Fantasticoe Fall 2004

Fantasticoe Home Page

The Last Time There Would Be Any Mystery

Aaron Stroschein 

Icy black eyes lay sitting in the myriad of mirror shards, but only for a second. The killer had managed to pull himself out of the brokenness to the mantle. He proceeded to turn around half-kneeling, Falling, he tried to turn around and face his assailant. The room was filled with the hell that had been transfigured from heavenly white dresses and black tuxedoes at the gala affair. Everyone save for two people in the room were lying in cold stillness of death's quiet blanket.

Slowly, gaze met unappreciative gaze. There was a brief pause in the fighting. Darius' body was numb to the pain of the bullets. Not from conditioning through experience, but from another reason. The reason was the fact he was going to finally make enough to buy a special item for a certain someone. While, this was a personal affair, his other jobs were simple. Do a bastard in, collect a fee. Normally, his other mercenary team members would have been here, but this was a score to be settled in private. Old flames of bitter enemies from days long ago refuse to die sometimes. There was blood, there were red-covered bullets lodged in every person in the room, but yet there still had to be an ending when there was only one person life standing. Who would it be today?

Darius could spot his enemy on the other side of the room limping from the shrapnel he had fired into his right leg. Guns went up and sweat poured. The two were about ready to fire their last rounds to decide a winner. Fingers lay on triggers for what seemed like minutes. Cold breath after cold breath were the only sounds that shattered the silence before the unexpected happened. Click. Darius' opponent's gun was jammed and he had no way of reloading before the mercenary got in a shot at his head.

Happy with the knowledge he had executed an old memory, he came to the conclusion there was nothing left to do. Taking out his communicator link, he signaled the ship to pick him up. While he was waiting he cased the room admiring what he had taken part. The ferns on the perimeter of the large ballroom stood with leaves bigger than most ferns. Splattered with the iron-rich hemoglobin and plasma mix of the body, they would have been stomach-turning to any eye. The black and white tiles that adorned the room now were adorned themselves with the paint of the crimson shed from the wealthy people who had come to the party. Lights on the ceiling were, for the most part, blown out. There was a dimness that held the room with its tessitura of ominiousness. How was it that such evil could mar creation? Evil marred creation? Or did creation mar evil with its message that perhaps there is a better way to settle things than to pump a huge number of small metal projectiles into the very beings that threaten?

He knew he couldn't stand it all. It was time for him to leave. The brave soul needed to get rest. It was time to heal and then ask a very important question.

Kat couldn't believe her eyes. Her boyfriend had actually gotten up the courage to propose. There he was before her, on one knee. In his hand he held out a black case with a golden circle inside. On the bright ring there was an opal stone, Kat's birthstone.

"Well, I'll say yes. Oh, love! You made me the happiest girl in the world today!"

"I thought you'd like it."

Both parties seemed to be overwhelmed with a sudden joy. The two lovers entangled and feel on the couch. They were so invigorated by the moment that they kissed without even thinking. Everything seemed to light up with radiance beyond the shining light that reflected off the opal. All the things happened that should have happened. The smooch felt warm and tongues intertwined like two silk ropes. Hands went to rubbing sides and minds went wild. How both had been waiting for this moment.

A little while later the couple was still lying on the couch body on body. It was only a matter of time before they were naked and ready for a round of intercourse. Both were ready and willing, heightened by the fact that they were now officially getting married. To hell with the taboo issue of sex before marriage, there was no chance they would be getting separated soon. They had one another, mind, body, and spirit all packaged.

The candles set on the coffee table grew dim as the two lovers went about their feisty lovemaking. The presidential suite of the hotel held an ethereal scene as the two went about what came naturally. The smell of the room thickened with the scent of the two and the tea they were drinking got colder with each passing moment. All the two wanted was for this moment to last like all other newly found soul mates. They knew the moment wouldn't, but there was always a chance to create this fraction of time when wand where they found it to be possible.

Trellis Danumuax and Pantra Gert winced in disgust each time they heard the noise.

"My god! Aren't those two ever going to go to bed?"

It had become more than apparent that the thumping against the wall was coming from the next room over. Shrill moans and sighs could be heard. There was no peace to be had tonight. Pantra took another swig of the wine he had special ordered from room service.
"Here, it'll drown out the noise, pal." He offered the bottle to his ship companion.

"That's not enough to go blind drunk!"

"Then I'll order more from room service! Do you want any hope of getting to sleep in the next three hours or do you like listening to those two horny bastards with all their exotic noises?"

"Well, when you put it that way I may as well hit myself over the head with the damn thing and call it a night there. Why not just go next store and tell them to quiet down?"

Pantra sat up in his bed.

"And what they hell would I tell them?"

"Tell them to be quiet and get the fuck to sleep! I can't take this anymore. I need to hit something and hit it hard!"

He spotted his pills on the edge of the table. They would work for him, hopefully. The bottle would surely come in handy for the other person in the room.

The sun followed the moon in tandem as the morning hours took hold. Lying passed-out on the red rug, the couple in the suite felt exhausted. Both were smiling slowly waking up from there slumber on the hard floor. Both felt like crumpled pieces of paper after all their hard work from the previous night. Darius felt dirty, but he liked feeling that way when he was with his signifigant other.

Once he had risen from the ground he went into the lavatory. Turning some knobs, he stepped into the shower, he thought he heard a noise from the sink. Maybe it was pure imagination. He was still dizzy and maybe he had used a little too much energy in his do -right escapade last night. He was jolted from his train of thought by a knock on the door.

"What'dya need?"

"Don't forget to take your pills, love. You know I don't want you hurting yourself. They should be in the cabinet."

"Fine, fine." His woman was always a nagger in the morning. It may have seemed like a burden but not when he played his midnight games.

The young mercenary's attention turned back to the silver showerhead and the water that spewed forth from it, the cold water felt like daggers to his skin. It was still nonetheless refreshing to his central nervous system. What was his problem that he couldn't get by without his medication?

"Well, Mr. Darakus, I've run the information through and…well you have an interesting case of a disorder," Dr. Moreau said.

"An interesting case…of what exactly?" Darius asked.

"You seem to have post-traumatic stress disorder. The lab results were conclusive, but yet I would have pointed to a case of manic depression."

"What's the difference?"

"Manic depression is hard to explain. It's like an emotional roller coaster. One day your happy, the next you might be feeling, well, suicidal. You may think the world is useless and you would contemplate death in even more agony."

"And this post-trauma stuff?"

"It's post-traumatic stress disorder. That is caused by pontentiated memories that come back and, um, 'haunt' people, to speak frankly." The doctor said.

"Great. But I haven't had anything bad happen to me. I've killed plenty of people and it has never made me flinch once."

"You kill people, I know." The Doctor said uncomfortably.

"Mercenary crap. Nothing more than what I do for a daily living. Well, that and destroying other things."

"Well, even as your psychiatrist, I can't limit your bloodshed. That would have to come from inside of you. However, you realize that if you continue to murder, it may build on you, the PTSD, I mean." The doctor sighed.

"It's what I fucking do for a paycheck. Once you're in this job, you can't leave except on early retirement. That or the other way. I get plenty of money for what I do, but I'm sure I can handle it until I'm financially secure." He said indignantly.

"Two more years of this stuff."

"Two years?! Don't you know the strain it will ha…" and with that the patient nailed the doctor to the wall with his hand. Clutching his neck he made it clear that his own shrink would not undermind him.

There was not a silence more deafening then the eerie one created by this move. The two were met at the eye looking straight into each other's green irises. One feared for what would come next while the other intently gritted teeth and shoved imaginary daggers into the other's brain.

How easy it could have been to just kill the pain with medicine. Painkillers would take him away to a fantasyland of sheer elation. Yet all he had was this depressant. This would supposedly tone down his spastic relapses. Yet while chemicals cured the confounding physical pain, that could not on any account rip up the pictures that were stuck in his head. He had ripped open too many rib cages to count. He had stabbed and strangled too many suspect strangers in the starry moonlight to erase it all. Every single drop of blood that sapped from his enemies was a little piece of his soul being torn out day after day. The soul was just in the mind, Darius though. What do I need if I'm supporting myself? I've got money, power, everything.

"Love, are we going to breakfast downstairs?" Katty asked.

"Yes. I'll be done in a minute."

A few dull minutes passed while she heard the hum of his electric razor. Sitting in the chair closest to the door, the young redhead waited for her counterpart in the bathroom. Eventually, she went over to her other companions' suite while she was in waiting.

The door made a resounding thud after it clicked again.

"Killing begets more killing. You kill me; I am just another bounty for you to collect. Do you have any concept of a God?" The shadowy figure hissed.

"I serve whoever gives me money."

"Is that all you do?"

"Money dictates life sometimes. It's not my fault I was dirt poor after being kicked out. I got myself money through the only occupation I could pick up easily." Darius snarled.

"You like being here? Or can't you handle your problems? You run away from them so easily using the knife. You gash, you stab, and yet the damn ache never subsides. You always will live with this until the day you yourself become another cold limp hunk of flesh." The figure stated.

"I will not. This is how I get by in life. This is my paycheck."

And with that he ended yet another hostile life.

How easy it was for him to remember his first job. It was a family affair. It came so suddenly, but it only took that one time. His father had been lying in bed, almost in the coffin with a whooping cough. His dad was nothing short of a mean, lying man, but only on certain occasions. The young Darius at that time had a deeper bond with his mother and sister.

One night when it seemed like everything would be improving for Ganymede, the father, things came crashing down on the cold, stone floor of life. Ganymede had beckoned his next of kin into the bedroom to discuss some matters of importance. Apparently, it had something to do with taking charge of life. It was one of those birds and bees talks, but only with a rude undertone.

He told his son to get out a photo album from a closet. At that time it was his son's turn to learn the secret of his existence. He was a leader of the black market on his home planet. The son of Ganymede almost threw down the book in disgust. He was only 15 at the time and did not quite understand the evils of the world. Having spent more time with the females in his family, he had been more accustomed to learning the simple ways of being independent and doing homework. He had gotten by in the world just fine with A's and was thinking about joining the army services. All that changed after his dad told him the beguiling truth.

"But, I can't believe that you would do something like this."

"Believe it you damned fool. The blood of a drug-lord runs through your veins and you'll have to accept that. I'm turning over the business to you,"

Darius was almost thrown back to the wall with the last comment.


"You're my only child. Don't you want money, power, all the good things that come along with life?"

"Yes, but, mom always said…"

"She's been laying through her teeth, boy. Accept fate for what its worth. I regret not having told you about this a long time ago, but I was always too busy on other trips. All the wine, women, and…"

"What do you mean wine and women?" The teenager asked.

"Matters of pleasure. Nothing more. Don't you understand, young man? You have the chance to have whatever you dreamed you could attain. You have the world within an arms grasp and all you have to do it reach out and acquire the orb."

"No, no."

"And that is how it happened. We just got this fax and there is no question that its from a government agency,"

"There is no doubting that we won't be getting paid." Pantra said.

"Just read what you have in your hands and we'll think about money problems later, guys. Now get to it."

"Well, it looks like we are going to be fighting a war inside of a war," Trellis said sighing.

"A what? One inside of the other?"

"Well, here's the deal. There's a two front war going on in the Dylat system and the chancellor of the planet needs our help in eliminating a third enemy,"

"He wants us to fight with the troops?"

"Well, no. There's a threat to both sides that just surfaced from underground and neither side can do anything to control the beasts coming out of the desert area."

The war that was taking place on the Phi planet in the Dylat system was one of biggest ever waged. The group of mercenaries was stepping right into the heart of the melee it looked like. Was the president of the upper class side crazed enough to try and get them involved so they could toy with the opposing side even further?

It was no question how the war had started. The presidency had put a little much strain on the economy. Once social security benefits were gone from the bank, more and more people started to take their money out since they were losing trust. The banks of the planet mostly catered to lower/middle class individuals, but they also catered to the higher-class individuals as well. The problem came when some of the banks could not get enough money to refund some of the middle class people.

According to the Keynesian system set up by the worldwide treasury, the banks could only lend out so much as they could pay back to the worldwide reserve funds. The bank could only give out so much money so naturally some people became very angry when they couldn't take their life savings home to keep in a storage box.

When the young do-gooders started to carry out their objective, they were already days behind. There was no unnecessary time that was wasted, it was more a series of unfortunate events that kept them from making any headway on what they had to do. The executives in office would be off the charts if they ever got wind of what happened which delayed the crew so much. Then again, who were they aside from the people who had the mission briefing sent out?

"I'll be fine...I'll be fine...I'll be fine!!! Everything will be all right, I just need a breath. A breath. That's all…no, no, no. I will not let this get me down. No, no, no, no, no!"

Katrina wailed in agony as she hammered the table with her red fists.

She collapsed into the darkness of her arms as she lost all control of how hard she cried.

In the kitchen outside, my best friend and fellow space warrior, Pantra was sitting at the table pondering a half-full cup of vanilla coffee. Trellis walked into the room and saw Pantra's questioning face. Both had heard her requiem of lamentation like a bright morning sky filled with birds. There was no denying what they all had been going through lately. It was like being dragged through the hottest confines of hell.

"When is she going to come out of that room? She can't just mop in there. We have a mission to complete."

"I don't see you getting up off your ass to talk to her. Look, we should both go in there and try to get her going. The government is not exactly too with our current progress."

"Couldn't they be a little more rude than that?"

"Let's go inside. Nothing is getting done."

"I don't care anymore. We've got work to do and its not going to get done with us worrying about her." Pantra irratatedly mumbled.

"Then why are you still sitting there holding that same mug..."

"I woke up early for a training session, ok?!" He cut off.

Everyone had actually been in a dull mood for the last three days. It wasn't that often the rest of the crew saw their leader cry. No one wanted to speak to her. They knew it wouldn't do any good. This was just normal for their crew leader to act this way. Things never worked out like they should have on these types of missions.

Darius, however, was always the maverick in these situations and was willing to try anything to get a smile back on her lips. Summoning up all his reasoning power, he quietly walked into the room to give her a comfort talk.

"Hey. Dry your eyes, dear. Aren't you happy about thinking of our marriage?"


"C'mon, Katty. You've been in here for three days straight. What is getting done? You know the bureaucrats won't be too happy if you don't get going," Darius said.

That one statement may have been a bit pushy, but she didn't seem to care. She wasn't listening to a word her companion sputtered. Not one syllable.

"Kat...things can't turn out differently. You can only hope to go on with what other things you ran into on the way," Darius said while touching her shoulder.

It was only a brisk touch to pat her on the shoulder, but she looked up stained with sadness. I thought for a second she would take and try a hook on me for being so irritating. No such action took place, though. She went over to the closet in the west corner and grabbed her pullover. Somehow she had gotten cold without realizing it. The fiancée didn't blame her. Usually during the daytime the thermostats in most sections of this ship were set a little below average for temperature because Trellis liked that. After donning the new covering, Katrina still didn't look in his direction. The poor girl just stood in the middle of the room in a blank stare.

"Just think about what I said, love. I'm sure when the time comes, you'll get back on track." I tiredly sighed.

I went out into the next room where the other two mercenary team members were sitting. The gamut of the room was suffocating like clinging plastic wrap. Dar poured myself some of the coffee that was still sitting in a pot on the left counter. The kitchen was a very nice place, but it still didn't soothe the feelings that were being communicated silently around the ship about the fallen comrade. After he was done with the pot Darius noisily put it back in its holder. The other two people in the room looked at him with a distraught look that didn't really seem too caring. Even the slightest distraction seemed to disturbing.

"You two have a problem, Trellis?" I asked inquisitively.

Trellis was the short man sitting on the right side of the table. He never said anything in response to me. I guess Pantra's mood had put a damper on his day, too. Both looked like statues silently morning a sunrise. I decided to take my cup to the study where I could read up on some of the mission reports we had been getting.

I walked out passed a few sliding doors looking over the monotonous gray walls that covered the interior of the Madrana Starfighter. When I arrived at the study I saw the mission files draped over the couch. I quickly gathered the pieces of overhead plastic up and took an even once-over look.

"No wonder they were so mad about this one," He whispered to myself.

This would not be something easy. A governor from a far-off planet was asking the crew to eradicate a contaminated sector of a planet in our neighboring galaxy. Contaminated in the sense in which there was evil butt to be kicked. He wasn't paying us our usual fee. My eyes widened to golf ball circumference when I read that part of the report. Rarely did we ever do any jobs for free. When it comes to authority, it's very hard to turn them down, money involved or no money. His eyes traveled down the sheet even further to the spot where it said what was going to be killed. Hmmm, the sheet said they were 'unknowns'. So they don't even know what to kill? Lodged next to it was a picture of some spore-thing. I guess that was what the enemy was. It didn't exactly look like it would pose too much of a threat. His dark eyes went down further to the bottom of the last page where a warning was issued in big bright red letters.

"Be wary that you are fighting on a planet which is in a war with another planet. Proceed with extra caution and bring radar devices to detect any incoming projectiles!!!"

Rescue of a planet during a time of war. This was a new case.

Kat came into the room, now a little more composed and a little happier. As she went over to the port window, Dar set the reports down and I sat myself down on the left side of the couch. Kat looked in his direction and went over to the papers. She checked over them with her casual green eyes and soft hands. Everything about her was very slender. Eventually, Katty got so absorbed in the plastic, she sat down in my spot. Quickly, she pulled herself back up with a slight gasp.

"Its ok, Katty. Sit down here next to me," Her mate said patting the couch cushion next to myself.

She waited for a second and then plopped down. The irises on her head shown with beauty as the light from a passing moon reflected off of them.

"Well, I think we can do this without too much hassle," She said quietly to herself.

Of course the crew could. We had been in even bigger dire straits before and pulled our butts out of danger's way just in time. The Madrana team, which he was part of, was probably the fastest in my solar system at handling this type of thing.

"Now if I could just remember where I put the micro-detonators..." she pondered.

"Two floors up in the hangar bay..."

"Ah," she said seeming to know before Darius was finished saying my sentence.

I walked back through the rooms, looking to see where she was headed. My two comrades were not in the kitchen anymore, but upstairs. He could tell by their footsteps they were right above me. He guessed he was the only thing that was holding everyone up at this point. Dar hustled up to the hangar bay to help loads supplies. On the way I thought I heard the music harmonizer in the captain's quarters. I went inside to turn it off. Distorted synthesizer and electric guitar echoed through the chambers of my cranium as I pressed the off button. Everything seemed to go red for a moment. The field of my view turned crimson and for a moment I thought I saw my hands covered in a thick red fluid. The liquid smelled to my mind like rust. Panic shot through my body like a fast arrow. Some image came into my head, but I managed to shake it off. It tried to stick like sticky syrup, but I wouldn't let it. There was a knife, a person slain, and no one was around. His eyes closed and tried to blot out everything except the darkness that now stood before his shut eyelids. Maybe he was just tired, maybe he wasn't. Dar always had these kinds of visions before he took a nap or went to bed completely. Sow why was he having them now? He had woken up early, he mused. Going to the jet where the explosives were being loaded the crimson faded. Soon normal colors were going through his retinas as he went to the upstairs area.

Up a flight, the young mercenary walked out of the elevator and into a huge room shaped like a semi-circle. It was quite an impressive space to put our space vehicles. Lights hung overhead with their accusing glows and metal casings. Everyone was boarding and I barely got on before we took off into the airlock. We were headed towards the place where the "unknowns" thrived.

The auspicious stars grated on Dar's mind and he could tell Kat was nervous. How he wanted to walk over to her, but his judgment decided against it. Nothing he was doing so far did anything for her except change her mood from bad to worse. She'd take one look at him, and then she would act like there was even more hurt to be had. Still a little woozy from my thoughts about blood on my hands, the male lover walked to the back of the front deck.

"You know, I been having delusions lately, Kat." I said to the other side of the deck.

I knew she couldn't hear me from this side. I just felt like saying what was on my mind.

"Who did that?" Pantra asked.

"Some insane man did it with his hands. Darius had fallen in a lake of his blood. There was no remorse on the killer's part. The only thing I could find was the gun on the floor."

"Did you hear anyone coming or going?" Trellis asked.

"No. Not until Kat came around. Then there was the shock..."

"Why would someone do this to him?" Trellis ventured to ask.

"The killer just must have been evil. There was no, and I mean not a single trace of evidence other than the gun. I told the police everything and they still couldn't make anything out of the situation,"

"The weapon had fingerprints all over it, though. They couldn't find out who's it was?" Trel asked a little perturbed.

"Evidently whatever SOB did him in was lucky enough only to leave a couple partial prints. That wasn't enough for conviction of anyone. There was nothing anyone could do," Pantra said despairingly. "Let's just drop the subject, ok? I just got over my sick stomach and until we get to another space convenience store, I'm fresh out of Pepto-Bismol."

"Fine. But, just one more question. Why do you think it was done?"

"Beats the whatnot out of me to answer that." Pantra got up and walked to the communication link to the front deck.

He turned the screen on and started to speak.

"Kat, how close are we to the planet?" He asked through the receiver.

"Maybe a half-hour more, give it a while. I'm still trying to make sure that we are going to land at the right coordinates."

"Good. Anything else?"

"Get the explosives ready.

As they neared the sphere of a planet, Darius' head grew nauseated again from the thought of blood.

"Three, four, five, six..."

Trel was counting weaponry and the others were watching surveying the terrain for some sort of civilization. Nope. None. This was a desert of white sand. Why were they sent out here? Giant sandworms or sandscorpians? No, that would have required guns, not bombs. Darius meandered around until he found a cave where he could here hissing. Pantra walked with me enjoying the scenery. We both stopped when we heard the searing hissing. It was a dark lingering hiss that scared us to stiffness. We both froze for what was a very long time. There were no words, just our gapping faces. Why should we have been scared of something that we could easily defeat?

"Let's hurry up! Pantra, get back here! I need you to help me carry some regular load and some auxiliary equipment!"

The words snapped me back to the sandy plain I was standing on. Something inside told me something bad would happen. It was just one of those quirks one feels before rushing into the heart of danger and mayhem. Evidently, we were going to try and infiltrate this darkened area and plant all the timed detonators we had. It would be routine, but there was always something to keep one on edge. There was always the tiniest possibility the unexpected could happen. Murphy's Law is somewhat ominous in a time like this, also. Probability had been nice to all the crew so far with odds, save for Darius, but he was dreading the day when luck would stop looking down upon the rest of the members. Consequence would come for actions, but perhaps it all would be minimal.

Standing in front of the gaping dark circle, the cave wasn't so much to look at from an outside viewpoint. It was just another inclination with a hole that had been buried in the sand. It was very ironic how the bleakness of the mouth contrasted with what covered it on the top and perimeters. Our leader walked in with a flashlight and everyone followed with their own light. After a while, the crew came to the conclusion whatever we were destroying must have been hibernating down, far into the etches of earth and its confines. The walls presented us with something fascinating to behold while we marched into the unknown onyx. Geodes shown and there was obsidian lining the walls, too. At least we thought it was obsidian. Since brightness conditions were not favorable, we could not tell exactly what it all was at the time. The geodes were very distinguishable at every turn, however since they could shine. We eventually stepped into a large dark area and nearly plummeted to death. Kat almost fell over an edge of a cliff no one saw at first. Thankfully Trel caught her in time seeing her in the area of his flashlight.

"Time to take out the thermoscanner." Kat said calming down a bit.

Out of her blue backpack came a device about the size of a laptop. Opening it up, she turned on the power switch. It soon was up and running and a myriad of rainbow colors could be seen positioned on the screen. The place was certainly deep and jagged at the bottom. So did we go down further? The computer was now our guide. There was no telling what lay ahead except by the guiding shapes of the thermoscanner. The colors on the screen didn't seem right to me. They seemed to all be a red color. No, it was only my imagination running overtime. Anyone could swear it was there plain as day...and his hands were covered in blood again. The blackness turned to a rose hue. Now, this time, it was much less so than before and Darius snapped out as swiftly as I came into my trance.

"So, this is a brood, then?"

"The scanner says there are three broods, but they're being shielded by some sort of goo."

"And were positive the parents aren't around?"

"That's one risk we had to take."

"What? Why are we down her risking life and our limbs if we can't destroy the ones who laid the eggs."

"Since this is the only breeding ground for these creatures, unless they lay more eggs, they won't repopulate. Were going to take care of the rest of the adults once we go back to the surface." Katty explained.

"So let me see...this is a week of work at least?"

"Well, depending on what we find here, it may be. We would have to go over the rest of the desert and..."

"You're sure the government report said this was the only place these "unknowns" were indigenous to, Katrina?"

"Yes, Trel. Lay down your explosives over there."

Her computer filled with a blob of red once she rotated to the short pilot, Pantra.

"You, over there with yours." She said while pointing.

Both went to their respective tasks. She didn't need to tell me where to leave mine. Obviously, I was stuck with the last and final clutch of eggs.

Once we all gathered outside in the bright light form the sun, we all went back to the ship and celebrated with some extravagant cooking made possible by Trellis. I was in a really good mood, but yet somehow I just didn't like all of the hamburgers and fish that were set out. It tasted bitter like ash and I couldn't stomach more than few bites. No one asked me what was wrong. Everyone was the antisocial one when it came to dinner. One another never spoke for or spoke to another person at the metal table.

Lips met food, food met gums. Kat and Dar just sat back and watched the rest of my party at their work. It was relaxing for some odd reason. The male part of the couple tried putting my hand over towards Katty, but she started to choke on her food a bit. Her lover pulled away waiting for her to clear the food out of her throat.

"Guys, I'm going to bed a little early. Wake me only if you need something important." She said eventually.

"Are you ok, Kat? This is awfully early to go to bed..."

"This planet runs on a different rhythm of days," Pantra said to his dinner companion.

"Alright, but how long will we know to sleep so we can get started tomorrow?"

"Well, if you are going according to your normal circadian rhythms, then you should wake up at the regular time. But, just in case, I'll set my alarm."

"Its bedtime?" I said surprised.

Wow, she must have been tired. She didn't even hear me.

"I'm getting sleep, too. G'night pal." Pantra said.

"Ok. I just have to take care of some hygienic matters and I should be right back to the bunk rooms." Trel said.

I watched him as he ate up the last of his meal.

He couldn't get a wink of sleep even though there were no windows on the bunkroom walls. There was this nagging feeling which kept eating at my flesh a little more each time I tried to let my eyes shut. I had managed to get into bed without anyone noticing me. I had been up a little later than everyone else had. I stood transfixed at the landscape outside. I had to take some time to take it in and look at the cave. Why did my mind make a slip in there? Why in Kat's room? What was going on?

"I have to go to a psychiatrist after this...I need help." The dashing mercenary thought.

Not much use trying to cure my problems while there was still an objective to be accomplished.

"I could hold off until the end of the trip. There were no "out" excuses now. We were stuck in the middle of what was an act of charity. If we left for any other job for which we got a commission for, our payment would just have been terminated. This was a different story entirely. Since our instructions were handed down from higher powers without any form of paycheck, that meant we either get the job done or risk losing all business throughout both galaxies. We would never get jobs again except as garbage collectors."

Each grain of sand seemed to project its story with a simple flight in the light wind that blew. The breeze had come up after we were done with the egg stores. They were no problem at all. The remains of the now mounded-over cave rested as if it were only a former shadow of what it once had amounted to in the past. Such beautiful carnage it all was.

"So this is your choice, you son of a worthless whore."

"And she's never going to forgive me if I walk down that aisle."

"I don't think that would be the case," The voice said as the gun was raised.

"Please, you know this isn't right. You just need some of those pills over there. Some of those pills at the hotel."

"Did you really think you could squish me the way you did the rest of your misguided victims? I'm not just another bounty on the table here. I'm something that you can't get past. I won't let you try and go on." The safety was clicked off.

"Don't do this, don't. You have no freaking idea what you're going to do if you do this. You're making one of the most beautiful women in the entire damn universe unhappy. There will be little or nothing left. No hope, no dreams, just memories of yesterday and your damn rifle."

"Goodbye, worthless shit." The gun was now cocked at eye level, but it was shaking.

"See? You can't pull that trigger."

The barrel was a few feet away from the groom, but still just as threatening. There was no doubting that there would be a misfire. Everyone would come and see the damage.

"So long,"


So easily planned, so easily done. He wanted it above everything else, dammit. I granted him his one wish of death. One gun, that was all it took to do the fateful action. How good it felt to pull the trigger. How good it felt for hand and the mind. That was until the deed was complete. Then he wanted his life back. All came and saw precisely what went on. They rushed the groom off to a hospital, but the wedding was cancelled for the time being.

The groom came into the sleeping quarters and found a wet pillow on Kat's bed. The poor girl had cried herself to dreamland. Her eyes were red so he decided to dab them with the handkerchief I had in his right pocket. He pressed to hard because she half-awoke with a fright.

"Oh, shoot. I'm sorry I woke you..." Darius started to say.

She just grunted and turned over on her mattress. Thank goodness, there wasn't any disturbing her slumber. That was about the worst thing I could have done after the long day she had endured. All the man had to do was to lie on the cot and close two eyes. Something kept me awake, though. The poor guy had no idea if it was the starship engine or if it was conscience. Maybe it was a combination of both. What was done was done, but he still remembered each and every murder.

He was groggy, but I could definitely hear scratching outside. Dar wondered what the heck it could have been. Was Kat making popcorn? Was someone taking a shower? He pulled myself up to go a grab some herbal tea. This was one of the few nights actually without any sleep. I could only fervently pray that he would not fall down on the job. How it sucked having little or no energy. Its like the world isn't there all the time. The world fades in and out with sleep and bits of successive winds of awareness. Spirit seems to leave your mind and body and wanders next to itself.

"It wouldn't be the last time," I thought. "There's always a chance something else could happen. I'll get some sleeping pills when we go back. I'll talk to the psychiatrist and my problems will be over with for now. Everything is going to be alright..."

That's when the outside windows covered with giant bugs. They weren't eating through the glass or crawling around or anything. They just stayed there and didn't move. It was as if they were waiting for something to happen. Darius had no idea since this travesty just reared its ugly head. He ran back inside the inner corridors and tried to alert the crew. They didn't hear me. They were dead in their beds. They were all so tired. he doubted that was in the least bit true. The mercenary went against my better judgment and shook Kat. Evidently, she was a heavy sleeper. I grabbed her by the shoulders and wrung her until she could be at attention. She only screamed. He kept trying to pull her out of the place, but nothing worked. I desperately tried to think of some other way of doing things. Nothing came to mind. There was nothing I could do. A few seconds later all of the ship was enveloped in a sudden blast of fire and smoke.

If only he had seen the counters on the bottom of those bugs. They were bombs in disguise. We couldn't really get away in the process, it was like it said at the bottom of the mission briefing. One side mistook us for the other. It should have been clear that the crew meant no harm with our weapons, but sometimes, it doesn't make a difference to some enemies. They go by the proverbial "Shoot first, ask questions much later" sort of saying.

Calling for rescue wouldn't have helped. Nothing would have helped the situation. Everyone still died somehow. Why then was he still here among the ruins of our faithful ship wondering why in the world I didn't know? Was he somehow a product of some miracle in which I wasn't damaged? No.

"Nothing can bring them back. So why can't I find them? Why am I the lucky one?"

"You weren't any luckier than the rest of us." Katty's voice said behind me.


"You're a ghost as much as me. Or rather, it seems you have been."

"Have been?" I startlingly asked.

"It makes sense. All those cold feelings I felt, all those screams that were so unexpected like when you were trying to pull me out of bed. You were on the ship in spirit with me all along."

"But that..." I started.

I took a moment to consider it all. Everything seemed to fit, ironically.

"So this was your secret all along, Darius." Kat said.

"My secret..." I trailed off.

"You promised to never leave my side and you didn't. Not until the very end. We can be together again in the afterlife. One thing still disturbs me that I don't know the whole story behind. Who killed you in the first place?"

"Myself, I guess."


"I didn't even think about telling you the whole story. I thought I was still alive after I shot myself. I thought with a feeling of relief that I came to my senses. I was undergoing a great deal of strain and depression from all these missions. I thought you would be waiting to marry me, but my thoughts got the better of me and before I knew it I was sinking to the floor in my own pool of my own blood."

"Strange how those thoughts don't go away as a ghost," Katrina said sounding unsure. "It must have been some sort of punishment. Evidently, Heaven didn't think you were fit for damnation. Perhaps it was purgatory, a purging of your sins to clear you for access to a wonderful hereafter. I forgive you, though. Even though you did yourself in, like you've always said: 'What's done is done.' I can't sit around for the rest of my days in eternity thinking about what you did to yourself."

"Then why were you crying so much when I did die?"

"You killed yourself, for chrissakes!" She ranted.

Her tone softened with a sigh. She knew now what he knew and vice versa. There was nothing else that could be said in anger. They were in afterlife.

"That was me as a human assuming the worst for you. I was so heartbroken, but now we can be together."

Darius felt tears running down his cheek.

"It's going to be alright, love. Were free now." Kat voiced.

They were ghostly waters released from his body to let him know that he had been reconciled. All the weight, all the pain and images from the past seemed to vent out of him like air from an open rubber stopper.

Suddenly, they both felt like they were floating. Ascending into the clouds they took each other in arms and locked in a kiss sweeter than the sun's light reflecting of the metal of the destroyed ship. It was the last time there would be any mystery.

I would like to thank everybody in my class for helping me with what I've done. All the people, including Professor Heller had a different insight on things which I could probably not have received anywhere else. Melissa, Jessica, and Liz get props for being there when my life was in a downward spiral from lack of sleep or a missed meal. Mel, especially for her wit and thoughts about my works that help me improve.