Authors: James Wisher
ou were right
, that place was great.” Emily pulled Solomon along by the hand, through the doors and out of the arcade. She wore a black sundress and, thank the universe, sneakers. They’d just finished a marathon, four-hour gaming session. Emily held her own in all his favorite games, which impressed Solomon a great deal. They stopped in a little park, not much more than a patch of grass with a couple benches, across from the arcade. “Where do you want to go for lunch?”
Solomon shrugged. He hadn’t gotten around to trying any of the many restaurants at the resort. He usually ate room service at the hotel. “Wherever you want is fine.”
“I read about a place that’s supposed to serve Vencar delicacies.” Solomon shot her a pointed look. Was she hinting around for him to say something about Dra’kor? If she noticed his reaction she gave no sign. “I don’t know how anyone would know for sure since no one has ever visited their home world.”
“That’s fine. It’ll probably be something healthy since they have to fight their disease.”
She frowned. “I hadn’t thought about that. I’m on vacation, I don’t want something healthy.”
She kissed him, just a quick peck, but right on the lips. He stared at her, a stupid grin on his face. She was the first girl not related to him he’d ever kissed. Should he say something? He probably should.
Before he could Emily went on. “How about that Earth style diner? I’d kill for some onion rings.”
“Sure, onion rings.” That might not have been the best thing to say, but she smiled so he figured it wasn’t bad.
The diner was a garish thing of chrome and neon. A giant flashing sign over the top said, Ma’s Diner. Solomon shook his head; who had researched this place? He doubted there had been a restaurant like this on Earth in centuries. If the food matched the decor he feared for his stomach. “Are you sure you want to eat here?”
“Yeah! I saw a place like this in a museum back home when I was a little girl, it was the neatest thing. I never imagined I’d get to eat at a real, operating diner one day. Come on, let’s go in.”
Solomon held the glass door open for her then followed her in. On one side of the long, narrow restaurant sat ten booths and on the other a counter lined with stools. Everything that wasn’t chrome someone had painted a horrid, bright orange. Looking at the dining area made his head hurt. Worse, he didn’t see a single human among the dozen customers. That alone argued they should go somewhere else.
A three eyed female behind the counter dressed in a blue and white dress with an apron in front waved at them. “Sit anywhere you like.”
“Thanks.” Emily grabbed his hand and dragged him to the nearest empty booth, not giving him a chance to voice his concerns. He realized if she held his hand he’d go anywhere with her. Whether that was a good thing, he hadn’t decided. It certainly felt like a good thing.
The waitress sauntered over and handed them a pair of honest to god laminated menus. Solomon shook his head. How retro could you get? She turned her disconcerting triple gaze on him. “Start you with a drink, hon?”
“Ooh, I’ll have a chocolate shake.” Emily said.
Solomon nodded. “Me too.”
“Comin’ right up.”
“Isn’t this awesome?” Emily looked almost giddy.
Solomon didn’t want to crap on her excitement, but he couldn’t help but ask, “Where do you suppose they get the milk?”
Emily shrugged. “I imagine a big farm somewhere on this planet with thousands of happy cows. What do you think?”
“I think that sounds way better than my idea. What about food?”
“Cheeseburger and onion rings. You?”
“That sounds good. Rough day for the happy cows.”
She smiled and laughed a high, musical sound that set Solomon’s heart racing. He feared he might be falling in love. The food arrived, and they ate in amiable silence. When they finished Emily leaned back and sighed. “Awesome.”
Solomon nodded; relieved the meal had turned out well. He left a twenty credit coin on the table and led the way out. When they’d moved a little ways away he said, “So what do you want to do now?”
Emily sighed. “I've got to call my parents and run a few errands. How about we meet for breakfast tomorrow?”
“That sounds good. Where do you want to meet?”
“I hear good things about the restaurant at your hotel. 9 o’clock Earth standard time sound good to you?”
He nodded; perfectly willing to agree to anything she suggested. Emily leaned in and kissed him, not a quick peck this time, but a long, lingering kiss that took his breath away. When she finally broke away he stared at her, another big, stupid grin on his face.
She smiled. “See you in the morning.”
He nodded. Maybe he really was falling in love.
and turned all night, too excited sleep. All he thought about was seeing Emily in the morning. He felt giddy, out of control, and he loved it. He knew Marcus would laugh at him, but he didn't care. Solomon hadn’t been this happy in…ever.
When it was almost time to meet Emily, he rushed down to the hotel restaurant to wait. In the lobby stood a fifteen foot tall fountain in the shape of a naked woman of uncertain species carved of glittering crystal. Water shot out of her raised hand and cascaded down her body to splash into the pool at her feet. Half a dozen benches carved of the same crystal sat around the pool so people could rest and enjoy the fountain. Emily sat on one of the benches, her legs tucked up under her blue sundress.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” Solomon said.
She smiled, though it looked a little sad. “I got here early. I was eager to see you again.”
“You should have called my room; I’ve been up for hours. Truth is I couldn’t stop thinking about you.” She didn’t reply. “Is everything all right?”
She gave a little shiver then nodded and smiled. “Fine. Come on, I’m starving.”
The hotel restaurant waited a few steps from the fountain. The automatic doors hissed open as they approached. Inside, the dining room had forty tables covered with crisp, white linens, polished silverware sparkled in the light from a bank of windows overlooking the pool. They were late enough that only three tables had parties and the staff had free time to stand around chatting near the kitchen door. Solomon recognized a four armed waiter as being the same species as the councilor that tried to betray them to the Void. A different waiter, a reptilian male with rough, brown scales and a short tail, noticed them and came over. “Two for breakfast?”
Solomon nodded and Emily said, “Something by the window.”
The waiter motioned them to follow him and led them to an empty table overlooking the pool. Even at this hour people splashed in the pool and walked around. Was Marcus out there yet? He doubted it. Marcus and Iaka seldom rolled out of bed before noon. They ordered drinks and the waiter left to fetch them.
“What’s on your mind?” Emily asked.
Solomon smiled. “I was thinking my friend is missing a beautiful day.”
“What’s he doing?”
Solomon’s cheeks burned when he thought about what Marcus was probably doing. “He’s sleeping in.”
The waiter approached, their drinks balanced on a small tray, saving him from having to elaborate. He set Solomon’s orange juice in front if him. A moment later the doors exploded in, showering them with safety glass. Solomon spun around in time to see six men in black body armor carrying heavy blasters rush through the shattered door. They wore masks and goggles so he had no idea what species they were. The other patrons screamed and a couple got out of their chairs. One soldier fired a rapid burst over their heads, blowing chunks out of the ceiling tile.
“Everyone on the floor, now!” The lead invader turned his way and rushed towards their table. “Not you two.”
“Hey! What’s going on here?” A thick built near-human with dark hair and wearing a grease spattered apron emerged from the kitchen, interrupting the masked man.
One of the others spun and blasted a hole through his chest big enough for a fist to pass through. He, that was just a guess on Solomon’s part based on a flat chest, spun back to face them. He held his blaster rock steady after shooting the unfortunate cook. These men must be hardened killers if they could shoot a complete stranger without a twitch.
“You two are coming with us.” The man Solomon considered the leader motioned with the barrel of his blaster. “Get up.”
Solomon scrambled to his feet, wracking his brain, trying to figure out who these people were and what they wanted with him. He came up blank. He and Marcus had made plenty of enemies over the years and they might work for any of them.
Emily grabbed his arm. “I’m scared.”
One of the others pointed his blaster at her head. “Shut up and move.”
Solomon raised his hands over his head and looked at the floor, trying his best to appear nonthreatening. He almost laughed. He wasn’t a threat to one man without a blaster to say nothing of six with them. Emily followed his lead and put her hands up.
The strangers hustled them out the shattered doors and through the lobby. It was silent save for their feet on the tile and the tinkle of the fountain. No one tried to stop the masked men, which was bad for Solomon and Emily, but good for everyone else. At the base of the short flight of steps leading up to the hotel an unmarked, gray hovervan waited. Two of their captors ran ahead and opened the back doors.
When they reached the back of the van the leader said, “Stop.”
Someone grabbed his wrists and yanked them behind his back, wrenching his shoulder and drawing a wince. Restraints of some sort, Solomon guessed stun cuffs, snapped around his wrists. Emily squeaked in pain when they repeated the procedure with her. One of the kidnappers shoved him in the back and he stumbled into the van. A moment later Emily landed on top of him.
on the door dragged Marcus out of a delightful post sex haze. Iaka groaned beside him. “Tell them to go away.”
“You read my mind.” He tossed aside the warm, heavy blanket, grabbed a robe from the back of the comfort form chair next to the bed, and shrugged it on. Barefoot and annoyed he shuffled over to the door. Marcus flipped on the security vid and found a human male in a blue and black uniform standing outside. He frowned. In his experience nothing good ever came from a person in uniform waking you up. He glanced at the clock on the wall, even if it was ten o’clock.
He opened the door, more curious than alarmed. “What can I do for you, officer?”
“Marcus Drake?” The security officer, he had to be a security officer, no matter the planet every security man he’d ever encountered spoke in that same dull voice.
“Yes, sir. Is there a problem?”
“You could call it that.” The officer pulled a data pad out of his pocket and studied it for a moment. “This morning a little after nine six men blasted their way into the hotel and kidnapped two human guests, one Solomon Keys, listed as a member of your party, and an Emily Smart, not registered at this hotel.”
Marcus’s mind raced. Someone had kidnapped Solomon and his girlfriend? He ran through a list of potential suspects and found it a long one. Who had they been after, Solomon or the girl?
“Mr. Drake?” The officer cocked his head and stared at him. “I said we have security camera footage if you’d like to take a look.”
“Yeah, sure, let me get dressed and I’ll meet you downstairs, and call me Marcus officer…”
“Smith.” The security man raised his hands and smiled. “I know, I know, and believe it or not my first name is John. I’ll meet you at the elevators.”
Marcus nodded and closed the door. Maybe Smith wouldn’t turn out to be too big an asshole. He turned and found Iaka out of bed and searching for her cloths. “You heard?”
“Yeah.” She wrestled on a snug pair of black slacks. “Void you think?”
Marcus shook his head and tossed his robe on the bed. “I doubt it. If black masked men with weapons for arms showed up and started disintegrating people Smith would have mentioned it. Besides, whoever took Solomon wants him alive. I can’t imagine why the Void would spare him.”
Iaka finished getting dressed a minute ahead of him. “Earth Force?”
Marcus secured the last button of his favorite blue shirt then pulled on heavy black boots. Somehow he doubted this would turn out to be a flip flop kind of day. He dearly wished for his control gauntlet and a couple blasters. “Earth Force has more pressing problems than kidnapping. Besides, if not for Solomon they’d have ended up in worse shape than they’re in now. I’m afraid we’re dealing with something unrelated to the Void invasion of earth.”
Marcus held the door for her and they walked together down the unremarkable beige hall toward the elevators. “If that’s true,” Iaka said. “It’ll make it a lot harder to figure out who’s responsible.”
They reached the shiny, metal elevator doors and Marcus hit the call button. “It certainly will, but it won’t stop me from finding them, and when I do they’ll regret hurting my friend.”
The elevator chimed and the doors slid open. Smith stood with his back to them, hands in his pockets. Down passed the statue fountain more individuals in uniforms worked around the crime scene, taking 3D images, scanning for DNA, and generally processing the scene.
He turned at the sound of Marcus’s voice. “Ah, Captain Drake, forgive me for not using your proper title upstairs. Miss Kazumi, a pleasure to meet you. This way please.”
They followed him away from the crime scene and through a plain, unmarked door. They entered the security office; dozens of video screens covered the wall. A slim, twitchy, alien with ten eyes across his forehead stared at them, unblinking. A long tongue shot out and licked the eyes before snaking back into its mouth. Marcus suppressed a shudder. He’d seen worse over the course of his travels.
“Chief Vix, would you play the recording for us?” Officer Smith asked.
The alien didn’t speak, but just turned around and typed commands into his console. All but one screen went blank, plunging the room into near total darkness. On the active screen Solomon sat beside the girl near the fountain. She was kind of cute in a computer geek sort of way. There was no sound while they talked and soon they left the bench and went toward the restaurant. The viewpoint shifted and they were inside sitting at a table talking some more. A second monitor came to life. On it a gray van pulled up outside the hotel and six men in combat armor and masks piled out, heavy blasters in their hands. All around them people went running.