The Ballad of Omega Brown:
Omega and the Tellerian Shapeshifter
by Tom Vaine
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
They all piled back out the door. Outside, the crowd had dispersed upon seeing a monster ripping its way out of their medlab. The few stragglers that remained pointed off in the direction of the town gate.
“It’s gone!” the Keeper cried. “It’s gone, and you’ve lost it. It changed shape! It changed shape, and now it’s gone, and we’ll...” He stopped his panicked shouting as Hoonra’s impressive bulk overshadowed him.
Omega stood beside her. “This’ll be hard enough without stirring everyone into a frenzy. Keep calm. Hoonra, did you get the tracker good and struck it in its hide.”
The Karackian nodded, her stormy gaze never leaving the Keeper. “Good. Then we’re off. Either we’ll be back at sunrise, or it will.”
* * *
Despite everything it had been through, the shapeshifter still had the strength to haul Omega up and into the air. He dangled above it, feet kicking feebly as he stared down into a mouth full of teeth which he could swear were getting bigger as he hung there.
He could feel the claws digging into his shoulders, could feel the hot stink of its breath washing over his face. It was still panting, but now Omega could detect another sound beneath the heavy breaths. It was a kind of deep growl, like the engines of a freight car as it came barreling towards the listener. A sound made deep in the back of its throat.
No. Not the back of its throat. As Omega dangled within centimeters of his death, he found that he couldn’t help but smile. “You know, she’s normally dead quiet. You must have really ticked her off, big guy.”
Hoonra’s tackle came with the force of a hurricane, and once again Omega found himself flying. The trip wasn’t as rough this time and, when he could orient himself, Omega saw where the real force had been directed.
Hoonra had knocked the shapeshifter several meters across the junk yard. As it stood, she was already circling in again.
In all the time that Omega would know her, what he saw next would never leave his mind.
Hoonra moved with a fluid grace that Omega had not yet seen. She exuded focus and controlled malice. Her sword weaved in the air before her, her tail lashing back and forth in anticipation. The creature seemed confused by her display.
Calmly, she reached out a hand, beckoning the shifter to her.
The thing screeched and charged, the last reserves of its energy spent in propelling it with sudden and incredible speed. The shapeshifter bore down on Hoonra who stood now totally still, blade akimbo, waiting.
It seemed to Omega that the creature had already impacted with Hoonra when he saw her move, or rather caught up with the knowledge that she had done so. In one instant, she had been a statue in the monster’s claws. In the next, she seemed to have slid fully through it, moving past its flashing talons like a dance tutor sidestepping her clumsy pupil.
She rounded, dropping her sword as she did so, slicing the beast’s arm from its body at the shoulder. The cut was so clean that the monster didn’t even lose speed. As it thundered past, Hoonra stepped into her own momentum and followed with a full bodied, overhead arc. Her blade caught the creature at the crown of its head, tearing it like neatly creased paper. The force of the blow was so much that the sword ground into the waste beneath, leaving Hoonra to pull it up.
Finally, she stood over the halved corpse, looking down, breathing heavily and leaning on her weapon. Omega took a tentative step forward, and Hoonra’s head snapped up as if she’d forgotten him.
She stared for a second longer, coming back to herself before she spoke. Finally she nodded. “Walloped,” she said, catching her breath.
“Yeah,” replied Omega, “walloped.”
* * *
When the sun rose, Omega and Hoonra walked back through the village gates. Between them trussed up in old wire, they dragged what little Hoonra had left of the shapeshifter.
Omega turned to her. “You know, you talk a lot about honour and fair combat. Seems to me like tackling your enemy sidelong without any warning is pretty dishonourable.”
“It had warning. I wasn’t silent. Besides, much of my honour rests in keeping you safe. I doubt it would have dropped you had I taken the time to ask. I am, after all, your bodyguard.”
“Sure, well, thanks for remembering. Joking aside, thanks as well for finding my sidearm.” He patted the ray gun on his hip. “It’s sort of funny, don’t you think, that it spoke to us in the medlab? I mean, not once all night did it say anything else.”
“Were you hoping for some witty banter?” Omega rolled his eyes.
“Might have been more fun than this conversation has turned out to be. Seriously though, it is odd, isn’t it? And what a strange thing to say.”
“I suppose. It’s not uncommon for prey to say any number of odd things while under the pressure of the hunt.” Hoonra stopped, reading his body language. “Something is bothering you.”
“Yes, I guess it is. It’s just, I’ve never seen anything like it before. All that stuff it could do with its body. And to call Chaos down on us before trying to tear us limb from limb...”
“You act as though it were some sort of Void-walker. I didn’t know you had any religious leanings, Omega.”
“You know I don’t. Still...” Omega removed his helmet and scratched his head, but the words he sought for weren’t there. “I don’t know how to describe it. Just gave me the creeps, I suppose.”
“Karackian’s don’t have creeps.”
Omega laughed. “Well, they had one, but I took her along with me. Come on. The locals are waking up.” Omega and Hoonra, hefted their load once more, turning past curious onlookers to return their catch to Ennis at the village square.
* * *
In the end, the repairs didn’t take nearly as long as Omega had thought. Despite his unlikeable nature, Ennis had been right about the villagers’ capabilities. Within a week and a half, the many hands of the town came together. The parts they used were old, seemingly archaic in some cases, and Omega was sure his ship would not pass any kind of formal health and safety inspection. That said, he was relatively sure the last iteration wouldn’t have, either. After checking all of the major systems and most of the minor ones, Omega was prepared to declare the Buccaneer II ready for flight.
Leaving the atmosphere was tricky, but without the threat of imminent death to distract him, Omega navigated the storm cells in the upper atmosphere without great difficulty. Another week passed, and he and Hoonra were back in known space, docked at a hyperlane trade hub, happily waving good-bye to those villagers who had been lucky enough to be considered among the Chosen.
For most of the trip, Ennis ignored them. He seemed content to tend to the Dreamer and boss the other Chosen around at his own discretion. In the end, he stood before Omega on the Buccaneer’s ramp while the rest of the flock took care of their belongings. For just a moment he seemed about to say something. Instead, he nodded, put back on his customary scowl, and moved down the ramp to harass the members of the congregation responsible for moving the Dreamer’s tank.
Omega watched him go and shot Hoonra a sidelong glance. “You know, for a second there, I thought he was going to be civil.”
“Don’t be too hard on him.” The voice that answered was decidedly not Hoonra’s. “The Keeper is the most capable of my disciples, for now. Or was, until I met you.”
Omega found that the spaceport had gone suddenly quiet. Quiet and empty, save for a little girl with mismatched eyes standing before him. He stepped back reflexively.
“It is incredibly unsettling when you do that. And I’m not one of your disciples. You got a free ride, and I got my ship back. End of story.”
The girl gave a coy smile. “No, Omega. Not the end. Not by a long stretch. Not with the minions of Chaos on the loose. Remember your service to me, Omega Brown, when we meet again.”
“If we ever meet again, the first thing I’ll do is...” He stopped. The girl was gone, the spaceport was bustling.
Hoonra regarded him with a look that bordered on alarm. “You were doing it again.”
“I told you, that kid can get inside your head.”
“Not my head.”
“No, of course not. Nothing to work with. Come on.” He stepped back into the ship, keying the ramp closed as he did so. “It’s time to get ourselves back on track.”
We’ve reached the end, oh Constant Reader, but have no fear! Omega and Hoonra will return for more tales daring-do in the next episode of The Ballad of Omega Brown: Omega and the Sorcerer of Space Station 9.
Copyright © 2020 by Tom Vaine