Category Archives: Igneous

Episode 167: Rock Beats Pauper

“You sure picked a great place to head, Gamma,” said Chala, cutting through a branch with her machete.

“It looked close,” he said, wheezing as he followed behind. The pain in his chest was growing sharper instead of staying at the dull and hollow pain he’d been managing with. “And it’s… more or less on the way to the field where I landed. Carmen’s gonna need to get me off the planet eventually.”

“If she survived reentry,” Chala said.

“I don’t think she’ll be coming down on an actual asteroid, I think she’s gonna get a ship… Hope she hasn’t already landed, honestly. Hope she’s not too worried about me…”

“I think she’ll have other things to worry about, if you’re anything to go by,” she said. “How’re you holding up back there?”

Zack coughed and waved his hand dismissively. Chala stopped and looked over her shoulder.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I mean… I feel like I’m dying, but apart from that I’ll be good.”

“If you say so,” she said, turning forward again and resuming the walk. “We’re almost there, but between you and me I think that fight with Nectra took a lot out of you, and I’m pretty sure she was holding back.”

Zack didn’t comment, but continued his walk through the ill-defined “trail” that Chala was either discovering or creating as they moved. The scent of the world’s humid air, baking clay, steaming mud, and spongy trees wasn’t comforting. Why was he dying despite being, as far as he could tell, healthy?

Chala reached the edge of a clearing, but paused and held up a hand. The field before her was clear and covered with a crumbly, moss-like vegetation, and a cool wave seemed to be coming from it.

“What?” said Zack.

“We can’t go this way.”

Zack resisted the urge to say that it looked fine to him. He stared into the cool clearing and couldn’t see anything immediately dangerous. He glanced at Chala’s eyes and saw calculated concern, though not immediate worry.

“What’s the problem?”

Suddenly, from the trees above, a figure in a green robe dropped into view between Zack and Chala, an insect-like figure who swept his leg in an arc that immediately dropped Zack to the ground. The trajectory of the leg sweep continued, but Chala was both faster and had more time to react, jumping back and aiming her bow at the figure.

Zack looked up, and stared into the bug-like eyes of Vox Cul-Dar. He jumped up and backward, twisting over Chala’s leg and throwing off her aim before landing. She twisted in place and fired the arrow at the alien, but Vox’s hand was faster, sweeping forward to connect with the projectile and continuing the arc to effectively throw it into a nearby tree.

“The next one goes into you or Gamma,” he said, staring into Chala’s eyes.

“That’s not likely,” she said. “My aim was off that time.”

“Mine wasn’t,” he said, smiling. “And it won’t be. The gift of the tea is fading, but I feel certain of this.”

“Tea?” said Chala, letting the tip of her arrow drop. The humidity seemed to intensify and the heat of the jungle seemed even worse than a moment earlier.

“I wouldn’t push him,” said Zack, shakily massaging his ankle. “I’ve never seen him do that before, but if he can do it once he can do it again.”

“You stay on the ground, Zack,” said Vox. “Until victory is assured, I won’t have you ambling about. You have a talent for misdirection, and opportunities for evasion are always in abundance.”

“Just lucky I guess,” said Zack.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Gamma. These opportunities are everywhere. You just know how to take advantage of them.”

“Get up, Zack,” said Chala, pulling another arrow from her quiver and feeling another wave of heat. “Even sick you were almost a match for Nectra. Between the two of us, odds are still on our side.”

“Before he could get to a knee or pull one of his pistols from his holsters, I would destroy your bow and nullify your ability to assist,” said Vox. “You seem martially sound, so I will do you the honor of not assuming that you would be dead so quickly, but that would follow shortly thereafter.”

“Martially sound?”

“He’s good enough at physical combat that he knows what he’s talkin’ about,” said Zack. “Studied it professionally, and that was before he joined the DMA and got hands-on experience. He’s not as good as he thinks he is, but he probably thinks he’s good enough to gauge how good someone is in a fight before fighting ‘em.”

“I may have overestimated my capabilities before,” he said. “But I’ve got an extra ace in the hole this time.”

Another wave of incredible heat rushed in, heralding the arrival of Igneous, pushing her way through the trees that singed at her touch. Her molten eyes glared with stern determination, and her gravelly fists easily cleared the path.

“You were right,” said Igneous. “They came right here. …Hello, Zack.”

Zack looked at the towering figure of Igneous and his heart sank.

“Well then… rock beats PI. We can’t win this, Chala.”

“So, what, you want me to just stand here while you kill Zack?”

“No,” said Igneous. “Vox and I have a deal. Zack lives.”

“For now,” said Vox. “If you wouldn’t mind, now that my reinforcement has arrived, would you help your friend up? We have a bit of a walk to go, and Gamma looks like he’s in no shape for it. Then again, neither is Igneous with how long it took her to arrive. She should bring up the rear to keep an eye on you two.”

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Episode 164: The Shape of Fire

Igneous sat in the clearing by Vox’s tent, sweltering near the sculpted mound of dry ice she’d positioned in the fire pit. That the ice itself was shaped like a traditional human campfire wasn’t lost on her and, in fact, was part of why she decided to pick up the small mound of cardice for her supplies. The “campfire-shaped sculpture” was rough and clearly made for humans just looking for vague shapes at parties, but it served her needs to a degree. She’d informed its maker that the Pyrhian word for the shape was Comcora, a word that might do better at selling to other Pyrhians than “campfire-shape”. She doubted anything would come from it, but she’d always liked the word.

After the purchase, she’d considered breaking it up so that she could cover herself in the material, but the risk of shattering when in contact with extreme colds remained. She didn’t know how much longer she could last, but for right now she was willing to cool herself by the camp ice.

A rustling from the planet’s strange foliage heralded the arrival of Vox Cul-Dar. He slowly entered the campsite, pulling a net behind him, one that Igneous saw contained an unconscious Shangmere. She looked up at Vox as the bounty hunter dropped the ropes he’d been using to drag the net. He approached the campfire, eyeing the cardice carefully.

“You’ve replaced my fire pit with a block of ice, I see,” he said. “That explains why I’ll be chilly tonight.”

“You were expectin’ to be cold in this humidity?”

“Just a feeling,” he said. “Which is quite a feat if you’re around, I must say. You’re truly not looking well, Igneous. Are you certain that you’re up for catching Zack and Fletch.”

“Fletch and Zack,” she said. “Though I note that you’ve brought us neither. I thought you said you’d bear great fruits.”

“Oh, I have,” he said. “I know you want us to focus on Fletch first, and we will, but I believe this creature is imperative to locating Gamma at all. Zack will encounter her again.”

“Well, he is a stupid human,” she said. “He likes to help. I wouldn’t expect him to rush into danger just to rescue a friend who could probably handle themselves, but I saw him more or less do just that in Helix.”

“Igneous, are you suggesting that we send a note to Gamma, informing him that we have his friend held hostage and that we will terminate her if he doesn’t surrender?”

“No, but I thought you were going to,” said Igneous. “That seems like your way of thinkin’ when you can’t punch or kick someone into captivity.”

“Perhaps it is,” said Vox. “For Zack, though, we won’t need any such ruse. Behold…”

He reached into his backpack and withdrew a horrible, green hat with an antenna sticking out of the crown. Igneous took a step back.

“You were right on his tail, then,” she said. “How’d you get that?”

“I picked it up from her,” he said. “I had a hunch that I’d meet her, and the hat contained a note written in Zack’s handwriting.”

“You know his handwriting? Vox, you’re takin’ this hunt too seriously.”

“Not for the reward the DMA is offering I’m not, and neither is Fletch, wherever she is. In any event, this was a very helpful note, one that will, I expect, take us directly to Gamma when he finally rears his hatless head.”

Episode 123: Echo’s Soliloquy

“I don’t like where you’re going.”

Igneous stopped and felt a chill for the first time in weeks. She looked over her shoulder, and saw only the alien plants, mostly purples and yellows in this patch of the jungle. She was closing in on the primitive city filled with the snake-like creatures, and was just about to dive into the river that seemed to be the only way into their land that wasn’t carefully watched, probably because it was so visible that no one would think it to be a security risk anyway. All of the vegetation here was sparse enough that she felt confident that no one could sneak up on her, and certainly no one who spoke Pyrhian so fluently.

“You don’t want to go home?”

She had said it. She didn’t like that she’d been the one to say it, but she had.

“Still a lot to do,” she said, ignoring the fact that it looked like she was speaking to herself. It reminded her of an opera she had seen when she had been a young gust, an opera where the Pyrhian hero had confronted both her inner demons and the literal demons through soliloquy.

“That hasn’t stopped people before. In fact, it’s the primary thing that I hear when they don’t want to go home. There’s still so much undone… and as much as we would love to oblige, we just can’t. Not for everyone.”

“Quiet,” said Igneous, moving closer to the river. She stepped out of the underbrush, and felt exposed. The uppermost part of a wall of the city was visible just over a hill from here, and anyone on top of it looking in her direction would doubtlessly see the bright orange glow from her cracked hide.

“Why should I stay quiet? What will you do to me? Pummel me with your fists? Which do you think will harm me… the stone? The fire?”

Igneous neared the water. It was a reddish gray thanks to the soil Mandrake had in this region. There was another danger she faced when entering the water, but it was more a danger of discovery. In some ways, she was looking forward to it.

“And we’ve gone from verbal challenges to silence. Very well… continue playing outside a bit longer, but it’s growing dark. You’ll need to come in soon. Have fun playing with your human friends while you still believe in them. They’ll be gone soon enough when you’ve grown up and admitted that your real life has begun.”

Igneous scowled but refused to say anything more. She wasn’t sure why her own voice had betrayed her. She’d forgotten to check in the water’s stream to see if her own mouth had been moving or not, and wished the thought had come to her before now. After a few minutes, she was convinced that the voice wasn’t going to say any more.

She lowered a toe into the water and a jet of steam rose into the air. It grew bigger as she fully submerged. The water was cool, and while not as cold as the ice she’d grown accustomed to using over the previous few days it flowed over her, bringing new coolness before her own internal temperature could warm the water that was touching her. It was warmer than she wanted, but not stagnant.

She looked up through the surface of the water and worried about the cloud. It was so much larger and louder than the tiny smoke clouds that her feet had been leaving in the foliage everywhere she walked through the jungle, and the griseous steam would be more noticeable by far. After some time the steam reduced to a gentle amount that dissipated sooner.

She cautiously lifted her head above the water. The worst was over, and any damage that could have been done had already been done. She put one massive arm in front of the other and began swimming toward the nearby city.

Episode 108: Jungle Predators

Igneous pushed aside a branch, stepped through, and removed her hand just as it started smoking. She didn’t think there was any real danger of her presence starting a forest fire amide these trees… most of them appeared too damp, and sometimes too spongy, to catch flame easily. Still, the occasional clouds from the branches she touched were beginning to worry her.

She checked her tracker again. The signal from Zack’s landing site was drawing nearer. It wouldn’t be long before she was in visual range.

She pushed between two thorny bushes that probably would have killed most humans attempting to travel by the same route, and paused at the sight of the small ravine in her path. A narrow bridge was formed by a fallen tree. She stared at the soft, spongy bark of the tree and wondered if she could maintain her balance on it. She also wondered what her chances would be of the tree not catching on fire and burning itself apart while she walked over it.

She took a deep breath, again wishing she knew if deep breaths or rushing winds would feed the heat inside her. She stepped back as far as the thorny bushes would allow, and ran forward. Her usual speed was diminished in part by ground much softer than the city streets or space stations that she frequented, and she had a moment of panic as her final footstep touched the edge of the cliff and propelled her forward.

She soared through the air, realizing that she wasn’t going to go as far as she usually could on a jump. She wondered if the soft soil was to blame, or if she had grown weaker than she realized while holding off her metamorphosis.

She dropped like, as the humans would say, a stone, arcing down too sharply. She pulled an arm back and, in a moment of desperation, punched the dirt inches below the ravine’s edge. Her fist dug into the soil of the cliff, and her fall halted in an outward explosion of muddy dirt and stone. She took the chance and reached up, putting an arm over the top of the cliff. She paused and, after a second without falling, began to laugh her low, rumbling laugh. The laughing lasted much longer than it had in recent memory, but it stopped abruptly when she realized that the edge of the cliff was starting to droop down toward her.

She dug her highest arm into the ground and scrambled up, pushing herself to finish the climb before too much of the cliff gave way. Moments of worry later, she pulled herself over the edge while piles of soft dirt fell behind her. She stood, jumped away from the edge, and walked a good thirty feet before looking back.

The bridge formed by the fallen tree remained in place, and the now-wider jump where she had attempted it looked maddeningly treacherous after what she knew about the soil structure.

“Next time, jump over the bridge instead of the empty air,” she told herself.

She checked the scanner again, got a fix on Zack’s landing site, and walked through the trees. She had work to do, and no time to dwell on the close call, but an observer familiar with Pyrhian facial expressions would tell you that her usual look of stony determination had been replaced with a genuine smile.

***

Vox Cul-Dar reached into the wreckage of the robotic parachute with the tweezers he’d included in the poison mixing kit. He held back a fold of the cloth with one hand while sifting aside chipped fragments of debris until a tiny, glowing dot came into view.

“There it is,” he said. “Rendelac, I’ve found it. We can begin the examination.”

“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” said Rendelac. “We have a disparity of goals.”

“What do you mean?”

“You wish to remain undetected and surprise Zack Gamma,” said Vox Cul-Dar. “You also wish to examine the remains more carefully. In the clearing we are visible. In the jungle we can hide. Your desire to examine the parachute itself is, while thorough, a risk greater than any rewards you are likely to glean. I suggest taking the tracking device with us into the trees and returning it after our examination is complete. Leave the parachute.”

“Sensible as always,” said Vox Cul-Dar. “I would know more of this parachute, though. The odds are against it, but it may have other useful information.”

“It is a possibility,” said Rendelac. “And though I advise against it, if the computerized elements of the parachute remain intact, it is possible that I could discern some of what caused Zack Gamma to abandon it here.”

“Oh, yes,” said Vox. “I would very much like to know this.”

“Seek a Minyural connection,”

“That’s one of the triangular wires, yes?”

“Indeed.”

Vox looked over the parachute and found a Minyural connection port. He retrieved Rendelac from his pack, found a Minyural cord in the secondary supplies he’d brought at Rendelac’s recommendation, and connected the computer to the robotic parachute.

“Processing,” said Rendelac. “Yes, there is data here. It appears that Gamma used the parachute twice.”

“A jump before leaving Carmen’s asteroid?”

“No,” said Rendelac. “A jump after.”

“After? How is that possib-”

“Urgent, we are not alone!” said Rendelac. “Scanners indicate another!”

Vox spun in place to scan the tree line, just in time to see Fletch swinging at him with two batons, ancient Earth weapons known as escrima sticks. He raised his arms and caught the two wooden weapons with the serrated edges of his limbs.

“Too slow!” he shouted, locking them in place against each other and preventing Fletch from manipulating them. The assassin snarled and jumped back just before he kicked the air where she had been with enough force to kill. He stomped onto the ground and pulled his arms apart, an act that caused the blades to slice through the weapons, destroying them.

Unfortunately, the arm blades also severed the high-voltage wires located within the rigged weapons. The batons released their charge into both of Vox’s arms, jolting him and causing him to stagger back. In a daze he looked up at his enemy, saw the stun rifle in her hands, and blacked out when the burst of energy passed through him.

Fletch tossed the rifle to the side, stepped to the parachute, and lifted Rendelac off the ground, keeping the Minyural wire plugged in as she did so. Her cybernetic reticle scanned the trees quickly and, convinced that she was alone, lifted the thin computer high enough to look into its green, softly-glowing eye.

“You’re Vox Cul-Dar’s pet computer,” she said.

“I am no pet,” Rendelac said. “I am an adviser and councilor, meant to instruct and-”

“Pet computer,” she repeated. “Word around the DMA says that he doesn’t listen to your advice unless it’s convenient for him. You’re a sentimental reminder of his past, I’m guessing.”

“I have often considered this,” said Rendelac. “You are speaking half-truths to rattle me. I know what is true of your statements, and what is not, and though I have emotions I do not have the emotional ties required to be confused by emotional manipulation. Humans have a wonderful gift for using emotions to outsmart those who are smarter than themselves, but Rendelac has never been swayed by such tactics. I speak both of the true Rendelac and myself when I say this.”

“Fine,” said Fletch. “No tricks. Just options. You’re here for Gamma.”

“Correct,” said Rendelac.

“Awfully honest there.”

“Deception is rarely warranted. I gain nothing with a lie at this time.”

“Great. You’re going to tell me everything about Vox’s work here. How did he know Gamma would be here, how he found this clearing, what his plans are for actually catching Gamma, everything. I’ve already worked a lot of this out, and if I get the sense that you’re leaving out an important detail then I snap Cul-Dar’s neck followed by three puncture wounds to vital organs since I know that neck snapping won’t kill him immediately like it would for a human.”

“Then why-”

“So he’ll die in pain,” said Fletch. “I took special precautions to avoid anyone else being on this planet. Just me, Gamma, and the locals. I don’t have time to deal with you and Vox. You’re the kind of complication that made Zack too tough to pick up back at Helix.”

“Very well,” said Rendelac. “I will tell you everything you want to know.”

“Maybe the great wisdom of Rendelac’s got something going for it after all,” said Fletch.

“I’m sure I don’t gain anything by saying so, but Gamma’s bounty can’t be worth this trouble. Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

“I’m not an assassin or bounty hunter for the money,” said Fletch. “I’m in it for the glory. The money’s a really nice fringe benefit, though. Now, no more stalling.”

***

Igenous pushed through the trees around Zack’s landing site, took one look at the scene, and instantly stepped back into the forest. A dazed-looking Vox Cul-Dar was on the ground, and Fletch was speaking to a computer, probably the Rendelac model that he used. She had known that she would run into Fletch sooner or later, but had hoped it wouldn’t be this early. She needed to move away from the clearing. Gamma obviously wasn’t anywhere near here, and the second that Fletch looked in her direction the cybernetic reticle would register her heat signature.

Igneous pushed away from the clearing, trying to think. If the tracer had been left behind, likely in that wreckage, then how would she find Gamma? And how had Vox gotten here? There was too much information she didn’t know.

The only thing she knew for sure was that if Fletch was around, then her supply of Teles wouldn’t be too far.

Episode 106: The Expected Clearing

Igneous opened the cold tub and instantly regretted it.

The sweltering humidity of the jungles of Mandrake crashed into her, overwhelming what little of the tub’s chill that hadn’t already been subsumed by the heat she generated.

She willed herself to be stone in that moment. The rock men and rock women of the Pyrhians were, with some noteworthy exceptions, the strongest and most stable of the others, and that strength was often mental and spiritual just as much as it was physical. She reached over the side and pulled herself into the sweltering heat.

The clearing was wide, and much like she had expected. Before Carmen had programmed Zack’s landing site into the robotic parachute, Igneous had attempted to determine which part of the planet, and if possible which landing site, the racer would select. Few people realized how easy it was to predict the decisions of others if those decisions were based on standard computerized methodology. Without adding qualifiers like ‘one of the top fifty-three results’ or even ‘I’m trying to avoid detection, mix it up a little,’ replicating such strategies was easy enough. After determining what clearing on the planet would fit the most variables, she selected one near to it; Zack had no reason to suspect that she would follow him to Mandrake, and dropping off her tub right next to him could lead to uncomfortable questions.

Igneous reached into the cold tub and withdrew her small package of supplies, feeling like she was swimming through the atmosphere with every motion. She wanted to collapse onto the ground and take the time to acclimate to the oppressive environment, but knew that her time before metamorphosis was more likely to be measured in hours or minutes than in days. After a quick visual inspection to make sure that nothing was damaged, she withdrew the heat resistant tracing module. As expected, the tracker pinpointed Zack as waiting in the clearing where Carmen dropped him off. She smiled at the break in her fortune, hoisted a liquid nitrogen cannister out of the tub and over her shoulder, and moved out of the clearing.

***

Vox Cul-Dar stared at the gouge in the red soil, not knowing what it meant but assuming it was a problem.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Gamma was here, I can feel it. But something else was, too…”

“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” said Rendelac, chiming in from Vox’s backpack. “Some of the detritus crushed on the ground is not native to this jungle. It appears to be mechanical in nature, and still partially functional.”

“Where?”

“Twenty meters down the channel.”

Vox followed the track in the ground, stepping over the twigs and flattened grasses. Soon, he found a device made of black metal, crumpled flat by something of immense weight. It was as if an incredibly tall-but-thin tree had crashed violently exactly where Zack’s gear had been dropped, but no sight of the tree remained. The hole in the ground near the start of the channel might have been the location of a stump, but no trace of it remained either. Vox turned his mind from the oddity and turned the remnants of the device with his slender hands.

“It appears to be a robotic parachute. A signal is issuing from it, likely from another device stored within.”

“Intriguing,” said Vox. “Perhaps the signal is how Zack planned on being found again after landing. A third party must be arriving to get him off of Mandrake again. Something happened here, though, making Zack leave the rendezvous point.”

“That is one possibility,” said Rendelac. “You could destroy the signal and prevent there being any chance of rescue. Or, you could keep the signal active to increase the likelihood that Gamma’s rescuers will arrive and have some way of drawing him back to this location.”

“Either way, his fate lies in my hands,” said Vox, sifting through the debris. “This is a golden opportunity, Rendelac. We would do well not to waste it.”

Episode 90: The Amber Sting

“The special… ‘seating’ you requested was simple enough to install,” said Amela, looking out from the back of the luggage compartment of the trolley that ferried cargo between ships at the spaceport. A spaceport employee was dutifully driving them both, knowing enough to not listen to the conversation taking place behind him.

“Good,” said Igneous, warily looking out across the open space between ships.

“I hope it’s fine that we put it in the cargo hold instead of with the seating. We don’t offer many passenger seats, and under the circumstances…”

“It’s fine,” said Igneous. “I’m not a big mingler.”

“Naturally, I imagine that you have some contingency plan for retribution in the event that we double cross you while you are indisposed, so rest assured that the Yellow Jackets are professionals and you’ll reach Mandrake safely. Barring the standard risks of space travel and smuggling operations, of course.”

“Of course. Why did you name the vessel Amber Sting?”

Amela blinked, not sure about the change in questioning.

“I’m sorry?”

Igneous pointed one of her coal-red fingers out the side of the trolley at the nearing saucer-style ship.

“I’m curious about the name. You’re the Yellow Jackets, it’s got a yellow hull, so I understand Amber, but none of the weapons look small-but-potent or sharp enough to be called Sting. Unless you’ve got hidden weaponry. Or is it a metaphor for how the Yellow Jackets operate? Sting operations?”

“No, it’s… we’re the Yellow Jackets. It’s an animal from Earth, it has a stinger. Yellow Jackets are like wasps or bees.”

“Ah! I see. I know about bees. Do Yellow Jackets also make honey?”

Amela looked at the saucer as they drew nearer to it.

“I actually don’t know. We just liked the name when we started up, and it’s served us well. Vara suggested it, she probably knows more than I know.”

“Not important. How many others on the saucer?”

“Pilot and copilot, two other passengers, four guards. One of the other passengers is even going to Mandrake.”

“Mandrake? But why?”

“I could ask you the same.”

“Don’t get cute, human,” said Igneous. “I need secrecy.”

“We always assume that,” said Amela. “This client even paid us instead of threatening us like you did.”

“Is your client a human female? Cybernetic reticle over one eye? I wouldn’t expect her, but-”

“Not human, not female, no reticle,” said Amela. “Not that it’s your business.”

“Good. That’s my only concern. I’m sorry, I’ve got some complications that I need to avoid.”

“Don’t we all,” said Amela. “Anyway, if you’re, uh… ‘cold tub’ stops working with the ice, we have liquid nitrogen in a container nearby, as per your request, and all of it will be easily unloaded onto Mandrake. You’ll have to hook up the nitrogen yourself, but it should only take a minute or two outside of the tub.”

“That’s fine,” said Igneous. “If I can’t last a minute like that, then I’m already too far gone. Your pilot has my instructions for where and how to set me down onto Mandrake?”

“Yes, and the Amber Sting will be scanning for any signals like that when it enters an appropriate range.”

“Good,” said Igneous. “Let them know to speak to me if there are any troubles on following my instructions.”

The trolley pulled up to the cargo ramp of the saucer and Amela nodded toward the ice-filled tub.

“I’m ready to lock you up now, safe and sound for the trip. Anything else before boarding?”

“I trust you to be professionals about this,” said Igneous. “And as you said, the warning isn’t even necessary. But don’t double-cross me.”

“Right,” said Amela. “Let’s get you in the tub.”

***

Vox Cul-Dar leaned back into the chair. It was cramped by human standards, but he found it comfortable enough. The pilot of the Amber Sting approached, looking over his itinerary.

“Is there a problem?” asked Vox.

“These instructions for your destination and retrieval, I’m not sure that-”

“Don’t worry about me,” said Vox. “I can survive on Mandrake.”

“Yes, but step one of your instructions for finding the site to drop you only rules out half the planet.”

“The later instructions refine it in greater detail.”

“Yes, but are you sure that you’ll be able to get to where you’re trying to go?”

“Not at all,” said Vox. “But I do believe that I can make do under the circumstances.”

Episode 89: Spaceporter

Igneous passed the numismachip to the red-uniformed porter behind the glass, taking care not to let her arm linger. The desk would probably be fine, but scorch-marks could be difficult to clean. The porter gingerly took it into her hands, feeling the incredible heat pouring off of Igneous’ skin. She put the chip into her computer for analysis.

“I have the van in space ninety-four,” she said.

“Got it,” said the porter. “The scanners already registered you, I just confirm it.”

“Thank you,” said Igneous, turning to walk away.

“Hey, are you okay? You look like you could use a doctor.”

“Thank you,” repeated Igneous, looking over her hulking shoulders. “I probably could. But I’m in a hurry.”

“Don’t you want the chip back?”

“They’re cheap enough, I really don’t-”

“There’s a lot more than you need on here,” said the porter, looking at her screen. “A lot more. Was this the right chip?”

“It was,” said Igneous. “Keep the rest for yourself. It’s a tip.”

“This isn’t-”

“I really won’t be needing it.”

“Hey, wait,” said the porter, rising from her chair and moving to the door of her office. “Don’t-”

“Stop,” said Igneous, turning back to the window. “Honestly. I don’t need the chip. I won’t be dying without a doctor, I’m just… do you know about Pyrhian metamorphosis? I’ve been taking pains to keep it from happening. I can’t stave it off much longer without the right treatment, and no regular doctor can provide that. I have days or hours if I can stay calm, hours or minutes if I don’t. Please don’t give me the stress of being late for my flight.”

The porter stopped unlocking the door and raised an eyebrow. After a moment she returned to her seat.

“My apologies,” she said. “Thanks for your generosity. Enjoy your trip.”

Igneous nodded and walked to the levipad that would take her up to the starport proper. As she lifted through the air and vanished out of sight, another customer, fresh from having parked his car, neared the porter’s station. He smelled brimstone in the air, and could feel an unusual warmth, but brushed it off as unimportant. The porter mentally shifted back into work mode.

“Space eighty-two,” said Vox Cul-Dar, sliding paper money onto the tray.

“Yes,” said the porter grabbing the money. “The computer’s already scanned it, I’ll just confirm it for you.”

“Thanks,” said Vox, his insect-like claws tapping on the counter. The porter seemed agitated, but it wasn’t important right now. All that mattered was Gamma, and the poisonous surprise in his luggage.

“Keep the change,” he added. “How long is it good for?”

“You can rent a week with this,” she said.

“Good. I shouldn’t need that long.”

He walked away from the counter and stood on the levipad. Moments later, he drifted up to the spaceport.