Chapter 1



"Last Name?"

"Gage." I look at the woman behind the shatterproof glass staring at me with a look of contempt in her eyes. They may be hidden by librarian sized glasses, but I still see it.

"Last Name, Miss?"

"Gage." She's looking pissed off right about now. I wish she'd get over herself. I've never understood how people in the lowest of jobs get off by giving other beings a hard time.

"Miss, in order to process your request to dock I must have your full legal name. If you do not cooperate I shall I have to decline your request for docking privileges." Of course my problem is that I don't have a planet of residence, so even if I gave her my full name I wouldn't come up on the computer. Every person in the known universe is supposed to be registered when they are born, artificial not, to a specific planet. Then as that person ages they can change their planet of residence as they mover their permanent address.

She readjusts her glasses and taps her index finger on the counter. She's aggrevated. I lean back in my seat, I can't help but smile at absurdness of it all.

"Maim, I am here on business with…," Blast! where did I put that paper? I look over the control panel, bits of paper taped here and there between lights and switches. Ah! There it is, "…Mr. Coy Rupert. I think you will find that I need immediate docking permission or I shall be late. I'm sure that Mr. Rupert will be very disdain if he finds that his parking advisor denied permission to his eleven thirty appointment." I have no idea what I'm saying, I just hope that it works.

The parking advisor looks a bit more upset, I can see her shoulders tense through the glass. Apparently she knows Mr. Coy Rupert. I've never met him.

"Docking Request has been Approved." Dave purrs to me. I don't mind the female voices that most guys program into their ships. But it bothers me that all computer automated voices are female. So, instinctively, I made mine a man's. One of the few. I named him Dave if you hadn't guessed. I'm rather found of Dave.

Me and Dave have been together for almost two years now. It took me a long time to get the money together for him, but he was worth it. He's a bit older, maybe not as nice as the newer ships, but he holds his own rather well. I'm his second owner. The first died of some kind of cancer and the widow he left behind gave Dave to me for a rather reasonable price to take the ship away. Too many memories for her. But for her, I named the ship after her late husband. Hence, Dave.

As a woman I'm not your typical one woman crew floating about in space. But it's the only way I can survive. Years ago I ran with a small group of bounty hunters that taught me the ropes of flying low and making deals. But all good things come to an end. That ended with them leaving me half dead on a cemetery planet in a system that's isolated from heavy traffic.

The screen shuts off as the parking advisor moves on in her life to bigger and better things. By the end of the day she'll have forgotten all about me and will be more worried about why her cat keep throwing up on her couch.

Cylindor. This planet is always a bit colder than I prefer, so I grab my jacket. Punching a few keys on the control panel the ship depressurizes and the door lock opens with a clunk that makes Dave shudder.

As soon as I step out onto the concrete I'm happy I grabbed my jacket. The docking station is busy, engines humming to life and chocking to death. Why this planet insists on having all docking stations below the surface of the planet is beyond me. It always makes it louder than it should be. Not to mention colder. If there is one thing the female species is cursed with, it's higher natural body fat percentage but always being cold. I've never figured that one out.

My thoughts are interrupted when I hit the elevator. A group of Bounty Hunters have a perfectly square box they are cheering and laughing over. Square boxes and happy bounty hunters usually means there is a head in the box. I could be wrong though, it could be a foot. Maybe a hand.

"Hey sugar, wanna party tonight?" One breaths on me. His breath is putrid. One would think after the invention of mouthwash and breath mints, bad breath would no longer be an issue. But obviously this man missed his Brush and Floss class in kindergarten. He must gum his food to death…

"No darling, I'm here on business not pleasure. Maybe next cycle." I purr back. I hate Bounty Hunters, wretched vial, disgu…"

"Why Dev, How good to see you again." Oh god, no. Please no. I turn my body slowly to my left, and Yep. There he is.

"Aiden. Seeing you reminds me there must be a God." It takes all of my energy not to kill him where he stands. If this was any other planet I would. But this planet is the capital of the busiest system known.

"Missed me that much?" Poor, pathetic Aiden. Just as dumb as always.

"I know, because seeing you is punishment for all the wrong I have done in my life. I must have died and gone to hell." I glare at him. I hate him. I do.

He smirks back at me. Any other female would have swooned at the site of him. I know better than that though. I'm better than that. Dark brown hair, clear hazel eyes, and a strong face aren't enough to swoon me. Not even his athletic build. Not in a million years. Never. Alright, there was that one time, but now isn't the time to be wondering down memory lane.

"Still the same aren't you Dev."

"I prefer Gage." When the hell is the elevator going to arrive? Why do they always take this long….

"On your way to see Rupert, Dev?" Oh, he thinks he's so funny. My brain doesn't even process the fact that he knows why I'm here. I feel the other guys stare at me. I don't think I'll ever get used to the relentless stares of men. They always manage to violate me.

"Gage," I correct again, "and none of your business."

"I thought we had more history together than to allow such animosity between us."

"You used a word longer than two syllables. You should make a recording so your mother's refrigerator can play it for her. She really would be proud."

"Mom died last year Dev." Damn. I really did like her. I wonder how such an angelic being such as herself raised such a piece of shit like Aiden.

"You're not even going to offer any sympathy? And I thought you liked my mom." He's trying to start a quarrel with me. I hate it when people just try to set me off. I don't like to admit it, but it is rather easy to do.

"Death is not an ending, just a long "see ya later." I correct him.

"Ah still in that phase are we?"

" I am still in that phase. I will always be in that phase. There isn't a we in there. Nor was there ever a we, or will there ever be a we." His friends can't help but chuckle. He glances over at them slightly embarrassed. I smirk to myself.

The Elevator Dings. Thank God it's here. The doors open with a slight hiss reveling a full load already. I smile.

"Looks like there's room for one. See ya later guys." I squeeze into the mass of beings and the doors close behind me before he can even reply. I feel instantly relaxed. Aiden. What an asshole.

The elevator is hot and stuffy. I think there are at least three or four different species crammed in here. There must be a Gynsche because I see a puddle of clear slim starting to form on the bottom. I keep myself looking forward - Gynshes always have a way of making my stomach curl. I think it's the way they chew the same piece of cud with all three mouths, transferring it between mouths with a nasty slimy tongue which drips on the floor leaving a slick substance. By the look of the puddle creeping towards my feet, I'd say he's been in here a few minutes already.

Glancing over my shoulder I see it. It notices me staring and gives a grunt to acknowledge my presence. I must have distracted it because as it grunted at me half the of the wad of cud fell to the ground with a sickening splat. I smile at him. Their tempers are rather short, and now is not the time to start a fight.

I look up at the floor monitor over the door. Only twenty six levels to go before I hit the surface. Then fresh air. Hmm, it's been almost a year sense I've breathed air from an actual planet and not the fabricated oxygen Dave produces for me. I feel a twinge of excitement coming on.

Finally the elevator comes to an abrupt halt. I think the Gynsche touched me because I feel a bit of slim trickling down the back of my right arm. Eew, they really give me the creeps.

"Welcome to Cylindor surface level 1. Enjoy your stay!" An overly perky computerized female voice squawks at us. I don't think many beings actually pay attention to those voices, but I always seem to. I feel like I'm being involuntarily ejected from the elevator when the doors open. The fresh breeze hits me and the contents of the elevator come thundering out. I let the crowd disperse around me as I casually ambulate towards the offices of Mr. Rupert wiping the slime off the back of my arm.

Cylindor is one of those "Tree Hugger" planets I suppose you could say. Each city is domed off to make sure that the pollution levels stay in check. In order to get your vehicle down into the docking stations below the surface you have to navigate through tunnels that are built between the domes and into the ground so that the emissions from the ships don't hurt their atmosphere. It's really a pain.

Everyone walks everywhere on this planet. Or they have a non-emission type vehicle to help them around. Usually a user powered vehicle like a bike or skateboard, and the occasional animal for longer distances. There are, of course, vehicles that produce non harming emissions, that in some cases have helped certain environments. But Cylindor keeps their policies they way they do because they keep in tradition with their ancestors. In between the domned cities the planet is dead. History says it was made that way by the ancient inhabitants of the planet because they relied so heavily on machines that eventually destroyed the planet. So know anything even remotely harmful or unnatural is banned.

I prefer walking anyways. It helps me clean my mind after being cooped up in a ship for so long. I love Dave, I do. But sometimes a girl just needs to stretch her legs and go for a walk on solid ground. Usually I like to get where I'm going as fast as I can, but I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach today. I've never been good with social interactions. Even more so I have a bit of a space walk going on, where your legs and body have a hard time adjusting from artificial gravity to the real thing. I'm a bit shaky and after a few minutes they will get used to it.

After a few blocks of navigating through the crowded streets I find myself standing in front of Mr. Rupert's building. Apparently he doesn't know the meaning of modest. This is easily the tallest building here. It also appears to be made out of some dark precious metal found only God knows where. It catches the sunlight but doesn't reflect into your eyes enough to make you squint. Just enough to step back and think, "Whoa."

I've never met Mr. Rupert. He contacted me half way across this system a few months ago. Said he had a job for me that would pay well. I tried to get more information out of him, but he was evasive. Normally I don't respond to such crudely worded job opportunities, but I need the extra cash right now. Dave is in some need of repairs. I did check up on this guy on the way over. The biographies described him as a "modest business man" and a "most loved individual". He can't be too shady. This planet is known for its strict law enforcement. Kinda seems like "famous last words" eh ?

I walk into the building and find that it is empty and quiet. I though there would be a lot more going on, but apparently not. There is however, and single solitary bot sitting behind a circular desk. I walk over to her, my boots almost squeaking against the waxed tile floor.

"Excuse me?" Immediately the bot looks over at me.

"Please stand still for positive identification." it informs me in some sort of monotone unisex voice. Usually this process ends up with me in the brig for a few hours. I'm considered homeless because I don't have a legal planet of residence. If you don't have a legal planet of residence than it usually means you're a wanted criminal. Or a dirt bag. I'm neither.

"Thank you…Gage." Hmm. Mr. Rupert must have given me a security clearance for this planet. Right about now I should be on the ground.

"Please proceed to level 60." It informs me.

"Thank You." The bot returns to what ever work it had been previously occupied with. I look ahead and see an elevator. I have the welcoming suspicion that this one will be empty.

I reach level 60 in a matter of seconds. Not even enough time for the weird elevator music to annoy me. The door chimes as it opens and I walk out onto soft, plush carpet. Looking around I see that I'm already in the office, of I assume, of Mr. Coy Rupert. Heh, Modest my ass. This place is decorated to the A. Pieces of ancient worlds from all over the universe. This office has more monetary value than the entire planet.

A silhouetted figure stands at the window facing me.

"Gage, I presume." He has a soft accent to his English. I can't quiet peg it.

"Indeed. Mr. Coy Rupert?" I read his name off the paper. I like to appear as if I don't give a shit. Makes life easier. People aren't willing to waste their time on you, which means I spend lest time with people.

"Indeed" He smiles, almost mockingly. He's got about twenty seconds to make a better impression or I'm out of here.

"I'm not one for formalities, nor do I think that you would really appreciate any of them. I would like to get right on with business if you don't mind." He states to me. Not really a question, more of a demand.

"You are the one that called this meeting, so run it however you see fit." I respond.

"Right then." he pauses. " As you can see I am a collector of sorts. It has taken me years to amass this collection. But there has been one thing that has always eluded me, until now. Have you ever heard of the Thirteen Crystal Skulls from Earth?"

I sear my mind for a moment. I'm pretty good with old Earth folklore, but this one escapes me.

"No, I don't believe I have."

He smiles at me again. "That's not surprising, most people haven't." He takes a few steps forward and clears his throat casually, "According to legend there were thirteen crystal skulls that were scattered through the ancient worlds on ancient Earth. When technology was efficient enough, and the thirteen skulls were placed together, then entire unrecorded history of earth would be at the finger tips of anyone that could read it."

Interesting enough I think to myself. But going back to Earth? It's going to take a bit more than that. "Thirteen Items to find on Earth?" I shake my head. "No one can stay on earth that long. And there is a good possibility that they've been destroyed."

"When the final battle arose and the last ships of survivors fled, the crystal skulls had already made their way off the planet. Their story, though not widespread, was not completely unheard of. " He walks over to a table against the wall and pulls off the heavy black velvet table cloth revealing a glass case with twelve skulls.

I walk over to the case and study the skulls. They are eerie. I can tell immediately that they are not made of bone, but crystal. But they are beautiful duplicates of humane skulls. They are not exact copies, but stylized versions. They are of varying size, some looking like they weight forty pounds while others look closer to twenty and less.

One appears to be made from amethyst while others are clear but of varying degrees of cloudiness. One doesn't even appear to be humane. The top is elongated and pointed and the jaw is much different. I hear a switch flicked on and a light is beemed directly into the skulls which light up different colors. There must be prisms inside the skulls that break up the light. They are amazing, in a very creepy way.

"You already know the location of the Thirteenth skull?"

"I do." he answer smugly.

"How much?" This is, after all, the only reason that I came all this way. Dave needs it.

"Fifty million units." He acts like its child's money.

Oh God. Don't react, don't react. Keep your cool Gage, calm down. I feel my heart beating louder. This could be the biggest score ever.

"What is the catch? Someone just doesn't throw that much money around for nothing."

"It is very precious to me. No catch."

"Where is it?"


"I thought you said the skulls made their way off of earth?" Fifty million units isn't worth Earth.

"All but the last one."

I shake my head, "Fifty million is not enough to go to Earth."

" I thought you would think that. This is why my offer is Fifty million units for you, a full system, body, engine and life systems upgrade for your ship. All expenses paid, and a free vehicle to accommodate you and your crew to and from earth, with not an eye batted at its condition upon your return."



I hear the elevator behind me open and a few beings walk out onto the carpet. I see Rupert stare over my shoulder, "Good timing Gentlemen! How did your mission go?"

"Excellent," I hear an all too familiar voice behind me.

I close my eyes and rub my temples. Twice in one day. This is too much. Turning around I see him. Aiden and the rest of the dumb, lethargic, oral hygienic deprived beings.

"Gage, this is the crew I want you to be a part of. They will provide security for you, as well as assist you in your effort to collect the thirteenth skull.

"This isn't the same crew that I'll be taking to Earth, only my gunner, Matt, will be transferring to the new crew." Aiden corrected him. Matt stepped forward slightly. I'm surprised I didn't notice him at the elevator before. Matt was never that bad. Too bad he's still hanging around scum like Aiden. The three remaining men stood behind them huddled around their square box.

Rupert nodded sullenly, "I trust in your judgment Aiden. Is that the item I requested?"

"Yes it is." I'm slightly shocked at the informality of their conversation. I don't deal with formalities but Aiden seems friendly with Rupert. It really degrades from any pleasantness that Rupert might contain. Aiden takes the square case from one of the men and walks it over to Rupert, whom doesn't even bother to open it. He just sets it on his desk like it belonged there anyways.

Aiden stands next to me, making the skin on my right side prickle. "So are you ready to go?" he asks me.

"You know, I think as crazy as it might sound, I'm going to have to pass on this one. I'm not dumb enough to get on the same ship with you again, Aiden." Aiden looks shocked, but Rupert is unmoving.

"I had a feeling you wouldn't be as compelled to do this as someone else." Rupert answered coldly. I instantly don't like the turn this meeting has taken. My stomach turns and I hear a little voice in the back of my head screaming, "I told you so."

He walks over to his desk, the carpet catching his footsteps, making it seem like he glides towards it. He presses a few buttons on the control panel and a screen pops up in front of the window. Its Dave. Its my Dave. Surrounded by law enforcement agents. I feel like a bird that just had its wings ripped off. I can't even move.

"Gage!" I snap to reality and stare at Rupert who is now nearly in my face. I can see his features that were once obscured from the bright light that came in from the window. He's middle aged, salt and pepper hair. Laugh lines are absent, but plenty of frown lines. His brown eyes dance with anger. But his voice is still calm and measured.

"My dear, I think you will find that this is an offer you can not turn down. Your ship, Dave," he says Dave's name as if it is something that causes him to wretch, " will be returned to you as soon as your mission is done. As well as your payment. Any desertion or wrong doing on your part will cause the immediate destruction of Dave and a long painful death for yourself." Its at this point he walks over to the desk and the snaps the case open. He turns it around and opens the lid for me to look at the contents.

I think it's a head. I'm not sure because it is a bloody mass of something. I think I recognize a nose, maybe some eyelashes. No Hair… I think it was scalped. His face is heavily bruised, dead men don't usually bruise like that. Then the smell wafted towards me. I feel my stomach really summersault.. I can stand a lot, but the stench of rotting flesh is one thing that I have a hard time stomaching. I cover my mouth with my hand and try to turn away. Rupert catches my head and forces me face to bloody mess. If I bat an eyelash, I'll touch it.

"I - do - not - tolerate - failure." Rupert whispers in my ear. He throws me away from the mass and Aiden catches me. I thrash around till he lets go of me.

"I shall expect a report of progress once you arrive to earth. All of your belongings have already been moved to the new ship. Aiden, I shall suspect that you will have the rest of your new crew assembled by this afternoon, which will make your arrival at earth in about a months time. Once you prepare for landing I shall send you further instructions." He tells us while closing the case. Aiden grabs my upper arm snugly, while Matt walks over towards us. The other three idiots have already left it seems.

"Lets make this easy, Gage." Aiden tells me. I hate it when he tries to sound tough. I kicked his ass once and I can do it again.

"How about you just let go of me." I growl and rip my arm from his grasp. He pushes me towards the elevator and I walk in. They join me, Aiden to my right and Matt to my left. I think I preferred the company of the Gynshe.