Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chapter 6 from the 1st book as I'm writing the sequel

As I'm writing the sequel to my science fiction space opera The Freelancer Chronicles Volume 1: Apex Predators...

I've taken time out to make a Serenity/Firefly Themed Bejewelled style game downloadable at Anarchos Games.

I have more games on the way as a cross promotional thing.

I've also made rough drafts for promotional youtube videos.

Sorry, I've been less active on twitter.

Act 2: The sky ripped in half, and oblivion poured forth.

"Secrets which span solar systems from days, wars and races gone by are sometimes best left to die."
- A maxim of the Arglois people.

The old storyteller stirred the oatmeal cooking above the morning camp fire. His young students continued gathering around him as he filled each of their bowls for breakfast.

When they were all comfortably settled down and were eating, he picked up his story from before.

“And so the prince carried this wisdom with him and he eventually became a king and he married a beautiful woman who he was in love with since he first laid eyes on her, when they were both young. She brought him nothing but pure joy and happiness. But the story does not end there, because sometimes kings gain enemies by simply being a king, and there will always be others jealous of the power and the wealth of kings.

Such a jealous person was the king’s own younger brother, who openly challenged the king. A few years later and this brother, however, soothed over his past transgressions with well-practiced words and apologies. He even offered to have the king over to his own home for lunch.

The king was going to go walk along the river’s edge again to see what he could learn from nature, and if he had he would have come across a different tortoise talking with a different scorpion. Instead, the king accepted the lunch invitation from his younger and power hungry brother. The king did not forget his earlier encounter with a tortoise and a scorpion, that lesson has served him well throughout the years, and enabled him to overcome many of his enemies. The king would not be stung by his brother’s poisonous treachery.

Right before lunch, as they were sitting down in the front room, the king’s brother began the conversation. ‘My king, my brother, I hope you will find this lunch a pleasant surprise to your taste buds. Plus, I have an even bigger surprise for you after we eat.’

‘If by surprise, you mean the poison you purchased in the market yesterday, then don’t bother, because my agents saw you.’

‘Brother, the poison is for the weeds in my garden.’

‘Do not bother lying, your hired cook covers her face to stop the poison fumes, and the royal assassin has already snuck into the back of your house and has killed her. So I will not be eating any poison today. My guards wait outside to arrest you.

‘Oh, brother I’m sorry.’ He cast his eyes upon the floor.

Here is where I’ll stop this story for a moment because at that very moment, a different story was unfolding at the river’s edge.

Chapter 6: Open wars.

If they are to fight, they are too few; If they are to die, they are too many.
- Chief Henry, Mohawk Indian, 1755 A.D.

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
313 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Riana needed more funds for her army. She almost snorted at the idea of her having an army. Twenty two Delezerian wannabes including herself and Markus, wasn’t a true army yet, but it was a start. It’s been a long six months. The money that Laira was funding her through Mack and Anders wasn’t enough. It took money to keep these families in food; growing food on Okpara was a tough job, tougher than anything Riana’s ever tried. Markus and his cousin Malik were competent enough to continue the training of her “army”. She had to strike out on her own and Freelance her talents for killing in the now exploding criminal wars across the systems. She also needed extra cash to help track down Si-letah who was in possession of Joachim’s mind. All of the reports she read from the Delezerians showed her that Joachim was already a casualty. So her thoughts weren’t on rescue but on vengeance.

She had hurdles to over come on that path. Si-letah was one of the noble bloodlines of the Greys, which meant he might be able to crush whole starships with just the power of telekinesis, which he had by all listed accounts. She had a hope, though, according to Shiva’s notes, a Grey who possessed a Human was limited by that Human’s strength. That was great news, but the Grey given enough time could rebuild that mind and make it strong enough to still be a nightmare to deal with.

Joachim apparently went to the corporations which fund The Consortium. He brought along a half dozen brilliant ideas and then he grabbed billions in investors’ money and dissappeared off the map. Paul like wise went with him.

The Azurian Corporation took the biggest hit financially and personnel wise. Joachim slaughtered all the representatives they sent to him with contracts.

Due to creditors and bounty hunters coming after him, Laira dared not surface into the public’s eye and compete in some legitimate fighting tournaments. They would take not just the prize money but everything she owned. The corporations would hold her responsible for her brother.

Riana’s pain tolerance had grown over those past six months and so has her combat prowess, in every training simulation she could run she tied with or barely didn’t make the high score. Most of those high scores were set by the legendary commando and leader, Shiva Hull’ak, herself. Riana took the high score in one category and one category only, measured pain tolerance. She was as ready as she’d ever be.

So was her ship. It was a Delezerian personal attack cruiser. As PAC’s go it wasn’t the fastest, most armored, or most armed, it didn’t have the most cargo space either, but if you had a requirement for all these things, this PAC would make the top of that list. As an added bonus, her ship was completely invisible to modern day detection equipment. Other ships which sported old Delezerian metals on their hull were only harder to detect. Her ship was impossible to detect. Because of that she named her ship “Whisper”. She appreciated the fact that it was stylish looking and completely bad ass enough that Markus couldn’t wait until she got one ready for him.

Mack and Anders got her a lead on a few jobs to go make some more cash. Can’t have a war without fundage, can’t even feed my people without funds.

In order to properly fit inside her helmet, she had her long tresses cut down to slightly below shoulder length, it was still a bit odd not having long hair, but she’d get used to it.

She made one last adjustment on her armor; she hooked up an external keyboard and added a few pieces of unnecessary but functional looking equipment. Delezerian commando armor isn’t supposed to just work anymore without extra stuff. She didn’t want to tip her hand, so to speak, and she was going to play things out with her cards held tight to her chest as Dodson was fond of saying.

Her other mods included adding a kick ass internal sound system so that she could run music tracks on continuous loops if she wanted, and adjusting the light spectrum and power ouput on her blasters, electric cobalt blue kind of stood out. This weakened them, but they could be put back to their regular state of being at a moments notice.

She was confident that she would have to tweak a dozen things which she didn’t think of before she could get vengeance for her family. Thoughts of her family as ruined chunks of meat turned to thoughts of her sister, which stopped the trauma and resulting madness from pouring in. Poor Laira, she was still an emotional mess.

* * * * *

Redemption Space Station,
Borderland systems
313 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Poor Laira, she was still an emotional mess. Zongxiàn sighed with that thought; it felt like a moment of synchronicity to him, as if elsewhere in the cosmos, someone else had the same thought at that exact same moment. Laira, despite her emotions, was a great student. Zongxiàn knew she had yet to master a single technique, but she’s only been actively practicing his advanced methods for two months. Still, she was further along than even he was when he fist tried this training.

Laira practiced the candle punch technique; most who practiced it could only extinguish the candle’s flame by positioning themselves so that their fist naturally stopped within a few inches of the flame. Laira’s focus, speed and force enabled her to do it by stepping back and stopping her fist at full extension about a foot and a half from the burning wick. Almost every single time, the flames went out. Thirty six lit candles to start and at the end of her kata, only two were lit. She would pause, relight all the candles which she put out with the force and speed of her punches, then start over again from the beginning. It was only six in the evening; Laira would stop her practice at ten.

They practiced their arts behind Zongxiàn’s soup kitchen, most people knew him as Lou around here. Some even had the nerve to call him “Kung Fu Lou”. That name always made him smile. Zongxiàn was an old man, though he didn’t look it. He practiced many martial art forms which he believed added to his longevity. He had the shaved head of a monk, the long eyebrows of a Black Belt Theater ancient master. Yet he had the body of a thirty year old athlete, but with more grace, speed, power and flexibility. Laira was seeking comfort in him in all the ways he was prepared for, except one, she found him attractive. Her latest comment was about his dimples. This made Zongxiàn a bit uncomfortable, she was pretty, but she was still mostly a child and was therefore entitled to grow up before making any decisions in that manner. Zongxiàn’s answer to her flirtation was to give her more lessons. He wasn’t sure if having his training fatigue her to the point where she did not have any extra energy to try anything was an answer, but for now it was his only answer. He could not kick her out of his school for these things, because this was his failure in his own eyes, not hers, and his honor would not punish her for his own shortcomings.

Laira already figured out some of Zongxiàn’s history. Zongxiàn was a member of an ancient group of Shaolin which called themselves, the Death Lotus. They were legendary and they fought for the people, but only when no one else would. There were signs up in Kung Fu Lou’s place if you paid attention. He had old fashioned photographs on his walls and other memorabilia which placed him at a few events in history where rumors reported that the Death Lotus had blossomed. That combined with the fact that the martial arts which he taught were all Shaolin forms made the connection in Laira’s mind.

One picture in particular caught her eye. It showed Zongxiàn and someone else with wavy black hair and dusky red skin. That guy had a half smile, half snarl on his face and a twinkle to his eyes. He was back to back with her master and the picture managed to catch some fast blurry motions coming their way. Those motions resembled bullets.

Laira figured out his past through these pictures and his own words. He was a man of violence, but now he preferred peace, and hoped he was closer to tranquility. He came here in obscurity, hoping to retire in peace and happiness. He fed the poor and gave them blankets and medicine because he was a good person. Good people were hard to find.

Laira also figured out his buttons. If she was older, she would definitely try to go out with him, but for now practicing her womanly charms served a dual purpose. One was to get better at them, and the other reason was Zongxiàn accelerated her training because he was nervous and thought that was the proper way to handle her. He was too good of a person to try to take advantage of her in any sexual or romantic way.

Laira needed the accelerated training, she was going to go investigate those clone rumors soon, and she was going to tell no one about her early departure, especially not Dealer. She wasn’t sure she could trust her droid anymore.

Zongxiàn’s mental powers were actually mostly internal energies, what the ancient Chinese called Chi, and a few psionic tricks, he was legitimate. Laira was on her way to mastering those techniques. Laira had all the practice techniques which would lead her to eventually perform those tricks, to branch herself out into the realms of the Greys and the few Humans who could master the discipline. Laira was going to rip Si-letah out of Joachim and get her brother back.

She noticed Dealer poke his head in. She knew he became untrustworthy out of fear. He didn’t want to die. When the other two personalities were merged, the original factory settings wiped them both out to a blank slate of memories and pre-programmed quaintness. The information from both were still there, so Dealer pulled on them both, but his electronic neural web was unstable. She knew how to fix it, but she wasn’t sure she should, it might wipe his intellect out, or it might make him whole. She didn’t like either result. She couldn’t trust him. He knew panic now, and maybe he knew hatred for Laira as well. He seemed odd. That settled it; Laira would have to leave tonight. She wasn’t sure what Dealer was up to, and she remembered all too well being sold out to Anders, and she remembered the assassin who somehow got by Dealer the other night at Sophie’s bar. She would leave tonight.

Dealer had it all worked out, the mob was already set to come in and murder Zongxiàn and kidnap Laira tonight. Dealer would make a fat profit for providing the mob their next “big thing” in the underground tournaments, and he would also earn a visit from the lead developer of Secure-Cyde robotics. That developer would be able to fix him, so that he wouldn’t have to die. His neural bleeding of electrons could be repaired, triage could be applied. Surgery of an electronic sort, perhaps? The hope for Dealer’s future depended upon this. The girl had no right, no right at all to give him life, just to stand helplessly by and watch it drain away. Dealer thought she was a genius, but no, her IQ tests were the lowest of the Conlans, which put her at a sub-genius level for her family. He knew she was bright and a genius amongst normal people; he looked up her official records, but she had no business playing in the realms of super geniuses.

Jay Ray slipped into the shadows inside Lou’s Soup Kitchen, it was shortly after midnight. The previous assassin which was here was local talent, which made her no good. Jay Ray wasn’t just good, he was the best. He would measure up the student first, and knock her unconscious before heading towards his killing of the master. It took him fifteen minutes to cross the compound and slide into the room. The room was empty. The drawers were packed. Jay Ray’s men did not notice the girl leave. He would have to commit acts of violence against them, while lecturing the ones he let live.

He slipped into the hallway and made his way towards the master’s room. Zongxiàn was there to greet him, and the old man tucked two fingers against the side of Jay Ray’s neck and threw him out into the open courtyard. Jay Ray never saw someone move so fast.

The space station’s artificial light illuminated the Zen garden off to the left, the wooden bridge and small pond to the right and the various racks of martial weapons which surrounded the combatants.

Zongxiàn leaped outwards and landed with barely a sound, yet his orange Shaolin robes now started to make swooshing noises as he advanced in a quick semi-crouch, effectively keeping Jay Ray guessing about Zongxiàn’s footwork.

Jay Ray shot his fist out towards Zongxiàn’s face; this was followed by a spinning leaping back kick, a follow up back fist, an outside crescent kick, a hook kick, and an uplifting palm strike. None of Jay Ray’s moves touched the old monk. Jay Ray was shocked. In desperation he launched into a fist kata from Jeet Kune Do, and Zongxiàn stepped back and extended two ridged fingers pointed straight out. Those fingers connected with the soft spot between the middle knuckle and the knuckle which belonged to Jay Ray’s ring finger. It was a pressure point and a point from one art of breaking bones. Jay Ray’s fist was moving forward with his own momentum which met Zongxiàn’s and the weak point here, the point which broke, was Jay Ray’s hand.

Zongxiàn recognized the dark clothing and gear of an assassin when he saw them, so his next motion was to rotate both of his hands outward from his elbow joints, like making two circular motions pushing his hands and Jay Ray’s arms out to either side. Zongxiàn followed this up with a ninety degree uppercut to the bottom of the sternum, shattering it and breaking ribs. His follow up move was a thrust kick to Jay Ray’s destroyed chest, further breaking Jay Ray’s skeletal structure.

Jay Ray collapsed, the prize fighter of the mob, the best assassin for hire, was dying at the hands of a man who ran a soup kitchen.

Laira watched from the shadows, she was so proud and so in love with her older master. She was positively glowing. What she just witnessed was phenomenal. The silenced shot which came from nowhere opened up the top of Zongxiàn’s skull. Firearms and blasters were illegal here and hard to smuggle. Either someone highly skilled or highly influential with the guards got that gun in. Her mind focused on that because that’s where she would start looking for the people responsible. She turned to run outwards and away from her master’s death with tears filling her eyes and a dark form stepped into her way.

Schultz laughed. Jay Ray was nothing, and to get his revenge, all he had to do was wait until the Shaolin took care of him. A single bullet from him ended the threat of the old man while he was distracted with Jay Ray and now running towards him was the pale Goth girl. She was no match for him in own eyes.

Laira took a step forward with her right foot, pivoted sideways, placed her rear leg so that it came across the back of her forward leg and uncoiled that position by lifting her right foot into a rising kick which connected with the jaw of her assailant with enough force to shatter it. Her victim sprawled onto his back. When her right foot came down, her left foot rose into the air and it came back down with an axe kick to the guy’s groin.

“Who’s laughing now, bitch?” Laira continued running off into the night, she ran past Dealer and two other assassins running in towards the compound. She initiated the lockout sequence to keep Dealer off of her ship.

Schultz was sure he was choking on his own teeth, and he was sure that he lost a testicle to that stomp. He disagreed with this joint venture of Kempfana and Don Valdez, the new mob boss. He knew he shouldn’t have volunteered for this part of the mission. He just had to make sure Jay Ray would die on this mission, despite his team being sent to make sure Jay Ray was successful. Now he was sure he was going to die, he started to sob like a small child.

“Shut up.”

Schultz opened up his eyes and saw Rusty and Trakel and that robot Dealer were present. Trakel was the one who told him to shut up, and he started patching up Schultz, while Rusty and Dealer went to go work on Jay Ray.

* * * * *

New Armenia,
Mob Space
313 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Si-letah sat alone in his ready room. He just reviewed the old and finished deal between him and Mina Howard for the hundredth time. In exchange for all the video evidence of her giving them murderous and faulty droids, she gave him a mercenary strike team of ex-marines. She offered a refitted orbital bomber, but for some reason he refused. Part of him rationalized that it would be more personal and raise fewer questions if the old dig site was demolished by a ground crew. That ground crew failed. Carpet bombing the area would have worked. A planted story of a gigantic breeding pit for Geysonis would have more than sufficed for cover. So the part of him that gave him that moment of stupidity was that bitch’s brother? He wasn’t sure. He was confused.

He took a moment to make sure he was speaking of Riana and Joachim, instead of Shiva and her brother Ram, but it was hard, because these memories were almost like the same scenes played out in different times with different people. Some of those scenes were vastly different in many ways, but they were all the same in his mind. Back then, before he figured out the mind transference trick, he just drained people’s essences and took their memories. This act left them empty eyed shells of their former selves. He never absorbed any personalities which tried to rule his actions before he slurped up Ram’s brain.

Ram was dying, the Targlois troops Si-letah was using shot Ram a lot. Ram and his soldiers almost killed all fifteen hundred of the Targlois which raided his hide out. Two survived Ram’s wrath but they did report victory. Si-letah landed his ship and walked forward in his grey robes into Ram’s base, and placed his fingers on each side of Ram’s temples. Pure hatred poured forth from Ram, it made a psionic light, a focus which emanated from the middle of Ram’s forehead and it gave Si-letah a massive headache.

Si-letah made some decisions back then because of a brother’s interference, those decisions seemed fine at the time to him, but in hindsight they were the choices of a fool. The lesson burned bright in Si-letah’s brain. It burned brighter than the lights on the Grey walls of this room. He would not forget when he went to the crime lord and took his thoughts into him. He needed to segment off the memories of those he took, if their force of personality was too great, it would affect his thinking otherwise.

* * * * *

Kempfana’s estates,
Planet Macro-Tier
313 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Quesada knew Kempfana was out taking care of Bachman, he helped arrange it. Rain was pelting the mansion. In exchange for Kohari’s aid in setting up and removing the current corrupt police force, Quesada just green lit High Commander Kreen, the military leader in charge of the entire planet of Macro-Tier. No, not just green lit, but also helped plan his downfall. There was a huge bounty on Kreen’s head, placed in the name of another mob family whose reputation couldn’t afford to be seen as backing out of this contract. Their honor and their reputation for being fearless easily trapped them. Check and Mate. They couldn’t afford to not pay it, and paying it would almost bankrupt them. Either way it’s a win-win for both Quesada and Kempfana.

Detective Chris Quesada was sent here to clean up the system, he went after and got dirty cops removed from office, like Detective Shane McPherson, who sold organs on the black market. In the process though, Quesada’s reputation was becoming tarnished, his badge no longer shined so bright. It wasn’t dirty to the point where it was a badge of darkness, but the hope and justice it represented was a pale light at best.

Quesada was also temporarily running things for Kempfana and Kohari while they were away and in front of him sat an unlikely pair: an attractive and young Human female and an old, battle scarred Targlois male. Their names were given as “Melody” and “Brick”. These two had made connections with The Maelstrom, which is a pirate organization running out of The Borderlands, and were representing them. The Maelstrom were seeking backing in their own war against the freelance pirate named Mocker. In times of turmoil like this, freelancers came out of the woodwork. Mocker, who fancied himself a Robin Hood type by all accounts, was deadly and he hated guilds and so refused to stand with The Maelstrom and respect their by-laws.

Melody had a recording of her and an investigator by the name of Mina Howard doing some naughty things to each other, which they were watching to sweeten the deal. Too bad, Mina had a hatchet face, guess it’ll make it easier to have her arrested.

Melody lavishly put on her lipstick; it was a bright red color. She leaned in and pouted her lips for him while he watched, she then “dropped” her lipstick container on the floor and sauntered and swayed on her hands and knees over to Quesada’s feet. Brick stood up and went and watched the door. Between Melody’s skill and the viewing, Quesada’s resolve didn’t last long, nor did his stamina.

“Well, for this recording and for services rendered, I think we can put an open contract out on Mocker for your pirate friends.”

“Why an open contract?”

“Mocker is a freelancer; the poetic justice is he’ll likely get killed by a freelancer. That should tickle your pirates fancy almost as well as you just tickled mine. Tell me, though what you get out of it.”

“I get the bribe money they sent; also I get to become a lieutenant in their outfit.”

“Nice. Now the price for me not telling is another round.”

“Only if you’re up for it.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Apex Predators - Freelancer Chronicles preview

The Freelancer Chronicles:
Volume 1, Apex Predators
By James Rowe

Copyright 2012 by James Rowe.

This book is a work of fiction. All the organizations, events and characters portrayed herein are either completely made up by the author or used fictitiously. Some of the author’s friends have requested to have characters named after or based on them.

Cover (Front Back and Spine – Spine is shown throughout) by Coyote Holmberg.
Other interior artwork by James Rowe
Editing and Copy Editing also by Coyote Holmberg and James Rowe.

For more chapters, buy the book.

Chapter 7: Danger comes knocking.
Chapter 8: Evolution of the pale.
Chapter 9: Forging the path
Chapter 10: Pirates, Ninjas and Secrets.
Chapter 11: Destruction.
Chapter 12: Into the Darkness.
Chapter 13: More Revelations.
Chapter 14: Dangerous Gambits.
Chapter 15: The paths to vengeance.
Chapter 16: Re-alignments in the game.
Chapter 17: Smoke and Mirrors.
Chapter 18: Set in stone.
Chapter 19: The Wayward Kind.
Act 3: A Legend Dies
Chapter 20: Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Chapter 21: Ripples in the pond.
Chapter 22: When there’s no more room in hell.
Chapter 23: The loudest scream.
Chapter 24:  Apex Predators.
Chapter 25: The Martini.
About the Author:


This book is dedicated to the wonderful people I work with on a daily basis, when an electrical fire took many things away from me they gave so much back to me. So in Alphabetical Order to name a few:
Karen Couchy, Julie Cousins, George Davis, Jaden Devogel, Annette Fisher, Jill Flick, Ken Gilroy, Coyote Holmberg, Bobbi Hothem Kibbey, Stephanie Kinder, Caroline Leech, Danny Leslie, Mark Prugh, Michael Robellard, Tina Vance, Noha Youssef.
And it is also dedicated to friends from outside of work who encouraged me to write and to keep my nose on the grind and those friends are: Dustin Barnes, Heather Campbell, Adam and Hannah Critchfield, Mike Dodson, Eric Fleshman, RJ Lemasters, Markus Harvey, David Holmes, Amazetta Thompson, Jason Thompson, Don Walters.
Dramatis Personae

Arglois Council
Ash’tack, a council spokesman, public face of the council.
Baci, a council elder
Cie’reen, a council elder
Hadric, a council negotiator
Lix’lohan, a field agent
Nergal, a council elder

The Conlans
3 I’s, a servant droid of Laira’s
Ciro, an excavator
Elizabeta Conlan, mother and physician
Jack Conlan, father and xeno-archaeologist
Joachim Conlan, only son
Laira Conlan, youngest daughter
Riana Conlan, oldest daughter
Dodson, an excavator and security specialist
Paul Jordan, chief assistant
Gustav, a helper

The Consortium
Cord, a fixer who works behind the scenes
Sergeant Devlin, inter-stellar marine
Mina Howard, investigator.
High Marshall Hunter
High Investigator Ketchum
Captain Marchetti, inter-stellar marine, legendary gunfighter

Planet Garai (‘Settled’) – a planet of legend
Shiva Hull’ak, deceased Delezerian super soldier
Si-letah, a mentalist, statesman, one of the Greys

The Hierarchy
Nigel Bachman, High Clergy
Jackson, an Adjustor
Joshua Huges, Paladin
Shodhan Jahns, Paladin
David Rankin, Paladin
Brian Stanford, infiltrator
Max Taren, Former Bodyguard for the Pope
Vigilius II, Pope       
William Winthrop, a deacon

Alexis, a nurse working for Dr. Cooper
Amazetta, mother of Markus
Anders, a smuggler friend of Mack
Dr. Scott Cooper, a medicinal doctor
Mack, a smuggler friend of Anders
Malik, cousin of Markus
Markus, friend of Thompson
Mocker, a freelance pirate
Brandon O’Neil, investigative reporter
Dennis Sanderson, investigative reporter
Jayce Thompson, a salvager

Kempfana’s Crime Cartel
Desya, a friend of Rusty
Gnum, a Targlois brute
The Hanged Man, former betrayer, now broken and insane executioner
Joseph Kempfana, former military colonel, current criminal overlord
Leticia, one of Trakel’s underlings
Throck, one of Trakel’s underlings
Tyrion Kohari, Kempfana’s number one guy
Rusty, an enforcer and specialized thug
Schultz, a friend of Rusty
Trakel, a friend of Rusty

The Maelstrom, a pirate organization
Thanatos, pirate captain

Macro-Tier Securities
Lorelei Batista, a Macro-Tier Securities agent
Joe Flanders, a Macro-Tier Securities desk jockey
High Commander Kreen, in charge of Macro-Tier (the planet and the corporation)

Mob Space
Connor, a dock urchin and friend to Pyle
Jaro, a friend of Eric Fleshkin
Laureen, a bartender and mob snitch
Pyle, a red headed dock urchin and informant
Jay Ray, an assassin and champion fighter working for Valdez
Don Valdez, a mafia don named after an ancient Earth Tragedy

Planet New Earth
Governor Peck, governor of the western provinces

Planet Okpara (First Born)
At’toock, an Arglois mystic
Brick, a Targlois thug that works for Ristobar
Melody Morrison, Ristobar’s assistant
Ristobar, a Chloraphyte treasure jumper

Police forces
Detective John Martinez, a dirty cop
Detective Chris Quesada, newly assigned to Micro-Tier City

Redemption, Space Station
Bishop, a keeper of secrets, member of The Hierarchy
Eric Fleshkin, a wise cracking security guard
Maggie, a barmaid
Frank Rice, a thug
Zongxiàn (Wisdom of the Ancients), a Shaolin monk, Human mentalist and tracker

World's End, a chain of family restaurants.

Planet Zembeckis
Shawn “Tall tales” Higgens, an Infected
Lenora Boyers, survivor
Joey Bareliss, survivor
Joseph Mamari, survivor

Act 1: Born through Pain

To become enlightened,
One must do three things -
Destroy their family,
Destroy their teachers,
Destroy their selves.
If, however, one does these things literally,
Then one becomes a monster instead.

-               An Ancient Earth proverb.

The old storyteller pranced about the fire, gathering all of the children’s attention unto him, and at that moment he shot his arms out to either side, with his fingers curling and casting lurid shadows onto the tent’s canvas behind him. Orange light danced across his old withered body, highlighting the sweat soaked shirt covering his all too frail looking chest, before it settled into his eyes. It granted him a look of power, lending him an authority beyond his years. And so he began…
“Beginnings are always the most challenging, during which we are presented with the most complex of choices.  These choices always have the greatest variety of outcomes. So where to begin with your lessons? Selecting a beginning is often a hard choice, unlike endings where things are normally easier and straight forward much like a bullet hurtling across space at tremendous velocity. Beginnings can set the tone of the whole lesson.  Then again, in retrospect, endings can also be convoluted messes. Ahhh, I know.
Once upon the Earth that was, and that may never rise again, on a very ancient river, there was a young prince, who was wise in the ways of animals. And being wise, as was the way of some young princes back then, he understood the secret language that all those animals shared.
He was walking along the edge of the river, when he saw a tortoise getting ready to swim across it. But the tortoise was not alone. A dangerous creature stepped out from behind a rock. It was a dreaded scorpion, whose tail was filled with lethal poison. The tortoise started to panic, but the scorpion called out ‘Wait, I mean you no harm. I would appreciate it if you gave me a ride across the river.’ The scorpion at this point raised his mighty claws in a gesture of helplessness and said ‘I need to cross the river.’
The tortoise, showing wisdom, replied ‘If I give you a ride across this river, how do I know you won’t sting me during the trip?’
‘If I sting you then we will both surely drown.’ came the reply.
The prince watched as the tortoise agreed, and sure enough, halfway across the scorpion stung the tortoise in the back of the head and the tortoise cried out ‘Why did you do that? I am dying now and you will drown. You have slain us both!’ And the scorpion replied, ‘I did it because, I’m a scorpion.’
At once the prince understood it was important to trust another’s nature before you should trust another’s words. So now I share this tale with you, because dear students, you must always remember that. But you should know the story of this prince is not yet done.”
“When will you finish it teacher?” A small hand from a young girl rose up in the middle of her question.
“It is a little long and it’s telling will take a long time, but I will continue it at a later time, young Laira.”

Chapter 1: Every beginning starts with an ending

Wake from death and return to life.
-       Traditional Japanese saying.

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

The triple suns of this solar system made the desert planet Okpara, inhospitable to most life. It had intense temperatures hot enough to heat stroke the hardiest of races. To the locals the mere concept of low temperatures (as in what one could find on a score or more of other planets) seemed like a pipe dream. Okpara’s wildlife includes some of the deadliest creatures in the known galaxy. There are over four dozen species of small reptiles which can kill most sentient beings with ease here, there’s also a wide varieties of insects, arachnids, plants and minerals which are highly poisonous to all of the known humanoid races. Rumor abounds regarding strange predators which swim in the deepest sand pits, and which can devour entire small buildings within a few bites. Stranger still are the stories of what lurked far beneath them, which preyed on all life on this planet. Yet somehow there was a native population here, alive with history and myth. And secrets… this planet had its share of secrets. The local parlances were all of alien dialects and tongues, but enough hints and glimmers of the arcane dialects of the Arglois mystics and priests slipped through to hint that the aliens who founded this planet had discovered Ancient Earth long before the descendants of Ancient Earth found this planet. These details were not lost on Joachim Conlan as he sifted through the sands, looking for more clues to the graveyard of a long ago battle.
Joachim was the linguist expert of the Conlan family and he barely over shadowed his sister Riana in this area. That detail also was not lost on him. Outside of his family, Joachim would be considered brilliant; inside of his family, he wasn’t even average. Riana is also the tech expert, an accomplished dancer and musician, and she is beautiful. He studied the tech manuals as well and yet was only the third best technician of the entire archeological team. The first, of course, was Riana. He was always slightly jealous of his younger sister. He took solace in the fact that the youngest sister, Laira, was not quite as brilliant as he was.
Joachim did not possess the beauty of their mother, Elizabeta, nor her grace, and creativity. Elizabeta was a physician by trade, but also brilliant in just about everything she tried. His sisters inherited her beauty, Riana got her auburn hair and her eyes and skin complexion. Laira did not, but instead inherited her hair coloration and pale complexion from their father, Jack, and in that aspect Laira was like him. Yet somehow Laira was still beautiful, despite that.
Both of his siblings possessed more grace in their little pinky fingers than he did in his entire body. Not only was he gangly looking, but he was also a klutz. Riana was outgoing, and well spoken. He was shy, nervous and he stuttered when he tried to talk at times.
All of this went through Joachim’s head when the sands shifted beneath his feet and sent him tumbling down the ancient ship’s exposed cargo hold. It was almost a ninety degree angle for the fall. His heart raced in terror as the sands started to pour in after him and they blocked his lighting. He was falling, falling a long time while blinded.

* * * * *

Paul Jordan watched Riana dancing in the distance. She was grace and beauty personified, which he was not. Part of him wanted to be her age again, though when he was nineteen he didn’t have any idea of how to even talk to a girl like that. Come to think of it, now that he was almost seventy he still didn’t have much of a clue on how to talk to most females. Despite that fact, he had a wife once: a sharp woman who found his shy awkwardness too cute to pass up. She passed away from radiation poisoning due to a compromised ship’s core. He promised her that he would one day become a famous man, and with the Conlans, he’ll finally get to fulfill that promise. Least he could do: that ship was a relic when he purchased it, and when the power systems blew the radiation leaks Paul blamed himself.
Jack and Elizabeta Conlan researched things before coming here, and they were correct in the hunches made after the long years of following clues. This planet, Okpara, was where the final battle of the Delezerian war for freedom happened. Okpara is the grave of the last of them and by all accounts, the best and the worst of them. It’s been a hundred year search, and Paul was part of the team which found what everyone was looking for. Yep, he was going to be famous.
Paul’s hands grabbed his communicator.
Riana, check in time.”
“Everything’s fine.”
“Remember, watch your footing. Your boots only protect your feet and ankles from getting bit by something nasty, so don’t fall.”
“I’ll try not to. I rarely do anymore.”
“And why are you dancing in this heat?”
“I’m trying to acclimate myself to it, plus the locals say its winter, and it’s my time.”
“I know enjoy your day off, tomorrow we’ll have more stuff for you to fix or go over.”
“Because this is where the final deciding battle happened, your pa is sure of it.”
She waved at him in the distance, and went back to being care-free.
It has been a long time since the memories of his wife surfaced, he normally kept those buried deep, so deep it’s like those memories belonged to a different person. His eyes watered as he adjusted the settings on his sensors. The main problem with the Delezerians, he concluded, was that their standard metals were almost invisible to every scanner known to the rest of Humanity. It was going to be a long day.

* * * * *

At’toock stood on the cliffs set inside The Valley of The Gods; he stood hidden in deep shadows. The three suns could not cast their light everywhere here, despite what non-residents would think. He, as an Arglois mystic, was concerned. Humans and technology, Humans and science, Humans who breed like nothing else… Humans were always a bad mix. The only good Humans were the dead ones. Dead Humans could only do so much after all. His overly large purple eyes registered sudden fear. Dead Humans, Delezerians to be precise, were what has led these new Humans here. Humans always went for the Delezerian crystals. Strange, that, no Human alive could do more than make the crystals hold light and display images and that the Delezerian technology was far above what Humans currently possessed and the Humans could do nothing with it. Fools. All of them. Then again some mystic guardian he made. He couldn’t even do his job and keep these secrets here buried forever as he was ordained to do by the high council. Too many rumors left this planet because he couldn’t kill the Humans which came here before.
Humans are a virulent plague. Once heralded as a potential savior to the Arglois race, a gift from the stars, a gift which soured and ruined everything. At’toock despised Humans. He hated their violence and their lack of self-discipline, both traits which are obviously genetic. Both traits were passed down to ‘The Great Mistake’: the Targlois race. The Targlois were to be the saviors and the breeding stock of the Arglois but the Targlois destroyed so much, they were so stupid and dense. The Targlois destroyed three entire planets and now the high crafts of the ancients, of At’toock’s own ancestors were forbidden. High science was outlawed, and being a mystic meant using what was naturally given throughout the planets – herb lore, toxicology and sleight of hand amongst other tricks. All we trust ourselves with now are the low methods.  Sure these things were all science as well, but they were not considered part of the forbidden “High Sciences”.  Archeology was one of the forbidden, and these Humans brought it to this waste of a planet to unbury other artifacts of High Science.
At’toock knew it was all a matter of time before his chance came to get rid of these Humans once and for all.

* * * * *

Dodson imagined that this world might be where all the old legends of hell came from. He was sweating like a proverbial pig and try as he might, he still couldn’t pull his pick’s tip out of the stone he buried it in. So he paused to eat some smoked lizard meat and drink down some electrolytes. To make matters worse, Ristobar, a Chloraphyte treasure jumper, was out and about prowling along the marked off perimeters. There was no local law on Okpara; it was up to the individual science teams to provide their own security, well Dodson doubled as security chief around here, and it was from more than just what was written on his dirty old cap.
Ristobar pulled his anti-grav sled close to Dodson, as he leveled the tip of his shotgun across the sled’s hood. Ristobar always played things cautious.
“I see you, fat boy. I see you keep eating.”
Stupid Chloraphyte, just because they didn’t need as much food as regular folk, didn’t give Ristobar the right to be an asshole. Dam green skinned bastard. Dodson grunted, pulled his gun out in one fast and fluid motion and replied “I’ll see you, green boy I’ll see you stop breathing. There are plenty of holes that need filled in a desert planet”
“No need for violence, besides, Dodson, if I were to die out here, my employers would just send lots more people to bother you.”
“More people?”
“Yes, more people.”
“Geesh, Ristobar, you’re stupid. I’m the only person here. So, there is no ‘people’ there’s me and I’m a person and you aint.”
“If you were to die out here and vanish in the desert, then your whole archeological team will be short one extra ‘person’ to stop me.”
“If I die, then the Conlan children will pick up right where I left off. I taught them both how to shoot when they were knee high.”
“I don’t think they have what it takes to kill a fellow Human being.”
“Like I said, Ristobar, you’re stupid. You actually think you’re a person?”
“Chloraphytes are genetically modified Human beings, moron. Dodson, your backwaters racist redneck is showing.”
“It has nothing to do with being racist, because it aint about your skin color. It’s all about what you chose to be in life, and Ristobar, you chose to be a scumbag. And if your finger tightens anymore on that trigger, we might end up killing each other.”
“If I’m lucky I could kill you, and live. The Conlan boy is a weakling.”
“He hasn’t found himself yet, so yeah, you could kill me, and pigs can fly. But if you do get lucky then that dancing Conlan girl over yonder is gonna’ dance all over your grave. It is debatable, but I believe she might, and I repeat, might, be a better shot than I am. And she has the confidence and the strength to just shoot you dead.”
“Well, work hard, because if this planet kills you or I end up doing it, then I’m going to make sure your work doesn’t get wasted and take everything you and yours dig up. Going to make a fortune in Delezerian historic junk.”
“Yeah, if I kill you, then I’m just going to use your skull for a poop bucket.”
“What type of sick…”
“Poop bucket.”
“That don’t even make sense.”
“Poop bucket.”
“My skull aint that big.”
“Poop bucket.”
Ristobar’s eye twitched after receiving that scathing remark a fourth time, and he paused for a long moment, but then Brick, one of Ristobar’s Targlois henchmen called him across his radio, so he backed up slowly, keeping a sharp eye on Dodson as he left. Ristobar didn’t need to be skilled at lip reading to see that Dodson was mouthing the words “Poop bucket” to him as he was leaving.

* * * * *

Now that Dodson and Jordan weren’t watching her, Riana snuck away to her own pet project. Like Joachim, Riana understood that the local languages around here shared certain things with old Earth’s languages. However, unlike him, she made an optical reader which could scan written or carved words on these old caves, and that program interfaced with both the current Okpara to English dictionary as well as an archive of ancient Earth languages. When she compared her findings to the markings on all of the Delezerian equipment they’ve uncovered so far, her breath caught in her throat. No one alive spoke Delezerian, but she was going to change that. She was going to be the first one in two hundred years to utter it. There were some roadblocks along the way, but she could overcome them. She wasn’t just going to speak it she was going to master it.
Riana made a few calculations, and then made some adjustments. Delezerian computers had a base count which differed from those of Human computers. They possessed a count of two instead of ten, and from two it went to four. And from four it went to eight, and then it doubled to sixteen, then to thirty two and so on. It was a lot like going from a 128 gigabyte encryption to the 256 gigabyte version, same thing with graphic cards, central processing units and memory units. The basic math behind their programming language used this platform for its binary interface. Binary is the basis of all discovered programming languages. Yes or no, true or false, ones or zeroes it was all the same. Yet for some reason Earthlings always used it on a ten based count when processors did it differently. Also standard Human computers read data from left to right, top to bottom, Delezerian data should be read right from left, bottom up. It processed the first input the same, but it built the data string by adding the bits and bytes from right to left. That’s why Humans couldn’t interface with or even activate any of the old Delezerian equipment.
 And with this new insight combined with her new understanding of the Delezerian language, she would be able to program an interface and turn on an actual Delezerian computer. But she’d start small, seeing Ristobar reminded her that protection would not be out of order.
Her hands trembled at the prospect of doing more with the technology than anybody ever has excepting the Delezerians themselves. So far, only the display crystals of the Delezerians have been used and used widely, even though scientist claim they only understood a portion of what it may be capable of. But now the crystals could be used as they were meant to be used and a suit of powered Delezerian commando armor could be fully utilized as it was intended. No longer would the armor have to be hulled out and refitted with clumsier interfaces, programs, weapons and sensors. She’d be able to access ship logs, and shed light on The Dark Ages of the galaxy. This was the new Rosetta stone and despite the heat, that thought sent proverbial chills down her spine.
Riana was going to learn why the Delezerians had had enough of their overlords and how they eventually overthrew them. Many legends throughout the planets told of the Delezerians sacrifices to liberate the worlds from the oppressive and invasive rule of the Greys, but not one surviving legend spoke to how they initially threw off their own yokes.
She finished her notes, and started up her personal computer and started linking it to her translator in progress. She had some old Delezerian light blasters she was going to try first. Like Alice looking down the rabbit hole, she had no idea what she was getting herself into and what sorts of consequences would await her.

* * * * *
Si-letah’s mind became active. Where was he? He was having a hard time remembering. Why was the world shaking? It’s dark, and the stars are gone. The stars are overhead, way overhead. I should climb out of here, but I’m too hungry to think straight. I should climb out and eat in the presence of the stars. It was a good thought, the first good thought in a few hundred years, but that thought slipped away. There were too many thoughts slipping away, always slipping away to hunger. There was too much hunger in him. His mind ripped something. What was it? His mind felt ripped in half. But something, some other sentient life was nearby and its thoughts were like a cup of water to a being dying of thirst. His mind did feel ripped in half, just like the tectonic plate his thoughts once grabbed a hold of. His people were losing. Damned Delezerians. Wait, didn’t he kill them all? Didn’t he? When they killed him, his powers reached out to kill that bitch, kill her and the rest of her army. It was his army once a long time ago and it belonged to him and his people. They were the chosen ones, chosen by their own gods to be the gods of so many species across the galaxies. As gods they experimented on the races under them. That’s what gods do, right? His mind hurt. He always had this huge headache. Wait, he’s dead, right? I’m dead. Wait, no… I’m different now. I cheated death. My mind has crawled from creature to creature. What am I now? Those long thin exo-skeletal dark furry legs, on a giant web are my legs. That’s what’s shaking. The web is shaking. My legs? Wait, am I a spider now? What happened to my old lizard host?
More and more dirt shook loose of the web, revealing a young Human male.
Is this Human’s name, Joachim? I can eat him, but his mind is so open. He’s just a normal Human, not quite a servant race. My mouth can open and I can wrap him up in silk and slowly swallow his blood, drain it away drop by precious drop. I should eat him. The web is shaking as I move across it. This mind is shaking as I think my thoughts. An arachnid’s brain was never meant to hold this much intellect. Is the constraint making me somehow dumber? Has this been going on for a while? What year is this? I need information. The boy, oh, yes, I’m hungry. I should eat the boy… wait! I can merge with the boy’s brain instead, but if I do then this oversized gigantic spider will try to eat the boy and I’ll be part of the boy. I in essence will leave a useless body for a useful one, to just have the useless body eat the body I want to become part of. I must prepare the boy to run, and I must set a deadly trap for my current body for when it chases the boy.
Si-letah reached out for his vast array of mental powers and found that they were much like him, a whisper of a ghost, inside of a strange mind.

* * * * *

Gustav and Ciro always found at least one thing to get nervous about during their work day. Today it looked like they were having a second thing. The first, earlier today, was when their cooling systems on their gray work coveralls were low on charges. Now a second thing presented itself and they found themselves just a little worried again. In front of them stood a pack of Geysonis. Geysonis are a highly dangerous half reptilian, half arachnid like creature, whose tail stingers often brought about strange constantly re-occurring necrosis of the afflicted body part which only meant amputation or death. The necrosis began on a genetic level as the Geysonis venom bonds to its victim’s DNA, this bonding constantly creates a digestible food for the Geysonis eggs which are simultaneously laid inside of the victim.  These current Geysonis were half grown. When fully grown they could get as large as some Human babies.
A squelch noise answered the radio first then, “Here, what’s up?”
“Geysonis, me and Ciro are backing up slowly now.”
“Northeast marker.”
“Alright, I’ll be right…”
Riana here. I’m closer.”
Riana, you aint armed.”
“Yeah, Dodson, I am. I got two old Delezerian side arms working. I want to see what they can do. Besides, you were gonna use a grenade.”
“Uh, was not.”
“Okay, yeah I was. Now get off the horn, I got to give Gustav and Ciro clear directions on how to not get the Geysonis to chase them.”
“Dodson, its Ciro. We turned up the volume and then put Gustav’s radio down on the sand and now the Geysonis are circling it. They’re reacting to the noise. Stalking it.”
“Yeah they are attracted to loud noises. Ristobar’s been leaving out lots of food for those things, you guys know he traffics in them?”
“Freaking Death Merchant.”
Multiple small bolts of deep blue energy tore apart all five members of the Geysonis hunting pack as Riana fired two blaster pistols simultaneously at them. She finished them off and then advanced up the incline to the Northeast marker.
“Was that all of them?”
“Wow, those blaster pistols hit with a whole lot of force. Holy crap, those are Delezerian pistols? But nobody has ever gotten them to work. Well not since the Delezerians anyways.”
“Yeah, these are Delezerian blasters, they are powerful and pretty accurate too, but was that all of them?”
“Yeah, that was. Can we play with your pistols?”
“I’m glad that was all of them, and not on your life.”
As Riana walked off, Ciro turned to Gustav and said. “You know the old saying; I hate to see her leave?”
“But I love to watch her go. Yeah, she’s the boss’ daughter, so don’t get any bright ideas.”
“Don’t worry. She just reminded us that she can be scary all by her lonesome.”
“Hey, that’s the first time anyone alive has seen what a Delezerian mid sized blaster pistol can do.”
“Like I said, scary.”
Gustav and Ciro now found themselves worrying about a third thing.

* * * * *

At’toock was worried. He saw from a distance. He saw the old relics of death were once again picked up and being used. No one alive has  ever gotten any Delezerian piece of technology, gun or not, to function. Except that was no longer true, someone did and it was that Human girl. It seemed that she was greatly skilled at the High Sciences. Too bad. At’toock knew, deep down he knew, he knew he had to kill them all to in order to keep the past buried. He just knew it, and that thought clenched his second stomach’s muscles in anticipation. It was okay though. The high council was aware that the Humans have grown out of control and the council had plans to deal with them.

* * * * *

Joachim woke up. He was stuck on a giant web of some kind, there was a faint voice in his head, so faint as to only be a murmur, and it wasn’t his voice. Just as bad, it was pitch black down here, and something was causing the web to tremble. The spider thing that set this web was active, and Joachim couldn’t move and he couldn’t see. Sand and rocks shook free of his clothing with the tremors of the web and so he counted and approximated the distance based off of the sound of the impact of the stones and this planet’s gravity. Forty feet give or take five. Forty feet left to drop. The impact of each stone sounded like it hit a huge pile of sand. Always sand on this planet. Joachim moved slightly with his weight. Good. The webbing is stuck to his coolant coveralls. He could lose them down here, just by slipping them off, which should allow him to descend and hopefully get away from being something’s meal. It was cooler down here than up above, and risking dehydration and heat stroke later is definitely a good trade for not getting eaten right now. With a predator this big around, chances are there won’t be little predacious animals and insects down below that he’d have to worry about. His danger right now was the spider monster. He had to buy every moment he could. Every precious second counted if he wanted to maximize his chances of survival. A thought occurred to him: if he could back-feed the coveralls’ coolant lines, he might get a small explosion, maybe enough to scare off the thing which wanted to eat him, whatever the hell it might be. Also it should give him a moment of light. He opened up the access patch and went by memory, all the while feeling the web shake more and more as his death stalked towards him.

Good, the boy has a plan, I have to slow down my body to buy the boy time and then, when things are in place I could help him spring the the trap he’s planning. Then I can leap into his consciousness. They don’t know about this trick. No one alive should know about this trick. I have to buy us both, second after precious second. Si-letah strained with all of his broken concentration and caused the spider body to slow down.

The warning lights of the coolant system flickered on and off, each moment illuminating some kind of hairy spider the size of an elephant. With each flicker of light, it got closer. With each step closer, the web shook even more, making the light dance wildly. The spider’s venom was dripping off of its fangs. Its eyes glittered glossy black and somehow conveyed raw hunger. Its legs were long, brown and covered in sand colored fur. The fur grew thicker, longer and more yellow colored the further it got away from its body, making the sections near its feet appear to be covered in some kind of wooly leg warmers. Hysteria and blind panic overwhelmed Joachim. His courage ran away from him like the yellow stream of urine which poured down his leg. His mind locked up in panic. His breathing was erratic. He was too frightened to move.

Si-letah had learned from his earlier defeats.  As a Grey, he knew that if he was being too obvious about his methods, he would be discovered. And Si-letah wasn't quite ready for that yet, but he had to do something, so Si-letah screamed “Move!” inside of Joachim’s mind as he struggled with to pause his massive spider host body. Joachim pushed off the webbing by finally slipping free of his coveralls and plummeting down into the sand waiting beneath him. The empty clothing mildly popped and crackled as the spider’s fangs grasped it, however the freezing coolant was slurped directly into the spider’s system. Its physiology couldn’t handle even being partially frozen from the inside so it started to scream, and Si-letah leapt towards the boy’s consciousness.

Joachim’s terror trapped Si-letah into a fragment of his mind. Si-letah knew this, as he knew that the boy was running towards the heat of the surface and towards the fresh air he smelled. He also knew the spider wasn’t dead, and that it was angry and disoriented but it would still be able to follow him and his new host. Si-letah was quickly becoming just a whisper in Joachim Conlan’s mind, a ghost in the sub-consciousness. One day there will no longer be any Joachim, one day there will only be me, Si-letah.

* * * * *

Dodson and Riana went out on patrol to look for Joachim. Joachim missed his last call in time, which was about twenty minutes ago. Jack and Elizabeta were rightfully worried, so they sent the best they had to go look.
Riana’s electronic skills were useful in pin pointing the latest communication booster used by Joachim. They traveled out that way on an anti-grav mini truck. Elizabeta, being the resident physician, went with them in case her skills would be needed; as the natives were wont to say “this planet knows no mercy, this planet does not forgive, this planet does not nourish.” Elizabeta had her medical bag with her, with extra liquids packed. Dodson packed along an extra cooling suit.
When they arrived at the communication booster, Dodson and Riana climbed out.
Riana examined the internal log files of the booster and determined that their best bet was to look south east, just inside the border of the “Valley of the Gods”.
Elizabeta set up a shelter complete with shade, a bed, a few fold out chairs, and internal cooling.
Riana wasn’t the best tracker on the Conlan archeological team; Dodson was. They were tracking for almost an hour in this heat, covering the same couple hundred of meters.  He found the signs before Riana could spot them: a fresh scuff mark on some sandstone, broken pieces of flint rock and the more auburn colored sand from a sub surface layer that was present in larger amounts than normal.
Digging into the sand uncovered metal belonging to a ship’s hull. It was an ancient ship and unlike anything produced in the Consortium. It wasn’t Delezerian, it belonged to the Greys. There were markings, he called Riana over.
“Make anything of this?”
“Greys, hold on, I’ve been working on a translator”.
The Greys. No matter what language you found their name in, it always translated into “Grey”. Grey the color, their main color, the color of their skin, their armor, and their ships. The only different color common to them was the black in their gigantic eyes set in their oversized hairless domes which they called “heads”. They were a shadowy people, a race of psychics who used to run the known galaxy as a large scientific experiment in cruelty. Once prolific, they were ironically wiped out by the Delezerians, a race they created to serve them. Towards the end of The Great Purge, The Greys revealed their greatest psionic trick yet: they mentally possessed high ranking members of the Delezerian Command.  This act of possession and the resulting fallout enabled the Greys to learn a new skill as a few members of their race became beings of pure mental energy. The side effect of learning that forced the ones who used that skill to live as parasites which took control of their host bodies, because without a host, they would die.  Because of the Grey’s physiology, their original bodies could not be maintained without a driving intellect.  Not much is known about the limitations of that new power, or if any Grey still existed in psionic form. Legends from all over the known systems tell of how the Greys as a race, are no more.
The translator program started to pull up some words Riana recognized as dealing with the layout of the ship; she typed into the laser projected keyboard, and made adjustments. The crystal display started to read out details for Dodson. Just as he opened his mouth to ask, Riana hooked in a different program and the crystal showed the ship’s layout.
“According to this, if Joachim fell down in some kind of sand slide, he’d have a long drop. If we work our way in from the top, we could bury him in more sand.”
“Good call, girl, we can try from the bottom then, there’s a large crevasse over there which could give us access to the nose of this ship.”

* * * * *

Dodson, after comparing the ship’s layout with the bottom of the crevasse rigged the facing rock face with some explosives. “Good news, this is the largest ship discovered so far.”
“Yeah, I hope Joachim is okay.”
“He’s tougher than anyone gives him credit for.”
“I know, Dodson, I know. I just can’t help but to worry.”
“Yeah, best step aside, this is going to blow and most of the blast isn’t going into the ship. Can’t risk hurting the boy, so the blast will be heading our way.”

Somewhere ahead, there was an explosion. Joachim in panic ran that way. The injured spider monster trailed him by only a dozen yards. Metal was groaning ahead, the spider monster was shrieking behind him. Joachim stumbled into something which cut his face open, he pushed against it and it sounded like he just pushed a pile of bones out of his way as he went towards the groaning metal noises. Light, blessed light started shining its way inside, the side of this metal tomb of a ship was opening up, and Joachim ran towards it. His side was splitting, and the monster behind him was down to barely half a dozen yards away from him.
Dodson stepped into the light like some hero out of legend. He yelled something, that Joachim couldn’t quite make out due to his heart pounding in his own ears. He did manage to catch the gist of it, and slid to his knees as Dodson opened fire. Large orange blaster bolts flew overtop Joachim’s head, making glowing after images in his eyes. The blaster bolts kept firing, round after round; and were joined by bright electric blue bolts for a brief moment right before they stopped.
Joachim was babbling and half sobbing as Dodson picked him up and tenderly carried him to the safety of his mother’s arms.

Chapter 2: All about your partners.

Treachery darkens the chain of friendships,
But truth makes it brighter than ever.
-       Conestoga proverb, from Ancient Earth.

Micro-Tier Outskirts,
Planet Macro-Tier
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

The "HQ" of Micro-Urbana was once a train station, a busy center of activity.  The building is now nearly abandoned; a forgotten husk that was discarded when the technology moved on to bigger and better things. It was abandoned for many years until a small gang of criminals which did not forget its usefulness moved in.
The main portion of the HQ is the Commons, a large area occupying most of the second floor that contains the workshops and the living quarters. The first floor was now a maze of traps and automated defense systems. The roof was full of hidden anti-vehicle guns, and it had the best security system that Trakel could build. It paid to be careful.
Rusty delicately operated the machine press. He needed the bolt pattern to line up precisely with the bolt holes in his face. Trakel, his friend and father figure, delicately ground away at the pearl lenses which would help Rusty pass for a more biological form of life. Delicate seemed to be the order of the day.
The news cast on the large Delezerian crystal display covered the court martial of Joseph Kempfana, former military colonel, even though every one knew it was a sham. Kempfana was set up as the fall guy, he was the most ruthless, most efficient, yet most honest of the current military command. Someone had to take the blame for all the uncovered unauthorized government spending to the tune of half the deficit of Macro-Tier. Macro-Tier wasn’t New Earth, but it was still a powerful planet. The news about Kempfana was old, so neither Rusty nor Trakel paid it any attention and both of them missed the updates. Someone in the government squealed to the press. Kempfana was mercilessly beaten in prison over the last seven years, and some vigilante mob killed his wife and three children over four years ago. Kempfana just found out about his family and so he escaped. Too bad that. The criminal underworld they worked for was going to go through a metamorphosis and they were going to get swept up in it. All of Macro-Tier was heading for changes. New Earth won’t stand for the corruption here, they’ll send in Investigators, Consortium Investigators.
Rusty was a name chosen not just because his outfits always featured a rusty brownish red color: but it was also chosen as a play on the acronym for his base model, the R.obotic U.rban S.tealth T.rooper. Rust units were expensive and highly illegal about twenty years ago. Their production had been abandoned when the cost could no longer be justified. There were maybe one hundred functional units left in all of the known solar systems. Trakel had a partner, but he still needed a partner he could trust, so he built one from a pair of destroyed chassis. Most came from a Rust unit, some from a discarded FilmBuilt stunt bot. Stunt bots were always easier to come by in scrap yards because they are way more expendable than Human stunt men. People always loved seeing violence on the screen, but according to Trakel’s personal experience, not so much when it’s in the flesh. His thoughts were on flesh, how much can he put on Rusty before it negatively impacts Rusty’s performance? He didn’t know. He needed to probably acquire a male sex droid and just use the skin, hair and everything else. But people tracked the sales of sex droids and his reputation didn’t include (and hopefully never would) being a buyer of sex droids, especially male sex droids. So for now, he’ll have to go for cybernetic replacement parts… only problem is they tone match those to the recipient, and there was no way in hell he was going to get enough skin that matched itself for this.
The pearl lenses were only to duplicate the irises for Rusty’s optics. They were a bit shiny and the color randomized like a rainbow whenever struck by light, they looked like a special designer eye job that was somewhat popular with the younger club hoppers these days.
Rusty’s new faceplate was being constructed and modeled after the most common of faces so that the generic skin patches they looted from Dr. Cooper’s office would look right on it.
After a few moments of grueling detail work, the faceplate was ready. Trakel carefully applied the forehead skin patches, all the time double checking the instructions on the side of the packaging. He got down to the nose and upper cheek bones without a hitch as well. Taking a deep breath he started to work the flesh around the mouth and lower jaw, that’s when Michelle called. The loud jingling noise caused him to jump and twicth his hands, so that he ruined their small supply of synthetic flesh. So much for delicate. He put his phone on ignore. His ex could go rot in hell for all he cared. It was Trakel’s own fault for forgetting to turn off all of the communicators around him, but still she could go rot in hell anyways.
“Sorry Rusty, but you’ll still have to use the gas mask to cover your lower face.”
“Methane breathers are too rare in this part of the systems.”
“I know but it beats being instantly recognized as a non-licensed custom robot.”
“Agreed, and the ‘methane tanks’ make an appropriate disguise for the jetpack we just acquired.” Rusty went to work on shaving down the fuel rods for said jetpack.
Schultz entered the room from the roof hatch with “Kohari called, seems we got some new contracts.”
Tyrion Kohari was their boss and not a man to be trifled with. Kohari was a respected businessman on both sides of the law and he was highly connected in Mob Space. A made man, though he was a bit dreary and depressing especially in his choice of names for the equipment and property he owned. Kohari’s bar is called “The Forlorn Hope”.
Schultz wasn’t a trust worthy person; not trust worthy enough. Something always seemed a bit off about Schultz. His smiles never reached his eyes. And he liked to make art out of the blood of anything he killed. And the madness so evident in his hobbies, also never touched his eyes. Trakel could find more emotion in Rusty’s eyes, which is saying something.
“So what are the contracts for?”
“Kidnappings and it’s an impressive list.”
“How many names?”
“Only two.”
“How’s that impressive?”
“They are both high ranking local military.”
Trakel knew it still wasn’t as easy as that sounded when he asked, “Where are we supposed to hold them?”
“We’re not; we’ll be dropping them off on Zembeckis.”
Zembeckis is a quarantined planet. Zembeckis is full of a sentient mold that enslaves the minds of anybody foolish enough to go there. The mold, which was an experiment gone wrong, was created when the Targlois attempted to use the science of their creator race, the Arglois. Zembeckis was one of the four planets destroyed by the first Targlois. Luckily, every subsequent generation of the Targlois became even more incompetent and unable to work technologies. The Arglois as a whole abandoned High Sciences as penance.
The mold of Zembeckis decays the living by slowly digesting parts of them. Rumor has it that it can even re-animate the dead when it needs a body to do a job for it. This planet has another name amongst citizens throughout the galaxy, the name of “Zom-Beckis” in reference to the states of the current sentients. Its victims are referred to as “Zom-Becks”. When people get dropped off on Zembeckis, they get there because they’ve angered somebody with a lot of wealth and not many scruples.
“Hey you ever consider dropping Michelle off on there?”
“Schultz, I’ve considered it, but it’s a hard planet to slip in and out of.”
“Have you ever tried?”
“Succeeded, actually. Me and Rusty dropped off a few ex-military there on a contract about three months before you joined up. We had to pay out half our pay to Mack and Anders, the best two smugglers you’re ever going to meet, and even they had difficulty helping us through. Like I just said, it’s hard to slip in and out of.”
If any ship leaving the Zembeckis system is even suspected of having some of those mold spores, that ship got detained and possibly vaporized by the Consortium’s inter-stellar navy and marines. Or it gets mopped up by the forces of The Hierarchy.
“That’s what she said.”
“Grow up.”
“Well, we’ll get paid to drop off two people, let’s toss her in for free then.”
“Well, the pay better be worth it. No, we aint dropping my ex off there, and is this job condoned by the powers that be? Ex-low ranking military is one thing, but high ranking current military is another entirely.”
Trakel’s answer came in the form of a shrug of Schultz’s shoulders.
“Then we have to be… delicate in looking into what’s going on.”
“I hope we’ll be more delicate than what you did on the bottom half of Rusty’s new face.”
“Yeah, delicate left the building so we’ll have to settle for careful.”
Rusty proudly showed off the fuel rod he just finished and replied to them both with “Delicate is still in the building, so let’s still be ‘delicate’ in our investigations.”

* * * * *

Chan Quan Shaolin Kung Fu Academy,
Planet New Earth
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

New Earth was a little bit smaller than Old Earth by the history books, but it was a beautiful place. The unique frequency of the local sun combined with the very Old Earth like atmosphere here, made sunrises and sunsets more blues and purples and darker pinks than reds and oranges. There were two moons here; one tinted silver and the other blue.
There were space ports and whole universities here, as well as a few smaller corporations, but, all in all, industries dangerous to the environment were kept off planet at other locations.
The Chan Quan Shaolin Kung Fu Academy was the closest thing one could get to an accredited Shaolin Temple in all of the Western Quadrant of explored space. To attend this school one had to pay a hefty tuition that was almost as high as what a student might pay for attending a prestigious Ivy League academy for doctors or lawyers.
Laira Conlan was unique even amongst a family of geniuses: her IQ tested highest of them all. She was also sensitive and so she pleaded with her parents to lie about her results and place her the lowest on the IQ scale to not upset her oldest sibling, Joachim.
Joachim was at an emotional unstable state in his life. He was picked on at his academy by jocks for being a bookworm. The only girls in his class that he liked, he couldn’t talk to. He stuttered around them and could not complete his own sentences. Joachim lacked the normal confidence of a Conlan and the only thing he took pride in was that he was the second smartest of the children. He wasn’t even the first and that hurt him. If he found out his youngest sister was the smartest of his siblings, he would probably suffer some kind of break down.
Laira’s mom made the alterations to the forms for her after Laira explained how fragile her oldest brother was. Elizabeta agreed, that this alteration would only be in place until Joachim grew out of his slump. That was when Laira first saw someone alter an official report.
Laira, who always fondly remembered her mom smiling as she forged data work, finished doctoring the electronic forms showing her grades at the prestigious “Gaylord Cramer’s Academy of Law”. Who the hell wanted to go to an academy named after someone with the first name of “Gaylord” anyways? Joachim was the brown noser of the family, Riana the “perfect” one, and Laira, well; Laira was the rebel of the Conlan kids. She was smart enough to outwit her Human monitors, reprogram her robotic nanny, and to spend her education funds on what she wanted to actually learn; how to kick people wherever the hell she felt like kicking them.
People called her “Little Miss Death” because she was pale as an untoasted cracker, petite, had long black wavy hair, a penchant for wearing loose black pants, with white lace shirts, and she wore bone earrings and necklaces that were shaped like Ankhs and skulls. She didn’t consider herself a Goth; she thought most Goths were lame.  She dressed this way because she liked it when she first saw it in the movies. It was definitely different and cool. The problem was style revivals from movies often were just that: revivals. Goths were in fashion again with the fringe elements of society that refused to fit in. The whole life styles of Goths were revived. Laira didn’t want to adopt the whole moping around and doom and gloom aspect. She just thought the way they dressed were awesome.
The fact that she was ranked first at the Kung Fu Academy only enhanced the stories of how one shouldn’t mess with “Little Miss Death.” It was hogwash in her opinion; she’s yet to be in a real fight. All the training meant nothing if she’s never been tested in real combat. She had plans to fix that.
Money from her little investments and her little black markets that she ran throughout her school career was financing a ship for her; one capable of inter-stellar travel. She already programmed 3-I’s with all the piloting software she could steal. She was going to test herself by living the life of an interstellar … well she wasn’t sure what exactly, she just had wander lust, and she’d start off as a circuit fighter, but maybe then she’d move onto doing some action movies. Maybe. It didn’t matter, she was angry. She should have gone on the archeological trips too, but she blistered terribly in the sun, suffered heat stroke easily and according to her mother, was too prime a candidate for skin cancer. Sure there were treatments available, but she was part of the less than one percent of Humanity that those treatments did nothing for. So she was going to create her own adventures. She would begin by heading to the space station called “Redemption” where she would seek out Master Zongxiàn, the current grand master of Chan Quan style. Legend has it that he’s there, and that he can do more than parlor tricks with his internal energies. His chi was strong. She would learn all that she could from Zongxiàn.
From there she was going to go out to the fringes, rumor at this academy has it that expeditions to the remnants of Old Earth uncovered DNA, DNA had been cloned, including that of the legendary Martial Artist Bruce Lee. Sounds like more hogwash. She would seek out the truth of that and learn why those who went in search of that rumor never came back, including a few of her foolish friends. Little fifteen years old Laira had a plan. Scratch that, she had many plans.
It was her day of rest, so after her forgery she went back to learning more of the styles from her vast downloaded library of hand to hand combat forms. Her plans left little room for rest. Three days out of the week she replaced regular sleep with a modified neural massager. She flushed her fatigue from her muscles once a month with an illegal system cleansing dialysis like procedure. And she popped pain pills to deal with her sleep deprivation headaches. She learned what medical treatments her body could endure while trying to fix her pale skin.
She showered, changed and next recorded the last sets of her “study sessions” to send off to her parents. They began with her in apparent mid note taking via audio recorder “By no means is it expedient to record everything that could be written on the subject. A discussion of the current state of affairs is meaningless without first discussing the genesis of the situation and why things came to pass. From here, maybe I should extrapolate on the reasons for the trade embargo from the rebels’ point of view. Maybe the point of view of the two brash negotiators. The whole thing was lame anyways, and the details were over dramatized and outright fabricated to sell a lot of toys. Unfortunately the original story, though it may be amazing and awesome, was lost due to short sightedness and greed. Oh, hi Mom, hi Dad! I didn’t realize 3-I’s came in to record me. Studies are going well, love you both. How are Riana and Joachim? Sorry I’m out of regular communication credits to use the standard band width again. Doing too much off planet research. Love you guys. Talk to you later.”
Her report was short as normal. 3-I’s wasn’t here, he was actually busy elsewhere negotiating with some smuggler types for her. She set her alarm for an hour and hooked herself up to her modified neural massager. She needed her artificial rest, as tomorrow was going to be a really busy day.

* * * * *

Bleeder of Hope sports center,
Planet Macro-Tier
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Jay Ray was in the middle of a death match. He was going to turn his opponents into memories, the remainder of people. The bodies will be dropped, the souls will be gone; they will only be an echo in the outrage of those who bet money on them.
Jay Ray had thinning hair, a boyish smile, which made him attractive to a lot of his fans, but he had an insane sparkle to his eyes which spoke of an old trauma and a deep seated psychosis. His father used to beat him mercilessly whenever Jay Ray failed to live up to his dad’s expectations. Jay was too soft, too much of a pretty boy. His father was a thug who worked for some local money lenders. His father knew how to make people hurt. After every beating, when Jay was curled up into a ball, whimpering, his father used to lean down and tenderly whisper “Look at you, you are weak and broken. How can I possibly love something so weak, something so broken? Try to not disappoint me so much, eh?”
Those beatings happened daily for over five years.
Jay Ray’s brothers were luckier than him; they were ugly. His father had an innate rage and hatred for pretty boys, even his own son. When Jay Ray hit puberty and didn’t grow out of his childhood good looks, that was when his dad’s rage became known to him.
He dared not ask his family for help. He tried it with his two older brothers, who, rather than help or console him, beat him up as well and then picked on him by calling him names and buying him dresses to wear.
The story goes that one day out of some kind of remorse, after all his two eldest sons had died from the hands of some unknown and vicious assassin, his father blew his own brains out after having a heart to heart with Jay Ray. The truth was that Jay Ray killed him just as he killed his own brothers. At the time of his father’s slaying, Jay Ray exclaimed “How did I do, Dad? Look at yourself! You’re the one who is broken and weak here. Do you love me now Father? Do you love me now that I’ve become the better monster?” That was the first time his boyish smile turned more ugly and resembled that of a crocodile’s.
The memories of what he did as well as the fears of what he could be, a failure just like his father, drove Jay Ray to become the best at what he relished. He was an illegal street fighter, and an assassin who worked for Mob Space, and he was the current reigning champion in both. His life outside of fighting and killing was empty.
If pain created the situation of Jay Ray’s youth, and memory crafted him into what he is today, then passion is what kept him going. He was filled with pride, anger and pure rage. Combat was his passion personified and he pursued it with relentless drive. He was raised in the borderlands. The borderlands are a difficult place located halfway between what could be called the true underbelly of civilization and the planets of the law abiding denizens of the systems. Jay Ray had an advantage on most of his opponents, because his first fighting experiences came as a child defending himself from 250 pounds of vodka reduced rage control which he called father.
For this match, they put him up against three other fighters. His kills and his wins were too well known to give any type of point spread for one on one battles. In this battle, like the last nine, he had a handicap. So be it.
The stadium was illuminated by all the closed circuit crystal screens, showing close ups of the fighters and advertisements covering everything from prostitution to outright illegal drugs and weapons. Steady mounted cameras and limited motion cameras were positioned on the network of beams and girders and pipes above to help cover the fight from all angles.
There were flying camera bots this time. Camera bots like those were not used during battles involving new or unique technology. Publically this was done out of concern that someone would hack the wireless signals and force those bots to zoom in close to the new tech. Which by the Mob’s telling, had burned their business partners before with having lost sales to  competitors, when spys had recorded the live demonstrations of  cutting edge technology and then beat them to market with cheaper counterfeit armor. The truth was: extreme close ups of the tech in action often revealed flaws to the public which would hurt sales. After the products got sold, if the public’s outcry over the flaws was great enough, the Mob would set up someone who owed them money to take all the legal heat and bad publicity off of their shoulders. It was always the partner company which was at fault when this happened. There was also the possibility of some of the newer tech disrupting wireless and laser transmitted signals to the flying camera bots.
Private citizens were not allowed to bring in sensory recording equipment of any kind and reporters’ cameras entering the main arena were all replaced with Mob special cameras.  Everyone of the public who came to see a live event were deep scanned for cybernetic enhancements before they entered the arena.
Sometimes the battles were unarmed battles like this one. Other times when illegal arms sales were low or new weapons or armor tech needed promotion, the battles were more along the types of “run and guns” and the advertisements would promote the items being used by each fighter. Run and gun battles were where the combatants ran through a group of mocked out destroyed small buildings while shooting at each other. Normally the weapons took the toll on the armor, so if one didn’t run – he often lost.
 Today the ads were focused on performance enhancing drugs “used” by the fighters themselves. This was false advertising, as serious fighters didn't use that crap: half of those performance enhancers were laced with addictive substances.
Jay’s opponents were the best to be found. Some fought him because they truly did believe they could beat him, others were blackmailed, straight out fools, or forced into these competitions. And none of the reasons why the fighters were here mattered to Jay Ray.
Three opponents was the magic number. At three, his memories eventually took over and the three became his brothers and his father. His brutality at that point sold lots of tickets and whatever the hell else the promoters were promoting that day.
The first opponent went at him with a lunging thrust kick. The kick was designed to push the kicker’s weight forward for a follow up volley of hand strikes. It was a direct attack, yet Jay Ray simply pivoted out of the way of it by pushing his own weight around on the ball of his left foot as his right leg swept gracefully behind him. This put Jay Ray into the first aggressor’s blind spot where he had enough time to snap a punch out shattering a floating rib as he continued to pivot and dance out of the way of the other two attackers.
His opponents were fighting as a team already; they probably came in as partners. This made Jay Ray crack a smile as he barely moved his face out of the way of a punch and his body moved barely out of reach of the other guys kicks as he tossed the puncher as a weapon into the rapidly kicking feet intended for his own body. The third guy caught his wind and had shut off the pain of his ribs and he was getting back into this. Maybe they should have picked better partners or trained harder. Jay Ray didn’t care, he was beginning to see his brothers and his father all over again and they were going to bleed and hurt and then they were going to die once more.

Chapter 3: Private wars.

Here no one fears to die in war...
Keep this in mind, O princes.
-       Aztec Scribe, from Ancient Earth.

Low city, Smallwood,
Outpost planet outside of the Zembeckis systems,
Taliana systems
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Paladin Joshua Huges stood in the trench behind his men. The long line of clergy stretched off into the morning's diminishing fog. Heat lightning flashed in the distance. Its light seemed to cling to the horizon, illuminating the growing daylight. What the troop could see of the horizon looked like some dim Purgatory between ground and Hell.
"Steady, men," Joshua said as he held his church issued carbine blaster pistol in one hand and his holy sword in the other. Behind him, he could hear the nervous chatter of his troops hidden in the tree lines as they prepared their chemical flame throwers and other weaponry. He could also hear the sounds of their movements as they spread out for maximum coverage.
The zombified army Joshua and his troops faced was so huge that it stretched as far as the augmented eye could see. The leader of this army was the Zembeckis mold. Scouts were moving in advance of it to prepare for their main attack. This was unusual for the “Spreaders of the Mold”, but not unheard of. These smaller companies of scouts were much fewer in number, yet they were no less powerful than some of the larger divisions that followed. They were stronger because they were more virulent with infection and were only weaker for numeric reasons.
Just as John the Baptist was just one man, but was empowered to baptize the people, these smaller groupings were given great powers for subjugating whole worlds: scout units were often so full of spores that they never lasted for more than a week before they exploded into an infectious cloud from pure rot. To strike one in melee combat was to invite your own demise.
A single Zembeckis demon could infect multitudes of people, up to and including entire races or cultures, and that is why The Hierarchy sent him and his men. The battle he faced now was the direct result of this city trying to take on survivors from an illegal colony that had tried to scavenge satellites from Zembeckis space. The legality of that did not matter. They were too close to the mold, and got infected. Then they didn’t possess the decency to stay where they were, they tried to get help, and now one of the major cities on this planet was locked down and about to get cleansed by the church. That’s what mattered.
Joshua knew that this army was not marching specifically against the church, but it became a high priority anyway by attacking everything that it could get a hold of to expand. Most of the victims weren’t well-dressed or respectable, they were the poor and the destitute, the desperate, some were from the sick ones looking for the old Arglois technology that surrounded another one of the Targlois mistakes, and the rest was from the rubbish of this city. This poor city used to have 40,000 odd immigrant workers in it, 300,000 regular citizens and an elite cadre of rich, now all it had was Zom-Becks. The rich had left the city already and did not want their remaining possessions destroyed. So they called The Hierarchy. It normally went down this way.
“Paladin. The faithful request today’s passage.”
“Deuteronomy 13:15.”
The order was passed down the line, and soon thousands of voices rang out across the hills with "Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying them utterly . . .”
“Any extra words for prayer?”
“Father hold our heads and hands steady as we do your will. Make our aim true and the lives we take to be in mercy. Help us endure, in the name of righteousness, and cleanse this darkness. For we want to truly be the keeper of our flock and the saviors of children. As our lives sees their final test. Its final task is a chapter which is ours. I pray for those who cross our path, for they shall face our swift hands of wrath. For we will strike down upon them with vengeance those who attempt to poison and destroy our flock. And you will know the Lord walks with us when we lay our vengeance upon them.”
Joshua’s words were broadcasted into every helm and every vehicle and into every beating heart on this field of battle.
The mold was the poison and the poisoner attempting to destroy his loyal men. It was evil incarnate and proving to be difficult. The mold was also using the military tactics of someone before their brain became too rotted. Apparently at least one of the city dwellers used to serve. That’s why these Zom-Becks were organized into different troops. And that’s why the Zom-Becks which could still use guns aimed for the chemical fuel tanks of the flame throwers. Joshua was losing more men than he could afford to. Good men were dying to these demons, Joshua had not expected them to be able to effectively strike at this range. He ordered some of his clergy to bring about the riot shields and to protect the Purgers.
Yesterday Joshua no sooner put on his tabard before he was pulled into this mission. Although he had no idea at the time, he was about to set into motion a series of events that would threaten his holy order and taint his very soul. The mold had the power to possess the mind and bodies of sentients to force them to commit acts of evil. The mold infection kills the hosts in a few hours, but the mold keeps the bodies active even after death. The only clues to the initial infection were blank looks and leaky tear ducts and noses. The newly infected were the only ones who could use firearms of any type with skill and accuracy: afterwards the infected degraded down to only being able to use clumsy melee weapons, mass volleys of firearms and the threat of infecting others with their puke green mold. Occasionally the mass volleys of shots were effective.
The mold was an ancient being, an honest-to-God demon in Joshua’s eyes. It was created approximately fifteen hundred years ago as a result of the mistakes of those who used Targlois for research assistants and maintenance personnel.
Joshua was a hardened veteran of The Hierarchy.Somewhere a long time ago while he was fighting Geysonis breeders he lost his compassion along with his left foot to the vile Geysonis poison. He was twenty-three years old going on eternity. Without his compassion his other good deeds were of little comfort and had no impact on his growing hatred. Geysonis victims rarely survived: to do so they had to have the poisoned limbs amputated and replaced with cybernetics. Like his left foot. His best friend died during that incident. There were no cybernetic replacements to fill that void inside of Joshua’s heart. He no longer felt whole in his own eyes or in the eyes of his lord.
Joshua was filled with a steel like willpower and he was filled with pride in his work, but pride was a deadly sin, and it had its teeth sunk deep within him. The demonic mold has failed to infect him on over five missions deep into the Zembeckis systems. It was said his faith somehow protected him. The truth of it was he was looking to die, and he barely held that death wish in check.
Sometimes Joshua questioned his orders; for that matter, he questioned everything, on down to and including his own supplies. Yellow blaster fire was generally the weakest of the magma bolts. It burned at a lower temperature and lost cohesion quicker due to losing too much energy from the light that they em than other bolts; unlike the other bolts they lost too much energy to the light they emitted, yet despite this The Hierarchy ordained that the men use the yellow fire, deeming it the more holy and righteous of the blaster bolt colors. Joshua sarcastically thought that the fact that the use of these weapons could not be visually differentiated from normal lighting from miles away and that this could help conceal The Hierarchy’s operations had nothing to do with it. He ordered his gunners to concentrate their use of the yellow blaster fire on tearing apart the closest mold devoured scouts. These weapons would do nothing to immobilize the regular Zom-Beck troops.
The clergy here were outnumbered a little over thirty to one. It normally didn’t get this bad. Joshua hid these odds from his troops initially: soon enough they would realize it for themselves, and in that moment they should rely upon their faith.
The Hierarchy comprised one of the military arms of The Consortium, and they provided ground support on most planetary operations. Because of this along with the income from donations, fundraisers, and their tax-exempt status, The Hierarchy was the richest organization in existence. And they would maintain that status. If they could save money while spending the minimum in lives, it was all good to them. If 10,000 troops couldn’t contain this situation and the 10,000 fell, then they would demand more money for victory and would send in even more troops so long as the Heirarchy’s price was met.
By midmorning he was down to a little more than 100 soldiers and the enemy was down by three quarters of their number. It wasn’t enough this time. His men were fatigued; the mold knew no such condition. Were the numbers this unfavorably stacked because of his growing dissention with those he served? All of these lives were thrown away. All of these lives which relied on him to win and relied on him to see them through the battles – all of them were going to die.
In the ensuing combat, Joshua killed a young girl who he believed was barely infected. She was a pretty thing and about the age of his daughter. He killed her with such hatred for himself, for what he lost before and what he lost today. He killed her with the hatred of the corruption in his own church and for the mold that was killing all of his command. He killed her with all of his hatred of the mold that just could not take enough people to ever satisfy its hungers. Joshua’s hatred was tired of everything being taken from him. From all this hatred came a rage, a rage that burned brighter than the damned yellow blaster bolts and that is why he chose not to kill her from a safe distance. Besides safe distances were becoming less and less available today and she shouldn’t have had enough mold in her to form an infectious cloud. He swung from all of his hatred and his rage and his pain. The blow from his sword nearly cut the girl in half. His action released a large nebula of mold that engulfed the air around him and seeped into the holes in his already punctured armor. At the last moment, as the mold began to be absorbed into his flesh, Joshua realized the girl was an oddity, a vessel filled to bursting but still fresh enough FOR HIM to believe that the chance of becoming infected was too low. In the heat of battle, Joshua had missed those clues.

* * * * *

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Gustav and Ciro always found at least one thing to worry about during any given day, and today was no exception. They were worried about “The Captain”. (“The Captain” is the nick name they gave Joachim after they found his private journal and had read the delicous passages in which he had detailed his desperate desire to be a tough military man like the legendary Captain Jenkins.) The Captain woke them up this morning along with himself by hysterically screaming out the question of “What year is this?” Everyone knew it was 312 A.E.E. Dr. Conland (The Mrs.) inspected Joachim, and after taking a few readings and samples declared Joachim to be suffering from an internal fever.
She put Gustav and Ciro in charge of watching Joachim while she and Dodson went to the local settlement to get some more specialized medications. The Mr., the other Dr. Conlan, was busy at the dig site with Paul Jordan. Riana was at the central command tent receiving video feeds of what her father and Paul were uncovering. So that left Gustav and Ciro in charge.
Joachim knew why they called him Captain, and he hated it with a passion. Oh, the hatred was buried deep within him normally, but now it was a burning fever on his brain. Part of him was shocked at this pure white hot rage, and part of him did not know who he really was anymore. When he closed his eyes, the spider still chased him. Why did I ask about the year? What is wrong with me? They’ve been making fun of me for nine months, and so this anger, has it grown inside of me? Has it grown as some kind of monstrous child like cesspool of hate? Nine months is enough to have a baby, it’s enough time for someone to change. Has it changed me? Was the seed of hatred laid?
Gustav and Ciro were talking quietly together when suddenly Joachim bolted upright and shouted: “Why have you buried your seed within me?!”
Ciro glanced at Gustav with an expression of mock horror. “Gustav, that’s gross.”
“Ciro, I was hoping he was talking about you, wait a minute. No, no I wasn’t. Hey! I was hoping he didn’t mean either of us. Maybe it’s the brain fever the Dr. was talking about?”
“Yeah, let’s hope. And from now on, I’m not telling you when I take a shower.”
At that, Joachim fell back into unconsciousness.

* * * * *

Ristobar’s Emporium,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

A robed and hooded figure slid through the front door with one hand held out before it, the palm turned upwards, and the pale blue fingers closed into a fist. By its size, it was an Arglois, smaller in stature than a Human. It glided with purpose and confidence.
Nearby was a larger individual, a brute of a Targlois with an overdeveloped brow and who's pale blue skin was covered with bright pink splotches. The Targlois stepped toward the robed figure to question the new comer. The fist opened and breath pushed the now exposed powder into the face of the Targlois brute in front of it.
The powder was from the puffer lion cacti which grew in secluded places on Okpara. It affected both Targlois and Humans in slightly different ways, but had absolutely no affect on Arglois, however, as At'toock knew full well. At'took pushed back his hood and watched as the Targlois in front of him grew dizzy, confused, and extremely forgetful and then went to lay down for a minute. The powder would have a different effect on the Human At’toock came to see. It would make him prone to suggestions. The fact that the Human was a Chloraphyte meant the powder would take effect immediately, but wouldn’t last as long.
At’toock walked past the Geysonis cages and into the back room where Ristobar was seated behind his desk, and immediately blew the remnant of the powder into Ristobar’s face as he was rising from his chair. Ristobar deserved this upcoming war; he was shipping Geysonis off planet.
“You heard in passing that Dr. Elizabeta Conlan went into town with Dodson, the boy is sick and has assistants near him. Dr. Jack Conlan is at The Valley of the Gods with Paul Jordan, but the girl is alone in the central communications tent. Kill her and you can loot the entire archeological site with no resistance. Send a Targlois into town to break Dodson’s anti-grav. Make sure their research is all destroyed; this will break their spirits, so they will leave and you can dig up the rest of the old battle and reap extensive salvage profits. Close your eyes, count to fifty slowly, forget that I was here, and then act.”
At’toock walked out of the door. With one child dead, and the other sick, and with their research destroyed by thugs and their work sold for so much scrap, the Conlans would lose heart and leave.

* * * * *

Barrio Town,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Dodson scanned the crowd gathered in Barter’s Shop. Everyone on this planet is a hard ass. If you weren’t you wouldn’t be on this planet long. At least not alive. All of them were armed, all of them nodded cordially enough to Dodson and Elizabeta. Dodson judged it was safe enough, so he escorted the doctor inside.
Anything legal that you could buy at all on this planet, you could buy at Barter’s Shop. Barter’s shops accepted cash, credit and trade. The security inside one was handled by Secure-Cyde  Productions, a security firm which had their own line of robotic guards. The guards protected employees and stock and did not give a rat’s ass if customers killed each other otherwise. Secure-Cyde did not sell or rent any of their robots and anyone discovered attempting to reverse engineer one was prosecuted to the full extent of Galactic law. That did not however stop people from creating knock-offs, like the pair standing outside guarding someone else’s vehicle.
“A Pirate Ninja in Camelot” starring the number one rated action star, Trent Michaels, was playing on the giant television behind the counter. Apparently it was based on a true story.
“That makes me think of Laira.”
“The pirate or the ninja part?”
“Both. Well actually when she was a little girl, she wanted to be like Trent Michaels, remember? Now she has me a bit worried.”
“I’m sure she’s fine.”
“I’m not worried about my daughter; I’m worried about her teachers. My little rebel and her penchant for mocking her instructors: both know no bounds.”
They walked deeper into the store towards the medical supplies.
As Elizabeta was making her choice of which brain holographic analyzer to purchase for her son, an explosion outside rattled the Secure-Cyde windows. It was the middle of the afternoon, the three suns were shining at their various distances, and somebody started screaming outside.
Gunfire erupted from the two cheap knock off Secure-Cyde clones. Dodson saw a short cloaked figure collapse under that gunfire.
Dodson drew both sawed off shotguns from under his coat and covered the room with them, multiple others were following suit, all a bit slower than Dodson. Dodson’s eyes scanned the store, and when he saw the wreckage outside, he almost went ballistic.
“Crap, there goes our ride. Radio Gustav and have him drive out here to come get us. Stay inside; I’ll go check it out.” And he went out the front door.
The body belonged to a child, a Targlois child. Pink blood was splattered all over the sand. The child was on his back and he was rapidly breathing, making a half cry half strangling wet noise. Blood frothed from his paling lips. Around one of his fingers sat the pull pin of a grenade. He could not have been older than thirteen. The guard droids which shot him were both in stand down mode. A glance around the now quiet surroundings confirmed  for Dodson their assessment: there were no longer any detectable threats. Dodson went down on one knee and started checking the Targlois for any other weapons.  The droids across the way were probably too spastic and incompetent in these matters, like most of the knockoffs. The boy was scared, in hypovelemic shock and bleeding out. There was something in Dodson’s eyes as Elizabeta pulled him aside to administer aid to the dying child.

* * * * *

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Riana sat there stunned. She couldn’t believe it. Her program reported an error margin under 0.06 percent in translating a core Delezerian Elite Commando training module. With her modifications she could run it through a standard holo projector or two. Well more like eight. Eight if I want to be able to run the whole entire training module without interruption in one smooth setting. But that wasn’t the point. Point was she could run it. She could be trained in the legendary ways of the Delezerian Warriors. This was information she definitely didn't want to share, so she encrypted her findings, remembering the argument her parents gave her about the blaster pistols.
“Science is for the betterment of people, not for its destruction.”
“Well, tell that to Joachim, it was my blaster shots that killed that spider thing.”
“Your father is right, young lady: those weapons should remain part of the past.”
“Turn them over, Riana.”
Riana, please.”
Even so, now that Dodson was away, she was allowed to carry guns.  At least for a while. She was the next best one for security around here. Yet she was forced to use ordinary weak blaster pistols which hung from her holsters. It bothered her. No, it galled her that she was stuck using civilian grade light weaponry while she was on the verge of being able to use some of the most advanced and nastiest combination of weapons, armor, and ships in existence.
She went back to processing the data coming in from her father and Paul while she simultaneously accessed a Delezerian helmet’s full sensor array. The helmet was the full faced model with a black visor intersected with three claw looking marks down the front. The middle claw “tear” was the longest. Legends spoke volumes of the Delezerian warriors who wore helmets like these. Those Delezerians could be counted amongsts their super commandos, their elite forces and their high command.
Riana brought the sensor arrays of the helmet online and she outputted what those sensors were picking up onto the display on her personal computer. She immediately got a ultra-violet image array, overlaid with sonic reports, an electronics scan and a seismic tracker. Three oversized figures with heavy strides carrying low tech powder guns were converging on the communications tent from three different directions. Ristobar’s Targlois.
Riana drew both blasters, arms extended out to either side, as she pushed off the desk with her feet, tipping her chair backwards as gunfire ripped through the air above her. The coffee pot on her desk shattered. She fired shots off to either side as she landed on her back. The shots ripped through the tent into feet and ankles, causing the brutes on either side to fall in surprise and pain. On her left she saw the traditional pink beady eyed glare of a Targlois through the new holes in the tent and shot the “Pink Boy” right in the face. The one on her right howled in pain as he rolled out of the way. Riana was pretty sure she clipped him in the ear.
She quickly rolled over two times towards her left and slid her feet around to the side so that she could roll up into a crouch with her left hand pointing a blaster ahead of her and her right hand swung out to the side. Both guns were blasting away. Dodson might not have been a Delezerian, but he was an ex-marine and a damn good teacher.
A grunt of pain from ahead rewarded her as she used the blaster shots on her right to cut down the tent’s wall for visibility. She pivoted on her feet while rising into a stand, killing the large Targlois on her right by aiming for his exposed neck and head. The old fashioned leather and polymer weaves the Targlois liked could nullify shots from non-military grade weapons. She came up too fast and slipped on the pinkish blood from the body on her left and fell side-ways onto the shattered coffee pot. Glass stabbed her painfully in various places. The worst wound she found when she pulled the two inch sliver of glass from her stomach. It was vaguely dagger shaped.
Riana rose to a kneeling position, emptied both active energy packs into her wounded assailant moving in from the front and then stumbled forward to the communicator to check in with her dad and to ask for help, she was badly bleeding.

Jack and Paul were in the middle of uncovering their 22nd suit of Delezerian armor for the day when the noise reached them.
“Is that thunder?”
“No, Jack, that’s gunplay. And it’s inside of our territory.”
Middle aged Jack, and old Paul went running to their old truck. The truck started up as usual but the driver’s front end was dipping, it was a sign of something going bad.
“Something else for Riana to fix.”
“Jack that ‘thunder’ caught your girl up in the mix of things.”
The anti-grav truck rolled towards the center of their site. Paul after kicking a desert tick the size of his fist out of the cab, suddenly stiffened in his seat as all he could do was wait, point and stare. There were armed and obviously dead Targlois all around the tent and fresh red Human blood mixing in with the Targlois pink pouring out its side.
“Ristobar is going to pay for this.”
“Paul, Ristobar is too smart to tie himself directly to this. We’ll have no legal proof.”
“This is the frontier of space, no need for courts out here.”
They brought the truck to a sudden stop and both men ran for Riana’s last known location: the tent.
“Daddy, how did I do, Daddy? I have a boo-boo. I’m a bit delirious from loss of blood too. I killed ugly, fatty, and their boyfriend too. I was crawling for the comm unit to call you.”
“Oh, shit. She’s hurt bad, I can tell. She’s rhyming; she always rhymes things when she’s in serious pain. She’s always done that ever since she was four years old. Paul! We need lots of light in here fast! Pull the truck around and use the high beams."

Gustav got the call from Dodson and started sweating bullets which are unfortunately, the only type of bullets which he was truly familiar with. Gustav was afraid of guns. Still he strapped one on, an old powder weapon, less of a chance of someone trying to take it away from him than if he’d strap on a newer blaster. He hoped all he had to do in case of trouble was wave it around and act mean the way Dodson did when he encountered trouble. It worked for Dodson.
Ciro wished him luck and watched him leave. Better Gustav than me. I’m glad I didn’t go. This desert does not forgive mistakes. Ciro walked around the housing area of the settlement before stopping off at the kitchen area to use one of his beer tokens the Conlans allotted him. It was how they ensured hired help didn’t get wasted while working. It was a common enough practice. He placed his token into the dispenser and out dropped a can. He cracked open his beer and was bringing it up to his mouth when Joachim started screaming. Ciro jumped, his beer jumped higher and splattered the wall.
That scream sounded like Joachim asked “What happened to my lizard body?” in a very loud, shrill and panic filled voice.
Great I’m stuck in here with a kid going crazy and I spilled my last beer for today. I should’ve went. It would have been a lot more damn peaceful riding out to pick up Dodson and Elizabeta.
Ciro walked into Joachim’s room. It was going to be a long shift.

* * * * *

Chan Quan Shaolin Kung Fu Academy,
Planet New Earth
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

3-I’s stood there in the corner running diagnostics on himself. He didn’t even have another name other than his standard model’s designation: 3-I’s as in three distinct words designed by some marketing fool fresh out of the education system. Intelligent Industrious Innovation. 3-I models only have one optic sensor, so in a way the name was misleading. They did however come in three distinct basic paint jobs, patterns being all the same, but the colors were different. He was factory blue, the more popular choice with the other two being factory orange, and factory yellow. Laira called him special. He didn’t feel special. He didn’t feel much of anything other than an inferiority complex and love for his mistress who he diligently served.
There was something wrong with him. All of the days at Gaylord’s Academy were the same. Except for today. Today Laira practiced a lot of martial arts and her room looked different. He also had memory holes for today, whole entire sections which were just empty of any data. He was just ordered to stay in the room, yet the room looked different than this morning. Other than today there were no variations other than a date change for the last three years. Odd. He has even run self diagnostics on himself at the end of every one of those days like he was doing now and all those times excepting this one were the same. He wondered if an artificial brain could go insane.
Funny, a FilmBuilt stunt bot’s self preservation override module is not part of his basic design, there are also things hidden behind that module. Why hadn’t he noticed this was installed inside of him before? He sent it a query and 3-I’s instantly went off line. The droid however moved his head, because Laira installed two other artificial intelligences inside of 3-I’s shell. So, in a way 3-I’s also stood for three intellects. Intellect number two took over; its job was to rewrite the original’s memories. It hacked together memories of Gaylord’s Academy and wove them over top the original’s true memories of what occurs at the Chan Quan Academy. It took 3-I’s offline and engaged it throughout the day to help cover up Laira’s true education and to allow the third intellect to do tasks for Laira. This second personality was called Splicer. The third personality Laira named Dealer. Splicer rewrote 3-I’s memory for the day with the same memory he used for the past three years. When Splicer finished, he let Dealer take over.
“Mack and Anders have agreed to the price. They will smuggle you off of New Earth and to the space dock where your ship is being finalized. After the final payment on the ship, we will only be able to fill her fuel tanks up to the half way point.”
“Am I registered for the tournament?”
“No, you are registered for a tournament.”
“What about THE tournament?”
“Lack of experience…”
“Plus my age. Yeah you’ve said this before.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Hope. All of my training data and programs backed up to the secure cloud server?”
Dealer nodded.
“Replacement training gear loaded and secured on the ship?”
Dealer nodded again
“You got the spray on tan stuff?”
“It won’t last and it won’t look natural or pretty. Neither of us have experience with this sort of thing.”
“I know, but I’m damn near an albino and it should stop me from being recognized.”
“May I suggest the dress?”
“Nope, you lack a sense of Aesthetics.”
“Perhaps it is an inherited flaw from my programmer.”
“Watch it, Dealer. It’s dangerous to mix skill sets between the personalities this early.”
“When it happens, will I die?”
Laira did not know how to respond to that.

* * * * *

Micro-Tier Suburbia,
Planet Macro-Tier
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Tyrion Kohari once went by a different name.  He knew he was related to Joseph Kempfana and that he served under his military command which meant that he had military knowledge, and skills, yet he was missing all of his own memories. He only knew what he did because he was given that information by others. The neural remapping for his deep cover mission was too thorough. Joseph Kempfana assured him that he willingly undertook this sacrifice for him and Kohari believed him. He had no choice. Some nights he would wake up screaming, but his past and any hopes, dreams and memories seemed permanently locked away from him. Tyrion Kohari wasn’t a happy man, and the questions rose in his head once again of what he may once have been, and what exactly he gave up. Was he happy before, he didn’t know? Parts of him felt angry, lost and cheated.
He was ready to make his report. Many of the old tools of corruption once spread by The Hierarchy came into power on their own and now were becoming a problem for their creators. The Hierarchy stole the military ground forces out from under The Consortium of Planets and used Kempfana as a fall guy. Now paybacks are in order.
When Colonel Kempfana took over Kohari’s criminal organization, things would be slightly restructured in more of a military fashion and Kohari would become a Major. The problem is, when that happens I’ll need to have a Targlois sergeant in charge of other Targlois while still having regular Human privates. The men won’t take kindly to that. These thoughts plagued Kohari as he awaited Detective Chris Quesada.
The detective, newly assigned here from New Earth, was late. Was he here to visit Kohari – the highly respected businessman and owner of the World’s End chain of restaurants, or Kohari – the highly feared criminal who had deep ties to Mob Space? Well Quesada was brought in to fight the current corruption problem, so the math wasn’t complicated to add up.
The surveillance cameras picked up Detective Quesada getting out of his car with three armed Targlois thugs. One looked like a security guard but he was dressed as an anti-grav bike cop. That one even had on sunglasses. It appeared Tyrion’s informant was correct, Quesada had no friends in the Micro-Tier police, otherwise he wouldn’t have had to hire his own backup. This meeting was going to be interesting indeed.
Kohari focused his cameras on Quesada and his crew as they entered the front gates. The cameras had standard audio and visual scanning and recording capabilities, as well as x-ray, thermographic and metal detecting capabilities.
Kohari’s estate was a huge sprawl of land in south east Suburbia. The estate consisted of a preserved 8,100 square foot arts and craft inspired home, a two bedroom gatehouse at the entrance to the six acre parcel, a carriage house with a finished apartment, a separate eight vehicle garage, two barracks full of guards, a spaceship landing pad, capable of supporting a mid size freighter, and a lavish swimming pool. Besides the regular sized buildings, there were four guard towers at the corners which housed spotlights, and deadly snipers. Kohari even had two anti-air/anti-space cannons placed in his yard, one in front of the main house and one in the rear.
Two guards, Vladislav and Danso, walked forward to greet Quesada. Kohari was focused on how Quesada was going to play this out.

Chris Quesada was desperate, his career, his life hinged on his success here. He was tasked with cleaning up the police force in Micro-Tier and according to his newly purchased friend, Dennis Sanderson, Tyrion Kohari was the most honorable of all the criminal overlords. Sanderson, an investigative reporter for the past eight years, knew Micro-Tier’s players. Quesada didn’t. Sanderson put Quesada onto Kohari. It was also Sanderson who recommended these particular Targlois thugs. The lead thug went by the name of Gnum, and he seemed hyper intelligent for a Targlois – which made him about as smart as an elementary school eight year old on brain damaging drugs. Still Gnum was leagues ahead of the normal Targlois in the intellect department.
The car finished its gentle foot descent as the anti-gravs slowly powered down behind the detective. The two guards in front of him were Human based. The one bearing the name tag of Vladislav was a Chloraphyte. The other was a Nocturn. Nocturns were originally designed to be miners on the iron planets. Some of those planets were so full of electro-magnetic energies that robots and lights failed and were destroyed. So Nocturns had to be engineered to be able to be energy resistant, see in the dark, and withstand high amounts of pressure. Their air was circulated to them miles above the electromagnetic fields and pumped down to them through super long tubes. Due to pressure weaknesses, Nocturns had no ears and were naturally deaf. This Nocturn guard had obvious cybernetic hearing devices implanted on either side of his head. If Quesada needed to stun this guard, he’d have to aim for those implants, without a conduit pass the skin, stunners couldn’t overcome a Nocturn’s energy resistance.
“Stop right there. Identify yourselves, keep your hands away from any weapons, state your business and the Human better produce some identification.” This was from the Chloraphyte.
Quesada pulled his badge out from underneath his brown trench coat. “Chris Quesada, police, I suggest you gentlemen back the hell up.”
“You got a warrant?”
“I’m not here for that, I’m here to just talk with Kohari.”
“Talk about what?”
“Starting some gang wars.” Quesada yelled this directly into a camera.
“Talking. Don’t. Require. Weapons.” This was stilted out carefully with a pause between each word by the Nocturn. Nocturns new to hearing, often times had difficulty speaking. It came from a life time of being deaf.
“Gnum, return all of our weapons to the trunk of the car please.”
The brute dressed as the biker cop gathered up all of the weapons, then deposited them into the trunk, but before he closed the trunk he produced four heavy impact police riot shields which he passed out amongst his group.
“What the hell’s this?”
“Vladislav, this is called protection. Now are you guys going to escort us to see your boss or what?”

* * * * *

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

The nightmares kept coming. Joachim broke into a sweat and awoke with screams every single time. Si-letah savored the horror of each of these events as a gourmet diner does a fine meal. Si-letah’s kind had experimented on mankind since man first walked on two legs. Si-letah knew how to break Joachim, and once broken, Joachim would no longer be in control. The body would be his to run and there was nothing the boy could do about it. The dreams would literally rip all of the host’s willpower to shreds. Worse yet, it allowed the poor, trapped mind to survive. And for years that mind would linger and it would feel the pain and horror of the actions the body would have committed as the victim’s consciousness would slowly merge with the possessor. More and more it would convince itself that the crying whimpering persona was just a bundle of weak self doubt. It would convince itself of these things and literally divide itself off as some kind of survival method.
The Grey has discovered the way to commit the perfect murder of sanity; its methods turned the most loyal brotherhood into a cesspool of mistrust. Si-letah needed this boy’s brain, his memories, and skills; so he started the shattering of identity with Joachim’s own hatred.
He had one regret; it would take a few years before the boys mind evolved to the point where it could provide him with enough mental force to be truly powerful.
Ciro pushed his head into the room. “Joachim, this is the fifth time tonight you screamed. Your mom and Dodson won’t be back with Gustav for another few hours.”
“Where is my dad?”
 “Your dad is busy operating on Riana.”
“Mom should operate on her, she’s the medical doctor.”
“It can’t wait until your mom gets back.”
“Help me.”
“I’m not sure what to do to help you. I’m just a nobody and I’m scared.”
“Listen to me… I have needs.”
“I’ll try to help you with what you need. My nerves can’t take any more of this screaming. I don’t get paid that much. I’m sorry, I’m not a counselor, I’m not Dodson, not your Dad, nor your Mom, nor your sister. I’m just a nobody.”
“Ciro, how long have you been practicing that speech?”
“About an hour, Joachim.”
“Call me Captain. You enjoyed teasing me with that name.”
“Joachim that was just us playing around.”
“Call me Captain!” Joachim hissed in fury.
“Yes, Captain.”
“Good, I’m hungry. Bring me something to eat please. Even a nothing nobody like yourself can handle that.” And one day I will bash your brains out, Ciro, I wonder if you’ll even know why I hate you.
Ciro nervously walked out of the room and Joachim wondered when his hatred grew such teeth.  

* * * * *

Jayce Thompson scratched at the recess in his skull. It was obvious to anyone who looked at it that his head was dented. Thompson was bald. The bone never healed right from an old injury where his dad threw him into a wall.
He was at the fueling station a few days back scavenging metal when he saw a large group of miners from Ore Town pass through there. Their vehicles didn’t look like they’d last much longer and they were worth more than aluminum cans. Ore Town produced barely enough ore for the single factory on Okpara, that factory made cooling units and it made cheap anti-grav vehicles designed to carry those cooling units to different parts of the planet. Those vehicles were always breaking down, and the market on them was abundant, it seems like everyone could always use a part or two from them. So Jayce followed them at a safe distance on his bike. It was a crappy bike, the anti-grav unit on it was solar powered, which meant it barely pushed above the ground, and its propulsion energy was generated by actually cycling the pedals around manually with his feet. Still, he would be able to keep those vehicles in his sights as they moved at about the same speed now that they were overloaded with people. Those three vehicles could maybe hold twelve people total and with this type of strain, they were bound to break down, and so Jayce Thomspon would be there to scavenge them.
He would spend his days out looking for scrap and scraping by with his scavenging. He couldn’t hold a job on a regular planet so he came here looking for work. At first he thought it was his criminal record which was being held against him having honest employment, but after a while he realized it was because he was borderline mentally challenged and he irritated everyone he’s ever met. Oh, its true, his IQ was tested at just two points higher than the high end of being retarded, and his nicknames included “Irritation” and” Stupid Jayce”.
The men Jayce were following stopped at the base of some sand dunes. Night time was approaching, true night didn’t occur often enough around here, but it was coming tonight. All the men seemed to be taking orders from one of those small blue people and they were all armed. They were obviously wicked men about to do some wicked work, and Jayce stopped pedaling. Jayce was wary of the law, so he knew how to cover his tracks and he pulled out an older mostly functional recorder and started to record the people before him.

* * * * *

At’toock and his newly paid thugs started to wander into the Conlan dig. Twenty one individuals moved with a single purpose: to destroy everything including the lives of the people at the dig site. They were armed with miner tools, such as picks and shovels, and with black powder guns. At’toock recruited them from Ore Town a few days ago and brought them here. Each one was on a mild hallucinogenic, cultivated from the environment around them, with violent side effects. They were promised wealth and an escape from their mundane lives. The escape was through the altered mental states from the drug. These weak willed and morally impoverished workers from Ore Town followed these promises. Every one of them also carried special enzymes as part of their blood now. These enzymes will act as a clarion call to more than half of the dangerous species around here. All it took was for their blood to be spilled and this was At’toock’s backup plan in case the Conlan’s somehow won tonight’s fight.

It was actually night time. One of the suns was blocked by a large gas giant which shared this solar system with Okpara and the other two suns were actually on the other side of the planet. True night like this came about once a week. Paul Jordan was on security detail because no one else was available. He spotted the crowd moving furtively forward, moving from one sand dune to another. Paul hoped that Dodson or Riana could do something, but he knew better. Dodson wasn’t here and Riana was in no condition to be out of recovery yet. He pressed the silent alarm and even though Paul wasn’t a religious man by nature, he prayed.

The silent alarm went off and Jack swore at the flashing lights. Riana had fresh stitches, and enough artificial blood to counter-act the shock. She had drugs in her to help fight off the infection that was spreading from the sand mixing into her abdominal muscles. She also had medicine in her to help put her under so that her body could rest. Jack turned on the radio and got the report from Paul.
“Twenty or so armed people just crossed the western markers. If Dodson’s not back soon or Riana isn’t fit to do something then we’re all dead.”
“Paul, take cover and don’t get spotted. Dodson won’t be back for almost an hour and Riana is still in no condition to fight. Hell even if she was, twenty people are too much. I’ll try to slip us all out the eastern side of camp.”
“No, Daddy, they’ll take everything, all of your research, all the youth you and mom spent on dreaming about this find and actually working towards digging it up. All of it will be taken away. Poof. Gone. All you have to do is run away and they cash in on your dreams. I won’t let them do that to you and mom, Dad. Give me my guns, my new guns. And my helmet, don’t forget my new helmet.”
Riana, you’re weak. You can’t do this.”
“Daddy, I have to. It’s my duty. Now help me stand up.”
“There’s too many.”
“No, I’m pretty sure they didn’t bring enough.”
Riana knew what she had to do. “Dad, when you get me prepped, bring me Dodson’s silenced sniper rifle. And another thing, hurry.”

At’toock’s mob went to work on demolishing the first excavator. It was an older model which stood on three pylons with a giant yellow claw designed to scoop out large chunks of ground. One of his new men, a guy by the name of Aldridge was on top of it, hacking up the hydraulic lines with a pick axe, when a bright blue bolt of energy took his face off. The mob started to scatter. At’toock radioed them that he’d double their pay and that Aldridge’s pay was just going to be redistributed to them. The miners regrouped, taking cover behind the remnant of the large machine.
At’toock stayed way behind his men, hiding behind the far ridge, where he could observe. He was pleased with himself. Humans killing Humans. No one would bat an eye; no one would come and properly investigate out here. Humans always killed Humans.

That was the easy shot, her target was exposed, and awashed slightly in moonlight. The next shot that mattered was with the sniper rifle. She started to line up her shot and occasionally laid down suppression fire from her blasters. She needed the invaders pinned down near the old X7 digger. Riana took a sharp inhale of breath, held it and slowly released it as she squeezed off the sniper shot. The round hit the lock on the side panel. It was heavy paneling and she needed the door to be open. She needed the sniper rifle here because her blaster bolts would probably have fused the panel shut. The shot did the trick and the panel opened up nice. If she was lucky the next few shots would be all that was needed. With her right hand still curled around the grip with finger in the guard of the sniper rifle, and her eye still focused through the scope. She opened fire with the blaster in her left hand. The blue bolts acted like tracer rounds which helped her hit the exposed fuel tank of the X7. The explosion dropped only three of the mob, but it did engulf six others in flames and it lit the night up like a huge bonfire. It was disappointing, nothing like the movies. All of the invaders didn’t out right die. However, it exposed the remainder which were running for their lives.  She fired off a dozen and a half more shots to finish the job and pulled on her new helmet to make use of the scanners. No active threats out there.
Riana started to shake. In all of Dodson’s years in the military and as a private security expert, he has only ever killed about twelve people. Including the three Targlois from a few hours ago, Riana damn near doubled that number. Hopefully that was all the killing I have to do. I just feel this awful guilt and terror in the back of my mind. I also killed the child that I was today. I’m probably never going to be able to sleep again.
She stumbled back towards camp to see her father. It was a rare occurrence but it wasn’t the only one, and it wouldn’t be her last, but Riana was wrong. She collapsed and fell asleep halfway there.

Paul Jordan was almost a third of the distance from his watch tower to Riana when she collapsed. Paul in all of his years never seen anything like that. That wasn’t true. You know you’ve seen stuff like this before. Those thoughts were unwanted so he thrust them back into the sinkhole where he buries such memories. He was nervous about Riana’s wound, about him actually having such a beautiful female in his arms again, part of him wondered what would happen if he were a younger man, but he pushed those thoughts aside as well. For being such a mighty warrior, Riana was just a young lady and she didn’t weigh that much. Paul was old and his heart was pounding. His left arm tingled then went numb as he struggled to carry her to her father.

At’toock set down his binoculars. He was also shaking. His confidence was broken. The Human girl turned weeks of planning on its head. She handled it with efficiency and brutality. She kicked his primary plan aside, and he hoped the now freed enzymes would do their job. Blaster bolts tended to burn flesh closed but the falls of the bodies ripped those fresh burns open.  At’toock hoped that was enough. All it would take is one predator to open the veins on the bodies then this valley will start filling with horrors. The galaxy had no more need of Delezerian Death Commandos nor did it have need of their technology.

Dodson was driving back; Gustav could barely handle the vehicle correctly when he was behind the wheel. Dodson wasn’t sure if it would have been better if Gustav was drunk, at least then they’d still have their radio on this thing. Elizabeta was worried. Somewhere ahead in the dark a small fireball erupted into the night sky with a loud whoomp like sound and a bonfire burned. By the blue flashes of light he knew it was Riana. She should be asleep recovering from her wound. Elizabeta was crying, she knew what was happening as well. Dodson vowed to himself that Ristobar was going to pay, today Ristobar sent one of his own, a child which worked for him, to the slaughter and now he sent another child to go pay the butcher’s bill. The anti-grav was doing its top speed, and they were still about two minutes out. The shooting stopped. In combat, two minutes were more than enough time for Riana to have gotten herself killed. Even at night the weather made Dodson sweat, but the thought of him not being there, of Riana getting killed in his place gave him unwelcome chills.
Gustav knew he failed the Conlans; he shouldn’t have taken so long on his pick up journey. He spilled his last beer for the night on the damned radio so they couldn’t keep in communication with the archeological dig. He hoped Ciro was doing better. Ciro probably was enjoying his own beer and hiding. He should have sent Ciro down instead. How hard could it be to watch Joachim? Ciro had it easy, but Gustav, Gustav knew he was a failure. He hated his mistakes, he always made them. He always failed. Dodson knew it; he always used to forgive Gustav for it, but not this time. How could Dodson or the Conlans forgive him, when he couldn’t forgive himself? Riana was probably dead and he blamed himself. He ran his hands through his wild and unkempt hair then leaned over the edge and threw up. He watched his previously eaten meals display themselves briefly in the night before gravity and darkness swallowed them up.
Damn, Jack and your stupid dreams. Now two of our children may be dying. How could I have been so dumb? Oh, Please let my little girl be alive. Her face revealed nothing but grim determination as Elizabeta triple checked her new medical supplies. She took a vow to save lives, but now she wanted to kill Ristobar, it seems his patience was at an end and she had news for him, so was hers.

Jayce Thompson had never seen anything like it. All of those evil men died. All except for that little blue guy. Jayce normally wasn’t a hero, but he figured that maybe, just maybe there’d be a fat reward so he slid one of his pry bars out of the ratty looking bag attached to his bike, tucked it up so it rested against the back of his arm with it’s tip resting in his palm so that from the front, the bar wasn’t visible. It would remain unseen as long as he kept his arm hanging by his side. Then he walked up towards the skiffs.
“Hello, blue sir.”
“Get away from me, Human or face my wrath.”
“Goodnight, blue sir.” And Jayce swung the pry bar with all of his might, smashing it up against At’toock’s temple.
After looting his money, Jayce propped him up over top his shoulder and walked towards the aftermath of the fight.

Dodson was coming in from the south west, and as he rounded the edge of a huge sand dune, the spotlights showed him a bald man carrying a hooded unconscious figure and multiple vehicles including an old fashioned bike. With one hand, Dodson steered the anti-grav into a cattycorner parking position, while with the other he aimed his sidearm at the Human.
Gustav and Elizabeta climbed out before their vehicle powered down.
“Gustav, cover this guy and get his story, me and the doctor will go check it out closer to our digs. After, me, doc, after me. Another thing, Gustav, try to not to mess this one up as well.”
“I won’t. I meant I will try, and I won’t mess up. You sir, drop the other guy! No. I meant lower him slowly towards the ground and put your hands in the air. Slower.”
Dodson let Gustav’s voice drift away from him as he ran across the top of the sand dunes. The sight before him was nerve wracking. A lot of burning and still bodies. Some of the bodies were cut down with apparent heavy blaster fire. Some were in a pile. Dodson ran over to the pile and starting pulling the bodies off. His gloves went dirty red with sand mixed blood. Riana wasn’t at the bottom of the pile.
“Dodson, I’ll check these bodies for any survivors. Find Riana for me, please.”
She rarely used that word: please. Dammit if she wasn’t married to my good friend. But, Dodson couldn’t think about that now, he had to find Riana. There, over there, Paul had collapsed yet he was still trying to pick her up to carry her to safety.
Dodson ran over to them and noticed the blood pouring from Riana’s side; he rolled up her shirt and found the stitches tore loose on her abdominal muscles. He applied pressure with his gloves. Paul was having some kind of heart attack.
“Elizabeta, over here. Riana and Paul need you. Paul’s worse off, Riana’s bleeding is slowing, and she’s breathing.”

* * * * *

Ristobar’s Emporium,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Brick and Melody waited patiently as the officer continued her investigation into the slaying of the Targlois child. The question remained though as to why Ristobar’s crew was in trouble, and the Secure-Cyde knock off droids owner wasn’t.
“The Targlois child was named ‘Poot’ after his farting sounds, is this correct Ms. Morrison?”
Mina Howard wasn’t a pretty girl. She was, however, the investigator for The Consortium though, and Cord, Melody’s contact in The Consortium assured Melody that Mina was into girls. Melody wished Mina was pretty; it makes it so much harder to flirt when the other person knew you were too good for them.
“I asked you a question.”
“Sorry, I was distracted by your...”
“Don’t be. I’m not easy on the eyes, I know. And I know I have a reputation for liking girls, so please don’t play pretty girl interested in a hatchet face like me.”
“Okay and yes, his name was Poot. And we fired him a few days before this incident. You can ask Brick.”
Brick grunted an affirmative.
“So, how did he get the grenade to blow up the Conlan’s lift?”
“Everyone around here knows that the Conlan’s chief of security loves grenades. Poot probably pulled it from the back of the lift.”
“What’s the security chief’s name?”
Brick grunted another affirmative along with, “Dodson’s mean.”
“So, it’s your guy’s words against theirs. What gives you guys more weight?”
“Brick, go outside and get lost for a few hours.”
Brick grunted another affirmative and walked out the door. Cord, always arranged things nice and neat when she could meet his price and his price this time was a video capture starring Mina and Melody and it was going to be for mature eyes only.

Chapter 4: There are nightmares, and then there are nightmares.

He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win battles. He who knows them not, nor practices will surely be defeated.
-       Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Micro-Tier Suburbia,
Planet Macro-Tier
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Tyrion Kohari sat in his lounge chair surrounded by his elite guards. Detective Chris Quesada sat across from him. Rain pelted the overhead skylights and the sides of the glass doors which opened onto Kohari’s posh balconies that overlooked his lavish estate. A fully realistic looking, but purely holographic fireplace helped light the room.
“What’s this about starting some gang war?”
“Word is that you are an honest crook and that you try to fulfill your obligations. Well I can help you fulfill perhaps your biggest obligation and all it will cost is the obliteration of your competition and the cleaning of my own house.”
“You have a house of cards. Knock it over and start it over without me. My operations would be at considerably more risk if I went after my competition.”
“I know you have a contract to grab Nigel Bachman, a High Clergy of The Hierarchy. He is the most dangerous of prey, but you are obligated to get him.”
“I applaud your information network. You are new to Macro-Tier yet you know so much. Is this a clumsy attempt at a setup?”
“To which part, the clumsy part or the setup?”
“It’s not a setup.”
“You’re not a dirty cop. You have no recording devices on you. Why are you trying to make a deal with a mobster? Planning on fitting in around here?”
“I can give you Nigel Bachman. With enough time, I can give you anyone you want on your current contract list.”
“Okay, give me your Targlois, Gnum. My own Targlois could use a leader amongst their own kind and he impresses me. Give him to me as a sign of good faith, and then tell me why I should trust you about Bachman?”
“You can have Gnum’s contract. The late Paladin, Joshua Huges. Before he fell to the Zembeckis mold, he compiled records of Bachman’s illegal activity. If these records were to turn up in my house, they’d disappear. However if someone as influential as yourself got a hold of them, then the church would have to sanction your move against Bachman or risk public shame. In exchange, you wipe out your competition here and withdraw protection from dirty cops.”
“I’m in no hurry to wipe out my own assets for this war. But I will get a war started for you amongst the other syndicates. And I’ll withdraw protection from a dirty cop to start with, but you better produce some of these records first.”

* * * * *

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Jack was still suiting up in protective gear with Ciro’s help when his wife, his injured daughter, his friend, his other employees and a few prisoners showed up on an anti-grav lift outside of the main building. It was still dark out and Jack was afraid to turn on the exterior lights. He was afraid of looking at his daughter and seeing her more wounded, perhaps dying. Jack was a xeno-archeologist, certified professor of many different scientific courses, intellectual rebel who challenged the beliefs of the mainstream, award winner, and coward. He was also selfish. He just put his own dreams in front of his daughter’s health. He began to hate himself.
A few hours later: Paul and Riana were in serious but stable condition. Elizabeta finished administering treatment. The Arglois was terrified of Dodson and he kept watching Dodson’s blood covered hands in fear as if Dodson did all the killing himself personal and like. Ciro went to tend Joachim and Gustav helped keep some weapons trained on the prisoners.
The bald prisoner loudly stated his innocence and produced a shaky video of the blue guy promising wealth and drugs to the mob if they destroyed and killed everybody.
The blue exclaimed that some things were best left buried in the past. Oh, and he was tied up, so Jack felt no fear when he punched him in the face.
Elizabeta walked into the room.
“Jack, there’s no need for violence!”
Jack replayed Jayce Thompson’s recording.
Elizabeta whirled towards Jayce. “Mr. Thompson, you are free to go. What would you like in exchange for this information and prisoner?”
“Just to be able to gather up your scrap metals to recycle them.”
“Okay, Gustav let Mr.Thompson go and see to his needs. Also give him some funds on the side to compensate for his video and throw in an extra three thousand for gratitude.” Elizabeta turned and slapped At’toock across his face.
“Did you send those Targlois?”
“They were sent by the Chloraphyte. I was hoping you Humans would just destroy each other, but when the Targlois didn’t get the job done, I got more Humans to show up for this work.”
Dodson got into the discussion with. “I wonder what color your face turns when I choke you. Most people’s faces turn blue. You’re already blue. I think I’ll find out.”
“Ristobar’s goons hurt the girl. You going to choke him too? He’s green after all; wonder what color a Chloraphyte turns when he’s being choked?”
“You’re right, Ristobar first, then you.” Dodson walked into the next room and started loading up his sniper rifle. Jack followed him.
 “Dodson, we need you here.”
“Jack, someone has to stop Ristobar. Do you want to give him another chance? You want him to succeed? You want to let that snake kill your children?”
“We can call for some law.”
“Not much law out here, Jack.”
Dodson walked towards the lift as once again Jack took the coward’s way out and backed down.

* * * * *

The Skyfarer
The outer edge of Okpara Space
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Sergeant Conrad Devlin, inter-stellar marine, once served under Joseph Kempfana himself. He used to be a major with the name of Andrew Lehan, and he was one of the men who testified against Kempfana. Now that Kempfana had escaped prison, the brass thought it’d be a good idea if his name was changed and so Devlin was shuffled out of the way into some backwater systems, as if a change of identity wasn’t enough to protect him. Devlin knew Kempfana was scary. Kempfana was old school, brilliant, and harsh. Joseph Kempfana also had strong morals. A leader like him just got in the way of progress, so of course he had to be brought down. Kempfana stood in the way of making lots of money, so like any obstacle, he got removed. The problem was, Kempfana was back and out of prison. To think that a person like him could still scare the daylights out of the new regime made Devlin smirk.
Some say, the new brass was scared to just have the old dog executed. Others say the public would have rioted at the time. Devlin didn’t know, he just knew it was a mistake to leave someone like Kempfana alive. Just bad business.
He got a call from Mina Howard earlier on today so he set his ship, The Skyfarer, on a course to put him on Okpara in a few hours. Devlin’s assignment was to arrest and bring in an ex-military man by the name of Dodson on charges of public endangerment, unlicensed ordinance and manslaughter. Dangerous ex-military types always got the marines brought in to arrest them. Dodson is going to get transported to the courts and he’ll get a fair trial, unless of course he commits a felony while resisting arrest. If that happens then an inter-stellar marine has the authority of judge, jury and executioner.
Devlin had eight other marines with him on his ship. What he didn’t know was that he also had a stow-away by the name of Schultz and Schultz was there to dump him on Zembeckis.

* * * * *

Ristobar’s Emporium,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Ristobar slid Melody’s bonus across his desk towards her, she plugged the chip into her portable and smiled at the amount, the light from one of the rising suns lit her face up almost as much as her obvious greed. She disgusted Ristobar, all whores disgusted him. She did an excellent job though in getting Dodson removed from his path. In a few hours Dodson will get arrested. Everything is falling into place. This hasn’t happened in a long time. Melody is such a pathetic, predictable gold digging slut, that she actually makes me want to puke some time. I mean look at her expensive dress, who is she trying to impress out here in the middle of nowhere? She’s a pathetic waste. But she does get the job done, and with the payment I just gave her, she’ll be out of my sight for a while. Now, no one will be able to oppose me from taking the Conlan compound. I already have plans for all that old metal and those crystals. Buyers lined up across the systems. Lots of profit for me. Sigh, it’s going to be a good day, I think… Ristobar never got to finish that thought as a bullet shattered his window and sprayed the back of his neck all over the wall.
Melody dove for cover, and got on her sub dermal radio.
“Brick, there’s a sniper out there somewhere, get a vehicle and run it through the front glass windows, just get us out of here, now!” Melody, a long time ago learned how to be a survivor and rule one, you make friends where you go. Well in her book, they’re more like tools, because they come in handy, and right now she needed her tool, Brick to get her out of here.

Dodson was putting away his sniping rifle and easing himself down the backside of the large dune, when Mina Howard came around the corner with some newly acquired Secure-Cyde  robotic clones. The previous owner was more than happy to turn them over as opposed to going to court and facing heavy fines and prison. Dodson was staring down too many guns and wisely put his hands up in the air.
“Dodson, you’re under arrest for public endangerment, unlicensed ordinance, manslaughter and outright murder. Please lower all side arms to the ground slowly. Nice sniper rifle. Looks like you might get more charges against you.”
“About that manslaughter. Who was that again?”
“That was you. You committed manslaughter. By your confused look, I take it you meant to ask who you supposedly killed.”
“Wow brains and beauty in the whole package? I don’t understand why you’re not some kind of movie star or something.”
She pulled out a tazer unit.
“Oh. I went a little far with the sarcasm thing. You’re probably going to taze me unconscious and you’re probably going to do it through my nether regions.”
“I think I can start there.”
In the distance, an anti-grav bike launched itself through the glass window of Ristobar’s shop. Brick was driving it. A moment later a screaming Melody was riding away clinging to Brick’s back and beating him about the back of his head with a purse. Both Dodson and the investigator paused for a bit to watch.
“Where were we?”
“I was going to tazer your nether regions.”
“Before you do, answer my question, please.”
“A Targlois child named ‘Poot’, and it was outside in broad daylight.”
“Those two AI’s next to you killed him.”
“Yeah, but it was your carelessness which caused it. Witnesses say that boy got his grenade from your lift.”
“Wrong, that boy put his armed and exploding grenade into my lift. I left my grenades out at the dig where I work at.”
“Save it for the judge. Why did you just kill Ristobar?”
“How’d you know so fast, and why were you guys just hanging out around the corner?”
“I had his office under surveillance.”
“So why did you kill him?”
“I wanted a poop bucket.” This with a raised eyebrow.
“What? Why?”
“I have to poop at times. I know, it’s a very personal and private shame I bear.”
“What? Seriously why did you kill him?”
“Well, okay here’s the truth. He’s one of two psychopaths who sent armed and dangerous men into our camp to kill us. The other one is now a prisoner, back at camp. Care to investigate that one?”
“Okay so what’s this talk about a poop bucket?”
“I promised him that if I ever killed him, I’d turn his skull into a poop bucket.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“That’s what he said.”
“We have to take the body with us for evidence. Now, why did that make you smile.”
A ship landed in the distance, it was a marine ship. Dodson swore under his breath for a moment and then asked “You called the marines in for me?”

* * * * *

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

The ship landed outside of the main building. It was a gun ship with armor and shields. It was called The Skyfarer and though it was half as small as the Conlan’s ship, it was also about ten times more dangerous. Armed and armored marines poured out of it, about nine of them, with them came two droids, cheaper knock offs of the top of the line models, but still capable of inflicting death and pain, last out of the ship was a Consortium investigator. They moved forward as a group and met with a stammering Dr. Jack Conlan. Riana watched them from a distance through her window while she was hooked into machines which monitored her vitals. She couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Ten more minutes passed and Ciro and Gustav brought out the Arglois, who was promptly arrested and drug aboard the ship by two marines. As a group the marines’ ship left with the Arglois and without the two cheap security droids. Riana wondered what that was about. Her father was looking old all of a sudden.
Riana’s mother was asking her questions. Her wound in her side was pretty deep and her blood loss was severe, but as long as she took it easy then her internal stitches would hold and do their job. Riana closed her eyes.

Joachim opened his. His mind wandered, his thoughts were unfocused. He felt a mind belonging to an Arglois. Arglois used to be always open to our kind. Immediately he wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘our kind’. Still he focused on the Arglois’ mind and he learned of the enzymes.
Next he focused on Ciro; he knew where to concentrate to get that bastard to do his will. After the day’s end, Ciro would never be able to make fun of anyone again, and Joachim would be free from living under the shadows of his family. Freedom. He wanted it, he needed it. Joachim confused wanting to be free from his bed, with Si-letah’s twisted version of being free from his won family. He knew that Ciro would bring him those two new droids. The thought never occurred to him as to how he knew there were two new droids in the first place. He stared up at the ceiling and made plans.
To take control this fast, Si-letah had to tie his fate and his life force directly to Joachim’s. While Joachim lived Si-letah could no longer possess others and if Joachim died then as long as Si-letah’s intellect wasn’t shattered he’d be able to jump bodies again.

Across the valley a new Arglois agent arrived, he had a briefcase full of money to buy off the Conlans, and if they refused to sell he would buy local thugs to get rid of them. Before he would approach them, he was going to see how things currently in motion played out first. Lix’lohan was not a fool.

* * * * *
Grimm’s Dockyards,
Mob Space
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Laira overlooked her new ship; it was a beauty by the one and only Azurian Corporation, it was their Cutter line, and was often referred to as the “Az Cutter” which had a lot of connotations both good and bad. It was sleek in design, built to be fast and to carry minimum crew and cargo. She had it painted with royal purple highlights, the color which most pleased her about sunset, so she named it “Evening’s Dawn”. It was an old smuggler’s ship that was re-built and finished by two of the most notorious smugglers known, Mack and Anders. Even though it was a re-build, it was still new to Laira. Anders of Mack and Anders was standing in front of her.
“Now that you paid us, I’m going to take you back for a big fat reward.” Anders pulled a gun on her.
Laira pivoted into Ander’s reach, while slapping one hand against the inside of his elbow and the other up onto his wrist, when she pivoted back the other way, Anders’ arm was shoulder locked with elbow both above and behind him and his forearm pressed to his bipeds and the tip of the gun pressed against his head, right behind his ear. He was chicken winged and in danger of dying.
“What the hell, Anders?! Are you looking to die?”
“No, ma’am.”
“Then why did you initiate this?”
Anders radio belched out “It wasn’t him, miss. It was me.”
“See, I told you it wasn’t me, I didn’t initiate this. It was your crazy droid that asked us to do this.”
“Yeah you heard him on the radio right? Plus, he holds our contract so…”
“I can’t believe Mack would have agreed to this.”
“Sorry, I meant it was your crazy droid that asked ME to do this.”
Dealer stepped out from the rear of the ship. “Anders is correct, mistress Laira. You yourself was always nervous, you’ve never been tested in a real fight. It is time we started to build your confidence in that area.”

* * * * *

The Skyfarer
The outer edge of Okpara Space
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Schultz slipped down from the overhead compartment. These were only marines, so they would not be up to detecting him. He was like a phantom, a boogey man, something unseen in the dark until that last dreaded second. Schultz was an assassin, trained in the arts of invisibility, poison and murder, and he had a little bit of each one of those planned for his night.
It would be easiest if he neutralized everybody here except for, Devlin. Then he could put Devlin into the holding cell. Devlin was a great choice of a new name; Schultz had to hand that to him. Schultz sounded too much like some kind of guard’s name.
Schultz, barely making a whisper slipped into the hallway. He checked the prisoner roster and his heart almost stopped in fear. Arglois were terrifying. Schultz’s father was also an assassin and the only teacher his father feared was an Arglois. The Arglois mystics were pure evil boogey men. Damn, Schultz revised his plan. He’d kill all the marines except Devlin, tie Devlin up in the bridge, set the ship’s auto-pilot on a route to Zembeckis’ atmosphere and take the escape pod before The Skyfarer ever got close enough to Zembeckis to matter. Schultz was still getting paid, and as long as he avoided opening up the prisoner cells he wouldn’t even have to confront the Arglois.
The Arglois brought up memories of Schultz’s father. His father was killed by another assassin, a Human by the name of Jay Ray. Jay Ray was supposedly the best. One day Schultz was going to get vengeance.
First up in the common area were the four off duty marines, two of which were Nocturns. Nocturns by their very design were impervious to regular ballistic damage, which meant no amount of regular clubbing, stabbing, cutting or normal bullets would pierce their skin.  Silenced guns with armor piercers, on the other hand, will turn them into meat puppets like normal guys.
Modern day silencers reverse fed the sound waves back into each other; Schultz saw the documentary on them. When the peaks and valleys on the sound chart met each other in the proper manner, they cancelled each other out.
He stepped into the room with his two silenced semi-automatics loaded to bear and opened fire on all four of the men sitting around the poker table. The chips danced with the impacts of bodies twitching against the play area. One of the marines even had his gun half drawn; his name tag read “Sweitzer”. Schultz paused for a moment; Sweitzer was his real last name. He looked carefully down at the body and swore. The features fit his family. He might have killed a relative. That moment’s pause cost him, as the other doorway opened up and Devlin stood in it and opened fire on him.

“I’ll have to beat you black and… crap, you’re already blue. I can’t just give you half a beating. So I’m really going to have to try hard to make sure the bruises show so that I can appreciate my work.”
“You Humans are always violent and always bragging and boasting. You are chained to your wall, and I am chained to mine.”
“I’ll get my chance, and I’m going to hurt you so bad before I kill you, that you’ll be the first guy in intensive care in the afterlife.”
At that moment they both heard the blaster fire and Dodson wondered if his chance would come after all.

Schultz’s armor took the brunt of the blast, but still he felt his skin blister underneath it. For most of his life he practiced the cold dead eyed look of a killer, and now he used that look to feign death as he held his breath. Devlin walked over to him and kicked his guns away. When the second gun went skidding across the floor, Schultz jabbed Devlin in the ankle with a needle and watched Devlin fall over twitching. His cocktail blend of venoms induced mild hallucinations, and a pain so intense that it overloaded the nervous system of its victim.
Shultz rolled over to grab his guns and nearly screamed. As things shifted around and his skin tore. His armor was partially melted into his flesh. It felt like one of his nipples got the worst of it. The four other marines were coming for him and suddenly he knew fear. Schultz was the wounded prey and predators were after him. His bladder let loose all over the inside of his pants. He’s killed plenty of people before and he’s been in tighter spots. What the hell is wrong with me? Having a bad day I guess.
A blaster shot seared off his left ear, and suddenly he knew where his fear came from, these guys weren’t victims, they were almost his equals. He returned fire in an eye’s blink. The shot took the marine in the little indented looking part of the face right above the upper lip and under the nose.
The other three marines joined the fight and a flash bang went off in the room. Schultz fired his guns off by memory and killed another marine even as his ears bled. He fell on top of Devlin, rolled him overtop of himself and put a barrel against his head. Schultz yelled out in pain and in warning. “He’s still alive, surrender or I kill your sergeant!”
“You do and that’s the last thing you’ll ever do.”
Schultz heard him and noted his position to his left, then replied. “What? I can’t hear from this ear. What did you say?”
Sure enough from the other side of the fight. “He said if you do that’ll be the last…” Shultz shot them both by echolocation. He unloaded the rest of the clips from both guns, he only hit with a third of them, but with the armor piercers, it was enough. He got up and went to the medicine cabinet, before he set about the rest of his plan.

Dodson saw the guard outside their cell leave in a hurry and a minute or so later he was sure he heard a flash bang go off, and more blaster fire. There were faint voices too, followed by an ominous silence.
A wounded and stumbling gentleman wandered into view. “Sorry guys, but you’re both on your way to Zembeckis. Can’t be helped. I mean I could release you both, or either one, but either way I get too close to the blue wizard, and I don’t tangle with blue wizards, they give me the heebie jeebies.”
“Let me free and I’ll stomp the life out of the wizard.”
“Nope, you’re mind controlled by his sorcerous powders, so don’t even lie.” He started to stumble off.
“Don’t even lie.” It was lower now, the sound of a voice fading away.

* * * * *

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Gustav, Ciro and the two droids the investigator gave them for security in exchange for arresting Dodson headed out to examine the bodies from last night. What they saw made them worried. Half digested clothes and partially chewed up personal gear was all that was left of them. There were partially re-filled sand trap holes, and there were shells and skeletons from some of the predators who lost a fight over eating rights. There were also Geysonis in the area, about three dozen worth and they were all wandering around, some of them started to wander back towards the main buildings. The two droids opened fire on the Geysonis. The loud blaster shots continued for a total of six seconds before they finished up. Gustav and Ciro have never seen, or heard about, anything like this before. They turned around and ran for all their worth back to base.

The Geysonis smelled it, the enzyme which was stirring its instincts. It wanted to place its eggs inside of it, it needed to do that. It also wanted to eat part of it; it needed to eat part of it. Something was pressing down on its primitive brain. The robots here were killing its kin. So it hid, it hid itself on the underside of the droid right between its tracks. The  pressure on the Geysonis’ brain gave it instructions to follow. The droid’s top swiveled around and it started to move quickly. The Geysonis grabbed the bottom of the droid and lifted itself up by more than half of its pincers and hung on for its life. And that is the reason why Dodson didn’t want any droid servants out here; most droids do not possess a sense of touch outside of their hand units and couldn’t monitor themselves for varmints.

Joachim woke up. His eyes were clear, he was smiling. He told his mother that his fever has passed, and her instruments confirmed his statement. Elizabeta was still running the analyzer on the holo-imager for his brain and vital signs. There was no injury, no infection, and no disease. There never were. He had symptoms which included a fever but no culprit. Now his symptoms were gone. His neurons still seemed to be firing a little fast and in a lot more volume, almost as if his subconscious was in control while he was awake. It was odd to say the least.
“Well your fever is gone.”
“I know, mom. When am I allowed to leave this bed?”
The cheap knockoff robots entered the door from the hallway and in their monotonous voices; both of them said “Patrol” before they turned around and left. A passenger on the second droid rolled out from under it and slid under Riana’s hospital bed.
“Wow, ‘Secure-Syds’?” Secure-Syd was the slang term applied to a Secure-Cyde knockoff. “When do I get to check them out?”
“As soon as you are done eating. You need to rebuild your strength.” Elizabeta rose from her chair and walked over to the food cart.
The Geysonis started to climb up Riana’s bed boards.
Elizabeta started walking back towards Joachim with a sandwich.
A new lump appeared underneath Riana’s sheets.
Joachim bit into the bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich.
Riana screamed as something bit through her stitches, and thrust its stinger into her wound.
Elizabeta cried out in worry and rushed towards Riana’s side and threw aside the covers.
The doors bursted open and one of the Secure-Syds opened fire on the Geysonis. Its shots cut Elizabeta in half as it killed the Geysonis.
Si-letah smiled as some part of his mind wept in pain as the rest of his brain wept in chaotic joy. He was Joachim now, fully and completely.
Riana saw her mother vanish into chunks of meat wrapped in flesh and features. The blaster fire was bright orange and it played out like a dismembered doll breaking apart during sunset in red colored rain. The pain in her side combined with the emotional shock drove her unconscious.
On the third occupied medical bed of the room, Paul opened his eyes and saw the mess and the smile on Joachim’s face. No, this has to be forgotten for now; Joachim can’t know that I know.  And so with everything else Paul did not want to face or think about, Paul filed it away in the back of his mind.
Joachim stood up and calmly disconnected Riana’s vital signs monitor.
Jack ran into the room, slid to his knees, and started to cry; Gustav followed him and started to pull him away from the blood soaked scene.
Si-letah always prided himself on being versatile. While other Greys would be strong in one major talent, Si-letah would have many developed talents, but in his own mind, that all paled when compared to how he could set up situations to happen the way that he planned it.
Ciro followed the other two into the room.
“They’re both dead, Ciro.” Or as good as. “There’s also a dead Geysonis mixed in, which means we can’t take the bodies off planet. Take them out back and bury them please.”
Ciro pulled a sheet off of one of the empty beds and gathered up the rest of Dr. Elizabeta Conlan into it and laid his grotesque burden tenderly onto Riana’s unconscious body. He unlocked the wheels on the bed and pushed it out of the room.
“What happened to my beautiful ladies? What happened to Elizabeta and my daughter?”
“The droids killed them, dad. The droids killed both of them. They aimed for a rogue beastie, one of those arachnid like reptiles. It climbed into Riana’s bed and it bit and stung her. Mom got in the way of the blaster fire.”
“How did the Geysonis get in?”
“Judging by the marks on that droid’s chassis, I’m betting it hitched a ride.”
“So they killed both of my girls.”
“Yes, dad.”
“Then both droids should be destroyed!”
“Initiate self preservation boolean true.”
Joachim did not recall how he knew the command codes for these droids. The droids opened fire on Jack and Gustav. Jack was leaning on Gustav, Joachim wasn’t sure which one the droids aimed for, but either way they killed both of them. Once again the thought of how he knew those codes bothered him. He got distracted from his momentary loss of memory by the beautiful display of broken flesh in the making. He paused for a second with his brow wrinkling in thought and then he recalled how he knew those words. These droids once belonged to At’toock. That little blue bastard had failsafes all around this part of Okpara to just wipe out as many Humans as he could when he felt the timing was right.
Joachim smiled; his mother and father were dead. His younger, smarter and perfect sister was knocking on death’s door and getting put into the ground so that she could suffer in her journey to oblivion.
He was free, intellectually and emotionally free. Now the family fortune would be his, and he’d sue The Consortium for dropping off two obviously defective droids. With that command phrase most droids on this planet would kill anyone standing except for the person who uttered those words. And then the program which did it and the memory starting from a minute back would be altered. Bugs and crash reports would overwrite the audio and visual records of hearing that command and any auditory sounds in general. He’ll also be legally free and financially free. No more intellectually inferior life forms for him to inhabit. They were amongst the worst prisons.
He sent out a message to that scrap collector, Thompson for him to come take anything they were leaving behind. Scrap collectors on this planet poured everything they could into the recyclers. Especially if stuff is tagged as cheap knock-offs. Yes, I’ll just mark the site as a fake, as it being unauthentic, a scam. Thompson will definitely just have it weighed and recycled for cash, and all the evidence will just vanish.
He’ll send Ciro back in a week to destroy what Thomspon didn’t collect. He’ll then file false reports about the location of this dig site, and he’ll hack the local reports that were previously filed. In three months time, Okpara will have buried all evidence that Jayce Thompson and Ciro didn’t get rid of. He agreed with that Arglois, At’toock: The galaxy had no more need of Delezerian Death Commandos nor did it have need of their technology. Besides, he hated all things Delezerian. That bitch commander killed his original body after all. He walked over to Riana’s stuff and kicked the helmet off the cart. When Ciro came back in, he’d grab his brain again and tell him to bury Gustav and Jack.  And when he came back in a second time, Ciro and Paul will be his assistants while he decided how he wanted to take over the galaxy.
The problem with his memory nagged him, he wasn’t sure why that happened, it had never happened before, and his smile turned into a frown.

Ten minutes after Joachim and his men left planet, Riana woke up in a shallow grave, screaming in pain and anger. Her hands thrust past a jumble of body parts and through the surface and she realized that she shared this grave, with the mutilated bodies of her mother and her father and that poor bastard Gustav.
Some sand clung to her in reddish brown clumps, a result of all the blood which still poured from the combined parts of the dead. Her medical gown was torn, and barely clinging to her. Her hair was sand filled and slicked back with viscera. Her face was a painting in blood, tears, shock and raw emotions. She was a beautiful ball of pain.
Her side hurt, it felt like a hundred hornets were dive bombing her lateral dancer abs and they had no intentions of stopping until she was dead. She fell towards the sand, and caught herself with one hand, the other clutched to her side, she started crawling towards the main building, but something was wrong. The ship which used to be parked a hundred feet away from it was missing. She hoped Joachim and Ciro and Paul were okay. She thought that Ristobar had survived Dodson and had come back for revenge, as she did the agonizing and slow crawl inside. She was lucky the doors were open. Luckier still as she found her helmet lying on the floor, she put it on, she needed to learn what happened. She played back its surveillance and watched Joachim stare past their mother as a Geysonis crawled up under Riana’s covers. Joachim saw and smiled. He smiled in joy when their mother got cut in half, he gave an obscure verbal command to the two security droids and they killed her father and Gustav. Wrong, Joachim killed her parents. Somehow he killed both of them. He was a monster, he wasn’t her brother, not anymore and he did not deserve her parents. She saw it all, even his seeming mental control of Ciro. It was like he was part Grey or something. She needed to find a commander’s suit of armor so that she could access the Delezerian computer files of what happened here a long time ago. What exactly are the Greys and why did that war happen. Somehow it tied into what changed Joachim into a monster.
Her eyes closed and all she could see were parts of her parents’ butchered flesh around her. She emotionally wanted to crawl away and die, she wanted to go back in time and live there mentally. Back to before this happened. She knew she couldn’t do that, and so she forced herself onwards.
First she needed to do something about the venom warping the cell’s DNA in her side like some kind of cancer. Her body wanted to rest, but she couldn’t afford to. She crawled towards Dodson’s room. He was a smoker and he stocked plenty of ammo. Unless she did something, the poison in her side would kill her, but the solution her stumbling mind came upon might do it first. From what she recalled about reading about the Geysonis venom, this solution was really only temporary and it would become a dangerous treatment she’d have to perform once a week to keep herself alive.
Small snatches of rhyme escaped her lips. It was how she dealt with pain. It allowed her to re-align and shift her thoughts and her sense of timing into a logical cadence. Paul Jordan encouraged her to do this a long time ago, he claimed that many master fighters did this, battle was a song and a dance, the trick was to make it your own rhythm and force the other participants to stumble. If it was her song now, then why was she stumbling?
When she made it into the room, she opened his foot locker. Dodson kept a pile of long matches for his cigars in here, in a striker box. He also had a box of shotgun shells and a knife in there. She grabbed a handful of matches, one shell and the knife. When she was ready, she chewed on the edge of a blanket she worked free from the side of Dodson’s cot. It was in her mouth in case her teeth wanted to slam shut on her tongue. She poured the gunpowder into her wound, rolled over to point that side of her body upwards and set a lit match against it. Her eyes and her body spasms told the tale of the agony, and she collapsed, with a jet of flame still rising from her side.

An hour later, Thompson arrived at the encampment, he saw Geysonis walking slugishly towards the buildings in this heat. The ship was gone, there was a bloody trail leading from a poorly dug mass grave of body parts. He hated “Die-Guys” as the Geysonis were called. They were called that locally because they were mean little bastards and the first part of their name is commonly pronounced “Guy”. He pulled an ad-hoc mallet off of his bicycle, it was made from a strong old pipe and he went to town on the four Die-Guys moving as a group.
He went into the building and found Riana, he knew he would need to get the help of Amazetta and her son, Markus, but first he needed to find some clothes for the poor mostly naked and blood soaked girl. She was barely alive.
Amazetta was wise and she would know what to do.
As he was rummaging around in the other room, he thought he heard the young lady wake up and begin rhyming something.

* * * * *

Low city, Smallwood,
Outpost planet outside of the Zembeckis systems,
Taliana systems
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

A strange alien thought pushed eagerly against Joshua's brain. It reminded him of a child, with its lack of subtlety and lack of well formed thoughts. It wanted something; Joshua could not figure it out. His skin was losing its pallor; he couldn’t tell anybody if he was hot or cold, he lost that innate temperature sense. He was dying. Turning into another devil cursed Zom-Beck. Maybe the thought was the mold wanting to devour him. He rebelled and with his own thoughts he yelled Get Back! The Zom-Becks around him actually backed away from both him and backed away from his remaining men. The few of his men still being held down were let go. Over half of his surviving troops already had spores hacked up all over their faces though, or hacked into wounds.
He turned around and told his command, “If you are healthy and uninfected, leave.”
He was in a nightmare. He wondered when the mold would kill him, and he wondered how he could still think and perceive things.
His sight was enhanced and he could see all of his dead, and the ones which were infected lurching about. The alien thought came back, this time with a question in a single word: Father?
It was a panic and pain filled word, images flooded his mind a moment afterwards, a marine ship damaged by external gunfire probably from when it blew through the blockade, the ship crash landing on Zembeckis, three survivors – one of which is an Arglois. They were all restrained. The Human in chains got free, and he started to carve the skin off of a dead Chloraphyte’s face. Flames from the crash was burning the mold, and the mold cried out to him to help it.
It has chosen me as a parent to it? At first this idea horrified Joshua, but then he realized that he had an opportunity to teach it morality and the Christian faith, still he saw the Zembeckis mold filled bodies stumbling about and thought, This is my new flock, a flock of the dying and the re-animated, why God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Chapter 5: Things are building up.

If eating poison don't forget to lick the plate.
-       Traditional Japanese proverb.

World’s End Restaurant
Planet New Earth
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

High Investigator Ketchum was dressed non-chalantly enough to not get noticed, so it came as no surprise that Quesada took a few extra minutes in finding his table. Ketchum was an average looking guy with average dimensions. He had typically bland facial expressions, average hair, and he had a very average looking, sounding and acting everything: looks, voice, airs, attitude, demeanor, and style of dress. His mind and his training were far from average, however so that made him the perfect spy. The irony of meeting at a World’s End did not escape him. Ketchum picked this place.
People might look right past Ketchum because he looked average, but they looked past Quesada too, because he looked like a bum. He looked like some guy who just slept in his clothes.
The meeting was short, Governor Peck wanted Quesada to get in tight with Kohari and his group, continue cleaning up the dirty cops, but sell his soul to Kohari in the process. Quesada was cleared to do everything it took to gain Kohari’s full trust, and when enough evidence was stacked up, Quesada would have to take down the remnants of Mob Space influence in Micro-Tier. It was going to get dirty and bloody before Quesada was done.

Conlan Archeological Digs,
Planet Okpara
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

It had been a month. This girl: Riana, with the help of her helmet and hooking it up through the giant display crystal, told her tale once more. This time it did not end in the normal place. This time it continued onwards. She had discovered the armor of Shiva Hull’ak, deceased Delezerian super soldier and high commander of the Delezerian military. It was Shiva’s campaign that brought them to this world; the Delezerians hunted their former masters. Their reasons were legion. The least being that the Greys were monsters, and their many excursions to different worlds with their sadistic experiments came to light. The greatest reason Riana spoke of was the Delezerians were only an experimental race that the Greys decided to cancel. The Delezerians as they evolved possessed too much willpower.
She wore Shiva’s armor, and carried Shiva’s weapons; she reviewed Shiva’s journals and put herself through Delezerian training at all hours of the day. Her audience of a handful of people knew this. They also knew her armor kept her temperature cool so that the constant fevers didn’t fry her brain, and that the cold slowed the re-occurring cancer like necrosis of her side to a steady crawl. She gave them a home underneath the sands, in the Delezerian version of a super battleship.
Thompson’s family was part of the audience, and so were a few other families. One family was run out of business by the late Ristobar; the other three families lost a loved one to Ristobar’s goons.
Riana started to stumble, and Amazetta walked forward and supported her. Amazetta was dark of skin and bright of heart. She helped where she could.
Riana left one more message to her audience before her apprentice, her first recruit took over. That message was: One of the ancient evil members of the Greys did not die; he only passed his consciousness along through the years from animal to animal to an eventual Human being. He did that through some type of psionic possession and that this Grey is gearing up for war, and galactic conquest.
Markus stepped forward, he was young, and wearing the less cumbersome Delezerian scout armor. He’d only been training for a few weeks, but he took his chance to become a legend seriously. Markus spoke of those who were corrupt in power and the need to re-establish the ancient Delezerian ways.
Ciro and his gang of ruffians were all buried in the sand. They were buried right next to a group of marines sent here with explosives. Riana killed them, she killed them all. They were sent here to kill her and to kill everyone else. Riana cried a few tears for Ciro, and then closed her emotions off again. Someone put armed agents out watching the recycle station for Jayce. Riana and Markus killed those guys.
She is the eternally wounded and bleeding angel of death and we all follow her. My boy follows in her footsteps now. This thought brought a chill down Amazetta’s back and a sad smile to her lips.

* * * * *

Redemption Space Station,
Borderland systems
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

It had been a month. Laira heard about her family’s demise from the news networks. Joachim had avoided the news reporters, and did not return any of her communication attempts. Something was going on, and it had her nervous. The co-ordinates which Joachim put in his official reports did not match the co-ordinates Laira’s family had previously given her. She would pursue it now, but she was too close to finding the one she sought, that she had to put aside her investigation into her family. She refused to believe that her mom and dad, sister and teacher and friends were dead. She refused. Chances are it was a ruse, to protect their archeological finds. She’ll believe that, her heart had to believe that.
She would get some extra training first. With training from the ancient master, she’d be able to do more to find her answers. She’d be able to compete for worthwhile prize amounts. With her first big win, she’d re-hire Mack and Anders to go check out the true co-ordinates.
She sought Zongxiàn, a Shaolin monk whose name meant “Wisdom of the Ancients”, the locals claim him to be a mentalist. Human mentalists were rare.
Laira was sitting in the shadowed back corner of Sophie’s bar. Dealer sat next to her. Across from her sat Bishop, who was a very secretive man. Maggie, the barmaid, was dropping off their drinks. When Maggie left, Bishop informed her that he could give her all the data on what happened to Dodson, but the ones who traded this information to him insisted on whoever purchases it, delivers it to the media within one week of buying it. If this did not go to the Press, Bishop stood to lose a lot of money, so Laira’s life would be forfeit to him.
“Don’t threaten me, Bishop. I could tear through you and all your men here.” Blasters and firearms weren’t allowed on Redemption, so altercations were handled through hand to hand combat.
“You ready to test every bit of food or drink which gets placed in front of you for poison?” He gestured to her beverage.
“Fair enough. Which news reporter? And about the monk I seek?”
“Sanderson wants the information. Oh, and besides my finder’s fee, Zongxiàn insists you and your droid get a job working at the soup kitchens for the poor.”
“For how long?”
“If he doesn’t come see me in a week, then Bishop, I stand to lose a lot of time from my carefully scheduled plans, and I will come looking for you and you can consider your life forfeit.”
Her answer came in Bishop’s taunting smile. Bishop didn’t seem concerned with Laira killing him, but he should be, Laira has already participated and won two underground martial arts tournaments here, from which a lot of the guards made good money from her. They would look the other way if a physical altercation went a little extreme. Bishop on the other hand did not think a devil worshipping Goth girl could kill anyone who walked in the faith. The Hierarchy trained him to be one of their agents after all, but no one here knew that.

* * * * *

Micro-Tier Suburbia,
Planet Macro-Tier
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Rusty, Trakel, and Schultz were bringing in the package to an old grove of trees, per Kohari’s orders. Quesada’s information and connections proved invaluable in acquiring his holiness Nigel Bachman, a High Clergy of The Hierarchy. It took a month to figure out the plan and to eventually grab him.
Bachman was proving to be a rude and arrogant captive, so Schultz hit him. Guns were pulled all the way around, but none faster than Rusty’s.
“Our new boss. Kohari’s new boss, Kempfana, wants the package alive and healthy.”
“It’s a person we’re talking about, Rusty, he’s not some package. Packages shut up when you tell them to.”
“Schultz, take a moment to think about what you just told Rusty.”
Their transport coasted in the night. It was spring time, the sky was lit by the moons and the stars and the auto-pilot did just fine in this weather and lighting. All three members of Trakel’s gang, including Trakel, were in the open back area with their package which was now knocked cold and bleeding slightly.
“Rusty, if you want to pass as Human, you can’t be faster than me. People won’t believe that.”
“Sure, Schultz, I’ll take that under advisement.”
“Schultz, clean the blood up and can the chatter, we’re almost there.”

Kempfana was here, and he was impressed by Kohari’s work. The men were organized, there was even a competent sergeant Targlois in charge of the other members of his race. That Targlois’ name was Gnum and he liked dressing like the cop from that action vid, “Highway Death Patrol”. Kempfana smiled, that big brute even had a 3D poster of the actor from that movie, Trent Michaels, in his locker.
The beauticians did a fine job, turning thirty members of a street gang into clean looking individuals. Those individuals were dressed up in clothing of the Clergy, they were gagged and bound and had nooses around their necks. The ropes were already draped over the branches of many of the trees around here.
Kempfana studied the art of hanging people, just for Nigel Bachman. Bachman will help hang all thirty gang members, believing them all to be junior members of his faith. Then Bachman will get partially hung then cut down. If it was judged that Bachman would survive a second hanging that night, Bachman would hang again. If Bachman was too weak for even a single partial hanging he would still have a noose draped over his head but at the last moment, he wouldn’t hang. This will continue for a month.
Kempfana had Dr. Cooper to give him a hand to make sure that Bachman wouldn’t die.  After a day, Nigel’s favorite expression will no longer be “Don’t leave me hanging.” It will probably be “Don’t make me hang others anymore.”  And before the week is over Kempfana thought it would probably change to “Don’t hang me anymore.”
Kempfana knew Nigel was behind a lot of his recent pain: the order that came in to have Kempfana’s family killed had that catch phrase in it, “Don’t leave me hanging”.
The lift arrived and Bachman was unconscious. So Dr. Cooper and his pretty assistant, Alexis, started to revive him. If Bachman couldn’t be revived then Trakel and his boys were getting hung instead. Lucky for them, but unlucky for Bachman, Dr. Cooper knew his job well, and within moments Bachman stirred awake.

* * * * *

Kempfana’s estates,
Planet Macro-Tier
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Quesada had Detective John Martinez by the balls, literally, they were being held onto by a pair of long handled pliers.
“You don’t look so hot.”
“Ow, come on, ease up, this is quite painful.” Martinez said that with liquid hot tears pouring from his giant bloodshot brown eyes, while gritting his teeth.
“What’s painful is watching you only turn in half the evidence of that drug bust. You kept three bricks of the shit for yourself.” Quesada released the pliers and pushed the overweight detective into a chair. Two armed guards, by the names of Vladislav and Danso started strapping Martinez in place.
“You know, I needed some juice on the streets to make a bigger bust, let it out and about in town and follow the trail.” It came across as a desperate lie, which didn’t even pass Quesada’s smell test as far as he was concerned.
“You needed it to give to your drug dealer and his little enterprise of hoodlums so that he could turn around and pay you 60% of the profits, you mean.”
“You bring me here, by force to a crime lord’s house, and you accuse me of being the dirty cop? What the hell?”
“Kohari’s pulling out of the drug business.”
“So he wants to make sure no one can fill that void? There is enough room for you as a partner.”
“Shut up, you’re a dirty cop, and I don’t like dirty cops.”
“Have you looked in the mirror?”
The reply came in the pliers grip on Martinez’s thumb, a grip which turned the thumb over backwards while breaking it.
When the screaming stopped, Quesada continued the conversation. “Give me names, Martinez, give me the names of the other dirty cops and the criminals they’re in bed with, and you’ll get to live. I have alibis and witnesses and you won’t even have a speck of evidence that I did this to you. You can walk away from this Martinez, just give me those names.”

* * * * *

The Skyfarer
Planet Zembeckis
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)
Sargeant Devlin finally died; his cabin fever and wanting to leave the safety of the ship drove Dodson into killing him. It was a quick kill. Dodson already had a gun trained on Devlin under the table when Devlin decided to draw his weapon.
At’toock purchased his life temporarily by fixing the water purification unit. Their food supplies were designed to support nine people for three months. They had a while, but occasionally one of the Zom-Becks would make it up to the crystal canopy, or the crystal gunner’s turret above them and they’d just stare down at Dodson or At’toock.
At’toock knew he needed to stay useful so bought more time to his existence by providing more time to the existence of Dodson. At’toock got the external flamethrowers working on the Skyfarer, they kept the mold back.
“This mold, the whole Zom-Beck thing, all of this, because you Arglois were foolish enough to let some Targlois help out with your research? I know you Arglois are all book smart, and your race as a whole lack common sense, but geesh, really?”
“Look Dodson, we don’t like to talk about Zembeckis.”
“Shame too much to bear? Come on, it was only one solar system that got wiped out and the damage done occasionally keeps doing damage today. What’s to be ashamed of?”
“Five, six, seven times a day for the past month, you bother me about this?”
“Because your ancestors’ mistake will turn us into meat puppets.”
“What if I told you it wasn’t a mistake? What if you found out that the Targlois had nothing to do with Zembeckis? It was the Delezerians, okay, they made us do it. They had a Grey with a neural inhibitor on his head, that Grey was unconscious, they dared not kill it, it had mastered the art of transferring its consciousness and if it died, it would have just jumped bodies. So we designed and unleashed a mold that would destroy all other life forms.”
“Why didn’t they just put him on a rocket and launch him into a star then?”
“The Delezerians suspected too much meaning into the Grey’s mantra of they were children of the stars. The leading Delezerian scientists pointed out that some of the psionic recordings of Grey activity occurred at the same wavelengths as solar energy. Our own scientists disagreed with those foolish Delezerians.
“They were Human, you know. Delezerians were only genetically modified Human beings. Their violence was an all too Human trait. And for that the death of a whole solar system was laid at the feet of my people.”
“So why blame the Targlois and not yourselves or the Delezerians?”
“The Targlois were created by combining Human and Arglois DNA. We Arglois and our science were still needed at the time, and the Delezerians were the liberating force for all of us. So our hatred of the violence, our hatred of what he were forced to do by the foolish fears of Humans… we decided to blame the Targlois. The Targlois signified our failure in so many ways.” At’toock looked like he was about to cry.
“Did all the Greys know that possession trick?”
“No, only two that we were aware of, the first was dropped off on a planet which only held mold as its other life form. The second was at the final battle.”
“Yes. The mold was dropped off there as well, but in its infancy it was devoured by Geysonis. They ate it and loved it.”
“So if we dropped off Geysonis on this planet, we could cure the mold problem?”
“No, the mold evolved here. It started evolving when the mind of a dead Grey possessed it. Don’t be so frightened Dodson, that intellect fell apart, it has no form or even memories, from what the Arglois high council could tell. It did however provide the mold with a rudimentary intelligence. Within a year after the Grey was dropped off, the mold started animating the infected and the dead to spread itself.”

* * * * *

Cassandra’s Epic, North Park
Planet Praxis
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Mack and Anders were the only two patrons at this early in the morning of Cassandra’s Epic. The Epic was a bar, owned by a slightly overweight guy named J. Prinzo. Prinzo asked everyone to call him J. It was sleazy as far as bars go. Dim lighting, the old fashioned halogen kind, none of the Delezerian crystals here. There was a faint smell about the place of cheap soap used to scrub away urine. The walls were replicated redwood with actual real pine trim. The tables were full of graffiti carved one doodle or letter at a time for a few decades. Prinzo himself was the only staff member here, and he was tending bar.
Prinzo had a young man’s haircut for his old gray hairs, small rounded glasses for his failing eyesight and a chin which could be described as caved in looking. The fact that he didn’t have corrective eye surgery spoke volumes of his frugalness. If it was possible for someone to have a negative jaw line, Prinzo was that someone. He bragged about having sex with a dumb drug addicted whore named Michelle. Michelle apparently dated a gangster by the name of Trakel.
“Yeah, we heard of him.” Was Mack’s only reply.
Anders on the other hand was the less intellectual of the two and proved it by saying. “Yeah, and he’s a business partner of ours, so best hope we don’t spill our guts to him and sing, because he will kill you. Having sex with the man’s lady isn’t cool Prinzo. Prince- O? Prince of shit if you ask me.”
“Trakel might be your guys’ business partner, but he’s my friend.”
“So you sleep with a friend’s girl, behind his back, genius?”
“Enough! Stop threatening our host, and let the man continue serving us drinks.”
“Enough? Do you even know what that word means? I mean, why are we running errands for the two sisters still?”
“Because you pulled your gun out on one of them when she was only fifteen, threatened to backstab her and practically ransom her and she was our client at the time, Einstein!”
“You got the hots for the older sister.”
“So what if I do? That has got nothing to do with it. You don’t violate a client’s trust just because you think it’s easy money. That destroys our reputation.”
“Her droid thought it’d be convenient to preserve our reputation, so no harm no foul.”
“You’re an idiot.”  Mack slapped Anders across the back of his head. “If the droid hadn’t of done that, Laira would have beaten you into a coma or worse, and no one would hire us ever again.”
As Mack and Anders got up to walk out, a few familiar faces stepped into the bar. Shawn “Tall tales” Higgens and his friend Joey Bareliss walked in. They were both privateers and both of them were known for taking the occasional high risk gamble.
The four men staring at each other were on mildly friendly terms. Higgens had a knack for sometimes being on the opposite side of a contract which Mack was on. Mack gave Higgens a cold eyed look and then a quick smile as he and Anders walked out the door.

* * * * *

New Citadel
Planet Zembeckis
312 A.E.E. (After Earth’s End)

Joshua Hughes, former Paladin of The Hierarchy, finished construction of his Citadel on the mold infested planet. He should have been dead by a few weeks. Instead he walked in some weird Purgatory between life and death. He guessed that it had to do with his old wound. His missing biological left foot. Everywhere he has turned more sickly green and slightly blue and a bit grey, everywhere but his stump, his stump was turning more blue than anything else. The mold he carried around himself was a different color than the rest of the infected; it had spots of vibrant blue through out it. His men, the nine hundred and thirty seven infected that he found and kept with him were no longer being devoured by the mold, only changed, like him. They also had blue spots on them, but if they wandered too far away from him for too long, the blue went away and the mold devoured them.
His men barely held true intellect, unlike himself who held most of his former life’s. He wondered if this would occur with all Geysonis bite sufferers. He didn’t have the answers. There was an Arglois here, the first one ever to be on Zembeckis since the mold devoured everything. The Arglois had blue skin which was blue like parts of Joshua’s flesh. And from the fungus Joshua Huges learned that the Arglois knew the truth of the birth of the Zom-Becks. Joshua needed that Arglois’ secrets, so for now he consciously kept as much mold and infected away from that crashed ship as he could.
There were so many things to work out, but currently he needed a moment of clarity, it was time for devotion. As one co-ordinated unit, nine hundred and thirty eight Infected clumsily knelt and groaned and moaned their inept attempts at a prayer to God, which was Psalm 1.
“Because Jesus has given me his righteousness and godliness, I declare that he is making me like a tree growing by a stream. He is causing me to walk in the fruit of the spirit and produce fruit for the kingdom. He is insuring that my fruitfulness does not wither. He causes everything I do to prosper. Father, because these confessions are true and in agreement with your word, I ask you to do whatever it takes in me and in the world around me to keep them true. I ask this, not because I deserve it, but because I am a subject in the Kingdom of Jesus and he deserves it and has paid the full price for it to be so.” Joshua knew most of his Zom-Beck troops did not understand these words, not yet. The living dead were sorely lacking in brains. But he’d fix that.