"Remember, the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy." – Enter The Dragon, classic 2-D vid.


            The outer hatch closed and locked behind the departing pinnace.  The craft would “fall” away from its larger partner for a few hundred meters before firing its own chemical engines to take it down to the planet.  James didn’t mind the extra stop on their journey; he was being well paid for it.

            James turned and caught sight of Major Shrak; it would also give him time to hold a much-needed discussion with the man in charge of the ship’s soldiers.

            “Major, if you would please join me in my office, there are some matters we need to review concerning recent events.”

            The gray haired soldier only nodded, then proceeded to follow his captain up the lift to the ship’s middle or living deck.  There were two doors at the deck’s aft section; James opened the port-side one, which led to his quarters and private workspace.

            Once inside the spacious (by crew standards) cabin, James gestured for Shrak to take a seat at the imitation cherry-wood table which was bolted to the floor a meter-and-a-half beyond the door.

            “Care for a drink, Major?”  James inquired as he moved to a small cupboard on an adjacent wall.

            “I’d take some of your rum if you can spare it.”  Shrak’s voice remained pleasant, though there was a detectable tension in the room.  James poured into the TI-Major’s glass, and then mixed his own River Pirate, though he favored the Yangtze Cola over the rum; now that they were back in normal space, he may have to fly the ship.

            James set the glass of rum in front of the Major, and then took the seat opposite him.  Both men sat there a moment, eyes locked, drinks in hand, waiting to see who would be the one to break the pleasant façade and cut to the heart of the matter.

            Welthammer lost, “Major, how long have we known each other?”  James instantly regretted beginning with the clichéd line.

            “Just a few months over two years, sir.”

            “Right.  Major, when I picked you up from Mars two years ago, you told me that you were assigned to the local military garrison; that you joined the colonists in rebellion against the Middle Kingdom, and that you had no previous contact with Arthur Clarke’s rebellion, is that correct, Major?

            Shrak set down his glass, “Yes, Captain, that is more or less what I told you.”

            “Am I to understand then, Major, that you lied to me that day, and have since felt no compulsion to correct yourself?”

            The old soldier sighed, “Captain Welthammer, the whereabouts of Arthur Clarke are, as you are no doubt aware, highly confidential, it didn’t seem prudent to let a strange freighter pilot know such information.”

            “But you can tell a couple of strangers in a bar?!”

            “Captain, I have reason to believe that M. Hicks is meant to find Arthur Clarke.”

            “What?  You mean fate?  Do you believe in that bullshit, Major?”

            “I’m not entirely sure; Captain, but I do trust the instincts of my lieutenant.            “

            James was having trouble keeping up his anger, “But tell me this, Major, if you did know where to find Clarke and the rebellion, then why did you choose to remain behind in my employ, and not report back?”

            This seemed to give Shrak pause; he downed the rest of his rum, then idly moved the glass around in his hand.  “Captain, when my battalion and I put down on Mars a couple weeks before you arrived, we were sent off by Arthur Clarke himself.  He told us that this would be the first strike against the Middle Kingdom, the first step in the eventual downfall of the Emperor.  The full weight of the entire rebellion was behind us on this one mission, our success was guaranteed.  Then we loaded into capsules, and we dropped.  Two weeks later, the Imps hit us with the Bugs, you saw it, Captain, they had us whittled down to nothing in eighteen hours.  Clarke abandoned us, Captain, we weren’t ready to go back and swear our loyalty to that man again.”

            James’s rage was forgotten, “You were fighting the Bugs, Major.  Sure you guys have power armor and big guns, but you ain’t your daddy’s Tech Infantry, and you were up against Bugs.”

            James could see the fire in Shrak’s eyes, “Captain, when you carried us off the planet, there was still an entire Legion’s worth of TI transports hiding in the asteroid belt; I know that for a fact, I had Tiller check your ship’s sensors before we hit the gate.  That planet was ours, Captain, and Clarke threw it and my men away like so many potato peelings.”

            The stillness between them was melted by the sounding of the com. Welthammer hit the response button. “Yes?”

            “M. Welthammer? This is Dr. Hicks.”

            “Hicks. Everything go all right on the surface?”

            “Yeah, everything’s fine. Tiller’s going to take me to the rendezvous point and then come back and meet you at the ship.”

            “Great to hear. Um…”

            “Doc, it ain’t my business, but would you finally mind telling me why people were shooting at you in the first place? My curiosity’s been going crazy.”

            “Let’s just say that certain people were planning to use my research for… bad things.”

            “What bad things?”

            “They were going to brainwash the entire non-Asian population.”

            There was dead silence as James stared at the major. “Right, and I own a mansion on New Paris.”
            “Fine, don’t believe me. Thanks for the lift.”

            “Any time. Discom.” As he hit the com button, Welthammer twirled his fingers around his head. “Man, this universe’s full of crazies.”

            Shrak simply nodded his glass towards his employer and took a sip.

            “Well, when you’re finished, tell that pilot of mine to set a course to New Paris.”

            “You mean the Welthammer Estate?”

            “Well, we always called it a plantation – after all, it’s near Maine City. Come on, we’ve got a few things to pick up.”




            “Any time. Discom.” Dr. Hicks turned off the com unit and immediately stepped into the flitter cab next to Tiller. “Ready?”

            The lieutenant grunted and knocked on the head of the robot driving the cab. “2nd Street Imperial Warehouse, next to the Plaza of Winged Victory.”

            “Yes, siiiiiiiiiiir!” the overanxious robot said and the cab sped away graciously through the beautiful streets of the capital city.

            Icarus stared at William. “Imperial Warehouse?”

            Tiller simply tapped his ear, then nodded towards the robot. The doctor quickly understood. Damn, the Imps would bug every damn cab in the Empire? Yeah, that does sound like something those bastards would do…

            The rest of the short ride was quiet until they arrived at the address. True to Major Shrak’s word, they could see the Forbidden City looming in the background, black drapes attached to the outside walls. Once Tiller slotted his credchit into the cab’s comp, the robot chirped back, “Thank you! Have a nice day!”

            They stepped out and the flitter went along its merry way, sowing its saccharine wisdom somewhere else. Hicks couldn’t help looking towards the palace. “Damn, it’s hard to believe that Chiang’s gone.”

            “Everyone goes sometime.” The lieutenant shrugged.

            “You think Rao’ll do a good job?”

            Tiller just stared at him for a moment until Icarus realized what he was saying. “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t really care.”

            “You can care, just realize who you work for now.” William nodded towards the warehouse and started walking; Icarus followed.

            Around the corner, in the alleyway, there was a lonely basement door, locked with a heavy chain and a rusted thermal print lock. It looked like it hadn’t been used in years. Without a word, Tiller put his thumb on it and it chirped weakly. Before Hicks’ eyes, the chain broke neatly in half, right on the door hinge, then fused itself to the door. Effortlessly, William lifted one of the doors open and walked inside; again, Icarus followed.

           As soon as both of them were inside, the door slammed shut. “Camouflage,” Tiller explained, “the door will lock again, and the chain will swing freely.” The barely lit hallway showed nothing but plaststeel girders and fungicrete floors, but the lieutenant kept walking. He pointed up at the ceiling and explained, “Imperial Warehouse, still in operation. Can’t hear a thing under several tons of bureaucracy.” The dark-skinned man smiled, finally stopping between two pillars next to a wall.

            “Dead end?”

            “For some.” Tiller grinned again as two beams of light covered over his body. Suddenly, the wall opened into a lift. “Etheral multi-phasic scan. You’re quite safe if I go first.” Icarus swallowed his curiosity and fear with one breath and followed the increasingly creepy lieutenant into the lift. As soon as Hicks got in, the wall slammed closed, and they went down.

            A few seconds later, as the door opened, it was an electrician’s wet dream. Massive holoproj displays, comps running thousands of simulations and collating jobs, white-suited technicians running to and fro on some important matter. The only paying them any attention was the guard at the door. “Tiller?”

            The lieutenant looked at him for a second, then smiled and stretched out his hand. “Nice to see you again, Hasgarth.”

            The guard took it. “Same. Damn, Tiller – I thought you were dead and buried on Mars.”

            “Near enough. Didn’t you know a little thing like an army of tame bugs couldn’t stop me?”

            “Remind me not to play you in poker.”

            “You’ll win your money back, I promise.” Tiller seemed more relaxed to Hicks; almost a different person. “Where’s the boss man?”

            “Near the big board – where he always is. Who’s the guy?”

            “New recruit.”


            “I vouch for him.”

            “Suit yourself – not my life.”

            “Thanks, corporal.”

            “Sergeant-Major now.”

            “God, the standards in this place…” the lieutenant shook his head, laughing as he guided Hicks towards the large holoproj. A mane of thick white hair, striped with black, was sitting on top of an older-looking leather chair. Funny, Hicks thought, that doesn’t look like cow leather.

            A voice emerged from the chair. “So, Tiller… finally stopped joy-riding and came back to work?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            The chair turned around and the doctor couldn’t help but take an initial shock. Here he was, old, scarred, and wrinkled, but still the man who was on all the wanted posters in the Middle Kingdom. This was Arthur Clarke; he may have looked old, but there was definitely power under that aging skin. “And this must be the famous Dr. Hicks.”

            Icarus forced himself to offer his hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”

            Clarke gripped it with disdain and turned back to Tiller. “He better be worth it.”

            “He is.”
            “You know, lieutenant, I…” The old werewolf stopped for a second and sniffed the air. “Wait a minute, I know that smell.” Clarke stepped out of his seat and moved closer to Hicks. Sniffing again, he said, “No, not you,” and then he stepped closer to Tiller. “You’re not Tiller.”

            The mage smiled and confirmed. “No, I’m not.”

            Hicks went into shock again. Damn it, was there ANYONE on that losa wreck that was who they said they were?! Yet as Clarke grew angrier and the guards started to close in, the doctor was even more shocked that the mystery man didn’t move. The werewolf kept sniffing the air. “Wait… it’s YOU!”

            Clarke immediately went into Crinos form, changing with the rage that had suddenly been released on the underground lair. As the huge form was about to rip into the not-Tiller, the mage snapped his fingers, and a wave of energy emanated from him, slamming Clarke back. The enormous form rolled back through the air, landing right onto Hicks, crushing him down to the ground. The doctor suddenly found himself in extreme pain under an angry werewolf.

            “I’LL KILL YOU!” Arthur raged.

            “Not yet, sergeant,” the mystery man proclaimed, “I didn’t come out from under my rock just for you to kill me. I want to talk.”

            “You’ll talk as I hear you scream!”

            “I can turn your fur to silver, sergeant, or… we can talk. But why don’t you get off my friend first.”

            Clarke only noticed that he had hurt the doctor at that point. The leader of the Resistance made no apologies as he got up, but merely circled the man he considered his prey. “Now, before I kill you, bastard,” his claws instantly extended, “speak.”




Yoko Tanzhi paced irritably in her living room.  What’s taking them so long?  Don’t they know I need a net connection for my job?  She glanced up at her yakuza boudyguard… but he was completely useless, absorbed in his manga full of voluptuous anorexic schoolgirls fighting blades and bullets in impossibly skimpy outfits.  Idiot.  He should know better.

I mean, reallyYoko fumed, spinning around, hating those dumb comics with every single ounce of her three hundred pounds.  To use their powers they shift into their alter egos… which really just means their skirts get even shorter… and, what, suddenly no one recognizes them?  Sexist burukuso, that’s what it is!

Yoko heard a knock at the door.  She charged toward it.

“Hey!  Hold on!” her bodyguard said, jumping up from her couch.  “I gotta check it out!”

“Oh, for Buddha’s sake, it’s not Cho!” Yoko yelled.  “It’s just the site tech come to fix my net connection‘cause I called him, that’s why!”

The shatei pushed her awayno small effortand shook his head.  “Look, fatso, I just hafta make sure.  I got my orders.”  He opened the door and peered across the steel security chain.  “Yeah?”

Yoko fumed.  She was so sick of this!  Just because I’m fat doesn’t mean I’m dumb and helpless!  Why would Cho come here, huh?!” Yoko screamed at him, throwing her arms out angrily.  “I was just her student, I wasn’t that important to her!”

“Uh… apartment 24?” a voice floated through doorway.  “Got a problem with your Imperial Network connection… right?”

“Well, it’s about time you got here!” Yoko yelled, enjoying a new target for her anger.  She shoved the shatei out of the way, glaring at the technician through the crack in the doorway.  “My ImpNet’s been down for almost a full hour!”

The tech was looking down, his cap obscuring his face as he poked a few buttons on his datapad.  “Yeah, I’ll take a look at it,” the tech said with polite boredom.

Yoko slammed the door shut and threw the chain back, ignoring the orders of her stupid bodyguard.  She flung the door open, spun around, and marched toward her massive computer desk.

“Now I can ping the other ‘puters in the ‘partment an’ that’s okay so it must be the ImpNet connections so I reinstalled the protocols an—"

            “You the tenant?” the tech asked.

            “… so then I tried a loopback address for my home net an’ got a 582 error," Yoko babbled, "so I know it must be a problem with your connection so I...”

            “Naw, she is,” the shatei said.  “I’m just—“

            “… tried my mobile and that couldn’t connect so it…”

            Yoko heard a dull thud and then silence.

“…must be a problem with the jack or…”  Yoko turned around.  “…the wires or… uh…”

            Yoko’s bodyguard lay in a crumpled heap on the floor.  The tech loomed over him, turning slowly to look at her.  Yoko stared at the unconscious shatei and blinked, not understanding what had just happened.

            “Bo yun jian ri,” the tech curled fingers in the air… and suddenly, Yoko recognized him…

            “Cho?” Yoko asked, bewildered.  “What are you doing he—“

Yoko saw only a blur a motion, then fingers clamped around her neck and heaved.  The three hundred pound girl flew back onto her sofa with a dull thud.  Cho pounced on her, one hand choking off any questions with a tight grip around her throat, the other hand seeking out acupressure points on her face.  “Someone betrayed me,” Cho growled.  “Was it you, fatso?  Zhan shi bu ke gao ren…” Cho chanted... and then tore into Yoko’s mind.

Yoko struggled weakly and whimpered as Cho dug into her thoughts, memories, and secrets.  She swept through Yok’o’s emotions—fear, panic, confusion—then through her thoughts…  Yoko would have told Cho anything… but she didn’t understand what Cho wanted...

Betray you?  What do you mean?  We let you smoke too much?  I dunno… maybe we did...?

A single word in Cho’s voice boomed through Yoko’s mind: CORNELIUS.

Whawhat the sch does THAT mean?!

Cho pushed deeper and Yoko squealed in pain.  Cho broke through barriers of denial and excuses to Yoko’s deepest secrets, faded by time and clouded with shame.  Cho knew the insult other girls called Yoko in school, which tests she cheated on, how much money she embezzled from yakuza-Tanzhi, the passwords to all her secret blackmail files, even who she met online for cyber-sex late at night.  Yet Cho only touched each memory for a second and moved on, searching for… what?

Whatever it was, Cho didn’t seem to find it.  Slowly, she released Yoko, physically and psychically, and stood.  Yoko sagged into the sofa, tears in her eyes, gripping her aching head.

            “Wh—what do you want, Cho?” she asked fearfully, curling into a ball.  “Money?  Dust?  Take it!  Just… don’t hurt me!  Please!”

            “Calm down…” Cho said soothingly.  “That’s not why I’m here.  I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

            “Yes you are!”

            “Well, okay, yeah, the mind probe…”  Cho shrugged.  “But I had to do that, Yoko.  I had to know if you were the one who betrayed me.  But now that I—“

            “But it hurt!” Yoko sniffed.

            “I—I know!  Look, I’m… I’m sorry, okay?  If there were any other way, I woulda done it, but there wasn’t, y’know?  So I had to.  But I’m not gonna hurt you any more, so quit bitching.”

            A sob caught in Yoko’s throat, and for a moment she just stared at Cho, blinking, stunned… and a little alarmed.  Cho never apologized for anything… never.  “Well… then…” Yoko asked suspiciously, “why are you here?”

            “Because I need your help.”

            “My help?”

            “Yeah.  I need information,” Cho explained.  “You’re the best hacker I know.  And the only one I trust further than I can spit on.”

“So… just information?  That’s all?  Then you’ll leave me alone?”

“Yeah.  I promise.”

That meant nothing; Yoko knew what Cho’s promises were worth.  “Well… uh... what do you need to know?” Yoko said hesitantly, stalling.

“Well, for right now,” Cho answered, “just find out where my students are—Usha, Nhut, Hung… all of them.  But I’ll need a lot more later.”

“Uh… more… later?” Yoko said.  Apprehension began to creep over her.

“Yeah.”  Cho nodded gravely.  She pulled up Yoko’s coffee table and sat down on it, facing her.  “I’m on the run Yoko.  Everyone and their dog is after my ass.  But I didn’t do it, Yoko… I was poisoned… it’s fucked up, I haven’t got time to explain it all right now, so you just gotta trust me.  I need you to come with me and help me clear my name.”

Yoko felt a sudden suicidal urge to giggle.  Trust her?  No one in their right mind would trust Cho, and she KNOWS that!  Yoko twisted her grin into a grimace and faked a sob to buy time.  “Uh… go with you?” Yoko choked.  “Go where?”

“Don’t know yet.”  Cho shrugged.  “I need you to help me figure that out, too.  Now hurry up and get online, we’re wastin’ time.”

“Uhhh…”  Yoko looked over at her computer… but didn’t move.  Her mind was racing, trying to think of a way out of this—preferably with her mind and body intact.  “I’m… not really supposed to, Cho,” she said in a low voice, almost a whisper.  “You’ve been disowned by the family… I could get in a lot of trouble… y’know?”

Cho’s face clouded.  She looked furious.  Yoko sqeezed her eyes shut and turned her face away, flinching, waiting for the blows that always followed whenever she questioned Cho.

But… nothing happened.  Yoko heard Cho snap her fingers.  Huh?  What’s she up to?  Yoko peeked through her arms.

Cho was lighting a Nirvana off her thumbHer hands were shaking.  She looked angry…but wasn’t exactly winding up for a punch either.  Yoko uncurled slowly, watching Cho carefully.  This isn’t normal.  Something weird is going on…

Cho look a long, long drag and exhaled.  Her face relaxed a bit.  Her hands stilled.  “Okay, Yoko, you’re right.  I’m askin’ a lot.”  Cho turned to look at her.  “So name your price, girl.”

 “Um... what?!” Yoko stammered.  She wasn’t expecting that.  A threat, maybe, but… payment?  Is this really Cho?

            “C’mon, we haven’t got all day.  What do you want, kid?” Cho demanded.  “Name it, and it’s yours if you help me.”

            “Uh… well… I dunno…”  She was completely unprepared for the question.  “I … uh… a million crowns, I guess?  And a new Kwonsi motherboard?”

“Burukuso!”  Cho shook her head.  “I know what you really want, Yoko.”

“You… do?” Yoko said doubtfully.  “Okay, so… what is it?”

Cho took another hit off her joint and stared Yoko dead in the eye.  “You want to be thin.”

Yoko opened and closed her mouth wordlessly.  She looked away.

“You wanna be as thin as Nhut, don’t ya?” Cho pressed.  “You wanna be sexy like Usha.”

Yoko was silent.

“And you’re horny for Miasu Kyuso.  Everyone knows it.”

“Cho!” Yoko gasped, shocked and embarrassed.  Her face suddenly felt hot.

“You want him to look at you and say, ‘Gol-RAM, who’s that piaoliang?  I’d sure like a piece of THAT Tanzhi ass!’… don’t ya?”

Yoko giggled nervously and hid her face in hands.

“Too bad he thinks you’re a fat pig,” Cho shrugged.

Yoko stopped giggling.

“They all do, you know.  Probably ‘cause it’s true.”

“Cho…” Yoko whined.

“You don’t like how every guy ignores you, do ya?  Or how those prissy yakuza bitch-whores in their dumbass schoolgirl outfits pick on ya, just ‘cuz ya got an ass the size of China?”

Yoko said nothing.

Cho paused to smoke.  “No… you don’t.  You hate it,” Cho continued.  “And you could bring those sluts down with a few keystrokes, too… hell, you think they woulda figured that out by now, after what you did to Memei!  She ain’t around to bug ya anymore, is she?”

A chill tore down Yoko’s spine.  She shot Cho a surprised, alarmed look.

“Ah, don’t worry, I ain’t gonna say nothing.”  Cho waved a hand.  “Memei got what she deserved.  He woulda figured out she was two-timing him, sooner or later.”  Cho puffed her Nirvana.  Yoko looked away.  “Point is, none of those bitches learned from that, did they?  No, they keep on treatin’ you like crap, puttin’ you down in front of all the guys you like.”  Cho took a long drag and narrowed her eyes.  “And you really hate when they call you Yo-cow Ton-zhi… don’t ya?”

“Chooooo,” Yoko whined, “stop it… please… just stop…”

“Help me save face,” Cho said fiercely, “and I’ll make you thin!”

“How?!” Yoko demanded.

“Magic,” Cho answered simply.  “Spells.  Potions.  Hell, diet and exercise if I have to!  But if you help me, Yoko, I will find a way!  En katame itto on waga zinghi!”

Yoko knew the Yakuza oath: I swear it on my honor.  Even Cho took that oath seriously... sort of.

“I’ll make you another promise,” Cho pushed.  “If any of those yakuza bitches ever bug ya again, I’ll throw their ass outa yakuza-Tanzhi so fast they’ll think they were born in the gutter!”

Yoko threw a glance at Cho.  “You… would?”

“Hell yeah!” Cho excalimed.  “I hate them too!  They leave me alone ‘cause they know I’d fry ‘em, but… I can still tell what they think of me…”  Cho scowled off into the distance… and for an instant, Yoko saw the Cho she knew and feared.  Then Cho shook her head and took a long toke off her joint, calming down.  “Well… anyway… if you help me out, you’ll be in trouble with yakuza-Tanzhi, sure.”  Cho shrugged.  “An’ you’re uncle Toku’ll be pissed as hell… but as soon as I clear my name, it won’t matter.”  Cho looked up at Yoko, searching her face for an answer.

Yoko stared at her carpet.  She was tempted.  She couldn’t help it.  To be thin… Buddha what’s it like?  She had almost forgotten… and now a master wu jen was offering it to make it happen.  But it’s sooo risky… Yoko thought as fear and doubt kicked in.  She had grown used to her comfortable, isolated little world.  Following Cho would be difficult and dangerous, with no guarantee of success…

“If… I say no?”  Yoko asked timidly.

Cho’s body tensed.  She took a long drag off her joint, and relaxed slightly.  “Then I leave,” she answered.

Yoko’s jaw dropped.  That was the last answer she expected.

“I’ll have to wipe your memory, of course.”  Cho shrugged.  “But if you don’t fight me it won’t hurt.  Well, not too much…”

“Will you be able to clear your name?” Yoko asked.  “How long will it take?”

“Oh, shouldn’t be too tough,” Cho shrugged.  “Someone poisoned my Khymer Rouge to make sure I’d blow the hit.  Last time I was here… when I got sick an’ passed out… I dropped my pipe,” Cho said.  “Any idea what happened to it?”

            “Yeah.  It broke,” Yoko answered, pointing to an overflowing wastebasket next to her computer desk.  “I threw away the pieces.”

            “How long ago was that?  How long was I out?”

            Yoko looked at her.  “You… don’t know?”

Cho shook her head.

“Uh… three weeks.”

            “Three weeks!” Cho exclaimed.  “Hell, a month by now!” Cho muttered to herself.  “Buddha, I’ve lost a lot of time!”  She looked back at Yoko.  “Okay… I’m guessing you haven’t thrown out the trash yet.  Am I right?”

            “Um… well…”  Yoko looked down, embarrassed.  “Yeah.”

“KICKASS!!  I knew it!” Cho yelled.  She jumped in triumph and victory-danced her way over the wastebasket while a dumbfounded Yoko looked on.  “Thank Buddha you’re a slob, Yoko!”  Cho kicked the basket over, spilling the contents across the carpet.

“Hey!” Yoko protested… but gave up as Cho digged franticly through the garbage.

“Got it!” Cho yelled, grinning as she held up a piece of broken glass.  “How close am I to clearing my name?  A hell of a lot closer now!  This is my old pipe, Yoko!  Hell, if I can get this analyzed and prove the dust was spiked, that might all I need!  An’ you can do that… can’t you?”

“Cho…” Yoko said hesitantly.  “I… I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.  I mean, I smoked some of that Khymer Rouge… and I didn’t get sick…”

            Cho rolled her eyes.  “Of course not!  How much did you have?  One toke?  Two?  I smoked three bowls, Yoko, almost back to back!  I smoke like a chimney, got the tolerance of an elephant, and everyone knows it!”

            “That’s… possible…” Yoko conceded, “but how did you know it was—“

            “I’ll explain later!” Cho cut her off, carefully putting the broken pipe pieces in her pocket.  “Every second I’m here, the yakuza could catch me—I gotta keep on the move!” Cho explained urgently.  “Look, I need an answer, Yoko—now.  You got two choices, kid… you can come with me, go on an adventure, and end up being a thin sexy wu jen, or you can stay here and be a fat ugly lonely hacker working casino tech support.  Now are you going to help me or not?”

            Yoko blinked.  She was scared.  It was a hell of a risk… but…  Do I really want to be stuck forever in this dead-end, piece-of-kuso life I have now?  For a second, she was silent… then she nodded.

            “Hai, sensei.”

“One down!”  Cho grinned.  “Five to go!”




            Kago jerked straight up from his slumber with a slight ache in his back from having slept in an awkward position and hacking a couple times in the thick pollution of the Minos air.  He had been waiting for a bus before he fell asleep.  How long had he slept?  He instinctively glanced at his wrist, which confused him at first.  He had the strange feeling one has when he remembers

several years afterwards how a place seemed to look and feel when he first saw it, which in fact is no different from how it looks in the present.  There is a word for it, isn't there... wonder.  Kago had a strange sense of wonder.  He wrote it off as grogginess.  Yes, a wristcomp -- that was why he instinctively glanced at his wrist, but there was nothing on his wrist.  Confusion overcame him,

followed by a wave of anger at the thought that someone may have robbed him in his sleep.  Eventually, he recalled that he hadn't ever possessed a wristcomp, and at this point, a bus pulled up to the station.  He was headed for the amphitheater.


            Once Kago got there, there wasn’t much left to see. People were leaving the vast stadium complex with looks of confusion and shame. Something wrong had happened here; it was printed all over the faces. They walked with their heads slumped, moving slowly, but steadily, towards their waiting flitters or towards the maglev lines. The man made his way in the opposite direction; into the amphitheater.

            Inside, there were Civil Police everywhere, taking holopics, conducting interviews; their job was almost over. Their focus seemed to be around a place in the stands, so naturally, that’s where Kago felt compelled to go. He stepped right over to the band of cops standing there and looked around. Beneath him was a black body bag. “Who was it?”

            The nearest cop suddenly noticed him. “Who are you?!”

            “Adauchi Kago.”

           “Oh,” the cop replied startled, as if he knew who he was, “my apologies, sai. DNA reports just came back from the net. The name was Sharif Adams, former prefect out in Jennifer’s Star. Why he came here and started mouthing off is anyone’s guess.”

            “Mouthing off?”

            “Right during Graham Quentin’s big speech, he starts challenging him. Can you believe it? Right in the middle of a million screaming fundies – had as much chance as a snowball in hell. Still managed to take out a couple of us before their own took him down.”

            “Did you contact the next of kin?”
            “No need – Parents were killed about a couple months back. No one else we could call either. Did you hear on the news about that old battlestation that fell out of orbit? Guess where it hit? WHAM! Straight in the middle of shi-farmer central – got this boy’s hometown and several kilometers in any direction.”

            Kago took a look around and asked, “Where is Graham Quentin?”

            “He’s backstage somewhere; kinda shaken up… well, as much as ice cubes can be shaken. We may have to protect the guy, doesn’t mean I like him any better.”


            “My pleasure, sai.

            Kago quickly made his way back past the cops, past the guards, past the toddling spectators without anyone blinking an eyelash his way. It didn’t take him long to find the man he was looking for. With a brief smile on his face, he turned to Graham Quentin, and cleared his throat. The three bodyguards all whipped out their guns as one to point them at the new arrival.

            Adauchi was unphazed. “M. Quentin, we need to talk.”




            Major Dame Cynthia Beatrix just watched the newsvids as they reported the protests against the destruction of several commercial space stations which were destroyed for launching the attacks against the ship carrying the royals. The public was outraged that the reprisals were done with precious little evidence that they were to blame. God, this is stupid, she thought, all those t’ien show rien are doing is stirring up more complaint against the Empire. Maybe Weathers was right; maybe this empire’s just a little too old…

            Just then, the com beeped; she shifted channels to see her superior, General Il-Jan, looming larger than life. He was wearing black, as was she, as part of the month of required mourning by all imperial officers. “Major, I assume you’ve seen the news?”
            “Yes, sir.”
            “Damn it, Imperial Security used to be better about screening that. Must have gotten through the sub-standard feeds.”

            “They hit the wrong stations.”

            “Yes, yes, I know that, foolish girl! I need you to find out where they actually are!”

            “But sir…”

            “This isn’t a request, major – if the Imperial Fleet is going to punish these fools, we need to know where they are. Find them, report, and get out. No heroics, no warning the local squadron this time. We’re sending a golram battle fleet this time and no one’s gonna stop us. Now move!”

            “Yes, sir. Discom.” She sighed after she killed the com circuit. Cynthia quickly made her way down to her personal shuttle. She knew there was probably a corvette, probably smaller, waiting for her in orbit already. Il-Jan didn’t make snap decisions; he just made his subordinates think so. As she stepped into the shuttle, Beatrix was so preoccupied, she didn’t notice the dark shadow that was hiding in the back.



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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 really, really want a new wall hanging.