In general, Rigellians' concept of the afterlife tended to include feasting, fights, multitudes of spectacular hats, devastating insults, copious quantities of alcohol, and towering shoes of truly epic proportions. Acruxian Ice Warriors did not usually feature.
Thus, it was with considerable surprise that Xarnax Splurmfeen awoke—on what he could only assume was the other side—to find the harsh, blue face of Kral Vanar grinning at him.
"Welcome back, Admiral."
"Back?" Splurmfeen blinked, and shook his head. "What? Kwoin...gun. Shot...she shot..." He trailed off into groggy uncertainty.
Smile widening, Vanar administered a hearty slap to the Rigellian's face. The resurrection drug he'd just injected would have soon cleared Splurmfeen's head, but no Ice Warrior worth his salt was about to pass up the excuse for a little wanton violence.
"Focus, Admiral. Yes, you were shot. By me, wearing Councillor Kwoin's spacesuit. You were shot by a very special gun of mine. A gun that killed you."
Splurmfeen's bleary eyes glared at the Ice Warrior. "Doesn't sound very special," he growled, tugging at the restraints binding his arms and legs. While being tied up also featured in many Rigellians' visions of the afterlife, Splurmfeen was beginning to suspect that just possibly, he wasn't actually dead.
"Oh, the killing isn't the part that's special. No, no. The thing that makes this gun special is that it kills you without actually injuring you. It simply stops your physiology stone-dead, but leaves your anatomy completely intact. Which means, with just one little injection, you can be brought back, good as new. Well, maybe not quite as good as new. There's invariably a degree of cell-death, a little tissue damage, possibly some loss of brain-function. Nothing too important—particularly for a Rigellian. Let's face it, brains aren't really your strength, are they? Fortunately, you're hardy little creatures—quite impressively resilient. I expect you'll make a full recovery. Or close enough, anyway."
The glare became more focused, as the drug took hold. "Why?"
"Well, Admiral, that's rather a long story. But it basically comes down to two things. Firstly—money. The Rigellian High Council offered me a very large bounty to kill you. Having just provided them with the biometric scans proving your death, that money is now safely in my Altairan bank account."
Splurmfeen processed this. "And secondly?" he rasped, through gritted teeth.
"Secondly, Admiral? Well, that's a little more complicated. You see, I find myself at something of a career crossroads. Once I kill that cursed Flame Monk—and rest assured, I will kill him—what then? Once the last of those scum are taken care of, how then do I utilise my obviously abundant skills? And what of my people? What is to become of them? Bounty-hunting and body-guarding are all well and good, but they're hardly a fitting purpose for the galaxy's most fearsome fighters. I need something more. The Ice Warriors need something more."
"My heart bleeds," snarled Splurmfeen. "Now, either kill me properly, or get to the point."
"Very well. The point, Xarnax, is that you and I may be in a position to help each other out of our respective predicaments. I imagine, having learned of their treachery, that you'll be anxious exact a little revenge on the High Lords of Rigel?"
The bound hands clenched into fists. "Revenge? I will teach them the meaning of the word. They will live to regret the day they chose to cross Xarnax Splurmfeen. They will live to regret their very existence. Then, they will die."
"That's the spirit, Admiral. And once you eliminate the High Council—with the assistance of my Ice Warriors, of course—you can take your rightful place as the leader of Rigel. And then, the only thing standing between us and control of the galaxy will be..."
The bloodshot eyes narrowed. "The Galactic Conglomerate. Yes, it is past time those arrogant bureaucrats were put to the sword."
"Exactly," exulted Vanar. "Yes, that's exactly what we need. Galaxy-wide war. What more could the finest warriors in history desire? So, we are agreed? First Rigel, then GalCon?"
The Ice Warrior reared back in surprise. "No?"
"No, my friend. First Rigel. Then the baristas. Then the Earth. And then GalCon."
The blue features grinned once again. "Done."
The scarred and blackened vessel was large, as far as those things go, but was rendered microscopically insignificant by the majesty of the nebula's titanic vermillon and emerald tendrils, extending light years into the surrounding space. Illuminated by the light of a thousand new suns, birthed in the stupendous stellar nursery through which it drifted, the station appeared inert and lifeless, but deep within its scorched hull, far below the battered exterior, there was movement. Lit dimly by the dull wattage of emergency lighting, a lone figure drifted.
"Hey—look, guys. I finally got the hang of the floating thing!"
A second, shorter figure drifted by. "Uh—I don't think so. Unless I've somehow gotten the hang of it too, I suspect the artificial gravity might be playing up."
The first figure looked crestfallen. "Bummer. I thought I'd finally nailed it."
"Apologies, guys." A voiced emerged from the PA system. "The jump was a little rougher than I was expecting—a few systems got knocked around. Give me a second."
Moments later, the two floating figures became simply figures, as both abruptly plunged to the floor, landing with a couple of undignified thumps. Groaning, the shorter one raised his head. "I could really do with a coffee."
"Okay, gravity sorted," continued the voice. "Now, on to the next problem."
"Which is?" asked the taller figure, sitting up.
"Working out where we are."
"Why not just scan the surrounding stars, and consult your galactic maps?" suggested the shorter figure.
"Well, duh," scoffed the voice. "Obviously, that was the first thing I did."
The two figures looked at each other. "And?" they asked, in unison.
"Well..." hedged the voice, "let's just say this—Dorothy, I've a feeling we're not in Toto anymore."
A/N: Well people, that wraps up The Four Baristas of the Apocalypse—phew. Thank you for making it to the end, and I hope you enjoyed the ride. For those hardy souls who haven't quite had enough, the story continues in The Four Baristas: Double Shot. Hope to see you there.
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The Four Baristas of the ApocalypseScience Fiction
In the Earth's darkest hour, unexpected heroes are stirring. Stirring their coffee, that is. When aliens invade, four baristas on a camping trip hardly seem the most likely saviours of the world. But thanks to a hologram with no fashion sense, some...