Faithful Son is one of many short stories I have kicking around in one form or another. It was originally written for a comic/sci fi anthology zine called Horizons, from the now defunct Proletariat Comics. It appeared in issue #2 of that anthology, which sadly was the final issue they produced. I’ve got other adventures starring Benny yet to be fully realized, but it’s all about finding the time to get them down. The beautiful artwork for this story was done by Olli Hihnala. I thought he captured the spirit of Benny, and a great moment in story wonderfully. A shout out to Dan Head and Ken Olsen who were gracious enough to give me the space in their book to tell my story.
By Cary Kelley
“What’re you, a queer?” The fat man growled. He stared across the table at Benny. Little bits of his last meal were visible in his beard, and the sight turned Benny’s stomach.
“That’s none of your business, Jolo,” Benny replied. Jolo was posturing, Benny knew, and in a minute he would no doubt try another tactic, but it was still maddening. Jolo’s problem was, he sometimes underestimated people on sight. Today that was going to cost him big.
“Offer declined.” Benny said, “I have no need of a love slave.” He gave Jolo a blank stare that revealed nothing. Benny could be called to account for many shortcomings, but his poker face was not one of them.
“Bah!” Jolo said after a silent moment had passed. He looked over his available assets again. Benny smiled. If they had been negotiating by the new rules, his time would have already expired, but Benny had agreed to deal under a more archaic, and ultimately fairer set of rules established when men had first reached out from Earth to the rest of the Galaxy. In truth it worked out better for him. He had all day and Jolo was already starting to sweat. Benny had only been required to state his payment terms. Once that was done, Jolo had to accept, or counter with something of equal or greater value. The catch was, very few things in the galaxy were equal to the item Benny wanted, and Jolo was desperate to keep it. It would all boil down to how badly Jolo wanted the job done.
Benny used the time to seem as disinterested as possible. He glanced around Jolo’s office. Various hoodlums and outlaws watched the negotiations with interest. Benny doubted that they had ever seen anyone take their master this deeply into negotiations before. No doubt they would be talking about the day for months, regardless of how the negotiations themselves came out. A moment later, Benny’s eyes wandered. He caught the gaze of a woman at the bar. She looked away quickly, but it had been enough. He knew her, and he knew that she wanted to talk. Later.
“How do I know you’re even good for the job?” Jolo asked, “I never even heard of you!”
“You’re stalling now, Jolo,” Benny retorted. “Everyone here knows it. You have my guild papers and my cred sheet. You know I’m qualified.” With a disgusted sigh Benny pushed away from the table. “We’re done here. If you get serious, you know how to find me.”
Benny hadn’t even made it to the office door before Jolo screamed, “Wait!”
Benny turned back and faced the fat gangster with an amused grin.,
“Wait just give me a damn minute…” Jolo said, almost begging.
“I’m done waiting, Jolo.” Benny said, strolling back to the table in complete control. “You know the price, and you’ve got nothing else of equal value.” He leaned over the table and got in Jolo’s face, taking command of the fat man in no uncertain terms. “Pay me, fat ass, or I walk. Period.”
Jolo backed away, trying to regain both a measure of distance and dignity, but Benny knew he was going to cave, and so did everyone else in the room.
“They teach you that in the Cadre, Benny, or were you always an antagonistic little prick?” Jolo said, shifting slightly.
Benny smiled, showing Jolo his perfect white teeth. Jolo shuddered. Benny eased back into his seat and tried to be magnanimous in victory.
“Gifted at birth.” He said with a dramatic shrug. “The Cadre taught me killing as an art form, but being a prick is still my passion.”
“Fine.” Jolo said, nodding. His chins working like an accordion as he did so. “You do the job, and the crystal’s yours.” Jolo waved his hand over the table and a statuesque figure of a woman cast in cerulean blue appeared. “See,” he said, “Here it is… As promised.”
“Terms of delivery?” Benny asked as he stared at the woman in the hologram. He ignored the murmurs from the watching thugs.
“Upon completion of the job, not a second sooner!” Jolo spat. “You bring me the head of the President of the Colonies, and you get your stupid crystal.”
Benny was already standing, about to leave, but he turned back, unable to help himself. “It wasn’t such a ‘stupid crystal’ when you hedged your entire fleet to buy it, was it?” He said with a sly grin.
Jolo turned red and began to sputter a reply, but before he could, Benny spun on his heal and headed for the door. He smiled despite himself.
“No tricks, Jolo,” He said over his shoulder in parting. “Have it ready when I get back. I won’t be gone long.”
It was hot as they laid there in the darkness, their sweat mingling together on the sheets of the cheap micro-tel room. She smoked. Benny didn’t mind. His mind was a million miles away. Nothing mattered but the crystal. Nothing.
“I still can’t believe it. Do you know what you’ve done?” She had a husky voice, deep and sexy. It was one of the things he liked best about her, but it wasn’t the only thing.
“You mean Jolo?” He said innocently. “Don’t worry about him. We both get what we want. Simple.”
“I hope you’re right. I’d hate to see you cut up into little pieces like Archie.” She half rolled to the other side of the bed, stamped her cigarette out, and turned back to cuddle close to him. She ran her hands through his hair affectionately. It took him back to simpler times, to the last time he’d been in her arms. Ten years and unthinkable violence seemed to evaporate in the smell of her skin. Almost.
“Archie got sloppy, Tess, that’s all. Jolo couldn’t find his own bloated ass without help. He’s flying blind and scared out of his mind. He wants the President dead so badly, nothing else matters.”
“And you really think you can get close enough to the President to kill him?” She asked, stroking his face gently.
“Yeah,” Benny said with a sly grin, “I can handle it.”
“Cadre made you that good?”
“Not just Cadre, but the training was useful. Some things come naturally. I had…skills before I ever joined the Cadre.”
Tess rolled him over onto his back and straddled him, pinning him to the bed with mischief in her eyes.
“So why would you want something as useless as that crystal anyway? I never understood Jolo’s fascination with it.”
He looked up at her in the darkness, barely able to see her face at all, and sighed. It had been there, if only for an instant, and he’d seen it. He’d hoped the intel had been wrong, but now he knew. In his business, one little slip told volumes.
“It’s…beautiful. And someone I know will pay dearly to get it back.” He raised his arms above his head slowly, sliding them both under his pillow.
“How much is dearly?” She asked playfully.
“He’d sell his soul.” Benny said sadly, pulling the long thin needle from under his pillow and driving it into her neck.
She went instantly stiff, every muscle in her body below the neck suddenly rigid as the needle entered her spinal column.
Benny slid out from under her and took his time dressing. Tess remained on the bed frozen like a statue.
“Benny! Please! You know me!” It was normal for her to beg, he supposed, but it sickened him all the same. He hadn’t trusted her, really. He trusted no one. But just once it would be nice to be wrong. He glanced at her and shook his head. For all his skills, he still had a lot to learn about human nature.
“No, I don’t know you at all. The Tess I knew would’ve never sold me out.” He sat on the bed again, close enough to hear her gasping for breath. The tagha technique he used to immobilize her had certain drawbacks. The muscles were locked in position, but most of the autonomic systems in the body began suffering distress as a result. The heart reacting to increased stress began to beat faster, requiring more oxygen from the lungs, which were incapable of expanding to draw in more air. It was a cascading effect, usually leading to a miserable death. As he considered the grim fate she would’ve led him to, Benny found it hard to feel sorry for her.
“I had to! Jolo threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him!” She was crying now, desperate.
He checked over the room quickly, ensuring nothing was left behind. He was confident and careful, but some habits never died. Satisfied, he leaned down and kissed her softly on the forehead, whispering to her.
“He would have killed you anyway, Tess. It’s better this way.”
As he pulled away from her, Tess squinted through the tears. She saw something strange about him. Something about his eyes; the color. She searched her memory, trying to grasp the elusive memory. Then Benny applied a slight pressure to the needle in her neck and she knew no more.
He left silently, carefully avoiding smooth surfaces as he went. He was miles away and clear of any possible danger before he relaxed and thought about Tess again. She was as close as he’d ever gotten to loving someone since he arrived here, and in the end he’d let her see him for what he really was. He figured owed her that.
The look on Jolo’s face was priceless. Benny had opened his case and set the severed head of the President of the Colonies on the desk in front of him. The stunned silence in the room spoke volumes. Jolo couldn’t find his voice. He kept looking back and forth from the head to Benny, as if it would all disappear into thin air like a daydream. But he wasn’t dreaming. The prick had pulled it off.
“I want scans.” Jolo finally said.
“Have a ball.” Benny returned with a smirk.
Jolo motioned one of his minions forward to perform the scan and crossed his hands atop the desk. He was trying to keep his composure, but it was a losing battle. It was all too much and far too soon.
Three days! It had been three days since the pact. Figuring in transit times at maximum hyper-light speeds, plus the President’s last known position, Jolo estimated in the neighborhood of three weeks at least, before Benny could return. That assumed he could even pull it off!
He still hadn’t heard from Tess and that worried him now more than ever. Bitch. He’d find her when all this mess was over and deal with her personally.
The scanner emitted a loud ominous beep. The wide eyed man holding it punched several buttons, then looked plaintively at his boss.
“Well? What does it say you idiot?” Jolo already knew, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. It was impossible!
“It’s him.” The man said, looking at Jolo in fear. “I scanned it twice to make sure. It’s the President.”
“Pay me.” Benny said simply. His right hand rested comfortably on the Amnity Arms Interdictor strapped to his side. Jolo glanced down and noticed the weapon. It was obviously not a stock version. All the visible rough edges had been ground down, allowing for a far faster draw if the need arose. He also knew it was loaded with the incredibly lethal hellbore ammunition. The Cadre. They carried the best.
Jolo took a deep breath and lifted out of his specially made chair. He waddled over to the safe hidden behind a panel in the wall and leaned in for a retinal scan. The scanner made an almost inaudible beep, and the panel slid away allowing the safe door to swing open. He chanced a glance back at Benny, and then shaking his head reached into the safe and withdrew the crystal.
Without a noise Benny was beside him. Jolo was so startled he almost dropped the crystal, but Benny took it gently from his hand and slipped it quickly into a small bag the gangster hadn’t noticed before. Zippering it shut, Benny turned and moved quickly toward the exit.
“You gotta tell me how you did it.” Jolo called after him, closing the safe with a loud click.
Benny stopped, and turned, actually surprised to find Jolo without a weapon in his hand. He almost looked disappointed.
“No, I don’t. That wasn’t part of the deal.”
“I wanna know real bad, Benny. Bad enough to make sure you don’t leave here alive without my say so.” Jolo was smiling now for the first time since he’d seen Benny walking into his office. It was silly, but not unexpected.
“Fine.” Benny said nodding. “I’ll tell you, but it’ll cost you extra.”
Jolo laughed hysterically, almost falling backwards off his stool.
“You never quit do you? You think you can negotiate with me? Here of all places? I thought Cadre had enough sense to know superior odds when they see ‘em.”
“I haven’t seen ‘em.” Benny said through gritted teeth. There was little more in the universe more aggravating than this pig’s laugh. “The price is fifty thousand. Take it or leave it.”
Jolo shrugged and nodded, unconcerned.
“Fine,” He snapped his fingers at the man who had done the scans. “Get this fool his money, for all the good it’ll do him.”
The man jumped to obey, hurrying out the door. Jolo turned back to Benny.
“Now spill it. I want to know how you violated the rules of time and space to get back here with that head in three days when no ship I’ve ever seen could’ve made it in less than three weeks!”
Benny looked almost bored. He walked slowly back and sat on the edge of the desk, his back half turned to Jolo.
“I didn’t.” He answered. “The President died a little over a month ago of natural causes. He was kept in cryo-stasis until I returned to my ship and retrieved the head, as promised.”
“What? You’re a liar! The President issued a warrant for my arrest less than two weeks ago! We watched it live from the bar!”
Benny laughed aloud at the flustered criminal, unable to help himself.
“You’re an idiot Jolo. Didn’t you wonder why your informant net broke down so suddenly? It was us. We set you up. We used a hologram to issue the arrest warrant knowing you’d take out a contract on the President.”
Benny stood again, looking back at the defeated man in front of him, savoring the moment for all it was worth.
“You’re almost as predictable as you are stupid. You did the same thing when the planetary governor began investigating your operations a few years back, remember? The guys in ops estimated it in the high ninety percentile range that you’d react the same way.” Benny grinned at the sweat breaking out all over the scourge of the sector. “Looks like they were right on the money, huh?”
“So…so you did all this? Why? I operate off the radar. I’m small time compared to a lot of other guys! Why come after me!”
“Two reasons.” Benny replied. “One, because you had something I wanted, and you were unlikely to sell it at any price.” He held the bag containing the crystal up, swinging it back and forth for emphasis. “And second, because I can’t think of another person in the galaxy who deserved it more than you.”
Jolo was pale now, the enormity of the situation had finally set in. If Benny set this up to trick him into taking out the contract on a President who was already dead, he’d have surely brought backup with him. Benny was going to walk right out the front door with his most prized possession and there was nothing he could do about it.
He’d lost the crystal, and that hurt. What hurt worse was losing his respectability. He knew his men were already talking. Soon it would be all over the port, and then the news would fly to every corner of this backwater planet. Jolo had been set up. They had fooled him. Made him look like an idiot. Goddamn Cadre!
“I think you finally get the point.” Benny said as he opened the door. “See ya, Jolo.”
“Wait! You…you’re letting me live?” Jolo sounded scared.
“No reason to kill you.” Benny said, taking the money from the terrified minion. “There’s no money in it, for one. Plus, you’re already wounded and swimming with a school of sharks, Jolo. You’ll make a nice meal for one of em.”
With that Benny walked out, leaving a stunned and despondent Jolo sitting in his office wondering how long he had before his own men would come for him. It took less than two hours.
Benny settled into high orbit over a lush green planet not found on any chart, in any computer, or documented anywhere in the known colonized galaxy. He rechecked the azimuth, adjusted his attitude thrusters, and engaged the auto station keeping. The onboard computer his ship was equipped with was state of the art Cadre issue, but it still wasn’t overly intuitive. It required periodic monitoring to keep it in proper orbit.
Checking his chronograph, and doing a quick set of figures in his head, he unclipped his flight harness and made his way to the cargo hold. He’d have plenty of time, if all went well.
The lander ride to the surface was a little rougher than he’d anticipated, but when he cracked the hatch he instantly knew why. It was the tumultuous season, when violent storms raged across the surface of this planet. He looked around and breathed deeply, taking the early evening air in his lungs, almost unwilling to release it again. In the tongue of the native people who inhabited it, this world was known as Monna. Benny, at long last, had come home.
“You brought her back.” A voice said from behind him.
Benny spun to face the speaker, but quickly relaxed. Though he didn’t recognize the face, he would never mistake the voice of his father.
“You’re getting better with the human form I see.” Benny said as he hugged his father warmly. He was relieved to find him alive and well after all these years. It was an unexpected blessing.
“Your transmissions have helped. Your mother finally convinced me to stop worrying about the fifth finger and just follow your guidance. She’s far better at this than I.”
“You look fine.” Benny said, smiling from ear to ear. “You could walk any planet in the Colonies and no one would be the wiser.”
“Will you stay?” His father asked.
“You know I can’t.” Benny answered sadly. “There’s still too much to be done.”
His father grasped him by the shoulders then, meeting his eyes with a sincere intensity. “You don’t have to do it alone. There are others.”
“But none with my experience, and everyone knows it.” Benny said, reaching up and squeezing his father’s hands reassuringly.
“What shall I tell your mother?”
“Tell her I love her very much, and I promise to return before the next dry season. I find myself missing her fren stew far too much as I grow older.”
The older man smiled, and Benny noticed the perfectly straight teeth in his mouth. He had indeed been practicing.
Benny carefully unclipped the bag he was carrying and handed the precious cargo over to his father’s safekeeping. As the elder man took the bag, tears formed in his eyes. He could only nod at his son in silence. After taking a moment to compose himself, he turned and walked back into the forest from which he had come.
Benny stood there for a long time, soaking up the ambient noise of his home world. Half of him hoped his father would return and spend just a little more time with him, but he knew it was not to be.
By now his father had reached the warren with the crystal and his entire family was attending a ceremony to inter his oldest sister in their ancestral burial grounds. Her crystallized soul would stand alongside the others of her family who had gone on to a more pure form of existence. By this time tomorrow, all of Monna would know Benny had returned the first of their lost souls.
When he could stand no more, Benny fired up the lander and began the take-off sequence that would return him to his ship, and ultimately to the Cadre. There were other Monnan souls out there in the galaxy. They were prized above all else by any who laid eyes on them. He wouldn’t rest until he’d found every single one, and brought them home.
He lifted the lander and took a steep angle into the upper atmosphere. He refused to look back at the surface for fear he wouldn’t have the strength to keep going. Taking a deep breath, Benny steadied himself and wiped the tears out of his cerulean blue eyes. There was still a lot of work to be done.