What Is Omega Station?

Omega Station, aka the Rock. A barren, airless asteroid on the outermost edge of the galaxy, home of the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Dotted with commercial, military and residential domes, the outer surface is the place to live for those who can afford it or are lucky enough to work there.
But the vast majority of the Rock's residents don't live in the surface domes; instead, they have tunneled downwards, moving ever further towards its fiery heart. The upper levels are safe, comfortable, secure—or as secure as anyone can be on
Omega Station. The lower levels, now; they are home to the detritus of a double dozen races and species, all living in uneasy juxtaposition, fighting, loving, eating—and being eaten.
The Rock's location in space, the last real port before exiting the galaxy, has made it a valuable commodity to many governments and private corporations, as has the addictive drug straz, which grows only in its recycling vats. Control has been taken and given in a hundred bloody battles over the years, but those who live in the lower levels—and further down, in the Depths—are often barely aware of whoever claims to be in charge.
No one, really, rules the Rock, whatever they may claim, however many weapons and warriors they throw against it.
For the Rock is eternal…and it has many secrets...and many stories...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Part 6 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

Captain Eversyn held a rag over his mouth and nose, to filter out the stench of the sewage plant. He had been there less than five minutes and already he had reached a conclusion concerning the explosion investigation. A big fat So what? It was a sewage plant and the smell was so overpowering that Eversyn could not care less what went on down there, past, present or future.

All he wanted now was to get out of the place.

The plant overseer was short, fat, bald and shirtless… well…shirtless only in a literal sense, since every inch of the man's pallid flesh was coated in…Eversyn did not care to know. The husky Human stood nearly waste-deep in the sludge, apparently without wading boots. He looked up at Eversyn.

"So, what'ch figgered out, Cap'n?" He hocked a loogie, and spat it out.

Eversyn pressed the cloth more tightly to his face and suppressed a gag. Why had he come down here? He could have sent someone else to check into this; Benn, for instance.

"You said…you said that one of your people is missing?"

"Two. I said two."         

"You're sure?"

The man snorted and held up three knobby fingers. "I kin count."

All right, be quick, give the pretense of an investigation and get out of here.

"Let me get their names."

"They was Neeks. I'm 'posed to know their names?" The overseer guffawed at the very thought, waving it away dismissively. "Look, alls I wanna knows is what cause the 'splosion. I don't needs to be around here if they's gonna be another one, if you knows what I mean."

"Believe me, I can understand not wanting to be around here." Eversyn glanced around the tank. "You say they use electric prods to herd the fungus?

"Tha's right. Like this un." The overseer drew a grimy prod from a hip pocket and handed it over.

Eversyn braced himself before taking the cloth from his face and using it to hold the prod.

The overseer rolled his blubber-squinched eyes. "Low voltage. Nothin' special."

Eversyn considered the wisdom of using an electrical prod, however low the voltage, while standing in liquid.

It was a wonder something like this hadn't happened before now.

He handed the prod back. "Well, if I had to guess, I'd say one of these prods malfunctioned, exploded. That reacted to the gasses in the air, resulting in the fire."

That sound like enough of an answer. It was enough for him anyway.

"I would recommend you have someone perform a safety check on all of the prods. No doubt they could all stand a little maintenance."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Part 5 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

Simikus Giff was euphoric as he pried the floor plating up and looked inside the secret compartment. Icy air issued from the opening in white, misty swirls.

Although he had already checked more than once and knew himself to be alone in the maintenance corridor beneath the Wayamr district's atmoscyke plant, Simikus nevertheless looked about the shadowy space before setting the panel aside.

Deep within the compartment, nestled snuggly against the coolant pipes, were dozens of frosty vials—each laden with the frozen ka'frindi he had patiently smuggled from the sewage plant.

As ka'frindi, the fungus could have provide him with a comfortable lifestyle—by Nicovan standards anyway—for years to come. But, with the secret he had discovered about the delicacy, instead of comfortable, Simikus was going to be rich beyond his most outlandish imaginings.

He ran a hand across his chilly stash, noting his missing finger.

"Ah, yes. Time to fix that." He reached around one of the frigid conduits and brought forth his long absent appendage. Using the pilfered medical device, he thawed and reattached the finger.

"Welcome back, my little friend," he said, flexing the finger until it regained its former flexibility.

Dressed in Ograd's yellow suit, his ka'frindi horde safe, and his finger reattached, Simikus was ready for business. He replaced the floor plate and then quietly stole away from the maintenance corridor.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Part 4 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

Captain Carle Eversyn read over the incident report as it scrolled across his desktop holoscreen. Unless he was mistaken, there hadn't been any explosions in any of Omega Station's sewage treatment plants since long before he'd arrived as head of the Consolidated Guard a few standard months ago. An addendum tagged to the end of the report confirmed what he'd already been thinking, and then some.

There hadn't been an explosion in over a hundred cycles.

He wondered how he should take the incident. On the one hand, it was just the sewage plant, and the Rock had more than enough of those.

On the other hand, this was Omega Station and everything meant something more than was apparent at first glance.

Eversyn sighed and called his secretary.

"Yes, Captain?" The young Halsan woman's voice practically sparkled over the intercom.

"Please call Master Dyll and express my apologies, but I will have to cancel our dinner meeting. Explain to him that an emergency has arisen and duty calls."

"Yes, Sir. Will there be anything further?"

"That will be all, Lisolia, thank you."

He clicked the comsys off, then took his standard issue sidearm from his desk drawer and holstered it, picked up his data pad and stylus, pocketed them in his flack vest and headed for the door.

He hated missing his meeting with Rudof Dyll. From what he knew of Dyll—and that wasn't very much—Eversyn was fairly confident that the most influential sentient on the Rock would not take offense. On the contrary, thought Eversyn, Dyll always seemed to take particular interest in his job. Why was beyond Eversyn's ability to grasp. Politeness? Dyll didn't need to be polite to anyone; he was too rich. Sincere curiosity in the routine headaches of the head of the Consolidated Guard's presence on Omega Station?

Or perhaps Rudof Dyll simply sees me as an equal.

That was a comforting thought and it kept him smiling all the way down to the still flaming tanks of the sewage plant.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Part 3 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

An hour from now, he would be Ograd Paxa, a Nicovan of means fresh off the transport—registered this time with a hastily, albeit convincingly, forged I.D. packet—come to Omega Station for entrepreneurial reasons.

Six levels up, the lift's doors opened Simikus stepped out onto the crowded public mall of the Wayamr commercial quarter—and straight into the broad chest of a Consolidated Guardsman.

"Slow it down," said the Connie.

Simikus felt numbed to the core, as if one of his prods had misfired in its holster and paralyzed him. With a look of disgust, the Connie brushed him aside and continued walking his beat. Simikus watched the officer's back until the burly Human became lost in the crowd.

When he could feel his legs again, Simikus started walking…more slowly this time.

"Lighten up," he muttered. "There's no need to get all paranoid just yet. The plan is good, it's working perfectly." He looked around, found the corridor he was looking for and headed down it.

Several turns later, Simikus stopped outside the door of his new home, the pod of Ograd Paxa. Ograd Paxa. He smiled; he would have to get used to using that name from now on. Looking to his left and right, Simikus double checked for any passersby. Seeing none, he drew Paxa's finger from his breast pocket and pressed it to the access panel next to the door.

The door to the pod clicked open.

He was in.

Simikus closed the door and immediately reprogrammed the pod to accept his own fingerprint. He then disposed of the lonely digit in the recyke vat. He would be glad once he'd reattached his own finger.

He looked around the tiny dwelling. For a sewer worker, Paxa kept an amazingly clean home. It had been years since Simikus had been inside a room that didn't smell of sludge.

"Well, never you mind keeping this hole in order. By this evening you'll be shopping for something much roomier and a maid service to keep it clean."

Simikus rummaged through Ograd's closet. Ograd Paxa had a surprisingly large wardrobe.

"Five outfits!" Simikus was flabbergasted. Then his eyes alighted on one in particular. "What style! Who would ever have guessed you had such taste, Ograd?" He pulled a dapper coverup from the rack.

Dressed in the dead Nicovan's clothes, Simikus apprised himself in the mirror. The deep yellow coverup with its dark blue piping contrasted nicely with his creamy green skin and black eyes.

"You already look rich," he cooed to himself.

He angled his head for one last look at the lobe pointing straight off the back of his skull; nice and shiny. He looked great. He felt great. He was great!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Part 2 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

Simikus twisted his sudden scowl into a smile. "Back here. Follow me." He led Ograd deeper into the shadows behind one of the huge sewage flumes that delivered the Rock's waste to the recyke center. With his face concealed in shadow, Simikus allowed himself a wicked grin as he thought back to the day, just a cycle ago, when Ograd Paxa had shipped in to Omega Station and come to work at the plant, one of the few places that asked no questions when hiring.

They bore a striking resemblance to one another, he and Ograd, more than enough for his purposes. Simikus was hard pressed to view Ograd's arrival as anything short of divine intervention; it was as if he'd been sent straight from the Core.

And that being so, Simikus had promptly adapted his plan to incorporate the convenient newcomer.

"That's far enough, I haven't got all day," spat Ograd. "Give it to me."

Simikus turned to face his co-worker. "My pleasure," he hissed just as he jabbed one of his prods into Ograd's throat and activated it.

Ograd went rigid, gagged once, then collapsed into the sludge. Simikus was on him at once, holding him below the viscous filth.

At last Ograd ceased thrashing and floated limply, face up in the sludge. Simikus stood up and checked the time. Five minutes before shift change. He glanced back toward the main sludge tank. No sign of the surveillance drone.

"Nub, eh. Thought that was funny, did you?" he asked Ograd's corpse. "Well, it's a pity you're no longer here to appreciate this." Simikus removed a small surgical device from his coverup pocket. Acting quickly, before Ograd's tissues began to die, Simikus removed the third finger of the dead Nicovan's left hand. Then, resetting the device, he used it to heal up the wound.

"There now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

As he put the surgical device away, Simikus congratulated himself for having thought of amputating his own finger, which would serve as an identifying mark. He missed the digit, but not for much longer.

Next, he took the prod he had used to incapacitate Ograd, one of many he'd modified over the years for various purposes, and set it to overload. He stuck it in the dead Neek's right hand. Everything was in place. As the prod began to whine, Simikus turned and splashed a safe distance away, into a side corridor.

Only a few seconds later the prod exploded. Sludge and sewage ignited in a rolling wave of fire. Alarms wailed and frightened workers headed for the exits, on to meet the incoming shift in a rush of panicked chaos.

Amid the confusion, Simikus slipped away, leaving the sewage plant and his past behind him…forever.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Part 1 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

Simikus Giff sloshed through the waste deep sludge of Omega Station's sewage treatment plant. Each hand held a low-voltage prod with which he shepherded the highly prized ka'frindi fungus into the floating collection bins.

He had come to work in Omega Station's sewage plant almost thirteen standard months ago. And he might have lived that miserable period under some illusion of contentment had it not been for a moment of enlightenment during his second cycle on the job; a moment in which he learned that the slimy film he and his co-workers were forever cleaning from the sludge tanks was not simply sewage scum but rather the valuable ka'frindi fungus, renowned as a food additive for its flavor enhancing and endorphin releasing qualities.

The major export—in fact, pretty much the only export—of Omega Station.

From that fateful moment on, the irony of his station in life had not been lost on the Nicovan, and harvesting the valuable delicacy—a mere gram of which sold for more than he earned in a full pay-cycle—had become both the bane of his existence as well as the promise of a better future.

That future, he decided, was just about to begin.

Simikus's work shift would end in another few minutes. He surreptitiously glanced around for the plant overseer's patrolling surveillance drone. He caught sight of the floating machine just as it drifted off into the neighboring tank-room.

Now was his chance.

There was only one other crucial detail to confirm. He looked around through the fetid vapors rising from the sludge, his anxiety mounting, until he saw the next part of his plan.

"Ograd!" he hissed. "Over here."

 Ograd, another a Nicovan like himself—nearly all of the plant's workers were Nicovan, a laxly regulated, cheap labor force—stopped pretending to herd the still yellow fungus and squinted his black eyes to see through the gloom.

"There you are, Nub," growled Ograd. The nickname referred to that fact that Simikus's left hand was missing its third finger. Simikus grinned, though the expression held anything but humor.

"Be quiet. Come here." Simikus kept a nervous eye out for the surveillance drone as Ograd splashed towards him.

"I want my money now," demanded Ograd without delay.

"Sure, sure, of course," said Simikus readily enough, though he made no attempt to produce the credits. "Does anyone know you're here?"

"Of course not, I snuck in. Nobody will be looking for me for another ten minutes, when my shift begins. Now where's my money?"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Part 15 of SCUM by J. A. Johnson

Eversyn regarded Caravello for a moment, then Simikus. The manager turned his desktop computer screen toward the Connie. "See," he said, "the door scanner even confirms it. Wilfor Kudisi."

Eversyn scrutinized the picture on the screen then studied Simikus. If there was anyone on the Rock with a need for tight, efficient security it would be the Starview Lounge, since everyone—who could afford it—frequented the place. The captain had no reason to question the scan. Still…

"You know what they all say about Neeks. They all look alike," Eversyn said. Everyone but Simikus laughed at the insult. "So I'm sure you won't object if I run a background check on your friend."

"Of course not." Caravello's smug grin stayed firmly in place. "I understand."

Petrified, Simikus watched as Eversyn laid the data pad atop the desk holoscreen.

"Don't worry, Wilfor, it's just routine," said Caravello, his tone calm and reassuring.

Simikus nodded meekly, but he was trapped nonetheless. His forged Ograd Paxa ID would be all but useless now, since the only officially registered identification he had was as Simikus Giff. He had planned to remedy that detail after he had been paid his fortune. If he tried to run, the Connie would definitely arrest him and run the check anyway.

As he walked what seemed like the thousand meters to the desk, Simikus became aware of the angular case of ka'frindi biting into his chest. It's just ka'frindi, he reminded himself, perfectly legal. Eversyn would simply assume it belongs to the Starview. They serve it on their menu, after all.

"Place your palm on the pad," Eversyn instructed.

In utter defeat, Simikus wiped the sweat from his hand and complied. With all three of his eyes closed and his breath held, he waited for Eversyn to slap a pair of sono-cuffs on him.

But he didn't. Simikus half opened one eye.

"Is it broken?" he asked.

"My apologies, Master Caravello, Master Dyll," Eversyn said, ignoring Simikus.

Rudof shrugged and smiled. "No apologies are necessary to me, Captain. You're just doing your job; which, I might add, is more than can be said for your predecessors."

"Indeed, Captain; I completely concur with Master Dyll," murmured Caravello.

Eversyn pocketed his data pad and rose.

"I hate that I missed our dinner, Rudof. And, unfortunately, I must be on my way again. The more I think about that explosion at the sewage plant, the more it troubles me."

"How so?" Dyll asked. He rose, obviously preparing to walk the Connie captain to the door. A blush spread over the captain's face at this sign of courtesy from the Rock's richest resident. "Do you think the missing Nicovan are responsible?"

"Possibly. But it's just as possible that they're dead and that the real culprit is still at large."


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Part 14 of UNDERWORLD by K.G. McAbee

The voice didn't sound happy. Malik wondered if he should reach out in the darkness that now surrounded him, but was afraid he might lose more parts of himself.

"Here, drink this."

A beaker, cold against his lips, poured a burning fluid down his throat.

Malik coughed as liquid fire coursed through his body, jerking him unceremoniously back to full consciousness.

He sat up, protesting weakly, "What the shit…?"

Crila put one hand—her meat hand; the other one was metal and alloy—on his chest and pushed him back down onto what was, he discovered by squinting through the gloom, the floor of Dhamu's bar. The burly, massive Ferajai barkeep himself, his yellow eyes red-rimmed from the smoke that still filled the air, towered over them, and dangling from one hand was an ancient Dondaro Mark Five blaster, huge, bulky and cycles out of date.

How the hells does he even get charges for it, Malik wondered blearily.

He blinked and shook his head. "What the…?"

"Yeah, yeah, we already heard that one," groused Crila in her hoarse, I've-tried-to-breathe-vac-too-many-times-and-failed voice. "Creative conversationalist you ain't, Malik."

Malik gave it another try, his mind as cloudy as the atmosphere. "Where did…?"

"By Bhagnor's scales, you was laying in the middle of that pile of bodies right outside my door." Dhamu shook his head, the light glinting off the grey-green scales that covered it in thick layers. "Them damn Connies run off and—"

"Tau!" Malik sat up in a blaze of sudden memory…then slumped forward as his head threatened to explode. He took deeps breaths through his mouth, trying not to puke.

"Yes, I saw him run through here, right as that damn riot started outside," Dhamu nodded. "Didn't see what happened to him but the boy can take care of hisself, you know that, Malik. Hells, he's been running the tunnels all his life. Ain't nobody knows the Depths like Tau."

"Yah, he does." Malik coughed, fairly sure he wasn't going to puke in his lap, but not willing to risk any credits on it. "But I gotta go check on him, make sure he's all right."

Malik struggled up, checked to see if his blaster was still in its holster, and tried to summon up his second best grin for his two friends. From their expressions, the attempt was a dismal failure.

"I know some of Tau's secret cribs. If the Connies didn't get him, he'll go to hole in one of them when he can. Thanks for the rescue. I owe you both one."

"You and that boy," Crila sighed as she sprang lithely to her feet.

"What happened here, Cril?" Mal asked, cursing himself for not saying anything earlier.

She shrugged. "Had me a little run-in with a Spacer who tried to leave without tipping." She motioned towards the pile of bodies outside the door. The local residents were busily stripping them of anything valuable. "That's him there, see? The one with the shaved head and the missing ear?"

Mal wasn't really interested in seeing what little Cril had done to the big spacer, but it was only polite to look. "Serves him. Should have known better. That what started everything?"

"Them damn Connies showed up," Dhamu said, in as excited a tone as a Ferajai ever managed, which wasn't very. "Spouted something about keeping the peace. That didn't make anybody too happy. So a fight broke out, a course. Most customers ran or rolled out to have some fun, and Cril threw the ones that didn't behind."

"Cril, we're not as young as we used to be." Mal eyed the cut on her forehead. "You need to be more careful."

"Why Mal, my dear old boy, I didn't know you cared." Crila grinned at him, her purple eyes gazing out of the palest of faces.

"I do." Malik grinned back her. "You practically the only family I have. Want to go help me find Tau?"

"One a these days, Malik, one a these days, that Hu-man boy's gonna land you in a pile of bov-shit up to your eyes…" Dhamu shook his massive head.

The sound of scales rubbing against scales echoed in the low room.
End of UNDERWORLD. Next: SCUM by J.A. Johnson

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Part 13 of UNDERWORLD by K.G. McAbee

A scream.

Malik was pretty sure it was his own.

He jerked up, sick, fighting dizziness, opened his eyes…and at once wished he'd managed to forgo that less than dubious pleasure.

He sat on an unyielding floor. The room that enclosed him couldn't be near an outer lev, judging from its shape: an opening carved from solid rock in a weird conglomerate of non-Euclidean angles, angles that hurt his eyes. Something hurt his eyes, anyway…and his head and his chest and, in point of fact, all the multitudes of him.

Somewhere in the Depths, natch, he thought hazily. Where else would I be?

He opened his mouth to complain about the sharp stone that jutted into his back…and watched with varying degrees of calmness as his tongue detached itself and rolled out of his mouth, to pool like a slimy snake in his lap.

Malik snapped his now empty mouth closed as the room shifted around him, the walls changing from grey-green-brown to blinding blue-white. He was no longer in a small unidentifiable corner of Omega Station, but onboard a ship—in the control room, no less, of the old End of Time. Before him stood Executive Officer Vezmir Zad in all his glory: beefy arms, stocky legs, a chest as broad as the buttocks of a Carindo whore, and a face that would make a mother wimmerbat cry.

"Blayne!" roared Zad, his face turning an interesting shade of purple as he motioned towards Malik's feet. "What do you mean, coming to the con like that?"

Malik, interested, looked down—careful not to open his mouth and display his tongueless state. His feet, while bare, looked no different than normal, and he often manned the con partially dressed or even naked. After all, the Time wasn't a military ship; she was a pirate-rig.

Then he looked again. Yes, his feet were bare. Unfortunately, they weren't in their normal position, attached to the bottoms of his legs. Instead they were wandering around loose, as if seeking their missing homes.

Malik could feel another scream building as he watched his feet scrabbling on the deck, which was no longer white but a pale, translucent gray. This new color lingered for a moment before turning black. He wondered what would happen if he opened his mouth to let the scream he was biting back escape, and he wondered too exactly where his tongue had disappeared to—was it lying in wait somewhere, ready to pounce on his defenseless feet?

"Malik?" This voice didn't belong to Zad—and anyway, Malik recalled in sudden clarity, XO Vezmir Zad had died spectacularly and with a great many frozen plumes of blood, just after Maryn Meredi had him spaced out the airlock of the old Time.

So the voice didn't, couldn't, belong to Zad…

Then who?


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Part 12 of UNDERWORLD by K.G. McAbee

No luck. No damn luck at all.

Connies surged out of the promenade, filling the corridor outside the door to Dhamu's bar, and Malik could see fighting going on inside.

How did they get here so damned quick? He peered down through a ceiling vent, coughing as the smoke and fumes were sucked past him by the huge vent fans. Below him spread a maelstrom of fear and confusion, as green blaster fire and red blasts from older models made crazy stained rainbows of the gray-blue smoke, and faces faded in and out of recognition as rickety circulation fans roared to keep up with the intensified flow of foul air. Screams and protests echoed up to his hidden post; he shook his head and began to wiggle slowly into a narrow passageway that led to Dhamu's storerooms.

"Hey, bov-brain! Over here! You looking for me?"

Damn, damn, damn! Tau's voice. Tau the Silent, hellfire! That boy never knew when to keep his mouth shut!

Malik slithered back, cursing softly, and crouched over the vent, one hand poised to slam down across the mesh, the other with blaster ready. His brown eyes searched, searched through the confusion below, seeking the lanky figure of the Human boy.

"Yeah, you! You void brains couldn't catch a rattie with a cage full of cheese!"

There he was! The black castoffs the boy wore faded in and out of focus in the smoke-filled gloom, but Malik could see where he was standing now.

"Can't find your own asses with four hands and a metal detector—"

What the Core was the boy doing? Was he trying to get a face full of blaster?

Malik slammed his empty hand down on the wire mesh that covered the access panel, but the rusty screws held firm for a change. He slammed again, again, and they gave way with a clatter. The mesh fell on the head of a Connie who had a blaster pointed at Tau. The blaster went off, wide, two meters away from the boy—and Tau turned and ran.

Thank the Core! At least he's got sense enough to—

Half a dozen Connies—apparently deciding that an unarmed boy's insults were a safer bet than scores of angry LowLevs with contraband weapons and rocks and fists—took off after him.

Malik dropped from the ceiling, cursing fluently, started after them…and tripped over a body. Seconds later, what felt like a steel-toed boot connected firmly with the side of his head…

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Part 11 of UNDERWORLD by K.G. McAbee

Unfortunately, Mal never expected to get caught up in a minor war on the way to Dhamu's.

He pressed his back hard against the cold rock wall of a minor side corridor on LevSix, his heart pounding, scrabbling almost unconsciously for the blaster strapped to his thigh.

Damn that boy, he cursed silently. Can't he just meet me at Dhamu's for a sandwich without starting some kinda bov-shit?

A wall of Connies stretched across the wider corridor a few meters in front of him. They were suited out in riot-control gear: heavy coveralls, thick with blaster-resistant cordion lining; nightsticks with leaded ends; and on hip or thigh or both, a blaster, ranging from light to heavy.

"Stay calm, citizens," shouted a heavyset woman with a surly expression and the eyes of a straz-head.

What the hell is going on?

"We're not here to interfere with your business," continued the woman, a sergeant by her insignia. "We just want to ask a few questions."

Sure. Just questions…just questions always went with riot gear. Maybe it wasn't Tau who started this.

Malik began to edge quietly backwards, into a maintenance shaft that he could use to bypass the promenade and get to Dhamu's the back way. It was just a couple of corridors over. Shit, he could almost smell the beer from here…

Across from Malik's position, two spacers came pounding down a corridor—and slammed into the line of Connies.

A Connie swatted his blaster across the face of one spacer, knocking her to the littered floor. Her companion—Malik could smell the fumes of liquor coming off her clear across the corridor—gave a yell and jumped the cop who'd hit her companion.

As if that had been a signal, all hell broke loose. Screams and shouts echoed as a barrage of objects—pipes, bottles, unidentifiable crap scooped up from the floor—rained down on the heads of the Connies.

"We're under attack!" shouted the Connie sergeant.

Good, Malik thought. They'll retreat, go get reinforcements, and by the time they get—

"Return fire!"

Blaster fire laced out, catching a man standing a few meters from Malik full in the belly. The man's mouth opened in a blood-filled scream, and he fell to the floor, smoking bowels oozing out like lazy snakes to curl around his twitching torso. A woman, whose right leg had suddenly mutated into a charred stump below the knee, was dancing crazily on the other towards a side corridor.

Malik's blaster was in his hand, but he had no real target as smoke and fumes filled the promenade. No use. He had something else more important to do, anyway; warn Dhamu and the others, make sure Tau had made it there okay, then get them all the hell further into the Depths until this bov-shit died down. With any luck, the Connies would bypass the corridor leading to the bar…

Malik raced to the back of the maintenance passage, kicked in an access panel, and with a grunt, squeezed his body into a tunnel half a size too small for him.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Part 10 of UNDERWORLD by K.G. McAbee

Malik Blayne stalked a long corridor haphazardly cut from the rock of the Rock. It crisscrossed, intersected, and connected to a multitude of other tunnels, corridors and passageways, some nearly empty, some teeming with all sorts of life. Maintenance panels blocked with rusted grates peppered the walls, ceiling and floor. He took what looked to be random turns…but were not.

The combined smells of Humans, dirt, a multitude of other species, fungus, mold, garbage and the general funk of an area that had never seen a sun rose in a miasma so thick it was almost as if he had to cut his way through it. It'd been a while since he'd been down the Depths. He had always hoped the smell would become less noticeable as he got used to it, but it hadn't, not so far.

He put up with it. He had to. But that didn't mean he had to like it.

A turn. Up ahead a busy intersection. Malik slowed, then slipped into a cross-passage, ducked behind a pair of L'Taltons. Their feathery crests and round, plump bodies effectively shielded him from view of anyone in the larger corridor he'd just left—especially the pair of patrolling Connies in their grey uniforms that he'd seen turn a corner and start his way.

Malik nodded at the L'Taltons, who squawked a polite reply, and headed down a ramp that led from LevFive into the less crowded—and more dangerous—LevSix.

"Mal! My Hu-man! Come in, take load off! Whatcha got for me this beautiful day?"

The shop was a hole gouged from rock on the broad Zeta Corridor of LevSix, sandwiched between an around-the-chrono bar and an inter-species brothel. The proprietor was a shorter than usual—meaning he came barely to Mal's waist—ginger-furred Bansnict named Mrrrow-Gumg, who had delusions of being a five-star merchant even though his shop barely rated a quarter star on its best day.

Not that it ever had a best day, Malik thought as he looked at the sad collection of wares for sale. Hand tools, obviously not of the highest quality polybdalloy, since many were chipped and rusted from the everlasting humidity; MRIs, meals ready for ingestion, the foil packs quite visibly resealed—Mal shuddered to think what they might contain; ragged clothing with unimaginable stains, and piles of the flotsam and jetsam thrown off from the collision of many cultures.

"Nothing for you today, Mrrow. Looking for Tau the Silent. Seen him around the last few?"

Mrrow shook his head, his wide ears widening further and standing taller. "Not for few. What you want with skinny Hu-man boy? Not even good for eating." Mrrow grinned, displaying a mouthful of sharp teeth, several of them alloy-plated. A long pink tongue snaked out, wiped the corner of one of the Bansnict's green eyes. "That boy trouble. Thief."

"And you're not?"

Mrrow's grin widened. "Merchant. Not same, most times." He gave the wiggle that, in his species, passed for a shrug. "Some times, anyway."

"Well, if you see Tau, telling him I'll buy him a meal at Dhamu's Place."

"That place not good food, Mal! Wait." Mrrow reached into his shop—not difficult, as even his diminutive arm could reach almost to the back wall—and pulled out a selection of MRIs. "Here good food!"

"I don't think so, Mrrow." Mal shook his head, grinned to offset the insult to the Bansnict's wares, and strolled away.

Tau would get the message. Tell a Bansnict, tell the System.

Flaming Core, he'd probably beat Mal there.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Part 9 of UNDERWORLD by K.G. McAbee

Malik strode back to the center of the hall, reached up and laid his thumb against an almost undetectable indention near the ceiling. A hatch slid open in the wall near the floor. Malik jerked his hand away, reached inside, scrambled for a bar set in the ceiling, and jumped into the hatch, feet first. It closed behind him with a soft snkt.

He kept his eyes shut as he slid several meters down the tube; he didn't like enclosed spaces. At last his boot soles hit an obstruction. He opened an eye—useless in the dense darkness—then fumbled for another indention. In this one, he stuck his other thumb.

An opening beneath his feet—light billowed up around him—Malik slid out.

The room was low and irregular, carved from the rock of the planetoid itself. There was the faint and ever pervasive odors of mold and fungus. Cases were stacked everywhere, labeled food, armory, ammo in seven languages and four glyphs.

Malik filled his pack with a selection of dried foods in polybdalloy packages, strapped a blaster to his thigh, then walked through the cave. After several twists and turns—the cave stretched for some distance and he descended towards the interior of the planetoid with each step—Malik reached a clear area. No crates littered the floor, and here the construction had been done with more care. The walls were straight and true, and he could stand upright without the danger of hitting his head on a jagged protruding rock spike, and walk without dodging boulders. On the far side of the smaller cavern, a transparent cylindrical tube rested on three heavy supports, from the center of which came the constant hum of a life-stasis system.

Within the tube floated the long lean body of a naked man. His russet brown hair, liberally streaked with white, floated in an aurora around his head in the clear gel that surrounded him.

"Good evening, Rudof," said Malik as he checked the dials and filters. "I'm off on a visit to the underworld. I'll send everyone your love, shall I?"

The eyes of the floating figure blinked once, so slowly that Malik had disappeared before they'd made one full circuit.