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Reclamation – a short story

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A Science fiction tale about a man who’s found that the legends surrounding him have grown uncomfortably large and are beginning to edge out the reality of who and what he is.

He looked up through the nightclub’s skylight. Even with the city’s light pollution, he could make out the flickering light of the Crowley 183 pulsar, shining into the night. He bore the name of Kourosh Zakeri and the distinction of being the galaxy’s most famous space pirate.

Kourosh placed a hand on the railing overlooking the dance floor and looked down. Draped across the sofas and the floor as well lay the motley crew of Kourosh’s
starship, the Demon Rum, they, and various business associates…. As groupies invited to the blow-out. The sight was a happy one. Kourosh had paid the owner to close the nightclub for the evening. He and his crew needed to unwind after their last foray into Phaan-Ré space. The risks had been great, the damage to the Demon Rum significant, but the booty had been both plentiful and sufficiently rewarding. The crew deserved a hell of a party, and so that’s what he threw them.

Kourosh made his way downstairs. The walls of the nightclub shown with a subdued purple radiance, lit from ground level. A series of oval water tanks ran from
floor to ceiling, filled with incandescent fish and brightly-shelled arthropods from Loviatar’s oceans. Other than himself, only one other stood upright, Mbella, the club’s owner. Bald-headed, powerfully muscled and darkly complected, the African night club owner stood behind the bar guiding a cleaning remote from the bar-top computer as the drone rolled its way through the nightclub picking up glasses, mugs and bottles for cleaning or recycling. A task most nights the drone would complete without human assistance, the array of unconscious inebriated miscreants made it too difficult for the simple-minded cleaning drone’s software.

Kourosh sat at the bar. Without his asking, Mbella poured him a glass of amber fluid. Kourosh picked up the glass, swirled the liquid around and closing his eyes, inhaled deeply. The fragrance of pears pleased him even as it inspired a great sense of ambivalence. He sighed.

“Something wrong with your drink,” Mbella asked.

“No.” Kourosh took a shallow sip of the beverage before holding the glass in both hands to warm it.

“They all drink this now,” he said.

“Tell me about it. Spacers, pirates, star rats, startown workers, business types looking for a thrill, fancies, wet behind the ears zipsuits who want to be spacers and the college kids who just dress like them, they all drink pear brandy.”

“Because of me.”

“Because of you,” he agreed.

“They drink it to show they’re mobile…”

“In the stream, trendy,” Mbella added.

“Exactly,” Kourosh said, pausing for another taste from his glass. “I don’t mind being popular. I don’t mind being famous. It’s great to go into a restaurant with a beautiful woman on my arm and be told my credits aren’t good there.”

“But?”

“But ordering the broiled levba instead of the chicken and waking up to find some holovid foodie’s talking about it has driven up the price of levba futures on the planetary stock index…”

Mbella laughed. “That would erode the sanity of any man, at least a little.”

Kourosh nodded.

“I’m not a man any more. I mean, I still am, obviously. But increasingly, it’s like there’s two of me. The man and this – this thing my name is becoming.”

“A legend,” Mbella said.

Kourosh winced and downed the remaining contents of his glass.

“Another?” Mbella asked.

“Please.”

“You should have heard the stories about you tonight. Guess you already have. That you killed a Phaan-Ré captain with your bare hands, that you took down a  battlecarrier group with only Infinite Kiss and Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits at your side…”

Kourosh shook his head. “It was a military convoy, not a battle group and we had five raiders in that hunting pack.”

Mbella nodded. “I heard you learned your amazing fighting skills – ” Mbella laughed and Kourosh joined him, “as a child soldier on Acheron in some guerrilla war.”

“That one is true,” Kourosh said.

Mbella blinked in genuine surprise. “You were a child soldier on Acheron? But you’re a refined man, an educated man, how did…”

“I was kidnapped by my nanny and sold to the rebels. For four years, between the ages of seven and eleven, I fought in the jungles of Acheron. My father was, is, head of Bullock-Paragon Diagnostic & Chemical. There was a promising young engineer descended from the Brazilian racial minority on-planet. Acheron had been settled by the petrocorporations and a lot of poor and uneducated Brazilians and indigeos had been brought in as a source of cheap labor for deep fracking and two generations later their descendants still languished in poverty. So it was kind of a big deal when one of them managed a higher education and showed signs of some greater prospects.”

“What happened?”

“The man had shown my father what he took for a lack of proper respect and my father blacklisted him. Acheron in those days was totally controlled by the mega-corporations, and when BPD&C blacklisted him, the man couldn’t find work anywhere. Even with advanced degrees, he couldn’t feed his family and eventually committed suicide. My father didn’t know the man was second cousin to my au pair and out of revenge, she dragged me off to the jungle and sold me to the rebels. She probably thought they’d just ransom me back to my parents.”

“Why didn’t they?”

Kourosh shrugged. “Who knows? A mix-up? Revenge? I don’t know. I just know I spent the next four years in hell. It’s not something I like to talk about.”

“I can imagine.”

* * *

The camp had been taken before anyone within knew the fighting had even begun. The buried pressure and proximity sensors along with the heat and motion detectors had been hacked. The assault team, wearing cold suits that temporarily masked their heat signatures, felled the perimeter guards with railgun sniper fire and cold tungsten steel, up close and personal, as needed. Sonic stunners and knockout grenades downed the armed children walking about the center of the camp and the Father, the leader of the guerrilla band, had been dragged from the bed he shared with four bruised and battered underage girls, without so much as a yelp or a muffled cry of alarm.

* * *

Kourosh found himself awakened by a gloved hand across his mouth. Terror filled his mind as he opened his eyes to two black-clad men in cold suits with ablative armor vests and night vision goggles over their eyes. He struggled to sit upright and failed, held down by a single hand from the second man. Government troops, this is it. Reading the fear in his eyes, the first man whispered, “Calm down kid. Your folks sent us. We’re here to rescue you. If I take my hand from over your mouth, you’re not gonna scream, right?”

Kourosh shook his head, and the soldier pulled his hand away. He found himself sitting up, his own tears dotting his hands. They came more and more, and he began to bawl. The soldier put a hand over Kourosh’s mouth again, but the boy didn’t care. An ocean of emotion rolled over him, the memories of the last few years, of being hungry, being beaten, fighting for scraps of food, being raped by older boys, meeting his best friend Jessica, looking after her and volunteering to fight to get them both more food. He remembered her death and howling into the sky afterward and the cold, stabbing realization that he just couldn’t cry any more. He couldn’t cry then, hadn’t cried for over a year at least, but he managed now, as memories poured out of him.

“We don’t have time for this,” the second soldier said.

“Just give him a minute.” The man looked down at Kourosh and took him by the shoulders. “We have to go, son. We have to get out of here before the other camps know what’s happened. You’re safe. We have the Father in custody. He’ll get what’s coming to him. I promise – ”

The tears stopped in a heartbeat. “I want to kill him.”

“What?”

Rage filled Kourosh’s world. His blood burned for vengeance, for himself, for Jessica, for everyone the Father had harmed. “I said, I want to kill him. Me. My parents sent you?” he whispered.

The trooper nodded. “They’ve been looking for you. We’ll take you to them. We’ve got a skimmer standing by at the rendezvous point.”

“After I kill the Father.”

“Kid,” the second man began, “your dad’s paying us to get you out but there’s a sizable bounty on the Father’s head. He’s worth more credits to us alive.”

“My father will pay you the difference.”

The two bounty hunters looked at each other.

“Take me to the Father. My dad will pay you the difference in the bounty.”

“Okay.”

* * *

Clad in a grey cotton tunic and pants, a bruise over one eye, blood flowing down his face through his thick, scraggly beard, the Father knelt before him. The man who had led the insurgency on Acheron, the man who trained little boys during the day to fight his war against the “Freedom Party’s” “neo-libertarian” puppets in the government fronted by the corporations, who raped little girls in his bed at night, and sent explosive-laden true believers to blow themselves to pieces in overcrowded eduplexes, in arcology marketplaces, even on the orbital elevator, this man, who knelt before him, had stolen the last four years of his life. Kourosh intended to make him pay. Even now, defeated and beaten, his left eye swollen, blood rolling down his face out of his nostrils, his hands bound behind him, his face displayed a defiant smirk.

Kourosh’s stomach trembled, and he struggled not to vomit.

A black-clad bounty hunter took off her helmet and pulled down her face mask. “And what have you got to smile about?” she said.

“You may have caught me, but you haven’t defeated me,” he said. “My trial will expose the culture of corruption and nepotism on this planet to the galaxy. If you
imprison me, my followers will fling themselves with bombs at the prison gates. If you martyr me, the streets of Acheron will run red with blood and my name will live forever.”

Listening to the defiance in the Father’s voice, the churning in his belly receded and Kourosh balled his fists in anger.

The woman bounty hunter kicked the Father in the stomach and he bent over, coughing and spitting blood onto the floor, still smiling.

“You’re a terrorist, asshat,” she said. “Your trial will be before a secret government tribunal. You’ll be shot in a military compound and your corpse thrown in a ditch and plasma burned. Or it would have been, if we hadn’t had to shoot you taking the camp.”

She held out a pulse pistol to Kourosh and he took it. “Go ahead kid, do it if you’re gonna.”

Kourosh took the weapon into both hands, flipped the safety off and leveled it at the man who had filled so many lives with pain. The Father smiled and shook his
head.

“You’re not going to kill me. You’re going to turn that pistol on these piece of shit bounty hunters. You’re going to die trying to save me because you love me and you know the cause I fight for is just.”

“Shut up,” the bounty hunter said.

“You don’t have to do this, kid,” one of the other hunters said. “You don’t want to do this. This will stay with you the rest of your life.”

Still holding the pistol in both hands, Kourosh wiped away an angry tear. “I’ve killed men before. Soldiers. Government men.”

“Because you had to. Because you needed to. To stay alive. But this is different. This is killing a man because you want to. It will haunt you. It will stay with you always.

He’s beaten. He’s broken. It’s over. The only way he wins now is if you kill him. The only way he wins now is if he turns you into a murderer just like – ”

A bright flash and a zap issued from the pulse pistol putting a burnt edged circle in the Father’s forehead. The body slumped over and Kourosh shot him again in the head.

The body twitched. Blood poured from the half-cauterized wounds, and the grey cotton trousers darkened as the corpse pissed itself. The scents of ozone and burnt flesh hung in the air with acrid odors of urine and blood. Kourosh kicked the body, once, twice. He dredged up as much phlegm as he could and spat on the corpse.

One of the bounty hunters gestured to two men and they brought in a body bag and put the Father’s corpse for retrieval.

The woman took the pistol from Kourosh and led him out of the tent placing a hand on his shoulder. Outside, the Father’s adult soldiers, his enforcers, knelt on the
ground, disarmed, their hands on their heads. A bounty hunter went down the line from behind shooting each man in the head. Lines of dirt-caked malnourished children in tattered clothes boarded six-wheeled APCs.

Kourosh felt nothing.

The woman studied  him, then nodded. “I understand how you feel, kid. I killed my first man when I was your age.”

END
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About the Author

A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana.

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