The Merry Adventures of Steve & Hayden: Part 1

The Merry Adventures of Steve & Hayden: Part 1

A sea of sand reached out as far as the eye could see. The sun bore down, causing small beads of sweat to build up along Steve's hairline, despite his hardsuits cooling system. For a moment he considered getting his helmet out of their nearby shuttle. Erinle was a dying planet that didn't see much action outside of its spaceport. There was little worry of anyone searching the endless stretches of desert for the countless graves Eclipse had filled.

There in the desert, distant from prying eyes, Steve and two other Eclipse mercs sat in folding chairs beneath a brown canopy. Their two charges, a 13 year old boy and a middle-aged woman, weren't afforded such a luxury. Their skin blistered and peeled from a long day of being exposed to the harsh sun as they sat in the open, atop the scorching hot sand. A large hole about six feet deep was dug a few yards away from them.

"Please..." the woman pleaded, "Water. My son needs water."

Steve smiled at the woman and took a long, gluttonous swig from his water bottle, allowing some to spill down his chin. "What do you think?" he asked, looking over his two companions, "Think they deserve it?"

A shorter human with a shaved head scrutinized the mother for a moment from the comfort of her chair. Her shaved head was decorated with small scars, each a badge of honor from a previous battle. Karen had worked alongside Steve since he first became involved with Eclipse. She was cruel, cold, and efficient. Over their many years together, they had formed quite the strong bond. They were a perfect team. "What has she done for us?" Karen asked coyly.

"Good point." Steve leaned forward, placing his forearms against his knees. He leveled his gaze upon the terrified mother. "What have you done for us?"

"He's just a boy!" the mother shouted, "He hasn't done anything to anyone!"

The third Eclipse member, a salarian by the name of Varrok, tossed an open bottle of water towards the pair. It landed in the sand about half way to its target, spilling a large portion of its contents. Varrok had only been with Steve and Karen for a few months, and neither particularly liked him. He just wasn't a good fit. But they didn't have much say in the matter, so they made the best of it.

"No use to us dead. Not yet, anyways." the salarian said indifferently and went back to poking at his omni-tool.

The mother quickly rose from the ground and, despite the massive fatigue she must've felt, bridged the gap to the bottle in record time. She didn't bother drinking any herself. Her son argued, but she tilted the bottom of the bottle upward as he drank, making sure he swallowed every last drop. Steve smiled to himself. He wondered if his own mother would have been so brave in the face of death. Would she have fought back the men that tried to hurt Steve all those years ago on Gagarin Station? He pushed it out of his mind. It wasn't worth dwelling on questions without answers.

"What a buzzkill." Karen teased.

A number of beeps in quick succession indicated that their orders had arrived. The salarian leaned in closer to the other two and tapped a few commands into the haptic interface above his forearm, causing an image of an asari to appear on the screen before them.

"He says he doesn't have the money," she began, looking offscreen for a moment, presumably at the subject in question, "Do the wife first. We'll see if that loosens his wallet." There was no emotion in the asari's voice. When you remained in their line of work for so long, emotions became a liability. You functioned on orders. Nothing else mattered.

A voice screamed out from the other side of the vid call, begging the asari to stop. It was a pained, desperate scream. The scream of a man who had no other options. Maybe he had the money. Maybe he didn't. It wasn't Steve's concern. The man owed the wrong people money, and they hired Eclipse to get their credits back by any means necessary. A quick probe of his bank accounts came up empty handed. That's where Steve and his goonsquad came in. When the standard Eclipse finesse just wouldn't get the job done, they took over. It wasn't personal. It was business, and business is never personal.

"I'll do her." Karen sighed as she rose from her chair and marched towards the prisoners with Varrok at her flank. Steve remained in his seat.

The young boy quickly put himself between his mother and the approaching mercenaries. "Leave her alone!" he commanded. His mother gripped the back of his shirt tightly, hoping to keep him in place as tears streamed silently down her face.

Steve felt a sharp twinge of pain shoot through his forehead. The surefire sign of another migraine.

Varrok held his arm up, giving the asari and her prisoner a clear view of what was going on. Even from where he was, Steve could hear the asari's prisoner pleading.

"I said leave her alone!" the boy repeated and charged at Karen, breaking free of his mother's grip. The veteran mercenary backhanded the boy effortlessly, slamming a gloved fist into his jaw and sending him sprawling in the sand. His mother leapt from her seat. At first, Steve thought she was going to attack Karen. The mercenary must have thought the same, as she immediately backpedaled and drew her pistol, readying to fire at the woman. Instead, the mother threw her body over her son's, shielding him. "No!" she cried out, "Please, don't hurt him! I'll do whatever you ask, just don't hurt my son!"

Another sharp pang shot through Steve's forehead. Memories of Jump Zero flooded back to him. They were just kids, no older than the young boy in the sand. They didn't deserve the torture they were put through. Steve didn't deserve the torture he was put through. But the students always stuck together, often putting themselves on the line to protect one another. Steve reminded himself that none of that mattered anymore, but the throbbing in his head disagreed.

Karen grabbed a fist full of hair and dragged the woman off of the boy. "Get in the hole." the mercenary demanded.

"No... Mom, you can't..." pleaded the young boy.

"I love you so much, Hayden. I love you so, so much." the woman sobbed, reaching out and pulling her son's head against her own as she planted a kiss on his cheek. She jerked away swiftly and crawled towards the hole like a wounded animal.

"Good girl." Karen mocked.

"Cover your eyes, Hayden." the mother ordered as she descended into the hole. The fear in her voice slowly drained away. She drew all the courage she could muster as she stared up at her executioner and the pistol that was leveled at her head.

The young boy crawled towards the edge of the hole and reached a hand down towards his mother. His chest spasmed with each wailing breath, but against his mother's behest, his eyes remained glued on her.

"Cover your eyes!" she begged. "Please Hayd-..." her sentence was cut off by the short whistle of Karen's weapon. The man on the other end of the call released a high pitched bellow just before Varrok ended the call. And then there was silence. The boy remained speechlessly perched at the edge of the hole, gazing down toward his mother as tears dripped from his chin. Karen and Varrok returned to their seats. The rhythmic throbbing in Steve's head quickened its pace.

"You can take care of the kid." Karen said. Steve nodded. It was the first time a kid was involved, but Steve would follow his orders. The throbbing intensified.