Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Word Made Flesh

"We're being scanned," Peter noted.

Jinx reversed thrust, slowing the Black Watch to a standstill.

"Full stop. We've reached the frontier."

Peter watched bits of randomness drop out of the vacuum as an array of Reyll jump mines entangled their sensors with spots of space-time near the star-ship. The Black Watch was approaching an oblate spheroid of space that divided the cluster into two halves and encompassed the five colony worlds ruled by the Reyll Theocracy. That region was protected by tens of thousands of bombs attached to simple jump drives, managed by artificial intelligences programmed to lay down their run-time to protect the Reyll way of life.

The thinking machines spoke to pass the time. When they saw something interesting enough, they would speak to their creators.

"What do we do now?" Waiting made Peter nervous.

"There are two possibilities -- we wait for a patrol ship and try to negotiate passage, or we charge in and hope you can catch the bombs before we get blown up."

"Well? Let's--"

"Slow down there. If I'm right, the Reyll have a problem they are poorly equipped to handle. They may actually ask for help."

Peter was skeptical. "Really? I thought they were-- wait a minute, someone is transmitting. "

Carrier and protocol matched well-known signatures for Reyll military communication. Peter patched the payload's audio stream through an automated translation system.

"Intruder vessel -- violation of special forbidden zone. No restraint vast destruction imminent. Compliance now!"

Jinx scowled. "Needs more verb. Replay the original before they get impatient."

Peter fiddled, and a weary voice came over the audio.

"Ne masto mrll na da kozh bay goghyah naxhell. Ne pee masezh mai ma pagirla pa lo. Na elozh bay elozh ka brrllm."

"Foreign vessel -- you are approaching a quarantine zone. The situation in this area is uncontrollable and dangerous. Immediate cooperation is required," Jinx translated. "The machine translation is less than useless. Let me talk to them."

Reluctantly, Peter opened a channel for Jinx, and she spoke.

"Bay elozh ka brrllm an lo -- bay Rllmahimja pah masto Kahoprat mai pee na elozh. Ne masto lo pee kahrazh mahall. Na elozh mai ka lo nah hodam brrllm?"

The audio stream clearly recorded the remote peer's insulted grunt, followed shortly by an end-of-file indicator.

"Uh-huh. That seemed to have helped." Peter was worried.

"Stay slinky. We're going to need an escort, and they should show up shortly."

The Reyll warship materialized a few thousand kilometers from their position.

"They have weapons lock--" Peter warned.

"Yeah. Don't do anything unwise." Jinx left the helm and walked towards Peter. "Keep your eyes on the prize."


Jinx flicked the back of Peter's head. He flinched with pain and reached to see if the back of his skull was still there.

"Ow. What the hell did you--"

"Foreign vessel -- we will escort you to the incident site. Please take all weapons systems offline." The transmission came from the Reyll warship. Peter had the odd sensation that the words he understood were not the words he had heard.

"I understood that. Why did I understand that?"

"A wizard did it, namely me. Now, let's play nice, and see what's happened."

Shortly after Peter took the Black Watch's weapons systems offline, the Reyll warship turned and took a course through normal space to a vector inside the forbidden zone. He ordered the ship's computer to follow.

After a short while, he saw the spur, and the ragged sail that hung absurdly in space, not flapping in a non-existent wind. It extended from an irregular structure that could only be described as a meatball, a rough spheroid mass of disorganized tissue.

Peter looked at the viewscreen slack-jawed and helpless. He was relieved when he heard Jinx breathe in sharply. He turned to her.


"I don't know. Is it alive?"

This was a question he could answer. He felt the thing with his senses.

"No. It's dead inside. The portion of it with life support is decaying rapidly. It's like some kind of cyst."

Peter shuddered in the command chair. He leaned forward towards the view-screen and tensed up. A transmission came from the Reyll ship, and he looked sharply at the screen.
"This is the anomaly. A Hunter squad engaged the intruder, and it made this out of them. Our talents say it is dead, then they say there is something wrong, then they start screaming. Gravimetric scans indicate a massive spatial anomaly with enormous potential energy."

Jinx's own scans confirmed what the warship captain had said. She sent the results to the display in Peter's armrest.

He looked at the numbers and boggled. It was within an order of magnitude of the mass of the primordial singularity.

There was a long silence. Peter spoke. "Understood."

Whatever was inside the tumor in space was about to create a new universe.

He paused, looked at the monstrous thing on the view-screen. "We will investigate -- see what can be done. We will approach the cyst."

"All clear. Let us know if we can help."

As the Black Watch slowly pulled closer, Peter and Jinx spotted a vast sphincter on the leathery surface of the sphere.

"What an asshole."

Jinx wished her joke was funnier.

Peter tried to help.

"So, what do we do? Tickle it, buy it a drink..." Peter trailed off.

"We're gonna need a lot of lube to get the ship in there."

They both wished they could laugh.

"I think we're going to have to get off the ship. Are you ready?"


They went to the air-lock anyway.

Jinx wrapped her arms around Peter's shoulders and he carried her through space to the purplish-red orifice. Aiming for the middle of the fleshy circle, they both closed their eyes as they pushed through the fleshy ring and emerged into a hall filled with foul vapors, an atmosphere of decay.

What they saw before them defied comprehension. Shattered parts of Reyll warships, tendrils of flesh and sinew, tangled vascular trees filled with clotting blood, twisted into a tight knot of space-time that very obviously was a portion of a four-dimensional structure.

Peter recognized the topology. "Well, the good news is that we're already inside it. It only has an inside."

"We're going to have to get closer." Jinx did not sound happy with the idea.

They flew closer, following a curved surface of bruised pink flesh. After a following a bend, they lost sight of the outside.

"Peter - I... I see something." Jinx pointed to a black pool on the ground.

They landed, and Jinx reluctantly climbed down from Peter's arms. Peter looked at the rippling pool of black oil.

"What the hell is that?"

"It's an eversion point. It punches through to outside the universe."

Peter looked around.

"Everything here is dead and decaying. All the potential energy is behind that pool."

"Then that's where Nyqll is. This is the way to his lodge."

They both trembled a little. They had become inured to the overwhelming strangeness of their surroundings. Now, they were confronted with a gateway into the unknown.

They looked at each other. Jinx stretched out her hand towards Peter, and he took it.

Peter spoke first. "Do you think we'll be able to get back out again?"

"I don't know. Maybe not. It's probably a domain ruled by Nyqll's will. A prototype for his new universe."

They thought for a moment, holding hands.

"OK. We're going to do this anyway, right?"

"Of course." Jinx smiled, and looked at Peter sadly. "We're superheroes, right?"

They stepping into the pool together and fell into darkness. The hallucinogenic black oil dazed their senses, subjecting them to terrible visions as they plummeted. Somewhere along the way, Jinx's hand slipped out of Peter's.

Shortly afterward, they both hit the dusty, sandy ground hard.

Peter opened his eyes first, and looked up at a bone-white sky. "Jinx?"

"I'm over here." She rolled over in the dust. "My head-- owww...."

Peter went to her and examined her head for injuries. He couldn't find any. "I think you're all right."

He looked around the dusty plain. A road of trampled dirt led towards the gates of a large city surrounded by mud brick walls. Jinx got up and followed him down the road.

As the approached, a robed figure carrying a staff with bells on the end approached them. As the figure took notice of Peter and Jinx, he began mournfully wailing "Tamei, tamei".


"He's a leper. He's unclean. I--"

"What? How do you know this place?"

"I-- I can't explain. Why aren't we flying over the walls?"

Peter thought for a moment.

"I don't know. It doesn't seem to make sense."

Jinx looked at the back of her hand and wiggled her fingers. "Ontological control. The presence can influence us by eliminating alternatives."

"The presence?"

Jinx looked horrified. "I can't say his name."

The leper approached. "Tamei, tamei."

He pulled down his hood. Jinx recognized him instantly, despite the lesions covering half his face. "Jack!"

"Nah. Jack's not here right now. Most of me is still inside him." The leper pointed upwards. "You're going to need an ass. It's part of the story."

"We're going to need a what?" asked Peter, perplexed.

"An ass."

Jinx peered at Peter's backside. "He has a perfectly serviceable ass. What do you mean by story?"

"No." The leper smiled as another man approached with a strange, grey-furred quadruped with a grotesquely long face, long tufted ears, and broad shoulders and hips. "An ass."

"Oh." Peter pointed at the creature. "That's... an ass. All right."

"Can we please stop talking about asses -- what's the deal with the story?" Jinx was irritated.

"Oh, you know this one. How do you know this one? It's not one of ours. It belongs to the humans." The leper smiled and gestured strangely as he said this. "Come on, don't lose the plot now. They call it the greatest story ever told."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Love's Image

The Nightstalker started its descent over the Flash Desert of Bestos, a severe and lasting glassy surface left when Corporate forces flattened the last Reyll fortress-city with a brace of antimatter bombs. Even fifty years later, the shiny desert resisted the encroachment of the equatorial jungle.

The First Mate sat in the command chair. Jolt stood to the left of him, looking a little uncomfortable. The Eye was at the helm, busy monitoring the re-entry sequence.

The First Mate turned and looked at Jolt. "Are you all right?"

"All right? I'm great."

Jolt was lying. She looked terrible, like she had been crying instead of sleeping.

A mountain range rushed past below the ship as it levelled out and decelerated, followed shortly thereafter by a blink of sandy coast and a stretch of glassy green sea dotted with brown froth -- an algal salt plain, an example of the kind of undersea habitat that produced most of the planet's native oxygen and sequestered most of the ocean's minerals.

The silence on the bridge was oppressive. Jolt paced next to the command chair.

The water turned deep blue as the continental shelf fell away. The Nightstalker slowed to subsonic speed as it made its final approach to the lonely volcanic island where Drazen East had his estate.

"Prepare for landing." The First Mate was tense. Landings always made him nervous, and water landings were particularly nerve-wracking.

"Deploying pontoons," Thresher stated as he braced himself.

Jolt continued pacing, oblivious to what was happening around her.

The Eye counted down. "Planet-fall in 4... 3... 2... 1..."

There was a slight shudder as the Nightstalker touched down on the freshwater ocean's surface, supported by two bright orange inflatable cylinders. It approached a dock built on a black sand beach that disappeared into a lush green jungle.

Jolt had stopped pacing. She was staring at the view-screen.

A tiny figure stood at the end of the docks, standing next to a trunk and waving.


She said the word with no apparent feeling.

The star-ship slowed as it approached the dock. The First Mate cleared his throat to get Jolt's attention.

"Here's the warrant." He gave her a thin sheet of programmable paper. "It looks like he'll come quietly."

Jolt didn't say anything. She took the display with a quick snapping gesture and no change of expression, turned on her heel, and left the bridge along with Thresher and the Eye.

They disembarked through the dorsal port airlock on the spade-shaped hull of the star-ship. It was a short walk to the wood and plastic dock from there.

Jolt went first, walking slowly and deliberately to the short, gesticulating figure waiting at the end of the pier. Behind her, the Eye's compact, muscular form was a contrast with Thresher's lumbering cyborg body.

"No mooks," the Eye whispered.

"What?" Thresher replied.

"They said there would be mooks." The Eye seemed disappointed.

Jolt said nothing.

"Sweetie! Just look at you!" Drazen East was a short, pudgy male with dark gray fur and coppery eyes. He was a stark contrast to his statuesque, red-furred daughter. He beamed with pride.

She looked at him coldly. With a sweeping gesture, she held the warrant in front of his face.

He looked at it for a moment and grinned. "Oh, dear. You know the Committee on Cloning Ethics is little more than a glorified trade association, right?" Drazen turned to look at his heavy trunk. "I packed my things for that?"

He tried to meet his daughter's gaze, but only saw her unsmiling face. He hesitated for a moment, and finally thought to take the paper from her hand.

Chastised, he looked up at her and pleaded, "At least come with me and have a cup of coffee before you take me away. We haven't talked in so long..."

He got no response. Jolt seemed to look through him.


"Father." Her gaze finally turned to him. "What exactly does regret mean?"

He looked puzzled and thought for a moment.

"I-- I don't know. Why are you asking?"

Jolt blinked. She did not know what to say next.

Drazen took the initiative. "Please. Come with me." He led Jolt, Thresher, and the Eye to a small wooden house next to the beach.

The interior was simple. A few glossy black gadgets to cook food and clean dishes sat on the wooden counter inside the hut, next to a shiny pot and an extra-large refrigerator. A beaded curtain led to an underground passage buried in the steep hillside. Four chairs made of palm-wood and carefully process preserved fronds stood around a simple hardwood table made from a tree that grew two light-years from here.

A careful arrangement of orchids decorated the table.

Drazen pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. He placed the paper on the table and clapped his hands. A shiny bipedal robot stepped through the curtain to fetch the coffee.

Jolt took the chair across from her father without saying a word. The robot's actuators whirred as it took a set of plastic cups and saucers from cupboards concealed in the walls of the hut.

Thresher and the Eye stood behind Jolt. The Eye crossed her arms.

"I'll bet you were expecting a clone servant," Drazen burbled, "but I have to deal with enough of that in my line of work."

The robot brought four cups of coffee, and placed them on the table. Drazen took a sip from his cup. Jolt ignored hers.

"Well, look at you! My daughter, the superheroine!"

Jolt waited for a moment. "They had to put me in a containment suit when I was twelve. My body generated electricity, uncontrollably. It started the year after Mom was terminated."

Drazen waved his hand. "Oh, it can be controlled. It's quite simple, really..."

Jolt didn't answer. The robot left the way it came.

Jolt spoke again. "You knew we were coming."

Drazen smiled. "Yes, I have my connections."

Jolt looked at him coldly. "So do we."

For all of the awkwardness of the situation thus far, Drazen had maintained a composed air. For the first time, worry crept into his face.

"Yes. I suppose you do."

Jolt continued. "Leviathan talked. He shot the Arcana hit. The Grays know everything."

"Wait--" Worry became fear.

"It was a trap. The Corporation's not ready for war."

"But-- the Chairman's wife, she was--"

"The Grays don't trust the Blacks. They knew the Blacks would see weaponized superheroes as a chance to gain influence, get their hands on some military budget. They let the Blacks set up Graves, and watched where the money went."

Drazen became agitated, and reached for the paper.

Instead of the text of the warrant, he saw a picture of himself, looking confused.

"What? You're filming this?"

He looked up, and a second image appeared on the paper, showing him from the side.

"What is this supposed to be? Extra-judicial executions as light family entertainment?"

"Well, things sure got dramatic," the Eye remarked laconically. "See? They changed camera angles!"

Jolt crossed her arms. "That's up to you. But you're not getting away with this one. They caught you with your hand in the till."

Drazen looked like someone had hit him in the face. He leaned back in his chair, slack-jawed.

His hand reached for a spray canister beneath his seat.

"Watch it!" The Eye moved, but Drazen was faster. He flipped a trigger on the canister, releasing a cloud of liquid droplets into Jolt's face.

The reaction was immediate. Jolt grabbed for her throat and fell from the chair, wheezing. The Eye and Thresher gathered around her.

Drazen bolted for the curtain, turned back, and said, "She's going into shock. Please don't let her die." He then darted away into the underground tunnel.

Thresher plugged himself into Jolt's containment suit's monitors.

"She's discharged. Rapid pulse, low blood pressure."

The Eye was agitated. "What did he do to her?"

"He shut down her powers. All the metabolic processes that charge her up have been disrupted."

Jolt began to convulse. "Cardiac arrhythmia. She's losing it." Thresher began carefully opening Jolt's suit. "I'm gonna have to use the defibrillator."

The cyborg looked up at the Eye. "Get the bastard. I'll stabilize her and get her to the ship."

The Eye nodded, and pursued through the beaded curtain.

The corridor was dark, but her amulet could see in the dark, the future, and into people's minds. She drew one of her diamond knives from her hip holster, and sensed Drazen running in the darkness down a flight of stairs.

She pursued, coming to a large open room. It looked like a child's imagining of a super-villain's lair. An empty vat with transparent walls was in the middle of the room -- perhaps to view the merchandise? -- and the walls were covered in machines and indicator lights.

A drawer was pulled out of a console. Drazen had pulled something out quickly.

That meant he was armed.

A passage led to the staircase down.

The hallway was lined with smaller translucent tubes filled with turbid glowing yellow liquid. As she rushed after Drazen, a hand pressed on the inside of one of the cylinders.

She continued her pursuit, into a large rectangular chamber filled with pumps and tanks. Ducts and cable runs hung form the ceiling. Glowing yellow liquid was pulled from siphon tubes into a huge translucent-walled vat on the other end of the room.

Drazen had taken cover behind a recirculation pump next to the base of the vat. He swept the targeting beam of his civilian-grade laser disruptor, looking for some reflection that might betray the Eye's presence.

The Eye paused for a moment. Drazen had a clear line of fire once she left the cover of the tanks. She looked up at a duct that ran gently downwards to the top of the vat, right above Drazen's position, and took a flash-bang from her belt.

Drazen heard the click as she armed the grenade, and fired into the darkness. Twin laser tubes pulsed out of sync, and sparks exploded from a metal pipe.

The gun recharged with a high-pitched whine.

"You don't have to murder me. I'll work with the Grays. Make them body doubles, infiltrators -- anything they want." He shifted his grip. The gun became unpleasantly warm as the energy store reached the tripping point. "Anything they want."

The Eye somersaulted over a tank with a knife in her hand. Drazen raised his handgun and prepared to fire again. The Eye closed the distance with a back-flip. Drazen drew a bead --

The flash-bang grenade rolled off the duct and detonated just above Drazen's head.

The gun clattered to the floor.

The Eye was on her feet, lunging forwards.

The diamond knife rammed into Drazen East's chest, lifting him off his feet and pinning him to the vat.

Blinded and bleeding out, Drazen lifted his right hand. In his last moments of consciousness, he noticed that it was wet with blood.

" that mine?..."

His last breath followed shortly thereafter.

The Eye turned and slowly walked back to her colleagues.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Both members of the crew of the Black Watch were on the bridge.

"So, he's already in Reyll space?" Peter leaned back in the command chair, gripping the arms of the seat tightly.

"He crossed over a little while ago. Triggered the jump mines, got overrun by a Hunter squadron. From what I can make out, they have the area under quarantine." Jinx looked at him carefully. Was he angry? Was he sad? All she saw was restrained aggression and impatience, a hypomanic urgency that scared her -- especially after she saw what he was capable of.

"Any sign of mobilization? Are they--"

"No." Jinx took a second look at the sensor readouts at the helm station. "Not yet, anyway."

"I think I have a plan." Peter sat up straight. "But I need some advice."

"Of course." Jinx wanted to help.

"I want you to stay on the ship. Be ready to get the hell out if things go wrong, and keep your distance." Peter paused. "I'll close in and try to hit him with gravity-based attacks. Maybe do that inflation thing I did to Leviathan. If we're lucky, I'll manage to tear him apart before he kills me."

Jinx took a deep breath, and shook a little.

"That's a terrible plan."

"Well, I--"

"You don't understand." Jinx was afraid. "There's someone inside Nyqll. An innocent man. I was supposed to protect him."

"I think it's a little too late."

"I have to try. I promised him that."

There was a long pause. Something Jinx had said had changed Peter's mind. He looked at her for a while, and when she examined his face carefully, she saw something like a smile.

"All right. I understand."

He relaxed a little, and continued "So we need a better plan. Let me see..."

"Maybe I can help. I still have some of the black oil left."

"Use it as a weapon?" Peter grinned. "Yes!"

"No. I -- he was exposed to it. Maybe if you look at a sample--"

"Then I could figure out his weakness! Of course!"

He was still worryingly aggressive, but at least they were both on the same side. Jinx led him to the briefing room, and summoned her last dewar of black oil. Peter leaned forward towards the container as she carefully placed it on the table.

He seemed fascinated, and observed the dewar in silence for a long moment.

"Where did you get this stuff, Jinx?"

"Outside the cluster. A charming little world orbiting an orange star with a nameless crypt-city buried beneath a field of imported grass."

Peter looked at the dewar again.

"So, the planet wasn't just a radioactive lump of strange matter. That's... kind of surprising, actually." He paused. He was not looking at the dewar, but it was clear that he was sensing what was going on inside the container. His eyes would briefly close for a second or two, and twitch like someone having a vivid dream. "I can't sense the stuff directly. Too much magic. But what it's doing on a quantum level is really strange -- it reminds me of some theories about mirror matter."

"Mirror matter?"

"Matter is defined by a set of potentials. These potentials can be distinguished as quanta of various forces. These forces are interrelated, and only exist in certain configurations -- certain geometries, among other things." He paused.

"This stuff has a geometry that's a mirror image to the way ordinary matter is organized. It should be like a ghost to us, only interacting gravitationally."

Jinx thought for a moment. "Well, the story I heard is that this is some kind of waste product from an interstellar transit system. There was this white mist that would form bridges in space-time to far-away worlds. When the bridge collapsed, it left this stuff behind."

"A condensate. First it coated the travelers and created a environment they could handle -- then it peeled back off, turning itself inside out in the process." Peter leaned back in his chair. "It sounds plausible, at least. Wish it helped me beat Nyqll."

"You don't have to beat him, Peter." Jinx sat down next to him. "I know the name of the man inside that monster. I can pull him out."

Peter looked at her, and she felt something she was not expecting -- love and admiration, coming from him. He said, "I don't want Nyqll to hurt you."

"I know. You'll have to figure out how to pin him down and keep him busy."

"All right." His voice sounded a little more relaxed, but also frightened. "I'm so used to doing this alone."

"Yeah. That's why you get your ass kicked all the time."

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Paper Tiger

Executive Officer Franco had the helm of the Nightstalker.

He was alone on the bridge. Jolt had retired to her stateroom. The Eye and Thresher accompanied her.

This wasn't a time to leave her alone.

Franco pulled up the criminal records of Jolt's father, Drazen East. A long list of convictions, prison sentences commuted by powerful friends, shadowy connections to the Corporation's elite managers. His connections to the deep state had kept him free.

For a career criminal, East had done well for himself. His estate on Bestos was an island in a temperate fresh-water sea on the northern hemisphere. Many senior Corporate executives had smaller properties. The private spaceport was small, but large enough for the Nightstalker to land.

The twinge of resentment the combination of East's prosperity and criminal record kept Franco digging through the documentation. He had a list -- all the plaintiffs in the numerous criminal cases where Drazen East was a defendant. He had put together the data gathered from investigating the illegal clones together with a bibliography referencing previous cases.

It was simply a matter of running through the list and sending the documents. Routine police work.

The All-Org Ethics Bureau on Bestos replied first, with a nondescript form letter thanking Franco for bringing this matter to their attention. Franco suspected that a complaint wasn't going to be coming from them any time soon.

While he wondered what made them so hesitant to go after East, a second message came in, marked for urgent attention and counter-signed by the Adjudicator General of the Amalgamated Public Security Services.

It was a complaint, filed by the Committee on Cloning Ethics, with an attached warrant for Drazen East's immediate arrest.


Franco paged Jolt.

"What is it?" She sounded like she had been sobbing.

"We have a warrant. Let's get the bastard."

Monday, March 8, 2010


Jinx floated in deep vacuum. Her body had stopped metabolizing oxygen a few minutes ago.

She watched Peter as he floated in the void. Her mind had reached out to him, and recoiled as she felt the vast amounts of information flowing through his consciousness.

He was in a trance, a deep one. Two glowing balls of matter formed near him.

Matter and anti-matter. He was sorting virtual particles.

She was not scared by the void that surrounded them. She watched his mind, felt it racing, and rejoiced.

Something was happening.

She couldn't follow what he was doing, but she knew.

She watched him, felt around the edges of his mind -- and felt fear.

Her mind was powerful, a dreadful thing of parts that devoured souls. She could read a mind like a billboard, and a community of minds like a book. She had seen, contemplated, and done things that would break the strongest minds.

She watched something impossible. His mind was like a machine, a terrible all-consuming mechanism, a fever dream apparatus that grew twisting, turning, pulsing, and grinding until it consumed all of reality.

He was gambling with the laws of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics, and winning handily. From nothing, there was something.

Ever increasing amounts of something condensed from nothingness.

She felt a thrill when he began synthesizing strangelets.

Dopants for a weak-force band-gap, they were the basis for neutrino circuitry.

Hours passed.

The anti-matter cloud collapsed. He has pressed it into a geometric point, constructing a tiny black hole that sputtered with decay radiation as he used it to stress the vacuum to create ever stranger constructs.

The structure beside it was no longer a cloud. Her suspicions were correct -- a spade-shaped starship took form next to the proton-sized gravitational singularity. The pieces fell into place.

The singularity boiled away, and the copy of the Nightstalker remained. He seemed to waken from his trance, and floated into the ship.

It approached her, and the outer door of an airlock opened.

She thought, "Stupid powerful." He had re-created what he had lost, when he could have made anything. The phrase seemed to fit.

She drifted into the ship, and the outer door closed. She braced for impact, and absorbed the impact of the drifting vessel.

Systems where slowly coming on-line. The inner door opened to a darkened corridor, but the lights turned on after she walked a few meters.

She readjusted to breathing, and approached the bridge.

The door opened automatically.

He was sitting in the command chair, and turned to face her.

"Welcome aboard." His voice was tired. He looked exhausted. "What do you want to call it?"

She very briefly considered saying something sarcastic. Part of her wanted to cut him down to size, reject the impossible thing she had just experienced.

"I-- I don't know." She thought for a moment. "The Black Watch?"

He smiled. "All right. I've generated a new key-pair. We'll be on-line in a few minutes. Wanna take helm?"

The banality of his request shocked her a little, but she had to admit that she was looking forward to piloting a copy of the Nightstalker.

She sat down at her station, and turned to him.

"You know -- if you're just going to make a copy of your old ship, you should do something to make it different. Like a different color or something."

His eyes narrowed. "Hmm. It is a pirate copy..."

He snapped his fingers. The hull turned black, except for a skull motif on the blade of the spade.

Jinx giggled.

Peter dead-panned, "It was that or flames."

They laughed for a few moments, and as they quieted down again, Peter slumped in the command chair.

Jinx became serious.

"So, what do we do now?"

Peter looked like he was about to fall asleep.


He paused for a beat.

"We find this god person and kick his ass."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


"They're just... floating in space." The Eye had just taken her position at the helm, and was scanning the immediate area around the Nightstalker.

"Get us the hell out of here. Before they decide to attack." Jolt sat down in the command chair.

"Destination?" Thresher plugged himself into the engineering console.

There was a long pause. Jolt rubbed her temples, as if she had a headache.

"Bestos 3."

"Bestos 3? " Thresher sounded skeptical.

"Yeah. We'll be landing on the surface." Jolt looked grim.

"They're still not doing anything."

"Are they dead?"


"Turn the ship around. Prepare for jump."

The engines engaged, and the Nightstalker entered hyperspace.

The bridge was quiet. Jolt looked like she was about to cry.

Thresher looked up from his panel. "Captain?"


"We have a visitor. It's the First Mate."

Executive Officer Benito Franco was waiting in the antechamber to the bridge. He took a moment to arrange his mane as the door opened. He squared his shoulders and entered the bridge.

"What the hell is going on here?" Benito strutted toward the command chair.

Jolt sulked. "What are you talking about?" She tried to ignore the young officer.

"Was there a court-martial, and nobody invited me?"

There was a brief silence. Jolt turned her head and looked Benito in the eye.

"No. There was an immediate threat to the safety of the ship and its crew."


"There was a murder on board."

"All right. That's a good reason -- which you could have presented at a military tribunal."

"I've got a right -- a right to protect my crew."

"From another crew member?"

"From anybody or anything."

Benito was cut short; he looked carefully at the woman sitting in the command chair. He took a deep breath.

"You're doing it wrong."

Jolt looked at him with a steady, unresponsive gaze. "Then someone will just have to file a complaint."

"Captain Jennifer East, the standard Military Contract allows me to take command of this vessel in the event the commanding officer is unable or unwilling to assume the responsibilities of command--"

"You little bastard." Jolt scowled at Benito. "You're invoking Executive Privilege? On me!?"

"Yes. I am in command of this vessel, effective now."

Jolt, Thresher, and the Eye scowled at him, but Benito didn't back down.

"Now -- explain to me why we are flying to Bestos 3."

"My father. My father made the clones." Jolt stared Benito down. "He's been doing it for as long as I remember. He'll take bits and pieces and splice them together into whatever the customer wants. He took a dormant sample from one of the Seven Sisters--"

"Who?" Benito was listening carefully.

"A Reyll mutant-rights group. They tried to fight the prejudice against people born with a word of power encoded in their genes. He took a tissue sample from the Kebakika line, and cloned my mother."

Benito was shocked. "Isn't that illegal?"

"He was in and out of prison my whole life. That didn't stop the customers from coming."

Jolt paused for a moment and looked away. She held back tears.

When she looked at Benito again, her expression was hard and pitiless.

"So we're going to take that bastard down."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Does It Hurt You When I Do This?

Jolt sat on a bed in sickbay and fidgeted. She was tense.

The door slid open, and Arsenal and Jinx walked in. Arsenal was carrying a heavy cable with two alligator clips, and Jinx carried a small plastic case.

"Captain? Are you ready?"

Jolt grimaced. "Sure. Make it quick." She stretched her arm towards Arsenal, and he clipped one end of the grounding cable to a metal stub on the sleeve of her costume. She inspected the connection, then pulled up the bottom of her shirt to expose her red-furred belly.

"Is that enough?"

Jinx glanced briefly at Jolt. "That will do."

Jinx opened the case and removed what appeared to be a coiled hose and set it on the table. The tip of one end of the hose was a shiny hollow spike of metal ringed with tiny cutting blades.

Jolt took a long look at the metal spike.

"Just a moment." Jinx retrieved a sample jar from the case, and affixed the other end of the hose to a plug on the jar's cap. She looked at Jolt with a sidelong glance. "I'll be taking a sample of your abdominal epithelial tissue. You might want some anesthetic."

Jolt nodded curtly. "Forget about it. I'm on duty, and need a clear head."

Jinx grinned evilly just out of Jolt's view. "This might sting a bit."

She pressed a button on the remote, and the plastic and steel-tipped plastic snake sprang to life. The tiny blades spun up with a high-pitched whine.

"Lie down and hold still." Jolt complied, stiffly and nervously.

Jolt's eyes widened as the device slithered towards her belly. The sound of tiny spinning blades rang in her ears. She clenched her fist as the snake-like apparatus reared back and struck.

The metal head bored into Jolt's belly, near her umbilical cord. She winced -- it hurt. The clear plastic tube of the device was colored red with a thin stream of blood. A few drops fell into the collection jar.

Jinx scowled. "Whoops."

Jolt fought her panic, clenched her teeth and arched her back. More blood spattered into the collection jar. Jinx maintained a forced neutral expression. "Stop that. I'll need you to hold still."

Arsenal scowled at Jinx, and whispered under his breath, "That's enough."

Jinx straightened up. "I'm in position now. Acquiring sample."

A tiny gobbet of epithelial tissue was chewed away by the endoscope, propelled down the tube, and deposited in the specimen jar.

Jolt looked like she wanted to cry.

"I'm pulling out now."

The endoscope withdrew, Jolt cried out in pain as it cauterized the wound in her belly. She curled up into a ball and scowled at Jinx.

Jinx detached the sample jar and walked towards Arsenal, who was also scowling. "Thank you for your cooperation, Captain. We'll get right on the analysis!"

"You do that." Jolt covered her oozing wound with her hand.

Arsenal looked helplessly at Jolt. "Do you need any help?"

"Get out." Jolt lay down on the bed. "I'll be fine."

A few moments later, in Arsenal's stateroom, Jinx started the analysis of the tissue sample. Arsenal stood, leaning against the bulkhead. He scowled and looked at the refrigerator.

"Done. This should be quick." She turned to Peter and noticed that he was ignoring her.

"What's wrong?"

"What did you think you were doing back there?"

"It was just a bit of fun."

"Fun?!" Peter was angry and hurt. "What, hurting people is 'fun' for you?"

"Hurting the deserving?" Jinx sneered. "Oh, yes."

"What did she do--"

"Come on, robot boy. Come out and say it. 'My boss is a bitch.' You can do that, can't you?" Jinx stared down Peter, until Peter turned away.

"You're all a bunch of self-righteous idiots," he mumbled. He turned to Jinx. "And that means you, too. You don't care who you hurt, or what you destroy, as long as it's you who comes out on top."

Jinx started to speak, but an increasingly angry Peter interrupted her.

"I know why she is the way she is. She's in charge, and that means that everyone is constantly second-guessing every decision she makes. She's responsible--"

Jinx interrupted him. "She makes bad decisions. And she hates you, Peter. You have no idea how much she hates you." Jinx stood up and took Peter's hand. "You're a disruption and an irritant. Your very existence undermines her, because you're powerful and competent and worst of all -- you make her look bad."

"Yeah, well -- let's talk about competence, shall we?" Peter looked sad and angry. "You discover some crack-brained plan to turn superheroes into living weapons, and what do you do about it? Did you ever actually talk to--"

"Shh. Why do you think I'm here?"

They both looked at the refrigerator. "She--"

"--was created to be a victim. I'm sorry."

"We need to get rid of the body."

"No." Jinx squeezed Peter's hand and looked sad. "I'm so sorry."


"No matter what happens next, I want you to know something -- I may never become whatever you think a good person is, but I am trying to do the right thing."

Peter's doorbell chimed. "It's time," whispered Jinx.

He opened the door to his stateroom. Thresher's bulky cyborg body filled the door frame. The Eye and Jolt stood behind him. "Hey, bro. I heard yelling. How are you two doing?"

"Great, we're--"

"Mind if we come in?" asked the Eye.

"It's--" Peter stammered.

Thresher pushed past Peter, and took a long look around the stateroom. Jolt and the Eye followed.

Jinx sat down at the workstation and looked at the screen. "We're not quite done yet."

"Oh, really," Jolt remarked. "I can't wait to find out the results."

The Eye positioned herself between Peter and the refrigerator.

"I know -- I get us some brews while we wait." Thresher walked to the refrigerator and pulled the door open.

The corpse of Jinx's clone fell out of the compartment with a dull thump.

"Oh, now that's awkward," quipped the Eye.

Jolt approached Peter. She looked enraged. "What the hell, hero?"

"I--" Thresher came up behind the stammering Peter and pinned both his arms behind his back.

"I don't care. I think dealing with a woman was just a little too much for you. You lost your temper and killed her." Jolt wheeled around and pointed at Jinx, who looked up from her workstation. "And then you brought her back--"

"That's stupid! I can't resurrect the dead!"

Jolt closed in on Peter. "That's my problem with you. I have no idea what you're capable of."

"I didn't kill her."

"I don't care."

Jinx drummed her fingers on the desk in front of her. "I have the results. The Captain's sample is a fifty percent match--"

"Yes. That's right. I know who made those cloned demigods -- I know that sequence of forced-growth genes." Jolt bore down on Jinx, who recoiled. "Daddy grew mommy in a vat. All the other kids made fun of me--"

"What?" Peter tried to pull away from Thresher and was restrained.

"My daddy. It's my daddy. He made them." Jolt shook with rage, and turned to Peter. "I want you off my ship."

"I didn't--"

"I don't want to hear it. Murder and necromancy, on board my ship -- I don't care what you have to say. It doesn't mat--"

"Of course it matters," Peter complained, almost whispering.

"Let go of him." Jolt turned to face him, looking like she was ready to start a fight.

Peter turned around to look at Thresher as he let go of his arms. The cyborg's face was an expressionless mask.

Arsenal took a step forwards, facing Jolt.

"Go ahead. Do it."

Jolt delivered the challenge with a growl. She looked angry, angrier than Peter had ever seen her before.

"No." Peter's arms stayed by his side.

"I want you and your sex toy off my ship, now!"

"Who, me?" Jinx. "What did I ever do to you?" She sounded theatrically hurt.

A moment later, they stood in the threshold of the port airlock.

Peter was shaking. He was trying very hard not to be afraid.

Jinx seemed calm. She was still very obviously play-acting that she a clueless innocent.

"I've been fired...." Peter's head sank as he said the words.

"Worse things happen every day." Jinx smiled. "Maybe you can file a complaint when we get back to civilization."

"What's the matter with you?"

"Lots of things." She reached out to hold Peter's hand. "Like when I was out in that box, and it was so cold, and I started to forget what it was like to breathe... that messed me up."

Peter's touched her shoulder, pulling her closer. She looked up into his eyes.

"But I'm getting better."

The airlock opened.