"Your Lord is He who speeds the ships for you in the sea that you may seek of His grace; surely He is ever merciful to you."  – Koran, Surah 17:66


            For anyone else in the known universe, this would be a bad day. The supposedly legal cargo turned out to be contraband...stolen from a supposedly ignored government warehouse in Phoenix System. In fact, the warehouse they were just inside now. The Civil Police were rushing in like there was free saki inside, and slowly, the Imperial Fleet was cutting off the orbital escape route.

            James Welthammer just smiled, took another drag from his cigarette, then crushed it under his foot. Thank Buddha, he mused, I thought today was going to be boring.

            The plasma was scorching the air around him as his strike force was blasting away at the CP’s, setting off preset explosives, and generally making as big of a noise as possible. The cops outside, in their light white delta armor, thought there was at least a battalion of Resistance troops in the massive plastic building. In truth, there were only eight, including James himself.

            “What do you think, Shrak?” Welthammer shrugged.

            Major John Shrak, with so many rippling muscles that he looked carved out of wood, just stared back at him. “I think we’re in the shit now, sir.”

            “I can’t fly this shuttle back through this flak,” James said matter-of-factly, “we need to cut down on this plasma.”

            “I feel a song coming on…”

            The freighter captain groaned audibly. “I’d rather we do something about those boys out there with their itchy trigger fingers.”

            John turned towards his men on the firing line. “Jenkins, front and center!”

            A middle-aged man crawled back from the window opening and then ran over to the two of them standing there. “Heh, heh… sir?”

            “Private, you’re about to make yourself useful. We’re gonna need a diversion.”

            “Heh, heh, a boom, sir? Big, big, BIG boom? Heh, heh…”

            James rolled his eyes at Bob Jenkins, better known as Freak. The scraggle-haired, scar-faced private had been in so many firefights, been busted up and down so many times in at least three armies, that he was severely warped. However, no one questioned his expertise in explosives.

            “Depends on what you can find, private.” Shrak shot back. “Right now, we’ve got nothing to boom with.”

            “Heh, heh, heh… no problem. Spare one of those boxes? Heh, heh…”

            Welthammer looked at what he was pointing at and saw they were the same they crammed the little shuttle with. “Warehouse is full of ‘em.”

            The major went to the point. “Why, private? What’s in them?”

            “Ketracite, heh, heh. Mass for fusion engines on… heh, heh, digital gates.”

            “BIG boom…” James whistled. No wonder Hatchet Face wanted them brought in on QT. A half-pound of that stuff rates a couple thousand crowns easily.

            “Sir?” John looked at him askew.

            “Take one off the shelves. Can we get away when it blows?”

            “Heh, heh, no problem, heh.”

            “Do it.”

            Freak went to work, grabbing one of the heavy boxes with contemptuous ease, then called over the robot forklift, strapping the box to it. Then he pulled out the grenade as a timer.

            Welthammer rushed to the shuttle and got in the pilot’s seat. Roaring the engines to life, he set all the safeties he normally wouldn’t have bothered with. Like it or not, this was going to be a bumpy ride out. Shrak roared out, “Lieutenant! Set automatics and fall back to the shuttle!”

            Will Tiller, his old blue eyes peering out from his dark tanned skin, simply nodded back to the major. “Sergeant,” he whispered.

            “Christ and twelve apostles,” Steve Harvern yelled out at the squad, “you heard the man! Fall back! Peterson, Moore, leave rifles on automatic and haul ass. Jesus wept, are you deaf?! MOVE IT!!!”

            With practiced precision, they fell back to the shuttle. Already, Freak’s jerry-rigged forklift was heading out the door with its deadly cargo. Once they were all in, James shut the door, gunned the engines, and was soon bursting through the warehouse when the ketracite exploded. The world suddenly became nothing but light and Kelthammer’s shuttle was knocked about like a giant kid’s toy. Sirens blazed and warning signals roared as the planetary shuttle flew through the atmosphere. Once the whiteness disappeared, James calmly got the craft back under control, and they soon left the uncomfortable blue for the clean black of space.

            “FREAK!!!” Jacob Peterson, his toned, taut body screamed vengeance from inside his seat restraints.

            “Heh, heh, you wanted a boom… heh, heh.”

            “Why you little…”

            “Calm” was the only word that escaped Lieutenant Tiller’s lips.

            “Calm the hell down, private,” Sergeant Harvern yelled back, “or you will truly be weeping and feel the gnashing of your teeth as I grind them with my fist!”

            Silence fell over the cabin, then suddenly, the young corporal – a boy who could hardly shave – said, “Trouble.”

            The major looked over at him. “What do you mean…”

            He was interrupted as a beep went out from the sensor panel. Welthammer calmly activated the holoproj function to see a Dragonfly-class fighter on intercept. “Well, ain’t that pretty? Shrak?”


            “Get Tiller up here to run the sensor screen.”


            Before the major had asked, the tanned lieutenant was at the controls, activated a secure line to Resolve, Welthammer’s freighter. “Go.”

            “Shuttle to Resolve, come in.” James announced to the open com line.

            Another holoproj popped up and Joe Howard, his first mate, appeared on the screen. “What’cha in trouble with now?”

            “Hi, Mom, long time, no see.”

            “Are you gonna download your sensor log or shall we play 20 questions?”

            The captain tapped some buttons and passed over the information. “Need a rendezvous while we shake this guy. Can’t have them ID’ing the Resolve.

            “Really?” Sarcasm dripped from Howard’s mouth. “How are you gonna outrun a Dragonfly?”

            “Shear brains and willpower, lieutenant.”

            “I’ll say a nice eulogy at the funeral.”

            “Coords, Joe?”

            “Third moon, fourth planet, on the dark side. Wear a flower in your hair.”

            “I’ll keep it in mind, discom.” He cut the connection and said. “Tiller, where did that fighter come from?”

            “Planet.” The enigmatic lieutenant replied.

            “No ship in the area it could have come from instead?”

            The lieutenant simply punched buttons in reply and the holoproj changed to show the fighter’s flight path from the planet-side garrison.

            “Sorry.” James muttered as an apology and quickly calculated fuel consumption rates. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance we can feed the ketracite into our engine?”

            “Nope,” Shrak shot back, “not without an engineer, and we’re a little short.”

            “How many minutes till we’re in his weapons range?”

            The lieutenant typed in a couple more keys and the words “Three minutes” appeared on the holoproj.

            “And till we reach that moon?”


            “Jenkins,” Welthammer shot back to the rear of the shuttle, “think you can pull the same trick twice?”


            Flight Lieutenant Ishan Pateria looked smug as he closed in on the helpless shuttle. “Damn criminals must be stupid to think they can outrun me.” He tried the com one last time, “Unauthorized shuttle, in the name of the Emperor, you are to ordered to change your flight path and return to the planet’s surface. This is your final warning.”

            No response. Pateria shrugged – he really didn’t expect one.

            Any moment now, he thought, and they can see if they can breathe vacuum. The weapons lock suddenly became active and Ishan smiled. “Better luck next life, gan ni niang.” He was about to press the fire button when the universe became fire.

            Ishan quickly shifted direction and hit the afterburners, hoping to avoid the shock waves of… whatever the sch that was! His sensors were knocked out – he was running off of the model one eyeball now. As he saw his fuel reserves depleting, he quickly did the math in his head, and realized he would only have enough to get back to base. Looking around at the sea of stars, there was no sign of the shuttle. Its fusion bubble must have burst, the lieutenant realized, better luck next life, I guess. Pateria quickly adjusted course back to base.


            Riding on no engines behind the moon, they were on a low-consumption orbit towards the fourth planet. With any luck, the planetary defense sensors wouldn’t detect objects going out, just in. “Anything tracking us?” Welthammer asked.

            Tiller just shook his head.

            “Well, I hope there’s a deck of cards somewhere on this ship.”

            Major Shrak just looked at his employer. “How long till we get back to Resolve?”

            “Five hours. We’re flying under their lidar, remember? We gotta go slow.”

            “Great,” John moaned.

            “Then we get to see Hatchet Face… about a large fist full of crowns.”




            "Why me?  Why my family?  All I did was work efficiently and hard.  And they killed my family.  Why me?"

            Sherif Adams convalesced in the hospital for four days before the doctors told him he was well enough to walk.  During that time, he ignored the Internet and television.  The hospital staff made sure he was comfortable, and very drugged during that time.

            But the hollow stem cell paste did its work and Sherif healed quickly.  At the end of the fourth day, he rose and slipped gingerly off the bed.  He put weight on the broken foot, and found that it did not hurt.  Sherif was a little hungry.  He stepped out of his room and into the lobby area.  Immediately a European nurse came running over to him, her blond hair bouncing as she ran towards him.

            She gasped "Are you better already?"

            Sherif was a little taken back.  Since he became the assistant agricultural official, people in the town had treated him with such respect and with title.  But she didn't bow.  Sherif nodded.  "I am fine, thank you.  I believe that I am ready to leave now."  He then released that you need not bow in a hospital, and he thought about how foolish he looked in the hospital smock.

            The nurse looked agape.  "No sir, you mustn't leave yet.  Dr. Zhang hasn't approved your released.  Please, if you'll come back to bed."  She took Sherif by the arm and began pulling him gently, and then not so gently, back towards his room.

            Sherif went along without a struggle, but once back in the room, he turned to the nurse.  "Nurse Dalji, when will Dr. Zhang be back?"

            The nurse paused for a moment, "Umm, soon.  Why don't you rest and I'll get you some more pain medication.  Surely your foot still hurts."

            Sherif scowled.  "No, thank you, Nurse Dalji.  My foot feels fine."

            She scowled back, and swiftly turned away.  "I believe that Dr. Zhang will be back tomorrow."  She turned, and marched out of the room.


            An hour later, and a thousand thoughts later, Sherif walked into the adjacent bathroom and took a shower.  Then, left his room again.  He curtly asked a flustered nurse for his clothes.  When none were forthcoming, he walked over to the lift, and took it to the first floor.  Sherif walked into the hospital gift shop, and bought himself a clothes from a stunned clerk.  He dressed in a bathroom, and left the hospital.

            He walked two miles in his hospital slippers to a retail store, and bought a pair of sneakers.  Then he used a terminal to order a taxi and to empty his bank account.  Sherif took the taxi to the regional airhub, and caught a suborb for the spaceport.


            Yang Liwei Commercial Spaceport was enormous.  It stretched out on a zero percent grade for over 1600 square kilometers.  The grade was, literally, the flattest object in the galaxy.  Normally, the human eye can not see for over 30 kilometers, due to the circumference of a planet.  But not at Yang Liwei.  Engineers built the complex so that it was on an even plane.  The tangent that spacecraft could land at was larger than anywhere else in the galaxy.   The spaceport lay on the highest non-mountain portion of the planet.  All this, and the relatively low gravity of Jennifer III, allowed the great giants of space to land on a planet for repair.  It was one of the Nine Accomplishments of the Middle Kingdom.

            Several sign coming into Yang Liwei proclaimed "Construction began in the twelfth year of the blessed reign of  His Eminence, the Royal Emperor of Heaven and Earth at the Center of All Things Chiang Jae-Young Nguyen".  Technically, the naked human eye could not see the sign itself from orbit, though not for a lack of effort.  However, there was no mistaking the spaceport from 200 miles up.  There was an anecdote that had been floating around Jennifer for some years that a Jiang-4 class freighter made a dead stick landing, after three tractor towers failed onto an incomplete portion of Yang Liwei, from pilot sight and a mobile android brain alone.

            At the edges of Yang Liwei, grey re-enforced and hardened concrete rose by a length of more than 200 meters.  Several kilometers off the spaceport, twelve towers more than two kilometers high lay below satellites in geo-synchronous orbit.  Sixteen more finishing tractor towers lay within the confines of Yang Liwei.  The forty tractor stations allowed for more than five hundred takeoffs and landing every twelve hours, though the larger freighters that tended to come to Yang Liwei slowed this rate considerably.  The giant military vessels might take eight hours to land, with the largest utilizing all of the space ports resources.

            Construction at Yang Liwei was always ongoing.  Bunkers were always being put in place for storage of spacecraft.  Bi-triple standard gauge railways linked major hangers for moving gigantic engines and weapon systems.  Standard maglevs linked the surrounding cities, the different hangers, and tractor towers.  The Slab, as it was known colloquially, employed just under four million people.  Millions more were employed by those who worked there and the traffic generated.  It was one of the major components of Jennifer system's economy.


            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  You don't have a form I-C 287, a form M-293i, and a form J-23e.  You are going have to submit to a medical checkout, a financial records check and a family background checkout.  Please attend to this in building 356, second floor, room H."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Please sit here.  Someone will be with you shortly."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Use this terminal to fill out this I-C 287, form A and D.  Printer three copies.  After that, take it to fourth floor, room B."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  I see you're part Han.  This should help speed things along.  I'm showing that you're family lives in Zhou-Zhi, Duessh province.  You're an agricultural official from a Yi family.  Ah, you've been approved for a trip by your supervisor.  Now, what's his name?"

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  I've got your form M-293i.  150 crown please.  And you'll need to get this notarized.  Room 18, 2 Floor."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Here you are.  And that's a 50 crown notarization fee."

           "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  You seem to have some opiates in your system.  Ahh, that's why.  You just left Zhou-Zhi hospital.  That's really backwater if their using opiates.  Oh well.  The records from there are recent enough.  This shouldn't take but a moment, all that we need to do is a psychosis test.  Let me attach this diode to your temple.  Ah, there we are.  Tell me, how do you feel about the Imperial family?"

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Please wait for the form.  While you're here, you can pay for it though.  The checkout and the form should come to 525.  Ah, thanks.  When it prints out, you'll need to go to Liun building, first floor, room 6.  You need to get this notarized."

            "Sherif Tian yi Adams.  Hand me your form.  Wait, this is the wrong form.  You need to be in Ching Building. "

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Here you are.  And that's a 50 crown notarization fee."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Sherif Tian-yi Adams?  Sherif Tian-yi Adams?  Hrumph.  I don't have all day.  Let's see.  You need a financial background check.  Let me run a financial check on you.  This may take several minutes.  Please wait over there.  Oh, and there's a 150 crown fee associated with this check."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  You'll need to get this notarized.  And that'll be 150."

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Here you are.  And that's a 50 crown notarization...  Hey, didn't I see you here before?"

            "Sherif Tian-yi Adams.  Well, all these forms see to be in order.  Where do you want to go?"

            "Mr. Adams, have a nice flight."




Cho slapped another dermal patch on her shoulder and quickly felt the effects of the opium coursing through her body. Now relaxed, the gangly girl stepped confidently through the nighttime streets of New Tokyo—its crowded pre-fab and fungicrete skyline were daggers against the shattered sky. The woman danced along the dagger’s edge.

            It didn’t take long for Cho to find what she was looking for: a supposedly abandoned alley, covered with signs in pi-yin and kanji characters.  One of many—but the spelling on the signs was wrong, like some hung mao had tried to write in Chinese.  It was subtle sign for the Yakuza—on a planet where Asians outnumbered all else twenty to one, pi-yin was the native tongue.  They didn’t make those kind of mistakes.

            The ugly woman stepped down the alley to a non-descript door, where a man was leaning against it, smoking a cigarette.  The han looked at her and stared.  “I don’t think you’re looking for a job.”
            “I’m coming to see my sister.”

            “I’m sure your sister is… er, busy.”

            “She’ll make time for me.”  Cho started to move right past him towards the door.

            The man shifted slightly to get in her way, showing off the plasma revolver tucked in his belt, shining in the dim streetlight.  “You don’t want to do that, lady.”

            With a flick of her wrist, a forest of electricity suddenly surrounded the guard, lifting him up and holding him there in a prison of light.

            “I don’t want to do what, ji bai?  My mentor is Master Phuket!  I am a trusted member of the yakuza-Tanzhi, and my name is Cho!  I will see my sister now!”

            “Fine, whatever!  You are welcome, mistress!”

            She closed her hand and the guard fell to the ground, still shaking from the shock.  Cho didn’t bother to wait for him to get up before stepping through the door.

            The interior of the building was a beautiful paradise, a striking contrast to the squalor outside.  Delicate incense filled the air, beautiful music sang through the artificial breeze, and everywhere, one felt relaxed and comfortable.  Even the flowers were so carefully arranged as to leave no harsh leaf turned towards the viewer.  Cho felt like she was contaminating the place with her very presence.

            Finally, the house mother stepped out and saw her standing there.  In her delicate kimono, the middle-aged lady walked forward in small, careful steps, while scrutinizing every feature of her visitor.  Bowing slightly, she said, “It is customary to remove your shoes before entering my house, honored lady.”

            Cho returned the bow to the same depth.  “My apologies, mother.”  Quickly, she unsealed the latch on her form-molding boots and stepped out of them, putting on the sandals that the house mother had put before her.

            “Thank you.  Now, honored lady, how may I be of service?”

            “I wish to speak to my sister, Shoko.  She is one of the… ladies in this establishment.”

            “I believe that she is currently with someone at the moment.  Would you care to wait or shall I pass on a message?”

            “I simply wish to speak to her.  It shouldn’t take but a minute.”

            “I’m afraid that’s not possible, honored lady.  When one of our ladies has a client…”

            The drug swirl had finally kicked up to its peak; Cho’s patience was wearing thin.  “I will see my sister now, or I will disturb all your clients.”

            The house mother stood there for a moment, considering her options—of course, she had seen Cho zap her guard outside; she was watching the monitors.  She could call for a strike team, but not before Cho would kill or maim her severely.  The disruption of one client would be less painful then breaking the harmony of her house.  So she bowed again and said, “Follow me, honored lady.”

            As she led her through the narrow passageways of the house, Cho could detect no sound, other than that of the music and the shuffling of their feet.  This house has been carefully soundproofed—very wise.  Should any of her clients get too excited, they wouldn’t bother anyone else.

            Finally she stopped in front of a door and touched a sensor on it.  A second later, the door slid open a crack, and the mother whispered to the woman inside.  The door slid closed again and the mother turned to Cho.  “Wait here please,” she said, then proceeded to walk off.

            Half a minute later, the door slid open completely, and Cho saw Shoko standing there in an elegant robe, beautiful as always.  “Sister!”  Shoko quickly embraced her sibling.  “It’s been too long!  Please come in!”

            Cho smelled the stench of perfume and sex on her, nauseating her slightly, but she still managed to step into the room.  “Where is…?”

            “My patron?”  Shoko giggled.  “He’s in the restroom.  Don’t worry, he’ll give us our privacy, as long as we don’t take too long.”

            “Are you all right?”

            “Oh, fabulous, Cho!  Have you seen what my patron has given me recently?”  The geisha quickly rushed over to the table and grabbed a diamond necklace.  “Aren’t they beautiful?”

            A quick look with her magic sense told Cho that they were artificially grown, but only a good jeweler could have told you that.  “Beautiful, Shoko,” she replied unexcited.  “Listen, sister, I wanted to tell you that I’ll be going away for a while…”

            “And why is that?” came a voice from the restroom.  The door slid open to reveal a han with dragons tattooed all over his body, especially his prominent belly, with the only hint of modesty being a small towel over his groin.

            Both Cho and Shoko quickly bowed, although the geisha bowed lower than her sister.  The han returned the favor, at a slightly less deep bow than Cho’s.  “Ah, so this is the other woman in your life.”

            Shoko blushed beautifully and giggled.  “May I introduce her to you, my lord?”

            “Of course, although the fame of Cho has spread far and wide among the family.”

            “I’m honored that you would remember,” Cho said.  He looks familiar, she thought.  I know him…

            “The Tanzhi kumi always remembers its friends… and its enemies.”

            “Lord Zhou,” Cho replied, finally recognizing their clan's wakagashira, the lieutenant to the oyabun of New Tokyo.  “I would hope that I would be numbered among its friends.”

            “Always.  But please, why were you going away for a while?”

            The mage thought quickly of an excuse.  “I was leaving to train with my mentor for a month.  I'd be leaving the planet for Sinkiang, to study different techniques that are not available here.”

            “Ah, perfection… truly a noble goal.”  Zhou smiled.  “Strange that Master Phuket failed to mention it to me.”

            “I doubt that you should have been bothered by such a small matter, my lord.”

            Zhou Tanzhi shrugged.  “Doubtless you’re right.  However, as you are numbered among our friends, I was wondering if you could do a favor for me.  It’s a small trifle, I’m sure, but I would greatly appreciate the assistance.  Before you train, that is.”

            “Of course, I would be honored.”  Cho was anything but honored, but she was hardly able to refuse the request of such a powerful man.

            “I would like you to go to… ta ma de, Shoko, do you have a pen?”

            Her sister sighed as if he said he was going to marry her; Cho groaned inwardly.  She was never that bright.  As she brought out the antique pen, Zhou whispered a compliment into her ear, causing her to blush and giggle once again.  Then Zhou tossed off a quick piece of calligraphy.  Handing it to Cho, she took it in a polite bow.  When she read the address, her eyes popped.  “You don’t mean…”

            “So you recognize it, then?  So you should.  Few people on this planet would fail to recognize the residence of Cheon-Ha Jeong.”

            Jeong, Earl of New Tokyo.  Yes, I know it; everyone knows the address of the man who owns this planet.  “Of course.”

            “Good.  He failed to mention what he wanted, but I’m sure you’ll be able to satisfy his curiosity.  Dong-ma?


            “Then it’s settled.  Shoko, please see your sister to the door.”

            Her sister glowed with excitement as she showed Cho out of her room.  “The Earl himself?!” she whispered.  “Oh, sister, this is so exciting!”

            “Yes.  Goodbye, Shoko.  I’ll see you again as soon as I can.”

            “Of course, beloved sister.  Who knows?  You may even be Duchess when next we meet!”

            Cho didn’t have the heart to tell her that landed nobles didn’t marry commoners—and the ones they chose for concubines were beautiful, not women like Cho who fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.  So Cho simply smiled, and gave Shoko a kiss on the cheek.  “Goodbye, sister.”

            “Goodbye.”  Giggling as she closed the door, she whispered again, “This is so exciting!”

            Yes, exciting.  As exciting as a knife in your back.




            Icarus Hicks carefully manipulated the chemicals in his particle microscope to get the right combination. The scientist had been working on this for weeks; with the proper microcellular adjustments, he could have a self-replicating virus that would be able to adjust the motivations of individuals. Finally, we could have a drug that could cure major mental illness, Ick realized, and maybe even cure the criminally insane. Of course, we still have months of testing ahead…

            “Need anything doctor?”

            “ARGH!” Hicks screamed incoherently as the DNA strands of his virus slipped apart – thanks to one annoying researcher. “Pablo!” he wheeled on the Hispanic lab assistant, looking completely oblivious to the destructive distraction he had created. “You know better! NEVER disrupt me when I’m working!”

            “Sorry, doc.” Losada shrugged, holding several datapads at once. “I was just doing my mail run and wanted to know if you wanted anything…”

            Icarus saw his hand shaking and slammed it against the non-magnetic, non-conductive lab table. “Yeah, get me some coffee, will you?”

            “You got it, doc.” Pablo Losada replied, leaving his datapads on the table, and rushed off to the coffee machine.

            Hicks sighed and slowly got a hold of himself. Well, it wasn’t a complete loss, he reconsidered. It was only fifteen minutes work – easily replaceable. We’re ahead of schedule; it’s not like the test subjects will be ready until next week anyway. Plenty of time to finish the virus, replicate it on the agar, and do preliminary tests on the matter.

            The doctor’s wandering eyes quickly moved over to the datapads. The Han Tzu Medical Institute on New Madrid couldn’t afford to lose any of their research thanks to an computer infection in from the galactic net; all the comps were isolated from each other, no physical or ultraviolet connections between them. Not even electronic mail was allowed on the systems; hence why Losada, a graduate student in cellular biology in his own right, was shuffling e-mail between…

            Unconsciously, Hicks’ hands flipped through the pads, hoping that he could get some mail. His eyes flicked onto one marked for the director – from Imperial Security.

            The doctor stopped. Why would Imperial Security care what a medical research institute is doing? We don’t deal in military applications. His eyes quickly scanned down the page; Ick only had to look at it once.

            They were talking about him and his project. They wanted completion dates so they could start production on their pre-prepared facilities on Minos. Why? His inquisitive mind wondered. Why would IS want to know about a drug to help the mentally ill?

            The doctor’s fingers eagerly scrolled down the page – luckily, the security agent had included the previous letters for reference. Adjustment protocols? Second stage lab processing? It didn’t take Dr. Hicks long to figure out what they were saying; they’re taking my creation and changing it. But into what?

            The letters that preceded it revealed their secrets slowly – it wasn’t important for the director to know exactly. He wasn’t sure exactly what they wanted either, but with his photographic memory, he would be able to figure it out later. As Losada’s footsteps came closer, he quickly shoved the datapad back into the pile. “Here’s your coffee, doc.”

            Hicks quickly grabbed the hot beverage and shoved it down his throat. “Ahhhhhh….” He groaned, “that’s what I needed.” His body was calmed by the caffeine but his mind was not.

            “Glad to help, doc.”

            “Good. When you get back from that, come back here – we need to collate all copies of my research, including ones sent to other departments.”

            “We got that all on file, doc, but why?”

            “I think we may need to make a change, Pablo. I think we’ll have to make it soon.”




            Chan Lee raced through the forest, bolting in full Crinos form, the shaggy hairy beast hideous to behold – but Lord, it was fast! The werewolf surged forward after his prey; Chan could smell its hot breath stinking of fear. He allowed himself a smile as he knew he was coming on his next meal.

            The hexadeer surged forward into an open clearing, hoping to use its faster speed to clear the almost human creature that chased it, but it was a failed instinct. Lee’s instinct was to pump his muscles faster, using his gifts to power his increased speed. In a burst of power, Chan lurched ahead and leapt, digging his claws deep into the six-legged fawn’s rear.

            A terrible squeal arose from the beast as hunter and prey tumbled down to the ground with incredible speed. Even with only four good legs, the hexadeer still tried to escape, but the werewolf had it in his grasp. With a quick jump forward on his knees, he reached around the pale creature’s throat, squeezed, and heard the fine crackle of bones as his victim finally surrendered and choked to death. With blood on his hands, he raised his paws to the moon, and howled in triumph. The hunt was over.


            Several hours later, the wolf returned with the food draped across his shoulders. He walked into their camp; several rock homes covered with branches, with roaring fires and welcome hearts in them all. The children of the town cried out to see their hero come back with enough meat to feed the tribe. Their squeals of delight called everyone out of their homes, and soon, they were joining their cheers to that of their kids. None of them were afraid of the beast-man, for they themselves were the same type; with the fall of the Federation, they had found each other and had come out to the wastelands, where no one would ever find them again. Now these werewolves lived in peace, living in the R34 System in tune with this planet’s mother strength, in a place that was once home to an entire planet full of Vin Shriak.

            As Lee approached the center square, they had already lit the communal fire, so that they could all share in the bounty of the fresh kill. There was his friend, Crescent Sun, already waiting for him by the fire. Chan was quickly relieved of the hexadeer and he morphed back into his human form. He was oriental, thick muscled, but his face was hideous to look at, with three deep gashes across his face. It was as if the mother of all wolves had decided to expel her runt spawn… and yet, he survived.

            “A hexadeer? A noble kill, worthy of Gaia’s hunters. You truly are a prince.”

            “Knock it off, Cres, I got lucky.”

            “Sorry, your highness,” Sun taunted, “I simply wanted to honor my friend.”

            “Then call me Habor, like you normally do when you insult me.”

            Crescent Sun laughed and embraced his friend. Already, the juices of the roasting deer were filling the community with its joyous scent. “No insult, Habor. But tell true, how did you bag such a magnificent beast?”

            “I outran it.”

            “Tsao ni zuzong shiba dai!” Sun shot back. “No creature in the forest runs faster than a hexadeer.”

            “Okay, I got it drunk on fire water and sold it some lead weights for its feet. Told it they were running shoes.”

            Crescent laughed. “Now that sounds like Habor! Could talk the fangs off a snake!”

            “You must be thinking of another Habor.”

            “The same Habor who beat me at poker? I think not.”

            “When one is as dumb as you, Sun, it’s hard not to take your money.”

            The friend laughed louder and slapped Chan Lee on the shoulder. “Come friend, I have something that will whet your appetite.”

            As the prince followed him down the streets, he moaned. “Not more of that cranberry liquor.”

            “Better than wine, better than women, better than all the beasts of the forest.”

            “And what is that?”

            They turned a corner and saw the simple tarp covering the mound of electronics they had been accumulated over the years. “Freedom, my dear Habor. Freedom.”

            “Spare parts is freedom?”

            “Take a closer look.” Lee looked doubtful, but Sun insisted. “Go ahead and look.”

            Reluctantly, Chan stepped forward and lifted up the tarp gently. Underneath the old faded tarp was a space fighter – an ancient one, to be sure, but patched together in loving detail. “A old Fed Valkriye II?”

            “That’s right. Night Fang has been working on it while you were away from camp for the past month or two. I think he’s got too much of that silver strider streak in him for this community.”

            “You’re saying it’ll fly?”

            “That’s what my nephew says, but I’m afraid you’ll have to test it yourself to be sure.”

            Lee was lost for words. When they finally came back to him, all he could say is “Why?”

            “There’s a hunger in your heart, Habor – more than be sated with mere survival and the hunt. In the twelve years I’ve known you, you’ve never taken a mate… though there are many willing females. You’ve never wanted to settle down, stay too long in camp, or truly follow the ways of the ancients. You need to do something… out there. And ever since you crash your ship on our world, you still look at the stars with longing.”
            “I don’t want to leave you…”

            “Then don’t. Every wolf in this pack owes you their life, and as you should know, we don’t take that debt foolishly. If you travel for a while, your blood still belongs to the tribe. If you need us for… whatever heart hunger lies out there, return with a ship large enough to hold us, and we will be by your side.”

            “If I leave, I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back.”           

            “Are your ears full of bees? Have they honeycombed your brain into wax? Habor, I told you that you’re our blood. Should you die here or out there, your blood and your spirit are with us. If we don’t see you in this life, we will meet in the council fires of all our people.”

            Chan straightened up and smiled at his friend. “Then I accept it gladly. And I will return.”

            “Good. Then go, but not until after dinner.” Crescent led him away from the fighter. “After all, it’s not every day we get veal – even with your piss-poor hunting skills.”


            They all said goodbye; every last one of the tribe – and as he stepped into the cockpit, they all howled their good luck to him as he activated the fighter. With quick movements, they stepped away as the anti-grav kicked on, and slowly reached high enough to hit the thrusters. Within minutes, he had left the only TRUE home he had known since Showa, since the Emperor… Crescent Moon was right, I suppose. There is a heart hunger. I must revenge myself and retake my honor.

            The answers he sought could not be found on the planets of R34. Once he found stars, Lee thanked Night Fang that he had bothered to check the atmosphere sealants on the cockpit before letting him take it out. Chan activated the navigation computer… and nothing happened. After a couple seconds fiddling with the buttons, the prince slammed the console, and sure enough, the navcomp came to life. Finding the jumpgate, he speeded towards it, punching in his next destination.

            His exile had made him stronger, Chan knew, and now he was ready to face what twelve years before he had failed to do. He was ready to face this challenge, no matter what. As his scrap fighter stepped through the gate, Lee awaited the future as hyperspace enveloped him into its sweet chaos.



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Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.  Do not try ANY of this at home, especially if you find 43 crates of your Dad's Ketracite hidden in the basement.