Hunter's Lair

Published by Celestial Recursion, a -30- Press Imprint

Copyright, 2022 © Kristopher J. Patten, C.J Manor , Ashley Franz Holzmann, V.R. Walker

All Rights Reserved


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“Let’s get out of here before the sniper takes another shot,” Arley said to Ochir. He leaned forward and squinted his eyes at the divot left in the ruined viewport by the railgun slug.


“Good idea but you’re not moving, Arley.”


“I…,” Arley moved his head for a better look. “Yeah, sorry. Just trying to figure out what side the shooter is on. Let’s go out your door.”


Ochir quietly opened her door and slipped to the ground, crawling back to give Arley space and putting her body behind the back tire. “If we live,” she whispered, “you’re going to teach me how to do that.”


“We’ll live,” Arley said, dropping out of the door. “Shot came from 2 o’clock. There’s a hill in that field with a good line of sight to the road and a tree to duck behind. It would be where I’d set up.”


Arley made eye contact with Ochir and sighed. “This will be dangerous for both of us. But—”


“You want me to be bait,” Ochir interrupted.


“Not, no, uh. I need you to draw fire while I cross around behind the shooter. Shoot at him every three to five seconds, move in between.”


“That’s still bait, Arley,” Ochir said, taking off her orange blazer. “But I’m probably faster and my shoulder width will fit between the stalks easier. It makes sense.”


“Good luck.”


“You, too. If you get shot, I’m out here for no reason.”


With that quip, Ochir crept quickly off through the crops, keeping herself partially crouched and careful not to brush against any stalk that would give the sniper an indication where she was. Arley waited by the car until he heard rustling from the direction Ochir had gone, then crept toward the dirt road.


He waited, ears straining to hear something beyond his breathing and the crunching of the gravel underfoot as he shifted his weight.


The snap of a railgun’s electrical discharge cut through the stillness of the cornfield. A small flock of guineafowl screeched in fright and scurried onto the road from the field opposite Arley. Ochir had taken her first shots.


He took the opportunity to dash across the road, keeping himself low. The corn on this side of the road was more widely spaced to accommodate picking the legumes Arley had planted himself months before. Whoever decided to ambush him had chosen the site poorly; they were on Arley’s turf. He felt like a wolf stalking prey that had wandered directly into its den.


Another loud snap. This time, Arley could hear the hum of the capacitors charging for another shot. Their attacker was firing back.


Arley crept up the hill, abandoned Astro-Crete bricks littering the way. Felz had constructed a walipini greenhouse with Astro-Crete shoring, but the project had crumbled. The first dozen iterations of bricks hadn’t been mixed with the proper ratio of ingredients and were too brittle. The ruin had been filled with construction debris and covered over years before. To Arley, it was simply a comfortable, lonely place to eat his lunch in the shade of a tall ash tree.


Silhouetted against the sparse lights of other farms, Arley could see the long, tapered shape of a railgun in the hands of a cloaked figure. He had emerged behind the shooter to maintain the element of surprise.


Arley drew his coilgun.


Almost too easy.


No, I should take him alive, Arley thought. It’s the only lead and if Lyra’s information networks can’t turn anything up, I might not get a chance like this again.


His lip curled in contempt. He wanted to take out the gunman. A person like that was a danger to everyone on this station. He could blow a hole in the shooter’s chest. The large backpack battery for the railgun rested on the top of the hill behind the figure. A direct hit from the coilgun would probably blow the transformers and take out both the shooter and the illegal rifle.


Don’t react. You’re better than this. Get back in the game.


Arley took his finger off the trigger and stepped forward, coilgun still trained on the gunman’s torso.


“Put it down!” he yelled.


The shooter gasped and spun on its heel, the railgun now held like a simple club to block a blow.


The ground creaked.


“Drop it,” Arley repeated. “Hands up.” He stepped forward.


The hill groaned.


The combined weight of Arley and the gunman, along with the backpack battery, were too much for what remained of the rotted plywood planks that covered the roof opening of the walipini greenhouse.


With a wet crunch, they gave way.

Arley fell eight feet onto a mixture of dirt and broken bricks. A large rock caught him in the back like a kidney punch from a heavyweight boxer. He came up coughing and out of breath.


And without his coilgun.


The gunman also rose to his feet. The hood of his cloak had been ripped in the fall.


Arley looked into Felz’s usually friendly face. White stubble flecked his chin like snow.


“Felz! What the fuck?!”


Felz avoided eye contact.


“It’s not something I wanted to do,” Felz said. “I got gambling debts, Arley. Lots. They could take the farm from me and we still wouldn’t be square.”


“Who?” Arley asked.


Felz waved the question away with a pained grunt.


“They’re gonna kill my wife, Arley. And take my daughter. I agreed once and then they kept coming back.”


Arley’s eyes widened. “You took the crewmembers.”


Felz shrugged. “I had to.”


“Bonn is barely older than your daughter, Felz.”


“I know. I’m sorry, Arley. I had to.”


“Who made you, Felz? Where did you take them? Maybe we can fix it.”


Felz shook his head. “They told me to stop you.”


He pulled a knife from the pocket of his cloak and flipped it open.


“It’s you or them.”


Arley noticed Felz’s hand shaking. A small drop of blood smeared under his boot on the cracked bricks. He must have landed on something sharp.


Felz sighed and lunged toward Arley.


Felz’s 20 extra years and 30 extra pounds allowed Arley to easily duck under the blow. Even if they were in comparable shape, Arley had trained most of his life for dirty little fights like these. He’d been in several in the line of duty and won them all.


Arley sidestepped another strike and thought about what Lyra had called him. A savant of murder.

He had to admit that he did enjoy putting the pieces together in scuffles. He liked to end it with irony and a little artistry. Out a window. A broken ceramic tile for a weapon.


But those were animals back on Earth. The criminally insane who were incapable of living in the society CASC had cultivated. It was different out here. There was no PRIME. There was poverty. Scarcity. Violence.

Arley caught Felz’s wrist with one hand and punched upwards with the other. Felz’s elbow snapped. The knife clattered to the stones below.


Felz backed off, cradling his arm and preparing a counterattack. His eyes darted around the ruined underground shack like a trapped bird.


Arley saw what Felz had fallen on. A piece of rebar jutted out of a pile of debris. It would be easy to sweep Felz’s feet out from under him and send him careening back onto the length of steel in a more tender area.

No. Do it a different way.

Arley rushed Felz, who swung his good arm weekly at Arley. With two quick punches to the face, Felz was down.

“Don’t kill me, Arley! Please!”

“I’m not going to kill you, Felz. Not if you give up now.”

“Yeah. You win.”

Arley stood but didn’t offer a hand to help Felz to his feet.

“Who do you owe money to?” Arley asked.

“You heard of Aztai 9?”


“It’s a cargo ship that cruises around Homestead and Bright Star and the other little settlements. It’s a casino on the inside. Invite only.”

“I’m guessing it’s run by gangsters?” Arley asked.

Felz nodded. “Gangsters from Bright Star. Just a way for the colony to make more money.”

“So someone from Bright Star wanted you to kidnap people from Stargazer? Why?”

Felz shrugged. “Didn’t say. And they didn’t really care who they got. Anyone who was a little different, they said.”

“Did you take them to Aztai 9?”

“No…,” Felz trailed off. “They wanted me to take them to the abandoned greenhouse.”

“The one close to Gilgamesh? Aren’t you worried about space madness?”

“Of course I am but they’re threatening my family.”

“Right. Take your family to Lyra. She’ll protect you for now. And I’ll go bring some hell to the people threatening you. Where did you dock with the greenhouse?”

“On the Gilgamesh side, where the Regulators won’t see with a scan. Near Dome 3.”

Arley began scaling stacked up construction debris and old wooden braces to climb out of the old structure.

“What about me?” Felz asked.

“You just tried to kill me twice. I’m going to save your wife and daughter and I didn’t kill you. You can find your own damn way out.”

At the top of the hole, Arley could see a second vehicle on the gravel road below. Ochir stood next to it. A pink sleeve waved to Arley.

“Nice work, Ochir,” Arley said, lumbering down the hill. The blow to his back was still sore. “I know where we can find all the people who’ve been kidnapped.” Arley turned to Lee. “Want to be our backup?”

“Sure,” Lee nodded.

“Where are they?” Ochir asked.

“The Greenhouse.”

Lee looked at Ochir with wide eyes. “The Greenhouse is,” he paused, his hand moving in tight circles like he was searing a rolodex for the correct word, “haunted. By the souls of people who were murdered on Gilgamesh.”

Arley nodded. “I hadn’t heard that. I know the Regulators have designated it off-limits as a space madness risk.”

“That’s true,” said Ochir.

“So who’s ready to break the law and go into a haunted abandoned space station?” Arley asked.

The Greenhouse shone like a diamond; the triangular faces of the twenty geodesic domes acting like facets of a well-cut jewel. This diamond, however, was on the finger of a rotting corpse. Gilgamesh floated not far beyond, spinning aimlessly and dead. The cloud of debris surrounding the wreckage looked to Arley like flies eating and laying eggs in rotting flesh.

The docking rings at the Greenhouse were unguarded, as were the corridors leading to Dome 3. Ochir was unphased by their surroundings but Arley suspected Lee was nervous from his sweaty brow and constant biting of his lip.

The trio arrived at the main access corridor for Dome 3. Like everything else so far, it was clear.

“I don’t want to risk going in the front door,” Arley said. “Do either of you know where we might find maintenance access?”

Ochir pointed down a smaller tunnel to their right. “These hallways usually have offshoots for repairing the dome and accessing the O2 pipes.”

“You’ve been here before?” Lee asked.

Ochir nodded. “As a courier, yes. A small group of Navarcs had set up an independent living situation out here.”

“They didn’t get space madness?” Arley asked.

“I don’t know. But I did stop getting jobs to take supplies to them after about 8 months. So, maybe.”

Arley opened the bulkhead door to one of the smaller corridors Ochir had indicated and crouched to enter. They choose the third branch labeled DOME ACCESS which, to Arley’s displeasure, was even narrower.

The access tunnel ended inside Dome 3 directly beneath a ladder that ran all the way to the apex of the dome. They were in a small room, closed off by Astro-Crete bricks. An iron garden gate sandwiched against the side of the dome opened into the rest of the space.

Arley grabbed a rung of the ladder and hauled himself up a few feet. Over the brick wall that surrounded them were other rooms created by plywood divisions. Most of these that Arley could see were full of either tech he was not familiar with or medical equipment. Some had bodies splayed out in beds. Arley couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead.

He almost lost his grip on the rungs of the ladder when he looked over his other shoulder. A familiar small form lay on a reclining couch only two rooms away from them.


But what was on her head? It almost looked like-

Arley gaped.

Bonn was hooked up to a CogNet nexus. Arley could get to her but she’d need to disconnect willingly to avoid damage. Depending on how long she’d been hooked up, the damage could be severe.

Arley pulled out his coilgun and handed it to Ochir. “I have to go do something pretty stupid. Take this and cover my retreat when it’s time.”

Ochir nodded, smiling at the coilgun in her hands.

Arley opened the garden gate and crept to where Bonn was held. He could hear voices and commotion further in the dome but couldn’t see anyone around him.

He picked up a CogNet headset that was secured on the nexus and sat down next to Bonn.

I hope this doesn’t end with one of us going nuts and murdering the other.