“Whenever you accept our views, we shall be in full agreement with you.”

                                                            Moshe Dayan, former Prime Minister of Israel (1977)


            Graham Quentin had a look of supreme irritation as he spun around in his chair. "I already told you, I'd never seen this guy—" Graham stopped in mid-sentence when he saw the slope, and his irritation turned to fury. "Who are you and what are you doing backstage?!" The bodyguards had also noticed that the visitor wasn't in uniform, Civil Police or otherwise. After the upset a few minutes earlier, everyone was being ushered out. "Never mind," the guru continued, rising from his chair and walking towards Kago. "I don't care. I want you out of here," he said, pointing at the door through which Kago had just entered. The bodyguards tensed the more Graham spoke and moved to keep between Kago and Graham.
            The guard to Kago's left stepped forward and gave Kago a powerful push that knocked Kago off his feet and back out the door of the small changing room in which the rest of them were, then slammed the door in the young man's face. He got back up, brushed himself off, and turned to walk away, scratching his head in confusion. Before he took two steps, however, he felt compelled to try again. He was frustrated, although he wasn't sure exactly why he wanted to talk to this guy in the first place, so his knock was quite loud. No answer. He could hear voices on the other side of the door, but couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He knocked again, more loudly. No answer. More voices. He felt a little silly, but wasn't going to lose face now. One final knocking, and the door swung open violently, two of the bodyguards eager to... greet... him.
            "My name is Adauchi Kago, and I'd like to meet with M. Quentin."
            The guard to his right looked over his shoulder to receive a nod from the man in charge, then informed Kago, "Not without a search," and proceeded to pat him down. "He's clean," he said as he backed off, letting Kago completely into the room as the second guard closed the door behind him.
            Graham was back in his chair and took a moment to look over Kago. The han seemed lost and bewildered. The anger on Graham's face subsided, and his body relaxed, assessing the young slant as harmless for the moment. After a pause, the supposed holy man spoke, motioning for Kago to have a seat. "I'm sorry if I seem rude to you. An attempt was just made on my life, so I'm a bit shy at the moment."
            Kago nodded an acceptance.
            "I'm sorry, what was your name again?"
            "Adauchi Kago."
            "...and... how may I help you?"
            Kago's mind went blank for a few moments. He hadn't really had a clear head when he woke up, and now, try as he might to answer Graham's question, nothing really came to him. "...actually, perhaps you could tell me that. I... I can't seem to remember much of anything. I just... woke up at a bus station not half an hour ago and took it here to the amphitheater. When I came inside, someone pointed me your way, so I came back here to meet you. Why am I here?"
            Quentin glanced over at Jed Stuber, the third bodyguard. A long time ago, Jed had been involved with the occultist army of the Earth Federation, but had since come to know the Lord, and had what they called "the spiritual gift of discernment." As such, Quentin leaned on him frequently. When Jed gave him a nod, his body relaxed. The situation seemed to be crying to them "recruit me," which, although tempting, was also pretty risky if this guy was being monitored. "It seems too easy," he thought to himself. "A confused han walks into my changing room, seemingly by the hand of God..." Even Graham Quentin had a hard time believing this miracle. "...if Jed says he's telling the truth..." They needed more slants if they were to succeed in their plans, but he hadn't come so far to lose it all because of a recruitment attempt.
            "Kago, I believe that you may have been brought here by the providence of God. Do you know the Lord Jesus?"
            "Uh... no."
            "Well, what do you think of going to a Bible camp for the weekend to learn about Him and His work in our day?" Graham turned his chair to grab a small data pad off of his desk and tossed it to Kago. The picture on the main page was apparently of the camp, which was gorgeous—especially compared to Minos.
            "I... guess that sounds okay." Kago was a bit reluctant to agree, but all of the signs were pointing to yes. If nothing else, it would give him time to think about things in what looked like a beautiful country setting.
            "Excellent." The revivalist started punching away on his wristcomp. "Under normal circumstances, you would have to wait a little while to get in, but I can pull some strings for you so that you can leave tonight, if you would like..." He stopped punching and looked up at Kago, expectantly.
            "Tonight?" The amnesiac was a little concerned about leaving what must be his home to be with people he didn't know in a place he'd never been, but, after a brief pause, he agreed. "...uh... Sure. When do I leave?"




            “Gan ni niang Chapman’s Folly,” Vice Admiral Shih Huang Ti moaned under his breath, looking at the holoproj of his task force as it entered the system, “what a shing jing bing place to fight a battle.” With a sigh, he lifted his wizened head up to look at his tactical officer. “Signal the Qin and the Hsia to take point; all others form line behind them. Let’s get this over as soon as possible.”


            “Never mind; make the signal.”

            While Shih’s staff buzzed around like angry bees, the admiral wiped his face off for the third time since breaking hyperspace. All of this go sch for a missing report. With the new emperor about to be crowned, even the lack of communication is thought to be traitorous. Rebels must be hiding under every rock… at least, that’s what the chou wan ba dan Imperial Naval Command must be thinking. What a waste of shebang time…

            “Sai, unknown contact bearing 35 mark 12.”


            “Negative, sai. Ship. Assume heavy cruiser from size.”

            “Send Taiyuan to investigate. Order the rest to stay on course.”


            Captain David Weathers wanted the two squadron task force to see him. Bodovsky, his chief engineer, had made it so obvious that they were there that he might as well have put up a sign saying “Rebel Scum” on the nearest moon. After all, they had only taken the colony away from the bastards a week ago; they weren’t about to give it back. “Schultz, any reaction from them yet?”

            “Yes, sir. We’ve got a battlecruiser on intercept.”

            “We’re going to have to do better than that. Aurelius, any hails from those slopes yet?”

            The com officer just smiled. “They’re piping the usual FOF signals. They’re eating static.”

            “Okay, helm. In two minutes, I want you to head away from that ship like our sensors are complete guano and move like our engineers don’t know their job.”

            “Slow and stupid, aye, sir.”       

            Weathers just sat back and watched the blips on the holoproj. Let the fun begin.


            Shih suddenly jerked out of his daydream with the sound of alarms. “What, what, WHAT?!”

            “Sai, the Taiyuan’s been destroyed.”

            “Chen ton yi guay! What do you mean destroyed?”

            “Scanning...” the tactical officer hit the active lidar, “I was afraid of that. Sai, they set up a minefield. Taiyuan walked right into it.”

            “Go sch! I guess Naval Intel was right for once. Damn rebels in our backyard. Change course, new heading. I want that cruiser turned into space dust. All ship, release active lidar. They aren’t pulling the same trick twice. They’re MINE.”


            “Uh, sir,” Lieutenant Schultz mumbled, “they’re pissed.”

            “Define pissed, lieutenant?”

            “Four light cruisers, two battlecruisers, and one really big dreadnought coming this way. They’re emitting so much sensor radiation you could see them two systems away.”

            “Yep, that’s pissed.” The captain smiled. “Helm, stop the slow and stupid, kick on the fast and above average.”



            “Sai, they’re turning towards the planet.”

            “They’re trying to use the battlestation’s armament as well as their own to trap us.” Shih shook his head. “Idiots. We could easily take on both of them, but no need for us to get bloody. Tactical, plot for an extreme range attack on both targets. We’ll pound them with so many missiles, they’ll never know what hit them.”


            Hours passed as the ships danced their cosmic ballet. Soon enough, they were close to the only habitable planet in the Chapman’s Folly system, and its battlestation. Weathers was ready for this. “Okay, inform Charlie down on the station that we need his help about now. We’ll try and keep them off his back, but we’re gonna stick like glue to this planet. Only decent cover we’ve got.”

            “Aye.” Helm replied, before Schultz broke in with “Sir, they’re staying at the end of missile range.”

            “Guess he’s a little graser-shy. Fair enough, our point defense should work really well at this range; plenty of time to see incoming. Prepare to receive missile barrage.”

            “Yes, sir.” Just at that moment, proximity alarms went off. “Sir, new signals, bearing 312 mark 46.”

            The entire bridge erupted in panic.“That’s almost on top of us!”

            “Bastards must have been hiding behind the planet!”

            “We’re so fu…” 

            “QUIET!” David shouted. “Helm, plot an evasion course. Comm, tell Charlie to abandon ship, hide planetside for a while…”

            “Sir, the new signals…” Schultz suddenly went quiet.

            “Report!” Weathers asked, a little more anxiously then he planned.

            “They’re… I don’t believe it. They’re firing on the slants!”


            Shih went from elation to fear in two seconds flat. “Where did they come from?!”

            “Unknown, sai. All ships are reporting massive damage. Sui’s venting atmosphere…”

            “Silence! Activate jump engines. Signal the fleet to retreat.”

            “Sai?” the shocked tactical officer replied.

            “DO IT! Before we lose more than two ships!”


            “Sir, they’re retreating.”

            Weathers tried his best to hide his relief, keeping the appearance like he had been expecting this all along. “Comm, please convey my thanks to the other fleet.” And find out who the hell these guys are, his mind screamed, but his mouth said nothing.

            Suddenly, the holoproj changed and the image of an middle-aged human male in a brown uniform faced him. He looked very familiar “Identify yourself.”

            “Captain David Weathers of the Dickerson. We appreciate the support; didn’t expect that the slopes would send two squadrons.”

            “David Weathers? I thought you were dead!”

            The captain was a little confused. “Apparently not. Who is this?”

            “You don’t recognize me, Puke Boy?”

            No one had called him Puke Boy since his term on the… “Matherson?!”

            “Yeah, Weathers. This is Matherson. Long time, no see. Thought the war had gotten you.”

            “Likewise! Holy shit, what the hell are you doing out here. Wait… let’s start with who the hell are ya?”

            “Time promotes everyone, Puke Boy, though it looks like I did a lot better. I’m an admiral, captain.”

            “In which fleet, admiral?”

            “You’re looking at the Western Reserve Fleet, captain, which is looking a hell of a lot better than yours.”

            “Western Reserve? What are you doing out here?”

            “We heard that someone knocked off the imperial government out here and were sent to check it out. Good thing that we did.”

            “So you guys are joining our little war?”

            “Didn’t say that... and it’s not for me to say. I just wasn’t about to let someone take this out before we got a chance to say hi.”

            “Glad you did.”

            “Why don’t you come aboard, Captain Weathers. I’m sure I owe you a drink from somewhere.”




“Cool!” Yoko said wide-eyed as they entered the small room.  “What is this place?”

            “My dojo,” Cho answered.  “Place I come to get away… meditate, practice… that kinda stuff.”

            “Really?” Yoko asked doubtfully.  “Here?”

            Cho glanced around the small room.  Well, she couldn’t blame Yoko for her surprise or skepticism… not really.  This was hardly the stark whitewashed room you would expect a sorcerer to hone their craft in.  It was dirty and cluttered, filled with bean bag chairs, empty munchie bags and overflowing ashtrays.  The walls were covered with eerily glowing neon posters, lit not by candlelight but blacklight.  The room stank of stale incense and opium smoke.  Above a rickety table passing for a desk hung dusty photos… Cho’s students, her sister Shoko, Usha’s freighter, the Teppodama…  The only hint this was the secret chamber of a powerful wu jen were the dozens of herbs, crystals, and other unidentifiable things scattered around the room—powerful spell components.  Yoko saw a jug of dark red liquid she pretended wasn’t blood.

“So…uh…”  Yoko shuffled her feet uncomfortably.  “What do you need me to do for you, sensei?”

“What you do best, Yoko,” Cho said through a cloud of smoke.  “Hack.  I need info.”

“Sure, no problem, sensei!” Yoko said cheerfully.  “I, uh... do you get a net signal down here?”

            “Yep.  Made sure of that when I chose this place.  Weak, but steady,” Cho said.  She pointed at the table.  “You can set up over there.  Just shove stuff outa the way.”  Cho kicked a bean bag chair back into shape while Yoko set up the tools of her trade on the dust-covered table.

            “Mind if I have a Yangtze Cola, Cho?” Yoko asked, rummaging through a tiny refrigerator populated by half-empty beer bottles and stale cigarette packs.  “I work best when I’m caffeinated...”

            Cho shrugged.  "If you can find one, sure.   “The fridge is mostly empty, though.”

The fat girl found a can, popped the tab, and sluppred happily.  “So, whadaya need, sensei?”  Yoko put the can down and cracked her knuckles.  “Any particular information you want me to hunt for?”

“Hell, Yoko…” Cho shrugged, “everything.”

“Umm… could you narrow it down a bit?”

“Uh…”  What exactly am I looking for? Cho pondered, smoking.  “Find everything you can about Prince Tomo and the assassination.  We sure as hell didn’t kill him, so who did?  And why?  And check out Earl Jeong, too… he’s the one that hired us to whack the Prince.  Check the yakuza-Tanzhi archives—knowing our oyabun, he’s probably got a blackmail file stashed away somewhere, just in case.”  Cho paused to finish off her cigarette as Yoko clacked away on her keyboard, writing a list.  “And find everything you can on yakuza-Gaijin… they’re involved somehow—just trust me on that!” Cho said, cutting off any questions as Yoko opened her mouth.  “And don’t bother reading it all, Yoko—just download as much info as you can.  We’ll have plenty of time to go over it later.”  Yoko shot Cho a curious glance, but Cho ignored it.  “But before you do any of that, we gotta get the rest of the gashira together—Nhut, Usha, and Hung.”  Cho pulled out her opium pipe and filled it with dust.  “Find out where they are and let me know.  Start with Hung.”  Cho snapped her fingers and lit the pipe off her thumb, then closed her eyes, took a deep breath, held it, and let it out slowly in a satisfied sigh.

“Last I heard, Hung’s on assignment,” Yoko said.  “No one knows where he is or what he’s doing.”

“So find out!” Cho growled.

Yoko turned to her computer and typed while Cho smoked in silence.  If it was in the system, Yoko would find it.  Finally, Yoko turned to her. 

“Hung’s assigned to kill the inspector working the anti-vice campaign against the Tanzhi,” Yoko said, sipping her Yangtze as she typed.  “Uncle Toku thinks that might slow down the operation, give us some room to breathe… no other detective’s gonna want the job after that!”

A chill raced down Cho’s spine.  “Wait… what anti-vice campaign?”

Yoko looked up sharply, surprised.  “Cho… the Tanzhi are under attack! You… didn’t know that?”

“I’ve been kinda busy lately…”  Cho's sinking feeling got worse.  She took another puff of dust.  “Under attack from who?”

“Dunno… everyone, I guess.”

 “What do you mean, everyone?”  Cho’s voice was iron.

“Well, the New Tokyo police started it, I guess,” Yoko explained in a small voice.  “Under pressure from the government or something... they’re blaming us for killing Prince Tomo, y’know?  Then the other yakuza started in on us, too—if we’re going down, they want New Tokyo for themselves.  At least, that’s all the sense I can make out of it.  I don’t really know why…”

Cho simply stared at her, slightly stunned.  The whole world seemed to be spinning out of control, falling apart all around her, and she could barely keep up with it.  But what the hell can I do about it?  Cho shook her head.  This is big—way beyond me!  I’m small time.  Hell, I’m still just trying to stay alive!  The Tanzhi got me on a short chain, and the damn dust even shorter...

Stop.  Focus.  Cho told herself.  She took a huge toke of dust to calm herself.  Focus on what I can do, what I need to do.  Get help.  Get safe.  Get the hell away from here.

“Uh… sensei?” Yoko asked, concerned.  “You okay?”

“Huh?  Oh, yeah, yeah…”  Cho shook her head, snapping out of her reverie, and took another drag off the pipe.  “Okay, so Hung's out on a hit to buy the Tanzhi some time…  Did he succeed?”

“Well, he’s still in the field… we don’t know yet,” Yoko answered.  “But it’s Hung, Cho.  He’s never missed—ever.  If the guy isn’t dead yet, he will be soon.”

“What about Usha?  Is she still on New Tokyo?  Or is the Teppodamma on a drug run?”

Yoko turned from her computer and looked at Cho.  She said nothing.  Silence dragged out.

“Well?” Cho demanded.

“She’s still on New Tokyo,” Yoko said—but she looked worried, her open Yangtze forgotten.

“So the Teppodamma’s still here, then?”

            “I don’t know about the ship, Cho.”  Yoko shrugged.  “I just know Usha’s still here.”

            Cho’s brow furrowed.  “Well, if Usha’s here, the Teppodama’s gotta be here, right?”

            Yoko sucked on her bottom lip and looked away, silent.

            “Yoko,” Cho began slowly, “where’s Usha?  Is… is she dead?”

            “What?  Oh, no, she’s alive, Cho!  She just… doesn’t run the Teppodama anymore,” Yoko answered quietly.

            “Yeah, I gettin’ that,” Cho answered.  “So what happened?”

“Well, the Teppodama was technically your ship, so when you were banished, the family sorta… repossessed it.”

Kuso, Cho thought, that’s gonna make things harder.  “So... what, they assigned her to a new ship or something?” Cho asked

            “Well… they did reassign her, yeah.”  Yoko cast mournful eyes at Cho.  “But not to another ship.”

            “So where is she?” Cho demanded.

            Yoko was silent.  Finally she spoke.  “They sent her back to the  Hello Kiltty Club.

Cho blinked.  “You’re joking.”

“I wish I was,” Yoko said.

“But… Usha hated that job!”  Cho shook her head, confused.  “She’d never go back!”

“She… didn’t have a choice, Cho!”  Yoko shrugged timidly.  “She has to pay off the debt!”

“What debt?!” Cho exclaimed.  “I paid off her debt years ago to get her out of that whorehouse!”

“Well… um…”  Yoko rolled the can of Yangtze Cola absently between her hands.  “Remember that assassination of Prince Tomo that we were supposed to do, but didn’t?”

“Yeah…” Cho said slowly.

“Remember that half-million crown advance?”

The realization splashed over Cho like freezing water.  She looked away, dazed.  “But… but why Usha?!” Cho sputtered angrily.

“Aw, come on Cho, you know how this works, you’re yakuza!” Yoko said, a little exasperated.  “They come up with any excuse to stick some girl with a debt, put in a whorehouse to pay it off one trick at a time, beat her if she refuses, and kill her if she goes to the police!”

“But… why not shift the debt to Hung, or Nhut?” Cho said, grasping at straws.  “Hell, Nhut could hit the casinos and pay it off in a month!”

“Yeah, but it’ll take Usha longer,” Yoko explained patiently.  “They get more interest on the loan that way.  And they make more money in the meantime, taking a cut of every… uh… transaction.  And Usha gets a high price.  Besides, Cho, they’ve been wanting to get Usha back in the Hello Kitty for a while now, you know that.  The only reason they didn’t was because… uh…”  Yoko’s voice trailed off in an uncomfortable silence.  She stared at the can of cola in her hands.

“Because I wouldn’t let them,” Cho finished.  “That’s what you were gonna say, isn’t it?”

“Well… yeah,” Yoko said softly, not looking up.  “But now you’re gone.”

It’s because of me, Cho thought.  Usha’s back in a brothel and it’s my—

Cho shoved the pipe in her mouth, stuck a burning thumb in the bowl and sucked.  The damn pipe burned dry.

“KUSO!!” Cho yelled.  She shoved the empty pipe in her pocket.  She held perfectly still for a second.  Suddenly she let out a frustrated cry of anger and kicked a beanbag across the room in a spray of Styrofoam,  “I’m getting’ her outa there,” Cho said as she ripped a Nirvana out of the pack and shoved it in her teeth.  “Dunno how, dunno when, but I will, dammit!”  She lit the joint.

“Good!”  Yoko nodded, eyes wide, smiling again.  “Whatever I can do to help, just let me know.”

Cho took deep drag off her cigarette.  “Well…I can’t do anything for Usha right now,” Cho mumbled.  “We need more help.  I’d get caught, and they’d know something’s up if you went to the Hello Kitty…”  Cho looked up suddenly.  “What about Nhut?  He in jail?  Dead?”

            “Oh no, Nhut’s fine!”  Yoko sipped her Cola.  “He’s got the luck of a demon, you know.”

            “So where is he?”

            “Where?  Oh, I dunno, probably at the Mitsu Shobai like always, bragging about his latest scam to whoever will listen.”  Yoko rolled her eyes.  “Shouldn’t be hard to find him!”

            “Mm,” Cho grunted.  “So of all my kobun, Nhut’s probably the easiest to get to.  We’ll go after him first, then,” Cho thought aloud, pausing to take another drag.  “But how do I recruit him?  What do I offer him?  What does he want?”

            The two women thought about that in silence for a minute.  “Nhut doesn’t really want much,” Yoko finally said with a shrug.  “If he wants money, he hits the casinos.  Then if he wants anything else, he buys it.  Including women.”

            “Okay… so he’s got no price…”  Cho was pacing.  “Something… mental, emotional… something he needs…”  Cho puffed her joint.  “Any ideas, Yoko?”

            Yoko spread her hands and shook her head.  “Dunno… a girlfriend, maybe?”

            “Uh…what?”  Cho looked at Yoko, puzzled.  “Nhut?  You serious?  That cat gets more ass than a barstool!  Luck of a demon, remember?  And he never shuts up about it…”  Cho shook her head irritably.

            “Well, he gets laid, yeah,” Yoko agreed.  “But he can’t keep a girlfriend to save his life.”


            “Well, yeah,” Yoko said.  “Think about it, Cho.  You’ve known him a lot longer than I have.  When was the last time he had a girlfriend that lasted more than… say, three months?”

            Cho stopped and thought about that.  She’d seen a lot of sluts come and go in Nhut’s life over the years, but hadn’t really kept track of how long they’d stayed.  She was just glad when the bitch left.

            “Huh…“ Cho said.  “Yeah, you’re right.”  She looked at Yoko.  “But does he dump them, or do they leave him?”

            “Uh… both, I think.”

            “Yeah, right…”  Cho nodded, searching her own patchy memory.  “So he gets dumped... his heart broken… but he always goes back for more?”

            “Yeah, I guess.”

            “Which means that it’s something he really wants…  I can use that…”  Cho paced, thinking, two fingers pointed absently in the air with a smoking cigarette clenched between them.  “So we make him think he’s gonna get some… you said yourself he’d do anything to get laid… use that to get him alone… and then… got it!”  Cho spun around to look at Yoko, grinning.

            “Then… what?”

            “Then we give him what he wants!”

            Yoko’s brow furrowed.  “Uh… shouldn’t you wait until after he helps us to do that?”

            “Nope.  No trouble getting women, remember?  Just keeping them.”  Cho took a triumphant drag off her joint.  “And as long as Nhut helps us, he keeps her.  Classic honey trap!”

            “So… what, you got a schoolgirl shoved in a closet somewhere I don’t know about?”

            “No, but… well, I'm a woman.”  Cho shrugged.  “Nhut and I get along okay.  How hard can it be?"

            Yoko's eyes widened in disbelief.  “Are… are you serious?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“Why not?!  Cho, have you looked in the mirror recently?  I mean, you’re—”

“I’m what?” Cho demanded, stepping closer, an edge in her voice.

“A beautiful and sexy young woman,” Yoko squeaked quickly in a small voice.

Cho stared down at Yoko silently, just long enough to make her nervous, then cracked a thin smile.  “Naw, Yoko, I ain’t beautiful, or sexy, or young, and you know it.  More importantly, I know it.  But, hell, that’s why mankind invented makeup and high heels in the first place!”

“Makeup?” Yoko said doubtfully.  “High heels?”

“Yeah, and lingerie, too!” Cho said, smoking her cigarette.  “Hell, a garter belt and thigh-highs will make any man weak at the knees!”

“Cho…” Yoko said with a sigh.  “Do you own any makeup or high heels?  Or sexy lingerie?”

Cho’s smile faded a bit.  “Well, not at the moment, no—”

“Have you ever owned that stuff?”

“Well… I, uh…”  Cho blushed, embarrassed.  “I always kinda went for the tomboy look, y’know?”

“So you gotta go buy all this stuff, and you don’t even know what to get?”  Yoko shook her head, exasperated—then paused and sat up a bit straighter.  “But you can’t go out to get that stuff anyway, ’cause someone might recognize you, so…”  Suddenly Yoko jumped out of the chair.  “I’ll go shopping for you, Cho!  Hell, I’ll even pay for it!  Oh, and perfume!  You’re gonna need perfume!”

“Ummm…” Cho said, slightly confused.

“Oh, come on, Cho!  It’ll be fun!”  Yoko grabbed Cho’s arm and dragged her to the door.  “Just get me to the nearest safe mono platform, Cho, and I’ll take care of everything!  Oh, man!  If someone ever checks my credit report, they’re gonna be so confused!”

“Uh…”  Cho was suddenly uncomfortable.  “Yoko, do you know what to get?  I mean, you—”

“Don’t worry, sensei, I’ve got you’re back on this one!” Yoko said with a wink.

There was something about that wink Cho didn’t trust.


            Among katagi, fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time”.  Among yakuza, they begin with….

            “So no kuso, there I was!  A dozen Civil Police with their guns on us!”  Nhut waved his hands at his buddy Hau through the dim, smoky air of the Mitsu Shobai.  “It was supposed to be a smooth deal, but there they were!  Like they was waiting for us!”

            “Tight.”  Hau nodded, sipping his whisky & oolong.  “So what’d ya do?”

            “Whadaya think?  I cast a…” Nhut paused.  You can’t tell anyone… not even Hau... “a look over them and thought, ‘Hell, they expect us to run or fight—so we can’t do either!’  So I yell at the guys to run into the shuttle!  We jumped in, took off, an’ got away clean!”

            “Good move!” Hau exclaimed, setting his drink down on the bar.  “So how many did you lose?”

            “None!”  Nhut grinned.  “Damn cops can’t shoot straight to save ther lives!”

            “Nobody?”  Hau cocked his head.  “Damn, you got lucky!  But they shot up the shuttle, right?”

            “Nope.  Missed that too.  Ditched it on the waterfront later.”

            Hau paused, drink halfway to his lips, and stared at Nhut.  “A dozen cops… an’ none of ‘em hit it?”

Nhut shrugged and nodded.

“Damn!  Did I mention yer the luckiest sumbitch ever?”

            “You could say that.”  Nhut took a swig of his kamikaze, not returning Hau’s gaze.  It all boils down to chance, really, Nhut thought, even gunfirehell, especially gunfire!  But he couldn’t tell Hau about the luck charm.  If you want to live, you tell no one.  Cho had taught him that.  And he’d been wu jen long enough to know it was true.  So he always passed it off as sheer luck and hoped for the best… it had worked so far.

            “One of these days, Nhut,” Hau said, setting his empty glass down and rapping on the countertop, “yer luck’s gonna run out!”

            “Oh, I doubt that,” Nhut said with a crooked grin.  “Something tells me I got plenty left!”

           A waitress plunked down a fresh whisky & oolong in front of Hau… and then set yet another kamikaze in front of Nhut.  “Compliments of the lady again, sai,” she said.

Another one?” Nhut asked in disbelief, flicking long black hair out of his face.  He slammed down the last of his fourth kamikaze and reached for the fifth.

“Nhut,” his friend Hau said over his own drink, “whoever this chick is, she’s clearly trying to get you drunk and take advantage of you!”

“And that’s a problem?” Nhut asked with a grin.

“What if she’s all fat and greasy?”

“Oh.  Good point,” Nhut frowned.  Nhut whistled and beckoned the waitress—one of those round-eye blonde immigrants—back over to his table.


“Tell me, babe,” Nhut said, holding up his kamikaze, “who sent me this?  Can you point her out?”

The waitress looked around for a long time, but couldn’t seem to find the mystery woman.

“Well, what does she look like?” Nhut asked the waitress.

“Well… she’s han,” began the waitress, “and tall… and thin… bad make-up… I don’t really remember much more than that,” she shrugged.  “Must be pretty plain, I guess… oh, and she told me to give you this!”  The waitress fished in her apron pocket and handed Nhut a thin plastic card.

“What is it?” Hau asked, leaning forward.

 “Hotel room key!”  Nhut grinned from ear to ear.  He flipped it over.  “Shaanxi Hotel… that’s just a few blocks away!”  He turned to Hau.  “Man, I am totally getting’ laid tonight!”

“Nhut, this chick doesn’t want to be seen unless you’re plastered,” Hau said.  “Doesn’t that tell you something?”

“Nah.  If she’s butt ugly, I just turn off the lights.”  Nhut shrugged as he stood up from the table.  “Tail is tail, and all women are beautiful in the dark!”

“That’s… not what I meant, Nhut.”  Hau glanced around quickly, then leaned close and lowered his voice.  “I mean you’re hammered, and this reeks of a set-up!  You got enemies, you know.”

“Hell, I’m not that drunk, Hau!”  Nhut straightened and harrumphed in mock offense.  “And if there’s trouble, I can handle it!  I’m Nhut Moon, yakuza bakuto!”  Suddenly he ducked into a shaky martial arts stance and snapped his fists through the air, ending in a roundhouse kick that knocked over his kamikaze and severely annoyed other patrons heading for the restrooms.  He staggered clumsy to regain his balance and tried pitifully to conceal it by adjusting his tie.  “Besides, I get off on this stuff, Hau, you know that!  Might be an ambush, might a goddess!  Only one way to find out… no risk, no kiss!”

“It’s your funeral,” Hau shrugged and turned back to his drink.

“C’mon, Hau!” Nhut protested.  “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Just make sure it’s a chick this time, okay?”

“Hey, he fooled you too, remember?” Nhut said.  “Besides, I talked my way outa that one with no hard feelings, right?”

“Nhut,” Hau rolled his eyes, “he didn’t believe you were a Buddhist monk!”

“Yeah, sure, but it let him save face.”  Nhut shrugged.  “Point is, Hau, I’m goin’ for it!  Sex… danger… both… bring it on!”  Nhut reached for his kamikaze, realized he’d knocked it over, grabbed Hau’s whisky & oolong instead and chugged it down.  “You only live once, you know!” Nhut laughed as he scooped up the hotel key and wobbled drunkenly toward the door.  “Look out, world!” he yelled, throwing his arms in the air.  “Nhut Moon’s gettin’ laid!!”




            As Icarus Hicks lay bleeding from internal injuries on the floor of Resistance HQ, Arthur Clarke and the mystery man faced each other. Hatred radiated from Clarke’s body like sweat was pouring off of the doctor. Even though Icarus was in unbelievable pain, his mind was asking the same question that everyone else in that room was: Who is this guy?

            “Sergeant, you could at least be civil and take a seat.”

            “I’ll be civil when I’m eating your insides for breakfast, lieutenant. Now, SPEAK!”

            The not-Tiller just shrugged and then smiled. “I’ve been… away for a while.”

            “Should have stayed on that prison where I left you.”

            “And for ten years, I was perfectly willing to. Then I began to realize a higher calling than myself.”

            “Bullshit! The only reason you got off that rock was that bunch of psychopaths you hitched a ride with. And I would have got you once you stepped off that shuttle, too, if…”

            “If I had let you.” The smile disappeared from the mystery man’s face. “However, let’s be fair, that calling wasn’t clear to me. So I wandered for a while.”

            “Were you going to get to a point?”

            The mystery man waved his fingers in a backslap; the next second, Clarke was knocked to the floor. The second after that, the whine of a hundred plasma revolvers echoed in the small place. “NO!” Arthur cried, “This bastard is mine!”

            “You always were an asshole, Clarke,” the not-Tiller replied, “but you were never dumb. Even pumped full of those chemicals weretigers call blood, you were never stupid. Now, do you really think I came all the way to get shot at?” His voice seemed to take on an echo, like the voice of doom, “Do you really think they’d be able to shoot me?”

            “Even you can’t be everywhere at once.”

            “That’s where you’re wrong.” Suddenly, a gun appeared in his hand. The surprised shock of a guard at losing his weapon was instantly understood among the whole gun-toting group. The mystery man breathed on the plasma revolved and then crushed it into dust with his hand. “I’ve had over seventy years to build up my talent. So have you. I’d really hate to wreck the décor here with innocent blood. Hmmm?” He smiled again. “What do you think?”

            “Speak, God damn you.”

            “Well, as I was saying, I wandered around until I realized what that calling was. I was looking for an honest man.”  

            “You’re not Diogenes.”

            “Oh, the puppy’s actually read a book? I’m so proud.” Clarke spit at him; the spit reversed course and went back in the werewolf’s face. “No, I’m not Diogenes, but I realized around the 3rd Civil War that what the Federation really needed was someone who could unite humanity and restore balance to the galaxy.”

            “No, not me—and not you either, as we could all tell what a worthless job you did. No, unfortunately my candidate decided to ram his ship into the moon and wreck Earth for good. Many of your newfound friends lost their families when that happened.”      

            “Sounds like your average is pretty shitty, Lwan.”

            Lwan—that name struck a chord throughout the entire room. It was bad enough for many of them to be in the presence of a legend like Clarke; but to have TWO of them? Many of the guards put down their guns; take on Lwan Eddington? A vet of the Bug Wars, oracle mage, and a  fucking marshal? “I make mistakes, too, Arthur. Just like you. I mean, the Five Acts? What were you thinking?”

            “I was thinking I had to save the fucking Federation from a civil war. What the hell were you doing about it?”

            “I was trying to find the right man for the job. Pity it took me another twenty years to find him.”


            “Not yet, Clarke. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice, so before I reveal him to the universe, I’m going to make damn sure I get it right.”

            “So what do you want from me?”

            “Your word.”

            “For what?

            “That when you overthrow this kingdom and restore the Federation, that you won’t the one who runs it.”

            “And you want this man that you picked to be the new Chairman, is that it?”

            Lwan shrugged. “More or less, yeah.”

            Clarke thought about it for a moment, then looked back at Eddington. “You know, Lwan, I didn’t trust you seventy years ago… and I sure as hell about to start now. Let’s finish this!”

            Suddenly claws came out of his hands and he leapt forward… just in time to hit a force wall, which he bounced off. Clarke was in rage. “Fry this fucker NOW!”

            At that moment, several plasma revolvers erupted, creating a cat’s cradle of fire in the room. But Lwan wasn’t there anymore; unfortunately, Dr. Hicks was. In an instant, the poor doctor was shredded by several plasma bolts heating the interior of his body to several thousand degrees, killing his body, and taking his precious knowledge with him.




            “Sir, I think we should consider an alternate route for this hop.”

            James turned away from the sensors screen.

            “Why’s that, Pri?”

            Pritesh Patel was the Resolve’s Chief Astrogator; he sat overwatch on the pilots and was in charge of getting the ship safely through hyperspace.  He didn’t ordinarily comment on his captain’s itinerary; but when he did, James listened.

            “Sir, we’re just too conspicuous.  We sent New Madrid authorities into a panic not five days ago, the Imps know this ship profile, and civilian ships carrying around military-style landing craft are few and far between.  We’re lucky they haven’t already marked us.”

            “How do you know they haven’t?”

            “We haven’t been boarded by the Imperial Marines.”

            “Good point, Chief, go on.”

            “Anyway, sir, I think it’s best we lay low for a while; hyperspace out to Avalon then take the back way into New Paris.”

            “That’s two days off our time at the very least.”

            “Yes sir, but think the risks of trying to make the Wilke’s-Paris D-Gate outweigh that.”

            James rolled that around in his head for a few moments, ordinarily he would have asked his first mate for his opinion, but with Joe gone, the burden of command weighed even more heavily on Welthammer’s shoulders.

            “All right, Pri, you win.  I want you ready for hyperspace as soon as our wayward soldier returns.”

            “Aye sir.”  The Astrogator walked aft to the lift. 

James had picked up Pritesh during one of his short stays in jail, a particularly nasty one on Minos, where the man had been going by the alias Pavin Arnold.  During his night in that cell, James had discovered that his neighbor was actually the eldest son of the late, great Admiral Nirav Patel of Earth Fleet.  When his father had given up his command to the Middle Kingdom, only to be executed, Pritesh and the rest of his family had gone into hiding.  Unfortunately, he’d also given himself up to alcoholism; and when the Imps picked him up for public drunkenness, they quickly discovered his true identity, and threw him in the overcrowded prison.

Pritesh, like his father, was an astrogator by trade, had been waiting for a Fleet assignment when the VS War broke out and put a premature halt to the career of Earth Fleet, and anyone connected to it.  James had only recently acquired his ship, and was quickly realizing he needed more help running it than he’d counted on.  So after his inevitable release, he used his money and pull to spring Patel, and get him a better set of forged IDs.  They’d been working together ever since.

James stepped over to the pilot’s station.

“Tanya, darling, change of plans.”

“You don’t pay me to flirt with you, Captain.”

“Your salary’s certainly high enough that one might think so.”

“Talk to Ed, I’m sure he’d be happy to oblige you.”  Edward Ramsey was the Resolve’s other pilot; every bit as competent as Tanya, but without her personality, or her gender.

James sighed, “Anyway, when we head out, make for the Avalon Gate.”

“Taking the scenic route, are we?”

“That’s hyperspace, never a dull moment.”  This drew a few chuckles from the bridge crew, but Nikola Tschelling cut them short with an announcement.

“Pinnace has left the ground, expect docking in half an hour.”

“Thanks, Nik.  You take the conn; I’ll be in the mess.”  The Signals Chief nodded his head, and James went to see what he could snatch from Cookie during the wait.



There was a slight jar to the ship from the lower decks; James shoved the last remnants of the pastry into his mouth as Tiller came up the lift.

“Waa hoosh ooh foh ung?”

Tiller just stared, unblinking.

James swallowed, “What took you so long?  We’re ready to jump.”

“Clarke’s headquarters are quite secure.”

“Uh huh…”

The soldier kept staring.

“Right…well I guess you’ll want to get some sleep; I think the rest of your buddies are in the bunks too.”

Tiller nodded, but didn’t move.  James shifted uncomfortably.

“Er…well, I need to go check on the engines since we’re jumping; you go do whatever then.”  James walked to the lift, and though he didn’t look back, he felt that Tiller was still standing there.  That man gave him the creeps.  James stepped into the lift and descended to the lower deck.

The main controls for the engines were actually in the engineering station up on the main deck.  But Welthammer’s Chief Engineer, Stephen Faraday, preferred the secondary control station on the lower deck, which was closer to the actual components he managed.  Chief Faraday cited the equipment placement as one of the few design flaws of the Pelican-class freighter.

James stepped out of the lift, and was nearly knocked on his back as Tom Parker clipped his shoulder.

“Sorry, Cap’n,” Parker steadied his tottering boss.

“Where are you heading off to in such a hurry?”

“Chief wants some of the sheet metal stock.”

“For what?”

“Ah, the usual; Chief says some line’s cracking.  I’ll be damned if I know how he can see ‘em, but the ship hasn’t fallen apart yet, so I guess he can.”

“Right, he back in the center?”

“Uh, no,” Parker pointed, “he’s over in portside maintenance.”

“Gotcha, you’d better get that stuff.”

The techie ran off.  James made for the oblong hatchway that led to the maintenance area which lined the ship’s sides.  Opening the door, James found that his Chief Engineer was actually up on the middle-deck catwalk; he hadn’t needed to descend in the lift at all.

James climbed the metal ladder to Stephen Faraday’s position.

“So whatcha got?”

“Oh, hello captain.”  Chief Faraday was easily the most articulate member of the Resolve’s crew.  “A communications control line to the life support computer is starting to fail.  Tom’s fetching some sheet metal for me.”

“Yeah, he nearly ran me down on the way.”

On cue, Parker opened the hatch on the lower level, “Hey, Chief, I got your aluminum right here!”

Faraday leaned over the rail to catch the half-meter square sheet of metal that Parker threw up; it sailed right into the engineer’s hand.

“Thank, you, Thomas.”  Reaching out with his left hand, a welding torch lifted itself out of a tool pack, and it too quickly came to rest in Faraday’s grasp.

“You should stand back Captain.”  James took the advice, backing up a few steps.

Faraday turned the gas dial to the lowest setting, and lifted his right index finger to the nozzle.  A couple flying sparks later, and a bright plasma jet was shooting from the torch.  It took the engineer only a couple of seconds to cut a sliver from the sheet metal.  And then the interesting bit started.

Dialing the torch back to its lowest setting, Faraday held the sliver over the flame.  The metal quickly melted, but the Chief’s fingers remained unburned.  With a tiny ball of molten aluminum suspended a few millimeters above Faraday’s right hand, he turned off the torch and set it down.  Focusing now on the many cables and pipes running the lengths of ship’s hull, a small section of a small pipe—how Faraday picked it out, James could never figure—began to glow yellow with heat, and James could just barely begin to see a tiny fault in the lining.  Faraday turned his wrist, and dropped the aluminum glob onto the pipe, the fault vanished.  Seconds later, the pipe had cooled, and James couldn’t see any evidence of the surgery.

Chief Faraday stood up and brushed his hands together, “So, what can I do for you, Captain?”

“I just came down to check on the engines.”

“Oh, well we’re running at one-oh-five percent capacity now.”

“That low?”

“Captain, there’s not much I can do when you trade out our shuttle for one twice the mass; maybe with a more powerful mage…”

“I just watched you hold molten metal and point a goddamn welding torch at your hands, Chief, I have trouble imagining more powerful.”

Faraday laughed, “I don’t know, captain.  I got that one soldier to come down here once, and he did some things that I still don’t understand.”

“Tiller?  Well why don’t you ask him to help you out with the engines.”

“Nope, forces-magick doesn’t seem to be his field, and I don’t even know where to begin counteracting inertia.”

“What do you call the floating gadgets?”

“Magnetic fields.”

“I didn’t think aluminum was magnetic.”

“Everything can be affected by a powerful enough magnetic field.  I could suck the neurons out of your head if I wanted to badly enough, but I couldn’t make them mass less.”

James sighed, “Well, a hundred-and-five will have to do then.  Thank you, Chief; notify me if anything of interest comes up.”

“Aye sir.”

James found a hatch to the living deck, and climbed out.  Looking around, the crew seemed to be handling the ship just fine without his immediate supervision; and so, with the checkups made and orders distributed, James headed to his quarters for some much-needed sleep.




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

Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home.  Especially the opium addiction.