So late from Heaven -- that dew -- it fell / ('Mid dreams of an unholy night)

Upon me with the touch of Hell, / While the red flashing of the light

From clouds that hung, like banners, o'er, / Appeared to my half-closing eye

The pageantry of monarchy, / And the deep trumpet-thunder's roar

Came hurriedly upon me, telling / Of human battle, where my voice,

My own voice, silly child! was swelling / (O! how my spirit would rejoice,

And leap within me at the cry) / The battle-cry of Victory!


                                                                        -- Tamerlane, Edgar Allen Poe   


            Major Dame Cynthia Beatrix’s helpless form slammed into the wall behind General Lord Il-Jan.  You stupid wench, his voice boomed inside her head, do you really think you are better than us.  Do you dare to read literature banned by his Excellency? 

            “No Sai,” she whimpered, trying to rise off the floor, “I was only trying to understand Weathers more completely, studying works that support his beliefs.”

            LIES, the voice boomed inside her head, you think you can hide that you yearn to discover your heritage is as valid as mine?  YOU WILL NOT.  With those last words Cynthia lost consciousness as she was again bounced off the wall.  Il-Jan turned to the wall and spoke, out loud this time, “Your thoughts?”

            His most trusted advisors stepped out of their hiding place and the centermost began to speak, “Sai, I have to admit I am curious has to why you are punishing her so, she was only studying those works due to your compulsion.”

            “I want her to believe Weathers is right, if he is as powerful as she feels then he will see through a charade.  Our unconscious friend has to truly think she has turned against us.  Then, once she has worked her way into his council, I will release her from the deception and she can once again become my tool.”

            “Brilliant master, would you like me to have her deposited in her chambers?”

            “Yes, have it removed before it soils my chambers.”


            As the men left the meeting the last of the three advisors separated from the others and moved to the Major Dame’s quarters.  He remained hidden until her unconscious form was placed on her bed by palace staff.  He then moved to her side and scanned her unconscious mind. 

            She truly is beginning to hate the General Lord and the Emperor, fascinating.  Il-Jan believes he has created a new tool with which to solidify his power, but he may have given us a powerful weapon instead.  The cloak figure then inserted a plan into the woman’s mind.  His task complete he left the chamber.


            The squadron of light craft, consisting of twelve Corsairs and two Skyrangers descended on the small, un-armed convoy.  Hails from the attack craft ordered the passenger vessels, which were flagged Middle Kingdom, to stand down and prepare to be boarded.  The others were allowed to continue.  The liner launched a flight of defense fighters but the four ships were quickly overwhelmed. 

            It didn’t take long for the Dickerson’s marine crew to enter the helpless Yang Mai Maru. It was a luxury liner, built for only the upper class (or the very rich) to travel in comfort, even along the rim. Unfortunately, no one had warned them of this possibility.

            “All right, shut up, you slobs!” bellowed out of the small power armor to her troops. “Fire Team Bravo, clear the upper two decks, and keep those slants on a short leash. Drive them all to a central compartment and keep ‘em there. Charlie, the middle two… and Delta, the bottom half. Alpha, you’re with me, we’re taking the bridge. You get me?”

            “We get you, sergeant!” echoed back. Without another word, the suited marines immediately went to their tasks. It didn’t take long for the group of five troopers to reach the small cruise ship’s bridge, with its terrified command staff.

            “Corporal, round up these slants, and send them to Charlie’s AA. You,” she pointed to the only hung mao on the bridge, “come here.”

            The terrified lieutenant managed to shuffle his way over as his shipmates were taken further down the craft. Once they had left, a quick tap on the side of her helmet opened up her faceplate. The older woman with the graying short hair appeared before him. “My name is Sergeant Anita Hughes, what’s yours?”

            “Uh, um… Lieutenant Moshe Davies, ma’am.”

            “Sarge’ll do, son, I work for a living. Now why don’t you bring up the interior schematics?”

            The lieutenant slowly shed his fear and punched up the holoproj, showing the whole ship to her. She had managed to get the sensors on-line, showing the locations of every biosign when the team leaders called in. “Good, Hughes ou…” Anita stopped herself in the midst of her usual comment, when a plan came into her head. “Standby.” After she bit down on the dentcom, she turned towards Davies and asked, “This ship’s got emergency lockdowns on it, doesn’t it?”

            “Of course.”

            “Good.” She bit back down and called her squad leaders again. “Listen up, separate the slopes from the rest, and move them to a different room. Wait… Delta, pick one of those slopes, bring him up to the bridge.” As she watched the blips move with a scrutinizing eye, Anita tapped her fingers against the console impatiently. It wasn’t until she got the confirmations from her team leaders that she preceded. “Lock down the bulkheads in those rooms.” She ordered.

            Davies was confused, but did as she asked; heavy doors closed, cutting off the rooms with the frightened prisoners from the rest of the ship. The sergeant nodded with approval. “Now,” Anita’s eyes went cold, “vent those rooms.”

            “I’m sorry, Sarge?”

            Hughes looked at her prisoner with indifference. “Vent the atmosphere in those rooms to space, like you would for a fire.”

            “You want me to cut off their air?”

            “That’s exactly what I’m ordering, lieutenant.”

            “I can’t do that.”

            “You will do that, lieutenant.”

            “I can’t…”

            His sentence was cut off in mid-stride by a heavy plasma rifle pointed at his head. “You will vent their atmosphere, Lieutenant Davies, or I will kill you here. I’m not sure exactly how these systems work, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out with enough time.” She leaned closer to the frightened boy, her voice cut like ice, “Do you have enough time, lieutenant?” Moshe was shaking uncontrollably. “Press the button, please.”

            With a shaky hand, he touched a series of controls. The screen indicated fire evacuation in process; Anita slowly pulled the gun away and released a sigh. Once the screen said EVACUATION COMPLETE, one of her troopers entered in with an old Asian man dressed in fine clothes. “Here’s the prisoner you wanted, sarge.”

            She waved him over and smiled. “I want you to take a message back to your masters. We have killed every single han on this ship to make a point.” The old man’s eyes bulged, but said nothing. “Much like you have done to my kind, so we have done to yours. You’re no longer welcome in this space. Tell your Emperor to leave us alone or we will make more points.” She then turned the trooper and nodded towards the door. The trooper understood and she followed him out. As soon as she left the bewildered prisoners behind, she bit down on her dentcom. “All units return to the shuttles, mission accomplished.”


            “You did WHAT?!” Weathers was livid with rage before the unmoving form of Sergeant Anita Hughes. “You killed five hundred people?”

            “Seven hundred twenty-one, sir.” She replied coldly.       

            “And do you have any justification for cold-blooded murder?!”

            “April 18th, 2269.”

            “I beg your pardon?”

            “The slants dropped bugs on Mars on April 18th, 2269, sir, killing two million, four hundred thousand, eight hundred and twelve people, for a simple rebellion. Something easily stopped by landing marines, but they chose to drop bugs, killing every man, woman, and child on that planet.”

            “Your deaths were innocent.”

            “So were two million of them on Mars, captain. Including my husband… my boys.” She gulped loudly but made no other sign other than her blank face. “The slopes did that to me, captain, and I intend to make them pay for that – in spades.”

            “We were supposed to send a message, sergeant, nothing more.”

            “This is a message, and one that you couldn’t send… sir.”

            “You disobeyed my orders.”

            “Yes, sir. I’m not afraid of fightin’, captain, but war means killin’.”

            Weathers closed his eyes… and understood, in his way, but this was still insubordination. “Two weeks in the brig and loss of a stripe. Dismissed.”

            She stood up, saluted, and left, leaving Captain Weathers to face his own demons.


            “They did WHAT?”

            The old man in the fine robes lay prostrate before his lord, the Emperor of Heaven and Earth at the Center of All Things, who was turning red from anger on his hovering chair. “They killed all the han on board that ship, my lord, including your daughter and grandchild… my son. They have left me barren – without issue.”

            The court chancellor stepped forward, “Your Grace, you could do nothing to stop them?”

            “It was a routine trip, Count Aniketh. Princess Lu refused the honor of an escort. We were…” the old man fought back the tears, “we were just visiting my family. Now I am left without a family.”

            “Those bastards!” erupted from Chiang’s lips in English, so as not to offend the imperial court.

            “Duke Hminga,” Vin Dane asked, “were you able to get any identification on the attackers?”

            “Hung mao, minister. Only hung mao.

            “Wo cao ni yeye de sao pi yanr!” Chiang could contain himself no longer. Coughing and wheezing, he managed to stand on his feet, much to the amazement of the court. “We will crush these quai loh si lang kow to oblivion, we will drive them to the far edges of known space, those gan ni niang will know that it is I who reigns here. I, the lord of Chung Kuo!” Another coughing spasm overtook, but he still stood upright. “Duke Hminga, zao ni de xing, you will personally lead a fleet to revenge the life of Lord Kinli, my distant heir! Let all the worlds tremble and let them know that I am the EMPEROR!”

            Suddenly the ancient leader started to wobble and his hands shook. A courtier rushed to help him, but before he could, the great Chiang fell to the ground and didn’t move. Once the little lord got to him, he pulled up his head, only to see a stream of blood escaping his mouth. “Send for a doctor, the emperor’s dying!”




            James had had enough.  He’d outmaneuvered the New Madrid authorities three times in under two days, and successfully pulled off a heist of a police assault shuttle.  Then he’d come back to his ship to discover that the soldiers he’d been carrying around for two years actually knew Arthur Clarke and where to find him.  Now his first mate, whom James had known for the better part of four years, was pointing a rifle at James and claiming to be ImpSec.  Far from putting his hands on his head, James was seriously considering lying down to sleep for the next couple weeks.

            “Joe, what—“

            The armed man jerked his plasma rifle forward, “M. Welthammer, if you do not comply, I am authorized to kill you.  I’m sure my superiors won’t mind too much considering the information I have.”

            Welthammer instinctively began to grab for his gun, before he realized he hadn’t had time to change out the false bullets.  Reconsidering, he reached for his head.

            Joe made another gesture with the rifle, “Come on, the rest of you too.  I’m not a very patient man.”

            Looking over his shoulder, James could see that while the two passengers and his Signals Chief, Nikola Tschelling, seemed to be following Howard’s instructions, the soldiers weren’t moving, with the exception of Freak, scooping money out of the Poker Pot, oblivious to what was going on.

            “You really think you can take all of us?”  Major Shrak was growing larger by the moment.

            Joe remained smug, “Do you want to find out?”  Obviously he wouldn’t be intimidated by a mere werewolf, though it was pretty impressive for one man to stand up to a table full of the likes of Shrak and his men.

            Down the hall, a sweaty Jacob Peterson stepped out of the training room.  Upon seeing the scene in front of him, he went into a crouch and began approaching Joe from the back.

            Still facing the lounge, the first mate directed, “Get back against that wall, Private, or I’ll fry them.”  Well, so much for sneaking up behind him.

            Peterson hesitated for a moment, then backed up to a bulkhead.  For a couple of seconds, the only things that could be heard were the hum of the ship’s life support, and the rhythmic, controlled breathing of Dr. Hicks.

            Shrak spoke again, “I don’t think that gun fires fast enough for you to kill us all before we get to you.”

            “Then I’ll make sure to get you first.”  The plasma rifle now pointed directly at the Major’s head.

            “If you kill any of us, then you’re dead.”

            “But if you try to charge me, I’ll kill at least one of you.  It’s called a hostage; I didn’t think the concept was that difficult.”

            “All hostage situations are bluffs, your success depends on the continued life of the person you’re threatening to kill.  We’re calling your bluff, Joe.”

            James couldn’t help himself, “We are?”

            On the far side of the table, William Tiller stood up.

            Joe jerked the rifle back up, “Hey!  Sit back down!  What the hell do you think—“

            And then they had their opportunity.  Joe winced, and his hand flew to his temple with a grunt, as in response to sudden sharp pain, leaving the rifle in his right hand pointed at the floor away from the people in the lounge.  James tackled him.  Joe was stunned and the rifle clattered to the floor; Nikola rushed to snatch it up.

            James’s feeling of victorious exultation was cut short, however.  Joe Howard was not an imposing man, to be certain, but he still threw Welthammer across the hall, leaving James dazed after crashing into a bulkhead.

            Howard sprang to his feet, there was a bright flash from his hand; Nikola Tschelling jerked, firing the plasma rifle into the deck below them, and then fell to the floor.  Howard probably would have recovered the rifle, but Shrak’s greatly-enlarged forearm crashed into Joe’s head, sending him spinning to the deck.


            The blackness faded as he woke up.

            Where am I?  His vision wasn’t returning as fast as he would have liked, everything was still dark and out of focus.

            Then he became aware of the pain.  The left side of his head was throbbing intensely, and he thought his right arm and hip were bruised pretty badly.

            “Ungh…” he moaned as he lifted a hand to cradle his sore temple.

            “Ah, it seems our friend has regained consciousness.”  A voice was speaking, a vaguely familiar voice…

            And then it all flooded back to him, the unexpected information, the fight, the werewolf.


            “Quite perceptive of you.  You’re right; you are a shit, not a friend, my mistake.”

            His vision cleared, and he found himself staring right into the barrel of an old-model slugthrower.  A very large-caliber, old-model slugthrower.

            He recoiled from the image, but found there was nowhere to go.  He was leaning against a bulkhead, and the only way out was straight through the dozen or so unpleasant-looking people standing in front of him.

            “What do you want?”

            The man holding the gun crouched in front of him.

            “Let’s start simple, what’s your name?”

            He took a moment to recall his mission training, “Joseph—“

            Someone kicked him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him, he struggled for breath.

            “Ooh, sorry about that.” The man’s face showed no remorse.  “I forgot to mention, we’ll know when you’re lying, and Freak here has been told to make sure you don’t do that too often.”  He glanced up to see a crazed-looking man grinning down at him.  “So let’s start over, what’s your name?”

            He hesitated for a moment before giving in, “Clyde Anweir.”

            ‘Freak’ seemed disappointed as he put his foot down.  His interrogator continued, “All right, and who do you work for, Clyde?”

            “Imperial Security, Intelligence Directorate.”

            “An Eye, then.  Well I guess that makes sense.  I’m afraid that’s it for the simple questions, Clyde, so you’ll want to pay attention.  Now, what happened to the real Joseph Howard?”

            This isn’t going to end well.  “He’s dead.”

            Another kick to the stomach, Clyde yelled this time, “I wasn’t lying!”

            The man with the gun cocked his head, “You weren’t?  Please forgive me.  How did that happen?”

            “After intensive interrogation, he was disposed of.”

            “And is that legal?”

            “Under the national security provision of the Imperial Security Charter, yes.”

            “’Actions necessary for the defense of the state…’  Yes, I seem to recall it.  So tell me, M. Anweir, just what was your mission.”

            “I was to assume the identity of Joseph Howard, Executive Officer to James Welthammer, independent freighter captain.  I was to gather information regarding the treason of M. Welthammer, suspected of crimes including gross negligence for Imperial Law and providing safety and employment to known members of the Rebellion.”  Why am I saying all this?

            His interrogator stood up again, and holstered the gun, though the prisoner didn’t dare attempt an escape with the others standing around him.  “Well, Clyde, I must congratulate you on the success of your reconnaissance.  Unfortunately, you may be delayed some time in reporting back to your superiors.  Now, if you will stand up, please.”

            Clyde was suspicious, but he couldn’t see the harm in just standing up, so he struggled to his feet, and faced his interrogator.

            The man addressed him again, “Do you have any identification with you, M. Anweir?  I mean, for your real identity?”

            Clyde shook his head, “No, it could compromise the mission.”

            “That’s unfortunate.  Well, this will have to do then.”  He held out a pen and a small, rectangular piece of stiff paper to Clyde, who took them hesitantly.  “You will please write down your name, rank, and serial number.”

            “What for?”

            “Well, you can’t go wandering around space without any proper identification, now can you?”

            Though confused, Clyde still couldn’t identify any real threat in the action, so he grasped the pen and wrote.  Anweir, Clyde Thomas; Captain; Imperial Security, Intelligence Directorate; 40611923.

            Clyde finished, and returned the pen to his interrogator’s hand.  “Good, now put it in your pocket.”


            “So you don’t lose it.  Considering your position, I’m amazed you are willing to argue this much.”

            Clyde forced down a lump rising in his throat, and slid the card into a pocket.

            “Excellent,” the man turned to one of his companions, “Major?”

            Two men flanked Clyde, and grabbed him under the shoulders, lifting him slightly off the floor.  He thought they were going to lock him up; but the cluster of men parted, and Clyde’s jaw dropped in horror.

            He was facing an airlock, and the black-orange swirl of hyperspace could be seen through the double thick windows.

            His captors muscled him into the small compartment before he could truly begin to struggle, and the heavy hatch closed tight behind him.  He barely had time to whirl around and face the cold eyes of James Welthammer before the exterior hatch burst open without cycling, and Clyde Anweir was carried from the ship by the rush of air.

            James continued to gaze out the airlock into hyperspace for a few more minutes before turning back to the interior of his ship.  It would be another two days before they reached Phoenix system, and he needed to catch up on his sleep.


            Pssst.  Pssst.  Pssssssssst. 

            The sound of the paint sprayer was nearly inaudible, since the only sound reaching Pablo Losada’s ears was conducted through the glove of his EVA suit and the air inside it.  He still was amazed that he’d let them talk him into helping out.  But, with Joe Howard gone, the crew was a bit short-handed, and Pablo and the Doc were a pair of fifth wheels on board ship.  Icarus was still recovering from his injuries, so when Captain Welthammer asked for volunteers to help repaint the ship, Pablo had raised his hand.

            “I wish I’d realized they meant the OUTSIDE of the ship,” he muttered to himself. 

            “Gotta change the markings,” came Tiller’s voice crackling over the suit-to-suit radio.


            “If we try to dock with these markings, the Imps’ll be all over us.”  Tiller was floating a few meters away, on the same tether line, also painting a new set of fake registration numbers and shipping-line company colors on the exterior of the freighter.  Near the ship’s bow, Freak and Nikola were bolting in place a fake nameplate over the name Resolve.  Captain Welthammer had long ago forbidden the crew to paint over the actual name Resolve, saying that such a ruse would be contrary to the spirit of the name itself.  So when flying false flags, as they’d been doing most of the time for the past couple of years, they had to install a blow-away panel over the nameplate.  Temporary ruses were acceptable to the captain, anything that even smelled like changing the actual name of the ship was not.   

            Pablo strained his eyes to peer at the status readout in front of his chin inside his helmet.  “What the heck,” he mumbled, keying the radio switch to the `on’ position.  “It shows my radio was off...how’d you hear that?”

            “Hyperspace,” Tiller responded sheepishly,  “amplifies powers, extends range, makes us hear other people’s thoughts… even when we’re trying not to.”


            “Don’t normally do EVA in hyperspace.”

            Pablo was struck by a thought.  “So, when you volunteered for this job right after I did...”

            Tiller turned off his paint sprayer and rotated in place to face his companion and nodded.  “Yes, I wanted to check you out.  Even a mage couldn’t shield his thoughts out here.”

            “So you wanted to… test me?” Pablo asked with a quaver in his voice.

            “Captain says your doctor shot and killed a couple of Imps in the bar fight.  An Imp wouldn’t kill his fellow cops, even to get close to us, or take a bullet in the process.”  Tiller pressed his faceplate up against Pablo’s, and turned off his radio, letting physical conduction carry the sound of his voice across.  “But you didn’t fire a shot.”

            “I....I didn’t have a gun.”

            Tiller’s voice was like ice.  “You also didn’t pick one up when you had the chance.” 

            “I was scared!”

            “Of course you were,” Tiller stated flatly.  “This is not your life.  And that’s a problem.”

            Pablo was practically in tears.  “What do you mean?  Are you gonna toss me out an airlock like you did that Imp spy?”

            William shook his head. “Not just for being a coward.”

            “Then what are you gonna do?”

            “This.”  Tiller had hooked his paint sprayer back to the belt of his EVA suit, and now he grabbed Pablo’s helmet with both hands.  He stared into Losada’s terrified face through the faceplate of his helmet, and reached into his mind.  Pablo stared wide-eyed for a second, and then passed out.  For several minutes, the two space-suited figures hung there in space, motionless relative to the coasting starship, amid the frozen orange lightning of hyperspace.  Then Tiller released the helmet, and hooked a line from his own suit into the belt of Pablo’s, and began pulling himself back towards the airlock along the tether line they both were still attached to. 

            When the pair reached the airlock and cycled through to the interior of the ship, Icarus was waiting for them.  “Did you do as I asked?” the doctor asked quietly. 

            Tiller removed his helmet and gave a slight nod.  He dropped the still-limp form of Pablo Losada on the floor of the passageway just inside the airlock. 


            “He’s not a spy.”  Tiller shook his head sadly.  “He’s scared, caught up in events he can’t begin to understand.”

            Icarus nodded in reply.  “Good.  I’d hate to think I’d trusted someone I shouldn’t have.”

            “I didn’t say that.” The lieutenant replied in an infinitely sad voice. 


            “He still isn’t reliable.  He wants out, and when a man is desperate, he’ll think of many things. The captain’s joke about the reward for Clarke’s capture got him thinking… and that’s one of many plots in the back of his brain.”

            “Sch,” Icarus observed.  He turned a sad pair of eyes on his former lab assistant, still unconscious on the floor.  “Can you implant a post-hypnotic command in him?  Keep him from doing so?”

            Tiller shook his head sadly.

            “I was afraid of that,” Icarus replied sadly.  “Then apart from throwing him out the airlock, what else can we do?”


            Pablo Losada was enjoying a walk in the nice warm sun of Wilke’s Star. So much nicer since they terraformed it, he thought, walking across the college campus. It’s amazing how quickly things happen. Someone at the University of Wilke’s Star had read his master’s thesis on brain chemical imbalance, then talked to his colleague, then his colleague, and suddenly WHAM! A full-ride scholarship to finish his doctorate! Still, he wouldn’t have taken it if that nice Dr. Hicks hadn’t burned himself up like that. There’s only so far a hung mao can go in government work, and without Dr. Hicks’ support, he was going nowhere.

            Pablo looked off at some beautiful undergrads sunbathing in the noonday sun. Ah, well – it was time to get on with the rest of my life. As he walked over to talk to them, he thought he caught a glimpse of two people between the science buildings, but when he looked again, they were gone. Now, what should I say to these girls…

            Icarus and William had stepped away after seeing Losada off planetside. The doctor turned to the mage and asked, “You’re sure this is going to work?”

            Tiller nodded.

            “And he won’t remember a thing?”

            The lieutenant pulled out a plasma revolver and waved it towards the quad. “Well?”

            “Okay, I’ll trust you.”

            “Good.” Tiller holstered the weapon and then nodded his head back towards the waiting rental flitter. “Come, they’re waiting for us.”




Shoko Yamazaki was in the kitchen when the intercom buzzed.  “Dinner time!” she chirped as she walked over and activated the vidscreen to see who had called her from the front door of her apartment complex.  The screen lit up to show Hari the delivery guy from Sushi City.

“Shoko Yamazaki?”

Shoko nodded.

“You’re sushi’s here.  Eight crowns, thirty-eight yuan.”

“Thank you, sai!” Shoko giggled with a little bow.  “I’ll buzz you up!”  She discommed and hit the door release button.

 “You recognize the delivery guy?” Metzu asked, looking up from his manga comic.

 “Oh, it’s just Hari!” Shoko said with a graceful wave of her hand.  “He comes here all the time!” she said cheerfully to her yakuza bodyguard, then after a moment’s hesitation, “It wasn’t Cho.”

“You sure?” Metzu asked, getting up from her couch.  “It could be a fake transmission…”

“Oh, I doubt that.”  Shoko sighed as she gathered a dish and chopsticks.  “I appreciate your concern, Metzu, I really do… but to be honest, it’s not needed.  I don’t know why my sister would show up here, anyway.  She’s smarter that that.“

“Still, better not to take chances,” Metzu shrugged, jumping to his feet.  He made an exaggerated show of pulling out and cocking his dart gun, taking every chance to flex his muscles unnecessarily.

Preening, Shoko thought absently.  She was so used to it by now it was amazing she even noticed anymore.  My own fault, really, I guess, she thought.  I should have worn more than just a bathrobe.  “Personally, I don’t think you’ll ever see Cho again,” Shoko said, pouring herself a glass of plum wine.  “She’s probably halfway to Kalintos or Elysia by now.”  There was a knock, and Shoko turned toward the door.

“I’ll get the sushi,” Metzu said, more dramatically then he needed to.  “You stay out of sight!  Don’t argue!”

Shoko sighed and rolled her eyes.  He always wants to play soldier to impress me… silly boy! she thought.  She listened to the amusing exchange as she poured soy sauce into her wasabi bowl.

“Uh… Shoko Yamazaki?”

“No, she’s busy,” Metzu said, more gruffly than was really necessary.  “I’m a friend.”

“Uh… okay.  I’ll still need M. Yamazaki’s credcard and thumbprint, though.  She there?”

“I’m here!” Shoko squeaked, stirring wasabi into her soy sauce.

“I’ll pay for it,” Metzu said firmly.

“Suit yourself.  Here ya go—tama-don, unagi roll, extra ginger—right?”

“Uh… yeah, I guess so.”

“Okay.”  ZAP!!

Shoko looked up in time to see Metzu fly across the room in a hail of sushi.

“METZU!” she cried, running to him as he crashed into the opposite wall and fell to the floor.  “Are you okay?!  Are you hurt?!”

The door slammed shut behind her.  Shoko turned to see the delivery guy coming at her.

“What?!  What do you want?!” she yelled, frightened.

The delivery guy merely held a finger to his lips.  Shoko blinked—she recognized those heavily-tattooed hands.


“Bo yun jian ri…”  Cho ran curled fingers across her face, and her own features returned.

“What are you doing he—“

“You sold me out, you bitch!!” Cho snapped, her face twisted in rage.  “Me… how could you?!”

“Uh... what?”  Shoko blinked, confused.  “What—what are you ta—“

Cho rushed her.  Shoko’s words twisted into a scream of fear as Cho seized her by the throat and slammed her against the wall.

“WHY?!” Cho screamed.  “I want to know why, bitch!”  She slammed Shoko against the wall again.  “I’ve looked out for you since… since forever, you ungrateful slut!  How many crowns did Cornelius pay you to betray me—me, your own sister!?”

Shoko shook her head weakly, eyes round with confusion as well as fear.

“What did it take?  Money?  Power?" Cho hissed.  "Did he promise to marry you if you screwed me over, you little whore!?”

 “N-no!” Shoko squeaked.  “I—I didn’t… who’s Cornelius?”

“Don’t play the dumb schoolgirl with me, whore!” Cho hissed.  “Your stupid little Geisha tricks don’t work with me, Shoko, I’ve known you too long!  You know what you did!  He tried to kill me—and you just sat there and watched!”

“What?  I—I don’t… what?!  I never—“

“Oh, you wanna play games?” Cho spat.  “How about roulette?”  A ball of flame appeared in Cho’s hand with a dull roar, and she thrust it next to Shoko’s terrified face.  “Now you tell me what I want to know, bitch, or I’ll fry that pretty little face your johns pay so much for!”

Shoko stared at the flame through eyes streaming with tears.  “Please, Cho… I never betrayed you, I swear it!” she whimpered desperately.  “You’re my sister, for Buddha’s sake!  I never left your bed when you were sick!  I begged Toku to spare you!  I even…” but her voice trailed off as Cho’s fireball wisped out.  Cho backed off a few inches, searching Shoko’s face, although her grip in Shoko’s neck remained tight.

“You never left me in the hospital?”

“Well… uh…”  Shoko looked more terrified than ever.  “When I had to go… y’know, the bathroom?  But I’m sorry Cho, I didn’t know someone would—“

“Enough of this kuso!” Cho cut her off.  “If you’re lying to me, bitch, I’ll know… I’ll know for sure!”  Cho fingers gripped Shoko’s face and sought out the acupressure points.  Shoko squealed with fright, suddenly realizing what Cho was doing, and knowing she was powerless to stop it.

Knives of pain jumped from Cho’s fingers into Shoko’s head.  Her brain burned as Cho forced a psychic connection and ripped into Shoko’s mind.  Her head throbbed painfully as Cho sifted through her thoughts and memories, searching for… something…

Memories shot through Shoko’s mind, unexpected, unwilling, no longer in control of her own thoughts.  She was waiting patiently by Cho’s bed.  She was blinking.  She was exhausted.  She leaned on Cho’s mattress.  She drifted to sleep.  She awoke.  Cho was in the same place as before.  Shoko continued waiting.  She was sitting in the chair

And then nothing.  She must have fallen asleep again.  She awoke suddenly.  Red lights were flashing.  Sprinklers were pouring.  She looked at Cho’s bed.  It was empty.  She looked around for Cho.  Cho was on the floor under the fire alarm.  She was bleeding.  Shoko ran to her.  She tried to help.  Cho cursed her

With a painful twist, Shoko’s memories spun backwards and she re-lived the moment again... and then again… and again…  Cho seemed obsessed with this moment in time…

Suddenly Cho released her and stepped back.  Shoko slid to the ground, weeping, cradling her throbbing head.

“You don’t remember…” Cho muttered, sounding almost amazed.  “And not a mind wipe, either… it’s like you weren’t even there…”

Shoko looked up at Cho through tears.  “What’s going on, Cho?” she whined miserably.

Cho didn’t seem to be listening.  “He musta… musta frozen your mind… or knocked you out or… or something… and you’re a Sleeper, so you wouldn’t even notice…”

“Who, Cho?” Shoko whimpered.  “What are you talking about?  I… I don’t understand…”

“I know, Shoko, I know,” Cho said, her voice suddenly soft and gentle.  “You didn’t… you couldn’t… I get it now.”

“Well I don’t!” Shoko spat.  “What’s—“

“Its okay, Shoko," Cho said as she pressed a palm against Shoko’s forehead.  “Sleep.”

A wave of darkness descended over Shoko’s vision.  She slumped against the wall and sank into unconsciousness.  She heard one last word before she passed out.




Hours later, Cho Yamazaki sat on the floor of her sanctum, her dojo, in the full lotus position; eyes closed, back straight, legs crossed, hands resting on her knees, meditating… and waiting.  Waiting for her ancestors to speak to her.  They had spoken to her—been downright chatty—that night in the dumpster.  But since then…nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  Zip.  Maru.

            Was it just a dream?  Another hallucination? Cho wondered.  If so, what do I do now?

            She wasn’t going to run.  She was going to fight.  It was all she knew how to do.  She had risen from petty byordokudan to master wu jen of yakuyza-Tanzhi, and no gaijin nigger was going to take that from her now.

But to fight, she needed the one thing she didn’t have: a plan.  Who was she going to fight?  And how?  Where?  She didn’t even know where to begin.  She had gone over the facts a million times in her head, but nothing made sense.  Why would an oyabun risk killing her personally when he could send an assassin to do it?  How did he get in and out of Tanzhi headquarters so easily?  Did he have help on the inside?  How did he get the Earl of New Tokyo to help spike her opium?  Why was she so important to kill?… or was she just being vain?  A dozen conspiracy theories had raced through her head while she meditated on the puzzle, each more outlandish than the last.  She would fight, yes… but she didn’t know to win   So she sought guidance from her adopted ancestors, the Tanzhi… but they were silent.

            Cho broke her meditation with a sigh, picked up her hookah pipe and sucked down a long toke of marijuana.  Drugs helped her reach clarity.  But no dust—not yet.

“What the sch do I do?” she wondered aloud.  But there was no answer.

            Cho resumed meditating.  Her head drooped.  Her arms fell.  She was drifting to sleep…

            You are one of us; you are family; you are Tanzhi; you will save us from the gaijin.

            Cho’s eyes snapped open.  “What the fuck does that mean?!” she asked the empty room.

            No answer.  Another dream?

            You cannot win this battle alone.  You need allies.  Your kobun.

            Cho blinked.  Clear as day—it was no dream.

            Well, if it was her students she needed, she knew where to start.  Toku Tanzhi would expect it, of course—he would have shatei watching for her every step of the way—but she could handle them.  Sleepers never understood the full power of wu jen.  She headed for the door.

            But as she donned her leather jacket, they spoke once more.

            They must choose to follow you… or they will betray you.




            Sharif made his way to the rally – he could have avoided it, but someone had to speak. Someone had to tell the followers of this false prophet that he was speaking lies. Someone had to speak the truth.

            Everyone from five precincts and many from farther away had come to this amphitheater (enclosed from the sky, thank God) to hear Graham Quentin speak. You could instantly tell who GQ’s audience was; people were brandishing the banned double cross of the Christian Federation openly – shocking! Flags, t-shirts… it was like someone had gathered all the fundies on the planet into one space. It was traitorous, but the Civil Police running security weren’t stupid. Even with plasma rifles, the odds were still a hundred to one – against. It had been twenty years since their last crusade. Some of them wanted the chance to fight since they missed out on the last one. Some wanted another chance to win the universe for God. And some… some truly believed in what M. Quentin was saying. Between them there was no way to tell who was the more insane.

            Suddenly the lights dimmed and there was a roar from a crowd. Like the good old days of chromium metal and Gun Metal Gray, there was a light show, music poured into every orifice, and suddenly the amplifying holoproj above the stage showed their leader, their messiah of the hour. The crowd went wild as Graham appeared on stage, the unseen force barriers flickering to life; just in case the CP weren’t too concerned with someone shooting this man.

            Finally, once the roars and cries and cheers had quieted down, then, and only then, was their beloved leader able to speak. “My friends!” Then another wave of excitement spilled through the crowd; it took another minute for them to calm down again. “My brothers, my sisters, this has been the moment we’ve been waiting for.” One might have thought there were short-term hallucinogens being expelled, with the amount of cheering that was happening. “This time, this place. With the Kingdom reigning over us, where has our message gone? It has been kept safe by you! Now is the time to spread that truth to the worlds!”

            As the cheers went up, another voice broke through loud and clear, “What truth is that?!

            The crowd was shocked. There was no one on stage; no other holoproj they could see. As the mob sat down, all eyes turned on the small half-breed, standing in the middle rows.

            “The truth? The truth is that you are condemning these people to their deaths, for no reason, save your lust for power! The truth is that the Middle Kingdom is the only thing that keeps humanity together!”

            A shocked gasp went through the crowd; even Graham was lost for words at first. Finally he managed, “What do…”

            “I wasn’t finished!” Sharif roared, and within the indoor stadium, a bolt of lightning crashed and fried the stage electronics.

            Once the shock wave and the smell of burnt ozone passed over the crowd, Adams continued. “The crusade is not against governments, which rise and fall by people’s whim, but against the hatred within us!” He managed to stand up on his seat to be better seen. Despite his distance, everyone in the stadium could hear him perfectly. “It is hate, it is pride, it is foolishness that keeps us from realizing that the universe is within us. You do not see your own divinity!”

            There was a rustle throughout the crowd as the Civil Police quickly moved in towards the agitator. They might not be able to stop Quentin from speaking, but one mage, no problem. “Let go of the dogma you’ve trapped your minds in and save yourselves! You have not begun to realize the power that you all possess. Stop waiting for a man or a god to save you; save yourselves!”

            The cops were now within striking range, wearing their anti-magical armor weave, face shields down, nothing to expose themselves to possible arcane attack. “All right, pal. Come with us or we’ll have to burn ya.”

            Sharif didn’t even respond. He simply opened his arms and all the high-tech gear – and all their clothes – of the Civil Policemen suddenly flew off their bodies. In one moment there were twelve troops, the next, twelve naked humans. A laugh rolled through the crowd and Adams spoke on. “You are all as naked as these; it is only your foolishness that you were as clothing that keeps you from being free! Renounce these trappings and join with the universe!”

            It seemed like half the people in the stadium were intently listening to every word that the stranger had said. The others were getting more furious by the moment. One of these was by Sharif, and with those last words, suddenly he pounced on Adams driving him to the ground. Others joined in, and before the ex-farmer knew it, tons of people had covering, trying to pummel him senseless.



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Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home, even if you ARE capable of hurling someone against the wall by telekinesis.