DREAMS OF AN UNHOLY NIGHT – ACT II
“My sword is in my hand… and I fear nothing.”
– Last words of Ji-Kwang, medieval Korean warlord
David Weathers shook off his surprise at being pinged and sprang into action. “Helm, give me a course away from that squadron that keeps us on a heading near the frigate. Max burn,” he said, barely taking the time to breathe as he turned towards the tactical station, “Lieutenant Schultz, deploy the stones between us and that squadron, set their targeting window to include torpedoes.” Weathers then turned to his XO and spoke quietly over the din of the now scrambling bridge. “Theresa, I need you to keep track of what is going on, make sure my orders are followed… and if God forbid anything happens to me, be ready to step up.”
“Sir,” Lieutenant Commander Palmer shrugged, “if anything happens to you, I doubt I’ll be here either.”
“I’ll explain later, just do as I asked.”
“Sir, the stones are away.” The stones were a new toy that had recently been added to the Dickerson’s weapons suite. The cargo of one of the freighters they had captured had contained a load of hunter-seeker mines. One of Engineer Bodovsky’s finer young engineers, James Mountain, had stumbled onto an idea while gazing out at the asteroid belt they used as a base. He fitted the mines’ engines and guidance systems into smaller asteroids to create as he put it “mobile space junk with the nose of a good hunting hound.” Of course, the irony of the man’s name was not lost on the crew. They became known as Mountain’s Stones.
“Excellent, give me a long range shot on that frigate before they are completely out of range, let’s try and get lucky.”
“Yes, sir, firing the Grav Laser on a snap shot.”
Weathers then turned his attention to the fleeing frigate. Who are you? Why was I not able to sense your presence? Have they figured out I am different, are you hunting me…
Aboard the Minami Tori Shima the weapons officer screamed out a warning, “Sai, they’re firing on us!”
The Grav Laser landed a glancing blow on the aft section of the fleeing vessels. The hit would have been inconsequential to a larger vessel, but to a frigate it was cause for concern.
“Damage report!” Captain Jae Young Park snapped while glaring at the Imperial Regulator, as if to accuse her of orchestrating this attack on his vessel.
“Sai, no major damage to report…wait,” the ensign’s breath caught in his throat as he read the panel, “we’re venting coolant!”
Life on the bridge seemed to stop for an instant as the same thought registered in every mind. If we are venting gas, we can’t hide.
“Understood, ensign. Get damage crews to work on that immediately. Let’s hope we can keep out of their way until it is… if that’s all right with, your honor.” he said turning to Beatrix. She, however, was not paying attention to him.
At that moment Cynthia had found Weathers. You BITCH, he screamed across space at her as she began to attempt to probe his mind. She had planned to carefully dissect his mind as a medical student might a cadaver, but she found far more than she bargained for. So powerful, she thought, yet his energy seems completely unfocused. Could I have found a wild mage?
At that moment, Weathers began to hammer at her, trying to force her out of his head. The only thing that saved Beatrix from being completely fried by the force of his rage was her training. While she was unable to make any headway during the assault, she was able to keep him from damaging her. Like a well seasoned boxer Cynthia was able to counter each assault. The bridge crew of the Minami Tori Shima was given a visual interpretation of the battle as she unknowingly performed an intricate kata at her place on the bridge, giving a physical display to the war waging inside her mind. With each block, the rage within Weathers grew. Attack after attack with rising intensity drove the woman backwards until she bumped into a bulkhead at the rear of the bridge. The Imperial Regulator might have been finished but then a break occurred in Weather’s concentration.
“Sir, the enemy squadron has launched long range torpedoes.”
The information broke Weathers concentration for a brief moment. Unlike his adversary, who had learned to channel her concentration through the martial arts, Weathers had been a statue completely oblivious to what was going on around him.
“Umm, acknowledged, are the stones intercepting?”
“Yes, sir they are. Several are also tracking that cruiser, frigate and their two corvettes.
“Excellent, keep us on this course and let me know when they are past the stones, if they get past them,” replied Weathers.
“Roger, sir, will update.”
The last phrase was lost on the captain as he had a new problem to deal with. Cynthia Beatrix had sensed his break in concentration, and the lapse in his assault gave her an opportunity to counter attack. She probed into the part of his mind that we all try to keep hidden, that dark place where we store the memories of our greatest pains and failures. There Cynthia found the image of young boy named Shintaro. There was a great deal of confusion and shame surrounding this image. She knew instantly what had happened. During her training Beatrix had been given exercises that allowed her to separate herself from the psyche of her victims. This prevented excess guilt caused by the unknowing absorption of personal feelings upon a joining of minds. If he has no training I will use this against him. Cynthia revealed herself to Weathers, only it was not a woman he saw, but the young Shintaro. Why did you kill my father?
Captain Weathers was frozen by the question. He had spent weeks dealing with the guilt he had received as a result of using a child to kill another man. Unfortunately for the Regulator, David had not had the time to look deeper into Weather’s mind. If she had, she might have seen the incident that had finally given him peace over the incident. One evening he had confided in his son that he was feeling a great deal of weight with his new command. He included guilt over having to do what it takes to win. Gordon had risen from his seat, walked over to Weathers desk and picked up an image of the woman they both had loved. “Dad,” he had said, “those slants killed her without batting an eye. We’re just cattle to them, and the day this universe is rid of their kind, is the day I will forgive them.”
Gordon’s words rose up in Weather’s mind like a giant hammer. He proceeded to use it to smash the image of Shintaro, as if to eradicate it once and for all. In its place he saw a woman, a white woman. Traitor! He screamed at her with all the energy his being could gather. Cynthia was once again on the defensive, her superior training again saving her from the raw psychic assault.
Inspired by her own use of his memories, Weathers began to batter with images drawn from his experience. Images of countless atrocities committed by Asiatics against peoples they deemed less-human. The assault was fueled by a life-time of hatred and was more that the young mage could handle. In order to stop the assault, Beatrix called up all of her skill to build a wall between her and the rogue-captain. She realized she would not be able to defeat him, she must report back to her superiors of this new danger.
Weathers realized immediately that he had won a sort of victory. David was no longer able to attack the woman, but apparently she was no longer interested in attacking him. He seized this as an opportunity to focus on the situation his ship was currently in. He gazed over to tactical and saw that the enemy torpedoes had just discovered the stones.
“Sir, the mines worked perfectly, seven enemy torpedoes have been intercepted…that’s all of them!
Cries of adulation erupted across the bridge, and Weathers was able to relax for a second. “How many mines does that leave us, Schultz?”
“Sir, we have six left that are tracking vessels, but the slants have to know something is out there now…Holy shit… uh, sir. The cruiser just ate one!”
The Akagi-class vessel suddenly crumpled in on itself as the asteroid smashed into it. The rock, which had reached top speeds shortly before intercepting the vessel, made contact just behind the port battery of Fusion Cannons. The asteroid then exploded into thousands of particles which took separate paths of destruction, gutting the doomed vessel. It literally came apart in space. The smaller vessels following close, and in formation, immediately tried to take evasive action, but for one of the corvettes, it was too late. The Enforcer-class corvette shared a similar fate to his larger brother. The rear ship, a very maneuverable Katana-class frigate and its Enforcer escort, were able to adjust their course just enough to scrape by the one remaining mine. A diligent crewman in her top turret was able to recognize the object as a threat and blew it out of the sky. Their captain, realizing he was completely outclassed, altered his course to take up a position closer to the jump point and sent out a distress call to the military net relay.
Aboard the Dickerson, the bridge crew was ecstatic. Weathers again turned his attention to the fleeing Amami o Shima-class frigate. “Tactical, where is that scout?”
“Sir, they’re at 087 mark 023 going full burn. She’s… she seems to be expelling a coolant of some kind, which explains why they’re not going to stealth.”
“Excellent. I have unfinished business with that bitch…er, ship. Plot an intercept course. Since we’re bigger, we should catch ‘em before they reach the jump gate. Helm, get me Engineering.”
Soon enough, his friend came on the screen. “Bridge, this is Bodovsky, what can I do you for?”
“Paul, I seem to remember reading about something during my rotation in engineering years ago. Something about drive-less ships able to enter hyperspace using a fusion explosion. Do you know what I am talking about?”
“Why, yes, sir, I do. Those were the first hyperspace ships, before they invented drives. What do you have in mind?”
“We pulled the fusion bombs off those mines before hooking them up to the stones. Do you think you could ready us for a quick escape using one of those?”
Bodovsky looked puzzled. “Sir, our jump engines are five by five, is there some reason you don’t wanna use ‘em?”
“Since those slopes squawked, we could have an entire battle fleet on us within minutes. I don’t want to wait thirty seconds before we jump.”
“Fair enough, sir. I’ll get right on it.”
The connection was broken suddenly, as it often did when Bodovsky was given a new, interesting task to munch on.
“Tactical, I want a firing solution worked up on that frigate, once we’re in range of our Grav Cannon I want that ship disabled. Not destroyed, disabled.”
Schultz was just as confused as everyone else. “Yes, sir, but… why not cook them?”
“I’ll explain it later, but I want someone on that ship to tell the Emperor what happened here.”
The chase was long, but the conclusion had been written as soon as the frigate had lost the ability to hide. Eventually the Dickerson overtook her, and with an advantage in range, was able to disable her. As the cruiser circled the smaller crippled ship, Weathers again used his mind to search out the woman he had fought with earlier. He hoped she could hear him through her defenses. I know you’re out there, and I know you realize now what I am. Understand this, you serve a cancer. The Emperor and his followers are bent on one thing, the total domination of this universe by their people. You may work for him, and because of your gifts you might even hold a position of some power, but in the end you are little more than a slave. You have been taught to exalt the greatness of their culture; I would suggest something new to you. Seek out the history of our ancestors. Discover who we are, discover who you are, discover FREEDOM!
At that moment, another squadron entered the system and began a sensor sweep to acquire the Dickerson. Weathers realized it was time to leave and contacted engineering. Within moments the ships new “fusion engine” opened a hole in space and the ship disappeared. The massive hyper footprint that was left behind was nothing short of the glory of a sunset.
Two great armies scrambled across the ground. They struggled to maintain dominance, with the right flank of the eastern army struggling to hold its line. The western army, although winning, was quickly running out of true soldiers. Conscripts were being forced into battle now. The eastern army struggled to defend their ten-year-old queen. She was too close to the battlefield. The resources gained would decide the fate of the western army.
Sherif Tien-yi Adams looked down on the armies of ants doing battle. The eastern army was starting to lose. The right flank was beginning to collapse. The end of the battle was still hours away though. And Sherif knew everything could change. A boy walking by could destroy the western army with two or three well-placed stomps. Or if it rained, the western army’s supply line was in a dip in the fungcrete. The water would make it difficult to fight. These things were not likely to happen, but if they did, another battle would only take place a few weeks later.
The farmer continued to watch. The ants struggled, oblivious. It was a shame, really, Sherif thought, the ants, so very organized, struggling over something as meaningless as resources. Instead of innovating, they chose to fight.
It wasn’t as if ants had never built anything important, or invented new technologies. Ants had livestock long before monkeys even developed the fingers necessary to scratch their collective asses. Sherif continued to stare. The armies struggled for something greater than the mass of ants. The individual ants suffered, fought on without limbs or even segments, and then died. The suffering was terrible.
He closed his eyes, and then reached down with his right hand. He extended his right forefinger and crushed two struggling ants. Suddenly, as if on cue, all the ants stopped, and looked at Sherif. The farmer waved his sweaty hand over all the ants. The ants all stopped their struggle, turned, and began walking back to their colonies.
Sherif sat hunched over on the balls of his feet in an alley. It was a mild day. A strong breeze blew past him, sweeping up the dust on the ground, but not so high as to interfere with his breathing. He was tracing in the dust at his feet with the tip of his right index finger. A man in magnificent clothing stood above him, watching. Sherif continued to trace in the dust. The man standing above him cleared his throat, but the farmer did not react. "Are you going to talk to me or not?"
Sherif continued to trace in the dust. The silence continued… and continued.
"I know what you want. I can see it. Did you think that Mary was spoiled? Gautama gave in. Muhammad destroyed his people before he was dead. It just took twenty two hundred years."
Adams said nothing, but continued to draw.
"I have corrupted more Popes than can easily be counted. Kamis corrupted themselves for me. Nobler men than you have fallen before me."
Sherif opened his hand, and wiped the ground clear. He stood up, but did not look at the deceiver.
"So, you would not have these things. I can give you your life back. Your parents' life. You can have any woman you will. You can force the four empresses to prostitute themselves for you."
The farmer leaned against the building, and looked at his feet.
"Rich clothing? Or a universe? Spell your name in the stars. Anything you want, is yours. Just ask for it. Ask yourself for it."
"I am a part of you, you know. We are two halves. Ying and Yang. Dark and light. Evil and good. Chaos and order. You cannot exist without me? You know that?"
"All this goodness. The cures for disease. The abundance of food, of warmth. You know that without curses, there can be no blessing. Embrace the truth."
Adams looked into the deceiver's eyes. The deceiver smiled. "You know it is true, then? I cannot always lie. "
Sherif stood up straight, and opened up his arms for a hug. He then lifted his leg and put his knee square in the deceiver's balls. The Lord of Lies buckled over, and Adams made a fist and smashed it square into the back of his head. The Devil went down like a ton of bricks. Sherif fell to the ground, and sat on the deceiver's chest and pinned his arms down with his knees. He smashed his fists into the deceiver's face several times before stopping to speak.
"Weren't expecting that, were you? Now, listen up, and listen good. There is no ying yang, ping pong or any other crap. You're not a part of me and you're not evil. You. Just. Are. And you're responsible for your own damned existence. You always have been. There are no great circles, or any other life defining crap. What is before you is what lies behind you. Life is, and must be lived as such. Now get over it and go do something useful."
Sherif stood up none too gently, and brushed himself off. He did not once glance at the man he had just pummeled. A whimper and then the weep of pain began to emanate from the man who had just been beaten. Adams walked away. He heard the shriveled weep of pain behind him.
“When those troopers get here...drop your 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.
James’ hands were sweating as he continued to grip the gauss rifle. They had about ten seconds before the rapidly approaching troopers were right on top of them. Not much time to come up with a plan, much less to implement one. But it’s amazing how fast the brain can work when under pressure.
James jabbed the muzzle of the rifle into Losada’s back, “Quick, down on the ground beside the doc.”
The student was incredulous, “What the hell are—“
Welthammer didn’t have time to argue, the armored behemoths were only a leap away now. He pushed the younger man down, and straightened up with the rifle trained on the two men kneeling in front of him, just as an Imperial Security trooper crashed to the ground a few meters away.
“Stop right there, or I’ll kill ‘em both.” James called, hoping his voice didn’t sound as shaky as he felt.
Hicks proved himself a quick study, “Please, he’s serious, he already killed all those people in the bar, oh god…” Pablo Losada didn’t need to fake being a nervous wreck.
The troopers, however, only paused for a moment, before continuing their advance, slowly, on foot. “Drop the weapon now! Resist and you’re dead!”
Uh oh. These Imps obviously weren’t going to be fazed out of concern for hostages.
Hicks gave a whimper, “Please don’t let him kill me…” It was a good show, but James couldn’t see how it was going to help them now. Then he saw the pair of taser pistols still gripped in the Doctor’s hands, hidden behind his head. I hope you’ve got a plan, doc, because I’m certainly out of ideas.
James crouched down, trying to put the two ‘hostages’ between him and the Imps, “Hell no! You think I don’t know what you’re doing? I’m dead if you take me in. You put down your weapons or I kill them, now.” One man shouting down a pair of soldiers in full battle armor seemed more than a bit ridiculous, but James swallowed hard and tried to stop himself from shaking wildly.
But the Imps just kept moving steadily forward, their weapons leveled at Welthammer. The smuggler unconsciously took a step backward, realized what he was doing, and slowly began backing up. The armor-clad Imps continued moving slowly forward, getting closer and closer to the pair of “hostages” still kneeling on the pavement.
The lead trooper’s amplified voice sounded out, as he approached to within less than two meters of Dr. Hicks. “M. Welthammer, you have no chance of evasion, you will submit to arrest immediately, or we will be forced—“ with the trooper’s attention forced on the rifle-toting smuggler behind him, Icarus suddenly swung both his hands out from behind his head and pointed one taser at the midsection of each nearby power-suited Imp. He rapidly sighted down first one arm, then the other, and plugged each suit with a taser round squarely in the recharge socket, less than a second apart.
There was a brief shower of sparks from each suit, and then they stopped moving. Icarus sprang up from his kneeling position and leapt right up to the nearest trooper, and hit a series of buttons on a small panel along the helmet’s neckline. The entire front half of the suit flew explosively open, spilling the surprised ImpSec agent inside out of his suit and onto the pavement...where James Welthammer promptly put several gauss rounds into him. Icarus then blew open the other ImpSec power suit, which was also frozen in place as motionless as a statue.
As soon as James had blown away the second helpless Imp as he spilled out of his immobile suit, the surgeon and the smuggler gathered up the terrified lab assistant and began running for the nearest hangar at the edge of the runway.
As they ran, James shouted to his strange new employer. “Pretty neat trick there...care to explain how the heck you did that?”
“The Type-22 Mod 0 Powered Armor suit has a small recharge port about where the belly button should be, for trickle-charge systems built into vehicles like that pinnace back there, Hicks offered, holding up the taser pistol he’d been carrying. “These tasers put out a much higher voltage than the sockets are designed for. I put a round into the socket, and the power surge momentarily fooled the suit into going into maintenance mode and locking up.”
“Why does that sound like too obvious a flaw for the engineers to leave in?” James asked between breaths.
“Oh, it was corrected within a few months of initial operations, fortunately for us, the garrison here isn’t at the top of the priority lists for new equipment.”
"And you know about this how?"
"I worked at a military hospital. You get to hear a lot of fun stories from injured soldiers as to how the heck a freak recharge mishap led to their suit freezing up in mid-step, leading to it falling over and the soldier inside getting a nasty concussion."
“And that also explains how you knew the codes to activate the Emergency Medical Override system and blow the explosive bolts to spill the pilots out like that?”
“Bingo,” the doc answered through his gasps for breath, as the rounded the side of the nearest hangar and paused to catch their breaths. “Your shuttle better get here soon.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that one.” Welthammer gasped, while glancing nervously upward.
Sure enough, the three heard a sonic boom and a shadow flashed overhead with a roar of retrorockets. The civilian shuttlepod rapidly decelerated into a hover, and turned back towards them. The side-mounted hatchway slid open to reveal an armor-suited figure behind a heavy tripod-mounted weapon, which began spitting bolts of plasma fire toward the four other ImpSec power suits now charging toward the fugitives from where they had been standing guarding the grounded pinnace at the other end of the runway. One by one, the Imps in power armor were cut down in rapid succession.
But before the shuttle could descend and come to a vertical landing, a small missile streaked in from the left, trailing smoke, and impacted near the port-forward landing thruster. The shuttle was rocked by the small explosion, and fell the last few meters as it lurched downwards to a crash landing and hit with a colossal THUMP of groaning metal and plastic. The rear hatchway opened up and several more figures in light boarding armor leapt out, taking up defensive positions around the crash-landed shuttle, and beginning to exchange fire with the six more suits of power armor rapidly approaching from the direction of the bar, leaping over low outbuildings as they came.
“Oh, gosuh,” James muttered to himself. “With that hit to the landing thruster, they can’t take off again.” He turned to the doc and spoke up for his benefit. “If they took as much damage as it looks they did, we’re gonna have to find some other way off this rock.”
“What’s in this hangar, you think,” Icarus asked.
“Worth a peek,” James said with a shrug, and blew the nearby personnel door open with a burst from the gauss rifle. The three fugitives dashed inside, and in the gloomy, cavernous interior, they saw a squat, hulking shape.
“Dammit, I’d half hoped to see a fully-armed fleet assault pinnace in here,” Hicks said with a shrug of his own. “It’s just some sort of ground maintenance vehicle.”
“Yeah, but it’s the next best thing,” James replied, “it’s a crash recovery vehicle.” When Dr. Hicks looked at him quizzically, James amplified his response.” That means it’s tough enough to get close to flaming starship crash sites.” He walked up and patted the metallic side of the vehicle. “That means the walls of this thing are thick enough to count as armor.”
Hicks looked over the vehicle with a reappraising eye. “Yeah, those side panels look like they can stand up to a light anti-personnel round, or shrapnel”.
James opened up the cab and climbed inside. “It’s fire-resistant, so will even be some protection from plasma.”
“Excellent,” said Hicks, dragging Pablo up into the cab behind him. “But I still don’t see how we’re gonna get off the planet in this thing.”
“Oh, we’re not getting off the planet in this piece of lasuh,” the captain said with a big grin, hitting the remote switch to open the hangar doors. “We’re getting off planet in that,” he finished, pointing at the ImpSec assault pinnace still sitting on the ground at the far end of the runway.
Around the crashed shuttle, which was now smoldering brightly, the smugglers were still exchanging fire with the power-suited Imps. “It’s a death trap to stay exposed out here like this, sir,” Hawking shouted to Halvern. “Sooner or later, they’ll bring in some air support or artillery and we’re dead.”
“They’re Imps, corporal,” Halvern said, firing another barrage from the heavy spiker gun, “and even Imps are just cops. They’ll want you alive… if possible.”
“Think that’s likely?”
“Saints preserve us, that gives us an advantage.”
“How so, sarge?”
“We’re soldiers,” Halvern replied, blasting at an Imp peeking around the side of a small bunker, “Lord knows we don’t expect to get out alive.” With those words, he took the gun off the tripod and dived out from behind the relative cover of the shuttle. Through a hail of gauss and plasma rounds, Stephen took cover once more in a crater left in the cremcrete surface of the runway by a near-miss from a Type 24 Khukri missile launched by one of the Imp power suits. From there, he poured fire towards the Imp positions from his spiker gun.
“Heh, the boss is coming, heh heh,” Freak chuckled, as he reloaded his handheld grenade launcher. The other crooks followed his nods to behold the odd sight of a bright-yellow crash recovery vehicle driving towards them at top speed, bouncing over craters and through debris, with James Welthammer standing upright in the foam-sprayer turret atop the cap, firing a light gauss rifle at a heavy groundcar full of Imp reinforcements coming toward the runway from the edge of the field. The ex-TI soldiers saw the front tire of the Imp van get hit, and the newly-arrived vehicle promptly hit a pothole and flipped over onto its roof and burst into flames.
“The man has style, I’ll give him that,” Peterson answered with admiration, as he picked off the last of the original pinnace-load of Imp troopers.
The crash recovery vehicle ground to a halt in front of the burning shuttle, and James hopped down from his perch atop the foam-sprayer. “Dammit, guys, I wanted you to rescue me, not the other way around.”
“And what in God’s creation are you doing driving that monstrosity?” Halvern said half-jokingly.
“Well, it’s designed to rescue people from crashed shuttles,” James replied with a grin. “That’s a crashed shuttle,” he pointed out, “and you guys definitely needed rescuing.”
“More to the point,” Shrak asked, slapping a fresh clip in his plasma rifle, “how are we gonna get off this rock?”
“Well, our friends in the law enforcement and fascist oppression business were kind enough to offer us a ride in a security vehicle today, and we’re not the sort of people to turn down such warm hospitality, are we?” James answered as he climbed back up the side of the vehicle and beckoned his men to follow. “There’s an assault pinnace landed a bit further up the runway, we’re gonna have to take that home with us.”
“This day just gets weirder and weirder,” Peterson grumbled as he climbed into the truck.
Once everyone else was on board, James nodded to Private Jenkins. “Freak, clean up the evidence in that shuttle, would you?”
“Heh heh, sure thing boss, heh heh...” he giggled as he pulled a large grenade off the belt of his body armor. He tossed the grenade into the still-open rear hatch of the shuttle as they drove past it, and the shuttle went up in a colossal explosion behind them.
“Um, sir? Who’s driving this thing?” Halvern asked his employer warily.
“Our new client,” Welthammer replied, activating the teleoptical sight on his new gauss rifle to peer at the pinnace they were heading towards, “and he’s full of surprises today.”
“Ain’t everyone,” Sam Moore interjected, lining up his sniper scope on the cockpit windscreen of the pinnace parked ahead of them. He could see the chin gauss-gatling turret under the craft’s bow turning to track their vehicle, but it wasn’t firing for some reason. Imps must want us alive for some reason, he thought to himself, probably not a particularly pleasant one. He put a single high-velocity gauss round through the cockpit glass and into the pilot behind it, and the chin turret stopped tracking them. Gotcha, you slope bastard.
“Nice shot, Sam,” James approved, then spoke up to be heard by the rest of his men. “Okay, Imp pinnaces only have the one dedicated flight crew, so that thing should be empty now. But stay on your toes, they might have another man in there anyway. Once we’re inside, I want the first person inside to find the emergency repair kit and slap a vacuum patch on that cockpit, I want to be able to breathe once we break atmo.”
Thirty seconds later, the fugitives were entering the Imp assault pinnace which had been sent to capture them, but as captors, not captives. After his men had checked it and made sure no Imps were left alive inside, James went back to the truck to get his new clients. He opened the door to the cab, and was greeted by the sight of Pablo Losada feverishly pounding on the chest of a bleeding Dr. Hicks. “A gauss round came through the door and hit him in the side! Help me get him into the pinnace and into the autodoc!”
“Can she walk?”
“Well, she’s conscious, but if she doesn’t take it easy, she’ll pass out again.”
“Good enough. The oyabun wants to see her, and he’s on a schedule.”
These words greeted Cho as she swam out of unconsciousness, the stench of smelling salts in her nose. A wave of nausea rolled over her, her stomach clenched, and her head felt like it was about to split open. A calloused hand slapped her cheek repeatedly.
“You awake, M. Yamazaki?”
“Unngh?” Cho responded, barely managing to raise her head and open her eyes. The light seemed painfully bright. She felt so weak she could barely move—yet at the same time she couldn’t stop shaking. As her eyes focused, the blurry face of Zhou Tanzhai, her wakagashiria, swam into view.
“Good evening, Mistress Cho. M. Tanazhi requests the honor of your presence—now.”
“Uh-uh,” Cho moaned as she let her head roll back onto the pillow.
“Oh, come now,” Zhou said, gripping her elbows and pulling her up. Suddenly Cho lurched and choked, and the men surrounding her jumped back. Cho leaned over the side of the rickety hospital bed, arm clenched across her stomach, swallowing repeatedly, and managed to keep from puking. “I… don’ think… I cin… walk…” she finally said as the room spun dizzily before her eyes.
“Sure you can,” Zhou said, pulling her to her feet—but standing behind her this time. “The oyabun is a busy man, and you wouldn’t want to be late!” Two more sets of arms grabbed her under the armpits and began to drag her toward the door.
“Wait… way…” Cho protested as she fumbled for a pair of sunglasses on the table next to the bed. The three men half carried, half dragged her out the door as she clumsily put the sunglasses on. They were too big and didn’t fit right, but at least they blocked out some of the light. “Y-you guys… g-got any dust, man?” she asked her guards as she stumbled down the hall.
“I think you’ve had enough dust,” one of the mobsters scoffed. “Now come on, move!” he added, emphasizing the order with a rough shove that almost knocked her over.
Something here ain’t right, Cho thought woozily. Usually fellow yakuza treated her with fear and respect. These guys were tossing her around like a sack of rice. Didn’t they know she was Cho Yamakazaki, master wu jen? Why, she oughta lay some magical whoopass on them, just to show ‘em who they’re dealing with. Yeah, that’s what she would do… as soon as the room stopped spinning…
The gangsters dragged her down halls, up staircases, and through doors of the lavish casino that served as Yakuza-Tanzhi’s base of operations. A few patrons looked up in puzzlement at the bizarre sight of three muscular men dragging a half-dressed and obviously drugged woman, but most were too busy shoveling crowns into their pachinko games to even notice. At last they stopped at a door. Zhou rapped softly and waited, silently.
Cho looked around at the customers groggily. She was vaguely aware she was wearing a flimsy hospital smock that gave most of the casino a great view of her ass… she should be embarrassed, she supposed. But she was more concerned with which gamblers might have some opium on them…
“Hai!” came a muffled call inside the office, and suddenly Cho was standing in the office of Toku Tanzhi, oyabun of Yakuza-Tanzhi. The tiny, ancient man sat behind a huge ornate desk in an immaculate silk business suit, sipping tea from a tiny cup. His hard, wrinkled face looked like a walnut with white hair. The three thugs released Cho and bowed deeply. After a moment’s pause, Cho tried to bow, but lost her balance and tumbled to the ground. One of the gangsters snickered as she raised herself up on trembling arms. She tried to stand, but failed and sank slowly to the floor. The oyabun, not even getting up from his chair, merely bowed his head slightly to the mobsters.
Several seconds passed in silence as Toku regarded Cho with cold eyes, quietly stroking his perfectly trimmed moustache. The sickly, disoriented woman sat on his carpet, shaking uncontrollably, smock falling off one shoulder, oversized sunglasses perched lopsided on her face, filthy and stinking. Finally the oyabun spoke.
“You have been a valued member of our family for many years, M. Yamazaki,” he began. “But this is not the first time you’ve been in my office for problems related to your… habits. And this time, you have caused us a great deal of trouble.” Silence hung again in the air; Cho stared at the carpet, shaking.
“Each time you have promised me you would change… get help… quit…” Toku continued. “Yet here you are again, worse than ever. You disappoint me, M. Yamazaki. What have you to say for yourself?”
“L-look,” Cho stammered, looking up, “I—I know I’m in t-trouble… but… y-ya got any d-dust, man? I r-really, really need a f-fix!”
Toku’s wrinkled face twitched, briefly betraying a hint of disgust. He sipped his tea in silence while Cho watched him expectantly. “You have shamed our family, M. Yamazaki,” he continued, ignoring her request. “First, you negotiate an exorbitant price for a job with one of our most powerful and honored clients. Then you fail to deliver on your promise… and why? Because you overdosed on opium—again. I— “
“Naw, naw,” Cho protested, “I—I was p-poisoned, man! It wuz—“
“I wasn’t finished,” Toku said, his voice rising sharply. Cho fell silent. “Lord Jeong was quite upset. He missed an opportunity that is not easily replaced. I had to refund the commission, and buy an expensive gift as a token of apology. Even then, it is likely that we have lost his business and patronage for good. He has already hired one of our competitors to finish the job you failed to complete. And then, as if that weren’t enough, you manage to arise from your stupor just long enough to pull the fire alarm, causing an evacuation of the casino. Most of our patrons did not return that evening—leading to more lost revenue. So, you see, M. Yamazaki…" He paused to sip his tea. “Your incompetence has already cost me in excess of 1.3 million crowns. And if there is one thing I can not stand," he said, setting his teacup down sharply, “it is losing money!” Silence returned. Toku’s face remained impassive, but he was breathing more heavily. “I believe in being fair to my kobun, however,” Toku said, calmer, “so on the off chance there is a rational explanation for this disaster, I am prepared to give you one chance to defend your position.”
Cho stared at the oyabun, shivering. She felt more nauseous than ever… and very cold. “D-didn’t overdose, sai,” she stammered. “P-poisoned! G-golram gaijin sp-spiked my Kymer Rouge!”
“I see,” the oyabun said skeptically. “And who might this gaijin be?”
“Lord C-cornelius!” Cho explained. “Oyabun of y-yakuza-gaijin! He wants to k-kill me ‘cause I whacked his f-friend!”
“Mmm-hmm…” Toku nodded. “And you know this… how?”
“He t-told me!” Cho said indignantly. “When he t-tried to kill me in the… uh… hospital!”
“Our infirmary? Downstairs?”
“So you expect me to believe,” Toku began calmly, “that the head of a rival family just walked into our headquarters, tried to kill you—after explaining his diabolical plan to you, of course—but you fought him off, and then he escaped without anyone seeing him?”
Toku drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk. “I seem to recall that the last time you were in my office, you blamed the Shimamaki fire on a ‘giant technicolor cockroach’.”
“Naw, naw,” Cho protested. “That wuz j-just some bad sh-shrooms, man! I wuz clean this time!” She twitched irritably. “Look, you sure I c-can’t get some dust?”
“Perhaps Lord Cornelius and the cockroach are in this grand conspiracy together?” Toku suggested. Behind her, Cho heard muffled laughter.
“I’m not makin’ this up!” Cho yelled angrily.
“I have no doubt you believe what you saw,” the oyabun said sternly, “but I can’t take the word of an addict to justify such a failure to the Earl of New Tokyo. No one saw this imaginary gaijin, M. Yamazaki. Your own sister Shoko never left your bedside, and even she never saw anything like what you just described. How do you explain that?”
“She m-must’ve…” Cho looked down, dejected. “She musta been in on it,” she said softly.
“She hasn’t the brains,” Toku said dismissively. “And this poisoned Khymer Rouge you speak of? I believe you shared it with your apprentices—including my grandniece, Yoko—and none of them fell ill. How do you explain that?"
“I… I dunno… I…”
“Exactly,” Toku said firmly, “you don’t know. I have given you a chance to explain yourself; you have failed. You have dishonored our family. You have become a liability, M. Yamazaki. Your loyalty is no longer to the Tanzhi, but to the opium. Yakuza can not tolerate disloyalty. You know that. There must be consequence for this disgrace.”
“What, you… you want a f-finger?” Cho said doubtfully, holding up her left pinky shakily. “I’ll g-give you a finger—‘specially if you got some d-dust…”
“This has gone far beyond yubizume, M. Yamazaki,” the oyabun said, shaking his head.
“Then… what?” Cho asked apprehensively, dread beginning to cut through the haze in her mind.
“Come, now, M. Yamakazai, don’t feign ignorance,” Toku said, picking up his teacup again. “You know the punishment for a traitor.” He sipped his tea. “In your case, however, it will be a little different. Lord Jeong is quite impressed by our irezumi—the yakuza tattoo. Yours in particular—Buddha knows why. He requested it of me, framed, for his office wall, as compensation for our failure. Of course, I did not refuse.” He set down his teacup.
“He… wants a… c-copy?” Cho asked, confused.
“Not exactly, M. Yamazaki,” the oyabun said. He opened a drawer in his desk, reached in, and held up a skinning knife, the implications obvious without the need for distasteful words. “I detest having to terminate an employee,” he said, putting it down, “but in this case I have no choice.” Horror seized Cho, and she began to look around, alarmed. “Tomorrow at sunrise,” Toku said coldly. “I have summoned my wakashu to attend. I wish them to witness the consequence for a failure of this magnitude. Hopefully it will prevent me having to repeat such an act in the near future. Take her away.”
Cho looked around in panic as Toku’s henchmen closed in on either side of her. She gasped, collecting her Chi, and thrust her arms out at the mobsters.
“MURI!!” she screamed.
The mobsters paused, exchanged looks, then continued advancing. Behind her, Zhou Tanzhi chuckled.
“MURI!!” Cho yelled again, terrified.
“I took the precaution of injecting you with Quellers before sending for you,” the oyabun explained calmly as his henchmen seized her arms. “Be sensible, M. Yamazaki,” Toku said, “would I bring you into my office if you still posed a threat to me? You’re smarter than that.” Cho gaped at him, stunned.
“B-but I was framed!” she yelled. “It wuz C-cornelius!”
“Yes, and the cockroach, I know,” Toku said, nodding.
“I didn’t mean to shame you, sai!” Cho yelled as the gangsters pulled her to her feet. “I’ll make up for it! I’ll save face! Just give me a chance!”
“The only atonement for this transgression is blood, M. Yamazaki,” the oyabun said firmly, shaking his head. “The decision has been made. What’s done is done. Now stop embarrassing yourself and make this easier on all of us. Go quietly.” He nodded to his henchmen. “Quellers every six hours, two shatei with her at all times.” With that, he picked up his stylus and went back to work.
Cho sagged in the gangster’s arms, defeated. She was out of aces. With her magic, she was wu jen… but without it, she was just a junkie. As they dragged her away, she looked up.
“Sai?” The oyabun looked up. “My… my sister?”
“Is not involved and will not be held accountable,” Toku said, sounding bored. “I will not punish Shoko for the sins of her sister. Besides,” he said thoughtfully, “that piaoliang can turn five thousand crowns in a good night. I’m not about to dispose of an asset like that without a very good reason.”
“Can… can I see her before… before…”
The oyabun shook his head slowly. Then, with a signal of his hand, Cho was dragged from the room and the door slammed shut behind her.
Cho stumbled with her escorts in stunned silence down to a secured room deep within the casino. Her foggy mind was still trying to grasp what was happening. She had been cast out of the only family she had ever known after dishonoring them before their most powerful patron. The opium had cost her everything. Her status, her power, her family… even her life. She would spend her last few hours tied to a chair, watched over by former brothers, shivering with withdrawal. She would not die wu jen. She would not even die yakuza. She would die boryokudan… a petty criminal junkie.
Chan Lee was on Hoon’s shuttle in the morning, just as he had told him, and soon enough he was saying goodbye to Artemis, Alpha Centauri…and Joy. She was in Chan’s thoughts as they passed from the black vacuum to the orange and black swirl of hyperspace. He couldn’t express his feelings toward her, but somehow she knew… she knew too well. Lost in those shadows from the Centauran sun, he was finally able to express himself without words. The memories of it were still roaming in his head till morning.
If Hoon was upset at his lack of communication during the trip, he said nothing. It was only a day trip to Earth… or what was left of it. The homeworld of Humanity had become nothing more than a swirling mass of dust. They had already repaired it once, then after the Moon was forced into the planet, the powers-that-be decided it was a waste of time to repair it again. Mars was still livable, albeit it as an Imperial Marine base after the Mars Rebellion, but it was still a foothold in their old stomping grounds.
Being a member of the Royal Family, even the lowest on their ladder, gave him several orders of knighthood and the rank of general on half-pay. This allowed him access codes to military jumpgates—and more importantly—permission to pass through this highly restricted system. Of course, Chan didn’t notice any of this—after a day of moping for his lost love in the cramped shuttle, he finally fell asleep.
Thank Buddha, the prince thought, locking onto the trajectory of the digital gate; I’d thought he’d never stop moping.
Compared to the trip through hyperspace to Earth, the digital gate jumps to Wilke’s Star were fast. It still took four hours, but before the Middle Kingdom built the digital gate network, it would have taken days. Again, one flash of the official ident signal, and bureaucrats, traffic control officers, and all the needful red tape of the imperial bureaucracy simply vanished as they made their landing arrangements on a private field just north of the Forbidden City.
Chan never noticed any of this; the werewolf was asleep. He was asleep the whole time—and it wasn’t until he felt a sharp twinge in his neck that he bothered to open his eyes.
This is familiar, were the first thoughts in Lee’s head as he looked around. The ornate trappings, the crowd of people, even that fat guy on the chair in front of him. Wait a minute, I know who that is… “CHIANG!”
Habor surged forward with a thrust of rage towards the throne, only to be whipped back by the chains that held his body. He couldn’t morph—then he felt the collar hanging around his neck. Damn prison issue…
“Your imperial majesty,” said a voice behind him, “I have returned with the prisoner as promised.”
The large Chinaman on the throne coughed and sputtered for a second, before lifting up his weary head and rasping, “Very good, my grandson. You have proven your truly noble birth by bringing this traitor to justice.”
Chan turned to see Hoon smiling there, just out of reach of his chains. “You tricked me!”
If the prince noticed his cousin’s shouted, he didn’t care to respond, “Grandfather, I thank thee for your care.”
“Now, Prince Chan,” Emperor Chiang coughed out, his sicky brown eyes turning on his nephew, “it is time to end our rivalry.”
END OF ACT II
Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved. Do not try ANY of this at home, even if the Devil Himself shows up and challenges you to a fiddle contest.