The Heplion Contingency – part 10

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Chapter 10: Party of Five

 

The entrance interview at the portal station went smoothly enough, for someone loaded with enough weapons to furnish a small squad. Much to Jekh’s amusement, the only moment in which the officer showed some resistance was when they mentioned being in Harmony for professional purposes, although the USIC’s paperwork settled that after some examination. Guess their biggest worry is that outsiders will steal their jobs, not that we’ll kill them, the eblian mused as they put away their passport, on the way out of the border control booths and into the reception area.

Jekh paused for a moment to take in the crowd, both of arrivals and of those waiting for them. A small group of fleshy, bloated creatures gathered around one of their own kind, in a long, silent embrace. Insect-like humanoids exchanged curt greetings before hurrying on. A young man with shriveled gray skin tried in vain to shake a hulking scaled creature’s claw. Humans, of course, of several different colors, accounted for a large portion of the people, perhaps most; still, this was by far the most diverse crowd the eblian had ever seen in person. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 9

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Chapter 9: Alleyways

 

Stupid, the gryzzik said to himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Nevertheless, he kept walking toward Umrad Hill, his head down and his hands in his ratty overcoat’s pockets. He knew perfectly well that this was the wrong thing to do, that it went completely against both rationality and instinct, and yet he couldn’t ignore the call. Not a compulsion like before, no… he was fully in control now. He was sure of it… well, almost sure. This was all very new to him.

It’s not here anymore, he thought. You’re free. Why are you doing this? His feet kept plodding along the wet sidewalk, one step after the other. He tried not to think about where he was going, but there was no mistaking it. Was it curiosity? That couldn’t be all. He wasn’t really that curious… after all, he wouldn’t have survived the streets this long if he was. He knew when to leave well enough alone. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 8

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Chapter 8: Across the Night Sky

 

A stark light illuminated Kasser from below as he looked at the Harmony night, giving the middle-aged man a ghostly pallor. He had an old can of beans full of black coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, as he leaned on the railing on the edge of the rooftop. While the sign below (for Hornung brand shoes, well beyond the purchasing power of most of the building’s tenants) glowed a soft blue from the street, the edge of the roof caught that thin band of the ad’s backlight that was unfiltered by its overlay. The inspector tried not to speculate about the mysterious assignment that pulled him out of bed at such an ungodly hour, contenting himself with a generalized annoyance at the prospect of having to work with unfamiliar personnel, while he pulled at his smoke between sips of deeply bitter coffee. That’s what you get for actually working for your salary instead of skating by like everyone else, he pondered. They make you into a celebrity, and then everyone wants to pester you with all sorts of random crap. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 7

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Chapter 7: A New Job

 

A sharp ray of sunlight pierced the office when Jekh tugged down on the blinds to look outside. They squinted at the harsh spotlight shining on their eyes from just above the horizon. Go figure, they thought. They get to live in a place where they know where the sun is all the time… and they still choose to face it. Hiding the sun with their free hand, they looked down on the city. A neat grid of perpendicular lines, all diagonal to the sunlight. Looking toward the night, they confirmed what they had already noticed about this city – no windows facing the sun. None but this fool, they thought. Is this crew as bad as the last?

“I like the sunlight,” said a voice coming from the door. Jekh turned to see a dark-skinned human with a thick mane of black hair crowning her head like a halo. “Most people hide from it, but I like to be able to face it. Bring everything in here into light. Plus, it reminds me of home.” She extended a hand. “I’m Dorella Moranthil, head of recruitment here at the USIC.” More

The Heplion Contingency – part 6

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Chapter 6: The Contact

 

“Gelondan Midnight,” Root said, slapping a credit plate on the counter.

The barman, an older, dark-skinned fellow, examined the plate for a bit. A. NAMKRATIPAR, it read, right under the First Bank of Kaldur account number. He picked it up and disappeared into the back of the bar, wordlessly.

Minutes later, as the young woman was sipping her drink – a pitch-black concoction clouded with thin wisps of white – a stocky, tan-skinned man, chain-link armor peeking out from under his overcoat, sat beside her. She couldn’t see past his forearm, as her hood was up and her head was down… but she didn’t really have to.

“Any trouble?” he said, with a deep voice, just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the loopball game blaring on the holocaster in the middle of the bar. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 5

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Chapter 5: At the Security Office

 

“Dang! Where’s he off to now?” The middle-aged security guard, clad in light armor, squinted at a round crystal screen mounted on a swiveling base.

“Dunno… they’re both moving way too fast to keep up!” his younger but higher-ranked colleague said, as he turned the screen around to adjust the field of view.

“There, boss! They’re standing still now!” the guard pointed excitedly.

“Got it!” He adjusted the screen, putting their target near its center, and turned a knob to zoom in. The two figures on the screen were talking, although no sound was transmitted to the device.

“I wonder what they’re… whoa! What was that?” The older man was wide-eyed, leaning closer to the screen for a better look. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 4

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Chapter 4: The Interview

 

The emptiness of the space around Nimban was unnerving. This was no mere darkness like the alcove where it had been previously hidden; in fact, there was some visual input, a faint rainbow shimmer coming from all directions at once. No, what was around the artificial brain was much worse than darkness; it was nothing. Nothing to be seen besides the background glow, nothing to be heard, and while Nimban didn’t bother trying its other senses, it knew they’d come up empty as well, because nothing else existed in this hyperspatial pocket it had been stuffed into. Rather clever, actually, it pondered. I’ve no way to connect to a mind that’s in another dimension entirely, which means she’s safe from me… for now. Out of options for the moment, Nimban carefully pondered its predicament, and the many possible configurations of conditions that could have made it happen.

About an hour later on the outside (and less on the inside; Nimban had a good grasp of the temporal distortion involved), a rift opened above the thinking device. It rapidly extended its telepathic senses outward, but found nothing. Then, as if to answer the question of what had opened that aperture, something flew into view with a loud buzz, obscuring the lamp-light shining in from outside. As the newcomer squeezed into the opening and descended into the hyperspace pocket, Nimban had a good look at it: an oval brass chassis, with a few psychically-active crystals inside for power, six clockwork legs, two pairs of silken wings supported by articulated brass stalks, and a pair of thin brass covers for the wings, giving it the look of a large mechanical beetle. A drone, most likely, remotely controlled via psychic link. More

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