SITTING BY DESOLATE STREAMS – Act IV

 

“We are the music-makers, / And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers, / And sitting by desolate streams;

World-losers and world-forsakers, / On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers / Of the world for ever, it seems.”

 

                                                -- "The Music Makers" by Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

 

            James Welthammer sat in the dusty bar.  He’d been released from jail, all right, but his ship and crew were still gone.  Public records still listed his ship as being in Imperial Security impound, where Ian Samothrace had said it was, but there was no record of what had happened to his crew.  Either they’d been disappeared, or they’d also been released and then gone their separate ways. 

            Damnit, he thought to himself.  This has been one lousy week

            The bartender came over to him, and James was just about to ask for a refill of his Yangtze River Pirate (rum-and-coke, but using Yangtze Cola, garnished with a fried wonton speared with a plastic cutlass), but the barkeep put one down in front of him.  “This was sent to you by the gentleman over there,” he said, nodding toward a booth along the wall.

            “Tell them I’m much obliged,” James muttered.  He turned to face his mysterious benefactor, lifted his drink in salute, and downed it in one gulp.  “Same again,” he said to the barkeep as he stood up and headed over to meet his new friends. 

            “Former Captain James Welthammer of the Resolve, at your service,” he introduced himself to the pair sitting in the booth.  One was a tall, balding man in late middle age, or early old age, with graying hair and bad teeth.  The other was a shorter, much younger man in his early 20’s, with dark hair and an olive complexion. 

            “I’m Dr. Hicks, and this is my assistant, Pablo,” the old man said in reply. 

            “Your assistant?” James asked in a puzzled voice.  “You a stage magician or something?”

            “No,” replied the doctor with a grin, “then my assistant would be a beautiful young woman in a scanty costume, not a brilliant post-grad.”

            Pablo Losada was less amused.  “Former captain?” he asked pointedly. 

            “That’s right, Imp Bastards took my ship, crew, and cargo, not three days ago,” James admitted.  “Though I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to get her back, just need a couple more drinks to get the mind going, you know?” 

            Icarus gave a sympathetic shrug.  “My commiserations on your loss.  I’m sure you’ll get back on your feet in no time.”

            Pablo was less impressed.  “Um, Doc?  He says his ship got seized by the Imps, I’m not sure if he’s the guy we want...”
            “Quiet, Pablo,” said Icarus with a dismissive wave of his hand.  “I’m sure Captain Welthammer here is exactly the man we’re looking for.”

            Emile the bartender came by at that moment with another round of drinks, and James took a sip from his before replying.  “I’ve been in tougher situations. Once the Earl of Hyperion’s nose had a run in with my fist...”

            Losada’s eyes popped. “You punched an earl and you got away with it?”

            “I did a round in the pokey, if you call that getting away with it.”

            “Only imprisoned?”  Icarus was curious how he’d gotten off so lightly.  “The usual penalty for a gaijin like yourself would be death by vivisection.” 

            “Well, I think the good noble was a bit scared of me after the damage I did to his nose, but I wasn’t worried, since…”  Welthammer’s voice trailed off and he looked around the bar suspiciously.  “Well, I really shouldn’t talk about that one.  Can I do something for you boys?”

            “We’re interested in transport off-world,” Icarus answered.  “We were hoping to book passage on a ship.” 

            James gave a derisive laugh and cocked his head to one side.  “You boys do realize that you’re sitting within a hundred meters of a major spaceport, right?”

            Icarus gave a very slight smile.  “Well, you know how much of a hassle it can be to book a trip through normal channels.  Medical forms to fill out, notarization fees, all those questions to answer.”

            “We want to avoid red tape. Losada put in. 

            “I hope you didn’t expect to save yourselves money by hiring independent pilots,” James replied with a chuckle.  “Time, yes, but the added risk of arrest by the Imps means added insurance costs.”  He took another swig from his drink.  “Why are you in such a hurry, anyway?  Anxious to get on your honeymoon?”

            “We’re willing to pay a premium to expedite matters,” Icarus replied.  “As for why we are traveling, let’s just say we’d like to avoid any Imperial entanglements.”

            “Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?” Welthammer replied, his voice turning less jolly.  “What is this, some local trouble?  Why are a couple of stiffs like you two so anxious to get away from the big bad Imps?”

            “Let’s just say it involves a rather large fire.” Icarus said with a thin-lipped smile.

            “Remind me to introduce you to a friend of mine named Freak.”  James finished off his latest drink.  “Let’s just say we cut to the chase.  It sounds like fun, boys, but I can’t do you a whole lot of good with my ship still in ImpSec hands.”  He looked down at his empty glass with surprise, then waved his hand in the vague direction of the bar to signal for another.  “Not that it got there while I was carrying out a contract, or anything.  I was ambushed just after getting paid on delivery.”

            “I’m not going to bother asking if you were doing something worth getting arrested for—” Icarus asked quietly.

            James opened his eyes in mock surprise.  “You mean they need a reason to arrest someone?  Huh.  I should have thought of that one...”

            “Legally, ImpSec does need a reason to arrest someone, but they have a tendency to become a law unto themselves at times.”

            James continued to feign mock surprise.  “What’s the universe coming to?”

            “A bad end,” Icarus stated simply. 

            “Speaking of ends, doc,” Losada interjected.  “If this guy doesn’t have a ship any more, why are we still talking to him?”

            “Because someone with a grudge against ImpSec is exactly the kind of person we’re looking for,” Icarus replied. 

            “Then I’m definitely your kind of person,” James answered with a passable impression of a dashing and self-confident grin.  He’d had a lot to drink. 

            Losada still wasn’t impressed.  “Does that mean you’ve got some way to get us off-system, not involving your erstwhile ship?”

            James looked daggers at the student.  “Yes, we all hold hands, and follow my lead in chanting.”

            “A correspondence portal?”  Losada was incredulous.  “You’ve got a contact who’s a mage who can short-circuit the umbra on an interplanetary scale?”

            “I am such a mage, thank you very much,” James replied icily.  “You’d best watch what you say, or I’ll turn you into a toad.”

            Icarus raised a single eyebrow.  “There are only a hundred or so registered mages with that level of power, and perhaps a dozen elder vampires who could manage a similar stunt through their own means.  Your name isn’t on either list, unless this is an assumed identity…”

            It was the captain’s turn to raise an eyebrow.  “You memorize lists of registered mages?”

            Losada gave a sympathetic shrug.  “He’s got a photographic memory, and he reads a lot of strange things.”  He took a sip of his beer and gave another resigned shrug.  “You get used to it. 

            “Huh,” James replied, re-appraising his new acquaintances.  “No, I’m not really a mage, or a leech.”  He thought back to his recent encounter in jail.  “I could introduce you to one.  Not a bad guy, for an Imp bloodsucker, just don’t accept if he offers to buy you a drink...” 

            James’s rambling was interrupted by a beeping sound.  All three of them looked around nervously, before James finally recognized the sequence of tones and looked down.  The other pair’s eyes followed. 

            “Don’t be alarmed,” Icarus said in a small voice.  “But your pants are beeping at you.”     

            James dug into a pocket, “Nag, nag, nag, that’s all they’re good for.”  He withdrew a telephone-style comlink and flipped it open, “Welthammer, who the hell is this?”

            There was a pause, and then James slammed his drink down on the table, Losada jumped.  “Damnit, John, where are you?”

            Welthammer leaped to his feet, knocking his chair backward.  “What?!  How the hell did you—no, scratch that, I don’t want to know.”  Some of the nearby patrons glanced over before returning to their own conversations, Hicks watched with interest.

            James lowered his voice, picked up his chair, and sat back down.  “Listen, John, I need you to send the shuttle down to pick us up—what?  Oh, just some friends.  We’re…”

            Welthammer, covered the phone’s mouthpiece and said to Hicks, “Where are we?”

            “Talavera spaceport, the University sector.”

            “Thanks, Doc.”  James repeated the words into the comlink.  “Yeah, there’s an abandoned strip just east of us, it shouldn’t be any—oh.  Um, no, that’s fine, the computer should have landing coordinates stored, and the I think the Autopilot has sixty-percent success ratio on new sites if it doesn’t, you should be fine.  Yeah, I can get it back up.  Thanks, John, see you in a couple of minutes.  Oh, and see if you can’t get in touch with Joe and the rest of the guys, I don’t want to leave without ‘em.  Welthammer out.”

            He started folding the comlink back up, “Well, you’re in luck, boys, I can have you out of here in no time.  I do assume you’ve got the cash to pay for the trip, of course.”

            Hicks pulled out the roll of bills from his pocket, “Of course, Captain, I’m sure you’ll find this is sufficient for your—” He stopped.

            James wasn’t paying attention; he was looking intently at the folded comlink in his hands.  He pulled what looked like a battery pack off of the base of the phone, but it was only a metal shell, which was covering the real battery.  Its bottom was marked with the Imperial Security insignia.  “Oh, shit.”

            Hicks looked at the object, “Standard comm tracer.”

            Losada seemed lost, “What?”

            Hicks continued, “I think we’d better get out of here.”

            James hastily scanned the room, “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

            The three stood up, James put a coin on the table, and the group began making their way towards the exit, slowly but tensely.  They were within six meters of the doorway, when they were waylaid by a group of gaudily dressed people, all carrying what seemed to James to be an odd assortment of devices, but that Hicks quickly identified as musical instruments.

            A small man at the head of the group spoke up, “Excuse us, sirs, but we were hoping that you could provide us with transport off planet, you see—”

            “I don’t have time for this,” James snapped.

            The man seemed not to notice, “We are the Starship Troupers, performers seeking—”

            “Get out of my way!”  James’ voice betrayed his anxiety, as he tried to push his way through.

            “Please, sir.  We are but poor minstrels who have no way of—”

            The bar doors burst open and four armed Imperial Security agents rushed in.  One of them called, “This establishment is now under inspection by Imperial Security, all patrons will stand down and submit to a search.  Attempts to resist will result in arrest and severe penalties.”

            “What’s the meaning of this?”  The bartender, Emile, was leveling the tranq rifle at the agents, “I’m fully licensed to run this place.  What the hell do you think you’re doing barging in here with guns like that, you want to put me out of business?”

            The agent who spoke before turned to him, “Put down you’re weapon, M. Magritte, this is an Imperial Security investigation, the security of the Middle Kingdom is—”

            He was interrupted by a bellowing roar.  The werewolf, Lobo, had awoken, and was charging the Imps in Crinos form.  The agents scattered.

 

*****

 

Joy watched as Chan lifted up the large scrap pieces of metal she had recovered from his ship and placed them in a pile to one side of the second courtyard in the compound. With interest she drew on his upper body as he sweated. Some of the scars that creased his face seem to follow down from his right shoulder diagonally. She watched as he stopped to take a breather after working for several hours straight. So he wasn’t all talk. Habor must have noticed himself being watched and turned to look up at her. She looked with bemusement at him, on eyebrow raised slightly.

“What do you guys plan on doing with this san chi?”

“Huh?”

“What do you guys do with this shit?”

“Use it to build fish tanks like the ones inside, repair our own fighters…”

“You have aircraft?”

Oh heck, I’ve said too much, Lee thought.

“Yeah, just a few fighters that we’ve redone to fit our needs.”

“Fighting off the Bloc,” Habor said with a hint of sarcasm.

“More like saving the skin around your incomplete brain.”

“Whoa, take it easy. No personal offence.”

Silence interrupted their conversation again. Habor finished picking the metal blocks up and walked over to Joy’s side. “Now what?”

“You can take a break until tomorrow and then we’ll see about finding a way to get you on your way.”

“Sounds great, me flying off this section of hell and back to….”

“To what?”

“Never mind. So, where’s a good place to take a dip? Do you have a place to take a dip? Do you know what a dip i….”

“We have a small pool, don’t worry ‘bout the pirhanese, as long as you don’t bother them they won’t bother you.”

“Pirhanese?”

“Carnivores, tear a man to pieces in the old days, now their just fun to look at.”

“Ok, whatever you say… so where’s this pool?”

“Follow me.”

Chan did. It took about a minute or so for Joy to lead him out of the courtyard and into a small garden. A glass floor shown beneath their feet and steam arose from different corners of the circular room. Flowers bloomed from hanging pots from the open roof. After a few steps the glass floor slowly dipped away into a pool clearer than the glass that surrounded it. Small, blue fish circled the ripples created by drips from green vines that hung from mesh walls. Habor watched this in quiet gratitude.

“Jump in when you’re ready.”

“You coming in?”

She’ll come in later, trust me. You go on in and relax. She was joking about the fish, they’re perfectly harmless.

The voice woke Habor again and he searched the area for the sign of the voice. Once Joy left him in peace, he whispered. “Doc, is that you?”

Doc?

“Look, old man, I’m tired of this t’ien shu deh game you feel like playing with my head. If you wanna speak, use your gan tsao voice.”

“Fine” responded a voice that didn’t sound anything like Gavenny. From behind one of the giant planters came a rather small-built han, only slightly younger than himself. He dressed in purple silks, studded with a couple platinum pins, and a rather strange earring in his right ear. Most importantly, though, he was a complete mystery to him.

“Who the fei hua are you?”

“You mean you don’t remember? I’m hurt, Chan, truly I am. I who looked up to you all those years, but you never seemed to notice poor little me.” The stranger sniffed. “You’re so cruel.”

“Who…” then Lee saw the face, and he realized who it was. “Hoon?”

Prince Hoon to you. You forget - we no longer share the same title anymore. You should show the proper respect.”

Ni you piaoliang de lu maozi!

“But I’m not married, Chan, not even close over the past fourteen years you’ve been away. However, I understand, it’s not like you’ve been reading the social pages…”

“What do you want?”

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say to your old cousin, after I’ve flown so far from the imperial court just to see you? Really, I thought that you would have learned manners from… well, wherever the hole you dropped yourself into.”

What… do you want?!

“You, my dear Chan, you! Since you decided to be foolish enough to get your… um, extra-curricular activities exposed, everyone thinks you’re dead. You dropped… as it were, off the face the worlds. That’s not an easy thing to do in this day in age. That makes you a valuable commodity.”

Chee wo de shi, Hoon.”

“Thanks for the offer, but no. I’d rather eat whatever nastiness is swimming in this pool than your excrement. Besides, I’m here to do you a favor.”

“Get to the point.”

“Fair enough. The Emperor thinks you’re dead, the court thinks you’re dead, everyone thinks that Old Man Chiang overreacted with that whole Canteern business…”

“How did you know I wasn’t?”

“Dead? Wasn’t easy. Luckily, I’ve done some favors for Minister Dane, and as a result, he provides me with rather juicy bits of information that float my way. To suddenly hear you were alive was a bit of a shock.”

“But how…”

“What? Do you think that the Middle Kingdom ignores this piece of rock? The empire doesn’t ignore anything, Chan. True, there’s no civil police on this moon, but that’s for a very good reason. That doesn’t mean we don’t know what happens here.”

Lee was tired of this business. All he wanted a swim with a beautiful lady, then a flight off this rock; now he had his past roaring up in front of him. He felt his body shift into Galabro form, half man, half werewolf; although to him, it only look like he needed a shave. Habor’s nails became claws.

“Naughty, naughty…” Hoon tsked, then flicked his wrists. Suddenly the water spurted up from the pool and hit him in the face. “You should really cool off when I’m doing you a favor.”

“Then SAY IT!” His rage was building.

“You want revenge against the emperor, yes?”

YES!

“Good… then I can help. That is… if you’re willing to listen.”

 

*****

 

            Collision alarms screamed throughout the Zimbardo.  The ship dropped out of hyperspace on a beacon that happened to drift away from its charted real-space point. Instead of open space, the freighter smashed into the debris field left over from the 3rd Civil War, adding its own shattered mass to the collection of space junk.

            Aboard the Yamamoto, lead ship of a convoy that was using the Zimbardo as a screen, its onboard computers automatically registered the destruction of the freighter, immediately offering its human components options. The officers took the computer’s sage advice; the gravity drive’s field was shifted forward, taking the brunt of the debris field they had just jumped into. Yamamoto immediately took steps to ensure that the ships she was escorting dropped out of hyperspace short of the debris field. As soon as the beacon was launched through the rapidly collapsing dimensional hole, their collision alarms were replaces with a slightly different klaxon.

            “Sai, scanners show an unidentified Prince of Wales class….she is firing!”

            Plasma washed across the port section of the vessel, opening her up like a can of tuna.  The bridge, forward weapons, and sensor arrays were completely eradicated.  She was now little more than an engine in space, maintaining its previously established course.  The Dickerson blazed by the wreckage with deadly purpose.

            Payback’s a bitch, thought Weathers, then turned to his com officer.  “Ensign, contact the Marm and tell them to begin their run on the freighters as soon as they jump out of hyperspace.  Helm, plot a new course; punch the engines beyond maximum and take us straight at their rear guard. They’ll have time to react to us, but let’s limit the time they have.”

            The surprise worked and evened up the odds - now let’s see how good this other slant is.

            Like clockwork, the rest of the convoy appeared, thanks to the warning the previous battlecruiser had given them. Unfortunately, the beacon hadn’t been launched before they learned they were jumping into a trap. Weathers gazed out the forward view-port and gazed at the bluish smudge that signaled a new hyperspace jump point opening. Several ships poured out, but he was focused on the Hainan, the heavy cruiser that even now was beginning to react to the Dickerson’s presence.

            “Weapons, plot a firing solution for an alpha strike.”

            The lieutenant manning the weapons panel went white. “Sir, that means we have to get danger close before we fire…”

            “I’m perfectly aware of what it means, Lieutenant Schultz. Proceed.”

            David felt a presence come up beside him; the woman was his new executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Teresa Palmer. She was a strong believer in The Book, so when she whispered that “we don’t have the capability to withstand their long-range weaponry until we get in range,” Weathers simply nodded. Palmer knew what a Prince of Wales class ship could take; Weathers knew what Dickerson could do.

            “Commander, this pass has to be fatal. We only get one surprise. If we miss, the Marm could catch hell before we swing back around.” Finally, he stepped away from her, and tapped the weapons officer’s shoulder. “When you have your solution, fire at your discretion.  We’ll be moving too fast; don’t wait on word from me.”

            The crew made preparations as the ships closed. With millions of kilometers between them, even a fast pursuit felt like forever. The captain once again turned his attention to his enemy. Who is at the helm? Is he young and brash, or is he patient? 

            As his thoughts focused on his adversary, suddenly he could see the man. Once his initial shock wore off, he realized he was hearing the conversation on his opponent’s bridge. His shock and focus were interrupted as the communication officer reported that the Marm was launching fighters and shuttles.  Apparently one of the freighters was armed and had inflicted minor damage.  Upon hearing about the other vessel his thoughts immediately jumped to his son.  Oddly though, the concept of son did not bring up images of David, instead a young Asian boy, who happened to be the son of the enemy captain.

            Dear God, my thoughts are influencing that bastards mind!

            Years of military life caused Weathers to immediately seek a tactical use of this boon.

            Slants are all about honor, let’s hammer away at that.

            Weathers began to bombard the man with image of his son sitting in disgrace at learning of reports of his father’s cowardice and indecision.  Details of the report showed the man had fired too early.  The dispersion of his weapons fire, due to wasting his long-range weapons at extreme distance shots, caused very little damage to the enemy. It allowed the opponent to land devastating fire on the Hainan insuring the capture of a very valuable convoy.

           

            On board the Hainan, Captain Saito saw his failure before his very eyes. He couldn’t let that happen; for the sake of his crew and his son, Shintaro. “Ensign, belay my last order. We will wait till they are closer to ensure a more devastating attack.  Hold your fire until my command.”

 

            “Hai, sai. Re-plotting solutions and awaiting your orders.”

           

            Okay, you bastard… let’s make you really sweat.

           The next barrage of images covered a young Asian boy hanging by a rope from the balcony of his home.  His mother, finding the corpse threw herself off the balcony.  The images then warped to a funeral where family and friends lamented the fact that their son, cousin, friend has been such a failure.

 

            The effect on Saito was immediate.  His focus interrupted he began to fight to clear his mind of the horrible images.  His discomfort began to be visible to his crew.

            “Sai, we are approaching the firing point, do you wish me to fire? Sai?

 

            Weathers changed the direction of his attack.  Now the images were of the man’s ghostly wife screaming at him about how his failure had destroyed her son.  The attack was devastating, completely blowing any concentration the man had upon the events unfolding around him.

            Then his nervous lieutenant screamed out, “Firing all batteries now!”

 

            The Dickerson’s weapons flared to life with deadly fury.  The weapons officer on board the Hainan reacted, but it was already to late.  Plasma ripped across the vessel burning out a majority of her weapons.  Those that did fire scored indirect hits on the Dickerson, but did only superficial damage.  Hainan was not so lucky.  The Dickerson’s torpedoes slammed home shortly after the plasma weapons completing the destruction.

            Weathers’ connection to the other man was broken violently.  The disruption left him shaken as he had witnessed another man’s death, from first person perspective. 

            Holy shit… I must remember to break the connection beforehand. If this happens again…if I can do this again. Jesus, I don’t know if I can do that again!

           The cheers on the bridge and the calls of damage reports brought him back to reality. He took a deep breath and said, “All right, folks that was a great attack. Good work to everyone. Let’s get back and help the Marm with the loot. Helm, plot the course.”

 

            After rejoining with the Marm, the two vessels were able to capture three enemy vessels.  The others had either gone down fighting or were able to jump out before they were disabled.  After loading as much plunder as they could the two ships jumped off the standard beacon and began very different, random paths home. Weathers got no sleep that night; every time he closed his eyes, he thought of a 9-year-old boy named Shintaro, who lived in the Phoenix System. The han child was probably laughing and playing with friends – because he didn’t know that just a few hours ago, a quai loh named Weathers had killed his father… and everyone else on his boat.

            David felt all of it.

 

*****

 

            Sherif Tian-yi Adams was tired, hungry, and scared.  He was far from home, and there was nothing here for him.  He only knew farming.  He had no papers.  He had no money.  He had no identity.

            But I know who you are.

            Sherif swung his head.  The dark alley with a big draft of wind that had seemed so clean, so full of life when he sat down now seemed empty and desolate.  There was no one there.  Adams decided that he was asleep.

            You cured the girl, magus.  You stepped out of reality.  You multiplied the mass.

            Sherif jumped to his feet, and looked around.  No one was there. "Who are you?" He shook from fear but tried to stay calm.

            I know who I am.  Do you know who you are?

            "I know who I am.  Who are you?"

            I don't think you know who you are.  If you did, you could ask me more interesting questions.  I'll be back, M. Adams.  And perhaps next time, you'll know more.

             Sherif looked around, and then grew angry.  Everything was quiet.  He looked some more, and still, everything was quiet.  After Adams decided he was alone, he adopted a mocking voice.  "I don't think you know who you think you know who I am and who you are."  He spat.  "Lunatic."

            The ex-farmer got up, now too angry to be depressed.  He looked around one more time, didn't see anything and said, "I see you!"

            He brushed himself off and looked around.  He smelled.  His last crown had been spent on buying food.  A little calmer, Sherif began to walk again.  He believed that he was getting out of the city.  He didn't know if there was countryside on this miserable rock, but if there was, maybe he could find work as a laborer on a farm.  Hell, maybe those villagers had been right, it was all he was cut out for.

 

            Although he had been kicked off three buses, one finally took him.  He rode the hover bus for tremendous differences.  He would just get on, and wouldn’t get off until the end of the day.  Asking locals where he could find food would lead to soup kitchens, where he could eat off the benevolence of the local religious people.

            At the end of the week, Sherif was tired, but he was told he was finally getting to the farm areas.  It was an odd way of putting it, he thought.  The farm areas.  Minos wasn’t defined by where the cities were, but rather where the farms were.  It was a concept Sherif had difficulty grasping.  He realized that the farming operations on Minos would be very efficient, and that grain came in from other planets, but it was still a difficult concept.

            When he entered the twelfth northern farming district, he had trouble telling a difference.  Sherif had been hoping for fields, and super efficient rice.  Instead, there were factories.  When Adams got off the bus, he was annoyed by the smell.

            He walked only a few feet before he looked around, and realized that all the farming took place in the factories.  It was an odd concept.  He had heard of it at school, but the full magnitude of it never dawned on him, until now.  An entire planet, fed without the use of the sun.  Somehow, it seemed appropriate.  The people from Minos had so much pollution in the sky, it was just as well that the wind never met the food.  It would ruin the taste.

            Looking around for a few more minutes, Sherif walked to what he supposed was the north.  He went twenty feet before seeing a sign asking for employment.  He should have known that someone so close to a bus station looking for workers was going to be trouble, but Sherif was naďve, to say the least.

 

            “Look out!”

            The call went out this night, like it had four nights before.  Sherif woke up.  He had spent the last four evenings in jail.  And the same dream came to him.

            “Look out!”  That’s what happened.  But how did it happen?

            Five days ago, Sherif had been working.  It wasn’t a good job, but it paid money, and Adams had rented a room.  He even bought a small set of dishes and pots.  It wasn’t much, and he knew that he was being paid very little for the work that he did, but he had two days a week off.  The future didn’t matter yet.  He was in a safe place.

            The growing of the fungi was under controlled light.  Plural fungus provided many calories for its small size, and it would grow on anything.  The two or more heads of the fungus grew off the stock of the mushroom and provided twice as much nourishment as a normal mushroom.  Plus, with enough flavoring, the taste could be covered up. It smelled atrocious, and Adams recognized that some of the fertilizers being used weren’t exactly healthy.  Still, he had learned to keep his mouth shut.  Everything was going well.  Sherif did not mind being used, and he was very productive and intelligent.

            The rain was unusually strong that day.  Though no one knew it, or cared, for years, the roof had not been cleaned.  Years of rain had left years of dirt on the roof.  Mushroom spores, which got everywhere, began to grow in the left over dirt.  They compromised the integrity of the roof, even feeding off parts of the fungicrete.

            The roof collapsed during the storm.  The dozens of men who were working in the building cried out in terror, and then in confusion.  The ceiling had been suspended.  Adams raised his eyes, and men looked at him in confusion.  Sherif’s hand was extended, and the pieces of the ceiling were held.  Sherif had spoken, “By my will.”

            He held up the ceiling, and then forced it back and out.  Rain came pouring in.  Sherif and the rest of the laborers were soaked.  It was miserable.  The lights were out.  It was dark out.  Within minutes, the emergency service was outside.  When asked what happened, Sherif was turned in.  He had been arrested for doing the right thing.

            Over the next three days, several mages came and examined the half-breed.  They denied that he was a mage.  A werewolf was called in and he denied that Adams was a werewolf.  It was fairly obvious that he wasn’t a vampire.  Sherif was accused of being an awakened creature, but the judge did not know what to do with him.  He wasn’t a mage, he wasn’t a werewolf or vampire, and he had saved several people, not harmed them.

            So he was left in the local jail.  They couldn’t move him to the regional prison without a crime.  But what crime had he committed?  And so Sherif remained.  Without anyone to talk to, or anything to do, Adams thought.

 

            Sherif broke out.  The wall went down.  He jumped, clicked his heels together, and ran down the road.  Nothing could hurt him now.  Bullets flew past.  They didn’t matter.  Adams jumped into the air, and watched the bullets turn into doves.  He laughed like a madman.  The police swore as their guns vanished.  Sherif kept running.  As he ran, a legless man screamed in shock as his legs came back.  A worker at a charity that once fed the ex-farmer found that all of the crockery had turned to gold.  An abandoned field, dead from pollution, bloomed with flowers and corn.  Sherif leapt into the air like a monkey and kept running.  And somewhere, far above, a satellite caught the whole thing and transmitted the images to where they were programmed to go.  Somewhere else, very far away, a smile was cracked.

 

*****

 

Cho woke up to find herself strapped down by tubes.  Once her eyes adjusted to the light, the assassin figured out that she was in a hospital—and not a very good one from the look of the cracks in the ceiling.  She felt weak after… what the go sch had happened to her?

            She heard the beeps next to her head go a little faster.  Oh… it’s just the heart monitor.  Well, I guess I’m alive, but how did I…?

            Memories of the night before came flooding back into her.  Did I overdose?  How can that be?  I’ve been taking this stuff since I was old enough to steal it!  That’s…

            The word impossible escaped her thoughts when a rather strange man entered the room.  He was hung mao, another one of those black devils, about middle-aged with blonde buzz-cut hair, shades, and a rather strange gold earring shaped as skull and crossbones.  He may have been old, but her trained eye caught the muscles shifting beneath the trench coat and formal business suit he wore.

            “Who…”  Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper.  “Who the hell’re you?”

            “I was concerned about you, we all are.  When I heard the news, I had to come for myself.”  As he spoke the words, she heard his voice doubled in her head, saying a completely different message.  My name is Lord Cornelius.  I was sent to find you.

            “I’ve never seen you before.”

            “Of course not, but when your friends called, I had to see you myself.”  I am the oyabun of Yakuza-Gaijin, M. Yamazaki.

            Cho went tense; she hated these round-eyed scum who called themselves yakuza.  Yet why they should care about her?  It’s not like she had done anything to them…  “Why are you here?”

            “Because I was concerned, I told you.”  To pay back that which you stole from us.

            She was so tired; she could have responded in that mental voice, but Cho just couldn’t muster the strength to do it.  Why this “lord” continued to be oblique was beyond her.  “Which ‘concern’?”

            “The concern we have for all our employees.”  Do you remember a job you did three years ago on Pi?

“I’m not your employee, but I remember you.”

“Ah, it’s coming back finally.  Good, I was afraid you had forgotten.”  You assassinated Sir Marius; I did not forget.

            “How did my friends contact you?”

            “They have my net address, my dear girl.”  Your Khymer Rouge was spiked with a convulsionary agent.  After that, I simply kept my ears open for an overdose.

            “I’m glad you came, although I don’t know why.”

            “Well, that means a lot.”  Sir Marius was my blood-brother; I did not forget his killer.

            “Your concern is appreciated, but you might as well forget me for now.  I’ll be out in a few days.”

            “I fear not.  The doctors say you’ll need more time to recover.”  Cornelius pulled out a hypodermic syringe.  Curse my name in the afterlife, bitch!  As his face turned to a smile, he started to bring the poison-laden syringe to her neck.

 

END OF EPISODE ONE

 

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Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home, even if your long-lost brother DOES turn out to be royalty.