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1 The Pirate: Maximus Mercurio




Uncharted Space,

Far side of the Milky Way, 4217


Where the devil is the crew?

 Maximus Mercurio wiped a mass of blood and grime from his face, orienting himself in the steaming gangway of the fighter bomber. He found himself lying on a wall. The bomber's gravity bubble was off. There was, however, gravity-a rolling pull that pinned him hard to the gangway, a meter and a half off the floor.

A gravity well, he thought; his compact round face glaring around in sudden understanding of danger. A gravity well would mean a world- or worse. He gathered his senses. There was a streaming sound against the hull-a decaying orbit. Thick air, heavy gravity-a gas giant!

The ship was dropping into the atmosphere of a gas giant!.

Springing to his feet, he steam-rolled toward the cockpit. His mind careened with the sudden rocking and shaking of the vessel. With each piston step he assessed his situation. The gravity bubble was off, thus it was only a matter of time before the pressures outside burned the ship up, crushed them, and sank them in a stream of metallic hydrogen deep in  the planet's innards.

 Where the devil is the crew?! Something had knocked him on his petard and cut his face open, rendering him unconscious. He had no memory of the event. Rat chewing worm worshiping refugees! But someone's going to pay with black and blue booty! He balled his fists up and looked this way and that. The floor was now a wall to his left. He cursed in three languages and continued down the gangway avoiding swinging hatches. Who unlocked all the hatch doors?

Atmospherics were shot. Steam was blasting everywhere. Nobody was at the helm. Something had happened. Something bad.               

2 The General: Vega Ossa

Deneb IV Capitol World, Transhuman Imperial Hive Mind


It was a particularly foggy patch of Capitol world. General Ossa's air limo darted along a mere hundred storeys in the air. Once the heights of power, perhaps, but over the centuries just another tower level left behind in the race toward ever more impressive heights. Ossa had seen it many times, many times before with dread. The tower and halls of his Overlord Transhuman direct superior. Ossa was Air Corps-traditionally removed from the Hive mind for the sake of autonomy-raised from birth in a special warrior caste. His Overlord contact, Omm 6X, was an ancient post-human entity. Omm, like all the Transhumans, had whatever remained of their most recent clone incarnation tanked somewhere safe while their sentience romped in virtual worlds of their own whim and will.

The Transhumans were the most ancient of mankind.  In direct control of its largest and most powerful ancient empire, Omm and his ilk sickened Ossa. Their bizarre indulgences, obtuse and useless intellectual pursuits. These seemed ever, and ever more at odds with managing the society they ruled. Instead of practical or even possible objectives, an endless sequence of disastrous fiats, programs, and reconfigurations of social engineering which made him want to puke.  That these lunatics and refugees from reason were in charge of civil society was bad enough-that they were the ultimate authority over the use of force was pure theater of the absurd. Worse, Ossa was forced to endure that theater with his every meeting with Omm, whose baroque and surreal symbolism laced his every word with games and multiple meanings.

Enough with the games Omm. Enough theatrics. Give me my orders and let me be on my way. 

3 The Mad Transhuman Overlord: Omm 6x

The spiders and the plains disappeared and the two of them were suddenly back in Omm's favorite Halls, the baths of Caracalla, circa the second century, A.D. Omm's big cowboy hat was still on his head, though. A little snake peered out.

"You sure of that?" Omm demanded.

"Sir. I'm an officer. I have my duty to defend." Now, I live, or die.

"Yes-s, I'm sure. The question is, ‘Who defines your duty?'"

They looked at each other, and Ossa knew he suspected everything.

No, not suspected-he knew. But God was in the details, and Ossa hadn't given him that.

 "General, I believe you will do what needs to be done. I'm a pencil pusher. We Overlords, well, we administer civilization to the civilized. You, and the military however, administer its opposite to the uncivilized. Be careful of riding tarantulas out there. In the real universe, where you play, they can't be made to run and stop with a programming signal."

Whatever game you're playing with the felonious rogues in the star lanes better come up aces or I'll feed your burnt fanny up for din-din.

Ossa raised an eyebrow. Omm's way of warning caution? How nice, he cared.

"I'll be careful."

"I know you will, Vega me soldier boy. My spider pets here, they're a children's holo program to what you'll be facing soon. I know someone was sniffing around in the Imperial archives. Whatever you found there remains in tight military circles. However you're defining military these days; I suspect that is taking a pretty wide orbit, but again, it's your call. The public finds out about exterior and undetermined nonhuman threats to our hegemony, and civilization will collapse in...six weeks, three days and thirty seven hours."

Ossa looked at him sharply.

 "Oh yes, and that's an optimistic estimation. I spent a decade once just running over scenarios. Of course, life would go on. Just what manner of life will it be? Well, humanity has tolerated all manner of strange arrangements in its long and twisted story, aye, General?"

4 The Psychic: Winteroud Sole

 New Galen, Arcturian Space 4217

It occurred to Gibbons, when Winteroud's convulsions started again, that stretching one's mind along four dimensional string echoes may not be an adaptive mutation. The Chromium droid was merged with Winteroud, and could see the visions the historian was enduring. Above the ruin, a transparent and sinister star port ( that was no longer ) appeared to live out its last horrible moments.  Like echoes on a holoscreen speaking unfinished phrases over and over. Ghost hologram graphics glittered over the phantom terminal: New Galen Star Port, Gateway to the Galaxy!

Winteroud's convulsions were always worse here, at this Star Port. As soon as he entered the ruins,  convulsions would grab him violently, and this time was no exception.

"Hold tight good friend." Gibbon offered. "You'll snap out of it momentarily." Gibbon hoped.  The reality was, more often than not, the historian slipped into a coma. His chromium droid grabbed at Winteroud's shaking form then and injected him with a sedative. The convulsions eased to mere tremors, and Winteroud eyed his surroundings with a strange resignation and sedated fascination.

"So many" he rasped, "So many dead, look at them Gibbons."

"I see them sir-I'm merged with you." The droid offered calmly, "Truly a calamity."

 Winteroud steadied himself and considered his course of action. For two centuries they had been coming back here trying to solve the mystery of the green echoes; starliner ghosts, that had a green tint rather than the ordinary tan. "Something new among the ashes?" Winteroud could see the ghosts of crowds moving through the empty terminal. In the piles of skeletons he could see individuals in their last days, waiting for rescue and aid that never came. The visions flashed and flickered. He saw glass walls imploding, fireballs scorching the confused crowds.

"Something new-"

Winteroud's eyes raced to the landing strips chasing the edge of an idea. He saw the wreckage of star liners caught moments before liftoff; tan ghosts. But there were other ghost liners, forever lifting off, some of which were not tan, but a turquoise greenish hue.

"Yes sir." Gibbon had long understood that Winteroud's "thinking out loud" needed merely the affirmation of recognition. Then the historian would move along in his deductions. "Something new, Sir...we will find it."

Winteroud's eyes scanned the strips again and again, something new, something we haven't seen a thousand times before. Something new-the turquoise trails