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Topic Subject:Sepia Joust IV- Brave New Worlds (Submissions Thread)
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01 September 2010 03:53 EDT (US)         
Sharpen thy Quills and ready thy ink, oh Lords of Letters, for the Fourth Sepia Joust will now commence.

It shall remain open for one and a half Fortnights, closing on the Eve of the Autumn Equinox, 21 September 2010.

This Scroll is for Entrants only. Please affix only those Runes relating a Tale of our chosen Genre, Science Fiction, to this scroll. Praise, Comments, and other Runes shall not be placed upon this Scroll, but upon the Discussion Scroll. This Scroll is purely for the Tales themselves.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
AuthorReplies:
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 10 September 2010 02:29 EDT (US)     1 / 3       
The 'God' Particle


Headlining the news today, both Sutton Robotics and Thurmond Enterprises suffered a massive twelve percent fall in stocks when the results of their battle for the mining rights on distant Andivern XII was made public. The two conglomerates had been battling over the recently-discovered, resource-rich planet for three months before the Republican Navy moved in last week. Admiral Wayans declared the planet and its three moons a forward staging base and future strategic starport hub to support exploration and expansion into the Sagittarian Arm of the galaxy, ending the dispute. The two corporate rivals, each of whom had lost several multi-billion credit warships and countless smaller craft in the struggle, withdrew from the system with nothing to show for their efforts but large columns of red ink.

In other news, mathematicians have discovered a new algorithm that could be used to determine if cellular replication would....


***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Oldaine sat at his console and watched the myriad dials and gauges spin like mad. Mostly this was a task for an android, or a lower level tech, but the chief researcher of the project was an older man, and a control freak. He wanted to notice every variance in the various rays and particles his massive stream-beam collider was producing first-hand, and not have a boring summary of the same old gamma and theta ray analyses handed to him afterward. A scientist does not simply read reports- he interprets data, and that is best done by observation and realization- two key elements of any breakthrough no amount of reporting can confer.

Thus the balding middle-aged man sat before the console and watched his gauges himself, with his own grey eyes.

“Coffee, sir?” asked a guard.

Oldaine turned around and saw Hindle, chief of security, standing behind him with a fresh mug of steaming liquid. Hindle was a beefy man, like all former Space Marine officers. His reddish hair was cropped short as was the fashion with former military, his ice-blue eyes darted constantly about in search of danger, and he always had his weapons ready. In his case, there was a Mark V blaster pistol on his hip and an Ingrid MP12 automatic laser rifle slung from his shoulder. He kept an old-fashioned dagger in his boot- a holdover from the days before powered armor and unarmored circuitry when energy weapons could wreck vital life-support conduits on hostile vessels being boarded. But his most effective weapon was the radio clipped to his vest. Together with the commlink implanted in his right mastoid bone, the two devices kept him very much informed about everything and able to respond and direct his security personnel with a professionalism unmatched in the Science Corps. That made Hindle the best, and why Oldaine had to have him.

“Thanks,” Oldaine replied, accepting the mug. He had been a researcher for twenty years, and this was his second project where he was top dog. The first, six years ago, was to track a mysterious sub-atomic particle generated by the Large Collider. Fools and reporters called it the ‘God’ particle, that Higgs boson, but Oldaine proved conclusively that the Higgs boson was merely an elusive yet very solidly confirmed remnant of a neutron that had been split. It was nothing, debris accumulating around an atomic nucleus to provide only mass to an atom- much as garbage accumulated around a home to give it that lived-in look.

Oldaine proved that the Higgs was worthless, and in doing so, won the respect and recognition of the Science Corps and high honors. But in his research, he came upon another sub-particle nobody before had ever noticed. It was first noticed by Murchard, his assistant, and was subsequently named in the inner circles as the Murchard boson. Oldaine vowed then and there never to let an assistant do the mundane tasks again. His diligence was rewarded- the Murchard boson, like the Higgs, was relatively useless. All it did was impact upon a collection of Higgs particles and weld them back into a full neutron.

But he observed a third, one of which he had never spoken. It was so small that most automated scanners and sensors missed it. It was not released in collisions along with the Higgs and Murchard bosons, which explained why none of his colleagues or competitors studying the collisions had seen it. They did not know what to look for. But he did- his human eyes and brain had noticed the tiny spike in energy levels most automated devices discounted as minor variances and ignored. Oldaine did not ignore it. He investigated.

This third particle had very special characteristics indeed. For the first, it was also formed naturally- he discovered several outside the Collider. Further, unlike the other bosons which traveled through the vast spaces within an atom until they collided with a nucleus and glued themselves to it, the Oldaine particle simply passed through anything it hit- including nuclei and electrons- as if it did not exist.

He had found and identified four of these bosons in the three years he had been watching the gauges. Ostensibly he was analyzing the Murchard boson, but that worthless subparticle held no interest. His Oldaine particle, however, gripped him and consumed him. What did it do, precisely, besides penetrate protons and neutrons as if they were not there? They did penetrate- he had seen it happen four times now, and three of those times since he recalibrated his equipment to ensure what he saw was real, not a fluctuation, technical error, or optical illusion. The particle passed through. On top of that, all four of the particles he had observed had something in common. It took a solid week of calculations, concerning times, planetary rotations, and the like, but it was confirmed. All four particles had been traveling in a straight line- to a common destination far, far away.

It was after that Oldaine had ordered the purchase of this vessel. He claimed at the time that it was necessary to escape the gravitational effect of the planet, and to confirm his Murchard sightings in other systems with different types of stars. It was hogwash, of course, but it sold. After all, his team had discovered the Murchard boson- if Oldaine needed anything to study it further, he was granted it.

Thus Oldaine was now aboard the Hailey-class corvette Falk twenty one thousand light years from his home, with a crew of sixteen humans, two hundred androids, a half-platoon of Explorer Corps Security Marines, and a dozen researchers heading through hyperspace, tracking that elusive, tiny, penetrating Oldaine boson to find out where it was going and why.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Oldaine was rather pleased. Thirty two thousand two hundred light years later, while still in hyperspace, he had encountered two more of the bosons, so quickly only the momentary spike of his specially-tuned sensor picked them up. They passed through his ship, going through two of the scanners on their way past, which was how he caught sight of them. He gave orders to drop out of hyperspace and attempted to track the particles. And was hit by a third.

His calculations were proven correct. Even this far out, the bosons were heading in a straight line- toward that distant point to which the others were also traveling. And he observed and confirmed a second notion- the Oldaine bosons traveled at a constant speed, in a constant direction, to a constant goal, and were identifiable in hyperspace. No other particle, atom, or molecule ever studied could be viewed in rational space from hyperspace, or vice versa. That made this boson ultimately unique, as if its penetrating qualities was not enough.

Oldaine now had a crucial decision to make. He had enough data in his research banks to specifically identify the Oldaine boson, catalogue its peculiar qualities, and predicts its path- all of which would earn him the highest honors known in galactic society. He could return now, a hero, and retire to a comfortable life, resting on his laurels and fame. Or he could press onward, to see where the particles were going, and what happened when they got to their destination. A particle like that, in its multitudes, within a single thimble...

He gasped. Higgs might have been a fragment, and Murchard but a welder, but this... This could be the ‘God particle’. Its energy output- even for so tiny a subparticle- was enormous for its weight- thousands of times the power output of the Voortrek 254-A molecule which fueled the Stormwind engines. Those molecules absorbed microwaves, then released over eleven hundred times (1.14 x 2 to the tenth power) the amount of energy absorbed when exposed to radio frequencies of one hundred to one hundred fifty MegaHerz. That super-release of energy- generated by resonance- astounded all the first time it was used. It solved the galactic energy crisis in its day, and made young Storm Voortrek the wealthiest man in the galaxy. Now Blaine Oldaine found a subparticle much more powerful- a potential energy source that, if harnessed, could provide the galaxy with a new and potent power source.

Or destroy it. That much power, in the wrong hands... He thought over the brutal Sutton-Thurmond wars plaguing this quadrant. The two conglomerates, once business partners that brought mighty Stormwind Industries to its knees and broke it up between them, were now bitter enemies. Their private armies hammered at each other in open warfare now, one battling to break into top-secret laboratories to find what the other was researching, the other defending. The roles were often reversed, and always were civilians caught in the crossfire. Oldaine’s own wife, Frikka, was caught in one such battle. A Thurmond trooper with his freezejet rifle shot her first, freezing her instantly to zero Kelvin. The Sutton stormtrooper he was firing at let loose a burst with his flamebolt subgub, which killed the Thurmond soldier and also his frozen wife in the process. The superheating following such an instant supercooling shattered her at the molecular level. The medics tried, but there was not a single strain of intact DNA left in the shattered pile with which to rebuild her. The best they could do was construct a gynodroid twin of her for him based on data from their family holovids and animate it with the neural imprint her company’s security officers had demanded of each employee.

Nor was the fighting limited to battles over research. The two fought over resources of all kinds in mighty naval battles as well. More so now that the hyper-rare cyrillium needed to forge the Voortrek 254-A molecule was coming into high demand.

Oldaine knew now what he had to do. He had to track the particles, see where they were going, and what they were doing once they got there. And if his conclusions were correct and it was a mighty energy source building- he would destroy it. There was no other choice. Fame be damned.

“Captain Locke,” he said, activating the vidlink. “Oldaine here. Resume our course, at full speed.”

“Aye sir,” the ship’s captain replied. “We will be ready to make the jump into hyperspace in ten minutes.” Then the broadcast came: “All crew and personnel to jump stations. Report when ready. We launch in ten minutes. Locke out.”

Oldaine sat back in his jumpchair and strapped himself in for the painful lurch into irrational space. He always hated this part, but knew its necessity. Without being secured, loose objects and people would be hurled to the opposite wall by the sudden acceleration. The androids can have their positronic brains transferred to a new body, but humans were more complicated. Reconstruction through DNA will recover the person, but any recent memories would be lost- and those are the most critical. No, it was best to strap in. Extra tight.

In doing so, he missed the brief power spike of a subethereal transmission leaving the vessel.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Sutton Robotics stocks continued their free-fall today with the release of their quarterly earnings. The corporation, one of the two largest in the galaxy, released dividends forty percent lower than expected. Company spokesmen blamed the lower dividends on higher labor costs, but analysts agree that the true reason for the losses was the decline in demand for their Sutton XR5 diatomic engines. Only their recent acquisition of Stormwind Industries and their patented Stormwind engine kept the business from going completely under.

Elsewhere in the quadrant, Thurmond Enterprises also suffered heavy losses. Their acquisition of the other half of Stormwind Industries- including the formula for the 254-A molecule which powered the Stormwind engines- buoyed their stocks, but they still lost more than a third of their value.

In other news, singer Jessica Ophelia, star of such plays as ...


***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

A few weeks later, the Falk dropped out of hyperspace. About her was a relatively young stellar system, its planets and asteroids having already formed the systemic plane associated with most star systems. The atmosphere-less planets closest to the star seemed too hot to have any value, and their rotations have yet to be locked in to face the yellow dwarf- meaning any mining operations would have to endure endless rapid cycles of burning hot temperatures followed by bitter subzero’s. The larger planets, further from the star, were mostly gas giants- worthless but for their moons which may contain valuable minerals. And of course their rings- ice crystals easily accessible for conversion into diatomic hydrogen fuel for starships. In all, a relatively worthless system, but one which may provide a needed refueling point for errant vessels in the centuries to come.

“Your coordinates lay dead ahead,” Captain Locke informed Oldaine via the vidlink. “You might want to come up to the bridge and see this with your own eyes, sir.”

Oldaine hurried to the bridge. The screen displaying the forward view from the ship was off-line; in its place was a graphical display of the system- including the ship’s position and attitude above the systemic plane on par with the orbit of the fourth planet. It was a standard view- nothing exciting about it. His expression of confusion at the standard display was apparent.

“You see it too, then,” Locke noticed. “Eight planets, one dwarf, and a ring of asteroids- and nothing else on the monitors.”

Oldaine nodded. His eyes rapidly scanned the display for any inconsistencies but found none.

“Now watch,” the burly blonde spacer commanded. He flipped a switch, replacing the computer-generated graphics with the optical view Oldaine had expected.

The scientist gasped. Above the third planet was a bright object- brighter than the star the planet orbited. There was a satellite moon of the planet between it and the object- and that was probably the only thing protecting the planet from being boiled and baked by the intense light from the object.

“That thing is generating billions and billions of lumens,” the captain said. “Yet it does not show up on any of my sensors. Good thing we came in on visual, eh?”

Oldaine nodded. He peered at his notebook, which was displaying their current location versus the predicted location of the particle collection point. The bright light was exactly where his calculations predicted the particles would intersect. The scanner displays beside the coordinates began spiking regularly- more particles were arriving.

“Get us closer to that thing,” Oldaine ordered. “Put us above that satellite moon at one hundred thousand klicks, with enough of the body between us and that point to shield us in case we need it.”

“Keep your eyes on those gauges, sir,” Locke commanded. “I want to know long before we get in trouble that something is going wrong.”

Oldaine nodded. He programmed his notebook to give the necessary warnings.

Locke brought the corvette about. The view shifted, and when the engines kicked in, enlarged. Two hours later the Falk was in position. And Oldaine was amazed. With filters for the luminosity on full and enlarged to maximum, the intersection of the particles could be seen in detail. It was scarcely larger than a human thumbnail, yet shed more light than twenty Class O stars. The power generated at the intersection ran completely off the gauges. Inside him, Eternal Fame dueled Galactic Destruction at the sight.

Then a klaxon sounded, abruptly ending his internal struggle.

“Two ships dropping out of hyperspace,” The petite brunette monitoring the sensor array cried, when she saw the tell-tale blips of inbound ships. Her jaw dropped when the sensors began spitting stats at her. “Battlecruisers! One is coming about on vector three three niner minus eighty, four hundred hexes away. The second on vector one seven six plus sixty five, six hundred eighty hexes distant. Captain, it appears both are assuming an intercept course toward us.”

Locke threw up his hands. “Two battlecruisers, against a corvette? Talk of killing a mosquito with a pocket nuke!”

“What does this mean?” asked the scientist. He knew more about interstellar drive than any man aboard, but the ships in which they were housed had never interested him. He did not know the difference between a battleship and a garbage scow.

Locke sighed. “It means we are dead meat in an hour, sir. Those two ships- two battlecruisers- have a hundred times the amount of armor we have, have guns and powerbeams that both outnumber and outpower and outrange our own, and have enough missiles to turn that rock into powder.” This last was said pointing to the satellite moon. “It means we are buggered if they are here looking for a fight.”

“Are you so sure they are hostile?” Oldaine wondered. Only the Science Corps knew his destination, and that ministry is considerably close-mouthed when it came to ongoing research or its particulars.

“Mass eighty thousand tons, two aft solar fins, Viotex Deflective Shielding at five hundred cyclic helios, Model S-TPD26 engines on full blast,” the captain read from the display. “That makes Contact One a Sutton Battlecruiser, more heavily armed and armored than a comparable Republic Navy ship.” He snickered and added, “and it would probably work better, too.”

Then the captain turned pale as the scans of the second ship popped up on the display. “The other is a Thurmond StarCruiser- comparable to the Sutton ship, but nastier. And sir- those two are geared for battle. They are enemies, and both are headed here, to this planet.”

Oldaine had seen first-hand the results of corporate battles. The gynodroid waiting patiently in his quarters reminded him of it every day. And he had scoured enough spatial battlefields looking for clues in his early career to know that when companies battle over research, everybody loses and only specks of dust remain. Thus he made the only decision he could.

“Put the Falk between the satellite and the intersection,” he commanded.

“That could destroy us!” Locke gasped.

Oldaine pointed to the two incoming ships. “Those will destroy us,” he reminded the other. “But if those warships are coming in on sensors and not visual, they will likely not see us. The crux there will shield us from their view!”

Hindle, who had reported to the bridge at the klaxon, agreed. “Do it, Locke. Its our only chance.” Even that hardened Marine did not relish facing the boarders of two battle cruisers.

Locke sighed and complied.

“I am flying blind,” he reported, once in position. “All sensors read snow. Even the visual ones.”

Oldaine smiled. “If we cannot see them, they cannot see us. Use this computed location information to maintain position. I am uploading it to your console now.”

The captain nodded, then nodded again. “Got it.”

“Focus your sensors through the moon,” Oldaine ordered the sensor operator. “You should be able to penetrate its mass being this close to it.”

Locke nodded. “Do it, Brynil.”

The scanner followed the order, and indeed saw that the battlecruisers seemed to have lost their way. Both ships were heading toward each other now, having lost a fix on the tiny corvette.

“Your plan is working,” Locke admitted. “They seem to have lost us, and are focusing on each other.”

Brynil groaned a half hour later. “Communications intercepted, but garbled,” he reported. “The cruisers are moving closer, but are no longer oriented at each other. They seem to be communicating.”

“Standard pre-battle gibberish,” Locke snapped bitterly. “They’ll try to talk each other out of damaging their multi-trillion credit warships, then start hurling missiles and firing off powerbeams. Happens all the time. We have about thirty minutes before the fun begins.”

He appeared to be correct. Brynil reported much more communication, then the ships appeared to be girding for battle. And then Locke was decisively proved wrong. Instead of opening laser slits and missile tubes, the two cruisers assumed parting vectors. There was going to be no battle.

Locke alone knew what that meant. It meant the scientist’s trick had worked. Sutton had sent a battlecruiser to intercept the corvette and steal her research, and that Thurmond had stolen that information and dispatched a battlecruiser of its own. The two ships arrived on time and on target, yet failed to see the promised corvette. With nothing to battle over, the two monsters agreed to a truce and would soon depart the system in separate ways. And with that, his value to Sutton Robotics would drop to zero. He would never be trusted again, and lose that valuable paycheck he had collected every month for the last sixteen years. His finances depended on that, and he had always come through with the goods. Now, because of a scientist’s sudden inspiration, his life was ruined.

Not if I can help it, he thought grimly. He twitched a bit, sliding the corvette sideways out of its hiding place and back into view.

The two cruisers immediately fired maneuvering rockets and swung about, then accelerated. Oldaine, studying their departing stats, could not figure out what had gone wrong. Hindle, ever observant, had seen the twitch and now saw the reaction. He knew.

His pistol grip rebounded from the head of the captain with an audible thunk. Locke collapsed instantly. Hindle threw him from the chair and manned the helm himself.

“Doc, that bastard took us out of the hidey-hole you had found for us,” he said, gripping the helm. “Tell me where that sweetspot is now, and I’ll hide us again. Otherwise we are going to be vaporized and that right shortly.”

Oldaine shrugged helplessly. “Our sensors are useless this close to the crux,” he replied. “Without knowing the bearing, speed, and duration of Locke’s maneuver, I cannot recompute its reverse course.” Then he glanced at the forward display. It was clear as glass. The crux was gone!

“Then prepare to go out fighting,” Hindle replied. “Weps, charge what few weapons we have, and lock them into forward. I’ll take control of them from here.” He winked to Oldaine, whose face had grown greyer by the second. “I was once a pretty hot fighter jock before joining the Marines. I might not win this one, but we seldom win all and I will ensure it costs those bastards plenty more than our current value.”

“Our value is considerably high right now,” Oldaine reminded him. “My research alone is probably worth more than both of those ships put together. Squared.”

Hindle whistled. “I wish I had that much money.” And with that, he opened the throttle of the engines to max.

The ship nearly went into hyperspace- so hard was the acceleration. Oldaine and anyone else not sitting was thrown to the aft walls of whatever compartment they occupied. The Battlecruiser Sutton Glory suddenly sprang into the forward sights. Hindle reacted to the oncoming collision with a Marine’s reaction- he tightened his fingers on the triggers.

Green lightning shot from the tiny corvette. The Sutton Battlecruiser, caught offguard by the swift attack, reacted violently to the fusillade- its Viotex shields flickered once then collapsed, its Butanium-alloy armor crumpled and boiled away milliseconds later, and then its drive core melted into vaporous slag. Hindle regained control of the speeding corvette and managed to avert a direct impact, instead glancing off one of the huge solar fins to rebound into space.

“Shields gone,” the tech manning the Damage Control station reported. “Hull breaches in five forward compartments. Weapons still on full charge- how is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” grunted Hindle. “Status on the Glory?”

“She appears dead and on fire,” Brynil reported. “The Thurmond Solix is firing into her hull now.”

Hindle clamped down on his unlit cigar. “Their dumb luck,” he said. The Falk was now orienting to the remaining cruiser. He finally had a handle on that power surge, it seemed. “I’ll get us some licks in before they take us down.”

“Evade!” screamed Oldaine. “We are a corvette. That is a battle cruiser!” He might not have known the difference before, but Oldaine was a fast learner. “Get us out of here!”

“Can’t,” Hindle said bitterly. He nodded to where there was a splash of red across his console. Oldaine remembered seeing that before the attack on the Sutton Glory. “See that? Our hyperdrives are fried. Must’ve happened when Locke did his thing. We can’t run, sir, which is why I had not fled already. You could probably fix it given time, but that bitch there is not going to give us that time.”

The Thurmond cruiser turned its attention away from the dead Sutton vessel to the active corvette. Missiles reached out from her hull- the only weapons which could hope to catch the elusive little ship. Powerbeams and heavy lasers were too slow to track her, but her captain knew the missiles were just as maneuverable as the target. Thus the fate of the Falk was sealed. And Hindle knew it.

So he did what marines do. He turned on his killer, and let loose with every little bit of weaponry the tiny corvette had in her. Eight two-cm laser bolts shot forward, green splashes against the black of space, and were joined with by the Atreus anti-meteor Gatling powergun. Enough to break a shield, and maybe vent a compartment or two into space, but not enough to do any real harm. That would be done by the hull of the Falk crashing into her...

Hindle pressed his triggers for the final time.

The entire forward section of the Thurmond Solix simply evaporated. The engines exploded seconds later from the loss of controlling inputs that used to come from the vaporized bridge, leaving the devastated middle hull section floating free in space.

“Inbound missile,” screamed the scans woman.

Hindle wrestled the controls about violently. “Where is the bugger?” he screamed.

“Vector one eight zero, closing rapidly!”

“Head for the planet,” Oldaine ordered. His reprieve from instant death had restored some of his clarity of mind. “The atmosphere will compromise its sensors. We may lose it in the clouds.”

Hindle grunted and dove for the planet. White-blue filled his screen and he continued to jerk the craft about viciously. The Falk bounced once on the atmosphere before rebounding into space. The vapor trail of a missile could be seen hitting the atmosphere before ending in an abrupt fireball.

“Even better,” Oldaine mused.

“Two more missiles in the wake of the first,” Brynil screamed. How could she have missed that?

Hindle dove. The Falk fell into the clouds, two vicious snakes on her tail. One of the snakes mushroomed into a harmless ball, but the other impacted on the stern of the corvette. Lights and gauges began flashing all over the bridge.

“We are losing power,” Hindle gasped. “Going in. Send out the distress call.”

Brynil acknowledged and pressed a few buttons. Oldaine, gripping the console of the helm, thought of his wife one last time. The clouds disappeared, to be replaced by a corrugated border where land met sea. The vision grew closer, and larger, until a mighty thunder and a tremendous clap ended the Falk forever.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

An eye flicked open. The other was nailed shut- a splinter of console was embedded in his flesh. That eye was gone, though the medbay might be able to regenerate it. He pulled the offending splinter loose with a sudden gasp and cast it from him. He went for a bandage, but there was no bleeding anymore- it had healed.

His remaining eye glanced about. Hindle was still at the helm, though the helm was now on top of him. Locke was gone, while two of the other bridge crew were strewn helplessly about the bridge- an arm here, a leg there. They were chanceless, being strapped into their chairs during the impact which threw wreckage with powerful force through the tiny chamber. Of Brynil the sensor operator he saw nothing but a leg.

The leg moved, and Brynil came out from under a console where she had been flung. She nodded to the scientist, judging him in order by the alert look in his open eye, and glanced about for others. She saw Lieutenant Hindle under the helm and rushed to him, pushing her tiny body against the massive console. To both her surprise and that of Oldaine, she actually moved the thing- but not enough.

Oldaine picked up a broken strut and used it to lever the helm console from Hindle. The man still lived. He and Brynil then carried him aft to where the medbay was. Along the way, they surveyed the wreckage of his corvette. Power systems were down all over the ship, and the hull breaches he saw were serious enough to know that she would never fly again. Luckily the planet had a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, or they would all be dead without their rebreathers and suits.

Ann Fry was still in the medbay. The red-headed senior tech had been injured in a gas leak prior, and was regenerating in the medbay when they had dropped out of hyperspace that last time. Now she was banging heartily against the round, brass walls of the regen chamber. Oldaine hastened to let her out.

“I am going to kill you, you son of a bitch,” she gasped, as she fell out of the round chamber. “Krycek, your ass is mine.” She looked about, and saw the decapitated medtech still in his jumpseat. Her anger dissipated, replaced with remorse. “I guess you have a good reason. Sorry, Dan.”

Then she saw the loss of power, and Oldaine’s injury, and put the two together. “Get used to having one eye until we can restore power, sir. Even then, it might be too late.”

“I’ll work on the power, you work on Lieutenant Hindle,” the scientist replied.

“Better the other way around sir,” the tech replied. “I’m the senior tech, you are a scientist. You create, I fix and maintain.”

“I designed and built the Dane-Hays H5XP generators providing back-up power to most small naval vessels, Senior Tech Fry. Those I know. Human anatomy and regen chambers... You would most likely have much more experience dealing with them.”

“Aye sir,” Ann agreed. They both knew generators, but only she knew the ancillary equipment. “And after that, we need to find out how many others survived.”

“I’ll search for other survivors,” Brynil added. Both Senior Tech Fry and Oldaine nodded.


Two hours later they had the news. The Falk was indeed dead and on the ground. One hundred thirty androids had survived the impact intact, though every single one of them had suffered some form of overload. Their positronic brains were literally wiped clean. Five crewmen and several security men survived as well. The hull, though breached and battered, was sufficiently sound to provide shelter. All four forward lasers had been melted to slag by passage through the atmosphere, but the Atreus and two others, as well as the personal weapons of the Marines were still intact. Shields were down and out for good- the generators were smashed by the missile. And the engines... well...

The lights flickered, then came on. Oldaine crawled out of the subpassageway and returned to where Ann and Hindle had set up the command post.

“We have power,” he reported, “enough to run life support, what few sensors remain, and charge our gear. But I do not know how long it will last.”

“We need only hold out until help arrives,” Hindle replied. “Our distress call went out- both in the subethereal and etheral nets. Science Corps will pick it up in a little while and dispatch a rescue vessel. We’re above the galactic plane, but in a fairly rich arm that is currently under exploration. There will be somebody about soon. We have air enough and the doc here fixed the replicator, so we have rations. And power. So we only need to hold steady for a little while and then go home.”

“Hold out a little while, eh?” Brynil spat. “How long do you think it will take the survivors of the cruisers to find us?”

“What survivors?” Hindle barked.

Brynil pointed to the broken display, which was looping the last minutes before impact. In the background, far away, one could see the tell-tale jets of small boats ejecting from the broken cruisers. The cruisers themselves were no longer accelerating, being dead in space, but they were continuing along their last plotted course. Hundred of thousands of tons of butanium and steel do not simply stop once in motion- the laws of inertia see to that. But why eject instead of repair? The Solix he knew had no chance with no engines, but the Glory could be made good again. Between the two, a working stardrive could be salvaged and used.

Oldaine found his notebook and spoke into it. ”Compute and project course of damaged vessels,” he commanded. A few minutes later the book bleeped. Oldaine held it out to the others.

“This is why they are evacuating instead of repairing,” he said. All took in the diagram with its arrows heading toward the star, then angling more and more toward the star as its gravity kicked in, until they both would disappear into the mass. “They have six days before inescapably entering the stellar gravity well. The estimated time of repairs for maneuvering power only, at twenty-five hours per day, is twenty days.”

“Great,” replied Hindle. “At least fifteen boarding boats from each, each probably manned by twenty armored Marines who had been ready for battle. Three hundred Marines, and we have what? Six Security Detail and five spacers?”

“We have one hundred thirty androids,” Brynil reminded him. “Their operating systems were wiped clean, but the Skull here can program them afresh like he did to reboot his gynodroid. And our personal weapons arsenal survived- we have a fighting chance, LT.”

“I can program the neural communicators and actuators,” Oldaine admitted. “But that is simply motor skills. The positronic brain requires decision-making properties- and I cannot program them. I need a neural overlay, and the only one we have is that of my late wife- and she was no warrior. The closest I can come is by making a new neural imprint of one of you warrior types, then translating that imprint onto the positronic matrix.”

“Then do it,” Hindle commanded. Three hundred marines! At least androids feel no pain- or fear. They would be ubertroopers compared to the mercenary warriors of Sutton and Thurmond.

“I could, but then you would have to die,” Oldaine said. “Or it would. The neural imprint would be yours, you see. A clone, in essence. And we all know the effects of clones from history- they almost invariably go mad when they see the Original. So animating the androids in that manner is a no go. It worked with Frikka because her Original was already long dead, and I simply overlaid the imprint anew.”

“Are the airbikes intact?” Hindle asked, switching directions with the agility of a swallow.

A tech named Eden nodded. “Most of them. A few must have gotten sucked out of the hull breach. In all, thirteen airbikes and twenty-three cloaks checked out ten minutes ago, LT.”

Hindle nodded. “Brynil, take Eden and Theurl and go recon.”

The three scouts returned eight hours later.

“How did you know?” they asked up their arrival. “There are indigenous life-forms about, humanoid like us. A DNA analysis revealed a ninety-eighty percent match to our species. How did you know, LT? Serve here before?”

“I don’t know how I knew,” Hindle replied. “But I know I never served in this quadrant before, much less this part of it.”

“Do you remember approaching that satellite moon when we first came in-system?” Oldaine asked. “You commented that the rotations of the satellites had not yet locked in to the orbits of their star. Look at that moon there,” he insisted. “We have been here for two days now. My calculations report that we have been seeing the same portion of that moon with a variance of less than oh-point-three percent. That means it is indeed locked in to its principal- something it was not before the battle.”

“So?”

“I also checked the other planets in the system,” the scientist continued. “They are no longer backlit by the crux. It is gone. That incredible energy source- simply vanished. Or did it?”

“What do you mean?”

“The massive acceleration, the overcharging of the weapons, the drives maxing out, and the sudden notice of our ship. It all makes sense. Locke flew us through the crux. Each atom in the ship and in our bodies absorbed those particles- and gave us the energy to overcome our foes. My eye was gone- still is- but the damaged tissue about it healed within seconds. Hindle- your broken ribs and leg- their are fine now, eh? And that with no working medbay. And the androids’ brains- wiped clean by a power surge. Figure it out yourselves if you do not believe me.”

Theurl did not believe. He smashed a hammer down upon his left hand. The bones crunched and incredible pain shot through him, yet in minutes he was able to flex the hand normally.

“I believe,” he admitted. So did the others. “Now what?”

Oldaine pointed to the boarding boats on the screen. “If those bastards come to this planet, they may find us. If they do, they will want the ship. The hull of the Falk might not seem like much now, but it can provide the parts they need for a smarty among them to hotwire a stellar drive. And take our research with it.”

“Research worth more credits than the cost of two battle cruisers,” Hindle reminded them all. “Squared.”

“Brynil, these creatures here, the one like us,” Oldaine asked. “How are they organized? How advanced are they? Are they warlike?”

Brynil saw where that was going and shook her head. “The humanoids are divided into clans, and are indeed warlike, but their level of advancement is barely that of monkeys. I have seen metal objects, but the only power readings I picked up were from fires- no fusion generators, no neutrino emissions, not even an RF fluctuation. Whatever these indigs use as a power source, it is not measurable with the crap we have.”

“No matter,” Hindle said, rising to his feet from his previous squat. “I am going to organize the defense. I’ll use the remaining Security detail folks for that. Brynil, you take some of your spacers. If they can fly a starship, they can ride an airbike. Grab some neural imprints off of the indigs, ones not likely to come to this crash site. Anyone with a warrior’s instincts- wallpaper hangers are no good in a scrap.”

“No,” Oldaine countered. “We cannot risk being seen. If enough indigenous creatures mass, they can overrun any defense Lieutenant Hindle can throw up. Then we are doomed, even before the Armored Marines of Sutton or Thurmond arrive. Or worse, Sutton and Thurmond troops question the natives, who point them to us.”

“Good point, sir,” Hindle acknowledged. He made a new plan. “Ann, can you fit the cloakers to cover the airbikes?”

Fry nodded. “Shep is better at cloakers, but yeah, we can do it.”

“It can be done easily,” her twin Shep agreed.

“And the neural imprinters- do they require contact, or can you do it from a distance?” Hindle asked.

“They need to be within five meters,” replied Ann.

“Then Brynil and the spacers use the cloakers to sneak in, and grab the imprints unseen. Okay?”

Oldaine agreed. Brynil and her small crew left the next day on their mission, while the remainder worked up a defense grid under the direction of Hindle and Ann Fry.

Brynil returned a month later, with a palm pilot in her hand.

“We flew over ten thousand klicks,” she reported. She handed over the palm pilot. “We have twenty imprints in here. There was a battle between the indigs- we flew above them and captured the imprints of dying warriors, so there will be no conflict of identity. Did you know they use metal knives in war here? As the main weapon? Yaitche, I thought Pereglum was backward, with their slug-throwers!”

“Were you seen?”

The scout shook her head.

“Then go out again after some rest,” Oldaine ordered. “We need a hundred ten more imprints.”

And so it went. Twenty here, fifteen there, until all androids had a functioning neural imprint that could never clash with their Originals. The androids came online, most with a gasp and a cry, then a stunned look upon their faces. Hindle would spend hours teaching them the art of war, the terms, the technology. Oldaine had the spacers retrofit armored extra-atmospheric techsuits into functioning battle armor, which Hindle would then train the androids to use. It was better than nothing. And then came the reports.

Brynil had spotted a Sutton Marine squad moving through the valleys nearby.

The defense grid was activated. The androids were deployed, each under the command of one of the security personnel. Theurl commanded one, Shep Fry another. Both staged behind the outcropping cape of ragged rock to the west of the wreckage of the Falk. Brynil and her spacers manned the ad-hoc powerbeam projectors Oldaine had worked up. Two other contingents, under the Security Detail troopers Teerl and V’da, staged to the east behind another outcropping of ragged rock. Hindle himself led the fifth, in pits by the bridge over which the Sutton Marines must cross to reach the Falk’s shattered hull.

Hindle spotted them first. He pressed the mike on his vest and spoke quietly, “Twenty marines in Battle Armor approaching. They are being led by Locke, of all people!”

“Fry here,” said another voice on the commlink. “Their main body is dispersing beyond. I think they see the Falk’s hull.”

“V’da here,” hissed another voice, seldom heard as the Sec Trooper seldom spoke. “I see about thirty Thurmond troopers beyond. Have they teamed up?”

“Only if they think the Falk can get them off this rock,” Hindle reminded them. The Marines in their armor really were huge. He waited until the Marines were well within range that his personal weapons could breach that potent armor to wreck the flesh beneath. “Prepare to fire on my mark. After that, its open season. In three, two, one, Mark!”

Powerbeams and lasers spat forth. The flamejet rifles of the Sutton marines tried bravely to extinguish the sources of the fire they were receiving, but Hindle had planned this ambush too well. They died quickly.

Their death allowed the black-armored commander of the main body to see the d-grid for what it was. And examine its weaknesses. The wreckage of the corvette lay in the middle of a small saddle. She would never fly again, but her power sources were still intact. As were her dorsal weapons systems, as evidenced by the slight twitchings of the turret. The deep ravines surrounding the ragged rockpiles from which the devastating fire came were too wide for his armored troopers to jump, while assaulting one set of rocks would expose his thinly-armored rear armor to fire from the other rocks. Going around was no option either. The volume of fire he received told him the numbers were about equal- and the trip around would take a long time for the attackers, while the defenders need merely shift a few meters to cover the new approach.

There was only one vector from which he might attack and have his thickest armor absorb the brunt of fire- and that was to charge over the bridge. They had to cross it and quickly. Doing that would smash the d-grid at its weak center. He signalled his squad leaders and issued the orders. Armored giants rumbled forth in the charge.

“Wait for it,” Hindle commanded through his comm-link. This was directed both at his own squad leaders, and Oldaine in the Falk. He wanted the Sutton mercs to be totally committed before he cut them down.

They were quickly getting that way. Already the first squads were fanning out, with the follow-on squads crossing the bridge quickly and the rear squads already moving to the bridgehead. A few seconds later, his weapon beeped. He had tone.

“Now!” he cried, squeezing his trigger. The black-armored Sutton commander fell backwards, half of his helmet vaporized- with half his skull with it. Before his body even hit the ground, the spacers and androids in the rocks let loose on the packed men on the bridge, while Hindle’s squad began taking out those who had crossed. Hindle fought bravely, each shot taking down an armored trooper. The androids of his section, at first intimidated by the noise and battle armor, were steadied by his lead and began mowing the armored troops down. Then their fire died as weapons ran empty, or ammo melted into slag from the heavy firing. But did they flee, those indig-imprinted androids? No. They reverted to type in the swirl of combat. Their battle impulses fired, and they rose as one to charge into the melee, shouting cries of gibberish.

The Sutton Marines blasted many into bionic particles, but were caught in their own backwash as well. Up close and personal, the indig-imprints ruling the android bodies were indeed warriors of note- Brynil had chosen well. Out came the improvised weapons of Oldaine, and the axes and spears he had fashioned from the butanium-alloy of the Falk's hull proved more than a match for the Sutton Marines, despite their armor.

The Sutton troopers fell in droves. Many were crying helplessly into their headsets for the order to retreat, but that order never came. They could not see their commander where he had fallen, and the silent jamming issuing from the Falk both unheard and unnoticed- though it did block all radio communication and leave each man alone in his armored shell.

The Thurmond mercenaries saw the faltering of the Sutton attack. Their commander knew he could no longer sit back and let Sutton wipe out the little crew then take it from him. No, if the Falk repulsed Sutton’s more numerous mercs, he would never have a chance at getting offworld. So he gave the only order he could- waving his men forward.

The Thurmond mercs then joined in the battle as well, but their freezejet rifles did little harm to the androids armored in modified tech suits that could withstand the temperatures of space. The mercs fell in groves to butanium axes, or were scythed down by the spacers whose weapons were juiced by the Falk. But their lasers and powerguns did some damage, and there were more mercs in the d-grid than there were able-bodied androids. It was only a matter of time now.

The crewmen in the rocks knew it as well. Theurl led his squads into the fray. Across from him, Shep Fry did the same. The d-grid held, though many died.

Shep Fry was bayoneted by a Sutton subcommander, a beast in red armor, who died seconds later to a laser blast from Hindle. Hindle himself fell to a xeno Marine whose body resembled more Wolf than Man. A Thurmond Marine had penetrated the d-grid to reach the CP, but was killed by Brynil. Unfortunately, her blaster also took out Oldaine. Theurl fell to a Thurmond Marine, who was skewered by an android a few seconds too late to save him. Then the defense grid abruptly collapsed.

The Marines pressed the surviving defenders back towards the hull, despite the heroic efforts of the androids and Security. It was lights out for the defenders, until the huge shadow of a Republican destroyer fell across the plain of the d-grid to blot out the sun.

A tremendous lightning storm erupted and all went black.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“Sir? Sir! Wake up now!” a soft voice commanded.

Oldaine opened his eye. Frikka was there, his gynodroid Frikka, waiting patiently for his biological systems to come online.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“You are in the medbay of the Imperial Crucible,” his gynodroid wife replied. “A Stormwind Decidus-class dreadnought.”

Stormwind? Dreadnought?

“Lieutenant Hindle is also aboard, in the regen chamber now. Brynil and Theurl are aboard the destroyer Huxtable that picked you all up and killed the merc marines- the medtech there deemed them too far gone to transport them here.”

Oldaine sat up. He pawed at his injured eye, but encountered only the empty socket.

Frikka shook her head. “The damage was too long ago to regen. They will have to rip it open anew in order to grow it back.”

“My research?”

“Tucked away safely where you hid it,” the gynodroid said lowly, patting her left breast. “It is as safe as you are right now, husband.”

“How long have I been out?”

Frikka smiled. She really was a duplicate of his beloved wife- and programmed well enough to fit perfectly in with his own idiosyncrasies. “Too long. We were picked up by the Stormwind Huxtable fifteen days ago, and transferred to the Imperial Crucible a day later. The fleet captain announced we should be back in Republican space within three weeks, and back at the capital twelve days after that.”

Stormwind? That corporation went bust, causing the Sutton-Thurmond feud.

“Storm Voortrek made a coup against both Sutton and Thurmond,” Frikka explained. “Those two were so wrapped up in their own feud they forgot about him. While they battled and pawed and killed my Original, Voortrek was maneuvering and gaining support. When they became distracted with your research, dear, he struck. Thurmond Senior was assassinated, while Thurmond Junior had a horrible accident. Sutton himself had a heart attack when he heard of the hostile takeover. Storm Voortrek owns both corporations now. The war is over.”

Oldaine leaned back onto his hospital bed. The war was over. And his wonderful, omnipotent particles and their crux... Gone as if they never existed.

He sighed a deep sigh of relief.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

That was the tale as told to the indig chieftain who came upon the mountain to commune with the last remaining god. V’da, the tall Security Trooper who more resembled the humanoid indigs than the other scientists, told him exactly and in his own tongue the tale of the Oldaine particle and the disastrous journey of Oldaine himself.

That was the tale as told. What the indig heard was something else. He heard of Odin in his mighty palace, the Valhalla, and of his faithful wife Frigg. There was Heimdall, the chief warrior who had a magic horn that could call the gods, and Idun who guarded the golden apple that brought youth and life to the Asa gods. He heard tales of the twin gods Frey and Freya, and of mighty Thor with his hammer. He recognized tales of the treacherous Loke. His favorite stories were of Brunhilde who rode winged horses and captured the spirits of dying heroes for the great battle of Ragnarok, upon the Fields of Vigrid against the Fire Giants of Surtr and the Frost Giants of Thrym. And he heard of how a giant wolf would come to eat the sun in an orgy of lightning, leaving only Vidar alone upon Midgard. Such were the tales passed down from father to son since the fall of the Romans, and the strange words of the tall Aesir before him merely confirmed what he already knew.

“And now, lord?” asked the indig chief.

V’da was exhausted. Though the other crew of the Falk had been taken away on that fateful day by Stormwind vessels, he had remained to guard the hulk of the Falk until it could be recovered. Republican scows came and salvaged her thirty years later- and with her wreckage went her precious generators and brass regeneration chamber within- along with the debris of battle as per Galactic Law. He could from then on no longer regenerate. That was nine hundred years ago, leaving him this day a tall, frail, old man with a beard to his toes after nine centuries of life. He was dying now that the mysterious particles that had given his body such strength and longevity were depleted, and he knew it.

“Olav, it is time for me to pass,” he said in a dreary voice. “The others are long gone, and soon I will join them.”

“What shall we then do?” asked Olav with open, pleading hands. “You are the last of the Aesir, the last of our gods.”

“I am no god,” V’da admitted. “I think I shall prove that to you soon enough.”

“Your people need you!” the indig pleaded. “We need your guidance, lord. Our people need a god.”

“Find a new god,” Vidar retorted bitterly. He was so tired. A man was not designed to live a millennium, even if he had been dosed with ‘god’ particles. Now it was time. He felt it. “We are done here.”

Olav nodded, and left the tall Aesir to fade into history.

Olav did indeed find a new god, one that had been sweeping across the lands to the South for centuries now. He became Olav den Heilige, the king who would bring heathen Norway into the Christian fold, whether his countrymen wanted it or not. He would fall at Stikkelstad, become a hero and a saint to an entire nation, and the tales V’da told would be twisted into myth then fade into legend.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 09-22-2010 @ 06:27 AM).]

Edorix
High King of Britain
posted 29 September 2010 09:45 EDT (US)     2 / 3       
ALLOBITACOI


Five thousand kilometres above a large asteroid five billion kilometres from the Sun, Captain Xing enters a sequence of co-ordinates in six dimensions through a pair of remote electrodes directly into the starship mainframe. They flash up on the screen in front of him. Confirm, he thinks. The screen flashes, and then begins a countdown. A robotic voice begins to relay instructions to all passengers. Xing straps himself into the helmseat. They are off, at last, to complete a lifetime's work for Xing: to find the source of the so-called Buta-particle. A tenth the size of an electron and approximately a trillionth of the mass, it had no impact whatsoever on Xing or his homeplanet – but then, it is the nature of science to enquire into pointless but fascinating details that concern no-one.

One hundred counts later, the ship dematerialises. It has entered hyperspace. Destination: Earth.


* * * * *


Dumnorix, a chieftain of the Segontiacoi tribe of the land which the Celts called Cantiom, could barely restrain his mirth as the boy’s story unwound. He listened with mounting amusement as Dubrocu recounted how he had been hunting woodfinches in the forest when suddenly there had been a great hot wind and he had been thrown to the ground. Not wishing to be branded a coward, he had gone to see what had caused it; and there in the middle of the woods had appeared an enormous metal house. Dubrocu went on to describe the house as best he could, but when he began to describe the shiny green slime-monsters who came out of it Dumnorix finally could not restrain himself any longer. Before long his whole hall was laughing merrily – except for the unpainted boy standing before the hearth who could not comprehend what was so funny in the legend-worthy adventure he had just experienced.

Eventually Dumnorix got over his merriment at the boy’s description and wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

“I’m sorry, my boy… what did you say your name was again?”

“I am Dubrocu, Tegernu. Dubrocu son of Taxogenos.”

“Well, Dubrocu son of Taxogenos, your tale is a good one, I’ll give you that. You certainly have a wild imagination and a knack for humorous description. Tell me, Dubrocu; did you ever consider a career as a bard?”

The boy frowned.

“I did not make it up!”

“Of course you didn’t!” chuckled Dumnorix. “Shiny green slime-monsters are a common feature of these parts. They also go by the name of Belgae.” His entourage laughed again. Dumnorix was quite pleased wih himself. The boy was getting quite cross now; unfortunately, this only served to amuse Dumnorix further.

“I tell you, Tegernu, every word I tell you is true! These things I saw are real, and they could be dangerous!”

“Aye, of course they are, my boy, but only in your mind. Run along now.”

No twelve-year-old likes to be told to “run along now”, and Dubrocu less than most. He had been brought up with a certain pride, and his honour was now at stake; he was being ridiculed by the chieftain’s entire hall. If he had been three years older, he might have drawn his sword and sworn by his blood that whoso next laughed at him would regret it; as he was not, and the most fearsome weapons he carried were a dagger and a small sling, he simply muttered an oath under his breath, and without asking leave, turned his back on his chieftain and stalked outside. He would show them; he would bring them proof.

* * * * *


When Taxogenos returned to his house with his brother that night after spending a long evening at the tavern, he was immediately set upon by his wife, Wenoma.

“Tac, have you seen Dubrocu?”

“No, I thought he was here with you.”

“I haven’t seen him since this morning.”

Taxogenos glanced sideways at his brother.

“He’s probably over at –“

“I’ve spoken with Correos already, he’s not there.”

Taxogenos decided to take the classic lazy father’s way out.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine.” He took Wenoma in his arms and kissed her to waylay her fears. “He’s getting to be a man now, Wen. In a couple of years he will be. You have to let him have some free rein and not forever worry after him. He’s probably just gone for a moonlit walk with that Diseta girl…”

* * * * *


“Come on, Diseta!”

“Dubrocu, can’t you –“

“Come on!”

Half urging, half dragging her after him, Dubrocu hurried through the trees to the spot where he had seen the strange house appear that morning. The late afternoon sun made him feel somehow that if he was not quick, it would be gone. At last he mounted the last rise, and there it lay, in all its fantastical otherness, in the ancient riverbed before him.

Diseta came up beside him, a word of complaint on her lips, but when she saw the great metal house, exactly as Dubrocu had described it, settled in the bottom of the valley, she froze. There was something so powerful in its strangeness that awed the two children to the point where they could do nothing but gaze at it.

* * * * *


“Sir! 100% form match with the Buta-particle cluster registered earlier, and DNA-match with that highly-evolved martianoid. This time there’s more though; another cluster, similar to the first, with a 96.893% DNA match relative to it. A female, judging from comparative biology.”

In the few hours he had been on this planet, Xing had already learnt a great deal more than he had ever expected about the mysterious particles he had tracked across half the solar system. Firstly, they were somehow tied to a specific life-form, and did not occur anywhere except where that life-form was to be found or had left its traces; secondly, the life-form’s brain activity was inversely proportional to concentrations of Buta-particles while its physical activity tended to be almost proportional. For Xing, this was fascinating. Although they acted exactly like particles, they had all the paradoxes of electrons and broke every single law or principle about conservation of mass and energy. The more energy the life-form used, the greater the concentration of Buta-particles – and yet nothing associated with them lost energy or turned into them for this to happen. They had no effect on anything else at all that he could register. They were well outside the visible spectrum of the life-forms around which they clustered, and nor were they visible in the infrared or ultraviolet spectra in which Xing’s species could also see, even when so many were clustered together these life-forms ought to be shining with them. The only effect Xing had so far noticed them to have was that all other life-forms except those around which they clustered held them in awe, and could not seem to bear to be in their presence for long. Xing could spend his whole two-thousand-year lifetime on this planet studying these particles, and he knew it.

“Very good. See if you can bring those two creatures on board so we can have a more detailed examination. There are several tests this scientist would carry out.”

* * * * *


There was a noise a little like a blacksmith lowering a spearhead into a bucket of cold water, and part of the wall of the metal house began to move, revealing an unnatural brightness within. Dubrocu was transfixed by the strange sight of a wall moving by itself, but Diseta kept her wits about her.

“Get down!”

Dubrocu didn’t move. The ramp came down, and out of the unnatural brightness within he saw a strange green creature come out. It moved like a giant slug, but it had the hints of arms – nine in fact, three on each side and three down the middle – short and stubby, like coppiced branches. It also had the eyes on antennae of a slug, but three of them. Though he had seen it from a distance that morning, even so its sheer hideousness entranced him. He saw its antennae swivel in his direction.

Diseta pulled him behind a thick oak trunk. The two of them stayed very quiet.

When they had waited what seemed like an age and nothing had happened, Dubrocu cautiously peered out from behind the great tree. The sun had not yet set, but the shadows were long. The strange green creature was nowhere to be seen. He stretched his neck out further, widening his line of sight.

Beside him, Diseta gave a little cry of surprise and collapsed.

“Diseta!”

Dubrocu whirled around, and there was the creature. There was a strange long metal box in some of its hands. There was a brief buzzing sound, increasing in frequency for a tenth of a second before it hit him in the chest. A sudden burning shock, and he knew no more.

The last thing he felt in the split second before he lost consciousness was guilt; he had betrayed Diseta to these creatures. It was his fault.

* * * * *


The next morning, Taxogenos began to get a little worried himself when his son had still been seen by no-one. Still, he told himself, and his wife, they were being silly. By midday, he had to admit something was wrong. He went to see the chief.

raton deun canta te, Dumnoriga tegernu.

“The gods’ favour with you also, Taxogenos son of Uxselorix. What ails you?”

Tegernu, my son has disappeared. Yesterday morning I saw him, and the rest of the day I was working. My wife saw him shortly afterwards, and then not since. I have asked around, but nobody has seen him since save for Enestinos the Trader, whose daughter Diseta is also missing. He says my boy came around yesterday to find her, and the two of them went off and haven’t been seen since. My son’s name is Dubrocu; he is twelve, small for his age, rather plain features I suppose, dark hair and green eyes, with a scar on his chin from when he was very small. I would like to organise a search.”

Dumnorix felt a slight sensation of unease when he heard Taxogenos’s story. Was this not the same boy who had come to him yesterday speaking of giant houses and slug-monsters? Dumnorix recognised the recurring themes of tales: the ones who talked were the ones who disappeared, it was always so. But he brushed it aside.

“Twelve, you say? Surely your son and this girl have just gone for their first romantic adventure? Every year they start younger, or so it seems, but I remember I made my first discovery of love when I was twelve, isn’t that so, Britiwenda?” He winked at an attractive young blonde woman sitting beside him – his wife, hopefully.

Tegernu, I feel it in my bones something is amiss here. Some harm has befallen the boy, I know it.”

Dumnorix sighed. He realised perhaps he had made some mistake. He too felt that something was not right; it was just that infallible sense that came to people sometimes.

“Friend, let me tell you the story your son told me yesterday, just after noon.”

* * * * *


The search party found the two children just before dawn the next day after searching all night. They were in a strange and very deep sleep or perhaps unconscious, but they appeared to be otherwise fine, even if their faces were an unhealthy pale greenish colour and their eyes were open but unseeing. This unnerved everyone, but the druid pronounced them in full health upon examination, waylaying their fears – however he admitted to Dumnorix that he was sincerely vexed by their condition and wished to keep them near him until he was certain they were fine. No tracks surrounded them, their own or otherwise – Xing’s people did not need to travel on the ground. Ultimately, everyone was left puzzled and worried, despite the druid’s words.

The two sleeping children were carried back to the village by their families in the company of Dumnorix and the druid but not taken inside; instead, they were taken to a sacred grove not far from it and laid on bunks inside the hut which was the druid’s principal dwelling. He and his apprentice tended them as the sun rose and for much of the morning, while their families and Dumnorix’s runner waited anxiously. The druid and his assistant noted strange marks on both of them; marks of violence, and scraps of strange materials stuck to the skin of their arms and temples which, try as he might, the druid could not prise off. They said nothing to the childrens’ parents. Finally, as the sun approached its peak, Diseta sat bolt upright with a yell.

The druid was at her side in an instant.

“Gently now, Diseta daughter of Enestinos. You are in the dwelling of the druid Cocolitanos and have been unconscious the gods know how long.”

Diseta looked at him wildly.

Allobitacoi!” she screamed.

The druid took her firmly by the arms and with his assistant’s help tried to force her to lie down. To his surprise, she did not resist.

“I’m sorry, I – druid! Please, you must listen to me! They are allobitacoi – aliens! They come from a star thousands of thousands of miles away!”

Understandably, the old man was somewhat taken aback by this. He was spared having to reply by the arrival of the girl’s family, all crowding into the entrance at the sound of her scream. As they fussed over her, convincing themselves she was alright and ignoring her urgent pleas, he mused over her words and turned to Dubrocu. He could see the boy’s eyes moving slowly beneath his eyelids (of course, he had closed their eyes at the first opportunity to minimise panic) and prepared himself for the second awakening.

This one was not so violent. Dubrocu gradually opened his eyes – at first fearfully, and then confidently as he recognised the druid. Seeing he was clearly fine now, the druid dispensed with the reassurances.

“Aliens?” he asked.

The boy looked relieved.

“Yes! Yes, druid, how did you know?”

“Your friend told me not a hundred moments ago.”

“Do you believe us?”

“I – cannot tell. You have both just woken up from goodness knows what enchanted sleep. I would like you, as soon as possible, to tell me – and everyone else – what exactly happened to you.”

* * * * *


Later that day, Dubrocu and Diseta stood before Dumnorix Tegernos and, haltingly, between them, told their story.

They had awoken to find they had been taken inside what they presumed was the metal house they had previously seen from the outside. All sorts of strange materials, tools and moving images, lines and dots covered the walls, and the light was provided from nowhere and everywhere at once, without fire or a window. Several of the giant green slug-monsters stood around them – nobody laughed this time, Dubrocu noted with a contemptuous smirk. He and Diseta had at once challenged them and questioned them. One of the green creatures did something with one of the moving images and inserted a tiny piece of metal into his head before replying. When it spoke, the sound clearly came from it – but it had no mouth.

“Hello, earthlings. I am Captain Xing. I come from a world far away in the stars – I am what you would probably call an allobitacos.

“I came to this place on a journey of discovery, following – ah, how would you say it? – a kind of dust of which all things are made. All things in all worlds and skies are made up of tiny specks of dust. I am assuming from my examination of you already and reconnaissance of this land that you do not know anything about what you cannot see, please correct me if I am wrong. I am a knowledge-lover, you would say I think. A scientist.

“This particular kind of dust is unique to your world in all the worlds and skies known to mine – and we know all as far as the limits of the Allsphere – forgive my poor speech. Your language, from my recording and analysis just now which is how I communicate with you, is highly developed for beasts, but the most primitive thing I could have expected from a chemical scan of your processors – I mean brains.

“But there is only so much I can learn from the outside, and I needed you to be “conscious” so I could talk with you – in my land, there would be no distinction between awake and sleeping, so my team and I have been working from comparative biology with Martians and other creatures from this land which we have picked up in the last day or so.

“Thus I would like to talk to you, earthlings, about what you are, and why this unique dust surrounds you and not any other organism on this world. I would love to tell you about it, but I only have a limited amount of a very primitive language to work from. I am learning more all the time from the metal discs attached to your heads – electrodes, I would call them, although you do not have or at any rate know a word for them. These discs are the reason you feel a slight pricking every time I hesitate or grasp for a word. I would also like to run all the tests I have already run on you unconscious again now you are conscious, so I can see what difference it may make. Speak to me, earthlings. What are you?”

They had been too shocked to do anything while the creature spoke, but by now Dubrocu had recovered his wits and pride enough to demand that Xing first explain what right he had to come to these lands in the first place, and secondly why he thought he could just take them prisoner like that (he had Diseta to impress, remember). He suffered several shocks from the electrodes as Xing first processed his speech, then analysed it, then crafted his own reply.

“I am sorry, earthlings, if I do not know the niceties of your primitive society. I have been here only what you would call a short while – what I would call an even shorter while. I could spend thousands of years examining your world, earthlings. I am sorry if I have broken your social code, but please realise it is simply because I do not know it. Social codes vary from species to species, and you are a species the like of which nothing else exists as natural selection has slowed to almost nothing in you. Perhaps you can explain it to me. Your closest relatives in this part of the world are in fact bears – your face I am assuming demonstrates utter bemusement. Bidanxy, record that.”

Their conversation went on, with the two humans eventually sufficiently insulted and fired up to refuse to say anything about anything. At that Xing gave up, although he did not show sadness, anger or disappointment – his people seemed only to have one or maybe two emotions – and began to re-run the various tests. Every so often he would pause and ask how it had made them feel, explaining inconsistencies in the Buta-particles and why he was so interested, then demanding to know why they used words at him which their brains coded as bad when all he had inflicted upon them was a gentle prodding sensation or physical bleeding. Neither Dubrocu nor Diseta wished to relive the details of Xing’s various experiments, and the druid told them they need not describe them. The story was winding to a close: the tests led straight on to a conscious nothingness – their thoughts working, but not their muscles nor senses, which had been more than terrifying, especially as they could for a long time hear each other’s thoughts in their heads – and then waking up in the druid’s hut.

“We did learn one more thing about these creatures,” Diseta faltered. “When our – our blood… splashed them, they seemed to – to shrivel up. It was queer… maybe the queerest thing about. The green shininess changed to look like rotten brown meat.”

“Yes – yes – Xing said that our bodies were almost entirely a mixture of two things in the air which make up what we call water, but which they cannot bear,” added Dubrocu. “Nothing we have will harm them save water and fire, he said. I think he did not realise anything at all useful about the way human minds work – that we would not rest until we had our revenge.”

There was silence in the chieftain’s hall. The fire had died. After a long time, Dumnorix spoke.

“Druid – do you believe their story?”

Dubrocu gasped. After all that, the chieftain still doubted them!

“Yes, Tegerne. I do. I see no lie or madness in either of them. And furthermore –“

He stepped up beside Dubrocu, rolled back his sleeve, and showed Dumnorix the scraps of metal on his arm.

“These materials – in our world, Tegerne, they simply do not exist. Look how they shine – some of them are the colour of certain salts or metals left too long in water or vinegar, but have not the consistency of anything I know; others I cannot even describe. None of them can I remove from their skin, with force or magic. The simplest explanation is that their tale is true.”

Dumnorix was silent again for a while.

“You realise, of course, druid, that those do not technically prove anything. There could be any number of explanations. It would be so easy to deny the whole story, and say they are crazy…”

He sighed.

“But I will not. I believe you, Dubrocu and Diseta. And I apologise that I did not believe you when first you came to see me two days ago, honourable Dubrocu. I must pay you back for that dishonour.

“And this is how I shall do it. We will attack these allobitacoi’s skyship tonight!”

* * * * *


“Captain Xing! Unusually high frequencies of buta-clusters approaching from the large human settlement to the North. The footage from our scoutbots shows their movements bear a close resemblance to the primitive hunter-peoples on Mars and the fourth ringshell of Saturn. They are headed in our direction, captain.”

Xing came to the pilot’s side. “The buta-organisms are hunting us?”

The two of them and the copilot watched the various screens. As the frequencies became more clearcut and distinct, the co-pilot estimated numbers of buta-organisms approaching five hundred. They watched the hunting-party split into three smaller groups, two of which set out on a curved tangent to the first. The computer quickly plotted their probably destinations based on this course, using the five-dimensional co-ordinates of the ship as prey. It soon became clear they were indeed hunting the ship.

“This is truly fascinating,” murmured Xing, his antennae fixed on the screens. “Few enough species in the Solar System still hunt in this way… never before have I felt so privileged to see the Solar System at its wildest. All male and female, as I had guessed; only two genders, apparently.”

“Fascinating or not Captain, look at the disproportionate amounts of dihydrogen oxide particles accompanying them, and the smouldering carbon plasma they carry. They also seem to be digging irrigation channels along their line of advance; the computer registers the course of what they call a river at a tangent to that ditch, and the ditch runs almost all the way to it. Fire and water, captain; they are hunting us, and they know what they are doing.”

“This is more than fascinating; these creatures are clearly far more psychologically sophisticated and even inventive than I had first thought. Despite their cultural retardation, the actual capacities of their minds must be on a scale approaching our own. But you are right; we can no longer afford to underestimate them now we know they are capable of intelligent thought processing. Arm all hands. If the worst comes to the worst, we will have to wipe them out. We cannot afford any significant quantities of dihydrogen oxide to touch this ship or we are all doomed.”

* * * * *


As night fell, Dumnorix settled in to his position at the head of the largest group. He felt rather stupid carrying a torch and a spade rather than a sword, but he knew there was nothing for it. If Dubrocu’s tale was true – and the existence of this skyship rather seemed to prove that it was – fire and water was all that could harm these creatures. Behind him, his men were digging the siege-ditch; once it was complete, the dams at the heads of the channels they had dug would be broken, and the river would fill the ditch. Skilled craftsmen were also hard at work all around constructing pumps; two men would haul on the levers, and water would be sprayed long distances through hollowed out tubes, a technique learnt from Belgic slaves who had watched the Romans fight fires. He waited.

Just over an hour later, a messenger whispered in Dumnorix’s ear. The ditch was complete. Dumnorix caught the attention of the three bowmen standing near by him. A few moments later, three flaming arrows were fired high into the night sky: the signal. The other groups should prepare for the assault, and the boys at the river should break the dams. It was time.

* * * * *


“Fascinating… these creatures are clearly signalling to each other by artificial means. I must once again re-evaluate my analysis of their brains.”

“Sir! Activity in all four groups, and the perimeter ditch they were building is complete.”

“Interesting…”

As you can see, warfare was not Xing’s strong point.

Another alien rushed into the room on its one foot.

“Sir, quick, look at this footage –“

There was a sudden loud clanging all around them, at a frequency that particularly affected Xing’s species. It did not stop for some time. When the ringing did eventually pause, Xing took the datapad from the third alien and watched the replay footage of a hundred of the best slingers in Cantiom unleash hell from three different directions.

“That is truly remarkable…” he observed, before another rain of slingstones caused him to cower on the floor again.

“Ziskakw, get everyone to put shock absorbers on their sound-sensitive spots. If a simple rain of stones has us cowering, these primitive creatures might actually destroy us.”

* * * * *


The rushing of a river could be heard more and more clearly now from where the villagers were gathered in their assault positions around the alien skyship. The slingers continued their barrage, but as yet no war-cry was raised. This was not a typical battle; what use was a warcry when the enemy was nowhere to be seen? So unusual was this engagement, Dumnorix had even decided to adopt the Belgic tactic of employing bowmen in battle. That was the most efficient way, clearly, of inflicting fire upon the alien skyship.

Before long the ditch had become a perimeter pond. Dumnorix stood up, and nodded to his three archers again. For the second time, three flaming arrows were fired into the night sky; let the battle commence.

* * * * *


“Sir! The contraptions they were building earlier were primitive pumps! They are spraying dihydrogen oxide at the ship from the ditch they created!”

Xing knew. He could hear the ship’s hull frazzling at the contact as the water reacted with it in a displacement reaction no human or plutonian equation could represent given the atoms so many worlds apart.

“Some of their hunters tried to climb up the hull on the starboard side, but their bodies reacted with it and they basically burned until they found water. They are also launching sticks of carbon plasma at us from primitive tension-guns which they call “bows”. Sir, if we do not get out of the crossfire or stop it, the ship will be beyond repair in a matter of minutes!”

“Fine! Fine! Send out some of our crew by all the entrances at once to return fire!”

“Sir? Have you any idea what –“

“Go!”

The alien ran off. A few moments later Xing heard ramps being lowered. Shortly thereafter, a different alien’s face appeared on the com-screen.

“Sir, we suffered heavy casualties and were forced to retreat. Their incendiary missiles and water-guns have defeated us.”

If Plutonians could feel anger, Xing would have felt it then. As it is, he felt a curious sensation, as if an emotion were missing, like when you first hear that someone close to you has died and don’t quite understand.

“Very well. Pull everything back in, and prepare for take-off immediately. We are going to a different part of this planet, where the buta-creatures are less intelligent and more friendly.”

* * * * *


Dubrocu, from his position in command of the slingers of the largest division, realised at once what it meant when the lights around the skyship’s base came on. These were the same lights he had seen when the ship had first materialised – was it really just a few days ago?

“Get down!” he shouted.

His slingers paid him heed, and everyone else copied them. Within a few moments, a shout went up from where Dumnorix’s signal-bowmen stood and three lots of three fire-arrows were shot into the night sky, signalling a full fall-back to the far side of the ditch. Not fast enough; barely ten seconds later, the skyship shot into the sky in an explosion of heat and vanished in the blink of an eye.

In the wake of its disappearance, everyone looked up, dumbstruck. Could it really have been so easy?

* * * * *


Of course, Xing didn’t see it as a defeat; warfare was a thing of the long-forgotten past on most worlds. In case you were wondering, the next place he landed was North Africa, on the fringes of Jugurtha’s Numidia and the Sahara Desert. While there, he discovered that buta-particles were in fact a virus within the datachip he had relied on for most of his career; not wanting to admit this however, he had the techie who had found out vapourised and continued to pursuer his journey across Earth as if they were indeed real to save his reputation. Later, he realised how interesting and varied humans were, despite the fact that buta-particles did not exist, and spent his whole life studying them. Upon his death, he revealed what he ha concealed for all those centuries. There was nothing whatsoever that made humans better or even largely different to the other organisms of the universe.

His crew enjoyed a hearty laugh and returned to Pluto with his notes on earthlings.

The End

• EDORIX •
~ ancient briton ~

/\
/|||| ||||\

(dis ma house)
Aftermath
HG Alumnus
posted 29 September 2010 18:31 EDT (US)     3 / 3       
'Corsair by nature'

This cluster was an almighty mess. The closest thing to civilisation out here on the Durryach Rim was the myriad of pirates who frequented the trade lanes and still operational mining facilities. Sometimes the pirates would capture valuable cargo on it's way to vibrant Rim jewel Novgorod Skelsa, or even a wealthy business man worth billions once held to ransom. Other times though the Pirates would bite off more than they could chew and attack a mercenary ship or a Praetorian vessel; the elite special forces operatives in the employ of distant Earth. On the odd occasion you'd hear of more bizarre fates befalling a gang of hapless pirates. Kyza had heard of one such case recently which had amused him. A gang of pirates came across a small disabled vessel and boarded it in search of loot, all they found was death. A relic of an ancient war between two of the old colonial powers in the sector; the Greenfly. Greenfly were nanomachines, no bigger than half a human fingernail. Originally purposed to terraform the rough planets in the Durryach rim they simply ‘eat through’ any kind of matter and their ‘magical’ process turns it into flora – or at least this is as far as Kyza's understanding of the microscopic robots went. As the pirates boarded the inactive vessel and fired up the ships power core the Greenfly were activated. Travelling in a swarm or cloud like tiny insects they had consumed and reduced the dozen or so corsairs to plant life within a matter of seconds. The only man smart enough to wear a magnetic shielding suit was able to use the extra few seconds the armour had afforded him to dash into the command centre and activate an emergency beacon. The outdated distress signal had caught Kyza's attention as he scoured the system for a sign of the ship, the very ship Kyza and his partner now flew towards as per their employer's wishes.

It was definitely the strangest job he had ever taken. Kyza's hands were behind the back of his head, feet atop the crystal white tabletop in the shuttle. As the stars and systems and black expanse of countless space zoomed past through the view port he idly stared out of, he thought back to accepting the contract.

* * * * * ** * * * * *


The Omnipotent Terrilus throbbed gently as the Faster-Than-Light drive disengaged and dropped it back into regular flight time like a coin into a deep well. Ahead of them floated a massive hollow cylinder, a great tube of various metals and alien plastics suspended on the brink of a moderate in size hydrogen-nitrogen gas giant. It's lights shimmered orange, so it was clear against the whites and pearls of the distant stars. Blue beacons of light ebbed around the hangar entrance to the bizarre structure. Kyza did not turn from the view port as the hub loomed closer and closer, his partner's voice had his attention, but not his entire focus.

“We have instructions to follow the blue lights and land in hanger bay 2. Some kind of VIPs are hogging bay 1. I asked the nice lady on the mic to have their ship moved, but she refused.” Said Smoke from the doorway.

“You didn't swear at her did you? I don't want another incident like we did at Novgorod Skelsa's customs office.”
Replied Kyza. Suddenly reminded of a particularly nasty run-in with the authorities after his tall and hairy accomplice cursed at a security officer in Skelsa's main port as she demanded he empty his 'pockets' (of course, Smoke – real name Smokwarwall - is a humanoid alien of the Rilven race. The Rilven are, as Kyza once described them, 'Half flightless bird – half horned ape, with just enough reptile to scare me at night.' This is no scientific analysis, but more or less accurate. The Rilven are tall, usually around 7ft. A fine hair covers every inch of their body except their head and face. They are just like any other humanoid race in that they have a pair of legs, a head atop a torso and two arms. Beneath their primary arms however, the Rilven have a smaller set of arms and joining these limbs to the body is a blanket of skin used for flight. Not like a bird; as these 'wings' cannot maintain flight, more like a cross between the bats and flying squirrels, which thousands of years ago lived on Earth. The Rilven's heads are completely bald and bony, almost reptilian in appearance despite the presence of a short beak-like mouth. The ears are inset on the head and appear almost on the top of each side as tiny rimmed holes. Just below these reptilian ears sit tightly-wound spiral horns, though it is rare for them to grow to a substantial size they are celebrated in Rilven tradition and are painted according to which social caste they are from).

To cut a long story short, Smoke was understandably offended at the female's reference to his alien appendage and so swore at her. The pair were subsequently arrested, but not before the security officer and her colleagues set upon them like a pack of wild robots in need of an oil change. Their vessel, the Knave Fiasco, was impounded and later 'lost' by the authorities as per their sub-par filing system. Once released the duo would hatch a plot to steal a ship and get off-planet, that ship just so happened to belong to a wealthy diplomat from nearby Tristivaan. The luxury yacht was not the quality of travel Kyza and Smoke were used to but this did not prevent them taking it off the Diplomat's hands, re-plating and arming it to suit their needs. Less than a week later the vessel was free to travel space unhindered by the Novgorod Skelsa authorities and should a security officer check the vehicles credentials they would find it's fabricated ID plate satisfactory.

“HEY! You didn't did you?” Kyza pressed.

“Nope. She was actually very polite. Apparently this guy we're going to see is entertaining some high-profile guests so we could not have them move to hanger bay 2.” Smoke replied

“Hah, wait till she lays eyes on you!” Kyza rebutted, ignoring the last part of what Smoke said in favour of taking a pot-shot at his buddy.

Smoke grimaced at his human partner's jest. Rilven people are few in number, even on their own planet. Even fewer leave the caste based society on the dry desert world for a life amongst the stars. By Smoke's estimation less than 2% of humans have ever laid eyes upon one of his kind.

The Terrilus slowed it's approach once more as it entered the lower end of the grey cylinder, flying upwards towards the flashing blue Hanger 2. The gaudy vessel's engines pulsed as they rotated to angle the ship to the surface of the hanger bay, landing gear simultaneously extended. As the ship touched down it rocked a little before the feet found their balance, the engines now reduced to a low hum. Kyza grabbed his abdomen as if in pain: When in space, there are no points of reference as to what is up or down, this is entirely subjective to the vessel. It is not uncommon for space battles to play out one fleet 'upside down' for the whole duration. As such, when a spaceship landed on another object – be it a planet, asteroid, ship or, in this case; a floating tube the ship may need to land 'up-side down' according to the point of view from the passengers. As such the instant the landing gear touched the surface Kyza's world seemed to be flipped upside down. He felt sick as soon as the Terrilus entered the hanger bay, from out of the viewport Kyza could see a handful of men in atmosphere suits waving illuminated signs pointing in the direction of their landing spot. The only problem was, from his point of view they were standing on the ceiling. The Terrilus began the imperceptible zero-gravity rotation to align itself with the GP (Gravity Perspective) of the cylinder. Once the bottom of the vessel hovered above the 'floor' of the space station hanger bay the landing procedure continued as normal, along with the usual sudden sickening sensation which rocked Kyza's bowels.

“Whuss” uttered Smoke as he turned from the lounge and got ready to leave the Terrilus.

As Kyza gathered his composure and the dizziness passed he observed a fluttering of light across the open hanger bay door. A hazy orange light flickered periodically before remaining, giving everything on the other side of the hollow cylinder a fiery haze of colour. The landing attendants who had guided the vessel to it's designated landing spot jabbed a button on the arm console of the atmosphere suits, flicking the protective visors upwards to reveal their faces. Now that the orange forcefield sealed off the hangar bay from the cold hostility of open space a breathable atmosphere was re-established. The attendants skipped across the low gravity hangar towards a command centre, a handful more people could be seen inside, several sitting at window desks equipped with headsets.

“Welcome to Ark Station, Omnipotent Terrilus. Be advised this hub operates a gravity force of 1.35, please adjust your ship's own gravity field to reflect these subtle changes. Remain onboard whilst a greeting party is established.” A click noted the end of the transmission. Kyza looked beyond the forcefield at the hangar entrance. Past it he could not make out exactly what was on the opposite side, they looked like life support and environmental structures, all the engineering nonsense that was required to maintain a habitable space station. On the approach up the tube-like station Kyza had noticed it was not entirely hollow as he had originally presumed, instead, just above where he was currently docked the tube was blocked off. That was undoubtedly where they were headed.

Smoke rummaged around in his quarters – what used to be the ship captain's as he or she ferried the diplomat around. The Rivlain (The term used to describe a native of his home planet) was packing a small shoulder-bag. In it he placed a stun grenade and ballistic sidearm, no doubt whatever security was employed on the hub would disarm him, but he did not want to appear unarmed and invite trouble. Besides, he always carried the traditional weapons of his people inside his 'pockets'. They were gripped by the claw-like second hands and tucked beneath the wing-like skin flaps when they wrapped around his body as if he was cuddling himself. The traditional weapons were called Kirrursch, similar in function and appearance to the tomahawks used by the long-forgotten Native Americans. They would be almost undetectable due to the material they were constructed of – the bones of his father. Smoke relied upon the widespread unfamiliarity with his race's biology, which enabled him to sneak them past security everywhere and everywhere he goes. And so far so good, they had never had been detected, let alone confiscated.

The bag slung over his hairy shoulder he moved down the pristine white corridor of the luxury vessel and into the cockpit. A very expensive dashboard of displays and controls splayed out before him in a semicircle. A panoramic viewport stretched from side to side of the room and even halfway overhead. The holographic controls of the Terrilus shut down as the lavish leather pilot chair swung about to face him. Kyza peered up at him.

“Just making sure we're ready to leave in a hurry if need be.”

Smoke noticed Kyza had a pistol of his own at his waist. His face was framed by a trimmed line of facial hair running from his ears, across his chin, around his mouth and up to the opposite ear. The man's dark short hair atop his head complimented it perfectly. Kyza wore regular flight clothes, a dark navy jumpsuit and black boots. It was not completely basic, having built in rubber reinforcement on the arms and abdomen. Kyza wore that sort of garment everywhere he went, unless he was sporting his combat armor. Smoke on the other hand was pretty limited in what he could wear, clothes tailored to his physique simply did not exist. Everything he had he brought from his home planet or made himself. Most of the time he sported a burgundy cloak which draped over his shoulders and down to his waist. He had several pairs of trousers which he had cut and altered to fit his slender, muscular and longer than average legs. It was rare he wore armour when off the Terrilus however, it was cumbersome for his wings and resulted in a high level of discomfort if they were cramped into a bulky combat suit. He was currently halfway through customising a set of armour built for the thickly-built Tristivaanian race. He was trying to fit an additional compartment on the back of the armour where he could place his wings and have the suit fully sealed, whilst still being able to deploy his small wings should the necessity arise, this was still a work in progress however.

Around a half hour later a group of six station security guards met Kyza and Smoke outside the ship. A male majordomo took a bow and explained that he would lead them to Mr Camarillo, the man who sought their employment. The group proceeded to a large elevator in at the back of the Hangar which whisked them up. It was one hell of a journey, it took the super fast elevator several minutes to reach it's destination at the top floor. The duo stepped out into a small museum of sorts, paintings and statues of all manner of bizarre alien creatures lined the corridor. A few in particular caught their eyes. One was a biped with an almost perfectly spherical body, all manner of limbs protruding from it, each with a specific purpose; one with what looked like an eyeball, another with a sharp blade, another with a claw, another with a wide opening; possibly a mouth or nose. Another statued creature had four thick legs, each one like a tree trunk. It's feet looked like hooves and where it's four legs met to create a small body there was no sign of it being a functioning animal were it not for the gaping maw lined with razor sharp teeth on it's underside. One more repulsing Kyza as it caught his attention. A spiny conglomeration of limbs and oversized wings, giant insect-like eyes dominated it's head. He hoped it was a gross miscalculation of the insect's size, and if not, he hoped it was extinct.

The large doors at the end of the long hallway gave way to what looked like an observation room. A large window overlooked what was below. Kyza had his bearings now, they were at the 'top' of the cylinder – opposite the end at which they entered. Above him he could see a large window looking out into space, this colossal viewport capped the top end of the cylinder off.

A slender figure strolled over to greet them, but did not shake hands. A cape and robe covered the strange looking man as if he were royalty.

“Welcome, Kyza, Smoke -is it?” He said. Smokwarwall responded with a heavy tip of his head. No one outside of his own people could pronounce his name correctly, so he stuck with the easy 'Smoke'.

“My name is Derius Eccleshian. Welcome to my home!” The extravagant character said, arms lifted into the air as if casting a spell. He looked all around him with a proud, or possibly arrogant, expression slapped across his face.

Smoke could tell he was not a human as in the humans from earth. This Mr Derius Eccleshian was a Gregorian. His skinny frame and height gave it away. Not to mention the pale, light blue complexion of his skin, thanks to the special type of radiation the sun of his home system dished out.

“You live here?” Quieried Kyza, still not sure as to what exactly the place was.

“Yes. I certainly do, why not take a look... over at the window.” Eccleshian waived a bony hand dismissively in the direction of the window. Kyza saw it overlooked the whole interior of the Cylinder. And now Kyza could see the Cylinder's interior surface was covered in... foliage?

“Down there is my garden. The best garden in the galaxy!”

“You see, I am a collector – or a zoologist, depending on how you look at it. Down there, in my garden I have almost 700 extremely rare animals, from all corners of the galaxy. I have 699 in fact, thanks to a recent accident during which a Zastrian Mole was eviscerated by a Tonsten Wolverine. I must have 700. This is where you come in.”

Smoke glanced over at his partner who had a confused, and slightly disturbed frown decorating his forehead. The silence of both Kyza and Smoke prompted Mr Eccleshian to take them on an impromptu tour of his facility. They descended another elevator, this time a much shorter ride.

The group emerged into what felt like a jungle. Exotic animal calls, shrills, squawks and roars filled the artificial environment. Smoke suspected that even the flora and fauna was equally rare and alien. Due to them now standing on the interior of the Cylinder wall itself, they could see a slight incline as the path continued before them. If they looked above they would see the same pathway they now stand on as it looped the entire length of the interior. Some kind of weather generator created artificial fog and thin clouds in the centre of the cylinder in a vain attempt to recreate the effects of a sky.

The pathway they slowly walked, still in awe, was inside a clear tube. The material seemed plastic but Smoke could not be sure. Despite not actually being inside the garden the protective tube was barely noticeable and did not take away from the experience in the slightest. As they walked the incline around the length of the cylinder they laid eyes upon nature on a scale which they could never have imagined. All manner of beasts and alien creatures, roamed, fed and some aggressive ones even charged up to the glass-like tube and pounded on it maddeningly. Smoke had no doubt half the animals in this...zoo, would feast on them given half a chance. They passed through different zones, different types of animals inhabited each along with different weather effects and even subtle changes in gravity to accommodate these creatures as they would have lived in their natural environment.

“Ah!” Exclaimed Mr Eccleshain with amusement as he turned to one side of the pathway, placing his hands behind his back in anticipation.

Both Kyza and Smoke's attention was immediately snatched to the direction Mr Eccleshian looked in by a horrific screeching sound. Kyza saw a group of animals similar to Earth Swine fleeing downhill from under some shrubbery as suddenly the ground directly behind them was churned up, soil was flung high into the air, some landing back down on top of the translucent tube they walked in. The dozen or so pig-like alien animals were massacred in a matter of seconds as a cluster of thick black tentacles snapped out from the hole in the ground. As these razor sharp tentacles did their work and tore the victims to pieces a large rectangle body half-emerged from the just created pit, slowly a humongous orifice opened and gave way to what looked like thousands of fingers wiggling. Next a spiral of dust, earth, plants and the Swine's bodies was ripped up off the garden floor as it acted like a giant vacuum, the finger-like objects seemingly digesting everything they could. Almost as quickly as it happened the monstrosity sank back into it's hole, the tentacles slashing and slapping at the nearby ground to re-cover and refill the hole as the creature moved on. Smoke stood, wide eyed and Kyza's mouth was open.

Mr Eccleshian chuckled again.

“Me and my staff have to harvest other animals for feeding purposes on a regular basis.”

Once the tour was finally complete the duo could not believe what they had seen. Mr Eccleshian had taken them back to his observation deck to discuss the reason he wished to hire their services. He slid a dossier over a table made from the hide and bone structure of some poor creature. He leaned back in his chair – constructed of the same material – and folded his arms across his lap as Kyza peered at the documents. A picture of a four legged creature standing in a snowy forest. It had a light short hair that covered the extent of it's body, the colour of which changed to a deep brown at the base of it's neck which was moderate in length. The creature had a long face which looked almost like a Tristivaanian hound's snout. But by far the creature's most notable feature was a pair of what looked like dead, leafless tree branches protruding from each side of it's head. Kyza glanced from the picture to Smoke's head, in particular, his small circular horns.

“Are these horns?” Kyza asked the self proclaimed Zoologist.

To Mr Eccleshian returned the smug and overconfident smirk which had plagued his face since Smoke had laid eyes upon him.

“You don't know what that is, do you?” The quirky Gregonian probed.

“It's an Elk. From Earth. The last of it's kind.” He had not waited for Kyza's response, Derius Eccleshian knew damn well the human would not be able to identify the animal. Kyza took a few extra moments to study the picture, mildly annoyed he couldn't jump in and tell the cocky fool he knew exactly what that thing was. He passed the picture on to Smoke for him to take a look at.

“And you want us to find it, and bring it here?”

“Oh! I absolutely do! My collection would finally be complete if I had possession of the last Elk in the galaxy, in the universe! Such an extreme rarity is worth the trouble of finding it... and the necessary reimbursement, no?”

A moment passed.

“Do you know what we do, Mr Eccleshian?” Kyza questioned, not entirely sure if the wealthy nutcase knew exactly what line of work the pair were in.

“Me and my Partner here, we kill people. We find people and bring them to justice, we transport valuable cargo. We are, effectively, a two man mercenary band. We are not a pair of zoo keepers or veterinarians.”

Mr Eccleshain blinked through his unnaturally red eyes and dropped the cloak's hood which covered his bald blue head back down to his shoulders. Strumming his elongated fingers against his knee he continued;

“Of course, I would be a fool had I not looked into who I was hiring properly. But surely your blood-lust does not rage so strong you would not accept a job with a massive paycheck just because there is no wet-work involved?” Mr Eccleshian responded with a rhetorical question.

“And how exactly are we supposed to locate one animal in an area larger than I can fathom?” Smoke butted in, his disdain and natural dislike of the extravagant Gregonian could not be hidden, but that was ok because he did not want to hide it. Now that he knew this man wanted to pay him to chase an animal he had never before heard of across the galaxy, he was not so sure he wanted the hassle.

“I have necessary information to narrow your search a little... but first you must agree to take on the job. How would you like payment? In Tristivaanian Credit, Galactic standard or Durryach Sloavs?” Mr Eccleshain was no fool, he would not tell these men how to set about finding this infinitely rare and valuable animal without them agreeing to find it for him first.

Kyza looked over at Smoke for a second, their eyes met and without making contact or giving away their thoughts to the billionaire collector they were in agreement.

“Galactic Standard. Half now half when the job is done.” Kyza said as he stood up, Smoke followed suit.

Mr Eccleshian leant forwards now, his cracked lips peeling back to reveal an amused, but not exactly pleasant, bleached-white toothed grin. A horizontal half-moon crescent on his face.

“Good. Down to the real matter of business then. Because the Elk is the last of it's kind, the people of Earth kept it on a scientific space station in orbit around Mars. There they were treating it with a new kind of microscopic nanomachine, one that can help rebuild cells. What they were trying to do is prolong it's life and it seems they have succeeded. The great Elk is now around 200 years old, but acts and behaves as if it were merely 10.”

“Whoa whoa whoa...you want us to kidnap it? From Mars?!” Interrupted Smoke. The spindly Gregorian looked annoyed before continuing.

“As I was saying. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to provide several of the security staff and one of the medical station's doctors with the monetary lubricant they so required to smuggle the animal onto a ship and bring it to me.” He paused, allowing the pair of different humanoids to take it in.

“However, on route the handful of security guards decided that this small fortune was not enough and they held the beast to ransom. Hiding out somewhere on the far side of the Durryach system. The very same Durryach system which is plagued by corsairs, as the security guards would soon find out. I hired an investigator to try and locate these treacherous men to no avail. He did, however, intercept a transmission from a pirate vessel.”

Mr Eccleshian pursed his dry lips, turning his head slightly and clicking his fingers at one of the Ark station attendants behind him. The attendant nodded obediently before pressing a few buttons on her arm control panel. A split second later a recorded transmission blared out over the speakers all around the observation room.

“Vessel 9673 Collision's Whim, this is the Captain of the Omega PP9. Shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded... Collision's Whim this is your last warning. Cease the power-up of your FTL drive immediately or be blasted into oblivion.” The transmission did not immediately end once the pirate captain had finished making his demands, instead a few moments passed before he could be heard ordering his gunnery crew to open fire. In turn that was followed by the muffled on-board thudding of high velocity anti-ship weaponry.

“As I'm certain you esteemed gentleman have guessed, the Collision's Whim is the ship on which the security guards and doctor smuggled the Elk. I'm sure you see my predicament. I cannot be sure if these monstrous thieving pirates have prevented me from having the magnificent creature forever, they may have robbed the galaxy of the treasure forever in their blind ignorance. But I must be certain. I want the pair of you to investigate for me.” Eccelshian explained. Smoke was now having to grit his alien molars everytime the pompous fool opened his mouth.

“I don't think I understand fully, will we be working with your Investigator, the one you already had looking into the matter?”

Kyza's question was followed by another smile from the strange humanoid. This one wasn't exactly a display of amusement, but rather one of malice.

“Ah, speaking of him... we're overdue.”

The female attendant behind Mr Eccleshian did not need to wait for a rude clicking of his long and bony fingers to press another combination of commands on her console, causing a large screen to switch on behind Kyza and Smoke. Each turned their pelvis on their seats, craning their necks around to watch whatever it was about to unfold. A video feed of a very alien environment flicked to life, Smoke recognised it from their tour around the 'Gardens' below them. The ground looked hard and was covered in a frost. The plant life looked like bulbous cactii and they all seemed to pulse revoltingly. Something stirred on the frozen ground and to Smoke's surprise he could see a humanoid creature sit up from lying prone. A dazed and bemused expression on his or her face, Smoke could not be certain of the gender, nor the humanoid race the alien belonged to. A subtle crackle on the screen's speakers suggested there was a live audio connection also. This was confirmed by the sound of alien animal hissing somewhere in the same section of Garden.

“P-please! Mr Eccleshian you have to let me out! I'll find it! I promise you I'll find it!” Exclaimed the humanoid alien on the screen. The figure crawled around on the floor, seemingly still dazed and unable to see properly from whatever method the Gregonian had used to subdue them.

“I'm afraid you had your chance, Zakkel. I have already hired your replacements. They're sitting right here with me as we speak.” Eccleshian mocked.

A smirk that Smoke would categorise as nothing less than maniacal pleasure increased in intensity on the pale blue face of their new employer as this Zakkel crawled closer and closer to one of the Cactii like plants. As his hand brushed one of their thick blobby stems a deafening chorus of gobbling noises filled the speakers. Kyza and Smoke's eyes widened with a spine-tingling horror as another alien feasting unfolded before their eyes.

The Cactii contracted all at once and jumped into the air. Landing on the frosty ground around Zakkel - Eccleshain's Investigator, they looked like they were dancing. Swinging their tops in a circular motion and the momentum spun their stems over the ground. Smoke could just about make out what looked like the rotation of hundreds of tiny spines at their base. As the alien plants skimmed across the ground some of them began to find their victim and as the strange vegetation moved over the humanoid he screamed in agony. Once the plants had crossed his body Smoke could see his flesh had been grated a hundred times or more as the Cactii moved over him lying on the ground. He turned away as the other mobile alien vegetation found their target, one in particular began to move over Zakkel's head and the screaming was stifled before being replaced by a gurgle, and then...nothing. The audio feed fizzed and clicked as it shut down. The video remained on as the inhabitants of that Garden continued to work on the corpse. The pair turned back towards Mr Eccleshian who was brimming with delight at the spectacle.

Making eye contact with Kyza again, who looked a little pale, the Gregonian continued;
“I don't care how you do it, chaps. Just find my Elk and bring it back to me. If you try to screw with me, you'll find a fate far worse in my Garden than poor Mr Zakkel did.”

A false smile punctuated the thinly veiled threat as Eccleshian took a slurp of some foreign tea. Kyza and Smoke exchanged a slightly bemused, annoyed and creeped-out glance. Smoke stood up first with a sigh, stretching out his long pair of arms, as he did so he noticed the ghoulish Gregonian studying his set of wings which he wrapped around his torso when not in use. Smoke snarled at the man who smirked back at him. His small secondary hands tightened around the Kirrursch concealed there.

“We'll find this...Elk for you and your 'garden'” Kyza continued as he stood, turned on his heels and began to stroll towards the elevator.

Mr Eccleshian did not respond, only waved a hand for the security stood in all corners of the room to escort the duo back down towards hanger bay 2 where the Omnipotent Terrilus awaited them.

* * * * * ** * * * * *


And so here they were, almost at the point of the ancient distress signal. So far they had searched the cluster for weeks to no avail, even returning to nearby Novgorod Skelsa to see if one of the traders or mercenary companies had run-in with the pirates of the Omega PP9. For it was those men who held the key to the fate of the Collison's Whim. Having no luck the pair had no choice but to return to the Durryach cluster and continue the needle in a haystack search. It was pot luck that they detected a distress signal from one of the old Colonial-world frigates. Normally they would have ignored it, often pirates were known to set traps and lure would-be rescuers in. This time however, they proceeded in FTL flight straight towards the origin of the signal. The ship the pirates of the Omega PP9 had boarded, had an outdated in-built function which broadcast not only a distress beacon, but also the ID tag of the nearest vessel – in this instance, the Omega.

The Omnipotent Terrilus dropped out of FTL and immediately visible was a drifting hulk of an undersized frigate, it's dull emergency lighting illuminated the cargo hold and it's sole boarding point. This was in-use by the pirate ship however, so Smoke manoeuvred the Terrilus to the Omega's starboard boarding point.

* * * * * ** * * * * *


Smoke stepped onto the pirate ship first, sweeping the empty corridor with his pistol. He took several cautious steps forwards, scanning the dirty floor with his eyes for signs of traps to eliminate off-guard intruders. Kyza followed the Rilven in and aimed his much, much larger weapon the opposite direction as he walked behind him. Unlike Smoke (who's magnetic shielding suit was still a work in progress), Kyza was fully armoured, the shiny slate-grey suit was punctuated with aqua blue strips of light to indicate the ballistic shields were functional. His helmet rested atop his close-shaven head, well within reach if he needed to pull it down in the event of combat.

The pair moved through to the cockpit where they would find the flight log, this would likely tell them exactly where the Omega intercepted and attacked the Collison's Whim. When they arrived a short walk later, a security sealed door separated them from the small room. Smoke ran his scaly - but hairy - hands down the airtight seal, a sharp fingernail tapped at the crevasse as he pondered their next move. Kyza carried his large weapon idly now, it was plainly obvious there was no one left alive on the pirate vessel. Likely the entire crew had jumped aboard the adrift spacecraft not wanting to miss out on any treasure or violence. Smokwarwall stepped aside into an alcove beside the cockpit, tearing a panel off the bottom of the wall he poked his bald head around inside looking for any wires he could use to unlock the door mechanism.

“Well, end of the road?” Kyza heard Smoke's muffled speech from beside the door. He did not respond, instead he let out an exasperated sigh. Heaving his large rifle up to his hip and firmly grasping the old Plasma weapon's handle; he squeezed the trigger.

A momentary but rapid building of light at the gun's muzzle was capped off by a noise that caused Kyza to grit his teeth. A recoil which made him stumble slightly – he had forgotten to set his feet properly. Sparks sputtered out in all directions, some landing on Smoke's back who had just clobbered one of his small horns on the ceiling of the chamber his head was in. The unexpected and incredibly loud noise had caught him off guard, he almost jumped out of his skin. To make matters worse he could feel a scattering of heat on his backside where a number of the sparks had landed. He tugged his head out to a Rilven curse and rubbed both his hind and head to ease some of the pain. He frowned at Kyza and bore some of the curved incisors in his beak-shaped mouth.

Kyza's expression was one of cocky satisfaction. Once the thick black smog the weapon had created on the impact point of the sealed door drifted away and dispersed around the ship he could see the result of his efforts.

“Oh. Underwhelming at best.” Smoke said as he laid eyes upon the cockpit blast doors.

A great black ring marked the impact zone right in the centre of the door, the surface of it had rippled and peeled slightly beneath the intense heat. A miniscule pin-prick hole in the middle was the extent of the real damage the matured Plasma rifle had inflicted upon the sturdy doors.

“I don't know why you insist on bringing that decrepit, cumbersome noise machine with you. Just use a carbine!” Smoke suggested with ire.

“I like this gun.” Retorted Kyza as his free hand stroked it like it was some purring feline.

“Besides, it's not old – I prefer Venerable.”

Smoke knew damn well Kyza was making a pun; sure enough the word 'Venerable' was etched into the barrel by him a dozen years ago, but he ignored it.

Kyza slung the oversized weapon over his shoulder and strolled to the door, leaning in close and closing one eye he squinted through the minute hole. He couldn't really see anything at all. Infact, it wasn't even a room on the other side of the door – all the mainstays of a cockpit were missing. The pilot chair, the command console, the viewport and so on. Instead he could see a black dot set against a larger yellow background.

Then a pale off-white descended and covered the whole thing. Less than a second later it rolled back up out of view. Again Kyza was looking at the black dot on the larger yellow dot... Then he comprehended, jumping back from the door and pointing a frantic finger at the tiny hole.

“Shit! It blinked!” He exclaimed. Confusion washed over Smoke's face.

“It blinked! There is someone in there!” Kyza continued.

“Huh? There can't be, my scanner is not picking up any heartbeats in our immediate vicinity.” Smoke responded as he looked back down at the mini-computer at his waist. Sure enough the screen confirmed what he had said.

“Well, why don't you take a look!”

Smoke approached the door and leaned in apprehensively.

“Hoh! Ok I see it.” He said, just as surprised, despite Kyza already warning him.

Kyza slung the Plasma rifle back around and into his arms, lugging the unwieldy weapon up to firing position.

“Wait!” Smoke yelled, a flat palm raised to instruct his partner not to pull the trigger so hastily. The weapon had done hardly nothing the first attempt, there was no reason to believe it'd be more successful on a second.

“We know you're in there, whatever you are open up! Or we'll blow the doors down and you'll die in the explosion!” Smoke shouted through the little hole.

No response.

“Damnit. We need to find the Captain's over ride codes to get in.” Said Smoke, realising his threat had fallen flat on it's face. Whoever was in the cockpit wasn't intimidated enough and called their bluff.

Kyza strolled the short corridor to the crew quarters. His eyes scanned the filthy bunks and lockers filled to the brim with junk. Discarded food cluttered the table along with all manner of playing cards and at least three alien pornographic magazines, 'The far side', 'Modules' and 'Deep Exploration'. Kyza slipped a packet of the pirate's thick cigars into his suit pocket, and after a fleeting instant of consideration, a copy of 'Modules' too. He passed a small armoury, clearly not intended to be one. All manner of humanoid and other type of alien weapons hung rag-tag from the walls and ceiling. A bucket and a mop at the back of what clearly used to be a maintenance cupboard.

He found the Captain's chambers down a short, winding, red-with-rust staircase. The air was a little staler down here, a deep humidity hung in the air. From this noticeable change in atmosphere he knew the ship's climate conditioning unit was disabled down on this lower level.

'The Captain was, or is, probably an alien.' He mulled to himself.

The door into the dorm was blocked by a second rusty door, a victim of the humidity. Kyza glanced at the autumn shaded hinges and heaved his foot into it with all his might. The door creaked and swayed for a moment before tumbling to the floor inside the room. The walls inside were a patchwork of different metals and salvaged plastics to prevent the deep-set rust eating straight through the private room's walls. Above the Captain's bunk was an ornate pattern of bullet holes and laser weapon scorch marks. It was obviously a perilous job to command a band of corsairs in the Durryach sector. On a dented and scratched desk sat a group of monitors, camera feeds from all around the ship. He could see the crew's barracks from two angles, the stairway leading down to the Captain's chambers, another covered the dorm's door.

'The Captain of the Omega must be a paranoid wreck. Afraid the same fate would befall him that no doubt got him the job in the first place.' Kyza's thoughts continued as he took in the surroundings, his eyes studying the evidence of multiple assassinations and mutinies.

On one of the cameras he could see Smoke pacing the corridor outside of the cockpit.

A thorough search later and Kyza could not find the Captain's passkey or any sign of over-ride codes. He relayed the news to Smoke via his helmet's built in comm-unit. Pulling the Helmet back up over his face to rest atop his head once he was done, far too humid and uncomfortable to wear without a direct need.

* * * * * *

“Well, what now?” Kyza said as he marched down the corridor towards an increasingly agitated Smokwarwall. A thick cigar pinched between his lips.

“Got a light?” He asked

“Damnit, the Captain must have taken the over-ride codes with him for the raid on the drifting frigate.” The airlock was immediately to the left of the Cockpit, Kyza and Smoke silently gazed at the large sealed atmosphere hatch. They both knew from the distress signal that the Greenfly were onboard that ship, and likely still active. Should they step through the airlock and into the attatched Frigate they would be turned to foliage just as the previous inhabitants of the Omega PP9 had, even Kyza's MSS (Magnetic Shielding Suit) would not protect him from a swarm of Greenfly for more than a handful of extra breaths.

Fortunately the duo had acquired a stash of EMP Mines from some sloppy Novgorod Skelsa security forces shortly before they stole the Omnipotent Terrilus – just in case they needed it to make their escape. An EMP Mine, when deployed and triggered, creates a rapidly fluctuating magnetic field. The resulting surges are not harmful to organics, instead they overload electronics and periodically shut them down.

Kyza grimaced as Smoke deployed the mine on the Omega side of the airlock, hoping and praying that the radius was enough to cover the whole docked frigate and temporarily switch off any Greenfly onboard. Out of habit, more than necessity, the pair took cover in some of the alcoves down the corridor and waited for the blast. And waited...and waited.

Smoke was flustered with the time delay, but finally a subsonic thudding was heard and the deck below their feet shuddered. The aqua coloured system lights promptly cut to black on Kyza's MSS, confirming the device had detonated. The Omega's lights and life support systems remained on, which must mean they were powered by some kind of rotary-friction backup battery, as all spaceworthy ships were. The Frigate though, far far older and outdated shut down all systems immediately. Only one or two emergency lights dimly glowing on it's hull.

Kyza lowered his helmet, and visor across his face. He wound-up a shoulder mounted torch and proceeded through the airlock to board the pitch black frigate.

As he stepped through he could not see a thing except for the limited area his dull torch illuminated. Shadows skipped across the bulkhead walls made of strange old metal. He took one short, slightly nervous step forwards, both of his hands on his Plasma Rifle he pointed in the same direction as the torchlight, finger hovering over the trigger. Next, Kyza's foot moved through something; creating a rustling sound to echo through the silent ship.

He looked down, his torch lit up a thick wad of greenery. Blade of grass and alien looking blooming flowers. He could not see his foot through the thickness of the vegetation, obviously the remnants of one of the pirates. Kyza gulped; but so far so good, had the Greenfly been active they would have sensed the foreign body and reduced him to a pile of dense flora within seconds of him stepping through the sealed airlock.

Feeling a little more secure and not in danger of rapid decomposition he studied the frigate's interior. From where he stood it certainly looked like a military ship. No décor, no trimmings, no kind of any comfort. A logo on the wall before him. A red triangle with a grey globe in it's centre. Alien words were displayed below and although it was an obsolete language he recognised enough of it from his encounters on nearby Novgorod Skelsa with Gypsies and Mercenaries native to the Durryach Rim. Kyza roughly translated it in his head; “Because Othwurl! Contra the demagogue Tsaren, they who...vagina?”

He squinted at the words, that last one was definitely wrong. Whatever it said, he was now positive this frigate was a relic from an interstellar war between two large colonial empires. One hailed from the nearby planet Othwurl, the other from Tsaren. As to what the two superpowers collided over he did not know, nor did it matter at this point – so long after their extinction. Weapon bays sat untouched for what might have been centuries. Every now and then he would feel the grass, leaves and flowers at his feet and bend down to search through them. So far none seemed to be the Captain. Continuing his slow, methodical strides through the corridor his feet began to crunch, the floor was littered with something. Slinging the Venerable Plasma Rifle over his shoulder and kneeling down to get a closer look in torchlight he saw them. Thousands...hundreds of thousands... The Greenfly littered the floor like a blanket of snow on Skelsa. The hairs stood up on Kyza's neck as he realised the extent of the danger he was in should the Greenfly shake off the effects of the EMP Mine quicker than anticipated. He broke his careful pace, now favouring a quick-march.

Finally Kyza seemed to come out of the endless black corridor and into a large room, the command centre and bridge. The large panoramic viewport did not show the distant stars and planets, nor the docked pirate vessel and the Terrilus. Instead a thick armour plating had been deployed over it, some sort of protection in an ancient battle. The chamber doors were half-shut, by the looks of things they were heaved closed hastily. At the slight opening he had passed through another grassy outline. Obviously the pirate who had made it this far, likely trying to seal the doors and keep the swarming Greenfly out. A futile effort. Kyza's feet still crunched as he trod over them, more likely numbering in the millions than the thousands. His torch scanned the room, more propaganda of these 'Othwurleans'. A command console sat alone in the centre of the chamber, his torch flicked over it and cast shadows all over the bulkheads and armour plating. He approached it, spotting a microphone...knowing that a pirate used this ships emergency broadcast to issue an SOS as they came under attack of the nanomachine Greenfly. Sure enough another wad of plantlife littered both the floor and the console. Kyza thought he could make out the outline of a strange, but humanoid, alien. Amongst the vegetation was a thick but incredibly old set of gauntlets; four in total, and an archaic helmet made out of a material similar in constitution to lead.

'This must be the Captain of the Omega.' He said aloud, trying to bring a sense of comfort to the eerie blackness but instead he unsettled himself more as his words echoed in whispers all around him. Kyza glanced down at the comm-link on his suit, wanting to alert Smoke of his discovery so he can leave as quickly as possible. The light was off though, the EMP Mine was still effecting electronic equipment.

Kyza looked at the helmet, there was something on it's side. A small datapad. The captain obviously did not trust his crew enough – first the observation cameras, then keeping his datapad and over-ride codes right where no one would dare take them off him. He slung the rifle over his shoulder once more, leaning down to remove the tiny device. Obviously it would not work immediately, instead he would wait until the Mine was deactivated to use it to open the Omega's Cockpit doors. As he stood and and placed the device in his suit pocket his foot knocked the helmet, it rolled over with a thud that sounded like artillery fire in the haunting silence. Kyza stood still as the echoes settled all around him, satisfied he took a step forwards.

Scatter, scatter.

He paused. Frozen like a statue. Listening intently.

Scatter, scatter.

There it was again, he was not hearing things. A cold sweat gathered on his forehead as his harder breathing began to leave residue on the interior of his visor. The scattering was coming from behind him, below him.

Spinning on his heels he rotated his shoulders, using the dulling torchlight to try and spot the source. The light flicked over the Captain's helmet he had knocked with his foot. A split-second shadow of a monstrous insect with a perfectly rectangular body was cast on the bulkhead opposite him. Then it disappeared into the deep void of darkness all around him to, at his horror, an insect-like buzzing sound.

Buzzzzzzzzzz

Kyza whizzed around, his torch casting more dizzying shadows in all directions as it whipped over pilot chairs, age old computer consoles, discarded weapons and pulpy plant life. His legs felt like they were whirring on the spot as if in some children's cartoon before he got moving as fast as he could in the direction he hoped was the way out.

Buzzzzzzzzzz

Right behind him. A jousting agony tore at his nervous system. Screaming in his helmet as he felt something severe on his right arm. As he ran he brought it up into the beam of light from his shoulder mounted torch. Small sections of vegetation had sprouted in a crater on his forearm. He caught glimpses of a single miniscule insect, swooping in and hovering as best it could over the wound. More pain as the sole Greenfly continued the disintegration of his flesh. Blades of grass floated from the wound as he swung it backwards and forwards, trying to create as much momentum as possible as he ran for the airlock.

Blip. Click. *Fizzles*

The power on Kyza's comm unit had returned, a barely visible – but growing in intensity – blue light illustrated the fact.

'THE EMP MINE IS LOSING POWER!' Kyza did not know if he had screamed it outloud in desperate hopes his partner would hear and be able to do something about it, or if his racing mind placed the thought as loudly as possible in his conscience.

The single buzzing of the sole active Greenfly was now being joined by an increasing cacophony of tiny legs clinking and clanking on metal surfaces. Though he could not see them directly, every now and then Kyza's torch would hit the frigate floor as he raced through the corridor. He would see it stirring and rolling as if it were a wavy ocean. If only that was the case, he knew the other Greenfly were re-booting, their mechanical legs churning as they tried to gather enough energy to fly. Once they were airborne, he was dead.

CrunchCrunchCrunchCrunch

The machines went below his pounding feet. The single flight worthy Greenfly had disintegrated a section of Kyza's forearm around two inches in diameter, a half centimetre in depth. He swiped and snatched at it with his left arm as best he could, finally catching it and squeezing with his armoured glove. A spark flared in his palm as he continued. The airlock was now visible. Almost there.

Brrrrrrip...Thummmm

The ambient blue lighting all over Kyza's MSS lit up all at once. The power had returned to the suit of armour and the brief humming was the sound of the air between the MSS and the rebooted magnetic fielding popping, it's pressure changing as the shields came online. Simultaneously the gently rolling waves of Greenfly he crushed as he ran throbbed and he nearly lost his footing. A chorus of buzzing echoed all around him as the millions of Greenfly aboard the frigate now had enough energy to power up their microscopic wings. The earpiece inside his helmet crackled to life as he spluttered into it, his lungs deflated and his legs burning as he sprinted.

“SMOKE! OPEN THE AIRLOCK!”

Smokwarwall nearly jumped out of his skin as Kyza's voice boomed over his headset. He dropped the knife he was using to pick the grit from beneath his nails and leapt to the airlock door, his alien biceps pulsed with tension as he rotated the oversized hatch release.

A hissing of air and blood red ambient light warned Smoke of an incomplete decontamination cycle. He flung the door open with all his might, drawing each of his tomahawk-like Kirrursch out in cantankerous anticipation.

Kyza was blinded momentarily as the increasingly close airlock opened it's maw and goaded him to safety. His MSS helmet's visor quickly tinted itself to account for the increase of light. Kyza could feel the familiar burning sensation of the Greenfly trying to terraform his left shoulder, calf and an earlobe. The buzzing was in unision now and he was lifted from his feet, he used the last fraction of a second of momentum he had to launch himself horizontally at the airlock.

He hit the floor with a cracking thud and Smoke heaved his shoulder into the massive door, slamming it shut a millisecond later. Kyza swatted at his ear and kicked his feet as a handful of the nanomachines had made it through into the Omega. Smoke helped him stamp them out. Fortunately Kyza's MSS shields had held out just long enough for him to clear the frigate, only one step from being enveloped in the cloud of Greenfly. The magnetic shielding suit had afforded him those extra few strides, and he was alive because of it. He glanced up at Smoke who stood over him, his all-black alien eyes studied the forearm.

It looked sore and inflated, the flesh looked bizarre at the edges where it blended with a hazy sheen of foliage, a purple bud on the brink of blossom right in the centre of the grievous wound, ironically.

Kyza slowly got to his knees, then found his footing as he wobbled slight. Left arm clutching the right forearm. He produced the captain's datapad which included the over-ride keys for the door. Smoke prodded a few buttons on a computer panel on the wall, plugging the datapad in to give the outdated technology a kick-start: Many old models and hardware would not have a kickstart generator built in to recover from an EMP blast. This goes for most non-recent technology, more recently however advancements in the field have led to reduced economical cost for built-in kickstarts. Such technology included Kyza's Magnetic Shielding Suit.

A few minutes later and the door was ready to be opened with the over-rides. Kyza was slumped in a nearby alcove, leaning against the back wall in pain. He still had enough strength to aim his Plasma Rifle at the Cockpit door though, beads of sweat still dripping down his forehead and running through his eyebrows. He nodded at Smoke as if to say 'ready'.

“Whoever is in there, lay down any weapons. We have the Over-ride code and are opening the door. I repeat; stand down or we'll put you down.” Yelled Smoke at the door, his eyes trained on the small hole Kyza had made in it earlier.

He stretched out his 'pockets' so the small wings were deployed and handed one of the Kirrursch to his main left hand, a high calibre ballistic sidearm outstretched in the other.

The door clanked as he pressed the button for it to open, each half sliding horizontally out of sight into the frame. The small room was empty. Kirrursch still raised above his head, poised to strike Smoke stepped forwards. Rubbish littered the floor. The two chairs inside – the pilots and co pilots were both empty. On the floor Smoke kicked over a steel bucket and stood on some rotten food. A broken-down robot like he had not seen before lay scattered in pieces across the floor. A laser burn crater on the piece Smoke assumed was it's operational head. A second robot, of exactly the same design lay next to it. This one was not broken into pieces, but still, it was clearly not functional.

Smoke turned his shoulders back to Kyza and shrugged. Something wasn't right. Maybe they both imagined something was in the Cockpit earlier.

The flight log of the Omega was encrypted, so Smoke transferred it to his own datapad and intended to use his personal computer on-board the Terrilus to decode it.

“Regardless of where it tells us to go, we need to get to Novgorod Skelsa and get you some medical attention. I don't think we are equipped to deal with that wound.” Smoke said, his concern for his longtime partner showing through.

“Oh yeah? And are you going to pay for that?” Asked Kyza, slightly chiding Smokwarwall. But he had a point, they did not have the kind of money a doctor with this set of expertise would require. They could kidnap or hold one hostage, but he doubted they had another high profile escape from the Skelsa authorities on the cards.

“Hmm. Just gather up all the crap you can from this ship. The corsairs must have something of worth onboard.” Smoke leant down and picked up one of the defunct robots in the Cockpit.

“We can sell these two for scrap.” He continued.

Though it was a good idea, Kyza needed a moment. Smoke walked down the corridor to the Omega's second airlock, the one which the Terrilus was docked at. The still-exhausted man put the cigar back in his mouth and lit it using one of the gadgets on his suit's utility belt. Taking a deep puff as he perched on the floor in the corner, wincing as he exhaled. Letting his senses take over and hoped the agony would pass. His gasping for air continued.

* * * * * ** * * * * *


The pair finished combing the Omega PP9 several hours later, all the loot of worth they could find was stowed in the Terrilus' cargo bay below decks. Smoke manoeuvred the former luxury shuttle away from the linked frigate and pirate ship. Kyza was in the lounge area, crashed out on the cushy white sofa, hoping to sleep off the journey to the spaceport of Novgorod Skelsa. The biggest hive of activity in the cluster, right on the fringe between the isolated Durryach Rim systems and the more populated Rim colonies in the galactic arm. The engines whooped as they surged the shuttle into Faster-Than-Light travel.

Below deck the rubbish and salvage from the Omega clunkered and clattered around. A yellow orb-like eye opened, a black dot in it's centre.

* * * * * ** * * * * *

A f t y

A A R S

:: The Sun always rises in the East :: Flawless Crowns :: Dancing Days ::

"We kissed the Sun, and it smiled down upon us."

[This message has been edited by Aftermath (edited 09-29-2010 @ 06:33 PM).]

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