FREE SHORT STORY to launch you into the Tattoos Series- Emergence
We will be doing a series of free short stories that are introductions to some of our exciting series. This first one is called Emergence and is a prequel short to Tattoos (available at https://threefuriespress.com/products/tattoos-by-stacy-overby-ebook) with the sequel, Scars, scheduled to come out early 2020 by Stacy Overby. We will share the story here, but feel free to grab the links to the ebook at the bottom of the post. Without further ado, here is Emergence!
Eli ducked into the alley, his heart thudding hard. He fought his breath, trying to keep it quiet lest his pursuers hear and find him. Dilapidated buildings rose on either side of him, paragons of a golden time long since passed on Old Earth. Even the sky looked dingy, more yellow than blue. That, Eli knew, resulted from the atmospheric generators holding onto the remnants of ozone, trying to keep that layer stable enough to keep Old Earth from frying through solar radiation completely. Those generators were the only thing standing between the people who still lived on Old Earth and certain death.
Footsteps and muffled words caught Eli’s attention. Mi’Kazi. Two and a half meter tall bioengineered aliens that ran in packs akin to gangs from Old Earth’s history. The things had bluish skin that looked more dead than alive and tubes running in and out of them. Most of them had a multitude of scars from their brawls for food and territory in the more rundown parts of the city. From what Eli could tell of these three, they were no different than others he’d seen and dodged before.
He checked the ration packets tucked in his shirt. Eli had to protect them. They were all he and his mother had to eat for the next week. Their rough language filled his ears. Eli didn’t speak the street languages in this area well, but he recognized the word for food.
“Na pari I eychi,” Eli whispered to himself. He’d held a vain hope they hadn’t realized he carried the packets when they started following him a block from the commissary. No such luck, though. Eli wasn’t big enough to take them on in a fight. Most humans weren’t.Sure, he’d filled out some at sixteen, but he was nowhere near his full adult height or build. At least his mother kept telling him that.
“Your father stood but a little shy of two meters, you know. You’ll have his height,” she’d say when he asked about his father and what the man looked like. “You’ve got his coloring as well, with your reddish brown hair”
“But your dark eyes,” Eli always finished with a smile.
Now the thought of failing her, of not returning with the rations, or not returning at all, threatened to overwhelm him. They’d already lost his father. His mother would never survive losing him, too. He scanned the alley, looking for a chance, a place to hide, anything to keep him out of Mi’Kazi hands. Their voices grew louder as they neared the mouth of the alley. Eli’s heart thundered even harder, and his body trembled.
Then he saw it. A door a little askew. He dashed to it with every bit of stealth he could muster. It didn’t open far, but the thing slid enough to allow him to squeeze through.
Eli risked a quick glance back through the crack. Three huge shadows filled the entrance to the alley. Two carried the distinct shapes of stun batons. He couldn’t make out what the third gang member carried. It wasn’t a shape he recognized, but didn’t want to learn about it the hard way either. Eli stepped back, holding his breath, as they neared the door. A silent prayer for protection ran through his head over and over.
Ho! Great Thunderer,
Please keep me in your gaze today;
Scare my enemies away, with the fury of your storms
Strike down any danger, as it approaches in all forms
See me safe to bed again, with nary trouble nor plight
And illuminate evil with death, as I slumber through the night.
“Where the óvitr barn be?” the lead gang member with the unknown weapon spat.
“He be here abouts! For certain, Moko-Man. Saw the barn run this way,” the being to his left responded, tugging at a tube projecting from his right arm.
“Then where he be, Kuto?” Moko gestured down the alley.
“Moko-Man,” the gang member on the right nudged his leader.
Braka gestured down the alley. “There be a slider. Maybe the óvitr barn be through there.”
“Skata!” Eli whispered and scrambled back to find somewhere to hide. Stairs, rusted and broken, angled up in the corner across from him. He dashed over and climbed. The fifth step snapped and took the fourth and sixth steps with it. Eli caught himself, but not before cutting his leg on the jagged ends of what remained on the staircase. Blood ran down his leg and dripped into a puddle on the floor that tantalized him just out of reach. He extricated his legs from the wrecked staircase with no more serious injuries. As he made it back to solid ground, a new voice outside caught his attention.
“Gentlemen, I believe I am in need of some assistance.” The smooth baritone had an odd lilt Eli didn’t recognize. Nowhere from Old Earth that he’d ever heard.
“What ye be needing, ye miklimunnr vitskertr? We be busy and no need o skilgetinns like ye round.” Moko’s voice echoed back down the alley.
Eli limped back to the door, curiosity overruling good sense. He peeked out to see a figure in a black battle suit with dark maroon trim confronting the three Mi’Kazi gang members. He stood there twirling a couple knives with a casualness that sparked something in Eli’s gut, something he had no words for in that moment.
“So, I’m a loudmouth halfwit and a bastard, am I?” The man shook his head as he shifted his weight forward a fraction. “Man, the manners have gone to kolasi around here.”
“Damn, he must have a Universal translator or something,” Eli whispered to himself as he watched the exchange, still uncertain what was being said.
As the conversation continued outside, Eli realized he needed to bandage his leg, or he’d risk passing out from blood loss. Even hidden in an abandoned building, unconsciousness was a scary proposition in these parts of the city. Eli stripped his shirt off and tucked the ration packets into his undershirt. The plastic irritated his skin a little, but he didn’t want to risk them being seen again. Then he wrapped his shirt tight around his injured leg and prayed it would be enough to stop the flow of blood.
Something in the exchange outside caught his attention again.
“Look, ye daufi meinfretr bacraut, we no have time for ye skita. Now, be gone.”
Eli saw the other man tense at the Mi’Kazi leader’s words. Clearly, they were some insult, though Eli didn’t recognize any of the words. the unknown man froze, his knife tip held in his hand. He tilted his head just right, and the light illuminated a symbol Eli would recognize anywhere—the Black Ops sigil. Eli didn’t get more than a quick glimpse, though, or he could have learned more about the specialist.
Faster than his eye could follow, the knife flew from the specialist’s hand and buried itself in Braka’s shoulder joint. Two more knives blossomed in his other shoulder and thigh before Eli had time to register they’d been thrown. The gang member dropped his stun baton, screaming.
Moko’s weapon lit up with a bluish-white glow.
“Oh skata. He’s got a plasma cutter,” Eli muttered. “No way that specialist can beat that with his knives.”
The two remaining Mi’Kazi had closed the distance by that point. They loomed over the specialist by half a meter or more. Moko lashed out with the plasma cutter, a bluish arc trailing through the air behind its tip. The specialist spun to the left, staying ahead of the energy blade by mere millimeters. Eli thought the specialist was doomed as he moved into Kuto’s reach.
Yet, the specialist escaped with nothing more than a glancing blow that didn’t appear to do any damage. The handle of yet another knife had appeared in the being’s side. Kuto cursed and grabbed at the knife.
By this time Moko had recovered from his massive swing and followed the specialist who slid toward the door where Eli hid. In the specialist doing so, Eli caught something he hadn’t noticed before. The blue halo of a command specialist—the elite of the elite Black Ops specialists. With crossed knives coming out of the skull.
“Oh, holy Hades and Hera be merciful! That’s The Reaper, here, in person!”
Eli’s voice must have carried farther than he meant because Kuto turned his attention to Eli, letting Moko fight The Reaper alone. As the gang thug forced the door open more, Eli scrambled back.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
Eli scanned the room, his heart pounding and a huge lump building in his throat. The broken stairs offered no shelter as he’d already discovered. The only other thing in the room was a door he’d missed earlier. Eli limped over to it and triggered the slide mechanism. Nothing. It didn’t budge. Eli jabbed at the mechanism again, willing the door to open with all his might. Still nothing.
Commotion near the other door snagged his attention again. Eli risked a glance back over his shoulder. The Mi’Kazi gang member had forced the door open far enough to get in. Moko and The Reaper fought outside it, close enough Eli saw the blur of movement back and forth, the grunts and hisses from blows that landed filling the room around him. Eli limped over to the stairs, hoping and praying the space behind them was large enough to let him in and small enough to keep Kuto and its stun baton out.
Just then Moko flew through the door, crashing into its partner. The Reaper stepped in after Moko, a slight limp and a plasma burn down the front of his left thigh. He also had his pistol out.
“You two have two options,” The Reaper said in Universal. “Get out of here, leaving me and the kid alone. Or die.”
Kuto paused in its efforts to regain its feet and looked to Moko, who was still prostrate on the floor next to it. Moko’s suit leaked fluids in several places and its head oozed yellowy-orange blood. Moko gestured to the door, its arm barely clearing the floor enough to move. The other Mi’Kazi stood and heaved Moko to its feet. They staggered out the door, a trail of blood and fluids behind them. Eli assumed they stopped and picked up Braka on their way down the alley.
The Reaper holstered his pistol in a hidden sleeve below his right hip. Then he glanced up at Eli, his face shield on his battle helmet still down. The Reaper held both hands out to his sides, palms facing Eli.
“Come on out, kid. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Eli recognized the slight electronic hum of a voice distorter in the words this time, though why this captured his thoughts was beyond him at that moment. He eased his way out from his hiding spot. His heart continued to thump with wild abandon and his body trembled at every step.
“You hurt anywhere besides your leg?”
Eli shook his head, words failing him.
“Come over here and I’ll put a clean bandage on it.” The Reaper pulled a packet out of a pocket on his left leg near his knee. Eli limped over, his heart in his throat. The Reaper. Right there in front of him, helping him. The Reaper gestured for Eli to sit. He did so with a quick nod. The Reaper started his work, then paused.
“This is a pretty good job, kid. What’s your name?”
“Eli Thorson, sir.”
“How bad does this hurt?” The Reaper resumed his work.
Eli shook his head. “Not much, sir. Only a little when you pulled the torn fabric out.”
The Reaper dabbed some cream across the cut and wrapped the white bandage tight around his leg. “You did good today, Eli. Made some smart choices.”
Eli blinked several times. “But, sir. I ran and hid. I didn’t help you at all.”
“Oh, kid,” The Reaper laughed. “Did it look like I needed help? Cuz if I did, I’m slipping and need more practice. Three Mi’Kazi rassragr don’t slow me down that much.”
“Well, no, sir.” Eli ducked his head.
“Eli. Look at me.” Eli met The Reaper’s gaze as he continued, “You were no match for those goons. Hiding and staying out of the fight was the smartest thing you could do. You didn’t panic or act brash. That’s more than what many Black Ops trainees can manage. And they’ve got to be what, five years older than you?”
“I’m sixteen, sir.”
The Reaper nodded. “Yeah, a good five years older.”
Eli hesitated, then asked in a small voice, “Did I really do better than them?
“Yes.” Eli heard the grin in The Reaper’s voice, though it remained hidden behind his helmet. “Here, kid, take this. Don’t get stupid, but it may help you out a little until you put a little more muscle on, and, if I’m not mistaken, a little more height as well.”
The Reaper handed Eli one of his knives. Eli took it, his mouth moving, but no words came to him.
“Now, get that food home to your mother.”
Eli’s brow furrowed. “How did you know I was taking this home to my mom?”
The Reaper shrugged. “Kid like you in a neighborhood like this? Dad likely isn’t around for whatever reason. But you’re too clean and well mannered for a street rat. So, your mother has to be in the picture still.”
“My dad was support for Black Ops before he died.”
The Reaper nodded. “Makes sense. Now, go on. Your leg will be fine. Just take it easy for a bit.”
The Reaper pulled Eli to his feet and moved to the door. Before stepping out, The Reaper paused. “You know, kid, you could have a future with Black Ops. Think about it.”
Eli rolled the sheathed knife over in his hands several times. “I will, sir. Thank you.”
The Reaper disappeared.
“Holy Hera, Freyja, and all the gods. I just met The Reaper, and he thinks I could be Black Ops like him.”
Eli ran his fingers down the handle of the knife in his hands, thinking about what had happened. Then he slipped it in his pocket and headed for home, The Reaper’s words still playing through his mind.
And here are the links to grab your copy of the ebook!
Enjoy and see you soon!