“What if, captain, we uh, raced you for it?” Talon ruffled his shoulder feathers.

Keona cocked an eyebrow at him, a small, open mouthed smile spreading. “Oh yeah?” she leaned back on the rock, her tail twitching.

“Yeah. If me crosses that salt line crack by the full sundown shadow, you give me…,” the bird-boy trailed off, thinking hard. His equally grey-blue plumaged brother snapped his beak closed, smirking. “What does captain have that we want?” Fang chuckled, preening some sand out from his neck feathers.

Keona pursed her lips together in full smirk and crossed her arms behind her head, waiting for Talon’s ultimatum.

“The pleasure of winning?” Leon offered, chuckling. “In a fair fight?” MARS added, tittering.

“Oi, Bandit King, what would you race her for?” Fang threw the question at the grey-furred wolf-man lounging off one of the higher tiers just out of the reach of the sun. His long tail hung down, almost brushing the top of Fang’s head feathers. Curious, he flopped down to hang off the ledge and stare at Keona, contemplating.

“The pride of besting a god,” he grinned, prompting Keona to sneer.

“Why do you keep calling her a god?” Royan shifted forward, eager to join in on the conversation.

“Well, it wouldn’t do well to call her akuma like the rest of the town, now would it?” the grey one grinned.

“Speaking of which, where did Luc go?” MARS straightened from Leon’s embrace. “He and Jai went to hunt GraniteTeeth at the rock canyon. Is it me or have their numbers increased?” Keona looked up to him.

“They have. In the time you’ve been gone, the metal beasts have grown bolder, crossing the canyons to get to the salt pillars,” the grey one mulled.

“Where do they even come from?” Leon adjusted his climate suit once more. The sun was preparing to set, sending new waves of humidity across the desert.

“That’s what we’re gonna find out,” Keona straightened up, seeing a blast of sand explode in the near distance. Two pinpricks leaving behind a torrent of sand trails behind them raced towards the rocky outcrops, with not one, but two larger figures bounding behind them.

Luc and Jai sped away from the rampaging machine behind them, laughing maniacally as they baited the beasts to fling themselves onto each rocky plate they passed. The hoverbikes the grey wolf-man lent to them worked wonderfully, despite the two being the ones he used the most for hauling scrap.

The GraniteTeeth roared and stumbled, their clawed feet not made for the soft shifting sands so far away from the canyon fissures. But their laser targeting was still functioning, and one time too many their metallic jaws snapped too close to the exhaust pipes and the pirates’ ankles.

Luc spun around and torqued the bike into reverse, facing the mad machines head on. Taking causal aim, he fired a harpoon into the closest beast’s eye, sending electric sparks and smoke busting out of its skull. The GraniteTooth went down like a bucket of bolts, its head fizzing and crackling. Jai whooped as Luc laughed, feeling the thrill of the chase rattle his insides.

The remaining GraniteTooth pounced in between them, making Luc skid as he struggled to regain his path. “Your turn!” he called out cheerily. Jai nodded and maneuvered to race alongside the creature as Luc baited it forward.

Brandishing a larger harpoon gun of his own, Jai’s two lower arms took charge of piloting the bike, while his two upper arms trained the javelin onto the beast’s torso chamber. Mechanical bits and parts whirred and sparked, the machine’s heart glowing electric green. Jai gritted his teeth, vying closer as he could to the bounding metal beast without distracting it from Luc’s weaving.

The machine creaked and snapped like any other high-density spark-core barreller would; but Jai could tell it’s make was different, unlike any other manufacture he had ever seen. The organic architecture of this machine was fluid, its cogs and pistons’ functionality beautiful. Jai found himself almost hesitant to fire the double barrel plain ridged harpoon tips into that amber chamber. But the only way he knew how study the machine further was to take it down, so he fired.

The beast collapsed within mere inches of falling on top of Luc. He pulled away just in time, swerving to a halt to look back at their kills. Jai pulled up beside him, sheathing his gun. “You okay?” Luc checked, having noticed his hesitation.

Jai adjusted his goggles, knocking some sand out. “Yeah. Just… never seen anything like it,” he sagged forward, the heat of the day finally sinking into his system. “I hear you. This planet has a knack for that,” Luc’s focus turned to the rocky crags, where the unmistakable crowd of the Halcyon gathered in one of the nesting holes. And among them, sparkling with a curious, almost mirage-like glint, was his beloved bougie.

The heat of the desert could not compare with the still raging fire of his anger at how her village had treated her. Her demeanor had not changed since they crash landed here; but he worried at even that. Was she putting on a front, playing Captain all the more ferociously? Or was he just being too resentful?

Snorting out some sand that had flown into his nose, he motioned for Jai to begin rounding up the now-defunct scavenger machines. The haul took a little longer than expected, the GraniteTeeth being a little heavier than the war machines Jai and Luc were used to scrapping. It was high twilight by the time they got back to the caves, lugging the metal carcasses behind them with primitive chains.

“LUC! What would you race Captain for?” Talon practically jumped down onto him as he pulled in. Luc hummed in tune to the engine dying down in thought. The sight of Keona jumping down from the ledge brought a smile to his face despite his ongoing concerns; her silvery amber hair and tail flaring out above her. Her large wolf-ears twitched as she landed, making his insides twitch as well.

“I’d race… for her heart,” he grinned. “I’m pretty sure that’s already unnecessary, sweetie,” she grinned back. She leaned across the front of the hoverbike, prompting Luc to lean forward over the handlebars to kiss her.

“EUGH. I’m asking the wrong person,” Talon shuddered. Keona stuck her tongue out at him, while Luc gleamed at them.

“JAI~. What would you race Captain for??” Talon zipped in between the four-armed mechanic and his prize. Jai frowned. “She’s captain. Why would I race her for anything?” he nudged Talon aside to focus on the GraniteTooth. Frustrated, Talon hopped back up to the living ledge, where the grey one busied himself setting up some dinner with Leon, Fang and Royan.

“You can’t be much older than me?” the grey one laughed over a simple yet wonderful meal of fowl cuts prepared by Leon with what was on hand. Keona shrugged. “Never had an official naming day, so I wouldn’t know,” she scratched behind her ear. “Well, if we counted from the day you saved my life from the GraniteTooth, we’d be 13 cycles since. Assuming we were give or take the same age at then, you’d be 23 cycles old now,” the grey one rapped his fingers in counting.

“So you were about 10 when you took that thing down with your bare hands?” Royan looked down at the metal monster again, noting its rather humongous build. Keona and the grey one shrugged a ‘yea?’. “A god, and nothing else,” the grey one smiled serenely. Keona smiled back embarrassed, unused to the admiration.

A smaller grey wolf girl trotted in slowly, carrying a huge pot of fire crystals. “Ah Mirana!” the grey wolf bandit king greeted merrily. She froze, her eyes going wide at the band of pirates than now crowded the king’s chambers. But none did she keep her eyes on, than the akuma sitting so close to the perching hole. Keona remained unnerved, bowing politely. Luc watched her carefully, trying not to appear as hostile as possible.

Keona pulled at his earring, drawing his attention to her. Her emerald eyes and her grip around his fingers pleaded with him to be calm, to remember that such reaction to her was normal, and that she held no ill will against that. Not anymore. Luc understood this, the way he communicated with her. Her touch said it all.

Mirana topped up the lamps with the fire crystals, keeping quiet and to herself all the while. The Bandit King danced around her, happily showing his betrothed off to his new friends.

“How’s it going?” Keona called to Jai, who remained down at the unloading cavern with MARS, dismantling the machines slowly.

“AMAZING! These machines have a regional adapter for crystal combustion cores! They actually adapt to the raw material they’re fueled with!” Jai held up a still-intact amber processing capsule, to which MARS was figuring out how to hook it up to a torque for a demonstration.

“That’s cool. And a little worrying,” Luc mumbled, imagining an engine like that in every ship in the outer galaxy. Who knows how many more planets will be stripped bare once the fuel limitation has been obsoleted? He turned to Keona, who had a funny sort of frown on her face.

Letting go of Luc’s hand, she leapt down to Jai and MARS and picked up the amber processor.”Got that thing hooked up right?” she gestured to the torque engine. MARS scanned it once more with her bionic eyes. Tightening a bracket, she stood up and gave Keona a metallic thumbs up.

Keona aimed the amber capsule towards the entrance of the cave and sucked in a breath, slipping her hand into it. Sensing some danger, Jai nudged the torque further out and away from the machines and crates. Once he was clear, Keona focused into igniting a finger.

The engine spluttered and began to hum. Her eyes widened with the increasing pitch, and she looked to Jai. He stared slack jawed at the amber unit, as did MARS, only she still with immediately recording the emission process into her own android database.

Stepping up a notch, she engulfed her whole fist in her internal fire. The engine hummed even louder, its exhausts emitting BLUE sparkles. Their awe was short lived, however, as the torque suddenly exploded, flying off out of the cave and shattering into a sand dune outside.

The commotion drew everyone’s attention to the main cavern, and soon all the bandit settlers careened from their ledges to see what had happened.

“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” Luc jumped down, followed by the crew and the bandit king. Keona slowly turned to face them, her hair blown back and ashed by the explosion, her mouth slackjawed. “Ho-ly shit,” Jai pushed his goggles up. Black rings framed his eyes.

“Sweetheart?!” Leon rushed over, seeing MARS flat on the ground. Her bionic almond shaped eyes were flashing hues of green and yellow, indicating some sort of internal kerfuffle. The android shook her head for a bit and sprung up to her feet. “Captain! WOW!” she exclaimed.


Writer’s note: nice solid long piece when I just let things run, but in the grand scheme of things, I see I have made a plot hole for the larger picture :S Cripes, gotta work on the world building even more now. 😛