Amela jumped up from her chair as the mechanical door to her cramped apartment crashed off of its sliding track, through her living room and straight into her kitchen, an explosion accompanied by a rapid increase in heat. She grabbed the rifle propped by her viewscreen and turned back to the door just in time to see a towering, brightly glowing behemoth grabbing the rifle out of her hands.
The monster was squat, despite its statuesque height, and glowing like a coal. It generated heat as if it was made of fire, a property it demonstrated as it crushed the rifle between its two hands. While the obvious strength of the creature was apparent, the rifle also began melting at its touch, likely contributing to the ease with which it crumpled the device. It did so skillfully, avoiding the energy packs and capacitors within the rifle that could cause it to detonate. It tossed the former weapon over its shoulder as Amela cowered back into the kitchen.
“Get out!” she shouted at it, once her back was against the sink.
“No,” it said. “No time for niceties. My name is Igneous, and I’ve had a rough day. You’re a key lieutenant in the Yellow Jacket’s smuggling operations, and I want off world.”
Amela tried processing the information. After hearing it speak, she realized that the creature was probably a Pyrhian, though she’d never seen one with so much heat. She could make out a rocky hide that was nothing but cracks. She gulped and moved into business mode.
“You break into my apartment with no explanations and expect me to let you buy a ticket just like that?”
“You’ll give me a free ride,” said Igneous, the tips of the stony crown that ringed her head glowing white hot. “Paying for passage is traceable, even in an illegal venture like the Yellow Jackets. You’re a wanted woman, and I’m in the DMA. If I don’t get what I want from you, I’ll bring you in for the bounty and move on to the NEXT smuggling operation.”
Amela almost laughed at the suggestion that anyone would think it would be that easy, but she’d received an unsettling report earlier that morning. If the reports from the perpetual war of espionage between the competing outfits in Veskid were worth half of the expenses put into them, the late-morning discussion of a major problem with the Chrome Chids operation was worrying in the context of this intrusion. Details were sketchy, but several members of the gang, members who’d had protection bought from all the right legal agencies, were in jail and awaiting trials. It brought certain activities to a standstill on top of being an embarrassment.
“Are you saying… the Chrome Chids…”
“Disappointed me,” said Igneous. “They thought I was joking. I’m sure they’ll be on the streets again by tomorrow, but today’s losses will cost them. They’ll cost you as well if you don’t help me out here.”
“You can’t… you think there’s not going to be a bounty on YOUR head by this time tomorrow?”
“Do I LOOK like someone who’s worried about living much longer?” said Igneous. “I don’t have much longer until the metamorphosis.”
“But… metamorphosis isn’t dying…”
“It might as well be these days,” said Igneous. “If what they’re saying about Xol’s return is true at all, the fourth stage of the Pyrhian life cycle isn’t all I’m cracked up to be.”
Amela didn’t stop cowering, but she did raise an eyebrow at the turn of phrase.
“That was a joke,” said Igneous. “Laugh at my joke.”
“Ha…ha-ha?” said Amela. “Listen… if I can’t pull this off…”
“If you give an honest effort, you won’t end up like the Chrome Chids,” said Igneous. “But you can do it. I have every confidence that you can arrange my passage, and save me the trouble of tracking down any members of Mantis.”
“After the Chrome Chids and Yellow Jackets they’re the best smugglers in town. Not nearly as good as you, of course, but at that point beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Mandrake?! I don’t have any ships heading to Mandrake! No one goes to Mandrake!”
“I do,” said Igneous. “I’ve got a friend there I need to meet.”
“So that I can kill him before another friend beats me to it.”
Amela narrowed her eyes at the comment. She thought about asking for more details, but years of experience had taught her better. She sighed.
“Fine… Fine. Let me find my logbook.”