Inmates poured out of the giant hole into the forsaken landscape of the asteroid. They’d be dead inside seven days, but even death seemed better than continued service in the gulag. Colonel Kilmer and two of his men, each armed with a sniper rifle, stood a safe distance away.
“Prepare to fire,” Kilmer shouted.
He called off targets from the tablet in his hand. His men picked off those targets from the ID tags on the fronts of their neon-yellow jumpsuits.
Each inmate they hit vanished.
After the second or third inmate disappeared, the rest stampeded.
“Fishmonger, A956 and Wisk, Q785.”
The man aiming for Fishmonger fired.
“You missed him, Corporal,” Colonel Kilmer said.
The man fired again and this time Fishmonger disappeared. “Sorry, Sir,” he said. “The other guy moved in the way as I fired.”
“Fine, we’ll sort it out on the ship.”
“Sir,” the other man said, “these inmates are just going to die.”
Kilmer smiled. “Sure, Sergeant. Have fun. Switch to bullets.” Kilmer touched a few buttons on his tablet and disappeared the same way the inmates had. The sergeant and the corporal smiled at one another, then reloaded their weapons and fired.
Colonel Kilmer entered the room amidst yelling, name-calling, and general anarchy. Four men and two women in bright, neon-yellow prison jumpsuits were restrained around the room. All fought their restraints and shouted except one. The yelling and name-calling only got louder as Kilmer entered the room and became its focus.
Kilmer stopped in the center and tapped a few buttons on his tablet. All six former inmates felt a jolt of electricity. After the screams died down, Kilmer spoke. “Welcome. You are now all employees of the Colonial Federation.”
In unison five of the six former inmates spat. Though most tried to spit on Kilmer, none reached him.
“I thought you might feel that way.” He dialed up the voltage and zapped them all again. “Your restraints have been fitted with a behavior suppression system. When I press this button,” he tapped it again, “you all feel excruciating pain.” He turned to one of the criminals, a burly man a half-foot taller than everyone else and three times as strong. “Yes, even you, Mr. Wisk. You may have dulled your sense of pain through steroids and other modifications, but you’ll be glad to know we’ve found a way around that.”
The former inmates breathed heavily and pulled on their restraints.
“Ok,” Kilmer continued. “Now that you all have a reason to listen to me, lets discuss a few more ground rules. Number one: I don’t have to hit this button–if any of you tries to attack me or any of my soldiers, the restraints are programmed to shock you automatically. Fight through the pain, you think? Well, each time you do it, it’ll get worse. Eventually it’ll kill you, or leave you brain-dead. The techs were a little unclear on the final outcome. Either way, you’ll be useless to me and I’ll jettison you into space.
“Now, each of you was recruited for some special talent you possess. Mr. Wisk here is as dumb as an Ox, but as strong as ten of them.”
A crazy look of pride entered Wisk’s eye. “Twenty!” he interjected.
“Clearly,” Kilmer said. He gestured to the next former inmate, a slender man whose hair was whispy and thin. His skin was mottled with scar tissue. He had no eyebrows. “Mr. Filigree here is a pyromaniac, calls himself ‘Pyrite.’ He’s an explosives expert and generally annoying individual. He also possesses pyrokinesis. Bought, I’m certain, through the most legal means. Those bags on his hands are lined with asbestos. I hope that you don’t want to have kids, for so many reasons.
“Ms. Samantha Gerard will be your commander in the field.” Kilmer indicated a dark-skinned girl in her late teens. Her hair was cut close to the scalp for efficiency. She had a dangly earring in her left ear and a bad attitude. “An expert in logistics and engineering, she’s already performed more bank robberies in her teens than all the rest of you put together.”
“I ain’t following no twelve-year-old girl,” Wisk yelled.
“Least I ain’t stupid,” Gerard retorted.
“Ms. Melodious Kleeple, also known as Masquerade–“
“Just Masq,” she snarled.
“–is our disguise and infiltration expert,” Kilmer continued, unperturbed. “I’d hardly believe she was a woman if I hadn’t seen the scans myself.”
“Scans can be faked,” Masq said. She was currently a light skinned blond woman, who seemed like she could wrap any man around her finger.
“And Anthony Fishmonger, half-man, half-machine. He’s replaced half his organs with cybernetic versions. Former biotech professor on Ashkelon, if the rumors are to be believed.”
“They’re not,” said Fishmonger. Most of his modifications were internal, except for his right eye which had been replaced by a disconcerting camera and an orange light.
The guy who’d been quiet the whole time coughed. All eyes turned to him and his wan smile. He was scruffy, thin, tall, and looked very out of place, like an accountant in a biker bar.
“Who’s this loser?” Gerard asked.
“Yes, who are you?” Kilmer asked.
Kilmer turned to one of the bodyguards who’d entered with him. “Kill this nobody.” The body guard lifted his weapon.
“Wait! Wait! My name is Kringle.”
“Kringle? Like Santa Claus?” Wisk asked.
“Okay, kill Kringle,” Kilmer said.
“Wait, okay, that was a bad lie, and I really shouldn’t lie to guys with guns. My name is Hero.”
“Seriously?” Pyrite asked.
“‘Hero?’” Masq asked with derision. “No wonder you said, ‘Kringle.’”
“What are you in for?” Fishmonger asked.
“Saving the day?” asked Pyrite.
“No, it was, uh…murder,” Hero said.
“Cyneheard Berhtoald Hero,” Kilmer said, “Breaking and entering.”
“Yeah, that’s how it started,” Hero said.
“Cyneheard?” Fishmonger asked. “What a stupid name.”
“It’s my Mom’s, okay?” Hero said. “My friends call me Cy.”
“Named after your Mom?” Pyrite asked, gasping with laughter.
“Apparently, elderly Mrs. Finchin, who’s very much alive by the way, decided to press charges.” Kilmer said.
“What landed you in the max system? What are you, a Moorvat or something?”
Cy looked down. “No.”
Kilmer, who was still fiddling with his tablet, stopped laughing. He turned to the man next to him. “Double his restraints. I want him on camera every second.”
Kilmer and his men rushed out of the room.
“What’s a Moorvat?” Ox asked.
“The soldiers, you idiot,” said Gerard.
“A genetically engineered killing machine,” said Masq.
“Maybe first gens,” said Cy. “But the second generation–“
“They reproduce?” Pyrite asked. “Gross.”
“They’re still human,” said Cy.
“Not likely,” Fishmonger said.
“You are a Moorvat,” Masq said. “Aren’t you?”
“Well, yes,” said Cy, “a second gen.”
“So you, like, turn red and get laser-proof when you’re angry?”
“Not exactly. Anger’s often a trigger, but–“
“Good thing stupid’s not a trigger,” Pyrite said.
Everyone laughed except Cy. “Yeah.”
The night continued in much the same vein. Eventually Kilmer killed the lights in the room, and they all took that as their cue to sleep.
The lights blazed on as smoke, noise, and commotion filled the room.