compass atop a bowl of roasted coffee beans set inside gold laurels Tomasius Space

Ex dubium scientia. From doubt [comes] knowledge.

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Who is Mercurio Morat?

2019.1121.1948


Xi'An Inter-Embassy Report; 2946.0220

A human male, identifying himself as "Mercurio Morat" was rescued from an escape pod on 2945-Nov-02. The escape pod was found travelling at high velocity through the Virtus system and had been badly damaged.

The occupant was suffering from Long-Stasis Termination Illness, Hypothermia and Hyperstasis Psychosis. It is evident that the stasis unit had malfunctioned as the occupant had been under for longer than the documented 4 year operational maximum.

Mr. Morat was convinced that he'd been involved in an accident more than 250 years ago in contrast with the records of his insurer who maintained that his insurance policies, never paid more than a decade in advance, were still up to date. The insurer has dispatched a replacement ship to Stanton II.

Mr. Morat has undergone extensive cognitive therapy and, aware of the cognitive dissonance which permanently scars victims of Hyperstasis Psychosis, he has been deemed sufficiently functional to return to his former life.


Well, that's how the Xi'An tell it. Seeing as I'm still alive and haven't lost anything except my dignity, I guess I'm not exactly in a position to complain. Anyways, that may well be how thay tell it. What follows is how I tell it.


How Mercurio Morat Became a "Star" Citizen

I'd set my ship's operation lights to announce the fact that she was not under command (two all-round red lights in a vertical line above the ship). I might have been travelling at a substantial fraction of the speed of light but a vessel not under command always has right of way for very practical reasons. Apparently, as it turned out, another species known as the "Vanduul", didn't see it that way.

I'm not exactly what people'd describe as a "star" citizen. I like to do my own thing and I hate authority because it inevitably fails to honour the sovereignty of minding ones own damned business. The system, where I'd registered my ship for example, was very liberal about taxes but this was offset by some draconian prohibition laws. I regularly drank enough brew to merit the death penalty in that system - which I will not name for fear of their very generous informant program and complete lack of any statute of limitations. Suffice it to say, I kept my stash of brew hidden in the escape pod where, for some reason I could never understand, customs inspectors wouldn't search. And this is where I celebrated my ninth birthday, on the twenty-ninth of February, 2680.


Awakening

Birthdays, not coming around as often as they might, in my case, were a cause for special celebration. And hurtling across the great empty void of the Black, all by myself, well; special celebration inevitably translated to special hangover. The nice thing about passing out in an escape pod with a functioning stasis field is that waking up will always be far less painful than it could have been. On this occasion, however, it did occur to me that I was going to have to repair the stasis field because I woke to a world of pain. Every square centimetre of my skin felt as if it had been doused in fuel and set alight, my bones ached as if I were a growing child. Every breath I took felt as if it were breaking all of my ribs at once and talk about having migraines on both sides of the head! What a bender! At least it was still Sunday - or so I thought.

It was so damned cold that I almost thought that was the reason for my agony. However, the first hint I got that something wasn't quite right with this picture came when I feebly tried to open the main hatch of the escape pod. I'd reckoned that it might help if I got out of the pod, found my clothes and got dressed. It was a birthday bender so, of course I'd found my way into my birthday suit at some point. I probably thought it was funny at the time but I never could remember the punchline. Suddenly, I noticed that in the process of trying to get out and find my clothes, I accidentally brushed the frost from the porthole in the main hatch and, consequently, saw stars.

These weren't the kind of stars one sees on a bender. These were the kind of stars one sees through the porthole of an escape pod when the ship is gone and all hope is lost. It was just as well I couldn't get the hatch open. Slowly, as the world around me began to come into focus, several things dawned on me. I was trapped in an escape pod with, potentially, enough bootleg to get me the death penalty several times over, if word of this ever got back to my ship's planet of registration. I had no idea where I was but I was convinced that something was wrong with the computer when I noticed the date on the readout: eleventh of May, 2945: a Tuesday. If the bleeping computer wasn't glitched, I guess that would meen I overshot the Pyro-Nyx jump point. At least, now that I was awake, I could hope to regain control of the escape pod and figure out how to get through this with a minimum of discomfort. The sounds of bumps and clangs on the hull of the pod, coupled with some unexpected course changes, interrupted my chain of thought and forever banished the delusion that my return to civilisation might be, in any way, dignified.


El'Sin Convalescence

In the midst of a lot of noise and movement, the hatch must have swung open and I found myself face to face with a well dressed biped who's own face could only be described as turtle-like. No, these were, definitely, not the attractive female humans I secretly hoped to be rescued by, one day. Alas! Life is full of disappointments. All things considered, however, I was alive and my Xi'An rescuers were polite and professional. They provided some spare clothing, assigned me a place to sleep and the journey, of an uncertain number of jumps, saw us dock at a station in El'Sin. After being given a checkup, at one of their hospitals, I was taken out for a meal and a night on the town. My host was particularly interested in how a hull fragment, which could only have come from a Vanduul kingship, 265 years ago, was found lodged in the outer hull of my escape pod. I'd never heard of the Vanduul and, so, this was a little confusing to me. I was particularly uncomfortable about admitting to flying a light freighter while passed out drunk in its escape pod, but this was to be one of many very entertaining nights out, courtesy of the Xi'An. This sympathetic persistence of my host, with a little help from good food and drink, was eminently more effective than the more "traditional" methods of my own species.

I woke from a much more memorable bender, and several more like it over the weeks of Xi'An interrogation. These Xi'An knew what they were doing and it never felt like an interrogation. In fact, I never even felt judged by them. After one last bender with a particularly entertaining Xi'An host, I woke in the cabin of a large ship moving very fast through space. Based on what I am able to remember of our conversations, Fen Wei, my interrogator, adopted an interesting opinion about the events which led to my becoming...so suddenly "old". Fen Wei was convinced that, while my ship had been "not under command", it hurtled into a Vanduul fleet and collided with a structurally vulnerable point on a kingship, where the main hull and the superstructure join. From here, it penetrated the main breeder reactor, for munitions manufacture, which exploded with enough force to take out the kingship and two thirds of the accompanying fleet. Causing a thermodynamically controlled reactor to go supercritical was something of a curiosity for my Xi'An host who also maintained that additional thermal energy was required for an initial primary explosion of sufficient force to compress the reactor matrix while it was being vapourised.

As it turns out, I was smuggling 60 tonnes of enriched plutonium in addition to another 40 tonnes of super-oxidant called potassium astatinofluoroxinate bound for Bremen. Oh, I guess the beryllium shielding, necessary to prevent the plutonium's neutron radiation from killing me, made it not such a good idea to be shipping oxidants onboard the same vessel - much less super-oxidants. Everything was packed in molynitronese which, officially, I was shipping under license to Covalex, bound for Vega out of Davien. I'd taken what I thought was the Cano-Pyro jump point, only, the computer kept malfunctioning and where I got dropped off just didn't look right. That's when I got suspicious of some Messer trick and decided to long haul a quantum jump in the direction I'd dead-reckoned would bring me up on the Pyro-Nyx jump point in a few days - with my birthday on the middle day: Sunday, 2680-February-29. The problem with a long-hauled quantum jump is that it's not a quantum jump. It's basically over-riding the safeties and using the quantum drive to pull the ship incrementally to relativistic speeds (in this case, 6.026% of the speed of light) where the ship is left on the drift without a quantum field engaged - making collision a considerable risk because the quantuum field that bends space-time around your ship also bends all matter in that space-time around your ship. About the only thing worth avoiding is a sizeable gravity well if "moving" in proper quantum travel. However, long-hauled quantum jumps don't bend space-time and can allow very high-energy collions to take place. By my reckoning, there was nothing on the trajectory to worry about and there wasn't a lot to do. From Nyx, I'd make the jump to Bremen, drop off the enriched plutonium and potassium astatinoflouroxinate before taking on another 43 tonnes of the offical molynitronese cargo and carting it the rest of the way to Vega. This was going to be a good haul and my bender started without so much as a second thought.

At some stage while I was out cold, about 30 minutes prior the collision, the escape pod would have auto-ejected based on three criteria; firstly, that it had an occupant in stasis; secondly, that there was an unanswered collision alert; and, thirdly, that the 30 minute to collision threshold had been crossed. In hindsight and in spite of Fen Wei's doubts, I now think that the surviving Vanduul knew exactly what had hit them and this is why, within a year, the Vanduul began raiding human settlements. Of course, perhaps it is better, as the Xi'An say, to think that the Vanduul were simply acting in accordance with their culture; that their decision to hit Dell, a town on Armitage in the Orion system, had nothing to do with the fact that the cargo manifest, which I'd left with a pile of paperwork in the other escape pod, identified the recipient as a subsidiary of a company based in Dell. Whether or not I am "creating importance for an psychologicaly impacting experience by placing cognitive emphasis on a selection of statistically certain coincidences; in order to project that experience onto a major historical event", I think it is nonetheless a sobering thought, for me; in more ways than one.


Many Happy Returns: at least, as happy as can be expected...

As the Xi'An ship entered UEE controlled space, Fen Wei graced me with one more conversation. Over a good meal and some drinks, Fen Wei impressed upon me how unbelievable it is that I could be 302 years old with nary a grey hair on my head - at least for a Human. It was, after all, the first of March, 2946 and, in Xi'An tradition - or perhaps just good Xi'An diplomacy, Fen Wei had marked my birthday to the year and a day of the actual date. In any case, the Xi'An government had decided that I could not be held responsible for the events of the time, even if only because my age, as a human being, was too outrageously improbable to be considered admissible as fact - in spite of the telemetry and the likelyhood that there is probably some old forgotten record, archived somewhere and long forgotten, which could turn something like this into a circus if found by one of those ... journalists. Certainly, my escape pod, which had been designed to keep its occupant in stasis for up to four years, had malfunctioned and it was the most unlikely nature of this malfunction which had allowed me to survive being held in stasis for so long. Perhaps it was this the Xi'An were most interested in. After all, the escape pod was never returned, nor was any attempt made to leverage me with my secret. Apparently, as far as the Xi'An were concerned, they had rescued the sole survivor of a tragic space disaster far too traumatic for witnesses to recount and, after extensive rehabilitation, returned the survivor to his own people. That being said, this is just me, some guy you don't know, talking about himself as guys often do. However amazing the story or tall the tale, it's nothing to write home about - even if you do happen to know that the tale is more deep than tall.

On my return to the UEE, I was put up in a hotel, at Terra, and then notified by my former insurance company that they had learned of my recent accident and loss of ship and special cargo, courtesy of the Xi'An Embassy, and sought to fulfil their obligations by replacing my ship in addition to what seemed like a generous payout on the special policy I'd taken out on the cargo which, admittedly, I had sunk my, then, life savings into in addition to some "investment" from a syndicate who'd begun working the Covalex contractors. The first good thing that's ever happened to me as a consequence of waking up on the wrong side of time is the fact that all the, ah, "shareholders", are no longer around to collect and I am long forgotten.

It is strange, though. During my time with the Xi'An, I came around to the decision to focus more on my particular skill-set and start living again. Grief is a painful reality of life but the suspension of living is an inefficient way to set grief aside. I guess I came to the realisation that in order to begin living again, really living, I'd have to learn to live with the pain and mitigate it by doing the things I love to do. So I'd decided to quit hauling and upgrade my freighter for research and it was the darndest thing. The replacement supplied by the insurer might have been an older model, by today's standards, and it could haul freight without modification, but it was an actual survey ship. Was this a coincidence? Was Fen Wei actually listening and did he arrange, through the Xi'An, to accommodate my change of direction, or did Fen Wei talk me into this change of direction? I have no idea. I like where I'm going much more than where I've come from and I like the survey ship that will take me there. It took a bit of learning to feel out her helm and her handling and I sctratched the paintwork passing too close to one of Port Olisar's habitat rings. But it seems, I'd gotten lucky; very lucky. Even flying the newer base model, while waiting on repairs, I noticed that the habitat ring in question was stuck. It seems I did more damage than just scratching the paint and, yet, nobody has said anything to me about it and everything seems to be getting taken care of without the usual adversarial negotiations over who pays for what and how much.

I found this most peculiar because the last time I had anything insured was more than two and a half centuries ago. I remember having to sue insurance companies to get paid in full on a claim. However, this time, my insurer had an "equivalent" replacement waiting for me out at Port Olisar. I had to dig. I remember when insurers like this were militantly opposed to paying up. But they were no longer owned by the same people. The board of directors, such as it was, was manned by a collection of Xi'An corporations. So, it seems the Xi'An want to avoid questions and, speaking for myself, I want to avoid the shipless fate that I thought awaited me when I woke up in that escape pod. And, so, here we are, Fen Wei and I; both going about our business while whistling in the dark.

 
 
compass atop a bowl of roasted coffee beans set inside gold laurels
Thursday, ISO: 2019-November-21, 19:48 hours, UTC.


The "good" Old Days ... and the bad and the ugly. [WIP]

The second good thing that ever happened to me as a consequence of waking on the wrong side of time was the surprise news that the Messers had long been overthrown. I had a lot to catch up on and a lot to contemplate. I'm not from this part of space. I may share enough Human biology to qualify as the same species but my experiences don't all fall within the UEE star systems. Or, maybe they do. There are definitely some mysterious similarities between my homeworld and a now dead planet in a system haunted by brutal and relentless devastation. I remember the same thing happening on my own world like it was yesterday.


The Woodsman's Apprentice.

The place of my birth was lush and verdant. The village where I grew up was situated on a plaza built upon massive jade arches straddling a mighty river. The water was clean and fresh, while the fish were abundant and varied enough to guarantee we never felt hungry for something we did not have at hand. And, yes, we built everything out of interlocking masonry ground from what your language would describe as nephrite jade. On my world, nephrite was as abundant as bluestone on Earth in your Solaris system. Learning to work this kind of stone, on the other hand, was the next big technological leap in stonemasonry, after the discovery of the arch. My village, however, was given the techniques by a foreign power we supported in overthrowing some brutal tyrants who'd settled the arable northern plains in the guise of simple immigrants but who, under oath of peace, murdered any who could resist at a prerranged time and enslaved the remainder. Village after village fell to these deceivers until a little boy who'd escaped one such holocaust, found his way to my village and warned us of what had been happening. This was before we'd built the arches and the plaza above the river and, before that time came, we had to flee many times into the hidden caves of the old mountain to the south while the invaders burned our village to the ground, again and again. Then, well, the translation is to something literally unfamiliar in your tongue but we knew the ones who came after as what translates as the Tungsten-doped Beryllium Carbide Legion. I did warn you but, alas, your language does not have a suitable word to describe the amazingly hard and light material that this legion used in their weapons and armour plate. For the sake of brevity, we'll use chemical annotation to name this nearest translation: The Tubec Legion.

The Tubec legion served a civilisation which had progressed far beyond meagre democracy to a "summocracy" by adding universal suffrage to the the vote - which meant everyone of capacity had a vote with no exceptions whatsoever. Whatever rights the invaders may have perceived, the Tubec Legion stopped the sackings and allowed us to build something defensible and permanent using what we had learned from Legion artisans. The new village was named Grunstrom and became a hub for artisan guilds. In fact, the great house to which I originally belonged, House Tomasius, was a woodcraft guild serving the progress of the woodsman's and scout's craft. We learned smithing at an early age, along with reading and writing because many of the more obscure methods were recorded in great tomes of leather-bound velum that were chained in the House libraries to prevent misplacement. In the years just before coming of age, I apprenticed as a Woodsman, earning my trade by manufacturing all of my gear. Once I was of age, I took a path unexpected in the eyes of others and, yet, it made sense to me because of the terrible things I saw, on occasion, as a woodsman. I apprenticed under a former Tubec Legion sergeant as a scout and, after I graduated, I took quite a bit of work for the Legion. I had no fondness for the doers of terrible things and wanted to have a hand in ending them. As a scout, I found the brigands, identified their numbers, armaments, organisation, fortifications and key leaders. All this information I would later record and lodge with the commander of the local stronghold; a magnificent jade bastide, of deep forest greens streaked with the rich glinting gold of Tubec, built atop the old mountain to the south whose hidden caves gave my ancestors refuge before the arrival of the Legion. The name of this stronghold would translate as Tubec Hall and, within its walls, it housed a keep and the surrounding town - including market gardens and two plazas. Trade between Tubec Hall and Grunstrom greatly enriched the lives of people in both places and I enjoyed the best of both worlds. That was until we all learned of something that reduced our current problems to insignificant trivialities.


Worlds at War.

The landscape was cloaked in the deepest shadow from the thick clouds of a moonless Winter night while thunder, both distant and nearby, conspired with heavy torrential rain to muffle all of the sounds upon which we depend when we cannot see a hand in front of us. This sensory deprivation set me ill at ease and the rain which chilled me to the bone while incessantly tickling my nose and ears was my only companion as I peered northward, from Grunstrom, searching for the trouble I was convinced such a night would shepherd to our gates. I was both frustrated and afraid, very afraid, for I could see or hear nothing useful. I stepped out onto one of the northern arms of the arches upon which Grunstrom was built, hoping to find an antinode in the maelstrom from whence some small sense could be made. But as the river roared steadily louder and louder into the night, the rain did not let up and, near the end, all I could glimpse was a sudden, subtle deepening of the shadow which shrouded the entire village.

Broad daylight flashed into being, illuminating the swollen river and the waterlogged plains to the north. My misgivings were, alas, an overreaction to my own insecurities or so I thought until it dawned upon me that day had blazed forth in the blink of an eye; a day without a sun. The thunder had become continuous and the wind swung north to descend off the old mountain. And the wind became warm and then hot as the force of it built to the point where I was swept off the arch and fell into the icy waters of the river. As the river carried me rapidly westward, towards the sea, I gazed southward to see the source of light: a great glowing cloud rose above Tubec Hall in the visage of a mishapen toadstool. And something rose in the deep floodwaters and crushed my ankle; perhaps a pair of boulders washed down from the east. I could gaze no more on the mysterious sight as I fought the pain and floodwaters alike just to stay alive.

A levee broke as the river swept me around the outside of a bend and dumped me out on the plains along with fallen trees, boulders logs and bodies. The bodies were far too big and, much as I thought they may be bloated, the shape was all wrong for corpse bloat. These were muscular, masculine bodies; at least two metres in height and, from what little I could make out in the gradually intensifying dawn, they were dressed in the remnents of oddly styled clothing and their facial features were just wrong. Even in the waning shadows I coud see enough to know that whatever these beasts were, they were unknown to both my people and the Tubec Legion - a significant conclusion given that the Tubec Legion was now more than 1000 years old and spanned the entire continent.

I fashioned a splint from one of their strangely stylised knives, strapping my smashed ankle to it with the peculiarly elastic fabric of their clothing. The corpses were not anything of this world. In addition to knives, they carried a srtange device which I initially compared with the stock and body of a crossbow - but without the bow or bowsting itself. An educated guess set the stock into my shoulder and my finger upon the trigger exactly as a Legion crossbow would be handled. I did not like crossbows and favoured a compound bow. Crossbows were, in my estimation, simply too slow and too prone to accidents. But when I took aim and pulled the trigger, the mechanism fired and recocked effortlessly and the trajectory of the bolt of light was flatter than anything I'd ever seen. The weapon was too cumbersome for efficient use but it was vastly superior to my bow - now lost somewhere on the floodplain or in a river channel. It was also not hard to identify the ammunition cartridge for the weapon. Some variants of the crossbow also used a cartridge to house the bolts. I collected as many of the small cartridges as I could carry and just as well; because I met a survivor.

Words cannot describe the way I saw what I saw in that moment. Maybe it wasn't so much what I saw as I felt the agony of fire erupt in my left deltoid. I screamed not only in pain but for fear of being crippled because this part of the body was so crucial to being able to draw and hold a bowshot. The only reason I turned was because that fire was accompanied by an impact which spun me violently before I fell on my back in the mud. A giant, of angular visage, shouldered the same kind of weapon I'd recovered from one of the bodies and it drew a stylised knife as it stalked towards me. I carried the weapon, in question, at the ready, as per my trade. My right hand still held it in reach of the trigger while the forestock, as you call it, rested upon my knee. I bent that leg, lifting the stock and, as the sigths briefly aligned with the chest of the approaching giant, the gentle squeezing of the trigger crossed that threshold I'd learned when first firing the weapon. The shot erupted in the centre of the giant's chest and he fell backwards into the mud. That is when I first realised that we were all in some very serious trouble.

My journey took me back to Grunstrom. The arches crisscrossing above the river still stood, as did the ruins of the village upon it. The once green jade masonry was bleached and powdery, like chalk. The stench of decomposition already poisoned the air. I searched the town; at first for family, friends and anyone I loved or cared about and then, anyone I knew but finally I was simply searching for anyone or anything still left alive. I don't remember much of this bar the shattered visual flashes of carnage and the desecration of the dead that only an untended battlefield can truly bring forth. I must have wandered south and up into the eastern saddle of the old mountain. The outer village was gone. Smouldering rubble seemingly still hot from whatever had erupted above the mountain and Tubec Hall. I looked up to see the Tubec drawbridge warped but still present. It was raised and for the first time in living memory.

However, I knew a secret path through the caves and into the old mine workings which fed into the subterranian town of Mooshohle which now serviced new mine workings beneath Tubec Hall and traded directly with the Legion whose people came down through the basement spaces beneath Tubec Hall. The drawbridges on the other side of Moosehohle were up. I found the Legion house and made myself known so they could put me up until command took another look into the village. After I'd reported my observations, the outer bridges into Mooshohle were raised. For now, this was as safe as things could get.

When my report reached command, a messenger was sent with orders for me to scout the area with a contubernium of vanators to collect as many weapons and as much ammunition as possible. Although runners were few and far between, presumably not surviving long in what has become of the world, there were enough for us to know that the Tubec Legion was enacting this strategy across the continent. They were preparing for something big and, while many expected a Tubec counter-offensive, that something big, instead, came to us.

We first encountered them on our eighth sortie. They were like jellyfish except for the fact that their bright blue bodies were filled with a very light gas and they floated with hundreds of sticky stinging tentacles trailing for dozens of metres below and behind them. We wound up calling them what would translate as balloon-fish. These things caught up everything in their path and their sting was agonising. One of them brushed my right arm and I don't remember much. I'm not sure I do want to remember something like this. My screaming only stopped when the legion healers cut my arm off below the shoulder. If they hadn't, I would have slipped into shock and died like so many others. The balloon-fish soon invaded the caves and then the old mine workings. We were trapped. Even with the drawbridges up, they simply floated across but we had the weapons of the enemy and ammunition to spare. Many of the balloon-fish that were shot left a carbonised mark on the bleached wall behind them - usually of something bulbous and tentacled. Whenever they took one of us, the body was gradually digested and the common elements dumped out as razor sharp splinters of something similar to glass but so much harder. Even Tubec would be scratched, scuffed and marred by this grit. And the more died, the more of this grit began to blow around on the wind which became progressively drier.

Under the circumstances, even a cripple, like myself, was recalled to the service of the Tubec Legion. We were getting desperate and I was being escorted up to Tubec Hall on the coat-tails of some very exciting news. Great floating castles which had been observed elsewhere on the continent had begun to leave, although some had drifted off course and crashed into the ground. The giants, such as they were, were falling to some strange illness and their withdrawal was panicked. The Legion's best people had just spent a few months studying one of the fallen floating castles and, much as I figured out their smallarms, those people figured out the strange glowing texts and the language in which those texts were written. Some of those texts seemed to write themselves as they expanded with new information but, later, it was discovered that this was due to a technology you refer to as radio telecommunications - and our people were suddenly privy to news of what was happening on the enemy world; a planet in our own star system. There had, indeed, been a plague which is why they sent the sterilisers; their way of referring to the balloon-fish which they set loose to wipe out all life on our world and harvest the most valuable elements and compounds without risk to those who'd initiated the offensive. But in the panic to escape sickness, their soldiers had boken quarantine and one of them even made it home. The floating castles went into lockdown and as the plague devastated their homeworld, the floating castles gathered to concentrate fire on their homeworld and eradicate the diseased. They split the planet in half; by which time they'd run dangerously low on munitions and munitions resources. At this point, they fled into the darkness of deep space; perhaps to raid other, safer star systems.

We were as good as dead. They had left behind what seemed, at first, to be a gastric influenza which was a minor seasonal irritant for them but which had an astonishing fatality rate for us. And there was no lasting immunity. I later learned that this disease did not act alone but killed with a lot of assistance from the widespread radiation sickness which spread on wind-borne contaminants sourced to anti-matter bombs detonated over every major city and settlement on the planet. Between the anvil of this disease, which mutated every year, and the hammer of the balloon-fish which kept multiplying and attacking in greater and greater numbers, our days were numbered. We had the subterranean basements of our strongholds and cities linked by special gates which, of special materials in a crafted construction for effect without actual understanding, could nevertheless connect remote spaces across a single threshold. Even so, the hammer and anvil bashed and battered, bruised and broke us, deeper and deeper...

I had been summoned to the capital. Even as I set out into the chambre in which the gate was set, there waited for me an balloon-fish. My reaction, born of painful experience was instantaneous. I had a weapon modified with a no stock and a shorter barrel, at the expense of accuracy, and I drew that weapon and fired - blasting the shadow of the horror into the gate itself. When I stepped though the gate, however, I was briefly baffled by what I saw and felt.


Broken...

The world went black as the breath was ripped, briefly, from my lungs; and, then I was waking up on a strange bed in place made from lacquered metals and materials I'd never seen before. Apparently there'd been an accident. I'd been reconstructed from one of the few remaining, intact fragments of my body’s DNA which had been found drifting in amongst the wreckage of an interplanetary transport that these people referred to as a “mothership”. Given that my memories were intact, I guess that cloning my body was not all they did. I came to learn that post-mortem memory retention, in clones, was one of the odd effects of the pocket universe and the thick anti-matter nebula which occupied it. The nebula, itself, was thought to buffer memories exclusively to the individual whose DNA matched the entity from which those memories originated.

It was like something out of a dream. I had my right arm back as if I'd never lost it. Scars I'd once carried were gone. All I had left of my former life were my memories. Even as I was ushered forward into a subterranean base of foreign architecture manned by people with an utterly baffling tongue, I gradually learned the language and they then ushered me, ever so courteously, out into the crystal caves to learn how to use a pistol - a much more elegant and better fitted weapon than my old sawn-off. Although, in this place, recoil on these weapons was strong and poorly centred so that it took a long time to master a weapon sufficently to move up to something more powerful. I made my way very sparingly on the icy highlands of Thule before boarding a CDF Sleipnir down to the Eudorian mainland on Calypso.

Making ones way, here, was very difficult and often painful. Everytime something killed you, the revive system simply cloned you, drawing your memory from the nebula. I died a thousand deaths, or more, in this place. I earned my name by making my way through Hades and Hell itself as I scouted the closed pocket universe for a way out or even just a viable way of life. A society called the Lethal Brotherhood took me under their wing and, eventually, I settled in with a band of roughnecks and befriended some people who were looking for someone with my particular skillset.

It began with a secret organisation called the PFC or People's Front of Calypso. They wanted to get roughnecks and other specialists familiar with another kind of rough and tumble; specifically, that of hunting. However, there was a need for someone who knew the lay of the land or who could find out very efficiently, in order to lead hunting teams for which they supplied the necessary ordinance. It was a good system and a great oportunity for me. In time, I took on an apprentice and we expanded into Arkadia, another planet like Calypso. The PFC became the PFEU and, at our peak, we ran hunts and races on three separate worlds with contingency planning and budget proposals for a fourth world once PFEU requirements had been met. That's when out patron disappeared and our funding dried up. A new patron was found for Arkadia and the torch has burned bright there, ever since. But, this isn't such a big pocket universe into which one can disappear entirely - so I began to search for our former patron.

On a hunch, I returned to the place, from which my DNA had been recovered, to search for my missing friend and benefactor. Piloting one of the Nebula's standard Interceptors (a dual seater), I flew a plotted trajectory which followed the Blowtorch Trail as precisely as possible from the most dispersed part of the charged region to the most concentrated. Inside the 'torch, a void, invisible to the outside observer, almost shimmered as it simultaneously charged and repelled a continuously flowing stream of anti-matter nebula fluid which, consequently, flowed out and dissipated somewhat closer to the centre of the nebula. The void itself was barely twice the width of my interceptor and I found my vessel being pulled inexorably towards it. I decided to see where this led and drifted into the void.

I emerged from the void into a somewhat more familiar night sky. I even thought I recognised a constellation. It was the stellar density which characterised what I found so very familiar. The comms were ablaze in yet another unknown language and I could see I'd stumbled into a group of ships. Some were fighters or, perhaps, interceptors like mine, and there were a couple of shuttles which seemed to be exchanging something in a box, about the size and shape of a large coffin.

The fighters closed on my interceptor and, instinctively, I fired the engines to put some distance between myself and whatever was going on. Nothing happened. The engines redlined but, otherwise, nothing happened. My ship did not begin to move until the fighters opened fire and impacting projectiles began to impart their momentum. The fusillade smashed the wings off my interceptor and then I saw something large inbound; a rocket. I did not doubt that it had a payload unnecessarily large for the complete destruction of my interceptor and realised two things. I needed rocket propulsion to move out here and the escape pod just happened to use rocket propulsion to get the occupants far enough from the ship in the event of a catastrophic failure. So, I hit the eject button. For a breath-taking moment, the percussive ‘whump’ of cutting explosives pounded deep inside my body and the entire cockpit disengaged and the rocket propulsion system flared. I angled away, instinctively into a distant area of shadow out behind where this group of ships had been operating. That's when the incoming rocket struck and its payload detonated.

The expanding gases from the blast, along with wreckage and shrapnel propelled into my escape pod, destabilised the pod’s heading and left the pod tumbling through space along its current trajectory. I killed the rocket thruster and the power to all systems and let the world tumble. I was in the hands of the laws of motion, abstract as that may have seemed. The last thing I remember was a faint shimmering and another flash, like the one I experienced when I flew into the void, along the Blowtorch Trail. Recognising what had just happened, I powered up the systems and countered the rotation of, well, what little was left of my interceptor.

Unlike the previous star system which was devoid of anything but the star and what ships I could see, sensors picked up planets - one of which had evidently been split in half long ago - and another whose gravity well had my escape pod firmly in its grip. Like it or not, I was going in for the long haul on this planet. As it turned out, fate played one of his dirtier tricks on me.

A desert of sharp gritty ash blew and shifted underfoot as I gazed on seemingly familiar terrain features in the shape of a mountain and some artificial structure upon its crown. Down the main road, I could see bleached arches still criss-crossing what was now a river of ash. Gazing up, a gap opened in the swirling grey dust and closed almost as quickly but, in that brief moment I saw the familar warped shape of the raised drawbridge. Had I come home to what remained of my world or was I hallucinating? I didn't have time to contemplate the answer as a box-chassis fighter swept down over my escape pod and landed by the tracks I'd left in the ash. I'd guessed that the pilot, who'd just destroyed my ship, had followed my escape pod all the way here and I'd further theorised that he'd come to finish the job. I needed a way out of this graveyard, no matter how many loved ones and friends lay buried here. After all, I could always come back with more appropriate equipment. So as the pilot followed my trail, I circled back to his fighter and mounted the cockpit. Flight control was, on one hand complicated by a lot more options thanks to a lack of antimatter fluid of a certain nebula but, thanks to the inclusion of a flight computer, relatively simple to get going. And the pilot had left the engines running and the controls unlocked; perhaps expecting a quick kill and return to space. Instead, I had the ship in the air before the canopy had fully sealed and broke atmo without so much as call from the aerospace taxation agency to demand their "fee". I'd already mastered one foreign language and this one was not so foreign. It was almost a dialect of my mother tongue. In fact, the most familiar of all the dialects was to be found in Kiel and that's where I stopped, learned the dialect and got myself a scouting contract and, soon enough, a hangar. It's not as if those I now worked for had any idea that I was someone they tried to kill - and I reserved the best intelligence for myself. In a few short years, I upgraded to a light freighter run out of a hangar in Levski but registered somewhere light on taxes but draconian in regulation; thankfully, far far away. And for all their talk of pacifism, the Levskites sure did have some rowdy friends over in the next system. In no time, they'd connected me with someone at Covalex, someone in Bremen, someone in Vega as well as a few key suppliers. By the time my scouting contracts were up, I had a better paying outfit idling and ready to roll. I simply ... disappeared.