“You shut your filthy mouth, human scum!”
The enraged Rathnid towers over me, one arm pulled back menacingly, his red eyes filled with anger.
“Human! Get out of my nykang way!”
“Can’t do that, big guy,” I say calmly. I tap a button on the side of my comm, calling for back-up.
I’ve never had to take down a Rathnid before. This one is easily twice as tall as me. His neck is as big as my thighs!
However, he’s been hitting the Zoran cuhla a bit too hard. The massive, fire-red alien is wobbling, holding onto the bar for support.
“That nykang Marbit cheated,” he bellows. “I want my credits!”
“You shouldn’t have challenged a Marbit at poker if you wanted to hold onto your credits,” I say.
He lunges at me. Under normal circumstances, when a Rathnid is fully battle-ready, that might have killed me. He’s got enough power in one of his enormous fists to turn my head into a bloody pulp. Luckily he’s anything but ready, and I step to the side and easily dodge his sloppy strike.
Station Patrol doesn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with enraged Rathnids.
“Just calm down, big fella,” I say as I grab his arm. “Help is on the way. We’ll get you sobered up.”
I reach out and touch his humongous arm, and then I feel it.
A sensation. A… disturbance.
Not because of the Rathnid, no. It’s something distant, yet it feels so close.
My mind is swimming with thoughts, and for a second, the glitzy bar disappears from my view.
Instead I see stars, I see geometric patterns, I see fire. And for a brief second I feel… whole.
A bloodcurdling scream pulls me back to reality.
The Rathnid is crying out in pain while kneeling on the floor, his red eyes wide with shock. I’m still holding onto his arm — which is now smoking.
“LET ME GO HUMAN!”
I release him and jump back while looking at my own hands with astonishment. My palms are as hot as the sun — and then they turn back to normal before I can take a better look.
The Rathnid’s arm however doesn’t turn back to normal. No, it’s covered in burns, his red skin blistering before my very eyes.
I stare at it in awe.
Did I do that? How?!
My back-up finally arrives.
“Nothing to see here! Show’s over!” My colleagues bark.
The patrons all turn back to their drinks, now that the commotion has ended. The Rathnid is still writhing on the floor, clutching his arm in pain.
“Is this the famed Corlis hospitality?!” He groans. “Nykang!”
I take in a big gulp of air when I see my squad leader walking up to me, his sleeves rolled up. His name is Anthony Brown, and he’s the scariest man I’ve ever met.
And he’s my direct supervisor.
“What’s going on here?” He barks.
I struggle to find the right words. I’m the rookie, the newest person on the squad, and the last thing I want to do is disappoint my senior.
“Drunk Rathnid,” I say, avoiding Brown’s intense gaze. “Lost at poker.”
“And lost his temper, too,” Brown says. His eyes grow wide when he sees the burn marks on the perp’s arm.
Adrenaline pumps through my veins. Do I tell him the truth — that I burned him with my bare hands?! That would make me look like a lunatic, but like it or not, that is what has just transpired.
“Some type of laser weapon, I’m assuming? These damn aliens come up with new weapons quicker than we can outlaw them… Mercier, you awake? I’m taking to you!”
I snap back to attention.
“Er, gotta be. Sir.”
Brown motions for one of the cops accompanying him to escort the perp back to the brig.
“Take the evening off, Mercier.”
“What?!” I say.
“You look shook up, and your shift is almost up anyway. Take a break, before Corlis swallows you whole.”
I try to read my captain’s face, to see if he’s being genuine or if he is treating me like a baby just because I’m the only woman on the squad. I can’t tell.
However, I do know that I need a break.
Before I set this whole freaking space station on fire.
“Yes sir,” I say. “See you tomorrow.”
My head is spinning as I head back to my tiny apartment. I felt a disturbance, I felt like someone was there.
“Zukari Flu shot, miss? You look tired! Perhaps you’re already infected — you can still save yourself!”
One of the SITNRA synths jumps in my way. They’ve sprung up all over Corlis in the past few weeks, these SINTRA outposts where you can get a flu shot. And they are pushing it hard. I remember not too long ago when Corlis severed all ties with SINTRA Corp. It had something to do with invasion of privacy, or corporate espionage, something like that. The news-cycle continued, the story died down, and now SINTRA was back again like nothing ever happened.
“Get out of my way,” I snap at the peddler. I know he’s just doing his job, but I don’t need this right now.
Ever since the Rift showed up, I’ve felt different — and it’s not the flu.
The flu doesn’t give you the ability to burn people with your bare hands, that’s for damn sure!
The moment I’m home I bury my head in my pillow, and I quickly fall asleep. All the irregular hours I’ve been working has perfected my napping ability.
A deafening salvo of Hyperbeat music rouses me from my slumber, as the first cracks of artificial light seep through my blinds.
“Kariza,” I groan, my eyes still shut tight. “Did you change my freaking alarm again?!”
“Music with a higher beat-per-minute is statistically proven to get you out of bed faster. You need all of that energy if you are to meet your one true mate, after all!”
I bury my head back into my pillow, cursing her silently. That synth is going to be the end of me!
If I don’t end her first, that is…
I drag myself out of bed and into my kitchen, where I’m faced with a passive aggressive smile.
“Good morning, Caia. I’ve prepared a raspberry hypershot for you, and a breakfast plate—”
“Not hungry,” I groan, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I was having the most wonderful dream, and Kariza’s alarm ruined it.
My synthetic housemate looks aghast. Well, as much as one of her four expressions allows, that is.
“A proper breakfast is essential if you’re going to look proper tonight. Without it, your cheeks will look pale, and you’re not getting any younger!”
“I’m twenty-three!” I yell. “Twenty freaking three! I’m in the prime of my life! Hell, I haven’t even reached my prime yet!”
“Yes, well, your parents hired me to find you a partner regardless, so I will do just that.”
“I know,” I sigh as I knock the hyperjava back. It’s expensive, but my stars, is it worth it. I need the caffeine if I’m going to survive cohabitating with this robot who is trying to rearrange my life.
The Rift has already done enough of that…
I glance down at my palms. They are totally normal now. The episode last night seems like it never even happened.
“Wait, what do you mean by ‘tonight’?” I ask Kariza. “You know I have another night shift coming up, don’t you?”
“You will cancel that.”
“What? No I will not!”
“You have to, because I signed you up for a speed-dating event. And it’s nonrefundable.”
I drop my coffee cup out of sheer frustration.
“You what?! Tell me you charged it to your account!”
“I am unable to lie due to my programming.”
Freaking synth! I pull up my expenses on my comm, and it’s right there. Five hundred credits made out to DriftLove.
“How do you even have access to my credits?!” I say.
“Your parents,” she says.
Of course. Of course they gave this freaking robot access to my account. Ugh. I need a cold shower, before the strange power surges through me again and I melt Kariza down into a pile of bolts.
As much as she frustrates me, she doesn’t deserve that. Not yet.
I walk towards my bathroom, and the sight of my own reflection in the mirror stops me dead in my tracks.
Okay, she does deserve to get melted.
“Kariza!” I scream at the top of my lungs. “WHAT DID YOU DO?!”
“Ah, you’ve seen my work,” she says cheerfully. “Do you like it?”
The AI has applied raspberry lipstick and smokey eyes to me while I slept — with permatint!
I am so angry that my palms flare up, and they light up the entire bathroom. Now I see that there are strange, alien symbols on there that glow with a brilliant intensity.
Great. Alien hieroglyphs?! Are you freaking kidding me?! As if this day couldn’t get any worse.
I take a deep breath and try to calm myself down. There must be an explanation for this. A logical, reasonable one.
Burning things with my hands isn’t going to solve anything.
I focus on the make-up again. I’m not even a deep sleeper — how the crap did she pull this off?! Though I know it’s useless, I try to wipe it off anyway.
“Permatint, honey,” Kariza says from the doorway. “You’re welcome.”
“You are the worst,” I say, my eyes throwing daggers. “How long until it fades?!”
She whirls around and starts dusting the hall like she did nothing wrong. “Oh, about a week or so. It’ll do wonders for you.”
“Yeah, it’ll get me fired!” I bristle. “You think anyone’s on the force is going to take me seriously with a face like this?! I look like a clown!”
“You look like an available woman.”
“Which I’m not.”
“I don’t see a ring on your fing—”
I slam the door shut in her face. This garish make-up is the last thing I need. Her constant snips about my personal life are bad enough! Yes, I’m not dating anyone, but it’s by choice, thank you very much.
I just haven’t met anyone that’s up to my standards. And no, they are not unreasonably high. I’m just looking for a seven foot tall guy who is athletic and witty and charming and thoughtful and smoldering hot.
Is that too much to ask for?
I’m joking. Sort of. I’d be willing to give any good guy a shot (or at least a date or two), but it’s like looking for needle in a hay stack.
The fact that I’m on the force scares off most men. And I’m not interested in any of the guys on the squad — nothing good can come off mixing work and pleasure.
I take another look in the mirror. Okay, if I’m honest, it does look kinda good. The makeup works well with my chestnut hair, and it’s not as garish as I first thought. I’m just not used to wearing it, due to my job and all. I want the respect of my colleagues, and so I avoid everything that makes me look feminine. Something Kariza won’t stop pestering me about.
Like it or not, I’m stuck with this look for the next week or so.
* * *
“Remember, the Zukari Flu shots are mandatory! You guys getting that? Man-da-to-ry. The order comes all the way from the top. Corlis doesn’t want this little flu turning into a Station-wide epidemic. That’s bad for business. I’ll be checking your records next week, and anyone who hasn’t gotten his shot yet is getting lavatory duty! Ah, Mercier, how kind of you to join us!”
As I enter the Station, the room falls silent. Everyone turns to me, and I see Brown’s eyes growing wide with shock and anger.
“Holy Rathnid on a pogo-stick, what the hell happened to you?!”
His bushy eyebrows are raised higher than ever before. I pull my cap down further and try to hide my face as best I can.
“Sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”
He strides towards me and flicks my cap right off. My cheeks burn brightly with shame, tinting my red cheeks even redder.
“Did your shift come at an inopportune time, Mercier?!” He asks. “Did you have a big night planned? Answer me!”
“Then why the hell do you look a clown?!”
I look up, matching his firm gaze with my own. I won’t stand for insults about my appearance. Time to set him straight.
“Big words coming from a man with eyebrows that would make a Luba blush.”
The room is absolutely silent. Did I go too far? My heart is pounding so hard it feels like there’s a drumming band practicing upstairs.
And then Brown cracks a smile, and the squad bursts out into raucous laughter.
“There’s a reason you’re on my squad,” Brown says.
He slaps me on the shoulder amicably, and then leans in and whispers directly into my ear.
“You got a smart mouth on you kid, and you’ve got promise, so I’ll let this one slide, but say something sassy like that to me again in front of the squad and I’ll have you scrubbing toilets for the remainder of the year, you got it?”
I move my head a fraction of an inch up and down.
Heard you loud and clear, boss.
The captain calls everyone back to attention and dishes out orders.
“You’re patrolling the Docks District tonight, Mercier,” he says, casting me a spiteful look. “Alone.”
Great. The Docks is where most of the trouble happens. If I get myself killed, I’m going to spend my ghost-years haunting Kariza!