Swimming in the Zodiac

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Peregrin
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Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Peregrin » Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:39 pm

Yeah, this is the story that was supposed to be last year's Secret Santa but I wound up expanding it unto this long story arc of gleefully demented cyberpunk espionage action that for obvious reasons (which will, however, be a bit of a twist to first-time readers) doesn't fit into the canon of The Eternal Game so right now it will count as an "elseworld" alternate universe. Due to things related to college, I never actually finished it but I plan on doing so this summer (it's only one chapter I need to finish) so I'm going to make a thread for it here, what with the entire 2008 Secret Santa business being long past its original "last selling date". I might even make a sequel at some point, or a spinoff starring Matt Kieszlowski. (a character who doesn't appear until the third chapter but has apparently become a fan favourite")

So, without further ado, here I present:

Swimming in the Zodiac
Chapter 1: Agartha

Highways and maglev monorails, each contained in a grav-tunnel resembling a transparent tube, stretched between each corner in a city built on the inside of a gigantic constructed sphere. Together, this city's transport infrastructure formed a gigantic three-dimensional maze that looked like how a spider tripping on LSD would see its own webs. At the centre of it, an ersatz sun glowed a vaguely metallic purple from behind a cage-like polyhedral scaffold. Agartha. A constructed city-planet in the Molossia system, one of the few politically neutral zones in the explored universe. A refuge of gamblers, spies and other rogues.

The inside of this hollow planet was lined with the buildings from which the highways and rails jutted: Residential, industrial and commercial districts congealing together in stalactite-like hives adorned by neon billboards. Each of these megacities had amidst their sprawl public parks each at least the size of Israel. The interiors of these park recreated in minute details the idylls of the known universe from the vermilion deserts of Aumataugark to the jewelled forests of Alardun. At least that's what the "welcome to Agartha" tourist leaflets promised Chinese space-time agent Lai Chi Kueng, which is not his real name, as he sleepily skimmed through them.

Looking out the window of the rental car he remarked to himself: "Yeah. The sort of web a stoned spider would make."

His girlfriend and fellow agent whose undercover identity is Lin Ha Que, an unusually tall woman with her hair dyed a reddish orange and done up in a big spherical afro, answered him from behind controls: "I think it looks more like some kind of art installation involving a dead Tagomagoan sky-jellyfish that's been... thrown into the vacuum of space and fished back again". Her speech bursted into a light-hearted chortle.

He asked in a voice suggesting mild apathy: "Vacuum of space?

"Yes."

Chi Kueng's eyes gazed across the rear-view mirror on the right door. He looked that his long, feathery hair was disheveled and greasy, his eyes bloodshot and half of his purple polyester jacket black from the dried engine oil splattered all over it. The mark of a man who hasn't slept for half a year. He then looked out of the front windshield again. With the lights of cars, traffic insignia, advertisements and railway safety stuff passing by, it almost looked like how he as a kid imagined faster-than-light-travel would before he actually experienced it.

Ha Que's comment made him recall just a while ago, when their spaceship Feng Po dropped out of Slipspace. Flight through the void of light, flicking of switches, deceleration. Orbit around the hollow-world amindst the ring-shaped freighters of the Pan-Galactic Corporate Authority and multi-coloured nebular dhows. Passing through the doors on Agartha's outer shell that opened and closed in a spiral pattern, marvelling at the glowing machinery whose workings created the artificial gravity. Docking at Starport Dönitz, landing in its crater-like trench on the middle shell of Agartha where everything gleamed a pale blue from the light of the outer shell. All of that and more, getting through all the necessary procedures to not get all the outer space equivalents of sea sickness (which were at least ten times worse), all that.

It all ran through a blur inside Chi Kueng's head and still does now that he's lying on a bed in a seedy hotel room in the Akashaganga district of Agartha. Ha Que is on the top of him, closing her eyes in the middle of a screaming orgasm. Climaxing, her erogenous zones begin to glow indigo. Chi Kueng himself feels a tingle through his body that turns to an electrifying buzz.

"Uplink, will you please?"

Ha Que's spasmodic scream briefly turns into a pained "Yeah..." before resuming. Both feel like they are less two post-humans than some blob-like ultraterrestrial lifeform taking the form of two copulating humans, going through a pleasant-feeling seizure before losing all shape and volume. The force that makes this matter stick together disappears and this sentient ooze expands outwards in a slimy cloud throughout a void of golden light. Despite that change, its hive-mind feels no pain or damage. All it feels is pleasantly expanding throughout an infinite void while trembling and twitching. A primordial universe made entirely of tickling sensations and enlightening spasms.

Twenty minutes later, Ha Que is standing in the hotel room wearing nothing but a pair of tube socks that are a yellow/pink pattern. She picks up an eightpack of oneshot vibro-syringes from the heap of her and Chi Kueng's belongings that lies on the floor. Injecting herself with four full doses of Spark, she feels another high but on a different plateau this time proverbially speaking. This time it's like her brain turns into a multi-coloured tree of life and her hypothalamus turns into a caterpillar that begins to climb it.

"Heard you can get Spark glands installed in your brain nowadays?"

She throws the remaining four vibro-syringers over to him and says: "No."

Chi Kueng shoots up with the four doses of Spark. Every nerve in his body energizes. A sparkling flurry of pink flowery mandalas soaked in the oil of love, cute little planets whose surfaces resemble a lava lamp's contents and sweet-tasting electric blue seaweeds flows through thousands of synapses and microchips. The nanobots in his bloodstream smile like those anthromorphic personifications of hair roots that he remembers seeing in a Japanese commercial for hair conditioner. He no longer feels like he hasn't slep for half a year, only like he hasn't slep for a month.

"Doesn't surprise me, really. But was Spark really all you could get? Whoosh is where it's at. What I wouldn't give for a Whoosh gland."

"You said the same thing when you moved on from Swoop to Spark."

"Was pretty young back then. Come on, Swoop?"

Chi Kueng puts on as incredulous a facial expression as he can, and continues speaking: "Everyone and their little kagtlad's got a Swoop gland these days, but Swoop's barely above Tanagarian coffee. Good for pretty much nothing when you're in my boat."

Ha Que begins getting dressed by spraying on her underwear, a film-like greenish membrane that interacts with the body's functions and complements them. At least that's what it's advertised to do. While she puts on some harlequin-checkered stockings, she tells him: "We're doing this on a budget, though, to not draw too much attention to moles. More important things to blow funding on than fucking Swoop."

"Well, maybe the paycheck." Chi Kueng shifts into a new set of clothes, or at least whatever he can find that's not covered in dried engine oil. As usual, Ha Que busts a slight chuckle at his still using underwear that's not sprayed-on.

"Remember, Chi Kueng, we're looking for the Warp-O-Matic... a one-of-the-kind superweapon that could singlehandedly turn the balance of power in the known universe in the favour of China. I know it sounds preposterous, but we've gone through enough documentation to know it's legit."

Just thinking about all that, Lin Ha Que sees everything before her.

She remembers a kaleidoscope of clippings from centuries-old tabloid newspapers, black glyphs and monochrome photographs on faded pulp telling of cowboy hat-wearing charlatans setting sun-sails on a quest to find arcane artefacts in the hidden chambers of Algol's pyramids.

She remembers Meetings with paranoid circles of conspiracy theorists in seedy, cramped juke joints where hushed and reverent mention of obscure Forteana like the Cassiopeian Rune-Obelisk or the techno-mages of Opa-Loka were thrown about in discussions of the Warp-O-Matic and its origins that struggle for air space with the sleazy sounds of reptilian jazz that flows forth from crackly vinyl records through the mists of cigarette smoke.

She remembers cross-checking through ancient history books that the hermit Yuval Brock kept in a baroque archive stretching throughout the entirety of a hollowed-out asteroid to confirm that, yes, what they said about the current whereabouts of the Warp-O-Matic was indeed real.

"Made sure nobody's listening?"

"Nah... how stupid do you think I am?"

She walks over to a transparent cube with lots of moving crystalline mechanics inside. Picking it up in her hand, wearing a skirt but not more else then her spray-on underwear, she continues speaking: "How the hell could special agent like me even think of spilling that kind of secrets without something like one of these sonic jammer-cubes on nearby?"

Her voice turns from annoyed to sadistic as she finishes: "You could, maybe, but not me."

Chi Kueng sees her making a diabolical smile as he buttons a Hawaiian flower-patterned shirt, looks her in the eyes and sighs: "Bear the fuck over with me. Haven't slept or fuelled up on Whoosh in like, forever."

Rolling up harlequin-patterns stockings to her knees, Ha Que sneers back from the table she's sitting on: "Wonder how the fuck I still put up with a loser junkie like you as a partner."

"Because... at the end of the day I get the job done. Just happens to have a life outside the service."

"I also have a life on my own, but at least I can go sober for a minute without flapping around in withdrawal like some beached whale."

"How do you know if whales did so when they beached? Been extinct eight hundred years ago, after all. Last time I checked, you were... not a paleontologist."

"No, but I once went under cover as one."

Lin Ha Que ends her sentence with a smile she makes sure is not malicious. Lai Chi Kueng understands so and smiles back. She, however, thinks his smile looks a bit tired to the point that she's not sure if he means it 100%. At this exact second in history, she doesn't care that much. What's really going through her head are visions of the retrieval of the Warp-O-Matic going horribly wrong. Her brain is calculating multiple scenarios of how things could go wrong, but most involve her lying in a dirty Akashaganga back-alley bleeding streams of blood and cerebrospinal fluid all over the ground with chunks of blood, machinery, bone and nerve tissue scattered across the tarmac.

As she calculates another option, right now at the stage where the Feng Po zig-zags through an uncharted star system's asteroid belt with her at the controls frantically trying to shake off a trio of Imperial Altamakian corvettes, Chi Kueng places a hand upon her shoulder and says: "You seem kinda out of your world too right now".

They exit the hotel with each a black briefcase in hand. He is wearing a green cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses, a bright yellow corduroy over the Hawaiian shirt, rust-red blue bell bottom pants and grass-green running shoes. She is wearing vaguely insectoid green-tinted sunglasses, a yelloy-turquoise blazer above a tight deep pinkish-purple sweater, an aquamarine skirt short enough to leave some room between her knee-high harlequin-checkered socks and the skirt, not to mention fire-red running shoes. They head into the rental car, a cherry red Wyndorff Motors Scorpion.

Chi Kueng thinks to himself this set of wheels looks like a cross between a shark and an antique electric ladyshaver as Ha Que starts the vehicle.

The engine comes to life with a gentle electric buzzing, and she commands it down the road. She recalls the perfectly memorized 3D map of Akashaganga showing the location of their contact, and steers the car down a sideway looping around a congealed mass of shantytowns and hovels crowned with neon signage in at least thirty different languages. Where the highway forks into three, she takes the lower road.

She drives the car into the Katmandu-sur-Rhône neighbourhood, a place of decrepit stone buildings done in a hopelessly archaic style and houses hastily constructed out of tinfoil and old cans. Everything seems to have a faint glow of sickly green. On the street's opposite sidewalk walks a throng of people in yellow raincoats with their purple hair done into spiked mohawks. All of them are carrying picket signs, obviously on way to a protest nearby. They walk by a parked van, at whose wheel sits a Musulman who is eating a donut.

Chi Kueng activates his brain's mindscanner implants. He sees text and simplified images appear above the head of each person he looks at. However, none of them, neither the donut-eating Musulman or the protestors are thinking that the two Chinese people are anything more suspicious than tourists or businesspeople. While he is at it, he remembers to turn on his brainscan-jammer-field in case someone else is looking. From now on, anyone brainscanning him will just see someone incapable of getting an annoying ad jingle or the latest call from his girlfriend out of his head.

Ha Que parks the Scorpion near a building shaped like a gigantic silvery seashell. Chi Kueng remarks: "Yeah, pretty much looks how they described it."

Gazing perplexedly at the nearby neon sign, Ha Que says: "Raj Neesh Antiquities?"

"Yeah. Looks like what we're looking for somehow found its way to a goddamn antiquity shop."

Ha Que says "This is a bit suspicious if you ask me" while removing her sunglasses. With an electric impulse inside her brain, she switches her vision to Z-Ray.

Looking into the antiquity store, she observes an emporium of rare commodities: Information stored in obsolete media such as tesladisk or iBrain, an antiquated SROC Vindicator Mk28 powersuit, sets of porcelain obviously designed for hands that are not human, and most notably what she and Lai Chi Kueng are looking for in the first place: A clockworky electronic contraption of obscure metallic alloys with lots of metre and compact switchboard sticking out from its bone-like shape. If it isn't the real thing, then this is at least a dead ringer for the Warp-O-Matic.

She looks at the people inside. Two of the customers have so complex bionics that they could very well be military people or spies. The construction of the artificial components of their insides, however, does not resemble any such designs that Ha Que are familiar with - neither Chinese or foreign.

"Turn on the see-through vision. Some of the people inside look like they could be new-type cyberspooks."

"Lemme have a look."

He switches telepath vision off and the Z-Ray vision on. While he does that, he asks: "Why can't they buy us some multitask visualizers? Are the service really that cheap?"

Then, he looks at the proprietor of the store whom he assumes to be "Raj Neesh" as well as the customers. "See what you mean. Two of them have fancier guts than the rest. Weird ones at that. Could be they're just richer, though. Not like everything might be a bit weird out here in wild space, after all."

Chi Kueng takes a deep breath and produces forth a lighter, a key chain and a vibro-toothbrush from various pockets all over his body. Then, he says "On the other hand..." with a slightly dramatic intonation and begins assembling a pistol out of the trinkets. Click, click, knack, click, twonk, click, clack. He places it in one of the best-hidden pockets. Ha Que produces three different cardboard boxes of colour-coded needle gun ammo from the glove compartment. She gets her needle gun and pops open its three magazine-cylinders. She opens the box with blue needles, puts ten of them into the blue magcyl. Repeat procedure with red and yellow needles. Lock and close it again, ready for action.

She then pops open the holographic display-menu regulating the car's security systems, sets it to "maximum security" as she and Chi Kueng leave the car.

"Okay, Chi Kueng, you keep a watch on the two boogies while I buy the after we pretend to look for interesting stuff, right?"

While handing over the second briefcase to her, he replies: "Yeah. Actually, maybe we should try to get it as quickly as possible. Maybe those two guys are trying to get it as well."

The two walk up to the antiquity store's door, press the button that causes it to slide open and walk inside. Chi Kueng notices that the two suspicious guys - one of them a bushy-haired man with olive skin who possibly is one of the Musselmen that constitute the upper class in Akashaganga, the other a pale bald man with a long Rasputin-like beard - are skimming carefully through a wing of the store where the most conspicuous items are Altimakian cocktail-hypercubes and other alien drinkware. It is somewhere close to where the Warp-O-Matic is being kept. Ha Que heads for where she remembers the Warp-O-Matic being, walking around the two suspicious men, then navigating between the antique powersuit and a pile of Thomas Pynchon novels on tesladisk.

As Chi Kueng follows her to cover her back, he casts a glance at the two others and notice that the two suspicious men are casting concerned glances at him and Ha Que. He promptly switches on his brainscanner vision and the text popping up above their heads is their names and "CANNOT ACCESS". The hairy, olive man is called Sohail Khan and the white guy with the beard is called Jerome Cicero.

He immediately thinks oh, shit! but concentrates hard on not looking like it.

Ha Que picks up the Warp-O-Matic and examines it closely. Her thoughts right now go: Yeah, it looks pretty intact. Very relieved. INCOMING MESSAGE: GOONS HAVE LOW-GRADE BRAINGUARD ON - LAI CHI KUENG.

Her heart begins to hammer. Everything for her begins to seem to move in slow-motion. With the Warp-O-Matic carefully tucked up under one arm and the other holding the briefcase, she immediately begins walking over to the counter, behind which the Raj Neesh sits doing a crossword. Not even bothering to look at the price tag, she dumps the briefcase on the counter and opens it. Seeing that the Raj Neesh looks in awe at its contents, she says: "Keep the change."

She looks over her shoulder and sees Timur Khan somersaulting over a shelf. In the background, she spots Chi Kueng sliding down the floor to dodge the rays of destructive light the bald goon fires at him. Carefully taking aim to not destroy the antiquities, he draws the stealth-pistol he assembled in the car. Khan lands on the floor. Ha Que draws her tiny three-barreled needle gun from underneath her jacket and aims it at the goon's eyes.

Chi Kueng switches off the safety and presses the trigger. From the gun's muzzle a amorphous goop of glowing green light leaps at Cicero. It sears the skin off half the goon's face. An intricate obsidian-black endoskeleton that long ago replaced his boney skeleton now visible along with lots of wiring and microchips. Undaunted, Cicero fires another ray of multicoloured light at Chi Kueng. It goes right through the Chinese agent's left leg as he crawls across the floor.

A perplexed look appears on Ha Que's face. In an instant, she chooses the blue needles and fires one at Khan while asking him: "What's the matter, wouldn't hit a girl?"

Purple nanosymbiotic blood drips from just below Chi Kueng's knee. Struggling to get himself up, fires off two more bursts of green light at Cicero. Two dry buzzing noises echo through the room. One goes through the exposed half of his skull. The other goes through his chest, turning into a splattery explosion. Bloody chunks of mechanically augmented flesh intertwined with high-price threads land on the floor. Chi Kueng's nervo-messenger, an augmentation of his nervous system, informs him that the ring-beam weapon damaged his shin so much that the bone needs to be replaced wholesale. No problem, there's probably a thousand chopshops in Akashaganga alone... this fucking hurts like hell, though.

Ha Que sees Khan jump to the left. He flies sideways through the air. The first blue needle she fired at him narrowly misses. She can see sheer terror in his eyes. Her heart beats heavily but calmly. Then, as she spots his ring give off a glowy splotch of light that grows and grows, her heart goes into overdrive. She jumps to her left. The unpleasant hiss and burn of the digi-ring beam weapon slices the surface of her knee. The second a melty crackle sounds as it sears through metallic bone, she aims her needle gun at the chest of the goon and fires another blue needle at him.

Remembering that getting the Warp-O-Matic to safety is more imporant, Chi Kueng drags himself around the corner while firing more shots at the bald goon.

Then, something suddenly interrupts him as he is to press the trigger a second time: A monomolecular knife wrecks the elbow joint of his right arm, sending pain through his body and alerts through his nervo-messenger to his brain's Administratorizer-3000. So fucking screwed right now. With that in mind, his entire mind goes into overdrive as he picks up the gun with his left hand and fires a flurry of green plasma-sludge-bolts at Cicero.

Hearing the door being opened, he takes a look at the situation while himself feeling more digital ring-gun rays perforate him: The Raj Neesh is cowering in absolute terror underneath the counter. Ha Que is jumping to the left, blood and melted metalbone flying in the air from a wound in her knee and another in her abdomen. She sets her feet into the ground as she lands. Sliding and struggling to stay on her feet, she fires a red and a yellow needle at the other goon who now crashes down on the floor, sliding head-first into a pile of old astro-archæology magazines.

Ha Que looks at the shots she landed on Khan. Where the red and yellow needles landed, it looks like his skin is bubbling and his clothes melting. Foamy green goop is leaking from where the blue needle hit him. with great caution, she walks slowly up to him. She aiming her needle gun as well as she can at his head, while her abdomen hurts like hell. She can see a red "damage report" display in the lower left corner of her vision, informing her on how far her nano-symbiont systems have come in repairing the damage in respectively her knee and her abdomen. A "resting is recommended" sign flashes near the display.

A tall figure enters the store, a rather Germanic-looking man with a stern face and cleanly shaven head that makes his pronounced forehead stand out more. He is wearing a long black coat sparsely decorated with golden threads highlighting borders and spread across patterns that make it look vaguely naval. Even though Ha Que doesn't remember any navy uniform, either seagoing or astral, that looked like this she does think the ornate longcoat makes the stranger look even more authoritative. A smell of death and smoke enters the store alongside the stranger. Khan stares bug-eyed up at Ha Que, bleeding from his mouth, and aims his digi-ring up at the afro-wearing woman. Whatever, if both me and the Chinese chick die then Jerome can still get away with the Warp-O-Matic.

The longcoat-wearing stranger throws a terrifying gaze at both of the goons, who look up in him with total "oh fuck, what the flying fuck have I done?" looks upon their faces. His voice sounds like that of a mythical regent as he admonishes his subjects: "Let you two be an example, Khan and Cicero."

He then stares Ha Que in the eyes. Faint beams of purplish light shoot at her eyes, and she faints. The stranger walks up and performs the same manoeuver on Chi Kueng.
"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." - Heraclitus

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Peregrin
Posts: 573
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Peregrin » Thu Jun 25, 2009 11:44 am

Swimming in the Zodiac
Chapter 2: Mundus Flagg

Everything around him fades away. From the blackness appears an endless procession of ciphers constantly shifting between 0s and 1s, Gs and As and Ts and Cs.

He finds himself lying naked but completely intact in a pool of water mixed with a chalk-like substance. He stares up at the ceiling of the room, which is made from some opaque black stone. The chamber he is is huge. He can feel that he is inside a huge space. In the middle of the ceiling is a silvery emblem that he cannot identify. It looks like a Greek letter, but too intricate. Something from the Western Zodiac, perhaps? No, it can't be a Zodiac sign. Too much polylateral symmetry. At best it's several Zodiac signs mashed together.

He looks around him. Everything has a faint glow of greenish blue. A lot of needles stick into him at various meridian pressure points, tubes leading to the needles from the side of the pool. People stand at the pool's edge. They wear white robes that are adorned by the same symbol as the ceiling only red instead of silver, headgear that looks like an ugly Art Deco cross between a gasmask and a medieval battle-helm and white gloves.

They remove the needles sticking into him. It hurts a little bit.

The monks bring him a white pajama suit to wear. He gets up from the pool. The air feels is very cold and dry.

He puts on the white pajama. After getting dressed, he looks around him to see a bunch of tanks filled with the turquoise fluid that are arranged in a circle around the pool. The tanks are huge, towering like obelisks above the pool.

He notices that by the side of his pool and surrounding circle of fluid tanks is another one. A woman is similarly being led up from the pool and dressed in a white pajama. The woman looks familiar, but her hair does not.

The shape and layout of this temple-like room becomes more apparent to him. A gigantic door is at each end of the room, and the pools are in opposite ends. The monks around this pool lead him towards the door without saying a word, him just following with them. Looking past his shoulder once, he sees the woman being led throughout the opposite door.

A rumble echoes through the gigantic halls as the grey door slides open. In the next room is an altar-like grey slab in the middle. He looks up and sees that the ceiling forms a curved dome. At its centre is an all-seeing eye symbol. The monks instruct him, without saying a word, to lay down upon the altar stone and look into the all-seeing eye. He does so. The altar feels cold and hard, not like the pool of chalky water. The all-seeing eye begins to glow golden.

His vision turns into a kaleidoscope of images spanning the last 900 years of human history: Massacres, concentration camps, experiments with brainwashing and psychological warfare, landfills stretching as far as the horizon can see. Legions of powersuited warriors battling each other across grimy battlefields thick with the mists of poison gas, white lab coat-wearing scientists scuttering to and fro in secret facilities beneath the ground, politicians gathering to discuss treaties and crisises, the meetings of a secret society known as the Legion of Shadows, the techno-mages of Opa-Loka forging the superweapon known only as the Warp-O-Matic.

The faces, weapons, devices, battles, banners and creeds keep changing. Except for one: The League of Shadows, led by Paul von Austerlitz. He speaks like thunder and lightning of an era he will bring across, the dawn of enlightened autocracy.

Upon our dominion, the sun shall never set!

With those words, Paul Austerlitz raises up his hand, holding the Warp-O-Matic in his hand as he stands before an army. Everything fades except for an androgynous voice whispering "Operation Kneebiscuit successful".


Nitromethane Liu, "Nitro" to his friends, wakes up in an old-fashioned wooden cabin. The cabin is somewhere far, far from Agartha. His nervo-messenger informs him that he is suffering no serious injuries right now. He looks at his right arm and his left leg. Both are wrapped in bandages, but function perfectly. He only feels a mild discomfort. Beginning to remember the dream and his very real infiltration of the Chinese intelligence along with his girlfriend Yildiz Ling, he says: "Whoa."

He looks outside the window and sees the arid one of never-ending deserts, plains and mountains broken up by only the occasional patch of vegetation. Most of the vegetation he can see is nearby the house. The sky is a shimmering off-white, making the land's ochre and sienna tones look even drier. Good old Mundus Flagg.

Nitro exits the bedroom and finds himself in a corridor with doors to bedrooms down it. At the end is a plain, unadorned door of the same dark wood as the rest of the building. He walks down the corridor and opens the door. As he turns the handle, it makes a gentle creak. He finds a living room with an adjoining kitchen. Yildiz is sitting there, eating breakfast consisting of flatbread with a thin layer of soft cheese spread across it and a glass of derrickberry juice. She is wearing a white pajama that looks just like his. He notices that it's the same design as they were wearing in the dream.

Actually, it's the one we wear every damn night.

Her nappy reddish hair is jumping to all sides like the leaves of a palm tree. He looks through the room. The light falling upon all the ornate furniture made of wood laminated into rich reddish brown, electric implements in archaic designs and polished kitchenware engraved with designs of mythologized life on the old Earth give everything a faint romantic air. It looks like an elusive idyll of the kind people remember from their youth or imagine inside their heads when reading a novel but never actually experience.

He sits down near her and kisses her on the forehead. Thinking about how this is the kind of warm, fuzzy moment she hasn't had for years, Yildiz closes her eyes to lapse into a pleasant reverie: Time feels like it stands still, even the chaotic forces of nature go about their business in a relaxed and laid-back manner, any conflict beyond the extremely trivial feels distant. So far as she can see outside, there is nothing but austere beauty and right now no obligations beyond enjoying life in the tempo that isn't natural but feels like it should.

She pauses to ask: "I just wonder what the Chinese authorities are doing right now that we've gone and finally gotten the Warp-O-Matic for Austerlitz."

"Eh. Plan is that they're going to think we've disappeared without a trace. Someone else in the Legion's taking care of the cover-up. Not that hard around these corners. Big universe, you know. Thinking more myself about... you know, having been a sleeper all that time and how it's gonna be hard adjusting to life here on Flagg again, tell you. You made a pretty good Han back in the service, though."

"Then again, I'm only half Uighur. There's just one thing suspicious about this. Those two guys-"

"Khan and Cicero?""

"Yeah. They did everything a much messier way than they should. Austerlitz had to shut them down. Things aren't going according to plan."

"Probably double agents for the United States trying to screw things up so we wouldn't get the Warp-O-Matic."

"Hmm. Gonna get some Whoosh, hope that helps."

Yildiz doesn't know whether Nitro's being apathetic or apologizing. While trying to figure it out, she looks at him heading off to the kitchen. Thought they broke his drug habit when they fixed him up. Apparently we can't afford that right now.
f
Yildiz sees a "new private message" button pop up in the lower right corner of her vision. As she blinks her eyes, she sends off an "open in a holographic window" command.

A corneal implant in her right eye projects cone-shaped green beam at an opaque shape with an anthropoid outline. As more and more light is beamed on it, the hologram turns into a full-size hologram of a tall and androgynously pretty Nordic woman wearing a fighter pilot's coveralls. This identifies the message's sender as Colonel Hippolyta Mezieres of the Legion of Shadows.

The cone of green light ceases. Holo-Lyta sits down on the couch near the table. Nitro returns from the kitchen and sits down on his chair again, looks at the holographic Lieutenant. "Hello, Colonel Mezieres."

Holo-Lyta begins speaking, in a voice that is recognizeably hers: "Hi, Diz and Nitro. We've found out what was up with Khan and Cicero... there are also facts about Operation Kneebiscuit that were not disclosed to you during your briefing because their potential leakage to the Chinese could potentially compromise our cause to a much greater degree than the Warp-O-Matic falling into the wrong hands.These factors have now become relevant to your next mission. We'll discuss this with you over lunch twelve o'clock at the Preposterosa Ranch. See you!"

With a perky smile and wink of her eye, Holo-Lyta waves and disintegrates. Diz looks at the clock. It's 8:38 AM.

Nitro blinks in confusion and says: "That was just out-of-the-blue, that smiling. Like she was all concerned and worried, and then all perky. Know what I mean."

Diz blinks and finishes eating the flatbread she had started on before. "Fuck. Just as I thought I was finally going to have as much one. Freaking. Day off..."

She sighs and continues: "I really hope the next mission will be over relatively quick."

"What do you mean by "relatively"?"

"To be honest, I've got no goddamn idea."

"You sound like you need a hug."

"Well, I don't."


11:30 AM.

Nitro and Diz walk out the door on their remote Mundus Flagg country house. Both are wearing black leather jackets, pants and boots. Diz closes and locks the door. Nitro opens the garage's blue-painted wooden door manually. Diz pulls out her jetbike, a vintage silver Bainbridge 272 with sidecar. Both put on their crash helmets, Nitro's red and Diz' yellow, and driving goggles. Diz takes a few seconds more to fit her orange afro underneath the helmet.

Diz flicks on the jetbike's levitator. The jetbike begins humming gently while hovering a hand's width above the ground. Diz locks the garage's door and jumps on the saddle. Nitro logs his nervo-messenger on to the house's security system and activates it with a flickering of energy through bundles of metallized synapses, then he sits down in the teardrop-shaped sidecar.

Revving up the Bainbridge 272's engine, transforming its exposed circuits' pale blue luster to an energetic glow and its gentle hum to an angry buzz, Diz speeds away from the house and unto the dry, dusty plains of Mundus Flagg. She steers the jetbike around a patch of lean, gnarly trees that stretch up the slope of Turner Hill and drives it down into the narrow valley to its side. She remembers this as an old shortcut to the Preposterosa Ranch.

They pass down the valley, which stretches about 30 metres from side to side where a hill juts up like a ruddy, stretched-out ziggurat with its ornaments worn off by the ravages of time. After five minutes of travel over the rubble-strewn floor, the mountain somewhat abruptly chunks out to narrow the valley down even more. Diz commands the jetbike to the left around the rock formation. As the jetbike turns, it yaws to the left, making her feel and Nitro a bit dizzy. It's really a while ago I last drove one of these. She briefly looks up at the sky and notices now that Mundus Flagg's sun Molossia is higher on the sky, the light seems less a dry off-white and more yellow. The sandy ground rushing below her has a hint of orange. Molossia now looks like a shining ripe peach from behind the clouds.

Steering to the right where the valley makes such a turn, Diz and Nitro feel a slight pull inside them as the ground becomes steeper and goes upwards. The valley is beginning to end. Diz drives them up the slope to the Calvert Plateau. Dry and rocky with nowhere as much dust and rubble covering the ground as down in the valley, she can see the Calvert Plateau's cut-off edges to the very far left and right. It is at least 200 metres wide this way. The ground level becomes more and more distant below her as the jetbike carrying her and Nitro scales the plateau which continues on. She can now see the cloud formations that look like sketchy psychedelic impressions of long-dead shellfish whose bleached carapaces mesh unto one other. Down to the horizon, mountains and mesas and buttes and other rock formations reach for the sky, from those poking up above the Calvert Plateau to the few towering above it.

She remembers that a further kilometre down the plateau, there is some kind of ravine to its left side that's a bit tricky but leads to the Preposterosa through the King's Lake area. Looking to the far left and spotting something some dark structures far below on the plains in the distance that she swears is the Preposterosa Ranch, she begins recalling the structure of the shortcut in exact details. She also hears an unnerving rumble thunder from the sky behind the clothes.

Nitro exclaims in a slightly shocked deadpan voice: "Oh, shit We better get-"

Diz looks up at the sky again. She sees a huge dark shape between the clouds: An absolutely colossal flying wing that has a the underside of its central structure bulging out because of its large reactor and a fin-like dorsal battle bridge on top making it look like a really big fish. Her spine tingles as she immediately recognizes this vehicle as a Heimdall-class destroyer of the Transgalactic Republic of German Systems. An angular, elongated figure she thinks is a Walküre-class frigate dashes ahead of it.

"-moving!"

Nitro feels a force pull through him as Diz pretty much handbrakes the jetbike and does a 180 turn on it. The jetbike whines angrily. Turner Hill and Swindells Ridge now rush past it. Dirt and gravel blurs beneath him.

He turns on his built-in 3D-map, which appears in the lower right corner of his vision. He zoom outs the image to see if Preposterosa Ranch is in danger, turns on radar and threat scanner. The destroyer and the frigate, which the scanner identifies as the Freyr and the Drache respectively, appears like a red blotch above the geographical formations which are green.

Everything looks to Nitro like the Freyr has barely just arrived. He zooms out more to get a good look at what the invasion's playing like. The sensors show another Heimdall-class destroyer, Donner, some twenty kilometres away engaged in battle with the Martian Knight, an old interstellar cruise liner retrofitted by the Legion of Shadow into use as a destroyer. Hordes of fighters and bombers fly forth from either's hangars and swarm angrily around the capital ships like angry fighting insects.

Fortunately, it looks like nobody is touching Preposterosa Ranch yet.

"It's okay, Diz. Preposterosa seems intact."

Diz, meanwhile, steers the jetbike through the valley and turns right when it ends.

"Okay. They'll probably tell us about what to do."

Diz then flips on her internal sensor map which manifests the same way where it shows the location of the German warships relative to her and Nitro. She steers the jetbike down the side of Turner Hill as it tapers down in the direction of Preposterosa. In front of her is another dusty reddish plain that becomes a blurry blanket beneath the jetbike as it speeds over it. From left to right she sees four landforms protude from the landscape, each covered by sparse green patches of vegetation - Mt. Griffin, Mt. Theaker, Mesa Erba, Calvert Plateau. The closest of the mountains, Mesa Erba, is still at least a kilometre away. Between it and the jetbike is only stretches of bush and a few disorganized rows of purple megacacti.

Then, Hippolyta Mezieres' floating head appears as a display in upper right corner of Diz' and Nitro's visions. "I'll have to see you after lunch. At best I'll be late for it."

She manoeuvers the jetbike down the beginning depression in the ground marking the start of the valley between Theaker and Mesa Erba. A scabby bloch of dark grey appears on the corridor between meagre forests - Preposterosa.

Elsewhere on the horizon, a formation of seven grey arrowheads and one red appear. She looks at the display in the corner of her vision, which identifies them as CANESMA L1168 Thunderhead heavy fighters from the Legion of Shadows. As they come closer and closer, the details of their construction become visible: The canopies of their cockpits, the engine intakes, the backwards-swept delta wings blending into the fuselage and the thrusters out in the back to form the Thunderhead's distinctive arrowhead shape. Diz and Nitro see that the red one leading them is the heavily customized L1168/HX2 "Lady of Light" flown by Hippolyta Mezieres herself.

A sonic boom crackles through the sky as the fighters pass overhead. A short blur forms behind them from their blistering speed, both in the yellowy-brown colour of their fuselages (and the Lady of Light's red) and the fiery turquoise haze of their engines' exhausts.

Nitro turns his head backwards to see with his own eyes Mezieres and her wingmen split into teams of two planes each as they ascend towards the clouds. Three of the units, led by Mezieres, fly a "claw" formation and charge at the Freyr, firing a barrage of shieldbuster missiles at the subtle dome-like protective structures across the destroyer's wing-like shape. The missiles make a purple shine as they break through the shields.

Bolts of yellowy light rain from the Freyr's point-defence turrets towards the shield-buster missiles, but not all intercept them. As the missiles hit the Freyr's generators, a purplish-blue web appears around the ship only to crackle and fall apart except the midst of the destroyer's left wing. The Thunderheads circle around the Freyr and pelt its entire left wing with another volley of shieldbusters. More gossamer purple light crackles around it.

Hangars on its upper side discharge small insectoid-looking Herzog Hz73 fighters scrambling to shoot down the tide of smaller anti-ship micro-missiles flowing rrom the Thunderheads', turning them into flowery-looking explosions of pure white light. Others aim at the Thunderheads, which defensively twitter around in the sky as they fight both the Herzog and the defence turrets. Smoke begins to rise from one of the Thunderheads, but the plane does not appear to stall or be damaged more than superficially. The other missiles splatter against the surface of the Freyr, turning into balls of searing light that disappear.

The remaining pair of Thunderheads attack the frigate, flying rings around its meagre defense turrets to dodge its shot while pelting it with missiles. From the web of swarming, firing and frantic buzzing about in the air, more and more fighters - Herzogs and Thunderheads - fall like flies caught in an insecticide mist from the bolts of light raining between them. Bombs fall by the multitude on the Freyr's defense turrets and detonate.

Then, the Legion of Shadows fighters scatter and retreat. The German fighters go back into the hangars. The Lady of Light suddenly turns back, its thrusters going into overdrive and spitting out a crackling stream of blue fire to the rear as Hippolyta Mezieres commands the Lady of Light towards the bomb-scarred Freyr. When she gets within range of the firing a missile that gleams as bright as the sun at the ship's command tower before 180-degreeing again, in an instant escaping the resulting flash of light enveloping the Freyr. The explosion makes a mighty roar that echoes down the desert valleys.

"Nitro, we have arrived."

He zooms out and looks around him. The jetbike is parked hovering near the entrance of Preposterosa Ranch. Diz is standing by its side, having taken off her helmet so that her hair is... well, sticking to all sides like a palm tree's crown.

"Fuck. Why haven't we gotten to do any cool stuff like Lyta up there? Almost managed to ice Khan and Cicero before Paul Auster came and had to do the Deus ex Machina routine-"

"Cicero broke your arm."

Nitro gets out of the sidecar. He removes his crash helmet and says: "Blew off half his face myself. Still had a functioning arm left. Fucking gweilos hogging all the glory."

As they walk towards the ranch's entrance, Diz answers with a smile: "Gweilos you happen to work for."

"Hmmm. Maybe on this mission we'll get to actually do something."

The Preposterosa Ranch could in architectural not possibly be further from Diz and Nitro's house, actually looking like it was designed today. Made out of grey stone that looks a bit bluish in the Molossian sunlight, its structure is elongated and rectangular with the horizontal middle of its first floor having wide windows covering the entire wall and blending into each other, only separated by some kind of heat-collecting ridges that stretch down to the ground floor where they blend into the door, which now opens by the vertical ridges folding into each other. Diz thinks the effect looks much like a sideways Venetian blind.

Paul von Austerlitz, who is wearing a orangey-yellow three piece suit with a purple tie, greets them. Yup, it was him down at the antiquity store.

The Legion of Shadows' leader greets them: "Hello. If you're concerned about the German attack on Mundus Flagg, don't worry. I'll explain how it makes sense. I installed new shields on the Preposterosa last week."

Diz and Nitro follow Paul down the foyer and into the wardrobe, where they remove their shoes and hang their leather jackets and pants on the hangers. Underneath the leather, Nitro is wearing a dark green blazer over a purple Hawaiian shirt and a pair of eggshell-coloured bellbottom pants. Diz is wearing a black suit with a frilly pink shirt underneath the jacket. Paul von Austerlitz walks over to the cabinet full of slippers, searches through the neatly ordered archive slippers and finds a pair for Diz and another for Nitro. He walks over to them and says "Hope you like these."

"Thanks."

They then walk through the foyer to the dining room, which has shining white walls and a floor of polished wood. The table in the middle is large and made of a pale greyish metal. Upon it stands a multitude of plates with every conceivable food in the known universe, from Hagraban salads to three-headed Hyperborean frog boiled and served in whisky sauce, but in the form of symmetrically sculpted three-dimensional mandalas of jelly. The three sit down to discuss various happenings over a lunch of jellied Hyperborean frog except for Nitro who goes for three scoops of jellied Reticulan cyclops perch.

"Anyway, Mr. Liu and Ms. Ling, there are facts about Operation Kneebiscuit that I did not disclose to you until now because... well, if they somehow leaked to the Chinese authorities such an occurence would put the Legion of Shadows at much greater peril than the Warp-O-Matic getting into the wrong hands."

Nitro Liu says: "And those are?"

Completely silent, Paul von Austerlitz looks a bit perplexedly at Nitro for a couple of seconds. He resumes speaking: "Anyway, the Warp-O-Matic you two got into a skirmish with Khan and Cicero over was a fake. It does absolutely nothing that an ordinary Altamakian jaunt- fusil doesn't. But I made it to look exactly like the real thing is rumoured to - and put it into circulation ten years ago, devoting great effort to fooling every expert into thinking it was indeed the Warp-O-Matic."

Diz removes her hand from her forehead and asks: "And the Germans?"

"Ah, yes, the Germans! Anyway, it had been known for a while that Mr. Sohail Khan and Mr. Jerome Cicero spied on us from the Germans. Hence, together with Ms. Hippolyta Mezieres I hatched a plan to distract the German intelligence service by deliberately spreading disinformation about the whereabouts of the Warp-O-Matic, including alleged documentation for the fake Warp-O-Matic. This would lead the Germans to besiege Mundus Flagg where the fake Warp-O-Matic is being kept, luring them into an ambush attack by our fleet so that their forces in this sector will not interfere with our actual current operations."

Diz says: "I see."

Nitro asks: "Okay. Are Diz and I going to participate in that?"

Hippolyta Mezieres, still wearing a flight uniform, then barges into the room and says: "Nah, those operations are on a level of secrecy above your clearance. What you're gonna do is next... Operation Penguin. You're gonna pose as rogue traders to representatives of the United States and promise to sell them the Warp-O-Matic. Same Bat-Fake, same Bat-Channel, of course. This will trigger a war between the Legion of Shadow's two arch-enemies. Then, I'll have one of our agents inside the US' intelligence service defect to the Chinese to inform them that you've "betrayed" China."

Diz looks through the window. It is nowhere as cloudy as it used to be, and both the Freyr and the Drache have been reduced to drifting, smoking derelicts.

Paul von Austerlitz adds: "The plan here is to turn our enemies against each other and the Germans against their best ally. If my calculations are correct, the Germans will then be manipulated into allying with India. France will then be framed for the Warp-O-Matic hoax, and then you'll go undercover again as the same rogue traders and sell the real Warp-O-Matic - which I've possessed for the last thirty years while hatching this scheme - to the British."

Munching through the last of the jellied fish and washing it down with a glass of Jerusalem-III cherry wine, Nitro injects: "Plan's to turn all the major Terran powers against each other, destroy all those states in a war so that we can take over in the power vacuum... right?"

Paul von Austerlitz nods. "Exactly. All that is left to do is to find a way to draw in the Russkies."

Smiling like a killer, Hippolyta says: "I'm working on that."

Nitro asks: "Okay. If we were set up to do things that way and we were meant to get it so China wouldn't get the Warp-O-Matic, then why did you have to go all Deus ex Machina on us?"

"Well, it came to pass that Cicero and Khan had upgraded their body structures to something more resilient the day before. Since you were still dormant and had the Chinese spies as your conscious identities, we couldn't inform you without confusing the hell out of you."

Diz then says: "Are we gonna get our bodies upgraded as well to the highest level of toughness possible? I'm not going into Operation Penguin before I can go through as much as any other spy in the galaxy can and still get out of it more or less intact."

"Correct."

Nitro adds: "Know what we're gonna need too? Guns, vibro-knives, monofilament flails, digital laser rings. The best weapons possible."

Paul von Austerlitz says: "I am surprised that you didn't expect what I consider the most important part of your next upgrade: Expanded set of hyper-sensory displays, with multitask ability."

"Groovy."
"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." - Heraclitus

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Peregrin
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Peregrin » Sun Jun 28, 2009 9:54 am

Swimming in the Zodiac
Chapter 3: Garland

Afternoon. Garland, Lone Star Republic, United States of Orion.

The frost of winter covers the plain, shrouding the green of the grass in a ghostly crystalline white. The cloudless sky is filled with a thick. An old house and three nearby shacks lie at the edge of a forest of dormant Hezekiah trees that stretch up into the sky. Without leaves to adorn them, their trunks and branches look more like the tentacles of a really big and grotesquely deformed squid that's been frozen down.

Two big land-leviathans of hovercars, complete with tail fins and two-tone paint jobs, are parked nearby. Three people stand near the cars, looking at the sky as if they're waiting for something. A dirt road leads from the house's driveway into the western horizon where it somewhere leads to a tarmac highway.

A formation of white and red lights appear on the horizon. It flies eastwards across the sky. As it gets closer, the people by the two cars see that it the lights belong to a starship with a slim, streamlined blended-wing shape and a striped metallic green/gold paint job. It slows down to hover still above the wide open plain near the house and lands vertically on landing gear that fold out from under its nose and its blended wings. Its door on the side opens by tipping down on the ground, being a stairway on the inside.

The starship's crew step out: Nitro Liu and Yildiz Ling both wearing long black coats, Nitro over a burgundy suit and Diz over a knee-length black dress. Nitro is holding a briefcase with the fake Warp-O-Matic in it and wearing a black Stetson hat. Nitro's hair has since been cut to a much shorter length, in a style suggestive of John Lennon circa 1964. Diz's hair is now dark purple and straight, but done up to rise up in all directions so it's still as voluminous as back when it was an orange afro but its shape is more vaguely leaf-like. She also has lots of black eyeliner on and purple lipstick, just to go with the purple hair.

They look at the three people near the cars. The one in the middle is Matt Kieszlowski, an United States agent who specializes in the locating and retrieval of prototype superweapons. He is an extremely tall, rather weathered-looking man with very long hair, broad shoulders and eerily pale skin. He is wearing a long coat too, his an extremely dark green. Nitro remembers negotiating the whole deal with him in a neon sign-filled roadside diner on Prosperina. His two much shorter associates Ulysses Brubaker and "Red" Cormack Hannover flank him.

Before walking closer, they turn on their vision's Z-Ray and brainscan filters. White text appears above each thinking being denoting its name, species and thoughts. Every internal structure of anything they see now becomes visible.

Matthew Kieszlowski, who apparently has the middlename Judas, is thinking Why didn't I know about these rogue traders until about a month ago? No idea how they got the legit Warp-O-Matic away from the shootout with Austerlitz on Agartha either. Possible they weren't always called Harry Piasa and Delirie Katadin, and I've met 'em before, though. Stranger things have happened.

Above Brubaker's head they see Wanna deal with them about this later. Those Arbogast AG-281s they're thinking about what to price to the next customer right now are just what I've been looking for. Gonna get one before they're sold out.

Above Red Cormack's head they see the text Scanning my database... yeah, check with those saved tapings from back in Angeluzzi 20 years ago, kinda looks like those I bought that Ultralum-4000 from. Can't scan those old memories, though, didn't do back then. Probably those, though..

They then look at the house, wherein three women named Tethys Kirby, Medea Eisner and Ariadne Ditko are sitting on a couch chilling out. Going by their thoughts right now, Nitro and Diz assume they're prostitutes that Kieszlowski hired for the evening. Everything they think point towards this, except that their thoughts for some reason occasionally drift unto a discussion they had yesterday about the cultural canon of lounge music from Terry Snyder and Cy Coleman back in the 20th century to today's big names like Travis Filcrest and Kasumi Dreyfuss. They also notice that their bodies have been cybernetically augmented much more extensively than expected. Nitro thinks to himself: Probably pretty expensive, these ladies.

Nitro and Diz reflect upon the fact that everyone is carrying a gun somewhere upon them, including the prostitutes, but then they remember: This is a border world of the United States, after all. Sure, there's laws that are written down on paper but the only one that matters in practice is that the right of way belongs to the fastest and biggest gun.

With that in mind, Nitro has his brain primed on drawing one of the many weapons he carries inside his long coat. He, and coincidentally also Diz, then switch off the Z-Ray vision but not the brainscanner vision. When the infrared turns off, a "Keep updated on thoughts of Tethys Kirby, Medea Eisner and Ariadne Ditko?" question box appears in the lower right corner of their vision. Both choose "Yes". The updated thoughts of the three prostitutes continue to be displayed near the house.

Seeing that Kieszlowski is thinking I'm getting kinda impatient... are they gonna stand there all the time?, Nitro and Diz walk down the stair and towards the three Americans. Their boots make a drippy, crunchy sound with each step upon the frosty earth. Their hearts beat steadily, but every heartbeat feels rather weighty. Nitro observes that Kieszlowski is looking at the briefcase... and then looks at Nitro and Diz. The text displayed above his head says activate Z-Ray vision.

Kiezslowski opens his mouth and says in his characteristic baritone voice: "Sorry, Harry and Delirie. It's a fake... made in Altamak. Did you really think you could hoodwink me like that?"

Diz and Nitro see their brainscanner-displays show the text Gotta make sure they won't "silence" me to find another one to scam as Kieszlowski's thoughts right now. Immediately, Diz draws needle guns akimbo. Nitro draws a Bromberger 877 compact rail-shotgun with his right hand.

Click. Clack. Clock.

Safeties are switched off. Diz is pointing a needle gun at Kieszlowski and Brubaker each. Nitro is aiming the rail-shotgun at Red's head. Brubaker is aiming a gun at Diz, Kieszlowski and Red at Nitro. Diz looks everyone in the eyes and sees in each a look of profound and abject "this is probably going to be pleasant". She herself knows that anyone can press the trigger the next minute and that's exactly what everyone is thinking of, herself very much included.

Then, time freezes to a near-standstill for Diz and Nitro. They spot in the background: The three prostitutes, all having donned their own coats and switched their thigh-high stiletto boots for more practical wellingtons, running out the door and towards one of the cars, each aiming a GinnTech Serapis autopistol at the meeting. They notice that Kirby has blonde hair, Eisner red hair and Ditko black hair. Other than that, they look more or less identical in terms of facial features - they have the same angular Nordic lankiness to them.

Kieszlowski, hearing their steps, looks over his shoulder and immediately twists around.

PLACK! PLACK! PLACK

Blood spits from three holes that appear on Kieszlowski's chest, strands of fabric dangling from them. Brubaker and Red twirl, opening fire upon Tethys Kirby, Medea Moebius and Ariadne Ditko and running over to take cover behind the cars. A dry splutter and Kieszlowski's heavy breathing are all that can be heard. Diz and Nitro feverishly run further and take cover behind the house, specifically on the side facing their spaceship. Immediately, they hear a cacophonous collage of screaming, gunfire, explosions, various other unsavoury sounds and Kieszlowski barking out orders in his rumbling baritone voice that sounds like what the average Christian probably imagines Satan himself to sound like.

PLACK! PLACK! PLACK! AAARGGH!!! GET DOWN ON THE GROUND YOU YINTZES! FUMBLE! CRANG! CRANG! PLING! FLAKKA FLAKKA FLAKK! CLICK! CLANK! SPLATTT!! FUCK, THEY'RE USING ARMOUR PIERCING!

After a minute, it ceases and all they can hear is extremely hushed conversations that are too quiet to be audible, and painful sighing and gasping.

Diz flicks on her Z-Ray vision. She sees Kieszlowski and Red both wounded covering behind one of the shacks and ripping their clothes into makeshift tourniquets. One of the cars is completely riddled with bulletholes where it's lucky, the rest of it having been shot at so much that it is hard to see that it once was a car. Brubaker lies dead on the ground, his head missing or less a head now than a gooey flower of brain matter, fluids, metallically augmented bone and fried computer systems. Kirby, Moebius and Ditko are taking cover between the other car, every one of them wounded various places in their bodies and making improvised bandages and tourniquets out of their clothing as well. Medea and Ariadne are thinking thank goodness for anti-tank bullets and Tethys Fuck, I'm out of armour piercing rounds, and that bitch Medea should STOP calling them anti-tank because they aren't, stupid cow.

You know, maybe if we shot down those three girls Kieszlowski'll forgive us for scamming him. He still might kill us just out of spite, but if we shoot' em the risk will be a bit lower..

Diz looks up at Nitro and whispers: "You know what? We're going in... the Pole might spare us this way!"

Nodding, Nitro smiles grimly.

Everything begins to feel like it's playing out in slow-motion. Kneeling, he sneaks around the corner and aims his shot-railgun at the three femmes fatales, pressing the trigger to send a storm of hypersonic buckshot at them. Behind him, Diz leaps to the side, flying sideways with needle pistols akimbo and firing a flurry of red and yellow needles at the three women. She sees Medea Eisner rise to shoot at Diz, but before Medea can press the trigger a yellow needle penetrates her forehead, making both skin, skull and brain melt into slimy bubbling stinky stuff while hypersonic buckshot shreds her face into a grotesque deathmask of strips of flesh, flying splinters of metallic-augmented bone and torrents of blood splattering upon the white frosty ground.

Nitro sees a terrified Tethys Kirby take aim at him with her GinnTech Serapis. A second before she presses the trigger, he somersaults to the side and hears a loud "PLACK!" as the bullet flies by him. Ariadne Ditko looks up at Diz, still in mid-air, grabs the briefcase with her left hand and jumps up in the air and forwards, spinning around counterclockwise to take aim at Diz whose longcoat flutters like a a pair of bat wings. As they fly by past each other, each's weapons pointed at each other, they press their triggers in the same split second. Nitro takes aim at Ariadne as she sprints out the driveway with the briefcase in her left hand and a gun in the right, sniping at Red as she looks over her shoulder. Blood and brains splatter across a car window. A gunshot sounds from behind it and Ariadne throws herself at the ground to evade the bullet fired at her.

A bullet pierces Diz' upper right arm, sending a bloody chunk of leather and flesh flying out to land on the white frosty ground along with the splattery track of a stream of blood raining down. A trio of yellow needles hits Tethys' abdomen. Diz hears Tethys groan in the pain at her flesh melting at the touch of the needle projectiles and sees Tethys' face twisted into an agonized grimace while she slides across the ground. Nitro sprints up towards Ariadne, whom he sees pointing a gun up at Matt Kieszlowski's head, he in turn pointing a gun at hers.

Diz herself lands on her feet just barely, kneeling to control the throbbing pain from her upper arm. Her vision now includes a "damage report" display popping up in the lower right corner. Yay, I'm not that hurt. She fires a couple of yellow needles at Tethys' right shoulder, making her drop her gun and groan even louder. She looks at the disfigured corpse of Medea, then Ariadne on the ground, cornered by Nitro and Kieszlowski.

Kiezslowski barks: "What the fuck are you trying to do? Who the hell paid you to do this?"

Ariadne rises up again and tries to run. Nitro aims his rail-shotgun at her knee and fires. Blood splatters across the tundra, she screams and now lies down on her side on the ground.

Nitro walks closer to her and growls: "Yeah. Tell us or I'll bust your left knee."

Kieszlowski walks up to Ariadne, his gun constantly aimed at between her eyes, and picks up her briefcase.

Diz looks into Tethys' eyes. She can't remember seeing a more genuinely feverish expression of pain. She switches both of her needle guns to blue needles and shouts: "Hey, Ariadne! Tell me who you're working for or I'll kill Tethys."

Tethys groans out: "The Circle of Serpents. That's... all I'll ever say."

Diz asks: "Now, who the fuck are the Circle of Serpents?"

"I warned you."

Tethys then reaches for her gun with her left hand, putting it into her mouth. Diz switches her needle guns to the elusive green needle and says: "If you want to kill yourself, then at least make it easy to clean up."

Diz shoots one green needle into Tethys' neck. As the needle hits, she falls lifeless to the ground

Fuck. These ladies had some really good jammers. Even my new brainscanner couldn't go through them.

Kieszlowski looks at Nitro and asks: "Harry Piasa."

"Yeah?"

Nitro doesn't move at all. He still has his gun armed at a terrified-looking Ariadne with a mangled right knee, her calf twisted around into a truly freakish alignment. She'll likely need it replaced wholesale.

"Continue to keep a look on Aria. Got some things to do right now."

Nitro does so. Ariadne glowers angrily at him with a pistol aimed at him and says: "You're fucking gonna pay... Nitromethane Liu. Yildiz Ling is going to fucking pay. Matthew Judas Kieszlowski III is going to stand in the way."

While tying a makeshift tourniquet of clothing around her wounded right arm, Diz hears that. Her hairs raise, and her brain begins to feel like a gigantic lemon soaked in Tabasco sauce. She looks across the winter landscape - mist in the sky, blood and guts flowing from corpses on the ground, Nitro and Aria pointing guns at each other. She strides up towards Aria, draws one of her needle guns back from under her coat and howls: "Ariadne Ditko... how the hell do you know who we really are?"

"Do you really think I'm going to tell you?"

In the background, they can hear Matt Kieszlowski whistle Auld Lang Syne while loading the corpses of Medea and Tethys into his car's trunk.

Nitro scowls at Ariadne: "Tell me what the hell you were here, what that Circle of Serpents is... or you'll get what happened to Medea."

They hear a "TLANCK!" as Kieszlowski closes the trunk. Then another "clank" as he opens the car's door, then he begins speaking again: "No, no, no. You three are going to go with me on a ride." He sounds rather calm and collected for someone who just had seen two of his friends' brains blown out.

Kieszlowski walks into sight with a line of rope, then kicks the gun out of Ariadne's hand and looks down on her. "This time I'll have to take certain precautions."

Aria says: "Matt, I can tell you everything you want to know about these two people if you get my knee fixed."

He just smiles and says: "Well, I'll only get your knee fixed if you let me restrain you and follow me to the dead hooker storage center. I also messenged Buzz, the cleaning dude, to come over and take care of Red and Ulysses' corpses."

"Restrain me? You mean tie me up, you goddamn perv."

"Exactly."

Kieszlowski begins doing exactly that.

Diz then says to Kieszlowski: "We'll help you under this condition: You're gonna help us and not tie us up or anything either."

Nitro adds: "Otherwise, I'll blow your head off."

"Jeeze, calm down a bit."


Ten minutes later, a solitary large blue hovercar buzzes down a country highway that cuts through a frost-shrouded landscape. It colour, streamlined shape and large tail fins make it look a gigantic shark. Its four headlights illuminate the road ahead of it, and anything beyond their grasp is obscured by the winter mist which has only gotten thicker since Diz and Nitro landed.

Matt Kieszlowski is at the steering wheel, Nitro on the front passenger seat. A tied-up Aria Ditko whose right leg is covered in bandages, bracing and scaffolding patched together from stuff in Kieszlowski's shed sits on the back seat along with Diz.

"Anyway, Mr. Kieszlowski... Nitro Liu and Yildiz Ling are agents of the Legion of Shadows. They've tried to sell you a fake Warp-O-Matic which they already had gotten the Germans and the Chinese searching for. The plan is for this to cause a chain reaction by framing the limeys. This would result in a galactic war where the Legion of Shadows could take over because of the power vacuum after the war."

Sounding rather unsurprised, Kieszlowski says: "I see. I know there's a Legion of Shadows and what they're about. I know there's fake Warp-O-Matics. I've never heard anything about this. Sources, lady?"

Right now, Diz and Nitro are equally confused. They have no idea whether to tell the truth or not. Looking in each other's eyes, Diz nods, marking to Nitro that she knows what to say.

"You're mistaken, Ms. Ditko... we didn't know the Warp-O-Matic was a fake."

Nitro adds: "Always thought it was the real deal. Might have gotten it pawned off on us by someone in league with the Legion of Shadows, though."

"Lies, Kieszlowski, all lies. The reason you haven't seen them before is that they spent the last many years deep undercover as Chinese spies as part of the plot to throw humanity into a new dark age before the Legion could unite it."

Once again, Diz sneers at Aria: "Where the hell do you know this from?"

"Do you think I'm going to tell you?"

Suddenly, Diz points a needle gun at Aria's head. "Do it or you'll be dead."

Kieszlowski rumbles from the driver's seat: "Ladies... keep it civil, okay? My family's kept this car as good as new for three generations and I don't want blood all over the interior. It's enough already that you broke its fucking window..."

Diz re-draws the needle gun and hears Kieszlowski grumble something that sounds like "once again, it appears women can't do anything without screwing it up". She looks briefly at Aria and sees her smile wickedly. Her brain-scan vision shows Aria as thinking about... whether sasquatches evolved naturally or really just were the creation of a geneticist with an odd sense of humour like the urban legend says. Even the most minute detail of Aria's expression, no matter how hard she tries to stoneface, tells Diz: "Heh heh heh and chortle, I'm plotting my escape despite a broken leg because Matt K. cares more about the 100-year old clunker that his grandpa probably helped roll off the assembly line than "

How the fuck does a goddamn whore gets jammers like this?


The big blue hovercar rolls up by the beach of a frozen-over lake surrounded by formations of dormant trees and dreary vegetation sticking up from the frost. Near the abandoned pier, Kieszlowski turns it rightwards and drives it over the ice. On the midst of the frozen lake, he stops the car but does not turn the engine off. The hovercar continues to levitate.

Kieszlowski exits with a laser pistol in his right hand and the briefcase the three hookers tried to steal in his left hand. Nitro exits from the right front door, Diz from the left rear door with Aria in tow and a loaded needle pistol, her finger resting on the trigger guard, aimed at Aria's head.

Nitro looks across the horizon, seeing that the mist has cleared a bit. Occasionally he can spot Garland's sun glow a faint yellow. He looks back at Kieszlowski using the laser to cut open a hole in the ice, smoke rising from there the beam of light cuts through the ice. Kieszlowski then draws an "X" shape through the rough square shape he's cut into the ice, stomps on it and asks: "Liu..."

"Yeah?"

Nitro is still looking at the area of ice, shattered into more and more shards that flow sideways-up in the dark muddy water.

A slightly annoyed-looking Kieszlowski replies, his deep voice turning into a bit of a growl: "Help me get rid of those dead hookers."

"That's your dead hooker storage center?"

Kieszlowski does not answer.

Nitro walks up to the car. He open its trunk.

TLARNK!

The horrible smell of decaying flesh arises from the plastic bags containing the bodies and wrestle their way into Nitro's nostrils. He lifts up one of the bodies with both his arms, and carries it over to the hole in the ice. The moment he dumps it, he cannot get it out of his head that there is a dead woman inside that bag and that he is carrying it the same way he does Diz whenever she's passed out drunk. He dumps the body into the water.

PLOP!

Repeat procedure. Lift body, carry over to lake, dump.

PLOP!

Diz sees four lights appear in the mist, near the other bank of the frozen lake. They approach with increasing speed, dark shapes appear surrounding them. She zooms in with her right eye, her left eye still focused upon Aria whom she can see in a display in the corner. Diz sees that the four vehicles are hoverbikes. Their riders are wearing face-concealing crash helmets and unmarked black leather bodysuits. Each hovercyclist is carring a gun.

Zooming out, she re-focuses on Aria and howls: "You set us up, didn't you? Let me guess... you let those other two girls die so you could get us out here in plain view and make us easy targets?"

Kieszlowski sprints back towards the car. Aria exclaims in a dissonantly calm deadpan: "The Circle of Serpents are prepared for any outcome. The Circle of Serpents will be your doom."

Diz sees that Nitro and Kieszlowski are already sitting in the car. The rear door nearest her is open. Looking over her shoulder, she sees each of the jetbikers taking aim at her and the car. Her heartbeat accelerates. A tiny flicker of green light appears in each of the muzzles of the hoverbiker's guns. Oh shit[/b]. She ducks, beginning to run as she hauls Aria towards the car and jumps into the door, pulling Aria with her through the air. The instant they land on the backseat, both Diz and Aria feel the gravitational pull throwing them around as Kieszlowski speeds away, steering the car in a 180-degree turn.

Feeling... well, dizzy, Diz finds herself on the hard floor of the land yacht and sees the winter landscape race by her with 120 km/h.

Oh, fucking crap.

She forgot to close the door. She reaches out to crawl towards it and closes it.

Nitro looks in the rearview mirror and sees one green beam of light chop off the rear light of the car's right find. Kieszlowski growls out in horror: "MOTHERFUCKERS! Do those assholes know how much spare parts for one of these costs? Fuck. Thought that taking Aria with me would mean they'd try to leave my car intact..."

Re-holstering his rail-shotgun, Nitro instead draws a submachinegun from inside his coat. Oswald & Livityenko Model 877 "Cop Killer". Commercials say loaded with armour piercing bullets, saw plainclothes robocops in half. Expensive as fuck. Better perform as advertised.

Kieszlowski zig-zags the car as it speeds across the ice to dodge each of the particle beams fired at it.

ZAP!

The car goes to the right as Kieszlowski steers it into a field of reeds. He presses the button on the control stick increasing levitators power, ascending the car to above the reeds.

Nitro aims the O&L 877 out of the window, flicks off the security and looks to the back. Diz, who is at the left rear seat, kneels outside the window and aims to the back with her two needle pistols. They see four hoverbikers clad head to toe in black, flying in a horizontal diamond formation, two of them pointing guns at the Shadow Legionnaires.

Kieszlowski sees a lot of trees in front of the car, coming towards him with 200 km/h, and there is no way in Hell that he could get the car through them without ruining its collector value.

The hoverbiker taking aim at Nitro fires first.

ZAP!

Nitro ducks his head, the particle beam just throwing off his Stetson hat which now flies mangled in the sky. His hair, cut in a style modelled upon that of John Lennon circa 1964, flutters in the wind.

The two Shadow Legionnaires open fire upon the hoverbikers.

PLAKKA! THWIP THWIP!

A burst of bullets from Nitro's submachinegun blacken out the light from the hoverbike's headlights as it. Its rider manoeuvres it to the side while . A green needle and a yellow needle hit the body of another hoverbiker as he shoots a green particle beam at Diz. He misses as the car's driver zig-zags, falling over front dead with the trigger still on, accidentally slicing a good chunk off the car's bumper and the bike's handle as it careens directionly down at the ground.

The other hoverbikers swoop some metres up in the sky, so that they would fly above the trees. Nitro immediately takes aim at one of the hovercyclists and fires off a volley of hyperspeed bullets at the underside of one of the hoverbikes. He's not sure if it's the one whose rider took aim at him, but he doesn't care as twelve hypersonic bullets punch through the hoverbike's repulsion systems. Engine parts alight with blue fire glow in the mist as they fly through the air, enveloped by flame and smoke from the damaged engine that turns the rider into a human torch.

If you've gotta not ruin Matt Kieszlowski I's car completely, Matt Kieszlowski III... you've gotta fly above those trees. Or do you? Kieszlowski gets an idea. Then, he notices that hoverbikers are now... well. First they are now above the trees so that the old "lure them through the trees and have the trunks smack against them" trick won't work anymore. Second, they're firing a shitload of those particle beams at the car. Third, one of them just shot off the rearview mirror on the left door-

Kieszlowski pulls the control stick backwards. The car makes a sudden steep climb up in the air, smashing through the crown of a tree with a dry crack. Petrified branches fly in all directions. Kieszlowski shudders to think what a mangled grimace the family car's front must look like now.

Diz looks down at the two remaining hoverbikers, which the hovercar is now climbing above. Spotting the faintest hint of a gun aimed at her, she throws herself to the side and lands on Aria. "You landed on my broken knee, you bitch!"

"You could have killed yourself to spare yourself the trouble like that other girl did, but not that you haven't..."

Taking a pause to take a deep breath, Diz notices the steaming scar that a particle beam just cut across the car's roof. She jumps upwards inadvertedly and sees that the hovercar is now descending. She looks at Aria and notices that she in the meantime has fastened her seatbelt. Diz begins fastening hers with one hand, still holding a needle gun in each, and completes what she was saying: "... what the hell is it you were trying to steal from ?"

"The Circle of Serpents will kill me if I tell you."

Kieszlowski sends the car spinning 180 degrees across the frozen landscape.

The gigantic man in the green coat leans out the car window with his laser pistol in his left hand, looking at the hovercyclist he is speeding towards. Nitro is leaning out the right front window with his submachinegun, aiming at the hovercyclist. Both the Circle of Serpents assassin and the US agent are aiming their guns at each other. Kieszlowski shoots first, the laser humming faintly as its cuts through his adversary's helmet. To be certain, Kieszlowski shoots the hovercyclist in the chest plus both shoulders and knees as well. The assassin slouches lifelessly backwards on the hovercycle as it crashes down towards the ground, which the car is about thirty metres above by now.

That hoverbike-riding Serpent Circle assassin on the right side of the car, heading towards Nitro, makes an own 180 turn and now flees away. Nitro fires off a rattling storm of bullets at the hovercyclist, keeping a look for any back patches identifying gang affliation. Could be this Circle of Serpents Aria's going on about's just a local biker gang Kieszlowski's got unfinished business with. However, the hovercyclist disappears into the distance before Kieszlowski can catch up. He decelerates the hovercar, lands on the ground and sighs as he drives it down the nearest highway.


The Kieszlowski-mobile rolls up near his house again. The other wrecked hovercar is there. The bloodstained snow is still there, but it looks like Buzz has done his job. Kieszlowski parks the car, turns off the engine. The car de-levitates and now rests on the ground.

Whoosh.

The four doors open.

Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack

Everyone steps out, Aria halting noticeably. Kieszlowski takes a walk around his car and looks at it.

"Harry and Del, or Nitro and Diz or whatever you two are called?"

"Yeah?"

"Let's make a deal. I'll help you with whatever the hell you're doing if you'll pay for restoring my car to mint condition."

Aria then says: "I'll propose a deal too. I'll give you people the scoop on the Circle of Serpents if... well, you've got a sickbay on that starship of yours?"

Nitro nods.

Aria continues: "Well, get my leg fixed up."

A couple of seconds' utter silence pass.

Nitro and Diz know that Matt Kieszlowski and Aria Ditko are both likely planning to end up manipulating them for their own agendas. However, they also know that right now they're the ones in control of the situation. By accident, nonetheless. With all that in mind, Nitro says: "Approve both of your offers. Aria gets her leg fixed, Matt gets his car fixed. You two.. follow us into the starship."

Looking at Kieszlowski, Diz adds: "Yeah. You'll take a big risk by staying here."

For a second Kieszlowski ponders whether the house can be defended that easily. He decides that he might be able to turn them over to the CIA and land a strike against this Circle of Serpents, so he says: "You're right. I'm coming with you."

To be continued...
"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." - Heraclitus

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Peregrin
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Peregrin » Thu Jul 23, 2009 12:39 pm

Swimming in the Zodiac
Chapter 4: Asteroid Belt

Aria Ditko wakes up from the anaesthetic. She looks around and sees the sickbay of Nitro and Diz' starship Heavenly Thunderbolt, a pristine white and silver room full of instruments and.

Looking up, she sees a medic droid that vaguely looks like a humanoid insect hover above her. A set of mosquito-like wings keep it aloft. The medic droid greets her, speaking in a dapper British accent: "I hope you're satisfied with your new leg, Ms. Ditko."

Aria removes the blanket over her and sees that her right leg is covered in bandages. It feels a little sore, but certainly not the throbbing sweet motherfucking Jesus, Allah and all the Bodhisattvas this motherfucking hurts kind of pain after Nitro Liu shot her knee to bits. She sits up and removes the bandages.

It looks as good as new. She bends the knee and the leg up. It works perfectly fine.

"Thanks."

The medic droid opens a shelf and finds Aria Ditko's clothing, which it hands over to her. She changes from the medical dress she's wearing right now to her own clothing. She leaves wearing a leopard-print jacket over a short black dress with woolen bluish pantyhose covering her legs and knee-high red boots. Not high heels, just knee-high and red.

She arrives on the bridge of the Heavenly Thunderbolt, where Nitro and Diz are sitting at the controls of the ship. Since the Heavenly Thunderbolt is a rather small starship, the helm is more or less indistinguishable from an airplane's cockpit. Buttons, levers, viewsceens and interfaces everywhere glow in a multitude of colours as the sole illumination of the bridge.

Through the window, she could see the dark vacuum of space broken up by stars and a small glowing orb she immediately could identify as the planet San Odiseo, hidden behind a belt of dust that obviously is the system's asteroid belt. To the side, she sees that the Heavenly Thunderbolt is right now in orbit around Visconti, the planet between Garland and San Odiseo.

For a couple of seconds Aria stares at that world, a gigantic blue sphere broken up only by the whitish-grey splotches of clouds and the occasional smattering of green island.

There are two other seats than the pilots' seats, behind them. In one of them sits Matt Kieszlowski, wearing only a pair of black denim jeans and a pair of slippers. Recently scar tissue splatters across his torso, some of it ruining tattoos that must have been quite expensive, as they depict elaborate martial motifs from Slavic mythology. The lighting also makes it look like everything on him is some shade of green. It's not just his trousers and slippers which actually are green by the way, but his hair looks more aquamarine than dark brown, his skin looks like a pale turquoise and his healing wounds appear to be somewhat bluish. Okay, that's not actually green but still more bluish than how Aria usually sees wounds.

Matt looks over his shoulder and says in his trademark gravelly baritone: "Hello."

Diz looks over her shoulder too. Aria sees that Diz is still wearing the long black dress she did down on Garland, exposing more freshly healed scars. She asjs; "Okay, Ariadne Ditko... so who are this Circle of Serpents that employ you?"

Switching on her brainscanner visual display, Aria sees the same text pop up near the heads of Nitro Liu, Diz Ling and Matt Kieszlowski: "She's probably gonna spin up a web of lies around a tiny, tiny core of truth."

So, Aria decides to state the truth: "The Circle of Serpents are a confederation of the mightiest crime kingpins in the known universe, each ruling over a specific geographic territory. It was originally known as the Seven Serpents when formed on Earth in the 19th century. Each Serpent carries a Serpent Ring, which is... well, a ring without which nobody can call verself Serpent.."

Nitro says: "I'm listening."

Aria looks out the window and sees that the starship is passing by Visconti. She continues: "Membership of the Serpents changes, but the aspirant has to prove verself by taking the Serpent Ring of the Serpent ve wishes to replace. The aspirant then has to survive the attacks from every other person hunting the Serpent Ring."

Looking back, Aria stares at a point in the air between herself and Matt Kieszlowski. A cone of bluish light projects from her eye and creates a hologram of twelve entities. Some of them are human, like the Chinese man who has a Salvador Dalí moustache and is wearing a vaguely wizardly robe or the pudgy black man in a military uniform that's entirely in shades of red and loaded with medals all cast in a design that involves a stylized depiction of a hippopotamus. Others aren't human like the Black Ultra-Crinoid wielding six swords and decorated with bioluminescent electro-tattoos or the robot looking like a 7-foot silvery praying mantis. A few, aren't quite possible to classify as either post-human or not, like a vaguely reptiloid-looking American Indian man clad in golden ornaments and a cloak made from the feathers of rare tropical birds. Each has a glowing ring upon one of their appendages.

Diz asks: "Okay. Which Serpent is it that you work for?"

Aria stares at a point in the air between her and Matt Kieszlowski. All of the holographic Serpents disappear except one, who becomes bigger and more detailed. It is the stately-looking Nordic woman with her blonde hair arranged in long curls, wearing a green and orange dress whose shape is modelled upon that of an insect's carapace.

Noticing that the other three look upon the holographic lady in shock and awe, Aria explicates: "Drusilla Serafinowicz, the Serpent of the Transgalactic Republic of German Systems."

Matt says in disbelief: "That Drusilla Serafinowicz?"

A very sarcastic Nitro adds: "The greatest classical violinist of all time, chairwoman of Magus & Schumacher GmBH, initiative-taker of the Astarte Braintrust and galactic champion fencer Drusilla Laetitia Serafinowicz?"

"Yeah. Ever heard of Chip Freeman, that United States journalist who disappeared without a trace? That was my doing, since he had uncovered evidence that the Astarte Braintrust was a front group for the activities of the Circle of Serpents, as were the Ouroboros Foundation and the Fabrice Sharif Institute. That's not the important part."

Aria looks at their thoughts. They're every bit as incredulous as before, and still haven't tried to find out what they think is the truth. In deed, Nitro's just read "Silly gweipor. Think I fall for that hog-wash?"

She sighs, thinks well, maybe they'll change their minds and continues speaking: "Anyway, this is not the weird stuff. Look at me, then at Ms. Serafinowicz. Then remember a certain fighter ace lady of your Legion of Shadows."

Diz makes the astute observation that Aria and have the same lanky build and face structure as Hippolyta Mezieres and says: "You're telling me that you're... clones?"

Aria nods her head.

"And there's more... basically, within the last 80 years Drusilla Serafinowicz has begun replacing her henchpeople with the Harpy Corps, an army of genetically modified clones of herself that can reproduce by parthenogenesis."

Nitro interrupts: "Let me guess... gonna tell me Hippolyta Mezieres' a double agent?"

Aria, looking out the window to see that Diz is manoeuvering the ship through the asteroid belt, hears Matt say before she can continue: "And your plan to steal the plans for Project Hecate is part of a plan Ms. Serafinowicz has to repopulate Germany entirely with clones of herself, Ms. Ditko?"

Noticing that Matt emphasizes "Ms. Ditko" in a rather sarcastic manner, Aria replies: "Not quite. I'm gonna explain later... anyway, after developing an affair with Ibraxis al-Mahdi ibn-Sabbah, whom you might know better as Jerome Cicero-"

She sees that Nitro can't decide between oh motherfucking shit or exactly what kind of dope is this gweipor on?.

"-a German triple agent infiltrating the Legion of Shadows and the Black Dragon Crime League, I became a double agent for the German intelligence service."

Matthew Judas Kieszlowski III concludes: "So, now, you infiltrated the Circle of Serpents' plan to steal the Hecate Project and get it back to the Germans? That's kinda weird considering that Magus & Schumacher helped develop it."

Aria then says: "No, the genius part of the plan is that Hippolyta Mezieres thought up this: Get the Hecate Project files into Kieszlowski's house, then have our agents retrieve it at the same time Diz and Nitro come to sell him the fake Warp-O-Matic, while we were supposed to not leave a single trail of it. It was meant that Kieslowski would interrogate both of you and reveal the Legion of Shadows' plan to start a galactic war turning the various human nations against each other."

Matt adds: "After finding out this, we in the United States would then have intensified our efforts into finally getting rid of the Legion of Shadows?"l

Nitro asks: "But what about you Serpent Circle krav-maga hookers, then, Aria?"

"Well... we'd give the Hecate Project to the Russians, in exchange for what Drusilla Serafinowicz really wants: The location of the Omega Sanctuary."

Everyone is silent now. Diz steers the Heavenly Thunderbolt around an asteroid in front of the ship. She remembers when she was a little girl, before she had travelled through an asteroid belt. Back then, she thought that asteroid belts were dense, hard to navigate and impossible to navigate through... sort of like a deadly three-dimensional slalom course. I used to have nightmares about being on a spaceship that had to zig-zag in 3-D between asteroids. The captain made a lapse and it crashed. When I died, then I woke up. Probably the first nightmare of mine that I can remember.

Aria finally notices that Diz has her hair dyed purple. How long has it been since purple hair last was hip? Twenty years? They must really be behind the times where she lives. The poor gal probably thinks knitted sweaters are good for anything else than cheap laughs.

Matt asks, his deep voice placed in a tone halfways between honesty and sarcasm: "Omega Sanctuary? As in, the legendary homeworld of the Sentinels of the Eight-Coloured Rose, a Gnostic warrior-sect founded in 1248 as an offshoot of the Knight Templars? The organization whose stated purpose of creating an androgynous messiah initially led to the primitive eugenics program that yielded Joan of Arc?"

"That's correct."

Suddenly, Diz shoots in: "I guess that it's not a big stretch to think that Sienna Christensen, that 21st century freelance assassin who was like one of the best ever but also a total psycho... she's also a failed attempt at a Rose Sentinel messiah?"

"You sound sarcastic, but it's actually very likely that she was so. Anyway, the Russians have allegedly found the whereabouts of the Omega Sanctuary. What is certain is that the Rose Sentinels believed they had found the secrets to creating such a saviour, but that humankind would have to prove itself worthy by producing a Champion who would seek out the mysteries of the universe and hence decipher the riddles whose answer hold the key to the Omega Sanctuary, where the Champion of Humanity would ascend."

Diz is sounding a bit sarcastic because she knows that the whole story about the Rose Sentintels and their Omega Sanctuary is what her boyfriend would call hog-wash.

It's not something she thinks actively about, however, it is just something she's made instinctive knowledge much how like pi is 3.14159265358979323846 or that -273.15 degrees Celsius is absolute zero. After all, among the upper-level root data of her mechanically integrated brain is a series of zeroes and ones that translate into the details of the historians responsible for all what is "known" about the Rose Sentinels, Dr. Æmilian von Staffenfeldt and Dr. Lafayette Starr were Shadow Legionnaires who fabricated all evidence and faked much older sources over a period of 120 years to distract the paranormal research projects of Terran governments for the next many centuries.

The fact that this knowledge is literally deeply ingrained in Diz' reasoning means that Aria Ditko can't see it on her brainscanner right now other than "No way that's not <nitro> hog-wash </nitro>."

Right now Nitro is contemplating several possibilities, which appear as displays in the upper fourth of his vision, typing out as he formulates them.

OPTION 1:
Aria Ditko really a member of clone amazon brigade operating an influential German businesswoman's secret criminal empire which in turn is part of a 1000-year old conspiracy between the entire criminal underworld of the known universe, and secretly under the employ of German intelligence service to sabotage an operation to get the United States to get rid of this criminal conspiracy's apparent number one rival so they can concentrate on stealing the plans for a bio-weapon which they'll exchange with the Russians for the location to the sanctuary of a secret society that, if it exists, has just as fraudulent a history as the Priory of Zion. What the fuck is it with Germans and conspiracy anyway? Like - want to work for any kind of secret organization working against all governments, end up answering to a Kraut at some point. Looks like Hitler won in the end.

OPTION 2:
Aria Ditko actually Russian spy exploiting her, Mezieres and Serafinowicz looking a lot like each other to try fooling me and Diz into going after not just a 1000-year old conspiracy involving the entire criminal underworld of humanity that's somehow escaped the Legion of Shadow's attention and hence isn't that likely to really exist but also a definitely imagined 1500-year old conspiracy about clones, bioweapons and Knights Templar. Ditko... surname certainly sounds Russian, right? Not first time the Russkies tried setting me up... anyway. The Russkies. By having Aria Ditko get involved with Jerome Cicero and whoring herself out to Matt Kieszlowski, they're also getting the Germans, Chinese and Americans to go after the nonexistant conspiracy.

OPTION 3:
The Circle of Serpents is a real criminal organization, but it's likely nowhere as utterly bugfuck weird and definitely nowhere as big and old as Aria Ditko says it is. However, they do have an interest in getting the Legion of Shadows to do some errands for it by going after the Circle of Serpents' enemies in the Russian authorities and Magus & Serafinowicz which the Circle of Serpents probably wants to steal something from when those are busy defending themselves against the Legion of Shadows. I mean, they've already stolen the Hecate Project in a way that could leave the blame with the US, who they in turn are also trying to get going after a big German corporation whose downfall would take a good chunk of the country's economy with it.

OPTION 4:
Aria Ditko and some others have been cajoled into doing stuff for the Circle of Serpents, but it's actually a ruse of sorts set up by someone who wants to do some covert operations against the United States of Orion, possibly also the Germans and Russians. This sounds like something Italians would do, so maybe the Circle of Serpents is just a splinter faction of the Mafia that's being used by the Italian government as a tool to get possession of the Hecate Project without getting their own hands dirty? The Russians, of course, are either being played as a second scapegoat by the Italians or are playing everyone to de-rail the whole operation by way of the Omega Sanctuary hoax, thus hoodwinking the Italians, United States and the Legion of Shadows in the process.

OPTION 5:
Speaking of Italians... remember Emilio Evola, that Italian politician who constantly talks about reviving the Roman Empire? Well, it's possible that the Janus Institute, you know that political think-tank that finances his party, also is behind this Circle of Serpents thing where they're trying to engineer a war between Russia and the United States in order to take over the power vacuum left after the Russkies and the Yankees are done pounding the ever-living crap out of each other. I mean, big galaxy. Not like Legion of Shadows' the only people who could get the idea, huh?


Before Nitro can formulate a sixth option, Matt begins speaking: "You know what? All this sounds silly as hell, the conspiracies going back to the Middle Ages and their superhuman messiah projects, galactic wars being the work of a 900-year old immortal German's ongoing grudge against his country and him somehow being able to keep it all secret, but you know what? Humanity's origins are just as fucking silly."

Matt's rumbling but polite baritone makes him sound more authoritative than Nitro would saying the same. He continues: "You think we evolved by way of natural selection from apes? As in survival of the fittest? Well, if that's the case then why the fuck have we lost our tails and body hair so we need this entire clothing business? I'd like to have a tail, it'd be like a third arm. I'd like to have enough body hair that I didn't need to own any clothes. No, let me tell you guys and girls the truth about mankind's genesis."

Diz snarks, noticing in the process that Matt has whipped out a notebook and pencil out from his pocket and begun writing: "Which is?"

"All the hormones in the brain means that eating it is an aphrodisiac. Back on Earth, monkeys began eating each others' brains for that reason. When one monkey discovered that, the rest of his tribe began attacking other tribes. Ate the brains of their males, raped their females."

Matt's voice turns from a grandfatherly exposition to a ferocious yet satisfied snarl as he adds: "Conquer and breed."

His voice reverts back to normal. He continues speaking: "Anyway, all this hormone imbalance made the next generation of apes all fucked up. Less body hair, but bigger heads. Bigger brains. Bigger sex drives too. So, this next generation of monkeys and apes-"

Nitro sends his five conspiracy theories as a message to Diz after saving them into a data folder in the strictly encrypted harddrive of his brain. He looks at Matt, noticing that the gigantic American is mapping out an elaborate plan in Icelandic, a mostly dead language which Nitro happens to not understand, while in English recalling that crackpot theory of human origins with the brain-eating apes. Nitro's hairs stand on end, because he is 99% certain Matt is planning a double-cross of sorts. He then asks conchalantly: "Using monkey and ape as synonyms, Mr. Kieszlowski? They aren't."

Matt ignores him. "Screw you if I care, chinaman. Back to the monkeys. Yeah, what was it with the monkeys? Okay, these monkeys might have noticed there was something wrong because their heads were bigger and their bodies less hairy. However, because they were hormonally fucked up they still had to each other monkeys' brains and couldn't fight it. It's like when you're a junkie, you know what you're doing isn't right but you keep doing it. These monkeys were brain-eating junkies. For generation and generation, the monkeys ate more and more brains until they had big enough brains, enough willpower of their own to make a stand and say - you know, we can stop eating each others' brains. At that point in history was when they had become mostly like what we know as human. Maybe it's some kind of very faint genetic memory from back then that at some point people got the idea for making themselves into post-humans."

Diz sees a "you have a message from Nitromethane Liu" display pop up, opening it. She sees his five explanations for what has happened and does some quick calculations about which requires the most assumptions beyond what's already known. She replies to I'm going with either 2 or 3. Like you say, it's extremely unlikely that a conspiracy as big as the Serpent Circle could avoid the Shadow Legion's attention. Anyway, remember Sokaris Sepulveda, that Legion of Shadows hacker dude who's a double agent infiltrating the Russian intelligence service? I think we should get him to somehow slip it to the Russians, or at least Aria's contact, that the whole Rose Sentinel business is a hoax so that they'll burn her off and we can take the Hecate Project. Not sure what to do with the Americans now that Matt's on our side, though...

Aria, who has been silent for most of Matt's lecture, asks: "Now, what the hell do those brain-eating monkeys have to do with what's happening right now?"

"Well, this entire situation we're in, it's a sign that humans are bastards. It's not just the humans who are bastards, the aliens are bastards too. I mean, how else could a Black Ultra-Crinoid become a member of the Serpent Circle? Why else would someone like Paul von Austerlitz - name sounds like that of a guy who writes really weird detective novels for a living, by the way - have to manipulate things behind the scenes for 900 years so that billions die in cataclysmic wars, if they want to get anywhere close to a society where you could? So far, the only way intelligent beings of any kind have shown that they can arrange a big organized society is by systematically screwing each other over, and guess why? If a species wants to become smart enough to find out that two plus two makes four and not five, the first thing they need to do is to crush their enemies, eat their brains and rape their women."

Nitro gets Diz' message, popping open the display and beginning to send a reply: Eh. Kieszlowski's so obsessed with his car dude'll probably betray country just getting it fixed. If that doesn't work, get United States to support us against the Russkies. Then, we'll strike when they least expect it. Just like they did with mujahideen back in 20th century. Should pitch that to Austerlitz. Jump over to Oaxaca in the Huitzilopochtli system somewhere in Aztlan sector, last time I checked that's where Sokaris' pad is. Hope that dude speaks Icelandic, by the way.

She replies: I don't think that's necessary. Matt said he'd go along with anything as long as his car would be restored. Maybe we can get him into the Legion that way? If we follow that plan, he could get along with us covering things up so that we could set up the Germans or Americans for this by way of the entire Serpent Circle. Sokaris Sepulveda can help us with the disinformation.

Recieving the message as he sees Diz typing in the hyperspace coordinates to Huitzilopochtli, Nitro mutters: "Hope he can get us some Whoosh too."

Matt Kieszlowski looks out the window and takes notice that the Heavenly Thunderbolt has left behind the Molossian system for the multicoloured lightshow that is hyperspace. He takes a look at the plans of his which he had devised so far by writing it down on a tiny notebook. To make sure nobody else will understand it, he's written it in Icelandic, a language he's sure nobody else in the room than himself is fluent in.

Translated, it reads:

"Okay. I'm gonna pretending to defect to the Legion of Shadows. I could become an important operative for them and do really important stuff for them, so I'd know about their plans and get to make a plan myself. Something really nasty against the Russians, nasty on the level of the motherfucking Shoah. This'll make the Borsch-gulpers go in really hard against the Legion. I'll then fake my own death and the complete disappearance of the Hecate Project blueprints. With a new identity, I'll go back to the States with the Hecate Project plans and insider information on the Shadow Legion. Maybe I could also play the Shadow Legion against the Circle of Serpents, but I'm not sure how real it is."

To be continued...
"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." - Heraclitus

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Magister Militum
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Magister Militum » Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:57 pm

You know, Per, something I love about your writing is the ability to blend the absurd and add in so many twists into your stories. I can't wait to see how this ends. :D
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Peregrin
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Peregrin » Mon Dec 28, 2009 12:46 am

Better late than never... next week I shall not only finally finish Swimming in the Zodiac, because it's Christmas and it started as a Secret Santa! If I didn't get arsed to do it in the summer, then I will do it in the winter. Most of the fifth chapter has been written and I've had an ending planned out for a long time, so I figure that by Tuesday or so it will have finished itself and I can go on to write some more stuff which will be in a completely different style than anything I've written so far.
"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." - Heraclitus

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Peregrin
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Peregrin » Fri Jan 01, 2010 8:50 pm

Okay, because of how insanely complicated the plot is I've figured that this needs at least 6 chapters to finish. Maybe even seven.

Swimming in the Zodiac
Chapter 5: Oaxaca, Part 1: Ciudad Rosa

The skies above Oaxaca are a light turquoise blue. Enthroned upon zenith, the sun Huitzilopochtli illuminate the dry desert highland. The sand looks more pallid golden than bright grey. These gleaming mesas and their ornaments of vegetation, however, are a dull grey next to the Heavenly Thunderbolt. The arrowhead-shaped starship's paint job is a symmetrical pattern of metallic green and bronze similar to a snake's scales, so at a cloudless Oaxacan noon like this the Heavenly Thunderbolt gleams so boldly that an exceptionally stoned outlaw journalist would call it "the kind of sky-chariot you'd expect a vengeful Hindu deity to travel in".

The Heavenly Thunderbolt is headed towards the Montalban Astro-Drome located on a great plateau and sprawls around a gleaming white terminal.

Matt looks out the window, marvelling over the dozens of starships and aircraft that he sees leaving, circling and arriving at the astrodrome: A bulbous red star yacht with a multitude of many-pronged hyperspace sails, an astronef whose silvery hull with the engines housed in three pods hanging below remind Matt of nothing less than an interstellar Zeppelin, two nebular dhows whose crystalline structures could only have been designed and crafted by ultra-crinoids.

If it's small enough to land there and can be thought of, it's here at Montalban.

Nitro looks at Diz and asks: "Know what, Diz?""

She raises her eyebrows and replies: "Yeah, Nitro?"

Nitro cracks a smile: "See the terminal? Looks like an abstract painting of a seagull standing atop a dead squid if you ask me."

Aria says: "You know, that's a pretty good description."

She takes a breath and continues by snarking: "I'd kill to find out what was going on inside the head of whomever designed that."

Diz sees that Nitro's facial expression is again neutral. She cracks a smile herself and says: "Maybe it's just possible that not everyone thinks the same about what a good flight terminal looks like as you do."

Aria says: "Could be."

A display pops up on one of the holographic screens in the cockpit with coordinates that the Heavenly Thunderbolt is authorized to land at 13:15 on landing strip 7. A holographic display materializes between Diz and Nitro. It is a 3-D model of the astro-drome, which is all in blue except for landing strip 7 which is marked in red.

Diz looks at it briefly and then out the cockpit window. She steers the starship in a circle around the astro-drome. It yaws gently to the side as it begins circling. Diz looks at the other starships and aircraft circling, arriving at and leaving the astro-drome. She hooks up her own visual displays to the Heavenly Thunderbolt's Starport Helper plug-in system, now seeing the paths of the other vehicles.

Understanding where everyone else in the air is heading, she commands the Thunderbolt into an orbit that does not interfere with anyone else. She briefly sees that a lot of the other starships are similarly in the process of getting into their own circles. She programs the cruise control to maintain circling until further notice and disengages from the Starport Helper. Looking at the clock, she sees that it's 13:10.

Matt says: "You know, Diz and Nitro, I'd very much appreciate it if you don't use my car as transportation here on Oaxaca. First, there's how my uncle Hunter once got his car pillaged by the locals when he was here. Second, with half of humanity wanting our heads.. well, your heads at least, on a plate and the Project Hecate files on their hands it's likely that we'll. So, I'll pay for the cab to... where was it again that Sepulveda lived?"

Hearing that, Nitro immediately suspects that Matt knows a CIA spook at the Astro-Drome who's undercover as a taxi driver, then looks over his shoulder and turns on his mind-scanner display. He sees that Matt is thinking nothing of the sort, only about 1) what's happening with his house on Garland, probably something horrible 2) whether other CIA people will kill him for going rogue 3) Diz having, in Matt's own words, nice tits for a Chinese girl.

Nitro then says: "I'll pay the cab fare anyway."

Aria, however, is right now thinking Okay, so apparently they have evidence the Rose Sentinels don't exist and are a complete hoax. I'm skeptical of things like that but I'm gonna listen anyway. Kinda throws a wrench in the works of that plan we had, doesn't it? Then again, that "Rose Sentinels never existed" business is coming from people who don't believe in the Serpents. Or maybe they don't think that the Rose Sentinels never existed, they're just gonna convince the Russians that's the case so they can have the Hecate Project files for themselves. That's really all I can know right now, that they've agreed to tell the Russians that. No way I can be certain they're not tricking me into thinking they're thinking that.

Then, she says out loud "Fuck, my head hurts" and gropes around in her pockets for something stimulating. She can't find it, deciding that the first thing she'll get on this planet is a pack of cigarettes.

New objective anyway: Either keep the Hecate Project out of the hands of the Shadow Legion, or get them to do something with it that'll make things easier for the Circle of Serpents. I can't decide yet. I'll probably flip a coin.

She closes her eyes just to relax a little bit.

Goddamnit, if I'm surviving this and everything goes down as I planned I'm going to have a long relaxing bath. I haven't had those in ages. On the minus side, though, I'm probably gonna get killed taking one of those. Goddamn it. Fuck, my head hurts. I can't think of more of a plan right now, having to map it all up on the go.

When she opens her eyes again, she sees that it's 13:14. She feels the gravitational pull downwards, looking outside to confirm, yes, Diz is landing the Heavenly Thunderbolt. The other aerospace craft are getting higher and higher, so she sees more of the belly sides. The ground gets closer and closer.

Aria looks at Nitro pressing a couple of buttons. She hears a vaguely CLANK!-y sound, then a very faint VRRRR! noise buzzing in the background.

The Heavenly Thunderbolt lands on Airstrip Seven with a mighty THWUMP!. Huitzilopochtli shines upon the starship, casting a dark shadow from its bronzen and shining green surface unto the landing strip. On its side, the door opens and flips down, revealing a stair down on the other side of the door.

Nitro, Diz, Aria and Matt step out in that order, each carrying a cello case except Matt who is carrying a double bass case. Matt is also completely barefoot and shirtless. He's wearing only his blackish-green pants and a makeshift green bandana on his head.

The others are dressed as usual, just without the winter coats they wore back on Garland and in lighter shoes. Nitro's in his burgundy suit, Diz in her long-ish black dress and Aria in a much shorter and skimpier one. She's also switched her woolly blue pantyhose for fishnets. Everyone is wearing shades.

As they set foot upon Oaxaca, they look around them and take a breath of air on a new world. Everyone feels like they've awakened from a dream except the sensation isn't quiet as strong, but it's still the same basic feeling because they haven't walked underneath a cloudless summer sky for a long time. Nitro also feels like a kid in a toy store looking at all the other bright shiny spaceships in the sky and on the ground. Maybe it has something to do with the gigantic silvery astronef emblazoned with the blue crest of Smedley-Smythe-Smith Starlines looking like the one he got a model kit of for his 12th birthday. Ah, the memories...

... but that was then.

Diz says: "You threw out the briefcase's tracking device on Coyolxauhqui and planted it there, right? I hate to say it, but I can't remember if that actually happened."

Aria replies: "It did."

"Good."

One of the starport taxis, small pudgy-looking golfcart-like vehicles crewed by robots that look like silvery crash test dummies with glowing red eyes, parks near the Heavenly Thunderbolt. The robo-cabbie greets them, his voice sounding annoyingly chipper: "Welcome to Oaxaca!"

The four embark on the starport taxi. Nitro finds that he can't look at it without thinking overgrown golfcart.

The robo-cabbie steps on it and begins driving them towards the terminal, asking in the same overblownly optimistic voice: "Which places on this beautiful planet will you see on your journey?"

Diz immediately replies with a sneer: "Where the robo-cabbies aren't discount."

The robo-cabbie raises his robo-eyebrows. His voice immediately turns sarcastic: "Very funny."


Flash forwards roughly an hour. Nitro, Diz, Matt and Aria are now sitting in a real taxi, a streamlined hover-minibus thing with an orange/black paintjob driving through Ciudad Rosa. The cabbie, a skinny man named Raoul with a huge moustache and the kind of Hawaiian shirt even Nitro Liu wouldn't wear, points at a building on the other side of the road. "... and that one has the best rice and beans spinward of Tonnere."

Nitro looks outside at a flying saucer-shaped building between two apartment blocks in a park of around ten, with a round handpainted sign reading "Gustave's" on top as a sort of crest.

All of the apartment buildings are in the same rounded, smooth and white-coloured style as the astrodrome, but with much more wear and tear to the point that most of them are more off-white in colouring. The roofs of the apartment blocks are lined with rows of ventilator fins that jut up like shellfish lying on the beach. Looking out in the distance, he sees the residential complex blending into the equally patinated skyscrapers of the rest of the city.

Atop one of the blocks stands a tall, pale man with blonde hair done up in a slick pompadour looking up in the sky like he is waiting for something. He is wearing a while hat, aviator sunglasses, a purple/white-patterned Hawaiian shirt and long white slacks. On the windows of the same apartment block, a hover-platform is entertaining a six-armed robot that is in the process of washing windows.

He looks down on the street. He sees lots of people scurrying to and fro on the streets and doing their daily businesses, with stands everywhere on the sidewalks selling everything from fruits and vegetables over magazines to props for religious ceremonies.

You know, maybe it's not so bad a thing those shiny white buildings are more of an eggshell colour because they aren't that well-maintained... kind of weird if all shiny and Bauhaus-on-a-tropical-vacation with people outside wearing Hawaiian shirts and actually being alive.

Raoul drives the cab to the right at the next turn and looks at the apartment blocks. Nitro looks out the other side of the window, turning on both Z-Ray and brainscan vision to see if there's any assassins or spies in the vicinity. His vision becomes the landscape of bare-bones shapes, shadows and transparent buildings all in Z-Ray electric blue forming every possible detail of every single little physical object. He sees the thought bubbles of all the people pretty much overlapping and getting in the way of each other for him so that he can't really see more than a few of them right now.

Crap.

Nitro then picks the "search" option for his brainscan, ticks the "cross-reference all familiar languages" box and runs some keywords related to his current operation - "Project Hecate", "Legion of Shadows", "Shadow Legion", "Matt Kieszlowski", "spies", "agents", "Circle of Serpents", "assassin" and so on - through it, combing the thoughts of the hundreds of people passing by for such terms being thrown around. And even then, I have no idea if they mean the same things by all those words as I do.

He then finds a person thinking about the Circle of Serpents, the Legion of Shadows and the Omega Sanctuary hoax. The words are glowing bright orange. He's thinking about it in Russian, too, on a planet that's in the Spanish-speaking third of the United States of Orion. It's the blonde-pompadoured man on the rooftop. His name is Fenimor Malevich and he's in the process of assembling a sniper rifle.

Raoul eventually slows the taxi down and stopping the taxi between two parked hovercars. "Independencia 12, right?"

Nitro's heart begins racing. Noticing that Fenimor's rooftop is just opposite where Sokaris lives, he takes a screencap of what he's seeing right now and immediately messages it to Diz, Aria and Matt. He flicks off the Z-Ray vision.

Diz nods. "Yeah." She then reads what Nitro sent them and her hairs begin to rise, but she's not too worried. I've been through worse.

The four exit the taxi, Diz paying Raoul in cash and not even bothering to count the money as she barges through the door and up the stairs followed by Matt, Nitro and Aria. Nitro briefly notices that the stairways have the same kind of endearing dilapidation to them, but he's paying more attention to Aria Ditko looking at him and saying: "Fuck, you were right about the rose sentinels!"

Arriving in Sokaris Sepulveda's apartment, they see him - an olive-skinned man of slight build and short statue, his reddish-brown hair cut in a tacky mullet - standing with a large submachinegun in one hand as he greets them. Every surface of his apartment's walls, floor and ceiling is covered with some kind of garish avant-garde painting, so multicoloured spirals and geometric figures which require a college education to know the name of are everywhere not covered by homemade clockwork machinery keeping sprawling electronic databanks running across black-and-white screens.

Sokaris looks at everyone, switching his brainscan on when he gawks at Aria and Matt. "Come on in. Bad timing, though, the Russians are about to kill me over..."

Aria interrupts him: "The Rose Sentinels fraud?"

Thinking up everything that's happened between the briefing on Mundus Flagg and right now, Nitro casts a glance across the people in the room. Sokaris looks a bit shocked and very confused. Matt says "hello, my name is Matt Kieszlowski, I just defected from the CIA to the Legion of Shadows" while opening his double bass case to produce a rifle as long as he is. (just under seven feet)

"Charybdis C-877. It shoots anti-matter bolts!"

Diz is standing with the microfilm containing the blueprints for Project Hecate in her hands, Matt turning his head to tell her "I'm on your side now".

Nitro messages the summary to Sokaris. The very microsecond impulses in his brain click "send", he sees Diz and Sokaris beginning to throw themselves to the ground and something through Sokaris' window.

Fuck. That Borscht-gulper Fenimor Malevich's getting a hit on us. Exactly what was I supposed to do here on Oaxaca? Okay, yeah, Operation Penguin - the whole thing with the fake superweapon - got foiled by the Circle of Serpents. Next best thing we can do, get Von Austerlitz the plans for the Hecate Project and get the Russians to lose interest. Except now Aria doesn't have any hoax to hook the Russkies up to, we need to.

Nitro dashes towards the ground too, opening his cello case to lose it. In mid-air, it pops open. A storm rifle with a sniper scope falls down.

Everything in slow motion again. So, what's a Nitro Liu to do?

Landing on the floor, Nitro catches the storm rifle.

PHRRRAV!

The door to the apartment is torn off its hinges, parts of it flying through the stair hallway. Wooden splinters and sawdust is in the air. Matt Kieszlowski reaches out for the parts of the anti-matter rifle and assembles it. Sokaris Sepulveda wheels up on one legs and is now kneeling.

Aiming his submachinegun out the window, Sokaris pin-points the location of Fenimor and firing three bullets at the Russian assassin's direction.

CLEERRRRR! CLASHH!

The sound of breaking windows echo through the background. Diz hides the Hecate Project microfilm between her breasts, then reaches for her cello case and opens it to get her needle rifle. Rising up into the mist of saw dust she looks through the window and up the other building's roof. Flicking the needle rifle's security off, she makes the observation that Fenimor Malevich is hiding behind the rows of ventilator fins. Flicking on the Z-Ray, she sees he's in the process of reloading.

"Sepulveda, I want to know if there's a safe place to hide it here on Oaxaca?"

She looks to the side and sees Matt Kieszlowski running out on the balcony with his C-877 anti-matter rifle. Aria has crawled into the corner, wielding a short-range sub machine gun similar to a fancier version of the one she has back on Garland. She looks at Diz and says: "Antimatter. That dude apparently doesn't know what collateral damage is."

Matt barks out: "Hey, you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs! And occasionally, you need to break an egg... or an elf... or a Korean... or a lawn gnome."

Sokaris throws a keyring to Diz, with a key to a hovercar and one to a speedboat. "Take the orange Tobin-Abarth Sphinx on the right side parking lot. Down to the marina East Ciudad Rosa Island. Take the speedboat registered to my name, named Eris. Go to safehouse in San Narciso, only town on Isla Mona."

BOOM!

She looks out the window again and sees an explosion atop the other apartment block, chunks of hyper-concrete and metal flying in showers through the sky. Matt Kieszlowski crouches out on the balcony, smoke flowing from the muzzle of the C-877. Zooming in on the ventilation fins on the roof, she sees that Fenimor has survived. "What the hell?"

Nitro thinks fuck, this is where I have the chance to make the big difference, barks out: "Diz, Aria, Sokaris, get down in the car and drive over to San Narciso. I'll get up on the roof and help Kieszlowski get rid of Malevich. See you at San Narciso!"

Sokaris then drops dead as a bullet flies through his skull with hypersonic speed and landing on the other side, covered in blood and brain fluid. Aria picks up the bullet and asks: "How the fuck did it get past Matt?"

Matt Kieszlowski takes aim again at Fenimor, whom he can sees is crawling behind the remaining ventilation fins on the roof and firing off two antimatter bolts in rapid succession.

BOOM! BOOM!

Two shining fireballs blossom atop the other apartment block, spewing chunks and scraps of material in all directions. Concrete dust and scraps of metal soon rain over the streets. The bleating of police and ambulance sirens can be heard in the background. He then turns his head back over his shoulder and says: "Brainseekers: Gyrojet armour-piercing bullets that go after the identity signature in a person's brain programming. They're expensive as fuck. Special forces and top agent stuff only. Not used that much because they don't work against Manchurian agents."

Everyone takes a deep breath. Aria and Diz dash out the door and down the stairs, towards the parking lot. Nitro looks out the window, and sees that a man with a rather battered purple Hawaiian shirt is standing on the hoverplatform right beside the window-washer robot, holding a fancy-looking bullpup sniper rifle in his right and a grappling hook pistol in the left. Yep. Fenimor Malevich, and by now he looks like.

Down on the street, official vehicles rush to the site: Sleek salamander-like fire engines painted encarmine, shining white ambulances with their bleating sirens arriving to carry away the wounded, unmarked black sedans and minivans that disgorge heavily armed people who wear black shades and black business suits. Not a single ordinary police car is to be seen.

"Somehow he made it past you, Matt."

Snarling in frustration, Matt takes aim at Fenimor, whom he sees shooting the grappling hook up at a ventilation fin protusion on this apartment's roof. Matt presses the trigger.

BOOM!

The hover platform is consumed entirely by the fireball. The grappling hook and its wire are nowhere to be seen. Red gleams of light are, however, in the muzzles of the blacksuited agents. Matt exclaims "oh, shit!" and jumps back into the apartment from the balcony as a storm of glowing red buzz through it, turning it into a mist of greyish vapours and falling dismembered frames of white polymer. Both Nitro and Matt faintly hear the sound of at least ten people running up a stair.

Switching on their Z-Ray and brain-scan vision displays, they see that not only are a squad of heavily armed blacksuits rushing up the stairs, but Fenimor Malevich is hiding out on the rooftop between the rows of ventilation fins, sniping at a small car Diz and Aria are driving in.

"Matt... you'll take care of the blacksuits, and I will get up and get rid of Malevich."

The gigantic Orionian nods. The two head out the open door. Matt goes first. He crouches behind a ledge, resting the antimatter rifle on it. He crouches upwards, pivoting the antimatter rifle downwards in search of the blacksuits. He spots the first two: A tall lady with her hair in a ruffled version of that hairdo all female politicians have, wielding a characteristically pudgy-yet-angular pulse rifle. Probably a GinnTech Sobek. Standing by her side is a short man with his hair in a slick rockabilly pompadour, a facial expression denoting absolute terror in spite of his eye-concealing sunglasses and an flashy-looking pistol aimed at Matt.

Why in the name of Mary's hymen does everyone on Oaxaca have goofy haircuts? Nitro told me Diz used to have an orange afro. I'd pay to see that, really.

Ten pulse-rifle rounds land in his left bicep.

Would have immobilized me weren't I the size of a really expensive fridge.

Matt flicks off the Z-Ray vision to glare in the eyes of the female blacksuit.

A glimpse of red light appears in muzzle of the gun wielded by the pompadoured blacksuit. Matt ducks, briefly looking behind him to see the bolt of plasma flying behind him to create a huge hole in the wall behind him while Nitro runs up the stair to the roof. Matt feels like half the skin on his back has been scorched off. He doesn't bother to check if that's actually the case.

"I'll remove those bullets later."

Matt sees four more blacksuits arrive, gets up again and takes aim.

RATTATTATT!

"Phew. Only suppression fire."

He presses the C-877's trigger.

BOOM!

Four of the blacksuits are nowhere to be seen. There is a huge hole in the wall and a small cloud of faintly reddish mist where they used to be, with a good chunk of the stairway missing. The remaining two are fleeing down the stairs.

TACK! TACK! TACK!

Up on the roof, Nitro squats down behind a ventilation fin as soon as he gets up there and rolls to the side. Z-Ray vision is still on. He looks for Fenimor Malevich, spots him behind a ventilator fin five rows to his front and two rows to his right, taking aim careful aim at the car with Diz and Aria. Fenimor's purple Hawaiian shirt and white slacks ensemble now looks what it would like if he had just lived on a desolate island for 6 months, but that look's ruined by his hair now being not twice as long as Matt Kieszlowski's and more dishevelled than a hobo's. His gun holster belt with the grappling hook pistol in it is plainly visible.

Hmmm. Thinking like that happens when around high-falutin' fashionista skank like Aria.

Nitro also notices that Fenimor is loading his rifle with what he's certain is one of those brainseeker bullets. He rolls one fin row to the right, crouches, aims his storm rifle at Fenimor and presses the trigger.

TLANG! TLANG! TLANG!

Fenimor rolls to the right. One bullet burrows into the flesh of his sweaty back. The other two hit a ventilation fin.

He groans "Ngghhh!". Nitro rolls to the right, following the Russian, is about to shoot, catches split-second glimpse of Fenimor holding the grappling hook gun in his left hand, pointing it straight at Nitro.

Oh. Motherfucking. Shit.

Nitro rolls four fins further to the right, then crawls forwards three fins and twirls around until Fenimor's in his scope. Fenimor's left his grappling hook gun behind and has the sniper rifle in his hands. With a sadistic grin on his face, Nitro presses the trigger.

Fenimor hears the trigger pressed, darts to the side, sliding across the ground.

Instinctively throwing himself to the side, sliding the opposite driection of Fenimor, Nitro sees that Fenimor is still alive and well. They pass by. Fenimor points his sniper rifle diagonally across the field of ventilation fins, presses the trigger.

Clack.

Nitro, cold sweat bathing him, rolls sideways to make a smaller profile from the angle of Fenimor and then he does the only thing he can do with a brain-seeking bullet locked onto him, his absolutely last resort. That which is not plan B or even plan C. If anything.

He reboot his augmented brain. His vision becomes a bluescreen. Neural command: OVERRIDE START UP PROCESS. SHIFT USER IDENTITY.

Password.

Okay, Nitro, what's the password? Last resort password, oh yeah, your birthday.

Nitro types in his birthdate, logs out from the identity of Nitromethane Liu.

He no longer remembers being a particular person. No memories beyond the barest essential knowledge in order to get around on a world and live as a post-human. In the beginning, this primordial state of conscious beyond the veil of ignorance, there is just blue and two icons with names next to them. The icons have seemingly been randomly picked.

Lai Chi Kueng (frog)

Nitromethane Liu (soccer ball)

Nitromethane Liu? Sounds like the name of a porn star.

Ergo, he picks the frog Lai Chi Kueng.

Chinese secret agent Lai Chi Kueng wakes up. The last thing he remembers is bleeding to near-death in a shootout with two goons called Jerome Cicero and Timur Khan in an Agartha antique store before getting zapped-out by a German. Now, he's sliding across on a rooftop somewhere in bright daylight gripping a storm rifle in his hands while a bullet flies above him. For some reason, he's also wearing a tacky red business suit stained by sweat and grime.

Looking to his side, he sees that a Russian dude wearing the tattered remnants of a purple Hawaiian shirt and a pair of long white pants plus is running towards the edge as if he's about to jump over to the roof of a building on the other side of the street. In one hand he's carrying a shiny silvery bullpup rifle which has a sniper scope and an underslung barrel longer than the main one, presumably for firing another kind of ammunition as it has its own load-by-yourself entry. Chi Kueng assumes it to be a Oswald & Livityenko Model 1533, a two-in-one assault rifle/railgun. The stock is wrong, though, and the whole thing too small.

Probably the guy who just tried to shoot me. Certainly only other person on the roof, and he's armed.

Chi Kueng takes a breath. The Russian stops and turns around, aiming the rifle down at Chi Kueng and fires.

TLANG! TLANG!

In the grip of fear, Chi Kueng somersaults to the side. He feels one of the bullets tear off his right big toe. Landing on a crouch, he aims his own assault rifle at the Russian and presses the trigger.

TLANGATLATLANG!

The Russian sprints away again. Tearing a strip of cloth off his suit to wrap it around his bleeding right foot, Chi Kueng sees that his assailant's bleeding from more wounds than he could have gotten during the last shootout. So, I've woken up in the middle of a shootout I was engaged in. I have no idea where I am or why I'm shooting the crap out of some Russi-

THWAKKA! THWAKKA!

Several hammers of thunder hit the four cooling fins in front of him, shredding them into pieces.

Ducking behind one ventilator fin to the right with raging ringing in his ears, Chi Kueng looks up to see a black stingray-shaped R-57 Skyhag law enforcement repulsorcopter with a swivelling turret underneath its head approach him. It's a lack, unmarked, and he's pretty sure in two things. First, there's no way that small arms can do any damage against those. Second, there's no way ordinary cops have access to Skyhags. Probably FBI special agents, or the CIA.

Looking to his side, he sees three ventilation fins absolutely mauled.

"Oh shit."

He gets up and looks around for the Russian, seeing him leap from the edge of the roof to land on the other building next to it. Knowing that there's no way he can take down an armoured police gunship with an ordinary storm rifle, he runs in the trail of the Russian. He is fully expecting to be shot down by the gunship any minute. Flicking his storm rifle to full auto, he sprints across the rooftop.

THWAKKA! THWAKKA!

Chi Kueng feels air being pushed by the gunfire less than a foot behind him. He remembers to breathe in deep breaths through his nose, or at least as well as he can. Getting close to the roof's edge, he sees the Russian turn around, crouch behind a cooling fin on the other building with his sniper rifle aimed directly at Chi Kueng.

He immediately shoots a spray of bullets from the hip, spraying all across the other roof between several cooling fins.

TLANGATLANGATLANGATLANGA

That way gotta kill him no matter which way he flees.


He puts the rifle entirely in his right hand when setting off with his feet, one of it still aching, as he leaves this roof behind and leaps through the air between the two buildings. To be honest, no idea if I'm gonna make it. Looking down at the rows of ventilation fins, he sees the Russian run not forwards but to the right. Chi Kueng's feet hit the hard concrete ground, both of them now hurting equally.

Quite the accomplishment when I just got a toe shot off.

Taking a single deep breath through his mouth, licking his lips just because they are so dry they're pretty much petrifying, Chi Kueng switches his storm rifle to semi-auto.

Looking over his shoulder, he sees a split-second glimpse of the special agent 'copter engaged in a gun duel with an incredibly tall green-haired man whose shirtless torso is absolutely covered in elaborate tattoos and whose hands clutch a rifle even longer than he is. Who the fuck is that freak? And how much did that gun cost?[/b]

Chi Kueng turns to the side to that he faces the same direction as he remembers the Russian running, somersaults sideways four times. Landing to crouch, he sees the Russian running away, aims and fires three shots.

TLANG! TLANG! TLANG!

The Russian hits the ground, groaning unintelligibly again as he bleeds from several wounds on his back, and both of his knees which are bent all out of shape. Rolling around, he reaches for his sniper rifle that is lying nearby.

Chi Kueng flicks on his brainscanner display, now seeing the Russian's name as Fenimor Malevich. He takes careful aim at Fenimor's hand and presses the trigger.

"AAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGH-"

In the background, he glimpses the green-haired giant press the trigger of his rifle. A roaring explosion cuts short Fenimor's agonized scream.

BOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMM!

Where there was a black copter there is now a gigantic ball of fire and smoke, forming an apocalyptic backdrop to the green-haired giant now standing atop the railing of the building. His elbow-length green hair, attire consisting entirely of only a green bandana and black trousers (completely barefoot!), copious tattoos depicting gods and men going to war across a bridge across a river of fire and makes him look a bit like a stereotypical depiction of an American Indian. Even the colossal rifle strikes Chi Kueng as a bit like a modern-day equivalent of an Apache hunter's longbow. The whole thing is, of course, undercut by the green-haired man being paler than a vampire and having blue eyes.

Chi Kueng looks back at Fenimor, seeing him shakingly draw a grappling-hook pistol from a holster in a belt on his chest. Not going to impale me on that one, are you?

Clack. THWIPPP! THWIPP THWIPP!

"Three bullets to the brain. Should do the trick."

Tilting his head to the side of the Caucasoid colossus approaching him on bare feet, Chi Kueng says: "Hello... Matthew Judas Kieszlowski III?"

"Good day to you... Chi Kueng Lai? What the hell? Thought you were the one and only Nitro Liu, too weird to live and too rare to die. "

Getting up to wait for the paleface who just saved him from the thread posed by a black copter, Chi Kueng corrects him: "It's Lai Chi Kueng, gweilo scum."

"Shut up, Chinaman. We Nordics haven't ruled the rest of mankind with an iron fist since the early 21st century when you Chinamen took over the world of high finance and the Aztecs took over the gardening business. We're no longer cool to bash!"

Matt begins hustling in a direction, neuro-net-texting Chi Kueng with "Anyway, we're on a tight schedule. Your girlfriend's waiting for you down the street."

Chi Kueng follows Matt, snarkily saying: "Says someone looking like the Last of the Post-Industrial Mohicans... and calls himself Nordic while having a Polish surname."

Matt looks up in the sky: "I blame this situation on Dr. Seuss. The Jew Seuss. Have you ever heard of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Children's book written by the Jew Seuss to pave the way for the West's racial suicide. It told the story of humans interacting peacefully with a brotherhood of monstrous creatures, in particular a little girl having a friendship with a bloated effigy of innate hideosity made flesh that was the Grinch of the title."

"And?"

Matt continues: "The central premise of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that of outlandish-looking aliens being loving and trusting towards you... a dangerous lie that in real life doesn't lead to people living peacefully with each other. All you get is Germans against Romans, Hutus against Tutsis, Celts against Anglo-saxons, Germans against Jews, Japanese against Koreans, Germans against every conceivable stripe of Slav, Anglo-Americans against Latin Americans. Hmmm. Maybe it's actually the Germans' fault, not the Jews. Damn krauts. Seuss' a German name too, right? Right?"

Right now, Chi Kueng has no idea exactly how honest Matt Kieszlowski is. On one hand, he seems a bit too enthusiastic to be taking the piss.

On the other hand: The text his brainscan vision shows underneath Matt's name next to the giant's head is fragmented and contradictory and divided 33-33-33 between English, Polish and Icelandic. It is also full of paranoia about Russians, Germans and lots of secret societies Lai Chi Kueng's never heard of. It almost looks like a scattershot collage of clipping from sensationalist tabloids from all over the galaxy, with "gambit on part of the Legion of Shadows" next to a note in Polish about what appears to be something with demons, and disconnected sentences of Icelandic that literally are all over the place.

"You Chinese people never succumbed to that hogwash, perhaps because the masters of mind control never targeted you. You've got the heart of a Shaolin monk, the blood of the black-plumed legions of the Qin dynasty and the souls of the thermonuclear warriors of the Red Guard! You've got the true grit of the men who the fucking Huns were fleeing from, who kicked out the much stronger Japanese army in World War 2 despite being just a ragtag bunch of misfits, who stood up to the United States and the Soviets! You're a badass people, really, 'cause you never stopped being a proud warrior race. Never took any shit from anyone else. And that's how things should be. That's why you're on top right now."

Seriously wonder how many actual Chinese peeps dude over there has met that weren't characters in wu xia movies. Unless, of course, dude means it all in jest.

"The Koreans, on the other hand..."

Man sounds seriously disturbed. Goes on stoned white power rant, then rambles on about how cool Chinese people are.

"... well, let's just say that I had sex with a Korean woman once. It turned out that her back was made of rotten wood... or maybe it's just the bad acid I was on. In any case, that's a risk I'm not taking again."

Says a lot about sheer nutcase factor of Matt Kieszlowski that his acid-head racial mysticism can make me not feel all funny in the pants region when Korean women are mentioned.

Chi Kueng replies: "Bought weed from a Korean once."

Looking up at the sky to see some more black repulsorcopters on the way, Matt asks: "Radioactive weed?"

"Nah, just ordinary weed."

The roof ends. Looking down, Chi Kueng sees a parked truck loaded with watermelons. "Looks like we're going to have to jump."

Chi Kueng does so. Matt follows suit while singing: "We're gonna jump down to... Electric Avenue..."

They land on the watermelons, then jump up again and land on the tarmac.

"Feet hurt like hell, would even if Malevich hadn't shot off big toe. How the hell do you go through this barefoot?"

Before Matt Kieszlowski can reply, they're interrupted by the loud honk from a tiny orange hatchback hovercar hovering still in front of them. The car's a Tobin-Abarth Sphinx, vaguely piranha-like in its styling. Chi Kueng sees that his girlfriend and fellow agent Lin Ha Que is at the driver's seat. This time she has purple hair and it's in a different style... wait a second. It's not her, just someone who really really looks like her and is called Yildiz Ling. On the back seat is some other woman, called Ariadne Ditko. Right now he has no idea who she is.

Yildiz Ling insistently says: "Get in."

Okay, what the fuck. Wake up on a rooftop of a planet in the Hispanic half of the United States of Orion in the middle of a gunfight with a Russian. Then a stoned 7 feet tall dude with green hair saves your life and goes on the most hilarious foaming-at-the-mouth racist rants ever cooked up by a non-Japanese person. Then some stranger who looks exactly like your girlfriend appears and asks you to follow her. Seize the moment, I guess.

Chi Kueng jumps into the car, closing the door afterwards and securing his seatbelt. Diz Ling immediately speeds away. As he begins feeling the gravitational pull backwards as the small car accelerates, Chi Kueng sees that Diz's slung a needle rifle around her. Something about her looks half confused, half annoyed and half frightened. Yeah, I know that adds op to 150%. Looking in the rearview mirror, he sees that second black repulsorcopter swooping down and closing in.

Thinking I'm too small to fit into that, Matt Kieszlowski slings his antimatter rifle over on his shoulder by the rifle-belt. He jumps unto a hovercycle parked on the sidewalk, breaking open its electronics with his hands to hotwire it. The hovercycle leaps up and begins to hover. Its repulsors make a whirring, breezy sound. Matt revvs it up and speeds along with the small orange car, the sound of its repulsors turning into a faint squeal.

Yildiz says: "Lai Chi Kueng? You're actually someone else. Re-start your systems, then override the automatic stuff and go completely manual, then see if you can change your identity."

Chi Kueng proceeds to do so. Everything goes black, then he commands it to hit the blue screen of death. He sees the list of switchable things: User lay-out, operating system, number of backup utilities, encryption systems of suppressed knowledge... ah, here it is. User identity.

Two options: Lai Chi Kueng and Nitromethane Liu.

He picks Nitromethane Liu.

Nitro Liu then wakes up on the seat of a really small hovercar, with Diz at his side in the driver's seat. Aria is in the back seat. The car's driving way faster than is legal anywhere else than the Trans-Galactic Republic of German Systems and in the Astral Republic of Montana. Last thing he remembers was switching identity to Lai Chi Kueng in the middle of a rooftop gunfight with a Russian.

Okay, that was then. This is now. Looking at the steering wheel Diz' hands are on, he sees on the scorpion logo that it's a Tobin-Abarth that Diz is steering down the highway going to the island upon which the eastern half of Ciudad Rosa is situated. In the background he hears the distinctive noise of a repulsorcopter flying very fast, so he looks at his storm rifle's ammunition count. It's almost out of ammo.

He reloads and looks over his shoulder and out the window. He sees two R-57 Skyhag repulsorcopters on the trail of them up in the air.

Looking down, he sees Matt Kieszlowski riding a motorcycle, constantly zig-zagging between cars to keep the FBI Skyhags from firing at him. Can't have collateral damage. They're that smart.

Getting his head back into the car, he sees that Diz is zig-zagging the Tobin-Abarth in between two others. He hears a sound halfways between a whoosh and an angry sneer every time a car passes by.

The car is rapidly approaching a hoverlorry the size of a seagoing ferry from behind. The lorry's red/white paintjob and cylindrical shape makes it look like a gigantic levitating hot dog. As Diz steers it down the side of the lorry, Nitro smiles as he sees the logo of Real Orionian Hot Dogs.

THWAKKA! THWAKKA!

Nitro stops smiling. Behind the car, chunks of hyper-tarmac of the road are flying upwards in the sky.

THWAKKA!

The car shakes, as it whirrs past the lorry. Its rear bumper flies off and down a fresh smoking crater in the road. Nitro can see the lorry's driver is probably involuntarily crapping his pants right now.

Diz swerves the car to the right. Ahead on the bridge is a roadblock of black hovervans and armed agents in three-piece suits. In the background is the mostly rocky, beachy and less densely populated East Ciudad Rosa island with its colourful art nouveau-style architecture.

Gotta admit it's pretty surreal to see all that colourful stuff when there's gun-toting FBI people everywhere wrecking the roads. And I'm gonna be one of those Japanese special tofu where they make it like Swiss cheese by boiling baby eels alive... well, if those exist. Never actually seen it. Read about it in a magazine once, but one of ill repute. Can't remember its name right now. Will probably come to me.

Matt Kieszlowski rolls up by their side on his hoverbike. Nitro sees that Matt has the antimatter rifle slung over his shoulder.

"Matt?"

"Yeah?"

"Mind if I borrow that gun of yours? Mine isn't much of a use against the Skyhags and roadblock."

"Sorry, kid. Portable ones are that rare because only big guys like me can handle the recoil, and definitely not one-handed."

Kieszlowski looks up over his shoulder and sees one of the Skyhag diving down at him.

THwAKKA!

He promptly steers the hoverbike rightwards, speeding up far beyond how fast Diz is driving the Tobin-Abarth as the Skyhag's guns roar and more chunks of road fly upwards.

"Hmmm."

Nitro aims his storm rifle at the FBI agents ahead, taking cover either behind their cars or the hastily assembled barricades in front of the car blockade.

They open fire, a splatter of pinkish-red glimmers of light appearing across the blockade before Diz swerves the hovercar rightwards. It yaws and tilts as a screaming storm of pinkish-red light narrowly misses it.

As he tilts out the window, Nitro sees Matt zig-zagging around more bursts of fire. Aria Ditko messages him to "lean low so both of us can shoot". He does so, and both open automatic at the FBI blockade.

PLACKAPLACKAPLACKA TLANG TLANG TLANG TLANG PLACKA TLANG

Before the FBI agents can return fire, Diz steers the car leftwards with one hand, throws her needle rifle to Aria with the other.

"This has a better range."

More pink fire.

THZWAAWWAWAWWAWAWAWAWAW

Diz steers the car to the left. Nitro fires all over the FBI barricade.

TLANGTLANGTLANGTLANGTLANG!

He sees that at least two of the FBI cars have more holes than those baby eel torture devices he once read in a tabloid called An Extremely Crazy Galaxy were all the rage in Japan as a delicacy.

Aria snipes at one of the FBI agents and fires a red poison needle at him. He drops dead without a side. To the right, Nitro sees Matt Kieszlowski on the stolen hoverbike jumping above the roadblock while steering through a maze of pink fire. "Dude doesn't seem too smar-

THWAKKA! THWAKKA! THWAKKA!

Chunks of tarmac fly up in the sky in front of them. Nitro looks at the ammo counter.

"Crap. Only two shots left."

Diz communicates a message: "Nitro, Aria, Matt - I have an idea. Nitro, you shoot through the railings on the left, then on the other, and I drive over the sea to the port while the cops concentrate on Matt."

Two responses: Aria rolls her eyes and says "Whatever", Nitro says "Okay" and takes aim at the railings.

TLANG!

The hovercar yaws to the right, throwing everyone to the side as much as their seatbelts can restrain them, passing barely through a hole in the railing separating the right and left sides of the road. Diz, barely spotting hints of pieces of railing flying up through the sky, says as calmly as she can: "Okay, people, I'm gonna be really careful and... Nitro, shoot straight through the railing!"

TWLANG!

She sees yet another piece of railing bent and broken like half-chewed metallic macaroni, leading out to the greenish-blue sea. In the distance she can see the East Ciudad Rosa Marina. In the rear view mirror, however, she can see a Skyhag.

"Skyhags. They're like STDs except slightly harder to get rid of."

The Tobin-Abarth dumps down to land softly on the sea and levitate away over the waves, the interaction of the propulsors and the water creating a pleasant buzzing sound that sounds slightly odd against the sounds of gunfire and engine screams.

An annoyed Aria sighs while pointing at Diz' needle gun: "Do any of the needles in this thing go through armour?"

"Not that of a Skyhag-"

THWOOKKA! THWOOKKA!

Splashes of water erupt where each shot hits. Diz furiously commands the Tobin-Abarth in zig-zag motion like a slalom through the gunfire.

"-all I can really say, I'm sorry I didn't bring barf bags."

Swerving the hovercar to the left, Diz feels her cyborgized guts churn more as a loud wave of water hits the windshield and the car's interior. The water is stained black. Good I'm wearing dark myself, huh? She activates the windshield wipers.

Nitro says: "Now, where the hell's a Polish cavemen when you actually need him?"

A booming voice resonates through Nitro's inner ear, in a familiar accent to boot.

I HEARD THAT!

He sees a pop-up display. "User Matthew Kieszlowski offers split-perspective inter-cam sharing." Nitro accepts it just for the sake of it. His view turns into a splitscreen, one his sitting in a small hovercar fleeing across the ocean from a FBI hovercopter gunship. The other is that of Kieszlowski riding the stolen hover-bike, zig-zagging through roadblocks and alleys of garbage disposal containers at breakneck speed. Pieces of car wreckages, masonry and junk fly everywhere. A huge hunk of kibble lands in front of his perspective, Kieszlowski braking the hoverbike to swerve in a irregular arc around the menacing hunk of junk.

Nitro gets even dizzier just sharing the perspective. In the background he can hear screams and hovercar engines as civilians are presumably in the process of being evacuated. Meanwhile, where he physically is right now, fountains of hot and dirty water erupts wherever he can see outside the windshield. Obscuring the view towards the East Ciudad Rosa Marina, hellish-hot mists arise and liquid ashes corrode themselves into the windshield. The wipers have apparently melted.

THROOKA THRAKKA KKRZZAKKK

He closes the split screen. The Skyhag's shots wing the roof of the Tobin-Abarth, separating the windshield and roof from the car's body - just as Nitro's about to turn on the Z-Ray vision.

You know, Matt, where I am it's not exactly a cakewalk either.

Diz commands the hovercar rightwards now. Everyone's clothing is hot and dirty, their guts feel like fleshy bags of golf balls, the wind is howling in their faces. However, they can all see the marina within close sight. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Switching on her Z-Ray and brainscan vision, Aria sees the Marina swarming with FBI agents hiding themselves behind demolished walls, Matt Kieszlowski cowering behind a crate as he takes aim at the other Skyhag and presses the anti-matter rifle's trigger. The Skyhag explodes, tentacled of reddish smoke probing in every direction to dissolve into hideous mist as burning pieces of wreck fall into the water. She spots the Eris, a vibro-yacht catamaran the size of a schoolbus, messages Diz and Nitro to find it, then sends Matt a message: Incoming Skyhag with us. I'll take care of the other pigs.

She then unfastens her seatbelt, sets the needle rifle to red needles and zooms in on one of the FBI agents, finding a crease in his armour-

THWIPP!

Repeat procedure.

THWIPP! THWIPP![/i]

Two remaining FBI agents hiding behind the wreckage of a hovervan look at Aria, aim at her.

THWAKKA!

She ducks, throwing herself down in the rear seat. The heat around her becomes Hellish. Diz steers the hovercar rightwards, as it yaws Aria flies to the side and leans out of it, spotting a perfect opportunity to get a hit on the two FBI agents.

THWIPP! THWIPP!

You're not bad for an Ukrainian, Aria.

Matt rolls sideways to hide behind another crate.

THWAKKA!

The crate explodes in a shower of wooden shards. Chunks of concrete rip up as the Skyhag pursuing Diz' hovercar takes aim at Matt, who aims his anti-matter rifle at the Skyhag and presses it.

BOOM!

Burning wreckage plunks down in the water.

Diz slows down the damaged hovercar, parks it near the Eris. She, Aria and Nitro exit and board it. Diz takes Sokaris' keyring, picks the boat ignition key and puts in it. The Eris' vibro-engines revv up, it begins to hover.

Aria looks at Matt, seeing that he's extremely exhausted and bleeding from all over his body, looking like he's personally picked out bullets with his hands. Sounding kinda distressed, she then asks: "Anyone knows how to drive a boat?"

Suddenly, the voice of an elegant and kind woman sounds from the Eris' adress system: "You don't have to worry... you're the people Sokaris told me to take to Isla Mona, right?"

Eris hovers over to Matt, who slings his jumps on and asks: "Didn't know you were an intelligent boat... Eris? I also don't remember Sokaris telling you about this already, I don't think that really would be possible."

"We're both telepathic."

Diz asks Eris, as the sentient vibro-catamaran speeds away across the blue sea: "As in, literally telepathic, or cyber-symbionized?"

TO BE CONTINUED
Last edited by Peregrin on Fri Jan 01, 2010 11:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." - Heraclitus

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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Magister Militum » Fri Jan 01, 2010 11:11 pm

I don't have time to read all of this at the moment, hot damn, this is some great stuff you written based on what I've seen so far. Can't wait to see what else in this convoluted arc.
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Re: Swimming in the Zodiac

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sat Jan 02, 2010 11:22 am

Goddamn that is just sublime, PREGRIN. Reading your stuff is always a treat and, man, this is great stuff. I love the fact that it blends a kinetic spy-thriller storyline with the ridiculous aspects of all sorts of stuff, from ridiculously-haired federal agents to your outrageous depictions of future society - like hover-lorries in the shape, form and likeness of goddamn hot dogs! I love how you take posthumanity to the next level, like totally radical and whacko-like, and how awesome the action scenes are with Matt being a complete badass and NITROMETHANE LIU totally killing the crap out of that Russian, brainseeking bullets* notwithstanding! Man, switching user identities! :lol:

And THEN we segue into the completely mad Matt Kasdasdmmasdsaski's delusional manifest destiny idealogues that are utterly too preposterous to take seriously! :mrgreen:

*Man, I remember suggesting to you some kind of homing bullet that tracks targets via their DNA or post-whatevers. Was that where it came from? :)

Seriously. PREGRIN, I think you do the future great justice. This is blasphemy! This is madness! MADNESS?! THIS IS PREGRIN!!!!

Militum's face is going to melt!
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