Hosted Projects - Non-FreeSpace > FringeSpace

Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction

(1/9) > >>

I'll be posting Tachyon related fanfiction here in our section over time. The thread will be locked though
so I don't have posts in between stories. Please continue discussion in a different thread.
-= Story Index =-
Damascus (below)
The Demon Faction
A Day in the Life of Fringe Station
The Burning Void
Daily Dissorts
Fist or Fate
Jading the Fringe
Ode to No One
The Return
Running The Void
Line on the Sand
Showdown in Antares
The Light Show
Under the Gun
Tachyon: The Mineral War
A Pirate and a Clan
The Lance: Bitter Betrayal
The Border Wars Trilogy
Tachyon 2: The Story
A Small Battle Scene

VA MisterFour
In his dreams there was never any sound, just The Damascus, as it died.
The backdrop a void of eternal black that was space, with the silver and gold arms of
galaxies cutting the obsidian. The cyclopean structure of the merchant ship turning end
over end like a titan’s toy, red fires arcing across its titanium-derridium hull.
He had been flying away from it, turning on a magnetic axis, afterburners blazing
like electric infernos. The pirates had been flying Starhawks, like so many titanium
yellowjackets against the cold night of space. He remembered the screams
of the merchant fleet over his communications, his fire drawing neon lines across
the pirate’s blood and smoke colored spacecraft, exploding them like novae.
He had completed the axis, lasfire lancing towards the pirate leader's craft,
its pilot’s threats becoming screams, enjoining that of the crew of The
Dramascus. He had felt the impact of chatter cannon upon the reactor grid of his own
craft, the control panel becoming a firestorm in his cockpit.
He had not blacked out. It was the opposite. The white hot plane before him
becoming less bright as The Dramascus spilled bodies and fragmented components. He
felt the shrapnel in his leg, his arm, the warm, wet, coppery smell of his own blood filling
the cockpit. The Yellowjacket a blossom of fire streaking to engulf him…
He woke up then, sweating like a fever victim. He dreamed of it often, this far
out in the Fringe. It was only a dream now, but it really happened.

Jaycex got up and put his face in his hands, still shaking from the dream. The
room smelled like a gymnasium locker. Everywhere on the walls were vidscreens and
pics of old places and comrades. An =RG= plaque composed entirely of depleted
uranium sat on one wall, suspended by micro-gravs. Doris, his room computer, sensed he
was awake.
“Coffee, Jaycex?” The cold, feminine voice queried.
“Yes, thank you, Dorry.”
“You have an appointment with Madam X in one hour. Would you like
“No. Thank you.”
He dialed up a vidscreen to show him an outside view of Kirosky Station.
Godcraft Industries, the primary designer of these stations, loved to make them look
imposing and militaristically resilient. Like two old Earth VCR’s, with columns and
plumbing holding them together, in the void.
In his mind The Dramascus continually expired, fragmenting.

Jaycex had taken classes early on with Madam X. She had a love of architectural
theorems, but preferred the opinions of fellow students before delivering them to the
faculty. Her fingernails were an immaculate silver.
The Jaguar was the only morning bar on Kirosky Station. It was all brass piping
and cloned leather upholstery. The chill of the fluorescents from above stayed

respectfully dim so that cliental might witness the majesty of the Merjohln Nebulae, light
years away but still a brilliant powdery white violet, so brilliant that one could easily read
by its light without the lighting above.
The breakfast was cloned lobster and borscht.
He read the theorem, taking careful mental notes.
“And..?’ Madam X said.
“I thought the energy management systems in Galspan ships were completely
innovative? This paper seems to say they are no different than older designs.”
“The E.M.S. IS different, but the grid user-interface is a completely new design. I
just make note of the management techniques early settlers used in their ships.”
“Applied history, heh? So why do all ships have a grid built on the old system?
What was wrong with the old design?”
“It was crude. It did not have to take into account the redistribution of reactor
supply to shields and weapons. But you could jury rig the system much better. It was
very Russian. Most of the designers came from a Moscow Research Facility. Now it
would not be such a swift idea.”
Jaycex looked the holofile over again and then turned it off, handing the pen-
sized cylinder back to Madam X. “Why wouldn’t it be? Take a screwdriver, tear off a
panel and jinx the thing manually. Works for me.”
She arched a perfect eyebrow. “What if you supplied energy from the engines to
the weapon systems, and the computer decided there was insufficient resources for the
auxiliaries? The computer draws from life support, and you hit the afterburners and
She churned her spoon in the ersatz coffee, adding real cream, the bar’s specialty.
“I’ve got new orders, Jaycex. I’m going to Andromeda. According to command, it’s
hardship duty.”
He sipped from his own cup. “That’s good?”
“I have family there. I haven’t seen them for 5 years. I have an uncle who is a
Over her shoulder, the nebula flickered hypnotically.

He went of flight deck and checked his orders. There were seven uniformed
pilots there, doing the same. One of them was Rooster, an IK agent. He swaggered like
the rest of them, confident.
“How you been, Jaycex. Still spacin’ for RG?”
A vid screen flashed over his shoulder, like the broiling yellow of the Starhawk,
as it engulfed Jaycex’s cockpit.
“Affirmatron. I get to do a run to the Berthold today. All communication is
slagged because of the nebula they’re parked by. So they do all reports with pilots.
They’re by an asteroid field so it’s makin’ us rich.”
Rooster laughed. His jet black hair was spiky, like shards of vinyl. “Shoot, I
gotta tour with some Merchant freighter. Say they saw pirates. Just me and some yutz
named Galfried for a wingman. Easy money, if you can stand the smell of their cloner
Jaycex programmed an affirmative into the pilot com. “Hey, do you
remember The Dramascus?”
“The Hell I wouldn’t. More ordinance dropped in that sector than the Mordarian-
Gasparov War. Starhawks…”
“Who was their leader? I can’t remember if he got bought.”
“Milos. “Duke” Milos. Deltafour got him. He even took pictures. They
put ‘em in the Fleet Academy yearbook.”
Rooster laughed, his teeth as white as plastic tombstones.

The Hangar Bay of The Kirosky was strangely deserted. A dozen Crimson
Firecats were aligned on one side, like Christmas Scorpions. A dissected Mako lay in
another corner, gathering microparticles of exhaust and meteor rust. Jaycex hated
Mako’s. To him, they looked like agricultural tractors.
A few shipping jocks stood under the shadow of a corporate mining ship,
swapping fables and sipping brass cups of nitrolite. Another group of wide-eyed
colonists followed a graying pilot around the various other starcraft, in rapt attention to
his every sentence. He had the stage voice of an Earth Middle-Eastern used ship
salesman, adroitly entertaining his guests, space-pale hands deftly punctuating every
opinion. His voice boomed in the artificial gravity of the near-empty Bay.
“…and I said to Star Patrol, what do you mean, three tons of platinum? Would
my ship have this paintjob if I HAD three tons of platinum? Hahahaha…”
The couplings of the pilot’s suit gleamed copper in the fluorescents. It seemed
larger than Jaycex’s own outfit. Bulkier, probably designed for spacewalks on the
surface of his craft, in the event of emergency repair.
His own slate green Firestorm floated on anti grav suspensors in the corner, with
radiation resistant decals of RG and his own personal crest scattered about it’s hull.
Stamped on the side of one wing was and advertisement for Griffon Laser Manufacturers,
and they paid him a tidy 1,000 creds a solar month for the space.
He could see a technician doing some minor upkeep on his craft, and as he got
closer he realized it was Braxus, an old techie from the Venus colonies who swore he was
pureblooded Australian. His accent had long faded, replaced by the dialect native to the
Fringe. He was decked out in a crisp blue Guild-certified technician’s jumpsuit. He had
known Braxus off-and-on for a few years.
“Heya Braxus? How’s the repair kit?”
Jaycex shifted his helmet from his right to his left so he could shake the old
Australian’s hand.
Braxus’s hair was the color of chrome. His eyes were watery and tired. He
seemed like a man who had been around the galaxy a few too many times. He shook
Jaycex’s hand with a steady grip, but Braxus looked at the ground as if his of his words were
written upon the dermoplasteel surface. Jaycex felt a little sympathy for the man, maybe
seeing one too many pilots fly off to their demise had bent him down.
“Good…good, Jay boy. Yes, it has been a long time. I was in working on the lift
servos and saw your minty vessel…Still green, yes? Tuned up the lasers, make them hit
right, eh flyboy, yes?”
Jaycex could see a little fresh work on the port and starboard weapon/thrust
panels. The rivets were a gleaming aluminum, fresh.
“Ah, thank ya, Brax. Haven’t been the same since I got lost in a minefield a
month ago. No fighting for a while, never thought of it ‘til now…”
“Yes…my pleasure, your Firestorm is my hobby, labor of love. Off to Berthold,
right? Expecting trouble? There is a meteor area there, yes? Check the shields? Perhaps
“No, thank you Brax man. Had their frequencies changed ever since I started
doing runs out there. The Nebula was playing havoc with my radar. The meteors are no
problem, now, I have a usual route. But I sure needed my radar to begin with.”
Braxus closed his kitbox, magnetically sealing it to his side. He looked at the
ground again, his face strained and tired. “Careful leaving the Main Takeoff Bay,
Jaycex. Still a little slow opening, half speed to be sure, right?”
Jaycex grinned an affirmative and pulled himself up on the side of the ship,
feeling the gravs compensate. He flipped his helmet on and slid down into the cockpit,
subconsciously flipping on preliminary takeoff controls. The yawning, exhaust-stained,
opening of the Main Takeoff Bay started to open, violet and white lights circling like a
galactic carnival.
The hatch of his Orion sealed shut with a magnetic/pneumatic hiss. Braxus
backed up and started to turn. Jaycex knocked on the plasteel of the cockpit window and
gave the aged mechanic a thumbs up. As he lifted off he did not see the Australian’s
A curtain of steel closed behind him. The Outer Takeoff Bay was pitted and
marked deep by a million subspace micro-particle impacts, it’s brown mustard-yellow
adamantine hold worn bright metal here and there. Once the doors opened, the cold hard
vacuum of eternal space would rush in, and great care was taken to prevent personnel
from being in here at any time. Only ships ever ventured into here, an area as big as an
Earth football field.
The oxygen in the hold crystallized instantly, and his afterburners lit as the vast
star-lit night embraced him.

Part 2 “Recoil”
He rolled the craft leisurely and drifted alongside the station, a wren aloft by solar
winds. He pulled a slide and gunned his thrusters, feeling the climb in his spine.
“If you can feel the physics, then you can feel the fight.” His first instructor often
said, and the Firestorm, much like the thin skinned Comet, gave it’s the pilot the feeling
of invincible motion with every maneuver. He would feel like an orphan in time, later
on, lost in the starry void. But here, with the Station as a point of reference, he enjoyed
these first few minutes of weightless freedom.
Reluctantly, he nosed his craft towards the electric violet smear that was the
Merjohln Nebula. He engaged the autopilot. Watching the Station become a dot. Too far
to shuttle, too close to use a Tach gate, flying to the Berthold, as profitable as it was,
could be a universal pain in the ass.
On his right crystal touchpad, wraithlike green binary code drifted hauntingly, the
computer’s subroutines silently calculating…

His conscious mind drifted slightly. The bright Yellowjacket flame becoming
lemonade, and he was three again. His mother handed him a glass and he pushed an
aluminum replica of a deep space fighter across the Formica tiling that was the kitchen

He thought of The Twist, a pane of horrific gravity light years long, a curtain of
life-killing physics that crushed Capitol ships like the cruel hand of some cold Satan, a
ripple in the void caused by immense subspace winds, marked by buoys a thousand miles
out. Physicists believed The Twist would double in size exponentially, but it would
matter little, as the universe would expand with it. One day, millennia upon millennia in
the future, it would break suns to pieces, stripping them of light shred by searing shred.

In his mind The Dramascus was coming apart, he imagined blood rippling out
from its hull as if it were an enormous living Earth skyscraper. The Starhawks drifted
on interstellar zephyrs, no longer Yellowjackets, but Condors of black and yellow,
drinking the gore that ribboned from the metal carcass of the Capitol ship. He was
separated from it by a wall of plasteel, banging his fragile fists against it. A scavenger
separating from the body of the dying Titan, flying on a death-wish to Jaycex. It
blossomed, the color of lemonade, smashing the window between him and space. It
burned, citrus flames cooking the oxygen around him, he was killed by a thousand forces:
hard radiation, suffocation, bone-liquidating gravity…a lemon inferno that baked
him alongside the merchants as the ship’s skin wept crimson and split asunder…

He gasped himself awake, sweat running like a cold hand across his nape. The
autopilot blared it’s warning of the approach of the asteroid field. A vast expanse of iron
and nickel, backlit by the arc of light that was the nebula. 4 miles of barren rock,
surrounding the Berthold.
His comm.. died with a harsh electric gargle.
He had memorized his route from space to the Berthold with a pilot’s mind, had
navigated it seven or eight times a week, and followed the route with care and precision.
The mountainous bodies of the metallic rock around him moved in ancient orbits,
creating their own gravities. The scientists in this station studied the effects of the nebula
on temporal fields, using mathematics and theory which took a decade of study to begin
to grasp. Normal pilots of merchant vessels and subspace shuttles would not venture
here, but to combat pilots it was not too much of a stretch. It was good, consistent pay
without being shot at, a precious commodity an any part of the universe for people like
It was by a chunk of copper and nickel a mile long that Jaycex spotted a piece of
ferroconcrete, a griseous brick of material sprouting branches of tubing and burned
couplings. It was the beginning of wreckage, a trail of space debris that led to the twisted
and blasted carcass of the dead station.
Shells of plasteel floated amidst the chunks of titanium and similar materials that
had once been the science station. Oxygen from the station, now frozen, lay coalesced
around the remains of reactors, compressors, environmental stabilizers and the twisted
human bodies, blasted and iced by space.
Despite the hardy construction of such creations, veterans knew well what ways
there existed to destroy them. Nova rockets, tactical nukes, overrun the ship’s crew and
program the reactor to meltdown…or just attach magnetic thermal mines to the core and
set it to ignite after you had left the station. The Berthold had been 1/8 the size of other
stations. Hardly a fortress of space. Now it was so much twisted matter.
Their ships had been Darts, their hulls reinforced and treated with a polyreactive
mnemonic skin of camouflaging crysteel, usually eschewed by ship manufacturers
because the substance, as impressive as it was at making the craft it covered all but
invisible against the curtain of space, prevented shields or guidance systems from
functioning properly, precious commodities in any ship-to-ship military action. Their
afterburners had been thrice baffled and magnetically ionized to prevent as much as
possible from being seen.
The three mercenaries had waited, as patient as spiders, clinging to the pieces of
the Berthold’s hull with micro-tractors. Jaycex, still in shock from the grievous
destruction before him, perceived only an oily flicker and a phosphorescent shine of
afterburners as laser fire blazed in a neon hail upon his craft and all sides of it.
He had reacted unconsciously, reversing his own afterburners, rocketing
backwards and around in a well-rehearsed buttonhook that put him behind his
attackers before he himself had become aware of what had happened. Hours of
experience had added up to that moment, and Jaycex, much like other veterans,
performed actions like these to put themselves out of the way and in firing position when
they were shot at from behind unexpectedly. He pulled the trigger of his own lasers
with the same reflex, arcs of fire creating a flickering ghost-fire as his target’s shields
reacted. There was a moment of confusion and Jaycex saw only a shadow with the
wreckage behind it, and then felt his craft shudder…a deep mechanized groaning from
the ships systems. The lights of his HUD flashed and jumped, a wall of green code
swarming his vision. He fired again, his target a phantom, drifting and then flinging itself
out of control into the wall of what was once the Berthold Research Facility, and then
becoming a blossom of light and fragments.
There was a brief moment as he dipped the nose of his craft to the right, thumbing
the afterburners to buy himself distance, and then the systems within the Firestorm
thudded and his ship spun side over side, the afterburners gone. The weapons HUD
streaming electric warnings, the hull of his ship losing pieces of itself as he flipped, like a
falling gyroscope, towards the bulk of the asteroid field.
Part 3 “Occam’s Razor
In eastern philosophies time is not seen as a linear construct, unlike the west. To
them time is a circle, a cycle, a river eating it’s own tail, forever flowing. Events happen,
have happened, will happen, and it is only our limited perception that prevents us from
rejoicing in the eternity that is the universe. We need only remember it is Maya, illusion,
and that our past is not our past, just as our future is not our future, it all merely is.
But thankfully, at least in storytelling, we can have a taste of the real nature of the
universe in the form of a third-person perspective.
Rewind a few hours, when Jaycex was in the silver and blue neon panorama that
is the flight deck. It is much like a chrome hotel lobby, cold, clean and organized. The
carpet is a synthetic stain resistant plasteel mesh that resists the scuffs that a pilot’s boots
can produce.
Jaycex is facing Rosterez, and Rosterez is speaking, having just laughed at the
sentence Jaycex uttered.
“Shoot, I gotta tour with some Merchant freighter. Say they saw pirates. Just me
and some yutz named Galfreid for a wingman. Easy money, if you can stand the smell
of their cloner vats.”
In that way we get a glimpse of the universe as it escapes us, a sentence is spoken
and is forever in existence. Rosterez has replied, is replying, and will forever reply. He
finishes his conversation with Jaycex, a conversation we have already heard, and now he
is approaching the Jaguar to get a drink and some chow, before his flight.
He eats at the bar, preferring the conversation there than at the tables. As
Madaline departs from her meeting with Jaycex, Rooster admires her pert behind,
wondering if she is a regular here.
Rosterez is a regular at half the bars in the galaxy.
Rosterez has three martinis, two Bloody Mary’s, and a great amount of eratz
He would hate to admit it, but he prefers the synthetic of coffee to the real item, a
sort of creeping surrealism that enters everyone’s lives that far in the future, wanting the
unreal instead of the original item
Now we can cruise to a few hours later, unburdened as we are from the linear
prison that is time. Jaycex left the Kirosky Hangar a while ago, and Rooster is annoyed.
Rosterez is aboard his Archangel, the Pretty Baby. His ship cost five times more
than Jaycex’s, and it’s chassis invokes a feeling of fear and invincibility. He loads it
with the best available weapons and stereo systems.
“What do you mean, the merchant freighter canceled!!??”
The person on the other end is Galfreid. He is a light year away, but thanks to
Tachyon Gate communication, his voice is as clear as mountain spring water.
“They found out their cloner vats are manufacturing cancerous material, and Star
Patrol has ordered a mass recall, and they will arrest every and all vessels escorting or in
any way involved with said faulty product, that means no clones, no merchants, no
money and no job.”
Rosterez is feeling the heat. “Well, Herr Galfreid, that would have been an
inspirational example of previous knowledge if you had told me all of this before I
accepted the job…there are no jobs left for today.”
“No, Rosterez, having anticipated the whining you would undoubtedly make, I
labored intensively to provide you with a job. Do you know about the Berthold?”
“Yeah, Science and Research, Jaycex goes there a lot. What about it”
“They just got a communicae, and since their pet Nebula slags space radio, they
get all of their mail hand delivered. So that you means you get paid, pony express boy.”
“But that’s the job Jaycex has been living off of…” Jaycex says, not really feeling
all that bad.
“So? The Berthold deal is a cash cow, and there’s plenty to go around. So have
some beef jerky and quit lamenting. If you really feel bad you can split it with Jaycex.”
“Good idea!” Rosterez says, knowing full well he wasn’t about to split his pay.
“Where do I get the message to deliver?”
“Just have the station computer upload it to you ship. Bye, Rooster, hope that
rash clears up.”
“Thanks, B.S., I hope your shields were made by the lowest bidder.”
Thus ends the conversation.
Rosterez sits for a minute, drumming his fingers on the control panel.

Less than 15 minutes later the Pretty Baby is aloft in the interstellar void, cold
nuclear engines propelling him towards the Berthold. His com is shut off and Chuck
Berry is screaming “Long Tall Sally” at deafening levels. He hums along, thinking of
Bloody Mary’s and the physics of solar winds.

Put yourself somewhere in the industrialized section of Earth in the year 2000.
You are in a Volkswagon that was manufactured during the 70’s. Now backed up
into a cavern so small the rock grinds against the walls.
That’s how Jaycex feels, only he is countless miles from any human being that
doesn’t want him blasted into a spoonful of space debris.
He had pulled himself out of the out-of-control dive perfectly, and while the two
mercs were busy sifting through the wreckage of their comrade, he had used his
momentum to back into an apartment sized asteroid of nickel and silver, and he sits there,
assessing the situation, and getting more and more disconcerted as he assesses.
Jaycex monitored his controls, the HUD informing him that he no longer has
energy going into either his lasers or burners.
His computer is in a blitz, ignoring all of his manual commands. So he does what
the best do in times of crisis. He reboots the computer.
There is an electric hum and is computer come to life in Voice-User-Interface
“Good evening, Jaycex.”
It sounds like the death rattle of a twentieth century Earth toaster.
“My craft is damaged. Diagnostic?”
Time passes and Jaycex can feel the two fighters out there, searching.
“You have a reactor leak. Your port and starboard power couplers are
destroyed. The reserve couplers are malfunctioning. The last repair was three
hours ago.”
“What? I didn’t repair them…What is the malfunction in the reserve couplers?”
An electric rattle.
“They are missing.”
“They are missing.”
He pauses for a second. His mind moving faster than x-rays.
“Open communication to the Kirosky.”
“That is not possible. A nearby nebula is…”
“I know, I know. Why would my couplers be missing unless…”
Jaycex puts it together. It is a mnemonic visual montage. Facts and details
forming patterns in his mind. Braxus. The fresh work on the port and starboard
weapon/thrust panels. The old mechanic, bent and worn, reluctant to look him in the eye.
Outside, Jaycex can hear the hollow detonation of blast charges. The Mercs are
looking, destroying the larger asteroids in the hopes of finding him.
He shakes, feeling the pressure. He knew he would buy it someday, getting
blasted to particles on the butt-end of space. He accepted that. Every veteran pilot shed
any illusions of long life or immortality, it came with the career. But he had jealously
wanted a fair fight, even if outnumbered, with a ship that was completely functional.
He couldn’t fire.
The reactor leak was draining, slowly.
And he couldn’t flee, he had no afterburners.
Eventually, they would detonate the asteroid he was in. Or the leak would
continue and eat into life support. It would be a passive death, just fall asleep and let the
cold void overtake you, death by asphyxiation, peaceful…
He made a fist and pounded the plasteel control panel, viciously. And then,
because it was such a useless idea, he whacked it again, feeling the cold thunk resonate
through the bones of his hand…a wall of wrath like a red curtain before his eyes.
He shudders, breathing heavily, sweating…
…and remembers Madaline and her thesis.
A warm feeling rises up from his gut, making his mind spin as he puts together
facts in his mind, like atoms in a vacuum chamber, spinning, forming, breaking apart, and
reforming again…
“Disengage the grid-user interface.”
There was a hollow groan of systems shuddering to sleep like so many
mechanical organisms, slumbering side-by-side.
Jaycex placed his hands on the instrument panel, his fingers finding the edges of
the rectangle-shaped piece of plasteel that housed the Orion’s controls. He tore it off
with a brutal motion, rivets flying in all directions within the cockpit. Adrenalin works.
“Now, re-route power to these systems, in the following order of importance…”
And then Jaycex starts to put things together.

Time passes and Jaycex is not paying attention. He groped his way through what
little he could recall, ditching details for a more of the following of an idea to get a
desired result. Inevitably, he does not have the time to test everything, he only has the
vaguest idea that the theory Madaline had proposed was workable. He powers down the
non-essential systems, not knowing how much time he had, betting his rent money on a
quick fight.
He breathes in, exhaling, thumbing a control, and the ship shudders awake, the
explosions outside have stopped and he can hear the well-familiar pattern of laser fire,
indicative of a dogfight.
He clears the jagged rock mouth of the cave and his shields flicker to life, he
comes around the behemoth form of the meteor seeing the islands of debris and the violet
rent in space that is the nebula…and the briefest smudges that were the Darts, circling the
proud form of the Archangel.
Jaycex held his breath and fired a shot, Deimos falling wide of his mark.. But
what mattered is that they worked.
The Archangel performed a lazy flip and dived, it’s shields glowing briefly from
the assault upon it. It seemed to Jaycex as if it were a falcon, harangued by unseen
He fired a shot, impacting only once, still unable to get a shot on the phantoms.
He would aim at the occasional blaze of lasers or afterburners, praying for good
physics. The two Mercs seemed to separate and the bird-of-prey form of the Archangel
blazed past, diving briefly under a vast shard of the Berthold’s destroyed oxygen
“That’s Rosterez.” He heard himself say.
His back shields were hit by laser fire and began to buckle. He banked right and
began to lateral thrust, sliding in a circular arc, twisting to avoid being hit. It was as if he
was riveted to the seat of the cockpit, an automaton, and extension of the ship itself.
Jaycex burned in a loop, a bright lance of laser fire telling him that the other Dart
was still behind. He slid in a semi-circle, feeling the magnetics suspend his Firestorm
like the hand of a God. The nebula seemed to be closer, but he had no time to take in the
violet field of it. Another flip, a semi-circle, and he was out of the asteroid field, above
the plane of broken material, the Berthold miles past.
A brief flash ahead of him and his front shields took the brunt.
The hum of electrics overtook him…time stretched and impacted upon itself as all
of his will and concentration entered the fray. He could not see his opponent, true, but he
began to fight with an internal rythym, hearing the rush of his opponents afterburners, the
flashes of lasers betraying his attackers invisibility. He would catch a glimpse, a clear
streak in the dark, but then the opportunity would be gone and he would slide a lat again,
Five minutes? Fifteen? How much time did he have? How much had past?
The nebula was closer now, a vast wall of neon cutting through space.
He turned towards it, hoping to use the advantage, that his attacker would lose
him in the light.
His shields impacted and he slid his ship in a hook, for a brief second he caught a
flash and his front shields were gone…
He reversed his thrust, falling backwards, a desperation maneuver, that the other
pilot would not fire but move out of the way as you went past…
There was silence, a white hot plane that was the near- heart of the Merjohln. His
heart stopped, his sweat stopped, his mouth a sandy depression in a vast and ageless
bleached desert…
The Dart was a blacker shape against the silver violet…he was no longer Jaycex,
he was another person, realizing that the polyreactive mnemonic skin of the craft had
overloaded and the pilot was not aware of it, swinging in confidently, assured that his
victim would be a cinder…
Someone else moved the Firestorm just enough to the side, fire lighting the inside
of his cockpit, and another person’s hand fired, not spasmodically, not sporadically, but
with the smooth precision of a surgeon with a las scalpel, cutting cleanly through the
black void, through flesh, bone, hull, the Dart becoming a blossom of fire and shrapnel,
and he was streaking towards it…
…less bright against the white hot day that was the nebula…
…and he was Jaycex again, sliding backwards and holding, latting only after his
spin was complete, the fireball that was the Dart’s remains expanding and colliding upon
what was left of his rear shields.
His vision shifted and he realized he was drifting out of control, that he had lost
consciousness only so briefly, that the Merjohln and the Merc were behind him, just like
The Dramascus was behind him, over with…

He limped his ship to the Asteroid field as conservatively as possible, and found
Rosterez, flying in a lazy orbit, around the wreckage.
Jaycex powered down and waited, the nebula preventing all communicae. The
Archangel loomed upon him, snatching the smaller vessel in a soft tractor grip.
Part 4 “Antimatter”
The Merjohln and the floating graveyard that was the Berthold were hours behind
“I scragged the one, and looked fo you, but you had disappeared from my radar. I
looked around, couldn’t find you, and waited by the wreckage, figured that if it was the
bad guy coming back I’d jump ‘em. If it was you, I’d escort.”
“How did you hull him?” Jaycex’s voice felt hollow.
“I’ve heard of that polyreactive trick. I took a beating when they ambushed me,
so I powered up my shields from my lasers, got my bearings and moved around until I
programmed my computer to pick up the IR signature of the pilot, you just tell the
computer to perceive everything between 92 to 98 degrees. Poly stops IR, but you can’t
shield the cockpit too well. Then you see the red blip and aim for it. No explosion, his
ship just scooted off because the pilot was toast. Amazing those losers had the balls to
try that. Poly screws up your shields, can’t use missles…”
Long silence.
“They killed all those people, Rosterez.”
“Yeah and frag ‘em, we killed them. And the other pirate’s will get their’s
“But those scientists…”
“Look, I know where this is going. The pirate’s killed them, not you. Would you
have stopped them? Yes. But you couldn’t. We scragged those two punks and saved
some future lives. You ain’t perfect, so don’t go dumping on yourself. Those scientists
knew communicae was gone, but they took the risks.”
“I think it was a hit, Rosterez.”
“Off a station just to scrag one pilot? No, they got their cake, you were just

He spent most of his creds on repairs. Braxus had already left.

He followed the electronic trail of spent credits through New Vegas, all the way
out to the Outer Reaches, he took jobs as they came, always checking the post boards for
which mechanics were on that particular base.
He was sitting in a pilot’s lounge on board The Helsinky, a Capitol Ship owned
by some Martian Firm. The room was all chrome and black velvet. Three Turks argued
around a table, drinking steaming mugs of nitrolite. They are talking excitedly about
gambling and strippers. Over their heads, a vid screen reports the death of three pilots
who had been stationed on board the Pietro Space Patrol Station. They had gone to fight
pirates, and didn’t return. Star Patrol had found their ship’s floating in that void, and had
blamed their deaths on coupling failure…

Braxus lowered himself down the service ladder. He was on a Construction
Platform in deep space, half a light year from the Pietro. The lower section of it had
been abandoned, nothing but rats and coils of energy routers. The walls were all exposed
components and bare metal. Somewhere, water dripped incessantly. Braxus had stored a
Mako in an old Service Station, and was heading there now.
The door hissed open and he approached the ship’s hulk, noticing that the cockpit
panel had been removed.
“Bloody hell..?” Braxus muttered, touching the burned metal with a gloved finger.
“Figured you’d have retired by now, Brax.”
Jaycex stepped from behind the mechanic, holding a slim laspistol.
“Jaycex? Hell…I thought you had…” The smile heading towards Braxus’s face
died before it got there.
“How much did they pay you, Braxus?”
Braxus stood still for a moment, as silent as an antediluvian menhir.
Jaycex pulled the trigger. The beam from laspistol slashed the helmet Braxus was
holding in half.
“ALRIGHT! Alright! I’m sorry…they made me…don’t turn me over to Star
Patrol…I can pay you.” His voice brimmed with panic.
Jaycex didn’t answer for a few long seconds. His face felt like a mask of wax.
“I’m not turning you over to Star Patrol, Braxus.”
The mechanic stood there, shaking, not comprehending. But as Jaycex fired and
cut the control panel on the wall in two with a blaze of sparks, he stepped back.
The doors hissed shut behind Jaycex. He punched a code sequence into the inside
control panel, trying not to hear the dull thuds of Braxus pounding on the derridium hull
of the door.
The Service Station spaced with a groan of servos and rumbling electrics. The
pounding ended, and Jaycex left it open, walking away and leaving everything behind

He found work on an off-planet Ecosystem research community. It was a cloudy
day, the two distant suns making the sky glow like burnished silver, the same color of
Madeline’s fingernails.
Jaycex stood waist deep in the cold sea, letting his hands drift above the water,
almost touching.
The woman on the beach with him touched the water with a delicate toe.
“Il est froid!” She said, her accent carrying across the shore.
She looked at his face, touching her hair, her mouth.
“Comment-allez vous?”
Jaycex couldn’t see the Dramascus. He saw waves, the sky, the lush cloned
tropical jungle behind her.
“Comme ci, comme ca.” He said.
Eventually, the current carried him back to her. They left the beach behind them.

The Demon Faction
By: FyreHeart of The Void Alliance
It was like working with a wild animal. As the creature tames, the trainer is lulled into a sense of confidence. A smug belief sets in that he somehow has control over the beast. The "Demon Project" had suffered its first major setback.

It had been two years since Jake Logan escorted a reformed Demon Pirate to Cassitor Station, with the result that the insanity Cassitor had created returned and destroyed him. A sizeable team from the League of Scientists was dispatched mere weeks later to begin the Demon Pirate Rehabilitation Project, coloquially known as the "Demon Project." Working in the deplorable conditions of the Deep Fringe Array, the League of Scientists set up a base and began monitoring Dusk sector by long range TachBand. The work started slowly - brief messages broadcast to the station. An occasional conversation with a manically confused Demon Pirate. Gradually, though, the paranoia seemed to lift. Someone on that station was listening...

The decision was made to risk an excursion to Dusk sector. As an act of goodwill, the Bora volunteered military escort. Several wings of Maces and Battleaxes escorted the Michelson to Demon station. They docked without incident, and started aggressive drug and psychiatric treatment.

The results were beyond what they had hoped. Well before the Dusk fog dissipated, the Demon Pirates were returning to sanity. They were reclaiming the dreams and goals of a generation before.

It was in the height of this success that Dr. Rebecca DawnHill was found dead.


"Autopsy?" asked Detective Hunter.

"Underway now, sir," replied the Lieutenant. "Although the state the body was discovered in almost guarantees homicide."

"I've read the report, Lieutenant. It takes a sick mind to hack away at a body like that. I'd say we can safely conclude it's homicide. Sexual assault?"

"The autopsy will have to give us the final word, but initial indications are no."

"Cold blooded murder," Hunter mused. "That will be all Lieutenant."

The Lieutenant didn't move, though he blanched under Hunter's gaze.

"Something else?"

"Sir... um..." he stammered, "the chief wants you to investigate on site."

Hunter felt his collar grow warm, and if it were possible, even more blood drained from the Lieutenant's face. He quietly bit his tongue.

"Slag, I hate Twilight space," Hunter muttered as he stormed off.


The Twilight fog always made Detective Ace Hunter's skin itch, and he had a constant urge to wave his hand in front of his face to try and clear the fog from his eyes.

"Report," Hunter ordered as he entered the war room. He was met with the blank looks of countless young scientists and a few gray hairs. Suddenly he felt rather awkward and felt his collar warming.

"You... um... must be Detective Hunter," a young scientist offered, extending his hand.

"Uh... yeah," Hunter said, slowly taking the scientist's hand. "Any Star Patrol Operatives 'round here?"

"Um, no sir, Mr. Hunter. They're all at Demon Station."

"Is there anybody who can give me a report?"

"Why, yes, sir. Me."

Hunter looked at him dubiously. "Okay... what's your name, kid?"

"Spencer," the boy said, a little too enthusiastically.

"That your first or last name?" Hunter asked, flat-toned.

"Um... last," Spencer said, his enthusiasm gone. "Dr. Allen Spencer."

"Doctor?" Hunter said before he could catch himself.

"Oh, yeah," Spencer said, his enthusiasm back. "I was youngest to graduate from Neptune's..."

"Gotcha," Hunter broke in. "Top of your class, blah, blah, blah. Been there, kid. It ain't all it's cracked up to be. Why you in the Fringe?"

Spencer looked blank, "I... my specialty was psycho-genetic rehabilitation. The Demon Project was the subject of my Doctoral Thesis, so the chance to work on it... well, you can imagine."

Hunter's stoic face finally broke into a half-grin, remembering his own first assignment with SP. "Yeah, I can imagine. Shouldn't you be giving me that report now?"

"The autopsy report came in just before you arrived," Spencer said as they walked toward a console. "There's not much more than the initial analysis. Body hacked up with an old-style steel blade, no sexual assault, except..."


"There was an unusual amount of Dusk Fog in her lungs."

"What do you mean by 'unusual amount'?"

"Well, the Dusk Fog has unique properties, since it's been artificially enhanced."

"Cassitor," Hunter growled.

"Yeah," Spencer whispered, then continued. "Everybody who lives on Demon Station has some amount the Dusk Fog in their lungs. The Demon Pirates - since they've lived there the longest - have much more than any of the scientists. Dr. Dawnhill had less than any of the pirates, but significantly more than any of the scientists."

"Gimme that console," Hunter ordered, shoving Spencer aside. He sent a message to the autopsy team.


"I don't understand why we're going to the hangar, Detective. I've told you our only pilots are on their way back from Demon Station."

"You said there's some ships docked there, right? This Star Patrol badge ain't a cardboard cut out, Spence," Hunter said, holding out his ID, "You've heard of an SP Enforcer, right?"

"The patrol ships? Sure, but..."

"Everybody starts out on patrol duty flyin' one of those. There's no Star Patrol Operative worth his salt that can't fly, 'cept maybe the old pencil pushers. What'cha got in that hanger."


"Don't know ships, do you?"

"Well, no. I'm more of a," Spencer looked at him and grinned, "bookworm."

Hunter chuckled as they walked through the hangar door.

Chapter 2


An aging Piranha that looked like it had seen too much of the fog was all Hunter could find to hotwire. The only decent ships looked like they belonged to the type of mercs Hunter wouldn't want to offend on OR off duty. The Piranha's deterioration put up more of a fight than its defensive systems as Hunter pricked and pried his way to the cockpit. Spencer worked to fit even his sparse frame into the minuscule passenger compartment. It did make a passable take off and the sensors were able to penetrate the nebula and find the TCG gate.

Hunter blinked compulsively at the fog and kept craning his neck toward the viewport. "Who ever said you could see forever in space?" he grumbled.

"I like the fog," Spencer squeaked.

"Yeah, for you reverse-claustrophobics, space is too big, but the fog hems you in some - makes you feel comfortable."

"I guess."

"Personally, I don't like trusting my butt to sensors. They've let me down once too often."

They made the rest of the flight to Dusk sector in silence, except for Spencer's occasional whining as he attempted to shift from one cramped position to another. In the Twilight Gateway sector they passed several of the ships that were returning to the Deep Fringe Array.

"That report..." Hunter broke the silence as they exited the Dusk TCG gate. "You got a clear holo on it. Last time I was at the Fringe Array there was no way that kind of detailed data could get through."

"Yeah," Spencer responded, "The League has been doing some repairs, but you can imagine those take lower priority. How many times have you been out here?"

"Too many. Where do I park this thing?"

"The docking platforms are at the back of the station, relative to us, but you'll want to go to the hangar bay, which should be up on the right."


Inside Demon Station, Spencer led Hunter through deck after deck, the inane layout of the station boggling Hunter's mind.

"How do you know your way around this place?"

"I may be space-phobic, but I did make it all the way to Fringe Array from Sol. You don't think that a little space would keep me from my life's work, do you?" Spencer responded. Hunter couldn't help but grin. The kid was growing a spine.

At last a door slid away before them and they entered what had to be the nerve center of the League of Scientist's operations.

"Oh, look. Another Star Pig," A white-coated lab rat said, his voice oozing sarcasm. "I guess maybe four heads are better than three. I didn't think Star Patrol had jurisdiction in Twilight Space."

Hunter didn't even break his stride. "We don't, but we do have jurisdiction over the League of Scientists." Hunter watched him flush out of the corner of his eye and suppressed a grin as he approached the conference table where the three Star Patrol Operatives were meeting with a handful of gray haired scientists. They all looked up as Hunter approached.

"Report," Hunter ordered, feeling much more comfortable than the last time he'd said that.

"We're not much further than before you came, Detective," answered the SP Lieutenant in charge of the investigation. "We hoped the autopsy would give us a new clue, but there's no new information in the report."

Hunter grunted. "All right. Well, you might as well show me the scene. I don't think we'll be needing you scientists. The gray hairs bowed out as the SP Officers made for the door. Spencer didn't join them and tried to look busy.

"I didn't mean you, kid," Hunter called. "You're with me."

Spencer sheepishly joined them.

As Star Patrol plus Dr. Spencer pounded throught the labrynthine corridors of Demon Station, Hunter started interrogating.

"OK, boys, what's really going on here?"

"Well, Detective," Lieutenant Promontory began, casting a wary eye at Spencer, "we suspect the League is hiding something. Protecting their own, you know..."

"Um, sir..." Spencer said softly.

"You know how long it took before they banished Cassitor," added Operative Jenkins.

"Sir," Spencer said, louder this time.

"Right," continued Promontory, "so our best guess at this point is one of the scientists had it in for her, and those that know it are covering for the murderer."

"I still don't buy a Sol-trained scientist going that ballistic on a co-worker's body," put in Operative Sprauge. "That looks like the work of a sociopath."

"I agree," said Hunter.

"SIR!" Spencer was getting annoyed.

"...besides," Hunter continued, "How closely did you look at that autopsy report? Can anybody explain to me how that much fog got into Dr. DawnHill's lungs?"

"HEY! OLD TIMER!" Spencer was yelling in Hunter's ear at point blank range.

"OW! What the slag do you want, Spence? You're interrupting official police business!"

"If I'm not mistaken, YOU asked me along," Spencer said hotly. "Now if you brilliant police investigators want to shut up with your theories, this stupid Ph.D in Psycho-Genetics may be able to give you an insider's perspective."

Hunter flashed a knowing grin at the other operatives with a look like, "it worked."

"OK, kid. We're all ears, except for the one of mine that you deafened."

"Cute," Spencer growled, but steadily calmed as he told his story. "I'm pretty sure you're right about the League covering something up, but I really don't believe it's one of the scientists." The Star Patrol Operatives shifted uneasily, not quite ready to give up on their pet theory. "From what I gather, overhearing conversations of some of the chief scientists on the Project, there are a significant number of Demon Pirates who haven't been responding well to the treatments. They miss medical exams, don't take their medication, miss counseling appointments... you get the idea. The League has been trying to keep that quiet, though a number of scientists were pushing for complete disclosure of our results to the Tachyon News Service. I haven't heard anything else about that since the murder."

"So you're saying she was killed by some Demon Pirate that hasn't been reformed yet?" Lieutenant Promontory asked dubiously.

"Why would they hide something like that? It releases them from suspicion," mused Sprauge.

"Simple," Spencer said. "Scientists take pride in their work. If a Demon Pirate wasn't reformed, then the glowing reports we've been releasing to TNS would be suspect. It would look like the League failed. Our schedule could be cut short or we could even lose our funding."

The Operatives stood silent for a moment, processing this.

"You said a 'significant number'," Hunter said. "How many we talkin' about?"

"Thirty? Fifty? I don't know," Spencer answered.

"Slag!" Hunter hissed. "Promontory, get one of your men monitoring the hangars. I want to know every ship that so much as farts out a thruster. Spence, any chance you could get me a roster of this rehabilitation project and who's missed what?"

"Sure," said Spencer, grinning.

"Good. Promontory, get your other man doing an inventory of the station. I want to know who and where everybody is. Meanwhile, you better hurry up and show me the site. I'm expecting another report in any minute."

Promontory nodded at his men, who split up, and they were on their way.


The murder site wasn't much to see. Lots of etched carborundum deck plating, blood spatters flung about, and the outline of the body. Any trace clues would have already been gathered up by forensics. Hunter couldn't get a feel for the place.

"Why here?" he wondered aloud.

"Why at all," Promontory answered. "This isn't exactly the work of a respectable citizen, or even anything you could call sane."

Hunter grunted. "Let's head back to geek central. I need to pick up that report."


Several Demon Pirates were in the nerve center when they arrived, and Hunter eyed them suspiciously.

"Here's the roster on pirate attendance," Spencer said, holding out a data pad. "That other report from the follow-up autopsy you requested is also in there. What was that about?"

"Follow up autopsy?" Promontory wanted to know.

"Thanks, Spence," Hunter said, perusing the pad and ignoring Promontory.

"Looks like we've got some more evidence for your theory, Spence. Promontory, let's check in on your man in the hangars."

"What evidence?" Spencer asked as they headed out the door.

"That report I requested back at the Fringe Array? It was an extension of the autopsy. I asked for chemical analysis of her wounds."

"Yeah, and?"

"Steel flecks, typical blood elements, and... twilight fog."


"Specifically, fog imbedded in the steel filings. That knife was acquired right here on this station. Promontory, where could someone get hands on an old weapon like that?"

"Here? No idea."

"I think I might know," Spencer piped up.

"Tell me what you can on the way, Spence."


"Whaddya got, Jenkins?" Promontory belted as the trio waltzed into the observation deck.

"Any Demons through here?" Hunter added.

Operative Jenkins swiveled around and looked at Hunter like he was the star attraction at idiot-o-rama. "There's hardly anything but Demons through here, Detective. Of the eight ships that have been through here in the last two hours, only one WASN'T a Demon. Maybe Mr. Ph.D in Psycho-Genetics can help me with my math, but that makes something like 85% of the ships through here Demons."

"Slag!" Hunter blurted. "Anything unusual? Erratic flying, that kind of thing?"

Two idiot-o-rama looks in as many minutes. Hunter almost slugged him for insubordination.

"The Demon Pirates ALL fly crazier than Star Patrol rookies," Jenkins answered.

"Well, since you've become such an expert, keep your butt in that seat and keep an eye out for anything 'unusual'," Hunter oozed as he stormed out.


"Okay, Spence. The knife," Hunter's skin was beginning to itch again.

"Like I told you, there's several places they store that sort of thing. Where do you want to go first?"

"The two kitchens you mentioned seem a bit too obvious, but that might make them easy to rule out, too. Let's hit them and look for anything missing before we pay a visit to this 'knife collector'."

A brief search through the two older-style kitchens on the station turned up nothing unusual, as Hunter had hoped. He admitted to himself that he was being a bit careless, and made a mental note to return to these places if his trails grew cold.

Spencer had also told him about a Demon Pirate who had a fetish for ancient weapons, especially bladed ones. Hunter thought it would be too easy to find a suspect by the end of the day, but he also knew how rarely the obvious suspects panned out.

As luck would have it, the Demon Pirate in question was away. Hunter stepped gingerly into his quarters and was stymied by the vast array of blades adorning the walls. This guy was a collector extrordinaire.

"Shouldn't we have a warrant?" Promontory asked.

"No law out here, Lieutenant. Where are we going to get one? You know a judge that has jurisdiction over Twilight Space?"

"Um... no."

"Right. So as highest ranking Operative from the United Sol Government on site, I say we investigate."

Promontory shrugged.

"What's this guy's name?" Hunter continued.

"None of the Demon Pirates remember their given names," Spencer answered. "He goes by the handle Phantasm."

"Any idea where he is?"


"OK, let's be quick. Check out as many blades as you can. Look for anything out of place, but don't touch anything."

"I do know how to conduct an investigation, Detective." Promontory sounded annoyed.

"That was for Dr. Spencer's benefit, Lieutenant. Let's get to work."

Chapter 3


Phantasm's collection kept them busy for hours, apparently without results. Weary and sore, Hunter straightened from examining several small daggers arranged in a rising-sun pattern, and grunted.

"What time is it? Where does somebody get something to eat on this station?"

"Agreed. I could do with some coffee," Promontory responded. His eyes were red.

"Um... this way," Spencer said, stiffly indicating the door. They followed him out.


None of them said a word for several minutes as they wolfed the food they had scrounged from the nearest kitchen. Hunter was lost in his own thoughts, frustrated that they'd found so little.

"Y'know, the thing I've never understood about Phantasm's collection," Spencer said through a mouthful of food, "Why he liked that one, bland knife the best. I mean, all of his blades have rust or patina or some sign of age on it, but he always kept that one so clean."

Hunter and Promontory had stopped chewing and were staring at Spencer. Hunter felt his collar getting warm.

"What?" Spencer asked nervously.

"I thought I told you to report anything unusual!" Hunter said, keeping his voice even by sheer willpower.

"You said if I SAW anything unusual," Spencer retorted. "I didn't see that blade with his collection today."

Hunter and Promontory looked at each other, then dropped their food and bolted from the table. Spencer trotted along behind them chanting "What? What?"


"You told your man in the hangar, what's his name - Jenkins, to keep an eye out for Phantasm, didn't you Lieutenant?"

"Yes. Jenkins'll notify us as soon as he's sighted."

"Spencer - any way to track a specific pirate? Are they assigned specific ships?"

"Um... no. It's kind of a paradox. Even though the pirates were paranoid about all outsiders, they were very trusting of each other. Almost everything was held more or less communally. No assigned ships. You noticed there were no locks on the doors..."

"Yeah, I did," Hunter responded. "Slag. We need to locate this guy."

They burst into Phantasm's room and began scanning the walls.

"Spencer! Where did Phant-whosit keep that special knife of his?"

"You're having trouble with names today, aren't you Detective?" Spencer observed.

"Yeah. That happens when I get flustered. I also tend to forget my manners, so howsabout you answer the question before I forget to be polite to you."

"Sorry," Spencer stammered. "Right over there, in the center of his collection."

The three went over to a space in the middle of the wall, where a faint stain outlined a space for a knife over two feet long with a blade almost six inches wide. The blade itself was nowhere in sight.

"You call that a knife?" Promontory whistled.

"Yeah - there was a special name for it. Bauer. No. Bowie - that's it. Bowie knife, Spencer said. "One of the other scientists said there was some historical significance to it. There would have to be for someone to like such a plain knife."

"Plain, maybe," Hunter said, "except for its size. You have plastic gloves Promontory? We need to search this place for that knife."

"Here ya go, Detective," Promontory answered, producing three pair.


Several minutes of searching produced nothing. There weren't many places to hide such a large object in such small, spartan quarters, but they dogged on, stepping over each other. Hunter felt his temper rising when Promontory's comm chimed.

"Promontory," he said into the comm.

"Jenkins, sir. A Demon ship broadcasting the handle Phantasm has just docked."

"Copy that."

"Trace," Hunter said quietly, nodding toward Promontory's comm.

"Jenkins, put a trace on that ship. See if you can download the flight records, too."

Hunter nodded approvingly. "Okay - let's get this place back together and get scarce."

Phantasm never noticed anything had been disturbed.


They regrouped at the observation deck.

"Anything, Jenkins?" Promontory wanted to know. "What did the flight record show?"

"Um... no. Nothing," Jenkins said without turning around. "Ship's still sitting there, so no info on the trace."

"No surprise there," Hunter said. "What about the flight record?"

"There was none," Jenkins responded.

"What? He erased it already?" Spencer exclaimed.

"No, there was nothing to erase."

Promontory's eyes narrowed. "Want to explain that, Jenkins?"

"The flight recorder was deactivated before he ever took off. Looks like it has been for quite some time. It didn't record anything on his flight at all, but..."

"I didn't think that was possible," Spencer blurted.

"It's against regulation, and pretty dangerous, but it's certainly possible," Hunter answered.

"BUT..." Jenkins broke in, "I did a radiation analysis on the hull. The tachyon emissions indicate the ship went through at least one, possibly two mega-gates."

"So we're talking about two mega-gates or one mega and lots of standards?" Hunter asked.


"The only mega-gate from Twilight is to the Frontier," Spencer observed.

Hunter nodded. "How's your other man doing locating all the Pirates?"

"Let's find out," Promontory answered, and reached for his comm, "Sprauge, report."



"Copy that."

"Um... Sprauge?"

"Just a moment, Lieutenant. I'm gathering my notes." The comm spoke of papers shuffling. "OK. Quite a number of Demons have been on and off the station, as well as some of the scientists. Several are missing now."

"That's helpful," Jenkins said sarcastically.

"But I took the liberty of cross-referencing my notes with the list of attendees to therapy Dr. Spencer provided. Those who have missed more than three drug treatments consecutively and two psychotherapy sessions have a much higher incidence of being off the station, and a majority of them are missing now."

Promontory and Hunter exchanged looks.

"What's the profile on a Demon called Phantasm?" Hunter called into the comm.

"Which one?" Sprauge answered.

"What do you mean which one?" Hunter snapped back.

"Most Demons move in groups of two. Is it Phantasm 1 or Phantasm 2?"

"What've you got on both of them?" Hunter answered.

"Nothing yet," Sprauge responded. "I just was hoping you could narrow it down. I'll see what I can find."

"Copy that," Promontory answered and switched off the comm.

"Let's finish lunch," Hunter said. "Then I think it's time we have a chat with Phantasm."

Chapter 4


They choked down cold food and cold coffee in silence. After a time, Promontory's comm chimed.


"Sprauge, sir. I have that report on Phantasm."

"Good. Both of them?"

"Well, as it turns out, Phantasm 1 was killed in the attack on Cassitor Station, and was never replaced before the Rehabilitation Project began. So Phantasm 2 is the only one we have to deal with. I verified that he is the one with the blade collection, but there's not much else. He's missed one medication appointment and one therapy appointment. Both his psychological profile and genetic profile show good."

"Looks like we just lost our prime suspect," Promontory said.

Hunter nodded with pursed lips. "Sprauge, give us a comprehensive list of all the Pirates who match your profile. Thanks for your work."

"Copy that."

"We should still have that talk with Phantasm."


The interview with Phantasm was disappointing from an investigational standpoint. He turned out to be quite sane and had a solid alibi. Promontory's comm chimed, and as he reached up to turn it off, he glanced at that familiar place on the wall.

The knife was back on the wall.

"Hunter! Look at that!" Promontory blurted. Hunter gazed along Promontory's arm as he extended it, then leapt to his feet when he saw what Promontory was indicating.

"Where the slag did that come from?" Hunter yelped. Startled, Phantasm jumped up and took a step back, tripping over his sofa as he did.

Hunter shot him a look and started reaching for his sidearm. Phantasm rolled and lunged behind a chair, then poked both palms above it as Hunter brought his gun to bear.

"Um... Gentlemen," Phantasm began in a shaky voice, "may I ask what prompted this reaction?"

"Don't get pretentious with me!" Hunter yelled. "Stand up real slow and keep those hands where I can see them!" Phantasm obeyed, and stared into the barrell of Hunter's gun sheepishly.

"Now, let's all play real nice while you tell me where that knife on your wall came from," Hunter continued, a forced evenness to his voice. Phantasm turned to look.

"Don't move!" Hunter bellowed. Phantasm looked back at him, disgusted.

"How am I going to know which knife you're referring to if I can't look?"

"Cute, Phantasm. The big one in the center of the wall. The 'pride of your collection' isn't it? Where did it come from? It wasn't there yesterday."

"Oh, is THAT what this is about?" Phantasm's tone of voice irritated Hunter. "You're quite right. It wasn't here yesterday, though I'd be curious to know how you knew that. It had been stolen from me, and I just retrieved it from the Frontier, where the thief had apparently taken it."

Hunter's eyes narrowed. "Where in the Frontier?"

"Slaver Space, I believe it was called. May I put my hands down now?"

"Uh... yeah." Hunter holstered his sidearm.

"We suspect that was the murder weapon," Promontory explained.

"Ah! I see how that would elicit such a reaction from you, then," Phantasm replied.

"Do you mind if we take it and test it for DNA residue?" Spencer asked.

"Will it be returned to me?" Phantasm asked.

Hunter started to answer, but Spencer broke in, "I'll see to it personally."

"Very well. You are welcome to test it."


Spencer wouldn't even let Hunter touch the knife as they left Phantasm's quarters.

"What do you think that'll give us?" Promontory asked.

"With any luck, we'll get some DNA fragments from the killer"

"...or killers," Spencer added.

"Right. Anyway, hopefully it'll give us something for positive ID. We should check in with your men..." Hunter trailed off. "Promontory, didn't your comm chime?"

"That's right. Promontory switched his comm back on and ordered it to return the last call.


"Jenkins? Promontory. Report."

"'Bout blasted time you called back. Phantasm's ship left almost half an hour ago."

"But we were talking with Phantasm then!" Spencer exclaimed.

"It wasn't broadcasting the callsign Phantasm any more. Now it's... just a second... Spectre 1," Jenkins answered. They quickened their pace in the direction of the Observation Deck.

"What's the trace reporting?" Hunter called?

"He entered the mega-gate to the Frontier several seconds ago. He should be coming out - there. He's out."

They burst into the Observation Deck.

"He's headed for one of the smaller gates." They heard Jenkins from his own voice and through Promontory's comm. Disgusted, the Lieutenant reached up and closed the comm connection.

"Looks like the gate to Slaver Space," Jenkins continued. "Yep. He just entered it. It's a short jump so he should be coming out... now."

They stood there in silence.

"Um... Jenkins?"

Jenkins toyed with the console. "He should have been out a long time ago, sir. He's... he's just vanished."

"Looks like it's time we paid a visit to the Frontier," Hunter said, looking at Spencer.

"I've got to test the blade for DNA."

"You do, don't you? Slag. Guess I'll have to go alone."

"Hunter, we have no jurisdiction in the Frontier," Promontory reminded him.

"Then you take good care of this while I'm a civilian," Hunter said, pinning his badge on Promontory.


Chapter 5


Some creative wiring, lots of cursing, and a swift kick to the engine compartment got the Piranha off the hangar floor. Hunter eased it out of the hangar bay and hung in space for a moment while he tried to get the radar to find the TCG gate. Upon finding the gate, he throttled up. One thruster fired before the other, so the ship spun around a few times before Hunter got it pointed in the right direction.

More cursing.

His comm crackled.

"Detec... ter. This ... kins. I'm rea... sh... trailing you."

"Jenkins? Is that you? Say again - I've got a bad conn..."

Hunter didn't finish his statement before the first blast hit him. His Star Patrol drilling kicked in before he had a moment to think, and he drove the stick downward while pounding the afterburner controls. He saw the second volley crackle through the nebula just above him. As he jerked the stick to the side, he reached under the console and jiggled some wires. A nasty spark burned his fingertips, but the radar picked up the hostile ship. It was a Demon, broadcasting the callsign "Spectre 2."

"Oh, great," Hunter thought, "Looks like my perp's buddy has been sittin' out here waiting for me. Well, let's see what this thing can do."

Hunter knew what he was up against. The only ship that could out-fly a Demon was a Star Patrol Enforcer. His clunkety old Piranha didn't come close. If he let this turn into a head-to-head match up, he only had a few minutes left to live.

He jerked the stick several more times and toyed with the afterburner, trying to create a random flight pattern while aiming his nose toward the TCG gate. Then he punched the afterburner and engaged a slide at top speed. As he spun his ship to face the Demon, still coasting toward the gate, he scrolled through his weapons. Glancing up, he saw the Demon closing on him behind a torrent of laser fire. Again, his training kicked in and he transferred all sheilds to front just as the blasts struck. He forced his eyes away from the dropping shield stregth to assess his available weaponry. He had a single laser bank, armed with only a medium laser, and two missle banks. One had Tiger Missles, the other Advanced Blast Torpedoes, but the torps wouldn't come on-line. He selected his laser as primary and the Tigers as second, and answered the Demon's volley as fast as he could pull the trigger. The lasers barely scratched the shields, but the Demon veered off in a wild evasive pattern, trying to outrun the guided missles.

"Hey..." Hunter thought, "I might be on to something."

The Demon began another attack run. Hunter's combat scanner indicated that not a single missle had connected. His shields were down to nothing, so he let loose with two more Tigers before the Demon came in range. Spectre 2 dodged wildly again, even though the missles weren't tracking him. As Hunter hoped, his evasive maneuver brought him closer, and Hunter got a lock. He unloaded the last of his missles and watched time stop as Spectre did his dance, mesmerized by the Demon Pirate's skill. It took him a moment to revist reality when he saw Spectre 2 starting another attack run. Hunter opened fire with the lasers and switched his secondary to torps in hopes that something might fire. An instant later, an explosion rocked the ship. A Blast Torpedo had detonated in its tube. This killed his left maneuvering thruster, and the ship began to spin instead of lining up on the Demon. As he spun in view of Spectre, he saw another rain of laser fire.

Hunter felt strangely calm. His life didn't pass before his eyes. He did have a brief pang of regret over Desiree, but that had been so long ago. The ship seemed to slow as he held tight to his harness, the G-forces pulling it tight against his shoulders. And he waited.

The first blast took the Piranha's hull down to 54%. The second...

...the second blast never came. As per his training, he had kept the slide engaged through the entire battle, and hyperspace flowed around him as he entered the TCG gate just before the second blast hit. In moments, he found himself spinning through the clear space of the Twilight Gateway. He released his slide long enough to transmit his access code to the Frontier Mega Gate, and through a series of creative left turns, he got the Piranha sliding toward the gate.

Hunter kept watching his radar. Demon Pirates rarely ventured beyond their own sector before the Demon Project began, but now they were less predictable. Moments later, Spectre 2 emerged from the Dusk TCG gate, but stopped cold in front of the gate. He turned on Hunter and unleashed every weapon in his arsenal, but Hunter was already out of range. The Demon didn't move. He sat there, weapons trained on Hunter, but unwilling to move away from the Dusk gate. As hyperspace again engulfed him, Hunter knew the Demon wouldn't follow.

Just under an hour later, the Piranha limped into New Vegas Starbase.


Hunter strode confidently past the slot machines of New Vegas, planning to take a loan from the casino by his old trick of flashing his badge and promising the "gratitude of the United Sol Government." Casinoes were generally willing to oblige, as they wanted as little interferance from USG as possible.

He stopped cold by the blackjack table. His pocket was empty. As he sifted through his coat, the realization hit him: He had left his badge with Promontory.

"So much for easy cash," he thought. "I'll have to find another way to get my hands on a decent ship."

"HAW HAW HAW!" Ed of the New Vegas shipyard laughed in Hunter's face. Hunter felt his collar get hot and the veins bulge on his neck, but restrained himself. Ed was twice his size - both ways - and he suspected hitting him would be about as effective as slugging a bed pillow.

"You want HOW MUCH for that old thing? HAW HAW! It looks like there ain't enough working parts on that ship to make finding 'em worth my while."

"OK, OK," Hunter answered. "How about letting me use your TachBand phone for a while in exchange for the ship."

"HAW! You must be pretty desperate there, stranger. Don't want Star Patrol on yer butt?" Suddenly, Ed became serious. "Hey - you didn't drag some Star Patrol lackey out here chasin' you, didya?"

"Um... no."

"You sure 'bout that?"

"Believe me, I'm very sure," Hunter said, suppressing a grin. "So can I use your phone or not."

"Uh... yeah. Right in there," Ed said, indicating a small, greasy office. As Hunter let himself in, Ed stood shaking his head at the Piranha.


In Ed's grungy office, Hunter put in a call to Spencer on Demon Station, letting him know that he'd arrived safely in the Frontier. He hoped that message would look less suspicious than contacting Lieutenant Promontory directly. Then, he contacted the carrier, Vigilance.

Hunter had a few friends in the Frontier, among them a group of mercenaries who called themselves the Void Alliance. They were an honorable lot, as mercs go, so people of the Frontier often relied on them for safe transport of goods and escort runs. As such, they were a well funded mercenary alliance with a generous surplus of equipment.

"Vigilance," the tachphone said.

"Vector 7! Good to hear your voice again. It's Hunter."

"Vector 7 has left the VA. Do I know you, Hunter?"

"Um... so who's this?" Hunter asked, the wind sucked from his sails.

"I should be asking you that. My name is Twilight Jack. Who are you?"

"Ace Hunter. I know your name, Jack. Vec and I are old friends. I'm surprised you haven't heard of me. Most of VA knows me."

"Things have changed a lot around here since Vec left," Jack replied. "If you want to get in contact with him..."

"Well, not right away," Hunter broke in. "What I need is a favor..."

Chapter 6


Hunter hated waiting.

Twilight Jack had been less than forthcoming. If it had been Vector 7, he'd have a ship by now, but Jack wanted to "check some things out." Hunter didn't like being mistrusted, but then, he couldn't blame Jack. It had been some time since he'd been in contact with the VA, and the Frontier wasn't a place where trust was offered lightly.

As he sat sipping his drink, his mind wandered. They called the Frontier lawless. That wasn't exactly true. It had its own law - dictated by money, mercenaries and pirates. He had no money, and he spent his life arresting pirates. His only hope lay in the mercenaries.

"You Ace Hunter?"

Hunter started and looked around. An early 30-something man with a limp was approaching him.

"Who's asking?"

"The Void Alliance. You him or not?"

Hunter perked up, "Yeah, I'm him. How'd you know it was me?"

"The only people who sit at these tables are broke, but you didn't look depressed enough."

"Ah," Hunter grunted. "You are?"

"Name's FyreHeart. Jack asked me if I knew you. I said, 'yeah.' Then he asked if I knew you well enough to lend you one of my ships. So here I am."

"FyreHeart? Slag! I didn't even recognize you. When did you join the VA?"

"I was one of Vec's last recruits before he left. You're getting a little gray around the gills there, Ace."

"Yeah. Been a long time, Fyre. It's pretty flattering that you'd trust somebody you know so little about with your ship. We only met, what..."

"Twice. But then, I know about your relationship with Star Patrol."

Hunter glanced around nervously. "How?"

"I know you don't like trusting professional mercs with that info, but I wasn't a merc until recently. You told me yourself years ago, and I filed it away in case I needed it someday. If I can't trust you with my ship, I figure SP has a good chance of catching up to you."

"Right, right. So - you got a ship for me?"

"Orion. It's waiting for you in hangar bay 5. Here," FyreHeart tossed Hunter a data crystal. "The security codes are on that. Notify the Vigilance when you're done with it."

"That's it, huh?" Hunter said.


"So what happens to you?"

"Got some business to attend to here at New Vegas, then I gotta pick me up another Cutty from the shipyard."

"ANOTHER Cutty?"

"I use Cutlasses for training," FyreHeart responded. "So I bang up quite a few of them."

"That's gotta get expensive," Hunter mused.

"Cheaper than SP Academy."

"Guess so. What's this business you've got to take care of."

"Personal. Why?"

"Y'know, I could use some help."


Hunter had the resources of a well-paid Star Patrol Officer behind him, so it wasn't hard for him to wave enough credits under FyreHeart's nose to hire him as a wingman. FyreHeart was trusting enough to believe Hunter's promise of payment "when he gets back to base." Within the hour, a stripped-down Cutty was leading a nicely stocked Orion toward the gate to Slaver Space.

As they emerged on the other side of the gate, Hunter's console lit up.

"Jamming!" he yelled into the comm. "Heavy jamming signal! FyreHeart, do you copy?"

He was answered with static. He latted toward the Cutlass, calling into the comm. He was almost on top of FyreHeart's ship before the signal punched through.

"FyreHeart! Can you make out where that jamming signal is coming from? I've never seen one this strong."

The only reply was, "Demons incoming!"

Hunter looked up to see a swarm of Demon ships flooding out of Slaver Station. Lights all over his console came alive. His missle lock warning blinked fanatically and blips on his radar danced impossibly, the effect of impenetrable jamming. He jerked his stick and punched his lateral thrust, using every trick he knew to stay out of the fire. His missles wouldn't lock. In a swarm this thick he was almost guaranteed to hit something, but all the firepower on his ship would barely make a dent in the swarm.

"FyreHeart, this is suicide! Return to base!" Hunter yelled into the comm. He had no idea where FyreHeart was or if he could hear him through the interference. He hit the slide control and spun the ship toward the New Vegas TCG gate, then hit the afterburner. Jerking the stick and latting in random patterns inched him closer to the gate, but he was still taking heavy fire. A shock wave rocked his ship and debris flew past his cockpit. Then another shockwave hit him. He frantically switched all power to the rear shield, zeroed in on the gate, and put everything into the afterburner.

A few seconds later, Hunter opened his eyes to the familiar blue glow of hyperspace. The Orion exited the gate and Hunter pulled up close to New Vegas starbase. He came to a full stop and spun around to watch the gate.

FyreHeart never came through.


Hunter sat out there for over an hour, but his better judgment finally got to him. Despondent, he limped the Orion back into the base for repairs.

He sat in the cockpit for some time as the drones scurried over the hull repairing the ship. He hated losing a wing. FyreHeart was practically a stranger, but he was a friend by association. And he had been so generous. Though years of experience told him not to blame himself, he wondered if he could have investigated a little more. If there was some way he could have been prepared for such a large force...

Hunter shook his head. He needed a drink.

"There 'e is!" Hunter heard a familiar voice. He didn't quite trust Ed, so he spun on his barstool with one hand on his blaster.

"Thanks, Ed." Another familiar voice, deep and resonant. It couldn't be!

"FyreHeart? How th'?" Hunter jumped off his stool.

"Toldya," FyreHeart responded, "I bang up a lot of Cuttys. You think I'd still be in the Fringe if I didn't know how to eject?"

"But the Demons... how did you get back?"

"Hey! You're the guy what sold me that bum Piranha!" Ed cut in.

"I didn't sell it to you, Ed. I just used your Tachphone, remember?"

"Ed, cool it," FyreHeart said. "That Piranha had a decent engine. That's worth your while. Give me a full loadout on that Cutty this time, wouldya? I have a feeling I'm going to need it."

"Yeah, OK," Ed grumbled and trundled off toward the shipyard.

"To answer your question, I used a tether beam on your ship. You towed me back. I thought you'd never give up watching that blasted gate."

"You were that close to me?"

"'course. Who do you think got that Pirate off your tail?"

"Why didn't you contact me?"

"Escape pod's only got a distress beacon. No comm."

"Pirate? That was the first shock wave!" Hunter mused.

"Yeah. And my Cutty was the second. You did hire me as wing, remember?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did. I've still got to find a way to get into Slaver Space."

"I know. I've already put a call in to the VA."

Chapter 7


A covey of nearly every type of ship the Fringe had to offer poured into New Vegas, led by a stately War Hammer broadcasting the callsign "Captain Scarlet."

The Void Storm had arrived.

Scarlet strode confidently through New Vegas StarBase, followed by his loyal squadron. They descended on the bar en masse, and confronted Hunter and FyreHeart.

"Twilight Jack...?" Hunter began.

"He's not here," Scarlet answered.

"Jack's serving as Void Keeper," FyreHeart explained.

"IF this 'swarm' of Demon Pirates is big as it's supposed to be," Scarlet said, casting a questioning eye at Hunter, "we don't want to risk the Keeper on any 'suicide missions'." Scarlet's stogie danced as he spoke.

"It's big, Cap," FyreHeart said. "I was flying wing for Hunter here."

Scarlet looked surprised. "Around 50 Demons in Slaver Space?" he repeated incredulously.

"30 to 50, yeah," FyreHeart answered.

"Baron Hajod's been trying to enslave Demon Pirates for a long time," Heero Yuy offered. Heero was one of VA's best covert ops.

"But he's never been any good at it before," added GhostSword.

Hunter cut in. "The League of Scientists has been rehabilitating the Demon Pirates. These 50 or so weren't doing so hot in the treatment. There's no telling what their state of mind is right now. That could be why Hajod's having better luck, if that's what's happening."

"All right," Scarlet spun on his heel to face his squadron, "Stick close to your wings this time, troops. Everybody had best cover everybody else's butt. These aren't Skavs or Bloods. Demons will give us some trouble. To your ships. Void Storm is going to war!"


Red and silver glinted in the sun as ship after Void Alliance ship streamed out of New Vegas starbase.

"Void Storm Squadron," Hunter said into his comm, "you are authorized to use deadly force on ejected pilots."

"Cap, did I hear him right?" Griffin Moone asked.

"Authorized by whom?" demanded Dark Ice.

"Hunter's Star Patrol," FyreHeart said, "but don't let anybody else know that." He chuckled, then continued. "A live Demon Pirate can just go and get another ship, so I can see why DETECTIVE Hunter is letting us kill 'em. Oh - another thing - there's heavy jamming in Slaver Space. We probably won't be able to use our comms."

"What?" Captain Scarlet called. "OK, troops, form up. Stick to your wings. Last wing alive tows the others out! GO!"

...and the Void Storm dove into Slaver's TCG gate.


Moments after they emerged, the promised swarm of Demon pirates erupted from all sides of Slaver Station.

"Holy...! Troops, try and split them up and engage!" Captain Scarlet yelled. Static was all he heard from his comm. As Scarlet looked up, a Peg shot past alone into the fray.

"Griffin Moone! Get your butt back in formation!" Scarlet screamed into the worthless comm. Six Demons formed up on Griffin, but in doing so they exposed their backs to the rest of the squadron. The Void Storm wasted no time. Missles, Plasma Rockets and Rail Guns lit up space in a blinding assault. When the flash cleared, Griffin had safely ejected and six Demons were out of the fight.

The wings formed up tight and flew headlong into the swarm. Hunter unloaded several volleys of SunSpot missles. Demons scattered in every direction. Wing Zero and Punanni ganged up on Demons one by one, as Heero Yuy hung back and railed them like a sniper. Dark Ice and Captain Scarlet wreaked havoc with quad plasmas from their Hammers, while GhostSword and FyreHeart cut through Demon hulls with rails. Hunter and Raven, long having expended their guided weapons, slammed the Demons with Deimos heavy lasers.

Nothing seemed to matter.

Every Demon that fell was replaced by two more. There were simply too many of them. Captain Scarlet's hull went red. He latted over to Heero so he could get a comm signal through.

"Heero! Rail the ejected pilots and let's get out of here!"

Scarlet engaged a slide and jerked his Hammer around, picking up as many of his squad's tether beams as he could on his way to the gate. He was still under heavy fire. GhostSword and Hunter formed up behind him and cut loose with all they had to keep the Demons off him, but his hull went black. Despondent, Scarlet ejected. GhostSword swooped in and picked up the tether beams, including Scarlet's, and burned toward the gate. Heero and Hunter, the only two left in a ship, engaged slide and spun to face the Demons, blasting away as they slid toward the gate, covering GhostSword's escape. Laser fire rained down on them from every side. Hunter saw his hull go from yellow to red to black in a matter of seconds. He reached for the eject key...

...and mercifully hyperspace again engulfed him. The Orion went spinning wildly out of the TCG gate at New Vegas, and the emergency systems ejected Hunter anyway. Heero bolted through the gate a split second later, heading straight for the Orion. He couldn't pull up in time, so he railed it, and Hunter thanked the stars that he'd ejected.


Back at New Vegas, the Void Storm Squadron assessed the damage. They had gone in with 10 ships and returned with only two. By their best guesses, they had taken down nearly 20 Demon pirates with no loss of life, but there were at least that many left plus the few ejected pilots that survived the mayhem. They could retrieve their backup ships and go at it again, but none of them liked the thought. The odds weren't favorable.

Hunter finally spoke. "I... just want to thank all of you. I know Frontier mercs and Star Patrol have a tenuous relationship, but the VA has really come through for me. I'll do my best to see that you're all paid. You can bow out now, and I won't think less of you."

"Like hell we will!" exclaimed Captain Scarlet.

"This isn't about money any more," said GhostSword. "Those Pirates have invaded our home. The Frontier is ours, and we'll defend it."

"We need a larger force," offered FyreHeart.

"Agreed," said Scarlet. "Put in a call to the rest of VA, and call New Dawn as well." Punnani, the Minister of Peace, jumped up and headed off to a Tachphone.

"Once we take down those Demons, what is Star Patrol going to do about Baron Hajod?" Heero Yuy asked Hunter.

"I don't need to tell you boys that SP has no jurisdiction out here..."

"But you're here," Heero countered.

"As a civilian, yeah. I'm not 'officially' here."

"Ah - 'gray' investigation," FyreHeart said. "Not black or white."

"You could say that. Heero, we've got a lot to prove before I can justify going after Hajod. We need solid evidence that he's the one coercing these Demons and that he's doing so with malicious intent. One of you has a better chance at pulling that off than I do."

"Hajod's base is too well defended," Heero said. "Not even the Devil's Fist will go in there. It'll take an organized assault with the help of Star Patrol to break into Hajod's base and take him down."

"I don't see that happening," said Hunter. Heero pounded the table and walked off to get another drink.


A few hours later, DarkHeyr strode into New Vegas with his Dark Avengers squadron. Even Twilight Jack and RedStorm showed up. The entire Void Alliance was going to conquer or die as a clan.

As the Void Alliance lay their plans, Razor's Kiss arrived. Then Werewolf, followed by Zajj, Hannibal, Scooby, Dethweezul and most of New Dawn. With the firepower of two clans, the air sizzled with excitement.

DarkHeyr took charge, and laid the attack plan...

Early the next morning, an attack force the likes of which the Frontier had never seen blasted out of New Vegas toward Slaver Space.

Chapter 8


The irresistible power of the two clans swept through Slaver Space with barely a scratch. The battle was over so quickly that Griffin Moone hadn't gotten his fill of slagging and made Don Quixote runs on the station, focusing for some reason no one could comprehend on the comm towers even after the jamming tower was slagged. When it ended, there were no Demon Pirates left alive and every clanner's hull was still showing green. Several of Baron Hajod's Midges and Barracudas fell with the Demons. All in all, the sector was almost habitable when they were finished with it, except for Baron Hajod's body odor in the Station's ventilation.

New Dawn's pilots began to withdraw, but Heero Yuy cried out, "This is our chance! Let's take Hajod!" and he burned his Cutty toward Hajod's gate.

"Heero!" DarkHeyr called, "Fall back into position!"

"No! This is our chance to rid the Fringe of Baron Hajod!"

"Heero," Captain Scarlet said, "You said yourself Hajod's base is too well defended. Don't kill yourself - we need you."

"Then you'd better cover my butt, Scarlet!" he called back as he plunged into the gate to Hajod's space.

Captain Scarlet shook his head. "OK, Void Storm. We better cover his butt."

"We're right behind you," DarkHeyr said.

"Awww, why not," bawled WereWolf, and fell into formation. Most of New Dawn followed suit.

Hunter's mind was racing. He knew he had no jurisdiction here. Even though Baron Hajod had broken almost every law the United Sol Government had ever placed on the books, USG had no authority in the Frontier. Merc justice was what held sway, but he simply had no grounds on which to step in and arrest him. But all his Star Patrol training told him he couldn't sit back an let a man, no matter how odious, be murdered in cold blood. He would have to betray the few friends he had out here. Unless...

Hunter smiled and plunged into the TCG gate.


Hunter was blinded as he rushed out of the gate. A vicious battle was already raging. Another hoard of Demon pirates and a battle fleet bigger than any private individual should have lit up space in their vain attempt to destroy the two clans.

Heero Yuy and FyreHeart railed the weapons platforms in their Cutlasses as the other clanners battled Hajod's fleet. New Dawn grouped up in a sphere, spinning and roiling as they fought to stay in formation without losing a ship. Countless Barracudas fell trying to break their formation.

Captain Scarlet, Dark Ice, and Punanni led an assault through several tight wings of Midges in their War Hammers. They didn't even bother firing a shot. The Hammers were indestructible against the papery Midges, and the three pilots just plowed through, ramming most of the Midges into debris. As they emerged from the destroyed waves of Midges, the VA pilots behind the three Hammers fanned out into a cone shape, and cut loose on the approaching Demons. With New Dawn keeping the Barracuda's busy the Demons didn't have a prayer.

FyreHeart lined up on the last of the Weapons Platforms, and Heero used the chance to break away and head toward the station. As the power plant on the platform went up in a puff of flame, FyreHeart caught sight of Heero streaking away. He sighed and burned after him.

"Scarlet! Heero's going after the station!"

"Cover him, Fyre!"

"Way ahead of ya, Cap."

Hunter broke out of formation and followed FyreHeart.

The station's gun turrets opened fire on Heero, but he ignored them. FyreHeart railed them at maximum distance, trying to keep Heero from killing himself. Hunter went blazing past FyreHeart and caught up with Heero in the docking bay.

Heero leapt out of his Cutlass and bolted for the airlock. He sealed it off before Hunter made it in.

"Slag! He thinks I'm trying to stop him."

Hunter shifted his weight from one foot to the other and punched the airlock "open" control compulsively. He sifted through his flight suit and pulled out his blaster and then punched "open" again. It finally obeyed. He slipped inside and punched close several times before he caught himself.

As the airlock cycled and the inner door opened, Hunter eased out slowly. The corridor was empty, but Hunter heard the sound of footsteps and followed. As Hunter rushed to catch up with Heero, several dead or dying slaves littered the halls.

Finally, Hunter saw a flight suit rounding the corner.

"Heero! Hold your fire! I have a stun gun!"

As Hunter rounded the corner, he almost bowled Heero over.

"All right, SP. Use your stun gun. Just don't get in my way when we find Hajod."

"Trust me, Heero. I'm on your side."

They took off through the corridor at a run, barely slowing for Hunter to stun the slaves that opposed them. Heero seemed to have a sixth sense about the station, barely hesitating before deciding which way to turn. Hunter began to wonder if Heero had spent time here before.

Shortly, Heero grabbed Hunter and pulled him up short.

"There," he whispered.

Hunter peered around the corner to see a large, heavily guarded door. Though it pained him, he didn't think he'd be able to stun them all. Heero would have to kill someone.

"Heero, I'll go in low. Cover me," he whispered. Hunter crouched down and eased the barrel of his blaster around the corner. He took aim at the largest group, and squeezed off a shot. One slave fell and another dropped his blaster, his hand caught in the beam.

Immediately, a frenzy of activity erupted around the door. Hunter jerked his trigger as fast as his hand would react. Several slaves fell, some of them still crawling from the effects of a partial stun. Hunter jerked back as laser fire from the second group spattered the wall, then spun around the corner again, and opened fire. He burned the back of his hand as he brushed the wall where the lasers had heated the metal plating. Two slaves fell. He jumped, rolled, and came up blasting. Heero then spun around and opened fire, aiming high to try and avoid killing any of the slaves. As they scattered for cover, Hunter stunned the last of them.

Hunter and Heero approached the door, and Heero began fiddling with the lock controls. Suddenly, a laser blast pierced the air behind them. Hunter spun and flattened himself against the wall, bringing his blaster to bear on the place where he heard the sound. As he came around, he saw FyreHeart, blaster in hand, and then looked to see where a slave lay dead, his hand still tight around his blaster.

Hunter lowered his weapon. Heero went back to working on the lock.

"Thanks," he said. "How'd you find us?"

"Just followed the bodies. What's going on?"

"Heero thinks this is the place."

"Y'know, Ace, Heero and I should probably lead the charge so you don't do something Star Patrol might regret."

"Good idea."

They stood in silence as painful moments ticked by. Beads of sweat started forming on Heero's brow. FyreHeart stood eerily calm, but Hunter was getting antsy.

"OK, this should do it," Heero whispered.

They flattened themselves against the wall as Heero made the last connection. The doors slid open, and they waited.


FyreHeart switched his blaster to his left hand and pressed close to Heero. Heero did a double take, but bit his tongue. FyreHeart eased his blaster into the open doorway and squeezed off a wild shot. Laser fire exploded in response. The back wall of the corridor hissed in protest to the onslaught, and several slaves rushed out of the door. Hunter stunned them as they exited.

The next few seconds were a blur. Heero dove into the doorway and rolled under a console. FyreHeart spun around low and opened fire. Slaves dove for cover in a panic with crossfire filling the room. Then Hunter spun around and began picking off the slaves. Several fell, and the remainder finally dropped their weapons and cried out a whimpering surrender. Heero emerged from under the console and rounded them up.

Hunter grunted. "Easier than I thought."

"Slaves don't make the most willing guards," FyreHeart responded.

"OK, Heero," Hunter said, "where's your Baron?"

Heero looked angry. He passed the slaves off for FyreHeart to guard and responded, "He should be in here."

They eased toward the front of the room on opposite sides. The view was beautiful. A large picture window - a real window, not a viewscreen - overlooked an arboretum and then beyond that the deep hues of an emission nebula. Hunter tore his eyes from the sight and glanced around, trying to pick out any hiding place.

As Heero stepped down onto the viewing deck, a scream split the air from just behind him. A blob of flesh popped out from under a desk that looked too small to have accomodated it, and a manic-eyed Baron began firing wildly. Heero jumped back and Hunter dove for cover. A laser blast grazed Heero, and he fell over a railing.

Hajod spun toward Hunter's hiding place and glanced about, a look of sheer insanity in his eyes. Hajod took aim, and waited. Hunter tried not to breathe for several tense seconds. Finally, his leg began to cramp, and a twitch inched his foot into Hajod's line of sight. Hajod fired. Hunter winced, rolled and let go a perfect shot at Hajod's shining, bald head.

Hunter limped over to the viewing deck and looked over the rail. Heero had a nasty welt on his head, but he was breathing. Hunter then limped over to Hajod. As he pulled his handcuffs out, Captain Scarlet and most of Void Storm burst into the room.

"I thought you didn't have any jurisdiction in the Frontier," Scarlet said.

"As a Star Patrol Officer, I was trying to save a contractor I had hired who went off on a crusade of his own. While trying to save his life, one Baron Hajod of the Frontier opened fire on me. And assaulting a Star Patrol officer is ALWAYS an offense." Hunter grinned. "At least, that's what my report is going to read."

Scarlet let this sink in for a moment, then threw his head back and laughed.


The Void Alliance and New Dawn returned to New Vegas in triumph. They spent the evening in the bar, drinking and hitting on the willing women that frequented the casino. A steady stream of slave shuttles trickled out of Hajod's territory through the night.

"I still wonder," mused Twilight Jack, "Detective Hunter came out here investigating a murder, right? Why DID the Demons murder that scientist?"

"I think I can finally answer that," Hunter said. "Dr. Spencer called me from Demon station. They managed to uncover some research in Dr. DawnHill's personal files. She was working on a method to rehabilitate the Demon Pirates that hadn't responded to the standard treatment, and apparently Hajod was upset about her 'stealing' his slaves."

"The Frontier won't miss him," Griffin Moone said flatly.

Hunter took a long drag on his cigarette. "Now I just gotta figure out how to get him back to Sol. I've been borrowing ships all this time."

"I've been thinking it's about time I was getting another Cutty. Mine wasn't beat up enough in that fight," FyreHeart quipped.

Hunter nodded and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

The next morning, a scorched Cutlass made its way to Sol space with Baron Hajod in tow.

VA MisterFour

“It makes no difference what men think of war…war endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the perfect practitioner.”
-Cormac McCarthay, Blood Meridian

God damn I hate rollin’ low cash.
Knew this badass named Wolverine, back in the day. Had this whole paradigm all to his own where vernacular seemed a completely separate language, but somehow he got his point across. No money, but tons of opportunity?
You’re rollin’ low cash.
I was on Antares, with my girl Cecile, and I had a job offer that was too real to be honest, but yet it was. Take out a communications outpost on the planetoid I was on, and get paid, and the contract was by a major clan, New Dawn. That outpost was out of the way of every major clan in this part of Fringe space, right? ‘Cept, of course, Clan 58th Wraith Squadron, which used the communications to coordinate ops for most of their major engagements, light years away.
The planet was relatively civilized. Nobody would hit this place in force and risk disturbing the commerce that was abound. But Clan New Dawn wanted it hit, by any merc who’d do the job, and they were gonna pay 70,000.
Man, I wanted that cash.
The connection that gave it to me was one of the thousands of brokers that contracted mech jocks throughout the Fringe. He threw me the offer, because I was one of the few jocks around, and because he knew that I could get this done in two weeks, but because that’s how I made what little name I have in this part of the galaxy. I’m fast.
Let’s put it this way. I fought in the Dead At Birth War, right? I was in no less than seventeen engagements, in three different ‘mechs, and only made a measly 27,000 creds, even with the Iconian Knights footin’ the bill. So 70,000 was sweet, sweet, sweet.
But, no lie, my Loki had taken some hits in my last little bout of garrison duty. I ran out of all the LB10X ammo I had, ‘cept for six salvos in the left arm. No problem, fresh reloads would be about 1,000…
No way I was walkin’ into anything with six LB10X shots. My Loki had two LB10X’s and two ER large lasers, right?
I had 2,000 creds.
Took my Loki into the big shop, to get it refitted.
The mechanic called me out of the bar I was in, said it was major.
What would Wolverine say?
Oh yeah. “If it’s major, have an extra beer.”
I didn’t follow that advice, and just went down.
The place was all rust and ordinance burn. Like a warehouse on steroids, all reactors, smelters, and chrome colored walls of dermoplast to contain the macro construction.
The mechanic’s handle was Sir Prince. He had an arm that was a Russian prosthetic, gleaming plasteel and bolts of titanium, with a damn digital ammo feed for his gyrojet rifle, if he ever held it again. His eyes were Zirosky 6000’s…nice ones.
“Right there.” He said.
The screen was a blue monochrome display, all gauzy and indistinct, part X ray, part schematic. The hairline crack running down my port LB10X was there, like a damn fault line.
“You like heat? There you go. Maybe PPC aftershock, maybe flamer. Or your reactor. Regardless, my old jock, one more shot and you are one less arm.”
The feed glinted our face in ultraviolet neon quicksilver. Beyond was the megalithic clank-rattle-thrum of heavy industry and factory sub-audibles. Like the dissonant underground ambient thumping of an old Earth New York subway.

Remember my *****ing about the Iconian Knights and Dead At Birth? I just remembered…they repaired all my damage…IK, that is. Clans are cool like that. If you fight for them, they repair whatever ails your ‘mech. I needed 7,000 to replace the rifling stock in the LB10X.
I didn’t have it.
So I went back to the bar, rollin’ low cash all the way, and thought about how this deal with the communications grid had to happen in one week.
Damn-bloody-damn, damn.
My glass emptied. I thought of my girl, Cecile. I thought of how maybe this was all good, ‘cause if the deal went through I would have to move off planet, fast. So now I could stay put, but all of my livelihood had come down to a hairline crack, and the techno du-wop humming from the speakers above just mocked me.
7,000 to get 70,000.
I thought of my Loki, and I thought of how I needed them.
Then I looked up from my glass and there he was, the mythical bad ass returned back to Valhalla after drinking all the mead in the place.
I had worked with him once, back during DAB. So I thought of poverty and Lokis and creds and clans and rolled up.
Beyond his head, the sports vids were all amber monochrome. Holofeed of hydroball, from SOL space.
“Eight-track. M’man. How’s your girl?”
“Good, Wolverine, uh, sir. Hey, you on a job?”
He had the dead pan expression of a back from the dead veteran who’d seen the deepest of the darkest, with all the blood to cover it. His mouth was tight and thin. Like he had a secret or three.

I explained to him the sad, sad circumstances.
“Tough, ‘-track.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Gotta save for those rainy days, bud.”
He was like one of those aloof motherf*ckers you talk to on a phone that don’t answer you right away, so you feel like a silly idiot.
“Well, I thought you could finance the op and take a percentage.”
That was my plan. Better than getting nothing, right?
“You ran guns near Madoria, right?”
I realized that he had an old Earth southern drawl, or at least the memory of it, faint and indistinct, residual echo despite galactic Diaspora. It made him seem more lethal.
“Yeah.” I answered.
“You still carry? You still handle yourself?”
“Damn straight.”
“First, we have to make a trip, and you gotta move like I move when I move…got it?”
“If you fund this, you’re in charge. It’s cool.” There, I said it.
“I’ll pick the pilots. We are going to keep it small. You, myself, and two others. We’re going to move fast…75 kph minimum. No laggers. We’re going to do this, it’s going to piss off many people, so we’re going to have no witnesses. That means paint jobs and fake tags. Plus, once we’re done, we all walk off in separate directions and keep our mouths shut. The 58th are not going to like any of us, you know. I’m going to pay for your repairs, so that’s 7,000. The two other guys get 15,000 each. You get 20,000, I get 20,000. The 7,000 is your finder’s fee. I know some guys on a dropship that are Dominion Ops certified, and they don’t care a funk about local politics. They’ll be discreet. ”

Somehow, the numbers didn’t add up quite right. Sure, he was getting a profit…but not as much as the other guys. What was his angle?
There was also the heavy thud of having to say goodbye to 50,000, but there was no getting around that. I had known I would have had to hire a lance to take the outpost, and that lance would have been paid out of the purse money for pulling off the mission. But I was getting hooked up plenty. Better to get that much and live, than to try for the whole amount and end up watching the wreckage of my mech from the rearview of an escape pod…
But that was the mystique of Wolverine. Aside from that drawl, and his cool demeanor during DAB. He had flying saucers full of cash holed away, and some said he was like a lot of clan boys, who just did it for the fight.
I’d be a clanner, but their rules are too many, their oaths too damn long, and sometimes they are a little too goody two shoes, for me. You also had to pay dues and go to meetings and recruit, so it’s like Amway mixed up with the Boy Scouts and the Masons…funk, some clans have all sorts of tidy religio-philosophical notions that puts them right beside Scientology. Still, they are the big dogs in the Fringe. One could reasonably argue that SOL was just one big earth based clan. Hell, clans put Star Patrol out of business, you know. You can’t argue clans don’t civilize the places they park.
Wolverine was drinking coffee, so he finished it. The amber feed kept going up above on sixteen separate vid screens hanging on antigravs from the walls. Someone floated upside down, somersaulted, and planted a shot. A few patrons of the bar cheered.
Wolverine leaned in, like he was going to bite off my nose.
“I gotta make some contacts. Call your girl, tell her your going to be home in a week with lot’s of cash, and then you are I are going to hit the depot. Some of my clan are there, they get first dibs.”
Wolverine wore a spent uranium signet IK ring, like they all do. He toyed with it with his thumb, looked to his side, and squinted, like he was trying to hear something beyond the bar, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to like what he heard. The amber light washed over the place, I was starting to come out of my drunk, and we had places to go.
I stepped back from the table, feeling lucid. Wolverine’s boots were knitted from the hide of an alligator’s skin. The pattern of it was unmistakable, even in the half-dark of the bar. It made me apprehensive.
Life is a strange, strange drop. I had gone from being under to being on a job. One instant, you could be walking tall, rifle in hand, pointed at the back of someone’s head…the next instant, you’re face down in a swamp, missing an arm, and some carnivorous reptile has it’s teeth in you, dragging you into the murk.

“Where are you?”
“On a job, baby.”
“Listen, I will be back in a week or so. There’s a few grand under my pillow. It’s a ruby quartz wafer, untraceable and good anywhere. Use it. I’m going to come back soon, with more. Pack everything. When I get back I’ll call you and we’ll go to Bora space for a stretch…or maybe SOL.”
We’d done this, before.
“I’ll have everything ready. I love you, baby.”
“Love you to. Stay cool, Cecile. After this, you and I are going to live high, a while.”
“Come back.”

Antares was one of those perfectly hospitable planetoids that required no terraforming whatsoever. Years ago, explorers showed up, tested the water and atmosphere, and set up shop. A year later some corporate conglomerate moved people in. Antares was the kind of place that drove physicists and planetologists googly-moogly, when it came to deducting the odds against such an earth-like environment fit for human habitation.
Huge sprawls of urban creation, museums, art zoos, malls, apartments, corporate sectors and other modern human convenience juxtaposed by even grander stretches of natural landscape. Jungle archipelagos, mountain ranges, canyons dotted with coniferous plantlife and odd iron constructs oddly carved with geometric patterns, left by…who?
No one knows. They weigh five thousand tons, they’ve been here for a million years, and they don’t rust. They look like perfect cylinders, and they drive scientists just as googly-moogly as the physicists and planetologists. Theories abound. They look funky, you roll up on them and you put your hand on them, tracing your finger across deeply etched hieroglyphics, and wonder.
Ah, well.
Biggest oddity in the cities of Antares is the fact that the designers went nuts for brass colored ferroconcrete, and antigravs.
There are almost no conventional buildings in the cities of Antares. They float a mile into the air, at most, or a story, at least, and when you go under them you feel like a couple thousand tons of structure is going to come down like the stone and steel hand of some Maker. There they are, up high, connected by tubes and ramparts, and to think of it, checking them out from this angle as the sun rises silver through a chrome colored mist horizon, they look like space stations and Capitol Ships, are parked in orbit with one another.
No surprise, there. The architects probably saw so much of them on the way to Antares it was the only thing they could think of. When I can’t see the ground, and I am high up checking out the Ellis Superstructure or 9OR MechaConglomerate, Inc., I feel as if I am back in space, except space is blue and white, or, when the mists of the many oceans settle in, it’s brushed aluminum and burnished platinum.

Wolverine drove all the way to some Palatial Estate in a Fabrio 5K Hovercar. One of those crimson and matte black monsters that gangsters drive in ‘vids.
He had a cell pendant, and he made about sixteen calls in the ten minutes it took to get to the Palatials. They were all in some language I never heard of…maybe Farsi tradespeak or some Bora derivative. His sunglasses were perfect mirrors, angling down as if he was some bipedal alien predator, twin reflections of the brass building and chrome sun beyond the windshield.
I closed my eyes, and thought of how I would soon be at the controls of my Loki. In my mind, the targeting reticule is always there, fluorescent ghoul green, like the eye of an electric specter.

The elevator opened, and we were facing an apartment door.
The guard, with a uniform of basalt gray, didn’t even look up from his coffee and email. But I felt his eyes bore into my back all the way to the elevator.
The suit was pure corporate, down to the ruby cufflinks. The diamond tooth he had could have bought a Pegasus Interceptor, since it probably had a comm. link, to go with it. Maybe even a cranial audio hook up.
The bodyguard sat in a chair on the right, wearing a burnished looking gunmetal blue sharkskin suit. His hair had a slick vinyl glossy look. He was filing his nails.
The corp spoke.
“Wolverine, are you still on that job?”
“Here to talk about that. This is my partner, Eight. He doesn’t speak. Can your chap here get me something carcinogenic?”
The bodyguard got up smoothly, the file disappearing. The corp seemed very casual. Behind him was six vidscreens, of various sizes, all showing newfeed from Sol and Fringespace, plus a number of stock reports.
“Would you like to add to the contract? The money has already been transferred-“
Wolverine shot him with the ring gyrojet pistol he had hidden in his palm. The corper’s face disappeared with the sound of ceramic burning and breaking, at once. Blood painted the walls and screen behind him as if it was always there.
The bodyguard was holding a tray of some glassy material, pink and see-through, with two philters of wine on ice in them, an Antares specialty. He dropped the tray, going for a hidden firearm-
I had a sonic pistol. It cuts holes in you the size of Old Earth CD’s, at short range. I gave him three blasts of it, the thrum of air being cut, flesh and bone suddenly chopped into cylinders of severed matter.
He was down before he knew it, legs giving unceremoniously. He looked like he wanted to say something. Then that was that. The pistol he pulled was an onyx colored las deal. They are quiet, dependable, reliable, and clean. My ‘pistol was not, but that hardly mattered in the current discussion.
“F*ck.” I said.

“You weren’t lying. Good.” Wolverine had the pistol trained at the spot where the guard had been. The carpet beneath our feet was getting redder. For a microsecond I got queasy, and felt like the IK was going to give me one in the forehead, like the other guy got it.
“Shut it. One more word about this and there’s no deal. Pick up that guys pistol. Use a piece of paper…don’t touch it with your bare hands. DNA.”
I did as I was told, slowly and quietly.
“Good. Put the paper in your pocket.”
He dropped what looked like an olive green hockey puck on the ground. There was a high pitched sound, like a dentist’s drill, and all the lights went out, like the vid screens.
A localized ecm emitter.
“We’re out.” He said, in the sudden dark.
The door opened, a square of florescent white in the black, and we stepped into the corridor.
“Here.” He handed me what looked like a wafer the size of a Zippo. It was damn heavy, for how small it was.
“Vid warbler. Don’t want to be seen. Makes our image hazy. Not that anyone is going to investigate this, long. Corpers kill each other five a week. But we want to be meticulous, you understand?”
The southern drawl was conversational. Friendly, even. The enormity of the two murders still hadn’t landed on me. I just had that vapid, empty-from-the-sternum-down watery legged effect you get with an extreme adrenaline jolt. I felt my blood humming like electricity in the circuitry of my circulatory system.
We walked back from where we had come in. No one had seen us. The quiet was stifling.
He shot the guard with the laspistol, two to the head, two to the body. A jolt of small fusion and the brightness reminiscent of an oxyacetylene torch. The man fell forward across the crème colored console, and then back, to disappear behind the desk.
I was frozen, waiting for someone to come around the corner. What if a woman or some dumb wage slave came upon us? Could I shoot someone who didn’t have it coming?
Wolverine walked around the desk and fired twice more, his face expressionless. Than he dropped the pistol on the body.
Nobody came, and we slipped out into the cool of the night.

The drive.
“Give me your sonic.”
I did so.
We were parked by a hydrogen plant. The smell was chlorine and pine, the forest beyond barely lit by the fluorescents that glinted off the surging waters below.

He put everything into a box the color of old lead. It had a series of buttons on it’s side, and a handle like a lunch pail on it’s top. A digital readout graced the other side.
My door popped open. He got out of the car.
The drop on the other side, deep into the dam, must have been 400 feet. My insides felt like cool dishwater. I hate heights.
He set the box down, and placed the pistols in it. Than he stripped off the skin of his right hand. I realized it was a very thin glove, maybe only a few molecules.
“Ever seen one of these? Condenses everything in it. Crunches the atoms ‘til there’s nothing between them. One shot deal. Open, close, push handle down, hit coded sequence, and mush.”
The box made a groaning sound, as if a djinn that was sequestered inside was groaning at it’s confinement. The box was one foot square.
“Help me lift it.”
It took the two of us. I’d struggled with spent uranium gauss shells that had weighed less. The size of it threw me off. We jerked, braced, and finally heaved it over the side.
“There. The only investigative forensics experts that could do something with that live in SOL space. We’re done.”
I didn’t move, staring deep into the aquatic black, the light reflecting off the eddies below like liquid lightning. I thought of an ERPPC jolt firing off towards it’s target…
“That corp was trash. He got where he was by blowing up a freighter full of pioneers, because it contained clone material products from a rival company. He’d space you, his mother, and a thousand Jewish Luddites for a profit margin. The security guard used to be a slavemaster for Hajod. I tracked his bio a few days ago. Used to cattle prod new arrivals…break ‘em down for easy brainwashing. He got a job here after Hajod got aced. Don’t cry for that sorry f*ck. He saw our faces, and that makes him expendable.”
“Yeah.” I said.
I thought of the hairline crack in my Loki’s titanic barrel. Blue feed, gauzy and indistinct, in my mind.

We held the mission interviews in a rented VERTOL locker. 20’ by 20’, poorly vented. The walls were an institution green. The air was sweaty and metallic. Musty.
The first ones were indy mercs, like me. But dumb.
“Whattya got?” I asked.
“Daishi.” He was dim looking. Trying to look tough, he rolled a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. Had a twin lightening bolt tattoo on one forearm. KILLZ in bold letters on the other.
“Nope, too slow.”
“I can snipe.”
The fifth was a little brighter.
“I’ve done runs for Davion and Enhanced Breed.”
“Nice.” Wolverine said.
“I was with DE for a while.”

“Really?” Wolverine seemed interested. “You do time on Vagos?”
A confused look fell across the man’s face like a dim shadow.
“Yeah. The moon.”
“Oh. Yeah, screwed up some. Had to see the inside of a brig.”
“Right. Bye.”
The guy made a face like a man who had just swallowed a mouth full of hydraulic fluid by accident, and left.
“Vagos?” I asked Wolverine, whispering.
“It’s a brothel/casino cruiser we owned at the time. Every fifty days service you got a weekend there. Big parties. I was in DE.”
“No liars. Liars are undependable, and can’t keep their mouths shut, besides.”
“Spike, of the Void Alliance.”
He had a vibrant accent. It had an authoritative ring to it.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
I had never heard of the planet.
“What you got? This is fast. 75 kph. No laggers. We’re not going to stay long. Hit and run, waaaay off planet.”
“I like travel. My mech goes that speed, no worries.”
“What you got?”
“Sunder, good up close and far away.”
“Your Sunder goes that fast? That’s 90 tons.”
“I don’t lie.”
Wolverine motioned to some chairs in the back.
“Have a seat, you’re in.”
The man’s eyes narrowed.
“I know you. You’re IK. You were on Fevel-6, during the Voice War.”
“Yeah, we lanced together.”
“Nice to see old faces.”
The next guy walked in kind of late, while I was having my fourth cup of coffee. He looked kind of short, maybe. Young, but…how do I describe it? Efficient. He had a face like a person who has dry wit for any situation.
“Scooby, of the Iconian Knights.”
“He’s in. My clan.”
I shook his hand. He had the same ring Wolverine had.
The other IK jerked a thumb at me.
“This is Eight-Track. He’s an indy.”
“Oh. Nice.”
The guy had almost the same accent as Spike.
“What you fly?” I asked him, as he settled himself in.
He took a while to answer, and when he did, looked up and away, not making eye contact.

“A Madcat, Eight. I’m long range fire support. Twin ERPPC, twin LRM20, and I don’t miss. I installed a new Icarus class BAP just yesterday.”
“Oh.” I said, impressed.
Spike seemed to be listening intently, trying not to appear to do so. He said nothing, but nodded to himself, as if agreeing with some mental decision.
The other mechwarriors we had pulled left the same way the came. Little fuss, no talking. Mech operatorsare different from pilots. Less bravado or something. Space jockeys die more often than Mech guys. I guess it’s the ejection pods we have.
Not that it matters. Ever seen a pod eject? You’d think there was some honor, and mech jocks are gonna let the poor schmuck get away. Nope, nope, nope.
If the pilot is bad, he’ll probably get away. Why kill a good pilot? Maybe that bad pilot will someday fight you in a different mech, and you’ll blow him up again…Ha!
But, if he’s an ace, if he’s known, if he’s ELITE, then it looks like a God-damned skeet range. Pop, pop, pop, his pod goes up and everyone takes a shot. Hell, pods aren’t that armored, ya know…
We picked up another guy. A Thor pilot.
“What about our limit?” I asked Wolverine.
“That guy’s elite. He’s good. Captain Scarlet, of the Void Alliance. He’s tagging alongside Spike.”
“Can we pay him?”
“Don’t have to.”
Right then, I knew what was up. My affair had turned into a clan affair, and that’s politics within politics, like so many boxes that you opened to find more boxes, ad infinitum, ad redundum.
It occurred to me, right then, that I should ask why would IK and VA want to run a mission for ND to take out a 58th communications outpost?
I was getting’ paid, right? Why did I care?
Scarlet seemed to get along famously. Scooby gave him a high five. Wolverine almost smiled, and shook his hand. Spike gave him that man-hug act, where you it’s only at the chest, two pats on the back, and you break after two seconds.
I suddenly felt pretty third wheel.
Scarlet was kind of young looking. Maybe he had his DNA recycled every couple of years, like most of the known universe.
“You fly a Loki, Indy?”
“Name’s Eight-Track.”
“Yeah, cool. Wolverine says you’re all that and a bag of bolts. What do you pack on your action? Twin LB10X? I got a set of 20’s, myself…”
“We’re gonna mess them up. In and out. Boo-yah. I even have old vids of some of the 58th’s defensive action, on this moon where they had a communications post, and whipped the snot out of these guys called Fuzion. Kind of cool. Fuzion got their clocks cleaned, but we can learn where they left off. Ever heard of MisterFour? Know what he’d say? ‘We’re gonna funk them up.’ That’s what we’re gonna do.”
“How’s Four been?” Scooby asked.
Something in the air got tense. Wolverine threw a toothpick on the ground. Overhead, a rocket took off, probably to drop a corporate satellite.
Spike finally spoke. “Ain’t seen him. Some new gig, some-other-planetside.”
“Yeah.” Scooby said.
We moved again, some nameless high rise. Spike arranged it.
The sky turned molten gold as the day waned and night started to hold dominion over Antares. The river was a stretch of silver, turning to blood as it hit the horizon. The city was a collection of derridium blocks, the mist rushing in from the ocean to partially obscure it. Meanwhile, the hum of traffic was just white noise, from up here.
I turned from the window.
“Look at this.” Spike said.
The vid screen had a readout like a HUD. Arrows showed intent. A series of blue inscriptions gave a play by play of who was dyin’. Fuzion was getting’ the shaft from the 58th. It was disheartening.
I thought of Cecilia. I missed her. Damn.
No, gotta think of the job.
“Raven comes in with the NARC. Base let’s loose with the LRM’s…the mech in the back pop snipes, and a Shadowcat outflanks, radar off, with a gauss. Signature 58th. One less Thor.” Wolverine said, his southern drawl punctuating the staccato sound of ordinance.
Scarlet took a sip of his ale.
“They let the base soften up the attack, then move in. The 58th is fresh and ready, Fuzion is worn down. That’s where Fuzion put their d*cks in the mashed potatoes; they got too close and then fought the base, first. They didn’t make use of what we have; long range weaponry.”
Scooby looked at me. He gave me the look clanners gave indy’s. Like older brothers give their snot nosed siblings.
My Loki was repaired and outfitted. New armor and an ECM. Ready to rob and mob.
Wolverine and Spike had made the arrangements. In one day, we’d be within attack range on the 58th outpost. Our dropship, the Tsunetomo, departed in three hours.
I still hadn’t slept. No one had.
Wolverine stopped the tape. A Black Knight took gauss shots from three separate directions to it’s left kneecap. Leggers.
“Let’s watch this all again, and pool ideas.” Wolverine said.
I looked at the Spike guy. He wrote down a few notes on a steno notepad with a blue felt pen. He seemed bored.
“I don’t get it…why didn’t Fuzion bring in some of their own fire support?”
Spike’s accent gave his statement a kind of professional authority that made me wish I had come from the planet Liverpool. Some accents have that capability, but I have to admit a Southern drawl is perfect for telling someone, slowly, succinctly, and just as mellow as a man in a diner asked for a piece of banana cream pie, “I am going to lay a hurt on you, son.”
Scarlet spoke.
“Bad intel. They thought that particular outpost was in a forested area, with hills and whatnot, and that they could make use of the terrain. But 58th had cleared it. You don’t put an outpost in a place where invaders can have cover until they’re in your ear. We can assume 58th did the same with our target. Plus, I know Fuzion. They’re close assault all the way. Thor’s, LB20X’s and not a gauss at their disposal. They would have been better letting the drop pod land ten feet from the damn base.”
“To their credit, Fuzion had a notion that wasn’t bad. They dropped a duo of Shadowcats in on the delta sector of the base to rush in and stir things up. Problem was, their diversion came after the main attack. Someone in the cavalry blew their cool. By the time the Shadowcats arrived, 58th had already regulated proper. Two Shadowcats against a communications base and five mechs? Don’t blame those guys for bookin’.” Scooby said.
Wolverine looked almost half asleep, his eyelids almost closed, like a Buddhist monk in a temple in Kyoto. He swiveled his chair about five inches to face me.
“Eight-Track, give us the Mousekateer role call of what 58th has.”
“I ran some Antares satellite feed, but it was old, maybe a year. It’s not much of a base…58th is fairly confident nothing is gonna happen on this planet. You got two Ziggurat style LRM’s, but they have that improved lock design left over from the Dead At Birth war, that Simon invented. Two Twin Heavy gauss pods (Scooby let out a low whistle, and Scarlet shifted uncomfortably) and a man-powered ERPPC. Not bad. You got a Raven and a Shadowcat. Chances are the Raven does regular perimeter patrols, and we know it has a narc Waiting in the wings are some bad boys= a Thor and a Thanatos. But here’s the kicker, yo. Inside the main hangar bay is typically an assault mech. My guess is a Daishi. Industry standard.”
Spike stopped scribbling and looked at me. As he spoke, he pointed at me with the pen he was holding. The pen was a ruby metallic color, inscribed with a gold VA symbol.
“That’s a lot. Especially for a communications post. That feed has to be wrong.”
Wolverine spoke.
“58th has the creds, they can afford it. They believe that the best way to handle things is to have such a defense that attackers will have to show up with quite a bit to take you out. That means that any attackers will probably give their position away. Finally, remember, the 58th likes to keep lances squirreled away here and there, in the event they have to make a major offensive. The Daishi babysits.”
Scooby was watching the vid with an interest as intense as the rads from a solar flare. I wondered if he wasn’t just going to set down his nitrolite and climb into the screen. The feed-gauzy, blue, indistinct/distinct in fluctuating eddies of flickering video imagery.

“Check it. Notice the attack pattern 58th uses? The invaders arrive, and the Thor and Thanatos go right and left, respectively, almost as if they’re running away.”
He used a ring laser pointer to punctuate his marks on the screen. The blue dot followed the mech’s routes in their wide arcs.
“They let Fuzion come in close, after hammering most of their forces. The Raven and the Shadowcat harried them, the base blasted them, and they saved the Thor and Thanatos for later. Even let the base take a few hits. Fuzion had to turn around, their butts to the base, to deal with the heavies, and that’s when they really got their asses shot off.”
I watched again as the Black Knight took gauss shots from three separate directions to it’s left kneecap.
The glow from the vidscreen highlighted the IK’s face in blue, green, then the orange/red flower of demolition.
Again and again, for the next hour, until we hit the drop pod hangar, Fuzion died at the hands of the 58th.
I reached for more coffee.
Scooby put his hand over my mug with a deft move. Like a video edit; instantaneous.
“Nope. We’re gonna have about eight hours on the drop. You’ll need sleep. We’re going hiking, near the base.”
The IK pilot said nothing. Like some hypnotic effect, I began to feel drowsy. My last thought before sleep came over me was about how Scarlet was getting paid. Probably by Spike, or maybe funded by his own clan. I thought of my 20,000, plus the 7,000, plus the repairs that had been done on my machine, and it all made sense.

A dropship is a dropship. Bell shaped, ball shaped, hexagonal, or even your conventional capitol ship clone, the basic idea shapes the basic design- move 2,000 tons of mechs from one place to another, trans-galactic, if need be, move them out, and come back after some metal has been knocked around.
Every dropship I’ve ever seen was as ugly as a junkyard dog licking piss off a urinal, and often looks as if it were welded together in the same working environment the said urine-consuming canine would inhabit.
The depot stretched for three miles in either direction, the floor a derridium surface, ultra dense ferro-concrete, the slate landscape broken up by mechs, components, vents, engines, dropships (six of them) and both heavy movers and tea kettle shaped anti-gravs lifters, their workers attending them diligently, focused, their tangerine jumpsuits smudged by rust and electrical burns.
The sound in the place was constant and discordant, ‘lifter sirens droning, the klank of bolters, the steel on steel groan of surfacing kinetics, the burning metal scorch of a dropship launching off on some mission you’d never know about unless you had some juice.

The sound of a quick mech refit had a buzzsaw zzzzzzzzz sound that made your spine telescope and filled your mouth with a metallic flavor, resounding and amplifying until the final punctuating screech of myomers and/or endo-steel plates meshing on a molecular level until the whole project was finished, it’s resolution signified by the sound of what felt like a ten ton block of gold falling on a vast, superheated iron plate. Always sounded to me like an egg being fried, the ozone-oxide stench of it impacting your sense of smell; gold/iron/fusion.
Spike seemed to revel in it. As some tech jocks machined the housings of an aft leg heavy myomer, he inhaled deeply, like it was Cuban tobacco or lightly smoldering cherry wood.
I decided that our dropship looked like a Bora smelting scow. It could carry ten mechs easy, which put it straight into the stealth class of dropships, which is really funny considering how motherin’ big that mofo truly was. Mother of mercy, that gouged up rust hacked trash compactor looking ‘dropper was baboon’s ass-ugly. I could see spire rocket impact craters up and down it’s thrice ablative derririum flanks. It’s nose was an immense, bronze, thumbless fist.
Our mechs were already stowed. My Loki’s arm gleamed with fresh construction, the Clan LB10X refurbished, refitted, and heavy tooled. I had recalibrated the brace of heavy lasers, and reloaded the LB10X on the other arm.
The personnel locker was a series of plasteel walls with head-sized titanium cogs holding it all together. The sleeping foam mats seemed clean enough. I really didn’t want to sleep on them, though. Not that I have standards, or a decent sanitary regimen when I am on the job. I just have this morbid fear of dying in my sleep on some damn mech pusher.
We each had a mat and plexaluminum rack. Maximum utilitarian/minimum comfort. Made me feel apprehensive. I had seen a casualty cooler array once that had looked just like it, years before. Cockpits were armored, well. You could be as dead as a hyena-gnawed zebra carcass in the dust of some Serengeti, but you would look nice and pretty if your mech went up into scrap and thermal detritus and the ‘pod didn’t fly out in time.
Scooby threw a duffel onto his. Spike and Wolverine had already crashed out. The IK pilot hadn’t even taken off his boots. They were 12 hole Gripfast, each one with a sole riveted by ten steel screws.
Scarlet was a friendly guy.
“Hey Scooby, weren’t you on Armitage during the Schare-Kaledos summit?”
“See some shooting?”
“How much?”
“A lot. Took a couple of rounds.”
“Damn. Heard Cooper was some badass from nowhere. Killed some fools with his own bare hands.”
“Wouldn’t know.”
The VA pilot squinted at me. He looked young.
“Were those Madorian signature badges on your Loki?”

“Yah. I flew with the Tigershark’s. Desert and arctic. Mostly fascist rebels.”
“Pre-Comerca or post-Comerca?”
“Post, man. Way post.”
“Rightfully so, Indiot.” Scooby said.
“That’s not cool, Scooby, we’re all friends on this drop. Right?” Scarlet seemed perfectly at ease. He sat on his bunk the way an Emperor would sit on his throne.
“Sorry, man, I, uh, wasn’t here. Thinking.”
Indiot, that’s what Clanners call us.
“It’s all good, man, I get it everywhere.”
“Are you IS?” Scarlet moved the subject back around.
“Used to be. I upgraded to clan a year ago.”
“Pretty rough goin’ IS, right?”
I threw my boots under the plastic/aluminum fiberweeve bunk. Some of the avocado colored paint was scratched away, revealing bright silver.
“Yeah, but it forced me to improvise. I did a lot of ambush ops, early on.”
“Nothin’ wrong with that. This whole arrangement is an ambush op.”
I walked over to the view portal and looked upon the gloss black hulls of our mechs, their new decals gleaming with the manticore and triple crown of Dead At Birth.
Dead At Birth. A group of university kids who’d took a small cult under Madoria’s splinter group fascist rule on the nearby sand moon of Dedaboruth, and had boiled the blood of the whole galaxy in a fever pitch of total and absolute confict. A programmer, a physicist, a media mogul and a psychosocial militant strategist had pulled off what was simply to be a multiple thesis pan-doctorate, and maybe things had so very gotten out of their combined hands…
How many died? Five billion? Does it really ****in’ matter after the first two or three?
They were gone, but you always hear rumors, ghost story whispers, haunted eddies in the info stream…
Wolverine knew his counter-intel. He was black ops, somewhere in his bio. This whole mission was already encrypted. All of the bills were being sent to a dummy mech outfit, paid by an even dumber corporation façade. Our communication was a cloaked Madorian code derivative. Our mechs were jet camo, the joints and bolts hit with brass electroplate. You looked at them, and I must say you could get this palpative sense of doom that was as menacing as it was morbid.
Even the IFF signature license was altered accordingly.
Well, now you know. That’s what clans and indy’s do. Got a black op? Wanna smash up some other clan, corp, or vengeful government regime? Slap on the badge of a dead fascist/terrorist/fanatical cult/clan/merc movement, and go bust some heads. You’re Iconian Knights, The Void Alliance, New Dawn, or whatever, you’ve slagged some metal and turned some enemy into so much bio-mechanical dross, and you’ve hit the dropship, countin’ the creds, you’ve left all that destruct in your rear-view, and what are the survivors screamin’ what caused it?
Dead At Birth!
Dead At Birth!
Dead At Birth!


I had f*cked up dreams.
I thought of Wolverine and myself in the apartment. Only this time, I was the one who killed that corporate guy. I took out a sonic and aimed it at his face, only it cut a scarlet rimmed circular hole in his head, and it dropped onto the ground near my foot and made a metal-on-metal wibble-wobble sound.
(A Black Knight took gauss shots from three separate directions to it’s left kneecap-it hit the ground head-first, the weight of itself crushing the pilot into gelatinous pulp-)
The dead corp looked at me, he still had an eye and some teeth. His mouth was a quarter-crescent of freshly severed skin and bone.
“You’re dead, man. My company is going to ace you and your girlfriend, Indiot.”
He smiled.
“Last year we released a cloned synthetic neutrino that had a defective amino, through a sub-corp called Clax. The amino killed 10,000 people through most of the galaxy, although they don’t know it, yet. We covered it up through a media sweep so insidious and total that Noam Chomsky himself would have never seen it coming. Then we released a counter-synthetic neutrino to counteract the side-effects-“
(A Black Knight took gauss shots from three separate directions to it’s left kneecap-)
“-through another sub-corp, which doesn’t cure the ultimately lethal effects of the amino, of course, because that would be too expensive-“
I shot another hole in him. There was a hollow thrum and the impact of sound severing bone and tissue. Wet.
“-my point being, of course-“
(A Black Knight took gauss shots from three separate directions to-)
Why did-?
I could see the vid behind him. Gauzy, blue, indistinct/distinct in fluctuating eddies of flickering video imagery.
“-that if my corporation could kill 10,000 unaware people-“
(A Black Knight took gauss hits from three-)
Why did Wolverine-?
The hole in his chest was gauzy and indistinct. Blue feed, flickering.
“-murdering your girlfriend and you will be nothing-“
(Gauss hits from-)
Why did Wolverine kill-?
Red rimmed. Gauzy. Blue feed. Flickering.
“-at all.”
Why did Wolverine kill that guy?

Was I really going to ask him?

I woke up, sweating, the mechanical pulse of the dropship thrumming hydraulically below, around, and above me. Everyone else was asleep.

Couldn’t sleep. No sleep. We’d be going, soon.
Beyond the plasteel, into the mech bay, I could see the outline of my Loki, impenetrable and blackly august in the tenebrous expanse of the hold.
Eventually we would drop back onto the surface of Antares.
There, we would find the 58th, and do what we were going to be paid to do.

Wolverine was going over a holo of the surface of the planet.
He had taken a plastifoam chair in front of a series of vid screens connected by coils of matte black cable to it’s system rig, like the rubber veins of some machine beast…it had a low tech paradigm to it that drew me in, the light behind eclipsing the loops and whirls of data feed. I recognized the rig, a Sony Dumonte that was capable of Tachyon channel communication.
He was in Levi’s and a cotton weave ballistic t-shirt, smoking a cigar that gave off a heavy aroma of vanilla and brandy. I cold imagine the moist tobacco, stored in beer colored casks after being cloned in some Sol space styled green house.
I had slept four hours, but it felt like twelve. There was coffee, thank the Titans.
The others were still logging in some hours on the unconsciousness channel. I had walked past Scooby Doo’s bunk, as he had turned onto his side, muttering a curse in his slumber.
“We’re going to do some marching.” Wolverine said, in a manner not without it’s cryptic qualities.
“Yes.” He had a ruby light pen, like the VA one Spike had used, but it was sapphire, with an IK on the side.
Ok, so it was a sapphire light pen. I screwed up. I’ve seen too many ruby ones, you know.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“I don’t want to march in there in our mechs, without knowing what the 58th has for us. ECM or no, I want to get some eyeballs going. We got weapons, and the 58th is way too confident to patrol on foot. We’ll analyze the landscape, and then move in with the machinery.”
“Can you hit the ground?”
Every clan pilot was ISBT (Industry-Standard-Basic-Training) licensed, which was a three month course anyone who went anywhere near a mech or starship accomplished before he could use either. The ISBT license was necessary to purchase anything related to mechs or starships. Kind of a joke…why learn infantry tactics if you are going to pilots 75+ tons of cold fusion driven ordinance? But ISBT was f*cking far more thorough than the basic training most infantry jocks got. Fight sims, twenty-hour plus drills and marksmanship, psychosurgery and chemical assisted, of course. Then finally, The Anvil, a hell-week of NO sleep, NO food, bare minimum water and nothing but shooting, moving, fighting and digging in. It did a number on your medulla, and it got to where you almost had frikkin’ flashbacks, but it virtually guaranteed that if someone handed you a gyrojet rifle, you could put a hole in someone’s head a mile away and march home to tell the tale…

“Yah.” I said. “I’m IS-“
“Cool.” He said.
I didn’t ask him.
The dropship vibrated about us, almost at the edge of our perceptions, and I realized we would be hitting the LZ in two hours.
Checking back into the shadows of where we had got our sleep, I could see the
plasteel window to the mech bay, a cool gray rectangle in the half-light. The arm of Scarlet’s Thor, it’s surface a grid of ferro-fibrous and rivets of admantine-galvanized titanium.
I looked back to the IK pilot. He was getting ready to make a planetary Tach communication via a series of quantum encrypted gamma channels…standard issue for a Heavy Corporate Industrial rated clan.
“We have to move if we’re going to make your mission. The 58th has been pretty hot in the radar and communications category, and New Dawn is starting to sweep.”
“I told you we didn’t have long.”
I thought again about asking Wolverine about that corporate, and then dismissed the thought as he produced a genetic locked Matroxx Gauss Pistol. It was big, like you could just hurl the sucker like a brick and cave in someone’s skull if you ran out of ammo.
I knew that it was banned on every Capitol Ship and base in Fringe and Sol space- planet only, not even Hajod would let his troops carry the weapons- on the off chance a shot would penetrate the hull of anything in space and risk atmospheric decompression.
There was no flesh wound with a gauss pistol. While the depleted uranium slug was no bigger than your fingernail, if it grazed you it’d still take a Pomeranian-sized hunk out of you.
He set it on the desk in front of him, a piece of frosted jet plasteel on the scratched olive nickel-aluminum composite surface, and began to type, the tip of his cigar smoldering like the orange red eye of a mephit.
The liquid metal of the screen’s atom/xenon display warbled and froze, whirls of quantech TCP/IP Tachyon Class Encryption, glacier blue/white, oscillating in a trilligon maelstrom in eddies of boiling vinyl hue, gravitating until an IK live feed conference script loaded.
“Stay put and shut up. You’ll learn a thing or two.” He said.
I stayed put.
“Archon Wolverine, status?”
“Magenta. Orbiting dropzone, 2 hours.”

The face was that of a man of some indeterminate middle age, bald, his features etched and distinctly European. His left eye was a military class Magnus optic, his other unblinking eye perfectly human, the iris a gunmetal blue.
I could see a map of faint scars on his face, one of which curled his lip slightly. His collar was high and marked with Overlord symbols.
Jesus, was this a Dominion?
IK Dominion, covert op cyborg bogeyman. Every clan and independent knew somebody who had a story about a Dominion whacking someone with impunity in full view of family, friends, and domestic law enforcement, only to fade off in the bureaucratic mist, as gossamer and quiet as the dreams of dying men.
“Excellent, I have patched a live feed from Excalibur op channels into New Dawn space. They are flexing, mostly fulfilling ancient corporate obligations, as well as expanding trade.”
“The 58th is a threat to our terra forming projects a decade hence, according to our Dios A.I. New Dawn is wise in eliminating a potential threat, as well as bringing about a lucrative opportunity to further trade in relation with our intended colonies.”
Wolverine spoke.
“I’m on it, sir. The team is ready to roll, and plausible deniability is in effect. Scooby is here, and we got a few VA.”
“VA?” The Dominion’s lip curled slightly.
“I trust your judgment. Their mecha operations exceed our own, yet our goals are certainly parallel.”
“In ten days the 58th won’t have a radar base, here. I have contracted an Excalibur team to watch our intel when we return, but I don’t anticipate any serious planet-side static.”
“My sources tell me the team is led by Arioch. You have little to fear from any potential opposition.”
“Any word on those organic spontaneous fission cases?”
What the hell did that mean?
“We are still compiling data, but there is a report of one event in the Lunar colony, and another near Hajod Barony Space. All eyewitness report indicates they are similar, but it has yet to warrant and man pan-galactic attention…it’s too fantastic, too sporadic, and too isolated.”
I was lost.
The IK puffed his cigar in the long knowing silence between them. Smoke rose and curled, obscuring the screen.
“Roth Shalla, Archon Wolverine. Success to your operations…and I hope your friend in that chair 5.5 meters to your right can keep his lips sealed.”
I felt a jolt in my spine of distant electrical fear.
The feed cut, and Wolverine muttered “****” under his breath, crushing the burning ember that was the end of his cigar into an ash tray of dull gray iron, shaped like lotus leaf.

“What was that about?” I asked.
There was a pause as Wolverine seemed to go into some mental save mode, like a computer. Storing info, squaring away facts…you got warm from being in the vicinity of so many firing neurons.
I could hear the waking sounds in the other room. Zippers being undone, Velcro being ripped, coughing, and the occasional muttered swear word. The supercomputers in racks of two’s and three’s, linking to the display, warbled and beeped like electric Theravadian monks. I could hear the machine rattle sounds of our mechs being prepared for departure. It was the clamor of drills, the din of calibration and maintenance routine.
Wolverine’s speech abilities seemed to come online.
“The usual bag of factors= commerce, popularity, politics and power.” He said, his gaze on the charred remains of his stubbed cheroot.
The screen rippled wetly and began to scroll an E-trade logic schematic.
“How’d he know?”
“He heard your heartbeat. Dominion operatives are half hardware, half synth-organic, and that’s all you get to know. He’ll hold it over my head that you were here, but it ain’t the Sword of Damocles.”
The IK pilot punched a button on the screen, and it diffused to a flat gray, like melted vinyl cooling to become a square of dead-digital clay.
“Let’s motor.” He said. “We’re planetside.”


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version