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Time Reserved

"The falsity of life –all the ambitions then the reality as life unfolds in ways never dreamed of, the pitfalls, the mistakes, the consequences. The one factor that sustains us as we grow older, the memories, ah those memories of past where we consider every factor, over and over and the tears –the triumphs – the trials that bring maturity and wisdom - only after the fact –why is that?"

The fire grows cooler it needs fuel, the chill increases and the arms beat the body acutely aware that warmth is receding. The sky is clearing but smoky residue fleets across the air as if clouds are forming, but that is not the case, something else caused it.

Forest sentinels stand amid the bracken and grasses of the forest floor high on an escarpment carved from a prehistoric shifting of the earth's tectonic plates. Loose scree shifts among the rocks spread across the ground and a fire surrounded by more massive stones form a fire break where smoke rises signalling that more fuel is needed. Birds are inordinately quiet; hawks were seen earlier prowling for food but now as soft as the man lost in thought standing to stare into the night which casts shadows towards the edge of a high drop to the valley below.

The Universe, as vast and unfathomable as God, as diverse as humanity and as dangerous as ignorance and the question, unanswered for so long is why - stars burn, nebula's form and life must exist?

When I sit on my magnet beside a flickering fire, that is just right, and the coffee is perking strange thoughts such as this crowd my mind as if empty spaces need to be filled. Strange things occur when I concentrate, and I have a lingering flash or think I have seen something which is just off to the left or the right, just out of reach. An ethereal thing as if ghosts swirl with the night air for I am not alone. A thick mist has come up from nowhere, and the trees are phantoms as the branches writhe and move as if governed by a puppet master. Now it's a chillier wind, and the fire throws sparks as if Thor himself was angry.

Night animals scurried for cover as the light picked out their bodies for a marauding carnivore. Ground cover was scarce, drenching rain was vital. The only sustenance night killers found was the juice of their victims, and these were following the gorse into oblivion. The man looked up from the killing ground into the sky. His vision went through the scudding clouds, ignored the darkness, continuing on and into the swirling void beyond.

Another world, another place, something clicked inside his head as he watched battle fleets take up position; watched as worlds plunged into chaos and civilisations consumed. His demeanour changed when he realised that he came into this wilderness to find something else –something that he had -forgotten.

The tendrils of the camp-fire penetrated his thoughts bringing him back to the present. ‘Now here I am, one suit, no mortgage, looking at a campfire and dreaming of another world. Maybe I was hasty; I still don't know when it happened – this anger. Ever since –yes ever since – the last time I saw her. Whenever I was down, she could always keep the beast at bay, but now, now the creature wants a battle.' The smile curled at the corner of his mouth, a cruel malevolent smile, ‘But I did keep the source code for Lentil, the shitheads.'

Collis was going fifty, reasonably fit, and he had an overpowering urge he couldn't explain. For some time now, Col had been feeling uneasy, without being able to tell why. He had talked to Sam about his feelings, and if someone had accused him of being unhappy, he would have denied it. Yet something was eating at him; his past had arisen like a phoenix, to undo his peace of mind.

‘Next thing I'll be chewing my cud and thinking that life is simple and uncomplicated, and – that, there it is again – the voice if I could just whack up the volume.' Straining his ears for the sound, he turned his head in every direction. ‘No it's gone, now Sam doesn't think I'm strange.' He thought of a conversation he had with a good friend of his some time ago.

Collis was explaining to Sam that he felt as if someone was trying to contact him. ‘Laughable isn’t it?’ said Col.

His friend nodded and smiled that knowing smile, ‘Col at our age our past annoys us with what you could call opportunities, and we revive them I don't know a chalice, a reward or a loss who knows. Your future may be calling you'.

Out among the rocks and bracken, a shimmering light wavered and traversed the ground, and fractured radiation filled the spectrum. A blue light turned to iridescence as a photo-overlay slipped into place, and a land barren of life stopped. The two parts met and for a brief interlude existed at the same time.

Collis snapped back to the present as his friends face dissolved and waves of light washed over him, multitudinous waves of tantalising memories, sorrow, and anguish. He shifted his bulk on the log, irritated at his weakness. The night air became frosty. Pulling a heavy coat on, he squatted at the fire rummaging through the coals for a red ember. Throwing some more chips on the fire, the rough-edged hands stirred the coffee pot and alternately felt for the ever-present cup. Satisfied with a hot cup and a lit cigarette in his other hand he looked out to the horizon. ‘What have I stumbled on, the Aurora Borealis?'

The lights in the distance did indeed look like the northern lights; unfortunately, they weren't made by nature. The energy pulses continued as the two worlds came together. He sat and watched as the light intensity wavered, became blue fire, then dark grey and finally red.

At the last change of colour, the noise of the explosion thundered over the hills grabbing at his spine. He jerked as if an entity had entered his body. The eyes did not miss the blackened shape as it plummeted to the ground.

Within two kilometres of Collis, the plains thundered to leviathans as the remnants of a planetary ground force fought against overwhelming odds. Flyers wheeled and fired, and Dragmats disgorged dragoons. The survivors garrisoned themselves around their dead and dying, directing plasma fire at knots of troops walking determinedly into range. Two sections of the trapped men tried enfilading fire at the Zen wheeling craft. Thick black smoke curled from the plane before it turned over, spiralling into the ground. Another had made a smooth landing, but too close to the defenders.

The commander of this ragged force pushed his aching body upright. His hand flicked at the edge of his uniform where the bolt had thankfully seared through the material burning his arm, but the damage was minor. He knew their chances were slim to impossible, but the weapon in the Zen fighter might just make the difference. A quick check of what was left of his command, a flick of the head and they broke ground towards the grounded vehicle. A brief fight and the wrecked craft had new owners. A plasma bolt sheared off the door, and as the rest of the group gave covering fire, three others raced towards the metal body. Inside the cabin, they removed the hatch cover and crawled into the belly of the flyer. Metal poles bent, fingers were crushed, and tempers became red hot, but finally, their prize lay fat and hungry.

They ripped out the rubberised cushioning and tied the restraining arms together. Three of the team brought the weapon up, into the cockpit. Three men were bolting it to the bulkhead as the other two positioned the barrel and the third trailed the energy feed along the floor. Testing the sweep of the firing arc, a bright light surged from the barrel. The cockpits plas-metal instantly evaporated leaving a full field of fire. Directly in front were massed enemy troops. They repeatedly fired until fingers and hands lost all feeling and even then in their exhausted state did not realise that the energy store was depleted. The results were astonishing. The enemy had retreated in the face of the hell-fire, something for which Maruk would have the survivors sent to the Narfuk.

The intense heat of the weapon had acted like a pressure cooker, and retreat was the only way out of its proximity. Respite from annihilation was only temporary as field commanders, once again in command, screaming at the troops. The remnants of the ground force breathed in ragged gasps of the incoming cooling air and grateful lungs recovered from burning intakes of pollution. Shimmering rivulets of molten slag fell in bursts to the pitted floor.

Their temporary relief became alarmed at the sound of heavy treads grinding across the tortured ground. Dragmats ground to a halt on the high ground, reinforcing and providing cover to the dragoons. The omnipresent barrels were swivelling for a final assault. Resignation, defeat, and sorrow for loved ones held the spent force shortly, then galvanised them into action. Without a thought or word, but also know each other, they set their charges and made a last desperate exit from the torn off a section of the rear engine. Assault fire was spasmodic, as the enemy troops had expected the Dragmats to provide the final solution.

Running, falling, getting up, they stormed across the bare ground to the rocks above. Heated fire picked off some stragglers and too few made it cover as the holocaust erupted. Burying their bodies, covering heads they waited for the heat to stop.

One look told them they had scant time to put some distance between them and their pursuers. A crater had appeared where they had been, and most of the forward troops had disappeared.

There were still too many of the enemy. Racing from cover, they dislodged rocks and sought footholds on the hill above. Tearing holes in their gloves, scratching knees, the group moved swiftly into the greying light, only relieved by the flickering inferno below.

Drawn by the red light, Collis slipped into the tent and searched for the prototype automatic rifle Sam had given him to test in the hills. Throwing the ammunition bag over his shoulder, he hurried towards the fading light as if pulled by a magnet. The air around him had come alive, his hair pulsed with a blue light and fragments stuck to his hands. Dodging windblown debris, he wondered if the disturbance was a sudden storm. ‘It looks like a firefight, but how -.' His voice trailed off as another explosion hurried him on.

Running over the darkened ground, his keen eyesight picked out holes and large rocks, and he thanked his military training. He didn't pause as the level of the land turned upwards, just grunted surprise because, from his earlier sighting, the ground had been flat. The shaly rocks slipped under his feet, and he grabbed anything to help him climb towards the ridge above.

Slinging the rifle over his other shoulder, he stuck fingers in gaps between the rocks, slithering and sliding. His haste now driving him onwards and he didn't know why. Finally, he felt the ground even out and breathless as he pulled himself over the top. Checking his gear, he adjusted the bag and took the rifle in both hands. Sighting on the glow of the light he loped towards it.

The valley by now had cooled, and dragoons were in full flight after the battle-weary group, who had made good progress up the cliff. The sporadic fire had made the climb challenging.

‘Come on,’ said the leader, ‘before they call in more air support.’

They didn't know which way to run; they just took off putting as much distance between them and the troops. Collis couldn't swerve in time and ran full tilt into the group.

‘What the hell,' came from him as he grabbed one shoulder to stop falling, then he was caught by two others. At the same time, two troopers stood on the edge of the facing cliff and fired.

Garble came from the two holding him as they tried to get him to the ground. One of the men carrying him fell, but the other stayed on. The others returned fire but one after another, they threw their weapons towards the troops, and Collis heard or thought he heard ‘empty.' Plasma bolts zipped through the air coming closer and one melted the rock next to his leg. The burning ricochet cut through his trousers, and he said, ‘Fuck this, I don't know who they are, but you aren't' my friends.'

Getting up from his supine position, he grabbed the rifle and fed a magazine into the breach. The automatic loader whirred, and he pressed the computer keys. He now had a weapon that would give him multiple rounds, or single shot, depending on the information the distance laser relayed to the system's computer.

The men watched in fascination for the seconds it took to load the weapon. They grouped around him, and he immediately knew they were not the enemy, but these strangely dressed troops in front. They were indeed nothing like he had ever seen; they were in a killing frenzy. They didn't stop when he shouted, or when he fired a warning shot. The only response was more of the heated bolts.

‘If that's how you want it, then you've got trouble, my friend. Now, Sam, we see what you have.' Kneeling forward on one knee he sighted the weapons system and took out the leading black-clad figure. Immediately the others concentrated their fire on his position. He pressed the stud again, and this time the system took out the five leading troopers. The men around him hurriedly picked up some of the fallen weapons and pulled him away from the fight. Quickly they retreated, several were wounded, and they were carried. A bolt landed millimetres away; he brought the rifle to his shoulder and activated the weapons system, dropping the trooper like a bag of wheat. Holding the stance he waved the others on, but one stayed near him.

Collis stood as still as he could and waited. The one who had stopped came over, and they both watched as more troopers went over the top. Without one thought of mercy, Collis fired. The system worked without a misfire. He threw the bag at the other man and signalled for another magazine by throwing the empty at him. A nod and they understood him.

Deftly the other plucked what he needed from the bag, and Collis reloaded all in one movement. Drawing the rifle sight across the terrain as a third eye, he emptied the magazine. Nothing moved, but his comrade did. Pulling Collis's arm, he pointed towards where the others had gone.

‘Yes we had better,' he said. ‘I don't know how many of these things there are, but this is not a shooting gallery.' He knew from one of the bodies they had pulled into their cover to get the weapon that he was not shooting humans. The features of the creature were never on this planet. There was no nose, membrane covered the eyes, and a foul stench came from the orifice, he took as a mouth. Taking one last look, he followed his partner across the top of the hill to the edge.

The group huddled around the place he had just climbed. Diving to the bottom of the bag, he reached his ever faithful rope. Tying off one end, he threw the coiled part down the angled rock face. Smiling, the others looked to him and started the descent down the cliff. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and looked for the bag. A touch on his shoulder and he saw the bag on the shoulder of the one who had joined him. He waited until the last one had gone over and then grabbing the rope he hurried down as fast as he could move. Once on level ground, he aimed at the ropeway up the cliff face and with the aid of the laser light managed to cut the rope off.

Collecting the remnant, he coiled it about his other shoulder and pointed the way for the others to follow. His idea was to return to camp, gather the rest of the ammunition, and get everybody into or onto the four-wheel drive and make their way back to the road and the authorities.

That was the plan if something extraordinary didn't happen in the next few minutes, and it did.

They didn't stop until they reached the camp. Collis ran through the dying embers of the fire into the tent and rummaged around amongst his stores. Opening the bag, he threw all the magazines in; he turned sensing movement, but there was nothing there. Holding the pocket, he emerged from the tent into a cloying mist, ‘Where did that come from?'

Col was about to continue when a voice, he thought it was a voice, said, ‘You are needed, and your time is here.’

At that moment, the space immediately in front of Collis opened as if a door opened, and Time was Reserved.

The voice was compelling, chilling and commanding all at the same time. The Wanderer was calling as Collis gravitated to the barrier. ‘Your time has come, all that you have waited for is now at hand, and Sam is with me.’ Collis stood glued by the soles of his shoes. He shouted into the void. ‘Sam is with you, and who are you?’ His skin shrank from contact with the alien environment.

The air around him felt solid and impenetrable as if he walked in the mud. ‘You know I don't have any idea what is going on. Sam is safe but where is he; when I left him at the shack he was a bit strange, but that's Sam, so where is he now?' The body shape called Collis Erik shifted in time and became part of the now. The ‘puter had worked its magic under the deft fingers of the Drennick operator and ERUS coalesced reforming in another place in another time.

Fog-mist grew shapes; the shapes drifted towards him. He thought the forms were people, but the sudden breeze blew them away, arms whirling like windmills, heads splitting and dissolving. The substance was ethereal, his hands penetrated solids, and gravity was suspended.

Silence and floating were two sensations he felt at the same time. He didn't know which way was up, or even if he was still standing. Colours flew in and out of the mist, and suddenly he could feel his feet once again sticking to the ground.

He swayed as his mind began to function and the senses came alive. He felt lighter on his feet; actually, he was stepping quite high thinking that there could be obstacles. He couldn't see the ground, only handle it. A soft sucking sound followed each footfall, but he kept on, as his tiredness seemed to evaporate.

Time moved in convolutions as Collis moved through the dimensions and the year changed from 1994 to 2224. The figure shuddered yet again as if from a sharp shock. Time wavered, and the movement was complete. Suddenly the door closed as the figure again tried to assimilate itself. In the netherworld, the distance was immeasurable. Sounds, sensations, sight were all pointless. The inner self-fought to assert its dominion, against the learned traits. The mind was in turmoil, the arms and legs without substance, the body reeled from the unknown. Awareness sprang from the tingling cadence of air molecules around the coalescing human shape. Circles became waves, colours moved in and out of the rings without rhythm. Obelisks grew from the edge of sight and hurtled outwards. Swiftly now the two worlds grew apart, the transfer was complete. Sight and senses returned, and the figure became aware of the terrain, through slitted and wavering eyesight.

‘Light, I can see the light but no substance. Clouds appear to be too low. I can't see any grass or trees. Am I still on the flats, or where. The ground is spongy, and everything seems to be covered in sticky black sludge.' Collis walked forward, the ground grasping at his shoes, weeds stuck to his clothes. ‘The grounds alive,' he grimaced. Collis sauntered as nothing was familiar, and distances were a mockery. What he thought were buildings swiftly receded into the vastness of the landscape and replaced with blackened trees shrouded by a growth that moved upwards from the ground.

There was nothing on the tree above where the growth stained the bark; instead, it congealed around the trunk, and as he watched, it moved. The air smelled of burnt charcoal and an overlay of sooty dust started to accumulate on his face and hands.

‘Well, well here I am, I'd look good now if someone came out and said, ‘You're on Candid Camera.' Collis's thoughts went to his friend. ‘Why, am I here and where is Sam,' he spoke to the wilderness. He turned around as if half expecting the owner of the voice to come forward and guide him to Sam. Collis had not entirely believed the sound, but he had never had a real friend either, and certainly didn't want to lose the one he had now. Collis wrapped himself in his coat and moved towards an area of sparse tree-like growth. Looking at where he had been, he saw nothing apart from a flat plain, not unlike the area in front of him. He trudged towards the horizon. Something compelled him in that direction.

‘Maybe I started this way, might as well keep going.' Collis warily approached the group of stunted upright trees with some overhanging cover, for protection from the sooty rain. Kicking the loose clumps of vegetation, more to see what it was, he spied the upraised bole of a tree and sat down. A drowsy blanket of weariness descended on him like night, and his head fell to his shoulders, in seconds he was dreaming.

Listen, Collis, don't get down on yourself, I don't know anybody our vintage who has the understanding of computer systems that you do. That system you were telling me about if you could build that-.

The technologies not available, not yet - if we could get artificial intelligence in something the size of the current microchip, we could have the beginning of a program which could think - the possibilities are endless.

Yes, I'm sure the military has played with the concept.

I think they have something already, but it would be in its infancy.

No matter, the system you built for the MX should be able to take out anything it aims at, without wasting ammunition. I want you to take it with you when you go bush, try it out.

The prototype, you are going to give me the MX14?

No a smaller version using the hydrogen mass converter, but without the side-breach. It’s a field weapon to be used by ground troops, well that is what I started with.

What do you mean, what you started with?

While I was working on the 14, I came up with a variation, rather than have just a heavy weapon, why not vary the length and thus the velocity to give the system adaptability.


When I'd finished I had something I'm not entirely sure of, it works, and its light and it has enormous stopping power.

Collis looked at his friend with amazement. You mean that the -?

Yes, the original design has been changed, and I didn't do it. I never drew the plans, something else, or somebody has altered the schematics. Your computer system for fire control wouldn't be compatible with the original, now it is as if they were both done by the same hand.

At that point, dinner in the guise of a hot pot, the specialty of the house announced its presence with a heady aroma that brought juices flowing into his mouth. Collis leaned over to smell the aroma wafting from the dish and rolled off his pile of leaves.

‘I could smell that pot, damn I'm still here, so it's not a dream and Sam is somewhere, but where the hell am I and what did he mean about the design?' Wiping some of the dirt off his fatigues, he looked around. He could see absolutely nothing in front of him. He tried to rub the dirt off his hands, but it wouldn't come off. ‘What is this, indelible dirt?' He rubbed his hands against the tree, but still, it stuck remorselessly. As he continued to stroke, his ears picked up a keening sound quite close. The sound came closer until the whole of the copse of trees screamed in unison. Hurriedly before he went deaf, he bolted from the area and using his hands and feet to guide him, he shambled, stumbling from one tree to another. Just as suddenly the noise stopped as if his movement had somehow acted as a stop button.

The time of ERUS passed through the ether leaving a signature transmission.

‘It happened again. I felt it, the time has been transgressed. Give me that transmit.' His senior Dragoon transmuted the globe and moved it within range of Mark's talons. He peered deeply into the image, where lines subsected lines, and there it was a synapse.

‘Look Dargurion,’ bellowed Maruk, ‘It is here, on the outer reaches, here where I have drenched the ground with condiox. Where there should be no life, there is a reading.’

‘My Lord it is impossible, nothing can live after condiox, nothing,’ spoke Dargurion.

Lifting his cape, Maruk pressed the digitiser and rose from his dais. He stared into the transmat studying the reading and gesticulated to the leader of his cohort. ‘Misbygin, assemble your Halpen, I will have a report on this sector, go immediately.'

Bowing as he left Misbygin exited the panelled entryway and ascended the stairs. Striding swiftly, he pressed his wrist digitiser to alert his ‘dark ones,' the Halpen. From their darkened pit, they arose and mounted their personal AMATS. In single file, they came out of Dragon Pass (oft-called Spectres Way) and descended to the plain as a malevolent shadow.

While the thwarts keening turned Collis's ears to putty, another stranger followed an unremitting path to the future. ‘Arturio, Arturio where are you,' his wife called. In the chamber, Arturio called, ‘Tending the plants.' Merceet wiped her hands on the apron hanging from her ample hips and shook her head. ‘He is a good provider, my husband,' speaking to no one in particular. ‘Without his efforts, our table would see poor fare indeed.' Wiping her forehead and leaving traces of white powder on her upper eyebrow, she crossed to the synthesiser-cooker and programmed the keys.

‘Merceet, my loving wife,’ Arturio always annoyed his wife when he used the old tongue that which was before, the time that belonged to his ancestors. ‘I must start on my rounds or the thwarts will cease to function.’

‘Come have your meal, my beloved,' countered Merceet - I can play this game also.

As Arturio consumed the contents of his meal, the thwarts increased their keening, a signal to their keeper to tend them. Arturio rose from the table and picked up his resonator. ‘I will be back in three phases,’ he called as he entered the grav-unit. Punching the button for terran entry, he leaned against the support beam and tightened the attached cinch strap. The unit ascended from the living area through the support and storage areas up to the planetary surface.

Collis moved deeper into the copse of trees seeking shelter. ‘Looks like moss or leaves,' he grumbled. Moving some into a clump, he sat and leaned against a tree surveying his surrounds. ‘Now,' he said aloud, ‘I am in bed and smoking and looking out of the window over the bay. Then there are the open boats, I can smell the sea air. No, I am here but where is here and who or what was that voice. Sam's here but where is here? Oh, this is ridiculous, I feel like a guy at examinations, all questions, no answers. Where in hell am I, it looks dead, wherever it is, yet I can breathe.

At least here is better than out there. Imagine a place where your instincts, your eyesight, ears, taste cannot define where this is, no definition. I don't even know if I am sitting on or under something.' Collis's thoughts were a jumble as his senses fought to identify his surrounds. He stretched and closed his eyes, putting his glasses in his breast pocket and pulling his coat about him. Movement, I can see movement,' Collis stretched then stood up. ‘I can see something but what is it?'

As he ascended Arturio counted the levels. "I must check the storeroom and the air dispersers,' he thought aloud. ‘I don't want the bottom levels building up, or it will take midians to clear, and pre-filter for use.'

‘This rubbish,' Arturio voiced. ‘Someday he will pay, whenever we relax this grows and multiplies. Without the thwarts, we could not live, and without us, you could not live old friend.' Arturio spoke as he cleaned the last part of the thwart. It had subsided with its keening and seemed to stand taller. ‘Night is worse,' said Arturio. ‘When you return air for us to breathe, this condiox tries to choke you.' He does not know,' Arturio said aloud. ‘He does not know that we have returned to this area, where we are safe from his genets, his flesh eaters, his abominations.'

The Halpen was in full flight. Passing from Spectres Way, they thundered across the outlands towards the forbidden presence. In line abreast, they searched the horizon for a tell-tale sign of a craft. Misbygin had reasoned that the creature must have a ship, how else were they to occur at this time. The cohort spread about him in the darkening sky as coal black eyes searched, failure would mean dancing with the Narfuk and with that thought, and the vile creatures recoiled.

As the Halpen fled Dragon pass another made their way to Tinurth, in another part of the wastelands. This area and indeed the planet, which had been a trading highway, had been abandoned, for most life forms had vanished from this system. The term ‘most life forms' would not describe Hardon Williams, in any of the numerous languages/dialects in this piece of space. Adventurer, vagabond, womaniser or drifter, the description of Hardon might even stretch the vocabulary of a wordsmith.

His Dove-wing flyer, the Necromancer, had many improvements from its original design specifications; one in which he had invested a wad of the negotiable coin of the realm, was the engine configuration. Designed and installed by an Illurian it was superior to those built by the Xinian artificers. The redesigned motors ran on the principle of hydrogen-mass conversion, and the light speed achieved ensured that Hardon came away from any negotiation with all his parts intact.

Another innovation had been the weapons as he had insisted on energy-generators instead of the single stream laser, in vogue for a short time and rapidly disproved as the owners disappeared. And of course, the mass projectiles for anything more significant than a cruiser had been prudent and economical. The addition of a light refractor to give the ship the benefit of a wavering form, or more succinctly becoming a shadow when the light favoured such a tactic had improved his trade negotiations by the power of one original figure.

So, why was this beautiful figure of an intelligent, economical and organized human being stuck on an inhospitable escarpment in a wasteland, with his flyer stationary and parked on the flatlands below? The thick red hair pinned to his scalp by the wrap around head cover itched. The gloved hand pushed at the slightly skewed nose, more to see if it had any life as the eyes scanned the incline of the opposing slope leading from the edge of the escarpment to the bare land below.

‘Not too much of a drop, the slide will be fun. I’d say that Garrick won’t be making this rendezvous. I was stupid to come, not much profit in it, more the curiosity value.

Nevertheless, a long lost jewel from a royal collection sounds like something you would find on Earth, certainly not out here, but diamonds have their uses, more than a fridbit of jewellery for a woman's arm. The pulse generator needs a new one. Oh well, maybe another day.' With the last word, he jumped forward feet first hurtling down the slope of loose sand and rock.

Minutes later he stood at the door of his flyer as the sentry droid reported activity in the space above the planet.

‘Sir, an unidentified ship has entered orbit. It does not match the configuration of the vehicle on the log.’

‘Fine Andros, let’s get on board, activate the energy shields, warm up the guns, and would you mind, a cup of tea as well please.’

As the door closed, gliding on plas-wheels, Hardon sat at the console amidships, where he could see forward and around through the mag windows. Above and slightly ahead, the screen showed pictures of the ionosphere of the planet. The triangular lines flowed intersecting with a pulsing dot. ‘We have to contact Andros – lift off and into orbit, and we'll have a look at our visitor.'

As the Necromancer lifted off, drawing on the planet’s natural gravitational forces and aligning the magnetic waves, the dove-wing accelerated slowly. Flying through varying layers of atmosphere the sleek craft engaged shadow-drive and entered the ionosphere. The pulsing dot soon appeared as a cruiser – an unmarked cruiser.

‘Andros, move us out of here –quickly. I don't want to play with a cruiser – what the hell do they want – because there is nothing down there they could possibly need - or are they scouting – a bit big for a scout. Take us along the horizon and head for the other side of this planets moon. We will come around the other side as he goes to the ground, then we are out of this quadrant, there may be more.'

Still scratching his thick head of hair, the itch remained; his other hand took the proffered cup of tea. ‘Ah Andros, the tea is the correct temperature, thank you.' One hand held the container, while the other caressed the armaments pod. The cruiser was no match for the Necromancer, but he knew there would be a base or Mothership out there somewhere in space.

The air around him inside the ship was a warm 33 degrees while the air outside, that is the vacuum of space he did not want to know about. The more of it between him and the stranger was what concerned him and the whereabouts of his agent and why they had not made the meeting.

Steaks of anti-matter trailed behind the Necromancer as it put the satellite moon between it and the unknown menace of a battlecruiser. The droid set course for the next habitable planet, Illuria.

‘Try to contact our source Andros, the tri-beam should do it, as long as it doesn't bounce off anything and get picked up by our friend out there.' His hand waved at the planet they just left and the now orbiting battlecruiser. The well-used thumb and first finger twirled the spoon, pushing at long dissolved and expensive organic sweetener, sugar.

Triluminal distance narrowed between where the Necromancer was and where it had to go. Distance in space was perceived, indeed not actual, you could be some distance from here, or from a planet, but from two places in an area, the range was Triluminal, a time distance not a spaced distance.

The night had swept across the southern hemisphere slowly. The second moon would make its ascendancy towards the darkest hour, so twilight reigned, bringing just enough light for the inhabitants to continue trading and bartering in the open air market at the centre of the town.

Harden had landed at the port and taken a flyer into the central business sector where he made his way through the throng to one particular building. Ascending to the floor he wanted, this company could not afford a flyer arrival point, so it was the old lift. Walking into the vestibule to be met by a droid. His security card scrutinised he sat and waited.

The Illurian he waited for - Tar'kel, the name was shortened for Terrans, as our teeth are blunter and our tongue does not have the elasticity needed-was his contact, among other interests, for rapid acquisitions: those that circumvented the exorbitant taxes and ‘t,aitha' – the time-honoured bribes.

A triumvirate of influential people currently dominated Illuria; capitalism the terran way had not made inroads –yet. That would come,' he smiled, ‘and would it before all my birthdays have come and gone?' Harden had been here before; the waiting area was spacious with tubed chairs and tables with an assortment of plants and books placed in alcoves. The carpet was made of the new fibre – self-cleaning and each day changed colour depending on the particular weather outside the glassed recesses - called windows on Earth.

The Illurian had two different personas. His work entailed freight between Illuria and the outlying settlements, sometimes off-world, but his primary task was as head of an interplanetary group interested in restoring free trade commerce between planets. To this end, he had formed relationships with several influential people and Harden was one of his off-world contacts.

Harden had also heard of an intergalactic war raging without end and considered the possibility that this meeting had more reasons than he had been told. ‘I need the diamond for the pulse generator, and probably Garrick has found another buyer. Tar'kel could have simply offloaded it at the warehouse; instead, he had insisted on this meeting. Diamonds, this far from the source, were a rarity, and I could use the Ilithian crystal instead, but the difference was as between steel and plas-chrome.'

The door across from him opened and the flipit of white hair preceded a tall Illurian who stepped out and glided, instead of walked, as if he was still in low gravity to Harden and grasping him by the arm said, ‘come.' As Harden went to his meeting with the enigmatic Tar'kel, the war was coming to Harden, sooner than he expected.

‘The sensors reported a storm, and that usually produces them. We also noticed that there was more gas this time and moving, as if something large created great force, that is large enough to move - well you look, that asteroid is a small moon. Clouds of rubbish swarmed around the ship so much that the fuel scoop had to be retracted.'

The Illurian looked at the human noticing how compact Terrestrials were, compared to Illurians. ‘Pushed, as if something was coming behind it?’ the Illurian showed alarm that looked more like a sardonic smile to the human. ‘You don’t think - ’

The conversation stopped as a white burst of light tore through all solid matter. Soon the brightening became solid and seemingly enveloped the entire Nebula. Those within its reach shielded their eyes, while others reeled from the intensity. The brightness retracted like a pulsing heart, reached out once more, then receded. Slowly it fractured as the stars broke through and eyes once shielded now impacted upon the array of cosmic brilliance. Sirens emitted a call to stations throughout the ships, as some unshielded equipment ceased to operate.

Starmine's droids shuffled along the corridors of the ship seeing to damage control while on the bridge of Starmine consoles blinked back into life as the sentients stumbled around unable to see. As raw optic nerves regained forms of sight, the bridge configuration gradually eased into focus.

The Nemon's bulbous nose bristled with auniomonics. The prow of Nemon resembled the eyes of an earth fly. The larger bulb underneath the bridge accessed the hanger deck, while the secondary lamp sat on top, housing the bridge. The bridge compartment was comprised of four sections of opaque plas-glass which could be either see through or stable.

At this instant, the droids at the consoles had see-through functioning. At the forefront of the nose was the axis of a triangle while the other two sides were equidistant finishing at the base that led to the corridors. There was no central drive as on an Earthship. The functions of drive and speed were autonomous and handled by the ‘puter, which of course was connected by the auniomonics system to the droids.

The Commander of Nemon, an Illurian designed battlecruiser; built by the shipyards of Zinnia and manned primarily by humans; with some command staff from the Ollicipie, and support specialist staff of Illurians - turned to his command equal. His hand briefly swept his face around the eyes as if the brilliance of the light could be swept away by something as inconsequential as a hand. ‘Leylink, you were right once again.'

‘Ramos my friend, the crews should be seen again shortly, and there should only be minimal casualties due to the cleverly designed portals. Our pathfinder was not so fortunate; it came in with a blind crew, so you can thank them and not me for the warning.'

‘Several of our crew served aboard the ‘Skilling,' they have asked your liaison officer about some friends they had among the crew. We were sorry to hear about the incident, but how or what is causing this disturbance?'

‘We are' – and here Leylink the Illurian faltered in the reply. He was unsure how to broach the subject and then decided to be direct. ‘-unsure as to the cause, several of the worlds in this segment of space were attacked. The Windforce is engaged in battle at this moment, according to our intelligence. And the beast has his creatures on land and in space seeking out territory for a base. I hope that that light does not herald the arrival of an Em-ship. However, the disturbance on the rim is being looked into.'

‘An Em-ship, I have never seen one? And looked into-by whom?’

‘Pray that you never see one - the Lord Bortok has taken the Genesis to the rim, that is all I know, at this moment,’ said Leylink. The weight of his reply forced him to elevate the thin neck to stare into the eyes of Ramos. The import of his words had ramifications far beyond their imagining.

‘I have been away too long-?’

‘Yes,' the rest of the reply sank into the decking as the import of the Genesis being required - registered. That means they could be coming through – oh god!

That wasn't high on Collis's list at the moment as he was stuck to the ground and it moved, it crawled up his body as his senses went into overdrive and his mind attacked by the creepy stuff made him jump up as he swept it off with his hand. It stuck to his side but miraculously came off when he spat on it.


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