In honor of our glorious FDO paying a visit to my humble town of Norman, OK tomorrow, I thought I'd share this little story that's been rolling around in my head for a few weeks. This is only the first half of the story and it clocks in at under 3000 words, so it should be a quick read. I banged this out between Friday and Saturday night, and its only a second draft, so please cut me a little slack on that front. This was written with the assumption that readers are already familiar with The Rookie and its characters.
And now, for your approval, I submit
LOYALTY - Part One
By Renee JordanAn alternative future-history of The Rookie by Scott Sigler
Quentin Barnes stepped through the doorway to his apartment, followed by Messal the Efficient and a three foot tall, blue and chrome humanoid robot. All three had arms full of packages and bags, loot from Quentin’s twentieth birthday party. The Tier 1 season had gone well for the Krakens, and while they didn’t take the championship, Gredok the Splithead had seemed pleased with an overall ranking of third in the conference. So pleased in fact that he footed the bill for a gala birthday celebration, invitation only of course, at his newest nightclub, The Big Eye.
The Big Eye is, of course, the nickname for Krakens Stadium. After Mopuk the Sneaky’s untimely death, Gredok “acquired” his club, The Bootleg Arms. While the Arms was a popular club, Mopuk had been strictly low-rent. The cheap little bastard skimped on everything, from watering down the booze and sub-standard electrical work, to a cobbled-together sound system whose only saving grace was the luck of having good room acoustics. Half way through the Tier 1 season Gredok had the place closed, gutted, and remodeled. He saw a lot of potential in the space, not only to attract locals as The Bootleg Arms had done, but also tourists. Once all the construction was done, The Big Eye looked like a cross between an upscale dance club and a Krakens-specific sports bar.
Krakens memorabilia, along with gleaming metals and rare woods (or at least what looked like rare woods) were everywhere. The main bar was actually three bars. One section was two feet tall to accommodate Quyth Leaders and Workers and Sklorno males, then the bar jumped up to four feet tall for human, Ki, and Quyth Warriors. The final section was six feet tall, a comfortable height for Sklorno females. A state-of-the-art sound and holo system was able to project up to twenty different games at once or, if it’s a Krakens game day, one game on twenty different holotanks.
The party had been huge. Drink flowed and all the beautiful and important people were there. And right in the middle of it sat Quentin Barnes. All night people had come up to him offering birthday best-wishes and congratulations on a well played season. He sighed happily with the memory, then wobbled a bit as he dropped his load of bags and boxes onto the sofa that sat in the middle of his living room. The apartment was fairly small by most standards, two bedrooms with a small kitchen and a living room, but it was more personal space than Quentin had ever known so he never thought to complain or look for a bigger place.
“Where would you like me to put these, Sir” asked Messal as he tried to keep his precariously balanced load from tumbling to the floor.
Quentin blinked a few times, clearing his vision. He had drunk too much. Not way too much, as Yasood Murphy and John Tweedy had done (no surprise there), but he was still drunk enough that Gredok had insisted Messal escort him home. As long as he was heading that way, Quentin figured, he may as well carry some his gifts home with him. The rest would be sent over from the club tomorrow.
“Just set everything down in there” he said, pointing to the unused bedroom. “Robot, follow him.”
The robot had actually been a gift itself, though he couldn’t remember who it was from. It was really just a fancy media player that could follow you around, play audio or project holo, dance, and apparently carry things for you. It had a limited AI and could even act as a personal phone and give you access to the GlacticNet, as long as you purchased the optional data connectivity plan from Earth Ansible and Messenger, which was horribly overpriced and generally regarded as too slow. Quentin hadn’t gotten around to naming it yet, so he just called it “robot.”
One of the bags that Quentin had set on the sofa tipped over, and a plastic, orange and black hat with a series of flexible tubes and magnican holders on both sides tumbled out. The beer-hat was one of football’s oldest and most enduring traditions, and the gift had come from two of the Krakens’ most notorious drinkers, Yasood Murphy and John Tweedy. Quentin grinned a bit as he picked up the hat and examined it. Sure it was silly and relatively useless, but Quentin wasn’t used to getting gifts on his birthday, or even celebrating it for that matter, so the hat held great sentimental value. Besides, it was genuine Krakens-licensed gear. Considering Quentin’s skills and the rising popularity of the Krakens franchise, this baby would probably be worth some serious credits someday.
The birthday party, the first one Quentin had ever had, was actually almost six weeks late. He had turned twenty late in the middle of the season and there simply hadn’t been time to celebrate until now. It was worth the wait though. Gredok had managed to combine the grand opening of The Big Eye with a proper post-season celebration befitting a successful Tier 1 team and Quentin’s twentieth birthday party. Maybe Gredok hadn’t gone all out just for Quentin after all, since he was going to be throwing a party that night one way or the other. “Greedy” hadn’t become as successful in the mob as he had without knowing how to take care of business, and killing three birds with one stone was very good business indeed.
Quentin sat on the sofa next to the pile of gifts, flopping a bit as his knees gave out with an inebriated quiver. He rummaged through the pile, pulling out a huge Platinum belt buckle given to him by fullback Tom Pareless. Pareless was from Texas (“Texas damnit, not Earth!”) and apparently the huge buckle was a Texas thing.
The box from Carlos Michita, the Kraken’s rookie running back, caught his eye. It was a working replica of an ancient Earth “gaming console” called an Xbox360. Carlos was a good guy, and he and Quentin had played a few holo-games together during the season to unwind after practice. He was always talking about how football had run in his family for the last 700 years. He even had some crazy story about an ancestor of his, some guy named Jerry Dawdey or something like that, who had actually stopped an alien invasion of Earth way back in the early 21st Century. Quentin though it sounded like something from a bad science fiction novel, so he never paid the story much attention.
Virak the Mean had given him a collapsible stun stick. With the flick of a wrist it could extend from six inches to an eighteen inch-long dense steel baton with a stunner tip that could be adjusted up to three million volts. Back in the Purist Nation, Quentin only had to worry about other humans messing with him, and he could always handle his own in any fight. Out in the rest of the galaxy though, it never hurt to have a little backup, as Virak had told him after showing him how to use the weapon.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. Barnes” Messal asked as he shuffled from the spare bedroom, leaving the robot to arrange things.
“No, that’s it. Thanks Messal” Quentin slurred as the room did a brief wavy thing in front of his eyes.
“My pleasure, Sir!”
Messal started to turn toward the door when Quentin grunted a bit as he labored to sit up, ending propped up, elbows on knees. “No I mean, you do a lot for the team man, and no one ever thanks you” he was trying not to sound too drunk, though it was a losing battle. “So I’m saying thank you Messal. This team wouldn’t run as well without you.”
“Thank you, Sir” Messal said, seeming to beam with genuine pride. His large eye took on a bright shade of happy orange. “It is always good to know that my service is appreciated! Will there be anything else, Sir?”
“Naw, you have a good night Messal” Quentin slurred, the slack grin of a drunk, happy man still clinging to the corners of his mouth.
“You as well, Mr. Barnes” Messal said as he bowed, then turned and walked out.
Quentin sat back, slumping a bit on the sofa, and his right hand landed on a holo-chit. He thumbed the button and watched as the ad for a snow-skiing vacation package in the Wyoga mountain range on Baker 6 played in front of him. Yotaro Kobayasho had gotten it for him, though he couldn’t imagine what possessed the man to get it. Quentin had never even seen snow, much less gone skiing, and those mountains didn’t look like they’d be too friendly to beginners.
Where was that damn robot?
“Hey, robot!” Quentin called.
The media-bot scurried out of the bedroom and stood in front of Quentin. It was a simple affair, a bit boxy with two legs, two arms with fully articulated four-fingered hands, and trimmed out in chrome and metallic blue. The head looked like a smaller box on top of the bigger box that was the robot’s main body. It’s only purpose seemed to be to give a space to mount the two cameras that served as the robot’s eyes, and the two acoustic sensors that acted as ears.
“Yes sir, how may I entertain you?” The media-bot chimed.
Stewart’s undies, the damn thing sounded like a little kid! Quentin would have to see about changing that setting, it was just too creepy. Maybe he could make it sound like Gredok. Wouldn’t that be a hoot! On second thought, maybe not. Quentin could imagine Gredok’s displeasure at finding out that a little robot which sounded just like him was being ordered around by his star quarterback.
“Get me a bottle of water from the fridge” he said, gesturing with his thumb toward the small kitchen behind him.
“I’m sorry, I do not know the location of that item” The robot replied cheerily.
Damn Macinsoft crap, never smart enough to just do what you wanted it to do. Quentin would apparently have to teach it where everything was, but he wasn’t doing that tonight. He hoisted himself up from the sofa and looked down on the small robot. “Never mind, just power off.”
The media-bot’s display panel turned off and the small red power-indicator light on the top of its head went dark. Quentin went to the kitchen and downed a big glass of water, then stumbled to his bedroom. He flopped down on the bed and immediately passed out flat on his back, not even bothering to pull the blanket over him.
Two hours after Quentin had shut the little robot down and gone to bed, the power light on top of its head glowed to life. The ‘bot did nothing for several minutes, just sat there, listening. Its acoustic sensors detected the gentle sounds of deep-sleep breathing coming from the bedroom. One of the robot’s programmed skills was the ability to track a sound to its source as easily as a Mullah Hills hound dog could track scent. It did just that, using the time difference between when the sound was detected by the two sensors on either side of the head to lock on to the direction the sound was coming from.
The robot walked quietly down the short hallway and into Quentin’s dark bedroom. The lack of lighting didn’t matter to the robot, as its high definition visual processors had built-in light amplification. Quentin was sprawled across one side of the bed, his right arm dangling off the edge, his breathing a slow, regular cadence. The robot approached the bed and stood right next to his head, waiting for the next command from its new master.
After a few moments, that command came.
It could see everything in much sharper clarity than the human eye was capable of achieving, despite the lack of direct light. It could see individual hairs exiting the skin along Quentin’s hairline and it could count all the pores on his face. The robot had no trouble detecting the almost imperceptible pulsing of skin on Quentin’s neck that showed where his carotid artery was at its shallowest. Even in a deep, alcohol-induced sleep, Quentin’s pulse was strong and regular.
The robot raised its right arm until it was pointing at Quentin’s neck, the curled fingers only an inch away from making contact. A small panel on the forearm opened and a tiny hypodermic needle emerged, attached to the end of a three-jointed armature. The armature moved the needle until it was hovering just over the pulsing spot of skin. A small spray nozzle built into the end of the armature spritzed the spot with a fast-acting topical anesthetic. Quentin didn’t move, his breathing didn’t change.
After fifteen seconds, the needle moved forward smoothly, penetrating the flesh and stopping right in the middle of the carotid artery. Less than one milliliter of a highly potent neurotoxin was injected into the artery. As the needle was extracted, it left a few hundred nanocytes behind to close up the puncture. The armature retracted, pulling the needle back into the compartment on the forearm.
Within a few seconds, Quentin’s steady breathing stopped. The rhythmic pulsing on his neck also stopped. There were no dramatic spasms as Quentin entered the throes of death, no gasping, gurgling, or bugged-out eyes. He simply stopped living. Quentin didn’t even know that he was being murdered.
The robot took several steps back, until its back was only inches from the wall. The power light on top of its head went dark once more.
Tikad the Groveling’s pedipalps quivered blindingly and his one large eye swirled black, red, and orange, the colors of hate, rage, and joy. He watched the screen that showed the feed from the robot’s camera eyes intently, seeing Quentin’s breathing slow, then stop. He managed to control his pedipalps long enough to guide the robot back a few steps, then he sent the command to power off.
Everything would have been fine if Barnes had simply done as Mopuk the Sneaky had instructed. But Barnes hadn’t done as Mopuk had instructed, and it ended up costing Tikad’s Shamakath his life. The cowardly Quyth Worker had thought of nothing but revenge since that day.
The robot had been easy enough. The Macinsoft iZune media-bot was commercially available and easy enough to modify for his needs. Tikad had always been rather clever, and adding the remote control module and the needle had been easier than he’d anticipated. The poison was difficult to come by, but you didn’t work for a mobster like Mopuk the Sneaky for years without picking up a few contacts along the way. It was extracted from the glands of the Skralak, a three-foot-long lizard-like creature native to planet Quyth. It was known to be able to fell thousand-pound predators in seconds, and in far smaller doses than Quentin had received.
Getting the robot into the party had required paying off one of the humans on the security staff to let him in the back door. After that he simply placed the robot with the growing pile of gifts that had been coming in for Quentin all day, then snuck out the same way he’d come in. Tikad had not been invited to continue working for Gredok after The Bootleg Arms was closed, which only added to his sense of betrayal. Everyone underestimated him and no one appreciated him. No one except Mopuk. Sure, to an outsider it appeared that Mopuk just barely tolerated him, but Tikad knew different. Every time Mopuk had knocked him across the room or had one of his enforcers rough him up for some minor infraction, Tikad reminded himself that if he’d wanted, Mopuk could have simply had him killed. Tikad’s logic told him that since Mopuk hadn’t had him killed, that could only mean the he truly appreciated his service and loyalty.
Loyalty… no one else in Mopuk’s organization really understood what that meant. Well, no one still alive after Quentin and his teammates had slaughtered four of Mopuk’s best bodyguards anyway. After news of Gredok finding out about Mopuk’s game-fixing filtered out among underworld circles, they’d all cut and run. Even Mopuk’s Creterakian messenger Sobox had gotten himself off-planet within a matter of hours. He’d been helpful in obtaining the Skralak venom, but didn’t want to know what its intended use was. Sobox warned Tikad that if he intended to go after Gredok or anyone associated with him, he was on his own.
Well Tikad, coward that he was, simply couldn’t let this one go. Quentin Barnes was the reason his Shamakath was dead, and Barnes had to pay.
And he had.
Tikad had done it! Mopuk always said that “if someone comes after you with a knife, you go after them with a gun. If someone puts one of your boys in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue.” It was a line that he’d picked up from some ancient Earth story about organized crime, but it sounded tough, so Mopuk used it frequently. Tikad had taken that wisdom to heart. It motivated him to pursue the ultimate vengeance for Barnes’ insubordination.
Tikad’s pedipalps began quivering uncontrollably again as he reveled in his success, absolutely confident that the heinous act could never be traced back to him.
Before anyone screams at me, we all know that NO character is safe in the Siglerverse. Heck, they guy killed off his two primary characters in the middle of a trilogy. That takes some serious cojones, my friends. I believe our FDO would expect no less ruthlessness from any one of us. Know this, fellow junkies; there will be more shocking suprises in the second half of the story. Hmmm, I wonder what Gredok's going to do about this situation???