Short Fiction

Six For One

Six For One

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Riodan O’Duffy
Reading Time: 31 minutes
Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Overhead burned a hot white star that made the heat rise from the pavement in sheets of crystal-white flame. A thick brown haze blanketed the spaceport, which glistened in the sunlight with an iridescent sheen. Sweat rolled down the Stranger’s face as he walked, his turquoise eyes scanning the streets for danger, hands held close to his weapons. The Stranger’s only companions were two hovering blue spheres, one preceding him, and the other trailing behind him. Coming to a bulbous coppery dome, he paused to read the holographic sign above the entrance: Miik’s Trading Post. Seeing this, he stepped through the energy field and into the coolness of the interior.

The Stranger was tall with wide shoulders, and wore blue v-neck overalls that revealed a blue-and-white striped shirt underneath. A patch on his left shoulder read, Star of Damocles, while over his shoulders was slung a long rectangular bag. Pausing to remove his soft cap, the Stranger stored it under his epaulette and surveyed the establishment. To his left was the mercantile area with everything from hardware, to electronics, to bulk food. To his right was the canteen area, a loose assemblage of tables and chairs. The Stranger took note of the trading post’s occupants, six heavily armed humans sitting near the far window, who were either bounty hunters or slave catchers. Behind the counter sat a Galg and an Enoulian, most likely the owner and its assistant. Finally, an adolescent human boy in a stained apron swept the floor, most likely the owner’s serf.

Look at what the felinid dragged in,’ said a bounty hunter with a neon green mohawk. His five companions all turned to stare at the Stranger.

Damn if it ain’t a gorram Fish-face in Rogue Trader overalls,’ said a white-haired albino in dark wraparound goggles.

Keep your eyes peeled boys and girls, this one looks dangerous,’ laughed their leader, a gold-skinned male with a black beard and an augmented right eye. At the comment, the other five all laughed, but then turned their backs on the Stranger.

The Stranger eyed the bounty hunters, noting their lack of wariness; but continued to survey the trading post. The front entrance appeared to be the only point of ingress or egress; and so he asked the serf, ‘Is that the only way in?’

No, honourable sir,’ said the young serf, who looked frail and in poor health. ‘In the rear there are two cargo ports, and um, there’s a side entrance through the kitchen.’

Yok-customers-speak-only-to-me!’ rumbled the Galg.

Sorry, honourable proprietor,’ replied the serf, with a scraping bow.

The Stranger stepped up and dropped the long bag on the counter; and then in crisp and well articulated Low Gothic, said, ‘I have items for trade.’

Sitting behind the counter on four thick tentacles was the proprietor, Miik the Galg, who was three and a half metres tall, a mottled olive green colour, and smelled of formaldehyde and burnt rubber. Miik looked down at the Stranger with thirty-three of its ninety-nine eye stalks, and with a low rumbling asked, ‘What-you-have-for-trade-firewarrior?’

Drukhari weapons of the finest quality and construction,’ said the Stranger in a low voice.

Miik raised one hand-tentacle, and pointing at the bag, said, ‘Umm-weapons? Come-here- Ennio-have-a-look-see.’

Jik-jik, coming Over-boss,’ said a short Enoulian in a dark grey cone hat, and round pink ear coverings. The humanoid alien see-sawed his way over, and peered into the bag, his twin nasal slits flaring in his pink-grey face. The Stranger opened the first of what were two conjoined bags; and inside the first bag there was a selection of sleek black Drukhari firearms.

Jik-jik, beautiful but deadly, most deadly!’ said Ennio grinning, his fingers wiggling in the air.

Mooost-deadly!’ rumbled Miik.

Let’s see how many and what kind?’ said Ennio, getting down to eye the collection. ‘There’s a splinter rifle, two splinter pistols, a blast pistol. What else… a shredder rifle and… a hexrifle. A couple of pistols I don’t recognise. Wait,’ The Enoulian looked up at the Stranger. ‘these weapons all bear the sigil of the Kabal of the Obsidian Rose!’

Who-made-these-firewarrrior?’ asked Miik, its eye stalks bobbing and swirling.

The weaponsmith of the Obsidian Rose Kabal is none other than Lady Aestra Khromys herself,’ said the Stranger, curling his upper lip.

Over-boss, can we afford, jik-jik? Very deadly, very high quality… but most expensive,’ said the Enoulian.

No-problem-Ennio. Plenty-of-Drukhari-and-Aeldari-corsairs-come-to-Omicron-Velorum. Even- Ynnari-will-want-these-weapons. Resale-easy,’ said Miik, its hand-tentacles twitching with excitement. ‘Honourable-firewarrior-what-do-want-for-these-weapons?’

There are more,’ said the Stranger, and opened the second bag to reveal several Drukhari swords and knives.

Jikii-jikii, wych blades, venom blades, even a vambrace mounted blade… and even some I’ve never seen before. But wait there is also a… huskblade, and a djin blade too!’ said the Enoulian, his teeth chattering, as his hands flittered about over the bag.

Ooosgak-ahhh!’ exclaimed Miik, and asked once more. ‘How-much-you-want-for these?’

The Stranger pauses, and pointing to the tiny blue spheres hovering above their heads, asks, ‘Drones to record our transaction. Is that a problem?’

Jik-jik, no problem, right Over-boss?’ asked Ennio.

No-problem,’ answered Miik. ‘You-looking-for-something-in-particular-firewarrior?’

The Stranger leaned over, and said under his breath, ‘An older XV-15 or XV-22 Stealth Battlesuit, or an XV-46 Void Battlesuit, but no XV-25s. I would prefer battlesuits of Farsight Enclaves origin, rather than T’au Empire; as well as any other Farsight Enclave kit or equipment you may have.

Where de hell did ya get dis Knife-ear stuff anyway, Bluie?’ said a beefy black-skinned bounty hunter, appearing on the Stranger’s right. ‘Ya none do it yersel’. Killin’ up close ain’t what ya Bluies do.’

Good question Kingman,’ said the leader Nakuchi, stepping up to the Stranger’s left. He leaned over to look at the Drukhari blades. ‘Bet your human companions probably did all the uh, heavy lifting? Ain’t that right Bluie?’ said Nakuchi, reaching down to pick up one of the blades.

Hands-off-the-merchandise-human!Miik’s voice rumbled and vibrated, as it whipped a hand-tentacle around Nakuchi’s wrist. However, at the same time, Kingman got a hold of a shredder pistol; but with lightning speed, the Stranger seized his hand.

Not a good idea my vesa,’ said the Stranger, twisting his wrist so hard that he forced him down onto the counter.

Oh, shite!’ shouted Kingman, grimacing in pain.

These weapons are made by Lady Aestra Khromys, who is famous for her traps,’ said the Stranger in a baritone voice. ‘There can be hidden poisoned needles, poisoned aerosol dispensers, even high voltage pads. All of them can be activated by simply handling the weapon; and all of which can kill you. Or if your biometrics do not match those provided to the weapon, the power cells may overload and explode, also killing you. Lady Khromys is devious when it comes to protecting her creations.’

Kingman let go of the pistol, and the Stranger released his hand; however, Miik didn’t release Nakuchi’s wrist. The Stranger looked at the Galg, and with a raised eye ridge, removed the scabbard from the dagger. Under the trading post’s lumens, the Drukhari blade glistened a wicked green, while reflecting back the Stranger’s xeno blue eyes.

Do you know what this is? It is a Drukhari venom blade, but not just any venom blade. No, it is one of Lady Khromys’ special blades. Veins etched in the blade are filled with her own special concoction, making it perform like an ichor injector. Meaning that the slightest scratch from the blade will cause the victim’s body to liquefy near instantaneously. However, the expanding liquids and gases cannot escape fast enough; which causes the victim’s body to explode, leaving the bones to dissolve slowly in the remaining ichor and gore.’

What the frak is wrong with you Bluie? Trying to scare me with all that Knife-ear shite!’ yelled Nakuchi, dropping the blade and yanking his hand free from the Galg. ‘What’s with the beard and hair anyway? Why you tryin’ to look all suave and human-like, Bluie?’

The Stranger re-sheathed the blade, and returned it to the bag; but then locked eyes with the two bounty hunters, fixing them with a predator’s unflinching gaze.

Jik-jik, it’s time for you to sit down, drink your rotgut, and shut up!’ said Ennio, baring his teeth.

Nakuchi and Kingman made a brave show of it, but both were shaken by the Stranger’s intense stare, and scampered off back to their table.

Assured of no more interruptions, the Stranger tapped one of the drones, which projected a hologram with schematics of the various Drukhari weapons. ‘I have a data crystal with files that explain how each of the weapons’ defensive systems are activated, and how to deactivate them. There are files explaining how to operate each of the firearms, as well as the two power blades. The bags also contain additional venom, poison, and splinter ammunition. The data crystal is yours when the deal is completed.’

Will-take-time-to-locate-battlesuits,’ said Miik. ‘Is-that-acceptable?’

Yes,’ replied the Stranger.

Are-there-more-of-these-weapons?’ asked Miik, strumming a hand-tentacle on the counter.

There are, but that would require,’ the Stranger lowers his voice again. ‘further negotiations.

Understood-firewarrior. Will-negotiate-later-then.’

Come here boy,’ said Harel Rat Tooth, the bounty hunter with the mohawk. The serf boy paused his sweeping and approached the bounty hunter’s table.

Inside the Stranger’s field of vision were two projections, one pict-feed from each of the two drones. The Stranger received their wireless transmissions via his cybernetic implants, which allowed him to observe the conversation between Harel and the boy. He watched as the other bounty hunters encircled the two, and a quiet, but animated conversation took place. The Stranger sent the second drone in closer, attempting to get better audio, but all he could hear were fragments of conversation: ‘We can make it happen for… You can do it… Guaranteed it’ll happen…’

Deal!’ said Miik, gurgling and humming deep enough to make the floor vibrate. ‘Would-you-like-a-drink-firewarrior-to-seal-the-deal?’

I am not acquainted with this custom,’ replied the Stranger, shifting his attention back to the proprietor. ‘but I will accept a drink.’

Think of it, you’ll be free… Just do it… We got your back… Be free…’

I-have-a-bottle-of-t’car. If-you-like?’ asked Miik. ‘Ennio-go-get-the-t’car.’

Jik-jik, yes Over-boss!’ replied the Enoulian, and scurried off.

Returning to the drone feed, the Stranger watched as the bounty hunters each took turns talking to the boy, putting considerable pressure on him. ‘Come on Yok… Just do it… For yourself…’

The Stranger found it hard to hear what was being said; but then he clearly heard a dark-skinned female say, ‘Listen Yok, ya’ll mop the floor wit him and be back to work before ya even know it!

The boy, however, kept shaking his head. But they were persistent, and the Stranger heard the boy say, ‘I’ll do it.The Stranger then saw one of them slip the boy a large knife, which he then hid under his apron.

Is-drink-from-N’dras-acceptable?’ said Miik.

Yes, waitN’dras?’ said the Stranger, refocusing on the proprietor. ‘Do many ships from N’dras come here?’

The boy got up from the table, the hilt of the knife clearly visible under his apron.

Yes. N’dras-Swagmen-make-regular-stops-here. Last-N’dras-ship-was-here-two-rotations-ago.’

It is unfortunate that I missed them,’ said the Stranger, crinkling his nasal slit. Shifting his attention back to the drone feed, he watched as the boy resumed his sweeping, and the bounty hunters all sat back with smug, self-confident grins.

Jik-jik, I have the bottle!’ said Ennio, rushing up to the counter. The Enoulian broke open the cylinder of t’car from the T’au Empire, and the Stranger, Miik, and Ennio, each drank a bowl. 

Finding the alcohol satisfactory, the Stranger shook his head to signal his ascent to the deal.

We-have-a-deal!’ said Miik.

Do you have more T’au alcohol? I will take all that you have.’

Jik-jik, we got plenty,’ smiled Ennio.

Which-is-your-preference. T’au-Empire-N’dras-or-Enclaves?’ asked Miik.

Any of them.’

I-I-I k-know… um, where the uh, T-t-Tau booze is in the back,’ said the boy cautiously, approaching the counter.

You do, do you? No one asked you to speak Yok, so go back to sweeping, or you’ll get the agoniser!’ said Ennio showing his teeth. ‘I’ll show it to the customer!’

The boy blanched, and backed away; but then the Stranger said, ‘No, I want the boy.’

But honourable customer, he’s worthless human trash…’ said the Enoulian, waving his hands.

Ennio-let-the-serf-do-it,’ said Miik, waving a hand-tentacle. ‘If-he-is-acceptable-to-the-customer.’

The Stranger looked at the serf and asked, ‘What is your name boy?’

Yok,’ replied the boy, nervous sweat clearly visible on his face.

Lead the way Yok.’

The boy then led the Stranger around the counter and into the mercantile area.

The Stranger followed the boy into the labyrinth of curving corridors and aisles that was the mercantile area. There was row upon row of bulk foodstuffs, alongside shelf after shelf of equipment, clothing, and appliances. The mercantile area had narrow, but well-lit corridors; however, turn a corner, and one might end up in a tight, under-lit side aisle. As they walked, the boy kept looking over his shoulders as he prattled on about the T’au alcohol. 

Um, still a ways to go yet… but there are several boxes… more than you could carry yourself… and there’s lots and lots of that T’au beer…’

Ducking into one of the side aisles, the Stranger waited for the boy to notice.

There’s this big crate with… Uh, sir, where did you go? Sir, did you find something? Sir? Sir?’

The Stranger could hear the boy shuffling about, and then walk back down the corridor. He crouched down, and as the boy crossed the aisle, he grabbed him by the throat. In one swift motion, he slammed the boy up against a stack of crates, pulled the knife from his belt, and set the edge to his throat.

Why are you trying to kill me?’ growled the Stranger, looking the boy in the eyes.

The boy soaked his trousers, and with urine running down his leg, he sobbed, ‘Th-th-they t-t-told me th-that if I killed you, th-they’d b-b-buy my freedom.’

Xhmm.’ The Stranger made a deep rumbling sound in his chest. ‘Thought you could kill me?

No, h-honourable s-sir. I th-thought y-you’d kill me. I-I-wanted to die. I just wanted to die.’

The Stranger stared at Yok with a burning intensity in his turquoise eyes.  

Y-you going to k-kill me?’ pleaded the boy.

No.’ 

The Stranger pushed the boy down the aisle to the rear wall; and handing him back the knife, said, ‘Stay here, and you’ll be safe.’

The Stranger then drew his own combat knife, and took up a position in the aisle across the corridor from the boy.

W-what are y-you doing?’

Waiting for one of them to come look for you.’

Back in the canteen area, the bounty hunters all sat drinking, but Harel Rat Tooth kept looking over his shoulders. 

What is it Rat Tooth?’ asked a bald, dark-skinned female.

Death Dealer, I’m thinkin’ the boy’s takin’ too long.’

The little piece of shite probably just winged the Fish-face,’ laughed a red-haired female Tyreek. ‘That is if he even tried.’

Are you worried?’ asked their leader Nakuchi. ‘Go and help him out, why don’t you?’

Yeah, maybe I should,’ said Rat Tooth, getting up.

While the second drone kept watch on the canteen area, the Stranger sent the first drone towards the ceiling to observe the corridor. He watched as Rat Tooth got up from the table and entered the mercantile area, only to then draw his laspistol once he was clear of the counter. Rat Tooth was dressed in a red Tarellian-skin vest, heavy chains, with a shock maul hanging from his belt. He seemed to know his way around the trading post, and more or less, headed straight towards Stranger and the boy.

Rat Tooth moved quickly down the curving grey corridors until some ways inside, but then began moving more cautiously. He began pausing at every intersection, listening and carefully checking around corners before proceeding on. Watching the bounty hunter on the feed, the Stranger furrowed his brow and readied the knife in his hand. He whispered, ‘Boy, can you hear me?

Yes, sir.’ 

When you see the man step between us, say loudly, “Over here!” Do you understand?

Yes, sir. I say, “Over here!”

Rat Tooth got closer and closer, but as he did, he slowed down even more. When he was only two aisles away, he stopped and called out, ‘Hey boy, it’s me Rat Tooth, are you alright? Need a hand with that a… stuff?’

The Stranger put the back of two fingers across his lips, and the boy nodded.

Is everything square Yok? Would hate there to be any, uh, complications?’

Harel Rat Tooth drew his shock maul and moved up one more aisle, but paused again to check around the corners and listen. He was on high alert, as if he knew there was an ambush coming, all the while fidgeting with his maul, as he looked up and down the corridor. Rat Tooth took another step or two, and then stopped at the aisle where the boy and the Stranger were hiding. Rat Tooth was so close that they could hear him breathing. He let out a big sigh, and leaned back against the end of the shelves.

Frak me, I should have brought a vox! Frak me, frak me, frak me!’ He let out another sigh, and said to himself, ‘Pull it together Harel, pull it together. The boy’s probably not anywhere around here.’

They could hear him shuffle his feet; and the drone feed showed the bounty hunter leaning forward with both hands on his knees.

Ah, shite I need to lay off the stims and the recaf, now I got the frakin’ jitters.’

The Stranger looked over at the boy, and saw that he had gone wide-eyed, growing more panicky by the second. But before the Stranger could do anything, the boy said out loud, ‘Over here!’

Oi, is that you Yok?’ said Rat Tooth, stepping around the corner to face the boy.

That was all the Stranger needed, and grabbing Rat Tooth around the forehead, slit his throat. There was a spray of blood, and the body crumpled right in front of the boy, who screamed and tried to climb backwards up the wall. With another swift cut, the Stranger removed the head; and lifting it up, he said, ‘This will ensure your enemy is always dead.’

The boy screamed again, and the Stranger shushed him, ‘Tssih, tssih, tssih…

Yok was still crying as the blood began to pool at his feet, so the Stranger grabbed him by the collar, and forced him to step around the body.

Quiet now Yok, you are safe.’

Y-y-yes, sir,’ answered the boy, still crying.

Ennio was down on his knees working behind the counter, when the Stranger’s second drone dropped down in front of him. It projected a small hologram that displayed the Stranger’s face.

You find the t’car firewarrior?’ asked Ennio.

Not yet, but I found someone trying to kill me,’ he said, showing him Rat Tooth’s severed head.

Jik-jik, bounty hunters are all vile troccho worms!’ said the assistant gnashing his teeth.

The bounty hunters tried to get your serf Yok to kill me. However, I am not holding the boy responsible. Instead, I hold them responsible.’

Jik-jik, what do you require firewarrior?’

Ask the owner Miik if I may take my vengeance on them. If Miik agrees, I will give you instructions.’

Over-boss likes vengeance! I will ask for you firewarrior. ’

The Stranger set down the head of Rat Tooth on top of the body and motioned for the boy to sit on the floor in the corridor. He then had the first drone project a hologram of the five remaining bounty hunters. Pointing to them, he asked, ‘Yok, tell me who each of them are, and who is the most dangerous?’

They’re all dangerous, but there’s three of them that’s the nastiest,’ said Yok, having recovered somewhat from the killing of Rat Tooth. He pointed to the red-eyed albino, and said, ‘That one’s Viggo. Heard him called the Blood-Borne, and he is straight up evil. He’s their best fighter, and cruel like you won’t believe.’ 

Inside his head the Stranger made a notation, Viggo: No discernable augmentations. Nekulli whisper pistol. Single long knife and shock maul.

Yok pointed next at the bald dark-skinned female, ‘That one calls herself Death Dealer, and she’s their heavy gunner babe. She’s vicious in a fight too, almost as bad as Viggo.’ 

Death Dealer: Augmented right arm, and left lower leg, both are of different manufacture, and of inconsistent quality. IG automatic rifle with drum magazine. Autopistol and a long knife.

He pointed to another bounty hunter, ‘That black fella there is called Kingman…’

The one who grabbed the Drukhari pistol?’ asked the Stranger.

Yeah, that’s him. He might be afraid to look you in the eye sir, but he’s tough, and he won’t give up so easy in a fight.’

Kingman: No discernable augmentations. A pair of Inquisition-grade autopistols. Long knife and shock maul.

Xmm,’ said the Stranger making a humming sound in his throat. ‘And the other two?’

That one there is Nakuchi the Eye, he don’t fight all that well, but he’s the smart one, and their leader. 

Naguchi: Augmentations – aftermarket prosthetic right eye. Capable of infrared, and possibly thermal vision. IG laspistol, IG autogun. Two long knives, and a shock maul.

The last one there is their sniper Tyreek the Hunter. She’s small, but deadly with a knife, and vicious cruel.’

Tyreek the Hunter: Aledari-designed sniper rifle, auto pistol, several throwing knives.

Nuni’qy for your help,’ said the Stranger, who started to turn off the hologram projection; but then there appeared the faces of Miik and Ennio.

Granting-your-request-to-take-vengeance-on-bounty-hunters. It-is-most-aggregable! What-do- you-need-from-us?’ said Miik.

The Stranger replied, ‘Wait till I send you the signal, and then…’

Tyreek, no smokin’ obscura in Miik’s place,’ said Nakuchi, waving away the narcotic smoke.

Shite Nakuchi, who cares? This is a shite xenos place, run by one big shite xeno, and his little shite xeno boyfriend.’

Oi, Tyreek you’re goin’ get us kicked outta ‘ere fer good!’ laughed the albino Viggo, removing his goggles to reveal two eyes the colour of blood.

Oi-yoh, Rat Tooth and the boy aren’t back yet. Anybody seen either of them?’ asked Nakuchi looking over his shoulder at the mercantile area.

Nah,’ said Tyreek, blowing a cloud of obscura smoke his way.

Yok, take what you want from the bounty hunter,’ said the Stranger sitting down on the floor.

Sir, shouldn’t his things be yours?’ asked the Yok, starting to undo a boot.

Yes, but I am giving them to you,’ he answered, checking the spurs of both his hooves.

W-what are those?’ asked the Yok, pulling off the boot.

Spur blades,’ he replied. ‘They need tightening.’ 

What are you doing now, sir?’ asked the boy pulling off the other boot.

Preparing for war,’ he said, sitting down on his knees.

The Stranger removed a long cord from a pocket, and then took the two long braids that hung from his temples, and bound them together with the long queue at the back of his head. Once he had finished tying them into a top knot, he said, ‘Yok, continue taking what you want, but do not speak to me until I am finished.’

Yes, sir,’ said Yok, yanking the pants off the late Rat Tooth.

The Stranger bowed his head, and for a full minute, simply breathed in and out. Finally lifting his head he said, ‘It is time for me to meet the enemy.’

What if they come for me?’ asked Yok, picking up the shock maul.

Then keep your weapons close Yok,’ said the Stranger rolling up his sleeves. ‘But none will get past me.’  He pulled a long comlink antenna out of his jacket, and attached it over his right ear, and then set the connected earpiece over his left ear. Drawing a large pulse pistol, he seized the severed head of Rat Tooth by its hair, and moved silently towards the front of the trading post.

The Stranger made his way swiftly down the corridor, pausing near the front entrance. The first drone zipped overhead, to give him a bird’s eye view of the front area. At the same time, he had the second drone withdraw towards the kitchen; which allowed him a wide angle view of the canteen area. He watched the bounty hunters sitting at their ease, wholly unaware of Rat Tooth’s death. 

The Stranger contacted Miik over his comlink, said, I am in position.’

Good-hunting-firewarrior!’ whispered back the Galg. Then out loud it said, ‘Ennio-I-am- going-to-my-office. You-take-the-bag-to-the-safe.’ Miik then slithered towards the back, making a vibrating whom-whom-whom sound as it moved.

Jik-jik, will do Over-boss,’ said the Enoulian, throwing the bag over his shoulder. He moved around the counter to the canteen window; and shouted out, ‘Need anything else? The cooks are wanting their luncheon. Going to close for half a time period.’

Nah, we good!’ shouted back the blood-eyed albino Viggo.

The Enoulian hit the switch, and the shutter came down automatically on the canteen counter. 

Where the frakin’ hell is Rat Tooth!’ said Kingman pounding the table.

Hey, there big fella!’ laughed Nakuchi, lighting his own obscura stick. ‘What’s gotten into you?’

He should’ve been back by now with that Bluie’s scalp. That’s all!’

He’s right,’ said Viggo, playing with his drink.

Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point,’ said Tyreek lazily blowing smoke rings, her eyes both dilated and bloodshot.

Hey, Nakuchi, how come they closed the canteen? We’ve been here all day sometimes, and I can’t ever remember them ever closing the canteen?’ said Viggo, drawing his pistol and looking around.

What’s up with the blast doors on the windows closing?’ asked Death Dealer standing up.

What the frak?’ said Nakuchi, reaching for his shock maul.

On the opposite end of the front area, a blue hand appeared from behind the barrels of corpse starch, and placed the head of Rat Tooth on the floor.

The Stranger said over his comlink, Now.’   

What the hell?’ asked Kingman, pointing across the trading post, ‘Is that Rat Tooth?

The bounty hunters all turned to look, just as the lumens went out.

In the darkness, the bounty hunters’ exposed skin glowed a luminous grey. To the Stranger’s eyes, their body heat illuminated them as clearly as daylight; however, the brightest light source at the table, were the burning obscura sticks, that illuminated a half-a-metre wide area in front of both Nakuchi and Tyreek. Taking the darkness as his cue, the Stranger came at the severed head with a low and inside kick. There was a loud thwack, and the head sailed across the floor, striking Nakuchi in the face, and knocking him to the ground.

Leader down. Four more to go,’ thought the Stranger.

The bounty hunters hadn’t moved a single centimetre from the kick to the moment of impact, but the Stranger had already brought up his pulse pistol and was advancing on his first target, the woman called Death Dealer. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, an effect the Stranger was well acquainted from long years of combat. He watched in excruciating slow motion as she tried to reach for her autorifle. He fired three pulse rounds in rapid succession into the centre of her chest. Each brilliant-white flash streaking past the face of the albino Viggo, who shut his eyes and jerked his head backwards. Death Dealer’s body spun in place, the pulse rounds blasting holes in her chest and spraying blood across the table.

Second target down.

Moving straight ahead, the Stranger lined up a shot on his third target, Tyreek the Hunter. Her eyes were dilated from the narcotic, and the flash made her throw up a hand in front of her face. She seemed to lose all her coordination, flailing about even as she tried reaching for her weapon. The Stranger another fired another three round burst, the first round blowing apart the hand covering Tyreek’s eyes, the second round exploding her neck and decapitating her. The third round caught the back of Viggo’s neck as he ran screaming through the line of fire.

Still moving forward, the Stranger drew a bead on Kingman. In the strobe-like flashes of the pulse rounds, he had seen Kingman starting to dive for the floor; while at the same time Viggo was heading for the front door. Deciding that Kingman was the greater threat, the Stranger dropped down, and fired another burst at table height. This caught Kingman in mid-leap, the first two rounds detonating in his belly, while the third round exploded in the wall behind him. Kingman’s body spun around, splashing bloody viscera across the wall.

Third target down.

Watching the albino Viggo running in the opposite direction, the Stranger decided to shift back to the leader Nakuchi. He saw that the bounty hunter had gotten up on his hands and knees, and was fumbling for his laspistol. The Stranger fired, the first round removed Nakuchi’s left arm at the elbow; and the next struck him in the chest. The leader of the bounty hunters crumbled, as the third round blew apart his augmented right eye.

Four down. One more to go.

The Stranger now spun in place, and took careful aim at the bounty hunter Viggo, but then paused. The albino was still moving so slow, that it allowed him to time his shot. So, he fired a single burst, just as Viggo reached the front entrance, the pulse rounds striking him in the back of the head, neck, and the upper back. Viggo’s body exploded in a spray of viscera, which slid off the energy screen in vibrating rivulets of blood.

Death Dealer’s body hit the floor, Tyreek’s head bounced off the table, Kingman crumpled and bounced off the wall, Nakuchi’s augmented eye exploded, and Viggo slithered down the energy field to the floor.

The entire engagement had lasted a mere twelve seconds.

Five dead plus one, for a total of killed six. Mission complete,thought the Stranger; and shouted, ‘Lumens!’

The lumens all came on, but there was a moan from the floor.

Still alive?’ said the Stranger, hearing the moan coming from Nakuchi who lay prone on the floor. He was missing his left arm at the elbow, with a deep gouge running across his chest, and a hole where his augmented eye had been. Nakuchi, however, still held the laspistol in his right hand.  

Took my eyes off of you for a moment, and almost died for it,’ said the Stranger, shoving the bounty hunter over onto his back with a hoof, which caused Nakuchi to drop the laspistol.

The Stranger watched as Nakuchi struggled to reach his weapon; but then tapped it away with his hoof, and said, ‘You know you are a mal’ra’xei?’

Coughing up blood, Nakuchi said, ‘What… the… hell… is that… Bluie?’

Ennio, bring me that Drukhari dagger!’ shouted the Stranger. Turning back to the bounty hunter, he said, ‘Mal’ra’xei are long-lived insectoids, which are nearly impossible to kill. Much like you.’

Funny… one… you blue… bastard…’ cough-laughed Nakuchi.

Xhmm,’ said the Stranger, once more making a rumbling sound. He lifted his right hoof, and slammed a titanium spur into Nakuchi’s wrist, pinning his hand to the floor.

Nakuchi screamed.

Jik-jik this one firewarrior?’ shouted Ennio, pointing at a Drukhari blade in the open bag.

Yes, that one.’

Dangerous, no?’

Just carry it by the scabbard, and you will be safe.’

Ennio gingerly carried the venom blade over to the Stranger.

I have done what few sentient beings in the galaxy ever have — survived enslavement in the Dark City of Commorragh,’ said the Stranger, drawing the venom blade. Admiring its mirror-like surface, he began spinning the blade rapidly between the fingers of one hand, and then the other. Suddenly he stopped and stared down at the bounty hunter. 

Do have any idea of what that means?’

How… the frak would… I know?’ groaned Nakuchi.

The Stranger squatted down next to the bounty hunter, and said, ‘Commorragh is nothing but endless pain and suffering, the likes of which you could never conceive. The gladiatorial pits are spectacles of death and bloodshed, and all for the sheer orgasmic pleasure of the Drukhari. It was there that my fighting skills caught the eye of Lady Aestra Khromys of the Obsidian Rose Kabal. She purchased me, and for a while I fought for her. 

She made me her house slave, and along with two Sororitas, and we were responsible for her every whim and desire — every desire. But we were also her secret bodyguards; because no Drukhari could ever imagine a séjen-éka like myself, or a mon-keigh to ever be a threat. A brilliant and cunning plan, don’t you think?’

Aaargh…’ grunted the bounty hunter. ‘Sounds to me… *cough*… like you’re one of them… *cough*hard to kill critters.’

Maybe I am,’ said the Stranger, scratching his cheek with the blade.

Nakuchi watched in horror, as a tiny drop of cyan blood then ran down the tip of the blade.

This exact venom blade was made for me by Lady Aestra herself, so it knows my genetics; and therefore, it does not release its venom. However, for anyone else, it would.’ The Stranger stood up, and said, ‘Want to see?’ 

He slid the laspistol over with his other hoof, so that the bounty hunter’s fingers could just touch the grip.I will remove my spur, and you can try and grab your laspistol. Then I will try to throw this blade into your leg, before you shoot me. Ready?’

Frak you… *cough*Bluie!’ choked Nakuchi. ‘Frak you… all to hell.’  

And with that the Stranger removed his spur; and stepping backwards, flicked the blade into Nakuchi’s left leg. The bounty hunter quickly seized the laspistol, but he began violently convulsing, as his flesh liquefied and his blood boiled. Finally, Nakuchi exploded in a shower of wet blood and gore; which only left bone fragments and bits of clothing among the red ichor. The hand clutching the laspistol, being the only body part still intact.

There was a loud retching and gagging sound, and the Stranger turned around to see the boy Yok vomiting on the floor behind him. He wore the oversized clothes of the much taller Rat Tooth, including his boots, and red Tarellian vest. 

Yok, I thought I told you not to wear that vest!’ shouted the Stranger.

Pardon me sir, but I didn’t hear you say that,’ answered the boy wiping the sick from his face.

The Stranger paused to think, and then said, ‘You are correct Yok, I did not. Still, do not wear it, if any Tarellians see you wearing it, they will kill you.’ He turned to the Enoulian and said, ‘Pure water please.’ 

The Stranger took the dagger, and picked up the skull of Nakuchi with the tip of the blade. Ennio returned with a large bottle of water, which the Stranger then poured over the blade and skull. Taking a cleaning rag from the boy, he dried both of them off. Putting the skull on the table, he then sheathed the blade. ‘Yok, start pulling off their gear and weapons, and then toss them onto the table. But keep clear of the splattered gore.’

While the Stranger dragged over the body of Viggo, Yok began piling the weapons and gear on the table. The Stranger then stacked the heads in a pile on the table, placing the skull of Nakuchi on top. He pulled Kingman’s autopistols out of the pile, and Tyreek’s throwing knives, and handed those to the boy. Finally, he said, ‘Pick out a knife from the pile, unless the one you have suits you.’

Meanwhile, Ennio, along with a crowd of Enoulians from the canteen kitchen, gathered around the Stranger and the boy. From the back there came a whom-whom-whom sound as Miik slithered into the front area. Miik waved his hand-tentacles in the air, and while spinning in place, made the whom-whom-whom sound again. ‘Ooosgak-ahhh! Ooosgak-ahhh! Vengeance-is-yours-firewarrior! Vengeance-is-yours!’ 

Nuny’qy,’ said the Stranger bowing to the proprietor and his staff.

The boy dropped Rat Tooth’s knife in the pile, and pulled out a straight edged blade with an Ork ivory handle. ‘I’ll take Viggo’s blade,’ he said smiling. 

You’re giving weapons to our serf?’ queried Ennio.

How much for all the weapons and gear on the table?’ replied the Stranger, without answering the Enoulian. ‘Is it enough to buy the boy’s freedom?’

Jik-jik firewarrior, that Aeldari sniper rifle is worth five times what we paid for the boy!’ said the Enoulian, excitedly patting the air with his hands.

I’ll sell you the Aeldari rifle for the boy, and trade you the rest of the bounty hunters’ weapons and gear for the local currency. Is that a deal?’

Jik-jik, how is that Over-boss?’ asked Ennio turning to the Galg.

You-pay-too-much-for-that-worthless-serf-firewarrior,’ said Miik. ‘But-we-will-take-your-offer.’ Miik waved a hand-tentacle at Ennio, who then headed to the back.

What? Am I your serf now?’ asked the boy in alarm.

No Yok, you are free now,’ said the Stranger. 

Ennio reappeared and handed the Stranger a data slate. Looking it over, he marked it with his sigil and handed it back, along with a data crystal. ‘Here is the information on the Drukhari weapons. I will be back within the next few rotations, to negotiate about the remaining weapons.’

Excellent! It-is-has-been-good-doing-business-with-you. But-also-entertaining!’ said the Galg pointing at the stack of severed heads.

It was good doing business with you Miik,’ said the Stranger. Seeing the boy looking anxious, he asked, ‘What is it?’

What do I do now that I’m free?’

One moment,’ said the Stranger, putting a hand on his comlink antenna. ‘Star of Damocles, come in over.’ He waited a moment. ‘Yes, Officer of the Watch please, over.’ Another pause. ‘Hello Mister Sokolov, yes it’s me. I need a ground transport to meet me at Miik’s Trading Post…’

When he was finished, the Stranger returned the comlink antenna and earpiece to his cargo pocket. He pulled loose his top knot, and released his braids and ponytail; but then he turned to the boy, and said, ‘You are with me now. Go over there and wait by the front door.’

Yes, sir.’

Ennio was the only one left with the Stranger now, and rubbing his flat pink-grey face, he asked, ‘Why did you do it Firewarrior?’

Six for one?’ he asked, pulling on his soft cap. ‘Six human bounty hunters for a single human serf? Ennio, those Gue’la were cowards, and they tried to get another to do their killing. If I have to kill someone, I will do it myself. So, if they wanted me dead, they should have done it themselves. These six wasted their lives, Ennio, but who knows if this boy may yet have something to contribute to the galaxy?’ The Stranger took in a deep breath. ‘Six wasted lives for one life full of potential? It was worth it.’

No!’ said the Enoulian, rocking from side-to-side. ‘Her!’ he said poking the Star of Damocles patch on his shoulder. ‘Why do you serve her, Captain Hildiwara Guillory-Garfanini? She is a vicious pirate flying the banner of the Aquila, the Double-Vulture! Firewarrior, if you serve her, you serve the Imperium of Man!’

The firewarrior turned his turquoise eyes to the Enoulian, ‘Captain Hildiwara is as you say a pirate, but she is also a shrewd and cunning captain; and her daring raids always bring us victory and treasure. As such, I have sworn an oath to serve Captain Hildiwara; but more importantly I am bound by ta’lissera, or soul-bound to her. Which I would not expect you to understand.’

Then explain to me firewarrior?’ demanded Ennio.

It means that I have bound my life to her, and as such, I willingly do her bidding,’ said the Stranger.

Is that all your life is worth firewarrior?’ cried Ennio, gnashing his teeth.

Ennio, her black skin is more beautiful than any Drukhari rifle; but she is twice as deadly as any Drukhari blade.’

Fieh-kaah! Sounds to me like you’re in love with her.’

‘Perhaps, I am,’ replied the Stranger.

‘Farewell to you then pirate firewarrior,’ exclaimed Ennio, waving his hands in the air.

Farewell Ennio,’ he replied, bowing.

Farewell-to-you-firewarrior!’ trilled the proprietor Miik.

The Stranger picked up the skull of Nakuchi and, wrapping it in a rag, put it under his arm.

As they waited Yok asked, ‘Sir, I’m really free? I’m really not a serf any more?’

The Stranger stared out past the energy field, as he said, ‘There are no serfs aboard the Star of Damocles. Everyone who serves aboard our ship is a free man or woman, regardless of their race, where they come from, or previous condition. As a free crewman you will be fed, clothed, and given a job. At the end of each voyage, you will be paid a percentage of the cargo’s worth. But most important of all, Alexandr, you now have a family.’

Excuse me sir, but my name is…

Your name is Alexandr now. It was the name given on your manumission chit; and it was also the name of an ancient warrior-emperor of Terra. A fitting name for a freeman serving aboard a Rogue Trader ship of the Imperium.’

Outside, an eight-wheeled cargo-hauler rolled up to the trading post, and two dwarves wearing the same blue overalls as the Stranger, climbed down from the cab. The Stranger and the boy stepped outside to greet them.

Howdy there Chief!’ shouted the older grey-bearded dwarf.

Howdy,’ said the younger black-bearded dwarf.

Gentlemen, there is a cargo of Tau alcohol that needs to be taken back to the ship.’ Then turning to the boy, he said, ‘Let me introduce you to our newest crewman Alexandr.’

Well, it’s nice to meet you Alexandr!’ said the older dwarf, shaking the boy’s hands. ‘But no reason to be all formal like, you can call me Mooch, and you can call him Hourglass.’ Then taking the young man by the arm, Mooch said, ‘Now climb up into that there cab, and you can show us where we can load up this here Tau booze.’

Yes… Mooch?

Yep, that’s right.’ Then with a wink, he said to the Stranger, ‘That boy’s sharp!’ Once they were all in the cab, Mooch shouted down, ‘Chief, sure you don’t want a ride?’

No Mooch, where I am headed to is walking distance from here,’ he replied. Then he handed him the wrapped skull. ‘T’oh, here take this.’

Making another bowl?’

For the boy, but do not tell him.’

Righto chief!’ said Mooch with a wave.

Overhead there burns a hot white star, but to the Stranger whose eyes see in the infrared, the heat rising from the pavement appears as crystal white flames. A thick brown haze blankets the spaceport, but as his eyes also see in the ultraviolet, the haze glistens with an iridescent sheen. The sweat rolls down the Stranger’s face, as he makes his way through the spaceport. His only companions are two hovering blue drones, one preceding him, and the other trailing behind him. 

About the Author

In the grim darkness of the upper mid-western US, on the storm driven shores of the great inland sea called Anishinaabewi-gichi-gami, lies an underground bunker. Within its depths is where you’ll find Mr. O’Duffy, spending his time writing Warhammer 40,000 fiction, as well as works of Gothic Horror, and Fantasy. When not writing, Mr. O’Duffy continues his fight for truth, justice and the American Way.

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