Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They throw me through a window, barely a grey panel against the dusk of the underground I’m falling through.
I can just about make out the floor – it’s coming up fast. Using the slight angle of my fall, I try for a roll-out and nearly succeed. Skidding to a stop, I take a breath of the dank air and cough.
“Good landing, good sir.”
Another inmate? Nobody hinted at that. I take a moment to ease my breathing, then it’s time to come up with some way to salvage this situation.
“Whom do I have the pleasure of sharing this tidal pit with?”
“Rathiek Kinodar, good sir. Benthusian diplomat and lately an advisor to the Upper Brighton Seawall Project.”
I’m in an abandoned ballroom with a talking octopus. To be fair, the octopods from Benthus are humanity’s staunchest allies as we continue to venture forth into the wild black yonder of the spaceways.
“September Jameson. Former Captain in the Sixth Abraxas out of Descartes, currently a gunsell under contract to the Upper Brighton Seawall Project, investigating the spate of violent robberies they’ve suffered, along with your disappearance. Delighted to find you, Diplomat Kinodar.”
“As I am to be discovered. I presume you saw through the excuses, asked some awkward questions, and got yourself – what’s that word for stealing someone?”
“Yes. ‘Kidnapped’. Do you know if the origins of it lie with juvenile goats or humans?”
I chuckle into the darkness.
“I’m afraid I don’t. Ask me again when we’re out of this.”
“I take that to mean you came with a plan?”
“No, but I might have one now. During the Orcan Campaign, I worked with your military. An officer in your Creggar Armoured Division mentioned that all Benthusians posted to Earth have to be acolytes of Mother Hydra. Some sort of secretive combat cult?”
There’s a rustling in the darkness. The voice comes nearer.
“Not so much. We have to learn to move in ways that do not discomfit humans. Devotees of Mother Hydra have teachings to facilitate that. But, if a diplomat demonstrates ability, we are also trained in the combat variations of the basics we are taught.”
“Did you show ability?”
“Yes. I’m not Honoured Cal, but I’m competent.”
I’m unfamiliar with that name, but ‘Honoured’ means Benthusian royalty.
“Then I will swear your violence is treaty-exempt, being justifiable defensive measures.”
“Perfect. Could I trouble you to hold my torch?”
“Of course.”
Blue-tinged light swells to summer evening intensity.
“Left, then straight.”
His shadow precedes us, looking like a tall man with narrow shoulders and a swollen head. Glancing down, I see he’s using four tentacles to ambulate.
Double doors explode outward under his blow. We barge into a candlelit room. I recognise the gunsells who took me down, along with Dirk Shriddin, Seawall Project Director. Spread across the table between us is a glittering pile of valuables looted from the sunken homes and crypts of Lower Brighton.
Dirk points at us: “Kill them!”
Rathiek waves a tentacle tip toward him: “Yours, September.”
I dive across the table and clamp my hands about Dirk’s throat before we topple off his chair. Damnably, I can’t see the fight because the table’s in the way. Moments later, I hear bones break as two gunsells bounce off the ceiling. Then the other two glide into view, each held by Rathiek in a double-tentacle choke hold.
He wobbles them at me and laughs.
“Two for retaliation, two to testify.”
I grin down at Dirk.
“Good news, Mister Shriddin. I found the diplomat, then we found the robbers.”