Chapter 1: Comms
Chopper sat in the hotel’s lobby. He lounged in a dusty chair, feet up on a table made from something that resembled a crocodile—something big and mean and full of violence.
Something like him.
And then that made Chopper think of the fate of that big, mean, violent beast and what it might mean for him. Sure, he wouldn’t be a table, but dead was dead. And death seemed to get closer every day that he lived through.
Which, sure, was technically true, but that’s not what he meant.
Tall, bulky with hard muscle, sporting a scarred visage, and shaved head, Chopper had no company in the lobby. The dead cities were far away, and they had been that way for two standard decades, if what Chopper had read were true. But this place, this small town with its big hotel, it hadn’t seen the worst that the people of a dying planet could offer. Those big cities probably had, but this planet’s death and been long and loud. This place had been abandoned long before the chaos and anger that fear too often brought arrived. This place hadn’t burned.
But it also didn’t look like anyone had bothered to give it a sweep in the last twenty years either.
Chopper had wandered through the town that had been known as Morotos, and had been amazed at how quickly nature had taken back its own. Sure, structures still stood, he could tell what had been buildings and where roads had been, but those were frames on which plants grew. And rather than dead, the town was alive, just with animals rather than people. Chopper had to admit, he preferred it that way.
The hotel must have been sealed. The plants that grew along its exterior had not come inside, and while the parts that Chopper had seen offered only dust and decay, he had met no interlopers—none of the small, silver-furred creatures he thought of as foxes, or the trilling winged animals that had no feathers but had long, trailing tendrils when they flew.
Chopper had hoped for more. He had thought that he had found the sanctuary of an old friend, and he had come to warn them. If his sources had learned of this place, then lots of other people would have as well. This wouldn’t be a sanctuary, it would be a target.
While Chopper might not have been the sharpest or quickest when it came to puzzles, even he realized that those clues could have been planted. They would have been planted to draw those hunting his friend, meaning that even if they weren’t there, other clues might be, some other way to make sure they were okay.
Chopper leaned back in the chair and flexed his neck. He had already waited hours and was ready to wait hours longer. He could be patient. He didn’t like to be, but he could.
When the stun grenade crashed through a window high up on the front wall, it didn’t surprise Chopper. Still, he felt he should play along, so even though the flash and the bang had not disoriented him, Chopper put an arm before his eyes as though trying to protect them.
With some irritation, he saw that only seven hunters poured into the spacious lobby. Chopper frowned slightly. Who sent seven hunters to capture him? A dozen, at minimum. Maybe there were others standing by, maybe with some heavy weapons, and that these were just the shock troops, something to soften him up before the real game started. He hoped so. HE had a reputation to uphold.
Well, he had once had a reputation. Maybe this was part of the price for staying so quiet for so long.
“You didn’t even knock.” He didn’t move, save to raise an eyebrow. “That’s rude.”