The Face Changer
By T. Dalton
Mikayle spooned the man he’d picked up the night before, groaning from the incessant knock at the door. He stumbled out of the bed and fell from the hangover. The room was small and he was liable to bang his head on the metal. There wasn’t much room for him on The Mandrake. The knocking continued. Mikayle pressed the opener and the door slid to the side. Denis, a fellow bounty hunter, stood waiting.
“God, you’re such a faggot,” Denis said with laughter, looking him over.
“Don't be jelly,” Mikayle said. He ran his hands down his side, showing off his chiseled abs and impeccable frame. He was wearing baby pink long johns. The bulge was apparent.
“Get dressed. Captain has a mission for you,” Denis replied. He peeked into Mikayle’s bunk. “And get that fluffer out of here. We’re taking off shortly.”
Captain Mi Yeon sighed with boredom as her mechanic drone worked away at the robotic arm. “Malfunctioned again last night,” she said to Mikayle. “I was at the bar, ready to pick up a real lass. Even you woulda fell for her. I go to hand her a beer and this thing grips the bottle hard enough to burst. Glass flew all over the place and she ran off, spooked.”
“What a night,” Mikayle replied. “Better a bottle than her throat. Right?” He didn’t get his captain, how such a feminine woman could be such a butch. She tied her black hair in a bun and her lips were always full and purple. She wore the same thing in battle as she did prowling the night, a black form-fitting one-piece and a grey exo-suit capable of stopping a lazor beam. Mikayle let the thought go. He’d understand Mi Yeon as much as she would understand his own affairs.
The bot finished and Mi Yeon closed the flesh on her arm. “We’ve got a hit,” she said. “Pirate by the name of Bently. You’re up for this one. First run.” She nodded to the wall. There were three pictures. Mi Yeon, Bald Dennis and Mikayle. Mi Yeon shot a toy dart gun and the yellow dart landed on Mikayle’s photo.
“What’d he do?” Mikayle asked.
“Stole a cat. The owner wants that cat back, unharmed. He also wants you to off Bently, bring back his fingers as proof. Can you handle it?” Mi Yeon stretched her robotic fingers in a typing motion.
“Sure,” Mikaylee replied. “I got it. Easy first job.”
"No job is easy," Denis said.
The door behind him opened and his man from the night before walked in, wrapping his arms around him. “Where’d you run off to, boo?” the man asked.
“God damn it,” Mi Yeon said. “Get your fluffer off my fucking ship.”
Their patron went by the name of Ferar Cossova. He was a mogul on Julias, an off-system colony planet currently in rebellion after offing a Galactic Consul. It was in that chaos, Ferar claimed, that Bently stole his cat, ‘Cookie’. “That damned thief and his mongrel crew are nothing more than apes,” he relayed through video message. “The system must know that no one, and I mean no one, defies Ferar Cossova!”
“Jesus, what a clown,” Mikayle said to himself. This Cossova guy grew a moustache thin as a pen-line. He wore a loud purple tie against an olive suit and three rings on each hand, each one adorned with a different gemstone or gold fitting. “An opulent clown,” Mikayle said.
The AI on his ship alerted him of a nearby spacecraft. He put on his helmet and fit himself into his space suit and checked the oxygen. Full. The AI beeped again. The ship was inbound. That made him smile. He let gravity and oxygen leave the ship and ascended, clinging onto cords to keep himself in place. He focused on the picture of Ferar Cossova in front of him, trying to merge his features like that of the bourgeois colonialist. He felt the pen mustachio form and his cheekbones narrow, becoming gaunt and skeletal.
He’d changed his face hundreds of time. Squeezing the cords, he groaned in pain. It was never easy.
The AI pinged a message. A man appeared his ships monitor. He wore a silver flat cap and his beard stuck out like spikes. “Hello? Anyone there? We picked up your emergency signal. Are you alive down there, friend?”
Mikayle pulled himself to the terminal and turned on the camera. “My name is Ferar Cossova,” he said, straining to raise the pitch of his voice. “My engine has failed and-”
“Ferar?” the bearded man asked. “And what brings you all the way out here?”
“Bently?” Mikayle asked in feigned disbelief. “You bastard! Where’s Cookie?”
“Yeah right,” Bently replied. “Come on. This is obviously a trap.”
Shit, Mikayle thought.
“Damn it, you ape. My ship’s malfunctioned and-”
“Why would a rich man like you be flying solo in an old military-grade torpedo?”
“-And where’s your backup? Why are you in territory notorious for pirating and Liberation Front activity?”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Well. My guess is you’re a hologram. So, eat a photon, bourgeois swine.”
Mikayle slammed his fist onto the emergency hatch and grabbed a booster with his other. He launched out to open space and strapped the booster on. He saw the blue light racing towards him like a comet.
Fuck, I’m terrible at this, Mikayle thought. He activated his booster and blasted off from the spaceship, hoping the dagger-like shrapnel would miss him.
Mikayle floated in space, watching the shards of what used to be his ship shoot past him at lethal speeds. He’d been scared at first, even begun to piss himself, a fact he was ashamed about. But after a few minutes, his confidence returned. He figured if a screw or pipe hadn't torn him in half by now, or made a gaping hole in his stomach, he was fine.
There was a gay joke here, he thought to himself. But he didn’t have time to put it together. Bently’s ship, a junker no larger than The Mandrake, floated in front of him. He saw the faces of the pirates through their observation window. They were debating, Mikayle knew, whether to leave him here to die. Mikayle gave short gasps of breath to conserve the oxygen in his tank and to keep Ferar’s face on his own.
Bently’s ship was shaped like a large X. The observation deck was above the center, which now opened up like a mouth. A tractor beam shot out and Mikayle’s body went numb from the tingling electricity. They dragged him inside and he landed with a thud on the metal floor of the loading bay.
Bently let out a hearty laugh as the mouth of the ship closed. His first and second stepped over the grated floor, their boots echoing into the rusty ship. “Well, I’ll be damned. If it isn’t Mr. Ferar himself!
“You fool,” Mikayle said. “You destroyed your own ransom.”
“Oh, did we?” Bently asked. His men held mikaylee down as Bently tugged off the helmet. “Who are you?” he asked, gripping Mikayle’s face in his paw of a hand. “You a face-changer? Eh? You’re no Ferar. He doesn’t even have the balls to leave his own mansion.”
“If you’re going to kill me, do it.” Mikaylee let his face return to normal, cringing at the pain. His blonde hair returned, curly at the ends and his broad nordic nose let him breathe normally again.
“I knew it!” Bently shouted to his men. “Didn’t I say it? Didn’t I tell you? We’ve got a Ansala-Var assassin in our midst. And you thought we’d fall for that little bait of yours? What was the plan? Get on board and wipe us out with a gas attack?”
Mikaylee didn’t reply. He was too angry, that Bently knew exactly what he’d planned. Mi Yeon would laugh at him for this, scold him for losing the personnel boat and make him pay the difference. If he lived.
Bently’s men checked his suit and stripped him down. They broke out in laughter at his baby pink long johns. “He’s got nothing else,” one man said. “Nothing on him. No weapons.” The man cackled, gripping the wall for support.
“Alright,” Bently said, clutching his sides. “He’s no danger to us. Only to himself with those undies!”
“Come on. It’s the twenty-sixth century. I can’t wear what I want to?” Mikayle shouted. “This is ridiculous.”
“Relax,” Bently said. “We’ll drop you off at the next satellite we reach. We’ve got no fight with the Ansala-Var. Or whoever the hell you’re working under.”
“I came for the cat,” Mikayle said. “And your fingers. Gimme those and we can be done.”
“We stole that damn cat because Ferar is an asshole. Do you know what that man did? He hired us to sneak metantoid through rebel zones so he could sell it blackmarket. We almost got our heads blown off more than once in this X. And what’s he do? Pays us half. Do you know where he gets that metantoid from?”
“An asteroid,” Mikayle said.
“He uses drones. Human drones to mine it. It’s all under the rug, with Nexicorp taking their cut. He’s a monster. Nabbing his cat was the least we could do. Why do you think he hired private contractors to get it back and not the Cohortes Urbanae?”
“I can’t leave here empty handed,” mikaylee said. “Where’s Cookie?”
“Take the damn cat,” Bently said. “It's irritating and keeps complaining about the food. But I’m keeping my fingers.” He gave the order to a subordinate who walked off. Bently made small talk with his shipmates and Mikayle looked around, feeling naked in his long johns. The rust was apparent on this inside and he wondered how the ship held together. The sound of footsteps on metal gratings echoed. It smelt like fart and body odor.
“If you don’t mind,” Mikayle said. “Your ship...reaks.” Mikaylee motioned to his space suit. Bently shook his head and tapped a pistol on his hip.
The man returned with the cat. It was a Maine Coon, sitting annoyed in the man’s arms. The fur was long and marbled blue and silver. The tail tapered and curly and the body of the cat was solid. Upon it’s skull was a transparent glass-steel dome, showing the cat’s brain. Blue and green diodes stuck out from the cap, inserted into the brain. “Hello,” Cookie said to Mikayle, speaking with a British accent through a microphone attached to its brain-cap. “Are you my rescuer?”
“Um...yes.” Mikayle said. Cookie lept from the man’s arms. “I’m here on behalf of your master, Ferar Cossova.”
“Oh, how wonderful,” Cookie said. “This place is positively dreadful. And my captors are...uncultured to a frightening degree. When do we depart?”
“Soon as you can,” Bently said. “I don’t want you on here anymore. I’m tired of you complaining about the food. How many times does a man have to tell the damn cat that we don’t have salmon.”
“Well, either you feed me salmon or face the consequences of me knocking over whatever I please.” Cookie crept over to Mikayle and rubbed his neck on his legs. “Monsters, truly.”
“Well. I guess you’re enough,” Mikayle said. “Ferar wanted me to kill them and save you. One’s better than none I guess.”
“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” Cookie said.
The cat suddenly turned towards Bently and his crew, hissing and meowing in anger. Bently and the others began to laugh again, at the angry cat and Mikayle’s underwear. The cat’s eyes turned red and their laughter stopped.
Lazors burst from the cat’s eyes, vaporizing the heads of Bently and his crew.
Cookie purred. Mikayle gulped at the bloody mist and dripping brains.
“No,” Mi Yeong said. “No, god damn it.” She waved her hands in the air. Denis leaned against the wall, arms folded.
“He’s a piece of shit!” Mikayle threw his hands up. “He’s a slaver and a piece of shit.”
“And he’s paid us plenty,” Mi Yeong replied. “Now let’s get off this god forsaken planet.”
“He’s using drones,” Mikayle said. “Slave drones, to mine metantoid on some satellite. And you’re okay with that?”
“I’m absolutely okay with it,” she said. She turned and walked off towards the table and opened the suitcase full of galactic credits. “I’ve got a million and one reasons to be okay with it. You know why? Because it’s not our problem. Getting of this shithole before Cohartaes level these rebels? That is.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because I’m a fucking bounty hunter. I make my money off turning in bodies or tears. One or the other. And the context of the story doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me,” Mikayle said.
“Then maybe you aren’t cut out for this job. Your first hit and you almost failed it and already you’re crying over this rich asshole being a monster. Well guess what? There’s millions of rich assholes out there. One for every star and a thousand slaves for each of them. If we go out there looking for each one we’ll never get anything done except getting ourselves killed. So makeup your mind. In one hour, this bird leaves Julias.”
Mikayle stared at her. Mi Yeong stared back. He was a second away from screaming and storming off.
Denis stepped forward. “That’s fine,” he said. “You stay here, Mi. Sit tight. Me and Mikayle will be back in no time.”
Mikayle turned to Denis, mouth open in awe. The man scratched his bald head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t give me that,” he said to Mikayle. “You’re right. The guy's a fucking asshole.”
Ferar Cossova relaxed in his study in a velvet robe, reading over a classic of Juliasian literature. A robot played Mozart on the violin. Cookie lay near the fireplace, licking his paws.
An attendant entered. “Sir,” he began. “I apologize to disturb you. You have a visitor. He says it’s urgent. He claims to have the space pirate, Bently, in his possession and ready to be delivered to you.”
“Preposterous,” Ferar said. “My Cookie here disposed of that bugger hours ago.”
“Sir,” the attendant replied. “I’ve...seen it. Bently is alive.”
Ferar stood and waved his hand at the attendant. He put on his slippers. Cookie yawned and began to nap. Ferar followed his attendant out and walked down the hallway lined with diamond lights and lush carpets. “Where are they?” he asked.
“I’ve had them put in the courtyard,” the attendant said. “Your guards are waiting at attention.”
The attendant opened the doors to the courtyard. Ferar stood at the doorway, looking out into the courtyard lit up with lights at night. His guards surveyed from the security wall, rifles ready. At the fountain, in chains, was Bently.
“Son of a bitch,” Jerar said. “Son of a bitch.” He paced over to the pirate. “Thought you’d get away? Thought you’d run off with my Cookie? You had the audacity to try and get a ransom from me?! I’m Jerar Cossova, and I-”
Something is wrong, Jerar thought. Bently was smiling. He never smiles.
An explosion rocked the wall where his guards had stood and Jerar fell back from the blast, his ears ringing. He felt hands and looked to see his attendant struggling to help him up from concrete and rubble. Gunshots fired. Jerar darted his eyes for Bently. The attendant pulled him out from the rubble and Jerar tried to stand but pain shot in waves in his leg.
Then he realized his attendant wasn’t helping him move so much as keeping him still. And for the first time that night, he actually took the time to look at the attendant in the face. Jerar realized he’d never seen that man before. He felt other hands on him, and turned to see Bently.
“This is from Bently,” Bently said. “And all your slaves.” Bently’s face changed to another man, a man with blond hair he’d seen that morning.
“How?” Jerar began. But he never finished. He felt the first dagger thrust into his stomach, and the second one from behind. They stabbed him over and over until he felt no more. Jerar Cassova fell to the cobblestone ground in the courtyard of his splendid mansion.
Image Source: James Ensor, Self-Portrait With Masks, 1899
This story is a repost. I admit it, and don't feel bad about that. The original post earned $0.09, and I think this story is quality, and worth more than that amount. Writers on the blockchain should feel comfortable reposting fiction. We only get 7 days payout, which for us is absurd. Writers depend on prolonged sales over time. It takes time to create art, and when we publish to the blockchain, we immediately lose the possibility of publishing our content in more traditional areas. For all these reasons and more, I repost fiction. Have a problem with that? Good for you. Fuck you, pay the writer, cross my hands with silver. There are far more serious problems with Steemit than fiction writers trying to get paid for their original content.
This story was submitted to a contest in the past, @tygertyger's Electric Dreams Contest.
The prompts were:
#1 the story must include Space Pirates
#2 The story must include a talking cat
#3 the story must include the sentence - “he was wearing baby pink long johns”