Chapter 1: Twelve Days

Petra glanced nervously at Illien, who gave her back a wink that was only mildly reassuring. Beside her, Erik, their tall red-bearded friend stood tall and unflinching, clad in a green poncho made out of several different stitched-together fabrics concealing a host of weapons.

Illien looked back up at their problem, or rather, than man who was the problem. Standing under the dim light of a hanging lightbulb that made your vision go white for several minutes if you stared at it, was a man clad in a dark trench-coat lined with furs by the neck, flanked by two others wearing similar attire, brandishing dangerous looking weapons.

They were standing in an abandoned warehouse, at the edge of a city infected with criminals and corruption. Walls lined with crates, all the same, homogenous brown colour surrounded them. The crates, in question, were all but indistinguishable from one another, save for the string of numbers and letters in imprinted in faded red paint on them.

Petra nervously rubbed her hands together, stealing glances at Illien, who was smiling in a friendly, reassuringly confident manner. He was shaking inside. Erik was staring off into the distance, on an entirely different planet than theirs.

Through the scope of her rifle René saw all these things. Dark eyes gazed from a dark skinned face, with frizzy, shoulder-length black hair held back by dirty old blue bandana. Perched high atop the lofty heights behind one of the hundreds of crates in the warehouse, her scope was centered on the man in black, who had one hand crossed, and the other hand stroking a thick beard that ringed the outline of his face. This wasn't going very well René thought as she pondered whether to pull the trigger and just end this whole ordeal.

Illien had a greed to meet Drell Hashan, the leader off a very powerful pirate fleet stopping by in this system. It had gone south, rather quickly; even the slightest thing could set Hashan off, who was known for a short temper with violent outbursts.

René had begun to notice that there were several other darkly clad figures waiting in the darkness; if it came to a fight, they would be severely outmatched, even with René's skills, she couldn't hope to take down them all in time to save her friends. She didn't think she could even bring herself to do what she had to if it came to that. She breathed out a heavy breath. It had been several minutes since Illien had presented their final offer, and the situation grew more and more uneasy as the time clocked by.

Illien and Petra exchanged glances, while Erik began to emerge from his trance of boredom. Illien looked at Erik and desperate mouthed "no." to him, but Erik either didn't notice or didn't care, because at that moment, he lost it.

"Dammit Drell, how many bloody hours is this gonna take!" He yelled out angrily.

Petra looked at Erik with a wide eyed look that said Now you've done it!

Illien broke out first. "What my terribly mad and outrageous friend is trying to say i-" He began, but then was cut off.

"SILENCE!" Drell screamed, as he made a swiping motion with his hands, instantly, his two guards raised their weapons, and several more jumped out from behind crates and through the door behind Hashan.

Erik threw off his poncho, and revealed several unfriendly looking weapons, drew two axes, and shouted curses. Illien drew his fusion pistol from his holster and aimed at Hashan. Petra took out her revolver and raised it with one hand, and with the other raised another pistol. Everyone froze.

Illien aimed at Hashan, with a stern look on his face. Erik was swinging his axes round and psyching himself up for a fight. Petra was eyeing their opposition, there were too many of them to fight.

René watched the situation unfold below her. She focused her sights on Hashan, lining up his head. She paused when she saw the others do the same, and a tense standoff ensued. René bit her lip, and thoughts raced through her head. What could she do?

Hashan walked over to Illien, raising both hands up above his head. Illien had his rifle trained on him. Smiling, Hashan walked over slowly to him, then stared down the barrel of Illien's gun with one eye. Illien kept it trained on him, intimidated buy his seeming lack of fear. Petra scanned the room, looking for something, anything that could even the odds in this fight or get them out of this mess. Erik was quite the opposite, waiting impatiently for a fight, his eyes crazy.

Breaking his strange death-defying stare down Illien's sights, Hashan suddenly broke out laughing. Illien forced himself to laugh as well, and silently urged on the others to follow. Petra looked around awkwardly as she laughed along at nothing in particular with the rest of them. Erik let out a deep laugh and pointed at one of Hashan's goons, and he looked back, confused. The whole warehouse now echoed with laughter, though most of the laughs were far from genuine.

René looked on, astounded at what was happening. Hashan looked back up at Illien. Then spoke. "My friend," He said smiling "I like you. Wouldn't want you to end up like the last people who failed me, no?" He asked, pointing to a necklace that hung around his neck, that was composed of severed human fingers.

Petra looked away, disgusted. Erik frowned. Illien, keeping his cool, replied. "No, of course not." He made a point of chuckling afterwards.

Hashan was not amused, and so Illien abruptly stopped.

"12 days." Hashan said, then made a sweeping motion with his hands.

A few of his henchman groaned as they carried one of the crates over. They dropped it at their feet, then went back to surround them. Illien made a point of holstering his weapon, and the others took his cue. Petra was quick to sheath her pistols, while Erik seemed almost sad that they weren't going to have a fight, and put away his axes away sourly.

"Pleasure doing business with you." Illien said, smiling as he offered his hand to shake.

Hashan looked back up, ignored the gesture, then took something out from his trenchcoat.

"The coordinates." He said, as he threw a data drive to Illien.

Illien caught barely it, before putting it into his pocket.

"12 days." Hashan said with a menacing smile.

With that, he made a sweeping motion with his arm, and yelled at his goons. They all cleared out the back door, grumbling and bumping into each other. Then, as quickly as the whole situation had started, it was over.

As the doors shut, Illien heaved a sigh of relief. Petra closed her eyes and muttered something, then turned to Illien.

"That was way too close Illien!" She said.

"Curse that craven clay-brained codpiece!" Erik cursed out. "The next time I see that bastard, I'll smash 'is head in!"

Illien nodded. "Not the nicest chap I agree."

"Or the most sane, he's downright crazy!" Petra said.

Illien looked up. "You can come out now René" He called out.

René had already packed up all her gear, and put on her long black jacket. She slung her rifle over her shoulder, and clambered her way skillfully down the towers of boxes overhead.

She jumped down the last one, and landed expertly on the ground, despite being weighted down by her backpack and rifle.

"We should get moving." She said. "The militia will be here any minute now."

Not even Erik argued with that, and they made their way to the door opposite the one that Hashan and his men had entered. Erik kicked it open, then went to pick up the crate. Erik held one end, while Petra and Illien held the other. René walked ahead, to scout. Once they had gotten the crate out the door, they felt the faint drops of rain pelt their skin as the grey skies overhead rumbled and churned.

The area outside of the warehouse was a field of tall grass, which ended to the right at the edge of a forest, and to the left, at the edge of a gravelly road. The four awkwardly carried the crate to the road, where René was waiting for them. A wind had picked up, and René's long jacket billowed with it. She was staring off across the fields beyond the road, which seemed to go on for miles.

The road, if you could even call it that, stretched on for a while, till it reached the edge of the city, where tall buildings and structures stood. Erik dropped the crate on the roadside, and Petra and Illien cursed him as they set their side down. Shaking his arms, Illien sat down on the crate. Petra joined him. Erik tried to, but the whole thing threatened to collapse when he did. René just stared off into the fields.

"Get Carl over here." Illien said. "And fast."

"On it." Petra said, as she typed into a comms device. "Ratchet get over here." She spoke into it.

A few minutes later, a dark green jeep pulled up beside them. A figure wearing grey pants and a dirty looking, smudged blue shirt with a llama on it with grey sleeves stretching out from underneath jumped out and came bounding towards them.

"How'd it go Illy?" He asked.

Illien rolled his eyes. "You know I hate it when you call me that."

Petra and Erik snickered. René turned around, but was not humored.

Illien looked around at the others, then back at Carl, his little brother. He ruffled his messy hair, and patted him on the back.

Carl looked around at the others.

"So? Did you get the deal?" Carl said excitedly.

"We got the deal alright." Erik broke in.

"Barely." Petra added.

"That bastard had better watch his back or I'll-"

"Anyways…" Illien interrupted. "We should get going…"

He paused. He was looking down the road, squinting his eyes, then widening them.

"Get the crate on the jeep!" Illien cried out suddenly.

Erik heaved his side up as the others helped as best they could. René dove to the ground beside them, and set up her rifle. Through her scope, she saw three trucks approaching and an armored car.

"We've got company!" She called out impatiently. "Can't you get that thing in any faster?"

"Trying…" Illien and Petra said through strained breaths.

René looked back through her scope. They were coming too fast. They needed more time. René closed her eyes, then adjusted her grip on the rifle. She opened her eyes again, and set her crosshairs on the driver of the truck. No, she thought, No life will be taken today. She lowered her aim to the tires, took a deep breath, then fired.

The sound of the shot rang out through the fields. Her bullet ripped straight through the tires of the lead armored car. It began to drive in a violent zigzag, before finally tipping over on it's side, blocking the road. It's occupants ran out just in time, before the car set ablaze. The convoy halted, and dozens of armed militias poured out the backs of the trucks.

René stood up and slung her rifle across her back. "Are you done yet?" She asked.

Erik pushed with all his might, and the crate came thundering down on the bed of the Jeep.

Carl was at the wheel. "Take you're time." He yelled, aggravated "We've got all day!"

Illien ran around and jumped into the shotgun seat. Petra piled in to the backseat, and René and Erik were following closely behind.

Suddenly, a shot rang out, and Erik yelled out. He jerked to the left, crashing into the jeep's side. Blood was running down his shoulder, as he cried out curses upon curses to the militiamen. He suddenly was wild with rage, and began to collect himself, and took out his axes as he turned to face them.

"Erik, no!" Illien cried out, opening the door and running out. Petra saw this too, and followed.

"Oh yeah, take some more time." Carl called out fleetingly "It's not like we're being chased by gun-toting hooligans or anything!"

René turned and set her sights down her rifle instantly, but hesitated when she saw where the shots had come from. A young boy, scarcely older than she was, holding a semi-automatic rifle, and a scared look on his face. No she said, not this one, I…I can't.

Erik was now running at the militia, raging and crying out at them. Illien and Petra ran after him.

"Erik!" They yelled, but he was in a mad frenzy.

The boy who had fired the shot turned and started to run when he saw Erik charging. The rest of the Militiamen paused where they stood, frozen by this strange, suicidal charge, but this freeze would only last so long.

Illien looked at Petra, and Petra nodded grimly. Quickly yet solemnly, he pulled out his pistol. He paused before aiming at Erik. Wincing, he set his scope on Erik's legs, and placed his hand on the trigger. There was no guarantee he would hit them.

A shot rang out, but it wasn't Illien's. Erik collapsed to the ground, crying out. Lying on the ground Erik was now cursing wildly. Illien looked behind him, René nodded.

"Tracer." She cried out over to them. "He'll be fine. Now, come on!"

Illien and Petra then let out a volley of shots that weren't aimed at anything in particular, but suppressed the remaining militiamen.

"Get him out of here!" Illien yelled out.

A volley of shots erupted from behind the militiamen's trucks, but they were too far away to hit anything, and even if they were close, they were untrained, so would still have a hard chance of hitting them; the shot that hit Erik was a lucky one.

Dragging the screaming, cursing and flailing Erik, Illien and Petra made it back to the Jeep, and shoved him inside. A hail of bullets were flying past the windows.

René returned fire while she backed up, but never hitting anyone. She could have killed the lot of them, but she was beyond that. She wasn't a Bengal anymore, and no one would force her to take any more innocent lives ever again.

"For the love of Mike!" Carl cried out, losing patience. "Get in or we're leaving!"

René ran swiftly over, and squeezed into the stuffed jeep.

"Step on it!" Illien shouted.

"About time Illy." Carl said with a grin.

Illien put his head in his palm.

Petra laughed. If René was smiling, no one could tell, as she was staring out the window.

The Jeep sped forwards down the gravelly road, kicking back dirt and pebbles as it sped away from the rain of bullets that churned up the road behind them. The rain had now become a full-on storm, and lighting silently illuminated the sky followed by claps of thunder. The Rain came down in sheets, pattering down on the little jeep.

Except for the remarks between Illien and Carl, snickers from Petra, and the strange, otherworldly string of silent curses whispered from Erik's bearded mouth, the journey back was silent. Each one of them reflecting on the last words that had come out of Hashan's mouth: "Twelve days."