a great storm beast and tried to wear its eyes, only to find that they were too big for him. So he had been forced to travel the universe for the rest of his days, blind and alone. Ruby had said that he was still out there to this day, but Leo wondered how he hadn’t been killed. Surely a beast or fellow space pirate would have taken him out eventually. Someone had to. No one can live forever. And the other thing that he wondered was why the man didn’t kill another space pirate and take his eyes. Maybe he knew he couldn’t ever get his eyes back no matter what. But he kept trying anyway just to see if the universe would grant him a miracle. The thought of it made Leo sad, but he knew it was most likely just a story, and stories should not make people sad.
Their food came, and the two ate in silence. Leo ordered some space whiskey when he was halfway through his fish, though Kaimara refused to drink anything but water. She only ate half of her meal and got the rest of it wrapped up in a bag to take with her. When they were done, Kaimara hopped off her chair and thrust her hand out towards Leo. He grabbed it and shook.
“It was nice to meet you, Leo,” Kaimara said. “But I gotta go now. Gramma needs to eat too,” she said, motioning to the bag in her hand. “She doesn’t get around too well anymore. I gotta take care of her.”
“I’m sure she appreciates that,” Leo responded, not unkindly.
“Yeah, well, I’ll see you, okay? Maybe if you stick around we can explore your old home again? I’d like to be able to sleep in a real bed again. That’d be great.”
Leo nodded. “I’ll be here for a while. Stop by anytime you want.”
And then the girl was gone like smoke in the wind. Leo sat there by himself, finishing his food in quiet. Once he was done, he took one great swig of his brown-colored drink and eyed his empty plate. I swear, I’m still hungry. This measly breakfast cost me more than a buffet on Sargasso. Looking up, Leo saw three dark-clad men sitting across from him.
“Whoa, what do you guys want?” Leo asked cautiously. He cocked his head and raised one ear, ready to flee at the slightest sign of danger.
“I ain’t never thought I’d see another Lombax on Dexitar,” one of them growled. He was an old man, his voice was thin and rough like a piece of sandpaper.
“Lombaxes used to rule Dexitar,” a second one pointed out. His voice was softer, but he was aged as well, Leo noted. “Not been like that for years. Tachyon drove them off. Some say he destroyed them all. But looks like he missed one, eh?” He laughed toothlessly.
Leo frowned. “What do you want?”
“Why are you here, cat?” asked the first man.
Leo felt for his Doom Blades. They were holstered on his thigh. He could draw them fast if anything went south. The downside would be that the bartender would probably ban him from ever returning. This better be worth it. “I’m the son of Mbube.”
The men puffed their cigarettes heartily and stared him down. The second man wheezed hysterically. “Dux Mbube? His kind were wiped out! Tachyon came and destroyed them! I saw it myself!”
“Yeah, well, I escaped,” the boy replied.
“Why have you returned, cat? Your kind is no longer welcome here,” the third man said. His was the most ancient voice, feeble and alive like a morning rain.
“I’m here for answers.”
“You should leave,” the first man said. “Lest any trouble come to you. We wouldn’t want another one of Mbube’s kind to die here. It was such a tragedy when the old slaver died,” he grinned.
Leo stood up. He raised his Doom Blades at the trio. “And what’s that supposed to mean?!”
The bar went quiet. All of the humans stared at Leo, fear and curiosity plain on their faces. For the three ahead of the Lombax, there was no fear. Amusement, maybe. But they aren’t scared of me.
“Put that gun down,” the first man said. “I don’t wanna hafta to skin me a Lombax so early in the mornin’.”
“Then you won’t talk about my father like that.”
“We’ll talk however we damn well please,” the third man hissed. “I was Dux Mbube’s slave for twenty years. I’ve given enough for that cursed Lombax!”
“Liar!” Leo’s teeth were bared, his eyes narrowed. He was so close to pulling the trigger. “He never had slaves! He was a good man!”
Leo, of course, did not know this. He knew very little about his late father. But the idea of him keeping slaves repulsed the boy, and he knew that if his father was half the Lombax he hoped, that was a false statement. These humans were bitter enough as it was. Tachyon had turned them savage. I’ll never trust a savage.
“Stop this, all of you!” the bartender screamed from behind them.
Leo didn’t even flinch. “Liar!” he shouted again. “You take that back or I’ll blast you all the way to Orxon.”
The third man stood up and pulled his cloak down from his neck, revealing a faded tattoo. “The Lombax Empire, kid,” he showed Leo. “Your father branded this on me himself, twenty years ago. Ignore it all you want,” he said when he saw Leo look away, “but it don’t mean it didn’t happen. I would count Tachyon a hero if he hadn’t ruined our planet hunting them cats down.”
Leo faltered, lowering his weapon slightly. This made the second man stand up. Boldly, he declared, “They say Dux Mbube fought Tachyon on the beaches right out there!” he pointed out a foggy window. “And he died,” the man laughed, licking his lips. “Tachyon didn’t kill him, though, no, no, no. He wounded him mortally, you see. Left him out there on the beach to bleed out. We could hear his screams from here. It was the best damn sound in the whole universe, that cat’s screams.”
The first man stood up. “You aren’t welcome here, kid. Best leave before this gets ugly. We don’t want nothing to do with Lombaxes no more.”
Leo looked around. All of the humans were watching him. It was soundless in that bar. He could hear his own breaths coming shallow and fast.
“Get out!” someone screamed.
“This ain’t your home!” another patron yelled from behind Leo. “Dexitar belongs to the humans!”
“The Lombaxes enslaved us. Made us build an outpost for them on this planet, like they owned it,” the first man said as he scratched his beard. “The golden-hand took our wealth! He took years from us! Years we’ll never get back! We mined our own planet for him so he could send our resources back to his cruel cat empire! It’s disgusting!”
“You think the cats are bad?!” a woman from the back of the bar shouted. “Well, they tried to kill my brothers! Worked ‘em into the ground 20 hours a day until they were too weak to stand. Then, they left them to die. And for every slave that died, they enslaved another! Thousands of lives are on your family’s hands, kid! All the blood is your fault!”
It’s my fault, yeah. It’s all my fault. Leo was done, so done with everything. He had held his tongue, tried to remain polite, tried to stay out of the way. All he wanted was to pay for his food and follow his own path. He hadn’t wanted to get embroiled in this drama with the humans or see their pain. It had never been his concern or his fault. He hadn’t been there when Tachyon had turned his guns on the Dexitarians. He hadn’t been responsible for whatever had prompted Tachyon to attack the Lombaxes in the first place. He had been nigh four years old, barely conscious, unaware of the pain in the world. That now Leo stood there in that bar in a shanty town of poor, miserable humans, struck him. He was so far gone from who he had been when his brother had given him to Ruby Rose. And yet, that event had occurred only a few hundred feet away from where he stood now. The thought of it made him sick. He was sick of it all - the blame, the blood, the betrayals. But most of all, he was sick of the lies. He wouldn’t let them say those things about his father and get away with it.
Leo pressed the trigger. He held it just long enough to slice the three old men to meaty pieces and send a few nearby patrons flying to the ground covered in blood. When panic set in, and everyone began to run this way and that, Leo made his escape. He ran all the way back home. It was an empty feeling, running from one oblivion to another.
It was quiet at the Lombax compound. Leo found a power generator on the far end of the courtyard. Dragging it over the statue, he set it up to connect with the house’s own wireless signal. At once, lights across the entire house turned on. That made Leo feel cold inside - he realized at once that when the power had gone out last time, his family had been functioning as normal. Then Tachyon came, and nothing was normal again.
He wandered through the house aimlessly, first with the intent of turning off all the extraneous lights - all of the bedrooms’ lights were on, as were several others. It was so lonely in those dust-filled halls, so bleak. Leo felt like he was traversing a graveyard. I shouldn’t even be alive. I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t right. He wasn’t supposed to have lived to return to this place. No one was.
He came upon his parents’ room and found it much as it had been the previous night. Now with a bit more light, he could see a bit more of what was in there - and what instantly caught his attention nearly took Leo’s breath away.
It was in the closet, which was thrown open, in a glass case, lighted with small blue lights. My father’s armor, Leo thought, walking up to it. His true Lombax armor. I wonder why it’s here. And then the realization struck him like a slap in the face. He didn’t have time. Tachyon surprised everyone. If father had gotten in his armor, he might’ve had a chance…
There were tears coming to the boy’s eyes. Tears for his father, for his brother, for his mother, for his twin sister, for Kahunai, for those who had betrayed him, for the humans who had been so stupid in provoking him. I’m sorry about everything. I wish things didn’t end up like this. But things had turned out how they had, and Leo could do nothing about that. He wasn’t sorry about killing those old men, but he still felt sorrow all the same. It was unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sad.
Leo sunk to his knees and pressed his head against the glass case. He lost track of the time as he cried. His eyes grew red and itchy and the fur on his face stood on end as it saturated with liquid. After a while, Leo looked up at his father’s suit of armor again. It’s not true what they said. Those men were liars. My father wasn’t a slaver. The Lombax Empire wasn’t evil.
He banged his head against the glass in frustration, and in the light, he caught a glint of something on the belt of the armor. Standing up, Leo got a better look of his father’s omniwrench. His heart pounding, the boy Lombax quickly opened the case and pulled the wrench free of its holster. Examining the thing, he felt the cold metal against his fur. It was light, silver and blue and black, and it felt good in his hand. The famous weapon of the Lombaxes. I guess I’m finally a Lombax now. He sniffled.
He returned to the courtyard at close to midday to try to open the camerabot again. He hoped the omniwrench would help him in that regard. When he came to the courtyard, Leo saw a sunbeam pointed right at his father’s visage, illuminating it. I bet there was no one like him in the whole Lombax Empire, Leo thought defiantly. He would not believe his father was a bad person.
He moved over to the camerabot and dropped to a knee. Taking out the omniwrench, he went to pry the thing open when Leo heard a thud behind him. He stood up and turned around and found himself face-to-face with Ruby Rose and two dozen space pirates.
Her face was still as water. “Hey Leo. Thought we’d find you here.”
“Y-you’ve come to kill me?”
“Duty is duty,” Ruby said somberly. She unshouldered Leo’s Judicator and pointed it at him. “I don’t have a choice, kid. Either we do this, or Cap’n Raccoon has our heads. And we don’t want that, do we, boys?!” she shouted at the pirates behind her. They roared and raised their weapons above their heads. “No chance. I always liked you, Leo, but your life ain’t worth more than ours.”
Leo sighed. “Fine. Let’s do this, then.” He felt broken, but it was a dull feeling now - dull and constant.
Her first shot was a wild one, and it sailed over Leo’s head. The boy heard a great explosion behind him and saw his father’s statue collapse in a puff of white smoke. Angered, the boy rolled out of the way of the space pirates’ oncoming fire and loosed Doom Blades at them. The blades swarmed around the Agorians and Terraklons and exploded upon them with bloody vengeance. Many of them were felled from the first volley; many more still were terribly injured. Shrieks and moans filled the air along with the explosions and whirling metallic sound of Leo’s volley.
Ruby attacked Leo again, sending him running behind a dead tree. Another salvo from the Judicator caused the tree to go up in flames and Leo was forced to flee again. He shot several Doom Blades at Ruby, but she dodged them. Only one nicked her in the arm, causing blood and flesh to fly from her body. Briefly did this cause Ruby to pause, allowing Leo to find cover against a half-destroyed robot the size of a couch. He squeezed the trigger again and sent Doom Blades hurling towards the space pirates. They were too dumb or perhaps too prideful to dodge out of the way of their doom, and the blades soon took them out. Only a few survived this attack; most had been reduced to puddles of gore from the blades’ explosions.
Leo went to shoot at Ruby again when he realized he didn’t know where she was. Scanning the courtyard, Leo found no sign of her. Then, he felt the Judicator missiles hit his back. He fell forward so fast and hard that he didn’t even feel the pain of it before he slammed into the ground. The Doom Blades skidded across the floor, and Leo saw spots and stars. He gasped for breaths. And then the pain came to him. He yelped and howled and rolled about, his body sore and bleeding and dying. But I’m not dead yet… His hyperflux armor had saved him, if only for a short while. Its protective armor shell was the best in the galaxy; and even it could barely withstand one blast of the Judicator. He had no hope of surviving another.
So, fear about him, Leo stood up and limped off. The various shots Ruby had shot had caused different things in the courtyard to catch fire, and now smoke was everywhere, obscuring sight in all directions. Leo had no idea where Ruby was. He limped over to the remaining space pirates. When they saw him, the first couple charged at him, attempting to hit him with their guns. Leo used the energy sword on his gauntlet to slice them to pieces. A few were wiser and stood back, trying to shoot Leo to death. Even limping, he was too fast for them. The smoke as his cover, he bobbed and weaved between bodies and old robot wrecks as he came upon the Agorians and Terraklons. They all bled the same to his blade. And then there was quiet; they were all dead. Leo felt like collapsing. He hurt so bad. I need a break… I need to sleep… just for a moment…
But that was death, he knew. Ruby was still out there.
“Ruby!” he called hoarsely above the roaring fires. Tears streamed down his face from the pain and the smoke. “Come out and finish this!”
She answered him by jumping down from a nearby wall. One hand on her wounded arm, she walked up to Leo. “Looks like you lost your gun.”
“I wanted to make it a fair fight.”
The pink-skinned alien chuckled. She walked over to Leo and raised the Judicator at him. He fell to his knees. He was seeing spots again, and bright flashing stars. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to let go of everything. It would be so easy to die. But he couldn’t. Something deeper inside him refused to give up so easily. I have to kill her. I have to find out what happened to my family. I’ve come too far. But another part of him countered with: all I have to do is give up and I’ll be with my family again. I won’t have to search for answers. I can go home finally. I can be somewhere I’m actually wanted.
Funny how there was no place in the living realm where that seemed to be true.
“Any last words, kid?”
Leo closed his eyes and breathed in heavily. He counted his breaths until they aligned with his heartbeat. Nice and slow. No reason to be all hyped up. I need to be calm. “A man I once knew said ‘We want what we can’t have, but life doesn’t work that way’. He told me that we have to do the best we can with what we got. And I plan on doing that.”
“It’s a bit late to get that revelation, ain’t it?” Ruby said with a chortle.
Leo moved in a blur. He lunged forward and threw a piece of robot that was no bigger than a space ball. It hit her square in the face, crashing and breaking against her nose. Blood spurted from that mess and Ruby dropped the Judicator. Leo rushed forward with all of his remaining strength. He barreled straight into her, causing them to both tumble to the ground. Ruby tried to strangle Leo, but with the wounds on her arm and nose, she was severely weakened. Leo saw that blood was running down her face and into her mouth and she was choking on it. This allowed him to pin her to the ground. He activated his energy sword and tried to slice her head of. But Ruby was too quick. She pushed Leo off of her and rolled aside. He tried to slice her again, but the female space pirate caught his wrist and ripped the energy sword’s projector from it. Tearing it apart, she threw the twisted piece of metal to the floor, useless and broken. Now, Leo was truly without a weapon.
“You stubborn Lombax! You can’t win! Even if you beat me, Cap’n’s ready to destroy this place with his ship!” Ruby pointed to to air, and Leo saw Captain Raccoon’s pirate vessel hovering diligently above the island. “Give up while you still can! The Dexitarians will pay for Lombax hubris yet again if you don’t sit down and die!”
“I can’t do that!” Leo limped back a few steps and saw the Judicator lying on the ground. Ruby hadn’t seemed to notice it, for she was still ranting at him. The boy stood still until the last second, not allowing Ruby any time to react. Then he jumped forward and scooped up his old weapon At once, he pointed it at Ruby. “This is for Kahunai.”
“Who?” she asked in sheer bewilderment.
He pressed the trigger, and Ruby Rose, first mate to Captain Raccoon, was no more. There was no sound from her, no scream or shout of shock. He had fired at her so quickly that all Ruby had had time to do was stare in horror as the missiles hit her and vaporized her. And in her place, now stood an empty space, a scorch mark, and a trail of smoke.
Leo collapsed. He crawled over to a dead Agorian soldier and pulled his wrist communicator off. Activating it, the boy Lombax spoke, “Captain Raccoon, I’ve killed Ruby, and I’ve killed the others,” he breathed, “and I’m coming for you next. If you want your revenge against me, you better not bombard the island. I’ll come to you… wait for me… or I’ll make you scream louder than I made Ruby scream. I promise you that.”
He turned off the communication and then crawled back over to the base of his father’s statue. The statue itself had split in two - the legs and the statue’s base were the only things that remained standing. Mbube’s upper half had fallen off and shattered upon the ground. Next to Leo was his father’s head, cracked and white and not so gallant anymore. Groaning softly, Leo grasped the camerabot he had meant to open before and held it tight. He was so tired, so very weary, but there was no time for that. He had to get his answers.
Leo pulled out his father’s omniwrench and found a lock on the back of the bot just the right size for it. When he cranked the lock, it broke, and the back panel fell off. Inside, Leo was met by a jumble of wires. He unplugged a thick blue one he knew was the power cord, and hooked it into the nearby generator he had set up. At once, the camerabot came alive. With a hum and a pop, the thing stood up and began to spin about, looking this way and that.
“Whoa, calm down there buddy,” Leo commanded it. The thing stopped moving and stared at Leo. “I want you to playback your last recording for me. Can you do that?” The camerabot squeaked. “Awesome,” Leo sat back against the base of his father’s statue and watched as the camerabot began to project a video in the air in front of the him. “Let’s do this.”
“Get the twins out of here!” a man shouted. He had a thick voice, a commanding voice, one that would perhaps be charismatic on any other day. But it was clouded in unease this day. “Now, go, Cecil! We don’t have time. It’s Tachyon! He’s come for us!”
“Where’s mother?” Cecil called back, his own voice thick with worry.
“Go, Cecil!” This time, Mbube’s voice was harsh, almost grating. “I won’t ask you again! Get the twins out of here!”
“Where? If it’s Tachyon, there’s nowhere he won’t find us!”
“Take a ship!”
Cecil paused. “But… that means… father!”
“I know it means, damn it!” Mbube growled. He was carrying an energy rifle now and was pointing it at the sky, at something not seen. “Go! Please!” There was something in his voice that made Leo’s neck hairs stand on end.
Cecil ran from the camerabot’s view. Then, Leo’s father stepped forward. He looked at the camerabot and scoffed. “What are you filming this for? Get out of here!” He kicked the camerabot away; it slid into the far wall and did not move, though it continued to record. Mbube stood staunch and fearless against his foes - now they could be seen with greater clarity - hundreds, if not thousands, of robot warriors descending from the skies. “Tachyon’s sent you, has he? Well, I’ll have to show him who he’s dealing with. The Lombax race will not die with me! We will not be destroyed today!”
The man leapt forward, moving from one robot to the next with blinding speed. He shot them and he smacked them with his gun and they fell from the sky in twisted bits. The Lombax destroyed all who came for him, and soon the ground was littered with their metal corpses. As fires began to rage about the courtyard, smoke covered much of the screen. Leo could see his father weaving side-to-side, moving so fast the robots could barely see him. He would run up to one and destroy it and then disappear into the smoke before attacking another one; and Leo’s father continued this cycle until all of the robots in the vicinity had been reduced to scrap metal. The camerabot’s feed began to lag and freeze and skip ahead, and Mbube’s defense of his home was greatly distorted. Eventually, the camera began to play normally again. At that point, there were many destroyed robots, and Mbube was covered in cuts and bruises, his golden fur now decorated with patches of crimson and black. The smoke had cleared a bit, but the whole area seemed to be covered in a brown haze, near thick as fog.
At that point, Cecil returned to the screen. “Father! I got Leo out of here, but I couldn’t find Léaina.” That made Leo’s heart catch in his throat. He saved me. My brother saved me by making me a space pirate. “Where is she? And where is mother?!”
“No, it’s not good enough!!” Mbube’s voice was strained. “Find Léaina, Cecil, hurry! She must be inside!”
Cecil went to run inside when suddenly, a beam of energy shot forward and vaporized him. Leo let out a cry upon seeing this, and Mbube did likewise, though Leo’s father sounded much more powerful in his despair.
“Tachyon!!!” he screamed, jumping forward at something off-screen. A moment later, he was pushed back onto the ground. Explosions started to go off, some hitting the house. Walls of fire surrounded Mbube, though he stood up to greet them. “Don’t you dare touch my familly!”
“Oh, my dear furry friend, it’s too late for that,” a high-pitched, whiney voice replied. “Now stop your infernal meddling and die like all the other Lombaxes!”
Emperor Tachyon strode into view on the back of a gigantic mech. He was a small, frail Cragmite. The sight of him made Leo’s blood boil. How did this sickly creature destroy the Lombaxes? His robot fired at Mbube, who ducked out of the way.
“That was my son! My wife! My daughter! How dare you?! You heartless monster!”
“And don’t forget all of your human pets,” Tachyon noted slyly. “Now is there anything else you want to say before I kill you?”
“I’ll make you pay! I’ll make you suffer! You won’t get away with this, scum!”
“Oh, that’s a good one,” Tachyon retorted. “Now it’s time for you to go where I sent all the other Lombaxes.”
And with that, Tachyon’s mech charged up a large white energy blast on its chest cannon and then fired it at Mbube. When the blast hit him, everything went white and the video feed ended in a burst of static.
It was quiet in the courtyard. Leo felt sick at heart. His father, his brother, his mother, and even his twin sister had died here. They had lived their lives as Lombaxes, and he remembered so little of it. Indeed, without that video and the memories remembered from being in the house, Leo might have forgotten everything about his family. His brother had saved him, but now Leo was questioning if he had really been saved. Would it have been better to have died with them? At least I would have died whole. I wouldn’t have had to gone through all of this. But unlike his family, he had not been raised a Lombax. He was a space pirate, a drifter, a nobody. He felt out of place everywhere he went, and here most of all. Now that he had seen his father’s last stand, he didn’t know what to think. It all made him feel empty inside.
Leo coughed and tried to stand up. When he found he couldn’t, he laughed. I could die now and it would all be good. Everything goes away in the end, and so must I. But as he saw the looming space pirate ship in the air above him, Leo got a queer feeling inside of him. He did not want to save the humans - they had spurned and hated him and forced him to act stupidly. But the injustice of their position was now like his family’s had been against Tachyon’s. I won’t let another Tachyon destroy this planet.
Leo used all of his strength to stand up. Using his Judicator as a crutch, he limped forward. I’ve gotta set things right. And besides, if I don’t, Kaimara will die. She doesn’t deserve that. None of these humans do, no matter how bad they are.
He looked up at the great pirate ship in the sky again. “Captain Raccoon… I’m coming for you!” he shouted at the sky. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll kill you!”
But, as Leo was quickly realizing, revenge was not so sweet. Ruby was dead, and yet he felt no better. The holes inside him were still there, sore and stubborn and not like to heal. But even if revenge didn’t make him feel better, he knew he had to kill his old captain. I can’t let him get away with what he’s done. I won’t let him get away.
Chapter 6: The Lombax Sleeps TonightEdit
Steam rose all around him as the water ran down his golden fur and slicked it over. Leo stood in his parents’ old shower, his head bent, his eyes closed, the hot jets cleansing him of dirt and grime and blood. Some wounds, like the one Ruby Rose had given him, were not like to to be washed away so easily. He felt a tenseness in his back, a soreness in his legs where she had hit him with his Judicator. I’m lucky to still be alive.
The Lombax breathed out heavily and slammed his fist against the white tile wall. It was only luck… only luck that Cecil found me and not Léaina. It’s only luck I’m alive and she’s not. Just as easily, the tables could have been turned. Would she be here now, just like me? Probably not. She might not have made it out of Captain Raccoon’s treachery alive. She might not have even lived long enough to be betrayed. It was useless to think about such what-ifs or possibilities, but Leo was finding it difficult to keep his mind preoccupied… to keep himself from thinking about what had been plaguing him all afternoon. He was running from it, and thoughts were harder to run from than space pirates.
“And don’t forget all of your human pets,” Tachyon had said to his father. Human pets, Leo thought angrily, slamming his fist into the tile again. Water splashed about and his hand pulsed with pain. Slaves, more likely. Leo had been half a slave for the better part of his stay on Captain Raccoon’s dread warship. He had been forced to stay with them, to grow up with them, to become like them. He had seen them as his new family, but he had still been nothing more than a low-ranking soldier with no hope of rising in power. They had told him he was a Lombax, just a boy, an alien. Well, they’re aliens too. Still, they saw him as a foreigner, an Other to be stared at and played with, but not someone who could become a true space pirate. I came from the Lombax Empire, and they never forgot that. They told me I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t like them, at heart. Well, I guess they were right.
Leo yelled long and low and fell to his knees. He raised his face to the showerhead, feeling the water cascade down his face and chin. He wanted it to purify him. I always thought he was a good man, always wished he was. When I was with the space pirates, I dreamed of growing up to be a strong Lombax warrior like my father… but it looks like that was just another lie they would have me believe. Ruby told me my father had been a great man. Well, if being a slaver is great, then I’m fine with who I am.
He wanted to see his family, but deep in his heart, he knew the humans’ words were true - perhaps slightly exaggerated, but rooted in facts nonetheless. All his life he had wanted to find his family, to find out what had happened to them. Now that he had, he felt no better. The hole that had filled his heart since the moment he had learned of their demises was no closer to being filled. It burned and hurt and felt like it was swallowing him up from the inside. There was no escape; he had to endure it. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he couldn’t even cry. He was long past that. Leo the Lombax felt like he was going through life in a daze, a quiet, meek daze wherein the universe pressed down on him from all sides.
He was toweling off when she came to him. “Leo?” Kaimara asked, stepping into his parents’ room and finding the Lombax naked from the chest up, ruffling his fur harshly to remove the last bits of water from his body.
“Kaimara?” he replied, a little taken aback.
Her eyes were blue as a summer sea with flecks of seaweed green. She smiled and shook her head, “Well, do you want to go fishing or what? I thought kitties liked fish…” she finished, a little shy. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“I can’t. I don’t have time,” he explained, tying his shoes and then zipping up his hyperflux armor to his shoulders. “I have something I have to do, and it can’t wait.”
Realizing he had slighted her, Leo blushed. Looking at the human girl he smiled lightly. “Sorry, I’m just a little rattled. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“It’s okay, kitty. Do whatcha gotta do.” She winked at him.
He nodded and continued to suit up. “Uh, Kaimara… before I go, I have to ask you something.”
He didn’t know how he wanted to say it, but he knew he had to say it. I have to know. It’ll feel a lot worse being left in the dark. The Lombax took a deep breath and then asked, in a quiet voice, “Did my father really keep your kind as slaves?”
Kaimara looked startled by the question. She shifted her gaze away from Leo, over to his parents’ bed. Chewing on her lip, she remained quiet for a long while. At great last, she spoke. “No.”
He felt something then, a kind of burning in his chest, a sort of elation. But like a lonely candle, it soon flickered out into darkness. The boy Lombax couldn’t forget Tachyon’s words. Is she lying to make me feel better? He didn’t know and didn’t care to guess. Leo noticed that the girl was peering around the room, eventually settling her eyes on the boy himself. When she spotted the fresh bruises and cuts covering much of his body, she frowned in confusion.
“They came for me earlier,” Leo said, pulling on his gloves. “The space pirates I used to be a part of.”
“You never told me about that.”
“Well, they’ve been trying to kill me, ever since Emperor Tachyon put a bounty on my head.”
“Emperor who?” Kaimara’s eyes were wide. She was lost.
“He’s a Cragmite whose goal in life has been to exterminate the Lombaxes. I’m one of the last ones left, and he wants to kill me really bad.”
Kaimara’s face was still as glass. “And did he do this?” she gestured about to the ruined house around them.
“Yeah, he killed my whole family. I saw it on one of my father’s old camerabots.” Leo put his helmet on and slung his Judicator over his shoulder. On his thigh, he holstered his Doom Blades.
“I’m sorry, Leo.” The girl’s voice was faint.
Leo didn’t know what to feel, and he didn’t want to feel anything right now. He had a mission to do; any emotional weakness could cost him his life. He nodded at the girl curtly, though he knew she meant well. When he saw the look on her face, he softened a bit. “You can stay here while I’m gone,” he said in a forced pleasant voice. “I’ll be back when that warship is destroyed.”
“You mean that thing hovering over the town?” she gasped. “You’re attacking that thing?!”
“I’m destroying it,” the armored Lombax replied confidently. “I’m going to make them pay for what they’ve done to me.”
“Okay… well, I’ll be around when you come back,” she said, sitting down on the bed and bouncing up and down. She guffawed, then laid down, staring up at the ceiling. “Geez, it’s so nice to have beds again! Make sure you come back, okay Leo?” she said earnestly, sitting up. “Don’t leave me alone here.”
That made Leo feel good inside, though he didn’t know why. He stood there and got one last look at the dark-skinned girl before walking out. His heart was fluttering, beating hard and fast in chest. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and focused again on revenge. I have to stay focused. Captain Raccoon knows I’m coming for him. But that won’t save him.
The sun was setting behind a red-blue sky when Leo took Kahunai’s ship to the great space pirate vessel hovering in the sky. So much had happened since the boy Lombax had last set foot on the deck of that ship. He wondered if Captain Raccoon would underestimate him again - that would only lead to another one of his appendages getting hacked off. The boy had taken the space pirate’s arms and legs. Now all that remained was his neck.
They saw him coming; indeed, as soon as Leo was in range, the great warship let loose its turrets and cannons upon him. Leo weaved about like an angry space bee, dodging incoming hellfire and returning his own. The warship was too big to dodge the Lombax’s fury, and it paid a great price for its lack of maneuverability. The decks blew apart with fire and smoke; The Lombax could almost hear the crew screaming in pain and fright. Circling around again, he bore down on the starboard side, covering the exterior of Captain Raccoon’s pride with green energy blasts. When he saw a cannon slit explode and open up into a large cavern, he decided to fly right in.
He could taste the ash and panic in the air. An Agorian ran past him, on fire and wailing loudly, as Leo disembarked from Kahunai’s ship. Home, he thought. I’ve gone from the real one to the fake one once again. It did not feel like his home anymore - and that was not wholly because the place was now half-destroyed and aflame. No, there was something about this place that made Leo angry. Ruby Rose had lived here; she had raised him like a son. He had grown up on the dirty floors of this mighty battleship. Yet, it was a place of treachery, a cold, unrelenting place that did not want him to come back. They pushed me off once, hoping the fall would kill me. They didn’t count on Kahunai, though. They didn’t count on my will to survive.
He took his Doom Blades out and ran forward. A couple Terraklons saw him and charged at him, yelling war cries and singing Firework. Leo silenced them with a few slices to the necks. Further onto the ship was chaos - space pirates ran this way and that looking for the Lombax’s ship, awaiting another flyby, not knowing that he had already landed. He was able to sneak up on them with ease, smashing their skulls with his father’s omniwrench quietly and efficiently. They dropped like Sargasson house flies.
On one of the far turrets, Leo saw a fat little ball of fur he knew to be Massive Wick. His ears were nearly as big as Leo’s and his belly rivaled even Captain Raccoon’s, despite his meager height. That space pirate had taught Leo how to shoot a gun a long time ago. And he stole half my plunder from Munichi VII and never paid me back.
“Hey Wick!” Leo shouted at the alien in a high, tremulous voice.
The little ball of fur spun around and nearly fell off his turret. “That’s Massive Wick to you, sir!” His own voice was thick with space whiskey.
“Remember me?” Leo stepped through the wall of smoke and revealed himself to his old mentor.
“L-Leo!” the little thing squeaked. His eyes lit up like lightbulbs. “I thought you was dead!”
“I thought you were.” He raised his Doom Blades and fired.
Wick drew his own measly pistol (which was all he was allowed to carry since he had blown off two fingers of another space pirate during an argument over some hot and sour soup) and aimed it at Leo. Yet, by the time he had aimed down his sights and gone to pull the trigger, he had already been stuck with three Doom Blades. Blood had already stained much of his grey-brown fur when the little furball gasped and fell over like a tumbleweed and rolled down the deck of the ship into the fiery darkness.
Space pirates weren’t particularly good soldiers. They were good at being sneaky - a trait Leo had acquired during his time amongst them - but they were not disciplined soldiers. He ran about the deck with the speed of a space cheetah, brutally hitting his foes with his omniwrench and felling them before they could grasp what had happened. To them, all that mattered was money and fun. Most of them knew little of how to fight, little of how to kill. Leo had learned from Ruby Rose, from Massive Wick, from others too numerous to count. He had tried to follow in their footsteps, to become something great. In his world, space pirates had been all he’d known. They were all he could aspire to be. So I might as well try to be like the best of them. They can’t be any worse than my father. And besides, Ruby could’ve cut through this crew like a knife through jam. I need to step up my game.
As much as Leo hated her, he couldn’t help but feel a competitive spirit building in his veins; he wanted to prove to that stupid dead space pirate that he was as good as her. I’ll carve ‘em up!
And so he did. The Lombax sprinted across the upper deck of the ship, not feeling his wounds or weariness. When the Argorians tried to mow him down with lines of blaster fire, he jumped around, dodging and strafing out of the way of their incoming attacks, returning his own until they were no more. When the Terraklons charged him, he beat them back with his omniwrench and incinerated them with his Judicator.
“Suck on this!” he whooped as he threw his omniwrench at a particularly purple Terraklon. When the pernicious blow hit the alien in the mouth and caused him to stumbled over the edge of the ship, Leo chuckled. The omniwrench returned to him like a boomerang just in time for him to throw it at another group of space pirates.
When Leo went below deck, he found the place packed with cowering thieves and ruffians. The Judicator made quick work of them in the tight quarters. Oh, how they screamed as the fire consumed them, how they fled from him. It made Leo feel powerful; it made him feel alive. I’m my father’s son, he thought recklessly. I’m a real Lombax warrior! I’m better than him! Leo felt like his father’s slaving operation and his defeat at the hands of the feeble Cragmite had significantly tainted his legacy. But I’ll become the warrior he never was. I’ll prove I’m worthy of being one of the last Lombaxes!
The Lombax boy felt euphoria surging through his brain. He wanted to be a hero; he desperately craved it. Still, a small part of him knew his internal boasts were no more than hot air. Even if he did defeat this lowly band of space pirates, he would still be an orphan; he would still be alone; he would still be but a teenage Lombax - a nobody, in effect. He was no hero, no warrior of renown like his father. He wasn’t the kind of guy who would get great regal statues of himself built. But being nobody is better than being dead, he assured himself.
Leo went room by room, clearing each one of foes. Sometimes the Terraklons would hide behind the doors and wait for him. Then, he was forced to parry their blades with his omniwrench until they made an impatient move, allowing him to strike them down with all his strength.
When Leo came to his old cabin, he found two Terraklons guarding it. They attacked him together, and he was forced to roll between one of their legs to dodge their attacks. Before the corsairs could turn around, Leo lept up and struck the nearest one on its heel. The strike was so severe that the alien’s skin burst open and blood sprayed all over the Lombax’s sleek black armor. Of course this would happen just after I washed the thing. As the Terraklon stumbled to its knees, Leo dealt it a swift death blow. The second alien growled incessantly and attacked him with unparalleled ferocity, causing Leo to lose his footing and his omniwrench. He drew his Doom Blades and shot them point-blank into the belly of his foe just as the Terraklon was preparing to decapitate him. The creature fell over and Leo felt, at once, tired. But he knew he had to press on. Stifling a yawn, Leo stretched his neck and shook his head. I have to keep going. If I slow down, I’m dead.
Getting up, the Lombax found his omniwrench and held it closely as he stepped into his old chambers. He had shared this room with others - usually Agorian gamblers, and he wondered who would be in there now.
Before him was a squat, green-skinned alien with the face of a space frog. A face only a mother can love, Leo thought as he blasted the space pirate with a face full of Doom Blades. Leo realized then that he was out of ammo.
The room was much as it had been the last time he had been in there, though the space frog had taken his bunk. The table was still covered in chips and cards from a recent space poker tournament. Leo thought back to the many nights he had spent with his Agorian roommates, playing cards whilst trading reaving stories, space whiskey, and plunder. One of them had liked to smoke cigars; the other had preferred to chew ice. They’re both dead now. I’m sure I killed them. It didn’t make Leo sad, but the thought disquieted him nonetheless.
He went to the closet and found that most of what he had kept there had been thrown out - or probably stolen - after Captain Raccoon had dealt with him. Now, only a few crumpled, crayon-drawn pictures of Ruby Rose and the others decorated the bottom of the closet. They reminded Leo of the drawings he had left at his childhood home. I drew these years ago… back when Ruby was taking care of me. Back when I had a family. It filled Leo with melancholy when he thought about it, and he realized with a shiver that he hadn’t drawn anything in a long, long time.
Three blue little aliens were awaiting Leo outside his door. When they all began to fire upon him, he threw a grenade at them. That caused them to explode like jello in a microwave. Leo stepped up to their slimey carcasses and picked up a blaster rifle. It was a black-and-red gun, slightly rusted, with a blade-implanted grip and laser sights. Agorian design, I think. Not ideal, but this’ll do.
There was less resistance the farther into the ship Leo went. Every now and then a wave of space pirates would come running around a corner and try to kill him, but Leo dealt with their desperation easily. They weren’t warriors, and they weren’t driven like he was. They were scared of Captain Raccoon and they were likely all drunk on grog. Half of them couldn’t hit the broadside of a Valkyrie on a good day. But, as Captain Raccoon had long ago figured out, it was easier to hire in bulk than it was to find quality. All his good soldiers are dead or want him dead. I don’t envy him.
Leo was covered in sweat when he came to the Captain’s room in the very center of the ship. His trigger finger was sore and he felt like he had traveled to Torren IV and back. Everything was quiet, save for the distant sound of burning flames. Everyone is dead… I killed them all. Captain Raccoon’s pirate crew is dead. Now I’ve just got to put him in the ground.
Leo kicked the door of its hinges and rolled inside. Cautiously, he moved forward. He fully expected a trap, knowing the conniving captain. He got me once, but he won’t get me again.
Inside, he saw the figure of the female space badger. She wasn’t facing him, instead focusing on a plate of some meat she was cutting up. Across from her, her two loyal robots sat amiably, awaiting their dinner.
Leo’s face flushed with anger. He had almost forgotten about that space badger. He had almost forgotten how much he wanted to kill her. “Weasel!” he shouted.
The space badger didn’t turn around or even react. Instead, she continued to cut; her robots didn’t respond either. They didn’t seem to see Leo, even though he was standing only a few feet away from them. Though the boy found that strange, he was too overcome with the desire to kill them to realize what was going on until it was too late.
When Leo ran forward and lunged at the space badger, flinging his omniwrench over his head, his swipe went right through her, causing static and fuzziness to ripple across her body as it passed through it. A hologram, he realized, too late. And then Captain Raccoon grabbed his tail from behind and slammed Leo into the wall.
He tasted blood. Gasping, the boy staggered out of the crater and tried to draw his blaster rifle. Captain Raccoon kicked him to the ground and laughed. From behind the captain appeared two sinewy women, scantily-clad and blue-skinned. They each wrapped themselves around one of his arms and then kissed him on the cheeks. He returned the left one’s kiss rather passionately.
“Yarrgh! The Lombax returns, har har har!” the captain roared, running his hand through one of his courtesan’s black hair.
“I-I… killed your crew!” Leo said, trying to strike fear in his former captain’s heart. “A-and… and Ruby too.”
That just made the captain smile more. “Rubbish, all of ‘em.”
Leo narrowed his eyes. “What? You don’t care that everyone’s dead?”
The space pirate grinned a salty grin and patted his belly with a robotic hand. “Nah, not me. I’m a space pirate. The only thing I care about is the booty, har har har!” He squeezed his girls’ butts and laughed again lustily.
“I’m here to kill you too,” Leo said between heavy breaths. “You tried to kill me! I haven’t forgotten that! After all the years I spent working for you, you betrayed me!”
Raccoon shrugged as his concubines began to coil around him like space snakes. “Business is business. I never wanted ya in the first place, kid. A Lombax as a space pirate! Har har, who would’ve thought? It don’t make sense. Lombaxes stay in their fancy empire, rulin’ planets and any species they can find. Not often ya see one break from the mold. I wanted to kill ya, but Ruby convinced me to let ya stay. Looks like she was wrong, eh?” He kissed each of his girls on the forehead.
“We were family!” Leo yelled, standing up. He pointed the Agorian blaster at the three beings standing in front of him. “We were in this together, and you sold me out to Tachyon just like that! You should be ashamed!”
The captain shook his head, annoyed. “It was good money. Money is money, I already told ya this. But yer easy to read, kid. Why dya think I trapped ya with that hologram,” he said, motioning to the flickering recording of the space weasel and her two robots eating dinner.
“Where are they?”
“Not here. No, no, no. That girl’s with Tachyon. Once she thought ya were dead and gone, she left. Gotta help run the Cragmite Empire, after all, har har har har!!!” His girls giggled in delight as he fondled them with mechanical hands.
“If they think I’m dead, why did you come after me?”
Captain Raccoon’s eyes were glimmering with desire. “More money this way, heh. I’ll say yer a different Lombax… a second Lombax. And with that furry fucker not involved, all the profits will be mine this time! More loot!” he shouted and his courtesans echoed his rambling desires.
“You won’t kill me,” Leo assured him. “I cut off your arms and legs. That just leaves one more thing for me to cut off…”
That made Captain Raccoon scowl. He pushed his two concubines away and drew a gun of his own. Kahunai’s constructo shotgun it was, Leo could tell, and that only made the boy Lombax more furious. He growled and rushed at the captain. Raccoon took a step back and fired.
The first shot hit Leo in the chest and sent him spiraling back into the table. He crashed head over heels and would have been lost in the wood fragments if Raccoon had not shot him again. That one stung. Leo returned fire from behind the half-destroyed table, hitting the captain on the chest. But his Agorian blaster was weak - it was an old, un-upgraded model. If I had had more time, I could’ve made this a truly lethal weapon. But right now, it’s more like a watergun than anything else. The blaster bolts glanced off of Captain Raccoon’s armor, leaving little more than scorch marks. They didn’t seem to do as much as sting the large alien.
“Yer gonna hafta try harder than that, Lombax!” the fat alien goaded him. Another shotgun blast destroyed the table and forced Leo to find better cover. He threw the Agorian blaster rifle at Captain Raccoon and then unshouldered his Judicator. This could blow everything up, but who cares? It’s about time I sank this ship.
The first shot hit Captain Raccoon in the collarbone, sending fire and and sparks everywhere. The concubines cried as the fire singed their hair. It did much worse to Raccoon, for the fire rose up his great grey beard like flame on oil, instantly incinerating it. At once, the captain’s face was rendered hairless, eyebrows and beard utterly consumed, and he looked fifty years younger. He looked like a fat, huge baby. Leo would’ve laughed if he wasn’t so perilously close to dying.
Leo rushed at Captain Raccoon with his omniwrench, hoping the Judicator had sufficiently stunned the space pirate. Suffice to say, when Raccoon shot him in the leg and then slammed the butt of the gun on Leo’s face, the Lombax realized his folly. Briefly did he lose sight of the room, and he felt vertigo envelop him. When Leo’s eyesight returned to him, he realized he had fallen to his hands and knees. His head was pounding and he felt blood pouring out from his throbbing nose. Leo wrenched off his helmet. A torrent of blood sprayed out and continued to drip from his nose. The boy was breathing deeply, heavily. He was exhausted. His wounds screamed mercilessly across his body in blinding waves pain and Leo felt like he was about to explode.
“Kneelin’ before yer king, eh?” Captain Raccoon boomed as he stood over Leo. “I think it’s time for ya to join Ruby and the other useless pirates in whatever hell awaits ya!” He cocked the shotgun and aimed it against Leo’s head.
Leo was seeing spots. He tried to blink them away, but it was no use. He tasted iron and heard a high ringing sound reverberating through his ears. The hit Raccoon had gotten on him had been devastating. He didn’t think he could recover from it, at least not in this fight. He needed to get away. Briefly thinking back to where Kahunai’s ship was parked, Leo wondered if he had enough strength left to run that far and then pilot it back home. And then what? Captain Raccoon will just bombard us from the air. And I won’t be able to stop him. No, I gotta kill him here.
“How much is he paying you?” Leo’s red mouth moved on its own. He was surprised to hear his voice. Still, the question came out of nowhere and startled Captain Raccoon. The two concubines stared at Leo, and he stared back at them, his fur and nose and mouth drenched in dark lifeblood. “There’s no way you’d be with this guy without a lot of money being involved. Come on, don’t lie…”
The two courtesans looked uncomfortable. They shifted in place and looked at one another, murmuring indistinctly. But they said nothing to Leo, even as their eyes shone with pale fear.
“Shut yer mouth, cat!” Captain Raccoon yelled, kicking Leo on the chin and making him crumple onto the ground. “Yer kind has always been weaklings! I knew you weren’t fit to be a space pirate the day I saw how small ya were! Ya ain’t got no muscles, no man in ya!” He jiggled his belly maliciously. “This is all man, kid. A real man! Women like this, dontcha understand?!”
Leo did understand, though he doubted his former captain did. The two concubines traded embarrassed looks. When Captain Raccoon saw this, he turned away from Leo and tried to console them. Leo could barely understand what he was saying - something about how Lombaxes always lie - for he was too busy using all his strength to stand up again. He unhooked his omniwrench and clenched it tight in his palm. His hand was slippery with sweat, and it slid down the handle a bit. His heart was beating so loudly he could hear it drumming in his ears like an endless fervent march.
And then, like a space cat, Leo was springing forward, leaping, screaming, flying, reaching, swinging his omniwrench and feeling it connect with the back of Captain Raccoon’s neck. He latched onto the captain’s back with his claws, burying them deep in the man’s exposed flesh. The fool didn’t bother armoring his backside. A classic space pirate mistake. Captain Raccoon dropped Kahunai’s shotgun in the confusion and tried to wrestle Leo off his back. But Leo held firm with all his Lombax strength. Then, he swung his wrench at the captain’s neck. With every swing, the Lombax let out a blood-curdling howl. He hacked at his captain’s neck as Raccoon tried in vain to get him off. The great fat alien launched himself into the wall, trying to daze Leo, but Leo was so focused on his task, so frenzied with killing the one who had betrayed him, that he felt no pain. Try as he might, Captain Raccoon could not rid himself of the little Lombax.
Dark blood painted Leo’s armor and fur and the room like a drunk postmodernist would. It was glorious, all so glorious. Leo hacked away flesh and muscle and there was so much blood, pooling and splattering and bubbling, warm and sticky with life. Raccoon was wailing and crying and dying, and Leo was along for the ride. He swung the omniwrench again and again and again, striking it with the beat of his heart until his arms grew tired, his hands grew numb, and he could taste Raccoon’s blood in the air.
And then, at last, the great behemoth who had plundered the universe for many a decade fell. His was a heavy thud, and the silence that followed it was suffocating. The two slender courtesans looked on in horror as Leo the Butcher, covered in the blood of many species, removed himself from the corpse of a great space pirate. He glanced at the two with dark eyes and motioned for them to leave. They fled as if a monster pursued them. But Leo was no monster, in his estimation, and he had no desire to hunt them. I’m not like my father, he thought. He didn’t want to be a bad person. I won’t be. All of these pirates deserved to die. It was the right thing to kill them.
Adrenaline was pumping through Leo’s veins. He felt better than ever. He felt fresh, as if he had just woken up. Leo didn’t feel the pain or weariness or soreness. He felt light. He felt free.
In the engine room, the Lombax dropped his remaining grenades. Putting a very generous fuse on them, he lit the pile and then high-tailed it out of there. He knew he had enough time to get away. It’ll be a very big explosion. A well deserved explosion. Captain Raccoon’s warship deserved to die, to be forgotten. It was time for the past to swallow itself up and disappear. Leo didn’t have time for all the misery anymore. He had a life to live.
The boy took Kahunai’s ship back home, and washed himself of the blood and smoke and battle. He felt powerful, like a true Lombax warrior. But more than anything, he wanted for this great fiasco to be over. He didn’t want to fight anymore. He had been fighting for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to live in peace, to live in bliss. Now, Leo just wanted to sit back and relax and watch the stars with his only friend in the universe.
To his great surprise, the boy Lombax found Kaimara sleeping in his parents’ bed. Waking her, Leo said warmly. “Hey Kaimara, come on, I’ve got something to show you!”
She rubbed her eyes, confused. “What are you talking about, kitty?”
“It’s a surprise!” he said earnestly. “Let’s go, hurry up!”
They ran out the front door of the great house of black marble and ruined stone. There, Leo had Kaimara sit down next to him on the edge of the wood plank bridge, their legs dangling off the edge and just barely touching the deep blue waters below. The sun had set, and the stars were out. The sky was not yet black - it was keeping itself colored in a defiant midnight blue - and Captain Raccoon’s massive warship hovered where it had before as if Leo had never paid it a visit.
“What am I looking for?” Kaimara asked, frowning.
Leo pointed to the dread warship. “Just wait and see.”
They sat there in silence, the two of them, for several minutes. The air tasted sweet and salty, and Leo had not felt this good since before visiting Kahunai’s homeworld. He felt giddy, elated. He was happy for the first time in a long time, and was even happier knowing that he had a friend like Kaimara to share this glorious moment with.
When the spaceship exploded in a brilliant flash of white light, Kaimara let out a gasp of surprise and wonder and clapped her hands and whooped. Leo likewise shouted, his voice carrying over the endless cool waters of the night. They watched as the warship burned up and burst into many smaller pieces, all of which rained down over the far distant waters in white-hot chunks. As soon as they hit the waters, their lights faded, and smoke rose from their entry points in ragged plumes.
“It was like a star,” she said, astonished. “It flashed like a shooting star!”
Leo put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. Her skin felt soft against his fur. “I finally got them. They’re all gone.”
“Every one of them?” she asked.
The Lombax nodded. “I’m safe now. I can stay here without worry.”
“And can I stay here too, Leo?” Kaimara asked. “Even though your house is ruined, it’s like a mansion compared to anywhere else in town.”
Leo laughed. “Sure.”
“What about gramma?”
“You know kitty,” Kaimara began, “once when I was little, gramma and I watched a meteor shower. Gramma said that every time you see a shooting star, you’re seeing a star fall down to Dexitar. That’s cause when the stars are old, they get tired of staying in the sky. So they decide to shoot down to Dexitar when they’re ready to die to give us luck. Gramma says you get the best luck if you see the shooting stars with your own eyes.”
“And do you believe that?” Leo asked the girl.
She stared into his eyes, their faces no more than a few inches apart. For a moment, Leo thought things might get serious. Then, she broke away to stand up and look in awe at the twinkling stars around them, so bright and numerous. Winged luminous spiders danced through the night air playfully. Leo could hear the waves lashing against the nearby beach. “It’s just a story, Leo,” she grinned devilishly before abruptly rushing forward and jumping into the dark waters below. When Kaimara re-surfaced a few seconds later, her black hair slicked against her brown skin, she motioned for him to join her. “Come on, let’s catch some dinner!”
Leo beamed and followed her in.
Now that she was back in the atmosphere, Mia the space otter realized she needed a drink. A martini, extra dry, she thought. Nothing else tastes so good. Finding a far table, she and her two robot guards, Robutt and Garfunkel, took their seats. She ordered her drink, and her two companions each bought a cup of high-grade oil for their own esoteric pleasures. Once their waiter was gone, Mia flashed on her pink energy sword and stuck it into the polished red wood of the table. She was annoyed beyond annoyed. Hopefully Tachyon won’t be mad.
As if reading her mind, Garfunkel spoke, “We traveled half the Polaris galaxy looking for her! Emperor Tachyon must appreciate our resolve. We are working very hard for him.”
“We are great loyal soldiers of the Cragmite Empire!” Robutt said with a knowing nod. He toasted nobody with a glass of air.
Mia shook her head. “The female Lombax got away. It’s that old Markazian’s fault… what was his name again?”
“Max Apogee,” Garfunkel stated hollowly. “He got away too.”
“I remember,” Mia whispered angrily. “We should have killed both of them. Tachyon needs all of the Lombaxes dead. As long she’s alive, our mission is not complete. We won’t get paid like we did for killing that kid.”
“The space pirate!” Robutt interjected.
“That kid had some fight in him,” Mia admitted. He nearly killed me. If I hadn’t used my pistol, I would have lost. “But now he’s dead. It’s only the girl, that famously heroic Lombax, Ratchet, and the rogue, Alister Azimuth,” she said, looking over her wrist-computer. “Those are the only three left, as far as we know. And Tachyon said he would deal with Ratchet himself. There could be others hiding out in some far away galaxy, but if they are, they haven’t made a name for themselves.”
“We will find all the Lombaxes it is possible to find!” said Garfunkel, awkwardly robotic in tone. “I swear on all my bolts.”
“Don’t swear, Garfy!” Robutt said, his voice filled with shock and awe. “Your bolts are precious.”
“Yes indeed. That is why my Robutt is no pinhead.”
That made Robutt purr.
Mia dug the energy blade deeper into the wood, causing it to hiss and smoke. I shouldn’t have let the girl get away. There was no reason for it. I’m the stronger warrior, the better tracker. But Tachyon doesn’t need to know. All he needs to know is when she’s dead. The space otter sighed and sat back in her seat, looking out the window. Below them was a tropical planet – Jarun V. It was a resort planet, oft traveled to by Megacorp employees on holiday. I wish I was on holiday, Mia thought. This Lombax hunting has been savage. We’ve killed several of them, but there are still at least three of them out there. It’s good money, but I wish this was over. Some of them were only children. But she knew it wasn’t her place to question Tachyon. She was a mercenary, a drifter. She took whichever jobs she could. No questions asked… at least to my employers’ faces.
The fifth moon of Jarun V was the planet’s largest and the only one with an atmosphere. Jaru-taobo’s single city was a meager thing, filled with smugglers and silver miners and few others who were not as seedy as they were dangerous. The main attraction of this place was the space bar, ‘Space Gunther and the Sunshine Girls’. The place was packed with off-shift workers and people just passing by. Many of them were conversing or playing drinking games. The table to the right of Mia’s was filled with cards, and aliens of all sizes and colors crowded around it. They were playing a tournament of space blackjack or something similar, Mia guessed. That’s one way to burn through a hard-earned paycheck. Elsewhere, she spotted space pirates arm wrestling, aliens shouting and laughing at television screens, and even some skinny green-skinned alien girls dancing fervently around poles for entertainment while music blared loudly from all corners of the bar. That annoyed Mia further. Of course they have to be here. Men can’t help themselves. We’re treated like meat for their sake. It was a shameful business, Mia thought, and she was glad she had become a mercenary instead.
Mia drained her glass and ordered a second round. Robutt and Garfunkel were arguing about who had the best stabilization module. The girl space otter felt her head start to pound. None of them had slept in a long time (well, her robots didn’t really sleep), and she felt unbelievably tired. Her eyes were sore and dry. But she couldn’t sleep, at least not here. This moon was an unsavory place – a good stop for some premium beverages, but only a fool would stay the night in this cursed thieves’ den. No, they would need to take to space again before she could rest. The Lombax’s trail went cold three systems back. Now I’m just wandering aimlessly. She had hoped to find a lead or two from the people here. Maybe one of them had seen the female Lombax in port; maybe a few of them had passed by her ship in space. But everyone Mia had talked to had been a dead end. All they had wanted to talk about was how much it would cost to spend a night with her. Men are useless. They only think about one thing. That was why robot companions were so much better. They didn’t think about that kind of thing nonstop. Though, she thought, raising an eyebrow as she listened in on the inanity of her companions’ argument, maybe they aren’t much better after all.
The space otter began fantasizing about the vacation she would take once all of the Lombaxes were dead. I’ll get Jarun V’s universe-famous spa treatment. With the money Tachyon is paying me for this, I’ll be able to buy a whole beachfront location. I’ll spend the mornings sunbathing and tasting exotic fruit, and the afternoons swimming alone, feeling the cool crystal clear water run through my fur. And at night, I’ll sleep in a bed of the finest silk blankets and pillows and feel the warm ocean breeze on my neck as I drift off to sleep. She had seen the advertisements. If they were even remotely accurate, the planet was a paradise. After all I’ve been through, I need a slice of paradise. Just a little slice.
A brown-skinned alien sat down at the table across from Mia, staring at her curiously. Mia broke the stare after a few moments. She wasn’t in the mood for mind games. Whatever’s that alien’s problem, I don’t care. If she wants to try to steal from me, I’ll slice her in half.
Mia the space otter stared out the window to resume her daydreaming, when a hush fell over the bar. The bartender’s mouth was agape and he rushed over to the far side of the counter to find something. Mia saw him pick up a small black device and then point it at the nearest television hanging from a post near the ceiling. At once, the volume came on, the music died down, and everyone stared at the various screens around the bar in a disquieted manner.
“This just in…” a female robot reporter said in monotone. “Emperor Tachyon, the one true leader of the new Cragmite Empire, has been defeated by a Lombax hero named Ratchet.” Murmurs echoed through the room. People exchanged glances and words and a few shouts of glee erupted. One of them sounded familiar. A voice I’ve heard before, thought Mia. Probably that smuggler who wanted to pay me ten thousand bolts for the most private type of kiss. “Joining us now to discuss this monumental event is the one and only… Captain Qwark!” the female reporter continued. Cheers broke out as an alien in a tight green suit stepped onto the screen. “Captain Qwark,” the reporter began, “you were there when Ratchet defeated Emperor Tachyon and ended the tyrant’s rule over this sector of the galaxy. What can you say about the battle?”
“Well, uh, Ratchet… that kid’s a great kid, I’ll tell ya,” Qwark said. He reached for something off-screen and then showed the camera a cardboard cutout of the Lombax. He looks like that kid I killed on the ship. The captain began to play with the cardboard Ratchet as if he was a doll. “He was my protégé,” Qwark continued, marching the picture of Ratchet around the desk before having him attack the news reporter’s cup of oil. “I trained that kid in everything he knows. See?” he said, trying to impress the reporter with how easily cardboard Ratchet smashed her oil mug with his smug little face. “He’s no Captain Qwark, mind you, - I’m a real superhero, ha! - but Ratchet’s got spirit. He’s gonna be a winner someday!’
The news reporter ignored Qwark’s antics. “And now, with Emperor Tachyon dead, his empire is crumbling and peace will once again be restored to the galaxy,” the reported stated plainly.
“Yeah! We sent that scrawny Cragmite back to the primordial cesspool he slithered out of!” Captain Qwark flexed his biceps and grinned at the camera toothily. “When it comes to protecting the galaxy, you can count on Captain Qwark!”
“Oh, did you help Ratchet?”
“Help him, are you kidding me? I’m Captain Qwark! If it wasn’t for me, Tachyon would still be out there causing all kinds of trouble! As a superhero, it is my duty to protect the innocent and defeat evil! Ratchet and I saved the galaxy today! Although… it was mostly me, if I’m being honest,” the man boasted proudly.
Mia felt a cold dread covering her body. She was shivering. Tachyon’s… gone. It felt surreal. There was a hollowness in her stomach. I’m not going to get paid… all of this hunting was for nothing… Mia’s face was numb. She looked at her robots, and they looked back at her shrugging. They can’t feel emotion. They can mimic it, but they aren’t truly alive. They can’t be beaten down, chewed up, spit back out. In that way, she envied them.
The brown-skinned alien was staring at Mia again, and this was getting on the space otter’s nerves. She was in a foul mood already from failing to capture Angela Cross, and the news that her only employer was dead, which left Mia in a very precarious financial situation, was like an uppercut to the chin. Mia’s headache was worsening in her tiredness, in her anger. Her blood pounded with the beat of her heart in low thumps that echoed in the deepest parts of her ears. She felt sick.
Mia stood up and scowled at the alien. “What do you want?” she roared.
The alien smiled. “You’re the space badger,” she observed.
“What are you talking about? Are you blind?” Mia was clearly a space otter. Everyone knew that. Everyone who had met her was able to instantly understand that. All of them except…
“Space weasel,” a boyish voice whispered into Mia’s ear from behind.
She whirled around and beheld someone familiar. He wore black-and-red hyperflux armor that was too big for him, though his helmet was off. His eyes were green, his ears huge and pointed, his fur golden with dark stripes near the ears, and he was grinning - grinning so sharply as he held a half-empty glass of space whiskey.
“Remember me?” he asked, laughing.
No, Mia thought, terror in her heart, I killed you. I killed you! I saw you fall! She turned around and noticed the dark-skinned girl stand up. She revealed a constructo shotgun and pointed it at the space otter and her companions. At once, silence fell across the room as the other patrons spectated the unfolding action. Robutt and Garfunkel stood up nervously, reaching for their own weapons. Mia fumbled for her pistol and whipped around to face the Lombax space pirate.
He punched her weapon out of her hand and caused her to slam into the table. As she tried to get up, he kicked her across the face. Then he downed the rest of his drink and set the empty glass on a nearby table. Mia felt her ears flush, her lips go numb. What’s going on? One minute ago, everything was okay… and now, everything has gone to hell. She looked up at the boy, who now stood over her confidently. Behind her, she heard the alien girl shooting her shotgun at Robutt and Garfunkel. How is this happening? This must be a nightmare…
“I think we have some unfinished business,” said the Lombax coolly.
Mia went to speak, but fear made her words catch in her throat. How did he survive?! I should have killed him! I was meant to kill him! He should be dead!! Yet her thoughts went unheard, for then, she saw the boy Lombax raise an omniwrench above his head and step forward.
The nearest light of the ceiling silhouetted the Lombax and caused the omniwrench to cast a long shadow across Mia’s face. She could do nothing but look on in soundless horror as the boy suddenly and violently swung his weapon down upon her head.