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Black Sunrise By Christina Engela Characters: 10855

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02


To Ma, who taught me everything worth knowing – and the importance of being able to laugh at myself.

Black Sunrise

Imagine, if you will:

The Ruminarii Hammerhead was so named because of its peculiar hull shape. Being the main warship of the warlike Ruminarii, they were as much feared as hated. (The current advice in general circulation would be 'if you see one, look for a hole – crawl into it and then pull it in after you.') A hammerhead is about a kilometer long and is a dark shiny black, as black as space and – as some whisper, as dark as the souls of the Ruminarii themselves.

As you may follow, they are an extremely hostile species (i.e. there is no word for 'welcome' in the Ruminarii language.) In four short centuries they had managed to lay waste to almost a thousand star systems, enslaving their populations and stripping them of all they wanted.

It has been said that if the Harrt'shisk Hab'arr'oun (Empire of the Golden Sun) ever had any allies it would've been a short-lived alliance indeed. The Ruminarii displayed only the negative emotions, and their ferocity was matched only by their boldness. How a race founded purely on hate, spite and evil managed to flourish as they did is a question on which very, very few civilizations have survived to speculate.

Half-Lieutenant Marsh'k Kluss'ta was not a happy man. Naturally, that didn't bother him as things were rarely otherwise. As the commanding sub-officer of the Black Sunrise, happiness was not a state of mind expected of him, though in reality – our- reality – he was probably not such a bad person. The crew, though terrified of him even under normal circumstances, believed that he had the heart of a little child. (Let's leave it at that, shall we?)

Being the commander of a Ruminarii war vessel meant that he had risen to the rank by means of assassination and ruthlessness and was therefore implicitly distrusted by the Tidhii Mah'k'hai (Naval Command, that is The Queen Of Suth Herself.) He was expected to mete out, in generous portions, brutality to conquered subjects and to act swiftly and mercilessly in dealing with alien encounters. In short, he was expected to be a bad example.

The Ruminarii are bipeds. They are a reptilian species (which probably goes a long way to explain their cold-bloodedness.) Suitably shaped is the best non-offensive description I can find. Otherwise, they're just plain ugly – at least by Terran standards.

A device in the arm of his chair made an obscene noise. The murals on the chair suggested disturbing things being done to some briefly unlucky beings.

"Yes?" Said Marsh'k.

"We're about to enter the targeted system, Lord." Said a tinny reptilian voice in Ruminarii, which could only be described as "hissy".

"Ah. Bad. I'll be there in a moment." Marsh'k paused. "You forgot the salute."

"Lord?" Said the voice, suddenly overcome by panic. "Ses'ach L'ru!"

"Too late. You know what you have to do?"

"Y-yes, Lord." There followed a sound reminiscent of a head banging against a steel bulkhead, suitably muffled by the pick-up.

"Are you done?"

"Y-yes, Lord."

"Does it hurt?"

"Ouch. Yes. It hurts a lot, Lord."

"Bad. Don't forget again, or you can bring me your fingernails yourself."

"Yes, Lord! I won't forget, Lord –"

Marsh'k cut the circuit on the rest of the helmsman's whining and rose to his feet, stretching to his full height of just under six standard Terran feet.

Not many Ruminarii warships had ever been captured intact by any enemy, and so for those the Ruminarii "invited" aboard their vessels, this was usually a one-way sight-seeing trip. For those who really want to know, Ruminarii Hammerheads have an extensive corridor network, the interior walls are heavily decorated, savagely militaristic and inevitably, close together. He strode down one. Lesser ranks seeing him, fell to the deck and groveled like their fingernails depended on it. There was a chorus of shrieks and whimpers as he passed. When he arrived on the bridge, everyone was face down on the deck, each endeavoring to grovel lower than the next. Nothing like discipline to keep the crew in its place.

"Ses'ach L'ru!" Came the slightly muffled chorus. This was Ruminarii for 'Hail the Captain.' Marsh'k sat down on his seat of office. It made a muted and rather obscene noise as he sank into the seat and the device registered his presence.

"Mor'dek'hai de suul." He retorted dismissively. This has been translated to mean something like 'Oh Shut the **** Up.' The crew ceased their groveling routine and got back to their stations. There was a flurry of activity as they tried to look busy.

"Report!" He ordered, his dark eyes falling on the picture on the view screen. They were passing one of the outer planets of the system, a frozen ball of ice.

"Lord, there are nine planets in the system." Said the helmsman, sporting a rather large fresh-looking bump on his forehead. "The fourth seems habitable. We may find life there."

"Life means death." Said Marsh'k. "For them, anyway. Conquest and plunder await us!"

* * *

Life as a private investigator, slash bounty hunter wasn't all Gary Beck wanted it to be. There weren't any big mansions on a palm beach owned by an affluent writer generous enough to let him live rent-free and use his spare Ferrari. But then you have to ask yourself, what could you expect living

on a planet like Deanna? As a third-rate colony in the Terran Empire, Deanna had more than its fair share of dull moments. It orbits a star called Ramalama. If you think that's funny, Deanna's two moons are called Ding and Dong, respectively (this is a local joke) and one of them falls down occasionally.

The sun was hot and his shirt stuck to his back. He had just told himself again, under his breath, that this was a result of him hanging around too long.

It was a beautiful 46 degrees on the dry desert plains and in case you're wondering, there wasn't any shade. Beck's boots made dry gritty noises as he slowly made his way down the deserted main street. Nervously, he adjusted his hat so he could see a little better. The air hung hot, dry and stifling. He could hear every breath he took, it was so quiet and still. The sun was blinding. It was hot. Silent. He was tense. He knew he was there, somewhere. He tracked a movement to his left with the shotgun. A tumbleweed made a name for itself as a light gust of wind blew it along till it fell off the boardwalk outside the deserted jail. He exhaled, glanced round. He's here somewhere, I know it.

A large boardinghouse loomed over to his right, broken windows yawning darkly at him, the broken glass shards seemingly snarling. He walked on, studying the decaying buildings. He adjusted his grip on the shotgun again. The stock had become wet and slippery. Then, rounding a corner, he spotted something.

At last!!

A horse stood tethered to a decaying post in the street outside the saloon, making no attempt to nibble the grass close to the dry water trough by the post. It seemed like the horse was eyeing it suspiciously, as though waiting for it to move first.

He is here! Probably close by!

Cautiously, he moved further out, checking the roofs, doors, windows. Nothing. He walked out further, keeping against the wooden wall of a building, just in case. His heart was pounding in his ears. Strange, isn't it? You could be in hundreds of fights, but everyone always seemed like the first time. A million different things could happen, go completely wrong. Then it might well be his last.

Where is he? Which building?

He decided to try the saloon. The horse snorted, scratched in the dust with a hoof, and – rather bravely – bent down to nibble at some scrubby grass. Beck took another cautious step forward. There was a sudden familiar clicking sound. He froze.

"Don't move bounty hunter!" A rough voice grated from somewhere close behind, "Don't even breathe!"

He swallowed. He's got the drop on me. This is where I really start sweating.

"Hi, Corrigan." He called as casually as he could manage. "We should stop meeting like this."

"Cut the crap and drop the hardware. The pistol too." Came the barked retort.

Reluctantly, he dropped the shotgun. It clattered to the gravel, fell over and went off. A hole magically appeared in the dry trough close to the horse, splinters flying. The horse bolted – and so did he. A couple of shots went off, bullets whistling as he ran, keeping his head down. He reached the safety of an alley and kept on going till he reached the corner. He was breathing hard, the dust in the air closing his chest. He eased the pistol from his holster.

A shot rang out, followed by a loud thud as the bullet struck somewhere close by. He fired three shots blind. Corrigan's reply to that came so close he could feel the heat.

Lousy cover!

He turned and saw his only possible escape – a window. He jumped through it, glass shattering around him. He landed on a wooden floor and, scrambling, made right for a doorway, cursing as he realized he'd lost his hat. Under this hot sun you could end up looking like last week's bacon 'n beans by the time you hit thirty. He loved his hat. He kept on going, making a quick note of where he lost it, so he could go back and get it later.

The building was dark inside – broken furniture and rubbish everywhere. The passage wound a bit before it led to a room with some large windows. The light streaming through the decaying stringy old curtains showed up collapsed bar tables and the skeletons of bar stools and chairs.

There he heard a muffled noise outside, like footsteps. Time to run! He knew Corrigan's reputation. He sure didn't want to go up against a convicted wife-beater – at least, not unprepared. The man was capable of anything.

Beck just made it to the derelict bar when bullets shattered old glasses and empty bottles close to him. He vaulted over the top, the mirror behind the bar exploding shrapnel at him. It was a hard landing behind the bar. The floor planking was a lot harder than he was, and there were bits of old glass and other crap lying scattered everywhere. Gunshots were ringing out, growing louder. Corrigan was close now. Far too close. Glass was shattering and raining down, tinkling and clattering everywhere. Wood splinters and dust were dancing to the melodious chaos. Then abruptly, silence fell.

Corrigan crept up to the bar, cautiously moving around it. It looked like he was copying all the moves he'd seen in old cop movies and westerns, and doing it rather badly. He lowered the pistol. There was no one behind the bar. There was however, an open trapdoor. And that would mean the bounty hunter was -.

"Don't move!" Came Beck's distant, slightly muffled, barked order. "My turn, I think!"

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