HARD

CHAPTER 7

‘Oh Yes!’ Rayna screamed to the night sky watching her partner gracefully move, turning her hips, loading her barrel and firing.

Karin shot two more goons down as they clenched their chests and bled out through their lips.

‘Just where are they coming from?’ cursed Karin under her breath.

The cart stopped and Karin got off to inspect the perimeter.

‘Are there more?’ Rayna whispered excitedly.

‘You seem to be enjoying this,’ Karin released her guard, holstered her pistol and tilted her body back to Rayna. The girl stood barricaded by barrels of beans on the cart. She returned an innocent look. There was an awkward silence before the chirping of mockingbirds in the distance broke it.

The forestry was lush, green, something Rayna had never seen before. She dropped down to a soft thud and buried her toes in the grass. It was moist and a little unnerving but Karin calmed her down. ‘Might be a little scary at first, but someday you will wish you were back.’

Karin took off her boots and rested her bottom on the grassy meadow. The wind whistled through the leaves and the night sky bathed them with a cold illuminance. Rayna walked toward Karin, careful with her steps until she found herself adapting and even enjoying it.

‘Is this what you meant by you would show me the world?’

‘Part of it yes,’

‘My whole life I had only seen dust and sex, but just 3 days with you and…’ she started to tear but Karin quickly caught it from falling all the way down to her neck.

‘Dust and sex is good too,’ she replied. They smiled at each other enjoying the glimmer of each other’s eyes in the serenity of the moonlight and the melody of forest.

‘How do you do all that?’

‘Do what?’ Karin furrowed her brows.

‘Be you?’

‘I was always alone, and when you are alone, you survive or die. There is no in between,’

‘I have always been alone too,’

‘and here you are surviving, so I can ask the same thing can’t I? How do you be you?’

Rayna dropped her head over Karin’s lap enjoying the warmth of her partner’s thighs over her right ear. She snuggled her head as her hair softly tickled Karin past her tunic. It didn’t take long before Karin was feeling deeply aroused.

‘Say Rayna,’ she said patting her head, stroking her hair softly. ‘Would you like to learn how to use a gun?’

‘I would,’ Rayna replied.

‘I don’t mean for shooting,’

‘Then?’ She turned her head left to look up. She noticed Karin’s chest moving deep and fast, her nipples conspicuously hard through her tunic. ‘Oh!’ she gasped.

**

Kira held Kim by the shoulders and on they went deeper into the tunnels, as per Kim’s directions. Kira was half-hearted to lay all her trust on her newly found friend but without alternative options, it was the smartest thing to do.

‘There,’ Kim pointed far into a deep hollow tunnel, where a sound of thunderous water roared.

‘You sure that’s not the oil?’

‘No, it’s water.’ Kim freed herself and started limping toward it.

Kim followed wielding her self-made torch in her hand irradiating the place and scurrying all the rats. Kim stopped. ‘What?’ Kira yelled.

Kim stood stationary and then just leaped.

‘No!’ Kira screamed and ran forward only to find a ledge and huge basin underneath, somewhat similar to the one before. She heard echoes from the bottom. ‘What?’ she screamed back.

‘I said ‘GET DOWN HERE’’

Kira took a deep breath and jumped, folding her legs close to her chest and dove deep into a large pool. She rose to the surface and was very pleased not to have a coat of oil on her this time.

‘That way,’ Kim directed her neck and started to swim.

**

Rains poured heavy and with the donkey and the cart draped by a large loose cover, Rayna and Karin had a better idea to make use of their time. Their clothes off, they played with each other in the soaking grass. They hugged, kissed and wrestled in the dirt, their bodies littered with grass that stuck. They played with Karin’s unloaded pistol, rubbing it against each other, introducing it into their vaginas and soon just tossing it aside. Rayna got on top. She felt the oddest medley of sensations. Her top-half was being showered by thick drops of ice-cold rain, as it bathed her back, washed her hair, her neck, her lips and froze her ice cold nipples, her bottom half was hot sliding against her partners warm genitals and her feet against wet dirt and grass. They moaned and moaned in heightened sense of pleasure competing with sounds of the rainfall and roars of the thunder. Every now a bolt of lightning flashed exciting Rayna making her squirm. Kira enjoyed watching every drop of water from the girls’ dancing breasts enter her mouth while her back massaged the cold wet dirt and grass. This was a heaven she had not felt not even the last time they did this. This was different because she felt Rayna be her complete true self. This was her freedom and her gratitude for it.

**

‘That’s a convertible,’ shouted Kira. The ledge had let them to somewhat of a garage. The whole place felt very distinguishable from the rest of where they had been. Kira kept a look out for the flesh eating monsters.

‘Not just any convertible,’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Ben gave this to me when I was 11,’

‘Ben is who?’

‘Ben’ Kim replied gently hoping into the front seat. She stroked her fingers over the dashboard and played with the leather. She grasped the steering hard and squeezed them. She loved the noise tightening leather made.

‘It’s in good condition,’ Kira marvelled at the exterior walking about it. Kim was starting to get protective over it. ‘Hey! Just get in. Don’t touch anything,’

‘Alright.’ Kira retracted. She reached for the handle on the passenger’s side over the right.

‘That doesn’t work. You have to hop in.’

Kira smiled. ‘Now it feels like it came from this planet.’ She insulted jokingly.

‘Say another mean thing about her, and our deal is over,’

‘Wow,’ Kira laughed. ‘Touchy. You must really love your girl. So Ben is like your father?’

‘No, you don’t fuck your father.’

‘God No, you don’t.’ Kira gasped shocked at her response. ‘Wait, you said you were 11,’

‘Yes,’ Kira replied. ‘It was a better time,’

‘Oh,’ Kira was puzzled at her response ‘How old are you now?’

’14,’

‘No you’re not,’

‘Erm, yes I fucking am,’ She started the ignition and the machine roared. ‘Yes, come on baby. You know mommy loves you,’ she smiled patting her sides of car.

‘Wait that means,’

Kira had long lost interest in this conversation. She quickly turned the gears and pumped the pedals. The car sped forward, with headlights brand new lighting the path before them.

It was a long runway before they entered another long dark tunnel, much wider this time, but Kim kept on speeding. ‘Wait what are you doing?’ Kira withdrew into her seat as she gasped. Kim had a devilish stare. ‘STOP! STOP!’ Kira screamed as they sped even faster and faster and just before Kira had her arms to her face they sped through tearing a thick sheet of cloth and on to an open road.

Kira observed her surroundings. It looked as though they had come out of a freeway tunnel and onto a long highway. ‘That was some kind of a parking garage. Or least it was,’ she mumbled to herself. Kira peered further back as the full view of the plant they had just come from revealed its magnanimous metal and cement architecture, half-buried in sand and half-stretching west disappearing to the distance.

‘HAHA!’ Kim screamed as she howled toward the dawning sun. ‘I’m still alive Bitch,’ she honked and sped over the smooth road. Kira noticed cement buildings all around her, all buried in rock and sand, just the top parts visible. The only reason there was a road there would mean, ‘a flyover’ she smiled wondering about the mysteries the planet’s past.

‘You’re a fucking mad one aren’t you?’ Kim responded.

‘Well at least I’m not a fucking alien,’

The thought suddenly came to Kira’s head. ‘Wait, a year is longer here. You mean 12 as in this planet’s time. That would make you 28.

‘Fuck you I’m not 28.’

‘No, I mean I am 32, but in universal time,’

‘Yeah you look 32,’

‘Wait, what does that mean? You think I look 60? Fuck you bitch,’

Kim started to giggle, and seconds later so did Kira.

‘So, the nearest town is Golgotha. I hope you find what you’re looking for,’

‘I need some kind of transmitter. Something good enough to send a help signal,’

‘Don’t know if you can find anything like that there,’

‘Really? What do they have there?’

‘Thieves, whores, and the occasional righteous merchant,’

Kim took a deep breath enjoying the wind in her hair as before. ‘You know I have been lucky so many times already since I landed here. Let’s hope I’ll still be.’

**

The donkey was pleased to have before it an entire bag of beans. Rayna caressed its ear lovingly. She didn’t think she would she become so fond of the animal.

‘Breakfast is served,’ said Karin. Rayna approached the fire and the eggs fried to perfection on a metal plate. Just the smell made her stomach churn. ‘Where did you find them?’

‘The mockingbirds,’

‘What?’

‘Yes, where else do you think food comes from?’

‘I guess,’

Karin had already finisher her portion. She wiped the barrel of her gun and waited for Rayna to finish hers.

‘Can you teach me? Like really?’

‘Of course. Let’s try’

Karin quickly got up to find some rocks and assembled them one of top of the other a few metres from where they sat.

‘Alright,’ she said taking aim.

‘Wait,’ Rayna gobbled down the remainder of the egg and headed straight for her.

‘Hold here,’ she gave the pistol to Rayna and positioned it, adjusting her shoulders and elbows from behind her. ‘Alright, you can do it with one eye closed or both open, whichever helps you aim,’

‘BANG’ the first shot only scattered the birds from the trees but the rocks were still.

‘I missed,’

‘Wait,’ Karin peered hard. ‘You see over there,’ pointing at a scraped bark of a tree to the left. ‘That’s where it went when you thought you had it. Now adjust yourself so you can course correct. Anticipate what you think the bullet sees and not what you see.’

Rayna figured she had to tilt her body ever so slightly to the right and then tried again.

BANG.

They looked hard for the bullets trace. ‘There down those bushes,’ Karin pointed. ‘Now it was too far to the right.’ Rayna whined.

‘Patience dear girl. Give it another go,’

Rayna calmed herself and took aim. She stared long at hard at her trajectory for a good few seconds.

BANG.

The top stone fell but the bullet was nowhere in sight.

‘Shit, I won’t kill anyone like that,’

‘The aim is not to kill. It’s to protect,’

Rayna smiled as she internalised those words. She looked hard at her stoic rescuer, standing strong, lethal but wise and handed the pistol back to her. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘for everything.’

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HARD

CHAPTER 6

‘You sure this is safe?’ Rayna looked disgusted as she checked the bottom of the empty wooden barrel. It was bringing up some unwanted mental images from the past she was trying to forget. Her lips quivered just thinking about the darkness, the small space, the thunderous galloping of horses, and roaring engines of trains, the hissing and whooshing across the tracks.

‘Quick!’ Karin ushered her. Reluctantly Rayna lodged her right foot in first and cozied her body into the tiny space. She cowered as Karin closed the lid. She noticed Rayna in tears, wiping them away frightened.

‘Don’t worry,’ Karin said. ‘You can trust me.’ Rayna looked up and saw a little ray of hope borrowed from the high noon shine through Karin’s red unruly hair. The lid was shut and Rayna held tight to her shins.

There was darkness once more, and guns blazing everywhere. She even felt a slight rattle but nothing punctured through. There was some mutter, and more rustling and then it was all over.

Rayna felt the lid shake. She felt her heart beat out of her chest. Her head was pounding. She prayed for a clue, a sign that her saviour was alive, and that this finally would be a chance of real hope.

The barrel started to shake and she felt as though being lifted off the ground. Should she speak? She felt movement, unsteady with minimal swaying. Rayna patiently waited for a sign. Then, ‘I got you.’ said the voice as if God had answered her. Relieved, she wanted to burst out and embrace her but she knew her orders. ‘Stay in and keep silent at all times, until I myself tell you otherwise,’

She felt a sudden thump. There was no movement for a brief second. She felt her sense of gravity switch, and some dust fell on to her face from the side. She rested her back horizontally and then she was moving again. There were soft brays and grunts. She knew now that she was on the cart and heading out north of Golgotha, where the farms met the towns and the road beyond. Tears of joy roled over her cheeks and a feeling of immense happiness bloomed inside her.

Karin had an unscrupulous but formidable plan in place. As soon as they walked out of their shop, there were at least 3 or 4 thugs out at the entrance waiting to greet them. Rayna was covered top to bottom in dirty grey overalls. She wore the ugliest boots to hide the pink of her toes. She masked her face but her eyes blue and the white of her nasal bridge were still visible. Karin stood tall, hitting her chest, her fingers called the thugs close teasing them to initiate. The thugs grinned and mocked among themselves. The first one ran at weilding a tiny dagger. Rayna cowered behind Karin, steady like marble pillar, her defence and shield. Karin used her head, and with one hit, he bounced back, riling up the others. The all pressed forward at once screaming at the attempt to intimidate but she didn’t flinch. As quick as lightning, her trigger finger fired all the shots remaining in her barrel, all on point, scattering 3 of them about, while 2 others fell where they stood. The ones still alive quickly found spots to hide giving Karin adequate time to do the same.

Shots fired back and the people outside scurried. Whores and sellers walked back in, doors closed and shops turned their signs. Karin moved her rescue to the edge of the balcony, shielded by some pots and withered plants. She ducked below and crawled to the opposite side. Rayna paid close attention to Karin and how she checked her ammunition. ‘I’m out,’ she lipped. Rayna’s eyes were wide open, excited and frightened all the same, as if she were watching a live show with her in it. All her hopes were up again when she saw Karin smile to herself.

‘One, two, three,’ Karin counted before dashing back in the shop. Shots fired again, ravaging what remained of the doorway. Rayna caught a glimpse of her friends jump out of their windows and run from the back, all covered in sheets and clothing they first came in. It was a liberating to watch it all come tumbling down.

Karin barged out the door settng it loose from its hinges and finally falling to the ground. She held the shotgun from earlier, holding it vertically over the fore-end. She gave it one shake before taking aim, resting the stock over her shoulder, and ‘BLAST’. Pellets scattered everywhere. There were random twangs, and then another shake and another ‘BLAST’.

person releasing shotgun shell on shotgun

Rayna kept her eyes to the floor, dulling out the noise in all the chaos. It wasn’t so fun anymore and the safest place she could be was in her own head. ‘Come on, come on!’ Karin held her up. ‘Let’s go,’ she smiled at her and lifted up her chin.

Hands held tight, Rayna was being whisked away through the markets and the busy streets of Golgotha, in other sections where the commotion had not yet spread, they remained incognito, hiding amongst passers-by, retailers and workers. Rayna looked at the brothels and the girls in front of the windows staring back at her. She knew they knew and the smiles of ‘good luck’ they granted her were more than enough to keep her going.

There was an empty alleyway behind some shops. A donkey strapped to a cart pleased to see Karin raised it neck to lick her hand.

‘This is Rayna,’ Karin said, ‘she’s a friend.’

Right at the back were large barrels, and Karin went ahead to carefully inspect them. ‘Rayna’ she called and but the poor girl was distracted by the silly donkey’s expressions and paid no heed. Rayna felt a small object thrown at her. She looked towards Karin holding some beans. She finally heeded to her call. ‘Thank you,’ she said, trying to hold in her tears.

‘It’s not over yet sweetie,’ Karin said giving her a kiss over the forehead and opening the lid of an empty barrel. ‘Might be a little uncomfortable, but it has to do,’

‘In there?’ ask Rayna surprised.

‘More are coming. You will have to. I promise you I’ll keep you safe and remember there is only one rule I will need you to follow.’

 

**

 

It was the most magnificent display Kim had ever seen. It danced and swirled, like paint in water. So much water around her weightless body, naked as the day she was born. The water was dark but the colors were luminous. Iridescent patterns repeatedly blew open, like gift wrappings unfolding from its centre, directing her through the current while a soft orchestra played in the background. She opened her mouth, and her lungs filled up. Gills flapped open the sides of her breasts and life was renewed. A soft perfect bubble escaped her mouth and she watched it rise, as it made its own glowing patterns rippling from its center. As the ripples touched it only created more ripples and soon the glow dominated her surroundings.

‘Woah!’ she breathed and it echoed through the water. ‘Mommy!’ the voice of a child from the distance. ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy!!!!’ the voice cried In agony. Kim looked around, finding for the source but there was nothing. ‘Mommy!!!’ it cried again. She saw a strange figure, a woman in the distance floating as well, dead, with her hands reaching for the surface, forever drowning as little bubbles escaped all her pores. A shroud of even brighter glow surrounded her as she sank.

Kim swam, and swam hoping to reach her. She kept pushing forward but only found herself to be further and further away. The lady reached a depth unseen, just pure light illuminated from her and soon she was gone, and the glow with it.

Kim found herself getting lighter, warmer, and soon found it difficult to breathe. The lights were far away and darkness encroached above. ‘NO!’ she gasped, her gills slowly dissolving. She kicked and kicked, pushing herself up toward the darkness. The surface was now but an inch a way. She straigthened her neck, heading with her nostrils as it flared while crossing the realms. She took another breath, a familiar one.

Kim’s eyes were open and her body was in deep pain. She was back in the tunnels, the place she had found death. Her joints frozen, she looked around slowly turning her head. Pass the cliff it was night and there were stars aplenty. Her memories slowly came back to her. She felt a slight warmth from within the tunnels and heard the crackles of a small ember and soon her eyes made out a shadow. ‘I’m not alone am I?’ she mumbled.

‘Nope, no you’re not,’ a voice responded.

Kim sprang up, and an excruciating pain radiated all through her. All but her legs moved. She noted her hands were warmer, and her color slowly returning. A woman about her size and build sat next to a small fire.

‘Did you make that?’ Kim asked inquisitively.

‘Yes, it’s amazing, and it’s still not out yet. It’s the air here,’

Kim chuckled. ‘The air huh? Never seen anyone get so chipper about pyre.’

‘You call it pyre? Like the Greeks,’

‘Who the fuck are the Greeks?’

Kira got up and slowly approached her. Kim tried to move herself back but her legs were still asleep. ‘Hey, hey! Back off,’

‘Nice way of thanking someone who saved your life,’

‘You saved me from drowning?’

‘You were hypothermic, and it looks like your volume is still low but your wounds have dried up. Now you just need some water, which I have carefully transported from down the tunnels. You got to burn the oil off the surface and then you just get the best damn water you have ever tasted,’ Kira opened a flask and offered it to her.

‘That’s mine,’ Kim snatched the flask from her. ‘So you went through all my things as well,’

‘I needed to know if you were dangerous. I mean look at those metal claws,’

‘Listen bitch,’

‘No you listen,’ Kira interjected, I saved your life and now you owe me,’

‘I don’t know owe you jack shit,’

‘Then figure out how you are gonna survive for the next couple of hours,’

Kim was furious, ‘Just who do you think you are talking to me like that?’

‘Kira Okeke, from the Democratic Nations of The New Utopia,’

Kim burst into laughter and kept on laughing for an awkward amount of time. She noticed her toe twitch and immediately grinned.

‘Ok, ok, Kira Okeke from the Demo…whatever, listen. You are fucking crazy ass bitch, and I don’t know how long you have been trapped here but I am not your friend, and I don’t owe you anything. In fact I am going to kill you for going through my things after my legs start working again.’

‘1 day, from sunrise to sunset, or at least that’s how time is measured in most planets. That’s how long I have been here,’ Kira replied ignoring the rest.

‘Planets? OK,’ she felt the sensation finally return to her legs. ‘Maybe you should just,’ she sprang up, quickly on to her feet. ‘Go back to where you came from,’ and dashed for the exit before falling to her face after 2 steps.

‘You think I don’t want to?’ Kira retorted not even attempting to acknowledge what had just happened.

‘My family, my sweet husband, and my kid, my sweet Kate,’ she teared missing them. ‘I’ve never been away this long, and so out of touch. She would be going to another grade of school by now,’ she lamented.

‘Mommy…’ Kim muttered. ‘It was you,’ she turned to look back.

‘I knew you recognized me, I was the one…’

‘the crazy one in the dessert,’ Kim interjected, hiding the fact that she was also the one she saw in her weird psychedelic near death experience. She finally realised that they were same person.

‘Look,’ Kira looked hard into Kim’s face. ‘I don’t know you, and you don’t need to trust me, but help me get out of here, find some civilisation nearby so I can contact home and get help. I promise you that you will be well rewarded.’

Kim’s head started to ruminate. One never says no to money. ‘What kind of reward?’

‘Currency, intergalactic, worth millions here perhaps,’

‘Intergalactic? Ok lady, you can stop the whole alien thing right now,’

‘You people really don’t know do you?’

‘Know what?’

‘There’s a universe out there, planets, ships, stations, hubs, the whole thing is just littered with our kind. You have been left so alone for so long to fend for yourselves you poor things,’

Kim looked out past the cliff into the night sky. ‘Everywhere?’ She wondered for a second if the strange woman might be telling the truth. Then she started ruminating even more. ‘She was in the dessert in some kind of weird air ship. She also knows how to heal people, make pyre and who in the hell can come up with a phrase like ‘Democratic Shanties of La-La Land’?’

‘Ok, I suppose you did save me. So, I will help you travel to the next town. And that’s it,’

Kira smiled pleased to have struck an agreement, and for once on this miserable planet, she felt a glimmer of hope. ‘Thank you, Miss?’

‘Kim,’

‘Just Kim?’

‘No not JUST KIM,’ she retorted, ‘KIM!’

 

HARD

CHAPTER 5

The terrain had dramatically changed with the wavy dunes now far in the rear, Kira found herself driving on more flat and sturdy ground. The cracks reminded her of old dried water basins. In the proper hands, these lands would have flourished. ‘What a pity,’ she thought. There was not a town, or even a truck stop in sight. She had been off-road so long she was wondering if the folk here even understood the concept. Kira was tempted to give her feet some rest. She hit the ‘cruise control’, moved her legs up over the dashboard, with one hand on the steering, she finally decided to take it all in. She basked under the warmth of the sun and wind soothed her skin as she took big cathartic breaths, enjoying every second of the air aerating her lungs. The atmosphere here wasn’t at all like at the crash site. The air here was fresh, nurturing, and pure. She marvelled at how this place survived this long, all on its own. Where were the vegetation, the hydroponic farms? The trees? How could a planet sustain human life without any trees? These were just some of the questions that kept ruminating in her head while she cruised toward the empty horizon ahead stretching out to what seemed like infinity; a view so exponentially lifeless, her mind rather daydreamed. That or maybe her body just felt like it could finally relax. It was all just putting her to sleep. Maybe it was the exhaustion but the urges were slowly taking over and soon enough her eyes were closing shut even without her permission.

Kira woke up, her body tossed to the back, turned around, face pressed against the backseat. She felt nauseous and completely disoriented. Her head was spinning. All of these lasted for about 30 seconds. Then she finally got a grasp of reality. She adjusted herself to sit and then noticed that the front half of the vehicle was completely obliterated. The cushions torn and the seats broken. The front of the truck was completely smashed into a concrete wall. Kira was unhurt. She actually felt blessed that she wasn’t in the front when all this happened but she had no idea how long she was out, never even realizing she had collided with something in such high impact. She pulled herself out and surveyed the damage. ‘No way is she coming back from this,’ she mumbled. ‘Guess this is my stop,’ she consoled herself.

The wall was high, almost as if to intimidate. She traced the sides until she reached an open entrance leading to an open yard like space between two towering building. It was like the ruins of an old shantytown, littered with junk. Scraps of metal and garbage everywhere, floors of it towering her sides, and the only sunlight came from a narrow opening at the top dimly lighting up the place. She heard movement.

‘Hello?’ she shouted. ‘Is anyone there? You don’t need to feel afraid. I’m unarmed.’

There was a tiny screeching noise, from one of the floors above, ‘What the hell can that be?’

She grabbed a metal rod incidentally found adjacent to her and started to creep toward the noise, where she found a rusty ladder, creaking while swaying left and right. Only problem was, there was hardly any wind in here. The sound became more audible, this time like whispers, like language, like human language. She figured people did speak English over here, or at least that is what the man in the truck from earlier spoke. ‘Hello?’ she called out. She tested the stability of the ladder before beginning her climb. Her heart was beating in anxiety but if she found life, maybe she could find help.

As soon as she was on floor two, she noticed even more garbage. Plastic, metals, paper, cloth, and polymer of all sorts you wouldn’t expect to find in a primitive civilisation. She noted several compartmentalization, akin to rooms, just bordered by old stone and cement. She assumed this was an old housing complex, maybe midway in construction before solar flares forced the project to stop. However, the garbage suggested people lived here once, a lot of people. Maybe it was thriving, maybe there was an earthquake, maybe it was an evacuation site, or even an isolation site. Or maybe it was just something else entirely. There was no way to know for sure, not when there are no legible forms of writing or signs anywhere. What might have been something remarkable was in wasteful ruins, abandoned, far from civilised road, lonely and dangerous. She crept cautiously, a step at a time, lifting her tightly gripped metal rod with both hands in case of an attack. Her neck hairs stiff, her eyes alert. Then, in her peripheral vision, MOVEMENT. She turned right.

The mound of plastic suddenly moved, and from under it, a shadow rose. Kira took a step back, ready. ‘Show yourself,’

A figure ascended, a girl, adolescent. Her hair was red, bathed in mud and slime. Her clothes ragged, brown and withered. Her face dirty, as she smiled, and walked close, bare-footed on top of the mounds of junk, not even cautious to see what she was stepping. Kira noticed her abdomen distended, ballooned, as would a malnourished child. She wasn’t afraid and just smiled. Kira wasn’t really sure if she should smile back. Who was this lonely garbage child? Has she been out her all by herself just surviving eating whatever scrap she could scavenge? The girl stopped before her and reached her hand out. Kira had to make a choice and decided to trust her. She smiled as she gave her right hand. The girl only smiled even more as she swung Kira’s hand left to right. Kira laughed at her silliness. It had been a while since she’d been entertained by a child.

The girl kept swinging, and dancing and laughing, and that’s when Kira noticed her teeth. The little girl suddenly pulled Kira down close to her, and without warning bit into her right in the forearm. Her teeth was sharp edged, like carved with a blade, and it dug right in. ‘Arghh!’ Kira screamed as her flesh was being torn apart. She swung her rod at the girl’s head, hoping to knock her off. But that was not what happened. It didn’t just bounce off leaving a nasty bleed, rather it pierced right through, buried into her skull and lodged in her brain, immediately deforming the kid’s face.

‘AHHHH!’ the kid squealed as her eyes turned red and swollen almost about to pop out. Blood poured out of the wound drenching the rest of her head and her entire body. She cried in agony as she walked back with little piece of Kira’s skin stuck to her teeth, the metal rod slowly releasing her from her pain. Kira pulled back, squeezing her forearm. She tore a bit of her sleeve and fashioned a bandage. The kid grew tired, pale, and fell to her knees before collapsing, silent. Kira vomited, repulsed at the very sight. ‘What the fuck did I just do?’

From behind her, more rustling. She turned back to see at least 20 heads popping out of the ground in the distance. Closer to her she could feel movement. She looked down. There were arms and hands trying to grab her, dirty, withered, brown. ‘Ah!’ she screeched. More and more revealed themselves and growled like feral creatures, hungry, desperate. ‘Shit!’

She moved backward, and tried to reach for the ladder. The bolts immediately came loose as soon as she touched it and the entire construct fell. A loud bang, metal clanging on metal, and the whispers got suddenly very much louder. She could see she had alerted the compound. The mounds of garbage burst open everywhere and everyone was awake, alert. Their eyes watched her, fear-stricken and severely outnumbered. Kira was surrounded by what looked like men, women, children and even infants; dishevelled, horrific looking. These were the eyes of the sick, stripped off all humanity, just craving for pure sustenance, just empty vessels looking to stay afloat another day.

‘Rarrrrr’ a figure launched from her side. She swung her rod, and it mangled his skull. He screamed to his death. She had no choice but to jump of the ledge back down, and so she did. The fall was bad, and she heard her ankle pop. A few others jumped right after her fracturing their fragile bones and immediately killing themselves. Kira got up and felt a sting in her ankle. Her neck was hurting again. She eyed for the closest exit, the way she came in.

‘CLEAR.’

She started to move. The others followed her, running, leaping and crawling, almost toying with her. She limped as hurriedly as she could while swinging her rod viciously at whatever came. ‘Rarrrrrrrr’ launched another from behind. Kira found herself pinned down, nails clawing in to her back. She squealed in agony as she tried to turn herself over. She gave herself one push and flipped. There was what looked like a grizzly old women, her skin pale and sloughy, her hair thin and patchy, her teeth made of razor sharp metal implants. She was frothing from her mouth, chomping away trying to get a bite at Kira’s face.

‘No!’ Kira pushed, her palms resisting hard, and then suddenly, with all the weight the cannibal was forcing on her, Kira’s hands found its way penetrating into the lady’s breasts, through and through, crushing all her ribs and piercing into her lungs. ‘BAHHH!’ the women screamed. She continuously coughed and spouted red gelatinous material onto Kira’s face.

Kira swung the now lifeless body to the side. She pulled herself to get up. 3 of them jumped at her all at the same time. One of them pulled the rod away from her and bit into her shoulder. She screamed and pulled on his face. She tore his skin off and ripped apart his skull from his jaw. She couldn’t handle all of them. Her clothes were torn, her skin had bite and claw marks everywhere. She kicked, punched, smashed a few skulls, broke a few bones, and kept going without much thought or strategy; just pure carnal instinct. She noticed that some of them had left her to feed on the injured ones. She flung the bodies far to buy her the time she needed to escape. As more moved away, she found a small window of opportunity to run back to the entrance.

She limped, and hopped and pushed herself forward. She shook off whatever clang to her calves, stepped and broke whatever hands that held tight to her sleeves. She noticed the ground beneath began to shake unsteadily. She felt as though she was now standing on fragile foundations. As more came at her, it finally broke and she fell into a huge pit filled with what she could only guess to be oil.

The ones that came after her drowned almost instantaneously. She floated to the surface and looked up. More kept diving in but none knew how to swim. The oil was viscid and it was difficult for Kira to keep her head afloat, but at least it she noticed it went somewhere. This was not a dead end. She saw a long stream leading to a narrow tunnel, only half of it in carrying oil. Kira swam ahead to investigate. The echoes were louder from the other side and her body was small and slippery enough to pass through.

She wriggled her way and found herself in another chamber, wider and without any access to the ground above. She felt strange sensations touching her body only to realize it was the dead carcasses floating in the oil. She looked out for a ledge, or just anything she could use to climb out. The oil was toxic, burning into her skin and the wounds much worse.

‘You asked for this, I mean you used to give kids advice about all kinds of stuff Kira. “Careful not to drive while you’re sleepy kids, and you just might end up in some kind of a chemical sewer filled with flesh eating cannibals” was not part of any outreach program that I knew of.’

She noticed the current getting stronger, and drawing her in fast. ‘Shit!’ She knew what this meant. The stream was getting rapid, and it only meant a large drop was coming. The echoes were louder and louder and that only meant a bigger drop. She could vaguely make out ahead that several streams were leading to the same place she was going. She began to force herself upstream again trying to grab on to something besides dead bodies. Some of the bodies had already fallen.

‘Fuck it!’ she surrendered looking at how she had not much of a choice left but just blindly hope her God will save her.

Kira was immediately swept with the current. There was a wide ledge and then, down she went with several other dead appendages beside her. It was at least 20 seconds before she plopped into an even larger basin. The consistency though felt different the deeper she went. This was ‘water’. She could tell ‘water’ no matter what planet she was on. She floated back to the surface, happy to be alive amongst the dead. She dipped back down to drink a gulp and then came back up again. She did this repeatedly until she was satisfied. The water might have been deadly, it might have been toxic, it might have had parasites that could kill her in just hours, but dear God it was fucking water. Kira was seeing things a lot clearer and she felt some energy kick back in. Ahead she found a dimly lit ridge and swam ahead. She climbed up and rested her bottom. She noticed how shiny her skin looked despite feeling like she was on fire.

‘When will this fucking day end,’ she cursed herself. Then echoing from a somewhere, a voice, in English. It sounded like a woman, grunting in pain, cursing just as she was earlier. Kira noticed the voice coming from behind the wall. She followed it to discover an opening- a dark tunnel leading up. ‘Should I?’ she asked herself, ‘What other choice do I have?’

***

Kim was now far from danger, travelling alone in the rainy tundra. She was getting pale and lightheaded and her eyes wouldn’t stay open for much longer The rains were hitting hard and the leaking through the roof. Any moment it would pour right in and short circuit everything. The smell was putrid. To her left, she noticed something familiar. ‘Yes!’ overjoyed. She had been here before – a place she had buried in her memories as deep as it was buried in sand. It was once a refinery, then an abandoned hideout, a den of thieves and drug users. She drove a little to the side, checking the perimeter. ‘I hope it’s still here.’

Ahead she saw two cylindrical monuments facing a ledge and a deep cliff beyond that. ‘That’s it!’ The only problem was getting there. The rains and wind blew wild and she knew she had to stop and make a run for it.

She drove close enough, to where the road ended. She turned off the engine and took a long silent breath. She heeded the thunderous roars from the skies above. The dripping through the roof had became a constant stream and it was pouring over the passenger seat, eating it up as it made its way to the ground. ‘Come on now,’ she told herself, ‘there will be no dieing here. Not today.’

She swung open the door and jumped down. The rain seared her, burning her skin with every drop. She was already half drenched. ‘Argh!’ she moaned. Kim started to pace as fast as she could. Every drop trailing down her skin burned everything in its path even underneath her already thinning clothes. Her hair drooped down, blocking her vision but that didn’t stop her. ‘Just a little bit more,’ she told herself as the soaking bandages around her hands fell off, exposing her wounds.

She finally reached the edge of the cliff and started to navigate along the narrow ridge that separated it from shelter. Just a few minutes of tip toeing and she would be in the clear. She pushed through with all her courage as the unforgiving skies wailed even more. She felt like she was bathing in some weird wet fire. She was not planning to slip, not when she was this close.

With one final leap, Kim was finally under one of the huge cylindrical structures. She walked in a little. The place was dark but at least it was dry. She rested her back against the wall and slowly allowed herself to drop to the ground. She let her arms and legs loose.

She heard a squeak. Little tiny eyes glistened ‘What now?’ she asked annoyed. ‘Rats!’

She remembered something someone had taught her once if ever in a situation like this. She reached into her pants and fiddled a bit until she found a tiny string. With one gentle pull, she removed a wet, blood soaked tampon. ‘You want this you little shit-fucks? You want to suck on this here pussy blood?’ The rats squeaked excitedly as she wiggled it around on the string enticing them before flinging it to the far back. The entire mischief ran after it.

‘Well! There goes my last one.’ She closed her eyes and breathed gently. She felt a feverish chill and her fingers slowly becoming numb. Her head was light and the rain noises became softer and softer though it was pouring only heavier than before. She closed her eyes and finally gave in to rest. She could not hear anything else anymore but the sound of her heartbeat like disappearing far into a distance and into another reality. ‘Hello Death, it’s great to see you again. I’m not sure if I’m only visiting this time,’ she mumbled before her body collapsed to her side.

HARD

CHAPTER 4

Drying off after being drenched in each others’ sweat, their bodies having repeatedly enjoyed each other, their senses were now numb, exhausted, spent, and satisfied. Karin laid comfortably on her back as Rayna gently massaged her toes for her. The soothing nature of which she did it could put anyone to sleep but Karin’s head was instead pounding and pounding hard. She couldn’t decipher why but she had a wild guess. She took one good look at the beautiful specimen before her, that in her mind was nature’s best mistake. Her skin eminating a flushed afterglow slowly dissipating, while the sweat drips gave her a holy glisten. Was Karin falling in love with her whore, someone she paid for to do exactly what she asked and more?

‘Did you enjoy that? Karin broke the long ambient silence.

‘Of course I did,’

‘I mean really,’ she pulled back, sitting up and looked at her straight in the eye, removing her distracting feet away from Rayna, demanding seriousness. ‘The truth. I won’t take offense,’

‘Well,’ Rayna hesitated. The last time she was honest, she was severely punished but she figured her customer wasn’t the type of person that would just let this go. ‘Not many people usually serve me back. The things you did to me, for me…’ she paused mid sentence recanting their night. It made her obviously flush again, like a camouflaging lizard, but her skin was ever smooth and supple. ‘The things you did, well, I have never felt like that in a long time. Thank you.’

‘No problem, they’re just things I learnt on the road,’

Rayna was already intrigued as soon as she saw the stoic, broad chested female in shabby clothing and a fake leg walk through the door but even after unfolding her to her naked center, a small part of Rayna wished she could prod even more, especially since Karin’s one leg was pulled back and the other was just resting still, cold, inanimate but still part of a living being, ever tempting her to touch it.

‘You’re wondering?’ asked Karin, smiling as if to an inquisitive child. She sensed she was shy, and that only made her more attracted to her. ‘Go ahead, ask,’

‘You got this from your travels?’

‘A lover,’

‘She gave you a leg?’

‘More like HE took it. He lost a bet,’

‘And YOU lost…’

‘Not just this leg,’ Karin interjected smiling. ‘I’ve been trying to find that son of a gun for years now. But he hides well.’

‘Son of a gun?’

‘You never heard of that before?’ Karin acted surprised.

She gently shook her head and pouted her lips. Karin saw those beautiful eyes lit up. It struck every nerve inside of her, dried her throat and made her aware of her chest beats. It might be a temporary trance, a hold this witch had on her. It might be gone as soon as she left out that door, but she wanted to convince herself otherwise, that this was somehow different. Maybe it was love or maybe it wasn’t. But she needed affirmation. She needed to test it out.

‘I could show you many things, out there,’

Rayna stopped her. She was feeling a familiar rhetoric, something her customers always used to say to her after they had sex, as though rehearsed. She didn’t want this from Karin. For some reason, hearing those words from her made her want to tear. She got up immediately, and picked up her clothes to fasten it back on.

‘Was it something I said?’ Karin noticed that she had offended the young female.

‘I don’t know why I am feeling like this or why this matters so much to me, but I just remembered, that you paid for this. Funny isn’t it, that i would forget? Could forget even.’

‘Well, this can be the last time someone pays you for something you don’t want to do. Come with me,’ Karin insisted on her invitation.

‘STOP!’ Rayna exclaimed reaffirming her decline. ‘And what? You gonna go out there and show me the world? You gonna rescue me? What’s the plan? I wait for you at dawn at the train station or something? And you will leave now, with promises, promises, promises, and I am supposed to feel like all this is over. As soon you leave that door, your confused body will know itself again, and then I won’t be a muse, a vixen or even a lover anymore.’ She starts tearing. ‘Just a paid fuck. And you will come back again indefinitely, paying whatever else you have, giving up everything for just another 20 minutes of what YOU have told yourself is heaven.’

‘Rayna,’

‘And all those promises? What about them? Just poor whores at the train station patiently waiting, holding on their dear lives, praying not to get caught. Maybe he will come? He has to come, he just has to. Right? But nobody sticks to the plan. You have had your white meat and life moves on for you. But us? We just get hauled back in here, lashes, whips, and of course free service. And you know what free service means. Nobody is prepared for that. Because all holes are open for business…’

‘STOP! Please stop!’ Karin felt overwhelmed. She too was client, and she too paid for everything her heart desired because that was the deal but the things Rayna was describing were all too palpable. The episode Karin had with her might not be the same for her next one, nor the next, nor the one after and it was a shame hearing the obvious come out of the young girl’s mouth, something that everyone knew but refused to acknowledge so as to not ruin their own fantasy, their unique experience. But why was this to much for her to handle? What had made this girl hold such a special place in her that even visualizing her in constant defilement, the nature of her lifelihood suddenly become completely unacceptable?

‘I meant it,’ Karin was ever resilient, only becoming more sure of herself.

‘Sure you did. You wanna go out and come back in, see you still feel the same?’

Karin got up. She picked up her clothes from the floor and started to dress herself. She thought hard and long about what she going to do. Rayna sensed her dilemma, but after the amazing night she had had partially thanks to the generosity of her customer, her guilt coerced her to realize she probably went a little too far. She felt obliged to put her customer’s mind at ease. ‘Look, I’m sorry. Maybe come back next week and I’ll see if they can reduce the price for you, or at least give a longer session, I shouldn’t have said what I said. I am really stupid.’

‘I’m not sorry Rayna,’

‘But you ARE feeling sorry FOR me. I don’t want that. I don’t need you to feel that for me.’

‘I am thinking of a plan. The train station was never a good one. In fact I could feel the insincerity of it as soon as you mentioned it. I would never go that route, not if I was serious. I am sorry if you had to go through all that.’

‘So what will your’s be like?’ Rayna smiled, puzzled at Karin’s proposition, intrigued to know.

‘Call her in, your manager or pimp or whoever the other lady was.’

Rayna immediately reached for the wall next to the door and rang the bell, not one second later, the lady from earlier came in. This time with a shotgun.

‘Don’t think I wasn’t listening,’ she cocked the gun and aimed at Karin.

‘BANG’ a bullet went right through her before she could pull the trigger. Rayna leaped back, her face horror stricken as she watched blood ooze out from her matron’s chest, dirtying her clothes, pooling over the floor boards underneath her slippers. The lady dropped her gun that never fired, grew instantly pale and fell to her immediate demise.

Rayna holding her tunic to her mouth, passed her wide confused gaze toward Karin, now in a partial kneeling stance holding a pistol with smoke billowing from it’s mouth. Karin just got even more interesting and it was stirring upq emotions inside of her.

Karin stood straight, sighed aloud and turned towards Rayna. ‘That’s more like what I would do.’

***

The sirens blared, and the hibernating pods flashed open. Kira was still in a daze. She eyed her surroundings for hoping for some clarity. ‘Oh yes, we are traveling,’ she mumbled. There was imminent panic and one of the engineers were busy below floor level, past the one access hatch. ‘What’s going on?’ she shouted from above.

‘Ma’am, please brace for an emergency.’ ushered the soldier now standing in front of her, checking her pupils and feeling her pulse. ‘There was an incident, and we’re doing our utmost to take care of it. Best if you strap yourself up.’

‘Your utmost? I’m the one trying to fix it,’ shouted the engineer from below.

‘How long has it been?’ She asked. ‘It has been about 4 months ma’am,’ the man in uniform graciously replied.

Kira pushed him aside and made way toward Steve, the engineer hard at work. With him, Dr. Brooks, her Botanist under the hatch that separated the levels. ‘Good morning,’ he smiled.

‘What?’ she demanded.

Steve began to explain, ‘we must have hit something or fried some circuits, fuel tank isn’t responding. Some of the connections got severed. I’m still trying to figure out what. The Voyager is a good machine, but she has aged, and not gracefully,’

A loud screeching hijacked the airwaves. Kira headed for the cock-pit, ignoring the soldier’s orders. ‘Dennis, what’s going on?’

‘Sorry ma’am, we are caught by the gravitational field of the planet.

‘And how is that bad?’

‘Well, we need enough exhaust fuel to push back against gravity to ensure safe landing. If we can’t do that then we can at least glide slowly mid atmosphere until we find some kinda runway but there was something the scanners didn’t pick up. You take a look,’

Past the windscreen, she could see it, the looming hemisphere of a blood red mass, the planet they were looking for but even more obvious, a sizeable whether temperament that looked like a cyclone of continental proportions literally, consuming the sky and the clouds. The problem was that even they were getting pulled in. It made her heart sink as if looking into nature’s wrath, upset that they came here. ‘Dear God,’ she exclaimed. ‘Ma’am?’ another soldier placed his hands over her shoulder. She turned a fierce stern before he pulled back. ‘I’m sorry ma’am, we have to make sure everyone is safe.’

‘And you do that.’

‘Go, Kira, I’ll handle this. I’m the captain for this mission.’ Dennis nodded respectfully, hinting at her to obey. She moved back reluctantly and fastened herself to a chair as per protocol.

The jet trembled and started to shake vioently. The metal innards vibrated and started to fall apart. Everyone onboard could feel the pressure rise and the vessel heat up at an alarming rate. The deafening sirens kept blarring and the vessel was on full security lockdown mode. ‘God damn it,’ she heard Steve curse from below. ‘Steve?’ she called out to see if he needed help.

A loud bang, and then horrific screams to follow before being silenced into the distance. The entire lower portion exploded before they could turn to look. The vacuum sucked out everything through the breach including the spec-ops officer who wanted to ensure Kira was fastened but hadn’t yet secured himself in time. An emergency door sealed off the hatch but it was too late for the souls lost. ‘What the fuck?’ WHAT THE FUCK?’ Kira screamed in hysteria.

‘We’re in the cyclone,’ Dennis clenching his teeth, holding on the the yoke. He tried to override automatic flight controls. The Voyager 200 was designed to be both flight and space shuttle, to deploy wings and ailerons once striking atmosphere and to be a full blown rocket in space. But as soon as the wings deployed, it broke off, leaving them looking like a huge pencil shaped junk floating about aimlessly in the mercy of the wind, lightning and rubble.

‘This is bad,’ mumbled Kira. Dr. Kiran, the biologist next her to chair reach his hand for hers. He starred at her with a dreary look. ‘I’m sorry Kira,’ he said. ‘I really am.’ She starred back at him in horror. ‘No, Kiran, I am,’ she regretted bringing him, ‘your kids will learn of everything you did for me, and for the cause.’

Another loud thud and all them felt like they were being hurled by an unseen force. Dennis gave up on his first plan to land safely. Now he had to just make sure of his passengers’ survival. He shouted over the radio. ‘Get to your escape pods. NOW!…over’

‘There are only the hibernation ones, the escape pods are in space, along with the auxillary engines and 3 good men…over’ replied a sombre Pvt. Cameron over the walkie. Yet she immediately picked herself up braced herself and got out of her seat. She wobbled around till she fell before Kira.’That means you, ma’am,’

‘No!’

‘It’s only protocol. Civilians first,’

Kira gulped but shook her head in agreement. It was the drill, and she understood. She unfastened herself and climbed back in her hibernation pod. It closed shut. Claustrophobic, helpless and scared, her eyes wondered everywhere. She wanted to be sure Kiran was safely in his. They smiled at each other, through the glass and she nodded at the 2 officers will much respect to their servitude and their sacrifice.

BOOM! The pod launched. Kira felt like she was taking the greatest fall of her life only to then start spinning, taking her own course riding the cyclone. Lightning sparks were heavy and soon enough she could feel she was running out of air. The internal system short circuited and then it was just continuous beeping. She was gasping for air while she banged on the glass repeatedly and hard. She was sucking in nothing and she could feel lungs internally collapsing filling up with her own lung fluids forced out. The Voyager now getting ever distant escaped the pull of the cyclone and was off at a tangent, swung off like a Greek God doing a hammer throw and so was she in the opposite direction. She saw the twister ahead of her, magnanimous, shrinking fast in the distance, then just clear sky, and for a glimpse of a second she caught what remained of The Voyager 200 exploding far in the distance, plummeting to its end. She teared for her men and also for herself. Rapidly being pulled downward by a strong gravitational force, head first, eyes up, she was completely blind as to when she would hit the ground, and whether or not this pod would take the fall. She closed her eyes still tearing as her face started slowly sinking in due to the vacuum. All she thought of was her family and the time they might have had. She envisioned her daughter growing up and her husband remarrying and smiling together by the beach somewhere. And suddenly, a loud thud, a thunderous clap in her ears and all went blank.

**

Kira woke up all of a sudden as if breathed back to life, still lying in her pod. The glass was cracked, and the first thing she noticed was that she was breathing again. The air was coarse, thick and it made her lungs wet even more but there was probably some oxygen in the air she was inhaling. She coughed and expectorated heavily while she tried to mobilize her arms and legs. Enduring the pain she understood that she had to make it out of this dead vessel in order to survive. Once her arms were back to obeying her, she gave a solid push and the door broke open. She was bombarded with a gush of heavy winds and sand. She toppled and fell face down, though her legs were still weak, she was grateful to feel ground. She kept on coughing and spitting out phlegm as she tried to get up and observe her surroundings. She took out her pad device from her pocket only to realize it was also dead. ‘Great!’.

After much grunting and moaning, Kira finally found herself on her feet. Gravity pulled strong here, and she noted her first few steps to be a bit awkward, as you would for the first time trying to walk on a new planet surface. She started to pace more steadily, and soon regained her balance and so kept on for quite a bit to search for shelter or help of anykind. The sun was scorching and drying her up even more. Tired, injured and in pain, she was motivated by telling herself she had a second chance and yet pushed forward aimlessly. She soon found no energy to keep going and inevitably fell to her knees. ‘Maybe this IS it,’ she said in remorse, anger and defeat. ‘Sorry sweetie, mommy loves you,’ she mumbled as her cognition started to loose her.

A thunderous roar blared from the north, like an old engine and immediately Kira snapped right back. She peered hard into the distance. A black object was coming toward fast and then just sped past her. On the back of the vehicle was a woman in worn-out clothing and bandaged hands. ‘Hey!, Hey!,’ Kira screamed at her, flailing her arms, suddenly fuelled by a burst of residual energy. A chance of hope came at her doorstep, or so she thought. ‘Hey!’ she squealed in desperation but the woman in the vehicle paid no heed, and just drove off of sight.

‘Oh I know the bitch heard me,’ she kept running in that same direction unaware that there was another truck right behind her, and before she could turn to notice, a large hand grabbed her by the torso and lifted her up to the chest. ‘Shit!’ frightened by the large monster of man gripping her. She struggled to get off. Desperately shaking herself rapidly. ‘STOP that you bitch,’ he yelled back. She shook her head continuously till she knocked his forehead, once, twice, thrice until he started to get drowsy and immediately let her loose. She fell hard and started tumbling down the dunes. Sand got in her hair, her eyes and her mouth. In the knick of time, resilient, not quitting on herself, she forcefully dug her hands and knees into the sand to force a stop not a few feet away. She got up and dusted herself off, spitting out residual sand glued with her own inner chest secretions.

There was a horrible sting in her neck when she forced it to turn back – a cracking noise even. Kira squeeled through her teeth. She heard a long continuous horn and carefully moved her head and torso up tracing the incline until she could view the top. The vehicle was stopped, the man’s head was pressed against the steering and the horn, decorating it with his dripping blood from the forehead. ‘Oh God, did I kill him?’

She limped up the incline toward the vehicle and inspected him. His veins were engorged, his arteries still pumped. ‘He’s ok!’ she told herself. She grabbed hold of his shoulders, careful not to awaken him, and pulled him off the seat with all the might she had. His unconscious body tumbled down and kept on tumbling all the way far from sight. ‘Fuck!’ she paused to catch her breath and clear her throat for a good solid minute, and then hopped on to the driver’s seat. ‘OK! What am I working with here?’ Press this?’ and the ignition started. She looked ahead and back. Either way would lead her to some sort of civilization, or so she figured. ‘Forward,’ she told herself, ‘always forward,’ and made her course.

HARD

CHAPTER 3

Karin stepped into a dark corridor, as the door shut behind her, a small candlelight in the distance dimly lit a long hallway. She approached it to find a desk and lady sitting behind it. She was reading some old magazine when she suddenly looked up to see a strong womenly figure towering above her. ‘Erm,’ she got up to her feet, ‘Welcome to PureBlood,’ she smiled, ‘anything we can fancy you with?’

‘What do you have?’

‘Depends what you like. Men? Women? Toys? By my guess you look like you like em big,’

‘I heard you have ‘Milk-people?’

‘What?’ she tried to shy away, ‘whoever gave you that idea?’

‘I have the money,’ she placed a few crunched up notes on the table. The lady’s eyes opened. ‘Unfortunately darling we just have the one, and she’s a lady,’

‘Perfect,’

‘Oh!’ surprised she wrongly read her customer, she quickly picked up the notes from the desk and started counting. ‘You’re short,’

‘Karin reached for her belt sac and grabbed a little more.

‘You’re still short,’

Karin didn’t buy the hustle. ‘Fine, I’m leaving.’

‘Ok, ok!’ she stopped her. ’20 minutes tops and it’s every ten minutes after that.’

Karin was ushered into a large room with a high ceiling, long drapes hiding the windows, a massive bed with carved wooden frames, velvet sheets and white netting dressed over it teasing a night of erotic mysticism. There was a hint of saffron burning from an incense. The smoke danced before Karin’s eyes, and the aroma soothed her. Beyond it, a dainty figure stood wrapped in satin, just one silver transparent piece, covering only parts seeking the attention of the beholder. As she walked toward the weary traveler, her tunic hugged and released her curves in each stride accentuating her already marvellous design.

She was a feet away when she stopped. She pulled her hand toward her shoulder and unfastened a clip, before letting go she held on to the loose end and gracefully handed it to Kira. ‘Hold this and tug,’ she said in a mellow tone, like a soft touch on a piano key. Kira obeyed and pulled, and all came loose. There before her stood a beautiful body of feminine grace, with just very minimal tunic kissing her most sensitive areas. She was white as the afternoon sun, in all her vulnerability but yet having all the control. Kira forgot to exhale, her heart pounded as she stood paralyzed. She had seen no one like this before, only heard rumors but here was living proof. This girl had hairs of the leafy autumn, eyes of ocean summer, tenders like the flowers in spring, and all perfectly mapping her winter skin. The girl carved the sweetest smile, enjoying the attention of the dumbstruck customer, stupefied above her knees.

She snapped her fingers at her, ‘You look like you are seeing a ghost,’

‘Am I?’ Karin whispered. The girl chuckled under a broad smile. She touched Kira’s hand and placed it on her smooth and firm flank. ‘Feels real enough?’ she pressed her warm supple breasts over Karins’. ‘How bout now?’

‘It’s true what they say about you,’ Karin whispered under her breath.

‘And what is that?’

‘You are exquisite’ trying to express an analogy, ‘like diamonds.’

‘Yes,’ she stepped back her face down, ‘like diamonds’. Karin could feel her retracting.

‘Yes, exceptional, rare….’ Karin stood perplexed.

‘Rare could also means endangered,’ she said. Karin could palpate a somber truth behind those words and she sort of understood.

The desk lady from earlier cleared her throat at the door. It was unclear for how long she was standing there. ‘Listen you inbred dimwit, flap those lips INSIDE the customer, not AT them. At least she’ll get her money’s worth.’

Karin looked back. ‘You told me I have 20 minutes and you’re cutting into it. I am not paying for all the time lost,’ and dismissed the old woman. The girl was grateful. Karin understood that the smile was just a facade, so as to not ruin the fantasy. it was just something to hide a darker secret.

The girl approached Karin again dancing with her eyes and her head, distracting her customer while she sneaked her hand between Karin’s thighs slightly stroking it as Karin made it easier for her. ‘Who are you?’ Karin asked.

‘Rayna, but you did not come here to hear stories of me or about my people. You came here to taste one. So, why don’t I help you take off these overalls…’ she jabbed her finger up between Karin’s legs, triggering a frenzy of sporadically firing impulses from the loins radially; a feeling she has not had in a long time. The girl smiled yet again, ‘and we can relax.’

Rayna turned around and walked gracefully toward the bed, each stride swinging her hips allowing her customer to marvel at her posterior. She spread herself over the mattress and started to gently caress herself making soft moaning noises, teasing a night of venereal pleasures that Karin won’t ever forget.

***

The arena was no more, swept by the hurricane, indistinguishable from a common junkyard. ‘Well, that was a bust,’ Kim sighed. She squinted far into the distance where the heat danced about the dunes. She could almost make out something. ‘Fuck yeah!’ overjoyed to see what might be pickup trucks. She saw a lonely black horse staring back at her a few feet away. ‘Well, now is a good time as any to learn,’ she carefully crept toward the horse.

‘Neigh!’ it shrieked startled as Kim leaped for it’s back. It started to run off, throwing Kim off center. She held on pulling on its mane to regain balance only making the horse panic even more. Her body was swinging from its side, her feet being dragged over the sands. As the horse jolted, her hands slipped as she was tossed back fell hard on her posterior.

Kim winced hard trying to get up. She scanned her surroundings. The trucks were now closer but she also saw figures walking around it. ‘Fuck!’ 3 stoic looking brutes with rifles were busy loading the trucks with goods from an old warehouse half buried in sand. She could only make out shadows and silhouettes, but the goods came in all shapes and sizes, from sacs to crates and even a few cages with what appeared to be capuchin monkeys inside them, all viciously fighting back.

‘Large cargo,’ Kim scratched the back of her neck, eyeing a lucrative opportunity presented before her. She headed north toward the warehouse making sure she was incognito at all times. It was vital she remained stealthy as she was clearly outnumbered. She counted 4 men at the entrance. The flanks were not guarded and that was going to be her way in. The back fence was 5 feet tall. It would have been higher if the sandstorms didn’t already bury half the place, and no barb wire, so she started climbing, careful as to not rattle it. She had done this too many times to be careless, in fact she considered herself an expert. But that was her problem, her overconfidence sometimes made her miscalculate, as there was a fifth member and he was staring right at her, screaming at her, alerting everyone else.

‘Shit!!’ She dashed toward the building. She leaped to reach the old rusty pipes and headed for the roof. Shots were being fired at her but she paced steadily, head ducked to limit their vision, as she made way to the front. Shot were then also fired from below, chipping off the roof tiling and wooden bars. She counted on her stars to guide her. A frenzy of bullets stormed toward her from all sides as she was being isolated to a restrictive perimeter.

Surrounded she noticed the men and their bullets closing in on her, and now some of them were even climbing up. Then, to her surprise, her stars came to her aid. The tiling beneath her collapsed as the foundations shook. Old wood and steel couldn’t take all the weight and bullets, and so Kim came down hard on a free-fall. She landed hard on cement. ‘Arghhhh’ she screeched, as she felt back crack. ‘There!’ another voiced. She quickly got to her feet resisting her body’s desire to rest and wobbled to the loading truck.

‘Hey!’ a startled man shouted trying to find aim with his rifle. She launched at him, mauling his face with her metal claws, his rifle firing aimlessly into the ceiling. His mates ducked, and a few of them took in a couple of bullets to their chests and shins. Kim didn’t flinch. She barged into the driver’s seat and jammed her fist on the ignition. The truck was slow to pick up speed, but it held strong against the bullet assault and soon, it was off.

It was now a battle of will, a war of resilience, and the men chased her in dessert jeeps. She was hauling the cargo, and through the rear-view mirrors, she noticed they were picking up pace, howling and screaming, cursing and firing at will. ‘This won’t do,’ she muttered, she kicked the accelerator hard and punched the ‘cruise’ button. While the truck self drove, she climbed back to the wellside, still feeling pings all over her spine. A gush of blood wet her pants along with powerful uterine contractions. But she knew she had to power through. She kicked and broke the rear tailgate, sending it flailing to a truck closely approaching, smashing it’s windows, confusing the driver, sending himself and the gunner on a swerve until the truck toppled over itself.

Bullets flew from the east, one scratched her thigh, her pants quickly drenched with even more blood. ‘Arghh!’ she screeched yet again. ‘STOP FUCKING SHOOTING AT ME,’ she yelled. The monkeys in the cages were riled up, panicking and in rage. She tried to push them off the vehicle as they scratched her back pass the cage bars viciously. The second truck was close and the gunner howled in confidence. He tried firing at the tires but the none would hit. She gave up trying to push and took a second to gather all her strength. With one loud grunt she made a spartan kick on the cage. The monkeys shrieked in panic as the cage flew across, tumbling over and rammed straight into the truck behind. A massive explosion followed, confirming her kills, along with a few dead monkeys which could have made for a descent meal. The rest scurried, holding on to their dear precious lives.

‘Hey!’ Hey!’ she heard a scream in the distance. A young woman called out like a crazy person running in the empty sands all by herself, from virtually no threat, just some rubble, and the remains of an old escape pod; the kind from space. They exchanged looks for a brief second before Kim realized she had to get back in front. The woman kept screaming but was completely ignored. Kim had other priorities and picking up hitchhikers was not part of it. Another truck still followed, and the bullets did not stop coming. Kim’s head was getting lighter and lighter by the minute as she tried to keep her eyes open and on the road. Danger was not out of the way just yet.

HARD

CHAPTER 2

Kira checked off the last school visit on her list, and that would finally conclude the 3 month long outreach initiative. It was momentous and required a celebration. The local school teachers took the team out for drinks and thanked her for imbuing hope into the young ones as well as themselves. The program was an immediate success, from family events to fun-runs, dinners and conventions with the occasional celebrity appearance, it was like working on the election campaign again. Only this time it was closer to Kira’s heart. It had always been her vision in line with Parliaments’ to create awareness about a so called, ‘Greener Universe’- a term that was once highly sacrilegious under the previous administrations but thanks to Kira and like-minded people,local governments had finally taken notice on how both politically and economically sound the ‘Greener Universe’ initiative was and now that the Liberation Party had finally taken office, it was on full force. Kira who was vastly known for spearheading the efforts in Altis-4, along with a team of experts, who just within 5 years ( 26.4 Ages Altis-4 Time) managed to terraform the vastly dormant planet into a stable, industrial powerhouse, was now the Cabinet Minister’s right hand under the Ministry of Exploration & Discovery.

Kira skimmed through her schedule on her pad. ‘Not one day for myself,’ she sighed. Her posse was no exception, riding the travelator together with all heads to their devices until the end of the walkway. As soon as they arrived at the Immigration counter, Kira smelled a hint of burnt Cedar, and immediately figured who it was. She tilted her neck up to see a few feet away, Mr Hendricks, her boss, the Cabinet Minister himself, with the widest of smiles above his aged burly chin.

‘Good morning! Morning?’ he checked with his assistant before turning back to face Kira. ‘You’re looking absolutely stunning as ever my dear. 3 months grounded on a world tour and it is as though you never left’

‘You don’t look so bad yourself, sir. I see you are keeping the beard,’

‘Well what the missus wants…’

‘She sure gets,’ Kira sneered. Her associates carried all their belongings and headed to the exit gate cleared specifically for them.

‘You brought the cavalry?’ Kira asked bemused. ‘And you are here yourself. This must be important.’ Mr Hendricks nodded and patted her on the back. ‘Let’s go,’ he ushered her while his eyes continuously scanned the terminal. A few photographers got glimpse of them, ‘Quick, quick’ he rushed.

Outside across the tarmac, parked in the distance was the ‘AirStrider,’ modeled off the classic F-22. Mr Hendricks made sure to take possession of it as soon as he held office. He would constantly stop employees at work and bring it up while in casual conversation, geeking out about the specifics, how it could make 10,000 km/h speeds, how it housed the very best military grade missiles and every now and then the story of how he almost lost to it to a bet; that last bit was only made known to his closest most trustworthy of allies. She had heard so much about the jet, she was glad she was finally going to be able to experience it for herself. She turned her head back to the aerodrome, signifying her last look at the planet before she boarded. ‘Well it beats taking the Airbus,’ said one of her assistants before he climbed aboard.

All strapped in their seats, masks, headphones, and emergency jackets, the onboard 7 passengers and 3 crew members individually had to signal a ‘thumbs up’ to the pilots with the voice command, ‘Ready,’ before preparing for take off. The engines roared loud, unable to be completely silenced by the padded ear muffs. They initial jerk was startling and they slowly started to move. Mr Hendricks winked at Kira, ever so proud of his vessel. ‘We are ready for take off!’ called out the co-pilot. The ship increased speed over the runway as the engines roared louder and louder and smoothly transitioned to float. Kira felt her stomach sink just a little. No matter how many times she had done this, she was never grew accustomed to it.

flight flying airplane jet

‘We hope you enjoyed your stay in Sunny Springs of Dune-23, a subsidiary of Zhen-Morrison Inc.’ the pilots joked as they finally breached the stratosphere and the pull of gravity was beginning to lose them. And then, there it was, the black of space pierced by daylight illuminating them and half the surface of Dune-23 creating a glorious horizon.

‘Well, this is my favorite part,’ Kira mumbled under her nose in awe. ‘Mine too,’ said one of the others behind her, together they peered out the window as the pilots flew prograde with a slight inclination to take them off trajectory. It was always the best time to marvel at mother nature. Kira saw her work, the blinking lights of homes, plants and industries gradually turn on as dusk engulfed the skyline beneath them.

The Airstrider gained speed, made the tangent and was now no longer riding the gravitational waves of the planet. Dune-23 got farther and farther into the distance as the jet sped on, burning her thrusters, nose diving into the psychedelic clouds of space, propelling themselves in space dust for at least 8 hours until finally in the distance another marvel appeared from hiding.

Camouflaged in deep space, glittering a fair distance away in all her glory was ‘The Grand Admiral-5’, a government freighter. At 22,000km², this magnificent beast housed over 1000 offices, staff housing, shopping malls, recreational centers, gyms, hospitals, etc. It was a self sustaining metropolitan with it’s own greenhouses & poultry farms and has been harboring civilians for almost a millennia. It was in a truly incredible feat what the ancients had left them with to protect and from then on only more of such vessels were engineered. As far as government records show, there are 120 such documented freighters in the observable universe. Rumor still exists that the undocumented ones outnumber them but a rumor it has stayed. As the shadow of the ‘Grand Admiral-5’ loomed over their tiny little jet, Kira winked back at Mr Hendricks, who of course pretended not to notice. The Airstrider offed all engines in submission and cruised until they passed the southern gate, along with a hundred other cruising vessels and eventually docked. A airlock jet bridge approached them connecting the door to the terminal. ‘Ladies and gentleman, it was a pleasure having you onboard,’ the pilot gestured and their harnesses came off.

The doors opened and they were greeted home. ‘BEEP’ the scanner rang and an annoying siren soon played. ‘Kira turned to the screen that read, ‘Recommend to disinfect,’ she blew a raspberry and nodded at her boss passing her by. ‘I’ll see you at briefing in 15minutes.’ he exclaimed. ‘Fine,’ she yelled back. She turned back to her posse behind, ‘time to get sprayed boys,’ she laughed as they were ushered to ‘Disinfection’ by security.

The fast-rails took them past all the major districts. ‘Wow, so many tourists,’ Kira noticed passed the windows. ‘New government, new laws,’ retorted one of her assistants. ‘He was right’, she thought. Things have been changing drastically since the elections. So much money was being pumped in to realize the party manifesto, and it was obvious that the government had much to prove. Still, there was a shaking suspicion internally. What was this rushed meeting for? Why did the MP come all the way down to collect her in his personal vessel? What was just so damn urgent?

Parliament was vibrant and filled with dynamic blood; young, eager blood, excited to create a difference within their first 100 days. All this ‘new’ in a building so ‘old’. It still had that vintage decor. She headed to the briefing room where Mr Hendricks and several other newly appointed cabinet ministers were gathered. She wasn’t given 2 seconds to catch her breath before he urged her to sit. She found herself at the end of the very long table while he began his presentation. He started speaking about the vision of the new government and all they had to do to win voters trust. There was much pomp and self congratulatory rhetoric that the room was still waiting for the point he was trying to make. Kira couldn’t piece together how she fit in to all of this but she gave her boss the benefit of the doubt nonetheless.

‘It’s imperative that we put our best men and women at the forefront for all things, especially the harder the challenge. Wouldn’t you agree Miss Okeke?’ Kira paused as everyone turned to her. ‘Yes?!’ it took her by surprise. ‘I’m glad you agree with me, that is why, I am presenting to all of you, our next venture,’ he clicked on his pointer as a video came on zooming in on rotating planet. ‘Martian -4, ladies and gentleman, also known as Deep Red,’

‘No!’ Kira interjected. All eyes were back on her. Mr Hendricks stopped his video. ‘That place was rendered inhabitable eons ago, and the survivors were immediately evacuated after solar flares burnt half the planet to crisp.’ Some attention was drawn to a few of the men in front. They adjusted their collars and prepared to answer.

‘NO?’ she jumped before they could. One of them gestured her to calm down, which she immediately took as a sign of patriarchal condescension. ‘It’s true that the previous government had some secrets,’ he uttered.

‘I’m sorry and you are?’

‘Jeffrey Hopkins, MP for Sigma-19, Andromeda’

Kira was not impressed. ‘Long time since anyone has been there, even you I doubt. And weren’t you of the previous administration?’ she asked.

‘So you do know me,’

‘OF you, yes,’ she replied. ‘So you are telling me there are still people living there?’

‘Yes,’

‘Are there other such planets that you might want to enlighten us with?’

Mr Hopkins cleared his throat. ‘To be frank, countless, and the records are…messy,’

‘So, you have orphaned them,’ she bluntly accused.

The other MP seated next to him came to his peer’s defense. ‘Miss Kira, I understand how all this is new, but the previous men and women in power had a different way of doing things,’

‘a corrupt way,’ she interjected, ‘and you won’t take culpability then who will Mr Hopkins. You were Minister of Defense before were you not?’

‘Which is why I think it’s a bad idea to revisit the past,’ interjected a woman two chairs from Kira, ‘we don’t even know if there are people out there. Why go now and show our faces? I think we should reserve our resources to first help the people who actually voted for us and maybe do this outreach thing our next term when we have really earned the their trust.’ she exchanged eye contact with Kira in hopes of creating a budding kinsmanship.

Kira knew that Mr Hendricks was holding back information from her. The guilt was all over his face. They both glanced at each other while the others squabbled about. ‘May I speak to you outside for a second, boss?’ she exclaimed and Mr Hendricks jumped at the chance to escape to the door.

‘You found people on that planet,’ she rushed at him.

‘We have reasonable evidence to suggest that yes,’

‘That only means it’s a self sustaining ecosystem, why go there now?’

‘Well we can do better for them. Isn’t that something you want?’ he rested his hand on her shoulder.

‘Cut the bullshit Bobby,’ his hands immediately lifted, ‘How many people are there? Are you afraid they are running the place well without us? Is this a reconnaissance mission? Come on Bobby I deserve better.’

‘Fine, close to 5 billion, and that’s just a rough estimate. The satellites are old,’

‘And you want me to do what exactly? Go there, tell them the government is going to help them and everyone is gonna sing Kumbaya?’

‘No, just observe and report for the time being, and keep a log on all things that require terraforming,’

‘Require terraforming?’ she dismissed him, ‘basically a spy for the PM,’

‘Look, if they are indeed dangerous, that would certainly help the parliament. And in the long run that is only going to help us, for the betterment of the universe. I mean come on you go and on about self-sustenance, here is an example of mother nature doing it on her own; a miracle among many others,’

Passersby noticed their intense exchange and tried to look away. Kira was boiling red.

‘Don’t mock my religious beliefs Bobby. Not now. You wish for Gaia to be true as well, and I for one will stand by it’s existence till death do us part,’ she resisted pointing her finger at him.

‘Listen to yourself Kira, a God planet? That’s a fantasy Kira, that’s not life. This is. There was no paradise where primitive humans trotted about. This is it, just ‘us’, floating about in the endless void while the entire universe gives us a big fucking NO! But here we are still standing, changing things according to our rules. We are the “Gods” here, Kira. Just us,’ he gave her a second to calm down before he continued. ‘I don’t know. If it were me, I would love to know why. I thought you were the same,’

Kira stared back at him in disapproval. ‘We are the God’s eh? So who’s the PM, Zeus? Tell me Bobby, has he already signed off on this?’

‘Well…’ the Minister hesitated to break the news to her.

‘Fuck you Bobby,’ she stormed back into the room and fell onto her seat. Mr Hendricks soon followed. ‘Please, finish your presentation. I need all the information i can get on this hellhole. And can I get some fucking coffee?’ the lady taking notes immediately felt responsible to get on to it.

**

The plan was set and Kira had come to terms with her new assignment. After 2 days of constant back and forth on who she wanted for the team, they finally decided to go her way. She was done fretting over it, and it was time to move on, and accept whatever was coming. The government classified it, so Kira had to tell her family and friends a different story. She shared a passionate night with her husband and gave her 4 year old daughter a tender kiss over the cheeks on the morning of the departure.

Mr Hendricks shook her hand at the terminal, just to see her off. It was obvious he was overwhelmed by guilt. The Voyager 200 was prepped and ready, with a track record of 45 successful missions & 0 failures, it boasted itself on the front page of automotive magazines as a standout in engineering. 8 members made the crew- Kira, 2 aerospace engineers, a biologist, a botanist and 3 spec-ops officers.

‘Well, aren’t you gonna wish me luck?’ she nudged her boss’s shoulder.

‘When have you actually needed any kid?’ he patted her shoulders. ‘And hey I’m sorry. We might have our differences but I’m… well WE’RE definitely gonna miss you,’

‘Age is definitely making you soft, boss,’

‘You take care now, Kira,’ dismissing her previous comment.

‘Bye, Bobby,’ she smiled as she walked up the ladder into the jet, turning back for one last look. Little did she know that she would not be coming back for a very, very long time.

HARD

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‘The elders have always claimed the we aren’t alone in the universe; that there was once a time when all mankind stood together and voyaged to distant planets, worlds beyond their wildest imagination, formed colonies and sustained life. Ever since we were toddlers we were told great stories of ‘the great exodus’, legends of how we all came from one home, the ‘planet of GOD’ they called it and how we spread apart to conquer the universe. But to what truth that holds, we may never know. Growing up, I too dreamt of the heavens, watching the night sky dancing under the purple flames that billowed the universe. The sands were colder at night, and the water still. I remember walking for miles across the red sands with my big sister, carrying a duffel bag filled with flasks to the brim to fetch ice from the mountain depths. We would take as much as we could carry and in the walk home under the scorching heat of the punishing sun, the contents of the bucket would slowly turn to drinkable water,’

The crowd of children sat silently while they imagined the story Kira was telling them. As she went on about hunting horses, plowing fields and constructing stable greenhouses for food, the children laughed, marveled and even mocked at how ridiculous it all seemed. ‘Why didn’t you have tap water at home?’ one inquisitive one asked,’ no plumbing?’

‘No, sweetheart,’ Kira responded, ‘we didn’t really have homes to begin with,’

CHAPTER 1

The caves of A19 had long been deserted since the Tsunamis of the last age. A19 was once a flourishing district until it was hit by a barrage of asteroids and since its then it was demoted to an uninhabitable zone. The people had nicknamed it, ‘Golgotha,’ from ancient Internet text, and the mass exodus meant that those who stayed were only criminals, pirates and political runaways. So it became their own shanty town, with caverns connecting little districts, homes, and slums. Almost every household had a bunker, a hiding place, because things here were never quite predictable. Riddled with questionable marketplaces, illegal arms, brothels and casinos, Golgotha was where you went if you didn’t want decent folk to find you. It was also the best place to go if you were all out looking to start some shit.

Karin was a brothel person herself, she was itching a for the touch of ‘the Goddess’, the most highly valued prostitute in SoleRock Casino and Bar. It is rumored that the strokes of ‘the Goddess’s’ fingers can force multiple explosive orgasms to both men and women alike and Karin for one was living proof of that testimony. She had been traveling for months and not a companion in sight. The fact that she had a below knee metal prosthesis over her left side didn’t make it any easier to find partners along the road. So this was her day to finally treat herself.

‘Sorry, she no longer works,’ said the receptionist at the counter sipping a revolting concoction of cough syrup and tea. ‘Got pregnant, had her second, and when she came back the touch just wasn’t there anymore. We started loosing business, so…’

Karin was disappointed. ‘Her second?’

‘She’s about 1or 2 ages old i guess. Her oldest is 9; still a little too early to be grooming the kid. We told her to bring him back when he was at least 12.’

‘Basically she’s not coming back anytime soon,’

The receptionist sneezed looking away and snorted. ‘Basically,’ she replied rubbing her nose. ‘Try PureBloods, they just got a fresh batch, even Milk folk I hear’

Karin was intrigued as she peered out the window into the busy streets while she saw the sign that read ‘PureBloods’ with neon outlines; red for hair and glowing white the sillhoute a supposed feminine body.

***

The crowd cheered to their hearts content. ”Kim Thatcher aka ‘The Glock’ is at her last breath ladies and gentleman. Will he do it? Will he FINISH HER???!!!” the commentator riled the audience. They cheered and screamed even more. At the edge of the ring, she laid flat down, her eye still locked to her opponent but her head swinging in and out of consciousness. She had lost a lot of blood from the fight. It took her longer than expected but he was a formidable opponent nonetheless.

‘Fucking steroids,’ she mumbled as she slowly got up, and finally got to her feet. The crowd cheered as she found footing, ‘Glock! Glock! Glock! Glock!’ The opponent pretended to be unimpressed, he started to show rage at the crowd, he shook the ring ropes, and gave them a wild roar. At 6 feet, weighing 270 pounds, Joseph aka ‘King Dragon’ was preparing himself all month for this and today he was the closest ever to beating the reigning champion. He smashed his fists together and launched for another attack.

With one leap, she hovered above him. Just as he looked up, she pressed her feet over his face landing hard her shoe spikes on the bridge and surrounding of his nose. The spikes were homemade, from old rusty nails used to hold wood together. They tore through his skin, dug into his facial bones and ripped his flesh off as she made a second jump off of him to the other side of the ring.

Wailing by the side, his hands covered his face. He stared cold back at her, some of nails still stuck buried in flesh. She checked her shoes. ‘Shit,’ she cursed and discarded them. She threw her arms forward, her fingernails dressed with metal claws. ‘By the way Dragon, this is Day 1 of my period, what does that say about you?’ He viciously swung himself at her, and managed to press her down under his weight as he yelled in anguish, blood dripping from his wounds all over her face. She struggled to slip under him as he pressed his huge hands over her fists clenched, the metals digging into her own skin. She kneed this crotch, once, twice, thrice in rapid succession, until he lost his grip on her giving her enough window to headbutt and gain back an advantage.

The crowd went balistic. The screams of joy and anger all muddled into a state of confusion. Her face drenched in the blood of her opponents as well as her own. The winds blew strong and were getting colder. She ripped some gauze from her belt and bandaged her palms. Ready to launch for the kill, she ran as the crowd screamed.

The metal railing shook and the electricity died. The crowd was frantic as some of them had already left. ‘Hurricane! Hurricane!’ she heard individuals scream as they ran for the exit door, breaking everything in their path. The commentator alerted, ‘Ladies and gentleman, the fight is over. I repeat, the fight is over. There will be no refunds! I repeat, there will no be no…’ (radio static).

‘Shit!’ she cursed as she reached her opponent. She gave him his hand and got him up. ‘Let’s go,’ she said. ‘NO!’ he screamed. ‘Go first, the crowd shouldn’t see,’ he yelled back. ‘Fair enough,’ she said as she sprinted for the stairs. She kicked open the underground hatch, before descending down a ladder to a crowd of people. The winds blew strong as the flimsy ladder rattled all her way down.

Underground was a vast place filled with people, the manager sat and did the accounts. ‘Here, you still get paid, but the fight’s next week alright?’

She scoffed as she grabbed the notes from his fingers and stuffed it inside her pants. They could still hear the winds howling, shaking the earth, forcing little debris to fall from the ceiling. There were faint sounds of metal clanging and loud thuds. She maneuvered her way through the crowd and approached the bar.

Seated on the bar stool was Joseph with a tall pitcher of ale was right before him. He gulped the whole thing down and ordered another. ‘Joseph?’ a voice yelled from behind. Joseph turned reluctantly. Kim moved close to examine his face. ‘I really did a number on you this time didn’t I?’

‘Antibiotics would do the trick,’ he answered as her pushed her hands away.

‘Not steroids though, not after the amount you have been taking. I almost feel bad that I broke your face. Get a CT, another hemorrhage and you’re carrier is done!’ he looked back at her, stopped his frowning and sighed. ‘Alright, thanks!’ lifting up his pint for a ‘cheers’ before he collapsed from the bar stool and fell to the ground, pitcher and everything.

Kim sighed looking at him. She squatted before him, felt for his pulse then reached into his pockets and emptied it. ‘Wow you get 200 and I get 150? The fuck is that all about?’

She stepped back and disappeared into the crowd while the others went on about their lives. ‘Get Lawrence in here! Clean this up!’ the bartender yelled.