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Stories of the Fringe - Tachyon Fiction

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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.”


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?”


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


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<<<<<<<<<





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.


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.


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.


”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?”


”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?”


”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?”



”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.


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…


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.”

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?”


”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.”


”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.


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.






>>>>>>>>>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…


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.”



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.

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.


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.


”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.”


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.”






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.


He thought of all the things he had lost to get this far, to be where he was now…


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?”


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?”


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.


”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?”


”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.”


”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.


”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.


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 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.”


”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!”

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.


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.


”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.


”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.




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.


”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.”



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!”


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…


…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.


Natalie’s door, kicked open.


The vidscreen on, loud, blaring.


The show on the vidscreen an advertisement for Nitrolite. New, improved, with 20% more caffeine and vanilla.


Every drawer in the apartment pulled open, their contents torn out and spread wide, scattered across the confetti colored floor.


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.


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.



”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.?”


”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.


”Why did you commit this crime, cur?”


”You are quite guilty, you know. Admit to your guilt, slave, and reveal your companions, or this will all get much worse.”


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.


Comerca stepped forward and punched, a swift right, rocking the man’s head left and back. Blood sprayed from his nose.


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.


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.”


”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 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.


”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.

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.


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.



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.


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