A Bounty for a Cure
by Richard Ong
High up in the distant mountains I have come, to hunt down and kill an aberration of this world. A terrible waste, if you ask me. But I’m just a bounty hunter and my clients’ intentions are their own.
After a long chase, I finally reach her citadel where she will make her stand. She dies tonight or she destroys me.
I stand at the base of the Tower. Its ebony walls are harder than granite. Sharp volcanic glass erupts between sections of stone, making it impossible for any man to climb. It is fortunate that I do not walk on this world as one of them.
I bend my knees and jump, reaching up to grip the ledge of a second-story window. I haul my three-hundred pound frame inside and land in a crouching position, ready to do battle.
My sight switches to ultra-violet and I scan the chamber for hidden impressions. There are none.
My sight switches to infra-red and I scan the room for body heat. I find one, five feet above the floor and attached to the wall.
I modulate the sensors to twist and bend the light streaming into my eyes. An image coalesces and solidifies on the wall. Her hair is long and black. Her skin is white and smooth like marble. Her pupils dilate into slits of gold. Thick mucous-like fluid drips from the side of her mouth. Spectroscopic analysis identifies the paralyzing venom. Its potency can cause death within an hour of epidermal contact. It is fortunate that I do not carry such an impediment.
Cords of muscle on her neck expand as she snarls, baring a row of flesh-tearing incisors like a rabid animal trapped into a corner. Why do you pursue me? she asks.
Her voice is hoarse and low. Her breathing is labored. Blueish spidery veins suddenly appear and pulsate all over her body. Their rhythmic movement undulates in mesmerizing waves in symphony with the beat of her heart. The hunger is upon her.
I switch to combat mode. Tiny apertures appear on my right hand.
I AM SORRY. BUT MY ORDERS ARE VERY SPECIFIC. YOU MUST BE DESTROYED.
More cords of muscle appear and twist around her neck, expanding down to her arms and legs. Her nails dig deeper into the wall. Long fissures appear and radiate out on the ebony surface where they sink.
MY CLIENT INSISTS UPON AN IMMEDIATE CLOSURE OF THIS PROJECT. YOUR DESTRUCTION ENDS MY BUSINESS IN THIS QUADRANT. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT I TAKE NO PLEASURE IN THIS. I AM A HUNTER AND YOU ARE MY QUARRY. NOTHING MORE.
Then you are mistaken to assume that I can be taken so easily!
The aberration leaps from the wall with a singular thrust of her powerful legs. Her body arches in mid-air above me, suspended by nothing more than the momentum of her jump. Her fingers bend like claws ready to tear the layers of armor around my body. Her tongue flicks out and snares my left wrist. Venomous acid sizzles from the organ. The alloy on my wrist begins to corrode.
A rotating beam of light from the apertures of my right hand severs her tongue. A trickle of blood forms from a hairline crack down the centre of her face. She screams.
Though the creature is fast, I am quicker. I twist my cybernetic armor to one side, raise the right arm and land a shattering blow on the back of her head.
She hits the floor hard, splitting her skull and spilling blood and gray tissue. Her body convulses.
I raise my right arm and the gauntlet glows. A charred line forms across the base of her neck, severing the head from the body. Her twitching stops. The aberration is no more.
I reach back and detach a long hose and nozzle from a utility pack. I aim at the predator’s head and squeeze the trigger. Pressurized gas is released and instantly freezes the specimen upon contact. With the ball of ice safely stored in my cryo pack, I signal my clients to prepare their sterilization process.
The Tower disintegrates within the hour as my ship accelerates above the clouds to rendezvous with my clients’ citadel in orbit.
I slowly step out of the capsule, dripping puddles of conductivity gel on the deck of the station. The artificial gravity is strong. My employers originate from a near-gas giant. I crawl across the room one tentacle at a time.
I pause long enough to stare at the viewing port and the blue planet below. I turn around to look back at my mute battle armor’s cybernetic shell. Its power cells are nearly drained from the long hunt. I look forward to spending some much-needed rest within the red waters of my home world.
A door slides open and I slowly turn around one tentacle at a time, grimacing in the effort, to address my clients. I strain my antennae to look up at the two magnificent towering figures from the planet Koa. They pay a handsome price for my services.
“Greetings, Krzztlkk. We have sterilized the creature’s home shortly after your shuttle has cleared the area. Are you successful?” Their large bodies bob up and down whenever they speak. The single eye on each head never blinks, making me feel uneasy whenever I look at them.
“The mission is complete,” I reply. “The package is in cryo storage on board my ship.”
“Then, there is only the matter of payment to conclude our business,” says the Koan on my right. I can never remember their names, never mind pronounce them.
“Of course. The usual transfer of credits to my account would be most appreciated, thank you very much.”
“Excellent! We are most anxious to start work on the genetic sample you extracted from the creature.” The Koan on my left grins and displays a frightening set of teeth.
I shudder as I remember my earlier encounter with the aberration. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you create these poor souls only to destroy them after?”
“A valid question and we don’t mind answering,” says the Koan on my right. His companion nods in agreement, reaches over and points at the blue planet below.
“See that large continent in the north, the one with the most advanced phase of industrialization?”
I stare back at the viewing port and nod. “Places the humans call, ‘Florence’, ‘Genoa’, ‘Marseilles’ and ‘Russia.’ All target areas of aberration for the past three solar cycles. All have been cleansed as per your instructions.”
“Quite so, Master Bounty Hunter Krzztlkk. Quite so!” says the Koan on my left.
His companion steps forward and explains. “Well, you see, a deadly disease these humans called ‘The Plague’ swept over that continent four solar cycles ago, threatening extinction of all intelligent life in that part of the world. In order to find a cure, we captured and mutated a select sampling of human hosts to act as carriers of a unique genetic trait that would rapidly evolve as one ‘aberration’ spawns another of its kind.
“The last of the species that you destroyed carried the final stage of that evolution. We will use this to augment the human race’s immunity to this plague and save them from extinction. A noble cause for us as caretakers of this planet, is it not?”
“And so, in order to harvest your cure, you hire a professional like me to help decimate an otherwise magnificent race of creatures that are probably superior to their human progenitors in every way.”
“Shame, isn’t it? Pesky little parasites, if you ask us.” They shrug.
Then, to my astonishment, their eyes blink!
Copyright © 2012 by Richard Ong