"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to turn a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

and a man's enemies will be of his own household."

                                                                        - Matthew 10:34-36


Cho stared at her feet, arms curled around her knees… waiting.  Waiting for this damn euphoria to end.  Waiting for her mind and body to catch up with the rest of the world.  Waiting for sanity.

This has to end!

Never in her life had Cho wanted so desperately to be sober.  She hated being helpless… and prayed her students didn't realize it.  How long had she sat like this, curled up in a cockpit chair, immobile, oblivious to the world?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?


I gotta get back in the game! she thought, gotta make sure Yoko lives!  Gotta get the ship heading the right direction!  Gotta… gotta take control!

She heard voices.  She looked up.  Across the cockpit, Usha and Nhut stood close together, conversing in low tones.  She could make out the words this time, they were sharper, more clear… maybe… was she finally coming down?

"… deep and regular.  Pulse weak but steady."

"You give her another shot of anesthesia?"


"Good.  She needs to sleep, let her body recover."

"Yeah, and she won't feel the pain.  We're low on morphine, anyway."

"Yeah… that's bad.  One of the crew's stealing it… I need to look into that."

Cho could hear them clearly.  She could follow the conversation.  She was back in the real world… mostly.  After years of opium, she knew full lucidity was less than an hour away.

Cho knew what she had to do next.  She dreaded it, but she had to.

But there were a few things to take care of first…

"How's Yoko?" Cho asked.

Nhut and Usha turned, surprised.  Releasing her knees, Cho pushed her legs to the floor.

" 'Bout time you sobered up," Usha said tightly.

"You okay, Cho?" Nhut asked.  "You back with us?"

"Yeah," Cho said, "I'm back."

"How do you feel?" Nhut asked her.

"Like a ninja broke my nose and ribs, my chi's been drained, and I got a hangover the size of China."

"So pretty crappy, then."

"Yeah.  How's Yoko?"

"Stable," Usha answered.  "She'll live, but she's in bad shape.  I'd like to get her to a real hospital when we get the chance."

            "Good, good…"  Cho tired to stand, but jerked back in the seat.  She looked down.  A seat belt held her.  She released it, pushed off against the arms of the chair, and stood up… and kept rising until her head slammed into the ceiling.

"OW!"  Cho felt herself spin backwards.  She looked around.  She was floating in midair.

"Uh… Nhut?" she said.  "I'm still tripping…"

"No, it's just zero-gravity, Cho," Nhut said soothingly.  "You're fine."

Cho looked at them.  "But you aren't—"

"Magnetic boots," Usha cut her off, slapping her thigh.  Cho looked down and saw the thick red boots they both wore.

"We put a pair on you," Nhut pointed.

Cho looked down and saw she wore a pair of the clunky red boots too.  "I thought this ship had…"  Cho pushed off the walls and righted herself.  "…y'know… during the fight, we—"

"The Teppodma was docked," Usha said, rolling her eyes, "using the station's centripetal force."

"Uh… okay," Cho nodded.  Whatever the hell that means…  She pushed her feet to the floor… but the boots didn't stick.  "What the pi hua?"

"Huh, that's weird!" Nhut cocked his head.  "They tested out just fine…"

"Oh, for Buddha's sake!" Usha exclaimed, walking forward.  "You just need turn them on!"  She reached down and slid a switch near the ankle.  "What are you playing at, Nhut?"

"Spoilsport!" Nhut said.  "I wanted to see how long it took Cho to figure that out!"

"Yeah, real funny, Nhut," Cho said drily.  Her boots locked onto the floor with a hollow clunk.  Being earthbound instantly made her feel more sober. "So you got the crew under control?"

"Oh hell yeah," Nhut said with a crooked grin.  "I've been telling 'em stories about how Nhut Moon beat the crap out of Hung Luong, the wu jen ninja.  Now they're too scared to piss without my permission!"

"Hmm," Cho nodded.  "You left out the master wu jen who softened him up first, right?"

"Of course not!" Nhut exclaimed.  "You were the damsel in distress I had to rescue while kicking Hung's ass!"

Cho flicked a middle finger at him almost casually.  "Fuck you, Nhut."

"Well, maybe if you ask nicely…"

Cho glared at him.  He stopped grinning.  "Uh… actually…" he said, changing the subject, "I should probably keep an eye on the crew… and Yoko."

"Yeah, do that," Cho said.  As Nhut left, she pulled out a pack of Nirvanas and stuck one in her mouth.  "We out of New Tokyo space yet?"

"No smoking on the ship, Cho," Usha said sternly.

"Yeah, whatever," Cho mumbled over the cigarette.  She snapped her fingers in a burst of flame.

"I'm serious, Cho!  It'll…" Usha's voice trailed off.

Cho lit the joint at glanced at her.  Usha's eyes were fixed on Cho's burning thumb.

"How… how did you do that?" Usha said, "I thought you were tapped out…"

            "I am."

            "Then how—"

"Dunno."  Cho shrugged.  "I've always been able to do this, no matter what.  Probably 'cause I do it so often, I guess…"  She snuffed out the flame.

"Huh," Usha said, still staring at Cho's thumb.  Then she shook her head.  "Well, you can't smoke on the ship, Cho.  Put it out."

Cho stared Usha in the eye and took a long, long drag.  "An' just why the hell not?"

"Because it'll clog the air filters," Usha answered sternly.  "The recyclers are already overloaded—we got too many people on board.  We're pushing the oxygen levels already."

Cho paused in mid drag.  Really?  She looked at Usha.  "For real?"

"Yeah, for real.  No one smokes onboard.  Every sailor knows that," Usha said.  "You want to make to the next planet alive?  If you do, then you don't smoke.  That's the way it is.  You don't fuck with physics.  Now put it out."

Cho glared at her.  One smoke couldn't make much difference…but the scowl on Usha face said that she wasn't about to back down.  Screw it… this ain't worth the fight, Cho thought.  She took a long, final drag.  "Fine," she said.  Besides, I'll just sneak one when she's not looking.  She threw it at the floor and crushed it under her boot.   "So are we out of New Tokyo space or not?"

 Usha stared at her silently.  "Yeah.  I told you that an hour ago."

"Well, I'm askin' again!" Cho snapped.  "Where we headed?"

"Phoenix System," Usha said.  "Since you were too stoned to give us a direction, I figured we'd head for the rim of the Middle Kingdom.  Easier to avoid Imperial patrols out there."

"No," Cho shook her head.  "We need to go to Sinkaing."

"Sinkiang…" Usha muttered.  "Cho, that's on the other side of the Empire!"

Cho nodded wearily.  She was too tired to argue.  "I know, Usha, but my sensei's there."

Usha blinked.  "You… have a sensei?"

"Of course I have a sensei, gaujo!" Cho snapped.  "What, you think I taught all this kuso to myself?"

Usha shrugged.  "I did, actually."  She looked curiously at Cho.  "You've never mentioned a sensei before..."

"Doesn't mean I don't have one," Cho said.  "Master Phuket taught me the way of the wu jen.  I gotta see him.  He can help us… I hope…."

"Phuket…?" Usha mumbled.  "Sounds familiar… I've heard that name before…"

Cho ignored her.  "How soon 'till we get to Sinkiang?"

"Well… that's a hell of a voyage, Cho," Usha said doubtfully.  She sat in the pilot's chair, rapped out a command into the keyboard, and a star map of the Middle Kingdom popped up on a screen.  "Most direct route is… crap… if we jump onto the Chiang's Star beam!"  She looked at Cho.  "You wanna sail through the Imperial Capital of the Middle Kingdom, Cho?"

"What?  Hell no!  Too many police!"  Cho looked over Usha's shoulder at the star map.  "Can't we go around?"

Usha nodded.  "I was hoping you'd say that.  Jumping the beam is risky—the kinda thing you only do if you're desperate.  Too late for that now... but maybe later…"  Usha muttered to herself, studying the map carefully.  "We can take the scenic route to Sinkiang," she announced slowly.  "But it'll take a long flight…"  Her finger traced glowing blue lines representing hyperspace routes and tapped the green dots of planetary systems, counting.  "We'll have to go through… six systems.  Safer, but a hell of a lot longer."

"How long?" Cho asked.

"Over a week," Usha answered.

"Can Yoko hold out that long?"

"Yeah, sure," Usha answered.  "But I'd still like to get her to a hospital sooner, if we can."  Her face darkened.  "We might run out of morphine."

"A hospital… I dunno, Usha…" Cho said.  "They're dangerous when you're on the run.  Too much security, too many questions.  Better wait 'till things cool off and we're farther away."

"Yeah… you're probably right," Usha shrugged.    "Not my first choice… but our options are sort of limited."

She doesn't want to get caught any more I do, Cho thought.  "Alright, then," she said.  "We got enough fuel for a run this long?"

"This is a smuggling ship, Cho," Usha said with a hint of pride.  "We're used to roundabout delivery routes."

"Okay," Cho nodded.  "Set the course."

Usha spun around in her chair and bellowed, "Hey, SHIGA!"


"Shiga.  The navigator."

"Can't you set the course?"

Usha shrugged.  "Sure, if you wanna get caught!"  She looked at Cho., "I can plot a straight, simple course, goin' through all the check points for everyone to see.  Might as well paint a bullseye on the hull.  But if we wanna fly invisible… and, trust me, Cho, we do…we gotta jump from beam to beam at the jumpgate nodes without entering normal space… and that's risky, Cho, even for an expert!  No way in hell can I do that.  But Shiga can… she used to do this kuso for the Imperial Fleet!" Usha said with a slight smile.  "She knows all the tricks of the trade, been doin' it for years!  We'll bypass systems without anyone knowing we were even there…. an' that means you can forget about anyone tracking us!"

Cho blinked.  She didn't understand a word of what Usha had just said… but figured Usha knew what she was talking about, or she would have been arrested long ago.  "Uh… well… that sounds great, yeah," Cho sad doubtfully.  "But… can we trust Shiga?"

"Oh, I think so," Usha nodded.  "She's got two kids back on New Tokyo.  She's not the type to take stupid risks that'll leave them without a mommy."

Right then, a short middle-aged woman with a long grey-black braid entered the cockpit.  She saw Cho, froze, and shrank back.  Cho forced herself to smile and raised a hand in greeting.  "Yo."

Shiga looked at her warily, then turned to Usha.  "You need me, Ush—I mean, Captain?"

"At ease, sailor," Usha said.  "Don't worry, Cho won't hurt you.  You're too useful.  Now, I need you to plot a course to Sinkaing."

Shiga looked doubtful.  "Now?"

"Hell no!" Usha exclaimed.  "Not until we get to the Phoenix node."

Shiga nodded silently, thinking.  "Below Imperial radar, right?"

"Hai.  With all the bells and whistles… and no questions."

Shiga nodded, squeezed past Cho, sat in the copilot's chair and went to work.

Cho waited impatiently for Shiga to finish.  Usha tried to strike up a conversation… probably tryin' to make Shiga relax… but Cho wasn't interested.  Shiga was too nervous, anyway.

Shiga turned to look at Cho.  "Alright, the course is laid in and set," she said.  Cho caught a faint whiff of sake on Shiga's breath.  Cho scowled.  That can't be good…

"Can you turn the autopilot on?" Cho asked her.

"Well… I could…"  Shiga shrugged.  "But it's not a good—"  She caught the look on Cho's face.  "Uh, right, no problem," she turned to the terminal and engaged the autopilot.

Cho paused, calculating her next move.  This'll go down easier if Usha ain't here… but she won't listen if I kick her out of the cockpit… just make her suspicious, too… maybe I can slide it past her…?

"Does the autopilot have a password?" Cho asked Shiga in a hoarse whisper.

 "What?  Why do you want to know?" Usha asked sharply.

Kuso.  She heard.

"We should change it," Cho answered, not looking at her.  "Don't want the yakuza hacking in and taking over."  Damn… that sounds like burukuso, even to me…

"I've already changed all the passwords and encryption codes," Usha countered.  "It was one of the first things I did."

I can see where this is going… damn…  While Cho still had her back to Usha, while Usha still couldn't see, Cho slipped a hand into her jacket pocket and gripped the rusty handle of her gun.  But I can't power it up… not yet…  Usha might hear that…

"Change it again, Shiga."

"Why?" Usha demanded.

Cho turned to face Usha.  "Because no one controls where the ship's going but me."

 "You may be sensei," Usha stood to face her, "but I run this boat."

So it's come to this, eh?  One of her kobun was bound to challenge her… and I knew it'd be Usha… but this was the worst damn time.  Cho had no magic left.  So that only leaves force…

"I can't let you lock the helm, Cho."

Cho whipped out the old tarnished laser and pointed it at Usha.  "You don't have a choice!"  She hit the thumb switch to charge the weapon.

Shocked silence hung in the air.  It was broken by a low whine as the ancient gun struggled to power up.  Usha's eyes widened.  She lunged forward.

Cho squeezed the trigger.  Nothing happened.  The gun just whined…

Usha seized Cho's hand and thrust the gun away.  Usha grabbed Cho's throat and heaved upward.  Cho's mag boots popped.  She left the floor and slammed into the ceiling.

Cho jerked painfully.  Usha snatched the gun away.

A fist slammed into Cho's face.  She grunted in pain, spinning backward through the air.  There was a confused blur of movement and voices.  Cho's face slammed upside-down into the wall.

Cho awkwardly twisted around, trying to make sense of the upside-down scene.  Shiga was hiding behind Usha, who had pulled out her own plasma pistol and pointed it Cho.  Dammit… I shoulda known not to take Usha on her home turf!

"Don't move or I shoot, bitch!" Usha ordered.

"Fuck that!" Cho barked, flailing her arms as she tried to get right-side up.  "Drop the gun or I'll fry you!"

"Burukuso!  If you could do magic you'd have used it!" Usha spat.  "You wouldn't use this!"  She held up Cho's broken laser, still whining in an endless power-up cycle.  "Now hold still!"

"Or what?  You'll kill me?"

There was a roar and a blast of heat.  Usha burned a hole in the floor next to Cho's head.

Cho froze.  Okay… what do I do now?

"If you kill me, slut," Cho hissed, "you'll never get the ship back!"

"I've already got the ship!" Usha scoffed.  "I can go where I please and keep flying!"

They stared at each other in silence.  When the hell did Usha get so hard?

If there was a way out of this, Cho couldn't see it.  No magic… no weapons… I gotta talk my way out of this…  Cho's stomach sank.

 "Alright," said Usha, calmer, "Get this through your slow, opium-drenched brain: I need helm control if I'm gonna run this ship!  There're a dozen reasons we might need to change course.  Unexpected Imperial patrol.  Hyperspace disruption.  Equipment failure.  Take your pick.  My job is to keep the ship and its crew safe.  I only threw in with you so the Tanzhi would give me my ship and job back—getting killed over your stupid paranoia wasn't part of the deal!"

Usha paused.  Cho stared at her silently.

"Right now," Usha continued, "I'm thinking the safest thing is to shoot you, toss the body out an airlock, and head for the rim… unless you can give me a damn good reason not to!"

Cho laughed.  "Burukuso!" she spat.  "You're bluffing!  You never killed nobody!"

Usha shrugged.  "Suit yourself."  She raised the gun and fingered the trigger.

“Hey!  HEY!  WAIT!” Cho yelled in sudden panic.  Okay, maybe she’s NOT bluffing…  “I… uh… um…”  Her mind raced.  “You, uh, you still got the yakuza after you, right?  And, uh, if you help me save face, you can get back in the family!”

The gun never wavered… but Usha said nothing.

Cho felt a twinge of hope.  “And, uh…”  Think like a smuggler...  “All your old customers are yakuza-Tanzhi customers right?  So you can’t go to them for work, right?”

Usha stared at Cho silently, thinking.  I’m getting through to her…

            “Hell, all your contacts are Tanzhi allies… right?”  She was on a roll now.  “All the other families… Imperial officials who take bribes… you can’t use any of them no more!  Not without tipping off the Tanzhi!  You’ll have to start over!  And, uh, you can’t use your real name, or the Tanzhi would find you—so you’re reputation’s gone!  Think about it, Usha, who’s gonna hire an unknown freelancer over of one of the yakuza families?  Only the ones yakuza refuse to deal with—and you know what that means!”

            “Alright,” Usha said.  “You got a point.”

            “Now, get back in the yakuza with me,” Cho continued, “ya got more work, safer jobs, higher profits… am I right?”

            “Yeah, you’re right…” Usha nodded, scowling.  “But how do I know you won’t try to take over the ship again?”

Cho winced.  She had to control the ship… but how the hell am I gonna talk Usha into THAT??  “Look, Usha…” Cho said almost pleadingly.  “If you turn this boat around and head back to New Tokyo, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it!”

Usha cocked her head.  “Wha… why the hell would I do that?” she asked.

“There’s a price on my head, Usha.”

“And there’s one on mine, too!” Usha snapped.  “If you’d stop thinking about yourself for a golram second, you’d remember all of us are in this as deep as you are!”

“Yeah, but you could—”

“We could hand you back to the oyabun…”  Usha rolled her eyes.  “…and they might give us the bounty… or they might kill us all!  You know Toku!  You really think he’d part with money he didn’t have to?”

Cho blinked.  Hadn’t thought of that…

“Besides, even if he did pay us,” Usha said, “he wouldn’t let me keep this ship!  You know that!  And I am NOT going back to that whorehouse!”  Usha paused, then shook her head.  “No, Cho, there’s no point going back to the Tanzhi unless we got you to blaze the way for us.  We all agreed on that.”

A nasty feeling crept over Cho.  “You… all agreed… on what?” she repeated slowly.

Usha stared at Cho silently.  Her eyes narrowed.  “We thought about it, yeah.”  Usha nodded.  “After Yoko got shot.  Hell, if we were gonna get the jump on you, our best chance was when you were tapped out and too stoned to move!”

Cho was silent, stunned.  She felt numb.

“But we decided our best shot was to stick with you… until you pulled a gun on me, that is!”  Usha jerked the weapon.  “Now, I’m not so sure!”

Cho was still reeling from the news.  I almostthey almost… how the hell did they get the jump on me like that?  The unwanted answer leapt to her mind: Because of the dust.  The damn dust.

That settled it.  She had to quit it.  Now.  Before…

“Usha…  I just…  I need to know this ship is gonna get to Sianking, that’s all!  I… I just can’t do what I have to do if I don’t… don’t know that I’m safe!”

“Do what, exactly?” Usha said through narrowed eyes.

Cho didn’t want to say it.  Saying it would make it real.  Make it happen.  But… what choice do I have?

Cho’s head sagged.  “Detox,” she whispered.


“Detox!” Cho said.  “I gotta detox, Usha!  I gotta quit the dust!  For good!”

Usha laughed.  She actually laughed.

Cho’s hands curled into fists.

“You… detox?!” Usha said through chuckles.  “Yeah, right!”

Cho stared at the ceiling.  Caution struggled with anger…

“Try another one, Cho, I’m not buying that!”  Usha looked at Cho with contempt.  “You’ll never quit.  You’re a dust whore.”

The words stung like a whip.  Hate boiled over.  “Fuck you, bitch!” Cho roared, jerking both middle fingers at her in sudden, uncontrollable rage.  “You saw what happened to Yoko!  You think I don’t care?!”

Usha stopped laughing.

“If I say I’m gonna quit, bitch,” Cho yelled, “then I will—I have to!”

“Oh yeah?”  Usha stuck a fist on her hip.  “How?”

“The only way I can!” Cho hissed.  “Lock myself in a room with no magic and no dust and wait!”

Usha cocked her head a millimeter to the side… but said nothing.

“I can’t do that if I’m worried someone’ll fuck me over while I’m locked up!” Cho said, a little calmer.  “So I have to lock the ship, Usha!”

Usha stared at her for a long time, thinking.  Her eyes softened… but the gun never wavered.

“Well, you can’t lock the helm, Cho, it’s just too dangerous,” Usha said, shaking her head.  “Trust me, you’d be more worried about that then a traitor if you knew anything about flying!  But…”  She paused.  Her eyes were curious… almost sympathetic.  “If you want to detox, Cho…  I mean, if you’re really gonna try… then you will reach Sinkiang.  You got my word on that.”

“Look…no offense, Usha,” Cho said, hesitating, “but…I don’t trust your ‘word’.  Hell, I don’t trust anyone…”

“And you don’t have much of a choice,” Usha said.  The iron was back in her voice.  “You can deal with me or the airlock.  Take your pick.”

Cho didn’t want to… hated to… but she didn’t have a choice.  “Fine,” Cho said.  “You can have your damn ship.  Just make sure we get to Sinaking, bitch, or I’ll—”

“Yeah, yeah, make me to eat my own lips, I know.”  Usha sounded bored.

“So you gonna lower the gun or what?”

Amazingly, Usha did.  Cho pulled herself right-side up and pushed her feet to the floor with a soft clunk.  Usha stared at Cho.  Cho stared at the floor.  Silence dominated the cockpit.  Shiga moved timidly toward the door.  No one stopped her.

“So... you serious about detox?”

Cho breathed out a long sigh.  “Yeah.  I am.  And it’s about fuckin’ time.”

“I sense a betting pool coming up,” Usha said.  “I got twenty crowns on you failing.”

“Nice to know you’re pulling for me, bitch,” Cho said dryly.  “You got a brig on this boat?”

            “A brig?”  Usha almost laughed.  “On a ship this small?  With a crew of four?”

            “So that’s a ‘no’, then…”

            “Your powers of deduction are amazing, Cho.”

            “Mmm,” Cho grunted.  “Wasn’t expecting that.”  She took a deep breath.  “That could be a problem.  You got anything close to that?  Someplace to lock someone up?  So they can’t get out or fuck with the ship?”

            Usha thought about that in silence.  She shrugged.  “The Hole would work, I guess.”

            “The what?”

            “C’mon, I’ll show you.”

            Usha marched Cho—walking behind her the whole way, gun in hand—through the crew room, pausing only briefly to let Cho scoop up her forgotten duffel, then through the airlock into the freezing darkness of long cargo corridor.  Cho staggered awkwardly past the hatches to the different cargo bays, not used to walking in the mag boots.  Each clumsy step hurt her shattered body, and she was breathing hard within minutes.  Behind her, Usha walked as naturally as if she were planet-side.  At the far end of the narrow tunnel, Usha guided her through another airlock into the engine room.  The cramped, industrial room was slightly warmer, but darker.  The walls were covered with equipment, the floor crowded with cables and machinery.

            “Here?” Cho asked doubtfully.  “I dunno, Usha… I could do a lot of damage here…”

            “This isn’t the Hole,” Usha said.  She reached deep into a tangle of pipe and wires.  Cho heard a soft click.  One of the floor panels popped up.  Usha reached down and flipped it back to reveal a small hatch door.  Usha spun the heavy locking wheel and opened it with a loud hiss.  A powerful and unpleasant odor drifted up from the black, empty void at Cho’s feet.

            “What the hell is this?”

            “The Hole.  That’s what the crew calls it, anyway.  Official name is biocargo storage.”


            “The Teppodama is a smuggling ship, Cho,” Usha explained.  “Sometimes we have to move human cargo.  To get through a checkpoint, we gotta hide them somewhere even a careful manned search wouldn’t find.  So we built the Hole.”

            Cho stared at the Hole silently.  She kicked the hatch.  “Locks from the outside, eh?”

            “Yep.  Didn’t want the cargo getting claustrophobic or scared and jumping out at the wrong time.  Besides, we sometimes depressurize the engine room.  If they kill themselves, we don’t get paid.”

            Cho crouched down and peered into the darkness beneath.  “Any way to screw with the ship from in there?”

            “Nope.  We thought of that, too.  People desperate to get out do a lot of stupid stuff.  Especially if they think they’re about to get caught.”

            Cho searched the darkness.  “No toilet?”

            “There’s a bucket in the corner.”

            “Oh.  Kuso.”

            “Exactly.  That’s why it stinks.”

            “But… wait…”  Cho looked up at Usha.  “If we’re in zero-G…”

            “It’s got a lid,” Usha said.  “There’s a vent for air and heat.  Only food and water is what you bring with you.  When that runs out, tough luck.”

            Cho stared into the stinking hole.  She felt sick to her stomach.  “This’ll do…. I guess.”

            “Yeah,” Usha agreed.  “It wasn’t designed to be a prison, but I guess it’ll do the job.”  They stared at the Hole in silence.

“When do you want to start?” Usha asked.

            Cho stood and forced the word out.  “Now.”

            Usha cocked an eyebrow.  “You sure?”

            “No,” Cho said flatly, turning to Usha.  “Tell ya the truth, I hate it already.  But I gotta, Usha.  I gotta.”

            “How long you want to stay down there?”

            Cho paused.  “All the way to Sinkiang,” she said.  “As long as I can.”

            “Alright then,” Usha said.  “Jump down and I’ll lock you in.”

            Cho shook her head.  “It ain’t that simple, Usha.  It never is.”  She sighed.  “I can make dust.  Conjure it.  So the only way I’m gonna keep clean is… is…”

            “With… with no magic!” Usha finished as the realization struck her.  “That’s what the Quellers are for… you!”


            “You’ve…”  Usha eyes grew wide.  “You’ve been planning this…haven’t you?”

            “Yeah.”  Cho shrugged.  “Been meaning to do it for a while.  But I had to wait until I was safe…”  She paused.  She looked at Usha.

            “You’ll reach Sianking,” Usha said before Cho could ask.

Cho looked back into the Hole.  Then, slowly, she reached into her duffel and pulled out the box of Quellers.  “Inject me every six hours, day and night,” she said, loading the pneumatic syringe.  “Don’t listen to anything I say.  I’ll try to stop you.  Do whatever you have to.  Tranq me.  Chain me.  Shoot me.  Whatever it takes.  If you miss a dose I’ll have to start over… and we don’t have time for that.”  Cho pressed the needle into her neck.  “Buddha, I hate this crap!”  She pressed the button.  With a hiss, the syringe flooded her veins with the foul drug.  Cho winced.  Damn stuff’ll kick in soon…  She closed the box of Quellers and handed them to Usha, then shrugged her knapsack onto her shoulder.

“I need your Nirvanas, Cho,” Usha said.  “No smoking on the ship.”

Damn it.

Cho hesitated, then silently pulled the pack out of her pocket and handed it to Usha.  What the hell, I got a whole carton in my duffel, anyway.

            “I’ll need that carton of Nirvanas in your bag, too,” Usha said quietly.

            Damn it to hell.

             Cho looked at Usha.  “I… uh… don’t have any...”

            “Burukuso.  I saw you put them in there back at the dojo.”  Usha snapped her fingers impatiently.  “C’mon, Cho, we’ve been over this,” Usha said, holding out her hand.  Cho stared at her a moment, then sighed wearily.  No point in arguing… not while she still has the gun...  Reluctantly, Cho reached into her bag and handed them over.

            “I need your lighter, too,” Usha motioned with her fingers.  “Hand it over.”

            “I don’t have one,” Cho said.

            “Burukuso,” Usha said.  “Then how do you light the smokes?”

            Cho snapped her fingers.  Even with Quellers in her blood, her thumb burst obediently into flame.

            “Oh…right…”  Usha scowled.  “Can you do that… even on Quellers?”

            Cho frowned at her thumb, trying to remember.  She had only been on Quellers once.

The dumpster flashed into her mind.  I did, she remembered.  I couldn’t summon fire to fry that asshole, but I could still light my thumb.  Easily.  Hell, so easily I didn't even notice until now.

“Yeah.”  Cho nodded, puzzled.  “I guess I can.”  She saw the dark look on Usha’s face.  “What?”

            “That’s… bad.  Very bad.”

            “Wha—why?”  Cho was confused.

            Usha looked at her coldly.  “Any chance withdrawal might make you suicidal?”

            “Uh…”  A chill rolled over Cho.

            “I’ve seen people start fires trying to get out, Cho.  And they were sober.”

            Cho stared at her burning thumb with a sinking feeling.  “But… I can’t turn it off, Usha… even if I wanted too…”

            “Yeah, I know.”  Usha nodded.  “But… you’ll be safe if you don’t have anything flammable.”

            Cho blinked.  “What…?”  She can’t mean…

“You have to take off your clothes.”

            “No…”  Cho shook her head at Usha in disbelief.  “No, for Buddha’s sake, Usha…”

            “You want to survive this or not?” Usha asked sharply.

            Cho stared at the wall, struggling with her pride.

She’s right, dammitWhen the craving starts… if it gets bad enough… would I kill myself?  Cho remembered a street lit night in a dumpster.  She had tried… and that was when she had dust.

I will.  I know I will.

Silently, not looking at Usha, Cho began to undress.  First her leather jacket.  Then her shirt.  Then… the boots.  Her feet left the ground as she slid out of them.  She began to spin in midair as she kicked her pants off.

“Underwear too, Cho,” Usha said.  “The fire won’t kill you, but the smoke might.  Take ’em off.”

Cho paused to shoot Usha a murderous glare.  Then, slowly, she peeled them off.  She was naked.  It was cold.  Her skin puckered.  She shivered.  The Quellers were already making her lightheaded and nauseous.  Can this POSSIBLY get any worse?

It could.  The putrid darkness of the Hole opened before her.

Cho stared at it, surrounded by the stink, shivering uncontrollably.  Her world was already hell.  It would only get worse in there.

“Buddha,” she whispered, shaking her head.  “No…”

“C’mon…” Usha said soothingly.

“No…”  Cho stared at the Hole.  It wanted to swallow her.  “I… I can’t…”

“Should I tell Yoko that?”

            Cho looked at Usha with haunted eyes.  “I never meant for Yoko to get hurt!”

            “I know.”

            “It was an accident!”  Cho looked back at the Hole.  “It mighta been the same even if I wasn’t… wasn’t…”

            “I know.  I’ve thought that too.”  Slowly, awkwardly, Usha reached out and squeezed Cho’s tattooed shoulder.  ”But you have to do this… or it’ll happen again.”

            “Yeah… I… I know…”

Slowly, Cho forced her hands to reach out and grab the rim of the hatch.  Usha gently pushed her down.  Cho squeezed into the reeking darkness until it engulfed her.  It was dark.  The smell was overpowering.  Fear gripped her.  She twisted around to look at Usha through the halo of light from the hatch.

            “Quellers every six hours.”  Usha nodded.  “Food and water too.”

“Wait!  Usha!”

“I’ll see if I can get the heat turned up in there,” Usha said, looking slightly guilty.  “You’ll be okay, sensei.  I promise.  En katame itto on waga zinghi.

“Wait!  I changed my mind!  I—”

The hatch slammed shut.  It locked with a dull clunk.

Cho floated in the foul air, naked, shivering, dizzy and nauseous.  Usha’s footsteps faded away.  She was alone in total darkness and total silence.  There was nothing left to do but wait.

            The first few hours were bad.

            The next few were worse.

            The rest were hell.


*          *          *


            James woke up to the smell of smoke.  He was lying on his back on rough ground, above he could see through a thin canopy of trees up to a thin brown sky, beyond which shone a field of stars.  A trail of grey smoke was rising to his left; James turned his head and saw a small campfire burning a few blackened logs

            James groaned and propped himself up on his elbows.  He was in a grassy field scattered with tall trees.  Beyond the campfire, James saw a man sitting on a rock pulling a pair of boots over striped socks.

            Lwan Eddington stood up, “I see you’re awake.  Well, get up, we need to be going.”

            “Huh?”  James was bewildered.

            Eddington kicked the fire apart, “Come on, I need your help.”

            Still confused, James pulled himself to his feet, and teetered for a moment as he found his balance.

            The old soldier gestured James forward by the boulder he had been sitting on, Eddington bent down for something.

            “Where are—” James started to ask.

            “Questions later, right now,” Eddington hefted a long, dirty cloth sack, “help me with this.  Grab that end.”

            James did as he was told, lifting one end of the sack, it was heavy.

            “Is this a—“

            “Body.  Yes.  This will only take a moment.”  Eddington’s eyes closed, and it seemed to James that a vortex of blue light appeared in front of him, the storm grew until it was about two meters in diameter.  Eddington’s eyes opened, and he walked into the lightshow, as James awkwardly carried the other end of the bodybag in after him.


It was cold.  The correspondence portal (James was glad to have recalled the proper name for the apparition) hadn’t produced any immediately noticeable transition in the ground, James had no trouble keeping his footing when he stepped through, but he had gradually become aware that he was heavier, the air was thicker, and it was much, much colder than where he had just been.  The two men had emerged in another forest, a much denser one by a small stream at the base of a hill.

“Welcome to Earth, James Welthammer.”

“What?!”  James’ shout echoed eerily in the woods, “But the destruction of the moon completely scorched Earth, the entire ocean and most of the atmosphere were boiled off into space, what’s left isn’t even breathable.”

“Then we had better not stay too long.”  Eddington began trudging up the hill, James followed in disbelief.  The sky was closer to a sickly yellow, marred occasionally by rings of debris, not yet fallen from the lunar orbit, contrasting sharply with the crisp clear blue James remembered from pictures, but that was the only sign that something was wrong with the world which had given birth to Humanity.  James carried the heavy sack to the top of the hill, walking through long, rough, snow-frosted grass that should not have existed.  At the top, Eddington had him drop the sack, for which James was grateful, his shoulders were aching.

As he looked around him, James was once more amazed.  There was only a single, grotesquely twisted tree at the hilltop, and James could see through the thin tops of the forest out to the horizon.  There he saw the horrible landscape he knew about.  The small wood was bordered on one side by mountains growing on one side, and a large, calm river on the other.  Beyond the river was a wasteland, a seemingly endless expanse of flat, rocky ground.  Frozen lava fields and snowdrifts were interrupted here and there by small craters from the debris that continued to rain down from orbit.  This was the real Earth, laid to waste by the destruction of its own satellite.  The wood was an anomaly James could not explain.

Behind him, Eddington grunted, James turned and had a shovel thrust into his hands.


It took them three hours.  James’s hands were blistered by the end of it.  The last time he’d done work like this, he’d been 7 years old and was repairing the damage of the VS war, filling holes in the ground with the carcasses of the Vin Shriak who’d managed to land on New Paris and even one of a Light Infantry trooper who’d died defending the makeshift fortress at the estate.  That man, one Private Diaz, had been buried in his own grave, provided with a stone marker that was still standing the last time James had checked.  The aliens had been thrown into a large pit and burned.

The marker Eddington placed on this grave was much simpler, no more than a wooden plank with a few words carved into it:


Lieutenant William Arnold Tiller

Tech Infantry



Eddington stood erect at the foot of the burial mound for a few moments.  James breathed heavily a few steps behind him, looking on awkwardly, unsure of the proper action.  After a while, Eddington turned away, and sat down on a raised tree root.  He looked up at James.

“It’s done then.”

James nodded, not knowing what else to do.  To his discomfort, the old soldier kept staring at him, James shifted his stance uncomfortably.  Finally, Eddington gestured back towards the grave.

James turned around to look again.  Eventually, he noticed that Tiller’s grave was not the only one on the hilltop; there were two other grass-covered mounds beside it, though any markers had long since rotted away.

James looked back at Eddington, “Who are they?”

The mage pointed, “The one on the left is Marko Vitek.  The real one, the original.  He was the first one I buried here, back when Earth could still support life, though after the evacuation.  The middle one is Erich von Shrakenberg, the last citizen of the Federation born on this planet and until recently, the last to be buried here.  I’d taken him here before, and it seemed appropriate that he should return.  So I gathered up his scraps, dust really, from the wreckage on the moon, and I returned him here, to the planet he fought for with such passion, blind though it was.”

“My mother always said we were related to him.  But a lot of people said the same thing.  Or, that is, they did before the VS war, anyway.”

“Yes, everyone wants to be famous.  Though in your case, your mother was right, or more so than most.  Erich’s father was married to the daughter of your great-great-grandfather’s brother.”


“You’ve never heard of him, your grandfather was the youngest child in his family and sort of a black sheep.”

“Opa Franz was a little eccentric.”

“The hoverbike shop didn’t fit into the military traditions of the von Hesses, or the Welthammers for that matter, though I don’t suspect you were aware of your father’s contempt for his father-in-law.”

“What is it about we Germans and the military?”

“The transport that your families left on, the von Shrakenbergs too, was out of a Fleet control station near Hanover.”

Somehow this deflated James’s pride, “Oh.”

Eddington remained quiet.  James started again, “And the last grave?  I’d never heard of Tiller before Mars, what did he do?”

“He fought and died for the cause.  That’s enough; Earth is home to every human.  And our journey here was more for your benefit, you needed to see this.”

“Um, right.”

“I wonder, has sarcasm become a refuge for you when you’re scared or confused?”


“Or are you just compensating for a general feeling of insecurity and weakness?”

“I don’t need this.”

“No, I don’t suppose you do.  Captain Welthammer doesn’t need advice from anyone, least of all crazy old ex-soldiers.”

“Damn straight.  What the hell is this, anyway?”

“Let me ask you something, Captain.  What is it you want?”

“Excuse me?”

“What exactly are you after in life?”

“Heh, money, power, the usual.”

“So you opted to become a smuggler rather than follow your friend into power politics?  Sarcasm will not serve you here; sooner or later you will realize that.  I hope you do not have to be taught with pain.”

“What business is it of yours, anyway?”

“It is your business.”

“Yeah?  Well then leave it to me, will you?  I can take care of it.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“Leave it alone, I said.”

“Look around you, James.  You are in the middle of nowhere.  You’re not leaving until you cooperate.  Why don’t you save us both the time?”

“Fine!”  James turned sharply on his interrogator, “Fine, golram it!”

He glowered at the mage, who just stared back calmly, “You really want to know what I want?  What I’m after?  I’ll tell you.  I just wish all this shit would stop.  I wish the Imps would stop chasing me.  I just want to be left alone.  That’s all; I just want a normal, boring, regular life.”  James turned back around and crossed his arms with a grunt.

There were a few seconds of silence, then James heard laughter behind him.  The old man merely giggled at first, but it quickly grew into a loud fit.  James turned red, and spun, “Hey, what do you want from me?  Huh?  What is it?  Just tell me so we can get this fucking done with.  Now, I’ve answered your question, why—“

“You can’t be serious.”


“Normal life?  Left alone?  M. Welthammer, in the entire history of human existence, it has never been easier to do exactly that.  To disappear, to drop off the radar of notice.  It’s the definition of simplicity to settle down and never be troubled by the government again, except for the inevitable taxes, of course.  But you James, you haven’t made even the slightest effort, for that’s all that is required, to achieve this goal.  Rather, you have chosen a career as a smuggler, a pirate, a rebel.  You have made yourself a thorn in the side of the Middle Kingdom and ensured that the government will never forget you, will never leave you alone.  You can’t honestly expect me to believe that a ‘normal life’ is what you want, or that you actually expect to get it.”

The old soldier stood up now, and he advanced on James.  Though the two men were about the same height, James felt like Eddington was towering over him as he unleashed his barrage, “Well, James?  What’s the answer?  How do you justify your actions?  You’re not stupid; you know everything I’ve said is true.”


Eddington was leaning forward, just a few centimeters from James’s face, “What are you trying to accomplish, M. Welthammer?

I don’t know.”  James found he was breathing heavy.

Eddington snorted, then he stepped back, letting James straighten back up from his backward lean.  The mage looked into James’s eyes, “The truth at last, Captain.  You will find that maintaining delusions of grandeur will impair your ability to be honest with your own self.  Keep that in mind.”  He returned to his seat on the tree root.

“What, that’s it?”

“Hardly, Captain.  Since we have determined that you do not know what you are trying to do with your life, it seems only appropriate to me that we give you a purpose.”

“Oh, I get it.  This is just some kind of ploy to get me to do what you want.  You want me to do your dirty work for you.  It won’t be happening.”

“Why not?  Because you couldn’t think of something on your own?”

“I don’t like being manipulated.”

Eddington chuckled, “It is too late for that, M. Welthammer.  You have been manipulated all your life by forces beyond your control, often beyond your ability to comprehend.  The universe is a complicated thing, and we are all puppets to something; it is inherent to our existence.”

“But I suppose you’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?  You’re the puppet master.”

“Quite the opposite, actually, I am even more of a slave than you.”

“But you’re some kind of super-mage, aren’t you?  You can control—“

“I am the life oracle, M. Welthammer, and I control nothing.”

“Uh, but an oracle is the most powerful of the mages, the living personification of magick itself, right?”

“True power never frees a man, for with power comes responsibility... and even those people who feel no responsibility to their fellow man, people like Vin Dane and Treschi, they are still subject to physics.”

“Isn’t the whole point of being mage that you can warp reality and alter the laws of physics at will?”

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  I always thought Newton was a closet mage, they say he did dabble in mystic alchemy... but what is true for billiard balls is also true for even the most powerful of magi.  Power is always opposed... by other powers, by the fabric of reality itself, by God, if he's really out there any more.  The paradox effect serves to limit the potential of mages, though that has become less of a concern over the past centuries.”

“I don’t understand what that has to do with being an oracle.”

“As an oracle; I am the embodiment of Life Magick itself.  You do not grasp the subtleties of this, I am Life Magick, I do not control it.  Magick is, and has always been, the physical manifestation of the beliefs of the people.  Our beliefs construct the universe.  Once, long ago, everyone believed in magic, and so the great mages of the past walked openly among the people. Merlin, Lo Pan, Moses... but their numbers were small, and the unawakened resented their power.  Mages also fought each other, not to mention vampires and werecreatures.”

"I had History of Magick in school, the Federation required it even in grade school," James interjected irritably.

Lwan sighed. "The point is, open displays of great power inspire open resistance.  Action...reaction.  Eventually a group of mages known as the Technocracy realized that true power lies not in the overt exercise of power through violence and fear, but in the subtle manipulation of the beliefs of the masses.  Convince the majority that magick does not exist, and you weaken all mages.  Of course, a few will never be convinced of  such a thing, will go on believing in magick, and magick will still work for the awakened, it will merely be driven underground.  Paradox will become so strong that overt displays of magickal ability will tend to fail in spectactular fashion."

"Yeah, but the technocracy is gone, they were reduced to InSec and crushed with the rest of the Federation government," James pointed out.

"Their legacy remains.  The Technocracy created science, used it to replace magic healers with medical doctors, replace levitation with anti-gravity plates, replace energy bolts with gunpowder and then laser beams... reduce the dependence on magic, both as an explanation for how the universe works, and to reduce its presence in the day-to-day lives of the people.  Even simple miracles, the transubstantiation of communion hosts, ceased to work.  But the technocracy was not, could not have been, completely successful.  People were left feeling unsatisfied with dry unleavened hosts, and their belief in magick never really died out."

"So you're saying their plot failed because people didn't like communion hosts that taste like waxed cardboard?"

"No, that too was part of the plan.  If people really stopped believing in magick, magick would cease to work.  Our beliefs shape the universe.  Doctor Hicks knew this, that's why he feared what Imperial Security would do with his work."

"What could they have done?"

"They were trying to repeat the work of the Technocracy, except instead of convincing the people that magick didn't exist, they would control their thoughts to prevent them from being able to even consider the possibility of a popular revolt, and therefore ensure there could never be a successful rebellion."

James understood.  "And Vin Dane sought to twist even this already-twisted plan into something even closer to the Technocracy's plan, to erase the knowledge of magick even from the Han overlords. With no magick..."

"Humanity would be powerless to stop the Horadrim from replacing the Han as overlords of the universe," Eddington finished.

"And the old man wanted to prevent that from happening."

"More than that, he wanted to use his research to instead convince everyone that they did indeed live under a government that wouldn't do such things... and thus they wouldn't.  Two centuries of Federation and Eastern Bloc corruption, two decades of Middle Kingdom oppression, all has taught humanity that government is, will always be, corrupt and oppressive.  Our thoughts shape the universe, so government has become ever more corrupt and oppressive.  A vicious cycle of reinforcement of the beliefs that shape the universe.  Hicks sought to interrupt this cycle and stop it once and for all."

Welthammer was incredulous. "What?!  He was gonna bring the Federation back, but in a good form, with mind control?"

"Essentially.”  Eddinton carried on, ignoring James’s outburst, “If the people believed their government was good... it would become so.  If our thoughts shape the universe, they can just as easily re-shape the universe."

"Could that even have worked?"

Lwan sighed sadly again.  "Thanks to Clarke's irrational thirst for revenge, we'll never know.  With the good doctor dead, no one else can be trusted to not misuse his research, so it's probably for the best that it died with him.  Besides, even he couldn't change human nature.  Before too long, the golden age would come to an end, and the best we could have hoped for was that future rebels would take heart from it and work to re-create it every few generations."

"So, if research is gone, how do we ‘re-shape the universe’, as you put it," James asked.

"That, my young friend, is for you to decide."

“Me?  You’re joking.”

“Yes, you.  Your doubts are the same as many would-be reformers, of course.  Not all of their answers have been good ones, as you may have surmised.”  Lwan turned and began to walk away, “Make sure you come up with good ones.”

“What the hell?” James called, striding after Lwan. "This is ridiculous!  Where are you going?  You can’t just leave me here!"

"I can start you on your path, but only you can walk it," Lwan intoned, raising his hand to call a correspondence portal into being. 

  "What kind of crap is that?" James demanded.  "If you want the universe reshaped, why don't you do it?  Wave your magic wand and destroy the Horadrim, toss Treschi into the sun, something like that?"

Lwan closed the incipient portal and turned back to face James.  "Have you listened to nothing I just said?  Captain Welthammer, if I were to magick into existence what I feel humanity needs to survive through magick, it would produce a paradox backlash to make Bruce von Eisenstein’s performance in Rio de Janeiro look like a firecracker.  I could reduce the Central planets and the Core to ash.  That is how great the conflict would be, do you see my dilemma?  Power is always opposed.  But even were I to abuse my power that way, well, there is another adage of the old scientists that holds true.  Nature abhors a vacuum...especially a power vacuum.  I could do as you say, reach out with my power and send the entire Imperial court into oblivion.  Who would replace them?  You?"

"No, not me, I don't want this," James stammered, suddenly taken aback.  "That's my point; I don't want to rule the universe.”

"And that is why you're the right man for the job.  But so far, hardly anyone knows who you are.  Even if we put your friend Ian in charge, he'd just be assassinated or overthrown and replaced by someone even worse.  Or, worse still, by no one, by another chaotic civil war of factions fighting for control, allowing our alien neighbors to close in and feast on the carcass of the entire human race."

"You're serious?  You want me to be some kind of overlord for humanity?"

"Can you think of someone else who would be better?  Anyone with the power base under the current system to take the job is so corrupted by that system that he'd be no improvement.  Anyone without that power base wouldn't be able to survive long enough to make a difference.  Anyone else who actually wants the job would likely be a tyrant as bad as Clarke or the Emperor."

"So you want me to overthrow the system and set myself up as a benevolent dictator?"

"There is no such animal," Lwan stated calmly.  "To be honest, I don't really care if, in the end, you lead humanity yourself or if you simply find someone else equally determined to not screw it up.  But as I said, that is the decision you must make, and the path you must walk... alone."

"So, after taking me to the mountaintop, or at least this grassy hillock, and showing me the kingdoms of the earth, or at least the lifeless wasteland of old earth, you're just gonna abandon me?"

Lwan sighed.  "I already had my chance to lead humanity, and I failed.  No, I cannot do your work for you.  But I can tell you three things. That was the first—you can't wave a magic wand, or expect others to wave it for you, and make it all go away.  That is the mistake Hicks made.  He expected to save the world overnight and be home in time for breakfast."

“Silly Dr. Hicks, it would have taken at least until lunchtime to do all that.”  James muttered.

"Second, mere armed rebellion won't work.  Rebellions and civil wars mean chaos and bloodshed.  That was the mistake the old Resistance made.  All their rebellion achieved was to make humanity fight itself, and open the door to invasions by the aliens who surround us and would like nothing better than to wipe us off the face of the galaxy."

"Got it, don't do it all at once, don't do it piecemeal," James complained.

Lwan soldiered on gamely.  "Third, naked power also won't work.  You can't stick a gun in people's face and order them to play nice.  People will rebel against such leadership, even if the leaders have the best of intentions.  That's the mistake Clarke made.  He did not lead; he forced them to move forward on pain of death.”

“So, we’ve ruled out mind control, insurrection, and coercion.  That leaves… asking them nicely?”

"That leaves the problem in your hands, M. Welthammer.  It is your journey.  I can show you the path, but it is you that must walk it, you who must decide when to go to the right, and when to the left.  You who must strike the balance between persuasion and coercion."

"Oh, no problem.  I'm sure by the time I've built my spaceship out of sticks and convinced the lighting God to take me off this slag heap I'll have figured it all out."

"Now, that, I can help you with," Lwan stated with a smile, as he opened the correspondence portal once more.

"See?  My prayers have been answered!"

James moved towards the portal, but Lwan grabbed his arm.  “If you think you can achieve this by yourself, Captain Welthammer, or if you think that what I have said has given you some kind of invincibility or holy mandate, then you will fail.  You are as mortal as you have always been, and you are still a mere smuggler and a terrorist to the outside world.  I highly recommend you seek the assistance of others with more resources than yourself.  Even those such as Clarke are not without their usefulness.”

“Right, you’re the oracle, I’m the mundane, got it.”

Lwan relaxed his grip, but did not release him fully, “One final thing.  Be aware that there is something else out there.  It is a force which even my powers cannot fully discern, and the likes of which have not been spoken of for millennia.  I am not entirely sure that its goals run parallel to ours.  I’m afraid that’s all I can offer you.  It may be nothing, but for now, you might do well to avoid Minos and the Galactic North.”

James blinked, but before he could respond, Eddington placed a hand on his chest, and shoved.  Welthammer fell backwards into the correspondence portal, and lost sight of Lwan Eddington in the glowing swirl.



After this partial act, the Middle Kingdom game petered out and fell apart.

Click to go to the previous act in the story Go back to the Table of Contents End of story.  Click to go back to the Table of Contents

Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home, no matter how badly you screwed up and want to make ammends.