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

The Heplion Contingency – part 3

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Chapter 3: Beneath a Red Sun

 

Jekh struggled against the discomfort, trying in vain to catch some rest. Their bunk wasn’t bad at all – psychically-generated insta-barracks tended to come well-furnished – but the armor chafed against their rocky skin at odd angles. Their chest and hip plates were neatly stacked on the ground, but arms and legs took longer to armor up than the customary three minutes’ readiness, so they stayed covered up, and ached.

God damn that fool to the shadows, they thought. It was Colonel Athadon’s idea, outfitting all the troops in the same standard-issue platemail, all neatly patterned like a proper army. In Jekh’s long experience with deniable-assets mercenary work, Athadon’s company, Evrand’s Chosen, was the only one that didn’t let soldiers pick their own gear, resulting in a haphazard battalion that looked like a band of raiders or pirates. And if that wasn’t enough, whatever ignorant clods that were in charge of inventory thought human-standard armor was just fine for an eblian such as Jekh. Sure, the general size and shape were more or less the same, but when it got to details – slightly different proportions, muscles in all the wrong places, and dear God, why do humans have such skinny arms – wearing that thing was a nightmare. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 2

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Chapter 2: In the Dark

Nimban woke up into total darkness. What was that? – it asked itself. It had been unconscious for a while, no way to know how long. How could something like that happen?

The last image recorded in its memory came to the fore: after its safe’s sudden opening, it had a light shone on it, and behind that, a young human woman. Nimban had barely had time to register this intruder before she activated a psionic plate. A psychic nullifier, to be sure – only that should be capable of disabling its artificial mind.

It extended its senses outward. Sight was useless there, of course, but a psionic brain such as Nimban had other resources to draw upon. Sonar input revealed it was inside a much thinner container than its usual safe, which was hardly surprising; it had obviously been stolen. It didn’t seem to be moving. Its telepathic probe wasn’t registering anyone nearby. It was deciding whether to activate its uplink to the Conglomerate database and consult it about the present situation, when it detected a mind approaching. More

The First Story

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The First Story

by Fernando Sacchetto – dec. 2009

Once upon a time, there was a peasant boy who loved to play. While he was very poor, such that he often had to go to bed hungry, he was rarely without a smile, for his life was never devoid of wonder and magic. Nobody could tell from looking at him, as he looked in all ways like simply one more peasant boy in a dreary forgotten down, living a dreary and soon-to-be forgotten life. However, when he played – which he did in every waking moment of his life, as much as he could anyway – he lived a thousand different and fantastic lives. This time he was a bold knight, fighting against monsters so strange and fearsome that the wisest sages could scarcely find words to describe them; that time, he was an escaped slave, trudging through dank sewers as he evaded the tricks of his wicked sorcerer master, contriving plans to bring about his downfall and claim his remote frozen kingdom. His little head had more stories in it than the greatest of libraries, each more amazing than the last – and, when he finally tired enough to lay down and sleep, they came to life.

One cool spring night, the boy dreamt of a king. This king and the peasant boy were one and the same, although he could never have suspected that, having been a powerful and respected king all his many years, and a young high-born prince before that, but never a peasant boy. The king in the boy’s dream led a life of glory and greatness, for his kingdom extended in all directions as far as a horse could ride, and was filled with people who had nothing but deep love and respect for their sovereign. He lived in a vast and beautiful castle, where he sat on his high throne, dispensing justice, pronouncing edicts, laying down the law, and deciding on war and peace, all with the most hallowed wisdom. He would also go out hunting gorgeous beasts with his trusted retainers, and hold memorable feasts for a shining court, where the most delectable foods and drinks in the world were served, and the most enchanting music played. Yet, despite all this, deep inside, the king was troubled.

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