Treason doth never prosper; what’s the reason?

For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.


                                    --Sir John Harrington


            Hung Luong merged into line of disembarking passengers and entered the receiving terminal of the New Tokyo Spaceport.  He walked casually through the security weapon detectors, which didn’t make a sound.  Needlessly carrying weapons was an amateur mistake.  He was a professional.  His body was the only weapon he needed.

            The huge muscular man should have looked out of place squeezed into a business suit, but Hung pulled it off somehow.  The only thing that set him apart from any other business commuter was his high silk collar.  He had been in yakuza-Tanzhi for many successful years, and his irezumi tattoo was enormous.  Hung’s phone rang.  He answered it.


“Hung?”  The voice was scratchy and distorted.  Must be a business call, Hung thought.

“Speaking,” he said.

            Silence.  “I know you killed her.”

            Hung almost paused, then kept on walking casually.  He was ninja.  He had killed many.

            “Excuse me?” he asked in fake confusion.

            “I can prove it.”

            “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what y—”

            “Of course you do.  You loved her.  And then you killed them both.”

            That made him pause.  Mimei’s memory was an old wound, but deep.  He said nothing.

            “Yakuza don’t kill their own kumi.  You know the price for breaking that law.”

            “Who is this?” he demanded.

            The caller laughed.  “You know I won’t say.  Should I give this evidence to the oyabun?”

            Hung considered his answer carefully.  A yakuza-Tanzhi trap was always a possibility.  “You’re wrong,” he said.  “I didn’t kill her.  But your accusation could damage my reputation.  So I’m curious about what ‘evidence’ you think you have.”

            The caller laughed again, an eerie sound through the electronic distortion.  “Fine.  Call it whatever you want, Hung.  Be in Honshu Park in thirty minutes.  Come alone.  If you don’t, I won’t show, and I’ll send this to Toku Tanzhi.”  There was silence as the caller hung disconnected.

            Hung continued walking.  They’re bluffing, of course, he thought darkly.  I left no evidence.

But what if they did have something?  It was a possibility he couldn’t ignore.  Just a loose end that needs to be severed, he thought.  He was ninja.  He had killed many.


            The park was cold and damp.  A fine mist hung over the pale grass.  Sickly trees stabbed bare branches at a gray sky.  Few people would be out to see or overhear anything—but it was still a public place, and thus relatively safe.  Hung sat on a park bench and waited.

            He smelled her before he saw her.  The reek of fresh dust, stale incense, and body odor was unmistakable.  He looked up.  Although her face was hidden deep in the hood of an old sweatshirt, her telltale tattooed hands deep in her pockets, he still recognized the tall lanky frame.

“Hajimemashite, Cho,” he said.  He wouldn’t call her sensei.  Not now.  And never again.

            Cho stopped a few feet from the bench… and, Hung noticed, out of his immediate reach.           “Hajimemashite, Hung,” Cho said.  A cold silence hung in the air.

            “What do you want, Cho?” Hung finally asked.

            “I need your help,” she answered.

            “Is that was this is about?”

            “Yes and no.”


            Cho did.  She told him, briefly and concisely, how she had been poisoned and framed, and how she had proof, a poisoned pipe (that no competent assassin would leave behind, Hung noted).  Cho explained crazy conspiracy theories only a junkie could make up, theories involving rival gangs, Tanzhi traitors, and New Tokyo nobility.  She told him some others had already agreed to help her (but didn’t say who).  She explained how her quest to save face would lead her against cops and yakuza thugs, and how she could sure use some muscle.  Hung listened patiently but without much interest.  None of this had anything to do with why he was here.

            “So…” Hung said when she was done.  “My help for your so-called evidence, right?”

            “No,” Cho said, “your help as your duty to your sensei and your kumi.”

            Hung stared at her in silence.

“Come on, Hung!”  Cho leaned forward and stared at him intently.  “Something’s going on, Hung, something big!  Can’t you feel it?  Our patron’s dropped us like a hot stone, and the cops are gunning for us hard!  The Tanzhi’s going down, you know it!  And I’m tellin’ ya, I’m on to something here!  Come with me, Hung.”  Cho was almost pleading.  “Help me figure this out and save the Tanzhi!”

And if I believed you, I just might, Hung thought, but you’re a drug-crazed dust whore who has dishonored us.  Hung narrowed his eyes.  Hell, you caused this crackdown when you blew the job for Earl Jeong!  That was the obvious explanation, after all.  Hung shook his head slowly.  “You are dead to the family, Cho.  You know I can’t.”

“Name your price,” Cho said.  “I need you with me at any cost.  What do you want?”

“To serve my family and be honored for it,” he answered automatically.  “Nothing more.”

“Everyone has a price, Hung.”  Cho cocked her head.  “And I know what yours is.”

Hung raised his eyebrows a fraction of a millimeter.  “Oh, do you?”

“Yeah, I do.”  Cho nodded.  “You want Memei back.  Before she met Ryuko.  When you two were happy.  That’s what you want.”

Hung’s heart skipped a beat.  He tried—so hard—to keep his face expressionless, unemotional, but he must have failed, because Cho began to nod.

“Yeah, that’s it, isn’t it?” Cho said.  “You want your marriage back.  A second chance.  Yeah?”

Yes.  That’s the one thing I’d sacrifice everything to have.  Hope flickered.  “Can you…” Hung stammered, “can you really do that?”

            Cho was silent, considering.  Fat drops of rain began to fall.  Cho shivered.  Finally she nodded.  “It could be done.  Memories erased.  Emotions changed.  If she’s still alive.  Is she alive, Hung?”

            A hurricane of emotion swept him.  Guilt, shame, despair, the horror of an irreversible mistake.  He stared at Cho dumbly, raindrops splattering his face.

            Understanding flashed in Cho’s eyes.  She looked down, scowling through the drizzle.  “You and your damn honor!” she swore, shaking her head.  “I can’t do that, Hung—no one can!  Not K’an Lu or Lwan Eddington or even Buddha himself could do that.”

            Irrational anger at Cho surged in Hung’s chest—anger for getting his hopes up and then crushing them.  “Then I won’t help you,” he said coldly.  “And your ‘evidence’?  Will you send it to the oyabun?

            Cho paused, as if struggling inside with some hard choice.  “There is no evidence, Hung,” she finally said.  “There never was.  I made it up.  It was the only way to get you out here alone.”

            Hung felt relief and rage surge in equal parts.  He had been tricked.  “You did what?” he said icily.  He rose from the bench.  Cho stepped back.

            “You wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t true, Hung!” Cho said.

“Theories,” Hung narrowed his eyes through the rain.  “You can’t prove anything.”

“I don’t want to—I don’t care!” Cho spat.  “I ain’t gonna tell nobody.  Can’t prove it anyway.  That’s not why I’m here.  I’m here for your help—that’s all.”

“I can’t help you.  I won’t.  Nothing you offer will make me betray the Tanzhi.”

Cho stared at him, then slumped and sighed wearily.  “Yeah, I figured.  But I had to ask.”  She lowered her head, her face disappearing into the hood.  “I can’t let you tell the oyabun about this, you know,” she said in a low voice.  “I gotta wipe this from your memory, Hung.  It won’t hurt if you don’t resist.”

“I can’t allow that.”  Hung shook his head.  “I am honor-bound to inform the oyabun.  You know that.”  He unbuttoned his suit jacket, shrugged it off, and laid it on the bench.  “All yakuza-Tanzhi have standing orders to bring you in if we find you.”  He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar, oblivious to the cold rain streaking down harder and faster.  “As my former sensei, I will give you the honor of asking you to come quietly.”

“That ain’t gonna happen, Hung.  You gotta take me by force.”  Cho looked up.  Glowing red eyes peered at Hung from under the hood.  “You sure you wanna do that, big boy?”

Hung lunged for her.  Instantly Cho flew way back, yanking a pistol from her pocket and firing blindly.  Hung twisted sideways with incredible speed as the line of white sparks cut through the rain inches from his chest, steaming.  A stun-laser, Hung noted, she doesn’t want to kill me—I can use that.  He focused his chi with a deep breath and rushed her.  Cho fired again.

“Hai!”  Hung deflected the blast with his bare hands.  Just like she taught me…

And then he was on her.  With a swift kick he sent the pistol flying.  He snapped a fist at her… but met only air.  Cho leapt back again, landing yards away in a tai chi do stance.  She spun into a mystical kata, chanting arcane words, rainwater flinging off her tattooed hands as they flew through the air.  Hung sprinted toward her in a blur.  He had to stay close.  She can kill me with spells, but they take time to cast—I can’t allow her an empty secondhe was almost to her…

Cho thrust and empty palm at him, then broke and ran.  Suddenly Hung felt like he was running through water, slowing down, muscles straining to move.  His skin grew hot.  Before he could lose speed he launched into a flying kick, soaring across the grass, and landed on Cho.  In three quick motions, he tackled her, seized her, heaved and threw.  Cho spun through the air and crashed into the wet grass.

His skin was burning!  Some sort of fire spell, dammit! Hung thought.  If I keep moving, I’ll heat up until I catch fire!  He paused to center his balance and chi, focusing on stabilizing reality around him, countering her spell a little.  It took just a second—but it was enough for Cho to regain her feet.

Hung rushed her again with a fierce attack, feet and fists flying through the rainfall, ignoring the burning pain.  Cho fought as best she could, blocking kicks, deflecting punches, rolling with the blows that got through, never getting the chance to throw a punch of her own.  She tried to summon fireballs, but each time Hung distracted her with a blow and the flame disappeared in a wisp of smoke.

This is taking too long! Hung thought, frustrated, as his skin turned red and blistered.  Cho’s crude street fighting was no match for his martial arts… but the curse slowed him, his counter-spell divided his concentration, and the searing pain didn’t help.  He fought harder, moved faster, his damp clothes beginning to steam.  Finally he stunned Cho with a blow that shattered her nose, snapped a quick combo at her stomach, and punched with all his strength into her chest.  He heard ribs crack as she flew backward and landed hard, gasping for breath.

Hung walked to her, his body cooling in the downpour as Cho tried to choke out a spell and failed.  He dropped to a knee and put her in a headlock, cutting off her windpipe, trying to knock her out.  I’ll bring her in alive, he thought.  The oyabun will be pleased.  Cho’s struggles weakened…

Hung felt a sharp pain burst between his shoulder blades.  With a grunt of surprise he flung his free hand over his back and yanked out a dart.  He looked around in alarm.  Nhut was charging at him through the driving rain.  Usha stood further away aiming a tranq gun.  Where the hell did they come from?

Nhut leapt and kicked, catching Hung in the shoulder, knocking him down.  Releasing Cho, Hung somersaulted backward and sprang to his feet in less than a second, fists up, ready to fight, slapping aside Nhut’s clumsy punch and dodging a dart whizzing past his head.  Three on one, Hung thought, tough…  Nhut sprang backward and staggered around, shifting balance, moving erratically.  A crude Drunken Monkey style, Hung recognized instantly.  Of course, he thought with a grim smile.  What else would Nhut use?  Hung launched himself at the nuisance, forcing his burning body through every swing and kick, sure to keep Nhut between himself and Usha’s gun.  Nhut ducked and weaved incredibly fast as they danced in a circle, Nhut dodging most of Hung’s blows, rolling with the rest, keeping Hung engaged while Cho crawled away and Usha sprinted through the streaking rain toward them.

Hung was furious.  He should have killed Nhut by now.  He focused all his energy on the skinny gambler, ignoring his scorching skin, wanting to take Nhut out hard, fast, and permanently.  He feigned strikes at Nhut, drawing off his defenses, once, twice, three times, then hammered a blow into Nhut’s head with the ball of his fist.  Nhut crumpled to the ground with a wail.  Hung moved in for the kill.

Someone tackled him from behind, throwing a drenched arm around his throat, stabbing him in the neck.  Hung flung an arm behind him, grabbed a handful of wet curly hair and heaved.  Usha swung around him with a scream and splashed to the ground near Cho.  Hung slapped his other hand to his neck and pulled out another dart.

Nhut was back up, shaking his dazed head in a spray of water, fear in his eyes but a grin on his face.  Is the fool enjoying this? Hung thought in another surge of anger.  He flung himself at Nhut with all the speed and power he could muster, his skin reddening and nerves screaming through every move.  Nhut wasn’t attacking, barely defending himself, jumping back from what strikes he could, deflecting the rest.  Even the blows Nhut blocked drove him back a few steps.  Hung spun around for a powerful kick, a blur of blistered skin and steaming clothes, and caught a glimpse of the girls.  Usha was up, dripping hair plastered to her face, Cho’s arm flung around her neck, half-carrying and half-dragging Cho away.  He saw his error in an instant.  They’re not trying to beat me, they’re trying to escape!

Nhut was just a distraction.  Hung switched direction in mid-kick and headed for Cho.  Nhut threw himself into Hung’s path, finally attacking, snapping a set of punches, forcing Hung to divert precious seconds to dodge or defend.  Hung fought his way toward Cho, swatting aside Nhut's blows, his skin sizzling in white-hot agony.  But something else was happening—Hung was growing dizzy, disoriented, his concentration more difficult.  He moved slower, yet the burning grew worse.  What were in those darts?!  He lost track of Nhut again and again in the pouring rain as the scrawny man danced in circles around the giant.  Hung swung a lumbering fist at Nhut.  The gambler dodged and swung in the same move, catching Hung in the armpit, knocking his breath out, then Nhut dropped to the ground and swept Hung’s legs from the slick grass.  Hung tottered and fell.

            “Now, run, RUN!!” Nhut screamed.

Hung rolled and staggered to his feet.  Now my balance is going too! Hung thought, alarmed.  He looked up and saw Usha throwing Cho over Nhut’s shoulders.  Hung ran for them.  Usha saw him heading their way and yelped in fear, ripping the tranq gun from the waistband of her jeans as she sprinted away through the downpour.  Nhut tore after her.  Cho waved her hands weakly from Nhut’s back, trying to choke out the words of a spell.

            Hung raced after them, feeling like he was charging through a blast furnace, his skin shrieking in pain.  He pushed on.  His shirt burst into flames.  Hung ripped it off and kept running.  He was gaining on them… Hung’s hair burst into flames, his eyebrows, his eyelashes.  Hung stumbled and fell to his knees, temporarily blind, patting out the flames and rubbing his scorched eyes.  When he looked up again, Cho, Nhut, and Usha were gone.

            Hung sat in the muddy grass, letting the wind and rain cool his scalded body, furious with himself.  Muscle versus magic… and magic had won.  I blew the hit! he thought in angry disbelief.  I’ve never blown a hit!  What will Toku thi—

Kuso!  The oyabun!  Hung’s heart sank.  The oyabun would not be pleased.  Hung would have to atone for his failure.  And with Cho gone… there was only one way: yubizume.  Hung looked down at his hands sadly.  He had come this far in the yakuza with all his fingers intact, but now… I’ll never be able to hold a gun the same way again.  Hung looked up and stared in the direction Cho had disappeared, his face growing hard.  His rage found a new target.


            “..put me… down you… asshole…”

            Nhut ignored Cho’s curses and kicks until Usha led them into a halfway decent hiding place in a narrow alley.  Nhut shrugged Cho off his shoulders against the stained fungicrete wall and let her slide to the ground.  Then Nhut doubled over, hands on his knees, panting like a dog.  Usha gasped for air as she peeked around for any trace of pursuit.  “No sign of Hung,” she puffed.  “Looks like we lost him.”

“Already told you… he can’t see us… spell …” Cho wheezed, leaning against the wall.  Blood ran down her face from a shattered nose.  She curled her arms around her ribs, wincing in pain.  She felt frightened and angry.  Frightened because she might have died if her kobun not shown up.  Angry because they weren’t supposed to even be there.

“A friction curse, huh?” Nhut panted, straightening up.  “That the best you could do?”

“No,” Cho grunted, “but it’s all I had time for—that boy is fast!”  Cho glanced at Nhut angrily.  Finding herself conveniently at the right height, she snapped out her fist and smashed it into Nhut’s groin.

Nhut fell to his knees, groaning in surprise and pain.  “What the pi hua!  What was that for!?” Nhut yelled, cupping his wounded testicles.  “I thought you liked those!”

“I told you to stay out of this, gaujo! Cho barked.  “Both of you!”

“If we had,” Usha snapped irritably, “you’d be dead or captured!”

You two were supposed the steal the Quellers!” Cho spat back.  “I was supposed to deal with Hung, no one else!”

“We did get the Quellers!” Nhut grunted through clenched teeth.  “Buddha!” he swore, rocking back and forth.

“Good thing, too,” Usha added, “ ’cause I shot Hung full of ’em!”

Well, at least something went right! Cho thought.  She sighed and blinked up into rain, feeling it wash the blood off her face.  Her fear and anger suddenly passed, leaving her only weary and exhausted.  “That’s good.  Real good.”  Cho nodded.  “How much Quellers did you guys get?”

“All we could find,” Nhut muttered, standing, trying to walk off the nauseating pain.  “I dunno… maybe three dozen doses?”

“Less, now,” Usha said, tapping the tranq gun.  “You wanted enough to keep a strong wu jen still for two weeks, Cho.  We got maybe half that,” Usha shrugged.  “Two-thirds, tops.”

Cho winced and shook her head.  “It’ll have to do, I guess,” she grumbled.

“What the jin sai are they for, anyway?” Nhut asked, sounding annoyed.

“Me,” Cho answered.  She didn’t return their questioning looks.  “C’mon, we gotta get back to the dojo,” she said, struggling to her feet.

“Not until you get your ass to a hospital!” Nhut objected.  “You got a broken nose—and probably a couple of ribs, too!”

“No time,” Cho muttered, staggering back onto the street.


“Look, gaujo!” Cho snapped, turning on them.  “We got maybe an hour ’till Hung tells the oyabun everything!  If we’re not off-planet by then, we’re fucked, got it?!”


* * *


“Good morning, M. Beatrix,” Weathers said formally as he entered Cynthia’s brig cell.  The guard on duty locked the thick, clear plasteel door behind the Captian and then leaned against the opposite wall, watching.  “I can only spare an hour for paranormal training today,” he said, setting down the duffel he’d carried in, “so we’ll have to make it count.”

Cynthia Beatrix sat cross-legged on a cot in a fluorescent orange prison jumpsuit, arms folded across her chest, and regarded him with a bored, annoyed expression.

“How long do you plan to keep me here?” she finally asked. “I didn’t sacrifice everything I had and risk my life just to rot in a cell, David.” she said sternly.

“Captain Weathers,” he corrected her.

“You haven’t made me part of your crew, so I don’t see why I should call you ‘captain’,” she replied in the tone of a bratty teenager.  Despite deserting the Imperial Regulators, she still bore the haughty, arrogant demeanor the privileged position had cultivated in her. “So how long are you going to keep me in here… Dave?”

“Until I can trust you,” Weathers replied irritably, “Which could be quite a while.”

Cynthia breathed the sigh of a long-suffering saint.  “I helped you destroy a ship waiting to ambush you, defected to your side, told you everything I know about the Regulators and Imperial Court politics… and still I’m not trustworthy?  Just what do I have to do, Dave?”

“Well, you can start by calling me ‘Captain’,” he answered, and watched her wince in annoyance.  “After that… well, if your information proves reliable… and useful… then, over time, we might ask you to do more and more.  You can start by telling me which Middle Kingdom communication node is the best to tap into.”

Cynthia sat up, interested.  “The Wilke’s Star media array, of course,” she answered, her superior attitude melting away.  “But you don’t need me to tell you that – it’s public information.”

“No, that’s the Kingdom’s capital system,” Weathers shook his head.  “Too risky.  It’s too well guarded.  We’d never get close enough to it.”

“For what?” Beatrix asked.  “Do you need to use it?”

“You don’t need to know that.”

Beatrix shook her head, exasperated.  “Alright then, try the Draco node.  It’s isolated and probably unguarded.”

 “Hmm…no.” Weathers said.  “That too isolated.  Anything broadcast from that could be intercepted and suppressed too quickly.”

“You need to give me more information here, Captain,” Beatrix said, slightly irritated.

“Yes, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, for Buddha’s sake!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in disgust.  “How can I choose the best node without knowing anything?  At least tell me the requirements!”

David considered that.  The criteria seemed harmless enough… certainly it wouldn’t tell her anymore than she had already guessed.  “Alright,” he nodded.  “The first priority is the ability to broadcast data as quickly as possible to as many other nodes as possible.  Location and security are secondary.  So choose the best compromise between those criteria.”

“Is proximity a factor?”  Weathers nodded.  “Okay, so where’s your base?” Beatrix asked.

Weathers could help grinning.  “Come on, you know I’m not telling you that, Beatrix!”

“At least give me a general area!” she said with mounting frustration.  “Where are we now?  The New Block?  The Colonies?  The Quarantine Zone?”

Weathers narrowed his eyes.  “Somewhere like that, yeah,” he answered.  “How did you-“

“Most of your raids have been in that area,” Beatrix said absently.  “Let’s see... the Babylon and Jennifer’s Star relays are good choices… maybe Charbydis… but those are all well within Middle Kingdom territory…. I need more info,” she declared.  “Who’s your audience?  One person?  An entire planet?  What media type are you broadcasting?  Just once, or constantly?”

Weathers didn’t like being pumped for information.  Even if he was positive she had no way of contacting the Regulators – which he wasn’t – he felt safer keeping her in the dark, at least for now.  He carefully considered his answer.  “We’re transmitting all media types, from simple text to holoproj.  The audience is everyone.  And not just the Middle Kingdom – the border states, too.  New Israel.  Kalintos.  The Horadrim, K’Nes Tor, and Jurvain.  Everyone.  At least once, but possibly again later.  And no, I’m not telling you the content – period!”

            Beatrix cocked an eyebrow.  “Ambitious,” she said, then closed her eyes. “Let me think… okay, Sinkiang.  Definitely Sinkiang.”

            “Sinkiang?”  Weathers said doubtfully.

            “Sinkiang,” Beatrix repeated.  “It used to be the biggest transport, trade, and communication hub for the old Eastern Bloc.  Even though the Kingdom’s grown, it still carries a lot of traffic – more then you’d expect for obsolete technology on the edge of the empire.”

            “Alright, that makes sense,” Weathers nodded, trying not to show he was impressed.

            “You’d be insane to use it, though,” Beatrix added.  “There’s a lot of commercial and navy ships there – especially with the new blockade to the Chapman’s Folly system – someone would recognize the Dickerson, and then you’d be badly outnumbered.”

            “We won’t be using the Dickerson,” Weathers shook his head, and Beatrix looked at him quizzically.

“Not the Marm, surely… that would be suicide!”

            “We’ll use the captured destroyer,” David explained.  “It’s a Kingdom naval ship.”

“It’s also been reported either captured or destroyed,” Beatrix said doubtfully.

“There are ways around it being recognized,” Weathers countered.

“There’s only so much Footprint Magnification Systems can do, David,” Beatrix cautioned, “and you couldn’t mesmerize that many minds… not yet…”

“And that’s why you need to train me,” Weathers said, “Shall be begin?”

“You’d have a better chance if I went along to help you…?” Beatrix ventured… but Weathers only shook his head.  Beatrix sighed.  “I figured as much.  Did you bring the candles?” she asked, changing the subject.  Weathers tossed her the duffel.

Beatrix motioned for David to sit down opposite her.  She lit the two thin candles, then (after a nod to the guard from the Captain) dimmed the lights.  She lectured him on posture, proper breathing, and then led him in silent meditation.  Weathers lasted about a minute.

“Look, is all this really necessary?” he asked, “I’ve got a lot to do today-“

“No focus.”

“Excuse me?”

Beatrix opened her eyes.  “You have no focus, David.  Your current technique is like an automatic weapon – you spray the whole area to hit your target, but waste a lot of ammo in the process.  It’s inefficient and wasteful.  It’s amazing you’ve been able to do as much as you have, really…” Weathers could feel his irritation level rising.  Now wonder the frigate captain had wanted to throw her out an airlock!  “What you need,” Beatrix continued, “is to be a high-powered sniper rifle, hitting the target cleanly with a quick, single shot.  And to do that, you need -“

“Yeah, yeah, focus, I get it,” Weather said impatiently.

Beatrix stared at him evenly in silence.  “You’re free to go if I’m wasting your time, M. Weathers,” she finally said, “And I’d rather you not waste mine.”

Weathers sighed.  “No, no… continue. Please.”

“You can’t focus your mind while checking to-do list and calculating repair timetables – “

“Hey!” Weathers snapped angrily, “Stop that!  Get out of my head!”

“I was just checking to see if your mind was blank!” Beatrix held up her hands innocently.  “Which it clearly wasn’t!  If you can’t focus your thoughts on a single task, you – well, here, let me show you…”  She placed the two lit candles in a line between her and Weathers.  “I want you to blow out this candle,” Beatrix said, changing the subject again, “with your mind.”

David opened his mind and stared at the candle in front of him.  With a sudden blast of wind, he blew it out.  And the one behind it.  And knocked them both down.

“I think that demonstrated my point,” Beatrix said condescendingly as she relit the candles, “now I want you to keep trying until you can blow out the first flame without disturbing the second… and without splattering any wax.”  Weathers opened his mind and tried again.

The candles went flying.

Weathers tried again and again without success.  Beatrix watched patiently.  Eventually he was frustrated enough to try Beatrix’s damn breathing and meditation exercises - and, surprisingly, they did help.  Finally, after the floor, walls, and Cynthia were covered in splattered wax, he succeeded.  Beatrix even gave a grudging nod of approval.

“Aw, hell!” Weathers said as he checked his watch, “I’m an hour behind schedule – dammit!”  He shoved the candles back in his duffel.  “Thanks for the info and the lesson, Cynthia,” he said distractedly, “It helpled.  Both of them.”

“Dave?” Beatrix called as the guard opened the door for him.  “I’m bored to tears in here.  Any chance I could have something to read?  Just paper – nothing electronic and dangerous?”

“I… suppose so,” Weathers said.  He couldn’t see any harm in it. “Anything in particular?”

“The Bible,” Beatrix answered.

“The Bible?” Weathers said, surprised.  “Why?”

“Well, I’ve studied Confucius, Buddha, and Lao-Tzu… but even though I’m European, I’ve never read the writings of Jesus Christ!  Doesn’t that seem a little backward to you?”

“Uh… Jesus didn’t write the Bible,” Weathers told her.

“He didn’t?” she replied, genuinely surprised.  “Well, then who did?”

“It’s… complicated,” David said.  “I’ll send the chaplain down...  I’m sure he could explain it better then I could.”


* * *


“And let me tell you, Captain, you only thought you knew the score.”

James looked at the spy expectantly, “…yes?”

The man chuckled, and James asked, “What is it?  What’s funny?”

The spy looked around, “I’m not sure, to tell the truth, this stuff is hardly something to laugh at.”  He indicated the datapad that he was still turning around in his hand.  “I guess I find it funny, in a morbid way…this is going to cause a war.”


A deep sigh.  “Yeah, turns out the plant’s being retooled to turn out drugs, human drugs.”

“I don’t get it; don’t the Horadrim all but own the entire pharmaceutical market, for both them and us?”

“Not medicine.  This is some kind of new development, I don’t pretend to understand the business, but they’re using viruses to modify the natural chemical balance of the brain, or something like that.  Anyway, it’s mind control.”


“Yeah, but not through propaganda, it physically alters the way you think, much more effective.”

“And they’re going to use this stuff to quell resistance to the Middle Kingdom?  Ensure the dominance of Chiang, or Rao now I guess, and the Asians, the EBs.  Yeah, I imagine Treschi won’t be too happy about that one.”

James looked across the table to find the plump man staring daggers at him, “Where did you hear that.”

“Um…”  James gulped.

“I think you’re very lucky that I’m not investigating you.  But it doesn’t matter, you’re wrong.”


Another laugh, “That’s what they want you to think, or what they want to Emperor to think.”


“They, the Horadrim, Dane.”

“I don’t follow, why would they want…”

“You’re a smart man, M. Welthammer, why would Vin Dane give a rat’s ass about a scheme like this?”

“Because he’s part of the Middle Kingdom, he—“

“Bullshit, you think either of the Ministers care about the fantasy of a half-mad old EB-er?  They’re in it for their own sake, their own power, both of them.  And I’m sorry to say it looks like Dane beat us on this one,” he snorted, “but he’s not going to get away with it, not a chance in hell.”

“So why are the Horadrim involved?”

“Why brainwash half of humanity, when you can brainwash all of it just as easily.”

James flinched slightly, then found himself staring as it dawned on him, “Oh…”

The spy set his datapad down, “Heh, don’t worry about it.”  He paused, “Now that I think about it, I could use a drink, if your earlier offer is still valid.”

James pushed himself away from the table in a daze, “Sure…”  He got up and moved to the door of the receiving room, but it opened to allow Nikola Tesla walk inside.

“Sir, you should come look at this.”

James shook his head, “I’ve got a guest, Nik.”

“We could be in trouble, sir.”

Behind James, the spy bolted to his feet, “Have they found us out?  We’ve got to transmit this data before they destroy the ship!  There’s no way they’ll let this—!“

James turned, raising his voice slightly, “M. Page, sit down.  Now, you’re a guest here, but I am the captain of this ship, whatever is going on out there, I will take care—sit down!  Please.  I’ll have cookie bring you a drink.”

The spy sat down, though he made it seem like it took a great feat of willpower.  James nodded, and he left the room with his Signals Chief.

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, we were moving along just fine until we got about halfway to the gate.  At that time, we get an apparently routine query from system navigation.  I responded with the clearance codes we got earlier, they discommed and let us alone.  I thought that was the end of it until Frank here,” they had moved behind the Sensor officer’s display, “noticed that one of the Horadrim destroyers altered its course.”


“Well they’re on a near-intercept path with us; computers didn’t alert us because they won’t quite make the proximity alarm.”

“How far?”

“They’ll pass just over half-a-klick from our bow in approximately fifteen minutes.”

“Maybe it’s just their routine patrol pattern, the Horadrim ships are still way beyond us, so maybe such a close pass isn’t a concern to them…”

“I find that doubtful, sir, first of all even if their navigation equipment is superb, they can’t count on ours being so; but more importantly, captain, there’s just no reason for it.  They were already in an optimal position for system defense; the new course puts them quite a distance out of their way.  It looks like an interdiction to me.”

“But why wouldn’t they comm us?  It’s not like we can evade them…”

Tesla gave a sidelong glance at the door to the receiving room.

James caught on, “Shit…alright, tell Stephen we may need to be getting out of here in a hurry,” the Signals Chief nodded and headed to the lift at a brisk walk.  James turned to his right, “Laura, hail that destroyer, ask if they realize how close they’re going to passing to us.”

The Resolve’s Comm officer began fiddling with her console, but looked up abruptly, “Sir, they’re hailing us.”

“What?  Put that through.”

She entered a command, and the insignia of the Horadrim Empire burst onto a tiny monitor, “Freighter Resolve, authorization code MKIF2271.5.18.7039, you are commanded to power down your engines to allow docking with an Istoral System Defense transport.  Repeat, power down your engines to allow docking and await further instructions.”

James was startled, “What’s the meaning of this?  I’ve got important business outside of this system, so unless you—“

“You will comply with the command to power down your engines.”

“I will not comply until you tell me what the hell this is about!”

The insignia winked out abruptly.  Laura Matheson turned in her chair, “Sir, they’ve discommed.”

That was all the warning they got.  From the corner of his eye, James saw a series of bright flashes beyond the forward viewport.  Immediately, the ship shuddered violently, and explosions could be heard coming from below and to the stern.  Tanya yelled from the pilot’s station, “We’re spinning!  Yawing, thirty degrees per second, I can’t regain control, I’ve lost engine control.”

Nik Tesla burst out of one of the maintenance hatches on the port side of the ship, his face was white with terror, “Stephen says we’ve lost the engines!  Something hit the booms, tore them clean off!  Did they…did…?”

But before James could respond, the receiving room door burst open, and Theodore the spy barged onto the deck, “They attacked us didn’t they?  Golrammit!”  He pointed directly at James, “I need to use your comm, now, this is too important not to let out, we’ve got to broadcast!”

But Laura spoke up from her communications station, “Captain, they took out the comm gear as well.”

“Sensors too!”  That was Frank Keyes.

The Senatorial Police agent looked around the cabin, helpless, “But…”  He kept opening and closing his mouth, at a complete loss for words.

“Captain, look!”

Somehow the distant Horadrim Destroyer had closed a five-hundred kilometer gap in seconds, it was now virtually on top of them.

One of the crewmen gasped, “How the…”

“Tunnel Drive.”  Both James and the spy answered at once, then exchanged a suspicious glance.

The short man turned to James, “Captain Welthammer, is this vessel armed?”

“We’ve got a 90mm Chemlaser on a turret, but that’s hardly—“

“It doesn’t matter at this point, Captain, we cannot allow this information to be suppressed, we’re going to have to fight our way out of this, I assume you people have small arms.”

“Wait a minute; we’re not going to try to fight the Horadrim, that’s suicide!”

“This data is too important!  Don’t you realize that?”

“I’m not getting my crew killed and my ship blown up for your information, no matter how important it is.”

“You don’t have a choice!”

“The hell I don’t.”  He turned to the crewmen gathering around the spectacle, “Everyone, we are to accept any Horadrim boarding party without resistance.  It’s no use fighting them, might as well let them know we’re willing to cooperate.”

The spy’s face burned red, “That’s it!  As an officer of the Senatorial Police I am hereby commandeering this ship and its crew.  All of you will arm yourselves and prepare to—“

James grabbed his pistol from its holster on his thigh and shoved it in the fat man’s face, “M. Page, this is my ship.  You have no authority here.  I welcomed you as a guest, but you may consider my courtesy expired; rest assured that should we indeed be boarded I will turn you over as soon as the hatch opens.  Someone tie this idiot up.”  Keyes and Tesla grabbed the spy’s arms as Laura Matheson grabbed some cord from a supply closet.

James returned his gun to its holster, “Fight the Horadrim, bloody insanity.  Even if we’d had a miracle and won, what would we have done?  Can’t take fly their ship, we’re dead in the water; it’d be thirty seconds before another one of their cruisers blasted us into dust.”

The spy was blubbering, “But, but, you can’t!  What about my mission, this information…”

That is, I am glad to be able to say for once, not my problem.”


Five minutes later, James, his section Chiefs, and Major Shrak were waiting by the airlock the Horadrim were docking to.  Shrak was holding the whimpering Theodore Page, his arms still bound by cord.

The airlock cycled, and five Horadrim stepped onto the Resolve, they wore armor that was alive with a reactive nanotech soup, and all of them carried weapons which they kept pointed at the humans.

They didn’t waste time, the one in front spoke directly to James: “M. Welthammer you are carrying with you a spy guilty of treason against the Horadrim Empire he is carrying highly sensitive proprietary information of the Empire.”

“Ah yes, that would be M. Page, here you go,” Shrak jostled the spy, “can’t say I’ll be sad to be rid of him in fact.  I don’t know anything about ‘proprietary information’, but he has got a datapad with him.”  James hoped he’d managed to say that with a straight face.

But the Horadrim didn’t seem to be paying attention, he gestured to the tied up spy, and one of the boarders stepped forward…and shot M. Page in the face.  He then shot the dead man’s breast, where the datapad would have been resting in his jacket; there was an acrid smell as the energy weapon burned metal and flesh.

James and his companions were in shock, “Uh…could you tell me what exactly it is that you think you’re doing shooting people on my ship?”

The Horadrim ignored him, and intoned clearly, “M. Welthammer, you are wanted in the Middle Kingdom on charges of murder, terrorism, and treason.  I am authorized under the charter between our governments to arrest you and your crew and to extradite them to the Middle Kingdom; you will lay down your weapons and surrender your ship.”

What?!  You can’t!

The Horadrim soldiers knew exactly what they were doing, their weapons were just as effective clubs as they were guns, and within a second or two, all of the humans at the airlock, including the former TI Major, were either unconscious, or wishing they could be.  The rest of the crew, following their earlier orders, offered no resistance. 

A mere three hours since he’d left the surface of Istoral, and James was being forced onto a Horadrim military vessel as a prisoner.  Well, he reflected, at least they’ve left my ship intact, I’ll have it refitted and running once I get out of this one, and then it’s a big middle finger to any more golram government missions.


Five minutes later, the Resolve was scuttled.




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Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home.  NO ONE can take on the Horadrim!