One of the many unique things about the Synotech Mass Stunner is it’s arc. The cone of stun blast that leaves the barrel has a decent range, and fills a half dozen meters at the end with neural dampening organic ionization. It consumes three power packs per shot, and it rarely leaves anyone standing.
I groaned awake, the soft foam beneath me sensing the shift and making room, anticipating where I was going like a lover.
One of the many unique things about Hellhaven is that things that are needed, basic things, are already there.
The planet was probably engineered, or so they think. The whole thing. When a liquor store was built, pipes grew from the ground and dispense liquor where it’s bottled, packaged and sold. The gardens are all self tending and self harvesting. And hospitals grew the drugs that were needed from somewhere deep within the core. It couldn’t be analyzed properly, always showing up as something else, and the machines that did it couldn’t be found. It just was.
Whatever science grew to get me out of stun stasis, was high grade stuff. I went from the hangover like headache that should have been with me for hours to sitting up, having the fog lift and seeing everything perfectly in a few seconds.
A medical version of Lynk withdrew the combi-pin.
‘Good to see you, sir.’
‘Yeah.’ I rubbed my eyes. ‘Hi.’
The hospital room was long, housing several beds. Most of them were empty, aside from a gran several units down. Tall open arches looked out to the sea where the sun was flowing in.
‘How long was I out?’
‘Ten hours.’ Came the mechanoids response.
I slunk out of bed and felt the rush of whatever Lynk had injected me with take hold of my movements and refine them to crystal clarity. That, or day five of complete sobriety was really taking hold.
Lynk placed my clothing, freshly laundered from some machine that had grown someplace one world presumably, in front of me on the bed.
I dressed swiftly, tucking my blaster into the hip holster and running newly wetted hands through my black hair. I looked pretty good for having been in what amounts to a coma not five minutes ago.
‘Will you be leaving, Quinn?’ Lynk was still standing nearby.
‘Yeah, I guess. I don’t. Don’t know why I came here, really.’
A thin, wheezing laugh filtered through some thin curtains and wafted around me.
I looked up at Lynk from the refresher and if a motionless face could smile, his did. He moved the divider from between our beds, and there sat the ashen face of Harlan Mavrick.
‘Quinn, my boy.’ A broken smile.
We clasped arms and I put a hand on his shoulder. Somehow it seemed weaker than Slyer’s, which was impossible.
‘I haven’t seen you in ages it seems. What brings you here, kid?’ He was weak, whatever Lynk had given me Mav had either denied or been denied. His face was bony and his eyes sunken, a result of total neurological collapse from the stunner.
‘I think the crone told you, did’t she?’ I pulled up a wheeled stool and sat beside him, Lynk moving back to give us some space.
No ten feet away, the combat-nanny Lynk strolled up and folded it’s arms, waiting.
‘Hmmm. You don’t want to end up like me. Who can blame you?’
I tried a smile, but it leaked self pity. ‘I just… I want to know what did it. What you think did it even. I want some kind of warning you know? So someday I don’t just flip and and start murdering people or something.’ Madine blinked a bloody eye in my mind.
His voice was paper thin, a hoarse whisper that didn’t fit in the splendor of the place. ‘How is Staci?’
‘She left me.’ I sighed, losing his eyes. ‘She… well she didn’t like what I was becoming. She didn’t like me becoming-’
‘Me.’ He he pushed out the words like poison.
Staci knew Harlan was her father, but more she knew that Harlan had fathered her out of wedlock. Her mother was married, and still is, to yet another career criminal, Byrn Garott. She didn’t hate Mav, didn’t even hate her mother for what she did; everyone knew Mav was a liar, and it kind of gave him a free pass when he tricked someone.
But while she knew him, while she learned from him just as I had, she didn’t want to be him, and while she would never admit it, I knew what she saw in my face that day on Spacers Grave, and I was looking at it now.
But unlike Mav, her mother or the man she considered her real father, Byrn; even unlike me, Staci was an optimist and a really pretty decent person deep down. She played games because she was good at it, but my fall from grace showed her a better choice, and she made it with the Spynet and later with the Alliance.
A long, thick silence fell between us. After a while, Mav cut it. ‘You know where I go when they are out?’ He was looking outside. ‘I go deep, deep inside me, and I sleep, Quinn. I sleep and oh what a glorious sleep it is. I miss the sun and the sky, I miss the taste of food and the sound of laughter. But the dreaming is amazing. I glimpse the others sometimes, what they see, where they go, but I dream on my own as well. It started years ago, before all this.’ He made a weak gesture that seemed to pain him. ‘But this Quinn, this is what I dreamed of. A place where people like us could go, people who just didn’t fit in the rest of the galaxy. Don’t give me that look, boy; I know what you’re thinking.’
I cleared whatever had grown unasked for on my face.
A weak smile. ‘It isn’t victimization. I don’t think that were chosen or special, just not made right. Off somehow. You could have been a doctor Quinn, you have the head for it, and don’t talk, I don’t get out much. Where was I? Oh yes; you could have been anything. You could have Staci, some kids and a good job that was legal, be on the up and up. Be happy.’
The thought made me giddy and a little sick, which disturbed me. ‘Yeah I guess so, and I could just live in a prison the rest of my life.’
‘And there it is. People like us have a disease in our souls, son; a freedom we want that doesn’t exist. We yearn for it, we ache after it like a lost love. And it will never be enough. We get off our homeworld, we get out of our sector. Then its the mid-rim the outer and wild space. It will never be enough for us Quinn, we don’t feel trapped by relationships or by love, by governments or by the sky; we feel trapped by life Quinn. That is what burns us in the end; burns our souls like suns in the void.’
Maybe it was the sobriety, maybe it really was Mav’s words, but I felt something shift in me, a sick feeling like a rusty gate groaning open. I knew he was right, I had always known. I was trouble, I was annoying I was reckless because I didn’t want to face the truth; that I was running, always running away from something that was never going to get me because it already had.
Life is hard. Simple as that.
I sighed and rubbed my eyes with my palms. I felt him smiling at the gesture. ‘Too many faces, huh kid?’
‘Yeah, maybe. Yeah.’
A groan of pain brought me back to him. ‘You okay?’
‘Funny question. No I am tired Quinn, ready to dream again. I might. I don’t know, I might not come out. This place will keep my body alive for another fifty years, but me, I don’t know. I’m sick of coming back, it takes too much effort now.’ He looked at me then, those clear grey eyes and their knives of logic. ‘You’re going to be okay, kid. You aren’t me, and you’ll stop. Staci proves it. I know you loved her once in a way I never loved anything. That’s your armor, even if you never see her again.’
‘Don’t say that.’
A genuine smile. ‘Do like me, look for that freedom but when you realize it isn’t there, be happy with what you got. This,’ arms raised, ‘all this is my penance. Anyone who I think deserves it gets a free ride to a solitary life. Reading, playing, loving.’
‘A prison…’ I said only half joking.
‘Not you’re life kid, no no, and not mine; why do you think I stay out of it? But people need this, people like us who haven’t been infected with the sickness of living.’
His eyes rolled and his head sagged. ‘My medicine, Lynk; medicine.’
The droid moved up and from a cabinet that appeared on the flawless surface of the wall only when the droid touched it, pulled a half empty thirty year old bottle of Cruscan whisky.
‘Medicine huh?’ I sneered a grin.
‘Looks to me like you haven’t been taking yours.’ Lynk poured two glasses.
‘Taking a clear look at things.’
‘I never taught you that.’
My head dropped and a small laugh escaped. ‘You didn’t teach me everything old man.’
‘Damn right I didn’t. Remember that, when the void calls out; you aren’t me. Now come on, I’m fading fast, and I want one last drink with my-’
‘Please don’t say it.’
‘-future ex-son in law.’ He winked.
Lynk handed us the glasses, and a musical chime echoed from the hand made crystal decanters as the touched. We both downed in one, a half decent pour of an exceptional vintage.
Five days; good enough.
I stood to collect the glasses, and Mav lay still, his eyes half closed. I bent down to kiss him on the forehead; I’m not sure why, stupid.
But he smiled. As I snapped my coat close and strode from the room, his ghostly whisper flitted on the air after me. ‘Don’t you go disappointing yourself, boy. Don’t you get lost out there in the black.’
And I was gone. Out the main entrance to the hospital, and into a speeder that another Lynk had ready. We didn’t speak on the short ride to the the Grave. The air speeder soared over the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen, beautiful even as a stormy sky rolled in and winked lighting in its wake. Lynk touched down at the base of the spiral hook that connected the Grave to the world.
Awkward smiles from me, stone cold automation from the droid.
‘Well, er… I guess I’ll ugh…’
‘Goodbye, Quinn, it was good to see you. You’ll always have a place here.’
‘Yeahhh… right…’ It didn’t sound like I was convinced. ‘Before I go, give me your cold, clerical opinion; is he happy here? I mean real Mav, was he ever happy here?’
Lynk seemed to think a moment, retrieving data and still conducting planet wide traffic. ‘I think he was. I think he came closest to it with this, with all of this.’
‘How did he do it?’
‘He wont tell anyone, not even me. I know how to control the system now, but how he got those systems in place, I will never know. Likely, he doesn’t want anyone doing it again.’
‘Heaven is a place, huh?’ I quoted the song with a grin.
‘Maybe. Don’t forget what Mav would say.’
There’s no Heaven, just a place you find yourself one day.
I didn’t feel like saying anything more, so I just rode the lift to the deck, and stooped into my ship.
It was a nice moment, because less than three minutes later, wanting to formally end my sobriety, I would discover that a)that stupid dug was still on my ship and that b) he had drank all of my booze.
It was a long ride home.
When I walked up to him, Sa’Mi was leaning against the viewport onto the planet bellow, not so much blinking as trying to keep his eyes open like a malfunctioning hatch.
I watched him not respond, wondering why-
‘Oh my god.’
‘Hmm?’ He peered up from his daze. ‘Oh, hello Quinn, good to see you. Was your, umm… I’m sorry Quinn, I am not feeling so well.’
‘You’re hungover or I’m a gundark.’
The rodent gave a small sigh and placed tiny hands over his eyes. ‘Yes, I’m afraid I am. Ewok grog is… well, it is extremely toxic, first of all. Thank you for inquiring as to my general… umm… can I help you with something or can I please get back on the ship and go to sleep?’
‘Go for it, where is Dorn?’
‘He’s over by those pilots.’ Sa’Mi made a generalized gesture that said behind me. and then scurried off to the Grave, now connected by a length docking tube to the Reliance.
The rebel hangar was a mess, hundreds of sentients were milling about the place and almost all of them seemed to be in one stage or another of intoxication or general recovery. Pushing past a few vomiting mechanics I found Dorn cross legged and mentoring half a dozen pilots under the battered hulk of an X-Wing.
‘All I’m saying is that if we had just sat down, tried some of this,’ he produced a pipe, touching a blunt patch to it and taking a long, slow drag, ‘then there wouldn’t have been a war, man. It’s just hormones, battle. Just fucking evolution gone wrong and it has to get there, like an orgasm, war is like – hey hey hey! Quinn! Quinn Corvin!’ Dorn rose to his feat with the grace of a dying bantha, and stepped on one of the pilots hands coming over to hug me. It was okay; they were all to baked to notice he even moved.
‘That,’ I said to his leku that was circling my face uncomfortably ‘was a shockingly clairvoyant observation.’
His smile was somehow faulty. ‘Hmm?’
‘You’re war theory.’
‘What war theory?’
‘The one you just-’
‘Hey hey hey! Quinn Corvin!’ he hugged me again.
‘Okay, thanks the ship is back if you want to go to it.
‘What ship?’ I left him standing there as a rebel Sargent barked orders trying to get the men up and ready.
I was on my way to find Madine to get some answers when I saw her. It was over a sunken repair bay, across several meters of space, but it was her, no doubt. There never was.
Her hair was blond again, and she was wearing a Storm Corps stealth suit. Her eyes were pools of light, her smile a radiant slice of sunshine. She was laughing at something I couldn’t see.
I wanted to go to her, and I almost did, when the kid came up. He was sneaking up behind her, and the clarity of sobriety is all that stopped me from drawing and firing. But when he reached for Staci’s pistol, she noticed, I could see her notice.
She let him ‘steal’ is and play like he held her up.
‘Oh look, two more of my soldiers flirting. Lot of that going around.’ Madine said from just behind me.
‘Who is that guy?’ I didn’t look away.
‘Why? Jealous?’ I could hear the smile in his tired voice. Madine never smiled.
The kid, whoever he was, was now clearly listing demands that Staci found absurd. She grabbed at the gun, but slower than she could have, which was a bad sign.
‘What the fuck is wrong with everybody? Everyone is-’
‘Drunk, I know. Or worse thanks to your man, Dorn. Where were you?’
‘Sober, shockingly.’ I was still looking at Staci’s obscene display of human interest.
I crossed my arms.
‘Leave it to you stay stay sober during the biggest party of the year.’ Madine moved beside me to join in on what had become a spectator sport. ‘I gave the men leave last night to celebrate, so we all got a little…’
Madine sighed and pinched his nose, the hangover smoking off him like exhaust vapor. ‘Whatever. Anyway, projected fallout modeling was off, the Carrion 226 fusion core at the deathstar’s-’
‘Did you guys blow it up?’
‘Yes we did.’ In my peripheral, I could see irritation gather in his eyes. ’But, the core wasn’t operating at full capacity. What we thought would be instant incineration ended up being more of a spreading of debris.’
‘Yeah, I saw that.’ The bodies floated through my mind until the kid with Staci’s pistole put his arm around her waist and I started wondering how many of these hungover people I could take if I had to shoot him.
‘Anyway. This morning it started coming down, radioactive. We had to evac the planet at 6 am local.’ He placed his hand gently over his eyes once more.
‘Yeah, most got out, few who didn’t are getting patched up by the doc’s. We should be back on world tomorrow midday.’
‘Shiny.’ Another arms went around her waist.
‘You know, that data slug system that Canter built is working out pretty well, were moving a lot of intel.’ He waited for a response but I was lost in Staci. ’I’m ugh, thinking of calling it Private Eyes when we get a real agency going.’
I turned to Madine and built a soft, genuine smile, allowing let a legitimate moment slide it’s way between the two of us and just sitthere.
A few moments later, I hooked my gaze back on Staci, who was now laughing. ‘That is literally the worst name for anything that I have ever heard.’
Madine sighed at the moment as it went off to die someplace. ‘So where did you go, Quinn?’
Staci whispered something in the commandos ear.
‘Hellhaven.’ I said, drawing my sidearm and checking the gauge. Full charge.
I did an about face, ready to stroll around the pit, smile my best ‘hey buddy!’ grin and then put laser in this fucking kid’s brain.
Madine snatched my arm before I got two feet. ‘Oookay lets take a breather. I guess you’re more unstable when you aren’t drinking.’ His stance was combat, but I think he saw I didn’t have much heart in it, I hadn’t really slept in four nights, and coma stunner sleep is less than restful.
‘Who the fuck is that guy?’ I pointed with my blaster, looking at Madine for the first time since I got back.
‘His name is Kyt, he is a communications officer with Storm Corps.’
‘Why does Staci have a commando uniform on?’
‘She was asked to liaise with the ground forces.’
‘Well why wasn’t I told?!’ It was a stupid question but it got out anyway.
‘I mean what if he’s like a serial rapist! I should go shoot him just in case…’
Madine let my wrist go and painted a smile on. He knew I wasn’t going anywhere, and suddenly I got very, very tired. I holstered my sidearm and went back to watching the two.
‘We need to talk, Corvin.’
‘Yeah yeah.’ Staci now handed him the other pistol, and when he had both, she made her move. Got in close, hands behind his thick black hair, her lower lip crested bellow his, and her upper slid between, a perfect lock, and long, slow romance holo sort of kiss. She even raised her left leg.
‘Clean up, come find me when you’re ready but don’t take too long.’
‘What?’ he looked over and saw the mildly pornographic make out session as other service members started to cheer. ‘Oh, yeah.’
‘I need a drink.’ I said under a hate filled sneer. They stopped kissing after a few days and Kyt placed the weapons gently back into their holsters, resting his hands on Staci’s hips in the process.
Madine opened a grin as he winked at me with the eye Canter gave him. ‘You okay?’
I drilled a few holes in the kids head, narrowed my eyes and watched him space in my mind. Then I saw him get shot a few times, saw him die in battle, saw Hellhaven’s guns turn him into dust.
But I didn’t go over.
Let her have this one you selfish fucking prick.
I should kill him.
Yeah, that’ll work.
Madine patted me on the shoulder and walked away. The clarity surged through even my weariness. I counted guns around me, assessed a few possible threats, focused on Kyt a little longer.
Walk away, Corvin.
God. I hate being sober.
Dorn bumped into me and with a wild grin said ‘Quinn! Quinn Cor-’
‘Yeah yea,’ I took his pipe and finding it empty, tossed it. ‘Drink?’ I asked the swaying form of Dorn B’Dinn.
Every pointed tooth showed up for the smile. ‘Yeah man, I know just the place.’
Dorn slowly started to take the lead, stumbling though the busy hanger. I took one last look back to where Kyt was still holding Staci while she showed him one of the pistols as he hugged her close and peered over her shoulder.
‘I gave her that fucking gun.’ I said to nobody.
Seventeen minutes later, I sank back into a long lonely drunk.
There’s no Heaven, Quinn; just a place you find yourself one day.