Category Archives: Dyson Empire

Episode 166: Velocity

Captain Ortega spiraled out of the window, suddenly realizing the incredible danger that space presented without a rocket pack. He’d been adrift in the vacuum of space without a functioning rocket before, of course, but only rarely, and even then in friendlier space.

The display inside his helmet provided accurate, informative, and ultimately useless data about his location (related to both the Dyson ship and the nearby world of Veskid), the nature of his somersaulting through the void, and his proximity to the alarming pieces of sod, debris, and grass that were pouring out of the window with him.

Ortega took a deep breath, reminded himself that step one in these situations was to stay calm, and he flipped open the control panel on the left arm of his flight suit. Typically he removed as many of his suit’s automatic processes as he could; he almost always wound up in these situations on purpose as a result of a controlled risk, and he couldn’t count on the safety protocols to have his interests in mind. In this instance, though, the auto-stabilization servos needed to be reactivated.

He tapped in the command, and felt the ion jets in the suit activate, seemingly erratically though he knew they were all the results of heuristically determined calculations from his on-board computer. He saw the jets activate from panels on his arms, his torso, and once on his knee. He felt constricted as the armored flight suit became more rigid so that his own movements wouldn’t alter the intended results from the bursts of the ion propulsion units. In a matter of seconds, the wild, erratic spinning had been replaced by a gentle tumble that oriented him along the exterior of the Dyson vessel and matched its general velocity, though if it activated its engines to move anywhere even at a low speed he’d soon fall away from it. With luck he’d drift onto the ship soon, hopefully before anyone inside figured out where he was.

He craned his neck and took a look at Veskid over his shoulder. He didn’t expect the Dyson forces to honor the terms of the public display he’d sprung on them, but with any luck his success against the Emperor’s Herald would keep morale high and buy some time.

His proximity alarm began keening and a red light on his display started tracking something moving toward him, and fast. Ortega turned to look and saw the massive, hulking body of Harold Zamona, clutching and steering Ortega’s rocket pack to his chest. Ortega lifted an arm, but it didn’t keep him from Zamona’s rocket-fueled collision, an impact that caused damage warnings to begin flashing across his screen. Ortega’s eyes were instead drawn to the timer that had been tracking his expulsion from the vessel, a timer currently putting the time since his defenestration at twenty-one seconds, a time even longer for Zamona.

“How?!” Ortega shouted, even though he knew that Zamona couldn’t hear. On the other hand, the massive monster of a former wrestler shouldn’t have been able to see him at all; a person’s eyes typically gave out after ten seconds when exposed to direct vacuum, and moments after that he should have lost consciousness. The display was beginning to detect faint traces of Cyanosis on Zamona’s skin that Ortega hadn’t initially spotted himself, so he was at least relieved to see that the asphyxiation was beginning to affect him.

“What did those aliens do to you?” he said, though Zamona gave no indication that he understood. Instead, the former wrestler glared with rage, took one hand off of the rocket pack, reached forward, gripped Ortega around the chest, and squeezed.

The alarms began to ring even louder in Ortega’s helmet, and he felt the intense pressure on his chest. Soon, in a moment, his vision faded to black, with his final sight being the ceaseless glare of Zamona’s eyes.

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Episode 165: Collision Corps

“They’re definitely panicked,” said Vince Flashman, checking the exterior camera. “Something’s come up. Their hijacked spaceship isn’t a priority anymore.”

“Great,” said Carmen. “We might not have to blast our way out of here after all!”

“Observers: unseen: probability.”

“Good point,” said Vince. “But from what little I can see, anyway… there’s confusion. Some shouting… must’ve been some sort of accident elsewhere on the ship.”

“If there’s a moment when you can’t see anyone looking in our direction, let us know,” said Carmen. She kept her hand on the emergency ramp control, a button located by a terminal with deactivated camera features, likely a parting gift from The Soul Survivor. She wasn’t sure if the all-but robot was still locked in the bridge or had already made some sort of escape that didn’t rely on conventional exits, but she didn’t care. Xorn’Tal waited by the emergency ramp itself, ready to literally leap over and through the exit as it opened. While he was probably the most fragile of the three racers, he looked larger and intimidating, and bullets or lasers searing off his vines was likely to be more temporary than it was for the two humans, things he’d pointed out while volunteering for the most dangerous part of the plan.

“Are we still clear on how this goes down?” asked Carmen.

“Cessation requested: asking.”

“Sorry, Xorn’Tal. Jumpy, I guess.”

“Same here,” said Vince, keeping his eyes on his functional terminal. “Even if no one’s looking, the odds of us getting on unseen a-… no one’s looking, now, now!”

Carmen punched the control button and the ramp began to open, its magnetic seals breaking and pneumatic machinery rapidly lowering a ramp to make a quick hole in the side of their vessel. Xorn’Tal leapt over the dropping plates of hull while they were still articulating into a form acceptable for humans to disembark. The plant-like creature marveled at the complete lack of eyes on the ship, with only a few guards and hangar technicians in a nearby shed-like control room, all frantically looking over a monitor that he couldn’t make out. There were interior weapons trained on the ship, but none were activating, likely thanks to being based on manual controls instead of computerized ones. Xorn’Tal raised a signaling vine, and saw the hallway stretching away from the hangar, just alongside the control room.

Carmen and Vince jumped over the still-lowering ramp, and the three ran, Xorn’Tal only outpacing the two humans by virtue of a head start. As they passed the control room, the sight of an ambulatory tangle of vines and leaves rolling by followed by two humans in brightly colored professional racer garb caught the eye of two soldiers who gaped at the sight. One lifted an arm to point just as they fell out of Carmen’s view.

“They saw us!” she said. “Hurry, find a place to hide!”

“Juncture!” said Xorn’Tal. “Path chosen: left: obfuscate!”

“Left, got it,” confirmed Vince.

The trio neared the branching path where the hallway was joined by another, and immediately collided into the two soldiers who were darting around the corner. The five stumbled over each other, tripped, and sprawled across the ground, with only the multi-limbed Xorn’Tal maintaining some semblance of balance.

“Captain!” shouted one.

“Don’t worry about me, Trell, run!”

The two soldiers leapt to their feet quickly, with one of them surging in the direction the racers had just come from. Carmen noted the oddity of not being immediately apprehended or killed, as Vince shakily rose.

“Hey, lady, we don’t-”

The soldier identified as Captain pulled a rifle from the receptacle at her back and clubbed Vince in the skull, sending the racer staggering.

“I don’t know what moral transgression you committed in your past life to deserve getting in my way now, but know that I’ve neither the time nor inclination to let the one unsecured ship out of my clutches when a hull breach has-”

Xorn’Tal surged toward the soldier. Carmen expected the series of vines to verwhelm the humanoid, but the soldier easily bent her arm into a hook, swiped it forward to clear a massive section of vines, and head-butted the revealed root-like structure that comprised Xorn’Tal’s body. Xorn’Tal tumbled back, rolling onto the floor instead of instantly righting itself due to the soldier’s tentacle-sweep.

“Wait,” said Carmen. “Wait! I think we’re on the same-”

The soldier turned, running back down the hall but stopped at the sight of the second soldier returning.

“They were already moving,” she said. “Something tipped them off to-”

The captain held up a hand to silence the first, turned back to Carmen, and pointed.

“The same what?”

“Team,” said Carmen. “We’re… I think we’re on the same team.”

“Doubtful,” said the captain. “I’m Calen. Captain Calen, of Morcala.”

“Morcala,” growled Vince, standing and massaging his skull. “What are you-”

“That way!” shouted Trell, pointing down the hallway. “Hurry!”

The two soldiers ran around the corner and the racers took less than a second to organize their thoughts and follow behind.

Episode 163: The Rocketpark Screwjob

Captain Ortega fired the blaster again, but Harold Zamona, moving faster than anything his size should be able to move, jumped behind one of the arena’s ramps. Ortega used his rocket to move into the air, wary of a sudden approach by the former wrestler and worryingly aware by now that his blaster, even on deadly settings, was mostly ineffective. At the strongest settings, his blaster could take out steel walls in seconds, but he wasn’t detecting more than a light singe whenever he successfully fired on Zamona, and the neurological properties of the blaster on the lower settings never did more than daze. He’d encountered other creatures that were effectively immune to his weaponry before, of course… ethereal beings of energy, ancient beasts with thick skin designed for volcanic worlds, and military-grade robots had all shrugged of his blaster… but none seemed so close to a baseline human as Zamona. His primary weapon was simply not effective.

The wrestler appeared overhead, somehow at the top of a ramp that arced higher than Ortega had flown. The captain killed his rocketpack’s engine just enough to start dropping like a stone, reactivated it when he’d fallen far enough to miss Zamona’s initial downward punch, and propelled forward in a graceful arc that took him toward the massive, transparent window that composed most of the wall of the park-like chamber. Ortega activated his reversal thrusters to keep himself from colliding with the transparent wall, and was treated to a spectacular view of Veskid amid the stars just as he heard the sound of Zamona hitting the ground behind him. He looked back and saw the titanic figure standing up from a crouch, and tensed while Zamona took calm, easygoing steps toward him.

“You’re pretty nimble for someone in a beat-up space suit. I can keep this up all day, though. The Dyson Empire’s not eager t’see someone so capable foolishly throwin’ their life away. What say you throw in the towel and tell the folks at home that you’re surrenderin’, and that they should too.”

“Seriously?” said Ortega, smiling. “I’ve got you on the ropes.”

“Funny. I don’t think you’re gonna like how this ends, though. Parents, you might wanna send your kids out of the room if they’re watchin’ this.”

Zamona jumped forward and Ortega rocketed upward. Zamona’s fist connected with the window and a horrible crunching sound cascaded through the room. Ortega held his breath as warning alarms started chiming, but he relaxed when he saw the herald’s fist retract to reveal that the window had crumpled instead of shattered.

“Transparent metal instead of shielded glass!” Ortega shouted.

“Couldn’t tell you.”

“Makes sense for a window that size, it holds up better against air pressure,” Ortega said, touching down on the ground. Zamona raised a confused eyebrow.

“Not flying away? Rethought surrender?”

“Nah,” said Ortega, unlatching the rocket pack from his back. “Just switching weapons. Computer, go to full burn, head for the big guy.”

Ortega swung the pack forward just as the engines turned from red to orange, yellow, blue, and white. The pack rocketed toward a surprised Zamona, slammed into him, and pushed him into the window. The Herald struggled for a second, further increasing the structural damage on the wall behind him, as he reached forward and tried to manipulate the pack.

“Nice try,” he said. “I’ve still got just enough control to not let this thing push me out, though. And it’s just not gonna hit hard enough to hurt me.”

“Don’t need to hurt you,” said Ortega. He pulled the trigger on his blaster and fired, striking the window just over Zamona’s shoulder. Too late, Harold reflexively lifted a massive hand to ward off the blast, not realizing that he wasn’t the target. An orange glow accompanied the increased heat as the transparent wall distorted. Harold looked back.

“Wait-”

The combined force of the rocket pack and the herald’s shoulders took their toll. The diminishing cohesion of the window failed, and the wall ruptured. An intense rush of air defenestrated the former wrestler, and the rocket made sure that he vanished into the void before he could react to what was happening.

Captain Ortega felt the rush of air and reflexively activated the magnetic boots on his spacesuit, a futile action while standing on the grass and soil of the rocket park arena. In a moment he’d lost his footing and been pulled into the emptiness just outside of the ship’s hull.

Episode 159: Trial By Combat

Zack stepped from the preparation cave and into the arena. A circular, rock-festooned pit made of the world’s ruddy soil, coupled with Mandrake’s oppressive sun, created a humid, radiating heat and a cloying odor that made it difficult for him to breathe. The opposite side of the arena wavered in the heat, but Zack assumed it wouldn’t be an issue for most of the combat. Sthenites slithered around the top of the pit, eagerly looking down to witness the first true trial by combat since their leader became the latest Suzerain.

Nectra clambered in from a preparation cave on the opposite side of the pit. She twirled her staff while looking around, saw Zack, and waved cheerfully. He lifted a hand in acknowledgement, and drew his pistols. Nectra took a step deeper into the arena and almost convulsed when she left the shadow covering her edge of the pit. She waited, allowed her eyes to adjust to the brighter light, and finished moving fully into her starting position.

Zack noted the reaction to the light after the shadow. It was stronger, he thought, than his own reaction to the smell, and while he could get used to the ever-constant mephitis of what amounted to damp, baking mud, the shangmere might have more difficulty with transitions between the shade and light thanks to her larger eyes. He’d need to cross all the way to her side of the pit to take advantage of that fact, though.

The susurrus of hissed conversations above subsided and Zack looked up. The cobra-like Suzerain had crawled into position, flanked by two smaller guards wielding spears. She began speaking, repeating phrases in the Sthenite tongue that Zack couldn’t begin to understand, though a few words were becoming recognizable. She continued speaking and waving her arms meaningfully, but without context Zack’s attention quickly drifted to Nectra, who was alternating between the Suzerain and Zack. She pointed at the Suzerain inquisitively, but Zack shrugged, just as lost as she was.

Whatever she was saying, she was reaching a crescendo, and the rest of the Sthenites were muttering and hissing to themselves, quietly at first but quickly getting louder as their leader did. Within moments, her speech was practically being shouted, and her audience was cheering and chanting with it, some even brandishing weapons at the sky, or the Suzerain, or even, Zack noticed, at the competitors in the arena.

Suddenly, the Suzerain cried out and struck an imposing pose, with her fist raised skyward. The crowd grew tense and the hundreds of serpentine eyes focused on the pit, their collective gaze almost having a weight of its own. Zack and Nectra looked at each other, uncertainly.

On the rim of the pit, resting just opposite the Suzerain, a yellow-scaled Sthenite twirled a bone from a recent meal, and struck the gong that had been quietly erected while Zack and Nectra’s eyes had been focused on the Suzerain. The two competitors jumped at the unexpected sound, a quick motion that prompted the crowd to begin cheering. Taking the cue, Nectra jumped into the air and stretched out her wings while Zack carefully took aim with his Purcellian Striker.

***

Captain Ortega let out a long, low whistle. He had envisioned a smaller room, and possibly a platform surrounded with the traditional electro-tethers, or possibly even archaic ropes depending on Harold Zamona’s wrestling preferences. Instead, the room reminded him of a pack-park, with patches of green grass interspersed with ramps, staircases, and spires on the ground, along with floating rings, hovering catwalks, and even a waterfall suspended high above that fed a gentle pond. Rocket-pack and jet-pack enthusiasts would compete on similar fields of play that weren’t half as detailed.

“Pretty picture, I say,” said Zamona. The captain of the Astroguard tore his eyes away from the room and watched the towering herald of the emperor swagger up next to him.

“I’d say so,” said Ortega. “Not quite what I was expecting.”

“Took some time to get it made. The hovering hydromill gave us problems of all sorts. Believe it or not, it was already partially finished when you went and made a fool of yourself in front of Veskid.”

“Lots of jet-pack joy-riders in your conscripts?”

“Keeps the morale high,” said Zamona. “I think you’ll find there’s nowhere in here that you’ll be able to jet to that I can’t get you, so I still don’t know how you expect to survive.”

“I’ll get by. Really going through with this?”

Zamona snapped a gauntleted finger, an action that produced a surprisingly musical chime, and soldiers bearing the logo of the Dyson Empire approached, one carrying the rocket and the other carrying Ortega’s Astroguard-issued blaster. Ortega nodded and began strapping the rocket to the back of his flight suit, hearing the familiar click of the internal motors that held the hardware in place.

“Thanks,” he said, picking up his rifle and checking it for signs of tampering.

“No problem,” said Zamona. “We’ve already started filming.”

Ortega looked up and around the environment. He couldn’t see any cameras, though he knew that hidden or microscopically small cameras didn’t need to be visible, though he didn’t imagine Zamona wanted to skimp on the spectacle.

“We have?”

“Oh, yes. Since you and I walked in. We have any viewers yet?”

Zamona glanced back at the entrance to the park where a small booth held a soldier who checked a readout and gave a thumbs-up.

“Well… glad we have an audience, then,” said Ortega. He looked to the far wall of the park and saw a massive window that revealed the stars beyond. Veskid was just rolling into view as the ship continued its rotation. He smiled, relieved to finally know exactly where in space he was.

“Same here. I didn’t much care for you trickin’ the poor folks of Veskid into thinkin’ that we had a deal. But since I never back down from a fight or back out of a deal, I wanted to make sure it was the best these people could ask for.”

“So, when do we start?”

Harold Zamona’s massive, boulder-sized fist slammed into the side of Ortega’s head, almost too quickly for his flight-suit’s collision-detection to snap the protective helmet into place. The powerful impact sent Ortega flying, rolling through the air and dropping to the ground at the base of the spire.

“Right now!” shouted Zamona.

Episode 155: Working The Messenger

Harold Zamona stormed through the cell corridor until he reached the cell watched by the armed guard, who saluted the approaching figure and stepped back to get out of the way. The Emperor’s Herald stopped and looked through the force field that acted as the cell’s door and fourth wall.

“It’s quite a mess you’ve put me in, Ortega.”

“Good to see you to,” said the captain, leaning on the small cot provided within the cell. “This guard you left me with won’t talk. I can normally get a few words out of a guard even if I can’t trick them into doing anything for me, but this guy’s trained too well. Good job on that, incidentally.”

“Seems that your ad libbing paid off. Everyone’s confused about my demands, sayin’ that it’s time to see you and me fight.”

“What can I say? People like me.”

“People trust you, I’ll give ya that. So I’ve got good news for you: you’re getting the fight.”

Ortega sat up in his cot.

“Oh? Great. I’m a little surprised, but great.”

“Not great,” said Zamona. “You’re gonna be dead. Everyone’s gonna see it. And instead of a nice, clean takeover, everything’s gonna slow down.”

“You’re telling me that your invasion was going to be a bloodless one, Zamona?”

“I’m telling you that you’d better start comin’ to terms with your life, because it’s just about done. You’ll get your flight suit, and your blaster, and be ushered to the arena that we’ll set up for just you and me.”

“Great! I’ll see you in the ring.”

Ortega leaned back into his cot and Zamona narrowed his eyes. Soon, Captain Ortega looked back at the cell entrance.

“Is there something else?” said Ortega.

“What’s your game here, boy? You’re gonna die here. I’ve tried lookin’ at this from every angle, and at the end of the day it’s just gonna end with Veskid still conquered and you dead.”

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” said Ortega. “I’m hoping things’ll work out.”

“Things don’t work out like this. Not for you.”

“We’ll see,” said Ortega. “We’ll see.”

Episode 153: Uncooperative Plans

Xorn’Tal’s vision was not as advanced as a human’s, but he still appreciated staring out the window. The shifting stars as The Soul Survivor continued moving the pirated vessel through space were a pleasant distraction from the situation. The humans had a great capacity for complaint, finding new ways to both qualify and quantify how poorly things were going.

“I just want to know WHY it’s locked,” said Carmen. “We left the door to the kitchen propped open. I mean, how long has it been closed? Did Tan get loose?”

“Probably,” said Vince. “We had to move fast, and Xorn’Tal was improvising. No offense, Xorn’Tal.”

Xorn’Tal lifted one of his articulated vines in an imitation of the human gesture of raising a hand to acknowledge a comment when no offense was taken. He continued staring out the window, watching the drifting of the stars.

“Was it closed when he asked me to go to the end of the hallway?” asked Carmen. “I didn’t notice anything… would it be more normal to notice a door you left open being closed, or a door that’s usually closed being open?”

“I… don’t know. Why would I know that?”

“I don’t know, people know things. Maybe you watched a documentary or heard something in a class back in school one day.”

“You seriously think I’ve ever watched a documentary before?”

“You might’ve.”

“Have you?”

“Do special features on movies count? Like, the ones that explain how they made the movie?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve watched those.”

“So you HAVE watched a documentary!” said Carmen.

“I didn’t mean that kind of documentary. I meant, like… nature specials, or things that go into how other things are made.”

“Ship: Nearing,” said Xorn’Tal.

“Yeah, like how ships are m-… wait, what?” said Vince.

“Ship: Nearing,” repeated Xorn’Tal. “Course: non-intercept.”

“You mean we’re going to crash?” said Carmen, walking from the door to the kitchen area and toward the window.

“Likelihood: Negligible,” said Xorn’Tal. “Certainty: Greater: Intentional Piloting.”

“I think you’re right,” said Carmen, looking through the window.

“You mean that it’s not coming to intercept us, but the Soul Survivor’s moving to intercept it?”

“Or at least get close to it,” said Carmen. “Not sure what’s goin’ on between the sides of that polished crystal where his ears should be.”

She stepped from the window and walked to the door, where she began hammering on it insistently.

“Hey, Soul Patch! Let’s talk about the flight plan!”

“I am The Soul Survivor, and I have no information that you need,” said the now-familiar voice from the ship’s communication system.

“What’s the big deal? First you hijack a ship, and then you take it back?”

“Your refusal to allow Tan to return to the bridge has necessitated a change in plans. I will need to take a more direct approach to easily leave this system.”

“So you’re movin’ on to Plan B? That’s what you get for messin’ with the best.”

“That you choose not to aid in my plans and thus become a part of the legacy of The Soul Survivor is your folly, as partaking in my brilliance is a delight. I do not begrudge you your ignorance, but yes, I must move on to plans that require substantially less cooperation from you. Because you three amuse me, I have allowed the oxygen, lights, and gravity to continue running in your hallway. Pound upon that door all you wish; your antics will neither hasten nor delay your eventual fate.”

“You’re not worried that they’ll be able to find you when you get this close to them?” said Vince. “I don’t know much about your technology, but won’t that be a big power… thing? A drain or burst or moving empty space on their sensors or something?”

“You’ve seen too many poorly conceived films, but you are, astoundingly, correct when you say that there is a risk of discovery.”

“You: Anti-Worry?”

“Not as worried as you should be,” said The Soul Survivor. “I can survive and escape from any incarceration to which I am subjected. If they find you… such as through any attempted distractions on your part… I doubt that you will find their captivity as enjoyable as I shall.”

Episode 152: Circuses

“How long until everything’s in position?” asked Zamona, pushing his way into the war room. The generals and strategists looked up from the terminals built into the chamber’s central table, and quickly shuffled their work into a presentable mess.

“Well?” said Zamona, drawing closer. “We don’t have a lot of time, and we’re losing people in the dog fights out there.”

“Losses are acceptable,” said Commander Sanchez. “We’re seventy percent in position. We might’ve run out of time on the smooth PR front, though.”

“How?” asked Zamona.

“We’ve received replies to the letters sent to the rulers of Veskid. They came with varying responses depending on who you’d sent it to and what you’d asked of them, but with the exception of one they all indicate that they’re expecting their responses to hinge on the result of your duel with Captain Andrew Ortega of the Astroguard.”

“And did you tell them that there’s not going to be a duel with Captain Ortega?”

“No, sir. You instructed us not to address that issue or comment on it because of the potential PR damage.”

“Good. Keep it that way. Who’s playing along?”

“Sir?”

“You said one of the leaders of Veskid didn’t say that they were waiting to hear about the duel with Ortega.”

“Oh. No, sir, I meant that one of the leaders didn’t respond, so they’re apparently not waiting on a duel.”

“You mean we’re being ignored?”

“Yes, sir. By BristleCorp.”

Zamona swung his fist to the side and punctured the wall, revealing structural fixtures, wires, and other components. Half of the lights in the room sparked and went dark. Harold looked at the ceiling and sheepishly pulled his hand out of the wall.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’ll get someone along to fix that… BristleCorp’s the big one, they’re the ones we need.”

“Sir, they’re not even involved in the administrative or legislative control of-”

“They control it all,” said Zamona. “Believe me, they’ve got their hands in everything. Someone wants to have a say in how often garbage gets picked up in an alley, they’ve gotta deal with BristleCorp. This planet’s one of their biggest bases. It’s the Cor Leonis, the brightest star and the heart of the beast. Or one of the hearts, anyway.”

“Sir, we can easily take the planet without them.”

“The planet’s just a bonus, Commander. Send them another message… let them know that I’ll personally take an interest in their activities if they don’t respond.”

“This’ll take time, sir,” said Sanchez. “We’ve got the public’s interest right now, if we wait for another reply from a company that most of the public isn’t even aware of-”

“Right,” said Zamona. “Well then… we’ll give ‘em time. Let Ortega out of his cell. Send him and a camera crew to my gym. If they don’t want cake, we’ll give ‘em the circus.”

Episode 151: A Truth Recalled

Officer Tacara watched the light show in the night sky above Helix. She’d volunteered for extra shifts ever since the Dyson invasion forces began harassing Veskid’s military which had been completely taken by surprise but had mustered itself well. The explosions of ships in the sky were few enough and nearly all of the debris that might fall from the sky would burn up in either the atmosphere or the protective shield that Helix could generate, but the sight put the city on edge. Keeping her car hovering above the buildings near the highest portions of Beta Street, she was both ready for emergency calls and in a better position to see the battles in the sky when they came near enough, views more impressive than what the news would show if she stayed at home.

With a burst of white noise, her communications channel opened.

“Come in, Tacara.”

“Tacara here. View looking good on Alpha Street, Carlu?”

“It’s stellar. Hey, we just broke up a few people helping themselves to some discounts at some stores that closed early because of the light show. There were some people there outside of the usual suspects. You see anyone running around with special operations gear?”

“Can’t say that I have,” said Tacara. “You’re saying that the Veskid military’s getting in on the looting? In Helix?”

“No, the uniforms were different. They had that half-eye logo from the commercial.”

“You think you saw Dyson troops on the ground?”

“It looked like ‘em.”

“You probably just saw a different logo. Or maybe there are some people in Helix taking the Dyson emblem as a mark to rally behind, or to make them harder to identify later.”

“You think street gangs are getting their hands on military grade special operations gear?”

“No, but I think that between Helix and Veskid City we’ll have scores, literal scores, of lone wolves who’ve all individually acquired that sort of thing.”

“All righty. I’m just tryin’ to make sure justice is done, is all.”

“You’re one of the good ones, Carlu. Stay safe out there.”

Carlu’s end of the line went silent. Tacara looked into the sky and saw three pinprick explosions, like miniature firecrackers popping overhead. She reopened the channel.

“Carlu?”

“Yeah?”

“What was that about justice?”

“Makin’ sure it’s done?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Just seems like we should try to find the guilty parties here. And, hey, it’s probably not this Dyson guy, but if it is…”

“Right,” she said. “Seems unlikely because no ships have landed… be sure to call it in.”

“I did, with the main report.”

“Call it in as its own report. All the details.”

“Why?”

“Something a Pyrhian air man told me. Probably nothing. But… well, the Dyson Empire managed to get their ships into our system without passing through any surrounding territories. If they could move big ships… well…”

“You think they could move individual people down to a planet?”

“I don’t think so, but there’ve been reports of some civilizations cracking that problem. And some individuals like The Soul Survivor, on occasion. Then there’s things like the Void Pilgrim.”

“Heh. Tacara, you believe in the Void Pilgrim? ‘Void Pilgrim yet flies’ and all that?”

“I… no, but I won’t rule it out. Especially if you’re seeing Dyson troops on the ground.”

Episode 145: Document Delivery

Mister Mayfair heard the polite cough of Julianna Dawes, the latest administrative assistant to be granted a position working for his division of BristleCorp’s Pando Project. He looked up from his desk and saw the orange-skinned human holding up a document.

“A message for you, Mister Mayfair. It wasn’t marked as urgent, but I took the liberty of treating it as such.”

Mayfair held up a finger and quickly finished scanning the document he was working on. He noted the pertinent corrections onto the context-sensitive interface of his desk and turned to face Dawes.

“Good timing. I have a few minutes here. What’s the issue?”

“You’re familiar with the Dyson Empire’s attacks within the system?”

“It’s hard not to be. Brilliant light show. Our building should be safe from most incidental damages likely to occur in a battle of this sort.”

“Emperor Dyson’s Herald has sent a list of demands to the rulers of Veskid,” said Dawes, handing the document to Mayfair. “It seems that we were included on that list?”

“Oh?” said Mayfair, taking the document and reading it. “That doesn’t make sense. We’re not the only… oh.”

Mayfair read the document, a single piece of paper with text filling only two-thirds of its available space. It had been years since Mayfair had misread something on a document of this nature, but he read it three times just to be certain.

“This can’t be accurate. Surely any reasonable person would know that we can’t do this.”

“Harold Zamona seems to believe that we can.”

“Well, let him know that he’s wrong,” said Mayfair, pushing the document away and onto his desk, where its contents were quickly scanned, registered, and filed away. “Even if we ignored the incredible cost and the unimaginable impact on local economy, we simply don’t have the authority.”

“I know, sir,” said Dawes.

Mayfair drummed the top of his desk.

“Right. Here’s what we do: nothing. We don’t respond, we don’t acknowledge, and we don’t activate. In two hours, remand all employees with a Rho classification or higher to a protective facility unless they have proper clearance to ignore you for this kind of order and choose to ignore you, they should know what they’re doing. Include yourself in this list if you wish, or just take the rest of the day off if you’d prefer. In the event of my death, I have a pre-written letter of recommendation on file for you.”

“Thank you, sir, though it’s hard to imagine working anywhere other than BristleCorp.”

“Good, we might have some career vacancies in the near future. I’m going to call some of my counterparts and let them know what’s happening.”

“Good luck, sir.”

Dawes nodded, turned, and walked for the door of the office while Mayfair reached under his desk. The helmet resembled an old fashioned sky divers helmet, though the interface was decidedly modern. Mayfair lowered the headgear onto his head until it obscured his eyes.

“Conference Call,” he said. “Urgency Level Two.”

Much earlier, on another world…

Zack’s room was as tiny as the rooms in the hotel came, which was still more spacious than the kinds of places he liked working. He shuffled through the documents in for the next DMA assignment, a case involving two sects of different religious groups that had monasteries close enough to each other that one was blaming the other for a series of unfortunate ‘accidents’ that had been increasing in number, one including a death. He kept an older style clock on the nightstand near his bed, one that would tick and remind him of the passing time, since he knew that he had to make it to the space port in order to get through security.

He slid the final documents that would help the case into the green folder, and pushed the folder itself into his new briefcase, a parting gift from Azar. He’d withdrawn his support of Azar’s anonymous case from the Desperate Measures Agency at Azar’s request, marking the case as “complete”, a generic enough description that was accurate enough without giving anything away. Azar would continue paying him personally and had even offered to pay what he’d been paying the Agency, meaning that Zack would be getting a raise now that the DMA wouldn’t be taking its percentage off the top.

Zack turned his attention to the second folder, the red folder. Despite the color of the dyes, Zack noted that the folders had actually been made from abacá when he purchased them, making them genuine manila folders, an extra expense he was willing to spring for. The red folder involved notes from his case with Azar, including some predictive strategies for reacting to likely eventualities while he was gone. He checked it to make sure that everything was in order, sighed, and closed it. Taking a pen, he wrote the word “Eclipse” on the top of the folder so that he could refer to the plans by shorthand in the future without giving away too much of the contents of the documents.

He donned his coat and his hat, grabbed the briefcase and the red folder, and left. He’d decided it would be best to part ways without drawing much attention to it, so he had said his goodbyes to Azar and Harold the previous night. This didn’t stop him from passing Azar’s door on the way to the elevators, though, and as he moved in front of the door he carefully slid the red folder beneath it.

His business concluded, he walked to the elevator. The early hour meant he hadn’t seen a soul since leaving his room, and the bellhop carrying the suitcase inside the elevator was almost startling. He recovered quickly and tipped his hat to the bellhop as he entered the elevator, and the bellhop gave a friendly salute in return.

“Going down?” asked Zack.

“No, but we can head down first. We’ve got an early arrival, but I don’t think they’ll be finished checking in for a few minutes yet, so I’ve got the time.”

“Thanks, pal,” said Zack as the doors closed. He pushed the down button and felt the shift in inertia as it began to descend. “Thanks for the attention to detail while I’ve been here, by the by. This company’s a real tight ship.”

“We aim to please. I take it you’re leaving then?”

“Yeah,” said Zack. “I’ve got a plane to catch.”

“Not a ship?”

“No, I’m leaving the spaceport by plane. They have some small charter ones if you’re just going elsewhere on the world.”

“You sure you want to do that?” asked the Bellhop. “I’ve heard that outside the parts that are dedicated to tourism this world can be a little rough.”

Zack grinned as the elevator stopped and the doors slid open.

“What can I say?” he said, stepping into the lobby. “Duty calls.”

Episode 144: Commercial Interruption

“Attention, people of Veskid, we apologize for this interruption, brought to you by your new leader, Emperor Dyson!”

The announcer’s voice blared over most visual or audio entertainment and information devices on the planet. Those who benefited from the visual feed saw the emblem of the Dyson Empire, the pointed half-oval on its side with a dot floating in the middle, an image resembling half an eye. The oval spun on an invisible axis while the dot remained stationary until the announcer finished speaking.

The image faded to a dimly lit studio. Harold Zamona sat at a desk with a glowing pattern of lights behind him. He smiled and waved to the camera.

“I apologize for this interruption, everyone on Veskid. I thought it best to let you know what’s been happening since our invasion began. Your government has been fighting a good fight, considering they were taken off guard… but this is not a militaristic world. You were in a safe and unreachable part of the Angelor Republic, far from the fringes. Unfortunately, your spatial position led to defenses that were not prepared for the latest advances in Dyson technology.”

The lights behind Zamona shifted, creating a holographic screen that revealed a star chart. As the Emperor’s Herald spoke, a sequence of stars were circled, and lines drawn between the circled stars.

“Harnessing the power of several specific stars at several specific star systems, our emperor was able to devise an amazing leap in teleportation technology. Long-distance teleportation without a receiving gate precise enough to move an armada far, far beyond where it could go with traditional methods of space travel.”

An arrow zipped from the final star on the chart, the star of the Morcalan system. The arrow arced over a vast stretch of space as the map pulled back enough to reveal the star of the Veskid system.

“Understand that we’ve been playing with the kid gloves on. We don’t want to destroy anything more than we have to. We’re not looking to shake up your lives too much, or for a tribute that would tax your already shaky economy. We don’t want to use up your military and police forces dealing with us when you have local problems to worry about. Instead, I’ve sent a short list with some very, very simple demands to your current leaders. I won’t go into the details about those demands, I’ll let the current management decide how much of that they’re comfortable sharing. For right now, I’d encourage you to let your voices be heard, and let the old order know that Emperor Dyson’s here to stay. And just in case you’re not convinced that we have the follow through, here’s someone who might be able to convince you. You’re on, Ortega.”

The screen split, revealing Captain Ortega standing on a podium, presumably in a different location. Not in his regular Astroguard flight suit, he appeared nearly half a foot taller but with a greater fluidity of movement thanks to the Dyson Empire brig uniforms. He looked at the screen, sighed, and waved to his assumed audience.

“Hello, Veskid! I’m Captain Andrew Ortega of the Astroguard. And, yes, I’m currently the captive of the Dyson Empire. I have been asked to confirm that they do, in fact, have technological and militaristic capabilities that are more than a match for Veskid under typical battle conditions. Their request for surrender is not an unreasonable one.”

On the other side of the screen, Harold Zamona nodded, smiled, and shifted in his seat.

“I have also witnessed strong evidence of possible war crimes being committed. The Dyson Empire employs mind-altering tactics when it comes to building their forces, leading to cybernetically persuaded conscripts. It’s a reprehensible tactic, even if it’s born from a desire to not employ more violent tactics to achieve the same goal.”

Zamona raised a hand as if to interrupt, but let the conversation play out.

“It is with gratitude and, I admit, some degree of trepidation, that the Dyson Empire has chosen a method for waging war which will minimize the loss of life, if resistance continues, to just one. I have agreed to single combat against the Emperor’s Herald, him with any weapons he chooses and me with my confiscated flight suit and weaponry, if the public agrees that this would be preferable to an outright surrender. Should I be victorious, the empire agrees to-”

The screens across Veskid went black.

***

“Just what were you trying to pull, Ortega?” shouted Zamona, crossing the small studio with surprising speed for a person of his size. Ortega shrugged at the nearing behemoth.

“You wanted to cash in on my image as a beaten hero? Fine. That’ll come with a cost though. You actually have to beat me first.”

“You don’t want that,” said Zamona, pointing a massive, gauntlet-obscured finger at the captain. “You really don’t want that. I don’t care if you’ve got your fancy space suit or blasters. You’d be dead so fast that they’d hear about it yesterday. We’re going to go live again, and you’re going to tell people what’s REALLY going to happen here.”

“I think I just did,” said Ortega. “How do you think it’ll help your position if they all see you backing off now? This is a PR move, and you’ll be losing on the PR. What do you say, then? Fight me for Veskid if the public agrees to that. If I lose, move in, set up statues, or do whatever it is that you do when you conquer planets. If I win, then take off and leave this system alone.”

“No,” said Zamona. “No, no, I’m not doing that. You think you’ve got me over a barrel, but you’ve got nothing. Our demands will go to Veskid as planned, and you’ll be confined to tight security until after this system’s completely under our control.”