“Why do stories that begin with ‘a guy walks into a bar’ never end with ‘and they all lived happily ever after’?  Because that type of story never takes place in a bar.  At least, not in the kind of bar that people tell stories about.” 

-- A.C. Eddington, “Son of a Gun: A Memoir of the Calm before the Storm”


            The bar doors burst open and four armed Imperial Security agents rushed in.  One of them called out, “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 your 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.

            “You’ll never take me in alive!”  Lobo’s barely-intelligible shout of fear-driven fury cut through the screams of the other customers in the bar.  Back in the days before Gehenna, the mere sight of a werewolf in Crinos form would have sent any unawakened human into a near-catatonic state of utter shock and terror, their minds unable to process the contradiction between the evidence of their senses and their own conviction that such a fearsome creature could not possibly exist.  Even in an age when everyone knew that the existence of werecreatures and vampires (and even more fearsome beings) was simply a fact of life, most people fled or fainted in sheer terror at the sight of a werewolf in full rage. 

            There weren’t any people like that in this particular bar.  The screams were not ones of terror at the werecreature, but at anger over the invasion of their sanctuary by the much-resented authorities.  Several of those in the bar had outstanding warrants for their arrest, and nearly all the rest had very good reason to not want the Imps looking too closely into their personal affairs. The remaining handful who’d never broken any laws or regulations were the kind of people who thought of themselves as outlaws, the sort of tough, independent sprits who in an earlier age would have ridden on motorcycles or worn leather jackets even in summer. 

            As the ImpSec Agents split up to deny the charging werewolf a single target and catch him in a crossfire, they were suddenly deluged from every side by a hail of bottles and throwing knives.  Half a dozen other bar patrons shifted into Crinos form as well, and followed Lobo’s charge to hit the Imps from several directions at once. 

            Still only halfway across the room, James Welthammer ignored the commotion, not wanting to draw potentially deadly attention to himself.  Stupid, staying in a bar with only one exit.  Then he remembered he had an audience.  Dammit, gotta impress the passengers or it will be nothing but nagging complaints all the way to...wherever they want to go.  Must remember to ask about that later.  He drew the pistol that the Imps had confiscated when he was arrested, pushed aside the small man standing in front of him, frozen with shock, and crouched down to take cover behind an overturned table.

“You two stay back, I’ll handle this,” he urged his companions with a smirk.  James took careful aim at an ImpSec officer who was clubbing a wounded werewolf with the butt of his still-smoking rifle.

BOOM.  In the close confines of the bunker-turned-bar, the report of James’ archaic large-caliber slug-thrower sounded like a grenade going off.  Nearly every eye in the joint suddenly turned to this new threat, including that of James’ target, who was unharmed.

            Tanj dammit.  James fired again, the echo of the shot again reverberating off the ceramcrete walls.  Again, no apparent damage to his target.  Not even a flinch, and even if he was missing, James should have been able to see a substantial crater in the wall behind the Imp from the impact of a wayward 10mm fragmentation-tip round.  But even the wall was undamaged.

            “Scheisse”, James muttered under his breath, and as the ImpSec officer raised his rifle to deal with this new threat, James ducked into a ball and rolled into a nearby booth vacated by its inhabitants to join the chaotic brawl. 

            As gauss rounds from the ImpSec officer’s rifle cratered the ceramcrete blocks forming the booth seats, James stripped out his magazine and examined it.  The bullets inside looked normal...but when he actually touched the tips, his fingers passed right through nothingness.  Holograms.  Illusion.  Golram ImpSec desk monkeys, he swore silently to himself.  I’m gonna have to dump everything I got back from those sua-shih bastards...assuming I get out of this golram deathtrap of a bar.

            The ImpSec officer had charged across the bar, his light unpowered body armor impervious to the fists and bottles thrown at him, his gauss rifle blowing away any patrons supernaturally strong enough to threaten his armor and foolish enough to approach.  He strode right past Hicks and Losada, seeing a frail old man and a cowering youth trying to hide under the table, and mentally writing them both off as non-threats. 

            He pointed his rifle down at James, and the electronics built into his helmet amplified his voice to an ear-splitting shout.  “IMPERIAL SUBJECT JAMES WELTHAMMER, YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR...”

            The Imp never got to finish his sentence.  Icarus Hicks calmly stood up behind him and pressed a hypospray to the officer’s neck just below the edge of his helmet.  A tranq compound meant for unruly psychotic ex-soldiers instantly shut down all higher neural functions in the ImpSec soldier, and he collapsed in a boneless heap.

            Hicks knelt down and picked up the officer’s dropped weapon, and tossed it to a surprised Captain Welthammer.  “Here, try one that works,” he said with a curt nod, and grabbed the taser pistol from the officer’s belt.  Welthammer stood up and began firing over the top of the booth at the other two surviving ImpSec troopers who were still near the door, surrounded by a still-growing pile of dead and unconscious bar patrons.

            A few seconds later, Icarus joined him, firing over an overturned table with the taser pistol.  The gas-propelled piezoelectric pellets needed to hit flesh or at least clothing, and would be useless against the body armor of the two ImpSec troopers.  The only exposed flesh was on their faces, so that’s what he aimed at.  As Welthammer’s gauss projectiles punctured the chest armor of the trooper on the left, Hicks’ pellets smacked into the cheek and nose of the agent on the right, and the kinetic energy of the moving pellets was transformed by the piezoelectric crystals inside into a disabling electrical charge.  Both Imps went down, joining the other two agents already on the floor. 

            As the smoke cleared, the handful of other bar patrons who were still uninjured immediately ran out the front door, certain that more cops were on the way, and anxious to not be caught in the storm of retribution certain to follow the killing of four Imperial Security personnel. 

            The fight over, Icarus’ medical instincts took over, and he began checking the bodies lying on the floor, looking for signs of life.  He started with the tranq’ed officer at his feet, and found to his dismay that he had set the dosage too high; the man was dead; the nerve signals to his heart had stopped.

Dammit.  He'd lost patients before, of course, and occasionally even through his own mistakes.  No doctor can practice medicine for twenty-seven years without losing a few patients and making a few mistakes.  But you just never get used to it, he thought to himself.  Or you're not the kind of person who becomes a doctor.

            James looked away from the carnage at the building’s front to find his employer crouched over the fallen Imp.

            “Dammit, Doc, he’s not alive is he?”

            Hicks sighed, and began to lift himself up, “No, he’s, ah…he’s dead, Jim.”

            James lowered his rifle and extended a hand to help the doctor up, “Well, forgive me if I don’t mourn his passing, Bones.”

            Hicks brushed some dust from his shirt, “Please don’t call me that.”

            “Don’t call me Jim.”

            The two men nodded to each other.

            Hicks looked at the pile of bodies a few meters away, “I’d better see about the others.”

            “Right.”  James followed him to the doorway.

            It was a grim scene, but Icarus thought at least one of the troopers might still be alive; he reached for the small medical pouch on his belt.

            And watched in horror as Welthammer shouldered the gauss rifle and put a round into each of the three Imps on the floor.

Dr. Hicks exploded.  "What in the name of the merciful Buddha do you think you're doing??!?!?"

            The smuggler turned back, puzzled.  “Making sure they’re dead.”  A moment passed while he made sense of the older man’s anger.  “Look, Doc, we just killed at least one Imp each."  He stepped over the bodies of lifeless and groaning bar patrons alike, and faced the furious surgeon.  "Offing a uniformed member of the Imperial services is a hanging charge, buddy.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather none of these guys live to report us, or we both end up with a price on our heads."

Dr. Hicks slowly regained his composure.  Dammit, the man’s right.  As he got his breathing back under control, he knelt over the nearest trooper, and stripped the weapons belt off the body.

"You're right, Captain Welthammer," Icarus intoned in a voice that sounded like death itself.  "In for a penny, in for a pound, as they used to say."  He turned to face Losada, standing behind them, his face as white as a sheet.  "Pablo, we've got to get out of here.  Those Imps undoubtedly called for backup, and more troops will be here in moments."

            “He’s right, kid.  Four troops to pacify a bar is too reasonable.  We should expect at least a dozen more on their way, proper Imperial overkill.”  Losada didn’t move, just continued to stare at the death in front of him.

James grabbed the lab assistant by his wrist, and pulled him towards the doorway.  "Come on," he called, "we've got a shuttle to catch."

As the trio exited the bar, Icarus turned back to look at his friend Emile Magritte's lifeless body, draped across the top of the bar, still clutching the empty tranq rifle.  "Sorry, friend."  He gave a final, teary-eyed salute.

James pointed across the complex to a flat ceramcrete strip about a hundred meters away.

“Shuttle should be coming down right over there.  Or, I hope so anyway.”

Dr. Hicks strapped the weapons belt around his waist, “Looks about right, shall we go?”

The three men ran toward the landing area.  James had to readjust his opinion of Dr. Hicks once again, as the old man seemed to have little trouble keeping up.  The old spaceport complex appeared devoid of any other human presence.  So soon after their firefight, James found the emptiness disconcerting, though he supposed he should be thankful there wasn’t anyone else to give them trouble.

They reached the strip in a few minutes, and Icarus had an opportunity to catch his breath.  He tried to remain reasonably fit, but he was still gaining in years, and the run had taken some effort, despite his attempts to maintain appearances.

They didn’t have to wait long before the distant rumble of a sonic boom reached their ears.  Icarus craned his neck to search the sky for contrails of the speck of a shuttle. 

“I hope that was your shuttle,” the doctor said to the smuggler in a worried tone. 

“I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you,” the smuggler replied.  An ImpSec assault pinnace roared overhead from behind them, and they saw a half dozen troopers in full power armor jump out in midair, then descend on their suit jets to militarily precise landings on the roof of the distant ex-bunker housing Magritte’s Tavern. 

“It won’t take them more than a minute or two to figure out where we went,” Icarus opined.  “Those are Type 22 suits, with full-spectral sensors.  “

“Less than that,” James replied, as the assault pinnace came back around, and settled on its jets to a vertical landing halfway down the runway.  Another half dozen power suits leaped out as it touched down, and a pair came towards them in a series of mechanically-augmented jumps. 

            James looked down at the gauss rifle ruefully.  “This little popgun won’t make a dent in that battle armor,” he sighed.  “And that taser pistol you’re holding is even less useful.” 

            “Worse yet, they’re both obviously looted from the dead Imps in the bar,” Icarus pointed out, less than helpfully.  . 

            “I’ve survived worse fuck-ups,” James said reassuringly.  “None spring to mind, but I’m sure I’ve screwed up worse than this before.” 

            “If this goes to trial, I want separate lawyers,” Losada muttered almost under his breath. 

            “We can’t fight, we can’t run, that only leaves one option,” Hicks said quietly. 

            “And that is?” 

            “When those troopers get here...drop you gun.”  As Pablo and James looked on incredulously, Icarus knelt down on the ceramcrete of the runway surface and put his hands behind his head. 




Jiang Li-yung had graduated.  It had taken six years, and untold credits, but she had managed to graduate.  She looked at herself in the mirror, and pulled the comb through her hair again.  The long straight black hung, with luster seeming pulling off the comb with every stroke.  She pulled it again, and again.  A hundred times every night.  It had definitely paid off.

            Other girls at university had let themselves go.  Li-yung knew how important it was to keep her appearance.  Although she did not have a fiancé yet, she knew it was just a matter of time before one of the law students sent an emissary to her father.

            She was so pleased with herself.  She was stunning.  She glanced at her nude body in the mirror.  Her face was perfect.  Her breasts were perfect.  Her charcoal hair hung flawlessly.  She looked in her eyes, and saw the chestnut eyes reflecting the image of the mirror.  She reached for the barrette her last boyfriend had bought her, and slung her hair back, Imperial Japanese style.

            She walked over to her dresser and put on her dudou.  It was so fashionable.  The panties complimented it perfectly.  “The perfect match of West and East” she thought.  She walked over to the closet and looked at the dress that was hanging on the door.  It was sheer and sexy.

            She reached into the closet and pulled out the pair of shoes she had bought for the evening.  She slipped them on her bare feet.  The black shoes perfectly matched her black dress that she had just picked off the door.

            Careful not to hurt the dress with her shoes, or her hair with the dress, Li-yung slid her body into it.  It slung in at a 70 degree angle from her right thigh to her left knee.  She loved the way to the dudou slung across her neck.  Everything was perfect.


            The class had rented a gorgeous room at the grand hotel Tiberius.  Of course, from Chin-wan University, who would expect otherwise?  There were no scholarships here.  The only way to get in was to pay.  No poor Yang-Guizi there.  The westerners never did learn how to behave, despite a thousand years of contact with the Center.  They were just inferior.

            The outside of the hotel wasn’t much to speak about.  Coming in, Li-yung was harassed by homeless looking for handouts.  One in particular was disgusting.  A half-breed.  How could a Chinese man impregnate one of them?  Granted, the blond hair could be cute on a Thai, but the Yang-Guizi were all so ugly.  Their noses, yuck!

            Jiang Li-ying pushed the thought from her mind when she saw Qing Guo.  Now there was a catch.  The son of the planetary governor.  When Qing Loung was retired, he would have made enough money to last his family six generations.  It was a family Jiang Li-ying wanted into.

            But that annoying bitch Ying Hsui-Mei was coming towards her.  “Hello Hsui-Mei!”

            “Hello Li-ying.  We made it.  Oh.  It was so hard.  I wasn’t sure that I would ever make it.”

            Li-ying’s eyes looked over Ying.  She certainly belonged her, but she really worked during her years at Chin-wan University.  Her hair was good, but she was nowhere as good looking as Li-ying and Li-ying was sure that they both knew it.  The Ying father was a self made man, though his son was working hard at spending the family fortune.

            “Come now darling, of course we were going to.  Was there ever any doubt?”  Li-ying giggled.

            Ying Hsui-Mei joined in, half-heartedly.  “Of course you’re right.  How could we not?”

            At that moment, Li-ying looked over and saw Qing Guo dancing with another girl, perhaps Jianghua Mei Li.  A frown skirted Li-ying’s face, but pasted as quickly as a hawk descending on a mouse.

            “Oh, I must get a glass of punch.  Will you excuse me please?”  Hsui-Mei nodded and smiled.  They both went their own ways.

            Hours passed, and social necessities went flying.  Jiang Li-ying was confident that she was the belle of the ball.  Even Qing Guo had asked her to dance.  Everything was perfect this evening, but when Guo asked her to dance again, she was ecstatic, though she hid it well.

            “I wasn’t sure I would see you tonight.” Guo said.  “I’m glad I did.”

            Li-ying was flattered.  “I wouldn’t miss it.”

            “To tell you the truth, I was looking forward to seeing you.”

            Li-ying blushed.  “Mr. Qing, I had no idea.”

            “I’ve been watching you for some time, Ying.  I suppose it’s the alcohol, but I love seeing you.  You’re so beautiful tonight.”  Li-ying smiled.  She didn’t disagree and she didn’t stop him.

            “You look good yourself, Guo.  I’ve never seen you in a tuxedo before.”  That was a lie, but Li-ying didn’t mind.

            “Thank you.  I had it imported from Avalon.  The best cuts come from there.  I know that they say tailors can duplicate anything, but I swear that hand made fits best.”  Li-ying smiled.  This would be an ideal choice for a husband.  Easily manipulated.  “Where does your dress come from?”

            “Oh, I have no idea.  I saw it at a store and I had to have it.”

            “Well, it certainly fits you well.”

            “Thank you.”

            Qing and Jiang danced for several more minutes in silence, enjoying each other’s company before the song ended.  They had both taken professional dancing lessons in finishing school before leaving for university.  The social butterflies were clearly enjoying the other’s company.  They spent the rest of the evening together.


            At the end of the night, Qing and Jiang were hanging off each other.  They were loud and both clearly drunk.  They were smiling widely and laughing loudly.  When almost the entire party had left, Li-ying and Guo went up to Guo’s room.  Jiang knew what was going to happen, she wasn’t a virgin, and she was sure that she would enjoy it.

            When they walked into the room, Qing smiled at Jiang, pushed her against the wall, and ran his hand up the inside of her leg.  “Want to know a secret?”

            “What’s that?”  Jiang arched her head back and pulled Qing’s head to her neck.

            “This room is completely sound proof.”  Qing kissed Jiang’s neck.

            “So I can be as loud as I want.”

            “You will be.”

            Guo grabbed Li-ying’s hand, and flung her body onto the marble floor.  She looked up, stunned.  Guo was like a demon.  He ran at her, and grabbed her by the neck.  He tore her dress off, and then her underwear.  Li-ying knew he was going to rape her, but why?  She would have willingly gone along.

            By the time the fist smashed into her face, she knew something was dreadfully wrong, but it was too late to fight back.  He pushed her legs apart and spat on her face. He brutally penetrated her, and as he thrust into her, Guo pummeled her into unconsciousness.  Li-ying’s last thought was of crying for her father.


“The Qing boy did it again?”

“That’s what it looks like.”


“Yeah, dead.  Could that be alive?”

            Li-ying wanted to scream.  She could feel her heart beating.  She knew she wasn’t dead.

            “Well, let’s get it out of here.  This one will definitely be worth several ram chips.”

            She could feel them pick her up.  She struggled to move, to breath, to do anything.  She passed out, certain she was dead.

            Li-ying woke up.  It was dark, and wet.  She could breath, but every breath hurt.  She was weepingly bitterly.  It stunk and she could feel nothing but pain.  She tried calling out, but couldn’t.  She struggled to move.  Moving her leg, she shrieked, but her ears only heard a moan.  She continued to struggle to move.

            A light suddenly appeared, and she brushed her eyes with her left hand.  Her right hurt too badly to move it.  Everything hurt.  A hand reached in, and pulled her out.  It was sheer pain, and hurt more than anything she had ever thought possible.  A moment later, mercifully, she passed out again.

            Li-ying woke up again.  She tried opening her eyes.  It hurt to do so, but she couldn’t focus on anything.  She took a breath, and felt her lungs fill with fresh air.  She looked up, and for an instant, her eyes focused.  It was the half-breed she saw earlier in the evening.

            She tried speaking, but couldn’t.  It just hurt too much.  He looked at her, and she looked into his eyes.  She saw pity.  His expression was unreadable.

            She tried to move, to speak, to stand, but she couldn’t do anything, all she could do was look.  And something amazing happened.  She recognized him for what he was.

            Long ago, a nursemaid had told Li-ying about Jesus.  Jesus said “treat the least of my people as you would treat me.”  Li-ying knew her nurse wanted more from her family, and she told her father.  The nurse was fired.  But she knew now that it was true.

            “Please forgive me.  I’m sorry.”

            Sherif Tian-yi Adams shook his head.  “No.  I cannot.  You must forgive yourself.”

            “Can you forgive me?”

            “No, first, you must forgive yourself.”

            Li-ying looked into her self, and began crying more bitterly than she had.  She knew she was dying, and she couldn’t forgive herself.  She knew she was going to hell.




            Captain Jae Young Park of His Imperial Majesty’s frigate Minami Tori Shima was rather upset to have this interloper on his bridge. She wasn’t Fleet, she wasn’t even Imperial Security—she was one of those Imperial Regulators, that strange group of quasi-police fanatically loyal to the Emperor. Of course, this was nothing new. Park was used to being given strange orders; patrolling sectors that seem strategically worthless, sneaking messages to spy network in the Border Nations, listening to com traffic around a hundred swirling worlds. That’s what these “little island” frigates were designed for; stealth and observation. However, never had he ever play chauffeur to a regulator before.
            “Sai, we have reached the Ya System.”

            “Excellent, Lieutenant. Activate the Footprint Magnification System and set emissions to have us look like an outbound Jurvain freighter. If there’s nothing worth stealing, no one’s going to bother us.”

            “Hai, sai.

            Park turned to the visitor. “Well, your honor, this is the third system we’ve reached on your tour. Anywhere else you’d like us to go?”

            “This is acceptable for the moment, captain,” she replied, that same icy voice she had used from Day One, “set your receptors to their maximum sensitivity.”

            “As I told you the last time, our sensors will be obscured by the FMS. Until we play our freighter game and leave its signature at the next jump gate, we…”

            “I’m perfectly aware of the Amami o Shima-class’ restrictions, captain.”

            Jae Young could feel his blood boiling looking at the interloper standing there in her outdated Imperial dress, wanting to boot her out the nearest airlock. Two weeks of this… two weeks of searching through the frontier worlds and the colonies for… for what? The little bitch hasn’t bothered to tell us!


            David Weathers watched the little blip pass along the screen, inching closer towards Jurvain space. He turned to the tactical officer again, “Lieutenant Schultz, time for freighter to reach the jumpgate?”

            The captain could tell the officer was repressing a sigh; it was the sixth time he had asked in the past hour. Schultz punched the same sequence of buttons and replied, “Two minutes, five seconds.”

            David nodded and kept looking at the blip. Figures, he thought, you’re about to make a raid on the customs inspection squadron and a bloody freighter just happens to pass by. We can’t afford having anyone else get warning until it’s too late.

            Seconds dragged on until finally Weapons said, “Freighter’s passed through the jumpgate.”

            “About time,” Weathers muttered under his breath, then turned to his crew. “Helm, proceed on attack vector. Fire the ion drive, then once we’re outside of the moon’s shadow, cut down the drive.”


            Major Dame Cynthia Beatrix of the Imperial Regulators knew this was the right place. It just felt right. All of her years of training as a mage, her time spent in the civil service, had prepared her for this mission well. The little spider web of magical senses she extended out in every direction every time they entered a system helped her understand the lay of the planets better than anything this piece of gosa could have told her. Her senses told her that there was something here that wasn’t supposed to be. Now they only needed to be confirmed.

            She gave a side glance to the captain; her ability took a lot of concentration, that gave the captain the coldness that irritated him so much. He would have been irritated anyway; these han hate being ordered around by a hung mao like me.

            “Jumpgate sequence complete; FMS disengaged,” came the report. Once again, the sensor phantom passed through the empty dimensional gate without incident. A quick dispatch to the customs squadron cleared them through without much bother. She brushed some of her blonde hair back from her shoulder and kept focused.

            Almost instantly, the sensors became brighter, and instantly reported. “Sai, Number Three Receptor reports vessel contact at 173 mark 231.”

            Beatrix came out of her concentration to say “Imperial signature?”

            “No, sai. Unknown contact.”

            “Run it through the databanks.” Captain Park ordered; he sounded bored. “Probably just a smuggler trying to make a run for the border… unless that’s what we’ve been hunting down?”

            “Not a smuggler, captain,” she icily replied, “but that’s our prize.”

            “Whatever she is,” the sensor officer shot back, “she’s running silent. That squadron won’t know she’s there until the jumpgate opens!”

            “If that’s where she’s headed…” Cynthia muttered.

            Jae Young was pissed off. “If you have something to share, your honor…”

            “No.” she shot back, annoying the captain more.

            “Have you any orders or shall we just sit here?”

            Her piercing hazel eyes moved over to the sensors. “What’s their trajectory?”
            “They’re headed for sector 85 by… right toward the battlestation!”

            “Captain, make a course to intercept them, before they reach their target.”

            “A raid?” Park was incredulous.

            Beatrix wasn’t about answer such narrow-minded stupidity. Of course it was a raid, why do you think they’re running silent? But we can play that game better. “Intercept.”

            “But we’re a frigate! That has to be… a cruiser at least!”


            “Let me inform the squadron for backup.”

            “No. We will not let our prize get away. Intercept.”


            “Intercept.” She repeated, then burrowed a message into his brain. You will intercept or I will fry your brain into wonton! DO IT!

            Park was noticeably shaken. “Helm, plot a course to intercept. Maximum speed possible under stealth.”


            They were five minutes from their target and everything was going according to plan. Then why am I worried, Weathers thought. Something’s not right; I can feel it!

            Through his second sight, he was able to feel his crew’s anxiety, ready to make their next blow against the slant bastards, but there was this impending… something.

            Should I try and make a scan? the captain thought. What could I tell me that my sensors could not? David decided he must just be anxious himself. No, everything’s going to be fine. I have to set the example for my men…


            “Sensors confirm that target is a Prince of Wales-class cruiser. We will reach their maximum weapons range in 30 seconds.”

            “I hope you’re happy, your honor.” Park grumbled. “In thirty seconds, they’ll be able to fry us with everything they’ve got!”

            Beatrix ignored his cowardice. “Captain, activate lidar to confirm distance to target, then proceed at top speed to evade.”

            The captain paused for a moment, then relaxed. “Finally. Tactical, activate lidar. One ping only.”

            “Aye!” the officer quickly moved his hands across the panel.

            “Helm, prepare to change course to 001 mark 265 on my command, maximum burn.”

            “Changing course, awaiting your order.”

            “Sai, activating lidar.”


            Suddenly it was like a gong had been banged across the ship. Lights lit up and warning sirens blazed across the ship. “What the hell was that?!” A thousand voices seemed to answer at once.

            “We’ve been pinged!”
            “Active lidar blast…”

            “…my God, my God…”

            “We’re lit up like a fucking Christmas tree!”

            “New sensor contact, 046 mark…”

            “Battlestation weapons array is coming on line, sir!”

            “…so much for surprise…”

            “Enemy squadron increasing engines, moving to intercept!”

            “Captain, orders?!”




            When Joy reached the pool, Chan had disappeared. With a quizzical look on her face she stripped off the robe that she was wearing and dove into the pool. The skim of her chameleon suit knifed through the alien water giving her an extra few feet of depth. Slowly she swam around in a circle and then with an arch of her body dove deep beneath. The water rushed past her head as she dove deep into the clear water. The blue and red streaks of the Baldese Rainbow fish flitted past her peripheral vision.

            The pool was deep as always but the light from the sky above stayed as bright as it was at the top. Joy reached the bottom and gently let her foot rest on the sandy bottom. She loved it down here, where no one could bother her. The only pain about this place was that she could only be down here for a minute or so.

            Out of the corner of her eye Joy saw something big move and shifted her gaze. John stood before her, in his white uniform. He had a smile on his face and his arm was outstretched. With a small shout which turned to bubbles before her she jumped towards him. She felt him pick her up in his arms and lean down to kiss her. Then he began to fade….

            She felt arms around her and looked into his face. Before her was Chan, scars rooted deep across his cheeks. Strangely she was not afraid, nor surprised. Then darkness overtook her.


            Chan leaned over Joy at the edge of the pool. She had just started to breathe again and was coughing up water. Hoon watched as Chan gently lifted Joy into an upright position. Hoon watched with some amusement at the amount of care Chan used on Joy.

            The illegitimate prince looked at the couple and smiled to himself. What a strange pair they make, he pondered, looking at the two, and how sad. I can read her history like a bad romance. How ironic that I’m sending the second man to his death? Of course, he might live, but against the Emperor and his guards? Hmph… we’ll see.

            Hoon made his way silently out of the dome, leaving the couple to their delights. After all, it’ll be some time before they see each other again.


            After a couple hours, Hoon found Chan again, looking very pleased with himself. “I suppose there’s some other reason for your continued delay?”


            “Never mind… now, are you ready to leave?”

            “Not… quite yet?”

            “The Emperor is dying. You know that, of course?”

            Lee suddenly felt an anxiety building inside him; what if the shi ren bastard died before I could kill him? “No, I didn’t.”

            “He’s very sick. Some in the court suspect poison, but it’s hardly that. Age creeps up on us all, even you. It is a very efficient killer.”

            “So am I.”

            “I don’t doubt it. Make up your mind soon, Chan… I wouldn’t call this the ‘ass end’ of space, but it’s not my first choice for a pleasure cruise.  My shuttle is waiting in the forest, past the first checkpoint. I will leave at 0700 tomorrow, with or without you.”




The withdrawal made Cho felt like crap to begin with—and the threat of imminent death only made it worse.  Her head throbbed painfully, her stomach churned, and she was shaking uncontrollably.  The flimsy hospital bed rattled under her trembling body.

            A thin, tight smile spread across Lord Cornelius’s face.  “This will help with the withdrawal symptoms,” the blond black man said soothingly, but a second voice in Cho’s head snarled, I want to look into your eyes as you die, bitch!  He gripped her chin and cranked her head toward his face.

            Cho drew a long, trembling breath, collected her chi in the pit of her stomach, and willed the syringe to shatter… but nothing happened.  She narrowed her eyes and tried to concentrate… but she couldn’t focus enough to bend reality.  The pain, the shakes, the craving… her chi continued to build in her belly, but she couldn’t focus it enough to become real.

            True, pure fear gripped Cho for the first time in years.  Lord Cornelius must have seen it in her eyes, for he paused, syringe hovering above her neck.  You’re no match for me in your condition, chink, he smiled humorlessly down at her, amused.  How does it feel to be powerless?

            He’s blocking me! Cho suddenly realized, and the chi bottled up in the pit of her stomach—with nowhere to go—swelled nauseatingly.  The black devil’s a golram mage!  Even if I were sober, he…  Her fear blossomed into pure panic.  She started struggling wildly, fighting against her restraints, trying in vain to jerk her head out of Cornelius’s vice-like grip.

            “Easy, now, it’s for your own good,” Cornelius said as the needle punctured her skin.  This is for my blood-brother, you worthless slant-eyed junkie!

            The poison burned like acid in her veins.  She thrashed around blindly as it burned down into her chest toward her heart.  Suddenly her stomach revolted, and her chi—suddenly given an outlet—heaved along with the contents of her belly.  She lurched and puked—right into the damn hung mao’s face.

            Cornelius cursed and staggered back, accidentally ripping the half-empty syringe out of Cho’s neck.  His concentration temporarily broken, Cho felt the cloud on her mind ease—now was her chance, but… she heaved painfully once more, spewing vomit all over herself as Cornelius ripped off his puke-coated shades and wiped his face, cursing.  Still dry heaving painfully, Cho stared groggily at her restraints and concentrated as Cornelius stepped forward.  Ice-cold fear for her life gave her just enough clarity to cut through the haze of her mind; the restraints popped open.  Cho rolled sideways off the bed, narrowly missing the syringe Cornelius stabbed down at her.  Life support needles and tubes ripped themselves messily out her body as she crashed onto the cold floor.

            For a second, Cho just lay on the floor, immobilized by the pounding, blinding pain of the poison burning through her body.  Then she felt the cloud descend on her mind again, and the panic returned with full intensity.  She raised herself on trembling arms and looked behind her.  Cornelius was stalking around the bed toward her, syringe in hand.  Weakly, Cho kicked out at the wheeled hospital bed and knocked it into him.  Cornelius staggered, off balance for just a second… but it was enough to break his concentration—the cloud on Cho’s mind dissolved.

            “SHATTER!” Cho yelled, pointing at the syringe and focusing as hard as she could.  There was a muffled crack and a clear liquid dripped out of the plastic pneumo-syringe onto the floor.  Cornelius froze, squeezing the broken syringe in a fist trembling with anger, watching Cho with eyes full of controlled fury as she struggled to her knees.

            I don’t need poison to kill you, bitch, Cornelius’s voice rang through Cho’s mind as the disorienting mental cloud descended on her again.  There are other ways—ways I’ll enjoy more.  Cho grabbed the heart monitor for balance, pulled herself dizzily to her feet, and spun around to face Cornelius as he snatched the pillow off the bed.

            “Go sch, gaijin! Cho wheezed spitefully.  Golram shi fa ren hungSHOKO??”

            Cho froze, staring in disbelief past Cornelius’s shoulder to where her sister Shoko sat in a chair next to the bed, hands in her lap, quietly watching the fight with a blank, disinterested expression.  No, it can’t be! Cho thought desperately.  A hallucinationit must be!  Shoko would never… my sister couldn’t… of all the people to betray me, Shoko


            Cornelius’s fist crashed into Cho’s chest and she went flying backward, stumbled, and fell to the floor.  The room was spinning, but she could still make out the form of the black gaijin advancing on her, holding up the pillow.  Panic surged in her again.  Cho flopped over on her stomach and tried to stand, but the poison had sapped too much of her strength, and she sagged back down to her knees.  Desperately she reached out her hands and pulled herself forward, crawling across the cold hard floor.  Distantly behind her, she heard someone laugh.  Cornelius… or Shoko?

            Yes, crawl before me, bitch! the gaijin’s voice echoed through her mind.  Let the mighty wu jen Cho die on her knees!

            “I’m not… gonna… die…” Cho gasped, crawling as fast as she could toward the wall.  But if I do, at least let me die on my feet! she thought woozily to herself.  And I haven’t even got my boots on, dammit!  This ain’t how I want to go out!

            What are you going to do, escape? Cornelius mocked her telepathically.  You’re not even crawling in the right direction, you stupid nip! he thought, delivering a sharp kick to Cho’s ass that sent her sprawling headfirst into the wall.  The door’s the other way, idiot!

            But Cho wasn’t heading for the door.  The room spun, her head throbbed, and the poison burned, but with the last of her strength she pulled herself weakly to her knees, swung her fist, and punched through the protective glass over the emergency fire alarm switch.

            YOU BITCH!! Cornelius roared through her mind as he suddenly realized what she was doing.  Her hand closed over the lever just as the black gaijin’s fist knocked her to the floor.  She heard the fire alarm screaming as hands grabbed her roughly and spun her onto her back.  Then the pillow slammed down over her face—and then she couldn’t hear anything.  Cho tried to struggle, tried to move her arms or kick her legs, but the poison had sapped all her strength.  Not like this, please, not like this! Cho thought desperately.  Don’t let me die without a fight!  Don’t—

            That’s it—the way out!  Don’t fight!  Cho’s held her breath and let her body go limp.  A few seconds ticked by, then Cornelius lifted the pillow.  Cho let her head roll to the side, eyes open.  She held perfectly still.  Distantly, she heard agitated voices in the hall outside yelling something about a fire, and Cornelius shot an apprehensive look at the door.  He glanced down at Cho’s motionless, staring eyes and then, apparently convinced she was dead, sprang to his feet and sprinted out the door.  The second he disappeared, Cho choked in a huge, rasping breath.

            Cho lay on the cold floor, dizzy and confused, as drops from the fire sprinklers splattered across her face and the fire sirens blared.  She breathed raggedly and bled from a dozen small wounds.  The poison burned through her neck and chest, her stomach churned and heaved, and her head felt like it was going to explode.  She couldn’t move—except for the endless withdrawal shakes, of course.  She couldn’t even puke, even though she desperately wanted to.  Her vision was growing dim, but she could still make out a dark form moving toward her through the flashing red lights.

            “Cho?” Shoko called, worried.  “Cho?  CHO!!”  Now small hands were shaking her gently.  “Merciful Buddha, Cho, what happened?!  Are you alright?”

Cho swung her eyes towards the form of her sister.  “Get… away from me, you… you jin sai whore!” Cho croaked out.  “I… know what… you did!”

            Shoko blinked, confused.  “What?”

            “You… sold me out, you… golram bitch!”

            “What are you talking abo—Tien she deh, Cho, your neck is bleeding!”

            “I’ll… kill you… for this… you slut…”

            “Don’t move, Cho, I’ll go get help!”  There was a blur of motion, and Shoko was gone.

            “Kill you… whore… kill you…” Cho called out weakly to the empty room.

            Then her world went dark.




Click to go to the previous act in the storyGo back to the Table of ContentsClick to go to the next act in the story, if and when it gets released and posted here.

Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home, even if your younger sister becomes a prostitute and sells you out to the Japanese Mafia.