Two years he had been searching. Whispered rumours had finally brought him here, a town on the edge of nowhere that most folks called Methelis, but those who lived here called it Hell, and for good reason. The smell of sulphur was never far away, a dim yellow stain which clung to every surface and left every meal tasting of bad eggs. It was always strongest when the miners passed by, when it billowed from their clothes and hung thick in the stale air.
It was not the mining of it that burned the lungs and left the landscape around Methelis barren, however, but the refinery five miles away where plumes of the smoke filled the air and rained down acid. Everyone who lived here wore respirators and goggles. Everyone who lived here was looking to escape somewhere, though some believed whatever it was you were running from wasn’t nearly as bad as living here.
Running from something, that was the only reasons someone would come here willingly. That, or a nice, fat bounty.
It was her eyes, gold with brown flecks, which drew his immediate attention, marking her as one of the few remaining GCs, genetic-cyborg hybrids. He caught sight of them for barely a second when she pushed her goggles up to wipe mud and sweat from her face. Then she was gone, disappeared into the sea of rags and respirators; miners just getting off shift.
Carin Lan left a few bills on the counter beside his empty plate, calibrated his gun, and slid into the crowded street. Two years of hunting were going to pay off at last.
He followed from a distance, more because the crowd was too thick than because he wanted to. He would have to get her alone before he made a move, last thing he needed was to draw too much attention to either of them.
The group of miners split, some heading toward the barracks, some to the best place to get the cheap RED liquor that was as likely to blind you as it was paralyze you, but absolutely guaranteed to get you piss-ass drunk for as little money as possible. Carin followed those going to the barracks; no GC would touch RED, played hell with their cyborg components.
He eased his gun into his hand as he pushed forward, the crowd thinning once they were on the side street. A scrap of cloth was tied around her wrist, he had seen it when she wiped her face. He just needed to find it again and he’d have her.
One of the miners moved away from the others, toward a run-down old shack with a sign outside that read simply “Repairs”. He caught sight of the fabric at her wrist. Carin quickened his pace, catching up to her just as she reached the door and pressing the gun to her back.
“You know what this is,” he said, voice muffled by the apparatus covering his mouth. She nodded once. “Come with me.”
He put a hand on her arm and steered her toward the alley. Her body was stiff but she did not resist. Down between the repair shop and an abandoned warehouse was a door that lead down to a dry cellar. He pushed her down first in front of him.
“Word is, the going rate for a GC is 20k.” She wasn’t stupid, that was certain enough, not if she’d managed to live this long. But she’d gotten careless. The glimpse of her eyes – she should have known better. “Man could live easy on a bounty like that; not many would be likely to turn down the opportunity to bag one.”
She had stopped at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for him to descend as well. When he put a hand on her shoulder to get her moving again, he realized his mistake.
She dropped out from under his touch fast as a bucket full of ore down a mine shaft. Before he could even put his finger on the trigger, she had brought a leg up, foot catching him full in the groin.
He doubled over, gasping for air that refused to be rushed through the dirty filter of his respirator. She arched her back up, getting her feet under her again and shoving off the floor. With no time to dodge, he took the back of her fist full-on to the side of the head as she spun around to face him. That dropped him to his knees.
With a fist in his hair, she brought his face down to meet her knee twice, cracking his goggles. He hadn’t realized he had let go of the gun until he saw her pick it up and train it on him.
“Give me one reason,” she said.
He sat back on his feet, panting heavily and bleeding from where the rims had cut above his eye. With both hands, he slid his goggles up.
“Folk like us,” he said, struggling to raise his eyes enough to be seen, eyes which looked just like hers. “We can’t be too careful.”
She lowered the gun. “You need to take your own advice.” A roundhouse kick to the head knocked him out cold.
When he woke, his hands were tied. His respirator was off, but the air was fresh and he took it deep into his lungs. Head splitting from the kick, he blinked a few times and slowly got himself into a sitting position.
“Morning, sunshine.” The voice came from behind him and he turned to find her sitting a few feet away, gun held casually, dangled between her knees.
He had underestimated her. Last word in her file said she was a dancer, graceful. That explained the extreme flexibility she had displayed in thoroughly kicking his ass, but he had honestly expected to find a meek, quiet thing. Not this cold, hardened woman staring him down.
“Seems we got off on the wrong foot,” she continued, “so what say we try this again. I have managed to make a shitty life here in this town for the last five years, nice and quite-like, and away from assholes like yourself who think I’m their sweet ticket to fine livin’. And you are…?”
While she had been speaking, he looked around, trying to get his bearings. They were in a small room, looked to be for storage. There were crates held against one wall, netting and straps holding them in place, and some chain hung from a winch on the ceiling. “Where are we?”
“Nah, see, that’s not how it works,” she said, weigh the gun in her hands to draw his eyes back to it. “Person with the gun gets to ask the questions. All you need to know is they won’t never find your body. Not that anyone would care to look too hard for a missing bounty hunter.”
He shook his head. “You got it all wrong. I’m not after a bounty, I was sent to find you.”
“Why?” she demanded. The faint mechanic whir as her eyes refocused on his face to read his pulse was too low to be detected by any who didn’t have their hearing.
He leaned over, shielding his eyes from the light that seemed far too bright. “Because of what you are. What we are.”
“What I am ain’t none of your concern, if you know what’s good for you.” Her face remained blank but her voice took on a warning tone.
“Not mine. Doctor Mdabe-”
“Is dead,” she snarled, raising the gun and training it on him.
He held his hands up and stammered, “Yes, he’s dead. Not him, his daughter-”
In two steps she had the gun pushed to his head. “Strike two, you’re out.”
“No! I get three strikes!” he cried. “It’s three strikes, that’s how the game was played.” Okay, so it was a stretch, but it was the only thing he had at the moment. Fortunately for him, that was just ridiculous enough of a plea that she didn’t pull the trigger. “I’m employed by Doctor Mdabe. Doctor Kesi Mdabe.”
She pushed the gun harder, again demanding, “Why?”
“She took over. His lab, his work, everything.”
“You’d better start making sense real quick,” she said, “because I promise you your gun is not on it’s lowest setting right now.”
He nodded, licking his lips as he sorted out how to start. “Not a lot of us left, and the ones who are? Like you – not easy to find. Bedded down deep. But she did, she found some of us.”
“And what’s that to do with me?” she said, not at all happy with what she was hearing.
“A group of us were sent out to find the rest,” he said. “You’re the last.”
That got her to pull the gun away from his head. She took a few steps away, mulling that over.
“She said she had figured it out. She could fix us.”
He was telling the truth; at least he thought he was. “And what if I don’t think I’m broke?”
“Then go back to that hell hole you call a home and die alone at the bottom of a sulphur mine.”
She turned and glared at him. He shrugged. “What can I say, diplomacy was never my strong suit.”
That got her to laugh. “Don’t seem brains were high up on your list, either. But you got balls, I’ll give you that.”
“Thanks,” he said flatly.
She came back over and crouched down in front of him, giving him a good look in his eyes. “She fix you?”
He nodded, just barely, not breaking her gaze, and for a moment she almost had hope. But it passed, and she scoffed, standing up again. “And then what, huh? Get fixed up and just sashay my ass out into decent society again? You think these bounties will come off our heads when they find out not only aren’t we all scattered to the four corners, but now we can have babies, too?”
“No,” he agreed. “That’s why we’ll have to push further out.”
She furrowed her brow, confused by that. “Out where? What do you mean?”
“There’s a planet. It can’t support their life, they abandoned it.” He reached out and touched her hand, pulling her gaze back to his. “But it can support ours.”
“Ours,” she echoed, letting that word roll around her thoughts. It had been a long time since she had thought in terms of ‘ours’.
“There aren’t hardly enough of us left, but-”
“Even if we all died out,” she finished for him, “it could be enough to have finally lived.”
He held his hands out and she weighed her choice for a moment before grabbing a knife and cutting his bonds. The edge of his mouth twitched up and he held out one hand. “Carin Lan.”
She laughed and shook her head, grasping his hand and pulling him upright. “Sade. Sade Omondi.”
He already knew, it had been in her file. But at least he knew she wasn’t lying.
She crossed her arms and waited, but when he didn’t offer anything further she said, “So where to?”
He scratched at the cut over his eye. “Well, if we can get to a skyport, we can book passage on a smuggling-”
“No, you idiot,” she said, giving him a whap on the head before turning to open the cockpit door. “I mean, where to?”
Through the door, he could see a field of stars slowly rotating as the capsule turned. They were already off the planet. He really had underestimated her. He turned to face her again and stepped in closer, locking his gaze with hers to transfer coordinates via their optic implants.
“Second star to the right,” he said, “and straight on till morning.”