Hard Light Productions Forums

Hosted Projects - Non-FreeSpace => FringeSpace => Topic started by: JGZinv on December 15, 2011, 04:33:51 pm

Title: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on December 15, 2011, 04:33:51 pm
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 (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1570551#msg1570551)
CREDS (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600269#msg1600269)
A Day in the Life of Fringe Station (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600275#msg1600275)
The Burning Void (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600276#msg1600276)
Discoveries (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600291#msg1600291)
Daily Dissorts (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600296#msg1600296)
Fist or Fate (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600298#msg1600298)
Foreclosure (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600299#msg1600299)
Jading the Fringe (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600300#msg1600300)
MisterFour (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600302#msg1600302)
Ode to No One (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600305#msg1600305)
Reponse (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600306#msg1600306)
The Return (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600307#msg1600307)
Running The Void (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600309#msg1600309)
Line on the Sand (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600311#msg1600311)
Showdown in Antares (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600312#msg1600312)
The Light Show (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600313#msg1600313)
Under the Gun (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600314#msg1600314)
Tachyon: The Mineral War (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600323#msg1600323)
A Pirate and a Clan (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600324#msg1600324)
The Lance: Bitter Betrayal (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600325#msg1600325)
The Border Wars Trilogy (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600327#msg1600327)
Tachyon 2: The Story (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600328#msg1600328)
A Small Battle Scene (http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=79346.msg1600330#msg1600330)



“Damascus”
by
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
details?”

“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
suffocate.”
“Oh.”
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
scientist.”
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
vats.”
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
recalibrate?”
“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
half-wave.
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
floor.


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
Jaycex.
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
coffee.
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.


Title: Re: The Tach Fanfiction Thread
Post by: JGZinv on December 15, 2011, 04:36:49 pm
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
mode.
“Good evening, Jaycex.”
It sounds like the death rattle of a twentieth century Earth toaster.
“My craft is damaged. Diagnostic?”
“Working…”
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.”
“What?”
“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…
“Computer!”
“Yes?”
“Disengage the grid-user interface.”
“Activating.”
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
crows.
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
generator.
“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,
waiting…
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…
Done.

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
them.
“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…”
“Oh.”
Long silence.
“They killed all those people, Rosterez.”
“Yeah and frag ‘em, we killed them. And the other pirate’s will get their’s
someday.”
“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
icing.”

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
him.

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.
Title: Re: The Tach Fanfiction Thread
Post by: JGZinv on December 15, 2011, 05:09:30 pm
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.

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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..."

"What?"

"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."

"Um..."

"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

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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."

"So?"

"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?"

"Nope."

"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.

"Right."

"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."

"Sir?"

"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

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

"Promontory."

"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."

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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."

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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."

"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.

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Title: Re: The Tach Fanfiction Thread
Post by: JGZinv on December 15, 2011, 05:20:42 pm
Chapter 5

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

"Yep."

"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."

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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.

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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

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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!"

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Silence.

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.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 04:08:13 pm
“CREDS”
by
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.
Creds.
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.
Wolverine.
I had worked with him once, back during DAB. So I thought of poverty and Lokis and creds and clans and rolled up.
“Yo.”
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.
“Why?”

I explained to him the sad, sad circumstances.
“Tough, ‘-track.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Gotta save for those rainy days, bud.”
“Yeah.”
“Well?”
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.


“Cecile.”
“Where are you?”
“On a job, baby.”
“When-“
“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.
“But-!”
“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.”
“Nope.”
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.
“Vagos?”
“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.”
“Oh.”
“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.
“Liverpool.”
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…”
“Nice.”
“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.”
“Why-?”
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?”
“Yeah.”
“See some shooting?”
“Yup.”
“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.”
“Damn.”
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…
Why?
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!

Ha!

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.
(Gauss-)
“-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.
“Yah?”
“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.”
“Cool.”
“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.
“Yes.”
“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.”
“Eerie.”
“Indeed.”
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.”
“Damn.”
Damn.
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.”
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 04:14:47 pm

Our drop was as uneventful as it was ever going to be. We were in a field between vast stretches of forest and slate-hued granite rock beds. A silvery shroud of mist had fallen upon us, darkening up into the horizon to become black/blue thunderclouds that threatened storms, like livid violet bruises against an aluminum sky.
We had organized the equipment under the vast shadows of our machines, while the dropship had left us in it’s cold fusion driven wake. There’s always that feeling, as 5,000 tons of transport leaves you to your fate, that you really should have ditched a few years of combat training to take an afternoon class on typing and be an accountant for Galspan.
But I’ll tell you, Clan ops are a splendid, spending thing. We had it all. AI assisted field surgery bots. Plutonium driven Tachyon communicators. Fold up atmospheric solar tents. Self microwaving civilian grade field rations. Heavy distance surveillance gear, both audio and visual, with enough anti-encryption application software to crack anything within five miles in two hours, as long as it wasn’t mecha class, which used a radically different coding sequence. We even had constitution level gamma inductors, for perimeter work. They looked liked possum-sized hubcaps the color of chewed mint bubble gum, but one touch of a button and they faded like a mirage until you could only see the outline of it if you squinted.
We had some fine weapons, too.
Each of us were sporting laspistols, standard clan-issue assault gyrojet rifles, and one A.P.C.A.U.T.P.R. (Antigrav Portable Cartridge Assisted Unguided Tiger Projection Rifle). I kind of felt the need for something heavier, but then again, we were flying mechs into 58th territory.

“Figures I’d be marching again.” Scarlet said. “I should have stayed in space.”
Scarlet’s arms were tattooed with neon-hued ops sigils, old records of wars on other worlds, or in the cold and ferocious space between. One was a fist of lightening bolts, against a shield of copper, with a list of the dead in binary orbiting about it.
He was muscled, like he hit the weight room a day or three a week. F*ck, he looked like his Thor.
A few others had old DAB War vet tats, heavy ones, everything from footwork, piloting ops, mech cadre munitions sabotage, and a couple of Capitol Ship raiding parties, including a First-In Assault Pod tag, and from what I remembered those guys had a %90 casualty rate. I suddenly felt oddly out of my league- I was a mech jock, no more, no less, but it was what had paid for my bread, ammunition, and spare parts these last grip of years.
It was day, but there was certainly not a lot of sun to be seen. A fake night; the wind whistling low to rustle the leaves of distant aspen, droning through the silent chassis of our mechs, grim and colossal under that violet and black sky above.
I felt as if we were some post-apocalyptic band of roving tribesmen, questing in the name of some primordial cause. We were hunched over our equipment, listening to Wolverine lay out the plan. My breath frosted before me, and Scooby rubbed a coin sized heat module back and forth over his hands.
I ran a mental calculation. We had a Thor and a Loki, both of which were close range brawlers. We had a Madcat, for a hit from the distant horizon. We had a Sunder, which was probably a laser beast. Than we had Wolverine, in a Thanatos. I was pretty sure he was packing LRM’s in the broad mechs squared limb. Next to the slim profile of my Loki, it looked like a muscle augmented powerlifter- broad shouldered and malefic in the half dark.
Wolverine used a holo palm top to show us the plan.
“We roll in at angle Alpha, keeping our radars very much off, gentlemen. Once we’re within two days march from the 58th, we are going in on foot to measure the odds and take readings. We pick a time and move in, than we move out. The lift coordinate is 80 kilometers away, here.” His finger jabbed the screen, and the NAV point rippled green across a grid of gold and jet.


“Questions? Comments? Insults?”
“Yeah.” Spike said. “What about that Raven. I don’t mind fighting them, providing I’m behind 90 tons of ordinance.”
“I got personal bafflers for all of us. No way a Raven is going to spot us in the forest, here. We’ll all have blinder chaff, plus Scooby here is going to be in the background, in case he has to move in.”
“We gonna let them come to us?” I asked, wishing I had brought a module like Scooby’s.
“I’d like to, but we have to hit them fast. No one here wants trench warfare, and if we get surrounded in a pincer like Fuzion it’s going to be a lot of slow marchin’ and loud singin’ Chinese style funeral for us. We’re going to move in and out, straight line strafe, and you and Scarlet are going to hunt anyone who tries to put us between the base and harm’s way. Let Spike and I take the base, you guys hunt anyone who circles back. We’ll deal with the Raven when we deal with it.”
“Yeah.”
Miles above us, the atmosphere growled metallically.

Mech jocks and star pilots are a whole different mutation, let me tell you.
I had fallen in with all kinds, during my stint as an independent. Your far eyed idealists, your shallow greed heads, your media-driven autocratic fascist exhibitionists, your serious gun-ho soldier do-or-die-shut-up-and-be-military breeds, even your born again Christian mech jocks for Jehovah.
Clan pilots where any and all of these, but ultimately they were, like me, part hustler, part hardcore, part hellraiser.
Our team was cruising across the grassy delta towards the deep mountains where the 58th waited, crooning electronically to the distant stars beyond.
We kept it as 75kph, ECM on and radar off. But the private team chat was as brazen as it was raucous. These guys had been there, done that, gone over the deep end and had come back to brag about it with the ruthless sincerity of a human who had seen war in all it’s burning and blood-soaked revelry, and was now an artificer of it’s gruesome design.
So you laughed it up ‘cause it beat mewling with fear in some corner of a mental asylum, strapped down while a nurse tries to feed you thin rice gruel.
Wolverine told us about a drunken knife fight in a tobacco smoke clouded Ozark beer joint, culminating with the swashbuckler-like incorporation of a microphone as a kusuri-gami.
Scarlet and Scooby quipped back and forth with a steady barrage of stainless steel dynamically engineered puns (“We’re gonna mech it!” “We’re mechin’ good time!” “Loki over there, what do you see?” “What are you looking Thor?” “I’ve got an English lit degree from Mech U and have studied the auto-canon!”)


Spike waxed philosophical about experimental bio constructed infinite efficient heat sinks that would put ballistic weaponry out of business. A corporation called NH/UA was working on the design, even hosting huge simulated holo duels, with mechs carrying unbelievable amounts of energy weaponry, yet remaining as cool as liquid oxygen.
“It’s the future, mate. I’ve got a friend named Travbad who’s helping with the development schemantics.”
“No gauss? No LB10X? Kind of dry…” I said.
“It’s the future, Indy. It’s the next stage.”
“Yeah, but there’s something to be said for a 12 ton shotgun. Especially when it chambers a round…”

Later, the night outside was moonless; as black as a dish of shoe polish. The vault of rolling thunderheads above had stolen the stars and sequestered the moon, leaving us in the sepulcher of a sackcloth sky.
We skirted the river in the elemental dark, following one another’s radar signatures, until we reached a shelf of earth that split itself into a canyon of quartz and basalt, the silver mist, lit by the expanding dawn, blanketed a jungle of emerald leaves and glittering ferns the color of ferns. When the sun finally rose, it would be a cold and remote pearl in the platinum horizon.
We had negotiated the rubble covered slope, our mechs sometimes wobbling erratically as a combination of fine tuned myomers and a proto-AI assisted gyroscope kept a couple million creds worth of machinery from dropping a mile to end up as meaningless wreckage, ass up, face down.
“Nobody here brought jump jets?” Scooby asked, after his Madcat had shuddered and then slid downward (much to our immediate horror), surfing a ton of rock and dirt a fourth of a mile before it found it’s footing (much to our instantaneous relief), the crystalline dust kicked up into the canyon kilometer by kilometer, obscuring our view before it settled.
“Nope.” Wolverine said. “I’ve shot enough of those smartasses.”
Every mech jock had seen it. Two lances in a sniper fight using every hill and valley as cover, until a Shadowcat or MKII went burning up over a mountain to be shot ‘til it looked like a scorched erector set by pilots on the other side.
“Like trap or skeet.” Spike said. “Pull!”
His laugh echoed mechanically over out team comms.
We hit the jungle, the chassis of our machines crashing through the dense canopy. Vines snapped across my cockpit, broad leaves slapping against the plasteel.
I was thankful for the growth that shrouded our mechs on either side. It kept us out of view, protecting us from the barrage of LRM’s or the well-aimed gauss…


I had to admit, the brief flashes I got as I maneuvered through the flora, fauna, and foliage was worth the drop. Clusters of brightly hued flowers, crystalline waterfalls plummeting to diamond-clear rivers fringed with lush ferns, occasionally parting to reveal broad expanses of iron colored shale, fallen logs blanketed in moss, the earth unseen beneath the verdant primordial growth.
“What a quaint and lush ecosystem.” Scooby said.
“An Eden undiscovered.” I said.
“Perhaps we might acquire an atom bomb so we may do more damage than we are doing, already.”
Spike broke in.
“Don’t let your green thumbs twitch themselves into a knot. This will all grow back, regardless of how hard we squash it. I know this shrubbery. I did some infantry action in Brazil, Laos, Zanditkantlos…this side of mother nature can take a hit. Nothing delicate, here. Especially anything you see that’s green. The animals heard us and fled a long time ago.”
“Wish we had more of it.” Scarlet said.
I couldn’t agree more.
We were covered, yes, but we all knew that this would just serve burr the keen edge of our instincts when we hit the 58th comm. post. We wouldn’t have this forever, and the long green expanse towards the post would seem longer still when every LRM had us in it’s sights.
In that battle there would be no cover.
No, none at all…

We kept chugging for six hours, took an hour break, and then hit it for five more hours. That’s when the awareness that we had entered 58th communications space fell upon us, quiet and spectral, like a spider web across your face as you walk in a forest at night.
We tuned in, and there it was, a blanket of static frayed and worn, patched with Tachyon amplifiers and an audio grid of networked relay systems, out-of-date coders, and heavy emitters to spike the signal sharp enough to puncture ozone and touch planets light years away.
“Listen in, boys.” Wolverine said, his voice above the harsh discordance of a thousand data whispers. “If all goes well, no one will hear it in a week.”

Camp was simple.
We set up the mechs in a semi-circle, facing our backs against the lush tropical foliage, replete with trunks the color of blanched bone or umber, with it’s dense conglomeration of fronds, leaves, and palms swaying in the misted wind.
We synched our personal gravs to all the mechs and memorized the lift point. A step to the invisible lift chute and a vortex of physics keyed to each of the code rings we wore- and up you went, awash in weightlessness, to the door of your mech’s control pad.


It was brisk and polished, much easier than a myomer assisted lift assembly, like crews a hundred years ago had to deal with.
What a waste of hardware that must have been at the time.
The gamma inductors were put into place, but we scarcely doubted we would need them. The 58th outpost had a few tanks, but no real localized infantry. Footwork had it’s time and place, but a 70 ton machine capable of letting loose with a fusillade of sophisticated weaponry kind of nullified a platoon of guys with rifles. Even if they had MASER’s.
Communications was put in a slate colored khaki tent in the center, with a few vidscreens ready for transmission when we made the march and set up the live feed.
We had grav assisted microshielded tents, for keeping out the invertebrates and off the soil, and enough chemical showers to go around. For nocturnal illumination, we used night gear. Even with the canopy above filtering the deep, deep blue of night to black, we all knew any fluorescence could signal our location and invite an attack. “All it takes is one Shadowcat when we aren’t ready for it,” Spike said. “And then we’re right f*cked.”
Using connection epoxy, dense molecule energy wire, and pane upon jagged pane of stealth fields, we draped the camp in concealing technology. It took two hours of climbing trees and mechs with smart ropes and an endless supply of micr-gravs that Wolverine pulled out of a locker, but the effect was worth it.
Standing on the vine infested ground, sore from the monkey-work, my limbs and joints a distant throb of aching cartilage and worn sinew, I could look up and see the fields, like vast shards of translucent amethyst, angelic and vitreous in the inky grotto of the nocturnal jungle.

My dreams were indistinct and tenebrous. A cube of unconsciousness boxing me in, the faces of old memories, submerged in shadows and mouthing illusions, pressed up against the glass.
I geared up and slung a gyrojet rifle over my shoulder my hand parting the
delicate folds of the tents micro-field to reveal the verdant splendor. Too much damn nature. Made my eyes ache. I missed the look of ferroconcrete.
I had been in space for years at a time, aboard starships and in sprawling bases on the sides of moons. The primordial explosion of natural splendor hit me between the senses, like mother nature had put on a set of brass knuckles composed of teak and konked me on the bridge of the nose so hard I bled green, eyes tearing up and sight of all that damn plantlife.
I popped a can of nitrolite and drank, watching the golden half circles of fragmented sunlight, filtered by the abundance of palm trees and drifting vines above.


I found the river, following it’s silver lilt to it’s banks, the loam as dark as coffee grounds.
My feet found their way to the waters that were as tepid and opaque as cold stout beer. A mist crept in on cloudy paws to hit eddies and currents to be gently torn to cotton shreds.
The water washed over my boots. Out in the dark, a loon screamed, and I was somewhere else.

Two years ago.
A swamp on a terraformed planet, somewhere in the outer whorls of the expanding ripples of Fringe space, deep in the center.
“Over there.” The first one said.
“Naw, farther in.” The second said.
They were as professional as highly paid chauffeurs. I felt a weird sense of disassociation, as if I had made an appointment to be whacked.
I stumbled over a vine that had snaked it’s way out of the dense fog and barely kept myself from falling onto my face in the murk.
A gyrojet shell detonated near my head, sending up a gout of mud the color of decayed skin a meter off the soaked ground.
“Easy, turbo, can’t shoot you, here.” The one with the pistol, said.
They had waited for me in my own car. I used my voicelock, got in, and found myself at the wheel with a gun in my ear.
Smart angles with these guys. One with the pistol directly behind, six feet away, too far to turn on. One with a lasrifle to my near left, flanking. Then me, face forward, fingers laced behind my head. It kept me off balance and unable to do anything evasive. Not that I could fight worth a f*ck bare handed, anyhow, and certainly not in a swamp against two guys with firearms. If they had just detonated my car while I was in it with an atom bomb, I could not have been more dead.
My sonic pistol had been in my glove compartment. They took it, along with the $10,000 cred chip I had put there. For the bookie I owed it to, I might add. I has actually been on my way to his office.
It was the most classic of reasons to get railed; I had failed to pay off a bookie.


I had sold some light gauss ammo I had smuggled back while on garrison duty contracting for Galspan. I had sold it fast and cheap, and was en route to the bookie’s office, but hit men get paid for a contract, not for collecting. I don’t know how much there were going to end up with, but the $10,000 was frosting, for them.
The man with the rifle had sealed the chip into a zip pocket. They had made me drive to a swamp fifty miles out, and then had walked me in.
So here I was, in a deep cold panic, the mist crawling up hungrily around my heels.
They were spacers, probably from around Kuniper belt, from the dialect. As sharp as monofilament wire as they were, the two had not been on a lot of planets, I could tell. But to them, a barren place, a pistol, and a corpse, and you had a recipe for a profit. I was just an ingredient.
I had tried to reason with them, but even scared out of my damn skin, I didn’t have it in me to beg. I knew there was little point- they had evil, frozen eyes and the flat expressions of experienced soldiers. They didn’t operate mechs, but it didn’t matter.
My fear was up, way up. The drive had helped it along, the swamp had amplified it, but it wasn’t until my slip that the whole feeling of being truly doomed had come upon me.
This was it.
I thought of Cecile, waiting at our 99th story apartment
It was different than the andrenal jolt one got from combat. I felt lucid, my vision a tunnel of fear. There was no way out of this- and yet there was a synchronicity that was set inside of me, next to a nauseous cloud of fear. Eight Track, a.k.a. Falzio Dupre, mechwarrior, gunrunner, part time smuggler and independent contractor…he grew up on the edge of Sol, did some scores, had some moments, met a nice girl who treated him better than he deserved, and then owed money to people he really should have paid off right away and got clipped.
I should have ditched the car.
I should have called the bookie.
I should have paid him sooner.
“Hey, Mr. Track, pick up the pace, we got a ship to catch, ha-ha-ha!”
I should have called Cecile.
I should have signed on with a clan.
I should have been better to Cecile.
****.
“Over there, by those rocks. Perfect.”
There they were. My gravestones.


I knew what I looked like- hair matted with sweat, trembling, eyes bulging in panic- my tongue felt like a thick piece of dried leather in my mouth.
We came to a shallow part of a river area of the swamp. Moss dappled logs, the color of umber, stacked atop each other, criss crossing the brackish waters that stunk of rot, decayed earth, and brine.
“Watch your step, Fitz. Keep him covered.” The voice behind me said.
Fitz. His name was Fitz. I was going to be shot in some filthy ****ing swamp by a guy named Fitz.
Please get me out of this, I thought. I didn’t know who I was praying to- call it Tao, or God, or Buddha, or Allah- but praying kept me from dissolving into a puddle of fear, even though I had no right to do it.
My heartbeat hammered in my chest. I could feel it pulsing in my throat, almost gagging me.
If I get out of this, I’m never going to gamble again. I’m going to stop cheating on Cecile, I’m going to, I’m going to, I’m going to…
They made me walk across first, and I slipped again, my leg sinking knee deep into the frigid muck.
The two hitmen behind me laughed. For no real reason, their mockery flamed me. I felt stupid and helpless, and it made me even angrier. Not that it was going to do me any good. I was outgunned in every sense of the term.
We were halfway across, the river was maybe five meters- when I turned slightly, seeing the one called Fitz navigate across, he rifle trained upon me. Is face was a series of cruel lines and merciless features, impassive and murderous…
…then a log erupted from the moss colored water in a spray of mud and bit into Fitz’s right arm with a grinding roar.
A shot went by my ear with a zip of rent atmosphere. The wash engulfed the human and the creature, I saw a glimpse of it, scaled hide, a flash of teeth, and then they both disappeared into the murk.
The other hitman with the pistol turned to where they had been a microsecond ago.
“Fitz? Fitz!!?”
His pistol was aimed low, at the water.
I charged, closing the distance, going for his arm, slipping on the moss, hitting him at his knee in an uncoordinated tackle.
Then were were in the water, chest deep.
My vision was a centrifuge of grey sky and black mud.


I punched him in the face.
He rolled with it, and then clawed at my face, cursing.
I had his gunarm by the jacket sleeve. My other hand found his shoulder as he pushed me into the water to drown me.
I kicked his legs out, and I pulled with what little leverage I had. We both went under again.
But my feet found the bottom of the pond, and I pulled and tore with my hands. The jacket came free.
I broke out of the water and onto the shore, the jacket in my hands.
Fitz was still screaming.
An alligator. I thought. Stupid luck. Stupid luck. Stupid, stupid, stupid…
The other hitman was trudging through the mud away from me, yelling incomprehensibly, towards the rifle on the other shore.
I went after him, fighting my way through the water and swamp detritus.
I tore at the inside button of the jacket, searching.
He was out of the water, almost to the rifle.
“Fitz!!?” He said, looking around. It was as if he had forgotten about me entirely, even as he reached for the weapon.
I pulled at the sonic pistol, still running forward, almost slipping. I felt uncoordinated, my vision whirling. The pistol caught on the edge o the inside pocket. I pulled, harder, realizing I couldn’t feel my legs.
He had the rifle in his arms. He turned towards me, mouth open, teeth bared. I could see the black circle that was the rifle’s barrel…
I shot him in the chest from about ten feet away.
He seemed to freeze in place, head going up, eyes screwed shut, teeth bared, then he staggered back…
I shot him again, and again, in the belly and the chest.
He sank to his knees, eyes open, mouth open, letting out a hoarse, voiceless groan.
I shot him once more, and most of his face came off in an arc of bone and skin.
There was the WUUUUFFFFT! sonics, the sound of silk ripping as his flesh and bone were cut into perfect cylinders, the he fell face forward into the reddening wet earth.
Everything kind of stopped.
There was the shore, the powdered steel sky, the branches of dead trees piercing the moors, and the hitman, dead at my feet, so red with his own blood I couldn’t see the mud on him, anymore.
I ditched the pistol. Sonics pack a hit like a ten ton sickle, and are great if you can’t hit the broadside of an Atlas, but they run out of ammo like prom queens run out of virginity.
The rifle was a snubnosed bullpup design, lethal and uncompromising. I picked it out of the blood flecked mire.
I was in some sort of autopilot. All of the swamp sounds- the droning of gnats, the croaking of amphibians, the shrieks of birds- all of it was drowned out by the white noise in my head.


The alligator had did some serious damage. His arm and been tore off at the shoulder. But the hitman was a toughguy. Crawled up onto the shore, his skin the color of a gull’s wing, spattered with gore and sludge.
The stump of his arm was a grayish yellow mess of bone and flesh, a thin river of blood trailing into the log strewn river.
I leveled the rifle at him.
“Help.” He said.
I felt as cold as the waters of the swamp around us.
He noticed his shoulder, and the six inch ribbon of skin that was still there, where his arm had been.
“Oh God.” He croaked.
He looked back to where I was, and at the rifle that was trained upon him.
“Listen,” he sputtered, pulling his body towards me with one arm. “Take me to the car…I got creds, I got guns, I got unregistered…cloned stem cell tissue…in stabilized cryogenic wafer form…you can sell ‘em fast, man, just…”
The reptile rose from the swamp with lethal certainty.
It was the size of a sofa, a few meters across, it’s narrow snout curling back along rows of spiny fangs to a rictus grin, it’s stubby clawed feet almost comical as it regarded me.
I stood there, the rifle heavy in my numb arms.
The hitman’s face froze in a contorted grimace of agonized horror as the reptile nearly severed his leg at the knee with a methodical snap, dragging what was left of Fritz into the black mire. The waters rippled, crimsoning, and then were silent.
I stood there for I don’t know how long, and then threw the rifle in after them, feeling sick, elated, or both.

I can’t tell you too much of the rest.
Everything in me was screaming, and maybe I went loony in the time it took for me to walk, quaking with the cold, hands tucked in my armpits, trying to find my damn car in all that grey drudge, which felt 1,000 kilometers from home.
There was a long car ride back, and at one point I realized I had snapped out of it…whatever I was in.
Death had been at my back, as opposing and indomitable as the 100 ton tread of an Atlas, and yet here I was.
I remember the hollow ache of my gut, the memory of adrenaline still dancing in my blood. I looked in the mirror when I got to my pad and saw a lot of it, blood, streaking my face and clothes in ribbons of crusted gore. Then I threw up in the sink.
I showered for an hour, then tossed everything I had been wearing into an incinerator.
Cecile hadn’t been there when I arrived. She was gone, possibly to her classes at the University, where she had been studying neural instructional soft carbon viral design. Light years ahead of current learning. You would be infected with a synthesized composite of DNA code and intelligent nanotech synaptic microcells. You’d get a cold for a day, and then you’d be well-versed in all the science of geostatial thermodynamics…


The bookie never saw me coming. I had stepped from the alley behind the races, gun in hand, cred chip in the other. His slate-blank barbiturate eyes had briefly blanched into twin black panes of surprise, and then I had paid him off.
He didn’t ask about the hitmen, and to tell the facts of the matter, I wasn’t about to bring it up.
I guess I should have shot him full of circular incisions and kept the 10,000, but I felt a little fresh out of good karma, and my mind was still engulfed in the Novocain grip of shot. The swamp was still with me. I had shot enough people for the week.
Later I had sat in the bed, watching the sheets rise and fall in the still-dark soft silence of the quiet evening as Cecile dreamed, and looked down at my hands, dreading to see mud encrusted under the fingernails. Or blood.
Sometimes, even now, in the worst of my dreams, I stand at the edge of that swamp, shaking.
Fitz claws his way out with one arm, his mouth a geyser of fountaining crimson.
Something clamps onto my ankle with a vise of unearthly flesh, with the cold of 1,000 graves, and I am dragged noiselessly into waters replete with alligators and pale, tide pushed corpses, rotting in the flesh-numbing depths, crowding me until I can’t see or breathe anymore…
I didn’t find religion, or become one of the good guys, or decide not to jock mechs and enter battle in and against machines that let loose volleys of city disintegrating ordinance.
But I never cheated on Cecile, again.
I never gambled again.
I never ended up under the gun of a hitman.
I never ended up in debt to a bookie.
I never walked into another swamp, again…
…and I never wore a pair of alligator skinned boots.
You know what I mean?

Then I’m back again, standing by the river, staring into the burbling crystal depths.
Scarlet stepped noiselessly from the jungle growth. Although morning, it was dim. The canopy above seemed to swipe the sun from the sky with a verdant, vine-wrapped claw.
He was geared up, steam wafting from a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Hey, you and Wolverine and I are gonna start stepping on some earth in a big way. We are going to set up some vid units and get some 4-11 on the 38th.”
“Be right there.”
“Everything cool?”
I looked into the river.
There was nothing it could tell me that I didn’t already know.
I thought of Cecile.


“Perfect…I’m perfect.”

The march wasn’t the marathon I thought it would be. I should have known Wolverine wasn’t going to subject us to it three-day hike. Not with our time frame. Hell, I have to give the man mad props, he went with us. F*ck, he even took point.
Scarlet had a rifle in one hand and the Tiger Projector in the other. He whistled for a while until Wolverine threw him a sharp look.
I had a gyrojet rifle and a laspistol on my hip. I couldn’t help but feel stupid, considering there might be a couple of mechs roaming the hills.
We followed a trail through the foliage, a valley leading to the outpost on our Westside. I felt comfortable enough, but when we spotted it’s outline a mile ahead through the silvery mist, I felt a magnetic charge run up my spine. Like we were naked, on that hillside.
Just below us was a wide expanse of dirt, tire treads going in either direction.
“Supply trail.” Wolverine said.
I broke out the binocs and checked out the base. It was what you’d expect. Big, bustling, bristling with ordinance and communications grids. The radar dish towered up beside it, it’s solar panels and data feed arrays like hematite under the cold Antares sun.
You can bet your girlfriend’s ass there were mechs everywhere. I saw something, something big, then…
The viewer went black.
“What-?”
Scarlet, his face grave, one hand over the binocs.
Wolverine stood a couple meters away, staring at a clearing.
I walked past Scarlet, and saw it.
A wide imprint of a mech’s foot. The ground pushed in by three feet. It wasn’t that wide, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“Makes you feel real f*ckin’ small, now don’t it?” Wolverine asked, his voice hoarse.
“Geesh, and to think that’s only a Raven.”
“Small lasers don’t seem like much when you are operating 75 tons of machinery. But when you think about what it would do to you if you got hit outside of your mech…”
“Instant incineration, man.” Scarlet said. “Nothin’ left to bury.”
“Let’s set up those viewpods and get back to op center. I feel exposed.” I said.
Wolverine looked back at the communications center. I suddenly realized he hadn’t brought a helmet. He was wearing a cowboy hat. Leather, from looks of it.
“I hear ya, Eight. Let’s vanish.”
We left the pods dug deep in the hillside, where not even someone fifteen away would see them.
I couldn’t help but think of New Dawn, maybe a light year away, get ready to move, waiting for the five of us to make it all happen.
It gave me a significant amount of perspective.



The vid feed was different, black and green, like night vision. It gave me an overwhelming amount of relief- like a good omen.
Scooby’s dialect seemed even more pronounced, just like Spike’s. As if being around each other amplified their accent. But as he gave us the assessment, it lent a degree of panache’ to the entire affair.
“We got off light, mates. No ERPPC on the outpost. No heavy gauss cannon, either. But we still got LRM projectors. Three of ‘em.”
“No prob.” Spike said, taking a nip of what smelt like whiskey from a derridium flask emblazoned with a VA symbol. “I’ll take ‘em out in midstride. Don’t you worry, gents.”
“Three LRM’s?” I said. “That’s kind of light, compared to what Fuzion had to deal with.”
Wolverine aimed at the screen with his sapphire light pen. The dot fell on the hazy picture of the base, on one of the launchers, squat and crouched, like a gargoyle with two barrels on each of it’s derridium shoulders.
“Those are quad LRM 20’s, Eight. Improved targeting systems, get a lock in two seconds.”
“Yup.” Scarlet said. “See those arrays on either side? Quad AMS. No mech could carry that many, too much heat, too much computer logic requirements, but sentry guns like these can easily handle them. So don’t use missiles on those bad boys.”
“Wow.” I was impressed.
“So what?” Spike said, drinking a can of nitrolite. “I’ll pick them off in twelve seconds. Zap, zap, zap.” He punctuated his presentation by jabbing the air with his finger at each ‘zap’.
Wolverine lit a cigarette. The smoke of it wafted into the dark blue of the night, the ruddy light from it’s tip illuminating the features of his face in a hellish glow. “Yes, Spike, you are godlike in your capabilities, but I am sure Scooby will throw his two ERPPC’s in, as well. But here’s the mech role call= No Raven, but according to our little foray in the jungle it’s there. We got two Thor’s…one by the ordinance depot…the other by the hangar…but seein’ as how Thors are standard, not a big development, there.”
“No Shadowcat, but I am going to assume it’s probably on patrol over on the other side, maybe in the hills. There’s our Thanatos, next to the hangar. Over there, next to the cold fusion silo, we have a Masakari. The main base door is open, so that’s what we got instead of a Daishi. Expect some serious long range wuuuuumph.”
Scarlet seemed elated. He punched his fist into the palm of his hand.
“Easy. Easy creds. We may as well call 58th and tell ‘em we’re on our way.”
The stealth fields above were hypotenuse triangles of neon drenched powdered azure radiance, filmy and indistinct in the opal-hued moonlight. They made me feel safe. Enclosed.
Wolverine’s voice cut through good cheer like an acetylene torch through Styrofoam.
“Stop laughin’ and take a look at those.” His calloused finger indicated two shapes, crouched next to the immense 400 ton tachyon dish.
There they were, parked in front of communications dish. Squat, crouching monsters. Mechs, big ones, certainly assault class. Huge sockets in their torsos, immense enough to house Heavy Gauss. Arms like a Vulture, with twin ordinance barrels. Their


legs were ponderous looking, but the overall appearance of the two mechs was that of moon crushing firepower.
“Jesus, are those real?”
“Yes. They’re Fafnirs.”
“Fafnirs?”
“New ‘uns. Big, built from Daishi parts. Refitted to carry anything from Gauss to Autocannon in those chest units. Serious firepower…takes a lot of training to handle those.”
“I would think a mech’s a mech.”
“Oh, a mech is pretty much like any other, but not these. Us pilots are pretty unique. But those are new designs, fresh from Sol space. New systems, new controls, recalibrated neural link, cybersocket flux smart tech…you gotta be half hardware to handle those. Cyberboys use ‘em. Takes advantage of the latest in wetware, hardwiring, and cybernetic implants. It’s standard with any new Clan/IS hybrid. After a while, they redesign the systems and you don’t need to have so much hardware inside you. But Banzai has a lot of cash to spend on the latest and greatest.”
“What’s that mean to us?”
“Us? We’re f*cked.”

We all took a break after that horror story. Then Wolverine brought up a map of the base and we did a play by play.
We all shut up while he talked.
“Ok, LRM20 on the hangar and two on the main base. Main base in the center, cold fusion silo south east, communications dish north of the base, with the hangar west and north west respectively.”
“We trot in going 70 kph, Spike and Scooby take out the LRM’s. Industry standard. Let’s presume that the Shadowcat and the Thor are going to do like they did with Fuzion and go into orbit and pop snipe. That leaves a Masakari and a Thanatos laying down fire, with the Thor bringing up the rear and then doing an outflank, like Fuzion, once again.”
“Everyone moves in. Eight Track splits off with Spike and takes out the Thor and the Shadowcat, but you are going to plunk off shots on the Tachyon dish the whole while. Every shot counts.”
“We all know Masakari’s…they hang back and split your skulls from range. Scooby, you get that piece of the pie. Lay down suppressive LRM fire and keep him buried.”
“Scarlet and I are going head to head with the Thanatos and the other Thor. We’ll win…we’ll f*ckin’ win.”
“Spike, Eight, after you clean up your plate with the Thor you guys will sweep back and assist whoever needs assisting, and make sure that dish is dust. Gun the Raven down if you see him.”
I piped up.
“Hey, why Spike and I on the Thor? Why not send me?”
Wolverine looked at me with a casual steadiness.


“Because I don’t know how good you are, and I’m not going to gamble the crew on it.”
His eyes were as flat and cold as a cobra’s.
I looked at him back, thought about getting pissed, then I thought about that gauss
pistol and how deep the jungle was, and deciding that thinking about getting pissed wasn’t nearly as cool as thinking about shutting my mouth.
“One problem.” Scarlet said. “What about the Fafnirs?”
“I ain’t counting them.”
“Why not?” The VA pilot took a swig from the flask Spike handed him.
“Because every time I try to, we end up dead.”
“What about-?” I began to ask.
“No. We’re dead. We’re not that good. No one’s that good.”
You couldn’t cut the silence with an acetylene torch. Too dense.

We held a meeting by the river.
The dark seemed even more prevalent, away from our campsite.
I stood away from the others, skipping stones across the river. Beyond, jungle sounds cut the dark. Animal noises, birds and nocturnal creatures, howling at the moon in the tropical night.
Wolverine seemed placid enough.
“We got options. We can move in, now, and let the dark cover us. Or we can just call it off. Or we can flank the communications base and snipe the radar from a distance and hope against a swift reprisal, but seven mechs chasing us all the way back to the lift point is not a viable agenda.”
“I agree. I don’t like any of that.” Scarlet said.
“Neither do I.” Scooby agreed.
“What are we going to do, children? March in there out weighed by two hundred tons? End up like Fuzion? No one wants to end up stepped on.”
“We’re all adults, here.” Spike said. “What do we do?”
“Those tags on the Fafnirs are Team Banzai. The best.”
“Damn.” I said. I had heard of Banzai. They weren’t Jesus, but they certainly were in the neighborhood of John the Baptist. Big, big fish in our part of the pond. Mech only, they trained in the off season like no other. Most of your premium clans like Neechi, Void Alliance or the Iconian Knights that had access to starcraft as well as mechs didn’t stay up late worrying too much about mech only clans like Banzai…until you ended up facing them in the field, in a mech yourself. Then, all those stories about just how good Banzai was could haunt you.
“So what?” Scarlet said. “There are only two of them.”
“Not to alarm you, sweet pea, but two of them are four of us.” Spike said.
“Let’s see.” Scarlet cracked his knuckles with malicious zeal.
“They got hired, maybe. Extra muscle.”
“Maybe they’re just stopping by.” Scarlet said.
‘”Hi, 58th. We’re Team Banzai, one of the most crack groups of Mechwarriors to ever haunt the stars. Just thought we’d drop in for tea and biccies. Brought the beer, let’s see if there’s rugby on, shall we? We parked the Fafnirs on your light Raven by accident,


hope you don’t mind. If we get too hammered tonight, can we sleep on the couch?” Spike’s voice echoed across the placid waters, the color of hematite in the star choked night.
“I got the audio surveillance gear.” Scooby interjected. “Let’s crack their communication channels and listen in on what they got going on, in there.”
“Make it happen.” Wolverine said.

Scooby pored over the transmissions, the computers printing out reels of communications within the 58th’s Outpost coordinates.
The IK pilot and Captain Scarlet had worked for a few hours, unleashing AI assisted software that had found subtle errors in the encryption patterns of the 58th’s code, and had exploited it with surprising success.
But the Tachyon transmissions had been well beyond us. The coding had been layered with sophisticated ionic flux wavelengths. It sheathed the Tach particles with a heavy medium of radiation that made our own cracking software useless.
“We’d need to be in a capital ship class supercomputers to break that. But we don’t need to. Our concern is what the Outpost is saying to itself, mate.”
“I need to make a call.” I said.
“It’s no risk.” He said. The gamma green glow of the liquid metal atom/xenon gave his countenance a spectral cast. He handed me a brick of some dense metal. Like a cell phone on anabolic steroids. I almost dropped the damn thing. It was a deep, deep frosted purple.
“Bring it back.” Scooby said. “It’s on loan from Excaliber. Ion-inducted tach channel frequency. Stealth encryption, worth more than you and your mech.”
Spike walked me part of the way. The hill was an incline of vines and broad, pale leaves. The sounds of the jungle seemed overpowering. An audio cacophony of croaking flora and buzzing fauna. The monkeys above us had been going pecans for a while. Our stealth fields must of drove ‘em crazy to the moon.
“Got a girl?”
“Ya.”
I was suddenly aware of how big a guy Spike was. Like a bear. He could probably bench press an AC20 shell.
I’m less than six feet and about 140 lbs. Size intimidates me.
“We’re going back out. Wolverine wants us to watch the trail. Get a real eyeful. He’s worried about those Fafnirs.”
“Jesus. He’s worried?”
“Wolverine is a tough f*cker, but he doesn’t call missions off. Say’s if worse comes to worse, we’ll wiz in, high speed, fire everything we got and pray for speed. Those tach dishes gotta go.”
“No callin’ it off?”
“No. It’s only us. New Dawn is going to maneuver, and bringing those communications down on 58th will buy them a ten hour window for their surprise attack, far as I hear.”

“It’s a f*ckin’ graveyard waitin’ to happen out there, Spike.”
“Eight, I’m not going to act all royalty with you, like us clan people don’t put in our shots and make it happen like anyone else. Hell, you indy’s are half the working mercs out there, you guys make clans. You guys work harder than we do, I feel. Really.”
“But VA and IK, we…you gotta remember that the area of the Fringe we freight in, that was nothing for a while. Borderlands. But this clan named Deadlock or LD or whatever, they were black market cybernetics jerks, they ran slaves to some of the more messed up regions, they plundered colonies…”
“We fought ‘em. No real profit, but they had to go. It was a general consensus, years ago. It wasn’t brutal, not like Madoria or Dead At Birth, no one cared, not even Star Patrol, but we went to war and we finished it. Busted them to atoms.”
“There were times when either clan could have left the other hanging. Just got up and went. But we stuck it out. You gotta understand that there were times when we were deep. In really deep space, past Tach channels, no communication, no way of knowing if we even had back up. But we stayed. I can’t explain it, maybe it’s brainwashing or honor or too much drinking off mission, but you end up going beyond some feeling of job, or work. It’s dedication, maybe, and it all sounds fairly prissy like it should be on a gift card but it works.”
“Like you with your girl. You have to call her. Like we have to do this mission. If we don’t, we lose pride. Pride is forever. We’re the best, but to be the best we have to face situations like this. Everyone can put on a shiny ring and say a few oaths, but ethics only count in times like here.”
“Maybe it’s the pollen making my allergies go nuclear, or the fact I’ve had my fair share of my cups. But I’m rambling, yes, but you understand that no one is backing down. Wheels are in motion, Eight. Big wheels, grind you to seeds, and light years away or no, those channels have to stop.”
“I hear you.” I said. Feeling cold.
“You have to be in the game, with this one. First second I spoke with you, I thought you were in some other clan, spying on us. You’re not just some dumb indiot with “Born to Kill” tattooed on your arm, ace. You should be in a clan. You got to realize that. Wolverine would have never worked with you, otherwise.”
“Thanks.”
“After you finish your call, we’re going out.”

The call patched me through noiselessly. No static, suddenly, Cecile was there on the other end.
Her voice made me wish I had never left.
“Hey baby, it’s me.”
“Where are you?”
“I can’t talk. We’re about to go in. I’m coming back, don’t worry.”
“When?”
“Three days. I’m pretty sure. Listen, go to the back of the homecomp. In the back you’ll see a panel with three screws- it’s missing one. Take it off, you’ll find a cred chip. It’s worth 2,000. Take it, close out the room, and go to our usual spot.”
“Over at-“


“Yeah, don’t say it. Get a room there, wait for my call.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.”
“Where are we going?” She sounded beautiful, half a planet away.
“Out of here. New Dawn space, probably. We’ll put the Loki in storage. I got an independent operator galactic standard travel passport I have been meaning to blow the dust off.”
“See you soon.”
“Very soon.”
I hung up.
I felt empty. I didn’t want to be here, anymore.
I felt stupid for feeling that way. I had no right. I was working, and I had done this before. Why feel like this, now?
The logical side of my thought process told me that. But it’s voice was small, hollow, and utterly without conviction.

The hike felt quicker than the initial one we had made. We got to the same spot.
It was only Spike and I. Scarlet offered to go, but Wolverine didn’t want too much of the team going out. Scooby said he’d have his Madcat ready to roll.
It was cold, gray and cold. I thought about when we first landed. The mist above seamed corporeal, like a living, griseous shadow. It crept in from the sky, down into the jungle, spreading thin tendrils through the vines and leaves.
We followed the trail, and then went low, just as a caravan of military class vehicles was making it’s way on the side of the ravine below.
Spike and I ducked low behind a fern that must have been the size of an escape pod. Spike got his Tiger Projector ready. I broke out my binocs.
“What do you see, mate?”
“Lookin’…”
Two jeeps, their magnetic engines purring as they navigated the ravine, past quartz flecked rocks and triangular piles of slate. They each only had one driver, sporting the skull and chevron of the 58th.
A broader vehicle, a hovercraft, was between them. The plasteel capsule that served as it’s drive section held two shadows within. I couldn’t tell who they were. The back of it was a net of jade mesh. Maybe supplies.
They were less than a mile away.
“Well?” Spike said. His eyes darted back and forth back at the jungle we had left behind us, like he expected an ambush.
“Two jeeps and a hovercraft. One jeep has a heavy repeater. The other one has a laser…probably mech class.”
“Stay cool.”
We huddled there, fingers on the triggers of our weapons. I kept thinking we’d accidentally kick a stone into the ravine and end up in a firefight…and we were in no position to do anything serious.
Soon, they were out of view.
Spike let out a heavy breath.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 04:19:19 pm
“Let’s get up there and call Wolverine.”

I watched the 58th outpost, putting a few plans of attack in my mind, like if I could see the right angle than it’d be the key to pulling the assault off and living to tell the tale.
I missed Cecile. I wanted to get this over with.
I took off my helmet and broke out a can of nitrolite. I sat on the ground, helmet next to me, sipping, and then finishing the canister and throwing it in my pack, next to the ammo.
Spike came back.
“I told Wolverine. He says it’s probably a supply run, they might have a stow center dug in someplace. He wants us to stay here. Scooby is plundering the communications logs. We’ve been recording for several hours.”
“What do we do?”
“I’m going to the other side, near those big rocks. I saw a cave area, but the jungle is close to it. Good cover. Go back to where we were and don’t move. We’ll-“
He stopped, looking at a puddle of brackish water next to a log in the clearing.
It was an uneven circle of liquid, trembling, ripples of it spreading outward from the center in even rhythms.
I dove behind a tree trunk, and then froze. Spike jumped into a section of bush that was easily twice his height. The ever-present animal noises about us had stopped. I hadn’t even noticed.
The foot of the Raven was a rich red, spattered with mud, gouges in it a bright metal, glinting in what little light there was. It stomped five feet from where I had hid.
I was frozen. Pure fear, by back against the tree. My legs shook. When I swallowed, it almost hurt, my throat felt so tight.
There was the buzz whirrrrrrrrrrr as the Raven twisted it’s torso, followed by the harsh digital code sound of the mech’s sensors, searching…
Jesus, Scooby was going to start up his Madcat…what if-?
I looked at Spike.
In the shadow of the Raven, his face was a pale crescent moon of stark terror. If it saw us…
His eyes were staring at something on the ground.
I followed his gaze.
My helmet.
Holy Christ.
It sat there, mute testimony to our presence.
I don’t know how long we hid there, the mech’s gyroscope whirling as it changed position slightly, and then it stomped forward, it’s foot lifting, and then my helmet disappearing beneath it.
Then the mech smashed through the jungle and disappeared in a grinding calypso of whirling servos and buzzing myomers.
We didn’t move for a full ten minutes.
Then Spike broke out his own binocs and focused it’s crystal matrix eye onto the base.
“It went back. We’re safe.”

I almost blacked out. I felt weak.
Spike looked down at my helmet. It was beyond crushed. I don’t even think we could pry it out of the earth with a crowbar.
“Want your helmet, mate?”
“Nope.”
“You sure? It’ll make a right fine ashtray…”
We covered the helmet with some plants and took our positions on either side of the ravine, the ridge affording us a perfect view of the base and the ground below.
I fished a mic from my pack and fitted it to my collar, a second piece going into my ear using flesh adherence foam. As long as you removed it with your bare hands, it would come off. Otherwise, it stayed on your body like your nose stayed on your face.
“They’re coming.” Spike said.
“Caravan?”
“Right.”
I could see them, pulling through the thin fog, the rocks grinding under the wheels of the jeeps and into the stream next to them.
Wolverine patched in.
“Eight Track.”
“What?”
“Scooby followed the communications. Banzai is in that caravan. They went to a nearby depot for an inspection. They had been in their mechs for a while, and wanted a break.”
“Jesus, I-“
“They have hardwiring for those Fafnirs, Banzai Clan standard. Take them out and we don’t have to worry about those motherf*ckers.”
“But-?”
“It doesn’t matter what your opinion is. Take that caravan out and come back to base, we assault now. If I had known earlier, I would have risked detection and obliterated the caravan myself. Wolverine out.”
The caravan trailed closer. The hovercraft seemed larger, now, this close to our position.
“Spike-?”
“I heard. I’m taking out the first jeep and the hovercraft. Hit the rear gunner on the jeep, and then the driver, and I’ll follow up.”
“Wait, Spike, don’t hit the last jeep, we’ll use it to get back!”
“Good thinkin’, mate. Make it happen.”
We waited a minute longer, the sky as broad and dark as lead above us, the cloud cover still blanketed across the jungle.
Time stretched. I could see the individual badges on the lead drivers suit through my gyrojet rifle’s monocular. When was Spike going to-
There was a flash, I caught the blur of the Tiger for an instant, and then the lead jeep disappeared in a flash of ordinance…no fire, just scrap and dust.


The caravan stopped, the hovercraft almost hitting what was left of the first vehicle.
I turned my sights on the rear jeep.
For a few brief seconds, smoke obscured my view.
I waited, the cotton tufts drifting, I heard the other hovercraft start to cross the ravine. There was shouting, and another detonation. I felt it’s impact on my face and arms. Then the driver of the last jeep got smart and backed up with a roar of engines and a scream of tire treads, there was the harsh ruby fusion bright of it’s laser, Jesus-
I fired, missing. I fired again, accidentally hitting the driver.
His head came off in a burst of blood. The jeep stopped, the driver rocking back and forth.
I fired again, the dirt kicking up behind the jeep. The gunner was good, he stayed cool, moving the laser in my direction. Then I heard another Tiger and realized that Spike was still alive. The hovercraft flipped and crashed with a sound of sheet metal bending, the spray hitting me from my position.
The impact of the gyrojet almost knocked the 58th gunner from his seat. I don’t know if he fired at me…couldn’t tell. I shot him again, and he whirled hard, strapped in, almost going 180 degrees.
I lost him in the dust, and then realized he wasn’t moving. There was blood…enough of it to know I didn’t need to shoot again.
I ran down the ravine.
“Spike!!!”
Nothing.
I almost tripped across the silvery white sand. The water was discolored with blood and engine fluids. I took cover behind the hovercraft, hoping Spike didn’t fire again. That tiger projector was too much, we should’ve got something smaller…
“I’m here. Almost got scorched. You are a lousy shot, Eight.”
“Yeah, I should’ve said something. Let’s go.’
“Kill those Banzai guys.”
“On it, meet me at the jeep.”
I could hear the base. Some droning signal sound, a klaxon, sounding off in the mist like a dirge of war.
I could see Spike, jumping down the rocks. He had ditched the projector.
I got to the side where the driver was.
He was face forward, his Banzai badges drenched in blood and fluids. Most of his head was either blown off or crushed.
Rifle ready, I went around the corner of the vehicle, feeling exposed. The Raven-
The Banzai mech jock had been thrown wide, his arm pinned partially under the door of the craft. He had a pistol at his side. He looked at me.
He was old, almost. A scar went down the side of his face, from forehead to jaw, his eyes a bright blue. He hadn’t shaved, and his stubble was white. He could have been my father, maybe.
I leveled the rifle at his chest.
He didn’t move. His boots were like Scooby’s, Gripfast, with steel rivets.
The klaxon wail from the base beyond broke my thoughts.
He let out a breath, not even trying for his pistol.


It was cold, very cold, but I couldn’t feel it. I was ankle deep in the shallow edge of the ravine. The water was as clear as glass. I could see the rocks beneath.
I took the pistol from his black plasteel mesh holster and threw it away from us.
He didn’t move.
“I’m not going to kill you. Stay here. If you move, we’ll wipe you out.”
“I can’t move, my arms pinned.”
His dialect was southern. Earth-Texan, maybe.
“Can you move your fingers?”
“Yeah.”
“You’re fine. Someone will come, but stay out of it.”
“You’re hitting the base?”
“Quiet, or my partner will finish the job.”
“Thanks.”
“Stay here. Don’t go back there for a while. You’ll know.”
“I can’t pilot anyways, man. My arm don’t work.”
“You’ll be fine, stay cool.”
He almost grinned, his face pale.
“Thanks. Thanks.”
I ran to the jeep, my boots splashing in the ravine.
Spike had a heavy gyrojet pistol out, scanning the ridge above us, the rocks like jutting teeth from the pale earth, the jungle verdant and dark in the heavy cloudcover.
“Both dead?”
“Yeah.”
He wasn’t even looking at me.
The body in the driver’s side move easy enough. I undid his seat belt, blood smearing my arm. I pushed the body into the stream, the water instantly reddening.
Spike moved fast. He threw his pistol into the passenger seat, whipped out a combat knife, it’s monomolecular edge a fine line of pearl against the steel. He cut up and down, in two, deft moves, the straps coming apart, and then jump kicked the body into the water a good three feet away, one hand on the edge of the vehicle.
“Drive.”
“I can’t, too shaky.”
“No problem, get in the passenger side.” He locked the controls of the laser so it wouldn’t move around, hitting the levers with fast precision, his knife in his teeth.
I took the passenger side.
He looked up, and his eyes widened into discs of white and green. He took the knife out of his mouth and threw it into the back seat.
“F*ck.”
I belted myself in. Spike took the driver side and didn’t bother with the restraints.
He started the engine, a warm thum of magnetics, and we reversed hard, the jolt of it almost sending my head through the windshield. I looked back.
There was the Raven, coming down the ravine.
Then my vision churned, a whirling blur of shore, jungle, water and sky, we had pulled back around, and Spike was gunning, taking the jeep as fast as it would go.


We were dead. There was nothing I could do. The mounted laser, even if I could get to it, was useless.
The air itself scorched. The ground next to us became hot and bright. I suddenly could smell burning glass, and then it was behind us.
“The Raven-!!!”
“You bet your ass!” He shouted. His teeth were bared, he was leaned over the wheel, his thumbs almost touching his lapels.
He swerved, and how he stayed in his chair, I had no idea, because I almost came out of mine, seat belt and all.
Another blast of heat. Lasers. The Raven was gunning for us, it’s aim improved.
I took a look behind me and almost pissed myself. It was closer, just starting to pick up speed, it’s feet splashing the water fifteen feet in the air, maneuvering through the creek with ease.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Spike probably saved both our asses with what he did. He turned sharply, into the creek, and we hydroplaned briefly, the wheels suddenly going quiet as we left the earth, and then the waters jetsprayed behind us, a wash of white that probably obscured the Raven’s view of our jeep. The mech fired again, scalding the creek bed to steam in a cloud that must have went up two stories. Maybe that helped.
I turned around and ducked low in the seat, bracing for impact. There was no way he could keep this up. Maybe we’d get thrown clear, and the Raven would miss us-
For an instant I saw the mech, a Madcat, it’s missile bays broad and enormous against the tin sky. It came around the hill, looming upon us, and I thought it was the 58th until I saw the gold triple crown of DAB against the gloss jet of it’s chassis.
There was the sub-sonic scream of firing ordinance, the electric cackle of ERPPC’s lit the sky, hurting my eyes, I ducked reflexively, hunched over as low as possible in the jeep’s seat.
I think maybe I blacked out, or I stopped breathing, and then I looked up and realized it was Scooby.
The Raven had stopped firing. I looked back, and it was limping through the water, far behind us, dragging it’s leg like some injured superpredator.
I felt the heat blast of the LRM’s from where I was, I didn’t see them at first, arcing overhead, and the sound of them almost made me deaf. This close to a mech…when something like that moves…a part of you just feels scared, like nothing should be that big, like buildings should stay still and not walk…
I looked back again, and then shielded my eyes as the LRM’s descended onto the Raven and it was rent asunder into a billowing tempest of silver and blue cold fusion.
“Yup.” Spike said, maybe to nobody. “Yup, yup. That’s how it’s done. It’s going to be us that way, soon.”
The jeep’s engine roared, and he drove us beneath the Madcat. I caught a glimpse of it’s myomer driven servos, as gargantuan as hovercars. I suddenly remembered how my Loki looked, with it’s freshly machined LB10X, glinted quicksilver in the mechanical dark of the repair facility.


“They left already!!?” I yelled.
“Ya. Essence being of time and importance and all that.” The jungle above and around us was an eye-blaring streak of green vegetation and blue shadows. My eyes had yet to adjust.
“The campsite!!?” I was yelling. This was all fast forward. Like a car crash. Like a gun fight. Like your first sexual experience.
“Stop yelling what?” Somewhere, the rest of the crew was moving, the distant crashing sounds resonating and amplifying in the confines of the tropical forest.
“We, our equipment…”
“Well, jackass, I figure we’d call ahead and tell the 58th we need 25 minutes to pack our good things and have ourselves some tea and a nap, mate. Maybe some good chess. Ya idgit, who cares? We’re bombing the site when we leave. Wolverine and I laid the charges ourselves. We’re the second wave arse. Put some pep in your step, mate!!!”
Damn. I was a tyro, all of a sudden. It was the Raven, too close…too close…
By the time I hopped over logs and fronds, stripping my body armored vest and my holstered laspistol, chucking them into a meter square duffel, my mech helmet in my Loki, I left my rifle against a rock, I picked up my sleeping bag and dropped it, what was I doing? I didn’t need it! There was the unearthly electric groan as ninety tons of Sunder powered up, and the ground shuddered like 6 on the Richter scale, the vibration so intense I almost couldn’t feel my feet up to my ankles. This was it this was it this was…
Then there was the gravitonic lift as I was propelled weightless in a sheath of gravitons, and then I was strapping myself in, the controls and sensor screens of my mech lighting up like a Christmas tree. The rest of the crew were blips, and then I was going 76kph, crashing through the jungle we had hid inside of for those days. Spike’s Sunder was immense in front of me, it’s broad chassis eclipsing the view of the vale before me.
My tongue was thick in my mouth, my hands slick with perspiration. I threw on a set of gloves. My hands shook, in spite of themselves. This was it.
We had left the campsite behind us when my sensors registered the blast. Probably a low-yield neutron sub-atomic, or just conventional fusion bombs. In my rear angle vid, the campsite was a burning plume of flickering light, sending dense smoke into the misted sky above the jungle.
“Eight Track.” Wolverine.
“Yo.”
“You know the plan. No radar, no Thor.”
“Roger.”
“Stay by Spike. Cover him. Flank right. Got it?”
“Yes.”


“Spike said we don’t have to worry about Fafnirs.”
“Not unless they have some other pilots.”
“Jesus, I’m picking up transmissions. It’s a f*ckin’ hornets nest.”
“Contact!” Scarlet said. There was the distant crash of missile impact and macro-ordinance. The line went turned to static.
Scooby’s voice came online. Despite the violence, he sounded bored.
“1 LRM down…make that another. Good shot, Scarlet. Wolverine, it would sit quite right with me if you would engage that Thor threatening my flank…thank you.”
I checked back at the base. It was an obscure series of geometric lines, cutting the aluminum hue of the horizon, clouds of missiles erupting from the towers around it. I thought of those towers, the quad LRM’s with all their technology, severing the very bleeding edge of technology…
We were closing, fast. Wolverine had been right to ruthlessly enforce the minimum 76kph directive. Scooby’s Madcat was in the rear, moving in figure-eights, staying back from the main assault, to make full use of his long range firepower.
Scooby was on the comm. His voice was still calm, almost meditative.
“I just snipped another LRM off that base…wait, there here comes the Shadowcat, and the Thor.”
There was the sound of a gauss impact, like a yard of admantium being driven through an anvil of steel with a hydraulic impact servo.
“Ouch. That will take some mending. They have gauss, repeat, they have gauss…”
I was close enough to the base to hit it with my lasers. Ahead, Spike was giving the radar dish some attention. Ruby lines of amplified light, clan-class lasers etching the battlefield, cutting the heavy reinforced construction of the dish…smoke tumbled from it’s form in black tufts, darkening the sky.
I saw the LRM’s of the tower, crouched and lethal. I imagined their barrels, four of them, unleashing fire upon Scooby, Scarlet, and Wolverine…my crew…
Then the area around and above the base became crowded with weapons fire. Scarlet took a hit, the redoubtable form of his Thor twisting from the impact of a gauss that tore into it’s shoulder, lasers that cut deep into it’s hide, even from where I was I could see the craters of impacts from the LRM’s the tower had unleashed upon him.
I was closer, now. So was Spike and the rest, the glowing dots of our radar signatures closing in on the base with steady inertia.
I hit one of them solid, the impact leaving a blackened crater. It still fired. I almost lost it in the white clouds of the missile launch. How many had hit the others as Spike and I had caught up?
Scooby.


“I see the Masakari. Yes, gentlemen, it’s packing ERPPC’s, only the best for our good foes. Ouch! Scarlet took a hit. I’m concentrating fire.”
I fired again. The sound of it was neon thunder in the confines of my mech. The LRM projectors were smoking…I expected them to fire again, and then Spike must have picked them out, my whole image enhancement became digital smoke and electric fire…
Scooby.
“Spike, Eight Track, if you don’t step on the Shadowcat and that Thor threatening our right flank, you are both getting a lump of coal in your stocking for Christmas (WHUMP! The sound of gauss, the snip of perforate air, the sonic impact of ferro fibrous being split asunder) that hurt, gents, make it happen, please. I’m playing pop the weasel with a Masakari, after all.”
The verdant stretch of the valley before us was aglow with criss-crossing firepower…the blazing ruby arc of laser fire, the metallic azure-tinged snap of gauss, the blazing jetstreams of missiles from either side. I couldn’t see the sun, through all of the ordinance.
I lost sight of Scooby, and the saw him on the move, coming out of the fire and the trailing exhaust plumes of the missiles, his flank smoldering. The air in front of him crackled with power as the ERPPC’s forked out in columns of focused energy, the lightening arc of it jolting the Masakari across from him, an immense craft that looked ponderous and yet lethal, it’s arms slim and viscous, each two barrels, it’s form an abrupt and brutish brick as it moved into a better firing position, the electrical shocks leaping in currents across it’s chassis. It returned fire, but I didn’t see the effects of it’s barrage.
I heard Spike fire to my starboard side, I wondered who he was aiming for, my attention was drawn to Wolverine, who was…
…pacing in deadly circles with the Thor, they were trading blows, the Thor was afire, though, I let off a shot, twin large lasers, I think I hit him, and then…
…Wolverine fired, I could hear the LB20X from here, feel the detonation through the shielded plasteel surface, and the Thor ran as it died, the ferocious neon silver of it’s reactor core ingniting fall, my image enhancement going white with it’s detonation. I could see the wide-shouldered etched black outline of Wolverine against the incandescence. It was only then that I realized that the right arm of Wolverine’s Thanatos had been severed. Great gouts of burning smoke billowed from it’s mutilated socket.
Spike fairly howled over the communications channel.
“Eight, it would be completely dandy if you did something about that Thor and Shadowcat team up that is doing it’s utmost to CRAWL UP OUR ASS!!!”
Oh.
As if to underline Spike’s statement, an impact on my starboard torso abruptly shook my craft, the whiplash shaking me to the right, even with my restraint gear.
I heard Scooby, again.


“Scarlet, that Thanatos is trying to give me a sloppy kiss, will you please kindly redirect your attentions from the base to that particular thorn before it wedges itself into my mech’s good side?”
There was another explosion. It made my ears ache.
Jesus.
The Shadowcat hit my left flank, maybe large lasers, not sure, then there was the impact of LB10X. I was red, red…
“I’m on it, Scooby.” Scarlet seemed like he was having a good time.
I hit the Shadowcat in the leg, by accident, really, I was aiming for it’s flank, and it seemed to go in a half circle, trying to come in for another shot. It was hunched over, like the predatorial shapes of the LRM projectors, fast and lethal…
I could sense Spike, sparring with the Thor, I wondered what he was doing, I could see the sapphire glint of his radar signature, in violent orbit with the ruby glint of the enemy…
…the Shadowcat came around, bringing his weapons upon me…
…I hit it again, in the leg, disrupting his aim, I had used both my lasers and my LB10X’s, the detonation jackhammered on either side of me, and the Shadowcat began to drag it’s leg behind it, three clicks away, almost pathetic as it struggled to maneuver it’s 45 ton form to some sort of cover.
There was the base, to my port. There was the jungle behind me, there was the sky above, blackening with the coming night, there was Spike to my starboard, presumably engaging the remaining 58th Thor with some success, there was the Masakari within protective cover of the base, targeting Scooby, I guess, I could imagine quad electric current beams of ionic energy impacting along his Madcat, maybe…I could imagine Wolverine, hitting the base with all the weapons on the chassis of his mech, killing communication for the 58th and it’s allies so New Dawn could complete it’s assault, light years away, there was the Shadowcat, it’s cockpit illuminated with greater detail in the rectangle of my enhanced image visual, and then it’s leg came off as my weapons fell across it, and then the myomic feedback must have been too much for it’s reactor, and it went fusion, bright, too bright, scalding my vision, I could feel it’s heat as it died…my HUD flickering as I almost went nova from it’s detonation, myself.
The sensors of my mech showed my armor as green, then to yellow, the temperature in my machine rocketing to 110 degrees before the heat sinks compensated. My back and chest were drenched. If not for the helmet, it would have gone right into my eyes.
I checked back at Spike, as the Thor he was fighting followed suit. It ran in a half circle, and then beams of ravening light pierced it. The mech stopped, lurched, and then froze in mid-step before the nuclear explosion of it’s breached reactor darkening the field for miles.
“I have lost my missile racks.” Scooby said. “All fire on that radar dish, or we may as well break contact, go home, and watch reruns on the telly.”


The base was as close as we would ever want it to be. I could see the ruined metal chassis of the blasted LRM racks, like the bodies of scorched steel spiders.
I checked my radar, just as the enemy Thanatos winked out of existence, along with Scarlet’s signature. I thought he was dead until, tense moments later, his voice came through the comm .
“Whew! He blew up way too close. Legged ‘em, but it shut me down…thanks for the assist on that, Wolverine.”
“Not a problem, Scarlet. There is something delightful about a crossfire…”
I checked my heat, still good, and then cycled through my radar, trying to find more opponents. We were to the side of the base, a vast field to my right, the valley rising up about us.
I lost visual of Spike, but I saw the ruby luminescence of his large lasers knifing into what was left of the communication tower.
I focused, ignoring the explosions to my port (was that Scooby? Or Wolverine..?) and then there was the trigger and the sound of my weapons, the recoil traveling up the Loki’s arms, rocking the machine, and the radar dish tumbled like a 200 ton plate, hitting the earth, crumpling from it’s own weight, and my sensors, which had been abuzz with the base’s communications, suddenly sputtered and collapsed into audio flatline.
“It’s gone!”
“Good.” Wolverine said. “Go to the drop point.”
I saw it, in the hills, coming up over the hills, like a ghost in my radar, distant and godlike, and Spike’s mech staggered with the impact, his arm rent asunder, billowing, the flame of it’s rent chassis obscuring my view of him.
It’s arms were menacing barrels of energy weapons arrays, it’s head like a chevalier, the shoulders like medieval armor, then it backed out of view.
A Novacat. An energy mech, a real monster of when it came to energy ordinance, and it had us at range, intercepting our path to the dropship pick-up zone. It was lighter than Spike’s craft by a good 20 tons, so it could get a profound amount of speed, compared to an assault mech that would be just as equipped when it came to weapons.
He must have powered down his machine, waiting for us to get closer, listening for our tread, and then activated his mech and trudged up over the hill, targeting weak points in the enemy for easy kills.
I checked my sensor transmissions and cycled through the team, analyzing damage.
Scooby, his cube shaped LRM pods gone, bleeding thick black smog from damaged internal systems through smoldering rents in his armor.


Wolverine, the broad-shouldered form of his Thanatos burning, gouts of smoke and fire erupting from it’s ruined armor and breeched internal structure.
Scarlet, a black smear from a fierce detonation charring his ferro fibrous chassis from hip to shoulder in a jagged crescent streak.
Spike, down an arm, his hull a blinking red/orange of extensive damage from his duel with the 58th Thor.
Then, there was me, surveying a series of hills with a valley leading to where our drop ship would meet us, knowing that the Novacat was in the hills, waiting…
“See it?” Wolverine said.
“Yeah. Novacat. Took Spike’s arm off.”
“We’re beat and bloody. It’s going to have it’s way with us. Scooby-?”
“Nope, in the red, overheating bad, got a reactor leak, I’ve flushed, maybe I can risk a shot-“
“Negative, use the base as cover and hit that valley. Scarlet?”
“I can make it, but I don’t got much to offer. An LB20X…”
“Eight, you and Scarlet take that hill and skin a Novacat.”
“On it.”
“I can help.” Spike said.
“Negative, we may need you. We don’t know what other vehicles the 58th had in their hat. Plus, I want you to cover our retreat at range if Eight and Scarlet get the short end of it.”
“Gotcha. Sorry, guys, it’s all you, then.”
I passed what was left of the base, seeing the ruined shadows of the LRM’s, it’s once-proud dish, broken and immolated, and kept close to it, using it’s cover.
The Novacat came up again, and I heard the impact before I felt it, my vision going up in a jolt, my center torso hit solid, the computers infuriatingly calm voice informing me of a possible hull breach, damage critical…
F*ck.
I hit the hill, battering trees to the side of me. I knew Scarlet had been closer, I could see him, up and over the grassy mountainside, I wondered if the Novacat was 58th or Banzai…
I saw the sapphire radar blips of the team, glowing as they made their way through the valley. I heard the sound of LB20X, KA-CHING BOOM! as Wolverine let loose, maybe on some Tanks or sentry guns. There was the distant rattle of autocannon, I couldn’t tell whose it was.
I was over the hill and into a copse of trees, pine and ash, I don’t know, and I caught a glimpse of Scarlet, his remaining arm firing at his target (KA-CHING BOOM!) but then there was a neon streak of lasfire, and his arm was sheared at the shoulder. Particles of it spattered across my hull and cockpit.


I should have known. That’s why the base wasn’t as armed as we thought it would be. They had taken all of the creds and bought a Novacat. One mech was worth it’s weight in sentry guns, straight up.
I caught up with Spike, and saw that most of the torso of his mech was a sputtering ruined stretch of gouged ferro-fibrous. He could get decimated with one hit from a medium laser, it looked like.
“Damn. I got him, but-“
“Join the team, I’m next.”
“He’s-“
“I’m on it.” I said.
“Yeah…damn.” Spike’s voice was drenched in disappointment.
I knew how he felt. No weapons, but still in the fight.
It took me forever to cross that treeline, as Scarlet lumbered past me, and I knew he was cooling down. My center torso was a blinking red column of injured crimson, one more hit and…
I saw him for a second, walking purposely, the five barrels of his arms singling me out. I hit him with twin lasers and then two LB10X shots, then it was his turn to blink.
His return fire gouged into my arm, my left one. It began to blink in concert with the center torso damage bar. The hit knocked me to the left, my visual through the cockpit snapping to the side.
My heat had been climbing. I could feel it, sweat beading on my face, the evil warmth and my back and underneath me, my mech’s reactor going overload, the HUD flickering and occasionally vanishing altogether. I hit the flush button with my left hand. I had been tempted to a get a SRM rack, but had decided against it, instead investing in a few more heat sinks, and damn, times like these I really appreciate my own wisdom…
The he was over the hill, and I was following. I could see the chlorine tint of his own heat flush, the scalding chemical burbling up to join the smog from the battle in the smoldering skies above.
The hill was behind me when dense clouds covered the burnished face of the sun, and a dark came down, so deep I almost hit the night vision.
Where was he?
He was there, a red blip, but my torso…
I wasn’t afraid, anymore. It wasn’t like the swamp, or the episode with the Raven. I was in command, I was in my Loki, I could do this…I had done this before…
He came into view as I twisted my mech’s torso to get into firing position. My shots impacted upon his torso, again, rocking him.
But his own fire hit my hip, my mech’s gyroscope malfunctioning from the impact, my vision tumbled and lurched, there was an impact on all sides, and for a second there was the dark of the earth, my mech was face down.


Maybe I blacked out for a few moments, then there was the blinking warning light of the damage that had been wrought upon my vehicle, my left arm was gone, maybe lost when the craft hit the ground.
For a mechwarrior, getting up from such a hit is the longest stretch of time to wait. You’ve seen it before on any battlefield, a mech goes down from a lucky strike to it’s hip, and then it falls, only to be perforated by shots from all sides, an easy and vulnerable target, and an even easier kill.
I could hear the groan of tortured internals and the biomechanical hiss of stressed myomers, then I was up in a semi-crouch. The Novacat was a blur in my HUD.
My arm was up.
The Novacat’s center was a charred plate of scarcely recognizable ferro fibrous. I could almost see the dense array of it’s internal structure, the once-proud black, gray and white of it’s 58th camouflage now battered and scorched.
My crosshair was a circle of light in my HUD, drifting towards the enemy mech. It’s weapons were five dark circles of eminent destruction.
-The corporate bodyguard, his mouth an O of surprise, his eyes gone wide in shock, the office room bending around me as a hole perforated the center of his chest. He was crimson with his own blood, the pieces of his tie falling to the ground where the sonic had cut them to curved sections…
-The smoky azure video feed of a Black Knight, hit by gauss shots from three separate directions to it’s left kneecap. It tumbles forever, the pilot crushed utterly as it’s torso detonates in blue and white…
-A hitman freezes in place, head going up, eyes screwed shut, teeth bared, then he staggers back, dying, the mud is gray, the blood is…
-The driver of the jeep’s head rent asunder from my shot. The organic blossom of his death magnified in the gold of my crosshairs, the rifle kicks in my hand…
-The Novacat, bucking backwards on it’s heels from the impact of my LB10X, and then a laser shatters the reactor core, I knew it, then. The pilot wouldn’t even have a chance to eject manually, his flesh would bubble and his hair would char before he even felt the agony, the system’s failing from the radiation, and he is devoured by fire that is beyond fire, before he can even begin to scream…
I flicked the image enhancement off (I didn’t even remember turning it on) and watched the Novacat. It was frozen, immobile, and then it was everywhere, scattered into sections, the heart of it blazing like a bright blue sun, scorching the cerulean, itself.

It was a good five minutes as I caught up with the team. My radio had died in the fall, but they had seen me on their radar.
No one asked if I had got him.
They had come across a platoon of armor as they had hit the valley. More than a dozen tanks and hovercraft= Bulldogs, Condors, Harassers. The battle had been as brief


as it was intense, damage was minimal to our side, although Scarlet’s Thor had lost it’s other limb, embarrassingly enough.
The jaunt back took five or six hours. The sky had gotten darker, the broken mountains on either side dwarfing our machines. There was little chance, at this point, of encountering enemy, but we followed procedure.
As we got twenty minutes from the lift site we finally broke radio contact, and Scooby and Scarlet had gone back and forth.
“I am so alarmed!”
“It must be disarming.”
“They really went out on a limb!”
“Now you’ll have to join the army.”
“I gotta hand it to ‘em..!”
“You’ll have to shoulder the blame.”
“My mech used to look so handsome!”
“It could happen to any-body.”
We passed a few of them. Those iron menhirs, some 5,000 tons each, waiting for a tomorrow millions of light years distant, the carvings black and indecipherable, laden with mystery. I wondered at them, through the fatigue, the eyestrain, the aftershocks of adrenaline soaked combat stress. There they were, reminding us of our proper place in the universe. Indistinct motes in the eye of God.
The burnished fist that was the nose of our dropship had been the most beautiful scene I had looked upon, it’s graceless design a dream of infinite mercy under the glossy pearl that was the Antares moon, shining through the velvet night. We had kept our searchlights off, following the blinking of it’s lights until we trudged into the welcome rectangle that was the side of the craft.
The technicians had been quick, knowing how important time was. This was the most vulnerable part of the mission. More than one dropship had landed to pick up troops, only to stay where it was forever. I had been on a few punitive strikes, myself, launching ordinance into the inside of a dropship through the open bay door of it’s hold, waiting until we knew it would do the most damage to the crew’s personnel…
The drop home isn’t worth speaking of. No one was conscious for it. We all crashed, a dense after combat stretch of grave black where you don’t even remember your dreams, you are so spent. Then you wake up, coming out of delta like a coma, feeling like you have to brush the cobwebs off you.
I grabbed my duffel bag, I hadn’t even opened it yet, and marched out with the rest into the darkness of the Operations Bay.
We were a few miles in the air, over the surface of the planet, in an isolated Non-Corporate Commercial Mech Depot, overlooking Emmitsburg Bay, near where Cecile and I lived, where I had first signed up with Wolverine. It was a clever move to break it off, here. Traffic was common from this sector, and it was an easy airlift to anywhere on


the planet you needed to go. Plus, it was easy to arrange for the transportation of your Mech.
It was lunch hour, so all of the workers were taking their union break. We stood in the shadow of the squat mass of the dropship, going over pay from Wolverine’s palmtop.
I got my 20,000. The rest got theirs.
Spike shook my hand.
“Gotta run, mate. Scarlet and I have to jet to The Vault. VA is planning a strike on a Devil’s Fist stronghold, and we’re part of it.”
Scarlet shook my hand right after, grinning.”
“You fly?”
“No.” I said.
“Damn. Well, look me up on the VA ezboards, if you want to do a job, sometime.”
“I will, really. Thank you. I mean it.”
They walked through the immense doors of the Dropship Hold and disappeared into the crowd of mercs, merchants, and marketeers.
Scooby put on a pair of titanium gold sunglasses. He had changed into an Armani suit, and had exchanged his own duffel for a leather suitcase.
“Screw work. I’m going on vacation. Sol space.”
“Let’s hit a restaurant at The Pallisades Mall, first.” Wolverine said.
“Good. Let’s.”
“You going with us?” Wolverine said.
“I can’t, I gotta catch up with my girl. We’re taking off.”
“C’mon. Hang out.” Scooby said.
“I wish I could, but I gotta jump.”
“Good luck, then.” Scooby said, shaking my hand. “I need coffee, Wolverine. I’ll meet you out in the Lobby.”
“Coolio.”
Wolverine and I stood there.
“I have to ask you…”
“What?” Wolverine said, the laptop’s desktop icons glowing feint azure on his features, in the shadows of the hold.
“Why’d you shoot that corp?”
The silence of the worker’s lunch hour got a little more silent. In it’s quiet, I was more aware of the smells of scalded steel and cold fusion waste.
“You ask f*ckin’ questions.” His voice sounded lethal and metallic.
“Yeah, you’re right, sorry-“
He laughed, quietly.
“No, you’re no rube. That corp was a 58th rep. He had contracted me to hire a lance to protect the outpost we just slagged. I took 80,000 up front, told him I’d get back to him. Seems 58th kind of suspected New Dawn would go after it, which is why those Banzai boys were there. When you told me about the job offer you had, to take it out, it


was either kill you or take you up on your offer. I wanted the corp’s money, though. So I killed him to cover our tracks, once I made sure the money he had wired to me was good.”
“Jesus.”
“Yep. Made good cash. So did you. I even threw in an extra 5,000 for the shooting you did in that office room. I’m pretty f*cking magnanimous, if you stop and think about it.”
Wow. That was pretty benevolent.
“I know, it’s good. No problem-“
“Good.”
I picked up my duffel and shook his hand.
“Nice business.”
“That it was. I’ll look you up, in a month.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“I know you will. Good luck with your girl.”
“Thanks.”
I lagged a bit, checking my duffel, organizing my data chips and cred account information. Beyond, the heavy industry repair/refit macro equipment shuddered to life, making my bones throb from the distant vibration.
“I’m worried about something, Wolverine.”
“What?” He was still poring over his laptop, the scrolling code a luminescent gloss black/gold. In the chemical dark confines of the hold.
“I can’t get it out of my mind. That corp guy and his bodyguard. We killed them, but…”
“What’s wrong? Conscience all FUBAR?”
“No, but they’re big. I know they are. I see ads for them, infomercials, these guys are everywhere…”
“Your worried some assh*le is going to show up one day and stick a gun in your neck and blow your head clean off into your pretty girlfriend’s lap, right?”
“Yeah…”
“Eight, this is a corporation. They are not that smart. We stung them, hard. We covered our tracks, we took care of any witnesses, but there’s always that unknown x. Everytime you hit somebody with a sting, you are going to wonder. All those variables might add up, and someone will show up with a gun in your life.”
“Fact is, I can’t give you a clean draught of happy feeling on this. But you have to consider, that outfit is a corporate, not a clan. For every CEO or president or vice-president or board member or chamberlain or f*ckin’-seneschal-whatever you whack, there is always going to be a pr*ck in a suit who can take over where they left off. It’s for creds, really, so they don’t care. Hell, the guy you kill is replaced with some guy who gets promoted…ya think they are going to waste time and bread trying to snip you off at the waist?”
“That’s the difference between corporations and clans. We aren’t profit. IK, VA, ND, RG, SM, Neechi…we’re all in it for more. Give it any pretty Boy Scout ethical terminology you want, but if you kill Scooby or any of my clan, I am going to put you in a hole, even if I have to spend 100,000 creds to finance the op.”


“That’s why you shouldn’t worry, Eight. Those f*ckers have no loyalty. It’s a damn ant farm. They are in it for cash, only, and a hundred years down the road each one of them are going to get, at the most, a gold watch and a bronze plaque saying how nice it was they dedicated their lives to profit for some logo. If they aren’t downsized or taken out by someone below them.”
“That’s the difference. There’s me, there’s you and your girl…loyalty. Corporations don’t find loyalty to be profitable, 90% of the time.”
“Get off planet. Have a beer. Do another job. Leave all this in your rearview, for a while.”

Wolverine’s words settled in, floating downward into my cognitive processes, the way a corpse drifts to the bottom of a swamp.

I left the Mech Depot, pausing to look upon the ruined chassis of my Loki, before they began to work on it. IK had paid for the damage, and it had been severe.
Then I was stepping into a hovercar rental that drove me from the drifting menhirs that were all those buildings, overhead, there long shadows black and ominous on the faces below.

Emmitsburg Bay was a stretch of chrome under the day’s early mist.

Above and on all sides of me, the silver sun of Antares sent electrum shafts of light onto 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 those odd iron constructs oddly carved with geometric patterns…evidence of life, alien, human, or otherwise, it hardly mattered.

I found Cecile waiting for me in the lounge of the New Galaxy Hilton. She had packed everything, in bronze tinted titanium suitcases. It was a sight I had been aching for ever since we left. I had no home, at least, no physical home. She was home, and where we went from there, didn’t matter.

We took a Capitol Ship luxury liner, heading for the Kuniper Belt.

Somewhere out there, new experiences were waiting, for both of us.

Tomorrow we would find them.

THE END.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 04:39:44 pm
A Day in the Life of Fringe Station
By: Several nuts over at Fringe Station

(YellowSnowMan): Hey, whose peg is this???
Hmmm, it's in my spot and I need to park my arch...

Wait! That's Scooby's peg. hehehehe
*Shoves a torp up Scooby's exhaust port.*
hehehe

And just in case he sees that..
*puts bubble gum on the ends of his demios lasers*

HEHEHE

(Vector7): Ohh, my. Scoob's gunna have some problems. I shoved a potato up there earlier...

(Scooby): Scooby walks into the hanger after r & r (rioting and rodgering) in the base...

"Ahhh, my old peggie."

He walks 'round his pegasus feeling it's every curve, noticing the slight dents and nicks and recalling each battle where he earned them (and every failed attempt at reverse parking where he erm, earned them.)

"It's been too long. They treating you ok, buddy?"

The dust sheets come off with a cloud of space debris. Creatures skuttle away back into the shadows, disturbed by the bright light.

"Geez, it's only been a week!"

Scooby opens the cockpit and retreives the large feather duster from behind the seat of his craft. Other pilots had laughed at him for carrying this in his fighting machine, but as he donned his pink marigolds and 'kiss the cook' apron, Scooby felt proud.

"Don't worry, bud. We'll get you looking ship shape soon."

After a good hour of constant 'buffing,' the peg gleamed - apart from a nasty brown stain on the pilot's chair. His right arm ached as much as during a long space haul with only his holo-discs for company. There were almost as many crusty tissues around as well.

Scooby looked at the time and started.

"Damn, I gotta be in the Sol system in 3 hours."

With no time for final system checks, Scooby climbs into his cockpit, after giving it a quick polish. He notices an old curry container, and throws it into the hangar. The tin sprouts legs and runs into the corner.

"Damn mutant mould. Gets everywhere."

He flicks switches and the pegasus glows with life, red and green lights flicker over the HUD.

"One of these days I'm gonna have to learn what all of these mean."

Scooby notices one particularly bright, red, flashing light in the centre of his display. He chooses to ignore it for now, and promises to put his peggy in for a service once he docks at Mars.

The cockpit closes with a noise like on Star Trek, cause that is cool, and a sharp hiss as the cabin is pressurized.

"OK then, time to hit the road."

He flicks the last switch, and the engines start humming to life.

"Hey Vec, can you open the door for me, please?"

On the other end of the intercom, Vector 7 wakes with a start from a dream involving smoking caterpillars with boobies and a strange looking yellow goat.

"Huh, what? Oh it's you Boob, erm, I mean Scoob. Yeah, erm, Ok, erm, right. What did you want? Oh yeah, the door. Sure man... have a spudtastic time [hehe]... don't get too mashed [snigger]."

Vector pulls the lever and the hangar door opens. He then falls into his chair giggling like a school girl for about 5 minutes before he decides to go back to his dream.

"Okkkkaaaaayyyyyyyyyy." Scooby decides against pursuing the conversation further, cause Vec is a nutcase.

Out of the corner of his eye, Scooby notices movement... He was reasonably sure that there wasn't a snowman in the corner of the hangar a few seconds ago. He was quite sure that there wasn't a snowman in the corner of the hanger with the biggest grin that a snowman has ever had. And he was definitely sure that there wasn't a snowman in the corner of the hanger with the biggest grin that a snowman has ever had carrying an empty blast torp box - albeit with some empty bubble gum wrappers in it.

Scooby chuckled to himself, "Time to boil a snowman." He pivoted his ship on its landing gear and aimed his deimos at the snowman. As he pulled the trigger, Scooby started to laugh. The laughter died almost straight away as 3 large bubbles floated to the hangar ceiling.

"What the?? I'ma gonna havta melt this dude with my ass pipes, then."

Scooby wasn't quite sure why he felt such a need to destroy the snowman. He came over all destructive quite often - usually after a couple too many tequilas.

He flicked the throttle full open and hit the afterburner button. The split second after ignition, Scooby heard a noise unlike any other he had heard from his pegasus before. That was the last noise he heard.

But at least he melted that ruddy snowman.

Muahahaha
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 04:44:32 pm
The Burning Void
By: VA MisterFour


It is difficult to fight against anger, for man will
buy revenge with his very soul”

-Euriclydus 500 B.C.


Part 1= Want

The Morosmos was spiraling like a dying admantium colossus; it’s fragile orbit around the gas moon Zorathos decaying as it lost power, a gargantuan; plummeting slowly from the obsidian void into the green doom below it.

The moon Zorathos was composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide and cyanide gas, except for a dense center of cooling nickel. Its magma core would burn out in only a handful of millennia. But now it’s gravity was killing the Morosmos, and all of the crew aboard the military capitol ship.

The vessel had sustained several crippling blows to its body. To Argentum Draconis, the ship resembled a sinking earth oil tanker, drifting from space, the damaged Quantum reactor engines exuding flames of brilliant silver-violet, a catastrophe dwarfed only by the conflict around it.

The Vacuum Dragoons had struck with little subtlety, it’s Electric Rapier divisions moving in like predatory beetles, attacking with brutal precision, bombing the Altec/Lansing Corporate platform into so much burning flotsam before the IK detachment assigned to guard it could bring themselves to react.

The Vacuum Dragon’s principle warship, The Hakken, had come out of subspace within miles of the platform, it’s Rapiers staying close to corona of its tachyon field. The gamble could have sent the entire war fleet into the bosom of the Zarathos, but the maneuver was as brilliant as it was malefic, and the pirates were milking their surprise with an evil fervor.

”We’re losing the Morosmos, we need to use the Carpathian’s tractor cannons to pull it out of there. Ghostriders, bring up the support!”

The Carpathian, it’s bulbous hull pocked by ordinance and debris from the reactor detonation when the platform had been disintegrated, began to maneuver like itself to render aid… it’s shields flickered, a milky neon blue, as The Hakken kept up it’s assault.

Argentum spotted a wing of Poseidon’s moving in to bomb the Vacuum Dragoon’s command vessel. Their silver and blue forms contrasted sharply with the oily black of The Hakken, resplendent and despicable as it’s Gotham reactor space turbines brought it closer, Dragoons buzzing like an angered hive of derridium/titanium insects, their plasma missiles firing sporadically. Argentum moved his Archangel to cover them, hand shaking as he transferred energy to his burners, hearing the drum and din of the furball around him.

He had counted nearly thirty ships when the engagement had begun, he could now only count fifteen. Some prescience told him that two of the Dragoons were moving in behind him, the HUD’s klaxon screaming missle lock warnings. He could hear the cymbal clash of plasma fire about him, and knew their missles were only nanoseconds away…

He veered and arced, countermeasures exploding like miniature suns about his ship. Two Electric Rapiers veered to his nine, on course for the Poseidon’s, their burners a luminescent inferno, twinning each other.

”All available forces to cover those bombers! I need a wing to assist!”

Wingleader Eldritch appeared on his HUD. ”Argentum, we’re tied up right now. We have our hands full saving the Morosmos. Your wing will have to cover them.”

”My wing is dead, Eldritch…”

He targeted the first Rapier with biomechanical precision, a cloud of missles, like hornets of fire, turning the first into a nova of atomized material. His Deimos impacted against the second, twisting in a vertigo of physics as it’s shields crumpled like cellophane. It broke off, buzzing and wounded.

The explosion of the Rapier blinded him as he drifted threw it, microdebris plinking against his cockpit. His hands were an epileptic’s, quaking as he adjusted his flight path, realizing they were upon The Hakken.

Argentum realized dimly that someone aboard the Carpathian was giving trying to contact him. But the hideous magnificence of the command vessel, a metropolis of space, eclipsing thought and extinguishing all other sights and sounds save the sonic base rumble of the Poseidon’s afterburners…

The voice of their wing commander, TygerBlueEyes, broke through the hypnotism.

”Targeting their reactor systems now, Argentum.”

”Negative, target their engines instead, they are more vulnerable.”

”I don’t understand.”

”The Hakken is drifting too close to that damned moon. Smash their engines and those Vacuum Dragoon’s will have the same problem the Morosmos is having!”

”Affirmative.”

He veered and twisted, his engines like a banshee’s wail, firing on another Rapier that came into view. It’s pilot had broken off from the delta quadrant of the battle, sniffing for the bombers with it’s radar. Argentum gave it the last of his missiles, the pilot reacting, sliding and spinning despite it’s bulk as it attempted to use countermeasures, bringing it’s plasmas to bear. Argentum predicted the maneuver, firing his lasers to where the Dragoon would be, it’s shields glowing briefly in protest before it detonated like a blazing atomic flower.

Argentum could hear the grind and clamor of Helios detonations below and behind him. From his peripheral vision he could sense The Hakken twisting and lurching, it’s crippled engines unable to maintain it.

”Break off, TygerBlueEyes, break off!”

The Carpathian and the Morosmos seemed to grapple magnetically with each other, their non-Euclydian forms as black as antimatter against the corpselight green miasma that was the moon. He realized suddenly that the cockpit was ablaze, will-o-wisps like orange laser phantoms curving along it’s interior, burning his vision to scarlet.

He screamed, and screamed, and screamed-



In the Mordarium System there is the planet of Karr, a caramel orb hovering against the spatter of red and orange that is the outer edge of the goliath that is the Skaschere Nebula. Ringing it are the factories of the Hold of General Comerca, immense production stations clanking and groaning from their internal mechanics, grafted to vast meteors birthed at the dawn of time, blind, lumpen, silent and invulnerable menhirs of nickel and cosmic ore.

Comerca sat on a throne carved from a giant ruby that one his officers had discovered on a nearby asteroid. A cloned cheetah’s mane lay across it, black and orange fur against the multifaceted gem surface.

His court lay before him in the station’s inner chamber, guarded by his Praetorian slave retinue, men in las proof ceramite equipped with gyrojet hafted guisarmes. The rabble that he was presiding over consisted of more slaves, several mining barons, more than a few munition dukes, a handful of mercenary pilot’s, and perhaps forty representatives of the various manufacturing guilds within Comerca’s system, who really held no power whatsoever.

Comerca looked at the prisoner before him. Standing next to the sorry individual was his chief of police and galactic affairs, Fontaine. Comerca made eye contact briefly with the chief, and then eyed the crowd for his Officer of War, Cerene. Ah, yes, there she was, hair the color of ocean sapphires, eyes like oily mahogany…she took a sip of her Merlot, brushing a svelte hip seductively.

Comerca checked his reflection briefly in a mirror set within the throne for that purpose. Ah, yes, perfect. The prisoner shivered, his bulk quaking within his griseous radiation suit.

Comerca regarded him.

”Your name again?” His voice was sibilant and tonal within the inner chamber.

”P-Plebisa, your m-majestic greatness, I came here to trade, but I could scarcely afford your tariff’s. After the taxes that your wisdom levies, I would make no profit, and so I departed, but your squadrons surrounded me and executed my bodyguard before I could surrender. I could have tried to escape, but I decided to give up, to beg mercy…I have done no wrong…”

”Wrong!? WRONG!?” Comerca almost screamed. Ah yes, the court always loved that. Kept their blood from growing too thick. ”You are guilty of conspiracy, cur. You will not sell to the humble Comerca, yet you will do business with my enemies!? And that is not WRONG!?”

Plebisa trembled in his corpulescence, words tripping over themselves as Comerca fairly leapt from his throne, resplendent in his gold lame’ General’s uniform. He drew a gyrojet pistol from a vat-grown leather holster.

”Your majesty, that being the case, I will gladly sell all of my wares in exchange for my freedom. According to your laws, I can at least purchase bail…”

”You are correct, slave. So for ALL of your wares you can purchase bail for your criminal trial. And then you are absolutely free!”

Comerca loved this part. The crowd lost its mind, cheering his mercy. Ah, yes, he was munificent. He turned, half-bowing to Cerene. The jade walls of the room echoed with thunder. Plebisa seemed to almost melt. I am never coming through a Tach gate to here, again, he thought.

”But!” The voice of Comerca pierced the sounds of the hall. ”You must also answer for this crime, slave…”

Plebisa’s mouth and eyes widened almost simultaneously, blood flowing from his features, leaving them as pale as candle wax, yellowish under the sodium burners above. The hall went silent, save for the sounds of element conditioners.

”You are guilty of conspiracy, as well…no bail, no trial, no prison sentence, save the sentence of…” He leveled the gyrojet pistol, it’s chrome surface gleaming.

Plebisa almost fell over. ”Pleeeeease…pleeeeease…I am at your mercy, I am no spy…” The crowd murmured in appreciation over his tears.

Comerca checked his chronometer…oh, no, it is almost time for the duel…

He looked the merchant over.

”Run.” He whispered.

”What?” Plebisa said, not comprehending.

”Run!”

Plebisa staggered back, and then spun, arms out, for the crowd.

Comerca shot him through the neck, dowsing several dukes in gore.

The jade walls of the throne room thundered…



Argentum never remembered his dreams. He would perceive fragments upon awakening, so much mnemonic fluff, shredding upon consciousness.

He was looking upon Marie, as she slept. Her features gentle in sleep, the room silent, save for the rise and fall of her breathing. He lies on the bed next to her, and sets his hand on her face, cupping her cheek slightly. In her sleep, she smiles gently. That was eight years ago.

Now he was within the Tournament Colliseum of the Louvre’, in the Inner Fringe arena. Facing him on the piste’ was Allegro Tonagre, the reigning champion. His opponent saluted with his sabre, a slow, lazy T, in cursive. He could not see the audience, in his dreams they were so much murk, a watery expanse of faces. He saluted in kind, the sabre light in his gauntleted hand, as steady as the pyramids at Giza. He realized, just as Allegro moved across to him like a desert adder, that his hand was as sweatless and dry as baby powder within the gauntlet. He performed a stop hit, becoming one with the fight…that was twelve years ago.

Now it was ten years ago. He stood in the spacehold of the Galileo station, under the shadow of a Freighter. The experimental reactor of a nearby Pegasus detonates, and he and three others are bathed in the antiseptic glow of its explosion. Two scientists working on the vehicle are destroyed, becoming one with the silvery conflagration. Argentum wakes, a month later, completely unharmed. He had been in a coma, the doctors tell him.

The three who were standing near him, a lawyer, an actor, and a rookie bomber pilot, are both in an asylum on Luna, unable to see or formulate speech. The three use Braille to type nonsensical words into hospital monitors, faces slack in want of reason.

The images bleed together, figments of the subconscious, with no logic to bandage them apart.



Argent wakes to the pungent bleached scent of disinfectant and the serene bleeps of hospital circuitry. His mouth has a slick saccharine feeling to it, and the sheets seem over starched. He looks down for wounds.

There are none.

He sits up, his head numb, like when your foot falls asleep. A nurse walks in, her uniform a deep wine color, like the Aegean Sea in autumn. And he realizes he is aboard the Morosmos.

She checks his pulse, his eyes, his mouth…the usual medical routine.

”What happened?”

”We don’t know. You passed out and your craft went on autopilot. They brought you here, since the Carpathian was too damaged. You appear well. Life functions are normal.”

”We won, did we?”

She smiled.

”Well, if I am aboard, I would guess that we won.”

Same smile.

”I will get your uniform. We had them cleaned.” She said professionally.

She leaves, and Seraphim walks in, leisurely. Smiling as broad as the Mississippi, he extends a calloused hand. Argentum laughs, a laugh that possesses a deep, endearing quality to it.

”Where have you been?”

Seraphim is a husky, broad gentleman, with a mustache and stark white hair. His hair is all white, old white, but his mouth is full of mirth and his face is smooth, young looking.

”I have been…resting.” He has a German accent, his voice clipped, formal.

”I haven’t seen you since Galfried Quadrant, eight years ago. You get lost?”

”No, not lost…you won the fight?”

”Seems like it. What happened?”

”The bombers did the trick, and the Carpathian hit The Hakken with a lucky salvo. Sent it tumbling end over end into that green moon. Deep Radar shows fragments of it, no one has volunteered to salvage, and the Dragoon’s are scattered. There are more smashed Rapiers out there than are stars…”

”Damn.”

”They are having a party out in the lounge, they expect you.”

”God, yes. I need a drink. How is your collection?”

Seraphim eyes light up with pride. His collection of whiskeys is legendary.

”Still there…”

”Your niece?”

”16. Works for some science guild. I have her awards on my mantle.”

The nurse comes in and they fall silent. She hands Argent his clothes, a crisp bundle of blue and black. She is gone as soon as she left.

Argent dresses, washes his face, the steam from the sink obscuring his reflection and all he can see of his face his a misted outline. He fixes his hair, listening to Seraphim talk. He speaks about his farm, his hounds, the café’s in Berlin. His voice is like a grandfather’s, brimming with wisdom and affection. He was Argent’s first combat piloting instructor.

”I feel fine. A little disorientated. Let’s go.”

”No, I’ll catch up. I have to wrap up a few things in the Hangar Bay. Go ahead.”

Argentum stops in mid-stride. ”I’ll see you, right? We’ve got to catch up.”

Seraphim turns leisurely, hands in his pockets.

”Yes. Most certainly, young friend.”

Argent beams, as if he were eighteen again, and continues down the mirrored corridor. Faint cracks, evidence of the conflict fourteen hours ago, fragment his journey.



The Lounge of the Morosmos is composed of walnut paneling and rich, blue velvet. The furniture is a dark charcoal, and the music is pulsing, as electric and alive as the veterans gathered within. One is both deafened and blinded as they enter, phosphorescents from above dimmed to allow the customers a heart squeezing view of the Zarathos. It regards the ship like the swirling emerald eye of some stoic, distant god.

It feels like a hijacked New Vegas nightclub, engaged in a paroxysm of victory.

Every table is a discussion or conversation; every bottle opened a toast to deeds, to victory, to their survival. The tension of combat is replaced by a feeling of relief between the pilots.

TygerBlueEyes, Merlin and Rabid Chicken are at a table, trying to talk Rustbucket into one more. The RG pilot had stopped to refuel and had pitched in to help, the Morosmos reimbursing him all the same. The Tobasco in his Bloody Mary makes his eyebrows sweat, and he wipes his forehead with a table napkin.

The table sees Argentum and roars with joy.

He is trying to sit, but every hand extends itself to be shook, or claps him on the shoulder, or punches him in the arm…he feels his face almost crack with feeling.

”You son-of-a...!”

”Argent!”

”Sent those bastards crying home to momma…”

”Thank the Deity for Poseidons!”

”No, for Helios rockets!”

”Damn bloody bastards, bold, almost DESERVED to win...”

”Screw ‘em, they were no good.”

”Argentum! I’m buying you a drink!”

”No screw Sleeping Beauty! He’s buying the bar a ROUND!”

”HAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Argent does not get to his table easily. Nor does he sit down easily. He has not had a drink, but he is intoxicated with the revelry, already.

The night turns, and becomes still in good feelings. As the music picks up, he wants to tell his table about seeing Seraphim, after so many years. He tells Rabid Chicken, but he is unable to hear Argent’s words, over the music, distracted as he is by Merlin’s cigar. Which is for the best. If Chicken would have heard him he would have told Argent the truth…a truth that occurs to Argent himself the next morning, as he recovers from the mother-in-law of all hangovers…that Seraphim died eight years ago, in the Galfried Quadrant.



Void Commander Red Storm had killed four men in duels. He had killed perhaps fifteen in combat, and some twenty-five more as a pilot. He had been fighting since he was sixteen, he was now twenty-six, and he faced an adversary that made his blood water in his veins. To him, this felt like the worst of all crucibles to be placed in.

TNN reporter Alyscia Wells had been a journalist since the age of eighteen. She had interviewed seventeen barons, thirty-six CEO’s, twenty-two pilots and countless officers. To her, it was Friday.

She set up the equipment deftly, with the precision of a surgeon. She sips some cranberry juice that had been proffered to her, and sits down, her nails and lipstick a matching titanium ice blue, her hair a creamy vanilla. Her uniform is a professional black, much like the cape that Red Storm wears. His own uniform is a majestic indigo.

His features are youthful, almost porcelain, and his hair is a dark mane the color of Cabernet Sauvignon. His eyebrows are arched and his expression is one of pride and subtle assertion.

The chamber is composed of crimson marble and charcoal-colored steel, the table between them the finest cloned walnut, onyx gems garnishing it like gleaming eyes.

The silence between him becomes as deep as an Idaho grain silo.

Her smile is warm and benevolent. ”I’ve never interviewed a warlord before.”

Red Storm’s features become one of equal warmth and benevolence. Their laughter is sudden and fills the chamber. Guards stationed outside wonder if they have become mad.



The epee’ of Comerca is a gold titanium alloy, and it arcs like a solar wind to parry the thrust to his face. His riposte is a blur, and then a beat and a disengage to stab at Fontaine’s left leg. Fontaine pivots crisply, one hand back, the thrust of his own epee’ clattering with finality upon the mask of Comerca. The combatants pause for a second.

”Game! You win.” Comerca said, saluting and bowing.

Off the stretch of olive that is the piste’, Cerene watches the two. Her features are impassive. She wears a dress of shimmering ocean green, the snowy polished marble walls of the chamber foiling it perfectly. Her lipstick is a blood, blood red.

”Fontaine, you are magnificent.” Harabec said, mopping his brow with a pasty gauntlet.

”No, your majesty, just well practiced.”

”Well, indeed.”

Fontaine has removed his own mask, and takes a glass of iced Vodka from a nearby attendant. The attendant’s face is impassive. Fontaine takes the drink down in one draught and hands the glass back to the attendant, who is wearing a tuxedo, and selects another blade, a sabre.

”Sire, I ask, why did you kill that insolent fat man?”

Comerca sets a hand of the thigh of Cerene. His other hand reaches out, and with perfect synchronization the attendant hands him a glass, similar to the one his sparring partner holds. ”Because, dear Fontaine, there is a spy on this station, and I am taking no chances. Perhaps that was him, perhaps that was not. But a show of force is sometimes in order, no?”

Fontaine’s face becomes a mottled violet. ”A spy? In OUR territory? Find him! Burn him out! Fodder for the clone vats!”

Comerca laughs, and Fontaine laughs as well. They have been consuming alcohol for some time, and now they are as drunk as a couple of Czars.

”No, no, no, my dear second-in-command, spies are to be expected.” He pauses, sipping his drink. ”I do not like them, but they are like ants at a picnic…when we assaulted the shipping fleet at Haljere’s, someone tipped them off. I have noticed odd communicae fluctuations, indicative of transmissions of an espionage nature. One was sent to Haljere, and another to Star Patrol, in New Vegas. Shortly thereafter one our pirate operations were shut down…there have been other events, and I see a pattern. I am working on a trap, a whip to snap at this gadfly…and then we shall bathe in his spinal fluid. Another game?”

”Of course.”

Comerca picks up his mask. ”Donnel, leave us.”

The attendant walks from the room, his face as expressionless and bland as balsa wood. The doors hiss like adders as they close behind him. His eyes are a pale green, shining in his face from the sodium burners above.



”Why did you go from being a pirate merc to where you are now, if you don’t mind my asking?’’ She gave a disarming smile.

”Because…it was the logical step. I desired civilization. Refinement. We had families among us, and they were tired of funerals.” Redstorm chose his words as carefully as a surgeon chooses his instruments. He had an accent that seemed vaguely Russian, old-Earth.

”But it was rather dramatic, was it not?”

”A conversion, but a private one. But regardless of my epiphanies, not a conversion that happens overnight for the rest of my people.”

”But you seem quite successful.”

”Because my people are all craftsmen. They have to be, out here, with so little resources, with life so dangerous. We were nomads, once. We do not raid now. Trade is our battle. But many…died so that we may desire peace.”

”Perfect.” Alyscia Wells begins to break down her equipment. ”You were perfect! The whole Fringe will know this side of you. An excellent story.”

Redstorm rises from his chair, his armor gleaming, the ceramite like an oil slick beneath the fluorescents.

Alyscia looks for a second at the hilt of the sabre he wears. He catches the stare, and she looks back at her equipment.

”Question?”

”Well…except for a few officers at ceremonies, I have never seen a person wear a sword…”

”Life is different, here. The sword is the secret to our success, although it is a bloody enigma, indeed.”

She smiles, her teeth like pearls. ”I don’t understand.”

His face seems older, somehow. We come from such different worlds, he thinks. ”Perhaps you would like to see our ships?”

”Yes, that would be interesting. I have heard other pilots talk about them…I have heard stories.”

”Then let’s see them.”

The scarlet hold that was the container of a majority of the Void Alliance fleet gathered it’s bloody glint from the peculiar nature of the ruby quartz fluorescents they manufactured for themselves. They glared above like red giants, bathing their light upon mechanic, merchant and pilot below.

Bell shaped mining Sumpsters sat next to the squared and domineering forms of Cargo Haulers. Some ships defied description, to Alyscia they appear as if they were fabricated from several vessels into one, with little concern for aesthetics. The limbs and organs of many spacecraft welded and bolted together in the name of function, alone.

There was a rough spirit of disorganization that permeated the hold. It was felt through all the senses- the sight of exhaust-stained men and women rubbing oil stained hands with iron ore colored rags, the sounds of molecular welders and metallic shouts, the scent of smoldering chrome and worksweat, the taste of rust and ozone that permeated the palate as if it were a welder’s sorbet, the spacecold feel that clung to the metals of the tools and ships, juxtaposed by the moisture of body or the eyebrow searing blast of engines and smelters- to Alyscia it was a stark contrast to the calm and cool corridors of her own work environment, back at TNN, as kinetic an element it could be near deadline.

But the frenzy, clang and clutter of it all came to a conspicuous end when RedStorm and Alyscia came upon the gold forms of the Shriekers- the name given to the fighters that composed a majority of the Void Alliance armament. They crouched like glittering ravens, immune to the chaos that afflicted the rest of the hold. There was a sanctified air, here, an expectant and holy atmosphere like the solemn spirit of a church…or a mausoleum.

On more than one craft was the dust of burnt incense, the spatter of blessing oil. My God, she thought. This is more than just military to them. They don’t just maintain their ships…they worship them.

RedStorm ushered her beneath the mechanical pinions of one of the slumbering craft. With a glove hand he indicated to a meter and a half ring that was beneath each and every one, glittering in the ruby light.

She beheld the razored teeth of the Shriekers underbelly, circling around like a chromed lamprey’s mouth.



The burning began two years ago, after Algere’s.

It had begun as a sweep and clean and became a war. Merc units, hired by pirates, to protect a cargo of stolen cloner vats, clashing with a full four wings of combined IK and RG forces. It was supposed to be simple, hull the fighters and take the freighters, but the Mercs had been an unexpected wild card.

Three wings lost on either side, and with no Tach gate in sight the Mercs had had no choice but to battle towards the embittered end…so furious were the assaults that the notion of quarter was lost and those attempting to escape the fray were shot just the same. Their comms had been silenced for the venture, and all protest would have been futile, besides.

He alone had emerged without a scratch. Some gore-stained zen had overtaken him, a pilot sympathetic response system coming online within the murky realms of his subconscious, and he had simply lost track of it all, just target, target, target…the opposing fighters becoming burning chrysanthemum’s of wreckage…both sides had been far too experienced to be destroyed right away.

He had emerged from his vessel, pilot suit reeking with the fear sweat of adrenaline, and had made it, somehow, to his room.

He had stared in the mirror, shower running until the steam bleared and obscured his features. His appearance becoming a phantom smudge, every nerve screaming and chattering in every molecule of his being.

His hands were shaking, he realized. A frenetic tension that surmounted the more he tried to restrain it, and then…the smoldering.

He saw blossoms of fire detonate across the freighter, it’s metal skin fragmenting in the void, forever. The thermal detonation of las, and the apocalyptic cacophony of torpedoes, the nerve-grating murder-wail of klaxon betraying the arrival of missiles. Death in a thousand electric forms, death squared, until the violence lost all meaning…a rage across his eyes, a sub-audible roar that eclipsed the sounds of the shower. Then the sulphuric smolder of burning…

A blossom of fire, no bigger than a pinecone, sat next to the sink, flickering against logic as it danced and jumped from the chrome of the counter.

He had threw a towel on it reflexively…in the precious oxygen atmosphere of a station fire is the Reaper’s very scythe…but another arc of fire stretched across the cold surface of the sink, and then vanished.

He had forgotten it’s dazzle, the steam of the shower cooling the thrum of twisted steel that fouled his senses.

A week later a radar grid had burned before him, and no one in the control room of the Creios Corporation had noticed. He had watched in silent wonder as the soft yellow of the mute flame radiated from the green monochrome of the Trinitron surface. He realized then that the fire burned for his eyes only, burned at the expense not of matter, but of sanity.

In time it had become an element he was accustomed to. The flames. A computer screen…a heap of clothes in the corner…the gloss black skin of an ink pin…the murky black contents of a coffee mug…the titanium edge of a Pegasus…in time he had come to regard it with some ironic humor as a lightshow, a personal, silent fireworks display.

And always there was the smell of sulfur, of exhaust and igniting polycarbon, snuffed by the darkness of space.



Do me a favor, will ya? Draw a square, about the size of a mousepad, or just use your mousepad.

Done? Good. That’s space. 2d will have to suffice, no prestidigitation to hover items indefinitely, here. Put a quarter in the right-hand uppermost corner. That’s the Mordarium system, where Comerca controls everything.

Put a matchbox in the center. That’s Phobos, a merchant base, also a Psychiatric Research Facility, and the last piece of civilization. Any craft coming from Mordarium would be heard well before it arrived, thanks to it’s Tachyon Fold Sensor array. But then, no one attacks this place, usually. Not a big chance of profit, most the time. This is a trading area for a lot of merchants…and a big Star Patrol Station. Besides, the Tach gates between Phobos and Mordarium don’t work.

To the left is an area about the size of a business card. That’s an industrial/military area, but now it’s being converted to a vast medical facility. They call it the Vault. A couple inches above that, place a dime. That’s Void Alliance territory. They mostly keep to themselves, but they have been branching out.

Then there is Gasdec/Phrenbol/Tlask, a corporate guild hidden within a gas nebula, up above that matchbox. Comerca does know it exists, but it is no prize. You have to have sophisticated components to get around, and everything here is to big to steal, to specialized to be of any use unless you know what you are doing.

None of this is really accurate. Everything is separated by light years (A distance which stretches and contracts like a band of rubber, but you have to have a handful of Phd.’s to understand THAT.) Space is like a fish tank, stations and facilities, moons and planets, all floating up and down and under and around each other in the cold intergalactic phlogiston of the universe.

Be sure to remember this all, there will be a quiz, later.



Part 2= Voodoo

Before.

Years earlier, a different time, and for him, a different name. He is a pilot, working for Mordarium. Bennet is next him, the co-pilot, and they are performing maneuvers outside Phlobos space. The Skaschere Nebula is before them…a burning cloud of ruddy-hued dust against the onyx beyond. Their ship is a Comet, a fighter-bomber of decades-old design. It’s copper colored surface is burnished and bright, the fires of it’s nuclear thrusters a marbled flare behind it.

”Mordarium is becoming stronger, without tyrants, Joey.”

”Tyrant? No one is a tyrant, here. I just think that Mordarium Space needs tougher leadership, that’s all. Comerca has the right personality…Mordarium has grown a little flabby in it’s Pax Romana…time to flex a little. Bora mining operations have already pushed into our own, and IK has fighters on our borders all the time, with impunity…”

Bennet’s usual upbeat mood is cynical, somehow. Scrolling code from the HUD reflects on his tired features. He is five years older than Joey. And he can see the pattern in the politics of Mordarium.

”Comerca’s proposals are ill-conceived. He has made promises that our resources cannot possibly match! He does not have our system’s best interests in mind, I feel it. We need to increase trade…to expand our relationships with other system’s, not expand the military…look at the Void Alliance…their insular attitudes have kept them sequestered into a mere sliver of the galaxy, with little resources to back any expansion.”

Joey scratches at his temple with his thumb. Youth fires his blood, conflict is a desirable thing, a noble thing. He is just a week from graduation from his training, and long hours in the sim chamber, digital guns blazing at digital targets, has made his head swim with possible glory. He looks at Bennet’s profile, seeing the concern etched in the older pilot’s features. Joey realizes he has known the older man almost ten years…Bennet saw combat once, and had never spoken of it. But whenever Joey sees the older pilot at his cups, and Bennet hears mention of Farhold, the battle he was in, the older pilot will silently toast dead comrades…his eyes light years away…

”Bennet, the mining guild is backing Comerca, the nobles are backing Comera, and the military is backing him…it is a sure sign. Comerca is a necessary aggression, just to keep the undesirables at bay. But even if he takes over, there are checks and balances to his power. He can be removed.”

Bennet smiles, the expression familiar to his countenance. ”Not all of the military backs Comerca, little cousin. Comerca knows this, and he is frightened by it.”

Joey looks at the binary on the HUD above, some silent, slim aspect of dread gnawing at his insides, only a little. He wants to ameliorate his friends fears with logic and common sense, but his tongue gropes for words that even Joey knows quite possible do not exist.

The comm gurgles and scratches, the signal torn to pieces by Skaschere.

”Comet 86, state your position?”

Bennet turns the ship towards Phlobos, his mind all pilot, now. ”We are returning from maneuvers, Base 7.”

”Excellent, Comet 86. 86 out.”

A month later. Comerca is the ruler of the Maderian System. His rise to power occurred swiftly, following the disappearance oh his rival, who is rumored to have gone traitor and fled to Bora territory. Joey is watching a vid of an accident that happened one hour ago. Fifty officers, returning from the Academy on Phlobos, are annihilated when a freak accident recalibrates their Tach drives and sends their ship into a sun. The investigation is swift: pilot error is the blame.

Two weeks later. The remaining military command of the Mordarian System is assembled in the hold of Comerca, aligned in rows of pleated uniforms, faces stern within the jade walls of the chamber glossy and cool, polished to reflect the light of the burners above.

Comerca walks the rows of the officers, his gold uniform fairly glowing, his step sure and precise. From the corner of his eye, Joey sees Bennet, the man’s face strangely peaceful, his eyes shining, as if he sees something the room that the others do not. As Comerca walks behind him, a still, fragile, triumphant shadow of a smile comes to his lips, and the ruler of the Mordorian System turns and draws his pistol with a smooth motion, executing Joey’s friend with a single shot to the base of Bennet’s neck.

No one moves. The room is as silent as an ossuary as attendants remove the remains. The dread clamps down on something vital inside Joey, a death grip. And he stares straight ahead, his posture perfect, as if pinioned by icy nails.

A score of weeks later. The pilot next to Joey is laughing. They are both flying a completely refurbished Warhammer, a mining design for deep-space travel, it’s cockpit rebuilt to hold two. The pilot is amused at the death of traitors, and he brays at the thought of the purged officers. The dread in Joey is long in the grave, replaced by a resolve of cold, smooth bones. He draws a gyrojet pistol with a smooth motion and places the barrel to the laughing man’s ear.

Hours later, he is in the reception area of a notorious bandit hold, deep in the fringe of Mordarian Space.

The mercenary has hair the color of salt and pepper. His mustache is as black as shoe polish.

He looks into the hollow eyes of the Mordarian Pilot before him. The pilot features seem strangely peaceful, a still, fragile, triumphant shadow of a smile across his features. The merc glances at the bloodied interior of the refurbished Warhammer, and back to the pilot.

”What is your name, young pilot?” His accent is very, very Slovak.

Joey meets his gaze.

”Give me a contract to sign.”

The Slav laughs. ”What kind?”

Joey looks at the bloody smear on the inside of his cockpit.

”I don’t care.”

Ten minutes later, he electronically signs a vidscreen with his new name. Five years pass, after that. By then, the bandit hold is completely gone, eradicated by Mordarian forces. The mercs scatter, only a handful still alive, including him.

Now.

DeathGiver looks into the steaming tan disc that is his coffee cup, at a table, alone, in a bar deep inside the research station of the Glasdec/Phrenbol/Tlask guild. He listens intently to a group of pilots speaking freely in Japanese next to him. They are confident that no one here knows the language. The music is too loud for most to hear, anyways. Their accent is Madorian, and he knows from their phrases that they are officers.

The cup burns in DeathGiver’s hand.



The funeral for the pilots and research personnel lost in the Altec/Lansing assault is done with little pomp or mawkish ceremony. The rooms floor is a grid of azure, cut by lines of gold etch. The walls are a gleaming dermoplast, the color of nickel. A vid screen four meters by four meters displays their respective names, lives, and deeds. A window above the assembled throng shows the vast expanse of space, stars glinting like pinheads of fire. The verdant moon of Zarathos casts an emerald radiance upon the mourning station.

Highlander, another pilot for RG, stands next to Rustbucket, at full attention. The gleaming polished surfaces of the tombs of the dead, ready to be spaced, are a glossy, rich black. Each on has a flag draped across it, Altec/Lansing or Iconina Knights, respectively.

A lone bagpiper plays ”Amazing Grace”. The dirge is natural, the product of ivories and leather, natural components and human breath, in stark contrast to the digital analog, chrome and plastic that everything in space seems composed of.

One by one the flags on the tombs are removed and folded with a religious attention to detail. Argentum holds one of them preciously, and hands it to the mother of one of the pilots. Her eyes are watered, red sores of grief. She places the cloth on her lap, and puts a hand upon it. She does not see Argentum salute her…she only sees a crib, in a corner, twenty years ago. The corners of her mouth crumble.

Highlander’s face is long and drawn. He watches as the ovoid structures of the tombs are loaded and launched. The sounds of the pipes remind him of his father, of a mountain of grass and a hand-carved gravestone, light years distant.

Aye, lads…he sighs to himself.

We die either very young, he thinks, or very, very, old.



Donnel walked down the corridor of the Hold of Comerca, his face suddenly the color of lowfat milk. He moves with a measured pace down the corridor, and drops off the silver tray in the kitchens. He stares into soapy water, and for no real reason, dips his hand into the tepid liquid, sifting, watching his reflection from behind the froth. He thinks of his parents, through the dizzy gravity of his thoughts, and he sees them briefly, in the burning void of the past.

Then he vomits into the water, and the murk becomes ensanguined.

Later, that night, beneath the din of machines, he lies curled up on his rubber cot, in the dark of his quarters. The nausea is a crushing yoke around his neck.

The Grid his up as always, stealthily siphoning electricity from the reactors of the hold. He looks at the holovid of his parents placed on a nearby cinder block. A drip of water dampens a corner of his cot.

There is a crack in his head, he feels, a crack that plunges in a numbing line from his brow to his breastbone. His pillow feels like a shelf of cold lead, and like last night, he cannot sleep.

Never write or record anything, he thinks. Memorize. Look at and photograph, with your mind. Attach the image to a familiar picture, a picture that is always there, your dog, your bedspread, your shoes. Now take the new image, the coordinates of a planned strike, and make it into an image, like a cartoon, a mandala. Alpha 23, Delta 45, Xerxes 0. A.D.X. 23-45-0. Never write anything down.

The letters and numbers become his father’s bracelet, before he was placed into the incinerators…

He has programmed the surge to spike it’s powers at the same time the defense array of the station come on line, to disguise itself. The coded signal will be sent to…

He feels the drug of sleep come upon him, from nowhere, from the mines of home, so long ago. His mother mends his rad suit. Rads. Killing rads.

…to the place he has been sending them for so very long, a place whose coordinates are unknown to himself, the last thing he ever forgot, it seemed. Once every other month, during a spike, he gets a simple piece of binary an affirmative, from a code unknown to all of the Madorians.

Such a silly word, he thinks, as the nausea evaporates for a while.

Morse.



Part 3= Want

RedStorm’s caped and ceramite-armoured form stands tall, next to the slim and shorter form of Alyscia. Her luggage and equipment hover on a grav-field next to each other. The grav-field of her private things is slightly damaged, and the bag wobbles a bit, irregularly.

”We have very little in the way of combat starships.” RedStorm is explaining a few details about VA tactics. ”But we have perfected the manufacture of las proof personal armour. We will land on the hull of larger craft, and use our ship’s nanomolecular razors to cut into the surface of a Capitol ship, we try to target the command sections, at the weakest parts of their hulls. The personnel are often not prepared for melee. In that manner we can quickly take the ships that are against us, with little damage to the valuable cargo or components. People will readily risk annihilation when fired upon by the heaviest of ship-to-ship weaponry, but such is not the case when the same person is confronted by a pistol…or a sword.” His voice is crisp, his dialect revealing itself more and more as he talks on, his form reflected slightly in the burnished gold walls of the pod.

”But they have firearms, correct?”

The galvanized doors of the pod open up. The corridor of the Main Traveler’s Hold is filled with non-military craft and personnel. The ships occasionally glide upwards to a smaller hold above, the dermoplast gates open and swallow the ships, spacing them with electric precision.

RedStorm taps the gleaming surface of his breastplate with a gloved finger.

”Few are prepared for us, my lady.”

They approach a freighter, an older transport, crudely painted a military avocado color, lumpen and powerfully built. It is a craft completely devoid of style, so as to maximize it’s substance. Systems and components of various dimensions and intent are fastened to it’s surface at irregular intervals. A few featureless workers, clad in orange workman’s uniforms, attend to the monstrosity.

”So…this is where we part, sir.” Alyscia paused as one of the workmen began to load her items into the freighter’s interior.

”No, I will be traveling with you part of the way, I have business to attend to at the edge of Alliance territory, and I would prefer to arrive without all the pomp and fanfare. Such theatrics can become quite gauche, excessively.”

He motions her in, and follows.

One of the workman meets his partner’s gaze for a fraction of a second. He receives a brief nod, in affirmation.

The three jumpsuited men take their respective places in the ship. A pilot, a co-pilot, and a systems attendee. Preparations are made, navigational directions are fed into the freighter’s mainframe. It’s engines come to life, they sound like the angered roars of Jurassic reptiles, deafening the area in the hold around it.

RedStorm is looking out one of the portals, watching the floor of the Hold drift away, below them. Alyscia looks at his profile for a second, and then stares at one of the workmen. His orange suit is bulky with equipment and various electrics. A port opens, appearing to Alyscia as if it were the door to a frozen meatlocker, colored a minty green. The workman steps through, and she can hear the crewman speaking to each other. There is an odd displaced feeling, as the artificial gravity presses upon her like a heavy rubber blanket. She knows then that the freighter has been spaced.

She drifts off, then, tired from the days events. She has much to do tomorrow, more interviews, research, some vidcom meetings…

She floats back and realizes that RedStorm is standing, it is maybe an hour later, and he is examining a coupling on the wall, his hand tracing the outline of a interior com unit that seems damaged, somehow.

And she realizes that a workman is beside her, a copper colored las pistol in his hand, pointing at her, a meter away.

And then the hand is on the floor, the man’s scream just beginning and RedStorm’s sabre point has gone through the man’s mouth…

The mint door hisses open and another crewman is entering…there is a blur of cloak and a scorching arc of las melts an area by her foot. She is picking up the pistol, somehow free of her seatbelt, the room is tumbling and rising, her legs are wobbly and far beneath her, fear filling her being with it’s watery presence…

The ship lurches and she realizes, almost stupidly, that she is in the cockpit of the craft, space is whirling in it’s windshield, HUD lights flickering like a Christmas parade, another worker is against the wall, fountaining blood from an arterial neck wound, he is almost touching the hem of her dress.

RedStorm and the worker are on the ground, RedStorm below, twisting in a frenetic maneuvering of limbs. She levels the pistol, screaming at herself inside, and RedStorm twists the man’s laspistol into it’s owners chest and pulls the trigger once, twice…

The detonations are hollow and disembodied in the lurching environment of the freighter.

She is against the wall, minutes later, although to her it is almost an hour. RedStorm is at the controls, cursing the air, his motions jerky and abrupt. She realizes that her knuckles are ivory as they grip the laspistol, and that the pool of blood has spread across the expanse of the freighter’s cockpit, it searches and spreads like a living thing, running to the opposite wall, tentatively coming into contact with one of her shoes. She stares at it, coming back now, and she is shaking and nauseous, unable to let go of the pistol.

The freighter’s lumpen form maneuvers itself back the opposite way in which they came. RedStorm turns the chair around, the craft safely on autopilot, and looks at Alyscia. He looks at one of the bodies, and then the other. He rises up, and places the reporter into the co-pilot’s chair. He looks out at the cold fires that are the stars, aloft in the boundless welkin of space. He puts a gloved hand on her shoulder.

She holds the pistol the entire way home, and no one says a word.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 04:51:30 pm


Oddly enough, the private chambers of Comerca, supreme ruler of the Mordarium system, is not really that big at all. It is a warm, butterscotch colored den, with real rugs of actual bear fur. The furniture is pure, distilled, oak. The paintings are cold colored landscapes of brooding murk. You look at them, and you feel like space might feel…frozen, vast, mostly composed of vacuum.

Comerca, in a fit of facetious originality, framed a portal to the starry expanse of his portion of the universe. At casual observation one would think it is a picture, like the rest. Comerca stares out it, cigarette in hand, and listens to a digital analog recording of Leonard Cohen. He is thinking of nothing, of flight, of nucleostasis…who knows? His eyes are flat mirrors of cyanic gloss. Cerene’s nude form, her flesh like satin and talcum, graces the violet silk of his bedspread. She is asleep, but he is not. It is these long hours of non-night, knowing there is no dawn, adrift in his station, that he sees the pattern, the final blindness that erases the sight of confusion. His hands are like marble, they are organs of perfect nature, designed by their Artificer to do all that they are designed to do.

It is in moments like these, when his heart is a clenched fist in his chest, that he could probably perform neurosurgery on a microcephalic, without the aid of optical enhancement.

He thinks of his mother.

He thinks of tactical martial science.

He thinks of his Interceptor, in the aft hold of the station, and how there is a light dust present on the pilot’s seat.

He thinks of the Vault.



Fontaine likes to get elbow-deep.

He grafts a sheet of derridium to his Interceptor. He is naked to the waist, clad in denim breeches, covered in a patina of sweat. Workers from other ships respectfully hand him his tools. Always, always, he does his own maintenance on his ship. He had never intended to fly, only fix. He had only ever repaired them, maintained them. Then one day he realized that flying was second to the work he was used to doing. He knew it’s bones, it’s sinews, it’s viscerals…the use of the jumble of parts with its skin enclosing seemed second nature. In truth, he was not a bad pilot; most of his success came from his lack of training. It made his maneuvers unpredictable…and coupled with his experience it made him extraordinarily lethal. Of course, he had to be lethal; he was still alive, wasn’t he? There was no half-ways in space combat.

The vacuum environment of space suffered neither fools nor combat pilot error for very long. You had to be good, to be a space pilot. You had to be great, to be a combat pilot. You had to be somewhere between genius and psychotic, to be a combat pilot veteran.

The boss was planning something big, and whether it came in a week or a year, Fontaine wanted to be ready.

With the same slow and steady nerve that Macchiavelli probably possessed, Fontaine grafted another sheet of derridium to his Interceptor.

The little things were insipid and drenched with banality, to Fontaine. The big things promised immortality…personal Nirvana…glory.

Glory.



Argentum Draconis is not in the habit of great personal recollection. He sees it as a good and necessary thing, important for the production and manufacture of wisdom, but not incredibly necessary for day-to-day affairs.

He is sitting on a chair in a room set aside for him, deep inside the steel and solar paneled structures that is the Vault. The designer of the Vault had an angle, an insight into commercial profit that most military space station engineers lacked. He specifically designed the interior of the space station to resemble that of the Empire State Building, in New York City, in New York, during the 1950’s. It is all brass and walnut, carpets of rich scarlet, polished mirrors and plants contained in terra cotta pots. Even the numbers are the same art-deco style, italicized and also brass, with painted insets. The lamps are gold, with rich blue shades.

Rather than use the typical digital controls, the designer instead incorporated knobs and pullies and levers of ceramic into everything. To avoid anachronisms, obvious electronic devices are carefully concealed, behind curtains of cloned silk and and panels of walnut. The vidscreens, a perpetual and unavoidable phenomenon of the 24th century, are instead programmed to look like windows, revealing city scenes straight from a day (or night) in New York, autumn, 1953. The AI’s are in on the gag, too. If you wave at a person on the street, they will wave back, if you make eye contact, they will avert or match your gaze, depending on their station in life. Even the women, in their pleated poodle skirts, will demurely flirt with a uniformed pilot. There is traffic, Chevys, Fords, Motorcycles and bikes. Kids in Levi’s with ducktails, baseball caps backwards and playing cards taped to the spokes to rat-tat-tat as they cruise the sidewalks.

When there is event news or a station announcement, the scene splatters into a trillion polygons, reforming to show the chrome and dermoplast chromatics of TNN or station control. Tourists love that, too. The designer, a Scottish prodigy known for his love of Americana (as well as the occasional eccentric binge), wanted people to come from light-years away to see the masterpiece, so that the facility could charge credits and make money.

The whole station is in the midst of a complete reconfiguration, as it will be a hospital facility in a month or so. With the Void Alliance working so hard to begin trade with adjacent systems, there is little need for a military presence. The station is a buzz of leaving and arriving personnel.

Argentum is realizing that the past is rising unbidden in his mind, like a primordial beast surfacing from the briny fathoms. He finishes his report and goes to a window. For a few minutes he watches a few children exchange baseball cards in from of a soda shop, something stirring in his eyes. He touches the surface and it collapses like origami to reveal space. Zarathos is a green ember, miles upon miles away. The Hasphaestian form of the capital ship Morosmos floats to the left, actually dwarfed by the hulk that is the Vault.

He thinks of Marie, without meaning to do so.

He sees her at their first meeting, eyebrows knitted in concentration, poring over a holotext on Esphecian analog matrix convertors. She bites her lip, and Argentum, much younger, just graduated, his uniform crisp and starched, his hands unetched with years, melts inside. He walks across the café’ of some station, years away, feeling the ground rise beneath him.

He shaves with a straight edge razor, a ritual amongst IK pilots, and in the mirror he sees her, they are in a library in Sommoth, their continental breakfast sitting on trays of steel before them. They have not eaten, yet, so interested they are in the drinking of each others thoughts, each young lover nourished by the personality of the other. He cannot remember the conversation at all…just the musical roll and pitch of her voice, like a silver bell under starlight above.

He is staring into his closet, his derridium-skinned traveler chest on the carpeted floor. She is buying it for him, her credit card a wafer of ink-etched rose quartz. Her hair is a blue-black, cut in a bob, and his eyes drift to the nape of her neck, at the porcelain color of it. He is holding the ring that he is going to give her, tonight, at the 3rd annual IK pilot’s graduation ceremony. He had known her for three years, then.

He is taking an elevator to the docking bay of the Vault, but he is with her again, in a greenhouse on Kirosky Station. She had dropped a fern, and they are kneeled down on the faux-concrete floor, their hands covered in soil, plucking shards of glazed pottery from the fronds and roots. They are laughing, for no reason, perhaps, and she tells him that she is pregnant. Argentum draws her close, one hand reaching up to cup her cheek, holding her face, gently. He tells her that she is beautiful, that her eyes are limpid pools of indigo, and that they will name him Nicholas. Beneath the sweated plastic of the greenhouse canopy their bare forms intertwine and shudder.

Now Argentum is standing in front of his Archangel, the Cavalier, and he is not in the past, not in the present. His hands are beginning to twitch. Somewhere, in the powderblue corridors of a military installation on the other end of the galaxy, he is receiving news of a mercenary attack upon the Capitol ship Sagittarius. Marie was aboard, performing diagnostics upon one of the tachyon units. All hands are lost. She was 23.

Minutes later, while in space, the routine maneuvers are a blur of mind-numbing confusion. Commands are lost in the paroxysm of nauseous fear that overtakes his legs, his gut, his arms. His hands abruptly jolt and jangle like they are being electrocuted. The autopilot lands the craft with a spine-telescoping thud. He ascends the ladder of the Archangel, and all eyes in the titanium and ferroconcrete hangar are upon him. He is lurching, sweating, teeth bared in his helmet like a strychnine victim, and he claws at the neck of his pilot suit. His ears are deafened by unheard turbines, by nonexistent white light. The afterburners of a near-by Pegasus erupt with a steel whine, like the silvery conflagration within the Galileio station, and the bleached ceiling of the hangar above descends upon him, draining his world of color and silence.



A day after the incident, RedStorm is standing in the interior of the Main Traveler’s Hold. He is watching as some of his trusted pilot’s prepare a cruiser to bring Alyscia back to the new Medical Facility Vault for de-briefing by TNN. She stands in a crisp white reporter’s business uniform, uncertain of what to say.

”You saved my life.” She speaks, after a moment.

He looks almost sad, looking to the side, as if the proper answer was inscribed on the side of a nearby Void Alliance Pegasus. The crimson surface is so highly polished that it bloodily reflects the both of them.

”No, I endangered it. Those spies have probably been here for years, building up trust, and saw this as an opportunity. If I had not accompanied you, they would have done nothing…for a while. I owe you my deepest apologies.”

Without thinking, she touches his cape.

”Still, you were there…”

He looks at her, deeply, and the mechanical engineering din of the Hold fades away, slightly.

He is so beautiful, so…civilized and yet…uncivilized, she thinks.

I still miss you, my wife. He thinks. I honor thee…even in death, three years hence…

”You must go. Your ship is prepared. Thank you for the fame and promise your story will bring to us.”

He kisses her hand, like a bravo.

The flight back to the Vault is uneventful. Alyscia has her hands clasped in her lap. As she verbally composes a memo to TNN central control, her thumb rubs the back of her hand, where RedStorm was.

The LeighBrackett model of the Vargcraft Capitol Ship design is a model of energy efficiency and environmental stability. It is a deep space cruiser, capable of light jumps in a fraction of the time most Capitol Ships usually need, and it is designed to be both a vessel of combat, as well as a model of comfort.

The pilots on board are the elite of =RG=. Pilots spend years of their careers trying to get here. This particular Varcraft is called the Kreighund, and it performs the dubious role of patrolling the more unexplored regions of this part of the galaxy, doing jumps between Glasdec/Phrenbol/Tlask and the Vault.

Highlander looks at Rustbucket, then at Grimbrand. They are all in uniform, but they slouch in their chairs like old gunfighters, rank and protocol forgotten. Rustbucket finishes his report on the Altec/Lansing affair.

Their conference room is a private one that Highlander keeps set aside for his good friends. The furniture is oiled walnut, and it smells like lemon. The walls are a subdued blue color, with portraits and holovids of RG pilots and more than a few Starwoman Weekly models. Their bodies are lithe and supple, gracefully curved, usually leaning against a fighter. The table is an arc of steel, hovering in place, thanks to antigravs.

Highlander looks at Rustbucket, one eyebrow raised, an arch of hair that makes Rustbucket wonder if the Irish pilot possesses supernatural powers, as raised for as long as it is. Grimbrand is lost in calculations, poring over a Nilo-Omis laptop, complete with tach and satellite uplink. His glasses are anachronistic in this century. They are horn rimmed, German, and they cost more than Rustbucket makes in a week. The area in front of him is littered with program splicers, system redux analysis spectrometers (the good kind, not the ones made by Turks last year), a cup of nitrolite, some communication boxes, and 25 silvery data bundles, shaped like pens.

”Fine, fine, Rusty, I would have talked about it with you earlier, but I wanted to wait until we were here, not while there was a funeral being done. Ye did well, glad ye lived…bad straits, indeed.”

His eyebrow goes back to normal.

”We’ve just received command from Overlord himself, and council voted the decision in today. Ye know that Star Military is moving out of the Vault, right?”

Rustbucket grabs a croissant from a nearby plate and begins to nibble at one of it’s horns. ”Yes, who’s running it?”

”It’s being turned into a medical facility. We have been assigned to guard it by Overlord. The Krieghund is on course, now.”

”Why the change? Wasn’t that area a hotzone?” Rustbucket finishes the croissant with several quick bites, the tach jump a few days ago has made him famished.

”Was, but Star Patrol is next door, at Phobos, and the powers-that-be have decided that Star Patrol next to Star Military is redundant. Besides, Void Alliance has mellowed out, and are starting to engage in commercial enterprises. RG has been given this contract, and now I am going to make sure the Vault stays secure. But I need you to work with Grimbrand on intel, when we get there.”

”Intel? As long as I get to fly…”

Highlander eyed a bearclaw. Yer my breakfast, ya wee animal, he thought. ”I have to warn you, IK is on board. Overlord knows, and has insisted that we show him every courtesy.”

”Oh, Argentum? Rabid Chicken?”

Highlander noticed Grimbrand eyeing the pastry, and he takes it. ”Argentum has had some…psychological difficulties. They moved him to Phobos. Some sort of collapse. They have a Psych facility there; that should patch him up. No, the gent on board is an IK Dominion agent.”

Rustbucket listens to the way Highlander say ”board”. Baird. ”Dominion? Here? This is none of their business.”

”Perhaps I agree, but we have been sharing information back and forth with IK for quite some time. Quid pro quo. Mum’s the word, but you are going to be handed a measure of responsibility with a joint project between Overlord and Dominion that has been going on for quite some time. So get used to him, he is going to become your best friend.”

Grimbrand looked up from his calculations. The laptop lit his face with an amber glow. ”We need you to suggest an RG agent from that area, and we know that your specialty is knowing the location of our pilots at all times.” I wanted Jaycex, but he is still on leave. Who might you suggest for deep space duty? I’ll psych eval his profile, and if he fits in, we’ll ship him his orders. We need one tough mother, works with others, but no creampuffs. He needs to have a screw loose, maybe a little. A good pilot.”

Rustbucket finishes the croissant and looks down into the table, considering. His reflection is a silver blur on the surface of the table. From above, it looks like a steel crescent moon.



Part 4= Bad to the Bone

Devil walked around the corner and felt the impact. His left eye became an implosion of light, and he was knocked onto the floor.

The Casino Stations of New Vegas are posh, corridors of mirrored bronze and floors of ocean-colored faux marble. At every interval are posters and memorabilia of the swinger culture from Old Earth. Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra…martini glasses and art deco shakers. Holograms of Circus,Circus and The Sands. Warren Beatty as Bugsy Segal, monochromatic pictographs of old gangster vids.

Devil looks up, his vision a red fog. His shoulder bag is against the other wall, having been flung from him. He sees, through the ruddy filter before him, a big blur, a bald blur, and a short blur, but suddenly his head is a bowling ball of spent uranium.

His hearing, though, is perfect.

”Well, flyboy, not so funny now, right?” The bald blur.

He realizes he has been hit, hard. He starts to get up on all fours, and takes a kick in the ribs for his trouble. He feels a rib go and falls back on his side, hearing ugly laughs.

The voices warble a bit…maybe the big one speaks.

”Look, he’s an RG pilot!”

”Where’s you ship, flyboy?” The bald one’s voice has an Old Earth English accent. Clipped, almost formal. Devil thinks of a butler or something.

”Better yet, where’s our money?” The short one’s voice is deep, almost baritone.

”Get his gun.”

Devil waits until he feels a rough tug at his holster, and grabs the person tugging, the short one. Good. He pulls himself up sharply, feeling the yank at his belt. He begins to spin the guy around, and they both hit the side of a brass wall, into an Elvis portrait. The others are trying to get shots in, and Devil feels the pistol go loose. He knees the man once, twice, and feels the short guy grab his leg and pull back, the staircase yawning behind him.

Devil hops on one foot, spinning and flailing comically, both are off balance, and as the big one punches, the blow hits Devil’s shoulder and that knocks him back to the stairwell he had climbed up before he met the Welcoming Committee and their Secretary of Pugilistic Affairs. They both go over in a scramble of limbs.

Devil hears the pistol go clattering out, and he has a moment of clarity as both of them tumble down the stairs. He grabs the punk as they roll end over end, and lands on him at the end of their crashing descent.

Devil hears the thumpthumpthump as the two others pound down the stairs, and takes the opportunity to punch his wrestling partner hard, one, two, three, four, five, six…

For a moment he gets a glimpse of blood and teeth and gets hit again, maybe by the big one. He doesn’t feel the swat, he just knows it’s there, on the peripheral of his consciousness, and he hears from one of them say that they have his pistol. The corner of his forehead is a mad din of pain, far away. He ducks, rolls to the side, and uses the momentum to stagger to his feet, bringing his hands up to cover his face and head.

The big guy is roaring and throwing haymakers, and Devil feels a couple on his arms, shoulders, ear (THAT hurt) and grabs and locks on to his assailant, lunging forward and biting the big guy’s nose with a crunch of cartilage. There is a warm geyser on his face and he hears a screaming roar of pain from his partner. He applies a judicious head butt, once, twice, three times…and drops the guy to the bloody blue marbled floor.

The last man is pointing his own pistol at him, saying something about shooting.

Devil kicks the big one, a few times, and lurches over his body to the bald guy. The RG pilot sees that the man’s arms are cords of muscle, quaking vainly to pull the trigger.

Devil wheezes, hands resting on his knees, trying to get his lost breath. He looks up and sees a black and white Al Pacino, sitting on a throne in an office uniform of sorts. He saw that movie when he was a kid.

”DNA lock.”

”What?” The bald guy is trying to make the gyrojet pistol work, almost desperately.

”Coded sequence, reacts to touch, gotta be me to use it. High-tech, punk. Royal Guard don’t fool around.”

Devil ducks suddenly and punches the bald guy in the groin, and the winds up and hits him in the ear with his left, then uses his right to hit the other ear. The bald guy cough and gurgles and hits Devil in the jaw, going down, and Devil grabs him by his collar, running him headfirst into a picture of James Cagney. The idea is such a compelling one that he engages in the endeavor again, and feels the bald guy go limp after the second thud.

Cagney and Devil’s assailant go down, the square portrait covering half of the bald guy’s body.

Blue uniformed station security, alerted by complaints from a few guests, rush in at all sides, holding stunguns. Devil realizes the guys who just attacked him were the ones he got a lot of money from at the blackjack tables. He holds up his RG station i.d. badge.

Devil’s long black hair is matted and covered in sweat. His jeans are marked with blood, as are his snakeskin boots. His leather jacket has lost a few buttons, and his face looks like hamburger and feels like a catcher’s mitt of dull agony. His left eye is already sealed shut, and he can feel blood dripping from his lip, eye and forehead onto his favorite cotton t-shirt. He knows that he has broken two fingers, a knuckle, a rib, and possibly sprained his knee. His perceptions spin around him as if he were strapped to a centrifuge, and every sound has the volume turned up way too much.

Security grabs one of his arms and puts it behind his back to arrest him.

His wrist comm beeps.

”What!?” Devil snarls, holding it up to his battered mouth.

It’s Rustbucket.



DeathGiver spent a week following the three around, trying to put it all together. The Madorians are freewheelers, using limitless cred cards that are carved from iridium and etched with platinum. In drunken binges they discuss plans, maneuvers, something about the Vault.

From a glassed precipice overlooking the Glasdec/Phrenbol/Tlask shipping hangar, they negotiate prices for several medical frigates. Money exchanges hands in epic amounts.

Because medical frigates, DeathGiver knew, did not come cheap. Not only would you be paying for all of that life preserving technology, but you would have to pay a massive licensing fee to allow you too, know questions asked, be scanned and allowed to park into the emergency hold of any space station in this part of the galaxy, to avoid any possible loss of life. Security was ensured when a station scanned for essential medical components and automatic encrypted codes.

For a week it was wandering, passing up sweet deals to tail the trio. They stop and watch a hovering Star Patrol cruiser, it’s skin humming like a silver and aqua beetle’s exoskeleton. The craft bristles with new and forbidden tech, and the Madorian officers seem to grow silent in the face of it, as quiet as monks, communing with some Bodhisattva of space.

After a while he knew their patterns. The shipping yards, the military depots, the carrier frigates. On more than one occasion they discuss the significance of Phobos. As far as DeathGiver knows, Phobos is impenetrable. It is a fortress, guarding a psychiatric research facility of no value whatsoever. Between the Vault and the nebulae of Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask, any enterprising raider would have to go the long route, hulling lone smugglers and shipping fleets for real cargo. But he feels, in the suspicious regions of his mind, a riddle, a slippery mantra of warning.

The Hangar Bay Corridor of the corporate guild starbase was reserved primarily for cruisers, freighters, and sub-Capitol class ships. They float like blind, eyeless whales composted of derridium and corrugated admanitium, or hang solemnly like the sarcophagi of ancient, dead space gods. He sees the silver spindles of Azuran fighter-boats…the gold-hulled Gundrangs of the Void Alliance…the green hued oval shaped Phrendol Deep Space mission vessels…even a few battered and ruggedly designed Bora carriers. He felt so completely insignificant in the presence of them, as if he were some prophet from the Old Testament gazing upon the face of Jehovah. It was times like these, when he looked upon the cratered surface of Mars, or the cold and poisonous nitrogen seas of Pluto, or into the uncharted and unglimpsed vacuum regions of beyond-Fringe space, that he wondered if there was a purpose in it all, if there ever was a purpose, it there was a hand behind all of the design, or if the Designer ever existed…mankind following the pattern of survival/exploration/expansion/warfare over and over again, an eternal Moebius strip, an ancient MIDI synth audio proggie looped to play and end, only to play again.

Quite suddenly, and without warning, he missed his ex, Natalie. Ex was a strong word, but it was the only word that applied. They had seen each other for a little more than a year, and then that was it. She had never said why, and he was not the type to ask. Why now, he thought, did he even care? He had called her a month ago, but the connection between them had been pretty much dead on both ends. He could not even recall a single detail of their last conversation. It hardly even mattered, but he thought of her, just the same.

DeathGiver watched the medical frigates enter the containment hold of a Mordarion Deep-Space Freighter, and wondered at its significance.



Twilight Jack looked over the notes he had scribbled onto a digital notepad, and plunked away at his Bass, considering the math behind his music. His personal Pegasus was being repaired before him, the modification bay separated from the observation hold by three feet of plasteel. Workman spun and flipped in a ballet of zero g, etching couplings and plates of ionic shielding to the light interceptor’s titanium epidermis.

He plunked a note, thinking of what drumbeat might marry itself better to the overall feel of this dirge. Introspective, yet not mawkish…which way to go? He thought of the overall mood the lead synth could provoke from his audience. He thought of the particular and odd times his Muse saw fit to grace him.

RedStorm smoked a cigarette of Kava, staring out past the bay, past space, perhaps into any one of the three burning suns that lay within Void Alliance territory. The Mahingue, The Gorgon, and The Symm. He thought also of The Royal Guard, a clan that had once been an enemy.

”So what did the search turn up?” Twilight Jack asked, almost flippantly. He adjusted the settings on his instrument.

”The spies had been living there for almost three years. They infiltrated as mercenary pilots, acquired credentials necessary for a tentative Top Secret clearance, but instead decided to repair ships, retiring from military duty, except for occasional freighting runs. Their quarters were a hole in the wall area, sequestered from the rest of the station. They have been receiving intermittent commands from a source, always the Hydrosian Asteroid Field, always on the first of every month. And that is in three days…” RedStorm trailed off, considering his options.

”So why the silence? Wait for the transmission, trail it to it’s source, and capture the pilot. Make him talk. Threaten to space him. Why the hesitation?”

RedStorm turned and smirked. ”You know me to well.”

”I am the intelligence officer, here…as well as the only living Rock Star in the universe. Cyanic Nova Back and Forth sold more than 4 million analog cubes, and can be heard all the way to Earth. I also know that your mood is not from some regret for those spies.”

RedStorm checked his command update on his personal comm. ”I think that they were planning an attack on an RG base.”

”Are they not the enemy?”

Redstorm thought for a few seconds. ”No.”

”Then warn them.”

”They would not believe me. And-”

”-part of you does not want to, correct?”

”You are too intelligent, Jack.” Red Storm sat in one of the vinyl purple couches leaned forward, looking into the chocolate colored depths of his liquored coffee grog.

”It is no guarded secret that you have not forgiven them for Jajere Station.”

”I can respect the maneuver. We had been unusually hostile that year, and the Station was a logical departure point for an invasion fleet.”

Twilight Jack took a bottle of Tequlia and had a draught, gazing at his Pegasus. The workman loaded fresh Solarus Torpedo Cartridges. ”But you do not forgive them.”

”Damnnit, no I don’t. There were no munitions onboard that station. No ships, no military supplies of any kind. We lost sixty miners and science personnel officers, people who could not be replaced. I have not forgiven.” RedStorm felt a vise of fury grip his head.

”That is the past, Red. And consider this: what better way to patronize your past foes than by informing them of an unforeseen danger? Let us gather data, and then warn them of the impending doom, whatever form it might take.” He began to strum a requiem on his bass, plucking the notes from the environs of his mind, as would a child gather daisies from a field.

”How do you know they are going to invade?”

Twilight Jack pored over the notepad. ”The Mordarions are a kinetic people. Dictatorships must keep their inertia to survive, and Comerca is a survivalist. Besides, things have a tendency to work out that way.”



Argentum woke in sheets the color of the Texas desert, in the springtime. They had a striated, porous pattern to it, and he rubbed them with his fingers, expecting them to have the same sensation as sandstone.

A huge window of plasteel separated him from space outside. The room felt uncomfortable familiar, as if a team of interior decorators had done a thorough psychiatric archaeological dig and had made a room to fit the exact specifications of what conformed to his standards for a domicile. He could see bits of his style all around, down to the cobalt blue carpeting, the pictures of various galaxies, and a kitchen of white steel and chrome colored utensils. The lights were a soft honey color, soothing. There was even some gym equipment. And a full library of books he had read, or intended to read. A book on fencing, by Aldo Nadi, sat contentedly next to a Chinese Wok Cookbook. He then realized that the sheets were the same he had slept in during his stay in the Academy.

But underneath the meretricious gloss and décor, there was the indescribable feeling that this was a hotel, once inhabited by someone else, and the janitorial staff had not yet cleaned the place. He was suddenly consumed by the overwhelming urge to unpack.

”Computer, where am I?”

”You are in the Phobos Psychiatric Research Facility and Star Patrol Station, sector 225, floor 12, room 10, patient analysis.” The computer’s voice had a smarmy, icy attitude to it.

”Thank you, computer.”

Argentum looked around for a moment, still trying to collect his thoughts.

The door to the room, a rectangle of corrugated steel covered in rough eggshell colored plastic, slid open almost inaudibly, and a bearded man wearing a white station uniform walked in, smiling with an attitude of serene calm.

”Hello, I am Goldmark. Welcome to Phobos.”

Argentum was lead through a brief tour of the Research Facility, and the outer station of Star Patrol. He was shown the Gymnasium, the gardens and simm parks, the vid plasma, and all of the guest computer arrays. The shuttle hold was quite close to where Argentum was. Phobos Central was a dome of plasteel, heavily shielded, with a dramatic view of the surrounding system’s stars and galaxies. The whole station was composed of burnished steel, white ferroconcrete, and Caribbean blue tile. A constant theme of Uberfuturistic ran through the place. It seemed to Argentum as if the entire station had been made to look like the people of 20th Century Earth had wanted the future to look like; cold, clean, with as few earth tones as possible.

They both soon were at lunch, in the white tile and red seated restaurant of a Johnny Rocket’s, a cafeteria designed to appear as an Earthen 50’s fast food shop, only with fries of vat-grown potatoes and burgers of soy protein. Argentum realized then that he had never tasted ketchup before.

”I have noticed something about Phobos.” Argentum said.

”And that is?” Goldmark was scraping the last of a chocolate malt from a stainless steel cup with a plastic spoon.

”Star Patrol seems a little understaffed.”

Goldmark put the cup aside, wiping the spoon clean with a snow white embroidered napkin. ”Yes, they have had some difficulties, and they are still rerouting their resources, since the Vault is no longer going to be Star Military. Plus, they are performing an internalized audit, and the Psychiatric Research Facility is low priority, since we have little in the way of material and only a few medical freighters for starcraft.”

Argentum finished his lemon coke. ”Is Phobos planning on doing close work with the Vault?”

”In a sense, we always have, the Vault having been Star Military, and Phobos being Star Patrol. A lot of personnel allocation has been done between us.”

”So I am completely loony, right?”

The doctor drummed his fingers on the table for a few seconds, smiling with a comfortable demeanor.

”What do you know of psychology, Captain Draconis?”

”I majored in it at Oxford Station, before I went to the Academy. Call me Argentum.”

”Then I will spare you some of the rhetoric I would otherwise have to heap upon you. I am sure you know a little about microsociology as well, correct?”

”I know enough about labeling theory and the Stanford Prison Experiment to know what you are implying, doctor…”

”You are not insane. You are not suffering any nervous system tissue damage, no brain damage, no chemical imbalance, nothing in your history I perceive as being any sort of abnormal behavior…but your EEG is odd and you are a prime candidate for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I have read your combat portfolio, and the phenomena that concerns me is the span of time between your combat missions.”

”What do you mean?”

The doctor wiped his beard. Argentum had guessed the doctor to be around 45, but his smooth, placid features made him look around a decade younger.

”I knew a man who ran a shipping company between Earth and most of the solar system. Never slept in the same bed twice, constantly on the move, no vacations. A shaker and a mover. Ate on the go, fed himself with one hand, steered with the other. People in the company called him ”The Apparatus”. Just kept moving. By the time he was 30, he was in charge of a dozen stations and twice that amount of shipping lines…used his saved up sick days and vacation time to buy stock in the company and own more than half of it. When you look at his work record, there are no gaps between assignments…just work, work, work.” Goldmark made a chopping motion with his right hand, across the table, and Argentum thought of an assembly line. ”Then one day he just shut down. Like a coma. When he came to a month later, he said that he was staring at the vid of his comp, and suddenly it was all black, like he had taken a nap. Stress, and he was not even a combat pilot. You show no break between your missions. No R&R, except for injuries. Not healthy. We ran your psych profile through a predictability drive, and it says suicide, in four years.”

Argentums laughed ironically. ”Hence my room being the way it is? Make me all comfy? No pattern displacement? Reminder of my past, recreation of continuity?”

Goldmark smiled contentedly, like a magician does when he shows you a bit of prestidigitation. ”Any other questions?”

”What does my EEG show?”

The doctor scratched at his beard. ”Truthfully? We don’t know, and that is saying something, considering where you are. I describe it in my journals as a sort of background fuzz, a static within your pattern.”

”So what’s the treatment?”

”Truthfully? I am going to assign you some hydrogenperoxithorminebartinol caps, for possible hallucinations, and a little barbiturate solution to help you sleep, if, and only if, you need it. We don’t want you to feel like a lab rat here, or a patient, per se. Take a vacation. Relax. Your rank affords you the entire base to look around in, including Star Patrol. More than I can say for myself. Explore.”

”What about flying?”

The doctor paid for the meals with a credit chip the color of amethyst. ”We will arrange to have your craft brought to you. When you are up to it, register yourself with Star Patrol. But I am not joking here, no combat missions. At all.”

Argentum thought of flying again, of seeing the universe in front of him, the cockpit glare of solar radiance, the feeling of being weightless, with wings of steel, aloft in the starred expanse…

He realized that his hands were quaking, the fingers like claws of flesh colored plastic, and he does not recognize the limbs as his own.



Alyscia hated vid meetings. To her it seemed oddly displaced, that this person was a entertainment vid, unreal, and the whole conversation was not taking place, but that she was alone, speaking to no one but herself. She had only been aboard the Vault for four hours, and she felt like a heap of soiled laundry.

The smooth features of her editor’s face came through perfectly on the Tach channel. Victor looked as sleek as always, a man in his 50’s, with silver hair and sharp black eyebrows. He had the appearance of a man constantly bemused by the events around him, and yet completely confident about his ability to handle triumph or tragedy, as the situation turned.

”The story on RedStorm is perfection, pure perfection. The broadcast scored a 81% approval rating, with a sweep of .90 throughout out 5,000 channels. VA is unexplored, and you just got an article that is new and solid. Your pay check has been digitally wired to you.”

”I…wow…thanks you…I.”

”No need, thank you.”

Alyscia’s head swam, things were going very nicely, indeed.

”However, as a result of your story, interest in space pilot’s is at an all-time high. Space sim games have gone up by 35%, viewers that are watching space pilot vids are up by 35%, and Star Patrol has received authorization from League Officials to buy more fighters. Recruitment for the various Academies has also gone up. You have started a craze, Alyscia. TNN is even buying rights for a Void Alliance Japanese anime show.”

Wow, she thought. If I am so brilliant, give me a raise.

”That’s swift. Good news, I don’t know what to…”

”Have you ever heard of a pilot from the Iconian Knights who goes by the callsign Argentum Draconis?”

Sounds like Latin, she thought.

”No.”

”He’s a lord within their clan, had some sort of accident, and is at Phobos. We want you to interview him, get his idea of what it’s like to be a combat pilot. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just the facts and a little observation for the audience.”

Phobos? She thought. Where is that?

”Hey, I’m on it.”

”We have wired you additional funds, to help things along. Treat yourself. Call me when you get there, but make sure it’s encrypted, I don’t want any other reporters trying to involve themselves in your story. Victor out.”

She stood there, feeling like she had won the lottery.

Shoes, she thought. I need more shoes. Have to impress…I’m big time, now.

She looked at her cooler, wondering what she would eat, and realized that she could dine at the finest restaurant in the base, with ruthless authority…



Reptile’s throat is as dry as Classic Russian prose, as if the dusts of a thousand chalkboards had been dumped into his gullet. All around him, in the velvet and dermoplast confines of the Phosphorous Mink, the only pilot bar in the Vault, there is an expectant quiet, as the lottery numbers scrolling across the amber monochrome marquis above finish their electric route.

He blinks through sweat and downs his Purple Grape Knee-High, counting and recounting the slim plastic rectangle in his hand.

00101897636475864 it says, confidently, cheerfully.

Again the amber marquis scrolls its message to the loyal wachers, and twenty-five sets of eyes scan their own numbers.

00101897…it says, then, 6364758…

”I’m rich! I won! I’m rich! F*ck-a-monkey I WON!” Reptile hears himself say.

The exultation from the bar can be heard all the way down to the mail lobby, and Reptile buys everyone a round.



Rustbucket watches the Vault loom closer, a stronghold in the black and gold starred tapestry of space. He is reminded of a shipyard, a dozen cruisers, frigates, carriers and jammers all suspended in close proximity to the military star base.

The IK Dominion officer is a mannequin, standing straight yet without stiffness, staring down at the command bridge of The Krieghund. His uniform is ink black, with only two silver buttons at his neck. He wears a laspistol on his hip, a silver ear comm., and a gold monocle in his left eye. Rustbucket thinks of how old he might be. His face is blank and relaxed, a portrait of predatorial contemplation. He wears gloves of black leather, and his collar is high, as if he is just a head, attached to a chrome chassis of steel servos and circuits, just remove the head and download. Doesn’t he ever blink?

Rustbucket gets tired of the quiet. ”How long have these transmissions been coming in?”

The Dominion’s voice is a low, as if he is accustomed to speaking carefully, and he moves his mouth very little when he talks. The accent is faintly Italian.

”For a few years, and only in brief signals, with vast gaps between transmissions. They are always accurate.”

”A spy?”

”Not one of ours.”

”Another clan’s, perhaps?”

The Dominion officer turns to stare at Rustbucket, smoothly, and his right eye blinks once. The monocle begins to glow and darken, faintly, like a pulse of bitmap and neon.

”I would know”.

The docking is uneventful.



Devil flew his modified Pegasus out of the Tach gate, all violent and lightning around him, to the cold silence that was the space around the Vault. From here he could see the traffic jam of freighters and other craft around the seven domes of galvanized admantium that was the former Star Military facility. Ion cannon projectors ringed the place, and the walls of it glowed with bays and windows, soft blue against the mirrored ferroconcrete. The Yard, an expanse of tubing and mechanics designed for Captiol ship parking, was bustling with activity. To merchants and traders, an impenetrable station such as this place was the perfect realm to do business…with taxes paid, with every transaction, to the Vault, of course.

Every time he came out of a Tach gate, after the fireworks and feeling of time distortion, he felt like a newbie again, a rookie. There was the magnetic rush and whirr of space folding and then he was solo again, an independent contractor…and then the mess with Phoenicia. At the event horizon of his memory, there was always the Sol Region in the Gemini Sector, and he was floated, battered, titanium hull pockmarked with laser fire. Some part of him, seven years later, was still amongst those ancient bits of iron and nickel, stone and stardust.

With RG he had found a place, a purpose, with all the benefits of clan membership, without the politics other places ended up giving you, as well. He had emerged, mangled, from that Tach gate long ago to the gates of the RG station, a lone sentinel of plasteel and cerramite on the fringe of an asteroid field.

Now, here he was, battered (well, physically, at least), emerging from a Tach gate, unto the bosom of another space station…

Devil gunned the burners of his Pegasus, feeling the freedom, the pulse, the electric hum of commerce and space around him, arcing up and around a plodding mining vessel, buzzing a merchant cargo carrier, drifting past the solemn ranks of Star Patrol ships, which buzzed past him like so many engined pinballs.

RG runs the place, now…Ha! Hard to believe we landed the contract for this fortress. Overlord must have sold his soul…I wonder if I can arrest people…

Devil’s pains had faded, after the fight. Bail paid, charges dropped, turned out the trio had a few prior convictions and a couple of outstanding warrants…maybe they were on a prison mining colony some place. The doctor’s had given him some derms, a few shots of boneglue, and a little metabolic enhancer to boot. Now Devil felt almost normal, but as hungry as a…

”I am going to eat three cloned lobsters. And some clam chowder. And real bread. Sourdough. And they better have Boddington’s Pub Ale on that garbage scow.”

He cranked up George Thoroughgood’s ”Bad to the Bone” on his fighter’s stereo, and thought of poker chips and garlic butter.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:13:09 pm


Grimbrand, Reptile, and Ice Cougar are sitting in the Phosphorous Mink. Reptile has been controlling his mania for a few days now, but he is starting to stretch at the seams from the good mood within himself. After checking his bank account, the numbers seemed surreal, so many zeroes that it made little sense. The top of his head is gone, he feels, and electricity springs forth, through his toes, and is converted by some biochemical process into a fireworks display of ambient light, which floods forth from the top of his skull, a aureole of indigo and platinum, the colors of his utter and inhuman glee.

Grimbrand’s mind boggles at the amount of money Reptile has.

Reptile lifts a drink, some ridiculously expensive kind with fruit, umbrellas, flags and several precious liquors, floating in a bowl-sized glass. He almost loses an eye from a straw as he tries to drink it. Grimbrand and Ice Cougar both have replicas of the libation before them.

Grimbrand speaks.

”Buy a ship.”

Reptile is beaming, feeling like some Chinese god of wealth. I am the money frog, he thinks.

”I did. I outfitted my arch, too.”

Ice Cougar orders buffalo wings. ”Buy a Capitol Ship.”

”I tried. I was going to fill it with Chiva’s and Starwoman Weekly models…turns out you gotta have a Megacorp license.”

Laughter.

Ice Cougar looked at the waitress who brought his wings. She seemed like a Valkrie, then, as she brought him the first food he had seen in half a day. He had flown here from Altec/Lansing, after pulling some maneuvers. Not a bad flight, saw some time distortions, rippling in the fabric of black, starry space. He had felt like the first Earth sailors must have felt, when they looked over the sides of their wooden-hulled craft and stared into the eyes of whales. He had felt alone, but in wonder, as if glimpsing the machinations of the mind of God. He smiles as the slim female, trying not to seem like a typical space jockey. She has freckles.

He ate at a wing. ”Grimbrand, who is the Dracula?”

”What?”

”The commissar with the IK tags.” Ice cougar said, looking Grimbrand in the eye.

”Classified.”

Reptile and Ice Cougar spoke simultaneously, as if they were in some script. ”Shut up.”

”No, it is. Classified. Code magenta. Can’t do it.”

Reptile leans in. ”Tell us. Come on.”

Ice Cougar adds to the pressure. ”Grim, you owe me. I have kicked down with the scuttlebutt on how many occasions?”

”You know what I like about Ancient Earth Pre-Indus River Civilization? It changes the conversation.”

Reptile groans pitifully, the alchohol making him feel like he is in zero g. ”Grim, tell us? Why is he here? Is this an IK convention?”

”Do you know they still haven’t deciphered the hieroglyphics at Mohenjo-Daro, and it’s still technically prehistoric, ‘cause they can’t read it, even though had a written language, the prerequisite for being historical?”

Ice Cougar is relentless. ”Grim! I lent you 3,000 creds, remember? I’ll give you a wing! C’mon, they’re spicy. I even got ranch dressing.”

Grim takes the bribe. ”I’m working on a project with IK, something to do with the Madorians…so maybe there will be some IK here, maybe not. Rustbucket is part of it. They’re sending Devil to some really remote station, not on the charts, middle of nowhere, doesn’t even have a name, not a Tach gate in sight. Apparently, been there some time…that’s it, o.k.?”

Reptile is satisfied with the dose of info. ”Devil, heh? Working on a secret project. Wow.”



Devil is reading a dossier on board the Krieghund, with Dominion, Highlander, and Rustbucket.

”So they just get messages, right? From nobody?” Devil looked around the room, his gaze settling on the IK Dominion whatever. What is that in his eye? Some sort of optic?

Highlander looks at Devil. Laddie’s face looks like a catcher’s mitt. Oughtta duck, the sod.

Dominion speaks. ”One of our craft discovered the signal by accident. Every once in a while we get information, about a raid, a munitions stockpile, a political maneuver…”

Rustbucket leapt in. ”The Madorians got beat a little, but they are not out of the game. They make a lot of money from some of their organized crime operations, and we are uncertain of their resources. Some reports have been given that their ships have been remodeled, and we know they still raid in deep space. Their territory has gotten wider, but they have been quiet, just recently. That means they are dangerous.”

Devil looked at his coffee. God, this stuff tastes like hot piss. ”I’ve fought them before. Not that good. Why don’t Star Patrol just organize a task force and blow the place up?”

Highlander spoke. ”Hard to invade a place like that. Home team has the advantage and all. Plus, Comerca is big on weapons platforms. Not a big enough threat, too. The Madorians are too tied in to their mining operations to want to invade, and wiping them out would not be cost effective for Star Patrol. Besides, they actually keep pirate activity down in some of their adjacent sectors.”

”O.k., so you want me to go to some remote-ass place and run the station? Why me?”

Dominion turned his iron gaze upon the RG pilot. ”You have certain traits in your psyche eval that is necessary for the success of this project. You will be paid-” The agent stopped and tilted his head, listening to his ear comm. ”-handsomely. With your choice of where you will be stationed, afterwards. Also, you will be in charge of a mixed contingent of Iconian Knights and Royal Guard.”

Boss some IK around? Be the head honcho? My own base? Hell, yeah.

”I’ll do it.”

Rustbucket smiled.

Three days and some hypersleep later, Devil is looking at the slow-spinning derridium top that is the station. His Pegasus has just left a small IK cruiser. Devil circles in, amazed by the utter lack of everything, just wide, vast space surrounding the remote base.

”Base? That thing is no bigger than a freighter! You couldn’t park three fighters in that hold! What the hell did I sign myself up for? Damnnit!”

His craft pivoted and spiraled closer to the station. It hung there, silver and chrome, against the long night of space.



Argentum awoke from a sensory deluge of fragmented morbid visuals. He tried to put them together, to weave a pattern from the pieces, but when he awoke they drifted away, to wait in the dark and lick their chops.

He sat upright for a few seconds, staring out his window at the space around the station. He could see the walls of Phobos, the fighter hold, the emerald greenhouses, the ugly barrels of the ion cannons, the silent monoliths that were the Star Patrol cruisers, effulgent and bristling with their advanced and secret technology.

Suddenly, for no real reason, he placed his hand upon the plasteel, fingers outstretched, seeing his reflection, a smear of flesh with black eyeholes.

He realized Seraphim was in a chair next to him.

Argentum stopped, hearing the buzz of distant electrics, the sound of afterburners, somewhere out in the starry night beyond.

”You’re dead.”

Seraphim frowned, almost as if he were embarrassed.

”Why are you here, Argentum?”

”Because I’m looney. Lost it. Toys in the attic. I’m a nutjob.”

Seraphim shook his head. ”No, Argentum. You’re perceptions are just on the wrong frequency. Like when you adjust your intercom between channels and you get that static. Only you can see the static, and that’s what is making you sick.”

”This can’t be happening. You died.”

”Yeah, I died. Goes with the job. But you didn’t. So quit holding on.”

Argentum turned his head, and the comm. goes off in the room.

Seraphim was gone.

Argentum blinked. Then he answered the comm.

”This is Argentum? What is it?” Looking up into the darkness, and the computer patches the signal through.

Some reporter named Alyscia.



The Nile was an Egyptian themed place, a bar and restaurant of black and gold flecked marble floors and walls, teak paneling and gold statuettes of Isis, Ra, and Anubis across from portraits of Cairo and hieroglyphics. Palm trees, coupled with the view of space above, made the customer feel as if they stepped in some bar in ”A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.”

Turkish coffee was the house special, served in brass demitasses. In the background, the sound of chanting and pipes could be heard. Separated from the clientele by a few centimeters of plasteel were sand aquariums of cobras, and the occasional scorpion.

The tables were also cloned teak, adorned with brass pepper grinders the size of your arm. They were ostentatious, covered in Arabic inscriptions. The silverware was also brass, with pharaohs for handles. The brass napkin holders resembled scarabs. A constant holotheme ran through the place, of Fakirs and various Islamic citizens in mufti. The women were exotic and mysterious, veiled and black-clad, with eyes the color of a Moroccan night. The holos were not intrusive; the figures crept in, out of the corner of your eye, and brought with them the scents of jasmine and myrrh.

She sat at a table, next to a coffin of Tutankhamon. Her hair was up in a bun, held in place by chopsticks. The dress was a deep magenta, matching her high heels. In front of her was a silver platter of date appetizers. She turned her head as Argentum entered.

He took in the place for a second, dizzied by a feeling almost akin to culture shock. The holos, at least, the phenomena of holos, seemed familiar after the Vault. But he had never seen a camel, before.

He wore his officer’s uniform, a formal flight suit composed of the deepest cobalt blue material. His officer bars were inconspicuous, and he had left the medals in an alligator skinned case under the bed. He felt on display, all of a sudden. Phobos personnel had never seen an IK officer in dress, before, and he could hear the sub audible commentary.

He noticed her across the room, and she smiled.

TNN EXCERPT<<<<<<<<<

INTERVIEW/ARGENTUM DRACONIS<<<<<<<<<

”THE/MAN/BEHIND/THE/UNIFORM”

ALYSCIA DEMORNAY/AUGUST/17/2367<<<<<<<<<

SYSTEM REPORT/TACH TRANSMISSION COMPLETE<<<<<<<<<

Why do some people become pilots?

Insanity? Look at Rabid Chicken. (Laughs) The need to do good, the myth perpetuated by novels and vids, the opportunity, the adrenaline…

But it’s dangerous, correct?

Long spans of boredom broken up by moments of intense fear. (Laughs.)

Are you treated differently?

Yes. Damn flyboy. I get that a lot. Really, it depends. You have to look at your career, at what contracts you except. Being a clanner helps, but I know some independent pilots, like Werewolf, who pride themselves on being able to do many different things out here. He is an operator, too. This is the Fringe, after all.

Why IK?

Why RG? Why UFO? Each clan has a personality, and something in that attracts a pilot…that and the benefits.

Your record is impressive. Breathtaking. To what do you owe your success?

I’m alive, and the people that I was contracted to protect or fight for are, as well. Beyond that, what’s a medal? When a Blast torpedo is closing, and you have no shields, or when you see the shells of broken starships littering a vacant section of space like the remnants of some galactic demolition derby, rank, medals, newspaper articles, fame…it all becomes insignificant. You can’t share that with anybody. I know better pilots, pilots who knew no fear, who were feared, and they are dead. I am not an ace, I just do not make mistakes, I have been told. A lot of fighting in space is capitalizing on the opponent’s errors.

You paint a gruesome portrait.

I don’t intend to. You just realize it, one day, that your entire life is standing on a hill of other’s lives and deaths…were they saved by you? Did you make them dead? It makes one philosophical…but I know some who just move on. It’s a job. They don’t wax poetic about it. They take the next contract. They are alive.

What else would you have been, if not a pilot?

A mechjock? (Laughs) An English professor, on Earth, in England or Canada. I don’t know.

Any advice for graduating pilots?

In five years half of a graduating class are dead, by pilot error, deep space phenomena, or combat. In ten you are either very good, or dead, and only 15% of the pilots that graduate survive a decade. There is no shame in taking an escort, rescue or transport job, as opposed to some combat mission that can leave you a slab of ice and dust in space. And invest in the future. One day, you will not fly anymore, and that day is not often prepared for.

TNN EXCERPT COMPLETE<<<<<<<<<

They stood alone, together, in an ivory colored corridor of Phobos. They were against the chrome railing, looking out at the Phobos Star Patrol Shipyard. The steel colored Star Patrol Cruisers, three of them, were docked alongside each other. They were like mute killer whales, waiting predatorily, whilst the smaller fish that were starships, freighters and transports swam by in the phlogiston.

”Why space?” He said.

”I was an astronomy major in college…lived on Earth all of my life. I always felt like I was missing the party, like life was up there, in those stars, stars I could never really see…then one day I packed for my last Spring break and went up there, near Saturn, as far as my money could take me. When I came back I realized that I could not see the universe through the planet’s atmosphere. I did writing as a hobby, for college, but I petitioned a Nuclear Forensics firm to be their field reporter. I did not have any real experience, but I worked my way up.”

Argentum watched as she downed the last of her champagne. A lock of hair had fallen across her face, and he wanted to brush it back for her. ”I have not seen Earth for a while. It seems like, months? Years? I was educated, here. Graduated here. Work is here…you just realize one day that your whole life is station to station, galaxy to galaxy, and dirt and sky seems boring.”

She found herself looking at his jawline, his hands.

”Any plans for tomorrow, Argentum?” She had said it before she realized it.

”No.”



Part 5= Roadhouse Blues

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.

Rabid Chicken is flying his peg through the outer edge of a floating junk field, a cloud of twisted wreckage and assorted space debris: rusted starship hulls, shells of Capitol Ships, torn plasteel sheets, carcasses of freighters, and the blasted remnants of stations, their ferroconcrete walls hanging motionless, frozen in the void like so much galactic detritus, against the cold light of ancient stars.

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.

This is the furthest edge of space, and Rabid had been patrolling this sector to investigate a few anomalies and to prepare the way for scavenger freighters, licensed by Star Patrol through Godcraft industries, to gather whatever raw material might be needed to replace the loss of the Berthold. He found a few Chimera Furies (a clan that had organized themselves from the few members of a corporate mercenary band, whose mother company had been bought out by Galspan) transporting essential components onto their ship illegally, and after communicating an amiable warning found himself, for all intents and purposes, jumped.

We’re going to the roadhouse we’re going to have a real…

His Cutlass flips lazily, maneuvering through a shattered Bora Capitol ship, the support frame a window into space, and he feels as if he is within the skeleton of an ancient whale. Then he is afterburning through a window, ruby arcs of lasers slicing the space around him.

…good time.

Three of ‘em. He thinks. Poor guys.

Let’s roll, baby roll…

He has split the comm. unit, one earpiece is blastin’ Jim Morrison, nearly 375 years old, old Earth music that Rabid has only recently discovered and has begun to explore with great zeal. The other ear is for general communications. He notified Star Patrol, but they are always slow.

He dives and loops, the physics forcing his spine back to the pilot seat, and rolls instinctively, wondering if their aim will improve. The Furies are flying refitted Orions, some armor stripped off to give ‘em more speed. A beep and a gargled hiss, and then Eldritch is patched through.

”R.C.?”

”Hey Eldritch, how’s the goat?”

The signal went bad for a second and Eldritch’s laugh sounded like grinded steel. One Fury circled in, ahead of it’s brothers, trying to surround the Cutlass. Rabid twisted and latted erratically, firing a plasma shot, twin burning suns smashing the shields of the Orion, twin rails following up, and the Furie became a supernova of metal and yellow flame. His missile warning sounds, and he can glimpse the neon streams of incoming swarms, he rolls again, afterburning behind the wreckage of a Galspan cruiser.

All night long…

R.C. slides and afterburns backwards, leaving a trail of glowing green ECM’s. There is more blaring harmonica and guitar, some vocals that get lost upon him, and he hears the Orion’s burn past. His Cutlass circles and loops again, latting to avoid more laser fire. His shields take a few hits, and Eldritch says=

”You gotta go to the Vault and get Argentum’s ship to Phobos.”

”Why? He too lazy?”

The night is for people who like to go down slow…

”He can’t, uh, fly right now.”

”He never could fly, ha ha!”

”Naw, he has had some problems. Command just wants you to bring his Archangel to him, along with a few knick knacks…you know Phobos, right?”

”Yeah, the nuthouse.”

R.C. burns between the two Orion’s, looping and twisting, the vulture form of the Cutlass in stark contrast to the sleek silver chassis of the Furies, and then he is above them, firing twin rails onto one. Eldritch says something, and another rail and the Orion rolls to the right, missiles streaming past the Cutlass, the pilot firing blindly. R.C. launches a torrent of plasma rockets, the explosion a brilliant yellow on all sides of him, particles of destroyed craft plinking off the Cutlass in staccato impacts.

”Save our city.”

”What?” R.C. says, confused.

Save our city.

”What?” Eldritch says, confused.

”Ah, it’s the music, nevermind.”

”Hey, turn it down, man, you sound like you’re in a dogfight.”

Give up your vows…

”Why, you getting horny? You’re gonna make the goats cry.”

For a heartbeat Rabid loses the last Orion, wondering if he ran off, and then there is the flicker at the corner of his eye, twin blast torpedoes, like gossamer electric soap bubbles, and he knows that the Fury had just made a slick, dumb luck, brilliant maneuver, blind fortune, really, firing blast torps at close range, with the Bora Capitol ship on his side so he can’t lat to escape. And the Orion is still firing, ruby arcs all around him, he is afterburning along the ruined ship’s side, the torps closing, too close now.

I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer.

Countermeasures useless, just blow up the torps anyways…

The Cutlass adrift, and then rolling suddenly into the Bora Capitol ship, into an opening probably not big enough to allow him. There is the seething detonation of the torps, a wave of rads crumpling R.C.’s shields, and he fires plasma into the wall in front of him, flying thought the molten hull as the side of the Capitol ship is smashed asunder, sheets of it melting to slag. R.C. tumbles and jets to a halt, assessing damage.

The future’s uncertain and the end is always near.

”Yah it is.”

”What?” Eldritch is still there, his voice a scratchy electric hiss.

”I said I am on my way. Rabid out.”

He sees the Orion, gliding outside the Capitol ship. Rabid afterburns out, the rails a yellow line of kinetic force, punching through it’s damaged shields. The plasma rockets roar and explode, his last rail cleanly boring through the Gal chassis. Blinding lemon yellow light, the heat flash scalding all of the black void around it, and Rabid afterburns up and away, to avoid any collision with the wreckage of the Fury. Then there is the silence of the void, a starry curtain on all sides, the graveyard of stations and ships still and fragmented before him.

All night long…

Part 6= The Bird

The docking bay for the remote station was already crammed with three light interceptors, probably Pegs, Devil thought, and so he had to park in the visitor’s docking hold.

It was all a bleached white color, with couplings and tubing emerging and feeding from every possible direction. He searched for a portal into the station, unable to discern one because of the wires, tubes and assorted cargo cases and plastic storage units floating all around. He unbuckled himself from the cramped cockpit, the hatch opening. He began to float up, along with a coffe cup, some pens, a holoporn vid, and some titanium power tools.

”What the hell? Zero G??? What is this, the twenty-first century???”

A circular hatch opened above with a grinding dirge. A pudgy type in a flannel shirt, wearing blue jeans, floated and tumbled towards him, a belt of magnetic tools around his waste. He had a look of idiotic glee as he drifted to Devil’s cockpit. He put out his hand.

”Heya! Welcome! Welcome! Got any fresh vids? Music? It’s stagnant out here, man, really dry. You the new guy, right?”

The pudge pot began to rummage, in a polite manner, through Devil’s cockpit. For a second Devil thought of getting steamed, but realized he was floating in an uncontrollable spiral, out of control. His new companion drifted in a somersault and grabbed Devil, kicking up to the hatch from whence he had come. Devil realized that guy had a grip like a lobster.

”Who are you?”

”Dave, man. Dave. You Devil?”

”Ya.”

”Hey. Your face looks like a Canadian sunrise. You alright?” Dave said this with intense gravity, as if Devil’s mother had just died. His abrupt concern almost made crack up.

”I uh, zigged when I should have zagged…”

”Aw, man, ZAG next time, o.k.?”



Devil kicked and floated and pulled him up a corridor of more tubes, couplings, wires, and assorted bundles and plastic case duct taped and sometimes stapled to the wall. He wondered when the zero G would end.

Dave drifted ahead, occasionally snatching memos and assorted junk from the air. He plucked an apple and started to eat it, almost unconsciously. ”We don’t got G because we are really top secret. No excess energy or signals, that includes radiation and all Tach output. That’s why you had to take that Cap ship in…no Tach gates anywhere, man. If you flew it’d take you a week to get back. There’s a big belt of radiation out there, and it clouds our signal. No one knows, man. Big secret. We all keep it really quiet. Super spy stuff. Eyes only and all that. This is real deal espionage, man. But it’s stagnant, ya know. Stale. But we keep working…”

Dave opened a hatch and a roar of noise reached Devil, like a wall of din. The room had holovid posters and pictures of girls everywhere, on all sides, every wall almost layered. Another man in a pilot’s outfit, probably Chinese and also RG, tumbled in a circle, trying to catch bubbles of ale around him. A third pilot in a deep blue IK uniform was singing some Twilight Jack tune, spinning and occasionally opening a can of beer from the bandoleer of them he had around his waist, and using the spray to propel him backwards.

A fourth man, a black guy, wore old Earth World War II goggles on his head, IK tags around his neck, and a camo green athletic shirt. His pants were black, and he wore no shoes or socks. He had an ear comm. and a cybernetic arm, one of the old Swiss kind, all gold with titanium servos. He seemed to have a can of nitrolite attached by magnets to every point in his body. His lips were pulled back in a manic grin, most of his face shrouded by a Holo Unit, and on his back was a military gray laptop. He occasionally would hit some high score, his other hand working a control gauntlet, and spin around chaotically, whooping and saying, ”Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah doggie!!!” in a terrible Elvis impersonation. Devil noticed, on every wall, crowded by the posters, a big LCD vid screen. He realized that the music was some sort of synthetic phsychadelic, punctuated by wailing sax and drums pounding with a voodoo beat. Devil snatched a can of nitrolite from the air, not able to decide if he was going to drink it now or save it for later.

Dave twitched like an epileptic suddenly, and then froze in the air, having brought himself to a complete halt with his odd movements.

”First guy is RG Merchant. The IK with the beer is Circle 66, and the other IK with the arm is Mr. Mojo. We’re having a birthday party for Geode.”

”Where’s Geode?” Devil almost screamed, the nitrolite canister spraying open and sending him into one of the walls.

”Oh, he died. He stopped his ship out on maneuvers to adjust a thruster, and got hit by hard rads. Killed him really dead. Told him never to leave the ship out there, but he had a new space suit he wanted to try. Great guy, had an awesome vid collection. Sad, man.”

”You a pilot?”

”Ya.”

”What’s your callsign?”

”Uh, Dave.”

”What you fly?”

Dave beamed widely. His teeth were perfectly white, as if they had been bleached. He rolled and kicked, waving his arms to keep bubbles of beer and carbonated coffee from hitting his shirt.

”Claymore, man. I like room. Called me Big Bomber, but I am Dave, now. My real name is Bob Morgan.”

Devil coughed. ”Wait, your real name is Bob and you call yourself Dave?”

”Ya.”

”Why?”

”Uh, ‘cause Bob would be a dumb callsign…”



Comerca wore his white general’s uniform, and Cerene a similar outfit of black. Both were trimmed with gold. They were on factory #862, overlooking the coffee colored planet of Karr. The planet was inhospitable, but still a valuable stockpile of raw materials. The luxury level had been specifically polished and decorated for the arrival of the General, it’s gray marbled walls carved with the images of mythical beasts, unicorns, tengu and manticores. The carpet was a pale cream color, the doors decorated with the Mining Guild crest, a three-headed eagle, one claw holding a pick, the other a welding torch.

Comerca’s praetorian guard stood close by, their las-hafted guisarmes oily and lethal, under the jaundiced glow of the sodium burners. A plasteel window gave them their view.

The station magistrate, Fitzbalt, had an unctuous demeanor that had begun to grind on Comerca’s gears. He wore a splendid tuxedo, meticulously tailored, but his hair was slick with oil and nervous sweat. He rubbed his hands like a haggling fakir.

”Eh, would you gaze upon your munitions, most excellent General?”

”No. I would like more ginger ale, and I would like to see the finished interceptors.”

”Eh, they are not all finished, your magnificence. Our production line has suffered, eh, problems, and in order to create the finest possible ships for your majesty’s fleet we halted production to finish those repairs.” He smiled, his teeth crooked and off yellow. He squinted as if he were staring into a quasar.

”Then I shall look upon the finished interceptors, Magistrate Fitzbalt.”

”Of course, of course…”

The Interceptor Hangar was a great construct of derridium and plasteel, as silent and solemn as a cathedral. A few workmen in plastic ivory colored coats, their bald heads glinting with sweat, moved from ship to ship, palmtops glowing with a violet monochrome. They looked over each craft with meticulous diligence.

Comerca stood before the manifold ships that had been crafted for his military, ready to be used as he saw fit. Years of reducing private expenditures, years of cutting base defenses and spare part stockpile, years of careful economic practices to come to this moment. They were marvels of engineering, in their own way. A simple Dart chassis with Pegasus add-ons, unnecessary or redundant systems carefully removed or reworked to produce a craft that, although thinner in hull than the Pegasus, had a much more superior shields array. Ammunition holds had also been reduced accordingly, as the point in mind for their production was to create a craft of blitzkrieg, not long-drawn out combat. But the extra Deimos point more than made up for it. Even the profile had been reduced for superior dogfighting.

A pilot himself, Comerca knew well the weaknesses inherent in such a creation. He would still be flying in his own specifically outfitted Pegasus Interceptor. But their numbers and firepower would more than make up for any other failing, and Comerca was never much for sending military into long drawn out affairs, anyways.

Looking at the titanium, shark-like forms before him, their chassis a glossy black, Comerca thought of an array of obsidian colored metallic pinions in some great, lethal wing, attached to the falcon that was the Madorian military might, poised to descend upon the fleeing murine victims below it.

Cerene was not one to speak, often. ”Words are for fools…” she had one time said to Comerca. But now, the Praetorian guard yards behind, she spoke to her General and lover.

”They are perfect, Comerca. After the next ones are finished you will be suitably prepared for any purpose.” Her voice was a bolt of steel blue in the quiet of the Hangar. ”But I know you have something specific in mind.”

He turned, seeing her eyes gleam with the emotion of it. Admiration.

He drew her close, whispering.

”I remember you, fresh from the Alvaen massacres. You had gunned down civilians as part of the Madorian terror campaign to reduce the morale of those rebels, and I had watched from the Command Hangar, as the pilots had emerged from their craft, some faces hard, some faces weak and sallow from the brutality of it.”

Ah, yes, she had looked beautiful then, he thought. As she is now. Intelligent. Lethal.

”I saw you rise from your craft, and you had the look of a tigress. Of a killer. A reaver. I knew then that when I led, when at last I ruled, you would rule with me. I wanted you then…”

He drew her closer, into an embrace.

”…to keep my forces prepared, and my bed warm, and my nights warmer still.”

”Tell me.” She said, her voice a predatory hiss.

”Tonight. At dinner.”

Later, in a private dining room reserved for Madorian nobility, in a room of black glass and gold décor, with carpets of rich sable, a view of the Skaschere Nebula before them in all of it’s greatness. He sat back from his meal and toasted a glass of the finest Merlot in the factory’s cellar. She rose to stand with him, in a dress of shimmering white, cut boldly to pay homage to her sculpted physique. Her hair was a rich titanium, now, and it shone wonderfully in the starlight.

He poured her a glass of wine as well, and thought of how absolutely precise the moment had become like the intricate and complete internal components of a silver pocket watch. The amaranthine of the Skaschere before them as intensely perfect as the amaranthine passion between them.

And amidst the dying starlight he told her his plan, his opus…his revelation.



Donnel awoke, nights later, from nauseous dreams of painful lavender, violet-hued scenes of moonscapes under black space, of meteors floating like severed heads in zero g.

He vomited in the copper bucket next to his bed, and lay there for a second, listening to the languid drip of water from the ceiling, where it would pool on the floor and then drain into the bowels of the ancient station. He thought of water, draining…he was draining…

He awoke, and propped himself up, clearing his mind of the spinning, of the deep ache that had settled in over time into his depths, a sickness that would never go away, that would never get better, he knew.

Somehow he had come to the realization, months ago, that even if he were to turn from the dark and violent path he had stepped upon, it would not matter, as the damage was done. A crack that would never be repaired, but at the same time the thought had galvanized him; with no retreat, there would only be forward.

He looked at the pictures of his family by his bedside, of his mother, smiling, a mining cargo platform behind her. His father, holding Donnel’s sister in his bear- like arms. His father was a champion, in Donnel’s mind. A Viking, with the heart of a poet, he felt. But that was long ago.

The pictures lay next to stacks of diaries he had kept in those long, winding hours. He would study the Diamond Sutra, Exodus, Judges, the Tao-Te-Ching, Milton and St. Francis, gleaning strength from the words of men scratched distance centuries ago.

He cooked his breakfast by the smelter in the other room. He had tapped into the reactors and energy grid long ago, and with the proper reservations could probably go unnoticed, forever. The rads deep in this station were simply too strong, and so workmen avoided it, as did any station police. So he could stay in the dark, hidden.

Later, Donnel took a stick of the compound from the freeze unit and looked at it with a magnifier. It was like a piece of bronze, exceedingly heavy for it’s size. A derivative of the explosive his people had used.

He went across the rusted floor, silent save for the dull rattle of distant electrics, and realized that this was the moment. The final act. If this worked, this experiment he had been working on for a year, than it would be, quite simply, the start of the end. But those other possibilities, he knew, were long gone, sent by Shaitan to tempt him, he felt.

The drill was no bigger than his pinky finger, and he moved casually and with alacrity, an act he had long practiced in that darkened hold. Quickly, the drill searing into the glasteel sheet he had taken from a scrap pile weeks ago. Then the compound, followed by a thumbnail sized piece of reflectant…only severe inspection would show the finished piece to be anything other than a pockmark from a microparticle collision.

He stood back and held his breath, the nausea lurking like a blind, braying thing in the caverns of his guts. He twisted the drill in his hand, his thumb over the trigger, the device a slim stick of aluminum and plastic, save for a few micron-sized circuits. He knew the range was about five miles.

He thumbed the button and a few seconds followed…and then the muffled whump as the sheet split in twain.

Then the oxygen in the doomed craft would rush out, a reaction that would instantly and irrevocably space all within it. The crew, the passengers, anyone…dead.

He went over the schedules in his mind, knowing them by their very hour. He picked the date from the eighty he had stored in the pulsing canals of his mind.

Soon.



Alyscia spent most of the afternoon reviewing all of her journals. Her recorders lay in a pile next to a hairdryer and a tin of mints. TNN hummed from the vidscreen, showing a special on New Vegas.

She painted her nails, dyed her hair a rich auburn, and ordered room service while she followed the ripples of her interview with RedStorm as they spread across the pond that was the multimedia universe. In New Saipan, capes have become chic amongst the Space Baron Elite. Swords are in vogue, and stock in Italian Fencing Schools has risen by twenty percent. An Old Earth Style Japanese Anime vid show, based on Void Alliance, is being purchased by the Video Channel Consortium, and is slated for a winter release.

She thought of RedStorm, and then she thought of Argentum. Where was her mind, lately? Now she had a date, tonight. She had just leapt for it, without any logic whatsoever. Why? She had been propositioned, before. Countless times. And Alyscia had always turned down the idea for the sake of her career. But the evening with Argentum had been a blur, a whirl of Egyptian imagery and starlight, and now the interview was over, and she had a date.

She spent a few hours in communications with TNN on Mars City, Mars. Then rewriting the interview with Argentum Draconis.

Argentum Draconis…

Then an hour of her Vale Tudo workout, a regiment she had followed since the age of 19. Shower, then work at her long awaited novel, ”Glasnost”, a historical perspective. Then a few hours on some electronic tutorials, mostly Space Travel Science and Theorum.

She took a small nap, later, and dreamt of suns the color of alabaster, shining on a cyanic ocean, rolling onto platinum shores…



Bored, bored, bored.

Argentum worked in the gym for an hour, mostly weights and some boxing. Then he spent a few hours amidst the glass and ferroconcrete of the Mall, looking for nothing. Clothes, maybe…

Bored.

Lunch was Mandarin, mostly noodles and sliced chicken, mushrooms and onions. The waitress was probably Mandarin, herself. Her hair was a collection of jet and crimson spikes, contrasted by silver lipstick.

More reading. Some Latin translations; Francis Bacon, Umberto Eco, Marcus Aeralious…

He spent one long hour watching ships take off in the main commercial hold of Phobos. Business as usual, the various crafts hovering to the Spacing Hold, their pilots from across the galaxy, even the last of a few Star Military.

He gripped the steel bar in front of him as tightly as possible, to stop the shaking. He hoped no one noticed.

He thought about his own Archangel, somewhere back at the Vault, for a long hour, afterwards.



Dr. Goldman made a few phone calls, mostly to IK personnel. A slightly aloof group of individuals, but industry standard, as pilots went. Goldman did some more blood tests on Argentum’s sample, but nothing there, either.

He followed Argentum’s history dossier some more, with a psychologist’s perspective, searching for anomalies in the code. He finds a fragment, the edge of a fragment, really, like a piece of a hologram, gossamer and electric. Some experiment at Galileo.

He had a lunch of coffee and a ham and cheese sandwich, his palate the kind that still preferred the simple fare. More info from the Phobos database on Galileo, but a lot of classified material. Mostly vids and science notes he did not have the authorization to access.

Another call.

”Yes, this is a Dr. Goldmark of the Phobos research center, can I speak to Overlord Decon Frost? I was recommended by an Eldritch.”

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:14:43 pm
Part 7= Blue Serge

Hydrosia, a stretch of space between Void Alliance and Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask. Named for the star Hydros, a great blue giant of nuclear fire, an aqua ember in all that velvet night.

The Hydrosian Asteroid Field, a belt of rock and galactic flotsam, an expanse of material, mostly iron, nickel and ancient mountainous forms, some dwarfing the peaks found on Earth or Mars. A capitol ship could get lost here, unnoticed next to the larger forms of meteors around it.

RedStorm had assembled only a few pilots for this mission. The most veteran of veterans. WitchKing, Dutch, ScadianWrath and Punisher, in Warhammers, loaded with firepower that could threaten the invulnerability of a capitol ship. They waited, comm. units silenced, hidden within the confines of a cavern of icy rock, probably millennia old.

RedStorm, Twilight Jack and Blackbolt sat opposite in space, flying Shriekers, attached magnetically to lumps of metallic cosmic ore, comm. units likewise silenced. They had been waiting for hours, powered down.

WitchKing began to wonder at the reasons for being here. Why the cloak and dagger at all? He checked his settings for the tenth time, monitored his ships power array, looked over weapons settings…they had left in the morning, early before the station had awoke. A journey of great speed, with a subspace communicae as bait being sent out on the frequencies the saboteurs had been using. Typical military operation, hurry up and wait.

The lack of comm. activity began to bother him. Too much silence. He resisted the urge to check his settings. Then he spotted a small carrier, no bigger in mass than half a dozen Claymores, surrounded by eight Electric Rapiers. They buzzed like cybernetic Japanese beetles, bristling with weaponry and ECM jammers. Vacuum Dragoons, he knew. Probably still seething at their defeat by IK and RG. A bandit unit from deep space, beyond Madoria, even. Their fighter/bombers were not the best, but they could turn on a dime, and had short ranged firepower that could allow a smart pilot to capitalize greatly on his enemy’s lax attitude at fighting so ponderous seeming a craft as the Electric Rapier.

They drifted closer, like bumblebees of derridium, sniffing for pollen on a Spring day. The carrier, ominous in it’s own right, hovered to a stop, it’s dirge-like Gotham reactors grinding to a halt.

WitchKing powered up and launched forward, afterburners grinding as it launched the Bora-made assault craft from the confines of the asteroid. He could hear the engines of Dutch and Punisher, behind him.

”Showtime.” He heard ScadianWrath say, over private comm.

”Keep cool.” Punisher responded.

RedStorm’s voice range out over wide communication channels.

”Dragoon’s, no one wants a fight. Surrender and power down your weapons for a trip back to Void Alliance space. We have reason to believe you are all accomplices in a conspiracy to disrupt Void Alliance security. Give up, come with us, and if you’re innocent than you’ll be home by tonight.”

”They’re not going to do it.” Dutch hissed over private comm.

”I’m scanning for other craft. Nothing out there, folks.” Blackbolt said.

WitchKing switched to plasma. Shields on those Rapiers are up, he thought. Dutch is right.

RedStorm watched the buzzing Rapier’s. Kept an eye on the carrier, too. ”Flank them, Jack.” He said over private comm.

”I could spread this tension over rye bread, RedStorm.” Jack said insouciantly. His Shrieker, a modified Pegasus chassis customized for Void Alliance use, moved into position, its ruby and metallic hull gleaming in the night.

The transmission from the carrier had an ugly veneer to it, under the harsh static of the Vacuum Dragoon’s comm. units. ”Powering down, we will accompany you to Void Alliance space.” RedStorm’s sensors picked up an energy flux coming from the carrier.

To WitchKing, it was like a hiccup, the same reflex’s that caused a person to drop a hot potato. An innocuous roll and lat, as Blackbolt’s Shrieker became atomized in a shudder of rending titanium. A blossom of pale yellow and blasted particles, and then he was watching the plasma missiles fly by, deadly weapons, launched by a Rapier. The carrier’s salvo of seven Deimos fired again at RedStorm, and then WitchKing was sliding under the carrier, spinning to look back, and all around him he could hear the bass rumble of ordinance and the bone jarring thrum of afterburners. The Rapier that had opened up on him was following, diving under the carrier, and then WitchKing fired a hail of plasma, spinning in a semicircle, the milky luminescence of it’s shields crumpling, and then the heat flash as his rails pulverized the vehicle to so much molten scrap, half of the Shrieker, sparking and smoking, flipping erratically into the carrier, which rocked slightly from the impact.

RedStorm latted erratically and opened fire on another Rapier that was targeting ScadianWrath. The Deimos from the carrier thundered again, but he was rolling now, the salvo ripping by. His blast torps detonated onto the systems array of the carrier, and he afterburned backwards, finishing the job on the Rapier, with ScadianWrath’s rails slicing through the flaming craft.

Twilight Jack looped around the back of the carrier, destroying the damaged weapons array, switching to target the engine components. His klaxon wailed and he latted hard right, leaving a wake of ECM’s. The Rapier’s plasma missiles flickered towards them, turning in dizzying spirals around the floating miniature suns. Jack moved in on the Rapier alongside Dutch, his Deimos sparking onto the shields until the Warhammer fired a volley of plasma rockets, detonating the craft like an old Earth powderkeg. It’s remains smoked past WitchKing, who, surrounded by two more, was flipping and circling in figure eights, too close for the Rapier’s missiles to target. Violet arcs of laser light pattered onto his shields, until with a final hard lat he demolished the smaller craft with a volley of plasma and a rail punch, the Rapier glowing like a quasar into a million fragments, it’s brother suddenly assailed by Punisher and RedStorm. He lost sight of the battle for a few seconds, as he afterburned away to avoid another plasma missile volley, fired blindly by one of the last Rapier’s. Its shields flickered from an assault by Jack and Dutch, and then he fired another rail battery, the Dragoon’s craft bursting asunder like the ones before it.

WitchKing looped and rolled, gathering his wits, coolly aware of another closing Rapier before Punisher and ScadianWrath transformed the craft into charred space flotsam with their rails. Twilight Jack’s peg nimbly avoided more laser fire, letting loose a volley of Tesla emps onto the carrier. The giant craft’s electrics flared and burned out suddenly, and it went dead in the void. The Rapier on Twilight Jack’s tail rolled in, taking shots from Jack’s own lasers, a rail battery from Dutch crippling it. WitchKing fired innocuously, scrapping the fighter/bomber from 10 clicks…

RedStorm flew through an explosion left by a Rapier, rolling as he did so, the plasma burning past his view, until he realized that the fight was over, in only a few short, andrenalized minute.

The carrier, helpless, rolling slightly from it’s own inertia, weightless and dead in the cold and silent night…



For Argentum, a few days past; his own miniature infinity.

He awoke one time, deep in the gulfs of night, the fluorescents of his room staying dim, creating blue shadows upon his shelves of books, his now-familiar (but weren’t they always familiar?) furniture, his computer monitors, the window into space.

He watched as a few Galspan carriers docked with Phobos, by the Star Patrol wing.

In the gloom of deep night, he recalled the dinners he had with Alyscia, the museum visit, the trip to the Phobos aquariums, the only deep space containments for non- cloned sea life. He recalled brilliantly hued Koi, dolphins playing and rolling in green eratz seas, octopi slithering across the stretch of plasteel, eyes meditative in their cold, alien wisdom…

Together they had viewed art and sculpture in route to Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask. He talked to her of Greek myth, of Titans, of the Fall of the House of Orestes, a stretch of centuries as a family rolled like a wounded animal in it’s own blood through untold Bacchalian winters, all from a curse inflicted by Hermes over a chariot race, the curse eventually lifted by Athena, the goddess of wisdom…

In the half light of candles at an Italian style café, he took her hand, watching the shades flicker and shift from the dancing candlelight, and drank deep of her words, her thoughts, her analysis on modern reporting or 23rd Century literature, of her work, of her…

He sat upright through all of these thoughts, thoughts that seemed alien somehow, useless somehow and yet valuable in their own sovereign nation, and watched a trio of Pegasi burn through the sea of night, rolling like dolphins in that blue and quiet welkin.

He watched the long hours stretch and unfold themselves; he watched Alyscia curl beside him and breathe softly in her sleep, probably dreaming of Earth summers and Saturn winters.



Devil was getting really tired of having to sleep in zero G.

During his days at the RG advanced training academy, he had spent hours in simulated zero G, mostly getting in and out of cockpits, refueling, refitting and basically getting used to stressful type movements without gravity, in the event of a catastrophic reactor failure the first thing to go would be the gravity. His favorite class had been the zero G combat course, he had a certificate of honorable mention of it, somewhere.

But this floating, tumbling and trying to sleep was for other maniacs. Hell, he was on a base full of ‘em. Dave was certainly a few torps shy of a salvo, and Merchant seemed to subsist on a steady diet of soy, beer, nitrolite and synthetic crab on rye crackers. He had boxes of the stuff. That Circle 66 guy never slept, and if he did, Devil never saw him. He drank pots of steaming coffee and often ate a sandwich with one hand while working with the other. He would spend his spare time watching old Earth Jet Li vids, attempting to decipher computer codes. He was Russian, apparently, straight from Moscow. Some of the cold of those Russian winters seemed to be steeped in his bones, as he would turn the air conditioning down increment by increment until the other guys, freezing, would insist that he turn it back to tolerably human levels.

Mr. Mojo was a gadget freak, and he did not stop with just his limb. One time, without any real warning, he grabbed Devil, took him to his vast assortment of cybernetics, and with great ceremony he described each and every one of his ten extra arms he kept in storage. Some Japanese Nikons, some Korean, and a few gold types made in New York City, on earth. He was apparently from New York, and rarely wore anything but his camo a-shirt or a Brooklyn High T-shirt.

Grabbing, that was the hardest to get used to. With the zero G, it was common to simply yank a person from mid-air, quite literally, and pull them to a halt or in the direction you wanted them to go.

Space runs were a seriously discussed event, long ours behind the cockpit, flitting about and hovering to pick up far flung transmissions, to be brought back and played over and over again, replicated and distributed to the media-starved crew.

Technically, Devil was in charge. He had full command over all of the tiny station, and all of the pass codes and keys. But they had such a perfect ballet going, in terms of duty assignments and other essential work, there seemed little reason to throw his weight around. If anything, he felt a little off the ball.

One time, performing diagnostics on the cold fusion nuclear core of the station, he had apologized to Mr. Mojo about his slowness.

Mr. Mojo smiled broadly and gestured all around with his cybernetic arm. Servos chimed sequentially in the prosthetic. ”Na problem, Devil-boy. We all a little slow, here, to begin with. Then in a week, it’ll be old hat. You’ll know it. Been here two months, I could build another one of these, and I did not really pay attention!”

Devil tossed a plastic box of routers to the larger man. ”What else are we doin’ after this?”

Mr. Mojo caught the box and tore the lid off easily with his cybernetic. ”You on break, I’m gonna check the weapons systems, reconfigure the blast torps.”

”Naw, I’m curious, I’ll go with ya.”

But a week or so later, he seemed to have a rhythm going, he felt the vibe in his bones. Work, sleep, eat, work, occasional R&R, maintain his Pegasus, and some forays out of the station to keep the skills honed and investigate the profoundly barren area around it.

Devil got tired of rolling around sleeplessly. He slipped a black pair of cotton gi pants and a Twilight Jack concert shirt and drifted down the central tube to the mess hall.

Mess hall is a dumb word for it. How about mess closet?

Merchant and Mr. Mojo were eating dinner, or breakfast, or whatever it was to them at the time. Devil knew instinctively that Circle 66 was at the communications relay, and Dave was either monitoring tachyon particle fluctuations, or performing maintenance duties, or both.

”Y’all are crazy, man.” Mr. Mojo said.

”Makes sense to me.” Merchant responded.

”What?” Devil said, trying to get the vacuum coffee dispenser to work. Breakfast would be microwaved containers of beef stroganoff.

”Merchant here just put into committee a theological apologetic that according to the Book, man has no right to be in space.”

”Soddam and Gommorah, I tell you.”

”Why?” Devil said, sipping his java.

”Because,” Merchant said, ”says in the Bible that God told man he was to have the Earth, and all it’s animals, and subdue it.”

Mr. Mojo took a swallow of nitrolite. ”Y’all are crazy, man.”

”-but it says nothing that man is to have the firmament, or space. So it’s off limits, we are not supposed to have it.”

”So what are we doing here, Merchant?” Devil asked, taking a bite of his food.

”Soddam and Gommorah, all mankind will get punished for it.”

”So what are you doing here, man? Isn’t that a sin?” Mr. Mojo punctuated his statement by stabbing the air with his spork.

”Get thee behind me, Satan.” Merchant laughed.

”I don’t have no truck with the New Testament, man. Keep the sequel to yourself.”

”What do you mean?” Devil asked.

Mr. Mojo produced a Star of David form his shirt, on the same chain as his dog tags. ”Old school Old Testament, man. I’m Jewish.”

Devil looked at him.

”What?” Mr. Mojo said. ”Brother can’t be one the chosen people?”

”A shalom alanka, man.” Devil said.

”No Muhammed either, man. Unless he’s Moses or Ezekiel, I don’t want to hear it.”

Merchant laughed. ”Why wouldn’t an African American be Jewish?”

”Wrong, man. I’m Earth American, but my family was French, and they are descended from Persians, who themselves were actually Moorish.”

Devil made a quizzical expression. ”So are you French-American, Persian-American, or Moorish-American?”

Mr. Mojo laughed. ”I’m Hassidic-Martian, motherf*cker! Red Kosher Planet, all the way!”

The three laughed.

A few hours later Devil was in the main station room, going over the weapon’s systems array with Circle 66.

The Russian was bobbing upside down, surround by couplings, wiring, floating tech tools, and assorted panels. Devil stared at the ten relay vidscreens than were placed all around the command chair.

”These are the blast torp launchers, these are the disruptors, this is the main Deimos array, and these are our Helios.

”Have you guys ever had to use them?”

Circle 66 was wearing some expensive European mirrorshades, with gold frames. Devil stared at the two images that stared back at him.

”No. No one knows we are here, and jammers keep us cloaked. No ship smaller than a carrier or capitol ship could make the journey here.”

”So what do we do if a capitol ship ends up on our doorstep?”

”Quite possibly, our their tach signature would alert us, giving us about fifteen minutes.”

”What good is that? Would we just fly away?”

”We are reimbursed quite nicely by our respective clans for the danger we face, out here.”

”Who knows we are out here?”

”Aside from Dominion, Highlander, Grimbrand and Rustbucket?”

”Ya.”

”No one.”

”What about the pilots who brought me here?”

”Jasper 7000’s. An emp pulse wiped their memory banks an hour after they dropped you off. Primary programming took over, they flew back home, and the ship’s digital logs were erased.”

”So if all goes to hell, how do we escape?”

”We are reimbursed quite nicely by our respective clans for the danger we face, out here.”

Devil blinked. ”Why did you join the military, Circle 66?”

”The last twenty-seven generations of my family have all been in the military.”

”So the entertainment industry was kind of not an option, right?”

Circle 66 braced himself against a wall and opened a can of carbonated nitrolite. He took a long draught from the fist-sized can.

”And miss out on all this?”

The pale neon of all the vidscreens, reflected in duplicate in his mirrorshades, as if they were vidscreens themselves.



It could only be said with absolute certainty that the mercenary group known as The Devil’s Fist existed on the very fringe of the Fringe, deep in holds sequestered from the rest of the galaxy, within a nebula whose radiation fried the system’s of any ship other than their own that ventured too near.

They were assassins and mercenaries, with a code of conduct that was nothing but arcane to any but themselves. It was known for certain that they hired from every part of the galaxy, but careful cosmetic (and more than a few across the galaxy whispered, psychological) manipulation kept their original identities secret. Most clans regarded them at the best as thugs, at the worst, terrorists.

Fontaine had a few descriptive words of his own.

”Atrocity! We are Madorians! We need not hire such debris!”

Both Fontaine and Comerca strode down the corridor, both dressed in their finest military uniforms to meet with the emissary. Comerca had gone with a more subdued black and scarlet, with sashes and medals. Fontaine’s was identical, save for his fully functional sabre. Both wore standard issue laspistols, holstered at their sides.

The hallway was composed of cool green marble and was lit by sodium burners. Praetorians flanked the sides of it at every twenty feet. The hallway led to a set of powered doors, which opened into the Diplomatic Hold, reserved for the purpose of greeting official visitors from other territories in this part of the Fringe but rarely used.

Comerca stopped and faced his second in command.

”No, it is not atrocity. It is business. We have other matters to attend to, and that means our forces divided cannot possibly hold back the garrisons at the vault for very long, so we need these mercenaries.”

”Enough of these mercenaries. I feel ill enough that we have hired those Vacuum Dragoons. The Devil’s Fist are another matter entirely. They are said to worship strange gods…perform mystic rites…ceremonies of blood and fire. I have only seen two in my life, but I have seen their ships often enough. They go beyond piracy, Your Majesty.”

”Don’t we? Aren’t we pirates? Any military of any nation in desperate times requisitions supplies for their purposes, in the name of the state. That is no different than piracy. Besides…whose lives would you prefer to risk? Our own pilots, or others paid enough to die in their stead?”

Comerca’s eyes glittered from the jaundiced light above.

”This is a desperate and questionable maneuver, but I see your logic.”

”Madoria is in the throes of desperate and questionable times, friend. Much of our treasuries have been depleted to perform the maneuver we have been planning, a maneuver that I have been calculating with great care, for a cause that will guarantee Madoria’s military supremacy for generations. We need these reavers.”

For a fraction of a second a thought bubbled up from the dank waters of Fontaine’s mind. Madoria’s? Or yours…?

The doors hissed open and they beheld the craft that belonged to the member of the notorious mercenary unit. It was as if the eternal night of space itself had birthed an Interceptor. A Pegasus modification, similar to the one’s the Void Alliance employed. With odd systems that Fontaine hardly recognized sequenced about it’s hull. Odd symbols the color of electrum crossed it’s frame at intervals.

Fontaine watched Comerca’s face. His countenance seemed suffused with some vast reservoir of confidence. Over his shoulder, the mechanics in the hold shifted nervously.



The four of them stood in the darkened space that was Comerca’s throne room. Comerca had cleared it out, save for his Ruby Throne and a glowing holomap of the galaxy. Principle on the map was the glowing projection of the Vault, like a floating fortress of derridium and plasteel. The glowing aqua colored orbs of the nearby Tach gates floated within the holo.

The hold was darkened and silent, save for their meeting. The room seemed larger, without all of the usual court. The lights had been dimmed to aid in viewing the holo, whose glow cast a lurid radiance upon them all.

For secrecy’s sake Comerca had dismissed the guards. An advisor had taken him aside and whispered that the emissary’s body seethed with cybernetics, but Comerca was unconcerned by the news.

Fontaine eyed the Merc. To Fontaine, the man seemed like something manufactured, not born. Black plastic and fabric pilot’s suit, covered in devices and gear. A high collar, concealing most of his neck. Gloves, high glossy boots, a helmet constructed of some plasteel like material, with a faceplate like a skull. Medals and insignias, alien to the three, adorned various portions of his suit. Various other decorum covered his outfit at intervals; skulls the size of a man’s thumb, arcane glyphs of black and gold, trophies of bits of smoldered metal, perhaps from ships. His skin was almost white, probably cosmetic cybernetic or maybe even nanotech. It shone almost like plastic in the luminescence. He was absolutely bald, and his eyes were the color of wet coal, no pupils. A smell exuded from him, a musky combination of pepper, gun oil, and cordite. Cerene found it hard to decide what the Merc was looking at. Indeed, he seemed to stare to the side of all of them, never looking any of them in the eye, but not averting his gaze. To Cerene, it seemed as if he was meditating. Comerca wondered at the properties of his eye’s mechanics.

”That is my plan, sir. I need your forces to cover mine, if it is too work.” Comerca offered the Merc some wine in a glass carved of a single emerald. He took it, looking at the item as if he were holding an unfamiliar artifact.

”You are trusting with me, General.” His voice had a deep, hollow, British accent to it.

”I have to be, we are to be partners, if you accept the contract.”

”Do you know our terms?”

”Yes, I am well familiar. You will not take contracts on religious vessels, non-Corp. civilians, medical personnel ships or Luddites, from what I know.”

”Or Star Patrol.”

”You will not have to fight Star Patrol, if all goes well.”

”Phobos will surely send aid.”

”True…”

”That is not a problem. We will not attack Star Patrol personnel, but we will defend ourselves. That is permitted.”

”That is fortunate.”

The Merc downed the glass in a single draught. Fontaine realized that the man never blinked, and it made him uneasy, in a small way.

”We will help your forces hit the base, and the ships around it. I have heard little news about the Vault. It is still a Star Military facility, I trust?”

Comerca’s eyes seemed to glitter in the light of the holo projection.

”…Yes.”

Fontaine spoke.

”You do not seem uneasy about the odds, sir.”

”We have fought Star Military before. Besides, your plan is rich with strategy. A blitzkrieg-a bloody, bloody, gambit. I find the poetry of it enticing. But why all of this, General?”

”I seek new technology, sir.”

”Yes, you Madorian’s have problems in that area, no?”

”What do you mean?”

”I mean that you excel in mass production and replication, but not creation. Why?”

Comerca blinked. He had never thought of it.

Cerene spoke.

”What of your organization, mercenary?”

”We create nothing. We only buy or steal. Mostly from other pirates.”

”You consider yourself pirates?”

The Merc looked at Cerene squarely, his eyes like black glass.

”We are a coalition of independent contractors who conduct business as fairly as possible, for money. No more, no less.”

”Rumors abound, sir, at your possible origins.” Cerene’s voice seemed full of curiosity.

The Merc‘s face registered absolutely no emotion whatsoever. He looked at Cerene squarely and then ever so slightly opened his mouth, a harsh electric gargle squelching from him, like static.

”This is SoulReamer zero-zero of the Devil’s Fist. I have gone over the contract, and my wing, as well as my associate’s wings, shall accept it. Please send the credit amount we discussed beforehand to our investors. Have an excellent evening, your majesty.”

Fontaine almost dropped his glass. Comerca seemed bemused, and he regarded the expression on Cerene. She didn’t flinch. A half-smile came to her lips.

The Merc’s head swiveled to regard Comerca. His voice resumed it’s original tone. ”This business meeting is concluded. Your information shall not be revealed to anyone, as per our agreement. Thank you for the wine, it had an unusual composition, and I admire the craftsmanship of the glass it came in.”

He turned and set the glass down on a nearby silver tray.

”I must now go to my ship. Preparations are to be made, if all is to be ready for your assault. I trust you have much to do as well.”

Comerca set his own glass on the tray as well. He turned the holo off, and the sodium burners cackled to life with a hiss of sulfur.

”Yes, mercenary. Thank you for a wonderful lesson in cybernetic enhancement. I was not aware of such technologies.”

The Merc laughed, his mouth opening slightly, his voice somehow deeper.

”It is an interesting story, one I would like to tell you. But not nearly as interesting as the story you are creating for your foes. Happy hunting, to you all.”

The Merc left the room, accompanied by an escort of Praetorians. He seemed to be unaware of them as they led the black clad man to his ship.

Comerca turned and looked at his companions. He beamed munificently.

”Let’s go view our new ships again, shall we?”



Argentum made breakfast with great verve, coffee bubbling from a nearby machine, the smell of warm butter permeating the air. His kitchen had all the tools he needed, spatulas, heaters, various bowls and plates. He mad pancakes, his personal favorite. The butter was cloned, but it seemed well enough.

He thought of the effects of the medication, and of his visits with Dr. Goldmark. They seemed almost idle, discussions of past events, remorse, worries, but nothing the doctor could really use. He asked once about the accident at Galileo, but Argentum could not really give him any information. He had only remembered the hazy silver light eclipsing everything…

Argentum had not seen any random fires for a while. Goldmark had asked about it, discussing with Argentum that the medication was undoubtedly doing its work. When asked about his dreams, Argentum could really give no answers…the medication made him slumber like the dead.

”I miss flying, though.” He said to Seraphim.

The old German nodded, almost sadly, seated at the table, a cup of coffee before him, steaming. He wore his IK uniform, the formal wear making his appearance all the more dignified.

”Than fly.”

Argentum’s hand shook perceptibly.

”See? I hate it. I can’t even think of it. I quake. It’s ridiculous.”

Seraphim smiled avuncularly.

”You can fly, you can. It is your state to fly. That is what you do. Few people know what they are meant to do. You have that.”

Argentum set himself up with a stack of pancakes. He applied the syrup sparingly.

”I feel so worthless, though. I can’t take a desk job. Never wanted that. I know what I can do. I feel stupid that I never really appreciated it before…”

”Even with modern medicine, with all of it’s chemicals, it’s cybernetics, it’s nanotechnology, it’s research…a man who does not want to live will die. Science will not fake it.”

Seraphim sipped his coffee, and continued.

”The same with psychotherapy. All the drugs, all the treatments…nothing. You must want to get better. But you are better. You know this. Yet you will not realize this. The mind affects the brain, mein wunderkind. But the brain affects the mind, as well.”

”Then what am I doing wrong?”

”Have you ever stared at the sun? One that is close? I did, one time. When I was young…I thought it was a coin, that I could take it. For days my eyes always could see it. A retinal after-image. It went away, eventually, but years later I would sometimes glimpse it, a faint disk, like a memory of the face of God. My mind would think that it was there, and my eyes had to follow suit.”

Argentum suddenly felt all of the hairs on his arms rise up, on his neck, his back. Every sound seemed muffled and distorted, like coming out of a drunken haze…everything recedes and then you are alert, sober...nauseous.

He turned around.

”I am crazy.”

The voice laughed.

”My poor reasoning friend. All of your education, all of your learning, and yet you fear. Fine then. I am not real. I am a temporary hallucination. Yes, I died. In the Galfried Quadrant. I was attacked by Madorians. I slagged many, but I perished, as did more than a few of my wing. A lot of them got home, though. I guess I am a hero. Not that it matters. Everyone dead is a hero, in a way. I killed how many?”

Argent shook a little.

”Twelve. There is a plaque commemorating it on the space station.”

”Ah. Vanity of vanities…all is vanity. Then I am a ghost. A spook. A hallucination. A figment. I am your imagination. I am your mind telling you that you are well, through the memories of a long lost friend. That will be it. Does it matter? I think not.”

Argent turned, his throat closing, his teeth rattling.

Seraphim sat there, as real as the coffee, as the smell of butter, as the glint of stars from the window behind him.

”You must know that you are well not only here, friend Argentum-”

He tapped his temple.

”-but here, as well.”

He tapped his heart.

The door beeped.

Argentum paused, and realized that Seraphim was gone.

He stood for a second, and leaned against the counter. Breathing deep. Exhaled.

He opened the door.

Rabid Chicken.




The Dragoon sat in the wooden chair, staring at them defiantly.

The room was little more than a cement hole, deep in The Main Hold of the Void Alliance. There was a sink, a drain, a table, some salt, some drugs, a steel toilet, and a sodium burner. The air smelled like damp fear.

WitchKing stared back at the man. The Dragoon was a tough looking man. Built like a pit bull, with rad scars on his face. They had taken off his shoes and shirt, leaving him in his pants. Additional scars tan across his body. One of his teeth were missing.

Twilight Jack and RedStorm stood next to WitchKing.

Long silence passed between them. The Dragoon spit on the floor at the Void Alliance pilot’s feet.

RedStorm’s back was turned to them all. He stared at the wall, as if the concrete was of great interest to him.

WitchKing spoke.

”We could not save your friends. Too late. The cyanide capsules proved lethal. Our doctor’s barely saved you. Cigarette?”

The man sneered.

Twilight Jack picked up a silver injection pistol from the table and gave the man a shot in his arm.

”What’s that for?” His voice sounded ugly and full of murder.

Jack spoke almost light-heartedly, as if he was a boy describing a vid he had seen.

”To keep you conscious. We need you awake.”

The Dragoon spit again.

”I will tell you nothing. I am prepared to die. We are trained to endure torture…I have been cut, beaten, had bones broken…I will tell you nothing. You waste your time.”

WitchKing’s expression did not change. He seemed bored.

”Tell us what Madoria has planned. You were just bag men, fair enough. Tell us. We can have you on a ship, with provisions, within a day. You were just doing a job, we all know that. We are all professionals here.”

”Ha!” The Dragoon laughed. It sounded like a mad dog’s bark. ”You have no choice. Law requires you must turn me over to Star Patrol. So do so. I do not care. We knew the equation when we signed up.”

It was Jack’s turn to laugh.

”Law? What is law? A collection of parables told by an Aesop who is an idiot, to an audience that does not care. Law is something people tell themselves exists. We are the Void Alliance. We make our own laws. Spies have no rights, and get no quarter. Give up. You lost. Tell us the big plan, the big hoo-rah, and I can write it down and we can call it a day.”

The Dragoon laughed again.

RedStorm turned and produced a gyrojet pistol. He shot the man’s foot off in an explosion of fragmented bone and red matter. The Dragoon’s face went white as sea foam, and then he gaped his mouth open too shriek, cut off as WitchKing briskly wrapped his mouth closed with duct tape. Then the tall pilot set down the tape and forced the Dragoon’s arm up, so his hand was revealed. RedStorm aimed at the limb as casually as one would point a remote control at a vidset.

Jack whispered in the man’s ear.

”Well, that’s about as good as it’s gonna get, dear boy. You win. Keep your trap shut. Your ship logs have enough communications for us to to piece together what’s going on. Now you have no choice, though. The tape is permabound. Molecular glue, need a torch to take it off. If you changed your mind, wouldn’t matter, removing it would take your face off, as well. This is just recess, since class is over. Blackbolt was a good friend of ours, and we have decided to celebrate his demise the way Blackbolt would have probably wanted us to.”

The Dragoon’s eyes were rolling eggs of agony. He quaked and made sounds in his throat, as if he were coughing.

WitchKing patted the man on the shoulder like a big brother.

”No words, mercenary! You were brave, we know that! Good job! Don’t worry about a thing, we will take it from here.”

RedStorm began to squeeze the trigger…

It was going to be a long day for everybody.



EZBOARD EXCERPT<<<<<<<<<

ICONIANKNIGHTSCOMMUNICATION<<<<<<<<<

”RABIDCHICKEN”/POST/678<<<<<<<<<

AUGUST/28/2367<<<<<<<<<

TOPIC/ARGENTUMDRACONIS<<<<<<<<<

>>>>>>>>>hey everybody whats up I saw Argentum and I dropped off his arch like flying an albatross hate those things, prefer my peg, he said he is good, but he looked all shaky, don’t know man, hope he snaps out of it, he doesn’t need to be in the looney bin, haha, but really, I felt bad, like maybe he needed sleep or something, he says he will be out of it in no time, I only joke cause I know the guy, sound as a rock, right, I told him he needs to take a break, set the controls down, the clan will still be around but I dunno, looks like he wants to fly, hate to see anybody all messed up, think he needs just to lay off, ya know, get some shaved, you know what, ummm, good stuff, does a body good, hooray for boobies, seriously, send his some posts and call him, let him know the clan has his back, I am gonna hang out here and see those punks called star patrol none of them could take any of us, but they are boy scouts I guess, yeah, Argentum wants to come back, I am not worried but I am not gonna gnaw his leg off, no tittie bars here, hey Merlin I gave him his epee thing, big ol pig sticker, he was glad to have it back, good idea, felt like santa claus, ho ho ho, see ya’ll soon…

EXCERPT COMPLETE<<<<<<<<<



Part 8= Cowgirl

The Carpathian, fully repaired from the Vacuum Dragoon attack on the Altec/Lansing corporate platforms, hovered deep inside a gas nebula one light year from the Vault.

Stryder stood aboard the bridge command, watching the vast and carmine expanse of the gas nebula. The radiation hid the Carpathian from view of sensors and the like, at the sacrifice of preventing outside communications. Not that it mattered, the Carpathian had all that it needed. Inferno torps, magnetically guided typhoon missiles, a plethora of Deimos, quasar class particle projection cannons. Twenty IK starships slept within its admantium/derridium belly, and twenty pilots were aboard the Capitol class ship, one of the finest in the IK fleet. While not a technological marvel, at least, not compared to Star Patrol technology, it could still perform deep space voyages with tremendous ease. The Carpathian was also equipped with many redundant reactors and systems, for the sake of dependability. To Stryder, it was as much a home as his Pegasus or his home on Earth, his realm…his sanctum.

He glanced around the bridge. A big place, all chrome and faux brass, data and communications transmission screens at every turn. Three decks in the room alone, with steel IK symbols everywhere. Exposed rivets and couplings-no carpet or drapes here. No frills. To Stryder, it was as if the ship’s designers had ruthlessly scoured from their blueprints any notion that this was anything but a military ship. The dark décor of it focused it’s crew, kept them on track. Spartan, he thought. Down to the drab olive chairs and worktables. He put his attentions back on the data transmissions before him.

The Dominion officer’s report had been typical of the Covert Operations department of IK. A great deal of information, sparse in opinion or insight. Not that it needed to be. Stryder was prepared to formulate his own opinions.

He sipped his coffee. The ensign’s next to him worked with great zeal, and it suddenly annoyed him. Not that it was kiss-ass, just made him feel like he was out of place. Lances could bug the hell out of him, if they fawned all over high-ranking officers.

High-ranking…how many years had it been? No telling. He had been on the Carpathian, off and on, for five. He could remember ten with IK, before being assigned here. But it was all irrelevant. After light years, time did weird things, in an abstract, behind-the-scenes way. Too much thinking…sometimes things became so familiar that they were new again. Sometimes he looked at his Pegasus and felt like a Lance, the Overlord tags snapping him out of it.

He stared deeply into the screens of data before him. A Data Officer walked up to him and handed Stryder an info disk.

”Overlord Stryder, here is a complete list of all IK pilots within Vault space. Only a handful, I am afraid. Rabid Chicken was aboard Phobos, last he reported. As was Argentum. He is going through psychiatric treatment, however…should I take him off the list?”

The question irked Stryder. Argentum…God, what happened? Some sort of combat stress? Where were they all going? Space could do that, but the cold vacuum was enough, why kill the mind as well, when the environment was so tough to the human body?

”Yes…take him off. As long as he is a patient, he will not be flying, as far as I know.”

”Yes sir.”

Stryder began to examine the data before him again…but in an unfocused way…seeing not the whole of it, but the angles, the cracks in the structure of the information he had. Statistical inference from multiple sources; media, military or otherwise. To get the underlying spirit of the data…it’s Zen.

Old trick, to Stryder. He read all of the reports, from the commercial records, the seemingly random pirate attacks, the spikes and valleys of travel through the area, the sightings of possible deep space craft, the overview of Star Military leaving, the movement around adjacent sectors, especially near Madoria, the history of the region, TNN stories…nothing concrete, that you could grip and squeeze, but instinct had told him that conflict was like planetary seismic activity. You could almost sense it on a fundamental level, before the dogs started howling.

Data had become water, to the IK Overlord. Droplets of binary joining together to become vast oceans of information, with it’s currents, it’s eddies. There was an ebb and flow to it, if you read enough transmissions. The soft focus bringing out the background message…like a subliminal chanting from the Cathedrals of the Gods of War.

Or maybe you are too suspicious, you old space derelict.

No, he told himself. It’s called intuition. Foolish to ignore it.

”Knight Lucid, bring the Carpathian to the edge of the nebula. We are staying here for a few more weeks. Monitor transmissions around the Vault and Phobos, and update me every hour. News reports, open comm…anything. Tell the pilot’s to have their ships ready. No modifications. Any pilot who can’t get his craft out of here in five minutes loses r and r, got it?”

”Affirmative, sir.”

”More coffee, sir?” An Ensign next to him asked cheerily.

Stryder resisted the urge to throw the cup at the young man’s smiling head.

”No, Ensign, I will get it myself…I need to get away from this desk. Data headache.”

The vermilion mists of the nebula surrounding the Carpathian whirled silently, as it had done so for ten trillion years. The Carpathian was little more than a mote in the bloody folds of its ruddy expanse.

Argentum stood on a bridge within the central greenhouse of Phobos. A great domed construct, the roof an icy marine color, almost three miles of plants, trees, grasses and other foliage. Artificial breezes stirred the leaves of cloned oaks, maples and sycamores. Here and there he could see patients and personnel walking amongst the unexpected oasis of green in the ubertech that was the Phobos architecture.

He was wearing normal clothes, khakis, tennis shoes, gray sweater. He had thrown on a leather IK jacket to remind himself, but his uniform lay next to his flight leathers and helmet, in the steel trunk in his closet.

It had been good to see Rabid Chicken, to see one of his own, after so much time had spent away. He had been surprised to see his epee, after so long. The dueling sword was a precious object, given to him by his last instructor, before the man had died. The old maestro had passed away without children, and had given Argentum the blade from his deathbed.

He saw Alyscia walking towards him, across the bridge. It was cold in the greenhouse, but after years of living in artificial environments, some people liked that. She wore a gray sweater with a matching beret, and gold rimmed glasses.

She stood next to him now, and he smiled.

She smiled back.

They walked the length of the greenhouse, finally making their way to the vast rows of cherry trees. Pink blossoms floated like so much rain.

”What are you going to do now, Argentum?”

”I don’t know, really. If I can never fly again, then I will just work more with IK, or go corporate. I have money invested-” Nearby, beyond Alyscia’s shoulder, a tree began to burn. Argentum froze.

”I have to leave soon, Argentum. I don’t know if I will ever come back here.”

Argentum watched the flames dance along the branches and ignite its flowers one by one.

”I understand. You have been kept too long, and I know you are proud of the story. You mentioned that TNN wants to promote you.”

”I want to still stay in touch with you…”

”Of course. I will give you my number at IK central.”

”Argentum…”

”Yes?”

She looked at him for the longest moment. Behind her, the tree continued to blaze, while the petals fell around him.

”I have enjoyed being with you. You are one of the two most interesting people I have ever met. I never intended to be here this long. I want to stay, but my career is just beginning.”

A pause of silence between them.

”And mine is just ending.”

”You are a resourceful person, Argentum. I know you are not so simple that piloting is all you can do. I wish I knew more about what is happening…but I never wanted you to feel like you had to tell me. If you ever have to call…for any reason…”

He cupped her cheek slightly, looked at her, and thought of Marie. His mind felt as if it were lost in a gravity well from years ago, beyond time and, perhaps, space.

She smiled, and he kissed her, while the cherry blossoms fell around them.

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:15:56 pm
Part 9

DeathGiver lost the three Madorian officers for a week, and that sent him into a panic he had not expected.

It had become an obsession, DeathGiver knew. He could not even place why. He knew where the Medical Vessels were going, and a little of what was intended for their use, but otherwise it wall all so much occult lore. But still he pursued…for what?

He sat in one of the Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask mallplexes, sipping coffee. He had done a few runs in the last few days, enough to pay the bills, nothing extreme. He knew that the Madorian Deep-Space Freighter had not moved from it’s docking port. It floated there in the cold vacuum, the medical freighters still within.

The Hangar Bay Corridor remains as active as it has always been.

”Because you hate them. You want revenge. You are tired of running, of being so purposeless.” He said out loud, to himself.

But that wasn’t entirely true.

Quite simply, DeathGiver was a mercenary, plain and simple. He stayed within the largely neutral environs of Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask because Star Patrol was not here, and neither was there a clan presence. He had black marks on his record with every single clan. If he flew to someplace like the Vault, he could be blasted on sight, if he was lucky, arrested for life. Those, he realized, were the facts. Which is why he remained here.

Why did Comerca want those medical freighters? The Madorians made their own, he had seen them. He largely forbade his own people from venturing outside Madorian space, most of Madoria’s commercial trade was controlled by the military. Why possess vessels that were far more expensive, with extensive hardwired encryption codes that were-

”-good at any starbase in the the galaxy. Without any questions asked. Flash your emergency signal and you got a back door right into the hospital facility. No civilized starbase, corporate, clan, commercial or military would deny a medical freighter access, due to the possible loss of life.”

Oh my God.

The hairs on the backs of his forearms stood straight up. The coffee suddenly tasted like spit and turpentine, and the room seemed to spin ever so slightly. It was suddenly all so clear, so perfect, so utterly apparent. All of those conversations, all of those overheard plans, plans he only half understood, a rubric spoken in Japanese, whose thaumaturgy was now, to Deathgiver, completely obvious. Damn.

He paid his bill. Going through options that he had.

Damn.

O.k. Could he tell the authorities, here? No, to the G/P/T corporate affiliates, the Madorians were just another client. No Star Patrol, no illegal sanctions, no trade embargo. And he was just another contract merc.

Walking through the mallplex, amidst plasteel and chrome, intoxicated by the smells of burnt krill, air conditioning, human bodies, cheap electrics, the scent of plastic and damp soil, under the archipelago of ferns and palm trees that made you almost forget you were in space, DeathGiver felt the first buzz of it.

Being watched.

He stopped and stared at the elevators, the escalators, the numbed faces of all the corporate worker drones…the blank expressions of the corporate cops. People who just lived here, for whatever purpose, day by day. Thanking God that pirates like DeathGiver used to be did not take it all over and steal whatever would fit into their freighters.

He spotted, only briefly, a man in a pilot’s suit with green hair, all spiked up, following behind at a measured walk. Or maybe he didn’t.

He picked up the pace a little. He could suddenly feel the eye of every possible optical tech, gazing upon him from six angles. Could the Madorians buy that? Could they buy off security?

He spent an hour cutting through the various facilities, areas that got more and more corporate as he ventured deeper into the starbase. He flashed his independent operative chip every once and a while.

Natalie. He had to speak to Natalie. He remembered that she worked in the acquisitions department for Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask.

He realized, suddenly, under the whirling holo of a fast food stand, next to an atm/macronet/comm console, that he had no weapons. You had to go black market to get those. In fact, he had not even seen a laspistol for a year, except for the stunguns that security carried.

Stupid, he thought. How could they know I was keeping track of them? I am just another merc, he thought…another face in the crowd. I’m being paranoid.

No, he answered himself. You’ve asked around. Not a lot, but enough. You’ve talked to bartenders, to bouncers, to some traders…they can all talk, be bought, be threatened…

No, those officers want to stay low. Whacking somebody could draw too much attention.

That’s why you wait until you are about to leave before you go whacking anybody.

He found her at ”The Mandarin”, a big Chinese food place that had been here since before G/P/T had bought the facility from a competitor years before DeathGiver had settled here. The place was all red silk and cloned teak, with designs of dragons, mythical heroes and the occasional gold Buddha. Neon blue Kanji juxtaposed with vids of old kung-fu movies. Holo-advertisements of Tao beer. Over the bar, Fong Sai Yuk was beating up some guys with broadswords, using an umbrella.

Truthfully, DeathGiver hated the place, too much like a nightclub.

She was sitting next to the remnants of her meal, probably chow mein and a grip of egg rolls. Her hair was still a brilliant corporate violet, matching her dress, her nails, her lipstick. She had a Glasdec tattoo just over her eyebrow, probably a promotion.

She froze when she saw him.

”Hey.” He said.

”Hey. Sit down.” She moved a bowl out of his way.

”They still payin’ you what you are worth?”

”Not that much. Enough. I got a transfer in a month. Maybe a moon, or even a planet.” She was still a little cold.

He loomed in a little.

”Natalie, I need your help. Seriously.”

Her eyes were a pale gold, fresh cyberoptics. Expensive; she carried the look well.

”Joey, I can’t help you anymore. You know that. I have a future, now.”

He glanced around the place…at the pillars, the mirrored Feng Shui icons. At the table next to him, a fat Tech was ordering orange chicken.

”Natalie, some people could get hurt. Really. I could get hurt.”

”Why do you suddenly care?”

”Natalie, why am I suddenly Adolf Hitler?”

”I read your bio in the Glasdec corporate database, ”DeathGiver”. I know your history.”

”You didn’t care before.”

”It matters now.”

”Natalie, listen…”

He told her it all…about Bennet. The Madorians. Where he came from. What he had done. He told her about the medical freighters, the officers, everything he could think of. He told her what he thought might happen.

She took it all in, drinking some jasmine tea. She seemed to soften a bit.

”Why do you care now?”

DeathGiver looked down at his hands. ”I don’t know. I got tired or something. I’m tired of the work I’m doing. I’m sick of this station. Then those Madorian officers were at my table, I started listening because I had not heard Japanese in a while, and I figured out who they were.”

”What if you’re wrong?”

”Then I fly to the Vault and waste my time. Who cares?”

”What if they try to arrest you?”

He looked at her, deep into the optics, past them, into Natalie’s soul, where he had been for so long.

”I can fly circles around them, Natalie.”

”Joey, I will look up what I can about those frigates. It shouldn’t be classified. I will call you when I find out what I can…here.”

She scribbled a name and address onto a napkin with a Glasdec pen.

”I know this guy, his name is Werewolf. He’s a merc too, but he does other things. He could know something, too. He owes me a favor. He’s into some business that is not so legal, here, understand? But he can help you.”

He took the napkin and folded it in half.

”Natty, thank you. Really.”

”Don’t call me that, please.” She closed her eyes.

DeathGiver got up. He took a look around, hating the place, suddenly. He hoped it all got bought out by a McDonald’s or something.

”Natalie, what happened?”

She wiped her hands with a lemon-scented napkin. ”I was young. New. You were this merc, this feared rebel…just like in the vids. I was excited by it. You were so dangerous or something. Then I realized that that was all you might be. It…scared me.”

He looked away, at the wall, the Buddha…anywhere else. ”Why didn’t you tell me?”

”I didn’t realize it, until after. I just never quite knew what to say. You wake up and just know things are wrong, but you don’t realize why until later. Life is like that. It sounds stupid, now, but I hated you for letting me go so easily…dumb, huh?”

He looked back at her. She suddenly looked so young in that moment, still just a kid, despite the tattoo, the eyes, the corporate garb.

”You can call me anytime, Natalie. But you don’t have to.”

”Bye Joey. I will look up those freighters, and tell you what I find.”

”I’m DeathGiver, Natalie. I’m a pilot, not some corporate fatcat. I may go someplace else, and take other jobs, but I am a pilot, take it or leave it, part of the package.”

Her pale gold eyes didn’t change.

”Take care of yourself, ok?” She said.

He headed back to the mall, to the pilot’s hangar. All of a sudden, the air smelled like foliage, people, and jasmine…and he hated the stench of it.



RedStorm and WitchKing stood in the elevator that would take them to the top floor of RedStorm’s stronghold. He had ordered all officers there, to prepare themselves for an extensive briefing.

WitchKing’s taller form was motionless, his face a mask of stoic indifference, his black hair and eyes giving him a sardonic air. The pilot was an aloof individual, even by Void Alliance command officer standards.

RedStorm spoke.

”Well…?”

”I think that a murderer like that is lucky to get off with only one foot and a fairly decent cybernetic. He is also lucky Twilight Jack was only joking. I would have preferred molecular glue, then a torch. That bag of filth is a pirate and a brutal thug, and deserves what Star Patrol is going to get him, and then some.”

RedStorm soaked it all in.

The door opened and they walked through the gilded corridors of the Void Alliance military sector.

”WitchKing, what do you think of the Royal Guard?”

The man stopped and looked at RedStorm.

”The enemy of my enemy is my friend, sir. Besides, we want the Void Alliance to be brought into the fold of the rest of the universe, what better way to do it than to save the Vault?”

”That thug could have been wrong…”

”Then we position a command wing and wait. We can monitor transmissions, and even plant Twilight Jack on board the Vault. Or we could tell RG…”

”That is what I am thinking.”

”But how…?”

”I have arranged a neutral and trusted party.”

”Who?”

They walked into jet and gold room of the command center of the Void Alliance, a massive room equipped with holos, vid screens from every possible point in the universe, transmission computers and other essential equipment. A plasteel window one hundred meters long swept around the room, giving it’s occupants a panoramic view of the Void Alliance sector.

A man in a military officer’s uniform of a deep green and black looked up from a computer and stood to his full height, about as tall as WitchKing. He had stern features juxtaposed by an easy smile, a face that gave the viewer an impression of being both powerfully built and yet serenely meditative.

”WitchKing, I would like you to meet Deadmeat, of the Bora Coalition.”



Argentum stood in the Phobos shopping mall, within the nauseously enthusiastic confines of a Lucky Mart gift shop. Anime characters regarded him with myopically grinning faces, standing next to starcraft, transformable mecha or giant robots. He regarded a model of an Archangel, a beautiful craft of silver and blue. His own. He picked it up. He felt very lost at that point, gazing at the pilot within the cockpit.

”It’s for my nephew.” He told the sales clerk.

He walked through the cool environs of the mall, randomly picking up on the conversations around him. The noise in the back of his mind had started that morning, a background buzz, rising and falling within his skull. He had doubled his medication, but by noon it was stronger. Fear began to coalesce in his gut like an orb of barbed wire. He sipped from a can of nitrolite, but his spit tasted like chrome.

He walked in a cutlery shop, regarding the shining carbon woks up on the wall. He thought of buying a few instruments, maybe getting inventive that evening. Some rice wine, garlic, a little soy sauce…

Hungry, he bought some krill and crackers. The mall had a hum to it. A white noise created by the people, the sounds of distant voices, the footsteps and distant advertising vids. The noise in his head went up a notch.

He tilted his head back in the elevator, on his way back to his room. The noise was a living thing, now. A grating and grinding of gears in the engines of his mind. He felt his vision blurring, subtly. The red plastic buttons seemed to glow like missile lock on warnings.

Dr. Goldmark had left Phobos days ago. Something about a meeting with Overlord, the head of the Royal Guard. Argentum had asked him why.

Goldmark had stood in a beige sweater, wearing khaki’s and tennis shoes.

”I don’t know why, myself, Argentum. But I think it is a clue to your condition.”

The elevator glided to a stop. He closed his eyes, trying to will out the rising din within his skull. The doors hissed open, and Marie walked in.

He backed up slightly, realizing that it was not Marie, but a woman who could have almost been a perfect doppleganger. She was a little shorter, however. Her facial features slightly different. She smiled at Argentum and turned to regard the closing doors.

Argentum thought of how he had seen Seraphim, a few days ago. It did not make sense, it just made his flesh twitch at the thought of it. What was he doing?

The doors hissed open and she walked off. They stayed open for a beat, and closed shut behind her.

Later, in his room, he tried to block it out. He had put together the model briskly, with cybernetic precision. A few razors, some bonding glue, and voila’, an Archangel. He set it on the counter to dry.

The Vidscreen showed images from some anime on the Void Alliance. A cloaked RedStorm carved an evil robot in half with a glowing sonic sword, leaping spectacularly into a Pegasus cockpit, moments later.

He went over some flight notes…mostly old journals. He followed an entry, the date years older, some treatise about torp mechanics. His teeth began to rattle in his jaw…shaking, like his hands…

The noise in his head reached a fever pitch. He groped for the remote, one hand against his temple, his eyes screwed shut…he thumbed the wrong button, the screen fragmenting into a dozen smaller screens, each one a separate TNN station report. They spoke at once, the ache in his head magnifying the simultaneous channels. His hands began to shake and jump as if he were being electrocuted.

”Star Patrol recruitment for pilots is up by 25%…”

”…The new Pegasus interceptor will have variable thrusters, allowing for 15% more maneuverability…”

”Royal Guard command is pleased at the Vault system’s graphic user interface relays, allowing their pilots to…”

”…The cockpit of the Claymore is spacious, allowing it’s pilot a maximum perspective from where he sits. Systems lay within easy reach…”

”Pirate activity within the Omega quadrant is up by 30%, with sightings reported by both Star Patrol and Bora Coalition forces.”

”IK WANTS YOU! SIGN UP FOR AN INTERVIEW WITH A RECRUITER TODAY! OPPORTUNITY AWAITS!”

”ARCHANGEL PRODUCTION HAS INCREASED STEADILY OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS, WITH ORDERS FROM VARIOUS CLANS STILL COMING IN…”

”…THE VOID ALLIANCE HAS A LONG HISTORY OF CONFLICT WITH THE ROYAL GUARD, AND SO THE RECENT PEACE AND TRADE PROPOSAL LEAVES AUTHORITIES SKEPTICAL AS TO WHAT REACTION THE CLAN WILL…”

”STAR PATROL HAS…”

”PILOTS…”

Argentum threw the laptop across the room, watching it turn end over end before it collided with the vid screen.

Most of the bookshelf was the next to go. It seemed like the right idea at the time. Flight manuals and some other works of literature went in all directions. He threw the shelf across the room.

Nothing really made sense, anymore. It was all just a kaleidoscope of images and memories…events and spans of time. They seemed to all be unrelated, and as he punched the refrigerator, snatched up his flight journals and threw them into the toilet, none of the events seemed to have any bearing whatsoever on the present. The present did not really matter anymore…just the noise in his head, a fever-pitch, a dirge without words or meaning. He spattered lighter fluid over the journals and watched them burn, realizing only then that he was sobbing, there was a maelstrom within him, it tore the fabric of his serenity in two.

He punched the mirror.

Once.

He thought of all the things he had lost to get this far, to be where he was now…

Twice.

He thought of the fifty ways Marie could have died aboard the Saggitarius. He thought of how useless it seemed to be.

Three times…the mirror spiderwebbing, his fist bleeding, stinging, the crack in the glass, the crack in his psychology…

Stupid. All so very stupid.

He stopped, looking into the sink, realizing his face was a mask of useless grief. What a dumb episode…for nothing. Nothing was changed or fixed. Nothing really mattered.

He sat down, his back against the wall, and put his face in his hands.

After a while, Argentum said, to no one in particular-

”I miss you, you know that? I really do. I don’t even know why. I don’t even want to think about why anymore. I have to…but I just…damnit.”

But that was just it. He didn’t have to do anything, and that’s what was driving him crazy…despite the fact the noise in his head had suddenly extinguished, just like the fire in the toilet when the overhead automatic sprinklers came on, dousing the flames, raining down on him…on his life.



DeathGiver walked from the mallplex to the contractor’s hanger, thinking. Glasded/Phrendol/Tlask had been built piece-by-piece, slowly, getting larger with every incarnation. It was a mish-mosh of different styles, almost four stations combined. Going from left to right you had the corporate sector, the reactor and essential facilities sector, the pilot hangars and production facilities, and finally the public stations, two of them side-by-side, cylinders of dermoplast and derridium married together by performance tubes. All made by Godcraft Industries, the premier Space Station manufacturer. Travel between the station sectors was mostly done through speedy walkways, escalators, and elevators.

Forty minutes later DeathGiver stood at the entrance ramp of the contractor’s hangar, into the empty space where his modified Pegasus used to sit. He could see sumpsters, Archangels, even a few Bora Maces…but no sign of his own craft.

He felt as if the bottom had been knocked out of his world.

He checked the hangar records, to see if his ship had moved to other facilities. The amber monochrome of the computer vidscreen told him nothing. He checked again, and felt it, the buzz, that prickly sensation on the back of your neck of being watched…

He took in his environment. Some corporate pilots, a handful of techs, some independent contractors, a few legal secretaries in electric blue plastic pants…a couple of Mod gangers, a tach scientist…

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a black jumpsuited pilot with green spiky hair, watching the hangar below, as if he were a predator regarding a grassy field from a powerline. The pilot had security tags and a copper-colored gyrojet pistol. But his eyes were icy…searching.

He ducked behind a group of corper pilot’s and followed them out. The corpers did not seem to notice him, and he matched their pace, resisting the urge to look behind. Every step, he felt as if he would feel a barrel poking into his back-

-or just feel the blast as it turned his spine into a charred hole one meter wide-

-or his head would just come off in a burning halo of microwaved matter…

The people only a few feet away seemed distant, as if he were surrounded by vid screens, the sounds of voices and footsteps echoing in an ominous hollow cadence from the dermoplast ceiling fifty meters above.

The trip to his quarters was both too long and too short.



DeathGiver stood in the hall. The chipped ferroconcrete walls on each side reflecting, slightly, the fluorescents from above. He felt rooted to the spot, as if he had been hooked up to an i.v. drip, loaded with freon. It spread from his veins into the rest of his body, replacing his warm blood with it’s syrupy coldness.

The door to his room was open. From his angle, he could actually see his table, loaded with a few flight vids. He couldn’t tell if anyone was in there for certain, but-

In ”DeathGiver-The Movie”, he would rush in and kung-fu everyone around him in an awesome display of pugilism. He would disarm his attackers, kicking and punching in a whirlwind of kinetic force. His old hapkido sifu would have been pleased.

But in ”DeathGiver-The Life”, he would walk in and get shot from two different angles. He had no idea who was in there, and even if he had been armed, he was not a maladroit.

He sighed, backed up, and grabbed an elevator, reviewing his options.

In an arcade a mile within the facility from his room, he used a public comm. unit to try to contact Natalie, but just got her answering service. Full of fear, sick with paranoia, he set his head against the chrome surface.

All about him he could see other people staring intently into the vid monitors, flying, blasting, shooting, or driving, depending on which game they were playing. In the shallow blue light of the arcade, their faces looked pale and inhuman, like neon reflected mannequins. He suddenly felt isolated. A nearby digital rocket explosion shocked him back to reality.

He had to move.

Werewolf apparently dwelled in the deeper public substations, mostly low-rent facilities. In some places DeathGiver could see rust, open panels, and occasional wiring. He had to step over more than a few meters of exposed coupling. A deep mechanical groaning could be heard behind the walls, deep within the station. Like the gears of a primordial clock.

Down here this deep, one could not tell if the station was in the process of repair of breakdown. Was it corrosion or expansion? The lights sometimes did not work, you occasionally had to step over puddles of coolant and other chemicals. Up and beyond humanity moved in it’s familiar circles. Down here, there was only the rats and the people who got left behind…or did not want to be found.

He checked the address twice, looking around at the KEEP OUT and CONSTRUCTION signs. G/P/T used sodium burners, this far below, and they flickered off and on, infrequently bathing the dun colored dermoplast in a garish light. DeathGiver stepped aside as a neon-orange construction ‘bot rolled by, carrying plastic and aluminum debris from a decade ago. It stopped, shuddered, broke out in an arcing display of ice-blue sparks, and continued on, treads shaking.

He knocked on a door the same color of a copper penny credit chip. It was polished to a burnished gloss, with a few chips and scratches here and there across it’s surface.

He looked up, into the face of a camera optic. It sat there, it’s cold, glassy eye reflecting the hall he stood in.

”Yes?” The voice was an electronic, almost sub-audible whisper.

”Uh, I’m here to see a Werewolf?”

”You DeathGiver?”

”Ya.”

The door hissed open.

DeathGiver waited, deciding.

”Come inside or go away.”

He decided.

The place was cluttered, disorganized…but immaculate. Every possible surface, as covered as it was in electrics and various components, was oiled, cleaned, polished or dusted. The faint smell of lemon and tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride clung to the air.

Werewolf was a big guy, wearing a long sleeved white business dress shirt and a black tie, decorated with gold kanji. His sleeves were rolled up, revealing beefy forearms, decorated in guild tattoos. His hair was the color of brown shoe polish, his knuckles scarred and burned, hear and there. He had a few of the same marks on his face, complete with a copper colored cybernetic eye, glowing a smoky green color, which took up a fifth of his face. The eye seemed to pulse a little.

DeathGiver could see all manner of devices and material. He felt like he was in a tech garage. Prosthetics, gears, cables, a canteen, a roll of derridium…

”You’re him.”

His voice sounded deep, but noncommittal. It gave and expected nothing.

Some titanium wire, steel speakers, a clock, some duct tape, plastic waste containers…

Werewolf seemed to be fiddling with a toaster. ”Whattya want, Mr. Giver?”

Spools of det cord, a machete, a double-barreled shotgun, a styrofoam head bearing a set of pilot’s goggles, an electric torch, some program splicers, a couple of sonic displacers…

”My bagel got stuck. I figured you’d show up, Mr. Giver.”

”I, uh, my ship is missing, and some people are trying to nail me.”

”Eh. What kind of people?”

”Don’t know, exactly. I need to find my ship.”

”These kind of people that you don’t know…are they corporate people? Star Patrol people? Independent contractors? Terrorists?”

”Madorians.”

Werewolf stopped and rubbed his jaw, and then put both his hands on the chrome table. DeathGiver noticed a door on the right side, covered in chipped avocado colored plastic.

”Natty didn’t mention that.”

Some circuit in DeathGiver sparked a little, but he kept his mouth shut.

”What’s wrong?”

Werewolf seemed to stare off a bit, and then came back.

”Nothing. I hate those guys. What’s wrong?”

”Someone stole my ship, and Madorians are after me.”

”Eh. The first I don’t know about, but the last, well, you can’t be that bad a guy, then. Let’s make some calls, shall we?”

Werewolf offered him some coffee, and then picked up a tach cellular and started dialing. DeathGiver half-listened, still discombobulated from his recent experiences...everything was unfocused, like he was looking at it all through a fishtank.

He heard Werewolf speak Russian, then Chinese, Mandarin probably, then some Martian trade language…kind of a Zimbabwe derivative. An hour later Werewolf said, ”@#%$.” And grabbed a racketball bag from the wall.

”How much is this all going to cost me?”

The cybernetic eye seemed to look him over once.

”Three large. For the whole package. Does not include shipping and handling.”

”What’s the whole package?”

The larger man pulled out a Fianchi military shotgun. He chambered a round, and set the weapon on the table. He tossed a gyrojet pistol from the bag at DeathGiver, who caught it reflexively.

DeathGiver tested the sight and checked the ammunition.

”Three thousand will cover a search-and-rescue, along with a possible shake-and-bake. Operators are standing by…”



An hour later, making their way through the darkness of the understation, bathed in the occasional halogen, DeathGiver fingered the microcomm plugged into his ear and began to really feel the Fear.

He had felt it before, long ago in that Warhammer, after Bennet had died. But he had only caught glimpses of it since then. Occasionally seeing it’s reflection in the eyes of his wingmen, or across the surface of star-filled space. But he had only ever seen the Fear, during the past few years…had it knocking on his door.

But now it was in his stomach, like a fiendish miasma. A watery adrenaline nausea, permeating his mental processes. The door was open and the Fear was inside. Hell, it had fixed a cup of coffee and was reading the damned newspaper…

”Still got that microcomm?” Werewolf asked.

”Yeah.”

”O.k., you speak normal, I won’t be able to hear you. You whisper, and the microcomm senses it and will send the signal. Something happens, we have to talk to each other, that’s what we are going to do…”

They turned a corner, and DeathGiver realized they were under the production facilities. He could see it in the design style that stayed true right to the roots in these big corporate stations. The particular cut of the rivet, the geometry of the iridium plating, the paint job, the occasional logo, the smell of the synthetics wafting down from the air conditioners above.

The came upon a security elevator and Werewolf punched in a code.

”This place is all business…even the underworld element…funny that the underworld is underground, right? Or at least not underground so much as underbelly, ha ha…” Werewolf’s laugh was a foreboding bark.

The elevators doors opened, basking them both in ice blue halogens.

”I got a few connections…that’s what I do, I give people the right numbers to call. When something happens, it ain’t random, ya know. Crime is just like corporate above ground business, ‘cept with the Triads or the Yaks or the Mafia they don’t fire you, they space you, dig?”

They began to ascend.

”Your ship didn’t just get randomly ganked…the Madorians are smart, they clipped your wings, first. Now they are just going to fan out until you show. We gotta get you outta here, but we gotta get your ship. If you jumped on a cruiser out of hear, that could still be potentially hazardous, and you want your ship, right?”

”Well-”

”Exactly. Ship theft is a big deal…anyone gets their Archangel lifted, they don’t want to spend all day trackin’ it down. Sammy grabbed it.”

”Who?”

”Ex-Sputznatz. He was quick, man, but he blew a deal and kind of lost heart, ten years ago. Now he works the Fringe of crime…mostly acquisitions with a little porn. He’ll nab a starship if the price is precise, though.”

The elevator stopped.

Werewolf turned and regarded DeathGiver with his bottle-green cybernetic.

”If I move, you move, dig? Stick with your hands, don’t pull that rocket launcher unless you need to. Sammy ain’t gonna let us waltz in with ordinance, anyhow…”

Sammy’s was on the edge of the production facilities in a faux office emblazoned with some smaller, sister company logo of Tlask, Inc. Werewolf walked in to a waiting room, mint covered walls and a black carpet, and knocked on the secretary’s screen. DeathGiver noticed a steel door on the right, with no visible way to open it.

Somewhere. A mic clicked.

”What?”

”Sammy, I got to talk biz.”

”What you want, Werewolf?”

”Listen, it’s big.”

Long silence.

”Ditch the artillery.”

Werewolf through the racquetball bag into a corner. DeathGiver followed suit.

The door slid open smoothly.

The microcomm in DeathGiver’s ear clicked.

”Stay cool…”

Sammy sat behind an eratz-redwood desk. Everything in the room seemed clean and artificial, down to the business posters, plastic plants and fish tank. The office was colored in chromes and violets, uber-chic business décor juxtaposed by psychologist waiting room style furniture, complete with throw pillows.

Sammy was a plain looking sort. Wiry black hair and eyebrows, with sepia colored eyes. He wore a coal colored Armani suit and an electric red tie. His hands were clasped in front of them, elbows on the desk, one arm sporting an adamantium Rolex. A bodyguard stood in the corner, wearing a suit the color of ferroconcrete. He had a chin that could probably dent a steel door. His eyes were narrow slits of menace.

Werewolf walked up to the desk, close to the bodyguard but disregarding him completely. DeathGiver met Sammy’s gaze for a few clicks and looked about the room, listening to the Russian that suddenly filled the air between the two men.

A few minutes of banter and the exchange heated up.

The bodyguard shifted his weight.

Werewolf stabbed the air with his finger, and then punched the desk with it, hard.

Sammy’s gaze was solid steel. He shook his head, and carefully produced from a nearby Ming vase a fistful of creds. He began to push the pile towards Werewolf.

The man turned, almost as if to leave.

His motions were a frenetic blur, and DeathGiver realized Werewolf had broken the bodyguard’s arm with a wet snap. Another motion, nothing wasted, and the bodyguard’s other arm was suddenly dislocated.

-the big man’s mouth opened to scream-

-and Werewolf was on the desk, half-crouching, and with a quick jerk he reached out and dislocated Sammy’s jaw. Sammy had reached for a weapon in the desk, but Werewolf had closed it, hard, probably breaking the Russian’s wrist.

The bodyguard lurched like a Frankenstein’s monster, not completely realizing his limbs were useless, and DeathGiver had glided across the short space of floor, his elbow colliding with the larger man’s nose. He completed the maneuver, whipping the bodyguard’s head back into the solid wall. Hard.

DeathGiver watched him slump.

”Now I know what you are thinking, Sammy…you still got a good arm. But you KNOW me, man…if I can touch you I can probably fix it so you don’t ever pull a trigger with that particular finger again…dig?”

Sammy’s eyes were wide with shock. His jaw just flopped slackly.

”Now…” Werewolf hissed, ”I want some facts. One finger for yes, two for no. Anything slippery and I am going to put you in a coma for a year, got it?”

Long pause. DeathGiver’s heart thumped against his ribs.

”Madorian’s, right?”

One finger.

”Offer you a lot?”

One finger.

”How much? Wait, don’t answer that…where’d they put it…let me guess…Northbay?”

Two Fingers.

”Blackdock?”

Two fingers.

”Damn. This could take all day…wait, public storage, right? Gave it a paint job?”

One finger.

”O.k., scribble the dock number and code sequence on the notepad, here. Don’t get squirrely with me. You try to stab me in the eye with that pen, I will find out about it, dig?”

Sweat was poring down from the wiry mess that was Sammy’s head. Drool began to puddle in his lap. His hands quaked.

Werewolf pocketed the slip.

”O.k., Sammy, I’d put your jaw back for you, but you would probably like me less than you already do. Besides, I don’t want you speaking to anyone for an hour or so, and that’s how long it will take a doc to put your jaw back into place. I know you are too stylish to go out in public like that, aren’t you?”

Sammy just glared at DeathGiver. He knew then, no matter what, he would not be back for a while, if he could help it.

”Now Sammy, I am not going to look stupid and threaten you anymore…I got my reasons, and my hate is not with you, it’s for the people who paid you. You got your money, you’re done, now you just have to drop out. I’m gonna owe you big, o.k.? I didn’t want to make a war of this. I am going to leave, and I am going to hope against hope you don’t blow me away when I go out the door…dig?”

One finger.

In the hall, moving at a brisk pace…

”How’d you do that?”

”I didn’t do anything, except get myself into serious difficulties.”

”But-”

”But nothing. I may have to clear out for a week or so. Here’s where your ship is.”

Werewolf gave DeathGiver the slip of paper.

DeathGiver took it. From the corner of the hall, a halogen sparked and went out, leaving the two in partial darkness.

The elevator ride back up seemed eternal. The Fear was a tide, rising, eternal, drowning DeathGiver in it’s chthonic eddies…

Werewolf jammed the stainless steel crescent that was the ”elevator stop” button. He crouched down and started to rummage through his racquetball bag. DeathGiver ducked down to look.

DeathGiver watched as Werewolf produced a palmtop computer and an odd looking box attached to a belt. The box was black and gold, an almost seamless titanium rectangle. Werewolf put it on.

”Now, we’ve gotta cross the station, and that means going into public, right? I am going to go first and get a ball rolling. Then, I am going to call for you. When I say walk, you walk, right? When I say left, you go left. Elevator…you go into an elevator. Just follow what I say and you will cross the station without getting atomized.”

”What about security?”

”They’ve been bought. They won’t shoot or arrest you, but they won’t dive in to help, either. For us, the station has no laws.”

”Damn.”

”Yes, damn. Now, give me twenty minutes or so. I am going to rig the elvator…things are going to get a little weird around you as your walking, o.k.? That’s me…you’ll see what I mean. Just keep moving, right?”

DeathGiver felt dizzy. He nodded, his throat as dry as sandstone.

”O.k., stay cool.”

The elvator doors opened and Werewolf walked into the cacophony of the human zoo that was the Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask public mall. After all those hours in the cramped underground, the noise of dense human population seemed overwhelming.

Then Werewolf was gone, the doors closing behind him.

DeathGiver leaned against the wall, realizing that he had to still call Natalie. Damn.

The twenty minutes were an eon, to the contract pilot. Twenty minutes of elevator darkness, of watching the garish light of those digital letters on the wall. His own heart was a thud, and he then realized that once he got in the ship, he had no idea where to go. He had planned to ambush the medical vessels, but now he had no idea what was waiting for him out in the nebula surrounding the titanic construct that was Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask. Getting off the station was not even assured.

DeathGiver looked at his chronometer.

4p.m., Universal Standard Time.

Deadmeat’s derridium BC watch read 4p.m.

He looked up from his chronometer.

He was on board the Vault, looking across the crescent that was the stainless steel table at Highlander and Rustbucket. The IK Dominion officer stood against the wall, scarcely moving.

Twilight Jack sat back in his chair, almost lounging, his feet up on the table. He realized that it was probably annoying Highlander, so he kept doing it.

Grimbrand sat at the computer, like a fortuneteller looking into a crystal ball, searching for occult and scarcely glimpsed auspices.

”It is an honor to have you here, Deadmeat.” Highlander said.

”It is an honor to be here, Highlander.” Deadmeat said.

”Congratulations on the Vault contract…you beat us out, I hear…” Deadmeat sipped a gold colored mug of black coffee.

”What brings you here, sir?”

Deadmeat looked around at the room, easing back, hands behind his head, an expression of utter confidence on his features. He told the Royal Guard members everything the Void Alliance knew, gleaned from the captured Madorian pilot. He talked about the suspected attack on the Vault, the offer of help…every detail. No one else spoke.

Highlander took all of it in carefully, measuring the words, his mind calculating behind his steady gaze.

IK Dominion touched a finger to his microcomm, speaking quietly.

Rustbucket spoke.

”So why is the rock star here?”

”He is an officer in the Void Alliance.” Deadmeat gestured to the young man sitting next to him.

”I knew it!” Said Grimbrand.

”I didn’t know that.” Said Rustbucket.

”We knew that.” Said the Dominion officer.

”Hey, what can I say? I’m famous.” Said Twilight Jack.

”This is a security breach.” Highlander said, throwing his pen onto the table so hard it bounced off towards the Dominion officer, who caught it deftly and set it on the edge of the same table it had bounced off of.

Deadmeat smiled, shaking his head.

”Gentlemen, the Void Alliance are your allies in this. That’s why I am here, to give our clan’s approval.”

”It’s worth something,” Highlander rose up, ”but the Void Alliance are-”

”Were.” Twilight Jack quickly interjected.

”-our enemies. He cannot be here.”

Twilight Jack put his hands behind his head, almost imitating Deadmeat. The BC officer realized this, and crossed his arms in front of him.

”Well, I was here six years ago, on the ”Glass Spider II” tour. And two years after that, on the ”Save the Multiverse” tour. Then two years ago for the one-shot gig to promote my single that was in that anime vid. I have been in this station more than you have, Highlander, sir. Besides, I got a show here in a few days.”

The tall man glared down at the musician/pilot/VA officer. Grimbrand waited for green death rays to shoot out of his eyes and turn the smaller man into guacamole.

”C’mon, man…what am I gonna do…blow the place up with my amplifier? I can be trusted, as can VA. That conflict was almost seven years ago. It’s over. Finished. I even brought my peg. I’m ready to party. VA is ready to party. But we don’t want you in a panic when our squads fly through to save the day. So relax.”

Highlander’s glare didn’t go away. ”As if the Royal Guard need your help?”

Twilight Jack crossed his arms. Deadmeat uncrossed his arms, suddenly self-conscious of where to put them. He began to put them behind his head, just as the rockstar started to once again put his own arms behind his back, making the BC pilot start to shift again until Twilight Jack leaned forward with sudden alacrity, putting his hands on the table.

”When was the last time your butt wiped the dust from your ship’s seat, Highlander?”

Highlander slapped his hands on the table, leaning forward as well.

”Do you MOCK me, sir!?”

”The wise man mocks the mocked, but the mocked man mocks the mocker.” Twilight Jack answered smoothly.

Highlander tilted his head. ”What-?”

Twilight Jack stood up. ”I’m KIDDING with you, Highlander! Because we’re allies, now. I know I am not wrong when I think that you are too intelligent to let valuable help slip away just when the most dangerous military might since the Nazi’s is gathering itself to invade, right? Or am I?”

Highlander sputtered. He sat down, drank his coffee, and looked at the Void Alliance officer.

”I’m not going to just polka into my interceptor and take on the entire base, man. Half the base, maybe, but-”

Deadmeat stood up, cutting Twilight Jack off.

”Highlander, you know me…you know my clan. This is solid. I promise you… Now shake, you old barnstormer!”

Highlander looked over at the Dominion officer.

”What does IK say to this?”

The officer’s voice was like a bolt of iron, piercing the tension.

”We will be here, as well, to support our allies. You have little to fear, sir.”

Highlander paused, frowned, shook Deadmeat’s hand, and then, reluctantly, Twilight Jack’s.

The rockstar produced a thin wafer of coded titanium.

”Look, Highlander, I even brought you a backstage pass!”

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:18:12 pm
Part 10= Superstitious

”O.k., come out and steer to the left. I think station security is looking for you, but I am not sure…” Werewolf’s voice was a harsh electric whisper.

DeathGiver steeled himself, checked the comforting butt of the gyrojet pistol, and tried to ignore his heart thumping in his throat. The elevator doors hissed open, and he was standing in the melee that was the Mall.

Four nearby bearded Earth Iraqis argued in Arabic, all dressed in Mufti. They smelled like sweat, carbon, espresso and myrrh.

The air within the mall was an ion-charged haze. The station was busiest at these hours, as travelers and merchants, shoppers and independent contractors all flooded in to socialize, migrate, or ply their trade.

A Chinese corporate programmer wearing an electric blue plastic business suit drifted past DeathGiver, his eyes focused on unseen algorithms. The crowd swallowed him up. DeathGiver looked up to see the scarlet holo’s of the Cyanide Mary, a popular bar and hardware store. As he passed a Mongolian Market Cookery, his brows sweated from the pungent garlic miasma.

”Stop.” The voice in his ear said.

A nickel colored door slid open on DeathGiver’s right.

”Move.”

He stepped into a hallway that was deserted, the air smelling like burnt plastic and ammonia. The halogens were almost blinding, reflecting off the bleach colored tile. A security optic stared at him accusingly.

”Don’t worry, I looped it’s image sequence.”

DeathGiver’s footsteps echoed down the long hall.

”I just hacked the security channel. Their looking for you, but their orders are to observe and report. Odd.”

DeathGiver reached the end of the hall. The door before him was the color of cerramite. An elevator started to open on his right. He caught the barest glimpse of a suited security officer, and then the elevator doors abruptly closed.

”Damn, sorry.”

The door before DeathGiver slid open.

”O.k., abrupt right, then duck into the Laundromat.”

DeathGiver did so, passing a New Chiba City Clothing Emporium. Several prostitutes stared at him blankly, their hair a deep violet. All were sporting Phrendol holo-tats, guaranteeing a safe bill of health.

The backdoor of the Laundromat opened for him. He stepped in, suddenly bathed in fog clouds of steam. The people around him seemed like apparitions. He made his way through, avoiding their inquisitive gaze.

”O.k., right, duck into the nightclub. Use the bouncer entrance.”

The club’s door was as inconspicuous as possible. The hall was a griseous stretch of ferroconcrete. Music thumped ahead, at ear-splitting decibels. Another door hissed open.

”O.k., the signal is breaking up. Cut through, keep moving, go out the band exit. Anyone stops you, show them your gyrojet pistol. This route will keep you out of sight. We’re almost through.”

The night club was like an Amazon village, humid jungle-like heat, flash illumination and tables of neutron-hardened aluminum. The chairs and couches were cloned leather.

The dance floor was a single writhing mass of limbs and gyrating flesh. Eurogoths, New Space Punkers, Astro-Glammers, out of station corporates, Synth Addicts and the ever present opportunistic fugue movements of dealers. A group of Tlask University females, dressed in identical outfits of steel-colored vinyl walked by holding arms, their chain and leather boots going to their knees. Their eyes were glassy and barbiturate-tinged. He ducked past a few sunglassed DJ’s, their hair up and multicolored, like peacocks. An athletic student, rippling with steroid augmentation and grafted muscle, wearing a set of denim overalls, suddenly blocked DeathGiver’s pulse.

His eyes rolled spasmodically, and he smelled like cortisone.

”You’ve seen Judy!!?” His hand was a steel hydraulic claw on DeathGiver’s shoulder.

DeathGiver pointed randomly.

”Over there!” He shouted back, almost deafened by the music…something brand new, probably Martian Pop.

The ogre was gone. The crowd swallowed him up.

Werewolf’s voice came back abruptly.

”Change of plans, opposite team is in the building…cut through the bar…I’m going to make a diversion…”

The bar was filled with liquors, flagons of beer, artificial legal pharmaceuticals, and endless rows of nitrolite. DeathGiver steeped inside the bar.

Werewolf’s voice.

”Damn, on your six…f*ck!”

A bartender emerged from a back door, inside the bar, wearing Levi’s and a silver suitcoat, his bare chest gleaming in the neon. He began to speak to DeathGiver, when the lights cut out.

A moment of silence, only the music blaring frenetically, and then instant audio violence, punctuated by smashing glass and furniture breaking. An arm went around DeathGiver’s neck.

DeathGiver twisted and spun, grasping an elbow and a shirt color and sending the assailant into the blackness behind him.

Then the kitchen area, glass breaking and people on all sides, trying to leave. DeathGiver groped blindly, suddenly starting to panic in the humid darkness.

”F*ck!”

”Where are you?” Werewolf’s voice was funny, as if he was running.

”Kitchen…I think…I hear a dishwasher.”

A few breaths later, as DeathGiver groped his way through the darkness, the foggy green luminescence of an EXIT light came on. He went for it.

His hands felt a doorknob. Behind him, in the club, he could hear authoritative voices shouting commands. A woman screamed. Someone threw a bottle. Then the lights came on, and the music with it.

He walked down a badly maintained hall, filled with boxes, old couches, refrigerator sized amplifiers and stacks of posters. The air tasted damp, almost fecund with wet rot.

Another bouncer, built like a linebacker, stood by the door. He was heavy lidded, a veteran of countless ejections, undoubtedly. He carried a flashlight and a clipboard. His hair was very slick, put up in a pompadour.

”Sorry sir, wrong way. Please go around.” He stepped forward a bit.

DeathGiver’s nerves were twisted into dry, taunt knots. His knees felt wobbly. As the bouncer began to realize DeathGiver wasn’t leaving, he put the flashlight out, as if to prod DeathGiver into going away.

He pulled the gyrojet pistol.

The bouncer froze, eyes locked on the weapon.

”Make a hole or I put one in your chest.”

He half raised his arms and backed around, almost touching the wall. His mouth was open slightly, but his eyes stayed attached securely to the pistol.

”Relax, man, I’m station security, just go.”

DeathGiver wasn’t sure if the larger man believed him or not. It hardly mattered. He stepped through the door, almost forgetting to holster the pistol.

He saw two elevators, and realized he was probably in Mall Station Maintenance. One started to open, and then abruptly froze. DeathGiver caught a fleeting glimpse of a green janitor’s jumpsuit, and then the elevator went up.

The other elevator opened, and Werewolf was standing there, rubbing his temple with a thumb. His eyes were squinting, as if he was in pain.

”What’s wrong?”

”Headache. Anyone following you?”

Werewolf was carrying the palmtop in one hand.

”No.”

”Good for them. Let’s move, we’re going underground, again.”

This section was just as poorly maintained, the halogens flickering uncertainly, smooth ferroconcrete broken up by puddles of coolant and chemicals. Somewhere, a faucet dripped. Here and there were stacks of boxed servos and plates of metal. Every once in a while their feet kicked a rivet or a fuse the size of a soda can.

Werewolf’s phone chimed. He whipped it open instinctively.

”Yeah?”

Pause.

”O.k.”

He handed the phone to DeathGiver. It was Natalie.

”Joey, those medical frigates? They’re slated to leave in an hour. I tried to call you earlier, but the signal wouldn’t work.”

”Damn. Natalie, I got problems…I still have to get to my ship, and those Madorian’s might still be on me.”

”I think they are on to me, too. I keep seeing a guy in a pilot’s suit…has spiky hair…”

DeathGiver almost dropped the phone.

”Wait! Green!? Natalie, get the hell outta there, o.k.? Get the-”

He was talking to a dead line. It suddenly occurred to DeathGiver that they might have traced the signal, maybe they had been doing so for some time.

They left the phone sitting a puddle of ammonium.

”We have to go to her room, she’s just upstairs, Werewolf.”

”I know, but let’s take this access hall. Give me the pistol, if we run into security, just act like you’re a techie or something…”

DeathGiver threw the weapon into Werewolf’s racquetball bag.

The access hall was as decrepit as the other endless halls they had roamed during this entire run. They came to a split.

”I am going to cover our backs, you first.” Werewolf looked exhausted and completely on edge.”

DeathGiver entered the T shaped corridor, the smell of harsh chemical solvent threatening to suffocate him. For a second he saw a spark of exposed electrics down the hall, and then Werewolf had grasped his neck…

…there was a clever manipulation of nerve ending, like evil shiiatsu…

…and he realized that he was almost unconscious, or close to it, his head like a block of dense matter, heavier than his neck could support, he was slumping against the cerramite wall, hearing the Madorian-accented Japanese all around him.

Hands flipped him around, slamming him back. He felt a punch, his vision spinning.

Werewolf’s voice, ugly and full of something lethal.

”Here he is, all packaged and ready to go.”

”What about Station Security?”

Werewolf laughed.

”As blind as Luddites. I had to pull some smooth moves to get him here, had to avoid a lot of curious minds. I know you bought ‘em off, but I did not want any delays…I look forward to the second half of my creds.”

”You have earned them.”

DeathGiver twisted his head, seeing the amber monochrome of a cred counter get produced by the taller Madorian officer.

”You guys have spent a lot of money.”

”We need those vessels. We also want to cover up loose ends. Independent contractors can be…unpredictable.”

DeathGiver was hoisted and given another punch. His vision became a field of stars.

”What’s your plan? I am going back to my place to pay some debts.”

”We are going to walk down a bit and gut this trash. I have recently been informed that he is a defector…maybe even an anarchist against the State.”

”Old fashioned way…I like your style.”

DeathGiver’s mouth tasted like lead. His own voice felt displaced.

”You motherf*cker, you betrayed me…”

”Betrayed? I hardly know you! Besides, I was tired of being hunted by the Madorians…this was the best way to make some creds and cover my tail at the same time. An hour from now, while your leaking B positive all over the floor, I’ll be spending about a month in a New Las Vegas brothel.”

”What about Natalie?”

Brief pause. Werewolf hoisted his bag.

”Omelets and eggs, kids. Friends don’t quantify where I come from.”

The Madorian officer’s voice was brimming with predatorial intensity.

”Ah, the woman. She was not where you said you would be, Mr. Werewolf. But we tracked her elsewhere, using a simple phone trace. So it all worked out.”

There was a another brief pause, and Werewolf’s laugh filled the corridor.

”There ya go…all wrapped up like a Christmas present. Good luck gents, tell me how everything goes…”

The mercenary’s footsteps echoed away.

”I do not trust him.” One voice said, in heavy Madorian.

”It does not matter. He can make no profit from betraying us. Besides, we can always eliminate him later.”

They dragged him down the corridor, puddles of chemical and water splashing about them, although it was only an inch deep in places.

”What is a Christmas present?”

”I do not know.”

DeathGiver heard a click.

”Right here?” A third voice.

”No, about a block further. I don’t want anyone finding him for a while. We will dump him into a septic tank. He will die slowly, and then sink.”

Something in him was cold and bathed in fear. The deadened sensation was receding, but he wasn’t sure if he could take them. He didn’t know what to do…

They were standing near a railing, the station’s septic plant wash basin like a brown green oil waterfall thirty feet down. The air had a cool, foul miasma to it. He thought of fried grease.

”Here.”

”Goodbye, traitor. There is no escape from Madorian police justice.”

DeathGiver started to move-

-and the officer’s head came off in an explosion of bloodied matter, gore spraying the larger man, who drew a sonic pistol, stepping back, eyes wildly looking for his assailant…

The third man with the knife had froze in panic, stepping forward to render aid, disregarding DeathGiver, who spun in a fast circle, throwing everything he had into a shot to the man’s Adam’s apple, then to go for a desperate rush for the pistol.

Another blast, from a shotgun, and the sonic pistol dropped to the floor next to the body. The air was filled with the smoldering scent of cordite and scorched human hair.

The shot connected, a jolt running the length of DeathGiver’s arm, at the wrist. He was grabbing the knife arm, hooking it with his right hand and grabbing a fistful of the man’s hair with his right-

-completing the twist, pitching the remaining officer into the railing and over, his choking shout echoing with a splash, DeathGiver almost going over as well. The knife landed at DeathGiver’s feet. A hand grabbed his collar. He turned, throwing punches, panicked, nobody there-

”Hey! It’s me.”

”What-!?”

”Werewolf.”

The air melted and shimmered, like a dessert sirocco mirage, and then contorting in a twisting maelstrom of holographic polygons. Werewolf stood there, a palm to his forehead, blood running in thick ropes down his face from his nostrils.

”You! But-”

”Yeah, I faked them. Plan was to get them in the open and take them out, but then Natalie called. I wanted to trap them, but then time ran out. After I left I bumped into one of the laughing boys. I started to move, but he gave me a good whack. Fast motherf*cker…glad he’s dead, now…I had the good sense to drag him with me and strangle him from the ground. No noise, that way. Then I threw on the holo-field and backtracked. We gotta go.”

”A field?”

”Yeah, Spetznatz special forces…you gotta take serious drugs to counteract the side effects, and after a half hour it feels like you have been kicked in the cerebellum by a f*cking Clydesdale…”

”Natalie! They’re going to get Natalie!”

”Move.”

The flight down the last half of the corridor was a painful blur. His head felt like a basketball and at one point Werewolf paused and threw up onto the chemical-soaked floor.

The elevator ride up was tense and desperate silence. Reflected in the mirrored chrome, DeathGiver and his companion looked like a couple of welterweight boxers who had fought thirteen rounds with a heavyweight and lost. As if to punctuate the thought, DeathGiver spat a tooth onto the platinum colored carpet of the elevator.



Part 11= Exit Music

Natalie’s apartment was, to DeathGiver, all experienced with the same perception that high-velocity racecar driver’s and star pilot’s see before and around them as they maneuver in their respective domains. High speed, extreme physics, pulse pounding forward momentum and yet everything happens…

…so…

…slowly, in increments, even. You know it’s happening too fast, but it is all so paced, pause/action/pause, and you are in too much of a hurry just as you are moving too slowly as you see it.

Or like watching a film reel by reel, each picture in the scene not quite bleeding together.

Pause.

Natalie’s door, kicked open.

Pause.

The vidscreen on, loud, blaring.

Pause.

The show on the vidscreen an advertisement for Nitrolite. New, improved, with 20% more caffeine and vanilla.

Pause.

Every drawer in the apartment pulled open, their contents torn out and spread wide, scattered across the confetti colored floor.

Pause.

The scent of Natalie’s perfume, like fresh oranges, the apartment like smelling like burnt coffee and fresh blood, the color of Natalie’s favorite lipstick. The same shade as a freshly clipped roses. DeathGiver thought of the smell of fresh paint, when he and Natalie had spent an afternoon painting the walls of her bathroom.

Pause.

The bed, completely dislocated, Natalie upon it, a pillow over her head, down feathers scattered like the contents of all of her apartment’s drawers, one arm draped off the bed, no movement, the color of fresh painted lipstick colored roses across the bed, Werewolf grabbing him backwards.

Pause.

”C’mon.”

”She…they…she’s…” His vision blurred and watered.

”I know, man, but we have to go.”

”But she could be…”

Werewolf’s voice was quiet in the silent room.

”You know that ain’t so, kid. We have to get you outta here…the people who did that want you gone, too. She’s…I’m sorry…”

The elevator, all brass and steel crescent buttons on faux redwood. Two corporate officer’s from Glasdec talked about a merger with some conglomerate.

DeathGiver looked up, feeling lost, feeling sick and drowned, his vision rainy and the halogens above becoming wet and out of focus, while the corporate officer’s blab on and Werewolf looks down, his jaw hardening, his brows beetling together.

He thinks about how it is all so appropriate.

The elevator.

Sinking, as far as he can go…and rising up…

…and Heaven help anyone on his grave.



Part 11

A while later they stood in the main hallway, the corridor of the public ship storage facilities of the Tlask Pan-System Corporation. Pilots, corporates, mercs and other independent contractors traveled to and fro through the ferroconcrete corridor, a realm largely inhabited by non-commercial civilians. In the corner, against a cement-colored wall, a nitrolite machine kept company next to a humming refrigerated protein vending unit. On one side DeathGiver could hear the sounds of ship maintenance and docking procedures, on the other side echoed the clairaudience of the Tlask main population sub-mall. There did not seem to be any security.

”Let’s go.” Werewolf said.

”I can take it from here.”

Werewolf paused, looking him over with that cybernetic eye.

”You sure?”

”Ya.” DeathGiver said, not sure about anything, anymore. He just seemed devoid of any thought or feeling that would have been familiar to him 24 hours ago. His life had bottomed out, it seemed. He was a big empty, a robot, running on some notion of instinct. He didn’t even have the foggiest notion what his next move was, after he got into his ship. The knife he had picked up from the floor of the septic plant washbasin rubbed against his lower back, where he had stashed it in his belt.

”Cool…cool…” Werewolf looked him over.

”What are you going to do, man?”

The larger pilot looked around for a long time, thinking.

”I am going to hit up New Las Vegas, set up some connections, cover my ass…I have a few hidey holes I can take advantage of.”

”Ya got my personal comm. i.d.?”

”Yes.”

”Look me up.”

”Roger that.”

They shook hands.

Werewolf stepped into the elevator, looking up, his battered and chemical stained racquetball bag hanging from one hand. The doors closed, and DeathGiver didn’t see him again for three years.

He felt a million years old, his head aching, his neurons numb and overused, tired in a way he had never been tired before. Tired of being tired.

He walked into the public hangar and glimpsed his Pegasus, gone from a black to a mint blue color, almost demurely parked next to an array of sumpsters and utility mechs. He saw a few pilots standing around, one of them with his back turned to DeathGiver, wearing a helmet and performing maintenance on a gunmetal gray Cutlass.

DeathGiver sighed, the floor beneath his soul falling out, plunging him into tenebrous depths…

He walked into the public mall and bought a large set of metallic gold shades, so large they covered most of his face. Then he bought a black and silver set of flight leathers, and blue-black hair dye. The store clerk said something, but it was all a blur of neon and styrene; ice blue digital numerals and rows of silent nanotechnological health products, in designer colors.

Somewhere, the echo of German, advertising cloned internal organs and skin tint.

He dyed his hair in a public restroom with a meticulous patience he had never thought possible, waiting five minutes as it set, and then through all of his old clothing and accumulated trash into a micro-disintegrator. It vanished into with a blinding white light.

He looked into the mirror and realized he did not recognize himself. He checked the knife, unconsciously.

The ferroconcrete corridor back to the public ship storage facilities ran on for miles, it seemed. He walked in, deafened by non-noise and his own pounding pulse, feeling like a puppet on invisible chains.

He stabbed the helmeted pilot in the back as hard as he ever could, between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, slamming the man up into the side of the Cutlass.

Somewhere, a woman screamed.

The pilot groped with one hand for the handle of the blade, his other hand against the ship. He made dry gasping sounds and DeathGiver pulled the man’s helmet off, revealing spikes of green hair. He pulled the man’s copper colored gyrojet pistol, the one he had recognized from before, and swung the helmet at the back of the pilot’s head, sending the man to the floor, face-first.

Two corporate pilots advanced, uncertain, their faces pale. DeathGiver turned his head and looked at them; through them…beyond them.

”He killed Natalie.” He said, to no one at all.

He aimed the gyrojet pistol at the back of the green-haired man’s head.

An hour later, in his Peg, traveling through the Tach gate to the nearest station, leaving Glasdec/Phrendol/Tlask behind him in an electric wash of tachyon particles, physics and light.

He thought of the fragrance of fresh cut roses.

He thought of the smell of ammonia.

He thought of the scent of jasmine.

He thought of the stench of human blood.

Part 12

Comerca stood in the Command Hangar of his Hold, overlooking Karr, the expanse of starred space enfolding the monolithic form of the factory station. A distance away, Cerene’s personal imperial transport vessel, emblazoned with the symbols of Madoria, prepared for departure, the station techs in their bulky rad suits shuffling out past armored Praetorians and the slim form of Cerene, herself. The crafts blazing engines prepared it for lift off…warning klaxons, announcing the preparations for spacing the ship, began to drone.

Fontaine looked out into the Skaschere Nebula, admired it’s silver and purple incandescence.

”Excellent choice, m’lord, to send Cerene herself to speed up planet resource production. We have been a little lax in applying punishment for tardy shipments, as of late. She should…inspire their efforts.”

”Yes, I felt so. With the invasion close at hand, we don’t want any snags. Without complete production cooperation, this will not work.”

”Will that technology be worth all of this, sir?”

Comerca sipped a glass of iced nitrolite, and expensive libation this far out into space.

”It will be worth it a thousand times, Fontaine. The ships themselves are worth all that we could possible sacrifice in their acquisition. The technology will put us far above any of the clans, if we successfully reproduce it, which we will. Improved science, munitions, shields, systems…this is the moment, Fontaine. I have calculated every conceivable maneuver, and this will work. That station is doomed, no matter how much our foes might consider themselves prepared for our onslaught. The Time of Madoria is now, and with this expression of force all of the pirate forces will join us. From here, we expand, until every station is ours, perhaps all the way to the very heart of the Void Alliance!”

Cerene’s Transport Vessel began to lift off, it’s low-yield thermal reactor engines filling the hold with a ruddy glow. To Fontaine, Comerca’s profiles appeared hellish in the flickering ruby-gold light. The doors of the bay opened, revealing space and all it’s stars, with the caramel orb that was Karr behind it. The Transport Vessel lifted off into space.

”What of the Royal Guard, your majesty? I have heard that they are contracted to maintain and protect the Vault.”

Comerca’s eyes were embers in the fading red glow.

”That pathetic clan with their blind ambitions of democracy is not even a threat to our plan. They are completely unaware of our true intentions…do you know they almost completely lack a command structure? How nadve! Based on notions of honor and respect…as if honor and respect come from someplace other than fear or the application of violence. They will call on Phobos for aid from Star Patrol, and then the Phoenix will draw closer. Predictably, they will believe it to be…eh?”

Comerca’s intentions drifted to the rectangle that was Cerene’s Transport, a black outline against the silver-violet burning streak that was the Skaschere. For a breath of time a tiny flare of orange light flashed at the front of the vessel, and then the front of the ship exploded in a horrible spray of metal, plasteel, and iced human remains…

Alarms sounded at every possible angle. Calls for medical vessels and rescue crews, hoarse shouts as emergency teams rushed to render aid.

But Comerca, his hands pressed against the cold plasteel, fingers spread apart, his very being frozen, twisted, split to the core, knew that it was too late…that it had always been too late…



There was nothing that could really be done, save to haul the carcass of the Transport back for examination. But Fontaine knew to move faster that that.

Fontaine had long known that when it came to long-range speculation and operations, Comerca was capable of a mindset that could last for years. Fontaine had not the patience for such a great span of time, when it came to action. He was more for the quick decision, the here and now.

He ordered everyone involved in any way with the Vessel arrested. He then ordered anyone who had been in the hold for the last 48 hours likewise arrested.

He retired Comerca to his quarters.

Of the fifty-six individuals, one was not to be found. But security camera logs were taken from their archives, and Fontaine himself followed the actions of the station techs. All of them had gone on to their assigned duties, save one.

Comerca, a month before, had noted odd transmission spikes at times, emanating from the Station. He had only recently worked to pinpoint it, and that was how Fontaine found Donnel.

He was poring over the energy matrix logs, the soot colored dermoplast computer consoles feeding him calculations and resource tracking sub-routines, and as he focused his attentions to station communications, he noticed the spike, more pronounced than any that had come from the station. Comerca had worked hours on the programming to get the reactors of the station to spike abnormally in the event of a long-space tachyon transmission. The trap had worked, and Fontaine deduced the connection between the sabotage of the Transport Vessel, and the abnormal reactor spike, a half an hour after the explosion.




He had known they would come.

Donnel had left the bulky rad suit in a restroom, and had detonated the compound with a simple touch of the circuit transmitter. It had almost been anti-climatic. Then he had moved with a measured pace down corridors of ferroconcrete to his quarters, his entire being suffused by an unexpected calm.

In the stainless steel mirror of the restroom, with ice-white halogens buzzing overhead, Donnel’s face looked placid; resolute.

He had made the last transmission almost haphazardly, knowing he could not afford to wait to disguise it, as he had to others. He had simply used up the last of the tachyon communication power cells in one last voice, one last warning, of an invasion that was, quite simply, not…

They had found him, knelt before the holos of his family, praying. Praetorians had come with gyrojet-hafted guisarmes and thickly built helmeted rad suits, with eyes like smoldering green, and had quickly taken him into custody.

He watched as they tore at the room, searching for records he had long-since confined to the furnaces. The smashed at his precious holos and had torn through every book, and then had questioned him, on the spot, their only answer his half-smile.

Then they set upon him with the hafts of their weapons, and the pain blackened his vision into a profound and nauseating silence.



Comerca emerged from his quarters, maddened by the smell of Cerene’s perfume, of her clothing, of the absence of her at every angle. He walked down the corridors of the hold to the deepest incarceration units, feeling as if he had been chiseled from vacuum-cold obsidian.

He had a guard executed for not saluting him properly.

Fontaine had retired to complete the final stages of the investigation. He had decided to leave the matter of Donnel to Comerca.

Comerca had attended many interrogations. He had seen strong men, men of great muscle and obdurate courage, broken within days by the combined drugs, lack of sleep and food, and routine beatings. Thus was how he had prevented many attempts at rebellion.

Comerca knew well the routine. The glares and sneers, the stubborn silence, the ramparts of will that the would-be insurrectors had all thought themselves safe behind…ultimately, they had all been broken, and on more than one occasion Comerca himself had done the breaking.

The door to the cell hissed open, revealing iron colored walls and a single wooden chair, with a mildewed drain underneath. An operation table sat nearby, with a hacksaw, straight razor, a canister of salt powder, a set of surgeons gloves, gasoline, an acetylene torch and a pair of brass knuckles. Water dripped from a nearby corner, and a guard stood at attention. Comerca dismissed the man.

Comerca had prepared himself for the confrontation. He allowed the guards to beat the man just enough, but not to fracture any bones larger than a finger, and to permit the man to be allowed to speak.

Then drugs were applied. Liberally.

Sleep and food were, of course, denied. Sub-sonics were blasted into the cell to prevent coherent thought, and of course environmental controls were manipulated to create an atmosphere of profound and damp cold so as to corrode any will the prisoner might have had.

Comerca drew succor from the twenty-four hours he had spent before entering the cell, knowing that the saboteur was only just realizing what suffering was. He had found proof of his suspicions in the trace amounts of ionized nitroglycerine compound that had been detected in the saboteur’s room, as well as on the right cuff of the discarded rad suit.

But now, looking at the prisoner, the whole scene was not what the General had expected. He had supposed he would see a tough looking soldier or mercenary, eyes glaring with brutal fearlessness. He had expected to see clan tattoos inked onto a military frame, rebellious despite the treatment.

Instead he looked upon the enfleshed bird bones of a thin, radiation scarred man, with bruised blue-black eyes and sickly colored skin. His ribs stood out sharply, and he looked like he would break like glass at the slightest violence. He looked down at the floor, almost ignoring Comerca. He shivered slightly, a quaking of frail, sweated limbs underneath the single dangling light bulb. Some blood on his lip, plum colored welts along his ribs, back and shins.

Comerca put on the surgeons gloves.

”Who do you work for?” His voice was hollow in the small room.

Nothing.

”Why did you commit this crime, cur?”

Quiet.

”You are quite guilty, you know. Admit to your guilt, slave, and reveal your companions, or this will all get much worse.”

Silence.

Comerca paced, feeling his blood start to rise.

”You cannot possibly believe what you-”

”You cannot possibly believe what you have done, General.”

The prisoner’s voice was frail in the cold of the room.

”What?”

Comerca stepped forward and punched, a swift right, rocking the man’s head left and back. Blood sprayed from his nose.

”What?”

Comerca forced the man’s head back, grabbing a handful of the salt powder and rubbed it over the man’s face, eliciting a sharp cry of pain.

”What rebel group do you work for?” Comerca’s voice was a dry hiss.

Nothing.

Comerca swung again, right, then left, and the man started to wail, and the wail turned into a choking laugh.

Comerca stepped back, blinking confusion.

”What is so funny?”

The man mumbled something incomprehensible, his voice soft.

”What, slave?”

The man looked up, squinting, his face still calm under the soft glow of the single bulb above them.

”There are no conspirators, General. Just me.”

”What!?’

”You have heard me, General.” His voice was still calm, still carefully measured.

”You admit to your crimes, then?”

”Yes, would you like to hear them all?”

”I-”

”I killed that witch, your majesty. I only regret that you were not aboard, as well.”

Comerca froze, eyes like blazing discs of rising fury.

”I killed many of your pilots, your majesty. I only apologize that I had not the mettle to kill them with my bare hands. I have never been a courageous man.”

Donnel’s voice was still calm, still measured.

Comerca swung again, then again, his fist hurting, and the man gasped, wheezing, blood dripping from cuts on his eye. A tooth tumbled from his mouth onto the cold cement floor.

”You are the one behind the odd tachyon transmissions?”

The man shrugged indifferently.

”Yes, although you detected them only last month. I have been doing this for several years.” Donnel’s voice was still quite calm.

”You lie.”

”About what, General? About for how long that I have been doing this? Or about being alone?”

Comerca blinked, disarmed, trying to compose himself.

”I want the names of all of your partners, and the codes by which you-”

”There are no other names, you simpering megalomaniac.” Donnel sounded as if he was speaking to a very small, unintelligent child. ”But I am tempted to remain silent, to let you bluster and puff ineffectually, thinking there are more of me, just to play upon your foolish paranoia…”

Comerca swung again. Donnel shook, the chair rocking with the shot, despite it being bolted to the floor. He spit and looked up, and then suddenly, laughed.

Comerca became flushed with a blazing bolt of incoherent fury.

”I can make you suffer, do you know that? I can make you-”

”Suffer? Suffer!? You can’t begin to understand the word. You can’t possibly comprehend the nature of it. You are a man, who has read great literature, and yet does not understand it in the slightest. Now you throw title of the book around, not realizing you are speaking to the author of the very work…”

Comerca stepped forward, one hand clutching the man’s hair in a fist, pulling his head back and throwing a handful of salt onto the man’s face.

Donnel howled.

”Give. Me. The. Names.”

Comerca’s voice was a strangling, gasping sound, each word like a steel bolt being riveted to an admantium plate.

Donnel laughed, almost insanely, his eyes screwed shut, face up to the ceiling.

”Nancy, my mother. Frederick, my father. Meredith, my sister. There are your names, you foul, pathetic abomination.”

”You…what…you…I…!!!” Comerca’s voice was unintelligible, words sinking into the depths of a deluge of mindless wrath. He staggered back, a man disbelieving, and then abruptly picked up the brass knuckles from the nearby table.

”All of my life I lived in an independent mining colony with a population of a thousand…we had existed there for generations, peaceful, free from strife and corporate influence…the old Madorian government respected our way of life…and then you took over.”

Comerca stood still, trembling…listening.

”After you rose to power, your vessels came and asked us to become an outpost for your military operations…we refused, but offered to share in trade and manufacturing resources…and then you assaulted our humble colony with soldiers and weapons…you killed peaceful citizens of our community, you killed my people, my friends, you killed my mother, my father, my sister…I hid within the walls of the station, watching as you disintegrated all evidence that my people had ever existed…I stowed myself aboard a cargo freighter that you sent to salvage all material that you stripped from the starbase, I hid aboard and found my way here…then I hid myself among the people here and learned how your security systems worked, I found holes in your computer systems…I found the room your guards raided and studied the machinations of your power grid and communications relays…I learned to send messages and I listened to your communications, to your officers gossiping in corridors or while resting. I found a job as a servant, a lowly manual labor technician and later registered myself as a citizen of Madoria. Then I sent out random signals away from this system, here, there, trying to find a response. I knew well what the radiation would do to me, that it would kill me, but whenever I felt weak, whenever I felt like I could not go on, I thought of my family, I thought of how your police shoved their bodies into our incinerators while you took all we had worked our lives for…then, one day, I found an answer, I do not know who they were, if they are a clan, if they are another government…but I began to feed them information, all that I could find…tachyon reports, military operations, supply runs…do you remember Gazpar? You sent your forces to raid a research facility, and found a whole legion of Neechi starships waiting. You expected to encounter light resistance, and instead your military force was completely decimated!”

Donnel laughed, continuing.

”That night, in the Main Hold Church, I lit three candles for my family, and snuffed twenty for the pilots who died…for the pilots I killed!”

Comerca was frozen in shocked silence.

”I kept my sport up, General…Haljere’s, where you sought to steal several clone vats from a nearby storage facility. I sent that signal to Star Patrol…Drascas, where you tried to hijack several munitions freighters…I sent that signal and later learned that several wings of IK forces sent your fleet home bleeding…I could name fifty such events in which you had plans to steal, to take, to plunder, to murder, to engage in your awful rapine operations only to be stopped by me, by the information that I stole from you…often I received signals in return, offering me salvation, rescue, but always I turned it down, so that I might damage thee…so that I might inflict wounds on thee, no matter how slight or large…and then one day I knew I was dying…I knew I was running out of time…I had wanted both of you to die on that Transport Vessel, General-”

Donnel’s voice rose in complete and total fury, he shook, teeth gnashing, eyes barely open, red spots of hate that stared into Comerca and through him like gamma rays…he strained at his bindings, the chains starting to snap, the chair coming unbolted from the floor below. He shivered, seeming larger, now…somehow no longer weak and sickly, but like a wraith, a specter of revenge…

”-but now you have lost, General, I may die but I know that I have TAKEN from you, that I have PUNISHED you, General, that though I may be killed my death is filled with purpose…while your whole life is spent uselessly, that someday the people you rule over will end your reign…”

Donnel hissed, spitting, all calm lost, all quiet burned up by an inferno of emotion that covered his skin in sweat as he shook, his voice a ghoul’s horrid wail, his face a mask of blood, of drooling, mindless, total and complete-

”I HATE YOU, COMERCA!!! I wish my love for my family had kept me alive, but in the end I was weak and my HATE FOR YOU AND YOU ALONE kept me alive, THE THOUGHT THAT I COULD CAUSE ONE MORE WOUND, ONE MORE WEEPING SCAR, that I could kill the one person YOU considered PRECIOUS IN YOUR WHOLE…MALIGN…REPUGNANT…!!!”

Comerca gripped the brass knuckles so tightly that he thought his hand would break or that the tendons in his arm would snap like dried rubber bands, and he swung, punching Donnel as hard as he could, and he was screaming, he was shouting as he swung again and again, the sound of ceramic shattering, of wet thuds that covered his face and the lightbulb above in spilt blood and shattering bone, he heard the guards come in from behind and he knew that he was foaming, lost, smashing as hard as he had ever struck a man before in his life over and over and over…



An hour later, Comerca lay on his bed, still trembling, tranquilizers and barbiturates running through his system. He looked up at the ceiling, and knew that there was no one else, no other conspirators…nothing.

Donnel’s room was sealed off behind several inches of rad-proof steel plate forever. Anything he had possessed was destroyed.

His cell was sprayed over with a firehose, cleaning the gore from the walls, to swirl down into the drain below forever.

The lightbulb was replaced.

Donnel’s body was declared far too irradiated for the safety of workers in the morgue. His corpse was declared a traitor and fed into an incinerator, much like the one his family had been placed in years before.

A day later, Fontaine declared the investigation into the matters concerning the death of Cerene quite settled.

A day or so after that Madorian Security Technicians were able to successfully trace the last signal sent by the traitor, Donnel.



Part 13= Gave up

Devil awoke to blaring station warning alarms, and felt the station rock to the horrifyingly familiar sound of blast torpedoes, detonating.

He through his bed bag aside as he rolled in the zero g of the station, slapping the comm. into his ear.

”-Madorian Light Hunter Interceptor, with a wing of Darts, six of them, Dave and Merchant intercepting-”

Mr. Mojo’s voice, even and calm, the sounds of computer signals and system launch coordinate codes.

Another blast, the room rocking, Devil throwing on his pilot suit, pulling his boots, looking around for his helmet. He patched through to Circle 66.

”Circle, talk to me!”

”Sorry, communications damaged, I could not patch through to you. This station is under attack by-”

A harsh gargle of static breaking up the communication. Devil heard the distinct sound of the station’s disruptors, firing from somewhere above. The lights of the station dimmed.

”-we have taken damage, hull integrity of the station compromised, Dave has engaged the Madorian Carrier, but-”

More static.

Devil kicked his way to the Main Station Room.

”Circle! Status!”

Circle was moving with complete precision, not in a hurry but not making mistakes. He transferred energy from the station targeting systems to the shields. Four different alarms blared around them. Another blast, sending sparks flying on all sides, the lights dimming and then going to emergency power supply, the dim light going to black, and then replaced by a smoky red filtering radiance.

Devil looked outside, seeing for the first time the predatory form of the Madorian Carrier/Interceptor, a light war vessel designed for catching slower Capitol Ships, usually in packs of three. Blossoms of orange fire burst across it’s brass colored derridium hull, and then it began to fragment, the blossoms becoming larger, and Devil realized that Dave had maneuvered his Claymore in close to attack the Carrier/Interceptor’s main engine array, the smaller heavy bomber retreating ponderously away from the Madorian Vessel. Ruby arcs of fire widened ominously as the Carrier/Interceptor began to go nova.

”Here.” Circle 66 through a laptop at Devil, who caught it, as the station shook spasmodically, a can of nitrolite bouncing off the RG pilot’s head.

”What-?”

”We received a communicae from our source hours before the Madorian’s arrived. They used the Nebula to hide their jump, but we caught a tach transmission and sent Merchant and Mr. Mojo to investigate. Then the Carrier-”

The Carrier detonated, finally, a glowing yellow wash of light impacting the station, and Devil caught a last glimpse of Dave’s wounded Claymore as it rolled and fragmented noiselessly in the silent vacuum, then the deafening sound of missile warning klaxons.

A flood of sparks washed over both of them, setting a nearby document on fire. Circle 66 caught it and crushed it out.

”Devil, you have to get this laptop out of here. I have put the entire tach transmission file on its drive. You have to move.”

”But, you have to…your ship is-”

”Destroyed. Helios took out the main docking hold.”

”My ship-”

”Is still in the visitor’s hold, but you have to get to it.”

The ruby colored illumination in the observation room dimmed, and then they both smelled burning plastic. The ships computer began to recite station evacuation direction procedures in a cold, feminine voice.

Devil looked down at the laptop in his hand, suddenly not knowing what it was, not quite understanding the whole situation, part of his mind in panic, the other part still asleep, and still another calmly putting together the plan to get out of here.

He spoke, but his voice felt distant and unreal.

”You could still get out. I still have my ship, and…”

Circle turned and took off his sunglasses, solemnly re-routing the stations reactor supply to the failing life support systems.

”Circle, c’mon, we have to-”

”What!? My Orion went up with the hold! Get out of here, damnit! What am I going to do, sit in your lap?”

Devil froze, hovering in the absence of gravity; this was not happening, this had not happened, this was-

Circle produced a laspistol and aimed it at Devil.

”Sir, evacuate this facility and save your life before I kill you, sir.”

Devil put on the helmet. He sealed it, in the event of the loss of station oxygen. He put the laptop under one arm.

”Circle, I’m sorry, man. I’m…sorry.”

Devil realized with a fragmented horror that the Russian was crying, his body quaking, and then seconds later the man snapped himself out of it and began to reprogram the stations dying computer grid, slowly, like an automaton, rerouting life support resources.

”Get out, comrade.”

Devil launched himself back to the corridor, looking back one last time to see the IK pilot staring stoically into a vid monitor, scrolling amber code reflecting off his features. Then a wash of sparks and oily smoke obscured him.

The flight down the corridor was almost impossible. Devil pulled his way through cables, coils of service couplings, assorted boxes and steel cubes of supplies. At one point the station began to vibrate rhythmically, a physical collapse that would have been bone-jarring if there had been gravity at all, and then Devil almost lost the laptop, it floated three meters, tumbling end over end, and he snapped an arm out as he propelled his body forward. He then realized that he was holding it with one gloved hand by the very corner, and that the part of the station that he was in had been spaced, as his suit’s environmental system abruptly came to life.

The visitor’s hold was a chaotic jumble of sparking coupling and open compartments, boxes of spare parts and assorted objects that had been stowed at various points along the hold and had come loose from all of the violence.

His peg was floating; on it’s side, and slowly turning towards open space.

Then his senses were smothered in raw, primordial fear as he kicked out, floating forever to the ship, knowing that all it would take was a single buffet to send him out into all that cold vacuum, all alone…or that his ship would tumble away at the last second, and he would die with the station-

Then he was holding onto the edge, the cockpit opening as he stowed the laptop behind the seat and then tried to get inside, his feet hitting the console.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:19:58 pm
He began to drift away.

He took a deep breath and tried again.

The cockpit closed slightly, and his head hit the side, knocking him back a little. From the corner of his vision he saw blinding silver light…a dogfight outside of the station…

Then he was sitting inside his cockpit, reflexively strapping himself in, the ship powering up, his computer HUD display flaring to life, the rumble of the peg’s engines a comfort behind him-

His shields came online, smacking debris away from the ship on all sides, he hit the afterburners and was propelled forward, rolling out into the space around the station, and he saw Merchant’s Pegasus go up in a ball of brilliant gold-orange flame.

Two Darts, definitely modifications, circling Mr. Mojo’s peg. He was staying close to them, firing into the flickering shields of one of them. Arcs of swarm missiles went narrowly past the light interceptor.

Devil afterburned to the fight.

”Got your back, buddy!”

Mr. Mojo came through on the VON.

”Devil! My shields are gone…losing life support.”

”On my way, hold on.”

The other Dart went wide, almost retreating from the fray. Devil closed the distance on the closer one…streams of swarm missiles flying past him, one of them skimming Mr. Mojo’s peg. Devil fired, watching as the violet bolts impacted with the Dart, and is disappeared in a conflagration of heat and disintegrating titanium.

Mr. Mojo’s voice came through again.

”Devil, I am power, hull depleting…watch out for that other Dart!”

Devil’s klaxons sounded, wailing like spoiled children, he began to fire ECM’s but too late, too late-

He twisted on the peg’s magnetic axis, panic gripping him, and then Mr. Mojo’s afterburners fired one last time, propelling his interceptor into the oncoming swarm, taking the shot for Devil, and then the blinding whiteness stealing all sight as the ship was consumed in silver fire-

Devil rolled, more missiles on their way, he fired ECM’s-

-impacts along his shields, the other swarm missiles circling the countermeasures-

-and he was going towards the Dart, firing, lasers impacting it’s shields in milky-blue distortions of light-

-they passed each other at mind numbing velocity, probably coming within a few feet of each other-

-then he was circling, realizing that he had almost lost shields. The Dart turned, trying to get a missile lock on Devil-

-and he was afterburning forward, lasers arcing in lines of blazing violet towards the other ship, swarms streaming towards him, past him, and the arcs became bursts of atomic fires as the Dart went up in a conflagration of rending components, the swarms flying harmlessly for kilometers into space.

Devil rolled and spun, and then slowed to a halt.

Miles away, the station flickered with a haunting, silver, almost beautiful radiance, a halo of light that expanded outward, like an atom bomb, and then it was stardust, just particles, and gone, like Dave, like Circle 66, like Merchant, like Mr. Mojo, and at that moment Devil realized that there was nothing around him for miles, for days, that he was alone, that space was all around, nothing for days…days…

Devil’s peg, floating; a silver blue speck in the silent void of infinite space.



Argentum had awaken, hours later, curled up on the floor of his room. He didn’t know how long he had slept.

He sat at the edge of his bed, expressionless, looking at the floor in front of him, thinking/not thinking.

He felt…emotionless? Like a stretch of silver sand on the cold, windless beach of an island in the middle of a vast, uncharted sea, waves crashing upon him, alone…

He cleaned the bathroom first, patiently, throwing away charred papers along with fragments of a few things he had destroyed. Then he showered, feeling numb, still, the hot water running around him, into the drain below, his toes pink against the bone white tile.

He dried up and shaved, slowly, the razor washing clean under the faucet, and then shaving cream, hot water and soap swirling…

He dressed, bandaged his hand, and cleaned the room. He collected the fragments of everything he had broken and placed them into a cardboard box.

He cleaned the kitchen, taking his time, no music, no vids, no noise, just numbing electric white noise. He didn’t think, didn’t measure the time around him, he just scrubbed away at the tile and counter, and then cleaned the remaining dishes.

He vacuumed.

Hours later, famished, he made soup.

Later, he sat on the edge of the bed again, the room around him as still, clean and orderly as a museum. He held his IK helmet in his hands, turning it end over end, looking at the clan symbol, as if he were looking at it through an electron microscope.

A few hours later, he stood in the Phobos station gymnasium, eyes closed, hearing the noises around him. He was dressed in his fencing outfit, the piste’ below him, underfoot, his practice epee in his gauntleted hand. He saluted and lunged, eyes still closed, the tip of the weapon connecting.

He opened his eyes, seeing the tip through the mesh of his mask, touching the coin sized circled that was the target area.

He smiled.

...

Part 12= Gimme Shelter

Reptile washed his face in the restroom and paused, watching the water drop into the sink.

He was very, very intoxicated. Epic levels of alcohol had run through his veins…Vikings in Valhalla didn’t drink like this.

The ”Fight For the Vault” Twilight Jack Tour had started with a bang, the crowd of seven hundred cramming the Vulodome concert hall to capacity, no seats, complete standing room, with a light from above washing the stage in cold white radiance.

Anticipation had been fierce, the media coverage almost intimidating, jumping on the celebrity with an almost fiendish aggressiveness, the Fringe Rock Star taking it all in stride.

Interviewed a day before, TNN reporter Jessica Marcup asked, ”Are you worried that the all these interviews will wear you out?”

”Hey,” Twilight Jack said, brimming with mirth. ”It’s not like the Madorians are invading, is it?”

Everyone laughed.

Reptile left the restroom, staggered, and then stopped, surrounded by throngs of tattooed pilots, armed station security, corporate suit types, slumming. Even a fair share of high ranking RG officers. He pushed his way to get a good view.

The air was tinged blue, and it smelled like hashish, tobacco, Jack Daniels and human sweat. There were voices on all sides of Reptile, as he met up with Rustbucket and Grimbrand.

Up above, a pretty blonde woman pulled her shirt up, revealing her bare chest to the screaming crowd.

”Holy Glowing Green Buddha, one little rock concert and the crowd turns into a bunch of unwashed Visigoths…” Grimbrand said.

”Can you blame them? This guy is bigger than Elvis!” Rustbucket said.

”Who’s Elvis?” Asked Reptile.

Grimbrand’s answer was consumed in a roar from the crowd as the lights went out, drenching the assembled throng in sable black, and then a single light shined down on the stage, bathing the form of Twilight Jack, dressed in a simple tuxedo with a red carnation (A stark contrast to his usual feathered and glitter-dusted glam outfits, to say the least). He beamed broadly, and then bowed to the assembled fans, who cheered and applauded with a thunderous cacophony.

”Hello everyone.” He said into the mic, half smiling.

More applause.

Twilight Jack had few traditions, when it came to his performances. He tried to change his image at every turn, with every album, his performance extending well beyond the stage and studio. The rock n’ roll magazine ”Oscillating Marble,” said that the music genius behind Twilight Jack’s success was not his embracing of a persona, but the manipulation of countless varied persona’s that kept his audiences interest.

But one tradition he strictly adhered to was to always open and close with a cover tribute…and fans the galaxy over placed bets on what those covers would be, because he never performed the same covers more than once.

His band came out, the drummer, Barton Zimatsu, and the already immortalized guitarist Austin Yuelum. The bass was last, a shy young man who called himself Flash Gordon.

Jack bowed to them as well, and in perfect synchronization they each put on a black pair of ray-bans.

Then the lights went out again.

Reptile’s head was whirling, the crowd adding to his intoxication. A young woman accidentally stepped on his foot, apologizing in the darkness. Then the lights blazed to life.

Twilight Jack opened with an old one from the Beastie Boys, ”Sabotage.” No one expected this, and the audience proceeded to absolutely lose their minds. At one point the song paused abruptly, and they froze, a half second, and then the crowd started to roar just as the bass line resumed and Jack jumped high, concluding the vocals with as much energy as he had started.

”Damn.” Grimbrand said simply.

Jack continued onward, going on a journey of careful and precise musical manipulation, bringing the audience by the sleeve with him.

He performed ”Socasta,” his personal tribute to a pilot who had died one hundred years ago, and then the screaming dirge, ”Abbatoir.”

”Griffin and the Metal Manticores of Fate,” was next, a fast and guitar heavy piece that completed avoided anything remotely synthetic, in favor of a meat and potatoes style of music that Jack usually avoided. Then ”Praxon” and the sister-song, ”Synthesis.”

”Synthesis” could easily be accused of being flat out boring, in terms of the simple arrangement of vocals and drums, but critics pointed out that the song was actually a well-designed acoustic sorbet, to clear the palate.

Then came the audio assault that was ”Titanium Wrap-a-Round,” a heavy synth number that pounding the listener into new heights of adrenaline highs. For this number Jack paused beforehand to remove his tie, and the female part of the audience screamed the way an ancient Roman audience at a gladiatorial match must have.

A short break, as the crowd chanted for ”Electrification,” Jack’s hit single that had heralded his one-man assault on the pillars of Punk Rock, but Jack teased the throng, taking them into the palm of his hand, lifting them up, and then went right into ”Prophet Seventeen.” While not nearly as lyrically poetic as his other hits such as ”Six-Gap,” and

”Saturnine,” ”Prophet Seventeen,” more than made up for the deficit by being completely formidable when it came to raw emotion, coupled with the voodoo drumbeat, steady guitar rhythm and genius synth ambient background beats.

Twilight Jack paused and ordered a martini. The crowd was on his side, he had bridged the important gap between the audience and the performer, the stage and the floor. It was a bridge that was as wide and inviting as the halcyon days of one’s youth…the eyes of a lover in the throes of passion, the remembrance of past glory and future power.

Jack consumed the martini with deliberate fervor, and then turned and bowed to Iocetta Von Hammerstein, of the Bora Coalition, a petite and accomplished opera singer from the colonies. She curtsied demurely, the crowd cheering for her. Then a roadie in a tuxedo came up carrying a suitcase handcuffed to his wrist.

With bated anticipation the audience watched as Jack pulled a key from a chain around his neck, and opened the case, pulling out a shining silver harmonica and holding it up triumphantly for all to see, as if it were a splinter from the Cross. The assembled men and women aboard the Vault who had come to see the famous musician cheered, their voices shaking the bolts off the walls.

The cover started with a haunting melody, the plunking of strings on the lead guitar as intoxicating as the demon-pipes of an efreeti in ”A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” Then a bone rattle and a haunting back beat, drawing the crowd in, the vocals, comforting, soothing-

”The storm is faded, louder and louder again, if I don’t get some shelter…ooh yeah, I’m gonna fade away…”

Then Iocetta’s voice, together with Jack’s a warm blanket enfolding, embracing-

”All the children, it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away…all the children…it’s just a shout away…”

We see the crowd, below, humanity gathered for the purpose of mutual celebration, and our gaze is lifted…

…to Highlander, elsewhere on the station, personally overseeing the preparation of the Vault’s defenses. His face is intense with foreboding as he analyses possible routs of attack…

”See the fire is weakening, louder and louder today, burns like a brand new goblet…”

The Main Hangar of the Vault, the silver forms of Galspan Starships aligned in perfect rows, maintenance technicians checking shields and weapon systems…

”All the children, it’s just a shout away, it’s just…”

We see Stryder, light-years away, gazing out from the observation deck of the Carpathian. He is ordering the warcraft towards the Vault, and his face and the faces of his crew are bloody in the light of the nebula. He checks his personal chronometer, punching a coded sequence into a nearby computer.

”…it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away…”

To Devil, huddled alone in the cockpit of his Pegasus on the long route home, the light of the laptop igniting his features. He’s going over the transmission, aghast at the design of the scheme drawn out before him, and his legs are cramped. It’s been a day now, and damage to his craft took out his communications. He wants to shave, to eat a hot meal, to stretch out on a feather bed, anything but sit cramped and ineffectual, miles deep into the starry void…

”See the storm is fading, louder and louder today…if I don’t get some shelter, ooh yeah, I’m gonna fade away…”

Argentum is standing inside his quarters, eyes locked on the vid screen, epee in hand. He lunges suddenly, and then draws back, an epitome of precision, his face is icy with a perfect resolve, and then he lunges again, the tip passing through the handle of a coffee cup sitting on the counter, two meters away…

”All the children, it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away…”

Alyscia looks at her suitcases arranged perfectly on the table before her, in her own quarters. She wonders at the decision she has made, her career, the children she might not have, the look on Argentum’s face as the cherry blossoms fell around them…then she thinks of incense and the smell of incense and sacred oil spattered on rows of silent Void Alliance starships…she thinks of RedStorm in that freighter so long ago, now, the blood pooling on the floor behind him, the way he had stared out into those cold fires that were the stars…

”…it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away…”

To RedStorm, a cup of wine in his hand, looking at a table that is completely covered with maps of the Vault and various wing battle strategies. He looks out a nearby portal into all that black-blue vacuum, thinking of his long dead wife, thinking of the Madorian’s face when his foot came off in a splatter of bone and flesh, the blood pelting the walls about them, the sent of it blending with the acrid scent of cordite…

The music was there, a shadow, a wraith, a living, palatable thing, guided by Jack, it swirled around the crowd, an audio noose drawing them together, and then Iocetta steps forward, her dress magenta beneath the glow of fluorescents, and she is shrieking, maniacal, screaming/singing, eyes closed, her hands up in her hair…

”Rape, rape…it’s just a shout away…rape, rape, it’s just a shout away…

To Comerca, standing in his quarters far within Madoria, slowly gathering up all of Cerene’s belongings and burning them solemnly, they char and blister, like Donnel and his family did years before…Comerca’s face is a mask of unresolved grief, his eyes like blazing pits into an ancient and infernal realm.

”…rape, it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away…”

The harmonics blare as Jack punctuates the lyrics, eyes closed, enslaved by the music and the crowd as they are enslaved to him.

DeathGiver is on a mercenary depot station light-years away, watching as technicians load up his Pegasus with Tesla emp’s. The merchant is talking to him, and he is not listening, he is thinking of red paint, of the feel of the smoking gyrojet pistol, warm in his palm…

Then Jack is singing, empathetic, not to the crowd but as if to a person, that each individual in the audience is separate, and Jack is talking to them alone.

”I tell ya love, sister…it’s just a kiss away…”

Now he is a friend, promising the world.

”It’s just a kiss away…”

Then he is a lover, breathing the words desperately to a beautiful woman.

”It’s just a kiss away…”

A brutal foe, threatening extinction.

”It’s just a kiss away…”

A politician, running for re-election.

”It’s just a kiss away…”

Then he is a performer speaking lovingly to an audience…most of which probably won’t be around after Comerca invades the Vault. This is his last chance to say the things he won’t have time to say, later.

”Kiss away, kiss away, kiss away, kiss away…”

Then the music is over, the crowd is as silent as an open grave, and then the applause, like a tide of sound, clapping, screaming, howling, thunderous, overwhelming…

”Thank you!” Jack says, bowing to the audience, to his band, to Iocetta.

”Thank you very much…”



Comerca stood in the cool atmosphere of his gardens, looking out over the silent elms, oaks, aspens and pines. He looks down at the black and fragrant soil, at the nearby flowers, waving slightly in the artificial wind.

He can almost hear the shouting from where he is.

He is wearing his black and gold General’s uniform, with all of his rank and medals heavy on his chest. He stares out, looking at the white rose’s, petals anointed with dew. He selects one.

He looks at it, thinking, his face blank and expressionless. His eyes are deep and brimming with something burning, something like a fatal resolve. His hand seems distant and small, the rose unreal, like a hologram. He imagines Cerene, somewhere, walking through quiet, verdant gardens.

Earlier he had rose from sleep in his quarters and had looked out into space, trying to figure out where all of his dreams for the future had suddenly become so banal, idiotic and smeared in excrement.

He had stood, alone, in his throne room, gazing upon the solid piece of ruby, with the cloned cheetah skin across it, listening for echoes that were not there. He had glimpsed the message, briefly…the rubric of what was happening, what he had to learn, and then with a cough it had disintegrated, and he was blind to it…deaf to it, without eyes or ears, unable to hold what was happening, even if he had a million grasping limbs.

He followed the long corridor, the roar growing, past rows of silent Praetorians, his footsteps echoing upon ancient iron. He turns to a set of doors, and they open for him.

The animalistic roar of the assembled Madorian military might, the columns of smoking braziers, the thirty foot long black, white and red banners of the nation, the faces and uniforms forming one complete beast that Comerca knew Madoria was becoming, crying for truth, for blood, for smoke and darkness. The brass bands blaring triumphantly, their voices screaming, shrieking, saying his name, suffusing him with a black and terrible pride. This was his dream, his hideous, vicious, bold, total, absolute, birthed in blood, fire and the annihilation of countless human lives.

He stood in the face of it, the maniacal assembly, some three hundred strong, his heart thundering with the drums and harsh squelch of speakers reiterating the propaganda he had written months before for this moment, this…revelation.

Then, total, deafening, silence. The microphone stood, waiting for him, like the slim and boned outline of the boatman at the River Styx.

He stepped up to it, looking above him at the smoke stained dermoplast ceiling of the Grand Madorian Audience Chamber. His heart beat in his throat, and he wondered if it was so loud that the people would hear, would suddenly turn on him and tear him limb from-

Then he thought of Cerene, beside him, next to him, voiceless, courageous, an angel of destruction, holding the symbol of what Madoria would become, with one wing dipped in blood. Something in him twisted and hardened, and he was Comerca again, strong, again. He had seen the face of God, and now he was the artificer of his own bold future.

”My people-” He said.

The rolling thunder of one great beast, bellowing it’s declaration of war upon a doomed and ignorant galaxy, the smoke from it’s flaming breath blackening the void of space a blacker still.



Devil went in and out of consciousness, erratically, no longer sleep/non-sleep but a blend of the two. Long hours were spent between the opposite ends of the spectrum, but it was almost rest, almost being…

…somewhere else.

He wanted to be in a chair. A wooden chair. At a bar stool. In a frikkin’ bean bag, on an easy sofa recliner, in a swimming pool.

F*ck.

He stared at the plasteel before him, out into oncoming space.

Yer gonna snap, kid.

”No I’m not. This is nothing. I went through pilot boot camp. I did push ups in freezing rain and mud. There were times when I wished I could have hung out and just sat down like this.”

Yeah, but how do your legs feel?

”Good, so I can’t move them. Big deal.”

Bet you want to.

”Yeah, f*ck you.”

He exhausted the music, fast. He went over the laptop, but it was devoid of anything interesting, except for the transmission. There were journal entries, and he was tempted to read them, but it made him think of Circle 66, and Dave. It also made him think of Merchant and Mr. Mojo.

In the lonely cold void of where he was, inches of thin titanium and plasteel protecting him from the harsh vacuum of total night, he tried not to think of his lack of food, his shortage of recycled water, the growing terror of claustrophobia, the realization that there was no telling what damage had been done to his Pegasus, or when his computers might finally short out completely. He especially tried not to think of all of the horror stories pilot’s told each other, of ships blown off course by interstellar winds or sudden spikes of magnetic force…of deep space exploration vessels coming upon starships a century old, hovering like steel tombs in the ossuary of the universe, their occupants’ grinning skulls the only evidence of what had happened to send them there.

Devil looked in his right hand at the slim aluminum can of nitrolite, it’s label promising a caffeine and vitamin laden refreshment. He popped the lid and sipped.

The black vacuum pressing against the window of his cockpit.

Space.

Forever.



Part 13= Chickasaw

Eldritch got up from his bed and showered. Then he put on his flight suit, picking up his helmet.

He looked around at his room, at the paintings of Martian landscapes. Of Capitol Ships eclipsed by ancient silver suns. He suddenly forgot who he was, what he was doing, where he was, precisely.

Then there was the IK symbol, chrome shining under the halogens above, and he knew.

He was aboard the Carpathian, and they were on their way to the Vault.

He walked out into the corridor built of dermoplast and ferroconcrete and strode, helmet in hand, to the Starship Hanger Bay, where his Cutlass waited, gleaming copper in the ice white fluorescence.

Bloodstar passes by him, and for a fleeting second their hands slap together in a high five-

-and then it’s Bloodstar, marching, helmet in hand, fully suited, thinking of the fight ahead. He thinks of his Pegasus, of how every mission, every moment spent in training, every year of his life with IK, has come to this. He feels it, in his bones, in his neurons, that this is the final chapter in a conflict that stretches for lightyears. He thinks of his comrades, as he turns the corner, hearing the sounds of stamping feet, of distant commands, of the Carpathian going into full readiness. He walks to an elevator, and the doors open and Storm is there.

The elevator is swift, and neither speaks, lost in his own meditations. Then the doors of slide open. Bloodstar turns, and for a second both IK pilots shake hands, meeting the gaze of the other-

-and then Storm is out of the elevator, en route to the Starship Hangar Bay. He is breathing, steadily, calming his mind for the combat before him. He has done this a hundred times, looked into the faces of comrades before battle, seen the enemy die at lightspeeds, flesh and hull fragmenting out into the torturous physics of hard vacuum under the brutal administrations of his heavy lasers. It is not personal, it is not out of loathing or any real emotional catalyst. It is karma, it is because of who he is, and what he does. Then he sees TygerBlueEyes march past him. He salutes crisply, and the Overlord salutes back-

-and then it’s TygerBlueEyes, walking past Storm into the elevator to the Chow Hall, his step keeping perfect measure as he looks briefly at the helmet in his left gloved hand, the symbol of the Iconian Knights gleaming, he stops at the table where Rabid Chicken, Raverix and SuperFurryAnimal wait, their espresso before them in burnished steel demitasse cups.

He looks at them, at the empty walls of snow colored ferroconcrete, hearing the reactor hum of the Carpathian’s engines somewhere beyond.

He toasts.

They down their coffee in perfect synchronization, and then TygerBlueEyes walks around the table, clapping each of them on the shoulder. He shakes the hand of the new recruit SuperFurryAnimal, and for a brief second the leather of his glove contacts the young Knight’s hand-

-and then SuperFurryAnimal gets up, the assembled Ghostriders walking in formation out of the Chow Hall. They enter an elevator, and SuperFurryAnimal’s brow is knitted in concentration. His pulse is steady, bolts of adrenaline traveling from his spine down the length of his arms. He imagines his Warhammer, heavy with ordinance, the flare of it’s afterburners electric emerald in the jet cyanic fold of galactic night. He pulls two cigarettes from his flight suit and lights ‘em both, handing one to RabidChicken-

-who takes the burning object and puffs. The elevator doors open and he steps out, surrounded by his wing, and they march to the chrome and steel environs of the Observation and Operations Hold of the Carpathian. RabidChicken finishes the cigarette quickly, and reaches into a pocket. He punches a command code into the digital pad and the doors open up, revealing the Starship Hangar Bay of the Carpathian, and fifty assembled Iconian Knights, at attention, their ships behind them.

RabidChicken stands in front of his Pegasus, it’s wings gleaming titanium blue, a serene and deadly bird of prey. Beyond, he can see the broad forms of Phoenix Bombers, squat Poseidons, Cutlasses, Archangels…

Stryder steps out into the hold, standing before them, and each pilots pivots in place and salutes-

-Stryder salutes back, a snap, and then turns, the men and women of the Iconian Knights gathering themselves aboard their ships, the Carpathian exiting from it’s Tachyon Jump into Vault space, ships systems coming on line at once, the hum and wail of electrics and reactor engines. The walls above groan and tremble, as the entire hold is abruptly sucked free of all oxygen and atmosphere, the ships hovering and floating into the starred night sky.

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:20:49 pm
Part 14= The Voyeur of Utter Destruction

”Lieutenant, report!”

Highlander stood aboard the Forward Command Observation Deck of the medical facility that was the Vault, looking out into the curtain of space. From here, he could see the domes of greenhouses, silent titanic cylinders of the Vault’s reactor systems, the steel teeth of the Vault that were it’s laser cannons and torpedo launchers. Several assembled wings of Royal Guard forces buzzed around the admantium bulk of the Quasar Class Starbase, and many other wings were in full readiness.

”Sir, we are getting massive subspace Tachyon readings…indeterminate fluctuations, probably a Capitol ship, maybe a few Carrier/Interceptors…”

Highlander looked at the steaming coffee cup in his hand, the multi-tiered chrome and dermoplast walls of the Deck rising up around him, filled with operational personnel, glowing computer grids, reactor defense stations, radar analyzers…

Those bastards are really going to do it. Void Alliance was right.

”Order all wings to stay close to the Vault. I don’t care what shows up, no one drifts alone. Our only edge against Capitol Ship firepower is the Vault’s own guns, remind them of that!”

Twilight Jack’s voice came through on the RG communications channel.

”I hope this wing is not offended when I leave to join the Void Alliance when they get here, Highlander.”

”Permission granted, Twilight Jack.”

Another Ensign.

”Sir, what about the Tach gates?”

Highlander made some calculations.

”Keep them ready. The Madorians expect them closed, and will probably just use the Tach Jumps from their Capitol Ships. We also have to keep the Phobos Tach gate open for Star Patrol reinforcements.”

”Sir, coded affirmative from RedStorm. He’s ready.”

”Excellent. Power the main weapon platforms, target anything out there, but don’t fire until my mark. Ready.”

Another Ensign reported.

”Sir, deep space relay stations have noticed multiple Tach jumps from Madorian sector. Unknown emanations, but large enough to warrant concern.”

”Of course. Notify Phobos. Boost Station Defence shields, and tell the civilian populations to remain quartered.”

The Deep Fringe Tach Gate, glowing like an icy neon violet and silver orb, suddenly flared as a few dozen craft emerged from it’s whirling light.

”Sir, twenty four ships, they look like Devil’s Fist, mercenaries, sir…”

”What? What do they want? Observation squadron, report!”

”Sir, they are not moving, they are just staying in formation, but I am picking up deep scans, particularly on our Medical Vessels. Our jammers aren’t working.”

Bloody devil’s…just what we need right now.

”No one move, might be a diversion. No hostile maneuvers.”

”Sir, the Carpathian just came out of a Tach jump. Standing by.”

”Good, tell them to hold back. Nothing hasty.”

Then the horizon of space became a silver line across his field of vision, like a fusion bomb, exploding quietly…

The light opened, alarm klaxon’s sounded at all sides. Wing reports came in, too fast for the communications personnel to relay.

Ten Carrier/Interceptors, Madorian, surrounding a Madorian Emporator Class Capitol Ship, ”The Heirophant.” Then, from the sides of the violet and gray craft, starships, like clouds of ravens, forming wings across the starred sky, tiny against the immense forms of the Capitol and Sub-Capitol Warcraft. The assembled fleet eclipsed the night behind them.

”Sir, the Heirophant is maneuvering into an attack position. It seems ridiculous, but, it appears to be on a collision course…”

Highlander watched a vidscreen magnification of the Capitol Ship, colossal, bristling with guns, laden with armor and triple enforced fields.

What was their game?



Reptile was inside his Archangel, the Vault behind him. Ahead, he could see the lethal outlines of the Devil’s Fist fleet, hovering…waiting.

To his left was Rustbucket, in his Orion, and to his right was Venomhawk, in an Archangel, as well. Taking up the rear was Grimbrand, in a Pegasus.

”Go for missile lock?” Venomhawk asked.

”Bad idea.” Said Reptile. ”Let them move first.”

”I’m going to open a communication to them.” Rustbucket said.

Pause.

”Nothing…they’re not jamming us, it’s as if they are not there…but my systems are showing a deep scan…like they’re looking for something…”

”Stay where you are…don’t move until they do…” Venomhawk didn’t like any of this.



Highlander did some calculations.

”Tell IK to engage the Heirophant, move wings one through six forward to engage…let’s test their resolve.”

Beyond, in space, the flares and arcs of ship to ship conflict, and the Nephilim that was the Heirophant, advancing…



Styder received the transmission.

”Open up, everything. Send the bombers with a fighter escort to take those Carrier/Interceptors. Don’t let those Darts get over to us. All guns on the Capitol Ship.”

The night became a broiling sea of weapons fire. A distance away, the wings of IK starships filled the sky like so many steel peregrines. Beyond that, the cyclopean forms of the Carrier/Interceptors, dwarfed by the metal titan that was the Heirophant. Stryder had never seen so many Sub-Capitol ships in one place before.



Highlander watched the glowing icons that were the wings of Madorian, IK and RG ships, converging upon each other. A larger icon, the Heirophant, with the Carpathian intercepting. Smaller icons that were the Carrier/Interceptors drifted closer, protectively.

”Sir…with the Devil’s Fist forces…we’re still not outnumbered…especially with the Void Alliance auxiliary force coming out of the Tach gate, now.”

”Aye, it’s those Carrier/Interceptors that could be a threat…but this attack makes no sense…proper tactics calls for softening up defense systems with fighter and bomber wings, and then closing with a Capitol ship…they are just asking to get shot to pieces…”

”Sir, we are receiving a transmission from the Devil’s Fist.”

”Send it through.”

”I have no choice, it’s breaking through our communications system defenses.”

”What!?”

A soft and sibilant voice, pregnant with foreboding, came through, drowning out all other communication transmissions.”

”This is SoulCutter Zero-One of the Devil’s Fist. Vault, what is your official capacity?”

Highlander paused, confused.

”This station is a medical research facility, sir. Our Tachyon signature should confirm it…this station has been recently converted from it’s former designation.”

Silence.

An Ensign looked up from the emerald glow of a vid screen.

”What’s that all about?”



Argentum Draconis looked outside the window of his room into space beyond. The chrome orb shapes of Star Patrol Interceptors, glittering under the light of a thousand distant stars, streaked out to the Vault Tach Gate.

”They looked like they were going to a battle.” He said to himself.

From another Tach gate, three medical vessels, graceless bricks of dermoplast marked with red crosses, emerged, and set course for Phobos.

At the last minute, one of their number broke course, heading for the Tachyon Gate the Interceptors had left from.

The two continued with their course…towards the Phobos Docking Station. Nearby, the black, blue and white of two Star Patrol Capitol Ships, unmanned for the past weeks awaiting repairs and relocation, sat inert, like slumbering Kraken in a star filled ocean.

Meanwhile, Argentum could see a TNN Traveler Freighter, blue with civilian reporter markings, lift off, and knew that Alyscia was aboard, heading for her new home.

The Medical vessels neared the Station, red and white lights blinking across their derridium skins.



Highlander found himself within the center of a veritable firestorm of reports.

”Sir! RG wings five and six have taken heavy casualties…they report that several of the Carrier/Interceptors have been destroyed, but-”

”…IK reports incredible resistance across the delta sector, with the Heirophant still closing…they can’t turn it away, despite the damage they have inflicted-”

”-the Madorian’s Darts seem to be a redesigned chassis, our pilots are reporting that the craft have an improved shield and afterburner design-”

”The Heirophant’s hull has lost 36% of it’s integrity, Commander. The Vault has taken damage to North and South reactor grid, with a loss of life support system wide…some of those Carrier/Interceptor’s have broken through, but the Void Alliance attaché is breaking off it’s assault on the Madorian fighter wings to intercept.”

The Heirophant was crippled, it’s weapons still firing at close proximity, mostly Improved Plasma Torps and Deimos…it’s engine systems were almost crushed, the once proud admantium armor pocked and blackened by the catastrophic damage inflicted upon it by the Carpathian. Highlander could see numerous lightning arcs across it’s chassis, evidence of reactor meltdown…surely their crew had to be mad to continue the fight? Small explosions appeared across it’s starboard side, with it’s port side a mass of flaming matter as the Carpathian continued to hull it with intense ferocity. Yet still it came closer…

Something primordial and blacker than fear started to turn inside Highlander’s stomach. He calculated it slowly, the events around slowing down to a complete and total horrifying standstill, like the way the gravity of a black hole affects light.

No. He thought. No, no, no, no, no…



DeathGiver emerged from the Tach gate in a blazing cyclone of physics and light.

He targeted the first medical vessel’s systems, looking desperately for the third.

”Star Patrol, this is independent pilot DeathGiver, those aren’t medical frigates! They are…”

There was a harsh squelch of audio feedback as his outgoing communications channel was ruthlessly jammed.

F*ck!!! He thought.

He charged his EMP’s and afterburned towards the back of the first medical vessel. Bolts of laser fire began to detonate upon the craft’s engines.

”Pilot, this is Star Patrol. You are under arrest. Power down your craft or face immediate termination.”

Look who’s talking. He thought.

The EMP’s arced and hit the frigate with a sound like distant thunder. The craft went dead, still drifting towards the hangar.

Damn. Too late. Too late.

Laser fire opened up the blue-black sky on all sides, the Star Patrol vessels maneuvering quickly upon DeathGiver’s postion.

He turned, afterburning between the three orb shaped vessels, and spun back, firing EMP’s into their ranks.

Two went dead in space, electrics flaring briefly before they began to float like so much jettisoned cargo.

He latted erratically, avoiding fire, and then banked hard, his shoulder hitting the side of the cockpit, converging upon the third frigate, which was nearing the Tach gate that led to the Vault.

He opened up with lasers and EMP’s, watching the missiles glide nimbly toward their mark. Laser fire came from behind, and he latted innocuously, avoiding it.

The Frigate stopped suddenly, and his computers showed massive energy fluctuations, and then it evaporated in a quasar of nuclear devastation, the Tach gate immolating to atomized particles.

DeathGiver had time enough to feel complete Fear, and then an invisible and Godlike hand snatched his peg and flung it, end over end, into the folds of the dark and distant void.



Argentum watched as the silvery-blue detonation eclipsed space, and then saw the other Medical Frigate drift closer to the principle reactors of the station. The first one had made it inside.

For a second he realized that he had just witnessed the flash of atomics, and then the second one went up, causing a swift chain reaction, and the Central Reactor Grid of the Star Patrol outpost went into complete meltdown, the lights of the station glowing brightly, pulsed, and died.

The darkness swallowed Argentum’s vision.



RabidChicken latted and performed a perfect slide, missiles exploding all around him. He targeted another Dart and fired, rolling, watching the bolts sizzle across the smaller craft’s shields. He spun end over end, watching SuperFurryAnimal’s rails cut another in half. He finished the job on his own Dart, the craft detonating, pieces of it flipping into space.

Eldritch swung and rolled, ravening laser energy tearing into his shields. The Darts were hard to hit, too slim a profile, but he took his time and fired plasmas in quick succession, following the shots with a quick rail.

The Dart became several tons of orange ionized plasma, washing the darkness of his cockpit in a blinding flare.



Highlander snapped out of it.

”Ensign, scan that Capitol Ship for lifeforms.”

The longest pause of Highlander’s life, then…

”Nothing, sir…there is nothing…the sensors must be malfunctioning.”

Highlander closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and then-

”Ensign.” He said, his voice meticulous and controlled. ”Evacuate decks thirteen through twenty-seven. Reroute power from the reactor grid to all outside systems, and brace for impact.”

”Brace for impact, sir?”

Highlander turned to answer, and the Heirophant hit the Vault with all the violence of infinity, of creation, of the Devil being hurled down by angels from Heaven itself. The atomics stored deep within the belly of the Capitol Ship went up in a deafening and catastrophic conflagration of liquefied admantium, the reactor grid of the Vault following suit, several nearby wings were engulfed in the horrendous detonation, the impact of the enormous craft crumpling miles of corrugated derridium and reinforced ceramite, the shipyard going up into a silver-white blast of rending debris, the base itself rocking on it’s magnetic axis, the Greenhouse Domes melting into so much scorched ferroconcrete and plasteel, hundreds of lives ending in a sudden and crushing collision of plasma and incomprehensible physics.

There was a flash of electrics overloading, the Vault’s systems reacting to the shock it’s designers had never foreseen, and then blackness bled out from the disintegrating reactor grid, eating up all of the ancient star base in a wash of anti-light.

Billowing orange-red storms of broiling plasma began to consume the area outside the impact like a living thing, consuming deck after deck, shorting out remaining systems, killing people inside with a sudden burst of rads, creeping through the once-proud ferroconcrete corridors and smashing apart the armored dermoplast by it’s very roots.

Around the dead station, the conflict reached a fever pitch.

The Madorian Capitol Ship, the ”Malefactor,” appeared from it’s Tach jump a few miles from the crippled Star Patrol outpost. It was a dreadnought, a fourth the size of the base, composed of reinforced derridium and armored panels of cerramite. It bristled with cannons, ablatives, redundant systems multiple sensor relays. Older than the Carpathian, it could still maneuver quite efficiently with it’s Gotham Reactor Engines.

A cloud of Madorian fighters streaked from it’s opening sides, setting course for the Star Patrol outpost. Elsewhere along the ship, Tractor Freighters, equipped for quickly pulling enormous masses, emerged, each escorted by an Interceptor wing.

Comerca looked at devastated Star Patrol base, and smiled.

”Fontaine, report.”

”We have placed thermal detonators alongside the corridors that attach to their Capitol Ships…Star Patrol is not aware of us, yet.”

”Good, I will order all wings to attack the base…get your troops aboard whatever craft you can find and send your signal to the Malefactor. I will order additional wings to provide cover. Luck to you.”

”As well. Fontaine out.”

Comerca could see the few remaining Star Patrol vessels drifting off from the base to meet them. He wondered if they had figured out that their communications to the Vault was being jammed on every channel, so as to insure success.

All for those ships. The legendary Star Patrol Capitol ships, filled to capacity with systems and technology far ahead of the majority of the universe. Comerca’s spies had reported months earlier two were to be repaired at Phobos, Star Patrol apparently confident that no one would dare to assault them, believing the Vault capable of coming to the rescue. Ah, no…not today.

”Wings, attack everything that is not Madorian. Hull them. We shall take claim their technology as our own and leave nothing but corpses in our wake, as a tribute to the future of Madoria. Let there be no mercy, no parley, no respite. On my mark, attack, attack, ATTACK!!!”

The Malefactor’s century old Bonemelter Class Guided Torpedo Cannons began to speak, their voice a hymn of utter annihilation to all they touched.

Comerca thought of Cerene, and hoped the anything living in the corridors of the Vault were just now drowning in a rising tide of spilt gore, spreading from the bodies of the dead…



RedStorm fired a torrent of Deimos at the Madorian Carrier/Interceptor, and then followed with Blast Torpedoes, watching as the weapons turned the craft into so much burning fragments. Several Darts were on his tail, but glancing at his radar, he could see that ScadianWrath, WitchKing and Twilight Jack were already making short work of the fighters, their blips disappearing from his scanner.

His missile warning klaxon sputtered to life. He twisted, ECM’s trailing behind, and fired, his Deimos tearing away the shields of the Dart. He rolled, latted, and afterburned past the Madorian fighter, who let loose a salvo of swarms, too late. Spinning on gyroscopic gravities, RedStorm fired again, and the Dart went up in a firestorm of rending matter.

Griffin Moone felt lasers impact along his rear shields. With practiced ease, he afterburned, reversing, and watched the Dart slide past. He fired his disruptors, and then followed up with Deimos, afterburning forward now, and emerged from the burning cloud of ionized particles that the Madorian fighter became. He rolled, flaming plasma swirling from the wings of his Pegasus, and targeted another.



Highlander got up from off the floor, the Vault shuddering like a living behemoth as back-up system reactors came on line. Computer systems brightened one by one, vidscreens flickering to life.

From every area of the Vault damage reports began to come in.

”Ensign, scramble all fighters and get them out of here. I want all Medical and Evac teams to move. Don’t give me the complete damage report, just set up triage stations and quarter off all spaced areas of the Vault. If the hull integrity is below seventy five percent on any quarter, cut it off and get Rescue Freighters to bear.”

”Aye-aye.”

”Status report! What’s going on out there!”

”Sir, the Void Alliance says they are wrapping up their sector. Rustbucket reports that the Devil’s Fist still hasn’t moved…should he attack?”

Before Highlander could answer, the entry doors into the Observation Deck hissed open and Devil stood there, barely, legs shaking and beard tangled and in disarray. He held a laptop above his head, one hand steadying himself, and to the crew below he resembled a Southern Baptist Preacher, or perhaps a Medieval Prophet of Doom, warning of the damnation of all men.

He coughed and choked, his voice a harsh and painful yell.

”It’s a diversion! The Madorians aren’t attacking the Vault, they want to steal the Star Patrol Capitol Ships…they’re attacking Phobos! THEY’RE ATTACKING PHOBOS!!!”



Rustbucket stayed where he was, his nerves and blood screaming, the conflict behind him escalating on his sensors and radar. Ahead of them, the Devil’s Fist detachment stood still, like predators, waiting.

Grimbrand came through on all channels.

”I’ve hacked their communications signal. I think they’re talking to Comerca.”

”Let me hear.”

A sibilant voice of dread hissed over the communications line.

”Comerca, this is SoulCutter Zero-One of the Devil’s Fist.”

”Yes?” His voice sounded distant, with the sounds of conflict beyond.

”I deeply apologize, but we cannot except this contract. I warned you that we will not fire upon medical vessels, facilities, or research stations…and the Vault is now a medical facility. Was this a crude attempt at a trick, perhaps?”

”Mercenary, you have been paid. I order you to engage.”

A long silence.

”I have just refunded you, Comerca, subtracting for travel expenses, of course. I am sorry for the inconvenience this might cause. Have a nice day.”

”MERCENARY! THIS IS AN ORDER!!!”

Reptile listened to all of this, and then jumped onto the line.

”Hey Devil’s Fist? Have I got a deal for you…since you came all this way, you want to make a million bucks!??”



Argentum stood in the dim glow of emergency power supply. He could smell smoke, and see the sparking ruin that was the Phobos Docking Station. Above and beyond, the lethal outline of a Madorian Capitol Ship cut a section of black form the starred fabric of space, and the vast and sable curtain of night that was the void seemed choked with starfighters.

The vidscreen in his room flared and began to transmit.

”Argentum…the base in being attacked…our transport freighter has been damaged…I can’t tell…”

No picture, just static. The signal broke up, and for a fleeting ten seconds Argentum could see Alyscia, trying to keep calm, her eyes gleaming with terror.

”They…(static)…but the captain thinks that he can move power to…(static)…I don’t know what…(static)…we need help, Argentum, we could lose life support at any…(static).”

Argentum waited, not knowing if that was the end of the signal, not knowing what the attack would do to the base, if help would arrive, if the Vault even knew. Then he went to the closet, in calm and absolute precision. His mind was buzzing, the buzz traveling down his spine, through his limbs, leaving the taste of charcoal in his mouth, filling him with the smell of smoldering titanium…

He turned, the room darkened, lit only by the glow of the sheet of fire the window of his room had become, where once it had been filled by space.

Behind him, the static of the vidscreen flickered, yellowing, then orange, then tinges of red, flaming, burning, the fire behind and in front of him.

He pulled his uniform from out of the closet, feeling half-asleep, feeling like his limbs were those of a corpse. The buzz was louder, it crushed his other thoughts. He stepped into the uniform, zipping the front up, and then pulling his flight gloves on.

He felt as if he was the character in a tragedy that had been written a thousand years ago, he was an actor, in a story, and these were not his limbs…

These were not his thoughts…

He wasn’t a pilot, he was pretending to be, that somewhere in front was the hush of an audience…

He held up his helmet, and his hands began to shake.

”No.” He said.

They twitched and convulsed, and he dropped his helmet.

The flames consuming the room, growing, flickering, the static harsh, in his mind, in his mind.

He sank to his knees, the black like a sheet of rain in his mind, washing his thoughts in brackish waters.

…and then…

He was looking at earth. At thick oily soil, and above him was space, and the shattered fragments of plasteel open to the vacuum.

Around him was a forest of blackened trees, all vegetation consumed, and he was in an arena of ash, of twisted and burnt corpses of oaks, sycamores, maples…

”Terrible, is it not?”

Argentum turned, and there was that sick, turned around feeling, this was not real, this was not real…

”Comerca did this. This is the Vault.”

”How-?”

”He rammed a Capitol Ship into it. With nukes inside, no less.”

”But…I’m…here.” Argentum looked at the vastness of space above him, he could see fighting, but it was too bright and yet too dark.”

”What is the problem, Argentum?”

He couldn’t see, not clearly. The helmet was heavy.

”I’m…I can’t fly, I have to save them, but I can’t fly.”

”Who? The girl? The base? They can take care of themselves, no?”

”I have to save…Seraphim, I have to get out there, but I am not well, still,”

Seraphim turned his back, walking away from Argentum.

”Bah. You make excuses. You are fine.”

Argentum looked around. Miles of wasteland, where once a forest had been.

He turned around to look at Seraphim.

They were aboard the Vault, on the command deck. All around him were walls of steel-colored dermoplast, vidscreens glowing, but an incredible emptiness, all around. There were no people.

”What-?”

Seraphim turned. He was wearing his IK uniform, the color of blood and jet, suddenly looking imposing, with his Overlord tags.

”What do you want, Argentum? A salve to heal your burn? A magical word to make it all…go away? Perhaps a rubric? I cannot do this. I cannot suddenly make your problem fix itself.”

”It is not your fault that I’m…”

”Say it. Say it, you son of a @#%$.”

”I am afraid.”

”Ha! The kid gets it.” Seraphim’s German was stronger, his accent more pronounced.

”I don’t know why.”

”You have always been afraid, Argentum. But courage is domination of fear, the controlling of fear…not the absence of fear. You hate yourself…”

”…because I think I am weak.”

”There.”

Argentum looked at the helmet, the IK symbol chrome in the glow of a hundred vidscreens, drawing him in.

Seraphim spoke.

”Look.”

He punched a button.

Argentum could see the cigar-shaped gold spindle that was the Saggitarius, aloft in space outside. It burned and crumpled, electric arcs flickering across it’s vast hull.

”Marie.”

”Yes.” Seraphim said. ”That is what happened.”

Argentum could see the violet and black of Madorian starfighters, flying away.

”I always blamed myself. I felt that Marie did.”

The smell of autumn grass. The sounds of horses. Still that whining pitch in his brain. His hands were on cold wood, he was standing on the porch of a ranch house, looking at the verdant hills, somewhere on Earth. Above, the blue vault that was the sun-lit sky.

”Why? You were not there. You did not know. If you did, you would have been there, and you would have been annihilated.”

Argentum set down the helmet and closed his eyes, the dull whine a rattle and hum in electric blur of his mental processes. He could smell coffee. Then the majestic heady aroma of cinnamon. He opened his eyes, and Seraphim was there, wearing overalls and a black-and-red flannel. He was smoking a pipe.

”Come in.”

Argentum followed Seraphim through a screen door. It creaked with a shrill tin voice.

They were in a kitchen, and he could smell cooked food, black coffee, the clean scent of soap.

”This is not real.”

Seraphim stood, smiling contentedly, next to an old women, who was also smiling, her hair in a bun, wearing a dress of egg blue. It matched the floor and curtains, and she wearing a pink apron.

”My wife, Michelle.”

”A pleasure to meet you, madam.”

”To you as well, sir.” She turned and went to the oven.

Seraphim walked and looked out a window upon the fields of cool sweet grass, upon horses and pastures of cows.

”Argentum. I believe you have had enough of this. It does not matter when, or where, or who died before all of this, but this problem, it is not you. It is not the pilot I trained. It is not the young man you once were, or the man you have become. I could tell you words of noble encouragement, I could fill your head with all of that gung-ho piss. But I will not. I will only tell you that your situation is artificial. It is over. You only hold on to it. It was real once, that is all. But now it is time to stop sifting through static in between. You have to choose a place, you have to decide where it is you will be.”

Argentum’s head was a sea of sparking ash-gray static.

Seraphim motioned towards the living room, a comfortable place of deep blue rugs, bookshelves of teak, potted gardenias and pictures of cowboys, with occasional pilot’s trophy’s here and there.

Marie stood, half smiling, her eyes deep and knowing.

Argentum could feel his heart freeze into a block of carbon-dioxide.

”Hello, Argent.” Her voice was a sweet song of hidden joy, like it always was.

His head was swimming. Still the noise, fading, like the end of a song, drifting, with sweet remembrance in it’s wake.

”Marie.”

And he was embracing her, kissing her, he was safe again, real again, he was not alone, and all of what was before was gone, he knew.

He was telling her he loved her, he was telling her everything he had felt, for all of these years.

They stepped back from each other, and from the glass behind he could feel, from the window, the cold flickering of (static) somewhere…he was drifiting…

”Argent, this is your son.”

He was so small, his eyes a pale blue, his chin like Argentum’s, sullen, intelligent features, with dark brown tousled hair.

Argentum felt something weeping inside of himself.

”Hey there, son…you look…you look amazing.”

The flickering. The buzz, receding, like the tide…like fathoms rushing in.

He could stay here. He could be here forever. He could have a seat, drink coffee, he could taste the cinnamon and apples in his mouth, but somewhere, somewhere else, he would cease to be. The static was in his ears, in his mouth, filling his being.

He looked at Marie, at her dark brown hair, at her pale blue eyes…at what he felt there, at…

”Marie. I-I have to go. There is somebody back there, a friend, and they need me. I miss you. I miss you more than I can…but…there is something I must do.”

She looked at him, and there was an eternal longing in her eyes. He felt it.

”I love you, Argentum.”

Argentum knelt down and put his hand under the boys chin, cupping it slightly. He kissed the boy on the forehead.

”Take care of your mother, boy.”

Then they were behind him. He was leaving them, and a feeble part of his being wailed and wanted to be there, wanted to hold on…

He opened the screen door and looked at where Seraphim was sitting at the table, constructing a model of an Archangel. He was wearing reading glasses, a cup of coffee sitting on the table next to him. He stopped and smiled at Argentum.

He was on the porch, he picked up the helmet from where he had set it down, and he was looking into it, into the IK symbol, the chrome boiling and fading in, like static.

…and he was standing in his room, the helmet in his hands.

The vidscreen was a window of static before him. He put his helmet on the shelf nearby, thinking. He felt electrified. He felt immediately aware of everything about him. He felt as if his mind was clear, so utterly quiet and clear…

He looked at his hands.

They were as steady as ten thousand tons of uranium, as railroad spikes driven unto the earth, as Easter Island statues. They were perfect instruments of flesh, blood and bone.

He thought of his Archangel, waiting.

He clenched them into solid fists.

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:21:40 pm
He had grabbed the epee and his helmet and opened the door, almost walking into Goldmark.

The Doctor stepped back, stunned.

”Doctor.”

”Argentum, you have not been answering the comm…we have to evacuate.”

Argentum began to walk, back straight.

”Yes, Doctor. Let’s go.”

Goldmark was surprised. The pilot seemed, different, somehow. Like he was, certain, calm, he could not put his finger on it.

”You are going to your Archangel?” Goldmark said, catching up.

”Yes, sir.”

”Argentum, I have to tell you something…”

He told Argentum of what he had learned, of Galileo Station, and the experimental engine on the Pegasus. The scientists were trying to make a starfighter that could make a Tach jump by itself, by manipulating tachyon particles in a different way. But something went wrong.

They are moving briskly to the elevator, which will take them to the Phobos Rear Flight Hangar.

He tells Argentum about the others. Their nervous systems had been, almost wiped clean, in a way. Recalibrated. He tells him how only recently, one week ago, they had come out of it, talking about how they had felt as if they were talking to old friends, to distant relatives. It was like being dead, they had said. Every once in a while they would come out of it, but then it was like static, a white noise, and then darkness…

Argentum listens, his senses acute and perfect. This part of the station is particularly quiet.

They stop in front of the elevator.

”Argentum.”

”Yes, Doctor?”

”How do you feel?”

Argentum turned and looked at Goldmark. He thought of Marie.

”I feel…perfect, Doctor.”

Goldmark looked at the IK pilot. Then he laughed.

They both laughed.

Then the elevator doors slid open and Fontaine was standing there, wearing a sabre and holding a gyrojet pistol. He pointed it at the two of them.



Highlander watched as several medial officers carried off Devil’s unconscious body. He turned to a nearby RG Intelligence Lieutenant, who was going over the laptop.

The battle continued to rampage across the miles of open space the Vault’s territory was heir to, outside. Emergency teams had scrambled to save the starbase, but nothing was left of the main reactors. Back up power could sustain life support indefinitely, but they only had fifteen more minutes of defense systems before…

”Well?” Highlander almost snarled, all patience completely gone.

”Yes, it checks out…and we are unable to contact Phobos…the Tach gate could have just malfunctioned.”

They both looked at each other.

Highlander froze briefly, and then nodded, ever so slowly, to the Lieutenant, who returned the nod with complete gravity.

The Lieutenant turned. Highlander, after a moment of silence, spoke.

”Ensign, battle report!”



Styder had watched with horror the collision between the Madorian Capitol Ship and the Vault. It had happened in utter slow motion, and he had never before witnessed such unparalleled destruction and yet had felt so helpless to prevent it.

The wave of hard rads had drowned the Carpathian’s radar in static, but it’s systems had swiftly recovered.

He looked over the wings on the battle com radar. Orange wings of RG fighters, accompanied by red for VA, blue for IK and now black, for Devil’s Fist.

The violet sigils that marked the forces of the Madorians were only now beginning to fall back, and he knew why. The Carrier/Interceptors had wreaked great havoc upon the combined forces, but DF wings seemed to be cleaning them up nicely…too nicely. He remembered to mention that to IK Dominion.

Now that the Carpathian no longer had to concentrate it’s fire on the Capitol Ship, he had plans.

”Sir, we have received a report from the Vault. Enormous casualties, loss of primary power, and only fifteen minutes or so of weapons systems. They will still have life support, but after that, they are defenseless.”

”Move the Carpathian between the Madorians and the Vault. That is a medical facility…that includes civilians. We die before they do, clear?”

The Ensign swallowed.

”Yes…sir.”

”Good. Clear all wings from sectors seven, eight and nine. Have them fall back to our mark. I want you to distribute fire to those vectors, but only at those Carrier/Interceptors.”

”Yes, sir.”



Rustbucket followed Venomhawk, Reptile and Grimbrand as they accompanied the Devil’s Fist forces to assault the main point of the Madorian Carrier/Interceptors. His radar was a sea of roaming dots…too many too count…to many ships…

They were confronted by a Madorian starfighters, and few seconds he was firing, whirling, missiles on all sides, the Darts moving like beads of mercury across a Teflon surface, trailing swarms at every turn.

He dropped ECM’s and sent a few of his own at one, then bringing his Deimos to bear on another. Then there was the electric impact of laser shots as one slung around his side, too fast, too fast, and then Reptile was to his side, his Deimos devastating the shields of the starfighter.

A Devil’s Fist Pegasus came out of nowhere, finishing the job on the Dart, only to be trailed by two more of the Madorian starfighters, who blazed across Rustbucket’s cockpit, only to be annihilated by missiles from Grimbrand and Venomhawk.

He swerved, latting hard left, watching the Devil’s Fist descend like a murder of crows upon the Carrier/Interceptors, who opened fire upon the mercenaries.

Space began to seethe with plasma rockets and laser fire.



The neon crimson of the Devil’s Fist’s HUD revealed to him the various systems of the Carrier/Interceptor. He targeted the life support first, letting loose with a single sunspot missile. It left a blazing blue arc as it found it’s target, and he switched to attack the weapons systems of the craft, knowing that soon the Madorians aboard would start to suffocate.

It made him smile, as his wing followed his mark, and all around him the singing guns of the Carrier/Interceptor died with a mechanical death rattle as sunspots from the wing destroyed the Madorians offensive capabilities.

He recalibrated his systems with relaxed ease. Today, he decided, was a good day…



Rabid Chicken circled his Pegasus and latted erratically, left/right/left, watching the Void Alliance forces clean up shop nicely on another Carrier/Interceptor. It went up in a coruscation of plasma rockets, swarms, and Deimos heavy laser impacts.

He swung around the rear of a Dart, stripping it’s shields from it bolt by crippling laser bolt. The pilot maneuvered helplessly, trying to find the IK pilot with his missile lock.

”Give it up, genius, that won’t work.” He said, killing his target with a salvo of Deimos, and then turned to two more that were converging to his position. His lasers opened up, swarms arcing like lines of gold across black space on all side and he flew behind them, Deimos detonations impacting upon their shields.

They turned to face him, circling on both sides.

Man, they had tough shields.

Pulse lasers began to hit his ship with the sound of countless neon percussions. He moved power from his afterburners to his shields, and slid away, turning in place, watching the electric soap bubbles that were his blast torps drift unerringly to detonate upon the Madorian starfighters.

Twin blossoms of orange fire, against the frozen vacuum of night.



RedStorm watched as the Void Alliance forces turned another group of Carrier/Interceptors into so much scrap. Then the Carpathian, a gargantuan, hovering protectively before the horrifically wounded Vault, it’s cannons opening up from across it’s surface to murder all it targeted. To RedStorm, it was looming before him, colossal, like the sarcophagi of an ancient and bloody god of conflict. The rest of the VA forces began to follow his mark.

He looked out across space, the entire are deluged by firepower, and now silent, save the torn and blackened flotsam and jetsam that was once men and starcraft.

It was so strangely peaceful now, in his sector, although he could still see the RG and DF forces in violent conflict far beyond. He turned and looked upon the broiling carnage the Heirophant had created when it had collided with the Vault.

Quite suddenly, a bolt of nuclear hot malevolence for the Madorians rose up into his throat, and he hoped there were more for him to thank for the gifts they had brought to the poor wretches aboard the medical facility below.



There was the briefest span of time, as the three of them both looked at each other, in complete shock, and then a blur and detonation as Goldmark knocked Argentum aside as he went for the man’s arm.

Argentum came to his senses, his helmet hitting the floor, and he was upon both of them, clawing at the Madorian officer’s face. Another detonation…

Then the Fontaine let go of the pistol, still held by the Doctor, and swung at Argentum with his left, a wild, off balance haymaker, and the IK officer was knocked back out of the elevator, sliding backwards across the slick cerramite floor.

He looked down at the corpse, a fat man, laying completely on his gyrojet pistol. Then he pulled his sabre and stepped out of the elevator, smiling as only some fell and chthonic apparition borne from the nightmares of serial killers burning in Hell, might. He waited as Argentum got to his feet, epee in hand.

A quiet, then, with only the distant rumbling of explosions far away.

Argentum realized the blade was in his hand. He shook the dizziness from the blow the Madorian had given him, and stepped back slightly.

”Who are you?”

He smiled.

”I am Fontaine, of the Madorian Imperial Forces under Comerca, who wants you dead.”

Argentum seemed baffled.

”You did all this just to kill me?”

The man laughed dryly, en guarde, edging forward slightly.

”Ah, no. We are here to steal those Star Patrol Capitol ships…no, I was part of the strike team sent to sabotage Phobos from within, and I noticed your name within the medical journals.”

”Why me?”

”You are Argentum Draconis, the hero of IK, and to bring my master your head would be a great honor…besides, I saw you fight Allegro Tonagre’ at the Louvre, and have ever since then wished to cross weapons with one such as you.”

Argentum edged forward as well, dropping into his own stance.

”If I remember correctly, I lost that match.”

”No, sir, you did not. The judges miscalculated completely, the idiot’s! You won, with a stop hit to Maestro Tonagre’s throat, an instant before he hit your wrist. From the point of view of a duelist, you would have lived, he would have not…”

”You would have really offered me a chance to duel?”

The Madorian motioned behind to a slim case behind him, lying against the side of the elevator.

”I brought an epee, but in actuality…I don’t really know…it does not matter.”

Fontaine noticed Argentum’s raised back heel.

”Ah! A student of Maestro Nadi! Have you ever fought a duel, sir?”

”No.”

Fontaine shrugged, completely relaxed.

”How unfortunate…I have fought thirteen and won them all…let us hope against a steep learning curve, shall we?”

-and then Fontaine was everywhere at once.



Comerca watched the skeleton crew of Star Patrol forces rise to meet his own. Already, his Tractor Freighters were moving into position to start to tug the Capitol Ship, his prize, to make a Tach jump back to Madorian space.

At this moment the Vault was probably completely unaware, busy as they were with his sport. The Heirophant, the Titan of Space, would be missed, but sacrifices were required. The Carrier/Interceptors were valuable, but he had instructed all commanders to fall back should casualties mount too considerably. The betrayal by the Devil’s Fist had not been expected, but he would take his vengeance upon them one day.

The Freighters maneuvered to tractor the Capitol ship he had planned so much for, had lost so much for, had bled so much for…now it was there…it was there.

Incoming fire from Star Patrol harried his forces. He watched as his craft closed in, swarm missiles filling the space between Phobos and his forces with streams of electrum colored radiance.

Star Patrol was by no means to be discounted, Comerca knew that. But his forces were blooded, experienced, brutal, and flying ships he had designed specifically for this operation. Then, of course, there was Comerca, himself.

He performed a slide maneuver, his speed around 2200 clicks, and flipped end over end, his lasers punching through the shields of the steel colored orb shaped machines. It’s pilot twisted his craft in place, but Comerca was a phantom, a will-o-wisp of titanium, firing behind the starcraft and collapsing it’s hull before the pilot could compensate by moving it’s energy to it’s shields.

He rolled and afterburned, turning backward to fire a salvo of swarms before engaging yet another Star Patrol vessel, sliding between it’s lasers and returning fire with his own.

He watched the blip disappear from his radar.

Another kill.

Ah, yes…



Fontaine opened with a moulinette meant to open up Argentum’s skull to the teeth, and then a blinding series of slashes to his opponent’s face and sword arm.

Long experience had taught Fontaine that a man with a slashed open face was quite open to a low-line attack. Besides, he liked to smash his way through his opponents defenses, battering them down, only to become surgical when it came to the kill.

Argentum fell back, beleaguered, and then returned with a stop hit to his opponents shoulder, which Fontaine barely parried. He attacked again, not even aiming, and then scarcely avoiding having a sabre gouge open his abdomen. A flash of steel and a jolt of pain, and Argentum realized his left shoulder had been cut. He went for a fleche, launching forward to impale Fontaine’s throat, and Fontaine side stepped nimbly, a whirl of motion, and Argentum realized that his leg was bleeding.

Argentum regrouped from his charge, spinning, boots squeaking on the ferroconcrete floor, and then attacked repeatedly. Fontaine parried in quarte and then in quinte, Argentum picking up speed with his assault. Then the Madorian officer performed a series of beats, sending the epee left and then right, finishing with a Satanic bind to draw the weapon as he stepped forward to take his opponents head off with a single stroke-

-Argentum ducked, a passato soto, other hand barely touching the station floor, his point one inch from Fontaine’s chest.

The Madorian officer stopped himself at the last possible increment, and then stood up and back, patting his hand with the flat of his sabre, smiling.

”Oh no, I don’t think so.”

Explosions detonated hollowly, somewhere in the facility. Argentum realized in that silence that everyone had long since evacuated this floor, and he was breathing heavily. His shoulder felt as if someone was pressing a piece of dry ice to his flesh. He resumed his stance, stepping back, injured leg shaking.

Fontaine dropped into his own, his point aiming for Argentum’s chin.

Argentum barely avoided the attack to his groin, the slash to his left flank, or the slash to his sword arm. He scarcely avoided having his face sliced open from the redoublement.

Another motion, and his other leg went numb, and then his boot went warm with his blood, probably filling it. Then Fontaine stepped back, accessing damage, and half lunged-

-Argentum turned his weapons point towards the floor, parrying and then binding in a maneuver that would have got him kicked out of every salle in the galaxy, a maneuver completely backwards from true form.

Fontaine began to pull his arm back, uncomprehending-

-and then Argentum closed the gap, grasping Fontaine’s wrist with his left, locking the stunned officer up.

Argentum’s epee clattered, Damascus steel on ferroconcrete, and he viciously head butted the bridge of Fontaine’s nose, locking with his right arm, grabbing a handful of Fontaine’s hair with his left hand.

They spun around, limbs and blade flung in a tornado of physics, and then Fontaine was pitched backwards, the back of his head thumping like a bag of wet clay onto the station floor.

He staggered up, teeth gritted, sabre clutched in a white knuckled grip, nose spouting-

-and Argentum’s epee went through Fontaine’s throat.

Blood, arcing in a crescent, black in the half-light of Phobos.

...

Stryder watched the radar vidscreen as the blips that were the combined wings of the DF, RG, VA and IK forces moved into position, near the Carpathian.

Higlander’s face appeared on a communications vidscreen.

”Will it work?” He said.

Stryder did some mental calculations.

”I think so…it worked for the Vacuum Dragoons…besides, we don’t have a choice, do we?”

”Agreed. As soon as you get a Tach communications channel open, give us a battle report, o.k., Stryder?”

”Yes sir.” Stryder answered, his pulse racing. This was going to be a gamble…

”All stations, prepare for jump.”



Part 14= Black Velveteen

After Fontaine died, Argentum dropped the epee and half crawled, half staggered, to where Goldmark was.

He turned the man over and knew instantly that Goldmark was dead.

He sighed, deeply.

Goldmark was carrying a personal med-kit, and Argentum used it. First the dermal stapler, then the plastiflesh, and finally a local anasthetic.

The pain was still there, but it was a below surface pain. As far as he could tell, his wounds did not handicap him.

He took Fontaine’s copper colored gyrojet pistol, wiping the blood from it. He set Goldmark’s body in the hall, placing his flight jacket respectfully over the man’s face.

The elevator took him down to the South Wing Storage Hangar, where his archangel had been for the last month.

The exhaustion from the fight receded, and he felt refreshed somehow, gazing upon the sleek outline of his ship, like a steel Cormorant poised in the silent, darkened hangar.

He set the remote to space the hold at his comm. signal, using command code Star Patrol had given him.

He put on his helmet.

He climbed aboard, strapping himself in.

He turned on the energy systems, feeling the ship hum along his spine. Like gravity.

There was the jolt as the hold spaced, and he was floating, weightless, the ships nose turning to face the widening rectangle of black and stars that was the space outside of Phobos, where Star Patrol was taking a beating from the Madorian forces.

He felt calm invade his being, a stillness surrounding and suffusing him.

He turned on his shields and transferred power to the sol array.

For a second in time, there was nothing, just the darkness of his cockpit, the realization that he was here, that he was where he belonged…

…then he was afterburning, and he was flying, in space, surrounded by it…one with it.

His sols were charged. He set course for the Frigate that Alyscia was on, and the Madorians that surrounded it.



Sparks exploded from an overhead console.

Alyscia stepped over a few unconscious corporate personnel, hearing the pilot shouting emergency procedures as he attempted to stabilize the ship.

Outside, she could hear the high pitched buzz of the Madorian Darts, coming in for another pass.

The Frigate was unarmed, but it was both heavily armored and heavily shielded. They had taken out the communications and most of the engine systems, and they were now simply just firing at the ship randomly, inflicting damage at will.

She stood at the doorway and braced herself as the whole vessel shook and rolled slightly.

”Where’s Star Patrol?” She tried to keep her voice calm, but she could hear her own fear under the words.

The pilot’s face was streaked with blood. The plasteel cockpit window was cracked. The HUD was a carnival of flashing lights and audio warning signal sounds.

”The escort they gave us is dead…who are you?”

”I’m-”

An explosion, somewhere in the back.

She realized she was lying flat, that the ship’s automated extinguishers were reacting, smoke and chemicals filling the air.

She realized, for the first real moment in her life, that she was about to die…

She looked out through the cracked cockpit…details came to her, for no reason, she suddenly knew that her mother’s birthday was in two days, and she had to still buy her a present. She realized she had left a hairbrush in her room on the Phobos, she realized that she still had to contact TNN about her book, and when it would be done, she still had to…

Two Darts were coming in at an attack vector, firing onto the Freighter, their lasers like fragments of rubies, splintering to fall upon the vessel she was upon, to render it’s skin asunder to the vacuum, she would die, everyone would die…

There was an arc of derridium and a blur of hazy electric blue light, and a Dart disappeared, leaving behind a spreading orange cloud of metal scrap.

The other Dart maneuvered to avoid the ship that was now turning to fire upon it, Deimos impacting upon it, the Dart’s shields a haze of milky light.

She saw the Archangel roll, almost freeze in space, and then it was gone, and another explosion sounded from somewhere out of view.



Argentum killed the second one and could see three Darts, their forms sleek and predatory in the satin jet that was the skin of space, firing on the hapless Freighter from it’s rear, not yet aware the IK pilot had destroyed two of their wing.

He flew along the Freighters side, using the ship as cover, and then up and across, dropping sol torpedoes on one while he fired on a second.

The sound of the Dart, detonating…

The Dart’s shields, flickering from the ravening impacts of his Deimos…

The other Dart afterburning away to a swing around…

He was rolling, spinning erratically, lasers splitting the night around him, he was firing on the already wounded Dart, his lasers like living things of energy, seeking the Madorian craft, rendering it to fragments and light.

His other sols, charging…

The last Dart, swinging around, streams of swarms leaving yellow lines like a net across the blue-black…

Then he was swinging past, magnetically charged solaris torpedoes reducing the Madorian starship to dust and shreds of burning titanium…

”Freighter, this is Argentum Draconis of the Iconian Knights. I will escort you back to Phobos.”

”Thanks buddy, the Tach gate went up and then-”

”I understand. But this is now a combat zone, and Star Patrol has it’s hands quite full. Phobos is not safe, but you will last longer in there than you will out here.”

”Thanks, buddy…hey, there’s a girl in here, name’s Alyscia? She says thanks.”

”Tell her…she is going to be safe.”

He looked out the cockpit to the ugly mass that was the Malefactor firing mercilessly upon the Star Patrol starbase. Phobos fairly shook from the destroyer class weapons smashing at it’s already ravaged frame. The marks from where the atomics had scarred it’s body were ferocious black scars marring it’s metal surface, smoking and blistering…

”Scratch that, Freighter…you had better move out farther into space and wait. Power down all of your systems and take yourself off radar, I don’t think Phobos is going to make it.”

Across the stars, the Star Patrol forces were getting stripped to the bone by the greater Madorian fleet…and the Malefactor was coming in behind them, it’s guns lighting the blackness for miles upon miles, blazing with immeasurable ferocity.

Argentum set course for the main body of the conflict.



Comerca was a blur, a bluish-silver haze leaving fire and shattered hulls in his wake. He could see on his radar the various wings under his command, outnumbering their aggressors, escorting the Star Patrol Capitol Ship to the designated jump point, and the whole while the Madorian commander would enter a fray here and there, a few shots as he conserved his precious resources and another starfighter would become one with the galactic dust and space wreckage…

He had carefully divided the forces he had available, and he knew that somewhere the Vault was burning, that the forces he had there were even now retreating back to Madoria, and the beleaguered clanners would be reeling, trying to use their intel and available communications to piece together the apparently senseless attack…until they noticed the hole in their transmission web where Phobos was supposed to be, and like so many spiders, investigate.

The black in between the Capitol Ship Malefactor and Phobos lit with gold and red weapons fire as the two structures laid waste to each other, but the Malefactor was still entirely unharmed, the Star Patrol fighters so involved in preventing their own destruction that they were unable to scramble available wings to eliminate the systems of the Malefactor and bring down it’s shield array.



Argentum rerouted all power into his weapons, keeping off the afterburners and using physics to speed him forward, hitting a wing of Madorian Darts from one side.

(It was as if his consciousness was focused-)

He hit one with a withering rain of laser fire, it afterburned away, it’s pilot panicking…

(A perfect and diamond hard clear thing-)

His sols detonating upon one, the two blue burning orbs falling upon the side of the slender vehicle as it became a haze of smoldering titanium…

(He was the wings, the lasers, the systems, it was all slow motion-)

Laser fire could be heard from all sides, he rolled and twisted, the slide allowing him to temporarily renounce the oaths of physics, he watched as the bursts of killing light fell upon the first Dart and it was gone…

(It was as if he could see the conflict from every angle-)

More Darts were on their way, the number he had been fighting trying to get a bead on him and avoid impacting with each other…

(He could tell from the thrum of engines to his left that it would fly over him, and the Dart in front of his Archangel would veer opposite-)

He flipped and latted hard, afterburning backwards at the last possible…

(His body was gone, his senses were freed from them, he was without corporeal form, it seemed-)

The rattle of particles from the death of one, the orange wash of detonation from another…

(…for a flash there was not even the awarness that he was one with the fight…)

He realized that he had died in increments over the years, and now he was replaced-

(Another dart collided with his sols, he sent lasers into one more…)

Corpuscle by corpuscle, neuron by neuron-

(His shields reacted briefly, he spun in place, recharging his sols and shot after shot…)

With circuits and perfect components, with light and electric current-

(The explosion all around, his vision a field of orange and black debris…)

His nervous system a wash of burning light-

(More darts upon him, no time, all time, no thinking, just rolling, his vision as if he were in the middle of a centrifuge…)

His mind an ember of freezing void-

(Another detonation, more laser fire, impacts along his shields on one side, his sols falling on another…)

"I have become Death-"

(Within inches of another starcraft, he sparred briefly with one, his lasers becoming larger burning holes upon it…)

"Destroyer-"

(His sols immolated another, but it was a flaming carcass behind him as his lasers turned a second Madorian starfighter into shattered components, and still another Dart rolled, trying to avoid Argentum’s lasers too late as he became a cloud of orange flame…)

"-the Shatterer of Worlds-"



Comerca watched as the single IK starship seemed to draw a net of maneuvers around his fighters, and then the net tightened, they were panicking, years of training and expiring sloughing away as they moved without pace or measure, dying.

Then space beyond began to convulse and ripple, like a tin pan of oil being rocked gently, and the IK Capitol Ship Carpathian, along with the few combined clan and DF forces following along on the corona of it’s tachyon field came into view, like a congress of stainless admantium avian predators falling upon murine prey in a starlit field.

”I want the status on the Star Patrol ship.”

”Almost, General, almost!”

”We will hold them off until then, but your time is limited.”

Comerca realized that there was still a chance, the forces converging upon his position were not as many as would be expected for a punitive force…his attack upon the Vault had not been without it’s effect.

The lumbering bulk of the Malefactor turned to confront the slimmer form of the Carpathian, and the vacuum between them became a single sheet of atomic fire and matter-blighting ordinance.

Argentum seemed to come out of it, the conflict on every side around him, the forces of the various clans…Void Alliance Ghost Cruisers, Devil’s Fist fighters, Royal Guard interceptors, and Iconian Knight starcraft wings hitting the larger assemble of Madorian military might like the impact of two sledge hammers, swung with titanic force.

Argentum swooped through the cold and starry void, drawing closer to the grotesque derridium hide of the Malefactor, it’s hull a seething cityscape of guns, systems, bridges and other components.

He knew from his familiarity with IK tactics that even now a wing was scrambling to take out the shield systems of the Madorian Capitol Ship.

A Madorian wing was scrambling to protect the rear of the steel gargantuan, and Argentum set course to intercept them.



Part 15= Moaner

Comerca took a deep breathe, eyes closed, and set his controls, filtering his mind from the cacophony of violence around him. Then he breathed out, eyes open, and spied the radar blip that was Argentum moving towards his Capitol Ship.

From the corner of his eye he took great pleasure in the fact that the Star Patrol ship was almost in position, and his own forces were a match for the combined clan detachment…besides, even now he looked upon the Carpathian, and noted black and smoldering evidence of recent damage across it’s once proud flank. His sensors showed the IK Capitol Ship’s shield systems were in tatters, most of it’s weapons silenced.

He smiled to himself, seeing Argentum’s starfighter coming nearer.

Ah, yes…



Argentum was just upon them, the light of the HUD like a Christmas Tree upon his helmet’s visor, his hands holding the controls like a lover’s hand, that electric calm still inside of him, when his missile warning klaxon wailed.

He fired ECM’s and latted hard, turning, and then the impact of the explosive projectiles upon his shields, and he was firing upon his aggressor with a pilot’s reflex, only seeing a flash of titanium/derridium before Comerca flipped past.

Argentum powered his back shields and kept up his lat, firing sporadically-

-Comerca seemed to almost sidestep the shots, his shields reeling from the hits Argentum had landed-

-the Archangel, rolling, firing, then the neon flash of sols-

-the Madorian Interceptor rolling as well, firing back, nimbly avoiding the killing energies of Argentum’s weapons-

-Argentum kept up the assault, latting opposite of Comerca and landing another shot-

-Comerca put his afterburner power into shields-

-Argentum put his shield power into weapons-

-and then Comerca blazed past Argentum, performing a lazy flip that seemed to fly through and around the laser blasts.

Then there was only the maneuvering, feeling the physics in his cockpit, pulling him into the ship, he rocked right, keeping his profile slim, the lasers from Comerca’s ship lighting the vacuum, then a barrel roll towards the smaller craft, firing.

Comerca slipped around the shots again, latting hard to move around to Argentum’s back, firing his own salvo that the IK pilot seemed to avoid at the barest possible second.

Then to Argentum, there was the momentary flicker of light as another slavo hit him square, his shields dropping, and then his sol array went up in a shower of components and sparks.

Argentum afterburned, closing the distance, seeing a momentary glance of the Carpathian firing a salvo of weapons fire into the Malefactor, the blinking and movements of wings destroying one another, the violence on all sides, without termination, his lasers crumpling Comerca’s shields-

-and then Comerca was gone, flying to the awe inspiring construct that was the Malefactor.



Comerca re-routed power. His missiles were gone, and that IK pilot had been better than he thought.

”Ah, Argentum Draconis…I know you, now…”

He checked his missiles. Gone.

Damn. When what was taking those freighters???

Then the horizon beyond the encroaching darkness that was the Malefactor lit silver and then white, an evil dawn, as the Capitol Ship made the jump.

He had won, he had won, he had won…



With a sinking soul Argentum watched the Capitol Ship bend space and fade off, escaping.

Comerca’s Pegasus fled away, and Argentum afterburned to catch up.

He flew around a weapons tower, his starfighter insignificant compared to the mass on all sides of him.

He began to scan for Comerca on his radar, the surface of the Capitol Ship a blur beneath and around him.



Eldritch’s rails punched a dart to flaming pieces as he escorted the bombers into position.

”Storm, talk to me, man.”

”Bloodstar has things wrapped up with his wing, I had trouble but those Void Alliance boys came out of nowhere with the assist…they can throw down, I tell you…”

”I’m following these RG blokes, we’re going to do a little bombing raid.”

”None too soon, the Carpathian is going to need several tons of replacement parts. The Devil’s Fist is defending it from attack by Madorian starfighters, but that Malefactor has mean guns.”

”Shoot, I got static-”

A wing of Darts and Pegasus interceptors fell upon the bombers.

Eldritch fired plasmas at one, sliding past to hit the Madorian craft at point blank range, his cockpit a bubble of flame and light…



With the towers and columns that was the Malefactor on all sides of him, Argentum was given a point of reference as he realized how fast he was truly going.

Then Comerca came from his left, flash of lasers, he didn’t catch whathad happened, but his shields were shredded away, his wing to his left pitted with damage.

Comerca was on his right, almost side by side, the walls of admantium around them-

-he could feel the pilot boring his eyes into him, almost see his helmet through the cockpit, a scant ten feet away-

-another arc of metal, and Comerca was parallel to his right, his laser systems had been hit, his HUD was blaring warnings, what the hell-

-Comerca leisurely transferred his dwindling power. The IK pilot was good, but like all the rest, confined by his training. He looked to his left, preparing to flip over the larger Archangel again-

-he’s flipping and sliding, afterburning at close quarters, Argentum thought. No one is that good, no one-

-he actually saw it again, the sudden turn, blaze of engines, the slide as he seemed suddenly immune to all physics, as if held by the hand of God, suspended and nose down, firing at point blank range, his lasers were gone in a flash of yellow light-

-Comerca ended the maneuver, looking to his right. He transferred power again, seeing the Archangel defenseless, his for the taking. He could see the pilot getting ready to maneuver, unable to comprehend how he was defeated so easily. Of course, he was Comerca, Emperor and General of Madoria, he could not be beaten, never…never…

-Argentum afterburned, the smaller Interceptor on his right blazing to catch up, he powered up the shields on his right, his weapons were gone, his hull integrity almost compromised, he could see looming twin towers of the Malefactors reactor array coming upon them-

-Comerca started to lat and flip, ready to fire-

-Argentum latted left into the smaller Pegasus Interceptor, they collided, his shields screaming, the corrugated admantium tower of the reactor array rushing to them, for a second Comerca almost regained control-

-then Argentum was between the constructs, past them, the Pegasus impacting into the reactor grid and it was utterly annihilated, an orange flash of titanium dust and atomic light-

-Argentum narrowly avoided colliding into a weapons array and afterburned out into space, the wreckage of the Madorian Commander’s Interceptor a blazing pyre on the vast metal hide of the Capitol Ship.



The Madorian fighters smashed into the wing of RG bombers, forcing the larger ships off course. Eldritch fired a barrage of plasma torpedoes into the shield systems, but incoming fire forced him to afterburn away so that he might maneuver, the shield systems array went past him, a pulsing, humming thing…

The Madorian pilot watched as his swarms sent the IK Cutlass into some evasive maneuvers, checking that the systems array was still operational-

-his expression becoming one of absolute shock as DeathGiver’s Pegasus came out of the black void above, his laserbolts disintegrating the starship-sized construct that was the Malefactor’s nerve center for it’s shields. It became a blazing corona of burning derridium.

”Yeah, that’s right, and f*ck you too.” DeathGiver said.

He fired on the Dart, his lasers crumpling the shields before Eldritch’s rails punched the craft into steel powder, it flipped away, exploding after a few seconds.

”Well done, pilot.” Eldritch said.

”Yes, but with the shields gone, we had better-”

”-I read you.”

Both starcraft left the cyclopean mass that was the Madorian Capitol Ship in their wake.



Stryder knew damage reports were coming in, a constant din of spaced decks, lost systems, compromised hull integrity transmissions, incoming fire peeling away layer by gossamer layer of shield energy, cracking through corrugated derridium armor to murder the men beneath…

”Sir, the Malefactor is still within optimal fire range, damage appears minimal, the RG bombers report heavy casualties…”

”Scramble another bomber wing.”

”There are none left.”

”Scramble a fighter wing.”

The Ensign dialed up another battle update and read it quickly.

”Sir, this report shows all wings are in heavy conflict…none are available…”

”Then maneuver the Carpathian to expose it’s least damaged side to the Malefactor and tell all decks to prepare for heavy fire.”

”The Devil’s Fist has offered to perform the run.”

Is there enough time? Stryder thought.

Then, beyond the conflict, towards the very rear of the Capitol Ship, he glimpsed small fires and the silver arc of system damage…across the tenebrous expanse of the Madorian vessel there was a flicker of shields evaporating.

”Concentrate all fire on the Malefactor’s main reactor grid.”

A fusillade of ordinance began to thunder across to impact upon the already weathered Capitol Ship.



Miles away from the ship, Argentum saw the complete death of the Madorian vessel, not the titanic displosion that he might have expected, but the sudden internal fulmination of the Capitol Ship from inside out…he imagined a Kraken, fathoms below under tenebrous depths suddenly mortally wounded, it’s life blood a fulgurous waft of nuclear disruption, the ship suddenly slowing and then turning blindly, rolling now, the electric arc of system by system shutdown until he could see the horrid rack and ruin where once was the proud and indomitable admantium surface…a sudden flare of fulgurous and internal burnout, and then it was silent, dead in the jet cerulean of the eternal and starred vacuum.

He powered down his dwindling systems, watching as the Madorian Darts, still deadly, still many in number, gathered and retreated to the tachyon gate, as a murder of crows evacuates corpse of some vast, dead creature. He could see the combined forces of IK, RG, VA and DF fall back as well, stunned by the sudden victory, to spent to follow…

The amaranthine flash of Time opening, and then the invading force was gone.

He leaned back, weary, his mind a stretch of fabric grown bleached and tattered.

It was over.

He was alive.

Everything had happened so fast, as if only a few moments ago he had been aloft in the emerald glow of the Zorathos, or had talked to Seraphim.

Now it was a dream within a dream, a vision that collapsed to imaginary ashes upon awakening, as if it never was, he was here, watching the solemn and silent starfighters turn for home, emergency crews beginning the work of repair and rescue, the scarlet glow of Phobos burning…as the Vault had burned.

There was only the silence and peace of immortal stars, twinkling, separated by innumerable light years, with only the atramentous stretch of the quiet reaches between.

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:22:41 pm
Part 16= All I Want Is You

Dear Argentum,

I know it has been almost three years now. I do not want you to think I have forgotten anything, or what you did, or all the things that I never said to you before.

The Void Alliance is changing so fast, so much is going on, but I have found a home, here. Red and I work almost sixteen hours a day, but I am never tired, I always have this resevoir, as if I am in the right place, like a gyroscope, moving and yet still at rest.

Does that make sense?

I published our interview, got quite a lot of rave reviews. I hope you did not worry too much over the publicity, afterwards. I suppose after Phobos and the Madorian attack it was unavoidable.

I saw the Japanese animation vid show based on you. You look fabulous. I bought RedStorm the doll they made of him, and after I explained what it meant he laughed until he cried.

The Void Alliance is getting stronger, we are importing our first outer-system college base, as well as a wealth of new technologies. The universe around us has offered so much, Red said one time that he is so amazed people are coming here, artists, physicists, mathematicians, writers…people starting new lives here, just as we are starting new lives, ourselves.

I hope you are well. I heard of your promotion, and I was proud of you. I think of you often, and of how much I owe you, how much Red owes you. You will always have a place, here. Red has never met you, but when he speaks of you, it is of great favor, as if you were a brother.

I am happy, here. I have found that happiness is not some unreal bliss, but a continual realization that you are complete, you are where you are supposed to be.

I hope you have that too, Argentum.

Sincerely,

Alyscia Zarovich, of the Void Alliance



Dear friends and companions, fellow Knights of Iconia,

I, Argentun Draconis, and my fiancée, Kaylin Silver, would like to cordially invite you all to our wedding at the Iconian Flight Academy, one month from this day.

I hope you all will be there, as you have been in my heart and in my wishes, as Kaylin and I join together as man and wife.

We have much to catch up on, my good friends, and I hope to see all of you there.

Our love goes to you all, for the love you have returned, tenfold.

Sincerely,

Argentum and Kaylin Draconis



Part 17= Take My Picture

Devil stared at the obsidian block, dedicated to the Phobos/Vault Battle, that had happened three years before, a time now that seemed to stretch on without end.

He was standing under the twin suns that glowed warmly upon the golden agricultural fields of the fourth planet in the Carrinth System, a system which the Royal Guard were the guardians of.

There were fountains here as well, carved of ruby, with the names of the people who had served etched upon it’s surface.

The obsidian block was visited year round, by friends, by survivors, by officers of all the clans that had been there.

He watched as a few pilots, wearing their flight suits, helmets in one hand, would stare at one name, or leave a pin, a note, a few flowers or just stand, their eyes shimmering.

The fountains sparkled in the suns, the waters like diamonds, leaping in the air, adding to the peace and serenity of the monument.

A year ago, Madoria had planted a block of molecular-hardened titanium here as well, with the names of pilots of theirs who had died. Here and there, pilots ov various clans would separate and talk softly, shaking hands…

Eldritch and the Madorian Politician were both standing before a fountain, following the jade path that led to the end of the monument.

Devil listened to the Madorian, Frederick.

”Much has changed,” he said, his accent light in the summer afternoon. ”We have so much communication, so much to catch up on, we are so behind the rest of the universe.”

Eldritch sipped traced his fingers across the ruby surface upon a familiar name.

”But how did it happen so fast?”

The Madorian smiled broadly, lighting his pipe, the smile reaching the crinkles in his eyes.

”I was an engineer, assigned to strip the Star Patrol ship of it’s technology, and the most advanced system on it was it’s communication. Suddenly, we had a technology that was advanced and yet easily mass-produced. With Comerca gone, with the restrictions falling away, we suddenly all could communicate to the outside world, we could see their vid shows, their news, we were exposed at once to a culture of freedom and viewpoints never imagined.”

Devil spoke.

”And there was no going back?”

Frederick looked into the waters of the fountain, before he turned away to join his companions.

”There was no going back. We were wiser…”

Eldritch spoke.

”But what about your new government…surely it was a shock?”

The old man laughed, reminding Devil of his grandfather.

”Yes, but a good shock. Some say the new government is slow…but we are learning…there is so much to learn…but we want to learn everything, now.’

They came to the end of the jade path, the summer breezes cooling the air around them.

He saw a smaller block of titanium, upon which was a jumble of electrics and systems, covered in protective admantium, with a series of dates inscribed upon it.

”What’s that?” Eldritch asked.

”Those are the components of an old Madorian Communications Grid…this is a monument built by all of the clans who were involved in the event…but it is new.”

Devil’s voice felt odd in his throat.

”This is the monument built to the unknown man who provided both the Iconian Knights and the Royal guard with so much information during Comerca’s fascist regime. Those are the dates of the transmissions he sent, including the final date that led to all of those combined forces being there to combat Comerca…he is credited with saving countless lives, he is decorated by each of the clans…”

”Oh.” Eldritch said, visibally impressed. ”What was his name?”

Frederick looked down, sadly.

”There are no records of him…after the regime toppled, much history was lost…we only know that this was the communications grid he used.”

”He is a hero…” Devil said. ”That is enough.”

Eldritch nodded, then stared off, watching the miles of waving grain.

”Will both of you join me for lunch?” Frederick asked, putting out his pipe.

”Sure…I’m buying.” The two walked off. Eldritch turned and looked at Devil.

”Coming along?”

Devil looked at the monument, feeling old. He thought of Mr.Mojo, Circle 66, Dave and Merchant. It all seemed far away…he had only known them for a month but every morning he awoke he felt like he was shocked by the gravity, he expected to hear Mojo’s laugh or see Dave smile…that small outpost was still there, in his soul, and he was there, always…

”I’ll catch up.”

He stared at the parts. He wished they could speak, tell him who it was that had used them so, sending his voice out, lost and faceless into the vacuum, a long shot, and yet had saved so many.

Who were you?

What was your name?

Why did you do all that?

What happened to you?

You could have been saved over and over again…why did you stay?

But the parts were silent, the wind whistling through and across their admantine surface. There was only the whispers of grain, the bubbling of those ruby fountains, the summer air sweet and drenched in sunny calm.

The monument told him nothing.

He stood at attention, and saluted, staring at the final date of that conflict three years ago, the last in a long list.

He finished the salute and stepped back, turning reluctantly from the area, following the jade path, leaving the monument alone, steel against vast caramel fields of silent grasses, quiet.

 


The End.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:27:15 pm


“Discoveries”
by
Styxx
Posted by Hannibal of New Dawn


Polaris' light reflected on the gray metal plates as the corvette traveled through the stars. Locheart stared at the semi holographic screen that composed the main data display from his leather chair. The bridge of the Proximus was an almost circular room - the captain's seat was located slightly backwards from the center, surrounded by workstations and screens. The main display took almost one third of the room, covering the whole forward section. It reached to the ceiling forming a hemisphere, from where light emanated creating the distinct illusion of a solid shape. A set of animated and colorful tri-dimensional graphics showed energy readings from an area about fifteen kilometers wide around the small fleet, composed by the Proximus and two science vessels. Energy spikes had been detected at that area by long range sensors, and the fleet was investigating the possible existance of an unknown jump node.

"We're detecting nothing beyond the usual," said the captain of the Plato, one of the science ships accompanying the Proximus. Locheart knew how hard it was to actually find a new subspace node - he was used to that routine, day after day staring at energy readings. He wondered why they needed the science vessels at all - he could recognize a jumpgate signature by himself after all that time. His ship had been escorting the Plato and the Mendel for years, since before the second Shivan incursion, always searching for these unique and rare anomalies. In nine years, he had only witnessed the discovery of a single node, connecting the Laramis system to Luyten. That did not seem enough for him, he felt he could have achieved more in all that time.

They were about to reach the final waypoint, the research vessels moving away from the corvette and preparing to jump. Side thrusters on both ships started to flare, pushing them away from each other and in position for a safe entrance into subspace. Suddenly, the graphic started to show numerous surges, and the voice of the Mendel's captain could be heard over the comms system. He sounded tired, but still surprised.

"Proximus, this is the Mendel. We're detecting a possible jump node signature. Recommending prolonged investigation."

Jeremiah Locheart ordered his communications officer to signal the Plato, and inform the current situation. With a few quick movements, he opened a comm link and sent the message, and both science vessels abandoned their jump sequences. A new course was plotted, heading straight to the anomaly location, the Faustus class vessels engaging all active sensors. They stopped a few hundred meters from the center of the area where the surges were happening, and a modified support ship left the Mendel's docking bay.

The probe was built upon the hull and engines of a Hygeia support craft, heavily modified to carry advanced sensor and remote control systems. A normal person couldn't distiguish it from a regular support ship without close examination, but Locheart was too familiar with it already. The extended spikes, the darker cockpit windows, the small protusion on it's back - where most of the aditional sensor arrays were housed - made it easy for him to recognize a subspace probe. So many times they had sent those probes out into the coldness of space, and so few times they had met with the swirling blue beauty of subspace.

"Sending probe, transferring control to your bridge," said the research vessel's captain, with a monotonic voice that made it impossible to recognize his everlasting excitement with this kind of possibility. Locheart associated the Mendel's captain - and chief scientist's - voice with a Vasudan translator. Always cold and emotionless. He ordered his navigator to take control of the ship, directing it to the center of the surges. Instants after the engines on the small probe started to glow, it began to move.

"We are over the probable node location, captain. Engaging subspace drive," said the navigator, as the probe started to accelerate slightly. Almost at the same time, a vortex of bright blue-white light started to form a few meters ahead of the small ship, ripping the very fabric of space and opening a gate to another dimension. A few seconds later, the light engulfed the Hygeia, and it vanished into the realms of subspace.

"It's stable," said the Plato's science officer after analyzing the first readings. The main screen showed real time images from cameras on board the probe, but all that could be seen was the bluish color of subspace, large swirls forming and vanishing around the small Terran craft venturing for the first time into that unexplored space. That tunnel was longer than the usual, so the probe would travel for about thirty minutes before reaching the other side.

As the unmanned craft drifted through the uniqueness connecting Polaris to somewhere else in the universe, Locheart filled out the enormous ammount of paperwork that a situation like that required. The official communication to Fleet Command had been sent, and response was almost immediate: the GTD Asamonov would arrive in approximately three hours and fifteen minutes. As the captain of the Proximus knew well, a whole fleet wold be there in less than two days.

"Sir, the probe is about to leave subspace," informed Zeke, the navigation officer for the Proximus. The main display split in two, one section showing the images from the frontal camera, the other displaying various readings from active sensors in the probe. The bright spot at the end of the subspace tunnel occupied most of the viewing area, and suddenly the blackness of freespace was all that could be seen.

"Gravity measurements are off scale! The probe is being pulled in, recommending transfer all power to engines!" shouted the Mendel's chief science officer, as he realized the truth about the system on the other side of the subspace tunnel. In the distance, a purple ring could be seen through the camera, beams of multi-colored light spiraling down into it. It was a collapsed star - a black hole.

Even with all power directed to the propulsion system, the small craft was no match to the tremendous gravity generated by the black hole. As it continued to be pulled into it, Locheart ordered Zeke to maximize the probe's sensor readings - gathering as much information as possible before it succumbed to the titanic forces acting upon the fragile hull. The information it acquired was nothing short of shocking.

-----------

"Incoming jump signature. Friendly configuration," Locheart heard his tactical officer warn as a Hecate destroyer filled the Deimos bridge's main screen, the overly large subspace portal slowly vanishing behind it as the forces that control our universe struggled to repair the damage done to its most delicate structure.

"About time, they are more than one hour late," whispered Jeremiah while reading the destroyer's id. A small retractable screen, attached to the captain's chair, showed the IFF readings from the metal monstruosity that had just arrived. Locheart was surprised when he noticed the prefix of the ship.

"What the hell - it's not the Asamonov...". The huge spacecraft hovered towards the small fleet, stopping a few hundred meters above the corvette. As the forward thrusters flared on the gigantic vessel, it slowly decelerated from the jumpout speed and came to a full stop. The destroyer was strangely darker than any Hecate Locheart had seen up to that day.

"Proximus, this is the GTID Zephora. Prepare a full situation briefing, we are coming aboard," said the voice-only message from the newly arrived ship. Locheart wondered why the GTI had taken over, but proceeded to prepare the briefing anyway. He never liked those intelligence morons - as any other regular GTVA officer - but he had been outranked, and that made him quite mad.

The transport attached itself to the main docking port on the corvette, and Locheart could hear the low hiss coming from behind the bulkhead in front of him as the airlock reached normal pressure. A green panel lit above the huge metal door, and the heavy gear-like plate started to rotate left, exposing the two men inside the pressure chamber. As the door stopped, they walked towards Jeremiah.

"I am Admiral Andreas Emer, and this is Lieutenant Commander Toshiro, squadron leader for the 144th Lampreys. I believe you have a situation briefing ready for us?" said the taller man. They headed for the conference room, where Captain Jeremiah Locheart started the update.

"By 02:36 today, a probable jump location was detected by the GTS Mendel. As the investigation proceeded, we confirmed the existence of a new subspace node, and the protocol was initialized," started Locheart.

"By 03:01, a standard probe was sent into the node and, after traveling inside subspace for 32 minutes and 14 seconds, it reentered normal space. The location of the new system could not be determined, as all visual data acquisition were highly distorted by the gravitational field of the main body on the system, a collapsed star." A diagram showing the system's gravitational forces was displayed on the holoscreen.

"After trying to extend the lifespan of the probe as it was attracted towards the singularity by increasing engine power and failing, I decided to maximize sensor input. The data acquired is certainly surprising." An atmosphere of apprehension filled the room. Both the admiral and the lieutenant commander were struck by the information, and showed signs of confusion. They were not prepared for this. Locheart ordered the computer to display all information sent from the probe.

"As you can see by the readings, we have a huge number of probable subspace node locations in that system. If one fourth of the candidates are indeed stable, we have a total number of 47 jump nodes leading to unknown locations." It was a major security issue, everybody realized. Andreas asked for quantitative measurements of the gravitational field to be transferred to the Zephora, and left the room. The lieutenant remained, and asked for a meeting with the Mendel's chief scientist.

-----------

A shuttle coming from the Mendel docked on the Proximus's main docking port just as the transport that had brought the admiral on board left. The captain of the science vessel arrived and was immediately directed to the conference room, where captain Locheart and lieutenant commander Toshiro waited for him. They both stood up.

"Captain, I must ask you to leave the room," said Toshiro, facing straight forward - he lacked the courage to say that facing Jeremiah directly. Locheart was shocked for a brief moment, but quickly replied, a serious look on his face. Toshiro trembled.

"You are on my ship Lieutenant. I will be wherever I please, and you are not the one to cast me orders here."

The lieutenant commander was an even-tempered man, but not the bravest when he wasn't on the cockpit of a fighter. The captain didn't even need to push him further, he had given in already. Locheart was not supposed to hear this, but Toshiro just could not help himself.

"So be it. Just acknowledge that anything you learn here is classified level phi, and disclosing this information is punishable under the terms of the GTVA Security Act," replied the lieutenant.

"Well, what do you want from me, gentlemen?" asked Weber, the Mendel's captain and chief science officer with that tired look on his face that was already his trademark. He had worked on that ship for too long, always the same crew, always the same quarters, always the same mission, always the same boredom. The discovery of the new jump node surprised him - and the knowledge of the situation in the system beyond it completed the job - but he felt tired anyway.

"Doctor, I need a complete analysis of the effects the gravitational fields beyond this jump node would have on a fighter," said Toshiro. Locheart and Weber were puzzled.

"Lieutenant, I'll keep it simple. No standard GTVA fighter can maneuver in that gravitational field! It would simply be pulled towards the singularity, and destroyed way before even reaching the event horizon," said Weber, almost screaming.

Toshiro showed signs of a slight smile as Weber spoke.

"Well, doctor. I do not mean a standard fighter," replied the lieutenant, while inserting a data disc on the computer terminal.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:29:20 pm
Chapter 2

Andreas arrived at the bridge of the Zephora only to order his communications officer to reroute all comm systems to his personal office. The large room felt like home for him, he had spent so much time in it since he first set foot on that ship. Several holographic displays were positioned symmetrically over the place, surrounded by workstations. The captain's chair was located roughly at the center of the bridge, beside it the first officer's workstation and a small holoscreen. A huge display filled the frontal section, always divided into various smaller screens - each displaying completely different sets of information. Tactical views, sensor readings, systems status reports and many others. That time, though, most of it was occupied by a view from the forward camera.

The admiral stared for a few moments at the blackness of space where the jump node was located, and left. In his office, he faced the large flat screen that occupied the whole wall opposing the door. Small controls were positioned just beneath it, but he never used them. Voice commands were always his choice. The display was already active and a tall human wearing civilian clothes, with a large beard and moustache appeared after the brief time in which the GTVI logo filled the screen. He didn't identify himself, as if he knew Emer well.

"So, Admiral, a new jump node has been found. We've received the preliminary briefing, and we believe this new system to be the perfect proving ground for the Nyx. We are deploying the Mohses, which will carry the ship to the jump node. You must evacuate the area before it arrives. Remember Andreas, no one else is allowed to set eyes on that ship." Without even waiting for a reply, the man broke the subspace communication link. Admiral Emer returned to the Zephora's bridge and ordered the officer to restore all communications with the rest of the fleet.

--------

"You must be kidding, right?" asked Locheart, looking outraged. He wanted some good explanations, but Toshiro just stood there. Having noticed that the lieutenant was not among the least susceptible to a little pressure, he pushed a little further.

"These specs are way far from anything the GTVA ever built! It's not a natural improvement - we're talking about a huge leap here!" screamed the captain, turning his back to the main screen. Toshiro sighed, and started to explain the situation - as far as he could without violating the Security Act. Locheart suppressed the urge to smile.

"These, Captain, are the specs for the GTVI designation RIP0131 spacecraft. I don't have any information on its research and development crew, all that I know about it you now know, too." A weird silence took over the room while the GTVI lieutenant gathered breath to resume his explanation.

"The admiral will probably get pissed off at me for telling you all this stuff, and you'll certainly get a court martial if anyone else learns about anything we've discussed here, so stop complaining."

Weber and Locheart stared at each other, no words in their mouths. They started to realize the implications of this. That craft was to be deployed in the system beyond the jump node, with a pilot inside - probably Toshiro himself - and the captain of the Mendel was really uncomfortable with that. Sending a piloted craft to the heart of a system centered by a singularity was not his idea of scientific research - it sounded more like gambling. Or suicide.

"Doctor, I know what you're thinking, but there's no way you can prevent it," said Toshiro, almost reading Weber's mind. The only thing that really mattered to him was that spacecraft. Even if it meant dying, he desperately wanted to fly it. When it came to that level, he was willing to risk everything.

"I am getting aboard this ship and flying through the node, and you cannot stop me. I want to fly this craft, and I will," said the lieutenant while turning toward the door. "And you must leave this location immediately!" After saying these words, the oriental-looking fighter jock left the room, leaving behind two puzzled and outraged GTVA officers.

Locheart didn't like the idea of leaving the jump node area. The GTVI was too confident, and almost nothing had been read from the other side of the node. As far as they knew, the whole Shivan armada could be there just waiting for a fool to come through. He arrived at the Proximus's bridge at the same time the shuttle carrying Weber back to the Mendel detached from the main docking port. After a few minutes, the shuttle was safe inside the science vessel's docking area, and both the Mendel and the Plato left. Jeremiah couldn't give a single order to his crew, as he was too absorbed by the whole situation.

Suddenly, the main display flared, and the face of admiral Emer came through.

"Proximus, this is the GTID Zephora. You are ordered to leave this area at once!" That said, Locheart looked at his navigation officer - who waited for the confirmation of this order - and nodded. Shortly thereafter, the Deimos class corvette vanished into subspace.

----------

A white streak formed on the black veil of space, exposing a large destroyer-class vessel jumping in. The GTID Mohses was identical to the Zephora, darker than the usual Hecates. It decelerated, stopping right beside Admiral Emer's ship. A comm link was opened, and the voice of the Mohses's communications officer could be heard on the Zephora's bridge.

"Zephora, this is the GTID Mohses. We're deploying the launcher. Please stand by to send in the controller."

As the sentence was finished, a freighter was launched from the Mohses's docking bay. It had standard GTVI markings, and was slightly modified to carry a single, fighter-class spacecraft. Almost at the same time, a small shuttle was launched from the Zephora. Inside it, lieutenant commander Kenzo Toshiro stared through a small window, imagining the green wireframe of a jump node delimiter. He was about to be the first human to fly into a system where a black hole existed, and that thought was starting to frighten him. The only thing that kept him wanting desperately to do it was the idea of flying the RIP0131, and he finally was about to get his chance. He had been studying the specs of that ship for the last two months, and every detail on it was perfect. It was everything he dreamed of in a fighter.

His shuttle approached the now halted freighter and initiated the docking procedure. Blood pumped wildly throguh all of his body, as adrenaline rushed through his veins ordering all energy to be transferred to his brain and muscles. Feeling a knot in his stomach, he opened the standard airlock, and boarded the modified Triton. The compartment he was in connected the cockpit to the cargo container in the back, and was hardly one meter wide. Toshiro stared at the airlock for an instant, as his shuttle unlocked the magnetic grapplers and started to return. A last thought of fear crossed his mind, and was quickly tossed aside by his desire to fly the perfect fighter. He then opened the door connecting to the container, and all lights inside were activated.

-----------

Admiral Emer sat anxiously in his chair on the bridge of the Zephora, watching the Triton class freighter that stood still inside the jump node area. As protocol determined, he ordered all possible weapon and engine power to be redirected to the sensor systems as the new craft was to be tested. It was the first operational test of the Nyx, and he couldn't help but wonder where that ship came from. No development group on the entire GTVI could have built that. He finished giving the orders to adjust the ship for the test, and the checks were being performed.

"Ahead one-quarter. Bring us closer to the jump node," ordered Andreas, as the Mohses started the same movement. His navigation officer nodded, and the huge ship slowly started to move. Emer noticed the stars seemed strangely brighter that day.

-----------

Toshiro stared in awe at the RIP0131, as he tried to adjust his mind to the sight before him. The only thing he could see was a large area where all light disappeared, a deep black that seemed to fill the air. He knew that it was the craft he was about to fly.

The fighter was taller than wide, a small vertical wing above and a larger one beneath what seemed to be the cockpit. No light reflected from it, so he could not be sure. Proceding to the control panel, he typed the security code and entered the commands to initiate the pre-launch sequence. The cockpit cover opened, and the displays and controls inside could be seen. A bridge extended from his position to the side of the cockpit, and he walked through it, occupying the single seat on the fighter.

-----------

Admiral Emer watched as the main screen of the Zephora's bridge split to show all sensor readings from the freighter Toshiro had boarded a while ago. His Hecate was directing as much power as possible to sensor systems, and he hoped to learn a good deal of information from that craft on its first flight. Andreas noticed as the doors at the back of the small transport flipped open, but nothing came out. He waited a few seconds, and hailed Toshiro.

"Lieutenant, when you are ready you can depart from the transport".

"Already did that captain, as soon as the doors opened," was the response.

Emer was impressed. He had seen nothing. His ship's sensors had detected nothing, but the fighter was out there anyway. He searched the screen for anything out of the ordinary - noticing a small area where space was completely dark - and contacted Toshiro, ordering him to activate all lights on his ship. Four bright spots appeared, but the area remained dark. The Nyx was truly an awesome improvement over the stealth technology used on the Pegasus.

Toshiro maneuvered around for a few minutes, trying to get the feeling of flying the strange spacecraft. Despite being one of the most experienced Special Operations Command pilots in the GTVA, he had a hard time mastering the new fighter. It was different from anything he had flown before, and the fact that he had studied its specifications for months didn't help much. After the lieutenant commander acquainted himself with the RIP 0131, he proceeded to the next stage in the craft's first test flight, and came to a halt inside the jump node area.

"Lieutenant Commander Kenzo Toshiro, you have permission to activate jump drives."

Toshiro lifted the small yellow and red cover, and pressed the button. Almost immediately, a blue vortex started to ripple before his eyes, and in a few seconds the blackness of space had been replaced by the blue and black tunnel that he had seen so many times. He couldn't remember how many times he had been there, and thought he was used to it.

This time, though, he felt different. He felt cold.

----------

Locheart stared through the window in his personal quarters, waiting for the reply to a request he had sent to Command. He had a strange feeling about the ongoing activities near the newly discovered jump point, and wanted to set things clear with his superiors. The GTVI was always mysterious and dissimulated, but after seeing the specs for that fighter he needed to know if they were acting by the book, be it whatever book the intelligence guys used. Ghosts of the GTI rebellion still haunted allied ships all through known space.

After a few hours, the reply finally arrived. The Zephora officially had full authority over the new jump node space, and all other craft needed Admiral Emer's personal authorization to approach the area. Almost at the same time, the distress signal from the Mohses arrived.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:33:20 pm
Chapter 3

Toshiro focused on the sensor displays as his ship approached the end of the subspace tunnel. Small graphics, showing subspace readings, relative speed, estimated time for arrival, subsystems status, reactor output and many other sets of information flickered in front of his eyes, floating on the transparent HUD. He was meticulous and disciplined, always perfectly following protocol - and the protocol was really strict this time. Two minutes before reaching the edge of the subspace tunnel, he started all the sensor adjustments required for the data acquisition on the other side, and transferred a good amount of the generated power to the engine system.

He knew what had happened to the subspace probe, and didn't really know if this fighter, even with it's impressive capabilities, could handle the absurd forces that stormed outside the safety of subspace. For a few seconds, he wished that the tunnel was longer. Holding the main controls tightly, he activated the subspace drive, and the deep black ship reentered freespace.

The view was simply beautiful. Purple-blue beams of light drawing long curves across the skies, with multicolored streaks here and there, a large mass that appeared to once have been a planet slowly falling apart - all of this suddenly disappearing in a pitch black ring that seemed to house death itself. Toshiro was distracted for a few seconds, enough to have his ship dragged towards the singularity. He quickly realized the situation, and rerouted even more power to the engines, trying to stabilize the small vessel immense in a sea of overwhelming gravitational forces. Unknown to him, the enormous stream of power passing through his craft's propulsion systems started to generate a series of small subspace pulses, compensating for the gravity acting on it. Also unknown to him, something that rested nearby detected those subspace pulses and began to move.

-----------

Andreas sat on the bridge of the Zephora, monitoring the little information arriving from the Nyx. His science crew was still trying to determine the location of the system on the other side, but the distortions caused by the gravitational pull of the black hole were creating a major hazard on this aspect.

"Where the hell does this thing lead to?" was the main thought on his mind, as he stared into the bridge's main display that showed footage from the Nyx - a few seconds delayed due to the subspace relaying. Every minute or so, a new wireframe figure popped up on the image, showing the location where the science crew determined the existence of another probable jump node. There were too many nodes, too many different locations, too many possibilities - but too much danger.

"We don't have the resources to control this many systems," thought the admiral. In fact, the GTVA didn't have enough resources even to explore all those systems in practical time - and they were only able to explore this first system thanks to the Nyx. No other ship could sustain the forces acting on the other side.

"Captain, we are losing signal from the Nyx," spoke the communications officer, calling the admiral's attention back to the real, immediate world.

"Reroute power from the navigational arrays to the sensors. We must keep track of that ship. And relay the same recommendation to the Mohses," replied Emer, ignoring all complaints from his first officer. The ship would become almost unmaneuverable if the nav systems lost more power. He didn't know that this very order spelled doom for his fleet.

-----------

Gigantic cracks started to form on the surface at an unprecedented rate. Thousands of cubic kilometers of pure rock shatered in a matter of minutes, opening huge gaps on the surface. The planet cried as a massive portion was ripped off from it, and swallowed by the black hole. Streams of magma flowed from the wounds, forming a morbid pattern in the black and distorted skies. Toshiro stared in awe as the scene unraveled before his eyes in a matter of minutes. And in a matter of minutes, everything was as before.

The Special Operations Command pilot suddenly realized that he was not monitoring the readings and adjusting the sensors as the mission required, and that surprised him. He was never distracted during a mission, and he had never failed a mission. The fact that he had succumbed to the first brought to his mind the possibility of falling into the second. For the first time on a mission, he started to get scared.

He quickly verified all monitors, and readjusted the sensors - the ship had been drifting for quite a while, and had gained a significant distance from the jump node. Toshiro maneuvered the ship to head back to his exit point, but as the Nyx started to move, they appeared.

Jump points opened everywhere, and streams of laser fire completely engulfed the black fighter. Reacting by pure instinct, Toshiro quickly maneuvered, aligning his ship to the side of the attacking force. As he struggled to remain out of the firing line, he had a first glimpse of the attackers: Shivans.

The black and red ships swarmed the skies, moving as if the black hole wasn't even there. At first Toshiro was able to avoid being hit - most of the systems on his ship were deactivated - but his luck couldn't last long. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemy craft, he was once more immersed in a river of death-dealing energy bolts. This time the Nyx could no longer ignore the threat. To Toshiro's surprise, after taking a few shots the ship came to life, and all systems were brought online. He lost control of the vessel while it maneuvered wildly - almost forcing the pilot to unconsciousness - and struck back at the Shivan forces.

Pulling hard up and quickly banking to the left, the ship was in a perfect attack position, and Toshiro noticed the lights in his cockpit dimming as a bright swirling blue flare started to form at the tip of the bottom wing. The Shivans started to break formation, but it was too late - the Nyx had opened fire.

-----------

"What do you mean by that, officer?!?" screamed the admiral, unable to believe the words he had just heard.

"Exactly that, Admiral - we have lost contact with the Nyx. Our last readings showed several unidentified contacts on his sensors," replied the communications officer, knowing that the admiral was not really angry, merely surprised.

"Who could it be? Sure as hell no standard GTVA ship could handle the gravity there," thought the admiral, staring at the replay of the last minutes of sensor data sent by the Nyx before contact was lost. They had not been able to get a visual confirmation on the ships, and the sensor data was too vague. All it showed was a collection of energy readings - but it was perfectly clear that those were ships, not debris or sensor glitches.

Emer contacted the Mohses, and ordered the deployment of a craft into the node, to relay a link to the Nyx. A few minutes later, a modified Hygeia support craft - clearly showing the distinctive features of a subspace probe - left the destroyer's fighter bay and headed to the center of the jump node location. Soon after, a white flare swallowed the small probe, and it left normal space.

The small craft travelled through subspace with all reactor output directed to one single system: communications. Monitoring all possible frequencies for any signal from the Nyx, the modified Hygeia slowly approached the exit point of the node - finding no signs of a single message from the pilot that boldly ventured into the unknown and dangerous system. The crew of both the Zephora and Mohses knew that the probe wouldn't last long on the other side, and it probably wouldn't be able to scan the area from where the last message from the Nyx had been transmitted.

"Come on, Toshiro - I know you are alive out there. For God's sake, say something!" thought the admiral, as more than twenty minutes had passed since the probe entered the node. He couldn't believe that their best pilot had been killed, and he simply couldn't believe they had lost years of research on the Nyx fighter. That was the only prototype he had access to, and as far as he knew, it was the only one ever obtained by the GTVI.

"It could be a squadron of Nyx fighters..." - the thought suddenly struck Andreas, and he considered the possibilities. He had full information clearance on the RIP 0131, but he was never able to find a single reference to the origins of the fighter.

"We might be at the fringe of finding an answer to that, if only we...". He was never able to finish this thought, though, as numerous jump points started to open and a swarm of black and red ships started to pour in from the subspace node.

-----------

Toshiro woke up, and instictively checked the sensor display. It was blank. He had been rendered unconscious by the brutal maneuvering of the ship, and couldn't remember anything from the moment that blue glow started to form. Checking his instruments, he found that the ship hadn't moved at all, but it was badly damaged. The comm system had been completely destroyed, and he had no way of warning the fleet of the impending threat.

"Damn, what the hell did this ship do?" thought the pilot, as he tested the controls to check if he was able to command the ship again. The ship moved, but nothing near the speed and maneuverability it had before the battle. The engines must have been damaged. Toshiro looked around searching for the controls for the auto repair system, but found nothing.

"This was only a prototype, and the systems had not been installed yet," he thought. Examining the rest of the ship he noticed several blast marks on the cockpit, and heavy damage to the left section of the main hull and bottom wing. In fact, he couldn't believe that the fighter still moved and maintained life support systems.

"Thank God this thing doesn't work like a normal fighter, or I'd know how a black hole looks like from the inside," he said to himself, maneuvering the ship to return to the jump node. He constantly checked the screens, but no signs of the Shivans existed at all, and his damage reports showed no critical damage to the sensors subsystem.

The Nyx reached the node after a few minutes, and initiated jump sequence immediately after reaching a viable distance. Toshiro felt strangely safe inside subspace - different from the last time. He was tired, and was barely able to adjust the autopilot before falling once more into unconsciousness.

The pilot slept on the seat of his battered fighter, and dreamt of blue planets, of red and black ships that carried the call of death throughout the universe. He dreamt of battles that engulfed entire star systems in fire, of a titanic storm that spread fear and destruction, and of thunder that roared even in the vacuum of space. He dreamt of melted metal and shattered bones, of rotten flesh and torn souls. He dreamt of war.

He saw a veil of darkness surrounding the entire alliance, as the enemy blackened the stars. He felt the wrath of revenge, the heat of battle and the coldness of death. He saw the blood of his compatriots painting whole worlds red, as streaks of energy crossed the land.

He saw the rest of his life before him, fighting a lost war.

He felt the fear of a whole race.

Toshiro was awakened by the jump alarm, sweating, confused and frightened by his dream - everything seemed too real. He felt as if the ship was trying to warn him, and struggled to recover his senses as the fighter reentered normal space.

The view before him was shocking - he had arrived too late.

-----------

Chapter 4

"Set course to the jump node, and get this thing working as soon as possible!" screamed Jeremiah Locheart, captain of the GTCv Proximus. A few seconds earlier he had received a distress signal from the GTID Mohses, a Hecate class destroyer serving the Terran branch of the GTVI, commanded by Boris Gurievich - a puppet in the hands of Admiral Andreas Emer. This same ship had, alongside Emer's own flagship, the GTID Zephora - expelled Locheart and his corvette from the immediate neighbourhood of the new jump node discovered by the Proximus task force. He remembered the feeling he experienced the first time he saw the Zephora, when it arrived in place of the GTD Asamonov. He knew all along that the GTVI could only bring trouble.

Jeremiah sat back on his leather chair, trying for a few nanoseconds to forget the whole situation starting to develop around him and focusing on the comfort provided by the single place where he still felt like he had control. Auxiliary lights on the bridge had turned to a light yellowish tone, replacing the usual blue and white light that filled the room. A low humming sound could be heard - indications of a soon to happen subspace drive activation. He could only imagine what would be found at the subspace exit point, but he had a fertile imagination. The low hum slowly built up to a high pitched monotonic noise, and the well known white and blue flare engulfed the Deimos class corvette while its captain wondered what could be happening on the other side.

During the few seconds that the ship travelled through subspace, Locheart's mind analyzed a myriad of possibilities - from a pirate attack, catching the destroyers off-guard, to an undercover corporate ride to capture that miracle ship he had come to know about - imagining every possible consequence and means to counteract the threat. His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of his sensor officer as the ship exited subspace, though, and he awoke to an even worse reality.

"Multiple hostile contacts in range, Captain - at least two Shivan Moloch class corvettes and over two dozen strike craft!" screamed the officer, almost panicking after the surprise.

"Both GTVI destroyers have their weapon systems offline, and one of them is suffering heavy damage," he finished the sentence, trying to calm down. The situation, though, was not calm at all. Several bombers were already in range of the destroyers, and had unleashed their payload. Huge dents could be seen on the surface of the Mohses - it was suffering a heavier attack than the Zephora - indicating that it was not the first strike. Steam and fire emerged from the cracks, as the ship's self-repair systems tried to contain the damage. Unseen by the crew of the Proximus, the faces of helpless crewmen on board the Mohses watched through the windows as another bomb impacted its surface.

A sole wing of Perseus struggled to keep the bombers away from the destroyers while the fighter bays were brought online, but it was having a terrible time against the Shivans own fighter escort. As one of the friendly fighters banked left and dropped to intercept a Seraphim bomber, three enemy Maras lined up behind him, releasing a wave of warheads that tore throught the fragile hull of the interceptor. A screaming pilot still tried to deliver a few last shots to his target, but it was too late. The aft section of his fighter had been disintegrated, and fire engulfed the rest of his ship. As if time stood still for a few moments, he could see the flaming ball of gas and debris slowly devouring his fighter - the outer hull melting, internal components vaporizing or being shattered, and the main structure torn apart by the fury of the explosion. The pilot screamed in rage for a last time before the orange blaze swallowed him.

A small distance further, both Moloch corvettes were maneuvering to bring their main anti-capship weapons to bear against the closest destroyer, and were reaching firing range fast. Locheart knew he had to do something, but the situation limited his possibilities. He didn't have the time to intercept the corvettes before they reached the Mohses and activated their forward beam cannons, but he had an idea.

-----------

Most crew on board the Mohses and Zephora were relieved when the Proximus appeared. For the first time since the arrival of the Shivan forces, there was actual hope of survival for them. By taking most of their systems offline, the Intelligence Hecate destroyers were almost defenseless, and a few critical minutes would pass before any weapon could be reactivated. That Deimos class corvette could just buy the time they needed.

Rear Admiral Boris Gurievich, comander of the GTID Mohses, walked around his bridge, considering the situation. His ship shook with another direct hit, and he noticed the main engineering display as several green and yellow marks turned red. Without saying a word, he signaled his first officer, who pointed a number on his personal screen. It read four hundred and twenty seven. Four hundred and twenty seven casualties on his ship, after only six minutes of battle. He thought for a while about all of these people, their families and how vain were their deaths, but this was soon wiped from his mind.

"The mission," he whispered to himself while sitting down. It was the only thing he needed to worry about. He was already so deep into the scheme being run by Emer that he didn't even consider focusing his attention on anything else. The slightest mistake could lead to disaster - not for his ship or for the fleet, but for himself. His own fear forced him to ignore the pain being inflicted upon his own ship and crew, and concentrate on evaluating the true obstacles on the twisted path of their plans. And to his best judgement, the main obstacle - this time - was not the Shivan force.

From the soft leather captain's chair of the Mohses, he watched right through the fury of the bombers tearing his helpless ship apart, into the corvette jumping in a few kilometers away. Staring at the GTCv Proximus, he knew that it was the only thing keeping them away from total annihilation. He pondered the consequences, and came to a conclusion. Leaving his crew to handle the reactivation of the ship, he ignored the almost constant shaking caused by the impacting bombs and proceeded to his personal quarters, were he would contact Andreas.

-----------

"How long for our jump drive to recharge?" asked Locheart, almost screaming. His crew knew that he had something on his mind, and it was not about escaping.

"Fourty four seconds," came the reply from main engineering. It was fast enough for him.

"Lock coordinates on the closest Moloch's current position, and prepare to activate the subspace drive as soon as it's fully charged." The crew acknowledged the order, and executed it with utmost precision. When the Deimos came out of subspace, it was positioned perfectly on the middle of both Shivan corvettes, and had most of it's heavy weaponry perfectly free to fire - while the enemy ships faced the destroyers and would have to turn at least forty degrees to effectively engage the Proximus.

"All batteries, open fire!" ordered the captain, and immediately several points on the surface of his ship started to glow, as the ship itself seemed to gather energy to face the overwhelming foe. Instants later, multiple beams of blue and green light formed, each carving holes through both enemy corvettes' hulls. Feeling the damage being inflicted by the Terran vessel, one of the red and black ships began to turn about, while a bomber wing broke off the attack against the Mohses and started to move towards the Proximus' position.

Jeremiah watched the raging battle and wondered what chance they had of actually leaving the battlefield alive that day. His single Deimos class corvette was facing at the same time two Shivan Molochs, and at least four Seraphim bombers, with absolutely no fighter support. In a standard situation, he would have absolutely no possibility of surviving, but this was no ordinary battle. He had caught the enemy by complete surprise, and would be able to inflict heavy damage to those corvettes before they even had the chance of returning fire with their big weapons. His confidence dropped, though, when he saw the first bomber reaching firing range.

The eyes of the Proximus's forward heavy beam gunner widened as the Seraphim bomber turned toward his position with no fighters pursuing it. All flak guns that could cover his position were already occupied, and his weapon couldn't get a lock on the relatively small ship. He had already closed the blast doors and was bracing for the impact, when the red dot disappeared from his screen. Lowering the shields, he stared out just to witness what once was the Shivan bomber being completely disintegrated. A blue lightning still searched through the remains, crossing the space before him, coming from absolutely nowhere.

-----------

Lieutenant Kenzo almost jumped from his seat, shocked by the view of the battlefield. The two destroyers that had brought him and his fighter were suffering heavy bomber attacks in the distance, and standing completely still. Closer to him, a Deimos class corvette fought two Molochs and a few bombers, and was apparently taking the lead on the battle. Recovering from his forced sleep, he tried to get back to his full senses, and brought his sensor display to the HUD. It registered exactly twenty three contacts, only six of them were friendly. The situation surely seemed desperate.

Realizing what had happened to the GTVI destroyers, he checked his damage readouts - the ship was almost back at full strength, except for the hull - and engaged full burn towards the Mohses. He knew what that black fighter was capable of, and this time he intended to have control over it. What he would soon learn, though, is that for this ship his will didn't matter at all. Toshiro contacted Admiral Andreas Emer, and asked for a full situation update.

"All power had been redirected to sensors. We're bringing the weapon systems and fighter bays back online, but it's still gonna take a little more than one minute..." came the reply from the Zephora communications officer. He said something else, but Toshiro ignored it. He knew everything he wanted to know, and it was bad enough as that.

As the Nyx moved toward the battle scene, Toshiro tried to concentrate and devise a plan of action. He achieved no success at all. His own mind seemed to be unwilling to help, too tired from the previous encounter with the Shivans.

Struggling to remain awake, he once more witnessed gigantic battles, glimpses of a reality that was yet to come. He heard the ship talking to him, telling him that the Destroyers were returning for a last time. Telling him that this time, mankind stood no chance. He was pulled from his daydream by the Nyx itself, as the ship brought all standby systems to life once more and pitched hard, heading for the closest Shivan craft: a Seraphim bomber initiating an attack against the Proximus.

-----------

"Just what the hell is that?" shouted Ezequiel Adams, also known as Zeke, the navigation officer of the Proximus. Everyone on the bridge realized what he was talking about, as a shadow rocketed past the main semi-holographic display's field of view, firing a blueish beam of uncanny appearance. No one really knew what to think about, except Locheart.

"Nothing that you should care about. Concentrate on this battle, we must take these corvettes down!" said the captain while one of the beams from his ship moved through the surface of one of the Molochs, directly hitting it's main reactor - almost if ordered directly by him. The power core of the corvette started to leak a dense stream of energy, apparently collapsing on itself, only to cause a massive explosion that opened a large gap in the central section of the vessel. Power conduits were overloaded by the blast, forming a glowing web-like net through the Moloch's surface, and a few seconds later the main engine section of the ship gave up and exploded in a huge fireball, creating a series of shockwaves that took the whole corvette with it. Locheart smiled.

"Just one more to go."

Watching the RIP 0131 fly by, he believed for the first time the information showed to him by that hotshot Special Operations Command pilot. The ship was everything the specifications said, and more - it seemed to be even faster and more agile. Through his personal control pad, he ordered the Proximus to do a heavy scan on the Nyx's surroundings, but nothing came up. The only readings showed residual radiation caused by his own ship, the GTVI destroyers and fighters, and the Shivan force. Otherwise, he had scanned only an ordinary section of deep space.

"It's impressive! Even the Pegasus leaves some residual traces, but this thing is invisible!" he thought, while following the shadow with the external cameras. He knew that he would never find that ship if he didn't know about it in the first place, and if it had refrained from actively engaging the enemy forces. It moved and maneuvered faster than any other Alliance ship, even if apparently being almost the size of an Ursa bomber. Such a ship would be a great asset to the fleet, or a terrible weapon if in the wrong hands. The captain's attention, though, was quickly brought back to the immediate battle scene, as a beam from the remaining Moloch hit his ship near the bridge, causing a small tremor.

He ordered a tactical repositioning of the Proximus to properly counteract the Shivan corvette, bringing the majority of its anti-capital ship weaponry to a position where their firing arcs could reach the enemy. Several beams of light emerged from it - eating the Moloch as they strode through its now helpless surface, opening several flaming gaps on the redish hull. The battle would soon be over.

-----------

Chapter 5

The pitch black ship maneuvered wildly, ignoring the limitations of its pilot's body while charging it's main weapon and locking on the closest enemy bomber. Swirling particles soon gave way to an intense glow, almost immediately casting a lightning-like beam that crossed the void to impact its target's surface. The Seraphim's hull seemed to scream in agony, as the powerful stream of energy drew an almost straight line through it, completely ignoring the shields and melting the extremely resistant materials as if they were nothing but hot butter. In less than a second, the bomber was perfectly divided in two, being torn apart by the explosions in it's missile bays and engines. Moments later, nothing occupied that area of space but a few burnt pieces of metal. The streak of light remained active, roaming the battlefield toward its next target.

Toshiro fought with all his strength just to remain conscious as the fighter that carried him unleashed its fury upon the ancient enemy. He could feel a torrent of emotions passing through him, as if coming from the ship itself. The fury against the now almost desperate attackers, the relief of thousands of people as they witnessed a beacon of hope shining through what seemed to be an endless sea of darkness, the primal fear of an elemental force that had never faced such powerful and committed resistance. He was scared, but somehow felt warm and comfortable again. The cold feeling had passed.

Multi-colored beams formed intrincate patterns in the sky ahead of the Nyx, as the Proximus exchanged fire with the remaining Shivan corvette. The Terran ship still had the advantage, and was using it well. The Moloch was already feeling the burden caused by the damage it suffered in the initial stages of the battle, as it ignored the Deimos to advance toward the disabled destroyers. Locheart exploited such a mistake to the fullest, and his ship was now just moments away from complete victory. Toshiro's eyes captured a last bright flash from the battle as a beam from the Proximus hit a critical spot on the Moloch corvette, and was able to understand a last communication from the Zephora before falling into unconsciousness again - it had its fighter bay and weapon systems back online.

He awoke to find the ship standing still by the side of the Zephora, no hostile contacts at all on the sensor display. Extremely tired from the stress caused by the high G forces experienced while the Nyx ignored him to fight the Shivans, he was barely able to bring the fighter inside the destroyer's fighter bay.

-----------

"What do you mean by this?" shouted Locheart through the communications system, while staring right into the eyes of Admiral Andreas Emer on the main screen.

"Exactly what you heard, Captain. You are ordered to surrender your vessel and prepare to be boarded. This attack will not be left unpunished," replied the Admiral.

Jeremiah was starting to understand it. He shouldn't have received any information about the RIP 0131, let alone be allowed to witness it in action. The same applied to all of his crew, and the GTVI could not let such information slip through their fingers. The presence of the Shivans had only made things worse, as now they had the perfect excuse to capture the corvette: it had attacked them uprovoked while both destroyers had their weapon systems down for scientific monitoring.

"We are deploying a shuttle carrying a security team. You will allow them to dock and will oblige their directions. The GTCv Proximus and its crew are now on the custody of the Galactic Terran Vasudan Intelligence, under charges of high treason. Follow our orders, or you will be destroyed," came another message from the Zephora, directly from the mouth of the Admiral. Locheart couldn't allow his crew to be captured under false accusations - not by the GTVI at least - and more than everything, he couldn't allow the Intelligence to cover the presence of Shivan forces in GTVA space.

He discreetly signaled his communications officer to add some noise to the transmission, creating the opportunity for him to tap a scripted order into the ship's main computer. Bringing the transmission back to the normal status, he sent his reply to Emer.

"I know that this is not true, you know that this is not true, and most of all, our signed combat logs show that this is not true. We will surrender, but we'll prove our innocence. And we'll show everyone the truth behind your actions."

Emer didn't even have the time to think, "What a fool." Locheart knew that his crew wouldn't be awarded a fair trial. He knew that most probably they wouldn't even face judgement. Execution was more the way of the Intelligence, so he activated the program.

All at once, the Proximus fired all of its beams on both destroyers communications systems, and engaged its subspace drives. In both intelligence vessels, the almost magical precision of the corvette's beams brought the target systems offline, while also creating a major and essential distraction. Soon the battle-scarred corvette was inside subspace, while the Mohses and Zephora were unable to send any long distance communications to the rest of the fleet. As Locheart's ship vanished into the white and blue whirlpool, a last message arrived at the Zephora's bridge.

"This is not the end."

To be continued...
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:41:44 pm

“Daily Dissorts”
by
VA Griffin Moone


The Daily Distort, Issue #1
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Volume #1, No. 1 July 2002


"Don't Funk Up a Good Story With Too Much of the Truth."

VOID ALLIANCE STILL PRETTY NICE

Today in the news, most clanners Fringe-wide came to a pretty general conclusion= The Void Alliance is still pretty nice.

"This is a shocking development." Skaare said, who has been a pilot in VA for almost two years. "We have firmly dedicated ourselves to being nifty, or perhaps even keen. It comes as a bit of a shock that we are nice. Our best social scientists are now in deep study to figure out how to show the Fringe that VA plays hardball, or at the very least, a swell game of Cricket."

New Dawn was in Jumpgate, and was unavailable for comment.

IK leader Maverick had this to say.

"What do you mean, they're nice!!? Griffin Moone and Icefox have gone on more flaming sprees in the past few months to burn Antarctica to steam!!! I don't get it! Decon Frost would tell people he didn't like their shoes, and General Phoenix would call us the evil empire...but VA is completely bulletproof. It's unfair. They have to have done something bad in the past couple of years...maybe we have to stop deleting threads at our boards so much."

VA's niceness was never quite apparent, for some time, but recently studies show that their benevolence has been at an all time high.

Icefox allowed himself to be interviewed.

"Well, yesterday Moone and I were having Kool Aid and ice cream, and came to much the same conclusion. It's a matter of press, I believe. But we all agree it's time for a change. As of next week VA is going to war with someone, I guess, if no one minds too much, and we fully intend to sic Moone on some pilot or some clan, soon. Of course, I could nuke a pre-school and everyone would forget in a week because my sig is bright blue. Colors are funny like that."

Skaare has attempted to help VA appear more "dark" in past years, to little avail.

"I don't get it. It's like we are the Disney corporation. I post pictures of my personal arsenal at home...Griffin Moone writes up fifty pages of scathing prose on (X)...we make our color scheme the same as the Nazi party...but no one buys that we are menacing! It's no use."

Neechi Kitana had this to say.

"It's because Griffin Moone is so cute. He looks like a chipmunk, or maybe even an Osmond brother. He's cuddly. Very Keebler. How can he be so evil if he looks like that?"

(X) BUYS RABID CHICKEN CAPITAL LETTERS


(X) celebrated the formation of their new clan by finally purchasing capital letters for their legendary pilot, Rabid Chicken.

"I had a bunch of extra cash lying around from the advertising deal with Vivid Video" Decon Frost said "So I thought, what the hell, why not?"

"He seemed comfortable with it, so it was never brought up in the IK Overlord Council. I had read e.e. cummings in college, so I didn't think anything of it. But then Powersurge made us all feel guilty, so we bought enough capitals to fund him for a century. He's worth it. We still haven't got any w's, though."

"I call it discipline" former IK pilot MisterFour said. "I freak out if I don't hit the shift key at the proper moments. I think I'm nuts. I posted in lower case one time...and it kept me up all night. I got up at three in the morning and did an edit job like you can't believe. That was a test of will I failed."

"It's a bit different." Rabid Chicken said. "I don't know if I am entirely comfortable with the change. A lot of people I post to don't know if it's really me. werewolf still won't believe me. But the world will see that this is a change that is here to stay."

"It's the end of an era, let me tell you. His laid back style of prose typified the easy going nature of the guy and seperated his work from the rest of all the posts out there. If he ever hits the caps lock and posts that way, my whole paradigm will crack into forty six fist sized pieces." MisterFour commented.

When asked if a similar donation would be made to Squiggy the Vorpal Bunny, Decon Frost said, "Not likely."

FRINGE WISHES IK WOULD CRACK AT THE SEAMS AGAIN SO THERE WOULD BE SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

There has been an alarming trend of nothing to talk about since the IK break up came and went, and people are starting to get desperate.

Black Knight had this to say.

"It came and went so fast, we were left breathless. This is how manic depressive people must feel. There was almost 100 posts or more in a single day, and now it's all over! What are we going to talk about, now?"

"Serves 'em right." Rabid Chicken said. "what are they going to say now? Nothing. Bad news gets the most press, it's been that way since time began. well, they are going to have to hope that some other clan has problems...(x) is doing just fine."

New Dawn was unavailable for comment, since they were all in Jumpgate.

"The situation is dire, indeed." VA Captain Scarlet said. "People are beginning to post satirical newspaper type articles out of desperation. Something has to be done, fast."

"I'll think of something." IK Lucid said. "If it gets any worse, I'll post the damage for the lightsabre in every single stance for Jedi Knight II...but it's not got to that point, yet."

"Sorry, Fringe, we did our best, but we're kind of out of scandals right now." IK Maverick told a reporter. "How about doing a story on VA being so damn nice?"

GRIFFIN MOONE DECLARES WAR ON ADVERBS

"I'm tired of them." The VA pilot said, furiously speaking at a press conference Monday morning. Reporters interviewed him, asking their questions carefully.
"It's like some insidious plot that creeps up silently. I am sick of it. Why not just say, "He said." ? Why does it have to be, "He said, breathlessly" ?"

"I counted 186 such vile specimens in MisterFour's "Burning Void". I drove fast quickly over to the cafe' and told Twilight Jack about it. He listened attentively, but I still don't think he understands completely the danger we face, unknowingly."

MisterFour had this to say.

"Yeah, writing with too many adverbs is uglier than a burlap bag full of mashed gorilla as*holes, that's for sure. I need to re-read an MLA handbook again, totally."

Icefox, the legendary VA pilot, said, "Huh?"

Griffin Moone clenched a nice fist and hit the podium in a cute display of wrath.

"I've been warning the Fringe futilly for the last few months. Eventually, it will be too late."

DECON FROST STILL "THROUGH" WITH MISTERFOUR

In a post on Fringe Station, Decon Frost, formerly of IK, announced he was "through" with MisterFour, also formerly of IK.

Some curiosity still abounds over what "through" means.

MisterFour was reached for comment.

"I felt pretty bad about all that mess, and I was reading a book, eating a cheeseburger, and drinking a Coke, and then when I was done, I realized I was through with the book, through with the Coke, and through with the cheeseburge...and I got confused."

"How can you be "through" with a person? It's all so very confusing. It's kind of surreal." MisterFour said, perplexed, utilizing a spare adverb much to the consternation of Griffin Moone.

"what's there to understand?" Rabid Chicken said. "when Decon says he's through, he's through. I don't blame him."

Decon Frost agreed to a phone interview.

"Through, as in, done. I mean, over with. Let me explain, I won't communicate or game with guy anymore. Is that hard to understand? When he apologizes, it just makes me madder. I am not mad at VA though...they are pretty nice. But I'm through. I'm also through with this interview."

TygerBlueEyes had this to say.

"When Decon says through, he means it. I remember one time when the Rams lost, way back in the Eighties. Decon set down his beer and said, "I'm through." I thought it was the beer, but later on I realized he didn't like the Rams anymore. Then he said he was through with Tachyon, and again I thought he meant that he had solved the game. But I never saw him fly again. When he told me he was through with Ralph Nader, after the last election...his true intent in utilizing the phrase finally sunk in. He's certainly through with MisterFour."

"I have regrets over the whole thing, but there's nothing more to do." MisterFour said. "I will simply have to admit to my mistake and add the phrase to my vocabulary of slang. It has a nice ring to it. "I am through with you." Gotta love it. Very zen. Oh yeah, the IK/X thing sucked too. I apologize."

"I am really glad that I was able to read it. If it had been said, I would have really gotten confused. "I am threw with you." ?Get it? What a difference the placement of vowels can make. Glad it was written down."

...that being said, this reporter is through with this story.




=dAb= Arcanuum, The Crawling Chaos, Himself


The Daily Distort, Issue #2
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
THE DAILY DISTORT


“All the news that printed to fit.”

HEADLINES

VA BEATS (X) IN CLAN VS. CLAN MATCH


In a series of five controversial clan vs. clan matches, the Void Alliance beat Excalibur 4 to 1.

“They were some tough opponents. (X) is small, but as potent as a neutron bomb. Still, I think we did quite well for ourselves…despite the communications mix-up.” Icefox reported.

“Yeah, I think next time we should read the boards a little more carefully. Still, we were all there, and we wanted to fight, so fight we did…LOL!” Said Decon Frost, who now goes by the title Cypher Zeros.

The miscommunication being that the Void Alliance thought the match was to be in MW4, while (X) thought it to be Jedi Knight II. Still, both parties fought it out, much to the amazement of Captain Scarlet.

“I was in my Thor, ready to rock-n-roll, and Osiris was in an Argus, and we were starting to get board, hanging around in Palace Gates…than we see these tiny figures running towards us…I toggle the zoom, and I realize they are all carrying lightsabres.”

“well, i thought, screw it. we wanted to fight, right? besides, an argus ain’t so tough, once you hack at it a while. push sure doesn’t work on a daishi, though.” Veloramus said, shortly after the fight.

“you don’t want to go trying to force pull a clan lb20x from a thor, either. what happens if it actually floats your way?”

Veloramus has recently experienced his own difficulties, having run out of consonants, despite the large purchase made by (X).

Captain Scarlet was still amazed by (X)’s valor.

“Arioch had somehow got his hands on a missile launcher and was starting to dent Osiris. So I stepped on him. But Veloramus actually was able to force leap up to my cockpit…”

“you’d think they’d armor the cockpits better…i jumped up there and just cut a hole in it. after that, it’s not like it was tough killing a guy in a glorified easy chair. zap zap zap.”

“After that,” said Icefox, “We kept them at a distance.”
Highlights include an ERPPC shot from a Loki that obliterated Cypher Zeros (“Ouch, kind of like lightning…”), a MRM20 shot that hit Arioch, despite his dodging (“Ran into a damn wall…bleh.”) and an ER laser that took out Veloramus, much to his surprise (“damnit, you’d think you could block that @#$^%#.”).

Arioch was still ebullient.

“Yeah, we took quite a beating…but the last match sure went our way! Heh heh heh…”

Scarlet had to agree.

“Yup yup. We got smushed.”

The last match being that the Void Alliance force ended up on Gator Bait, which was upon a planet that was nearby a Death Star.

Arioch seemed pleased.

“We got kind of confused, at first. I mean, there we were aboard the Death Star map, and no VA anywhere! I figured they were on the planet outside the window, so Cypher Zeros screwed with the station’s computers, trying to get it to fire, and then…”

Captain Scarlet was still shaken.

“There we were, trying to decide if the match was a dud or not, and then I noticed this thing in the sky…I thought to myself, ‘Hey, ain’t that the thingy from the first movie?’…and then there was this really bright light…”

“Yeah, the score being 0 to 12,334, I’d say we mopped up.” Arioch laughed.

“Good game, (X)!” Icefox said, congratulating the newly formed clan. “Next time I’ll have a lightsabre to defend myself against Veloramus, no doubt…”

Veloramus was in agreement.

“screw that, i’m ready for a rematch. let’s all break out our tach ships and fight ‘em on that moon. my cutlass has three rails to punch through a cockpit with…and cockpits are huge on those damn mechs. shoot, I got ecm’s…they can have all the lrm’s they want.”

MICROSOFT RELEASES DROPSHIPS FOR MW4

“I am soooo happy. My Daishi wasn’t big enough. It’s about time!” A MW4 pilot, Dumbphuc, reported.

“I hated having to move and stuff. I always wanted more guns. The Daishi wasn’t big enough. Now I have everything! Yippee!” He said, his chincup full of drool emptying upon his lap, in his excitement.

Dumbphuc is one of a growing legion of mentally challenged MW4 players who want more tonnage with less thinking, and Microsoft is granting their wish.

A MW4 designer had this to say.

“Yeah, well, there’s a market, so we got to work. Don’t know why they use those damn things. Oh well.”

The Droppod is at least 5,000 tons, and is quite large, to say the least. Sporting 56 omni slots, it’s more than a match for a lance of mechs. Players like Dumbphuc are overjoyed.

Another pilot, Phuchead, had this to say.

“I like to play and not think too much. Me like big mechs. Atlas no big enough, Daishi only 100 tons. Me now have lot’s of guns…still overheat, though. Me sad.”

Dumbphuc was quite elated at the possibilities.

“I have 34 configs set up. I also have 100 clan LB20X’s. That’s a lot of damage. I wish I could count that high.”

Captain Scarlet, of the Void Alliance, had this to say.

“What the f*ck-?”

EXCALIBER DESIGNS THEIR OWN OPERATING SYSTEM SO THEY WON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT PLAYING ANYONE ELSE EVER AGAIN

Cypher Zeros was available to comment.

“Well, we’d thought getting our own passworded server, getting away from EZ board, and separating ourselves from IK would be clue enough that we wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the outside world…but some as*holes just don’t get it. So I’m through with them.”

The operating system, called, appropriately enough, X, was designed chiefly by TygerBlueEyes, who also re-wrote Jedi Knight II for it.

“This’ll keep those people away. I was sick of all the posts on our board, and even the potential chance someone might guess the password…so this’ll seal the deal. Besides, if someone could even run a search for (X) and find us, that was waaaay too much. Now I don’t have to deal with any idiots ever again. If this isn’t enough, we’ll all move to a mansion in Calcutta, live together, and play over a LAN. Shoot, what if someone comes over, though? Now I gotta think…”

Cypher Zeros was ecstatic.

“It's like everyone thinks we/I am supposed to play other f*ckers from other clans, forever. Hell that's just stupid. It's been over 2 years and excuse the hell out of me, but I need a change.”

”Why form a clan? To play your friend and not have to look at any other dumb faces and deal with their sh*t...if the 8 of us are going to remain friends and hook up to play anyway, then why the hell not? Isn't that what we would be anyway…an 8 man clan, club, or whatever you want to call it? Now, with our own operating system to keep out the inferior riff-raff, we can at last play forever in relative peace. So long, losers! We won’t be revealing the source code anytime soon, either!”

TygerBlueEyes still had other reservations.

“Microsoft is really pissed. I mean, it’s been an action flick. They keep sending ninja’s to kill me. They are afraid this is going to be the next Linux, and they have enough to worry about between Torvald and Macintosh. But f*ck them…if I have to dodge ninja nerds for the rest of my days to keep us from having to interact with any other player in Jedi Knight II ever again, so be it. I just shot a lawyer from Microsoft who tried to give me a service of summons for copyright infringement. Seven ninjas and one lawyer dead? It’s been a good week.”

Veloramus agreed.

“i’m glad. really. i was always paranoid before, like maybe any second someone else would come in from ik or va or jra and ruin our fun. but now, we’re safe. with no one able to contest us, x is the best clan, ever.”

“i still don’t trust those bots, though…”

=dAb= Arcanuum, The Crawling Chaos, Himself
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:47:02 pm

“Fist or Fate”
by
SoulCrusher06 of the Devil's Fist


CHAPTER 1

SoulCrusher06 looked up from his datapad as the incoming message alert sounded. The data encryption algorithms processed, and a similarly encrypted face gazed at him from his viewscreen. "06, we have a contract. Do not reply. A pilot in your sector has been suggested to us as a potential contract due to his decidedly amoral conduct concerning honorable battle. Here is an excerpt from the formal contract.

'The pilot known as Johnny Rebel was seen pumping rocket after rocket into a nearby Galspan model fighter as the pilot was composing a message to his superiors regarding a recent escort run. The pilot barely escaped with his life, and the attacker, who's ident broadcast identified him as "Johnny Rebel" was heard laughing uncontrollably over the open comm as his intended prey fled.' Needless to say, 06, this is a dangerous individual, although not overly skilled, to be attacking idle ships. Dispatch this individual and upload the completion data and ident match to the usual location. Hull that reprobate! Reamer00 out."

06 inhaled deeply, then exhaled with a visible slump to his shoulders. He stood up, and surveyed his quarters with a regal air, as he exited toward the hangar area. On his way, he passed several of his clanmates, and greeted them with false bravado concerning the upcoming arena matches with their rival clans. Yes, they were going to kick some @$$. No, they werem't going to stop at anything to win. And so on and so forth. He had other things on his mind. He was used to killing. He was a combat pilot. The world in which he had embroiled himself was another matter altogether. To kill, not for the honor of his clan, not for his ideals, not for pride; but merely because someone asked a pilot dead. Of course, his victim was an idiot. He had tried to kill an unsuspecting pilot like himself. But somehow, this was different. The Devil's Fist was not your usual group.

He climbed inside his Galspan Pegasus fighter under pretenses of patrolling the border of the Twilight Region from attack. Yes, he replied to the command section query, just adding an extra shift because he couldn't sleep. No, he wouldn't let his guard down due to sleeplessness. Of course not. He powered up his fighter, the vibrations from the mighty engines rattling the entire hangar, but strangely distant to him in his padded and heavily shock dampened custom seat, inside his vibration and soundproofed c**kpit. The engines roared, and he tore out of the hangar at the top speed of the Pegasus, (which is considerable). He glanced at his own personal motto, mounted on a plate to the right of his instrument panel. It said "Fly with courage, with chivalry, and with skill. No matter the outcome, your honor will be without question". Tell that to my victim, he thought.

He arrived at the Devil's Fist hangar, which as usual, which was devoid of any signs of life, being tucked away deep in the all-encompassing fog, and pulled his fighter in without incident. The rows of menacing black craft shone with a deceptive gleam as he took in the view inside the voluminous hangar. He landed behind his own personal collection of ships he had purchased with his newfound credits. Blood money, all of it, he thought fleetingly. Enough of this. This pilot was an idiot, a danger to others and himself. it was time to hunt. He walked over to his locker with a deceptively easy stride, and gathered his Devil's Fist flightsuit and all his equipment. Nothing should identify him. As he pulled on his sable gauntlets, and pulled his jet-black helmet on, he truly looked a killer. The Devil's Fist is feared throughout the Fringe. Sure. If they only knew who we were, he thought.

He selected a Warhammer for Johnny's demise. Only fitting. See how he likes plasma rockets decimating his shields, he thought to himself. He powered the ship up, and slowly pulled out of the hangar. Once safely away from the secretive base of operations, he began to scan the comms for signs of his quarry's whereabouts. Nothing on the RG comms, nothing from IK. This might take a while. He continued to scan through the comms. There! Void Alliance frequency, one "Captain Scarlet". "That damn Johnny Rebel's playing with plasmas again", he heard from the comm. 06 smiled to himself. Gotcha. He swung the ship around to the new heading, and as he passed through the gate, his last thought was, Poor bastard. Wonder what else you did to piss people off? The Tachyon gate accelerated him to impossible speeds, and the jet black 'Hammer elongated, then disappeared in a flash of light.

He emerged from the gate with a euphoric rush, and shook his head huriedly to clear the effects of the jump. Within seconds, he had a lock on his victim. "Oh Johnny....", he said over the comm. There was an abrupt break in comm traffic as the current occupants of the sector took in the black lines of the Hammer's outline. He caught the tail end of an encrypted message from an Ik pilot. "There's one ... those ... scum. I say ... take him, and take ... the garbage .... him." Damn, he thought. Just what I need. An IK patrol flight to deal with too. Ah well. Take what comes. Two Pegasus' and an archangel. Great. Let's see; Target at 240, IK at 160, VA at 230, on the target's ass. The base is what he's heading for. Let's see what this baby can do. "This is Devil's Fist SoulCrusher06 on contract for Johnny Rebel. Stand down and allow me to complete it, please", he said in his most authoritative voice. "DF slime, take your contracts back out in the fog, where you both belong. get out of the Fringe!" The IK patrol leader said ominously. So much for the DF mystique.....

The IK fighters were closing, and fast. He still had 35 klicks on the targets, and the IK patrol was almost within range. Damn. Just then, came his break. Captain Scarlet scored a direct hit on his starboard engine, slowing him down considerably. Closing... 20 klicks. IK in range. God of plasma, he prayed, don't let me down. The two pegs roared past him as he kicked the Hammer into full reverse. His shields still whined in protest as two single deimos still scored. Down to 65. Damn. He kicked on his burners in an attempt to close the gap. it succeeded, until he realized one crucial thing he had missed. The sturdy ship bucked in space as quad blast torps scored direct hits on his shields! The *(&(*&() Archangel! Damn him. 10 shields, 60 hull. Crap. Still at 10 klicks out. Closing... damn peggies are coming back around. He reversed his lats haphazardly, in an attempt to buy himself some time. Another deimos took what little was left of his shields. There goes the rails, he thought, as he transferred laser power to his shields to keep himself (hopefully) intact. 7 klicks... as another deimos hit him aft. 4.... plasmas away, clean quad shot. The rockets hit Rebel's aft shields in an explosion of light, and brought him to critical on 06's scanner. 06's ship rocked as a blast torpedo found it's mark once again. Damnit! Another clear shot... and another set of quads turned Rebel's ship to stardust. He immediately turned his transmitter on to upload the evidence, in case he didn't make it out of this one. (He was beginning to doubt the outcome. Most assuredly)

Captain Scarlet suddenly burst out of nowhere, almost directly on top of him, and caused him to duck involuntarily. He distinctly heard hull armor blow up. Galspan hull. He drained the last of his laser power, and hit his slide button once oriented toward the gate. He rotated around his vertical axis on his way back past the IK fighters, and let loose several volleys of plasma on his way by. The second pegasus was not keeping up anymore, he noticed. Now he rotated fully behind his slide path, and let loose with the remainder of his plasma rockets. Busy dodging the lethal hail of rockets, he dropped back a whole 5 klicks. 06 could almost feel the deimos shots as they scattered around his overly large (or so it seemed now) profile. Why did I bring the Hammer again? He asked himself. A large explosion echoed in his ears, leaving him temporarily deaf. The peg had caught back up. The acrid smell of an electrical fire, as well as the distinct feeling he was losing velocity, began to work their way to the front of his mind. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap became almost like a mantra. This was it. His luck had run out. Seething energies surrounded him, took hold of his conscious mind, and he knew no more.

------------------------------

CHAPTER 2

06 was just your run of the mill pilot. A journeyman in a world of prima donnas. Nothing like Twilight Jack, with his rock star flair, or Werewolf, with his snarling angst. No, he was just a pilot. Better than average, but still just barely hanging on by the skin of his teeth in a hotshot's world. He wondered sometimes why he had been selected out of hundreds to be a Devil's Fist candidate.

During a long Fenris Arena Match, he had emerged victorious with a 20-5 record. Not a record-setting performance by any means, but not bad for a relative rookie. Soaked in perspiration, and exhausted from the concentration required to make it through such battles, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a dark figure, towards the edge of the crowd that always gathered to congratulate the pilots after their matches. Almost gave him the chills when he realized whom this mysterious person was watching. Him! He decided he'd skip the showers and backed warily, almost hurriedly, toward his craft. He'd heard about those pilots. This "Devil's Fist". Nothing good, either. They were said to be killers - assassins, mercenaries for hire. They also numbered among them some of the top pilots in the fringe, leading a double life. Clansmen in their day to day lives, they also filled a darker role as their alter-egos; the dreaded "DF". He evaded the dark-cloaked figure this time, he thought. Little did he know they would become an obsession.

He logged hundreds of hours for his new clan - a wise choice considering his lack of experience in space combat. He participated in several battles with, and without his wingmates. Some he excelled in, others not. But he was a young pilot as of yet. He grew in skill, and flying acumen, learning his ship, and the Fringe itself, his new home. He fought to contain the missiler threat, against outlaws, pirates, other clans, yes somehow remained unscathed through it all. He considered himself lucky. Then one day, it happened. He entered his barracks, to find a comm waiting for him. As he plopped down in his chair, he noticed the message would not immediately initialize. Coded to my DNA pattern? He thought. Must be some new orders. He decoded the message, and initialized it. That wasn't his wingleader. Grinning hideously at him from the viewscreen was a white, deathly pale face. He wore black leather, a mockery of a flightsuit, and looked to have a forest of pins sprouting from his ghostly head.

"Greetings, Pilot." Said that grinning face. The face of Cutter01, the Infamous Breaker Wingleader. "I have been monitoring your progress with great interest. With a little time and experience, I'd like to have you join us." The message continued, but his mind was racing. He was aghast. Him, a killer? No sir! He closed the terminal with a bang, and headed to the simulators to work out the issues running through his head. He'd NEVER be a killer! So he thought.

Almost compulsively, nearly against his will, he began reading all he could find about the Devil's Fist. A group shrouded in secrecy, yet thinly guised as a mercenary group, they policed the Fringe as no one else could. With fear. With intimidation, and the strength of their reputation as cold-blooded killers. Founded by one known only as "SoulReamer", the Devil's Fist burst upon the scene just prior to All Hallows Eve; a traditional night of forbidden magics and sorcery. The other two wingleaders, SoulReaper and SoulReaver were instrumental in the group's establishment. They silently began their work. Few in number at first, but deadly fliers, all. Accept the contract, fulfill it, and post proof for the solicitor. "An evil business," quoted Reamer in an earlier text, "But necessary. Would you feel safer knowing your own wingmen are accepting these jobs, and not some unknown quantity? Better the devil you know..." Interesting.

Their numbers grew, and chief among these new recruits was a pilot assigned to the "Cutters" wing. Originally "SoulCutter02", his bravado and panache displayed in his piloting, and the artistic flair with which he displayed his kills quickly earned him the "01" position in his wing, and eventually his own wing, the "SoulBreakers". Suffice it to say, our "hero", (if you will) had a bit of a falling out with his clan. A faux pas, I suppose you would call it. The offshoot of his involvement was this; in an insane moment of frustration, he contacted Cutter01 concerning that job with the Devil's Fist. Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on his state of mind when thinking of it) two members of DF left; one over DF's methods of taking and completing contracts, the other over a missiler in a private arena. Quite an ugly scene at the time, but regardless of the outcome, that left DF two pilots short. He got the comm the next day. "Your application to the Devil's Fist is hereby approved. Stand by for confirmation codes, and the route to stronghold. Welcome, SoulCrusher06, to the Devil's Fist."

------------------------------

CHAPTER 3

He awoke with a start, almost injuring himself against his seat restraints. He took a deep breath, and could nearly taste how close he had come to death. He was alive, however, and he intended to stay that way. He glanced toward his nav computer, hoping he could make sense of his present position in his groggy state. Damn! Smoke lazily drifted from it's twisted casing. Ok... next plan. He checked his comm systems. Thank the void, they were still functioning. he patched himself through to his personal ship's comm, triangulated his position, and he and his damaged ship slowly limped toward their destination. As he had nothing better to do, with a busted up ship, and on half thrust he checked his personal comms. Message from Reamer thanking him for yet another completed contract, yada yada... Message from 03 about needed support in an upcoming battle, (yada yada again) Breaker00 asking for support in his plan to bring new leadership to the Devil's Fist, and a list of demands... WHAT!? Scroll back. What in the void was he thinking? Reamer will have his hide, he thought.

He was wrong. Once safely back at DF HQ, he was assaulted with propositions from every newly formed faction, all with their own agenda, it seemed. This was ludicrous! "New Blood", "Old ways are dead", "Strong leadership", "Back to what we were" - some of the slogans he encountered. Then the typical Devil's Fist rhetoric (some people took this too seriously, he thought occasionally) - "They will drown in blood". "Their screams will echo in the void for eternity", "they will be as lambs at the slaughter", and similar rubbish. By the end of his reading, three uneasy alliances had been formed. Breaker00 had initiated the split up with his noisy public argument over policy with the other wingleaders. Who in turn themselves split into two groups. Longtime allies parted over how to discipline the upstart. He had to admit, Breaker00 was a likeable rogue with a penchant for winning people over, despite his adopted evil persona. oh, and there's the message from IK outlining their support of the Breakers. Explains the attack a while ago. This could be a problem.

The Crushers, led by Reamer, were championing the decision to keep DF's structure, goals, and operating principles essentially the same as they were before this fiasco. We had been decimated by recent LOA's, public opinion reversals, and other besetting calamities, so this was a terrible time for this sort of thing to happen. The Breakers wanted a complete revamp of DF - top to bottom. With Breaker00 in charge of the "reconstruction," probably. Then the young, impetuous Stealers and Cutters. They very nearly sounded as if they wanted nothing but anarchy. Wow. Quite a day. Of course, he sent a comm out to Reamer affirming his loyalty to the Crushers' ideals, and explaining he needed a rest before doing anything. He wasn't kidding, either. About the rest, or his ideals. He slowly walked out to his ship, set the autopilot for an evasive route out of the fog, and back to his patrol route. Only five hours had passed since he left his barracks. Strange how so much could happen in so little time. But stranger things have happened in the Fringe.

06 arrived at base only slightly late. Not late enough to engender suspicion, thankfully. He blamed his tardy arrival on a malfunction in his autopilot. Easily explained by a purposeful failure to update the command protocols issued by the a/p manufacturer (remedied by the concealed datadisk still hidden in his flightsuit cargo pocket). He reported no unusual activity in his patrol sector, verified by the faked data provided by the drone he he had activated to mimic his patrol and his ident. Upon arriving home, he promptly collapsed in his bunk. He didn't want to see what other messages he had waiting.

Not surprisingly, he woke to see the message light blinking on his comm terminal. It seemed the Fringe was truly up in arms over this "internal disagreement", as it was being called. There was gossip flying everywhere, stating everything from power struggles to petty bickering as the reason for this (too public by any account) dispute. Rumors flew over the tachband as to the true identities of the pilots that comprised the DF wings (more than usual...).Almost as bad as the rumormill concerning sigtings of Susan's elusive "Lance". He hadn't seen the comms so live since the Bora/Galspan war, in fact. He shook his head and walked out to the hangar. Under pretext of making a cargo run (an independent contract) to deliver goods to a (secretly) DF controlled cargo hauler, he set off (in an Archangel this time) for the hidden base once more. His circuitous route led him deep into the twilight, away from civilization, toward his second home.

------------------------------

CHAPTER 4

The Present...

06 lay across his bunk, pointedly ignoring the persistent message light and the incoming comms sent his way. He had been quite vocal on the comms lately, both denouncing Scadian Wraith, and in silencing the Voices. It had been a draining few weeks, both mentally and physically. The numerous scorch marks still on his ships in both his clan hangar and the DF hangar could attest to that fact quite vividly. The Fringe had become a hotbed recently - a veritable cornucopia of passionate viewpoints about every subject under the Fringe's many suns. All he wanted to do was take a break, leave his alternate persona behind, and retire completely. He had the money, now. But as they say - there is no rest for the wicked. As if determined to prove the sage wrong, he slowly drifted into a deep, yet troubled slumber, eyes moving rapidly, perhaps thinking of the blurred and strife-torn days of recent weeks.

The Past...

A whirlwind of activity in the Arena. BreakerXX and Stealer03 engaged in ruthless combat. Taunts, plasma, and blood flow freely this day. Anyone venturing too near is vaporized almost instantly, as if swatting flies. We have 1 Breaker... one Stealer... and one Crusher. Him. Damn. Only himself, versus two of the best the Devil's Fist has to offer. Thoughts of the future, of a hope-filled new beginning crumble to dust in that split second of recognition. Steeling himself against the coming armageddon, he races inexorably toward the titanic battle between these two great pilots. He couldn't help wondering what he was going to do in a pegasus versus two behemoth Hammers. But too late. He was in range.

He dropped both his blast torps directly at the spot between the two ships. Far outdistancing the scream of the torp in seconds, he switched to lasers, and squeezed off a shot at XX on his way past, but doing little damage in comparison to the awesome array of weaponry on each Hammer. He heard the torps detonate behind him, watching in satisfaction as both ships suffered moderate damage from the blast, and pulled a high G turn to return to the fray.

Now, it was a matter of survival. He had to get one to destroy the other, and pick the winner off. He rolled quickly with a lat reverse to avoid a rail coming his way, but only partially succeeded. He darted nimbly *between* the two huge ships, and got a hit on 03. Glancing at his HUD, he saw 03 was getting dangerously low. Madly transferring to keep his shields up, he dropped under and behind XX, strafing his rear shields with bolts of crimson fire, then burned up and through the melee to regain his bearings.

Damn! Thinking too much, he said under his breath, as two sets of quad plasmas streaked toward him. Almost as an afterthought, it seemed. Damn, they were good.

With a tight barrel roll, he latted and burned his way around to a better position. But not before one of the rockets hit him, shredding his shields and reducing him to 75 hull in seconds. He transferred half his burners and lasers to shields. That will have to do, he thought. He dodged, corkscrewed, and reversed wildly, trying to spare himself that random shot that spelled his death. He spiraled in with full burners, reversing directions, trying to get the shot in, taking advantage of his low profile to avoid most of the fire. Arrowing in on 03, he dropped three lasers squarely in the center of their ship, on his way by at 2000 kph. XX's engines nova'd with a blinding flash, as four plasmas slammed into the rear quadrant of his ship, and the pilot ejected out with a pillar of flame trailing behind, as the dying ship jerked convulsively, then exploded into a brilliant flower of light. Down to 03, and himself. The huge Warhammer was dangerously low on resources, but a wounded beast is the most dangerous.

06 reversed course back in the Hammer's direction. With a cry, he was thrown back into his seat as he kicked in his burners for a pass at the menacing Hammer. Just enough power for one torp. It left his ship with a scream, 5k out from his target, and zeroed in on the hulking black shape. They circled each other, dancing and sizing each other up. The torp impacted with a roar. The Hammer was down to 35 hull, no shields. Only wounded the beast further. It came roaring at him with ponderous grace, closing in for the kill. Twin rails caught him off guard, and reduced him to a meager 30 hull. Into the fray! He burned up and behind the Hammer, trying to stay behind, and reduced it's newly charged shields to ribbons with a couple well placed shots. He smiled coldly, and prepared for the coup to grace. He hit the burners, and ... Nothing. He watched four plasma rockets gracefully arc their way toward him, and watched entranced as they beelined for his ship. So pretty. DAMN!!!! He punched his eject button, and rocketed out of his doomed ship just in time, as the rockets vaporized the paper thin pegasus. 03 flew through the wreckage, saluted mockingly during a victory roll, and headed for the gate. The adrenaline wore off. That was close. Way too close. Damnable Hammers.

------------------------------

CHAPTER 5

Through the rest of the Civil war, he was involved in dozens of battles. Some they won, others they lost. But the time passed in a blur of agonizing bloodletting. After some time, Cutter01 admitted defeat. He was demoted, the crisis passed, and the Fringe rested to lick it's wounds. Life is a constant struggle, it seems. But peace was not to be. The Voices arrived. Two Voices emerged first. Voice of God, and Voice of Doom. Foul-mouthed, abrasive, and arrogant, they made enemies quickly. Led (in name) by Agnostic Angel, their presence was initially accepted, if not enjoyed or encouraged. Voice of Hope... Voice of Greed... Voice of Anger... Voice of Death... Voice of Revenge... among others.

But they became the hunted rather quickly. They were attacked mercilessly everytime they entered Fringe space. Mostly due to the actions of Voice of God, the whole clan was decimated within days. Several defected or fled within those first few days and were branded as traitors by the Voices. The taunts, and the profanity still continued.

What can you say about the Voices? Those who participated in the cleansing to follow came away sick at heart over the wholesale butchering of the innocent along with the guilty. Sick to death of the vileness that was Voice of God. Of the arrogant commentary spouted by Voice of Doom. Many were judged by the actions of a few. They were judged by fire. To forestall another Firestorm. To prevent another bloodbath. They slaughtered them. To save ourselves, to save their community, to save their precious Fringe - they slaughtered them. God have mercy on their souls - and ours.

Greed, the new pilot. Hope, the victim. Revenge, the veteran with a taste for clan blood. Doom, the arrogant. God, the foul-mouthed ringleader of the vicious crew - the pseudonym for Scadian Wraith, a member of the very clan the Voices vowed to destroy. A traitor, turncoat, and fool. With the mind of a cretin, the temperament of a rabid dog. The Void Alliance welcomed the refugee Voices with open arms - Wing Zero, and Dark Ice. The Voices swore vengeance, and invoked another chapter of the Fringe's dark history. The infamous General Phoenix of the bloody Firestorm. It came to naught, as even he would not endorse their foolish course of action, and Scadian's insanity. But his shadow still lingers. Abated, perhaps, but still fresh in the mind of many.

Was there a rhyme or reason to their actions? Perhaps not. A deeper purpose behind the quest for order in the Fringe? Perhaps so. Only time will tell, and History judge the actions taken to quell the Voices' tide of infamy.

The war involved three courses of action. The vendettas - Mr4, Captain Scarlet of VA, King Dano, who went through VA and IK before settling into RG, and our own 06. Perhaps most vocal of all. The Clans - VA, ND, DeathWing, and finally every clan in the Fringe at the end. A united front to combat a growing threat to stability. The Voices - espousing a hopeless cause, following a clueless leader. Soon to be relegated to anonymity and steeped in disgrace. Does this not strike a chord of sympathy within our bleeding hearts? Get on its knees and wail for the forgiveness and understanding of good hearted individuals everywhere, deep within our psyche? No. For we are heartless killers. All of us. Hiding behind the facade of genteel civility, is the steel gauntlet, and the hardened heart of the practiced assassin and combat hardened contract killer. What is gentility? What do we mean when we say "civilization"?

How do you reconcile that with the ravenous beast that cries for blood?

The Present...

06 pondered these, and many other questions as he fought his way back to consciousness. The world appeared in a rush as his eyes snapped open, a heady influx of stimuli as the world reached into his mind and bade him rejoin. He hit the message light on his comm station. A voice, strangely familiar, yet alien as well, came quietly, but relentlessly from his speakers. "Hello SoulCrusher06. You've improved a great deal since last we met. Unfortunately, I'm under contract to eradicate you all. Who am I? I am Perfect. Independent Contractor. You are my first victim, 06. Prepare. " He shut off the comm station, ignoring the insistent blinking. They didn't matter. Probably just tell him he had a contract on Perfect INDC, anyway. Time to get this over with. Atonement, that's what it was. A chance for atonement.

Finally.

06 slowly dressed in his sable flight suit, and strode thoughtfully toward the hangar. His crew chief had perfectly duplicated his former pegasus. Even down to the skull looking menacingly from his stick handle. He rocketed out of the hangar in a swirl of heat and accelerated wildly. He almost managed to assuage the chill, growing all too familiar, in his soul.

To be continued...
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:49:19 pm


“Foreclosure”
by
Reaper of Neechi


Reaper stealthily glides across the floor on a cushion of fog that seems to appear from the air around his feet and takes a seat at the bar. He notices that Kitana is currently distracted by a phone call from her sister, Wandaa.

"What a disgrace", Reaper thinks. Dragon won't even pay a Jake Logan wannabe to clean the dust off the vid screens, much less off the bottles. If it wasn't for the fact that Kitana was so damn cute in the Dragon Lair Uniform (Leather backless tank top and matching tight leather pants) he probably wouldn't pay her either. Even then she hardly made any credits due to the fact that the place had a higher patronage of rats than paying customers.

While Reaper's clan leader was a great warrior and tactician, Dragon couldn't run a business to save his ass - literally.

You see, what Dragon failed to realize, due to the immensity of his current obligations with the clan's new recruitment drive, was that the bank had foreclosed on the Dragon Lair Tavern. After a long drawn out bureacratic process which, of course, included the standard 120 S.E.D (Standard Earth Day) period of assessment of assets, the bank held a sealed bid auction to liquidate all properties that once belonged to Reaper's beloved leader.

When Reaper stopped in at Wandaa's place to have a few shot's before going out searching for Super Bad - again - he overheard the CEO of Cozmik Chaos, drunk and fondling a virgin, discussing the auction with one of his print editors.

Well, when Reap heard the shocking news he pondered for days the best course of action the he should take - one that would be beneficial for all Neechi. Naturally, Dragon would not answer his VID-Phone or reply to his Tach Pages, so Reap did the only thing that he could think of: He went to the bank and transferred all his credits from savings into his business account and then walked down the hall to the collections department. There he filled out an auction ballot, had it verified and sealed by the receptionist, and then left to go try and find Razor's Kiss for their weekly SOL training.

Well, 2 weeks later Reap gets a tach-mail that says he was the high bidder and that he needs to go to the bank to fill out the appropriate paperwork.

2 days later, here Reaper sits, pretending not to look at Kitana's ass (and failing miserably, by the way) and trying to get up the courage to do what must be done.

"Dammit!" he mumbles to himself.

Reaper rises from the bar and floats down to where Kitana has just finished her conversation with Wandaa. He pulls out a piece of paper and slides it across the bar.

Looking confused she hesitantly starts reading the legal document. After a moment she stops reading the paper and looks up at Reaper with a mixed look of puzzlement, confusion, and shock.

"You're ****tin' me, right?"

"No Kitty, it's official."

"But this can't be right. Are you sure this is what you bid on?"

"Absolutely." Reaper grinned mischievously.

"Alright, but I think your an absolute nut." Kitty said shaking her head in disbelief. "I'll be right back." She walked to the back storage room and disappeared from sight.

While waiting Reaper glanced around another time and the untidy establishment and something caught his eye on the mirrored shelf behind the credit scanner. Closer investigation revealed it to be a Screen Shot of a Devil's Fist agent blowing up Dragon's nephew Buck.

"Damn!" Reaper breathed. "Those sick bastards! They sent him a picture of the hit..x" His train of thought was interrupted by Kitana struggling with a rather large and apparently heavy box, trying like hell to get out of the storeroom doorway. Reap rushed over to her aid and helped her set the parcel down on the bar.

"Well, there ya go Reap. That's all of it."

"Thanks for getting it all, Kitty. I should have helped ya."

"I don't need help from a man, Reap. If I can handle an Archangel just fine, I can handle this crap no-problemo"

Reaper grinned to himself, the year 2236 and the feminist movement still hadn't reached it's destination. Oh well, there were worse things in life than a woman with a chip on her shoulder.

"All right, Kitty. I gotta take off. If our illustrious leader should put in an appearance sometime soon, tell him to drop me a line, I just finished up the new insignia for the clan and I want his opinion before I put it on the clan boards."

"Will do, Reap. You're still gonna spin this Friday at your place?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I'll be there doin my 'wicky wicky' thing... I'll see ya then?"

"Yup, me and Wanda are gonna stop in and have few drinks and maybe dance a little, she's all pissed off at Vec right now so she wants to get out."

"Poor bastard, glad she's not mad at me."

"No Sh*t!"

Reaper leaned over and tried to conceal his excitement as he gingerly pulled the lid open on his newest possession. As he lovingly looked on the contents of the package a smile spread across his face. It was a smile of utter and complete happiness, like joy in the heart.

There in the package, for the price of 1 credit per bottle, a savings of 22 credits per bottle mind you, was every bottle of Jaegermeister that the bar had.

Reaper had never known such bliss, and he drifted out of the bar into a future sure to be hazy and vaguely tasting of black licorice.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 05:55:54 pm

“Jading the Fringe”
by
FyreHeart of the Void Alliance and Scadian Wraith


In the dawn of a new age the warrior's heart leads many a fine pilot to the war drums' rage of battle. Today would be no different from any other glorious day, as war grips the Fringe and tries to strangle the freedom that everyone fights for. The fight would continue and the war would march on to the thunderous blasts of plasma rockets and solaris torpedos. Today many would lift up their banners and charge that imaginary hill to do battle for their honor and ethics. Today many would die and a few skilled and lucky pilots would live to continue on the struggle for freedom. This once peaceful fold of space and time, has seen many brave warriors fall, and the lamentations of women can still be heard echoing thru many a space station or capital ship. Today was no different than any other day I can remember.

Yes, peace had ruled the Fringe before the arrival of man. Now something else has come. Something - other. Perhaps these were the original inhabitants. Perhaps they come from somewhere yet unknown and space unexplored. Regardless, they have rocked the petty clashes between clans and created a united front. Humanity of the Fringe comes together to hold on to what has become theirs.

And somewhere in Bora space, a young girl is born.

Lovingly her parents cradle here, and christen her "Jade". Little do they know the significance she is born for.

They had come from nowhere with no destiny. They flew strange craft to hide their features from the prying eyes of the human aliens they were boand to conquer. The invasion had begun. Their enemies had united. This was a formiddible drawback, but they must continue - wipe them out!

ATTACK ON HUMAN BASE, TAUROS, 2264: 20 YEARS AFTER FIRST INVASION.

The battle was nearly over. There were just 5 enemy craft left that they would have to destroy the to protect the base. They attacked. 4 enemies left.

"Damn! They've taken 2 of ours. We cant hold out!"

Suddenly, a black fighter came out of the endless night of space. Firing an array of modified Bora and Spanner weapons, the remaining 4 were mincemeat.

"Damn, man, nice shooting! We owe you!!"

The mystery pilot spoke, "I'm a woman, and my callsign is JADE."


She vanished as quickly as she had come. Her black ship seemed invisible - untraceable.

For days afterward, TachBand was alive with murmurings of "Jade." Who was she? Where had she come from? What did she want? The few who knew her fell silent - once she was Bora, but now...

Then, another report. Another battle almost lost, turned around by the enigma of Jade.

In the weeks that followed, every human victory was reported with the name "Jade." A battered and bruised humanity had found a new messiah - a new cry to rally around. Under the banner of "Jade", piece by piece humanity began to reassemble the fractured space it once claimed.

Sitting aloft in his menacing, stealthed capital ship the mysterious leader of the invaders sits in his chair in deaths silence,looking over the holo vid of the last battle.He sits in his chair,which is more like a massive titanium throne,and he soothes his pet jaraych,that lies in his lap.This small, furless reptilian creature,spreads out its squid like tenticals,oozes, and wraps his appendages around his masters torso and thorax,trying to confort him after feeling his initial pulse of insult and rage.The master sits amused and uses his free hand to run over the controls on his throne to see what his skilled warriors did to meet defeat on this cold day in the vacuum of hell.The holo vid unit flashes,erupting blue and red light from the apex of the unit,filling the desolate command room. The last battle is displayed in the air before the strange master,as he analyzes the attack and views the slaughter of his seemingless inept pilots.

"hmmmm" crackles the mysterious master,"looks like we have a new thorn that pierces the side of our conquest.Should I send a legion of the dimension shifting, scadian wraiths to find this menacing shadow that lurks and halts our path to victory or perhaps I should take my ship and meet this JADE head to head in armed combat" the master speaks telepathically bonded to his most favored and cheerished pet.The creature now has a firm grasp on his master,and is feeding off of his negativity,filling itself with the delicious energy his symbiotic master is nonchalantly feeding him.The flow of energy crackles and courses thru the two beings uniting them as one mind and one spirit.As the negativity fills the small jaraych,it starts becoming translucent revealing all of the cosmos to its master scanning form.

Floating in the void of his astral form, Melniborax shifts thru the many tangents that line his present path,looking for a reality in which he can best this new threat,this JADE.The path of conquest he seeks is blocked by many foggy illusions,causing the master to strain his innate mental abilities almost to his sundering point.Even utilizing his pets cosmic awareness abilities,he seems unable to break this shimmering, blue vortex that blocks his path to this forbidden knowledge.The master's mind races frantically as he flexes his mind as he would any other muscle in his corporial form,and trys vainly again to unlock the barrier that lies in his path."This jade is strong in the arcane ways,perhaps she is an older breed of being such as we are my precious pet?",the master relays to his raptured friend.

Melniborax recedes from his cosmic probings and ponders. If this creature - this "Jade" - is as ancient as he, she may be beyond the reaches of his probing. But there are others greater than he. He flicks at the controls on his mighty chair and reads the instantaneous response. It tells him that he has yet a few hours to model his new reality. A few precious hours to prepare. The creatures morph and warp into the chamber, bending reality to their will rather than obey its dictates. The group of Ancients exchange the timeless greeting, and begin their work. Each jaraych morphs toward the others, while remaining affixed to its master. They join in the center, become transparent, and open their masters' minds to each other and the cosmos. Together, they search through the mere 10 dimensions of this little continuum, searching throughout space and time itself. Together, they would bend the models, probe the possibilities, and shape the reality that would defeat Jade. Yet the oldest of the Ancients would be shaken by what they discover...

In a far of corner of space in a remote section of the fringe,on a tranquil and beautiful planet, a ship descends cutting the atmosphere in a blazing path of fire.The ship slowly sets down and the hatch opens with a hiss,as the air pressure inside the ship finds a confortable equilibrium with that of the natural world.A red haired, fiery spirited woman descends from the ship and looks around her surroundings.She is wearing a pair of black,multipocketed cargo pants,a red silk tunic,and a par of titanium mesh vambraces.At her waist on a black leather belt hangs a blaster and a few assortments of technology and equipment that have more than once served her well.Her belt holds shut her black multipocketed vest and on her feet are strapped a pair of leather thigh high boots.

The woman touches a button on her wrist/vambraces and the tail-end of her ship opens up.She hits another button and a hover cycle emerges from the depths of her craft.

The woman looks around,smelling the clean air,and she is glad for the oppurtunity to be out of the cramped ship that has been her home for the last few weeks.The artificial air in her craft is not as clean as natural air,and the beauty flex's her neck sky ward feeling the warmth of the sun on her face.The sun bathes the woman and she starts feeling the cosmic flow of life that surrounds and penetrates everything.She takes another deep breath and starts to concentrate on her mission at hand.

The lovely creature reaches into here canvas sack that is slung like a bandaleer over her vest,and she pulls out a leather hide scoll.She opens it using an old incantation that renders the runes that protect this scroll obsolete.A flare of blue energy passes from the woman and into the parchment and the scoll opens,revealing a map.The map is thousands of years old and the strange markings on the parchment are from a time when man walked as apes.

She sits back and reads the parchment outloud.

"Behold the end of times come when the nightmares from the sky devoure the worlds of all things.Behold the end of times when the one shall rise from the apes and stand alone to combat this curse and evil.Behold the temple of the spirit that shall be the weapon and the knowledge for the salvation from these cursed creatures.Behold the three gems of power that when united will be a weapon that shall bring light and justice to the people of this time.Behold the lamp of knowledge that shines forever in the minds of many,and behold the power that will cleanse the universe"

In a mere second the parchement glows and a beam of shimmering blue energy,erupts from the parchment and a straight beam of light marks the spot where the woman is to begin her quest for the three stones of truth,light,and love.

She jumps on her hover cycle,hits another bottom on her wrist that turns her ship invisible to the normal light waves that most creatures see,she primes the throttle,and is off on her quest to save the known universe from the ancient evil that seems never to stop.


The Ancients recede from their cosmic probings into a stunned silence. Jade was merely a child. An infant in the Cosmos. Yet she alone could tap three power centers that were as ancient as they themselves. She was the key that united and focused them.

The power centers themselves had evaded the Ancients' detection, and even now confounded their modeling and shaping. Reality would not bend to their will, for it was already bent around this timeless force. They would have to proceed blindly, trapped in linear time like the lesser beings that infested this universe.

Melniborax was ejected from the cosmic probing, his jaraych settling contentedly in his lap. "Melniborax," the Ancients intoned together, still joined, "you shall seek this Jade. All the resources of our race are yours. Destroy her. Let her not unlock the timeless force."

"So be it. I shall retrieve the power centers. We shall absorb them into ourselves and break the chain she seeks to create." The plan he voiced was an old one. Countless realities had fallen to the Ancient Ones by this strategy.

"Impossible," the Ancients responded. "The timeless force defies our detection and control, and you lack the essence to obtain it. Destroy the child. Without her to focus the energies, the timeless force cannot oppose us."

Melniborax bowed deeply and left the room.

********

The planet's thick foliage swatted Jade and clawed at her flowing red hair. Halting in a marshy clearing, she dismounted, picked debris from her hair, and stuffed the unruly mass under her helmet.

She retrieved the ancient scroll and stepped away from her hover cycle into a break in the forest canopy. It flickered with a life of its own, and the runes morphed and blended until the beam of blue light again split the sky. Squinting against the blinding sun, she singled a peak out of the distant mountains. Aiming her wrist vambrace at it, she tickled the controls and a coherent light beam dashed forth and bounced back.

"'Bout blasted time I could image that spot," she muttered. "Finally I can use my tracking computer."

She returned to her cycle, carefully sealing the scroll according to runes only she could read, and hid it away. She closed her faceplate, hastily clawing at some of the stains plant stems had left on it, and continued her quest.

********

Late in the evening, she again gazed at the scroll under the light of her campfire. In the midst of the runes was the image of a woman. The colors were faded, but Jade imagined the woman to have red hair. Beneath her feet was a tiny image of a temple pyramid. The woman stood tall, arms outstretched, with shining beams coming from a finger on each hand and merging at a spot on her forehead, which glowed with an ethereal radiance. Together they formed a kind of sacred triangle which mimicked the pyramid beneath her feet.

Suddenly, her head shot up, ears probing the darkness. Something was amiss. Quickly she sealed the scroll and locked it in her hover cycle. She then stepped back into the firelight, gazing intently into the darkness. The night seemed to darken and encroach on her senses. There was an enemy here, one she could not see or hear. Quietly, she loosed the thong securing her blaster, and primed her vambraces to emit their energy shield. Tense, with the fire to her back, sweat trickles down her perfect face as minutes slither by. Silence.

A blue glow catches her eye, emanating from within her cycle. As she nears it, she senses the darkness being driven back, and suddenly clarity comes. The enemy is not like her. She cannot fight it with shields and blasters. Tonight, its weapon is fear.

Jade stands tall and takes a deep breath of the cool, wet air. There will be no sleep tonight. She secures her blaster, disables her energy shield, and mounts her hover cycle. Before closing her helmet's faceplate, she looks into the darkness and grins.

"You lost this one," she breathes, and her cycle shoots away into the darkness.

Sitting in the flora and the dense foliage,a dark presences glares at its target,waiting for the right moment when it would pounce and make its victim a meal.It's eyes flare an unholy blue fire,that seems to scan the endless ways and the jungle around it.It watches as it's prey speeds away into the darkness of the jungle on it's metal beast.The creature ponders to itself the most logical course of action to best kill this threat.

The creature slowly starts focusing on it's preys mind.Trying to open up this humans head would be an easy task,but this human is not ordinary by any legends standard.The creature flexes its abilities and slowly an image starts to fade and appear in the monsters minds eye.The image starts to take shape, of a temple with ancient runes at the apex of the local mountain."Very interesting" the creature reflects."This is the warrior who has awakened my ancient rest.I hope she can last longer than the others who have tried to steal my treasure," the creature sneers to itself.

The creature focus's again and its life memories start to flood thru its thoughts.Ancient times and ancient promises,rush to meet its masters commands.This ancient creature can remember when the temple was occupied by scholars and spiritual leaders,healers and dreamers.It can remember a time when the stones of power were used to help ease the suffering of people and light a beacon for all to see throughout the universe.It could rememebr a time when the darkness and vastness of space were all united to defeat another enemy of evil.It could remember the day,it was summoned and its bargain was struck with the leaders of the temple.For the greater good of every living species,the creature promised to guard that temple for all time.For only he knows the fullest power of the three stones.He knows that this untrained human,could destroy the cosmos if she did not have complete control and understanding of the stones.

The monster sits back and thinks,it's ethereal form partially phases thru the tree it rests upon."If i could make an allegiance with this woman,and train her,then perhaps I could have her do my bidding.Yes i will train this human,take the lost light of knowledge,and hold it secure to only my whims".

The creature closes it's eyes and fades back to its resting spot in the temple."SHe will be here soon.......hmmmmmmmmmm......what shape shall i assume that will not threaten her?" the creature asks itself.Slowly the creature takes the form of a small male child that is badly hurt.It's form becomes solid,as the beast morphs into the appearance of the small child.The child curls up in the center of the room,and falls asleep awaiting the time when the woman would find him.


Melniborax watches the creature as it sets to lure the girl and smiles. His essence hovers around the planet, looking for other servants to capture and place in her path. To challenge such a lowly creature seems almost unjust, but his race must feed on this reality to live. She will not be allowed to challenge them.

Jade forces her hover bike over the last steep rise onto a steppe. Her guidance computer blinks excitedly, alerting her that she's near her goal. The journey has been exhausting, but as a dark maw gashing the mountainside looms larger before her speeding bike, her pulse quickens with anticipation.

Dust clouds swirl up around her as she pulls her bike to a halt. She switches off the guidance computer, it's frenetic blinking long since trying her patience, and retrieves the scroll. The blue beam fires deep into the cave, and she slumps on her seat, satisfied. Stuffing the secured scroll in her pack, she makes her way into the darkness.

And inside, a tiny boy has seen the blue light, and smiles an inhuman smile...

In a deep covered area of space,in a dark matter nebula,a huge Caldorian battle cruiser dips and dives,avoiding the debris of space.Bright flares of laser fire proceed the huge craft,destroying the huge chunks of rock and other space matter that rise and fall as the ship passes.Explosion after explosion can be felt as the debris and asterioids become nothing but dust.The ship is silent except for its automated laser cannons,the ion trail it leaves disapates as the ship slowly trudges thru the cold vaccum of space.

The captain sits in his chair.His eyes are still laden with the sleep one accumulates after decades of hyber sleep.He sits there at his bridge controls,trying to regain some memories of the last 75 years.Slowly his memories start flooding him,and he is once again aware of the episode that cost him and his crew 75 years of their lives.The man is tall for a human,coming in at an amazing 6 feet 7 inches.He is wearing a long mongolain style vest that splits at the front.His green multi pocketed, cargo pants,are wrinkled and faded.His once bald head is now covered with waist length black hair,His black goatee has been transformed into a beard that nearly touches his stomach.

Wiping the sleep from his eyes,the man slowly starts to take the ship off of automatic pilot.He hits button after button,gives many a retinal scan,and voice imprints to lift the encryptions his ship used to protect them as they slept.

"Morning captian" a friendly computer says,startling the man for a brief second."I have been un able to establish a link with the local time beacon,so I cannot aprize you of the current date and time.Records indicate that it is 75 years past our last time together"

"Greetings and salutations Dora,I hope these past 75 years have given you the time you need to repair and time to get all our malfunctions under guidance?" the man asks as he proceeds to look over the past 75 years of mission logs."It seems we were permitted to sleep an additional 10 years past what I set the hybernation units too,what is the reason for our extended sleep Dora?" he remarks as he looks over the log.

"Your sleep was extended to give the repair droids and myself time to heal.After we fell into that black hole,I needed more time to repair the ship,then was originally predicted.The repair druids have needed that extra time to mine this secluded asteroid belt,and they required more time to manufacture the materials needed to fix myself.I am up and running to full capacity captain,and I await your commands" the ship says in a soothing female voice. "Please waken my men Dora,and store the ship from auto to manual controls.Have you been able to provide me with any information as to are current location?"

"Sir the best I can figure is that we are 50,000 light years from home.That black hole acted like a quantun mass accelerator,throwing us off course for what I fear will be the rest of our lives.I have calculated that it will take us approximately 75 years to reach our solar system,at maximum speed.I have also been processing vast amounts of communications I have been recieving from sources outside of this dark nebula.It appears to me Captain,that a war is being waged and thousands if not millions of life forms in this corner of the universe are being extermintated at an alarming rate."

"So basically what you are saying,my beloved Dora,is that once again we find ourselves in another mess?" the captain painfully speaks,the lines of worry can be seen underneath his pelt of dark hair.

"Yes sir I am afraid we are not in the best of arenas at this time.Captain,I have intercepted an energy reading that I have never recorded.The energy reading comes from a small planet,located 2 light years from our current position.The readings are unknown to me and none of my hypothesis can direct how to reproduce this source of energy.The science computer has been analyzing this source for the last day,and it has come to the conclusion that with this source of power we could create a device that would act like a quantum mass accelerator that could get us home in a few weeks.I have plotted a course to this planet,shall I activate the manuevering thrusters and proceed to this heading captain?" the soothing voices inquires?

"Dora,please show me what information you have gathered on this unknown power source," he asks as the hope for returning home once again rushes thru him.He reviews the logs,the charts and the energy matrix of this new and potentially usefull source of energy."Dora,please awaken the crew and when they have regained their senses alert them that our new destination is that small planet.Have you witnessed any activity from the aggresors of this war we are about to join?" he asks as he sits in his chair drinking a black substance that smells of almonds and butterscotch.

"Sir I have been monitoring this war for the past 7 years.I am afraid the force which is destroying these people are stronger and more complex then any force we have ever encountered.Their craft are faster and sleeker than our own,but their weapons have nothing on our own weapons.I predict that if we entered this campaign we will sustain heavy loses,but we do have a chance at turning the tide of battle to help these humans that are being exterminated.I have been working on a few new ideas,and I have increased the power of our shields to 1,000 trimes what they use to be.The star drive is up and running and It is also 500 times faster then when you and the crew entered hypersleep.If we are cautious and wise,we can help these people in this galaxy,and perhaps claim an area of this galaxy in the name of the Caldorian Empire."

The captain sits in his chair thinking,he ponders over the equation,and quickly settles on the idea that he is a warrior and as such he will join this crusade and help this beings in this corner of the galaxy."Dora I am gonna go get in uniform,please keep the ship at a stop halt until my men have a chance to get on thier feet."

"As you command Captain Gyllian ",the voice replies.


The Captain gets up from his chair.His legs are weak from the 75 year slumber and as he rises he can feel the gravity of the situation all about his form.He proceeds thru the blast doors,and they close behind him wish a swoosh.

Jade's headlamp plays across the craggy terrain. Her progress is slow. Around her, the cave walls are littered with religious art, and amidst the rubble at her feet are many a treasured possession offered to a beloved god. Something in her senses the power in this place, and it invigorates her.

Presently, the walls smooth out, and the cave takes on a more temple-like appearance. The art takes on a higher class, clearly done by devout professionals. She weaves her way through the debris and entry chamber, and the cave opens into a massive anteroom.

As her awe gives way to reality, a faint sound catches her ears. She looses her blaster from its holster and stealthily moves toward the sound. As she moves closer, the sound resolves itself into a quiet weeping. She moves more quickly. Huddled behind a shrine, she finds a small boy, crying softly. Quickly, she holsters her weapon and touches him lightly on the shoulder.

"Hey," Jade whispers tenderly, "hey, are you all right?" The little boy starts and rolls over to see her, suddenly shuffling backwards with a look of fear.

"Hey, it's OK. I'm not going to hurt you," she coos, hands outstretched. "Can you speak? What's your name?"

He sits up, and bites his finger, eyes wide. Jade shuffles closer and sits down. "Hey, are you hurt? Can you tell me your name?"

"I..." he starts, then bites his finger again.

"Yeah? It's OK. I won't hurt you."

"I... ungy," he says, and dots his hand to his lips.

"Ungy? Oh, hungry! Sure. Here ya go." She swings off her satchel and reaches in for a morsel. The boy cranes his neck to glance inside as she's rummaging through, and sits back satisifed, having seen the scroll.

"Here ya go." The boy reaches out tenatively and takes a cautious bite of the bar she offered, then devours it.

"There ya go. See? I'm not so bad, am I? Can you tell me your name?"

He offers a shy smile, and says "I Ilyam."

"Ilyam? Do you mean William?"

The boy shakes his head, "yust Ilyam."

Jade shrugs, "OK. So how did you get here? What happened to you?" The little boy smiles and just shrugs.

"Tell ya what," Jade continues, "I'm going to get you outta here, but first I have something to do." She stands and turns toward the altar platform to begin her search for the first gem, but Ilyam clings to her leg.

"No leave! No leave!"

"Look, I said I'm not going to leave you, I just need to look for something first."

"No! No leave!" and the child clings to her leg tighter, punctuated by a shrill wailing. Jade tries without success to pry the boy loose, but finally resigns herself to dragging him along. She lifts him from the waist, turning him upside down as he clings to her leg, and makes her way awkwardly toward the altar.

The altar had a raised platform of sorts on it, presumably from which the officiating priests harangued the worshippers. As she made her way behind it, Ilyam loosened his grip on her leg. She sat him down, and he scuttled over to the platform and sat on it, watching her. She shook her head, and began her search, looking in each compartment, in the crags, in the holy receptacles preserved for whatever worship this temple housed. All came up empty. She finally descended to her knees and began crawling about, searching the seams between the bricks and cracks in the floor.

"What you doing?" Ilyam's voice echoed in the massive stone hall.

"I told you, I have to find something."

"You no tell me that. What you find?"

"A... gem. A bright stone of some kind."

"What it look like?"

Jade, frustrated, spun on her heel. "It looks..." she began, reaching in her satchel for the scroll, then she caught herself. She let go of the scroll and rummaged through her bag for some of her jewelry. "It looks something like this," she concluded, producing an artificial diamond earring.

"Oh, you look for shining ring," Ilyam replied. He slid off the platform and ran to the left wall. His hand disappeared inside the wall for a moment, and then a grinding sound commenced above Jade's head. She jumped back and looked up. A door was opening in the wall above her head, from which a red glow emanated. She swung up on the platform and looked in. A ring. Upon it was mounted a red gem, which glowed in and out, as if it was breathing.

Jade hopped down from the platform and drug a pot over to the wall, turned it over, and stood on it. She could just reach in the hole. As she fumbled with the ring, it seemed to be moving on its own. When she drew her hand out, the ring was on her finger.

She held her hand out straight and gazed at the beautiful stone mounted on her finger. It seemed to speak to her, warming her, and its glow grew to fill the room.

********

Captain Gyllian strode onto the bridge with confidence, decked out in full uniform. Where it was dark a few hours ago, it was now light. Where there was solitude was now abuzz with activity. Darkened consoles were now manned and vibrant with activity.

"Dora! Status report," Gyllian commands as he settles into his seat.

"All hands accounted for," intones the computer's feminine voice. "All systems go. We await your command."

"Helm?"

"Course laid in, Captain. Should be a short trip."

"All ahead full."

"Aye, sir."

Within moments an angular mass solidified out of the dusty nebula, swirls of space dust and particles of the vacuum bounding out of its way. From this short distance, the target star loomed bright in the viewport, and then the Singularity Drive flexed its power. A wash of nausea crept through each crew member, and the ship sped on its way.

It seemed but a moment's breath before the Singularity Drive switched off, gracing the crew with another wash of nausea. Before them lay a beautiful blue-green orb.

"Helm, take us into orbit. Dora, scan the surface."

"Aye." The ship's chemical boosters fired, and the ship slowly began to move into orbit around the little planet.

"Scan complete, Captain," intoned Dora, "significant life form readings. Few appear sentient. The large energy source appears to be atop a mountain on the northern continent. Also, I am detecting a faint energy signature matching the enemy I advised you of earlier."

"Acknowledged. Thank you, Dora. Please do a threat assessment while we prepare a landing party."

"As you command."

********

Jade and Ilyam emerged from the rubble strewn cave a bit battered. Again in the sunlight, Jade gazed at the ring now on her finger. She sensed - something - from it. She felt her essence searching, as if for an activation switch.

"If only I could figure out how you worked," she whispered to the stone.

"I show you," Ilyam replied.

Jade started, surprised that he overheard her.

"Ok." She shrugged. Ilyam made a show of trying to maneuver himself around her hand, trying to get in just the right spot to "activate" the ring.

"I no do. You take ring off. I wear."

Jade's eyes narrowed. Something felt wrong, but she didn't know what else to do. So, she reached to take the ring off. She pulled. She twisted. It stayed firm. The ring could not be removed.

The creature that was Ilyam receded for an instant. It had not expected this.

To be continued...

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:00:31 pm


“MisterFour”
by
MisterFour of the Iconian Knights


MisterFour was recently asked why he never included himself in his stories.
This was his answer...


Mr.4 woke up aboard the IK Capitol Ship Hecate and lay there, thinking about his Warhammer and the conflict ahead. His dreams had been disjointed and full of blue deserts and moons of molten brass...weeping suns like Dali paintings... He shook his head and made his coffee, knowing that if space were an ocean, then the Hecate was going into treacherous, blood-filled waters. The outpost station known as Trindicate had been sending reports of sporadic conflicts with Mercenary Bandits, and then communications had been completely lost.

The Mess hall was largely vacant, all personnel manning stations or performing last minute maintenance on their ships. Every pilot possessed an instinct, a sense for when there was going to be battle...you couldn't see it straight ahead, only in corners or behind closed doors, shuffling and pacing like a minotaur, bellowing it's rage in Minoan labyrinths of stone and blood.

Mr.4 looked at his simple bowl of oatmeal. He felt calm, as if he was on the uppermost floor of some Earth city structure, gazing down upon tenemant apartments far below, as if he were the CEO of some mega corporation, a millionaire, and not an Archon Knight about to go into conflict. Then there was the klaxon wail of impending battle. A few eye blinks and he was striding to the main flight corridor, followed by Squiggy the Vorpal Bunny.

"Sir, we have reports of fighting just outside of Trindicate Station...interceptors report several wings patrolling the area, and the wreckage of the Metropolis Capitol Ship...all hands lost..." Disturbing, he thought. That means the Mercenary Bandit group known as the Skell had finally made their move, after years of heightening agression, all because of a dispute over ripstar fields. He knew it would come to this.

"Squiggy, I want you to stay near the Ghostrider's. I have been informed I have to go solo."

"Sir, that's impossible! Who will be your wingman?"

Mr.4's answer was cut short by Overlord Bloodstar.

"Gentlemen, it is war out there...the Skell have finally crossed the line between honor and brutality...Trindicate station is in ruins..." There was the sudden sound as the pilots started speaking at once, horrified...

"We count the dead in the thousands, with casualties on both sides...the Skell have even fired on Medical Freighters, despite treaties a hundred years old..." More cries of outrage echoed in the hold.

"Knights, this is a punitive mission, now. Make those bandits pay in blood..."

A voice of triumph, everyone felt the rush, the adrenaline.

"All of you shall form a part of a pincer maneuver, we shall trap them between the teeth of our firepower, the Hecate on one side, with all of the combined wings of our ships, and Mr.4 on the other." Everyone murmured their approval. RabidChicken patted Four on the shoulder, and more than a few congratulated him. The flashes of cameras everywhere, and Four posed a little.

"Hey, what can I say." He said to a nearby ensign.

"Knights, show no mercy..."

There was the sudden rush as the men and women of the Iconian Knights boarded thier ships, the Hold was a cacophony of hydraulics, warning sounds, ship systems powering up and vidscreens lighting up, showing battle reports.

Mr.4 signed several autographs and then made his way to his Warhammer, refitted with the words
"[censored]" on each side. A couple of reporters shouted questions to him.

"Hey Four! Are you nervous about the conflict?"

"Hell no, I got the funk. I'm psycerifico. They're all doomed. I think I'll fight with my eyes closed. Tell you what, remove my lats, technicians...I wanna make this interesting."

While the techs went to work another reporter asked, "Four, what do you plan on doing after this battle?"

"Oh, I finally finished some medical research I have been working on. I have synthesized a chemical compound that will allow humans to live forever. So I cured Death, good job, huh?"

"Any other advice, Four?"

"Yeah, humility is for people who aren't the greatest frikkin' pilots in all of Fringe space, like me. I totally rock the house. Oh by the way-" Four reached into his back pocket and threw a manual into the throng of reporters.

"I was bored so I managed to construct the Unified Field Theory. I also disproved Quantum mechanics. Turns out it's all based on ether. Oh yeah, the Earth is hollow and it was the man on the grassy knoll. While I was at it, also turns out that with a few simple quadrilineal algebraic equations I was able to prove that Stephen Hawking was totally way off. So somebody publish this. God I am beautiful."

Four put on his helmet and closed the hatch of his Warhammer, the afterburners filling the ship with a vibrational hum, the HUD flashing to life in an electric rush of polygons.

Four maneuvered his starfighter out of the Hold and into space, the cold and endless night all around him...he was complete, here, at home. The first wing of Skell interceptors came ahead of a Capitol Ship, the Gargoyle, bristling with weaponry, steel and black in the vacuum reaches.

"Aww, man, I gotta fight all that. This sucks. I need a toothpick. Waitaminute, how about some theme music."

Four made a few quick adjustments, the interceptors closing in, sharks in the sea of stars that was space.

The Peter Gunn theme filled the cockpit.

The first 52 Interceptors were pretty difficult, even by Mr.4's standards. At last, as he was swerving hard, completely out of plasmas, his shields torn to so much galactic dust and light, his fingers constantly hitting the S and D keys because he kept forgetting he had no lats, his ship was utterly annihilated with a lucky nuclear weapon. As the white light engulfed his craft, he realized that it was a bad idea to use a trackball instead of a mouse...

Floating outward from the explosion, he tore off his flight suit to reveal a blue costume, red cape and a red S on his chest. He flew forward, the interceptors firing streams of missiles, and he used the Force to send them back, destroying the remaining starcraft. Then red heat rays shot from his eyes and cut the Capitol Ship Gargoyle completely in two. The explosion was spectacular, done by Industrial Light and Magic, it took one thousand hours to do, was done by one hundred Korean children in sweat shops working for a bowl of rice a day, and still put the entire production way over budget.

Hurtling towards the earth at time-rending speeds, Four flew around it until time stopped and went backwards, so he was able to prevent the destruction of the Trindiate station as well as World War II.

Finally, sitting in a lawn chair at the Playboy mansion, surrounded by adoring Playmates, Four congratulated Hugh Hefner on a good fiscal year, as well as a perfect vodka martini.

MisterFour: There, I wrote about myself! Happy??
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:04:47 pm


“Ode to No One”
by
Griffin Moone of the Void Alliance


Scooby Doo and Havik sat quietly at a long, pressed wood table, in uncomfortable plastic chairs. Havik thought perhaps they'd been designed to straighten the kinks that tend to develop in zero gravity out of one's back. Scooby knew they weren't designed with hangovers in mind.

In front of each a silver tray, too battered and scratched to reflect much more than dim colorizations of the pilots, held a conglomeration that neither would have described as food, prepared as if edibility were an afterthought. It simmered, and seemed to congeal before them under the harsh, bare lights above. Havik poised his fork above a brownish slab of solidity, looking like a hallucinogenic steak, wondering if prodding it may stir it back to life. Scooby, after letting his hand slip from underneath his chin and his head drop for the fifth time, stared through half closed eyes at the coffee cup, fifteen miles away, at the other end of his tray. Suddenly the relative quiet of the cafeteria was shattered by a blood curdling-scream. A figure, tall and thin, rushed between the tables in a ducking run. He charged towards them, rolling around other patrons, his eyes running madly over the room. Havik saw Zajj a second before he leapt onto their table, grabbed a knife from off Scooby's tray, waved it above his head and screamed "Die!!!!!!!!!" He then charged out of the room, knocking down two unknown pilots as they swaggered in.

"I dare ask, who was that boy?" Scooby seemed a fraction more alive than a moment before.

"I'd love to tell ya, Scoob," Havik said, "but no one has quite figured out how to pronounce his name."

-----------------------

Werewolf closed up the access panel on the side of a glimmering Orion, one with its original paint job from Galspan intact. He smiled a wide grin at its owner, leaned back and said, "There you are, Jake, all setup for ya."

The pilot, a bit nervous and excited, pumped Werewolf's hand at a rate that under slightly less-optimal gravity conditions might have induced flight.

"Thank you so much mister Werewolf, sir," he gushed, "I don't know what I would have done without your help."

"No problem," Werewolf yanked his hand away, "Helpin' new pilots is what I do best." A few minutes later, his face still frozen in that smirk, Werewolf was standing behind a thick piece of plasiteel, guarding against the vacuum that was soon to occupy the hanger. Hannibal was standing next to him, complaining.

"Man, I don't get it," he tapped on the glass at the Orion as it began to slowly lift off, "all these new pilots show up, can't fly there way out of a paper bag, all calling themselves 'Jake Logan'. Why? Because some space cowboy decides to announce to the galaxy that he single-handedly won the Galspan-Bora war. Suddenly, everyone wants to fly, and use his friggin' name. And you're out there helpin' 'em. Telling 'em how to fly, what to put on there ship. All our best tricks, man."

He gazed down at the open containers that once held components that could easily be attached to both Bora and Galspan fighters.

"Look at that," Hannibal continued, pointing at the boxes. "You gave him all the newest reserve systems, top-of-line missile defense systems, and, oh my god, you gave him the brand new booster from PPS. I don't even have one of-"

He stopped in mid-breath, suddenly realizing a box was missing, one that should have been with the rest. Slowly, his face turned upwards into a grin as well.

"You didn't give him lats. You evil, evil bastard."

Werewolf turned and walked out of the room, and almost seemed to whistle.

-----------------------

"Commander on the deck!" a yoeman called out as Decon passed through the sliding door.

"What the hell is it?" he barked, annoyed at having his breakfast interrupted. He'd been in command of a convoy for the past three days, as it traveled from spaceport to spaceport, making the long journey to Iconian territory in the Fringe.

"Sir, a warhammer is playing havoc with the front line escorts," a junior officer said after dropping his salute, pointing to a screen.

"Whose?" Decon stepped forward and bent to read the screen. He disliked being irritated, particularly before his coffee, but if asked in private, he would admit that the yelling part wasn't so bad.

"Sir, it's one of ours sir," the officer almost dropped dead from the gaze he received. He hastened to continue, "The ship is designated as MisterFour's, sir." Fifteen levels, almost straight down from where Decon stood, a loud buzz awoke MisterFour from his sleeping bunk. Spilling sheets to the floor, he turned over and reached to flip the comm. switch.

Three minutes later, he passed through the same door Decon had, but with less fanfare. He was still holding one of his boots, not sure whether or not flight boots were necessary without a ship to fly.

"Is that your hammer?" Decon pointed to a screen, a video feed from one of the capital ships near the commotion.

Four blinked through the daze of sleep and immediately recognized the battle scars on his warship.

"Yeah, but..."

"Then who the hell is flying it?"

"I... I..." Misterfour shook his head to clear it of sleep; still the only thought that seemed to circle his mind was the fact that he'd let his cat out the night before, and it hadn't returned.

-----------------------

Rah Rah Rasputin tumbled through restless sleep. The nightmare had returned. He was alone in his warhammer, facing a thousand ships. They were armed with missiles, guided torpedoes, rockets filled with plasma. Some of them were so tricked out they seemed to hold infinite amounts of armaments, some flew at incredible speeds, and some, he knew, had almost supernatural accuracy.

"I can't hack it!" he screamed in the silence of his dream, as the ships, one by one, began to engage him.

His radar screen flashed from target to target, designating each as a pilot he knew. He'd flown with them before, had read their bulletin posts, flash messages, and almost thought he'd call them friends. The call signs, all familiar, the clan designations; some even matching his own.

The dream usually ended here. But this time it continued for a few more moments. And in those moments he realized that every pilot in the Fringe besides himself, was Scadian Wraith.

-----------------------

"What do you mean, they won't show it?!" he was furious. How could they do this to him? He was once the famed Nasty Butler. He was practically a god! Was he not the king of puns, the prince of the solaris torpedo?

The TNS reporter shrugged as she packed her things. Although the interview was thrown together at the last moment, she thought perhaps she could have pulled it off. But after finishing and sending the shots over a tachyon communication line to the main office, she'd received a curt denial almost immediately.

Had the original pilot for the interview shown, this would never have happened. But Razor's Kiss was notorious for his lack of scheduling, and the reporter was told he could be anywhere in the New Dawn sector.

"Hey, I've flown forever. I could probably fly circles around Razor. I got wit, I got spunk, and besides," he leaned in closely as if he were telling her a secret, only privy to her, "I don't have a philosophy that bases happiness around a Mexican entree."

"The station decides what it will and won't show. I thought you did great, but it's not my decision," and she meant it. He was witty, spunky, and even kind of cute, for a dirty space pilot. But how could she explain to him that the real reason the station refused to air the story? Hell, even she thought it was a tad silly. I mean, she thought, could the public buy a story about a feared pilot in the Fringe who actually called himself Yellow Snowman? How ludicrous is that?

-----------------------

Griffin Moone stumbled back to his table with SuperFurryAnimal and Twilight Jack. Of course, Jack was in disguise, even this far out in The Fringe. One of his music videos played silently on the television behind that bar.

SuperFurry was sipping at a Nitrolite-n-Vodka, his eyes moving slowly over the thinning crowd. Despite a minor duel he'd fought with Moone over a girl, the two remained friends. Mostly, he thought, because they were both bitter enough over women to have something to talk about on the nights they both struck out.

Jack was musing over a gin and tonic, quickly forming the sounds of the bar into a sort of rhythm; he added a beat, in his mind, using clinking bottles and silverware. Laughter became melody, murmured voices, a good bass line. He thought of a few hypnotic lyrics; within four minutes, he'd composed his song.

Griffin, who couldn't tell you what he was drinking had his life depended on it, closed one eye, then the other, trying to decide if the focus could somehow be stopped on a solid object. Finally he noticed that his glass was empty. With one hand on the glass for support, he spun his chair, and half stepped, half fell to the bar.

Upon his landing he smiled largely at the bartender, pointed down at the glass, nodded and when he was at least partially sure the man had seen him, turned to lean his back on the wooden surface. The corner of his eye caught the figure standing next to him, looking up at the television, waiting patiently for her drink. It took him a moment, but he recognized Valkyrie Princess.

"Hi there," he nodded to her, with a boozy grin.

"Oh, hi," she turned slightly to speak, then looked towards the door. Moone was about to continue the conversation when movement behind him caught his attention. She looked over and her face brightened.

Griffin turned to see what was so special, and Razor's Kiss cold cocked him across the jaw.

-----------------------

That's it. That's all. No more. Good day.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:07:05 pm

“Reponse”
by
VA Misterfour


I sometime look upon the fading old suns that are the stars, stars that cast forth light even though they may be long dead when they reach our eyes, and I see them as old, tired friends. It is now, older and not wiser, that I look upon the vault of sapphire that is my sky, my roof, my cyanic prison, and wonder at the children bored by the stories of a tired old man and his Warhammer. The reporters and writers come. They want tales of glory. Stories of noble times, fables of the Voice War, legends of what it was to be the hunted, by both the now departed Devil's Fist or the Fringe Pirates, and I can only squint into the sun filled sky and try to make it all sound like it was not. I think they are polite to an old man. I tell them how God mocks me, how I can no longer fly, and all of the stars are lost to me, I only have this giant sun and it's blue paradise that promises so much, and leaves so little in it's wake, by night. Night is my friend. I can see space, then, the nebulas, the voice of galaxies and the rhymes of all those silver jewels, a vacuum hymn with the poetry of distant universes. But I am not mad at reporters, just like I am not mad at God. Old as I am, I have come to see the Deity as an old gambling partner, who wins often and drinks beer with me. He takes my money but at least I am not bored, and we can laugh at each other's jokes. I tell the reporters not what my head remembers, but what my heart recalls. I tell them of legends, of the academy, when I was but 17, in halls of shining admantium and faux consoles with HUD's gleaming like rubies. I paint it all with a varnish of nostalgia, I make it all sound so promising...and not frozen and black, with faces contorted from rad exposure, like the the ones we pulled out of Skarsik 10. Shall I tell you about it?

Wait, let me finish my first thought. I am old. My mind wanders. I do not mind that Old Gambler taking my life. I only wish he would leave me my memories and mental processes until I finally take that final jaunt. The long goodbye. My head lies. It is sad, I guess, and it filters all my memories to where even the worse bits are shiny and full of gold and glittering amaranthine stardust. I one time heard a reporter for TNN talk wistfully of living out of a Mako, selling all the money you have might have spent on food and instead putting it on a heavy laser or essential components, looking at a console like it was a rosary and praying to the Great Space God for one good run, one big pay off that will set you right. By the time I was 23 all of my old partners were dead. I look at old holos and wish... I listened to the reporter and looked upon a face who only remembers silver days of shining electrum dawns...of ships like Christmas ornaments against the promising jewels that are those long lost stars...those long lost stars that eclipse above me and tell me of wine and days of gossamer light. I drink sometimes and rage at them. I want to strangle them for all the dreams they promised me. I told the reporter...yes, it was just like that, but let me tell you... Here.

Look at this. It's a museum piece, now. See? The rivets upon it's aft? I took hits when I was in Phobos space...those laser burns criss crossing it's belly are from a run in near Madorian space. I was there, when Comerca fought Argentum at the Vault...or was it Phobos? Oh, the engines. I had those rebuilt fifteen times. Blood Pirates took my engines from me. I had named it the Reponse. Why, you ask? Those rails are old, now...as old as my pilot's suit. I should put my helmet in this museum. I should just sit there, on a small wooden stool, motionless, sipping my water and my scotch and not move, so young pilots can ignore me, like they do in the classroom...I laugh. Yes, this ship is mine. I donated it, one day, when I realized that space was not mine anymore, and than I was now consigned to this big grave called earth until I am ready for a smaller one. Here, let's sit inside. I can do that, you know. Rank has it's privileges. I see guards approach like mirthless vampires and I wave my IK Overlord Tags at them like it was a crucifix blessed by some pious archbishop and they flee, thanking me. The Hero. Shoo! Off with you! Ha ha. They leave.

I knew two people aboard Skarsik 10. Reponse and another man, who is revered, so I will give him another name. What is yours? Then that shall be his name. Milazzo. Italian. What is Italian? Never mind... I was 25. Skarsik 10 was the premier Rogue Trader vessel, Miles upon miles of admantium/derridium, of novacannon, Quasartz class missiles and flex shields. It was a Capitol Ship. Remember those? Of course, the micronization that technological advancement brings. Nothing is big, anymore. Well damn it, big ships have balls. Big iron balls. Not like those dainty Flinters I see so much of, shivering in space like chihuahas, quaking like greyhounds. Capitol Ships made you feel like Man could fold space up and put it in his pocket. I bought this Hammer there. They made it for me. How? How did I afford it? I killed a man. I was paid for killing him.

Shocked?

I found him in an asteroid field, chasing old radio communications. I opened with a laser shot...I was in an Orion...you don't know what that is? It was a Galspan ship, pup, smaller than this, like a Flinter...ha ha. I had disguised my flight signals. It was illegal, Star Patrol would arrest you for that, but you could do it with a screwdriver. Now you need a Ph.D and a micro particle accelerator. Ha ha! He was is a peg...a Pegasus...you know that? Good. He was a god. Like Hermes or Balder. I have never seen such a display. We fought for a long time, three minutes...oh! You think it's longer, like in those action vids! Your naivette make's me feel young, Milazzo. I tried to circle him, to overwhelm him at close range, and he slipped free, his lasers were burst of prismatic light, and if energy had been frozen solid and then burst into slender spikes of destruction. There is a feeling in your bowels like frozen water when your shields are gone...you expect the Rail shot at any moment. He was good. Better than me. He should have lived. But God took his life instead. He killed the artist and left the charlatan alive. The bastard. He was a sliver of titanium in space, his engines thundering like neon green and silver burning conflagrations, propelling him at speeds that only pilots know and civilians can only dream of. He paced me, keeping up a constant hail, and I fired back, carefully, my mind on my blast torpedoes. I imagine him in his cockpit, watching me flip and arc, a bullfrog flopping across the desert that was the vacuum. He picked his shots carefully whilst I fired erratically, I had hit him once, his shields a flash of lightning, a shade appearing and then whishping away, and he transferred energy and hit me back, like a hammers shatters the crystalline shell of some shiny princess's bauble, my shields torn away. I may have hit him once, he was moving in for the kill, he had me, I was dead, my limbs frozen as if my limbs were filled with formaldehyde-
-and he latted into an asteroid.

The Old Jokester put it there, millions of years ago. He impacted upon it, rolling, a steel peregrine above a cyanic sea, he still moved erratically, a poet with a pilot's instinct. But I had blast torpedoes and he did not. They floated upon him, like Furies, and he weaved and afterburned like a seraphim and they caught him.

I was paid enough to buy a Warhammer and ended up aboard Skarsik 10.

Reponse avoided pilots. She had skin like soap, pure and fresh...she didn't look fashionable or synthetic like girls look these days...artificial...generic.

She had skin like milk and I loved her hair. It was a golden red, like fire, like a solar flare arcing from some star, miles across space and back again. I met her and she told me of where she grew up. In New York. Her father, I knew from rumor, was a commander. On this ship. He was out on a mission of sorts.

I do not know why she loved me. My persistance? I still had fire in my blood. Emotion flames the veins and makes your heart a fist of radium when you are young, clenched and foreboding, like a Titan. Like Capitol Ships. It gives you big iron balls...ha ha! Skarsik 10 was close to Madorian space, before the truce, before the Vault Incursion. She was lonely, I suppose. A rich girl. brought out by a rich father and here, in space, tutored by private doctorates and given the finest in nanotechnological enhancement. She could drive a nail into a sheet of bedrock with her little finger. We talked about Weeger and Bach, about the Skashere and politics. I played her father's piano. It was a glossy white, constructed from clone wood. I took her out once in this ship. She sat where you do now. She had never been this far into space. I was a fool...the Madorians could have attacked us, after all, and she was a civilian. But the suns look different, out this far into the void. You are naked to them...you trust them. You stand before them, innocent and wide eyed, and they bask you in electrum rays and silver luminescence and reward you. Her features were laughing, I had made her laugh. That night, it had been a month...I had been with her for a month. I had to be stationed at the Vault, light years away. But we still had the night. We drank deep of each other, young man.

Then, she was naked, and she was talking on the comm. Then she was on the floor, crying, crying. Her father had died. They had found debris and identified it. She told me his name, and she quaked and I felt helpless and I heard the Old Gambler laugh, the bastard. She shook, helpless, and I could do nothing while my love suffered, while I suffered.

A week later the Vault was attacked, and we rode the corona of the Carpathian's Tach field into Phobos space.

My wing was killed quickly. They were refitted, armed and heavily shielded. I had come upon three. I remember long lines of swarms coming upon me. My shields battered by killing physics. A missile klaxon creates a sensation of morbid fear that no pilot shakes off. You are eating, and then the accursed Barghestian howl is heard and your stomach becomes a block of ice. Your spoon becomes dense matter, and your balls freeze. It is the sound of Death. I killed the one with quad torps. Pure luck. The other destroyed my power array with a volley of swarms and lasers. In my mind he is there, and I am flipping and turning, I am latting, my blood jackhammering. My torps catch his side and then I rail him. He becomes a steel corpse in space, bleeding torrents of fire...

The other raced about me. He was good, too. He kept his distance, hitting me twice for my once. He could have left me floundering, my shields gone, my grid array in tatters, my afterburner reserve long depleted. But he was a lion, the Madorian, a matador and I the bull. He waited patiently for his kill, heedless, and then my console went up in a coruscation of sparks and metal, almost took my left hand off, my blood hit the windshield, and like rampalago a line of light crossed upon him, like a bolt of scarlet and yellow, my railshot, and he died, no fire, no spark of explosion, just the sudden drifting, dead, the pilot inside spaced.

Skarsik 10 was destroyed shortly thereafter. Several Madorain Carrier/Interceptors set upon it, along with a few wings. They fought well, I am sure, but the carcass of the once proud Capitol Ship was found floating in the nearby asteroid field that I well recognized. I was permitted to go in my space suit and sift through the ruins. I insisted. I found her, in her room, in the griseous blackness. The light cut lines across the room, across the piano, floating weightless, the black blood spattered weightless across my suit. She was dead, all of her joy and life gone. She was frozen. It was a nightmare, a nightmare. She was like glass, like ice, delicate as her beauty, and stupidly I tried to hold her and weep pathetically and she broke to pieces and there was nothing left. She was a celebrated artist, I later heard. The only daughter of a fighter-ace and officer. He had been one of the greatest Pegasus pilots of all time, they told me. His name?

Milazzo, I must call him. Milazzo...
Milazzo.
Milazzo.

Milazzo.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:10:18 pm


“The Return”
by
VA Madcap


Chapter 1


Earth looks like a blue pearl from space. Do I really look like that? Man I'm a mess. I wonder how much has changed on Earth. I wonder how Krystal is, I wonder were she is right now. Will she remember me? I turned from his reflection in the shuttles window, to see a dark haired woman about his age sitting next to me. She had been there since they had left the Hub.

The shuttle landed in Paris. Aside from this being my quote Vacation end quote, I was do negotiate several contracts with Sol Based corporations. Ghostsword must have figured that I was an excellent choice to get the sol projects going as he would know the territory. If there was one thing I never wanted to do it was work with civilians on a civilian project. I was a Vice Admiral. Not some supervisor.

After I arrive at his hotel room I showered, and unpacked. An hour later I received a message to contact Ghostsword. I finished putting on my uniform and activated the laptop.

"Sir, what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"

"I just wanted to remind you what your first job is. Don't forget to get that contract with Oberon, it's essential."

"Sir wouldn't one of VA's commercial advisors be a better candidate?"

"Julius, you know what earth is like, that is why I sent you."

"Sir, I am a military officer, not a God Damn corporate supervisor!"

"Admiral! Do you job! Ghostsword out!"

The comlink blinked out. The door chimed.

"WHAT!?" I snapped.

A muffled voice on the other side responded.

"May I enter?"

"Yes" I responded with a sigh.

The door opened to reveal a dark haired woman with intense brown eyes. She wasn’t very tall, but she was pretty. It was the woman from the shuttle.

"What are you…Who are you…"I stammered.

"My name is Jessica Johnson."

"Uh…my…my…ahem. I am Admiral Julius A. Maximus. Although everyone calls me ADCAP, it's my call sign."

"I know, ADCAP."

"Oh, so how can I help you?"

"Ghostsword send me to help you deal with the corporations."

We talked about the upcoming weeks for several more minuets before the door to my room was flung open and Azn Dragon, my assistant, rushed in.

"Azn, you're late."

"Sorry sir, alarm didn’t go off"

"It's forgiven. Azn Dragon this is Ms. Johnson. She will be helping us."

"It’s a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise Azn."

Introductions given we continued. We had to get the Oberon contract as quickly as we could. Then we had to purchase several cruisers from Galspan. This all had to be done rather secretly, the sol government did not recognize VA's right to purchase and sell goods in Sol. While we were hammering out the details of the Oberon contract we picked up some help from Jessica's sister, Kirsten, who was a lawyer. She made sure that the contract was legal up to the point were VA was included. Within two weeks we had gotten both contracts. I sent Azn home with the first Galspan cruiser. Jessica wanted to stay behind for awhile and spend some time with Kirsten. I choose to take that vacation I was promised.

After doing some digging I found Krystal. I also found in my searching that Twilight Jack was going to be in concert tomorrow. I called Griff over the comm link. The person that answered wasn’t him.

"Hello?"

"Um...yeah…is Griff in?"

"Yeah just a sec. Grriiffff!!! Julius on the comm link!!!!"

An unshaven, tired looking Griffin Moone appeared on the comm link.

"Hey ADCAP, what's goin' on?"

"Who's that?"

"Her? Oh that’s Kelly."

"Oh okay. Anyway do you have Twilight Jacks number anywhere?"

"Um yeah why?"

"He's gonna be in concert here and I want to take somebody."

"Oh lemme give em a call ill get right back to ya."

A few minuets later and I had a set of backstage passes and tickets to the Twilight Jack concert. I called Krystal up and asked her if she wanted to go. I don’t know what surprised her more, to hear that I was in Paris or that I had backstage passes to the concert. The whole night was perfect. Twilight was great. We walked along the Seine after the concert.

Several days later as I was going to see the Arch de Triomphe I paused to look at the Obelisk of Luxar. As I was standing there, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Startled I turned to see Amun Ra standing there.

"What are you doing here Ra?"

"Got a few days before the cruiser I was sent to get leaves."

"You were sent to get a single cruiser?"

"Not just a cruiser. It’s a whole convoy. The cruiser is going to escort the first shipment from Oberon."

"Oh."

"Ghost wants this shipment bad."

"I wonder why that is, most of it is just machinery parts. I should know I made up the contract."

"Whatever these ships and parts are for its so top secret I haven't been told yet. I just know that I have to get that convoy back to VA space."

"I wonder what the secret is. I guess we will find out soon enough. I'm going to the Arch de Triomphe, want to come?"

"I can't, I really should get back to work, I just wanted to see this before I left Earth."

"Okay see you back in VA."

"Will do."

After we parted ways I rode the one and a half miles to the Arch. It was incredible to think that here was seven centuries of history. In the 1910's Soldiers had marched here after the First World War. During the 1940's Nazi's from Germany had paraded here. After Chagne's attempt to conquer all of Europe and Asia failed in 2184 people danced here. With the announcement of the formation of a one European nation people celebrated here for days. In 2361 the Arch was the site of another parade and celebration as the Sol government was officially formed.

Chapter 2


After about a month on Earth the Excalibur arrived to pick me up and escort the last convoy from Oberon. This convoy I figured was the most important as those six freighters contained orians, Pegasus's, phoenixes, and archangels. These fighters were essential to the defense of VA. I sat in the command chair on the bridge of the Excalibur as I waited for the convoy to get ready for the jump to the Hub.

"Sir, all vessels report ready for jump."

"Signal all ships jump is go and engage the Tach drive."

"Aye sir."

Space warped into the familiar blue and purple tunnel of Tach travel. It would be an hour before the jump was complete.

Chapter 3

Upon arriving in the Hub sector the Excalibur docked at Alpha station to allow the crew some R&R while the freighters were checked out by Star Patrol. The bow of the Excalibur had yet to be repainted were the warped and twisted metal of the hull had been replaced. The gleaming silver contrasted with the solid black of the rest of the hull.

A day later the convoy formed up and we headed for Void Alliance space. Two hours into our journey a freighter in the convoy said it had to drop out due to engine trouble. I had the Excalibur call for a couple of frigates to cover the convoy while we covered the disabled freighter. The damage to the freighter was worse than expected; the whole Tachyon drive would have to be replaced. That would require another freighter coming out and delivering the drive to the disabled one. It would take four hours to get the replacement drive here.

Chapter 4


An hour later the pirates came. They didn’t expect a destroyer to be guarding the disabled freighter. They made a few passes at us before they retreated. I ordered the Excalibur along side the freighter. Several minuets later a freighter dropped out of hyperspace.

"Excalibur this is the Void Alliance freighter San Francisco. Super Bad commanding."

"Super am I glad to see you. Get over here and begin installing the tach drive."

"Aye sir."

As the San Francisco moved along side the pirates reappeared.

"Excalibur to San Fran, we'll cover you."

"Alright"

"Launch Red and Gold wings."

"Aye sir."

"Sir, I'm picking up weapons fire onboard the other freighter!"

"What?"

"Sir Freighter 54 request assistance they claim they are being boarded!"

"Super what the hell are you doing!?!"

"Sorry Admiral." And the line went dead.

"Launch blue wing, have them attack the San Fran."

"Aye sir."

"Lock weapons on Freighter 54."

"Sir?"

"Just do it. We can't let the pirates have those Phoenixes."

"Weapons locked."

I hesitated, those were VA personnel on board that ship, but if I didn't fire the pirates would get those fighters. The Ensign interrupted my thoughts.

"Sir, what do you want me to do?"

I sighed. "Fire." I'd worry about the court-martial later.

Freighter 54 exploded taking with it the San Francisco.

"Alright lets get our fighters back and get the hell out of here."

"Yes sir."

"All fighters aboard sir."

"Take us home."

"Tachyon drive engaged."

I slumped into my chair. I was not looking forward to telling Ghostsword that I had lost a freighter. Not to mention that I had destroyed it myself.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:17:21 pm


“Running The Void”
by
FyreHeart of the Void Alliance



Chapter 1

Onyx Eagle was bored. He was born in the Bora colony of New Gaia, but by the time he was old enough to fly, the war with GalSpan was over. His parents didn't approve of his love of space, but he managed to convince them to let him go to flight school, under one condition...

...but life as a freighter pilot was almost as boring as he had feared. Back up the freighter, oversee it being loaded, check inventory, fly through a few sectors (which the autopilot could do), back it up, watch it being unloaded. Then, do it all again. There was some occasional excitement when a pirate attacked, but they were rare in the Hub and Star Patrol was usually on them quickly - no fancy piloting required.

When the opportunity came to transport a shipment of "sensitive material" to the Frontier, he jumped at it. He didn't have the experience of many of the older pilots, but most freighter pilots weren't types to invite danger. He won the job.

------------------

Onyx had pushed his freighter to the limit, and finished his run with two days to spare. It wasn't much time to explore the Frontier, but it was better than nothing.

New Vegas starbase was all glitz and show. The excessive neon and gaudy adornments proliferating the starbase spoke of the many fortunes that exchanged hands within, most being handed over to the casino by its patrons rather than the other way around.

The atmosphere inside the starbase, though, contrasted with the cold peace of space outside. The air was filled with heated tension. Small groups of people could be seen everywhere, huddled together and speaking in hushed tones. It filled Onyx with an anxious excitment, generated by both fear for himself and anticipation that his dues as a freighter pilot were almost paid up.

As he sat at the bar, he strained his ears to hear some of the hushed conversations. After most of the day, too much cheap beer, and several trips to the lavatory, the best he could deduce through his booze-bubbled brain was that two mercenary groups were at odds, and their collective disagreements were on the verge of breaking out into open war.

The next day, Onyx hung around the station, trying to look inconspicuous. He desperately wanted to ask someone what was happening, but fear and caution held him back. After a fruitless morning, he resigned himself to packing up his freighter for the trip home the next day. Crowds in the corridors thinned as he made his way to the freighter docks. As he turned a corner and headed down the stairs, a face caught his eye.

"Hey... haven't I seen... Yeah! I saw him at the restaurant at breakfas... and the bar, and... uh oh," he thought.

Onyx forgot about his freighter, and took several random turns, doing his best to catch sight of the stranger inconspicuously as he rounded corners. The stranger stayed behind him, never getting close, but always visible. Unsure what to do, Onyx made his way back to the crowded main deck and seated himself in the courtyard where he could watch for the stranger to emerge from the stairs.

As he waited, a few others sat around him. One bland looking fellow ordered a lemonade. He glanced around at the faces, keeping one eye on the stairwell. Suddenly, he started and leapt to his feet.

The stranger smiled and offered him a seat.


------------------

Chapter 2


Onyx sat tenatively. "Um... why have you been following me?"

"Get to that in a minute. What's your name, son?"

"Um... Onyx. Onyx Eagle. Who are you?"

"I'm called WhiteFox. I've been watching you for the past few days. You're new to the Frontier, aren't you?"

"Yes. Yeah, I am."

"It shows. That could be dangerous." Onyx squirmed in his seat. "It looks to me like you've been doing a lot of listening the past two days."

Onyx sat forward defensively, "Maybe. So what?"

"So, what have you heard?"

"What do you care?"

"I think you're confused, and I'd like to help. Perhaps explain some things to you. But if you're not interested..."

Onyx leaned forward excitedly. "No! No, I am. OK - this is what I can figure from what I've heard. It sounds like two rival merc groups are at each others' throats and something big is about to go down. One of them's called 'Void' something and it seems like most people want them to win whatever this is."

WhiteFox smiled a smooth, knowing smile. "It sounds like you've got good ears, Onyx. May I call you Onyx? What you've heard is true. Two of the many mercenary clans in the Fringe are having a conflict. We have very different - ah - philosophies about how to... do business. Those philosophies have led to repeated conflicts between us, and we fear that those conflicts have reached a level that's going to lead us to war."

"Wow," Onyx breathed in awe. "So... so you're part of this?"

"I am. I represent the clan called the Void Runners."

Onyx's heart leapt. "That must be the 'Void' clan everybody's been talking about," he thought. "They must be something to have so many people behind them. Boy, I'd love to fly with them - if just for a day."

WhiteFox interrupted his thoughts. "You seem like an observant, insightful ladd. Those are valuable traits. Are you a pilot?"

Onyx sat bolt upright, his spine rigid with excitement. He debated with himself over what his answer should be, but finally his lips let out a quivering "Yes" that conveniently avoided mentioning anything about flying freighters.

WhiteFox only nodded. "I'm afraid the Void Runners have a rigorous recruiting policy, but if what I see in you is there, I think you might make it through. That is, if you're willing to try?"

Onyx spurted out "yes" before he could think.

-----------------

Onyx sat in back of WhiteFox's Pegasus as they made their way to Void Runner space.

"So, what's the story about this other Merc group?" he asked.

"The Alliance? They're lead by a pilot named 'WitchKing', if that tells you anything. He recently changed his name to put a better face forward, but their tactics have stayed the same."

"Like what?"

"Well, if anyone pays in advance, they often take the money and then refuse to fulfill the contract. They're so rich and well equipped that no one wants to stand up to them. They extort money from the casinoes, spy on smaller contractors like us, and kill anyone who gets in their way."

"Whoah."

"And that's not all... they use guided missles in the Fenris Arena."

"No!"

"It's true. So you can see they're completely dishonorable pilots who make up for their lack of skill with money, firepower, and deceit. I'm just glad the Runners found you first."

"Me, too," Onyx thought, but silently looked out the window at the stars.

---------

For the next week, Onyx Eagle was put through the paces, learning combat flying on every type of ship the average Fringe Merc could afford. He was dizzy with excitement as he was finally able to follow his lifelong dream. Piloting a fighter was not much different than flying a freighter to him, though he felt more comfortable in the heavier ships.

"OK, kid, this is it," WhiteFox said. "Gotta tell ya that an ArchAngel isn't my ship of choice, so you're lucky, but if you can disable me with that EMP, you're in."

Onyx took a deep breath and responded, "Got it."

"OK. Come get me," WhiteFox said, then switched to a private comm channel.

"Think he can do this?" WhiteFox asked.

"The kid obviously had no combat experience, but he's a heckuva pilot." The voice on the other end belonged to DoomStag, one of the chiefs of the Void Runners.

Another voice over the comm added, "and he's learned fast. I don't think you need to be too easy on him."

"Yeah, but if he doesn't beat me? We still want to use him." WhiteFox said.

"We cross that bridge if we get to it," DoomStag said. When the comm switched off, DoomStag turned to Earthquake and said, "We wanted a fall guy, but this kid may turn out to be one of our best pilots. I think he'll take WhiteFox easily."

Outside the station, Onyx and WhiteFox were rapidly approaching dueling distance. When his radar pegged 10 clicks, Onyx engaged lateral thrust, just as he'd been taught. Dual EMP cannons flashed from WhiteFox's ArchAngel, but flared by harmlessly. As WhiteFox lined up again, Onyx rolled between the EMP blasts and latted above the Angel, then opened fire. The EMP fired so rapidly and accurately that WhiteFox's shields were down to 40% before they passed. Onyx engaged slide and spun around to face WhiteFox, and took the rest of his shields down while flying backwards.

WhiteFox was enraged. "No snot-nosed brat is going to take down my sheilds on one pass and get away with it!" he hissed, then he switched his primary weapon to Sunspot missles and his secondary to Tesla EMP missles. As he slid around to line up on Onyx, DoomStag came over his comm.

"I know what you're thinking WhiteFox. Don't do it. If that kid sees a missle lock on his console, it could blow our plans."

Bitterly, WhiteFox switched his weapons back to EMP projectors. As he lined up, Onyx was already coming his way. He dove, then slid his nose up to tag Onyx in the belly. Only a few shots connected before Onyx latted out of the way. WhiteFox rolled and EMP flares flashed above his cockpit. He transferred afterburner energy to his shields, then lined up on Onyx again. When the first blast hit, Onyx pulled up just as WhiteFox anticipated and ran headlong into the second blast. His shields dropped to 12%. WhiteFox smirked and pressed his advantage, burning in close to get behind Onyx, but Onyx just kept pulling up, and ended up staring down WhiteFox's nose upside down. The blast he unleashed finished WhiteFox's shields, and a spark flew from his afterburner control. The EMP had disabled his flagging burner.

"No matter," thought WhiteFox, "it was almost gone anyway."

WhiteFox slid around to face Onyx again, but no one was there. In a panic, WhiteFox glanced down at his radar, but it was too late. EMP flares from below tore into his ship's systems. Sparks danced over his console, and he knew he'd been beaten.

"Outstanding, Onyx," came DoomStag's voice over the comm.

"He went easy on me," Onyx said.

"Nevertheless, fine flying. Welcome to the Void Runners."

-----------------

Chapter 3

WhiteFox licked his wounds and put on his best face as he ferried the Void Runners' newest member to the New Vegas shipyards. Part of the Void Runners' ritual was buying a new recruit his own ship. What was unusual this time was that Onyx was going to be allowed to pick his. WhiteFox made sure to let him think that was standard policy.

As they checked in to the New Vegas hangar, the agent stopped them. WhiteFox took this nervously.

"You said Onyx Eagle, right?"

"Yeah, that's me," Onyx replied, stepping up from behind WhiteFox.

"You got a message at the freighter dock few days ago. Says it's urgent."

"Oh," Onyx said, and his heart sank.

WhiteFox excused himself, ostensibly to the shipyards to fill out paperwork, as Onyx made his way to the freighter dock. He checked in with the agent and was handed a viewpad with three messages on it. One was dated yesterday.

"Onyx Eagle, we received confirmation of successful shipment from DiaMann Industries, but you were due to return to the Hub yesterday. Is everything all right?"

Message 2: "Onyx Eagle, I don't need to tell you that your tardy return and failure to respond to calls does not reflect well on your work record. Management is considering severe action if you do not respond immediately."

Message 3: "Onyx Eagle, if you want to keep your job, you must respond by close of business today. If we don't hear from you, your employment will be terminated and you will be prosecuted for theft of our freighter."

"Slag," he thought, "that was yesterday. Guess I'm an 'employee' of the Void Runners now. Wonder if I can return this freighter to get them off my back?"

He returned the pad and made his way to the shipyard.

---------------

At the shipyard, Onyx caught up with WhiteFox. Apparently he had filled out whatever paperwork he needed, 'cause Ed, the manager, was ready to sell. Onyx selected a WarHammer. It was a nice, big ship that reminded him of flying freighters, but still felt like a fighter. WhiteFox placed no limits on him, so he got a full loadout: Lateral Thrust, Boosters, Railgun, lots of Plasma Rockets. He almost fell over when Ed handed over the access crystal. His own fighter! This was almost too good to be true.

"There you go, kid," WhiteFox said. "Do us proud."

"What... you're leaving?"

"Yeah. Got responsibilites."

"So... what happens now?"

"You're free to check the New Vegas job board, get the feel of your ship, y'know. Just make sure you show up at Void Station in the next few days."

"OK, good," Onyx sighed. He explained the situation with his job and that he needed to return the freighter if he wanted to avoid an arrest warrant.

"Eagle, they're not going to come after you. Star Patrol doesn't exist out here. Why don't you just keep the freighter - we could use it."

Onyx was shocked, "Uh..."

"Look, I need to run. Think about it, OK kid?"

"Uh... yeah. OK. See you at the station, WhiteFox."

Onyx was still stunned. He almost forgot to thank Ed for loading out his ship.

He flew around New Vegas sector, doing loops around the starbase and flexing his Hammer's muscles. He finally tore himself away from the thrill and parked the Hammer in the freighter's cargo bay.

He arrived in the Hub at about 4 pm, local time - still an hour before close of business. He hid out in the scrapyards for over an hour, waiting for most of his former coworkers to leave. When he felt he could make a safe run, he backed the freighter into it's docking bay, left a quick note about a "new job opportunity in the Frontier," and settled into his Hammer.

As Onyx made his way to the Frontier mega gate, he picked up some comm traffic.

"Hey, look at that ship! A Runner in the hub. Let's take him down."

Three Piranhas descended on him, lasers blazing. Onyx wondered what kind of deadbeats would attack a lone clanner unprovoked. He rolled and burned downward. The Piranhas lined up behind him and opened fire. As his shields flared, he slid around to face the Piranhas. The first volley cleared with his shields down to 38%, and he opened fire. The Piranhas barely put up a fight before his Hammer, but one of them put in a call to Star Patrol before he ejected. Onyx burned toward the gate, but Star Patrol burst into the sector in moments. They ordered him to halt, but he faked radio static and made his escape.

--------------------

Back in New Vegas, Onyx enjoyed his fill of the casino life. He hung out at the bar, ate some fine food, and even tried a slot machine or two. After he'd had his fill, he perused the job board.

"Arena match? A bunch of pilots slugging it out in the Fenris Arena? For pay? Gotta try that."

Onyx accepted the job. It was several hours before the match was to begin, so he looked over the board some more and then killed the rest of his time in the bar.

A little tipsy, he stumbled down to the hangar and pointed his Hammer toward his first Arena match.

-------------------

This was one of many qualifying matches for the tournament, so an eclectic group of pilots was in the arena: everything from Makos that had been resurrected from the scrapyards to the latest GalSpan had to offer, complete with its shiny, original paint job.

"Welcome to Qualifying Round 8 for this year's Arena Tournament Season!" belted the announcer over the TachBand P.A. system. "The contestants are in the Arena. Let's begin!"

Onyx's Hammer seemed to be moving slower than normal, so he burned toward his nearest opponent, flying a Bora Dagger. He hit 10 clicks, and let off the burner. As the Dagger's first volley flared from its hardpoints, he rolled and then latted above it, the blasts passing harmlessly. One Plasma Rocket from above and a perfect rail shot took the Dagger out of the match.

Next in line was a little Mako - one weapon mount, one missle mount. The little ship didn't have a prayer. Onyx chuckled as he closed in and lined up. A Plasma Rocket and its shields were down. The little ship darted about in a few evasive maneuvers, but Onyx had no trouble keeping his aim. A split second's hesitation by the Mako and his finger tightened on the trigger. The rail gun rocked his ship with a perfect shot, and the Mako was gone.

Onyx's shields flared almost immediately, and he checked his radar.

"What th'?"

His eyes bugged out. The Mako was still alive! He swung around again and drew up on the little ship. Another beautiful rail shot, but the Mako wasn't there. The little ship darted above him and unleashed a minor torrent of laser fire, steadily draining his shield energy. Onyx slid this time to face the Mako quickly, but he couldn't line up on it. The ship darted this way and that, always just evading his aim while unloading a seemingly limitless rain of laser fire. Worse, while Onyx struggled to trap the ship its shields were recharging. Finally, he was able to lat behind it and buy enough time to squeeze off a rail shot. The Mako's shields fell and its hull dropped to 48%. Onyx quickly let go a Plasma Rocket as the Mako feinted to the left. The proximity detonator blasted and the little ship was gone.

Radar showed another ship incoming. It looked like a GalSpan Phoenix - a tough ship to crack. Onyx took stock: hull still green, rail energy low, shields only recharged to 21%. He ran. A zigzag course with full afterburner shot him away from the Phoenix and out of its firing arc. The big craft burned in pursuit. Onyx was able to keep just out of range. As he neared the Arena boundary, he spun. His shields were up to 43%. It would have to do. He disengaged his slide and burned toward the Phoenix, closing the gap quickly and firing two Plasmas before latting out of its firing arc. The ship was big and clumsy, so the two rockets connected easily. That only brought the shield down to 23%, though. Onyx rolled as the Phoenix lined up on him and came alive with its awesome firepower. He jerked his stick, fired his lats, and punched the afterburner. Much of the assault connected, though, and that one volley stripped his shields. Onyx continued latting to the side of the ship, moving faster than it could turn, and fired another Plasma Rocket. The Phoenix's shields were down. Quickly, he fired the Rail Gun and then burned out of the way. The Rail shot connected, but the Phoenix was still alive. Another downpour of firepower, but Onyx was ready this time. He dodged, spun and fired the rail again. The Phoenix's hull showed red. Onyx hit his burner and rammed the Phoenix out of the match. The crowd went wild.

Three other ships were fighting it out on the far side of the Arena. Thankful for the respite, Onyx cut his throttle and sat in space, letting his ship's systems recharge. He closed his eyes for a moment, and only then noticed that he had a nasty headache. He struggled to open his eyes again, and as they came into focus he saw a blip on his radar. One of the ships had broken out of the fight and was coming after him! He throttled up and hit his burner, but the burner only sputtered. Not enough energy! As the ship closed in, Onyx saw that it was a Piranha. He aimed the Hammer straight for it, and as it opened fire, he let go three Plasma Rockets in rapid succession. The Piranha blew.

Onyx continued toward the other side of the Arena, but kept his throttle low. This time he kept close watch on the dueling ships. A Bora Mace was dancing with a Posidon. Both pilots had talent, but the Posi finally succumbed to the Mace's speedy maneuvers. Filling out a smooth arc from its final volley, the Mace came for him.

Its shields were low from the drawn-out fight with the Posidon. Onyx throttled up, took aim, and fired his Rail Gun just as the ship got into range. The shot was perfect. Without shields, the thin hull of the Mace burst before the Rail Gun's power.

Onyx blew breath out of puffed cheeks and slumped against his pilot seat. Then he noticed that Tachband had come alive with wild cheering. The announcer's voice shouted over the deafening crowd, "We have a new Tournament contender: Onyx Eagle!"

----------------------

Onyx hobbled back to New Vegas starbase exhausted. The "thrill" of destroying actual ships felt much different than he imagined. It didn't help that he was having trouble holding his liquor. He ordered a room for the night and collapsed into bed.

His only thought before falling asleep was, "Tomorrow, Void Station..."

---------------------

Chapter 4

Onyx awoke with a throbbing headache. The beer had felt good before the Tournament Match yesterday afternoon, but it sought its revenge now. As he looked at his bloodshot eyes and tousled hair in the mirror, he thought, "This life is going to take some getting used to."

He washed up as best he could manage and wobbled upstairs for breakfast. A table in the common area barely caught him before he met the floor, and he ordered a painkiller and black coffee with breakfast. As he pored over his food a group of giggling girls fluttered up to his table.

"Are you Onyx? Onyx Eagle?" one of them asked.

He tried to smile, but it felt like his lips were oozing down his face. "Yeah, that's right. I'm him."

The girls giggled. Another said, "We saw you in the match yesterday. Wow!" She could barely get the "wow" out before falling into giggling again.

"You were incredible," the third continued. She seemed slightly more level headed than the others and added, "I'm Tisha."

"Call me Onyx," he said, extending his hand. She took it.

"Um... we better go. See you around, Onyx," Tisha said. With that the girls flitted away.

"Er... yeah. Take care, girls."

Onyx had forgotten all about his hangover.

-------------------------

Down at the hangar, Onyx settled into the pilots seat of his Hammer. After yesterday's match it was starting to feel like home. He went through the formalities of launch clearance, and the blasted out of the station toward Void Runner space.

It was a short trip. His week's training with the Void Runners had given him a familiarity with the station, so he made his way to the command deck to see what was happening. He didn't quite know how to react to the flexibility of the job, he was so used to keeping rigid freight schedules.

As he entered the command deck, most of the Runners there were watching a dogfight on the huge viewscreen. A War Hammer was battling a triple-rail equipped Cutlass. The Cutlass bobbed and pitched, dodging the flood of Plasma rockets flowing out of the Hammer, but the Hammer pilot seemed to know just when to roll or lat to dodge the Cutty's rails. As Onyx approached the commanders, Doomstag leaned over to him, eyes still riveted on the screen, and said, "The Cutty's ours. The Hammer is one of the newer Alliance pirates - Dark Ice." As they watched, a pair of Plasmas finally connected with the Cutlass. Then a Rail Gun erupted from the mount above the Hammer's cockpit, and the battle was over. The viewscreen flickered off, and DoomStag and WhiteFox turned around, both wearing a look of disgust.

"When did that happen?" Onyx asked.

"Two days ago," WhiteFox answered, "The V... uh... the Alliance has been recruiting quite a few new pilots. We try to watch them fight and learn their style, so we know how to defeat them."

"I saw the broadcast of the Arena Qualifier," DoomStag said. "I'm pleased with your flying." Onyx blushed. "I would encourage you to continue flying in those matches. The Arena can be an excellent training ground."

"Really?"

"Absolutely!" WhiteFox said.

DoomStag continued, "We have an assignment for you in about two days. In the meantime, keep flying contracts. You'll need all the experience you can garner."

"Um... ok, but..."

"Yes?"

"Well, where do I live. The rooms at New Vegas aren't cheap. Neither is the food. And, I mean, I know I could earn some from the contracts I take, but I gotta maintain my ship, too, right?"

"WhiteFox, you haven't shown Eagle his quarters?" DoomStag said, turning.

"Um... well, not exactly."

"Well, let's be exact." DoomStag turned back to Onyx. "Eagle, this station is your home now. You are welcome in your personal quarters, in the canteen, in any public area. We do insist on a certain - dues payment - to maintain the station, but consider this home."

"Can I fix up my ship here, too?"

"Of course. We have crews that are members of the Runners. You won't have to pay Vegas's prices ever again. WhiteFox, show this man his quarters."

"Ok, come on. You remember that room you spent your first week in?"

"Yeah."

"Call it home now."

Onyx was thrilled.

--------------------------

Onyx spent most of the morning settling into his quarters. Once he felt they were comfortably personalized, he took his Hammer back to New Vegas to take another look at the Job Board.

The first round of the Arena Match was tomorrow, so he signed up without hesitation. There were all variety of jobs available, from bounty hunting and contract killing to escort runs to even more esoteric requests from the Asteroid Barons. He noticed that most of the contract killing was taken by a group of pilots with ominous names, all part of a group called the "Devil's Fist." That made him nervous. He felt a certain closeness to the freighters, though, and selected a modest-paying escort run as his first contract.

He went back to the main deck of the starbase and ate a quick lunch, making it down to the hangar a few minutes before he was supposed to check in for the escort run. He checked the loadout on his Hammer and ordered up some more Plasma Rockets, got launch clearance, and met the freighter outside the starbase.

"This is freighter Antares to pilot Eagle. You there?"

"Copy Antares. I'm right with you."

"This ought to be a simple run. We have to pick up some supplies from Foothold and ferry them Bora space. Just keep an eye out for pirates."

"You got it."

Freighters were notoriously slow, and with the mega-jump to Bora space the run was probably going to take all day. Onyx wondered if he'd made a mistake. It struck him as odd that just a few weeks ago he'd been in the freighter pilot's shoes and would have thought nothing of an all-day run.

The trip to Foothold sector was uneventful. Everyone expected it to be, though. Only a foolish pirate would jump an empty freighter. Rather, the risk was getting from Foothold to the Bora space jump point. The Skav sector stood between Foothold and the mega-gate. Of the pirates in the Fringe, the Skav were probaby the tamest. They were a loose group of disgruntled employees, some fired, some just between contracts, who used their piloting skills to jump freighters for extra cash. The Skav weren't murderous, just greedy. Onyx himself probably stood the greatest risk of being harmed.

Onyx emerged from the gate shortly after the freighter exited hyperspace.

"Nothing so far," the Antares said.

"Copy."

Skav space was littered with asteroids. An ambush would be hard to see coming. They churned through the sector at the freighter's slow pace with nothing happening.

"Half way. This might be easy pay," Antares said. Onyx chuckled.

Nothing. The Antares was almost to the jump point, so Onyx broke off and headed for the TCG gate. He was within 5 clicks of the gate when a flash caught his eye. Wary, he pulled up hard and spun toward the Antares as his comm crackled to life.

"Eagle! Eagle, we've been rammed!"

A huge fireball was dissipating from one side of Antares. The freighter was beginning a lumbering, uncontrolled spin. The blast had knocked them off their trajectory toward the jump point, and they were sitting ducks until they could get the ship under control and back on course. Onyx hit his burner.

As he got within range, he saw two wings of Mantas - the Skav's trademark ship - dancing around the freighter. One wing was targeting the ship's powerplant while the other generally harassed them. He cut in close behind the freighter and placed his Hammer between the attacking Skavs and the Antares's powerplant.

A steady drizzle of laser fire was coming from the Mantas, along with an occasional Tiger missle. Nothing too frightening. Onyx unloaded several Plasma Rockets and a couple of Rail shots, and the Skav were minus one wing. The second wing broke off their harassment of the freighter and came for him. He ran, trying to take the battle away from the Antares. As he ran, his comm began to chatter.

"Hey, boys! A Runner!"

"What's that freighter carrying that YOU'RE covering its butt?"

"Runner-boy's probably gonna tell you it's none of your business."

"Hey, listen - what's your name? Eagle - sorry for the mix up, OK? We'll let you go back to babysitting your freighter. Just warn us next time, got it?"

...and the pirates vanished into the asteroids.

The rest of the run went without incident, but a sense of foreboding was descending on Onyx. He began to wonder if the Void Runners were all that they appeared.

-------------------------

Chapter 5

Onyx awoke from a restless night's sleep, anxious to see what his first assignment was going to be. His time in the Arena had been exhilirating, but his heart was no longer in it. Breakfast passed in silence, and with a rising lump in his throat, he went to see DoomStag.

"You're early," DoomStag exclaimed, looking up from his console. "I'm pleased. Just give me a moment..." DoomStag tapped away at the console for several more seconds, hit the "Enter" key with a certain finality, and spun in his chair to face Onyx.

"Sit." Onyx did. "Well, Onyx, the time has come for you to show the Void Runners why we invited you in. Are you ready."

"Yeah."

Onyx thought he saw DoomStag's eyes narrow slightly at his listless response, but he continued, "Good. We'll start you off easy - this is just a reconaissance mission. We want you to fly into IceRink sector and hide in the asteroids. We are expecting the Alliance pilot Dark Ice in that sector sometime today. Get a full scan of his ship: weapon loadout, upgrades, modifications, anything you can find out. Get us a mesh of his build and cockpit layout, too, if you can. We don't know who or how many may be traveling with him, so keep a low profile. If he's alone, though, don't be afraid to engage if it becomes necessary."

"...and if I do have to engage?"

"Kill him if you can. We wouldn't need the data then, would we? But either way, come back alive. That's first priority."

"Got it. When do I leave."

"Immediately. Don't come back and don't break comm silence until you've found him. Good luck."

-----------------------

Onyx didn't like the situation he found himself in, but he didn't know what else to do. The Void Runners had given him his ship, his training, his home in the Frontier - his new life. But was that going to be a life worth living?

"At least I don't have to kill the guy," he thought, standing before the hangar door. That was poor consolation, though. He set his jaw and went in.

----------------------

Onyx's head bobbed for the third time. The sound of his eBook clattering on the floor jarred him awake. He grimaced as he removed his stiff legs from the console and bent down to pick it up. As his eyes grazed past the radar, he saw the blip.

Forgetting his eBook, he spun his darkened Hammer toward the blip and targeted it. It was him - Dark Ice. A Hammer flying alone. He powered up his own Hammer, anxiously watching the console as systems lazily came to life. Flipping the scanner on, he moved out of the asteroids, slowly gaining speed so as not to attract attention. He had a tough job: the scanner had a range of only 10 clicks, but his EW Jammer would protect him up to 8. He had to stay between 8 and 10 clicks until the scan was complete. At least Dark Ice was alone.

Onyx eased up behind him and began active scanning at 11 clicks. He pulled within 10 clicks, set his ship to match speed, and watched the scan data play across his console.

The plasma volley caught him completely unaware. Dark Ice had sensed something amiss, and spun around in a slide. At the sight of a Hammer on his tail with full jamming on, he opened fire. Frantic, Onyx fumbled with the controls. The second volley hit. Cold instinct took over and Onyx dove and slammed his burner, then, without bothering to look at his readout, transferred energy to his shields. He spun to face Dark Ice and jerked his trigger manically. Dark Ice bobbed, pitched, and retreated. Onyx had time for a shallow breath and a glance at his console. Shields gone except for the energy he had transferred and hull yellow. His frantic play to get Dark Ice to retreat and buy himself time had depleted half his ordinance. Things looked bad.

He switched off the scanner and glanced at the radar to find Dark Ice. Without hesitating, he latted and burned as another volley of Plasma Rockets descended from Dark Ice's closing ship. Only one connected, but his shields were down. He spun and unleashed two volleys of four Plasma Rockets each in rapid succession with accuracy only panic can inspire. Now Dark Ice and he were on level ground, and the duel began.

A rail gun furiously split space, the flash blinding Onyx as he narrowly dodged. Onyx fired a lone Plasma Rocket wildly to give his eyes time to clear, and then responded with a rail shot of his own. A miss. Dark Ice was superior to the pilots in the Arena.

Onyx noticed on his scanner that Dark Ice had shields again. An energy transfer - the like of which he didn't have the luxury of any longer. He cut loose with Plasma again. One connected. He fired again. Proximity detonation only. Dark Ice's shields had gone red, but refused to fall. He jerked his stick and rolled as another volley rushed in from Dark Ice's Hammer. He countered and fired.

Nothing happened. He was completely out of Plasma. Desperately, he switched to lasers and rail gun, aimed, and fired. A hit, and Dark Ice's hull integrity dropped as the power of the rail gun forced its way through his flagging shields. Onyx held his finger down on his laser trigger as he pitched an rolled to avoid Dark Ice's onslaught. His hull went red. Dark Ice's shields dropped. He latted, burned, rolled, latted again, and fired his rail gun as Dark Ice's Plasma bore down on him. A jerked stick, a roll, a frantic lateral, and he was still alive. He spun around to face Dark Ice again, and ship debris clattered on his viewport.

He had won.

---------------------

Onyx limped into Void Station and pushed past the gate attendant without a word. Back in his room, he locked the door, collapsed on his bed, and sobbed himself into a fitful sleep.

To Be Continued...
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:19:48 pm


“Line on the Sand”
by
VA Madcap


Chapter One

The bridge of the VSS Excalibur smelled of fresh carpet a new electronics even two weeks after its commissioning. I always loved that smell; even after commissioning fifty ships I never got used it. The Excalibur was the newest addition the Void Alliance Fleet. She was a refitted Galspan Destroyer. She was armed with the latest heavy pulse lasers. Her outer hull was made of nanotubules and reinforced with titanium. Her shields were a new technology barely tested. The Excalibur had hardly finished its shakedown run before I had been ordered to take her to the extreme edge of Void Alliance space. There were some unconfirmed Tachyon Drive Emissions that we were to investigate. VA could spare no more ships. Adm. Robertson had the rest tied up protecting his pet project the VSS Constantine.

"Alert me when you have anything on those tach emissions, I'll be in my quarters."

I headed to my quarters to get some much needed rest.

 

Chapter Two


"No!! I don’t wanna GO!!!." I awoke with a start. It was that dream of when I had to leave my family to go to the Academy because the Sol Military said I had potential. They came to my house while early one morning. I didn't understand completely why I should leave my only home. A man in a Sol Military uniform said it was a great opportunity. So I agreed to go. I was only fourteen, one of the youngest at the Sol Military Academy. I was too be trained according to my area of knowledge. This was soon to be discovering as strategy. The Academy was located in Paris, the seat of the Sol Government. It was easy to get into the routine of military life at the Academy.

I rolled over and went back to sleep. The sound of my Executive Officer, Captain Johnson, calling to me from my doorway brought me back to conciseness.

"Sir?"

"Yeah, XO what is it?" I replied only half awake.

"Sir we are receiving some kind of interference form a probe of some sort. I thought you might want to have a look at it."

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Yes sir, its in hanger bay two."

Five minutes later I walked into hanger bay two, there on the floor was a silver teardrop shaped object.

"Do we know where it came from?" I asked.

"No sir." My XO replied.

"Do we know what its doing here?"

"It appears to have several observational instruments." Replied Ensign Talbert.

"It also has several powerful transmitters. One of them keeps repeating its transition." Said Lieutenant Roberts.

"Could it possibly be a homing beacon of some kind?" Asked Johnson.

"Possibly, its regular enough." Replied the Roberts.

"Well find out what you can from it, and send it on its way if its not doing us any harm."

"Yes sir." All three replied.

As I headed for the exit I paused. I looked up at a Pegasus that was black with red trimming a had the VA insignia painted on the wings. On the nose was painted Krystal, below that was a picture of a crystal with silver lightning bolts coming out of it. That was my Pegasus, Krystal. Why the name Krystal? I'll tell you. Her name was Krystal Adams. I met her two year after I arrived at the Academy. It is hard to describe something so perfect. Her hair was about shoulder length, and was like gold. Her eyes were of a dark brown, I could look into those eyes a loose my self and forget there was anything but her. She had a smile that made the sun seem dim. I only have two pictures of her. One, just of her, sits in the cockpit of my fighter and the other, of both of us at my graduation ceremony, is in my room.

After I left the hanger bay I headed back to the bridge. As I rode the lift to the command deck I rested my head against the cold metal wall of the lift. The chill of the wall reminded me of the cold of space as I drifted off.

Chapter Three


"Get him off my six! ADCAP to Boxer where are you??"

I sent my fighter into another twist and roll maneuver as more laser blasts shot past me. My wing man and I had been jumped by four pirates and now one of them as after me.

"Damn it Boxer! Hurry up!"

I heard a scream then static as my wingman's ship exploded.

"****! Now it's 3 to one!"

I rapidly latted and hit my afterburners. I had only bought myself a few more seconds. I tried to burn then slide so that I could bring my lasers to bear but I could hear the missile lock warning.

"OH ****! Here goes everything!"

I pulled the eject lever as the missiles slammed in to my craft. I immediately blacked out. When I finally came to it was hours later on board the cruiser that had picked me up. It took weeks to get rid of the chill of space. It had gotten to my bones, I had to wear a jacket in the middle of the summer, but I was alive.

The whoosh of the lift doors opening awoke me, I was shivering. I stepped on to the bridge of my ship once again.

"Sir, Commander Scott wants you in engineering."

"Thank you," I looked at the young officers rank, "Thank you Ensign."

I turned around and went back into the lift. The trip to Engineering was longer than the trip up from the hanger. When I walked it to Engineering my chief engineer Commander Scott, was busy yelling at a group of technicians. I waited patiently as Scott's temper was well known throughout the fleet.

"Ahem"

"Oh Admiral! I dinna see ya standin' there."

"You said you wanted to see me?"

"Ah yes, I was runnin' a diagnostic on the new boosters we installed and….."

"Is this gonna be a long story commander?"

"Well anyway, I thought you might like to know I found a way to increase the output of the boosters without taxing the cold fusion reactor anymore."

"Can you do this for the shields and lasers as well?"

"Oh I should think so. Hmm lemme see, if we reroute the…." He muttered to himself as he trotted off to work on his latest improvements. I sighed to myself as I headed back to the lift again.

"This could be a long day." I muttered as I stepped on to the lift.

 

 

Chapter Four


Graduation at the Academy was always a city wide event. It seemed that half of Paris showed up for the graduation ceremonies or the reception afterwards. I was eighteen at the time I graduated I was the youngest in my class. I was given the rank of Ensign in the Sol Military. I would receive my assignment in a few weeks. After the reception I went for a walk with Krystal, although we weren't seeing each other I still enjoyed being with her. She was one of the few people I knew that were my age.

My first assignment was to the Sol Military headquarters on Mars. There I met many influential Admirals, General, and politicians. Four months later I was transferred to the command ship Conqueror. There I worked with Admiral Halsey on plans for the defense of Mars. I spent about three more months aboard the Conqueror before I was transferred back to Earth. This time I was located in San Francisco.

I awoke slowly. Memories of sandy beaches and sea gulls fading like the morning fog. I looked at the clock next to my laptop. It read ten hundred hours.

"Damn!" I had over slept. But my XO waking me up at three fifty hundred hours hadn't helped any. I quickly put my uniform on and headed for the bridge. This was already a bad day.

Chapter 5


"Sir Fleet Admiral Icefox is on the main COM for you sir."

"Put it on the main view screen." I turned to see John Robertson on the main screen.

"Vice Admiral ADCAP, what did you discover?"

"Nothing here except radiation and asteroids. But we did discover a probe of unknown origin. We scanned it, pulled it aboard, studied it and let it go."

"What did you find out?"

"Only that it seems to have a homing beacon built into it."

"Interesting."

"If you say so sir. Commander Scott has managed to increase the output of the shields and engines along with the warp thrusters and lateral thrusters by fifteen percent."

"Excellent, my compliments to Mr. Scott. So I can expect to see a demonstration by the Excalibur tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow!?"

"Doesn’t that work for you Admiral?"

"Uh…I mean tomorrow, yes sir she'll be ready."

"Good. I'll meet you half way. Icefox out."

That was the last thing I wanted to hear. We were still working the bugs out of a new propulsion system I had suggested. The warp thrusters, as the new system was called, allowed a ship to make short tach jumps with in a system. Icefox distrusted this new technology stating that it was untested and unproven in combat. If he was going to be here tomorrow we only had twenty-four hours to get everything ready.

Yes, this was going to be a very long day indeed.

Chapter Six


After six months there I was transferred to Paris. While there I worked closely with many politicians. I learned there the ugly truth behind politics, its all for money. Politicians bribed one another for votes on their plans and agendas. Even the President of the government was paid to issue pardons for several pirates. After four months I had had enough. I resigned my commission as an ensign. I said my good-byes to Krystal and all my other fiends and bought a one way ride on a freighter headed for the Hub.

The Hub was the central point of all travel between the Sol system and the Fringe. Once I arrived there I purchased and outfitted a Pegasus with my remaining money. While on a mission one day I ran into my current boss, John Robertson better know as Icefox. He told me about the Void Alliance. After I returned from my mission I proceeded to submit my application to join VA. It was a week before the accepted me in to their recruitment program and a month before I officially joined them. As I already had training I didn’t have to go to the VA academy, but I was still and Ensign.

Six months later VA and another clan by the name of Enhanced Breed got into a war. The war didn’t last very long as EB was relatively new and VA had numbers and skill on its side. EB quickly sued for peace and the war was over almost as quickly as it had begun. I was apart of the opening battle, EB was obliterated, I myself picking up a few kills. But as time when on I grew bored with my current position which was now a Lt. Commander. I spoke to Robertson about helping him out in running the War Ministry. He quickly accepted my proposal. Now as a Vice Admiral I am in charge of running and maintaining the fleet. But I have made the Excalibur my pet project.

"Engineering to Command Deck"

"Yes Mr. Scott?"

"I'm takin the engines of line to do a wee bit of alignment, they is rattlin' a wee to much for me tastes."

"Acknowledged Engineering Bridge out."

With the engines of line we were not gonna be doing much moving so I decided to inspect the outside of the ship. As I left the hanger I could feel the vibrations from the engines through my seat. You never get over the thrill of being pushed back into your seat as you engaged the afterburners. I flew a distance out cut my engines and spun my ship around for a look at the ship. Her hull was solid black with red trimming that highlighted the different parts of the ship. The VA insignia near the front was red and outline with gold. If it hadn't been for the red trimming and the lights from the command section and her running lights she would have blended in with her background. After circling the Excalibur a few times I landed my Pegasus in the main hanger.

As I headed for my quarters I crossed paths with one of the few women on board. Commander Spear was one of the highest ranking female officers in the fleet and was a highly qualified pilot. She commanded one of the Excalibur's three wings. When I reached my quarters I immediately hit the shower. After changing I sat down at my laptop to work on the always dreaded but necessary paperwork.

Chapter Seven


The alert klaxon sounded snapping me out of the day dream I had been having. I sprinted for the lift, as I arrived I met Johnson.

"Wasn’t the drill scheduled for another two hours?" He asked me.

"That’s what I said, nineteen hundred hours."

"Then what the hell is going on?"

"I have no clue."

As we stepped on to the bridge chaos greeted us. I headed for the command chair but did not sit down.

"What the hell is going on here!?" I demanded.

"A frigate and a minelayer tach jumped almost on top of us." Spears replied.

"Why didn’t we know they were coming!?"

"Because the sensors were offline for a routine system check." Stated Johnson.

"Damn! What's the damage?"

"Minimal damage to the shields, that’s more than that minelayer can say. It will need at least new shields and new laser turrets when it gets back to its base." Talberts stated.

"Okay everyone lets find out who they were, where they came from and what the hell they were doing in VA space. And turn that DAMN NOISE OFF!!"

 

A few hours later I contacted Icefox and alerted him to the situation and that the ships that attacked us were of Bora make. But they had Fringe Raider markings on them. FR was a rival clan that was making false claims on parts of VA space. It appeared that these Tachyon Drive Emissions were FR ships. Icefox informed me that he would arrive at my current location in twelve hours and join me aboard the Excalibur. I then retired to my quarters to catch up on some sleep.

Eleven hours later I was awake and putting the final touches to my dress uniform. It was solid black with gold rank stripes on the cuffs and red trimming on the seems and edges of the collar, and cuffs. Rank was on the shoulder in gold. The pants were black as well with a red stripe down the side of the legs. All the buttons were gold as well. With one last look in the mirror I headed for hanger bay one, were Icefox's shuttle would be landing. After he disembarked from the shuttle I proceeded to introduce him to the officers that were present.

"Admiral I believe you know my XO Captain Johnson. And these two are my wing commanders: Commander Spear and Lt. Commander Defiant. This is our navigation officer Lieutenant Jackson. This here is my security officer and weapons officer Lt. Commander Rome. Well gentlemen and lady, shall we head for the bridge?"

"Hey you forgot me!"

We all turned to look were the voice had come from, and there stood my good friend Griffin Moone.

"GRIFF! Hey man what are you doing here?"

"Thought I'd drop by and see your new pet."

"Well let's go have a look."

The hour long tour finally ended on the bridge. The bridge officers had gone back to the bridge after leaving the hanger. Griff seemed impressed, he also seemed to make pretty good friends with my Chief Engineer. Icefox on the other hand was a bit skeptical. He didn’t seem to trust all the new technology we had installed mainly the warp thrusters. These enable the ship to make short tach jumps with in a sector. I tried to lay his fears to rest but it seemed to me that only a demonstration would do.

Chapter Eight


Icefox informed me that the fleet was spread thin at the moment. The reason being that IK was running military maneuvers again along all its boarders, EB and NB were stirring up trouble again and BK was raiding outposts for the fifth time this year. That meant that the Exalibur was the only ship available to deal with the FR threat.

In response to the new information I ordered several probes launched so that we may be given advanced warning to any possible attacks. A few hours later we received a report from one of the probes indicating that it had discovered a fleet of ships. Before it could say how many or what kind they were or who they were the transmission ended abruptly. I ordered a peg stripped of all weapons in place of those given more shields and as much speed as we could give it. Then I ordered Ensign IZ to take the modified pet out to the last know location and determine what exactly had happened. I had my hunch as to what had happened but I wanted a count of those ships too.

An hour later IZ reported that he had arrived at the last location of the probe. What he found didn’t make Icefox or I happy. He hadn't found any warships but he had found twenty transports, five heavy freighters and ten light freighters and five mech transports. It was an invasion fleet of forty ships. What puzzled us all was were the warships had gone to. We would find out soon enough in the worst possible way.

Chapter Nine


I told IZ to get back here as fast as he could. Moments later our sensors picked up Tachyon Drive Emissions. Then two carriers, five cruisers, ten destroyers and four minelayers completed their jumps. Suddenly our sensors were filled with the fighters of those twenty one ships. I ordered all our fighters scrambled. I also ordered Dark Ice to take the shuttle Icefox had arrived on out with the hope that it would draw some attention. Then I ordered the ship to prepare for battle.

"Everyone find your seat belts, we're in for a rough ride!" I announced over the broadcast system.

"Admiral, what's goinin' on up der?

"We've found the enemy fleet, Scotty. Or should I say they found us."

The whole ship shuddered as all our pulse lasers opened up at the same instant, vaporizing the first wave and clearing the way for our fighters.

"ADCAP to Spear."

"Spear here."

"Do me a favor."

"What's that sir?"

"Waste the ****ers."

"With pleasure."

After our fighters had cleared the hanger and were out of our range the lasers fired another volley and proceeded to fire at will. The constant firing continued for about a half an hour with out much damage to the ship. The shields had absorbed a lot of punishment but the new armor on the hull was holding strong. Finally I had had enough of just sitting there.

"Jackson prepare the warp thrusters! We're gonna take the fight to 'em."

"Yes sir." A pause. "Thrusters ready sir."

"Okay drop us between the two carriers."

"Between them!? That’s suicide!" Objected Icefox.

"Let me handle this. You wanted a demonstration, well here it is. Okay Jackson do it!"

The Excalibur disappeared in a flash of light only to reappear between the two enemy carriers. Our pulse lasers opened up again with a roar. The Carriers were caught completely off guard. Our lasers made short work of their laser turrets and shields leaving them defenseless.

"Give the carriers one more volley and then jump over to the minelayers."

"Aye sir!"

That finally Volley was followed by several minor explosions from the carriers and as both of them exploded the Excalibur

s the were helpless. Instead of finishing the minelayers off I chose to attack the cruisers next. I ordered the Excalibur to jump to the front of the cruiser group. As we came out of that maneuver two destroyers made a suicide dash at our ship. I ordered Jackson to maneuver as close to the two nearest cruisers as he could. When the kamikaze destroyers were about to hit our ship I ordered her to jump behind them. The two cruisers never knew what hit them. all four ships went up in a massive explosion. The three remaining cruisers turned tail and tach jumped out of the system. With the retreat of the cruisers the remaining eight destroyers attempted to pick up what remaining fighters of theirs there were to be found. Our fighters let them be and finished off the minelayers. I ordered the Excalibur to take on the four nearest destroyers.

"Admiral! We canna use the warp thrusters! They’ve burnt out!"

"Alright Scotty! We'll have to make due with out them."

With out the warp thrusters we lost the advantage of being everywhere almost at once. As we took on the four nearest destroyers they called for help and pretty soon the Excalibur was under fire from eight bora style destroyers.

"Admiral!"

"Yes Scotty we're kinda busy up here!"

"I know Admiral, but…" His words we lost as the shields failed and several circuits on the bridge and in engineering exploded.

"What was that Scotty!?"

"I said she can't take much more of dis, she's packin' quite a wallop!"

"Acknowledged! Bridge out!" I yelled over the noise of a fire extinguisher. We were running out of options fast. I had an idea, it was crazy, but it might work.

"Jackson! Target their strongest ship. Focus all our fire on it!"

"Aye sir!"

"When its shields get to twenty percent I want to ram it!"

"SIR!?"

"RAM IT!? ARE YOU CRAZY!?" Demanded Icefox.

"Just crazy enough to get us out of hear alive!" I snapped. "You heard me Lieutenant! Just do it!"

"Yes sir."

Seconds later the Excalibur slammed in to the nearest FR destroyer. She didn’t explode but she started to move back.

"Increase power to the engines!"

"Sir they’ve transferred all their remaining energy to their engines."

"Admiral! If ye push her any harder the whole ship will blow!"

"Acknowledged Scotty. Bridge out. On my command fire all forward batteries into the bridge of that ship! Put a couple shots through their hull were we are touching them as well."

"Weapons targeted sir!"

"FIRE!"

The enemy ship exploded and the Excalibur shot through the area where it had been. By this time our fighters had returned form destroying the minelayers and were harassing the remaining seven destroyers. The enemy had had enough. All seven destroyers, what was left of them, tach jumped out of the sector.


Chapter Ten

The battle was over. We now took stock of our casualties. We had lost eight fighters and the shuttle Dark Ice was piloting. The warp thrusters were completely burned out and would need to be replaced. The bow of the ship would need to be rebuilt, and our shields were completely gone, but we were alive. Scotty was complaining about the mess that the battle had made of engineering. I spent the next two days typing up reports and doing the hardest part of being a commander: writing letters to the family of the deceased. Funeral services for the dead were a solemn occasion. Icefox was quite impressed with the performance of the ship and its crew. He opted to ride the ship all the way into space dock instead of taking a shuttle back to the Vigilance. As the crew exited the ship to low the repair and refit crew to have they received a standing ovation from the staff of the dock. The crew was even treated to a round of drinks on the house at the Pulsar. The crew was given two weeks of shore leave. I choose to go back to earth. I had some loose ends to tie up.
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:21:45 pm


“Showdown in Antares”
by
Hannibal of New Dawn


The void of space that could be seen through the window from which Admiral John McCurrie was peering was lit up with green, yellow, blue, and red beam fire. The explosions from fighters and bombers could be seen even though they were 20km away. The Admiral looked on with sadness, for his most beautiful ship, the GTD Carpathia, began to crumble into many smaller pieces from the exploding shivan bombs which tore through her hull. Never had the Admiral seen such destruction since the Battle of Sol almost two years before.

A single tear rolled down his face as he watched his beloved Carpathia began to make a port role towards the single gas giant that orbited the nearby star. The ship's hull began to buckle as she entered the atmosphere of the planet called Antare Prime. Soon the Carpathia was completely engulfed in the atmosphere of the gas giant, and all you could see was a small dark spot where the ship had entered the atmosphere. Then a giant ball of gas and debris shot up from the planet, leaving mostly parts of the engine as the Carpathia's tomb stone.

"What have we done to deserve this?" the Admiral said to his first officer.

"I don't know, sir. I - I really don't know."

"How could a civilization such as ours, which took thousands of years to develop be destroyed in a matter of six years?" The Admiral looked on as another marauder-class cruiser began to collapse in on itself.

"Sir, Captain Brutherford is requesting that we withdraw now or face a total fleet decimation," the communications officer to the Admiral's left said.

"Tell them to withdraw to this position. Here is where we will stand our ground. I think our three destroyers, two corvettes, and 4 cruisers, plus several fighter and bomber wings should be able to hold off another wave of Shivan reinforcements." The admiral gave the communications officer a wave of his hand to signal him to proceed.

"Captain Brutherford, withdraw all forces to our position as soon as possible. We are going to make a final stand here."

"But we won't survive another assault even if we had another colossus-class ship with us." The captain was enraged about the idea.

"Those are the Admiral's orders, Captain."

"Very well then, Ensign."

The four destroyers, which were badly beaten, began to enter subspace when a heavy red beam shot struck the GTC Thanatos, a mentu-class cruiser, sending molten metal into the void of space. She then collapsed on herself in a ball of expanding gases. Meanwhile, the other vessels, including corvettes, cruisers, fighters, bombers, and other smaller modified transports and freighters, began to exit subspace near the Admiral's own small fleet of ships.

"This is it commander. This is our last stand..."
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:23:44 pm


“The Light Show”
by
Dragon of Neechi


The Angels of Death were limping back from a well fought but hardened battle with the Loki resistance. Since the end of the Galspan/Bora war the ships from both sides became available on the open market and all the clans of the Fringe took advantage of the strengths that each manufacturer had to offer. The combination of the two technologies proved to be lethal and the alliance of Sol grew stronger than ever. But alas there is no rest for the weary, for just as one peace is founded another threat will always be waiting behind the curtains.

The Loki were slowly being crushed by all the forces of the Fringe but the new campaign was not without difficulty. Many good pilots were lost and new factions of evil doers were taking advantage of the disruption caused by the resistance. The Fringe, it seemed, would never be a safe place to fly alone.

The AoD, lead by commander Scythe, consisted of three Hammers and a Peggy but from the damage they incurred, it was doubtful they had three complete ships between them. Wildfire's Peggy was only held together by the dirt and grime that he'd let build up on it. One more shot would have done the cleaning he often neglected to do and now it paid off. Or so he liked to think. The hull integrity alarm was driving him crazy, and he couldn't shut it off because the main coupling array was fused to his life support generator. The throbbing grew deafening and he wondered if people back on Neechi could hear it.

Val and Maximus brought up the rear with their damaged hulls facing inwards towards each other in case of stray debris, all forming a protective circle around Wildfire as they slid their way towards home. One sector was all that remained as a barrier to safety and comfort... and the victory party with all the CoME groupies and live Industrial. Yes everyone's thoughts were well past the last two tachyon gates and rapidly pre-living in their minds what they would be doing tonight. A hero's return was always guaranteed to get you laid.

"AD 1 I've been painted," cried Val. At first no one heard him so he had to scream it over the comm. "Damn it guys wake up! I got bright eyes. We're being targeted."

"Full stop!" Ordered Death Scythe. Any thoughts of celebration quickly evaporated for them all as they focused on the new developments.

"I'm going after them!" cried Val as he jammed his afterburners.

"Stand down AD 2! That's an order." came Death's reply.

"WTF?!?" No way Hosé. I'm going down fighting!"

"Don't you think your in deep enough water with the Hierarchy as it is?" asked Death in a more civil tone. "Don't add disobeying a direct order to the list."

"A lot of good it'll do me if I'm dead," he complained, but nevertheless he was falling back into formation.

"Umm, this is AD 3," stammered Wildfire. "I got four small craft at just over 120 clicks. Undefined, must be pirates. They know were hurtin', too."

Despite the undesirable odds, Commander Scythe was suddenly and genuinely relieved. He'd take on a band of vagabonds over an organized assault squad any day. The four new ships were advancing, but slowly. Perhaps they would just go on by but that was highly unlikely. The pirates in this region kill for sport and salvage any undamaged parts that remained. He had to act fast.

"AD 3 prepare to board me!" he shouted.

"Umm, sir?" asked Wildfire.

"You heard me, get that helmet on and seal up. Your going for a walk."

"With all due res..."

"Now Wildfire! We don't have time for this. Drop your shields and pop your hatch on my command. Stay strapped in until you have the grappling band in both hands. Copy?"

"Roger," said Wildfire a little unconvincingly. "You better not drop me."

"I have a plan but I need your ship. It's our only chance with our ships as banged up as they are," explained Death Scythe as he maneuvered into position. "Remember the fun we use to have at the end of our training sessions when we first started out?"

"You mean the light show?" asked Wildfire.

Death chuckled at the memory of that name Wildfire had given it. "Yeah, that's the one"

"AD 1, Bogies at 100 k," reported Val as he and Maximus held their positions and monitored the approaching threat.

"Roger that AD 2, OK Wild, transfer all flight codes to remote and send them to my ship."

Wildfire flipped a few switches and keyed in the commands on the console. "Done."

"Double check your harness and pop the hatch. I'm right above you," prompted Death as he popped his own hatch and started at the sudden temperature change despite the protection of his flight suit.

"Aww man, it's freezing out here," complained Wildfire as he wrestled with the grappling band and finally got a good grip. "OK boss, here I come."

He unbuckled the harness, the only thing holding him down, and when he began to rise he instinctively pressed his feet down but failed to get the desired results. He rose a little faster than he expected so he tried to grab the edge of his hatch and dropped the grappling band. It drifted just out of reach and taunted his clumsiness.

"Damn it Wildfire!" said Death.

Inside his helmet Wildfire looked hurt. "What the hell are you complaining about? I'm the one floating here."

"Please hurry. Pull yourself back in. Your just gonna have to jump for it. I can't unstrap now."

"Hows about I pull myself in and stay in. I'll take my chances," said Wildfire.

"That wasn't a request AD 3. Do it, now! I'll..., catch you," he said and almost laughed at the absurdity of it. "Let's go pilot, they're closing fast."

Without further argument Wildfire launched as hard as he could and drifted aimlessly in the wrong trajectory. He was going to miss the Hammer all together. He'd hardly begun to curse himself when Death boosted a lateral thrust to his left and caught Wildfire like a game saving pop fly. Wildfire hit the deck with a clump and Death slammed the hatch control like it was some kind of bug.

"Nice catch commander, but what now?" It was Maximus. "Those mine grubs will be here in less than a minute."

Scythe immediately started barking orders, possibly his last. "AD3 Take my helm. I'm on the Peggy!"

They quickly swapped places as Death took his position at the main computer and continued with his plan. "Alpha Recoil X21 Execute on my mark. Desired coordinates 0437 mark 5291. Copy?"

"AD 2, I copy."

"AD 4, I copy."

Their fate was closing in to just over 10 clicks when Commander Scythe barked to commence. The crippled yet agile Peggy shot backward at lightning speed as the three Hammers split off and engaged the laser throwing guest that had just arrived. The skilled pilots of the AoD were quickly able to lead their dancing partners in a ballet of evasive maneuvers . Holding their fire to gain speed, they needed only to avoid any direct hits and simply lead their prey in the waltz of death. Their commander would take it from there. He'd promised, so it would be.

Val, Maximus and Wildfire, now in Death's Hammer, shot around and through the four pirate ships and converged within half a click of each other and latted in a three point circle. What seemed like minutes was only seconds before they were surrounded and under fire, and heard the crackling command saying "NOW!" coming over the comm. Death had counted on their gloated overconfidence and smiled as they closed in on the Hammers. He watched as the scene turned 90 degrees and fell away behind them in a rushing blindness. The AoD squad executed textbook moves and shot their relatively harmless medium lasers in a shower of diversion. Seeing the weak lasers and being momentarily confused about who's target shot where, the pirates regrouped in the spot that they had been lead to.

Death had programmed the auto pilot in the Peggy to travel to the same spot at the same time doing 1196 kpm. The same speed as Solaris Torpedoes. He transferred all power to weapons and did some fancy engineering to the core emitter transfer route. Now here she came, out of nowhere surrounded in the bright blue light of twelve fully charged sols. A fiery projectile wrapped in a blanket of destruction, she hit the first ship and it blew up immediately, taking the pirate with her. Seven Sols hit the next two targets and they were space dust. The last ship escaped the brunt of the assault but caught one Sol on his starboard shield. He ran, but didn't get far as Wildfire closed in and scraped up enough power to fire one last rail to blast him out of the galaxy.

The threat was gone but not the adrenaline. The others were hooting and hollering and remembering the party that awaited them but Wildfire was silent.

"What's wrong bro?" asked Death.

"You didn't tell me you were gonna blow it up. I still say we could have taken them, and I would still have my ship."

His squad mates just laughed and assured him Dragon would make sure he got another one. Then Death looked at his longtime friend and said, "That was one hell of a light show though. Wasn't it?"

This made Wildfire grin and say, "Come on, let's go party!"
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:26:08 pm


“Under the Gun”
by
VA Misterfour


BOOK ONE= THE CREW

 
”Bou liubis, a cherta ne drazni.”

-Old Russian Proverb

”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

-Matthew 27:40

""I think of this war as it really is, not as the people at home imagine, with a hoorah! and a roar. It is very serious, very grim…"

-Manfred von Richthofen



Part 1= ”Hyperbole”

Hey, what’s up? I’m Automatic and I am in the middle of something. Try to keep up, will ya?

I gotta hand it all to the man in gift wrapped iridium plasteel, that guy Dragon, head kahuna of Neechi, knows how to throw a party. I got all my gang stuffed into a freighter owned by the Star Pirates (what a dumb name), make that, used to belong to the Star Pirates. They don’t know we’re here, right? So here we are, like lobsters in a tank at a restaurant, and they let us Tach jump right to their base, hidden away in the corner pocket of the universe on this planetoid, just barely an atmosphere, and we jump out and bash out their relay, wham, bam, thank you, good bye and then the Star Pirates know the gig is up. I mean, I only got six guys, but they know that it’s too late, we’re on to them, and then Neechi receives the coordinates and come out of space, it folds and unfolds like a conjurer’s trick, and there’s their premier Capitol Warship, the WitchWyrm, all cannons and admantine hull gleaming, a brooding, gruesome monster aloft in the void, drop pods like copper eggs descending onto the planetoid’s surface, starships drifting away to gun their afterburners and engage the Star Pirate’s beleaguered forces.

Let the games begin, man.

My plan was thus, true believers…

Hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em fast. Beam the coordinates through the encrypted Tach gate (something Neechi did not know how to do, thanks to the sophistication of the Tach gate coding, how do you think I got the gig?) and smash their communications grid until Neechi arrived.

What if Neechi did not arrive?

Try to fly through the Tach gate and get away.

Yeah, right…

I maneuvered my Hammer…scratch that, you don’t maneuver a Hammer, you chuck the sucker through space like a brick and hope you don’t soak up too much fire, anyways, I moved…f*ck it…my Hammer swung into some Star Pirate Orions that had engaged our flank, odd shaped mothers, painted gold and red, with the mechanical skull icon on each side, and I let the first one eat some plasma, sliding and following up with a rail shot, pretty damn perfect, and he became fire and metal parts.

The other two buzzed me, strafing by and igniting my shields with las fire. I caught the WitchWyrm out of the corner of my cockpit, magnificent, it’s weapons fire painting the starry black scarlet with ordinance, the defensive stations around the planetoid’s perimeter reduced to cinders and scrap one by one from the Capitol Ship’s assault.

Oops, blast torps, one sec…

Ouch, close, where’d my shields go? Not so smug now, are you, Otto?

I gave the first Orion plasma and rail, watching it’s reactors ignite, pop, pieces of it plinking against my hull. Quick lat, slide, the whole machine vibrating with physics, transferring power into shields, here he comes, the las fire scorching my hull, and then firing plasma…

He flipped gracefully, but still caught a few, the shields reacting milky bright, the planetoid blue-white behind…

My rails were like fire-and-gold bolts, battering the Orion in half, they went in opposite directions, into space forever.

”Machine! Gimme some good news!?” I said.

”The perimeter is not yet neutralized.” She said.

”Ok, Sixers, form on my wing. Dead clients don’t pay.”

”Copy.” Machine said, her voice breaking up as the conflict escalated around us.

I moved quickly, rerouting power, wondering if the Star Pirate’s headquarters was getting’ stomped yet. I imagined the lances of the Neechi smashing into the Pirate’s mechyards, those 80 ton monstrosities tearing up the forces like Zeus putting the swat down on Typhonaeus, Dragon had been very sure of the plan, and I have to admit, no bad code in the program, there…

I could see Machine and Sorcerer, both in slate gray Orions, come up on my 4 and 8, respectively. They were packing blast torps, nasty nuke beasties, and I never really thought about their choice of ordinance until they decided to cover me-

Whoops. Explosion. Wow, pretty lights…

Sorcerer’s voice through a squelch of static.

”Otto? You alive, man?”

”Sec!” I said. Sorcerer can be such a mother when he is not being a motherf*cker…

”Pegs, wing, comin’ at us fast, like they do best.”

That was Dos, calm guy, doesn’t get all dramatic in a fight. He was in a Bora Cutlass, you can tell by the rails whacking into ships like the hand of some deity. Whammo. There goes one, now.

I had gotten smacked with a blast torp, hull fine but a little beaten, shields recuperating, there they were, two gold and black Pegasus interceptors bearing down on me, those Star Pirates liked speed, fragments of las fire on all sides, couldn’t see Dos anywhere, the space a satin black, with the violent and yellow blossom that was the distant Augustus nebula spreading all magnificent beyond the Star Pirate stations, the crescents of distant explosions, the haunting shadow of the WitchWyrm eclipsing space, stark obsidian with the sun behind, the pegs swooping in with a buzzing whirr, I’m twisting, keeping them in my sights, don’t want them shooting at my ass, then my plasma falling down on one, a flash of electric yellow and molten blue…boom…

Then an X of rails, Inferno and Dos teaming up on the remaining Interceptor. Bye, bye…

”Hey, Boss, I think the mop up is over, but the WitchWyrm needs some help, they want to do the bop on an incoming Dropship…”

Inferno’s voice brimmed with a self assurance that came from the vitamins he ate or somethin’. He was born to sound so confidant as to be arrogant to most. But he moved a Hammer around like he was born in the saddle. I fly them, and even I think their ugly. Like blocks of beaten iron, so un-aesthetic, ya know? But is you know what you are doing, you can be such a terror, despite the speed at which other ships can maneuver…

Did it really matter?

”Hu, you alive?”

His voice was calm, like Dos’s.

”I think we’re all here.”

”We’re too good to kill.” Inferno said.

”Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.” Machine added.

”Statistically speaking, we should have lost SOMEBODY…” Dos jumped in.

”I saw a quad plasma salvo bounce off Inferno’s ego…” Sorcerer put in his line.

”That was my c*ck.” Inferno quipped.

”Yeah, let’s take this show on the road. C’mon guys, business, war, the important stuff?” I had to be the big boss, sometimes.

”Automatic, you copy?”

Dragon’s voice was even, authoritative. Like the way Sorcerer could sound.

”Right-o, Dragon. How goes the punitive mission?”

”We appear to be winning, but that will mean little if we don’t stay on top of the ground war.”

I could see the ruins of the defensive platforms-gruesome, battered and rent asunder in the cold starred black.

”Ok, where are the bad guys?”

”We’re the bad guys…” Inferno’s two cents plinked onto the intercom.

”Shaddup Inferno, Dragon is giving us commands.”

”Uh…yes, well, there is a Dropship on course, intercepting your position, we need you to slow it down…”

”Roger, copy, come on Sixers, let’s get nuclear…”

The Dropship was closing, it’s guns already sending crimson bolts of disruptive energy into our wing. Ka-blam! Pretty ballsy of them to send it in with no protective fighters…pirates must’ve been desperate…

We closed in, it’s hull burnished gold in the interstellar sunlight, I knew that some twenty mechs were enclosed within it’s armored chassis, waiting.

I sent torps into the propulsion systems, las fire igniting my shields. I caught the flash of rails out of the corner of my eye, and could just discern Sorcerer and Hu hitting the Dropship’s other side.

Dos took a hit. I lost him from my radar.

”Dos!!?”

”Hey.” His voice was scratchy. ”I’m messed up, no systems, retreating…”

”Yeah, go for it, we’ll cover you.”

Las fire hit my ship, and I afterburned instinctively, to the rear of the megalith, it’s engines like burning brass, it was bring, sun-bright, I turned my eyes from it.

Dragon, on the comm..

”Automatic?”

”Yeah, just a sec.”

Hu flew past me, his ship sparking, and I afterburned, pulling shield energy into the burners, then up and over, the guns still blazing, Inferno up close and personal with the thing, and then our rails descending like gold/red cables onto the buzzing systems box, a cement colored dermoplast unit, and it went up with atomic force.

I think I told the wing to retreat, the dome of the Dropship left behind. I saw it, as I looked back, an orb of dermoplast and admantium, slowly rolling to a shuddering stop as the pilot engaged retrorockets uselessly, ion steam like silver foam, drifting in clouds about it…

My wing fell back, safe from the paralyzed Mech-carrier’s weapon’s fire…

Mission complete, pilgrims…



Part 2= ”Catalyst”

Aunt Aggie looked into the pot of soup she had made for the family. Joe, Oscar and Tolio were gathered around the table.

Try as I can, what precisely the Iscariot looked like always escapes me. I remember it from when I was young, and I only remember the outside of it once, a shadow against the naked burning face of the sun.

I remember the inside, especially where we lived, in Olsom Cellers. That’s where you lived when you were rust-poor.

Faddah was working late that night. It was just us, like always. Faddah-Dad, but I called him Faddah- would work late, like that. He had to. He was a space cargo trucker, and the work was dangerous, intermittent, and didn’t pay much.

Our home was deep down in the Iscariot…I remember walls the color of rusted iron, always leaking water or coolant or worse…there was a atmosphere problem, never knew why, but it could go steamy humid or bone numbing cold, depending on the orbit.

We were packed into the cube like rats. Three rooms, side by side. One bath. The rooms were small…Faddah and Aggie shared the one room, then the middle, where we ate, and then Joe, Oscar and Tolio. And me.

Aggie had gone begging to put that soup together. Shreds of cloned meat, some rat, cloned vegetables…and potatoes. Always potatoes, a vegetable that seemed remarkably suited to the environment. To this day I f*cking hate potatoes.

Joe and Tolio had snuck out and stolen some bread. Aggie turned a blind eye to it.

I remember the sodium burner above the table. It gave everything a garish shine…the drip of the sink…rat bites. Always rat bites. They crawled in from the drains.

Deeper down, in the sumpsters, they got as big as raccoons. One of my friends died from a bite, when I was small…

Aggie’s face had deep lines of concern, but cooking made her younger, somehow. I just remember her seeming to relax into a mode, the sweat beading on her forehead, the corners of her mouth smiling, somehow.

Oscar was just a baby. He cooed at the table and hit a plastic rattle with a clown face on the table.

Metal. Everything metal. And plastic. Even our clothes were plastic woven. Thick taxes prevented us from shopping in the upper levels, where one could purchase cloned cotton weeve.

”Bah bah bah bah bah.” Oscar said, cooing to himself.

Joe looked at me, squinting, his ugly mouth crooked.

Joe always hated me…I felt it. When I stared at a vid or Aggie, he would look at me sidelong, his mouth in a scowl.

Which made no sense because we were half-brothers. Our mom had died having me, she gave birth to Joe years before, and his dad had died, murdered by dealers I found out later. Faddah had met mom, then I came, and then Aunt Aggie had moved in and Faddah and her had Oscar, then Joe.

Oscar always looked sullen, his face slack, almost. He had a piece of chalk, and occasionally put it in his mouth.

”Stop that.” Aggie said. She took the chalk from Oscar, and then brought the soup to the table.

We had no bowls. Instead, we all spooned from the soup.

Joe’s ugly scowled face beamed, almost.

”What’s in that, ma?”

Aggie looked at us all, proud. She could feed her family, and give them wonder.

”Pepper. It’s pepper. I found a cube that someone dropped…”

I taste pepper, sometimes, when I think of those walls, in that colony, long ago. It burns the roof of my mouth like red giants burn planets too close to them.

Pepper.

Rust…



I gave my report, in full, to Neechi command.

The rest of my company had retired to celebrate.

We were aboard the WitchWyrm, in orbit around the tan and green planetoid that was once the home of the Star Pirates. TNN reporting craft had come in like locusts, beaming results through encrypted tach channels across the galaxy, covering the ”the major coup against the Star Pirates by combined mercenary and Neechi fighters.”

That really nukes me. Mercenary. They couldn’t get my name right? The Sixers…how hard is that? Phuc.

But my stock had gone up (I’m a corporation…you can invest in me. I’m worth 154 credits a share…compared to Galspan’s 2345 credits a share) and my shareholder’s were pleased. High numbers this quarter, double what we made to date last year. We also had a combined interest approval rating that promised big dividends at the rate we were going.

The board room was all chrome and dermoplast…the table a gravitized disc of rose quartz, flecked in gold. I felt out of place, my rad-proof flight suit lined with wires and cables, covered in soot and rust stains. The collar was high on my neck. I just wanted to get the meeting over with and be with the crew.

It felt good to look at these guys, for some reason. They gave questioning glances to my rank, not realizing that the gold stencil bar code was meaningless…just an advertisement for nitrolite (you laugh, but that ad for nitrolite is an extra 50,000 credits annually, according to our contract).

I felt battered and proud and silly and sick with andrenaline, but I gave them all the specifics, and we watched the film report from the comm. panels all of our ships carried for such a thing.

I was told then that the leader of the Star Pirates, Oslovo, killed himself rather than be caught. He would have been convicted of criminal conspiracy as well as war crimes, probably would have gone to the disintegration chamber, so it’s just as well the sick phuc cut his throat open with a sharpened piece of iridium.

The Neechi officers wore crisp blue uniforms of the finest materials, medals and ranks in perfect order. They looked like officers in the vids, perfect complexions, sharp eyes like flint, stern, commanding features. They looked like they made more money than I did and slept in better beds and had better hookers. Their academy rings all gleamed in the light, the platinum burnished and flecked with obsidian.

I didn’t get to go to the flight academy.

Credits were transferred via tach gates in banque-galactique code and we were officially paid.

Dragon seemed impressed by my presentation.

He sat back, aloof, his uniform positively festooned with medals, indicators of rank, and assorted trophies. I sometimes believe looks get you where you end up, he looked regal and calm, like some sort of predatory bird, perched high above it all, surveying his domain, not missing a detail.

But then the presentation was over, and they were getting up, all of them, and I realized, by the way they smiled at each other and shared inside jokes, the silence of the business atmosphere now discarded, that I was a merc and they were what they were: clanners. Clanners in a big time clan, too.

Now I really wanted to be back with my crew.

I packed up my bronze coloured titanium palm top and checked my bank account.

Hell, yes.

I looked out into space, through the shielded dermoplast that kept us from all eating vacuum.

So vast, so utterly void and yet stirringly beautiful, like the cold face of a woman from across the room who is married to a multi-billionaire and you can never have her. But she is there, full of stars and suns, whole planets within those infinite veils. Standing this close to space, I always feel like I might fall through the dermoplast and just disappear into the galactic nothing. It is night that will never know day, forever.

Then I blink out of it, and I am no poet, I am Otto, of the Sixers, one of 5,837 merc groups in the galaxy. I am a space dog.

Dragon had said something to me.

”What? Sorry, I feel tired.”

”I said, Automatic, would you like to accompany me to the Main Hold? I want to show you a prize the Neechi have recently required.”

In person his voice had a dark lilt to it, accented, like those Earth Brit pilots a century ago might have sounded like. Formal, baroque.

”Yeah, sure. Got some coffee? I need to clear my head up…”

”Of course.”

We walked out of the room and into the cold corridors that were the interior of the WitchWyrm.

The only thing I like about the Neechi is the fact that they don’t get overly aesthetic about the interior of their ships.

Naw, I mean, they paid me, and they showed up for the fight, and they were professional enough to make up for my lack of it, but some clans got fruity really quick with their ships, like they were on some bisexual love cruise (which, don’t get me wrong, are great fun if you are high on methamphetamines and half way through college) but the Neechi used a blue steel gloss and oiled brass design that made you feel like you were in the darkened Victorian walkway of a Jules Verne submarine, the electric burners giving an eldritch glow to the smoke-dark corridors, comm. panels and sensor arrays glowing like wet neon…

Then I realized he was talking.

”…was a huge success. Far greater than our best estimates. Our investors are pleased.”

”Investors?”

”Yes, Automatic. We are a corporation, and we operate in conjunction to other corporations for mutual profit. We are still humanitarian, however, and mercy missions make for good public relations…”

”Eh.”

”Not to worry, I own a large enough percentage of the stock to call the shots. We are still a clan, we just operate according to more economic ethics.”

”Supply and demand.”

”Yes.”

”So why f*ck up the Star Pirates? Why not strike a deal with them and make a profit off of an organized protection racket? The smuggling alone would have put you in gold bath tubs for life. You would have made money off the baronies, smaller corps and merchants, plus the less powerful clans…”

”Sound like an organized criminal conspiracy.”

”Cops are thugs, married women are prostitutes.”

”What-?”

”Uh, I mean, it all depends on how you look at it. Star Patrol don’t wanna have all the criminals disappear, they would go out of business, ya know…but there’s always a profit. Ya follow the profit.”

”Well…the line between being a pirate, a merc, and a clanner is blurry indeed. But regardless, the Star Pirates took human life, civilian human life, and endangered peaceful trade routes. So they were eliminated.”

”Yeah.”

”It’s quite a shame Star Patrol is on strike, otherwise we would not have been involved, and our energies could have gone to our current war with the Furnace Brigade. But the pay is appreciated.”

”Yeah.”

I felt rusted and lumbering in those corridors, marching with the Commander of Neechi past saluting officers and callow faced recruits so perfectly clean shaven ya’s think they were eleven years old. They were bleached and polished, free of so much as a mar. Here I was, my suit frayed and rad burned, the coils of my couplers in bad need of a resurfacing…

We left the soft warm dark of the WitchWyrm’s corridors for the harsh cold neon brightness of the Main Hangar. It was all hollow acoustics and machine echo, the voices of one hundred conversations rebounding off of ferroconcrete walls. White cotton shirted technicians mothered the Neechi star ships, checking arrays and reloading weaponry.

Some pilots were still close to their ships, swapping tales with other pilots. I realized that with Neechi spread out from here to Sol they probably only communicated through Ezboards, and now here they were, face to face for the first time in years.

Dragon seemed proud, and he had a right to be. I scratched at my neck, realizing I needed a shave (and a beer).

Twenty salutes later we were looking out into Space Dock, through a dermoplast window so big a Claymore could have barnstormed through it.

”There.” He said, gesturing towards the sphere of sea and land that was the Star Pirate’s former planetary stronghold. It had not been huge, as military installations went. No bigger than a small Earth town, most of the planet untamed wilderness. It would be populated by exodites and drifters in a week. On corporate loans, of course. Ain’t it funny how the world works?

”Yeah. Nice planet. I saw a desert planet once. I always wanted to pilot a mech, ya know? Go around and tear up the real estate…”

”No, that cruiser there.”

I looked at a ship, smaller than any of the Neechi’s, pitted by ordinance, with a face that was brooding and worn. It was a maverick design, a Frankenstein’s Creation of old and new tech- Madorian arrays, Gal weaponry, Bora reactors…it’s skin was unpainted, burnished, glowing chrome in the dying light of the Augustus Nebula.

”Yeah. Kind of tore up. Look’s tough. Ex-pirate, eh? Spoils of war, well done, Dragon.”

”Actually, quite some time ago Neechi downsized it’s operations long enough to refit many of our ships, so as to make for easy repair and maintenance. All of our bases are designed by Godcraft, and all of our cruisers, freighters, fighters and destroyers are manufactured by Gauzzi. This craft, being a conglomeration, would ill fit in with the rest of our ships. So it’s yours.”

The top of my head felt like it had flipped off. Holy f*ck.

”Holy f*ck. You mean that? Jesus, I don’t know what to say, I mean, our contract said nothing about spoils. Are you sure?”

Dragon seemed please that he was playing the benefactor. He beamed like a jinn granting a wish.

”Yes, quite. Neechi has no need for it. Additionally, our contract only called for you rendering their relay sensors ineffective, as well as beaming us the required coordinates for our assault. But you took out that Dropship, and if it had landed that could have blown the entire operation. This is your reward, thank you.”

Wow.

”Wow, thanks, this puts The Sixers in the big time bracket. We don’t have to hire Guild Freighters anymore to lug us around. Wow. Those things are easy to fly, I know that chassis design. Like a Claymore. Wow.”

He seemed amused at my gratitude.

”Make no mention of it. Let’s see the inside, shall we?”

It was what you expected in a carrier freighter/carrier. Not as polished and pristine as the insides of one of the Royal Guard’s ships, but it had everything you needed. There were GUI controls, redundant energy transmitters…and it was big enough to carry ten fighters.

I noticed a few las burns in the dermoplast, but didn’t ask Dragon about it.

Oh, it was no pleasure cruise ship, we weren’t going to be doing guided tours for the rich and self indulgent, but it was better than what military operations normally required, and that was good enough for me.

The Deimos batteries were the most current thing on the ship. It carried an unusual amount of cannons for a ship with a reactor grid that size. I wondered how much it taxed the systems…

”Damn, Dragon, this works. Damn fine…”

”We are still doing a few repairs, but I knew you would be impressed.”

He stood there, the starlight upon his features, looking over the computer’s mainframe. The wall behind him was cut by black emissions coupling, the color of old nickel. I sat in one of the ceramite chairs, my thumb digging into a quarter sized chunk that had been shot out of it.

He turned, the half-light making him look regal, as if he was the Emperor of Space or something. Like royalty.

”What are your plans now?”

”I am going to sleep and meet with the team after that, surprise them…I have been working out some business plans, some new stuff that will make us all rich in a few years…we’ll all take a break and plan our next job. Nothing too extreme.”

”You going to be planetside on Haglogg?”

”Yeah, the crew needs some earth under their feet. I don’t think any of ‘em are spacers. I was born in space, they weren’t…”

”I may be able to refer a future job for you…are you interested?”

”Eh? Yeah, ya gotta make money, ya know…”

”So why aren’t you in a clan?”

”It clashes with my drinking schedule.”

”No, really.”

I had my reasons.

”No reason, just not my style. This way I can see more of the universe. Excitement, adventure…”

We left the ship, whose name I was just now starting to mull over (Mijionar? Nah. Sixgun? Nah. Death-Octopus? Nah.) and went back to the crowded area that was the Main Hangar Bay. I could hear the sounds of welding mechanics in the distance, and the groaning of engines being tested and refitted.

”We should be at Cix station in 14 hours.”

”Excellent. Yeah, I am gonna sleep.”

”Dobriy vyecher, Otto. Za vashe zdaroveeye ee blagapaloocheeye.”

I felt a bolt of ice pound it’s way into my spine.

”What?”

He looked confused.

”I said that-”

I stepped forward a bit without intending to.

”No, I didn’t hear what you said.”

”I meant, I mean, do you speak Russian?”

I tried to calm down but that never works.

”No, no, I don’t speak that. I didn’t understand you.”

”Oh-” He said, blinking. ”-I had thought that-”

”What? You thought what?”

I backed up a bit, in my mind. Easy, Otto, this guy just gave you a carrier…

I turned away a little and tried to ameliorate things on account of my attitude.”

”Listen, Dragon, I am tired, I’m sorry, I didn’t get it. I mean, naw, I don’t speak Russian. Ha ha. It just threw me off a little.”

He still looked like he did not know what was going on, but he shook my hand and acted with a lot more aplomb than I would’ve.

”Sorry, Otto. I think I heard you were Russian somewhere…”

”Eh, forget about it. I should have been more educated. You take it easy, I am going to sleep before I embarrass myself further. Thank you again, I am in your debt.”

I shook his hand again and staggered past some rad-suited technicians messing with a jade green Phoenix bomber…Gal Span design, like some Behemoth of Space, loaded to the gills with ordinance. They spoke French to each other, joking about the battle. When you are alive, and nobody you knew personally died, it’s all a grand joke, maybe.

I looked at my scarred reflection in the mirrored steel of the inside of the elevator, seeing the exhaustion there.

The Neechi had great officer’s quarters. Even had running water and a lion-sized vid screen, with 3,000 channels.

I crashed, and dreamed of Russian winters and wolf haunted snow swept steppes of blue and white…
Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:27:08 pm
Part 3= ”Theory”

Faddah was an angry man.

The Iscariot was built eighty years from when I was young, by Spillark, Inc., before Spillark got bought out by Godcraft Industries.

Stations get built in weird increments; especially the way really big stations like Iscariot get built. Spacer technicians move in and build the preliminaries, then you move in workers and add to what you have created. It’s fundamental, and usually takes ten years after that date at which the base is first started to really finish.

Faddah’s own faddah had come over with the Russian workers to build the final stretch of the Iscariot. I find it ironic, now, that after granddad broke his ass to do outer space construction on the Seseki Towers Suites, he stuck around to raise a family.

There’s more, but I always felt Faddah hated me in some small way, hated everybody because the early builders, all Russian, had been screwed over by those megacorps, left behind and buried in the bowels of that station. He was cruel to ma and all of us, but I don’t hate him for it, he knew no other way, maybe. It was that ribbon of hate, wound through the bloodline, and sometimes he would come home out of his mind form the bar and blame us…

All of this is old news. Everyone has a cry story, even the people I do jobs for.

No one has a right to *****. Everyone has a cry story.

Screw it.



Wanna know something sick?

I had a brother, not the youngest.

About two years ago he was killed.

Now, we weren’t too close, I hadn’t talked to him in quite some time. You lose track of things like that. The universe is too big, I guess. One day it’s all over, and you wonder what happened to the hours, mawkish, but true.

He was killed by some Madorian guy named Fontaine.

I heard about it later, it was just some alley fight or bar brawl…but my brother was a softy. He didn’t fight. He was the guy who smoothed things out, ya know? So I was told that it was some argument, that the Madorian officer pulled out a knife and got him right in the neck.

Stupid, just stupid. Senseless.

I had it all set up. Fontaine, while wanted in several systems, made a trip every year to some huge fencing tournament in Pleides. A big one, I’m told. Quite a deal in fencing circles.

I had a simple plan to take Fontaine out. Two fist long pegs, three-fourths an inch wide, drilled a hole in the middle of each, ran some piano wire through and made it about a yard. I had worked it out, running it around in my mind at the funeral, in all of those bars, at the bottom of a bottle…it kept me sane, that direction. I looped it around his neck, in my imagination, one thousand times.

”This is for Vinscenzi.” I would say. ”You will be in Hell, soon…”

Then some Iconian Knight officer named Argentum killed him.

I feel worthless, somehow. Like I failed in some way.

I even hate that man, the one who killed Comerca. I hate him, even though I owe him.

People are funny, somehow. We know we are wrong, but we know ourselves too much, somehow. I think in my head that I am a fool. I had not even talked to Vinscenzi for half a decade. But in my stomach I wanted to kill Fontaine, and I hate that IK pilot for taking that closure from me.

I am a fool. An old fool.



I woke up late.

My dreams were of gossamer stars, velvet space, piss-yellow flames engulfing ships. I saw Capitol Ships foaming blood colored flames, in my dreams. Images of planets and suns, collapsing, the glaring neon of the hud, the nerve splicing klaxon of the missile lock warning. This is the audio elegiac a pilot is left with, I suppose.

I looked at the titanium colored walls. I turned on the vid screen, I activated the coffee machine, I downloaded a business channel on the stereo. I paced for a bit, organizing my thoughts…

I had a Capitol Ship. A cruiser.

Not a big one, mind you, but it could haul my entire crew, we could ship real cargo, we could smuggle things that could get us either rich or jailed for the rest of our lives. We were big time.

You have to understand that five years ago I lived out of my ship, a jade green Orion called the ”Pretty Baby.”

Now I had a Warhammer, a whole wing of pilots with decent equipment, and a Cruiser.

I sipped my coffee and watched a TNN reporter inform me and millions of business people across the universe that stock in nitrolite was falling down by a single credit. Some more news, mostly about a new clan that had been formed, they called themselves New Dawn, and had been instrumental in the success of a moon rebellion somewhere.

I sat at the foot of the bed, listening to the distant electric drone of the ship I was in, alone in the vacuum, bringing me back to Trilithon Station.

I had a bagel with cream cheese and lox, and blueberries and milk.

It struck me as funny that at the exact moment I was sitting there, as I came to the decision I had just put together in my brain the night before, I could have been anywhere in the galaxy, on any ship, going to any destination. I could have been anyone, I was generic and alone, even the coffee I sipped was clone to 100,000 across the firmament.

In that precise instant, although I was completely unaware of it, because I am a stupid yutz, sometimes, I was as happy as I was going to be for a while.

I had never heard of Joshua, or the Hollis Ring.

I had never heard of the Levitcher Rebbe or any Hassidic Jewish Luddites or the Lucero Corporation.

I hadn’t the slightest shred of logical evidence that Hugon was a moon that was completely without atmosphere that orbited the gas planet, Jupiter II.

I had certainly never heard of Thurio Muzgen.

I can’t blame everything now on that exact moment aboard that Neechi starship. There was no real precise instant the Fate was decided.

Blame on the black star, blame it on the fallen sky, blame it on the satellite, or the color of Earth water, or the manipulation by corporate scientists on the very molecules of the planet they had built for an eccentric millionaire, who would later have an epiphany because his wife was Jewish, and had died, and he was near dying, and so he performed one last act, a good deed, to somehow settle his life up until that point. And so he bought and gave away an entire planetoid, and became Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar…

Lost, yet?

Don’t blame ya.

I envy your ignorance.

I wanna be where I was, again.

The vid screen had 3,000 available channels. It gave me so many facts and statistics about everything that I was left with nothing. It became a blur of silver static and frozen neon, reflecting upon me with no impact, numbing; invisible.



The Trilithon was a structure that always stood out from any other station I would ever see.

A great, vast cylinder, with grooves on the side, flickering lights of smoked green blinking across it, four miles wide, ten miles across, thirty levels, with administration being the top level.

Not too well policed, but not the hell-furnace I grew up in. This place was business, of all types, bring your guns and knives, but everyone around you is carrying, too, punk.

The constables here are polite, reasonable; a detective in a platinum colored longcoat shows up and makes requests, investigations, whatever he needs to do…and he is calm the whole while. But outside are helmeted, masked, cerramite armored gents with repeating gyrojet rifles, and while they are waiting outside, the detective shakes your hand, the ring he is wearing samples your DNA, and then sends the specifications to his friends outside. Now those gyrojet rockets are programmed to home in on your genetic code, and they are the size of a cigar and explode after they enter your body. Hiding behind a wall for cover does not help.

The cops don’t have much trouble, here…but it’s not like people call the cops, ya know…

Crime? Yeah, there’s crime. Show me a station that ain’t got it. That one, you say? Liar. All stations got ‘em. The ones that don’t are corporate controlled, and that’s the worst kind of crime. The kind you think are straight. Corporations take money, and governments are in on it, too.

Forget about it.

People absolutely freak about the Trilithon. Like, it’s not supposed to be that big. As if there is a limit to how big stations should be.

There’s plenty of room in space. That’s why they named it that. Otherwise, people would have talked about launching a man into the hall closet.

Ha!

The Trilithon has art museums and Zen rock gardens and restaurants. It has docks for ships beyond description, it has zoos and movie theatres. It has public schools and a downtown section. You look up and there is that metal cave ceiling, all aglow with construction, lights and commerce. The place is always night.

What else?

Casinos.

Two universities.

Four churches and a mosque.

A baseball park.

Malls. Big ones.

You get the point. Any more nouns and you’d stop reading.

So yeah the Trilithon is big. But it’s also, well, it’s hard to put. Ya see, I have seen movies by folks who have always lived on planets and never go into space. People who don’t go into space, in this day and age? So they don’t go, so they don’t know space. They show you a black expanse, with stars. Cute little white ones. And they twinkle. Aw, how f*ckin’ cute.

Space is big, REALLY BIG. But you see things, get it? Amaranthine clouds of distant nebulae, silver and milky blurred crescents of distant galaxies, The vivid black against black of dark matter, the dotted and rock speckled mystery that were asteroid fields, remains perhaps, of planets long ago. The blue, emerald, violet and copper orbs that are planets, and it’s all around.

I wanna big glass ship I can see through, and I will fly way out there, and be surrounded, and feel like God, space above and below and all sides. Emperor of the great big universe.

You can see that from the Trilithon. For those of you who have lived on planets, and you go way up into you're cute little mountains and think space is so clear, your wrong. It’s here, in the stations and in the starships and where I work and breathe, not on some planet, buried under atmosphere, crushed by oxygen.

That’s it.



We had all taken a shuttle in from WitchWyrm. I had a Neechi pilot drop my new ship off at the Trilithon. None of us had said a word in the shuttle. We never did. After combat, unless we lost someone, no one ever said anything to each other. It was just exhaustion. Combat exhaustion. We would celebrate, but later. For now, we just all took quick looks at each other and departed our different ways for other places to get our heads on straight.

What’s wrong? Oh, it’s been ten pages and you want an action sequence. I almost forgot.

I grabbed Esprezzio by the collar and in one swift move broke all his front teeth with a cue ball. CRACK!

He went over backwards, almost taking me with him, and I gave him another before I let go and he dropped…

How’d I get here?

I lit a cigarette and stood on the wet gloss of the street in front of Moe’s, the glare of distant businesses lighting my way, the ground choked with trash, old electrics and discarded nitrolite cans. I kicked a beer bottle, checked a leather wallet lying on the ground for money, and made a phone call.

That being done, I entered Moe’s with a clean resolve, although my conscience certainly did not follow suit.

I wore my best Sixer’s flight jacket, a shiv and my best blank look. I just kept my eyes mean. That’s the key, you’re not a tough guy, you’re not an easy mark, but you can f*ck it up with the best of ‘em.

I shoulda been an actor.

Moe’s was ten black pool tables, overhead ruby quartz sodium burners, the downtown smog of cigarette smoke and hashish, and the cold comfort and numbing promise of the bar.

Chrome, plastic and blued steel, that was the bar.

You dropped in just recently, but let the record state Esprezzio had left us to hang. People are f*cking dumb. They make deals with mercenaries and don’t follow through, hoping mercs like me will die and they don’t gotta pay us. Ha ha! We’re mercenaries, don’t they get it?

Esprezzio was with two mooks, probably hired muscle.

He looked at me like I was the second comin’ of Christ, and he was an atheist, and it was time to pay up.

”Esprezzio, where was our rockets?”

I owe it to him, he played it as cool as Siberian December.

”Otto, I owe you a drink and an explanation.”

He was wearin’ a steel colored suit, alligator boots and red tint contacts. Had black spiky hair, probably thought he was the frikkin’ devil. What a punk.

”Rockets, punk. Fifty plasma deals, Bora make, with 6/66 marks. Where were they? I had to pay up, big time, and you said you’d have them at our last jump point. I paid you large, and what happened?”

”I couldn’t get them. Cops grabbed it. Sorry.”

One of the mooks grew a voice.

”Hey, this is our game.”

Some music came on. Something with heavy bass and synth, pulsing like jungle drums, with a voodoo organ back beat.

”Ok, Esprezzio, you know the drill. Twenty five large, plus five for making us sweat.”

He looked side to side like I was some nerd at a party, embarrassing Mr. Popular.

”I do not have the money now, Otto. I will have it next week.”

The mooks began to shift.

And I got it. They were with him. He took my money and got muscle.

I should have called Inferno, but my blood was up and there was no backing down, so-

I smiled, touching my tongue to the roof of my mouth, knowin’ what I know, that I had pair of brass knuckles and a shiv, and-

”Esprezzio, I am going to ask one more time, and then it’s nuclear war. So, pretty please, my money?”

He took a step forward, as did the mooks, one of ‘em was a big curly haired guy in a mining guild uniform, the other had a crew cut and veteran tattoos.

”Otto, you are embarrassing yourself. I will pay you when it is convenient. You are a filthy mercenary, and you should know your place. You are a bottom feeder, and I will summon you when I-”

I grabbed Esprezzio by the collar and in one swift move broke all his front teeth with a cue ball. CRACK!

He went over backwards, almost taking me with him, and I gave him another before I let go and he dropped…

There was the demented drunken carnival glare of red and blue, his teeth like white pearls on the crusted floor, the mook whipped the pool cue around and opened my head.

There was stars and the other swarmed me, I went down a bit, covering up, the other trying to bring the cue to bear-

Then I had the brass knuckles. I swung up, feelin’ it connect, mining guild uniform going back with a roar of pain, then tattoo boy whipped the damn cue around like a God-damned Shao-lin monk and I backed up, blood on my head, on the back of my neck, I had the shiv, the knuckles in my left, tattoo boy moved forward, there was a blur-

-and I ducked almost under the pool table, hearing the thing stick clatter above me, people were screaming, the bouncers were on their way, and I brought the knife up across his face and made his plastic surgeon a rich man. Then I gave him a swat with the knuckles, and his face looked like a mask of blood, the rooms spinnin’ from all my adrenaline, I felt weightless, I kicked Esprezzio for making my team sweat it out when we realized we had no rockets, and then the bouncers landed on me and the cops that I had called earlier landed on all of us.



An hour later they had me in the back of a hover car.

”Your are a damned meshuggenner, you know that, Otto?”

My head was a helmet of pain.

”F*ck him, I had that bastard steal those rockets for me fair and square, and he ditched out, took the money and spent it on narcotics, I know it. Jesus, it’s getting to where you can’t trust a crook anymore.”

They had a good laugh and handed me more coagulants and painkillers.

Mirosky, the cop I had called, looked at me with big watery blue eyes. He had thick wrist and a thicker neck, a cop from the old school, fifth generation in a family of them.

”You gotta slow down, Otto. You are thirty, remember?”

I gave them both five large for their service, and they dropped me off.

I try to co-opt when it comes to law enforcement. It’s so much easier, and such good business.

Everything was cool. Everything.

Tomorrow, I would tell the team we were big time, with our own cruiser. No more lean times for us.

Later, I held a cold beer against my aching skull and made some calls, stayin’ one step ahead of Esprezzio.

Just business.

Dragon gave me a call, before I got home.

More work.

Part IV= ”Catalyst”

Oh, yeah, I never mentioned the planet that Trilithon orbits, Baalbek.

How should I say it? What poetry come to mind?

Ah, the words that rise from the depths of my wisdom, here they are, emerging…

F*ck that place. I hate planets. Starbases have air conditioning and planets have pollen that give me allergies. Besides, I have never had good luck there.

So f*ck it. No adjectives for that place. Look it up yourself.



Vinscenzi was born after Oscar, by a year.

I remember first looking upon his face, cooing at the light of the sodium burners, above.

Faddah, like I said before, was an angry man, prone to fits of just pure rage, but I don’t think he was a bad man. He was a man of his environment, a cargoman, one of the thousands aboard the station we grew up on. It was tough, bonecracking work, working outside the station, attached to rocks or ships, then inside the vast storage houses in the station. Sometimes he would leave for jobs, and Aggie seemed to dread that, as if someday he would not return. But he always did.

Faddah was not a bad man, he was just a man who was not very good.

He looked like a tractor. Big, broad, with a paunch from beers and the heavy protein diet all cargomen got from the companies. Bald, his hands huge and clumsy, he walked with a slouch, he seemed to have little neck, just a mass of muscle.

His face was dour, always dour, and his eyes were black, almost beady, but I don’t like that word. He was not dull, he was just compulsive, with little patience outside of his job. He seemed to trudge through life, all imagination gone, his joy had become drink, long ago, and he saw no reason to change that.

Faddah beat a man, once, because the man had caught me lifting his watch. I had come home, my eyes black, Joe and Oscar in tow (Tolio had died a few months earlier of a fever that killed him is only two days, while Faddah had begged his bosses for the medicine that might save him. A lazy clerk kept forgetting to make the order, and three days after Tolio died, it finally arrived.), and Faddah had seen the marks.

”What’s at for?” he looked at me, his big face starting to scowl.

Joe put in his piece.

”He tried to lift a watch, Faddah. Man catch him and punch.”

”Z’at so? Huh? You do nothing? You and the lump, there, watch Ottavious get hit? You no help?”

Fadddah’s Russian accent would become more pronounced as he lost his temper. His face would become pale, not rosy when he was in a good mood.

Joe was in the light in a way he did not intend to be.

”But…Faddah, Otto…”

”I DON’T CARE! You don’ get it? We are family, eh? Not like some bastards who do not’ting. You always take care of family!!! So he get hit, you do not’ting!? Eh!?”

My head was a big block of clay, the pain like a hand grabbing at me with talons. Every noise seemed muffled, except for my father’s voice. As if my head was underwater.

Vinscenzi had stopped cooing, watching the whole drama with unconcerned, baby interest. He turned his little head, big eyes regarding me, eyebrows slightly arched.

Then Faddah was stomping down the corridors I had grown up in, I was crying, almost, but he just dragged me, his hand engulfing my own small one, and then we were upon the station depot center, where a great deal of traffic came through, to other ships, different parts of the station. Back then it was all gray green, with walls of lockers, huge screens of advertisements and station news comms, the floor that same rusted metal surface that our room seemed carved from.

Throngs of people, then the station trains. Huge things, the color of coal, with mirrored windows, the distant shadows of people behind it.

I had run here, earlier, and then, goaded by Joe, had tried to grab the watch as the man had set it down beside him. I did not even realize at the time why I was doing it.

The man was still there, a military man, it seemed. His uniform was a deep, rich brown, like chocolate.

The man seemed calm, aloof. I remember thinking maybe I should not say anything, just follow Faddah for a few hours around the sweat and stick of the corridors, but I knew he would be a volcano all night, so-

”Zat him?”

I had been staring, paralyzed with fear, I guess. Behind all of us was a fountain, and a church, with stained glass pictures of Jesus and cherubs. Above, vast and away, the glint of machinery.

Faddah had pulled me alongside him. People drifted past us. Other cargomen, personnel, vendors wearing paper aprons, whores with smeared make up…

”YOU! With the fists??? Hit my boy!?”

The crowd parted around us. I remember being embarrassed and afraid. Everyone seemed like giants, looking down upon me. I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear.

The military man wore tags, of sorts. I remember thinking, what if he had a gun? But of course no one did, where we lived.

His voice was crisp, almost British.

”Your boy should mind his mitts. Keep to his toys, not other’s items.”

”So? You hit him!?”

”Good dose of manners, sir. Perhaps he has none at home. Next time, I’ll keep his ears, like they do in other, less forgiving stations.”

I can’t remember what the man’s face looked like. It seemed obscured, somehow. I remember just his voice, the curt way it sliced through the air.

Then I remember the man pulling a hook-knife, smoothly, and then Faddah had simply punched, there was the sound of a brick, fragmenting, people were gathering, and I watched as the knife hit the ground and spun in a semi-circle, Faddah was upon the man, who lay on the ground, and I could see his fist-

The thuds seemed to echo about us, and Faddah stepped up from the man, kicking him, I realized he was a soldier, there was an insignia of sorts on his chest, and Faddah kicked him while the crowd watched.

Then he stepped back, breathing heavily.

The soldier looked as if he had simple fallen asleep, but he was breathing, a choked, thick sound.

I could see blood in smear and streaks, the train arrived, roaring beyond us.

Faddah stood there, watching, his bared teeth glinting with spit. Then he grabbed my arm.

I remember wondering, stupidly, where the knife had gone. Then the throngs of people gathered themselves and entered the train. A deluge. I could not see the military man, anymore.

Faddah turned and looked down at me.

”You good?”

I looked up at him, dumbfounded, and then I nodded.

”You take care of your brothers. Always remember that. See him?-” He pointed at where the man was, somewhere under the throng of miners, merchants and toughs. ”-He had nobody, so I could land on him. No family, nobody, you get landed on. What you think?”

I looked up at him, and for the first time in my young life I saw it, at the corners of his eyes and mouth, the way he regarded me so small below him.

Compassion.

There was never any police, this far below. As long as the wageslaves paid taxes, the oxygen didn’t get shut off, and the cops didn’t care who wasted who, I guess. The soldier had been down for whatever, and had gotten beat. Maybe the cops arrested someone else, I don’t know. This far down, cops just did not care.

A week later, Faddah beat Aggie. He had come home late and drunk, and she had cursed him for being so. I heard every bit of it. I remember the next day, Aggie rocking back and forth, holding a small green plastic ball that had been Tolio’s, crying with some abandon.

Joe and Oscar had been somewhere else.

She had been feeding Vinscenzi, glumly, and then had picked up the ball, set it in her lap, and put her face in her hands, quaking, making dry, shuddering sounds.

”I am sorry, Aggie.” I had said after too much silence.

She gripped me, then, tightly, and I realized just how miserable this all really was, so little food, so little of anything, even each other. There was nothing down here, nothing. Only rust and rats, steel and plastic, and dead people with long faces. The chemical smell, the sodium burners, the constant rumble of distant mechanics, all of it.

”It’s not that, Otto. It’s…I worry. One day I will not be here. Who will take care of you all? Who will take care of Vinscenzi?”

I didn’t know what to say. I was young.

”I will take care of Vinscenzi, Aggie. I always will.”

She told me what a good kid I was. How I had a soul, even down here, and how God was with me, and that she loved me.

For whatever reason I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that, until that point.

But it wasn’t always a big horror story or nothin’. Faddah got a raise, once, and a bonus of sorts. We took a vacation, to the planet our station orbited.

I remember seeing the station retreat from view, and being on some beach, with sand, water, and the giant blue sky above, with it’s two suns, and the trees. Big, leafy palms swaying cheerfully.

Aggie and Faddah had just watched us as we ran in the wet sand, amused by our play. We spent a week in that little village, I don’t even know where it was or what it’s name is, only that we could not afford anything, but it did not matter. Faddah and Aggie spent money on fish and beer, and we all loved it so.

Tolio and Joe had raced each other, and then Oscar had thrown a ball, it had gone off by the trees, and I ran to catch it.

Some man had been walking by, then stopped to watch us. He picked up the ball and handed it to me.

I took it, looking up at him, an old guy with sad lines around tired eyes, and then Oscar had run up beside me.

”Tolio and Joe are in the water!” he said it with great cheer, because Tolio had been afraid, for the last few days.

I ran, my feet sinking into the sun drenched sand, and looked back at the man, who seemed to wave at us, at the ocean, at all of nature around and above us.

I remember being happy, chasing after Tolio, who stood waste deep in the blue green sea, arms raised like some boy-Poseidon. Happier than can really be compared to, even now.



I woke up.

My head was split to the core. Ouch!

Oh, yeah, and I had a hangover. Oh, God.

The other cop had used a dermal stapler for me. Glad I don’t have much hair.

I took a shower and a ton of painkillers. All the pain went away.

I had a bagel with lox and cream cheese, and some raspberries with milk.

A pot of coffee soon followed.

Then it hit me.

Oh, yeah, I was down ten thousand bucks, I still had to do something with Esprenzzio.

But I had a Carrier, you get it? Sent down from God on high to Dragon to me, too bad for the cause of good.

I made some calls and summoned the team. My boys (and one girl), the Sixers.

We met at Cynosure.

Overlooked the downtown section. Exquisite, the streets before you like a Christmas Tree. The ceiling above like the stars past them.

The architecture of Cynosure was that weird white steel, subtle holograms and black alabaster 2200 style, art deco meets Flash Gordon meets retro. Carpet, the color of bronze.

I dressed corporate as a joke. Gloss shoes, black slacks, white long sleeved shirt and a tie the color of titanium. Even styled my hair.

We got a room to ourselves.

The waiter was Han. Mandarin, he could guess your Chinese astrological sign and make a damn good Martini.

They staggered in.

Sorcerer. Flew an Orion. Into computers, has bionic eyes and a bionic hand, intensely political. Had weird pet peeves, like this week, he despised hypermediazation.

Is that even a word?

So, what is hyper mediazation?

”The extent at which the media as we know it will over cover every single aspect of a story drowning us in details so we miss the big picture. It’s a form of crowd control. Can’t trust the media.”

Thanks, Sorcerer. Are the Bora terrorists?

”No, they are freedom fighters. Because they won.”

Wow. I am smaller in your presence.

But Sorcerer was older than I was. He had been around the universe and lived to tell the tale, and sometimes he gave me an insight my young age would not allow. I valued that, man.

He wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt, exposing circuitry tattoos. His hair was stark white, he had a paunch, almost, and he was in his forties. Oh, yeah, he killed a Devil’s Fist pilot, long ago. He doesn’t talk about it.

Machine, next. I didn’t know much of her history, it bleeds out, sometimes. She has a nice ass but she is more like an older sister, to me.

She had a husband. He died. She cries, sometimes, but she won’t tell us why. Or how, or for what, or when, and we don’t ask ‘cause she will kill us.

She loved chess and hated drugs, even the soft ones.

Had two great Danes. Fed ‘em quite a bit. They were fine beasts, about the size of draft horses. They jumped me one time and knocked me down and licked my face and I pissed myself in utter terror.

She could paint, and consumed as much ginko and lecithin as could be safely ingested by a human being. Oh, yeah, she was a black belt in silat. She carried a knife, a nice one, and could carve her initials in your forehead before you got your gun.

She wore a black jumpsuit with Sixer marks. And a leather bomber jacket. Sorcerer was always polite enough to not stare at her butt.

She had long black hair, with a streak of white. She had mature features, but she was only 23.

Hu Jing-De.

He was into Rinzai Zen, Taoism, Bauldelaire, and anything else remotely French literature. He was a master of the kusuri-gami, no, really, he could sling it around and hit an apple on your head from ten feet, he could hit anything the size of a quarter from any conceivable angle around him, even under his own leg.

He was a quiet guy, mostly.

Merc Quarterly had named him, ”…one of the most proficiently deadly Pegasus starfighter in the galaxy.” He had turned down B.C., twice.

Hu Jing-De hated Inferno. But they were both very professional about it.

He was smiling, his pale Japanese features regal and calm. He wore black slacks and a coal gray long sleeved shirt, with a bracelet of platinum. His head was shaved, with a thin layer of black hair.

Dos came in, beaming.

Poor, dumb, friendly, nice Dos. He held doors open for people, he treated women like they were fragile diamonds. He was exceedingly polite. He had a great deal of friends who were women, who thought he was the perfect guy, but would never date him. When you first met him, you were stuck by the notion that this was a guy you could trust your wife, you woman and your wallet with, than it dawned upon you that he was a push over you could piss on, and he’d apologize for preventing the urine from hitting the concrete.

F*cking Dos, he was the best of us. He was.

Inferno loved tearing into Dos. Any way he could. To Inferno, as it was with the rest of the f*cking universe, politeness was equated with niceness, and that was itself equated with victim. So he victimized him. Took his coffee, called him secretary, cut him off in conversation…to Inferno, Dos was the little brother, there to be picked on.

One time, though, a year ago, we had hired another mercenary group to help us with a supply run to some Bora rebels who were getting ready to rearrange the molecules of some Galspan folks in a bad way. We had stood in a vast depot hangar, wide enough to hold a fleet, composed of corrugated iron, filled with armoring machinery. Our voices reflected off discarded beer bottles and exposed and sparking cables.

I remember the whole place smelling like fluorocarbons and dermoplast.

They were a tough group. The macho, in your face, ”I kill everyone” type. Even wore those bad assed aviator sunglasses, the kind that make you look like you have no eyes, and you are a murdering robot head? Well, like those.

So one of ‘em, a bad assed guy by the name of Durolt, had stood with us on a ledge overlooking our ships, back when I still had a Bora Cutlass. It was a thirty foot drop, easy, to the scarred and pitted surface.

It had been Inferno, Dos, Durolt, and myself, all going over the final tactical evaluations for our run. Durolt had pointed out something I can’t remember, something like the range of the lasers on the Capitol Ship we had to go past, and Dos had corrected him, genius for statistics that he was.

So Durolt had told him f*ck you.

Dos had apologized, slightly cowed, and had walked off.

Now, that’s just attitude, no big deal, right?

But something had set Inferno off, the way Durolt had looked in the direction of Dos, as he walked away. The narrowing of the eyes, the clenching of the jaw…this was a guy who put people in the grave the way you bought milk at the supermarket. I had felt the tension just go up.

To Durolt, Dos was low man on the totem pole, because we treated Dos as the low man, get it?

So Inferno goes, you should kill him, teasing.

And Durolt say, I think I will, later. Dead serious.

So Inferno just pushed him off the ledge, no dramatics about it…he shoved Durolt to his demise like you would throw a paper coffee cup into the trash.

He didn’t make a sound, just disappeared. I blinked, thinking Durolt had never even been there. Just like that, presto chango.

Durolt did not even get a chance to make a sound, he was just at the bottom, a look on his dead face like he was going to say something, but now he wasn’t.

Those mercs, can’t remember their names, must not have liked that guy too much. We had already paid them, so it’s not like we had an angle. We told him Durolt just tripped, and they divided the money from Durolt’s share amongst themselves. They even stripped his body before they dumped him into a disintegrator. Calling the cops is not an option for mercs. Bribing disintegrator operators is an old business allocation, easy as pie, no matter how many psych evals they went through.

So, to Inferno, Dos was a second class citizen, he got reamed because he was an easy target. But only by us.

Poor Dos. He was Jewish, loved hardware, really loved to re-engineer complex electrics. He was a writer, mostly business theory, and handled all of our accounts. What a guy. Mellow, he was even a veterinarian. Can you believe that? Most meat was cloned, and here he was, not eating it.

But the guy was a born in the seat Cutlass pilot, and I think between Inferno and myself, we were mean enough to make up for the lack of that specific quality in Dos.

Just ask Durolt.

Dos wore what he always wore, those black mechanic’s jumpsuits. And, as usual, he had that goofy smile, like a dog you had just finishing patting on the head. It made me hate him, and hate the universe that devoured people like him, and the people like me who ate nice guys as appetizers, and the women who wouldn’t bang him because he wasn’t a caustic a**hole like even Sorcerer could be. It made me loathe the negative traits that kept me alive in the business.

Yeah, that was Dos. God bless him, and God damn me.

Inferno came in, his gait casual and as self assured as always. He wore a black business suit, dark steel colored plastisoft shirt, kevlar weave shoes. His hair was in a perfect pompadour, black with cyanic streaks.

He was Bosnian, I think, with sharp features and a forehead that was always smooth with a sort of sociopathic uncaring. His aristocratic eyebrows never so much as knitted or beaded. He kept himself cool, Satan cool, and as clean as a pampered housecat. He was our immoral compass, a constant reminder that ultimately, no matter how much we tried to believe we had a conscience, we existed to make money and kill people, in whatever order it took.

Inferno wasn’t too well liked, by Hu, by Machine, probably not by Sorcerer, certainly not by Dos. But he called me ”Boss” and was very loyal to the group. He knew a Warhammer like nuns know the Bible, and had his finger on the pulse of the anything criminal. People owed him favors, wherever we went.

We had picked him up a year ago along with five others. New faces, all of them, he had been teamed up with a guy called Benzick. Well, everyone else died, including Benzick, and I think it just made him crazy, not in a frenetic way, but in an ice way, like in the way people die in their sleep, quiet.

He made the team uneasy. He used f*ck like a comma, smoked as much as two packs a day, cut you off in conversation and had a tone of voice that could make you feel like an idiot, or a small child. He was abrasive, surly, aggressive-assertive, and as polite as a shark in a feeding frenzy.

But he didn’t make mistakes, bagged girls in the three’s and didn’t care about dying, what you thought of him, or whether or not you even liked him. I envied that, in some way. He reminded me of Konstantin, I guess, and he was a credit to The Sixers, even if half of us wanted to beat him to death with a concrete ash tray. I can’t begin to tell you what he had done to folks who crossed his path in the wrong way in the years I had known him. No, really, I am not trying to sound like I am some hardened veteran in the company of spooky assassin types.

I could tell you stories, man.

He had claimed to come from Old-Earth royalty, or Europe, or somewhere in the Fringe, or on the edge of Sol government, or from Martian politicians, or from Luna. But it hardly mattered, he worked with us, and there is little more else to say. You’ll see the rest.

Inferno took a seat to Machine, who scooted three inches away from him. He lit a cigarette.

I lit the holo of the Carrier, which I had decided to call the ”Time Baby III,” for personal reasons.

It flickered there in the artificial light.

”People,” I said, ”We are now in business for real.”

Moment of silence.

”Is that our next target?” Inferno asked, breathing out a stream of smoke.

”No, it’s ours.”

They froze.

Having their attention, I told them the story.

Title: Re: Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction
Post by: JGZinv on April 14, 2012, 06:27:54 pm
In due time I broke out the holo of our new cruiser. Then, after the ooh’s and ah’s had subsided, I broke out the vid of the sucker, beamed in from outside the station. Sitting there in space, attached to the side of Trilithon’s coppery solar paneled surface, I felt another stab of pride. This was our ship, after all.

Stations are kind of on their own, no matter what, right? Well, all stations have a policy called the Compartment Clause. You set aside room for shipments to the ship, and bring in cargo anually; you get a corporate grant of 100,000 credits. Straight up. Well, I had received it this morning.

Sorcerer summed it up.

”We are high time, now. The big boys.”

”Yup.” I said.

”But that means we have to contend with big players, as well.”

Something in the way he said that made me feel ill at ease.

Hu threw in his bit.

”We can capitalize on this. I got notice of a few jobs this morning, and this changes the stakes, indeed.”

”Don’t get too frisky with the jobs, I just got a call from Dragon, of the Neechi clan, and he is kind of on the A list at this point, dig?”

”What’s the job?” Dos asked, his hands clasped in front of him.

”Don’t know, but the guy didn’t get to the top of the clan because he won it from a sweepstakes. The guy probably is going to want something pretty stiff, and we are all going to devote ourselves, ok?”

”Don’t like the idea of clanners.” Inferno said, his voice low and confident. He hated clans, never said why.

”We call the shots, gang. The paperwork is done, but I owe him, ya know?”

”You’re the boss.” Inferno said.

”About that-” I filled up my coffee cup, then manipulated the smooth plastic controls of the built in holo display.

I broke out some crystal shot glasses and poured everyone some whiskey.

I lifted up my glass, and they followed, looking at me as if I had grown a little strange.

”Gang, The Sixers are now four years old. As you know, my stock is up. But I have since reviewed the articles of corporation on me, split up my share and made you all equal partners. It’s a democracy now, with me as chairman of the board, and you guys are all, well, the board.”

Machine knitted her brows. ”Why?”

I paused as a cleaning ‘bot outside stalked up the building and rinsed the windows with foaming tentacles, domed eyes glinting myopically, it’s body was the green color of old Coke bottles. For a moment, as my back was turned, it felt as if it was raining outside.

”Why? I’m tired of being the boss. Ain’t my style. There’s enough of me to go around, and you guys have been there. On the right of the 6/66 logo you can see how much you all have in terms of the corporation. From here on, we stick together, as we always have. Anyone who wants out can hit the road and give up their shares to the rest. If not, we all sign a five year contract with a retinal pattern scan.”

There was another pause.

”I’m in.” Said Sorcerer.

”Same here.” Dos said.

”Sounds good.” Hu Jing-De reached for the scanner.

”I gotta look at all of your ugly faces for five years?” Inferno said, also reaching for the scanner.

”I feel like I am getting married again.” Machine looked up at me and gave me a tired smile.

I hit a button and summoned Han.

He strode in with a smooth gate and bowed slightly.

”Han here will be the witness.”

We went through the formalities, and I felt an electric buzz in my spine, a familiarity, a realization that I had journeyed so long, so very long to be here…and it was only the beginning of a new jaunt.

I lifted my glass, the 6/66 logo, a gold and black swirling hologram, floated elegantly above us.

”To you all, gang.”

They raised their glasses. Even Inferno resembled something that might have been happy.

”To the Sixers!”

Han watched us all with a cool, impassive wisdom, and then bowed, honoring the ceremony.

Outside, downtown Trilithion station was hued in a thousand colors= golden neon advertisements, emerald rustling gardens of bamboo, the deep cyan of the koi ponds, the champagne hash braziers, the scarlet Indian curtained windows of cafes and shops juxtaposed with the mirrored corporate offices, like steel cubes, black in the station’s faux day.

Above all that the gravitrans and hovertaxi’s continued their days work, beneath the station’s ceiling that was their metal sky



Sorcerer noticed the back of my head.

”What happened?” He asked, eyebrows raised.

I downed my coffee and told them the story.

”Geesh, Otto, next time tell us so’s we can give you some back up.”

”I paid off the cops. Besides, it’s just Esprezzio, not Al Frikkin’ Capone…”

Hu stabbed at me with his finger.

”No, boss, Esprezzio is getting bigger, and we need him around. He won’t make a jump to nail you, but we are going to have to at the very least get our munitions elsewhere, until he gets busted or swallowed up by the Yak cartels.”

Yakuza. They’re everywhere, even here.

”Listen, I will take care of Esprezzio, not to worry.”

That being said, we called it a date and agreed to get together later, to party.

”Oh, Machine, Hu, you guys wanna come with me to the meeting with Dragon? One big happy family, ya know…”

”Sure.” Machine said, checking her wrist comm. ”Where at?”

”I told ‘em Ichiban’s.”

Hu looked up from the printouts of our new Carrier.

”See you then.”



Part V= ”Variables”

I bought myself a new gyrojet pistol, one of those shiny brass colored Iztech designs, and put it in a shoulder holster. It had a baffler and a silencer, with a digital display, no less. We had our own cache of weapons, but the sucker had been beckoning to me for quite sometime, so I splurged.

They checked over my permit without so much as a murmur.

I footed it up Berthold’s Lane, had an espresso and some pasta, and checked out the latest stock reports.

I made a few more calls at a holobar, watching the crowd around me. Mostly maroon suited station techs, some College students, and more than a few pilot’s. Some looking for jobs. They sipped at glowing drinks in the darklight, looking sidelong for possible future employers.

The walls were crushed dark blue velvet decorated with hammered steel plaques commemorating old fights and awards. I recognized a few faces. The rest of the bar was gold mirrored panels and black leather furniture, the music retro techno with a lot of percussion.

Independent Mercs shared a disjointed relationship with clanners. They don’t like us, we don’t like them, but both sides have a respect for each other. We were on opposite sides of the fence, and the line that separated the merc from the pirate from the clanner was a single atom thin.

To say nothing of your corporate pilot…

But Mercs went to clans and corporations for money jobs, rich jobs. You got well funded and made some good cash. We got the awful jobs, yeah, but after the cordite cleared from the air you had made more than you could ever get from a criminal element or normal citizen who might hire you.

I had a whiskey sour and some pretzels, thinking, watching the holovid project the latest news about the Void Alliance, that hotshot clan centered near the Madoran sector. They were quite an event a few years ago. Movies were made about their exploits. They used to be kind of backwater, located in one small area of space, but then they hit a kind of technological renaissance and were big, now. I occasionally ran into their pilots. Word was they wanted to branch out here, but…

Their leader, RedStorm, had gone into hiding (probably retired), they had gone through a changing of the guard since then, but nothing violent. Word was there was some strife with Iconian Space, but that all passed.

I finished my drink and turned my head away. Holos could make you dumb, staring out at them like a hypnotized dog…

I paid my tab and hit the streets.

It would be evening, soon. Or it’s equivalent, deep in this station. You forgot where you were, sometimes, in space. Floating in orbit, adrift, alone with the stars.

I could see some dealers in plastic business suits shifting in the shadows of alleys. A police hovercar above, ignoring the refuse below. The dermoplast streets cluttered with empty nitrolite cans, a few hubcaps, a severed and eyeless doll head, a broken down street sweeper, the color of tangerines with black striped construction bumpers, left to rot. It’s husk spread a shadow over me. I had walked into the part of the station polite people didn’t go to. In the distance, street walkers, began to peddle their flesh, while high above amidst girders, cables, wiring and piping and electrics did their turn, recycling water and air to the inhabitants of Trilliad, moving information at a billion bytes per nanosecond.

A few bums, hopped up on something deleterious to your long term health, eyed me as they warmed their hands around a electric heater unit. They had plugged it into a receiver somewhere in a wash drain, duct taped it to a moddy, and had given themselves a nice amount of warmth, because down below, where I was, even in the midst of a bounty of technology it got so cold the rats died.



Our heater unit was an archaic thing, left over from the former century that had birthed it. A burnished titanium, with a huge cable that was taped up in places, with old station bar code acid etched into it’s surface. I didn’t trust the cable, it sparked occasionally, and when it did the whole burner would shudder, as if it were possessed by some djinn.

Supposedly, you could set the things to whatever heat you wanted, but ours only worked on it’s highest setting, so the top of it glowed with a piss yellow light, it’s radiance drawing lean shadows on the walls of our dwelling.

A few years later, one time, Faddah had taken off, and I think Joe was running out in the streets, maybe stealing something, like he was apt to do, without Faddah around to kick his ass.

Aggie and I were with Vinscenzio and Oscar, and Vinscenzio had been playing with a puppet I had found for him. It looked like a little boxing man, with a bulldog scowl, cartoon like five o’shadow, and big gloves. There were tiny levers inside, and if you hit them the hands popped out, like he was throwing a jab.

I had found an old out of date flight manual by the trains, and was reading it voraciously.

Oscar had been staring at the new toy for about ten minutes.

He groped for it, mouth slightly open, the glow from the heater unit reflecting in his eyes.

”Stop it, Oscar. Vinscenzio is almost done with it.” Aggie said.

Oscar still sat there, staring at the toy.

On the table in front of me was a steaming cup of nitrolite (Joe had stolen it and given it to Aggie, but she didn’t like them) and a wooden dowel we kept for clubbing rats that wandered up from our sink. You could put a grill, there, but they eventually gnawed through it.

Oscar pawed for it again, and Vinscenzio started to cry. He still gripped it, as Oscar finally just held onto the puppet and pushed Vinscenzio down so hard the back of his head hit the floor.

Vinscenzio began to cry, more, and Oscar put the puppet it, grinning at the boxer’s jabs.

Aggie picked up Vinscenzio.

”How DARE you, Oscar!? Give me that!” She reached for it with one hand.

Oscar punched here with it, in the nose, hard. She let out a cry and began to bleed.

Oscar laughed, seeing some joke, there.

I hit him in the back of the head with that wooden dowel so hard I figured the thing would crack. Now his head was bleeding, and he got up off the ground and turned to look at me, blubbering, rubbing his head with the puppet.

”Why you hit me, Otto???”

I looked at him, confused.

”You hit Aggie!” I said.

”But Faddah hit Aggie?” He was drooling, snot dripping from his nose.

”Well, you ain’t Faddah.” I said, still holding the dowel stick like a baseball bat.

He turned from me, took the puppet and threw it into the heater unit. It began to melt, the microwaves agitating it’s molecules.

My logic seemed to work on Oscar. He never hit Aggie again.

I realized that he was a lot like his dad. He didn’t have any real malice behind his violence, it was just something he did reflexively. No evil, no cruel intentions…he just lashed out at that which could not hit back.

People do that.

The boxer seemed to regard me with an infinite sadness as it simmered and melted into the machine, as if I could have saved it, if I had been faster.

We grew older, all of us. Faddah’s company began to sink, and he was reduced to working only a few days a week. But Joe had found a job somewhere, and shared some of his money.

I began to understand the system, then. Education was only for families who could afford it. The entrance exams into higher station levels and better paying jobs were vicious, requiring a lot of money and training. Lacking a higher level education, one could only take deep down station jobs, but you were then in debt to the station, paying stiff fees and stiffer interests. It was a perfect system, keeping the poor poorer, and far down below, while the rich upstairs never saw what went on. Faddah had been a victim of it, Tolio had died from it, and now I was next to put my arm (and soul, along with it) on the chopping block.

Joe got meaner, no doubt. He had found work, like I said, but it seemed to twist and warp him even more. With dad’s sour moods, the only the thing that snapped Faddah out of it was alcohol, and Joe seemed to always have a bottle.

One time, I saw Joe whispering in Faddah’s ear, leering at me the whole while.

I had been reading more books on space flight (I had found a few of them, but one time had just mugged a student for them, thinking he was carrying money. I had gotten bigger, and mugging was just easy).

Joe had always given me a hard time, never where I could see it coming, but from the edges, taking my food, telling on me, stealing from me. It was a behavior he had not grown out of, but had grown more into, you know? Like, whatever he had against me had surfaced all the more.

Faddah had been staring into his glass, and Joe spoke in his ear, looming like a buzzard, hissing like a possum.

I realized that suddenly, I was afraid, so afraid that I felt like I had been riveted to the seat. My hands gripped the book, and I felt a curtain of steel on my shoulders and head, trapped.

His fat head was a ball, and his teeth were gritted, he was a hulking mass of muscle, knuckles scarred from fights, acid, burns, intense work, and they both were clenched into tight fists that lay upon the table.

Joe had stepped back, almost delighted at whatever it was he had done. Faddah was a volcano, seething, he began to shake like one, and then-

Aggie put a bowl of hot soup in front of him.

”Here you go, let it cool, it’s very hot.” She said, oblivious, kissing him on the forehead.

His attention, drunken as it was, wavered, and he looked away from me, seemingly losing interest.

He put the spoon into the soup.

Aggie put a similar bowl if front of me. Not helping myself, I stared at Faddah.

He took a spoonful of the pepper soup and put the steaming liquid into his mouth.

Aggie smiled at me.

Faddah made a choking sound, a chortling, gurgling noise in his mouth and throat, and rose up, holding his face, and then spat the mess of it onto the ground, wailing from the burn he had received.

He stood there, coughing, soup drooling down his significant chin, and we all gaped in horrified silence.

Then Oscar began to laugh, like a f*cking idiot.

Aggie came forward, holding a napkin to his mouth, and his eyes were huge, drunkenly rolling in their sockets, and he hit her.

He had hit her before, and she had always just stumbled back. But this time she just dropped.

Then everything stopped.

No one moved.

Faddah seemed to calm down, the rage draining from him, and crouched down, looking at her.

We all stopped breathing, watching.

He shook here, and then turned her over.

She was breathing faintly, with small, shallow gasps.

He picked her up, his eyes squinting, and set her on the lime green couch Oscar and I had found in the subway tunnels a few months before. Joe has duct taped the portion of it, and it had sat in our living area, ugly, but functional.

Faddah sat on a chair, looking down at her, shaking, rocking, and I realized he was crying, silently at first, the tears rolling down his fat face from his squinting eyes. He was saying something in Russian, I think a prayer, but I could not tell.

Joe looked at me, and then grabbed his coat and left.

I ushered Oscar and Vinscenzio into our room.

We waited, listening, for hours, until the lights dimmed. I fell asleep, drifting off, Vinscenzio and Oscar curled up on a tattered mattress.

Later on, in the shadow of the living quarters, I got up, and crept from my room to the couch where Aggie still lay.

Faddah was still on the chair, asleep, snoring in the dark.

I put my hand on Aggies, and then on her forehead.

She was cold…very, very cold.



Have I ever shared with you my theory that mankind is dumb?

We can travel the stars, go light years in a few second, we have mined the moons of Neptune and perfected cybernetics. We cured cancer a hundred years ago, and that used to be a big deal. Hell, there are whales on Pluto because of us (in big aquariums in bigger stations) and it’s not like they were going to get there anytime, themselves.

I mean that no matter how far our science goes, or how fast towards the future it takes us, we will always be stupid in the common sense department.

Take firearms, for example.

In the early days of space travel firearms weren’t really a big idea. If you fired a bullet, it would go through the station’s wall, and then you would die as you and the person you were shooting at and everyone around you would get sucked out into the vacuum. Bye-bye.

Not that it mattered, they were all a bunch of geeky science types, anyhow.

Well, when stations were small it was no big deal. Then stations got bigger. Still no big deal. Then the cops and the military wanted to be up there, probably so they could arrest and start wars with people, so the scientists let them up.

So the cops and the military folks wanted to have firearms, and after the scientists explained that they were kind of a bad idea, what with the vacuum outside and all, the cops and the military dorks went back to Earth to figure out a way to kill folks in space, as if the environment was not dangerous enough.

Back on the Iscariot, after I fell in with some people that I will talk about later, we did not have guns, really. Oh, we did, but they were all in the upper levels, the lower levels did not have guns, because if they did, there might have been a revolution or something, I dunno…at any rate, we were in the Dark Ages, you wanted to whack someone then you had to hit ‘em, or kick ‘em, or stab ‘em, or hit ‘em with something hard and heavy, or garrot them, or whatever. I mean, you had to really work to whack someone, and it wasn’t pretty, afterwards. People bleed and scream and try to crawl away when you whack them (some even have the audacity to fight back…the nerve of those people!) so it takes a little more chutzpah, compared to just point and click.

But the upper levels of the Iscariot, and the rest of the universe, have weapons like you can’t believe, thanks to those cops and military guys.

You’d think that mankind would have just thought, ”Ya know, shooting each other is kind of dumb, and dangerous, so let’s just get along, right?” Yeah, right. Instead military researchers just developed new and more fascinating ways of taking somebody out of the equation= sonic disruptors, neurotoxin sprayers, airguns with little pellets filled with neurotoxin, pneumatic aircannons, rifles and shotguns with ammo that would stop if it hit a station wall, lasers that do nothing to ferroconcrete or plasteel (once they invented that stuff), gyrojet weapons that fire miniature rockets that stops when they hit the aforementioned substances, zap guns that fire electricity that just shuts the poor bastard down, even those masers that fire microwaves that broil off a 6” by 6” section of flesh, fries ya over-easy, but does nothing to surrounding objects, because that would be ”dangerous...”

Don’t get me wrong. Mankind experiments with various alternatives, but it always turns back upon him, our own natures are like our won shadows, you can’t outrun them, they are always with you, connecting to your heals under a distant sun.

Baalbek has a ban on all firearms, period. Only police and military are permitted firearms of any kind whatsoever, and you had better believe they use every tool in the shed to prevent anyone else from using them= code words, DNA locks, chip implants…

Your standard citizen cannot own so much as a crossbow. Ha!

Oh, don’t get me wrong, a few folks tried initially to own guns, despite the heavy customs security. But Baalbek laws are swift and absolute. Illegal possession of any firearm whatsoever is met with the death penalty, three days later, you can set your watch to it. Same with dealers.

There are scanners at every doorway of any major corporate or government building that can locate a pistol from about twenty feet. Cops have similar scanners that run automatically from their units. Satellites overhead do the rest. They can find a gyrojet pistol through one mile of concrete, no matter where you are, it seems.

Someone eventually finds their way around it, for a time. Photo cryptography, anti-scanning EMP chipsets, whatever. But it does not last long.

Because the next day the whole lot of ‘em, plus the dealers who sold them the hardware, all get televised disintegrations.

So here is a whole planet, a complete industrialized society, without any pistols or rifles. Must be pretty serene, right?

Wrong. The crime rate is through the roof. Only citizens get whacked with baseball bats, chains, machetes, swords, knifes, hand held sonic projectors, whatever. Burglary has risen steadily at a %15 rate every years, as has auto theft, muggings, robbery, etc.

What does it mean? I don’t know and I don’t care. We did not have firearms for the most part where I grew up, but that didn’t make life easier. I think a gun is a crutch. It allows you to shoot back, ya know? Well, here is the difference between people who have used guns in a fight and people who have not. Your normal stooge who watches too many vids gets shot at, and pulls his weapon and fires back. Your military man goes for cover, then fires back.

Well, chances are, if you are behind cover, you can probably run for it, too. Most people can’t hit the broad side of a Claymore from distances longer than ten feet.

Yeah, I carry, most the time. But I ain’t stupid…

Think the laws will change on Baalbek? Naw. A disarmed society is an easily policed society, and you had better believe that members of the government get to travel around with their own cadre of police bodyguards, armed with whatever ordinance is chic that year. They argue in Baalbek senate meetings espousing ”…the glory of a free and peaceful unarmed society, and the merits thereof.” Then they walk out with armed guards to armored hoverlimos and fly far above the crime ridden areas below to fortress mansions far in the mountains, as safe as the angels in Heaven.

So that’s Baalbek. But the rest of us in our stations and bases, in our cities and planets, still have our pistols and rifles, thank God. I think.

Don’t get me wrong, it can get a little out of hand, over in Station #542, deep within the worst part of the Fringe, that place is out of control. You can rent a piece for 100 credits and hour, and they sell disposable gyrojet pistols out of vending machines, in designer colors. Go figure…

So, yeah, we didn’t get the hint, we just made weapons to blow each other away in space, rather than just not shooting at each other. Inferno had the right idea. People were really kind of an evolutionary error, for every two steps forward that science takes us, eventually our own nature takes us three or four steps back, sooner or later. Eventually, we pull out weapons and blast, stab, or bash each other, it’s only a matter of time…



Why did I mention all that?

Well, I was on the mobile phone, I walked out of bar, ducked into an alley to grab my favorite shortcut to meet with Dragon, and there’s Esprezzio, surprised like me, only he whips out a slim gold gyrojet pistol and holds it to my gut.

You kn